Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Knitting the Galaxy

by Tanis Gray 
Insight Editions, 2021. 207 pgs. Nonfiction 

Tanis Gray and Insight Editions have done it again. In this first official Star Wars knitting pattern book, there are 28 beautiful patterns based on and inspired by the Skywalker Saga films. Projects are divided into four sections: toys, costume replicas, inspiring apparel, and home décor. In addition to the full color patterns, there are photos and behind-the-scenes information from the Star Wars films. A wide variety of techniques are used, including cabling, double knitting, beading, and stranded colorwork in a range of sizes and difficulties. 

This is a fun, beautiful, and creative book with a variety of projects. One of the biggest additions to this title is the costume replica section. It was difficult to pick just a few projects that were my favorites, but I love the “Rebel Alliance Shawl” for its subtlety and the “Yoda Mittens” and “Wookiee Socks” for their playfulness. The colors and photographs are beautiful for each project and evoke the magic and wonder of the Star Wars galaxy. There are projects for all skill levels, but it does not have a beginners’ guide, so a basic knowledge of knitting is needed. This is perfect for knitters or Star Wars lovers and simply beautiful to browse through. 


How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time
By Matt Haig
Penguin Group, 2019. 352 pgs. Sci-Fi

Tom Hazard looks like an ordinary 41-year-old man, but due to a rare genetic condition, he's actually over 400 years old.  He has recently moved back to London to begin teaching history, but London hides memories around every corner, some centuries old.  Tom keeps his condition a secret, which isolates him from everyone except the Albatross Society, a small and secretive group of people who, like Tom, age slowly over centuries.  The Society has one rule: never fall in love, as forming attachments leads to trouble.  But for the first time in centuries, Tom is captivated by a woman, the school's French teacher.  The only way to keep her safe is to stay away from her, but Tom is finding that more and more difficult.

This book bridges the gaps between several literary genres: science fiction, romance, and historical fiction.  Tom's present-day story is interspersed with glimpses of his life through the centuries.  Some cameos from famous historical figures enliven the text, but the observations about the changes in society over time and the nature of time itself offered some of the most interesting moments of the book.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun
By Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke
Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 256 pages. Young Adult 

Ofelia and her pregnant mother go to live with her new stepfather in a remote forest in Spain, where he is trying to flush out a group of rebels. Upon arrival, Ofelia discovers there are various magical beings in the area, and finds the entrance to a nearby labyrinth. Her arrival awakens a faun who has been searching for the lost Princess Moanna, the daughter of the king of the underworld. He believes Ofelia is the princess, and has her engage in a series of tests to prove her identity. All the while, Ofelia’s mother becomes increasingly sick, and her stepfather shows himself to be an uncaring and harsh man. Ofelia’s only hope to get away from the chaos of her surroundings is to prove her identity and claim her rightful place on the throne. 

This is the novelization of Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s been several years since I’ve seen the film, but it felt like the novel followed it quite faithfully. That said, it provided a somewhat different experience being directly inside of Ofelia’s head, such as when she justified the eating of food in the lair of the Pale Man. The world building is fantastic, layering fantasy on history, and the reimagining of fairy tales. There are a lot of layers that can be explored and considered, which is why, despite the fact that I had to take breaks because it was so emotionally visceral, I really liked it. If you like dark-fantasy/horror, this is definitely one to pick up, especially if you’d prefer to get the story without watching the movie. 


Monday, February 8, 2021

As Old as Time


As Old as Time
 by Liz Braswell 
Disney Press, 2016, 484 pages, Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy 

 What if it was Belle’s mother that curse the Beast? Following the storyline of the beginning of the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, readers also get alternating chapters of the story of Belle’s parents. Until the story diverges from the movie when Belle touches the Beast’s enchanted rose and is flooded with her mother’s memories, who is in fact the beautiful enchantress that cursed the Beast and the castle. With the time to save the castle inhabitants from the curse quickly dwindling, Belle and the Beast must quickly unravel a dark mystery that began 21 years ago or the Beast and his household will be lost forever. 

 Part of a series that reimagines classic Disney tales, this book is actually a stand-alone novel. I like that this book took Disney’s Beauty and the Beast story and added substantial depth to the original characters and their backstories, especially Belle’s mothers since mothers are notoriously missing from many Disney classics. Most Disney fans will appreciate this retelling, as well as readers of Young Adult fiction interested in fantasy. 


Friday, February 5, 2021

The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett
Riverhead Books, 2020, 343 pages, Historical Fiction

Chafing at the confines of growing up in the small black community of Mallard, Louisiana, in the 1950s, the identical Vignes sisters, Stella and Desiree, decide to run away together and make a new life for themselves in New Orleans. Ten years later, Desiree lives back in Mallard with her mother and her daughter, Jude. Stella has cut all ties with her former self, and secretly passes for white, living in Los Angeles with her white husband and blonde daughter, Kennedy. When Jude and Kennedy cross paths in the 1990s, Stella and Desiree are forced to examine the decisions that led them down such diverse paths.

At its surface, The Vanishing Half is an exploration of the idea of “passing” as one race when you identify as another. But at its heart, this book is about the relationships of parents and siblings, and a discussion of how you define your family. It’s also about the ways we change ourselves in order to make sense of our place in the world. These are tough topics to cover in one book, but Bennett covers each story delicately and with great balance, so that the stories of the past and the future, although entwined together, shine evenly.

Although these books don’t also explore the idea of Passing, readers who appreciate The Vanishing Half may also enjoy reading other contemporary fiction about the black experience, such as Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.


Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age
by Kiley Reid
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019, 310 pages, General Fiction

When a late-night grocery store run leads to being accused of kidnapping the white toddler she nannies, black, 25 year-old Emira Tucker just wants to put the incident behind her. But Alix, the toddler’s mother, is more surprised by the events. As a white Instagram influencer who has built her name into a thriving business, Alix hasn’t encountered hurdles like this one before. Alix becomes a bit obsessed with Emira, trying to figure out how much the experience has affected her, and if there’s anything Alix can to do to ensure that she keeps her part-time nanny. When video of the fateful day brings Emira in contact with someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves forced to confront problems that they’ve been avoiding for far too long.

Although the main premise of this book is centered on one fateful trip to the grocery store, this book is really character-driven. It’s seeing how those involved in the incident react that drives the story forward. Reid gives each character a unique voice and perspective that makes each character feel fully fleshed-out.  This helps you see each characters' motivations and makes you wonder what your own reaction would be. 

In the end, this is a book driven by the juxtaposition of racism and white privilege, but it’s also about the pros and cons of social media, and about friendship, relationships, the perils of adulthood, standing up for yourself, and standing up for others.


Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Shadows Between Us

The Shadows Between Us
by Tricia Levenseller
Feiwel and Friends, 2020. 326 pages. Young Adult

Eighteen-year-old Alessandra Stathos, the second daughter of a minor nobleman, is tired of being overlooked and has a plan. 1) woo the Shadow King. 2) Marry him. 3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself. Sounds simple Enough. But she is not the only one in the castle who is trying to kill him. She needs to keep him alive long enough to become queen all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

This book was such a fun way to start the year. It was so different to have the main characters so ruthless and cunning and I loved it. The chemistry between Alessandra and the Shadow King was intoxicating and their interactions with each other were hilarious. Alessandra is a woman who knows who she is, what she likes, and what she wants and she doesn’t apologize for it. I listened to the audiobook version and the narrator did a wonderful job differentiating the characters and putting ream emotion into the words. The story came alive more due to the excellent narration. If you are a fan of Sarah J. Maas’s series, Throne of Glass you will enjoy this because it has a similar writing style and characters. 


Tweet Cute

Tweet Cute
by Emma Lord
Wednesday Books, 2020. 361 pages. Young Adult Fiction

 Pepper has a lot on her plate; she is a straight-A student, the captain of the swim team, and the secret weapon of the Big League Burger Twitter account. It doesn’t matter that her mother has people to do social media for her, Pepper always seems to get roped in. Then there is Jack: twin, class clown, and yet the dependable son who is always working the counter at the family restaurant, Girl Cheesing. When Big League Burger appears to have stolen one of Jack’s grandmother’s grilled cheese recipes, he strikes back at Big League Burger on Twitter, which leads to an all-out viral war.  Some of the major consequences of this war are Girl Cheesing gets more followers and customers and Big League takes a big hit in authenticity. All the while Jack and Pepper are fighting tooth and nail over Twitter, they also happen to be anonymously falling for each other on a social app that Jack created. The usual awkwardness ensues. As their relationship gets more serious IRL, Jack and Pepper must both decide what they really want.

This book is just what it looks like, a warm and fuzzy teenage romantic comedy with just enough parental and school drama to keep it from being too frothy. The writing is witty, the action is fast paced, and the laughs are many. In fact, you might want to be careful where you are reading this book, because I guarantee you will belly laugh several times. This is Lord’s debut and I foresee it becoming a classic in the genre. Her second novel, You Have a Match, just came out and I am super excited to read it.


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power

Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power 
by Pam Grossman Gallery Books, 2019. 288 pages. Nonfiction 

“Show me your witches, and I’ll show you your feelings about women.” 

This sentence from the introduction is the premise of Pam Grossman’s informative and illuminating celebration of witches. Grossman, a self-proclaimed witch herself and the host of the “The Witch Wave” podcast, takes the reader on a journey through history, mythology, art, and pop culture. She discusses the infamous witch hunts of Europe, pop culture witches like Sabrina and Hermione, and literary witches like Circe and The Witch of Endor. 

With each passage, Grossman deftly describes the direct correlation between persecution and the fear of female power. She invites the reader to think of the witch archetype and how it reflects society’s views on women. The witch is independent, she is powerful, and she is a force to be reckoned with. You don't have to be a believer in magic and witches to appreciate this book, as there is enough journalism and broad appeal to make this an informative read for those interested in history. This entertaining and fascinating read is sure to become a feminist classic.


Monday, February 1, 2021


by Natalie Zina Walschots
William Morrow, 2020. 403 pages. Science Fiction.

Anna has a boring job in an exciting industry. She's a data analyst by trade, but she uses that skill set as a hench. In other words, she works as a data scientist for supervillains. After receiving a traumatic injury from a superhero trying to stop her supervillain boss, Anna discovers that by the numbers, superheroes cause more loss of life than even natural disasters. Using her skills, and with the resources of a mysterious supervillain named Leviathan, Anna proves that you don't need superpowers to stand up to those in power. All you need is some clever math, a little social engineering, a well-designed spreadsheet, and a passion (or hatred) strong enough to overcome any obstacle that might get in your way. 

Hench is a very clever take on the superhero/supervillain genre of stories. Much in the vein of Marissa Meyer's Renegades or Victoria Schwab's Vicious, Walschots uses the traditional black and white fight between good and evil represented in most superhero media projects, throws it into a bucket of grey, and then uses the result to present an interesting commentary on the adage "absolute power corrupts absolutely." For those looking for superhero stories that go against the grain found in the MCU and DCEU, this book is exactly what you're looking for.