Saturday, August 30, 2014

Thunderstruck

Cover image for Thunderstruck & other storiesThunderstruck 
By Elizabeth McCracken

Thunderstruck is a powerful collection of short stories by one of America's best contemporary literary fiction writers, Elizabeth McCracken (The Giant's House). Each story has a strong undercurrent of profound pain and loss, interwoven with shimmering moments of joy, humor and beauty. The characters and circumstances in many cases boarder on absurdity, but are just rooted enough in reality to lend a sharp sense of recognition to the reader. 


There is the story of the mother so over come by the grief of her daughter's death that she boards up her room. In "The Lost & Found Department of Greater Boston," a woman goes missing, leaving a young boy behind and a mystery that fascinates the manager of a local grocery store. And the title story "Thunderstruck," parents struggling to control a free spirited daughter decide to flee to Paris for a summer, which culminates in a tragedy so deep the family is nearly torn apart by it. Each story is rich, dense and potent, and I had to take breaks between each to let them percolate before going back for more


ZB

Pointe

Pointe
By Brandy Colbert
Putnam Juvenile, 2014. 333 pgs. Young adult.

Theo is 17 and wants nothing more than to be a professional ballet dancer. She is recovering from anorexia as well as dealing with her best friend being kidnapped when they were thirteen. When he returns, she has to accept realities that she pushed aside and she has to choose what is best for her. Theo has so much to deal with and in her stubbornness and desire to do right as well succeed in dancing, the reader is captivated by her sad story.

Brandy Colbert has written a heart wrenching, raw, realistic teen book that has stayed with me ever since I finished it. She writes from a unique perspective of an African American teen that wants to be a professional ballet dancer. The descriptions of dancing, of the intense try outs, of real issues like anorexia, bad boyfriends, and even a kidnapping create an intense read. There is some language and sexual content as it focuses on Theo's past and need to come to terms with it. Worth the read to see a strong African American female character as she grows through out the book.

EW

My Life With the Walter Boys

My Life With the Walter Boys
By Ali Novack
Sourcebooks Fire, 2014. 368 pgs.

My Life With the Walter Boys was a refreshing story line for teen fiction as it wasn't something that's been done a lot before. I really enjoyed that aspect of it. It deals with some serious life issues and the progress made by the main character was realistic and I appreciated her struggle. I also loved the very unique characters of each boy in the Walter family as they all had their own strengths and weaknesses as well as hysterical personalities.


When Jackie's parents die in a car accident, she is sent to live with her mother's old best friend. Jackie has lived a perfect life and is pretty up tight. When she ends up at the Walters, she not only is out of place with her pristine clothes, her pristine attitude, and her New York ways, but she has to learn  how to live without her parents. Jackie slowly gets used to the ranch life and the life of loud boys and finds friends and even love in the mix. It was a fun teen read, and had enough of a heart warming plot to make me care about what happened.

EW

Among the Janeites



Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom
By Deborah Yaffe
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 245 pages. Nonfiction.

Jane Austen has always been popular, but the incursion of Colin Firth in a wet shirt in the infamous 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice has taken Austen fandom to a whole new level. Deborah Yaffe, a dedicated Austenite since childhood, decides to delve into the fascinating world of Austen addiction, interviewing some of the most ardent devotees in the United States.

Yaffe has written an entertaining and yet thought-provoking account of what makes Janeites tick, filling the book with interviews with Austen lovers from all walks of life: academics and amateurs, costume afficionados and passionate members of "Team Darcy". She manages to tell each story with both humor and respect and even, as she finally attends the annual Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) conference in Regency attire, comes to understand some of the appeal of a passionate community of Austen lovers. A great read for anyone who loves Austen and wants to see how others commemorate this memorable author. The book does have some strong language.

JH

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Valour and Vanity

Valour and Vanity (Shades #4)
By Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor, 2014. 408 pages. Science fiction.

Sir David and Lady Vincent are off to Venice in Kowal's latest Regency fantasy adventure, hoping to combine their glamour skills with the artistry of Venice's glassblowers to make a device for the British throne that will protect soldiers in battle. But their adventure gets off to a bad beginning when they are set upon by pirates and left destitute. Will Vincent and Jane be able to redeem their reputations, reclaim their money, and still succeed in their mission to the Crown?

From the first book in this series, the idea of a fantasy set in Regency England has fascinated me, but I'll admit that the series has been hit or miss for me. I picked up the latest book simply because I really did enjoy the third book and hoped that she could carry it into the fourth. The book started slowly, but by the end I found I was caught up in the plot at last. The details of glamour working are still over my head and I find myself skimming through a lot of the technical aspects of what is going on, but overall, it is a fun read for either someone who loves Regency literature or well thought out sci-fi/fantasy, as long as the reader goes in knowing that they may have to work a little to get the payoff in the end.

JH

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Royally Lost

Royally Lost
By Angie Stanton
HarperTeen, 2014. 308 pages. Young adult fiction.

Nikolai is the crown prince of a small European country who is chafing under the burdens of the crown and his parents' expectations. Becca is in Europe on a river boat tour that is supposed to be a bonding experience for her father, stepmother, and brother, but is more a torturous round of castles and museums with a handful of people constantly at war. But things start to look up for them both when Nikolai meets Becca on the streets of Budapest after running away from home - and things will never be the same for either of them again.

This book is designed to appeal to a very select group of readers: 15-year-old girls. Anyone who's read anything of even marginal quality will be appalled by the writing and the gaping plot holes. However, remembering the dubious quality of much of what I read as a teen, it will be pretty amazing for teenage girls. There were a few instances of heavy swearing and one potentially awkward swimming scene, but overall it was a pretty clean read.

JH

Glitter and Glue

Glitter and Glue: a memoir
By Kelly Corrigan
Ballantine Books, 2014. 224 pages. Nonfiction.

When Kelly Corrigan graduated from college, she decided it was time for her to find herself through an around-the-world adventure. But things don't work out quite as she planned: she finds herself in Australia, out of money, and working as a temporary nanny for two children who have just lost their mother to cancer. As she struggles to adapt to caring for these children, she suddenly finds herself remembering (and appreciating) all her mother did for her. "Your father's the glitter but I'm the glue," she remembers her mom telling her regularly. In an instant, Kelly has to discover how to become the glue in these children's lives.

This was a beautifully written book telling two stories: Corrigan's experiences taking care of two heartbroken children and her remembrances of her mother and appreciation for all her mother gave her, even (or especially) when they butted heads. The blending of the two tales is not always seamless, but is well-enough done to give the reader time to pause and remember their own mother. The book has some strong profanity a few times, but no other strong content.

JH

With Every Breath

With Every Breath
By Elizabeth Camden
Bethany House, 2014. 360 pages. Romance.

When Kate Livingston takes a job as a statistician for the prominent medical researcher T.M. Kimball, she doesn't realize she'll actually be working for Trevor McDonough, the man who lost her the chance to go to college twelve years previously. But she soon becomes as passionate about Trevor's quest to find a cure for tuberculosis as he is. But there are forces at the work in the city who are eager to shut Trevor's clinic down just when it is doing the most good - and they'll stop at nothing to get their way.

I enjoy Elizabeth Camden's books because they always hit on an interesting period topic, as well as having an enjoyable clean romance. The characters are interesting and multi-faceted and she creates an intriguing look into the real problems of the time period. While this may not have been my favorite of her books, it was still very enjoyable.

JH

Friday, August 22, 2014

Through To You

Through To You
By Lauren Barnholdt
Simon Pulse, 2014. 278 pages. Young adult fiction.

Harper and Penn are complete opposites: she's an uptight dancer, he's a laid-back former jock nursing an injury and a grudge. But when a serendipitous note gives them the chance to know each other better, Harper and Penn come to see how their differences can bring them strength as a partnership.

Barnholdt has created two interesting characters and gives them both equal time to share their story by alternating the perspective from which the story is told each chapter. The dialog is engaging and very witty, even in the sections where the characters are grappling with difficult situations and problems. The book is very similar to Elizabeth Eulberg's Better Off Friends, but with more language and references to drug/alcohol use and teen sex.

JH

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pretty in Ink

Pretty in Ink
By Lindsey Palmer
Kensington House, 2014. 304 pgs. Fiction

Lindsey Palmer is a former magazine editor so she takes her knowledge of the very competitive and gossip filled world of magazines and translates it to this chick lit book. There are at least six main characters featured as narrators and at times even more introduced. Each chapter is a part of the story of the magazine Her during a transition phase of a new editor. There is a character to match probably every life style or issue so many readers will relate to juggling work and life at the same time. When Mimi takes over as editor the staff changes are at times outrageous, her ideas ridiculous, and the women have to prove they can stay on board or leave when it becomes too much. The characters interact with each other mostly, so even though their husbands, partners, and other members of their family are introduced, much of the book relies on the offices of Her becoming the center for their struggle.

This was a fun, very fast read. If you are in the mood for something you can read without thinking about it too much, this works. The characters, although entertaining, are shallow but the concept is interesting enough that it held my attention. The women in the book are give such short chapters that you don't necessarily attach to any, but it does make it more like a group of quick stories to read where all the narrators work at the same magazine.

EW

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

To All the Boys I've Loved Before

To All the Boys I've Loved Before
By Jenny Han
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2014. 355 pages. Young adult fiction.

Lara Jean knows the perfect way to end a crush: she writes a letter to each boy she loved and then hides it away in a hat box in her closet, confident that no one will ever see her deepest thoughts on them. That all changes when the letters are accidentally mailed off, and the boys get to see her true feelings for them.

From the plot synopsis, the book sounds a lot lighter and romantic comedy than it actually is. Han creates deep and flawed characters who are not just exploring love but learning about the world around them. Lara Jean is not only dealing with the love letter scandal and its fallout, but trying to recreate her world now that her older sister, who has been like a mother to her, has gone off to college. The prose is simple, but clear and compelling and the brevity of the chapters really makes you want to read just one more (until the book is done and you didn't realize it). I enjoyed it becaues it managed to be both light and thoughtful at the same time. The book does have some strong profanity in it and some references to teen sex.

JH


Mirk and Midnight Hour

The Mirk and Midnight Hour
By Jane Nickerson
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014. 384 pgs. Young adult fiction.

Violet is a Southern teen during the Civil War and after her brother dies and her distant cousins move in, as well as her father remarries someone with a daughter Violet's age, her world is completely changed. She cares for her younger cousin and while exploring the woods they find a wounded Union soldier, Thomas. Nickerson recreates the ballad of Tam Lin in the story of Violet and Thomas finding a forbidden love while encountering the shadowy hoodoo of a snake worshiping family. The VanZeldts are keeping Thomas for unknown reasons and Violet tries to get Thomas well and safe without returning him to the battles.

There were slow parts of the book and some of the characterization of the slaves and VanZeldts were uncomfortable in some moments and the love story was not very believable. The setting and Violet were entertaining though and the historical setting of hoodoo and Civil War in the South were creative. This book is definitely worth the read if the time period is of interest or the retelling of legends and magical tales.

EW

The Steady Running of the Hour

The Steady Running of the Hour
By Justin Go
Simon and Schuster, 2014.  480 pgs. Fiction.

Justin Go writes a book based on two timelines and a family legacy that could lead to riches left behind. Tristan Campbell is given the task to find his connection to an English mountaineer and his estranged lover. If Campbell can find proof of his heritage there is a chance he can gain a fortune that the mountaineer, Ashley Walsingham left for Imogen Soames-Anderson. The estate of Walsingham was never able to find Imogen and the money has been unclaimed eighty years later.

Campbell goes on a quest and flashbacks to Walsingham in the war, as well as mountain climbing makes both storylines an adventure and heart warming as they meet the characters that join them in their discovery of love, history, and even possible fortune. Walsingham's story was more enjoyable than Tristan's just because it focused on his life as he fell in love, was injured in war, and more that leads to his eventual death. Tristan's story covered a shorter period of time so was not as engaging, yet it still was a great part of the book overall. The characters are all strong and compelling and the audio book was done wonderfully. I hoped for the best for all the people in this story and wanted to find a quest or adventure of my own by the end.

EW

Saturday, August 16, 2014

City of Jasmine

City of Jasmine
By Deanna Raybourn
Harlequin Mira, 2014. 354 pages. Fiction.

Evangeline Starke is an adventuress. But as she reaches the end of a press-celebrated air tour of the Seven Seas, she received a photograph that shakes her to the core: a month-old photograph of her husband estranged Gabriel Starke, who died 5 years previously. Evangeline drops everything to go to Damascus in search of Gabriel and finds herself embroiled with him in a deadly battle between unscrupulous archaeologists in search of a priceless treasure.

I have always loved Raybourn's Lady Julia mysteries, but her stand-alone books have generally left me feeling disappointed. City of Jasmine was much better than I expected, in spite of horrible cover art (I was tempted to cover it in brown paper to protect my reading reputation) and previous stand-alone failures. Raybourn is great a creating witty dialogue between her characters; her characters are also not afraid to talk frankly about difficult issues and work at bettering relationships. There is plenty of action, but it is well-balanced by character development. There is some innuendo and some strong language in the book.

JH

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Butterfly Mosque

The Butterfly Mosque
by G. Willow Wilson
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010. 304 pages. Nonfiction.

Willow Wilson was raised by academic parents to discount all things religious, but she always found herself deeply attracted to the spirituality found in Islam. Moving to Egypt to teach English after college simply brought her a peace she had never expected to find as she learns more about and eventually converts to Islam. The book talks in depth about her reasons for converting and describes life in a mainstream, even liberal, Muslim culture and how mainstream Western media has overlooked and misunderstood the beauties of life a regular Muslim experiences in their war against extremism and fundamentalism.

Wilson's conversion is an interesting story, as she attempts to find herself in a new religion and a new culture but still retain her American-ness, especially after she marries an Egyptian man. The writing sometimes left something to be desired; it would often get a little convoluted and metaphysical and the editing was, frankly, atrocious. But the story itself is fascinating and important, as I think that extremism and fundamentalism have become such headline news in the US that most Americans don't realize that they are not the majority of Muslims in the world. The book gives a good look at mainstream Islam in a very personal way.

JH

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

After the End

After the End
By Amy Plum
HarperTeen, 2014. 322 pgs. Young Adult

Juneau has been living in a remote part of Alaska where her clan has been surviving for three decades - ever since WWIII and the destruction of the world as they knew it. When Juneau's clan is kidnapped and she leaves the boundaries of their land to go after them, she realizes that the war never happened. Fighting the overwhelming betrayal she feels, she continues her search for them with the help of a boy Miles, who has his own agenda for helping her.

I think there were a lot of interesting things in the makeup of this novel, but ultimately it was a bit flat. Juneau and Miles had some distinctive personalities, but the other characters in the novel tended to be one-note stereotypes.  The plot had some decent complexity and interest, there is a lot to explore with why Juneau was lied to and a mysterious ability her clan has that allows them to connect with nature, but it was frustratingly underdeveloped and left for future books.  I would recommend this to readers who are willing to devote themselves to several books in order to find out all of the secrets this series has to offer.

BHG

Full Steam Ahead

Full Steam Ahead
By Karen Witemeyer
Bethany House Publishers, 2014. 348 pages. Romance.

Nicole Renard is in trouble - she needs to get to New Orleans and find a husband who can run her father's shipping empire before the thugs pursuing her can catch up and claim the treasure she's carrying with her. Circumstances bring her instead to Liberty, Texas, where she begins working under an assumed name for the eccentric Darius Thornton, a scientist driven to find a way to stop the destruction caused by exploding steam ship engines. But as each comes to appreciate the strengths the other has, they both find themselves torn between love and responsibility.

I just recently discovered Witemeyer's books and I've come to really appreciate two things about her writing. First, her characters are a lot of fun and very easy to relate to, which makes it much easier to suspend reality with some of the plot lines (2 weeks from total strangers to desperately in love, anyone?). And, second, although her characters are clearly religious people and fully committed to their faith, they never become sanctimonious, as sometimes happens with some Christian and LDS authors. Is the book improbable? Yes. Are there absurd situations? Of course. But do you get to see the inner workings of two good people and how they become better? Most definitely. And, to my mind, that is what makes this book an enjoyable read. It's not a work of art, certainly, and probably will not be remembered generations from now as a significant piece of literature, but I felt a little happier for having read it. To me, that is what reading is all about.

JH

Monday, August 11, 2014

Clever Girl

Clever Girl
By Tessa Hadley
Harper, 2014. 272 pgs. Fiction.

Clever Girl follows Stella as she goes from a child to middle age through trials and ordinary life experiences. Hadley is able to write ordinary life changes in a fascinating way and creates a character you want to watch grow up. Stella goes through deaths in her family, affairs, a teenage pregnancy, multiple jobs just to get by and all the emotions that go with these sometimes difficult changes. Sometimes the plot was slow, but I continued to be interested in Stella's life and her decisions she had to keep making to survive and provide for her child.

Stella powers through everything that is handed to her and she creates friendships and family from the people that show her kindness. The descriptions of Bristol and her environment were great. The book is an easy read and this domestic fiction leads to a happy ending for Stella. I really enjoyed the main character and her perseverance is to be admired.

EW

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Curtsies & Conspiracies

Curtsies & Conspiracies
By Gail Carriger
Little, Brown and Company, 2013. 310 pgs. Young Adult

This is the second book in the Finishing School Series, starting with Ettiquette & Espionage.  Sophronia is now earning top marks at Miss Geraldine's Finishing Academy where girls learn the arts of dance, dress, and etiquette... as well as death, diversion, and espionage.  The school year starts with a trip to London to witness a technological breakthrough, but Sophronia suspects something more serious than simple sightseeing is drawing them to London.  She will, of course, covertly investigate.

This continues to be a fun series with a main character that keeps me coming back.  Sophronia is clever, witty, and an incredibly talented spy, but she also has a "good" streak that really wins readers over.  I'm looking forward to more in this series.  The next book, Waistcoats & Weaponry, comes out this fall.

BHG

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Chapel Wars

The Chapel Wars
by Lindsey Leavitt
Bloomsbury, 2014. 294 pages. Young Adult.

Sixteen-year-old Holly is stunned when she inherits her grandfather's Las Vegas wedding chapel at his death. She is even more surprised when discovers that one of his last wishes was for her to deliver a letter, in person, to Dax, the grandson of her grandfather's arch-rival. Will Holly and Dax be able to put the family feud behind them as they explore their own friendship? And will Holly be able to keep the family business from dying off forever?

Leavitt is able to take a potentially humorous storyline (how many teens do you know of running a Chapel O' Love on the Vegas strip?) and add a lot of depth through the character development. Holly and Dax are both likeable and flawed characters and it is interesting to watch them grow as the plot moves forward. The ending was a bit of a surprise - an enjoyable surprise - that closed the plot perfectly.

JH

Perfect Ruin

Perfect Ruin
By Lauren DeStefano
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2013. 356 pgs. Young Adult

Morgan Stockhour lives on the floating city of Internment, a perfect city where you can be anything you dream.  The one rule is: don't approach the edge.  Morgan knows personally how serious getting too close can be every time she visits her older brother Len, a Jumper who hasn't ever been the same since his encounter with the edge.  Morgan lives an idyllic life with her best friend Pen and her betrothed, Basil, until one day when the first murder in a generation occurs on Internment.  Morgan is swept into the mystery when she meets Judas, the suspect betrothed to the victim.  What she begins to realize is that everything is not as it seems on Internment and they may be in more danger than they know. 

I am a fan of DeStefano's Wither series, so I was excited to see this new title from her.  This is also a good book but it doesn't have quite the emotional impact the other series had. DeStefano is a solid writer and this is a good story, but it went a little slow for me and ended up falling into the middle range of existing dystopias out there.

BHG

Dad is Fat

Dad is Fat
By Jim Gaffigan
Crown Archetype, 2013. 274 pgs. Nonfiction

Stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan recounts his experiences as a father of five in this humorous book.  Gaffigan, his wife, and their five children all share a two-bedroom apartment in New York City, which means that he has intense first-hand parenting experience to draw from.  Gaffigan describes their crazy life with humor and reflects on the oddities and hilarity that come with living with little people.

I listened to the audio book which is narrated by Gaffigan and allows the listener to enjoy his delivery and timing first-hand.  This is an especially easy recommendation for parents of small children because they will relate so much to all of Gaffigan's experiences and humorous take on the nature of kids. 

BHG

My Name Is Asher Lev

My Name Is Asher Lev
by Chaim Potok
Anchor Books, 2003 (c. 1972). 369 pages. Fiction.

Asher Lev's first memories are of drawing, trying to create beautiful pictures that will help his mother finally get out of bed again. Drawing is more than a pleasure: it is a need that force expression all the time. It is only when he is forced to look outside his sequestered Orthodox Jewish community under the artistic tutelage of the master artist, Jacob Kahn, that Asher finally is able to see both the beauty and the demon in his art, and find the balance between his need for expression and the depth of his religious convictions.

I first read Potok in high school (The Chosen) and never had opportunity to go back to him until I picked up Asher Lev for a book club. Somehow, his prose was much more magical than I remember it being, almost lyrical in its quality. It also provided a lot to think about, especially about the nature of art and the balance between religion, belief, and artistic expression. I read it and wanted to know how much Potok, who remained very active the the orthodox/conservative Jewish community his entire adult life, had to work to find that balance himself in his writing. The depth and the quality of the book was breathtaking, and yet it was not a difficult read. Because it is so deeply entrenched in Jewish tradition, there is a lot of Hebrew and Yiddish, but Potok will usually provide either outright or contextual explanations. I highly recommend this book for someone looking for a thought-provoking but gentle read.

JH

The Heart's Pursuit

The Heart's Pursuit
by Robin Lee Hatcher
Zondervan, 2014. 307 pages. Romance.

Silver Matlock's fiance just robbed her father and left her standing at the altar. Bounty hunter Jack Newman is bound and determined to find the man who massacred his family. But as they start searching the Wild West together, it starts to become apparent that the two cases they started investigating just might be more connected than they ever could have believed.

This was my first time reading Robin Lee Hatcher's books, even though she's been an award-winning inspirational/Christian fiction author for many years. I really enjoyed her presentation of the story, which was very direct and not overwhelmed with too much sentimentality. Her characters were believable and it was interesting to see them grow as they continued their pursuit. Overall, it was a very enjoyable, light read.

JH

My Story

My Story
By Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart
St. Martin's Press, 2013. 308 pgs. Biography

This is Elizabeth Smart's memoir of her abduction when she was fourteen years old in 2002.  She was taken from her home in the middle of the night by Brian David Mitchell and held by him and his wife Wanda Barzee.  She was sexually abused, threatened, and essentially held hostage for nine months.  It was very interesting to read Elizabeth's first-hand experience of this story, especially certain moments like being questioned by a police officer at the Salt Lake City Library, her experiences with her captors, as well as the faith and inspiration that helped her to carry on.

This was a compelling read, especially for those who haven't familiarized themselves with much of her story in the past.  I listened to the audio version of this, read by Smart herself, which lent an air of authenticity and reality to the dialogue and personal reflections. This book was very similar to Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielsen, a Mormon who went through a traumatic experience and her faith helped her to find the strength to keep going.  I would recommend these two books alongside each other.

BHG

I Never Fancied Him Anyway

I Never Fancied Him Anyway
by Claudia Carroll
Avon, 2009. 429 pages. Romance.

There is one thing you should know about Cassandra from the first: she's psychic. Not in a wispy, crystal ball kind of way, but she's always been able to see glimpses of people's futures, a skill she's translated into a successful magazine column. But when her best friend forces her into making a television appearance, Cassandra finds her popularity rising immensely. But when her vision suddenly goes out in the presence of Jack, the cute show producer, will her psychic credibility go up in smoke?

While the plot was a little thin on this book, it was still a cute story. Carroll makes very entertaining and likeable characters who are endearing, even as they are sometimes frustratingly annoying. Add to it a little mental Irish accent (the book is set in Dublin) and it all comes out to a fun, light read.

JH

Monday, August 4, 2014

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

All Joy and No Fun:  The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
by Jennifer Senior
HarperCollins, 2014. 308 pgs. Nonfiction

I am not a parent, but am filled anew with admiration for those who are, after reading Jennifer Senior's warm and insightful book about the hazards, hardships, and joys of parenting in the modern world. Senior traces the history of families from the days when children were largely viewed as an economic necessity to now when they are valueless (moneywise), but revered by every other measure.  Combining candid personal interviews with a judicious mix of research, quotations, and common sense, Senior has written a book that should have parents nodding in thankful or exhausted recognition and non-parents flabbergasted afresh by what goes in to the hardest, best job in the world.

LW

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mothership

Mothership
By Martin Leicht and Isla Neal
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2012. 308 pages. Young Adult

Elvie Nara is a student at the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers, but pregnant is not the way the young engineer expected to get into space. When the school is attacked by hunky alien invaders—one of which is the guy who knocked her up, oops—Elvie's got more problems on her hands than an alien baby on the way. With a saboteur on the loose, a ship crashing through Earth's atmosphere, and an evil, pregnant cheerleader to jeer at her every move, Elvie's got to use her sharp wits and even sharper tongue to save the day.

Mothership's the best kind of popcorn novel, filled with action, adventure, and sci-fi kitsch. While it's light on plot (and even lighter on characterization, except in Elvie's case), it's compulsively readable, hysterical good fun. I found Elvie's snark wildly entertaining, and loved that she's a strong, scrappy, likable character. (And Leicht and Neal get MAJOR points for making her an engineer! Go girl scientists!) While some of the themes might seem mature, the only content warning here is for language. A great read for anyone looking for a very humorous, action-packed sci-fi.

CA

Guy In Real Life

Guy In Real Life
By Steve Brezenoff
Balzer + Bray, 2014. 385 pages. Young Adult

When Lesh's and Svetlana's worlds collide—literally—one night in Saint Paul, Minnesota, what begins as an accident turns into friendship. Lesh and Svetlana can't be more different: Lesh's a sophomore, a metal junkie, and an MMORPG player; Svetlana is educated, a senior, artistic, and a dungeon master for her school's failing Dungeons and Dragons-esque group. Mutual wariness gives way to trust when Lesh thwarts one of Svetlana's lecherous suitors at lunchtime, and a tentative, awkward relationship begins to form between the two. It's not long before Lesh creates a lithe, silver-haired, female elven avatar on the MMO he's been playing—an avatar that looks like his new friend—whom he promptly names "Svvetlana," with double vs. And when the real Svetlana invites Lesh to join her "party" for her new tabletop campaign, their relationship kicks into high gear. But how long can Lesh keep his "guy in real life" status secret from his new MMO friends? And worse, how long can he keep his fantasy Svvetlana secret from the real one?

It's no secret that I love novels about video games and gamers, but regardless of the geeky content, Guy In Real Life definitely ranks in my top five favorite books of 2014 (so far). Both Lesh's and Svetlana's voices have been lovingly—and believably—rendered here, and both characters are equally witty and empathetic. The novel's a charming, awkward, and gentle look at first love, gender identity, and growing up. For readers who enjoyed Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl (St. Martin's Griffin, 2013), this is an obvious next step.

CA

Argo

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History
Antonio J. Mendez and Matt Baglio
Viking, 2012. 310 pages. Nonfiction.

Tehran, 1979. The shah has fled the country; the Ayatollah Khomeini has created an Islamic state; and, in November, the American Embassy is overrun by terrorists bent on forcing the US government to return the shah to Iran for justice, launching the horrific 444 day ordeal for those trapped inside that was seen around the world. But this is not their story. This is the story of 6 diplomats who, by some miracle, were able to escape the embassy undetected just as the terrorists were streaming in and were hidden by Canadian diplomats for months until they were extricated by the CIA and removed from Tehran under the noses of the Revolutionary Guard. The book is the foundation of the recent movie, Argo, which won a lot of awards in the industry.

If you pick up this book thinking it will be the action-packed movie, you are going to be disappointed. Mendez, the CIA operative who ran the entire extrication process, is very clinical in his explanation of the processes behind the rescue. If you pick up this book because you are interested in history, this is going to give you a lot of background information about a little-known incident in American history, as well as into how the CIA operated during this period. I found it absolutely fascinating.

JH