Monday, May 23, 2016

Station 11

By Emily St. John Mandel
Knopf, 2014. 336 pgs. Fiction

Fifteen years after a pandemic flu wiped out most of civilization, Shakespeare lives on as the most requested playwright. Twenty-something Kirsten performs Shakespeare as a member of the traveling symphony, who tours the settlements of survivors throughout the US. She is asked often about her last real day before the pandemic hit, when famous Hollywood actor Arthur Leander died of a heart attack on the stage of King Lear. Kirsten would not have suspected that their stop in St. Deborah by the Water, home to a violent prophet, may be her last.

Station 11 is a quiet, meandering, and character-driven novel, contrary to how the plot summary may sound. Written in a nonlinear format, it alternates between the past, the present, and the perspectives of several different characters. The chapters are short and concise, and for the most part the transitions between them are seamless, although they didn't always hold my interest evenly.

The devastated world and the characters – all connected in some way to Arthur Leander and the graphic novel Station 11 - are strangely fascinating. For the most part I felt like it was a realistic interpretation of what a world without government, technology or electricity would look like. The loose ends come together poignantly at the novel’s conclusion, quietly proving the symphony’s motto: Because survival is insufficient.

HSG

Above the Waterfall


Above the Waterfall
By Ron Rash
Ecco, 2015. 252 pgs.  Mystery

Les is a retiring sheriff in a small Appalachian town.  Becky is a local park ranger who finds peace from a traumatic past through her love of nature and the wilderness she stewards.  Their relationship, tenuous and undefined already, is strained to a breaking point when a cranky mountain resident is accused of poisoning a trout stream.

Becky stands solidly behind the old man as he professes his innocence, but Les, having spent his life in the small community, understands better the deep resentments certain residents have for each other.  The small town is being torn apart by a flagging economy and a deadly crystal meth trade. Finding the truth will require all his years of experience.

Above the Waterfall was more of a detective story than I was expecting.  After reading Rash’s Serena and The Cove, I was expecting something a bit darker and more complicated, but still enjoyed the lovely prose and vividly described mountain setting. 



CZ

Friday, May 20, 2016

Brooklyn



By Colm Toibin
New York, Scribner, 2009. 262 pages. Fiction.

Set in 1950s, a young Irish girl, Eilis Lacey, is sent by her family to Brooklyn to seek an education and opportunities that she’d not be privileged to in her small Irish town. Though she’s not entirely keen on the move, and feels her older, more outgoing and adventurous sister might be better suited for the trip, she goes anyway. Eilis finds work in a storefront and enrolls in bookkeeping classes, and even meets a nice boy to spend time with. Things are going swimmingly for her, but as we know, it can’t always stay that way. 

The descriptions in this book were so engaging, they had a way of making the seemingly ordinary, even mundane aspects of life seem vibrant and vivid. Since much of the narration comes by way of Eilis’ thoughts, it was easy to feel connected to her and to commiserate with her coming of age tale, as she experienced life in a new place, far from the familiar. 

I was curious about this book as the movie adaptation was nominated for a 2016 Oscar. I’m glad I read the book first because I enjoyed it immensely. Now, to see if the adage “the book was better” holds up in this case as well.

RC

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the War
By Helen Simonson
Random House, 2016. 496 pgs. Fiction

Beatrice Nash, in mourning for her father, moves to the tiny coastal town of Rye, England in the summer of 1914 to work as a Latin teacher. A single, well-educated (some say overly-educated) young woman with limited income, she struggles against the limitations her status and gender place upon her. As the summer passes and war looms, she develops a close friendship with Agatha Kent, a prominent and free-thinking member of Rye society, and Agatha’s two adult nephews, Hugh and Daniel.

I loved this book. The witty and pointed social commentary, clever characterizations, subtle feminism, and small-town English setting reminded me of a Jane Austen novel, and I was sad to say goodbye to the characters as it came to an end. Helen Simonson’s wry humor was delightful, but she also depicts the horrors of war with heart wrenching clarity. Downton Abbey enthusiasts who miss the Dowager Countess or fans of Simonson’s earlier novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand are sure to enjoy this new release.

SR

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project
By Gretchen Rubin
Harper, 2009. 301 pgs. Nonfiction

I've read several of Gretchen Rubin's books already and have enjoyed each one. I actually read Happier at Home, her follow up to this title a few years ago, but finally picked up The Happiness Project. I've particularly enjoyed listening to Gretchen Rubin's books because she reads them and I feel like that adds to the experience of reading the book.

Rubin talks about spending a year living specific resolutions she set for herself. Each month she adds additional resolutions and recounts her successes and failures. Bolstered by her experience, I'm anxious to start my own happiness project, not just think about it as I have over the past few years!

AMM

Monday, May 16, 2016

More Than the Tattooed Mormon

More Than the Tattooed Mormon
By Al Carraway
CFI, 2015. 150 pgs. Biography

Al Carraway who blogs at alfoxshead.blogspot.com tells about her conversion to the LDS church and the trials and blessings that came with that decision. She talks about how her appearance made her feel judged by some members of the church and how she overcame the loneliness associated with her family and friends not agreeing with her decision to be baptized.

I have read several of Al's blog posts and even heard her speak when I lived in DC. Although I'd heard much of her story before, this book gave me a lot to think about. Al intersperses scriptures with her conversion story and encourages the reader to strengthen their own personal relationship with God.

AMM

Friday, May 13, 2016

Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes
By James S.A. Corey
New York: Orbit, 2011. 582 pp. Science Fiction

Far into the future, humanity has spread throughout the solar system, colonized Mars, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn as well as the asteroid belt. Tensions between these people have grown as they change and are changed by their adopted worlds.

Responding to a distress call from an abandoned ship, Jim Holden, the first officer of a interplanetary ice-hauler Canterbury, is sent to investigate the Scopuli. A mysterious ship appears and destroys the Canterbury without provocation.

Miller, a detective stationed on Ceres, a major trading hub in the Belt as well as being a hotbed of revolutionary fervor, is asked to track down the rebellious daughter of a major industrial clan. Immersing himself in the case, he discovers her affiliation with the the seditious OPA and tracks her last known location to the Scopuli.

Each man, initially pursuing his own agenda, finds himself enmeshed in a conspiracy surrounding an alien artifact that threatens to destroy humanity even as its potential tempts those who would use it for their own purposes.

This is the first volume in what is anticipated will be a nine volume series. A list of published volumes can be found here. This is a quite entertaining, fast paced read. It combines some hard sci-fi elements with a touch of horror and noir genres as well, resulting in some fascinating world-building. I would recommend this to anyone who loves epic, engaging multi volume science fiction. If you enjoyed this, you might also like John Scalzi's Old Man War series or Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy.

CHW

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
By Atul Gawande
Metropolitan Books, 2014. 282 pages. Nonfiction

Thanks to modern medicine, people are living long, full lives. But despite the many strides and miracles of medicine, the never-ending barrage of procedures and treatments can actually increase the pain of the dying. Medicine is about more than ensuring survival, it is about enabling well-being. Being Mortal discusses how our healthcare system has failed us and how medicine can be a comfort and asset in death as well as in life.

This book brought me to tears several times but its ominous title makes the subject matter sound more difficult than it actually is. I was hooked from the first chapter on the history of assisted living and nursing homes. The facts Gawande presents along with his personal experiences as a practicing surgeon are not only informative and engaging, but offer new perspectives on mortality. Upon finishing his book, I feel more empathy towards the aging and the terminally ill and better equipped to handle the eventual failing health of myself and those around me.

HSG

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What is Not Yours is Not Yours



By Helen Oyeyemi
New York: Riverhead Books 2016. 325 pages. Fiction.

What do a flaming tyrant, a young puppeteer who enters the profession to woo his love interest, a man with a knife in his chest who calls to say he’ll be late for dinner, a teenage girl with a celebrity crush which turns to scandal, a woman who sneaks into a library at night, and a weight loss spa where patients are put into drug-induced comas have in common? Seemingly nothing, until Helen Oyeyemi gets a hold of them.

For a break from the traditional novel, I picked up this collection of nine short stories, where each is connected to the next by keys, doors, secrets, mystery, desire, and a little magic. The stories stands on their own well, but the book’s tone and themes carry throughout, drawing the reader in as move forward to see how the stories will connect or relate. Oyeyemi’s writing is beautiful and imaginative, and draws the reader in with ease. This was a book I could not put down and I would highly recommend. 

RC

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Girl in the Red Coat

The Girl in the Red Coat
by Kate Hamer
Melville House, 2016. 336 pgs. Fiction.

Eight-year-old Carmel has a tendency to slip away from her mother, but she has always been easily found before. One foggy morning at a children’s festival, however, Beth and Carmel become separated. When the mist clears, Carmel is missing. As Beth searches endlessly for her daughter and tries to reconstruct her own life, Carmel endures a bizarre and transient existence with her new “family.”

I’ve heard The Girl in the Red Coat compared to The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl, but it didn’t seem nearly as intense as those reads to me.  From the beginning, you know what has happened to Carmel, and she doesn't seem to be in immediate danger.  Instead of writing a thriller, author Kate Hamer has chosen to beautifully explore the emotions of the separated mother and child. Because of this, fans of Room or The Lovely Bones are likely to enjoy this debut novel. I found it hard to put down and finished reading in only a couple of days. My only complaint is that I would have liked more, since the ending left me terribly curious about the aftermath.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Eligible

Cover image for Eligible : a novel
Eligible
by Curtis Sittenfeld
Random House, 492 pages, 2016, General Fiction

Returning with her sister, Jane, to their Ohio hometown when their father falls ill, New York magazine editor Lizzy Bennett confronts her younger sisters' football fangirl antics, a creepy cousin's unwanted attentions, and the infuriating standoffish manners of a handsome neurosurgeon.

Did you hear that? That’s the sound of a few of my co-workers yelling at me for writing this review. Usually when I know someone else in the library will likely read and review the same book, I’ll try to review something else. But I need to talk about this book with people! Please tell me what to think about it! I mean you, too, co-workers!

This book is the latest in a project to have different authors update Jane Austen novels, and it’s the most successful adaptation for me so far. Sittenfeld does something most Austen-inspired novelists don’t; she acknowledges Austen’s sharp wit. Liz and her family are all sarcastic and flippant, just as they are in Austen’s original novel (Pride and Prejudice). Sittenfeld also really updates the novel, filling it chock-full of contemporary issues ripped from the headlines.

Because the novel is so updated, I’m not sure it will appeal to everyone. In fact, it took me a bit to warm up to the novel. But the more I think about it, the more I like it because Sittenfeld did such a good job of staying true to the spirit of the original while also making it modern. I’d love to hear what others think of this.

MB

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, pray, love one woman's search for everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia
By Elizabeth Gilbert
Penguin Books, 2006. 334 pages. Biography, Nonfiction.

Eat, pray, love is an engrossing biography about finding oneself after tragedy and change. In rather rash turn of events, Elizabeth Gilbert finds herself newly divorced, heartbroken from a passionate love affair and in real need of some soul searching. She begins her journey in Italy where she has taken a vow of celibacy, focusing instead on learning Italian and eating- eating lots and lots of pizza. After gorging herself in the rich Italian culture, Liz makes her way to India where she spends time focusing on her spiritual self. There she practices meditation, yoga and sheds her newly acquired pizza weight, as she muddles through her emotional issues. Next she is off to Indonesia where she unexpectedly meets a man and slowly falls in love again. With each new place she meets people that help her learn and grow to arrive at a more confident, happy and self-aware state of becoming.

As I read this book I couldn’t put it down. Learning about the various countries made me have serious wander-lust and crave that kind of cultural immersion. I have been a yoga fan for years, so the idea of in-depth yoga retreat sounds hard and exciting. I am a sucker for a love story, especially when the woman is not expecting a relationship to appear.  However, since finishing the book the whole thing seems rather self-indulgent and fantastical. Most people cannot drop their entire life, no matter how hard it becomes, to go on this kind of exceptional adventure. It is an entertaining read, but I would caution readers to avoid equating themselves to the author, or aspiring to have similar experiences.

LP

The Power of Everyday Missionaries

The Power of Everyday Missionaries: the what and how of sharing the gospel
By Clayton M. Christensen
Deseret Book, 2013. 152 pages. Nonfiction.

This book gives very practical ‘how-to’ advice to be a successful member missionary. After service as a full-time missionary,  life can easily become too busy for meaningful missionary service, but Christensen teaches, from personal experience, how to overcome obstacles inherent to modern life and missionary work. Finding people to teach is the hardest part of missionary work and most members of the church do not realize or accept responsibility that they should be the finders and missionaries are the teachers. By setting time sensitive goals, inviting strangers and friends to hear the missionaries, and by being genuine and forthright, great success can be found. It’s not about the number of people baptized but rather the intent of your heart and efforts in building the kingdom of God that matters.

While serving a full-time mission, I felt confident that when I came home I would just be the kind of member missionary that the missionaries hoped and prayed for. As I read this book I felt inspired and invigorated to share the gospel but also intimidated because it meant a lot more preparation and work on my end than I previously imagined. Christensen shares lifestyle changes and best practices that help him and his family share the gospel. This book is written in a very approachable and applicable way, making the never-ending task of missionary work seem doable and fulfilling.

LP

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

A Girl's Guide to Moving On

A Girl’s Guide to Moving on 
By Debbie Macomber
Ballantine Books, 2016. 339 pgs. Romance

A Girl's Guide to Moving On is the second in Debbie Macomber's New Beginnings series. In this story, Nicole and Leanne are two women who find themselves in a similar situation; Both are recently divorced. In an added twist, Leanne is Nicole’s ex-mother in law! Despite the family drama, the two women become close friends as together they write their guide for moving on. In alternating chapters, Macomber tells Nicole and Leanne’s journeys of healing as they piece together their broken hearts to become strong, independent women who just might be ready to love again.

Macomber stays true to the character development and plot structure that readers have come to expect from her novels, but she also shakes things up by creating male characters who are a bit outside the norm – Rocco is a hard-working tow truck driver and single father who is devoted to building a better life for his daughter, and Nikolai is a charming and talented baker who just recently immigrated from Ukraine. Overall, this is another heartwarming story that Macomber fans are sure to enjoy!

CNC

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