Thursday, January 28, 2021

Year of Yes

Year of Yes 
By Shonda Rhimes
Simon & Schuster, 2015. 311 pgs. Nonfiction

Shonda Rhimes is the creator of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal". In this book she tells about the year she realized she was saying "no" to almost everything in her life. She hadn't really realized how unhappy she was. She decided that for one year she would say yes to opportunities that presented themselves. She didn't fully anticipate the far reaching effect this decision would have on her life and how the momentum of a few "yes's" would carry over into other areas of her life. She also talked about how some of the experiences terrified her to death, but she went through with it anyway and was glad that she did. 

This was a great book to read at the beginning of a new year. I have to be honest and say that I've never watched any of the shows Shonda Rhimes created, but it was fun to hear some of the behind the scenes details. I listened to this book on Libby and it felt like I was sitting down with a friend for some helpful advice. I also enjoyed that she shared the actual audio of some of the speeches she gave. The way she writes, and repeats certain phrases, probably would have bothered me if I was trying to read the physical book so I'm glad I listened to it. This book encouraged me to evaluate my own life and see if there are some areas that I could start saying "Yes" more often.  


Friday, January 22, 2021

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel 
by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff 
Atheneum, 2020. 208 pgs. Young Adult Graphic Novels 

Will’s older brother, Shawn, has just been shot and his grief might overwhelm him. But, in Will’s neighborhood, there are THE RULES: No. 1: Crying. Don’t. No matter what. No. 2: Snitching. Don’t. No matter what. No. 3: Revenge. Do. No matter what. The morning following his brother’s murder, Will is on his way to get revenge on the person he thinks killed his brother when a 60-second elevator ride changes his life. He is reminded that bullets can miss. They can hit the wrong person. You can get the wrong guy. And there is always someone else who knows to follow the rules. 

This is a heart-wrenching story about one boy’s struggle to come to terms with his brother’s death and how he’s been taught to react a certain way. Much of the lyrical language from the original book is present, although it has been edited to fit the graphic style. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, with an incredible lever of detail, and the use of watercolors conveys the mood and setting perfectly. This is a deeply-moving tale about teen gun violence, and will appeal to both new readers and Reynolds’ fans. This is more than a simple retelling, but is a poignant adaptation that stands on its own. 


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

You Are Not So Smart

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself
By David McRaney
Gotham Books, 2011. 302 pages. Nonfiction

McRaney uses studies and research to illustrate ways that we as humans can be not so smart sometimes.  There are a great many logical fallacies and failures of reasoning pointed out here, all things that even the best of us fall victim to from time to time.  This is an interesting study of human behavior and a humorous ego check to boot.  Recommended for fans of popular science and humor.


Blood Countess

Blood Countess
By Lana Popovic
Harry N. Abrams, 2020. 293 pages. Young Adult

Anna is intelligent, driven, and struggling to figure out her place in the world with limited options. After a chance meeting, Anna catches the attention of the young Countess Elizabeth Báthory, an incredible opportunity for Anna to provide for her struggling family. Anna is drawn to the charismatic Elizabeth, who seems a kindred spirit who is just as invested in their friendship despite their differences in fortune and class. But the outwardly-charming countess is hiding a dark side, and her friendship comes at a high cost. Alone and trapped, Anna tries to mitigate Elizabeth's abuses and rationalize away her violent whims, but can she see Elizabeth for what she truly is before it's too late?

You've probably heard of Dracula, but less known and far more deadly was the Countess Elizabeth Báthory who lived in Hungary in the late 16th century, sometimes called Countess Dracula or Blood Countess. While the exact number of her victims is unknown, she is still regarded as the most prolific female murder - to this day. This atmospheric and spellbinding historical fiction-horror gives readers a front-row seat to her dark deeds through the eyes of Anna, a teenage village midwife. Horror abounds; Elizabeth's sadistic disregard for human life is enough to chill you to the bone, but the subtlety with which she manipulates and traps Anna in a toxic and domineering "friendship" is the stuff of nightmares. While more seasoned horror or crime thriller fans might find this book a bit tame, readers wary of guts and gore will likely find it enough without being too much.


The Weight of Ink

The Weight of Ink
by Rachel Kadish
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 561 pages. Historical Fiction

When a soon-to-be-retired university professor in London is called to assess a hidden cache of ancient papers, she begins a search to discover the identity of the scribe known only as "Aleph." Blending history and fiction seamlessly between London of the 1660s and the 21st century, the quest to discover who wrote the letters is interspersed with desire and the struggle of mortality across centuries.

The writing is truly phenomenal, which made the frequent switching between voices and time-periods easy to follow without feeling like anything was added just for fluff. All the story and mystery does a lovely job illustrating the struggle of humanizing history, especially when confronted with the distance of time. Contemplative, with a balance between introspective moments and an emotionally driven story, The Weight of Ink builds soul-searching moments into a depth that stayed well after reading the last page.


Saturday, January 16, 2021

Anxious People

by Fredrik Backman
Atria Books, 2020, 341 pages, General Fiction

A bank robber’s escape plan is foiled when he takes the wrong door out of the building, and ends up accidentally holding eight strangers hostage. But when the police finally enter the building, the bank robber has vanished, leaving only a bloodstain on the floor. As the police interview the hostages to get leads on the bank robber’s whereabouts, they become more and more frustrated. It’s hard to figure out what happened when the only witnesses are eight anxious people who had a hard day. 

Fredrik Backman excels at writing stories that are a bit quirky, but that also hit right at the core of common human worries and anxieties. Although all of the characters in this story are more over-the-top than those featured in Backman’s other books, they all have moments when their true fears and desires are revealed. Personally, I loved this mixture of absurdity and heart, and found myself laughing aloud one minute, then sighing in sympathy the next.

This story is mostly told in non-sequential order, which allows the reader to get a better idea of each character's background story, but also keeps the reader, along with the police, in the dark as to what actually happened until the very end.  Because of this, the plot takes some interesting and unexpected turns, which ends to a satisfying conclusion for everyone.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021


by Lucy Kinsley 
Fantagraphic Books, 2015. 156 pages. Graphic Novel. 

When Lucy’s aging grandparents book a cruise through their retirement home, the Knisley family is anxious about the elderly couple going alone. Young, and recently single, Lucy volunteers to act as caretaker to her physically and mentally ailing “grands.” Lucy confronts her feelings about her grandparents’ failing health, and juxtaposes the current reality of her elderly grandfather with excerpts of his memoirs of serving in WWII. 

Fans of Knisley’s Relish will find a lot to love here—her illustrations are just so positive and they seem to perfectly capture the essence of life’s ups and downs. In some ways, this is a hard read because Knisley’s frustration and anxiety during this trip are perfectly captured. Readers that have experienced the trials of caring for aging loved ones will find a lot to relate to. While this memoir is not as universal in its appeal as Relish, it is still a very accessible and enjoyable memoir about travel, family, and love. 


Monday, January 11, 2021

Ready Player Two

Ready Player Two

by Ernest Cline

Ballantine Books, 2020. 377 pages. Fiction

Wade Watts won the greatest video game ever created. For a few days, he has time to bask in the glory of his hard-earned wealth and fame. But then a new piece of technology is discovered in the vaults of Gregarious Games Inc. that could once again change life as he knows it. This new tech is wildly popular, but also puts people at the mercy of virtual reality. Almost immediately a new adversary takes over the Oasis and Wade is once again called upon to save humanity.

This is a fun sequel to the super popular Ready Player One. There are new bad guys to outsmart, new clues to find and decipher, and a whole new world to explore. It is interesting to see how the top four, Wade, Ache, Art3mis, and Shoto all respond to having wealth beyond reasoning. Art3mis, Samantha, is still determined to help the troubled world outside the Oasis. Shoto and Ache become interested in the business side of Gregarious Games, but Wade is kind of lost.  He alienates those most important to him and must learn how to deal with people in real life, not just in virtual reality. There is enough new content about the characters that this book is worth the read, but fans of Cline may feel like they have been through this all before. This book will appeal to those searching for a book with adventure, interpersonal relationships, and mind-bending views of reality. 


Saturday, January 9, 2021



by Daphne du Maurier 
Doubleday, 1938. 380 pages. Fiction. 

 This classic novel of romantic suspense begins with our young, unnamed heroine in Monte Carlo. Here she meets the mysterious Maxim de Winter, widowed within the last year, trying to evade the memory of his late wife Rebecca. After a whirlwind romance, quiet wedding, and honeymoon abroad, our young heroine, the new Mrs. de Winter, accompanies her husband to his grand estate of Manderley. As Mrs. de Winter learns more about the late mistress of the house, she feels more and more inadequate to fill her new role, feelings that are generously helped along by the sinister housekeeper who is unnaturally devoted to the memory of Rebecca. 

 The first part of this book is rather slow, but once you get to the party the story really gets moving and has interesting twists and turns. The writing is very atmospheric and has a gothic, ghostly feel to it. The whole estate is haunted by the memory of Rebecca, she put her mark on everything from the house and the staff, to the grounds and the surrounding neighbors. The poor protagonist feels constantly compared and found wanting to her predecessor, a feeling she struggles with throughout most of the story. This book would make a great discussion novel, especially in contrasting the personalities of the two Mrs. de Winters and how they managed the social roles they were expected to fill.


How to Hang a Witch

How to Hang a Witch
by Adriana Mather 
Knopf Books, 2016. 368 pages. Young Adult 

After moving from New York to Salem with her stepmother,15-year-old Samantha Mather finds herself ostracized from many in town due to her ancestor being Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for the infamous witch trails. Sam becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves the Descendants because their ancestors were some of the witches that were hung by Cotton. To add to her problems, she befriends a rather handsome and angry ghost who helps her as they discover she is tied to ancient curse affecting anyone attached to the trials. Her only hope is to work with ghost and the Descendants before it is too late.

 I really enjoyed this book.  It was a great read to have during October and the author did the audio narration and did an amazing job. The Salem witch trials are so fascinating and I liked how the author tied the trails into bullying and how some of the practices from that tragic time are still in practice today. The characters were well thought out and the twists and turns of the story made it easy to want to keep turning the page. I highly recommend this book! 


Thursday, January 7, 2021

Scars Like Wings

Scars Like Wings
By Erin Stewart
Delacorte Press, 2019. 376 pages. Young Adult

Sixteen-year-old Ava is left severely disfigured after a house fire claims the lives of her parents and cousin. Now she lives with her aunt and uncle, and after a lot of counseling and trips to the burn unit, her aunt and uncle decide it’s time for Ava to return to high school, to try and regain some semblance of “normal.” Except, Ava knows there will never be a return to normal, not with how she looks. She agrees to give it a week, and in that time Ava meets Piper, a fellow survivor. Together, they work through the trauma—both physical and emotional—that both sets them apart and brings them together. 

There is a lot of emotion packed into this book. It clearly evokes the fears, hopes, and awkwardness that are pretty relatable to most people who have been through high school. The characters are well developed, with their own stories to cope with and grow from. Ava’s journey, from a popular and talented musical theater star to a burn survivor hiding from the world, is raw and thought-provoking. Often, we have a warped view of ourselves, and this is especially true for Ava. I found her story incredibly moving, and would easily recommend this for those who feel like they struggle to fit in, and those learning to cope with loss. 


Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself
by Joe Ambercrombie
Orbit, 2015. 542 pages. Fantasy.

Magic is leeching from the world, or so Ambercrombie writes as he introduces us to a new fantasy world where no one can be trusted and nothing is what you'd expect. The Union, a kingdom where everyone is born into their place in the world with nobles and commoners and merchants, becomes embroiled in a war with the Gurkals of the South and King Bethod in the North. All the while, conflict with an ancient evil millennia in the making is just about to get started. Without magic or a true understanding of history, the main 3 characters of the book find that they must face an evil few men understand, or war will be the least of the worlds problems. The Blade Itself follows 3 major characters and the story of how they get roped into the fight to save the world. Logan Nine-Fingers, a barbarian from the north whose bloody history defined the shaping of a kingdom, escapes a supernatural evil in order to answer the call of world's oldest (and literally the first) Magi. Captain Jezal dan Luthar, a selfish, self-absorbed nobleman, who's constantly forced into situations he would rather avoid by people who are far smarter than him. And Inquisitor San dan Glokta, a man who survived being tortured about a mile past the edge of his life and who now tortures others in service to his king.

The Blade Itself brings together political intrigue, the corruption of governments and history, and the classic gathering of heroes to fight the storm of an ancient evil, and does so without providing us any hope that things will get better. That might sound like a bad thing, but Ambercrombie does such a good job of making us root for morally grey characters that despite a future outlook that appears grim and dark, we want to watch these characters go through the process of trying to save the world. For those that like classic fantasy by David Eddings or Terry Brooks, but want a darker world where any character that is "good" must compromise their definition of "good" to survive (à la A Song of Ice and Fire) this book (and this trilogy) is for you.