Book Reviews

Reviews By Shawna Matthews

Fiction: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
by Priscilla Warner
Release date: June 3, 2014

This is one of the most original books I have had the pleasure to read. The main plot follows the overarching story of the Brothers Grimm’s “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” but Valentine gives the narrative a fresh, unique voice by setting the action in 1920s New York. It’s a very rich re-imagining, lending the familiar childhood tale the glamour of the Gatsby Era, the excitement of speakeasies, and the drama of young girls finding their way from under the rule of a tyrannical father.

My fear going into this book was keeping track of twelve different sisters, but Valentine pulls it off. She takes time in giving each girl her own distinct character, without bogging down the story with too many details. A a great summer read; well-written and original, while evoking nostalgia for stories past.

For Those Who Enjoy: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh, and Amor Towles

Non-Fiction: The Age of Radiance
by Craig Nelson
Release date: March 25, 2014

This book came out in March, so most bookshops should be carrying it, or be able to order a copy. Nelson tackles the science and culture of the Atomic Era, with humour (calling Madam Curie “one hell of a broad”), interest, and skill. This is a book for anyone with an interest in history, chemistry, accidental discoveries, or concern for the nuclear-powered world of today.

The story covers everything from the unintentional invention of X-rays, to the catastrophe of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown in 2011. The sense of hope and wonder that accompanied the brilliant discoveries is captured, along with the devastation and fear of the tragedies. The writing is often humorous, and always relatable. It will have you astonished at the past, and thanking the Japanese Mafia of today…

For Those Who Enjoy: Mary Roach, Deborah Blum’s Poisoner’s Handbook, or Sam Kean’s Disappearing Spoon.

Children’s: Saving Lucas Biggs
by Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
Release date: April 29, 2014

I can think of no way to describe this book without saying that it is like To Kill a Mockingbird with time-travel. Margaret is trying to save her dad who’s been sentenced to death for murder by a crooked small town judge. To do this, she travels through time to the climatic life-changing day when the judge turned corrupt and jaded.

Covering everything from corporate greed, friendship, and time-travel, the authors marvelously craft a beautifully written book that addresses tough themes without talking down to children.

The publishers recommend this book for ages 8–12.  As much as I love the messages of understanding, trust, and love, the book tackles serious situations (including a massacre), with a protagonist who is 13, so parental screening is definitely advised.

For Those Who Enjoy: Harper Lee, Diana Wynne Jones and Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.

Revival Read – Classics You Might Have Missed: We
by Yevgeny Zamyatin
(translated by Mirra Ginsburg)

Originally published in 1920, We is an early example of the dystopian science fiction novel. Set in a walled world where numbers and math rule and nature is defeated, the story surrounds the first attempt at space travel, by the protagonist, an engineer named D-503. (As with many early 20th century science fiction stories, one is entertained by both the author’s imaginative futuristic inventions, and his misses, such as how he can envision rockets to other worlds, but not mobile phones.) We travel with D-503 on his journey as he comes to grips with the idea that his world, with its cult-like government, is not the utopia he has been led to believe.

For Those Who Enjoy: Orwell, Huxley, and Bradbury.