Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Normal People

Normal People 
by Sally Rooney
Hogarth, 2018. 273 pages, General Fiction

Some people experience a connection that seems to pull them together no matter the circumstances. This is the connection that Marianne and Connell experience. From the time they were high school classmates, who keep their relationship secret from everyone they know due to their varied social status, to the time they meet again at university when they both attend Trinity College in Dublin, they cannot shake the unique bond they share. Intimate and deep, these two don’t know how lucky they are to experience that connection to one another, but they struggle to find balance between their passionate feelings and how to form a functional relationship, with their individual damage and insecurities in tow.

This is a uniquely moving character and conversation driven coming of age story. It is rare for a book to truly capture real human emotion and insecurity in relationships the way this book did, and I devoured it. It was long listed for the Man Booker prize in 2018 and it definitely has that award-worthy feel with lovely language and a meandering pace that lets you really sink in to what the character’s experience and their emotional ups and downs. I’d recommend this book to those who don’t require a clean read and who enjoy literary fiction with a focus on language and realism.

 RC

Saturday, July 13, 2019

My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie

                                   

My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie 
by Todd Fisher
William Morrow, 2018. 388 pages. Nonfiction

Todd Fisher is the son of movie legend Debbie Reynolds and brother to Carrie Fisher, another movie legend in her own right. In this memoir of his own experiences with the women he calls, my girls, Fisher gives an honest, yet loving, portrayal of the over-the-top lives of his family.

With humor and heartbreak he outlines how he came into the world as his parents’ marriage was breaking up. This began the special and complicated relationship he had with his sister and mother. Debbie’s next two husbands both cheated and stole from her. Todd was there to stand with her through the heartache and the legal nightmares both divorces created. Meanwhile Carrie was dealing with major mood swings that would eventually be diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder. As Carrie began a successful acting and writing career and Debbie continued to perform and work in theater, Todd became fascinated with making movies and documentaries. Most of his life was taken up by the needs of his mother and sister. He was the only man in their life who they could trust to love and stand by them until their untimely deaths, one day apart, in 2016.

Fisher has penned a love story to the family that was demanding, but fiercely loyal to each other and honors his mother and sister as the amazing women and entertainers that they were. This book was funny and heartbreaking at the same time. Reynolds and her children had an amazing bond. Their loyalty was fierce and strong. Whenever Carrie overdosed or Debbie had financial trouble, Todd was there to help them pick up the pieces.

As a lover of both Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, this memoir was a fitting tribute to such amazing women. Yes, Reynolds was an alcoholic; yes, Carrie Fisher was an addict and had debilitating mental demons. But Todd Fisher shows their grit, their intelligence, and their never-ending humor.

If you are a fan of Carrie Fisher’s books like Shockaholic and The Princess Diarist, this book will be a great bookend to a brilliant career of writing. If you are a fan of Singing in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, this is a loving account of Debbie Reynolds from her adoring son. I highly recommend it.

AGP

Friday, July 12, 2019

Lost and Wanted

Cover image for Lost and wanted : a novel
Lost and Wanted
by Nell Freudenberger
Alfred A. Knopf, 2019, 315 pages, General Fiction

Helen Clapp is a physics professor at MIT who prefers to live in a world where everything can be explained by science. Helen’s best friend, Charlotte Boyce, was an up-and-coming Hollywood script writer until her life was ended suddenly by complications from lupus. Even though Helen knows her best friend is gone, she still occasionally gets random phone calls and texts from Charlotte. As Helen struggles to understand what’s going on, she also thinks back to her college days, and ponders what she knew about her best friend’s life from a different perspective.

On the surface, this book seems like it’s a supernatural mystery, and it does include a light mystery element. However, this book is really an exploration of friendship, of how relationships change over time, and especially of how different people deal with grief and loss. It was beautifully written, and I enjoyed savoring the story. I also appreciated that even though this is a book about grief and loss, overall, the message of this book is a hopeful one.

Since the main character is a physics professor, this book also includes a lot of complex science-related discussions, but they’re written in a style that makes them easy for anyone to understand. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes quiet stories that make profound points about life.

MB

Thursday, July 11, 2019

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by Dave Eggers
Vintage, 2001, 437 pgs. Biography

What happens when you become an orphan and a parent all at once in your early twenties? If you're Dave Eggers, you migrate around California with your kid brother, live large like two irresponsible teenage runaways, found three literary magazines, and take advantage of the sugary sympathies of neighbors, family friends, and strangers. Then, ten years later, you write all about it. In this account of the years after his parents died, Eggers gets into the nitty-gritty of how he and his brother live, giving a comprehensive list of eleven-year-old Toph's ultimate frisbee maneuvers, drawing diagrams of his apartment's layout to acquaint the reader with the spaces he inhabits, and describing in detail his various daydreams about various pretty girls.

The resulting memoir is like a night sky: full of separate dazzling bits and pieces that constellate together beautifully like a connect-the-dots, and gradually form a grand tableau that invites the reader's gaze. But don't get me or Eggers wrong--the very title of this book hints at Eggers' sense of irony which gently negates and pokes fun at his project and prevents bathos from leaking in. The narrator and his characters are, after all, funny, honest, and thus so charismatic. While it's clear Eggers' creative impulses sometimes compromise the pure truth of his story, the whole thing exudes a feeling of authenticity to life and human beings. Besides, what is nonfiction anyway but a history conditioned by subjectivity? The postmodern period that this book came out of proved that--more or less.

If you like Jonathan Safran Foer and David Foster Wallace, or other genre-bending memoir-novels like Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, check out A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

DMR

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

I'll Be Gone In the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

I'll Be Gone In the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
by Michelle McNamara
HarperCollins, 2018. 328 pages. Nonfiction

True crime enthusiast? This is your next book! Michelle McNamara was a journalist who became fascinated by the man she dubbed, "The Golden State Killer." Infamous for committing many heinous crimes all over the state of California from 1974 to 1986, this man has eluded capture and identification for almost fifty years. McNamara's debut novel was published posthumously and is currently being adapted into an HBO series. The book takes you through the beginning of her research in 2013 up until her unexpected death in 2016 - at which time she was not finished writing. The book was finished by crime writer Paul Haynes and journalist Billy Jensen. These men were able to put together her manuscripts, interviews, exhaustive research, and detailed notes into a riveting chase for an abhorrent criminal.

The fact that Michelle McNamara wasn't able to see her work come to fruition is heartbreaking to me. This book kept me up late at night, turning page after page until I couldn't keep my eyes open. While reading, I wanted to find The Golden State Killer as much as Michelle did; her passion for justice is almost palpable. The audio book is read by the talented Gabra Zackman and adds an extra layer of depth to an already addicting investigation. Has "The Golden State Killer" been caught? Will he ever? I'll let you decide if you want to look this information up after you finish reading Michelle McNamara's remarkable novel.

LKA

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls 
by Jes Baker
Seal Press, 2015. 240 pages. Non-Fiction

For many women, loving your body as it is right now is not always the easiest thing to do. There is a constant barrage of media images telling us we’re supposed to slim down, tone up, be healthier, have no cellulite, always have flawless skin, etc. and it shames us into feeling inadequate. Jes Baker asks women (and men) to instead be proud of the amazing body that you have RIGHT NOW, and points out ways that a flawed system is benefiting from keeping us all striving for largely unattainable and unrealistic body goals. Armed with research and scientific facts, Baker supports her claims that dieting and diet culture are harmful to everyone, that yoyo dieting is physically harmful to health (both mental and physical), and argues for diversity in body representation to change the world.

Jes Baker is the voice we need in the conversation surrounding body positivity right now. Sassy, smart, and unapologetic, she doesn’t shy away from talking about hard topics while still putting out an approachable and relatable air. She encourages everyone, in every body type, to find joy and do what makes them happy regardless of whether their size, shape, ability, or gender conforms to societal beauty standards. For anyone with a body that they don’t always love, this positive and empowering read will have you rethinking what contributes to those negative self images.

RC

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The River

Cover image for The river : a novel
The River
by Peter Heller
Alfred A. Knopf, 2019, 253 pages, General Fiction

Best friends Jack and Wynn are taking a break from college to spend a leisurely summer camping in northern Canada. Life is idyllic; their days are spent canoeing and fishing, and they curl up by the fire at night with their pipes and settle in for a good book, a bit of stargazing, and great conversation. Their trip is threatened, however, when they begin to see signs of a raging wildfire edging closer and closer. As they head downriver to try to avoid the fire, they run into other campers who seem to be running from more than just the flames.

The River begins very slowly, comparing the fishing techniques used by Jack and Wynn, and giving detailed accounts of how they pack their canoe every morning. But the threat of the wildfire lies underneath the descriptions of leisurely days, and the tension of this book builds and builds, and just keeps on building. This combination of an adventure/survival novel with the elements of a thriller really works. Although this is the first novel by Peter Heller that I’ve read, I’ll definitely be reading his back catalog soon.

Read Peter Heller if you’ve enjoyed books like The Dry by Jane Harper, or The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

MB

The Upside of Falling Down

The Upside of Falling Down
By Rebekah Crane
Skyscape, 2018. 239 pgs. Young Adult

Clementine wakes up in an Irish hospital with no memory of who she is or how she got there. Her wonderful nurse, Stephen, tells her her name, let’s her know that she’s in Ireland but originally from Ohio, and that she’s the only survivor of a plane crash. It’s a lot to take in, and in a moment of overwhelming uncertainty she adopts a new identity and escapes the hospital with local boy Kieran O’Connell. Now “Jane” is adapting to life without any memories and starts a journey of self-discovery.

It can be fun to have a fresh start, but Jane/Clementine’s fresh start is just as terrifying as it is exciting. The characters are engaging as they discover themselves and each other, as there are a lot of secrets to go around. Overall I think this is a fun, light summer read.

ACS

A Very Large Expanse of Sea

A Very Large Expanse of Sea
By Tahereh Mafi
Harper, 2018. 310 pgs. Young Adult

Shirin is a 16-year-old Muslim girl in the politically turbulent time of 2002, a year after 9/11. She’s tired of being stereotyped, and is no longer surprised by how horrible people can be because of her race, religion, and the hijab she wears. In the afternoons after school she drowns her frustrations in music and break-dancing in her brother’s new crew as they prepare for the school talent show. Then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in a long time that seems to genuinely like and want to spend time with Shirin, but letting her guard down and forming a real friendship is difficult after spending so long protecting herself.

Shirin is a very well developed character, acting and reacting in realistic ways based on the experiences she’s had. It’s a reminder of how dangerous and cruel it is to form opinions of an entire group of people based on the actions of a few individuals. My heart broke for Shirin and her struggles. I loved Ocean and felt like the conversations between the two were illuminating and intelligent, rather than sentimental or mushy. The teens and their situation felt real. I could easily recommend this book for readers looking for well crafted, diverse, issue-oriented reads.

ACS

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Pawn of Prophecy

Pawn of Prophecy (Belgariad #1)
David Eddings
Del Rey, 1982, 262p, Fantasy

Pawn of Prophecy is an old fantasy story. In the same vein as Robert Jordan, Eddings creates a vast world with many cultures, where magic is possible to the select few who know it's secret, and where an absolute evil force that wants to destroy everything, is waking up from an eternal slumber. The story initially focuses (like many old fantasy epics) on a farm boy, named Garion, who's known nothing but cleaning pots in the kitchen and tending to fields. He's eventually thrust into the world by his Aunt Pol and a storyteller Garion calls Old Wolf, out of necessity, to keep him safe. But for Garion, he only knows the farm, but as he meets kings and queens, learns more about his family and their ancient history, he'll discover that he's far more than a farm boy.

For those that like Robert Jordan's Eye of the World or Brandon Sanderson's Elantris, this will be a great read!

SMM

Four: A Divergent Collection

Four: A Divergent Collection
By Veronica Roth
Katherine Tegen Books, 2014. 285 pgs. Young Adult

Tobias is tired of feeling weak and afraid. At the Choosing Ceremony he transfers to Dauntless in the hopes of escaping his old life. During initiation he discovers that he will do more than escape, he will succeed in his new faction. Things are changing though, and he is not sure who he can trust. Especially once he feels himself drawn to one of the new initiates, Tris.

This is a companion volume to the Divergent series. It is four short stories that take place before the Divergent series. They are told from Tobias's point of view and give a lot more details into his life and thoughts. It explains a lot more about how he got his new name of Four and what it was like for him to be initiated into Dauntless. I enjoyed getting to know Four better. He was one of my favorite characters from the series.

AL

Friday, July 5, 2019

Bird Box

Bird Box
By Josh Malerman
Ecco Press, 2014. 262 pgs. Fiction

Life for Malorie is looking a little more complicated when her pregnancy test comes back positive after a one-night stand. But just as she and her sister start to plan for Malorie's new future, the world is thrown into utter chaos by the so-called "Problem"--something strange and sinister has come to Earth, which, if looked at directly, drives its witness to violent suicide by any means. You must close your eyes if you want to survive. Weaving three narratives together from different moments in Malorie's story, Bird Box explores how survivors navigate the new world, banding together, using the resources around them, and staving off hunger, thirst, and perhaps most importantly, paranoia. As it turns out, it's an Olympian task to stay sane in an environment that drives people mad. Malorie must do not only that, but also bring a child into this world where it seems even animals are not exempt from the effects of the hostile presence.

Just when you thought the post-apocalyptic genre's moment was over, Bird Box bursts onto the scene with several awards and a Netflix adaptation starring Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich. If you want in on the buzz without having to watch something violent, the book is a great place to go; the print medium lends itself well to the phenomenon of blindness and you'll feel just like Malorie, stumbling suspensefully into the twists and surprises of the book. The psychological development of the characters is just as thrilling as the dangerous presence and will have you questioning who the real threat is. Bird Box is Malerman's debut novel, and I must admit at times I struggled to suspend my disbelief--it doesn't quite make sense when Malorie decides to risk opening her eyes to drive three miles just after another character is offed nearby. Moreover, the novel takes on more than four years and such an enormous "Problem" that I wish Malerman had devoted a little more time to, especially after reading Justin Cronin's beautiful and thoroughly-written book, The Passage. But the premise of Bird Box is so terrifying and so compelling that you'll be hooked, and the characters' instincts and wills to survive so universal that I believe the story inside will outlast its momentary trendiness.

DMR

Monday, July 1, 2019

Elevation


Elevation
by Stephen King
Scribner, 2018. 144 pages. Fiction

Scott Carey hasn't been trying to lose weight, but he's been doing so anyway. There are other strange things too: he looks exactly the same no matter how much weight he loses and he weighs the same with his clothes on or off. Scott lives his life alone, in a quiet home, in the picturesque town of Castle Rock, Maine. He doesn't want to make a big deal out of his mysterious weight loss, so he only confides in his doctor and friend Bob Ellis. Scott insists that he not be treated like a science experiment and instead of trying to determine a cause, only has Dr. Ellis monitor his weight loss. During this baffling time in his life, Scott has an encounter with his new neighbors - a married, lesbian couple - that escalates quickly into an ongoing battle. The women are new to town and trying to open up a restaurant in an environment that is less than welcoming. Scott's inexplicable situation becomes unexpected common ground with these women. Through a deeper look at the prejudices the women face - including his own prejudices - Scott is able to find accidental allies in them. Together, they navigate a town that seems to have no place for any of them, and find deeper life lessons than they knew they were looking for.

If you pick up anything with Stephen King's name on it like I do, then you will enjoy this quick read. It left me with a delightfully complete feeling once it was done. It's bizarre, as is most Stephen King, but somehow it's not impossible to believe. I enjoyed experiencing this weird phenomenon through Scott's perspective, which was so very different from what I think my own perspective would be. He accepts what is happening to him and then goes one step further and actually embraces it. The relationship he develops with his neighbors is both inspiring and heartfelt; an example of what it means to focus on love. Be advised that there is some strong language in this book, but if you can get past that, it's absolutely worth the read!

LKA

Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs #1)
Richard K. Morgan
Del Rey, 2018, 544p, Science Fiction

Originally published in 2002, Altered Carbon won the Phillip K. Dick award for Best Novel in 2003 and was made into a Netflix Original TV show in 2018. This science fiction novel takes place in a future where human personalities are stored like computer data and downloaded into whatever body (called sleeves) happens to be available. This storage allows mankind to travel the stars, to change appearance on a whim, and even to live forever. With enough money, anyone can backup their mind so, if they die suddenly, they can come back to life with all the memories they had before their most recent backup.  Takeshi Kovacs, a highly trained soldier turned mercenary, is revived from criminal storage, placed into a new body, and hired by Laurens Bancroft (who was revived from a backup after his murder) to investigate the murder of the most recent version of Laurens Bancroft, who died a little less than 48 hours after the previous backup.

In six weeks, Takeshi has to work on Earth, a planet he's never been to before, among a society that is very different from the one he's used to, and he has to do it in a body addicted to cigarettes. Everything seems to point to the murder being a suicide, but with the help of an AI hotel named Hendrix, a hacker named Irene Elliot, and a police lieutenant named Ortega, Takeshi is able to navigate through the streets of San Francisco and find out that the murder isn't just a murder. His past literally comes back to haunt him forcing him to ultimately choose between protecting his own potential future or destroying a vile part of his past.

Those who like Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, William Gibson's Neuromancer, or the movie Blade Runner, will enjoy this cyberpunk-infused story that actively asks the question: What kind of people would we become if we could actually live forever? Content advisory: This book contains explicit scenes related to drugs, torture, and sex, so be advised.

SMM

Saturday, June 29, 2019

First Test

First Test (Protector of the Small, #1)
Tamora Pierce
Random House, 2007, 216p, Young Adult Fantasy

Keladry (Kel) of Mindelan is the youngest daughter in a noble family, and for as long as she can remember, she has had one desire: to become a knight. After a girl hid her gender throughout training until becoming a knight, the country of Tortall made it legal for noble daughters to train as knights. Kel is the first girl to sign up as a page in the kingdom's knight training program, and from the outset, she is put on probation to see if she can successfully keep up with the other boy pages during the first year of training.

Since reading this book, it has been something I read every year. Kel's desire to become a knight is so strong that she overcomes prejudice and persecution while at the same time showing her fellow pages what it means to be a knight. Despite the simplicity of her desire, Kel's journey to knighthood brings her in contact with magic, noble and common friends, loyalty and betrayal, and a host of situations where she's the only one who can save herself and her friends.

Those who like the Hunger Games and Disney Pixar's Brave will find plenty to love in this book.

SMM

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Lost Man

Cover image for The lost man
The Lost Man
by Jane Harper
Flatiron Books, 2019, 340 pages, Mystery

Nathan Bright lives alone on a remote ranch in the Australian Outback. Ostracized by the local community years ago, Nathan prefers to live apart, even from his family, who live on the next ranch over, a four hour drive away. When Nathan’s brother, Cameron, is found dead, Nathan is forced to reconnect with the people who shunned him years ago. As he puts together the pieces of Cameron’s life in the weeks before his death, Nathan begins to question if he knew his brother at all, and if the same fate awaits him as well.

Jane Harper excels at writing stories that make you feel like you’re actually there. You can feel the scorching sun bearing down on you, and your mind’s eye can see the endless stretch of wilderness in front of you. I love picking up her books because of this, and listening to them is even better since the narrator’s Australian accent enhances this sense of place even more. The mystery of the novel unfolds slowly, and takes a bit of a side seat to the story of Nathan’s past, but Harper’s writing is so good that I spent the entire time listening to this novel absolutely gripped, and feeling slightly parched.

Although not mysteries, readers who enjoy The Lost Man will likely also enjoy the atmospheric elements and pacing of authors like Cormac McCarthy and Peter Heller.

MB  

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Thing with Feathers

The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human
By Noah Strycker
Riverhead Books, 2014. 304 pages. Nonfiction

Strycker takes a look at several interesting bird species and qualities in them that humans can both relate to and learn from.  Strycker's fascinating stories include the extraordinary memories of nutcrackers, the feisty nature of hummingbirds, the artistic tendencies of bower birds, the stratified social structures of chicken flocks, the altruism of fairy-wrens, and the way that the albatross will mate for life.  Strycker believes that by studying why birds do what they do, it can offer insights into our own nature as humans.

This was a fun read that will appeal to birders and those who like reading nature books.  I enjoyed Strycker's fascinating information about different bird species, though his connections to our own nature as humans sometimes felt a bit disjointed.  I'd recommend this more for the interesting information about the amazing things birds can do rather than the enlightenment about humanity itself, though there are some compelling comparisons here.

BHG

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter
By Margareta Mangusson
Scribner, 2018. 117 pages. Nonfiction

Mangusson explains how going through your possessions before the end of life helps to both relieve you from the obligation of caring for them in your final years and relieves your family from having to make decisions about those items after you are gone.  While it may sound a bit morbid, Mangusson indeed handles the subject gently as the title suggests.  However, this book isn't just for those in their later years.  Her instructions are applicable for those in any time of life, especially readers who may need a  little motivation for freeing themselves from the burden of too many possessions.  When you consider your things from the perspective of not being able to take them with you after this life, it casts them in a different light and makes letting go a little easier.

Fans of Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up will find renewed inspiration from reading this short but sweet book.  Mangusson mixes sensible advice with personal examples of items that she had tender memories of and yet in the end sent on to new, more practical homes.  These stories both illustrate her points and gently help readers find a way to let go of their own cherished items if it's not practical to keep them any longer.  I listened to the audiobook and the narrator's voice has the perfect mix of quiet dignity and tenderness that turns an uncomfortable subject to one of acceptance and peace.

BHG

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School 
by Kathleen Flinn
Viking Adult, 2007. 285 pages. Nonfiction

Kat Flinn, age 36, is an American working and living in London. When she is informed, very politely, that she no longer has a job, she decides to cash in her savings and move to France to study at Le Cordon Bleu. What follows is an insider view of the famous cooking school. Flinn documents her struggles to earn a diploma with her barely adequate French. She also describes her journey into love with her best friend. She ends each chapter with the recipes she learned to make while in the program.

This book reminded be so much of My Life in France by Julia Child. Both Flinn and Child came late to their careers in cooking. Both of them fell in love in France and with France while cooking at Le Cordon Bleu. This book also reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is a book about finding your way, and taking the leap of faith, and figuring out who you are. The descriptions of the food are mouthwatering and the characterization of all the people she met while at school is fantastic. You really feel like you are there with her and can smell the butter sizzling in the hot pan.

 AGP

Friday, June 21, 2019

Sleepless Vol. 1


by Sarah Vaughn
Image Comics, 2019. 168 pgs. Young Adult Comics

Following the death of her father, the King, Lady “Poppy” Pyppenia must survive the dangers of court life. Thankfully, she is protected by the Sleepless Knight Cyrenic, but soon Poppy’s life becomes endangered as someone seeks to have her assassinated. Will Poppy and Cyrenic learn who wants her dead before the assassin succeeds, and will they ever admit their growing feelings towards each other?

This was a fantastic read with strong female characters, intriguing mystical powers, and a mystery. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. One of the things that I liked the most about this comic was the diverse characters. There is a range of races, ethnicities, abilities, and religions presented in a way that feels authentic to the story. They have a variety of motivations and reactions that help build the story and challenge the main characters. If you enjoy stories with strong female characters, beautiful artwork, or unique fantasy elements, this is a great fit.

TT

When You Read This

Cover image for When you read this : a novel
When You Read This
by Mary Adkins
Harper, 2019, 376 pages, General Fiction

For four years Iris Massey worked side by side with PR maven Smith Simonyi, helping clients perfect their brands. When Iris is taken by terminal illness at only 33, Smith is surprised to discover Iris left him a final request: for Smith to publish her blog as a book. Before he can do so, though, he must get the approval of Iris' big sister Jade, an haute cuisine chef who's been knocked sideways by her loss. Each carrying their own baggage, Smith and Jade end up on a collision course with their own unresolved pasts and with each other.

When You Read This is an interesting take on the epistolary novel. Instead of carefully crafted letters, the reader gets bits of the story via a jumble of email messages, including spam; text messages; blog posts; and electronically-submitted essays meant to take the place of in-person therapy sessions. Although this is a romantic comedy in that it's obvious the two main characters will get together in the end, this book was mostly the story of two people dealing with grief. This combination of humor and sadness is delicately handled, and for me it hit just the right balance between the two. If you enjoyed books like Where’d You Go, Bernadette or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, you will also enjoy When You Read This.

MB

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Liar's Girl

Image result for the liar's girl book cover
The Liar's Girl
By Catherine Ryan Howard 
Blackstone Publishing, 2018. 336 pages. Mystery.

Alison can't wait to start her first year of university with her best friend at the prestigious St. John's in Dublin. Almost right away she meets the dreamy Will Hurley who seems to be the perfect boyfriend. Then first year girls start turning up dead in the canal nearby, and a general terror grips the campus. Then Alison's best friend turns up dead in the canal and Will admits to the murders. Unable to cope with the shame and grief of it all, Alison moves away to the Netherlands and starts her life anew. But ten years later, when Alison feels like she might be able to start moving on, the Dublin police show up on her doorstep. The Canal Killer is at it again. The police think Alison may be key to solving the current cases. Conflicted between her sense of self-preservation and her desire to save the young women in danger, Alison must decide if she can confront her past, or if she can live with herself if she stays.

This book had me gripped. It was full of suspense. The story alternated mainly between Alison's now point of view and her then point of view ten years earlier when she first started at St. John's. The audiobook was great to listen to because of all the Irish accents and the artistry in the story-telling. It made listening so much fun. I loved the characters, their relationships with each other, and their growth. Although I didn’t love the title, the back blurb piqued my interest and I’m so glad I gave it a chance. I had chills and was genuinely freaked out at several points during the book; however, I finished the book feeling satisfied with the story. There is some language in the book but it never felt excessive and was always appropriate to the situation. 

LH

The Sun and Her Flowers

Image result for the sun and her flowersThe Sun and Her Flowers
By Rupi Kaur
Andrew McMeel Publishing, 2017. 256 pages. Nonfiction.

"this is the recipe of life 
said my mother
as she held me in her arms as i wept
think of those flowers you plant
in the garden each year
they will teach you
that people too 
must wilt
fall
root
rise
in order to bloom"

Rupi Kaur takes the reader on a transcendent journey through the different stages of wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. It is a journey about growth and healing, ancestry and honoring one's roots and expatriation, and rising up to find a home within yourself. Kaur often mixes her succinct poems with simple, descriptive images. The effect is that the words and the art work together to enhance each other. This book is a celebration of love in all its forms.

Anyone who loved Milk and Honey is sure to love The Sun and Her Flowers. So many parts of this book resonated with my soul. The others gave me glimpses into experiences that I have never known and filled me with compassion for those who have. While Milk and Honey seemed to deal a little more with the challenges of being a woman and of the issues surrounding the female body (ie. mostly sexual abuse and body-image), this book--though these themes are still present--centers more on a self-journey of falling and then rediscovering oneself. Kaur displays a powerful blend of confidence and vulnerability. Respect and honor are apparent as she honestly explores her relationships with different family members and her own heritage.

LH

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

No Walls and the Recurring Dream

No Walls and the Recurring Dream
by Ani DiFranco Viking, 2019. 306 pages, Biography

Ani DiFranco, singer, songwriter, activist, feminist and all around “righteous babe” uses her talent for poetics in her new book to paint a picture of her early life, her influences, and her rise to folk singer stardom. Her signature wit and way with words shines from every page as she tells about being an emancipated teenager, and finding her way in the world through art, music, dance, and through kindness and connection with others. Her anecdotes about life on the road are comical and memorable, and her reflections on being a female in a male dominated profession are apt as ever.

Fans of DiFranco’s music will enjoy this deep dive into the iconic feminist folk singer’s songwriting process and her rise to prominence by bucking the traditional music and recording system, and doing things by the beat of her own drum (or guitar). For an extra treat, listen to the audiobook version read by DiFranco herself, to hear her poems as they should be heard- from her own lips to your ears.

RC

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Even This: Getting to the Place Where You Can Trust God With Anything

Even This: Getting to the Place Where You Can Trust God With Anything
By Emily Freeman
Ensign Peak, 2017. 168 pgs. Nonfiction

This book invites readers to do things in their everyday lives to have daily experiences with God. The author explains how God meets us in the unexpected and we have to be willing to recognize His hand in our lives, even when things aren't going how we want them to. It can be easy to doubt Gods goodness when terrible things are happening, but that is when we need to trust Him the most.

Emily Freeman shares many personal stories to illustrate times in her life when she has had to really come to know God through the struggles she has faced. The ideas in this book are amazing and could be very life changing. I struggled a little with Emily's writing style in this book. It was more like disjointed journal entries. Some were long, with lots of detail and other just hinted at the details of a story. That being said, I am still glad I listened to this book on Overdrive. An idea that has really stuck with me is that we often hold back and will not let ourselves be completely vulnerable with God. It is important that we work toward that type of relationship with Him. I also loved when she said that the place of deepest asking is where the believing begins.

AL

The Truth About Miss Ashbourne

The Truth About Miss Ashbourne
By Joanna Barker
Covenant Communication, 2018. 252 pgs. Historical Romance

Juliana Ashbourne is a governess with big dreams of someday being able to save enough money to start her own school for girls. She endures working for horrible parents because she adores the two children she spends her days with. Just as her situation gets unbearable she discovers that her grandfather has died and she has inherited a fortune. The only problem is that this is the same grandfather that disowned her mother. Juliana has never met her relatives and the condition of her inheritance is that she must return to Havenfield, the family estate, and live with her extended family for thirty days. With few other choices, she goes to Havenfield hoping to endure the time so she can receive her money and move forward with her dreams. She doesn't expect to find a caring grandmother, a shy cousin that she connects with and the teasing Mr. William Rowley,  heir to the estate.

This debut novel by Joanna Barker was a sweet Regency romance that was well written and really captured me from the very beginning. I loved Juliana's character. She had a lot of unknowns in her life that made her vulnerable, but she faced her challenges and worked toward her passion for creating her school. William was the perfect swoon-worthy hero. He was honorable and kind but also knew how to tease Juliana to keep her from being too serious. I loved watching their friendship progress. I would recommend this book for those looking for clean romance or fans of  Julianne Donaldson or Sara Eden.

AL

Friday, June 7, 2019

Blood Water Paint

Blood Water Paint
by Joy McCullough
Dutton Books, 2018. 298 pages. Young Adult

After her mother's death, Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father's paint. She chose paint and became one of Rome's most talented painters-- while her father took all the credit. Five years later, in the aftermath of a rape, Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost. Through the ensuing trial and torture, she is buoyed by memories of her mother's stories of strong women of the Bible.

Artemisia Gentileschi has long been one of my favorite artists. I remember the first time I heard her story in a high school drawing class - the smell of my pencil shavings, the feel of the paper, the sound of my teacher's voice, filled with passion and respect for the great woman and artist. Learning of the struggles she faced living in a time with less opportunities and rights afforded to women, and how she overcome and thrived by sheer force of will inspired me so much. I had high hopes for this book, and my every expectation was met. The writing is so evocative and engaging. Written in verse, it read like memories; as Artemisia is reflecting on the memory of her mother's stories, so too did I, as a reader, feel that I was reflecting on memories of Artemisia telling me her story. Or perhaps that Artemisia's voice was reaching through time to me, or a bit of both sensations. Needless to say, I was deeply moved.

MW

Batch Cocktails: Make-ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion

Batch Cocktails: Make-ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion
by Maggie Hoffman
Ten Speed Press, 2019. 160 pages. Nonfiction

A hip, accessible guide to batch cocktail-making for entertaining, with 65 recipes that can be made hours--or weeks!--ahead of time so that hosts and hostesses have one less thing to worry about as the doorbell rings. These are delicious and creative cocktails that you don't have to stir or shake to order; rather, they are designed to stay fresh when made ahead and served out of a pitcher. Recipes such as Tongue in Cheek, Friendly Fires, Birds & Bees Punch, and even alcohol-free options are organized by flavor profile--herbal, boozy, bitter, fruity and tart, and so on--to make choosing and whipping up a perfect pitcher of cocktails a total breeze.

Before anything else, flip through this gorgeously photographed book and feast your eyes! I honestly would buy this as a coffee table book because looking at it is so satisfying! But it's not just all style and no substance; this book offers a treasure trove of tasty batch drinks to tempt even the pickiest of taste buds. Don't drink alcohol? No problem! There's a section featuring alcohol-free options that are equally creative as all the other offerings (many of which can easily be made "virgin" as well).  If you're looking for culinary inspiration, look no further! Not only are the recipes drool-worthy, you'll learn a lot about flavor pairings and other skills that'll awaken your inner mixologist.

MW

Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee

Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee
by Jeff Zentner
Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 400 Pages.Young Adult Fiction

Delia and Josie are high school seniors with a unique hobby. They host a Midnight movie program on their local TV station, where they show low budget, little know, old school horror flicks as their vampire-y alter egos, Rayne and Delilah. While brainstorming ways to take their show from hobby to career, they hear about a horror convention nearby where a famous veteran horror hosting icon will be available for a meet and greet. They plot to charm him with their show so he can give them the boost they need to make them stars. Each of the girls has ulterior motives for wanting their show to make it big, though, and a lot more is riding on this convention than either of them realize.

I checked out this book because I loved author Jeff Zentner’s book, The Serpent King. Zentner has a knack for creating instantly likable characters who behave like actual people in seemingly plausible life situations- which isn’t always what you get from Young Adult books. Delia and Josie’s friendship is reminiscent of real life high school friendships, chalk full of insecurity, self-discovery, family struggles, and lots of love and support for each other. The descriptions in this book are so cinematic; you’ll feel like you're watching Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee broadcast as you turn each page.

RC

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Book of Lost Recipes


The Book of Lost Recipes
by Jaya Saxena
Page Street, 2016. 240 pages. Nonfiction

Take a culinary journey to the past with this American restaurant history/cookbook highlighting signature dishes served in days gone by. Along with time-tested recipes, you'll learn about the restaurants and passionate food lovers who cooked up these memorable meals.

If you like food and history, look no further. Still very much a cookbook, recipes are grouped by the restaurant where they were served. Each section starts with a short, 1-2 page spotlight-style summary of the restaurants' history. You'll learn about the New York Exchange for Women's Work, where Civil War widows could find work to support their families, the BBQ joint that became a popular Hollywood after-party spot, and a lot of other really interesting eateries!

MW

Monday, June 3, 2019

Storm Cursed

Storm Cursed
by Patricia Briggs
Ace, 2019. 358 pgs. Fantasy.

This is the 11th book of the Mercy Thompson series, which begins with Moon Called.

When Mercy stood on a bridge and took responsibility for the safety of everyone living inside their territory, it opened up all sorts of new opportunities for trouble to come knocking. The United State Government wants to treat with the fae, and they decide the Columbia Basin pack’s territory is the perfect neutral ground to do so. However, someone doesn’t want these meetings taking place, and that someone can use black magic to create zombies.

 First off, I don’t do zombies but I still absolutely loved this book. It does deal with black magic, so for that reason it’s a bit darker than the others, but the writing here is just as fabulous as the rest of the series. I was excited to learn more about Sherwood Post and Wulfe, and was glad to see some other characters I felt hadn’t been around for a while like Zee and Stefan. I highly recommend this series to anyone willing to read urban fantasy.

 ER

The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life
By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Dial Books, 2015. 316 pages. Juvenile Fiction

Just before the onset of World War 2, ten-year-old Ada has never left her London apartment because her mother is humiliated by Ada's twisted foot.  When her younger brother Jaime prepares to be shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada defiantly sneaks out to join him on the train.  Ada and Jaime experience a new world in the countryside, not just in the outdoor splendor but in the home of Susan Smith, who reluctantly takes them in.  Susan treats them differently from their mother - she doesn't hit them or keep food from them if they've been bad.  Slowly, they come to trust Susan and Ada experiences a life far more fulfilling than her mother ever planned for her.

This story is told from Ada's perspective, who is a bit of an unreliable narrator.  Ada doesn't fully understand that her mother's treatment of her has been abusive, or that her life could be much better.  Seeing Ada grow into a more capable, stronger girl is a satisfying transformation, and I appreciated that the wartime setting was downplayed so we could focus on the characters.  I listened to the audiobook, narrated by my favorite reader, Jayne Entwistle, and it did not disappoint.  This book is available as a book club set here at the Provo City Library.

BHG

Siren's Song

Siren’s Song 
by May Weber
Thomas Nelson, 2016. 371 pgs. Young Adult Fiction.

 In this thrilling conclusion to the Storm Siren trilogy, Nym must use every ounce of strength she possesses to stop Draewulf and save the Hidden Lands. After learning the full scope of his plan, Nym races across the Hidden Lands to warn the other kingdoms and scrambles to gather an army for battle. The Elemental that shouldn’t exist is the final piece that will either save the world or destroy it.

 I think this was the best book of the three; I enjoyed how everything tied together in the end. I think that while Nym has some character traits that I personally find frustrating, she really shows a lot of personal growth over the course of the series, which is something I always count as a good characteristic in a book. Plus the whole book is intense from cover to cover; I could hardly put it down! This series is surely worth finishing.

ER

Thursday, May 30, 2019

I Owe You One

I Owe You One
By Sophie Kinsella
Dial Press, 2019. 488 pages. Fiction

Fixie Farr spends most of her time working in her family's housewares store to carry on the legacy of her late father and help her mother with the workload.  When a stranger in a coffee shop asks her to watch his laptop for a moment, she saves it from certain disaster.  To thank her, he scribbles a quick "IOU" on a coffee sleeve, though Fixie would never think of taking him up on it.  But when an old flame walks back into Fixie's life and needs a favor, she can't help but think of the kind stranger and wonder if he might be able to help her out after all.

Sophie Kinsella is known for her popular chick lit, and while this book doesn't quite outstrip some of her better stories, it's an enjoyable addition to her work.  Fixie is caught between trying to do good by her family and actually doing things in her own best interest, and her family issues add some interesting complexity to the plot and her character development.  There is a romance here, but it almost takes a back seat to pressing issues in Fixie's life and her journey toward becoming a stronger person.

BHG

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Draw and Be Happy

Draw and Be Happy: Art Exercises to Bring You Joy
by Tim A Shaw
Chronicle Books, 2018. 160 pages. Nonfiction

Based on techniques used in art therapy, this boldly and colorfully illustrated book is full of drawing prompts, perfect for non-artists, beginners, and experienced artists alike. Activities range from meditative, confidence-boosting, stress-relieving, and more, guiding readers to express themselves in creative and fulfilling ways.

I thought I had a good idea of what this book would be like, but it surprised me! The drawing prompts are strictly text, and the artwork serves less as instruction or as examples of what to draw; more often than not it serves just as illustration to the ideas being explored in each activity. The bright colors are very uplifting, and the drawing activities act more as guided meditation than how-to-draw, which is perfect for a book like this! The goal here is not to teach you technique, it is to help you explore and express yourself creatively, and most of all to just have fun doing it!

MW

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins
by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy
First Second, 2018. 256 pages. Graphic Novel

The hit McElroy brothers' podcast comes to literary-life in this graphic novel adaptation. Taako the elf wizard, Merle the dwarf cleric, and Magnus the human warrior embark on adventure for gold and glory...if they can make it out alive. With their trusty dungeon master to help them along ("trusty" and "help" being loose terms here), there's something for everyone: humor, action, and more.

Whether you're a fan of the McElroy brothers, a fan of D&D, or just love hilarious fantasy action, this book is for you. As a D&D campaign literary adaptation, a tricky feat, the execution is just sublime. Add that with the McElroy brand of hilarious antics, and you've got a winner! I laughed, I cried laughing, and laughed some more.

MW

The Poet X

The Poet X
by Elizabeth Acevedo
HarperTeen, 2018. 357 pages. Young Adult

Despite feeling unheard and dismissed, Xiomara has plenty to say, and lets all her fierceness flow onto the pages of her notebook. Who would want to listen to her anyways? Her mother just wants her to be pious, chaste, and demure. Her father won't, or can't, connect with the family. Men reduce her to her curves. But Xiomara's teacher can tell that she is holding back, and encourages Xiomara to join the slam poetry club, and X finds herself torn. After all the years of keeping quiet, can she finally let her words fly free?

I. Am. In. Love. Of all the new releases last year, this book is still easily my favorite of 2018. It's all the more impressive that this is Acevedo's first book. I'm not even sure what else to tell you, really. The writing is flawless. The tone, emotions, tension, so wonderfully executed. I related to Xiomara, our Poet X, so much; her voice was so clear and strong and her questions about life, family, belief, and societal expectations resonated with me. Check out the audio version as well; it is performed by the author, a slam poet herself!

MW

Sea Prayer

Sea Prayer
by Khaled Hosseini
Riverhead Books, 2018. 48 pages. Fiction

In this short but incredibly moving book, a father addresses his sleeping son as if writing a letter as they wait to embark on the treacherous voyage across the sea at dawn. The father speaks fondly of his youth, and the pain he feels knowing his son's few memories of Syria are only those of war and loss. Reminiscing turns to prayer of hope for a place of peace and safety, a prayer that they will live to find it.

This book proves the adage that great things come in small packages. In less than fifty pages, the plight of this unnamed refugee father and his child, just two among millions of others like them are powerfully brought to life with honest, moving prose. I don't know how exactly to describe how a story so small and simple filled me with such great empathy. This is a must-read.

MW

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Soul of an Octopus: A Joyful Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

The Soul of an Octopus: A Joyful Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness
by Sy Montgomery
Atria Books, 2015. 261 pages. Young Adult Nonfiction.

Montgomery dedicated several years of her life befriending octopuses. Her regular encounters with these animals reveals more than their physical characteristics, but their vibrant personalities as well. Octopuses can solve problems and test boundaries. They are escape artists and caregivers. Montgomery grants readers a glimpse of her relationship with several of these unique animals. Her book joyfully represents what it means to see the soul of an octopus.

I've always been scared of large sea creatures, but after reading this book I am scared of small ones too. It was fascinating to learn how octopuses interacted and how smart they are. They are adorable but dangerous. I would not want to get between an octopus and it's lunch. I loved that the octopuses remembered the different caretakers even when they went several months without interaction. This book had a similar tone to that of Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and would be a good choice for those interested in a science-memoir mash-up.

HS

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Radioactive: How Irene Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World

Radioactive!: How Irene Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World
By Winifred Conkling
Algonquin Young Readers. 2016. 227 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Irene Curie was the daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie. Irene and her husband worked together to discover artificial radioactivity. Their discovery led to many advances in science. They both shared a Nobel Prize for their work. When she was nominated to the French Academy of Sciences she was denied admission and they voted to disqualify all women from membership. That did not stop her from continuing her research. Four years later, her breakthrough led physicist Lise Meitner to unlock the secret of nuclear fission. Meitner's unique discoveries were critical to the revolution of science. They led to the discovery of nuclear energy and the race to build the atom bomb. She was never recognized by the Nobel committee. Instead they gave the recognition to her male colleague.

This was a fascinating book about two women who did not get the recognition they deserved for the discoveries they made. I have to admit that I usually don't enjoy nonfiction science writing, but this book kept my attention the whole time and I learned so much. I thought it was interesting to read how they did not understand how dangerous radioactivity was. They were overexposed to it and had many different illnesses throughout their lives. To this day, their notes can only be handled by someone wearing a special radioactive suit. This book is written for a young adult audience so there are lots of pictures and sidebars to help explain scientific concepts and the culture of the time. I was amazed to see these two women have so much passion for their work. They did not let the frustrations of working in a male-dominated field or the lack of recognition stop them from sharing their discoveries with the world.

AL

Friday, May 24, 2019

Takane & Hana Vol. 1

Takane & Hana Vol. 1 
By Yuki Shiwasu 
VIZ Media LLC, 2018, 200 pgs, Young Adult Graphic Novel

When Hana’s older sister refuses to attend an arranged marriage meeting, Hana is forced to go posing as her older sister in order for her father to keep his job and reputation. The meeting is brief and utterly disastrous, yet… successful? Takane, 10 years Hana’s senior, continues to see Hana who is still posing as her older sister. But what will happen when he finds out the truth about Hana’s age and identity? 


I loved this book for so many reasons. Each character has a distinct personality and style. The relationships are dynamic and entertaining, especially the one between Takane and Hana. While Hana is spunky and grounded, Takane is demanding, stubborn, and awkward. Their behavior towards each other is often appalling, their conversation snarky, but their overall dynamic sweet and charming. The art is engaging, expressive, and fluid. The content is clean. I loved the good-naturedness and innocence of this comic. This is far from your typical romance story which is one of the reasons I think it works so well.


If you aren’t used to reading backwards, I feel that this is a good comic to start with. There is a mini instruction guide on the very last page of the book that shows with arrows and numbers in which order the comic panels should be read. I also recommend this comic for starters because even if a couple of the panels are read out of order, it won’t affect the flow or feel of the story (I speak from experience). I also feel that the story sucked me in so quickly that I was willing to take the time to learn how to read this comic because I wanted to know what happened.


LH

The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: a magical story

The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story
By Marie Kondo, Illustrated by Yuko Uramoto 
Ten Speed Press, 2017. 192 pgs. Graphic Novel 

Meet Chiaki: a young, single professional living in a tiny messy apartment. When she gets a glimpse into her attractive neighbor's tidy apartment one night, she is determined to have an apartment as clean as his. After reading some glowing reviews, Chiaki hires Marie Kondo to help her on her life-changing journey of tidying up her small and unlivable apartment. With principles illustrated directly from Marie Kondo's The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, and with Marie Kondo herself as the guide, Chiaki ventures through all of her belongings to determine which of her belongings bring her joy to ultimately get her to a living space that brings her joy.  

Let me first say, I read The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up a couple years ago and really enjoyed it. When I saw this title sitting on the shelf, I was a bit skeptical of the comic format but curious enough to pick it up. I loved it. Although Kondo had shared personal snippets of story here and there in her previous book, it was still a little difficult for me to relate to those people or feel like the Konmari method was something that I myself could undertake. However, I felt fully invested with Chiaki. I was cheering her on and rejoicing in her successes the whole book through.

LH