As we slowly near the halfway point of the year and draw close to Summer, I come with more reviewed books. Hopefully you’ll find a treasure or two here for yourself. Here are the books that I read during the month of May.
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!
The Library Book by Susan Orlean – 2.5/5 Stars
In The Library Book, Susan Orlean investigates the mysterious 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Public Library. However this book dives much deeper than just one library fire. Orlean also goes in depth in the history of the Los Angeles Public Library and the impact that the fire had for years to come. Along the way, Orlean will also explore many different topics inspired by her research on the 1986 fire and the community that the Los Angeles Public Library serves.
I can’t help but liken The Library Book to a night spent on Wikipedia (but with more assuredly trustworthy and credible sources). It felt like someone decided to look up The Lost Angeles Public Library fire and along the way clicked on hyperlinks to other articles and then clicked on links in those articles and so on. Our imaginary wiki-surfer always catches themselves eventually and returns to their main topic, but soon falls prey to rabbit trails and other points of interest again.
Examples of this pattern include: How to detect arson -> a separate case on arson that may have led to a wrongful conviction -> invisible crimes -> shaken baby syndrome OR LAPL fire -> library fires in general -> library of Alexandria fire -> life and culture during that time period. The paths Orlean takes are logical and clear, but not always necessary.
This style of writing created a book that was at times very interesting and at other times felt like it should get back to the point. The success of this text will probably depend on your level of interest for each of the different topics.
While there was a lot I liked about the book and what I learned, I have trouble rating it higher because the book lacked focus. The book is full of good and well-researched information, but it felt like Orlean either needed to include a lot of extras to pad out the book or couldn’t decide what to cut, so she just threw it all in: everything imaginable about the Los Angeles Public Library, a lot about everyone who has worked there, the history of libraries and their importance both in the past and today, the future of libraries and reading, a lot about fires, suspects and lives, and many topics tangentially related to other things she decided to talk about.
The Library Book is a love letter to libraries and The Los Angeles Public Library specifically. It is not only about the 1986 fire and it is definitely not a true crime story. This is a book for anyone who wants to learn everything about libraries and isn’t afraid to see where the topic takes them.
My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham – 3.5/5 Stars
Finch Chamberlain transfers to a super competitive boarding school for the performing arts. It’s hard to enjoy her new surroundings though as she deals with the recent tragic loss of both her parents and the fact that it seems like something potentially dark and evil wants her attention.
Meanwhile, resident queen bee, Selena St. Clair feels pulled toward Finch even though she senses something must be wrong with her.
Their lives are irreversibly tied together one night when they and a few other girls happen upon a mysterious creature in the tunnels beneath their school. The creature gives promises of granting desires in exchange for body parts. A lock or hair, some nails, or a little blood might not seem so bad, but what happens when the prices become even greater. How much are Finch and Selena willing to give, and do they really have the option of saying no?
My Dearest Darkest is a great blend of young adult supernatural horror and romance. Cottingham creates the world of Ulalume well and places interesting teen characters within it. Not every character is fully fleshed out, but they all serve their role well. Most importantly, the main characters of Finch and Selena are likable and worth rooting for throughout the novel.
Cottingham does a good job of balancing the story of teenage drama with the horror story she intends to tell. Friendships, romances, and grades all vie for the plot’s attention, but the fact that a monster lurks below and is hungry for more is never forgotten or ignored. The tale of these girls’ is well done and the ending is a lot of Lovecraftian fun.
This is definitely meant for teens, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do a good job of storytelling and building up its frights. I would definitely recommend it for those who like supernatural horror.
Family Money by Chad Zunker – 3/5 Stars
A family trip to Mexico turns deadly when Alex Mahan’s father-in-law is kidnapped. Now Alex must figure out whether this was a random act or if there is more to his father-in-law than meets the eye. Embarking on this journey will lead Alex to discovering the power and danger of secrets and just how much the past can shape the present.
Alex’s story is one about an average and decent guy getting sucked into a world more dangerous than he’s used to and having to figure out enough to survive. The plot itself is pretty simple and the twists never feel huge, however the novel does deliver a solid and interesting enough story. This novel hits more in the realm of light reading. It’ll give you an intriguing story, but it’ll never go too deep and it’ll ask that you don’t try to think things over too much.
Family Money definitely wants readers to leave knowing that honesty is the best policy. Instead of leading by example, it teaches this by showing just how much deception can hurt people. Again and again Alex will emphasize the importance of honesty to his family and his marriage and then lie to everyone around him. It’s for the greater good and to protect his wife though, so it’s all okay, right?
If you like thrillers and it’s okay if you’re not reading the greatest book ever, Family Money is a decent option
Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi – 3.5/5 Stars
Americanized is a memoir recounting Sara Saedi’s teenage years and her family’s journey to getting green cards. Sara and her family immigrated to America from Iran, and over the course of many years will have to navigate what it means to live in America and what it takes to get through all the bureaucratic red tape of legal immigration. Along the way, Sara will also delve into stories about friendship, love, family, and survival as a teenage girl in the 1990s.
Sara Saedi did a wonderful job giving readers a peek into her teenage life. The stories she tells obviously have a bit of an adult retrospective, but Saedi is good at capturing a more teenage perspective and mindset as she recounts stories. It’s also great that she is able to share her own journal entries from the time period to truly share the experiences and thoughts of young Sara.
While readers can and will learn a lot about immigration, Iranian culture, and the 90s from Saedi’s memoir, the story is truly about Sara and her family. Her relationships with her siblings and her parents often take center stage. Personally, I prefer this more human touch instead of feeling like I’m ready from a history or text book. While her personal dramas and family anecdotes might not be the biggest issues in the world, Saedi does a good job of making them feel important and portraying them in an engaging way.
This book is a great peek into the life of a teenage girl and into the lives of illegal immigrants hoping to do nothing more than provide for their family and have a place where they belong.
A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion – 4/5 Stars
Libby and her many siblings live a less than ideal life. Their dad is dead and their distant mother only seems to have enough energy and interest for her secret boyfriend. Navigating family issues and teenage drama can be hard enough, but things get much tougher one night when Libby’s mom decides to kick twelve year-old sister Ellen out of their car miles from home just as it’s starting to get dark. During her trek home, Ellen comes across ill-intention and danger, which will only spiral and grow. Will Libby’s family ever be safe again and how will this all affect the person she is becoming.
A Crooked Tree is a gripping novel. Mannion does an excellent job creating a believable world and community, and then explores how one twisted action can have a deep and lasting impact. I appreciated that well the novel had a lot of depth and meaning, the children of the novel still felt like the teens they are supposed to be. The angst, isolation, and high-drama that one expects from a teenage perspective are present and feel genuine.
As characters make unwise decisions or try to figure things out without seeking proper parental guidance, it makes sense in its own adolescent way. The story does a great job of balancing on the seriousness of teenage drama and the threat of true all-out danger and adult issues. This is a time of growth and realization for Libby and she slowly does earn a better understanding of the world.
This novel is a grounded, character-driven work that delivers so well. Readers, given access to a small community and Libby’s life, get a deep and insightful look into the formative years of a young lady. This nostalgic, sometimes tough and sometimes intense, book is definitely worth checking out.
Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards – 3.5/5 Stars
Mira finds it vitally important to return to Pittsburgh to be with struggling mom for Christmas. Unfortunately, weather is being uncooperative and Mira’s layover is canceled by an incoming blizzard. Desperate to be the support her mother needs, Mira sets aside her cautiousness and gets in a rented car with four college students, who are all strangers but also from the same canceled flight. The weather is getting worse and the trip will be no easy feat. Soon though, Mira and the other passengers may learn that the weather is not the only danger in store for them. Deadly forces are bearing down on and not all of them may be coming from outside the car.
Five Total Strangers is a thriller to the core. The pace is fast and the action is plentiful. Even when the characters are making questionable decisions or using their worst possible judgment, it’s easy to forgive since the story moves along quickly enough to stay entertaining.
Mira is a sympathetic perspective character, who readers who have no trouble supporting. Telling the story from her young and anxious viewpoint also allows her and the plot to cast plenty of doubt and suspicion at the rest of her travel companions.
Overall I enjoyed the novel and it kept me wondering what would happen next. Though I correctly guessed the direction Richards was taking her book, she did a good job setting potential but logical red herring that I did have some doubts that I was right. The actual ending came and went pretty quickly, but that fit with the speed of the rest of the novel and it’s probably better than the alternative of dragging things out.
Five Total Strangers is a fun and enthralling thriller that is great for anyone looking for a good stand alone book.
In the Quick by Kate Hope Day – 2.5/5 Stars
June, a brilliant young girl follows her dream of becoming an astronaut. Along the way she must deal with the loss of her uncle, grueling training at a school meant for those older than herself, and the hardships of making friends and allies. Of course, even if June gets to space, that will be no cakewalk either and is sure to provide its own challenges. Throughout the novel, June will also have to wrestle with her belief that the missing spacecraft, Inquiry, is still out there and that she may be able to do something to help.
Kate Hope Day had some interesting ideas in her novel, but her delivery felt lacking. Personally, I like stories set in space and ones with the potential of school/teenage drama, but this story fell flat to me. Sometimes the book gets bogged down in unnecessary details and other times details seem important and then are completely forgotten. Why spend so much time building the perfect mechanical hand only to never mention it when a character actually loses a hand?
It should be noted that this book is written without quotation marks. While I can’t tell you why exactly, my friends and I had a few theories. This ended up being a bit of a reoccurring theme in our group discussions. Why was the novel like this or why did this happen in the plot? Don’t know, but maybe… Many of the explanations felt like us stretching to possibly justify the text.
When a book ends with a more open-ended conclusion, I often wish I could get just a little bit more, have a few more answers. In the Quick ended with plenty of possibilities left to the story, but I was fine moving on. Do I wish I knew what happened next? Sure, but I also have no regrets never visiting June or her world again.
In the Quick is a fine but unspectacular book.
Bear by Ben Queen and Joe Todd-Stanton