Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Cottage Kitchen

The Cottage Kitchen: Cozy Cooking in the English Countryside
By Marte Marie Forsberg
Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2017. 288 pages. Nonfiction

I don't normally write reviews of cookbooks, but Forsberg added so much personal detail and story to her book that I read it like a novel. This is partly a recounting of how she grew up in Norway, traditions that her mother set down and that she returned to in adulthood. It's also partly a coming-of-age or at least a coming-into-adulthood story. In the beginning, Forsberg has just purchased a cottage for herself in the English countryside, and experiences the change of the seasons in her new town as she undergoes the growth that comes with creating a life for yourself that is uniquely yours. Not without setbacks, Forsberg uses recipes from her childhood and trips abroad as an anchor as she forges ahead in her new surroundings.

With recipes that are accompanied by her striking photography, the book is as pleasurable visually as it is narratively. I appreciated Forsberg's use of both Celsius and Fahrenheit, as well as ingredient listings in both metric (grams, milliliters), and US measurements (tablespoons, cups, ounces). I was also pleased to see that many of Forsberg's recipes were accessible to an inexperienced cook such as myself, often using only five or six simple ingredients, and yet with a delicious understanding of flavors and technique. Her cooking methods are a bit more rustic and traditional (you won't find any Instant Pot recipes here), which will appeal to anyone motivated by a "back to basics" style of living. Forsberg's writing is deeply sentimental which may not appeal to more practical readers, but it will be perfect for anyone who sees the romance in finding a cottage in the countryside and hunkering down in front of a fire with something warm and cheery to enjoy.


The Velvet Hours

The Velvet Hours
By Alyson Richman
Berkley, 2016. 384 pages. Historical Fiction

As Paris is confronted with the looming threat of German occupation in 1942, Solange Beaugiron is shocked to learn that the grandmother she never knew is alive and living in an apartment in the city.  As Solange begins to visit with her grandmother, Marthe de Florian, she learns of her life as a courtesan during La Belle Epoque, and the cultivated art and beauty that she has surrounded herself with.  Most striking is a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the noted Italian artist Giovanni Boldini.  Solange is captivated by her grandmother's story, but as the German troops near, she's not sure if there will be enough time to hear it all.

I remember reading news articles a few years ago about an apartment in Paris that lay untouched for 70 years. I was intrigued, but at the time I didn't quite gather how fascinating the life of the original occupant was. Richman has taken what research is available about about Marthe de Florian and built a story around it to fill in the spaces, albeit fictionally, of what we know. What resulted is a captivating book about life in France between La Belle Epoch and World War II. The centerpoint of the real apartment - a stunning portrait of de Florian by Giovanni Boldini, is woven into the story in exquisite detail.  Although the twin stories of Solange and Marthe are a bit oddly juxtaposed at times, Richman has created a very satisfying story for anyone whose curiosity is piqued by this story of an abandoned-apartment-turned-time-capsule.

This book is an "Always Available" audiobook on Overdrive, meaning that there is no wait to read it.



by Kwame Alexander
Blink, 2017. 424 pages. Young Adult

Blade has it all - but he wishes he didn't. Being the son of famed rock legend Rutherford Morrison comes with as much loss, scandal, and dysfunction as fame and fortune. Blade takes solace in writing, his girlfriend, and knowing that soon he'll be off to college, until his father's antics and the revelation of a family secret devastate all his hopes for a fresh start. Feeling more lost and confused than ever before, Blade sets off on a journey to learn about his past, and hopefully, his future.

As a kid, I often wondered what it would be like to be famous or have famous parents, and I remember how funny it was to read an interview with a child celebrity who said they used to imagine they had an "ordinary life." The grass is always greener, as they say, and this story definitely plays on this theme. I really liked Blade as a character; despite being a rich, naturally talented son of a rock star, his struggle to establish his identity and desire to strike out on his own will remind you of your own teen angst. Readers who have passed through that gauntlet of life will sympathize with and agonize over Blade's youthful (often narrow) perspective, and cheer his transition from child to young adult. I kept thinking to myself, "Oh I remember those days! Thank God I survived!" This book also explores family relationships, and complicated ones at that as Blade's family has felt deep loss and the effects of addiction. I loved that the audio book had Blade's songs performed by a professional musician. The final song, ah, it's so beautiful! Even if you prefer physical books, I strongly recommend having the audio book on hand so you can hear the songs performed.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Secret of the India Orchid

The Secret of the India Orchid
By Nancy Campbell Allen
Shadow Mountain, 2017. 314 pgs. Historical Fiction, Romance

On the very day that Anthony Blake, Earl of Wilshire, plans to ask for permission to court Sophia Elliot he is forced to resume his role as an undercover spy for Britain when an important document is stolen that gives detailed information about British spies. To protect the ones he loves, he must cut all ties and assume the role of a flirtatious playboy. Sophia is heartbroken and confused and eventually decides to travel to India in hopes of finding healing. India does not bring the peace she was hoping for because she soon finds herself in the center of a mystery. There is a missing sea captain, a possible murder and some kind of plot involving the prince of India. To her surprise Anthony shows up at the British Residency, playing his part, but also asking a lot of questions.

This was a fascinating book. I loved learning more about the British experience in India during the Regency era. The mystery added a fun twist to the story. The romance between Anthony and Sophia was wonderful. They cared deeply for each other but had a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to share their love. This is part of the Proper Romance series and is perfect for someone looking for a clean romance with some added suspense.


For Love or Honor

For Love or Honor
by Sarah M. Eden
Covenant Communications, 2017. 256 pgs. Historical Romance

Stanley Jonquil knew there was something special about Marjie the first time he met her. She was sweet and kind and was able to help him heal from an injury he received as a British soldier fighting against Napoleon. When Napoleon escaped, Stanley had to lead his men into the horrifying battle of Waterloo. His thoughts of Marjie and the letters she sent were the only thing that kept him going. The family doesn't hear from Stanley for months until he unexpectedly returns home. He has been severely wounded physically and has faced horrors that have wounded him emotionally. He is determined to keep his distance and not show anyone the darkness inside him, especially Marjie. Marjie doesn't give up easily and she is determined to help him heal so that hopefully they can find a way to be together.

This was a well written book that dealt with some heavy topics. Sarah Eden does not shy away from the horrors of war and how it impacted the soldiers and their loved ones. This is a continuation of the Jonquil family books so a lot of favorite characters make an appearance and there are some great new characters too, like Pluck. He was so funny! This is a good mixture of  serious issues and humor and there is really nothing not to like in this book.


Friday, January 26, 2018


By Leah Moore
Dynamite Entertainment, 2017. 144 pgs. Graphic Novel

The princesses of classic fairy tales band together to save their kingdoms from war! Rapa, a redheaded girl with a fiery spirit and lost memories, discovers a conspiracy that threatens the peace among all the mythical creatures of the land. Joined by the Little Mermaid, the Frog Prince, and Red Riding Hood, Rapa journeys through fabled forests and legendary realms on a quest to find who stole her identity and foil their scheme!

This graphic novel reads a lot like how I would picture a Once Upon a Time book reading. The princesses are strong, independent women who take an active role in defeating their enemies and the book itself is a really interesting combination of stories and fairy tales. There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot and the story is definitely not Disney, so don't expect everyone to have a happy ending. Overall, Damsels is a good addition to the re-thought fairy tale genre, and a lot of fun to read.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree

Cover image for It's all relative : adventures up and down the world's family tree
It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree
By A.J. Jacobs
Simon & Schuster, 2017, 352 pages, Nonfiction

Perhaps best known for his book, The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs has tackled a number of complex projects, and written comedic-yet-informative books about the experience. In It’s All Relative, his goal is to learn more about the world’s interest in family trees and DNA mapping, all while planning what he calls a Global Family Reunion—a genealogy conference focused on showing that we all have more in common than we have different.

While this is not a book dedicated to giving pro-tips to budding genealogists, it is a book that looks into why people get so interested in the subject. I thought Jacobs brought up some interesting points about the importance of realizing that we’re all connected, and he made me laugh while doing so. The audiobook is read by Jacobs himself, which helps his wry sense of humor come through.  This book will appeal to those interested in genealogy, and to those who like comedic memoirs.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies

Cover image for The woman who smashed codes : a true story of love, spies, and the unlikely heroine who outwitted America's enemies
The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies
By Jason Fagone
Dey St, 2017, 444 pages, Non-Fiction

Elizebeth Smith and William Friedman were a power couple in the world of cryptology. The two made major strides in the field before the invention of the computer. Today, Friedman’s work for the FBI during World War II is more recognized, and gets more attention. But while Friedman was solving Japanese codes, writing cryptology manuals, and presenting his findings at cryptology conferences, his wife, Elizebeth Smith, worked for the Coast Guard and focused on the codes of the Nazi spy rings based in South America.

This book covering the work of both Friedman and Smith was fascinating, and it was even more remarkable to me because it’s true. As someone who lightly dabbles in puzzles like cryptograms, crosswords, and Sudoku, it was interesting to see just how much science is involved in really complex puzzles. This was also an interesting look at the rise of Herbert Hoover and the formation of the FBI. Those who enjoyed Alan Turning: The Engima, the movie The Imitation Game, or books about history, spies and puzzles will enjoy this book.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Dinosaur Lords

The Dinosaur Lords
By Victor Milan
Tor, 2015. 445 pgs. Fiction

A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise but dinosaurs predominate, and they are the weapons of choice. During the course of one epic battle, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, partially amnesiac and hunted, and embarks upon a journey that will shake his world.

I started reading this book not because I thought it would be good, but because there was a dinosaur knight on the cover. That being said, this book was surprisingly well written. The world is well thought out and immersive, and the fast paced action makes it enjoyable. The characterization is a little weaker, with some of the main characters being underutilized and one dimensional, but there were a number of compelling characters that helped move the story along. Overall, it's not a book that I would recommend to everyone, but if you like unusual fantasy, you should give this one a try. GF

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Gospel at 30,000 Feet

The Gospel at 30,000 Feet
By Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Deseret Book, 2017. 129 pgs. Nonfiction

Dieter F. Uchtdorf had an incredibly successful career as an German aviator before being called into the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2004. He is known for his wonderful stories and metaphors on aviation in nearly every General Conference address.

 I really enjoyed this audiobook because it is read by Elder Uchtdorf. While many of the stories were familiar from past talks, there were several stories and insights that were new to me. Since this is such a short book, I was able to listen to it twice over the course of just a few days. I would recommend this book as a wonderful, uplifting read!


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan

Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan
By Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
Henry Holt, 2016. 323 pgs. Nonfiction

The World War II battles in the Pacific against the Japanese were brutal and very costly in human lives.  As the United States pushed the Japanese back, suffering tremendous losses on island after island, it became clear that the final land invasion of Japan would also cause many US casualties.  The Japanese were trained to never surrender and their leaders were teaching every civilian man, woman, and child to fight as well.  Meanwhile, at Los Alamos, the atom bomb was finally completed, making it possible to consider ending the war without incurring thousands of deaths and injuries of US troops.

O'Reilly and Dugard detail this background to the decision to drop the atom bomb.  They describe the battles, the personalities of the major military leaders, and the unexpected presidency of Harry Truman.  Their aim is to help the present generation understand the context of the decision to drop the first atom bomb and they do it by bringing to life in dramatic detail the closing months of World War II in the Pacific. SH

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ
by Daniel Goleman
Bantam Books, 2006. 352 pages. Nonfiction

In past decades there was a commonly held belief that intelligence was the key to success and even happiness, but Daniel Goleman’s seminal work, Emotional Intelligence, first published in 1995 revealed insight into the idea that personal qualities, such as initiative, empathy, adaptability, and persuasiveness can have more of an impact on our success in life than our IQ.

Through vivid examples, Goleman describes the important skills needed to develop emotional intelligence. An important concept in the book is that even though our experiences in childhood shape our ability to handle emotions, we all have the capacity to grow and change which can have a profound impact on our relationships, work environments, and even our physical well-being.

More than 20 years after his work was first published, Goleman’s ideas have infiltrated many of our society's beliefs and values. Reading this book today, I found myself already familiar with many of the concepts discussed. However, as more studies reveal the importance of “soft skills” such as self-regulation, empathy, generosity, and good communication, and additionally, the research frequently cites the concern that emotional intelligence is actually declining in youth today, I think this is still a very important book to read.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World

American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World
By David Baron
Liverlight Publishing, 2017. 330 pages.

This compelling historical narrative follows three brilliant scientists as they journey into the American Wild West to witness the total solar eclipse of 1878. Astronomer James Craig Watson sought fame in discovering a new planet; celebrity inventor Thomas Edison wanted scientific fame in testing a new astronomical device; progressive female astronomer Maria Mitchell set out with a group of all-women scientists not only to study the heavens, but also to prove that science is not just for the men.

David Baron writes a highly entertaining narrative of how excitement over the 1878 eclipse swept over the nation. Anyone who lived through our own all-American eclipse of 2017 can relate to the eclipse-fever that gripped both scientists and citizens alike. Readers will also appreciate the three-dimensionality in which Baron portrays these historical figures. They are not just names that we might here in history class, but real people, with real hopes and fears and ambitions. This book was a great read for anyone interested in history, science, or biographies of great Americans. 


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Love By the Book

Love By the Book
By Melissa Pimentel
Penguin Books, 2015. 336 pages. Fiction

Lauren Cunningham has moved from America to London in search of a fabulous single life with many a romantic dalliance and no relationship commitments.  Feeling that she's a bit unlucky in love, she decides to start an experiment in which she will follow a different dating guide each month, until she finds the perfect fit for her.  What follows is a drastically different Lauren from month to month, and some interesting observations about the dating world around her.

I adore audiobook narrator Jayne Entwhistle, and so I did a search on Overdrive (our resource for downloadable ebooks and audiobooks) for any audiobooks read by her and found this book.  True to form, Entwhistle did a delightful performance.  The story, however was a bit unexpected in both that it was a little more raunchy than I thought it would be, and then was more meaningful than I expected.  The first "dating experiment" Lauren goes on was so cringe-inducingly awful that I worried the book would be "here's how to screw up every relationship with different dating guides."  But Lauren does find some success with different methods, and in turn the guides give her some insights into herself and the guys she dates.  But I sure did feel bad for that first guy!


Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey
By Nick Bertozzi
First Second, 2014. 125 pages

In 1914, polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and company set out to be the first expedition to successfully cross the Antarctic continent. Fate had other plans for these intrepid explorers, however, as their ship was trapped in sea ice before the expedition ever made land. Thus began the harrowing journey back to safety and civilization that has been immortalized as a journey of fortitude, exemplary leadership, and a test of the limits of human endurance.

The story of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is one of my all-time favorite things to read about. Naturally, when I saw a graphic novel about the Endurance’s voyage, I had to check it out. This is a fantastic addition to Shackleton literature, especially for anyone new to this story. There is an impressive amount of detail in the illustrations of each crew member, and Nick Bertozzi does an excellent job of capturing the mood of the story through with dialogue and captures instead of a narration. Shackleton is truly inspiring as a leader and the morale and comradery exhibited among the members of this expedition is incredible.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Traitor's Kiss

The Traitor's Kiss 
by Erin Beaty
Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, 2017. 344 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Sage Fowler is an orphan in her uncle’s house when one day she goes into his office and he tells her she is going to the matchmakers in order to be matched. Sage does not want to spend the rest of her days married to an aristocrat. She horribly botches the interview with the matchmaker and ends up having to go and apologize so as not to ruin her cousins chances of being matched with a suitable partner. When she does so she is hired as an apprentice matchmaker to help manage all the candidates for a matchmaking event that is held once every five years. Along the journey she becomes a spy for the army escorting their troop of girls to the nation’s capital.

It has been a long time since I have stayed up until five o’clock in the morning to finish a book. I loved the two main characters of the book, Sage and Ash were so engaging in how they went about finding the information on the various players in the schemes to upset the royal family from their position of power.


Arrows of the Queen

Arrows of the Queen 
by Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books, 1987. 320 pgs. Fantasy

Talia has always dreamed of becoming a herald for the Queen, one day her wish comes true when the companion Rolan finds her; after she ran away from her village at the age of 13 when she did not want to marry or join the convent. Follow Talia as she strives to complete her Heralds training in spite of impossible odds.

 This book was so much fun to read I finished it in a day and promptly checked out the next two books in the series and I can't wait to finish them. Talia is an engaging heroine to read her views and perspectives. I LOVED her scenes in the book when she was dealing with the brat, the royal princess. It made me laugh so much. I enjoyed reading about her learning to trust the various members of the heralds and it was fantastic that the author made it a process instead of something the characters took for granted.


Ronit & Jamil

Ronit & Jamil
by Pamela L. Laskin
Katherine Tegen Books, 2017. 192 pages. Young Adult

A Romeo & Juliet retelling set in present-day Israel and Gaza, this novel in verse tells the forbidden romance of Ronit, an Israeli girl, and Jamil, a Palestinian boy. Separated by barriers of culture, political conflict, violence -and a 440 mile long, 11 miles wide concrete blockade  - these unlikely lovers cross paths when they accompany their fathers to work at a medical clinic. Despite all that stands between them, Ronit and Jamil's love grows, and so do the risks. Can love transcend generations of war and pain? What sacrifices will their love demand?

I'm a fan of novels written in verse and Shakespeare, so I was expecting quite a lot from this book. My favorite part of this Romeo & Juliet retelling is the setting; placing the story in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ramps up the tension and the danger. There's nothing trivial about Ronit and Jamil's situation; their confessional-style poems expound upon their families' expectations, their cultural and political differences, and the ever-present threat of violence (as punishment for their love or just getting caught in crossfire). Though a romance, this book is not so much a love story as a story about love in the face conflict and division. Less narrative than other books in verse (like Out of the Dust or The Crossover), there are some beautiful poems - I used so many post-its marking my favorite lines! I wish the author had made some different choices; sometimes it gets difficult to tell which poem is Ronit's voice and which is Jamil's, and in trying to show both sides as mirror-images/two sides of the same coin, the structure gets a bit repetitive. I'd recommend this to Shakespeare and poetry fans and anyone who wants a quick read that doesn't skimp on dramatic tension and thought-provoking content.