Saturday, November 30, 2019

Charlotte's Promise

Charlotte's Promise
By Jennifer Moore
Covenant Communications, Inc., 2019. 218 pgs. Romance

Charlotte's life was ripped apart when the Creek Indians attacked her family. Her parents were killed while she and her younger brother were taken prisoner and sold to different groups. She made a promise to her brother that she would find him. When she finally escapes a year later, Charlotte knows she needs to start her search in New Orleans, which is hundreds of miles away. The only way she can figure out how to do this is to cut her hair and pretend to be a boy in hopes of being hired as a crew member on a boat traveling that direction. Captain Alden Thatcher knows right away that Charlie is not a boy but he decides to keep her secret for his own reasons. As the journey progresses the crew faces many dangers and Charlie and the Captain find themselves relying on each other in ways they never imagined.

This was a fascinating look at a time period that I am not very familiar with. The story leads up the the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 between the British and the Americans. I liked that the whole focus wasn't on the romance. It was more of a development of many different relationships as they faced different challenges. Charlie is tough but kind. She brings out the best in those around her. I would recommend this title to fans of Sarah Eden or Josi Kilpack.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Garden of Small Beginnings

The Garden of Small Beginnings
By Abbi Waxman
Berkley, 2017. 368 pages. Fiction

Lilian Girvan has been reeling ever since her husband died in a car accident three years ago.  Now raising her two daughters herself, aided and cheered on by her sister Rachel, Lilian makes ends meet working as an illustrator of textbooks.  When her company takes on a commission to do all of the illustrations for a new gardening book, Lilian's boss signs her up for a vegetable gardening class to become more familiar with flora and fauna.  Spending her Saturdays tilling and planting isn't exactly Lilian's idea of fun, but when she meets the patient instructor and quirky fellow students in her class, she can't help it when they start to worm their way into her heart.

This is a lighthearted story about coming alive again after personal tragedy.  Each chapter is headed up with some friendly and humorous advice on gardening (the instructions for growing celery state, "Harden off seedlings by keeping them outdoors for a couple hours a day and speaking to them harshly.")  While I really enjoyed Abbi Waxman's later book, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, this book didn't hit the mark as well for me, but fans of light hearted chick lit should enjoy their time with this book.


Friday, November 22, 2019


Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story
by Jacob Tobia
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2019. 319 pages. Nonfiction

The publisher describes this book as "a heart-wrenching, eye-opening, and giggle-inducing memoir about what it's like to grow up not sure if you're (a) a boy, (b) a girl, (c) something in between, or (d) all of the above." Jacob Tobia was born in North Carolina in 1991 and has spent the last twenty-eight years navigating a world that wasn't quite ready for them. Jacob graduated Summa Cum Laude from Duke University and spent time working at the United Nations Foundation. This memoir gives the reader a look inside the powerful story of one person's struggle to figure out where they belong in a society that can't (or won't) seem to find a place for them.

I adored this book! Jacob Tobia is a talented writer; they were able to make me laugh and cry simultaneously. This memoir is too important not to be read. Jacob's story is too important not to be told. If you are ready to open your mind and your heart just a little bit more today, Jacob's story is for you.


Monday, November 18, 2019

Are You Listening?

Are You Listening?
By Tillie Walden
First Second, 2019. 320 pgs. Young Adult Comics.

Bea is on the run, leaving behind her family and home. And then, she runs into Lou. Lou is also running away, and they are both looking for something on their long drive to nowhere. As they continue to drive strange things start to happen, and there are mysterious strangers chasing them. Will their journey provide the insights that they need and can they learn to trust each other enough to reveal their heartbreaking secrets? Walden explores a variety of themes, like trust, sexual assault, death, and betrayal in this story of finding friends in unlikely places.

Like many of Walden’s books, there are deeply poignant moments and surreal scenes that make the reader question reality. The illustrations are superb, with vibrant colors, and convey both terror and whimsy at the right moments. Walden handles delicate topics, like death, sexual assault, and growing up in sensitive, but meaningful ways that allow for personal exploration and interpretation. I enjoyed watching the relationship between Bea and Lou develop and the genuine concern that they have for each other. This is a beautiful story with colorful language, and would be good for readers who enjoy graphic novels or contemporary fiction.


Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Heart of a Vicar

The Heart of a Vicar
By Sarah M. Eden
Covenant Communications, 2019. 268 pgs. Romance

Harold Jonquil has always felt the desire to be a vicar but he isn't connecting to his congregation and is constantly fighting his natural interests like singing drinking songs and climbing walls. His brothers have named him "Holy Harry" and tease him about his shortcomings. Things get even worse when Sarah Sarvol moves back to the area. Harry had fallen in love with Sarah years earlier but broke her heart when he didn't pursue the relationship. She realizes right away that the Harry she knew is gone. This new Harry seems distant and cold. She isn't willing to loose the old Harry and points out how he has changed and tells him she would make a better vicar than him. They actually start a competition and she keeps coming out ahead. Harry feels motivated enough to start questioning how he can change for the better.

I've waited a long time to hear Harold's story. Of all the Jonquil brothers, he has been the most reserved throughout the series. I love that there was more to his character than I expected. I especially enjoyed the interaction between Harold and Sarah. They challenged and encouraged each other in a good way. Another fun part of this book was that all the other brothers and their wives play a part in the storyline. This is part of the Proper Romance series from Shadow Mountain so it is a great clean, feel good romance.


Friday, November 15, 2019

Ayesha at Last

Cover image for Ayesha at last
Ayesha at Last
by Uzma Jalaluddin
Berkley, 2019, 351 pages, General Fiction/Romance

Ayesha dreams of travelling the world, becoming a poet, and marrying for love instead of getting an arranged marriage. But she also feels the need to pay off a debt to her wealthy uncle for sponsoring her family when they moved to Canada from Pakistan. When Ayesha’s uncle asks her to accompany her fun-loving cousin, Hafsa, to planning meetings for a conference to raise money for their local mosque, Ayesha feels like she can’t refuse. There Ayesha meets Khalid. Khalid is smart and handsome, but also conservative and judgmental. As Ayesha and Khalid spend more time together, their first opinions of each other give way to something neither of them expected.

There have been a few other Muslim retellings of Pride and Prejudice that came out this year, and like the Pride and Prejudice fangirl I am, I read them all. This one was by far my favorite. Jalaluddin strikes just the right balance of staying true to the original source material while not being afraid to add her own flavor and explore contemporary themes. For example, Ayesha debates between doing the practical things and following her dreams. Khalid faces religious discrimination at work, while simultaneously learning that he shouldn’t always judge people by his personal standards. This is a great update to a timeless classic.


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League
by Jeff Hobbs
Scribner, 2014. 406 pages. Nonfiction

This book details the life of an intelligent, talented, young, African-American man named Robert Peace. He grew up in the slums of Newark, New Jersey with a loving, single mother; his father was sentenced to prison when Robert was seven. Robert was charismatic, driven, and kind. He escaped his life of poverty to study molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University, only to slide back into the drug business upon returning home. He was murdered at age thirty and the crime has never been solved.

Although this book is nonfiction, it reads like fiction. It was written by his college roommate Jeff Hobbs and the author reads the audio book, which I recommend listening to. Knowing that Robert's life would end before I began reading the book made it even more intriguing. I enjoyed getting to know this young man who genuinely seemed like someone I would be friends with. The devastation of his decision to go back into the drug trade (because it would make him the most money with which to build a great life for him and his mother) was absolutely heartbreaking. If you're interested in learning about a short life that was well-lived and ended too soon, this book is for you.


A Dream About Lightning Bugs

A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons 
by Ben Folds Ballantine Books, 2019. 336 pages. Biography

Fans of Ben Folds’ beloved and sometimes unconventional music will be thrilled with this coming of age style music biography, filled with behind the music stories and relatable quips about feeling inadequate, doing things your own way despite objection or suggestions to the contrary, and the lessons garnered from such antics.

Through thoughtful self-reflection, Folds recounts his experience living in what he describes as, a “what’s good for the music isn’t good for the life” reality. This, juxtaposed with his drive to make a career out of playing music, sometimes at the cost of his relationships and mental and physical health, creates an inviting and intimate space for the musician to connect with his fans/readers in much the same way he does in his life performances, which include audience participation and engagement. Well written and thought provoking, this touching and charming memoir gives a glimpse into the working life of a talented, and at times laugh out loud funny, artist.

The audio book is narrated by Folds himself and includes musical segues played by the musician, for some added fan service and unique Folds-style flair.


Monday, November 11, 2019

This Is How It Always Is

This Is How It Always Is
by Laurie Frankel
Flatiron Books, 2017. 327 pages. Fiction

This novel is about the way it always is: "change is always hard and miraculous and then hard again; parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts; children grow but not always according to plan; and families with secrets don't get to keep them forever." Rosie and her husband Penn are thrilled to welcome a fifth little boy into their family and are happy that they've had so many boys; they now know what to expect. But Claude is unlike their other sons. Claude is different. One day he puts on a dress and won't take it off. He wants to bring a purse to kindergarten. When he grows up, Claude wants to be a girl. His family is immediately supportive, assuming that Claude will grow out of this phase. But it's not a phase. Claude wants to live his life as Poppy. Poppy is who she really is.

This book made my heart soar. I felt protective over Poppy from the very moment she was born and felt like I was standing next to her parents as they navigated this difficult journey. They are Poppy's biggest champions and I was cheering for her alongside them. The journey they're on is difficult, remarkable, full of love, and not to be missed.


The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by [Richardson, Kim Michele]
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
by Kim Michele Richardson
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2019, 320 pages, Historical Fiction

As a librarian with the Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Cussy Mary Carter spends her days travelling through Troublesome Creek, a backwoods area of Appalachia, bringing books to the hardscrabble folks who might not otherwise have access to them. But Cussy’s not only a book woman; she’s also one of the last blue-skinned people of Kentucky. Not everyone is keen on Cussy’s family or the Library Project, and as she travels her route and slowly gains the trust of the people she serves, Cussy must also face prejudice and suspicion in order to help the people she loves most.

This book is full of plenty of things that could leave me frustrated about humanity. Cussy and the people on her library route experience racism, hunger, horrible working conditions, forced marriage, and questionable medical practices. But at its very core, this is the story of a woman who wanders through the backwoods of Kentucky, and every time she meets someone she’s invited inside to talk about books and the love of reading. I found this, and the book’s ultimate message, so charming and hopeful that I just couldn’t stop reading. This is an upbeat book about a very hard time in U.S. history and about a group of people I don’t usually find in literature. This, combined with the excellent narration of the audiobook, has made this book one of my favorite books of the year so far. I consider this a more hopeful story that’s great for those who enjoyed reading books like Before We Were Yours.



by Andrew Norriss
Scholastic Inc, 2019. 240 pages. Young Adult.

15 year old Floyd is a rising tennis star, on track to playing in major tennis championships around the world. His parents couldn’t be more proud and nothing seems to be standing in his way. That is, until Mike shows up and walks onto the court during the middle of a match and continues to show up at the most inopportune and inconvenient places. Floyd can’t seem to shake him no matter what he does, and his very presence begins to take a serious toll on his ability to play.

A unique and approachable YA story about stress and mental illness, Mike, was a surprising book I could not put down. Without feeling depressing or heavy handed, it deftly navigates common coming of age emotions like being overwhelmed while trying to live up to expectations for your life that may not match with your own desires (Ok, adults feel that, too). An enjoyable read with characters and situations that felt real and relatable, even for those of us who are not burgeoning sports stars or tennis aficionados.


Thursday, November 7, 2019

Monday's Not Coming

Monday's Not Coming
by Tiffany D. Jackson
HarperCollins, 2018. 464 pages. Young Adult

She's missing. How can Monday be missing? Her best friend Claudia just saw her. But, she wouldn't miss the first day of school. Or the second day. And she certainly wouldn't go anywhere without telling Claudia first. Why won't Monday's mother give Claudia any information? Why is Monday's sister even less helpful? Where is Monday?

I was hooked on this book from the moment I read the synopsis. The timeline jumps around and kept me guessing. The fact that Monday's mother and sister don't seem to be as worried as they should be was shocking and confusing. If you also want to know what happened to Monday, I suggest you pick up this heartrendingly captivating book.



By Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, 2018. 385 pages. Young Adult

In 1942 Chaya Lindner is a Jew living in Nazi occupied Poland. When her family starts to fall apart, Chaya uses her fair, Polish looking features to escape the ghetto and become a courier. Chaya travels between the Jewish ghettos of Poland, smuggling food, papers, weapons, and people. Determined to help her people, she jumps at the chance to join a resistance cell when she discovers one. However, when a raid on the Nazis’ supplies goes wrong, she is forced into a dangerous journey that has the potential to lead her to an even larger resistance uprising.

The hatred and dehumanization of Jews in WWII is horrific, and Chaya’s journey, the people she encounters, and the situations she faces are heartbreaking. That is expected in a book about WWII. What I found really striking is how history echoes itself, and I feel like this book is incredibly powerful and poignant given current social, political, and human rights issues. Chaya is a strong protagonist, but reasonably flawed. Characters have complex, realistic motivations, and make hard choices when faced with bleak options. I thought this was a fantastic book, but it definitely hits some tough topics.


Wicked Fox

Wicked Fox (Gumiho #1)
By Kat Cho
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019. 424 pages. Young Adult

Miyoung is a gumiho, one of Korea’s legendary nine-tailed foxes that appear as a beautiful woman. To survive, Gumiho eat the liver of men, but Miyoung doesn’t like the idea of hurting innocent people, so she seeks out the most evil and brings them to justice. One night after feeding, Miyoung comes to the rescue of Jihoon, a boy being attacked by a dokkaebi, a goblin from Korean lore. In the process of saving him she loses her fox bead, which for a gumiho is essentially her soul and free will. Recovering her bead, keeping Jihoon safe, and rising to her mother’s expectations all weigh on Miyoung as dark forces threaten to destroy her world.

Kat Cho is Korean American and thoroughly infused her story with Korean folklore and culture… and it was done well! I had to stop at one point while reading to see what the author’s background was because it felt so authentic to me. While there was a certain level of predictability due to the use of common YA fiction and Korean drama tropes, WICKED FOX blended the two in a fun, unique way. This was Cho’s debut novel, and I look forward to seeing how she’s grown as a writer once the sequel is released.


Monday, November 4, 2019

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
By Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Flux, 2012. 271 pages. Young Adult

Gabe is just like any teenager in his Midwest town, struggling to navigate high school, a job, his parents, his friends, and liking girls. Gabe is also different from other teenagers in his Midwest town in that Gabe is transgender. Gabe was born Elizabeth and up until a few months ago, has lived his life fighting with his body at every turn. This novel follows Gabe as he goes through coming out to his family and close friends, which is a pretty remarkable experience, but it follows him through some pretty unremarkable experiences too; a new job, a new crush, and his love for music. Gabe's "average" high school trials and tribulations are amplified when his gender identity is factored in, and readers will find themselves cheering for Gabe's successes in life, love, and growing up.

I picked up this young adult book after it was recommended by me to a friend and it didn't disappoint. Gabe is a reliable narrator who allows the reader insight into his mind and his heart in a unique way. I was impressed with how well the writing flowed and how deeply I cared for the characters. If you're ready to put yourself in someone else's shoes for a bit, this book is for you.


The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild
by Jack London
New York : Macmillan ; Toronto : Maxwell Macmillan Canada ; New York : Maxwell Macmillan International, c1994. 127 pages. Fiction.
The adventures of an unusual dog, part St. Bernard, part Scotch shepherd, that is forcibly taken to the Klondike gold fields where he eventually becomes the leader of a wolf pack.
This book is a great read for all ages. It delves into the bright and dark facets of society through the perspective of a dog. It is engaging and emotional. I found out upon research that Jack London spent a significant amount of time in the Yukon, and it shows. His descriptions of the land and the people in it are vivid and striking. 


Saturday, November 2, 2019

Naturally Tan: A Memoir

Naturally Tan: A Memoir
By Tan France
St. Martin's Press, 2019. 267 Pages. Biography

Even if you don't watch Netflix's Queer Eye (and you should - it's so fun!), you'll enjoy getting to know one of its hosts,Tan France. His story is unique, but relatable; a perfect blend of courage, hope, and unwavering determination. France grew up in a Muslim home in England in a predominantly white neighborhood and to say he was bullied seems like an understatement. Knowing that he was gay from an early age, France chose to keep it to himself to avoid even further hardship and potential family issues. At age 34, he finally came out, and is now happily married to the love of his life and living in Salt Lake.

I adored listening to this book - France's charming accent is an absolute joy. Although I was never a young, gay, English, Muslim; France's feelings of isolation and confusion resonated with me in a big way. You will cheer for him, cry with him, laugh with him, and fall in love with him!


The Nocturnal Brain

The Nocturnal Brain
by Dr. Guy Leschziner
St. Martin's Press. 2019. 353 pgs. Nonfiction.

Dr. Leschziner, a consulting neurologist to three different hospitals in the UK, takes you through some  of the worst cases of sleep disorders he's encountered across his career. What's most interesting is that, despite retelling the worst experiences, he frames the stories in such a way so that we understand the differing levels in the severity of symptoms that each disorder can express. A number of times, he explains so thoroughly (while still being entertaining) a disorder's symptoms and causes, it's easy to see the mild forms of a disorder in our own troubled sleep. His main focus for the book is to educate others on sleep disorders, namely the symptoms, causes, and effects on an individual who experiences these disorders, while being direct about the fact that sometimes the answer to sleep issues is "I don't know." Dr. Leschziner brings a fresh perspective and attitude to what might otherwise be a boring subject. He's able to narrate some of the funnier aspects of these disorders while still respecting how terrible living with these conditions can be.

For anyone interested in the way the human mind can be affected by the world around us, and how that then affects a persons body and life, this will be a very interesting book to pick up.


The Philosopher's Flight

The Philosopher's Flight (Philosophers #1)
by Tom Miller
Simon & Schuster. 2018. 422 pg. Fantasy.

In Robert Weekes' world, magic is feminine. Almost all magic, or empirical philosophy, is only possible for woman. Men can do some of it, but usually only women have the natural aptitudes required to create the more extreme philosophical effects like smokecarving, transporting, or flying. But for Robert, whose mother is a decorated war hero philosopher and father one of the strongest male philosophers in the world, he has all the necessary aptitudes to, at the very least, be competitive in the philosophy world. He's run rescue missions with his mother, trained in philosophy since before he could walk, and can out fly most woman he's met. But when he moves from Montana to Boston to attend school under a military scholarship, he comes to face the prejudice of being different in a field ruled by one gender. His goal is to become an operative of the Search and Rescue corps, an entirely female corps of the military focused on saving injured soldiers from the war front, but standing in his way is generations of tradition, religious condemnation of philosophy, and simple prejudice that male philosophers simply aren't as good.

Miller takes flips the script one a few social issues to accurately shows that a difference in power is the true source of prejudice and oppression. But, most of all, the social commentary doesn't overpower the good and entertaining story he wanted to tell, a story one that involves personal struggles, relationships, true bravery, and simple yet fantastical magic.

For those who've enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and The Man in the High Castle, this will be a great book to pick up!