Friday, September 18, 2020

The Jane Austen Society

The Jane Austen Society
By Natalie Jenner
St Martin’s Press, 2020, 309 pages, Historical Fiction

The small English village of Chawton boasts a famous connection that no other place can—it’s the village Jane Austen lived in when she penned some of the most beloved novels of all time. Just after the Second World War, the residents of Chawton realize that the impending death of the neighboring great estate’s landowner could mean that many Jane Austen treasures which have been kept intact for generations may be split up and sold for a profit. Seeing an opportunity to preserve Jane Austen’s heritage, a group bands together to form the Jane Austen Society. In the process, they learn more about themselves, and help each other overcome past traumas.

As a Jane Austen fan who has been to England and toured the small cottage in Chawton where Jane Austen lived, I picked up this book thinking it would be a great way to reminisce on a fun past experience. I could see myself walking up the lane, talking about Jane Austen with all of the different characters. Some of my favorite parts of the book were the debates members of the society had about the value of Jane Austen and the meaning found in her work. They often brought up some good points I’d never thought about.

I also appreciated that this book is its own story instead of a Jane Austen retelling. While some of the charm of this book comes in its depiction of English small-town life, each character in this story is nuanced and struggles with real problems. In joining the Jane Austen Society, each character finds a place to let go of heavy burdens that they’ve been carrying alone.

An added bonus of this book for me was that Richard Armitage narrates the audiobook.  As usual, he does an excellent job in giving each character their own voice.  If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, or a fan of books set in the English countryside (Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War comes to mind), this could be the next book for you.  


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Vying for the Viscount

Vying for the Viscount

By Kristi Ann Hunter

Bethany House, 2020. 348 pgs. Romance

Hudson has been raised in India his entire life to hide from an uncle who will do anything for the family title. His father has taught Hudson all the things he would need to know to someday return to England and become a Viscount. His parents died while in India and when Hudson learns of his grandfather's death, he makes the long journey back to England. He thinks he is prepared for society but finds his education very lacking.

Bianca Snowley has found refuge in riding horses at the neighboring stable for years. One day she is startled to see a strange man in the stables and after defending the horses, discovers that he is the new owner. For reasons of her own, she takes an interest in the newest bachelor in town but in a turn of events, they agree to help each other find eligible spouses. Bianca finds herself coaching Hudson on the basics of dancing and courtship, all the time harboring a growing attraction to him. 

I really enjoyed this new series starter by Kristi Ann Hunter. Hudson and Bianca are fun characters that must decide if they are going to go along with what is expected by society, or if they are willing to do the best thing for each one of them. I was also surprised how much I enjoyed learning about horses and horse racing since horses are not something I typically take an interest in. I have read a lot of Regency romance and I liked this story line of someone who is utterly unprepared for Society and all the silliness that goes on but is willing to reach out to new friends for help.


Friday, September 11, 2020

Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun 
By Stephanie Meyer
Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 662 pages. Young Adult

When Bella met Edward, her world was set on a path where everything changed in less than a moment. We followed Bella’s thoughts and feelings in Twilight, but what was going on behind Edward’s eyes? The long-awaited Midnight Sun shows their iconic origin story from Edward’s much darker perspective. Edward’s inner struggle is brought to light as he wrestles with what he believes is right and what he discovers he must have.

While mirroring the events of Twilight, Midnight Sun also illuminates the mystery of many behind-the-scene moments and character backstories only mentioned in the series. Delving into the depths of Edward’s mind and discovering how close every encounter came to ruin was definitely worth the all-nighter. Whether read alone or along with the series, this is a fascinating and engaging companion to the classic romance that rewrote a genre.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

K-Pop Confidential

K-Pop Confidential
By Stephan Lee
Point, 2020. 323 pages. Young Adult

Candace Park is trying do what’s expected of her. She attends a good school, plays viola, and appreciates her Korean heritage, but Candance wants to sing, and she’s good at it. Encouraged by her best friends Imani and Ethan, she secretly auditions for one of Korea’s biggest entertainment companies. When she’s invited to come train in Seoul, Candace must convince her overly protective parents to let her train for the summer, just to see if she can do it. Trainee life is difficult, and only a handful of the 49 girls will debut, but Candace is determined to be one of them, even when the odds are stacked against her.

The K-pop industry is known for glitzy performances and near perfect idols, but we see behind the curtain through Candace’s eyes at the hardships they face. This book tackles a wide range of issues such as racism, feminism, beauty expectations, unfair labor practices, classism, immigration, and privilege, all with the backdrop of K-pop. Candace is a spunky protagonist with a harrowing journey before her, and even with such heavy hitting issues Lee keeps the pace moving and the book was hard to put down. I would easily recommend this book to fans of Korean entertainment, but also anyone looking for a witty, determined protagonist ready to subvert expectations.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Kintsugi: the Japanese art of embracing the imperfect and loving your flaws

Kintsugi: The Japanese Art of Embracing the Imperfect and Loving Your Flaws
by Tomas Navarro
Sounds True, 2019. 273 pages. Nonfiction

Cultivate inner strength and rebuild your life with the ancient principles of kintsugi. When we lose a person we love, a job, or our health, it can feel like a precious piece of ourselves falling to the ground and shattering. But in the Japanese art of kintsugi, that's where the creation of beauty begins-in the delicate re-joining and mending of shards with loving attention. Psychology Tomas Navarro encourages us to approach our lives in the same way.

The imagery of a pot being broken and then put back together with gold, making it worth even more, and then comparing that to our lives is one of my favorite comparisons that I have ever heard. The book does a wonderful job of giving guidance and advice on how to improve ourselves while at the same time appreciating our flaws and weaknesses and improving upon them. It stresses the importance of living and not just surviving which includes all of the painful lessons life can throw at us. The book is an easy and fast read and you will want to keep turning the pages to discover the little truths the author has written.


Loveboat, Taipai

 Loveboat, Taipai

by Abigail Hing Wen

HarperTeen, 2020. 414 Pages. Young Adult

Ever Wong just wants to dance. She has been on dance squad and color guard; she choreographs all their dances, and she lives and breathes ballet. But Ever Wong has two very determined parents who have decided that she is going to be a doctor. Her father was a doctor in Taiwan, but his degree didn't carry over when they came to the US. Her parents have scrimped and saved for Ever to get into medical school. And Ever does! She makes it into Northwestern University. But she also makes it into dance school. Ever knows her parents will never approve of her dancing so she ends up declining dance school. Before she can grieve too deeply, her parents send her away to a Taiwanese immersion program that will take up the rest of her summer. While there she discovers that the program is nick-named the Loveboat because everyone hooks up during their stay in Taiwan. Every kid is smart. Almost every kid is rich. And all they want to do is sneak out at night and go to dance parties. Ever thought that she would hate the program, but she soon makes a circle of friends, including several very handsome boys. Normal teenage drama ensues, including the obligatory love triangle, and Ever has to decide how to deal with this drama while also trying to figure out who she really is and wants to become.

This book has adult themes, but it handles them so well I didn't end of throwing the book across the room. The writing is smart and easy to get caught up in, just like one of Ever's dance routines. This is a coming of age story with all the appropriate themes of leaving home, making friends, breaking rules, getting in trouble, trying to get out of trouble, being jealous, being sad, missing home, etc. I thought that this was just another Teen Rom Com, but Ever’s journey to self-actualization is compelling. I groaned several times at the choices she made, but was pleasantly surprised at how Wen used these moments to show Ever thinking through what she had done. There are always consequences to choices, good and bad, and that is what this book so effectively shows.


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Little Disasters: A Novel

Little Disasters: A Novel 
by Sarah Vaughan
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, 2020. 432 pages. Mystery

 Senior pediatrics doctor Liz Trenchard is called down to the ER on a Friday night for an infant with a head injury. When she arrives, she is shocked to see her good friend of a decade, Jess, with her 10-month-old baby. The explanation for the injury that Jess gives doesn’t add up, and Liz is sure her friend is hiding something. Jess is outwardly the perfect mother, but after the traumatic birth of her youngest, she is constantly engulfed by dark thoughts and knows her children would be better off without her. Jess’ mind and her relationships are brought to the breaking point as social services are called in to investigate her baby’s injury. 

 This psychological thriller offers a raw and intense look at the complexities of motherhood and a highly researched portrayal of postpartum distress, with a particular focus on intrusive thoughts of infant harm. The story is compelling and while the subject matter is heavy, it is meaningful. The story is told from multiple points of view, and jumps back and forth in time to give a more complete picture of characters and events. I really appreciated the fictional depiction of postpartum distress; reading someone’s inner dialogue is a completely different experience than reading about it in a nonfiction book. Other motherhood challenges are brought up as well, from working moms to divorce, to dealing with past abuse by parents to alcohol abuse. 

 Postpartum distress needs as much awareness as it can get so that struggling mothers know they aren’t alone and can get help. I highly recommend this for anyone willing to read an emotionally heavy book.  For anyone dealing with postpartum distress I would cautiously recommend it as a haunting and emotionally difficult yet satisfying read.


Tabernacles of Clay

Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism
By Taylor G. Petrey
University of North Carolina Press, 2020. 273 pages. Nonfiction

This very well-researched book discusses Latter-day Saint (LDS) teachings on gender and sexuality since WWII, including such topics as interracial marriage, the ERA movement, feminism, birth control, homosexuality, gender identity, and same-sex marriage. Various changes in Church policy over the decades are shown in the context of an evolving American mentality, comparing formal statements on a wide array of topics. Petrey's conclusion: there is ongoing conflict in Mormon doctrine between the ideas of fixed, eternal gender and sexuality, and fluid, malleable gender and sexuality.

What I appreciated most about this book (besides the beautiful cover) is the plain presentation of the facts; Petrey didn't mangle them into a pretty picture, but rather showed them in their tangled, confusing form. It's safe to say that Mormon ideas about gender and sexuality have changed over time. While these shifts may make some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uncomfortable, I believe that it's in this fertile soil of discomfort that empathy and self-awareness can grow. I recommend this book to those ready for a deep dive, replete with fresh insights to gender and sexuality in a modern church.


Monday, August 31, 2020

Gods of Jade and Shadow

Gods of Jade and Shadow 
By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Del Rey, 2019. 338 pages. Science Fiction

The rest of the world is living it up during the Jazz Age, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors and taking care of her wealthy grandfather. It seems that her dreams of leaving her small Mexican town will never come true, until one day when in an act of rebellion, she opens a curious wooden box and sets free the spirit of the Mayan god of death. Casiopea must help the god recover his throne from his treacherous brother, and journeys from the jungles of the Yucatan to Mexico City, Baja California, and the Mayan underworld in hopes of saving herself and the world.

This was a wonderful mix of Cinderella, Percy Jackson, and Mexican geography with beautiful language, strong characters, and a moving tale of redemption. Casiopea is strong, brave, and makes sacrifices to protect her family and others. She is down-to-earth, but wants more than what life has given her and is willing to fight for dreams that she didn’t know she had. The descriptions of Mexico and Mayan mythology are expansive, accurate, and beautiful at the same time. The romance is slow-building, but realistic, and the ending was authentic and true to Casiopea’s character. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys historical fantasy, dark fantasy, or descriptive fiction.


A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe
by Alex White
Orbit, 2018. 473 pages. Science Fiction

Nilah Brio wants one thing, to be the youngest Pan Galactic Racing Federation Champion. She’s well on her way, when she’s blamed for a devastating murder that takes place right in front of her during a race. As she joins forces with a treasure hunter named Boots Elsworth, and the crew of a smuggling ship from a long-finished war, she discovers a secret society responsible for the death of millions. The conspiracy wraps up everything from wars, magic, technology, and her very own racing art, as the secret society sets up for their biggest move yet. 

For those that enjoyed James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series and books the mix magic and technology, this should be the next book on your list! The way the author mixes magic and technology is profoundly interesting. Not only that, but he takes that technology to its political, moral, and religious extreme to set up the universe spanning conflict. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Say Her Name

Say Her Name
By Zetta Elliot
Brown Books, 2020. 96 pages. Poetry

In this collection of powerful poems, poet and educator Zetta Elliot raises her voice in honor of both victims of and activists against police brutality. Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign, Elliot relates her experiences and feelings as a black woman in this call for empathy, recognition, and action. Along with her own words, Elliot draws inspiration from and adds her voice in harmonic chorus with notable poets including Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Phillis Wheatley. 

It's difficult to think of how to talk about a book that made me feel so much. Even the description above seems too simple, too small, for a book that is so moving and so important. One of Elliot's many talents as a poet is the ability to make you feel, as a reader, that her words are not just ink on a page but an extension of her gaze, meeting your eyes, connecting your heart to hers. Just the memory of feeling that connection while I read this book brings tears to my eyes. The poems range from celebratory, to mournful, to angry, to hope, to empowering. SAY HER NAME is an invitation, a plea even, to listen to people of color, especially women of color. Wherever you stand on the issues of police brutality and racial bias in law enforcement, this book is a must-read. Open your heart to Elliot and you will not be disappointed. 


Monday, August 24, 2020


Cover image for Displacement

by Kiku Hughes
First Second, 2020. 288 pgs. Young Adult Graphic Novels

Kiku is on vacation in San Francisco with her mother when she finds herself pulled back in time, or displaced, in the 1940s. She knows the basics of prejudices against Japanese-Americans during this time, but she experiences firsthand the hardships as she follows her late grandmother to the internment camp in Topaz, Utah. Through living at camp, Kiku begins to understand how the lives and future generations were impacted by the denial of civil liberties, but she also learns that a sense of community and resistance was also cultivated in the camps.

This is a heart-wrenching story that highlights the intergenerational impact of the WWII Japanese internment camps in the style of Octavia Butler. In the midst of our current discussions of immigration and civil liberties, books like this and They Called Us Enemy by George Takei remind us of the power of memory. The illustrations and story evoke strong emotions of struggles, strength, and resilience in the face of uncertainty and hatred. I have visited Topaz and learned about the internment camps during history class, but this brought the story to life in ways that were new and interested, and made me feel more connected. This is a great book for anyone who enjoys graphic nonfiction, historical fiction, or new perspectives.


Thursday, August 20, 2020


by Max Brooks 
Del Rey, 2020. 286 pages. Fiction 

The great Mount Rainier eruption rained death and destruction on much of the surrounding area, closing roads, burying towns, and turning Tacoma into a “morgue city.” All rescue and aid efforts completely overlooked the small mountain community of Greenloop. But rescuers eventually found that though the town had been untouched by the volcanic disaster, the residents had all been killed by something far more extraordinary and sinister. Max Brooks brings the story of the Greenloop Massacre to light through interviews with principle investigators, as well as the found journals of Greenloop resident Kate Holland. 

Once again, Max Brooks does not disappoint with his unique storytelling—posing as a journalist uncovering a shocking story through oral interviews and journals. This creature horror is full of terrifying and shocking moments, but does not shy away from social commentary either. The Greenloop residents’ lack of preparedness for a natural disaster may strike close to home right now as we wrestle with a real-life disaster of our own. Reading a physical copy of this book would be great since it is mostly made of up journal entries, but don’t overlook the audiobook’s stellar cast, including Judy Greer, Nathan Fillion, and Jeff Daniels. 


Friday, August 14, 2020

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

Cover image for The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
by Charlie Mackesy
HarperOne, 2019, 128 pages, Graphic Novel

In the tradition of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, illustrator Charlie Mackesy tells the story of an unnamed boy who wanders in the wilderness much like Christopher Robin. As he wanders, he runs into a mole, then a fox, and finally a horse. The mole is fond of cake; the fox is silent, but needs a friend; the horse has gotten used to hiding how special he is from the world. The four form a strong friendship as they wander and talk.

You may have seen Charlie Mackesy’s artwork on Instagram, or seen this book on the New York Times bestseller lists. Although I read it straight through, this is really a compilation of Mackesy’s inspirational artwork, and can be read in little chunks, in any order. Each page contains one of Mackesy’s ink and watercolor drawings, complete with an inspirational quote. The best-known is an ink drawing with the caption, "What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said? asked the boy. “Help.” said the horse. My personal favorite was captioned, “The greatest illusion,” said the mole, “is that life should be perfect.” followed with a penciled-in note from the author that the drawing is extra smeared because his dog walked over the drawing.

Whether you skip around and read this in little chunks, or read it as if it’s telling a story, this book is a nice source of peace, positivity, and hopefulness.


Thursday, August 6, 2020


by Chuck Wendig 
Del Rey, 2019. 782 pages. Fiction 

All across the nation, a strange phenomenon is occurring—people appear to be sleepwalking, gathering in a “flock” and walking to an unknown destination. They can’t communicate, they are impervious to fatigue and hunger, and they cannot be woken up. Shaina wakes up one morning to discover that her little sister is one of the sleepwalkers, but Shaina and the other “shepherds” will follow the flock to the end of the road to protect them. Meanwhile, the country is hit with an apocalyptic epidemic that threatens to decimate the human race, while a team of scientists struggle to understand the mystery of what links the new disease with the sleepwalker phenomenon. 

This is possibly author Chuck Wendig’s magnum opus; sweeping, epic, and full of incredibly diverse and fascinating characters. Readers that enjoy books like Station Eleven and The Stand will find a lot to love about this end-of-the-world saga. This book contains adult language and content, so reader discretion is advised. That said, this was one of my very favorite books of the year with a lot of eerily similar situations to what is happening in the real world today.  


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Opposite of Always

By Justin A. Reynolds
Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 457 pages. Young Adult

One fateful evening Jack meets Kate at a party. He falls hard for her, but her unexpected death a few months later is devastating. Jack is then transported back in time to their first meeting. He doesn’t know what’s going on or how he got there, but is determined to make the most of his time with her, and somehow stop her death. Except… she dies again, and Jack is sent back again. As Jack tries to change the course of events, he learns just how the consequences of his actions impact those around him.

This is a pretty standard YA romance with an interesting time travel element. The story repeatedly covers the same few months of time, but does so in new and unique ways so that it doesn’t feel boring. The characters are witty and their banter is enjoyable to follow. I’ve often wondered what, if anything, I would do differently if I could go back in time and relive a portion of my life. I found myself thinking about that a lot as I read this book. Overall an enjoyable read that I could recommend to those looking for contemporary YA romances.


Monday, August 3, 2020

The Splendid and the Vile

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
By Erik Larson
Crown, 2020. 464 pgs. Nonfiction

Larson recounts Churchill's first days as prime minister and follows his life and the lives of his family during the worst of the Blitz in Britain.  Not quite a complete view of WWII, this book describes the Royal Air Force and many air battles between Germany and Britain, but sometimes pivots to Churchill's home life, the dramas of his family members, or the efforts to raise America's help.  At times, I felt that this book wasn't sure what it wanted to talk about.  If you can accept that this will take a bit of a meandering view of this era of Churchill's life, you will find many fascinating stories and interesting glimpses of things you've never known about Britain during the Blitz.  Erik Larson is known for weaving compelling nonfiction narratives, and this book is no exception.  A recommended read for any who may be going through difficult times and who might be heartened by hearing how previous generations dealt with crises.


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Stars Uncharted

Stars Uncharted
by S. K. Dunstall
Ace, 2018. 401 pages. Science Fiction.

What does a cargo space captain, a celebrity gene modder, and a seemingly innocuous engineer have in common? Usually nothing, but when Captain Roystan, a cargo runner who happens across a ship in the vastness of space, the salvage of which could be the find of a lifetime, he gets far more than he bargained for. When what he finds on that ship puts Roystan and his crew in the cross hairs of some of the most powerful players in the universe, he teams up with his ship engineer, Josune Arriola, who happens to be decked out with some of the most high-end bioware implants and Nika Rick Terry, a gene modder of unparalleled skill, to combat the forces that want nothing more than to destroy them all.

While being an action packed adventure with lost treasure and corporate espionage, Dunstall asks some big questions about technology and how it affects the perceptions we have of ourselves. With active, out patient, gene modding making it possible to switch around everything about yourself, how do we hold on to the fragments of our identity that were two or three mods ago? For one of the main characters, Roystan, this is an even bigger mystery as he finds he's been modded so much he may not be who he thinks he is.

To some degree, Stars Uncharted reads a little like an Indiana Jones movie (but in space), with the setup of a traditional cyberpunk novel where the corporations run everything and are the ultimate enemy, and a large injection of genetic engineering like in the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. While that may sound chaotic, Dunstall does a great job of squishing all those different genre pieces into a cohesive and enjoyable story.


The Sound of Stars

by Alechia Dow 
Ink Yard Press, 2020. 426 pages. Young Adult Fiction. 

This book is set after the invasion of the Ilori, beings made of electricity that want to turn Earth into their next vacation spot. More than 1/3 of earth’s population has been wiped out. Humans are being kept in lock down to preserve their bodies for the True Ilori. They are not allowed to read or listen to music because that makes them “rebellious.” 

Janelle is running a clandestine library, until one of her books goes missing. This could lead to a death sentence. But the Ilori who found it doesn’t turn Janelle in. Instead, he talks to her. 

M0RR1S is a lab made Ilori whose soul existence has been to create a vaccine to subjugate the humans so the True Ilori can take over their bodies. He has been treated as inferior, cast off by his father, and hated by his brother. But then he finds the human’s music, ostensibly to study it. Music makes him feel alive in ways he has never felt before, especially the music of the human called David Bowie. 

Janelle and M0RR1S are immediately drawn to one another, and not just because they both love music and books. M0RR1S soon determines that the humans must be saved, especially Janelle. This determination sends them on a road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums in a race to save humanity. 

The Sound of Stars has something for everyone. It’s post-apocalyptic, dystopian, SCI FI, and romance. Because the book has so many tropes, some readers may feel like it is a bit derivative.  But, the characters are what really make this book work. And if you are a book lover and/or a music lover you will feel how the words and music intertwine to create almost a multi-media experience for the reader. Each chapter starts with either a book quote, or song lyrics. Each section of the book is based on song from the album that makes Janelle and M0RR1S feel like they are meant to be. 

 I laughed, I cried, I gasped, and I made a playlist. 



by Christina Dalcher
Berkley, 2018. 326 pages. Sci-Fi

When the United States government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than one hundred words per day, it's only the beginning. Soon women are not permitted to hold jobs. Girls are not taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. As a mother of four and a cognitive-linguistic scientist, Dr. Jean McClellan will reclaim that voice, fighting against the broken system she did nothing to correct as she saw it being installed.

This dystopian novel for adults obviously deals with sexism: citizens are denied rights based on their gender, and women are legally viewed as lesser than men. But it also shows a dark, possible future where the boundary between fundamentalist religion and government has been completely erased: the basis for this double-standard has roots in religious extremism. The fast pace makes this a quick read and a good thought-piece, although it's not without some strong language.


Wisdom from a Humble Jellyfish: And Other Self-Car Rituals from Nature

Wisdom from a Humble Jellyfish: And Other Self-Care Rituals from Nature
by Rani Shah
Dey St., 2020. 126 pages. Nonfiction

We could all learn a thing or two about living in balance from our friends in the plant and animal kingdom. Take, for example, the jellyfish, one of the most energy-efficient animals in the world, moving through the ocean by contracting and relaxing, with frequent breaks in between. We need look no farther than nature for small and simple things we can do to slow down, recharge, and living more thoughtfully, lovingly, and harmoniously.

This book was such a delight to read. Each chapter was short and to the point, making it a fast and easy read. Each animal or plant that the author highlighted has qualities that we all desire in order to become our best selves. Not only are you learning about how to improve yourself but you are also learning interesting facts about some of the animals and plants that inhabit our earth. Besides the jellyfish you will learn qualities from the porcupine, octopus, the sunflower, the vervet monkey, and the sloth, just to name a few of my favorites. This is one of my new favorite self-help books.


Friday, July 31, 2020


By Jennifer Donnelly
Scholastic Press, 2019. 352 pages. Young Adult

This is the story of Cinderella's stepsister Isabelle, who cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella's shoe.  When her deception is discovered, Isabelle is cast aside in her shame, while Cinderella heads off for her happily ever after.  But Isabelle's story is only just beginning.  Isabelle's life has been one in which her lack of beauty cost her happiness and hampered her spirit, and she is far from perfect.  But the literal embodiment of Chance is on her side, fighting to give her an edge over Fate.  Armed not with a pumpkin-turned carriage and rags-turned-ballgown, but with gifts befitting her fire and bravery, it is up to Isabelle to save those she loves and snatch herself from Fate's grasp.

Isabelle is a flawed character who must overcome her own shortcomings as much as the cruel hand life has dealt her.  She also must come to terms with the life expected of her as a woman in 18th-century France, and the life she dreams of, unfettered by any restriction.  This story was so imaginative and unusual that I couldn't help but be pulled along.  Recommended for fans of "fractured fairy tales" and those who want to cheer on the underdog.


Thursday, July 30, 2020

Talk Nerdy to Me

Talk Nerdy to Me
by Tiffany Schmidt
Harry N. Abrams, 2020. 336 pgs. Young Adult Fiction 

Eliza Gordon-Fergus is excellent at following the rules. Her scientist parents dictate and track everything in her life, from how many hours of sleep she needs to what clubs and classes she’s in. When she reads Frankenstein for English class, she starts to feel more like an experiment than a loved daughter. When she asks a classmate, Curtis Cavendish, to trade her for Anne of Green Gables he agrees under one condition: she beats him at the science fair. As they spend more time together, Eliza realizes she might be in over her head because Curtis makes her want to break all of the rules. 

This is the third book in the Bookish Boyfriends series, and was my absolute favorite. Eliza seems to have everything going for her; she’s beautiful, smart, and has famous parents, but she feels lonely and lost. The growth that Eliza and her parents show resonated and made them more likeable and worthier of a happy ending. She is able to see herself in Anne Shirley, but also realizes her own personal strength and weaknesses. Curtis is funny, sweet, and so understanding with Eliza, and teaches her the value of non-scientific attributes, like patience, imagination, and tolerance. This is a great read for anyone who loves books, cute romance, or strong characters. 


Monday, July 20, 2020

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice 
 by Terry Tempest Williams
Sarah Crichton Books, 2012. 208 pages. Nonfiction.

When Diane Tempest was dying of breast cancer, she bequeathed her journals to her daughter Terry Tempest Williams. When Williams found the fifty-four volumes, she discovered that each and every one of them was blank. In fifty-four meditations on voice, Williams explores what it means to have a voice, especially for women. Is there more than just being a wife and a mother for women to write about? Why were her mother’s journals blank? What does that mean for Williams? In her lyrical style, made famous by her beloved classic Refuge, Williams comes to terms with her mother’s silence.

 I could not put this book down. I was drawn in by the shock of those blank journals and the discussion of voice. For Williams, self-expression is always tied to the land, and this volume is true to form. I was deeply moved by the first-person narrative of how the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was formed because a small group of writers decided to fight for the land that they love.

This book will touch those who are interested in mother-daughter relationships, those interested in the discussion of voice, and those who are interested in environmental writing. With such variation in subject, there will be something to please every reader.


Friday, July 17, 2020

Here and Now and Then

Cover image for Here and now and then
Here and Now and Then
by Mike Chen
Mira, 2019, 326 pages, Science Fiction

When a mission goes wrong, time travel agent Kin Stewart finds himself stranded in the 1990s. Unsure of what else to do and suffering from amnesia, Kin decides to start over and eventually settles down with a job in computer security and a wonderful wife and daughter. When a fellow time travel agent finds him eighteen years later, Kin is shocked to discover that he belongs in 2142, and that he has a fiancĂ©e waiting for him there. Forced back into 2142, Kin must try to remember what his life was like before he left. But when Kin learns that his sudden disappearance has jeopardized his daughter’s life, Kin is determined to do whatever he can to fix the past.

While Chen writes science fiction, and the explanations of the rules of time travel seem solid, I think people will enjoy his books more for his skill in writing relationships and in character building. The ties Chen creates between fathers and daughters are especially well done. Kin’s drive to do whatever he can to save his daughter was heartwarming and urgent, and really made me root for him to succeed. The story starts out slowly as the different time periods and rules of time travel are explained, but the ending is a fast-paced action novel that had me at the edge of my seat.

Those who love character-driven time travel books like The Time Traveler’s Wife or How to Stop Time will enjoy Here and Now and Then.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Bromance Book Club

Cover image for The bromance book club

The Bromance Book Club 
by Lyssa Kay Adams
Jove, 2019. 339 pgs. Romance

The first rule of book club: You don’t talk about book club. Professional baseball player Gavin Scott realizes that he has really messed up when his wife Thea asks for a divorce. He has been so busy with his career and their young twins that he hasn’t noticed how unhappy Thea is and how much of her life she has been faking it. He will do anything to win her back, including getting help from a secret romance-reading book club of Nashville’s top alpha men. With lots of mistakes and challenges along the way, will Gavin and Thea ever forgive each other and fall in love again?

I was initially draw to this book because I found the title so amusing, but the story and characters were so enjoyable and realistic that I couldn’t put it down and can’t wait for the next books in the series. The group of guys is diverse, funny, and not afraid to discuss emotions, toxic masculinity, and pumpkin spice lattes. They are also crude and competitive and egotistical. There are passages from the historical romance book scattered throughout, which was fun for fans of Regency romance. Gavin and Thea’s story develops so slowly that it feels realistic and you want them to succeed. There is strong language and mild sexual content, but this is a fun, contemporary read with likeable characters and a great bromance.


Monday, July 13, 2020

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr 
by Laura Lee Gulledge
Amulet Books, 2020. 180 pages. YA COMICS

Mona Starr feels all alone. Her best friend just moved to Hawaii and she finds it hard to make friends with other teens. Not only that, her depression has started to take over her life. She calls her depression her Matter, like Dark Matter. It colors all of her interactions with her family and other people at school. Through therapy, art, writing, and music, Mona is able to start to understand her Matter and learn how to manage it better.

This is a really important book. Not only does it address the physical and emotional sides of depression, but it shows them visually through pictures. As a visual learner myself, this book really helped me understand Mona’s experiences as a teen with deep depression. Mona’s Matter is shown as an inky black substance that follows and flows around her. Even though the topic is pretty heavy, the writing is crisp and hopeful. When Mona feels better about things her Matter turns into yellow stars. 

As someone who manages depression and anxiety, I really wish that I had this book when I was younger. It really helps to give words to the feelings and physical symptoms of depression. It isn’t pedantic, the narrative is fun and fast paced. I was drawn in by the art and Mona’s sweet and quirky personality. This book is great for those managing depression and for those who have ever had to solve a big problem in their lives. It is super relatable.


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Tempests and Slaughter

Tempests and Slaughter (Numair Chronicles, #1)

by Tamora Pierce

Random House, 2018. 464 pages. Young Adult

Tempests and Slaughter centers on a young boy who wants very much to enjoy his time growing up without any notice whatsoever, but his unusual magic has other ideas. Following the adventures of young Arram and two misfit mages, Tamora Pierce builds a narrative of three unlikely friends whose bonds are strengthened by weathering the storm of secrets surrounding them.

I remember pulling books from Tamora Pierce off the shelves during middle school and her stories are still exciting to read, even so many years later. Tempests and Slaughter is a book that stands well on its own and is in good company with her other series. I am very much looking forward to rereading this until the next book comes out. Packed with action and surprises, I would recommend this book for any teen or adult reader craving fantasy and fun.


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Becky Chambers
Harper Voyager, 2016. 443 pages. Science Fiction.

Desperate to leave Mars behind, Rosemary Harper takes a job on the aging ship, the Wayfarer. Rosemary signs on to be their clerk. And while her job is mundane, the crew is not. The crew of the Wayfarer, made up of four different species, four humans with backgrounds just as different as one species is from another, and an AI with a burgeoning sentience, punch holes in spacetime to make interplanetary and interstellar highways for small ships. When the captain takes on a job that will set up the future of his entire crew, what he doesn't know is that he is putting himself and his crew in between forces that have already drastically altered Rosemary's life as well as in the midst of a cultural war.

Offering a meditation on how families can be created through shared experiences and how different cultures can coexist despite their drastic differences, Chambers the space opera genre and gives it a core of family drama, filling a universe with characters that feel like real people. For people who want the action packed space operas like Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, but want a down-to-earth component that provides a breath of fresh air in between tense sections of the book.


Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story
By Sarah Dessen
Balzer + Bray, 2019. 440 pages. Young Adult

With her father leaving the country and her summer plans falling through, Emma Saylor Payne is stuck with nowhere to go. She ends up at North Lake, staying the summer with the grandmother she hasn’t seen since her mother’s funeral. As she reconnects with old family and friends, Emma Saylor realizes that there was far more to her mother’s life than she previously realized, and that North Lake has some major socio-economic divides she was previously unaware of. Not only does Emma Saylor find a spirit of her mother about the place, but she also starts to rediscover parts of herself she forgot existed.

This was such a charming story of self-discovery and empathy. Emma Saylor starts with such a narrow view of her mother’s family, but as she hears other people’s stories, and learns more about her own story, she realizes her mother’s life wasn’t quite as black and white as she originally believed. The deep character growth is exactly what I want in a novel like this. The side characters are delightful, and the setting feels realistic. Overall a wonderful contemporary read I could easily recommend.