Thursday, July 20, 2017

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry 
By Neil deGrasse Tyson

Everyone’s favorite celebrity astrophysicist once again enthralls readers with his entertaining approach to science. Approachable and concise, this volume explains the cosmos in this condensed volume, discussing topics such as dark matter, the solar system, the light spectrum, and the search for life in the universe.

 This book has so many appeals. Busy readers will enjoy the short chapters, perfect for fitting in a quick science lesson here and there. Tyson’s wit and humor makes for some seriously entertaining astrophysics. The actual book itself is charmingly small and beautifully designed. Perhaps best of all, fans of Tyson’s honey-sweet tones will enjoy his reading of the audio book. Uplifting and positive, readers can’t help but feel passionate about our place in the universe after this great introduction.

ALL

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

On the Edge

On the Edge 
by Ilona Andrews
Ace Books, 2009. 326 pgs. Science Fiction

On the Edge is a story about Rose Drayton who live in the Edge, the land between The Broken where people shop at the Neighborhood Walmart, and the Weird, a land still ruled by aristocracy and magic. Rose is 18 and lives with her two little brothers her mom died when she was young and her dad skipped out a few years ago. Living in the Edge means that you have some magic not enough to thrive in the Weird and you never really fit in when visiting the Broken. Rose thought that if she practiced her magic enough then she would be able to change her station in life. That did not go according to plan. Everything changed when Declan came knocking on the door one day. They will have to work together to defeat a danger that has crossed over from the Weird and will take everything they have to survive.

I had a lot of fun reading this story. I have found that for me Ilona Andrews books takes me about 80 pages before I really get interested but once that passes I devour them in hours. I enjoyed what I felt was the realness of Rose’s character. They write her as being an imperfect mom to her brothers which totally makes sense because she is just barely an adult herself and is struggling to figure her own life out let alone how to help her brothers cope with the magic they were born with. Overall it was a good read.

MH

Big Mushy Happy Lump

Big Mushy Happy Lump 
By Sarah Andersen
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017. 128 pages. Graphic Novel

Sarah Andersen's Sarah's Scribbles comics are hugely popular, and last year's book Adulthood is a Myth won the 2016 Goodreads Choice Award for Graphic Novels and Comics.  She is back again with a new book and dozens of new comics, as well as a few illustrated personal essays on some of her real-life experiences and how they influenced her work.

I enjoy Andersen's self-deprecating humor and find her very easy to relate to. She is also open about issues that she struggles with such as anxiety and lack of confidence, and I appreciate her bringing attention to those issues and helping people to understand them better.  This is a quick read but humorous and uplifting.

BHG


A Murder in Time

A Murder in Time
By Julie McElain
Pegasus Books, 2016. 498 pages. Mystery

Kendra Donovan is one of the most promising young agents at the FBI.  When an important FBI raid is compromised by a double agent and half of her team is murdered, Kendra has payback on her mind.  She travels to England to assassinate the man responsible, but an unexpected gunman drives Kendra into a stairwell in Aldrich Castle.  When she comes out again she is in the same place, but a different time: 1815.  While she tries to figure out how to get home, Kendra poses as a lady's maid and is hired to help with a summer house party.  But when a body is discovered on the grounds of the castle, Kendra starts to feel there was a purpose to her incredible journey.  Despite the lack of 21st century technology, Kendra relies on her training and wits to help resolve the girl's death and stop a murderer.

If you're a fan of the Regency era in England, chances are you've read your share of Austen fan fiction, Regency time travel fiction - both forwards and backwards, as well as a generous helping of historical romances set in the period.  And by now you've come to realize that while most of these novels aren't going to win any Pulizers, they are fun, escapist fantasies, and if that's your thing - as it is mine - then I can recommend this book to you.  I think there are some valid criticisms you can make about this book, but ultimately this is a decent whodunnit and the added interest of experiencing the time period with Kendra and watching others experience her logical, deductive reasoning makes it a fun read.  There is some language and suggestive content.

BHG

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Hidden Memory of Objects

The Hidden Memory of Objects



This book is a page-turner, I couldn't put it down. I found it easy to relate to Megan, both as an artist myself and as someone (like many of us) who crave any connection possible with a loved one who has passed. While Megan gets more than she bargained for, her newfound ability teaches her to face her pain and proves the old adage, "Pain shared is pain halved." This fantastic debut novel has something for everyone; I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes mysteries/thrillers, tales of personal growth, fans of American history, creatives/artists, romance (it's not a major plot point, just there enough to feel believable but not enough to detract from the action) and though Megan would blush to hear this comparison, superhero fans (you'll get it when you read it).  

My Life, My Love, My Legacy

My Life, My Love, My Legacy
By Coretta Scott King; as told to the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds
Henry Holt & Company, 2017. 356 pgs. Biography

There are so many inspiring people in the world and I am constantly regretting the little I know about some of them.  To rectify that as much as possible, I try to pick up memoirs and biographies to fill the gap left by either my education or my poor memory.  Before her death in 2006, Coretta Scott King told her life’s story to journalist Barbara Reynolds.  My Life, My Love, My Legacy is the result of that and numerous other interviews and is written entirely from Coretta’s point of view.

Her story began in the deeply segregated south where she was born to determined parents who wished a better life and world for their children.  Thanks to her hard work as a student, Coretta attended Antioch College in Ohio and then she traveled to Boston where she studied classical music.  It was at this point that she met Martin Luther King, Jr. and eventually made his cause and his dream her own.

I love memoirs.  Hearing people interpret their own lives is a power thing.  This memoir presented a vaguely familiar story in vibrant colors and with heartfelt sentiment.  The courage, patience, hard work, and perseverance of this determined woman radiates from her words.  The audio version is partially read by Phylicia Rashad which made it an additional treat.

CG

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
By Lisa See
Simon & Schuster, 2017. 371 pgs. Fiction

Born in a remote Yunnan village, high in the mountains of rural China, Li-yan’s life is as far from the modern world as possible.  Her family and neighbors live life based on ancient Akha traditions which have guided them for generations.  Li-Yan starts to break from those ancient ways as she attends a number of schools and obtains a limited understanding of the wonders that exist outside her secluded world.

A growing obsession with pu’er, a rare tea that is grown by many of the Akha villages, brings their carefully insulated lives into contact with businessmen and tea connoisseurs.  Li-Yan’s education makes her the mouthpiece for her family and starts her on a journey far from the quiet hillside of her birth.

The Tea Girl of Humminbird Lane takes readers to a beautiful part of the world and shows how fragile customs and cultures can be.  The human drama of See’s story spans the lives of several key characters, all trying to find balance in a frequently chaotic world.  Her writing, like the tea she describes, is powerful and a pleasure to consume.

CG

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
By Susan Kuklin
Candlewick Press, 2014. 182 pages. Young Adult Nonfiction

Beyond Magenta is a window into the lives of six teens who have blurred traditional gender lines. Kuklin conducted personal interviews to write the book, but she quickly fades to the background as full page photos and first-person narratives help the teens tell their own stories. Four of the six teens are transgender, identifying themselves with a different name and sex than what appears on their birth certificates. From childhood to college years, these teens describe their lives and the pivotal events that led them to where they are now. From the first time they questioned their gender, to coming out to their parents, to making the decision to transition, each of the four has something new and different to share. The remaining two teens are queer and intersex, respectively, and their tales broaden the book even further by calling into question the simple delineation of trans-gendered and cis-gendered.

I saw this book on a library display and couldn’t look away from the beautifully androgynous teen on the cover. It intrigued me. Wasn’t the point of swapping genders to be convincing in your chosen role? Once I started reading I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what would happen next. Would Jessy’s family accept him as a “him”? Would Mariah achieve the body she always wanted? The more I read, the more my original question about the cover lost its meaning. Beyond Magenta demonstrates that gender isn’t a black-and-white dichotomy, but a spectrum, and that any place on the spectrum can be okay. This book can be hugely helpful for teens who are exploring their own gender identity, but I think the intended audience is broader than that. All of us could be more understanding of the transgender community, so I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about LGBTQ issues.


LLK

Open Heart: a Cardiac Surgeon's Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table

By Stephan Westaby
Basic Books, 2017. 287  pgs. Nonfiction

From the time Stephan Westaby watched his grandfather die of heart failure he was determined to become a heart surgeon.  In this book he recounts unique heart operations he has performed during his lengthy and influential career. as a cardiac surgeon. In spite of the all too fragile line between life and death that he encounters daily, his memoir is positive and compassionate as he tells of patients young and old he has helped by developing groundbreaking surgical techniques and technology.    

This is a wonderful book but it is literally not for the faint of heart because he describes the surgeries quite graphically.  SH

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Useful Woman

Cover image for A useful woman
A Useful Woman
By Darcie Wilde
Berkley Prime Crime, 2016, 357 pages, Mystery

The daughter of a baronet and a minor heiress, Rosalind Thorne was nearly ruined after her father abandoned the family. To survive in the only world she knew, she began to manage the affairs of some of London society's most influential women, who have come to rely on her wit and discretion. So when aristocratic wastrel Jasper Aimesworth is found dead in Almack's, London's most exclusive ballroom, Rosalind must use her skills and connections to uncover the killer from a list of suspects that includes Almack's powerful patronesses.

I love reading Jane Austen-type books, but it drives me nuts when the characters don’t act like they live in the Regency era. *snif* “Jane Austen would never!” Darcy Wilde does an excellent job of setting her story firmly in Regency England, while still managing to create a strong female character who also just happens to fall into a situation where she fights crime! Although they live in different eras, Rosalind Thorne reminded me a lot of Maisie Dobbs or Mrs. Marple, in all of the best ways. There is a slight hint at a possible love triangle brewing, but the shining star of this book is the mystery set at the heart of fashionable London. More great news is that book two in the series, A Purely Private Matter, was released earlier this year.

MB

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy
By Sheryl Sandberg
Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 226 pgs. Nonfiction

Sheryl Sandberg's world changed forever when her husband passed away while they were on vacation. In this book she talks about how this experience has changed her and her outlook on life. Sheryl and co-author Adam Grant discuss his research on resilience and rebounding from adversity using experiences from her life.

This book reminded of Brene Brown's work. I appreciated seeing how Sheryl worked through the grief process and how she has dealt with the impact of her husband's death with her children, friends, and co-workers. Although the topic of death is never a fun one, I never felt like this book was heavy or depressing. This book gave me a lot to ponder as I think about the ways that I can face adversity with resilience in my own life.

AMM

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Every Falling Star: the True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea



By Sungju Lee & Susan McClelland
Amulet Books, 2016. 314 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

As a young child, Sungju Lee experienced a life of privilege in Pyongyang, North Korea until his father was forced to flee to the northwestern town of  Gyeong-seong after the death of Kim Il-Sung.  There they lived in a small, unheated house and eventually used up the savings they brought with them. FInally, Lee's parents left him to hunt for food – his father heading for China and his mother to another town to seek help from relatives. When they didn’t return, Lee had to survive on his own.  Stealing what he needed in the local marketplace, he eventually formed a gang of boys to steal and beg and work together to protect each other. Moving from city to city they defeated other gangs in order to control local markets for their own benefit.

The life Lee experienced as a boy was all too common during the famine that struck North Korea in the late 1990’s when many people died of starvation .The only relief from the intensity and nightmarish quality of his story is the knowledge that he lived and escaped from North Korea to tell it.  Though written for young adults, for some the story will be too brutal and unendurable to read. I highly recommend this book to readers who are interested in the insular and repressive North Korean regime and enjoy reading about the personal triumphs of refugees.


SH

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Fine Gentleman

A Fine Gentleman
By Sarah M. Eden
Covenant Communications, 2017. 238 pgs. Historical Fiction, Romance

Jason Jonquil is a London barrister who has spent his entire life being respectable and serious. His ordered world turns upside down when Mariposa Thornton walks into his office. She is a Spanish beauty that knows how to push him to the end of his patience. He agrees to take her case only because he wants to get rid of her faster, but what he thought was a simple inheritance question turns into a much more complicated matter. Mariposa appears to not have a care in the world, but she has endured unimaginable heartbreak in her short life and is determined not to show any weakness.

Sarah Eden is one of my favorite authors. I loved getting to read about another Jonquil brother. The great thing about the Jonquil books is that each one can stand alone but that the characters interact and overlap. Mariposa was a little much for me at the beginning. I didn't understand why she had to be so rude but as the story unfolded, I came to understand her motivations. I also loved watching how Jason's interactions with Mariposa and his family changed throughout the book. This is another great Regency romance.

AL

Friday, July 7, 2017

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges
By Nathan Englander
Vintage International, 2000. 205 pages. Fiction

This short story collection showcases devout Jews in a variety of situations, from familiar to strange. Yiddish authors in Russia discuss literary theory before being executed. The Hasidim of a German ghetto escape the concentration camps by posing as circus acrobats. A wigmaker travels outside her insular Jewish community and ends up blackmailing a New Yorker for his hair. In the title story, a Hasidic man in Jerusalem is surprised when his rabbi gives him special dispensation to visit a prostitute.

The first thing to know about this collection is that the stories are meant to be Literary with a capital “L.” The writing is phenomenal, but occasionally self-engrossed. I would still say that the read is well worth it, though. The characters are real and provide a fascinating window into Jewish culture. The more you read, the more comfortable you become with the Jewish world—the world of rabbis, Hasidim, and Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the surroundings fade away into familiarity, you come to recognize who the people in the stories would be without their obvious identifying markers: humans just like the ones we interact with every day. I found this collection powerful and enlightening, and I would recommend it to fans of Jonathan Saffron Foer and to fans of literary fiction in general.


LLK

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
By Gail Honeyman
Pamela Dorman Books, 2017. 336 pgs. Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant goes about each day the same way. She gets up, puts on a sensible outfit, does her work while ignoring her inane coworkers, eats lunch while completing a crossword puzzle, finishes her work, heads home, cooks and eats a frozen Margherita pizza, and drinks as much vodka as possible. She struggles to connect with other people and to numb the pain of her traumatic childhood. Nothing seems likely to change until an unwelcomed encounter with Raymond, the unkempt but friendly IT guy from work, and an elderly man named Sammy set off a chain reaction of events that might just save Eleanor from her isolation.

I found Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine delightful. Eleanor’s dry and insightful observations about other people, combined with her occasional cluelessness about herself and social norms, provide an entertaining contrast. I appreciated, however, that the humor is never really at Eleanor’s expense. Instead, I felt like the author depicts her protagonist with a compassion and respect that other books I’ve read about socially awkward characters don’t always show. I was surprised by the way that Eleanor’s backstory was dramatic, mysterious, and even a bit like a thriller – her unusual behavior makes perfect sense as her history is gradually revealed. In addition to that, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine has a whole lot of heart, in a way sure to charm fans of A Man Called Ove, Vinegar Girl, The Rosie Project, or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

SR

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris

Cover image for City of light, city of poison : murder, magic, and the first police chief of Paris
City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris
By Holly Tucker
W.W. Norton, 2017, 310 pages, Non-Fiction

Nicolas de La Reynie, appointed by Louis XIV as the first police chief of Paris, unearths a tightly knit cabal of poisoners, witches, and renegade priests, and discovers that the distance between the quiet backstabbing world of the king's court and the criminal underground is disturbingly short. As he continues his investigations, La Reynie must decide just how far he will go to protect his king.

I am sad to admit I don’t know much about Paris in the late 1600s, but Holly Tucker paints a highly detailed and interesting picture. She had me hooked from page one, where she describes the incredible crime rate that existed before the appointment of Nicolas de La Reynie as Paris’ first police chief. I could feel the darkness of the absolute night closing in, and I could almost sense someone lurking around the corner. La Reynie changed this almost overnight by mandating that lampposts be installed on every street, giving Paris the nickname the City of Light.

Tucker’s detailed descriptions and meticulous research are also prevalent as she describes what would later become known as the Affair of the Poisons. The Affair of the Poisons was an investigation and later a secret tribunal that required La Reynie to interview 442 accomplices from all walks of life, including the aristocracy. 218 people were put in prison, 34 were executed, and 28 were sentenced to life in prison or the galleys. Although occasionally on the graphic side (there are descriptions of torture methods and black masses), this book is intensely readable. The fact that this is a true story makes it even more so. Fans of true crime, Paris, and history will enjoy this book.

MB

Saturday, July 1, 2017

One True Loves

One True Loves
By Taylor Jenkins Reid
Washington Square Press, 2016. 331 pgs. Fiction

Emma and Jesse met and fell in love during high school. Both of them longed for the day when they could leave their hometown and travel the world. After college they do just that and also embark on the adventure of marriage. Just days before their first anniversary, Jesse goes on a work trip to Alaska. He is ecstatic to photograph glaciers, however the helicopter he's riding in goes down and he is presumed dead.

Emma's world is rocked by the death of her husband. She grieves deeply and soon decides that she doesn't want to continue living in California, but that she wants to go home to Massachusetts. Although as a high schooler she couldn't wait to escape her family owned bookstore, after Jesse's loss she begins to really enjoy the comfort of the store. A few years after Jesse's death, she runs into Sam. Sam worked with Emma at the bookstore in high school and while they were friends, they haven't been in contact for years. They slowly fall in love and have become engaged when one day Emma receives a phone call from Jesse. He hasn't died at all, but has spent several years on an island trying to find his way back home. Now Emma has to choose who she wants to be with, her husband and or her fiance.

I inhaled this book! I listened to it over the course of three days and was totally captivated by the story. Jesse and Sam are both really good guys and I was intrigued to see how and who Emma would choose. If you are looking for a light yet thought provoking read, I recommend you try this book!

AMM