Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Darcy Swipes Left

Darcy Swipes Left
By Courtney Carbone
Random House, 2016. 114 pgs. Young Adult

Jane Austen meets the smart phone in this fun, modern telling of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Told via text messages, Tinder, emails, and more; I really enjoyed this version of a classic. The book was fast paced and less detailed than the original, but the story line was still true to the characters generations have come to love.

I loved the bright emoticons and images used in the book and the fact that it was easily read in one sitting. This book is recommended to those that love Jane Austen retellings and those unfamiliar with the story alike.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast
By Nancy Campbell Allen
Shadow Mountain, 2016. 335 pgs. Romance

In this steampunk retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Lucy visits Blackwell manor to help take care of her sick cousin. She soon discovers that things are not as they seem as a restless ghost roams the halls and Lord Miles is obviously hiding something.

This is another book published my Shadow Mountain as part of their Proper Romance series but it is very different from all the rest. It still takes place in Regency England and I knew it would have a steampunk twist, but I wasn't fully prepared to have ghosts, vampires, and werewolves too. There was also a murder to be solved and a mysterious illness. There was a lot going on in this novel and for me, it was almost too much. The romance was very subtle and almost got buried under everything else. I still really enjoy this new line of books and will continue to read them but I'm am glad this one is not part of a series.


The Nordic Theory of Everything

The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life
by Anu Partanen
Harper, 2016. 432 pgs. Nonfiction

Anu Partanen lived most of her happy, comfortable life in Finland, where she worked as a journalist. When she fell in love with and married an American, though, her life was turned upside down. She moved to New York and expected to adjust quickly, but she soon found that things that were simple back home were remarkably difficult in the United States. Taxes, childcare, education, and healthcare were far more difficult to navigate and much less effective than she was expecting. Curious about why she struggled so much, Partanen began investigating the differences between her native and adopted homelands.

Partanen bases her explanations of Scandinavian culture around the Nordic Theory of Love, which argues that meaningful relationships can only exist between equals. Her book is both an explanation of why Nordic countries are so successful in caring for their citizens and a defense against American critics of the socialist “nanny state.” Americans tend to be wary of dependence on the government, but Partanen argues that in our society we instead develop (what she sees as unfair) dependence on employers and family members. When jobs or family structures fall through, desperate situations can arise. She discusses how Scandinavians tend not to resent taxes because everyone, not just the poor, receives excellent benefits. They see exactly where their tax dollars go. She also points out that people living entirely off welfare are extremely rare in Nordic countries.

I enjoyed both Partanen’s story and her research. Though unlikely to convince everyone because of its tendency to gloss over the complexity of certain issues and the problems in Scandinavian societies, The Nordic Theory of Everything does offer excellent explanations for why Scandinavians do things the way they do. As for me, I’m basically ready to move to Denmark.


Balanced and Barefoot

Balanced and Barefoot
by Angela J. Hanscom
New Harbinger Publications, 2016. 256 pgs. Nonfiction

It’s official. I’ve joined the quirky group of non-parents who occasionally read parenting books. Don’t judge.

Balanced and barefoot, written by a pediatric occupational therapist and founder of a nature camp for children, explores the challenges that arise from raising children primarily indoors. Angela Hanscom describes how physical and cognitive difficulties, including sensory processing issues, ADHD, anger and aggression, balance problems, and decreased strength, have skyrocketed among children in large part because they have very few opportunities to move throughout the day. Children are simultaneously tired and wired – mentally exhausted from hours in the classroom, and physically desperate for activity. They crave sensory experiences like spinning in circles, tumbling down hills, and climbing as high as they can. Things that may seem dangerous to adults, like children jumping off increasingly high rocks or babies playing in the dirt, are actually necessary for proper development, as they help children to understand and stretch their physical boundaries and skills. Hanscom also discusses how unstructured, increasingly independent, outdoor time calms children, decreases behavioral issues, and allows for better learning in the classroom.

This was an interesting read that opened my eyes to how many unnecessary and even harmful restrictions we place on children in modern American society. Hanscom offers simple, age-appropriate suggestions that are often common sense but sometimes counterintuitive. I recommend her book, especially for interested parents and teachers.


Friday, October 14, 2016


Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2) 
By Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Knopf Books, 2016. 608 pgs. Young Adult

Seventeen-year-old Hanna Donnelly may live at the edge of the galaxy on Jump Station Heimdall, but she doesn’t let her remote location curb her social life. When she is not shopping for designer clothing, spending time with her dreamy boyfriend Jackson or emailing her father, the station’s captain, she is either IMing or meeting Nik Malikov, her drug dealer. Hanna is constantly involved in witty and colorful exchanges with Nik, a member of a tattooed, convict-filled crime family, whose unpredictable life couldn’t be more different than Hanna's. When the station is invaded by an unknown strike force, struck by alien predators, and threatened by a wormhole malfunction, Hanna and Nik are thrown together and quickly become the only hope Heimdall has for survival.

After being wowed by Illuminae last year, I doubted that its follow up would meet my high expectations. This book is told through the same ingenious collection of transcripts, emails, journal entries, video surveillance, classified files, and IMs. This time, however, there are two equally deadly enemies and the chemistry of the protagonists isn’t interrupted mid-story by a long physical separation.

As charming and refreshing as the format is, Gemina wouldn’t work without Hanna, who starts out as the stereotypical spoiled rich girl but has surprising character depth and military prowess. If you enjoy both young adult and sci-fi, this unique and thrilling series is a must read.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Heist

The Heist (Kate O'Hare, #1)
by Janet Evanovitch and Lee Goldberg
Bantam Books, 2013. 304 pgs. Fiction

Kate O’Hare has caught her man; crook Nicolas Fox has finally been captured and brought to justice. Then Nick Fox pulls off the greatest con of all: he persuades the FBI to offer him a job, working side by side with Kate to catch other people living on the wrong side of the law. As the two band together to stop a corrupt investment banker who's hiding on a private island in Indonesia it is going to be the ultimate test of O'Hare's patience and Fox's skill.

I really enjoyed reading this book, Nick has a fun sense of humor and some of the best parts of the book are when he gets under Kate’s skin. The authors also did a really good job inventing the side characters of the story. It is really fun how they add to the plot from Boyd who immerses himself in any acting position to Willie who is a lead footed lady who will drive anything whether she has been thoroughly  trained in the equipment or not. If you are a fan of a light but fast paced read this is an entertaining story. 


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Over Your Dead Body

Over Your Dead Body (John Cleaver, #5)
by Dan Wells
Tor, 2016. 303. Horror

John and Brooke are on the run. From who? The law, the Withered... pretty much everyone. Their running isn't aimless, though; they're following the clues lodged in Nobody's memories about the demons that still remain after the massacre at the end of The Devil’s Only Friend. Freed from the framework of the FBI, the two are finally able to do things John's way, stalking and killing Withered using every trick in the sociopathic toolbox. Unfortunately, Brooke is as fragile as ever, flipping between personalities at the drop of a hat and alternately resisting and falling prey to her own suicidal tendencies. As he tries to keep his last remaining friend alive, John must confront the fact that a killer’s life on the road might not be what Brooke needs.

This book is the fifth installment in the series that started with I Am Not a Serial Killer, and this volume is engaging as all the ones that came before it. I have to admit that this is the weakest installment yet, though, as Well’s characterization suffers a bit from over-use. John has already completed his character arc, and seems to have stagnated, mostly just rehashing emotional moments from his past instead of having new ones. The plot twist in this volume also seemed a lot less inventive than the ones in the previous books. That being said, I still love this series, and fans of the other John Wayne Cleaver books will gobble up #5 without question.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Truly Madly Guilty

Truly Madly Guilty
By Liane Moriarty
Flatiron Books, 2016. Fiction 418 pgs

It started at a neighborhood barbecue, a seemingly inconsequential gathering of a few friends.  But then something happened which would change the three couples involved irreparably.

First you have Sam and Clementine, parents of two adorable daughters who, while not necessarily solid financial footing, have seemingly fulfilling careers and a comfortable life in the suburbs.  Next, we meet Clementine’s oldest friend Erika and her husband Oliver who both come from broken homes but find comfort in each other and their successful jobs and ordered life together.  And finally, there is Tiffany and Vid, Erika’s wealthy neighbors whose last minute invitation to dinner start the whole thing.

Slowly, Moriarty uncovers what really happened that evening and why it has so traumatized the participants.  What she excels most at is writing the perspectives of her characters.  Narration switches form one to the other and the reader is swept up in Clementine and Erika’s emotions as consequences are faced and dealt with.  I love Liane Moriarty’s writing, characters, and stories.  She has recently become a favorite and I’m so glad she has a healthy back list I can dive into including Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot, and The Husband’s Secret!



Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams
By Louisa Thomas
Penguin Books, 2016. Biography 500 pgs.

Louisa Catherine Johnson was born in London to an American father and British mother.  She was raised to make a brilliant marriage and ended up falling in love with John Quincy Adams. 
Their lives together were far from tranquil thanks to their frequently conflicting personalities and years spent living abroad serving the newly established United States government.  They were station in Prussia, Russia, England, Massachusetts and Washington and Louisa saw more of the world than perhaps any other woman of her time. 

Louisa Adams led a fascinating life filled with domestic as well as public turmoil.  It is rather amazing to me that more biographies haven’t been written about her. This review of her life is sincere and finely crafted.  Thomas writes with obvious admiration while not glossing over the flaws and struggles of the book’s subject. 

I read this soon after reading the new novel by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie America’s First Daughter and enjoyed comparing Louisa Adams with Martha Jefferson Randolph. Both women were witness to the birth of our nation but from very different perspectives.  This is American history and biography at its best!

The Hating Game

The Hating Game 
By Sally Thorne
William Morrow, 2016. 384 pgs. Romance

After the merger of her book publishing company, Lucy Hutton is determined to maintain her nice girl image in the office. But when she meets Joshua Templeton, her new cubicle neighbor, she isn’t so sure. Josh is cold, calculated, and not afraid to point out Lucy’s flaws. Before they know it, Josh and Lucy have started a childish game of one-upmanship that neither wants to lose. When a coveted promotion is announced, the tension - or the sparks - couldn’t be higher and Lucy is left questioning Josh and the game itself.

Based on the cover, title, and premise, this book seemed too good to be true. Who doesn’t enjoy the classic hate-to-love romance trope when it’s done well? To my surprise, The Hating Game was one of the most fun books I've read this year. I alternately snickered while reading the smart banter and sighed during the romantic scenes. This isn’t a clean read and the constant references to Lucy and Josh’s height difference can be grating but if you are looking for a witty office romance, this is for you.


Before the Fall

Before the Fall
By Noah Hawley
Grand Central, 2016. 391 pgs. Fiction

Noah Hawley's latest book begins with a plane crash. The rest of the book is a one by one examination of the crew as well as the passengers on board -- most happen to be very powerful people. The book also follows Scott Burroughs, a painter, and four-year-old JJ, sole heir to his father's media empire, who are the only survivors of the crash. These two must band together amidst a growing media frenzy as the authorities desperately try to find out what, or who, really brought the plane down.

Noah Hawley is the writer of one of my favorite TV shows, Fargo. So, when I heard he wrote a new novel I knew I had to read it! Hawley did not disappoint. I was hooked from the beginning and I couldn't stop reading until I finally figured out what really happened!


Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Gentleman

Cover image for The gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo
Penguin, 2016, 287 pages, Historical Fiction

Distraught at the loss of his inspiration, Lionel Savage, a struggling poet in Victorian London, accidentally conjures the Devil and realizes that he has inadvertently sold his rich wife's soul to him. Horrified at what he has done, Lionel plots a rescue mission to Hell with an assortment of unlikely companions.

This book is possibly exactly what P.G. Wodehouse would have written if he’d lived in Victorian England. Since I love both Wodehouse and this time period, this was the perfect book for me. Lionel Savage is more sarcastic than a Wodehouse main character, but he is also less comically weak and helpless as well. The side characters really steal the show, as they’re all exaggerated versions of English stock characters. There are strong English gentlemen, clever butlers, liberated young women, and dangerous intellectuals. As for the Devil, he’s just a nice, lonely gentleman who lives in an inaccessible place he prefers to call Essex Grove, and who happens to have a poetic gardener named Dante Alighieri.

Along with larger-than-life characters and zany situations, Savage inserts more humor in the formatting of the book. The book is edited by Lionel’s cousin, who leaves his opinions of Lionel’s behavior peppered throughout in footnotes. Occasional woodcut illustrations lend to the Victorian setting and tone, and heighten the comedy. This is a great read if you’re looking for something fun and a little bit bizarre


The Memory Book

Cover image for The memory book
The Memory Book
By Lara Avery
Poppy/Little, Brown and Company, 2016, 357 pages, Young Adult Fiction

Eighteen-year-old Sammie has plans for the future. As soon as she graduates from high school she’s going to move out of her small town and head to NYU and law school, after which she dreams of being a human rights lawyer. But when she’s diagnosed with Nieman-Pick Type C, a rare genetic disorder that breaks down both the memory and the body, Sammie has to come to terms with the fact that the only time she has is now.

Lara Avery made a smart decision in telling this story through a series of journal entries. The true heartbreak of Sammie’s disease is portrayed as she shifts from someone smart enough to be school valedictorian and debate team champion to someone who can’t remember the names of her loved ones. But being forced to accept her body’s limitations makes Sammie take risks and learn to appreciate the things she has now. While I’m not a general fan of angst-ridden YA or (hints of) love triangles, Avery handles Sammie’s descent into the disease with style and class and some beautiful moments. If you love books like The Fault in Our Stars, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, or If I Stay, this book is for you.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Reign of Shadows

By Sophie Jordan 
Harper Collins, 2016. 304 pages. Young adult, fantasy. 

The assassination of her royal parents and the onslaught of a sudden and permanent eclipse drove Luna and her guardians into hiding just moments after her birth. For seventeen years, they have lived in seclusion, hiding from both the tyrant who killed her parents and took their throne and from the monsters that erupted from the ground when the sun went black. Hidden in a tower in the middle of the Black Forest, Luna pines for the outside world until the day she rescues a triad of travelers, led by a boy she can't keep off her mind. Her choice to save their lives tears hers apart. 

Loosely based on the idea of Rapunzel (rather than the story), Reign of Shadows is a fun blend of light horror, romance, and adventure. The romantic attraction between Luna and Fowler is self-admittedly contrived; Luna scolds herself for being attracted to literally the first boy she's ever met. The world Jordan creates is full of objectively terrifying creatures, but she shies away from delving deeply into that atmosphere. I think I would have liked Reign more if it had been a little less balanced and more focused on one aspect or another, but I still enjoyed it. The early description of Luna versus how Fowler describes her is one of my favorite moments because Fowler's observation changes the way the reader perceives Luna. Reign is a good introduction to horror as a genre, to see if you want more or less. 


Thursday, October 6, 2016


Cover image for GlitterGlitter 
By Aprilynne Pike
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2016. YA Sci-Fi. 384 pages. 

Caught in a power play between her mother and a megalomaniacal king and CEO, Danica plots her escape from the cyberpunk parody of Versailles in which she's been trapped. Unfortunately for Danica, her plan is terrible. An engrossing look at how desperation drives individuals to atrocious solutions, Glitter is equal parts Breaking Bad and a recreation of the Bourbon Kings. The 'twenty minutes into the future' technological aspect also invokes questions of privacy, as every aspect of Danica's criminal empire revolves around hiding her enterprise from an all seeing AI that controls the Palace of Versailles. Essentially, a financial collapse in France allows a billionaire to buy Versailles and create his own pocket kingdom where nobility is determined by the number of shares an individual or family owns of his company. His teenage grandson reigns as a budding tyrant after a plane crash claims his parents. From him and the matrimony they are blackmailed into by Danica's mother are what Danica schemes to escape. 

I literally couldn't put it down. The primary protagonist and antagonist were equally unlikable, but the palpable desperation Danica exhibits creates an atmosphere where the reader can understand why she makes such terrible choices. While Glitter revolves around dealing drugs, it conveys the message that any victories claimed in such a manner are inevitably Pyrrhic. The drastic contrast between Danica and her parents' goals and coping mechanisms adds an additional air of tragedy, while the crescendoing collapse of her every relationship mirrors the  spiraling increase of the drug market under her thumb. Glitter is a modern tragedy in every sense. 


Get the Guy

Get the Guy: learn secrets of the male mind to find the man you want and the love you deserve 
By Matthew Hussey
HarperWave, 2013. 250 pages. Nonfiction.

Get the Guy is a in depth guide on how to to understand the male psyche and practical techniques to actually get a man you want and deserve. Matthew Hussey is a leading relationship expert and gives an honest male perspective to many of the typical behaviors displayed by women when dating. He’s like a real life Hitch!

The first part of the book talks about finding the guy- how it’s a number game, you need the mindset of the chooser, and the traits of a desirable woman, building conversations into dates, and online dating. Then he talks about how to get the guy- the formula for attraction, insecurities, creating a great date, intimacy, premature obligation, and why some women get stuck in the friend trap. Then the third part, which I found to be the best part- how to keep the guy. He tells about how to tell if he’s right for you, what guys really think about commitment, and how to create a love that lasts. Each section has so many seemingly obvious tips and insight that it’s silly that every single woman isn’t applying them.

If you are single this is a must read!  Rehashing and talking things out with girlfriends is never as effective as you hope in understanding the guy’s mind. This book is a treasure of sound very real advice. Every guy and relationship is unique but the perspectives found here are very practical, useful and written in a very approachable way. I have already begun applying its principles (with success!) and recommended it to several friends.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Animal Farm

Animal Farm
By George Orwell
Plume: Harcourt Brace, 2003. 97 pgs. Fiction

Animal Farm is the classic book by George Orwell that tells the story of a farm where the animals decide to overthrow the oppressive humans and take control of their own farm.

I can't believe I made it to this point in my life without ever reading this novel. It is a deceptively simply story that older children can read but that also has value for adults. On the surface it is a fable but it is also an allegory of our society. My husband, son and I all read this at the same time and we have had some fascinating discussions. This is one of those great novels that speak to us today and holds many timeless truths. 


Friday, September 30, 2016

Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna

Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna
by Maia Chance
Berkley Prime Crime, 2016. 310 pgs. Mystery

It’s 19th century France, and variety actress Ophelia Flax has accepted the proposal of the rather gruff Comte de Griffe, but it was under false pretenses and she soon regrets it. While visiting his ancestral home she’s about to call the whole thing off when the money she’s saved for her trip back to America, along with her engagement ring, disappears. Her friend Henrietta assures Ophelia that if she plays along with the engagement for a little while longer (so that Henrietta can snag her man) she’ll pay Ophelia back double what she lost. Ophelia agrees but when a body shows up in the orangerie, and a local tale of Beauty and the Beast seems oddly relevant, Ophelia discovers that there is much more to the Comte’s de Griffe’s estate and village than any of the visitors realized.

This is the 3rd in the Fairy Tale Fatal mystery series, and I admit I haven’t read the first two books. It was an interesting twist on the classic Beauty and the Beast tale, and one that was an easy, light read, though I know there was some context I was missing out on. Despite that, I was able to follow the main storyline decently well. Fans of cozy mysteries and fairy tale retellings would most likely enjoy this series.


These Broken Stars

These Broken Stars
By Amie Kaufman
Disney Hyperion, 2013. 374 pgs. Young Adult

Although Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen come from different social strata, they find themselves on the same spaceliner traveling through hyperspace.  When the ship suddenly plummets toward the nearest planet, they find themselves stranded and struggling to survive.  But as they travel across the strange landscape in search of help, they realize their stories are more intertwined than they realize, and that they are in more danger than a simple survival situation.

This is a great book for fans of young adult science fiction or dystopias (although it isn't strictly a dystopia). The characters of Lilac and Tarver really carry the story - this story just wouldn't work if the characters didn't. I'm looking forward to the next book in this series.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

North Korea Confidential

North Korea Confidential
by Daniel Tudor & James Pearson
Tuttle Publishing, 2015. 192 pgs. Nonfiction

There are lots of ideas about how North Korea functions. Many people picture them as a country that mindlessly worships an unstable dictator, is on the verge of starvation, and regularly detonates nuclear bombs. However, North Korean citizens are perhaps more similar to us than we may realize, despite their difficult circumstances. Through seven chapters about markets, leisure, power, crime, fashion, communications, and social division, Tudor and Pearson discuss day to day life and how people are making do in such a restrictive society.

Korean history and culture fascinates me, and while I’ve easily learned a lot about the South, understanding the isolated North is much more difficult. It was interesting to learn about how North Koreans have adapted to their restrictive government (mostly bribery and gray market transactions), and how life has changed over the decades since the Korean War. So often books about North Korea focus on the negative aspects (of which there are many), and while this book by no means ignores them, I think it gives a more balanced account of day to day North Korean life. I found it quite enlightening, so it’s an easy recommendation from me.


The Season

The Season
by Jonah Lisa Dyer and Stephen Dyer
Viking, 2016. 344 pages. Young Adult

Set in modern day Dallas, Texas, fans of Pride and Prejudice will immediately recognize many scenes, lines, and characters from this novel.

Megan has always been a tomboy more comfortable on the soccer field while her twin sister, Julia, is the pretty, feminine one. So when their mother signs them both up to be Bluebonnet debutantes, Megan is completely shocked. Uncomfortable with the socialite scene, dresses and shopping, Megan thinks it’s all a waste of time. With family issues forcing her to stay a deb, Megan’s bad attitude slowly begins to transform as she realizes how badly she has misjudged many of the people involved. It also helps that a perk of being a debutante is being escorted to each party by a handsome gentleman. Especially when she is swept off her feet by the charming and down-to-earth, Hank Waterhouse.

I wasn’t completely sure about this book to begin with. First, I’m very particular about my Pride and Prejudice adaptations, and while it’s not a home run, it certainly was enjoyable recognizing all the parallels. Second, I really disliked Megan to begin with. She thinks she has all the answers and is very disrespectful at times. However, rather than staying bull-headed the entire season, she is eventually changed by her experiences as a debutante becoming a better person in all aspects of her life. It is this change that altered my feelings towards the book. Overall, I would say this was an enjoyable read.


Never Always Sometimes

Never Always Sometimes
by Adi Alsaid
Harlequin Teen, 2015. 313 pages. Young Adult.

Just before beginning high school, best friends, Dave and Julia, jokingly make a list of high school clich├ęs they vow to never do such as never run for prom king or torment yourself over a secret crush (something Dave’s been doing over Julia for years). Now seniors, they have successfully avoided everything on their “nevers” list. But when the year starts to drag, Dave and Julia begin to wonder if maybe they missed out. To liven things up, Julia decides they should instead try to do everything on the “nevers” list. However, things get complicated after Dave befriends and eventually starts dating a girl they initially dismissed as the stereotypical “smart girl” and Julia realizes her feelings for Dave run deeper than she thought.

There are a number of “best friends who fall in love” stories out there (Better off Friends, Galgorithm, Emmy and Oliver to name a few). However, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss this one. Full of clever, laugh out loud banter and a less predictable ending. This one may be my favorite of the bunch.


Friday, September 23, 2016

The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful

The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful
By Myquillyn Smith
Zondervan, 2014. 199 pgs. Nonfiction

Self-taught decorator and blogger Myquillyn Smith has lived in homes of various shapes and sizes, moving 14 times in 20 years. Over all of those years, she's learned how to make her homes cozy and inviting while still living within her budget. In THE NESTING PLACE, Myquillyn shares her secrets of decorating for real people and real homes, not the photoshopped homes from glossy magazines.

I loved reading about the various dwellings the Smith family has found themselves in over the years, as well as admiring the beautiful photographs in this book. Myquillyn writes in a very personable style and her suggestions for how to decorate in a way that is "you" really resonated with me. If you're looking for some inspiration for your own home, take a look at this great book!


Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Torch Against the Night

A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2)
By Sabaa Tahir
Razorbill, 2016. 452 pgs. Young Adult

Elias and Laia are on the run. The Martials hunt traitors until they are captured, dead or alive. But the pair are determined to complete their mission – to break Laia’s brother Darin out of Kauf, the maximum security prison of the Empire. Whether it is by the ruthless Commandant, the sadistic prison warden, or the bloodthirsty emperor Marcus, Elias and Laia seem to be cornered at every turn. Most heartbreaking of all is that Helene, the emperor's new Blood Shrike and a former friend, has been ordered to kill Elias. It will take worldly and otherworldly help for Laia and Elias to evade their enemies and rescue Darin before it’s too late.

After waiting to pick up An Ember in the Ashes until earlier this summer, I didn’t have to wait long for the second installment. This book focuses on the chase and character development but it also sets up the political backdrop for the next book. Helene, with her conflicted emotions and wavering loyalties, continues to be my favorite character. There is some resolution in the love quadrangle that will satisfy readers as well as unexpected plot turns. That it ended on a cliffhanger is not one of them. There are two more books in this series, if only I didn’t have to wait a year for the next book!


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Roses and Rot

Cover image for Roses and rot
Roses and Rot
By Kat Howard
Saga Press, 2016, 307 pages, Fantasy

Imogen and her sister Marin are accepted to an elite post-grad arts program; Imogen as a writer and Marin as a dancer. Soon enough, though, they realize that there's more to the school than meets the eye. Imogen might be living in the fairy tale she's dreamed about as a child, but it's one that will pit her against Marin if she decides to escape her past to find her heart's desire.

If you can’t guess from this review and my recent review of The Invisible Library, Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. When I saw that he’d recommended this book I knew I had to read it! Roses and Rot is everything I hoped it would be—dark and mysterious and dangerously magical, it’s a modern fairy tale written for adults. I also loved that the main characters were women, dealing with the struggles and pressures that success brings. This book reminded me a lot of Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane in both tone and writing style.  Basically, I loved everything about this book!



Alice (Chronicles of Alice #1)
By Christina Henry
Ace, 2015. 291 pgs. Fantasy

Alice has been imprisoned in the crumbling asylum of the Old City for more years then she can count. The last time she was free, she was at a tea party with a rabbit, blood, and horrors so unspeakable that her mind shields itself from the memory. Her only friend is Hatcher, her neighboring cell mate to whom she speaks through a mouse hole. He was captured years ago, when he was found with a bloody ax in his hands and bodies at his feet. When fire engulfs the asylum, Alice and Hatcher manage to escape and set out on a mission to discover what happened at the tea party and how to find the Rabbit before he finds them.

This is the first Alice in Wonderland retelling I’ve read, and it didn’t disappoint. It is darker than the source material but just as mad and bizarre – a perfect retelling for adults. Readers should be warned up front that the violence, especially sexual violence, is quite high, and is not for the faint of heart. Sadly, the graphic content was unnecessary and will keep some readers from picking up the book. In spite of this, I fell hard for Alice and Hatcher and the light and beauty of their relationship, which is nuanced and thoughtfully written. I was enthralled by their spine-tingling story and can’t wait to read the next book.


The Invisible Library

Cover image for The invisible library
The Invisible Library
By Genevieve Cogman
Roc, 2016, 341 pages, Science Fiction

Irene is a professional spy for the Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities (kind of like Noah Wylie and the TNT franchise The Librarians). Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative late-1800s London full of fairies, vampires, steam-powered technology and unstable magic. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous version of Grimm's Fairy Tales. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen. London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do.

One review I read about this book likened Cogman’s writing to Diana Wynne Jones and Neil Gaiman, and I definitely agree. This book is chock full of weird, bizarre, funny, endearing characters and moments and the story is fantastical and fast-paced. The book doesn’t get too bogged down by world-building, yet it makes sense. I enjoyed every minute reading it. My one criticism is that this book is setting up a series, and it suggests the setting will stay in this alternate version of London. I hope future books explore other alternate realities and places. What's the point of creating a world of multiple realities when you only explore one of them?


Monday, September 12, 2016


By Louise Erdrich
Harper, 2016. 373 pgs. Fiction

I tried five times to write a short first paragraph for this review describing the plot of LaRose.  However, I just could not seem to do justice to the series of events and relationships represented in Erdrich’s new novel. So, I’ll have to start beyond the storyline and say that LaRose is a powerful story about family, community, redemption, revenge, friendship, loss, and forgiveness. 

The story focuses on two families and one very little boy given the responsibility to heal the wounds caused by a fateful hunting accident.  But vibrant secondary characters enrich the narrative and provide dynamic alternate perspectives that I found fascinating.

Erdrich has such a gift for weaving complicated stories with beautiful language.  She brilliantly creates a sense of place, both physically and emotionally.  Her characters are rich and vibrant.  Her themes are nuanced and insightful.  All this makes her novels a joy to read despite telling sad stories about hard things. 


The Rainbow Comes and Goes

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss
By Anderson Cooper & Gloria Vanderbilt
Harper, 2016. 290 pgs. Memoir

Both Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt have names that are familiar to most Americans.  But many may not know, or like me repeatedly forget, that Gloria is Anderson’s mother.  In this fascinating and person collection of letters between the two collected over a year, they discuss their relationship and many turning points in their eventful lives.

Famous people often seem larger than life and far beyond the trials we common folk face daily.  What I loved most about The Rainbow Comes and Goes is how vulnerable, insecure, and just plain normal they both seemed.  This is an admirable accomplishment.  It takes a great deal of charm and candor to sound normal while discussing what it was like to date Frank Sinatra.

I listened to the audio version of this book which was read by both the authors.  I loved hearing them tell their stories in their words and in their voices.  This is a wonderful exchange and beyond the fascinating details from these fascinating personalities, there is a powerful message about the importance of family and preserving the stories of older generations before they are lost forever.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Capitalism and Freedom

by Milton Friedman
 University Of Chicago Press, 2002. 230 pages. Nonfiction

Originally published in 1962, this book serves as a foundational piece in economic literature. Capitalism and Freedom argues primarily that the former is a prerequisite for the former; starting with two broad chapters about economic theory and liberty, Friedman progresses to tackle in brief specific areas of American economic and social policy and makes a case for the problems caused by interventionism and how the free market can solve them. While confident in economic analysis, Friedman acknowledges his limited frame of reference, a refreshing trait in a Nobel Prize winning expert. His chapter on education was particularly enjoyable, as he opens with the caveat that he is not an expert in any way on education, but then makes predictions and suggestions that are both accurate and relevant for society in the new millennium.

Capitalism and Freedom walks the line between primer and textbook; while not an introductory work on economics (Friedman does his best to simplify theories and terms for the lay-reader, but assumes a basic knowledge), it also avoids getting bogged down into minutia and complex equations. Where more in-depth questions arise, Friedman clarifies his point and directs the inquisitive reader towards specialized works where authors (including him) have done and explain more detailed research. I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about economics but doesn’t want to wrestle with equations.