Saturday, October 31, 2020


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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. 


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. 


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.


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.


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 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).