Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Genealogy

By Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls
Alpha, 2012. 410 pgs. Nonfiction

Hands down this is the finest introduction to genealogy that I’ve read. This book teaches you where and how to begin your research, how to keep track of your findings, how to stay grounded in good research techniques as you explore internet resources, and how to glean the most from all the primary record types used in research. Interspersed throughout the text are definitions, “pedigree pitfalls,” “tree tips,” and “lineage lessons.”

Rose and Ingalls cover the basics extremely well. This guide is accessible, nicely organized, and clearly written. I found the chapter dedicated to resolving discrepancies to be one of the most useful.


The Painter's Daughter

The Painter's Daughter
By Julie Klassen
Bethany House, 2015, 458 pgs. Romance

Sophie Dupont is the daughter of a painter who is actually a skilled artist herself. She is swept off her feet by the first man to tell her she is beautiful, but soon finds herself abandoned and in a precarious situation. Enter Captain Stephen Overtree, the responsible military man, who believes he won't survive his next battle. He offers to marry Sophie to save her reputation but he does not promise love or even a future together. Sophie has a difficult decision to make and it is made even more difficult when her first love returns.

I loved the tension that the author created between characters and how real they all became. Captain Overtree has a kind and gentle heart, but he has been scarred by war. Sophie longs to find love as she takes responsibility for her error in judgement. Wesley, her first love, is selfish and confused. The Captain's grandfather and sister add variety to the story. The old governess that lives in the attic adds a little mystery. I really enjoyed this clean Regency romance and think it might be my favorite Klassen book so far.



By Sarah Crossan
Greenwillow Books, 2015. 400 pages. Young Adult

Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins who have been home schooled for sixteen years.  But when funds get tight, they make the difficult decision of going to school for the first time ever.  But as they begin to make friends and have new experiences, their health takes an unexpected turn.

Two strong, distinct voices come from the sisters, who struggle with their condition but who will raise a lot of awareness for the reader of what life is like for conjoined twins - how it is hard, and also how it is NOT as negative as you might think. This is a great book for any teen (or adult), great for discussions, great for building empathy and understanding, and is written beautifully. 


Crimson Bound

By Rosamund Hodge
Balzer + Bray, 2015. 448 pages. Young Adult

Rachelle was apprenticed to her aunt as the next village wood wife and protector.  But she meets a stranger in the woods who curses her to make a terrible choice and become bound to the very thing she was trying to fight.  Three years later she is working for the king, trying to make up for her mistakes by fighting deadly creatures.  However, all of her efforts seem in jeopardy when she's ordered to guard the king's insufferable son Armand.

When I read online that this was inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, I was shocked, because I never made that connection at all.  In fact, this story bears little resemblance to any fantasy I've ever read before.  The main character is grappling with dark forces, both within herself and on the outside.  The story also takes many unexpected turns, unlike most fantasy novels.  I enjoyed it immensely, and would recommend it for anyone interested in a darker, more complex fantasy story than usual.  


Friday, January 29, 2016

Jade Lady Burning

Jade Lady Burning
By Martin Limón
Soho Crime, 2011. 254 pgs. Mystery.

Ernie Bascom and George Sueno are members of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, stationed in Itaewon, South Korea. When they are called to investigate the death of a Korean prostitute because of her association with an American serviceman, Bascom and Sueno find that her death is quite unusual, and the U.S. Army is actually trying to close the case before all the evidence adds up. Clearly strings are being pulled behind the scenes to protect someone’s involvement, but whose?

When I opened this book I wanted to like it. I really did, but the pacing was quite slow and I found myself bored more often than not. This book is set right after the Korean War while there is still a very large American presence in South Korea, and while I imagine the author tried to keep the relations between Americans and Koreans historically accurate, I still found many things off-putting. Prostitution and gangs are central to this novel, so if that’s something you find distasteful, this isn’t something I would suggest picking up. Those who like mysteries that deal with the military may enjoy this book, but it wasn’t for me.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Hired Girl

The Hired Girl
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Candlewick Press, 2015. 387 pgs. Young Adult

Told in the form of a diary, fourteen-year-old Joan longs to read books and go to school, but after her mother’s death she is needed to run the household on the farm. One day after her cruel father is particularly harsh, Joan runs away and ends up in Baltimore. With no place to go and unsure who to trust, Joan luckily is offered a job as a hired girl by the Rosenbachs, a wealthy Jewish family. Naïve and headstrong, Joan is unfamiliar with the distinctions between social classes and the religious customs of a Jewish household. Her impulsiveness often times leads to embarrassing and humorous mistakes. Though frequently exacerbated, Joan’s earnestness and willingness to work hard endear her to the Rosenbachs. Joan also grows to care for the family as she has her world opened to questions of faith, women’s education, art, literature, and even romance.

Schlitz includes great period details, especially about clothing, and candidly discusses class, religion, the need to belong, and womanhood with an expert touch. I would highly recommend this book.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Newt's Emerald

Newt’s Emerald
by Garth Nix
Katherine Tegen Books, 2015. 291 pgs. Young Adult

Lady Truthful Newington A.K.A. Newt is set to inherit the Newington Emerald on her 18th birthday. The emerald is not just beautiful, it is purported to have magical capabilities that can enhance the magic of its wearer. Just as the emerald is revealed, an unexpected storm blows through and smashes the windows and dowses the lights. Once everything has settled down again, Newt and her father are horrified to discover the emerald missing.

When her father is rendered insensible by the loss, Newt takes it upon herself to travel to London before her planned coming out party to make inquiries about the missing jewel. A young lady’s reputation would be ruined were she to go about on her own so her great-aunt, Lady Badgery suggests she take on the guise of a reclusive French cousin, Chevalier Henri de Vienne, and dress as young man. While disguised, she meets the dashing Major Harnett who offers to help search but has his own secrets and motives.

If you love Regency period historical fiction and fantasy, then this is the book for you. Known for his more traditional fantasies, Nix has expertly used the time period to craft a delightful story full of captivating characters, intrigue and a dash of romance.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Darkly Dreaming Dexter 
By Jeff Lindsay
Doubleday, 2004. 288 pgs. Mystery

Dexter Morgan might seem like an ordinary guy, but when Dexter's not working as blood spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department he's pursuing his other hobby -- killing Miami’s most dangerous criminals. Dexter’s father recognized his son’s psychopathic personality early, and he was determined to keep Dexter alive and out of prison. He developed a personal code for Dexter that would satisfy his bloodlust but also deliver some kind of twisted justice to the world. After living by his father's code for years, Dexter’s carefully crafted world is put under pressure by a new Miami serial killer who's taken a special interest in him.

This is the first book in the now complete series by Jeff Lindsay.  I don't read many mysteries, but I am hooked on this series. It is as fun as it is creepy to be in the head of a psychopath like Dexter as he observes his world and the social interactions he just doesn't understand. I listened to the audiobook of Darkly Dreaming Dexter, which is narrated by the author himself, and I enjoyed the experience quite a bit. This is a great read, and it will be of particular interest to anyone who has watched the television adaptation.


Saturday, January 23, 2016


By John Krakauer
New York: Doubleday 2015 384 pages. Nonfiction.

The latest publication from best-selling nonfiction writer John Krakauer is a journalist exploration of acquaintance rape in the college town of Missoula. It delves deep into the experience of several rape victims and their treatment in the aftermath by the public, attorneys, police officers, and college officials as they attempt to gain justice from the alleged perpetrators, many of them college football stars.

According to the book, rape is one of the most under-reported and under-prosecuted crimes. It is easy to understand why as the book depicts shameful victim blaming and brutal court and police questioning as victims are forced to recall the events. The author is critical of the harsh treatment of the women and points out inconsistencies and injustices enacted. Well researched and told with a typical Krakauer storytelling bent, the tales are frustrating, infuriating, and at times painful to endure, bringing the brutal reality of the issues to the foreground of the reader’s experience.

It’s not a lighthearted or easy read, but gives important information and perspective on an issue becoming more prevalent, especially on college campuses.  


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sorcerer to the Crown

Sorcerer to the Crown
By Zen Cho
Ace, 2015.  384 pgs. Fantasy.

Sorcerer to the Crown was a delightful surprise for me, as it appealed to two seemingly divergent aspects of my nerdery – a love for female driven fantasy and a long-standing interest in Jane Austen’s England. Set in the Regency Era, the book first introduces Zacharias Wythe, a freed slave who has managed to become England’s Sorcerer Royal. He stands as Britain’s most influential magician, but a national shortage of magic, tense relations with other magical world leaders, racial prejudice, and rumors that Zacharias murdered the previous Sorcerer Royal combine to endanger his position.

The novel then switches to the perspective of Prunella Gentleman, the daughter of an English magician and an unknown Indian woman. She lives at a school where well-bred young ladies learn to subdue their supernatural abilities. Convention forbids these "gentlewitches" from practicing magic, as their weak frames could never withstand sustained magical effort. When Zacharias visits the school and witnesses both Prunella’s immense talent and the dangerous methods of suppression used there, he begins to question the longstanding ban.

Zen Cho’s debut is one of my favorite reads from 2015, and I found her fantasy re-imagining of Regency England fresh and entertaining. It was especially interesting to see how magical ability leveled the social playing field for Prunella and Zacharias, two individuals who would have been otherwise rejected in British society. Cho’s writing was witty, her characters were lovable, her exploration of race and gender was intriguing, and her magical world was fully developed. I’m definitely a fan, and I look forward to future additions to the Sorcerer Royal series.


Friday, January 15, 2016

The Japanese Lover

The Japanese Lover
By Isabel Allende
Atria Books, 2015. 321 pgs. Historical Fiction

Alma Belasco escaped Poland just as the Nazis  came to power. Her parents, sensing coming hostilities, sent her to live with a prosperous aunt and uncle in San Francisco where she enjoyed a seemingly respectable and privileged life. Now, over seventy years later, she tells the story of her life to her grandson, Seth, and to Irina, an Romanian refugee working in the picturesque  retirement home where Alma now resides.

Possibly her biggest and most unsettling revelation is her long time relationship with Ichimei Fukuda.  Her affair with this quiet Japanese gardener is tried many times throughout the years by prejudices magnified by World War II and the American's internment of their own citizens solely because of their Japanese origin.

True friendship, forgiveness, love, prejudice and passion are all illustrated in this sweeping historic novel.  Isabel Allende continues to write beautiful stories populated with deep characters in vivid landscapes.  The audio version of this book was exceptionally well done.


Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story

Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story
By Jewel
Blue Rider Press, 2015. 386 pgs. Biography

Jewel’s “Never Broken” is an impressive addition to this year’s list of celebrity autobiographies. She presents a very genuine depiction of a unique life lived with courage and determination.

Raised in Alaska by dysfunctional parents, Jewel was taught to yodel at age five and was quickly incorporated into the family’s traveling act, singing in bars and hotels. As a teenager, thanks to support from her community, she was able to attend an arts academy in Michigan and, soon after graduation, struck off on her own. By the time she was twenty-one she had a multi-platinum debut but the road to her unprecedented success was difficult and did not get easier as her career took its inevitable ups and downs.

While I was familiar with some of Jewel’s songs and aware that she had spent some time homeless on her road to fame and fortune, I knew little of her story. “Never Broken” is surprisingly hopeful and positive, despite the author’s struggles. This is another inspiring story by a brave individual. The audio version, narrated by the author, includes a number of solo recordings which fans will want to hear.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

These Shallow Graves

Cover image for These shallow graves 
These Shallow Graves
By Jennifer Donnelly
Delacorte Press, 2015, 487 pages, Young Adult Mystery Fiction

When her father is found dead of a supposed suicide, Jo Montfort is convinced that something doesn’t add up. When she meets cub reporter Eddie Gallagher, who claims to have proof that her father’s death was actually a murder, Jo will have to decide how much she is willing to risk and lose in order to uncover the truth.

Drawing on the escapades of female reporter Nelly Bly and the writing of Edith Wharton, Jennifer Donnelly writes a fast-paced, suspenseful thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat. Jo is a fun, plucky heroine who isn’t afraid to buck convention in order to get to the truth. Although not incredibly graphic, this book is definitely aimed for older teens since it discusses many of the problems of New York City in the Gilded Age. This book is aimed toward a YA audience, but I think those who enjoyed Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits with Gun will enjoy this book as well.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Best Boy

Cover image for Best boy : a novel 
Best Boy
By Eli Gottlieb
Liveright Publishing, 2015, 248 pages, General Fiction

A middle-aged autistic resident of a therapeutic community where he was sent as a young child rebels against changes in his environment by attempting to return to a family home and younger sibling he only partially remembers.

Eli Gottlieb’s latest book has been getting a lot of buzz, and it’s no wonder. You don’t normally find fiction written from the perspective of someone with autism. Todd is an interesting, simple sort of man who just wants to be happy. His condition makes it so that he’s not really sure how to attain that goal. It was interesting to see how all of the clues to what was really going on in the story were there; Todd knew about them, he just didn’t pick up on the importance of the clues because his mind processes things differently. I don’t know much about autism, so I don’t know if this is an incredibly accurate portrayal of how someone with autism sees the world. However, it seems like a pretty good guess and it’s given me a lot to think about.

While this book has a pretty high aim, don’t be turned off by the premise. This book is easy to read and has some unexpected moments of humor. It deserves all of the buzz it’s getting.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Winter (Lunar Chronicles #4)

By Marissa Meyer
Feiwel and Friends, 2015. 832 pgs.  Young Adult.

In the final book of The Lunar Chronicles, Cinder, Kai, Iko, Scarlet, Wolf, Cress, and Thorne unite to launch a revolution on Luna. The group of friends, hoping to prevent Queen Levana’s ascension to the throne of Earth’s Eastern Commonwealth, find unexpected supported from her kind but unstable stepdaughter. Horrified by the cruelty Levana and her court wreak with their mental manipulations, Winter has refused for years to use her Lunar Gift, in spite of the madness that results. When Winter learns who Cinder really is, she shows surprising grit in defying Levana and facing her own fears.

Though Winter is more than 800 pages long, the plot moves briskly. In Scarlet and especially Cress, switching perspectives was sometimes frustrating because one storyline might be more interesting than the others. Things happened so quickly in Winter, though, that I was fully invested in every storyline. Meyer continues to impress me with her surprising twists to familiar tales, and she neatly wraps up all of her plotlines for a satisfying conclusion.

I listened to the audiobook of Winter narrated by Rebecca Soler, and I definitely recommend it. Soler is an excellent reader who brings Meyer’s characters and story to life.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice
By Thomas Pynchon
New York: Penguin Press, 2009. 369 pp. Mystery.

In this mystery, private investigator and hippie, Doc Sportello, is plunged into the seedy underbelly of late ‘60s - early ‘70s L.A. when is ex-girlfriend, Shasta, comes to him with a kidnapping plot she wants him to foil. At the same time, he’s looking for a missing body guard, investigating a dead musician rumored to be alive and well, and delving into the case of a runaway daughter of wealthy parents. In true noir style, his cases become connected to one another as he unfolds the larger conspiracy at hand, interviews a cast of counterculture characters and has several run-ins with cops whose motives and methods become increasingly questionable.

Doc’s carefree personality, reminiscent of “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski (1998) film, colors him unassuming to many, and disarms those from whom he seeks information. This, matched with his apparent deductive skills, allows him to de-tangle the web he’s found himself woven into and makes it enjoyable to ride alongside him as he does.

This may be one of Pynchon’s more accessible novels, and a good place to start if you’re interested in reading his more complex and often longer works (Gravity’s Rainbow, Bleeding Edge, The Crying of Lot 49, etc.). There is some harsh language, adult situations, and drug references within, so readers who may find this content objectionable will want to consider other selections. This book is a psychedelic sprint into a hazy world of crime, conspiracy, and secrets, but softened by humor and unique and interesting characters.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince

Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince
by Lisa Hilton
Boston: Houton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2015. 384 pp. Biography

Given the staggering number of biographies of Elizabeth I and histories of the Tudor period more generally, one would have thought there was nothing particularly new or interesting to say on this subject. Quite the contrary. Lisa Hilton, instead of the usual cradle to grave chronology of her subject, examines various aspects of her life and the various influences upon it through the lens of the lessons of Machiavelli's The Prince. While she may not have read the book, the author contends that she applied those principles of realpolitik to the challenges she had to face in Renaissance and Reformation Europe. The author presents some fascinating revisionist arguments and historical precedents about the role of women in court life, how women could wield power and royal authority on equal terms with men and how the role of sovereign could transcend normal gender categories (thus the description of Elizabeth as a prince, not a princess). This was a fascinating and enjoyable book. This is a must read for anyone who enjoys historical biographies in general or the Tudor dynasty in particular.



by Amie Kaufman
Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 2015. 599 pp. Young Adult

Set in the 26th century, a remote planet's colony, illegally established, is destroyed by a rival interplanetary corporate conglomerate, sending refugees to a warship and science vessel sent to assist the colony. Suffering damage from a battle with the starships that attacked the colony, the defending vessels must flee to the nearest stargate to seek assistance. From there, one of the most engaging and creative novels I have read takes off. Avoiding many of the usual science fiction tropes, this book has political intrigue, a possibly insane AI, zombies, and because this is a YA novel, teen romance. The writing style is quite interesting as well, the story largely presented as a series of interview transcripts, email and IM exchanges, log entries and action reports, etc. Those readers who find salty language off putting will be happy to discover that it is redacted throughout the story.

This is the first volume in the Illuminae Files trilogy. I am looking forward to the next volume with considerable anticipation.


Friday, January 1, 2016

by Richard O. Cowan & Justin R. Bray
Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2015. 364 pgs. Nonfiction

Provo’s Two Temples is a beautifully written and lavishly illustrated history of each of the two LDS temples now in Provo. The first temple was dedicated in 1972. The first half of this volume tells the story of the planning, building and use of this first Provo Temple. The story of the second temple is a little more complicated. On December 17, 2010 a devastating fire gutted the Provo Tabernacle and left little but the brick walls. The Tabernacle has been rebuilt to be the Provo City Center Temple, and the second half of this volume tells the story of the former Tabernacle, the fire, and the construction of the new temple, which is scheduled to open in March of 2016.

This book was a surprisingly quick and enjoyable read. There were many interesting details, fabulous photographs, and the authors have included quite a few quotes from a variety of individuals which provide a personal touch to the text. One last note: in an age in which many books are produced cheaply this is one that has been well built. This is a book that will endure.