Posts Categorized: Book Reviews

Walk on Earth a Stranger
by Rae Carson

September 8, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson | September 2015 | Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins | Hardcover $17.99

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more. She also has a secret. Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher via Edelweiss. The book is due to be released September 22, 2015.

I was really super excited to get a chance to read this new title from the author of the Girl of Fire & Thorns series, which I liked very much.

The first part of the book reminded me strongly of Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, simply because of the setting and the “girl escapes scary old dude by dressing as a boy and running west with the help of an escaped slave” plot. In fact, if you liked Under a Painted Sky, I can guarantee you’d like Walk on Earth a Stranger too. But it’s not a copycat story – many elements are similar, but I didn’t feel any sense of “I’ve read this story before…” either.

Carson did a great job with the whole atmosphere. The places described, the mannerisms and actions of the characters, even the thought patterns of the narrator feel like they really do fit in with the pre-Civil War rural South/West setting, without being too jolting or confusing for the modern reader. This is something I’ve come to admire in the best historical fiction.


American Progress, or Manifest Destiny, by George Crofutt, 1873
From the American Memory: American Women Collection of the Library of Congress


The magic element – Leah’s ability to sense gold – is important to the story but not the entire focus of it. She has this interesting ability that can help her find wealth, but it also puts her in danger from people who want to take advantage of her or people who think she’s some kind of witch. Other than that, though, she’s really just a very tough young woman who has to do the best she can to survive. She’s not a magical girl who can wave a wand and poof out of trouble; she has to face down that trouble as best she can, usually by herself with only her own wits and shooting skills to save her. I like that.

Leah is not perfect. She a teenager who is still learning about morality, still figuring out her feelings for other people and trying to decide how to act on them. I enjoyed reading about her adventures through her point of view precisely because she’s not perfect and her mistakes and flaws make her story interesting.

I was not particularly interested in the romance, at least at first. Was it really necessary to have Leah crushing on her best-friend-who-happens-to-be-a-guy? And was it really necessary to add a silly little love triangle on top of that? But in the end it didn’t really turn into the big ball o’ cliché that I feared. [Spoiler alert: I found the Reverend’s misguided marriage proposal scene terribly funny.]

From a genealogist’s point of view, this story was interesting because of its focus on the very real, very dramatic California Gold Rush. The long period of westward migrations in America in the 1800’s resulted in some pretty interesting little mysteries for many modern-day family historians. For example, I’m sure the fictional Joyners’ great-great-great-great-grandchildren would now be wondering what exactly happened to this branch of their family on their journey to the West Coast, with only census, land, and probate records to help them piece the story together.

I’m curious as to the nature of the planned sequels. The last chapter is open-ended enough that there could be one, but satisfyingly final enough that the book can stand on its own.


Publication information: Carson, Rae. Walk on Earth a Stranger. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2015. EPUB.
Source: Electronic format review copy provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

The Only Woman in the Room
by Eileen Pollack

September 3, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★

The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys’ Club by Eileen Pollack | September 2015 | Beacon Press | Hardcover $25.95

In 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, asked why so few women achieve tenured positions in the hard sciences, Eileen Pollack set out to find the answer. In the 1970s, Pollack had excelled as one of Yale’s first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics. But, isolated, lacking in confidence, and starved for encouragement, she abandoned her lifelong dream of becoming a theoretical physicist. Years later, she thought back on her experiences and wondered what had changed in the intervening decades, and what challenges remained. Based on six years of interviewing dozens of teachers and students and reviewing studies on gender bias, The Only Woman in the Room is an illuminating exploration of the cultural, social, psychological, and institutional barriers confronting women in the STEM disciplines.

This review is based on an e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss. The book is due to be published September 15, 2015. 

This book is generally OK, but I’m not sure whether this is something I’d generally recommend. In my opinion, the way it is being marketed is ever-so-slightly deceptive. This is not really a book about why more men than women manage to have successful careers in science. It’s one person’s extra-long lament about their disappointing experiences in college – which, granted, were often due to being a woman studying science, but still… not quite what is being advertised.

There are some quite lovely bits of prose, like this one from the last chapter:

Which only goes to prove that if you want to become a physicist – or anything else – you need to do it for yourself. You need to do it for the little girl who couldn’t stop thinking about how everything that exists evolved from nothing, how the first human beings learned to speak inside their heads, whether time would exist if no observers existed to record it, how a ray of light sniffs out the fastest path to follow, how an electromagnetic wave might appear if it were traveling in two or four rather than three dimensions, how an infinite number of infinitesimally tiny slivers beneath a curve can be integrated to find its area, or how an infinite number of infinitely tiny fractions of human life can be combined to create a whole.

Unfortunately, this book seemed to focus primarily on the author’s own personal issues rather than any larger trends or cultural problems. Oh, sure, the story was well-written (as you’d expect from Creative Writing professor) and Pollack’s story is somewhat intriguing, but I’m afraid I just could not relate to either her experiences or her attitudes in many instances. Part of that is due to generational differences and subject focus (after all, a Jewish woman who studied physics at an Ivy in the 1970’s would have a different point of view than a WASP woman studying biology at a public college in the 2000’s), but part of it is her reactions to incidents in her life, which often struck me as unnecessarily anxious or defeatist.

I kind of hate that I feel that way, because the epilogue includes responses from readers who thought the author lacked courage or blamed other people for her failures too often. I don’t want to be grouped with the “male professors [who] wrote to express their impatience, even anger at women who exhibit ‘self-esteem’ issues” because I don’t think that reaction is productive.

Plus, Eileen is of my own mother’s generation — and my mother was earning her master’s in organic chemistry at roughly the same time as the author was going through university. My mother and I haven’t really ever talked in depth about her grad school experience, but this book has made me curious. Did she experience the same issues? I’ll have to ask next time we meet.

– – – – – –

I was also a bit irritated by her assertion, based primarily on her own experiences and anecdotal evidence from a few other people, that most women just need more encouragement than men in order to be successful in STEM academia. First of all, that hasn’t been my own experience at all – but again, we are products of different times and disciplines. But the more irritating thing about this assertion, to me, is that it wasn’t scientific … at least until well over 200 pages into the book, when Pollack finally mentions a major study on the subject and gets some evidence-based exposition from one of the women who published it. Here we are, diving into the topic of women in science, and one of the author’s primary assertions isn’t even backed up by scientifically gathered/considered evidence until the story is almost finished?

Where was the in-depth discussion of developments in science education? Where did the author give any serious page space to statistics, trends, or peer-reviewed papers? Where was the scientific investigation of “why science is still a boys’ club” in this book?

– – – – – –

I’m struggling to rate this one, because the book wasn’t outright bad. It was just… more of a memoir and a series of interviews than an examination of the STEM gender gap. To be fair, the very last part of the book did involve the findings of various studies/committees (with the focus on one in particular). But that wasn’t even close to the bulk of the focus of the book, and in the end it just wasn’t what I thought it would be.


Don’t take my word for it. Lots of people have enjoyed this book and the conversations it sparks are super important. Check out the links below for some other perspectives.


Publication information: Pollack, Eileen. The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys’ Club. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2015. EPUB.
Source: Electronic format review copy provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

The Dinosaur Lords
by Victor Milán

July 19, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★

The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán | July 2015 | Tor Books | Hardcover $26.99

This review is based on an e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss. The book is due to be published July 28, 2015.

A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden – and of war. Colossal planteaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meateaters like Allosaurus and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from batsized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons. Vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engaged in battle. And during the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac – and hunted.

I wish I liked this book more than I did.

Come on, it’s a high fantasy set in a world where people ride DINOSAURS into battle (and keep them as pets and have otherwise domesticated them). Knights in shining armor who ride goddamn dinosaurs… what’s not to love?

Well, several things, TBQH….

Despite my everlasting passion for epic high fantasy stories, I’m not really a big fan of most battle scenes — and this book (especially at the beginning) involves several of them.

Most of the characters seemed flat to me. A couple of them did get to be more compelling as the story went on, but I really couldn’t make myself care about the fate of most of them. Even the main female character, the emperor’s daughter, seemed more like a vehicle for romance and court intrigue than a fully fleshed out character at first, although I do think she improved as the book went on.

(And I’m feeling pretty generous right now, so I won’t go on a rant about my frustration with yet another epic fantasy that features only a single, somewhat boring female POV character. You’re welcome.)

– – –

The world this book is set in is literally called Paradise. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of disease or natural disasters as far as I can tell, and humans can live to be over 300 years old. The danger is all either human-to-human or supernatural-to-human. I’m not sure why, but this rubbed me the wrong way.

That said, I did like the sort of alternative history — the book is basically set in a Europe where Spain, now called the Empire of Nuevaropa, basically took over everything and other countries are either subject to it or part of its empire. England, now Anglaterra, is called “Pirate Island” in a nod to its past attempts to defeat the Spanish fleet at sea. I liked that characters come from all over this version of Europe, too.

(Again, I’m feeling generous so we can skip over the rant about why we might not need yet another alterna-Europe high fantasy story….)

– – –

Lest ye think I’m complaining to much to justify the 3-star rating, I do want to point out some of the good stuff:

What it lacks in character detail/originality, it makes up for in setting detail/originality. This book includes a fully fleshed out world and I was delighted by all the little tidbits of dino biology and the history of the various nations.

The pacing is nearly perfect, too. Even though this book is well over 400 pages, not a single bit of it drags and I never felt like I might get too bored to finish. So despite my complaints above, I read the whole thing and mostly enjoyed it!

I also really liked the artwork by Richard Anderson. Each chapter is preceded by a lovely illustration as well as a short definition of  particular dinosaur species.

Dinosaur Lords is the first in a series. Will I read the following books? I don’t know yet. I won’t say no, but I’m not just bouncing off the walls in anticipation, either.


Publication information: Milán, Victor. The Dinosaur Lords. New York: Tor Books, 2015. EPUB.
Source: Electronic format review copy provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

All We Have is Now
by Lisa Schroeder

July 12, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

★ ★ ★

All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder | July 2015 | Point, an imprint of Scholastic | Hardcover $17.99

Just over twenty-four hours are left until an asteroid strikes North America, and for Emerson and everyone else who didn’t leave, the world will end. But Emerson’s world already ended when she ran away from home. Since then, she has lived on the streets, relying on her wits and on her friend Vince to help her find places to sleep and food to eat.

The city’s quieter now that most people are gone, and no one seems to know what to do as the end approaches. But then Emerson and Vince meet Carl, who tells them he has been granting people’s wishes — and gives them his wallet full of money.

Suddenly, this last day seems full of possibility. Emerson and Vince can grant a lot of wishes in one last day — maybe even their own.

This review is based on an ARC provided and signed by the author. (I won a very generous giveaway!) The official release date is July 28, which is less than 3 weeks away!

Keywords for this book? Sweet, well-paced, and thoughtful… but also not really my personal thing.

The entirety of the plot takes place in the final day leading up to an asteroid impact that is expected to cause an apocalypse-level disaster. The main characters are two homeless teens who don’t expect to survive, so they have to figure out how to fill their last living hours. The whole asteroid thing takes a backseat to the main plot, basically serving as just a whip to crack to get things moving…

… which is probably fine if you’re just looking for a nice little contemporary teen romance/social issues novel, but the SFF nerd in me was super annoyed and distracted by the lack of details and the obvious “twist” ending. I also started to feel really impatient with one of the main characters and I found myself rolling my eyes at her every few pages.

I’m going to set that aside for a minute, because it’s really a me problem, not an actual problem with the story itself. Here are some other things I liked about this book:

1. There are several rather lovely free verse poems scattered throughout, which serve as flashbacks and atmosphere-building devices.

2. Even though the kids are homeless and have obvious issues, their lives aren’t all about drugs or violence or prostitution (I find it refreshing when homelessness is not used as shorthand for “drug-addled holes for hire”).

3. The adults in this book are not perfect, but they’re not the enemies either — every character is treated like a real person, with flaws and positives in a flavorful blend.

In the end, would I recommend this book? Well, yeah. See above re: sweet, well-paced, and thoughtful — I really do think that folks who enjoy stories about troubled teens facing their problems (and maybe finding a little romance along the way) will enjoy this book.


Publication information: Schroeder, Lisa. All We Have is Now. New York: Scholastic, 2015. Print.
Source: ARC provided via giveaway.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Founding Brothers
by Joseph J. Ellis

July 4, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

★ ★ ★

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis | January 2000 | Knopf Doubleday | Paperback $15.95

In retrospect, it seems as if the American Revolution was inevitable. But was it? In Founding Brothers, Joseph J. Ellis reveals that many of those truths we hold to be self-evident were actually fiercely contested in the early days of the republic.

Happy Independence Day!

It’s July 4, the day that we celebrate our country’s Declaration of Independence (cue majestic bald eagles soaring through the sweet air of freedom from taxation without representation) so what better day than to check this book off my TBR Pile Challenge list?

Unfortunately, I don’t have much to say about it. This book was just, y’know, fine. I kind of expected to be blown away, given its Pulitzer Prize win? Oh, well.

Ellis really delves deep into the personalities, motivations, and actions of several of America’s “founding fathers” during the years following the Revolutionary War. The country was still considered a doomed experiment by most of the rest of the world and they faced unbelievable challenges. I think the author did an admirable job of trying to explain why they said and did certain things within the context of their time.

For example, this book includes a seriously thorough, nuanced discussion of the slavery problem. The union of the colonies as one nation would collapse if the newborn federal government tried to force the southern states to give up their slave-supported economic foundation, but the continued subjugation of hundreds of thousands of people was ethically incompatible with the very principles on which the Revolution was based.

That said, even at only 248 pages (not including notes and the index), this book is dense. I often had to read paragraphs two or even three times to decipher what the author was getting at. And right now I’m really trying to read for pleasure and relaxation because my work and personal life is a little hectic, so perhaps I ought to have waited a while to try this book. Oh, well. It is obviously well-researched and insightful, so my complaint in this case is not about the quality of the content — it’s the overly academic quality of the presentation.


Publication information: Ellis, Joseph. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. New York: Vintage Books, 2002. Print.
Source: Purchased from a library’s used bookshop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

The Astronaut Wives Club
by Lily Koppel

June 22, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel | January 2013 | Grand Central Publishing | Hardcover $28.00

As America’s Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focused on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Life magazine, and quickly grew into fashion icons.

As their celebrity rose-and as divorce and tragedy began to touch their lives-the wives continued to rally together, forming bonds that would withstand the test of time, and they have stayed friends for over half a century. The Astronaut Wives Club tells the story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history.

This book was simultaneously fascinating and depressing. I zoomed through it, but felt a bit frustrated the entire time!

First let’s talk about what I found fascinating. To start with, I knew (and still know) next to nothing about the early days of NASA. The major tragedies and triumphs, sure, but I couldn’t tell you how those astronauts trained, how many missions they each participated in, or how their families were cared for in the meantime.

Of course, this book isn’t about NASA or the astronauts themselves, it’s about their wives. Did you know that the wives of the first few astronauts actually each had a Life magazine reporter following them around, observing and interviewing for hours every day? I can’t imagine the pressure. The upshot is that these “pet” reporters acted as buffers between the ladies and the rest of the press — Annie Glenn’s assigned Life writer even agreed to hide or downplay her speech impairment in order to save her further embarrassment, which I thought was quite sweet.

I also really liked reading about Houston and its surrounding communities during this time period. We are essentially dual citizens of two cities right now, my husband and I, and one of those cities is Houston. So I admit that I might be a little bit biased on this topic!

That said… let’s talk about why this book was a bit depressing. It’s hard to believe that women had to deal with the things these women did event just 40-50 years ago, especially these women, matriarchs of some of the country’s favorite families.

Husband cheating on you? Better just be glad that you’re the one he likes best. Emotional and psychological abuse? Better just smile and pretend to be happy for the sake of your husband’s magnificent career. Depressed or over-stressed? Better just pop these “little helper” pills, because most of the other ladies in your peer group are going to act catty about it. Spouse died in the line of duty? Better get over it pretty quick, you’re not welcome in this neighborhood anymore because no one wants a daily reminder of the tragedy waiting for them around the corner.

At the Bibliothekla

You know, I love the aesthetic of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The clothing, the cars, the homes, the media… it’s all quite appealing on the surface. But I can’t imagine the enormous pressure these women were under to model the perfect, plastic All American Family day in and day out.

In the end, I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in mid-20th-century American history, particularly the “Space Race” and associated events.

– – – –


I didn’t realize that ABC was releasing a TV miniseries based on this book! The show is scheduled to run for 10 episodes on Thursdays at 7 pm CST. I’ve only watched the 1st episode so far, but I thought it was OK.


Publication information: Koppel, Lily. The Astronaut Wives Club. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2013. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal use.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Proof of Forever
by Lexa Hillyer

June 2, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★

Proof of Forever by Lexa Hillyer | June 2015 | HarperCollins | Hardcover $17.99

Before: It was the perfect summer of first kisses, skinny-dipping, and bonfires by the lake. Joy, Tali, Luce, and Zoe knew their final summer at Camp Okahatchee would come to an end, but they swore they’d stay friends.

After: Now, two years later, their bond has faded along with those memories.

Then: That is, until the fateful flash of a photo booth camera transports the four of them back in time, to the summer they were fifteen—the summer everything changed.

Now: The girls must recreate the past in order to return to the present. As they live through their second-chance summer, the mystery behind their lost friendship unravels, and a dark secret threatens to tear the girls apart all over again.

Sweet. I think this would be a lovely novel for fans of girl-group friendship / coming-of-age stories. Probably a perfect little bit of fun for some of the teens in my library’s summer reading club.

This story revolves around a group of young women, once inseparable friends, who suddenly find themselves thrust backwards in time at their summer camp together as teens. What went wrong in their lives at this pivotal point, and how can they fix their broken relationships?

This was a fairly short, easy read. The story is told in alternating points of view, giving each of the 4 girls a chance to tell their own side of the story and let their personalities shine (… or not, as the case may be). I would have LOVED this book when I was going through my Princess Diaries / Freaky Friday / Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants phase as a middle/high schooler. And I probably could have used some of the subtle-but-not-TOO-subtle friendship advice.

That said, this book was so damn predictable. Each of the girls felt like some kind of stereotype — not always in a bad way. I just mean that they’re very familiar, very well-used characters. I was really only surprised by one character’s particular development trajectory, but maybe I really shouldn’t have been. It’s just that I identified with her so heavily in the beginning that I didn’t expect her resolution to be so different from my own, haha!

The characters were actually pretty endearing. They all had their little quirks, special abilities, and flaws. I just love that.

I didn’t much care for the ending, to be honest. I don’t want to spoil anything for potential readers, but if you’ve read much contemporary YA at all over the past few years you’ll probably guess the ending anyway. Perfect teen girl gets a seriously bad phone call, withdraws from all her friends, then mysteriously reappears and insists that they all go on one last adventure together? Yeah, there’s only a handful of obvious things that those signs can point to….

I really don’t want to sound too negative about this book! I know there are going to be a LOT of people who like it and I sincerely hope it does well. Maybe I’m just too far past that phase when this book would have really meant something to me.

Anyway, HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY to Proof of Forever. It just came out today! Super exciting!


Publication information: Hillyer, Lexa. Proof of Forever. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. EPUB.
Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Reason for Hope
by Jane Goodall

May 26, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★

Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall and Phillip Berman | September 1999 | Warner Books | Hardcover $32.00

Her revolutionary studies of Tanzania’s chimpanzees forever altered our definition of humanity. Now, intriguing as always, Jane Goodall explores her deepest convictions in a heartfelt memoir that takes her from the London Blitz to Louis Leaky’s famous excavations in Africa and then into the forests of Gombe. From the unforgettable moment when a wild chimpanzee gently grasps her hand to the terror of a hostage-taking and the sorrow of her husband’s death. Here, thoughtfully exploring the challenges of both science and the soul, she offers an inspiring, optimistic message as profound as the knowledge she brought back from the forests, and that gives us all… reason for hope.

This book was quite lovely. I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in a contrast to the ultra-logical atheism of scientists like Richard Dawkins.

In this memoir, Jane Goodall describes the events in her life that led her current spiritual beliefs: her childhood in England during WWII, her adventures with the chimpanzees and scientists in Africa, the birth of her beloved son, and the deaths of people she loved deeply. Goodall has lived a simply incredible life and she has a way of writing that makes the reader feel as though she’s engaging in a personal conversation, not just telling a story.

It was fascinating to read about the religious philosophy and spiritual experiences of this intelligent, humanitarian, admirable woman. I believe that we should never stop learning and searching for truth, and I think both science and theology can be valid ways of pursuing personal growth. I also worry that scientists who do profess a faith in any particular religion or even just a higher being or planes of existence don’t often speak up for fear of being accused of irrationality, so it’s refreshing to read about the intimate, carefully considered faith of a highly respected biologist. I don’t particularly feel the need to detail my own beliefs here, but I did identify heavily with some of Goodall’s personal experiences and conclusions.

The book isn’t just about spirituality, or one person’s religiously significant experiences though. Goodall spends the last portion of the book on the topic of humanity’s future, of our place in the world and what we can do to reduce the suffering of other species as well as our own. She also shares some of her own poetry throughout the book, which I thought was nice enough — but I know next to nothing about poetry.

That said, I found myself drawn more to the stories about her time spent among the chimpanzees of the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. I started reading her book on the subject, In the Shadow of Man, ages ago… and I can’t for the life of me remember why I put it down, as I really remember nothing but good feelings and enjoyment of it. I think I may need to pick it up again!


Publication information: Goodall, Jane. Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey. New York: Warner Books, 1999. Print.
Source: Personal purchase or gift, provenance unknown.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

The Devil You Know
by Trish Doller

May 20, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller | June 2015 | Bloomsbury| $17.99

This review is based on a print ARC.

Eighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it’s just the risk she’s been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be.

I did not expect to rate this book so highly.

Books that open with teenagers drinking booze, fantasizing about sex, or pining after their ex-boyfriends tend not to hold my attention for very long.

(Please note that I’m not saying that books shouldn’t include those things or that real teens don’t do those them. I’m just not interested in reading about it.)

But there’s always an exception to the rule, isn’t there? The Devil You Know is that exception in this case.

The main character, Cadie, really grew on me. She’s not perfect — she’s a very believable teen, complete with questionable relationship choices and impulse control problems, but she’s also not afraid to stand up for herself, be thoughtful, and take care of business when she needs to. There were several points in the book when she did or said something that made me think, “That’s RIGHT girl, you tell him like it is!”

The way the suspense is built up is perfect. The book starts out very much like any contemporary YA novel: teen gets bored, teen rebels just a little bit, teen’s rebellion takes an unexpected turn. But as Cadie’s adventure continues and the weird occurrences start to build up, the reader can’t help but want to shake her by the shoulders and shout for her to watch her back! Even though I’d easily guessed who the bad guy was well before the end, I stayed up until 1 am to finish because I just couldn’t handle the suspense, haha.

The whole Florida atmosphere and the feel of small Southern town life is spot-on. Of course, the author now lives in Florida (according to her website), so I guess that’s to be expected.

Also, I don’t want to be too spoilery so I feel like I can’t write too much about what goes down in this book. But I would have appreciated someone reassuring me of this: Yes, the dog lives!

The official release date for The Devil You Know is June 2nd, so if you feel like preordering it or making a purchase request at your library now is the time!


Publication information: Doller, Trish. The Devil You Know. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. Print.
Source: ARC provided via giveaway managed by Lisa Schroeder.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

by Heather Dixon

May 17, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ 

Illusionarium by Heather Dixon | Greenwillow Books | May 2015 | Hardcover $17.99

Jonathan is perfectly ordinary. But then—as every good adventure begins—the king swoops into port, and Jonathan and his father are enlisted to find the cure to a deadly plague. Jonathan discovers that he’s a prodigy at working with a new chemical called fantillium, which creates shared hallucinations—or illusions. And just like that, Jonathan is knocked off his path.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss.

This book comes out on May 19! That’s only 2 days away, so if this one looks like it’ll appeal to you at least you won’t have to wait very long for it.

Personally, I kind of have mixed feelings about this one but mostly I liked it. I’ll happily rec it for anyone who’s into YA steampunk and portal fantasy.

I didn’t pay much attention to the summary (above) prior to starting the book, so I was completely taken by surprise when Jonathan ended up in that parallel world, exactly what it says on the tin. The book starts off with a terrible epidemic, which Jonathan and his father are hoping to cure. This new chemical, provided by a mysteriously strange version of Jonathan’s father’s mentor, can supposedly help them with their research — but Jonathan’s father won’t use it because it is too dangerous and mind-warping.

Jonathan decides to take matters into his own hands and ends up discovering a completely different version of his own world: Nod’ol. Yes, that’s London backwards. With an extra apostrophe thrown in for no good reason.

Don’t talk to me about superfluous SFF apostrophes. I can’t even.


So what starts off as a vaguely science-y steampunk morphs suddenly into a rather more magic-y portal fantasy involving your typical parallel universes that split apart at some point in the past due to a big game-changing event or whatever. You know how it goes. I don’t want to spoil it for potential readers so I won’t say much about the plot beyond that, though.

The promos also compare Illusionarium to Gail Carriger’s books. The exact term they employ is “sparkling wit” which… I mean, yeah, if you like Carriger’s YA books (I do) you might want to give this one a try. There are several funny and clever bits, but I wouldn’t put it quite on the level of the Parasol Protectorate series, humor-wise.

One thing I did appreciate — and this is a little bit of a spoiler, so skip to the next paragraph if you want to — is that Jonathan, despite being our main POV characters, is not actually the prophesied Chosen One. He’s got extra strong powers, but he’s not the only one. A big part of the story is the way he has to come to terms with his own actions and moral code, rather than him saving the universes or rescuing damsels in distress.

That’s something that I simultaneously liked + disliked about this book: the lady characters. I really appreciated that Jonathan’s main concern throughout the book was his sister and mother, rather than just some gal he had a crush on. Everything he did, he did for his family, and that’s refreshing. Hooray for happy families! Hooray for boys who care about their parents and siblings!

That said, something happened to one of the main characters that I think was contrived and unnecessary. Like, OK, the hero needs something to feel super angry about and this person is kinda-sorta important to him and has already served her purpose in the plot… Collateral Angst / Lost Lenore? Those are super common tropes because they can make for more emotionally complicated stories, which is fine, it’s just that for some reason it bothered me a little bit in this instance.

The cover, by the way, doesn’t make any damned sense with the plot. Not that it is a bad cover, nicely steampunk-y and YA-y, but if it makes you think you’re in for some kind of dark romance, well, it’s lying to you.

The only other thing that bugged me about Illusionarium is the footnotes. Normally I kind of like footnotes, or will at least tolerate them! BUT. Normally, I’m reading a physical copy. In the e-book review version I was reading this time, the “footnotes” were actually formatted as endnotes. I really hope that’s not how the final copy ends up, because after like 5 or 6 of these I just gave up and ignored them because flipping to the end and back interrupted the story so much that they weren’t worth bothering with.

Overall, though, this is a fun fast-paced adventure with just enough philosophizing to keep it from being all magic and fistfights and just enough humor to keep it from being too seriously moralizing.


Publication information: Dixon, Heathr. Illusionarium. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2015. EPUB.
Source: Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.