Saturday, April 30, 2016

Saving Grace

Saving Grace
By Michele Paige Holmes
Mirror Press, 2014. 376 pgs. Romance

Grace Thatcher just wants to settle down in the country with her younger brother and sister, but after the death of her grandfather, the Duke of Salisbury, and the gambling debts of her father, she is forced to marry a man of her father's choosing. She finds creative ways to get each man to reject her until one night, after a carriage accident, she finds herself in the arms of a stranger and comes up with a plan that will ruin her reputation forever and take away all possibilities of her or her sister marrying anyone. Unfortunately, the last man she was supposed to meet is a good guy, and the sworn enemy of the man she claims ruined her reputation. Life gets more complicated when she is forced into an engagement and it's not as bad as she thought it would be.
 
This is another enjoyable Regency romance. I have been reading a lot of these lately and I think it is because life is crazy on it's own. I just want to sit back and enjoy a book at the end of the day and know that it will have a happy ending. Grace is a great character who has been dealt some pretty unfair things in her life. She hasn't let them make her bitter and she truly cares for those around her.

AL

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Woman With a Blue Pencil

Woman With a Blue Pencil 
By Gordon McAlpine
Seventh Street Books, 2015. 191 pgs. Mystery.

When the LAPD fails to properly investigate the murder of Sam Sumida’s wife, he takes matters into his own hands and becomes an amateur PI. As he watches The Maltese Falcon at the theater on December 6th, 1941, the movie temporarily cuts out, but when it starts back up everything has changed, the movie, the date, and history. Sam, a Japanese American, suddenly finds himself in the other side of Pearl Harbor, but what’s worse, no one knows who he is, his wife’s murder never happened, and all signs of his existence are gone. Sam is unaware that he is a fictional character that has been written out of a novel. Despite all of this, he continues his investigation, unaware that the novel has become an anti-Japanese spy thriller.

Meanwhile, the young author, an American citizen of Japanese heritage, has been relocated to a Japanese internment camp, and his New York editor—the woman with the blue pencil—manipulates the story to fit what she thinks will be successful.

 I love the concept of this book. It’s really three stories woven together as one: Sam Sumida’s murder mystery, Jimmy Park’s spy thriller, and Takumi Sato’s life and struggles as an author. Each writing style was distinct and well executed, with the stories intertwining seamlessly. My heart ached for Takumi, and I was horrified by what his editor— ignorant, bias and manipulative—was asking him to write. Be aware that racism is a major theme in this book, but is done in a very tongue in cheek way. Overall, I really loved it and would easily recommend it.

ACS

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lock and Mori

Lock and Mori
By Heather Petty
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2015. 248 pages. Young Adult

In this teenaged, modern-day twist on Sherlock Holmes, Miss James “Mori” Moriarty is the main character. After her mother’s death from cancer, brilliant Mori and her younger brothers are left to deal with their increasingly despondent and violent father. After a fire alarm at school, Mori meets fellow student Sherlock “Lock” Holmes who is the first person who can match her intelligence and analytical mind. When they learn of a bizarre murder in nearby Regent Park, they decide to investigate. However, as more mysterious murders occur and Mori learns there may be a connection to her mother’s death, she increasingly feels conflicted about Lock’s involvement in the investigation and her life.

It’s hard to find new ground to cover in Sherlock’s world. Making Moriarty the main character is certainly not new, but Petty has created an interesting take on the story. Fans of all things Sherlock Holmes will definitely want to pick this up. Sherlock aside, this also has a fast-paced, intriguing murder mystery though some might guess the killer’s identity a little too early.

AJ

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Wild Truth

The Wild Truth
By Carine McCandless
HarperOne, 2014. 277 pages. Nonfiction.

Chris McCandless was found dead in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992 after having traveled around the country for 2 years without contact with his family. His story was well documented in both the film and book entitled Into the Wild. In this book, Chris’ sister Carine shines light on the reasons Chris might have ventured out into the wild in the first place, as she recounts the physical and emotional abuse and pain of their childhood in Virginia. Carine McCandless uses letters and interactions with her brother to inform her opinion and come to conclusions about what might have led him to venture out and stop all contact with his parents.

The most interesting parts of the book include memories with Chris and the research involved in uncovering his story, but even that is a bit sparse. If you have not read Into the Wild, I would highly recommend picking it up, and certainly before starting this book. Not a lot of Chris’ story is recounted in depth, as it seems the author assumed the reader would already be familiar. This account does fill in some holes, but is largely about Carine’s journey, both with and without her brother.

RC

Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes

Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes
By Matt Kindt
New York: First Second, 2013. 224 pp. Graphic Novel

In the ten years that Detective Gould has been with the Red Wheelbarrow police force, he has yet to leave a crime investigation unsolved. Even as he wraps up one successful case after another, he is troubled by the sense that he is missing something. As he struggles with a problem he can intuit but not yet fully grasp, a series of seemingly disparate and unconnected crimes are being orchestrated by a person hiding in plain sight. In the process of solving the most difficult case of his career, Gould will face tragedy and question his extraordinary talent for investigation and the very purpose of his profession. This is a wonderfully conceived graphic novel, well written and with excellent artwork. As with his Mind MGMT series, the somewhat rough pencil sketches and the muted colors wonderfully present the characters nuanced emotional states and illustrate action in an understated yet effective way. This is another good example of a graphic novel done right. I would particularly recommend this to anyone who might wish to explore the graphic novel format but are not interested in manga or superheroes.

CHW

Seconds

Seconds
By Bryan Lee O'Malley
New York: Ballantine Books, 2014. 321 pp. Graphic Novel

Katie's life is in a state of flux. After several years as lead chef at Seconds, a successful restaurant she help build from its beginning, she is anxious to start a new restaurant of her own. Hanging out at Seconds while this agonizing process continues, she finds herself canoodling with a co-worker. Shortly thereafter, one of the waitresses is seriously hurt. Katie feels responsible for this, having pulled away the new lead chef. That night she is visited in a dream by a spirit and is presented with an opportunity to erase her mistake and prevent her friend's injury. She does so and soon thereafter discovers that she can undo life decisions again and again. Heedless of the spirit's warnings, she succumbs to the temptation only to discover that with each attempt to make her life more perfect, unintended consequences threaten everything she holds dear.

As with his Scott Pilgrim series, O'Malley crafts a wonderful, funny and engaging story. I love the art, somewhat manga-esque, dynamic but without some of the frenetic qualities often found in that style. This story is a bit more adult (but no less fantastic) in tone and content than the Scott Pilgrim series, sure to appeal to older teens and younger adults both. For graphic novel fans, this is a must read.

For similar reads, I would suggest The Shoplifter by Michael Cho or Solanin by Inio Asano.

CHW

The High Mountains of Portugal

The High Mountains of Portugal
By Yan Martel
Spiegel & Grau, 2016. 332 pgs. Fiction

For readers who helped make The Life of Pi an international best-seller, this new work by writer Yan Martel is long overdue and, hopefully, well worth the wait.  While I liked The Life of Pi, I actually enjoyed The High Mountains of Portugal quite a bit more.  Spanning several generations, this is a contemporary fable, that shines a light on grief, love, and what it means to be human.

It begins with the quest of Tomas who leaves Lisbon and travels in an early model automobile to the high mountains of Portugal to find an important religious artifact.  His quest sets off a series of events that ripple through the years until a Canadian senator, escaping his busy life, returns to the town of his parents’ birth with a his newly acquired chimpanzee.

As with The Life of Pi, few things are what they seem in this sometimes grim and sometimes whimsical tale.  My favorite part was an unexpected lecture on the miracles of Christ that I still can’t quit thinking about.  The High Mountains of Portugal is a charming and thought provoking novel that I hope finds a wide audience.

CZ






Spain in Our Hearts


Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939
By Adam Hochschild
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 438 pgs. Nonfiction

I am sure that at some point, I learned that just before World War II, a Civil War was fought in Spain. However, until reading Spain in Our Hearts, I don’t remember a thing about it.  Fortunately, Adam Hochschild has published this detailed and personal portrait of a brutal war that many consider the opening battle of World War II.

The opposing forces were the country’s democratic government and a fascist uprising led by Francisco Franco.  Hitler and Mussolini were quick to send aid to the Nationalist forces but the Federalists, the sitting government, found assistance hard to acquire.  The United States and almost all the nations who would later become the Allied Forces, rigidly stayed neutral.  Only the Soviet Union could be persuaded to send arms to the struggling army.

The amazing part of this story is that many individuals from other nations, including Americans, joined with these warring factions.  Many were willing to give their all in a foreign country to the ideologies they so strongly believed in.  Hochschild tells this story through the eyes of some of these brave and devoted volunteers.  A wonderful book describing a pivotal period of world history. 

CZ

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
By Mary Roach
W.W. Norton & Company, 2003, 320 pgs. Nonfiction

Stiff is a strange and fascinating book about the decomposition and preservation of the human body and the myriad uses of human cadavers over the centuries. From plastic surgery, anatomy labs, crash test dummies, forensic studies, religious studies, and ecological disposals, cadavers have been available for research of all kinds. With much-needed comic relief and a fearless curiosity, Mary Roach asks the questions you can’t as she highlights the many contributions of the human cadaver to society.

The opening chapter on severed heads and plastic surgeon residents had me equally disgusted and captivated. Not every subject is as gross but each comes with a surprise guarantee. If you didn’t know what you wanted to happen to your body postmortem or thought you did, you will, or will at least know where to start, after reading this book.

I listened to the audiobook and the narrator juggled the morbid and humorous passages with aplomb.

HSG

We Are All Made of Molecules

We Are All Made of Molecules
By Susin Nielsen
Wendy Lamb Books, 2015. 248 pages. Young Adult

Brilliant but socially awkward, Stewart has always wanted a sister so when a few years after his mother’s death, his father makes plans to move them out of the only home Stewart has ever know and into his new girlfriend’s house, Stewart is 89.9% excited to get to know popular queen bee, Ashley. Ashley, on the other hand, in typical teenage girl style is horrified. She refuses to speak to Stewart or his dad at their first dinner together and even storms off to her room.

Told in alternating chapters from Stewart and Ashley’s perspectives, Nielsen effectively portrays how our experiences and attitudes affect the way we perceive the world around us while tackling such topics as bullying, bigotry, and what it means to be a family. I also enjoyed the mixture of both sad and funny moments.

AJ

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Distance from Me to You

The Distance from Me to You
By Marina Gessner
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2015. 339 pgs. Young Adult

McKenna, newly graduated from high school, has plans to spend a good portion of her gap year hiking the Appalachian Trail with her best friend Courtney. However, shortly after Courtney gets back together with her boyfriend, McKenna is on a solo hike. She prepared well with all of the gear that she will need for the adventure, however she didn't know she would need to prepare her heart for who she will meet on the trail.

This was a fun novel featuring a strong female character with a determination to see the hike through to the end. It was nice to see McKenna mature throughout the book and discover for herself what she was capable of.

AMM

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Six of Crows

Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) 
By Leigh Bardugo
Henry Holt and Company, 2015, 465 pgs. Young Adult, Fantasy

In the bustling, seedy port of Ketterdam, Kaz Brekker is a thief with talent and a chip on his shoulder. When he is offered revenge and more money than he’s ever dreamed of in return for the most wanted man in the impenetrable Ice Court, he cannot turn it down. But first he’ll need to convince his ragtag crew – a convict, a sharpshooter, a runaway, a spy, and a heartrender – to agree to his deadly scheme and then somehow pull off the heist of the century.

I tried reading Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series but failed to connect with the characters and abandoned it after the first book, Shadow and Bone. The characters in this book are carefully developed into flawed yet likable figures without sacrificing a fast-paced plot. My only criticism is that the characters are too skilled in their professions to be only sixteen or seventeen years old. But that doesn’t detract from the book’s charm or action. One of my favorite reads of 2015.

HSG

The Art of Asking: How I learned to stop worrying and let people help

By Amanda Palmer
Grand Central Publishing, 2014. 336 pages. Biography

Expanding on her TedTalk by the same title, musician Amanda Palmer talks candidly about her philosophy of “asking”, and how it has served her throughout her career and into her personal life. Starting her artistic journey as a living statue, she learned early the power and connection that comes when asking strangers for support, in monetary or other means, and how hard it sometimes is to both accept and ask for help. As she built her punk cabaret empire, she depended on the kindness of fans to allow she and her band mates to sleep on their couches, to spread the word of secret performances, and when she broke from her record label, fund her next record, which she did with a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign where she asked for $100,000 and raised over $1 million.

I was pleasantly surprised that many of her relayed escapades in asking were not just band and music making anecdotes, but were deeply personal, such as her relationship with a friend and mentor fighting cancer, and learning to accept help from her husband, author Neil Gaiman.

As a longtime fan of Palmer’s music, I enjoyed her stories from the road and the connection and community she feels among her fans, though I don’t think you’d have to be familiar with her music to understand and appreciate her philosophy, or relate to the struggle in accepting and asking for help from others. There is some language and adult content in this book, so those who find that objectionable should take that into consideration.

RC

Thursday, April 14, 2016

5 Love Languages

5 Love Languages
The Secret to Love that Lasts
By Gary D. Chapman
Moody & Northfield, 2001. 208 pages. Nonfiction.

Dr Chapman explores the different ways that men and women can learn to communicate with their loved ones. Discovering your personal love language, as well your loved one’s, can give specific direction to your behavior and change the way people feel loved. The 5 love languages Dr Chapman teaches about include: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Love is a choice, and by choosing to communicate with the love language that your spouse needs and responds best to, you are filling their love tank thereby creating a happier, lasting relationship.

This book includes helpful and introspective quizzes, anecdotes and extensive insights from Dr Chapman’s work as a counselor. I learned more about myself and the ways that I like to receive acts of love. I could better see how my relationships are enhanced when I choose to love each person based on their unique needs. This is a very practical self-help book that can benefit adults in all their relationships.

LP

Monday, April 11, 2016

Leadership and Self-Deception

Leadership and Self-Deception
By The Arbinger Institute
Berrett-Koehler, 2010. 199 pages. Nonfiction.

Bud is excited because he has been hired at a new company. But unbeknownst to him, he is beginning more than just a new job- he is on a personal journey to learn how to get ‘out-of-the-box.’ With the help of his new bosses, Bud sees how his interactions with people can change for the better, and how his new perspective can positively effect change in his family and business life. With Bud, we learn how self-deception and self-betrayal are at the crux of every choice, and how to avoid this detrimental thinking and behavior. By learning to think and interact differently with others, Bud effectively removes himself from the damaging cycle of living in the box.

This book has been one of the most impactful books of my life. I am not exaggerating when I say it changed the way I look at every relationship whether with co-workers, significant others, family, or strangers. This is the kind of business and self-help book that surprises you with a story line that you want to follow as it draws you into the principles discussed. My way of thinking about people drastically changed and it’s both refreshing and frustrating to see how much room for improvement I had in my various relationships. I would recommend this book to be read by all, and reread often because principles that ring true are often forgotten without constant diligence.

LP

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Dumplin'

Dumplin'
by Julie Murphy
Balzer + Bray, 2015.  384 pgs. Young Adult

Willowdean Dickson is fat, and she’s perfectly comfortable saying it. It complicates her life, though. Her former beauty queen mom can be distant and critical, especially during pageant season, her crush can’t seem to figure out if he actually wants to date her, and she can’t really talk about her insecurities with her thin best friend, Ellen. Willow also misses her recently deceased Aunt Lucy terribly, but she has their shared love of Dolly Parton to pull her through. Fed up with feeling not quite good enough and inspired by Dolly’s unbreakable confidence, Willowdean enters the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant and faces her insecurities.

In other online reviews, I have seen Dumplin’ praised for being body positive and attacked for being body negative. To me, though, it just seemed honest. Willowdean does have a lot of confidence for a teenage girl and often loves her body, but she also has some deep-seated body insecurities. She mentally criticizes other girls for the way they look or act, and she can judge skinny girls pretty harshly. Some of the negative reviews that criticized Willowdean for acting this way struck me as being written by people who never finished the book, though, since these are the very shortcomings that Willowdean comes to recognize in herself and work on.

The storyline is definitely teen chick lit, which is not my typical genre, but the honest way Julie Murphy depicts Willowdean’s self-image really resonated with me and kept me reading. Cautious readers should be aware that Dumplin’ has some strong language, discussions of sex, and several interactions with Dolly Parton-impersonating drag queens.

SR

Stars over Sunset Boulevard

Stars over Sunset Boulevard
by Susan Meissner
Penguin Group, 2016. 386 pgs. Fiction

New roommates Violet Mayfield and Audrey Duvall seem incredibly different, but they both struggle against disappointed hopes. With her dreams of marriage and motherhood having fallen through, Violet has escaped to Hollywood to rebuild her life. Meanwhile, beautiful Audrey is fighting to restore her career after her own deep voice and the emergence of talking pictures pulled stardom from her grasp. As secretaries on the set of Gone with the Wind, the two women discover what they’re willing to sacrifice for their ambitions.

I enjoyed Secrets of a Charmed Life, a novel of Meissner’s that came out last year, and so I had high hopes for Stars over Sunset Boulevard. It did not disappoint. I do find Meissner’s technique of placing a historical story within a modern one unnecessary, but it doesn’t detract from plot. She seems especially interested in the interplay between female relationships and ambition, and I was impressed to see the depth of Audrey and Violet’s friendship, even when their respective hopes were in direct conflict. As a fan of both the film and the book, I also loved going behind the scenes on the set of Gone with the Wind. Film buffs and fans of female-driven historical fiction are likely to enjoy this new release.

SR

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

Cover image for The secret life of Anna Blanc
The Secret Life of Anna Blanc
by Jennifer Kincheloe
Seventh Street Books, 2015, 367 pages, Mystery

It’s 1907, and Anna Blanc is tired of being a socialite, unable to pursue her dream of being the next Sherlock Holmes. She sneaks out of her Los Angeles mansion most days to work under an alias as a police matron with the Los Angeles Police Department. There she discovers a string of brothel murders, which the cops are unwilling to investigate. Seizing her chance to solve a crime, she takes on the investigation herself. If the police find out, she'll get fired; if her father finds out, he'll disown her; and if her fiance finds out, he'll cancel the wedding and stop pouring money into her father's collapsing bank.

This book felt like the older sister of a book I reviewed a few months ago, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly. It could also be directly compared to the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries. All in all, this was funnier than Donnelly’s book, although Anna is more of a mess, careening from one madcap scrape to another. Her privileged upbringing means that she constantly flaunts convention without weighing the costs of what she’s done. In general, Anna’s antics are funny and come from a place of kind-heartedness. This is a fun melding of the “Chick Lit” and Mystery genres.

MB

Noah's Wife

Cover image for Noah's wife
Noah’s Wife
by Lindsay Starck
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2016, 387 pages, General Fiction

Moving to a small coastal community where she plans to revive its congregation at the side of her minister husband, Noah's wife is challenged by the resistance of eccentric new neighbors, her husband's internal crisis and flooding rains that drive out scores of wild animals from the local zoo.

I really liked this modern retelling of the biblical story of Noah, told from many different perspectives. Starck makes the story her own, and the updated setting and varied character viewpoints brings out different themes and messages from the original tale.

For those who don’t like overly religious novels, let me assure you this is not one of those books. While religion is a main theme in the book, it is not the thing that drives the narrative, and it’s not what solves the problems in the end. The writing style reminded me a lot of books by authors like Haven Kimmel, Barbara Kingsolver, and Sara Gruen.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and the narrator did a good job of giving each character a different voice.

MB

Saturday, April 2, 2016

My Fair Gentleman

My Fair Gentleman
By Nancy Campbell Allen
Shadow Mountain, 2016. 248 pgs. Romance

The last thing Jack wants to do is leave his life at sea and learn to become a member of London's high society. But that is just what he must do when his estranged grandfather, the Earl of Stansworth, dies and names Jack as his heir. Ivy Carlisle agrees to try to teach Jack everything he must know to be accepted by the Ton because that is the only way he will be able to keep his sister and mother out of poverty, but she soon realizes that she may have gotten in a little over her head. Jack is a sailor at heart and doesn't have much patience for the manners and formalities expected of him. They must also face the fact that someone may be trying to kill him.

I liked this Regency take of My Fair Lady. Ivy is a very likeable character who is genuinely interested in helping those around her. Jack tries to act the part of an ornery sailor, but he has a heart of gold when it comes to protecting those he loves. I enjoyed how the characters evolved throughout the book and of course there is the satisfaction of watching two people fall in love. Nancy Campbell Allen has written many novels but this is her first as part of the Proper Romance titles being published by Shadow Mountain.

AL

American Blood

American Blood 
By Ben Sanders
Minotaur Books, 2015. 339 pgs. Fiction

Marshall Grade used to be a NYPD detective, but after an undercover operation goes wrong he finds himself in the witness protection program in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Although Marshall is supposed to be lying low, he decides to help find a missing girl, Alyce Ray, and quickly becomes the target of powerful new enemies. To add to his troubles, Marshall discovers that his past misdeeds have followed him to his new home.

I picked up this book because the contemporary western setting reminded me of one of my favorite novels, No Country For Old Men. I loved the descriptions of the vast western landscape, and I thought the protagonist was an interesting representation of a modern day cowboy riding into town to do good despite the danger. While there was a lot going on in this novel Sanders did a job bringing everything together with a final twist I didn't see coming!

CNC

Friday, April 1, 2016

When Calls the Heart

When Calls the Heart
By Janette Oke
Bethany House, 1983. 221 pgs. Romance

Elizabeth Thatcher, a school teacher, has always lived in the big city. After feeling like she needs to expand her horizons, she decides to move west from Toronto to a small farming community on the western Canadian frontier. Her older brother Jon and his family  live in Calgary, however that is more than 100 miles from Pine Springs where she takes the first teaching position that area has ever had. She faces various challenges adjusting to frontier life, some of them quite entertaining! Along the way, she meets a local Royal Canadian Mountie, Wynn. Despite both of their determinations to stay single, they find themselves spending more and more time in each other's company.

I've recently been watching the Hallmark mini-series by this same title. Although the basic premise is the same the mini-series has been a bit different at least from this first book Janette Oke's Canadian West Series. Despite their differences, I've enjoyed both this book and the mini-series and am excited to try the next book in this series.

AMM


Thursday, March 31, 2016

No Country For Old Men

No Country For Old Men
By Cormac McCarthy
New York: Knoff, 2005. 309 pp. Fiction

While out hunting along the Texas-Mexican border, Llewellyn Moss stumbles upon mysterious crime scene, with a number of men dead or dying and pickup trucks riddled with bullets. After examining the results of this shootout, he discovers a large cache of heroin and a satchel containing millions in cash. He quickly grabs the money and flees the scene. Unbeknownst to him, this will set in motion a relentless and ruthless manhunt, with two men tasked by the competing groups behind the apparent drug deal gone bad to track down the man who stole the money and a county sheriff struggling to keep Moss alive and protect his community.

After years of having Cormac McCarthy on my mental TBR list and hearing so many rave reviews, I finally picked up a copy of this book after one of my colleagues said it was one of her all time favorites. I really quite enjoyed this book. It is possibly the most masculine novel I have ever read. While it is set in contemporary Texas, it has the feel of a western, populated with men of few words and much action. Each of the characters are driven to act according to his particular notions of how men are and/or should be. Once set upon a path he doggedly treads it even unto death, with little or no hesitation, circumspection or consideration of self-interest let alone the interests of others. The writing is extraordinarily lean and even Spartan, stripped of even some basic elements of punctuation, reflecting the uncomplicated perspectives of the principal characters. This book is a really page turner and thought provoking examination of the male psyche that nicely avoids being a mere agglomeration of trite alpha male clichés.

CHW

Summerlost

Summerlost 
By Ally Condie
Dutton Children’s Books, 2016. 249 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Internationally best-selling author, Ally Condie is best known for her Matched trilogy. But Condie's latest novel, Summerlost, is quite different from what readers are used to. Summerlost is a contemporary novel about 12 year old Cedar Lee. Cedar is facing the first summer since the death of her father and brother when Cedar's mom decides to move what's left of their family to the small town of Iron Creek. One day, Cedar see a strange boy, Leo Bishop, ride his bike past her house in an old fashioned peasant costume, and she decides to follow him. Before long Cedar has a new job at the Summerlost theater festival, a new mystery to solve involving one of Iron Creek’s most famous residents, and perhaps a new best friend.

I loved this book! The main character is well written and a genuine portrayal of a young girl adjusting to new circumstances and finding happiness in spite of tragedy. I also liked the development of Cedar and Leo’s friendship, and the theme it portrayed of understanding those around us even when they seem so different. The balance Condie creates between Cedar’s bittersweet self-reflection and the exciting twists in the mystery Cedar and Leo must solve make this a story both teens and adults will enjoy!

CNC

Re-Gifters

Re-Gifters
By Mike Carey
DC Comics, 2007. 148 pgs. Graphic novel.

Dixie, a Korean-American teenager in LA, loves Hapkido and is looking forward to participating in the National Championship, but her feelings for Adam, a classmate and fellow fighter, throw off her groove. Her ability to fight is faltering, and a bad decision makes her participation in the National Championship uncertain. Dixie must come to terms with her feelings before she can progress, and thankfully she has many people cheering her on.

 I thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel. Anyone who’s been a teenager will be able to understand Dixie’s feelings, and remember how what seemed like a good idea in one moment, turned out to be a bad idea the next. The reader can easily see these mistakes coming, while Dixie is temporarily blinded by her feelings. If anything, her relatability and wit make me wish this book was longer because Dixie is such an enjoyable protagonist. This is an easy book to recommend to nearly anyone, though I think teens may appreciate it most. It was published in 2007 so some of the references may be a little dated, but shouldn’t detract from the main story.

ACS

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Forest Feast: Simple Vegetarian Recipes From My Cabin in the Woods

The Forest Feast: Simple Vegetarian Recipes From My Cabin in the Woods
By Erin Gleeson
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2014. 240 pgs. Nonfiction

This is a gorgeous cookbook using mixed media illustrations. Photographs mixed with watercolors and hand lettering make for a very picturesque presentation.  Although  this book is focused on vegetarian dishes, many could be used as side dishes or even modified to include meat.

In the introduction, Gleeson talks about her process of making this book a reality and her love for art and nature. I liked this quote, "I am drawn to color and shape, so often my dishes will start with that in mind. We could have mashed potatoes, or we could have purple mashed potatoes. Adding color makes it just a little more fun!" I made and enjoyed both the Garlic Knots and the Butternut Caprese Salad and would recommend this book to anyone interested in beautiful cookbooks or delicious food!

AMM

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Lights Out

Lights Out: A Cyberattack: A Nation Unprepared: Surviving the Aftermath
By Ted Koppel
Crown Publishers, 2015. 279 pgs. Nonfiction

Disaster preparedness is not a new issue.  Hurricane Katrina brought to the headlines our nation's ability to respond to large scale national disaster.  But what happens if the disaster is not brought on by Mother Nature?  What happens if our power grid is compromised due to terrorist attack?  In "Lights Out", veteran journalist Ted Koppel explores both the possibility of this eventuality (it is scarily possible) and how long it would take for effected areas to recover (a lot longer than any of us would like to believe). 

Koppel presents a very well argued and thoroughly researched argument.  The United States is grossly unprepared to survive a cyberattack.  His message is definitely a little terrifying but he spends a good portion of the book reporting on the preparations of preppers, survivalists, and those crazy Mormons with their food storage and neighborhood emergency networks.  This is an excellent piece of investigative journalism and a timely warning to our nation, government emergency agencies, and citizens alike.

CZ

Higher Call

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-torn Skies of World War II
By Adam Makos
Berkley Books, 2013. 392 pgs. Nonfiction

"A Higher Call" follows the story of two World War II pilots.  One, Charlie Brown, a B-17 captain from a farm in West Virginia, and the other, Franz Stigler, a German 2nd Lieutenant flying a fighter for the 3rd Reich.  They meet in the air over Germany when Brown's seriously damaged bomber makes a desperate attempt to fly home.  Stigler's sense of duty and honor are challenged and an unprecedented interaction takes place between the two airmen.

Books about World War II are plentiful.  What made "A Higher Call" stand out to me was Franz Stigler's story.  Hearing the experiences and a German pilot fighting for Hitler while despising the Nazis and their policies was incredibly interesting.  Both pilots' perspectives show the difficulty of war and its affect on the men and women fighting in it, but also the goodness of mankind and resilience of the human soul.  I highly recommend this book to nonfiction readers especially those that enjoyed "Unbroken".

CZ

Monday, March 28, 2016

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed  American History
By Brian Kilmeade
Sentinel, 2015. 238 pgs. Nonfiction

Did you know that pirates were one of the first challenges facing the newly formed United States of America?  It’s true.  As this young nation began to build its economy, its merchant ships increasingly became the target of Barbary pirates.  Other, wealthier, nations avoided the some of these dangers by paying large ransoms and bribes.  The United States could not afford the staggering amounts demanded.  Diplomacy, negotiations, and, finally, all-out war with a freshly built U.S. Navy was required to establish safe trading routes for American merchants.

“Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates” is a great look at a lesser known aspect early American history.  Familiar figures like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison make appearances. But less known American heroes are given a chance to shine through this story of adventure, sacrifice and bravery.  A perfect book for history buffs and armchair adventurers!

CZ

My Name is Lucy Barton

My Name is Lucy Barton
By Elizabeth Strout
Random House, 2016. 193 pgs. Fiction

“My Name is Lucy Barton” centers around the nine week hospital visit of a young mother and aspiring writer.  During this period, her estranged mother comes to visit and sit with her, stirring up memories and emotions from a childhood of poverty.  Lucy describes being ostracized and teased for her inadequate hygiene, a result of her family’s lack of running water.  But a youth spent in solitude opened doors and Lucy escapes to a university and a better life.

Elizabeth Strout is a remarkable storyteller.  Lucy is possibly the most human protagonist I have ever encountered in literature.  She tells her story with honesty and a bit of wonder that I found completely charming.  She is a daughter, wife, and mother but she is also this self-contained individual discovering herself, as most of us do, slowly and throughout a lifetime.  I highly recommend “My Name is Lucy Barton”, especially for book clubs that lean toward the literary.

CZ