Tuesday, September 27, 2016

North Korea Confidential

North Korea Confidential
by Daniel Tudor & James Pearson
Tuttle Publishing, 2015. 192 pgs. Nonfiction

There are lots of ideas about how North Korea functions. Many people picture them as a country that mindlessly worships an unstable dictator, is on the verge of starvation, and regularly detonates nuclear bombs. However, North Korean citizens are perhaps more similar to us than we may realize, despite their difficult circumstances. Through seven chapters about markets, leisure, power, crime, fashion, communications, and social division, Tudor and Pearson discuss day to day life and how people are making do in such a restrictive society.

Korean history and culture fascinates me, and while I’ve easily learned a lot about the South, understanding the isolated North is much more difficult. It was interesting to learn about how North Koreans have adapted to their restrictive government (mostly bribery and gray market transactions), and how life has changed over the decades since the Korean War. So often books about North Korea focus on the negative aspects (of which there are many), and while this book by no means ignores them, I think it gives a more balanced account of day to day North Korean life. I found it quite enlightening, so it’s an easy recommendation from me.

ACS

The Season

The Season
by Jonah Lisa Dyer and Stephen Dyer
Viking, 2016. 344 pages. Young Adult

Set in modern day Dallas, Texas, fans of Pride and Prejudice will immediately recognize many scenes, lines, and characters from this novel.

Megan has always been a tomboy more comfortable on the soccer field while her twin sister, Julia, is the pretty, feminine one. So when their mother signs them both up to be Bluebonnet debutantes, Megan is completely shocked. Uncomfortable with the socialite scene, dresses and shopping, Megan thinks it’s all a waste of time. With family issues forcing her to stay a deb, Megan’s bad attitude slowly begins to transform as she realizes how badly she has misjudged many of the people involved. It also helps that a perk of being a debutante is being escorted to each party by a handsome gentleman. Especially when she is swept off her feet by the charming and down-to-earth, Hank Waterhouse.

I wasn’t completely sure about this book to begin with. First, I’m very particular about my Pride and Prejudice adaptations, and while it’s not a home run, it certainly was enjoyable recognizing all the parallels. Second, I really disliked Megan to begin with. She thinks she has all the answers and is very disrespectful at times. However, rather than staying bull-headed the entire season, she is eventually changed by her experiences as a debutante becoming a better person in all aspects of her life. It is this change that altered my feelings towards the book. Overall, I would say this was an enjoyable read.

AJ

Never Always Sometimes

Never Always Sometimes
by Adi Alsaid
Harlequin Teen, 2015. 313 pages. Young Adult.

Just before beginning high school, best friends, Dave and Julia, jokingly make a list of high school clich├ęs they vow to never do such as never run for prom king or torment yourself over a secret crush (something Dave’s been doing over Julia for years). Now seniors, they have successfully avoided everything on their “nevers” list. But when the year starts to drag, Dave and Julia begin to wonder if maybe they missed out. To liven things up, Julia decides they should instead try to do everything on the “nevers” list. However, things get complicated after Dave befriends and eventually starts dating a girl they initially dismissed as the stereotypical “smart girl” and Julia realizes her feelings for Dave run deeper than she thought.

There are a number of “best friends who fall in love” stories out there (Better off Friends, Galgorithm, Emmy and Oliver to name a few). However, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss this one. Full of clever, laugh out loud banter and a less predictable ending. This one may be my favorite of the bunch.

AJ

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful

The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful
By Myquillyn Smith
Zondervan, 2014. 199 pgs. Nonfiction

Self-taught decorator and blogger Myquillyn Smith has lived in homes of various shapes and sizes, moving 14 times in 20 years. Over all of those years, she's learned how to make her homes cozy and inviting while still living within her budget. In THE NESTING PLACE, Myquillyn shares her secrets of decorating for real people and real homes, not the photoshopped homes from glossy magazines.

I loved reading about the various dwellings the Smith family has found themselves in over the years, as well as admiring the beautiful photographs in this book. Myquillyn writes in a very personable style and her suggestions for how to decorate in a way that is "you" really resonated with me. If you're looking for some inspiration for your own home, take a look at this great book!

AMM

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Torch Against the Night

A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2)
By Sabaa Tahir
Razorbill, 2016. 452 pgs. Young Adult

Elias and Laia are on the run. The Martials hunt traitors until they are captured, dead or alive. But the pair are determined to complete their mission – to break Laia’s brother Darin out of Kauf, the maximum security prison of the Empire. Whether it is by the ruthless Commandant, the sadistic prison warden, or the bloodthirsty emperor Marcus, Elias and Laia seem to be cornered at every turn. Most heartbreaking of all is that Helene, the emperor's new Blood Shrike and a former friend, has been ordered to kill Elias. It will take worldly and otherworldly help for Laia and Elias to evade their enemies and rescue Darin before it’s too late.

After waiting to pick up An Ember in the Ashes until earlier this summer, I didn’t have to wait long for the second installment. This book focuses on the chase and character development but it also sets up the political backdrop for the next book. Helene, with her conflicted emotions and wavering loyalties, continues to be my favorite character. There is some resolution in the love quadrangle that will satisfy readers as well as unexpected plot turns. That it ended on a cliffhanger is not one of them. There are two more books in this series, if only I didn’t have to wait a year for the next book!

HSG

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Roses and Rot

Cover image for Roses and rot
Roses and Rot
By Kat Howard
Saga Press, 2016, 307 pages, Fantasy

Imogen and her sister Marin are accepted to an elite post-grad arts program; Imogen as a writer and Marin as a dancer. Soon enough, though, they realize that there's more to the school than meets the eye. Imogen might be living in the fairy tale she's dreamed about as a child, but it's one that will pit her against Marin if she decides to escape her past to find her heart's desire.

If you can’t guess from this review and my recent review of The Invisible Library, Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. When I saw that he’d recommended this book I knew I had to read it! Roses and Rot is everything I hoped it would be—dark and mysterious and dangerously magical, it’s a modern fairy tale written for adults. I also loved that the main characters were women, dealing with the struggles and pressures that success brings. This book reminded me a lot of Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane in both tone and writing style.  Basically, I loved everything about this book!

MB

Alice

Alice (Chronicles of Alice #1)
By Christina Henry
Ace, 2015. 291 pgs. Fantasy

Alice has been imprisoned in the crumbling asylum of the Old City for more years then she can count. The last time she was free, she was at a tea party with a rabbit, blood, and horrors so unspeakable that her mind shields itself from the memory. Her only friend is Hatcher, her neighboring cell mate to whom she speaks through a mouse hole. He was captured years ago, when he was found with a bloody ax in his hands and bodies at his feet. When fire engulfs the asylum, Alice and Hatcher manage to escape and set out on a mission to discover what happened at the tea party and how to find the Rabbit before he finds them.

This is the first Alice in Wonderland retelling I’ve read, and it didn’t disappoint. It is darker than the source material but just as mad and bizarre – a perfect retelling for adults. Readers should be warned up front that the violence, especially sexual violence, is quite high, and is not for the faint of heart. Sadly, the graphic content was unnecessary and will keep some readers from picking up the book. In spite of this, I fell hard for Alice and Hatcher and the light and beauty of their relationship, which is nuanced and thoughtfully written. I was enthralled by their spine-tingling story and can’t wait to read the next book.

HSG

The Invisible Library

Cover image for The invisible library
The Invisible Library
By Genevieve Cogman
Roc, 2016, 341 pages, Science Fiction

Irene is a professional spy for the Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities (kind of like Noah Wylie and the TNT franchise The Librarians). Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative late-1800s London full of fairies, vampires, steam-powered technology and unstable magic. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous version of Grimm's Fairy Tales. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen. London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do.

One review I read about this book likened Cogman’s writing to Diana Wynne Jones and Neil Gaiman, and I definitely agree. This book is chock full of weird, bizarre, funny, endearing characters and moments and the story is fantastical and fast-paced. The book doesn’t get too bogged down by world-building, yet it makes sense. I enjoyed every minute reading it. My one criticism is that this book is setting up a series, and it suggests the setting will stay in this alternate version of London. I hope future books explore other alternate realities and places. What's the point of creating a world of multiple realities when you only explore one of them?

MB

Monday, September 12, 2016

LaRose

LaRose
By Louise Erdrich
Harper, 2016. 373 pgs. Fiction

I tried five times to write a short first paragraph for this review describing the plot of LaRose.  However, I just could not seem to do justice to the series of events and relationships represented in Erdrich’s new novel. So, I’ll have to start beyond the storyline and say that LaRose is a powerful story about family, community, redemption, revenge, friendship, loss, and forgiveness. 

The story focuses on two families and one very little boy given the responsibility to heal the wounds caused by a fateful hunting accident.  But vibrant secondary characters enrich the narrative and provide dynamic alternate perspectives that I found fascinating.

Erdrich has such a gift for weaving complicated stories with beautiful language.  She brilliantly creates a sense of place, both physically and emotionally.  Her characters are rich and vibrant.  Her themes are nuanced and insightful.  All this makes her novels a joy to read despite telling sad stories about hard things. 

CG

The Rainbow Comes and Goes

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss
By Anderson Cooper & Gloria Vanderbilt
Harper, 2016. 290 pgs. Memoir

Both Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt have names that are familiar to most Americans.  But many may not know, or like me repeatedly forget, that Gloria is Anderson’s mother.  In this fascinating and person collection of letters between the two collected over a year, they discuss their relationship and many turning points in their eventful lives.

Famous people often seem larger than life and far beyond the trials we common folk face daily.  What I loved most about The Rainbow Comes and Goes is how vulnerable, insecure, and just plain normal they both seemed.  This is an admirable accomplishment.  It takes a great deal of charm and candor to sound normal while discussing what it was like to date Frank Sinatra.

I listened to the audio version of this book which was read by both the authors.  I loved hearing them tell their stories in their words and in their voices.  This is a wonderful exchange and beyond the fascinating details from these fascinating personalities, there is a powerful message about the importance of family and preserving the stories of older generations before they are lost forever.

CG

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Capitalism and Freedom

by Milton Friedman
 University Of Chicago Press, 2002. 230 pages. Nonfiction

Originally published in 1962, this book serves as a foundational piece in economic literature. Capitalism and Freedom argues primarily that the former is a prerequisite for the former; starting with two broad chapters about economic theory and liberty, Friedman progresses to tackle in brief specific areas of American economic and social policy and makes a case for the problems caused by interventionism and how the free market can solve them. While confident in economic analysis, Friedman acknowledges his limited frame of reference, a refreshing trait in a Nobel Prize winning expert. His chapter on education was particularly enjoyable, as he opens with the caveat that he is not an expert in any way on education, but then makes predictions and suggestions that are both accurate and relevant for society in the new millennium.

Capitalism and Freedom walks the line between primer and textbook; while not an introductory work on economics (Friedman does his best to simplify theories and terms for the lay-reader, but assumes a basic knowledge), it also avoids getting bogged down into minutia and complex equations. Where more in-depth questions arise, Friedman clarifies his point and directs the inquisitive reader towards specialized works where authors (including him) have done and explain more detailed research. I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about economics but doesn’t want to wrestle with equations.

JMS

Friday, September 9, 2016

First Women

First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies
by Kate Andersen Brower
Harper, 2016. 400 pgs. Nonfiction

Kate Andersen Brower, who received praise for The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House last year, has returned with another insider’s look at life inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In First Women, she describes the experiences and personalities of the last half-century’s first ladies, beginning with Jacqueline Kennedy. Rather than focusing on these women individually, she instead arranges her book topically, comparing the first ladies’ respective experiences as supportive wives, as mothers, as FLOTUS, and as public actors in their own rights.

Although Brower’s research is detailed and accurate, her writing had a gossipy element that I honestly really enjoyed. It was especially fun to learn about the first ladies’ relationships with each other. Deep friendships and intense rivalries have sprouted between the various first ladies, often in surprising ways. These nine women have had wildly differing temperaments and approaches to their roles, and it was delightful to learn about each of them. I will warn that I was initially put off by the audiobook narrator (it felt a little like Siri was reading to me), but I was soon so caught up in the stories that I didn't notice.

SR

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton
by Ron Chernow
Penguin Books, 2004. 818 pgs. Biography

Alexander Hamilton is having a moment, 112 years after his death. Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton premiered in early 2015 and, in addition to selling out every performance, has won 11 Tony awards, a Grammy, and a Pulitzer Prize. The play’s success has inspired renewed interest in Hamilton’s life and has brought the 2004 biography it was based on, Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, back to the bestseller lists.

I can be a little reluctant to read nonfiction, but I absolutely loved this biography. Chernow, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of George Washington, writes in a thoroughly researched but thoroughly readable way. Through his words, the cast of characters who populated the early United States come to vivid life. I experienced the anxiety of Hamilton’s many personal and political conflicts and finished reading both in awe of his accomplishments and surprised by his weaknesses. I also came away with a profound respect for Eliza Hamilton, who preserved her husband’s legacy and on whom Chernow rightly focuses the final chapter of the biography.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Scott Brick, and I highly recommend it. I also recommend listening to the Hamilton soundtrack after finishing the biography, as the two listening experiences can enhance each other.

I’ve jumped on the Hamilton bandwagon, and I'm proud of it.

SR

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Charming


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Charming
by Elliot James
Orbit, 2013. 480 pages. Fantasy.

Book one of the Pax Arcana series (of which book five, In Shining Armor, was released this April), Charming introduces John Charming, ex-knight Templar, occasional monster hunter, and secret half-werewolf. John reluctantly joins a valkyrie, a priest and a psychic as they hunt a vampire with radical new ideas about who should run the world. Within this frame, James expertly establishes his kitchen-sink style mythos and magic of the “Pax Arcana” that keeps it hidden from the rest of the world.

Charming pulls off that elusive unicorn of creative writing; funny dialogue that feels organic. James breathes life and believability into his characters, especially the antagonists. Picking this up for the first time a few nights ago, I was interested initially by the back cover of the newest book in the series, so I started at the beginning. Even knowing there would be further installments, the narrative kept me in suspense. Most of the material keeping the book from being a clean read was superfluous, but neither was it gratuitous or vulgar. I appreciated the candor of discussing mature topics (such as the prospect of a relationship or the best way to incapacitate an immortal snake monster) without it feeling too racy or graphic. I finished Charming excited to see where the next installments take John and his friends.

JMS

Friday, September 2, 2016

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Dead Wake : The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
by Erik Larson
Broadway Books, 2016. 480 pages. Nonfiction.


Eerily similar to the story of the Titanic, this is an action-packed account of the sinking of a luxury cruise liner during WWI. Its doomed voyage began in New York in May 1915, and ended just off the coast of Ireland – torpedoed by a German U-boat. This compelling story not only dives into the personal lives of some of the most famous, rich passengers, but also educates the reader about submarine warfare, the circumstances during WWI that led up to the attack, and the distracting love affair that President Woodrow Wilson was pursuing while the ship’s captain was kept mostly ignorant of the direct and imminent danger to the civilians aboard the ship. Though we are informed at the beginning of the book that 12,000 people died on this journey, we are filled with a sense of foreboding and dread as we read about the passengers and crew, the chain of command in the U. S. armed forces, and the miscommunications that led to this horrific event; we care about the lives that Erik Larson describes through personal letters and news articles, and we hope that the inevitable really won’t happen after all.

Erik Larson’s research on every detail of the voyage and the associated historical events is thorough and accessible – even down to the grisly details of how individuals died, and where their bodies ended up. He narrates the story in such an engaging way, that it’s best to read it on a weekend when you can read through the night and not have to wake up early the next day.

I heartily recommend this book for adults, though not for the squeamish, nor for those who are planning to embark on a cruise anytime soon.

BBG

Lily and the Octopus

Lily and the Octopus 
by Steven Rowley
New York : Simon & Schuster, 2016. 305 pages. Fiction.

Lily, the aging dachshund, has a new battle to fight, with an octopus. Or at least that’s what her owner, Ted Flask, has deemed the growth on her head, because “tumor” is too sad a reality. Together, the pair recount the wonderful and full life they’ve lived with one another; talking about cute boys, playing monopoly, and burrowing down into the best part of the blankets. As the battle with the octopus becomes more intense, and at times a bit magical (maybe even over the top), the charm and sweetness remain until the very last page.

I’d recommend this book to people who enjoyed The Art of Racing in the Rain or anyone who has ever imagined conversations with a beloved pet. This book reaffirms the way that animal companions enrich our lives, and bring a sort of joy that is unmatched. The heart of the book is in the relationship between dog and owner and the intimacies of pet/human relationships and love.The book was charming and emotional, as well as relatable to anyone who has really loved and cared for a furry friend.

RC

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sweet Tomorrows: a Rose Harbor novel

Sweet Tomorrows: A Rose Harbor Novel 
By Debbie Macomber
Ballantine Books, 2016. 337 pgs. Romance

Sweet Tomorrows is the final installment in Debbie Macomber’s Rose Harbor series. In this book, Jo Marie – owner of the Rose Harbor Inn – is recovering after the departure of her new love, Mark Taylor, who left Cedar Cove to right wrongs from his past career in the US military. Jo Marie has already lost one love to military combat, so she knows Mark’s chance of survival is slim. Just as Jo Marie seems to be following Mark’s parting request that she move on with her life, she receives some startling news.

The other half of Sweet Tomorrows, is about Emily Gaffney, a school teacher who’s forsaken love and moved to Cedar Cove to start her life over. Emily boards at the Rose Harbor Inn while house hunting, and with Jo Marie’s help she finds her dream home. Now Emily just needs to convince the handsome recluse who’s renovating the house that she is the perfect buyer.

Over the past five years, the release of each new Rose Harbor novel has become a ritual ending to my summer reading. So while I’m sad that this is the last of the series, I have to say that Sweet Tomorrows is a perfect ending. Debbie Macomber fans will not be disappointed.

CNC

Bandluck Way: a year on the ragged edge of the west

Badluck Way: a year on the ragged edge of the west 
By Bryce Andrews
Atria Books, 2014. 238 pgs. Biography

Bryce Andrews is now a tried and true rancher, but in this book he recounts his first year on Sun Ranch in southwest Montana. Andrews describes the grueling work building and maintaining fences, the heavy responsibility to care for the cattle, and the constant battle to survive in the brutal and beautiful landscape. Interwoven with his own experiences, Andrews also tells the story of the wolf pack that lives near Sun Ranch and the inevitable carnage when predator and prey meet.

I loved this book. Andrews writes on complex topics like conservation in a way that doesn’t oversimplify the topic but shows how his viewpoint changes as his pre-conceived ideas conflict with his new experiences. I enjoyed reading Andrews’s insightful reflections on the ranch and the wildlife he observes -- especially the wolves he wearily admires. Most of all, I love how Andrews shows our need to change and control nature often without realizing how nature has changed us. I recommend this book to anyone who likes to read survival stories, nature stories, or stories about the American West. 

CNC

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Galgorithm

Galgorithm
by Aaron Karo
Simon Pulse, 2015. Young Adult. 310 pages.

When Shane Chambliss was in 9th grade, he had his heart broken by a woman he now only refers to as Voldemort. Shane moved on and decided to use all that he had learned to help other teenage boys avoid the same mistakes. Enter the “Galgorithm,” a mathematical formula that when used correctly will greatly improve any geeky boy’s chance to get his gal. Oddly Shane never felt comfortable sharing his side job with best friend since birth, Jak, short for Jennifer Annabelle Kalkland. Shane has never felt more than friendship towards Jak, but when a former Galgorithm pupil decides to use the formula on Jak, Shane discovers he may have more feelings than he thought.

This is an enjoyable take on the “best friends who fall in love” plot. Shane and Jak are endearing characters with fun, witty banter. I especially enjoyed that the story is told from Shane’s perspective. One drawback is that it does take a bit for the story to get going.

AJ

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders

The Tokyo Zodiac Murder
by Soji Shimada
Pushkin Vertigo, 2015. 316 pgs. Mystery

 It’s 1936 Japan, and an eccentric artist has been found murdered in his locked studio by one of his daughters. As the investigation progresses, his journal reveals a horrific plan to create the perfect woman, Azoth, from the body parts of six of the women he’s been living with, all his daughters or nieces. Astrology, alchemy, and insanity are all clear in his writings. Shortly after his death all the murders occur in exactly the way he described. If he’s dead, who committed the murders and how did they get away with it?

Fast forward to 1979 and the case is still unsolved. Kiyoshi Mitarai, an astrologer, fortuneteller, and armature detective has one week to solve the case when new evidence is brought directly to him. Can he do it?

I really enjoyed this book, and appreciated that the author adds a note to the reader, telling us when all the clues have been presented and we have enough information to solve the murders. I admit I am nowhere near clever enough to have figured it out. However, you super sleuths out there may have better insight than myself.

I’m going to say this was a clean read, but I debated a bit. Due to content, it’s not as squeaky clean as a cozy mystery, but the language was clean and there really wasn’t anything graphic. I could easily recommend this to anyone who likes to follow along and have a fair shot at solving the mystery along with the characters.

ACS

The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora
By Scott Linch
Bantam Spectra, 2006. 499 pgs. Fantasy

As a child, Locke Lamora was the most gifted orphaned thief in Camorr.  As he grew older he was apprenticed to the "Gentleman Bastards," a crew of talented con artists who can swindle more money out of the wealthy than they know what to do with.  Now as an adult, he leads the Bastards in elaborate confidence games and lucrative deceptions.  But one day their efforts are threatened when the Gray King kidnaps Lamora and compels him to act as a pawn in a deadly plot to take control of Camorr's underworld.

This book has a lot to offer: great characters, a well-developed plot, and plenty of intrigue to keep the pace fast and every interaction interesting.  This is great storytelling and as the first in a three book series promises to offer plenty of entertainment.  Fantasy fans who enjoy series like Sanderson's Way of Kings or Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice will like this.  There is plenty of strong language in this book so be forewarned.

BHG

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

As Death Draws Near

As Death Draws Near (Lady Darby #5)
By Anna Lee Huber
Berkley, 2016. 342 pgs. Mystery

Sebastian and Kiera are finally enjoying a long-awaited honeymoon in the scenic Lake District when they are interrupted by an urgent letter from Sebastian’s father. Unbiased private investigators are needed immediately at Rathfarnham Abbey school in Ireland, where a nun related to the Duke of Wellington was recently murdered. When a second nun is slain in a similar manner, Keira begins to suspect the girls are harboring a secret that may cause more fatalities in an already hostile religious environment.

After discovering this series last year I quickly devoured all four then-published books in a month’s time. The meticulous research and the mystery in this book was more complex than in the last book and likewise more satisfying. Kiera and Sebastian investigating as a married couple is a turning point for the series, but Huber handled the new dynamic well. There is no excitement or suspense lost as the couple faces new challenges. Kiera in particular is well drawn. Huber makes even her inner anxiety over juggling future motherhood with work compelling. This is a perfect series for fans of Deanna Raybourn and Tasha Alexander.

HSG


Rise and Shine

Rise and Shine
By Sandra D. Bricker
Moody Publishers, 2014. 285 pgs. Romance

In this modern re-telling of Sleeping Beauty, Shannon Malone awakes from a coma to learn that 10 years have passed. She had a diving accident while on her honeymoon and during the time she was in the coma her husband has passed away. Her handsome doctor, Daniel Petros, seems to know quite a bit about her although they never met prior to the accident. Daniel helps her navigate the world as technology has changed quite a bit in the decade she was asleep.

This was a fun read with a few serious topics addressed. Seeing the world through Shannon's eyes was enlightening. It would definitely be a shock to wake up having 10 years gone by. If you've enjoyed Sandra D. Bricker's Tanglewood series, give this one a try!

AMM

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lady Helen Finds Her Song

Lady Helen Finds Her Song
By Jennifer Moore
Covenant Communications, 2016. 225 pgs. Romance

Lady Helen travels to India with her mother and new step-father, General Stackhouse. The General is being stationed in India to govern the British troops there. Helen know she is different than most of the other British women because right from the start she loves the new culture and all of the colors and sights of India. Captain Michael Rhodes is one of the first people Helen meets as she gets off the ship but it is the dashing Lieutenant Arthur Bancroft that takes her breath away.

I really enjoyed this Regency romance. I liked discovering more about the Indian culture and the part the British played in their history. Helen is a very likeable character that is just trying to find her place in the world. There was a bit of of love triangle in this book, but it wasn't over the top and it didn't bother me at all. I actually enjoyed getting to know all the different characters and I love books that have a happy ending.

AL

Thursday, August 18, 2016

This Savage Song

This Savage Song 
By Victoria Schwab
Greenwillow Books, 2016. 464 pgs. Young Adult.

In a divided city at war with monsters, Kate Harker wants to be like her cutthroat father, who allows the monsters to live in the city and forces humans to pay for his police force. Like his father, August Flynn wants to protect the innocent in a more forgiving way, except for one problem - he is one of the monsters. When Kate meets August at school and eventually discovers his secret, the two are forced to flee the city or die.

After devouring the first two books in Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic series for adults, I put This Savage Song on my radar. I didn’t find it as compelling as her parallel magic Londons but it was still an enjoyable read. The plot takes its time to develop and the world-building is not entirely original. However, when Kate and August finally reveal their intentions and team up, it was hard to put down. Overall the book is quite dark and the soul-stealing monsters are frightening at times so I would not recommend this to younger readers.

HSG

Love and Gelato

Love and Gelato
By Jenna Evans Welch
Simon Pulse, 2016. 389 pgs. Young Adult

Lina's world crashes down when her mom gets sick and dies a few months after her diagnosis. Suddenly Lina finds herself in Italy fulfilling her mom's dying wish that she spend time getting to know her father, a man she's never met. Shortly after she grudgingly lands, Lina is given a journal her mom kept when she lived in Italy during college. Lina uncovers her mom's secrets, finds friends in local teenagers, and comes to understand herself during the course of the summer.

Despite the heavy topics of sickness and death, this was a fun, breezy summer read. I used Google Translate quite a bit to figure out the Italian phrases scattered throughout the novel. This book furthered my desire to go back to Italy someday and also gave me major cravings for gelato! I'd recommend this book to those that have enjoyed books by Jennifer E. Smith, Stephanie Perkins, and Jen Malone.

AMM

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Smart and Sexy

Smart and Sexy
By Jill Shalvis
Brava/Kensington, 2007. 269 pages. Fiction, Romantic suspense.

Noah Fisher is a handsome and successful pilot who owns a private airplane company with his two best friends. Bailey Sinclair is a recently widowed and attractive woman, who happens to be Noah's secret crush for the past several years. Bailey is desperate to find the money hidden by her conniving late husband and concocts a crazy plan to force Noah to help her. Jetting off to the possible hideouts, the two find dangerous men chasing them, adventure and love.

This is #1 in the Sky High Air trilogy and I thoroughly enjoyed all of them. They are fast paced and very amusing. Despite being what I like to refer to as ‘escape fiction’ (where you just get lost for a few hours in a cute, fun, interesting story), these books have relatable characters and the story isn’t too far fetched. The love story is heartwarming and the suspense is just enough to keep the pages turning but not actually be scary. Typical of Jill Shalvis contemporary romance books- this is not a clean read- there steamy scenes and language throughout. I would categorize this trilogy as good beach/pool reads, keeping you entertained and yet requiring very little brain power.

LP

Smoke

Cover image for Smoke : a novel
Smoke
By Dan Vyleta
Doubleday, 2016, 431 pages, Science Fiction

Welcome to an alternate Victorian England where wicked thoughts (both harmless and hate-filled) appear in the air as telltale wisps of Smoke. Thomas Argyle, a son of aristocracy, has been sent to an elite boarding school. Here he will be purged of Wickedness, for the wealthy and powerful do not Smoke. After a trip to London, Thomas and his best friend Charlie witness events that make them begin to question everything they have been taught about Smoke. But if everything they have been taught about Smoke is a lie, what else about their world is lies? And who can they trust?

Vyleta asks some age-old questions about faith and reason and the nature of good and evil with this novel. In this gaslamp fantasy version of Victorian England, the answers are frightening but also very intriguing. While the main premise is a philosophical question, and the story occasionally gets bogged down by it, this book also contains plenty of action and unexpected plot twists. Vyleta also keeps things interesting by constantly switching perspectives in the story. Every character has a different motivation for the things they do.

I wasn’t surprised to find out that Vyleta is currently working on a sequel, as the ending felt very unresolved (if hopeful) to me, but the book definitely held my attention to the end. This book is getting comparisons to the Harry Potter series, but I must admit that I didn’t really see the connection.

MB

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics

Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics
By Nicholas Wapshott
W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 400 pages. Nonfiction. Biography

Nicholas Wapshott compares and contrasts the two leading economists of the modern era, John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. Both came from comfortably well off families, though in the First World War, Hayek served in Austria's air force while Keynes worked for the British treasury and helped his friends avoid enlistment. Both men watched in horror as the poor financial decisions of the UK and the punishments of the Treaty of St Germain plunged the world into depression and were inspired to search for the truth of economics. The rivalry between the two schools of thought they developed has defined political economics ever since.


Written in the wake of the 2008 recession and subsequent bailout, Keynes Hayek aims to elucidate the debate between Keynes argument for government intervention and Hayek's argument that government intervention at best only delays the inevitable. Wapshott, a career journalist and prolific biographer, sheds light on both theories by connecting them to the individual; while the subject matter and the need to quote from the two economists and others in the field make the text abstruse at times, his narrative approach allows for understanding by those with no economic background. I highly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone hoping to learn more about how the economy works and why it matters what we do to it, though fans of biographies in general will also enjoy it. 

JMS

Homegoing

Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 305 pages. Fiction.

In a well woven and page turning debut, Gyasi’s Homegoing follows the family trees of two Ghanaian sisters, Effia and Esi, one captured and sold into slavery and the other married off to a slave trader. The book gives glimpses into the lives of six generations of their progeny, over a 300 year time span, through various incarnations of captivity and oppression. As one sister’s lineage faces war and British colonial intrusion in Africa, the other’s decedents live through dark times of slavery in the Southern United States.

As I read, it was abundantly clear that this book was important, as well as moving and at times truly heart wrenching. The perspectives and intersections of tribalism, colonialism, slavery, and the evolution of racism in the U.S. and in Africa were present and palpable. I would recommend this book, highly, to pretty much anyone, especially those hoping to gain a deeper understanding of this time in history.

RC