Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The French Chef In America

The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act 
by Alex Prud’homme Knopf, 2016. 318 pgs. Nonfiction

This is a follow-up of My Life in France written by Julia’s nephew and collaborator Alex Prud’homme. It focuses specifically on Julia’s work in America. It discusses her groundbreaking television program, the many cookbooks she wrote, and her documentaries. By this point in her life, Paul had become confused and surly. He never really recovered from a surgery he had. Though Paul was prickly with other people, he was Julia’s partner in everything. It’s amazing to see how Julia juggled her career and her marriage. The biography reads like a narrative and was so hard to put down.


by Bob Spitz
Knopf, 2012. 534 pgs. Nonfiction

This is a delightful biography of a delightful woman, Julia Child. It gives comprehensive coverage of Julia’s entire life, not just her time in France. It particularly focuses the complex and passionate relationship between Julia and Paul. This relationship was the catalyst for Julia’s blossoming into a confident, competent, and creative chef and TV personality.

The book was such a great read. The new information and excerpts from letters really made Julia and Paul real. Julia Child truly is a remarkable person.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Natural Causes

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer
by Barbara Ehrenreich
Twelve, 2018.  234 pgs. Nonfiction

Why do we age and how can we stop it?  These are two questions that our society is trying to answer in a myriad of ways.  Ehrenreich has written of her exploration of the topic comparing quality of life with longevity.  How hard are we willing to work to live forever?  The author is very critical of preventative-care screenings that can lead to unnecessary worry and medical intervention.  She also attacks the “cult of wellness” and the tendency the wealthy have to look down on the less advantaged who may not have the time or resources to exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.

Ehrenreich is a wonderful writer and presents her somewhat scientific summary in a very understandable manner.  I will admit that my favorite part of the book was the cover, but I still enjoyed the opportunity to evaluate my own theories on health and wellness.  This is a short but entertaining look at the state of American Health, perfect for readers who want something a little lighter than Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.


Death of Mrs. Westaway

Death of Mrs. Westaway
by Ruth Ware
Scout Press, 2018. 368 pgs. Fiction

Hal’s life is not going well.  Since her mother was run down by a drunk driver, she has been just barely getting by as a tarot reader on the pier where her mother worked until her death.  But money is tight which is why she is deeply in debt to an unsympathetic loan shark.  Just when things look their bleakest, Hal receives a letter about the death of a grandmother she has never heard of and a legacy that would come in very handy right now.  Hal knows the letter must be a mistake, but in desperation she replies to the letter and finds herself in a frightful old house with quarreling relatives and a host of secrets that may turn deadly.

I read Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin Ten a couple years ago and I liked it.  But I truly enjoyed The Death of Mrs. Westaway!  Hal is a very entertaining protagonist and her family is truly crazy while still being endearing.  I loved the dark atmosphere, the decrepit mansion, and the crazy housekeeper no one trusts.   I thought it was bit more mystery than thriller, and enjoyed the plot twists and turns and ultimate showdown where the whole truth was finally revealed!


Map of Salt and Stars

Map of Salt and Stars
by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
Touchstone, 2018. 360 pgs.  Fiction

Nour was born in New York but after her father’s death, her mother moves her and her sisters back to her home country of Syria.  But Syria has changed and the violence they encounter soon test their courage and connection to each other.  To keep her father’s memory alive and to distract herself from the harsh realities of life as a refugee, Nour shares the stories her father taught her.  Nour’s narrative then alternates between her own travels toward hoped for safety and the journey of a Rawlya, a heroine from the twelfth century who traveled the same lands with a legendary mapmaker determined to find both adventure and a way to secure a future for herself and her widowed mother.

This is a timely story of the plight of refugees throughout the world who find themselves without home or country, safety or hope.  Nour’s story is heartbreaking but her dedication to storytelling and Rawlya’s parallel adventure lighten the mood and keep the reader from despairing to some degree.  The writing here is beautiful as is the author’s description of the diverse scenery both girls travel.  For those who enjoyed The Kite Runner or In the Shadow of the Banyan.


Rocket Men

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon
by Robert Kurson
Random House, 2018. 372 pgs. Nonfiction

In 1968 the United States was losing the race to moon, an objective set by President Kennedy earlier in the decade.  Russia had reached several space milestones ahead of the U.S. space program and the pressure was mounting to pull ahead and reach the moon first.  This situation prompted NASA to make an unprecedented decision.  In just four months, they would send a crew to orbit the moon, a mission that many felt was too risky and maybe even years ahead of schedule.

The men chosen to fly this Apollo 8 mission were men of fierce resolve and unquestioned courage.  But along with their courage was the courage of those they left at home.  Wives, children, coworkers, and a host of NASA employees who would make the mission possible thanks to hard work, dedication, and a drive to prove that American resolve, determination, ingenuity would win the day.

For readers who enjoyed Boys in the Boat or Rocket Boys, Rocket Men is a wonderful recounting of a historic few months that many of the younger generation may not be aware of.  Older readers may be flooded with memories of that historic year and the national pride that was tied up in the space race.  Kurson spends a lot of his book with each of the men on the mission and their dedication to family and country.  An inspirational story filled with drama and adventure!


The Hedge Knight II: Sworn Sword

The Hedge Knight II: Sworn Sword
By George R. R. Martin
Marvel, 2008. 152 pgs. Graphic Novel

Ser Duncan and his squire, Egg, are in the service of Ser Eustace, an aged knight unable to let go of his past glory. While traveling on a blistering hot day, Ser Duncan discovers that the river running through Ser Eustace’s land has gone dry within a single day. As he travels upriver he soon discovers the water dammed on Lady Rohanne Webber’s land. When Ser Eustace’s other knight makes trouble with the local peasants, Ser Duncan tries to smooth things over, but past transgressions will make this a more complicated negotiation than he realized.

This was an enjoyable journey into early Westeros history, about 90 years before the events of A Game of Thrones. Ser Duncan is a knight with a solid moral compass, something very rare for the land of Westeros. Egg is a 10-year-old Targaryen in disguise, learning about the world as he travels with Ser Duncan. As the two of them encounter conflict, Ser Duncan teaches Egg about respect and honor when dealing with people and situations. This was an extremely enjoyable read and is a graphic novel I could easily recommend to fans of the Game of Thrones tv series as well as Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series. I loved it and definitely want to read the other graphic novels about Dunk and Egg.

DIY Updos, Knots, and Twists 
by Melissa Cook
Adams Media, 2015. 143 pgs. Nonfiction

 Melissa Cook, creator of the popular fashion blog missysue.com, has created well-organized and easy to understand guide to expanding your hair-styling repertoire with this book, DIY Updos, Knots, and Twists. With 35 modern hairstyles this book has something to fit your occasion, whether it’s a quick style just to get your hair out of your face or an elegant updo for a night out on the town. Each style has step-by-step instructions and each step is accompanied by a beautiful colored photograph. 

These hairstyles look so fancy, but are simple to put together! I really appreciated the photos in the instructions; it made it a lot easier to understand. Unfortunately my hair is too fine for a lot of these hairstyles but I still found a few that will work for me. This book will be especially great for those with longer hair that has some volume to it.


The Fates Divide

The Fates Divide (Carve the Mark, #2)
By Veronica Roth
Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. 443 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

“The third child of the family Kereseth will die in service to the family Noavek.”
“The second child of the family Noavek will cross the Divide.”

Akos has fallen in love with Cyra and although escaping their fates is impossible, he thinks his death might be postponed… that is until Lazmet Noavek, Cyra’s father and Shotet’s most tyrannical ruler, returns to claim his throne. As they strive to stop the ensuing war, their fates will play out in a most unexpected way.

In addition to Akos and Cyra, this book also includes chapters from the point of view of Eijeh and Cisi. Eijeh in particular, due to the split between his own memories and Ryzek’s, was a fascinating voice. While Roth doesn’t try to make her characters explicitly diverse, it’s clear that social issues are important to her as she uses subtly and symbolism to show a variety of views and perspectives. Since this is a duology, if you’ve read Carve the Mark you’ll want to pick up The Fates Divide to see how the story concludes. I can easily recommend it.


Friday, July 27, 2018

The Martian Chronicles

The Martian Chronicles 
by Ray Bradbury
Bantam Books, 1958. 181 pgs. SCI-FI

Man comes to Mars expecting human responses and an Earth-like environment and culture. Instead, the Martians are completely uninterested in the humans’ great achievement of space travel and end up killing the first few expeditions for trivial reasons. However man persists and conquers Mars, imposing their own beliefs on the planet rather than opening their eyes to learn from what is already there. This book is a collection of rather unrelated short stories that collectively tell of man’s shortcomings as they colonize the red planet.

 Honestly this book wasn’t what I was expecting. The short stories are quite disjointed from each other, which threw me off in the beginning. Then I realized that together they tell a broader story than they do individually, and it has more to do with the shortcomings and flaws of mankind than it does with Mars itself. Once I realized I was getting a bigger picture story, it was hard to put the book down! I’d recommend this one to someone looking for classics or societal commentary.


The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran

The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran
by Masih Alinejad
Little, Brown and Company. 2018. 394 pgs. Biography

Masih Alinejad relates her life story and her present activism for women’s rights in Iran. Her story is a compelling one as she recounts her childhood and the youthful idealism that led her to a period in prison and subsequent activism. Blocked by her prison history from further education and many jobs in Iran, she became a journalist covering the political events and corruption in the Iranian Majlis. In 2009, with a presidential election looming in Iran, she was pressured by the regime to leave the country. Since then she has lived abroad and carries on her activism from the freedom of London and the U.S. One of her major projects is to help Iranian women stand against the forced wearing of the hijab (covering for the head, and often the face and body as well) through her Facebook page “My Stealthy Freedom.” Iranian women send her photos of themselves without the hijab and she puts them on "My Stealthy Freedom." She feels that the hijab represents all the repression that women in Iranian society experience, making the compulsory hijab a worthy target of her activism. SH

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


by Isaac Asimov
Bantam, 1989. 385 pgs. Sci-Fi

Nemesis tells of colonies orbiting earth that provide self-sustaining lifestyles for humans who have never even lived on earth. One of those “Settlements” discovers hyper-drive and launches itself to orbit a previously unknown star named Nemesis located only two light years from earth. Extensive study of the new star and its planetary system reveals that Nemesis will one day collide with and completely destroy earth. Wanting to establish a civilization that is free of the strife and prejudices and crowding on earth, the head of the colony does not want to warn earth. But there are those who disagree. And many fear that scientists on earth will discover their star and hyper-drive and come to disturb their fledgling colony circling Nemesis.

This is a classic from Asimov that dedicated science fiction fans will want to read. The story mainly unfolds through long conversations between the major characters.  While a lot of action is talked about or hinted at, the book is not action filled. Plenty of interesting science and astronomy is discussed, relationships are dissected and considered, the ethical basis for courses of action is reviewed, and a mystery plaguing the new colony is unraveled. Read this for cerebral stimulation, not adrenaline producing action. SH

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Glass Spare

by Lauren DeStefano
Balzer + Bray, 2017. 402 pgs. YA Fantasy

Wilhemina is the fourth child and only daughter of the king of Northern Arrod. She has been kept hidden from the rest of the world to serve as a spy for her father, but her life changes on night after she is attacked and discovers she can turn living things to stone with a single touch. After an accident with her eldest brother, Wil is banished by her father and soon finds herself kidnapped by Loom, the banished prince of the Southern Isles, her kingdom’s enemy. Will Wil be able to find a cure for her curse and escape the prince, or will she forever be used as a pawn in the war between the kingdoms?

I found this book to be enjoyable and the basic premise of Wil’s power intriguing. Her relationship with her brother is heartwarming and sincere. The relationship between Wil and Loom follows many YA troupes, but has a few refreshing elements that make it unique. I am excited for the next book which will be released in winter 2018, just to see how Wil handles her family and the growing conflict between the two kingdoms. This is a great book for people who love fantasy, strong female characters, or authors like Brandon Sanderson or Shannon Hale.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It

How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
by Patricia Love and Steven Stosny
Broadway Books, 2007. 224 pgs. Nonfiction

This book argues that talking about a relationship will not bring a couple closer together, but could actually push them apart. Love is not about better communication, it is about connection. The worst thing a woman can do to a man is shame him and the worst thing a man can do to a woman is leave her alone. Once we understand that, we can interact differently. There are many stories and examples and practical tips on how to make a meaningful connection.

This book was very insightful. I recognized many truths of human nature and relationships. I highly recommend this book to anyone, whether you are in a good relationship, a relationship that could use some help or not in a relationship at all. There are truths that can be applied to all relationships, not just in marriage. I really appreciated that it talked about understanding yourself and things you can do to improve your relationship and also the importance of understanding and protecting each other's vulnerabilities. I listened to this book on Overdrive but decided to check out the book so that I could reread some of the sections and do the evaluations. I plan on reading this again!


Longing for Home

Longing for Home
by Sarah M. Eden
Shadow Mountain, 2013. 400 pgs. Romance

Kate Macauley takes a position as a housekeeper in the small Wyoming town of Hope Springs to try to save up enough money to buy back her family's land in Ireland. When she arrives, she discovers a town divided by hatred and she is the catalyst that might send them to war against each other. Her employer, Joseph Archer, is the only person in the town able to stay neutral in the feud, but having an Irish housekeeper puts his position and his heart in jeopardy. Tavish O'Connor is determined to win Kate's heart but she has been through unimaginable heartbreak and isn't so willing to give it away.

This is the first in the Hope Springs series. My favorite part of this series is getting to know the characters. They become so real. Sarah Eden is able to create a wonderful picture in my head of this small town and all the people who live there. It would be best to read this series in order.


Friday, July 13, 2018

A Lite Too Bright

Cover image for A lite too bright
A Lite Too Bright
By Samuel Miller
Katherine Tegen Books, 2018, 465 pages, Young Adult Fiction

Arthur Louis Pullman the Third is losing his grip on reality. Stripped of his college scholarship, he has been sent away to live with his aunt and uncle. Then he discovers a journal written by his grandfather, a Salinger-esque author who went missing the last week of his life. Using the journal as a guide, Arthur embarks on a cross-country train ride to relive his grandfather's last week. His journey is complicated by a shaky alliance with a girl who has secrets of her own and by escalating run-ins with a dangerous fan base.

Although I appreciate the literary genius of the writers of the ‘50s and ‘60s such as Jack Kerouac, J.D. Salinger, and Hunter S. Thompson, I have to admit that I haven't really liked their books. However, one of the things that initially intrigued me about A Lite too Bright is that it is a sort of homage to those books. Add in the appeal of travelling cross-country by train, and I quickly found myself engrossed in the story. Arthur is a fully nuanced main character, and the mystery he follows, as well as his motivations for doing so, are intriguing. The thing I enjoyed most about this book, however, was just how well-written this book is. Although there was one plotline that I felt was weaker than the others, I loved this book to the very end.


Tess of the Road

Cover image for Tess of the road
Tess of the Road
By Rachel Hartman
Random House, 2018, 536 pages, Young Adult Fiction

In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, Tess chafes against the rules and restrictions placed on young women by society. She is young and curious about life, and especially interested in learning about the magical creatures known as the World Serpents. Yet instead of pursuing a life of knowledge, Tess despairs that her only choice is to either raise her sister’s children, or join a nunnery. Unsatisfied with both options, Tess decides to run away from home and create a new destiny for herself.

On the surface, this is a fun travel/adventure story set in a version of the Medieval era where dragons exist (but don’t terrorize people), and there are some small steampunk elements as well. The book is enjoyable enough on that premise. But this book becomes more than that when Tess learns lessons about consent, shame, and not letting others control you or dictate who you become. I found that message to be very empowering.

This book is set in the same world as that of the author’s previous novels (Seraphina is Tess’ half-sister), which I haven’t read. I would still consider this book a standalone.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Before Everything

Before Everything
by Victoria Redel
Viking, 2017. 274 pages General Fiction.

Anna and her tight knit groups of lifelong friends have seen each other through just about everything, from their youthful rebellions, parenting adventures, lost loves, and bouts of sickness. The group gathers at Anna’s home as her terminal illness worsens and she enters hospice care. Each friend must come to terms with what a life without their Anna in it looks like, and the unforeseen ways her impact on their lives helps them carry her spark with them, while getting to know others whose lives have been touched by her as well.

While I wanted to love this story, but it was hard for me to connect with or care about most of the characters. There are so many friends and persons whose paths have crossed with Anna’s, that few of the relationships are given more than a surface level examination. That said, the writing is beautiful and thoughtful, and I enjoyed the glimpse the book gave into the ways that one person’s life can have such a broad impact on others. It reminds readers that kindness goes a long way and that you never know what impact you may have on those you interact with from day to day, and the importance of making that a positive legacy that you leave after you’re gone.


Friday, July 6, 2018

Harry Potter: A Journey Through A History of Magic

by J. K. Rowling
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017. 143 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

As part of the 20th anniversary of release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the British Library created an exhibit highlighting the historical aspects of magic and shared original writing, illustrations, and notes from J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter:  A Journey Through A History of Magic takes readers through a series of seven Hogwarts classes and shows historical artifacts related to that topic, like a pack of divination playing cards from the 1740s or the tombstone of Nicolas Flamel. In addition, there are writings and illustrations from Rowling, including the original synopsis for the Philosopher’s Stone and a drawing of Harry and Hagrid riding the cart in Gringotts.

This is a fantastic book. There is a balance of new information, historical artifacts, and Jim Kay illustrations. I enjoyed reading the snippets from J.K. Rowling and seeing her illustrations of characters and scenes. The historical context provided a rich picture of how Harry Potter fits in the wider magical theology. I especially liked the chapters on Astronomy and Charms. Rowling’s depiction of the opening to Diagon Alley from 1990 is one of my favorite page spreads in the book. This is a great read for anyone who loves Harry Potter, magic, or museum catalogs.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein
By Lita Judge
Roaring Brook Press, 2018. 312 pages.

This haunting graphic novel tells the true story behind one of history's most iconic monsters. Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was only a teenager when she wrote her timeless novel, but her life experience was anything but easy. Mary endured the social shame and isolation that befalls an unwed pregnancy, eloped with the financially and emotionally unstable poet Percy Shelley, watched as her husband had an affair with her step-sister, and lost her children at young ages.

Told in free verse and accompanied by stark black and white watercolors, the harsh reality of Mary Shelley comes to life to give the reader a sense of how Frankenstein’s monster was an extension of herself. The illustrations alone are worth the read for this graphic novel. Stark and macabre, the images perfectly invoke the Gothic Romance era of poetry and novels. The text is also alluring, in that Judge is able to convey so much feeling in just a few lines of text per page.


Tuesday, July 3, 2018


by Patrick Ness
HarperTeen, 2017, 277 pgs, Young Adult Fiction

Adam doesn’t have it all figured out, there’s plenty of drama in his quiet, small town life. This year alone he’s heading into his senior year but his best friend has decided to study abroad, he has a doting boyfriend and yet he can’t seem to get over his ex, and he comes from a devout religious family who doesn’t know he’d gay. Throughout all this, he’s learning to navigate the ups and downs that life will inevitably bring, to let go of what isn’t important, to stand up for himself when he should, and understand what makes relationships with other people- family, friends, and romantic interests alike- worth hanging on to.

This coming of age story is as sweet as it is timeless. Learning to understand and accept yourself, love others, and just make it in the world is hard no matter your age, and Adam and his charming, witty friends feel familiar, like they could have been my own friends, with similar concerns when I was a teen. The story was simple, but not boring, and the writing is fresh and funny. This book is a break from the author’s popular Science Fiction fare, but shows he can write outside that genre, and do it with aplomb.


Monday, July 2, 2018

The Traitor's Game

The Traitor’s Game
by Jennifer Nielsen
Scholastic Press, 2018. 388 pages. Young Adult Fiction

Kestra Dallisor is coming home after three years in exile, on the way her caravan is attacked and she is kidnapped by the Coracks who want her to overthrow the evil and seemingly immortal king, Lord Endrick. The Coracks end up blackmailing Kestra to have her bring them the Olden Blade simultaneously forcing her to betray family and country.

I really enjoyed reading this book I love the growth that Kestra went through as she learned about what the state her kingdom was in and eventually finding the courage she needed to face the challenges in her future. I loved the action and the romance that was involved and I thought Jennifer Nielsen did a really good job writing a story from two perspectives.


Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans 
By Don Brown
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015. 96 pages. Graphic Novel

Brown tells the full story of Hurricane Katrina, including events before, during, and after the storm to portray its full scope and devastating consequences. Stories of bungled rescue efforts as well as heroic volunteers are both told, with evocative illustrations bringing life to one of the worst natural disasters in American history.

This is one of those times when the author/illustrator really takes advantage of the graphic novel format and uses full pages to create intuitive and moving storytelling. Katrina is an important event that needs to remembered, and this book makes it accessible for even younger audiences. While it must simplify some things that were certainly complex issues, it gives a broad overview of many different aspects of the storm. Most importantly, it can help future generations to appreciate this important event in American history.



By Curtis Wikland
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017. 112 pages. Graphic Novel

When Wiklund's wife told him she was starting a project to take a photo every day for a year, she invited him to join her by creating a sketch every day. By the end of the year, he was surprised to see how many of his sketches documented their life together. He compiled them into this collection documenting one year in their day-to-day life.

This is a charming little book with an upbeat tone that many will find relatable. Wiklund doesn't portray his relationship as perfect although it is sometimes idealistic. But the focus on positive moments is inspiring for others as they reflect on their own relationships and the moments in their lives that make day-to-day life special.