Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Door to January

The Door to January
By Gillian French
Islandport Press, 2017. 193 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Ever since she moved away from her hometown of Bernier, Main, Natalie has been having repetitive nightmares, nightmares that center on an old house in Bernier. When she goes back to visit in the summer, she’s trying to both figure out what the nightmares mean, and face the reason she left Bernier in the first place. With the help of her cousin, Teddy, Natalie makes some startling discoveries about the house, the people who lived there, and some of her repressed memories.

With multiple stories being told, in a book this short every word has to count. Right from the start there’s a lot going on, and it can be hard to keep up. Initially things felt a little clunky and disjointed, but as the setting and backstory were introduced it started feeling more cohesive. Finally it became a decent paranormal-thriller that kept me reading past my bedtime. That being said, some of the dialog felt overly contrived, and while I liked the characters, they didn’t necessarily feel real. I could recommend this for those looking for a shorter book, and who care more about an interesting, suspenseful, paranormal story, rather than rock solid writing.


American Wolf

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West
By Nate Blakeslee
Crown Publishers, 2017. 300 pgs. Nonfiction

Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995 and since then, park rangers and conservationists have been watching and tracking individual wolves and wolf packs throughout the Rockies.  Using this data so meticulously collected, Blakeslee has written the dramatic story of O-Six, a large, clever alpha female who reigned the Lamar Valley.  But the story of this beloved wolf cannot be told without also introducing wolf watcher Laurie Lyman and park wildlife expert Rick McIntyre who together helped to build O-Six's the celebrity and use her life to argue the case for keeping wolves on the endangered species list and safe from hunters determined to keep their numbers low.

American Wolf  is written with a wonderful pace and inspired passion.  The plight of the wolves is carefully described, but the author also attempts to describe the arguments of the ranchers and hunters who feel no love for the creatures. The author is definitely biased for the wolves, but admirably manages to keep the other side from being vilified.  Perfect reading for animal and nature lovers...also for anyone who just wants a good true story. 


Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo
By George Saunders
Random House, 2017. 341 pgs. Fiction

The bardo refers to the state of existence between life and death.  Souls who wish to postpone departing this world for the next linger in the bardo and it is here that Willie Lincoln, young son of Abraham Lincoln, finds himself following a deadly case of typhoid fever.  In the graveyard he encounters a cast of ghosts all avoiding the "matterlightbooming" phenomenon for their own diverse reasons.  President Lincoln's visit to his son's mausoleum causes such an uproar in the usually quiet graveyard that few souls will survive the night unaffected. 

This is not a necessarily easy read, though it can be a quick read thanks to the script like formatting the author has chosen.  What makes Lincoln in the Bardo difficult is that it is just bizarre and the style definitely takes some getting used to.  I began by listening to the audiobook, which has an all-star cast including Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Don Cheadle, Bill Hader, Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, and Ben Stiller.  How could you go wrong listening to this?  I'm not sure I know the answer but it did not work for me.  It was disjointed and confusing and I eventually switched to the print version to see if it was better.  Maybe I should have stuck with the audio for a bit longer, but by the end of the print version of the novel, I was a bit awestruck by its depth and beauty.  This may not be for everyone, but if you are looking for something that takes a bit of work and leaves you with plenty to think about, this may be just the thing.


Alex and Eliza: a love story

Alex and Eliza : a love story
by Melissa De La Cruz
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2017. 358 pages. Young Adult Fiction.

Alexander Hamilton is the dashing young secretary of General George Washington on an errand to deliver unfortunate wartime news to 'General" Schuyler, patriarch of New York's prominent families and father to three spunky and beautiful girls. Alex's message delivery happens to be upon the night of a ball hosted by the Schuyler family, highlighting their eligible daughters. Eliza Schuyler is the feisty, patriotic, practical, middle child who catches Alex's eye with her witty banter and pretty looks. Years laters happenstance brings the two together again and their love story begins in earnest.

Alex and Eliza is a wonderful fictional story about two people that defy all odds to be together. Their matching wit, intellect and desire to serve the new nation during the Revolutionary War is inspiring. This is a engaging and cute love story, even though it's a bit predictable, I loved seeing how it all unfolds. It's a character-driven plot that keeps you reading quickly. If you have an interest in historical fiction and romance, the American Revolution time period, or all the Hamilton hype, this book is for you.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017


by Louis Sachar
New York, Straus and Giroux, 2008. 265pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Due to the curse that his no good dirty rotten pig stealin great great grandfather got cast on the members of his family, Stanley Yelnats is being sent to a miserable correctional camp in Green Lake, Texas for a crime he didn’t commit. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time just like every other member of his family. In this miserable camp in Texas Stanley discovers his first real friend and a new sense of self.

I love Holes it has been one of my favorite books for a very long time. This book is one of the few books to movies where both formats were absolutely fantastic. Stanley starts out as an unlucky nobody and overtime and through finding a true friend amazing things happen. This is a book that I read very frequently and it makes me happy every time.


Stripling Warrior

Stripling Warrior 
by Kathi Oram Peterson
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017. 257 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Sydney Morgan after barely surviving the battle of Cumeni is reunited with her comrade Tarik. Shortly after the battle she, Tarik, and Ozi and sent on a perilous mission to go find Captain Moroni and ask him for reinforcements. Follow Sydney as she fights to go back to the time she is from and survive this ancient world.

I waited for almost a decade for this book due to publication issues. I loved finally having a conclusion to a story I have been waiting for a very long time. I loved the end of the story I loved how Sydney developed over the course of the story. I found the characters compelling and it was fun seeing the author's perspective on ancient life.


Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitiri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
By M.T. Anderson
Candlewick Press, 2017. 456 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Brilliantly written and with a beautiful layout as well, this book about the 872 day German siege of Leningrad during World War II deserves a wide readership among adults and young adults.  In fact, due to the harsh and often gruesome details of life under Stalin's regime and life during the siege, I would recommend the book only for adults and older teens.  Describing life in the Soviet Union during Shostakovich's lifetime, the author weaves in the plight of artists and ordinary citizens under Stalin's reign of terror.  Shostakovich managed to survive the purges and labor camps to become a national icon widely known outside the Soviet Union for his major musical works.  His 7th Symphony, written during the siege of Leningrad, became a national symbol of hope for the defeat of the Nazis and an international public relations coup as well.  As Russia became an ally of the United States during the war it was sometimes difficult for Americans to think of Russia as a friend.  But Shostakovich's 7th became an international symbol of the humanity and high culture of the Russian people and triggered an outpouring of donations from ordinary Americans to help the besieged Soviets.

The audio-recording by the author is one of the best audio-books I have ever heard.  His pronunciation of Russian words is excellent and his dramatic inflection is powerful. SH

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Origin (Robert Langdon #5)
By Dan Brown
Doubleday, 2017. 461 pgs. Fiction

Harvard professor and symbologist Robert Langdon receives an invitation from Edmond Kirsch, a former student and world-renowned inventor, for a presentation at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao that he claims “will change the face of science forever.” Security is tight for those attending the event, and the rest of the world waits with baited breath as they watch a live stream. When disaster strikes before Kirsch can reveal his discovery, conspiracy theories abound. Without knowing who to trust, Robert and museum director Ambra Vidal escape the madness and set out to find the 47 character password that will unlock Kirsch’s earth-shattering presentation.

I like Dan Brown’s books for their fast pace and general entertainment. On these counts, Origin delivered as well as previous books in the Robert Langdon series. However, compared to the others, this one was lighter on symbology and more focused on technology and how it’s changing the world. In that regard, it reminded me a bit of Brown’s 1998 techno-thriller, Digital Fortress. Overall, I enjoyed the book and can easily recommend this to anyone looking for an entertaining page-turner.


A Surgeon in the Village: an American Doctor Teaches Brain Surgery in Aftrica

A Surgeon in the Village: an American Doctor Teaches Brain Surgery in Africa
Tony Bartelme
Beacon Press, 2017. 274 pgs. Biography

Brilliant, newly minted neurosurgeon Dilantha Ellegala decides to go to a hospital in a remote area of Tanzania for a change of pace and the opportunity to share his surgical skills for a few months. Discovering that the hospital has almost zero surgical tools that he needs to do surgery on the brain he relaxes and enjoys himself until one day a patient in need of immediate brain surgery arrives at the clinic. With no tools Ellegala declines to treat the patient and goes out for a run. While running he sees a man cutting a tree with a wire saw that Ellegala realizes he can adapt and use to cut through a skull. He buys the saw, goes back to the hospital and uses it to do the needed surgery. This event opens his eyes to possibilities he hadn’t considered before and he begins not only doing surgery with makeshift equipment he finds or devises – he also starts training one of the local medical officers (not a full doctor) to do brain surgery. He realizes that the normal routine of sending trained doctors from Europe or America to spend a few months at a rural hospital in an underdeveloped county is a flawed model. The surgeons return to their homes leaving the hospitals without surgeons. In his mind, the answer was to train local doctors and medical personnel to do surgery, not come for a short time and be the super star surgeon who goes home and leaves the local area still lacking a surgeon.

This book is the story of his awakening to the urgent need for trained surgeons in Africa and other underdeveloped nations and his work to establish a nonprofit organization with the aim of training local surgeons.  The book is very well written with beautiful descriptions of the landscape and the people he encounters.  I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in the work of non-profit organizations  and is not afraid to read the graphic descriptions of urgent medical emergencies. SH

Monday, November 20, 2017

Uncomfortably Happily

Uncomfortably Happily
By Yeon-sik Hong
Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 572 pgs. Graphic Novel

The hustle and bustle of Seoul, as well as the high cost of rent, pushes Yeon-sik and his wife to move to the Korean countryside where they hope to live more economically. If only he can get away from the rushed city life and live peacefully, Yeon-sik thinks he will be able to focus on his comics, beat his writer’s block, and meet the constant deadlines. However, life atop an uninhabited mountain presents its own trials. Together, the couple works through the challenges of secluded living, and find pleasure in simpler things, like the smell of the forest and cultivating their own garden.

There are a lot of things that can sap the creativity out of a person. As the wife of an artist, I understand how real and debilitating Yeon-sik’s struggles can be. The idea that, if I do [insert task], then I’ll be able to focus on this creative task entirely, and then one task leading to another, is not uncommon in my house. Really, these struggles are not limited to just one profession, making this a very relatable read. I really appreciated how honest the author is. There were just a few panels I found confusing, and it felt like some of the stories ended so abruptly that I was caught off guard. Despite that, I did enjoy this graphic novel and could easily recommend it to others.


Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff
By Chip Gaines
W Publishing Group, 2017. 191 pgs. Nonfiction

I read Magnolia Story last year and was excited to learn that Chip Gaines was writing another book. In this tell-all, we learn more about Chip's growing up years and what has led to his success with Magnolia and his family. We also get an inside look at filming the show Fixer Upper.

 It was a treat to listen to this book, read by Chip, because he is such a great storyteller. There were several moments that had me laughing out loud as he described shenanigans of his youth and young adulthood. Chip is an extremely successful businessman who has learned many lessons though his life experiences to get to this point. I appreciated how much Chip credits his faith and his family for the man that he is today and would recommend this book to anyone.


Saturday, November 18, 2017


By Grant Morrison and Dan Mora
Boom! Studios, 2016. 208 pgs. Graphic Novel

In this interpretation of Santa Claus's origin, Klaus, a mysterious hermit, enters the town of Grimsvig and is shocked to see that the local lord has forbidden fun, toys, and is working the men to death in the mines digging coal. He decides to correct these wrongs by bringing toys into the town, and pitches the town into a civil war against the maniacal Lord Magnus. Soon, the complicated history of Klaus is revealed, and he becomes the only one who can save the town from the physical and supernatural threats to it.

If you have been looking for a Santa Claus story that mixes elements of Rise of the Guardians, Brother Bear, and Conan the Barbarian, then this is definitely the graphic novel for you. This novel sticks to the basic elements of the Santa mythos, such as him having a sleigh, giving presents to kids, having a vicious wolf pet, and beheading dark creatures that spawn from coal mines. However, it also has some fun with myth. adding plenty of villains, plot twists, and interesting characters, making this book a fun, action-fueled romp through the middle ages. I really enjoyed this story, and if you like fantasy and graphic novels, you should definitely give this book a read.

Friday, November 17, 2017


By Stephen King
Viking, 1986. 1,138 pgs. Horror

In 1958 Derry, Maine, an evil creature is tormenting and killing children, unseen by the adults. Seven kids form a friendship, battle the creature, and all goes quiet for 27 years. Then, in 1985, the killing starts again. Librarian Mike Hanlon, one of the original seven children, calls the other six to remind them of the pact they made to return to Derry if it ever seemed like the creature had reappeared. Will they be able to finish the job this time around?

This book is a beast! I decided to read it because of the new movie, and because Pennywise is such a significant horror icon. However I didn’t realize it was over 1,000 pages. I suppose that can’t be helped when you’re telling a story from the point-of-view of seven characters across two time periods. Because so many different (though converging) stories are told, this is a roller-coaster of a book with a lot of buildup and mini climaxes before the final showdown, which I appreciated. It kept be going through the slower sections. The horror in the story comes not just from It, but also because of some pretty brutal bullying that I found to be more disturbing than the creature itself. Overall I enjoyed the book and would be happy to recommend it, but it’s definitely not for everyone.


One Dark Throne

One Dark Throne
By Kendare Blake
Harper Teen, 2017. 448 pages. Young Adult Fiction

In this sequel to Three Dark Crowns, the Ascension Year has not played out the way the inhabitants of the magical island of Fennbirn expected. The three queens, triplet sisters, are now 16 and must battle each other to the death so one can be crowned. Many people believed Mirabella, the most powerful elementalist in generations, who can control wind, water, and fire, would easily defeat Arsinoe and Katharine, but she has hesitated to attack.

Meanwhile, Arsinoe, raised by the naturalists who commune with animals and nature, has discovered she’s not as powerless as she once appeared. And Katharine, once the meekest of the sisters has become ruthless after an encounter with the strange, unsettling magic of the island. As alliances shift, the various factions conspire to tip the scales. Even the queens’ potential suitors become pawns. However, no one can prevent the queens from deciding to take their fates into their own hands.

This sequel loses none of the first book’s momentum. Something you don’t always find in middle books. With complex characters and an unpredictable plot, it is gruesomely fascinating to watch unfold. I especially enjoyed how the story explores themes of loyalty both among the different factions and the fact that the queens are grappling with the reality of killing one another for the ultimate throne.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Princess Diarist

The Princess Diarist 
By Carrie Fisher
Blue Rider Press, 2016. 257 pages.

Carrie Fisher’s last addition to her already prolific writing career is another example of her wit and charm. In this book, Fisher revisits the three-months that changed her life forever—the filming of Star Wars: A New Hope.

Much of this book is made up of excerpts of old journals that Fisher kept during filming. Little known to public knowledge, Fisher and married co-star Harrison Ford had an off-screen secret affair during the short time the movie was being filmed. At once both hilarious and sad, Fisher reveals what it was like for a young teenager (only 19-years-old when she became Princess Leia!) to be dealing with the sudden rise to fame as well as an affair with a much older actor.

All told, this book will not appeal to readers that are strictly Star Wars fans and want more details on the making of the films. Nevertheless, this book is great for anyone that has read Carrie Fisher’s previous books and enjoys her singular humor.


Monday, November 13, 2017


By Andy Weir
Crown Publishing Group, 2017. 384 pages.  Sci-Fi

Jazz Bashara lives in Artemis, the first city on the moon, which is populated mostly with rich tourists and eccentric billionaires.  But any city also needs its maintenance employees, and even smugglers, which is where Jazz comes in.  Her job as a porter barely covers her rent, so procuring harmless bits of contraband helps her to pay the bills.  When an opportunity to make some real cash comes up, Jazz can't turn it down, and becomes embroiled in a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself.  She has to use her brilliant mind and technical know-how to get herself, and her city, out of hot water.

Author of the successful book, The Martian, this is Weir's second book, another sci-fi thriller with a light heart and a clever main character.  Weir plays to his strengths, which include providing fascinating tidbits about what life would be like in space and in this case, what it would be like to live on the Moon.  Just as you're getting pulled into what's happening with the characters, someone jumps out of a second story window without getting more than a few scrapes and you remember all of this is happening on THE MOON.  It's just incredibly fun stuff.  While not quite as strong as The Martian, this book is 100% fun and is recommended for fans of his first book or authors like John Scalzi.


Song of the Current

Cover image for Song of the current
Song of the Current
By Sarah Tolcser
Bloomsbury, 2017, 376 pages, Young Adult Fantasy

Caroline Oresteia is destined for the river. Her father is a wherryman, as was her grandmother. All Caro needs is for the river god to whisper her name, and her fate is sealed. So when pirates burn ships and her father is arrested, Caro volunteers to transport mysterious cargo in exchange for his release. Secretly, Caro hopes that by piloting her own wherry, the river god will finally speak her name. But when the cargo becomes more than Caro expected, she finds herself caught in a web of politics and lies. With much more than her father's life at stake, Caro must choose between the future she knows, and the one she could have never imagined.

This book has a lot of the things I look for in a good novel: A great story, interesting characters who learn and grow, and a dash of magic. Kirkus summarizes my thoughts about this book perfectly: “Tolcser blends the right amount of epic fantasy, sea voyage, and romance for a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure.” If you like any of these things, I think you’ll enjoy this book. As an added bonus, while the second book in this series is due to come out next year, and I’m interested to see what the characters will be up to next, I think this book works pretty well as a stand-alone.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Fire by Night

Cover image for The fire by night
The Fire by Night
By Teresa Messineo
William Morrow, 2017, 306 pages, Historical Fiction

In war-torn France, Jo McMahon tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops.

Half a world away, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila; one of thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.

This book is a great homage to the work and dedication of the nurses who were part of the war effort during World War II. One thing that struck me was just how different these women’s experiences were, but in both cases, just how much these women had to endure. And when it was all over, they were largely unrecognized for their service.

The story stays pretty evenly focused on both plot lines, switching between Jo and Kay’s point of view with each chapter. To help convey the confusion of war, the story also jumps back and forth through time, filling out backstories and explaining the desolation of Jo and Kay’s respective situations gradually.

While there are a lot of stories about World War II, Messineo has found a great way to tell a story that hasn’t really been told before.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Maybe Today

Maybe Today: A Simple Approach to a Soul-Satisfying Life
by David Butler & Emily Belle Freeman
Ensign Peak, 2015. 113 pgs. Nonfiction

When you wake up in the morning, what kind of day are you expecting? Could it be different, even better than you expected? Maybe today will be the day that you start living the patterns that will lead to a more soul-satisfying life. The authors share five holy patterns that can make a difference in your life.

This book is short but powerful with beautiful full page pictures that are perfect for the point they illustrate. None of the ideas in this book are new, but sometimes it helps to be reminded of what is most important. This book can easily be read in one sitting but I plan on rereading it often.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Orphan's Tale

The Orphan’s Tale
By Pam Jenoff
Mira, 2017. 363 pgs. Historical Fiction

Former circus aerialist Astrid returns home to look for her family after her Nazi officer husband divorces her because she is Jewish;  Noa, a young Danish woman whose baby by a German officer is forcibly taken from her after her family disowns her, rescues an infant from a railroad car filled with Jewish babies. The lives of these two women intersect as the owner of a German circus shelters them and struggles to keep his circus operating in spite of the war. The suspenseful story begins with the present day and is told in a long flashback to the past.  If you read and liked Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale you will enjoy this well written novel based on historical events. Both authors keep you in suspense about who is narrating the story right until the end.



by Robin Mckinley
Harper & Row, 1978. 247pgs. Young Adult

Beauty volunteers to live with the Beast who lives in the haunted forest near her home in order to save her father. Follow Beauty as she learns to love this Beast who proposes to her every night before she goes to sleep.

This is so far my favorite retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I have loved this book since I was 12 when it was recommended to me by a dear friend. I love Beauty’s character in this book she doesn’t see herself being particularly beautiful which I think makes her seem more real than a girl who doesn’t think or contemplate her looks ever. I also love the relationship that grows between her and the Beast. I also love the relationship between the members of Beauty’s family; in the traditional fairy tale the heroine is always surrounded by rotten siblings or parents step or otherwise. In this one they all love each other, they have their various trials but for the most part they come together and love and support one another. This is one of my favorites for a book club or just to enjoy by yourself.


The Pearl Thief

By Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion, 2017.325  pgs. Young Adult Fiction

In this prequel to Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein writes an intriguing mystery, introduces us to Scottish river pearls, acquaints us with Scottish “travellers” and the deep-seated prejudices against them, and to top it off – we get to know the spunky and intelligent Julia who is a main character in Code Name Verity. Arriving at her grandparent’s recently sold Scottish estate she takes a walk along the river.  She settles on a warm rock to rest and the last thing she remembers is an explosion of pain in her head. When she wakes up she is in a hospital bed two days later.

The novel has a cast full of interesting characters and a quirky heroine.  A bit of Scottish accent and “traveler” dialect challenge the readers’ comprehension once in a while but but try reading those parts out loud. Who doesn’t love the sound of a Scottish brogue!