Thursday, May 30, 2019

I Owe You One

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

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

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


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Draw and Be Happy

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

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

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


The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins

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

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

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


The Poet X

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

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

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


Sea Prayer

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

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

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


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

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

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

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

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


Saturday, May 25, 2019

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 24, 2019

Takane & Hana Vol. 1

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



By Min Jin Lee
Grand Central Publishing, 2017. 496 pgs. Fiction

Sunja's life is forever altered after a fling with a charming man near the markets of her home in the small fishing village of Yeongdo, Korea. Pregnant and with few options, Sunja is given an opportunity for a hopeful future--with the caveat that she must move to Japan, long considered Korea's oppressor. This multigenerational story begins with Sunja's emigration in the 1930s and extends up to the late 1980s through the plights of her sons, her grandchildren, and their friends and lovers, with all the ethnicity, class, and gender-related tensions those relationships abide.

If, like me, you are captivated by stories that take place in Asia or have Asian protagonists (The Good Earth, anything by Lisa See or Haruki Murakami), this National Book Award finalist is a must-read. The novel has some of the trappings of an epic tale, with a mysteriously compelling hero(ine), a journey from home to a foreign land, and a narrator that feels at times distant, simply there to relate the story and only rarely comment on the progress. This last quality, too, makes the novel feel incredibly modern, allowing the reader to interpret tragedy or happy ending out of the story, which, depending on the reader, could be frustrating or freeing. My favorite parts of the book were the tangents into the quiet lives of minor characters--alighting briefly on their histories, their vulnerabilities, their memories of their parents, sisters, brothers. When it was finally time to leave Sunja, Mozasu, Solomon, and Hana at the end of the 496 pages, I wasn't ready.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.