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.


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


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.


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.

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.


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. 


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. 


Friday, December 4, 2020


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.


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. 


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.