Tuesday, March 2, 2021

A Court of Silver Flames

by Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. 757 pages. Fantasy.

Sarah J. Maas returns to her Court of Thrones and Roses series with a new installment following Feyre's oldest sister, Nesta, and the Night Court General, Cassian. Following the events of the Hybern War, Nesta still hasn't made peace with her new body and new life. Nesta, always quick to anger, turns her hate inward with a deep dive into self-destructive behaviors until her family has had enough. She is forced to train with Cassian, which ignites her anger and the passion she's determined to ignore.

As Nesta fights to find peace despite her hatred, she discovers that the end of the War only brings a different type of battle, and the power to end it lies deep within herself. If only she can find the courage to confront it.

A Court of Silver Flames does not disappoint and fits perfectly with the story and characters the author developed previously. Nesta and Cassian's story is filled with emotional tension, ethical dilemma, and steamy romance. With masterful narration and action, this book is a fun read and impossible to put down.

AS

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Best-Laid Plans

The Best-Laid Plans
by Sarah M. Eden 
Covenant Communications, 2021. 134 pages. Romance 

Newton Hughes has long dreamed of pursuing a career in law, an acceptable choice for a gentleman of status and wealth. His parents, however, disapprove of his ambition, urging him instead to take his rightful place as a gentleman of leisure—with a suitable wife of their choosing, of course. 

 Ellie Napper would like nothing more than for her parents to abandon their incessant efforts to marry her off to the greatest possible advantage. Her lack of matrimonial enthusiasm drives her family mad, but she refuses to feign frivolity in order to make herself more palatable to potential suitors. When Ellie and Newton are introduced through their mutual acquaintance, Charlie Jonquil, they commiserate over their shared plight. In desperation, they hatch a plan: Ellie and Newton will feign an interest in each other—enough to convince their parents not to push them toward unwanted matches but not enough to cause whispers or expectations. Their plot quickly spirals out of control, but the greatest complication is the one they didn't see coming: their plan never included falling in love. 

This is the perfect book to read if you are a fan of Sarah Eden’s Lancaster and Jonquil series. It introduces new characters that will lead into a new series of books and the romance is so sweet and simple. The story has a Cinderella quality and is fast paced and keeps you glued to the pages. It is a short book so perfect for those searching for a quick and fun read. If you have not read any of Eden’s books you don’t to read them in order to understand and enjoy this book. 

 ME

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Knitting the Galaxy

by Tanis Gray 
Insight Editions, 2021. 207 pgs. Nonfiction 

Tanis Gray and Insight Editions have done it again. In this first official Star Wars knitting pattern book, there are 28 beautiful patterns based on and inspired by the Skywalker Saga films. Projects are divided into four sections: toys, costume replicas, inspiring apparel, and home décor. In addition to the full color patterns, there are photos and behind-the-scenes information from the Star Wars films. A wide variety of techniques are used, including cabling, double knitting, beading, and stranded colorwork in a range of sizes and difficulties. 

This is a fun, beautiful, and creative book with a variety of projects. One of the biggest additions to this title is the costume replica section. It was difficult to pick just a few projects that were my favorites, but I love the “Rebel Alliance Shawl” for its subtlety and the “Yoda Mittens” and “Wookiee Socks” for their playfulness. The colors and photographs are beautiful for each project and evoke the magic and wonder of the Star Wars galaxy. 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 Star Wars lovers and simply beautiful to browse through. 

TT

How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time
By Matt Haig
Penguin Group, 2019. 352 pgs. Sci-Fi

Tom Hazard looks like an ordinary 41-year-old man, but due to a rare genetic condition, he's actually over 400 years old.  He has recently moved back to London to begin teaching history, but London hides memories around every corner, some centuries old.  Tom keeps his condition a secret, which isolates him from everyone except the Albatross Society, a small and secretive group of people who, like Tom, age slowly over centuries.  The Society has one rule: never fall in love, as forming attachments leads to trouble.  But for the first time in centuries, Tom is captivated by a woman, the school's French teacher.  The only way to keep her safe is to stay away from her, but Tom is finding that more and more difficult.

This book bridges the gaps between several literary genres: science fiction, romance, and historical fiction.  Tom's present-day story is interspersed with glimpses of his life through the centuries.  Some cameos from famous historical figures enliven the text, but the observations about the changes in society over time and the nature of time itself offered some of the most interesting moments of the book.

BHG

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Pan’s Labyrinth


Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun
By Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke
Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 256 pages. Young Adult 

Ofelia and her pregnant mother go to live with her new stepfather in a remote forest in Spain, where he is trying to flush out a group of rebels. Upon arrival, Ofelia discovers there are various magical beings in the area, and finds the entrance to a nearby labyrinth. Her arrival awakens a faun who has been searching for the lost Princess Moanna, the daughter of the king of the underworld. He believes Ofelia is the princess, and has her engage in a series of tests to prove her identity. All the while, Ofelia’s mother becomes increasingly sick, and her stepfather shows himself to be an uncaring and harsh man. Ofelia’s only hope to get away from the chaos of her surroundings is to prove her identity and claim her rightful place on the throne. 

This is the novelization of Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s been several years since I’ve seen the film, but it felt like the novel followed it quite faithfully. That said, it provided a somewhat different experience being directly inside of Ofelia’s head, such as when she justified the eating of food in the lair of the Pale Man. The world building is fantastic, layering fantasy on history, and the reimagining of fairy tales. There are a lot of layers that can be explored and considered, which is why, despite the fact that I had to take breaks because it was so emotionally visceral, I really liked it. If you like dark-fantasy/horror, this is definitely one to pick up, especially if you’d prefer to get the story without watching the movie. 

ACS

Monday, February 8, 2021

As Old as Time

 


As Old as Time
 by Liz Braswell 
Disney Press, 2016, 484 pages, Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy 

 What if it was Belle’s mother that curse the Beast? Following the storyline of the beginning of the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, readers also get alternating chapters of the story of Belle’s parents. Until the story diverges from the movie when Belle touches the Beast’s enchanted rose and is flooded with her mother’s memories, who is in fact the beautiful enchantress that cursed the Beast and the castle. With the time to save the castle inhabitants from the curse quickly dwindling, Belle and the Beast must quickly unravel a dark mystery that began 21 years ago or the Beast and his household will be lost forever. 

 Part of a series that reimagines classic Disney tales, this book is actually a stand-alone novel. I like that this book took Disney’s Beauty and the Beast story and added substantial depth to the original characters and their backstories, especially Belle’s mothers since mothers are notoriously missing from many Disney classics. Most Disney fans will appreciate this retelling, as well as readers of Young Adult fiction interested in fantasy. 

 ER

Friday, February 5, 2021

The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett
Riverhead Books, 2020, 343 pages, Historical Fiction

Chafing at the confines of growing up in the small black community of Mallard, Louisiana, in the 1950s, the identical Vignes sisters, Stella and Desiree, decide to run away together and make a new life for themselves in New Orleans. Ten years later, Desiree lives back in Mallard with her mother and her daughter, Jude. Stella has cut all ties with her former self, and secretly passes for white, living in Los Angeles with her white husband and blonde daughter, Kennedy. When Jude and Kennedy cross paths in the 1990s, Stella and Desiree are forced to examine the decisions that led them down such diverse paths.

At its surface, The Vanishing Half is an exploration of the idea of “passing” as one race when you identify as another. But at its heart, this book is about the relationships of parents and siblings, and a discussion of how you define your family. It’s also about the ways we change ourselves in order to make sense of our place in the world. These are tough topics to cover in one book, but Bennett covers each story delicately and with great balance, so that the stories of the past and the future, although entwined together, shine evenly.

Although these books don’t also explore the idea of Passing, readers who appreciate The Vanishing Half may also enjoy reading other contemporary fiction about the black experience, such as Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

MB

Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age
by Kiley Reid
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019, 310 pages, General Fiction

When a late-night grocery store run leads to being accused of kidnapping the white toddler she nannies, black, 25 year-old Emira Tucker just wants to put the incident behind her. But Alix, the toddler’s mother, is more surprised by the events. As a white Instagram influencer who has built her name into a thriving business, Alix hasn’t encountered hurdles like this one before. Alix becomes a bit obsessed with Emira, trying to figure out how much the experience has affected her, and if there’s anything Alix can to do to ensure that she keeps her part-time nanny. When video of the fateful day brings Emira in contact with someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves forced to confront problems that they’ve been avoiding for far too long.

Although the main premise of this book is centered on one fateful trip to the grocery store, this book is really character-driven. It’s seeing how those involved in the incident react that drives the story forward. Reid gives each character a unique voice and perspective that makes each character feel fully fleshed-out.  This helps you see each characters' motivations and makes you wonder what your own reaction would be. 

In the end, this is a book driven by the juxtaposition of racism and white privilege, but it’s also about the pros and cons of social media, and about friendship, relationships, the perils of adulthood, standing up for yourself, and standing up for others.

MB

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Shadows Between Us

The Shadows Between Us
by Tricia Levenseller
Feiwel and Friends, 2020. 326 pages. Young Adult

Eighteen-year-old Alessandra Stathos, the second daughter of a minor nobleman, is tired of being overlooked and has a plan. 1) woo the Shadow King. 2) Marry him. 3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself. Sounds simple Enough. But she is not the only one in the castle who is trying to kill him. She needs to keep him alive long enough to become queen all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

This book was such a fun way to start the year. It was so different to have the main characters so ruthless and cunning and I loved it. The chemistry between Alessandra and the Shadow King was intoxicating and their interactions with each other were hilarious. Alessandra is a woman who knows who she is, what she likes, and what she wants and she doesn’t apologize for it. I listened to the audiobook version and the narrator did a wonderful job differentiating the characters and putting ream emotion into the words. The story came alive more due to the excellent narration. If you are a fan of Sarah J. Maas’s series, Throne of Glass you will enjoy this because it has a similar writing style and characters. 


 ME

Tweet Cute

Tweet Cute
by Emma Lord
Wednesday Books, 2020. 361 pages. Young Adult Fiction

 Pepper has a lot on her plate; she is a straight-A student, the captain of the swim team, and the secret weapon of the Big League Burger Twitter account. It doesn’t matter that her mother has people to do social media for her, Pepper always seems to get roped in. Then there is Jack: twin, class clown, and yet the dependable son who is always working the counter at the family restaurant, Girl Cheesing. When Big League Burger appears to have stolen one of Jack’s grandmother’s grilled cheese recipes, he strikes back at Big League Burger on Twitter, which leads to an all-out viral war.  Some of the major consequences of this war are Girl Cheesing gets more followers and customers and Big League takes a big hit in authenticity. All the while Jack and Pepper are fighting tooth and nail over Twitter, they also happen to be anonymously falling for each other on a social app that Jack created. The usual awkwardness ensues. As their relationship gets more serious IRL, Jack and Pepper must both decide what they really want.

This book is just what it looks like, a warm and fuzzy teenage romantic comedy with just enough parental and school drama to keep it from being too frothy. The writing is witty, the action is fast paced, and the laughs are many. In fact, you might want to be careful where you are reading this book, because I guarantee you will belly laugh several times. This is Lord’s debut and I foresee it becoming a classic in the genre. Her second novel, You Have a Match, just came out and I am super excited to read it.

AGP

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power

Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power 
by Pam Grossman Gallery Books, 2019. 288 pages. Nonfiction 

“Show me your witches, and I’ll show you your feelings about women.” 

This sentence from the introduction is the premise of Pam Grossman’s informative and illuminating celebration of witches. Grossman, a self-proclaimed witch herself and the host of the “The Witch Wave” podcast, takes the reader on a journey through history, mythology, art, and pop culture. She discusses the infamous witch hunts of Europe, pop culture witches like Sabrina and Hermione, and literary witches like Circe and The Witch of Endor. 

With each passage, Grossman deftly describes the direct correlation between persecution and the fear of female power. She invites the reader to think of the witch archetype and how it reflects society’s views on women. The witch is independent, she is powerful, and she is a force to be reckoned with. You don't have to be a believer in magic and witches to appreciate this book, as there is enough journalism and broad appeal to make this an informative read for those interested in history. This entertaining and fascinating read is sure to become a feminist classic.

ALL

Monday, February 1, 2021

Hench

Hench
by Natalie Zina Walschots
William Morrow, 2020. 403 pages. Science Fiction.

Anna has a boring job in an exciting industry. She's a data analyst by trade, but she uses that skill set as a hench. In other words, she works as a data scientist for supervillains. After receiving a traumatic injury from a superhero trying to stop her supervillain boss, Anna discovers that by the numbers, superheroes cause more loss of life than even natural disasters. Using her skills, and with the resources of a mysterious supervillain named Leviathan, Anna proves that you don't need superpowers to stand up to those in power. All you need is some clever math, a little social engineering, a well-designed spreadsheet, and a passion (or hatred) strong enough to overcome any obstacle that might get in your way. 

Hench is a very clever take on the superhero/supervillain genre of stories. Much in the vein of Marissa Meyer's Renegades or Victoria Schwab's Vicious, Walschots uses the traditional black and white fight between good and evil represented in most superhero media projects, throws it into a bucket of grey, and then uses the result to present an interesting commentary on the adage "absolute power corrupts absolutely." For those looking for superhero stories that go against the grain found in the MCU and DCEU, this book is exactly what you're looking for.


Thursday, January 28, 2021

Year of Yes


Year of Yes 
By Shonda Rhimes
Simon & Schuster, 2015. 311 pgs. Nonfiction

Shonda Rhimes is the creator of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal". In this book she tells about the year she realized she was saying "no" to almost everything in her life. She hadn't really realized how unhappy she was. She decided that for one year she would say yes to opportunities that presented themselves. She didn't fully anticipate the far reaching effect this decision would have on her life and how the momentum of a few "yes's" would carry over into other areas of her life. She also talked about how some of the experiences terrified her to death, but she went through with it anyway and was glad that she did. 

This was a great book to read at the beginning of a new year. I have to be honest and say that I've never watched any of the shows Shonda Rhimes created, but it was fun to hear some of the behind the scenes details. I listened to this book on Libby and it felt like I was sitting down with a friend for some helpful advice. I also enjoyed that she shared the actual audio of some of the speeches she gave. The way she writes, and repeats certain phrases, probably would have bothered me if I was trying to read the physical book so I'm glad I listened to it. This book encouraged me to evaluate my own life and see if there are some areas that I could start saying "Yes" more often.  

AL




Friday, January 22, 2021

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel 
by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff 
Atheneum, 2020. 208 pgs. Young Adult Graphic Novels 

Will’s older brother, Shawn, has just been shot and his grief might overwhelm him. But, in Will’s neighborhood, there are THE RULES: No. 1: Crying. Don’t. No matter what. No. 2: Snitching. Don’t. No matter what. No. 3: Revenge. Do. No matter what. The morning following his brother’s murder, Will is on his way to get revenge on the person he thinks killed his brother when a 60-second elevator ride changes his life. He is reminded that bullets can miss. They can hit the wrong person. You can get the wrong guy. And there is always someone else who knows to follow the rules. 

This is a heart-wrenching story about one boy’s struggle to come to terms with his brother’s death and how he’s been taught to react a certain way. Much of the lyrical language from the original book is present, although it has been edited to fit the graphic style. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, with an incredible lever of detail, and the use of watercolors conveys the mood and setting perfectly. This is a deeply-moving tale about teen gun violence, and will appeal to both new readers and Reynolds’ fans. This is more than a simple retelling, but is a poignant adaptation that stands on its own. 

TT

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

You Are Not So Smart

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself
By David McRaney
Gotham Books, 2011. 302 pages. Nonfiction

McRaney uses studies and research to illustrate ways that we as humans can be not so smart sometimes.  There are a great many logical fallacies and failures of reasoning pointed out here, all things that even the best of us fall victim to from time to time.  This is an interesting study of human behavior and a humorous ego check to boot.  Recommended for fans of popular science and humor.

BHG

Blood Countess

Blood Countess
By Lana Popovic
Harry N. Abrams, 2020. 293 pages. Young Adult

Anna is intelligent, driven, and struggling to figure out her place in the world with limited options. After a chance meeting, Anna catches the attention of the young Countess Elizabeth Báthory, an incredible opportunity for Anna to provide for her struggling family. Anna is drawn to the charismatic Elizabeth, who seems a kindred spirit who is just as invested in their friendship despite their differences in fortune and class. But the outwardly-charming countess is hiding a dark side, and her friendship comes at a high cost. Alone and trapped, Anna tries to mitigate Elizabeth's abuses and rationalize away her violent whims, but can she see Elizabeth for what she truly is before it's too late?

You've probably heard of Dracula, but less known and far more deadly was the Countess Elizabeth Báthory who lived in Hungary in the late 16th century, sometimes called Countess Dracula or Blood Countess. While the exact number of her victims is unknown, she is still regarded as the most prolific female murder - to this day. This atmospheric and spellbinding historical fiction-horror gives readers a front-row seat to her dark deeds through the eyes of Anna, a teenage village midwife. Horror abounds; Elizabeth's sadistic disregard for human life is enough to chill you to the bone, but the subtlety with which she manipulates and traps Anna in a toxic and domineering "friendship" is the stuff of nightmares. While more seasoned horror or crime thriller fans might find this book a bit tame, readers wary of guts and gore will likely find it enough without being too much.

MW

The Weight of Ink

The Weight of Ink
by Rachel Kadish
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 561 pages. Historical Fiction

When a soon-to-be-retired university professor in London is called to assess a hidden cache of ancient papers, she begins a search to discover the identity of the scribe known only as "Aleph." Blending history and fiction seamlessly between London of the 1660s and the 21st century, the quest to discover who wrote the letters is interspersed with desire and the struggle of mortality across centuries.

The writing is truly phenomenal, which made the frequent switching between voices and time-periods easy to follow without feeling like anything was added just for fluff. All the story and mystery does a lovely job illustrating the struggle of humanizing history, especially when confronted with the distance of time. Contemplative, with a balance between introspective moments and an emotionally driven story, The Weight of Ink builds soul-searching moments into a depth that stayed well after reading the last page.

AS

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Anxious People

by Fredrik Backman
Atria Books, 2020, 341 pages, General Fiction

A bank robber’s escape plan is foiled when he takes the wrong door out of the building, and ends up accidentally holding eight strangers hostage. But when the police finally enter the building, the bank robber has vanished, leaving only a bloodstain on the floor. As the police interview the hostages to get leads on the bank robber’s whereabouts, they become more and more frustrated. It’s hard to figure out what happened when the only witnesses are eight anxious people who had a hard day. 

Fredrik Backman excels at writing stories that are a bit quirky, but that also hit right at the core of common human worries and anxieties. Although all of the characters in this story are more over-the-top than those featured in Backman’s other books, they all have moments when their true fears and desires are revealed. Personally, I loved this mixture of absurdity and heart, and found myself laughing aloud one minute, then sighing in sympathy the next.

This story is mostly told in non-sequential order, which allows the reader to get a better idea of each character's background story, but also keeps the reader, along with the police, in the dark as to what actually happened until the very end.  Because of this, the plot takes some interesting and unexpected turns, which ends to a satisfying conclusion for everyone.

MB

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Displacement

Displacement 
by Lucy Kinsley 
Fantagraphic Books, 2015. 156 pages. Graphic Novel. 

When Lucy’s aging grandparents book a cruise through their retirement home, the Knisley family is anxious about the elderly couple going alone. Young, and recently single, Lucy volunteers to act as caretaker to her physically and mentally ailing “grands.” Lucy confronts her feelings about her grandparents’ failing health, and juxtaposes the current reality of her elderly grandfather with excerpts of his memoirs of serving in WWII. 

Fans of Knisley’s Relish will find a lot to love here—her illustrations are just so positive and they seem to perfectly capture the essence of life’s ups and downs. In some ways, this is a hard read because Knisley’s frustration and anxiety during this trip are perfectly captured. Readers that have experienced the trials of caring for aging loved ones will find a lot to relate to. While this memoir is not as universal in its appeal as Relish, it is still a very accessible and enjoyable memoir about travel, family, and love. 

ALL

Monday, January 11, 2021

Ready Player Two

Ready Player Two

by Ernest Cline

Ballantine Books, 2020. 377 pages. Fiction

Wade Watts won the greatest video game ever created. For a few days, he has time to bask in the glory of his hard-earned wealth and fame. But then a new piece of technology is discovered in the vaults of Gregarious Games Inc. that could once again change life as he knows it. This new tech is wildly popular, but also puts people at the mercy of virtual reality. Almost immediately a new adversary takes over the Oasis and Wade is once again called upon to save humanity.

This is a fun sequel to the super popular Ready Player One. There are new bad guys to outsmart, new clues to find and decipher, and a whole new world to explore. It is interesting to see how the top four, Wade, Ache, Art3mis, and Shoto all respond to having wealth beyond reasoning. Art3mis, Samantha, is still determined to help the troubled world outside the Oasis. Shoto and Ache become interested in the business side of Gregarious Games, but Wade is kind of lost.  He alienates those most important to him and must learn how to deal with people in real life, not just in virtual reality. There is enough new content about the characters that this book is worth the read, but fans of Cline may feel like they have been through this all before. This book will appeal to those searching for a book with adventure, interpersonal relationships, and mind-bending views of reality. 

AGP

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Rebecca

 

Rebecca 
by Daphne du Maurier 
Doubleday, 1938. 380 pages. Fiction. 

 This classic novel of romantic suspense begins with our young, unnamed heroine in Monte Carlo. Here she meets the mysterious Maxim de Winter, widowed within the last year, trying to evade the memory of his late wife Rebecca. After a whirlwind romance, quiet wedding, and honeymoon abroad, our young heroine, the new Mrs. de Winter, accompanies her husband to his grand estate of Manderley. As Mrs. de Winter learns more about the late mistress of the house, she feels more and more inadequate to fill her new role, feelings that are generously helped along by the sinister housekeeper who is unnaturally devoted to the memory of Rebecca. 

 The first part of this book is rather slow, but once you get to the party the story really gets moving and has interesting twists and turns. The writing is very atmospheric and has a gothic, ghostly feel to it. The whole estate is haunted by the memory of Rebecca, she put her mark on everything from the house and the staff, to the grounds and the surrounding neighbors. The poor protagonist feels constantly compared and found wanting to her predecessor, a feeling she struggles with throughout most of the story. This book would make a great discussion novel, especially in contrasting the personalities of the two Mrs. de Winters and how they managed the social roles they were expected to fill.

ER

How to Hang a Witch

How to Hang a Witch
by Adriana Mather 
Knopf Books, 2016. 368 pages. Young Adult 

After moving from New York to Salem with her stepmother,15-year-old Samantha Mather finds herself ostracized from many in town due to her ancestor being Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for the infamous witch trails. Sam becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves the Descendants because their ancestors were some of the witches that were hung by Cotton. To add to her problems, she befriends a rather handsome and angry ghost who helps her as they discover she is tied to ancient curse affecting anyone attached to the trials. Her only hope is to work with ghost and the Descendants before it is too late.

 I really enjoyed this book.  It was a great read to have during October and the author did the audio narration and did an amazing job. The Salem witch trials are so fascinating and I liked how the author tied the trails into bullying and how some of the practices from that tragic time are still in practice today. The characters were well thought out and the twists and turns of the story made it easy to want to keep turning the page. I highly recommend this book! 


ME

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Scars Like Wings

Scars Like Wings
By Erin Stewart
Delacorte Press, 2019. 376 pages. Young Adult

Sixteen-year-old Ava is left severely disfigured after a house fire claims the lives of her parents and cousin. Now she lives with her aunt and uncle, and after a lot of counseling and trips to the burn unit, her aunt and uncle decide it’s time for Ava to return to high school, to try and regain some semblance of “normal.” Except, Ava knows there will never be a return to normal, not with how she looks. She agrees to give it a week, and in that time Ava meets Piper, a fellow survivor. Together, they work through the trauma—both physical and emotional—that both sets them apart and brings them together. 

There is a lot of emotion packed into this book. It clearly evokes the fears, hopes, and awkwardness that are pretty relatable to most people who have been through high school. The characters are well developed, with their own stories to cope with and grow from. Ava’s journey, from a popular and talented musical theater star to a burn survivor hiding from the world, is raw and thought-provoking. Often, we have a warped view of ourselves, and this is especially true for Ava. I found her story incredibly moving, and would easily recommend this for those who feel like they struggle to fit in, and those learning to cope with loss. 

ACS

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Blade Itself


The Blade Itself
by Joe Ambercrombie
Orbit, 2015. 542 pages. Fantasy.

Magic is leeching from the world, or so Ambercrombie writes as he introduces us to a new fantasy world where no one can be trusted and nothing is what you'd expect. The Union, a kingdom where everyone is born into their place in the world with nobles and commoners and merchants, becomes embroiled in a war with the Gurkals of the South and King Bethod in the North. All the while, conflict with an ancient evil millennia in the making is just about to get started. Without magic or a true understanding of history, the main 3 characters of the book find that they must face an evil few men understand, or war will be the least of the worlds problems. The Blade Itself follows 3 major characters and the story of how they get roped into the fight to save the world. Logan Nine-Fingers, a barbarian from the north whose bloody history defined the shaping of a kingdom, escapes a supernatural evil in order to answer the call of world's oldest (and literally the first) Magi. Captain Jezal dan Luthar, a selfish, self-absorbed nobleman, who's constantly forced into situations he would rather avoid by people who are far smarter than him. And Inquisitor San dan Glokta, a man who survived being tortured about a mile past the edge of his life and who now tortures others in service to his king.

The Blade Itself brings together political intrigue, the corruption of governments and history, and the classic gathering of heroes to fight the storm of an ancient evil, and does so without providing us any hope that things will get better. That might sound like a bad thing, but Ambercrombie does such a good job of making us root for morally grey characters that despite a future outlook that appears grim and dark, we want to watch these characters go through the process of trying to save the world. For those that like classic fantasy by David Eddings or Terry Brooks, but want a darker world where any character that is "good" must compromise their definition of "good" to survive (à la A Song of Ice and Fire) this book (and this trilogy) is for you.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The House in the Cerulean Sea

The House in the Cerulean Sea
by T.J. Klune
Tor, 2020, 398 page, Fantasy

As a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, Linus spends his days inspecting orphanages for children with magical abilities. Known for his detached reporting style, Linus is charged by Extremely Upper Management with a highly classified assignment—look into the running of Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six of the most magical and highly dangerous orphans reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. The orphanage is run by the enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who may be hiding his own secrets.

Although Linus was told to be wary of the orphanage’s inhabitants, the longer he spends at Marsyas Island, the more he struggles with maintaining the distance required to do his job. How does one keep an objective outlook when the place you’ve been assigned to investigate starts to feel like home?

This book is funny, charming, and just plain great. I couldn’t wait to pick it up at the end of a long day. Readers can’t help but fall for all of the characters who live at Marsyas Island Orphanage, who all have varied abilities and interests that keeps the plot turning in wonderful and unexpected ways.

Klune’s writing style is a mixture of charm and humor that veers between witty and sarcastic, which meant that as I read this book, I kept thinking of another favorite: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. While both books feature a child Antichrist and two great male protagonists, it’s really the writing style that makes these books a good match for each other. But you don’t have to be a fan of Good Omens to love The House in the Cerulean Sea. This book will charm you whether you want to be charmed or not.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

All Hearts Come Home for Christmas

 


All Hearts Come Home For Christmas

By Sarah Eden, Anita Stansfield, Esther Hatch & Joanna Barker

Covenant Communications, 2019. 290 pgs. Romance

This is a wonderful collection of Regency Christmas short stories. I'll be honest that the only reason I picked this up is because Sarah Eden is one of my favorite authors and I noticed she had a short story in this collection. I loved that her story returned to Falstone Castle and the Lancaster family. I liked getting a brief but deeper look into their family. I was pleasantly surprised by "Tis the Season to be Daring" by Esther Hatch. I loved this story. The main characters had such great banter, the plot was fun and unique, and I enjoyed it so much. 

This collection of short stories was perfect for the Christmas season. The stories were long enough to get to know the characters but short enough that I could fit them into my crazy Christmas schedule. This would be great for anyone looking for a collection of feel good Christmas romance. The best thing is that they can be read any time of the year.

AL



We Are Not Free


We Are Not Free
By Traci Chee
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 384 pages. Young Adult 

Fourteen Japanese-American teens who grew up in Japantown, San Francisco, have their lives dramatically changed shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They’re imprisoned in relocation camps, and while some look for hope and opportunities, everyone struggles with the discouragement, racism, and abuse that now permeates their lives. Some teens will be released, some will go to war, and yet others will be imprisoned until the camps are closed. Despite everything, these 14 friends must rally together when everything else threatens to pull them apart. 

This was an incredibly moving book, made all the more impactful because of the 14 distinct backstories and personalities. It’s a stark reminder that people in similar circumstances can have vastly different reactions to those circumstances. This book is just as much about the setting as it is the people. A portion is based here in Utah, around the Topaz War Relocation Center. While I haven’t been to the site myself, now a museum, the evocative detail will color any future visits I might make. 

There’s a lot of great WWII fiction available, but this one stands out among the rest. Recommended for anyone who appreciated Samira Ahmed’s INTERNMENT, or George Takei’s THEY CALLED US ENEMY

ACS

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World

By Brooke McAlary
Sourcebooks, Inc., 2018. 262 pages. Nonfiction

Memoir-esque and meditative, Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World examines the different activities present in modern day life and shows how to maximize our time with the things that really matter. By presenting great techniques and insights into what it means to be content, readers will find simple solutions for achieving a simplified modern life. This book combines lovely photography and design with engaging storytelling, outlining not only the benefits of slowing life down, but the ways we can begin to anchor life in meaning and intention. 

This is a surprisingly thorough book about all the tiny ways we trade calmness for clutter, either by physical things or situations that eat up our emotional, mental, and physical stamina. While McAlary presents everything in a step-by-step way, she also owns that the process of simplifying and incorporating mindfulness into any life is more of a meandering path, and includes personal anecdotes and plans for those inevitable slides into previous habits. Overall, Slow is a perfect book for those who are looking for actionable ideas to shed distractions and to better focus on the moments you live in.

AS 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Promised Land

A Promised Land
By Barack Obama
Crown, 2020. 751 pages. Biography

Former President Barack Obama sat down to write his memoir and thought he might be able to sum everything up in about 500 pages.  700+ pages later, we have Volume 1, which covers his early political career, campaign for president, and first four years in office. The most momentum of the book occurs during his decisions to run for office and the whirlwind campaign trail, culminating in an historic election.  The second half of the book gives way to description of challenges facing his first four years in office, and while this half is somewhat slower as he can't resist outlining much of the complexity of the challenges that he faced, it is interesting as political power struggles can sometimes be, and always underscored by his values and a sense of the responsibility he carried.  I was surprised at how honestly he described many behind-the-scenes experiences, both positive and negative, and many small but interesting details were included about what life is like as a president, how it can be both surreal and bizarre.
 
Obama certainly did seem to inspire a lot of people, and his election seemed a phenomenon that surprised him as much as anyone.  Outside of platforms and politics, he was a president who cared deeply, and who cared enough to try to understand even the most complex issues the best that he could.  Overall, this is a fascinating look at a figure who inspired both hope and vitriol.
 
BHG

Is This Anything?

Is This Anything?
by Jerry Seinfeld
Simon & Schuster, 2020. 470 pages. Nonfiction

Seinfeld has collected his material from many decades in comedy and published them here for you to enjoy.  Chronologically arranged, the "bits" are prefaced by some details of what was happening in his life at the time, and how that colored his work.  If you are familiar with his early material, you will find it repeated here, but his newer material is a fun reflection of modern living.

I have always enjoyed Seinfeld's comedy, and this audiobook, read by the author, didn't disappoint.  I laughed out loud several times as I listened. This might be a good antidote to any blues you might have this winter.

BHG