Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lock-In

Lock-In
by John Scalzi
Tor Books, 2014. 336 pgs. Science Fiction

In a not so distant future, a global flu pandemic strikes, killing hundreds of millions of people. However, the disease is not universally fatal. Those who survive this plague fall into two groups: the Lock-Ins, people whose bodies become totally paralyzed while still retaining full mental capacities; and the Integrators, people who are able to allow a locked-in person to assume control of his or her body for short periods of time. In this brave new world, freshly minted and locked-in FBI agent Chris Shane and his seasoned former Integrator partner solve a bizarre murder.

His books are clever fun reads, and this one is no exception. He does a good take on the current trend in post-apocalyptic novels. His imagined pandemic wipes out millions, but the human race is largely intact. I like the concept of the lock-ins. It makes for a interesting sci-fi take on the future of human existence, coupled with our fascination with robots, virtual/online life, etc. And of course, there is the police procedural, making for a fun, well rounded and engaging read.

CHW

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sweetshop of Dreams

Sweetshop of Dreams: A Novel with Recipes
by Jenny Colgan
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2014. 422 pages. Fiction.

When Rosie Hopkins' mother asks her to go help her great aunt Lillian in the country to recover from hip surgery, Rosie is reluctant to leave behind her London life for even a few weeks. After all, she has a job as a nurse she finds rewarding, if sometimes difficult, a long-term boyfriend who has yet to propose. Sure, it might be a bit boring, but that's what being a grown-up is, right? But as Rosie starts to breathe new life into her aunt's dusty candy shop and to get to know the people in the village, she starts to learn that maybe a bit of an adventure was just what she needed to be happy.

I've always enjoyed Jenny Colgan's books and her writing seems to get better with each book. This story introduces a lot of lovely characters and makes you want to go live in the English countryside, riding a bicycle on dirt lanes while wearing sensible tweeds and brogues. And, even though the premise is fairly predictable, she does manage some twists and turns that the reader is not expecting. A very enjoyable read for lovers of Sophie Kinsella and Hester Browne. This book does have a fair amount of strong language and some sexual content.

JH

The Skeleton In My Closet Wears a Wedding Dress

The Skeleton in my Closet Wears a Wedding Dress
By Sally Johnson
Covenant Communications, 2014. 252 pages. Romance.

Sophia Davis is beautiful, young, intelligent. She's also divorced, her husband leaving her out of the blue after 4 months of marriage, and going back to a singles ward on BYU campus and getting involved in the dating scene is the last thing she wants to do. With her heart bruised and battered, will she be able to heal and trust herself - and men - again?

I will admit up front that this book was going to have to work hard to win me over. I found the title abysmal (but I object to most titles that could make a complete sentence) and the cover was almost offensively pink. The editing was terrible. For some unfathomable reason, the author chose to make her characters cook in terrycloth aprons. Even more unfathomable was that this fact has stuck firmly in my mind for the course of the entire book. I would like to have a discussion with the author about what terrycloth is and why it is unsuitable apron material, but great for bathrobes.

So this book had an uphill battle with me. And, yet, in spite of all of my preconceived and mid-reading biases, I actually found this book quite enchanting. The plot tackles a difficult issue - divorce - head on, focusing a lot on Sophia's depression and sense of loss, especially in a community that focuses so much on marriage. Her healing is the focus of the plot, not her return to the dating community, giving it a theme that most readers will be able to relate to in one way or another. A surprisingly engaging read - once you can get past your hangups.

JH

Prelude for a Lord

Prelude for a Lord
By Camille Elliot
Zondervan, 2014. 343 pages. Romance.

Alethea Sutherton has a secret: she is an extremely talented violinist but the strictures of the day threaten her with social ostracism if anyone were to find out. When someone starts showing an alarming amount of interest in her violin, however, she is forced to turn to talented (and brooding) violinist Lord Dommick to discover what is so unique about her violin that someone would turn to robbery and kidnapping to get it. In the course of their adventures, both will have to learn to trust in both God and each other.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Elliot has created engaging and believable characters and balanced them with enough action (both in their inner struggles and in their external circumstances) to keep the reader wanting to know more. The writing was easy to read but evocative and kept a good pace throughout.

JH

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Food: A Love Story

Food: A Love Story 
By Jim Gaffigan
Crown Archetype, 2014. 352 pgs. Nonfiction

Gaffigan openly admits he has no qualifications to write a book about food except one: he's a little fat.  He continues, "If a thin guy were to write about a love of food and eating, I’d highly recommend that you do not read his book. When a thin person announces, “Here’s a great taco place,” I kind of shut down a little. How do they know it’s so great? From smelling the tacos?"

I laughed just listening to Jim Gaffigan read the title of this book. This is a fun audiobook to listen to while you're commuting, but not so much while you're dieting! If you don't want to listen to delicious descriptions of steak, donuts, bacon, or pretzel bread, then you might have a hard time.  Good thing you can burn off a few extra calories by laughing so much.  If you can't get the audiobook, I think readers would still enjoy reading the print version, but you might miss out on Gaffigan's great timing and voicing.

BHG

From Scratch: Inside the Food Network

From Scratch: Inside the Food Network
By Allen Salkin
Putnam Adult, 2013. 434 pages. Nonfiction

In the 90's people were scrambling to come up with ideas for new cable stations and nobody thought a channel about food would work at all. A few people grouped together to take the chance and The TV Food Channel was born with hardly any funding and the driving concept of "CNN with stoves." The sinks in the kitchens drained into buckets that had to be emptied periodically through filming, and baking dishes were slid onto shelves behind the counter, pretending they were "ovens." Mario Batali would stomp his foot on the floor to fake the sound of an oven door closing. From those scrappy beginnings the Food Network evolved, a channel that is in over 99 million homes today and is worth over $350 million.

I'm not sure if I enjoyed this book so much because I am already a fan of the Food Network, but I think the author did a great job of telling this story as a complete narrative: a rags to riches business story, with a cast of memorable (and recognizable) characters. One driving force of the book was knowing that certain people would be coming up in the story (i.e. the stories of Rachael Ray, Ina Garten, Guy Fieri, etc), but if you are hoping for the book to focus solely on these “chef celebrities” you may be a bit disappointed. Not only does the book cover many of the talented chefs you see on the screen, but we also meet people who worked behind the scenes and learn how they helped to shape Food Network, as well as the innovative business ideas taking place at this time that helped to rocket Food Network into popularity. The forward has a lengthy list of people who were interviewed for this book, and it's apparent during reading that extensive research was done. Overall, this is a very interesting story about this successful channel and the people who helped it grow.

BHG

Love Without End

Love Without End
By Robin Lee Hatcher
Thomas Nelson, 2014. 306 pages. Romance.

When Kimberly's husband died unexpectedly, she discovered that their financial situation was much more precarious than she had ever anticipated. Without a penny to her name, she and her teenage daughter, Tara, move to Kings Meadow, Idaho to live with her friend until she can find work. Chet has been living alone with his two teenage boys on their ranch after his ex-wife left them after the death of their third son. Both Kimberly and Chet are hesitant to love again, but find solace in each other's company. Will they be able to trust in love again?

I have a special fondness for Robin Lee Hatcher's books because they are set by my hometown and they are very nostalgic. At the same time, she is able to give her characters very relevant and contemporary issues to deal with and makes their struggles with daily problems and regular dependance on God very natural and believable. Her characters are engaging and likeable. A good, uplifting, cozy book to read.

JH

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dorothy Must Die

Dorothy Must Die
By Danielle Paige
HarperCollins, 2014. 464 pgs. Young adult.

Dorothy has become an evil tyrant after she returns to Oz. Amy Gumm, from Kansas herself, knows the stories and movies, and thinks they end where they end. When she is taken by a tornado to a ruined, desolate Oz, Amy is shocked to learn where she is. The roles of good and evil are not what they were in the classic Baum books or the Judy Garland movie. Paige is so detailed in her monsters, her magic, and Oz itself. It is full of action and twists as Amy tries to help the people of Oz conquer Dorothy and Glinda.

I was hesitant about reading an adaptation of one of my childhood favorites. I didn't want it to be ruined forever if it didn't work. This book worked. Paige is a debut author with this book, and it is one of my favorite books I read this year. The voice is fantastic, Amy as a main character is funny and strong, the setting was perfect, and the retelling made it so fascinating. I really could not put this book down and then suggested it to so many friends and they have loved it just as much. Anyone who likes twisted fairy tales or magical mayhem would like this book.

EW

Atlantia

Atlantia
By Ally Condie
Dutton Juvenile, 320 pgs. 2014. Young adult.

Atlantia is a city deep below the ocean. The glass domes protect the citizens, but at the same time leave them cut off from the Above. The Above is supposedly a death sentence for those who go, provides for those below with food and each year, teens have to choose to stay or go Above to help those in Atlantia survive. Rio and her twin sister, Bay, decide they want to stay in Atlantia and Rio is devastated  when Bay decides last minute to go Above. This leads to Rio questioning what she has been taught all these years, and if staying in Atlantia was the best choice. Rio finds her questions answered and also some challenges as she tries to save her city, her sister, and discover the truth.

I had the chance to meet Ally Condie at the release party for this book, and finished the book within a couple days. I really enjoyed the underwater concept and the details that Condie used to describe Atlantia. The teen troubles and romance are there, but like her Matched series, the main character is strong and witty and can hold her own.  I actually really liked the mystery to the story, as well as the ending. This is an easy read for dystopian fans, and anyone who wants a different world to read about.

EW

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

On Borrowed Time

On Borrowed Time (Library Lover's Mysteries #5)
By Jenn McKinlay
Berkley Prime Crime, 2014. 294 pages. Mystery.

Library director Lindsey Norris is once again pulled into a mystery when her brother, Jack, rolls into town, trailing mystery and intrigue in his wake. But when a dead body is found in the library conference room where Jack was hiding, things begin to look bad. And things take a turn for the worse when he is abducted off the pier before Lindsey's eyes. Will Lindsey be able to find Jack again before it is too late?

I have developed a deep affection for all the characters in McKinlay's, but I might be particularly drawn to Lindsey Norris for her library savvy. What I enjoy the most about McKinlay's writing is that the plots are fast-paced, but believable, and she always keeps you turning the next page to see what is going to happen next. There is nothing gut-wrenching to digest; it is 300 pages of good, clean fun. This book did have more language than I remember from her previous books, but over all it was a very clean read.

JH

Vintage

Vintage
By Susan Gloss
William Morrow, 2014. 310 pages. Fiction.

Violet, a small town girl, divorced her alcoholic husband to move to the big city and live her dream of starting a vintage clothing store. April is seventeen, orphaned and pregnant, and hoping she'll be able to realize her dreams of a college education, now that her boyfriend has called off their wedding. Amithi married her husband, Naveen, 40 years ago in India and started a new life in the United States with him, only to find after their daughter was grown that he had been hiding a secret life from her all along. These three women all come together at Violet's vintage clothing store and strike up an unlikely friendship that will support them through all their troubles and transform them completely.

Gloss has created some very memorable characters in this book and managed to find the commonalities between three very distinct women. I found myself very invested in their futures and how they would come together, despite their obvious differences, as well as how they would grow individually. There were some instances of strong language in the book.

JH

Mennonite Meets Mister Right

Mennonite Meets Mister Right
By Rhoda Janzen
Grand Central Publishing, 2013. 263 pages. Nonfiction.

In her first memoir (Mennonite in a Little Black Dress), Janzen describes her return to her parent's Mennonite community after her long-term marriage to an east coast intellectual falls apart. In Little Black Dress, Janzen describes her gradual return to a spiritual life (although not necessarily a Mennonite life) that she had shunned for education. In her second volume, Janzen does what even she doesn't expect: she dates an exceptionally devout Christian. This book completes the journey, taking Janzen from a reason-based academic to become an intellectual and faith-based Christian.

Janzen's writing is exceptionally good, both poetic and witty. Even though she is delving into some intensely personal topics, she does it all with good humor and fervor. What I like most is that she never becomes evangelical in her writing; she is simply stating her experiences in a faith-based lifestyle and allowing the reader to choose what he or she wants to believe. Both humorous and heartfelt, this was a fascinating look into one woman's journey into faith. I consider this a mostly clean book: there may have been a few instances of language (certainly much less than in her first book - she's overcoming her swearing habit in this book) and she does talk pretty frankly but respectfully about issues such as abstinence. 

JH

Friday, December 5, 2014

Zac and Mia

Zac and Mia
By A.J. Betts
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014. 304 pgs. Young adult.

Zac is a 17 year old cancer patient recovering from a bone marrow transplant in a secluded hospital ward. When a loud patient his age moves in next door he becomes curious. Zac has experienced cancer long enough to know a lot about it but his neighbor, Mia, makes him start to rethink about odds and survival statistics. Their friendship develops over several months and through heartbreaking meet ups, the hope and frustrating emotions that go with surviving are real and raw.

Zac became one of my most favorite characters ever. His love of statistics, his want to not disappoint his family by dying, and his interest in forming a friendship with Mia who is so entirely upset over her disease, makes him such a well rounded teen. I really enjoyed the entire family, the story of Zac and Mia, and the voice of the novel overall. There is some swearing but it takes places in Australia which makes for some fun cultural references.

EW

In the Kingdom of Ice

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette
By Hampton Sides
Doubleday, 2014. 480 pgs. Nonfiction.

George Washington De Long was a young naval officer that led the expedition of the Jeanette  in 1879, to discover more of the Arctic, which explorers had become obsessed with. 32 men were funded for this particular exploration and even though well prepared and ready for the ice, they did not make it to their destination after being caught in a pack of ice two years in to the journey. The majority of this book discusses the travel and adversity of the cold, unforgiving Arctic, after the Jeanette sinks and leaves them stranded.

The audio book was a fantastic listen and played out like a fiction thriller book. From lack of food, freezing limbs, getting lost, and lost again, there were so many plot twists and nerve wracking moments I couldn't stop listening. Anyone that likes adventure stories, exploration, or even feeling very cold,  would like this book. The perseverance and hope was another thing that made me want to finish the book so I can see who survived.

EW

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In Real Life

In Real Life
By Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
First Second, 2014. 192 pgs. Graphic novel

In Real Life is a graphic novel written by Cory Doctorow (author of Little Brother) and illustrated by Jen Wang. In the book Anda, a teen girl who has just moved to a new town, begins playing a MMORPG. Her identity starts to become intermingled with her online character in a positive way as her self esteem grows and she begins making friends online. While helping a friend on a crusade to stop the gold farmers in the game, Anda begins to interact with a gold-farming player in China for whom farming generates his only real-life income. Anda begins to see how gaming can affect our real lives more than we may think possible, in both good ways and bad.

Anda's personal narrative is woven together with a subtle examination of gaming economics and her character is likable and experiences growth. This solid storytelling was complimented by the lovely illustrations of Jen Wang. All of the images were beautifully done and stunning to look at. They helped create the feel of excitement one can get while playing when everything feels like it is really happening to you and the lines between reality and the virtual world become blurred. This is a nice supplement to the story line which shows that these games not only feel real to us but can impact our real lives outside of the game. Recommended for people interested in gaming and fans of Doctorow's Little Brother.

BHG

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Silverblind

Silverblind (Ironskin #3)
By Tina Connolly
Tor, 2014. 240 pages. Science fiction.

Set 10 years after Copperhead, Silverblind follows Dorie Rochart, the half-fey ward of artistic genius Edward Rochart. Finished with university and aching to put her scientific knowledge to use, Dorie starts looking for work - only to find that being a girl seriously impairs her employability. Undaunted, Dorie does the one thing she has vowed never to do - use her fey powers - in order to disguise herself as a boy. Little does she know that she'll be working with the one boy she loved the most and betrayed the most. And in addition to her emotional turmoil, Dorie begins to learn that the research she is conducting is being used to eradicate the fey completely from the land. Will Dorie be able to save the fey and find forgiveness?

In spite of - or perhaps because of - being the most complex book of the trilogy, this may have been my favorite to read. There is a lot of stuff going on, from the Victorian social norms that are the backdrop of Connolly's semi-historical land, to the human/dwarvven/fey politics that motivate a huge part of the action, to Dorie's own fears and struggles, especially with her betrayed step-cousin, Tam. But I felt at the same time that I could most connect with the characters in this book and Dorie's blatant flaws made her very easy to relate to. I also liked that in both this book and the previous book in the series, Connolly has stepped away from a strict retelling of a classic (the first book in the series being a steampunk retelling of Jane Eyre) and telling her own story instead. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, an amazing admission from someone who doesn't read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy.

JH

Dollbaby

Dollbaby
By Laura Lane McNeal
Viking, 2014. 337 pages. Fiction.

When 12-year-old Liberty (Ibby) Bell's mother leaves her with the grandmother she never met after her father's death, Ibby is sure that life will never be the same again. And fortunately for her, her prediction comes true. Raised by the eccentric Fannie Bell, Fannie's long-time cook, Queenie, and Queenie's dressmaker daughter, Dollbaby, Ibby learns about love and loss against the backdrop of 1960s New Orleans.

McNeal's real talent in this book is creating scene - New Orleans comes alive in her writing. The story is something of a cross between The Help and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, covering both child abandonment and race relations, but manages to stand on its own and feel fresh and original. The characters were interesting and the plot had enough twists and turns to keep you reading to find out what will unfold next, especially as Ibby learns more about her grandmother's past. While the writing itself sometimes falls a little awkwardly, overall it was an interesting read. 99% clean read, with a few instances of strong language popping up toward the end.

JH

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Skink -- No Surrender

Skink -- No Surrender
by Carl Hiaasen
Knopf, 2014.  281 pgs. Young Adult

Richard has a serious problem. His wild cousin Malley has run off with a stranger she met on the Internet to avoid being sent to boarding school for incorrigible kids. He is worried for her safety, but has promised her he won't rat her out to her parents, who think she has gone to the school for "early orientation." Lucky for Richard, he encounters a one-eyed, environmentally minded, former governor of Florida (that would be Skink), hiding under the sand, breathing through a straw to catch turtle egg poachers. Together the two cobble together a story to satisfy Richard's parents and take off after the fugitive(s). By this point, Malley knows she is in trouble, held against her will by the predator who stole the name of a fallen soldier to legitimize his online activities. Older readers will know Skink from Hiassen's novels for grown-ups, and kids will know Hiaasen from his hilarious environmental action novels for kids.  Skink -- No Surrender lies halfway in between, with more ominous themes (young girl with older, predatory man), and more violence--the ending, though satisfying, is a bit bloody. So, good for older tweens on up, with much good cautionary information for inclined-to-act-foolishly youngsters. Long-listed for the National Book Award for Young People.

LW

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

The Family Romanov:  Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia
By Candace Fleming
Schwarz and Wade, 2014.  292 pgs.  Biography

Fleming takes on the last of the Tsars in this compact, readable history of the Russian rebellion and the end of the Romanov dynasty. Nicholas and Alexandra were well-matched for each other, but not what Russia required of them. Nicholas was so scorned by his father, Tsar Alexander III, that he was completely excluded from any activities which might have prepared him to rule Russia.  In addition, his temperament was without a desire for power so he mostly hid out from his ministers and his people, only engaging with them in arbitrary and brutal ways. The rulers insularity and the people's plight is beautifully laid out in Fleming's book: people starved while the Romanovs lived in luxury and the introduction of Marxism and Lenin to this combustible mix sparked the Revolution which would change the world and lead to the execution of Nicholas and Alexandra, and all their children. Suitable for young people and adults, The Family Romanov . . .  provides a clear and even sympathetic picture of Russia's last royal family as they move blithely towards their doom.

LW

Friday, November 14, 2014

Yes, Please

Yes, Please
By Amy Poehler
Dey Street Books, 325 pgs. 2014. Biography.

Amy Poehler is hilarious. At least I think so. The audio book is read by Poehler and she adds to the audio by including Carol Burnett, Patrick Stewart, Seth Meyers and more as guest narrators. She goes through her comedy history and her career in the book. She also gives sweet stories of her sons, her family, and friends. There are essays and letters included, and even some clips from shows. This book is not only funny but inspirational and full of advice and her mantras. The book does include photographs, so depending on if you would rather hear her read or see photos, both were fun.

Just a warning, she swears. A lot. And there are also some stories with sexual content. Her cute personality and funny jokes may make her yelling and swearing even funnier, but this book may not be what you expected. I laughed more than I have in a long time though and really enjoyed her outlook on life. This book gave me so many quotes to remember.

EW

The Good Girl

The Good Girl 
By Mary Kubica
Harlequin MIRA, 352 pgs. 2014.


This is yet another supposedly Gone Girl  fan must read. I will say this one was really fantastic. Mia is a stubborn daughter of a prominent Chicago judge and one night decides to leave a bar with a stranger that calls himself Colin. After getting to his apartment, things turn in to a nightmare as Colin ends up kidnapping her for ransom. However, when Colin decides not to take Mia to the men that hired him everyone seems confused. He ends up taking her to a small, dark cabin in the woods and they spend a frigid few weeks together. Mia is scared, alone, and always cold. Colin is unsure, angry, and their relationship is so odd. The story is told in alternating chapters of Mia, her mother, the head detective, and Colin. It also alternates with before and after which was actually a fascinating way  to see what led to the kidnapping and what happened after.

I can not say enough about how the voice of the narrators is what made this book. It was a unique way to approach the unreliable narrator and I can honestly say I did not know what was happening up until the very last page. I had lots of nail biting moments, lots of times I really wanted to yell, "wait, what is happening??" , and even more that I really couldn't believe what may have been happening. The suspense was built perfectly with the added timeline change. This one was cleaner compared to Gone Girl.

EW

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Blood of Olympus

The Blood of Olympus (Heroes of Olympus #5)
By Rick Riordan
Disney-Hyperion Books, 2014. 516 pages. Young adult fiction.

In the final book of the Heroes of Olympus series, seven demigods - a combination of misfit talent from both the Roman and Greek camps - must work together to prevent the rising of the earth mother, Gaea, and keep the demigods from destroying each other in a civil war egged on by Roman augur, Octavian. Is that all that happens? Not by a long shot, but I'm not going to spoil it by revealing any details for you because you'll want to see it all as the drama unfolds.

One would think that, after this many novels, Riordan would be out of new tricks but he had me on my toes for the entire book. The final solution was mind blowing. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of all 516 pages. Because this is a book that is in both YA and J fiction, parents should note that, as with the Harry Potter series, the books have become more mature in content as the characters have aged. There is no inappropriate content in the book, but some of the dating issues may be beyond the maturity of some of the youngest fans of the series.

JH

A Lady at Willowgrove Hall

A Lady at Willowgrove Hall (Whispers on the Moors #3)
By Sarah E. Ladd
Thomas Nelson, 2014. 344 pages. Romance.

Cecily Faire knows all about guilt. After a misstep leads to her being abandoned at 16 by her father at a school for girls, she is left to make her way in the world, knowing that one wrong word could be her downfall. Contracting a position as the companion to the elderly mistress of Willowgrove Hall, Cecily finds herself confronted with Nathaniel Stanton, the steward of the estate who has his own secrets to hide. Will the two of them find the courage to face their secrets...together?

In this third book of her Whispers on the Moors series, Ladd continues to create complex Regency heroines who are looking both to come to terms with their past and renew their faith in God. The plot is engaging and the relationship between Cecily and Nathaniel is natural and believable. Readers who have enjoyed the previous two books in the series will not be disappointed with Ladd's latest offering. New readers can choose to either start with this book or go back and read the previous two books in the series, as none of the books are materially connected. Overall, this is a cozy Christian romance.

JH

Since You've Been Gone

Since You've Been Gone
By Anouska Knight
Harlequin, 2013. 316 pages. Fiction.

When Holly Jefferson's husband is suddenly killed in a tragic automobile accident, she finds herself staving off depression as she runs her bakery alone. That is, until she meets Ciaran Argyll, who immediately sweeps her off her feet with his good looks and charm. But will Holly be able to let go of the ghosts of the past and embrace a different future than the one she's always dreamed of?

I will admit that my feelings about this book are supremely mixed. The writing was good, much in the style of Sophie Kinsella, and the premise was promising. However, a fairly major choice Holly makes at the end of the book made me so upset with her that it pretty well canceled out anything I liked about the book before this point. If you think the book sounds interesting to you, don't let my opinion stop you. Other readers may feel differently about the incident (I won't say what it is - no spoilers here), but it made my inner feminist come out and roar in protest. There is also substantial sexual content. This book has great potential, but it is one to go into with eyes wide open.

JH

Open Road Summer

Open Road Summer
By Emery Lord
Walker Books, 2014. 344 pages. Young adult fiction.

Reagan O'Neill has a bad reputation and has just broken up with a boyfriend who's even worse. She's looking for a fresh start - and knows it will be hard to change if she's at home all summer. So when her friend (and new country music superstar), Dee, invites Reagan to go on tour with her, she jumps on the chance to get out of town and hang out with her best friend. But when singer Matt Finch joins the tour to help bolster Dee's image, Reagan is in danger of losing her heart to the one type of boy that scares her the most: the good boy.

I found this book charming. The characters were interesting and believable, although Reagan's standoffishness did get a little over the top at times. The key to the book was the journey and Lord was successful in making you take Reagan's physical and emotional journey with her. This was for the most part a clean read - there was some language and Reagan does discuss some of the poor choices she made in the past, but not in graphic detail. Overall, it was a fun, light book with some moments of thought-provoking depth.

JH

Friday, November 7, 2014

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
By Cary Elwes, with Joe Layden
Touchstone, 2014. 259 pages. Nonfiction.

The Princess Bride was first released in 1987, but it wasn't until it came out on VHS a year later that the lines "As you wish!", "Inconceivable", and "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die" became household staples for lovers of the cult classic movie. Now, 25 years after its initial release, Cary Elwes (the Man in Black himself) recounts the many stories that went on behind the scenes of the four-month filming of this beloved movie, with assists from the rest of the cast.

Even though I haven't watched The Princess Bride in years, I can still recite most of the movie. (You know you can, too.) What has made it timeless is the way it has something for everyone: action, adventure, love, romance, revenge, remorse, drama, humor. And hearing about how it was made just made the movie itself even more endearing. Did you ever want to know how they made the R.O.U.S.? How Andre the Giant climbed the Cliffs of Insanity? How Westley and Inigo staged the Greatest Swordfight of All Times without stunt doubles? If so, this is the book for you. The writing is light and humorous and gives an entertaining account of how the movie came to be, a story which is just as heartwarming as the movie itself.

JH

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
By Beth Hoffman
Penguin Audio, 2010. 10 hours. Fiction.

It's 1963 and CeeCee Honeycutt has spent the first 12 years of her life caring for her mentally unstable mother while her father traveled for work. When her mother is killed in a tragic accident, CeeCee is sent to live with her mother's Aunt Tootie in Savannah, a lifetime away from all she's ever known in Willoughby, Ohio. CeeCee is soon surrounded by a flock of warm and caring women who hope, through their love, to help her find joy in life again.

I read this book a couple of years ago and quickly fell in love with it, which made it an easy choice for something to listen to while I worked on a project. The audiobook made me fall in love with the story all over again. The writing reminded me very much of The Help, with its focus on social mores of the Civil Rights era south, but while segregation and equal rights come up, they are not the focus of the story. The characters are well-rounded and believable and you find yourself hoping that CeeCee will learn to trust both them and herself again. The narrative weaves seamlessly between the serious and the humorous, never becoming too overbearing or stifling. And the reading was heavenly - the narrator is who completely reconverted me to this book. The voicing was beautifully done and kept the listener engaged with the story. She made it very easy to tell who was talking and enhanced the narrative through the way she read it. Available on CD or as a downloadable audiobook, as well as in book, ebook, and book club set formats.

JH

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Copperhead

Copperhead (Ironskin #2)
by Tina Connolly
Tor, 2014. 335 pages. Science fiction.

Book 2 of Connolly's steampunk series is told from the point of view of heroine Jane Eliot's sister, Helen. Jane and Helen are trying to convince the many women who have had their faces changed by Edward Rochart's fey powers to make them the most beautiful women in the land to have their original faces restored. But the work is hard going; no woman wants to settle for ordinary beauty when extraordinary beauty is already theirs. What the Hundred don't realize, however, is that with the fey magic in their faces, they are prime target for the Fey King's nefarious plots. Compounding the problem is Copperhead, a militant human organization run by the elite that is eager to create a uniform society and cleanse the city of all who are not human.

While Ironskin focused on setting up Connolly's alternative England and is much more narrative, Copperhead is focused on action, which makes the plot move much more quickly. It was a fun read and makes the reader interested to know what is going to happen next with the characters. I also really liked how Connolly changed perspective from Jane (who can be a little strident) to Helen because it does give a more rounded view of not only the ills facing society but of the characters themselves. Helen, who seems very selfish in book 1, is allowed to explain her motivations, while Jane is able to be a little weaker and more human as a result of being seen from a second perspective. Overall, a very fun and fast-paced read.

JH

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Geography of You and Me

The Geography of You and Me
by Jennifer E. Smith
Little, Brown and Company. 2014. Young adult fiction.

Lucy Patterson and Owen Buckly meet, by chance, when they are trapped in their New York apartment building's elevator during a massive power outage that wipes out power for the entire east coast. And, even though they only spend one afternoon together, that afternoon becomes the standard against which both measure all their other relationships. Separated geographically, it is their emotional connection carries each of them through a life-changing year.

This book left me torn. The writing was very good and the characters were believable. In fact, the problem wasn't so much with the book as with the reader. Each time I would sit down and read it I would think "Oh, this is so cute!" followed almost immediately by, "But is it realistic for love found in an elevator to withstand so many obstacles?" When I would think about how little time the two characters actually converse with each other in the book, the adult realist in me had a hard time giving in to the teenage romantic trying to enjoy a light read. My advice: pick up the book knowing that this is not a book that will make any sense rationally but that will be satisfying all the same.

JH

While Beauty Slept

While Beauty Slept
By Elizabeth Blackwell
Amy Einhorn Books, 2014. 424 pages. Fiction.

In this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, Elise comes to the castle as a lowly housemaid and slowly works her way up to become lady's maid for Queen Lenore, herself. From her privileged position, she is able to see the longing of the King and Queen for a child, and the machinations of the king's aunt, Millicent, to wrest the kingdom from her nephew's grasp.

This was a beautiful retelling of a very classic fairy tale. Set in medieval times, the story stayed true to the time period and focused on creating the real life story that would eventually be lost to legend, magic, and fairy tale. Blackwell's imagining of Princess Rose's "cursed sleep" was ingenious and the end of the story was riveting. The book was slow in starting; the amount of detail provided at the beginning makes the story plod in the early chapters. But you will be thankful you read them by the end of the book, because everything described early on has its purpose by the final pages. A very atmospheric read.

JH