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. 


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. 


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!


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.


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.  


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.


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.

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.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Kintsugi: the Japanese art of embracing the imperfect and loving your flaws

Kintsugi: The Japanese Art of Embracing the Imperfect and Loving Your Flaws
by Tomas Navarro
Sounds True, 2019. 273 pages. Nonfiction

Cultivate inner strength and rebuild your life with the ancient principles of kintsugi. When we lose a person we love, a job, or our health, it can feel like a precious piece of ourselves falling to the ground and shattering. But in the Japanese art of kintsugi, that's where the creation of beauty begins-in the delicate re-joining and mending of shards with loving attention. Psychology Tomas Navarro encourages us to approach our lives in the same way.

The imagery of a pot being broken and then put back together with gold, making it worth even more, and then comparing that to our lives is one of my favorite comparisons that I have ever heard. The book does a wonderful job of giving guidance and advice on how to improve ourselves while at the same time appreciating our flaws and weaknesses and improving upon them. It stresses the importance of living and not just surviving which includes all of the painful lessons life can throw at us. The book is an easy and fast read and you will want to keep turning the pages to discover the little truths the author has written.


Loveboat, Taipai

 Loveboat, Taipai

by Abigail Hing Wen

HarperTeen, 2020. 414 Pages. Young Adult

Ever Wong just wants to dance. She has been on dance squad and color guard; she choreographs all their dances, and she lives and breathes ballet. But Ever Wong has two very determined parents who have decided that she is going to be a doctor. Her father was a doctor in Taiwan, but his degree didn't carry over when they came to the US. Her parents have scrimped and saved for Ever to get into medical school. And Ever does! She makes it into Northwestern University. But she also makes it into dance school. Ever knows her parents will never approve of her dancing so she ends up declining dance school. Before she can grieve too deeply, her parents send her away to a Taiwanese immersion program that will take up the rest of her summer. While there she discovers that the program is nick-named the Loveboat because everyone hooks up during their stay in Taiwan. Every kid is smart. Almost every kid is rich. And all they want to do is sneak out at night and go to dance parties. Ever thought that she would hate the program, but she soon makes a circle of friends, including several very handsome boys. Normal teenage drama ensues, including the obligatory love triangle, and Ever has to decide how to deal with this drama while also trying to figure out who she really is and wants to become.

This book has adult themes, but it handles them so well I didn't end of throwing the book across the room. The writing is smart and easy to get caught up in, just like one of Ever's dance routines. This is a coming of age story with all the appropriate themes of leaving home, making friends, breaking rules, getting in trouble, trying to get out of trouble, being jealous, being sad, missing home, etc. I thought that this was just another Teen Rom Com, but Ever’s journey to self-actualization is compelling. I groaned several times at the choices she made, but was pleasantly surprised at how Wen used these moments to show Ever thinking through what she had done. There are always consequences to choices, good and bad, and that is what this book so effectively shows.


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Little Disasters: A Novel

Little Disasters: A Novel 
by Sarah Vaughan
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, 2020. 432 pages. Mystery

 Senior pediatrics doctor Liz Trenchard is called down to the ER on a Friday night for an infant with a head injury. When she arrives, she is shocked to see her good friend of a decade, Jess, with her 10-month-old baby. The explanation for the injury that Jess gives doesn’t add up, and Liz is sure her friend is hiding something. Jess is outwardly the perfect mother, but after the traumatic birth of her youngest, she is constantly engulfed by dark thoughts and knows her children would be better off without her. Jess’ mind and her relationships are brought to the breaking point as social services are called in to investigate her baby’s injury. 

 This psychological thriller offers a raw and intense look at the complexities of motherhood and a highly researched portrayal of postpartum distress, with a particular focus on intrusive thoughts of infant harm. The story is compelling and while the subject matter is heavy, it is meaningful. The story is told from multiple points of view, and jumps back and forth in time to give a more complete picture of characters and events. I really appreciated the fictional depiction of postpartum distress; reading someone’s inner dialogue is a completely different experience than reading about it in a nonfiction book. Other motherhood challenges are brought up as well, from working moms to divorce, to dealing with past abuse by parents to alcohol abuse. 

 Postpartum distress needs as much awareness as it can get so that struggling mothers know they aren’t alone and can get help. I highly recommend this for anyone willing to read an emotionally heavy book.  For anyone dealing with postpartum distress I would cautiously recommend it as a haunting and emotionally difficult yet satisfying read.


Tabernacles of Clay

Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism
By Taylor G. Petrey
University of North Carolina Press, 2020. 273 pages. Nonfiction

This very well-researched book discusses Latter-day Saint (LDS) teachings on gender and sexuality since WWII, including such topics as interracial marriage, the ERA movement, feminism, birth control, homosexuality, gender identity, and same-sex marriage. Various changes in Church policy over the decades are shown in the context of an evolving American mentality, comparing formal statements on a wide array of topics. Petrey's conclusion: there is ongoing conflict in Mormon doctrine between the ideas of fixed, eternal gender and sexuality, and fluid, malleable gender and sexuality.

What I appreciated most about this book (besides the beautiful cover) is the plain presentation of the facts; Petrey didn't mangle them into a pretty picture, but rather showed them in their tangled, confusing form. It's safe to say that Mormon ideas about gender and sexuality have changed over time. While these shifts may make some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uncomfortable, I believe that it's in this fertile soil of discomfort that empathy and self-awareness can grow. I recommend this book to those ready for a deep dive, replete with fresh insights to gender and sexuality in a modern church.