Thursday, December 31, 2020

The House in the Cerulean Sea

The House in the Cerulean Sea
by T.J. Klune
Tor, 2020, 398 page, Fantasy

As a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, Linus spends his days inspecting orphanages for children with magical abilities. Known for his detached reporting style, Linus is charged by Extremely Upper Management with a highly classified assignment—look into the running of Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six of the most magical and highly dangerous orphans reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. The orphanage is run by the enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who may be hiding his own secrets.

Although Linus was told to be wary of the orphanage’s inhabitants, the longer he spends at Marsyas Island, the more he struggles with maintaining the distance required to do his job. How does one keep an objective outlook when the place you’ve been assigned to investigate starts to feel like home?

This book is funny, charming, and just plain great. I couldn’t wait to pick it up at the end of a long day. Readers can’t help but fall for all of the characters who live at Marsyas Island Orphanage, who all have varied abilities and interests that keeps the plot turning in wonderful and unexpected ways.

Klune’s writing style is a mixture of charm and humor that veers between witty and sarcastic, which meant that as I read this book, I kept thinking of another favorite: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. While both books feature a child Antichrist and two great male protagonists, it’s really the writing style that makes these books a good match for each other. But you don’t have to be a fan of Good Omens to love The House in the Cerulean Sea. This book will charm you whether you want to be charmed or not.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

All Hearts Come Home for Christmas

 


All Hearts Come Home For Christmas

By Sarah Eden, Anita Stansfield, Esther Hatch & Joanna Barker

Covenant Communications, 2019. 290 pgs. Romance

This is a wonderful collection of Regency Christmas short stories. I'll be honest that the only reason I picked this up is because Sarah Eden is one of my favorite authors and I noticed she had a short story in this collection. I loved that her story returned to Falstone Castle and the Lancaster family. I liked getting a brief but deeper look into their family. I was pleasantly surprised by "Tis the Season to be Daring" by Esther Hatch. I loved this story. The main characters had such great banter, the plot was fun and unique, and I enjoyed it so much. 

This collection of short stories was perfect for the Christmas season. The stories were long enough to get to know the characters but short enough that I could fit them into my crazy Christmas schedule. This would be great for anyone looking for a collection of feel good Christmas romance. The best thing is that they can be read any time of the year.

AL



We Are Not Free


We Are Not Free
By Traci Chee
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 384 pages. Young Adult 

Fourteen Japanese-American teens who grew up in Japantown, San Francisco, have their lives dramatically changed shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They’re imprisoned in relocation camps, and while some look for hope and opportunities, everyone struggles with the discouragement, racism, and abuse that now permeates their lives. Some teens will be released, some will go to war, and yet others will be imprisoned until the camps are closed. Despite everything, these 14 friends must rally together when everything else threatens to pull them apart. 

This was an incredibly moving book, made all the more impactful because of the 14 distinct backstories and personalities. It’s a stark reminder that people in similar circumstances can have vastly different reactions to those circumstances. This book is just as much about the setting as it is the people. A portion is based here in Utah, around the Topaz War Relocation Center. While I haven’t been to the site myself, now a museum, the evocative detail will color any future visits I might make. 

There’s a lot of great WWII fiction available, but this one stands out among the rest. Recommended for anyone who appreciated Samira Ahmed’s INTERNMENT, or George Takei’s THEY CALLED US ENEMY

ACS

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World

By Brooke McAlary
Sourcebooks, Inc., 2018. 262 pages. Nonfiction

Memoir-esque and meditative, Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World examines the different activities present in modern day life and shows how to maximize our time with the things that really matter. By presenting great techniques and insights into what it means to be content, readers will find simple solutions for achieving a simplified modern life. This book combines lovely photography and design with engaging storytelling, outlining not only the benefits of slowing life down, but the ways we can begin to anchor life in meaning and intention. 

This is a surprisingly thorough book about all the tiny ways we trade calmness for clutter, either by physical things or situations that eat up our emotional, mental, and physical stamina. While McAlary presents everything in a step-by-step way, she also owns that the process of simplifying and incorporating mindfulness into any life is more of a meandering path, and includes personal anecdotes and plans for those inevitable slides into previous habits. Overall, Slow is a perfect book for those who are looking for actionable ideas to shed distractions and to better focus on the moments you live in.

AS 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Promised Land

A Promised Land
By Barack Obama
Crown, 2020. 751 pages. Biography

Former President Barack Obama sat down to write his memoir and thought he might be able to sum everything up in about 500 pages.  700+ pages later, we have Volume 1, which covers his early political career, campaign for president, and first four years in office. The most momentum of the book occurs during his decisions to run for office and the whirlwind campaign trail, culminating in an historic election.  The second half of the book gives way to description of challenges facing his first four years in office, and while this half is somewhat slower as he can't resist outlining much of the complexity of the challenges that he faced, it is interesting as political power struggles can sometimes be, and always underscored by his values and a sense of the responsibility he carried.  I was surprised at how honestly he described many behind-the-scenes experiences, both positive and negative, and many small but interesting details were included about what life is like as a president, how it can be both surreal and bizarre.
 
Obama certainly did seem to inspire a lot of people, and his election seemed a phenomenon that surprised him as much as anyone.  Outside of platforms and politics, he was a president who cared deeply, and who cared enough to try to understand even the most complex issues the best that he could.  Overall, this is a fascinating look at a figure who inspired both hope and vitriol.
 
BHG

Is This Anything?

Is This Anything?
by Jerry Seinfeld
Simon & Schuster, 2020. 470 pages. Nonfiction

Seinfeld has collected his material from many decades in comedy and published them here for you to enjoy.  Chronologically arranged, the "bits" are prefaced by some details of what was happening in his life at the time, and how that colored his work.  If you are familiar with his early material, you will find it repeated here, but his newer material is a fun reflection of modern living.

I have always enjoyed Seinfeld's comedy, and this audiobook, read by the author, didn't disappoint.  I laughed out loud several times as I listened. This might be a good antidote to any blues you might have this winter.

BHG

Monday, December 21, 2020

Mexican Gothic


Mexican Gothic 
By Silvia Moreno-Garcia 
Del Rey, 2020. 301 pages. Fiction 

In 1950s Mexico, Noemi’s life as a glamorous debutante is filled with chic gowns, bright red lipstick, cigarettes, and men. Until she receives a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from her new mysterious home, High Place. Noemi must travel to the deep Mexican countryside, where she encounters her cousin’s menacing and alluring husband, the ancient patriarch who is fascinated with blood lines, and the inhospitable house that is invade Noemi’s dreams with blood and doom. What happened in the past to fill the house with violence, madness, and death, and will Noemi be able to save herself and her cousin from the horrors and mysteries that surround High Place? 

Noemi is an unlikely hero, but her courage, determination, and smarts made her an interesting and compelling character. Once again, Moreno-Garcia’s writing crosses genres to create a historical fiction, gothic thriller, a dark mystery, and a psychedelic tale all rolled into one intense story. The writing and details are expansive and intimate, and draw the reader into the mystery of High Place and the bizarre history surrounding its family. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys historical fantasy, dark fantasy, or gothic fiction. 

TT

Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice


Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice 
by Debbie Levy 
Simon & Schuster 2019. 207 pages. Graphic Novel. 

Modern feminist icon and supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life is summarized and celebrated in this accessible graphic novel for young readers. Ruth’s accomplishments for gender equality happened one step at a time, just as she evolved slowly from a good student that questioned unfairness to a law student that challenged societal norms of the time. Despite many obstacles, she persisted and became a force for change in the justice system. 

This is a quick read for any RBG fan, and a great introduction to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s contributions to gender equality. Her major cases are summed up and easy to understand, and anyone will appreciate Ginsburg’s no-nonsense approach to fair and equal treatment. 

ALL

Friday, December 4, 2020

Shine

Shine
By Jessica Jung
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2020. 346 pages. Young Adult

When Rachel Kim is recruited by one of Korea’s top K-pop labels, her family moves their lives from New York to Korea so that Rachel can become a trainee, and hopefully, debut one day in a K-pop group. Yet, due to the fierce competition and cattiness of the other female trainees, her life is more difficult than she imagined. When Rachel starts to fall for one of Korea’s top idols, the careful balance she has created in her life starts to wobble. She must decide what lengths she will go to make her dreams come true.

Rachel wants nothing more than to debut as a K-pop idol, and while she has the talent, she freezes in front of the cameras. It’s made it difficult for her to progress, and the bullying of her fellow trainees just adds to the stresses in her life. As a character I feel like Rachel is quite strong to withstand all that she does, but even she gets to a point when she’s struggling. It’s relatable for anyone who has put on a brave face while struggling. The author, Jessica Jung, went through the process of training and becoming a K-pop idol, so the peak behind the scenes of the glittery K-pop world feels authentic, and heavily influenced by her insider knowledge. This looks to be the first in a series, so I’m eager to see what happens to the characters next. Recommended for fans of K-pop, especially those who liked K-POP CONFIDENTIAL.

ACS

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts

Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts
by Nancy Campbell Allen
Shadow Mountain, 2020. 308 pages. Romance                   
                                       
Activist Emme O'Shea has been chosen to speak at an important summit in Scotland regarding shifter rights. But when a death threat arrives she is placed in protective custody. Detective-Inspector Oliver Reed, who is all too familiar with Miss O'Shea and her antics, has been assigned to guard Emme and to escort her to the summit before midnight on the last night. But getting her there safely will be a challenge, especially when the two of them realize they might be falling in love with each other.   

I loved going back into this world that Nancy Campbell Allen has created. It has all you could want - fairytales, steampunk, and paranormal. This book is the Cinderella story with the main characters having a rocky relationship at the start because of their respective positions. But once they put that behind them an adorable love story unfurls. The story keeps your attention has you reaching for the next page. Emmeline and Oliver have such great banter with each other that it makes you sigh and laugh at the same time. You do not need to read the previous books in order to understand and enjoy this story but, for those that do, it is fun to see the characters from the previous books. I both listened to the audio and read the book. The narrator for the audio does a remarkable job. 

ME

Elemental Haiku

Elemental Haiku: Poems to Honor the Periodic Table, Three Lines at a Time
By Mary Soon Lee
Ten Speed Press, 2019. 131 pages. Poetry

A set of 119 haiku for each of the elements of the periodic table, these creative and witty poems are paired with imaginative line drawing on each page. The accompanying notes on each page explain how every square on the table relates to everyday life, pulling from astronomy, biology, history, physics, and (of course) chemistry. These brief, structured poems present the wonders of the universe in a very accessible and light format as science and art combine beautifully.

With a background in chemistry, I loved this quick, fun read. But don't fret if you haven't studied science since high school: you'll find a bite-sized chunk of science and history on each page that doesn't come across as pedantic. A perfect book for reading aloud or just contemplating quietly while you relax, Elemental Haiku would make a great gift for the science nerd in your life.

DT

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A Deadly Education: A Novel

A Deadly Education: A Novel
by Naomi Novik
Del Rey, 2020. 320 pages. Science Fiction

Trapped in the Scholomance, a deadly version of Hogwarts without adult supervision, El is seriously considering turning into a soul-sucking sorceress solely to keep Orion Lake from saving her life. Again. But despite the temptation of ending Orion’s knight-in-shining armor routine permanently, El struggles against the assumptions of her fellow students and even the school itself to retain her humanity and resist her destiny as a world-destroying villainess. Naomi Novik brings El to life as the snarling, unlikely heroine who is simply doing her best not to kill everyone around her.

I love Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, which has a strong leading character that doesn’t seem to fit in, as well. But what I especially love about A Deadly Education is that the Scholomance acts as both setting and character--a magical school that is both protector, teacher, and enemy. Seamless and spectacular, each page turn blends into the next until you find yourself at the last sentence and absolutely not ready for the book to end. Readers who are looking for a unique fantasy world to dive into that is filled with both humor and horror will find A Deadly Education impossible to put down.

AS

To Kill a Kingdom

 


To Kill a Kingdom 
by Alexandra Christo 
Feiwel and Friends, 2018. 342 pages. YA Fiction, Fantasy 

Princess Lira, next in line for the siren throne, has been taught brutality by her mother for as long as she can remember and has the literal hearts of seventeen princes in her collection as a testament to her savagery. As punishment for breaking a fundamental rule her mother the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the thing sirens loathe most – a human, and tasks her with bringing back the heart of the prince that hunts their kind as the price to end her banishment. 
Prince and heir, Elian is more at home on his ship at sea than he ever has been in his own kingdom. His true calling is hunting the sirens that prey on humans, especially the one that preys exclusively on princes. When he rescues a drowning woman in the middle of the ocean with no other ships in sight, and she promises to help him find the key to ridding the sea of sirens, he realizes he can actually win this war. But can he trust her? 

 This is a dark story, both main characters categorize themselves as murderers, that is a loose retelling of The Little Mermaid. Much like Cinder by Marissa Meyer, it has elements of the fairy tale while still having its own unique storyline. The book is full of snark and banter, making it an easy and enjoyable read despite the dark premise. I especially enjoyed the character growth as Lira is puzzled by the loyalty of Elian’s crew, without the cruelty she was taught to associate with strong leadership. I would definitely recommend for those who enjoy fractured fairy tale retellings, or even just a good stand-alone ocean fantasy.

ER

Home Body

Home Body 
by Rupi Kaur 
Andrews McMeel, 2020. 188 pages. Poetry 

i dive into the well of my body
and end up in another world
everything i need
already exists in me
there’s no need
to look anywhere else
– home

New York Times bestselling poet is back with another book of illustrated poetry. In this collection, Kaur explores the past and present, and the healing that comes with accepting and loving one’s self. Kaur’s unique style is raw and honest, cutting right to the heart of issues such as self-acceptance, family, trauma, change, and healing. 

Fans of Kaur’s previous works will enjoy this work, with its familiar themes, same illustration style, and similar aesthetic. Her books would look great on a shelf together. Though this work isn’t quite the heart-wrenching masterpiece that is Milk and Honey, or the cheery and poignant collection that is The Sun and Her Flowers, this is nonetheless a solid collection from a beloved modern poet.

ALL

Saturday, November 14, 2020

I'll Be the One


I’ll Be the One
by Lyla Lee
Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2020. Young Adult

Skye Shinn wants to be a K-pop star, singing and dancing her way into fame. She has the moves. She has the high notes. She has the sassy personality. The only thing she doesn’t have is the size 00 of a K-Pop star. Her entire life, her mother has told her the fat girls shouldn’t dance, or wear bright clothes, or be on television. But Skye wants to prove her and all the other haters wrong, so she auditions for an American K-pop competition called “You’re My Shining Star.” Everyone is surprised at her talent, but one judge is explicit that fat girls can’t make it in K-pop. But Skye only needs the votes of the two other judges and she is in! Skye soon becomes immersed in the auditions and meets amazing new friends and bumps into Mr. Henry Cho, himself. But, huge surprise, the glitzy Korean American star can actually dance and ends up becoming Skye’s dance partner. As the pressure of the competition builds, so do the sparks between Skye and Henry. But will Skye lose herself in the K-Pop culture and forget all the things she is fighting to prove?

This book was a hoot and a half. It’s charming. This feel good novel will have you rooting for Skye and her friends. There was one point I actually gasped out loud in. I flew through this book. The characters are relatable and everyone loves an underdog story. The book is also an #Ownvoices story, with culturally diverse characters and LGTBQIA diverse characters. But mostly it is RomCom that will melt your heart into a gooey pool of love. This book is for fans of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ and fans of reality shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “American Idol.”


AGP 

Monday, November 9, 2020

To Best the Boys

To Best the Boys
By Mary Weber
Thomas Nelson, 2019, 321 pages, Young Adult Fantasy/Adventure Fiction

Every year, the residents of Pinsbury Port are invited to a celebration at the mysterious Holm manor. While the townspeople enjoy food and entertainment, the town’s college-age boys compete in the Labyrinth—a magical maze set to test their abilities in multiple subjects. The winner of that maze receives a scholarship to the esteemed all-male Stemwick University.

Sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur dreams of becoming a scientist and helping her physician father find a cure for a horrible plague that’s making its way through the town’s poorer residents. Together with her cousin Seleni, the two girls disguise themselves as boys and enter the Labyrinth. Rhen and Seleni must work together in order to escape detection and hopefully earn their right to go to college. Except not everyone can survive the maze, and not everyone plays fair.

A lot of adventure and a dash of romance and magic makes To Best the Boys a novel that will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Although the town’s residents don’t possess magic, the sea is full of sirens, ghouls come out at night, and Holm’s Labyrinth seems to defy the laws of physics. This adds to the dark and urgent tone of the book, and drives the stakes for surviving in the Labyrinth even higher.

Rhen and her cousin Seleni each have different reasons for entering the maze, but their driving motivation is their desire to be taken seriously instead of being written off for their gender. I also appreciated that although Rhen is smart and inquisitive, it’s hinted that she struggles with dyslexia. 

Although To Best the Boys contains more suspense and the stakes are higher, this book reminded me of Tess of the Road. Both books are set in a vague past, and are about women who chafe at the confines that are put on them for their gender. Both worlds are slightly magical, although the main characters aren’t, and they must rely on their wits to survive.

MB

Monday, November 2, 2020

Stalking Jack the Ripper


Stalking Jack the Ripper
By Kerri Maniscalco 
Brown and Company, 2016. 326 pages. Young Adult.

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord's daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life. 

Against her stern father's wishes and society's expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle's laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

I really enjoyed this book! I listened to the audio version and the narrator did such a great job that I found myself laughing out loud to the charm and applauding the characters when they did something daring. It was so interesting to follow this infamous crime scene through this story and bring it life. It is considered a young adult but the way it reads it can easily be entertaining for adults. Not a lot of teenage drama but enough of real-life drama to keep it interesting. You won't want to stop listening or reading. 

 ME

The Glass Ocean

The Glass Ocean
By Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White
William Morrow, 2018. 408 pages. Historical Fiction

Desperate for inspiration for her next book, a struggling author opens a chest of her great-grandfather's memorabilia from the RMS Lusitania. What she discovers could change history, and she begins her quest to answers in England. Her research ties her to two women aboard the Lusitania in 1915: a Southern belle who senses something amiss in her marriage and happens upon an old flame aboard the vessel, and a thief and forger who has come aboard to pull off one last heist. The three women find themselves entangled in a web of scandal and betrayal, and they each work to unravel mysteries that will ultimately change the course of their lives.

This intricately plotted story has a bit of everything -- romance, mystery, intrigue, action -- without feeling overcrowded or haphazard. Collaborations among three authors are admittedly somewhat unusual, but Team W manages to pull off another beautiful and riveting story after their joint effort on The Forgotten Room. Each author pens the chapters from one character's point of view, which makes for a strong sense of voice, and the audio format mirrors this structure: three performers for the three main characters. Readers craving more by the same trio of authors may also enjoy their newest release, All the Ways We Said Goodbye.

DT

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Finder

Finder
by Suzanne Palmer
DAW, 2019. 391 pages. Science Fiction.

Fergus Ferguson has a job that gets him into a lot of trouble. To some, he's a thief, a con artist. To others, a repo man. But to himself, he's a self-proclaimed finder. He travels the stars finding things for the people who hire him. Sometimes this is complicated. Luckily in the case of his most recent job, it should be simple. Steal back a state-of-the-art spaceship from a former noble turned criminal trade boss. The location, a small colony called Cernee out in the armpit of the galaxy. All he has to do is get in, decode the ship's compromised AI, and then get out. But when a cable car he's on explodes minutes after he arrives, Fergus finds himself planted in a power struggle between the colonies three factions. Using his charm, wits, and luck, he gathers the most trustworthy of the colony's people to help him. Getting the ship means solving the colony's struggle. To make matters more complicated, an alien species, known for abductions and hostile flybys, comes in for a prolonged, silent visit. Fergus, or whatever alliterated name he decides to go by, will have to decide who he is, what he cares about, and if he can really solve enough problems to both save Cernee from destruction and recover the ship he's been sent to find.

Finder is an interesting mix of comedy heists like Ocean's Eleven and interstellar found families stories like The Long Way to a Small Angry, Planet by Becky Chambers. For those looking for a more personal, emotionally focused space adventure, without the epic stakes of the common space opera, this is the book is for you.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors from My Israeli Kitchen

Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors from My Israeli Kitchen
by Adeena Sussman
Avery, 2019. 368 pages. Non-fiction

With photos and colors as vibrant as the flavors themselves, Adeena Sussman presents a wonderful perspective on Israeli cooking that is wrapped up in an easy, homestyle approach so anyone can dive in. The cookbook starts with several spice blends that provide a foundation to Middle Eastern flavors, then goes into how to apply those flavors in a variety of dishes. Recipes are tested in Sussman’s kitchen in Tel Aviv and are inspired by her experiences in the markets and with the Israeli people. Sababa means “everything is awesome,” and this cookbook embodies that attitude with every staple and story included in its pages.

I have always loved the flavors of the Middle East but getting those flavors to work in my kitchen here in Utah can be a definite challenge. Even with that concern, Sababa made some fairly difficult recipes and flavors accessible with clear steps and suggestions for how to approach the recipes. There are the expected basics—like pita bread and tahini—as well as some surprising takes on classics like a green-vegetable based shakshuka (a tomato-based egg dish) that is now my go-to shakshuka recipe. Several recipes are vegetarian or vegan and there are a few recipes that focus on minimizing food waste, like using charred eggplant skins from making baba ghanouj to color tahini.

Sababa covers everything, from drinks to dessert, sauces to salads, and has recipes for beginners and seasoned cooks alike. Overall, Sababa is an extremely versatile cookbook that is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn how to make the exotic flavors of the Middle East effortless.

AS

Burn the Place

Burn the Place
by Iliana Regan 
Midway, 2019. 266 pages. Biography 

Iliana Regan is a self-taught chef and owner of a Michelin-star restaurant in Chicago. This memoir is an exploration of her deep connection to food, her unconventional childhood, and her struggles with identity in a world unkind to those that are different. This raw and beautifully honest look at Regan’s life really makes you feel like you’re sitting at the farm table, makes you crave chanterelles cooked in butter, makes you want to spend hours preparing the best pierogi in the world. 

I had no idea who Iliana Regan was, nor had I ever heard of her restaurants. But her personal story of finding and shaping her identity around food is a tale to which many can relate. It’s small wonder that this memoir was a National Book Award nominee. 

ALL

Didn't See That Coming: Putting Life Back Together When Your World Falls Apart



Didn't See That Coming: Putting Life Back Together When Your World Falls Apart

by Rachel Hollis

Dey St. and imprint of William Morrow, 2020. 222 pgs. Nonfiction

Rachel Hollis is known for writing Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing. In her most recent book she tackles the tough subject of how to survive when it feels like everything is falling apart. It is real and raw and told from a very vulnerable place. She wrote the original draft earlier this year. She was actually in the middle of editing this book when she announced her divorce. This was huge for a woman who has hosted marriage seminars and bases most of her workshops on dealing with the tough stuff and making things work. Rachel doesn't shy away from admitting that this goes against what a lot of people think she should do, but she is true to herself, and admits she is figuring out life, just like the rest of us. 

If you have read Rachel's first two books, there is not a lot of new material in this short book. She shares a lot of the same stories and ideas, but she also addresses timely events like trying to survive and thrive during the Covid quarantine. It helps to know that all of us have some kind of struggle, either in our past, happening right now, or coming our way. I was able to learn a few helpful nuggets of information that will make facing trials a little easier. If you, or someone you know, are facing a hard time, this might be just what you need to find the strength to keep moving forward. The audio version on Libby is read by the author.

AL

Lifestyles of Gods and Monsters

Lifestyles of Gods and Monsters 
by Emily Roberson 
Farrar Straus Giroux, 337 pages. Young Adult 

 Ariadne has never been one to be part of the drama of her reality TV family. Her sisters have their own show and her father, the King of Crete, runs the Labyrinth Contest Broadcast every year. In the Labyrinth Contest, fourteen Athenians try to survive the maze where the minotaur lies in wait, ready to tear them to shreds. Ariadne’s job is to lead the contestants to the labyrinth, say her lines, and then she is free to go back to blissfully playing video games. She doesn’t get involved. 

 But, this year is different. The Minotaur has been particularly violent and Theseus, the Athenian Prince, has come to enter the Labyrinth. Ariadne is immediately drawn to Theseus and her feelings just lead to a lot of questions. Can she really lead him to the Minotaur’s Maze? What if he dies? What if Theseus actually kills the minotaur and ends the contest? This conflict comes to head when Ariadne is told to pretend to help Theseus for higher ratings. As she spends more time with Theseus, she begins to see her world through his eyes, the horror of the maze, and the fakeness of the parties and the overly bright smiles.When confronted with the fakeness, Ariadne must make a choice: will she stay loyal to her family, or will she be loyal to herself? 

This is a fun take on the Greek myth of Ariadne and the Minotaur. Placing it in the context of a reality TV show brings up many questions about surveillance, truth, and authenticity. I found this book fascinating. I wanted to see if Roberson could pull off her premise. As a reader, I found myself asking if it is realistic that a modern country would do something as barbaric as feed people to a minotaur, but then the reality TV aspect really shows how people are “fed” to social media and the press. Overall, I think it works. It’s a fun read with a lot of suspense and teenage angst. For fans of Bull by David Elliot and older teen fans of Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan.

AGP

Monday, October 26, 2020

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder


A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
By Holly Jackson
Delacorte Press, 2020. 390 pages. Young Adult

For her senior project, Pippa Fitz-Amobi investigates a five-year-old murder that still affects her community. She doesn’t believe that Sal Singh murdered his girlfriend, Andie Bell, and then committed suicide the way the original investigation concludes. As her investigation progresses Pip uncovers a whole host of secrets people want to keep quiet, and soon she starts receiving notes demanding that she drop the project. Spurred on by the knowledge that she’s getting close, Pip doesn’t back down, but soon finds that the killer isn’t going to back down either.

Pip is a smart, analytical girl, determined to find the truth and clear Sal’s name. She refuses to let prejudice and privilege stand in her way on her quest to uncover the truth. Her investigation log and transcripts are included throughout the text, allowing the reader to follow along and try solving the mystery with Pip. I loved it! The story progresses smoothly, allowing tension to gradually build, but so compelling it’s hard to put down. I found myself binging this book in one sitting, staying up until 1:00 AM to finish. Highly recommended for fans of Maureen Johnson’s TRULY DEVIOUS

ACS

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

I Was Told It Would Get Easier

I Was Told It Would Get Easier
By Abbi Waxman
Berkley, 2020. 352 pgs. Fiction

Jessica Burnstein is a successful attorney whose only daughter is about to leave for college.  They travel to the East Coast together for a college tour where she's hoping Emily will get a sense of the direction she'd like to go in, and she hopes that voluntarily traveling with a teenager won't be as crazy as it sounds.  Emily is feeling all the pressure of needing to start her life soon and have it all together.  But she doesn't know what she wants to do, and her lack of direction isn't helped by growing tensions at her school.  Jessica knows that these final years with her daughter are the end of an era, and she hopes they will be able to share a few more important memories together before her daughter leaves home.

Jessica's feelings and impressions as a working mother trying to balance her career and raise a child may hit pretty close to home for any readers in the same boat, and everyone will be able to relate to Emily's angst over trying to figure out what to do with her life when she's not really sure what she wants, especially as the jumping off point draws closer and closer.  Waxman does an apt job of describing a time of tensions and hopeful anxiety that many go through as they transition into new stages of life.  Although Waxman typically incorporates romances into her novels, this book focuses instead on the story of a mother and her daughter as they face new horizons together.

BHG

Friday, October 16, 2020

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus
by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Vintage Books, 1831, 231 pages, General Fiction

Obsessed with discovering “the cause of generation and life,” science scholar Victor Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts. However, when his creature comes to life, Frankenstein recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness and abandons his creation. Tormented by loneliness and shunned by society, the originally docile creature begins to harbor a horrible grudge against his creator, and proceeds to murder the people Frankenstein holds most dear.

This fascinating novel, which is lauded as both one of the first horror stories and one of the first science fiction stories, has undergone many different retellings over the years, but none can match the nuance of the original. Shelley’s beautiful, flowery Victorian language might make the story drag in some places; however, for the most part, the added detail gives the reader space to think about the consequences of Frankenstein’s actions. This is a story about the ethics of scientific studies, the value of human life, the effects of alienation and isolation, and our responsibility to have compassion for each other.

Reading this book at our current time in history also made me consider angles I might not have considered before. I think everyone can sympathize even more with the mental health effects both Frankenstein and his monster encounter as they experience isolation and loneliness.

I listened to an audiobook version of this story, read by the unparalleled Simon Vance. His reading of Shelley’s lush prose added an extra layer of atmosphere that really helped capture the mood.

MB

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Kingdom of Back

The Kingdom of Back
By Marie Lu
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 313 pages. Young Adult 

Nannerl Mozart is a young protégé at the clavier and wishes to be remembered forever. When her younger brother, Wolfgang, starts learning to play, it’s discovered that he too is a protégé. When Wolfgang starts to outshine Nannerl due to his young age and gender, she fears she will be forgotten. Then one day she meets the mysterious Hyacinth from the Kingdom of Back. He promises her that he can make her wish come true—as long as she helps him. 

This is a moving novel based on the real-life Mozart children, but where they are influenced by the happenings of a magical faerie realm. I want to give Nannerl a hug. As a character she evolves throughout the novel, and must decide what she is willing to sacrifice to make her dreams come true. Then there’s the innocent and kind-hearted Wolfgang. He loves his sister dearly, and is troubled by the restrictions she faces just because of her gender. I often hear about “couple goals,” but Nannerl and Wolfgang are “sibling goals.” For the well-researched story, the deep relationships, and the excellent character development, I would easily recommend this for fans of historical fantasy. 

ACS

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Old Man's War

Old Man's War
by John Scalzi
Tor, 2005. 316 pages. Science Fiction.

John Perry, age 75, begins his new life by being declared legally dead and joining the space marines. Why did he do it? For a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is the Colonial Defense Force's (CDF) centuries old promise that they can make the old young again. Joining the CDF means leaving Earth for good, fighting the wars to save humanity out there in space for a period of 2-10 years, and then retire to a colony with beaches. But as he and the friends he makes among the other senior citizen recruits discover, being made young again isn't what they thought it would be, it's better.

So starts the saga of the Old Man's War, where senior citizens protect the human race among the stars. Scalzi does a great job of incorporating a wise-with-years character into a young, overly capable body to humorous effect, all the while asking deep philosophical questions about relationships how the family we gather to us can mean just as much to us as the families we are born into. 

For those who enjoy series like The Expanse by James A. Corey, but want something with a little more humor and military science fiction added in, this book is for you!



Friday, October 9, 2020

The Most Precious of Cargoes

The Most Precious of Cargoes 
By Jean-Claude Grumberg 
HarperVia, 2020. 120 pgs. Historical Fiction 

In the height of World War II, one Jewish man must make a heart wrenching decision concerning his newborn twins. An impoverished, childless woodcutter’s wife rescues a small, Jewish baby, risking her own safety, and life, to protect this child. What will become of these brave individuals as they face an uncertain future and the horrors of World War II? 

With beautiful writing, this reads like a traditional fairytale that reminds us of the trials, strength, and bravery of Europe. The story switches back and forth from the Jewish father to the woodcutter’s wife, and the horrors that each of them must face to protect one small child. The subject matter is heavy, but writing is ethereal and lifting, making this one of the most poignant books on the Holocaust I have read in recent years. This tale makes the reader question their understanding of historical fiction and the relationship between truth and myth. A beautiful story that is a must read for all. 

TT

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Axiom's End

Axiom's End
By Lindsay Ellis
St. Martin's Press, 2020. 384 pgs. Young Adult Sci-Fi

It's 2007, and Cora Sabino is trying to lay low from the media frenzy created by her whistleblower father.  Though he's in hiding, his organization has leaked new evidence proving the government's knowledge of extraterrestrial life.  Though Cora doesn't want to get involved, she may not be able to avoid it as the mysteries surrounding her family circle closer, until late one night when a strange presence lurks outside in the dark.  Cora must decide whether or not to finally take matters into her own hands.

Some may be familiar with Lindsay Ellis, popular Youtuber, although this book is completely unrelated to her video essays.  In this book, Ellis has created an interesting alien culture and sets all of the action within the familiar tensions of 2007 US society.  I found the main character to be a little too often swept along by events and a little too infrequently the driver of her own fate, but her "close encounters" were a fun read overall.  Recommended for any fans of YA alien fiction.

BHG

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

 


1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus 
by Charles C. Mann 
Vintage, 2011. 553 pages. Nonfiction 

 In this astonishing book, author Charles Mann thoroughly and methodically tears to shreds misconceptions of the history of indigenous peoples in the Americas beginning with the land-bridge theory, through population numbers and the “pristine wilderness” myth. The three main ideas examined are one, the pre-Columbus population of the Americas were much higher than originally thought; two, people have been living in the American for much longer than previously thought and came to the Americas in multiple waves; and three, indigenous peoples thoroughly shaped the landscape with agricultural methods nearly unrecognizable from and more sustainable than those used in Europe. Through meticulous research, Mann reveals a much richer and deeper portrait of the people in the Americas before Columbus than contained in any textbook. 

 I honestly had no idea that we had this much knowledge of indigenous peoples in the Americas before Columbus arrived until I read this book. Now I’m astounded by not only what I’ve learned about the pre-Columbus Americas, but also that I wasn’t taught more of this in school. I suspect at least some of Mann’s assertions are controversial, but he seems to offer both sides of the arguments even as he picks a side. This would be a good read for anyone, but especially those interested in history, pre-Columbian people, or environmental studies.

ER

Friday, October 2, 2020

How to

How to: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems
by Randall Munroe
Riverhead Books, 2019. 307 pages. Nonfiction

There's more than one way to solve every problem. There's a right way, a wrong way, and a way that is so tremendously wrong that no one would ever attempt it. This book is guide to that third approach to many of life's basic tasks. The creator of the popular website xkcd.com and former NASA roboticist Randall Munroe provides outlandishly absurd solutions (grounded in real-life science and technology) to everyday obstacles; learn how to build a lava moat around your house (your HOA may not approve), how to cross a river by boiling it, and how to get to your appointments on time by destroying the Moon.

Like Munroe's previous book "What If?", "How to" invites readers to explore the furthest reaches of what is physically possible. The math can sometimes get a bit dense, but Munroe does a good job keeping the tone conversational and accessible for the nonexpert; for example, consider this quote:

Without shielding, spacecraft break up in the atmosphere. When large spacecraft enter the atmosphere without a heat shield, between 10 percent and 40 percent of their mass usually makes it to the surface, and the rest melts or evaporates. This is why heat shields are so popular.

Clever infographics and illustrations help the reader visualize the preposterous ideas that Munroe suggests, showcasing the science and technology that underlie our everyday routines; bear in mind that you'll miss out on these if you choose the audiobook over physical or eBook formats. Perfect for those familiar with the physical sciences and for those familiar with life on Earth (or Mars).

DT

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

At Love's Command

By Karen Witemeyer 
Bethany House, 2020. 377 pages. Romance 

Following the massacre of Wounded Knee, cavalry officer Matthew Hanger leaves the military and leads a band of mercenaries who defend the innocent. When one of his men is gravely injured, they seek out the help of Dr. Josephine Burkett. When Josie’s brother is abducted, she asks the Hanger’s Horsemen to save him, but things go wrong and soon it’s Josie who is in danger. Will Matthew be able to save her in time, or will he lose the woman he has fallen for? 

This is one of my all-time favorite Karen Witemeyer books. Josie is a strong, independent, intelligent woman who also is compassionate, understanding, and finds a true partner in Matthew. The Christian elements felt authentic and relevant, without being overbearing. They make each other better people and help one another grow and learn new things. I can’t wait for the other books in this series, and would recommend to anyone who enjoys clean romance, historical fiction, or Christian fiction. 

 TT

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments

by Aimee Nezhukumatathil 
Milkweed Editions, 2020. 165 pages. Nonfiction 

World of Wonders is an elegant tribute to all the natural wonders of author Aimee Nezhakumatathil’s life. Part nature log, part memoir, part philosophy, all poetry, this short little volume consists of essays about such natural wonders as axolotls, touch-me-not plants, and corpse flowers. Each essay contains a little history of Nezhukamatathil’s life and how each natural wonder taught her something about the world and how to live in it. 

This little book of wonders is just perfect for someone that is constantly amazed by the natural world around us. It’s bite-sized chapters are easy to read and digest, and its message of hope and wonder is exactly what I needed in this year of craziness for our planet. Nezhukumatathil’s prose elegantly conveys her praise of the natural world’s astonishments, and I came away from this book wanting to read more of her works of poetry. 

ALL

Friday, September 25, 2020

Wilder Girls

Wilder Girls
By Rory Power
Delacorte Press, 2019. 357 pages. Young Adult

No one at the Raxter School for Girls knows exactly what it is, or where it came from, but they call it the Tox. It took the teachers first, then spread to the girls, changing the bodies of those who survive it's excruciating sickness. Quarantined these last 18 months, confined to the school grounds except to pick up supplies dropped off at the island's edge, the remaining students wait for a cure. But the longer they wait, the more the Tox seeps in - into the girls, even into the island and its forests and animals. When Hetty's friend goes missing, she's determined to find her, no matter the danger. 
 
 If you like some simmering, eerie, atmospheric horror, look no further. This book has been compared to THE LORD OF THE FLIES, and though I see how some people could see the parallels, I think that comparison is inaccurate and a little unfair. WILDER GIRLS is its own story. Yes, it definitely has that order-into-chaos element as the girls, so cut off from the world and even their own families, and left with minimal adult supervision, redefine the social order. But WILDER GIRLS is a horror story, specifically an epidemic/quarantine survival. For me, a big draw is the tension Power manages to evoke in subtle ways, yet still you feel unnerved and perhaps even a little abandoned like the girls of Raxter School. The pace might not be everyone's cup of tea; but I loved the premise. This is Rory Power's first book, so I'm excited to see what she comes up with next!

MW

Monday, September 21, 2020

Forget Me Not



Forget Me Not 
by Sarah M. Eden 
Covenant Communications, 2020. 256 pages. Romance 

Julia Cummings has long been acquainted with loss-her mother, her brother, her sister, her friend, all gone too soon. But the loss that pushed her grief to the limit as a young girl was that of her best friend, Lucas Jonquil, who abandoned her without looking back. Now, eight years later, Lucas has returned to Lampton Park, and Julia has steeled herself-she will never forgive the man who broke her heart. 

After losing too many of his friends and family to early deaths, Lucas vowed to live life to the fullest. And after traversing the world, he has returned from his adventures to find his family and home as he left them-except for Julia. The little girl he left behind has blossomed into a captivating lady, a lady who makes it clear she despises him. With little hope of reconciliation, the former friends are blindsided when their parents make a shocking announcement. Lucas and Julia have been betrothed without their knowledge and are to marry immediately. Now Lucas must rely on the help of his closest friends to win the heart of a lady who loathes him-a lady he s coming to love more deeply every day. 

If you are a fan of Sarah M. Eden books, especially the Jonquil series, then you will adore this book. There are so many hidden gems throughout the book and you will love making the connections between the two generations. I don’t read a lot of Georgian historical romance books but this was a great book to get into the era. Sarah did a marvelous job of brining it to life, including all of the interesting fashion choices of that time, like powdering the hair. The story flows well and is easy to read while quickly capturing your attention to the point that you cannot put it down and stay up with the story. You will be sighing, crying, and laughing at the sweet and tender moments as well as the frustrating ones. A perfect start to a new series.

 -ME

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Jane Austen Society

The Jane Austen Society
By Natalie Jenner
St Martin’s Press, 2020, 309 pages, Historical Fiction

The small English village of Chawton boasts a famous connection that no other place can—it’s the village Jane Austen lived in when she penned some of the most beloved novels of all time. Just after the Second World War, the residents of Chawton realize that the impending death of the neighboring great estate’s landowner could mean that many Jane Austen treasures which have been kept intact for generations may be split up and sold for a profit. Seeing an opportunity to preserve Jane Austen’s heritage, a group bands together to form the Jane Austen Society. In the process, they learn more about themselves, and help each other overcome past traumas.

As a Jane Austen fan who has been to England and toured the small cottage in Chawton where Jane Austen lived, I picked up this book thinking it would be a great way to reminisce on a fun past experience. I could see myself walking up the lane, talking about Jane Austen with all of the different characters. Some of my favorite parts of the book were the debates members of the society had about the value of Jane Austen and the meaning found in her work. They often brought up some good points I’d never thought about.

I also appreciated that this book is its own story instead of a Jane Austen retelling. While some of the charm of this book comes in its depiction of English small-town life, each character in this story is nuanced and struggles with real problems. In joining the Jane Austen Society, each character finds a place to let go of heavy burdens that they’ve been carrying alone.

An added bonus of this book for me was that Richard Armitage narrates the audiobook.  As usual, he does an excellent job in giving each character their own voice.  If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, or a fan of books set in the English countryside (Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War comes to mind), this could be the next book for you.  

MB

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Vying for the Viscount


Vying for the Viscount

By Kristi Ann Hunter

Bethany House, 2020. 348 pgs. Romance

Hudson has been raised in India his entire life to hide from an uncle who will do anything for the family title. His father has taught Hudson all the things he would need to know to someday return to England and become a Viscount. His parents died while in India and when Hudson learns of his grandfather's death, he makes the long journey back to England. He thinks he is prepared for society but finds his education very lacking.

Bianca Snowley has found refuge in riding horses at the neighboring stable for years. One day she is startled to see a strange man in the stables and after defending the horses, discovers that he is the new owner. For reasons of her own, she takes an interest in the newest bachelor in town but in a turn of events, they agree to help each other find eligible spouses. Bianca finds herself coaching Hudson on the basics of dancing and courtship, all the time harboring a growing attraction to him. 

I really enjoyed this new series starter by Kristi Ann Hunter. Hudson and Bianca are fun characters that must decide if they are going to go along with what is expected by society, or if they are willing to do the best thing for each one of them. I was also surprised how much I enjoyed learning about horses and horse racing since horses are not something I typically take an interest in. I have read a lot of Regency romance and I liked this story line of someone who is utterly unprepared for Society and all the silliness that goes on but is willing to reach out to new friends for help.

AL

Friday, September 11, 2020

Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun 
By Stephanie Meyer
Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 662 pages. Young Adult

When Bella met Edward, her world was set on a path where everything changed in less than a moment. We followed Bella’s thoughts and feelings in Twilight, but what was going on behind Edward’s eyes? The long-awaited Midnight Sun shows their iconic origin story from Edward’s much darker perspective. Edward’s inner struggle is brought to light as he wrestles with what he believes is right and what he discovers he must have.

While mirroring the events of Twilight, Midnight Sun also illuminates the mystery of many behind-the-scene moments and character backstories only mentioned in the series. Delving into the depths of Edward’s mind and discovering how close every encounter came to ruin was definitely worth the all-nighter. Whether read alone or along with the series, this is a fascinating and engaging companion to the classic romance that rewrote a genre.
 
AS

Saturday, September 5, 2020

K-Pop Confidential

K-Pop Confidential
By Stephan Lee
Point, 2020. 323 pages. Young Adult

Candace Park is trying do what’s expected of her. She attends a good school, plays viola, and appreciates her Korean heritage, but Candance wants to sing, and she’s good at it. Encouraged by her best friends Imani and Ethan, she secretly auditions for one of Korea’s biggest entertainment companies. When she’s invited to come train in Seoul, Candace must convince her overly protective parents to let her train for the summer, just to see if she can do it. Trainee life is difficult, and only a handful of the 49 girls will debut, but Candace is determined to be one of them, even when the odds are stacked against her.

The K-pop industry is known for glitzy performances and near perfect idols, but we see behind the curtain through Candace’s eyes at the hardships they face. This book tackles a wide range of issues such as racism, feminism, beauty expectations, unfair labor practices, classism, immigration, and privilege, all with the backdrop of K-pop. Candace is a spunky protagonist with a harrowing journey before her, and even with such heavy hitting issues Lee keeps the pace moving and the book was hard to put down. I would easily recommend this book to fans of Korean entertainment, but also anyone looking for a witty, determined protagonist ready to subvert expectations.

ACS