Monday, October 26, 2020

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
By Holly Jackson
Delacorte Press, 2020. 390 pages. Young Adult

For her senior project, Pippa Fitz-Amobi investigates a five-year-old murder that still affects her community. She doesn’t believe that Sal Singh murdered his girlfriend, Andie Bell, and then committed suicide the way the original investigation concludes. As her investigation progresses Pip uncovers a whole host of secrets people want to keep quiet, and soon she starts receiving notes demanding that she drop the project. Spurred on by the knowledge that she’s getting close, Pip doesn’t back down, but soon finds that the killer isn’t going to back down either.

Pip is a smart, analytical girl, determined to find the truth and clear Sal’s name. She refuses to let prejudice and privilege stand in her way on her quest to uncover the truth. Her investigation log and transcripts are included throughout the text, allowing the reader to follow along and try solving the mystery with Pip. I loved it! The story progresses smoothly, allowing tension to gradually build, but so compelling it’s hard to put down. I found myself binging this book in one sitting, staying up until 1:00 AM to finish. Highly recommended for fans of Maureen Johnson’s TRULY DEVIOUS


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

I Was Told It Would Get Easier

I Was Told It Would Get Easier
By Abbi Waxman
Berkley, 2020. 352 pgs. Fiction

Jessica Burnstein is a successful attorney whose only daughter is about to leave for college.  They travel to the East Coast together for a college tour where she's hoping Emily will get a sense of the direction she'd like to go in, and she hopes that voluntarily traveling with a teenager won't be as crazy as it sounds.  Emily is feeling all the pressure of needing to start her life soon and have it all together.  But she doesn't know what she wants to do, and her lack of direction isn't helped by growing tensions at her school.  Jessica knows that these final years with her daughter are the end of an era, and she hopes they will be able to share a few more important memories together before her daughter leaves home.

Jessica's feelings and impressions as a working mother trying to balance her career and raise a child may hit pretty close to home for any readers in the same boat, and everyone will be able to relate to Emily's angst over trying to figure out what to do with her life when she's not really sure what she wants, especially as the jumping off point draws closer and closer.  Waxman does an apt job of describing a time of tensions and hopeful anxiety that many go through as they transition into new stages of life.  Although Waxman typically incorporates romances into her novels, this book focuses instead on the story of a mother and her daughter as they face new horizons together.


Friday, October 16, 2020

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus
by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Vintage Books, 1831, 231 pages, General Fiction

Obsessed with discovering “the cause of generation and life,” science scholar Victor Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts. However, when his creature comes to life, Frankenstein recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness and abandons his creation. Tormented by loneliness and shunned by society, the originally docile creature begins to harbor a horrible grudge against his creator, and proceeds to murder the people Frankenstein holds most dear.

This fascinating novel, which is lauded as both one of the first horror stories and one of the first science fiction stories, has undergone many different retellings over the years, but none can match the nuance of the original. Shelley’s beautiful, flowery Victorian language might make the story drag in some places; however, for the most part, the added detail gives the reader space to think about the consequences of Frankenstein’s actions. This is a story about the ethics of scientific studies, the value of human life, the effects of alienation and isolation, and our responsibility to have compassion for each other.

Reading this book at our current time in history also made me consider angles I might not have considered before. I think everyone can sympathize even more with the mental health effects both Frankenstein and his monster encounter as they experience isolation and loneliness.

I listened to an audiobook version of this story, read by the unparalleled Simon Vance. His reading of Shelley’s lush prose added an extra layer of atmosphere that really helped capture the mood.


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Kingdom of Back

The Kingdom of Back
By Marie Lu
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 313 pages. Young Adult 

Nannerl Mozart is a young protégé at the clavier and wishes to be remembered forever. When her younger brother, Wolfgang, starts learning to play, it’s discovered that he too is a protégé. When Wolfgang starts to outshine Nannerl due to his young age and gender, she fears she will be forgotten. Then one day she meets the mysterious Hyacinth from the Kingdom of Back. He promises her that he can make her wish come true—as long as she helps him. 

This is a moving novel based on the real-life Mozart children, but where they are influenced by the happenings of a magical faerie realm. I want to give Nannerl a hug. As a character she evolves throughout the novel, and must decide what she is willing to sacrifice to make her dreams come true. Then there’s the innocent and kind-hearted Wolfgang. He loves his sister dearly, and is troubled by the restrictions she faces just because of her gender. I often hear about “couple goals,” but Nannerl and Wolfgang are “sibling goals.” For the well-researched story, the deep relationships, and the excellent character development, I would easily recommend this for fans of historical fantasy. 


Saturday, October 10, 2020

Old Man's War

Old Man's War
by John Scalzi
Tor, 2005. 316 pages. Science Fiction.

John Perry, age 75, begins his new life by being declared legally dead and joining the space marines. Why did he do it? For a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is the Colonial Defense Force's (CDF) centuries old promise that they can make the old young again. Joining the CDF means leaving Earth for good, fighting the wars to save humanity out there in space for a period of 2-10 years, and then retire to a colony with beaches. But as he and the friends he makes among the other senior citizen recruits discover, being made young again isn't what they thought it would be, it's better.

So starts the saga of the Old Man's War, where senior citizens protect the human race among the stars. Scalzi does a great job of incorporating a wise-with-years character into a young, overly capable body to humorous effect, all the while asking deep philosophical questions about relationships how the family we gather to us can mean just as much to us as the families we are born into. 

For those who enjoy series like The Expanse by James A. Corey, but want something with a little more humor and military science fiction added in, this book is for you!

Friday, October 9, 2020

The Most Precious of Cargoes

The Most Precious of Cargoes 
By Jean-Claude Grumberg 
HarperVia, 2020. 120 pgs. Historical Fiction 

In the height of World War II, one Jewish man must make a heart wrenching decision concerning his newborn twins. An impoverished, childless woodcutter’s wife rescues a small, Jewish baby, risking her own safety, and life, to protect this child. What will become of these brave individuals as they face an uncertain future and the horrors of World War II? 

With beautiful writing, this reads like a traditional fairytale that reminds us of the trials, strength, and bravery of Europe. The story switches back and forth from the Jewish father to the woodcutter’s wife, and the horrors that each of them must face to protect one small child. The subject matter is heavy, but writing is ethereal and lifting, making this one of the most poignant books on the Holocaust I have read in recent years. This tale makes the reader question their understanding of historical fiction and the relationship between truth and myth. A beautiful story that is a must read for all. 


Thursday, October 8, 2020

Axiom's End

Axiom's End
By Lindsay Ellis
St. Martin's Press, 2020. 384 pgs. Young Adult Sci-Fi

It's 2007, and Cora Sabino is trying to lay low from the media frenzy created by her whistleblower father.  Though he's in hiding, his organization has leaked new evidence proving the government's knowledge of extraterrestrial life.  Though Cora doesn't want to get involved, she may not be able to avoid it as the mysteries surrounding her family circle closer, until late one night when a strange presence lurks outside in the dark.  Cora must decide whether or not to finally take matters into her own hands.

Some may be familiar with Lindsay Ellis, popular Youtuber, although this book is completely unrelated to her video essays.  In this book, Ellis has created an interesting alien culture and sets all of the action within the familiar tensions of 2007 US society.  I found the main character to be a little too often swept along by events and a little too infrequently the driver of her own fate, but her "close encounters" were a fun read overall.  Recommended for any fans of YA alien fiction.


1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus


1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus 
by Charles C. Mann 
Vintage, 2011. 553 pages. Nonfiction 

 In this astonishing book, author Charles Mann thoroughly and methodically tears to shreds misconceptions of the history of indigenous peoples in the Americas beginning with the land-bridge theory, through population numbers and the “pristine wilderness” myth. The three main ideas examined are one, the pre-Columbus population of the Americas were much higher than originally thought; two, people have been living in the American for much longer than previously thought and came to the Americas in multiple waves; and three, indigenous peoples thoroughly shaped the landscape with agricultural methods nearly unrecognizable from and more sustainable than those used in Europe. Through meticulous research, Mann reveals a much richer and deeper portrait of the people in the Americas before Columbus than contained in any textbook. 

 I honestly had no idea that we had this much knowledge of indigenous peoples in the Americas before Columbus arrived until I read this book. Now I’m astounded by not only what I’ve learned about the pre-Columbus Americas, but also that I wasn’t taught more of this in school. I suspect at least some of Mann’s assertions are controversial, but he seems to offer both sides of the arguments even as he picks a side. This would be a good read for anyone, but especially those interested in history, pre-Columbian people, or environmental studies.


Friday, October 2, 2020

How to

How to: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems
by Randall Munroe
Riverhead Books, 2019. 307 pages. Nonfiction

There's more than one way to solve every problem. There's a right way, a wrong way, and a way that is so tremendously wrong that no one would ever attempt it. This book is guide to that third approach to many of life's basic tasks. The creator of the popular website and former NASA roboticist Randall Munroe provides outlandishly absurd solutions (grounded in real-life science and technology) to everyday obstacles; learn how to build a lava moat around your house (your HOA may not approve), how to cross a river by boiling it, and how to get to your appointments on time by destroying the Moon.

Like Munroe's previous book "What If?", "How to" invites readers to explore the furthest reaches of what is physically possible. The math can sometimes get a bit dense, but Munroe does a good job keeping the tone conversational and accessible for the nonexpert; for example, consider this quote:

Without shielding, spacecraft break up in the atmosphere. When large spacecraft enter the atmosphere without a heat shield, between 10 percent and 40 percent of their mass usually makes it to the surface, and the rest melts or evaporates. This is why heat shields are so popular.

Clever infographics and illustrations help the reader visualize the preposterous ideas that Munroe suggests, showcasing the science and technology that underlie our everyday routines; bear in mind that you'll miss out on these if you choose the audiobook over physical or eBook formats. Perfect for those familiar with the physical sciences and for those familiar with life on Earth (or Mars).


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

At Love's Command

By Karen Witemeyer 
Bethany House, 2020. 377 pages. Romance 

Following the massacre of Wounded Knee, cavalry officer Matthew Hanger leaves the military and leads a band of mercenaries who defend the innocent. When one of his men is gravely injured, they seek out the help of Dr. Josephine Burkett. When Josie’s brother is abducted, she asks the Hanger’s Horsemen to save him, but things go wrong and soon it’s Josie who is in danger. Will Matthew be able to save her in time, or will he lose the woman he has fallen for? 

This is one of my all-time favorite Karen Witemeyer books. Josie is a strong, independent, intelligent woman who also is compassionate, understanding, and finds a true partner in Matthew. The Christian elements felt authentic and relevant, without being overbearing. They make each other better people and help one another grow and learn new things. I can’t wait for the other books in this series, and would recommend to anyone who enjoys clean romance, historical fiction, or Christian fiction. 


World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments

by Aimee Nezhukumatathil 
Milkweed Editions, 2020. 165 pages. Nonfiction 

World of Wonders is an elegant tribute to all the natural wonders of author Aimee Nezhakumatathil’s life. Part nature log, part memoir, part philosophy, all poetry, this short little volume consists of essays about such natural wonders as axolotls, touch-me-not plants, and corpse flowers. Each essay contains a little history of Nezhukamatathil’s life and how each natural wonder taught her something about the world and how to live in it. 

This little book of wonders is just perfect for someone that is constantly amazed by the natural world around us. It’s bite-sized chapters are easy to read and digest, and its message of hope and wonder is exactly what I needed in this year of craziness for our planet. Nezhukumatathil’s prose elegantly conveys her praise of the natural world’s astonishments, and I came away from this book wanting to read more of her works of poetry. 


Friday, September 25, 2020

Wilder Girls

Wilder Girls
By Rory Power
Delacorte Press, 2019. 357 pages. Young Adult

No one at the Raxter School for Girls knows exactly what it is, or where it came from, but they call it the Tox. It took the teachers first, then spread to the girls, changing the bodies of those who survive it's excruciating sickness. Quarantined these last 18 months, confined to the school grounds except to pick up supplies dropped off at the island's edge, the remaining students wait for a cure. But the longer they wait, the more the Tox seeps in - into the girls, even into the island and its forests and animals. When Hetty's friend goes missing, she's determined to find her, no matter the danger. 
 If you like some simmering, eerie, atmospheric horror, look no further. This book has been compared to THE LORD OF THE FLIES, and though I see how some people could see the parallels, I think that comparison is inaccurate and a little unfair. WILDER GIRLS is its own story. Yes, it definitely has that order-into-chaos element as the girls, so cut off from the world and even their own families, and left with minimal adult supervision, redefine the social order. But WILDER GIRLS is a horror story, specifically an epidemic/quarantine survival. For me, a big draw is the tension Power manages to evoke in subtle ways, yet still you feel unnerved and perhaps even a little abandoned like the girls of Raxter School. The pace might not be everyone's cup of tea; but I loved the premise. This is Rory Power's first book, so I'm excited to see what she comes up with next!


Monday, September 21, 2020

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not 
by Sarah M. Eden 
Covenant Communications, 2020. 256 pages. Romance 

Julia Cummings has long been acquainted with loss-her mother, her brother, her sister, her friend, all gone too soon. But the loss that pushed her grief to the limit as a young girl was that of her best friend, Lucas Jonquil, who abandoned her without looking back. Now, eight years later, Lucas has returned to Lampton Park, and Julia has steeled herself-she will never forgive the man who broke her heart. 

After losing too many of his friends and family to early deaths, Lucas vowed to live life to the fullest. And after traversing the world, he has returned from his adventures to find his family and home as he left them-except for Julia. The little girl he left behind has blossomed into a captivating lady, a lady who makes it clear she despises him. With little hope of reconciliation, the former friends are blindsided when their parents make a shocking announcement. Lucas and Julia have been betrothed without their knowledge and are to marry immediately. Now Lucas must rely on the help of his closest friends to win the heart of a lady who loathes him-a lady he s coming to love more deeply every day. 

If you are a fan of Sarah M. Eden books, especially the Jonquil series, then you will adore this book. There are so many hidden gems throughout the book and you will love making the connections between the two generations. I don’t read a lot of Georgian historical romance books but this was a great book to get into the era. Sarah did a marvelous job of brining it to life, including all of the interesting fashion choices of that time, like powdering the hair. The story flows well and is easy to read while quickly capturing your attention to the point that you cannot put it down and stay up with the story. You will be sighing, crying, and laughing at the sweet and tender moments as well as the frustrating ones. A perfect start to a new series.


Friday, September 18, 2020

The Jane Austen Society

The Jane Austen Society
By Natalie Jenner
St Martin’s Press, 2020, 309 pages, Historical Fiction

The small English village of Chawton boasts a famous connection that no other place can—it’s the village Jane Austen lived in when she penned some of the most beloved novels of all time. Just after the Second World War, the residents of Chawton realize that the impending death of the neighboring great estate’s landowner could mean that many Jane Austen treasures which have been kept intact for generations may be split up and sold for a profit. Seeing an opportunity to preserve Jane Austen’s heritage, a group bands together to form the Jane Austen Society. In the process, they learn more about themselves, and help each other overcome past traumas.

As a Jane Austen fan who has been to England and toured the small cottage in Chawton where Jane Austen lived, I picked up this book thinking it would be a great way to reminisce on a fun past experience. I could see myself walking up the lane, talking about Jane Austen with all of the different characters. Some of my favorite parts of the book were the debates members of the society had about the value of Jane Austen and the meaning found in her work. They often brought up some good points I’d never thought about.

I also appreciated that this book is its own story instead of a Jane Austen retelling. While some of the charm of this book comes in its depiction of English small-town life, each character in this story is nuanced and struggles with real problems. In joining the Jane Austen Society, each character finds a place to let go of heavy burdens that they’ve been carrying alone.

An added bonus of this book for me was that Richard Armitage narrates the audiobook.  As usual, he does an excellent job in giving each character their own voice.  If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, or a fan of books set in the English countryside (Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War comes to mind), this could be the next book for you.  


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Vying for the Viscount

Vying for the Viscount

By Kristi Ann Hunter

Bethany House, 2020. 348 pgs. Romance

Hudson has been raised in India his entire life to hide from an uncle who will do anything for the family title. His father has taught Hudson all the things he would need to know to someday return to England and become a Viscount. His parents died while in India and when Hudson learns of his grandfather's death, he makes the long journey back to England. He thinks he is prepared for society but finds his education very lacking.

Bianca Snowley has found refuge in riding horses at the neighboring stable for years. One day she is startled to see a strange man in the stables and after defending the horses, discovers that he is the new owner. For reasons of her own, she takes an interest in the newest bachelor in town but in a turn of events, they agree to help each other find eligible spouses. Bianca finds herself coaching Hudson on the basics of dancing and courtship, all the time harboring a growing attraction to him. 

I really enjoyed this new series starter by Kristi Ann Hunter. Hudson and Bianca are fun characters that must decide if they are going to go along with what is expected by society, or if they are willing to do the best thing for each one of them. I was also surprised how much I enjoyed learning about horses and horse racing since horses are not something I typically take an interest in. I have read a lot of Regency romance and I liked this story line of someone who is utterly unprepared for Society and all the silliness that goes on but is willing to reach out to new friends for help.


Friday, September 11, 2020

Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun 
By Stephanie Meyer
Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 662 pages. Young Adult

When Bella met Edward, her world was set on a path where everything changed in less than a moment. We followed Bella’s thoughts and feelings in Twilight, but what was going on behind Edward’s eyes? The long-awaited Midnight Sun shows their iconic origin story from Edward’s much darker perspective. Edward’s inner struggle is brought to light as he wrestles with what he believes is right and what he discovers he must have.

While mirroring the events of Twilight, Midnight Sun also illuminates the mystery of many behind-the-scene moments and character backstories only mentioned in the series. Delving into the depths of Edward’s mind and discovering how close every encounter came to ruin was definitely worth the all-nighter. Whether read alone or along with the series, this is a fascinating and engaging companion to the classic romance that rewrote a genre.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

K-Pop Confidential

K-Pop Confidential
By Stephan Lee
Point, 2020. 323 pages. Young Adult

Candace Park is trying do what’s expected of her. She attends a good school, plays viola, and appreciates her Korean heritage, but Candance wants to sing, and she’s good at it. Encouraged by her best friends Imani and Ethan, she secretly auditions for one of Korea’s biggest entertainment companies. When she’s invited to come train in Seoul, Candace must convince her overly protective parents to let her train for the summer, just to see if she can do it. Trainee life is difficult, and only a handful of the 49 girls will debut, but Candace is determined to be one of them, even when the odds are stacked against her.

The K-pop industry is known for glitzy performances and near perfect idols, but we see behind the curtain through Candace’s eyes at the hardships they face. This book tackles a wide range of issues such as racism, feminism, beauty expectations, unfair labor practices, classism, immigration, and privilege, all with the backdrop of K-pop. Candace is a spunky protagonist with a harrowing journey before her, and even with such heavy hitting issues Lee keeps the pace moving and the book was hard to put down. I would easily recommend this book to fans of Korean entertainment, but also anyone looking for a witty, determined protagonist ready to subvert expectations.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Kintsugi: the Japanese art of embracing the imperfect and loving your flaws

Kintsugi: The Japanese Art of Embracing the Imperfect and Loving Your Flaws
by Tomas Navarro
Sounds True, 2019. 273 pages. Nonfiction

Cultivate inner strength and rebuild your life with the ancient principles of kintsugi. When we lose a person we love, a job, or our health, it can feel like a precious piece of ourselves falling to the ground and shattering. But in the Japanese art of kintsugi, that's where the creation of beauty begins-in the delicate re-joining and mending of shards with loving attention. Psychology Tomas Navarro encourages us to approach our lives in the same way.

The imagery of a pot being broken and then put back together with gold, making it worth even more, and then comparing that to our lives is one of my favorite comparisons that I have ever heard. The book does a wonderful job of giving guidance and advice on how to improve ourselves while at the same time appreciating our flaws and weaknesses and improving upon them. It stresses the importance of living and not just surviving which includes all of the painful lessons life can throw at us. The book is an easy and fast read and you will want to keep turning the pages to discover the little truths the author has written.


Loveboat, Taipai

 Loveboat, Taipai

by Abigail Hing Wen

HarperTeen, 2020. 414 Pages. Young Adult

Ever Wong just wants to dance. She has been on dance squad and color guard; she choreographs all their dances, and she lives and breathes ballet. But Ever Wong has two very determined parents who have decided that she is going to be a doctor. Her father was a doctor in Taiwan, but his degree didn't carry over when they came to the US. Her parents have scrimped and saved for Ever to get into medical school. And Ever does! She makes it into Northwestern University. But she also makes it into dance school. Ever knows her parents will never approve of her dancing so she ends up declining dance school. Before she can grieve too deeply, her parents send her away to a Taiwanese immersion program that will take up the rest of her summer. While there she discovers that the program is nick-named the Loveboat because everyone hooks up during their stay in Taiwan. Every kid is smart. Almost every kid is rich. And all they want to do is sneak out at night and go to dance parties. Ever thought that she would hate the program, but she soon makes a circle of friends, including several very handsome boys. Normal teenage drama ensues, including the obligatory love triangle, and Ever has to decide how to deal with this drama while also trying to figure out who she really is and wants to become.

This book has adult themes, but it handles them so well I didn't end of throwing the book across the room. The writing is smart and easy to get caught up in, just like one of Ever's dance routines. This is a coming of age story with all the appropriate themes of leaving home, making friends, breaking rules, getting in trouble, trying to get out of trouble, being jealous, being sad, missing home, etc. I thought that this was just another Teen Rom Com, but Ever’s journey to self-actualization is compelling. I groaned several times at the choices she made, but was pleasantly surprised at how Wen used these moments to show Ever thinking through what she had done. There are always consequences to choices, good and bad, and that is what this book so effectively shows.


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Little Disasters: A Novel

Little Disasters: A Novel 
by Sarah Vaughan
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, 2020. 432 pages. Mystery

 Senior pediatrics doctor Liz Trenchard is called down to the ER on a Friday night for an infant with a head injury. When she arrives, she is shocked to see her good friend of a decade, Jess, with her 10-month-old baby. The explanation for the injury that Jess gives doesn’t add up, and Liz is sure her friend is hiding something. Jess is outwardly the perfect mother, but after the traumatic birth of her youngest, she is constantly engulfed by dark thoughts and knows her children would be better off without her. Jess’ mind and her relationships are brought to the breaking point as social services are called in to investigate her baby’s injury. 

 This psychological thriller offers a raw and intense look at the complexities of motherhood and a highly researched portrayal of postpartum distress, with a particular focus on intrusive thoughts of infant harm. The story is compelling and while the subject matter is heavy, it is meaningful. The story is told from multiple points of view, and jumps back and forth in time to give a more complete picture of characters and events. I really appreciated the fictional depiction of postpartum distress; reading someone’s inner dialogue is a completely different experience than reading about it in a nonfiction book. Other motherhood challenges are brought up as well, from working moms to divorce, to dealing with past abuse by parents to alcohol abuse. 

 Postpartum distress needs as much awareness as it can get so that struggling mothers know they aren’t alone and can get help. I highly recommend this for anyone willing to read an emotionally heavy book.  For anyone dealing with postpartum distress I would cautiously recommend it as a haunting and emotionally difficult yet satisfying read.


Tabernacles of Clay

Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism
By Taylor G. Petrey
University of North Carolina Press, 2020. 273 pages. Nonfiction

This very well-researched book discusses Latter-day Saint (LDS) teachings on gender and sexuality since WWII, including such topics as interracial marriage, the ERA movement, feminism, birth control, homosexuality, gender identity, and same-sex marriage. Various changes in Church policy over the decades are shown in the context of an evolving American mentality, comparing formal statements on a wide array of topics. Petrey's conclusion: there is ongoing conflict in Mormon doctrine between the ideas of fixed, eternal gender and sexuality, and fluid, malleable gender and sexuality.

What I appreciated most about this book (besides the beautiful cover) is the plain presentation of the facts; Petrey didn't mangle them into a pretty picture, but rather showed them in their tangled, confusing form. It's safe to say that Mormon ideas about gender and sexuality have changed over time. While these shifts may make some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uncomfortable, I believe that it's in this fertile soil of discomfort that empathy and self-awareness can grow. I recommend this book to those ready for a deep dive, replete with fresh insights to gender and sexuality in a modern church.


Monday, August 31, 2020

Gods of Jade and Shadow

Gods of Jade and Shadow 
By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Del Rey, 2019. 338 pages. Science Fiction

The rest of the world is living it up during the Jazz Age, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors and taking care of her wealthy grandfather. It seems that her dreams of leaving her small Mexican town will never come true, until one day when in an act of rebellion, she opens a curious wooden box and sets free the spirit of the Mayan god of death. Casiopea must help the god recover his throne from his treacherous brother, and journeys from the jungles of the Yucatan to Mexico City, Baja California, and the Mayan underworld in hopes of saving herself and the world.

This was a wonderful mix of Cinderella, Percy Jackson, and Mexican geography with beautiful language, strong characters, and a moving tale of redemption. Casiopea is strong, brave, and makes sacrifices to protect her family and others. She is down-to-earth, but wants more than what life has given her and is willing to fight for dreams that she didn’t know she had. The descriptions of Mexico and Mayan mythology are expansive, accurate, and beautiful at the same time. The romance is slow-building, but realistic, and the ending was authentic and true to Casiopea’s character. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys historical fantasy, dark fantasy, or descriptive fiction.


A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

by Alex White
Orbit, 2018. 473 pages. Science Fiction

Nilah Brio wants one thing, to be the youngest Pan Galactic Racing Federation Champion. She’s well on her way, when she’s blamed for a devastating murder that takes place right in front of her during a race. As she joins forces with a treasure hunter named Boots Elsworth, and the crew of a smuggling ship from a long-finished war, she discovers a secret society responsible for the death of millions. The conspiracy wraps up everything from wars, magic, technology, and her very own racing art, as the secret society sets up for their biggest move yet. 

For those that enjoyed James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series and books the mix magic and technology, this should be the next book on your list! The way the author mixes magic and technology is profoundly interesting. Not only that, but he takes that technology to its political, moral, and religious extreme to set up the universe spanning conflict. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Say Her Name

Say Her Name
By Zetta Elliot
Brown Books, 2020. 96 pages. Poetry

In this collection of powerful poems, poet and educator Zetta Elliot raises her voice in honor of both victims of and activists against police brutality. Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign, Elliot relates her experiences and feelings as a black woman in this call for empathy, recognition, and action. Along with her own words, Elliot draws inspiration from and adds her voice in harmonic chorus with notable poets including Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Phillis Wheatley. 

It's difficult to think of how to talk about a book that made me feel so much. Even the description above seems too simple, too small, for a book that is so moving and so important. One of Elliot's many talents as a poet is the ability to make you feel, as a reader, that her words are not just ink on a page but an extension of her gaze, meeting your eyes, connecting your heart to hers. Just the memory of feeling that connection while I read this book brings tears to my eyes. The poems range from celebratory, to mournful, to angry, to hope, to empowering. SAY HER NAME is an invitation, a plea even, to listen to people of color, especially women of color. Wherever you stand on the issues of police brutality and racial bias in law enforcement, this book is a must-read. Open your heart to Elliot and you will not be disappointed. 


Monday, August 24, 2020


Cover image for Displacement

by Kiku Hughes
First Second, 2020. 288 pgs. Young Adult Graphic Novels

Kiku is on vacation in San Francisco with her mother when she finds herself pulled back in time, or displaced, in the 1940s. She knows the basics of prejudices against Japanese-Americans during this time, but she experiences firsthand the hardships as she follows her late grandmother to the internment camp in Topaz, Utah. Through living at camp, Kiku begins to understand how the lives and future generations were impacted by the denial of civil liberties, but she also learns that a sense of community and resistance was also cultivated in the camps.

This is a heart-wrenching story that highlights the intergenerational impact of the WWII Japanese internment camps in the style of Octavia Butler. In the midst of our current discussions of immigration and civil liberties, books like this and They Called Us Enemy by George Takei remind us of the power of memory. The illustrations and story evoke strong emotions of struggles, strength, and resilience in the face of uncertainty and hatred. I have visited Topaz and learned about the internment camps during history class, but this brought the story to life in ways that were new and interested, and made me feel more connected. This is a great book for anyone who enjoys graphic nonfiction, historical fiction, or new perspectives.


Thursday, August 20, 2020


by Max Brooks 
Del Rey, 2020. 286 pages. Fiction 

The great Mount Rainier eruption rained death and destruction on much of the surrounding area, closing roads, burying towns, and turning Tacoma into a “morgue city.” All rescue and aid efforts completely overlooked the small mountain community of Greenloop. But rescuers eventually found that though the town had been untouched by the volcanic disaster, the residents had all been killed by something far more extraordinary and sinister. Max Brooks brings the story of the Greenloop Massacre to light through interviews with principle investigators, as well as the found journals of Greenloop resident Kate Holland. 

Once again, Max Brooks does not disappoint with his unique storytelling—posing as a journalist uncovering a shocking story through oral interviews and journals. This creature horror is full of terrifying and shocking moments, but does not shy away from social commentary either. The Greenloop residents’ lack of preparedness for a natural disaster may strike close to home right now as we wrestle with a real-life disaster of our own. Reading a physical copy of this book would be great since it is mostly made of up journal entries, but don’t overlook the audiobook’s stellar cast, including Judy Greer, Nathan Fillion, and Jeff Daniels. 


Friday, August 14, 2020

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

Cover image for The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
by Charlie Mackesy
HarperOne, 2019, 128 pages, Graphic Novel

In the tradition of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, illustrator Charlie Mackesy tells the story of an unnamed boy who wanders in the wilderness much like Christopher Robin. As he wanders, he runs into a mole, then a fox, and finally a horse. The mole is fond of cake; the fox is silent, but needs a friend; the horse has gotten used to hiding how special he is from the world. The four form a strong friendship as they wander and talk.

You may have seen Charlie Mackesy’s artwork on Instagram, or seen this book on the New York Times bestseller lists. Although I read it straight through, this is really a compilation of Mackesy’s inspirational artwork, and can be read in little chunks, in any order. Each page contains one of Mackesy’s ink and watercolor drawings, complete with an inspirational quote. The best-known is an ink drawing with the caption, "What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said? asked the boy. “Help.” said the horse. My personal favorite was captioned, “The greatest illusion,” said the mole, “is that life should be perfect.” followed with a penciled-in note from the author that the drawing is extra smeared because his dog walked over the drawing.

Whether you skip around and read this in little chunks, or read it as if it’s telling a story, this book is a nice source of peace, positivity, and hopefulness.


Thursday, August 6, 2020


by Chuck Wendig 
Del Rey, 2019. 782 pages. Fiction 

All across the nation, a strange phenomenon is occurring—people appear to be sleepwalking, gathering in a “flock” and walking to an unknown destination. They can’t communicate, they are impervious to fatigue and hunger, and they cannot be woken up. Shaina wakes up one morning to discover that her little sister is one of the sleepwalkers, but Shaina and the other “shepherds” will follow the flock to the end of the road to protect them. Meanwhile, the country is hit with an apocalyptic epidemic that threatens to decimate the human race, while a team of scientists struggle to understand the mystery of what links the new disease with the sleepwalker phenomenon. 

This is possibly author Chuck Wendig’s magnum opus; sweeping, epic, and full of incredibly diverse and fascinating characters. Readers that enjoy books like Station Eleven and The Stand will find a lot to love about this end-of-the-world saga. This book contains adult language and content, so reader discretion is advised. That said, this was one of my very favorite books of the year with a lot of eerily similar situations to what is happening in the real world today.  


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Opposite of Always

By Justin A. Reynolds
Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 457 pages. Young Adult

One fateful evening Jack meets Kate at a party. He falls hard for her, but her unexpected death a few months later is devastating. Jack is then transported back in time to their first meeting. He doesn’t know what’s going on or how he got there, but is determined to make the most of his time with her, and somehow stop her death. Except… she dies again, and Jack is sent back again. As Jack tries to change the course of events, he learns just how the consequences of his actions impact those around him.

This is a pretty standard YA romance with an interesting time travel element. The story repeatedly covers the same few months of time, but does so in new and unique ways so that it doesn’t feel boring. The characters are witty and their banter is enjoyable to follow. I’ve often wondered what, if anything, I would do differently if I could go back in time and relive a portion of my life. I found myself thinking about that a lot as I read this book. Overall an enjoyable read that I could recommend to those looking for contemporary YA romances.


Monday, August 3, 2020

The Splendid and the Vile

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
By Erik Larson
Crown, 2020. 464 pgs. Nonfiction

Larson recounts Churchill's first days as prime minister and follows his life and the lives of his family during the worst of the Blitz in Britain.  Not quite a complete view of WWII, this book describes the Royal Air Force and many air battles between Germany and Britain, but sometimes pivots to Churchill's home life, the dramas of his family members, or the efforts to raise America's help.  At times, I felt that this book wasn't sure what it wanted to talk about.  If you can accept that this will take a bit of a meandering view of this era of Churchill's life, you will find many fascinating stories and interesting glimpses of things you've never known about Britain during the Blitz.  Erik Larson is known for weaving compelling nonfiction narratives, and this book is no exception.  A recommended read for any who may be going through difficult times and who might be heartened by hearing how previous generations dealt with crises.