Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Winterspell

Winterspell
By Claire Legrand
Simon & Shcuster Books for Young Readers, 2014. 464 pgs. Young adult.

Claire Legrand has rewritten a magical version of The Nutcracker by creating an entirely new world and characters based off the ballet. When Clara's mother is murdered in a steampunkish version of New York City, she wants to find out who is responsible. Her father is a gang lord but not helpful or concerned, and Clara can't take the gang or the disintegration of her city. This leads her on an adventure to a world filled with mages and fairies and some pretty intense and scary moments. She is joined by her godfather's nutcracker statue that has turned in to a man, and meets some delightful friends on her way. Clara's struggle for what she has to do is palpable and I couldn't wait to see what Clara decides to do in the end.

The book reads a lot like an enchanting movie with strange robots, evil characters, and a heroine you can't help but love. The combination of the two worlds and Clara's involvement in both was exciting. I liked that this was taken loosely from The Nutcracker but was completely different. I also got to Skype with Claire for the teen book club and she is so awesome. If  you like fantasy, winter, action, or want to try something different, try this. There are some pretty steamy moments, so if romance isn't your thing, just be warned.

EW

The Aftermath

The Aftermath
By Rhidian Brook
Vintage, 2014. 352 pgs. Historical fiction.

This novel takes place in Hamburg after Work War II. The plot follows Colonel Lewis Morgan as he tries to make a home for his wife and child as the British army rebuilds the city. Morgan decides to allow the family that owns the home to stay, where procedure usually forces the family out. The Hamburg that Brook has built is completely destroyed and pitiful with homeless children begging for food, the people that have stayed to clean up rubble for food vouchers, and the British soldiers that have been brought in to "help".  The two families being blended is the main source of the strife and the grief they are all experiencing is for different reasons but is just as sad and lonely.

This was a great historical novel with a different viewpoint. I see few books that are after the War or told from a rebuilding stand point. The idea that these two families have to learn to live together in a devastated city, as well set aside the very differences that ruined the city, makes for a tense read. Each character had a story to tell and the author does a great job telling it.

EW

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden
by Jonas Jonasson
Ecco Press, 2014. 387 pages. Fiction.

How does an illiterate black girl from the slums of Soweto, South Africa in the 1960s end up saving the King of Sweden from republicans with an atomic bomb in 2007? Meet Nombeko Mayeki, who starts life as a sanitation expert at the ripe old age of 5 and soon finds herself (and her expert mathematical skills) as the cleaning lady to a nuclear engineer with no mathematical knowledge and a mandate to build 6 nuclear bombs. Confused yet? Just add 2 Mossad agents, identical twins Holger (One) and Holger (Two) who were raised to avenge their father's shocking disgrace at the hand (and cane) of Gustaf V of Sweden, three expert Chinese forgers, a faux countess, and a very angry young woman to the mix to make Nombeko's journey to Sweden and her destiny unforgettable.

This book is a farce in the truest sense of the word. All of Jonasson's characters find themselves in absurd situations that serve to point out the problematic nature of society and government at all levels. Both humorous and insightful, this book will make you both laugh and think as Nombeko tries again and again to bring the world to rights. The author does use a lot of strong language.

JH

The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy

The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy
by Jacopo della Quercia
St. Martin's Griffin, 2014. 384 pages. Fiction.

Everyone who's read the history books knows that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Ford's Theater by John Wilkes Booth, a passionate Confederate who wanted to avenge the South. But when Lincoln's only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, finds a mysterious gold pocket watch which his father had stored in a safe deposit box 40 years after his death, he unwittingly starts a chain of events that could lead to the downfall of President William Howard Taft and the Constitution of the United States itself.

What made this book so fascinating was the way the author was able to use actual historical fact to support his own plot. della Quercia has supplemented the action with newspaper articles and reports (footnoted and documented) that shore up every bit of evidence he presents, no matter how preposterous it may seem. He's even succeeded in making William Howard Taft, the president so obese he is rumored to have gotten stuck in the White House bathtub, a plausible action hero. While the history may get a little convoluted and the plot may have the occasional hole, the action moves forward well and keeps the reader interested, particularly after the entire cast of characters has been introduced and the premise set up. Readers will have a hard time discovering where fact leaves off and fiction begins again. This is a 99.9% clean read, with a handful of instances of strong language.

JH

Friday, December 26, 2014

Texts From Jane Eyre

Texts From Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters
By Mallory Ortberg
Henry Holt and Co., 240 pgs. 2014. Nonfiction.

If you want a quick couple hours read with not a lot to a plot, you must read this. Unless you are a literary purist. You may not like Amy texting Beth about how she is so dramatic about dying. There are texts from Moby Dick characters, The Great Gatsby, Gone With the Wind, and more. You have not experienced Scarlett O'Hara until you have read her texts to Rhett Butler. The conversations range from the bizarre to the accurate as each character interacts with someone else, or sometimes, like any texter, waits for a response by texting more.

I was hysterically laughing so often, that I ended up reading them out loud to anyone that listen. When John Keats starts texting about how pretty an urn is, I almost had to put the book down to catch my breath. This is purely entertaining, and expect some swearing as they are placed in modern text conversations and not their original characters. The conversations were humorous, and the book just an easy, fast read. If you love literature, you will appreciate the author's knowledge of their behavior and how she moves them in to a text speech so easily.

EW

Compulsion

Compulsion
By Martina Boone
Simon Pulse, 448 pgs.  2014. Young adult.

This young adult novel drew me in based on the description of the Southern Gothic setting. Barrie is a teen from San Francisco that is sent to live on her family's estate on Watson Island in South Carolina after her guardian's health rapidly declines. Her parents have both passed away and she doesn't know much of their past, but after arriving on the island she discovers they both harbored some secrets.  Barrie sets out to help her aunt, find out about her family, forgive her mother, and of course fall in love. In the meantime she also picks up on her magic abilities that are passed down from generations.

The romance, magic, paranormal twists, and mystery were a good combination for a young adult book, even thought the plot became somewhat complicated and the teen angst more than what I can usually handle. There are magical creatures that ruin her aunt's house, headaches that keep Barrie from leaving the island and a whole lot more that really seemed like it would go a different direction. I have high hopes for the second book as this one did have a lot I enjoyed, but just seemed to be too much in one book. If you like paranormal books or even the South or romance, you would probably like this one.

EW

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Silkworm

The Silkworm
By Robert Gilbraith
Mulholland Books, 464 pgs. 2014. Mystery.

Owen Quine is a novelist who goes missing and his wife asks private detective Cormoran Strike for help finding him. At first it was more because she figured she knew where he was, and was just avoiding the family. However, it soon turns out to be a grisly murder that is related to his not-yet published book. The novel would create a lot of problems for a lot of people if published, so Strike starts to investigate who would brutally murder him.

I actually liked this one so much better than the first. The pacing and the content was more entertaining to me, and I think I just grew to like the characters more. Comoran Strike is a gruff, sometimes cranky person but puts his whole heart in to his investigations. I liked the role his assistant, Robin, played in this one and I liked that it got more in to their personal lives. It was a good mystery, and the audio was great!

EW

They All Fall Down

They All Fall Down
By Roxanne St. Claire
Delacorte Press, 352 pgs. 2014. Young adult.

First off, let's talk about the cover. The cover really drew me in to read the description and get this book. It is unique in the plot that ten girls are chosen for something every year at their high school. When this list is published, Kenzie believes she was not supposed to be on it. She is not like any of the other girls and she definitely has no idea what his list means. It is a hot list basically, but with a twisted history. The mystery and the danger of being on this list create a suspenseful teen novel as Kenzie tries to save herself and at the same time, figure out which guy is for her.

I had high hopes for this book. I enjoyed a lot of the creepy parts of the story as far as what the list meant and how Kenzie was in danger. I liked the angst even of deciding between two boys. I could not get past some of the more unbelievable moments. And I am pretty easily entertained. There were too many parts that I just was not buying. It was however a very quick read, had some nail biting situations, and the main character was likable. Just go in knowing that some parts (especially the end) may not be what you expected.

EW

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Wedding Cake

Wedding Cake (Culinary #12)
By Josi S. Kilpack
Shadow Mountain, 2014. 288 pages. Mystery.

In the final book in Kilpack's Culinary Mysteries, intrepid investigator Sadie Hoffmiller is finally marrying retired police officer, Pete Cunningham. But while making her final wedding preparations, Sadie receives a disturbing text message from her stalker, Jane, from whom she hasn't heard in two years. Will Sadie and Pete find Jane before their wedding plans go up in flames?

Kilpack has ramped up the action in her final book, making this one of the fastest-moving books in her series. This will be a great conclusion to fans of the series, but don't try to read it if you haven't read the rest of the series, as the author brings back a lot of characters from her earlier books. On top of the action, devotees of the series will be glad to see a conclusion to the long-term relationship between Sadie and Pete. This is a fun and exciting read for lovers of the series.

JH

Friday, December 19, 2014

Charlie Glass's Slippers

Charlie Glass's Slippers
By Holly McQueen
Atria Paperback, 2014. 451 pages. Fiction.

Charlie Glass has always been at everyone's mercy: taking care of her terminally ill father; taking the abuse heaped on her by her stepmother and stepsisters. But after Charlie's father dies and leaves her the majority stake in his world-famous shoe company, she decides to create not just a new shoe line to revitalize the company but a whole new persona to front it. Ten weeks in the California desert leaves her lean, sleek, and coiffed - and in the sights of one of London's most eligible bachelors.

As the title implies, this is a very modern retelling of the classic Cinderella story. But what I liked best about it was not so much Charlie's physical transformation but her interior transformation as she comes to value herself as a person and to find the people who also value her for more than her appearance. McQueen creates interesting characters and has some really witty writing going on. I would recommend this book for readers who like Sophie Kinsella, Emily Giffin, etc. The book does have quite a bit of strong language and innuendo.

JH

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lock-In

Lock-In
by John Scalzi
Tor Books, 2014. 336 pgs. Science Fiction

In a not so distant future, a global flu pandemic strikes, killing hundreds of millions of people. However, the disease is not universally fatal. Those who survive this plague fall into two groups: the Lock-Ins, people whose bodies become totally paralyzed while still retaining full mental capacities; and the Integrators, people who are able to allow a locked-in person to assume control of his or her body for short periods of time. In this brave new world, freshly minted and locked-in FBI agent Chris Shane and his seasoned former Integrator partner solve a bizarre murder.

His books are clever fun reads, and this one is no exception. He does a good take on the current trend in post-apocalyptic novels. His imagined pandemic wipes out millions, but the human race is largely intact. I like the concept of the lock-ins. It makes for a interesting sci-fi take on the future of human existence, coupled with our fascination with robots, virtual/online life, etc. And of course, there is the police procedural, making for a fun, well rounded and engaging read.

CHW

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sweetshop of Dreams

Sweetshop of Dreams: A Novel with Recipes
by Jenny Colgan
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2014. 422 pages. Fiction.

When Rosie Hopkins' mother asks her to go help her great aunt Lillian in the country to recover from hip surgery, Rosie is reluctant to leave behind her London life for even a few weeks. After all, she has a job as a nurse she finds rewarding, if sometimes difficult, a long-term boyfriend who has yet to propose. Sure, it might be a bit boring, but that's what being a grown-up is, right? But as Rosie starts to breathe new life into her aunt's dusty candy shop and to get to know the people in the village, she starts to learn that maybe a bit of an adventure was just what she needed to be happy.

I've always enjoyed Jenny Colgan's books and her writing seems to get better with each book. This story introduces a lot of lovely characters and makes you want to go live in the English countryside, riding a bicycle on dirt lanes while wearing sensible tweeds and brogues. And, even though the premise is fairly predictable, she does manage some twists and turns that the reader is not expecting. A very enjoyable read for lovers of Sophie Kinsella and Hester Browne. This book does have a fair amount of strong language and some sexual content.

JH

The Skeleton In My Closet Wears a Wedding Dress

The Skeleton in my Closet Wears a Wedding Dress
By Sally Johnson
Covenant Communications, 2014. 252 pages. Romance.

Sophia Davis is beautiful, young, intelligent. She's also divorced, her husband leaving her out of the blue after 4 months of marriage, and going back to a singles ward on BYU campus and getting involved in the dating scene is the last thing she wants to do. With her heart bruised and battered, will she be able to heal and trust herself - and men - again?

I will admit up front that this book was going to have to work hard to win me over. I found the title abysmal (but I object to most titles that could make a complete sentence) and the cover was almost offensively pink. The editing was terrible. For some unfathomable reason, the author chose to make her characters cook in terrycloth aprons. Even more unfathomable was that this fact has stuck firmly in my mind for the course of the entire book. I would like to have a discussion with the author about what terrycloth is and why it is unsuitable apron material, but great for bathrobes.

So this book had an uphill battle with me. And, yet, in spite of all of my preconceived and mid-reading biases, I actually found this book quite enchanting. The plot tackles a difficult issue - divorce - head on, focusing a lot on Sophia's depression and sense of loss, especially in a community that focuses so much on marriage. Her healing is the focus of the plot, not her return to the dating community, giving it a theme that most readers will be able to relate to in one way or another. A surprisingly engaging read - once you can get past your hangups.

JH

Prelude for a Lord

Prelude for a Lord
By Camille Elliot
Zondervan, 2014. 343 pages. Romance.

Alethea Sutherton has a secret: she is an extremely talented violinist but the strictures of the day threaten her with social ostracism if anyone were to find out. When someone starts showing an alarming amount of interest in her violin, however, she is forced to turn to talented (and brooding) violinist Lord Dommick to discover what is so unique about her violin that someone would turn to robbery and kidnapping to get it. In the course of their adventures, both will have to learn to trust in both God and each other.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Elliot has created engaging and believable characters and balanced them with enough action (both in their inner struggles and in their external circumstances) to keep the reader wanting to know more. The writing was easy to read but evocative and kept a good pace throughout.

JH

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Food: A Love Story

Food: A Love Story 
By Jim Gaffigan
Crown Archetype, 2014. 352 pgs. Nonfiction

Gaffigan openly admits he has no qualifications to write a book about food except one: he's a little fat.  He continues, "If a thin guy were to write about a love of food and eating, I’d highly recommend that you do not read his book. When a thin person announces, “Here’s a great taco place,” I kind of shut down a little. How do they know it’s so great? From smelling the tacos?"

I laughed just listening to Jim Gaffigan read the title of this book. This is a fun audiobook to listen to while you're commuting, but not so much while you're dieting! If you don't want to listen to delicious descriptions of steak, donuts, bacon, or pretzel bread, then you might have a hard time.  Good thing you can burn off a few extra calories by laughing so much.  If you can't get the audiobook, I think readers would still enjoy reading the print version, but you might miss out on Gaffigan's great timing and voicing.

BHG

From Scratch: Inside the Food Network

From Scratch: Inside the Food Network
By Allen Salkin
Putnam Adult, 2013. 434 pages. Nonfiction

In the 90's people were scrambling to come up with ideas for new cable stations and nobody thought a channel about food would work at all. A few people grouped together to take the chance and The TV Food Channel was born with hardly any funding and the driving concept of "CNN with stoves." The sinks in the kitchens drained into buckets that had to be emptied periodically through filming, and baking dishes were slid onto shelves behind the counter, pretending they were "ovens." Mario Batali would stomp his foot on the floor to fake the sound of an oven door closing. From those scrappy beginnings the Food Network evolved, a channel that is in over 99 million homes today and is worth over $350 million.

I'm not sure if I enjoyed this book so much because I am already a fan of the Food Network, but I think the author did a great job of telling this story as a complete narrative: a rags to riches business story, with a cast of memorable (and recognizable) characters. One driving force of the book was knowing that certain people would be coming up in the story (i.e. the stories of Rachael Ray, Ina Garten, Guy Fieri, etc), but if you are hoping for the book to focus solely on these “chef celebrities” you may be a bit disappointed. Not only does the book cover many of the talented chefs you see on the screen, but we also meet people who worked behind the scenes and learn how they helped to shape Food Network, as well as the innovative business ideas taking place at this time that helped to rocket Food Network into popularity. The forward has a lengthy list of people who were interviewed for this book, and it's apparent during reading that extensive research was done. Overall, this is a very interesting story about this successful channel and the people who helped it grow.

BHG

Love Without End

Love Without End
By Robin Lee Hatcher
Thomas Nelson, 2014. 306 pages. Romance.

When Kimberly's husband died unexpectedly, she discovered that their financial situation was much more precarious than she had ever anticipated. Without a penny to her name, she and her teenage daughter, Tara, move to Kings Meadow, Idaho to live with her friend until she can find work. Chet has been living alone with his two teenage boys on their ranch after his ex-wife left them after the death of their third son. Both Kimberly and Chet are hesitant to love again, but find solace in each other's company. Will they be able to trust in love again?

I have a special fondness for Robin Lee Hatcher's books because they are set by my hometown and they are very nostalgic. At the same time, she is able to give her characters very relevant and contemporary issues to deal with and makes their struggles with daily problems and regular dependance on God very natural and believable. Her characters are engaging and likeable. A good, uplifting, cozy book to read.

JH

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dorothy Must Die

Dorothy Must Die
By Danielle Paige
HarperCollins, 2014. 464 pgs. Young adult.

Dorothy has become an evil tyrant after she returns to Oz. Amy Gumm, from Kansas herself, knows the stories and movies, and thinks they end where they end. When she is taken by a tornado to a ruined, desolate Oz, Amy is shocked to learn where she is. The roles of good and evil are not what they were in the classic Baum books or the Judy Garland movie. Paige is so detailed in her monsters, her magic, and Oz itself. It is full of action and twists as Amy tries to help the people of Oz conquer Dorothy and Glinda.

I was hesitant about reading an adaptation of one of my childhood favorites. I didn't want it to be ruined forever if it didn't work. This book worked. Paige is a debut author with this book, and it is one of my favorite books I read this year. The voice is fantastic, Amy as a main character is funny and strong, the setting was perfect, and the retelling made it so fascinating. I really could not put this book down and then suggested it to so many friends and they have loved it just as much. Anyone who likes twisted fairy tales or magical mayhem would like this book.

EW

Atlantia

Atlantia
By Ally Condie
Dutton Juvenile, 320 pgs. 2014. Young adult.

Atlantia is a city deep below the ocean. The glass domes protect the citizens, but at the same time leave them cut off from the Above. The Above is supposedly a death sentence for those who go, provides for those below with food and each year, teens have to choose to stay or go Above to help those in Atlantia survive. Rio and her twin sister, Bay, decide they want to stay in Atlantia and Rio is devastated  when Bay decides last minute to go Above. This leads to Rio questioning what she has been taught all these years, and if staying in Atlantia was the best choice. Rio finds her questions answered and also some challenges as she tries to save her city, her sister, and discover the truth.

I had the chance to meet Ally Condie at the release party for this book, and finished the book within a couple days. I really enjoyed the underwater concept and the details that Condie used to describe Atlantia. The teen troubles and romance are there, but like her Matched series, the main character is strong and witty and can hold her own.  I actually really liked the mystery to the story, as well as the ending. This is an easy read for dystopian fans, and anyone who wants a different world to read about.

EW

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

On Borrowed Time

On Borrowed Time (Library Lover's Mysteries #5)
By Jenn McKinlay
Berkley Prime Crime, 2014. 294 pages. Mystery.

Library director Lindsey Norris is once again pulled into a mystery when her brother, Jack, rolls into town, trailing mystery and intrigue in his wake. But when a dead body is found in the library conference room where Jack was hiding, things begin to look bad. And things take a turn for the worse when he is abducted off the pier before Lindsey's eyes. Will Lindsey be able to find Jack again before it is too late?

I have developed a deep affection for all the characters in McKinlay's, but I might be particularly drawn to Lindsey Norris for her library savvy. What I enjoy the most about McKinlay's writing is that the plots are fast-paced, but believable, and she always keeps you turning the next page to see what is going to happen next. There is nothing gut-wrenching to digest; it is 300 pages of good, clean fun. This book did have more language than I remember from her previous books, but over all it was a very clean read.

JH

Vintage

Vintage
By Susan Gloss
William Morrow, 2014. 310 pages. Fiction.

Violet, a small town girl, divorced her alcoholic husband to move to the big city and live her dream of starting a vintage clothing store. April is seventeen, orphaned and pregnant, and hoping she'll be able to realize her dreams of a college education, now that her boyfriend has called off their wedding. Amithi married her husband, Naveen, 40 years ago in India and started a new life in the United States with him, only to find after their daughter was grown that he had been hiding a secret life from her all along. These three women all come together at Violet's vintage clothing store and strike up an unlikely friendship that will support them through all their troubles and transform them completely.

Gloss has created some very memorable characters in this book and managed to find the commonalities between three very distinct women. I found myself very invested in their futures and how they would come together, despite their obvious differences, as well as how they would grow individually. There were some instances of strong language in the book.

JH

Mennonite Meets Mister Right

Mennonite Meets Mister Right
By Rhoda Janzen
Grand Central Publishing, 2013. 263 pages. Nonfiction.

In her first memoir (Mennonite in a Little Black Dress), Janzen describes her return to her parent's Mennonite community after her long-term marriage to an east coast intellectual falls apart. In Little Black Dress, Janzen describes her gradual return to a spiritual life (although not necessarily a Mennonite life) that she had shunned for education. In her second volume, Janzen does what even she doesn't expect: she dates an exceptionally devout Christian. This book completes the journey, taking Janzen from a reason-based academic to become an intellectual and faith-based Christian.

Janzen's writing is exceptionally good, both poetic and witty. Even though she is delving into some intensely personal topics, she does it all with good humor and fervor. What I like most is that she never becomes evangelical in her writing; she is simply stating her experiences in a faith-based lifestyle and allowing the reader to choose what he or she wants to believe. Both humorous and heartfelt, this was a fascinating look into one woman's journey into faith. I consider this a mostly clean book: there may have been a few instances of language (certainly much less than in her first book - she's overcoming her swearing habit in this book) and she does talk pretty frankly but respectfully about issues such as abstinence. 

JH

Friday, December 5, 2014

Zac and Mia

Zac and Mia
By A.J. Betts
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014. 304 pgs. Young adult.

Zac is a 17 year old cancer patient recovering from a bone marrow transplant in a secluded hospital ward. When a loud patient his age moves in next door he becomes curious. Zac has experienced cancer long enough to know a lot about it but his neighbor, Mia, makes him start to rethink about odds and survival statistics. Their friendship develops over several months and through heartbreaking meet ups, the hope and frustrating emotions that go with surviving are real and raw.

Zac became one of my most favorite characters ever. His love of statistics, his want to not disappoint his family by dying, and his interest in forming a friendship with Mia who is so entirely upset over her disease, makes him such a well rounded teen. I really enjoyed the entire family, the story of Zac and Mia, and the voice of the novel overall. There is some swearing but it takes places in Australia which makes for some fun cultural references.

EW

In the Kingdom of Ice

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette
By Hampton Sides
Doubleday, 2014. 480 pgs. Nonfiction.

George Washington De Long was a young naval officer that led the expedition of the Jeanette  in 1879, to discover more of the Arctic, which explorers had become obsessed with. 32 men were funded for this particular exploration and even though well prepared and ready for the ice, they did not make it to their destination after being caught in a pack of ice two years in to the journey. The majority of this book discusses the travel and adversity of the cold, unforgiving Arctic, after the Jeanette sinks and leaves them stranded.

The audio book was a fantastic listen and played out like a fiction thriller book. From lack of food, freezing limbs, getting lost, and lost again, there were so many plot twists and nerve wracking moments I couldn't stop listening. Anyone that likes adventure stories, exploration, or even feeling very cold,  would like this book. The perseverance and hope was another thing that made me want to finish the book so I can see who survived.

EW

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In Real Life

In Real Life
By Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
First Second, 2014. 192 pgs. Graphic novel

In Real Life is a graphic novel written by Cory Doctorow (author of Little Brother) and illustrated by Jen Wang. In the book Anda, a teen girl who has just moved to a new town, begins playing a MMORPG. Her identity starts to become intermingled with her online character in a positive way as her self esteem grows and she begins making friends online. While helping a friend on a crusade to stop the gold farmers in the game, Anda begins to interact with a gold-farming player in China for whom farming generates his only real-life income. Anda begins to see how gaming can affect our real lives more than we may think possible, in both good ways and bad.

Anda's personal narrative is woven together with a subtle examination of gaming economics and her character is likable and experiences growth. This solid storytelling was complimented by the lovely illustrations of Jen Wang. All of the images were beautifully done and stunning to look at. They helped create the feel of excitement one can get while playing when everything feels like it is really happening to you and the lines between reality and the virtual world become blurred. This is a nice supplement to the story line which shows that these games not only feel real to us but can impact our real lives outside of the game. Recommended for people interested in gaming and fans of Doctorow's Little Brother.

BHG

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Silverblind

Silverblind (Ironskin #3)
By Tina Connolly
Tor, 2014. 240 pages. Science fiction.

Set 10 years after Copperhead, Silverblind follows Dorie Rochart, the half-fey ward of artistic genius Edward Rochart. Finished with university and aching to put her scientific knowledge to use, Dorie starts looking for work - only to find that being a girl seriously impairs her employability. Undaunted, Dorie does the one thing she has vowed never to do - use her fey powers - in order to disguise herself as a boy. Little does she know that she'll be working with the one boy she loved the most and betrayed the most. And in addition to her emotional turmoil, Dorie begins to learn that the research she is conducting is being used to eradicate the fey completely from the land. Will Dorie be able to save the fey and find forgiveness?

In spite of - or perhaps because of - being the most complex book of the trilogy, this may have been my favorite to read. There is a lot of stuff going on, from the Victorian social norms that are the backdrop of Connolly's semi-historical land, to the human/dwarvven/fey politics that motivate a huge part of the action, to Dorie's own fears and struggles, especially with her betrayed step-cousin, Tam. But I felt at the same time that I could most connect with the characters in this book and Dorie's blatant flaws made her very easy to relate to. I also liked that in both this book and the previous book in the series, Connolly has stepped away from a strict retelling of a classic (the first book in the series being a steampunk retelling of Jane Eyre) and telling her own story instead. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, an amazing admission from someone who doesn't read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy.

JH

Dollbaby

Dollbaby
By Laura Lane McNeal
Viking, 2014. 337 pages. Fiction.

When 12-year-old Liberty (Ibby) Bell's mother leaves her with the grandmother she never met after her father's death, Ibby is sure that life will never be the same again. And fortunately for her, her prediction comes true. Raised by the eccentric Fannie Bell, Fannie's long-time cook, Queenie, and Queenie's dressmaker daughter, Dollbaby, Ibby learns about love and loss against the backdrop of 1960s New Orleans.

McNeal's real talent in this book is creating scene - New Orleans comes alive in her writing. The story is something of a cross between The Help and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, covering both child abandonment and race relations, but manages to stand on its own and feel fresh and original. The characters were interesting and the plot had enough twists and turns to keep you reading to find out what will unfold next, especially as Ibby learns more about her grandmother's past. While the writing itself sometimes falls a little awkwardly, overall it was an interesting read. 99% clean read, with a few instances of strong language popping up toward the end.

JH

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Skink -- No Surrender

Skink -- No Surrender
by Carl Hiaasen
Knopf, 2014.  281 pgs. Young Adult

Richard has a serious problem. His wild cousin Malley has run off with a stranger she met on the Internet to avoid being sent to boarding school for incorrigible kids. He is worried for her safety, but has promised her he won't rat her out to her parents, who think she has gone to the school for "early orientation." Lucky for Richard, he encounters a one-eyed, environmentally minded, former governor of Florida (that would be Skink), hiding under the sand, breathing through a straw to catch turtle egg poachers. Together the two cobble together a story to satisfy Richard's parents and take off after the fugitive(s). By this point, Malley knows she is in trouble, held against her will by the predator who stole the name of a fallen soldier to legitimize his online activities. Older readers will know Skink from Hiassen's novels for grown-ups, and kids will know Hiaasen from his hilarious environmental action novels for kids.  Skink -- No Surrender lies halfway in between, with more ominous themes (young girl with older, predatory man), and more violence--the ending, though satisfying, is a bit bloody. So, good for older tweens on up, with much good cautionary information for inclined-to-act-foolishly youngsters. Long-listed for the National Book Award for Young People.

LW

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

The Family Romanov:  Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia
By Candace Fleming
Schwarz and Wade, 2014.  292 pgs.  Biography

Fleming takes on the last of the Tsars in this compact, readable history of the Russian rebellion and the end of the Romanov dynasty. Nicholas and Alexandra were well-matched for each other, but not what Russia required of them. Nicholas was so scorned by his father, Tsar Alexander III, that he was completely excluded from any activities which might have prepared him to rule Russia.  In addition, his temperament was without a desire for power so he mostly hid out from his ministers and his people, only engaging with them in arbitrary and brutal ways. The rulers insularity and the people's plight is beautifully laid out in Fleming's book: people starved while the Romanovs lived in luxury and the introduction of Marxism and Lenin to this combustible mix sparked the Revolution which would change the world and lead to the execution of Nicholas and Alexandra, and all their children. Suitable for young people and adults, The Family Romanov . . .  provides a clear and even sympathetic picture of Russia's last royal family as they move blithely towards their doom.

LW

Friday, November 14, 2014

Yes, Please

Yes, Please
By Amy Poehler
Dey Street Books, 325 pgs. 2014. Biography.

Amy Poehler is hilarious. At least I think so. The audio book is read by Poehler and she adds to the audio by including Carol Burnett, Patrick Stewart, Seth Meyers and more as guest narrators. She goes through her comedy history and her career in the book. She also gives sweet stories of her sons, her family, and friends. There are essays and letters included, and even some clips from shows. This book is not only funny but inspirational and full of advice and her mantras. The book does include photographs, so depending on if you would rather hear her read or see photos, both were fun.

Just a warning, she swears. A lot. And there are also some stories with sexual content. Her cute personality and funny jokes may make her yelling and swearing even funnier, but this book may not be what you expected. I laughed more than I have in a long time though and really enjoyed her outlook on life. This book gave me so many quotes to remember.

EW

The Good Girl

The Good Girl 
By Mary Kubica
Harlequin MIRA, 352 pgs. 2014.


This is yet another supposedly Gone Girl  fan must read. I will say this one was really fantastic. Mia is a stubborn daughter of a prominent Chicago judge and one night decides to leave a bar with a stranger that calls himself Colin. After getting to his apartment, things turn in to a nightmare as Colin ends up kidnapping her for ransom. However, when Colin decides not to take Mia to the men that hired him everyone seems confused. He ends up taking her to a small, dark cabin in the woods and they spend a frigid few weeks together. Mia is scared, alone, and always cold. Colin is unsure, angry, and their relationship is so odd. The story is told in alternating chapters of Mia, her mother, the head detective, and Colin. It also alternates with before and after which was actually a fascinating way  to see what led to the kidnapping and what happened after.

I can not say enough about how the voice of the narrators is what made this book. It was a unique way to approach the unreliable narrator and I can honestly say I did not know what was happening up until the very last page. I had lots of nail biting moments, lots of times I really wanted to yell, "wait, what is happening??" , and even more that I really couldn't believe what may have been happening. The suspense was built perfectly with the added timeline change. This one was cleaner compared to Gone Girl.

EW

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Blood of Olympus

The Blood of Olympus (Heroes of Olympus #5)
By Rick Riordan
Disney-Hyperion Books, 2014. 516 pages. Young adult fiction.

In the final book of the Heroes of Olympus series, seven demigods - a combination of misfit talent from both the Roman and Greek camps - must work together to prevent the rising of the earth mother, Gaea, and keep the demigods from destroying each other in a civil war egged on by Roman augur, Octavian. Is that all that happens? Not by a long shot, but I'm not going to spoil it by revealing any details for you because you'll want to see it all as the drama unfolds.

One would think that, after this many novels, Riordan would be out of new tricks but he had me on my toes for the entire book. The final solution was mind blowing. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of all 516 pages. Because this is a book that is in both YA and J fiction, parents should note that, as with the Harry Potter series, the books have become more mature in content as the characters have aged. There is no inappropriate content in the book, but some of the dating issues may be beyond the maturity of some of the youngest fans of the series.

JH

A Lady at Willowgrove Hall

A Lady at Willowgrove Hall (Whispers on the Moors #3)
By Sarah E. Ladd
Thomas Nelson, 2014. 344 pages. Romance.

Cecily Faire knows all about guilt. After a misstep leads to her being abandoned at 16 by her father at a school for girls, she is left to make her way in the world, knowing that one wrong word could be her downfall. Contracting a position as the companion to the elderly mistress of Willowgrove Hall, Cecily finds herself confronted with Nathaniel Stanton, the steward of the estate who has his own secrets to hide. Will the two of them find the courage to face their secrets...together?

In this third book of her Whispers on the Moors series, Ladd continues to create complex Regency heroines who are looking both to come to terms with their past and renew their faith in God. The plot is engaging and the relationship between Cecily and Nathaniel is natural and believable. Readers who have enjoyed the previous two books in the series will not be disappointed with Ladd's latest offering. New readers can choose to either start with this book or go back and read the previous two books in the series, as none of the books are materially connected. Overall, this is a cozy Christian romance.

JH

Since You've Been Gone

Since You've Been Gone
By Anouska Knight
Harlequin, 2013. 316 pages. Fiction.

When Holly Jefferson's husband is suddenly killed in a tragic automobile accident, she finds herself staving off depression as she runs her bakery alone. That is, until she meets Ciaran Argyll, who immediately sweeps her off her feet with his good looks and charm. But will Holly be able to let go of the ghosts of the past and embrace a different future than the one she's always dreamed of?

I will admit that my feelings about this book are supremely mixed. The writing was good, much in the style of Sophie Kinsella, and the premise was promising. However, a fairly major choice Holly makes at the end of the book made me so upset with her that it pretty well canceled out anything I liked about the book before this point. If you think the book sounds interesting to you, don't let my opinion stop you. Other readers may feel differently about the incident (I won't say what it is - no spoilers here), but it made my inner feminist come out and roar in protest. There is also substantial sexual content. This book has great potential, but it is one to go into with eyes wide open.

JH

Open Road Summer

Open Road Summer
By Emery Lord
Walker Books, 2014. 344 pages. Young adult fiction.

Reagan O'Neill has a bad reputation and has just broken up with a boyfriend who's even worse. She's looking for a fresh start - and knows it will be hard to change if she's at home all summer. So when her friend (and new country music superstar), Dee, invites Reagan to go on tour with her, she jumps on the chance to get out of town and hang out with her best friend. But when singer Matt Finch joins the tour to help bolster Dee's image, Reagan is in danger of losing her heart to the one type of boy that scares her the most: the good boy.

I found this book charming. The characters were interesting and believable, although Reagan's standoffishness did get a little over the top at times. The key to the book was the journey and Lord was successful in making you take Reagan's physical and emotional journey with her. This was for the most part a clean read - there was some language and Reagan does discuss some of the poor choices she made in the past, but not in graphic detail. Overall, it was a fun, light book with some moments of thought-provoking depth.

JH

Friday, November 7, 2014

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
By Cary Elwes, with Joe Layden
Touchstone, 2014. 259 pages. Nonfiction.

The Princess Bride was first released in 1987, but it wasn't until it came out on VHS a year later that the lines "As you wish!", "Inconceivable", and "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die" became household staples for lovers of the cult classic movie. Now, 25 years after its initial release, Cary Elwes (the Man in Black himself) recounts the many stories that went on behind the scenes of the four-month filming of this beloved movie, with assists from the rest of the cast.

Even though I haven't watched The Princess Bride in years, I can still recite most of the movie. (You know you can, too.) What has made it timeless is the way it has something for everyone: action, adventure, love, romance, revenge, remorse, drama, humor. And hearing about how it was made just made the movie itself even more endearing. Did you ever want to know how they made the R.O.U.S.? How Andre the Giant climbed the Cliffs of Insanity? How Westley and Inigo staged the Greatest Swordfight of All Times without stunt doubles? If so, this is the book for you. The writing is light and humorous and gives an entertaining account of how the movie came to be, a story which is just as heartwarming as the movie itself.

JH

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
By Beth Hoffman
Penguin Audio, 2010. 10 hours. Fiction.

It's 1963 and CeeCee Honeycutt has spent the first 12 years of her life caring for her mentally unstable mother while her father traveled for work. When her mother is killed in a tragic accident, CeeCee is sent to live with her mother's Aunt Tootie in Savannah, a lifetime away from all she's ever known in Willoughby, Ohio. CeeCee is soon surrounded by a flock of warm and caring women who hope, through their love, to help her find joy in life again.

I read this book a couple of years ago and quickly fell in love with it, which made it an easy choice for something to listen to while I worked on a project. The audiobook made me fall in love with the story all over again. The writing reminded me very much of The Help, with its focus on social mores of the Civil Rights era south, but while segregation and equal rights come up, they are not the focus of the story. The characters are well-rounded and believable and you find yourself hoping that CeeCee will learn to trust both them and herself again. The narrative weaves seamlessly between the serious and the humorous, never becoming too overbearing or stifling. And the reading was heavenly - the narrator is who completely reconverted me to this book. The voicing was beautifully done and kept the listener engaged with the story. She made it very easy to tell who was talking and enhanced the narrative through the way she read it. Available on CD or as a downloadable audiobook, as well as in book, ebook, and book club set formats.

JH

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Copperhead

Copperhead (Ironskin #2)
by Tina Connolly
Tor, 2014. 335 pages. Science fiction.

Book 2 of Connolly's steampunk series is told from the point of view of heroine Jane Eliot's sister, Helen. Jane and Helen are trying to convince the many women who have had their faces changed by Edward Rochart's fey powers to make them the most beautiful women in the land to have their original faces restored. But the work is hard going; no woman wants to settle for ordinary beauty when extraordinary beauty is already theirs. What the Hundred don't realize, however, is that with the fey magic in their faces, they are prime target for the Fey King's nefarious plots. Compounding the problem is Copperhead, a militant human organization run by the elite that is eager to create a uniform society and cleanse the city of all who are not human.

While Ironskin focused on setting up Connolly's alternative England and is much more narrative, Copperhead is focused on action, which makes the plot move much more quickly. It was a fun read and makes the reader interested to know what is going to happen next with the characters. I also really liked how Connolly changed perspective from Jane (who can be a little strident) to Helen because it does give a more rounded view of not only the ills facing society but of the characters themselves. Helen, who seems very selfish in book 1, is allowed to explain her motivations, while Jane is able to be a little weaker and more human as a result of being seen from a second perspective. Overall, a very fun and fast-paced read.

JH

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Geography of You and Me

The Geography of You and Me
by Jennifer E. Smith
Little, Brown and Company. 2014. Young adult fiction.

Lucy Patterson and Owen Buckly meet, by chance, when they are trapped in their New York apartment building's elevator during a massive power outage that wipes out power for the entire east coast. And, even though they only spend one afternoon together, that afternoon becomes the standard against which both measure all their other relationships. Separated geographically, it is their emotional connection carries each of them through a life-changing year.

This book left me torn. The writing was very good and the characters were believable. In fact, the problem wasn't so much with the book as with the reader. Each time I would sit down and read it I would think "Oh, this is so cute!" followed almost immediately by, "But is it realistic for love found in an elevator to withstand so many obstacles?" When I would think about how little time the two characters actually converse with each other in the book, the adult realist in me had a hard time giving in to the teenage romantic trying to enjoy a light read. My advice: pick up the book knowing that this is not a book that will make any sense rationally but that will be satisfying all the same.

JH

While Beauty Slept

While Beauty Slept
By Elizabeth Blackwell
Amy Einhorn Books, 2014. 424 pages. Fiction.

In this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, Elise comes to the castle as a lowly housemaid and slowly works her way up to become lady's maid for Queen Lenore, herself. From her privileged position, she is able to see the longing of the King and Queen for a child, and the machinations of the king's aunt, Millicent, to wrest the kingdom from her nephew's grasp.

This was a beautiful retelling of a very classic fairy tale. Set in medieval times, the story stayed true to the time period and focused on creating the real life story that would eventually be lost to legend, magic, and fairy tale. Blackwell's imagining of Princess Rose's "cursed sleep" was ingenious and the end of the story was riveting. The book was slow in starting; the amount of detail provided at the beginning makes the story plod in the early chapters. But you will be thankful you read them by the end of the book, because everything described early on has its purpose by the final pages. A very atmospheric read.

JH

The Awakening of Miss Prim

The Awakening of Miss Prim
by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
Atria Paperback, 2014. 258 pages. Fiction.

When Prudencia Prim leaves her secure but boring job in the city to become a personal librarian to an eccentric man in a tiny village, she finds her entire way of thinking turned upside down. Will living in a village that embraces the values of another century help her find the peace and self-assurance that had become lost through modern living?

This was a charming book that reminded me of gentle books from the 1930s by D.E. Stevenson or E.F. Benson, brimming with soft wit and courtly manners. And I think the reason for this nostalgic sweetness is from the entire premise of returning to a less frenzied time in history. The setting is modern, but the characters value the slow-moving lifestyle reminiscent of earlier times and watching Miss Prim adapt to a more introspective way of living makes you want to join her in her little European village. The plot is not fast-moving by any means, but the real joy of the book is not in the action but in the inaction, in watching the little daily dramas that make up small town life. This was a really cozy book to read and just makes you feel good in the end.

JH

Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact


Cover image for Women at church : magnifying LDS women's local impact

Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact
By Neylan McBaine
Greg Kofford Books, 2014. 189 pgs. Non-Fiction

This is a timely, thoughtful, and inspiring book written in a moment when gender issues are a source of great conversation and rapid change in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Neylan McBaine writes from the perspective of a woman deeply devoted to the LDS faith, but takes an honest look at the issues and complications surrounding gender issues within the church. The purpose of her book is to bring understanding and compassion to the issues, and discuss real applicable changes that can be made within the church at a local level regardless of any large scale changes (ie women being given the priesthood, or a revision of the Church Handbook).

As a LDS woman, I personally found this book riveting and recognize in McBaine a kindred spirit. I was so impressed with her intelligence, grace, generosity of spirit and faith and found myself more inspired to contribute towards greater understanding within my own local congregation. McBaine speaks authoritatively (she is the founder of the Mormon Women Project and works as a brand strategist for Bonneville Communications) and personally interviewed hundreds of Mormon women and men ensuring she relied on authentic voices and impecable scholarly research in writing this book. I highly recommend this book for any person in the LDS church, especially those in leadership positions. It is illuminating, inspiring, and filled with practical questions and ideas.

ZB

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto

Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto
by Steve Almond
Melville House, 2014.  177 pgs.  Nonfiction

     Probably this is not the best time of year to bring this book up, but here goes.  Steve Almond is a remarkably loyal football fan, sticking with the hapless Oakland Raiders even now when their glory days are long gone and hard to find. And yet, in this slim volume, he reluctantly takes on the odds-on favorite, multi-billion-dollar industry of football. In a nutshell, here's what he has to say Against Football: It is a violent and dangerous sport, leaving many of its practitioners, especially the young ones, facing brain damage, early dementia, and any number of other neurological diseases and problems, not to mention the lifelong legacy of other crippling injuries. As evidenced wildly in recent events, some football players act as though they were above the law, and in fact, they often are, because a winning team is more important than justice in American life.  When you say the names of such universities as Alabama, Michigan, USC, and many others, do their academics spring to mind? and is college football really that much more important than the educational institutions it is supposedly subordinate to?  Besides, how does the NFL continue to enjoy the status of a non-profit (!?) institution, paying no taxes.  Really?  I doubt too many fans will stop watching the game because of Almond's book, but some may cut back on the habit, and feel a little guiltier or more sensitive about enjoying a hard hit.

Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis - Deuteronomy

Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis - Deuteronomy
by David Bokovoy
Greg Kofford Books, 2014.  248 pgs.  Nonfiction.

     Dr. Bokovoy, associate professor of languages and literature at the University of Utah, brings the tenets of Higher Criticism (i.e., a textual consideration of scripture) to bear on the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses and Abraham, and the Book of Mormon, from an LDS and scholarly perspective in this fascinating volume. Careful examination of the Pentateuch shows that these five books were unlikely to have been written by Moses, particularly the bits where he describes his own death. The greater likelihood is that more than one scribe wrote these stories down much later, each scribe emphasizing his own differing theological views, which goes far towards explaining some of the redundancies and contradictions of the biblical text. Bokovoy's beliefs as to the sources of the Pearl of Great Price, and his applications of the Higher Criticism to the Book of Mormon were a bit harder to follow--all the dots didn't seem quite connected. But this is not a book that one can breeze through once an hope to understand everything therein. In any case, Authoring the Old Testament is a thought-provoking, mind-expanding text for LDS readers and for anyone else interested in scriptural origins.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dear Daughter

Dear Daughter
By Elizabeth Little
Viking, 2014. 384 pgs. Fiction.

This was another Gone Girl like, unreliable narrator that I had to try. Janie Jenkins is a former high society celebrity that likes to make a name for herself in not so positive ways. At the height of her fame she is arrested for the murder of her mother. When she is released ten years later on a technicality, she hides her true self and runs to her mother's hometown because Janie swears the killer can be found there. She uncovers her mother's past by talking to local townspeople and through clues left by her mom. Janie uncovers information about her past during her private investigating.

Through some twists and turns, Little has created a mystery worth reading. I was left thinking about whether the daughter actually murdered her mom or not. The characters were not likable in a good way since I couldn't trust anyone or believe their stories. The story was original enough to be exciting and Janie was a great, pushy protagonist.

EW

California

California 
By Edan Lepucki
Little, Brown, and Company, 400 pgs. 2014. Young adult.

Cal and Frida live in a small world of just them. They have left Los Angeles after the city has become a ruined, dangerous place to be. This book is post apocalyptic but there is no background to the how and why the world has been destroyed. There are hints to terrorist groups, electricity and internet becoming too expensive then unattainable, and natural disasters that kill entire cities of people. There is a lot going on, but at the same time the story is just about these two and how they survive. When Frida finds out she is pregnant, her view on their solitary life changes and she wants to know what is outside of their little homestead. They go on a journey to find a community they know little about.

I really enjoyed this book because it was different from other end of the world books. It was not about how the world loses the security that we have now, or a disease, or a war. It was about the after of all this. A lot of times in these post apocalyptic books, there is still struggle to survive. But this had a twist on having communities and groups that were doing just fine. There was a little mystery and some surprises and it actually ended well for the main characters.

EW

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Bargain From the Bazaar: A Family's Day of Reckoning in Lahore

The Bargain From the Bazaar: A Family's Day of Reckoning in Lahore
By Haroon K. Ullah
Public Affairs. 2014. 240 pgs. Nonfiction

Narrating the lives of the Reza family, author Haroon gives the reader a ring side seat to the chaotic conditions in Lahore, Pakistan.  Struggling to make a  living as a shopkeeper in the Anarkali Bazaar, Bangladesh war veteran Awais fathers three sons, works to provide for them and point them to worthwhile careers in such an unstable society, as mother Shez creates a loving home and works as a nurse. The three sons take different paths, but the one who follows his heart into radical Islam pulls the whole family into a tragedy that could destroy all of them.

This very readable book acquaints the reader with the historical background of the nation of Pakistan and current conditions there.  If many Pakistanis share the idealism that motivates the members of this family, we might dare dream of someday seeing a better and more stable Pakistan. SH