Wednesday, October 22, 2014

In Paradise

In Paradise
By Peter Matthiessen
Riverhead Books, 2014. 246 pages. Fiction. 

Clement Olin, a member of a group on a spiritual retreat in the famous death camp, Auschwitz, is on a personal journey to discover the Jewish mother his father abandoned at the height of World War II.

When I think of the Holocaust, my mind instantly goes to the black and white photographs that were taken of the misery and suffering the Allies took of the death camp survivors. This book, however, is not as black and white as those photographs. Like the cover of the book, the feeling from this book is a deep blue as the members of the retreat become mired in the emotions of having survived a horrific tragedy. This book does not look at the Holocaust itself, but, rather, at the way people who never experienced the Holocaust relate to it. It was a deep but beautiful book that really makes you think. There is a lot of intense language in the book.

JH

Painting Kisses

Painting Kisses
By Melanie Jacobson
Covenant Communications, 2014. 194 pages. Romance. 

When Lia Carswel flees a lucrative Manhattan art career, she determines to give up painting forever. Working in a diner and trying to support her sister through nursing school by caring for her young niece, Lia is suddenly given a commission for a series of paintings that will make all their financial troubles disappear. But is she willing to go back to a profession that hurt her so badly?

This is a fun book by Jacobson. I found it interesting that, while the book is published by an LDS book publisher, the characters are not LDS and there is no mention of the Mormon church anywhere. The characters are intriguing and she puts just enough mystery into Lia's flight from Manhattan to keep you reading to find out what really happened. This was a nice light read, something you'll enjoy on a Saturday afternoon, wrapped in a warm blanket and sipping a cup of hot chocolate.

JH

Thursday, October 16, 2014

I Didn't Come Here to Make Friend: Confessions of a Reality Show Villan

Cover image for I didn't come here to make friends : confessions of a reality show villainI Didn't Come Here to Make Friend: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain
By Courtney Robertson
It Books, 2014. 272 pgs. Non-Fiction

I must first give the disclaimer that I am a) embarrassed I  read this book, and b) that I read this book because it is about a reality show I watch that I'm embarrassed to admit I watch . . . The Bachelor (and Bachelorette while I'm being honest). I am new to watching Bachelor franchise shows, so I did not see the season where Courtney Robertson earned the title of 'the Black Widow', and the most heinous villain of reality TV through her snarky comments and inability to get along with the other girls; but ultimately won the heart and proposal of bachelor Ben. But I still wanted to read it to get the inside scoop on how the process works, and if it's 'real' or not.

Courtney tells all, and gives details on the whole process and does ultimately confess that it was very real, and that she did fall in love. She also gives a lot of explanations for her actions during the show, the aftermath of said actions when the show aired, and all the gory details of her prolonged break up with Ben. All in all it was a quick, fluffy, guilty pleasure read that I tore through in one sitting. There is some mature content as Courtney does not spare any details on her relationship with Ben and previous boyfriends.

ZB

Little Blue Lies

Little Blue Lies
By Chris Lynch
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014. 240 pgs. Young adult.

This book was just simple and cute. It was funny and clever, and Lynch created two lovable characters in their frustration of being teenagers and apart. The writing was quickly paced and witty with a somewhat tense underlining story, but not too serious. Even the secondary characters are hilarious. The book ends with just a nice bit of hope and romance, so makes it different from a lot of sad and angst filled teen books.


Oliver and Junie Blue love each other and that is the only thing that is true. They are known for their lies and exaggerations. When Junie dumps Oliver, he becomes a miserable wreck and he swear Junie is still lying. There is an organized crime family, some dog walking, and enjoyable moments throughout. Junie wants her freedom, and Oliver wants her and you'll be happy in the end.

EW

Fiendish

Fiendish
By Brenna  Yovanoff
Razorbill, 2014. 352 pgs. Young adult.

Clementine was only a child when strange and sometimes dangerous things started happening in New South Bend. When her people (called the fiendish) were blamed for the new troubles, their houses were burned to the ground to kill or run off who they could. Somehow, Clementine survived with magic and she was walled in a cellar for ten years. Of course a cute boy saves her, and Fisher takes her to her aunt. The aunt doesn't remember her, the cousin does, and then starts the real trouble of the history of the fiendish, the magic in New South Bend, and the creepy and crazy creatures down in a place called the Hollow.

The concept was interesting, but I felt like there was too much in this book. It seemed like Clementine adapted so quickly and no one questioned that she was trapped by roots in a cellar. There was a lot of jumping around with evil witches and weird happenings and I never really felt like I was understanding what was happening. I really like the idea but the pacing was just off for me. The creepy level and icky factor were awesome though.

EW

The Queen Of the Tearling

The Queen of the Tearling
By Erika Johansen
Harper, 2014. 448 pgs. Fiction.

Erika Johansen has taken an interesting turn in end of the world fiction, as this book is very much written like a historical fiction. The few mentions of technology made me remember that this book takes place far in the future after the Crossing, where royalty has left the world that is falling apart and the three nations pay duties to a fourth that creates a life of fear. Kelsea Raleigh has been raised in hiding and on her 19th birthday is supposed to take over her kingdom. She has to take the worn out Queen's guard and travel to her kingdom, and develop authority and trust among her people.

The book was fascinating to me because it had the historical appeal of kingdoms and guards on horses and taxes paid to evil men with some sword fighting and magic. There are misfits and liars as Kelsea's guards and the mystical fear of the Mortmesne ruler made me nervous for her journey. There is a lot packed in to this book and the battles and trials were exciting. This has been picked up to be a movie with Emma Watson, so read it now! The audio was great, but be warned there is swearing.

EW

Friday, October 10, 2014

Wish You Happy Forever

Wish You Happy Forever: What China's Orphans Taught Me About Moving Mountains
By Jenny Bowen
HarperOne, 2014. 320 pages. Nonfiction.

Independent film maker Jenny Bowen saw a movie exposing the conditions in orphanages in China and made the decision, with her husband, to save one baby girl through adoption. That one decision led to the formation of the Half the Sky Foundation, a non-profit organization that works with Chinese government officials to improve the quality of care for institutionalized children throughout China, emphasizing play, nurture, and socialization. Under Bowen's leadership and working closely with local party leaders, orphanage directors, and ayis (orphanage caregivers, literally "aunties"), the organization became one of the first foreign NGOs recognized by the Chinese government and is respected for the good they do to increase the potential of some of China's most underserved populations.

This may be my favorite book that I've read this year. Bowen has an engaging writing style and is very passionate about her cause. But, at the same time, I never felt that her message was about her - the book was all about the children. Every time I picked this book up I wanted to run out and help her build orphanages in China. The stories were sometimes very sad (the tales from the 2008 earthquake actually had me crying at my desk on my lunch break), but Bowen is not focused on the sadness but on the ability of ordinary people to make a huge difference. This is a must read for anyone who wants to see the extraordinary power of good in the world. There may have been a few instances of strong language, but they were rare enough that I couldn't even point them out.

JH

Summer State of Mind

Summer State of Mind
By Jen Calonita
Poppy, Little, Brown, and Company, 2014. 248 pages. Young adult fiction.

Ever since Harper McAllister's dad became a big-time music video producer, Harper has become a shopping machine. But her most recent credit card statement sends her dad on a mission: to find the old down-too-earth Harper. Harper is sure that she'll hate the sleepaway camp her dad went to every summer. But as she starts to let down her Camper Barbie reserves, Harper learns a lot about friendship and the things that are most important in life.

This was just a fun book about summer camp that kind of made me wish it was summer again. Calonita has created great characters - Harper is annoyingly materialistic from the beginning, but obviously has a heart of gold that shines through by the end. There isn't anything deep or significant about the book - it's just an entertaining, uplifting read that makes you feel happy. And like maybe you need to go to sleepaway camp and see what you were missing.

JH

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rumble

Rumble
By Ellen Hopkins
Margaret K McElderry Books 2014. 560 pgs. Fiction.

 Matthew Turner has had a horrible year. After his younger brother is bullied after he questions his like or dislike for girls, he commits suicide. Matthew is dropped by the friends that bullied, his family is falling apart, and he misses his brother. While trying to handle all this and still be "normal" his girlfriend of over a year starts to pull away, and the after effects of multiple events, just break Matthew completely. His dad and his mom also are strong characters in this book as they deal with a son's death and the writing is truly so honest and raw that I could not put the book down. The book handles more than just the upsetting topics as it also touches on forgiveness and accepting yourself in a way that makes the entire book worth the heartache.

Ellen Hopkins has created an amazing, lyrical book that touches on multiple sensitive subjects. This book is about teens, but due to content has been placed in the fiction section at the Provo City Library.  I think adults an mature teens that have struggles with suicide in the family, general self loathing, or loss may find this book realistic, hopeful, and touching. There is language and some sexual content but the book takes a look at religion, bullying, and struggles of being a teen in a sensitive way. This book was a very fast read and the story has been on my mind for over a month because it was a wonderful, emotional read.

EW

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

The Museum of Extraordinary Things
By Alice Hoffman
Scribner 2014. 384 pgs. Fiction.

Alice Hoffman creates a creepy, mysterious world in this fairy tale combine with historical fiction. Professor Sardie is a a mad man with a museum of weird and freakish "living wonders". His own daughter Coralie has webbed fingers and swims in a tank, able to breathe through a tube only every now and then as she holds her breath to play the part of a mermaid. Ezekiel Cohen is a photographer that shot photos at a tragic factory fire and is trying to solve a mystery of a lost girl. The stories of their journeys intertwine in a facsinating way. The story is so solid in its characters and sad, yet romantic view of Coney Island in the early 1900s.

I was enthralled by all three narrators, which included a general observer, Coralie, and Ezekiel. There is mystery and some magic, and a love story that carries this wonderful book. I enjoy most of Hoffman's books but this one was so incredibly unique I would suggest it to anyone looking for something fresh to read.

EW

Landry Park

Landry Park 
By Bethany Hagen
Penguin Group, 2014. 385 pgs. Young adult.

The recent theme of the world, post-apocalypse, needing ranks and almost becoming historical again in mansions, balls, and regency like manners is used in this book to create a struggle for a teen debutante. Madeline Landry belongs to a family that is looked as royalty and she loves her easy, rich, and socially fulfilled life. She meets a handsome guy, that although a part of her world, shows her the less fortunate and her loyalties are questioned. She wants to help those dying in the poor cities outside of her perfectly manicured home and as rebellion grows, has to make a choice.

I really liked the main characters in this teen book. I thought they were unique and they had some depth to them. I was really interested in the story line because in this dystopian like book, there are still those who have money and leave the dangerous work to people of a lower rank. I liked the blend of the fantasy that made it feel like a historical fiction.

EW

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

#16thingsithoughtweretrue

#16thingsithoughtweretrue (16 Things I Thought Were True)
By Janet Gurtler
Sourcebooks Fire, 2014. 283 pages. Young adult fiction.

As you might imply from the title, Morgan has a Twitter addiction - and it has only intensified in the months since a video of her dancing in her underwear goes viral online, making her feel ostracized at work and at school. But when her mom suddenly has heart surgery and reveals to Morgan the name of her dad who she has never met, it will take two in-person friends to travel with her to Canada to meet him. Along the way, she comes to realize that a lot of the things she had thought were true about her life were not.

This was an interesting book and Gurtler does a good job of making the characters interesting and likeable. I think she takes on a few too many plot points for my taste, but the overall effect of seeing a teenage girl reexamine her life was enjoyable. The book does have some intense language and mild sexuality.

JH


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Scared Scriptless

Scared Scriptless
By Alison Sweeney
Hyperion, 2014. 309 pages. Fiction.

A script supervisor on the hit show The Wrong Doctor, Maddy is focused on the details. And when her maybe-boyfriend (who is also her boss) enlists her to help him pitch a new reality show featuring her hometown in the mountains in California, Maddy begins to have visions of moving up into the executive producer chair. Life is good - that is, until Maddy starts to suspect that Craig has ulterior motives in pitching the show. Now Maddy has to try to keep Craig from producing a show that will cast her family in a bad light. And what will she do about Adam - the handsome new cast member who is determined to make her break her hard-and-fast rule to never date actors?

Sweeney presents a fun book about the Hollywood lifestyle with entertaining characters and an interesting plot. The narrative does sometimes get a little bogged down with the intricate details of the daily workings of producing a television show (Sweeney has acted in numerous shows herself), but after the first 50 pages or so the pace of the plot begins to pick up. The only thing that really bothered me, strangely enough, was the font used in the printing of the book, which I found very unreadable. I know that they were trying to simulate television script booklet, but I would have preferred something a little easier on the eye (literally). Other than that, it was a nice light read. Does have some language and innuendo.

JH

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet
By Bernie Su and Kate Rorick
Simon & Schuster, 2014. 380 pages. Fiction.

When Bernie Su and Hank Green decided to adapt Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for a modern audience and present it online through video blogs, they had no idea how popular their show would become. Now a winner of numerous awards, including a Primetime Emmy (a first for a web-based series), The Lizzie Bennet Diaries tells the story of grad-student Lizzie Bennet, who starts a year-long vlog as part of her thesis project, capturing the stories of her sisters, Jane and Lydia, the wealthy Bing Lee and his sister Caroline, Ricky Collins and his company's investment partner, Catherine de Burgh, and, of course, the snobby William Darcy. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is a companion to the web series, adding new detail that Lizzie didn't share with her online audience.

Even though the book is officially a companion to the web series, it does stand alone as a story in itself (although I highly recommend watching the web series - they did a phenomenal job on it with absolutely no budget). What I liked the most about it was the way they were able to stay very true to the books while making adaptations that make it true to modern life. This is probably not going to appeal to Austen purists (the ones who want everyone in a bonnet) and those who have only watched the full-length Austen features will probably be a little shocked at how blunt Lizzie can be at times. But over all, it was an entertaining book that had all the elements of an Austen novel in a modern setting. The book does have some language and some innuendo.

Be warned: if you watch the web series, it is very, very addictive.

JH

Monday, October 6, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See


Cover image for All the light we cannot see : a novel

All the Light We Cannot See
By Anthony Doerr
Scribner, 2014. 544 pgs. Historical Fiction

This book deserves all the herald and acclaim it has received since it's publication earlier this year. All the Light We Cannot See is a sublime novel, set in WWII primarily in Germany and France as it darts back and forth between the deep interior lives of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, an orphaned boy with a genius for mechanics whose talent is employed at a brutal Hitler Youth school. The novel is structured in a staccato back and forth between these two characters in brief, perfect bites of chapters; and also weaves between two time periods, slowly bringing the characters closer and closer to the point of perfect meeting. There is a subplot of a rare gem, The Sea of Flames, that Marie-Laure's father has been charged with protecting; and a radio program that turns to a resistance tool, both of which serve to unearth both the animal and human in the characters.

Doerr infuses the novel with searching questions about what we all do in extreme situations, and how to interpret the atrocities of war against the background of the antiquity of the earth, without being overt or dogmatic at any point. The characters are so intricately drawn that you feel them at a gut almost visceral level. The writing is so well crafted and perfectly tempered that it completely immerses you and proves a powerful tool to convey deep meaning. This is a book that profoundly moved me, and one I feel I will return to again and again.

ZB

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Skink: No Surrender

Skink: No Surrender
by Carl Hiaasen
Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.  281 pgs. Young Adult

When Richard's wild cousin Malley doesn't show up for a beach rendezvous, he's a little worried.  And then even more when she doesn't answer her phone and he finds out she told her parents she was going to early orientation at  Twigg Academy, an all-girl's school in New Hampshire. But, it turns out Twigg has no early orientation, and that Malley has run off with a guy she met on the Internet, and that she's in real trouble. In the meantime, Richard discovers a soda straw sticking out of the sand where a turtle's nest should be.  On the other end of the straw is Skink, a former Florida governor who lies in wait for turtle egg thieves, and whom everyone thinks is dead.  Together they take off after Malley and her profoundly creepy "boyfriend." As is usual with Carl Hiaasen, Skink: No Surrender is good for lots of laughs, but this story has frightening, cautionary undertones having to do with what could happen when a 14-year old girl thinks it's ok to run away with someone she met online just because her parents are bugging her. Skink, Richard, and even Malley (the dope) are memorable characters and this is a fine, fast, read for young Hiaasen fans, especially ones who need to be wised up a bit.

LW

I Heard My Country Calling: a Memoir

I Heard My Country Calling: A Memoir
by James Webb
Simon and Schuster, 2014.  388 pages.  Biography

From its title one might guess James Webb's new book to be a bit hokey; it is anything but.  Webb, a   former Marine platoon leader in Vietnam, an Emmy-winning journalist, author of ten very well received books, former Secretary of the Navy, and a recently retired U.S. Senator has written a fascinating account of his life as an Air Force brat moving relentlessly with his family around the country while his father was, by turns, a pilot and and engineer working on America's cold war missiles. Webb's accounts of his years at the naval academy and then as a combat marine in Vietnam are enlightening and harrowing. His continuing relationship with his family, particularly his grandmother, gives the reader a strong sense of where his own courage, persistence, and ambition came from. On the whole, I Heard my Country Calling is a rich and rewarding narrative with one major and mystifying gap:  Webb has been married three times.  Two of his wives are briefly mentioned, and two of his six children are very briefly mentioned. Why leave out such a profoundly important part of one's life? It's a puzzlement.

LW

Friday, October 3, 2014

Flat-Out Celeste

Flat-out Celeste (Flat Out #3)
By Jessica Park
CreateSpace, 2013. 329 pages. Fiction.

While not as socially awkward as she was a few years ago, Celeste Watkins still finds fitting in at school difficult and prefers isolation to the stares she gets with her affected language and intelligence. If she can just make it to college, things will be better, she reasons. Until she meets Justin Milano, a college student who is determined to get her outside of her solitary world.

I fell in love with this series with the first book (Flat-Out Love), a chick-lit book that had a surprising amount of depth to it. This book starts two years after the first and is a lovely addition to the Watkins family story. Flat-out Matt, the second book of the series, is actually a retelling of the first book from a second perspective, so readers can choose to read Flat-out Celeste without reading Matt (which the author has warned does have sexual content), if they prefer.

Park has an amazing feel for her characters in this book and an exceptionally witty and fast-paced style of writing. The plot is light, but complex, and the characters' evolution is believable. There is some language and some sexual innuendo.

JH

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Honeymoon Hotel

Honeymoon Hotel
By Hester Browne
Gallery Books, 2014. 452 pages. Fiction.

Rosie McDonald is not a wedding planner - she's an events planner for an historic hotel in central London - but weddings are her specialty. She's never met a bride she couldn't manage into the wedding of her dreams. Until the hotel owner's son, Joe, comes back to London to learn the ropes of hotel management. His laid-back, free-spirited approach to events management clashes brutally with Rosie's clipboard-driven focus and brings all sorts of chaos to Rosie's previously flawless events. Will Rosie be able to let go of her checklists and find joy in the imperfections of life?

I always enjoy Hester Browne's books because she creates such realistic characters - people you want to meet up with at a cafe or go out to dinner with. Sure, there's nothing novel about the plot, but how many things happen to you that are novel or exciting? Browne is adept at taking the every day and helping the reader to see the personal beauty in an individual journey. The writing is light and witty and a pleasure to read. I rank this book as a mostly clean read - there are a few instances of heavy cursing, but nothing else.

JH

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sunshine on Scotland Street

Sunshine on Scotland Street
by Alexander McCall Smith
Anchor Books, 2014. 297 pages. Fiction.

In the 8th book of McCall Smith's Scotland Street series, the author brings back his lovable cast of characters from Edinburgh for another look into the daily workings of Scotland. You'll meet up again with Bruce, who finds his dopopelganger; Matthew, who is being followed by a Danish cinematographer bent on producing a documentary about real people in Scotland; Angus and Domenica on the eve of their wedding; Irene and her faith in psychoanalysis; and Bertie, who still dreams of turning 18 and leaving his micromanaging mother for a life of adventure in far-off Glasgow. Situations change and hilarity ensues, but in the end all of them are still happy in Edinburgh, chasing their dreams.

What I love most about the Scotland Street series (and, really, anything by Alexander McCall Smith) is that they are really in-depth character studies. To be honest, there is not much action in these books; there's never a pivotal climax or a thrilling moment where everything changes. What he presents is a study of people going about their lives, thinking their own, unique thoughts, and influencing their own small spheres. The writing is exceptionally witty and lends itself well to being slowly read and savored over a long period of time (the series, is, in fact, originally printed daily in The Scotsman as a serial story a la Dickens and then compiled into a book and published). By the end of the book, even though nothing of striking importance has occurred, the characters have become exceptionally real. I would expect to find every one of these characters in their present form if I went to Edinburgh.

JH

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Solanin

Solanin
by Inio Asano
Viz Media, 2006. 424 pp. Graphic Novel

This is a story of a young woman, Meiko Inoue, her boyfriend, Naruo,  and their circle of friends as they struggle to make their way in the world after college, reconciling the nebulous dreams of happiness and success with the reality and constraints of the adult world. Stuck in dull and/or poorly paid jobs and uncertain of their futures, Meiko, Naruo and his man-child band mates struggle to figure out what they want and how to get it. After tragedy strikes one of their group, the band must find a way to keep the music playing.

While the story itself is not terribly extraordinary, this is a good example of a graphic novel being a proper, well constructed novel and not just a long form comic book. In keeping with the manga tradition, the book reads right to left, which can take a bit of getting used to. For anyone interested in trying graphic novels, this would be an good place to start.

CHW

Station Eleven

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 333 pp. Fiction

Outside of Toronto, a famous actor, Arthur Leander, collapses from a heart attack in the middle of a performance of Shakespeare's King Lear. Shortly thereafter, a deadly super-flu quickly spreads and wipes out approximately 99% of the world's population. The novel switches back and forth in time, before and after the pandemic, and centers on the lives of Arthur and people connected to him in one way or the other. In the years after the Fall, one of these people, Kirsten, join a group of traveling actors/musicians who are determined to keep a modicum of culture alive and take as their motto a line from Star Trek: Voyager: "Survival is insufficient".

This is an excellent example of a post-apocalypse novel done right. The story starts off well, taking hold of the reader and never letting go. The novel maintains just the right level of pace and tension, until the very last page. I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in reading a post-apocalypse novel but are turned off by zombie novels or the tiresome slog that is Cronin's The Passage. In fact, I would recommend this to just about anyone.

CHW

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Last Illusion


Cover image for The last illusion : a novel

The Last Illusion
By Porchista Khakpour
There is an ancient Persian myth about a boy named Zal, born of a king, but raised by a large bird because his father is horrified when Zal is born an albino. The Last Illusion is a brilliant re-imagining of this myth taking place in the last years of the 20th century and culminating in the tragedy of September 11th in New York City. The contemporary Zal is born in Iran to an elderly couple, and his father dies before he is born. His mother is already sliding into dementia, and when she sees her albino son she believes he is cursed. She calls him the white demon, and puts the infant in a bird cage in her courtyard filled with her precious pet birds. Zal grows up eating seeds, squawking instead of speaking, and wondering why he cannot fly like his brothers and sisters. Eventually Zal is discovered and adopted by an American psychologist who specializes in feral children, and is taken to live in New York City where he slowly attempts to become 'normal'.

This beautifully rendered story brings up questions about what the lines are between crazy, normal, and everything between. Zal in befriended by an illusionist who is going to make the twin towers disappear for his last great illusion; and a girl who makes artwork out of dead birds, and is plagued with premonitions of an imminent disaster that no one believes. The story boarders on absurdity from time to time, but the humanity and dimension Khakpour gives her characters somehow holds it back from spinning into chaos and instead imbues it with an atmosphere of magical realism.

ZB

Chances Are

Chances Are
By Traci Hunter Abramson
Covenant Communications, 2014. 245 pages. Romance.

Maya has escaped an arranged marriage in India and is on the way to living the American dream...until cancer stops her in her tracks. When her best friend offers to let her stay in her brother's apartment while he's out of town so Maya can get some experimental treatments, Maya has no choice but to accept. Ben is a successful rookie baseball player who decides unexpectedly to leave the glamor of a MLB off-season in Los Angeles, only to find his apartment retreat has been invaded. But as Ben starts putting Maya's needs before his own, he begins to see the amazing woman he realizes he will do anything to save.

Yes, the plot is a little over the top and many of the details left me wondering if any of what happens in the book is legally or medically possible. However, all that aside, Abramson creates characters that you want to root for. While the plot may leave you raising your eyebrows, the characters themselves make you want to keep reading through all the improbabilities thrown their way. It is a fun, relaxing read for a day when you just want something to smile over.

JH

For Elise

For Elise
By Sarah M. Eden
Covenant Communications, 2014. 259 pages. Romance.

When tragedy strikes the families of childhood friends Miles Linwood and Elise Furlong, they were left with only each other to rely on. And then Elise suddenly disappeared. Four years later, Miles sees her, begging for scrap remnants at a fabric shop with her young daughter and takes her back home with him. But Elise has changed and is clearly unable to trust Miles. Will he be able to regain the friendship he had with her before? And will Elise finally have the courage to tell him the reason why she hid for so long?

Sarah Eden has hit upon a tried and true formula that has made her successful, and her latest venture will satisfy her loyal readers. With this story, however, Eden has added a little more depth to the characters and infused the story with a sense of mystery that is not usually a part of her writing.

JH

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
by David Shafer
Little, Brown and Company, 2014.  425 pgs.  Fiction

   "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you" could easily be the theme of this witty, multilayered thriller about a consortium of business tycoons and media moguls who decide they should control everyone's information--all of everyone's information. The Committee doesn't take kindly to a couple of essentially guileless characters who stumble upon their plotting.  Leila Majnoun is an NGO worker in Burma/Myanmar who has been battling a feckless bureaucracy for long months trying to distribute monies to potential nursing students. Leo Crane is a recently-fired pre-school aide (one too many times playing "Rolling Death," a game involving an office chair and shrieking children). Leila and her driver accidentally see more than they should have as they are trolling the countryside for nursing candidates; subsequently, the CIA tries to ruin her father, a school principal, by planting porn on his computer. Leo has a bit of a cuckoo blog where he posts angry conspiracy theories that may actually turn out to be true. These two are recruited by another shadowy group, "Dear Diary," an organization devoted to taking down The Committee. Leila and Leo must enlist Mark Deveraux to help because he has the ear and the confidence of one of the kingpins of the committee. Too bad Mark, formerly an extraordinary essayist and thinker, has become a pablum-spewing self-help guru, druggie, and drunk. I can't say much else about this wildly entertaining novel without spoiling the ending, but I will say that it works brilliantly on several different levels: as a thriller, as a spokesbook for the modern age, and as a great story about the willingness and ability of regular guys to do good things to help other.  Some bad language and vulgarity.

LW

Friday, September 12, 2014

Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons

Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons: Finding the Lord's Lessons in Everyday Life
By Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith
Ensign Peak, 2014. 221 pages. Nonfiction.

When Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith met at a meeting of Genesis, a social group for black members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake, they instantly hit it off. And they realized that people might be able to relate to their unique perspective on faith and dedication. What started as a weekly blog has evolved into a regular podcast on the Mormon channel. This book is a collection of many of their regular blog posts, giving their perspectives on topics such as faith, honesty, relationships, and so much more, in a voice that is casual and humorous but always sincere.

What I liked most about this book is the universality of the message. Sure, the cover talks about Mormons, but they are saying things that any Christian is going to relate to and agree with. In fact, they take the time to define any terms (either from LDS culture or from black culture) that they know won't be understood by a general audience. This isn't just a great, uplifting book for Latter-day Saints, but for anyone who truly wants to strengthen their love for Jesus and live more joyfully every day.

JH

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Illusive

Illusive
By Emily Lloyd-Jones
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 416 pgs. Young adult.

This dystopian novel has promise for fans of Divergent or Shatter Me and was interesting for the story of a vaccine that has created mutant like effects in a small percentage of the population. As more dystopian books are published, it seems that there are lots of tries for something new to cause the apocalypse or happen after it. This one did okay with something new, but the characters were actually the least likable part. They were all a bit selfish or whiny and I couldn't find one to really connect with and want to see how their storyline ended.

The population that has weird changes in their bodies means that the government does not want them using their powers for their own, and in some cases even being alive. The powers were anything from people that could create illusions to those that could memorize anything perfectly within seconds. The heroes, or anti-heroes as they begin, are up against the government as well as each to survive and save their own kind. There are multiple groups against the teens and their leader and so many plot twists I really just was waiting for the end so I could mark it as read. It was an easy enough read and had plenty of action, even if it fell short of a really original story. Try it if you want a story with super powered people and more discussion of how the government created an end to the world as we know it.

EW

10% Happier

10%  Happier
By Dan Harris
It Books, 256 pgs. 2014. Nonfiction.

What interested me about this book most was actually his stories about his life as a news reporter and anchorman. The competition and challenges that came with his job fascinated me. I could see where he connected the voice in his head and the anxiety he has had to his goal in his career and also the experiences he has reporting in the field. Harris talks about his search for peace and calm through visiting pastors, monks, yoga meditation, and more. Due to the voice that gave him his drive, it also gave him his struggles. After experiencing a panic attack live on national television, he tries to find a place where his thoughts can't take control.

The idea of anxiety and panic is a hot topic in books whether it is a personal story, research, or to say mental health issues are more prevalent than you think. Harris' book is a different take though as much of the story was reliant on his jobs and personal life, and not necessarily research to describe what he was going through. And he didn't give a lot of details in to his panic attacks or issues, but more background on his hectic life. Then the other major part of the story was for the exploration of spiritual, mental, and physical health that would help in controlling that voice in his head. I thought it was a super interesting read and I enjoyed his perspective on changing his life.

EW

This is the Water

This is the Water
By Yannick Murphy
Harper Perennial, 352 pgs. 2014. Fiction,

This book centers around a swim team, and as a high school swimmer I had to pick it up. Annie and her husband have two girls on the swim team and a tense marriage. Annie starts to flirt with a fellow swim dad and they take the opportunity of away meets to get to know each other. Among the other parents, there are the tense ones, the helicopter moms, the competitive dads and everyone has an edge to them. Things change when one of the girls is murdered and the team and parents have to become protective of  each other and some even become suspicious. One mother even takes it to an extreme and many parents are forced to decide who to stand by.

This mystery novel has a lot going on, told in a simple manner. The first several chapters have an interesting concept of starting almost every sentence with "this is...". At first I didn't know if I could keep going, but the story moves quickly and the uniqueness becomes catchy within the rest of the book. The murder story is a little disturbing as it is a young girl who is murdered, but the entire time I wanted to know who the murderer could be. The story ending was unexpected and different.

EW