Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Adventure

96 Miles
Esplin, J. L.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

John and Stewart’s father is a survivalist. At their home in a remote part of Nevada, they have everything they need to sustain them for six months – water, food, gas, even a generator to keep the refrigerator running. So when the power goes out for half the country, the brothers aren’t too worried, even though their father is away. They’re doing better than a lot of other people who weren’t prepared. But then, a group of men come in pickup trucks and they take everything. They force John and Stewart to kneel on the floor at gunpoint and one man tells John, “I’m sorry, kid, but we need what
you’ve got.”
Now, their only chance for survival is to walk 96 miles in the blazing desert heat to a friend’s ranch. There’s also a time limit. It’s important that they make the trip in three days - no longer than that – and Stewart won’t believe that he’s not going to die.
Then they encounter another set of siblings, Cleverly and her younger brother, Will. Cleverly decides that her best option is to join them, but John is not certain whether having Cleverly and Will tag along will help or hurt his chances to get Stewart to the ranch in time.
Every day is a struggle to find food, drinkable water, and to keep Stewart on his feet. Together, the four of them experience the desperate things that people feel justified to do in times of crisis and the best and worst of human nature, both in themselves and in others they find along the way.

Reviewer's Name: Cynde
The Unmapped Chronicles: Casper Tock and the Everdark Wings
Elphinstone, Abi
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When Casper hides from the boarding school bullies, he finds himself magically transported to a land of enchantment and is immediately arrested as a criminal by a cranky girl named Utterly Thankless and her little dragon. Thus begins a headlong crash into a quest to save Utterly's kingdom complete with monsters, magicians, witches, trolls, griffins and other unearthly dangers. Kids 8-12 will enjoy the fantasy escapade Casper Tock and the Everdark Wings by Abi Elphinstone.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Shantaram
Roberts, Gregory David
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is a character driven novel that develops multiple sub-plots that get tied up in very satisfying ways. For well over 900 pages it clips along with humor, romance, and suspense. It does this in an atmosphere of 1980s Bombay mafia, narrated by a character who calls himself, among other things, a philosopher. He convinced me. It's loaded with well written and well thought out reflections by a fictional person who you suspect is the spokesperson for the author's own lived experience. If you google it you'll see that there's a cult following to this book. It's an international bestseller by an author whose backstory is quite intriguing, to the point where fact and fiction coalesce. I don't easily stick with a purported page-turner that is even one inch thick, but this is a brick's worth of good storytelling that won't be a waste of your life.

Reviewer's Name: Trent
Awards:
Genres:
Book Cover
Colfer, Eoin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Artemis Fowl is back!

Well, not really. But his little brothers are a more than sufficient replacement. Twins Myles and Beckett have lived a life of education and luxury (with some mild kidnapping thrown in). But everything changes drastically when a small troll appears on their island. Before they know it, they find themselves kidnapped by ACRONYM (a government organization that deals with magic) and working with a fairy to escape from not one, but two baddies - an evil, mustache twirling duke and a deranged nun that are themselves at odds. Will the Fowl Twins escape in time to save their lives and, perhaps more importantly, human-fairy relations for the rest of time?

This was very cute. Colfer was in top form here, and this held all of the characteristics of a middle grade book that I find to be readable (they aren't always my favorite). Myles is snarky. Beckett is a loose cannon (who can talk to animals!!!). The duke has access to insanely quirky gadgets and wouldn't be out of place as a Despicable Me super-villain. The evil nun is an evil nun. The pace moves quickly, but we still get to know our characters. Aside from its general predictability (adults will see all the twists coming before they happen), it's a fantastic middle grade read. If the narrator is any good, I'll add this series to my list of books that I listen to while running.

TLDR: If you loved the Artemis Fowl series, you'll love this one too! It has all of the best elements of the original series with some fun new quirks and characters. 4 stars - I really liked it.

Thanks to Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Fowl Twins is available for purchase on 05 Nov, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: The Guinevere Deception
White, Kiersten
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Premise: Guinevere died in the convent where she'd been sent by an her father. An imposter, Merlin's daughter and Arthur's new protector, is her replacement, and all have been fooled into thinking she's the "real" Guinevere, save Arthur, who she immediately marries and starts to protect.

I found the beginning of the book, with its delicious hints of a larger story of evil and darkness, to be captivating. Unfortunately, those hints, for the most part, stay hints, and the book ended up being a pretty predictable retelling of sorts that was paradoxically too faithful and not faithful enough to its predecessors. It had glimpses of the humor from Mallory, T. H. White and Steinbeck. It had the promise of the adventure that lies in those tales. It just never fully delivered. And the end, when it finally came, was predictable enough to be a bit disappointing.

That said, I do love Arthurian legend, and this version of Guinevere is not without promise. If the next entry gets great reviews, I'll give it a go as my familiarity with the characters and story would render a re-read unnecessary. 3 stars. I...liked it? I'll recommend it to younger readers new to the legend.

Thanks to Netgalley and Delacorte for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Guinevere Deception will be on sale on 05 November, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: Chomp
Hiaasen, Carl
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Mickey Cray and his son Wahoo are hired to wrangle various creatures for a survival tv show. Throw in a bat *bleep* crazy leading man along with various and sundry everglades characters and hilarity ensues. Such a fun read! Well, I actually listened to it, but I was still highly entertained.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: Tiger Queen
Sullivan, Annie
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

When I saw that there was a retelling of Frank Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger”, I got excited. I remember reading and loving that story in school, but I wondered how such a short tale could be retold. Stockton’s story serves more as a jumping off point (never fear, though – the choice between lady and tiger is made and we get to see the fallout). We open the book in the arena of drying up desert kingdom where “supplies or tiger” is used as a common way of determining justice or punishment, but of course, our king cheats to ensure justice is actually served. As resources get lower and the proletariat gets more uprisey, its up to our main character, Princess Kateri, to save the kingdom.

The plot in this is fairly standard. If you are a regular reader of YA fantasy, you’ll know where the book is headed a few chapters in. The characters themselves are nothing special, although the author transforms Kateri in a believable way. You’ll hate her at the start and root for her at the end. I wish the Desert Boys had been Desert People – why no girls? Since Kateri is such a strong hero, I thought the complete and almost total lack of lady fighters was suspect. I also wanted more tigers (if you don’t like to read about animal cruelty, maybe skip this one). It’s based on a story called “The Lady or the Tiger” – give me ladies and tigers!

There’s clearly a lot not to like, but the some of the worldbuilding was spectacular. Sullivan builds a desert world complete with lethal creatures (watch out for those sand snakes!), interesting cuisine (make sure you eat the right lizard tongue) and well, ok, I mostly liked the animals she invented. I wasn’t compelled to read the book, as, like I said its pretty obvious as to where it was going, but the worldbuilding was enough to keep me at least somewhat engaged and the author gets points for writing a standalone. I can easily see this book being dragged out to a duology and I’m glad everyone involved resisted that temptation.

TLDR: The book had potential for days, but I found the execution to be a bit lacking. Fun worldbuilding details make what is otherwise a rather routine YA fantasy more interesting. 2.5 stars rounded up to 3.

Thanks to Blink and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Tiger Queen will be released on 10 September, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Lewis, C.S.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I listened to this on CD. The narrator was fantastic. The book was also fantastic. Well written, aimed at younger readers, but still enjoyable by adults. There's a reason why this book is a classic. The story had me thinking about bravery and forgiveness, but the Edmund story line was a bit frustrating. His siblings were kinder than I would've been, although I have to remember that he was just a child. All in all, a must-read, or listen.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Soul of the Sword cover
Kagawa, Julie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Soul of the Sword picks up directly at the end of the events of the first book in the series, Shadow of the Fox. If you haven’t read Shadow of the Fox, and you like Japanese mythology, what are you waiting for? Pick it up now! Also, skip this review, because spoilers.

If you liked the first book, you’ll like this one too. I did not remember the first book that well as I read it last summer, but Kagawa writes this in such a way that it’s easy for the reader to jump right back in. Most of our characters (save Tatsumi, because he’s mostly a demon now) get further development, and Yumeko in particular really seems to have grown a lot throughout the course of the book. My favorite character, the ronin Okame, has an exceptionally fun development. The worldbuilding, which was fantastic in the first book, continues to be alluring as Kagawa further fleshes out what was already a well-drawn world. The plot, like the first book, is fast-paced and while this is definitely something of a bridge book, it’s a bridge book that is really fun to read.

Readers of Rick Riordan who are looking for something a little more grown-up, or folks who like their fantasy to be steeped in mythology, you won’t go wrong with this series. I’m excited for the next one to come out. 4 stars – I really liked it!

Thanks to Harlequin Teen & Netgalley for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Soul of the Sword will be available for purchase on 18 June or you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
We Hunt the Flame Review
Faizal, Hafsah
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Zafira has gained respect amongst her community for being the only person brave enough to dare the forest of a the Arz – a rapidly growing magical forest from which most who enter don’t return. She’s known as the Hunter. However, all respect Zafira has gained would be lost if folks were to find out that she was a girl. Nasir has a name of his own: Prince of Death. He assassinates all who cross his autocratic, despotic father, no matter how he feels on the subject. As the Arz grows and resources get more scare, both Zafira and Nasir find themselves on a journey to find a magical relic long buried on a dangerous island long presumed lost.

Another nearly impossible to write description! The worldbuilding in this thing is complex, and its really hard to give a short summary of the plot outside of “awesome” girl and scary-but-hot boy go on a quest for a magical object. While I do love complex worldbuilding, it bogged down the story for the first 40% of the book, and I kept getting confused by which peoples had what characteristics if they weren’t the peoples of our main two protagonists. Speaking of our two main protagonists, they were the least interesting characters in the story. Zafira is your standard strong-but-still-insecure-attracted-to-the-bad-boy YA fantasy protagonist, and Nasir kills people for no reason. The author tries to describe it away (his girlfriend will be brutally tortured), but this guy kills hundreds of people to (maybe) spare the lives of a few. Utilitarian he is not.

Anyway, after a lot of labored worldbuilding, we finally get to the island and team up with some other folks on the same quest. After this, the book is a lot of fun for about 30%. The characters have great chemistry, and the new ones are all dynamic and interesting people (beings) who we learn about slowly through the switching perspectives of our main characters. There’s a heist vibe and some great chemistry between friends and enemies alike . If that section had been the whole book, you would be reading a very different review. However, unfortunately, the book then focuses on a romance between our two leads, and I never found it to be convincing or compelling.

TLDR: This book was so close to being a really fun read, but a forced romance between two largely un-compelling leads overcame my love of the supporting characters, their chemistry, and some really fun worldbuilding elements.

I think folks who liked The Gilded Wolves or the Throne of Glass series will find things to like here. For this reader, it was mostly a miss. 2 stars – it was ok.

Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. We Hunt the Flame will be available for purchase on 14 May, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Ayesha: The Return of She
Haggard, H. Rider
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Coming from the author of "King Solomon's Mines" and creator of Allan Quartermain, you can expect a terrific turn of the century, adventure story. Written as the sequel to "She", "Ayesha: The Return of She" stands on its own, and I find it even more enjoyable than the original story (but "She" does make for a good prequel - as I read them out of sequence). Our hero Leo, sets out with his friend to seek out his long lost love. This leads them to the most remote of areas, across vast deserts, and over treacherous mountains. When they reach the empire of Kaloon, the Khania Atene swears that she is the woman Leo is searching for, but he is unsure, and wishes to consult with the mysterious Hesea, an ancient priestess of the mountain, who has sent for him. Atene will risk everything, even war with the people of the mountain, to keep Leo by her side, even though he wishes to see the Hesea. Is Atene the woman Leo is seeking? Who is the cryptic Hesea? What dangers await Leo and his friend, both in Kaloon, and on the mountain?

This story was originally published in a serialized form in 1904-1905, with gorgeous Art Nouveau illustrations. If you can find it, I highly recommend reading a reprint that includes the original illustrations. One of my favorite books of all time!

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Book Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Twain, Mark
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Tom Sawyer is not the most likable of characters, but he is clever. This book seems to be an honest depiction of a young boy growing up in the 1840s. I like that Tom, Huck, and the rest of his friends go on adventures big and small. Our children can't do that today, which is a shame. This is a fun book to listen to on audio.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Cover Image
Kagawa, Julie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Every 10,000 years, an ancient dragon rises to give one mortal a wish (in exchange for their soul) and the world changes. Two characters, a kitsune-hybrid and a ninja, find themselves trying to keep the path to the dragon out of the hands of several interested and nefarious parties. Shadow of the Fox follows our heroes as they travel to and from different monasteries dodging monsters in their quest to protect ancient scrolls.

Shadow of the Fox was a ton of fun! It gave me Percy Jackson vibes, but was definitely for a slightly older audience and the mythology in this book was Japanese, which I found to be very cool. I liked both of the characters – the kitsune must hide her fox nature from her ninja travelling companion as he is a monster killer, and kitsune are a type of…if not monster, then non-human trickster. The ninja is trying to resist becoming possessed by the evil demon that occupies his sword. Their relationship is thus a bit fraught, but adds a really interesting dynamic. Their other travelling companion (a disgraced Samurai who spends most of the book amusingly drunk) provided some levity. Some of the mythology was completely new to me, which made for a engaging reading experience. I liked it enough that I read one of Kagawa’s other books, The Iron King, as well. If you enjoyed that one, you’ll likely like this – I found the formats to be similar, though I personally found the Japanese mythology more interesting than the fairies.

TLDR: This is a really entertaining and action packed fantasy for fans of Percy Jackson and Kagawa’s other books. I loved it, and am excited to get my own copy! 5 stars.

Thanks to Harlequin Teen and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Shadow of the Fox is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Black Wings Beating Cover Image
London, Alex
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In a world where dominion over birds of prey equals power, twins Brysen and Kylee have a love/hate relationship with falconry. Brysen longs to be good at the sport, but lacks the patience and ability. Kylee is a natural, and even has powers that allow her to speak with the birds, but she just wants to pay back their family’s debts and then leave their village forever. When Brysen compounds their debt and then agrees to hunt the ghost eagle – the very same eagle who killed their father – Kylee knows that she has to help, or lose her brother to the birds as well.

The world building in this book is phenomenal. London creates a rich world with opposing religions about to go to war, and creates an entirely new mythology built around falconry. Now, I know there are other fantasies based around falconry, but as I’ve not read them, this was all totally new and fascinating to me. Kylee and Brysen take turns narrating, and their perspectives were realistic and different enough that you had a great feel for them as characters quite early on in the book. They were so authentic as not to be entirely likable – Brysen in particular makes quite a few stupid and/or impulsive decisions and I found him to be a bit hard to root for. I really enjoyed Kylee, though, and I loved how the world was presented with equality in terms of sexuality and race. Several of our characters are people of color and/or LGBTQ+, and they don’t seem to be oppressed or seen any differently because of it, which was refreshing to read.

For this reader, the plot left something to be desired. The book starts off with a bang, but then quickly devolves into an adventure story in the woods as Kylee and Brysen search for the ghost eagle. The aforementioned “opposing religions about to go to war” parts show the most promise, but were unfortunately relegated to the background. That will likely change in the sequel, but it made this book a slow read for me. I actually put it down in the middle and read an entirely different book as it wasn’t really holding my interest. I felt like the book might have worked really well as a prequel novella, but as a full length novel, there was a lot of filler as Kylee and Brysen navigate the woods with only one important seeming development.

Black Wings Beating was an interesting dive into the world of falconry that sets up a sequel with a lot of promise. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes adventure stories with a touch of the fantastical. 3 stars – I liked it!
Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Black Wings Beating will be available for purchase on 25 September, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Kill the Farm Boy
Hearne, Kevin and Dawson, Delilah
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Normally, I’d start off my review with a synopsis, but plot wasn’t exactly the point of this book, so I’m going to skip it. What you need to know is this: Kill the Farm boy is a satirical fantasy novel that skewers the “chosen one” white male narrative. Tonally, it’s as if Deadpool were your dungeon master and he had recently swallowed a thesaurus. If that appeals to you, you will love this book. If not, pass on it.

I had fairly mixed feelings – humor is subjective, and while I sometimes found it funny, I also found it grating at times. For example, there was a chapter about trolls that had me in stitches. But there was also an entire chapter about the group entering the Morningwood that had me rolling my eyes. A certain type of audience will absolutely love this one. I was not that audience, but I still, for the most part, appreciated it for what it was as I generally found the writing quality to be very high. There’s little character development, and the plot is just a vehicle for jokes, but again, those things aren’t the point.

This is definitely one of those books that will be very hit-or-miss for people, and while it was mostly a miss for me, it’s one that I think I’ll be recommending to a lot of patrons, particularly teens. If you like Mel Brooks or Monty Python, you’ll probably like this too (it would make a pretty funny movie).

Thanks to Del Rey and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Kill the Farm Boy will be released on 24 July, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Going Where It’s Dark
Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Buck Anderson is a spelunker. He used to go caving with his friend, David, but now David has moved away. Caving is the one way that Buck escapes from his worries. He stutters and the kids at school make fun of him for it. He’s bullied a lot. This coming-of-age adventure will inspire and encourage young readers.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Book of Lost Things
Voigt, Cynthia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Max's parents have dashed off on an unexpected adventure and left their 12 year old son Max behind, alone...well, his grandmother is around to watch over him, but she is busy being a librarian. Max has to fend for himself and picks up a part time job as a solutioneer (sounds like engineer, but much more mysterious). His first task is to find a lost pet and this snowballs into many intricately involved adventures that will keep readers turning pages with anticipation to find out what this determined young man will do next. The Book of Lost Things, by Cynthia Voigt, is sure to please children 9 - 13 who enjoy a good mystery.

Reviewer's Name: Barb
The Girl in the Tower
Arden, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Katherine Arden's The Girl In The Tower is just as good, if not better, than the first book, The Bear and The Nightingale. Filled with more Russian Fairy tales, atmospheric literary prose, rich and strong characters, and the same enchanting setting of Medieval Russia, this book picks up right where the first one left off. It follows the story of Vasya, now a grown up woman she, instead of conforming to the role woman in her day usually play, of marriage or life in a convent, chooses instead a life of adventure. Leaving her home and traveling the vast Russian Wilderness while dressed as a boy, she soon is called upon to defend the city of Moscow and finds the threat greater and more deadly than she imagined. While fighting this threat, only she can stop, she is also forced to protect her secret as she comes upon her brother and attracts the attention of the Grand Prince of Moscow.

Part of what drew me to this book is the fairy tales, yes, but also the historical setting of Medieval Russia. Katherine Arden does a masterful job of weaving fantasy elements with real life historical details only a great historian would discover. Blurring the line between history, fantasy, and reality this book and, more importantly this series, is contemporary historical fantasy at its best. It is a sketch not only of real life in Medieval Russia, but also displays the power of story and demonstrates the importance of fairy tales and the lessons they can teach us.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie M.
Awards:
The Song From Somewhere Else
Harrold, A.F.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

He was bigger than anyone else in Francesca's class. He was funny looking and he smelled weird. Why, oh why did he have to be nice to her and get her bag for her that the bullies had thrown into the stinging nettles? When the bullies chased them both to Nick's house, why hadn't she run somewhere else? Ugh, she would never live this down at school. A.F. Harrold's novel, The Song From Somewhere Else, will enchant readers age 9 - 12 with a story of another world, just waiting to be discovered.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Lee, Mackenzi
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In the 18th century, it was rather common for young wealthy English folks to embark on a Grand Tour of continental Europe between their school years and their careers or higher education. Henry “Monty” Montague’s Grand Tour, however, is anything but common. Monty’s formal education at Eton ended rather abruptly, due to being caught in a rather compromising situation with another one of the boys. Now his future as his father’s heir is in jeopardy, and his tour is his last chance to redeem himself.

So it is that Monty departs for the continent, knowing that if he doesn’t manage to behave himself (at least in his father’s eyes), he’ll be left penniless. He’s accompanied by his younger sister, Felicity, herself off to a school in France, and his best friend Percy, who will be leaving England for law school at the end of their tour.

Monty naturally feels a bit overwhelmed by the mounting pressure on him to completely turn his own life around. However, understanding the plights of others isn’t something he’s ever been good at, and Felicity and Percy each have their own deep concerns about what awaits each of them at the end of their trip. None of them expect Monty’s knack for attracting trouble to draw them into a web of intrigue that leads them from France to Spain to Italy, pursued by highwaymen, pirates, and vengeful nobles. And none of them, least of all Monty, expected him to fall desperately in love with Percy along the way…

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee was everything I wanted it to be and more. Adventure, mystery, and romance all fall neatly into place in this YA treasure. It’s available now, so do yourself a favor and pick it up.

Reviewer's Name: Philip

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