Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Lost Heiress

The Lost Heiress
By Roseanna M. White
Bethany House, 2015. 439 pgs. Inspirational Fiction

Brook Eden has never known where she really fits in. She was raised by an opera singer in Monaco and many people think her the illegitimate daughter of the Prince. As she gets older she decides to find the truth. Justin, a long-time English friend, agrees to help her search for answers. It soon appears that she may be the lost daughter of an Englishman and heiress to a fortune. Brooke goes to England to meet a family she has never known. Everything seems to be falling into place. Soon some disturbing stories begin to surface and Brooke is in a race to find out why her real mother was killed as she was fleeing for her life on a dark and stormy night before Brook's life is threatened too.

This novel has a little bit of everything: romance, mystery, adventure, and religion. Brooke is a strong heroine who doesn't sit back and wait for life to happen. She knows how to shoot a gun, drive a car, and break unbreakable horses which are all things that women of her time shouldn't do. Justin is more thoughtful and cautious. They help to balance each other out when they aren't driving each other crazy. I liked that this historical fiction novel had a layer of mystery to carry the story along. This novel would be good for fans of Sarah Eden or Julianne Donaldson.

AL

Elemental

Elemental: How the Periodic Table Can Now Explain (Nearly) Everything
By Tim James
Abrams Press, 2019. 216 pages. Nonfiction.

Our universe was formed 13.8 billion years ago. As the unorganized soup of particles cooled after the Big Bang, the elements were born. James recounts the history of the elements, from the ancient Greeks to the contemporary scientists who have created new elements in labs to complete the table.

This light-hearted book is nothing like the boring chemistry class you slept through in high school. Telling the story of the elements, James uses facts to answer questions like:
  • What is the chemical formula for a human being? 
  • How many bananas can you eat before you die of radiation poisoning? 
  • How did the medieval dream of turning lead into gold become a modern reality? 
I'm a big nerd, even by librarian standards. Before beginning my career as a librarian, I studied chemistry and even earned a BS in Chemistry. So, of course a new book about chemistry would pique my interest. But this one isn't just for people who get excited about chelation, dimers, and coordination complexes. (Don't judge me.)

I found this to be a refreshing history and outline of chemistry, covering a broad range of topics in a fun and interesting way. Unlike other books about hard science, Elemental is very accessible and doesn't get weighed down with confusing jargon or mathematical details. Without reservation, this is the most delightful book I've read about chemistry in several years. Even if you have zero background in science, this book will make for an entertaining exploration of the building blocks of the universe, without even leaving your home.

DT

Monday, March 30, 2020

Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel

Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel
by Odyr
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 175 pgs. Graphic Novel.

Odyr, a Brazilian graphic novelist, brings to life the events of George Orwell's Animal Farm with page after page of gorgeous surrealist-esque images. Odyr took Orwell's vision of a parable fable and gets across in images the truly bloody results of communism and trusting societal powers too much. On a farm in England, a pig named Major has a dream, a dream that tells him of the farm animal's oppressed state, of the fact that they are slaves. Once major dies, his dream becomes the prophetic backing for a new movement called Animalism, where those with two legs are the enemy, those with four legs or wings are friends, all animals are equal, and animals should not wear clothes, drink alcohol, sleep in a bed, or kill another animal. An opportunity arises, and the animals rebel, taking over the farm. With the power in hand, the animals set out to make a world where their animalism values are honored, and in the process trade one oppressive leader for another.

For those who like the classics like Ray Bradbury's Faranheit 451 and Orwell's 1984, but want to experience a classic in a different way, this book is for you. The graphic novel edition also does a great job of giving you some emotional distance from the characters so you can really see and understand what Orwell was trying to say about the political philosophies that gave rise to the Soviet Union.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Knitting Magic

Knitting Magic
by Tanis Gray
Insight Editions, 2020. 207 pgs. Nonfiction

In this first official Harry Potter knitting pattern book, there are over 25 beautiful patterns based on the iconic books. Projects are divided into four sections: crafty creatures, wizarding wardrobe, inspiring apparel, and delightful décor. In addition to the patterns, there are photos and behind-the-scenes information from the Potter films in full color. From House scarves to subtle patterns and motifs, there is something for every Potter fan.

As an avid Potter collector, I absolutely love this book. I am not a knitter, but these patterns make me want to learn. My favorite patterns are the most subtle ones, like the “Owl Post Pullover” or the “Deathly Hallows Lace-Knit Beaded Shawl.” The colors and photographs are beautiful for each project and evoke the magic and wonder of the Potter world. There are projects for all skill levels, but it does not have a beginners’ guide, so a basic knowledge of knitting is needed. This is perfect for knitters or Harry Potter lovers and simply beautiful to browse through.

TT
The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek 
By Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal
Crown, 2019. 326 pages.

The small town of Bleak Creek takes pride in it’s city BBQs, its conservative values, and its highly successful reform school for troubled youth. Rex and Leif just want to spend their summer making their home-movie masterpiece, Polterdog, with their friend Alicia. But when a scene in their movie goes horribly wrong, Alicia is sent to the Whitewood School, and the teens soon realize that there is something sinister boiling under the surface of their small town’s sleepy façade.

You know you have a winning book when it gives you the same feelings of nostalgia and horror as the hit show Stranger Things. The characters are endearing, and the plot is well-paced and full of enough easy humor to balance out the supernatural creepiness. If you enjoy tales of the supernatural, spunky adolescent heroes, or if you are fans of the authors’ award-winning web series, this is a must-read!

If you want to read more about the authors, check out their semi-biographical guide to creativity and tomfoolery here.

ALL


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Me

Me 
by Elton John
Henry Holt. 2019. 374 pages. Biography

I love Elton John. I have been drawn to his music since I was a child. And I’m not just talking about The Lion King and The Road to El Dorado soundtracks. Songs such as “Your Song” and “Tiny Dancer” and “Rocketman” were on my radar from a very young age. I have always wondered about the man behind the music. Is he the flamboyant man the media portrays him as? Is he more than just the wildly, fantastic outfits and glasses? The answer to both questions is yes.

This book, his first and what he promises as his only official autobiography, really helped me get a sense of what shaped Reginald Dwight into Elton John. I always take autobiographies with a grain of salt; after all, we all see our own lives differently than everyone else sees them. But the story that John weaves about his childhood and first influences, his first gig in a rock band, and his transition to being a soloist in his own right, threw the flashy media coverage of his life and his music into a more compassionate light.

John, clearly after years of therapy, is able to talk about his choices with a certain sense of clarity and tenderness for his young self. The writing is funny and empathetic. It was so easy to read and I never once felt like a ghost writer had taken over the story. It felt authentically like Elton John the whole time. If you like celebrity bios, or just want to know more about Elton John and his music, this book is one to read. If you want to listen to the audiobook, Taron Eggerton (the lead in the movie Rocketman) reads it and does an outstanding job.

 AG

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Hidden Power of F*cking Up


The Hidden Power of F*cking Up
By The Try Guys
Dey Street Book, 2019. 275 pages. Nonfiction.

Ever try something new and fail at it miserably? The popular YouTube group, The Try Guys, discuss their philosophy of trying and how that leads to the ultimate success. Ned, Keith, Zack, and Eugene have built a career where together they make videos of themselves pushing themselves outside comfort zones and trying something new and different.  They put their words into actions as each one attempts something new. Go on a journey with them as a meat-lover becomes a vegan, a father transforms into a fashionista, a perpetually single sidekick becomes a romantic lead, and a child of divorced parents tries to grow closer with his family.

There are many self-help books about failure but this one is the most relateable. The guys are honest while being funny and serious at the same time. It is a fun book to read as it feels interactive. There is of course language in the book that may not be appropriate for some but it is a great book to help you overcome fears of failure. 

ME

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Dutch House

The Dutch House
By Ann Patchett
Harper, 2019. 352 pages. Fiction

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy began an empire in real estate with the purchase of the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs of Philadelphia intended for his family to reside.  But what he hopes will be a joy to his family instead only brings heartbreak.  Cyril's son Danny and his older sister, Maeve, are exiled from the house by their stepmother after their father's death. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures. Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they're together, and throughout their lives, they continue to revisit what they've lost with both humor and anger. When at last they're forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between this brother and sister is finally tested.

This is a sweeping tale that spans generations and will give readers a lot to think about and discuss.  Themes of family, loss, forgiveness, and nostalgia are heavy in this book, but for all the grief that one family may experience over a lifetime, there is hope as well. This audiobook is narrated by Tom Hanks who brings his own charm and a sense of lightheartedness, despite the sometimes melancholic subject matter, to the story. 

BHG

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Going Postal

Going Postal
by Terry Pratchet
Harper, 2004. 471 pages. Fantasy.

The book starts with Moist Van Litwig, an accomplished con man, thief, swindler, etc., waiting for his own execution. Just after he is hanged, he wakes up to find Lord Ventinari, the ruler of Ankh-Morpork, offering him job--a government job. Always the swindler, Moist decides that a job that might lead to his freedom is a far better choice than death and so he becomes the Postmaster. Ventinari tasks Moist with restoring the the post office (a once grand institution) to its former glory, especially because the Grand Trunk, a communication company that uses light to pass messages between towers, has started to shut down so often it's like they don't exist. Somewhere in the process of getting the position, Moist does what he does best, cons himself into actually achieving more than anyone would have thought from an already dead conman.

Despite this being book 33 of 40 Discworld novels, it is a great place to start if you want to get used to Pratchet's comedic timing and writing style before starting the trek from book 1 to 40.

-SMM

Friday, March 13, 2020

Go to Sleep (I Miss You)

Go to Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood
by Lucy Knisley
New York : First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, 2020.177 Pages. Graphic Novel

Following the completion of her pregnancy memoir Kid Gloves (and the birth of her baby), Lucy embarked on a new project: documenting new motherhood in short, spontaneous little cartoons, which she posted on her Instagram, and which quickly gained her a huge cult following among other moms.

As soon as I saw the title of this book, I knew it was for me. Being a new mother myself, I'm familiar with how desperate you feel when your baby doesn't sleep, and also how much you remember your baby when she finally does sleep. This book made me laugh out loud. Just about every page reminded me of something I have experienced on my journey through motherhood. I appreciate Lucy Knisley's honesty, her sense of humor, and, of course, her art. If you're a mom, read this. If you know someone who is a mom or will be a mom, give this book to them. 

NS

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

This Tender Land

Cover image for This tender land : a novel
This Tender Land
By William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, 2019, 450 pages, Literary/Historical Fiction

In 1930s Minnesota, Odie O’Banion is an orphan living at the Lincoln School, a horrible place where the students’ education is spotty and most of the students are Native Americans who have been forcibly separated from their parents. One fateful night Odie, his brother Albert, and their best friends Mose and Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading down the river to hide from the authorities and find a place they can call their own. As they travel, they run into other adrift souls, and they learn to find hope and family in the unlikeliest of places.

This book is one that will stay with me for a while. A combination of The Odyssey, Huckleberry Finn, and The Grapes of Wrath, this book can stand proudly next to its classic forebears. Travelling down the Missouri River and then the Mississippi, Odie and his friends encounter Hoovervilles, beleaguered farmers, those who are haunted by the past, and people who are trying to help others even when they don’t have much themselves. I reveled in the beautiful writing, and found the overall message of the book, one of family and forgiveness, to be really powerful. This is a book not to be missed.

MB

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild

The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild 
by Lawrence Anthony
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2009. 368 pgs. Nonfiction

 In the midst of dealing with a sophisticated poacher problem, Anthony Lawrence was asked to accept a herd of rogue elephants on his South African game reserve or they would be killed. Against common sense, he took them in to save their lives. Lawrence chronicles his struggles and triumphs to care for the herd and the rest of his preserve in this breath-taking account of high-stakes adventure. 

The first part of this book is intense! Nothing goes as planned and the elephants are in all sorts of danger. I am seldom so sucked in from the very beginning with nonfiction, but this one was gripping from the start.  As things settle down it's no less interesting; the elephants keep Lawrence on his toes.  I listened to it and approve of the narrator. This would make a great read for anyone interested in nature/animal writing, conservation, or elephants.

ER

Pet

Pet
By Akwaeke Emezi
Make Me a World, 2019. 204 pages. Young Adult

Seventeen-year-old Jam lives in a future society that claims to have gotten rid of all monstrous people. Everyone lives in peace and safety, and there’s no reason not to trust your neighbor. One evening Jam goes down to her mother’s studio to sneak a peek at one of her new paintings. However, an accident in the studio summons the giant horned creature in the painting from another dimension, and Jam wonders how she can hide the creature from her parents. Unfortunately, the creature, who dubs itself “Pet,” has other plans. There’s a monster in Jam’s world that Pet has been sent to hunt, and it needs Jam’s help to figure out who the monster is.

This is a thought-provoking read with a very specific focus. Very little is said about how the society was perfected, only that it was. Pet’s existence proves this is false. The focus is on monsters, both Pet and the person he’s hunting. Jam and Pet have to investigate the people around them, but because Jam has lived in a world where “evil” no longer exist, she doesn’t know how to identify it. It’s an interesting exploration of how one finds something when lacking points of reference.

 Even though her naïveté makes this feel like a younger YA novel, the subject matter and some of the language might skew this toward a more mature YA audience. That said, I felt it was overall both a compelling and insightful read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

ACS

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America

The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America
By Matt Kracht
Chronicle Books LLC, 2019. 169 pages. Nonfiction


This snarky, illustrated handbook is equal parts profane, funny, and -- let's face it -- true. Featuring 50 common North American birds, Kracht identifies all the idiots in your backyard and details exactly why they suck with humorous, yet angry, ink drawings. Each entry is accompanied by facts about a bird's (annoying) call, its (dumb) migratory pattern, its (downright tacky) markings, and more.

It's no secret that I love birds; they've always been dear to my heart. This refreshing and hilarious read was written by an adamant bird-hater, so you'll need at least a little sense of humor and a tolerance for Kracht's strong language. I thoroughly enjoyed this witty and irreverent commentary, because let's be honest: no matter how much you love birds, everyone hates that white splatter on their windshield.

DT

Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Woman is No Man

A Woman is No Man 
By Etaf Rum
Harper, 2019. 337 pages.

Spanning two generations of an Arab-American family, this debut novel is a startling look into the lives of women in a male-centered world. The story begins with Isra, a Palestinian Muslim woman who has come to New York for an arranged marriage, then jumps forward many years to the perspective of Deya, Isra’s now teenage daughter. Both women share a tale of isolation, powerlessness, and abuse at the hands of the men in their lives, but both have hopes that they might be able to break free from the repressive traditions of previous generations.

Debut author Etaf Rum gives a voice to the voiceless, exposing the harsh reality that many women face in patriarchal societies. The characters’ struggles with worthlessness, familial and cultural pressure, and domestic violence will strike a chord with many women across all religions, classes, and cultures. This book may make you cry, rage, and curse the inhumanity the characters face, but you will come away from the experience with eyes now opened to the invisible plight of repressed women.

ALL

The Truth About Magic: Poems

The Truth About Magic: Poems
By Atticus
St. Martin’s Press, 2019. 250 pages. Nonfiction

If poetry intimidates you, this collection is a good place to start. Author Atticus became famous for their Instagram poetry account and soon won a book deal with St. Martin’s Press. Because of their beginnings on Instagram, most of the poems are quite short and almost like sayings or epigrams. Atticus’s words are lovely and full of life. The whole theme of the collection is magic: the magic you feel when you meet someone, the magic you feel in a new city, and the magic you feel when you have a moment alone. You can finish the book in a day, or savor it slowly over a few weeks. It is easy to put down, but you might find yourself longing to pick it back up again.

I was first introduced to Atticus on Instagram, and I have been following their career over the last few years. I thought this was a great read because the poems are short, powerful, and quite thought provoking. It was nice to just sit and read poetry and copy out some of the phrases into my journal. This book is a great introduction to modern poetry that is fresh and timely.

AGP

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Language of Fire

The Language of Fire
by Stephanie Hemphill
Balzer + Bray, 2019. 512 pages. Young Adult

The endlessly inspiring story of Joan of Arc is retold in this novel in verse. After years and years of defeat, it's rightful king in exile, France seems lost to the British. But one ordinary girl heeds the divine call to save her country. Young, inexperienced, but full of faith and determination, Joan gains the trust of generals and royalty, leads armies, crowns a king, and changes a nation's fate.

Joan of Arc has been a hero of mine since childhood. Her courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles remains to this day one of the greatest underdog stories in history. This book re-imagines her life, starting from childhood to her tragic end. Terribly well researched, the author worked hard to stay true to fact and historical accounts while streamlining for story's sake. I loved the voice that she created for Joan; her characterization felt every bit like the Joan I've imagined all these years. Passionate and kind, determined and courageous, and at times unsure and afraid, I've never felt the joys and burdens of Joan's destiny quite like this before. For fellow admirers of The Maid or fans of poetry and historical fiction, this one's for you.

MW

Waiting for Tom Hanks

Waiting for Tom Hanks
By Kerry Winfrey
Berkley, 2019. 288 pages. Fiction

Annie Cassidy grew up watching all the Nora Ephron classics like Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and You've Got Mail, among dozens of other classic 90's romantic comedies.  After a lifetime of being enamored with on-screen sweethearts, she can't help but dream of finding her own Tom Hanks, complete with charming houseboat.  When her job on the set of a movie filming in her hometown throws her into the path of lead actor Drew Danforth, she can't believe how un-Tom-Hanks-like he is: a prankster who doesn't take anything seriously. But the way she keeps bumping into him (sometimes literally) reminds her a lot of those classic rom coms she grew up watching with her mom.  Surely he can't be her Tom Hanks?

This is a light read especially good for fans of rom coms like While You Were Sleeping, or those who wax nostalgic about 90s comedies in general.  Some of the conflict here may be contrived, some of the plot may be predictable, some of the characters may be one-dimensional, but what good rom com doesn't have any of those things?  Read this for the fun, but maybe head for other waters if you're wanting something with a bit more depth.

BHG

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Toll

The Toll
By Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 625 pgs. Young Adult

This is the third book in the Arc of the Scythe series. It is really hard to review this book without giving away spoilers for the first two books in the series. I can't share as much as I would like in this review.

The Toll starts off three years after the cliff hanger conclusion of Thunderhead. The Thunderhead has always been silent to the Scythes but after the events at the end of the last book, the Thunderhead is silent for everyone else in the world as the ultimate punishment. It still runs the world and keeps everyone alive but people are lost without the compassionate friend and confidant that the Thunderhead has played in their lives. The only person the Thunderhead will communicate with is Greyson Tollivar. He is placed in the strange situation of people turning to him for comfort and guidance as the mouthpiece for the Thunderhead.

Goddard is back and is focused on world domination. He is the ultimate bully and no one dares stand up to him. Meanwhile a salvage captain named Jerico finds more in the wreckage of Endura than he expected and sets the world on a path that will change humankind forever.

I have to admit that this book was probably my least favorite of the three. I felt like there was a lot of  extra commentary on organized religion, propaganda, fear mongering, political issues and gender identity. It did make me stop, as a reader, and think about a lot of things that are going on in our world today. My biggest complaint is that this book felt long. It didn't hold my interest like the first two books. I still finished to find out what happened to all the characters but I felt an overall sense of disappointment that this didn't live up to my expectations for the series.

AL

Friday, February 21, 2020

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years

Cover image for Home work: a memoir of my Hollywood years
Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years
by Julie Andrews
Hachette, 2019, 340 pages, Biography

In her second memoir, Julie Andrews reflects on her career in Hollywood, from her first film, Mary Poppins, in the early 1960s, to the early 1980s. She covers the struggles of balancing work and family life, the help and support that come from therapy sessions, her marriage to director Blake Edwards, her unexpected career as an author, and other interesting turns her life took as she toured the world singing.

Fans of Julie Andrews will love this book about her life, which gives a lot of behind-the-scenes details on the filming of many of her most famous movies. I found myself wanting to throw a Julie Andrews binge-watching party after reading this book.

Told in a conversational style, and compiled with the aid of Andrews’ extensive journals, Andrews also shares personal details that took a lot of courage to share. Although Andrews has a reputation of being classy and charming, she dealt with some really hard things that made me marvel at how she became the lovely person she is. Since this book only covers through the early 1980s, I hope she’s working on publishing a book covering the next chapters of her life soon.

I highly recommend that you listen to the audiobook version of this book, since Julie Andrews reads it herself. She has such a distinctive accent, and I have such fondness for her, that listening to her tell me her life story was absolutely enjoyable.

MB

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London

The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London 
by Christopher Skaife
Straus and Giroux, 2018. 256 pgs. Nonfiction

 Legend has it that if the ravens of the Tower of London ever leave, the Tower will crumble and great harm will befall the kingdom. This mix of history, autobiography, and ornithology is the tale of the Tower ravens, told by the man responsible for their care, Chrstopher Skaife, the current Ravenmaster. Skaife describes life at the Tower (did you know people actually live there?), how he became the Ravenmaster, and especially the behavior of the ravens.

 I loved this book so much! The author narrates the audiobook, and his voice and accent are delightful. I highly recommend listening to the audio version. The way it’s written and narrated feels like sitting around on comfortable furniture after a good meal listening to a storyteller. Plus now I can tell the difference between a raven and a crow without seeing them side by side! This book would be great for anyone interested in history, nature/animal nonfiction, birds, strange jobs, or narrative nonfiction.

ER

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Ninth House

Ninth House
by Leigh Bardugo
Flatiron Books, 2019. Fantasy.

For her entire life, Galaxy "Alex" Stern has been able to see the dead, an ability that lands her acceptance to Yale University and a position with Lethe House. Lethe House has one express purpose, to manage and control the magical rituals of the other house societies. But it's not all pixie dust and wands, these rituals require blood or human capital to work, and Lethe is the only house that makes sure the other houses don't go to far. When a local girl turns up dead, a girl with a connection to one of the houses, Alex can't shake that the feeling that more is going on than just a local drugging getting killed by her boyfriend, so she investigates. What starts with the death of a girl, becomes a journey that helps Alex discover who and what she is, and shows us all how privilege and complacency can influence even those most intelligent and kind person to destroy their moral compass.

For those that like secret societies and magic more aligned with the TV show Supernatural than Harry Potter, this book is for you.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Burdens of a Bachelor

The Burdens of a Bachelor (Arrangement, #5)
By Rebecca Connolly 
Phase Publishing, 2017. 283 pages. Romance

What the eye cannot see...
Colin Gerrard has everything. He is a handsome, charming, and unattached gentleman in possession of a fortune. But what nobody knows, and would never suspect, is that he is not nearly as carefree as he seems, nor is his heart free from anyone's taking. It was already taken long ago, and when his lost love unexpectedly reappears, in London of all places, he very much afraid that she has it. 

...the heart already knows.
Lady Susannah Hawkins-Dean had no intention of ever seeing Colin again after their terrible departure sixteen years ago. She never wanted to see anyone that knew her in the past. There too many secrets, too much shame, and he, of all people, could not know them. But when Colin refuses to leave her in the past, Susannah finds that she is just as in love with him as she ever was, and it could ruin them both. 

This book was so much fun to read. It moved at a great pace and there were new turns that made it so I didn't want to put it down. This is the fifth book in Rebecca Connolly's Arrangement series but you do not need to read them in order to fall in love with the characters and to understand their story. If you are looking for a sweet romance book that is clean and you are fan of Sarah M. Eden or Julianne Donaldson this book is for you.

ME


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A Pursuit of Home

A Pursuit of Home 
By Kristi Ann Hunter
Bethany House, 2019. 380 pgs. Historical Romance

For most of her life Jess Beauchene has been hiding and always on the move in order to escape her past. When she learns that there might be a member of her family still alive, after believing them dead for years, she knows that it is time to try to solve the secret of an old family diary entrusted to her. She can't do it on her own and is forced to ask for help from the one man she can't stand. Derek Thornbury is an expert in history and artifacts. He is shocked when Jess asks for his help but he can't resist the puzzle of the diary. Jess and Derek put their lives on the line as they race to find the hidden artifacts before her family's enemies do. Jess may be the only one to save the nation her family was forced to flee before they were murdered.

This is the third book in the Haven Manor series. Jess has always been the quiet but determined cook in the first two novels but his book really explores her traumatic past and the reasons she has had to learn to defend herself and the people she loves. I really enjoyed the mystery and adventure of this novel. Jess and Derek couldn't be more different but they end up being perfect for each other.

AL

Serving Up Love: A Harvey House Brides Collection

Serving Up Love: A Harvey House Brides Collection
By Tracie Peterson, Karen Witemeyer, Regina Jennings, Jen Turano
Bethany House, 2019. 371 pgs. Historical Romance

This was a fun collection of short stories about Harvey House Restaurants. I had never heard of the Harvey House before. It was one of the first restaurant chains that catered to people who traveled by train on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The restaurants had a very high level of service and quality of food that could be expected at each meal stop. They were very successful in the late 1800's and early 1900's and the waitresses became known as the Harvey girls.

Each story in this collection tells of a different Harvey girl finding love. They were each unique enough to be interesting but they all had the common theme of taking place in a Harvey House. I loved the details of the food and service. It made me wish that I could travel by train and experience a Harvey House. They had the service down to an art so they could get the customers in and out in 20 minutes. This collection of short stories will appeal to readers of inspirational historical romance or historical fiction.

AL

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Because Internet

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language
By Gretchen McCullouch
Riverhead Books, 2019. 326 pages. Nonfiction

It shouldn't be a shock to you, as you read a book review on a blog, that the Internet has changed the way we speak. In fact, thanks in part to the Internet, the English language is changing faster and in more interesting ways than ever before. Different platforms structure how we talk on the Internet, from the grammar of Facebook status updates to the unspoken rules about #hashtags and @replies. Social media is a vast collection of unedited, unfiltered words where we can watch language evolve in real time.

This book is a great read for anyone who's wondered how to punctuate a text message or questioned where memes come from. As an internet linguist, McCulloch explores the forces behind the Internet-influenced patterns in language: how does your first social internet experience influence whether you prefer "LOL" or "lol"? Why have ~sparkly tildes~ succeeded in conveying sarcasm or irony, where centuries of proposed punctuation have failed? She links emoji with physical gestures and explains how the disarrayed language of animal memes (like teh lolcats and doggo) made them more likely to spread. This delightful book explains how the Internet is changing the way we communicate, why that's a good thing, and what our online interactions can reveal about who we are.

DT

In Waves

In Waves
By AJ Dungo
Nobrow, 2019. 368 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction Comics

“Surfers have always found solace in the waves.” Through a series of alternating chapters, the author explores the beginnings of surfing in the modern age and details the loss of a loved one. The historical chapters are in a sepia tone and focus on two of the most important men in surfing history and how they introduced and revolutionized the sport. The biographical chapters share the story of the author and his partner, Kristen, as they share a love of surfing and the many trials that Kristen faces.

This is a beautiful, moving, and intriguing memoir. I enjoyed the information about the history of surfing and learning about two surfers who were inspiring. There were several parts that had a big emotional impact as Kristen is battling cancer. The connection that the author draws between grief and surfing is unique and tugged at my heartstrings. Her final wish was that their story live on through his art, and this is a beautiful fulfillment of that wish. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys graphic nonfiction, biographies, or simple but beautiful love stories.

TT

Friday, January 31, 2020

Queen of the Sea

Queen of the Sea
by Dylan Meconis
Walker Books, 2019. 400 pages. Young Adult

Margaret has lived at the quiet island convent her entire life, brought there as a baby, an orphan. Hers and the nuns' life is upended one day by the arrival of a mysterious new resident, accompanied by guards. Margaret learns that she is Queen Eleanor, banished to the island by her sister who usurped the throne. The discovery leads Margaret to the truth about the island, its secrets, and the truth of her own past.

 This graphic novel is a window to the past, a dramatic adventure based on Queen Elizabeth I of England's years in exile under the rule of her sister, Queen Mary, against a backdrop of 16th century convent life. Yes, this is a graphic novel - but more like a graphic novel parading as a historical fiction, perfect for readers who are hesitant but ready to dip their toes into the world of graphic novels! Along the with the intrigue, this is a wonderful coming of age story of a girl's first realizations that the world is unfair and sometimes even cruel, and often in unexpected ways. I also loved seeing the historical inspiration come through in the plot, and felt immersed in the 16th century.  I gasped, I cheered, and I was on the edge of my seat and left wanting more! Sadly, I haven't seen any news of a sequel, but fingers crossed!

MW

A River of Royal Blood

A River of Royal Blood
by Amanda Joy
Putnam, 2019. 368 pages. Young Adult

Princesses of Myre don't inherit the throne; they earn it. The line of succession is decided by the Rival Heir tradition, where sister princesses battle to death to earn the right to be True Heir. At her birth, Eva seemed most favored by fate to be the next queen as she was born with magic of Marrow and Blood,  fearsome power last practiced by the legendary Queen Raina. But, in the 200 years since her reign, all knowledge of that magic has been lost, leaving Eva unable to access her power while her sister Isa's magic and influence at court grows ever stronger. The start of Rival Heir battle only weeks away, an assassin's attack leads Eva on a path to embrace her power and unravel the secrets of the past.

Fans of fantasy, especially the CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, THREE DARK CROWNS, and even GAME OF THRONES series will love this new series. Set in a North African-inspired world, this isn't just a sibling rivalry story; Eva's journey dives deep into the concepts of power, identity, heritage as she unravels truth vs. tradition, confronting hard realities of her family and country's history. "History is a slippery thing," as one of Eva's allies says. Eva is a character you can not just root for, but admire for facing the overwhelming odds against her with deepening wells of inner strength. For a story of self-discovery, political intrigue, fantastic worlds, and reckoning with the sins of the past, look no further!

MW

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Frankly in Love

Frankly in Love
By David Yoon
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. 406 pages. Young Adult

Frank Li is Korean American, trying to live his own life while also meeting the expectations of his parents. When he falls for Brit Means, a smart, beautiful, funny girl, he devises a plan to date her without his racist parents knowing, because Brit is white. With the help of one of his best Korean friends, Joy Song, Frank dates Brit under the guise of dating Joy, thrilling both sets of parents with such an excellent match. However, “dating” Joy leaves Frank wondering if he ever really understood love and relationships at all.

This is cute contemporary rom-com that, while it was easy to guess how things would turn out, was still an enjoyable read. The complex family relationships and struggle to bridge multiple cultures was well done. Yoon used a lot of his own experiences growing up to inform his writing, making it feel realistic and authentic. Fans of TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE and I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE will find a lot to love here.

 ACS

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Allegedly

Allegedly
By Tiffany D. Jackson
Katherine Tegen Books, 2017. 387 pages. Young Adult

When Mary was nine, she killed a baby. Allegedly. After spending six years in “baby jail,” she’s now a teenager living in a group home, getting bullied and abused by the other girls and the women who work there. Her one solace is spending time with Ted as they volunteer. When Mary gets pregnant, she decides she wants a better life for her baby, which means she needs to make a better life for herself. She starts studying for the SAT and contacts a lawyer to work toward clearing her name. However, her freedom relies on her manipulative and self-centered mother telling the truth.

 This is a dark and gritty book, highlighting flaws in the criminal justice system, and the ways social services can fall apart. The challenges and abuses Mary faces are disturbing and heart breaking. She’s a fascinating character and my heart hurt for her. The story was compelling, Mary has a wonderfully distinct voice, but the ending fell short for me. That said, I still really enjoyed this book. It sparks some important questions and was quite thought provoking.

 ACS

Don't You Forget About Me

Don't You Forget About Me
by Mhairi McFarlane
William Morrow Paperbacks, 2019. 430 pages. Fiction

Georgina is approaching thirty, but her life still hasn't taken off.  She has been flitting from one job to the next and has never found a guy worth sticking with... well, not since her high school days when an "old flame" of hers was more like a roaring fire.  But since then she has been striking out, especially with her latest boyfriend, whom she discovers in bed with another woman only hours after Georgina was fired from her latest waitressing job.  When she gets a job offer from a new, trendy bar in town, she is mortified to see that her "old flame" is the co-owner, and he doesn't seem to remember her at all.  But Georgina is determined to make the best of the new job and dedicate her off-hours pursuing a passion for writing that she's been putting off for years.

This book is much less about romance and much more about Georgina as a character, and her struggle with internal (and some external) demons from her past.  Before her life can move forward, she must grapple with experiences which are only revealed slowly through the course of the book, but as she begins to address them, she begins to find a way forward with her life.  Seeing Georgina grow made for a fulfilling read, and almost made up for the fact that I got the Simple Minds song in my head every time I looked at this cover!

BHG

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Mother's Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother

Mother's Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother
by Rachel Hunt Steenblik
Salt Lake City, UT : BCC press, [2017]. 177 pages. Nonfiction.
In this warm new collection of poems, Rachel Hunt Steenblik (Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings) explores the deep, human longing for a divine mother that many dream of knowing.
I really didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book. I was curious, and being a new mother myself wanted to read something about mothers and motherhood. This book struck a chord within me that no other book has ever reached before. These thoughts, ideas, and words on a Heavenly Mother feel so familiar and intimate, especially because I am a mother. I would recommend this book to mothers and those who are interested in learning more about Heavenly Mother in Latter-day Saint doctrine. 

NS

Love from A to Z


Love from A to Z
by S.K Ali
Salaam Reads, 2019. 342 pages, Young Adult Fiction.

Zayneb, a fiery and passionate girl with an activist heart, and Adam, a sensitive and introspective boy, both find themselves spending their vacations in Doha, Qatar at the same time. Through some serendipitous meet-cute scenarios, the two continue to cross paths and decide that, though they are both dealing with some issues in their personal lives, that doesn’t mean that love can't also factor in.

A refreshing and original love story about two Muslim teens who court one another while adhering to their cultural and religious norms. I learned a lot about what that entails, loved being immersed in their world, and seeing Doha through their eyes. I also appreciated reading a YA book where the characters are not at odds with their parents, but where all family relations appeared loving and supportive through life's struggles as teen learn to navigate the world around them. A very sweet and clean read for fans of YA romance.

RC

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Slave Stealers: true accounts of slave rescues then and now

Slave Stealers: true accounts of slave rescues then and now
By Timothy Ballard
Shadow Mountain, 2018. 254 pages. Nonfiction

Although they have lived centuries apart, two stories come together about fighting the evils of slavery and sex trafficking. Told in alternating chapters are the stories of Harriet Jacobs, a brave African-American Woman born into slavery in North Carolina in 1813, and Timothy Ballard, a former special agent for the Department of Homeland Security and now the founder of the modern "underground railroad", an organization called Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R). Ballard tells the story of how Harriett never lost faith or courage to win her freedom and how her example has provided the blueprint he needed to start O.U.R and save the slaves in the modern world.

This is a wonderful book that I highly recommend to everyone. Timothy Ballard does a wonderful job in the writing and weaving stories together. It gets you hooked and you don't want to put the book down. He shines a light into the darkest part of American History at the same time opening the world's eyes to the biggest evils committed today. It goes beyond race, culture, and religion to show the brave men and women, both past and present, standing up for what is right and who serve their fellow man. Despite the darkness that is human trafficking and the slave trade, the book offers hope and inspires an individual to get involved and help those that are in need, especially those in dire circumstances.

ME

Sick Kids in Love

Sick Kids in Love 
by Hannah Moskowitz
Entangled Teen, 2019. 317 pages. Young Adult

Isabel is sick. But she’s not the kind of sick that is obvious. She still goes to school. She volunteers at her dad’s hospital. She also writes an advice column for her school. She also just happens to have Rheumatoid Arthritis. Then she meets Sasha, a totally cute, and totally sick boy. He also has an invisible chronic illness, Gaucher disease. He seems to understand her better than her healthy friends. He gets it when she has to cancel plans; he understands the feeling of being different. Isabel is totally into Sasha. The only problem is that she has this rule. This no dating rule. She made it before she met Sasha. She made it to protect people from herself. But now she has Sasha in her life and breaking her one rule seems more than possible, it seems inevitable.

This book has a cute love story, but it is so much more than that. It has great representation. Sasha and Isabel have invisible illnesses, but they are characterized as more than just their physical and mental states. Both have deep family issues to deal with while navigating a new relationship. They also have to deal with friends who don't understand, school, and all the pressures of trying to get into a good school for college, all while dealing with chronic pain and tiredness. The issues that teens go through are tenderly portrayed without being too Mary Sue. This book is recommended as part of a growing genre of Sick Kid Lit that includes John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything, and Jesse Andrews’s Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl.

AGP

Thursday, January 16, 2020

White Rose


White Rose
by Kip Wilson
Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 358 pages, Young Adult.

German Sophie Scholl isn’t happy about the ways her country is changing on the brink of war. She sees her brothers and friends enlist and fight, but she doesn’t understand or support what is tearing her nation apart and feels there must be something she can do to lift her voice against the injustices happening around her. When she finds a secret resistance group who take up letter writing campaigns criticizing the Nazis and calling for action against them, she knows this is something she needs to be involved with, no matter the consequences.

A novel in verse, White Rose is a captivating and unique historical fiction about a real, lesser known resistance group during World War II. This book, about a brave group who stood up for their beliefs against a tyrannical government, is a timely reminder that injustice doesn’t have to be accepted silently, and that even the smallest of us can use our voices for change.


RC

The Art of Being Normal

The Art of Being Normal
By Lisa Williamson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. 334 pages. Young Adult

David Piper has always been an outsider with a big secret: since he was a child, David has wanted to be a girl. New student Leo Denton has a secret of his own, and his goal of keeping a low profile starts to go south when he attracts the attention of the most beautiful girl in his class. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But when David's secret gets out, things get very complicated for both of them. David struggles to find support as he prepares to come out and transition: to find a new name and begin living a truth that has been kept secret for too long.

I would highly recommend this uplifting coming-of-age novel to cisgender readers -- people who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth -- who want to learn more about gender identity and what it means to be transgender, as well as the unique challenges placed before trans youth. Williamson doesn't sugarcoat the harsh realities of being a trans teen, including internalized transphobia. However, the overall message is one of hope, with the feeling that even if you can’t get everything you want, you can get what you need.

DT

Horrorstör

Horrorstör
By Grady Hendrix
Quirk Books, 2014. 243 pages. Horror

Weird things are happening at the Cleveland branch of Orsk, a fictional budget version of IKEA. Employees find damaged and destroyed items, but security footage reveals nothing out of the ordinary. With sales falling and managers panicking, three employees volunteer to work a dusk-till-dawn shift in hopes of catching the perpetrator. But their patrols in the dead of night reveal strange sights and sounds, and horrors that defy the imagination.

This book is formatted like a mail order catalog, including product illustrations and a home delivery form, which adds to the charm. Hendrix breaks the mold of the decaying, overgrown, crumbling haunted house and recasts it in a clean, brightly-lit, soulless contemporary setting. The fast pace of this story keeps you on the edge of your seat and keeps the pages turning quickly. Bear in mind -- this book can get a bit gruesome, and it's not for the squeamish.

DT

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Wonder Woman: Warbringer 
By Leigh Bardugo
DC Comics, 2020. 208 pgs. Young Adult Comics

Themyscira is home to the Amazons, a group of women earned their place on the island while mortal warriors and who bear the duty of protecting peace. All except Diana, who despite being the daughter of the Queen, was fashioned from clay on the island. She longs to prove herself, but when she rescues Alia, a mortal, she might be risking everything. Diana just wants to get her home, but soon learns that Alia is a Warbringer, descendant of Helen of Troy, and destined to usher in an age of war and destruction.

This was a fantastic graphic novel adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer. Because so much of the story is told through graphics, I felt that the story went much faster and was more exciting and action-packed. The characters are diverse, richly detailed, and interesting with struggles that are authentic and relatable. The story is about finding your place in the world amidst trials and challenges, and relying on your friendships during those times. This is a great graphic novel and I would suggest it for anyone who likes superheroes, strong female characters, or a good friendship story.

TT

This Is How You Lose the Time War

Cover image for This is how you lose the time war
This Is How You Lose the Time War
by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Saga Press, 2019, 198 pages, Science Fiction

Red and Blue are highly skilled time travel agents who represent opposing sides of a war that’s been waging for millennia. Their job is to alter both the past and the future in order to stop the opposing side from gaining access to technology that will help them win the war. When Blue leaves an intriguing note for Red with the intention of playing mind games, Red answers back in kind. So begins a correspondence between enemies that slowly morphs into something more. If Red and Blue’s secret friendship is discovered, it could mean death for them both.

This epistolary novel is a quick read, but the relationship between Red and Blue still grows slowly and organically. Red and Blue bond over discussions of their favorite time periods and comparisons of different timeline versions of world leaders. Soon they start revealing secrets they wouldn’t tell to anyone else, all while burying their letters from prying eyes in things like the pattern of a seal’s fur and in the taste of an apple seed. Although the story unwinds slowly, the conclusion is desperate and fast-paced as both Red and Blue frantically try to protect the other from the wrath of their respective leaders.

El-Mohtar and Gladstone have created a beautifully written novel that will stick with me for some time. Although this is science fiction, those who enjoy literary fiction will find a lot to like here as well.

MB

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan 
by Jenny Nordberg 
Crown Publishers, 2014. 350 pgs. Nonfiction

 Journalist Jenny Nordberg investigates a little known practice in Afghanistan of bacha posh, or presenting a girl child as a boy, usually until just before puberty. To the Western world, this practice seems bizarre, but within the cultural context of highly patriarchal Afghanistan it makes sense to Afghans. In Afghanistan, even a pretend son is better than no son at all. But why is this a practice in Afghan culture? What happens to these girls when they approach puberty and need to transition to acting like a girl? Nordberg finds answers to these questions and more in this fascinating examination of present day Afghanistan.

 The information presented here is fascinating by itself, but what really makes this book excellent and engaging is the narrative-styled presentation. It's not a report, we as readers get to travel with the author on her journey of discovery and I love that style of nonfiction. I think anyone could enjoy this book, but I would especially recommend it to someone interested in women or gender studies, or those looking for a close-up view of a culture different than their own.

ER

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Exhalation

Exhalation
by Ted Chiang
Alfred A. Knopf, 2019, 350 pages, Science Fiction

This fascinating collection of science fiction short stories tackles questions such as, what is the nature of the universe? what does it mean to be human? and what would you do if you could travel through time? In the titular story, an alien learns grave news that will affect the outcome of his people. In another, a woman with a robotic pet debates about the characteristics that make someone human. In yet another, people confront moral dilemmas when they get the opportunity to speak to other versions of themselves in different timelines.

I’m not a big fan of science fiction or of short stories, but this collection had me hooked. Each story went in directions I didn’t anticipate, and asked questions I didn’t expect to confront in such engaging stories. The characters in each of Chiang’s stories are interesting and sympathetic, and they have multiple layers. It wasn’t until after I’d read these stories that I learned a different short story of Chiang’s was the inspiration of the movie Arrival, but it definitely makes sense. Beautifully written and captivating, this is a great book for those who like reading fiction that ponders deep questions in an approachable manner.

MB

Monday, January 6, 2020

Entertaining with Disney: Exceptional Events from Mickey Mouse to Moana!

Entertaining with Disney: Exceptional Events from Mickey Mouse to Moana! 
By Amy Croushorn
Insight Editions, 2019. 189 pgs. Nonfiction

Do you love all things Disney? Would your sister be thrilled with a Lion King baby shower? Then this might be the perfect book for you. Create magical and memorable events ranging from Halloween pumpkin carving, elegant dinner parties, and fun birthday gatherings. With 11 chapters focused on unique parties based on classic Disney characters, there is something for just about everyone. Each chapter includes three main sections: For the Menu, For the Space, and For Fun, as well as a guide for putting it all together, starting two weeks ahead of the party and ending with the start of the party. With a sophistication and simple elegance, these parties are sure to delight both children and adults. 

With beautiful pictures and fun party ideas, this book is worth a peruse, even if you never plan a party from it. My favorite thing was the customization that is available for each party. It would be easy to switch around characters to fit different needs and use only some of the ideas for a simpler bash. The timeline is great and breaks everything down into manageable steps without feeling overwhelming. I wanted to spend hours just looking at the pictures and finding supplies online. I would suggest this book to anyone who loves Disney, party planning, or wants to add some sophistication to your next gathering.

 TT

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Skyward (Vol. 1): My Low-G Life

Skyward (Vol. 1): My Low-G Life
Author: Joe Henderson, Artist: Lee Garbett, Antonio Fabela
Image Comics, 2018. 136 pages. Graphic Novel

Twenty years after Earth's gravity mysteriously reduced to a fraction of its normal strength, Willa Fowler can't help but love flying. With no gravity to hold her down, Willa flies in, around, and between the skyscrapers of Chicago to deliver messages and other items. But it's not all fun and games, lower gravity has made the sky the most dangerous place in the world. Debris from the initial event liters the sky, making airplanes impossible. Storms make giant balls of water hover in the sky, a trap that anyone can drown in if they aren't careful. For Willa, the dangers are worth it. For her father, not so much. But her father has more than a fear of the sky, he has a secret that goes back to before gravity changed, a secret that will lead to Willa being labeled a terrorist, a folk hero, and an invader. Her father's secret will lead her on an adventure that will make her life look like she'd been doing nothing but floating in place.

For those that like tales of self-discovery with a flavor of science fiction, this book is for you.

-SMM

Skyward

Skyward
Brandon Sanderson
Delecorte Press, 2018. 528 pages. Young Adult.

Spensa has always wanted to be a pilot. On her planet, pilots protect the last of humanity against constant attack, alien star fighters appearing frequently to bomb and destroy whatever Spensa's society has tried to build. Spensa's father was a pilot, and she can't imagine doing anything else. Spensa's father is also known as a traitor. Spensa must navigate her complicated past in order to prove her loyalty to humankind, all the while trying to repair an ancient space ship she finds in a cave. Spensa will find out that her world is far larger and more sinister than a ship in a cave or a society that doesn't want her. In her quest to prove everyone wrong (about both her and her father), she'll discover what really holds humanity to a rocky planet that can barely support life.

Sanderson's newest foray into Young Adult fiction holds true to his style of intricate systems, great characters, and incredibly satisfying twists.

-SMM