April 2022 Book Reviews

April proved to be a good month for reading, as I knocked out quite a few books.  Even better, most of the books from this month were pretty enjoyable.  I hope you find something you might like from my list this month.  Feel free to share your thoughts with me too!

Books will be rated on a 1 – 5 star scale with 1 being bad and 5 being excellent.  If you enjoy what you see and don’t want to wait until the next book post, please follow us on Goodreads.  We’ll stay consistently updated there before compiling our month’s reading and thoughts here.

The comics Chaos has read will also be included at the end of the post.  Normally those will just be listed and not officially reviewed.  If you ever want to hear about a comic in particular though or want his thoughts, don’t be afraid to ask.  He enjoys discussing everything he’s read. 

Let’s get to it!

Or Else by Joe Hart – 3.5/5 Stars

A secret love affair.  Murder.  Missing People.  Shady business.  Long kept secrets.

Or Else is the story of Andy Drake, a writer who returns to his hometown only to find himself possibly in the middle of a lot of trouble and danger.  Turns out secret affairs might not be good for you, especially when the husband turns up dead.  Can Andy maintain his own secrets while figuring out the mysteries that have shattered his peaceful neighborhood?

Here we have a solid mystery/thriller.  It’s quick paced enough not to overstay its welcome and overall, I found it pretty enjoyable.  While the story and atmosphere only had so much depth, Hart makes up for it with a lot of twists and turns.  His writing style also has a sense of humor that keeps the book humming along nicely as his character runs around trying to piece the clues together.

Hart uses his author character to point out several of his story’s tropes and shortcuts in a cheeky way.  This doesn’t help the novel overcome those, but at least we’re all of an understanding of what kind of book this is and what to expect in general.

For better or worse, Or Else doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from other solid thrillers other than maintain.  It’s worth the read, but you also won’t be missing out too much if you don’t.  I would recommend it to those who like their mystery/thrillers with a side of humor.

Daughters of the Dream by Tamara Lucas Copeland – 2.5/5 Stars

This is a book that I wanted to like more but I had a lot of trouble getting into it as a whole.  In her narrative nonfiction, Copeland offers a broadly interesting look into the lives of her and her friends during the civil rights movement (and beyond).  The book follows them from childhood to the present day.  Unfortunately, I often felt Copeland’s interests (a strong focus on her and her friends’ lives and journeys from childhood to adulthood) didn’t always align with what I hoped to read more about (the actual events of the time period and how they affected the people of the Richmond area).

I appreciated Copeland’s honesty about what she didn’t remember, but at times it felt like she couldn’t go more than a few pages without having to admit she had no recollection of events/moments or that she simply didn’t pay attention enough during the time so couldn’t really comment on them now.  If her mission was to recount the experiences of life during a certain era, she left quite a few blanks or could only offer a very narrow view.  Of course, since Copeland was only a child or teen during most of her retellings, I can only fault her so much for not paying close attention to current events or having a detailed memory of specifics outside of her childhood bubble.

As someone who lives in Richmond, I did enjoy getting a peek into some of the ways that the city has evolved over the years.  While Copeland could not provide the more in-depth study of life during the civil rights moment that I might have hoped for, the human aspect of growing up in a changing city and community felt worth reading.

I’m glad that Copeland got to complete her and her friend’s goal of a story recounting her lives, but overall this book felt like it would probably mean most to those who either know these ladies already or to those who happen to want a closer look at the lives of eight specific women who happened to grow up during the civil rights movement.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Chrisopher Moore – 4/5 Stars

Biff has been resurrected during modern times in order to write a new gospel.  His job is to tell the full story of Jesus’ life, including all the childhood misadventures they shared that seem to have been omitted from the rest of the gospels.  As Jesus’ (Joshua’s) best friend, who better to tell the story than Biff?

Telling the untold tales of Jesus seems like a great way to be extremely offensive or sacrilegious.  However, Moore’s novel somehow hits a great balance of staying true to many of the messages and some of the characters of the Bible’s gospels, while also approaching everything with a ridiculous humor and wit that emphasizes the reader’s need not to take anything he writes too seriously.  

Overall, the story is a lot of fun, even if there is a lot of bathroom humor and some ideas are played with just for laughs.  There are also a lot of great nods and allusions to proper Bible stories without feeling too heavy handed.  

I completely understand if this book isn’t for everyone, but I saw it less as an attack on Christianity and more of a way of having fun with the source material without meaning anything too seriously.

*It should be noted that this novel definitely has some questionable depictions of different cultures and races.  I don’t think Moore intends to be offensive in that respect, but I’d like to imagine if he had written this today, there are changes he would make, especially in regards to Asian cultures.

Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarian’s Guide by Sylvia M. Vardell – 3/5 Stars

I read this book for a children’s literature course I am taking as a part of a school librarianship program.  Reading about one chapter a week, I appreciated what the text had to offer.  This is still a textbook, so it can be dry and wordy at points, but the information is well organized and effectively presented.

This book does well as a simple overview of children’s literature: its history along with its many genres and forms.  I believe someone simply wanting to know more about children’s literature would be happy with this book.  However, Vardell also does well providing insight on how librarians should approach these texts and how they can use them within their own libraries and for their own lessons.

While I’m sure most people won’t be rushing out to grab a textbook just for fun, if anyone does need a resource for children’s literature, especially as it pertains to school libraries or libraries in general, this text is a great choice.

No Exit by Taylor Adams – 4.5/5 Stars

College student, Darby ends up stranded at a rest stop during a blizzard.  All she wants to do is get to her dying mother’s side before it’s too late, but instead she’s stuck with four strangers for what could be hours.  The storm is so bad, there is no form of outside communication.  Then, Darby discovers that a van outside the rest stop has an abducted and caged child hidden away in it. Darby realizes that a potentially dangerous kidnapper is also stranded with her.  It’s up to Darby to figure out how to save the young girl and keep everyone safe.

Adam presents a nonstop thriller.  Darby is in for a wild evening and the novel never lets up on the intensity.  The book takes numerous twists and turns, which should keep any reader riveted and curious about what’s going to happen next.

Like a good action movie, the plot gets a little over the top and the issues keep escalating, but readers should enjoy the constant battle between good and evil.  The hero and vilain will both make dumb choices in order to keep the story going at times, but there isn’t anything too glaring that can’t at least somewhat be dismissed with the idea that stressed people in a threatening situation might not make the most thought out decisions every step of the way.

No Exit gets intense, violent, and dark, but if you’re okay with that, this book is one heck of a nail biting thriller.  This is a hard one to put down.

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane – 5/5 Stars

Three young friends’ lives are forever changed when one of them gets into a strange car and the other two don’t.  Jump forward twenty-five years and all three have built far from perfect lives: Jimmy is an ex-con trying to live a better life, Dave battles his inner demons while attempting to hold his marriage together, and Sean is a homicide detective carrying both personal and professional struggles.  All three mens’ lives come back together when Jimmy’s 19 year-old daughter is murdered and Sean is assigned to the case.  Dave?  He came home covered in blood the night Jimmy’s daughter died.

Lehane crafts a novel whose plot alone would be great, but where he truly delivers is with his character work.  The three main protagonists are all equally interesting, fleshed out, and worth a reader’s emotional investment.  Whether the reader agrees with them or not, likes them or hates them, the development and evolution of all three main characters during the course of the book is fascinating.  Unlike some books, it’s never a disappointment to switch from one character to another because each propels the story forward in their own compelling ways.    

The community and characters built around the main characters is also very well done.  While they obviously don’t get as much time and development, they still feel like fully realized people.  This really helps with the story’s overarching mystery and plot.  The stakes feel real and serious, and the reader feels the mounting intensity as the story progresses. 

I know it’s been twenty years and Lehane said there won’t be a sequel to Mystic River, but I really wish there could be because I would love to know what happens next for the main characters and the cast of characters surrounding them.  Overall, this is a great book.

Othello by Wiliam Shakespeare (No Fear Shakespeare) 4/5 Stars

Shakespeare is great in the original language, but the No Fear translations make them so easily accessible to everyone.  It’s great to have these as a resource both for myself and for working with kids.

Othello itself is a timeless classic.  When he doesn’t get the promotion he wanted, Iago decides it is time to take matters into his own hands.  He manipulates everyone around him, with his nefarious plans centered around convincing Othello that his new wife, Desdemona is cheating on him.  Iago hopes to build his own power and wealth through his lies and to bring the downfall of others along the way.

Iago is a fantastic villain and his sinister plans move the plot along at a quick and enjoyable pace.  The fast moving action lends the play a sense of ridiculousness at times, such as seeing Othello moving from “she’d never cheat on me” to “maybe she’s cheating on me” to “she’s cheating on me and must die” all in one scene.  Personally, I find that adds to the fun of the play while not undermining its messages on trust, honesty, jealousy, love, and power.

Warning: As a five hundred year old play, there are definitely some dated comments throughout in terms of race and gender.  Some of them are purposefully bad since they come from the villain’s mouth and others are less so.  Personally, nothing here seemed so bad as to take away from the play as a whole, but others may feel differently.

I would highly recommend Othello in general, but if the Shakespearn language has kept you away before, then the No Fear Shakespeare translation is a great option. 

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novak – 4/5 Stars

In The Last Graduate, the second novel of the Scholomance trilogy, El and Orion have reached their senior year.  The countdown toward graduation, an epic battle to freedom through hordes of maleficaria that few normally survive, is in full swing and every senior must do all they can to prepare.  If monsters weren’t bad enough, El must also deal with the politics and plans of her fellow classmates as well.  What are students to do when the odds of survival seem to keep getting worse and things are rarely how they appear?

Naomi Novak does a wonderful job following up on A Deadly Education, with a novel that builds on the foundation she already laid but also isn’t afraid to play by its own rules.  The journey of the characters’ final year through the Scholomance as they approach graduation is full of tension for the characters and anticipation for what will happen for the readers.  Thankfully, Novak does a good job of filling the build to graduation with character development, school politics, and the ever changing demands of the Scholomance.

I really enjoyed getting to see the continued stories of El, Orion, and their friends.  This novel allowed their character to change and react to the impending challenge of graduation and to each situation that they faced.  El especially is a well-rounded character that is given a lot of room to grow and evolve.  The plot itself is great, but the characters never feel like they are simply there for the sake of the plot.  Novak does an excellent job of giving El and the others depth and good reason for each of their actions.

The Last Graduate takes full advantage of the Scholomance’s world and mythology in order to forge a fantastic story.  The stakes feel read, the characters are deep, and the ending makes you want more.  I look forward to reading the final novel of the series before too long.

Comics Read This Month:

  • Empyre by Al Ewing and Dan Slott
  • Empyre: Captain America and The Avengers by Phillp K. Johnson and Jim Zub

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