Friday, June 30, 2017

Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride

Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride
By Lucy Knisley
First Second, 2016. 292 pages. Graphic Novel, Biography.

Graphic novelist Lucy Knisley opens a window to her life for us once again, this time as she navigates the minefield of planning her own wedding. A simple celebration of love with her friends and family sounds easy enough to put together in a year, right? Easier said than done, turns out. Wedding planning is fraught with of cultural, familial, and commercial expectations, and sifting through it all is a bigger job than the the author and her groom-to-be realized. Lucy shares it all, from proposal to wedding day - and all the bumps in between - with her relatable, honest humor.

 As a fan of Knisley's past work, I was pretty keen on reading this book. While I'm not married or anywhere near becoming engaged, I've been a part of several weddings so I had no trouble giggling or cringing along to these hilarious anecdotes. It's easy to relate to Knisley's tales thanks to her easy-going and accessible storytelling, and her quest to create a meaningful wedding focused on her marriage, not just the party, will resonate with Utah brides/bridegrooms past and present. If you're new to Knisley's work, she loves food (check out her book Relish: My Life in the Kitchen) and as one of the between-chapter interludes she includes a recipe for poutine (fries with cheese and gravy). PS. It's delicious.


Zahra’s Paradise

Zahra’s Paradis
By Amir & Khalil
First Second, 2011. 255 pgs. Graphic Novel

During the street protests after the 2009 elections in Iran, a young man, Mehdi, disappears. His mother and brother, a blogger and the book’s narrator, search for him everywhere, but there’s no trace of him. He’s not at the morgue, the hospital, and the prison claims to have no records of him. Mehdi’s family fight to find him against the cruel and corrupt regime, but soon their poking around attracts the worst kind of attention.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this graphic novel, but I found it very moving, and also very unsettling. I know very little about the 2009 Iranian elections, but this provided me a small glimpse of the aftermath and what it looked like for regular families. I really appreciated that it shows a side of Iran that is often overshadowed or ignored in the media. For someone hoping to broaden their horizons and understand a little better what the people of Iran have experienced, this is an easy recommendation. However, be aware that this is definitely for a mature audience.


Chickens in the Headlights: a novel

Chickens in the Headlights: a novel
by Matthew Buckley
Covenant Communications, 2005, 206 pgs. Fiction

Summer vacation has just begun for the Buckley family and all seven boys, under the age of eleven, are ready for summer adventure! They have begged their parents for farm animals ever since they moved to the country in Utah, and this year their dreams are realized. They will be getting chickens and goats! But before the real excitement can begin, they have to travel to visit grandma in California. Seven boys in one giant van with barely functioning air controls for 15 hours makes for a chaotic road trip that nearly drives dad crazy. Once they return home they finally get their farm animals, however taking care of chickens and goats is more difficult than the boys imagined. Told from the perspective of the second oldest brother Matthew, this book has crazy family home evenings, an unfortunate incident with warm powdered milk, an executive order to save the last zucchini plant, and a fight with the school bullies, and it will keep you laughing from start to finish! 

This book is hilarious, and I absolutely love it! I have read it multiple times and it has me laughing hard every time. The brothers get into all sorts of shenanigans and I love how the writing style shows the logic of an eight year old. I also highly recommend the audio version because the narration is excellent. This is a clean read that the whole family can enjoy.  This book has a sequel, Bullies in the Headlights.


Dead Letters

Dead Letters
By Caite Dolan-Leach
Random House, 2017, 332 pgs. Fiction

After an estrangement of several years, Ava Antipova must return home from graduate school in Paris when she learns that her twin sister Zelda has been killed in a tragic fire.  The problem is, Ava knows her sister too well.  Zelda's death is too perfect and Ava struggles to believe she is actually gone.  Then when she starts receiving email messages from beyond the grave Ava is determined to figure out what her sister is up to and find her before this extreme prank goes too far.

I enjoyed this novel far more than I had expected to.  The Antipova family were a bit hilarious,  alarmingly dysfunctional, and fun to get to know.  The mystery kept me guessing and while the ending wasn't completely unexpected it was completely satisfactory.  Finding hidden gems in our fiction collection is always a treat and I'm glad I ran out of things to listen to and tried something a little different.


Music of the Ghosts

Music of the Ghosts
By Vaddey Ratner
Touchstone, 2017, 324 pgs.  Fiction

After escaping Cambodia as a child, Teera returns to fulfill a dying request of her beloved aunt as well as to meet with a man claiming to have known her father before he died as a political prisoner twenty-five years ago.  Known to her only as "the Old Musician", Teera both fears and desperately longs to learn more about how her father died and how she is connected to the mysterious old man.

This novel is told from varying perspectives in varying time periods.  Slowly the stories are revealed as each character finds solace and peace despite violent histories.  What I most loved about this book was how the author describes both Cambodia and its people.  They become characters by their own rights and I learned so much about their history and how they are striving to recover and move forward to a more promising and peaceful future.  Beautiful, lyrical writing tells a story of hope and healing.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Thick as Thieves (The Queen's Thief #5)

Thick as Thieves (The Queen’s Thief #5) 
By Megan Whalan Turner 
Harper Collins, 2017. 336 pages. 

Kamet, a high-status slave of the Mede Empire, unexpectedly finds himself on the run with an unlikely companion. This latest installment of the Queen’s Thief series is full of Megan Whalen Turner’s characteristic wit and endearing characters. Though all the books in the series follow one another chronologically, each one can be read and enjoyed as a standalone work and Thick as Thieves is no exception. 

I love that each book in the series is told from a different character’s perspective, and Kamet holds his own as a unique and loveable addition to the narrators. The real selling point for me, however, is the return of one of my favorite characters from the series, known in this volume solely as “The Attolian.” This is not only an exciting tale of chase and survival but also of enduring friendships that readers of all ages can enjoy. 


Shifting Shadows

Shifting Shadows 
By Patricia Briggs
Ace Books, 2014. 450 pages, Science Fiction

This is a fun collection of short stories from the Mercy Thompson World. In this collection there are stories giving greater insight into characters like Sam, David, and Ben. Each story works to build the Mercy Thompson world with a little more insight to some of the characters that we know and love, as well as some of the characters that were only mentioned in passing.

I really enjoyed the majority of the short stories in this book. The first one was a little long and hard to get through but the rest of them are absolutely compelling and so much fun to read and enjoy. My personal favorite was Ben’s story “Redemption “ .Ben has been one of my favorite characters since book three in the Mercy Thompson series. Ben has learned from life experience that the only person he can depend on is himself, and his main focus has always been looking out for number one. I love the insight and growth in this one it really made me smile at who Ben grew to be while still being himself.


Friday, June 23, 2017

The Masked City

The Masked City
By Genevieve Cogman
ROC, 2016. 372 pages. Fantasy

In the second installment of the Invisible Library series, Irene must travel deep into a chaos infested world run by the Fae after her assistant Kai is kidnapped from the alternate Victorian steampunk earth they had been living in. Kai is the youngest son of dragon royalty and it’s up to Irene to save him before the dragons start a war with the Fae, their longtime foes.

Full of fast-paced action including an epic prison break and a final showdown on a train á la the wild west. This installment lacks some of the energy of the first book, but it’s still a fun, inventive fantasy with a smart, tough, and witty female heroine.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Women in the Castle

The Women in the Castle
By Jessica Shattuck
William Morrow, 2016. 353 pgs. Historical Fiction

Set toward the end of WWII, this novel tells the story of Marianne von Lingenfels, the widow of a German resister who was murdered after the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. She made a promise to try to protect other widows of resisters and she plans to keep it. Soon she has gathered Benita and Ania and their children to a crumbling Bavarian castle. These three women must navigate a world full of uncertainty and danger. They ban together and make a home for their children, but eventually their secrets pull them apart.

I enjoyed this historical fiction novel that looked at the difficulties faced by German women and children during and after WWII. It was a unique perspective that I haven't really read before. I also liked that the author examined the guilt that German citizens experienced over what their leaders and fellow-citizens did during the war. This book gave me a lot to think about and there would be a lot of good topics to talk about in a book club.


The Heir

by Kiera Cass
HarperCollins, 364 pages, fiction.

THE HEIR is book No. 4 in the Selection series, carrying on the story with America Singer's daughter named Evelyn. Besides being related to previous characters in the series, this book and No. 5 THE CROWN stand alone as their own mini story. Much like her mother, Evelyn is headstrong and determined, wanting to be able to make her own choices and not have a 'selection' for a husband forced upon her. As the competition begins she faces various challenges while learning about herself and the possibility of her own fairy-tale ending.

Overall, I really enjoyed this entire series. This book starts up a whole new plot different from the first three in the series, so it's fun to see new characters develop and how they will handle political and relationship problems. Evelyn is a less likeable character throughout most of this book, which is why it's so wonderful to see her grown up and treat people better. I always love a good love story and this one keeps you guessing for while!


Monday, June 19, 2017

The Daily Show (The Book)

The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests
By Chris Smith and Jon Stewart
Grand Central Publishing, 2016.  459 pages.  Nonfiction

This is an oral history of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the political satire comedy show that ran under Stewart for 16 years, won 23 Emmys, and launched the careers of many of today's brightest comedians. Chris Smith has interviewed an impressive amount of people for this book and has compiled it all together in a coherent and even compelling way.  The book recounts not just the process of how episodes were made, but also behind-the-scenes looks at many significant moments from the show, and even includes details of scuffs between staff - how they were resolved and how they affected the show going forward.

While this is an overview of the show from its inception, it is also an overview of major events of the past two decades, especially the political landscape and its shifts.  And while there were many people involved, special focus is given to Jon Stewart, whose drive and commitment to not just regurgitating the news with jokes but having an actual viewpoint helped create an entirely new kind of show and influenced countless viewers for the better part of two decades.  It doesn't always paint Stewart in a flattering light, but its hard not to come away from this book without an appreciation for his work ethic, his personal integrity, and his ability to think critically and speak eloquently, even in charged situations.  This is a fascinating history of a cultural phenomenon and the people who powered it. Be aware that, like the show, there is plenty of cursing in this book.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope

By Wendy Holden
HarperCollins, 2015. 385 pgs. Nonfiction

Separated from their husbands, three young mothers imprisoned by the Nazis in the fall of 1944 manage to conceal their pregnancies from Nazi doctor Josef Mengele when they arrive at Auschwitz. Young and still healthy the women are sent to work in harsh conditions at a labor camp in Freiburg. Unknown to each other they continue to hide their pregnancies even as they are nearly starved to death. As the Germans fall back and the Allies approach, one gives birth in the factory clinic to a tiny baby just before they are all loaded onto trains to be transported to Mauthausen. Two more babies born on that treacherous journey also survive to be liberated by American troops.

The author relates the early lives of these three women, their marriages, and their lives after liberation.  For those not as familiar with the Holocaust, the author also gives background information about Nazi policies and the conditions in the countries they occupied as Jews are placed in ghettos and concentrations camps. Unknown to each other while in the camps, after the war the three women raised strong children. Bonded by their incredible births and their strong mothers, the three children finally meet  to celebrate their survival. This story deserves to be told and the author’s writing is excellent.  Be warned, however, that there are graphic descriptions of life in the camps and the inhuman treatment prisoners received.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Scrooge #worstgiftever

Scrooge #worstgiftever
By Charles Dickens & Brett Wright
Random House, 2016. 90 pages. Young Adult

Scrooge #worstgiftever is a retelling of The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens through text messages, status updates, and lots of emojis, part of the "OMG Classics" collection.  I have to say that the other OMG Classic I read, Darcy Swipes Left (a Pride and Prejudice retelling), did a little more to update the story and use a broader range of platforms whereas this book was more of a straightforward translation of The Christmas Carol into an SMS feed with emojis.  Still, there were fun touches: the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come only speaks in emojis, and there were playful references to auto correct (Bah HAM BUG) and wrong numbers ("Scrooge: Tell me, stranger - what day is it?!" "555-1422: New phone, who dis?")  This is a fun, quick read, and will be appreciated by those with a sense of humor and an affinity for social media.


This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live

This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live
by Melody Warnick
Viking, 2016, 320 pages, Non-Fiction

Austin, Texas, was supposed to be the city where Melody Warnick and her family stayed forever. But soon after moving there, they packed their belongings and, like millions of restless Americans, ventured cross-country. This time, though, Melody had an epiphany. Rather than hold her breath and hope Blacksburg, Virginia, was her perfect town, she would figure out how to fall in love with her new home. Warnick's journey to find out what makes us love our towns and cities, and why it matters, is at the heart of This Is Where You Belong. She dives into the body of research about place attachment--the deep sense of connection that residents sometimes feel with their towns--and travels to towns across America to see it in action.

I’m a Provo native, so there’s a lot about Provo that makes it feel more like home than anywhere else I’ve lived. At the same time, I’ve also really enjoyed the other places I’ve lived too, and there’s a special place in my heart for each of them. Warnick’s pointers on how a person can become place-attached weren’t that surprising, but discussing the merits of things such as getting to know your neighbors, being involved in local events, volunteering, shopping locally, and exploring the outdoors made me wonder what more I could be doing to be involved in my community. I think this book goes along really well with our summer reading theme: Build a Better World.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ghostland: American History in Haunted Places

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places 
By Colin Dickey 
Viking, 2016. 320 pages. 

 Author Colin Dickey was in the market to buy a house after the housing market crash of 2008. His tour of foreclosed and empty homes (or “zombie homes”) inspired him to write about American history in terms of his haunted houses, cemeteries, prisons, and asylums. Ghost fans will recognize such beloved favorites as the Winchester Mystery House, The Stanley Hotel, and Amityville, as well as many others. 

 This book is by no means a scary read, but instead invokes elements of history and American folklore. Everyone knows about Sarah Winchester’s supernatural visitors urging her to build her sprawling mansion, but is that the whole story? Dickey not only explores the veracity of ghost stories, but delves into historical explanations as well. Why do some ghosts haunt places that they visited instead of places where they died? What causes a ghost story to live on in oral tradition and lore? Does racial bias have anything to do with the types of ghost stories told (and experienced) in an area with a history of slavery? Dickey explores these questions and more in this volume of America’s more supernatural history.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Saints at Devil's Gate

By Laura Allred Hurtado & Byron C. Andreasen
The Church Historian’s Press, 2016. 143  pgs. Nonfiction

In this lovely book about the LDS Church History Library exhibit "Saints at Devil's Gate," beautiful landscape paintings of sites along the Mormon Trail are accompanied by quotes from pioneers who wrote in their journals about the scenery. Placed alongside the landscapes are historical notes, curator's insights and comments by the artists, John Burton, Josh Clare and Bryan Mark Taylor. More than fifty paintings are included in the book, of which only a fraction can be viewed in the online exhibit.  While not an overly large book, the landscapes are still reproduced at three or four times the size they can be seen online.  The book format is ideal for really spending time with the artwork and commentary. Viewing the sensitively rendered paintings and reading the pioneers’ words is a haunting and inspirational experience.   This is a wonderful book to spend time with on a Sunday afternoon.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Above the Dreamless Dead

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics 
by Chris Duffy (Editor)
First Second, 2014, 144 pages, Nonfiction

Above the Dreamless Dead brings together World War I poetry and interpretive illustrations by contemporary cartoonists. Edited by New York Times-bestselling editor Chris Duffy, this collection includes twenty poems and other works by thirteen prominent Trench Poets (thus called as many were soldiers writing from the front lines), including Rudyard Kipling, Wilfred Owen, and Thomas Hardy.

 Already gripping and evocative, these timeless works have been beautifully re-imagined by incredibly talented artists. Each cartoonist’s style lends itself perfectly to the work illustrated: Hunt Emerson’s caricature-like style brings out the humor of solider songs; Hannah Berry gives a face to the ploughman of Edward Thomas’ “The Private”; while George Pratt’s expressive drawings capture the drama and gravity of Wilfred Owen’s poems. As a fan of World War I poetry and illustration, this book was absolutely perfect, a must-have for my personal library. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys poetry, graphic novels, illustration, and/or World War I history. Even if you only like one of those topics, or none of them, you should treat yourself to this work of art.


Too Big to Know

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now that the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room
By David Weinberger
Basic Books, 2011, 231 pages, Nonfiction

Dr. David Weinberger is the author of several books mostly discussing the effect of the internet on our ideas. His latest book, Too Big to Know, examines how the instantaneous, collaborative, social, and hyperlinked nature of information in the age of the internet has fundamentally transformed how people acquire knowledge.

Using several enlightening examples, Weinberger explores the knowledge that can be gained from unbound networks that form the internet. Before the internet, knowledge was sought from experts and the structure of books shaped and filtered knowledge. But the internet scales indefinitely meaning with today’s instant access to these immeasurable amounts of data, any person; amateur or expert is able to explore new possibilities and new solutions to any issue.

This is a quick read that I found this to be a fascinating topic. I would highly recommend it to those interested in the way the future is changing or those interested in learning and how we gain knowledge.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Strange the Dreamer

Cover image for Strange the dreamer
Strange the Dreamer
By Laini Taylor
Little, Brown & Co, 2017, 536 pages, Young Adult Fiction

Since he was five years old Lazlo Strange has been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep. Lazlo is an orphan who was raised by monks and grew up to be a junior librarian. He is clearly not the stuff that adventurers are made of. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself when a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors come to town, claiming they are from the city of Weep and asking for help. Lazlo has the chance to seize his dream, and he takes it. But travelling with the Godslayer soon brings up more questions than answers: What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? What is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? And more personally, who is the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo's dreams? How did he dream of her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

At one point in this book, someone asks Lazlo Strange to tell a fantastic story, full of both beauty and monsters. It’s obvious that Laini Taylor knows this is a great formula for a writer to follow, because Strange the Dreamer is just such a story, and this story is pretty much perfect. Taylor’s skill weaving classic fantasy tropes into a completely new novel is evident here. Although the tale starts out slowly, Taylor’s lush writing, detailed world building, and intriguing characters held my attention until the story really took off and ended at a cliffhanger that has me impatiently waiting the next book in this duology.

Lovers of fantasy novels such as Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, Taylor’s own Daughter of Smoke and Bone series (and dare I even suggest older teens who loved Harry Potter?) will enjoy this book.


Friday, June 2, 2017

The Black Witch

The Black Witch 
By Laurie Forest
Harlequin Teen, 2017. 601 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Elloren is the spitting image of her grandmother who was the Black Witch who kept her race safe during the Realm War. Even though she looks like her grandmother she has no magical abilities in a world where little else is important. When Elloren finally gets to go to University with her brothers to pursue her dream of becoming an Apothecary, but she soon comes to understand that this school which allows all manner of people to attend, is not the safest place for granddaughter and look alike of the Black Witch.

I absolutely loved this book! This has been my favorite book I have read so far this year. I will acknowledge, you will probably either love this book or you will hate it. There are not many people who seem to stay on the fence about this book. This book has a lot of emotional themes as you follow the story of this girl who was born into a dominant race and then when she goes to the University she then has to question a lot of her core beliefs. It wasn’t simple it did not magically come together but I found it so fascinating to watch Elloren grow and become a person who had a broader perspective of life after she met these people verses at the beginning when she felt like she had an understanding of how the world worked. This is a very racially charged book and may cause some emotional conflict but I think this book has potential to broaden a person’s perspective and if you are willing to go on that kind of journey this is a fantastic story.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

I'd Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido

I’d Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido
By Joan Sewell
Broadway Books, 2007. 213 pages. Nonfiction

Welcome to the life of Joan, a low-libido woman in a relationship with Kip, a high-libido man. Joan thinks everything is going fine with her 3 times a month “false spontaneity” plan until she asks Kip how often he would like to have sex. The answer shocks her and sends her on a quest to step up her libido. She recounts with brutal and often hilarious honesty her attempts to try everything that the sexperts recommend, from spiritual mindfulness to wearing thongs. As each prescription fails to affect a cure, however, Joan starts wondering if anything is actually wrong with her and whether the “experts” she sees on TV know as much about women as they think they do.

This book was a page-turning, laugh-out-loud blast. I read the entire thing in pretty much one sitting because I couldn’t put it down. I was curious to see how each new “solution” would play out, and Joan’s conversational tone wrapped me up in her story. While she tends to show herself in a somewhat deprecating light and writes Kip as a martyr, both people come across as so real and relatable that you can’t help but find out what happens to them. Joan keeps a lively sense of humor throughout, so even the toughest topics keep from being too dark. I think this book is a marvelous manifesto on the libido gap between men and women, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in a modern rethink of the outdated Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.


The Long Earth

The Long Earth
By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Harper, 2012. 336 pages. Sci-Fi

In this non-Discworld novel, Terry Pratchett and co-author Stephen Baxter explore an interesting concept: what if humans had the ability to reach all the Earths that could have been? After the invention of a simple device powered by a potato, the people of the world discover that they have the ability to Step—to travel to neighboring Earths on the possibility tree. What if the Ice Age had never ended? What if humans had never evolved? What if, what if. Each one of these options suddenly becomes a place that humanity can visit. The further you get from home, or “Datum Earth” as it’s now called, the stranger things become. Two adventurers—a sentient computer program named Lobsang and a Davy Crockett-style celebrity Stepper named Joshua Valienté—embark on a quest to Step as far as they can and discover the end of the Long Earth.

Fans of Terry Pratchett will definitely find his signature style within this book. Lobsang, a computer program who claims to be a Tibetan motorcycle repairman reborn, is pure Discworld. However, this work is far more contemplative than most of Pratchett’s humor writing. There are very few laugh-out-loud moments, and the book occasionally reads more like a pop science article than a novel. The emphasis is definitely on the concept more than the characters or plot. This leads to a slower pace, and I often found that I enjoyed thinking about the book more than I did actually reading it. Despite cosmic focus, however, I found Lobsang and Joshua both charming and their interactions amusing, and I was as eager as they were to discover the end of the Long Earth. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an interesting soft sci-fi that might change the way you look at the world, or (of course) to fans of Terry Pratchett.


Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation Into Space

Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation Into Space
By Margot Lee Shetterly
HaperCollins, 2016. 231 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

One of the recent trends I've noticed is, amazing nonfiction books being adapted for a young reader's edition. While I haven't yet read the original book, I've seen the movie based on the book (I loved it!) and I thought this was very good adaptation. Having seen the movie first, gave me the context needed to really enjoy learning about these women and this time in history.

Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden are a few of the many women who worked for NASA in the 1950s and 1960s. These women were master mathematicians who played a vital role in aeronautics during war times and in the space age. I was enthralled by their individual stories and the way these women as a whole influenced our nation. I would recommend this book (and movie) to anyone.