Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Claiming My Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust

Claiming My Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust
By Planaria Price and Helen Reichmann West
Farrar Strauss Giroux 2018. 250 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Helen Reichmann West tells the life story of her mother Barbara. Born as Gucia Gomolinska and in her early twenties when Poland falls to the Nazis, she and her family are confined to a ghetto. Eventually, she hides her Jewish identity and obtains an ID card under the name Danuta Barbara Tanska that allows her to work as a household servant in Germany. Hiding in plain sight, so to speak, she survives the war in spite of Allied bombing and the continual danger of discovery. In the devastating aftermath of the war, with few of her family members surviving, she tries to build a life with her husband in Germany but prejudice against the Jews remains a reality in Europe after the war.  Eventually they obtain permission to live in the United States.

This is a very readable biography that brings to life the childhood and teen years of a happy Jewish teenager in a close family surrounded by a faithful Jewish community. The terrible changes brought by the Nazi invasion destroy their peaceful life forever. These events must never be forgotten so that they will never be repeated. SH

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Heart Berries

 Heart Berries: a memoir
By Terese Marie Mailhot
Counterpoint, 2018. 142 pgs. Nonfiction

Mailhot's memoir is a scattered, but poetic story of her upbringing on the Seabird Island Indian reservation. Most of the book you can tell is written during Mailhot's stay at a psychiatric hospital. She willingly checked herself in after attempting to take her life, as long as she could write in a notebook she brought and could be home soon enough to see her son for Christmas. She writes about her experiences as a Native woman that is making her way in school, relationships, and society controlled by white people.

The story is not linear, and jumps around from her painful abusive past to a raw emotional letter written to a lover. She opens up about her most deep desires, and honestly owns up to her deepest desires and what makes up who she is. 

Following Mailhot's narrative over audio format was good, but sometimes difficult to follow if she quickly changed subjects. However, the poetic aspect was greatly enhanced by listening to this. The way her stories are portrayed and thoughts on her mother are beautiful. It feels like you are reading a journal, making it a deep and personal memoir. 


The Great Glass Sea

 The Great Glass Sea     
By Josh Weil
Grove Press, 2014. 474 pgs. Science Fiction                   

This is a story about twins, Yarik and Dima. They grow up living on their uncle’s farm after the death of their father, the boys once spent their days helping farmers in collective fields, their nights dreaming about their uncle's mythical tales. Years later, the two men labor side by side at the Oranzheria, a sea of glass—the largest greenhouse in the world—that sprawls over acres of cropland. Lit by space mirrors orbiting above, it ensnares the denizens of Petroplavilsk in perpetual daylight and constant productivity, leaving the twins with only work in common—stalwart Yarik married with children, oppressed by the burden of responsibility; dreamer Dima living alone with his mother and rooster, continually dreams of going back to the simple life on their uncle's farm land. 

After witnessing an encounter with the Oranzerhia’s billionaire, their lives change forever as they are forced to take different shifts from each other. Yarik, works the day shift and starts his ascent in the company getting promotion after promotion, while Dima drifts into a laborless life of bare subsistence working the night shift. 

Although it felt a little long at times, I really enjoyed this book. When I read the description, and saw the pictures I did expect this to lean more toward fantasy, but it is definitely all science fiction. I loved reading Weil's writing style. His beautiful descriptive words in combination of using a high number of Russian vocabulary throughout draws you fully into the Russian scenery and culture. The story he presents is great at capturing the spirit of the Russian family, and the tragedy of transitioning political ideals drawing them apart from their simple life on the "dacha". 


Saturday, June 23, 2018


By Catherynne M. Valente
Tor Books, 2016. 478 pgs. Fiction.

This book is a decopunk, pulp, Science Fiction, space opera, mystery. Set in a solar system that only vaguely resembles ours, this story is an homage to the golden age of film making.  Set in an alternate 1986 where the Edison family has been miserly with their patents and talking pictures are still a new invention, Severin Unck is a documentarian. She travels to exotic places in the solar system and investigates the mysteries of disappearing space colonies, particularly one on the water world of Venus. But the mystery of the disappearing colony extends to the disappearance of Severin herself.

Valente’s style is opulent and sparkling, just like the exotic and elegant characters she describes. The story is told in snatches of personal film archives, excerpts from reality TV, gossip magazines, and classic films. This is a galaxy-spanning mystery that will draw you in and take you to places you have never been.

Also, check out the audio version of this book. The narrator is amazing. 


Loving Lieutenant Lancaster

Loving Lieutenant Lancaster
By Sarah M. Eden
Covenant Communications, 2018. 243 pgs. Romance

Arabella Hampton was orphaned at a young age and lived with very unloving and cruel relatives. The only light in her life came when she came in contact with the Jonquil's and she dreamed of what life might be like to be a part of their family. Years later she is given the chance to be the lady's companion to the dowager countess. She finds that life at Lampton Park is much more complicated than she imagined and becomes even more so when a grand house party is planned. She is happy to hide in the shadows, but one of the guests, Lieutenant Linus Lancaster, notices her and won't let her stay there for long.

I am a huge fan of Sarah Eden and this book was a dream come true! It combined the characters from the Jonquil series and the Lancaster series all at the same house party. Having the surely Duke of Kielder and the flamboyant Lord Lampton together guaranteed conflict and humor as the brother-in-laws tried to keep them from killing each other.  Sarah Eden creates characters that come alive. After reading nine books between the two series, the characters feel like family and it was so enjoyable to see their stories intertwine and continue. This book is about Linus Lancaster and Arabella but all the secondary characters make it a treat!


The False Prince

The False Prince
By Jennifer Nielsen
Scholastic Press, 2012. 342 pgs. Young Adult

The country of Carthya is under threat of civil war. Connor, a nobleman, creates an elaborate plan to find and train an orphan to pose as the long lost son of the king and serve as a puppet prince. He chooses four orphans to compete with each other for the honor. Sage is one of the orphans. He doesn't want to win but he knows that death awaits all the losers. There are so many layers of dangerous lies and deceit but a truth is revealed that might be more dangerous than everything else combined.

This is the first book in the Ascendance trilogy and I really enjoyed listening to the audio book. This would be a great book for a family road trip because there were some twists that even I didn't see coming. I look forward to the rest of the books in the series.


Friday, June 22, 2018


Cover image for Circe : a novel
By Madeline Miller
Little, Brown & Co, 2018, 393 pages, General Fiction

Circe, the daughter of Helios the sun god, chafes at life in the palace of her father, where everyone sees her as someone who is not worth their attention. When she acts out in a spectacular way and is banished to the island of Aeaea, she spends her days honing her powers and becoming comfortable with who she is. But Aeaea isn’t as solitary as it seems, and soon others, gods and mortals alike, come to Circe’s shores. While some of these ask for Circe’s help, others mean her harm, and Circe must eventually choose between the worlds of the gods and mortals.

All I knew about Circe before I read this book was the little I knew of her from The Odyssey. I didn't know that she appears in other Greek tales! Miller compiles these tales, and uses a bit of poetic license, to make Circe a fully fleshed-out character with interesting, relatable motivations. This made the parts of Circe's story I knew feel new and fresh, and it made me look at her story with new eyes.  The Greek tales of Circe have an interesting outcome that would be seen as strange in today’s world, yet Miller helped the ending make some sense. Those who like mythology, tales of the ancient world, and strong women will really enjoy this book.

I also highly recommend the audiobook version of this story, which is expertly read by Perdita Weeks.


Thursday, June 21, 2018


by Jeff VanderMeer
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. 195 pages General Fiction

After almost 12 expeditions to Area X, the place is still shrouded in mystery. Since so few explorers ever return to share their findings, little is known about the strange animal and plant life there and what is mutating or changing them. That dreary fact doesn’t stop the next expedition, comprised of all female members, from venturing out in attempt to make sense of the place that seems to be slowly and alarmingly expanding to surrounding areas and affecting all it touches. The group, comprised of a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, a biologist, and a linguist, has been instructed not to share personal information including names, not to bring any modern technology on the trek, and to keep their findings and observations privately recorded in their journals. They soon learn that Area X is not what it appears, and that their fellow expedition members are not either.

There are so many little revelations throughout this book, that writing too much about it will surely spoil it. It’s fast paced, suspenseful, and lusciously descriptive of a world within our own, being altered by unseen forces. It is the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy and I can't wait to read the others! This book has been adapted into a film starring Natalie Portman, but there’s a lot of nuance and world building missing from the film- so skip the movie, and read the book instead!


The Line Becomes a River

The Line Becomes a River
By Francisco Cantú
Riverhead Books, 2018. 250 pages.

Francisco Cantú crew up in the American Southwest, the grandson of Mexican immigrants. For Cantú, the US/Mexican border formed and defined his existence. In an effort to better understand the border, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. During his years as an agent, he encounters drug smugglers and criminals, but is surprised by the shear amount of immigrants just looking for a better life. Eventually, plagued by nightmares of violence and haunted by the indifference to human life he encountered as an agent, Cantú quits the Patrol. But when a close friend travels to Mexico and is stopped at the border trying to re-enter, Cantú comes face-to-face with devastating effects that the border has on families.

Coincidentally, I finished this book just as reports flooded the news about our government’s Zero Tolerance policy wreaking havoc on immigrant families at the border. Regardless of one’s feelings on illegal immigration, this book is a must read. Cantú’s portrayal of our system’s callous approach to human life is a wakeup call that cannot, and should not, be ignored.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Whydah : A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found

The Whydah : A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found
by, Martin W. Sandler
Candlewick Press, 2017. 170 pgs, YA Non-Fiction

This book goes into the history of The Whydah, her captain and crew. It tells how a slaver laden with payment after a trade was captured by pirates, sunk in a brutal storm the same day it was the most successful pirate vessel. There is adventure, betrayal, and some awesome pirate history.

This was a fun read for me. I have always been fascinated by pirates and I learned a lot about why an average person in the 18th century would contemplate piracy as a way of life. This book had a lot of cool facts and was super interesting. Samuel Bellamy sadly is not well known in history but as far as pirates go it was really cool to read about him, and his life and why he became a pirate. I found it to be an fascinating and quick read.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

We Own the Sky

Cover image for We own the sky
We Own the Sky
By Luke Allnutt
Park Row Books, 2018, 358 pages, General Fiction

When a devastating illness befalls his family, Rob Coates's world begins to unravel. It is only when he has lost almost everything that Rob begins to seek solace. He honors his past by photographing the skyscrapers and clifftops he and his son Jack used to visit. As Rob does so, he embarks on a journey to find his way back to life, and forgiveness.

A tribute to the love between parents and children, especially fathers and sons, this novel does a great job at taking you through the different emotions a parent might feel when thy find out their child is terminally ill. Told mostly through a series of flashbacks, the rollercoaster of desperation, love, and hope the characters feel through each stage of the journey seems authentic and palpable. While Anna blames herself for her son’s illness, Rob is obsessed with researching; looking for any sort of experimental drug that might cure his son, and not caring about what other consequences these treatments might bring. Although this is a depressing topic, I found this book to be quiet but compelling, and highly touching. Those would were touched by When Breath Becomes Air will likely enjoy this book as well.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens
By Eddie Izzard
Random House, 2017, 385 pgs. Biography

British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard writes about his life, his comedy, and his charity marathon running is this candid and conversational autobiography. After his mother died when he was only 6 years old, he and his brother attended boarding schools for much of their adolescence. It was here that he discovered he wanted to act, and that he had a flare for comedy. He spends a great deal of the book talking about his youth and how his early life influenced his worldview, which in turn influences his comedy, and on his years of work getting his comedy career off the ground. Izzard spends less time on topics that might interest his fans- like coming out and thriving as transgender, his political activism, or notable past acting roles- both dramatic and comedic. The stories he does include have his signature wit and surreal observances, and broaden the readers understanding of how his mind works to bring out the humor and absurdity in the world at large.

The book has the same pacing as his stand-up does; he moves quickly from topic to topic and seems to have a stream of consciousness way of getting from one story to the next. I listened to the audio book version, which Izzard reads, and that added a level of delight and humor- and a lot of side information and stories that he’d preface with “Now, this isn’t in the book…” I would recommend this book to those who are already know and love Izzard and his comedy, and highly recommend giving the audio book version a listen for a good laugh.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Blue Tattoo

The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman
by Margot Mifflin
University of Nebraska Press, 2009. 280 pgs. Biography

In 1851, Olive Oatman was just another pilgrim trekking westward with her family as thousands had before them. Her journey however, took an unexpected turn to a new life, a new family as an adopted member of the Mojave tribe - made official with a blue tattoo. After her "rescue, "Olive's story captured the country's attention and bred several retellings, including a collaborative memoir written by Olive and pastor Royal Stratton. But none of these stories line up with Olive's accounts told soon after her ransom - including her "memoir." What really happened to the girl with the blue tattoo? Was it a reminder of years of suffering among strangers - or another life and family stolen from her by fate?

I first heard about Olive Oatman a few years ago while reading about tattooing in America. While being the first white woman (on historical record) to be tattooed in the United States is fascinating in an of itself, there's so much about Olive's life to explore. The great thing about this biography is that it delves into all those parts, not just telling Olive's story of captivity, adoption, and "rescue," but it really gets into the cultural, historical, and gender politics at play during this time and how life was for this woman caught between worlds. This book doesn't just set the record straight, it also gives Olive power over her story again.


A Whole New World

A Whole New World (Twisted Tales, 1)
by Liz Braswell
Disney Press, 2015. 376 pgs. YA Fantasy

What if Aladdin never got the lamp? Based on the 1992 Disney film Aladdin, this book explores what could have happened to Agrabah if Jafar had possession of the Genie instead of Aladdin. The story is told from the point of view of both Aladdin and Jasmine, and explores themes of friendship, growth, compassion, revenge, evil, and freedom as Jasmine rallies her people to overthrow Jafar.

I loved this retelling of a classic movie from my childhood. Although my opinion differs from many hardcore Disney fans, I found it refreshing, progressive, and modern. Jasmine is strong, independent, and smart in the ways that matter. She learns and grows throughout the book, preparing her for the throne. She is able to recognize the faults of her forefathers and develops compassion and understanding for her people and Aladdin. Both Aladdin and Jasmine were fleshed out characters with strengths and weaknesses, hopes and dreams, challenges and triumphs. I would suggest this for anyone who enjoys fractured fairy tales, princesses, and strong female characters.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Victoria: The Queen

Victoria: The Queen
By Julia Baird
Random House, 2017, 752 pages, Biography

This biography of Queen Victoria is fresh, well researched, and mesmerizing. Though it is quite a brick of a book, it is a charmingly fast read. Using her background in history and journalism, author Julia Baird challenges many of the stereotypes of Queen Victoria and paints a picture of a complex and passionate woman.

For example, Baird challenges the idea that Victoria didn’t care for her children. Using personal diaries, letters, and recollections of those closest to Victoria, she shows that the Queen doted on her children, especially the pretty ones. Baird also shows the problematic and intense relationships Victoria had with John Brown and Abdul Kareem.

I loved this comprehensive look at Victoria’s life, not just her relationship with Prince Albert. In many ways her dependence upon Albert crippled her powerful spirit. It took her ten years to come back to herself after he died. What I learned most was that Queen Victoria flourished when she felt loved and safe. Whether it was the support of her Prime Ministers, her servants, or her children, she was a warm and vibrant person when she felt supported by those closest to her.


Friday, June 8, 2018

Wires and Nerve

Wires and Nerve (Lunar Chronicles, 1) 
by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel & Friends, 2017. 238 pgs. Young Adult Graphic Novels 

In this continuation of the Lunar Chronicles series, the story begins seven months after Cinder was crowned queen of Lunar. There are rogue wolf hybrid soldiers terrorizing Earth and something must be done. Iko, formerly a household robot and Cinder’s best friend, goes to Earth and begins to round up all of the wolf packs that are causing death and destruction. But some soldiers are not happy with the new Lunar leadership and want to hurt Iko, Cinder, and their friends.

I enjoyed this continuation of the Lunar Chronicles and seeing things from Iko’s point of view. The artwork is highly stylized, with long faces and all the color in shades of blue. The story was fast moving and included many of the main characters from the original series. Iko has her own strengths and weaknesses that influence how she responds to situations other characters. It was a fast read and great for anyone who likes graphic novels or the original Lunar Chronicles series.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

One Second After

One Second After
By William R. Forstchen
Forge, 2009. 352 pgs. Sci-Fi

John Matherson, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, moved to his wife’s hometown of Black Mountain, North Carolina when she was dying from cancer. Now he’s a history professor at the local college and raising his two girls alone. One day while chatting with a former colleague the phone the line goes dead. The problems don’t stop there, and he soon discovers that all electronics have been fried due to a widespread electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. Electronics have become so integrated into our lives that the sudden loss sends nearby towns into chaos. John must use his skills and leadership abilities to create order that will allow his town and family survive the dark times ahead, in spite of worsening conditions.

This was a fascinating story that, while science fiction, is based in science fact. A large EMP could truly destroy life as we know it, and survival would be extremely difficult. Highly populated urban areas would completely fall apart, while smaller towns with access to farms and fresh water supplies might limp along. Reading this book makes me want to learn new skills that could be utilized in case of a debilitating disaster. It was interesting and although it’s the first in a series, it also stands well on its own. I could easily recommend this to fans of survival or apocalypse stories.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet
By M. C. Beaton
St. Martin's Press, 1993. 213 pages. Mystery

Agatha Raisin has retired to the Cotswolds after a successful career as a PR executive.  After solving a murder the previous year, Agatha is ready to settle down for a quiet life of trying to attract the eye of her handsome new neighbor James Lacey.  But Agatha finds his interest is only piqued by the murder of a local vet.  Suspicious of the circumstances of the vet's death herself, she decides to team up with James to investigate, and if a little love blossoms between them as a result, what can be the harm?

This second book in the Agatha Raisin series is a solid mystery, but the real draw of the series is Agatha herself.  Agatha is a strong heroine who has a deeply vulnerable side that she tries to hide from others, and as such I find her very relatable.  Readers looking for strong, capable characters in a cozy mystery would do well to check out this series.