5 Stars or Less in 5 Sentences or Less

Jul 20

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

1 star

Architecture, Morals, Humanity, Unhealthy Relationships

A tangled book that is 80% unhelpful backstory and 20% Rand’s belief that being completely self-involved and unwilling to compromise makes you a good person, the Fountainhead nevertheless pretends to be a book about an architect named Howard Roark who rapes a woman who promptly follows him around for the rest of the book. There are a slew of other characters who, the afterword of Rand’s journals proves, were literally created to make Rand’s point that not caring about other people is the way to go, because caring about other people’s feelings will ruin your sad existence. It is impossible to fit into five sentences how slow moving, lazily written, and absolutely appalling this book is, so suffice it to say that unless you are looking for an uninteresting book written as a bad moral, you can safely leave this one behind.

Winger by Andrew Smith

4 star

Boarding School, Friendship, Sports

Winger is a 14-year-old junior at his boarding school where he struggles with being attracted to every girl ever, being viewed as a child, playing on the varsity rugby team, living in the dorm with the troublemakers, and aspiring to be as genuinely kind as Joey, the rugby captain who is gay (this shouldn’t matter but it does). Winger takes a while to get warmed up to as he starts out being kind of a self-pitying jerk, but Smith does a great job of showing how he grows and learns and becomes a brave, kind, fearless guy without making him too introspective. It is a funny book that feels real; like Looking for Alaska it takes these kids living in a pressure cooker of teenage feelings and shows their happy moments and horrible ones. Smith has captured the language and thoughts and painfulness of adolescence in a single, beautiful book.

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

3 star

Spunky Preteens, The Devil, Mythology, Carnivals

Natalie knows something is wrong with the four creepy members of the traveling medicine show, and she spends a lot of time lurking around and hearing ghost stories and visiting the crossroads of the former town nearby while looking for clues. Unfortunately, the title is the most exciting thing about this book (it actually just refers to a type of bicycle). The medicine show docs are appropriately creepy, and the stories of the past are great, but Natalie and her friends are not interesting enough to make up for the slow pacing. I would recommend it to people who like Supernatural-style stories as it is fun, but it isn’t spectacular.

Jul 19

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman

1 star

Family, Love, Time, Regret

Two teenage sisters fall in love with an older man (a brooding painter) and the story picks up decades later when the painter is in his seventies and sends his art firm guys out to find the sisters for him. As the book unfolds you learn more about what happened to the sisters and their relationships with the painter, and you spend a whole lot of time learning about the sisters, their neighbors, the art firm guys, the art firm guys’ families—basically nothing happens in this whole book except that a lot of people are miserable and continue being miserable. Guzeman tries very hard to write poetically but she fails, and often her sentences are so oddly constructed that they pull you out of the story (I listened to the audiobook, which made the language even more jarring as even the way the characters spoke was stiff). I am left with the impression that this was an attempt to study lifetimes and how they intertwine—so if that is what you are looking for, just put this down and go read Love in the Time of Cholera.

Jul 18

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer

4 star

Whimsy, Cutout Books, Family, Magical Realism

Foer took the book “The Street of Crocodiles” and basically snipped out words to make his own story—think black out poetry, except when you open the book the pages are full of holes instead of Sharpie marks. It is a delightful and intriguing idea, and Foer does a decent job of crafting a story of a young man’s relationship with his parents and his exploration and meditation. Worth reading just for the uniqueness, he does play well with language and it is fun to watch it unfold.

Jul 17

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath

2 star

Mystery, Family Problems, Indecisive Rabbits

Madeline’s hippie parents are kidnapped by foxes and she enlists the help of two rabbits who want to be detectives to help her rescue her parents — and it is as poorly thought out as it sounds. The book lacks clarity in its descriptions so in some scenes you are under the impression these are giant people-sized rabbits and other times Madeline is struggling to deal with how small they are, and you are left with an overall impression of being Alice in Wonderland, yanked from scene to scene however Horvath thought fit. It tries very hard to be funny, but the jokes fall flat due to a lack of grounding to any kind of rules (to let Madeline rely on herself and the Bunny’s, her parents are kidnapped by foxes and then her uncle voluntarily slips into a coma just by saying he thinks it would be fun). Overall not very engaging. It’s the first in a series but I cannot continue …

City of Masks by Mary Hoffman

5 stars

Time Travel, Alternate Universe, Italy, Adventure, Fantasy

City of Masks transports you to an alternate-universe version of Venice, where Lucien has accidentally discovered a way to stravagate to and from. Stravagation is a method of time travel where the stravagante uses an enchanted object to move between alternate worlds at different time periods. It’s weird and wonderful and Lucien is in for a tumultuous journey as he travels back and forth from his own modern-day world (where he is fighting cancer) to this 16th century alternate Italy (where he is fit and healthy). Lucien’s adventures are heart-stopping and heart-breaking and will leave you wanting to go to our own modern Venice to see it for yourself.

Later books: City of Stars, City of Flowers, City of Secrets, City of Ships, City of Swords

Ink Mage by Victor Gischler

4 stars

Fantasy, Revenge, Battle, Magic, Tattoos

With the atmosphere of a fast-paced comic book mixed with a blood-spattering video game, duchess Rina Veraiin starts a journey to acquire enchanted tattoos that will give her magical skills and help her retake her city from invaders. There are so many colorful characters all working in different ways to oust the occupying army that work well together in the end. Each of their stories is unique and exciting and makes it a tale about people from every background standing up to save their homes and lives. Ink Mage manages to combine humor, fairly graphic violence, and passion into one wild ride. Not to mention the fabulously badass women that populate the world and are major players in the war.

Jul 09

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

5 star

Love, Reincarnation, Island Life, Short Stories, Mystery

The book begins with a journalist visiting an island where it is believed that the inhabitants live forever—and it continues on to total seven stories on the island that are separate stories but all link together through the names Eric and Merle. Sedgwick does a fantastic job of writing stories that are alternately romantic, odd, and scary, and elaborating on each life just long enough to make you attached before moving on to the next. Would recommend to fans of fantasy grounded in this world, fans of weird love stories, fans of scary stories.

Jul 08

William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

3 star

Shakespeare, Star Wars, Retold Stories, Humor, Iambic Pentameter

Doescher does a better job this time around with adding depth to the characters, and his use of haiku is a nice contrast for Yoda. He tries too hard to keep in the most popular lines and it would work a little better if he let the language lead the story more to give it more depth and humor. Overall it is a nice, light piece of entertainment.

Previous: Verily, A New Hope
Later: The Jedi Doth Return

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

2 star

Unreliable Narrator, East Coast Stereotypes, Teenagers, Rich People Problems

Cadence cannot remember one eventful night at her family’s island—she knows something traumatic happened, but it is two years later before she returns with her mother and spends the next few weeks with her extended family trying to piece together that last summer. The unreliable narrator thing got old fast as the whole time you are just waiting to find out what happened to Cadence because she doesn’t grow or learn or live, she just struggles to remember. The longer I thought about this book after I finished it the angrier I became, because I felt like the ending was kind of a dirty trick—yes, it was unexpected, yes, it had some great thriller elements, but it was so uncharacteristic and unforgivable that you don’t want Cadence to get the absolution she grants herself for remembering. While some of the style choices were interesting and the suspense was definitely suspenseful, it is overall unimpressive.

Jun 29

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

5 star

Love, Werewolves, Family, Friendship, Truth

Sam, Grace, Cole, and Isabel share narration again as they fight to save the wolves from the men who want to eradicate them to protect Mercy Falls. Cole is still researching and butts heads with Sam as Sam struggles with the truth of his relationship with Beck, and Grace is trying to survive as a wolf and somehow find a way to fix her relationship with her parents and her friends. This book is more suspenseful overall than the first two as it presents deeper relationships and the fate of the wolves is at stake, so Stiefvater again works her magic to make you have the most terrible of feels while also enjoying perfect, tender moments between characters (both romantic and friendship ones). A fantastic ending to a fantastic trilogy.

Previous books: Shiver, Linger
Companion: Sinner

Jun 28

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater


5 star

Love, Werewolves, Family, Friendship, Truth

Sam is still struggling to accept his new human body when Grace starts to get sicker and sicker and the couple finds out that one of Beck’s newest wolves is actually a rock star who won’t stay hidden for long. Stiefvater takes the fear that Grace had about losing Sam in the first book and throws it on its head as Sam struggles to find a way to keep Grace with him and pick up the pieces of a life he didn’t think he would have. The narrative is divided up between Sam, Cole, Grace, and Isabel which makes for a much richer story and keeps the book from being a standard boring love story sequel. I loved that more science aspects were introduced, and Stiefvater’s writing is as superb as always.

Previous book: Shiver
Later book: Forever
Companion: Sinner

Jun 24

The Birthday Room by Kevin Henkes

1 star

Family Problems, Friendship, Family, Trust

Ben’s mother hates her brother, Ian: he was cruel to her when they were children, and he was responsible for the accident that resulted in Ben losing his pinky finger—despite this, Ben forces her to go visit Ian because he wants to (though it is never explained why) and the book covers their one week visit to Oregon where the siblings try and work through their issues, Ben learns he is going to have a baby cousin soon, and Ben attempts to befriend the neighborhood children. After the mother’s description of Ian I was hoping for some redeeming quality, but he remains as emotionless as an Easter Island head, and Ben is no better. None of the characters have any memorable qualities, and the lack of plot is painful—the only thing Ben wants is to tell his parents he hates his birthday gift (EVEN THOUGH IT’S AWESOME) and visit his horrible uncle, and both of those things happen in the first ten percent of the book. It was billed as a book about relationships, but it is hard to care about three people who all act and speak in the same way and don’t seem to want to get along.  It was so dull and lacked depth so strongly that I almost could not finish it.

The Deep by Helen Dunmore

4 star

Mermaids, Cornwall, Small Towns, Family Life

Finally back at her cottage, Sapphire is once again surrounded by Earth magic in the form of Granny Carne, her beloved dog Sadie, and her brother Conor. Unfortunately, the pull of Ingo is not the only thing dragging her to the sea — the Kraken is awake, and she may be the only who who can put him to sleep before he causes irreparable damage to the Mer. Much more action-packed than the first two books, The Deep does a great job of showing that Sapphire is starting to grow up by showing her acceptance of forces out of her control and her willingness to help strangers (though she still has a way to go). Her brother is a very interesting character and I am excited to see him develop more; and Faro is also starting to come more into the light. I like that there have been three books with no romance; it helps keep the focus on the family drama and the Mer drama and keeps things light and kid-friendly.

Previous books: Ingo, The Tide Knot
Later books: The Crossing of Ingo, Stormswept