Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Thick as Thieves (The Queen's Thief #5)

Thick as Thieves (The Queen’s Thief #5) 
By Megan Whalan Turner 
Harper Collins, 2017. 336 pages. 

Kamet, a high-status slave of the Mede Empire, unexpectedly finds himself on the run with an unlikely companion. This latest installment of the Queen’s Thief series is full of Megan Whalen Turner’s characteristic wit and endearing characters. Though all the books in the series follow one another chronologically, each one can be read and enjoyed as a standalone work and Thick as Thieves is no exception. 

I love that each book in the series is told from a different character’s perspective, and Kamet holds his own as a unique and loveable addition to the narrators. The real selling point for me, however, is the return of one of my favorite characters from the series, known in this volume solely as “The Attolian.” This is not only an exciting tale of chase and survival but also of enduring friendships that readers of all ages can enjoy. 


Shifting Shadows

Shifting Shadows 
By Patricia Briggs
Ace Books, 2014. 450 pages, Science Fiction

This is a fun collection of short stories from the Mercy Thompson World. In this collection there are stories giving greater insight into characters like Sam, David, and Ben. Each story works to build the Mercy Thompson world with a little more insight to some of the characters that we know and love, as well as some of the characters that were only mentioned in passing.

I really enjoyed the majority of the short stories in this book. The first one was a little long and hard to get through but the rest of them are absolutely compelling and so much fun to read and enjoy. My personal favorite was Ben’s story “Redemption “ .Ben has been one of my favorite characters since book three in the Mercy Thompson series. Ben has learned from life experience that the only person he can depend on is himself, and his main focus has always been looking out for number one. I love the insight and growth in this one it really made me smile at who Ben grew to be while still being himself.


Friday, June 23, 2017

The Masked City

The Masked City
By Genevieve Cogman
ROC, 2016. 372 pages. Fantasy

In the second installment of the Invisible Library series, Irene must travel deep into a chaos infested world run by the Fae after her assistant Kai is kidnapped from the alternate Victorian steampunk earth they had been living in. Kai is the youngest son of dragon royalty and it’s up to Irene to save him before the dragons start a war with the Fae, their longtime foes.

Full of fast-paced action including an epic prison break and a final showdown on a train √° la the wild west. This installment lacks some of the energy of the first book, but it’s still a fun, inventive fantasy with a smart, tough, and witty female heroine.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Women in the Castle

The Women in the Castle
By Jessica Shattuck
William Morrow, 2016. 353 pgs. Historical Fiction

Set toward the end of WWII, this novel tells the story of Marianne von Lingenfels, the widow of a German resister who was murdered after the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. She made a promise to try to protect other widows of resisters and she plans to keep it. Soon she has gathered Benita and Ania and their children to a crumbling Bavarian castle. These three women must navigate a world full of uncertainty and danger. They ban together and make a home for their children, but eventually their secrets pull them apart.

I enjoyed this historical fiction novel that looked at the difficulties faced by German women and children during and after WWII. It was a unique perspective that I haven't really read before. I also liked that the author examined the guilt that German citizens experienced over what their leaders and fellow-citizens did during the war. This book gave me a lot to think about and there would be a lot of good topics to talk about in a book club.


The Heir

by Kiera Cass
HarperCollins, 364 pages, fiction.

THE HEIR is book No. 4 in the Selection series, carrying on the story with America Singer's daughter named Evelyn. Besides being related to previous characters in the series, this book and No. 5 THE CROWN stand alone as their own mini story. Much like her mother, Evelyn is headstrong and determined, wanting to be able to make her own choices and not have a 'selection' for a husband forced upon her. As the competition begins she faces various challenges while learning about herself and the possibility of her own fairy-tale ending.

Overall, I really enjoyed this entire series. This book starts up a whole new plot different from the first three in the series, so it's fun to see new characters develop and how they will handle political and relationship problems. Evelyn is a less likeable character throughout most of this book, which is why it's so wonderful to see her grown up and treat people better. I always love a good love story and this one keeps you guessing for while!


Monday, June 19, 2017

The Daily Show (The Book)

The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests
By Chris Smith and Jon Stewart
Grand Central Publishing, 2016.  459 pages.  Nonfiction

This is an oral history of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the political satire comedy show that ran under Stewart for 16 years, won 23 Emmys, and launched the careers of many of today's brightest comedians. Chris Smith has interviewed an impressive amount of people for this book and has compiled it all together in a coherent and even compelling way.  The book recounts not just the process of how episodes were made, but also behind-the-scenes looks at many significant moments from the show, and even includes details of scuffs between staff - how they were resolved and how they affected the show going forward.

While this is an overview of the show from its inception, it is also an overview of major events of the past two decades, especially the political landscape and its shifts.  And while there were many people involved, special focus is given to Jon Stewart, whose drive and commitment to not just regurgitating the news with jokes but having an actual viewpoint helped create an entirely new kind of show and influenced countless viewers for the better part of two decades.  It doesn't always paint Stewart in a flattering light, but its hard not to come away from this book without an appreciation for his work ethic, his personal integrity, and his ability to think critically and speak eloquently, even in charged situations.  This is a fascinating history of a cultural phenomenon and the people who powered it. Be aware that, like the show, there is plenty of cursing in this book.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope

By Wendy Holden
HarperCollins, 2015. 385 pgs. Nonfiction

Separated from their husbands, three young mothers imprisoned by the Nazis in the fall of 1944 manage to conceal their pregnancies from Nazi doctor Josef Mengele when they arrive at Auschwitz. Young and still healthy the women are sent to work in harsh conditions at a labor camp in Freiburg. Unknown to each other they continue to hide their pregnancies even as they are nearly starved to death. As the Germans fall back and the Allies approach, one gives birth in the factory clinic to a tiny baby just before they are all loaded onto trains to be transported to Mauthausen. Two more babies born on that treacherous journey also survive to be liberated by American troops.

The author relates the early lives of these three women, their marriages, and their lives after liberation.  For those not as familiar with the Holocaust, the author also gives background information about Nazi policies and the conditions in the countries they occupied as Jews are placed in ghettos and concentrations camps. Unknown to each other while in the camps, after the war the three women raised strong children. Bonded by their incredible births and their strong mothers, the three children finally meet  to celebrate their survival. This story deserves to be told and the author’s writing is excellent.  Be warned, however, that there are graphic descriptions of life in the camps and the inhuman treatment prisoners received.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Scrooge #worstgiftever

Scrooge #worstgiftever
By Charles Dickens & Brett Wright
Random House, 2016. 90 pages. Young Adult

Scrooge #worstgiftever is a retelling of The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens through text messages, status updates, and lots of emojis, part of the "OMG Classics" collection.  I have to say that the other OMG Classic I read, Darcy Swipes Left (a Pride and Prejudice retelling), did a little more to update the story and use a broader range of platforms whereas this book was more of a straightforward translation of The Christmas Carol into an SMS feed with emojis.  Still, there were fun touches: the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come only speaks in emojis, and there were playful references to auto correct (Bah HAM BUG) and wrong numbers ("Scrooge: Tell me, stranger - what day is it?!" "555-1422: New phone, who dis?")  This is a fun, quick read, and will be appreciated by those with a sense of humor and an affinity for social media.


This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live

This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live
by Melody Warnick
Viking, 2016, 320 pages, Non-Fiction

Austin, Texas, was supposed to be the city where Melody Warnick and her family stayed forever. But soon after moving there, they packed their belongings and, like millions of restless Americans, ventured cross-country. This time, though, Melody had an epiphany. Rather than hold her breath and hope Blacksburg, Virginia, was her perfect town, she would figure out how to fall in love with her new home. Warnick's journey to find out what makes us love our towns and cities, and why it matters, is at the heart of This Is Where You Belong. She dives into the body of research about place attachment--the deep sense of connection that residents sometimes feel with their towns--and travels to towns across America to see it in action.

I’m a Provo native, so there’s a lot about Provo that makes it feel more like home than anywhere else I’ve lived. At the same time, I’ve also really enjoyed the other places I’ve lived too, and there’s a special place in my heart for each of them. Warnick’s pointers on how a person can become place-attached weren’t that surprising, but discussing the merits of things such as getting to know your neighbors, being involved in local events, volunteering, shopping locally, and exploring the outdoors made me wonder what more I could be doing to be involved in my community. I think this book goes along really well with our summer reading theme: Build a Better World.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ghostland: American History in Haunted Places

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places 
By Colin Dickey 
Viking, 2016. 320 pages. 

 Author Colin Dickey was in the market to buy a house after the housing market crash of 2008. His tour of foreclosed and empty homes (or “zombie homes”) inspired him to write about American history in terms of his haunted houses, cemeteries, prisons, and asylums. Ghost fans will recognize such beloved favorites as the Winchester Mystery House, The Stanley Hotel, and Amityville, as well as many others. 

 This book is by no means a scary read, but instead invokes elements of history and American folklore. Everyone knows about Sarah Winchester’s supernatural visitors urging her to build her sprawling mansion, but is that the whole story? Dickey not only explores the veracity of ghost stories, but delves into historical explanations as well. Why do some ghosts haunt places that they visited instead of places where they died? What causes a ghost story to live on in oral tradition and lore? Does racial bias have anything to do with the types of ghost stories told (and experienced) in an area with a history of slavery? Dickey explores these questions and more in this volume of America’s more supernatural history.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Saints at Devil's Gate

By Laura Allred Hurtado & Byron C. Andreasen
The Church Historian’s Press, 2016. 143  pgs. Nonfiction

In this lovely book about the LDS Church History Library exhibit "Saints at Devil's Gate," beautiful landscape paintings of sites along the Mormon Trail are accompanied by quotes from pioneers who wrote in their journals about the scenery. Placed alongside the landscapes are historical notes, curator's insights and comments by the artists, John Burton, Josh Clare and Bryan Mark Taylor. More than fifty paintings are included in the book, of which only a fraction can be viewed in the online exhibit.  While not an overly large book, the landscapes are still reproduced at three or four times the size they can be seen online.  The book format is ideal for really spending time with the artwork and commentary. Viewing the sensitively rendered paintings and reading the pioneers’ words is a haunting and inspirational experience.   This is a wonderful book to spend time with on a Sunday afternoon.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Above the Dreamless Dead

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics 
by Chris Duffy (Editor)
First Second, 2014, 144 pages, Nonfiction

Above the Dreamless Dead brings together World War I poetry and interpretive illustrations by contemporary cartoonists. Edited by New York Times-bestselling editor Chris Duffy, this collection includes twenty poems and other works by thirteen prominent Trench Poets (thus called as many were soldiers writing from the front lines), including Rudyard Kipling, Wilfred Owen, and Thomas Hardy.

 Already gripping and evocative, these timeless works have been beautifully re-imagined by incredibly talented artists. Each cartoonist’s style lends itself perfectly to the work illustrated: Hunt Emerson’s caricature-like style brings out the humor of solider songs; Hannah Berry gives a face to the ploughman of Edward Thomas’ “The Private”; while George Pratt’s expressive drawings capture the drama and gravity of Wilfred Owen’s poems. As a fan of World War I poetry and illustration, this book was absolutely perfect, a must-have for my personal library. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys poetry, graphic novels, illustration, and/or World War I history. Even if you only like one of those topics, or none of them, you should treat yourself to this work of art.


Too Big to Know

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now that the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room
By David Weinberger
Basic Books, 2011, 231 pages, Nonfiction

Dr. David Weinberger is the author of several books mostly discussing the effect of the internet on our ideas. His latest book, Too Big to Know, examines how the instantaneous, collaborative, social, and hyperlinked nature of information in the age of the internet has fundamentally transformed how people acquire knowledge.

Using several enlightening examples, Weinberger explores the knowledge that can be gained from unbound networks that form the internet. Before the internet, knowledge was sought from experts and the structure of books shaped and filtered knowledge. But the internet scales indefinitely meaning with today’s instant access to these immeasurable amounts of data, any person; amateur or expert is able to explore new possibilities and new solutions to any issue.

This is a quick read that I found this to be a fascinating topic. I would highly recommend it to those interested in the way the future is changing or those interested in learning and how we gain knowledge.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Strange the Dreamer

Cover image for Strange the dreamer
Strange the Dreamer
By Laini Taylor
Little, Brown & Co, 2017, 536 pages, Young Adult Fiction

Since he was five years old Lazlo Strange has been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep. Lazlo is an orphan who was raised by monks and grew up to be a junior librarian. He is clearly not the stuff that adventurers are made of. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself when a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors come to town, claiming they are from the city of Weep and asking for help. Lazlo has the chance to seize his dream, and he takes it. But travelling with the Godslayer soon brings up more questions than answers: What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? What is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? And more personally, who is the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo's dreams? How did he dream of her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

At one point in this book, someone asks Lazlo Strange to tell a fantastic story, full of both beauty and monsters. It’s obvious that Laini Taylor knows this is a great formula for a writer to follow, because Strange the Dreamer is just such a story, and this story is pretty much perfect. Taylor’s skill weaving classic fantasy tropes into a completely new novel is evident here. Although the tale starts out slowly, Taylor’s lush writing, detailed world building, and intriguing characters held my attention until the story really took off and ended at a cliffhanger that has me impatiently waiting the next book in this duology.

Lovers of fantasy novels such as Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, Taylor’s own Daughter of Smoke and Bone series (and dare I even suggest older teens who loved Harry Potter?) will enjoy this book.


Friday, June 2, 2017

The Black Witch

The Black Witch 
By Laurie Forest
Harlequin Teen, 2017. 601 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Elloren is the spitting image of her grandmother who was the Black Witch who kept her race safe during the Realm War. Even though she looks like her grandmother she has no magical abilities in a world where little else is important. When Elloren finally gets to go to University with her brothers to pursue her dream of becoming an Apothecary, but she soon comes to understand that this school which allows all manner of people to attend, is not the safest place for granddaughter and look alike of the Black Witch.

I absolutely loved this book! This has been my favorite book I have read so far this year. I will acknowledge, you will probably either love this book or you will hate it. There are not many people who seem to stay on the fence about this book. This book has a lot of emotional themes as you follow the story of this girl who was born into a dominant race and then when she goes to the University she then has to question a lot of her core beliefs. It wasn’t simple it did not magically come together but I found it so fascinating to watch Elloren grow and become a person who had a broader perspective of life after she met these people verses at the beginning when she felt like she had an understanding of how the world worked. This is a very racially charged book and may cause some emotional conflict but I think this book has potential to broaden a person’s perspective and if you are willing to go on that kind of journey this is a fantastic story.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

I'd Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido

I’d Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido
By Joan Sewell
Broadway Books, 2007. 213 pages. Nonfiction

Welcome to the life of Joan, a low-libido woman in a relationship with Kip, a high-libido man. Joan thinks everything is going fine with her 3 times a month “false spontaneity” plan until she asks Kip how often he would like to have sex. The answer shocks her and sends her on a quest to step up her libido. She recounts with brutal and often hilarious honesty her attempts to try everything that the sexperts recommend, from spiritual mindfulness to wearing thongs. As each prescription fails to affect a cure, however, Joan starts wondering if anything is actually wrong with her and whether the “experts” she sees on TV know as much about women as they think they do.

This book was a page-turning, laugh-out-loud blast. I read the entire thing in pretty much one sitting because I couldn’t put it down. I was curious to see how each new “solution” would play out, and Joan’s conversational tone wrapped me up in her story. While she tends to show herself in a somewhat deprecating light and writes Kip as a martyr, both people come across as so real and relatable that you can’t help but find out what happens to them. Joan keeps a lively sense of humor throughout, so even the toughest topics keep from being too dark. I think this book is a marvelous manifesto on the libido gap between men and women, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in a modern rethink of the outdated Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.


The Long Earth

The Long Earth
By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Harper, 2012. 336 pages. Sci-Fi

In this non-Discworld novel, Terry Pratchett and co-author Stephen Baxter explore an interesting concept: what if humans had the ability to reach all the Earths that could have been? After the invention of a simple device powered by a potato, the people of the world discover that they have the ability to Step—to travel to neighboring Earths on the possibility tree. What if the Ice Age had never ended? What if humans had never evolved? What if, what if. Each one of these options suddenly becomes a place that humanity can visit. The further you get from home, or “Datum Earth” as it’s now called, the stranger things become. Two adventurers—a sentient computer program named Lobsang and a Davy Crockett-style celebrity Stepper named Joshua Valient√©—embark on a quest to Step as far as they can and discover the end of the Long Earth.

Fans of Terry Pratchett will definitely find his signature style within this book. Lobsang, a computer program who claims to be a Tibetan motorcycle repairman reborn, is pure Discworld. However, this work is far more contemplative than most of Pratchett’s humor writing. There are very few laugh-out-loud moments, and the book occasionally reads more like a pop science article than a novel. The emphasis is definitely on the concept more than the characters or plot. This leads to a slower pace, and I often found that I enjoyed thinking about the book more than I did actually reading it. Despite cosmic focus, however, I found Lobsang and Joshua both charming and their interactions amusing, and I was as eager as they were to discover the end of the Long Earth. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an interesting soft sci-fi that might change the way you look at the world, or (of course) to fans of Terry Pratchett.


Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation Into Space

Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation Into Space
By Margot Lee Shetterly
HaperCollins, 2016. 231 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

One of the recent trends I've noticed is, amazing nonfiction books being adapted for a young reader's edition. While I haven't yet read the original book, I've seen the movie based on the book (I loved it!) and I thought this was very good adaptation. Having seen the movie first, gave me the context needed to really enjoy learning about these women and this time in history.

Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden are a few of the many women who worked for NASA in the 1950s and 1960s. These women were master mathematicians who played a vital role in aeronautics during war times and in the space age. I was enthralled by their individual stories and the way these women as a whole influenced our nation. I would recommend this book (and movie) to anyone.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Long Way Home

By Saroo Brierley
Berkley, 2015. 273 pgs. Biography

Saroo Brierley spent his first five years living in rural India with a loving but very poor mother and his three siblings. Barely finding enough to eat from day to day, his brothers expand their search for work and food by catching trains to nearby villages. One night Saroo goes with his brother to another town and falls asleep on a bench waiting for his brother to return.  Waking up in a panic and still drowsy Saroo enters a train car looking for his brother but then the train leaves the station.  Many hours later the train reaches Calcutta. Saroo is so young he scarcely knows his name, let alone where he is from but he manages to survive from day to day.

If you irretrievably lose your family what would be best thing that could happen to you?  Given that there are millions of homeless, abandoned, orphaned children in India Saroo is very fortunate to be picked up off the street, sent to an orphanage, and then adopted by a family in Australia. Still the memory of his birth family and his longing for them is always with him until one day he vows to find them.  Saroo’s story is a glimpse into a faraway world – at once triumphant and heartbreaking.  This book was made into the film “Lion,” released in 2016. It is a quick and rewarding read.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Orpheus Clock: the Search for My Family's Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis

By Simon Goodman
Scribner, 2015. 353  pgs. Nonfiction

The Orpheus Clock brings to life the tragedy of the Gutmann family’s losses to the Nazis.  The Gutmann’s acquired their wealth through banking in Germany but by the time of the World War II, the family trustee of their famous art collection lived in Holland. The Nazis soon became aware of the priceless collection of art owned by Fritz and Louise Gutmann and couldn’t rest until they had taken everything, even Fritz and Louise’ lives. Because the Nazis usually made their art thefts look legal by forcing their victims to sign documents verifying their “sale,” most European governments were extremely slow to recognize and return art to victims and their families after the war, claiming the art had been legally acquired by the Nazis. Many governments ignored the life and death pressures experienced by the victims and required them to repurchase their art!  

Inheriting his father’s voluminous correspondence from the decades after World War II, Simon Goodman renews his father’s quest to locate masterworks once owned by his grandparents that ended up in the hands of governments and galleries in Europe and the United States after the war. This gripping book also traces the lives of the Gutmann family as they acquire and then lose their wealth because of Nazi policies toward the Jews.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life

Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life
By Peter Walsh
Rodale Books, 2017. 256 pgs. Nonfiction

Peter Walsh is a expert on decluttering and how to be happier with less. In his newest book, he focuses on how to downsize when you are faced with major life changes like the death of a spouse, the death of your parents, a job change, retirement, or moving into a smaller home. He acknowledges that often when faced with these monumental life changes, it is not the best time to try to sort through what is really important. Usually you will either hang on to too much, or you'll get rid of something that you will regret later because of a time constraint.

I am in the process of decluttering my home and I decided to see if this book would give me the motivation I was looking for. There were a lot of helpful tips on things you should consider before you start to downsize like how much space you will have and what are the real treasures you want to keep. I didn't realize that this book would talk so much about downsizing because a life event like a death or retirement. Those aren't concerns I am dealing with currently, so a lot of the information felt like it didn't apply to me. He did convince me of the importance of going through my own stuff now, while I am physically able, so that my loved ones won't have to deal with it after I die. I listened to this on Overdrive and even though it wasn't exactly what I was looking for, it still had some good tips.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Fall of Lord Drayson

The Fall of Lord Drayson
By Rachael Anderson
HEA Publishing, 2016. 284 pgs. Historical Fiction, Romance

Lucy Beresford is shocked when the new Earl of Drayson shows up at her door and informs her that the estate will soon be sold and Lucy and her mother must leave the dowager house and find a new place to live. The problem is that they don't have any options. Since her father's death, they barely have enough money to scrape by and they don't have any relations they can turn to. She can't believe the earl would break the promise his father made. Soon the tables are turned when Lucy discovers the earl unconscious and hurt in the road. When he wakes up, he has no memory of who he is and Lucy decides to teach him a lesson by telling him that he is her servant.

If you are a fan of Regency romances, this is a great read! Lucy is charming and feisty and Colin is pompous and cocky but you can't help falling in love with both of them as you get to know them better. There are some fun twists and hilarious scenes and of course the tender moments that make you sigh! This was the perfect clean romance to relax with at the end of a long day.


Friday, May 19, 2017

My Not So Perfect Life

My Not So Perfect Life
By Sophie Kinsella
Dial Press, 2017. 434 pgs. Fiction

Katie Brenner, a farm girl from Somerset, is determined to become Kat Brenner, successful London professional.  She wants it all, the lively set of friends, the fulfilling job, the picturesque flat, and the money to enjoy restaurants, clothes and clubs.  But, her London life is less than ideal as she struggles to find friends, lives in a glorified closet, barely manages to budget money for the essentials, and finds herself dyeing her boss’s roots instead of designing brilliant re-branding campaigns. And then things get worse.

My Not So Perfect Life was the perfect book to kick off my summer reading.  It’s light and funny but still perceptive and well balanced.  I am a big fan of Sophie Kinsella (minus her Shopaholic series because the protagonist’s spending habits give me anxiety).  Her chick lit is among the best in the genre.  I always look forward to her new novels and am rarely disappointed.  Sunny reading for sunny days!


American Spirit

American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For
By David McCullough
Simon & Schuster, 2017. 176 pgs. Nonfiction

American Spirit is a wonderful collection of 15 speeches written and delivered by David McCullough.  Many are commencement speeches and the others were given to commemorate significant dates, place, or people in American History.  They are all insightful and timely.  As McCullough states in his introduction, he shares them to “help remind us, in this time of uncertainty and contention, of just who we are and what we stand for…”.  Here he provides careful words of advice and admonition that we stand for what is right, that we make a difference in the world, and that we do not ignore the examples and lessons of the past (also that we stop using the works like and actually).

I feel like David McCullough is currently America’s grandfather.  His messages are wise, patient, and slightly exasperated with the current generation and I absolutely love him for it.  Each speech, like each of his books, provides insight and entertainment and leaves you feeling uplifted and enlightened.  And, if you’ve never listened to any of his audiobooks, I highly recommend listening to this one.  He is a wonderful speaker and it is a treat to hear his words in his own patriarchal voice.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Venomous: How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry

Venomous: How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry
by Christie Wilcox
Straus and Giroux, 2016. 236 pages. Non Fiction

Did you know that the Amazonian bullet ant has the most painful sting of any creature on Earth? Or that a male platypus has venomous barbs on their hind legs? Want to know the difference between venom and poison, or why animals evolved to be venomous in the first place? Author Christie Wilcox will take you on a journey around the world, presenting the most venomous creatures in land and sea. 

 Wilcox describes the chemical makeup of venom and its effects on the body, as well as the evolutionary pressures behind the existence of these toxins. The text can be jargon heavy, but the author balances it out with interesting anecdotes of peoples’ experiences with bad stings and bites. 

My favorite part of this book (besides the gory anecdotes of course) was learning about the contributions venom has played in the medical world. Wilcox refers to certain venoms as “lethal lifesavers” due to their potential as medical treatments. Cone snail venom is used in a medically well-known drug used to treat diabetes. Venomous leeches are used in treatments when blood clots need to be avoided. Cobra venom is a popular black market painkiller in many parts of Asia, and some people even self-administer snake venoms with the belief that it boosts the immune system! This book is a fascinating and fun read for anyone that wants to learn more about venom!


The Crossover

The Crossover
By Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin, 2014. 237 pgs. Young Adult  

“A bolt of lightning on my kicks…
the court is sizzling.
 My sweat is drizzling.
 Stop all that quivering.
 Cuz tonight I’m delivering.”

 Adults, do not be fooled by the Newbery medal on the cover—this book is for young and old alike. Josh Bell, a fourteen-year-old basketball phenomenon, raps his coming of age story through poetic verse. Josh and his twin brother start to grow apart, and their father’s health starts to take a turn for the worst.

Many young adult readers can relate to the growing complexity of the brothers’ relationships, as well as the pressure to succeed in competitive sports. Adult readers can relate to how Josh’s parents try communicate with their boys. The poetic style of the story really speaks straight from the heart, getting the point across without any superfluous prose in the way. The audiobook version is well worth a try, as the rap-style lends itself perfectly to be spoken aloud. Whether you choose to read or listen, The Crossover will leave a lasting impression.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Dark Talent

The Dark Talent
By Brandon Sanderson
Starscape, 2016. 300 pages. Young Adult

It’s finally here! It took almost seven years, but Alcatraz #5 is out and the series is finished. And yes, there is an altar of outdated encyclopedias. It took him long enough.

Book #4 (Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens) ended on a definite cliffhanger. Alcatraz had somehow managed to break the Smedry Talents, Bastille was in a coma, and the Free Kingdoms were in eminent danger. #5 picks up right in the middle of that mess. After fighting on Librarian terms for so long, Alcatraz is angry and ready to take the fight to the Librarian capital, aka the Highbray in Washington D.C. His Grandfather is, of course, up for anything that audacious, and Kaz and a new Smedry cousin named Dif join in. Oh, and Alcatraz’s mother. THAT isn’t awkward at all.

A few things have changed in the past six years. First of all, it seems that “Alcatraz versus” is no longer a part of the title; it’s just the series name. Also, the Alcatraz series now has an illustrator! Though sparse, the drawings by Hayley Lazo were excellent and I found them a welcome addition to the Alcatraz universe. As far as the actual content goes, The Dark Talent fulfills all the promises of the previous Alcatraz books. It continues the same humor, the same exciting storylines, and the same (mostly) loveable characters. But it also delivers something the rest of the series has been none too subtly hinting at the whole time: the reason that Alcatraz isn’t the hero everyone thinks he is. This series-ender is dark and may leave many readers dissatisfied, but you can’t deny that Alcatraz warned us. Many plot points are left hanging, but the final pages also include the hint of a sequel series, so it seems the story WILL continue eventually. All in all, though The Dark Talent doesn’t knock it out of the park the way Shattered Lens did, the book is definitely worth reading and the (kind-of) surprise ending will make you excited for whatever Sanderson comes out with next.


The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

Cover image for The inexplicable logic of my life : a novel
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life
by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Clarion Books, 2017, 445 pages, Young Adult Fiction

Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it's senior year, everything is changing, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal's not who he thought he was, then who is he? And what does his adoption have to do with it?

Saenz takes his time unfolding this character-driven tale, but it doesn’t feel like it. Written in short yet poignant chapters, I was compelled to keep reading. Saenz’ writing style (short choppy sentences that are still beautifully written) reminded me a lot of Beth Kephart, although I feel like Saenz’ writing style is a little more relatable.

I loved the healthy, respectful relationship Sal and his father have. (And because I’m old and grumpy, I related a lot with Sal’s father’s exasperation whenever Sal and his friend Samantha texted each other while standing right next to each other.) While Sal is having trouble dealing with the changes life brings, his friends also have family troubles and they find refuge with Sal and his father. I didn’t enjoy how much some side characters swore, but I loved the themes of family, compassion, social responsibility, death, redemption, and the value of a human life. This is a beautifully written book that will resonate with those who read it.