Friday, May 17, 2019

Don't Date Rosa Santos

Don’t Date Rosa Santos
by Nina Moreno
Disney-Hyperion, 2019. 336 pgs. Young Adult.

Rosa Santos has always known about her family’s curse. Her grandfather died as he and her grandmother fled Cuba. Her father died shortly after her mother found out she was pregnant with Rosa. Both men were taken by the sea. When Alex Aquino comes back to town, Rosa knows she should stay away from him (especially because he owns a boat). Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.

This book hit especially close to home for me as Rosa’s abuela, Mimi, reminded me a lot of my own grandmother. I thought the author did a great job of portraying what it’s like to live in a bilingual household. Rosa was a really enjoyable main character because she had a lot of confidence while still being vulnerable at times. I liked the dynamic between Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother and felt that the emotions throughout the book were really authentic. I would recommend this book as a great summer read for anyone who wants a small taste of Cuban Florida.

AU

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Art of the Fold

The Art of the Fold
by Hedi Kyle and Ulla Warchol
Laurence King Publishing, 2018. 192 pgs. Nonfiction

This book is all about how folding paper can create unique and beautiful books. There are five main structural types with 36 total projects. These are structures that Kyle created herself, and includes images of some of her work throughout. Each project has an image, description, dimensions, techniques, tools, and individual components needed, along with detailed illustrations of each step.

It might be because I am a bookbinder, but I absolutely love this book. There are a variety of difficulties of projects, making it useful for new and experienced binders. The instructions are organized and complete with illustrations that are clear and detailed. There is a breadth of projects that makes this book useful for elementary and secondary teachers, bookbinders, conservators, artists, and others. This book would be great for anyone who is looking to learn more about bookbinding or try out a new art style with minimum supplies needed.

TT

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Water Cure

The Water Cure
by Sophie Mackintosh
Doubleday, 2018. 269 pages, Fiction

On an island isolated from the rest of the world, a father, mother and 3 girls have created an existence bathed in ritual to free themselves from the contamination and toxins of the world beyond. When their father doesn’t return from a trip to the mainland, and 2 men and a boy wash up on their shores, the girls are faced with both dangers and desires that they’ve never encountered before. Will the men spread their toxicity to the girls, or will their extreme measures, tortuous therapies, and experimental cures allow them to maintain their untainted existence?

A fascinating and intricate take on toxic masculinity, sisterhood, and perceived “wellness”, coupled with an artfully laid sense of dread and uncertainty, this book paints parallels to our modern world and exaggerates its dangers in thought provoking ways. This book was long-listed for the Man Booker prize last year and has been compared to A Handmaid’s Tale and other feminist dystopian fiction, with good reason, as the dark, ominous tone penetrates and shocks in the same way. A page turner, but not for the faint of heart, I’d recommend this book to those who like their literature to hold a mirror up to our society and question why we behave a certain way or value the things we do.

RC

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Night Tiger

The Night Tiger 
by Yangsze Choo
Flatiron Books, 2019. 372 pages, Fiction

Have you ever been given a gift that you just didn’t want? Has that gift taken you down a path where were-tigers are rumored, a boy’s dead twin speaks to you in your dreams, you break into a hospital storage room to inspect specimen vials, and are forced to grapple with the uncomfortable fact that you may be in love with someone you shouldn’t be? NO? Well, you can vicariously experience all this and more by delving into the world of the The Night Tiger.

Two stories move toward each other when Ji Lin is given an unwelcome gift at her job as a dance hall girl, and Ren, a houseboy, searches for the missing body part of his now deceased former employer so it can be buried and allow the soul to rest in peace. Part mystery, part forbidden romance, and part folk tale, this book was an engaging and unexpected exploration of class dynamics and gender roles set in 1930’s Malaya (now Malaysia), which was at the time a British Colony. It would make a captivating and conversational choice for book clubs or a solid choice for anyone who loves a diverse, well told, multifaceted story.

RC

Blood, Bones, and Butter

Blood, Bones, and Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton
Random House, 2011. 291 pages. Nonfiction

Gabrielle Hamilton did not have the standard upbringing. Her parents' divorce and the subsequent splintering of the family left Hamilton pretty much on her own at age 13. Working with food was the one consistent thread in her life. Whether she was thirteen and washing dishes at a roadside cafe or pretending to be 21 and serving beer and chili to hungry urban cowboys in New York City, she learned her way around a kitchen. When circumstances forced her to graduate from school (high school) and get clean, all she had left was writing and food. Eventually Hamilton becomes a caterer, then a chef, gets an MFA, and starts her own restaurant at age 35. Hamilton focuses her memoir on her estranged mother, her childhood, her twenty years as a chef, and her non-traditional green-card marriage to an Italian doctor. She puts herself on the page, flaws and all.

 This is a beautifully written, brunt, authentic account of a life that is at times hard to believe and at others all too familiar. Hamilton doesn't pull any punches. She is honest about herself, her life, and about the industry. There are times in this book where Hamilton's choices and her attitude drove me nuts. Though she detests her mother, Hamilton reveals that she propagates her mother's snobbery and contempt for weakness in other human beings. Yet as Hamilton describes her own cooking, her writing, and her children there is a deep sense of love and humanity in her. She is full of contradictions. Overall, this was a fascinating peek into what makes chef and food writer Gabrielle Hamilton tick.

AGP

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Lying Woods

Cover image for The Lying Woods
The Lying Woods
by Ashley Elston
Hyperion, 2018, 327 pages, Young Adult Fiction

Owen Foster is pulled from his elite New Orleans boarding school when his father's assets are seized. Back in his small town, and feeling like an outcast, Owen desperately tries to piece together his father's past despite mounting threats. The only solace he finds is in working for a reclusive man named Gus who owns a local pecan farm, and who might be hiding secrets of his own.

This book is a quietly-building mystery that tells two different stories. The first is the story of Owen, trying to adjust to his new life and figure out who is threatening him. The second story tells of Noah, who worked at the same pecan farm twenty years earlier. Elston is a skilled writer who knows how to write a book with two storylines that both drive the plot forward without outshining the other. While this book features a few different mysteries, I appreciated that this book also focused on character growth. As both Owen and Noah come to terms with their different trials and with the facts behind the mysteries, they become stronger. This combination of mystery, excellent writing, and interesting characters really allowed me to enjoy every moment of reading this book.

MB

Monday, May 6, 2019

A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II

Cover image for A thousand sisters : the heroic airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II
A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II
by Elizabeth Wein
Balzer + Bray, 2019, 388 pages, Young Adult Nonfiction

Documents the contributions of Soviet airwomen during World War II, examining the formation, obstacles, missions, and legacy of Russia's female combat pilot regiments.

I’ve been obsessed with the story of the “Night Witches” ever since I heard about them on a history podcast I listen to. Learning that Elizabeth Wein, a licensed pilot and author of the book Code Name Verity, was the author of this book, gave me high expectations. She’s the perfect person to tell the story of these amazing women!

While I knew the flashy version of this story (female fighter pilots attacked German troops at night, but their planes were so loud that they had to cut the engines and coast so the Germans wouldn’t hear them coming), there’s obviously so much more to this tale. I loved learning about how these women learned to fly in a male-dominated profession, and hearing the stories of how they bonded and worked together in really tough conditions. I highly recommend this true story about brave women doing awesome things.

MB

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Lady from the Black Lagoon

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick
by Mallory O’Meara
Hanover Square Press, 2019. 336 pgs. Nonfiction.

Milicent Patrick was the woman who designed the Creature from the Black Lagoon (or The Creature for short). Unfortunately, history and the male ego have all but erased her contribution to the movie. Mallory O’Meara, horror movie enthusiast, just happened to stumble upon a picture of her with The Creature. O’Meara thought Milicent looked stunning in her dress, heels, and pearls and immediately wanted to know who she was. Thus began a years long search for Milicent. Where did she come from? How did she become the designer of The Creature? And more importantly, where did she go afterwards?

This book is part Milicent’s personal history, part a history of the horror movie industry, and part memoir/detective story as the author hunts down any available information regarding Milicent’s life. This is the author’s first book—her day job is working as a horror movie producer—and that gives the book a tone that you don’t usually see in nonfiction. The author is really casual in the way she relays information and her footnotes more often than not contain snarky side comments. This serves to make the book extremely readable and I found myself reading it much faster than I usually read nonfiction books. O’Meara does a great job addressing the misogyny and sexism that Milicent faced throughout her life and ties it in with the #MeToo movement in current times along with her own personal experiences. My only critique is that sometimes O’Meara’s voice borders on too casual and I feel it makes her lose some credibility as an author. I would recommend this book for anyone who is a fan of horror movies or who wants to see a little historical context for the #MeToo movement.

AU

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Girl, Stop Apologizing

Girl Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan For Embracing and Achieving Your Goals
By Rachel Hollis
HarperCollins Leadership, 2019. 216 pgs. Nonfiction

Rachel Hollis's new book focuses on how to achieve the goals you have in life. Hollis has been a goal setter from a very young age. It wasn't until she became well known for trying to help women achieve being their bests selves that she started receiving letters from women who admitted to having no idea what goals they should have for their lives. This book helps show examples of what kind of goals you can have and how you can make them happen. The book is broken up into three sections -- excuses to let go of, behaviors to adopt and skills to acquire. She shares many personal experiences of what it took for her to get to where she is now and many ways she failed along the way.

This book is full of advice and motivation. There were a few things that really resonated with me. The first is that often as women we let our goals be determined by other people; our kids, our spouse, our employers. Make sure your goal is YOUR goal and then don't feel like you need to apologize for it. Second, when you are going after a goal you need to know why it is so important to you. If you don't know why you are doing it, you will usually give up at the first failure you face. Third, you also need to realize that it is going to take some sacrifice and often you are going to need to get help from other people. You can't bing-watch a whole season of a show and then complain that you don't have any time. It is impossible to do it all. You need to pick what is most important and go after that one thing. Once that is achieved you can move on to your next goal. We burn ourselves out by trying to do too many things at once. Rachel Hollis says it like it is. She is motivational and inspirational, but it can also be uncomfortable to recognize some weaknesses in yourself.

AL

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Fed Up

Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward
By Gemma Hartley
HarperOne, 2018. 264 pgs. Nonfiction

Journalist Gemma Hartley continues the conversation about emotional labor that she started in her viral article, “Women Aren’t Nags—We’re Just Fed Up.” Every day women are often expected to anticipate the needs of others, keep their households running, and conduct themselves in a way that puts others at ease. It’s exhausting work, and Hartley discusses how the social conditioning of emotional labor has focused almost solely on women for too long, and it doesn’t have to be that way. This is a call-to-arms for women who feel tired and fed up.

I really enjoyed this book. It was well written, and put to words things that I’ve felt but didn’t know how to express. Often I could see my own experiences reflected in what the author has experienced, and recognized things I’ve been doing at home and in my marriage to more evenly distribute the emotional labor I was bearing, before having the language to express it. For any woman who feels “fed up,” and for the men who want to understand why we got that way, I would highly recommend this book.

ACS

Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses From Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets

Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets
by Tyler Nordgren
Basic Books, 2016. 239 pgs. Nonfiction.

Solar eclipses have gone from omens of doom to events of intense scientific study, to tourist attractions over the course of history. Author Tyler Nordgren takes readers on a journey through the history and science of eclipses from the first eclipses recorded to the last eclipse that will ever happen and all the science in between.

I am not the best at understanding science and complex math concepts, but I learned so much reading this! This book is part history and part astronomy, and the writing style is narrative and easy to read. Reading this made me regret not traveling a little farther north to be in the path of totality for the eclipse in August 2017, but the good news is we will be solidly in the path of totality for the eclipse on August 12, 2045! As far as recommendations go I think anyone that picked it up would enjoy this book.

ER

Monday, April 29, 2019

Siren's Fury

Siren’s Fury 
by Mary Weber
Thomas Nelson, 2015, 355 pgs. Young Adult Fiction.

In the second book of the Storm Siren trilogy, Nym has saved Falen and brought about an end to the war with neighboring Bron only to learn that Draewulf has stolen everything she cares about, even her Elemental abilities. When she sneaks off to Bron with a group of Falen delegates, Lord Myles tempts her with new powers and she must decide how much of herself she can compromise to destroy the monster.

The plot thickens! Here the reader learns more about Draewulf’s background which I thought was fascinating. I listened to the first part of the book, but they changed narrators from the first which I thought was distracting and the plot twists were frustrating enough that I debated finishing it. Then I switched to reading it and it wasn’t nearly as frustrating, I’m so glad I finished the book! If you read Storm Siren, you’ll definitely want to continue with Siren’s Fury.

ER

The Science of Science Fiction

The Science of Science Fiction
By Matthew Brenden Wood
Nomad Press, 2017. 120 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Is it possible to clone dinosaurs like in Jurassic Park? How about traveling through space like in Star Trek? Not everything that is depicted in science fiction is a matter of if, but sometimes just a matter of when. Science and technology are developing at a rapid pace, and in some cases what was once fiction has already become fact. This book explores some of the most common sci-fi concepts, discussing the current science and where it’s headed in the future. Accompanying each chapter are QR codes linking to videos and articles for additional information, discussion questions, and related experiments that can be done at home.

 I had a lot of fun with this book. It’s short enough to be easily digestible, scientific enough to make me feel smarter, and simplified enough for the layman. I loved the QR codes with additional tidbits; they really added an extra dimension to the book’s content. I also felt like each chapter’s discussion questions were quite thought-provoking, making this a fun and informative choice for educators and students.

ACS

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting 
by Chris McLaughlin
Alpha Books, 2010. 193 pgs. Nonfiction

Why compost? Compost is nutrient-rich and great for your garden or houseplants, even if your garden is the size of a postage stamp, plus it cuts down on your waste which is good for the environment. But doesn’t composting smell bad? Not if you do it right! And getting it right is easy with this book as your guide. Here you’ll learn how composting works, what you can and shouldn’t add to your pile, maintenance, the benefits of keeping worms, and much more.

I really appreciated the author’s laid back approach to composting. He gives specific instructions for different methods of composting, but also stresses that compost just happens so there’s really a large margin of error in the process. Which I took to mean don’t stress about it! If you’re on the fence about whether you actually want to give composting a try, this book will talk you into it because he makes it so easy.

ER

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Positive Discipline: The First Three Years

Positive Discipline: The First Three Years: From Infant to Toddler--Laying the Foundation for Raising a Capable, Confident Child 
by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy
Three Rivers Press, 2007, 292 pgs. Nonfiction

Kind and firm is the backbone of the Positive Discipline approach to child-rearing. Specific to children ages 0-3, parents will find instruction on positive methods of managing the challenges that come with raising toddlers and methods that will encourage toddlers to learn confidence and appropriate boundaries rather than punishing them for age-appropriate behavior. Topics covered include: brain development, temperament, trust, autonomy, age-appropriate behavior, emotional and social skills, eating, sleeping, potty-training, childcare, and more.

I love the philosophy of kind yet firm, no anger needed. It really helped me to understand what sorts of things are age-appropriate and how to communicate with my toddler in a way he will understand, which means I don’t get so frustrated that he doesn’t get ‘no’ like I want him to. I definitely recommend this book to parents of toddlers, although I would probably read the third edition rather than the second one like I did just because I think the chapters about finding support resources and childcare options would be more up-to-date.

 ER

Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of the Void

Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of the Void 
By Mary Roach W.W. Norton, 2010. 333 pages. Nonfiction

Mary Roach, a journalist, explores the great lengths that NASA and other space agencies go to in order to test astronauts to see if they are ready for an extended time in space. From training them how to go to the bathroom in zero gravity to dealing with the psychological issues caused by cramped quarters, delays in communication, and potential disasters around every corner, Roach reveals the rigorous tests that potential candidates are trained for on Earth to handle the living in space. For example, how do eleven astronauts respond to being hangry in space? To find out, they tested how long it took potential astronauts to lose their temper after their lunch was delayed for several hours. Most people broke after four hours of waiting for lunch. Those that didn't break, moved on to the next test.

Roach’s writing is humorous and conversational while being informative. She makes the science of human physiology in space understandable for ordinary people. The reading is fast paced and each chapter focuses on a different aspect of training. It’s an easy book to pick up and put down without losing the point. A great read.

AG

Don't Worry, It Gets Worse: One Twentysomething's (Mostly Failed) Attempts at Adulthood

Don't Worry, It Gets Worse: One Twentysomething's (Mostly Failed) Attempts at Adulthood
By Alida Nugent
Plume, 2013. 191 pages. Nonfiction.

Now what? That's the question Alida asked herself when she graduated college with no career trajectory and bills to pay. This memoir is about Alida figuring out life, overcoming setbacks, and making things happen. She needs to figure out living arrangements (living with her parents forever is not an option), career options (being unemployed doesn't pay all that well), and what her real views on life are (who knew a grilled cheese sandwich could change her opinion on body image?).

This wasn't my favorite book. However, if you ever feel like you're failing at adulthood, then give it a go. It will give you the reassurance that you are not alone and you are doing better than you think you are. Though I didn't agree with everything Nugent had to say, I did walk away from this book feeling more confident in my abilities to function as an adult. I like that this book was more a collection of vignettes from her life rather than a continuous plot. Though the tone dripped with harsh sarcasm, Nugent's personal revelations made it clear that you can move forward in life without having all the answers.

HS

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of The World From the Periodic Table of Elements

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of The World From the Periodic Table of Elements
by Sam Kean
New York : Little, Brown and Co., 2010. 391 pages. Nonfiction. 

The periodic table is one of our crowning scientific achievements, but it's also a treasure trove of passion, adventure, betrayal and obsession. The fascinating tales in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, gold and every single element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.

Before I read this book I hated chemistry. Now, after having read this book, I find that I still hate chemistry. However, I greatly enjoyed learning the history of the periodic table of elements and the interesting stories of the men and women who discovered them. Sam Kean spins together a history of science class that is kind to those who don't consider themselves to be "math & science people" (me *cough, cough*). I doubt I'll remember everything I learned, but I will remember the many laughs I had while reading this book. I recommend this book to science-geeks and non-science-geeks alike, and to anyone who wants to get a good laugh and feel a bit smarter at the end of a good read.

NS

Kid Gloves

Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos
by Lucy Knisley
First Second Books, 2019. 248 pgs. Nonfiction Graphic Novel.

Lucy Knisley had always wanted to be a mother. But when it came time to get pregnant, it turned out to be a little harder than she’d thought it would be. First, she had a miscarriage. Then, she had another one. When she finally did have a successful pregnancy, there were many health complications ending with a very dramatic labor and delivery.

This is such a great book about pregnancy. The author weaves her own personal experiences with sections detailing the history of obstetrics and gynecology. In addition, she debunks common myths and misconceptions regarding conception and pregnancy in a clear and transparent way. Knisley discusses the facts of pregnancy, the emotions that accompany it, and so much more. By being so raw and open with her personal story, she demystifies a lot of things regarding pregnancy and, I felt, also created a channel for people to discuss experiences with miscarriages. This graphic novel is great for anyone who has been pregnant, currently is pregnant, or hopes to be pregnant sometime in the future. It is also a good resource for anyone who just wants to learn more about conception and pregnancy.

AU

Friday, April 19, 2019

Fierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul

Fierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul 
by Nikita Gill Hachette Books, 2018. 170 pages. Nonfiction

These poems aren’t just clever twists on fairy tales. They are a celebration of the reader. The first poem is an invocation of the importance of learning to love and to hold on to ourselves and the final poem is a benediction thanking the readers of the world for holding the author when she was in pain. This book is more than just a fairy tale gimmick. This is a book about us and what it means to be human.

 Gill's style is romantic and evocative. The fairy tales take on new meaning as we learn why Beauty stayed with the Beast, that King Triton and Ursula had been each other's first love, that Snow White, tired of the endless flirtations of her king husband, also became a powerful sorceress. The poems and stories are sparsely written, but each word carries a heavy weight of meaning. When the book was over, I started it again so I wouldn't have to say goodbye to these characters.

 AG

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Serious Moonlight

Serious Moonlight
by Jenn Bennett
Simon Pulse, 2019. 432 pgs. Young Adult.

Birdie just got her first job working the graveyard shift at a hotel in downtown Seattle. Unfortunately, one of her coworkers just happens to be the boy that she had an awkward “encounter” with the other day. Determined to move past that incident, Birdie and Daniel find themselves teaming up to solve a mystery involving a mysterious local author.

This book does a great job portraying flawed characters in a sympathetic way. Birdie never knew her father and her mother died when she was young. She was raised and homeschooled by her overprotective grandparents and grew up pretty isolated from others her age. Birdie also suffers from narcolepsy (undiagnosed) and must learn to deal with all of these things as she starts her new job. Daniel, on the other hand, is deaf in one ear and had his own incident in high school that is explored later in the book. I thought this book really delicately handles different forms of grief while also being tactfully sex positive.

AU

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Bellewether

Cover image for Bellewether
Bellewether
by Susanna Kearsley
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2018, 434 pages, General Fiction

When Charley Van Hoek moves back to Long Island to be the curator of the Wilde House Museum, she immediately becomes fascinated with what happened to the inhabitants of the house during the French and Indian War. Specifically, Charley is interested in the story of Lydia Wilde and a French prisoner of war named Jean-Philippe de Sabran. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.

Susanna Kearsley is a master at writing stories that deftly combine elements of historical fiction, mystery, romance, and a slight hint of something magical. Although this book takes a while to unfold, Kearsley’s skill in telling two different stories at once, and making the plot of each build and grow at the same rate, kept me hooked. I was equally interested in both stories, and hanging on Kearsley’s every word.

Fans of Susanna Kearsley will likely also enjoy books by Kate Morton. Both authors write captivating books about people in the present day researching mysteries of the past.

MB

Next Year in Havana

Next Year in Havana 
by Chanel Cleeton
Berkley, 2018. 382 pages. Fiction

Marisol’s grandmother, Elisa, was the daughter of a wealthy family in Cuba who fled the country during the Cuban Revolution and came to America. Elisa’s last request is to have her ashes scattered in her home country, and she tells Marisol that she’ll know where to scatter the ashes when she find the right place. Having never been to Cuba, and not knowing anyone there, Marisol is less confident she’ll be able to find the places most special to her grandmother, but enlists the help of grandmother’s childhood best friend and her handsome grandson to help. When long buried family secrets begin to come to light, they irreparably alter Marisol’s understanding of her grandmother’s past, and that of the country she left.

At the same time charming and informational, this book was enlightening and a true pleasure to read. It weaves the story of both Marisol and her discoveries about her grandmother’s past with Cuban history and class dynamics to create a fascinating and resonant story that I could not put down. I’d recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction with a side of both political history and a dash of romance.

RC

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Witch Elm

Cover image for The witch elm
The Witch Elm
By Tana French
Viking, 2018, 509 pages, Mystery

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who's dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life—he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family's ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden, and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

This is a novel that will keep you guessing!  Every person in this novel has something a little off about them, and they all seem like they have something to hide. Since Toby’s run-in with burglars, he has memory problems that make it hard to figure out what’s going on. As he asks his cousins over and over again about his past, they seem not to trust him with the truth. Even the police seem a bit suspicious. While I don’t usually like books about unreliable or morally ambiguous characters, and this novel is possibly full of them, I can’t stop thinking about this novel just the same!

This is a book about actions and consequences, and about how some innocuous things from your past can come back to haunt you. French takes her time unfolding the plot of this book, which really gives both the reader and Toby a chance to try to look at what’s happening from every angle. The book is excellently written, and the audio narration was also well done, although frequent salty language might mean you want to read this one instead of listening to it. This book is a great choice for anyone who loved Patricia Highsmith’s classic novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley.

MB

Monday, April 8, 2019

Good Vibrations: My Life As A Beach Boy

Good Vibrations: My Life As A Beach Boy
By Mike Love
New York : Blue Rider Press, 2016. 436 pages. Biography

Mike Love tells the story of his legendary, raucous, and ultimately triumphant five-decade career as the front man of The Beach Boys, the most popular American band in history -- timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of "Good Vibrations." Love describes the stories behind his lyrics for pop classics such as "Good Vibrations," "California Girls," "Surfin' USA," and "Kokomo," while providing vivid portraits of the turbulent lives of his three gifted cousins, Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson. His partnership with Brian has few equals in American pop music, though Mike has carved out a legacy of his own -- he co-wrote the lyrics to eleven of the twelve original Beach Boy songs that were top 10 hits while providing the lead vocals on ten of them.

This book is a raw, intimate read that left me with a lot to think about. Mike Love provides an up-close and personal perspective into his own life, the lives of his cousins (other Beach Boy band mates Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson), and the evolution of rock & roll music. He is honest about his own flaws and the flaws of others, and he doesn't beat around the bush when discussing the many controversies which surrounded him and his family, which allowed me to feel a connection with some of my favorite artists. I listened to Mike Love narrate his memoir by listening to the audiobook on the Libby app and highly recommend it. His narration is truly a heartfelt approach at sharing the highs and lows he has experienced throughout his lifetime. 

NS

Friday, April 5, 2019

Healing Hearts

Healing Hearts
By Sarah M. Eden
Shadow Mountain, 2019. 328 pgs. Historical Fiction Romance

Gideon MacNamara is the only doctor in the small frontier town of Savage Wells. He hasn't had much luck finding a wife so he decides to send for a mail-order bride with some nursing experience. Miriam thinks she is being sent to Savage Wells to be a nurse and doesn't realize she is supposed to also marry the doctor. She refuses to marry him, but Gideon is understanding enough to allow her to serve as his nurse while they get things figured out. Miriam is hiding some huge secrets from her past and doesn't have many options available to her.

This books is set in the same town as the Sheriffs of Savage Wells but it can be read as a stand alone novel. Sarah Eden continues to create characters that work their way into your heart. It was fascinating to learn about Miriam's backstory. It made me want to do more research on common medical practices for women in the 1800's. Women were put in insane asylums for pretty much any excuse. Honestly, it sounds awful. Sarah Eden continues to be one of my favorite authors and this is another terrific book.

AL

Something in the Water

Something in the Water
by Catherine Steadman
Ballantine Books, 2018. 342 pages. Fiction

When newlyweds Erin and Mark decided to honeymoon in Bora Bora, they thought it would be a perfect way to begin the new phase of their lives together. The pair does the things you’d expect people visiting a tropical island to do; like getting tan on the beach and scuba diving. They find a mysterious locked bag in the water but as they try to shake it, to turn it in or find its rightful owners, it keeps making its way back to them. When they return to London, to their real lives, the consequences of their actions on the island start catching up quickly, and if they can't cover their tracks, they may soon spiral out of control. 

This was a moderately suspenseful book with enough intrigue about what was coming next to keep the pages turning. It is one of those books that, if it were a TV show, would leave you screaming things at the screen because it doesn’t seem like the choices the characters made are totally realistic or logical. Those choices do make for a captivating and unpredictable read though, and leave the reader wondering just who can be trusted when everyone seems to be working in their own best interest.

RC

Monday, April 1, 2019

Transcription

Transcription
By Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 352 pages.  Historical Fiction

In 1940, Juliet Armstrong is 18 years old, a bit naive, and reluctantly pulled into the world of espionage.  Tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be both tedious and terrifying.  After the war ends, she presumes that life is behind her.  Ten years later, Juliet is working as a radio producer for the BBC, when she is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past.

Sometimes I think we take for granted that World War II turned out the way it did, and it's always refreshing to come across a book that can help place us in the period so thoroughly that we remember the outcome was not at all certain to people living in those times.  This book helped bring alive the fear and uncertainty of a long gone era, while its main character who was certainly flawed fights to keep her head while being swept into matters beyond her control.

BHG

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Dealing with Dragons

Dealing with Dragons
by Patricia C. Wrede
Point, 1992. 212 p. Young Adult

Princess Cimorene no longer wants to be a princess. Princesses are not allowed to do interesting things they cannot learn to fence, cook, or Latin. When her parents try to marry her off to a prince who has no intelligence to speak of that is the last straw and Princess Cimorene runs away to live with a dragon. Where she chases off knights and catalogs magical objects, and helps deal with pesky wizards.

This is one of my favorite stories. It is a short series with only 4 books and it is absolutely delightful. I love Cimorene I love Kazul who is a wonderful character. It is just a fun light read and I love the message that you don’t necessarily have to be what everyone expects you to be.

 MH

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass

Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass
By Lilah Sturges
Boom! Box, 2018. 141 Pages. Young Adult.

This story follows the girls of the Roanoke cabin at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. When the girls start to go missing during an orienteering activity, Molly knows something is wrong. Maybe her creepy glowing compass has something to do with it? Molly's insecurities grow with each disappearance until she's left all alone.

This book is a great starter for those wanting to dip their toes in the graphic novel genre. The writing and art styles pair well together to present an entertaining and concise read. . The gradual presentation of Molly's fears was beautifully executed and didn't dominate the story. I was impressed with how easily I connected with each of the diverse characters in such a short narrative. I would recommend this book to new and veteran graphic novel readers.

HS

Autoboyography

Autoboyography
By Christina Lauren
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2017. 407 pgs. Young Adult

Tanner was open about his bisexuality while living in California, but hides it after his family moves to Utah. When he starts to fall for Sebastian, the mentor in his high school writing seminar, Tanner watches from a distance, knowing Sebastian is a bishop’s son. However, when Tanner starts getting signals that perhaps this faithful, church-going guy is interested in him, both of their worlds will take a drastic turn.

I didn’t realize when I picked this book up that it took place in Provo, and then I became hyper critical, seeing if the author got the setting just right. It was surprisingly accurate, and the Provo City Library even makes a cameo!

Aside from the “love at first sight” trope, I felt the characters of Tanner and Sebastian were really well done. It had a bit of a Romeo and Juliet feel between the socially liberal and socially conservative, which was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Really, this book was an emotional roller-coaster (which I loved!), and it strongly resonates with many LGBTQ+ youth in socially conservative communities.

For more great books about LGBTQ+ youth, check out our booklist.

ACS

Dear Martin

Dear Martin
By Nic Stone
Crown, 2017. 210 pgs. Young Adult

Justyce is a college bound, African American teen attending a predominantly white high school. When he’s accepted into a college that denied another classmate, a discussion starts about Affirmative Action, assumptions, prejudice, and racism. Then a run in with a retired, white police officer turns violent and Justyce must come to terms with what it means to be black. His journal-like letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. show his desire to be a good example of peacefully standing up for what right, while pressures from all sides weighs him down.

I’ve read several books recently that address a variety of social issues, and I love how this one addressed the issue of racism head on. Justyce is a well-developed character, and when he comes face to face with unacknowledged racism, his reactions and responses felt real and genuine. I would definitely recommend this to fans of THE HATE U GIVE.

ACS

Monday, March 25, 2019

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc
by David Elliott
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2019. 208 pgs. Young Adult

Joan of Arc was called by angels to support Charles VII in recovering France from English rule. This book of poems tells her story through people she knew as well as inanimate objects that she interacted with. It details her beginning and ultimately her end.

I know hardly anything about Joan of Arc, so this was a really interesting introduction to her story. The author uses a mix of modern poetry and poetry formats that were popular at the time of Joan of Arc. I felt like I was learning about both history and poetry at the same time! Overall, I thought the poems were well-written and it was especially interesting to get the perspectives of inanimate objects like Joan’s dress or sword. I would recommend this for people who like short collections of poetry (especially older forms) or anyone who wants a good, brief introduction to Joan of Arc.

AU

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Vanishing Stair

The Vanishing Stair
by Maureen Johnson
Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 373 pgs. Young Adult

Following the death of a classmate, Stevie Bell is pulled from Ellingham Academy, but she will do just about anything to return. When the opportunity arises, she returns and immediately starts investigating the Ellingham kidnappings and murders. But strange things start happening, and just when Stevie thinks she has everything figured out, disaster comes to Ellingham Academy again, not once, but twice.

An intricate story is woven where all the little things are needed to create the final reveal. Some of the mysteries from book one are solved, but more arise with not one, but three new deaths. The emotions, relationships, and reactions feel authentic and interesting. The clues are there for anyone to solve, which makes the story more exciting. It will be a hard wait until the release of book 3.
TT

Tortilla Flat

Tortilla Flat
by John Steinbeck
New York, N.Y. : Penguin Books, 1986, c1935. 207 p. Fiction.

Adopting the structure and themes of the Arthurian legend, John Steinbeck created a “Camelot” on a shabby hillside above the town of Monterey, California, and peopled it with a colorful band of knights. At the center of the tale is Danny, whose house, like Arthur’s castle, becomes a gathering place for men looking for adventure, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging—men who fiercely resist the corrupting tide of honest toil and civil rectitude.
 
As Nobel Prize winner Steinbeck chronicles their deeds—their multiple lovers, their wonderful brawls, their Rabelaisian wine-drinking—he spins a tale as compelling and ultimately as touched by sorrow as the famous legends of the Round Table, which inspired him.


I'm a huge fan of John Steinbeck and his signature writing style, but this book didn't pull me in like his other works did. Once again, he paints us a beautiful picture of the scenery (Monterey, California) and introduces the challenges of the time (Prohibition, Great Depression Era) in a subtle way. I find issue with the characters. I had a difficult time establishing a connection with them. Perhaps it is because this book isn't full of many serious, life-altering scenes. The book itself feels more casual than, say, The Grapes of Wrath. Even still, I would recommend this book (along with any John Steinbeck) book to anyone looking to be immersed in a new place and a different time. 

NS




Truly Devious

Truly Devious 
by Maureen Johnson
Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. 420 pages. Young Adult Fiction

Ellingham Academy was opened by a rich family as a school for gifted youth in the 1930s. The place was soon riddled by a high profile disappearance and series of crimes that have been unsolved to this day. The only real clues left behind were haunting riddles and letters signed “Truly, Devious”. Today, Stevie Bell is fascinated by this mystery and as an Ellingham student, she is determined to solve the decades old crime as her final project for her graduation. When her classmates start going missing, and new crimes take place as she delves into her investigation, she wonders if “Truly, Devious” may well be tied to the current day mystery, too.

This book is two mysteries woven artfully into one; both the 1930s disappearance and a string of new crimes as Stevie inches closer to the truth twist and weave their way together in unexpected ways. The story is fast-paced and leaves the reader guessing right up to the very last pages (and beyond!). I loved that it’s the kind of mystery that gives enough clues that readers can attempt to solve the caper right along with the sleuth. Be warned that you’ll want to have book two, The Vanishing Stair, on-hand to begin right as you finish this first book in enthralling series!

RC

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

Cover image for The faithful spy : Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the plot to kill Hitler
The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler
By John Hendrix
Amulet Books, 2018, 175 pages, Young Adult Biography

Tells the true story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor known for speaking out against the suffering caused by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Convinced that it was better to stand up for what he believed than to do nothing, Bonhoeffer became a spy who was involved in at least three different attempts to kill Hitler.

This book is a sort of melding of the traditional biography format with that of a graphic novel. While it’s the words on the page that drive the story, each page also features a large picture that interacts with the text.  A great example of this can be seen in the cover art. I found this to be a very effective method for telling this story.  It enhanced the key points of Bonhoeffer’s beliefs, and highlighted the atrocities of the Nazis. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading inspiring stories of real-life people who stand up for what they believe in, even when it is hard to do so.

MB

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible
by Barbara Kingsolver
New York : Harper Flamingo, 1998. 546 p. Fiction.

The family of a fierce evangelical Baptist missionary--Nathan Price, his wife, and his four daughters--begins to unravel after they embark on a 1959 mission to the Belgian Congo, where they find their lives forever transformed over the course of three decades by the political and social upheaval of Africa.

In the past, I received so many positive recommendations about Barbara Kingsolver and this book in particular, and I'm so glad I finally decided to pick it up this and read it. The storyline offers the reader a glimpse into colonialism and postcolonialism and is made even more unique as it is told from the perspectives of the four Price daughters and Nathan Price's wife, Orleanna. The daughters' perspectives bring a nice touch of innocence and humor to mature themes (colonialism, religious conflict, racism, sexism). This book has a bit of a slow pace, but I welcomed that fact because it gave me a chance to think about what I was reading. I would recommend this book to those interested in historical fiction and those looking to settle in for a long read (it is 600+ pages long).

NS 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bloom


by Kevin Panetta
First Second, 2019. 368 pgs. Young Adult Comics

Now that Ari has finished high school, he is ready to move to the big city with his hip band. But first, he needs to convince his dad to let him quit his job at the family’s struggling bakery. He used to love working there as a kid, but now he will do about anything to escape. While interviewing his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari hates it. As they spend the summer together in the bakery, love starts to bloom, as long as Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

I enjoyed the story and depth of the characters. The story flowed well, and the monochromatic colors fit the tone of the story. Ari and Hector felt fresh and relatable, and their relationship developed in authentic ways. This was a sweet story about love and how the people who love us will be there as we grow and learn and make terrible mistakes.

TT

Monday, March 11, 2019

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness
By Ingrid Fetell Lee
Little, Brown Spark, 2018. 359 pages. Nonfiction


Designer and TED star Ingrid Fetell Lee explains why balloons make us smile, why orange creamsicles and sunsets make us happy, and why baby animals make us coo. Using groundbreaking research, Lee shows how even small changes in our lives, like a round pillow or a splash of blue paint can change our physiology. Lee argues that the physical world has a huge impact on our happiness and that we can bring elements of it into our homes to change how we feel for the better.

This book was fascinating. The research ranges from psychology to neuroscience to internal medicine. I knew that nature could affect my mood, but I didn’t realize that bringing elements like shapes, textures, and colors in from outside could change my happiness level and even my blood pressure. Lee's hope is that people can use these techniques to find more joyfulness in their lives. I can't wait to get started.

AG

What If It’s Us?


What If It’s Us?
by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera
HarperTeen 2018, 437 Pages. Young Adult Fiction.

Arthur is an intern at a NYC law firm where his mother is working for the summer. Ben is a recently heartbroken New York native who is struggling through summer school in order to finish high school on time. The two connect through a chance encounter at the post office and each of them regrets not exchanging phone numbers, but through the magic of internet stalking research, they find each other and believe that the universe is pulling them together. Their time together has expiration date- as Arthur will return to Georgia at the end of the summer, but after a series of “do-over” first dates, they finally start to let their guard down and fall for each other just as their deadline creeps up on them.

This is a charming coming of age romance with plenty to love. Written by two popular YA novelists, each author writes one boy’s perspective, giving them unique voices, and the story unfolds in chapters that alternate between the two character’s viewpoints. I enjoyed the pop culture references, Arthur’s obsession with Broadway musicals, and total dorkiness. Ben’s fantasy writing, SIMS playing, well-meaning but underachieving personality make him feel familiar as well, and either could stand in for kids from many high schools across the country. This book’s portrayal of the power of friendship, the butterflies and nervousness when exploring a new relationship, and trumps and tribulations when finding your way in the world is timeless and uplifting, while leaving room for unexpected magic to unfold.  

RC  

Friday, March 8, 2019

Women of the Blue and Gray: True Civil War Stories of Mothers, Medics, Soldiers, and Spies

Cover image for Women of the blue & gray : true Civil War stories of mothers, medics, soldiers, and spies
Women of the Blue and Gray: True Civil War Stories of Mothers, Medics, Soldiers, and Spies
by Marianne Monson
Shadow Mountain, 2018, 230 pgs., Nonfiction

Monson brings to light the incredible stories of women from the Civil War, whether they be from the North, or from the South. The women in these micro biographies were wives, mothers, sisters and friends whose purposes ranged from supporting husbands and sons during wartime to counseling President Lincoln on strategy.

If you enjoyed Monson’s other collection of micro biographies, Frontier Grit, you know to expect fascinating stories of interesting women whose contributions to the human story have been mostly lost to time. Women of the Blue and Gray spends less time editorializing on the lessons to be learned from each woman’s life, and instead focuses on trying to give as many viewpoints as possible on the topic of the Civil War.

I especially enjoyed learning about Virginia Mason McLean, whose homes just happened to be the places where both one of the first and one of the last encounters of the Civil War occurred. I was also fascinated by the efforts of Clara Barton and the Red Cross after the war to reunite lost loved ones.

This is a book that will make you amazed at the courage and fortitude of the people who lived during one of America’s most tumultuous times, and it might inspire you to document some of the bigger moments of your own life.

MB

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918

Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 
by Albert Marrin
Alfred A. Knopf, 2018. 198 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

With the help of World War I, the 1918 influenza quickly spread across the globe creating the worst pandemic in recorded history. Not even the black plague of the Middle Ages hits close to the number of deaths of the 1918 flu. This book presents a full picture of what is known about the 1918 flu pandemic from the social, medical, and political contexts of the time, to a brief but thorough explanation of viruses and how they spread. Intended for a teen audience the information is very accessible without being watered-down.

 I was absolutely astounded by the information in this book, I learned so much about the flu pandemic that I never knew before. The thing I like best about this book is how it perfectly blends the different academic disciplines of history, medicine, and science as it discusses the advancement of the disease throughout the world. I’d definitely recommend it to teen readers, but adults will still find it informative and engaging.

ER

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Library Book
by Susan Orlean
Simon Schuster, 2018. 310 pgs. Non-Fiction.

On April 28, 1986 the LA Public Library caught fire. The fire reached a temperature of 2,000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage and destroying or damaging more than a million books. It took years for the library to recover and rebuild, but with the support of the community, many volunteers, and generous donors they were able to.

This book is one part true crime, one part history of the LA Public Library, and one part love letter to the modern library. I really enjoyed the way that Orlean wove the three narratives together and I didn’t find one more engaging than the others. She starts each chapter off with a few book titles that relate to the chapter and their call numbers which I thought was a nice touch. I would recommend this for anyone who likes light true crime, LA, or libraries.

AU

The Brides of Rollrock Island

The Brides of Rollrock Island 
by Margo Lanagan
Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 305 pgs. Young Adult Fiction 

On remote Rollrock Island the men make their living, and fetch their wives, from the sea.

The sea witch Misskaela will call the girl out of a seal for anyone, for a price of course. Pay the witch, hide the seal skin, and keep an enchantingly beautiful woman forever. At least, that is what the men of Rollrock Island tell themselves. But the magic costs more than money given to the witch, and everyone on the island pays that price.

This book was so thought-provoking! The men of Rollrock Island didn’t always get their wives from the sea, and watching that transition unfold was both heartbreaking and fascinating. I really appreciated how the book plays out the consequences of their decision. It didn’t leave the problems with taking sea-wives unaddressed. I think this book would be a good one for a group discussion.

ER

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Ginny Moon

Ginny Moon
By Benjamin Ludwig
Park Row Books, 2017. 360 pgs. Young Adult

After bouncing around in foster care, Ginny Moon finally has a forever family. However, her new mom is expecting and it’s bringing up worries from her past that Ginny has a hard time expressing. Ginny is autistic, so what’s important to her, how she sees the world, and how she reacts to things, tend to be a little different. She’s constantly worrying about the “baby doll” she hid when CPS took her away from her abusive mother, and she’s willing to do anything, including be kidnapped, to make sure her baby doll is okay.

 I love reading books where the main character has a different view and experience of the world than I do, and seeing things through the eyes of someone with autism was illuminating. Ginny is smart and determined, and because the adults in her life don’t understand what she’s trying to tell them, she must take matters into her own hands to get closure. They kept trying to convince Ginny of one thing or another, trying to get her to understand their view, while not giving serious consideration to Ginny’s view. The frustration I felt for Ginny made me more aware of my own interactions with people with autism. I loved this book for the characters and story, but also for the way it made me look at myself. Would highly recommend.

ACS

The Librarian of Auschwitz

The Librarian of Auschwitz
By Antonio Iturbe
Godwin Books, 2017. 423 pgs. Young Adult

Fourteen-year-old Dita was sent to Auschwitz with her family when Nazis took over Prague. They were placed in the “Family Camp,” built under the pretense that Auschwitz wasn’t actually an extermination camp. In the children’s block Fredy Hirsch ran a small school to help bring a sense of normality to the children’s lives. When Dita becomes one of his assistants she is honored to be chosen to protect a secret stash of books. However, life is hard and brutal in the camp and Dita must use all of her ingenuity to protect the books, her friends, and her family.

This book is only semi-fictional and is based on real people and events. Dita is clever and observant, and her story is heartbreaking and powerful. Much has already been written about the struggle to survive in Nazi concentration camps, but this takes a relatively unknown story and brings it to light. I would easily recommend this if you liked Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF, Elie Wiesel’s NIGHT, or THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK.

 ACS