Monday, October 16, 2017

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down
By John Green
Dutton Books, 2017. 286 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Aza Holmes is just trying to get through each day. She does typical things like going to school and hanging out with her best friend, Daisy, but everything is made more difficult by her anxiety induced thought spirals. When local billionaire Russell Pickett goes missing, the prospect of the $100,000 cash reward motivates Aza and Daisy to rekindle a childhood friendship with his son, Davis. However, any type of normal relationship is complicated by Aza’s thought spirals, and Davis’s situation is much more complicated than they originally realized.

For anyone suffering from anxiety, or that knows someone who is, I can’t recommend this book enough. Overall, this book is about the characters, how Aza deals with her thought spirals, how all-consuming they can become, and how they affect her relationships. The plot, while secondary to Aza’s internal struggles, was enjoyable and a little quirky (I mean, that tuatara!). I would happily read this book again, but I made sure to return it immediately so that others can get the same enjoyment and enlightenment out of it. Highly recommended.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone
By Brené Brown
Random House, 2017. 194 pgs. Nonfiction

I have read (and loved) all of Brené Brown's books and her latest is no exception! This summer I was had a front row seat to see Brené speak when I attended the American Library Association Annual Conference. It was exhilarating to hear her talk about this book before it came out. Like her other books this book focuses on her research. This time on the topic is courage.

Brené describes the four elements of true belonging in detail and explains that  once we live according to these principles we will belong truly to ourselves. The  four elements:
People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.
Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
Hold hands. With Strangers.
Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.

I loved this book so much that I listened to it twice in a row before returning it. I would recommend listening because there's nothing like hearing Brené read her own words. She has such great storytelling along with the research elements and this book is an incredibly interesting one to listen to. I can't recommend this book highly enough!


The Wood

The Wood
By Chelsea Bobulski
Feiwel and Friends, 2017. 313 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Winter has grown up next to a magical wood where thresholds to other places and times open, and occasionally people wander through. It is up to the guardian of the wood to ensure these travelers make it back to their homes. Winter’s family is bound by magic to watch over the wood, and when her father disappears, she becomes the sole guardian. One day she notices that the wood is becoming diseased, and a boy from the 1700s refuses to return to his time. He claims to have information that could help her find her father, but how can anyone from hundreds of years earlier know about her father?

 There is a lot I loved about this book. Winter has a good head on her shoulders. She thinks things through, using what she knows to solve problems and figure out what’s going on. The book was fast-paced and kept me up reading long after I should have gone to bed. It was creepy, thrilling, and I was honestly kind of sad when it was over. If you’re looking for a great fall read, this is something I can easily recommend.



By MacKenzie Cadenhead
Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 264 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Sarah can’t sleep like a typical teenager. At night, she physically acts out her dreams, completely unaware that she is doing so. Being restrained to her bed every night is one way she copes, but after nearly killing a friend at a slumber party she becomes desperate. A promising new drug trial begins and she jumps at the chance to take part, but in addition to putting her to sleep and paralyzing her body, Sarah finds that she can insert herself into others’ dreams, as well as control their bodies while they sleep. When she realizes that Wes Nolan, the new guy at school, also shares her sleep disorder, they plot revenge on the classmates that are ostracizing them.

I thought the premise of this book was interesting, but to me the characters felt one dimensional and overly stereotypical. There are several instances of bullying, drug use (including drugging unaware classmates), and various types of assault that, had these issues been covered differently rather than glossed over, maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me so much. The main character, Sarah, does learn and grow, which is the main redeeming quality, but for me it was too little too late. It was a suspenseful read which is what I was originally looking for, but definitely not my favorite.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey
By Rupi Kaur Andrews
McMeel, 2015. 204 pages.

“I didn’t leave because
I stopped loving you,
I left because the longer 
I stayed the less I loved myself.” 

In this book of beautiful and heart-breaking poetry, author Rupi Kauer explores abuse, love, loss, and healing. The poetry is accompanied by simple yet evocative line illustrations that help translate the feelings conveyed in each poem. Kauer’s unique style is easily accessible, but full raw emotion. For many readers, these poems are like looking into a mirror, finding in them the words to express the hurt and hope that we have all experienced. The first few sections on abuse and loss are difficult to process emotionally, especially for women with histories of abuse, but the last section on feminine strength inspires hope and healing for readers.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman
Atria Books, 2016. 324 pgs. Fiction

Britt-Marie can't stand mess. Her OCD tendencies make her difficult, frustrating and kind of rude. At the age of 63, she leaves her marriage of forty years after she discovers her husband has been having an affair. She has devoted her whole life to her husband and children and now must find work in order to start a new life for herself. She soon finds herself as the caretaker of a run down recreation center in the dying town of Borg. She also becomes the soccer coach to a bunch of misfit kids.

Britt-Marie is another grumpy, unlikable character. She offends most the people she interacts with even when she is trying to give compliments. At first I wasn't sure if I would like this book, but by the end I loved Britt-Marie and all the quirky characters she came in contact with. She learns to live again and to find a place for herself. Fredrik Backman is the author of A Man Called Ove and he once again creates a book with endearing characters that will win your heart.   


Romancing Daphne

Romancing Daphne
by Sarah M. Eden
Covenant, 2017. 317 pgs. Historical Fiction, Romance

Daphne Lancaster is extremely shy and has felt unnoticed her entire life. James Tilburn was kind to her when she was younger and she has dreamed of him ever since. The time has arrived for her to have her first season and she is dreading it because she doesn't have the charm or beauty of her sisters. She is surprised when James Tilburn starts to court her, but things are not as they seem and her greatest fears are confirmed.

I love Sarah Eden's books. I could really relate to Daphne. She was smart and confident in some areas of her life, but felt insecure and backwards in social settings. This is the third book with the Lancaster sisters and I liked seeing characters from the other books make an appearance in this book. James and Daphne are both flawed characters but that is what made me love them even more. This is clean romance, so you can read it without worrying about stumbling across objectionable content.


Friday, October 6, 2017

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions
Peter Brannen
Harper Collins, 2017. 322 pages.

Fossils, asteroids, and geology have never been so entertaining as in Peter Brannen’s The Ends of the World. In this culmination of extensive research, award-winning science journalist Peter Brannen explains each of the five major extinction events of Earth’s geologic history. Everyone is familiar with the giant asteroid responsible for the death of the dinosaurs, but that was just one in several instances in the past 500 million years that virtually all life on our beloved planet has come to a dead end.

Brannen not only describes the causes and effects of each global disaster, but also what life was like in these previous worlds completely foreign to our modern day. In these pages, you’ll encounter dragonflies the size of large birds, giant armored fish with guillotine mouths, flying reptiles the size of small airplanes, and much more. Brannen also explains, in his witty and accessible prose, why all of this information is relevant to us today. Asteroids are a popular harbinger of Armageddon, but in reality climate change has a far more devastating track record.

Scientists today study the past extinction events as a means of understanding what is in store for our planet if humans continue to rapidly release so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through fossil fuel consumption. Ocean acidity from climate change has already destroyed 30 percent our ocean reefs, and humans are currently responsible for the extinction of countless species. Could we now be living in the Earth’s sixth extinction event?


Magpie Murders

Cover image for Magpie murders
Magpie Murders
By Anthony Horowitz
Harper, 2017, 236 pages, Mystery

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway's latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she's intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pund, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan's traditional formula has proved hugely successful. But the more Susan reads Alan’s latest manuscript, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden its pages: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.

This book is a great homage to classic mystery novels with a modern twist. Horowitz obviously knows the elements that make a classic whodunit successful, and he turns some of these elements on their heads to make a really compelling read. While Atticus Pund reminded me a lot of Hercule Poirot, Susan Ryeland seems like a character you would find in a novel by Paula Hawkins or Ruth Ware: a modern woman forced to solve the mystery on her own. I’m a big fan of classic mysteries, so the Atticus Pund storyline was a bit more interesting to me, but Susan’s storyline held my interest as well, and the way everything tied up in the end was highly satisfying.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Disappearance in Damascus: Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War

By Deborah Campbell
Picdor, 2017. 341 pgs. Nonfiction

Deborah Campbell has won awards for her writing focusing on situations in various countries.  Traveling to Damascus, Syria, to cover the stories of Iraqi refugees who fled there, she hires an Iraqi woman named Ahlam as her “fixer,” the person who helps connect her to locals and give her on the ground help with her story. Ahlam is deeply involved with the refugees in the “Little Baghdad” area of Damascus and is passionate about helping them.  She starts a school for girls in her apartment, maintains connections with Americans she has translated for in the past and other journalists she has helped.  Then one day she is arrested and disappears.  Campbell is extremely concerned and worried that Ahlam’s work for her has compromised Ahlam’s safety. Ahlam is no longer just her “fixer” but a good friend and Campbell is determined to find out what happened to her.

Seeing Damascus and the situation there in 2007 through Campbell’s eyes is very informative and interesting.  Syria had not yet plummeted into civil war though everyone was jittery because of the influx of refugees from Iraq.  Her insight into the background of the situation there and her “immersive” view is full of insight and also intrigue and adventure.  Her relationship to Ahlam and the friendship they develop enhances the emotional pull of her reporting. SH

The Polygamist's Daughter

By Anna LeBaron
Tyndale, 2017. 307 pgs. Nonfiction

As a child Anna LeBaron rarely lived with her mother or father. She lived in the homes of her father’s followers or with relatives in the LeBaron clan.  As a teenager she finally found a stable home and an opportunity to attend school on a regular basis but there was danger in taking that course.  Ervil LeBaron, her father, didn’t tolerate anyone leaving or being disaffected from his fundamentalist polygamist organization.  Even from prison he managed to assassinate the head of the family where Anna found refuge.

Neglect, abuse, child exploitation, homelessness were all part of Anna’s childhood.  In spite of everything she finally made her way to a better life but her past took a heavy toll even in times of happiness. This was an interesting personal memoir because of her unique family connections and her personal triumph.   

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Hate U Give

Cover image for The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray, 2017, 444 pages, Young Adult Fiction

After witnessing her friend's death at the hands of a police officer, Starr Carter's life is complicated when the police and a local drug lord try to intimidate her in an effort to learn what happened the night Kahlil died.

This book has been at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for months now, and has been getting amazing reviews, so I finally decided to give the book a try even though the book’s description wasn’t something that really appealed to me. I’d like to challenge you to do the same. Like the March trilogy by John Lewis (here are links to books One, Two and Three), I consider this book to be an important story that everyone should read.

While March talked about the history of racism in the U.S., The Hate U Give shows (a fictional account of) where we are on this topic today. That means this book doesn’t hold back. It’s a tough and sometimes shocking read, but it does a great job of describing just how complicated the Black Lives Matter movement and all it entails is. The really impressive part of this book is that most of the discussion of the issues was shown instead of told in a way that really helped me understand things better. Starr is also an extremely relatable character, and I found myself rooting for her and her family to succeed. Despite the dark circumstances, this book also has a light-hearted side, and I appreciated seeing the small endearing moments that bound Starr and her family and friends together. Angie Thomas deserves a lot of praise for being brave enough to write this book.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Making It Through the Middle

Making It Through the Middle: Hope and Help When the Journey Seems Long
by Emily Freeman
Deseret Book, 2014. 56 pgs. Nonfiction

Emily Freeman starts her book by talking about how people usually only talk about after they have made it through a trial. We tend to focus on the end, when an answer has been given, or the illness goes away. Very rarely does anyone offer help or advice while we are still stuck in the middle, when we are still struggling, and it doesn't seem like there is ever going to be an end. She uses her personal experiences and scriptures to share six lessons that can help us make it through the middle moments in our lives.

This was the perfect little book. When you feel stuck in the middle of a trial, you usually don't have the ability to sit down and read a big book on all the things you need to be doing. This can easily be read in one sitting and the advice is simple. This was a really inspirational book and exactly what I needed.


Friday, September 29, 2017

Empress of a Thousand Skies

Empress of a Thousand Skies 
By Rhoda Belleza
Razorbill, 2017. 314 pages. Young Adult

Rhee's family was killed when she was just a child, making her the only surviving heir of an ancient dynasty that rules the galaxy.  Now that she's of age, it's time for her coronation, but Rhee can only think of revenge.  Alyosha is a war refugee who has found fame as the star of a show about two ragtag soldiers keeping the peace on the edge of space.  But recently his ancestry was revealed and he struggles under the pressure of society's prejudice against him.  When there's an assassination attempt on Rhee's life, Alyosha is blamed for it, and each tries to untangle the web of conspiracy that entangles them both while staying out of harm's way.

This was an interesting, complex story with great worldbuilding, intrigue, and action.  Belleza doesn't tone down the complexity of her world just because she's writing for a young adult audience, which I really appreciate when so many YA books seem oversimplified.  There were a few issues with the storytelling that I found distracting, a few plot points seemed superfluous, but overall this is an exciting newcomer to YA.


Thursday, September 28, 2017


By David Elliot
HMH Books, 2017. 200 pages. Young Adult Fiction.

When mortals cross gods, consequences follow, and it's not only the guilty who pay. BULL retells the ancient legend of the Minotaur, creature with a bull's head but a human body, in verse. All involved get to have their say: Poseidon, God of the Sea; Minos, King of Crete; Pasiphae, the Queen; Daedalus, Royal Engineer; Ariadne, the Princess; Theseus, Hero of Athens, and Asterion - or Minotaur. Man or Monster? Or is Man monster? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

As a fan of mythology and novels written in verse, this book was pretty much a win-win for me. The author took a great angle to the story and put in a lot of thoughtful work into each character's voice, using specific poem formats to help create individual, unique characters. He even incorporated visual elements to some of the poems and boy am I a sucker for that. Gorgeous! I also thought it was fun that Elliot took some cues from Greek theater; in Greek theater, the Chorus role often acts as narrator and in this book, Poseidon functions similarly. Now while I LOVED most of the poems, some of
Poseidon's parts started to grate on my nerves a bit. Partly due to the character - he's basically a frat boy on steroids - but mostly it felt like Elliot was forcing himself to keep to the format he chose to use for Poseidon, which sadly made him sound less like the narrator/Chorus and more like a cheesy emcee. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this retelling, which is gaining a reputation as the "Hamilton" of Greek mythology. Notes from the author about the myth and poetic forms are included at the back of the book and I definitely recommend you read them if you're unfamiliar with the myth or you just want to geek out about poetry.


Friday, September 22, 2017


Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures
By Ben Mezrich
Atria Books, 2017. 293 pgs. Nonfiction

Science meets ancient history in this account of the scientists working to bring back the extinct woolly mammoth.  Under the leadership of leading geneticist Dr. George Church, a group of researchers are using the sequenced DNA of a frozen mammoth to alter the genes of a modern elephant to recreate, at least in part, these legendary beasts.

The issues and obstacles for such a project are almost as daunting as the tusked animals themselves and Mezrich presents them in an approachable but still scientific way.  While I found the genetics interesting I actually found the research of Russian conservationists truly fascinating.  Their plan to recreate a Siberian pasture ecosystem that could help us slow down climate change is insanely cool (no pun intended).

Descriptions of the personal lives and individual passions of the researchers involved make this book more narrative than most science writing.  And while this story is definitely still being written as scientists continue toward their mammoth goals, Woolly is a wonderful representation of what has been and the exciting possibilities on the horizon.


Loyal Son

Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin’s House
By Daniel Mark Epstein
Ballantine Books, 2017. 438 pgs. Nonfiction

Few Founding Fathers are more iconic than Benjamin Franklin.  I thought I had a pretty good grasp on his life and the role he played during those revolutionary years.  But if I had previously known that he had an illegitimate son that was a Loyalist governor of New Jersey I had effectively forgotten that.

In Loyal Son, Epstein illuminates the family life of the Franklins and the unique relationship between these two fascinating men.  The senior Franklin would fight for the freedom of the American Colonies from the tyranny of the English.  The younger Franklin seemed equally dedicated to the English Crown and its claim over the wayward Americans.  This deep division would tear the two apart despite years spent working tirelessly together to establish peace.

I loved reading this book.  I feel the need to call it a page turner even though I knew how everything would end.  I just kept hoping the two men would find a way to resolve their conflicts.  I wanted success and happiness for William while I knew his loyalties would land him on the wrong side of the conflict.  Epstein is a wonderful writer and describes history with so much color and vibrance.  Personalities and scenes come alive through his lovely descriptions and meticulous research.  Any fan of American history or family dramas should add this to the top of their reading list.


Anna and the Swallow Man

Cover image for Anna and the Swallow Man
Anna and the Swallow Man
By Gavriel Savit
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016, 232 pages, Young Adult Fiction

In 1939, Seven year-old Anna and her linguist father live in Krakow, Poland. When all of the academics in the town are rounded up by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp, Anna suddenly finds herself alone in the world. Then she meets the Swallow Man; an enigmatic gentleman who can speak to birds. As the war goes on, Anna and the Swallow Man travel from town to town, trying to evade the notice of German and Russian soldiers and also trying to stay alive.

This book is a beautifully written gem! Although this is historical fiction, I consider it to be more literary fiction. Emphasis is placed on beautiful sentence structure and on the way Anna grows as a person, and much less emphasis is placed on times and dates and portraying events in a way that’s historically accurate. Combine this with the excellent narration of Alan Corduner in the audiobook format, and I really didn’t want this book to end.

This book would be a great book for book clubs to read, since the book has an open ending. A good discussion can be fostered with questions about who the Swallow Man is, and what really happened at the end. This book is highly recommend for those who enjoyed books like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Book Thief.


Lucky in Love

Lucky in Love
By Kasie West
Point, 2017. Young Adult, 342 pages

Maddie has been worrying about her future. Her parent’s financial struggles have put a lot of stress on the family, and she’s worried she won’t be able to win a scholarship to pay for school. But Maddie’s whole world is about to change. On her 18th birthday, after her friends abandon her, she is goaded by a convenience store sales clerk into buying a lottery ticket. A few days later she discovers that she has won $50 million!

That kind of money can solve a lot of problems. No longer worried about paying for college or losing the family home, Maddie’s future looks bright. But $50 million also brings a lot of attention, and it gets hard to know who to trust. While struggling to balance everything, Maddie is reluctant to divulge her lottery win to Seth, her friend from work who somehow hasn’t heard.

Though, you will likely have to suspend your disbelief through a lot of this book it is a quick, light read with a sweet storyline. Kasie West never fails to deliver enjoyable clean, light YA romances.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

What to Say Next

What to Sat Next

by Julie Buxbaum
Delacorte Press, 2017, Young Adult. 292 pages

Only a month ago, high school student Kit Lowell, lost her father in a car accident. She’s been trying to put on a brave face, but she just can’t face the inane talk from her two best friends anymore. At lunch she decides to sit next to David Drucker, a smart, nice boy that has always been a little socially awkward. David is unafraid to bring up the subject of her father, and Kit finds his blunt honesty refreshing. Soon Kit and David are eating lunch together every day as their tenuous relationship blossoms. Kit even asks David to help figure out the specific forces of the car accident that led to her father dying.

However, when David’s notebook, which is filled with commentary about his fellow students, is stolen and published online and Kit is forced to confront truths about the accident she is not ready for, their budding relationship is challenged.

After reading Tell Me Three Things, I was excited to pick up Buxbaum’s newest book. Like Tell Me Three Things, she has created extremely nuanced and interesting characters facing real issues. While I think I connected with the characters more in the first book, this is still an interesting book I would recommend for fans of Jenny Han, Sarah Dessen, and Jennifer Niven.


Carve the Mark

Carve the Mark
By Veronica Roth
Katherine Tegan Books, 2017. 468 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

The “current” flows through everyone and everything. People develop currentgifts (extra abilities) as they grow up, and a few have their fates revealed by oracles. Akos lives on the frozen planet of Thuvhe. He is the son of a farmer and an oracle, so when he and his brother are kidnapped by Shotet soldiers because of their newly revealed fates, Akos wonders why his mother didn’t intervene. Cyra is a member of the most powerful Shotet family. Her currentgift brings pain, pain to her and to anyone that touches her. As sister of a tyrant, Cyra is treated like a weapon, a life that has hardened her and brought her psychological, as well as physical pain. Together, Akos and Cyra will work to bring about a future even the oracles have trouble foreseeing.

 I was a big fan of Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, and her newest book didn’t disappoint. She again uses the idea of a divided society (Thuvhists and Shotets) with differing social constructs and values. The novel started slow and it took a few chapters for me to get used to the unique names and understand the world, but once the scene was set I felt like the pace increased. Yes, the “current” feels a bit like the Force in Star Wars, and the varied currentgifts might make you think of the X-Men, but it didn’t bother me. I enjoyed the story and could easily recommend it to fans of Veronica Roth, as well as anyone looking for a good teen science-fiction novel.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Little Book of Hygge

Little Book of Hygge
by Meik Wiking
HarperCollins Publishers, 2017, 221 pages

The little book of hygge : Danish secrets to happy living (pronounced Hoo-ga) is a charming and informative book about the art of happiness. Wiking is a professional in this topic (he works at a think tank called the Happiness Institute in Copenhagen) and this book is backed with many studies though his work. Hygge is loosely translated as emotional coziness, comfort, togetherness, and well-being. It's manifest in your environment, activities, food, decor, and outlook on life. Hygge is a savoring of all things delicious and comforting--a way of life the Danish have mastered.

As a seeker of coziness, happiness and learning about my own Danish roots, I was intrigued by how many aspects of hygge I already partake in. I love wools socks, cozy reading nooks, warm comfort foods, snuggling in blankets, tea, smaller intimate gatherings, candles and open fireplaces. The Danish world painted by Wiking is idyllic, and seems rather unattainable in American culture, but parts can certainly be applied in daily life for all. This book is loaded with Danish-English compound words so listening to the audiobook would be my recommendation to avoid confusion. Also try to avoid getting annoyed by his more bookish technical parts, or by how often he says the word hygge. Overall, a wonderful approach to seeking simple happiness in daily life.


PS Shaina wrote a blog post about the many Scandinavian books published recently. Check it out!

When the English Fall

When the English Fall
By David Williams
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2017. 242 pgs. Fiction

Jacob lives a simple life with his wife Hannah and their children Sadie and Jacob. They are an Amish family living in Pennsylvania where they interact mostly with their Amish community as well as occasionally with their English (non-Amish) neighbors. Sadie, who has recently begun having seizures often says some strange things in the midst of her shaking.

One day she begins talking about angels and later that night there are strange lights in the sky. Sadie believes they are angels, Jacob thinks it may be the Northern Lights, and the English call it a solar storm. No matter what the event was, the reality is that now planes are falling from the sky, everyone is without electricity, and cars are no longer running.

After the world as the English know it comes to a stand still, they begin looking to their Amish neighbors for food. At first the Amish aren't as affected by the new state of the world. They are used to living without electricity and have plenty of food stored in their larders. However, as the days and weeks go on without power, everyone begins to feel more and more anxious. Looting and violence begin sweeping the country and there isn't a lot of peace to be found.

This book reminded me a lot of Life as We Knew It because it was written in diary format and both books made me realize that I need to build up my food storage. I also felt like the writing in this book was similar to Station Eleven, another post-apocalypse story. This was a fast read with a lot to think about.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Flame in the Mist

Flame in the Mist
by Renée Ahdieh
Penguin Random House LLC 2017, 392 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Set in feudal Japan, Mariko is the daughter of a prominent samurai. In order to gain prominence in court Mariko’s father arranges her marriage with the oldest son of the emperor. On Mariko’s journey to present herself at the palace her caravan is attacked and everyone but herself is killed, allegedly by the members of the Black Clan. Mariko then sets off by herself to see if she can discover who commissioned the Black Clan to kill her, and somehow maneuver her way into their good graces and then when the moment strikes sabotage them.

This was a fun story. I liked the perspective on the Japanese culture and the emphasis they place on honor in their society. I like that Mariko is not a perfect heroine. Over the course of this journey she makes some big mistakes which fits along really well with a character who was essentially culturally bred to be nothing more than an asset to her family. It was fun watching Mariko draw on the strengths she did have and use them to overcome the obstacles place before her.


Pawn: A Chronicle of the Sibyl's War

Pawn: A Chronicle of the Sibyl's War
By Timothy Zahn
Tor, 2017, 347 Pages, Sci-Fi
Book 1 of the Series
Nicole Hammond hears voices in her head, but not in the crazy, kill people way you watch on TV. They are just a background noise in her mind that she drowns out with alcohol. That is, she does until she is kidnapped by aliens, and finds out that these voices are really the instructions on how to do repairs on an ancient starship called Fyrantha, which makes her valuable to the many factions fighting for control over the ship. As Nicole starts running a repair crew on the Fyrantha, she begins to realize how much is going on the ship and how much she hasn't been told. Learning how much her actions on the Fyrantha affects humanity as a whole, Nicole has decided that she will no longer be a pawn. Working with others on the ship, Nicole has decided to fight back.

Timothy Zahn is definitely in my top five favorite authors. In Pawn: A Chronicle of the Sibyl's War he demonstrates many of the aspects of his writing that I love. He introduces interesting characters, a compelling premise, and a number of mysteries for our protagonist to solve. All of the main characters have understandable reasons for their actions, which makes them relatable when these are motives are discovered. I would offer one complaint on this book, which is that this is very much the first book of the series. There are a lot of plot points that I was hoping would be more fleshed out by the end of it, which made it fairly disappointing that, one, this book just came out, and, two, I didn't get as much of the story I wanted. However, I did end this book with the main character having made enough progress in the story and her personal development that I am excited about the prospect of what the rest of the series will bring.

You are a Badass

You are a Badass
by Jen Sincero
Running Press Book, 2013, 254 pages

You are a badass : how to stop doubting your greatness and start living an awesome life is a wonderfully irreverent approach to self-help books. Sincero speaks from personal experience and gives encouragement as well as a 'slap in the face' advice. This book helps you realize through the annoying in-your-face bluntness that all the junk is your life is from YOU. Issues we all have with money, career, religion, relationships, procrastination and the self-sabotaging beliefs that go along with are debunked. There are concrete how-to's in short chapters to help you make real changes in your daily thought patterns and behaviors in order to become your best badass self.

This book is very blunt and I appreciate that forthcoming style, especially in a self-help book. I usually need a smack in the head to get myself changing and Sincero delivers this completely. It's totally in my power to change my thinking and my circumstances and this book gives some examples of how to overcome these obstacles. One of her directives is to meditate- one powerful tool that I'm familiar with, but have been severely slacking on lately. None of her approaches are revolutionary, but she has a life coach tone that helps you feel motivated. The audiobook is a good option to really feel like you're getting personal life coaching. As the title suggests, there is colorful language throughout.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Cleaning House: a Mom's 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement

Cleaning House: a Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement 
By Kay Wills Wyma
WaterBook Press, 2012, 278 pgs, Nonfiction.

 Kay Wyma’s wake-up call came when her fourteen year old son asked her which luxury vehicle he would look better in when he turns sixteen; a Lexus, Porsche, or Maserati? She could not believe how deeply entrenched youth entitlement was in her children! Thus began the 12-month experiment to rid her home of entitled attitudes. Dubbed “the experiment,” Wyma designed a task each month to empower her children specifically with work, household chores, manners, and serving others. Throughout the book she considers how both her actions and those of other parents lead to entitlement attitudes in today’s youth, and that these attitudes teach children they are incapable of succeeding on their own.

For me this book had the unexpected effect of inspiring me to conquer my own clutter habit! My own clutter habit aside, Cleaning House is a great case study for challenging entitlement in children. I liked how willing Wyma was to admit the huge role she played in her children’s entitled attitudes, and I like how she resolved to stop contributing to the problem. If you are looking for scientific information on youth behavior, this is not the book. But if you are looking for ideas and encouragement to challenge entitlement attitudes in your home, this is exactly the book you are looking for.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Tales of a Korean Grandmother

Tales of a Korean Grandmother
By Frances Carpenter
Tuttle Publishing, 1973. 287 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Halmoni (grandmother) is full of stories and loves telling them to her grandchildren, Ok Cha and Yong Tu, just as much as they love listening to them. This collection starts by introducing the reader to the Kim household and their family dynamics. Each of the 32 traditional tales is then preceded by a short narrative about what was going on in the Kim house that prompted Halmoni to tell that specific tale.

I enjoyed this collection of folklore immensely, partly because of the overall narrative framework surrounding the Kim family. Often collections of folk tales have very clear cut, standalone stories. This collection isn’t like that because the narrative bleeds into each of the tales, and the children make connections from one tale to another about similar themes and story elements. The folklore of a culture can provide a window into traditional values and beliefs, and this collection helped me understand elements of traditional Korean culture that I was thus far unfamiliar with. For anyone interested in Korean culture, or just looking for a good collection of short stories, this is an easy recommendation from me.


Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers

Cover image for Vincent and Theo : the Van Gogh brothers
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers
By Deborah Heiligman
Godwin Books, 2017, 454 pages, Young Adult Non-Fiction

The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers' lives. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Heiligman draws on the letters Vincent and Theo exchanged during Vincent’s lifetime to weave a tale of two lives intertwined as Theo supported Vincent's struggles to find his path in life.

I came away from reading this book with the realization that you can’t really understand Vincent Van Gogh without also knowing his brother Theo. Vincent started painting rather late in life, after a few other failed career attempts, and as an art dealer, it was Theo who encouraged Vincent in his passion and pushed him to aim higher. Theo was Vincent’s harshest critic, and biggest fan.

Heiligman doesn’t shy away from discussing hard topics like Vincent’s mental illness and his passionate struggle with religion. Despite its length, this book felt like a faster read since it’s cut up in small sections and written for a young adult audience. A color insert with some of Vincent’s most famous paintings came in useful as well since Vincent took his subjects from everyday life.

Heiligman’s interesting perspective on the life of Vincent Van Gogh made me want to read another of her books: Charles and Emma, which is the story of Charles and Emma Darwin. I’m also curious to see what interesting duo she’ll write about next.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Miss Leslie's Secret

Miss Leslie’s Secret 
by Jennifer Moore
Covenant Communications 2017, 218 pgs. Romance.

Conall Stewart has dreamed for a decade of returning from war to his beautiful Scottish Highlands where his family has farmed for generations. His hopes are shattered when he comes home and the land he remembered fondly as a boy is in ruins and his family is gone without a word. As much as he wants to go searching for his family he knows he must start a new life for himself. When he moves into a neighboring town he gets more than he bargained for when he catches a boy sneaking in his library. He is frustrated by the way the boy’s mother coddles him. Little does he know that Miss Aileen Leslie is hiding a secret that if discovered could destroy both her and her son’s lives.

I enjoyed this story, I like the setting in the Scottish Highlands, and I had fun reading the story with the Scottish accent spelled out. This was a feel good story with a bit of romance. It was fun following the story wondering how Conall and Aileen were going to work things out.


Changes in Latitudes

Changes in Latitudes
By Jen Malone
HarperTeen, 2017. 378 pgs,  Young Adult

Cassie's world is still reeling from the shock of her parents' divorce and she'd like nothing more than to get started on her summer road trip with her friends. Her mom has other plans; plans that don't include being on solid ground. Instead of that awesome road trip, now Cassie is stuck going on a four-month sailing trip from Oregon to Mexico with her mom and brother. The last thing she wants is to spend that much time in close proximity to her mom!

While this book had many light moments, there were also some pretty serious scenes happening between Cassie and her mom. Cassie experiences quite a bit of personal growth during the sailing trip and just happens to meet a cute boy along the way! This was a fun end of summer read.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017


By S. Jae-Jones
St. Martin’s Press 2017, 436 pgs, Young Adult Fiction.

Liesl grew up hearing tales of the mysterious Goblin King, who rides abroad in winter searching for a bride. No longer believing the old tales, Liesl is occupied with helping run the family inn, looking after her younger siblings, and composing her music in secret. When her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl must travel to the Underground to rescue her. But her sister’s freedom requires sacrifice, and Liesl must pay the price with her life. As Liesl begins to fade, she must release her music to discover who she really is if she wants the chance to live. This is a dark tale of love and sacrifice, and of music and magic.

The best thing about Wintersong is the artful way Jae-Jones shows (instead of just tells) the reader what Liesl is feeling and thinking, so the reader understands how Liesl comes to her conclusions and decisions. The transitions from what is going on inside Liesl to what is happening around her were so seamless that I hardly noticed. I liked that Jae-Jones accomplished this without getting bogged down in a lot of internal dialog. I would recommend this to older teens and adults interested in goblins, magic, or music.


Ninefox Gambit

Ninefox Gambit
By Yoon Ha Lee
Solaris, 2016. 317 Pages. Science Fiction Captain

Kel Cheris of the Hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris's career isn't the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next. Cheris's best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress. The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao--because she might be his next victim.

Ninefox Gambit in an interesting read because of how different the premise was as opposed to normal Science Fiction. The society presented, the Hexarchate, uses technology that only works when the proper religious ceremonies are performed at the proper time. Therefore, heresy is seen as a major problem, and any alternative thinking is just a step away from heresy. This edge of a knife perspective adds new importance to the main characters' every actions, which is really interesting. Add to this strong and complex characters and a plot with many twists and turns, including a huge one at the end, and you have a book that is well worth your while. The book does end with a bit of a cliff hanger ending but with the sequel recently released, it is a good time to pick it up and check this book out.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock #2)

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock #2)
By Sherry Thomas
Berkley Books, 2017. 336 pages. Mystery

“Sherlock” Holmes has helped people, but no one more than himself – or rather, herself. Charlotte Holmes' new alias allows her the independent existence she’s craved as well as an outlet for her extraordinary talents. Fresh off the success of her first big case, professional and personal life suddenly collides when Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s oldest friend and ally, employs Sherlock to locate a missing person – Lady Ingram’s first love. Torn apart years ago by class and family expectations, the pair has met once a year just to steal a moment’s glance at each other. This year, without warning or excuse, he failed to appear. Already wary of personal implications working this case may cause, the situation grows more complicated when evidence identifies Lady Ingram’s lost love as Myron Finch, Charlotte’s half-brother. But in this case, answers only beget more questions, and the road to the truth grows more dangerous at every turn.

Once again, fabulous work by Sherry Thomas. I will say this over and over: I can’t get enough of the Lady Sherlock series! Again, a familiar story felt fresh and completely brand-new, and the suspense drove me wild. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, I'd turn the page and a new clue would shatter my theory to pieces. And again, I was delighted with the way Thomas’ characters’ interact and react, not just in relation to the case but in the larger context of Victorian society and gender politics. Where weaker historical fiction ignores those finer details and the characters just exist in this lame bubble that only makes sense (sometimes) for that particular plot and audience, Thomas gives us the full enchilada - a tasty, rich, addictive enchilada. Treat yourself. Trust me.


The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival among America's Great White Sharks

The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival among America’s Great White Sharks
By Susan Casey
H. Holt, 2005. 291 pages. Non Fiction.

Whether you love sharks, fear them, or are indifferent, you cannot deny their powerful appeal. Journalist Susan Casey’s gripping account of her time at the Farallon Islands is just what the doctor ordered if you are already missing Shark Week. In the Fall of every year, the waters surrounding the Farallon Islands become the hunting grounds of the world’s top ocean predator—Great White Sharks.

Interesting factoids and history are sprinkled throughout the author’s adventure. The rugged biologists, the intrepid boat captains, and the fearless fisherman encountered around the Farallons are just as fascinating as the sharks themselves. Casey’s tale is full of anecdotes of her time with the full-time biologists at the Farallons—the only people allowed to live on the islands full-time. Equally fascinating are the islands themselves—not a great place for human inhabitants, but home to a wealth of diverse wildlife, including birds, seals, whales, and of course, sharks.

This book offers an interesting blend of history, science, and adventure journalism that may inspire you to pick up more books on sharks, the history of California, and marine biology. In fact, the author’s obsession with the sharks and the islands is highly contagious and will make you want to pack your bag and head out for some adventure!


The Planets

The Planets 
By Dava Sobel
Penguin Books, 2006. 276 pages.
Non Fiction.

Popular author Dava Sobel (Longitude, Galileo's Daughter) once again delivers a lovely blend of science, mythology, and poetry in this fascinating look into our solar system. In this work, Sobel dedicates a chapter to each of the major celestial bodies of our in our galactic neighborhood, with delightfully playful chapter titles such as Genesis (The Sun), Sci-Fi (Mars), and Music of the Spheres (Saturn).

Though science is certainly present, factoids are not the main focus here. The history of discovery of each celestial body, as well as mythology and interesting factoids, is woven into each chapter, making this an accessible read to anyone interested in the movements of the heavens.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Boy Who Escaped Paradise

The Boy Who Escaped Paradise
By J.M. Lee
Pegasus Books, 2016. 278 pgs. Mystery

When Gilmo is found at the scene of a murder in New York, he is taken in for questioning. He only opens up when his kindly nurse, who understands his affinity for numbers, asks him questions. As a math genius, Gilmo was highly praised in Pyongyang, North Korea. When it’s discovered that his father has become a secret Christian, they are both sent to a political prison camp. While there, he meets and befriends the beautiful Yeong-ae. When she manages to escape, Gilmo decides to escape too in order to find her. Once in the free world, he uses to mathematical gifts to navigate the criminal underworld of East-Asia, a journey he hopes will eventually reunite him with Yeong-ae.

Despite incredibly difficult and dangerous situations, Gilmo finds peace in numbers and symmetry. His young age, Asperger Syndrome, and affinity for math make him an endearing and innocent character, but be aware that he is dealing with the criminal underworld and there are some fairly dark passages. While this novel will probably have a particular appeal to readers who have an affinity for math or East-Asia, neither is required to enjoy the journey this book takes you on. I really enjoyed it and can easily recommend it.

The New Koreans: The Story of a Nation
By Michael Breen
Thomas Dunne Books, 2017. 462 pgs. Nonfiction

Korea is a country (now countries, North and South) that has a long and fascinating history. Michael Breen has lived and worked in Korea for decades as a writer, consultant, and correspondent for various organizations. His deep knowledge of the area comes from immersion and a lot of research. This book provides a wide overview of how the country has evolved overtime. With sections focused on the history of country (all about rulers, invasions, and the development of ideals that shaped society), how the country has built its wealth to quickly become an economic power, the politics and power struggles, and finally where the nation is headed, this book really delves into what has shaped the country.

This is a very well informed book, and I was pleased with the depth each section went into. I’ve been learning about Korea and Korean culture for quite a while, and this really expanded what I already knew, and helped me understand the culture better. That being said, I don’t think this would be a particularly interesting book for someone who didn’t already have a basic understanding or interest in Korea. For me, this was perfect, but it’s not for everyone.


The Witchfinder's Sister

The Witchfinder's Sister
By Beth Underdown
Ballantine Books, 2017. 304 Pages. Historical Fiction

In 1645, the English Civil War drags on, but another danger lurks in the seemingly quiet countryside – one that will claim the lives of hundreds of women. Newly widowed and pregnant, Alice leaves London for the house and mercy of her estranged brother, Matthew. Her return home quickly sours; the small Essex town, once quiet and peaceful, is now tense with fear and suspicion. While surprised that witchcraft is the cause of such frenzy, Alice is shocked to find that her brother is leading the hunt. Disturbed by Matthew’s obsession, Alice tries to stop him, only to realize Matthew has already placed her at the center of his plans. What can she do to save the innocent from her brother’s holy wrath?

I loved this book! A tense, simmering historical thriller, this book puts you right in the thick of this hostile period in history. I especially loved the author’s decision to tell this story from a woman’s perspective, as it gives readers an immersive experience given Alice’s relationship to a chief instigator of the witch hunt and since women were his victims. Alice too, is a victim, first of circumstance and then her brother: a vulnerable pregnant widow, having little choice but to gamble on an estranged brother’s goodwill for her survival, only to get herself caught at the crux of political and religious tensions that give free reign to Matthew’s obsessive hunt. With Alice as the narrator, the reader’s suspense is all the more heightened. Alice is almost a surrogate or avatar for the reader; like us, Alice enters the story as an outsider. And while she gains inside information, she mostly relies on rumors to try to understand what is happening. Helpful hint: A map is provided and there are historical notes at the end, but you might want to have Google nearby for quick reference if you’re not familiar with the history of witch hunts and/or the English Civil War. But you don’t need to be a history buff to read this book! Settle down with a hot drink on an overcast, rainy day, and enjoy!


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Twist in Time

A Twist in Time
By Julie McElwain
Pegasus, 2017. 452 pages. Historical Fiction

FBI agent Kendra Donovan's attempts to return to her life in the twenty-first century have failed, and she remains in 1815 England.  To make matters worse, there's been a murder in London, and Kendra's confidante Alec has come under suspicion.  The murdered Lady Dover's past wasn't quite what she said it was, and Kendra is determined to unravel her story which weaves through many layers of the social strata.  But her determination to clear Alec's name brings her to the attention, and consternation, of the dangerous underside of London society.

This most recent installment in the Kendra Donovan series continues to be entertaining and fast-paced, and Kendra is a little more at home in the early 19th century, though she still chafes against the confining mores of the time.  Seeing the time period through Kendra's eyes is interesting, if a bit predictable at times, but it's still fun to see her intelligence and strength juxtaposed against a culture that doesn't expect that from her.  I'm looking forward to the next installment in the series.


The Ship Beyond Time

The Ship Beyond Time
by Heidi Heilig
Greenwillow Books, 2017. Young Adult Fantasy. 456 pages

In this sequel to The Girl from Everywhere, sixteen-year-old Nix continues her time traveling adventures through both real and imagined places aboard her father’s ship, The Temptation. Her father has always done the navigation, but Nix has inherited his ability to travel through time, and she has now been given the chance.

While on a quick break in modern day New York to resupply, Nix meets a mysterious young woman who gives her a map of Ys, a mythical island city off the coast of Brittany in France. Along with the map, dated 1637, is a letter from a man named Crowhurst inviting her to visit Ys and claiming the past can indeed be changed. With the desire to right the wrongs that happened in the previous book and possibly save Kasmir from his prophesied fate and whom Nix has developed feelings for, the crew heads off to Ys.

While I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the first, I am still looking forward to the next installment. This book is highly recommended for readers looking for strong female characters. Nix is flawed, being driven by her heart. Yet she uses her wits to solve the problems around her which I always appreciate in the characters I read about.



By Connie Willis
Del Rey, 2016. Science Fiction. 498 pages.

In a slightly alternate version of our own modern day, people are demanding ever faster and better connections. Briddey Flanagan, who is constantly besieged by her “no boundaries” Irish-American family, works for Commspan, a cell phone company out to beat Apple by coming up with the next great product. Shortly after her seemingly perfect boyfriend and coworker, Trent, proposes, Briddey undergoes a procedure to become empathically connected to Trent. However, things go comically awry when she ends up connected to the wrong guy, instead connecting to C.B. Schwartz, the eccentric techie who works in Commspan’s basement.

Willis juxtaposes a hilarious girl-finally-finds-right-boy story alongside razor sharp commentary on everything from corporate espionage and helicopter parenting to superficial connections versus true intimacy. While I enjoyed many aspects of this book, it wasn’t a total hit for me. I found Briddey’s utter refusal to believe what was happening to her very grating. I think there could have been a better way to keep the pacing of the story than to fall back on this trope.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Cry Wolf

Cry Wolf 
by Patricia Briggs
New York: Ace Books, 2008. 310 pgs Science Fiction

Anna is a werewolf who was changed against her will. She has recently joined the Marrocks pack as the mate to Charles Cornick the pack’s law enforcer. Recently saved from her original brutal pack, Anna moves to Charles’ home in Montana and soon must confront a witch as she threatens the safety of the werewolves.

I really love this series. For this particular series I think it is very important to read the novella that comes before this book in the timeline “ Alpha and Omega”. I enjoy not only the relationship between Anna and Charles but also I love the dimension this book gives to some of the side characters such as Asil and Bran. Some of these characters are mentioned only in passing in the Mercy Thompson series, it is so much fun how Patricia Briggs gives them new life in this series.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale 
By Margaret Atwood
Anchor Books, 1986. 325 pages

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the earliest and most influential dystopian novels of our time. The story centers on Offred, a woman living in the newly formed region of Gilead (formerly the American Northeast). Due to low fertility rates in the US, women have been stripped of their freedoms, and forced into specific roles to increase the birth rate. Offred is a Handmaid—a woman whose sole purpose is to bear children to prominent men.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a disturbing look into a possible not-to-distant future, and is relevant to our modern day. The fictitious Republic of Gilead uses strict Christian/Puritan theology to justify the removal of personal identities and the reordering of society. Women are banned from reading and writing, relationships are strictly controlled through the government, and any dissenters are publicly executed. Reminiscent of both The Scarlet Letter and 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale is sure to provoke strong emotions in readers.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill

By Greg Mitchell
Crown, 2016. 382 pgs. Nonfiction

The Berlin Wall fell nearly 30 years ago.  Many have forgotten the price people paid to cross that barrier between East and West Berlin.  Before it was built in 1961 Berliners traveled from east to west for daily jobs, school, to visit families – and to flee to the West. Once the infamous barrier was built a person’s life was forfeit for trying to cross it.  Yet thousands and thousands defied the East German government, crossing the barrier by balloon, jumping from windows across the barrier into firemen’s nets in the west, using fake papers, and escaping via underground tunnels joining East Berlin and West Berlin.

In 1961 no one was sure whether western pressure against the Russians and East Germans because of the wall might escalate to war. JFK was already embroiled in the Cuban missile crisis and famously said, “A wall is better than a war.” This compelling book gives accounts of several tunnel projects that were successful routes for escaping East Germans. The author also fills in the details about the political tensions of the time which could easily have flared into war.  SH

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Fire By Night

The Fire By Night
By Teresa Messineo
William Morrow, 2017. 306 pgs. Historical Fiction

Shedding more light on less familiar aspects of World War II, The Fire By Night paints an unflinching portrait of the brave American women who served as nurses on the front lines of World War II.

Jo finds herself abandoned with a handful of seriously injured patients, near the German lines.  With few supplies and no support from nearby American troops she is pushed to a breaking point just fighting to keep her soldiers alive.  Jo’s close friend from nursing school, Kay is on the other side of the world.  Her service takes her to a terrifying POW camp in Manila which she is determined to survive. 

Like The Women in the Castle, The Fire by Night tells of the strength of women.  Often unaware of their own resilience until they are truly tested, they have the potential to stare down true evil and utter hopelessness.  Their stories are sometimes left untold but are represented beautifully in these recent works of historical fiction.


The Women in the Castle

The Women in the Castle
By Jessica Shattuck
William Morrow, 2017. 353 pgs. Historical Fiction

Marianne was widowed in 1944 when her husband was executed for taking part in the failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  As the war winds down she battles the chaos of her crumbling homeland to find the wives and children of fellow resisters. 

She rescues them from refugee camps, Nazi reeducation homes, and from the hands of the occupying Red Army soldiers.  Those she is able to find, she brings to an old family castle and creates a makeshift family.  Each rescued woman has her own story of loss and perseverance and each has their own secrets to keep and dreams to pull from the rubble left after years of war. 

This is a wonderfully rich story of the strength of the soul and terrors of war.  Each character was a survivor and a hero though their pasts were messy and their choices questionable.  What would you do to keep what was left of your family alive when everything you loved has been destroyed?  The Women in the Castle touched my heart and brought new light to an often forgotten outcome of World War II.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee -- a Look Inside North Korea

By Jang Jin-sung
Atria Books, 2014. 339 pgs. Nonfiction

Having shown his gifts as a poet while still a teenager, Jang was given a job in North Korea’s United Front Department, the government section responsible for inter-Korean espionage. Honored by being invited to meet Kim Jong-il because of his poetry, he becomes one of the “Admitted,” making him virtually immune to punishment for any infraction without approval from the “Great Leader” himself.  In his work he was allowed to read and study books, newspapers and magazines from South Korea so that he could write propaganda as though it had been written in South Korea. Gradually Jang becomes disillusioned with the government of North Korea. Having lived his whole life in Pyongyang, he is horrified when he visits a friend in the countryside and sees the starvation and poverty of ordinary North Koreans. When he violates the rules of his job and loans a restricted book to a friend he suddenly finds himself being investigated by his unit.  Knowing that it is only a matter of time before he is arrested, he and his friend cross the Tumen River into China.

This memoir is far different from other recent books about refugees from North Korea because the author is so familiar with the propaganda tools and techniques of the North Korean government.  He was an insider who experienced the privileged lifestyle of the elites close to Kim Jong-il. He is also a gifted writer, and currently the editor of a website that reports on North Korea. I highly recommend this memoir to those who are interested in North Korea.