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.