Friday, August 22, 2014

Through To You

Through To You
By Lauren Barnholdt
Simon Pulse, 2014. 278 pages. Young adult fiction.

Harper and Penn are complete opposites: she's an uptight dancer, he's a laid-back former jock nursing an injury and a grudge. But when a serendipitous note gives them the chance to know each other better, Harper and Penn come to see how their differences can bring them strength as a partnership.

Barnholdt has created two interesting characters and gives them both equal time to share their story by alternating the perspective from which the story is told each chapter. The dialog is engaging and very witty, even in the sections where the characters are grappling with difficult situations and problems. The book is very similar to Elizabeth Eulberg's Better Off Friends, but with more language and references to drug/alcohol use and teen sex.

JH

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pretty in Ink

Pretty in Ink
By Lindsey Palmer
Kensington House, 2014. 304 pgs. Fiction

Lindsey Palmer is a former magazine editor so she takes her knowledge of the very competitive and gossip filled world of magazines and translates it to this chick lit book. There are at least six main characters featured as narrators and at times even more introduced. Each chapter is a part of the story of the magazine Her during a transition phase of a new editor. There is a character to match probably every life style or issue so many readers will relate to juggling work and life at the same time. When Mimi takes over as editor the staff changes are at times outrageous, her ideas ridiculous, and the women have to prove they can stay on board or leave when it becomes too much. The characters interact with each other mostly, so even though their husbands, partners, and other members of their family are introduced, much of the book relies on the offices of Her becoming the center for their struggle.

This was a fun, very fast read. If you are in the mood for something you can read without thinking about it too much, this works. The characters, although entertaining, are shallow but the concept is interesting enough that it held my attention. The women in the book are give such short chapters that you don't necessarily attach to any, but it does make it more like a group of quick stories to read where all the narrators work at the same magazine.

EW

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

To All the Boys I've Loved Before

To All the Boys I've Loved Before
By Jenny Han
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2014. 355 pages. Young adult fiction.

Lara Jean knows the perfect way to end a crush: she writes a letter to each boy she loved and then hides it away in a hat box in her closet, confident that no one will ever see her deepest thoughts on them. That all changes when the letters are accidentally mailed off, and the boys get to see her true feelings for them.

From the plot synopsis, the book sounds a lot lighter and romantic comedy than it actually is. Han creates deep and flawed characters who are not just exploring love but learning about the world around them. Lara Jean is not only dealing with the love letter scandal and its fallout, but trying to recreate her world now that her older sister, who has been like a mother to her, has gone off to college. The prose is simple, but clear and compelling and the brevity of the chapters really makes you want to read just one more (until the book is done and you didn't realize it). I enjoyed it becaues it managed to be both light and thoughtful at the same time. The book does have some strong profanity in it and some references to teen sex.

JH


Mirk and Midnight Hour

The Mirk and Midnight Hour
By Jane Nickerson
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014. 384 pgs. Young adult fiction.

Violet is a Southern teen during the Civil War and after her brother dies and her distant cousins move in, as well as her father remarries someone with a daughter Violet's age, her world is completely changed. She cares for her younger cousin and while exploring the woods they find a wounded Union soldier, Thomas. Nickerson recreates the ballad of Tam Lin in the story of Violet and Thomas finding a forbidden love while encountering the shadowy hoodoo of a snake worshiping family. The VanZeldts are keeping Thomas for unknown reasons and Violet tries to get Thomas well and safe without returning him to the battles.

There were slow parts of the book and some of the characterization of the slaves and VanZeldts were uncomfortable in some moments and the love story was not very believable. The setting and Violet were entertaining though and the historical setting of hoodoo and Civil War in the South were creative. This book is definitely worth the read if the time period is of interest or the retelling of legends and magical tales.

EW

The Steady Running of the Hour

The Steady Running of the Hour
By Justin Go
Simon and Schuster, 2014.  480 pgs. Fiction.

Justin Go writes a book based on two timelines and a family legacy that could lead to riches left behind. Tristan Campbell is given the task to find his connection to an English mountaineer and his estranged lover. If Campbell can find proof of his heritage there is a chance he can gain a fortune that the mountaineer, Ashley Walsingham left for Imogen Soames-Anderson. The estate of Walsingham was never able to find Imogen and the money has been unclaimed eighty years later.

Campbell goes on a quest and flashbacks to Walsingham in the war, as well as mountain climbing makes both storylines an adventure and heart warming as they meet the characters that join them in their discovery of love, history, and even possible fortune. Walsingham's story was more enjoyable than Tristan's just because it focused on his life as he fell in love, was injured in war, and more that leads to his eventual death. Tristan's story covered a shorter period of time so was not as engaging, yet it still was a great part of the book overall. The characters are all strong and compelling and the audio book was done wonderfully. I hoped for the best for all the people in this story and wanted to find a quest or adventure of my own by the end.

EW

Saturday, August 16, 2014

City of Jasmine

City of Jasmine
By Deanna Raybourn
Harlequin Mira, 2014. 354 pages. Fiction.

Evangeline Starke is an adventuress. But as she reaches the end of a press-celebrated air tour of the Seven Seas, she received a photograph that shakes her to the core: a month-old photograph of her husband estranged Gabriel Starke, who died 5 years previously. Evangeline drops everything to go to Damascus in search of Gabriel and finds herself embroiled with him in a deadly battle between unscrupulous archaeologists in search of a priceless treasure.

I have always loved Raybourn's Lady Julia mysteries, but her stand-alone books have generally left me feeling disappointed. City of Jasmine was much better than I expected, in spite of horrible cover art (I was tempted to cover it in brown paper to protect my reading reputation) and previous stand-alone failures. Raybourn is great a creating witty dialogue between her characters; her characters are also not afraid to talk frankly about difficult issues and work at bettering relationships. There is plenty of action, but it is well-balanced by character development. There is some innuendo and some strong language in the book.

JH

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Butterfly Mosque

The Butterfly Mosque
by G. Willow Wilson
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010. 304 pages. Nonfiction.

Willow Wilson was raised by academic parents to discount all things religious, but she always found herself deeply attracted to the spirituality found in Islam. Moving to Egypt to teach English after college simply brought her a peace she had never expected to find as she learns more about and eventually converts to Islam. The book talks in depth about her reasons for converting and describes life in a mainstream, even liberal, Muslim culture and how mainstream Western media has overlooked and misunderstood the beauties of life a regular Muslim experiences in their war against extremism and fundamentalism.

Wilson's conversion is an interesting story, as she attempts to find herself in a new religion and a new culture but still retain her American-ness, especially after she marries an Egyptian man. The writing sometimes left something to be desired; it would often get a little convoluted and metaphysical and the editing was, frankly, atrocious. But the story itself is fascinating and important, as I think that extremism and fundamentalism have become such headline news in the US that most Americans don't realize that they are not the majority of Muslims in the world. The book gives a good look at mainstream Islam in a very personal way.

JH

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

After the End

After the End
By Amy Plum
HarperTeen, 2014. 322 pgs. Young Adult

Juneau has been living in a remote part of Alaska where her clan has been surviving for three decades - ever since WWIII and the destruction of the world as they knew it. When Juneau's clan is kidnapped and she leaves the boundaries of their land to go after them, she realizes that the war never happened. Fighting the overwhelming betrayal she feels, she continues her search for them with the help of a boy Miles, who has his own agenda for helping her.

I think there were a lot of interesting things in the makeup of this novel, but ultimately it was a bit flat. Juneau and Miles had some distinctive personalities, but the other characters in the novel tended to be one-note stereotypes.  The plot had some decent complexity and interest, there is a lot to explore with why Juneau was lied to and a mysterious ability her clan has that allows them to connect with nature, but it was frustratingly underdeveloped and left for future books.  I would recommend this to readers who are willing to devote themselves to several books in order to find out all of the secrets this series has to offer.

BHG

Full Steam Ahead

Full Steam Ahead
By Karen Witemeyer
Bethany House Publishers, 2014. 348 pages. Romance.

Nicole Renard is in trouble - she needs to get to New Orleans and find a husband who can run her father's shipping empire before the thugs pursuing her can catch up and claim the treasure she's carrying with her. Circumstances bring her instead to Liberty, Texas, where she begins working under an assumed name for the eccentric Darius Thornton, a scientist driven to find a way to stop the destruction caused by exploding steam ship engines. But as each comes to appreciate the strengths the other has, they both find themselves torn between love and responsibility.

I just recently discovered Witemeyer's books and I've come to really appreciate two things about her writing. First, her characters are a lot of fun and very easy to relate to, which makes it much easier to suspend reality with some of the plot lines (2 weeks from total strangers to desperately in love, anyone?). And, second, although her characters are clearly religious people and fully committed to their faith, they never become sanctimonious, as sometimes happens with some Christian and LDS authors. Is the book improbable? Yes. Are there absurd situations? Of course. But do you get to see the inner workings of two good people and how they become better? Most definitely. And, to my mind, that is what makes this book an enjoyable read. It's not a work of art, certainly, and probably will not be remembered generations from now as a significant piece of literature, but I felt a little happier for having read it. To me, that is what reading is all about.

JH

Monday, August 11, 2014

Clever Girl

Clever Girl
By Tessa Hadley
Harper, 2014. 272 pgs. Fiction.

Clever Girl follows Stella as she goes from a child to middle age through trials and ordinary life experiences. Hadley is able to write ordinary life changes in a fascinating way and creates a character you want to watch grow up. Stella goes through deaths in her family, affairs, a teenage pregnancy, multiple jobs just to get by and all the emotions that go with these sometimes difficult changes. Sometimes the plot was slow, but I continued to be interested in Stella's life and her decisions she had to keep making to survive and provide for her child.

Stella powers through everything that is handed to her and she creates friendships and family from the people that show her kindness. The descriptions of Bristol and her environment were great. The book is an easy read and this domestic fiction leads to a happy ending for Stella. I really enjoyed the main character and her perseverance is to be admired.

EW

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Curtsies & Conspiracies

Curtsies & Conspiracies
By Gail Carriger
Little, Brown and Company, 2013. 310 pgs. Young Adult

This is the second book in the Finishing School Series, starting with Ettiquette & Espionage.  Sophronia is now earning top marks at Miss Geraldine's Finishing Academy where girls learn the arts of dance, dress, and etiquette... as well as death, diversion, and espionage.  The school year starts with a trip to London to witness a technological breakthrough, but Sophronia suspects something more serious than simple sightseeing is drawing them to London.  She will, of course, covertly investigate.

This continues to be a fun series with a main character that keeps me coming back.  Sophronia is clever, witty, and an incredibly talented spy, but she also has a "good" streak that really wins readers over.  I'm looking forward to more in this series.  The next book, Waistcoats & Weaponry, comes out this fall.

BHG

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Chapel Wars

The Chapel Wars
by Lindsey Leavitt
Bloomsbury, 2014. 294 pages. Young Adult.

Sixteen-year-old Holly is stunned when she inherits her grandfather's Las Vegas wedding chapel at his death. She is even more surprised when discovers that one of his last wishes was for her to deliver a letter, in person, to Dax, the grandson of her grandfather's arch-rival. Will Holly and Dax be able to put the family feud behind them as they explore their own friendship? And will Holly be able to keep the family business from dying off forever?

Leavitt is able to take a potentially humorous storyline (how many teens do you know of running a Chapel O' Love on the Vegas strip?) and add a lot of depth through the character development. Holly and Dax are both likeable and flawed characters and it is interesting to watch them grow as the plot moves forward. The ending was a bit of a surprise - an enjoyable surprise - that closed the plot perfectly.

JH

Perfect Ruin

Perfect Ruin
By Lauren DeStefano
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2013. 356 pgs. Young Adult

Morgan Stockhour lives on the floating city of Internment, a perfect city where you can be anything you dream.  The one rule is: don't approach the edge.  Morgan knows personally how serious getting too close can be every time she visits her older brother Len, a Jumper who hasn't ever been the same since his encounter with the edge.  Morgan lives an idyllic life with her best friend Pen and her betrothed, Basil, until one day when the first murder in a generation occurs on Internment.  Morgan is swept into the mystery when she meets Judas, the suspect betrothed to the victim.  What she begins to realize is that everything is not as it seems on Internment and they may be in more danger than they know. 

I am a fan of DeStefano's Wither series, so I was excited to see this new title from her.  This is also a good book but it doesn't have quite the emotional impact the other series had. DeStefano is a solid writer and this is a good story, but it went a little slow for me and ended up falling into the middle range of existing dystopias out there.

BHG

Dad is Fat

Dad is Fat
By Jim Gaffigan
Crown Archetype, 2013. 274 pgs. Nonfiction

Stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan recounts his experiences as a father of five in this humorous book.  Gaffigan, his wife, and their five children all share a two-bedroom apartment in New York City, which means that he has intense first-hand parenting experience to draw from.  Gaffigan describes their crazy life with humor and reflects on the oddities and hilarity that come with living with little people.

I listened to the audio book which is narrated by Gaffigan and allows the listener to enjoy his delivery and timing first-hand.  This is an especially easy recommendation for parents of small children because they will relate so much to all of Gaffigan's experiences and humorous take on the nature of kids. 

BHG

My Name Is Asher Lev

My Name Is Asher Lev
by Chiam Potok
Anchor Books, 2003 (c. 1972). 369 pages. Fiction.

Asher Lev's first memories are of drawing, trying to create beautiful pictures that will help his mother finally get out of bed again. Drawing is more than a pleasure: it is a need that force expression all the time. It is only when he is forced to look outside his sequestered Orthodox Jewish community under the artistic tutelage of the master artist, Jacob Kahn, that Asher finally is able to see both the beauty and the demon in his art, and find the balance between his need for expression and the depth of his religious convictions.

I first read Potok in high school (The Chosen) and never had opportunity to go back to him until I picked up Asher Lev for a book club. Somehow, his prose was much more magical than I remember it being, almost lyrical in its quality. It also provided a lot to think about, especially about the nature of art and the balance between religion, belief, and artistic expression. I read it and wanted to know how much Potok, who remained very active the the orthodox/conservative Jewish community his entire adult life, had to work to find that balance himself in his writing. The depth and the quality of the book was breathtaking, and yet it was not a difficult read. Because it is so deeply entrenched in Jewish tradition, there is a lot of Hebrew and Yiddish, but Potok will usually provide either outright or contextual explanations. I highly recommend this book for someone looking for a thought-provoking but gentle read.

JH

The Heart's Pursuit

The Heart's Pursuit
by Robin Lee Hatcher
Zondervan, 2014. 307 pages. Romance.

Silver Matlock's fiance just robbed her father and left her standing at the altar. Bounty hunter Jack Newman is bound and determined to find the man who massacred his family. But as they start searching the Wild West together, it starts to become apparent that the two cases they started investigating just might be more connected than they ever could have believed.

This was my first time reading Robin Lee Hatcher's books, even though she's been an award-winning inspirational/Christian fiction author for many years. I really enjoyed her presentation of the story, which was very direct and not overwhelmed with too much sentimentality. Her characters were believable and it was interesting to see them grow as they continued their pursuit. Overall, it was a very enjoyable, light read.

JH

My Story

My Story
By Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart
St. Martin's Press, 2013. 308 pgs. Biography

This is Elizabeth Smart's memoir of her abduction when she was fourteen years old in 2002.  She was taken from her home in the middle of the night by Brian David Mitchell and held by him and his wife Wanda Barzee.  She was sexually abused, threatened, and essentially held hostage for nine months.  It was very interesting to read Elizabeth's first-hand experience of this story, especially certain moments like being questioned by a police officer at the Salt Lake City Library, her experiences with her captors, as well as the faith and inspiration that helped her to carry on.

This was a compelling read, especially for those who haven't familiarized themselves with much of her story in the past.  I listened to the audio version of this, read by Smart herself, which lent an air of authenticity and reality to the dialogue and personal reflections. This book was very similar to Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielsen, a Mormon who went through a traumatic experience and her faith helped her to find the strength to keep going.  I would recommend these two books alongside each other.

BHG

I Never Fancied Him Anyway

I Never Fancied Him Anyway
by Claudia Carroll
Avon, 2009. 429 pages. Romance.

There is one thing you should know about Cassandra from the first: she's psychic. Not in a wispy, crystal ball kind of way, but she's always been able to see glimpses of people's futures, a skill she's translated into a successful magazine column. But when her best friend forces her into making a television appearance, Cassandra finds her popularity rising immensely. But when her vision suddenly goes out in the presence of Jack, the cute show producer, will her psychic credibility go up in smoke?

While the plot was a little thin on this book, it was still a cute story. Carroll makes very entertaining and likeable characters who are endearing, even as they are sometimes frustratingly annoying. Add to it a little mental Irish accent (the book is set in Dublin) and it all comes out to a fun, light read.

JH

Monday, August 4, 2014

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

All Joy and No Fun:  The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
by Jennifer Senior
HarperCollins, 2014.  308 pgs.  Nonfiction

     I am not a parent, but am filled anew with admiration for those who are, after reading Jennifer Senior's warm and insightful book about the hazards, hardships, and joys of parenting in the modern world. Senior traces the history of families from the days when children were largely viewed as an economic necessity to now when they are valueless (moneywise), but revered by every other measure.  Combining candid personal interviews with a judicious mix of research, quotations, and common sense, Senior has written a book that should have parents nodding in thankful or exhausted recognition and non-parents flabbergasted afresh by what goes in to the hardest, best job in the world.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mothership

Mothership
By Martin Leicht and Isla Neal
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2012. 308 pages. Young Adult

Elvie Nara is a student at the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers, but pregnant is not the way the young engineer expected to get into space. When the school is attacked by hunky alien invaders—one of which is the guy who knocked her up, oops—Elvie's got more problems on her hands than an alien baby on the way. With a saboteur on the loose, a ship crashing through Earth's atmosphere, and an evil, pregnant cheerleader to jeer at her every move, Elvie's got to use her sharp wits and even sharper tongue to save the day.

Mothership's the best kind of popcorn novel, filled with action, adventure, and sci-fi kitsch. While it's light on plot (and even lighter on characterization, except in Elvie's case), it's compulsively readable, hysterical good fun. I found Elvie's snark wildly entertaining, and loved that she's a strong, scrappy, likable character. (And Leicht and Neal get MAJOR points for making her an engineer! Go girl scientists!) While some of the themes might seem mature, the only content warning here is for language. A great read for anyone looking for a very humorous, action-packed sci-fi.

CA

Guy In Real Life

Guy In Real Life
By Steve Brezenoff
Balzer + Bray, 2014. 385 pages. Young Adult

When Lesh's and Svetlana's worlds collide—literally—one night in Saint Paul, Minnesota, what begins as an accident turns into friendship. Lesh and Svetlana can't be more different: Lesh's a sophomore, a metal junkie, and an MMORPG player; Svetlana is educated, a senior, artistic, and a dungeon master for her school's failing Dungeons and Dragons-esque group. Mutual wariness gives way to trust when Lesh thwarts one of Svetlana's lecherous suitors at lunchtime, and a tentative, awkward relationship begins to form between the two. It's not long before Lesh creates a lithe, silver-haired, female elven avatar on the MMO he's been playing—an avatar that looks like his new friend—whom he promptly names "Svvetlana," with double vs. And when the real Svetlana invites Lesh to join her "party" for her new tabletop campaign, their relationship kicks into high gear. But how long can Lesh keep his "guy in real life" status secret from his new MMO friends? And worse, how long can he keep his fantasy Svvetlana secret from the real one?

It's no secret that I love novels about video games and gamers, but regardless of the geeky content, Guy In Real Life definitely ranks in my top five favorite books of 2014 (so far). Both Lesh's and Svetlana's voices have been lovingly—and believably—rendered here, and both characters are equally witty and empathetic. The novel's a charming, awkward, and gentle look at first love, gender identity, and growing up. For readers who enjoyed Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl (St. Martin's Griffin, 2013), this is an obvious next step.

CA

Argo

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History
Antonio J. Mendez and Matt Baglio
Viking, 2012. 310 pages. Nonfiction.

Tehran, 1979. The shah has fled the country; the Ayatollah Khomeini has created an Islamic state; and, in November, the American Embassy is overrun by terrorists bent on forcing the US government to return the shah to Iran for justice, launching the horrific 444 day ordeal for those trapped inside that was seen around the world. But this is not their story. This is the story of 6 diplomats who, by some miracle, were able to escape the embassy undetected just as the terrorists were streaming in and were hidden by Canadian diplomats for months until they were extricated by the CIA and removed from Tehran under the noses of the Revolutionary Guard. The book is the foundation of the recent movie, Argo, which won a lot of awards in the industry.

If you pick up this book thinking it will be the action-packed movie, you are going to be disappointed. Mendez, the CIA operative who ran the entire extrication process, is very clinical in his explanation of the processes behind the rescue. If you pick up this book because you are interested in history, this is going to give you a lot of background information about a little-known incident in American history, as well as into how the CIA operated during this period. I found it absolutely fascinating.

JH

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Vacationers

The Vacationers
By Emma Straub
Riverhead, 2014. 304 pgs. Fiction.

This was a very quick, entertaining read. At times light, with undertones of serious subjects, it was a great summer read. Clever characters, and funny dialogue made this an enjoyable book. Straub put humor in the story where it was needed while still allowing room for plenty of heart. I completely fell in love with the daughter in the story, Sylvia. And the island of Mallorca. I would love to vacation there.

The book consists of a vacation home in Mallorca that is filled with the Post family, and the mom's best friend Charles and his husband. The book starts with a hint of secrets and tension and it is revealed through out why the Posts are hesitant to go on this family vacation together. Two weeks on an island leads to boredom, fights, and very funny outbursts as well as adventures. By the end you cheer for the quirky family as they try and repair what has happened and move on.

EW

The Ring and The Crown

The Ring and the Crown
By Melissa De La Cruz
Disney-Hyperion, 2014. 384 pgs.

The Ring and the Crown takes place in a different 20th century where a Franco-British empire rules the world and is assisted through the magic of mages (Merlins) that stay with the family for hundreds of years as partners in power. The story focuses on Marie-Victoria, the princess; Aewln, the daughter of Merlin; Leopold, the prince that is to marry Marie-Victoria; Ronan, an Astor descendant and a mage; Wolf, Leopold's brother and quite a few more. There are love hexagons, hints of magic, period balls and more that made it an interesting read, even if it wasn't always easy.

This book had a lot going on. I picked it up because the cover is beautiful and I liked the idea of an alternate history book dealing with Merlin and the Astors along with royalty of a few different families. It maybe had too much going on. There are a large number of pretty active main characters and their relationships of love and hate and dislike and ally continued to change or develop and left me trying to figure out who did what. The magic of Merlin was barely touched upon and was mostly used to keep Queen Eleanor young. The end seems rushed, but the majority of the book was full of romance and conspiring and secrets. I will give the second one a try in hopes some of the characters are ironed out.


EW

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I Kill the Mockingbird

I Kill the Mockingbird
By Paul Acampora
Roaring Brook Press, 2014. 166 pages. Young Adult

The shenanigans really begin with the sudden, untimely death of Mr. Nowak, everyone's favorite eighth grade English teacher. When best friends Lucy, Elena, and Michael vow to find a way to memorialize Mr. Nowak over their final summer before high school, they decide to find a way to get everyone reading his favorite book: Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Their plan? To make all the copies of the classic novel disappear from local libraries and bookstores through "creative" reshelving, and publicizing their efforts through a social media and website presence known as IKilltheMockingbird. "It's not stealing," Lucy insists. "It's shrinkage."

Their problem? The campaign quickly spirals out of control, and copies of To Kill a Mockingbird begin to disappear from bookshops and libraries all over the United States. Now the friends must work together to stop the "literary terrorism" they've started, before their plan backfires spectacularly and nobody reads the novel at all.

I Kill the Mockingbird is a charming little novel! Lucy's voice is active, piquant, and believably fourteen. She and her friends are round, dynamic characters who are well-fleshed but not overdrawn; and supported by a cast of secondary characters who are almost as much fun as the main ones. There are a lot of fine emotional nuances, particularly scenes between Lucy and her parents (her mother is a recent cancer survivor), and the moments between Lucy and Michael (who are starting to develop romantic feelings toward one another). The novel feels like a love letter to the enjoyment of great literature, and I can't say I didn't giggle over a few of the social media culture references. Quick, clean, and fun.

CA

Monday, July 21, 2014

War of the Whales: a True Story

War of the Whales: A True Story
by Joshua Horwitz
Simon & Schuster, 2014.  426 pgs.  Nonfiction

When a number of beaked whales came ashore and mostly died in March of 2008, whale researcher Ken Balcomb is on hand to save those he can but perhaps more importantly to save the heads of the dead for analysis--what caused the whales to run aground en masse? He doesn't suspect the Navy until he sees a destroyer plying the channel above the Great Bahama Canyon where the whales live and feed and where conditions are perfect for training against submarine attacks. Balcomb keeps his mouth shut about the destroyer at first because he is a former Navy man trained there in underwater acoustics and besides his loyalty to the service, he has signed non-disclosure agreements.  But by and by for him and for many other environmentalists and researchers who are beholden to the Navy for funding, the whales' plight trumps even concerns for national security.  Horwitz's fine story of the battle between two good causes:  saving the lives of whales and, perhaps, saving the lives of American sailors and civilians is a profound character- and action-driven story of what happens when two forces seemingly essential to our welfare clash. Well-written and compelling, War of the Whales is already showing up on multiple Best Books of the Year lists, and rightly so.

LW

Shots Fired: Stories from Joe Pickett County

Shots Fired:  Stories from Joe Pickett Country
by C. J. Box
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2014.  269 pgs.  Mystery

Fans and newcomers alike should enjoy C. J. Box's sparkling new collection of stories set in Wyoming. Joe Pickett, steadfast and companionable game warden, is the protagonist of a couple of these stories, including the title piece which has piercing things to say about shallow, self-absorbed lives as opposed to the life of a good man, a hard and faithful worker. "Pronghorns of the Third Reich" sounds like it will be a funny story, but it is a chilling (in more ways than one) tale of two men caught in a Wyoming blizzard, one wronged by the other, or so he says. "The Master Falconer" doesn't sound like it will be funny but it is mildly amusing as Joe's friend Nate Romanowski engages in a battle he seemingly cannot win with an Arab sheikh who demands wild falcon chicks to train. If you love the West, this book can be enjoyed simply for Box's descriptions of landscape and atmosphere, but there is ever so much more of ironic twists, human nature turned against itself, and flat-out fear that make this book a fine summertime read in the cool of the evening.

LW

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Grave Matter

A Grave Matter (Lady Darby #3)
By Anna Lee Huber
Berkley Prime Crime, 2014. 421 pages. Mystery.

It's New Year's Eve and Lady Darby is celebrating at the Hogmanay Ball with her brother at a neighboring estate. But when one of the groundskeepers staggers into the ballroom at the stroke of midnight, telling of grave robbers and murderers, Lady Darby finds herself thrust into the middle of an investigation with the charming Sebastian Gage once again. Their inquiries take them into the seedy side of Edinburgh's criminal classes to find a group of grave robbers that have turned their trade into ransoming rich families for the return of their loved ones' bones. Will Gage and Lady Darby be able to find the criminals before more people are hurt? And will they be able to settle the feelings that have built up between them?

I've loved Huber's mystery series from the start. She has created very memorable characters and the plots are unique enough to draw the interest of even the most well-read mystery reader. This was a book that I savored each time I picked up, never quite ready to let it end.

JH

There Will Come a Time

There Will Come a Time
By Carrie Arcos
Simon Pulse, 2014. 315 pages. Young adult fiction.

Mark is overwhelmed by grief after watching his twin sister, Grace, die next to him in a tragic car accident. And then he finds a list he wrote just a few days before the accident, a list of the five things she wanted to do before the year was over. Mark determines to fulfill his sister's final goals, with the companionship of her best friend, Hanna.

This book is intensely powerful. Arcos has a very spare writing style, but she is able to convey so much emotion with what she puts to paper that I was in tears several times throughout the story. Mark's heartbreak is so real and accessible that the reader goes through his emotional journey with him as he learns to live his life again with the one person he thought would always be there. It was not what I expected...and I loved every minute of it.

JH

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Lonely Hearts Club

The Lonely Hearts Club
By Elizabeth Eulberg
Point, 2011. 290 pages. Young adult fiction.

Penny Lane Bloom (named after an album by her parents' favorite band, the Beatles) is tired of having her heart broken by boys. So she decides to take action. Using the Beatles for her own inspiration, she starts the Lonely Hearts Club, a support group for girls who are ready to give up on the high school dating scene and wait until college, when boys will be more mature and treat them with respect. Before she knows it, girls are flocking to her Saturday night meetings, eager to meet up with girls who want to be able to be themselves and not just hang on the arm of the cutest guy at school. But things start to get out of hand when the Principal bans the club as exclusionary. And, even more problematic, Penny discovers that her best guy friend may be trying to ask her out - all to the outrage of the Club. Will the Lonely Hearts survive the crisis?

I love Elizabeth Eulberg's writing and this book was an adorable example of her ability to get into the heads of teens and see what is really happening. The characters are likeable and believable and it is enjoyable to see Penny evolve as she comes to understand that her initial broken-hearted anti-man stance may have been a little precipitate. But it also shows how important it is for girls to have girl friends and a firm understanding of who they are. Overall, it was a fun read with a really good message.

JH