Saturday, April 22, 2017

Lost City of the Monkey God: a True Story




Lost City of the Monkey God
By Douglas Preston
Grand Central Publishing, 2017.326 pgs. Nonfiction

Tantalizing rumors of lost cities in the jungle have impelled explorers into remote areas of Central and South America since the Spanish conquistadors.  The lost “White City,” deep in the Honduran interior, has been one of the last of these lost places. But with the help of clues from previous explorers and a valuable new laser imaging technology called LIDAR, a team of explorers has found extensive ruins in a remote and dangerous area of Honduras.  Douglas Preston, a writer of fiction and nonfiction, considered himself lucky to be part of the expedition that uncovered the location of the ruins and retells the adventure in “Lost City of the Monkey God.” The expedition began and ended in controversy, with many archaeologists condemning the expedition as ignoring the knowledge of the indigenous inhabitants of the area and exaggerating their findings.

Preston’s account is fascinating and delves into the controversies as well as portraying the adventure and grueling aspects of survival in the hostile jungle.  This gripping true life adventure story will appeal to archaeology buffs and survivalists as well as technophiles. 

SH


Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1)

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1)
By Stephen King
New York: Signet, 2003. 300 pgs. Fantasy.

“The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed.” So begins the epic multi-volume Dark Tower series. In this first installment, Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger, tracks down his adversary, encountering dust-swept and hostile towns, the boy Jake brought from another world, demons, mutants, and a talking raven.

Considered by Stephen King himself to be his magnum opus, The Dark Tower series is full of King’s rich, grandiose prose, and dark atmosphere of the macabre. Fans of Clint Eastwood style old Westerns will appreciate the tall, silent, and brooding Roland, as well as the hard and bleak atmosphere reminiscent of the old West. Get ready to be swept up in a genre-bending saga of epic proportions when you pick up The Gunslinger.

AL

Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate

Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate
By John Kallas Gibbs Smith, 2010. 416 pgs. Nonfiction


Whether you are a foraging enthusiast, or simply have a budding interest in botany or gardening, this book is for you. John Kallas covers a wide variety of wild greens and informs the reader about important stages in plant development.

Each plant described in this book has its own chapter filled with beautiful color photographs, maps, and engaging description to help even the most novice of enthusiasts. Kallas even provides information about poisonous look-alikes, as well as nutritional information. With this great reference in hand, a wild food adventurer can up their game both in the wilderness and in the kitchen.

AL

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Luke Skywalker Can't Read: And Other Geeky Truths

By Ryan Britt
Plume, 2015. 224 pages. Nonfiction
Ryan Britt is more than a geek or a hipster; he was both before it was cool (and if you asked him, he’d say it still isn’t). Raised on Barbarella and Star Trek, Britt discusses a lifetime of study of pop culture and what science fiction means to the real world. Half memoir and half analytical essay, Luke Skywalker Can’t Read asserts, among other observations, that the Skywalkers are illiterate, Sherlock Holmes is science fiction, and that monster movies are romantic comedies.


Written in the comedic style of Klosterman and Rooney, Luke Skywalker… demonstrates the benefit of not taking culture too seriously. Though he tackles topics like literacy and religion, he does so light heartedly, not as an expert. My favorite essay was about Back to The Future, where Britt discusses why BTTF is riddled with paradoxes and how this makes it universally loved. Though his understanding of some of the heavier topics is a little light, his wit is not, nor is his research; Britt goes to great lengths to prove his points, though without delving into the overly academic. Luke Skywalker is a great read for nostalgic adults or for older teens curious about why all robots in movies are murderous. 

JMS

The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds

Cover image for The undoing project : a friendship that changed our minds
The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds
by Michael Lewis
W.W. Norton & Company, 2017, 362 pages, Non-Fiction

In a follow-up to his best-selling book Moneyball, Michael Lewis dives even deeper into the human psyche, exploring the psychology behind how people make decisions, and how our gut instinct is usually wrong. The psychologists who pioneered this method of thinking, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, spent much of their lives exploring this theory together. Lewis tells the story of these two highly influential psychologists, and the effect their work has had on the way we view decision-making today.

One of Michael Lewis’ strengths is telling a factual story in a narrative style. The reader joins Kahneman and Tversky on their journey as they dig further and further into their theories about how people make decisions. Lewis includes examples of questions these scientists asked their test subjects, and it was interesting to catch myself making the same mistakes everyone else did. Interviews with those who knew Kahneman and Tversky also fleshed out the story to make these two brilliant men more relatable.

Oddly, it wasn’t until I got to the notes at the end of the book that I found out Kahneman has written his own book about the research he and Tversky have done. While Lewis focuses on the story of Kahneman and Tversky’s collaboration, those who are more interested in the theories Khaneman and Tversky came up with will probably enjoy Thinking, Fast and Slow.

MB

P.S. I Like You

P.S. I Like You
By Kasie West
Point, 2016. 329 pages. Young Adult

Sometimes you just need a light fun book to read and this book fits the bill.

Quirky Lily Abbott has always felt a little insecure at school. She buys her clothes from the thrift store, listens to Indie music, and dreams of being a songwriter. So, it doesn’t help when wealthy, cool-kid, Cade teases her. Cade and Lily have been enemies ever since he dated her best friend, Isabel. Not like Lucas who she has crushed on for years, and he is even in a band.

One day while spacing out in Chemistry class, Lily scribbles some lyrics down on the desk. The next day she is surprised to see a reply. Soon, Lily and her anonymous pen pal are exchanging letters, recommending bands, and opening up to each other. The letters quickly become the best part of her week as she struggles with her crazy family and her evolving friendship with Isabel. It doesn’t take Lily long to realize she is falling for this unknown boy, but will he be everything she dreams of in real life?

Kasie West excels at writing funny, relatable characters. This sweet love story is maybe a bit predictable but oh so enjoyable.

AJ

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Easy Labor: Every Woman's Guide to Choosing Less Pain and More Joy During Childbirth

Easy Labor: Every Woman’s Guide to Choosing Less Pain and More Joy During Childbirth 
by William Camann
Ballantine Books, 2006. 311 pgs. Nonfiction

 If you are undecided about the pain relief you want to use for childbirth and are looking for information about your options, this book is for you! It starts out with how to choose the facility you will give birth in, then what labor feels like and common fears women have. Next it dives into in-depth information about all the medical options for pain relief and their pros and cons. The chapter for complementary and alternative approaches to pain relief offers a brief overview of different popular methods, what people have said about using each method, and their pros and cons. There’s a chapter just about cesarean sections, and then it moves to a history of pain relief, birth stories from those that attend births, and a chapter about how your healthcare provider can affect your options.

 I liked how easy it was to find information in this book. The chapters on medical pain relief were surprisingly detailed and contained a lot of information. I was hoping the chapter about complementary and alternative approaches would be as detailed as the medical chapters, but it makes sense that this book just contains an overview for the alternative methods because they are more complex and require more preparation than medical options. However the book does give enough information about each alternative method to make an educated decision on which approach to look at further. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for enough information to make an educated decision about medical pain relief during childbirth, or someone who is undecided about using an alternative method and would like one place to go to help them make a decision.
ER

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dreamland Burning

Cover image for Dreamland burning
Dreamland Burning
by Jennifer Latham
Little, Brown and Company, 2017, 371 pages, Young Adult Fiction

When Rowan finds a skeleton on her family's property, investigating the brutal, century-old murder leads to painful discoveries about the past. Alternating chapters tell the story of William, another teen grappling with the racial firestorm leading up to the 1921 Tulsa race riot, providing some clues to the mystery

There wasn't much I didn't like about Jennifer Latham’s Dreamland Burning. Latham writes with a poetry and a rhythm that made me feel like I could hear the characters' voices in my head as I read. She did so without writing colloquially or degradingly, which is no easy feat. The story switches between present-day Rowan and 1920s Will seamlessly, and I was equally engaged in both plotlines. Also, for a mystery with only two or three possibilities, I kept changing my guesses as more information was revealed. This is great story with the bonus of covering an important moment in history that shouldn't be forgotten.

MB

Thursday, April 6, 2017

How to Celebrate Everything

How to Celebrate Everything
By Jenny Rosenstrach
Ballantine Books, 2016. 288 pgs. Nonfiction

I love learning about the various traditions families have. This book was a really fun look at blogger and author Jenny Rosenstrach's family traditions and celebrations. From holidays to birthdays to vacations and everything in between we get a glimpse into the reasons those traditions and rituals have formed and the delicious recipes surrounding the occasion.

I enjoy reading cookbooks that have the story behind the recipe and this book was one of those perfect books for me. This book is filled with bright photographs, engaging text, and lots of yummy recipes! I've been meaning to read (and actually began, but had to return it before I'd finished) Rosenstrach's first book Dinner: A Love Story. After reading this book, I'm re-committing myself to finish that title too!

AMM

Monday, April 3, 2017

Skyrim Special Edition

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition: Prima Official Game Guide
By Dave S. J. Hodgson, Steve Stratton & Steve Cornett, et al.
Prima Games, 2016. 1117 pgs. Nonfiction

This official game guide for the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim includes complete game information for training, inventory, creatures, quests, maps, as well as everything that’s included in the Dawnguard, Dragonborn, and Hearthfire DLCs (downloadable content). With over 1000 pages of game information, color graphics, and walkthroughs, this guide is an excellent companion for anyone playing Skyrim.

I wouldn’t call myself a gamer in general. I dabble in a few things, but Skyrim is the first console game I’ve ever played. After about 100 hours of playing without this game guide, I picked it up and was able to learn a lot more about the world and game than I otherwise would have bothered with. I’ll readily admit that all of the information in this guide can be found online, but it was so much easier and more convenient to have the book open in front of me and flip pages as needed, rather than drain my phone or laptop battery. If you’re into Skyrim, I can’t recommend this guide enough.

ACS

Saturday, April 1, 2017

A School for Unusual Girls

A School for Unusual Girls 
by Kathleen Baldwin
New York: For Teen, 2015. 351pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Georgiana Fitzwilliam has never fit in. In her world in the early 1800’s it is not appropriate for girls to have an interest in science or to ask too many questions. After accidentally burning her father’s stables down while conducting an experiment to find a new invisible ink, she is sent to a boarding school where her parents are not to interfere with any of their methods. This school is supposed to turn problem girls into cultured and refined marriageable young women. This school actually is a house that trains girls to fine tune their talents and skill into something that is useful for society, spies.

This was a fun book to read I loved how the author handled the fact that these girls would not have been accepted in society. Most historical fiction almost seems to put it off that if a few more people were willing to try then they would have been able to find a place to fit in when in reality that was not the case. I liked the balance of skill and I also liked that the book pointed out, there are consequences for mistakes. The consequences don’t just impact your life but they have the potential of impacting a lot of other people. The other interesting part of this book is that it plays with the “what if’s” in history. It is not perfectly historically accurate and so, I will be fascinated to see if/how it plays out in the future books.

MH

Long May She Reign

Long May She Reign 
by Rhiannon Thomas
Harper Collins Publishers, 2017. 422 pgs Young Adult Fiction

Freya unexpectedly becomes queen when the entire court gets poisoned. Freya loves science and would much rather be in her laboratory than learning the niceties of court. Her first few days are fraught with intrigue as she tries to discover who poisoned the court, who is going to try and kill her next, and what policies of the old regime should she keep in place.

I enjoyed this story; I like the growth that Freya goes through as she tries to discover what kind of queen she will be. Her feeling as she tries to deal with being manipulated into being a figure head are a fascinating element of the story. There is some romance but it is not the main focus of the entire book.

MH

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia

Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia
By Brandon Sanderson
Scholastic Press, 2009. 299 pages. Young Adult

After an extended detour to the Library of Alexandria, Alcatraz finally makes it to the Free Kingdoms. Turns out the librarians haven’t been idle in the meantime. They’ve sent ambassadors to Nalhalla with a treaty that could end the war… as long as the Free Kingdomers are willing to give up Mokia. Though some people think it might be worth it, Alcatraz knows there’s something suspicious going on. After all, you should never trust a librarian.

Sanderson really hits his stride with this third installment in the series. Not only is the plot an interesting change of pace with a bit of political intrigue, but Alcatraz’s comedic asides really come into their own. Each interjection actually enhances rather than detracting from the narrative, and there’s plenty of new material rather than tired tropes. My particular favorite is the way he undercuts the formulaic moral lessons learned throughout the story. Alcatraz is surprised to find that he is a celebrity in Nalhalla, for example, and lets the fame go to his head. Instead of turning this into an unbearable teaching moment, however, Alcatraz’s snarky interjections keep things real. Overall an improvement on #2 and a strong installment in a funny series.

LLK

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

One Blood Ruby

One Blood Ruby 
by Melissa Marr
Harper Collins, 2017. 368 pgs. Young Adult.

In this sequel to Seven Black Diamonds, it appears not everyone is happy with Lily Abernathy’s new status as heir to the faery throne or her plan for peace with the human world. Deadly attacks on humans continue with methods that are obviously fae in origin and execution. Then Lily and her friends become targets themselves as they wait for her grandparents to officially declare peace with the humans. As tensions rise in both the Hidden Lands and the human world, will Lily and her friends be able to achieve peace between worlds?

 While not the most engaging read, I did like the follow-up and closure this book gives to Seven Black Diamonds. One Blood Ruby acceptably takes care of the loose ends from the previous book. I enjoyed learning more of the backstory about Lily’s parents, and I liked the added perspective of my favorite character, Lily’s aunt Eilidh. Overall, those that enjoyed reading Seven Black Diamonds should also enjoy the sequel, One Blood Ruby.
ER

Monday, March 27, 2017

Dear Mr. Knightley

Dear Mr. Knightley
By Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson, 2013. 327 pgs. Fiction

Samantha Moore has had a rough life. The foster care system has failed her more than she can count, and to survive, she has learned to hide behind some of her favorite literary characters, even borrowing their words. These fictional characters have given her an identity so that no one can know the true Sam and cause her even more pain.

After college she has the amazing opportunity to receive a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree from the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. All she has to do is write letters to the anonymous "Mr. Knightly" to tell him of her progress. It is through these letters that she begins to discover her own identity and starts to recognize and strengthen her connection to people around her.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started this book. I probably shouldn't admit this, but I am not a Jane Austen fan.  This book has so many references to Austen's books, that I wasn't sure I would enjoy it. I loved this book! Sam is a complicated character that is so vulnerable and real. I adored a lot of the side characters too. This is a much deeper novel than I expected and I'm so glad I decided to read it. Who knows, maybe I'll actually start reading some Austen, or at least watch the movies.

AL

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy
by J.D. Vance
Harper, 2016. 272 pgs. Biography.

Part memoir, part sociological analysis, Hillbilly Elegy tells the story of J.D. Vance, his family, and the poor, discontented rust belt culture in which he was raised. As a young married couple, J.D.’s grandparents moved from Appalachian Kentucky to Ohio in search of a middle class life. In some ways, they succeeded - J.D.’s grandfather found a good job in manufacturing, their children finished high school and some college, and J.D.’s grandmother became a nurse. But in other, more profound ways, the culture of poverty loomed over their lives and the lives of their neighbors, most of whom were also Appalachian transplants. Alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, family dysfunction, and abuse remained, and as manufacturing jobs left the area, poverty returned.

Through the support of his MaMaw, his own hard work, and several fortunate opportunities, J.D. graduated high school, joined the marines, and eventually graduated from Yale Law School. Hillbilly Elegy is at turns moving, funny, and eye opening. I felt like the writing could have benefited from a little more editing and direction, but Vance's insights were so interesting that it didn't bother me too much. His story offers an honest, personal look at poor, white America and a unique perspective on the forces shaping culture and politics today.

- SR

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones

Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones
By Brandon Sanderson
Scholastic Press, 2008. 322 pages. Young Adult

Alcatraz is back for another sinister library adventure. This time he has to follow a clue about his long-lost father, even though it might lead him to the dreaded Library of Alexandria. The ghoul-like curators are after his soul, and a half-mechanical monstrosity known as a Scrivener’s Bone is after his life. Alcatraz is going to have to outsmart them both, but fortunately he has some allies. Two new Smedries—one with a talent for getting lost and the other with a talent for waking up incredibly ugly in the morning—plus two Crystin make for a formidable team. The team fight their way through the booby-trapped library and even learn a little more about the Smedry Talents on the way.

This volume is very much in keeping with the first book in the series, Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians. It’s just as silly and ridiculous, and has just as many bizarre asides from Alcatraz. In the first book, Alcatraz attempts to prove that he is not a good person; in this second volume he tries to demonstrate that he is a liar. It actually gets a little irritating that he stops the action at the beginning of each chapter to interject some unrelated nonsense, but if you read the first book then you’re already used to that. The comedy isn’t quite as stellar since the far-fetched librarian conspiracy and the ridiculous Smedry Talents have already been established, but Sanderson definitely keeps things going in a good direction. Overall I think that this is a solid installment and the series is something I’d recommend to anyone looking for something light and humorous.


LLK

Monday, March 20, 2017

Lady Cop Makes Trouble

Cover image for Lady cop makes trouble
Lady Cop Makes Trouble
by Amy Stewart
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 310 pages, Historical Fiction

When Constance Kopp becomes one of the nation's first deputy sheriffs, she has already proven that she can't be deterred, evaded, or outrun. But when the wiles of a German-speaking con man threaten her position and her hopes for this new life, and endanger the honorable Sheriff Heath, Constance may not be able to make things right. Now she's on the streets of New York City and New Jersey tracking down victims, trailing leads, and making friends with girl reporters and lawyers at a hotel for women. Cheering her on, and goading her, are her sisters Norma and Fleurette.

The first book in this series, Girl Waits with Gun, was one of my favorite books of 2015. Not only is this a fun mystery/action/adventure series, it’s based on the true life story of one of America’s first female sheriffs. While Lady Cop Makes Trouble isn’t as lighthearted as its predecessor (although it still has its moments), it’s still meticulously researched. I was also glad to see that all of the characters had become more fully fleshed-out from the previous book. This is a great book for those who like historical fiction, strong female characters, and intriguing mysteries.

MB

Scythe

Cover image for Scythe
Scythe
by Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster, 2016, 433 pages, Young Adult Fiction

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life--and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe--a role that neither wants. These teens must master the "art" of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

While the premise of this book is compelling, I kept putting off reading it because I wasn’t sure I would like it. But the rave reviews started rolling in, it was deemed a Printz Honor book, and it was showcased in our program, Best Books of 2016. I knew I had to see what all of the hype was about.

Shusterman is an expert storyteller, and he had me hooked from the first page. Although people live in what many would call the perfect society, envy, jealousy and greed still exist, and the motivations of the scythes are complex. While some scythes argue for humane killing methods, others consider themselves to be omnipotent, able to do anything without people questioning their authority. While I think this book works well as a stand-alone title, I’m interested to see where Shusterman takes this story with the next book of the planned trilogy.

MB

Friday, March 17, 2017

By Your Side

By Your Side
By Kasie West
HarperTeen, 2017. 342 pgs,  Young Adult

Autumn has spent her Friday afternoon at the library working on homework with her friends. They have plans to go up the canyon for a bonfire before the girls spend the weekend at a cabin. It was going to be the perfect way to spend a three day weekend.

However, Autumn's weekend plans are derailed when she runs back into the library to use the bathroom and when she goes back to the underground parking lot all of her friends have left. Each car thought she was riding with someone else. Autumn is now locked in the library with no way out until Tuesday morning. And to make things worse, her cell phone is in the trunk of her crushes car!

Her anxiety about this predicament doesn't immediately abate especially when she discovers she isn't alone. Dax, a boy who goes to her school and has a rough reputation is also locked in the library. They spend the days raiding the staff lounge fridge, learning about each other (tentatively at first) and playing games to pass the hours.

The setting for this book is loosely based on our library! That made this book a really fun read. I felt like I had to suspend my belief just a touch too much on some aspects of this book though. I didn't quite understand why Autumn and Dax couldn't just leave through an emergency exit or why there wasn't a landline phone available for them to call home. However, those things aside, I enjoyed this contemporary young adult book.

AMM

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Traveler’s Gift

The Traveler’s Gift 
by Andy Andrews
Nelson Publishers, 2002. 211 Pgs. Nonfiction

David Ponder has hit rock bottom, he has lost his job , his daughter is sick, and he gets in a car accident. In the midst of all of this he gets to travel through time to meet up with great people in history such as: Abraham Lincoln, Anne Frank, King Solomon, and Christopher Columbus. Each person gives him a lesson on decisions one can make which influences their success.

I love this book. This is one that I have read multiple times and every time I do I feel resolved to be better. Each of the “lessons” given through this book is very well written, and I find that it gives insight to some of these great people in history. Not saying that they were all perfect human beings but they each had something of value to contribute to this person’s story which I find inspiring. It is good to remember that these people were human and it was their choices that made them great not their circumstances.

MH

A Viscounts Proposal

A Viscounts Proposal
by Melanie Dickerson
Waterfall Press, 2017. 279 pgs. Fiction

Leorah Langdon has no patience for the false politeness that permeates Regency Society. After watching her parents be absolutely miserable her entire life she has vowed to challenge societies norms. She has resolved instead of marrying, purely for wealth and standing in the community she will only be married if she falls passionately in love. But her hopes may be thwarted when she is discovered alone with Viscount Withinghall a stuffy, pompous gentleman in his overturned carriage. It will take everything they have to preserve her good reputation and find out who is trying to kill/sabotage the Viscount.

I really enjoyed this story. Leorah is a fun forward thinking character and the Viscount is like Mr. Darcy, he is distant and calculating at first but you fall in love with him as you get to know him. The fun thing about this book is that you get some insight about what he is thinking as you read, which I find most enjoyable.

MH

Sins Of Empire

Sins of Empire
by Brian McClellan
Orbit, 2017. 624 pages. Fantasy.

Vlora Flint, a veteran of the Adran revolution and storied powder mage, leads her mercenaries on a hunt for revolutionaries in the swamps of the Fatrastan wilderness. When the despotic ruler of Fatrasta suddenly recalls her Riflejacks to the capital to hunt for a community organizer with ties to rebels, Flint discovers a warren of conspiracies and competing interests. Between murderous rebels, scheming secret police, and the specter of an empire not seen for hundreds of years, it would take a miracle for her people to make it out alive.

Told from the perspectives of Flint, a member of the secret police (Michel Bravis), and a convicted war hero (Ben Stykes), Sins of Empires brings together the best elements of McClellan's talents. Sins brings back the epic rifle and magic battles from the Powder Mage trilogy, along with one of the most creative and interesting magic systems, the competing powder mages (mages who draw strength and speed from imbibing small amounts of gunpowder and can control detonations to manipulate bullets or whole supplies of gunpowder), privileged (who can summon elemental forces like fire and ice), and the mysterious magic of the bone-eyes. While the action and intrigue are as splendid as ever, McClellan's characters in Sins demonstrate new skill and depth. Sins of Empire is already on my list for best books of 2017. At 600 pages, most books will have lulls, but Sins maintains a pace that will keep readers engaged to the very last page.

JMS

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ever the Hunted

Ever the Hunted
by Erin Summerill
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 392 pages. Young Adult

Outcast Britta Flannery has always been distrusted by the people of Malam because her now dead mother was from the neighboring enemy country of Shaerdan. So after her father is killed, she has no one to rely on and is soon arrested for poaching. While awaiting her execution, Britta is offered a deal. Instead of being put to death, she can use her expert tracking skills to capture the man believed to be her father’s killer. Britta is shocked to learn it is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice and her best friend whom she has secretly loved.

With no alternative, Britta sets off with three of the king’s guard. Her tracking soon leads her to neighboring Shaerdan, home to female magic-weavers known as Channelers. There she discovers more about her own unrealized powers and that not all is as it seems both in the people she has encountered and in the worsening relations between Malam and Shaerdan.

It’s been a while since I’ve read any quest fantasy so this was a fun take on the genre. The story is full of engaging characters, adventure, and romance that definitely kept me turning the pages.

AJ

The Girl from Everywhere

The Girl from Everywhere
by Heidi Heilig
Greenwillow Books, 2016. 454 pages. Young Adult

At 16, Nix has known no other home than her father’s ship, The Temptation. But with her father’s navigational skills and an accurate map of the desired destination, the ship can travel through time to any place both real and imaginary. Through their time traveling adventures, Nix and her father, Slate, have gathered a wonderfully diverse crew that includes roguish Kashmir, a teen boy they saved from an alternate Persia and who Nix has a complex relationship with.

Slate, is from current day New York, but he met Nix’s mother, Lin, in Honolulu’s Chinatown in the1860s. Slate has been consumed with trying to find a map back to this time to save Lin from death during child birth.

During their latest attempt, The Temptation ends up in 1884 Hawaii, but all is not lost when Slate gets word of the existence of an 1868 map. The only problem is the men who own the map want Slate and his crew to rob the King of Hawaii’s treasury in exchange for the map.

This is a fast-moving adventure. Nix is an intriguing character who uses her wits to outsmart foes. In addition, reading about colonial Hawaii, where the majority of the adventure is set, and a time period I knew almost nothing about, was very interesting.

AJ

Friday, March 10, 2017

Start of Darkness

Start of Darkness
by Rich Burlew
Giant in the Playground, 2007. 116 pages. Fantasy, Graphic Novel

How do villains become monsters? Are they born evil, or are they shaped by their experiences? In this prequel to the Internet sensation Order of the Stick, Burlew explores the origins of the lich Xykon and Redcloak, high priest of the god of goblins. From a boy crying about his dead dog and a young man defending his village, Darkness chronicles their descent into two of the most ruthless characters in comics.  


Start of Darkness is bleak. As a prequel, the end fate of the (an)tagonists is a known factor; as Burlew mentions in his introduction, the villainy demonstrated by Redcloak and Xykon go largely unpunished. Though the story switches around the perspectives, the primary focus is Redcloak. Despite cataloguing in exquisite detail the depths to which he sinks to achieve his goals, Darkness's largest emotional appeal is the humanization (a term he would find terribly specist) of Redcloak and the goblins. The themes of desperate action and sacrifice for the greater good clash with the reckless evil of Xykon. 


Having said all that, Start of Darkness is hilarious. Burlew's simplistic drawing style (including a colorful section of crayon art detailing the creation of the world) downplays much of the darker plot points, while his playful pop culture references and 4th wall breaking make even the transformation of Xkyon from sorcerer to lich funny. Burlew's great strength lies in his ability to seamlessly flit between the humourous and the dramatic. Darkness will be tremendously enjoyable to both fans of the web comic and to new readers. 


JMS

Scrappy Little Nobody

Scrappy Little Nobody
By Anna Kendrick
Touchstone Books, 2016. 304 pages. Biography

Actress Anna Kendrick tells stories from her life up to now, starting with her childhood and "rags to riches" story (mostly just a lot of hard work), stories from her time in different productions, and her experiences in the limelight and a few various relationships and lessons she's learned. Though there's not much in the profound, soul-changing vein, there are plenty of interesting and funny stories. Written with a lot of sarcasm and yet a practical, no-nonsense sort of tone, this is best experienced in audio book form where you can get a sense of her personality through her voice. I've listened to a few underwhelming celebrity audio books where they didn't seem to want to "perform" their own writing. In contrast, Kendrick gives everything to her performance, ratcheting up the personality and wry humor in what ends up being a very entertaining read. I would recommend this to fans of Mindy Kaling's books. Be aware: there's plenty of language and discussion of sexual scenarios.

BHG

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Fireman

Fireman
by Joe Hill
William Morrow, 2016. Fiction

Harper Grayson is a nurse volunteering her time to help those infected by a terrifying plague that is spreading throughout the country.  The doctors have named the infection Draco Incendia Trychophyton, but everyone else just calls it Dragonscale.  The first symptom is an array of tattoo like marks across the body and the final symptom is spontaneous combustion leaving victims mere ash.  When Harper contracts the disease she is quarantined in her home until a mysterious fireman with uncanny pyrotechnic abilities takes her to a hidden community of survivors.

Novels by Joe Hill have been on my “To Read” list for years, but I have never managed to read one.  Now I’m mad that I wasted so much of my life not devouring his novels!  This is a great story with amazing characters and nonstop pacing.  Hill is both a gifted writer and an extraordinary storyteller, a rare and wonderful combination.  I will never again let a Joe Hill novel slide down the priority list.  With this one book, he’s one of my favorite writers!

CG

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology
by Neil Gaiman
W.W. Norton & Company, 2017. Fiction

Thor, Odin and Loki come to life in Neil Gaiman’s new imaging of ancient Norse mythology. He starts from the very beginning when the nine worlds are created and Odin sacrifices his eye for wisdom.  Then he tells about the adventures of the gods.  He describes their daring quests and terrible trials ending in Ragnarok when all things come to an end.  Each tale contains Gaiman’s unique pacing, humor and perception staying true to the legends of the great north but instilling in them with new life for a new generation.

Listening to Gaiman tell his stories is a wonderful experience.  I listened to this novel in just a few days and reveled in the author’s gifts as a storyteller.  While this is considered a novel, it reads somewhat like a collection of short stories which fly by much too quickly. I loved Norse Mythology and can see it becoming a favorite recommendation for road trips with its wide appeal and great audio production.

CG

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
Del Rey, 2017. 336 pgs. Fiction

For generations, the noble Vladimirovich family has lived a difficult but peaceful life on the edge of a Russian forest. The family and the local villagers praise God in church on Sunday and leave offerings for the magical creatures who watch over their homes and stables throughout the week. Young Vasilisa Vladimirova has a peculiar gift, however, and secretly sees and talks with these friendly spirits. When a new, terrified, and fiercely devout stepmother and a captivating young priest arrive, they demand that the villagers stop their idol worship and abandon their traditional practices. Alone in her determination to honor the old ways, Vasilisa must defy both her place in society and the evil forces growing falsely in the name of Christ.

Again and again over the past few months, I stumbled across starred reviews of The Bear and the Nightingale in major review journals. As a result, my expectations were extremely high. Luckily, when my hold finally came in I was captivated from page one. First time author Katherine Arden writes beautifully, creating vivid characters, an entrancing story, and a lush world based on Russian folklore. The second half of the novel reminded me in small, lovely ways of The Hero and the Crown or The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, but in other ways it was utterly unique. Though aimed at an adult audience, The Bear and the Nightingale will appeal to teenagers as well. Just as a warning, however, it does feature dark creatures that gave this squeamish librarian the heebie-jeebies, so I wouldn’t recommend it for especially young readers. Overall, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long while, and I’ll be recommending it left and right in the months to come.

SR