Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

Book Review by Giles

Bent Heavens, by Daniel Kraus, isn’t the type of book that I normally read. However, I was intrigued by the book’s description on the library’s webpage: “Two years after the disappearance of her father, seventeen-year-old Liv and her friend capture an alien in the Iowa countryside, and instead of turning him over to the authorities, they choose a different path.” Sounds otherworldly and maybe science fiction, right? Wrong. The publisher’s description is misleading. This book turned out to be more of a horror story than sci-fi. This book made me feel all kinds of things: curiosity, anticipation, disgust, revulsion, pity, dislike, and anger.

This book has lots of flashbacks that reveal the story. Liv’s father, a high school teacher, first went missing for several days. When he returned, he claimed he’d been abducted by aliens. He started acting strangely because he was convinced that the aliens were coming back for him. He set up traps, in the woods around his house, to catch the aliens before they got him a second time. 

Then Liv’s father went missing again. This time it was for good. That was over two years ago. Liv and her childhood friend, Doug, were maintaining and checking her father’s traps, every Sunday, ever since he disappeared. At this point, I should have clued in that this was going to be a horror story. Liv’s father’s traps had terrible horror movie names, like “the neck breaker” and “the amputator”. 

Just when Liv is ready to give up checking the traps and destroy them, an alien gets caught in one. Liv realizes that her father was telling the truth and remembers how no one believed him. Liv and Doug don’t turn the alien over to the authorities. This is when things start to get ugly.

There’s a lot more happening in this book than just the capture of an alien. Liv is dealing with the emotional trauma of the disappearance of her father and the probability that he’s dead. Liv’s in her senior year and she’s having trouble at school. She feels great frustration and pressure.

The teacher, who replaced her father, is putting on the same play that her father was directing at the time of his second disappearance. This is really upsetting to Liv and she acts out. She gets punished by not being allowed to compete in running meets. This puts her at odds with her close group of friends. She also becomes romantically involved with a new student, Bruno. 

This book starts out as a story about family and grief. Liv is grieving for her father. After Doug and Liv catch the alien, the book becomes a story about torture, suffering, and heartbreak. The alien isn’t treated very nicely in this book. There are things that happen to the alien that really disturbed me. Then the author throws in a conspiracy and the book becomes something of a detective story. Liv must figure out what is really going on. Her father’s disappearance, old family friends, the alien, and things that happened in the past lead Liv to terrible discoveries. 

Daniel Kraus did an excellent job building tension in this story. Just when you think that you know what is going to happen, he throws in another twist. However, I didn’t like reading the graphic depictions of torture in this book. The climax of the story was an absolute shocker. For me, it was too much, too contrived, too over the top. In conclusion, although this book was a page turner, its progression into darkness and violence was unsettling. It was not the story I was expecting. It wasn’t scary, it was disturbing.

It Came from the Sky by Chelsea Sedoti

Book Review by Giles

It Came From the Sky by Chelsea Sedoti, sounded like a fun book to read and I wasn’t disappointed. The publisher’s description intrigued me: “Gideon and Ishmael Hofstadt, ages sixteen and seventeen, accidentally start a hoax that aliens have landed, turning their town of Lansburg, Pennsylvania, into a circus. Told through narrative, police interviews, text messages, blog posts, and more.” 

I was curious to find out how the story could be told like this. I thought it would be difficult to do but the author did a fantastic job developing the characters and their relationships with one another. The story flows seamlessly. Each text, blog post, interview, and report give readers important information from the viewpoints of different characters. The different media used results in the chapters being short and easy to read.

The story begins with Ishmael messing up one of Gideon’s science experiments. The blast from the experiment is the catalyst for the hoax. Ishmael suggests extraterrestrial activity as an explanation for the crater left by the blast. Gideon goes along with it and the brothers go to great lengths to keep the hoax going so that they aren’t caught. Gideon is reluctant to keep it going but then he decides that the hoax can be a sociological experiment where he can record his research findings in a case study. Ishmael sees the hoax as the greatest prank of all time.

More lies lead to the hoax becoming increasingly wilder and more complex. Soon the hoax is out of control. People are seeing UFOs, having close encounters of the third kind, and even claiming that they were abducted by aliens. There are plenty of hilarious moments in the story, thanks to the hoax. 

Suddenly, the story shifts gears. Some nefarious things are going on in the small town and it’s up to Gideon to figure out what is happening. I wasn’t expecting a villain in this story. This subplot concerns sensitive material about grooming and pedophilia. I was a little surprised by this turn of events in the book. It seemed to come out of nowhere. 

One of the themes of this story is family and friendship. As there weren’t too many characters, it wasn’t hard to keep track of all the relationships. The characters were well-developed. The author added lots of details to show their personalities, motivations, and desires. It was nice to read a story about a family that wasn’t dysfunctional. Gideon’s family and their interactions were believable. The family’s interesting, unconventional, and quirky.

Gideon’s not a stereotypical science nerd that you might see on tv or in the movies. He’s an introverted, gay teenager who struggles with his relationships with his family, friends, and his on-again off-again boyfriend, Owen. He worries about his grades and his future. I think that Gideon experienced a lot of personal growth through the events of the story.

There was never a dull moment in this book. It was chaotic, hilarious, reckless, heartwarming, nerve-racking, adventurous, and upsetting all rolled into one. This book was a page turner for me, but it wasn’t due to a build-up of tension. It was a page turner because I was invested in finding out what was going to happen next to Gideon. He’s a very likable character. I recommend this book. It’s a fun, fast read. I enjoyed it.

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

Book Review by Nathan

This book is great. It somehow takes political fiction and makes it genuinely interesting to read. The Winter Duke was a great read. It really pulled me into the world, made me feel like a part of the ongoings of Kylma Above’s duchy, and all of the plots and schemes of the nobility. The book tells the story of Ekata, a possible heir to the duchy, who wants nothing to do with being a duchess. After her whole family succumbs to a strange sickness, she finds herself becoming a reluctant duchess, and must quickly learn how to do her job on her feet, resulting in a lot of funny moments and mishaps. 

It had plenty of humour, and the characters were relatable on multiple levels. As the book went on, the various mysteries slowly became a little clearer, but never too quickly, which meant that I almost never wanted to put the book down. Despite the fact that most of the action is political, it doesn’t feel overly complicated, or hard to track. The overall feeling of this book was one of lighthearted jokes and tense action all at the same time. This book really does do political fiction justice, and even though I had never read anything from Claire Eliza Bartlett, if she manages to make all her books this good, I think I’m going to have to read more of her work.

I would definitely recommend this book. It has a great plot, good characters, and a world that feels as real as our own. If you’ve been looking for something funny to read or just some good political fiction (surely this isn’t the only good piece, right?) then maybe you should give this book a try.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Book Review by Allie

Melissa Bashardoust has beautifully combined Perisan Mythology with beloved fairy tales. This wonderful blend of past and present has created a compelling storyline, reminiscent of fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty and Rapunsel. It was a fun read that left me wondering what’s going to happen next at every turn. 

Girl, Serpent, Thorn follows the life of a young princess named Soraya. Soraya, though, is no ordinary princess for she was cursed from birth to be poisonous to anyone who touches her bare skin. The wedding of her twin brother is swiftly approaching and after the royal procession returns to the palace Soraya lives in, she notices a young man who looks at and sees her for who she is beneath the poison. Soraya feels that, despite the attention of that man, she has found her place among the shadows hidden away from everyone for she is dangerous. Her worldview is then turned on its head when she makes a grave mistake. This mistake as terrible as it is makes Soraya begin to question whether she is the monster or the princess in this story.

I absolutely adored reading the progression of Soraya’s story and the way her character changed and grew due to adversity and events in the novel. I felt that Soraya was an adequate protagonist as her choices and mistakes were relatable. Also, as a fan of Grimm’s fairy tales, this was an amazingly different take on some of the old stories and it was fun to pick out pieces that corresponded with each respective fairy tale. 

Overall, I absolutely loved this novel and I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of modern, romantic, fantastical novels that make you laugh, cry, and smile at the same.

The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee

Book Review by Nathan

This book is the second in a series, the first being The Fever King. Even though I had never read anything of Victoria Lee’s, I certainly enjoyed it, even if it was a little more graphic than I normally would read. Nonetheless, it was a great book, and I definitely enjoyed reading it. It described Noam Alvaro’s quest to not only keep his dear friend Dara Shirazi alive but also their plots to kill a certain Calix Lehrer, the chancellor of Carolina. Over time, the revolution grows, and dangers mount.

This series (Don’t sweat it, it’s only 2 books) was amazing, I would definitely recommend this book, and also by extension the whole series, but with a serious warning, the series tackles several issues, namely abuse, and makes no effort to sugarcoat said abuse. Because of the extensive abuse throughout the series, and also the graphic scenes, I would hesitate to recommend the series to younger audiences. Warning aside, as a single book in and of itself, it’s still great, the character progression is great and feels really authentic, and while the world itself is dark, there are frequent moments of comedy scattered throughout. This book will have you switching back and forth between laughing out loud and wondering what’s about to happen next, and it’s honestly a great feel for a dystopian novel. I love it.

This book was a great read, with a few great messages, and characters that all have unique, believable flaws. This is one of those books that once you pick it up you’re not likely to put it back down for a while, overall a great read, and a great series!