Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Woman is No Man

A Woman is No Man 
By Etaf Rum
Harper, 2019. 337 pages.

Spanning two generations of an Arab-American family, this debut novel is a startling look into the lives of women in a male-centered world. The story begins with Isra, a Palestinian Muslim woman who has come to New York for an arranged marriage, then jumps forward many years to the perspective of Deya, Isra’s now teenage daughter. Both women share a tale of isolation, powerlessness, and abuse at the hands of the men in their lives, but both have hopes that they might be able to break free from the repressive traditions of previous generations.

Debut author Etaf Rum gives a voice to the voiceless, exposing the harsh reality that many women face in patriarchal societies. The characters’ struggles with worthlessness, familial and cultural pressure, and domestic violence will strike a chord with many women across all religions, classes, and cultures. This book may make you cry, rage, and curse the inhumanity the characters face, but you will come away from the experience with eyes now opened to the invisible plight of repressed women.


The Truth About Magic: Poems

The Truth About Magic: Poems
By Atticus
St. Martin’s Press, 2019. 250 pages. Nonfiction

If poetry intimidates you, this collection is a good place to start. Author Atticus became famous for their Instagram poetry account and soon won a book deal with St. Martin’s Press. Because of their beginnings on Instagram, most of the poems are quite short and almost like sayings or epigrams. Atticus’s words are lovely and full of life. The whole theme of the collection is magic: the magic you feel when you meet someone, the magic you feel in a new city, and the magic you feel when you have a moment alone. You can finish the book in a day, or savor it slowly over a few weeks. It is easy to put down, but you might find yourself longing to pick it back up again.

I was first introduced to Atticus on Instagram, and I have been following their career over the last few years. I thought this was a great read because the poems are short, powerful, and quite thought provoking. It was nice to just sit and read poetry and copy out some of the phrases into my journal. This book is a great introduction to modern poetry that is fresh and timely.


Friday, February 28, 2020

The Language of Fire

The Language of Fire
by Stephanie Hemphill
Balzer + Bray, 2019. 512 pages. Young Adult

The endlessly inspiring story of Joan of Arc is retold in this novel in verse. After years and years of defeat, it's rightful king in exile, France seems lost to the British. But one ordinary girl heeds the divine call to save her country. Young, inexperienced, but full of faith and determination, Joan gains the trust of generals and royalty, leads armies, crowns a king, and changes a nation's fate.

Joan of Arc has been a hero of mine since childhood. Her courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles remains to this day one of the greatest underdog stories in history. This book re-imagines her life, starting from childhood to her tragic end. Terribly well researched, the author worked hard to stay true to fact and historical accounts while streamlining for story's sake. I loved the voice that she created for Joan; her characterization felt every bit like the Joan I've imagined all these years. Passionate and kind, determined and courageous, and at times unsure and afraid, I've never felt the joys and burdens of Joan's destiny quite like this before. For fellow admirers of The Maid or fans of poetry and historical fiction, this one's for you.


Waiting for Tom Hanks

Waiting for Tom Hanks
By Kerry Winfrey
Berkley, 2019. 288 pages. Fiction

Annie Cassidy grew up watching all the Nora Ephron classics like Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and You've Got Mail, among dozens of other classic 90's romantic comedies.  After a lifetime of being enamored with on-screen sweethearts, she can't help but dream of finding her own Tom Hanks, complete with charming houseboat.  When her job on the set of a movie filming in her hometown throws her into the path of lead actor Drew Danforth, she can't believe how un-Tom-Hanks-like he is: a prankster who doesn't take anything seriously. But the way she keeps bumping into him (sometimes literally) reminds her a lot of those classic rom coms she grew up watching with her mom.  Surely he can't be her Tom Hanks?

This is a light read especially good for fans of rom coms like While You Were Sleeping, or those who wax nostalgic about 90s comedies in general.  Some of the conflict here may be contrived, some of the plot may be predictable, some of the characters may be one-dimensional, but what good rom com doesn't have any of those things?  Read this for the fun, but maybe head for other waters if you're wanting something with a bit more depth.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Toll

The Toll
By Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 625 pgs. Young Adult

This is the third book in the Arc of the Scythe series. It is really hard to review this book without giving away spoilers for the first two books in the series. I can't share as much as I would like in this review.

The Toll starts off three years after the cliff hanger conclusion of Thunderhead. The Thunderhead has always been silent to the Scythes but after the events at the end of the last book, the Thunderhead is silent for everyone else in the world as the ultimate punishment. It still runs the world and keeps everyone alive but people are lost without the compassionate friend and confidant that the Thunderhead has played in their lives. The only person the Thunderhead will communicate with is Greyson Tollivar. He is placed in the strange situation of people turning to him for comfort and guidance as the mouthpiece for the Thunderhead.

Goddard is back and is focused on world domination. He is the ultimate bully and no one dares stand up to him. Meanwhile a salvage captain named Jerico finds more in the wreckage of Endura than he expected and sets the world on a path that will change humankind forever.

I have to admit that this book was probably my least favorite of the three. I felt like there was a lot of  extra commentary on organized religion, propaganda, fear mongering, political issues and gender identity. It did make me stop, as a reader, and think about a lot of things that are going on in our world today. My biggest complaint is that this book felt long. It didn't hold my interest like the first two books. I still finished to find out what happened to all the characters but I felt an overall sense of disappointment that this didn't live up to my expectations for the series.


Friday, February 21, 2020

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years

Cover image for Home work: a memoir of my Hollywood years
Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years
by Julie Andrews
Hachette, 2019, 340 pages, Biography

In her second memoir, Julie Andrews reflects on her career in Hollywood, from her first film, Mary Poppins, in the early 1960s, to the early 1980s. She covers the struggles of balancing work and family life, the help and support that come from therapy sessions, her marriage to director Blake Edwards, her unexpected career as an author, and other interesting turns her life took as she toured the world singing.

Fans of Julie Andrews will love this book about her life, which gives a lot of behind-the-scenes details on the filming of many of her most famous movies. I found myself wanting to throw a Julie Andrews binge-watching party after reading this book.

Told in a conversational style, and compiled with the aid of Andrews’ extensive journals, Andrews also shares personal details that took a lot of courage to share. Although Andrews has a reputation of being classy and charming, she dealt with some really hard things that made me marvel at how she became the lovely person she is. Since this book only covers through the early 1980s, I hope she’s working on publishing a book covering the next chapters of her life soon.

I highly recommend that you listen to the audiobook version of this book, since Julie Andrews reads it herself. She has such a distinctive accent, and I have such fondness for her, that listening to her tell me her life story was absolutely enjoyable.


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London

The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London 
by Christopher Skaife
Straus and Giroux, 2018. 256 pgs. Nonfiction

 Legend has it that if the ravens of the Tower of London ever leave, the Tower will crumble and great harm will befall the kingdom. This mix of history, autobiography, and ornithology is the tale of the Tower ravens, told by the man responsible for their care, Chrstopher Skaife, the current Ravenmaster. Skaife describes life at the Tower (did you know people actually live there?), how he became the Ravenmaster, and especially the behavior of the ravens.

 I loved this book so much! The author narrates the audiobook, and his voice and accent are delightful. I highly recommend listening to the audio version. The way it’s written and narrated feels like sitting around on comfortable furniture after a good meal listening to a storyteller. Plus now I can tell the difference between a raven and a crow without seeing them side by side! This book would be great for anyone interested in history, nature/animal nonfiction, birds, strange jobs, or narrative nonfiction.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

Ninth House

Ninth House
by Leigh Bardugo
Flatiron Books, 2019. Fantasy.

For her entire life, Galaxy "Alex" Stern has been able to see the dead, an ability that lands her acceptance to Yale University and a position with Lethe House. Lethe House has one express purpose, to manage and control the magical rituals of the other house societies. But it's not all pixie dust and wands, these rituals require blood or human capital to work, and Lethe is the only house that makes sure the other houses don't go to far. When a local girl turns up dead, a girl with a connection to one of the houses, Alex can't shake that the feeling that more is going on than just a local drugging getting killed by her boyfriend, so she investigates. What starts with the death of a girl, becomes a journey that helps Alex discover who and what she is, and shows us all how privilege and complacency can influence even those most intelligent and kind person to destroy their moral compass.

For those that like secret societies and magic more aligned with the TV show Supernatural than Harry Potter, this book is for you.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Burdens of a Bachelor

The Burdens of a Bachelor (Arrangement, #5)
By Rebecca Connolly 
Phase Publishing, 2017. 283 pages. Romance

What the eye cannot see...
Colin Gerrard has everything. He is a handsome, charming, and unattached gentleman in possession of a fortune. But what nobody knows, and would never suspect, is that he is not nearly as carefree as he seems, nor is his heart free from anyone's taking. It was already taken long ago, and when his lost love unexpectedly reappears, in London of all places, he very much afraid that she has it. 

...the heart already knows.
Lady Susannah Hawkins-Dean had no intention of ever seeing Colin again after their terrible departure sixteen years ago. She never wanted to see anyone that knew her in the past. There too many secrets, too much shame, and he, of all people, could not know them. But when Colin refuses to leave her in the past, Susannah finds that she is just as in love with him as she ever was, and it could ruin them both. 

This book was so much fun to read. It moved at a great pace and there were new turns that made it so I didn't want to put it down. This is the fifth book in Rebecca Connolly's Arrangement series but you do not need to read them in order to fall in love with the characters and to understand their story. If you are looking for a sweet romance book that is clean and you are fan of Sarah M. Eden or Julianne Donaldson this book is for you.


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A Pursuit of Home

A Pursuit of Home 
By Kristi Ann Hunter
Bethany House, 2019. 380 pgs. Historical Romance

For most of her life Jess Beauchene has been hiding and always on the move in order to escape her past. When she learns that there might be a member of her family still alive, after believing them dead for years, she knows that it is time to try to solve the secret of an old family diary entrusted to her. She can't do it on her own and is forced to ask for help from the one man she can't stand. Derek Thornbury is an expert in history and artifacts. He is shocked when Jess asks for his help but he can't resist the puzzle of the diary. Jess and Derek put their lives on the line as they race to find the hidden artifacts before her family's enemies do. Jess may be the only one to save the nation her family was forced to flee before they were murdered.

This is the third book in the Haven Manor series. Jess has always been the quiet but determined cook in the first two novels but his book really explores her traumatic past and the reasons she has had to learn to defend herself and the people she loves. I really enjoyed the mystery and adventure of this novel. Jess and Derek couldn't be more different but they end up being perfect for each other.


Serving Up Love: A Harvey House Brides Collection

Serving Up Love: A Harvey House Brides Collection
By Tracie Peterson, Karen Witemeyer, Regina Jennings, Jen Turano
Bethany House, 2019. 371 pgs. Historical Romance

This was a fun collection of short stories about Harvey House Restaurants. I had never heard of the Harvey House before. It was one of the first restaurant chains that catered to people who traveled by train on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The restaurants had a very high level of service and quality of food that could be expected at each meal stop. They were very successful in the late 1800's and early 1900's and the waitresses became known as the Harvey girls.

Each story in this collection tells of a different Harvey girl finding love. They were each unique enough to be interesting but they all had the common theme of taking place in a Harvey House. I loved the details of the food and service. It made me wish that I could travel by train and experience a Harvey House. They had the service down to an art so they could get the customers in and out in 20 minutes. This collection of short stories will appeal to readers of inspirational historical romance or historical fiction.


Saturday, February 1, 2020

Because Internet

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language
By Gretchen McCullouch
Riverhead Books, 2019. 326 pages. Nonfiction

It shouldn't be a shock to you, as you read a book review on a blog, that the Internet has changed the way we speak. In fact, thanks in part to the Internet, the English language is changing faster and in more interesting ways than ever before. Different platforms structure how we talk on the Internet, from the grammar of Facebook status updates to the unspoken rules about #hashtags and @replies. Social media is a vast collection of unedited, unfiltered words where we can watch language evolve in real time.

This book is a great read for anyone who's wondered how to punctuate a text message or questioned where memes come from. As an internet linguist, McCulloch explores the forces behind the Internet-influenced patterns in language: how does your first social internet experience influence whether you prefer "LOL" or "lol"? Why have ~sparkly tildes~ succeeded in conveying sarcasm or irony, where centuries of proposed punctuation have failed? She links emoji with physical gestures and explains how the disarrayed language of animal memes (like "teh lolcats" [sic] and doggo) made them more likely to spread. This delightful book explains how the Internet is changing the way we communicate, why that's a good thing, and what our online interactions can reveal about who we are.


In Waves

In Waves
By AJ Dungo
Nobrow, 2019. 368 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction Comics

“Surfers have always found solace in the waves.” Through a series of alternating chapters, the author explores the beginnings of surfing in the modern age and details the loss of a loved one. The historical chapters are in a sepia tone and focus on two of the most important men in surfing history and how they introduced and revolutionized the sport. The biographical chapters share the story of the author and his partner, Kristen, as they share a love of surfing and the many trials that Kristen faces.

This is a beautiful, moving, and intriguing memoir. I enjoyed the information about the history of surfing and learning about two surfers who were inspiring. There were several parts that had a big emotional impact as Kristen is battling cancer. The connection that the author draws between grief and surfing is unique and tugged at my heartstrings. Her final wish was that their story live on through his art, and this is a beautiful fulfillment of that wish. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys graphic nonfiction, biographies, or simple but beautiful love stories.