Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Origin (Robert Langdon #5)
By Dan Brown
Doubleday, 2017. 461 pgs. Fiction

Harvard professor and symbologist Robert Langdon receives an invitation from Edmond Kirsch, a former student and world-renowned inventor, for a presentation at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao that he claims “will change the face of science forever.” Security is tight for those attending the event, and the rest of the world waits with baited breath as they watch a live stream. When disaster strikes before Kirsch can reveal his discovery, conspiracy theories abound. Without knowing who to trust, Robert and museum director Ambra Vidal escape the madness and set out to find the 47 character password that will unlock Kirsch’s earth-shattering presentation.

I like Dan Brown’s books for their fast pace and general entertainment. On these counts, Origin delivered as well as previous books in the Robert Langdon series. However, compared to the others, this one was lighter on symbology and more focused on technology and how it’s changing the world. In that regard, it reminded me a bit of Brown’s 1998 techno-thriller, Digital Fortress. Overall, I enjoyed the book and can easily recommend this to anyone looking for an entertaining page-turner.


A Surgeon in the Village: an American Doctor Teaches Brain Surgery in Aftrica

By Tony Bartelme
Beacon Press, 2017. 274  pgs. Biography

Brilliant, newly minted neurosurgeon Dilantha Ellegala decides to go to a hospital in a remote area of Tanzania for a change of pace and the opportunity to share his surgical skills for a few months.  Discovering that the hospital has almost zero surgical tools that he needs to do surgery on the brain he relaxes and enjoys himself until one day a patient in need of immediate brain surgery arrives at the clinic.  With no tools Ellegala declines to treat the patient and goes out for a run. While running he sees a man cutting a tree with a wire saw that Ellegala realizes he can adapt and use to cut through a skull.  He buys the saw, goes back to the hospital and uses it to do the needed surgery.  This event opens his eyes to possibilities he hadn’t considered before and he begins not only doing surgery with makeshift equipment he finds or devises – he also starts training one of the local medical officers (not a full doctor) to do brain surgery. He realizes that the normal routine of sending trained doctors from Europe or America to spend a few months at a rural hospital in an underdeveloped county is a flawed model.  The surgeons return to their homes leaving the hospitals without surgeons.  In his mind, the answer was to train local doctors and medical personnel to do surgery, not come for a short time and be the super star surgeon who goes home and leaves the local area still lacking a surgeon. 

This book is the story of his awakening to the urgent need for trained surgeons in Africa and other underdeveloped nations and his work to establish a nonprofit organization with the aim of training local surgeons.  The book is very well written with beautiful descriptions of the landscape and the people he encounters.  I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in the work of non-profit organizations  and is not afraid to read the graphic descriptions of urgent medical emergencies. SH

Monday, November 20, 2017

Uncomfortably Happily

Uncomfortably Happily
By Yeon-sik Hong
Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 572 pgs. Graphic Novel

The hustle and bustle of Seoul, as well as the high cost of rent, pushes Yeon-sik and his wife to move to the Korean countryside where they hope to live more economically. If only he can get away from the rushed city life and live peacefully, Yeon-sik thinks he will be able to focus on his comics, beat his writer’s block, and meet the constant deadlines. However, life atop an uninhabited mountain presents its own trials. Together, the couple works through the challenges of secluded living, and find pleasure in simpler things, like the smell of the forest and cultivating their own garden.

There are a lot of things that can sap the creativity out of a person. As the wife of an artist, I understand how real and debilitating Yeon-sik’s struggles can be. The idea that, if I do [insert task], then I’ll be able to focus on this creative task entirely, and then one task leading to another, is not uncommon in my house. Really, these struggles are not limited to just one profession, making this a very relatable read. I really appreciated how honest the author is. There were just a few panels I found confusing, and it felt like some of the stories ended so abruptly that I was caught off guard. Despite that, I did enjoy this graphic novel and could easily recommend it to others.


Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff
By Chip Gaines
W Publishing Group, 2017. 191 pgs. Nonfiction

I read Magnolia Story last year and was excited to learn that Chip Gaines was writing another book. In this tell-all, we learn more about Chip's growing up years and what has led to his success with Magnolia and his family. We also get an inside look at filming the show Fixer Upper.

 It was a treat to listen to this book, read by Chip, because he is such a great storyteller. There were several moments that had me laughing out loud as he described shenanigans of his youth and young adulthood. Chip is an extremely successful businessman who has learned many lessons though his life experiences to get to this point. I appreciated how much Chip credits his faith and his family for the man that he is today and would recommend this book to anyone.


Saturday, November 18, 2017


By Grant Morrison and Dan Mora
Boom! Studios, 2016. 208 pgs. Graphic Novel

In this interpretation of Santa Claus's origin, Klaus, a mysterious hermit, enters the town of Grimsvig and is shocked to see that the local lord has forbidden fun, toys, and is working the men to death in the mines digging coal. He decides to correct these wrongs by bringing toys into the town, and pitches the town into a civil war against the maniacal Lord Magnus. Soon, the complicated history of Klaus is revealed, and he becomes the only one who can save the town from the physical and supernatural threats to it.

If you have been looking for a Santa Claus story that mixes elements of Rise of the Guardians, Brother Bear, and Conan the Barbarian, then this is definitely the graphic novel for you. This novel sticks to the basic elements of the Santa mythos, such as him having a sleigh, giving presents to kids, having a vicious wolf pet, and beheading dark creatures that spawn from coal mines. However, it also has some fun with myth. adding plenty of villains, plot twists, and interesting characters, making this book a fun, action-fueled romp through the middle ages. I really enjoyed this story, and if you like fantasy and graphic novels, you should definitely give this book a read.

Friday, November 17, 2017


By Stephen King
Viking, 1986. 1,138 pgs. Horror

In 1958 Derry, Maine, an evil creature is tormenting and killing children, unseen by the adults. Seven kids form a friendship, battle the creature, and all goes quiet for 27 years. Then, in 1985, the killing starts again. Librarian Mike Hanlon, one of the original seven children, calls the other six to remind them of the pact they made to return to Derry if it ever seemed like the creature had reappeared. Will they be able to finish the job this time around?

This book is a beast! I decided to read it because of the new movie, and because Pennywise is such a significant horror icon. However I didn’t realize it was over 1,000 pages. I suppose that can’t be helped when you’re telling a story from the point-of-view of seven characters across two time periods. Because so many different (though converging) stories are told, this is a roller-coaster of a book with a lot of buildup and mini climaxes before the final showdown, which I appreciated. It kept be going through the slower sections. The horror in the story comes not just from It, but also because of some pretty brutal bullying that I found to be more disturbing than the creature itself. Overall I enjoyed the book and would be happy to recommend it, but it’s definitely not for everyone.


One Dark Throne

One Dark Throne
By Kendare Blake
Harper Teen, 2017. 448 pages. Young Adult Fiction

In this sequel to Three Dark Crowns, the Ascension Year has not played out the way the inhabitants of the magical island of Fennbirn expected. The three queens, triplet sisters, are now 16 and must battle each other to the death so one can be crowned. Many people believed Mirabella, the most powerful elementalist in generations, who can control wind, water, and fire, would easily defeat Arsinoe and Katharine, but she has hesitated to attack.

Meanwhile, Arsinoe, raised by the naturalists who commune with animals and nature, has discovered she’s not as powerless as she once appeared. And Katharine, once the meekest of the sisters has become ruthless after an encounter with the strange, unsettling magic of the island. As alliances shift, the various factions conspire to tip the scales. Even the queens’ potential suitors become pawns. However, no one can prevent the queens from deciding to take their fates into their own hands.

This sequel loses none of the first book’s momentum. Something you don’t always find in middle books. With complex characters and an unpredictable plot, it is gruesomely fascinating to watch unfold. I especially enjoyed how the story explores themes of loyalty both among the different factions and the fact that the queens are grappling with the reality of killing one another for the ultimate throne.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Princess Diarist

The Princess Diarist 
By Carrie Fisher
Blue Rider Press, 2016. 257 pages.

Carrie Fisher’s last addition to her already prolific writing career is another example of her wit and charm. In this book, Fisher revisits the three-months that changed her life forever—the filming of Star Wars: A New Hope.

Much of this book is made up of excerpts of old journals that Fisher kept during filming. Little known to public knowledge, Fisher and married co-star Harrison Ford had an off-screen secret affair during the short time the movie was being filmed. At once both hilarious and sad, Fisher reveals what it was like for a young teenager (only 19-years-old when she became Princess Leia!) to be dealing with the sudden rise to fame as well as an affair with a much older actor.

All told, this book will not appeal to readers that are strictly Star Wars fans and want more details on the making of the films. Nevertheless, this book is great for anyone that has read Carrie Fisher’s previous books and enjoys her singular humor.


Monday, November 13, 2017


By Andy Weir
Crown Publishing Group, 2017. 384 pages.  Sci-Fi

Jazz Bashara lives in Artemis, the first city on the moon, which is populated mostly with rich tourists and eccentric billionaires.  But any city also needs its maintenance employees, and even smugglers, which is where Jazz comes in.  Her job as a porter barely covers her rent, so procuring harmless bits of contraband helps her to pay the bills.  When an opportunity to make some real cash comes up, Jazz can't turn it down, and becomes embroiled in a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself.  She has to use her brilliant mind and technical know-how to get herself, and her city, out of hot water.

Author of the successful book, The Martian, this is Weir's second book, another sci-fi thriller with a light heart and a clever main character.  Weir plays to his strengths, which include providing fascinating tidbits about what life would be like in space and in this case, what it would be like to live on the Moon.  Just as you're getting pulled into what's happening with the characters, someone jumps out of a second story window without getting more than a few scrapes and you remember all of this is happening on THE MOON.  It's just incredibly fun stuff.  While not quite as strong as The Martian, this book is 100% fun and is recommended for fans of his first book or authors like John Scalzi.


Song of the Current

Cover image for Song of the current
Song of the Current
By Sarah Tolcser
Bloomsbury, 2017, 376 pages, Young Adult Fantasy

Caroline Oresteia is destined for the river. Her father is a wherryman, as was her grandmother. All Caro needs is for the river god to whisper her name, and her fate is sealed. So when pirates burn ships and her father is arrested, Caro volunteers to transport mysterious cargo in exchange for his release. Secretly, Caro hopes that by piloting her own wherry, the river god will finally speak her name. But when the cargo becomes more than Caro expected, she finds herself caught in a web of politics and lies. With much more than her father's life at stake, Caro must choose between the future she knows, and the one she could have never imagined.

This book has a lot of the things I look for in a good novel: A great story, interesting characters who learn and grow, and a dash of magic. Kirkus summarizes my thoughts about this book perfectly: “Tolcser blends the right amount of epic fantasy, sea voyage, and romance for a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure.” If you like any of these things, I think you’ll enjoy this book. As an added bonus, while the second book in this series is due to come out next year, and I’m interested to see what the characters will be up to next, I think this book works pretty well as a stand-alone.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Fire by Night

Cover image for The fire by night
The Fire by Night
By Teresa Messineo
William Morrow, 2017, 306 pages, Historical Fiction

In war-torn France, Jo McMahon tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops.

Half a world away, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila; one of thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.

This book is a great homage to the work and dedication of the nurses who were part of the war effort during World War II. One thing that struck me was just how different these women’s experiences were, but in both cases, just how much these women had to endure. And when it was all over, they were largely unrecognized for their service.

The story stays pretty evenly focused on both plot lines, switching between Jo and Kay’s point of view with each chapter. To help convey the confusion of war, the story also jumps back and forth through time, filling out backstories and explaining the desolation of Jo and Kay’s respective situations gradually.

While there are a lot of stories about World War II, Messineo has found a great way to tell a story that hasn’t really been told before.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Maybe Today

Maybe Today: A Simple Approach to a Soul-Satisfying Life
by David Butler & Emily Belle Freeman
Ensign Peak, 2015. 113 pgs. Nonfiction

When you wake up in the morning, what kind of day are you expecting? Could it be different, even better than you expected? Maybe today will be the day that you start living the patterns that will lead to a more soul-satisfying life. The authors share five holy patterns that can make a difference in your life.

This book is short but powerful with beautiful full page pictures that are perfect for the point they illustrate. None of the ideas in this book are new, but sometimes it helps to be reminded of what is most important. This book can easily be read in one sitting but I plan on rereading it often.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Orphan's Tale

The Orphan’s Tale
By Pam Jenoff
Mira, 2017. 363 pgs. Historical Fiction

Former circus aerialist Astrid returns home to look for her family after her Nazi officer husband divorces her because she is Jewish;  Noa, a young Danish woman whose baby by a German officer is forcibly taken from her after her family disowns her, rescues an infant from a railroad car filled with Jewish babies. The lives of these two women intersect as the owner of a German circus shelters them and struggles to keep his circus operating in spite of the war. The suspenseful story begins with the present day and is told in a long flashback to the past.  If you read and liked Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale you will enjoy this well written novel based on historical events. Both authors keep you in suspense about who is narrating the story right until the end.



by Robin Mckinley
Harper & Row, 1978. 247pgs. Young Adult

Beauty volunteers to live with the Beast who lives in the haunted forest near her home in order to save her father. Follow Beauty as she learns to love this Beast who proposes to her every night before she goes to sleep.

This is so far my favorite retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I have loved this book since I was 12 when it was recommended to me by a dear friend. I love Beauty’s character in this book she doesn’t see herself being particularly beautiful which I think makes her seem more real than a girl who doesn’t think or contemplate her looks ever. I also love the relationship that grows between her and the Beast. I also love the relationship between the members of Beauty’s family; in the traditional fairy tale the heroine is always surrounded by rotten siblings or parents step or otherwise. In this one they all love each other, they have their various trials but for the most part they come together and love and support one another. This is one of my favorites for a book club or just to enjoy by yourself.


The Pearl Thief

By Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion, 2017.325  pgs. Young Adult Fiction

In this prequel to Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein writes an intriguing mystery, introduces us to Scottish river pearls, acquaints us with Scottish “travellers” and the deep-seated prejudices against them, and to top it off – we get to know the spunky and intelligent Julia who is a main character in Code Name Verity. Arriving at her grandparent’s recently sold Scottish estate she takes a walk along the river.  She settles on a warm rock to rest and the last thing she remembers is an explosion of pain in her head. When she wakes up she is in a hospital bed two days later.

The novel has a cast full of interesting characters and a quirky heroine.  A bit of Scottish accent and “traveler” dialect challenge the readers’ comprehension once in a while but but try reading those parts out loud. Who doesn’t love the sound of a Scottish brogue!


Monday, October 30, 2017

Dark Breaks the Dawn

Dark Breaks the Dawn 
by Sara B. Larson
Scholastic Press, 2017, 307 pgs Young Adult

Princess Evelayn of Eadrolan is the Princess of the Light Kingdom and when she turned 18 she came into the full strength of her power. Her kingdom has been at war for the last ten years when Princess Evalayn came into her full power. Shortly after coming into her power Evelayn’s mother dies in the field of battle making her the queen. This book follows the story of Evelayn as she tries to pull her country out of the field of battle and bring balance to her land.

This was a very compelling novel, I was on the edge of my seat all the way to the end and once I got there I was wishing the second book was out already. This is a retelling of Swan Lake, I really enjoyed listening to it I think some of the words would be hard to pronounce without the reader reading it. I loved the growth of the characters and the development of the relationships. I liked the concept of the magic in this world. If you like fairy tale retelling
this may be the book for you.


How to Find Love in a Bookshop

How to Find Love in a Bookshop
By Veronia Henry
Viking, 2017. 340 pgs. Fiction

Emilia was raised with books, quite literally. She grew up in a flat above Nightingale Books, her father's bookshop. Julius, Emilia's father, had a way of connecting with people and had a vast influence in their tiny English town. After Julius's death, Emilia takes over the bookshop, facing challenges from the get go just to keep the doors open. Along the way we see how far the members of the community will go to help Emilia and each other.

I loved finding out about Emilia and Julius' back stories as well as meeting many of the local townspeople. This book had a similar feel to The Bookshop on the Corner, cozy and inviting. I found myself quickly cheering on the success of Emilia and those supporting keeping the bookshop in business. This was a light, fun novel; recommended for anyone who's looking for a bookish read!


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Screwtape Letters

Screwtape Letters
by C.S. Lewis
HarperCollins, 2013. Fiction, 223 pages.

As with most jobs it's helpful to have a mentor to give guidance and counsel. The Junior Tempter named Wormwood has his experienced uncle, Demon Screwtape to give this much needed career advice. In a series of letters Screwtape carefully explains to Wormwood  how to catch 'the patient' in the common sins and temptations in order to completely disillusion the man from God and Christian belief practices and thereby lead 'the patient' into damnation.

This novel is written in satirical and fictional style, but is dense with Christian theological issues. Because of the backwards perspective of the demon tempters, the takeaways are more poignant for the average reader. I found that as I read this book my many sins, weaknesses and temptations were laid bare before me. This is both helpful and discouraging in the same vein because there is always so much room for improvement. It becomes more apparent where those gaps in character and obedience may be, while simultaneously giving hope for change and faith in Christ. I would recommend for all, but could be confusing for non-Christian readers.


The Little Prince

The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Harcourt Books, 1943.  83 pages, Fiction.

Styled as a children's book, The Little Prince is actually a philosophical and poetic tale giving a critique of the adult world. Saint-Exupery describes experiences derived from his childhood and a plane crash in the Sahara where he meets a little prince from another world. This little prince teaches  about his world and travels, all the while asking questions and giving a fresh perspective on the world through a child's eyes. This world-acclaimed novella has been translated and republished again and again because of its timeless truths and endearing storyline.

It's been many years since I last reread The Little Prince and with adult eyes it's been very enlightening. There is something to be said for maintaining laughter, curiosity, imagination, asking questions and just saying what you mean. I love the not-so-subtle reminders to avoid big vices like vanity, laziness, discontentment, materialism, lack of spirituality and lack of loving relationships. This is a must read for all adults and children and always a good reread to get back to the basics in order to have a happy and fulfilled life. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Dragon's Price: a Transference Novel

The Dragon’s Price: A Transference Novel
by Bethany Wiggins
Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017. 296 pgs. Young Adult Fiction; Fantasy

 For three hundred years, two kingdoms have been protected from the fire dragon by a powerful spell that keeps it trapped under the mountain. In order to keep the dragon bound each Faodarian princess must willingly offer herself in marriage to the enemy prince or be given to the dragon.
 At birth, the family wizard pronounced that Princess Sorrowlynn would die by her own hand. Now that she is sixteen, the sheltered Sorrowlynn is expected to properly complete her part in the binding ceremony. Everyone is surprised when she chooses the dragon over a forced marriage, especially the young Prince Golmarr, who intended to wed her.
Not willing to give up so easily, Golmarr follows her into the mountain, hoping to slay the dragon and save the princess. As for Sorrow, she assumes she will fulfill her birth prophecy, since dying by her own hand would be less painful than being eaten alive by an angry dragon. However, once the two reach the dragon’s lair, nothing happens as either has planned.

I was surprised by how much I liked this book. I felt like I knew what direction the book was going to go until I got about one third of the way into the book and suddenly I had no idea where it was going. I love it when a book surprises me! I usually like dragon books where the dragons are good guys, or at least don’t eat people. But these dragons are nasty and I still really liked the book.

A Shadow Bright and Burning

A Shadow Bright and Burning
By Jessica Cluess
Random House, 2016. 207 pages. Young Adult Fantasy

In an alternate Victorian England, the country has been under attack for years by powerful demon type beings known as the seven Ancients. There are three types of magic practiced in this world but only sorcery is legal, and it is exclusively male. Henrietta, a young woman living in a rural Yorkshire orphanage, fears her powers to summon fire will have her executed for witchcraft. But when they are eventually revealed, she is astonished to be hailed as the prophesied female sorcerer who will finally defeat the seven Ancients.

Henrietta only agrees to go to London to train as a sorcerer if her childhood friend, Rook, can come along. Years before, Rook was attacked by one of the Ancients and has been fighting a bond to the creature ever since. As Henrietta settles into her new life, making friends with some of the young male sorcerers in training, she is drawn to a trickster magician living on the streets of London. It is through him that she learns the true nature of her ability which may threaten to tip the very precarious balance between human beings and the Ancients.

Young Adult fantasy fans will find much to like in this new series. Henrietta is a strong female who is pragmatic and funny. While in many ways, this is a re-tread of standard fantasy elements such as a Harry Potter-like chosen one, there is still enough fresh detail to make it interesting. One personal complaint is the use of evil monsters from the horror world. I prefer more traditional fantasy evils. Fans of The Dark Days Club should definitely check this book out.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Power of When

The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype--and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More
By Michael Breus
Little, Brown, and Company, 2016. 384 pages. Nonfiction

Your internal clock doesn't just turn on at night - your circadian rhythm is at work throughout the day, and Michael Breus wants to help you make the best of it. The power to reaching our potential lies in focusing more on when we do things, not just what we need to do, and most of us are actually sabotaging ourselves, fighting against our natural rhythms, or chronotype. Discover your chronotype and learn to live in sync with it to work and feel better.

An interesting premise, Breus' ideas help give you power over your daily routine rather than being overpowered by it. First, you take a quiz (Fun! I love quizzes!) to determine your chronotype - Dolphin, Lion, Bear, or Wolf  (Double fun! Cool chronotype names!). The remainder of part one profiles of each chronotype and breaks down how an ideal day as a Dolphin/Lion/Bear/Wolf would look according to Breus' suggestions. Part Two elaborates on the best time for certain tasks (exercise, making plans, approaching different tasks at work) by topic, with advice for all four chronotypes. Part Two gets a little repetitive, but Breus does a good job of getting right to the point and including fun facts, so whether you're reading through or just skimming for your chronotype, you won't get bogged down. What I like most about this book is that Breus, a clinical psychologist, is an academic, has done his research, and is careful to note that you should always consult your doctor and follow their direction over any suggestions in this book. I'd recommend this book to anyone who feels ruled by the almighty 8-5 work day and/or frustrated at their energy levels throughout the day. The chronotype model is pretty general, and the schedules do favor the typical 8-5 work day, so while the details may not exactly fit your lifestyle, the main principles do.

Quick testimonial: My chronotype is a Wolf, described by the author as "...night-oriented creative extroverts with a medium sleep drive." In short - not morning people. I haven't adopted the full suggested schedule, but I have tried a few things. In particular, the waking-up strategy recommended for Wolves has seriously helped, and it feels great to not wake up automatically enraged at my alarm clock/the sun/the universe itself.


The Happiness Advantage

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work
By Shawn Achor
Crown Business, 2010. 272 pgs.  Nonfiction

Many of us work with the mindset that if we accomplish certain goals, happiness will follow.  If I lose weight, if I get a raise, if I get a different job, then I can be happy.  But recent research in the field of positive psychology shows that happiness fuels success instead.  When we are positive our brains become more engaged, resilient, energetic, and productive.  In his book, Achor describes a significant amount of research supporting this conclusion, and recommends certain guidelines and practices that can help increase our positivity and as a result, our success.

This is a great read for anyone although it is targeted at business readers.  The "Seven Principles" he describes sometimes include common-sense advice you've heard before (such as tackle smaller problems first before moving on to bigger challenges).  But I appreciated that Achor's information was reinforced by many examples and studies.  Beyond this, simply reading the book and actively thinking about positivity for an extended period of time had a marked effect on my productivity and outlook.  The audiobook is narrated by Achor himself and goes a bit slow.  I'd recommend increasing the speed a bit as you listen.



By Fredrik Backman
Atria Books, 2017.  418 pgs. Fiction

For residents of Beartown, nothing is more important than hockey.  It is a hockey town and this year the Junior team is headed to the championship.  From the first few paragraphs, though, readers are aware that things are not right and someone, a few days after the championship game, will be staring into the barrel of gun.  Between those hopeful days leading up to the big game to the tragedy that will follow it, Beartown delves into the characters and deepest desires of Beartown residents.  No one will be prepared for how it all ends.

From the author of A Man Called Ove, comes a very different sort of story.  Ove was a cantankerous but ultimately loveable character, as was Britt-Marie and little Elsa.  Beartown is home to some less extreme personalities and less of the  mesmerizing character development of previous novels.  This book instead, demonstrates the ills of society and how we raise our sons and daughters to know what is right and how to prioritize our passions.  Not as heartwarming as I had expected, but it definitely left me thinking.


Into the Water

Into the Water
By Paula Hawkins
Riverhead Books, 2017. 388 pgs. Fiction  9780735211209

A history of drownings haunts a dark watering hole outside a small town.  Troublesome women tend to disappear beneath its calm surface.  The most recent death, that of a single mother who was particularly fascinated with the pool, is bound to disturb the river’s dark history.  As with most small towns, there are plenty of secrets to uncover and feathers to ruffle when investigators conduct their investigation.

Into the Water definitely has a creepy tone and I enjoyed it a lot more than I did Hawkins’ last novel, Girl on the Train.  The characters here, while still dark and damaged, were far more likable and I felt the mystery was satisfying.  I thought I had it all figured out several times and discovered that in the end, I didn’t have it figured out at all.  This is a great suspense novel with a surprising dose of human insight.


Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars

Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars
By Jeff Lemire
Image Comics, 2015. 160 pgs. Graphic Novel

In this first volume of the critically acclaimed series, Tim-21, a robot programmed to be a child's companion, wakes up from being shut down, and finds a universe that has vastly changed. A mysterious robot attack has broken the galactic confederacy of planets apart and all robots are being hunted down and destroyed out of fear of it happening again. For Tim-21, this leads to a terrifying journey to survive attacks from bounty hunters, government agencies, and fanatics, and find out where his old master has gone. For those searching for him, Tim represents a chance to understand why the attack on humanity happened and how to stop it from happening again.

This series is a must read sci-fi novel, regardless of whether you like graphic novels or not. The story is interesting, fast paced, and touching. It unfolds in a way that there are exciting revelations on a regular basis, which makes it easy to be sucked into the book. Despite how well told the story is, my favorite thing about this book was it's characters. Tim-21 acts and thinks like a child which creates a lot of emotional resonance with the reactions that he has to the hostility from other characters. He affects everyone else's behavior, for better or worse, which makes everyone's reactions to him really interesting. Overall, it is a great book, and I am excited to see where this series goes next.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Last Star Burning

Last Star Burning
By Caitlin Sangster
Simon Pulse, 2017. 396 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Up until she was eight, Sev was a First, one of the privileged elite in The City. Then her mother was accused of actions so traitorous that she was imprisoned and Sev was reduced to a Fourth, the lowest class of people. She has tried to live quietly since then, but when she’s accused of a crime she didn’t commit, Sev runs from The City and into the dangerous world Outside. It seems everyone she meets has different stories and no straight answers. While trying to figure out who to trust, she realizes that not only is her life at risk, but also the lives of everyone she knows, and trusting the wrong person could have disastrous consequences.

One of the things I really liked about this book was the world building. The author’s use of language and names to suggest how the world (possibly our world?) has changed and evolved, all while maintaining Sev’s very limited perspective and knowledge of history, was believable and consistent. I had a few problems with pacing where some sections seemed to lag, or were repetitive, and there were some issues where the timeline didn’t feel consistent. That being said, I felt the characters had depth and I was really invested in Sev’s progress. The book ended with a cliff hanger and I need to know what happens next. I look forward to Sangster’s next book not only to continue the story, but also to see how she develops as a storyteller. I would recommend this to those who enjoy teen dystopias.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Worth the Wrestle

Worth the Wrestle
by Sheri Dew
Deseret Book, 2017. 104 pgs. Nonfiction

In this book Sheri Dew teaches that questions are good, and examines the process for using good questions to strengthen understanding, whether the questions are doctrinal, historical, procedural, or personal. She teaches how to use questions to become a seeker of truth by engaging in the spiritual wrestle to find answers. She uses personal stories to illustrate different parts of spiritual wrestling, and strongly testifies that engaging in the wrestle is worth the effort.

Sheri Dew gave a presentation at a conference I attended once and I loved it. Since then I have paid attention to the topics she writes about, but this is the first book of hers that I have read. This book spoke to me on many different levels, but I especially like how plain she is in it. She asserts that questions are good, but then she follows her assertion with guidance on how to find answers to said questions. I enjoyed this book so much that I will definitely be checking out her other books.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The City of Miracles

The City of Miracles
By Robert Jackson Bennett
Broadway Books. 2017. 451 pgs. Fantasy.

The third and final book of The Divine Cities series, The City of Miracles, continues the exploration of a world where the Continent, aided by the gods, ruled the world until they were defeated by the island nation of Saypur, who found a way to kill their deities. Though the gods are dead, some of their miracles and creatures remain and the Continent still remembers how the world used to be making this world a volatile place. In this book, Shara Komayd, the former Prime Minister of Saypur, is murdered, leaving her adopted daughter in danger. Her loyal friend and former bodyguard, Sigrud, takes it upon himself to get revenge and protect her daughter. However, there are forces and powers working that he knows nothing about and his journey to find the murderer will put the entire world at risk.

This series is a fantastic blend of fantasy, mystery, and political intrigue that makes it a really interesting read. The characters are distinctive and fun, and they are all brought together in this last novel that pays off your interest in earlier novels. Speaking of that, Sigrud is hands down my favorite character in the series, so having him as the main character was fantastic. I love the world building of the series as well. There is a great interplay between the miraculous and technological wonders which are in the world. In short, I can't recommend this series enough. If you are looking for a mysterious fantasy, look no further.

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down
By John Green
Dutton Books, 2017. 286 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Aza Holmes is just trying to get through each day. She does typical things like going to school and hanging out with her best friend, Daisy, but everything is made more difficult by her anxiety induced thought spirals. When local billionaire Russell Pickett goes missing, the prospect of the $100,000 cash reward motivates Aza and Daisy to rekindle a childhood friendship with his son, Davis. However, any type of normal relationship is complicated by Aza’s thought spirals, and Davis’s situation is much more complicated than they originally realized.

For anyone suffering from anxiety, or that knows someone who is, I can’t recommend this book enough. Overall, this book is about the characters, how Aza deals with her thought spirals, how all-consuming they can become, and how they affect her relationships. The plot, while secondary to Aza’s internal struggles, was enjoyable and a little quirky (I mean, that tuatara!). I would happily read this book again, but I made sure to return it immediately so that others can get the same enjoyment and enlightenment out of it. Highly recommended.