Monday, October 30, 2017

Dark Breaks the Dawn

Dark Breaks the Dawn 
by Sara B. Larson
Scholastic Press, 2017, 307 pgs Young Adult

Princess Evelayn of Eadrolan is the Princess of the Light Kingdom and when she turned 18 she came into the full strength of her power. Her kingdom has been at war for the last ten years when Princess Evalayn came into her full power. Shortly after coming into her power Evelayn’s mother dies in the field of battle making her the queen. This book follows the story of Evelayn as she tries to pull her country out of the field of battle and bring balance to her land.

This was a very compelling novel, I was on the edge of my seat all the way to the end and once I got there I was wishing the second book was out already. This is a retelling of Swan Lake, I really enjoyed listening to it I think some of the words would be hard to pronounce without the reader reading it. I loved the growth of the characters and the development of the relationships. I liked the concept of the magic in this world. If you like fairy tale retelling
this may be the book for you.


How to Find Love in a Bookshop

How to Find Love in a Bookshop
By Veronia Henry
Viking, 2017. 340 pgs. Fiction

Emilia was raised with books, quite literally. She grew up in a flat above Nightingale Books, her father's bookshop. Julius, Emilia's father, had a way of connecting with people and had a vast influence in their tiny English town. After Julius's death, Emilia takes over the bookshop, facing challenges from the get go just to keep the doors open. Along the way we see how far the members of the community will go to help Emilia and each other.

I loved finding out about Emilia and Julius' back stories as well as meeting many of the local townspeople. This book had a similar feel to The Bookshop on the Corner, cozy and inviting. I found myself quickly cheering on the success of Emilia and those supporting keeping the bookshop in business. This was a light, fun novel; recommended for anyone who's looking for a bookish read!


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Screwtape Letters

Screwtape Letters
by C.S. Lewis
HarperCollins, 2013. Fiction, 223 pages.

As with most jobs it's helpful to have a mentor to give guidance and counsel. The Junior Tempter named Wormwood has his experienced uncle, Demon Screwtape to give this much needed career advice. In a series of letters Screwtape carefully explains to Wormwood  how to catch 'the patient' in the common sins and temptations in order to completely disillusion the man from God and Christian belief practices and thereby lead 'the patient' into damnation.

This novel is written in satirical and fictional style, but is dense with Christian theological issues. Because of the backwards perspective of the demon tempters, the takeaways are more poignant for the average reader. I found that as I read this book my many sins, weaknesses and temptations were laid bare before me. This is both helpful and discouraging in the same vein because there is always so much room for improvement. It becomes more apparent where those gaps in character and obedience may be, while simultaneously giving hope for change and faith in Christ. I would recommend for all, but could be confusing for non-Christian readers.


The Little Prince

The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Harcourt Books, 1943.  83 pages, Fiction.

Styled as a children's book, The Little Prince is actually a philosophical and poetic tale giving a critique of the adult world. Saint-Exupery describes experiences derived from his childhood and a plane crash in the Sahara where he meets a little prince from another world. This little prince teaches  about his world and travels, all the while asking questions and giving a fresh perspective on the world through a child's eyes. This world-acclaimed novella has been translated and republished again and again because of its timeless truths and endearing storyline.

It's been many years since I last reread The Little Prince and with adult eyes it's been very enlightening. There is something to be said for maintaining laughter, curiosity, imagination, asking questions and just saying what you mean. I love the not-so-subtle reminders to avoid big vices like vanity, laziness, discontentment, materialism, lack of spirituality and lack of loving relationships. This is a must read for all adults and children and always a good reread to get back to the basics in order to have a happy and fulfilled life. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Dragon's Price: a Transference Novel

The Dragon’s Price: A Transference Novel
by Bethany Wiggins
Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017. 296 pgs. Young Adult Fiction; Fantasy

 For three hundred years, two kingdoms have been protected from the fire dragon by a powerful spell that keeps it trapped under the mountain. In order to keep the dragon bound each Faodarian princess must willingly offer herself in marriage to the enemy prince or be given to the dragon.
 At birth, the family wizard pronounced that Princess Sorrowlynn would die by her own hand. Now that she is sixteen, the sheltered Sorrowlynn is expected to properly complete her part in the binding ceremony. Everyone is surprised when she chooses the dragon over a forced marriage, especially the young Prince Golmarr, who intended to wed her.
Not willing to give up so easily, Golmarr follows her into the mountain, hoping to slay the dragon and save the princess. As for Sorrow, she assumes she will fulfill her birth prophecy, since dying by her own hand would be less painful than being eaten alive by an angry dragon. However, once the two reach the dragon’s lair, nothing happens as either has planned.

I was surprised by how much I liked this book. I felt like I knew what direction the book was going to go until I got about one third of the way into the book and suddenly I had no idea where it was going. I love it when a book surprises me! I usually like dragon books where the dragons are good guys, or at least don’t eat people. But these dragons are nasty and I still really liked the book.

A Shadow Bright and Burning

A Shadow Bright and Burning
By Jessica Cluess
Random House, 2016. 207 pages. Young Adult Fantasy

In an alternate Victorian England, the country has been under attack for years by powerful demon type beings known as the seven Ancients. There are three types of magic practiced in this world but only sorcery is legal, and it is exclusively male. Henrietta, a young woman living in a rural Yorkshire orphanage, fears her powers to summon fire will have her executed for witchcraft. But when they are eventually revealed, she is astonished to be hailed as the prophesied female sorcerer who will finally defeat the seven Ancients.

Henrietta only agrees to go to London to train as a sorcerer if her childhood friend, Rook, can come along. Years before, Rook was attacked by one of the Ancients and has been fighting a bond to the creature ever since. As Henrietta settles into her new life, making friends with some of the young male sorcerers in training, she is drawn to a trickster magician living on the streets of London. It is through him that she learns the true nature of her ability which may threaten to tip the very precarious balance between human beings and the Ancients.

Young Adult fantasy fans will find much to like in this new series. Henrietta is a strong female who is pragmatic and funny. While in many ways, this is a re-tread of standard fantasy elements such as a Harry Potter-like chosen one, there is still enough fresh detail to make it interesting. One personal complaint is the use of evil monsters from the horror world. I prefer more traditional fantasy evils. Fans of The Dark Days Club should definitely check this book out.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Power of When

The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype--and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More
By Michael Breus
Little, Brown, and Company, 2016. 384 pages. Nonfiction

Your internal clock doesn't just turn on at night - your circadian rhythm is at work throughout the day, and Michael Breus wants to help you make the best of it. The power to reaching our potential lies in focusing more on when we do things, not just what we need to do, and most of us are actually sabotaging ourselves, fighting against our natural rhythms, or chronotype. Discover your chronotype and learn to live in sync with it to work and feel better.

An interesting premise, Breus' ideas help give you power over your daily routine rather than being overpowered by it. First, you take a quiz (Fun! I love quizzes!) to determine your chronotype - Dolphin, Lion, Bear, or Wolf  (Double fun! Cool chronotype names!). The remainder of part one profiles of each chronotype and breaks down how an ideal day as a Dolphin/Lion/Bear/Wolf would look according to Breus' suggestions. Part Two elaborates on the best time for certain tasks (exercise, making plans, approaching different tasks at work) by topic, with advice for all four chronotypes. Part Two gets a little repetitive, but Breus does a good job of getting right to the point and including fun facts, so whether you're reading through or just skimming for your chronotype, you won't get bogged down. What I like most about this book is that Breus, a clinical psychologist, is an academic, has done his research, and is careful to note that you should always consult your doctor and follow their direction over any suggestions in this book. I'd recommend this book to anyone who feels ruled by the almighty 8-5 work day and/or frustrated at their energy levels throughout the day. The chronotype model is pretty general, and the schedules do favor the typical 8-5 work day, so while the details may not exactly fit your lifestyle, the main principles do.

Quick testimonial: My chronotype is a Wolf, described by the author as "...night-oriented creative extroverts with a medium sleep drive." In short - not morning people. I haven't adopted the full suggested schedule, but I have tried a few things. In particular, the waking-up strategy recommended for Wolves has seriously helped, and it feels great to not wake up automatically enraged at my alarm clock/the sun/the universe itself.


The Happiness Advantage

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work
By Shawn Achor
Crown Business, 2010. 272 pgs.  Nonfiction

Many of us work with the mindset that if we accomplish certain goals, happiness will follow.  If I lose weight, if I get a raise, if I get a different job, then I can be happy.  But recent research in the field of positive psychology shows that happiness fuels success instead.  When we are positive our brains become more engaged, resilient, energetic, and productive.  In his book, Achor describes a significant amount of research supporting this conclusion, and recommends certain guidelines and practices that can help increase our positivity and as a result, our success.

This is a great read for anyone although it is targeted at business readers.  The "Seven Principles" he describes sometimes include common-sense advice you've heard before (such as tackle smaller problems first before moving on to bigger challenges).  But I appreciated that Achor's information was reinforced by many examples and studies.  Beyond this, simply reading the book and actively thinking about positivity for an extended period of time had a marked effect on my productivity and outlook.  The audiobook is narrated by Achor himself and goes a bit slow.  I'd recommend increasing the speed a bit as you listen.



By Fredrik Backman
Atria Books, 2017.  418 pgs. Fiction

For residents of Beartown, nothing is more important than hockey.  It is a hockey town and this year the Junior team is headed to the championship.  From the first few paragraphs, though, readers are aware that things are not right and someone, a few days after the championship game, will be staring into the barrel of gun.  Between those hopeful days leading up to the big game to the tragedy that will follow it, Beartown delves into the characters and deepest desires of Beartown residents.  No one will be prepared for how it all ends.

From the author of A Man Called Ove, comes a very different sort of story.  Ove was a cantankerous but ultimately loveable character, as was Britt-Marie and little Elsa.  Beartown is home to some less extreme personalities and less of the  mesmerizing character development of previous novels.  This book instead, demonstrates the ills of society and how we raise our sons and daughters to know what is right and how to prioritize our passions.  Not as heartwarming as I had expected, but it definitely left me thinking.


Into the Water

Into the Water
By Paula Hawkins
Riverhead Books, 2017. 388 pgs. Fiction  9780735211209

A history of drownings haunts a dark watering hole outside a small town.  Troublesome women tend to disappear beneath its calm surface.  The most recent death, that of a single mother who was particularly fascinated with the pool, is bound to disturb the river’s dark history.  As with most small towns, there are plenty of secrets to uncover and feathers to ruffle when investigators conduct their investigation.

Into the Water definitely has a creepy tone and I enjoyed it a lot more than I did Hawkins’ last novel, Girl on the Train.  The characters here, while still dark and damaged, were far more likable and I felt the mystery was satisfying.  I thought I had it all figured out several times and discovered that in the end, I didn’t have it figured out at all.  This is a great suspense novel with a surprising dose of human insight.


Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars

Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars
By Jeff Lemire
Image Comics, 2015. 160 pgs. Graphic Novel

In this first volume of the critically acclaimed series, Tim-21, a robot programmed to be a child's companion, wakes up from being shut down, and finds a universe that has vastly changed. A mysterious robot attack has broken the galactic confederacy of planets apart and all robots are being hunted down and destroyed out of fear of it happening again. For Tim-21, this leads to a terrifying journey to survive attacks from bounty hunters, government agencies, and fanatics, and find out where his old master has gone. For those searching for him, Tim represents a chance to understand why the attack on humanity happened and how to stop it from happening again.

This series is a must read sci-fi novel, regardless of whether you like graphic novels or not. The story is interesting, fast paced, and touching. It unfolds in a way that there are exciting revelations on a regular basis, which makes it easy to be sucked into the book. Despite how well told the story is, my favorite thing about this book was it's characters. Tim-21 acts and thinks like a child which creates a lot of emotional resonance with the reactions that he has to the hostility from other characters. He affects everyone else's behavior, for better or worse, which makes everyone's reactions to him really interesting. Overall, it is a great book, and I am excited to see where this series goes next.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Last Star Burning

Last Star Burning
By Caitlin Sangster
Simon Pulse, 2017. 396 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Up until she was eight, Sev was a First, one of the privileged elite in The City. Then her mother was accused of actions so traitorous that she was imprisoned and Sev was reduced to a Fourth, the lowest class of people. She has tried to live quietly since then, but when she’s accused of a crime she didn’t commit, Sev runs from The City and into the dangerous world Outside. It seems everyone she meets has different stories and no straight answers. While trying to figure out who to trust, she realizes that not only is her life at risk, but also the lives of everyone she knows, and trusting the wrong person could have disastrous consequences.

One of the things I really liked about this book was the world building. The author’s use of language and names to suggest how the world (possibly our world?) has changed and evolved, all while maintaining Sev’s very limited perspective and knowledge of history, was believable and consistent. I had a few problems with pacing where some sections seemed to lag, or were repetitive, and there were some issues where the timeline didn’t feel consistent. That being said, I felt the characters had depth and I was really invested in Sev’s progress. The book ended with a cliff hanger and I need to know what happens next. I look forward to Sangster’s next book not only to continue the story, but also to see how she develops as a storyteller. I would recommend this to those who enjoy teen dystopias.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Worth the Wrestle

Worth the Wrestle
by Sheri Dew
Deseret Book, 2017. 104 pgs. Nonfiction

In this book Sheri Dew teaches that questions are good, and examines the process for using good questions to strengthen understanding, whether the questions are doctrinal, historical, procedural, or personal. She teaches how to use questions to become a seeker of truth by engaging in the spiritual wrestle to find answers. She uses personal stories to illustrate different parts of spiritual wrestling, and strongly testifies that engaging in the wrestle is worth the effort.

Sheri Dew gave a presentation at a conference I attended once and I loved it. Since then I have paid attention to the topics she writes about, but this is the first book of hers that I have read. This book spoke to me on many different levels, but I especially like how plain she is in it. She asserts that questions are good, but then she follows her assertion with guidance on how to find answers to said questions. I enjoyed this book so much that I will definitely be checking out her other books.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The City of Miracles

The City of Miracles
By Robert Jackson Bennett
Broadway Books. 2017. 451 pgs. Fantasy.

The third and final book of The Divine Cities series, The City of Miracles, continues the exploration of a world where the Continent, aided by the gods, ruled the world until they were defeated by the island nation of Saypur, who found a way to kill their deities. Though the gods are dead, some of their miracles and creatures remain and the Continent still remembers how the world used to be making this world a volatile place. In this book, Shara Komayd, the former Prime Minister of Saypur, is murdered, leaving her adopted daughter in danger. Her loyal friend and former bodyguard, Sigrud, takes it upon himself to get revenge and protect her daughter. However, there are forces and powers working that he knows nothing about and his journey to find the murderer will put the entire world at risk.

This series is a fantastic blend of fantasy, mystery, and political intrigue that makes it a really interesting read. The characters are distinctive and fun, and they are all brought together in this last novel that pays off your interest in earlier novels. Speaking of that, Sigrud is hands down my favorite character in the series, so having him as the main character was fantastic. I love the world building of the series as well. There is a great interplay between the miraculous and technological wonders which are in the world. In short, I can't recommend this series enough. If you are looking for a mysterious fantasy, look no further.

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down
By John Green
Dutton Books, 2017. 286 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Aza Holmes is just trying to get through each day. She does typical things like going to school and hanging out with her best friend, Daisy, but everything is made more difficult by her anxiety induced thought spirals. When local billionaire Russell Pickett goes missing, the prospect of the $100,000 cash reward motivates Aza and Daisy to rekindle a childhood friendship with his son, Davis. However, any type of normal relationship is complicated by Aza’s thought spirals, and Davis’s situation is much more complicated than they originally realized.

For anyone suffering from anxiety, or that knows someone who is, I can’t recommend this book enough. Overall, this book is about the characters, how Aza deals with her thought spirals, how all-consuming they can become, and how they affect her relationships. The plot, while secondary to Aza’s internal struggles, was enjoyable and a little quirky (I mean, that tuatara!). I would happily read this book again, but I made sure to return it immediately so that others can get the same enjoyment and enlightenment out of it. Highly recommended.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone
By Brené Brown
Random House, 2017. 194 pgs. Nonfiction

I have read (and loved) all of Brené Brown's books and her latest is no exception! This summer I was had a front row seat to see Brené speak when I attended the American Library Association Annual Conference. It was exhilarating to hear her talk about this book before it came out. Like her other books this book focuses on her research. This time on the topic is courage.

Brené describes the four elements of true belonging in detail and explains that  once we live according to these principles we will belong truly to ourselves. The  four elements:
People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.
Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
Hold hands. With Strangers.
Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.

I loved this book so much that I listened to it twice in a row before returning it. I would recommend listening because there's nothing like hearing Brené read her own words. She has such great storytelling along with the research elements and this book is an incredibly interesting one to listen to. I can't recommend this book highly enough!


The Wood

The Wood
By Chelsea Bobulski
Feiwel and Friends, 2017. 313 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Winter has grown up next to a magical wood where thresholds to other places and times open, and occasionally people wander through. It is up to the guardian of the wood to ensure these travelers make it back to their homes. Winter’s family is bound by magic to watch over the wood, and when her father disappears, she becomes the sole guardian. One day she notices that the wood is becoming diseased, and a boy from the 1700s refuses to return to his time. He claims to have information that could help her find her father, but how can anyone from hundreds of years earlier know about her father?

 There is a lot I loved about this book. Winter has a good head on her shoulders. She thinks things through, using what she knows to solve problems and figure out what’s going on. The book was fast-paced and kept me up reading long after I should have gone to bed. It was creepy, thrilling, and I was honestly kind of sad when it was over. If you’re looking for a great fall read, this is something I can easily recommend.



By MacKenzie Cadenhead
Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 264 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Sarah can’t sleep like a typical teenager. At night, she physically acts out her dreams, completely unaware that she is doing so. Being restrained to her bed every night is one way she copes, but after nearly killing a friend at a slumber party she becomes desperate. A promising new drug trial begins and she jumps at the chance to take part, but in addition to putting her to sleep and paralyzing her body, Sarah finds that she can insert herself into others’ dreams, as well as control their bodies while they sleep. When she realizes that Wes Nolan, the new guy at school, also shares her sleep disorder, they plot revenge on the classmates that are ostracizing them.

I thought the premise of this book was interesting, but to me the characters felt one dimensional and overly stereotypical. There are several instances of bullying, drug use (including drugging unaware classmates), and various types of assault that, had these issues been covered differently rather than glossed over, maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me so much. The main character, Sarah, does learn and grow, which is the main redeeming quality, but for me it was too little too late. It was a suspenseful read which is what I was originally looking for, but definitely not my favorite.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey
By Rupi Kaur Andrews
McMeel, 2015. 204 pages.

“I didn’t leave because
I stopped loving you,
I left because the longer 
I stayed the less I loved myself.” 

In this book of beautiful and heart-breaking poetry, author Rupi Kauer explores abuse, love, loss, and healing. The poetry is accompanied by simple yet evocative line illustrations that help translate the feelings conveyed in each poem. Kauer’s unique style is easily accessible, but full raw emotion. For many readers, these poems are like looking into a mirror, finding in them the words to express the hurt and hope that we have all experienced. The first few sections on abuse and loss are difficult to process emotionally, especially for women with histories of abuse, but the last section on feminine strength inspires hope and healing for readers.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman
Atria Books, 2016. 324 pgs. Fiction

Britt-Marie can't stand mess. Her OCD tendencies make her difficult, frustrating and kind of rude. At the age of 63, she leaves her marriage of forty years after she discovers her husband has been having an affair. She has devoted her whole life to her husband and children and now must find work in order to start a new life for herself. She soon finds herself as the caretaker of a run down recreation center in the dying town of Borg. She also becomes the soccer coach to a bunch of misfit kids.

Britt-Marie is another grumpy, unlikable character. She offends most the people she interacts with even when she is trying to give compliments. At first I wasn't sure if I would like this book, but by the end I loved Britt-Marie and all the quirky characters she came in contact with. She learns to live again and to find a place for herself. Fredrik Backman is the author of A Man Called Ove and he once again creates a book with endearing characters that will win your heart.   


Romancing Daphne

Romancing Daphne
by Sarah M. Eden
Covenant, 2017. 317 pgs. Historical Fiction, Romance

Daphne Lancaster is extremely shy and has felt unnoticed her entire life. James Tilburn was kind to her when she was younger and she has dreamed of him ever since. The time has arrived for her to have her first season and she is dreading it because she doesn't have the charm or beauty of her sisters. She is surprised when James Tilburn starts to court her, but things are not as they seem and her greatest fears are confirmed.

I love Sarah Eden's books. I could really relate to Daphne. She was smart and confident in some areas of her life, but felt insecure and backwards in social settings. This is the third book with the Lancaster sisters and I liked seeing characters from the other books make an appearance in this book. James and Daphne are both flawed characters but that is what made me love them even more. This is clean romance, so you can read it without worrying about stumbling across objectionable content.


Friday, October 6, 2017

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions
Peter Brannen
Harper Collins, 2017. 322 pages.

Fossils, asteroids, and geology have never been so entertaining as in Peter Brannen’s The Ends of the World. In this culmination of extensive research, award-winning science journalist Peter Brannen explains each of the five major extinction events of Earth’s geologic history. Everyone is familiar with the giant asteroid responsible for the death of the dinosaurs, but that was just one in several instances in the past 500 million years that virtually all life on our beloved planet has come to a dead end.

Brannen not only describes the causes and effects of each global disaster, but also what life was like in these previous worlds completely foreign to our modern day. In these pages, you’ll encounter dragonflies the size of large birds, giant armored fish with guillotine mouths, flying reptiles the size of small airplanes, and much more. Brannen also explains, in his witty and accessible prose, why all of this information is relevant to us today. Asteroids are a popular harbinger of Armageddon, but in reality climate change has a far more devastating track record.

Scientists today study the past extinction events as a means of understanding what is in store for our planet if humans continue to rapidly release so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through fossil fuel consumption. Ocean acidity from climate change has already destroyed 30 percent our ocean reefs, and humans are currently responsible for the extinction of countless species. Could we now be living in the Earth’s sixth extinction event?


Magpie Murders

Cover image for Magpie murders
Magpie Murders
By Anthony Horowitz
Harper, 2017, 236 pages, Mystery

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway's latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she's intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pund, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan's traditional formula has proved hugely successful. But the more Susan reads Alan’s latest manuscript, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden its pages: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.

This book is a great homage to classic mystery novels with a modern twist. Horowitz obviously knows the elements that make a classic whodunit successful, and he turns some of these elements on their heads to make a really compelling read. While Atticus Pund reminded me a lot of Hercule Poirot, Susan Ryeland seems like a character you would find in a novel by Paula Hawkins or Ruth Ware: a modern woman forced to solve the mystery on her own. I’m a big fan of classic mysteries, so the Atticus Pund storyline was a bit more interesting to me, but Susan’s storyline held my interest as well, and the way everything tied up in the end was highly satisfying.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Disappearance in Damascus: Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War

By Deborah Campbell
Picdor, 2017. 341 pgs. Nonfiction

Deborah Campbell has won awards for her writing focusing on situations in various countries.  Traveling to Damascus, Syria, to cover the stories of Iraqi refugees who fled there, she hires an Iraqi woman named Ahlam as her “fixer,” the person who helps connect her to locals and give her on the ground help with her story. Ahlam is deeply involved with the refugees in the “Little Baghdad” area of Damascus and is passionate about helping them.  She starts a school for girls in her apartment, maintains connections with Americans she has translated for in the past and other journalists she has helped.  Then one day she is arrested and disappears.  Campbell is extremely concerned and worried that Ahlam’s work for her has compromised Ahlam’s safety. Ahlam is no longer just her “fixer” but a good friend and Campbell is determined to find out what happened to her.

Seeing Damascus and the situation there in 2007 through Campbell’s eyes is very informative and interesting.  Syria had not yet plummeted into civil war though everyone was jittery because of the influx of refugees from Iraq.  Her insight into the background of the situation there and her “immersive” view is full of insight and also intrigue and adventure.  Her relationship to Ahlam and the friendship they develop enhances the emotional pull of her reporting. SH

The Polygamist's Daughter

By Anna LeBaron
Tyndale, 2017. 307 pgs. Nonfiction

As a child Anna LeBaron rarely lived with her mother or father. She lived in the homes of her father’s followers or with relatives in the LeBaron clan.  As a teenager she finally found a stable home and an opportunity to attend school on a regular basis but there was danger in taking that course.  Ervil LeBaron, her father, didn’t tolerate anyone leaving or being disaffected from his fundamentalist polygamist organization.  Even from prison he managed to assassinate the head of the family where Anna found refuge.

Neglect, abuse, child exploitation, homelessness were all part of Anna’s childhood.  In spite of everything she finally made her way to a better life but her past took a heavy toll even in times of happiness. This was an interesting personal memoir because of her unique family connections and her personal triumph.   

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Hate U Give

Cover image for The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray, 2017, 444 pages, Young Adult Fiction

After witnessing her friend's death at the hands of a police officer, Starr Carter's life is complicated when the police and a local drug lord try to intimidate her in an effort to learn what happened the night Kahlil died.

This book has been at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for months now, and has been getting amazing reviews, so I finally decided to give the book a try even though the book’s description wasn’t something that really appealed to me. I’d like to challenge you to do the same. Like the March trilogy by John Lewis (here are links to books One, Two and Three), I consider this book to be an important story that everyone should read.

While March talked about the history of racism in the U.S., The Hate U Give shows (a fictional account of) where we are on this topic today. That means this book doesn’t hold back. It’s a tough and sometimes shocking read, but it does a great job of describing just how complicated the Black Lives Matter movement and all it entails is. The really impressive part of this book is that most of the discussion of the issues was shown instead of told in a way that really helped me understand things better. Starr is also an extremely relatable character, and I found myself rooting for her and her family to succeed. Despite the dark circumstances, this book also has a light-hearted side, and I appreciated seeing the small endearing moments that bound Starr and her family and friends together. Angie Thomas deserves a lot of praise for being brave enough to write this book.