Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Hot Dog Girl

Hot Dog Girl
By Jennifer Dugan
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. 311 pages. Young Adult

Elouise (Lou) Parker loves Magic Castle Playland. The small amusement park has played a major role in her childhood, so when she’s finally able to start working there as a teen, she’s disappointed to be assigned as the giant dancing hot dog. Still, she gets to ogle her guy crush, Diving Pirate Nick, though he already has a girlfriend, the Princess of the park. Soon she has a scheme to get Nick’s attention, but her best friend Seeley doesn’t quite seem on board like she usually is. Still, Lou is determined to have her summer of romance, though it won’t turn out the way she expects.

Lou is determined that everyone should have their happily ever after, but her one-track-mind seems oblivious to things that, as a reader, were quite obvious early on. It didn’t ruin the story for me, but it was a mildly irritating character flaw. While I found the story to be a cute fluffy romance, it also felt a bit like a soap opera.

I listened to the downloadable audiobook of this title and really enjoyed it. Sometimes text conversations can be difficult to follow at 2x speed audio, but it was actually enjoyable with little dings to signify new messages, and clear voice changes from the narrator. Very well done.

ACS

The Downstairs Girl

The Downstairs Girl
By Stacey Lee
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. 374 pages. Young Adult

Set in 1890s Atlanta, Georgia, Jo Kuan strives to work hard and make the most of her life. When she’s let go from a job because of her Chinese heritage, she accepts a position as a lady’s maid to one of her former bullies. By day her life is rough, but by night she writes for the local newspaper as Miss Sweetie, a presumed genteel southern woman with all the answers to society’s questions.

Jo is a strong, witty protagonist, always looking for ways to do and say what she feels is right and necessary. This was a fun read, and while I’ve read many books in the past with characters who face racism, I felt like this one stood out in a good way. There are multiple plot lines lead back to the main story, providing added depth and dimension to the setting and cast of characters. I tend to have a hard time enjoying historical fiction, but this book was so compelling, and Jo is so spunky, that I really enjoyed it. If you enjoyed the themes and characters in LITTLE WHITE LIES or PRIDE , this is another one to check out.

ACS

Friday, December 27, 2019

Lovely War

Lovely War
by Julie Berry
Viking Books, 2019. 480 pages. Young Adult

Confronted by her jealous husband, the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, pleads her case before the gods with a story of her greatest triumph - the love and friendship of two couples, whose paths cross in the midst of World War I. Shy Hazel, a pianist, charms a dreamer named James while performing at a dance just days before he's shipped off to the trenches. Inspired to do her part, Hazel joins a volunteer corps she meets Colette, who suffered devastating loss in her Belgian village. Stationed at an American encampment, the women meet Aubrey Edwards, a spectacular musician in the 15th New York Infantry, whose music comes alive when Colette sings along. In the face of violence, tragedy, and danger from "friends" and foes alike, these four are living proof that even the rage of war is no match for the power of love.

Julie Berry is a master of historical fiction writing. Wonderfully researched, she weaves a compelling romance in with the devastation of World War I. Not only will you feel completely immersed in the year 1917, and intimately acquainted with the four young heroes, you'll learn about the legendary 15th New York Infantry, the all-african american regiment who bolstered allied spirits with jazz and ragtime, and faced the dangers of the battlefield as well as prejudice and violence at the hands of fellow American soldiers. I cried more than once listening to this beautiful book. Besides excellent performances by multiple readers (each of the four lovers and Greek gods has their own voice!), the audiobook includes music as well!

MW

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Travel Home: Design with a Global Spirit

Travel Home: Design with a Global Spirit 
By Caitlin Flemming and Julie Goebel
Abrams Image, 2019, 286 pgs. Nonfiction

Explore the homes of 20 sophisticated designers who are deeply influenced by their international travels. Learn how to curate your home to reflect your favorite places and experiences from around the globe. The 20 homes are divided into 6 thematic sections, such as Textiles & Textures, Zen Simplicity, Natural Elements, and Found Objects. In addition to the short biographical section, there are beautiful pictures of the designers’ homes and a Q&A section for each about their favorite vacations, travel style, and favorite markets. This book reveals how we can take inspiration from the beauty in the world and bring it into our daily lives.

The cover of this book is what caused an immediate interest. Each of the designers and homes featured are unique and focus on one or two types of objects. I found lots of beautiful items that I would love to have in my own home, and learned a new tips for buying on trips.

I felt like most of the homes were too pristine and would not function for a family with children. Only one of the homes featured showed any spaces for children, which was one of my favorite rooms. I found the suggestions on how to use souvenirs in your home the most useful, especially the collecting textiles and styling a bookcase. This is a beautiful book with unique interiors that evoke a multitude of cultures and styles. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys interior design, traveling, or collecting.

TT

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Royal Target

Royal Target (Royal #1)
By Traci Hunter Abramson
Covenant Communication, 2008. 257 pages, Romance

When CIA agent Janessa Rogers meets the royal family of Meridia on assignment, she expects to use her skills in linguistics and security detail to protect and serve, but she doesn't expect to find herself engaged to Prince Garrett Fortier, Meridia's most eligible bachelor, as part of the security plan. And she certainly doesn't expect to fall in love with him.

Traci blends the perfect cloak and dagger story that keeps you guessing with a sweet and clean romance that leaves you feeling warm and cozy. It is a great blend of royalty and espionage and I was hooked from the very beginning. The story moved at a great pace and there were small pieces of the puzzle along the way that kept me engaged. For anyone who is interested in action as well as romance this is for you.

The audio for this book is amazing. Taking place in a small country near France and Italy means a lot of foreign accents. The narrator, Kimberly Christenson, does a wonderful job of capturing the different accents that many of the characters have which brought them to life even more and made reading the book even more enjoyable.

ME


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Turn of the Key

Cover image for The turn of the key
The Turn of the Key
by Ruth Ware
Scout Press, 2019, 336 pages, Mystery

Rowan Caine has a perfectly good job in London, but when she learns of a live-in nannying position with an overly generous salary, she feels she’s destined to apply. Although the position is in a very remote area of the Scottish Highlands, and Rowan will have to spend the first weeks with absolutely no help while the children’s parents attend a work expo, Rowan feels up to the task. But when strange and menacing things begin to happen, Rowan’s nerves start fraying. It all comes to a climax one night, when a child ends up dead and Rowan finds herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

This update to Henry James’ classic ghost story The Turn of the Screw builds suspense slowly, but that makes the ending even more devastating. Instead of spirits wandering the house, a fully wired smart home that Rowan’s unused to operating helps create the creepy ambience.

The story is told in a series of letters written by Rowan while she’s in prison awaiting trial. As she pleads her case to an attorney who might be able to help her, most of her closest secrets are kept until the very end, with shocking results. If you’re a fan of modern ghost stories or if you like mystery stories that take sudden and unexpected turns, Ruth Ware’s newest book is perfect for you!

MB

Monday, December 16, 2019

Truckus Maximus

Truckus Maximus
by Scott Peterson
First Second, 2019. 288 pgs. Young Adult Comics

In a near-future world where the Roman Empire still reigns supreme, modern-day gladiators race monster trucks on reality TV. This race to the death is called Truckus Maximus, and the best of the best is Axl, the young leader of team Apollo. He lives for two things, honor and the Game, but his strict moral code will be tested by Caesar, ruler of the Empire, and the Dominus, the absolute master of the Game. Will Axl finally get everything that he has always wanted, or will he realize that some things are more important than honor or the Game?

This was a fun, adrenaline high, action-packed book. The illustrations are gritty and intense, with a full range of colors that evoke a dystopian world. The plot is quick moving, with training montages and a climatic race to the finish. The characters are lovable, quirky, and authentic, and the story is a great modern take on the Roman Empire and gladiators. If you love adventure, racing, monster trucks, or gritty illustrations and characters, this is a perfect book for you.

TT

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Thunderhead

Thunderhead
By Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 504 pgs. Young Adult

In this sequel to Scythe, Citra, now known as Scythe Anastasia, gleans with care and compassion. She openly challenges the "new order" scythes who enjoy killing and have little regard for the rules. When her life is threatened, it becomes clear that someone wants to stop her.

Rowan has been off grid for a year. During that time he has become a vigilante and a legend as he works to stop corrupt scythes. The Thunderhead is a perfect ruler of a supposedly perfect world but it must watch as that perfect world begins to unravel.

Sometimes the second book in a three book series is there to fill the space but it isn't a very strong story. Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman is the exact opposite. This story moves quickly and adds new levels to the characters. The ending....I wish I could say more! The ending left me in shock! Through an unexpected chain of events everything changes in the last few pages of the book. I am so glad the third book finally came out so that I can finish this amazing series.

AL


Friday, December 13, 2019

The Lost Girls of Paris

The Lost Girls of Paris
By Pam Jenoff
Park Row Books, 2019. 377 pgs. Historical Fiction

Grace Healey is late for work and rushing through Grand Central Terminal when she finds an abandoned suitcase. On a whim she opens it and takes a dozen photographs of different women that she finds inside. She feels bad and tries to return them later but discovers the suitcase is gone and it belonged to a woman that was killed by a car that morning. The woman is Eleanor Trigg and she was a leader of a network of female secret agents who were deployed into occupied France during WWII. Grace feels drawn to discover who these women were and why their pictures were in Eleanor's suitcase. The novel alternates between telling Grace's story and going back in history to tell of one of these spies named Marie. Marie was a single mother who wanted to help with the war effort. Her daring mission reveals a story of friendship, survival and betrayal.

This book is inspired by true events and was a fascinating look at an aspect of WWII I wasn't familiar with. I loved getting to know Grace, Eleanor and Marie better through their stories. Each character was lost in some way and trying to make sense of life. I enjoyed this historical fiction novel and would recommend it to those who enjoyed The Nightingale or The Mistress of the Ritz.

AL

American Royals

American Royals
By Katharine McGee
Random House Books, 2019. 448 pages. Young Adult Fiction

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. As we all know: he said yes. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne, and Princess Beatrice has been given a directive by her parents: start looking for a potential spouse from their shortlist of options.  While Beatrice is occupied with looking for a future king consort, her two siblings, Samantha and Jefferson, are embroiled in their own drama with friends and illicit romances, all complicated by being in the media circus spotlight.

This young adult novel gives us a glimpse into an alternative world where monarchies didn't start to crumble through the 19th century, and which certainly resembles the last few remaining current-day royal families. This story will certainly have appeal for anyone intrigued by royalty and perhaps those who woke up in the wee hours of the morning to watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  Recommended for fans of The Selection series.

BHG

Spin the Dawn

Spin the Dawn
By Elizabeth Lim
Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 392 pages. Young Adult

Maia Tamarin is the only daughter of a renowned tailor. Tailoring has long been considered a male profession, so when a royal messenger requests her father or one of his sons to travel to the palace to become the imperial tailor, a position Maia has dreamed of since she was a little girl, Maia tries to convince the messenger to let her represent her father. When she’s denied, she disguises herself as a boy and poses as one of her brothers. What she doesn’t realize is that she will be one of 12 tailors competing for the position. When things heat up, Maia is given the impossible task of making three magic dresses, one from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

This has a very Project Runway feel with the various challenges, yet veers into a more traditional quest-fantasy as Maia seeks the materials needed for the magic dresses. I loved the premise of the story. It made me want to learn to sew. The characters had interesting back stories, and I found it to be a compelling read. This looks like it will be the first in The Blood of Stars series, and I’m already looking forward to it’s sequel.

ACS

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Kindred

Kindred
By Octavia E. Butler
Beacon Press, 1979. 287 pages. Fantasy

In 1976 California, Dana is a regular African-American woman, happily married to her white husband, Kevin. Though some family members have issues with their mixed-race marriage, Dana and Kevin continue on with their life like any other couple. One day, Dana is mysteriously transported from her living room back in time to the antebellum South. There, she rescues a young white boy from drowning, but finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun. Fearing for her own life, she’s mysteriously transported back to her living room and a very confused husband. When this happens repeatedly and for longer periods of time, Dana must learn to survive in a society drastically different from her own, a society where she is viewed as less than human.

This was a fascinating and thought-provoking read. Dana is a strong, smart woman who uses her knowledge of history and modern science to make advantageous decisions in incredibly bleak circumstances. Still, she’s a black woman in the South, and slavery is common practice. Even the boy she repeatedly rescues, the boy who owes her his life, can’t overcome his deeply ingrained prejudice. If you enjoy books that make you ask, what if?, this is definitely something you’ll want to pick up.

ACS

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

10 Blind Dates

Cover image for 10 blind dates
10 Blind Dates
by Ashley Elston
Hyperion, 2019, 327 pages, YA Fiction

Sophie is actually excited that her parents won’t be home for Christmas this year. It means she can spend more time with her boyfriend, Griffin. But when Griffin dumps her the night her parents leave, Sophie heads instead to her grandparents’ house, where the rest of her extended family is gathered for the holidays. Learning of her heartbreak, Sophie’s family comes up with a plan. Over the next ten days, Sophie will be set up on ten different blind dates, arranged by different family members. This will be a Christmas Sophie will always remember!

If you’re a fan of light Christmas romance movies, this is the book for you. Sophie’s dates range from fun and flirty to downright horrible, but each one is unique. What’s even more fun is to see how Sophie and her family reconnect. This book is full of family, food, and warm Christmas memories, which makes this book a perfect read for Christmas break.

If you enjoy 10 Blind Dates and want another light YA holiday romance, check out Let It Snow, which is a compilation of short stories that was recently turned into a movie by Netflix.

MB

Monday, December 9, 2019

Geronimo: His Own Story

Geronimo: His Own Story
by Robert M. Utley, Geronimo
Yale University Press. c2012. 348 pages. Biography.

Renowned for ferocity in battle, legendary for an uncanny ability to elude capture. feared for the violence of his vengeful raids. the Apache fighter Geronimo captured the public imagination in his own time and remains a mythic figure today. This thoroughly researched biography by a renowned historian of the American West strips away the myths and rumors that have long obscured the real Geronimo and presents an authentic portrait of a man with unique strengths and weaknesses and a destiny that swept him into history. 

When I read this book, I felt like I was sitting with Geronimo himself. In addition to dispelling tales and rumors about Geronimo, the reader is also acquainted with the perspectives of Geronimo and the Apaches during their wars with Mexico and the United States over their tribal lands. If anything, I think the biggest takeaway from this book is that no one is perfect, and we can always do more to understand each other and recognize that our similarities outweigh our differences.

NS

Murder in Mesopotamia

Murder in Mesopotamia
by Agatha Christie
Berkley 1936. 228 pages. Mystery

When nurse Amy Leatheran agrees to look after American archaeologist Dr Leidner’s wife Louise at a dig near Hassanieh she finds herself taking on more than just nursing duties – she also has to help solve murders. Fortunately for Amy, Hercule Poirot is visiting the excavation site but will the great detective be in time to prevent a multiple murderer from striking again?

I can't stop reading about Hercule Poirot! This book, along with the rest of the Poirot series is written at an easy-going pace. I found the crime (and its solution) to be unique, as opposed to being typical or predictable. The story is also told through the perspective of Amy Leatheran, a nurse who is new to the archaeological site and is therefore not immediately acquainted with anyone. This different perspective made me much more eager to find out who murdered Dr. Leidner's wife. If you're new to the mystery genre, I think the Poirot series by Agatha Christie is a great place to start. 

NS 

Ready, Set, Go! : A Gentle Parenting Guide to Calmer, Quicker Potty Training

Ready, Set, Go! : A Gentle Parenting Guide to Calmer, Quicker Potty Training 
by Sarah Ockwell-Smith
TarcherPerigee, 2017. 191 pgs. Nonfiction

 If you are thinking about potty training but aren’t sure where to start, this book is for you! Chapters include an explanation of the physiological development of the systems that control elimination, a clear guide for prepping and executing potty training, a chapter discussing setbacks and solutions, and a chapter on night time continence, which is interestingly different than day time continence. With this straight forward and simple guide, parents can stop dreading potty training and finally ditch the diapers.

 I used this book to potty train my toddler, and I am so glad I did! The author discourages rewards and sticker charts, and stresses the importance of not getting upset with a child for accidents. She strongly recommends using a separate potty chair and transitioning to the toilet later, but we just used the toilet and that worked well for us. Also her suggestion to buy wet/dry bags for soiled clothes has been one of the best bits of advice from this book! I highly recommend this book for those looking to potty train in the near future.

ER

Cosmoknights, Volume 1

Cosmoknights, Volume 1 
by Hannah Templer
Random House, 2019. 216 pgs. Young Adult Comics

Pan’s life was very small. She worked at her dad’s body shop, snuck out with her friend Tara, and watched the skies for freighter ships. It didn’t matter that Tara was a princess, until one day it did, and Pan helped Tara leave forever. Years later, the people on her planet are still angry with Pan and their town is dying.

When a pair of charismatic gladiators, or Cosmoknights, show up on her doorstep needing help, Pan decides to take a chance and stows away on their ship. Soon she learns secrets of her neo-medieval world where princess are prizes to be won in jousting battle royale, including how she can help tear down the patriarchy and save some princesses in the process.

This is a fun read with cosmic illustrations and unique characters. The illustrations use a range of pink and blue jewel tones in action-packed sequences and lots of combat. Pan’s development and journey of self-worth is authentic and earnest. I enjoyed the interactions between the main characters and felt there was a good range of diversity. The ending was a major cliffhanger, and felt almost too abrupt. It left me excited for the next book. There is a small amount of profanity, but overall was a fun read.

TT

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon
Vintage Contemporaries, 2004. 226 pages. Fiction

For 15-year-old autistic savant Christopher, interacting with people is a challenge. He has a hard time processing his own and other people's emotions because they aren't like numbers and equations. Or physics and science. Or anything else that makes sense. After a school counselor suggests he write a story that he would like to read, Christopher decides to investigate the murder of his neighbor's dog, Wellington, and write what he finds. It doesn't take long before he finds himself in the middle of a lot more than just a pet homicide.

This book was much different than any other book I have read before. The formatting and the voice were unique and they greatly contributed to the success of the story. I felt that the author did a great job of capturing the challenges of at least one individual with autism and perhaps many others. It opened my eyes to the differences between the way that some people see and experience the world and how different it is from the way I experience things. I also felt very deeply for Christopher, and I enjoyed all the other characters presented in the book. Although this book didn't end perfectly, I did feel quite satisfied with the way that things did end.

LH

Friday, December 6, 2019

C.S. Lewis' Little Book of Wisdom

C.S. Lewis' Little Book of Wisdom
by C.S. Lewis; compiled by Andrea Kirk Assaf and Kelly Anne Leahy
Hampton Roads Publishing, 2018. 400 pages. Nonfiction

This book is a collection of quotes by C. S. Lewis which have been collected from various writings. The book is divided into themed sections including: Living a Full Life with Christ, Choosing Joy, Transforming Grief,  Learning to Love, Lessons from Reality and the Imagination, The Consolation of Friendship, Reason to Hope, Recognizing Sin, Finding God, and Aslan's Country: Onward Toward Heaven. 

I picked up this book for two reasons. The first is that I wanted to quickly familiarize myself with Lewis's thoughts on several different topics without reading all of his works. The second is that I was looking for a light, quick read. I realized my folly after a couple of hours reading. There is really nothing quick or light about Lewis. But I did enjoy this read quite a bit. Occasionally I found it difficult to fully understand a concept from just the quote instead of having the surrounding context that I'm sure the full work would have provided, but overall I felt enlightened and more connected with Lewis than I had previously. It took several couple hour sessions for me to get through the book, but I enjoyed taking Lewis's wisdom in chunks.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Whisper Network


Whisper Network
by Chandler Baker
Flatiron Books, 2019. 345 pages, Fiction.

Truviv, Inc seems, on the surface, like a great place to work. However, there’s a toxic culture underneath that has prompted the women in the office to create the “B.A.D. Men” list to document the wrong doings and sexism of their male co-workers. When one of the men from this list is positioned to take over as CEO, the women know they must take action to prevent further harm at the hands of men like him.

A timely and surprising novel about harassment in the workplace and one group’s fight to end it, this book approaches everyday sexism, and instances of extreme misconduct, with fire and tact. It’s a brave inspection of the stigma of speaking up and the ethics and consequences of keeping quiet when lines of appropriate behavior are breached. While the author’s intended message is apparent, the book asks the reader to consider each character’s experience and background to form a deeper understanding of their actions and reactions. A must read for working men and women in a post #metoo world.

RC

Monday, December 2, 2019

Foundryside

Foundryside
by Robert Jackson Bennett
Crown. 2018. 503 pg. Fantasy.

In this book, Robert Jackson Bennett has crafted a world where magic brings objects to life. Each object is programmed through a magic called scriving, to have one purpose: a wheel to believe it is always moving down hill, a door to open , a door to stay closed, making a stone foundation think it is stronger than it actually is, etc. And through scriving, the world has become industrialized, the society shifting to a more urban-central society. Sancia (the main character) lives in the city of Tevanne, where the major merchant houses have a strangle hold on the city through their secretive knowledge of scriving instructions, research, and development. Sancia, though, is a thief with her own magical abilities that allow her to know what an object has been scrived to do and to see when there are people nearby. She's been hired to steal a small, unassuming object: a key. What she doesn't know is that that key leads her on a journey that may very well result in the destruction of the world. Bennett interweaves a number of characters, world building elements, and plot hooks so masterfully, you won't notice the heist he's performing through the words on the page. As Sancia steals to survive, Bennett steals your attention until, and you'll be scrambling for the second book before you realize the first book is over

For those who like interesting takes on old genres such as Scythe by Neal Shusterman and A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, this should be the next book on your list.

XxxHolic 1

XxxHolic 1
by CLAMP
Del Rey, 2004. 194 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Watanuki sees spirits, and they haunt him aggressively. As he is running from a particularly frightening vision, he stumbles against a garden wall and the spirit disappears. Inside the walls he meets the mysterious witch Yuko, who offers to take his ability to see spirits – once he has paid the price. Thus begin Watanuki’s adventures as he works in Yuko’s very unusual shop.

I am not well acquainted with Japanese manga, but this caught my eye and I thought I’d try it and I don’t regret it! I enjoyed the story, and the manga format is new and interesting to me. Yuko is my favorite character, she’s rather cryptic with Watanuki but when she explains the reasons behind her seemingly random actions it pulls everything together. This series crosses over with the Tsubasa series by the same author, but reading them both is not required to follow the story.

ER

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
by Mark Manson
HarperOne. 2016. 212 pg. Nonfiction.

Despite what the title seems to imply, Mark Manson does not teach you how to not care about the world around you. He doesn't teach you how to be indifferent. Instead, he helps you as the reader think about what you care about, why you care about it, and if caring about it is worth it. Manson argues that as a modern society, our Achilles heel is that we don't have things to care about that matter, and when we don't have things like survival to care about, we invent frivolous things to stress over. That guy just cut you off on the street, you aren't healthy enough, thin enough, athletic enough are just a few examples. What's worse, these things that make us stress create a feedback loop because we are conscious of the fact that they we are dumb to stress over the things we stress over. Then we are a loser for calling ourselves dumb, then stupid for calling ourselves a loser, etc. etc. Manson definitely doesn't shy away from using the F-word to describe this entire process, but in some ways his use of language shocks you as the reader into a different state of mind. His language, and his logic, enables you to start accepting the negative aspects of your life as temporary rather than things that must be fixed or our world will end.

But for me, Manson's most profound point is that we have forgotten that it is okay for life to suck sometimes. We can always try again tomorrow.

For those looking for a fresh perspective of how to see the world, this book is for you!

Wayward Son

Wayward Son
by Rainbow Rowell
Wednesday Books, 2019. 368 pages. YA Fiction

In this second installment of the Simon Snow Series, Simon must come to terms with losing his powers, though not his dragon wings and tail, the fate of the mage, and the PTSD and depressions that have fallen over him. And there is also trouble with Baz, his one-time worst enemy and now his. . . boyfriend? Simon is unsure how to accept the love that Baz would surely lavish upon him, if Simon would only let him. What happens to a hero after he saves the day? In the case of Simon, you hang out on the couch eating crisps and watching television. It has to stop. So when Penny suggests a road trip across the United States, Simon feels like he might find some direction in his life. And then they find out that Agatha is in trouble . . . again. Will Simon snap out of his funk? Will Baz survive getting a sunburn? And will they ever get out of Nebraska?!?

 I really liked the first book in this series, but I have to say the Wayward Son has become my favorite. It was a fast read, and when it was over I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling for a good hour trying to feel all the feels that I had. This book is definitely going to grab readers by their heartstrings. For more of the fan-fiction fun, check out Carry On and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, or try out Stranger Than Fanfiction by Chris Colfer.

AGP

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Charlotte's Promise

Charlotte's Promise
By Jennifer Moore
Covenant Communications, Inc., 2019. 218 pgs. Romance

Charlotte's life was ripped apart when the Creek Indians attacked her family. Her parents were killed while she and her younger brother were taken prisoner and sold to different groups. She made a promise to her brother that she would find him. When she finally escapes a year later, Charlotte knows she needs to start her search in New Orleans, which is hundreds of miles away. The only way she can figure out how to do this is to cut her hair and pretend to be a boy in hopes of being hired as a crew member on a boat traveling that direction. Captain Alden Thatcher knows right away that Charlie is not a boy but he decides to keep her secret for his own reasons. As the journey progresses the crew faces many dangers and Charlie and the Captain find themselves relying on each other in ways they never imagined.

This was a fascinating look at a time period that I am not very familiar with. The story leads up the the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 between the British and the Americans. I liked that the whole focus wasn't on the romance. It was more of a development of many different relationships as they faced different challenges. Charlie is tough but kind. She brings out the best in those around her. I would recommend this title to fans of Sarah Eden or Josi Kilpack.

AL

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Garden of Small Beginnings

The Garden of Small Beginnings
By Abbi Waxman
Berkley, 2017. 368 pages. Fiction

Lilian Girvan has been reeling ever since her husband died in a car accident three years ago.  Now raising her two daughters herself, aided and cheered on by her sister Rachel, Lilian makes ends meet working as an illustrator of textbooks.  When her company takes on a commission to do all of the illustrations for a new gardening book, Lilian's boss signs her up for a vegetable gardening class to become more familiar with flora and fauna.  Spending her Saturdays tilling and planting isn't exactly Lilian's idea of fun, but when she meets the patient instructor and quirky fellow students in her class, she can't help it when they start to worm their way into her heart.

This is a lighthearted story about coming alive again after personal tragedy.  Each chapter is headed up with some friendly and humorous advice on gardening (the instructions for growing celery state, "Harden off seedlings by keeping them outdoors for a couple hours a day and speaking to them harshly.")  While I really enjoyed Abbi Waxman's later book, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, this book didn't hit the mark as well for me, but fans of light hearted chick lit should enjoy their time with this book.

BHG

Friday, November 22, 2019

Sissy

Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story
by Jacob Tobia
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2019. 319 pages. Nonfiction

The publisher describes this book as "a heart-wrenching, eye-opening, and giggle-inducing memoir about what it's like to grow up not sure if you're (a) a boy, (b) a girl, (c) something in between, or (d) all of the above." Jacob Tobia was born in North Carolina in 1991 and has spent the last twenty-eight years navigating a world that wasn't quite ready for them. Jacob graduated Summa Cum Laude from Duke University and spent time working at the United Nations Foundation. This memoir gives the reader a look inside the powerful story of one person's struggle to figure out where they belong in a society that can't (or won't) seem to find a place for them.

I adored this book! Jacob Tobia is a talented writer; they were able to make me laugh and cry simultaneously. This memoir is too important not to be read. Jacob's story is too important not to be told. If you are ready to open your mind and your heart just a little bit more today, Jacob's story is for you.

LKA

Monday, November 18, 2019

Are You Listening?

Are You Listening?
By Tillie Walden
First Second, 2019. 320 pgs. Young Adult Comics.

Bea is on the run, leaving behind her family and home. And then, she runs into Lou. Lou is also running away, and they are both looking for something on their long drive to nowhere. As they continue to drive strange things start to happen, and there are mysterious strangers chasing them. Will their journey provide the insights that they need and can they learn to trust each other enough to reveal their heartbreaking secrets? Walden explores a variety of themes, like trust, sexual assault, death, and betrayal in this story of finding friends in unlikely places.

Like many of Walden’s books, there are deeply poignant moments and surreal scenes that make the reader question reality. The illustrations are superb, with vibrant colors, and convey both terror and whimsy at the right moments. Walden handles delicate topics, like death, sexual assault, and growing up in sensitive, but meaningful ways that allow for personal exploration and interpretation. I enjoyed watching the relationship between Bea and Lou develop and the genuine concern that they have for each other. This is a beautiful story with colorful language, and would be good for readers who enjoy graphic novels or contemporary fiction.

TT

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Heart of a Vicar

The Heart of a Vicar
By Sarah M. Eden
Covenant Communications, 2019. 268 pgs. Romance

Harold Jonquil has always felt the desire to be a vicar but he isn't connecting to his congregation and is constantly fighting his natural interests like singing drinking songs and climbing walls. His brothers have named him "Holy Harry" and tease him about his shortcomings. Things get even worse when Sarah Sarvol moves back to the area. Harry had fallen in love with Sarah years earlier but broke her heart when he didn't pursue the relationship. She realizes right away that the Harry she knew is gone. This new Harry seems distant and cold. She isn't willing to loose the old Harry and points out how he has changed and tells him she would make a better vicar than him. They actually start a competition and she keeps coming out ahead. Harry feels motivated enough to start questioning how he can change for the better.

I've waited a long time to hear Harold's story. Of all the Jonquil brothers, he has been the most reserved throughout the series. I love that there was more to his character than I expected. I especially enjoyed the interaction between Harold and Sarah. They challenged and encouraged each other in a good way. Another fun part of this book was that all the other brothers and their wives play a part in the storyline. This is part of the Proper Romance series from Shadow Mountain so it is a great clean, feel good romance.

AL

Friday, November 15, 2019

Ayesha at Last

Cover image for Ayesha at last
Ayesha at Last
by Uzma Jalaluddin
Berkley, 2019, 351 pages, General Fiction/Romance

Ayesha dreams of travelling the world, becoming a poet, and marrying for love instead of getting an arranged marriage. But she also feels the need to pay off a debt to her wealthy uncle for sponsoring her family when they moved to Canada from Pakistan. When Ayesha’s uncle asks her to accompany her fun-loving cousin, Hafsa, to planning meetings for a conference to raise money for their local mosque, Ayesha feels like she can’t refuse. There Ayesha meets Khalid. Khalid is smart and handsome, but also conservative and judgmental. As Ayesha and Khalid spend more time together, their first opinions of each other give way to something neither of them expected.

There have been a few other Muslim retellings of Pride and Prejudice that came out this year, and like the Pride and Prejudice fangirl I am, I read them all. This one was by far my favorite. Jalaluddin strikes just the right balance of staying true to the original source material while not being afraid to add her own flavor and explore contemporary themes. For example, Ayesha debates between doing the practical things and following her dreams. Khalid faces religious discrimination at work, while simultaneously learning that he shouldn’t always judge people by his personal standards. This is a great update to a timeless classic.

MB

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League
by Jeff Hobbs
Scribner, 2014. 406 pages. Nonfiction

This book details the life of an intelligent, talented, young, African-American man named Robert Peace. He grew up in the slums of Newark, New Jersey with a loving, single mother; his father was sentenced to prison when Robert was seven. Robert was charismatic, driven, and kind. He escaped his life of poverty to study molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University, only to slide back into the drug business upon returning home. He was murdered at age thirty and the crime has never been solved.

Although this book is nonfiction, it reads like fiction. It was written by his college roommate Jeff Hobbs and the author reads the audio book, which I recommend listening to. Knowing that Robert's life would end before I began reading the book made it even more intriguing. I enjoyed getting to know this young man who genuinely seemed like someone I would be friends with. The devastation of his decision to go back into the drug trade (because it would make him the most money with which to build a great life for him and his mother) was absolutely heartbreaking. If you're interested in learning about a short life that was well-lived and ended too soon, this book is for you.

LKA

A Dream About Lightning Bugs

A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons 
by Ben Folds Ballantine Books, 2019. 336 pages. Biography

Fans of Ben Folds’ beloved and sometimes unconventional music will be thrilled with this coming of age style music biography, filled with behind the music stories and relatable quips about feeling inadequate, doing things your own way despite objection or suggestions to the contrary, and the lessons garnered from such antics.

Through thoughtful self-reflection, Folds recounts his experience living in what he describes as, a “what’s good for the music isn’t good for the life” reality. This, juxtaposed with his drive to make a career out of playing music, sometimes at the cost of his relationships and mental and physical health, creates an inviting and intimate space for the musician to connect with his fans/readers in much the same way he does in his life performances, which include audience participation and engagement. Well written and thought provoking, this touching and charming memoir gives a glimpse into the working life of a talented, and at times laugh out loud funny, artist.

The audio book is narrated by Folds himself and includes musical segues played by the musician, for some added fan service and unique Folds-style flair.

RC

Monday, November 11, 2019

This Is How It Always Is

This Is How It Always Is
by Laurie Frankel
Flatiron Books, 2017. 327 pages. Fiction

This novel is about the way it always is: "change is always hard and miraculous and then hard again; parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts; children grow but not always according to plan; and families with secrets don't get to keep them forever." Rosie and her husband Penn are thrilled to welcome a fifth little boy into their family and are happy that they've had so many boys; they now know what to expect. But Claude is unlike their other sons. Claude is different. One day he puts on a dress and won't take it off. He wants to bring a purse to kindergarten. When he grows up, Claude wants to be a girl. His family is immediately supportive, assuming that Claude will grow out of this phase. But it's not a phase. Claude wants to live his life as Poppy. Poppy is who she really is.

This book made my heart soar. I felt protective over Poppy from the very moment she was born and felt like I was standing next to her parents as they navigated this difficult journey. They are Poppy's biggest champions and I was cheering for her alongside them. The journey they're on is difficult, remarkable, full of love, and not to be missed.

LKA

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by [Richardson, Kim Michele]
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
by Kim Michele Richardson
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2019, 320 pages, Historical Fiction

As a librarian with the Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Cussy Mary Carter spends her days travelling through Troublesome Creek, a backwoods area of Appalachia, bringing books to the hardscrabble folks who might not otherwise have access to them. But Cussy’s not only a book woman; she’s also one of the last blue-skinned people of Kentucky. Not everyone is keen on Cussy’s family or the Library Project, and as she travels her route and slowly gains the trust of the people she serves, Cussy must also face prejudice and suspicion in order to help the people she loves most.

This book is full of plenty of things that could leave me frustrated about humanity. Cussy and the people on her library route experience racism, hunger, horrible working conditions, forced marriage, and questionable medical practices. But at its very core, this is the story of a woman who wanders through the backwoods of Kentucky, and every time she meets someone she’s invited inside to talk about books and the love of reading. I found this, and the book’s ultimate message, so charming and hopeful that I just couldn’t stop reading. This is an upbeat book about a very hard time in U.S. history and about a group of people I don’t usually find in literature. This, combined with the excellent narration of the audiobook, has made this book one of my favorite books of the year so far. I consider this a more hopeful story that’s great for those who enjoyed reading books like Before We Were Yours.

MB

Mike

Mike 
by Andrew Norriss
Scholastic Inc, 2019. 240 pages. Young Adult.

15 year old Floyd is a rising tennis star, on track to playing in major tennis championships around the world. His parents couldn’t be more proud and nothing seems to be standing in his way. That is, until Mike shows up and walks onto the court during the middle of a match and continues to show up at the most inopportune and inconvenient places. Floyd can’t seem to shake him no matter what he does, and his very presence begins to take a serious toll on his ability to play.

A unique and approachable YA story about stress and mental illness, Mike, was a surprising book I could not put down. Without feeling depressing or heavy handed, it deftly navigates common coming of age emotions like being overwhelmed while trying to live up to expectations for your life that may not match with your own desires (Ok, adults feel that, too). An enjoyable read with characters and situations that felt real and relatable, even for those of us who are not burgeoning sports stars or tennis aficionados.

RC

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Monday's Not Coming

Monday's Not Coming
by Tiffany D. Jackson
HarperCollins, 2018. 464 pages. Young Adult

She's missing. How can Monday be missing? Her best friend Claudia just saw her. But, she wouldn't miss the first day of school. Or the second day. And she certainly wouldn't go anywhere without telling Claudia first. Why won't Monday's mother give Claudia any information? Why is Monday's sister even less helpful? Where is Monday?

I was hooked on this book from the moment I read the synopsis. The timeline jumps around and kept me guessing. The fact that Monday's mother and sister don't seem to be as worried as they should be was shocking and confusing. If you also want to know what happened to Monday, I suggest you pick up this heartrendingly captivating book.

LKA

Resistance

Resistance
By Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, 2018. 385 pages. Young Adult

In 1942 Chaya Lindner is a Jew living in Nazi occupied Poland. When her family starts to fall apart, Chaya uses her fair, Polish looking features to escape the ghetto and become a courier. Chaya travels between the Jewish ghettos of Poland, smuggling food, papers, weapons, and people. Determined to help her people, she jumps at the chance to join a resistance cell when she discovers one. However, when a raid on the Nazis’ supplies goes wrong, she is forced into a dangerous journey that has the potential to lead her to an even larger resistance uprising.

The hatred and dehumanization of Jews in WWII is horrific, and Chaya’s journey, the people she encounters, and the situations she faces are heartbreaking. That is expected in a book about WWII. What I found really striking is how history echoes itself, and I feel like this book is incredibly powerful and poignant given current social, political, and human rights issues. Chaya is a strong protagonist, but reasonably flawed. Characters have complex, realistic motivations, and make hard choices when faced with bleak options. I thought this was a fantastic book, but it definitely hits some tough topics.

ACS

Wicked Fox

Wicked Fox (Gumiho #1)
By Kat Cho
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019. 424 pages. Young Adult

Miyoung is a gumiho, one of Korea’s legendary nine-tailed foxes that appear as a beautiful woman. To survive, Gumiho eat the liver of men, but Miyoung doesn’t like the idea of hurting innocent people, so she seeks out the most evil and brings them to justice. One night after feeding, Miyoung comes to the rescue of Jihoon, a boy being attacked by a dokkaebi, a goblin from Korean lore. In the process of saving him she loses her fox bead, which for a gumiho is essentially her soul and free will. Recovering her bead, keeping Jihoon safe, and rising to her mother’s expectations all weigh on Miyoung as dark forces threaten to destroy her world.

Kat Cho is Korean American and thoroughly infused her story with Korean folklore and culture… and it was done well! I had to stop at one point while reading to see what the author’s background was because it felt so authentic to me. While there was a certain level of predictability due to the use of common YA fiction and Korean drama tropes, WICKED FOX blended the two in a fun, unique way. This was Cho’s debut novel, and I look forward to seeing how she’s grown as a writer once the sequel is released.

ACS

Monday, November 4, 2019

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
By Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Flux, 2012. 271 pages. Young Adult

Gabe is just like any teenager in his Midwest town, struggling to navigate high school, a job, his parents, his friends, and liking girls. Gabe is also different from other teenagers in his Midwest town in that Gabe is transgender. Gabe was born Elizabeth and up until a few months ago, has lived his life fighting with his body at every turn. This novel follows Gabe as he goes through coming out to his family and close friends, which is a pretty remarkable experience, but it follows him through some pretty unremarkable experiences too; a new job, a new crush, and his love for music. Gabe's "average" high school trials and tribulations are amplified when his gender identity is factored in, and readers will find themselves cheering for Gabe's successes in life, love, and growing up.

I picked up this young adult book after it was recommended by me to a friend and it didn't disappoint. Gabe is a reliable narrator who allows the reader insight into his mind and his heart in a unique way. I was impressed with how well the writing flowed and how deeply I cared for the characters. If you're ready to put yourself in someone else's shoes for a bit, this book is for you.

LKA

The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild
by Jack London
New York : Macmillan ; Toronto : Maxwell Macmillan Canada ; New York : Maxwell Macmillan International, c1994. 127 pages. Fiction.
The adventures of an unusual dog, part St. Bernard, part Scotch shepherd, that is forcibly taken to the Klondike gold fields where he eventually becomes the leader of a wolf pack.
This book is a great read for all ages. It delves into the bright and dark facets of society through the perspective of a dog. It is engaging and emotional. I found out upon research that Jack London spent a significant amount of time in the Yukon, and it shows. His descriptions of the land and the people in it are vivid and striking. 

NS


Saturday, November 2, 2019

Naturally Tan: A Memoir

Naturally Tan: A Memoir
By Tan France
St. Martin's Press, 2019. 267 Pages. Biography

Even if you don't watch Netflix's Queer Eye (and you should - it's so fun!), you'll enjoy getting to know one of its hosts,Tan France. His story is unique, but relatable; a perfect blend of courage, hope, and unwavering determination. France grew up in a Muslim home in England in a predominantly white neighborhood and to say he was bullied seems like an understatement. Knowing that he was gay from an early age, France chose to keep it to himself to avoid even further hardship and potential family issues. At age 34, he finally came out, and is now happily married to the love of his life and living in Salt Lake.

I adored listening to this book - France's charming accent is an absolute joy. Although I was never a young, gay, English, Muslim; France's feelings of isolation and confusion resonated with me in a big way. You will cheer for him, cry with him, laugh with him, and fall in love with him!

LKA

The Nocturnal Brain

The Nocturnal Brain
by Dr. Guy Leschziner
St. Martin's Press. 2019. 353 pgs. Nonfiction.

Dr. Leschziner, a consulting neurologist to three different hospitals in the UK, takes you through some  of the worst cases of sleep disorders he's encountered across his career. What's most interesting is that, despite retelling the worst experiences, he frames the stories in such a way so that we understand the differing levels in the severity of symptoms that each disorder can express. A number of times, he explains so thoroughly (while still being entertaining) a disorder's symptoms and causes, it's easy to see the mild forms of a disorder in our own troubled sleep. His main focus for the book is to educate others on sleep disorders, namely the symptoms, causes, and effects on an individual who experiences these disorders, while being direct about the fact that sometimes the answer to sleep issues is "I don't know." Dr. Leschziner brings a fresh perspective and attitude to what might otherwise be a boring subject. He's able to narrate some of the funnier aspects of these disorders while still respecting how terrible living with these conditions can be.

For anyone interested in the way the human mind can be affected by the world around us, and how that then affects a persons body and life, this will be a very interesting book to pick up.

SMM

The Philosopher's Flight

The Philosopher's Flight (Philosophers #1)
by Tom Miller
Simon & Schuster. 2018. 422 pg. Fantasy.

In Robert Weekes' world, magic is feminine. Almost all magic, or empirical philosophy, is only possible for woman. Men can do some of it, but usually only women have the natural aptitudes required to create the more extreme philosophical effects like smokecarving, transporting, or flying. But for Robert, whose mother is a decorated war hero philosopher and father one of the strongest male philosophers in the world, he has all the necessary aptitudes to, at the very least, be competitive in the philosophy world. He's run rescue missions with his mother, trained in philosophy since before he could walk, and can out fly most woman he's met. But when he moves from Montana to Boston to attend school under a military scholarship, he comes to face the prejudice of being different in a field ruled by one gender. His goal is to become an operative of the Search and Rescue corps, an entirely female corps of the military focused on saving injured soldiers from the war front, but standing in his way is generations of tradition, religious condemnation of philosophy, and simple prejudice that male philosophers simply aren't as good.

Miller takes flips the script one a few social issues to accurately shows that a difference in power is the true source of prejudice and oppression. But, most of all, the social commentary doesn't overpower the good and entertaining story he wanted to tell, a story one that involves personal struggles, relationships, true bravery, and simple yet fantastical magic.

For those who've enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and The Man in the High Castle, this will be a great book to pick up!

SMM

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Dreadful Places

The World of Lore: Dreadful Places
By Aaron Mahnke
Del Rey, 2018. 329 pages. Nonfiction

Do you ever visit a place and get *that* feeling? In-explainable, unsettling, and dark? This book takes the reader into the creepy underbelly of many well-known cities. It features some of the most popular stories from the Lore Podcast and is sure to send a shiver down your spine. It's terrifyingly interesting to discover how many supernatural occurrences have happened in some of the most familiar places!

As a Stephen King fan, I was particularly fascinated by the story of his stay at The Stanley Hotel; his inspiration for writing The Shining. Mahnke's book reads like fiction even though it is not. The chapters are a perfectly consumable length and divided up by location. Be sure to keep the lights on for this one!

LKA

Meet Cute

Meet Cute
By Helena Hunting
Forever, 2019. 384 pages. Romance

Kailyn Flowers was a calm, collected law student until the day she literally tripped over Daxton Hughes, the former actor she grew up having a crush on, and her inner fangirl came loose.  Despite her embarrassment about their first meeting, their years as fellow law students led to a friendly rivalry until a betrayal left Kailyn feeling cold.  They don't see each other again until five years later when Daxton reappears in Kaily's life and needs her help.  Despite her mixed feelings, Kailyn realizes their old chemistry might not be dead after all.

Despite some heavy moments, this is a lighthearted romance with plenty of humor and complexity.  Recommended for fans of titles like the Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and readers who won't mind descriptions of steamy situations.

BHG