Monday, November 18, 2019

Are You Listening?

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

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

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

TT

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Heart of a Vicar

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

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

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

AL

Friday, November 15, 2019

Ayesha at Last

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

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

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

MB

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

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

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

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

LKA

A Dream About Lightning Bugs

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

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

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

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

RC

Monday, November 11, 2019

This Is How It Always Is

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

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

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

LKA

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

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

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

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

MB

Mike

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

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

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

RC

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Monday's Not Coming

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

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

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

LKA

Resistance

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

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

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

ACS

Wicked Fox

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

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

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

ACS

Monday, November 4, 2019

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

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

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

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

LKA

The Call of the Wild

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

NS


Saturday, November 2, 2019

Naturally Tan: A Memoir

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

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

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

LKA

The Nocturnal Brain

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

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

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

SMM

The Philosopher's Flight

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

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

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

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

SMM

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Dreadful Places

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

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

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

LKA

Meet Cute

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

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

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

BHG

Monday, October 28, 2019

White Bird

White Bird
By R.J. Palacio
Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 220 pgs. Young Adult Comics

In this graphic novel continuation of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder story, Julian the bully, continues to learn that physical appearances matter less than the character of a person. Julian’s Grandmére was a young Jewish girl in a French village during World War II. When the Nazis came to her school and started rounding up all of the Jews, she was saved by a classmate who she previously had shunned due to his physical limitations. His family hid her in their barn throughout the war, saving her life.

This is a moving story about a young girl and the challenges and hardships during World War II. The illustrations are colorful and simple, but aid in the storytelling. The message of loving others despite our differences is simple, but powerful. Overall, I enjoyed this graphic novel and would recommend to anyone who enjoyed Wonder or likes historical fiction.

TT

Skeleton Keys: Workplace Hauntings

Skeleton Keys: Workplace Hauntings
By John Klann
Schiffer Publishing, 2016. 143 pgs. Nonfiction

If you grew up reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books or you saw the recent film adaptation, this book is for you! John Klann has compiled ten true stories of paranormal experiences that focus specifically on workplace hauntings. Each story is less than twenty pages and provides a quick, enjoyable scare. The author writes in his introduction, "If the theme intrigues you, you will find material here worthy of your inspection. If you are one of these key holders yourself, you have found your peers."

I really enjoyed this book! It was an entertaining break from the mundane, easy to read, and left me wondering. I'm a big fan of suspense, but don't always have big chunks of time to invest in reading for pleasure. This compilation was a spooky treat!

LKA

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Institute

The Institute
By Stephen King
Scribner, 2019. 561 pages. Fiction

On a quiet night in suburban Minneapolis, Luke Ellis is taken from his home and his parents are murdered. He wakes up in a room that looks exactly like his own, but with no windows. He soon discovers that he has been taken to an institute for young people with special powers - telekinesis and telepathy - and there is no escaping their fate. They must cooperate with The Institute's director, Mrs. Sigsby, or be subjected to brutal punishment. What does she want with their powers? How will they escape?

I'm a huge Stephen King fan, so when I knew his next book was coming out I immediately put myself on the hold list for it. This one didn't disappoint! I enjoyed that it was a little bit different than his recent novels in that the enemy wasn't supernatural. It is, in fact, the "good guys" that are the supernatural/paranormal ones. I often have to keep the light on when reading King's books and this one was no different! If you like being kept in suspense, you'll enjoy The Institute.

LKA




Very Good Lives

by J.K. Rowling
Little, Brown and Company, 2015. 80 pages. Nonfiction

In 2008, J.K. Rowling was asked to give the commencement speech at Harvard. This short book is her transposed speech. She offers insight into failure and success drawing on her own life experiences. She  also speaks of imagination and its importance in our lives. As she defines it, "[imagination] [i]n its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, ... is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared."

Whether or not you love Harry Potter, this book is worth reading. I personally loved getting to know Rowling through her own words and experiences. Her frankness and sincerity made me respect her all the more. This is a one-sitting read but this book is also full of wonderful one- or two-line quotes worth pondering and going back to time and again. The books is also decorated with simple illustrations that add to the overall aesthetic and pleasure of the book. One of my favorite lines is, "We do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already." 

LH

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Sun Does Shine

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life & Freedom On Death Row
by Anthony Ray Hinton
St. Martin's Press, 2018. 255 pages. Biography

"On April 3, 2015, Anthony Ray Hinton was released from prison after spending nearly thirty years in solitary confinement on Alabama's death row." The first sentence in this book had me hooked. Mr. Hinton gives us a detailed account of his almost thirty years on death row for two murders that he didn't commit. The degradation, humiliation, and unimaginable horrors he went through are outlined in his book. More surprisingly, however, is the hope, faith, and love that is detailed in its pages. "Everything, I realized, is a choice. And spending your days waiting to die is no way to live," he writes.

I was utterly spellbound by this book and read the entire thing in one sitting. I'd like to think that if I were in the same situation as Mr. Hinton, I would have the same response. Doubtful. My heart burst with love for this man that I don't know and my heart ached for his pain. I have not been as inspired by a story as this in a long time. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in living a life of purpose. Hinton writes, "I was afraid every single day on death row. And I also found a way to find joy every single day. I learned that fear and joy are both a choice."

LKA

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Girl Gone Viral


by Arvin Ahmadi
Viking 2019. 402 pages. Young Adult

In an imaginative near future not too different from our own, coding wiz Opal Hopper must become the internet’s next big sensation in order to win a contest and meet the person who may have answers about her father’s disappearance. A small data hack and a lot of coding later, her virtual reality channel is revealing the ways that internet uses personal data for less than noble ends, garnering the attention of some powerful internet moguls who may not be the type whose radar you want to be on.

An engaging and at times too close to home narrative about the consequences of living our lives online, this cautionary tale feels apt for teens in the information age. Opal’s plight to find out the truth about her father is as compelling as the twist and turns through a virtual world where reality is shrouded by the imagined safety of online anonymity. A gripping read for fans of Ready Player One, Warcross, or the Black Mirror series from Netflix.

RC

Over The Top


by Jonathan Van Ness
HarperOne 2019, 288 pages. Biography

Jonathan Van Ness has risen to fame through Netflix’s popular reboot of Queer Eye, but his success has been hard fought and in his revealing and honest memoir, he recounts the struggles that have brought him to a place of self-love and acceptance, as well as success. Van Ness describes growing up in a small town, feeling different from the other boys from an early age. He is candid about discovering his true self and the ways he acted out and explored this feelings in both positive and self-destructive manners. 

Fans of Van Ness will appreciate his signature sass, charisma, and charm, which translates well from television to the page. The books is at times laugh out loud funny and will leave you heartbroken in other moments, but the ultimate message is one of love and positivity, inspiring and uplifting readers to reach for their dreams. The audiobook is narrated by the author himself which truly brings his story to life.


RC

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Raven Tower

Cover image for The Raven tower
The Raven Tower
by Ann Leckie
Orbit, 2019, 416 pages, Fantasy

Summoned back to the city of Iraden from the Front, Prince Mawat and his assistant Eolo are stunned to discover that Mawat’s father has fled the city and Mawat’s uncle has claimed the throne. This overthrow is disturbing on its own, but the rulers of Iraden made a bargain with the Raven God long ago. At the end of their lives, the rulers of Iraden must sacrifice themselves to the Raven God in exchange for the Raven’s protection of the city. Since Mawat’s father wasn’t sacrificed, the Raven is no longer protecting Iraden. People are starving, sickness is spreading throughout the land, and Iraden’s enemies are advancing. It’s up to Eolo to figure out what really happened to Mawat’s father before Iraden’s enemies gain enough power to destroy the city.

Ann Leckie has won awards for her science fiction writing, but I think this, her first foray into fantasy writing, is even better. The Raven Tower feels new and fresh even though it’s basically a well-done fantasy retelling of Hamlet.

The novel switches perspectives, telling the current story of Iraden from Eolo’s point of view, and telling the history of Iraden from the point of view of a nameless stone god who is much older than the Raven. The god’s narrative was especially compelling to me since it’s written as if the god is trying to talk to Eolo directly, which is a narrative style that isn’t usually used. The story ended with a very satisfying conclusion that could lead to a series, or not.

I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy fantasy, Shakespeare retellings, and overall well-written literature.

MB

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Stranger Diaries

Cover image for The stranger diaries
The Stranger Diaries
by Elly Griffiths
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019, 338 pages, Mystery

High school English teacher Clare Cassidy may know more about Gothic writer R.M. Holland than anyone else. She teaches at the school that used to be his home, and she uses Holland’s well-known short story, “The Stranger,” to teach an adult creative writing course during school holidays. When one of Clare’s colleagues is found murdered with a line from “The Stranger” left by her body, Clare is horrified. She is also a likely suspect. Clare pours all of her fears and suspicions into her diary until one day someone leaves a note in her diary, answering back.

One of my favorite parts of this novel is that it contains a story within a story. Holland’s spooky short story “The Stranger” is told slowly throughout the novel, which adds a lot to the ambience, and also seems to hint at clues as to who the murderer could be. The main story shifts between the perspectives of Clare, the detective assigned to the case, and Clare’s daughter, which helps add to the sense of mystery and keeps the reader guessing who the murderer is. This book is a fairly cozy read, but the Gothic and ghost story elements of the plot makes this book stand out from other books in this genre. Fans of both cozy mysteries and Gothic literature will find a lot to enjoy in The Stranger Diaries.

MB

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Small Great Things: A Novel

by Jodi Picoult
Ballantine Books, 2016. 470 pages. Fiction

Ruth, a labor and delivery nurse, is charged with a serious crime even though she is innocent. But, is she? After over twenty years of experience, Ruth is faced with the toughest situation of her professional and personal life. She happens to be African American and the parents of her newest patient are white supremacists. Ruth is quickly reassigned to a different case, but not before a terrifying situation turns her life into an unrecognizable nightmare.

This book addresses important topics like race, justice, white privilege, and ignorance. My heart broke for Ruth as she struggled to make those around her - the white, privileged people around her - understand her innocence and be sympathetic to her situation. This book is for anyone who is not afraid to visit the ugly parts of our world and come out the other side with a stronger passion for creating positive change.

LKA

Thursday, October 10, 2019

With the Fire on High

With the Fire on High
by Elizabeth Acevedo
HarperTeen, 2019. 392 pages. Young Adult

Emoni knows that as a teen mom, odds are stacked against her. So she works hard, at school, her job, and at raising her daughter, determined to not be a burden on her Abuela or an absent parent like her own father. Anyone who knows her also knows that she has a near-magical gift for cooking. When her school offers a culinary arts class, Emoni's excitement turns to frustration; the more she learns, the more her long-buried dream of becoming a chef comes bubbling to the surface. Her teachers and friends encourage her, but Emoni knows she chose a life of responsibility and sacrifice when she had her daughter. Does she dare let herself dream now, with all that rests on her shoulders?

I really loved this author's debut novel last year, THE POET X , so I was excited to get my hands on this one. WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is a little different, being written in prose rather than in verse, but shines equally bright. With wonderfully developed characters, especially protagonist Emoni, and relatable and immersive storytelling, Acevedo also has a talent for addressing complicated topics in an honest, realistic way that never feels too heavy. Emoni is a wonderful soul, a loving, introspective girl ready to take her place in the world, and you'll be better for knowing her.

MW

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Cannery Row

Cannery Row
by John Steinbeck
Penguin Books. 2002. 181 pages. Fiction.

The "story" of Cannery Row follows the adventures of Mack and the boys, a group of unemployed yet resourceful men who inhabit a converted fish-meal shack on the edge of a vacant lot down on the Row.

The lesson found in this Steinbeck novel is to "roll with the punches" and be content with where you're at. The characters in Cannery Row live unglamorous lives filled with problems, and yet they are worry-free. They don't allow themselves to be strangled by money and by the idea of reaching the top run in all aspects of life. They find joy in being honest with each other and kind to their fellow men. In reading this book, I have had a little bit of faith restored in humanity. I recommend this book to those looking for a unique, yet relatable story that won't take very long to read. 

NS

Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered

Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide
by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
Forge, 2019. 300 pages. Nonfiction

The creators of the hit comedic true crime podcast (it works, trust me) "My Favorite Murder" came together to make this one of a kind dual-memoir. With their signature charm, humor, and honesty, the women reflect on the life experiences - mistakes, struggles with addiction, mental health journeys, family dynamics, and more - that taught them the valuable lessons of self-advocacy, self-care, and being better humans.

I'm already a devoted fan of the "My Favorite Murder" podcast and of Karen and Georgia, the marvelous hosts and authors of this book, and was hungry to get my hands on this book since it was announced.  Murderino Approved! Translation: This book blew all my expectations out of the water! Don't be afraid if you're not into true crime though - some crime stories are included of course (on-brand for true crime podcasters), but this is a book full of empowering stories for anyone trying to get through life in one piece. And being decent to oneself and others in the process.  Ever relatable, hilarious, and frank, Karen and Georgia will feel like old friends by the time you finish reading. I highly recommend the audiobook as well, read by the authors. It'll feel like an ultra-bonus podcast episode!

MW

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising (Red Rising #1)
by Pierce Brown
Del Rey, 2014. 382 pages. Science Fiction

Darrow, a Red Helldiver whose sole responsibility is mining Helium-3, a gas mined on Mars that is used in the terraforming process for mars and other planets in the solar system, loves his people and his wife. After a few heartrending events, Darrow discovers that many of the things he's believed his whole life are false and have been for hundreds of years. To correct those falsehoods, Darrow sacrifices his life and identity and becomes the people he hates, all for the love of his people and the dream of the woman he loves.

Pierce Brown uses a unique mixture of dystopian fiction tropes such as castes of people (each referred to by a single name) that are controlled for the betterment of a ruling class, violent games played by kids, a system of government that uses obfuscation and fear to keep the slave class slaves, rebellion against the system, a corrupt and hypocritical society that participates in the very activities they claim to be wrong, etc. in order to show that even tropes can still be impactful.

For those who like Hunger Games and The Giver, this is definitely a book to pick up.

SMM

Rework

Rework
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Crown Business, 2010. 279 pages. Nonfiction.

It's easy to get bogged down as a new business owner. You have so many things to manage while trying to keep your enthusiasm up for the whole process. This process can make it hard for your biggest plans and dreams come true, even with years of planning and operation. Fried and Hansson present a different perspective that small business owners can adopt as they get started and continue to operate. When you're still small as a business, instead of trying to grow as fast as you can, only focus on the immediate needs of the business, the things that can be done today, this week, or this month. If you do so, you will get closer to achieving your goals than if you use the same time to plan for the next 6 months or to focus heavily on finding investors. Fried and Hansson display the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that are important for a small businesses, like the fact that isn't okay if you stay small, or its okay not never ever hire employees in order to assuage the feelings new entrepreneurs can have from traditional advice. They strike at the very heart of traditional business advice and give a fresh perspective on what it truly means to be an entrepreneur in any market, not just tech startups, real estate, or ecommerce.

Any small business owner (or those thinking about starting a business) should read this book in order to relieve some of that stress that plagues the beginning and continued operation of any venture.

SMM

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Halloween Tree

The Halloween Tree
Ray Bradbury
New York : Knopf, 2007. Young Adult Fiction. 

A group of children and a "spirit" go back through time to discover the beginnings of Halloween.

This book has that classic Halloween feel. Think Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but for Halloween.This story is spooky, fun, and imaginative.You can listen to the audiobook on the Libby appBronson Pinchot did a fantastic job narrating as well. He breathed emotion into the characters and added detail to Bradubury's beautiful imagery.

NS


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Song for the Stars

A Song for the Stars
by Ilima Todd
Shadow Mountain, 2019. 296 pages. Romance

Maile has lived an idyllic life on the island of Hawaii but things start to change when the explorer James Cook and his crew arrive. Many of her people believe Cook to be their God, but Maile is glad when they leave. Soon they are back the the islanders aren't as welcoming this time. Maile's fiance is killed in a battle by one of the explorers and she takes that man hostage and hides him on the island. John Harbottle loves the island and the people and is devastated by what has happened. As the two are forced to spend time with each other they find a mutual understanding that soon grows into more.

This book was based on a true story. It was fascinating to learn of the early Hawaiian culture before explorers started to influence the area.  The novel was slow moving but the descriptions of the island made me want to go visit. This is part of the Proper Romance series of books but it is a stand alone novel. 

AL

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

They Called Us Enemy

They Called Us Enemy
George Takei
Top Shelf Productions, 2019. 204 pages. Graphic Novel

Takei is typically known for his work on the original Star Trek series as Hikaru Sulu.  What fewer people know about him is that as a child, he and his family were imprisoned in Japanese Internment camps during World War II.  Written as a graphic novel, this book brings to life the story of his family as they were taken from their home and held in one of ten "relocation centers" at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Held for years, Takei watches as his father and mother work tirelessly to lessen the load on their family and many others despite their unthinkable circumstances.  After being released and as he grows into a young adult, Takei works to process what he saw and experienced in the camps, inspiring a lifetime of purpose and activism.

You may be familiar with many Holocaust stories taking place in Europe during this time in history, but it's chilling to see how many of the same situations played out on US soil, and how it was omitted from recorded histories for many years afterward.  As a result of his experiences, today Takei is an activist devoted to equal rights, and this book represents an important contribution to a critical and too-often disregarded chapter of American history, with continuing relevance today.

BHG

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe
Heather Webber
Forge Books, 2019. 336 pages. Fiction

Anna Kate's grandmother has died, prompting her to travel to the small town of Wicklow, where Granny Zee lived and ran the Blackbird Café.  Known for its mysterious blackbird pie, the café draws a steady crowd of locals and outsiders alike each day.  Although Anna Kate only intends to stay in town long enough to settle her grandmother's affairs and sell the café, she can't help being drawn into the quirky community as well as her family's history, especially the mystery surrounding her father's death before she was born.

While essentially a fiction novel, this story has elements of fantasy and mystery, and plenty of Southern charm.  Ultimately, it's a sweet story about the importance of community and family in our lives.

BHG

A Woman of No Importance

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II
Sonia Purnell
Viking, 2019. 368 pages. Nonfiction

Virginia Hall was born a Baltimore socialite, but sought more excitement from life.  After traveling extensively in Europe and pursuing a career, she found herself in the right place at the right time to make a difference at the outbreak of World War II.  Virginia became a Special Operations Executive for England, working behind enemy lines in occupied France, providing support to spies sent in from Britain, establishing resistance networks throughout France, aiding operatives who had been caught and imprisoned, leading a victorious guerilla campaign, and dodging German detection - sometimes only narrowly avoiding capture.  She did all this with a prosthetic leg, acquired in a hunting accident before the war.

If you have read other spy stories from World War II, there is a good chance those operatives were at some point directed or aided by Virginia.  She was a linchpin of the Resistance, and operated the most successful spy networks in occupied France during the war.  Yet her life has been mostly a mystery until the dedicated research of author Sonia Purnell, who pieced together bits of information found from a multitude of sources to paint a picture of Virginia Hall's life and critical work.  This is a fascinating story and a much-deserved spotlight on a remarkable and important woman.

BHG

The Anatomist's Apprentice

The Anatomist's Apprentice
Tessa Harris
Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2012. 310 pages. Mystery

Dr. Thomas Silkstone is a young anatomist from Philadelphia, visiting England to study under an esteemed surgeon.  His unconventional methods have caused some buzz in English society, and caught the interest of the beautiful Lydia Farrell, who is in desperate need of help when her husband is accused of the murder of her brother, Sir Edward Crick.  She appeals to Dr. Silkstone to help solve the murder and absolve her husband.  When Dr. Silkstone reluctantly agrees, he unwittingly enters a web of danger and mystery.

This is the first in a series of mysteries based on Dr. Thomas Silkstone.  Those with an interest in period mysteries will enjoy the sights and sounds of 1780 England come to life, especially when the characters of the book react to Dr. Silkstone's more "modern" scientific approach.  Anyone familiar with today's forensic processes would recognize his methods, but at the time of the book they were suspect to say the least.

BHG

Children of the Sea 2

Children of the Sea 2 
by Daisuke Igarashi
Viz, 2009. 314 pages. Graphic Novel

Umi is distressed over Sora’s disappearance, and no one knows how to help him or how to find Sora. Jim reveals the source of his interest in the boys; 40 years ago, he met another young boy like Sora, but let the boy die. Since then he has been searching the world for children like that mysterious boy to understand them when he finds Sora and Umi. Anglade, Jim’s previous research partner and nephew, also wants to understand the mystery of the boys, but his methods differ from Jim’s. Ruka is determined to help Umi find his brother despite an approaching typhoon. They all are desperately trying to discover the connections between the boys, the meteorite, and the fish that disappear into light, but time is running out.

Since the scene has already been set, book two has more storyline than book one, making it more satisfying to read. I like that in this one Ruka gets more of a defined role in the unfolding events, even though the whole thing is still a little confusing. Translated from the original Japanese, this graphic novel series keeps the original right to left format.

 ER

Friday, September 27, 2019

Angelfall

Angelfall
by Susan Ee
Skyscape, 2012. 288 pages. Young Adult


Penryn's life has never been easy, but things got a lot harder once the angels came seeking vengeance for archangel Gabriel's death, leaving nothing but fear and destruction in their wake. At 17, Penryn shoulders the weight of her family's survival because her 10 year old wheelchair bound sister, Paige, needs her and their mentally ill mother is rarely capable. Penryn is small and scrappy and has learned how to scavenge and stay out of sight and trouble. But when a beautiful white-winged warrior angel is thrust from the sky in front of her and then brutally de-winged by an opposing gang of angels, she finds herself in the thick of trouble. Her unstable mother bolts leaving the Paige defenseless. The gang of angels kidnaps Paige; and Penryn, desperate to get her back, makes a deal with the wounded enemy angel at her feet.

This book had so many new and surprising elements I haven't seen before. I've read several dystopian books and I have never loved them. However, this book is considered apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic and I really enjoyed it. This book is literally angels and demons fighting on Earth with mankind stuck in the middle. I loved the relationship between Penryn and Paige. I also love the way Rafe's attitude and conflict come through actions and demeanor because he doesn't always offer much verbally. The plot was great. The characters are great. The audiobook was awesome. Check it out and read it.

-LH

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Children of the Sea I

Children of the Sea. I 
by Daisuke Igarashi
Viz, 2013. 316 pages. Graphic Novel

 When she was younger, Ruka saw a ghost, which disappeared in a sudden light, in the water at the aquarium where her dad works. Now after her summer plans are ruined, she feels drawn back to the aquarium and two boys she meets there, Umi and Sora. The boys were raised by dugongs, and all three hear the same strange calls from the sea. The three children get caught up in the mysterious disappearances of fish around the world, while the adults are only vaguely aware of the strange events the children experience.

 I would describe this book as very intriguing, although a little confusing. It sets the scene for the series, which is only five books long. While the first book didn’t completely set up the mystery that Ruka gets involved with, it certainly set up enough of the story to draw me in. Translated from the original Japanese, this graphic novel series keeps the original right to left format.

 ER

Pumpkinheads

Pumpkinheads
by Rainbow Rowell
New York, New York : First Second Books, 2019.209 pages. Young Adult.

Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends. Every autumn, all through high school, they've worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world.They say good-bye every Halloween, and they're reunited every September 1. But this Halloween is different -- Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye. Josiah's ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn't ready to let him. She's got a plan: What if -- instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut -- they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he's been mooning over for three years. What if their last shift was an adventure?

This book is a charming, beautifully-illustrated read that will get you in that fun and cozy fall mood just in time for pumpkin season. Pumpkinheads is full of lightheartedness with just the right amount of adventure, and I found the relationships between the characters to be quite relatable. This book bleeds autumnal atmosphere and would pair well with a sweet treat. 

NS

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities
by Mady G. & JR Zuckerberg
Limerence Press, 2019. 94 pages. Nonfiction

"Every person is worthwhile and valuable in their own way!" This guide begins positively and makes the reader feel welcome. The bright colors and eye-catching drawings are an excellent way to make a sensitive topic seem approachable. It covers significant topics like gender identity, coming out, and supporting others on their journey. It proclaims, "Living your own best life can really help improve the lives of others!"

For some, the characters in this short guide might seem cheesy or juvenile; I would challenge the reader to focus on the content of the book rather than the appearance. Inside this short illustrated guide is valuable information on the topic of queer and trans identities. It's a perfect starting point for someone who is unfamiliar with any of these terms or the essential details that go along with them. We all want to be our best selves and help others do the same. This book promises to help the reader to have a better understanding of: "Everybody pretty much just wants to live their lives happily."

LKA

Finale

Finale (Caraval, #3)
By Stephanie Garber
Flatiron Books, 2019. 478 pages. Young Adult

Legend now sits on the throne, but the newly released Fates are running amok, bringing chaos and fear to the empire. Tella struggles to make sense of Legend and her feelings for him, while Scarlett uncovers a secret that will shift everything she thought she knew about her past. Everyone has their own final journey to make, paths crossing and merging together, leading to one big, grand finale.

While CARAVAL was primarily from Scarlett’s point-of-view, and LEGENDARY was from Tella’s point-of-view, FINALE switches back and forth. The transitions were easy to follow, and story clues always helped subtly re-orient the reader to what was happening. The interactions with various fates were interesting, and their abilities increased the suspense drastically. In general, I felt like this was a satisfying end to the series. There are still a few loose threads that I’d like to see resolved in any future novellas, but for the most part I was satisfied. If you’ve enjoyed the series, you won’t want to miss this finale.

ACS