Saturday, June 29, 2019

First Test

First Test (Protector of the Small, #1)
Tamora Pierce
Random House, 2007, 216p, Young Adult Fantasy

Keladry (Kel) of Mindelan is the youngest daughter in a noble family, and for as long as she can remember, she has had one desire: to become a knight. After a girl hid her gender throughout training until becoming a knight, the country of Tortall made it legal for noble daughters to train as knights. Kel is the first girl to sign up as a page in the kingdom's knight training program, and from the outset, she is put on probation to see if she can successfully keep up with the other boy pages during the first year of training.

Since reading this book, it has been something I read every year. Kel's desire to become a knight is so strong that she overcomes prejudice and persecution while at the same time showing her fellow pages what it means to be a knight. Despite the simplicity of her desire, Kel's journey to knighthood brings her in contact with magic, noble and common friends, loyalty and betrayal, and a host of situations where she's the only one who can save herself and her friends.

Those who like the Hunger Games and Disney Pixar's Brave will find plenty to love in this book.


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Lost Man

Cover image for The lost man
The Lost Man
by Jane Harper
Flatiron Books, 2019, 340 pages, Mystery

Nathan Bright lives alone on a remote ranch in the Australian Outback. Ostracized by the local community years ago, Nathan prefers to live apart, even from his family, who live on the next ranch over, a four hour drive away. When Nathan’s brother, Cameron, is found dead, Nathan is forced to reconnect with the people who shunned him years ago. As he puts together the pieces of Cameron’s life in the weeks before his death, Nathan begins to question if he knew his brother at all, and if the same fate awaits him as well.

Jane Harper excels at writing stories that make you feel like you’re actually there. You can feel the scorching sun bearing down on you, and your mind’s eye can see the endless stretch of wilderness in front of you. I love picking up her books because of this, and listening to them is even better since the narrator’s Australian accent enhances this sense of place even more. The mystery of the novel unfolds slowly, and takes a bit of a side seat to the story of Nathan’s past, but Harper’s writing is so good that I spent the entire time listening to this novel absolutely gripped, and feeling slightly parched.

Although not mysteries, readers who enjoy The Lost Man will likely also enjoy the atmospheric elements and pacing of authors like Cormac McCarthy and Peter Heller.


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Thing with Feathers

The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human
By Noah Strycker
Riverhead Books, 2014. 304 pages. Nonfiction

Strycker takes a look at several interesting bird species and qualities in them that humans can both relate to and learn from.  Strycker's fascinating stories include the extraordinary memories of nutcrackers, the feisty nature of hummingbirds, the artistic tendencies of bower birds, the stratified social structures of chicken flocks, the altruism of fairy-wrens, and the way that the albatross will mate for life.  Strycker believes that by studying why birds do what they do, it can offer insights into our own nature as humans.

This was a fun read that will appeal to birders and those who like reading nature books.  I enjoyed Strycker's fascinating information about different bird species, though his connections to our own nature as humans sometimes felt a bit disjointed.  I'd recommend this more for the interesting information about the amazing things birds can do rather than the enlightenment about humanity itself, though there are some compelling comparisons here.


The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter
By Margareta Mangusson
Scribner, 2018. 117 pages. Nonfiction

Mangusson explains how going through your possessions before the end of life helps to both relieve you from the obligation of caring for them in your final years and relieves your family from having to make decisions about those items after you are gone.  While it may sound a bit morbid, Mangusson indeed handles the subject gently as the title suggests.  However, this book isn't just for those in their later years.  Her instructions are applicable for those in any time of life, especially readers who may need a  little motivation for freeing themselves from the burden of too many possessions.  When you consider your things from the perspective of not being able to take them with you after this life, it casts them in a different light and makes letting go a little easier.

Fans of Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up will find renewed inspiration from reading this short but sweet book.  Mangusson mixes sensible advice with personal examples of items that she had tender memories of and yet in the end sent on to new, more practical homes.  These stories both illustrate her points and gently help readers find a way to let go of their own cherished items if it's not practical to keep them any longer.  I listened to the audiobook and the narrator's voice has the perfect mix of quiet dignity and tenderness that turns an uncomfortable subject to one of acceptance and peace.


Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School 
by Kathleen Flinn
Viking Adult, 2007. 285 pages. Nonfiction

Kat Flinn, age 36, is an American working and living in London. When she is informed, very politely, that she no longer has a job, she decides to cash in her savings and move to France to study at Le Cordon Bleu. What follows is an insider view of the famous cooking school. Flinn documents her struggles to earn a diploma with her barely adequate French. She also describes her journey into love with her best friend. She ends each chapter with the recipes she learned to make while in the program.

This book reminded be so much of My Life in France by Julia Child. Both Flinn and Child came late to their careers in cooking. Both of them fell in love in France and with France while cooking at Le Cordon Bleu. This book also reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is a book about finding your way, and taking the leap of faith, and figuring out who you are. The descriptions of the food are mouthwatering and the characterization of all the people she met while at school is fantastic. You really feel like you are there with her and can smell the butter sizzling in the hot pan.


Friday, June 21, 2019

Sleepless Vol. 1

by Sarah Vaughn
Image Comics, 2019. 168 pgs. Young Adult Comics

Following the death of her father, the King, Lady “Poppy” Pyppenia must survive the dangers of court life. Thankfully, she is protected by the Sleepless Knight Cyrenic, but soon Poppy’s life becomes endangered as someone seeks to have her assassinated. Will Poppy and Cyrenic learn who wants her dead before the assassin succeeds, and will they ever admit their growing feelings towards each other?

This was a fantastic read with strong female characters, intriguing mystical powers, and a mystery. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. One of the things that I liked the most about this comic was the diverse characters. There is a range of races, ethnicities, abilities, and religions presented in a way that feels authentic to the story. They have a variety of motivations and reactions that help build the story and challenge the main characters. If you enjoy stories with strong female characters, beautiful artwork, or unique fantasy elements, this is a great fit.


When You Read This

Cover image for When you read this : a novel
When You Read This
by Mary Adkins
Harper, 2019, 376 pages, General Fiction

For four years Iris Massey worked side by side with PR maven Smith Simonyi, helping clients perfect their brands. When Iris is taken by terminal illness at only 33, Smith is surprised to discover Iris left him a final request: for Smith to publish her blog as a book. Before he can do so, though, he must get the approval of Iris' big sister Jade, an haute cuisine chef who's been knocked sideways by her loss. Each carrying their own baggage, Smith and Jade end up on a collision course with their own unresolved pasts and with each other.

When You Read This is an interesting take on the epistolary novel. Instead of carefully crafted letters, the reader gets bits of the story via a jumble of email messages, including spam; text messages; blog posts; and electronically-submitted essays meant to take the place of in-person therapy sessions. Although this is a romantic comedy in that it's obvious the two main characters will get together in the end, this book was mostly the story of two people dealing with grief. This combination of humor and sadness is delicately handled, and for me it hit just the right balance between the two. If you enjoyed books like Where’d You Go, Bernadette or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, you will also enjoy When You Read This.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Liar's Girl

The Liar's Girl
By Catherine Ryan Howard 
Blackstone Publishing, 2018. 336 pages. Mystery.

Alison can't wait to start her first year of university with her best friend at the prestigious St. John's in Dublin. Almost right away she meets the dreamy Will Hurley who seems to be the perfect boyfriend. Then first year girls start turning up dead in the canal nearby, and a general terror grips the campus. Then Alison's best friend turns up dead in the canal and Will admits to the murders. Unable to cope with the shame and grief of it all, Alison moves away to the Netherlands and starts her life anew. But ten years later, when Alison feels like she might be able to start moving on, the Dublin police show up on her doorstep. The Canal Killer is at it again. The police think Alison may be key to solving the current cases. Conflicted between her sense of self-preservation and her desire to save the young women in danger, Alison must decide if she can confront her past, or if she can live with herself if she stays.

This book had me gripped. It was full of suspense. The story alternated mainly between Alison's now point of view and her then point of view ten years earlier when she first started at St. John's. The audiobook was great to listen to because of all the Irish accents and the artistry in the story-telling. It made listening so much fun. I loved the characters, their relationships with each other, and their growth. Although I didn’t love the title, the back blurb piqued my interest and I’m so glad I gave it a chance. I had chills and was genuinely freaked out at several points during the book; however, I finished the book feeling satisfied with the story. There is some language in the book but it never felt excessive and was always appropriate to the situation. 


The Sun and Her Flowers

Image result for the sun and her flowersThe Sun and Her Flowers
By Rupi Kaur
Andrew McMeel Publishing, 2017. 256 pages. Nonfiction.

"this is the recipe of life 
said my mother
as she held me in her arms as i wept
think of those flowers you plant
in the garden each year
they will teach you
that people too 
must wilt
in order to bloom"

Rupi Kaur takes the reader on a transcendent journey through the different stages of wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. It is a journey about growth and healing, ancestry and honoring one's roots and expatriation, and rising up to find a home within yourself. Kaur often mixes her succinct poems with simple, descriptive images. The effect is that the words and the art work together to enhance each other. This book is a celebration of love in all its forms.

Anyone who loved Milk and Honey is sure to love The Sun and Her Flowers. So many parts of this book resonated with my soul. The others gave me glimpses into experiences that I have never known and filled me with compassion for those who have. While Milk and Honey seemed to deal a little more with the challenges of being a woman and of the issues surrounding the female body (ie. mostly sexual abuse and body-image), this book--though these themes are still present--centers more on a self-journey of falling and then rediscovering oneself. Kaur displays a powerful blend of confidence and vulnerability. Respect and honor are apparent as she honestly explores her relationships with different family members and her own heritage.


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

No Walls and the Recurring Dream

No Walls and the Recurring Dream
by Ani DiFranco Viking, 2019. 306 pages, Biography

Ani DiFranco, singer, songwriter, activist, feminist and all around “righteous babe” uses her talent for poetics in her new book to paint a picture of her early life, her influences, and her rise to folk singer stardom. Her signature wit and way with words shines from every page as she tells about being an emancipated teenager, and finding her way in the world through art, music, dance, and through kindness and connection with others. Her anecdotes about life on the road are comical and memorable, and her reflections on being a female in a male dominated profession are apt as ever.

Fans of DiFranco’s music will enjoy this deep dive into the iconic feminist folk singer’s songwriting process and her rise to prominence by bucking the traditional music and recording system, and doing things by the beat of her own drum (or guitar). For an extra treat, listen to the audiobook version read by DiFranco herself, to hear her poems as they should be heard- from her own lips to your ears.


Saturday, June 8, 2019

Even This: Getting to the Place Where You Can Trust God With Anything

Even This: Getting to the Place Where You Can Trust God With Anything
By Emily Freeman
Ensign Peak, 2017. 168 pgs. Nonfiction

This book invites readers to do things in their everyday lives to have daily experiences with God. The author explains how God meets us in the unexpected and we have to be willing to recognize His hand in our lives, even when things aren't going how we want them to. It can be easy to doubt Gods goodness when terrible things are happening, but that is when we need to trust Him the most.

Emily Freeman shares many personal stories to illustrate times in her life when she has had to really come to know God through the struggles she has faced. The ideas in this book are amazing and could be very life changing. I struggled a little with Emily's writing style in this book. It was more like disjointed journal entries. Some were long, with lots of detail and other just hinted at the details of a story. That being said, I am still glad I listened to this book on Overdrive. An idea that has really stuck with me is that we often hold back and will not let ourselves be completely vulnerable with God. It is important that we work toward that type of relationship with Him. I also loved when she said that the place of deepest asking is where the believing begins.


The Truth About Miss Ashbourne

The Truth About Miss Ashbourne
By Joanna Barker
Covenant Communication, 2018. 252 pgs. Historical Romance

Juliana Ashbourne is a governess with big dreams of someday being able to save enough money to start her own school for girls. She endures working for horrible parents because she adores the two children she spends her days with. Just as her situation gets unbearable she discovers that her grandfather has died and she has inherited a fortune. The only problem is that this is the same grandfather that disowned her mother. Juliana has never met her relatives and the condition of her inheritance is that she must return to Havenfield, the family estate, and live with her extended family for thirty days. With few other choices, she goes to Havenfield hoping to endure the time so she can receive her money and move forward with her dreams. She doesn't expect to find a caring grandmother, a shy cousin that she connects with and the teasing Mr. William Rowley,  heir to the estate.

This debut novel by Joanna Barker was a sweet Regency romance that was well written and really captured me from the very beginning. I loved Juliana's character. She had a lot of unknowns in her life that made her vulnerable, but she faced her challenges and worked toward her passion for creating her school. William was the perfect swoon-worthy hero. He was honorable and kind but also knew how to tease Juliana to keep her from being too serious. I loved watching their friendship progress. I would recommend this book for those looking for clean romance or fans of  Julianne Donaldson or Sara Eden.


Friday, June 7, 2019

Blood Water Paint

Blood Water Paint
by Joy McCullough
Dutton Books, 2018. 298 pages. Young Adult

After her mother's death, Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father's paint. She chose paint and became one of Rome's most talented painters-- while her father took all the credit. Five years later, in the aftermath of a rape, Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost. Through the ensuing trial and torture, she is buoyed by memories of her mother's stories of strong women of the Bible.

Artemisia Gentileschi has long been one of my favorite artists. I remember the first time I heard her story in a high school drawing class - the smell of my pencil shavings, the feel of the paper, the sound of my teacher's voice, filled with passion and respect for the great woman and artist. Learning of the struggles she faced living in a time with less opportunities and rights afforded to women, and how she overcome and thrived by sheer force of will inspired me so much. I had high hopes for this book, and my every expectation was met. The writing is so evocative and engaging. Written in verse, it read like memories; as Artemisia is reflecting on the memory of her mother's stories, so too did I, as a reader, feel that I was reflecting on memories of Artemisia telling me her story. Or perhaps that Artemisia's voice was reaching through time to me, or a bit of both sensations. Needless to say, I was deeply moved.


Batch Cocktails: Make-ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion

Batch Cocktails: Make-ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion
by Maggie Hoffman
Ten Speed Press, 2019. 160 pages. Nonfiction

A hip, accessible guide to batch cocktail-making for entertaining, with 65 recipes that can be made hours--or weeks!--ahead of time so that hosts and hostesses have one less thing to worry about as the doorbell rings. These are delicious and creative cocktails that you don't have to stir or shake to order; rather, they are designed to stay fresh when made ahead and served out of a pitcher. Recipes such as Tongue in Cheek, Friendly Fires, Birds & Bees Punch, and even alcohol-free options are organized by flavor profile--herbal, boozy, bitter, fruity and tart, and so on--to make choosing and whipping up a perfect pitcher of cocktails a total breeze.

Before anything else, flip through this gorgeously photographed book and feast your eyes! I honestly would buy this as a coffee table book because looking at it is so satisfying! But it's not just all style and no substance; this book offers a treasure trove of tasty batch drinks to tempt even the pickiest of taste buds. Don't drink alcohol? No problem! There's a section featuring alcohol-free options that are equally creative as all the other offerings (many of which can easily be made "virgin" as well).  If you're looking for culinary inspiration, look no further! Not only are the recipes drool-worthy, you'll learn a lot about flavor pairings and other skills that'll awaken your inner mixologist.


Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee

Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee
by Jeff Zentner
Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 400 Pages.Young Adult Fiction

Delia and Josie are high school seniors with a unique hobby. They host a Midnight movie program on their local TV station, where they show low budget, little know, old school horror flicks as their vampire-y alter egos, Rayne and Delilah. While brainstorming ways to take their show from hobby to career, they hear about a horror convention nearby where a famous veteran horror hosting icon will be available for a meet and greet. They plot to charm him with their show so he can give them the boost they need to make them stars. Each of the girls has ulterior motives for wanting their show to make it big, though, and a lot more is riding on this convention than either of them realize.

I checked out this book because I loved author Jeff Zentner’s book, The Serpent King. Zentner has a knack for creating instantly likable characters who behave like actual people in seemingly plausible life situations- which isn’t always what you get from Young Adult books. Delia and Josie’s friendship is reminiscent of real life high school friendships, chalk full of insecurity, self-discovery, family struggles, and lots of love and support for each other. The descriptions in this book are so cinematic; you’ll feel like you're watching Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee broadcast as you turn each page.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Book of Lost Recipes

The Book of Lost Recipes
by Jaya Saxena
Page Street, 2016. 240 pages. Nonfiction

Take a culinary journey to the past with this American restaurant history/cookbook highlighting signature dishes served in days gone by. Along with time-tested recipes, you'll learn about the restaurants and passionate food lovers who cooked up these memorable meals.

If you like food and history, look no further. Still very much a cookbook, recipes are grouped by the restaurant where they were served. Each section starts with a short, 1-2 page spotlight-style summary of the restaurants' history. You'll learn about the New York Exchange for Women's Work, where Civil War widows could find work to support their families, the BBQ joint that became a popular Hollywood after-party spot, and a lot of other really interesting eateries!


Monday, June 3, 2019

Storm Cursed

Storm Cursed
by Patricia Briggs
Ace, 2019. 358 pgs. Fantasy.

This is the 11th book of the Mercy Thompson series, which begins with Moon Called.

When Mercy stood on a bridge and took responsibility for the safety of everyone living inside their territory, it opened up all sorts of new opportunities for trouble to come knocking. The United State Government wants to treat with the fae, and they decide the Columbia Basin pack’s territory is the perfect neutral ground to do so. However, someone doesn’t want these meetings taking place, and that someone can use black magic to create zombies.

 First off, I don’t do zombies but I still absolutely loved this book. It does deal with black magic, so for that reason it’s a bit darker than the others, but the writing here is just as fabulous as the rest of the series. I was excited to learn more about Sherwood Post and Wulfe, and was glad to see some other characters I felt hadn’t been around for a while like Zee and Stefan. I highly recommend this series to anyone willing to read urban fantasy.


The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life
By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Dial Books, 2015. 316 pages. Juvenile Fiction

Just before the onset of World War 2, ten-year-old Ada has never left her London apartment because her mother is humiliated by Ada's twisted foot.  When her younger brother Jaime prepares to be shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada defiantly sneaks out to join him on the train.  Ada and Jaime experience a new world in the countryside, not just in the outdoor splendor but in the home of Susan Smith, who reluctantly takes them in.  Susan treats them differently from their mother - she doesn't hit them or keep food from them if they've been bad.  Slowly, they come to trust Susan and Ada experiences a life far more fulfilling than her mother ever planned for her.

This story is told from Ada's perspective, who is a bit of an unreliable narrator.  Ada doesn't fully understand that her mother's treatment of her has been abusive, or that her life could be much better.  Seeing Ada grow into a more capable, stronger girl is a satisfying transformation, and I appreciated that the wartime setting was downplayed so we could focus on the characters.  I listened to the audiobook, narrated by my favorite reader, Jayne Entwistle, and it did not disappoint.  This book is available as a book club set here at the Provo City Library.


Siren's Song

Siren’s Song 
by May Weber
Thomas Nelson, 2016. 371 pgs. Young Adult Fiction.

 In this thrilling conclusion to the Storm Siren trilogy, Nym must use every ounce of strength she possesses to stop Draewulf and save the Hidden Lands. After learning the full scope of his plan, Nym races across the Hidden Lands to warn the other kingdoms and scrambles to gather an army for battle. The Elemental that shouldn’t exist is the final piece that will either save the world or destroy it.

 I think this was the best book of the three; I enjoyed how everything tied together in the end. I think that while Nym has some character traits that I personally find frustrating, she really shows a lot of personal growth over the course of the series, which is something I always count as a good characteristic in a book. Plus the whole book is intense from cover to cover; I could hardly put it down! This series is surely worth finishing.