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. While Williamson doesn't sugarcoat the harsh realities of being a trans teen, 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