Staff Book Reviews

My Best Friend's Exorcism
Hendrix, Grady
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Is your friendship strong enough to defeat a demon? High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen find out after an evening skinny-dipping in 1988 outside Charleston, S.C. goes awry. Gretchen is no longer the same girl who's been
Abby's best friend since fourth grade. She's moody and irritable. Not unusual for a teen, but then odd things begin happening whenever she's around. What's a friend to do?

While this title is considered adult fiction, this hybrid of Beaches and The Exorcist and its themes of teen angst and adolescent drama makes this a novel that can be enjoyed by adults who remember Esprit shirts and big hair or by young adults who identify with being a social outsider.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Genres:
Mars
Bakić, Asja
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

A debut collection of short stories by Bosnian feminist Asja Bakic who uses dystopian, science and speculative fiction techniques to shine a light on gender relations through lenses of eroticism, skewed humor and horror. The stories are a series of twisted universes set in the former Yugoslavia and Mars. The main characters must make sense of their strange reality whether they are a woman who will be freed from purgatory once she writes the perfect book (Day Trip to Durmitor), a woman who awakens with no memory before learning the truth about herself (Abby) to another meeting her clone (Asja 5.0).

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Humans: A Brief History of How We F---ed It All Up
Phillips, Tom
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A thoroughly entertaining account of how far modern humans have come and how often they messed it up in groan-worthy ways despite best intentions. Journalist and humor writer Tom Phillips relies on sound scholarship to inform, entertain and maybe demoralize (in a funny way) the reader. Examples run the gamut from a Chinese emperor who stored gunpowder in his palace then hosted a lantern festival, the inadvertent forensics pioneer/lawyer defending an accused murderer who proved to the jury that the victim may have accidentally shot himself by accidentally shooting himself, the Austrian army that attacked itself one drunken night, and other equally spectacular blunders of modern times.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Shadow of the Fox
Kagawa, Julie
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This is the first in a new Young Adult series. It features a girl, Yumeko, who is a half-fox demon. She is tasked with taking an ancient scroll to a secret monk. With the help of Tatsumi, a samurai-esque boy who also wants the scroll, she begins her dangerous journey. The book is overall a fun read, but is more suited to a younger audience or fans of anime. Throughout the book, I found myself nostalgically reliving DragonBall Z, Inuyasha, Samurai Champloo, and Rurouni Kenshin. The severity of their mission with the familiar tropes from beloved manga and anime had me smiling...but the story itself is not one that I feel obliged to finish. I would recommend this title to any anime-fan in your life or young adults needing a quick, action-filled read.

Reviewer's Name: Meagan
Genres:
Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness
Dahl, Melissa
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Raise your hand if you’ve ever done something awkward. Now, raise your hand if you enjoyed that moment.

I’m willing to bet there’s not a single person in the world who would raise their hand in response to the second question. All of us hate awkward moments because they’re… well… awkward.

But in her hilarious book Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, Melissa Dahl proposes that we learn to laugh at our awkward moments. In doing so, we can feel less alone.

Sounds pretty interesting, right? But Dahl goes one step further. She says that by actively seeking out awkward activities, we can diminish the power they have over us.

Some examples of these deliberately awkward activities include singing “Mary had a Little Lamb” in public, going to a crowded restaurant and asking a group of complete strangers to listen to your maid of honor / best man speech, and reading an embarrassing entry from your diary out loud to a live audience.

If the idea of doing any one of these activities sounds terrifying to you, you’re not alone. Indeed, the book opens with Dahl feeling like she’s in a waking nightmare as she reads an entry from her middle school diary out loud to a live audience.

But as Dahl later explains, these deliberately awkward activities are a form of exposure therapy prescribed by cognitive behavior therapists to help their patients navigate the realm of social anxiety. And it’s in anecdotes like these that the book’s strengths really shine through, as Dahl does an excellent job of balancing her own experiences of awkwardness with the more scientific aspects of social anxiety. The result is a book that’s both refreshingly honest and unusually grounded for a topic as seemingly trivial as awkwardness. Highly recommended for anyone who’s ever experienced the
discomfort of awkwardness (which is everyone… right?)

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
The Lost Man
Harper, Jane
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Fans of Jane Harper’s Aaron Falk series may be surprised to find that her latest outing is a standalone novel. But make no mistake: The Lost Man is every bit as riveting as The Dry and Force of Nature. It follows the Bright family as they’re forced to come to terms with a very personal loss. Before his death, Cameron was a charismatic and successful rancher and father of two, leading his family to wonder what could have possibly compelled him to venture into the unrelenting Outback alone.

Cameron’s younger brother Nathan is the main character and quite a sympathetic one at that. Divorced, disgraced, and utterly alone, Nathan stands in stark contrast to his older brother Cameron. His story will resonate with anyone who’s ever felt like they’ve hit rock bottom.

Though Harper is known for her mystery novels, the mystery surrounding Cameron’s death in some ways takes a backseat to the family dynamics at work before--and after--Cameron’s death. In other words, the characters, not the plot take center stage here.

Readers who enjoy expert characterization, vivid sensory descriptions, and realistic depictions of family drama will feel right at home with The Lost Man.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Gone by Midnight
Fox, Candice
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

You may recognize Candice Fox as the coauthor of James Patterson’s Harriet Blue series, which includes titles like Never Never, Fifty Fifty, and Liar Liar. But with Gone by Midnight, the third book in her critically acclaimed Crimson Lake series, Fox has shown that her work deserves a place on every mystery lover’s shelf.

Like the previous two entries (Crimson Lake and Redemption Point), Gone by Midnight follows the wrongfully accused former policeman Ted Conkaffey and convicted killer Amanda Pharrell. In this latest outing, Ted and Amanda are
tasked with investigating the disappearance of 8-year-old Richie Farrow, who seemingly vanished without a trace from his hotel room. Ted and Amanda are two of crime fiction's most original private detectives with Ted’s love for his pet geese and Amanda’s penchant for rhyming and sponge cake. The banter between them peppers the prose with some genuinely hilarious moments.

In addition, the plot moves along at a brisk pace, with plenty of subplots to keep readers’ interest, including Ted’s relationship with his 2-year-old daughter and Amanda’s dealings with a local biker gang.

Anyone looking for a locked room mystery with a bit of Aussie flare should look no further than this thoroughly entertaining romp.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Awards:
Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves
Nestor, James
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

James Nestor’s book Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves is both literally and figuratively the most breathtaking book I’ve ever read. It’s literally breathtaking because it’s about freediving, AKA diving sans scuba equipment, an activity as awe-inspiring as it is dangerous. (Side effects may include death, blood squirting out of your nose, mouth, and eyeballs, and paralysis.) Herbert Nitsch, the world’s self-proclaimed “deepest man” dove more than 800 feet on a single breath without using a scuba tank. And he lived to tell the tale.

Deep is also figuratively breathtaking because it reveals some of the most awe-inspiring facts about our ocean that you’ll ever read. Freediving is the only way to see sperm whales up close and personal. These behemoths' brains are shockingly similar to our own and allow them to communicate using a click-based language. Resulting studies have even shown that sperm whales have their own culture and distinct accents.

But freediving with sperm whales is, naturally, not without risks. Sperm whales’ clicks are so loud, their pulsations can literally kill us. One intrepid freediver found his hand temporarily paralyzed when a sperm whale greeted him with a click.

Deep is the rare sort of nonfiction book that reads like a thriller novel. Every page is chock-full of awe-inspiring revelations that will make you look at the sea with a sense of wonder typically reserved for children. Scientific journalism has never been this entertaining.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Awards:
Boneshaker
Priest, Cherie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Boneshaker is the novel that kicks off Cherie Priest's "Clockwork Century" series - one of the most widely acclaimed book series in the Steampunk genre. Boneshaker explores an alternate history of the United States during the Civil War era. The plot centers around Briar Wilkes, the widow of the infamous Leviticus Blue - inventor of the titular boring machine that he was commissioned to create, in order to retrieve the vast veins of gold that are hiding under the thick ice of Alaska in the midst of the Klondike Gold Rush. During a devastating test run, the Boneshaker destroys the foundations of a good portion of Seattle, killing many, and releasing a dangerous gas that turns survivors into zombies. Leviticus disappears, and walls are erected around Seattle to contain the "blight" gas, and the "rotters". Briar does her best to survive and raise her son Zeke in the "Outskirts" of Seattle, suffering the prejudice shown to both of them, due to her husband's actions. Zeke is convinced that he can prove that his father was innocent, and that the destruction was purely unintentional, so he journeys beneath the wall, into Seattle to find the evidence he needs. Unlike Leviticus, Zeke's
grandfather (Maynard Wilkes) is revered as a folk hero, having lost his life in the exodus of Seattle, freeing inmates from the prison. Zeke feels this may help him if he runs into trouble within Seattle's walls. When Briar finds Zeke gone, and what his intentions are, she arms herself with Maynard's accoutrements and catches an air ship over the wall, to search for her son. Separately, Briar and Zeke find people who help to save them from being devoured by the "rotters", and attempt to aid them in their respective searches. Briar learns of the mysterious Dr. Minnericht who seems to run the
doomed city within the walls, and that many are convinced that he is in fact, Leviticus Blue (something she doesn't believe). When events draw Briar and Zeke both into Dr. Minnericht's stronghold, it seems the heart of the mystery
will be resolved with this fateful meeting.

Boneshaker is an epic foray into a dystopian alternate universe, and readers of various genres, are sure to find many wonders to be fascinated by in this version of Washington's famous "Emerald City".

In addition to physical book and audiobook formats, Boneshaker can also be downloaded and enjoyed at home, in either ebook or eaudiobook form.

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Brideshead Revisited
Waugh, Evelyn
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is the book to read when you're up for lofty prose fiction that's readable, sophisticated, and becomes gradually more and more that of a delightful meandering upon a grandeur of intricate reminiscence, which, though, it may seem a meandering at first, reveals itself soon to be very much otherwise, instead, the exact opposite—this author never wanders, never guesses, but totally knows where he's expertly taking you—Evelyn Waugh, I realized, was truly a master, he absolutely wins the contest for your literary respect, telling, not a delightful, but a painful story remembered in part from the initial mobilizing of the second world war back to the 1920s, with a thoroughly nostalgic march forward in time from then, a growing up story in an exceedingly high society, I mean, not just aristocratic, like you'd expect in a novel written in the kind of British high style of Brideshead Revisited, but cream of the crop top, the tiptop aristo-of the-cratic. Waugh's writing is proportionately as great as this reviewer's is stilted. This book deserves your time. I put off reading it for a long time. I thought it might be impenetrable. I wonder what's like to listen to?

Reviewer's Name: Trent
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:
The Art of Looking Up
McCormack, Catherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is about famous and not so famous ceiling art around the world and it has beautiful pictures and some awesome explanations about how the art lands into one of four categories: Politics, Religion, Culture, and Power. It is a really great book!!!

Reviewer's Name: Megan
Genres:
The Wrong Girl
Casey, Donis
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is a book well worth reading as it has all the mystery and glamor and humor a good mystery should have and it has people who help and show compassion for the girl in the story! It is also a story written with the correct facts of the era in which this story plays. I have read the other Donis Casey books and love how this one has come about. Its a follow up of Donis's other series. Can't wait to read the next one!!

Reviewer's Name: Sandra
The Hundred and One Dalmations
Smith, Dodie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book falls into my "all-time favorite" stories, something I will come back to again and again because of its charm. It "could" be a Christmas Story, a crime novella, a dog-lovers "tail", or a unique investigation into 1950s English culture. Truthfully, it is all of these. The book opens with an introduction to the main players, Pongo and Misses, and their pets, the Dearly couple. The family is cared for by the two beloved nannies, Nanny Cook (Mrs. Dearly's nanny) and Nanny Butler (Mr. Dearly's nanny) and let a smart flat off Regent's Park. Mr. Dearly is a wizard of finance and unusually rich due to helping the British government get out debt. Mrs. Dearly is a housewife. Both love their dogs immensely and the dogs love their "pets" just as much. Then comes the glorious news that Misses is expecting puppies, what could be better?! Enter Cruella De Vil, an old schoolmate (but not friend) of Mrs. Dearly who has devoted herself to wealth and furs. The second passion encouraged her to marry a furrier...and to explore avenues for exotic furs, even dog! Pongo and Misses come to realize that they and their puppies are a central element of this sinister plot of dogdom. How will it end? You will have to read it to find out!

Reviewer's Name: Caitlin
Book Review: The Shadows Between Us
Levenseller, Tricia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Alessandra wants to channel her murderous rage into something more productive than, well, murder. So she aims to become the Queen (of course, she'll have to murder the King once she's married him, but that'll be the last one). As the second daughter of a minor royal, this doesn't seem like a super realistic goal, but...you haven't met Alessandra.

I'm a huge sucker for the love-him-then-kill-him trope, and it is awesomely used here. I was expecting this book to be more of a fantasy, but it's really a romance with fantastical trappings. And it is so sex positive! I have been describing it as Wuthering-Heights-only-it's-actually-fun-to-read, but the author describes it as a romance between two Slytherins, which is better. Even though the characters are objectively horrible, you'll find yourself rooting for them. It was a tad ridiculous in terms of how the characters talked and interacted with each other, but in the same kind of way as Daughter of the Pirate King, the author's other book that I've read, which I also enjoyed.

If you are looking for a fun, purely escapist romance, I would highly recommend this book. I read it in one sitting. 4 stars - I really liked it!

Thanks to Netgalley and Feiwel & Friends for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Shadows Between Us is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: Amnesty
Adiga, Aravind
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Danny is an undocumented immigrant from Sri Lanka living in Australia. As he's undocumented, he works as a cleaner and gets paid under the table. One day, he is contacted by the police as one of his clients had been murdered. Danny realizes that he likely knows who the murderer is, but has to decide whether or not to share that information with the police. If he does talk to the police, his undocumented status will likely be discovered and he would likely be deported.

This book spans one day in Danny's life, but flashes back to show you how and why he ended up as an undocumented person in Australia. And wow, that's a hard, scary life. The book both calls attention to the unfair, and frankly quite Draconian, immigration policies of Australia and presents a really interesting ethical dilemma. The central question of the book is kind of "what do we owe to each other"? Does Danny have a responsibility to turn in the murderer, even if it means his own life will be irreparably changed for the worse? Danny grapples with this question for much of the book, and it's a really interesting thought experiment. Really, my only complaint is that the last third or so of the book is really repetitive; I found the first two thirds to be fairly riveting.

Folks who are interested in ethics or who are interested in the hardships of the immigrant experience should definitely pick this book up. 3.5 stars. I really liked the first 2/3.

Thanks to Scribner and Netgalley for the eARC which I received in exchance for an unbiased review. Amnesty is available now.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
It's Not Supposed to Be This Way
TerKeurst, Lysa
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book was amazing. From a Christian standpoint, Lysa really gets into disappointments in the faith that I feel people are too shy to talk about. It is a very honest book with personal accounts of disappointments and fears. It isn't preachy, it is matter-of-fact. I have a hard time with general christian books because they can often times sugarcoat or completely ignore the stuff no one wants to talk about; so this book was very promising and refreshing!!

Reviewer's Name: Megan
Book Review: The Bell Jar
Plath, Sylvia
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This semi-autobiographical novel is a searing portrait of mental illness. So dark and honest, it brings the reader in to the protagonist's descent into madness and her rise from it. The description of a mental hospital in the 50s was very interesting to me. This was before anti-depressants so many more people suffered there than suffer now. I was particularly fascinated by her description of electroconvulsive therapy. Overall a powerful novel by a one of literature's great writers.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: Race to the Sun
Roanhorse, Rebecca
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Nizhoni Begay is a normal seventh grader in many respects, minus the thing where she can see monsters. One day, she gets home from school to see a monster in her kitchen masquerading as her dad's potential boss. Sure enough, the boss-monster kidnaps her dad, and Nizhoni, her brother Max and their best friend Davery take off on a race to the House of the Sun to find weapons they can use to defeat the boss-monster and save Nizhoni's dad.

I really liked this one! All of Rick Riordan's books and the books on his imprint have something of a sameness to them, but that's not necessarily a bad thing (I'd compare it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe). You know you're going to get a snarky teenager narrating an epic quest to save the world where they'll be attacked non-stop by monsters from some sort of mythology. That's what you get here, but its the Navajo edition. I liked it a lot - I think it helps when the mythology being referenced originated more or less in your backyard, and as a Coloradan, it was a lot of fun to read. Plus, the mythology itself is just cool; Black Jet Girl, Spider Woman, and Crystal Rock Boy were particularly fun.

For readers who like mythology, action, adventure and snarky main characters. I really enjoyed this one, and will add this series to the list of books I listen to while I run! 4 stars - I really liked it.

Thanks to Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchanged for an unbiased review. Race to the Sun will be released on 14 January, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: Jet Girl
Johnson, Caroline
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is an insider's look at the military establishment, particularly the elite Navy forces. Johnson overcomes so much to become a fighter pilot only to be alienated by the Navy's most elite squadron. Told with honesty, Johnson's grit is something to be admired.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn

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