Saturday, July 14, 2018

How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It

How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
by Patricia Love and Steven Stosny
Broadway Books, 2007. 224 pgs. Nonfiction

This book argues that talking about a relationship will not bring a couple closer together, but could actually push them apart. Love is not about better communication, it is about connection. The worst thing a woman can do to a man is shame him and the worst thing a man can do to a woman is leave her alone. Once we understand that, we can interact differently. There are many stories and examples and practical tips on how to make a meaningful connection.

This book was very insightful. I recognized many truths of human nature and relationships. I highly recommend this book to anyone, whether you are in a good relationship, a relationship that could use some help or not in a relationship at all. There are truths that can be applied to all relationships, not just in marriage. I really appreciated that it talked about understanding yourself and things you can do to improve your relationship and also the importance of understanding and protecting each other's vulnerabilities. I listened to this book on Overdrive but decided to check out the book so that I could reread some of the sections and do the evaluations. I plan on reading this again!

AL

Longing for Home

Longing for Home
by Sarah M. Eden
Shadow Mountain, 2013. 400 pgs. Romance

Kate Macauley takes a position as a housekeeper in the small Wyoming town of Hope Springs to try to save up enough money to buy back her family's land in Ireland. When she arrives, she discovers a town divided by hatred and she is the catalyst that might send them to war against each other. Her employer, Joseph Archer, is the only person in the town able to stay neutral in the feud, but having an Irish housekeeper puts his position and his heart in jeopardy. Tavish O'Connor is determined to win Kate's heart but she has been through unimaginable heartbreak and isn't so willing to give it away.

This is the first in the Hope Springs series. My favorite part of this series is getting to know the characters. They become so real. Sarah Eden is able to create a wonderful picture in my head of this small town and all the people who live there. It would be best to read this series in order.

AL

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Lite Too Bright

Cover image for A lite too bright
A Lite Too Bright
By Samuel Miller
Katherine Tegen Books, 2018, 465 pages, Young Adult Fiction

Arthur Louis Pullman the Third is losing his grip on reality. Stripped of his college scholarship, he has been sent away to live with his aunt and uncle. Then he discovers a journal written by his grandfather, a Salinger-esque author who went missing the last week of his life. Using the journal as a guide, Arthur embarks on a cross-country train ride to relive his grandfather's last week. His journey is complicated by a shaky alliance with a girl who has secrets of her own and by escalating run-ins with a dangerous fan base.

Although I appreciate the literary genius of the writers of the ‘50s and ‘60s such as Jack Kerouac, J.D. Salinger, and Hunter S. Thompson, I have to admit that I haven't really liked their books. However, one of the things that initially intrigued me about A Lite too Bright is that it is a sort of homage to those books. Add in the appeal of travelling cross-country by train, and I quickly found myself engrossed in the story. Arthur is a fully nuanced main character, and the mystery he follows, as well as his motivations for doing so, are intriguing. The thing I enjoyed most about this book, however, was just how well-written this book is. Although there was one plotline that I felt was weaker than the others, I loved this book to the very end.

MB

Tess of the Road

Cover image for Tess of the road
Tess of the Road
By Rachel Hartman
Random House, 2018, 536 pages, Young Adult Fiction

In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, Tess chafes against the rules and restrictions placed on young women by society. She is young and curious about life, and especially interested in learning about the magical creatures known as the World Serpents. Yet instead of pursuing a life of knowledge, Tess despairs that her only choice is to either raise her sister’s children, or join a nunnery. Unsatisfied with both options, Tess decides to run away from home and create a new destiny for herself.

On the surface, this is a fun travel/adventure story set in a version of the Medieval era where dragons exist (but don’t terrorize people), and there are some small steampunk elements as well. The book is enjoyable enough on that premise. But this book becomes more than that when Tess learns lessons about consent, shame, and not letting others control you or dictate who you become. I found that message to be very empowering.

This book is set in the same world as that of the author’s previous novels (Seraphina is Tess’ half-sister), which I haven’t read. I would still consider this book a standalone.

MB

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Before Everything

Before Everything
by Victoria Redel
Viking, 2017. 274 pages General Fiction.

Anna and her tight knit groups of lifelong friends have seen each other through just about everything, from their youthful rebellions, parenting adventures, lost loves, and bouts of sickness. The group gathers at Anna’s home as her terminal illness worsens and she enters hospice care. Each friend must come to terms with what a life without their Anna in it looks like, and the unforeseen ways her impact on their lives helps them carry her spark with them, while getting to know others whose lives have been touched by her as well.

While I wanted to love this story, but it was hard for me to connect with or care about most of the characters. There are so many friends and persons whose paths have crossed with Anna’s, that few of the relationships are given more than a surface level examination. That said, the writing is beautiful and thoughtful, and I enjoyed the glimpse the book gave into the ways that one person’s life can have such a broad impact on others. It reminds readers that kindness goes a long way and that you never know what impact you may have on those you interact with from day to day, and the importance of making that a positive legacy that you leave after you’re gone.

RC

Friday, July 6, 2018

Harry Potter: A Journey Through A History of Magic

by J. K. Rowling
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017. 143 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

As part of the 20th anniversary of release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the British Library created an exhibit highlighting the historical aspects of magic and shared original writing, illustrations, and notes from J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter:  A Journey Through A History of Magic takes readers through a series of seven Hogwarts classes and shows historical artifacts related to that topic, like a pack of divination playing cards from the 1740s or the tombstone of Nicolas Flamel. In addition, there are writings and illustrations from Rowling, including the original synopsis for the Philosopher’s Stone and a drawing of Harry and Hagrid riding the cart in Gringotts.

This is a fantastic book. There is a balance of new information, historical artifacts, and Jim Kay illustrations. I enjoyed reading the snippets from J.K. Rowling and seeing her illustrations of characters and scenes. The historical context provided a rich picture of how Harry Potter fits in the wider magical theology. I especially liked the chapters on Astronomy and Charms. Rowling’s depiction of the opening to Diagon Alley from 1990 is one of my favorite page spreads in the book. This is a great read for anyone who loves Harry Potter, magic, or museum catalogs.



TT

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein
By Lita Judge
Roaring Brook Press, 2018. 312 pages.

This haunting graphic novel tells the true story behind one of history's most iconic monsters. Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was only a teenager when she wrote her timeless novel, but her life experience was anything but easy. Mary endured the social shame and isolation that befalls an unwed pregnancy, eloped with the financially and emotionally unstable poet Percy Shelley, watched as her husband had an affair with her step-sister, and lost her children at young ages.

Told in free verse and accompanied by stark black and white watercolors, the harsh reality of Mary Shelley comes to life to give the reader a sense of how Frankenstein’s monster was an extension of herself. The illustrations alone are worth the read for this graphic novel. Stark and macabre, the images perfectly invoke the Gothic Romance era of poetry and novels. The text is also alluring, in that Judge is able to convey so much feeling in just a few lines of text per page.

ALL

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Release

Release 
by Patrick Ness
HarperTeen, 2017, 277 pgs, Young Adult Fiction

Adam doesn’t have it all figured out, there’s plenty of drama in his quiet, small town life. This year alone he’s heading into his senior year but his best friend has decided to study abroad, he has a doting boyfriend and yet he can’t seem to get over his ex, and he comes from a devout religious family who doesn’t know he’d gay. Throughout all this, he’s learning to navigate the ups and downs that life will inevitably bring, to let go of what isn’t important, to stand up for himself when he should, and understand what makes relationships with other people- family, friends, and romantic interests alike- worth hanging on to.

This coming of age story is as sweet as it is timeless. Learning to understand and accept yourself, love others, and just make it in the world is hard no matter your age, and Adam and his charming, witty friends feel familiar, like they could have been my own friends, with similar concerns when I was a teen. The story was simple, but not boring, and the writing is fresh and funny. This book is a break from the author’s popular Science Fiction fare, but shows he can write outside that genre, and do it with aplomb.

RC

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Traitor's Game

The Traitor’s Game
by Jennifer Nielsen
Scholastic Press, 2018. 388 pages. Young Adult Fiction

Kestra Dallisor is coming home after three years in exile, on the way her caravan is attacked and she is kidnapped by the Coracks who want her to overthrow the evil and seemingly immortal king, Lord Endrick. The Coracks end up blackmailing Kestra to have her bring them the Olden Blade simultaneously forcing her to betray family and country.

I really enjoyed reading this book I love the growth that Kestra went through as she learned about what the state her kingdom was in and eventually finding the courage she needed to face the challenges in her future. I loved the action and the romance that was involved and I thought Jennifer Nielsen did a really good job writing a story from two perspectives.

MH

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans 
By Don Brown
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015. 96 pages. Graphic Novel

Brown tells the full story of Hurricane Katrina, including events before, during, and after the storm to portray its full scope and devastating consequences. Stories of bungled rescue efforts as well as heroic volunteers are both told, with evocative illustrations bringing life to one of the worst natural disasters in American history.

This is one of those times when the author/illustrator really takes advantage of the graphic novel format and uses full pages to create intuitive and moving storytelling. Katrina is an important event that needs to remembered, and this book makes it accessible for even younger audiences. While it must simplify some things that were certainly complex issues, it gives a broad overview of many different aspects of the storm. Most importantly, it can help future generations to appreciate this important event in American history.

BHG

Us

Us
By Curtis Wikland
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017. 112 pages. Graphic Novel

When Wiklund's wife told him she was starting a project to take a photo every day for a year, she invited him to join her by creating a sketch every day. By the end of the year, he was surprised to see how many of his sketches documented their life together. He compiled them into this collection documenting one year in their day-to-day life.

This is a charming little book with an upbeat tone that many will find relatable. Wiklund doesn't portray his relationship as perfect although it is sometimes idealistic. But the focus on positive moments is inspiring for others as they reflect on their own relationships and the moments in their lives that make day-to-day life special.

BHG

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Claiming My Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust

Claiming My Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust
By Planaria Price and Helen Reichmann West
Farrar Strauss Giroux 2018. 250 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Helen Reichmann West tells the life story of her mother Barbara. Born as Gucia Gomolinska and in her early twenties when Poland falls to the Nazis, she and her family are confined to a ghetto. Eventually, she hides her Jewish identity and obtains an ID card under the name Danuta Barbara Tanska that allows her to work as a household servant in Germany. Hiding in plain sight, so to speak, she survives the war in spite of Allied bombing and the continual danger of discovery. In the devastating aftermath of the war, with few of her family members surviving, she tries to build a life with her husband in Germany but prejudice against the Jews remains a reality in Europe after the war.  Eventually they obtain permission to live in the United States.

This is a very readable biography that brings to life the childhood and teen years of a happy Jewish teenager in a close family surrounded by a faithful Jewish community. The terrible changes brought by the Nazi invasion destroy their peaceful life forever. These events must never be forgotten so that they will never be repeated. SH

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Heart Berries

 Heart Berries: a memoir
By Terese Marie Mailhot
Counterpoint, 2018. 142 pgs. Nonfiction

Mailhot's memoir is a scattered, but poetic story of her upbringing on the Seabird Island Indian reservation. Most of the book you can tell is written during Mailhot's stay at a psychiatric hospital. She willingly checked herself in after attempting to take her life, as long as she could write in a notebook she brought and could be home soon enough to see her son for Christmas. She writes about her experiences as a Native woman that is making her way in school, relationships, and society controlled by white people.

The story is not linear, and jumps around from her painful abusive past to a raw emotional letter written to a lover. She opens up about her most deep desires, and honestly owns up to her deepest desires and what makes up who she is. 

Following Mailhot's narrative over audio format was good, but sometimes difficult to follow if she quickly changed subjects. However, the poetic aspect was greatly enhanced by listening to this. The way her stories are portrayed and thoughts on her mother are beautiful. It feels like you are reading a journal, making it a deep and personal memoir. 

MM

The Great Glass Sea

 The Great Glass Sea     
By Josh Weil
Grove Press, 2014. 474 pgs. Science Fiction                   

This is a story about twins, Yarik and Dima. They grow up living on their uncle’s farm after the death of their father, the boys once spent their days helping farmers in collective fields, their nights dreaming about their uncle's mythical tales. Years later, the two men labor side by side at the Oranzheria, a sea of glass—the largest greenhouse in the world—that sprawls over acres of cropland. Lit by space mirrors orbiting above, it ensnares the denizens of Petroplavilsk in perpetual daylight and constant productivity, leaving the twins with only work in common—stalwart Yarik married with children, oppressed by the burden of responsibility; dreamer Dima living alone with his mother and rooster, continually dreams of going back to the simple life on their uncle's farm land. 

After witnessing an encounter with the Oranzerhia’s billionaire, their lives change forever as they are forced to take different shifts from each other. Yarik, works the day shift and starts his ascent in the company getting promotion after promotion, while Dima drifts into a laborless life of bare subsistence working the night shift. 

Although it felt a little long at times, I really enjoyed this book. When I read the description, and saw the pictures I did expect this to lean more toward fantasy, but it is definitely all science fiction. I loved reading Weil's writing style. His beautiful descriptive words in combination of using a high number of Russian vocabulary throughout draws you fully into the Russian scenery and culture. The story he presents is great at capturing the spirit of the Russian family, and the tragedy of transitioning political ideals drawing them apart from their simple life on the "dacha". 

MM

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Radiance


By Catherynne M. Valente
Tor Books, 2016. 478 pgs. Fiction.

This book is a decopunk, pulp, Science Fiction, space opera, mystery. Set in a solar system that only vaguely resembles ours, this story is an homage to the golden age of film making.  Set in an alternate 1986 where the Edison family has been miserly with their patents and talking pictures are still a new invention, Severin Unck is a documentarian. She travels to exotic places in the solar system and investigates the mysteries of disappearing space colonies, particularly one on the water world of Venus. But the mystery of the disappearing colony extends to the disappearance of Severin herself.

Valente’s style is opulent and sparkling, just like the exotic and elegant characters she describes. The story is told in snatches of personal film archives, excerpts from reality TV, gossip magazines, and classic films. This is a galaxy-spanning mystery that will draw you in and take you to places you have never been.

Also, check out the audio version of this book. The narrator is amazing. 

AG

Loving Lieutenant Lancaster

Loving Lieutenant Lancaster
By Sarah M. Eden
Covenant Communications, 2018. 243 pgs. Romance

Arabella Hampton was orphaned at a young age and lived with very unloving and cruel relatives. The only light in her life came when she came in contact with the Jonquil's and she dreamed of what life might be like to be a part of their family. Years later she is given the chance to be the lady's companion to the dowager countess. She finds that life at Lampton Park is much more complicated than she imagined and becomes even more so when a grand house party is planned. She is happy to hide in the shadows, but one of the guests, Lieutenant Linus Lancaster, notices her and won't let her stay there for long.

I am a huge fan of Sarah Eden and this book was a dream come true! It combined the characters from the Jonquil series and the Lancaster series all at the same house party. Having the surely Duke of Kielder and the flamboyant Lord Lampton together guaranteed conflict and humor as the brother-in-laws tried to keep them from killing each other.  Sarah Eden creates characters that come alive. After reading nine books between the two series, the characters feel like family and it was so enjoyable to see their stories intertwine and continue. This book is about Linus Lancaster and Arabella but all the secondary characters make it a treat!

AL

The False Prince

The False Prince
By Jennifer Nielsen
Scholastic Press, 2012. 342 pgs. Young Adult

The country of Carthya is under threat of civil war. Connor, a nobleman, creates an elaborate plan to find and train an orphan to pose as the long lost son of the king and serve as a puppet prince. He chooses four orphans to compete with each other for the honor. Sage is one of the orphans. He doesn't want to win but he knows that death awaits all the losers. There are so many layers of dangerous lies and deceit but a truth is revealed that might be more dangerous than everything else combined.

This is the first book in the Ascendance trilogy and I really enjoyed listening to the audio book. This would be a great book for a family road trip because there were some twists that even I didn't see coming. I look forward to the rest of the books in the series.

AL

Friday, June 22, 2018

Circe

Cover image for Circe : a novel
Circe
By Madeline Miller
Little, Brown & Co, 2018, 393 pages, General Fiction

Circe, the daughter of Helios the sun god, chafes at life in the palace of her father, where everyone sees her as someone who is not worth their attention. When she acts out in a spectacular way and is banished to the island of Aeaea, she spends her days honing her powers and becoming comfortable with who she is. But Aeaea isn’t as solitary as it seems, and soon others, gods and mortals alike, come to Circe’s shores. While some of these ask for Circe’s help, others mean her harm, and Circe must eventually choose between the worlds of the gods and mortals.

All I knew about Circe before I read this book was the little I knew of her from The Odyssey. I didn't know that she appears in other Greek tales! Miller compiles these tales, and uses a bit of poetic license, to make Circe a fully fleshed-out character with interesting, relatable motivations. This made the parts of Circe's story I knew feel new and fresh, and it made me look at her story with new eyes.  The Greek tales of Circe have an interesting outcome that would be seen as strange in today’s world, yet Miller helped the ending make some sense. Those who like mythology, tales of the ancient world, and strong women will really enjoy this book.

I also highly recommend the audiobook version of this story, which is expertly read by Perdita Weeks.

MB

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Annihilation

Annihilation
by Jeff VanderMeer
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. 195 pages General Fiction

After almost 12 expeditions to Area X, the place is still shrouded in mystery. Since so few explorers ever return to share their findings, little is known about the strange animal and plant life there and what is mutating or changing them. That dreary fact doesn’t stop the next expedition, comprised of all female members, from venturing out in attempt to make sense of the place that seems to be slowly and alarmingly expanding to surrounding areas and affecting all it touches. The group, comprised of a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, a biologist, and a linguist, has been instructed not to share personal information including names, not to bring any modern technology on the trek, and to keep their findings and observations privately recorded in their journals. They soon learn that Area X is not what it appears, and that their fellow expedition members are not either.

There are so many little revelations throughout this book, that writing too much about it will surely spoil it. It’s fast paced, suspenseful, and lusciously descriptive of a world within our own, being altered by unseen forces. It is the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy and I can't wait to read the others! This book has been adapted into a film starring Natalie Portman, but there’s a lot of nuance and world building missing from the film- so skip the movie, and read the book instead!

RC

The Line Becomes a River

The Line Becomes a River
By Francisco Cantú
Riverhead Books, 2018. 250 pages.

Francisco Cantú crew up in the American Southwest, the grandson of Mexican immigrants. For Cantú, the US/Mexican border formed and defined his existence. In an effort to better understand the border, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. During his years as an agent, he encounters drug smugglers and criminals, but is surprised by the shear amount of immigrants just looking for a better life. Eventually, plagued by nightmares of violence and haunted by the indifference to human life he encountered as an agent, Cantú quits the Patrol. But when a close friend travels to Mexico and is stopped at the border trying to re-enter, Cantú comes face-to-face with devastating effects that the border has on families.

Coincidentally, I finished this book just as reports flooded the news about our government’s Zero Tolerance policy wreaking havoc on immigrant families at the border. Regardless of one’s feelings on illegal immigration, this book is a must read. Cantú’s portrayal of our system’s callous approach to human life is a wakeup call that cannot, and should not, be ignored.

ALL

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Whydah : A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found

The Whydah : A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found
by, Martin W. Sandler
Candlewick Press, 2017. 170 pgs, YA Non-Fiction

This book goes into the history of The Whydah, her captain and crew. It tells how a slaver laden with payment after a trade was captured by pirates, sunk in a brutal storm the same day it was the most successful pirate vessel. There is adventure, betrayal, and some awesome pirate history.

This was a fun read for me. I have always been fascinated by pirates and I learned a lot about why an average person in the 18th century would contemplate piracy as a way of life. This book had a lot of cool facts and was super interesting. Samuel Bellamy sadly is not well known in history but as far as pirates go it was really cool to read about him, and his life and why he became a pirate. I found it to be an fascinating and quick read.

MH

Saturday, June 16, 2018

We Own the Sky

Cover image for We own the sky
We Own the Sky
By Luke Allnutt
Park Row Books, 2018, 358 pages, General Fiction

When a devastating illness befalls his family, Rob Coates's world begins to unravel. It is only when he has lost almost everything that Rob begins to seek solace. He honors his past by photographing the skyscrapers and clifftops he and his son Jack used to visit. As Rob does so, he embarks on a journey to find his way back to life, and forgiveness.

A tribute to the love between parents and children, especially fathers and sons, this novel does a great job at taking you through the different emotions a parent might feel when thy find out their child is terminally ill. Told mostly through a series of flashbacks, the rollercoaster of desperation, love, and hope the characters feel through each stage of the journey seems authentic and palpable. While Anna blames herself for her son’s illness, Rob is obsessed with researching; looking for any sort of experimental drug that might cure his son, and not caring about what other consequences these treatments might bring. Although this is a depressing topic, I found this book to be quiet but compelling, and highly touching. Those would were touched by When Breath Becomes Air will likely enjoy this book as well.

MB

Friday, June 15, 2018

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens
By Eddie Izzard
Random House, 2017, 385 pgs. Biography

British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard writes about his life, his comedy, and his charity marathon running is this candid and conversational autobiography. After his mother died when he was only 6 years old, he and his brother attended boarding schools for much of their adolescence. It was here that he discovered he wanted to act, and that he had a flare for comedy. He spends a great deal of the book talking about his youth and how his early life influenced his worldview, which in turn influences his comedy, and on his years of work getting his comedy career off the ground. Izzard spends less time on topics that might interest his fans- like coming out and thriving as transgender, his political activism, or notable past acting roles- both dramatic and comedic. The stories he does include have his signature wit and surreal observances, and broaden the readers understanding of how his mind works to bring out the humor and absurdity in the world at large.

The book has the same pacing as his stand-up does; he moves quickly from topic to topic and seems to have a stream of consciousness way of getting from one story to the next. I listened to the audio book version, which Izzard reads, and that added a level of delight and humor- and a lot of side information and stories that he’d preface with “Now, this isn’t in the book…” I would recommend this book to those who are already know and love Izzard and his comedy, and highly recommend giving the audio book version a listen for a good laugh.

RC

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Blue Tattoo

The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman
by Margot Mifflin
University of Nebraska Press, 2009. 280 pgs. Biography

In 1851, Olive Oatman was just another pilgrim trekking westward with her family as thousands had before them. Her journey however, took an unexpected turn to a new life, a new family as an adopted member of the Mojave tribe - made official with a blue tattoo. After her "rescue, "Olive's story captured the country's attention and bred several retellings, including a collaborative memoir written by Olive and pastor Royal Stratton. But none of these stories line up with Olive's accounts told soon after her ransom - including her "memoir." What really happened to the girl with the blue tattoo? Was it a reminder of years of suffering among strangers - or another life and family stolen from her by fate?

I first heard about Olive Oatman a few years ago while reading about tattooing in America. While being the first white woman (on historical record) to be tattooed in the United States is fascinating in an of itself, there's so much about Olive's life to explore. The great thing about this biography is that it delves into all those parts, not just telling Olive's story of captivity, adoption, and "rescue," but it really gets into the cultural, historical, and gender politics at play during this time and how life was for this woman caught between worlds. This book doesn't just set the record straight, it also gives Olive power over her story again.

MW

A Whole New World

A Whole New World (Twisted Tales, 1)
by Liz Braswell
Disney Press, 2015. 376 pgs. YA Fantasy

What if Aladdin never got the lamp? Based on the 1992 Disney film Aladdin, this book explores what could have happened to Agrabah if Jafar had possession of the Genie instead of Aladdin. The story is told from the point of view of both Aladdin and Jasmine, and explores themes of friendship, growth, compassion, revenge, evil, and freedom as Jasmine rallies her people to overthrow Jafar.

I loved this retelling of a classic movie from my childhood. Although my opinion differs from many hardcore Disney fans, I found it refreshing, progressive, and modern. Jasmine is strong, independent, and smart in the ways that matter. She learns and grows throughout the book, preparing her for the throne. She is able to recognize the faults of her forefathers and develops compassion and understanding for her people and Aladdin. Both Aladdin and Jasmine were fleshed out characters with strengths and weaknesses, hopes and dreams, challenges and triumphs. I would suggest this for anyone who enjoys fractured fairy tales, princesses, and strong female characters.

TT

Monday, June 11, 2018

Victoria: The Queen

Victoria: The Queen
By Julia Baird
Random House, 2017, 752 pages, Biography

This biography of Queen Victoria is fresh, well researched, and mesmerizing. Though it is quite a brick of a book, it is a charmingly fast read. Using her background in history and journalism, author Julia Baird challenges many of the stereotypes of Queen Victoria and paints a picture of a complex and passionate woman.

For example, Baird challenges the idea that Victoria didn’t care for her children. Using personal diaries, letters, and recollections of those closest to Victoria, she shows that the Queen doted on her children, especially the pretty ones. Baird also shows the problematic and intense relationships Victoria had with John Brown and Abdul Kareem.

I loved this comprehensive look at Victoria’s life, not just her relationship with Prince Albert. In many ways her dependence upon Albert crippled her powerful spirit. It took her ten years to come back to herself after he died. What I learned most was that Queen Victoria flourished when she felt loved and safe. Whether it was the support of her Prime Ministers, her servants, or her children, she was a warm and vibrant person when she felt supported by those closest to her.

AG

Friday, June 8, 2018

Wires and Nerve

Wires and Nerve (Lunar Chronicles, 1) 
by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel & Friends, 2017. 238 pgs. Young Adult Graphic Novels 

In this continuation of the Lunar Chronicles series, the story begins seven months after Cinder was crowned queen of Lunar. There are rogue wolf hybrid soldiers terrorizing Earth and something must be done. Iko, formerly a household robot and Cinder’s best friend, goes to Earth and begins to round up all of the wolf packs that are causing death and destruction. But some soldiers are not happy with the new Lunar leadership and want to hurt Iko, Cinder, and their friends.

I enjoyed this continuation of the Lunar Chronicles and seeing things from Iko’s point of view. The artwork is highly stylized, with long faces and all the color in shades of blue. The story was fast moving and included many of the main characters from the original series. Iko has her own strengths and weaknesses that influence how she responds to situations other characters. It was a fast read and great for anyone who likes graphic novels or the original Lunar Chronicles series.

TT

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

One Second After

One Second After
By William R. Forstchen
Forge, 2009. 352 pgs. Sci-Fi

John Matherson, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, moved to his wife’s hometown of Black Mountain, North Carolina when she was dying from cancer. Now he’s a history professor at the local college and raising his two girls alone. One day while chatting with a former colleague the phone the line goes dead. The problems don’t stop there, and he soon discovers that all electronics have been fried due to a widespread electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. Electronics have become so integrated into our lives that the sudden loss sends nearby towns into chaos. John must use his skills and leadership abilities to create order that will allow his town and family survive the dark times ahead, in spite of worsening conditions.

This was a fascinating story that, while science fiction, is based in science fact. A large EMP could truly destroy life as we know it, and survival would be extremely difficult. Highly populated urban areas would completely fall apart, while smaller towns with access to farms and fresh water supplies might limp along. Reading this book makes me want to learn new skills that could be utilized in case of a debilitating disaster. It was interesting and although it’s the first in a series, it also stands well on its own. I could easily recommend this to fans of survival or apocalypse stories.

ACS

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet
By M. C. Beaton
St. Martin's Press, 1993. 213 pages. Mystery

Agatha Raisin has retired to the Cotswolds after a successful career as a PR executive.  After solving a murder the previous year, Agatha is ready to settle down for a quiet life of trying to attract the eye of her handsome new neighbor James Lacey.  But Agatha finds his interest is only piqued by the murder of a local vet.  Suspicious of the circumstances of the vet's death herself, she decides to team up with James to investigate, and if a little love blossoms between them as a result, what can be the harm?

This second book in the Agatha Raisin series is a solid mystery, but the real draw of the series is Agatha herself.  Agatha is a strong heroine who has a deeply vulnerable side that she tries to hide from others, and as such I find her very relatable.  Readers looking for strong, capable characters in a cozy mystery would do well to check out this series.

BHG

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Dead Heat

Dead Heat
by Patricia Briggs
Ace Books, 2015, 324 pgs, Fantasy

In the fourth book of the Alpha and Omega series, Charles and Anna take a personal trip to Arizona to buy Anna a horse for her birthday, and visit Joseph, an old friend of Charles. Although the visit is supposed to provide a break from Charles’ enforcer duties, the couple still manages to find themselves in the middle of a dangerous situation. A fae that specializes in kidnapping and killing children is loose in the area, and has targeted Joseph’s family. Now Charles and Anna must find the fae and stop it before anyone else dies.

I felt like character development was a strong point of this book. The new people introduced from Joseph’s family are given depth, even though they are temporary characters. I also enjoyed learning some more of Charles’ back story, and looking at him through Anna’s perspective is especially useful since she reads him better than anyone else. Really there’s so much to enjoy with Patricia Brigg’s books, and Dead Heat does not disappoint!

ER