Saturday, December 30, 2017


by Meagan Spooner Harper Teen, 2017. 374 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Yeva’s family lives in town when disaster strikes and her family’s fortunes are lost to raiders and bandits, which means her family has to move to the woods and her father has to go back to hunting for their income. One day her father’s hound comes back without him and Yeva has to call on the training she received as a child to go find her father. Toward the end of her quarry she is captured by the Beast that she believes killed her father. Follow this Russian spin on the fairytale Beauty and the Beast.

I love Beauty and the Beast retellings; they are some of my favorite stories to read. I love the elements that the Russian background brings to the story. It also addressed one of the inconsistencies in the Russian fairy tales about Ivan who is often the hero of the story. I love that they mention Stockholm syndrome which is not commonly done in most of the stories. It was also fun to listen to the story, the readers did a beautiful job in their representation of the story and its elements.


Friday, December 29, 2017

The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast: Breads, Pancakes, waffles, cinnamon rolls & muffins

The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast: Breads, Pancakes, Waffles, Cinnamon Rolls, and Muffins
by Caleb Warnock and Melissa Richardson
Front Table Books, 2012. 163 pgs. Nonfiction

Baking your own bread has never been more nutritious or delicious! Natural yeast is full of amazing health benefits: it breaks down harmful enzymes in grains, prevents bread from spiking blood sugar, and makes nutrients more readily available for the body to absorb. This book explains the health benefits of naturally yeasted breads in easy to understand terms, and gives detailed instructions for using a yeast start and keeping it healthy.

The thing that really sold me on trying natural yeast is how the yeast is free forever. I had a lot of fun trying to figure out how to bake bread with natural yeast, even though it was a steep learning curve for me (I never made my own bread before trying this method.) Natural yeast is more like a sourdough start than the packets of yeast at the grocery store, so the process is a little different. Once I got it figured out, the results were fantastic! Not to mention all the health benefits discussed by the authors. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in making bread, or who is looking for a yummy and healthy alternative to white bread.


Friday, December 22, 2017

George Washington's Secret Six: the Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution

George Washington's Secret Six: the Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution
By Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager
Sentinel, 2013. 235 pgs. Nonfiction

We've all heard of Nathan Hale, who only survived 24 hours as a spy for George Washington, and Benedict Arnold, the American general who secretly conspired to turn the fort at West Point over to the British.  But mostly unknown to history are the American spies in New York who risked everything during the British occupation to send important information to Washington about British troop movements and other essential information  The authors trace the identities and activities of the secret Culper spy ring, demonstrating the vital role they played in helping the colonies to win the American Revolution.  This is an exciting and accessible account of little known events in history. SH

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

Love and Other Consolation Prizes
by Jamie Ford
Ballangine Books, 2017, 307 pgs.  Historical Fiction

Jamie Ford finds little known facts from the Northwest and writes wonderful historical fiction that brings them to life.  In Love and Other Consolation Prizes he used the 1909 Seattle worlds’ fair, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Expo to bring Seattle to life at the turn of the century.  Ernest Young, a half-Chinese orphan, is donated by a wealthy sponsor as a raffle prize at the Expo.  He is “won” by the madam of a notorious brothel who puts him to work cleaning and helping keep the house in order.  This unlikely sequence of events places Ernest in the most stable home he has ever known and he soon befriends the owner’s daughter along with one of the kitchen girls.

While not my favorite of Ford’s works, I enjoyed the obscure Seattle history and glimpses into a very different sort of lifestyle.  So often, the underbelly of society is overlooked making it easy to forget that people are people and we are all just trying to make the most of the situations we are given.  As always, readers of Ford’s books will enjoy the vibrant descriptions of Pacific Northwest and an engaging story.


Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours
By Lisa Wingate
Ballantine Books, 2017. 342 pgs. Historical Fiction

Rill Foss’s parents leave her in charge of her four siblings on their family shantyboat when her mother’s labor stops progressing normally.  While they are gone, all five children are pulled from the only home they have ever known and sent to the care of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.  While in the orphanage, the children will suffer a variety of abuses until some are adopted by wealthy couples unaware that they have loving parents still searching for them.

This story is based on the infamous adoption scam run by Georgia Tann.  Hundreds of children are believed to have died in her care and hundreds more were kidnapped to feed her orphanages that catered to the rich and famous.  Wingate tells the story of the fictional Foss children while alternating from a present day story to one occurring to Rill in 1939.  The history behind this novel makes it a must for historical fiction fans and the wonderful storytelling makes it a must for everyone else.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Dam Keeper

The Dam Keeper
By Robert Kondo
First Second, 2017. 153 Pages.

Life in Sunrise Valley is tranquil, but beyond its borders lies certain death. A dangerous black fog looms outside the village but its inhabitants are kept safe by an ingenious machine known as the dam. Pig's father built the dam, taught him how to maintain it, and then walked into the fog never to be seen again. Now Pig is the dam keeper, with few aware of his efforts other than Fox, his best friend, and Hippo, the town bully. Now, with a tidal wave of black fog descending on Sunrise Valley, Pig, Fox, and Hippo must face the greatest danger imaginable: the world on the other side of the dam.

This book serves as a sequel to a short film and the first book of a series. As such, it's in an interesting place, with characters having an established background but the story just starting and ending with a cliffhanger. However, don't let that deter you from getting this book. The world and characters are interesting and introduced well enough that I never felt like I was coming in at the middle. Pig is a truly sympathetic character, which made me really want him to find happiness. What's more, this book is worth looking over just for the beautiful artwork. It's definitely a worthwhile book to pick up and read, with a story and dialogue being age appropriate for anyone in the family. 

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal 
By Mary Roach 
W.W. Norton & Company, 2013. 348 pages. 

The human digestive system is probably not on your list of daily contemplations, but it is a necessary and fascinating part of the human body that often gets overlooked. In this engaging journey from beginning to (rear) end, Roach entertains the reader with the elusive world of corporate taste-testers, the amazing stomach-stretching capacity of competitive eaters, the history of flatulence, prison “wallets,” and much more. 

Mary Roach, author of best-seller Stiff, has a knack for turning taboo subjects into best-selling books. Roach gratuitously pokes fun at the uncomfortable ick factor of her topic of research, and never fails to thrill the reader with her detail. Though she may appear to veer off topic at times, Roach always makes up for it with bizarre anecdotes and witty humor (oh, the puns). Her research takes her to eccentric scientists that study the mysteries of saliva, intestinal gas, and fecal implants, thus grounding this wild ride in actual (if weird) science. If your inner child loves Ripley’s Believe it or Not, or any kind of gross-out educational material, Mary Roach has got you covered. 


Monday, December 18, 2017

Hit the Ground Running

Hit the Ground Running
By Alison Hughes
Orca Book Publishers, 2017. 205 pgs,  Young Adult

Dee is freaking out! Her dad, an antiques dealer, left and hasn't yet returned. He's been gone for almost six weeks now and Dee doesn't know what to do. Social Services has started coming around and Dee is scared that they are going to take her and Eddie, her seven-year-old brother, to different foster homes.

Dee decides that her only option is to flee their small desert town in Arizona for their aunt's house in Canada. So what if their car is seriously old and the fact that Dee doesn't have a driver's license. This is an emergency! So begins Dee and Eddie's epic road trip from Arizona to Alberta, Canada.

This book was very fast paced. You could feel the tension building as Dee struggles to figure out how to best deal with this situation. I read this book in one sitting because I just had to know how it would turn out!


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Age of Myth

Age of Myth
By Michael Sullivan
Del Rey, 2016. 409 pages. Fantasy

Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between humans and those they thought were gods changes forever.

Now only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer; Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom; and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over. The time of rebellion has begun.

This is the first  book of a pretty traditional high fantasy series. As a fan of the genre, I appreciated the notes that the author hit, though I did feel like it made the book a little more predictable. The characters are enjoyable and interesting, and the plot is fast-paced. The stakes are fairly small in this book, but the battle scenes are well depicted, which makes me look forward to the prospects of a full on war in the next books.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Always and Forever, Lara Jean
By Jenny Han
Simon & Schuster, 2017. 325 pages. Young Adult

Jenny Han surprised fans when she revealed that she would be writing a concluding third novel to her duology that follows the life of craft-loving, wistful Korean-American Lara Jean Covey Song. Now in her senior year, life is looking pretty good. She and her boyfriend are in love, her widower dad is finally getting re-married, and college acceptance letters are coming in the next few weeks.

Never comfortable with change, Lara Jean is happy to attend nearby University of Virginia with her boyfriend. But change is looming on the horizon. When she doesn’t get in to UV, Lara Jean is forced to confront difficult life choices and is confused between choosing what her heart is saying or her head. And what does this all mean her relationship with her boyfriend?

It is always delight see the world through Lara Jean’s eyes, so I was excited to pick up this third book after P.S. I Still Love You. Lara Jean is an insightful and authentic character, and I have enjoyed reading about her journey from child to adult. This is a satisfying conclusion, but if you’re like me, it may leave you wishing to know more about what happens to Lara Jean at college and beyond.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Feral Youth

Feral Youth
By Shaun David Hutchinson
Simon Pulse, 2017. 310 pgs. Young Adult

Ten teens have been sent to a tough summer camp meant to help them get their life back in order before they end up in juvie, or worse. The culminating camp experience is when they are blindfolded and driven out to a remote location in the woods. They have three days to make it back to camp, completely on their own. With their survival skills put to the test, tensions start to run high as their hunger, exhaustion, and general discomfort increases. To pass the time and create a semblance of unity, they have a story telling competition. The stories are varied, but show that perhaps these teens are less “feral” and more deliberate and justified than society believes.

This collection of short stories was inspired by Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and each story was written by a different author, making the individual voices and storytelling styles that much more distinct. Even with that, it worked extremely well felt like a cohesive whole. The stories touched on a lot of sensitive social issues (bullying, sexuality, assault, etc.), and did so in a way that felt realistic. Youth are too often painted in a negative light, but this collection shows how misleading a label or singular action can be. Overall I quite enjoyed the book and really appreciated the different perspectives.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Far From the Tree

Cover image for Far from the tree
Far from the Tree
By Robin Benway
Harper Teen, 2017, 374 pages, Young Adult

When Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, ends up having to give up her own daughter to adoption, she begins to wonder about her biological family. Soon she meets her biological siblings, Maya and Joaquin, and Grace discovers that she’s not alone. Together the three help each other through tough trials, and try to find out what happened to their birth mother.

The themes used in Far From the Tree could easily make this book veer into After School Special territory. It discusses tough issues like teen pregnancy, adoption, life in the foster care system, alcoholism, bullying, and divorce. The thing that keeps this book from being a complete downer is that it also covers themes such as the power of love and the strength of family. The story is told from the point of view of three different characters, and while I liked some of them more than others, each character felt fully fleshed-out and well formed. I found myself pretty engrossed in the story, and read with almost perpetually misty eyes. To me, Robin Benway has hit on the same formula that made books like Eleanor and Park and The Fault in Our Stars so powerful. It’s no wonder that this book was just awarded the prestigious National Book Award!


Friday, December 8, 2017

Sourdough: a Novel

Sourdough: a Novel
By Robin Sloan
MCD, 2017. 272 pgs. Fiction

Robin Sloan's new novel, Sourdough, is a delightful blend of magical realism, quirky characters, high tech, and a very special sourdough start.  Lois Clary works at a San Francisco tech company where many of the programmers exist by eating (actually slurping) a nutritive gel named Slurry. She discovers a local restaurant that delivers sourdough bread and delicious spicy food.  When the restaurant closes and the owners leave Lois their sourdough start to tend she begins to bake.  Mastering the magic of mixing flour, water and sourdough starter, she shares the delicious bread with co-workers and then looks for a venue to sell bread through one of San Francisco's many farmers markets. She ends up with a stall at a high-tech food emporium where the vendors are all experimenting with innovative food formulations.  As the new market nears its opening day, complications arise when Lois researches the history of her unique sourdough starter and begins to understand its microbial complexity.

Sloan's novel is both fluffy and fulfilling.  You will want to have a loaf of really good bread on hand when you sit down to read it. SH

Monday, December 4, 2017

Midnight at the Electric

Cover image for Midnight at the Electric
Midnight at the Electric
By Jodi Lynn Anderson
Harper Teen, 2017, 257 pages, Young Adult

Kansas, 2065. Adri has secured a slot as a Colonist--one of the lucky few handpicked to live on Mars. But weeks before launch, she discovers the journal of a girl who lived in her house over a hundred years ago, and is immediately drawn into the mystery surrounding her fate ... Oklahoma, 1934. Amid the fear and uncertainty of the Dust Bowl, Catherine fantasizes about her family's farmhand, and longs for the immortality promised by a professor at a traveling show called the Electric. But as her family's situation becomes more dire, Catherine must finally separate illusion from reality and sacrifice everything she loves in order to save the one person she loves most. England, 1919. Lenore struggles with her grief for her brother, a fallen British soldier, and plans to sail to America in pursuit of a childhood friend. While their stories span thousands of miles and multiple generations, Lenore, Catherine, and Adri's fates are entwined in ways both heart-breaking and hopeful.

This book reminded me a lot of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith in that it’s beautifully written, mostly in the format of letters and journal entries. Anderson’s settings and characters are written with loving detail, which is a pretty amazing feat given the format. I read this book a few months ago, but I can still conjure up memories of the beautiful way Anderson describes the choking horror of the Dust Bowl, and the utter loss Lenore feels for her brother. While Adri’s storyline isn’t quite as strong as the other two, it helps tie everything together in a unique and hopeful way. Overall, this ends up being a story about love and the power of friendship and family.  Those who read this book are in for a treat!