Monday, July 27, 2015

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy
By Abel Lanzac
London:SelfMadeHero, 2014. Fiction

Arthur Vlaminck is coaxed away from academia to join the staff of the French Foreign Minister, Alexandre Taillard de Worms, as a speech writer. In his new job, Arthur struggles to find his place and his voice in a highly politicized office dominated by the big egos and vindictive co-workers, even as crises erupt around the world. The greatest of these are in the Middle East, where the United States is gearing up for a new war.

In this fascinating graphic novel, Diplomat Antonin Baudry(writing as Abel Lanzac), gives a fictionalized account of his time as an adviser to the French Foreign Minister, during the build up to the Iraq War. Revealing the inner workings of government, the absurdities of Arthur Vlaminck's attempts to craft clear statements of French foreign policy, in spite of the ever shifting demands from his boss and the backbiting of his co-workers, are both hilarious and insightful. The satirical aspects are reminiscent of shows like Alpha House, films such as In the Loop or the Doonesbury comic strip.

CHW

The Strangler Vine

The Stranger Vine
By M.J. Carter
G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2015. Fiction

After a famous and controversial poet disappears in the heart of India, two men are sent to locate him: William Avery, a callow junior officer, and Jeremiah Blake, a disgraced former officer of the East India Company scorned for having gone native. So begins a tale of intrigue and mystery, containing elements of Kipling and Conan Doyle, as the two make their way across subcontinent ruled by the British East India Company that little understands the millions of native peoples under their dominion. This is a real page turner, and a story rich in the historical details of the region, full of beauty and squalor in equal measures. This would make a good summer read selection for anyone who enjoys novels with a good blend of historical fact and fiction.

CHW

In the Unlikely Event

In the Unlikely Event
By Judy Blume
Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 401 pgs. Fiction.

Judy Blume’s much anticipated new novel is set in a small New Jersey town during the 1950s. Like most small towns, life seems idyllic.  Then, in a few short months, three tragic plane crashes occur within the city limits. No life is left unmarred and residents of all ages are forced to deal with the difficult aftermath.

Though told from shifting perspectives, the story focuses on the Ammerman family.  Miri, a teenager falling in love for the first time; her mother Rusty, who is single and trying to support her daughter and herself despite local prejudices; her uncle Henry, a local journalist gaining national attention for his coverage of the recent tragedies; and her grandmother Irene, who lovingly presides over the family.

Relatable characters, a strong sense of time and place, and an engaging storyline all make “In the Unlikely Event” an impressive addition to Blume’s already beloved bibliography.

CZ

Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope

Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope
By Tom Brokaw
Random House, 2015. 230 pgs. Biography.

In 2013, Tom Brokaw was still enjoying an extremely active and adventurous lifestyle, despite being in his early 70s.  A growing pain in his back, however, sent him to a number of doctors who soon diagnosed him with multiple myeloma. He soon learned that this incurable form of blood cancer was treatable but serious and quickly found it necessary to limit his activity as symptoms and then treatments began to take their toll.

“Lucky Life Interrupted” is a product of his journaling efforts during this difficult period.  He speaks with great honesty and humility about his illness but also includes many examples of how fortunate he has been.  He also takes time to relate many of the great events he took part in over the years and tells about the inspirational individuals he has been fortunate enough to meet and know throughout his distinguished career.

Anyone already a fan of Brokaw’s work will enjoy this new memoir.  He emphasizes his admiration for his wife and the important role family plays in finding fulfillment in life.  It is a memoir filled with wisdom, heart, and a great deal of hope and encouragement for those facing unexpected trials in life.

CZ

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Armada

Armada
by Ernest Cline
Crown, 2015.  349 pgs. Science Fiction

     Ernest Cline begins his newest gaming novel thrill ride with a quote from Eugene Jarvis: "The only legitimate use of a computer is to play games." In this book, it's a lucky thing that a significant number of the earth's population feels this way, when they discover that what they thought was a worldwide slacker-fest playing games called Terra Firma and Armada was actually a secret government training exercise to prepare thousands of gamers to defend the planet against enemy aliens from a swastika-emblazoned Europa. Our hero in this fight is Zack Lightman, a high school kid with a bad temper who lives with his single mother and who is not really good at anything except video games. His recruitment into the Earth Defense Alliance, and the surprising discoveries he makes as his real drones battle enemy forces, lead into a fast and fun gamer tale. Just like on the glowing screens where virtual reality plays out, Armada skips quickly over the sad bits which good escape fiction should do. Cline's multiple references to classic sci-fi films and themes, and his use of them in his story, serve as both tribute and substance of this fun summertime read. Well-suited for older teen readers, though their is a fair amount of swearing.

Medicine Walk

Medicine Walk
by Richard Wagamese
Milkweed Editions, 2015. 246 pgs. Fiction

     Medicine Walk is the beautifully well written story of a young Indian man, called upon by his neglectful and disreputable father to accompany him on his last journey to find a burial place. The old man Franklin Starlight has lived with most of his life thinks he ought not to go, but "he's my dad" is reason enough for Franklin to put up with his father's drunken shiftlessness one more time. On their journey through the mountains where Eldon wishes for a warrior's burial he does not deserve, he finally explains to his son how and why he ruined his own life and left the boy to be raised by another. Wagamese's understated yet lyrical descriptions of the Canadian mountain country, his nuanced character development, and the deep melancholy of his storytelling make this a gem of a story in the tradition of Louise Erdrich and Frank Waters.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Under a Painted Sky



Cover image for Under a Painted Sky
by Stacey Lee
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 374 pages, Young Adult Historical Fiction

"In 1845, Sammy, a Chinese American girl, and Annamae, an African American slave girl, disguise themselves as boys and travel on the Oregon Trail to California from Missouri."

When I think of the Oregon Trail, I think of long lines of covered wagons.  Stacey Lee does a great job of giving a different view of the trip westward.  I loved the diversity of the characters (Chinese American, African American, Mexican, Irish), and I especially loved how she wove the backgrounds of their different cultures into the story.  For example, Sammy is always making assumptions about people’s actions based on the Chinese zodiac.  The fact that Sammy and Annamae are trying to keep their gender a secret while traveling with cowboys added a fun twist to the plot.  The story is fast-paced and full of Wild West adventure, with a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

MB

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tiffany Girl

Tiffany Girl
By Deanne Gist
Howard Books, 2015.  544 pgs. Fiction.

Tiffany Girl tells the story of Flossie Jayne, a late nineteenth century “New Woman” and student at the New York Art Institute.  Though raised in a conservative family, Flossie’s feminist ideals cause her to leave home to work on the Tiffany Chapel, Louis Comfort Tiffany’s stained-glass mosaic chapel created for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  After moving into a boarding house, Flossie hurries to bond with her fellow boarders, including Reeve, a cynical journalist with opposing social views.

Although length doesn't typically bother me, Tiffany Girl struck me as being a little overly long and as having unneeded plot twists.  Gist spends more time on secondary characters in this novel than she typically does, which accounts for some of the length.  Nevertheless, the novel was a fun read.  Unlike Gist’s earliest works, Tiffany Girl avoids overt Christian themes, as it was published by a non-Christian publisher.  Readers can still expect interesting and detailed historical information about a largely unknown historic event, though, as well as plenty of romance.

SR

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Eating on the Wild Side

by Jo Robinson
Little, Brown and Company, 2013. 416 pgs. Nonfiction

This book is not about dieting; nor is it a recipe book. The subject here is our fruits and vegetables: why certain varieties have become dominant in the marketplace, the nutritional consequences of industry and market influences, and how various varieties compare with one another with respect to both taste and nutrition.
Before your eyes glaze over (as mine often do in regard to this topic)—This surprisingly engaging and interesting. Packed with great information presented in an easy conversational style, this book is a great starting place for someone ready to improve their eating habits.

SML

Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral

Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral
by Mary Doria Russell
HarperCollins, 2015. 581 pgs. Fiction

Tombstone, Arizona. October 26, 1881. 5 cowboys. 4 lawmen. 30 seconds that changed everything. This is the story of the events leading up to those 30 seconds, the gunfight, and its aftermath. In 1881 Tombstone was a burgeoning frontier metropolis with three newspapers, a number of restaurants, two banks, four churches, a school, an opera house, a bowling alley, an ice cream parlor, 110 saloons, 14 gambling establishments, and a bunch of brothels. The mining town was on the rise and it was drawing men with political and financial ambitions.

An earlier chapter in this story--that of Doc & Wyatt becoming friends while in Dodge City is told in Russell's earlier novel, Doc. In Epitaph Russell details the sequence of events that led to the famous gunfight, but what she really does is show the character of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Russell reveals them in all their humanity--their values, feelings, desires, as well as their flaws and limitations. Vivid characters and authentic dialog make this a compelling western tale. A familiar story re-told with excellence, insight, and compassion.

SML

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Knockoff

The Knockoff
By Lucy Sykes
Doubleday, 2015. 338 pgs. Fiction.

When 40-something Imogen Tate, editor-in-chief, of the fashion magazine, Glossy, returns to work after 6 months away on medical leave, she finds her beautiful print magazine has been hijacked by her former assistant and techie millennial, Eve Morton. The plan is to cease print publication and turn Glossy into an interactive shopping app. Imogen quickly reads the writing on the wall and knows she must adapt or be fired. Though, Imogen is out of her depth, it’s Eve’s constant undermining that truly makes Imogen miserable. Eve does everything from make fun of her for not knowing what a GIF is to taking the credit for any good idea Imogen has.

This is a good, old-fashioned rivalry story (a la All About Eve) merged with the theme of the ubiquity of technology and its potential pitfalls. However, ultimately, the story reveals that whether your age is closer to millennial or baby boomer doesn’t matter. What matters is treating people with respect and knowing that we all have something to contribute to the workplace.

AJ

Uprooted

Uprooted
By Naomi Novik
Del Rey, 2015. 438 pgs. Fantasy.

Uprooted is Naomi Novik’s first foray outside the Temeraire series. Though still firmly set in the fantasy realm, this is quite a bit of a divergence from the Napoleonic wars setting of her alternative history series. Uprooted has far more of a traditional fairy tale feel and indeed pays homage to the Slavic folk tale, Baba Yaga.

A mysterious wizard known as the Dragon selects a young woman from a rural village near his tower every 10 years as payment for protecting the region from the malevolent influence of the evil Wood. Agnieszka, always muddy and disheveled, never thinks that she will be chosen, but when she is selected to serve the Dragon, she soon discovers she has a rare and powerful talent for magic. As Agnieszka's magic grows, her journey sends her on a deadly quest where she will experience the terrible intrigue of the royal court, a true and unbreakable friendship, and even a little romance.

While, there will always be a special place in my heart for Naomi Novik's other characters, Temeraire and Captain Laurence, Novik should be applauded for her well-written novel with beautiful descriptions, interesting characters, and action-packed plot. Fans of fractured fairy tales will not want to miss this.

AJ

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

We Should Hang Out Sometime

We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story
By Josh Sundquist
Little, Brown, and Company, 2014. 326 pgs. Biography

When Josh Sundquist turned 25 and still had never had a girlfriend (not for lack of trying) he sat down to analyze where he had gone wrong. Not only is this a humorous book about dating mishaps, it is a scientific study that Josh conducted with interviews with past crushes, dates, and girls he had thought he was dating. It even has statistics and charts, no joke.

This unique, and funny coming-of-age story about Sundquist's experiences as a cancer survivor, amputee, Paralympic ski racer, and motivational speaker is well worth the read. Many of his anecdotes are the best kind of cringe worthy and coupled with his self-deprecating humor they are laugh out loud funny.

HBC

This Star Won't Go Out


This Star Won't Go Out
By Esther Earl; with Lori and Wayne Earl
Dutton Books. 2014. 431 pgs. Biography

In full color and illustrated with art and photographs, this is a collection of the journals, fiction, letters, and sketches of the late Esther Grace Earl, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 16. Essays by family and friends help to tell Esther’s story along with an introduction by award-winning author John Green who dedicated his #1 bestselling novel The Fault in Our Stars to her.

As someone who enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars, I was intrigued when I saw this biography of Esther, whose life was the inspiration behind the novel. I was not disappointed. Esther was smart and insightful and her tidbits of wisdom are scattered throughout her correspondences and journal entries. The length may seem daunting, but the pages are not densely packed and the reading is quick.

HBC

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Heiress of Winterwood

The Heiress of Winterwood
By Sarah E. Ladd
Thomas Nelson, 2013. 320pgs. Romance

Amelia Barrett, heir to an estate, promises that she will raise her dying friend’s baby as her own. Unfortunately, her family and fiancé do not take kindly to the idea, so Amelia does the only thing she can think of to keep her promise: propose marriage to the baby’s long-lost father, a captain recently returned from the sea.

This inspirational romance has all the elements that readers of the genre will enjoy – family drama, gentle romance, and surprising twists and turns with a happy ending. The Heiress of Winterwood is the first novel in the Whispers on the Moors trilogy.

LC

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sous Chef: 24 Hours On the Line

Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line
By Michael Gibney
Ballantine Books, 2014. 240 pgs. Nonfiction

Have you ever sat in a nice restaurant and wondered how all that appetizing food got to your plate? There’s a lot going on behind the scenes of every restaurant, and Sous Chef is a fun look into the miracle of logistics that every restaurant is. This book gives a unique, second-person narrative of a typical day in the life of an upscale sous chef, from deliveries and food prep in the early morning hours to the cathartic fatigue of serving up that last plate. You’ll joke with your co-workers, deal with demanding customers, and find out just how much knowledge and skill is required for creating and serving delicious food. With casual language and vivid descriptions, the author brings life to an initially thankless but ultimately rewarding job of bringing raw ingredients through a chaotic kitchen to your plate. You’ll never think of restaurants the same way again.

LC

Monday, July 6, 2015

Landline

Landline
By Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Press, 2014. 310 pages. Fiction.

Georgie McCool’s marriage has been strained for quite sometime. So when she tells her husband Neal that she can’t fly to Omaha for Christmas with him and the kids because of work, things fall apart. Neal takes the kids to Omaha without Georgie and he won’t return her phone calls. But then Georgie magically stumbles across a phone that can call the past. Specifically Neal's house in the past. Given this second chance, she hopes she can save her marriage … before it even started.

The premise of this book was unique and also I enjoyed reading about the hard work that goes into marriage instead of just focusing on the courtship like so many other stories. But don’t worry there are plenty of flashbacks to their days of dating, which helps frame the story set in the present and adds dimension to the protagonists. Rowell's approaches her writing in a down-to-earth, yet humorous way that keeps you flipping the pages to find out what happens to characters you’ve grown attached to over the course of the book.

HBC

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Chinese Rules: Mao’s Dog, Deng’s Cat, and Five Timeless Lessons from the Front lines in China

Chinese Rules: Mao’s Dog, Deng’s Cat, and Five Timeless Lessons from the Front lines in China
By Tim Clissold
Harper, 2014. 272 pgs. Nonfiction

Fluent Mandarin and a deep understanding of the culture and contradictions of China enable Clissold navigate an unexpected but very interesting assignment to help venture capitalists, complete novices to China, negotiate business deals in carbon credits. His counter-intuitive approaches (at least to Westerners) are precisely what are needed to undercover hidden motivations and the seemingly self-defeating logic of his Chinese counterparts. Both hilarious and insightful, anyone with an interest in doing business with China should read this book. SH

Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time

Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time
By Beth Moon
Abbeville Press Publishers, 2014. 140 pgs. Nonfiction

Beth Moon has captured stunning images of remarkable trees from around the world. Each one is unique and most grow in remote locations or they would never have survived to become ancient. Two informative but fairly brief essays accompany the beautiful black and white photos which highlight in amazing detail the gnarled trunks and limbs. We have two other beautiful books about trees in our collection that are also a browser’s delight and both are in color: The Life & Love of Trees (2009) by Lewis Blackwell and Thomas Pakenham’s Remarkable Trees of the World (2003). SH

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Great Fire: One American's Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century's First Genocide

The Great Fire: One American's Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century's First Genocide
by Lou Ureneck
HarperCollins, 2015.  488 pgs. Nonfiction

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Lou Ureneck has written a fascinating book about an extraordinary man. The Reverend Asa K. Jennings didn't have the look or demeanor of a hero. Just over five feet tall, he had barely survived tuberculosis, and walked with a limp. Sent to Smyrna, one of the great cities of the Ottoman Empire, he was largely shunned or ignored by those who should have helped him in his assignment to administer the YMCA there. Shortly after he arrived, Jennings found himself, literally and figuratively, in the midst of a great conflagration. Turkey had overcome Greece in their nationalist battles, and as Greek soldiers, Armenians, and other Christians fled to the harbor at Smyrna, no one seemed willing or able to help them escape the slaughter that was to come. The senior U.S. naval officer in the region liked the Turks and despised the Greeks, so ignored reports of the calamity at Smyrna, so it fell to a makeshift rescue committee, Reverend Jennings, and Lieutenant Commander Halsey Powell of the U.S. Navy to engineer the removal of thousands of refugees, mostly women and children, from certain death at Smyrna. Jennings established safe houses in the city and took as many people who would fit, and then some, negotiated to purchase as much food as he could, and when these measures were about to fail, he tirelessly negotiated with Greek merchants, British military officers, andTurkish administrators to get the refugees to safety. He had often to rely on bribes, half-truths, and Halsey Powell (who risked his career to help) because of the relentless courage, determination, and charity of a short, gimpy, plain-spoken man wearing a straw boater. Ureneck's descriptions of the massacre of Greeks, Armenians, and Christians at Smyrna are graphic and distressing, but provide a memorable picture of the savage times that would change our world forever.

LW

Nobody Walks

Nobody Walks
by Mick Herron
Soho Crime, 2015.  296 pgs.  Mystery

Nobody Walks is as well written a thriller--or book of any kind--that I have read in a long time, and one of the most painful. Tom Bettany has fled his past in England to work anonymously in a meat-packing plant in France, but when he learns of the accidental death of his estranged son Liam, he comes home to investigate. Liam, who fell from a balcony while smoking marijuana, may well have died by accident, or maybe he was pushed. As Tom calls upon all his old skills from his clandestine service days, he runs afoul of some formidable foes and former colleagues and must call upon all his wit and skill to arrive at the surprising discovery of what happened to Liam. I can't tell any more about this fine novel without giving too much away, but be aware that it arrives at difficult conclusions, not that least of which is that Lord Acton was right:  Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

LW

Still Foolin' 'Em

Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys
By Billy Crystal
Henry Holt and Co., 2013. 288 pgs. Nonfiction

 In this book Billy Crystal tells about his life starting in childhood, his rise to fame, important people in his life, and recent events of the last decade that will have a lasting impact on him. These are all interspersed with humorous bits about aging and being a baby boomer in this modern age. I listened to the audiobook which I enjoyed immensely, Billy's inflection and presentation add to the story immeasurably.

 I was really impressed by Crystal's storytelling ability. Of course this book made me laugh, but it also made me tear up. It had a compelling narrative flow, with meaningful themes that reappeared throughout the text and came full circle in the end. It also helps that he seems to have had one of the most charmed lives I've ever heard of. If you can, I'd highly recommend watching a recording of Crystal's broadway show, 700 Sundays, in addition to this, as it fills in a few gaps in this story and is equally heartwarming (and sometimes heartbreaking) as this book was. Be aware that Crystal frequently uses adult language and suggestive jokes.

 BHG

Friday, June 26, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Warner Books, 1988. 296 pp. Fiction

This is one of those classic novels I somehow missed all through my school years. As did millions before me, I enjoyed this book quite a lot. Scout is one of the best literary protagonists ever conceived. Her precocious drive to comprehend her small town existence while struggling with the often baffling and frustrating demands of adults was wonderfully portrayed by the author. The dynamics of her relationships with her brother Jem and her father were particularly interesting. While there is a good bit of sibling tension, Jem never really questions Scout's tomboy nature. Their relationship with their father was fascinating as well, deferential and yet oddly familiar, referring him as Atticus rather than Dad, Father, etc. Her portrayal of small town life is wonderfully complex, acknowledging both the close sense of community while still recognizing the tendency toward insularity and narrow minded provincialism. While this is often required reading for high school or college students, this is definitely a book that should be revisited by adult readers as well.

CHW

Information Doesn't Want to be Free

Information Doesn't Want to be Free
by Cory Doctorow
McSweeney's, 2014. 162 pp. Non-fiction

In this book, Cory Doctorow builds on his already considerable reputation as a leading writer on technology issues in general and intellectual property matters in particular. He concisely lays out his critique of current copyright laws and related tools (such as DRM), their flaws and tendencies to result in the exploitation both producers and consumers of creative works. He presents his arguments in three laws followed by short thought pieces explaining each. For such a short work, Doctorow does a marvelous job of distilling complex issues and elucidating them clearly without a fog of technical verbiage. In laying out his arguments for a new copyright framework that is both fair and appropriate to the realities of the internet, he writes will real passion for the topic while avoiding diatribes and vitriol. This is a very thought provoking book, challenging the reader to grapple with an issue that is becoming, given the ubiquity of social media and digital content, increasingly relevant.

CHW

The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels
by Michael Shaara
Ballantine Books, 1974. 374 pages. Fiction.

I recently re-read this book and was reminded why I often recommend it for anyone interested in the Civil War or Historical fiction. This is the story of the Battle of Gettysburg told from the perspective of the generals and other leaders from both the Confederate and Union Armies. Though this is a work of fiction, the forward explains that Shaara, to be as accurate as possible, researched the personal letters and writings of the key men involved.

The first half of the book is slower in pace as the armies slowly converge on the small town of Gettysburg and position themselves. The book culminates with the intense and bloody Pickett's Charge up Little Round Top.

The book is far more than an account of this seminal battle. What interests me most is the look into the minds of these famous military leaders, how they interacted with each other, how war affected them, and the cost their mistakes had on themselves and their men.

AJ

Monday, June 22, 2015

Re Jane

Re Jane
By Patricia Park
Viking, 2015. 342 pgs. Fiction.

Jane Re is a half-Korean, half-American orphan who grew up in Flushing, New York among the second largest population of ethnic Koreans outside of Korea. Despite high expectations, the economic downturn forced her to find work in the family grocery store under her strict uncle. Jane doesn’t quite fit in and becomes desperate to get away from Flushing, so she takes a job as an au pair for two Brooklyn academics and their daughter.

A trip to Seoul for her grandfather’s funeral turns into an extended stay as Jane reconnects with family and discovers a modern Korea, completely different from the one her uncle left decades earlier. As her outlook on life changes and she tries to find a balance between the two cultures, Jane starts to wonder if the man she loves is really the right person for her.

As someone who is interested in all things Korean, I was really looking forward to this Korean-American retelling of Jane Eyre. Jane, and the struggles she had, felt real to me which probably has a lot to do with the author’s background and personal experiences. I enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in Korean culture, or retellings of classic novels. It was satisfying on both fronts.

ACS

Summer Campaign

Summer Campaign
By Carla Kelly
Sweetwater Books, 2015. 259 pgs. Romance

Onyx Hamilton should feel lucky to be marrying the respectable vicar Andrew Littletree but she accepted more out of duty than anything else. Her life has been full of heartache and she has resigned herself to a lonely future. Soon the handsome and charming Major Jack Beresford rescues her from a dangerous situation and she must, in turn, nurse him back to health.

The chemistry between the two is unmistakeable and their banter back and forth makes this a fun Regency romance to read even though it deals with some very heavy issues. This is a reprint of one of Carla Kelly's earlier books.

AL

A Desperate Fortune

A Desperate Fortune
By Suzanna Kearsley
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2015. 495. Fiction

Sara Thomas doesn't feel qualified to go to Paris to crack the cipher of a three hundred year old cryptic journal. She is a computer programmer with the ability to solve number games, cyphers and codes in part because of having Asperger's. She is told that the journal belonged to Mary Dundus, a Jacobite exile and that the journal should contain accounts of her everday life. Once Sara breaks the cypher she soon discovers that Mary took part in an unexpected adventure.

Suzanna Kearsley is a master at writing novels with duel timelines. The past is brought to life through the journal entries and I enjoyed learning more about the Jacobite rebellion. I also liked that the present day heroin struggled with Asperger's. It brought a different perspective to the story. This novel does not have a very fast moving plot but the characters are great and make it well worth reading.

AL

Friday, June 19, 2015

Joyride

Joyride
by Anna Banks
Feiwel and Friends, 2015. 278 pgs. Young Adult

Ever since her parents were deported to Mexico, Carly Vega's kept her head down and her nose clean. Between her dreams of attending college, a late-night convenience store job, and a family in need of every dollar she can earn, Carly doesn't have a lot of anything left over, especially money and time.

But when she stops a robbery outside the convenience store, her path collides with that of Arden Moss: The handsome, wealthy, popular Anglo son of the local sheriff (also known as the man who won his office campaigning on an anti-immigration platform). When Arden confesses the robbery was an ill-conceived attempt to prevent his uncle's drunk driving, Carly can't help the empathy she feels for Arden and for his uncle. And once Arden discovers Carly's tough, ballsy streak, he decides that she can fill the hole his beloved sister left behind when she committed suicide. But Carly's suspicious of the boy with a racist father and more money in his back pocket than she makes in a week, and less than thrilled about trying to squeeze him into her packed schedule.

Eventually, Arden convinces Carly to join him on the pranking spree of a lifetime, which turns into a humorous yet heart-wrenching journey to the things that matter most.

Joyride tackles a lot of big issues: Immigration, racism, socioeconomic disparity, rogue police officers, and family disputes abound in the novel, but Banks handles them with grace, care, and humor. Banks deftly handles Carly's first-person narrative and Arden's third, and both characters bound off the pages and demand the reader's empathy for different reasons. I don't often read contemporary YA novels, and I certainly don't read a lot of romances; but I enjoyed this book immensely, particularly Banks' sensitive portrait of a young Latina girl struggling between her family's needs and her own. Recommended.

CA

Sweet

Sweet
By Emmy Laybourne
Feiwel & Friends, 2015. 272 pgs. Young Adult

By a stroke of luck (or by way of having a wealthy best friend), seventeen-year-old Laurel lands a spot on the "Cruise to Lose," a seven-day trip that promises passengers they'll lose ten to fifteen percent of their body weight thanks to a revolutionary new sweetener called Solu. But despite a ship packed with glittering celebutantes and the fabulously wealthy, Laurel doesn't feel inclined to worry about her size 14 waistline. She knows that someday, someone will love her just the way she is . . .

 . . . She just didn't expect that someone to be Tom Forelli, former child star, Laurel's crush, and who happens to be the host of Solu's "Cruise to Lose." Both Laurel and Tom avoid Solu for their own reasons, and are the only ones on the ship to do so, besides several members of the ship's staff.

So when Solu turns out to be addictive enough to kill for, Laurel and Tom find themselves trapped on a ship spiraling into madness. Survival alone won't be enough -- if the teens can't find a way to warn the world of the dangers of Solu, they might find home as hellish as the ship they fought so hard to survive.

Reluctant readers, take heed. Told from two perspectives, Sweet is a whirlwind of a read, offering up enough romance, action, and zombie-like gore to please almost any reader. Laybourne wins bonus points for the inclusion of a heroine who knows her body doesn't fit the beauty standard, but loves herself anyway with no restraint. A great beach read for anyone who likes a side of satire with their sun.

CA