Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Through the Woods

Through the Woods
by Emily Carroll
New York : Margaret K. McElderry Books, [2014] 
©2014. Unpaged. Graphic Novel.

Canadian graphic artist Carroll uses familiar horror motifs--the first wife's ghost, the monster that dwells in the forest--to create fresh and disturbing tales.

This book is delightful spooky. The stories remind me of Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and the illustrations are quite chilling. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy suspense and horror, and especially to those who are eager for Halloween to be upon us. 


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Mera: Tidebreaker

by Danielle Paige
DC Ink, 2019. 208 pgs. Young Adult Comics

Long before she was queen of Atlantis, Mera had to choose between following her heart or her mission to kill. In order to save her people, Mera feels that she must kill Arthur Curry (Aquaman) to end the Atlantean line of royalty. She ventures to the surface, where she encounters Arthur, but she quickly realizes that he is different than she expected. Could Arthur and Mera be the means of united their people or will they start of civil war that could destroy them all?

I am a huge superhero fan, and I absolutely loved this book. Mera has long been a strong, independent woman, but this story made her relatable and interesting. She experiences a range of teenage emotions and is able to think beyond the moment to evaluate her decisions. The illustrations are in different hues of blue, with Mera’s hair the focal point in red. The story and illustrations work together to create a complete story around Mera and Arthur. I would suggest this book to anyone who loves superheroes, strong female role models, or teenage romance.


The Island of Sea Women

The Island of Sea Women
by Lisa See
Scribner, 2019. 374 pages, General Fiction

Mi-Ja and Young-sook grew up together on Jeju Island in Korea. When they came of age, they were both selected to become “baby divers” in the island’s all female diving collective, an esteemed and often dangerous role that some women of the matriarchal society use to support themselves and their families. The girls’ relationship and the diving collective changes over the decades, as they get married, succumb to their expected roles as women, and begin families of their own, and as Korea is shaken by Japanese colonization, WWII, and the Korean War. The world around them changes quickly, sometimes violently, and the strain of this threatens their livelihood, loved ones, and even their culture.

There is a lot to unpack in this book, and it’s quite a ride to do so. The impacts of such large, world altering events as seen through the experience of the people of a small Korean island is truly eye opening and at times heartbreaking. There’s also a lot in the book to warm the heart as, in true Lisa See style, the reader grows to feel connected to the characters and care about the relationships they’ve formed with one another. Fans of sprawling, character driven, historical fiction will find this book stays with them, even after they finish reading.    


Evvie Drake Starts Over

Cover image for Evvie Drake starts over : a novel
Evvie Drake Starts Over
by Linda Holmes
Ballantine Books, 2019, 293 pages, General Fiction

Ever since her husband died, Evvie Drake lives alone in an overly large house in small-town Maine. While everyone in town thinks an inconsolable grief is what has stalled her momentum, Evvie lets them think that while she weighs her options.

Dean Tenney, a former major-league pitcher who lives in New York, is also stalled in life. He’s got a case of the “yips,” which means he suddenly can’t throw straight anymore, and he can’t figure out why.

When Dean tries to get away from it all by renting Evvie’s mother-in-law apartment, he does so with the understanding that neither of them will ask about the other person’s problems. But the more Evvie and Dean get to know each other, the more they cross the boundaries they’d initially set up. As their friendship grows, Evvie and Dean encourage each other to face their fears and figure out what they really want in the next chapters of their lives.

Those who are familiar with Linda Holmes from the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour will hear her signature sense of humor in every line of this book. I frequently found myself laughing aloud as I read this. While this is a great light read, I also appreciated that the characters in this book had real depth, and they can’t really be together until they’ve both figured out things on their own. Those who enjoy authors like Abbi Waxman, Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Rainbow Rowell will enjoy Evvie Drake Starts Over.


The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
by Abbi Waxman
Berkley, 2019. 332 pages, General Fiction

Nina Hill has a very simple and lovely life. She works in a bookstore, is an asset on her competitive trivia team, enjoys a carefully regimented schedule of exercise and socializing, and even sets aside specific time to read and do nothing with her cat. When the father she never knew she had dies, his lawyer contacts her about the reading of his will in which she is included. When he informs her that the brother and sisters who didn’t know she existed either are not happy about her encroaching on their inheritance, her simple life quickly becomes a lot more complicated.

As I read this book, I wanted to be Nina Hill, living simply and happily with her day planner and her furry friend, a mind full of trivia facts and a group of snarky, supportive friends and coworkers. While light, fluffy, romantic reads are not my go to genre, this one had enough sarcasm, wit, and sass to keep me turning the pages. This is a quick, delightful read with pop culture and literary reference abounding, a satisfyingly unpredictable turn of events, and laugh out loud moments that might make some readers blush. A fun jaunt into what it means to be family, and how you never really know what life will throw at you next.


Saturday, August 10, 2019

Curse Words (Vol. 1): The Devil's Devil

Curse Words (Vol. 1): The Devil's Devil
Author: Charles Soule, Artist: Ryan Browne
Image Comics, 2017, 152p, Graphic Novel/Fantasy

In Curse Words (Vol. 1): The Devil's Devil, the magically-powerful main character Wizord, and his knowledgeable sidekick Margaret (who starts as a rat and then later gets transformed into a koala) spend their time protecting people on Earth while also giving people their deepest desires, for a fee. Wizord's magical power shoots him to fame, which is good until his past comes back to kill him. It turns out that Wizord's master, and ultimately the source of his magic, sent Wizord across multiple dimensions to Earth with the task of destroying Earth. But when Wizord discovers that everyone on Earth (New York as the setting) is free, he switches sides in order to live free of his god-master Sizzajee. Throughout the story, Wizord will lose his powers, get them back again, and rekindle a strong love from his past, doing it all without losing a single hair from his magical beard.

For those who like Saga series by Brian Vaughn, but wish there were more magical fights, Curse Words is for you.


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Wolf Pack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game

Wolf Pack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game 
by Abby Wambach
Celadon Books, 2019. 112 pages. Nonfiction.

Abby Wambach is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, FIFA World Cup Champion, and the highest all-time international goal scorer for male and female soccer players. She is a passionate activist for equal rights, equal pay, and for inclusion. During her career,she was often seen as an outspoken advocate for the equal pay of female soccer players; when she retired she took up the banner for all women, everywhere. This book is her philosophy on how women and men can come together to create wolf packs that honor difference and build unity for the human race.

Stemming from her viral 2018 commencement speech to Barnard College graduates, Wambach outlines the eight new rules that people everywhere can follow to become more empowered in their leadership and more supportive in their teamwork.

  1. You were always the wolf—create your own path 
  2. Be grateful and ambitious 
  3. Lead from the bench—from wherever you are 
  4. Make failure your fuel 
  5. Champion each other 
  6. Demand the ball—believe in yourself 
  7. Bring it all—lead with humanity, cultivate leaders 
  8. Find your pack—you’re not alone 

With each rule, Wambach tells a story from her life and illustrates how the rules need to change. This book is inspirational, passionate, and short. Each chapter can be read quickly and put down so you can think about the content. It’s a great book to read all at once and then savor again.

The only trouble with this book is it might be too short. For those who have seen the viral commencement speech, this is basically the transcript. It would be fascinating to hear more about each of the rules and how to practically put them into place. This book is part of a growing genre of books based on powerful commencement speeches. If you like it, you should try out Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art, Anna Quindlen’s A Short Guide to a Happy Life, or Lauren Graham’s In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems

by Robert Frost
New York : St. Martin's Griffin, [1979], c1969. 607 pages. Nonfiction.

The only comprehensive volume of Frost's verse available, comprising all 11 volumes of his poems, this collection has been the standard Frost compendium since its first publication in 1969.

The magic of Robert Frost's poetry is that it's simplistic nature opens the door for deeper thinking. The reader can make a personal connection by skimming the surface or by slowly dissecting the text. I found Frost's poetry (particularly the poems in fall and winter settings) to be quite a refreshing read during this hot summer season. I will note, however, that I believe this book will be best enjoyed if read with no time limit. This is not a book one would normally read cover to cover and finish in one sitting. I would recommend this book to nature lovers, those who love to write, and to both the novice and experienced poet enthusiast.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York

Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York
By Roz Chast
Bloomsbury, 2017. 176 pgs. Graphic Novel

Cartoonist Roz Chast takes a break from designing front page comic spreads of The New Yorker to create this guide to the city that stole her heart. A short but absolutely delightful read, Chast's book is divided into sections like "The Subway," "Food," and "Stuff to Do" to help readers get a feel for New York City as she sees it. As a guide, it is wildly informative and full of great advice; as a cartoon, it's hilarious and will make you laugh (if you're endowed with a good sense of humor of course).

I've loved Roz Chast for a long time--I've cited her in academic papers and read Theories of Everything dozens of times. Her cartoons are typically quirky observations of mundane everyday life: what silly thing the lady on the bus might be daydreaming about, which human objects are "proof of life on Earth," and what nature's budget might be for each season. Chast always feels like a friend who's not so much letting you in on an inside joke as creating one with you. But something about Going into Town feels even more personal and personable. Perhaps it's that it started out as a booklet for her daughter who was moving to the Big Apple for university. Perhaps it's that you can sense a real sincerity behind the words, a real love and optimism that sees the flaws and idiosyncrasies of her favorite city, and forgives and loves it all the more.

I'm moving to New York this week, and I'm both thrilled and terrified. I'm a creature of routine and I love having my things in place: my piano in the kitchen corner, my separate closets for shirts and dresses, my cats watching doves out the window or purring on my lap as I read from the stack of books on my nightstand, my friends a few streets and a text away. I am giving all these things up, and what scares me the most is the last one, being alone in the busiest city in America. But Chast's New York City is a friend itself, an enigmatic, volatile, fantastic figure that I can't wait to get to know over time. Seeing it through her eyes, in illustrated format and themed "chapters" make my upcoming move there feel less scary, more fun, and more full of discovery and possibility.


Monday, August 5, 2019

Daisies and Devotion

Daisies and Devotion
By Josi S. Kilpack
Shadow Mountain, 2019. 289 pgs. Historical Romance

Timothy Mayfield has a desire to marry for love but he does not stand to inherit and realizes that he needs to find a wife with wealth. He may have found the perfect person in Maryann Morrington. She may not be the most beautiful girl he knows, but he enjoys talking with her, she is the sister-in-law to his friend, and has a fortune that will pass to her husband. Everything changes when Timothy visits his uncle and discovers that he will be given land and a home in London if he can make a marriage match that the uncle approves of. Timothy is no longer forced to find a wealthy wife and proceeds to make a list of the qualities he wants in his spouse like blonde hair and a tinkling laugh.

Maryann knows that anyone showing interest in her is, most likely, only interested in her money. She is also fully aware that there are younger, prettier girls out there. It still hurts when Timothy comes back from his uncles and barely pays any attention to her. One of the things she has always liked about Timothy is that he is very honest in his intentions. When he shares his list with Maryann, she is wounded to realize she doesn't have one quality on it. They soon make a bargain to help each other find the perfect match but things don't go as smoothly as they would like.

This is a sequel to Promises and Primroses but it could be read alone. I really enjoyed this book from the very beginning. I like that Maryann was strong and realistic in her view of life. She was willing to have hope but also showed her vulnerability by being hurt. Timothy didn't always do things in the best way, but he has a kind heart and is so positive about life. I loved watching the two interact and evolve throughout the book. This is a clean romance that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy.


The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers who brought the American Ideal West

Cover image for The pioneers : the heroic story of the settlers who brought the American ideal west
The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers who brought the American Ideal West
by David McCullough
Simon & Schuster, 2019, 331 pages, Nonfiction

As the Founding Fathers were settling the terms of the Treaty of Paris and busily creating the Constitution, others were already setting their sights on the possibilities offered in the West. This is the story of the first generation of one of the first pioneer settlements in Ohio, from its start in the late 1780s and through its evolution as an established community.

David McCullough is well known for the incredible amount of research he puts into his books, and that effort shows here. Relying on journal entries, letters, and other books written about the subject, McCullough paints a vivid picture of the lives of six of the prominent founding members of the town of Marietta, Ohio. Although this view of settling the West is rather narrow, it allows the reader to experience what it was really like to start completely over in a brand new place, and to see all the effort that goes into building a brand new community.

Those who enjoy detailed histories of a specific place like this one will also be interested in local histories. I especially recommend Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s House Full of Females, and even more locally, D. Robert Carter’s series of Provo history, starting with Founding Fort Utah.


Thursday, August 1, 2019


by David Bergen
Harry N. Abrams, 2017. 272 pgs. General Fiction

Iso Perdido is a young Guatemalan woman who works at a fertility clinic, helping rich women "take the waters" of a local lake with the hope of becoming mothers. She is soft-spoken and gentle, fiercely strong, stands up for her convictions, and loves with her whole heart. Many of the visitors to the clinic are American and Iso falls in love with one visitor in particular: Dr. Mann, the American doctor in residence. Although he is married, Iso and Dr. Mann begin an affair. Suddenly, a motorcycle accident causes Dr. Mann to be sent back home to America and leaves a pregnant Iso in a sensitive predicament. After Iso's baby is born, she is kidnapped by the director of the clinic, who sends the baby to America to live with Dr. Mann in exchange for money. Determined to bring her daughter back home, Iso travels without documentation to America and embarks upon the most important adventure of her young life.

I picked this book up from one of our display shelves simply because the cover caught my eye. The woman's piercing stare in the cover photo and the one-word title made me stop and take a few steps back. It isn't the type of book that I usually read, but I'm so glad I gave this one a chance. I found myself rooting for Iso from the very beginning, despite the fact that I didn't agree with her choice to have an affair. She is clear-headed and determined, fiercely protective of her family, and willing to go to any lengths for her child. This novel will break your heart and then put it back together again.


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction
By Annalee Newitz
Doubleday, 2013. 305 pages. Nonfiction

In Earth's history, life on the planet has been seriously threatened with extinction at least half a dozen times.  In this book, Newitz considers how humanity would face similar threats should they occur in the future.  She examines how life on Earth has been threatened before, how human life has come through disasters in the past, and what scientific breakthroughs today could help us avoid serious harm in the future. 

From studying ancient underground cities, to cultivating cyanobacteria for energy use, to understanding how space elevators could make leaving the planet easier, Newitz leaves no stone unturned in this serious consideration of what innovations and principles will help ensure the survival of humanity.  This is a fascinating read that has something for everyone, but especially those interested in the sciences.


The Dead Queens Club

by Hannah Capin
Ink Yard Press, 2019. 455 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Annie Marck, alias Cleves, has just moved and must start her senior year at Lancaster High. But, when you are friends with the King himself, you instantly become teenage royalty. Henry is a jock, a genius, and brooding bad boy, which explains how he is on his sixth girlfriend in two years. But, when two of these “Queens” end up dead, is something else going on? Can Cleves and her girl gang find out what’s really happening to Henry’s queens before history repeats itself?

I could not believe how seamlessly the story of Henry VIII and his wives was re-imagined as Homecoming King and a teenage girl gang. Cleves is witty, strong, and fierce with a no nonsense attitude. Her one major stumbling block is her love for Henry, which blinds her to the truth for much too long. This story transformed Henry VIII and his wives into a tale that is easy to understand and digest for teenagers. High school gossip, relationships, and parties show just how petty Henry VIII was. There is some strong language, but I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys strong female characters taking down a bad guy.


32 Yolks: From My Mother's Table to Working the Line

32 Yolks: From My Mother's Table to Working the Line
By Eric Ripert
Random House, 2016. 256 pages. Biography

World famous chef Eric Ripert recounts his heartbreaking childhood, the early foundations of his love for food, and his path from a trouble-making kid to line chef in one of Paris's most elite restaurants, where surviving the 17-hour work days and intense pressure was a refiner's fire.  Ripert's book unfortunately ends with his emigration to the United States, before he made a name for himself.  This is his coming-of-age story, perhaps, but readers may be left wanting to hear more about his work and success in the United States.  Ripert certainly had a complex childhood and endured many hardships, but the heart of the book was his love of food and his description of how his tastes and beliefs about food developed through the years.  Recommended for foodies.


Signed, Skye Harper

By Carol Lynch Williams
Paula Wiseman Books, 2014. 304 pages. Young Adult Fiction

The year is 1972 and 14-year-old Winston can't wait to watch her idol, Mark Spitz, swim in the upcoming olympics in Germany this summer. She lives with her grandmother, Nanny, and their dog, Thelma. She's never known her dad and her mom left her ten years earlier to move to Hollywood in hopes of making it big. And so far Winston has gotten along just fine without her mother. But then a letter arrives from her mom saying that things aren't going well and to "come get me." But California is a long way away from Winston's Florida home and Winston has no idea how she and Nanny will get there. Turns out, Nanny has a sneaky idea that just might get them across the country...

This book was such a fun read. I loved the relationship between Nanny, Winston, and Thelma. I also loved the writing style in this book. Each chapter was quite short, but still so full of emotion. I also loved the humor. Since Winston tells the story the reader gets to know her pretty well and her inner musings are oftentimes hilarious. Despite some of the more serious themes that litter this book, I consider it a light, quick read, but one that sticks with you long after you've turned the last page.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Death Wins a Goldfish

Death Wins a Goldfish
by Brian Rea
Chronicle Books, 2019. 168 pages. Graphic Novel

Death never takes a day off. Until he gets a letter from the HR department insisting he use up his accrued vacation time, that is. Take a peek at Death's journal entries as he documents his mandatory sabbatical in the world of the living. From skydiving to online dating, Death is determined to try it all! DEATH WINS A GOLDFISH is an important reminder to the overstressed, overworked, and overwhelmed that everyone--even Death--deserves a break once in a while.

Two words: Utterly. Delightful. This is one of my favorite books of 2019. There's beauty to be found in every day, even if it's usually lost on us living folk. Like watching a child discover the world, watching Death try his hand at living life brings on all the feels - nostalgia, wonder, pride, vicarious excitement along with a contrasting note of melancholy. You'll be both charmed and gently reminded to take time and just live.


The Women's War

The Women’s War
by Jenna Glass
Del Rey, 2019. 549 pgs. Fantasy

 When women’s only value is in producing a male heir, they are treated like the possessions and bargaining chips of their husbands and male relatives. Then a world-altering spell gives women control of their fertility and they finally have a bargaining chip of their own. However men in power are outraged at this loss of control, and will do anything they can to maintain the status quo.

 Although marketed as feminist fantasy, to me this read like any richly complex fantasy novel but with women as main characters. The plot is driven by the societal oppression and abuse of women, although a wide variety of relationships are portrayed. The world-building was good and I thought the magic system was unique and interesting. While a lot of trauma is described (forced prostitution, rape, etc.), I felt like portrayal of the after-effects of trauma like that was mostly missing. Overall I found this book to be engaging and would recommend it to adult audiences who enjoy high fantasy.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 
by Joanna Faber
Scribner, 2017. 409 pgs. Nonfiction

If you want (or desperately need because you’re losing your mind) better cooperation from your young child, this book is for you. Authors Faber and King tailor the parenting tools taught in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & How to Listen So Kids Will Talk specifically for children ages 2-7 and present them in an engaging style. These tools offer effective solutions to the challenges that will vastly improve your working relationship with your children.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and I loved it. The narration style was interesting and had different narrators when different people were sharing their stories of using the tools. I really like the idea of a parenting toolbox, with different tools for different situations, and a lot of these principles are true even for other adults. This book is not a magic pill to make your kids obey you, but rather teaches reasonable expectations and how to communicate in a way that will get through to small children. It’s kind of like the dog whisperer but for kids. I highly recommend this book to anyone with children between 2-7 years old, especially if you’re struggling with yelling or feel like you’re losing it because they don’t listen.


Friday, July 19, 2019

Teen Titans: Raven

Teen Titans: Raven
by Kami Garcia
DC Ink, 2019. 192 pgs. Young Adult Comics

Rachel Roth, known as Raven to her friends, is involved in a tragic car accident that kills her foster mom and makes her lose her memory. Raven must move to New Orleans to finish out her senior year, but starting over isn’t easy. She remembers everyday stuff like math and cooking, but can’t remember her favorite song or who she was before. With her new friends and a bit of magic, will Raven be able to face her past and the strange darkness building inside of her?

Garcia tells her own version of Raven’s story with the important canon, but some new and fun twists. I loved the inclusion of other types of magic, like voodoo, that are regional and relevant to the story. The illustrations feel gritty and dark, with touches of color that focus the reader on Raven and important moments in the story. Raven was relatable and interesting, while maintaining her core characteristics. This is a great beginning to a new Teen Titans series and I am excited for the next installment about Beast Boy.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Normal People

Normal People 
by Sally Rooney
Hogarth, 2018. 273 pages, General Fiction

Some people experience a connection that seems to pull them together no matter the circumstances. This is the connection that Marianne and Connell experience. From the time they were high school classmates, who keep their relationship secret from everyone they know due to their varied social status, to the time they meet again at university when they both attend Trinity College in Dublin, they cannot shake the unique bond they share. Intimate and deep, these two don’t know how lucky they are to experience that connection to one another, but they struggle to find balance between their passionate feelings and how to form a functional relationship, with their individual damage and insecurities in tow.

This is a uniquely moving character and conversation driven coming of age story. It is rare for a book to truly capture real human emotion and insecurity in relationships the way this book did, and I devoured it. It was long listed for the Man Booker prize in 2018 and it definitely has that award-worthy feel with lovely language and a meandering pace that lets you really sink in to what the character’s experience and their emotional ups and downs. I’d recommend this book to those who don’t require a clean read and who enjoy literary fiction with a focus on language and realism.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie


My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie 
by Todd Fisher
William Morrow, 2018. 388 pages. Nonfiction

Todd Fisher is the son of movie legend Debbie Reynolds and brother to Carrie Fisher, another movie legend in her own right. In this memoir of his own experiences with the women he calls, my girls, Fisher gives an honest, yet loving, portrayal of the over-the-top lives of his family.

With humor and heartbreak he outlines how he came into the world as his parents’ marriage was breaking up. This began the special and complicated relationship he had with his sister and mother. Debbie’s next two husbands both cheated and stole from her. Todd was there to stand with her through the heartache and the legal nightmares both divorces created. Meanwhile Carrie was dealing with major mood swings that would eventually be diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder. As Carrie began a successful acting and writing career and Debbie continued to perform and work in theater, Todd became fascinated with making movies and documentaries. Most of his life was taken up by the needs of his mother and sister. He was the only man in their life who they could trust to love and stand by them until their untimely deaths, one day apart, in 2016.

Fisher has penned a love story to the family that was demanding, but fiercely loyal to each other and honors his mother and sister as the amazing women and entertainers that they were. This book was funny and heartbreaking at the same time. Reynolds and her children had an amazing bond. Their loyalty was fierce and strong. Whenever Carrie overdosed or Debbie had financial trouble, Todd was there to help them pick up the pieces.

As a lover of both Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, this memoir was a fitting tribute to such amazing women. Yes, Reynolds was an alcoholic; yes, Carrie Fisher was an addict and had debilitating mental demons. But Todd Fisher shows their grit, their intelligence, and their never-ending humor.

If you are a fan of Carrie Fisher’s books like Shockaholic and The Princess Diarist, this book will be a great bookend to a brilliant career of writing. If you are a fan of Singing in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, this is a loving account of Debbie Reynolds from her adoring son. I highly recommend it.


Friday, July 12, 2019

Lost and Wanted

Cover image for Lost and wanted : a novel
Lost and Wanted
by Nell Freudenberger
Alfred A. Knopf, 2019, 315 pages, General Fiction

Helen Clapp is a physics professor at MIT who prefers to live in a world where everything can be explained by science. Helen’s best friend, Charlotte Boyce, was an up-and-coming Hollywood script writer until her life was ended suddenly by complications from lupus. Even though Helen knows her best friend is gone, she still occasionally gets random phone calls and texts from Charlotte. As Helen struggles to understand what’s going on, she also thinks back to her college days, and ponders what she knew about her best friend’s life from a different perspective.

On the surface, this book seems like it’s a supernatural mystery, and it does include a light mystery element. However, this book is really an exploration of friendship, of how relationships change over time, and especially of how different people deal with grief and loss. It was beautifully written, and I enjoyed savoring the story. I also appreciated that even though this is a book about grief and loss, overall, the message of this book is a hopeful one.

Since the main character is a physics professor, this book also includes a lot of complex science-related discussions, but they’re written in a style that makes them easy for anyone to understand. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes quiet stories that make profound points about life.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by Dave Eggers
Vintage, 2001, 437 pgs. Biography

What happens when you become an orphan and a parent all at once in your early twenties? If you're Dave Eggers, you migrate around California with your kid brother, live large like two irresponsible teenage runaways, found three literary magazines, and take advantage of the sugary sympathies of neighbors, family friends, and strangers. Then, ten years later, you write all about it. In this account of the years after his parents died, Eggers gets into the nitty-gritty of how he and his brother live, giving a comprehensive list of eleven-year-old Toph's ultimate frisbee maneuvers, drawing diagrams of his apartment's layout to acquaint the reader with the spaces he inhabits, and describing in detail his various daydreams about various pretty girls.

The resulting memoir is like a night sky: full of separate dazzling bits and pieces that constellate together beautifully like a connect-the-dots, and gradually form a grand tableau that invites the reader's gaze. But don't get me or Eggers wrong--the very title of this book hints at Eggers' sense of irony which gently negates and pokes fun at his project and prevents bathos from leaking in. The narrator and his characters are, after all, funny, honest, and thus so charismatic. While it's clear Eggers' creative impulses sometimes compromise the pure truth of his story, the whole thing exudes a feeling of authenticity to life and human beings. Besides, what is nonfiction anyway but a history conditioned by subjectivity? The postmodern period that this book came out of proved that--more or less.

If you like Jonathan Safran Foer and David Foster Wallace, or other genre-bending memoir-novels like Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, check out A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

I'll Be Gone In the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

I'll Be Gone In the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
by Michelle McNamara
HarperCollins, 2018. 328 pages. Nonfiction

True crime enthusiast? This is your next book! Michelle McNamara was a journalist who became fascinated by the man she dubbed, "The Golden State Killer." Infamous for committing many heinous crimes all over the state of California from 1974 to 1986, this man has eluded capture and identification for almost fifty years. McNamara's debut novel was published posthumously and is currently being adapted into an HBO series. The book takes you through the beginning of her research in 2013 up until her unexpected death in 2016 - at which time she was not finished writing. The book was finished by crime writer Paul Haynes and journalist Billy Jensen. These men were able to put together her manuscripts, interviews, exhaustive research, and detailed notes into a riveting chase for an abhorrent criminal.

The fact that Michelle McNamara wasn't able to see her work come to fruition is heartbreaking to me. This book kept me up late at night, turning page after page until I couldn't keep my eyes open. While reading, I wanted to find The Golden State Killer as much as Michelle did; her passion for justice is almost palpable. The audio book is read by the talented Gabra Zackman and adds an extra layer of depth to an already addicting investigation. Has "The Golden State Killer" been caught? Will he ever? I'll let you decide if you want to look this information up after you finish reading Michelle McNamara's remarkable novel.


Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls 
by Jes Baker
Seal Press, 2015. 240 pages. Non-Fiction

For many women, loving your body as it is right now is not always the easiest thing to do. There is a constant barrage of media images telling us we’re supposed to slim down, tone up, be healthier, have no cellulite, always have flawless skin, etc. and it shames us into feeling inadequate. Jes Baker asks women (and men) to instead be proud of the amazing body that you have RIGHT NOW, and points out ways that a flawed system is benefiting from keeping us all striving for largely unattainable and unrealistic body goals. Armed with research and scientific facts, Baker supports her claims that dieting and diet culture are harmful to everyone, that yoyo dieting is physically harmful to health (both mental and physical), and argues for diversity in body representation to change the world.

Jes Baker is the voice we need in the conversation surrounding body positivity right now. Sassy, smart, and unapologetic, she doesn’t shy away from talking about hard topics while still putting out an approachable and relatable air. She encourages everyone, in every body type, to find joy and do what makes them happy regardless of whether their size, shape, ability, or gender conforms to societal beauty standards. For anyone with a body that they don’t always love, this positive and empowering read will have you rethinking what contributes to those negative self images.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The River

Cover image for The river : a novel
The River
by Peter Heller
Alfred A. Knopf, 2019, 253 pages, General Fiction

Best friends Jack and Wynn are taking a break from college to spend a leisurely summer camping in northern Canada. Life is idyllic; their days are spent canoeing and fishing, and they curl up by the fire at night with their pipes and settle in for a good book, a bit of stargazing, and great conversation. Their trip is threatened, however, when they begin to see signs of a raging wildfire edging closer and closer. As they head downriver to try to avoid the fire, they run into other campers who seem to be running from more than just the flames.

The River begins very slowly, comparing the fishing techniques used by Jack and Wynn, and giving detailed accounts of how they pack their canoe every morning. But the threat of the wildfire lies underneath the descriptions of leisurely days, and the tension of this book builds and builds, and just keeps on building. This combination of an adventure/survival novel with the elements of a thriller really works. Although this is the first novel by Peter Heller that I’ve read, I’ll definitely be reading his back catalog soon.

Read Peter Heller if you’ve enjoyed books like The Dry by Jane Harper, or The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.


The Upside of Falling Down

The Upside of Falling Down
By Rebekah Crane
Skyscape, 2018. 239 pgs. Young Adult

Clementine wakes up in an Irish hospital with no memory of who she is or how she got there. Her wonderful nurse, Stephen, tells her her name, let’s her know that she’s in Ireland but originally from Ohio, and that she’s the only survivor of a plane crash. It’s a lot to take in, and in a moment of overwhelming uncertainty she adopts a new identity and escapes the hospital with local boy Kieran O’Connell. Now “Jane” is adapting to life without any memories and starts a journey of self-discovery.

It can be fun to have a fresh start, but Jane/Clementine’s fresh start is just as terrifying as it is exciting. The characters are engaging as they discover themselves and each other, as there are a lot of secrets to go around. Overall I think this is a fun, light summer read.


A Very Large Expanse of Sea

A Very Large Expanse of Sea
By Tahereh Mafi
Harper, 2018. 310 pgs. Young Adult

Shirin is a 16-year-old Muslim girl in the politically turbulent time of 2002, a year after 9/11. She’s tired of being stereotyped, and is no longer surprised by how horrible people can be because of her race, religion, and the hijab she wears. In the afternoons after school she drowns her frustrations in music and break-dancing in her brother’s new crew as they prepare for the school talent show. Then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in a long time that seems to genuinely like and want to spend time with Shirin, but letting her guard down and forming a real friendship is difficult after spending so long protecting herself.

Shirin is a very well developed character, acting and reacting in realistic ways based on the experiences she’s had. It’s a reminder of how dangerous and cruel it is to form opinions of an entire group of people based on the actions of a few individuals. My heart broke for Shirin and her struggles. I loved Ocean and felt like the conversations between the two were illuminating and intelligent, rather than sentimental or mushy. The teens and their situation felt real. I could easily recommend this book for readers looking for well crafted, diverse, issue-oriented reads.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Pawn of Prophecy

Pawn of Prophecy (Belgariad #1)
David Eddings
Del Rey, 1982, 262p, Fantasy

Pawn of Prophecy is an old fantasy story. In the same vein as Robert Jordan, Eddings creates a vast world with many cultures, where magic is possible to the select few who know it's secret, and where an absolute evil force that wants to destroy everything, is waking up from an eternal slumber. The story initially focuses (like many old fantasy epics) on a farm boy, named Garion, who's known nothing but cleaning pots in the kitchen and tending to fields. He's eventually thrust into the world by his Aunt Pol and a storyteller Garion calls Old Wolf, out of necessity, to keep him safe. But for Garion, he only knows the farm, but as he meets kings and queens, learns more about his family and their ancient history, he'll discover that he's far more than a farm boy.

For those that like Robert Jordan's Eye of the World or Brandon Sanderson's Elantris, this will be a great read!