Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls
By Patrick Ness
Walker Books, 2011. 216 pgs. Young Adult

Conor. Someone is calling his name. He was having a nightmare – the nightmare he has every night since the day his mother started treatments – but the calling is not part of the screaming, or the wind, or the darkness. The caller is a monster who looks like the yew tree from the churchyard on the hill near his house. This monster is not frightening but old, strange, and wild. He says there will be four stories. He’s come to tell the first three and help Conor tell the fourth: the truth. It turns out that knowing the truth might be more dangerous than the thought of living with his grandma, being bullied at school, or worse, the nightmare itself.

Since I am a fan of Patrick Ness I first read this book when it came out in 2011. In preparation for seeing the movie, I reread it, and it made just as powerful an impression. As YA author Siobhan Dowd’s last idea for a book and Patrick Ness’s tribute to Dowd, who died of cancer at age 47, it’s uncannily fitting. It seems natural that the stunning illustrations by Jim Kay (artist of the illustrated Harry Potter editions) reflect the beauty of the inside as well.

A contemporary novel at its core, A Monster Calls is about thirteen-year-old Conor O’Malley whose mother is losing her battle with cancer. Each of the stories the monster tells, set historically in Conor’s own backyard, is brilliantly complex, and not at all what Conor wants to hear. Nothing is black or white, which results in an uneasy journey to accepting the truth of his life, one that is raw, deep, and above all honest. In a narrative which includes a dramatic, commonplace disease like cancer, it would be easy for it to venture unawares into melodramatic or sentimental territory. But A Monster Calls steers far clear of it. It's a heartbreaking, real and moving depiction of grief, loss, and guilt. I recommend reading the book first of course, but the film adaptation is excellent as well. Just don't forget to bring tissues!

HSG

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

When in French

When in French: Love in a Second Language
Lauren Collins
Penguin Press, 2016. 256 pgs. Nonfiction.

Lauren Collins and Olivier, her eventual husband, met at a party in London. She was American, he was French, and England provided neutral ground: her language, his continent. Though Olivier spoke English fluently, an occasional language barrier arose between them. “Talking to you in English is like touching you with gloves,” he lamented.

The couple married and moved to Geneva, where Collins took on the formidable task of learning a second language as an adult. When in French is part memoir about her experiences and part study of how primary and secondary languages shape us. In one memorable passage, she explains that based on the differences in the way French speakers and Americans use the words aimer and to love, “I love my parents, my friends, my colleagues, the woman who gives me extra guacamole at Chipotle, hydrangeas, podcasts, clean sheets. Olivier has only ever loved me.” I enjoyed the personal stories, which were sometimes very funny, but I was just as struck by Collins’ beautiful writing.

Even more than that, I was fascinated to learn a little bit about how we interact with the world through the filter of language. Collins describes one culture, for instance, that only uses cardinal directions when describing where something is. They never use left or right or give directions in relation to landmarks. As a result, members of that culture have a constant, nearly flawless awareness of North, South, East, and West. When in French is filled with countless absorbing tidbits like this, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would recommend this book for readers who enjoys cross cultural memoirs or anyone who knows the struggles and joys of learning a foreign language.

- SR

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sunshine

Sunshine 
By Robin McKinley
Jove, 2003. 405 pgs. Sci-Fi

Sunshine only wanted some peace and quiet, some time away from her life as the early morning cinnamon roll baker at Charlie’s, her stepfather’s bakery. The lake out in the country where her grandmother used to live seemed like a good choice. Since the VooDoo Wars devastated New Arcadia, there hadn’t been trouble out there in years. But before it would be possible for human ears to hear, Sunshine is abducted. Her drawn out captivity with one vampire Constantine as well as her unprecedented escape means she returns forever changed, forced to accept her experience and her new self.

Most read Sunshine because they are either Robin McKinley fans or fans of urban fantasy; for some, it’s both. For me, I’ve been an indifferent reader of McKinley for years. Her trademark character-driven fantasy novels full of internal monologue and description have never won me over. And it’s not like there is anything different about Sunshine. She is perhaps more tangential than many of her protagonists. I was joking with a co-worker that you know it’s a McKinley by glancing at just one page of any of her novels. Almost always you will see one or two long paragraphs. My eyes hurt just thinking about it. But that is her style. Go to McKinley’s blog and you will find in her long posts and use of asterisks, parentheses, and post scripts a reflection of her characters.

So what made the reading experience of this McKinley different for me? I finally connected big-time with the characters. Sunshine, in all her stubborn, loquacious glory and Con in his stoic, silent, complete vampire otherness felt real. Similarly, New Arcadia felt like a strange place which exists in another part of the world. Together, Sunshine and Con are something special. While the plot was still slow and meandering for my taste at times and there was some brief sexuality that felt out of place, I loved Sunshine immediately, just as I savored any interaction between her and Con. There were also unforgettable lines and an ending that exceeded my expectations. I agree with Neil Gaiman: Sunshine is “pretty much perfect.”

I read parts of Sunshine via audio book and it is an excellent way to listen to Sunshine’s internal musings.

HSG

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Dollhouse


The Dollhouse
By Fiona Davis
Dutton, 2016.  289 pgs.  Historical Fiction

Rose Lewin, a journalist whose professional and personal lives are on shaky ground, distracts herself by becoming obsessed with the history of the New York City apartment building she has recently moved into.  The famous Barbizon Hotel housed a host of aspiring young women in the 1950s.  Girls trying to establish themselves as secretaries, models, and editors roamed the halls and a few even remain today.

Rose’s downstairs neighbor, Darby McLaughlin,  is one such resident and when Rose hears rumors of her involvement in a decades old tragedy she sees its potential as a  killer news story.  The narrative also follows Darby from her move into the Barbizon Hotel through her growing friendship with a talented and ambitious maid, Esme.  Esme pulls Darby deep into the seedy world of bebop music far from the secretarial pool her mother expects her to join with disastrous consequences.

Multigenerational women’s dramas have become fairly common.  But what sets The Dollhouse apart is a vibrant sense of place and a well crafted mystery concerning Darby’s past.  The struggle Darby faced as she worked to establish herself in a post WWII world is described admirably with surprising parallels to Rose’s present day trials and aspirations.   A lovely combination of historical fiction and women’s literature.

CG

Barkskins


Barksins
By Annie Proulx
Scribner, 2016.  717 pgs. Historical Fiction

Barksins is the very definition of an epic novel.  It picks up the tales of two destitute Frenchmen late in the seventeenth century who travel to New France to clear forest land.  Contracted to three years of labor in exchange for their own land, René Sel and Charles Duquet struggle to survive in this strange land filled with endless forests.

The plot follows the lives of these two wood-cutters and then the stories of their children, grand-children, and on through generations to the present day.  Their lines merge with the indigenous Americans creating complicated relationships with the land, the trees, and the developing modern world.  These people will travel around the world to Europe, China, New Zealand, and across the United States.  Their journeys are often brutal and fierce, much like the wilderness in which they lived.

Annie Proulx has never been my favorite writer, but I absolutely loved this book.  I loved the history and the characters and the lavishly described settings.  As the generations proceed, one after another, powerful images take shape of the limits of our natural resources and how, bit by bit, we have cut down a world we may never be able to restore.  A simply amazing work by an already accomplished and respected author.

CG


Friday, December 30, 2016

Dashing Through the Snow

Dashing Through the Snow
By Debbie Macomber
Ballantine Books, 2015. 244 pgs. Romance

Ashley Davison is a California graduate student trying desperately to make it home to Seattle for the holidays, but after she’s oddly denied a plane ticket and a rental car it seems like everything that possibly can go wrong is. Luckily, Ashley meets Dashiell Sutherland in the rental car line. Dashiell is a former army intelligence officer, who also happens to be traveling to the Seattle area for a job interview. Ashley and Dashiell decide to share the last available rental car, and together they begin a holiday journey full of everything from lost puppies to notorious biker gangs -- but the biggest surprise of all is that these two might be falling in love.

This book was a delight. Ashley and Dashiell were lovable, the plot was engaging and full of humor, and the romance was heartwarming. No one does holiday romance like Debbie Macomber. If it’s too late for one last Christmas novel, then be sure you add this one to next year’s reading list!

CNC

Redshirts

Redshirts
By John Scalzi
Tor, 2012. 317 pgs. Sci-Fi

When Ensign Andrew Dahl gets assigned to the Intrepid starship, he notices that low-ranking ensigns find a way of disappearing whenever it's time to make assignments for away missions.  On his own first few away missions, he only barely avoids death several times and watches many of his fellow ensigns die.  Soon, he begins to realize that something extremely odd is happening on his ship.

This is fun fan fiction for Star Trek fans who are familiar with the premise that "redshirts" are almost always the only ones to die on away missions on the show.  This book plays on that premise, toying with the idea of what would happen to Redshirts on an actual starship if they began to see that trend as well.  This is light reading, frequently humorous, and generally just good fun.

BHG

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Vote Loki

Vote Loki
By Christopher Hastings
Marvel, 2016, 120 Pages, Graphic Novels, Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Tired of not being stressed about the election? Get it back and more with this one-shot comic by Chris Hastings. Opening with a quick introduction of original character Nisa Contreras, an up and coming reporter with personal history with Loki, Vote Loki takes readers through a political campaign run by misdirection and the campaign slogan: "If I were your president, I'd lie right to your face, and you'd love it".

The story is silly, outrageous. It's not especially politically, though Loki's speech at the end (where he specifically notes he doesn't have any actual policy positions), is a bit of a jab at the general electorate. The illustrative style focuses on making the superheroes (Loki, Thor, Angela) look like real people; while the scenery becomes stylistic at times, the characters maintain an air of realism. Overall, Vote Loki is a fun, tongue in cheek story about politics. It's a little light on the action for a Marvel production, but the end product is still enjoyable. Hastings well captures the spirit of a contentious election season and encapsulates into an innocuous superhero story.

JMS

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Earl’s Betrothal: A Regency Romance

The Earl’s Betrothal: A Regency Romance
by Karen Tuft
 Covenant Communications, 2016. 264 pgs, Romance

 Captain Lord Anthony Hargraves returns home from the Peninsular War in 1812, to discover that his elder brother has died placing him next in line to inherit his estate. Reluctantly Anthony sets about the task of finding a wife so he can produce a legitimate heir. To make matters more difficult he has discovered feelings for his mother’s companion Amelia Clarke. Join in on the journey with Anthony and Amelia as they try to navigate a world that doesn’t easily let two different social classes mix.

 I loved this story. The relationship that grows between Anthony and Amelia is a lot of fun to watch develop. The other part about this story that I really loved is the author’s mention of Anthony’s experience with PTSD. For so long in society war was romanticized without ever mentioning the struggles the soldiers went through coming home. And the story is romanticized still, but I appreciated the acknowledgement toward those struggles.

MH

Curious Minds: A Knight and Moon novel

Curious Minds: A Knight and Moon novel
by Janet Evanovitch
Bantam Books, 2016. 323 pgs. Mystery

Riley Moon is a junior analyst at a huge bank; her first day on the job at a prestigious bank, she is sent to ease the concerns of the eccentric Emerson Knight. Mr. Knight is suddenly concerned about his gold and wants to see it. Since Mr. Knight is a wealthy enough patron they assign Riley as Mr. Knight's assistant. Soon Riley and Emerson discover an embezzlement scheme that will impact the world. Will they be able to stop the nefarious scheme before the world is thrown into economic collapse?

This was a fun story; I enjoyed the dynamic between Riley and Emerson . It is a light comedic read that helped me stay awake on my various road trips in the middle of the night. Emerson is a socially awkward genius who has a zoo in his house because his father wanted his own menagerie of animals. And Riley just graduated law school and is excited to start off her career and gets to follow Emerson around as he drags her across the country trying to solve this mystery. The banter between these two characters is fun to listen to.

MH

The Mistletoe Inn

The Mistletoe Inn
By Richard Paul Evans
Simon & Schuster, 2015. 300 pgs. Fiction

Although not a sequel, this is the second book in Richard Paul Evan’s Mistletoe Collection. If you haven’t read the first book in the collection, The Mistletoe Promise, don’t worry because the stories can be read out of order. In The Mistletoe Inn, Kimberly Rossetti is a finance officer from Colorado who dreams of being a successful romance author. Just as Kimberly’s life seems to be hitting rock bottom, her father gives her a once in a lifetime Christmas gift – a ticket to a romance writers’ conference at the Mistletoe Inn in Vermont. Kimberly is hesitant to attend the conference, but she can't resist the chance to meet her favorite author H. T. Cowell, a notoriously private author who is speaking in public for the first time in years.

The Mistletoe Inn is one of the best Christmas novels I’ve read this season. It's a bittersweet story, but the characters are inspiring and full of love and compassion. This heartfelt novel is perfect for the holiday season.

CNC

Replica

Replica
By Lauren Oliver
Harper, 2016. 236 pgs, 284 pgs. Young Adult

The first thing you need to know about this book is that it is two books in one. Replica tells the stories of Lyra and Gemma in a flip-book fashion. You can read one story in it's entirety  and then the other (which is what I did) or read alternating chapters. Once you read the first story, you flip the book over to read the second story.

Lyra is a replica, or what we might call a clone, and has lived at the Haven Institute in Florida her entire life. Haven is a facility surrounded by military guards and secrets. Most people have no clue what is happening on the private island where it is housed, including the replicas living there. Lyra only knows Haven as her home, but when an explosion rocks the island, she along with 72 (another replica) escape to see what there is beyond the Haven walls.

Gemma is a normal girl, except she has always felt less than normal because she is overweight. She is the only child of wealthy parents. Her father was one of the co-founders of Fine and Ives, a pharmaceutical company, although he parted ways with the company after a lengthy legal battle. Gemma doesn't know the history of why her dad and the company split, but she does know that whatever happened, her parents don't want to tell her about it. After an incident involving a Frankenstein mask and almost being kidnapped, Gemma  decides she needs to know more about Fine and Ives. Her research leads her to discover Haven, so she decides to go to Florida to see what she can learn.

This book is sci-fi with plenty of mystery elements mixed in. I found it to be extremely captivating and am anxious to read the sequel that should come out in 2017.

AMM

Saturday, December 17, 2016

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life

You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life
By Jen Sincero
Running Press Book Publishers, 2013. 254 pgs. Nonfiction

Jen Sincero is a bestselling author, speaker and success coach. There was a time in her life when she was very unhappy and she knew she needed to make some changes, she just didn't know what those changes should be. She read self-help books and hired life coaches and finally figured some things out. This book gathers all of her great tips and insights into an easy-to-read book full of humor, advice and inspiring stories.

This book has the ability to change your life, if you let it. The title itself should give you a warning that there is swearing throughout the book. Jen Sincero tells it like it is and she is very liberal with the expletives. What I loved about this book is that she keeps saying over and over again that we need to love ourselves, even with all of the weaknesses and mistakes we make. We are all great and we have enormous potential and can succeed beyond our wildest expectations but for some reason we are usually our biggest obstacle. We hold ourselves back and let fear and doubt determine the course of our lives. It is time to take control, to love the person we are and allow ourselves to be amazing. I listened to the audio version read by the author and highly recommend it, just be prepared for the swearing.

AL

Friday, December 16, 2016

Judgment at Verdant Court

Judgment at Verdant Court 
by M.C. Planck
 Pyr, 2016, 343 pages, Fantasy,

 The story of Christopher Sinclair, a man lost in an alternate dimension, continues in the strongest entry yet. Christopher, ever gathering allies and vassals through the innocence of his worldview, faces the challenge of hunting his old champion and friend for committing a terrible crime. On top of this, he is charged with clearing his section of the frontier, a merciless swamp filled with sapient wolves and dinosaurs, of all monsters. The path forward is fraught with dangers both seen and unseen, with the nobility he serves marking the chiefest danger.

I would almost consider the World of Prime series clean reads; there’s no swearing (none in Earth’s idiom, anyways), no sex, but there are moments of brutality that are heartbreaking in their inhumanity. This is one of the stronger points of Planck’s writing; without being graphic he paints a picture of despair and conjures revulsion in his audience when desired, but tempers it with the continual hope of the main character. Christopher's wrestling with the overarching plot point of "Dungeons and Dragons as implemented in life" continues to develop in complexity and depth, while the actual world building going on in the background strengthens the plot and characters considerably. The World of Prime series just keeps getting better.

JMS

Rebel of the Sands

Cover image for Rebel of the sands
Rebel of the Sands
by Alwyn Hamilton
Viking, 2016, 314 pages, Young Adult Fiction

Amani is desperate to leave the dead-end town of Dustwalk, and she's counting on her sharpshooting skills to help her escape. But after she meets Jin, the mysterious rebel running from the Sultan's army, she unlocks the powerful truth about the desert nation of Miraji ... and herself.

This book reads like a combination of a western and a tale from Arabian Nights. The two genres have more in common than I thought: Both are tales of living in an unforgiving land, and the people who live there have to be spunky in order to survive. A warning to those who are sensitive to language: this book is saltier than I expected, but it also seems appropriate for the genre. The pacing of the novel is quick, and full of plot twists that I did not see coming. This is the first book in a trilogy, and I can’t wait to pick up the second book!

MB

The Lost and the Found

Cover image for The lost and the found
The Lost and the Found
by Cat Clarke
Crown, 2016, 355 pages, Young Adult Fiction

THE LOST When six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, the only witness was her younger sister, Faith. Since then, Faith's childhood has revolved around her sister's disappearance—from her parents' broken marriage and the constant media attention, to dealing with so-called friends who only ever want to talk about her missing sister.

THE FOUND Now, thirteen years later, a young woman is found in the front yard of the Logans' old house, disoriented and clutching the teddy bear Laurel was last seen with. Can her sister finally be back? Faith always dreamed of her sister coming home; she just never believed it would happen. But soon a disturbing series of events leaves Faith increasingly isolated from her family and paranoid about her sister's motives. Before long, Faith begins to wonder if it's the abduction that's changed her sister, or if it's something else. . . .

This book grabbed me pretty early on. While there are a lot of stories about people being abducted, you don’t hear much about what a family has to deal with once that person has come back. Clarke does a good job of depicting the joy and relief, and also the adjustments and pains that come with dealing with such a dramatic event. Although all of the book blurbs I’ve read talk about Faith’s suspicions of Laurel’s behavior, much of this doesn’t come to light until the last third of the book. By this point, the book had me well in its clutches and I stayed up far too late in the night to see what would happen next.

MB

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Study in Scarlet Women

A Study in Scarlet Women (The Lady Sherlock series #1)
By Sherry Thomas
Berkley, 2016. 334 pgs. Mystery

Charlotte Holmes has been cast out, and she couldn’t be happier. She is determined to live life on her own terms, free of her family’s wishes or the expectations of high society. Charlotte hadn’t intended to go as far as becoming a social pariah in the process, but no matter. She will find a ladies home and a means to feed and clothe herself while she builds an investigative reputation as “Sherlock” Holmes. When a string of murders points to both Charlotte’s father and her beloved sister Livia as the culprits, she must reach out to old friends and new allies if she is to bring the true suspect to justice.

I’ve read a few of the plethora of Sherlock retellings published since the success of the BBC miniseries of the same name and found them enjoyable. I am also a fan of Sherry Thomas, so picking up her latest, which is a mystery, was a no-brainer. As always, Thomas’s prose is delightful and even better, she’s brought an original eye to a female retelling of Sherlock Holmes. Charlotte’s powers of deduction are very Sherlockian but instead of being cold socially, she knows the ruling families of high society and how to use her social skills to her advantage. I loved seeing how all the pieces of the Sherlock canon fell together. I can’t wait to read more.

HSG

QB


QB: My Life Behind the Spiral
By Steve Young with Jeff Benedict
Houghton Mifflin, 2016.  389 pgs. Biography

Steve Young is perhaps one of the most famous Mormons alive today.  I pointedly never paid attention to football for most of my life, and even I cannot remember not being familiar with his name.  However, despite his notoriety, this intimate and honest autobiography reveals a side of Young even his biggest fans may not know.

It is easy to view larger than life sports stars as completely self-assured and confident individuals. But the superstar athlete revealed in QB is a determined young man struggling with severe anxiety yet determined to conquer each and every obstacle placed in his chosen path.

I loved hearing the behind-the-scenes stories and the often play-by-play description of pivotal games and challenging moments.  Young’s narrative gives readers a glimpse inside the helmet of a professional quarterback and inside the mind of a man struggling with overwhelming expectations.  His family, his faith, and his will to excel all played huge roles in his many impressive achievements.  A wonderful memoir for fans and non-fans alike.

CG

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Chemist

The Chemist 
By Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 512 pgs. Fiction

To say that she is on the run would be an understatement. After becoming a liability to her classified government agency, she moves constantly, changes names frequently, and never goes to bed without donning a gas mask or setting elaborate chemical booby traps around her. Not to mention sleeping in the bath tub or driving hundreds of miles to and from a public library to check her email. When she is contacted by her former handler to finish one last job in exchange for the kill order on her back, she walks into a trap involving a rogue assassin she is forced to trust and a civilian bent on falling in love with her.

In Stephenie Meyer's preface to The Chemist, her first publication in eight years, she explains that the book is a result of "my romantic sensibilities and my obsession for Jason Bourne", which is an accurate description. The book is an entertaining if uneven and overly long romantic thriller. The first 200 pages are all thriller and I was completely engaged. As soon as the romance with Daniel hit – and that is not a euphemism – the suspense was put on hold, and the book lost my interest. But as the story continued their relationship became more believable and the book became a part-thriller once again.

While I likewise quibble with Daniel's lack of flaws and his instant acceptance of "her", I credit the book with pulling me out of a reading slump. I chose not to call her by any of her short-lived names (an aspect which didn't bother me), but if name is an important characterization for you keep that in mind. Meyer’s writing has improved and the audio book is also good. Here’s to hoping we don’t have to wait another eight years for her next book.

HSG

Shade's Children

Shade’s Children
By Garth Nix
Harper Collins, 1997. 310. Young Adult

Gold-Eye has lived his life on the run from Trackers, which can sent their prey from miles away; Myrmidons, beefy warriors who fight to the death; and Ferrets, which come out at night to drink the blood of unwary children. But Gold-Eye is also 15 years old, which is older than he ever expected to be. Ever since the Change, when every adult human on Earth disappeared, the world has been run by mysterious Overlords who raise children like cattle for the slaughter. When they reach the age of 14—their “Sad Birthday”—kids are shipped from dormitories to the Meat Factory where their bodies and brains are ripped apart to create inhuman monsters. So Gold-Eye is lucky, really, just to be alive. Lucky that his ability to see a few seconds into the future has kept him that way for so long.

After years on his own, barely surviving, Gold-Eye runs into more kids who have escaped the Dormitories, and these kids are doing more than just running and hiding—they’re fighting back. They have abilities too, from mind reading to telekinesis, and they’re taking their marching orders from a mysterious figure named Shade. Gold-Eye joins the team and accepts dangerous missions to gather intel about the Change, but it quickly becomes clear that in Shade’s single-minded war against the Overlords, his children’s lives are nothing but tools. To take down the Overlords and reverse the Change, though, isn’t it still worth it?


Though I generally find that post-apocalyptic YA is overdone, Garth Nix does get some credit for being one of the first. It was a compelling read, with fast-paced action and likeable characters. More impressive, it managed to provoke a bit of introspection, which is a seldom-achieved goal among post-apocalyptic lit. It punctuates the action with charts, diagrams, and snippets from Shade’s internal monologues that make you pause and consider the scenario through a moral lens. All together I enjoyed the book and would put it a step ahead of Hunger Games and other books in the genre. There is certainly some swearing and some open talk about sex (nothing graphic, of course), but as long as that’s not a problem I’d recommend this book for teen boys, especially those that enjoyed the Maze Runner series.

LLK

Monday, December 12, 2016

Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys
By Neil Gaiman
William Morrow, 2005. 336. Fantasy

In the beginning all the stories were about Tiger, the big cat. They were fierce stories about rending and tearing without mercy. But then Anansi, the spider, stole them from Tiger; then all the stories were about cleverness and trickery and Tiger always came off the worst. Anansi then moved to Florida, had a son named Fat Charlie, and proceeded to die of a heart attack while belting out karaoke. It was all rather embarrassing.

Fat Charlie had no idea until the funeral that his humiliating joke of a father was actually an ancient spider god. Nor did he have any inkling of the existence of his brother Spider—the one who inherited all the cosmic powers. But now Spider is in town and he’s eager to get to know Fat Charlie… and Fat Charlie’s fiancée. Especially Fat Charlie’s fiancée. Relations between the two brothers get rough, and all the while Tiger is lurking, looking for an opening to revenge himself on Anansi’s blood. It’s hardly fair, though. How can an ordinary man be expected to hold his own amidst legends and gods?


A kind-of sequel to American Gods, Anansi Boys is a typical sampling of Gaiman’s trademark magical realism. The mundane and the sublime are put side-by-side in a fascinating, sometimes humorous, juxtaposition. You definitely root for Fat Charlie as he is engulfed by a world not his own, and the deity figures are both mysterious and compelling. Though not my favorite Gaiman, Anansi Boys is definitely still a good read and I’d recommend it to fans of Gaiman or Terry Pratchett.

LLK

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Will it Waffle?: 53 Irresistible and Unexpected Recipes to Make in a Waffle Iron

Will it Waffle?: 53 Irresistible and Unexpected Recipes to Make in a Waffle Iron
By Daniel Shumski
Workman Publishing, 2014. 211 pgs. Nonfiction

Is there anything better than waffles on a lazy weekend? Or waffles for dinner after a busy day? I don't think so! This book is your one stop shop for all things waffles: the history of how waffles came to be, tips and tricks for cleaning your waffle maker, and how to make the tastiest waffles possible.

Best of all recipes for making waffles not only breakfast, but for lunch, dinner, and dessert are included. In college my roommate introduced me to chocolate waffles made by cooking cake batter in the waffle iron. This book expanded my waffle options with many delicious recipes. Did you know that you can make waffled pizza, s'mores, and even filet mignon?!? I tried the Toasted Cheese Wavioli (waffled cheese ravioli) which turned out pretty well. If you're looking to up your waffle game, this book is for you!

AMM

Monday, December 5, 2016

Talking as Fast as I Can

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between)
by Lauren Graham
Ballantine Books, 2016. 224 pgs. Biography
 
After years of waiting, fans of Gilmore Girls returned to Stars Hollow when four revival episodes were released on Netflix at the end of November. A few days later, star Lauren Graham released Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between). Graham has written before – her novel Someday, Someday Maybe was a well-reviewed bestseller – but this is her first foray into biographical essays. She offers details from her childhood, her years as an aspiring actress, her life as a TV star, and her struggles as a writer. She also shares the journal she wrote on the set of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, giving fans a behind-the-scenes look at the revival.

I’ve loved Lauren Graham for years now, so my views on the book are probably a little biased. Nevertheless, I have to say that I really enjoyed it. Graham is a clever writer, and the audiobook, which she narrates, is especially fun. I was surprised to discover that Talking as Fast as I Can is entirely clean, apart from a politely-told scene describing the audition where Graham discovered her discomfort with on-stage nudity. That’s a rare find in the world of funny celebrity memoirs.

SR

Belgravia

Belgravia
by Julian Fellowes
Grand Central Publishing, 2016. 416 pgs. Historical Fiction

At a legendary ball held on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, two families’ lives intersect and are forever changed. Decades later, the nouveau riche Trenchards and the aristocratic Bellasis clan collide again. I can’t say much without revealing major plot points, but rest assured that secrets, romance, class conflict, scandal, and lovable characters abound in this novel by screenwriter and producer Julian Fellowes. It’s not a profound book, but it’s well-written and a lot of fun.

Belgravia filled the Downton Abbey-sized hole in my heart. Featuring a wide cast of characters, some good and some bad, it is chock-full of the intrigue, drama, and cleverness I miss now that the TV series has ended. Fellowes has a masterful grasp on the 1840s setting, and this is one of the most believable pieces of historical fiction I’ve read. I might have struggled to keep track of the many characters with a less skilled narrator, but I listened to the audiobook read by Juliet Stevenson, and I can’t recommend it highly enough

SR

Rare Objects

Rare Objects
By Kathleen Tessaro
Harper, 2016. 378 pgs. Historical Fiction

Set in Depression-era Boston,  Rare Objects tells of Maeve Fanning, a first generation Irish immigrant determined to create a place for herself despite mistakes she has made an unhealthy interest in bootlegged gin and shadowy gentlemen. 
In order to start anew and secure employment at an antiques store, she bleaches her hair and hides her heritage.  Unfortunately, her past comes back to haunt her when a wealthy heiress shows up in the shop bringing with her the secrets Maeve most wants to keep hidden.
Maeve’s Boston is beautifully described in Tessaro’s quiet prose.  The antiques shop is an ideal setting for a story demonstrating that we all have a past, whether it be filled with joys or pains, and it makes us who we are.  And we are, each of us, unique treasures of indescribable value.  A lovely work of insightful historical fiction.

CG

Gentleman in Moscow

Gentleman  in Moscow
By Amor Towles
Viking, 2016. 462 pgs. Fiction.

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov was sentenced to house arrest by a Bolshevik tribunal because of his aristocratic legacy and attitudes.  His “house” is the Metropol, a grand hotel in the heart of Moscow.  And so a new life for him begins in a tiny attic room several floors above the large suite he previously occupied.

Fortunately, Rostov is an optimist and thanks to his gentlemanly charms he establishes a rich life filled with friends and purpose, despite his limited mobility. He also has a front row seat to decades of history in a city in almost constant upheaval, vastly different from the Russia of his youth.

I fell in love with the writing style of Amor Towles when he wrote Rules of CivilityA Gentleman in Moscow solidifies his standing as one of my all-time favorite authors.  Count Rostov stole my heart with his kindness and efforts to show everyone the greatest respect.  Add to the Count a cast of other vibrant characters, a rare look at a slice of history, and a range of beautiful insights to life and you have a wonderful treasure of a novel. 

CG

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything

Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything
By Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Simon & Schuster, 2016. 307 pages. Nonfiction

This book covers all things Seinfeld, starting at the beginning: how the show got started, casting, and details from writing and filming the show. Then it's growing popularity and importance at NBC, and finally the fandom fallout and numerous tributes and cultural references that continue to this day. There were many interesting anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stories about how memorable episodes and characters came to be, which I really enjoyed. But there were also a few stories about Seinfeld minutiae which came just short of being interesting for me. Overall, this is definitely a book for Seinfeld fans, and having a familiarity with most of the episodes will be helpful to fully understand everything referenced here (although they are all explained just in case you've never seen the show). If you aren't a Seinfeld fan, this would still be of interest if you enjoy learning about cultural curiosities or pop culture history.

BHG

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Star-Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen
by Roshani Chokshi
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016. 342 pages. Young Adult

In a fantasy world influenced by Indian mythology, Mayavati daughter of the raja of Bharata is born with a horoscope that predicts a marriage of death and destruction. Because of this, Maya is scorned and ridiculed by the other women in her father’s harem. Maya wants more out of life and fears marrying will force her to just move from one harem to another. So when her father makes plans to marry her off to prevent war, Maya attempts to rebel but is locked in her room. When a mysterious stranger, Amar, breaks into Maya's room claiming to be one of her potential suitors and offering her a chance to rule at his side, Maya jumps at the chance. But Amar’s kingdom is a place of mystery and shadow, a kingdom in the Otherworld. Amar asks Maya to wait until the next moon, then all will be explained, but is that more than she can give when mirrors offer glimpses of strange lands and the lines between life and death are blurred?

Vividly imagined and rich in mythic detail from Hindu folklore, debut author Chokshi has created a lush tale about betrayal, love, sacrifice, self-discovery, and making your own destiny. This is the author’s first novel, and while there are a few hitches, this is definitely an author to watch.

AJ

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
By John M. Gottman
Harmony Books, 2015. 295 pgs.

John Gottman is an expert on marriage. He has forever altered the way marriages are studies by deciding to apply scientific procedures to his observations. He has also followed marriages for years to see what happens to them. This book puts together the seven principles he has observed that can guide couples to long lasting relationships. It is full of practical questionnaires and exercises to do alone and as couples to discover the underlying reasons behind many common arguments.

This is one of those books that I probably need to read and re-read. There is a lot of information packed into a fairly small book. I listened to this on audio and I think I'm actually going to read the book format next time. The audio version doesn't work as well for the questionnaires and exercises. This is a great book for anyone looking to strengthen an already good relationship or rescue one that is struggling.

AL


Truthwitch

Truthwitch
by Susan Dennard
Tor Teen, 2016. 415 pages. Young Adult

Nineteen years into a 20-year truce, trouble is brewing in a land ruled by three empires and Safiya and Iseult, threadsisters bonded together for life, are unwittingly at the heart of the trouble. In the Witchlands, some people are born with magical skills. Hot-headed Safi a noblewoman of the Cartoran empire was born with the incredibly rare ability to tell if someone is telling the truth or lying. While quiet and scheming Iseult is a Threadwitch, despised for her Nomatsi ethnic heritage but able to perceive the emotional ties between people seen as colored threads.

Safi and Iseult just want to live their own lives, but Safi’s ability makes her target as empires jockey for position and power. Chased by the near indestructible Bloodwitch Aeduan, who can track a person across empires once he smells their blood and trying to keep from being caught up in the political machinations taking place, Safi and Iseult flee on a ship with Prince Merik, a Windwitch and admiral of Nubrevna who is trying to save his people from starvation after a horrible drought.

Told from the alternating points of view of Safiya, Iseult, Merik, and the ruthless Bloodwitch Aeduan, this book is loaded with political intrigue, magic, thrilling fight scenes, mythical creatures, action-packed adventure, and romance. I think most people will be happy to overlook the novel’s few flaws.

AJ