Monday, August 31, 2020

Gods of Jade and Shadow

Gods of Jade and Shadow 
By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Del Rey, 2019. 338 pages. Science Fiction

The rest of the world is living it up during the Jazz Age, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors and taking care of her wealthy grandfather. It seems that her dreams of leaving her small Mexican town will never come true, until one day when in an act of rebellion, she opens a curious wooden box and sets free the spirit of the Mayan god of death. Casiopea must help the god recover his throne from his treacherous brother, and journeys from the jungles of the Yucatan to Mexico City, Baja California, and the Mayan underworld in hopes of saving herself and the world.

This was a wonderful mix of Cinderella, Percy Jackson, and Mexican geography with beautiful language, strong characters, and a moving tale of redemption. Casiopea is strong, brave, and makes sacrifices to protect her family and others. She is down-to-earth, but wants more than what life has given her and is willing to fight for dreams that she didn’t know she had. The descriptions of Mexico and Mayan mythology are expansive, accurate, and beautiful at the same time. The romance is slow-building, but realistic, and the ending was authentic and true to Casiopea’s character. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys historical fantasy, dark fantasy, or descriptive fiction.


A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

by Alex White
Orbit, 2018. 473 pages. Science Fiction

Nilah Brio wants one thing, to be the youngest Pan Galactic Racing Federation Champion. She’s well on her way, when she’s blamed for a devastating murder that takes place right in front of her during a race. As she joins forces with a treasure hunter named Boots Elsworth, and the crew of a smuggling ship from a long-finished war, she discovers a secret society responsible for the death of millions. The conspiracy wraps up everything from wars, magic, technology, and her very own racing art, as the secret society sets up for their biggest move yet. 

For those that enjoyed James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series and books the mix magic and technology, this should be the next book on your list! The way the author mixes magic and technology is profoundly interesting. Not only that, but he takes that technology to its political, moral, and religious extreme to set up the universe spanning conflict. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Say Her Name

Say Her Name
By Zetta Elliot
Brown Books, 2020. 96 pages. Poetry

In this collection of powerful poems, poet and educator Zetta Elliot raises her voice in honor of both victims of and activists against police brutality. Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign, Elliot relates her experiences and feelings as a black woman in this call for empathy, recognition, and action. Along with her own words, Elliot draws inspiration from and adds her voice in harmonic chorus with notable poets including Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Phillis Wheatley. 

It's difficult to think of how to talk about a book that made me feel so much. Even the description above seems too simple, too small, for a book that is so moving and so important. One of Elliot's many talents as a poet is the ability to make you feel, as a reader, that her words are not just ink on a page but an extension of her gaze, meeting your eyes, connecting your heart to hers. Just the memory of feeling that connection while I read this book brings tears to my eyes. The poems range from celebratory, to mournful, to angry, to hope, to empowering. SAY HER NAME is an invitation, a plea even, to listen to people of color, especially women of color. Wherever you stand on the issues of police brutality and racial bias in law enforcement, this book is a must-read. Open your heart to Elliot and you will not be disappointed. 


Monday, August 24, 2020


Cover image for Displacement

by Kiku Hughes
First Second, 2020. 288 pgs. Young Adult Graphic Novels

Kiku is on vacation in San Francisco with her mother when she finds herself pulled back in time, or displaced, in the 1940s. She knows the basics of prejudices against Japanese-Americans during this time, but she experiences firsthand the hardships as she follows her late grandmother to the internment camp in Topaz, Utah. Through living at camp, Kiku begins to understand how the lives and future generations were impacted by the denial of civil liberties, but she also learns that a sense of community and resistance was also cultivated in the camps.

This is a heart-wrenching story that highlights the intergenerational impact of the WWII Japanese internment camps in the style of Octavia Butler. In the midst of our current discussions of immigration and civil liberties, books like this and They Called Us Enemy by George Takei remind us of the power of memory. The illustrations and story evoke strong emotions of struggles, strength, and resilience in the face of uncertainty and hatred. I have visited Topaz and learned about the internment camps during history class, but this brought the story to life in ways that were new and interested, and made me feel more connected. This is a great book for anyone who enjoys graphic nonfiction, historical fiction, or new perspectives.


Thursday, August 20, 2020


by Max Brooks 
Del Rey, 2020. 286 pages. Fiction 

The great Mount Rainier eruption rained death and destruction on much of the surrounding area, closing roads, burying towns, and turning Tacoma into a “morgue city.” All rescue and aid efforts completely overlooked the small mountain community of Greenloop. But rescuers eventually found that though the town had been untouched by the volcanic disaster, the residents had all been killed by something far more extraordinary and sinister. Max Brooks brings the story of the Greenloop Massacre to light through interviews with principle investigators, as well as the found journals of Greenloop resident Kate Holland. 

Once again, Max Brooks does not disappoint with his unique storytelling—posing as a journalist uncovering a shocking story through oral interviews and journals. This creature horror is full of terrifying and shocking moments, but does not shy away from social commentary either. The Greenloop residents’ lack of preparedness for a natural disaster may strike close to home right now as we wrestle with a real-life disaster of our own. Reading a physical copy of this book would be great since it is mostly made of up journal entries, but don’t overlook the audiobook’s stellar cast, including Judy Greer, Nathan Fillion, and Jeff Daniels. 


Friday, August 14, 2020

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

Cover image for The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
by Charlie Mackesy
HarperOne, 2019, 128 pages, Graphic Novel

In the tradition of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, illustrator Charlie Mackesy tells the story of an unnamed boy who wanders in the wilderness much like Christopher Robin. As he wanders, he runs into a mole, then a fox, and finally a horse. The mole is fond of cake; the fox is silent, but needs a friend; the horse has gotten used to hiding how special he is from the world. The four form a strong friendship as they wander and talk.

You may have seen Charlie Mackesy’s artwork on Instagram, or seen this book on the New York Times bestseller lists. Although I read it straight through, this is really a compilation of Mackesy’s inspirational artwork, and can be read in little chunks, in any order. Each page contains one of Mackesy’s ink and watercolor drawings, complete with an inspirational quote. The best-known is an ink drawing with the caption, "What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said? asked the boy. “Help.” said the horse. My personal favorite was captioned, “The greatest illusion,” said the mole, “is that life should be perfect.” followed with a penciled-in note from the author that the drawing is extra smeared because his dog walked over the drawing.

Whether you skip around and read this in little chunks, or read it as if it’s telling a story, this book is a nice source of peace, positivity, and hopefulness.


Thursday, August 6, 2020


by Chuck Wendig 
Del Rey, 2019. 782 pages. Fiction 

All across the nation, a strange phenomenon is occurring—people appear to be sleepwalking, gathering in a “flock” and walking to an unknown destination. They can’t communicate, they are impervious to fatigue and hunger, and they cannot be woken up. Shaina wakes up one morning to discover that her little sister is one of the sleepwalkers, but Shaina and the other “shepherds” will follow the flock to the end of the road to protect them. Meanwhile, the country is hit with an apocalyptic epidemic that threatens to decimate the human race, while a team of scientists struggle to understand the mystery of what links the new disease with the sleepwalker phenomenon. 

This is possibly author Chuck Wendig’s magnum opus; sweeping, epic, and full of incredibly diverse and fascinating characters. Readers that enjoy books like Station Eleven and The Stand will find a lot to love about this end-of-the-world saga. This book contains adult language and content, so reader discretion is advised. That said, this was one of my very favorite books of the year with a lot of eerily similar situations to what is happening in the real world today.  


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Opposite of Always

By Justin A. Reynolds
Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 457 pages. Young Adult

One fateful evening Jack meets Kate at a party. He falls hard for her, but her unexpected death a few months later is devastating. Jack is then transported back in time to their first meeting. He doesn’t know what’s going on or how he got there, but is determined to make the most of his time with her, and somehow stop her death. Except… she dies again, and Jack is sent back again. As Jack tries to change the course of events, he learns just how the consequences of his actions impact those around him.

This is a pretty standard YA romance with an interesting time travel element. The story repeatedly covers the same few months of time, but does so in new and unique ways so that it doesn’t feel boring. The characters are witty and their banter is enjoyable to follow. I’ve often wondered what, if anything, I would do differently if I could go back in time and relive a portion of my life. I found myself thinking about that a lot as I read this book. Overall an enjoyable read that I could recommend to those looking for contemporary YA romances.


Monday, August 3, 2020

The Splendid and the Vile

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
By Erik Larson
Crown, 2020. 464 pgs. Nonfiction

Larson recounts Churchill's first days as prime minister and follows his life and the lives of his family during the worst of the Blitz in Britain.  Not quite a complete view of WWII, this book describes the Royal Air Force and many air battles between Germany and Britain, but sometimes pivots to Churchill's home life, the dramas of his family members, or the efforts to raise America's help.  At times, I felt that this book wasn't sure what it wanted to talk about.  If you can accept that this will take a bit of a meandering view of this era of Churchill's life, you will find many fascinating stories and interesting glimpses of things you've never known about Britain during the Blitz.  Erik Larson is known for weaving compelling nonfiction narratives, and this book is no exception.  A recommended read for any who may be going through difficult times and who might be heartened by hearing how previous generations dealt with crises.


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Stars Uncharted

Stars Uncharted
by S. K. Dunstall
Ace, 2018. 401 pages. Science Fiction.

What does a cargo space captain, a celebrity gene modder, and a seemingly innocuous engineer have in common? Usually nothing, but when Captain Roystan, a cargo runner who happens across a ship in the vastness of space, the salvage of which could be the find of a lifetime, he gets far more than he bargained for. When what he finds on that ship puts Roystan and his crew in the cross hairs of some of the most powerful players in the universe, he teams up with his ship engineer, Josune Arriola, who happens to be decked out with some of the most high-end bioware implants and Nika Rick Terry, a gene modder of unparalleled skill, to combat the forces that want nothing more than to destroy them all.

While being an action packed adventure with lost treasure and corporate espionage, Dunstall asks some big questions about technology and how it affects the perceptions we have of ourselves. With active, out patient, gene modding making it possible to switch around everything about yourself, how do we hold on to the fragments of our identity that were two or three mods ago? For one of the main characters, Roystan, this is an even bigger mystery as he finds he's been modded so much he may not be who he thinks he is.

To some degree, Stars Uncharted reads a little like an Indiana Jones movie (but in space), with the setup of a traditional cyberpunk novel where the corporations run everything and are the ultimate enemy, and a large injection of genetic engineering like in the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. While that may sound chaotic, Dunstall does a great job of squishing all those different genre pieces into a cohesive and enjoyable story.


The Sound of Stars

by Alechia Dow 
Ink Yard Press, 2020. 426 pages. Young Adult Fiction. 

This book is set after the invasion of the Ilori, beings made of electricity that want to turn Earth into their next vacation spot. More than 1/3 of earth’s population has been wiped out. Humans are being kept in lock down to preserve their bodies for the True Ilori. They are not allowed to read or listen to music because that makes them “rebellious.” 

Janelle is running a clandestine library, until one of her books goes missing. This could lead to a death sentence. But the Ilori who found it doesn’t turn Janelle in. Instead, he talks to her. 

M0RR1S is a lab made Ilori whose soul existence has been to create a vaccine to subjugate the humans so the True Ilori can take over their bodies. He has been treated as inferior, cast off by his father, and hated by his brother. But then he finds the human’s music, ostensibly to study it. Music makes him feel alive in ways he has never felt before, especially the music of the human called David Bowie. 

Janelle and M0RR1S are immediately drawn to one another, and not just because they both love music and books. M0RR1S soon determines that the humans must be saved, especially Janelle. This determination sends them on a road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums in a race to save humanity. 

The Sound of Stars has something for everyone. It’s post-apocalyptic, dystopian, SCI FI, and romance. Because the book has so many tropes, some readers may feel like it is a bit derivative.  But, the characters are what really make this book work. And if you are a book lover and/or a music lover you will feel how the words and music intertwine to create almost a multi-media experience for the reader. Each chapter starts with either a book quote, or song lyrics. Each section of the book is based on song from the album that makes Janelle and M0RR1S feel like they are meant to be. 

 I laughed, I cried, I gasped, and I made a playlist. 



by Christina Dalcher
Berkley, 2018. 326 pages. Sci-Fi

When the United States government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than one hundred words per day, it's only the beginning. Soon women are not permitted to hold jobs. Girls are not taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. As a mother of four and a cognitive-linguistic scientist, Dr. Jean McClellan will reclaim that voice, fighting against the broken system she did nothing to correct as she saw it being installed.

This dystopian novel for adults obviously deals with sexism: citizens are denied rights based on their gender, and women are legally viewed as lesser than men. But it also shows a dark, possible future where the boundary between fundamentalist religion and government has been completely erased: the basis for this double-standard has roots in religious extremism. The fast pace makes this a quick read and a good thought-piece, although it's not without some strong language.


Wisdom from a Humble Jellyfish: And Other Self-Car Rituals from Nature

Wisdom from a Humble Jellyfish: And Other Self-Care Rituals from Nature
by Rani Shah
Dey St., 2020. 126 pages. Nonfiction

We could all learn a thing or two about living in balance from our friends in the plant and animal kingdom. Take, for example, the jellyfish, one of the most energy-efficient animals in the world, moving through the ocean by contracting and relaxing, with frequent breaks in between. We need look no farther than nature for small and simple things we can do to slow down, recharge, and living more thoughtfully, lovingly, and harmoniously.

This book was such a delight to read. Each chapter was short and to the point, making it a fast and easy read. Each animal or plant that the author highlighted has qualities that we all desire in order to become our best selves. Not only are you learning about how to improve yourself but you are also learning interesting facts about some of the animals and plants that inhabit our earth. Besides the jellyfish you will learn qualities from the porcupine, octopus, the sunflower, the vervet monkey, and the sloth, just to name a few of my favorites. This is one of my new favorite self-help books.