Monday, April 30, 2018


by Nina Berry
Kensington Publishing, 2012, 310 pgs, Young Adult Fiction

All in one afternoon Dez, a good girl who does her best not to be noticed, turns her world upside down. She discovers that she can shapeshift into a tiger, is kidnapped, and rescues herself and a startlingly handsome boy from a cage. Caleb, who works magic as well, knows what she is and offers to help her find others of her kind. They fall hard for each other, but Caleb is keeping secrets and the shifters they seek refuge with are not welcoming of strangers.

This was an enjoyable, quick read. A few plot points felt forced, but the magic system is an intriguing concept and easily kept me interested. I would recommend this fast-paced book to anyone looking for a lighter read that enjoys young adult contemporary fantasy.


The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
By Dan Barber
Penguin Books, 2015. 496 pages. Nonfiction

Dan Barber is well known for being a hero of the farm-to-table and local food movements, but in this book he addresses some of the ways that those movements still fall short of true sustainability.  Thinking of the detrimental practices of our past, and our misguided present, Barber points to a future "third plate," where he hopes that good farming and good food can intersect.

Fans of Michael Pollan's writing will find a kindred spirit in Dan Barber.  I was especially drawn to his examples of how responsibly grown or raised food can be among the most delicious food that we can enjoy, because the things that make a crop or livestock sustainable are the very things that make it more delicious.  As we come to understand how generations of food producers bred foods for yield and disease resistance, but never for flavor, Dan Barber shows us a way forward that is better for the earth and better for our palates as well.


Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
By Piper Kerman
Spiegel & Grau, 2011. 327 pages. Biography

During a few wild years in her early 20s, Piper Kerman once delivered a suitcase of drug money in Europe.  Over a decade later, that transgression caught up with Kerman and she was sentenced to fifteen months at a federal correctional facility in Connecticut.  This is the story of Kerman's time in prison, telling of her initial culture shock and the ways she learned to navigate the strict codes of behavior as well as the sometimes mystifyingly arbitrary rules.  She also makes observations about the prison system itself, and illustrates some shortcomings that contribute to the perpetuation of the cycle of incarceration.

This is a fascinating story of a society and culture that many of us may never be acquainted with personally, yet is critical to understand.  Kerman helps to pull down the barrier of "otherness" that surrounds the prison system and build empathy for the people inhabiting it.  Be aware that there is a good amount of language in this book.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

The End of Your Life Book Club

The End of Your Life Book Club
By Will Schwalbe
Alfred A Knopf, 2012. 336 pgs. Biography

When Mary Schwalbe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer she and her family knew that their days together were numbered. While waiting for one of her chemo sessions, her son, Will, casually asks her what she’s been reading, and it soon becomes a tradition of theirs. They even start reading the same books, and their little two person book club is formed. This is the heartwarming memoir Will later wrote about a special bond between him and his mother, and how they drew closer together as her life came to a close.

I think being able to discuss books, and the ideas and feelings they produce, can create a unique connection between people. This memoir is a little window into how deep that connection can grow, and how people can be affected by writing. As someone who’s lost a family member to pancreatic cancer, I felt Will’s portrayal was honest and tender. His writing clearly focused more on the relationship with his mom than anything else. I really enjoyed reading this book, but often felt a quiet sadness knowing how it would end. Noted at the end of the memoir is a list of every title mentioned throughout the book.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat 
By Samin Nosrat
Simon & Schuster, 2017. 462 pages.

Many cookbooks are a collection of recipes, sometimes around a theme. But recipes don’t teach you how to be a great cook. In this volume, Chef Samin Nosrat imparts her simple cooking philosophy—the mastery of salt, fat, acid, and heat. Salt enhances flavor, fat delivers flavor and helps texture, acid balances flavor, and heat determines the texture. The mastery of these four elements of cooking will result in a confident cook that is not tied down by the recipe.

This book dedicates a section to each of the four elements of cooking (salt, fat, acid, heat) and also has a few recipes in the back to help the reader get an idea of how these four elements work in cooking. I consider myself to be a pretty experienced cook, but I learned so much while reading this book. I even tried a few of the recipes and found them to be excellent. Nosrat doesn’t just tell you that something works, she explains in detail why something works, and that really helps to build confidence in the kitchen. True mastery comes with practice, but this volume is an excellent compass to show the home chef the way.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Dragon's Curse: A Transference Novel

The Dragon’s Curse: A Transference Novel 
by Bethany Wiggins
Crown, 2018, 328 pgs, Young Adult Fiction

In this sequel to The Dragon’s Price, Sorrowlynn is finally prepared to join Golmarr in his search for a cure to the dragon’s curse. Before she can begin her journey, her father arrives with an army to take her home. He has married her by proxy to the heir of another kingdom and the heir has come to claim his new bride. As if trying to escape her captor husband and reunite with her true love isn’t difficult enough, a two-headed dragon is determined to find and kill Sorrowlynn before she can stop the dragon’s curse.

This was a very good follow-up to the first book. The plot is engaging, the characters have depth, and the book takes some unexpected turns. I especially appreciate that the romantic plot doesn’t overtake the main conflict of the story. I would recommend this book series to any teens that enjoy fantasy.


The Girl With the Red Balloon

The Girl With the Red Balloon
by Katherine Locke
Albert Whitman & Company, 2017, 277 pages, fiction

Ellie’s class trip to Germany is supposed to be a fun adventure, but she is having some conflicting feelings since her grandfather, a holocaust survivor, did not want her to come. When visiting the Berlin Wall she sees a red balloon, unattended, and decides to get a photograph with it. Her grandfather, often talks of the girl with a red balloon that saved him from a terrible fate.

As soon as Ellie touches the balloon, she finds herself in East Berlin 18 months before the Berlin Wall will come down. She is found by Kai, a young Romani man who works for a secret organization that smuggles people over the Wall by using magic red balloons. Reluctant at first she has no choice, but to trust him or risk being caught by the German police.

Ellie, Kai, and Kai’s work partner, Mitzi, soon discover that someone is breaking the magic laws in their rescue society to attempt time travel, and people are dying as a result. They need to find out who is behind it. Throughout Ellie’s time in East Germany, accounts of her grandfather’s experience in a Polish Ghetto are weaved throughout the book.

This book was wonderful. All the characters were well developed, and it was fun to mix magic and science fiction in with a historical fiction. Locke did her research and made sure to touch on the difficulties experienced in East Berlin, and the types of circumstances that would lead to someone risking their life to escape to West Germany. She also includes the quiet ways that people rebel and resist the oppression in the East.


Long Way Down

Long Way Down
By Jason Reynolds
Atheneum, 2017. 306 pages.

Fifteen-year-old Will lives by three rules: 1) no crying, 2) no snitching, and 3) always seek revenge. Will has done pretty well by the first two rules, but now it is time to put rule number three to the test. Will’s brother, Shawn, was shot dead the night before, and Will now finds himself with a gun tucked into his belt, on his way to kill his brother’s murderer. But as Will rides the elevator down to street level, he is visited by seven ghosts from his past that reveal truths that make Will question his resolve.

This book may be in verse, but it deals with some pretty heavy subject matters; grief over losing a loved one, gun violence, and the pressures of culture and society to name a few. The verse format makes it easy to read and a quick read. Nevertheless, this award-winning story will challenge how you view matters of right and wrong, the meaning of family, and what it means to be strong. I loved listening to the audiobook narrated by the author, as his voice lends some serious gravity to the story line.


Monday, April 16, 2018

The Power of Moments

Cover image for The power of moments : why certain experiences have extraordinary impact
The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact
By Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Simon and Schuster, 2017, 307 pages, Nonfiction

Why do we tend to remember the best or worst moment of an experience, as well as the last moment, and forget the rest? Why do we feel most comfortable when things are certain, but feel most alive when they're not? And why are our most cherished memories clustered into a brief period during our youth? The New York Times bestselling authors of Switch and Made to Stick explore why certain brief experiences can jolt us and elevate us and change us--and how we can learn to create such extraordinary moments in our life and work.

Chip and Dan Heath are at it again, writing a great motivational/leadership book that really got me thinking about all of the little interactions I have with people every day. What small things can I do to make another person’s day better? Are there things that happen every day that could be improved and heightened? This book is a must for anyone who wants to improve their customer service skills, but I also think it will be beneficial for anyone who wants to make any relationship better, or who wants to make any moment stand out.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

My Dearest Love

My Dearest Love
by Sarah M. Eden
Mirror Press, 2017, 129 pgs. Historical Romance

Ian O'Connor spends long days in a textile mill in New York City, enduring the dangerous conditions to help support his parents and brothers and sisters. Biddy Dillon has lost her home and her family and is barely making ends meet as she works in the same textile mill. Life feels hopeless for both of them until their paths cross and they begin to feel a little spark of joy when they are around each other. The problem is that Ian doesn't know how to talk to her and his family won't stop teasing him about it. When tragedy strikes, they must decide if they have enough courage to face an uncertain future together.

This is a novella that comes before the Longing for Home series. I loved finally finding out how Ian and Biddy met and fell in love. The O'Connor family is so loving and kind and they don't let hard circumstances keep them down. Sarah Eden continues to do what she does best but creating a heartwarming story with characters that feel like family.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Lightless Sky: a Twelve-Year-Old Refugee's Harrowing Escape from Afghanistan and His Extraordinary Journey Across Half the World

The Lightless Sky: a Twelve-Year-Old Refugee’s Harrowing Escape from Afghanistan and His Extraordinary Journey Across Half the World
By Gulwali Passarlay
HarperOne, 2016. 361 pgs. Biography

Born in Afghanistan, after his father was killed by American troops, the Taliban wanted to recruit Gulwali as a suicide bomber and the Americans wanted him to be an informer. His mother was determined that her sons would have a better future and paid smugglers to take Gulwali and his older brother out of the country. Gulwali traveled 12,500 miles and passed through the hands of at least twenty-five smugglers. He crossed and was deported and re-crossed borders to Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France and finally Great Britain for nearly a year. He was imprisoned, beaten, starved, nearly drowned, but determined to reach the freedom his mother paid so much for him to have.

Through the experiences of Gulwali Passarlay the reader can glimpse the desperate situation for refugees trying to escape the chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other war torn countries. SH

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State
by Nadia Murad
Tim Duggan Books. 2017. 306 pgs. Biography

Nadia Murad was raised in Kocho, a Yazidi community in Iraq. Though telling her story is traumatic, she knows that telling the truth about what ISIS did to the people of  Kocho is the surest way to make the world understand their crimes against the Yazidi people.

In August, 2014, the men of the village were murdered by ISIS and the women either killed, or kidnapped and taken to various ISIS controlled cities. Nadia was taken to Mosul, forced to convert to Islam, and sold as a sex slave to an ISIS leader who subsequently sold her to another soldier. Finally Nadia was able to escape and make her way to Kurdish controlled territory where she rejoined her few remaining family members. Today she is an activist working on behalf of the Yazidi people who are refugees, speaking whenever she can about the genocide against them and seeking to bring the leaders of ISIS to justice.  SH

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Need to Know

Need to Know
by Karen Cleaveland
Ballantine Books, 2018, 290 pgs.  Fiction

Vivian Miller is a professional trying to balance work and family.  What makes her situation unique is that she works at Langley as an analyst searching for Russian sleeper cells on American soil.  The good news is that she is very good at her job.  The bad news is that her most recent breakthrough will completely destroy her life and her family.  How far will she go to protect her children and husband?  How much can her country ask of her?

I haven’t read a good spy novel in ages and this was a pretty good reminder of why I really do enjoy the genre.  Vivian is a very relatable character that you can’t help but root for her.  I was left guessing at the loyalties of the different characters up until the very last page, which is always a good sign. Nothing groundbreaking but a solid addition to literary spydom. 



When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
by Daniel H. Pink
Riverhead Books, 2017. 272 pgs. Nonfiction

Does it matter when you start a new goal?  A new relationship?  A new job?  Does it matter what time of day you tackle different types of tasks?  How about when you should visit a hospital or have surgery?  The answer to all these questions is a resounding YES, according to Daniel H. Pink it matters a great deal.  Pink has reviewed cutting edge research and data to determine how we can best schedule our lives to optimize our success and happiness.

I love books that use science to explain life.  The author’s stories and illustrations are entertaining and convincing (not that I needed a lot of convincing to know that naps are awesome).  I particularly enjoy the way Pink writes about his own personal feelings about the discoveries he makes.  You feel like you are on a journey with him, picking up little jewels of insight as you travel from page to page.


Monday, April 9, 2018

Burn Bright

Burn Bright
by Patricia Briggs New York : Ace, 2018. 308 pgs, Science Fiction

Charles and Anna Cornick are facing a threat that is hitting way to close to home. There is someone attacking the Wildlings; the werewolves who are too unstable and broken to live among the general populace. While Bran is out of the country Charles and Anna must face this threat and find out who is threatening the safety of the pack.

As always I love Patricia Briggs. I love Anna’s personality and I love the nuances they mention between the relationships in the pack. I loved learning about the Wildlings and their special place in the Marrock’s pack. The magic in this particular novel was unique and a fun combination of Brigg's style and fairytales. Patricia Briggs just creates this world of magic that I can get lost in for hours.


Saturday, April 7, 2018

Emergency Contact

 Emergency Contact
By Mary H. K. Choi
New York, Simon & Schuster, 2018. 400 pgs Young Adult

What do you do when your best friend is someone you’ve only “met” twice but text with for hours? For Penny Lee, Sam Becker is much more than words on a screen. He is more than her college roommate’s young, erstwhile uncle. He is also more than just a sexy, tattooed, wanna-be-filmmaker barista who has anxiety attacks and bakes. He is her person, someone with whom she shares her deepest anxieties and darkest secrets. Her emergency contact.

 As two lonely and complicated people, they begin to build a friendship and maybe something more. But this book isn’t just about relationships in the cell phone age. It's about art. Sam and Penny are both creatives, Sam longing to go to film school and Penny determined to become a writer. They both have to decide who they want to be as artists and how to build their craft.

Mary H. K. Choi’s debut novel is complex; poignant while being funny, romantic yet awkward, serious and silly. I was expecting all the cliches. They were there, but they were handled so honestly and with such humor that they didn’t feel cliche. Choi creates quirky and endearing characters who show real growth and self-awareness. I couldn’t put it down.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Wonder Woman: Warbringer
by Leigh Bardugo
Random House, 2017. 364 pages. Young Adult Fantasy

Hidden from mortal eyes, the Amazons live in peace on Themyscira, their island  home gifted them by the gods. Once mortal women, these warriors' bear the duty of protecting peace, armed with immortality, strength and wisdom,. All except Diana. Though daughter of the great Amazon Queen, Diana isn't sure she is an Amazon, truly; unlike her sisters who lived first as humans, she is the only Amazon to be born such. She longs to prove herself worthy, a hero - but when she saves Alia, a mortal, she's risks everything. It would bad enough if Alia were just an ordinary girl, but she is a Warbringer, a descendant of Helen, whose legendary beauty started the Trojan War. Cursed to usher in an age of war and destruction, Alia is hunted by forces who would do anything eliminate - or possess - her. But perhaps together, she and Diana can find a way to save the world.

Long-time or newly converted fans of Wonder Woman will love this book! Fear not, it's not just a novelization of last summer's blockbuster film. WARBRINGER flawlessly translates Diana's coming-of-age into the 21st century, building upon the Wonder Woman universe gorgeously, subtly expanding it to a richer, more inclusive, diverse, more believable world. While there's plenty of action, this book offers so much more. Intensely relateable, the strength of the story is the theme of friendship, particularly female friendship. Despite the fact that Diana and Alia are not at all ordinary young women, the essence of their struggles to understand who they are, what impact their lives will have on their world, is in fact, pretty ordinary. I mean I'm no Amazon superhuman princess slash hero of mankind, but I felt the much the same as I left childhood behind and forged out into the unknown to make a life of my own. I think we all Still do. And the best support we have facing any life transition are authentic, empowering friendship. Another thing I love about this book is the character development. In addition to fantastic protagonists, we're treated to a host of equally developed, diverse, and interesting supporting characters. And in a book about relationships, I'd expect nothing less.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Dry

Cover image for The Dry
The Dry
By Jane Harper
Flatiron Books, 2017, 328 pages, Mystery

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. It looks like Luke murdered his family and committed suicide out of desperation over financial troubles. Luke’s parents refuse to believe their son capable of such heinous acts, and they call on Falk to clear their dead son’s name. Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened that awful day. As Falk reluctantly investigates Luke's death, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

Harper’s freshman novel is full of atmosphere and character. You can feel the blistering heat of the Australian Outback on your skin, and you can sense the tension in the air as desperation makes the townspeople question each other’s motivations. Since this book is the first in a series, there are two mysteries to solve: What really happened to drive Falk and his father out of town when Falk was a teenager, and what happened to Luke and his family in the present? Both are compelling mysteries, although I occasionally felt like some parts of one mystery were drawn out in order to introduce additional details about the other. Still, this is a solid entry in a new mystery series, and I’m anxious to read the next book, Force of Nature, to see if it has just as much atmosphere and character.


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Wicked Deep

The Wicked Deep
by Shea Ernshaw
New York, Simon Pulse, 2018. 310 pgs Young Adult

The town of Sparrow Oregon is haunted by three sisters who were drowned because the jealous townspeople suspected them of witchcraft. Two hundred years later the town is still plagued by mysterious drownings during the “Season” but Penny is determined to find a way to stop them to save the boy she loves.

The Wicked Deep balanced beautifully telling a story that takes place in the past to bring depth to the actions happening in the present. I loved the ghost story that was built into the plot. Overall a fun Teen read.