Friday, July 31, 2015

An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir
Penguin Random House, 2015.  446 pgs. Young Adult

     Laia and what remains of her family are Scholars, subjects of the conquering Martial Empire, who stay out of trouble by trying to go about their business unnoticed. But when Laia's brother Darin is arrested on charges of treason, and her grandparents killed, she becomes a slave to the extraordinarily cruel commandant of the Blackcliff Military Academy, hoping to discover secrets she can trade to the Resistance in the hope that they will rescue Darin. In alternating chapters, Laia and Elias, the commandant's son who hates his life as a Mask in training, tell their stories of their desires and efforts to be free of the Martial Empire and to save the people they love. An Ember in the Ashes is a thrilling, violent story of a seemingly hopeless fight for freedom and justice. The Augurs pressure Elias into a path he does not wish to take, arguing that it is only by achieving his destiny that he will truly be free, while Laia overcomes her terrible fears, only to be betrayed by those she has relied on. A bit of romance lightens the terror, but even that is not straightforward: Elias thinks of Helene as his best friend, but she wants something more; Laia and Elias are attracted to each other, but Keenan, Laia's Resistance "handler," is also in the mix. The story is slightly marred by the fact that Elias's voice is more compelling than Laia's. Also, Helene emerges as the most nuanced and unpredictable of Tahir's characters. Still, the story is thrilling and though-provoking, and the reader will greatly hope for at least one sequel, if not for a whole string of them.

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
by George R. R. Martin
Bantam, 1996. 693 pages. Fantasy

Who hasn't heard of George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones? This first volume in the mega-bestselling series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is even richer and more complex than I'd imagined it would be. Set in the fantasy realm of Westeros -- a kingdom beset by threats from both within and without, and nobody can quite say which is the greater -- the novel focuses on the Stark family of Winterfell, and the political turmoil and intrigue that ensues after eight-year-old Bran Stark witnesses an act that could shake the kingdom to its very core, but is pushed from a tower window before he can speak of it. It's a mystery that his father, Lord Eddard Stark, wishes very much to solve as he heads to the nation's capitol to serve as Hand of the King; however, Ned finds his appointment precarious, dangerous, and in some cases, deadly. Despite shifting alliances, deceptions, and dubious allies, Ned must fight to solve the mystery that shrouds the Iron Throne . . . or else he'll lose the game, and quite probably his life.

With a staggering cast of characters, rapidly-shifting points of view, and near-constant action, Game of Thrones is a must-read for almost every epic fantasy fan. I say almost because Martin's world is a brutal one, and I often find myself ageing the adolescent characters up a considerable number of years in my head (Daenerys is thirteen when she's married to Khal Drogo, Bran is eight when pushed out the window, et cetera). The writing can be pedestrian, but with a plot this compelling and such well-rounded, fascinating characters, it's easy to overlook Martin's compulsive use of words like "shone" or the adverbs that pepper his text liberally. Good (if not clean) fun.


This One Summer

This One Summer
by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
First Second, 2014. 317 pages. Graphic Novel

Every summer, Rose's family spends an idyllic two weeks in Awago Beach, a place "where beer grows on trees and everyone can sleep in until eleven." But now that Rose is on the cusp of adolescence, she's finding that life is far more complicated than she'd ever dreamt before: For one, her parents are fighting. Two, she's becoming increasingly aware of the activities of older teenagers, social and socio-economic strata, and the perils of self-image. To make matters worse, her friend Windy seems blithely unconcerned with the things that are starting to matter quite a lot to Rose, which complicates their relationship. The story is a quiet one, veering between Rose's enjoyment of her summer rituals to the secret, agonizing grief over the strife in her parents' marriage.

The book deserves the shiny honor awards on its cover -- full of fine storytelling, characterization, deft dialogue, and beautiful artwork, This One Summer is a graceful exploration of the joys (and pains!) of growing up and realizing that even paradise has its flaws. Tamaki's artwork is evocative of director Hayao Miyazaki's and Studio Ghibli's, which helps to absorb some of the blows delivered via the story and text. With some heavier themes, content, and language, save this one for older teens.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

One Thing Stolen

One Stolen Thing
By Beth Kephart Chronicle Books, 2015. 271 pages. Young Adult Fiction.

“Nadia Cara is in Florence, Italy, with her family because her professor father is researching the 1966 flood, but Nadia herself is in trouble—she has turned into a kleptomaniac and she feels detached from everything, except for an elusive Italian boy whom no one but herself has seen."

The main reason I read Beth Kephart is because her prose is so beautiful it seems like poetry. Here Kephart writes in short, staccato (almost poetic) sentences meant to get the reader into the head of a teenager experiencing the beginning effects of dementia. The story is set in present-day Italy, but told with flashbacks five years earlier to the main character’s childhood in Philadelphia. Combining all of this with an unreliable narrator is tricky, but the story still flows in a way that you can understand and empathize with the main character. The overarching message of the strength of family and friendship left me feeling hopeful.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
By Gretchen Rubin
Crown Publishers, 2015. 298 pgs. Nonfiction

Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, examines the importance of habits in our lives and what we can do to change or create new habits. She goes beyond just talking about habits though, she explains that everyone has different personality types when it comes to habits and once we understand ourselves we can better understand why we do or don't do something.

I very rarely finish nonfiction books because I usually get bored about half way through and go back to fiction. That was not the case with this book. I found myself looking forward to listening to it and  I wanted to share what I was learning with others. This book came at the perfect time in my life when I was ready to make some changes. I found the authors writing style to be very engaging. I enjoyed the examples she shared from her own life and the lives of her family, friends and readers. Her approach made sense and I have already implemented some of the strategies she suggests. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that is ready to make some positive changes in their life.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Birth of Korean Cool

The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture
By Euny Hong
Picador, 2014. 267 pgs. Nonfiction.

Going from a third-world to first-world country in a matter of a few short decades is no simple task, but South Korea managed it, and is now becoming one of the world’s top exporters of pop culture. Euny Hong describes her experience of moving to Korea when she was twelve in the 1980s and how she’s seen the country go from very un-cool, to ultra-cool in that time.

In the last couple years I’ve become fascinated by Korean culture and entertainment, so this book was something I had to pick up. It didn’t disappoint. I learned a lot about Korean culture that my k-drama watching and vlogger stalking hadn’t yet covered. As much as I loved Korea before, now I’m also in awe of how quickly they turned their country into a pop culture powerhouse. Hallyu (the Korean Wave) is truly a force to be reckoned with.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy
By Abel Lanzac
London:SelfMadeHero, 2014. Graphic Novel

Arthur Vlaminck is coaxed away from academia to join the staff of the French Foreign Minister, Alexandre Taillard de Worms, as a speech writer. In his new job, Arthur struggles to find his place and his voice in a highly politicized office dominated by the big egos and vindictive co-workers, even as crises erupt around the world. The greatest of these are in the Middle East, where the United States is gearing up for a new war.

In this fascinating graphic novel, Diplomat Antonin Baudry(writing as Abel Lanzac), gives a fictionalized account of his time as an adviser to the French Foreign Minister, during the build up to the Iraq War. Revealing the inner workings of government, the absurdities of Arthur Vlaminck's attempts to craft clear statements of French foreign policy, in spite of the ever shifting demands from his boss and the backbiting of his co-workers, are both hilarious and insightful. The satirical aspects are reminiscent of shows like Alpha House, films such as In the Loop or the Doonesbury comic strip.


The Strangler Vine

The Stranger Vine
By M.J. Carter
G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2015. Fiction

After a famous and controversial poet disappears in the heart of India, two men are sent to locate him: William Avery, a callow junior officer, and Jeremiah Blake, a disgraced former officer of the East India Company scorned for having gone native. So begins a tale of intrigue and mystery, containing elements of Kipling and Conan Doyle, as the two make their way across subcontinent ruled by the British East India Company that little understands the millions of native peoples under their dominion. This is a real page turner, and a story rich in the historical details of the region, full of beauty and squalor in equal measures. This would make a good summer read selection for anyone who enjoys novels with a good blend of historical fact and fiction.


In the Unlikely Event

In the Unlikely Event
By Judy Blume
Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 401 pgs. Fiction.

Judy Blume’s much anticipated new novel is set in a small New Jersey town during the 1950s. Like most small towns, life seems idyllic.  Then, in a few short months, three tragic plane crashes occur within the city limits. No life is left unmarred and residents of all ages are forced to deal with the difficult aftermath.

Though told from shifting perspectives, the story focuses on the Ammerman family.  Miri, a teenager falling in love for the first time; her mother Rusty, who is single and trying to support her daughter and herself despite local prejudices; her uncle Henry, a local journalist gaining national attention for his coverage of the recent tragedies; and her grandmother Irene, who lovingly presides over the family.

Relatable characters, a strong sense of time and place, and an engaging storyline all make “In the Unlikely Event” an impressive addition to Blume’s already beloved bibliography.


A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope

A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope
By Tom Brokaw
Random House, 2015. 230 pgs. Biography.

In 2013, Tom Brokaw was still enjoying an extremely active and adventurous lifestyle, despite being in his early 70s.  A growing pain in his back, however, sent him to a number of doctors who soon diagnosed him with multiple myeloma. He soon learned that this incurable form of blood cancer was treatable but serious and quickly found it necessary to limit his activity as symptoms and then treatments began to take their toll.

“Lucky Life Interrupted” is a product of his journaling efforts during this difficult period.  He speaks with great honesty and humility about his illness but also includes many examples of how fortunate he has been.  He also takes time to relate many of the great events he took part in over the years and tells about the inspirational individuals he has been fortunate enough to meet and know throughout his distinguished career.

Anyone already a fan of Brokaw’s work will enjoy this new memoir.  He emphasizes his admiration for his wife and the important role family plays in finding fulfillment in life.  It is a memoir filled with wisdom, heart, and a great deal of hope and encouragement for those facing unexpected trials in life.


Saturday, July 25, 2015


by Ernest Cline
Crown, 2015.  349 pgs. Science Fiction

     Ernest Cline begins his newest gaming novel thrill ride with a quote from Eugene Jarvis: "The only legitimate use of a computer is to play games." In this book, it's a lucky thing that a significant number of the earth's population feels this way, when they discover that what they thought was a worldwide slacker-fest playing games called Terra Firma and Armada was actually a secret government training exercise to prepare thousands of gamers to defend the planet against enemy aliens from a swastika-emblazoned Europa. Our hero in this fight is Zack Lightman, a high school kid with a bad temper who lives with his single mother and who is not really good at anything except video games. His recruitment into the Earth Defense Alliance, and the surprising discoveries he makes as his real drones battle enemy forces, lead into a fast and fun gamer tale. Just like on the glowing screens where virtual reality plays out, Armada skips quickly over the sad bits which good escape fiction should do. Cline's multiple references to classic sci-fi films and themes, and his use of them in his story, serve as both tribute and substance of this fun summertime read. Well-suited for older teen readers, though their is a fair amount of swearing.


Medicine Walk

Medicine Walk
by Richard Wagamese
Milkweed Editions, 2015. 246 pgs. Fiction

     Medicine Walk is the beautifully well written story of a young Indian man, called upon by his neglectful and disreputable father to accompany him on his last journey to find a burial place. The old man Franklin Starlight has lived with most of his life thinks he ought not to go, but "he's my dad" is reason enough for Franklin to put up with his father's drunken shiftlessness one more time. On their journey through the mountains where Eldon wishes for a warrior's burial he does not deserve, he finally explains to his son how and why he ruined his own life and left the boy to be raised by another. Wagamese's understated yet lyrical descriptions of the Canadian mountain country, his nuanced character development, and the deep melancholy of his storytelling make this a gem of a story in the tradition of Louise Erdrich and Frank Waters.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Under a Painted Sky

Cover image for Under a Painted Sky
by Stacey Lee
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 374 pages, Young Adult Historical Fiction

"In 1845, Sammy, a Chinese American girl, and Annamae, an African American slave girl, disguise themselves as boys and travel on the Oregon Trail to California from Missouri."

When I think of the Oregon Trail, I think of long lines of covered wagons.  Stacey Lee does a great job of giving a different view of the trip westward.  I loved the diversity of the characters (Chinese American, African American, Mexican, Irish), and I especially loved how she wove the backgrounds of their different cultures into the story.  For example, Sammy is always making assumptions about people’s actions based on the Chinese zodiac.  The fact that Sammy and Annamae are trying to keep their gender a secret while traveling with cowboys added a fun twist to the plot.  The story is fast-paced and full of Wild West adventure, with a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tiffany Girl

Tiffany Girl
By Deanne Gist
Howard Books, 2015.  544 pgs. Fiction.

Tiffany Girl tells the story of Flossie Jayne, a late nineteenth century “New Woman” and student at the New York Art Institute.  Though raised in a conservative family, Flossie’s feminist ideals cause her to leave home to work on the Tiffany Chapel, Louis Comfort Tiffany’s stained-glass mosaic chapel created for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  After moving into a boarding house, Flossie hurries to bond with her fellow boarders, including Reeve, a cynical journalist with opposing social views.

Although length doesn't typically bother me, Tiffany Girl struck me as being a little overly long and as having unneeded plot twists.  Gist spends more time on secondary characters in this novel than she typically does, which accounts for some of the length.  Nevertheless, the novel was a fun read.  Unlike Gist’s earliest works, Tiffany Girl avoids overt Christian themes, as it was published by a non-Christian publisher.  Readers can still expect interesting and detailed historical information about a largely unknown historic event, though, as well as plenty of romance.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Eating on the Wild Side

by Jo Robinson
Little, Brown and Company, 2013. 416 pgs. Nonfiction

This book is not about dieting; nor is it a recipe book. The subject here is our fruits and vegetables: why certain varieties have become dominant in the marketplace, the nutritional consequences of industry and market influences, and how various varieties compare with one another with respect to both taste and nutrition.
Before your eyes glaze over (as mine often do in regard to this topic)—This surprisingly engaging and interesting. Packed with great information presented in an easy conversational style, this book is a great starting place for someone ready to improve their eating habits.


Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral

Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral
by Mary Doria Russell
HarperCollins, 2015. 581 pgs. Fiction

Tombstone, Arizona. October 26, 1881. 5 cowboys. 4 lawmen. 30 seconds that changed everything. This is the story of the events leading up to those 30 seconds, the gunfight, and its aftermath. In 1881 Tombstone was a burgeoning frontier metropolis with three newspapers, a number of restaurants, two banks, four churches, a school, an opera house, a bowling alley, an ice cream parlor, 110 saloons, 14 gambling establishments, and a bunch of brothels. The mining town was on the rise and it was drawing men with political and financial ambitions.

An earlier chapter in this story--that of Doc & Wyatt becoming friends while in Dodge City is told in Russell's earlier novel, Doc. In Epitaph Russell details the sequence of events that led to the famous gunfight, but what she really does is show the character of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Russell reveals them in all their humanity--their values, feelings, desires, as well as their flaws and limitations. Vivid characters and authentic dialog make this a compelling western tale. A familiar story re-told with excellence, insight, and compassion.


Friday, July 17, 2015

The Knockoff

The Knockoff
By Lucy Sykes
Doubleday, 2015. 338 pgs. Fiction.

When 40-something Imogen Tate, editor-in-chief, of the fashion magazine, Glossy, returns to work after 6 months away on medical leave, she finds her beautiful print magazine has been hijacked by her former assistant and techie millennial, Eve Morton. The plan is to cease print publication and turn Glossy into an interactive shopping app. Imogen quickly reads the writing on the wall and knows she must adapt or be fired. Though, Imogen is out of her depth, it’s Eve’s constant undermining that truly makes Imogen miserable. Eve does everything from make fun of her for not knowing what a GIF is to taking the credit for any good idea Imogen has.

This is a good, old-fashioned rivalry story (a la All About Eve) merged with the theme of the ubiquity of technology and its potential pitfalls. However, ultimately, the story reveals that whether your age is closer to millennial or baby boomer doesn’t matter. What matters is treating people with respect and knowing that we all have something to contribute to the workplace.



By Naomi Novik
Del Rey, 2015. 438 pgs. Fantasy.

Uprooted is Naomi Novik’s first foray outside the Temeraire series. Though still firmly set in the fantasy realm, this is quite a bit of a divergence from the Napoleonic wars setting of her alternative history series. Uprooted has far more of a traditional fairy tale feel and indeed pays homage to the Slavic folk tale, Baba Yaga.

A mysterious wizard known as the Dragon selects a young woman from a rural village near his tower every 10 years as payment for protecting the region from the malevolent influence of the evil Wood. Agnieszka, always muddy and disheveled, never thinks that she will be chosen, but when she is selected to serve the Dragon, she soon discovers she has a rare and powerful talent for magic. As Agnieszka's magic grows, her journey sends her on a deadly quest where she will experience the terrible intrigue of the royal court, a true and unbreakable friendship, and even a little romance.

While, there will always be a special place in my heart for Naomi Novik's other characters, Temeraire and Captain Laurence, Novik should be applauded for her well-written novel with beautiful descriptions, interesting characters, and action-packed plot. Fans of fractured fairy tales will not want to miss this.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

We Should Hang Out Sometime

We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story
By Josh Sundquist
Little, Brown, and Company, 2014. 326 pgs. Biography

When Josh Sundquist turned 25 and still had never had a girlfriend (not for lack of trying) he sat down to analyze where he had gone wrong. Not only is this a humorous book about dating mishaps, it is a scientific study that Josh conducted with interviews with past crushes, dates, and girls he had thought he was dating. It even has statistics and charts, no joke.

This unique, and funny coming-of-age story about Sundquist's experiences as a cancer survivor, amputee, Paralympic ski racer, and motivational speaker is well worth the read. Many of his anecdotes are the best kind of cringe worthy and coupled with his self-deprecating humor they are laugh out loud funny.


This Star Won't Go Out

This Star Won't Go Out
By Esther Earl; with Lori and Wayne Earl
Dutton Books. 2014. 431 pgs. Biography

In full color and illustrated with art and photographs, this is a collection of the journals, fiction, letters, and sketches of the late Esther Grace Earl, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 16. Essays by family and friends help to tell Esther’s story along with an introduction by award-winning author John Green who dedicated his #1 bestselling novel The Fault in Our Stars to her.

As someone who enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars, I was intrigued when I saw this biography of Esther, whose life was the inspiration behind the novel. I was not disappointed. Esther was smart and insightful and her tidbits of wisdom are scattered throughout her correspondences and journal entries. The length may seem daunting, but the pages are not densely packed and the reading is quick.


Monday, July 13, 2015

The Heiress of Winterwood

The Heiress of Winterwood
By Sarah E. Ladd
Thomas Nelson, 2013. 320pgs. Romance

Amelia Barrett, heir to an estate, promises that she will raise her dying friend’s baby as her own. Unfortunately, her family and fiancé do not take kindly to the idea, so Amelia does the only thing she can think of to keep her promise: propose marriage to the baby’s long-lost father, a captain recently returned from the sea.

This inspirational romance has all the elements that readers of the genre will enjoy – family drama, gentle romance, and surprising twists and turns with a happy ending. The Heiress of Winterwood is the first novel in the Whispers on the Moors trilogy.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sous Chef: 24 Hours On the Line

Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line
By Michael Gibney
Ballantine Books, 2014. 240 pgs. Nonfiction

Have you ever sat in a nice restaurant and wondered how all that appetizing food got to your plate? There’s a lot going on behind the scenes of every restaurant, and Sous Chef is a fun look into the miracle of logistics that every restaurant is. This book gives a unique, second-person narrative of a typical day in the life of an upscale sous chef, from deliveries and food prep in the early morning hours to the cathartic fatigue of serving up that last plate. You’ll joke with your co-workers, deal with demanding customers, and find out just how much knowledge and skill is required for creating and serving delicious food. With casual language and vivid descriptions, the author brings life to an initially thankless but ultimately rewarding job of bringing raw ingredients through a chaotic kitchen to your plate. You’ll never think of restaurants the same way again.


Monday, July 6, 2015


By Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Press, 2014. 310 pages. Fiction.

Georgie McCool’s marriage has been strained for quite sometime. So when she tells her husband Neal that she can’t fly to Omaha for Christmas with him and the kids because of work, things fall apart. Neal takes the kids to Omaha without Georgie and he won’t return her phone calls. But then Georgie magically stumbles across a phone that can call the past. Specifically Neal's house in the past. Given this second chance, she hopes she can save her marriage … before it even started.

The premise of this book was unique and also I enjoyed reading about the hard work that goes into marriage instead of just focusing on the courtship like so many other stories. But don’t worry there are plenty of flashbacks to their days of dating, which helps frame the story set in the present and adds dimension to the protagonists. Rowell's approaches her writing in a down-to-earth, yet humorous way that keeps you flipping the pages to find out what happens to characters you’ve grown attached to over the course of the book.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Chinese Rules: Mao’s Dog, Deng’s Cat, and Five Timeless Lessons from the Front lines in China

Chinese Rules: Mao’s Dog, Deng’s Cat, and Five Timeless Lessons from the Front lines in China
By Tim Clissold
Harper, 2014. 272 pgs. Nonfiction

Fluent Mandarin and a deep understanding of the culture and contradictions of China enable Clissold navigate an unexpected but very interesting assignment to help venture capitalists, complete novices to China, negotiate business deals in carbon credits. His counter-intuitive approaches (at least to Westerners) are precisely what are needed to undercover hidden motivations and the seemingly self-defeating logic of his Chinese counterparts. Both hilarious and insightful, anyone with an interest in doing business with China should read this book. SH

Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time

Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time
By Beth Moon
Abbeville Press Publishers, 2014. 140 pgs. Nonfiction

Beth Moon has captured stunning images of remarkable trees from around the world. Each one is unique and most grow in remote locations or they would never have survived to become ancient. Two informative but fairly brief essays accompany the beautiful black and white photos which highlight in amazing detail the gnarled trunks and limbs. We have two other beautiful books about trees in our collection that are also a browser’s delight and both are in color: The Life & Love of Trees (2009) by Lewis Blackwell and Thomas Pakenham’s Remarkable Trees of the World (2003). SH