Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Love on a Whim

Love on a Whim
By Aubrey Mace
Covenant Communications, 2015. 252 pgs. Romance

Rachel Pearce graduated from Stanford with her law degree and has big dreams of being a successful lawyer. Six months later she still hasn't been able to find a job and she is starting to wonder how she will afford her dingy apartment and still be able to eat. In a chance encounter with a former acquaintance she discovers an unexpected opportunity to work as a personal secretary for Henry Walker, a young millionaire. She is pretty sure that being a personal secretary was never in her plans but she is getting desperate for a job. He soon has her running all over, doing seemingly meaningless errands. Through it all, she finds herself becoming more interested in him than she should be, especially since he is her boss. Soon she must decide if she is willing to give up the dreams she thought she wanted for something better.

This was a quick, enjoyable read. It takes place in Salt Lake City but there is really very little mention of religion in the story. Rachel is a fun, flawed character and you can't help but want to see her find happiness.

AL

The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace

The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace
By H.W. Brands
Doubleday, 2012. 718 pgs. Biography

Brands biography of Ulysses Grant illuminates the many phases of this man who quite literally saved the Union through his Civil War victories.  Not a political figure until after the war, and not particularly successful in private life, Grant was loved by his troops and was resolute through the tremendous stresses and strains of the Civil War. I read "Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" just before reading this book and enjoyed learning more about Grant whose victories and antislavery policies helped bring the Civil War to an end.  I was interested to learn that Grant and other military leaders from the North and South knew each other from their West Point training and from time spent in the Mexican War.  This knowledge gave them insight into each others' battle strategies. The book is lengthy and I had to speed read some of the details about specific battles, but overall the book was very interesting. SH

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sudden Sea: the Great Hurricane of 1938

Sudden Sea: the Great Hurricane of 1938
By R.A. Scotti
Little, Brown and Company, 2001. 279 pgs. Nonfiction

In an era when weather forecasting was rudimentary, the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history struck seven states in the northeast without warning.  The author, who has written numerous novels, brings the stories of people caught in the hurricane to life through interviewing survivors and their families and friends as well as by researching in published accounts of the hurricane. Building suspense from the beginning, Scotti very effectively draws the reader in as she recounts many incredible tales of survival and destruction.SH

Down a Dark Hall

Down a Dark Hall 
By Lois Duncan
Laurel-Leaf, 1974. 181 pgs. Young Adult

When her mom gets remarried, fourteen-year-old Kit feels a little awkward at home. To get away, Kit applies for entry into a new, elite all-girls boarding school. When she arrives, things start to feel a little strange. An old, creepy house and shadowy figures make Kit uneasy. As the other students arrive, Kit thinks it will get better, but as soon as they realize it’s just the four of them and that all classes are individual, Kit knows the headmistress is up to something. Exactly what it is though, none of the girls expected.

If you’re looking for something a little creepy, this is a great option. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but it is on the older side. The teens don’t have cell phones or any type of internet, so their experiences are limited to just the school grounds and snail mail. While this is definitely on the creepy side, I never felt truly scared. As Halloween approaches, I would recommend this to anyone who wants something light enough to be a little unnerving, but nothing more.

ACS

Stars of K-Pop: Girls Edition

Stars of K-Pop: Girls Edition 
By StarNews
Watermark Publishing, 2014. 191 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction.

Through photographs, interviews, and statistics, this book highlights some of the biggest girl groups in the k-pop industry. Girls’ Generation, 2NE1, Kara, f(x), Secret, Sistar, 4minute, T-ara, Miss A, Brown Eyed Girls, Afterschool, Girl’s Day, A Pink, Rainbow, and Crayon Pop are all highlighted with individual member information and tons of pictures. This book is a visual feast for the k-pop fan.

I love k-pop but I’m not as familiar with the girl groups as I am the boy groups, so this was a great introduction to many groups I’d heard of, but didn’t know very well. That being said, this is a fast paced and quickly changing industry and even though this book was only published last year, membership has already changed for several of these groups. Also, much of the text felt copy and pasted (typos included) from past interviews. Though the author did reference when the interview was conducted, it was confusing to read about how a group was “currently” performing a song in 2009, and then later that they were “currently” performing a song in 2013. Getting past that, this is a decent introduction to the girls of k-pop.

ACS

Trouble is a Friend of Mine

Trouble is a Friend of Mine
by Stephanie Tromly
New York, Kathy Dawson Books, 2015. 334 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

After Zoe Webster’s parents divorce, her life in New York City comes to a halt. Zoe and her mother move to upstate New York where she meets Philip Digby. Digby, brilliant and annoying in a Sherlock kind of way, pulls spineless Zoe into a series of hilarious and dangerous situations as he attempts to investigate the disappearance of a teen girl.

At first I was quite annoyed that Zoe just can’t say no to Digby. I really don’t care for female characters with no spine. However, Zoe is a very compassionate character who feels a need to help Digby after she learns that his own sister was kidnapped eight years before. Also, part of this story is how Zoe learns to stand up for herself. Not just with Digby, but with other kids at school and most importantly, her overbearing father. Through their adventures, Zoe and Digby develop into an absurd but fun dynamic duo. A duo I hope to see in action again.

AJ

Monday, September 28, 2015

That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us

That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us
by Erin Moore
New York: Gotham Books, 2015. 223 pgs. Nonfiction

American by birth, author Erin Moore, now living in London with her Anglo-American husband uses her unique position to explore the cultural differences of English and Americans through their shared language. In each chapter, Moore introduces a word and explains its meaning on both sides of the pond, but then delves deeper into what these differences say about who we are as a people. I learned just as much about my own American culture as I did about the British culture.

The book discusses many words I was already familiar with such as “gobsmacked”, but shed light on their origins or evolution over time. It also introduced me to many new words such as “Moreish” (according to Cambridge Dictionaries Online it means, (of food) having a very pleasant taste and making you want to eat more).

If you are an Anglophile like myself, this book is a must read. In addition, those interested in the origin of words or ethnography will also find this a fascinating read. I quite enjoyed reading it (in the American sense of the word).

AJ

Friday, September 25, 2015

Why Not Me?

Why Not Me?
Mindy Kaling
New York: Crown Archetype, 2015.  228 pgs.  Nonfiction/Humor.

Mindy Kaling has captured a lot of attention in the past few years thanks to her success as a writer and actress on The Office, as the creator and star of The Mindy Project, as the voice of Disgust in Inside Out, and as the bestselling author of Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? (And Other Concerns).  Since her first book covered much of Kaling’s personal history, Why Not Me? focuses on topical issues and more recent events in her life like the development of The Mindy Project.

Why Not Me? is unlikely to disappoint Kaling fans.   In fact, I may have actually enjoyed her new book more than Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? and felt like it had more laugh out loud lines.  I especially love that Kaling seems to be in on the joke and embraces the things about herself that non-fans might not like, including her obsession with romantic comedies (Why Not Me? even has an entire chapter depicting Kaling’s fantasy romantic life as a high school Latin teacher) .  Kaling also discusses topics like body image, her dating life, and her mother’s death with impressive honesty and wit, making this book a surprisingly personal read.

SR

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice
by Ann Leckie
New York: Orbit, 2013. 409 pp. Science Fiction

While I don't read a great deal of science fiction, I feel I can confidently say this is one of the most marvelous examples of this genre available. The world the author constructs is fascinating, full of wonderful details while still tantalizing the reader by addressing certain aspects obliquely. I loved how the author's use of language nicely conveyed the ambiguity of gender identification and only hinting here and there the ethnic and racial aspects of the characters. The central character, Breq, is just brilliant. She had been an artificial intelligence that ran the starship (indeed, was the starship) Justice of Toren as well as controlling an army of cybernetic troops called ancillaries. Imagine HAL combined with a regiment of borg.  As a result of a mystery surrounding a massacre on a recently conquered world, she is reduced to the existence of a single ancillary body. Twenty years later, she stumbles across the unconscious body of an officer that served on Justice of Toren a thousand years previously. Together they seek out the reasons for Breq's fall and for vengeance.

This is the first of a trilogy, continued in Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy.

CHW

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Up Till Now: The Autobiography

Up Till Now: The Autobiography
William Shatner
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2008. 358 pgs. Biography

In this entertaining and engaging memoir Shatner recalls many events from his professional and personal life from his beginnings in Shakespearean theater to spokesman for Priceline. Shatner’s most famous roles have been as Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek, “old school” cop T.J. Hooker, and as Attorney Denny Craig on Boston Legal. During his notable and exuberant career, Shatner has never shrunk from risks or challenges and has undertaken a number stunts both on screen and off.

This memoir is broader than Shatner’s other two memoirs that focus on Star Trek, and it does deal with tender subjects such as the loss of his wife by accidental drowning. Despite this, this memoir gives a narrow and shallow view of William Shatner. This is a light read, frequently funny (a few groaners), and will likely be of interest to Trekkies and lovers of celebrity biographies.

SML

The Nightingale

The Nightingale
By Kristin Hannah
St. Martin's Press, 2015. 440 pgs. Historical Fiction

Viann and Isabelle are sisters living in France. They love each other but have always struggled to have a close relationship. Viann lives with her young daughter and husband in the French countryside and enjoys a quiet life. Isabelle is the younger, more outspoken sister that has already been kicked out of several boarding schools. Their lives change drastically when WWII breaks out and Viann's husband is sent off to war. Germany soon occupies France and each sister must decide what they are willing to risk to survive the occupation.

This is a beautiful story of love and loss. Kristin Hannah is an expert at examining relationships, especially those in families. The characters became so real to me and my heart broke over and over as they experienced each hardship. My heart also cheered at each victory, however small. I liked that there was closure at the end of the book that made it a very satisfying read. I listened to the audio version of this book and I loved the readers accent and her pronunciation of all the French names and cities. This is a book that I have thought about long after I finished.

AL

Modern Romance


Cover image for Modern romance
Modern Romance
By Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
Penguin, 2015, 277 pages, Nonfiction/Humor

How has technology changed the way we find love? That’s the question comedian Aziz Ansari (Parks & Rec) asked sociologist Eric Klinenberg. Together, the two interviewed experts and laypeople alike, trying to figure out what the modern dating scene really looks like.

Ansari had an impressive goal here. His could have been just another funny book written by an up-and-coming funny person. Instead, he tackles scientific research and presents it in a way that’s very approachable, and yes, funny. He starts by looking at how our idea of romance has changed over the last hundred years, then zeroes in on the positive and negative sides of modern dating practices. While this book is not for everyone (language, Mr. Ansari!), this book did make me think about how I present myself online; whether that’s on social media or even through a simple text message.

Listening to the audio book version really helped Ansari’s sense of humor shine through. He pauses where he expects a laugh, and reads all of the quotes in extremely exaggerated voices. He also occasionally wanders slightly off-script to berate the listener for listening to the book instead of reading it.

(For those who are curious about the book but are wary about the content, I mostly got interested after listening to an online book talk with both Ansari and Klinenberg.  The one I found covered the first half of the book pretty well.)

MB

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Troubled Times: Provo, Utah 1855-1856

Troubled Times: Provo, Utah 1855-1856
by D. Robert Carter
Provo City, 2015. 252 pgs. Nonfiction

This well-research and nicely written history of early Provo is the third volume of the author’s detailed history of Provo. The first was Founding Fort Utah, followed by From Fort to Village. Troubled Times chronicles the difficulties the early settlers encountered during the mid-1850s, including troubles with the Indians, grasshoppers destroying crops, and the ill-effects of the drought. Hunger and starvation threatened the lives of many pioneers along the Wasatch Front after crops failed. Herds of cattle died. One upbeat episode in all of this is the discovery of a miraculous, short-lived source of sugar that led to the creation of confections for several weeks in the summer of 1855. (What was this mysterious substance?).

It seems that Provo residents were not well thought of by their Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City. They were constantly admonished to build their city more: construct the first tabernacle (took them 17 years), build a wall around the city (to protect from Indians), improve the roads, build fences to keep the cattle under control, and construct outhouses (it was a problem). Carter explains how the Mormon reformation came to Provo and tells of the role that Provo played in the rescue of the Willie & Martin handcart companies, stranded and starving out in the Wyoming wilderness.

This history is meticulously researched and well documented in numerous footnotes to each chapter. Illustrated with 90 photos and drawings and featuring a useful index, this volume will stand with Carter’s others as a fine resource for Provo history for many years to come.

SML

The Art of Memoir

The Art of Memoir
by Mary Karr
HarperCollins, 2015. 229 pgs. Nonfiction

Award-winning memoirist Mary Karr knows whereof she speaks in this book about how to successfully tell one's own story. But the examples she uses and the advice she gives go well beyond getting the facts down on the page in chronological order. Quoting generously from masters of the genre, her close analysis of passages from Michael Herr's "Dispatches," Maxine Hong Kingston's "The Woman Warrior," and many others explain to her readers how to show instead of tell, and how to get the courage to tell as best anyone may, the truth of a life. "The Art of Memoir" is a fascinating story about stories. Karr's is a funny, precise, occasionally profane voice, and her piercing intelligence lays bare the things we need to tell about ourselves and the ways we need to do it.

LW

Last Words

Last Words
by Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company, 2015. 420 pgs. Mystery

Mark Novak is devastated when his wife is murdered, and even more so because his last words to her had been "don't embarrass me . . . ." His work at a death row defense firm where he and his wife had been working a case together has tanked, particularly when he seeks information about her murdered by extralegal means. A trip to Indiana to check out a cold case of a girl murdered in a mine is his last chance. The weird thing is, the guy suspected of the killing is the one asking for an investigation. Hostile townspeople, things altogether not being what they at first seem, and a seriously weird suspect, Ridley Barnes, lead Novak and the reader on wild goose chases, profoundly dangerous encounters, and into the black of the cave itself. Koryta is master of both horror and detective genres and his latest will keep you guessing until the end.

LW

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Boston Girl

The Boston Girl
By Anita Diamant
Scribner, 2015. 322 pgs. Historical Fiction

In "The Boston Girl," Addie Baum is the completely engaging narrator of her life which begins in 1900 in the North End of Boston. Her Jewish immigrant parents struggle to find happiness and stability in their bewildering new country. But Addie finds escape and friendship in a library club for girls which provides valuable opportunities to see and embrace the wider world.

Addie tells her story with optimism and humor as she navigates an era of exciting change and heartbreaking challenges. She moves from first job and first love, to finding her place in the world and establishing a home and family of her own.

Anita Diamant is a wonderful storyteller with an impressive ability to describe dynamic people and places. "The Boston Girl" is a thoroughly enjoyable novel. The audio version, narrated by Linda Lavin, is especially entertaining. Lavin’s lovely Boston accent lends authenticity and charm to an already delectable book.

CZ

Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun: A Novel
By Paula McLain
Ballantine Books, 2015.  366 pgs. Historical Fiction

Beryl Markham was born in England but raised by her father in colonial Kenya. Growing up alongside native children, Beryl learned to run, jump, hunt and above all survive in an undeniably beautiful but easily deadly environment. Her unconventional childhood produced a fascinating woman who repeatedly overcame daunting challenges and built for herself a life full of adventure and love.

Beryl’s story crosses into the better known story of Karen Blixen as told in her memoir “Out of Africa” when she falls in love with Denys Finch Hatton. Their complicated love affair introduces Beryl to the world of flight which propelled her toward becoming a pioneering woman pilot.

“Circling the Sun” further secures Paula McLain as a prominent historical fiction author. Her choice of subjects, thorough research and graceful writing results in a beautiful novel readers are sure to devour.

CZ

The Marriage of Opposites

The Marriage of Opposites
Alice Hoffman
Simon & Schuster, 2015. 292 pgs. Fiction

Rachel Pomié, a young woman raised on St. Thomas at the turn of the nineteenth century, longs to leave her restrictive social circle and overbearing mother for Paris.  Having married young in order to save the family business, Rachel is widowed before the age of thirty.  When her late husband’s nephew comes to the island to settle the family’s accounts, the two embark on an affair that divides the family and St. Thomas’s tight-knit Jewish community.  The second half of the novel focuses on their son Camille and his journey toward becoming one of the world’s best-known Impressionist painters.

Hoffman’s lyrical writing is often captivating, though she at times falls into long descriptions that take away from the story.  I also found the transition between Rachel’s and Camille’s stories rather abrupt, and I felt that Rachel’s interactions with her son were out of character.  In spite of these shortcomings, however, The Marriage of Opposites is a beautiful telling of Camille Pissarro’s family and personal history.  Hoffman conveys a great deal of information about the complex social structure of St. Thomas, a haven for Jewish refugees and freed slaves, and she inhabits the island with vivid, complex characters.  I was repeatedly struck by the beauty of her writing and the power of her imagery.  This story will stay with me.

SR

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Scribe

The Scribe
by Matthew Guinn
W.W. Norton, 2015.  292 pgs.  Mystery

Post Civil War Atlanta is trying to rise above the ashes and establish itself as a world-class trade hub by hosting an International Cotton Exhibition where all are welcome from home and abroad (even General Sherman is invited). But the success of the exhibition is threatened by a serial killer whose barbarously murdered victims (faint of heart and stomach should exit here) are successful black men and women who are making a name for themselves. Each victim so far has had a letter carved into his or her forehead:  M - A - L . . . so far. Vernon Thompson, Atlanta chief of police, is worried someone in his squad might be involved so he asks a former detective, Thomas Canby to come back into the city to help out. Canby and his partner, Cyrus Underwood, the first black policeman on Atlanta's force, race through an authentic post-bellum Atlanta to try to stop the killings but seem always one step behind an intelligent, taunting murderer. A fine period piece which is also a a suspenseful, even frightening thriller, The Scribe is hopefully not the last of Thomas Canby and Cyrus Underwood's adventures.

LW

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan

The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan
by Rafia Zakaria
Beacon Press, 2014.  251 pgs. Non-fiction.

Zakaria works a melancholy magic in this family history which she weaves into the history of her country.  Zachary's family left a comfortable living and good home in India not too long after partition because they were nervous about being Muslim in an almost entirely Hindu society. Karachi gave them opportunities they had not previously enjoyed, but a dark sorrow came over the family when Rafia's Aunt Amina's husband took a second wife without, as required by Islamic law, receiving her permission first. Moved to an upstairs apartment, lived in my her husband every other week, Aunt Amina becomes embittered and possessive, sorrowful in a way that cannot be cured. Such, as well, was the fate of Pakistan, as the bright future predicted there devolved into infighting, Islamist rule, and terrorism. Zakaria is a fine writer, whose nuanced and descriptive narrative introduces the reader to a land a people we maybe thought we knew, but didn't have a clue.

LW

Badlands

Badlands
by C. J. Box
Minotaur, 2014. 278 pgs. Mystery

Cassie Dewell is thirty-six years old and a bit on the fleshy side (as my grandmother used to say), but she is a crackerjack of a detective and is looking forward to exercising the full scope of her gifts in a new job as deputy sheriff in Grimstad, North Dakota, an oil boomtown much in need of additional policing. Just before she arrives, young Kyle Westergaard, riding his paper route in the early morning hours, sees a man killed in a rollover accident caused by another car and a policeman arriving at the scene who does not tell the whole story. In the meantime, Kyle discovers a duffel bag full of money and white powder in baggies, which he carries away on his bike. Cassie's job is to smoke out the members of a drug cartel newly arrived in town who are butchering people hither and yon trying to find their product. Tense, brutal, and frigid (Box describes a North Dakota winter very well), Badlands is a quick, well-written, suspenseful book by the author of the Joe Pickett series.

LW

Friday, September 11, 2015

Heir to the Jedi

Heir to the Jedi
By Kevin Hearne
Del Ray, 2015.  288 pgs. Science Fiction

Luke Skywalker is the new hero of the Rebel Alliance and he is just beginning to carve out his role in the rebellion by running various missions under the direction of Princess Leia and Admiral Ackbar.  His latest mission is to attempt a daring rescue of a brilliant cryptographer currently being held and used by the Empire. R2-D2, his versatile and valuable android sidekick, along with a couple new friends, will aid Luke in his adventure.

Told from Luke's perspective and taking place between events depicted in "A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back", "Heir to the Jedi" is a fun, fast-paced journey into the Star Wars world.  I've only read a few Star Wars books over the years, so I don't have a lot to compare this to, but this was my favorite!  I really enjoyed Luke's voice and learning more about the Force as Luke investigates it himself.  Now I know why only Jedi Knights use light-sabers and why they have to construct them themselves! This is a light and entertaining read, though I actually listened to it and, after getting used to it, loved the sound effects present throughout the recording.

CZ

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Q: A Novel

Q: A Novel 
By Evan J. Mandery
William Morrow Paperbacks, 2011. 368 pgs. Fiction

In this witty, warm, and self-aware novel, our protagonist, a college junior professor and aspiring author, is about to marry the love of his life, a woman named Q. Unfortunately, mere weeks before the wedding, his future self travels back in time to tell him one thing: “You must not marry Q.”

This is a unique book, with a sense of humor unlike any book I’ve ever read before. I’ve always wondered what life would be like if I could go back in time and tell my younger self what to do/not to do, and this book tells a wonderful story about that exact dilemma. At what point, despite all the things that can go wrong in your life, do you just have to start moving forward? While mostly funny, Q: A Novel is also poignant, and has an awesome surprise ending. A must read for readers looking for something out of the ordinary.

LC

A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness - and a Trove of Letters - Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression

A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness - and a Trove of Letters - Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression
By Ted Gup
Penguin Press, 2010.  365 pgs. Nonfiction

Finding an old suitcase full of letters addressed to B. Virdot in his grandfather Sam Stone's attic, Ted Gup embarks on a quest to discover the fates of those who sent them. In the depths of the Great Depression, using the pseudonym B. Virdot, Sam Stone ran a newspaper ad offering Christmas cash to needy families in Canton, Ohio. The author searches newspapers, birth and death records, prison records, all in an attempt to learn what happened to the people his grandfather helped.  Discovering their fates, he also learned about the intense suffering people experienced during the Depression and the secrets of his grandfather's past. SH

The Wright Brothers

Cover image for The Wright brothers
The Wright Brothers
By David McCullough
Simon & Schuster, 2015. 320 pages. Nonfiction

David McCullough is such a household name among history enthusiasts, he doesn’t need me to review this book. However, as much as I enjoy history, this is the first of his titles I’ve read. I actually didn’t even know about the book until I listened to a great interview with McCullough on this podcast, which is worth a listen.

McCullough’s popularity is definitely deserved. Painstakingly and thoroughly researched, this book could be chock full of facts but have no heart. Instead, drawing from the countless letters the Wright brothers wrote, McCullough makes the entire Wright family come to life. The brothers are praised for a solid work ethic and for their determination not to give up, even when the odds were stacked against them. If the brothers are praised a little overmuch, you can’t fault McCullough for being a little star-struck. The brothers solved the problem of flight even when other, better-funded teams were getting nowhere.

The audio book is read by the author and he reads in a nice, clear voice.

MB

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Heart Revealed

A Heart Revealed
By Josi S. Kilpack
Shadow Mountain, 2015. 324 pgs. Romance

Amber Sterlington is the most popular girl of the London season. She could have her pick of any of the eligible young men but is having too much fun to settle down to a decision. She is selfish and mean spirited to the other women around her, especially her sister, but she justifies her actions as necessary in the effort to secure a good match. Soon, through no fault of her own, she finds herself exiled to a small country home with only one servant and little hope of returning to the the lifestyle she has always known. She discovers many important things about herself and her focus starts to shift to what is truly important. There may even be room for love again if she can overcome her own insecurities.

Josi Kilpack is best know for her culinary mysteries and this book is a big departure for her but I feel she did a very good job with this Regency romance. This novel is part of Shadow Mountains line of  Proper Romances which means they are clean, feel good titles. Other books to fall into this category are Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson and Longing for Home by Sarah Eden.

AL

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Harder They Come

The Harder They Come 
By T.C. Boyle
Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins publishers, 2015. 384 pgs. Fiction

Boyle’s latest novel begins quietly enough with an aging couple -- Sten and Carolee Stensen -- on a cruise to Central America. While on an inland expedition, things change suddenly when Sten and his cruise-mates are robbed by three armed men. In a sudden snap of violence, Sten kills one gunman and sends the other thieves running. When Sten returns to his home in California he is hailed as a hero by everyone except his son, Adam. Adam is a psychologically unstable 25 year old who spends his time growing his own Opium Poppies in the California forests with his new girlfriend -- a paranoid anti-government activist named Sara. The narration focuses on these three characters in turn as Sten fights in futile to contain his son and the chaos that is never far behind him.

This was the first novel by T.C. Boyle that I've read, and when I finally set it down I was intrigued and unsettled. Boyle creates characters who are both disturbing and mesmerizing as they dig at the idea of an inherent violent tendency in the American psyche. However, because the characters were unsympathetic, I found the story less captivating than I expected it to be. Readers should be ready for strong language when choosing this novel.

CNC

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Silver Linings: A Rose Harbor Novel

Silver Linings: A Rose Harbor Novel
By Debbie Macomber
Ballantine Books, 2015. 345 pgs. Romance

Debbie Macomber's latest novel will once again whisk you away to the coziest bed and breakfast in the Cedar Cove community – The Inn at Rose Harbor. Silver Linings is the fourth book in the Rose Harbor series, but it could also be your first Macomber novel thanks to a summary in chapter one. Jo Marie is the the owner of the inn and the protagonist of the series, and in this novel she navigates her developing relationship with local handyman Mark Taylor. Coco Crenshaw and Katie Gilroy are best friends who stay at the inn while attending a high school reunion, and the novel is also narrated from their points of view. Both Coco and Katie come to Cedar Cove intent on finding closure in past relationships -- Coco wants to confront the first boy who broke her heart, and Katie wants to reconnect with the soulmate who slipped away.

In an introductory note, Macomber explains that she recently read a few fantastic young adult novels that inspired her to tell Coco and Katie’s stories of young love. It's true that Silver Linings includes more flashbacks than previous novels, but Macomber maintains her signature tone and plot development. I enjoyed Macomber’s experimentation with a younger love story, and as usual the constant change in narration kept me frantically reading to find out what was going to happen next. Silver Linings was the perfect end to my summer reading.

CNC

Dietland

Dietland
By Sarai Walker
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 320 pgs. Fiction

Plum Kettle, overweight, lives a quiet life in New York City while waiting for her gastric bypass surgery. She works from a café answering fan emails for a popular teen magazine, rarely leaves the house otherwise, and buys fabulous clothes that she will wear after she loses weight. But one day, her unfulfilling life is interrupted when a stranger introduces her to a community of women who reject (sometimes violently) the idea that a woman’s only value is her attractiveness.

This book is eye-opening in many ways. What starts as one woman’s journey to self-acceptance weaves in a searing critique of our culture’s treatment of people as objects and eventually erupts into an anti-terrorist revenge fantasy. While this book is definitely a comedy, it is not for the faint of heart (it explicitly attacks the extremely damaging pornographic film industry). This is a must read for people looking to see themselves and the world in an entirely new way.

LC

The End of All Things

The End of All Things
by John Scalzi
New York, NY: Tom Doherty & Assoc., LLC. 380 pp. Science Fiction

This is the latest in Scalzi's Old Man's War series, picking up right where he left off from the previous volume, The Human Division. This book is a set of four interlocking novellas, each written from a different person's perspective, as he/she/it struggles in a universe rife with all the drama and conflict a good space opera should have. As it does built on previous novels, those do need to be read in order to properly grasp the ongoing plot developments in this, the Old Man universe. John Scalzi continues to deliver fun and clever books, built upon a wonderfully constructed space opera milieu. As I have read each volume, I have been impressed by the fact that many different characters are developed instead of having every book told from the perspective of a single person, with all others being part of the background or restricted to minor roles. Given that the author has apparently agreed to produce a baker's dozen additional books over the next decade, I daresay we can look forward to more additions to this remarkable series.

CHW

Bride of the Water God, Vol. 1

Bride of the Water God, Vol. 1 
By Mi-Kyung Yun
Dark Horse Manhwa, 2007. 184. Graphic Novel

Soah’s village is suffering from a long drought. To appease Habaek, the water God, they must sacrifice the most beautiful girl to be his bride. When Soah is chosen, she is sent out on a boat, dressed as a bride, and knows she will likely die. However, there is something different about Soah and Habaek actually rescues her and takes her back to his kingdom. As she adapts to living with the Gods, she discovers that there are a lot of mysterious things going on, including some that surround her new husband, Habaek.

First of all, the artwork in this manhwa is absolutely beautiful. I loved the story and the various intrigues, finding myself just as curious as Soah. However, the placement of some of the text boxes occasionally makes it hard to understand who is saying/thinking what, but it didn’t bother me to the point that I wanted to stop reading. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to future volumes.

ACS

Attack on Titan, Vol. 1

Attack on Titan Vol. 1 
By Hajime Isayama
Kodansha Comics, 2012. Unpaged. Graphic Novel.

Little is known about the titans who suddenly appeared out of nowhere and started feasting on humans. To survive, humanity has been living behind 50 meter high walls, and for the past century the walls have done their job. However, when an enormous titan appears, humanity is once again sent into chaos and fear as it breaks through humanity’s first wall of defense, allowing the smaller titans in. Then, just as quickly and mysteriously as it appeared, the enormous titan disappears and mankind must abandon the outer ring or be eaten.

When I picked this graphic novel up I knew nothing about the series aside from the fact that it was very popular. I can see why. I really enjoyed it, and can easily see it appealing to those who enjoy dystopias (which I do). This is a story about survival and overcoming immense odds. My main caution is that there is a level of violence in this graphic novel. People do get eaten and it’s not pretty.

ACS

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

House of Stone: a Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East

House of Stone: a Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East
By Anthony Shadid
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.  311 pgs. Nonfiction

In this book, which was a finalist in nonfiction for the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize winning author Shadid writes about his ancestral family home in Lebanon.  Interweaving the history of the village of Marayoun with the restoration of the century old stone "bayt" alongside his own personal journey of emotional recovery, Shadid creates an elegant and profound memoir. I highly recommend this wonderful book.  SH

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Working Stiff

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner
By Judy Melinek and T. J. Mitchell
Scribner, 2014. 258 pgs. Nonfiction

Judy Melinek recounts the two years she spent training as a medical examiner in New York City in 2001 and 2002. She describes what doing an autopsy is like, then goes through a list of the main causes of death, illustrating those with interesting examples that came her way. At the end she describes her experience on September 11, 2001, and in the following weeks and months as her Medical Examiner's Office processed thousands of remains from the World Trade Center disaster.

This was a fascinating book and I found myself talking about it to several people and thinking about it long after I had put it down. Through everything, Judy's narrative is interesting and even funny at times, and her work is described with humanity and compassion.

BHG

Sword of the Bright Lady

Sword of the Bright Lady
By M. C. Planck
Pyr, 2014. 429 pgs. Fantasy

This novel opens with Christopher, a man from our world and our time, waking up in another world entirely. It's winter, he has no money and was found wandering the night before through the wilderness, half frozen. The world he has entered is full of magic and medieval-age technology, and a war has been ravaging their society for years. Christopher is inadvertently swept into the war's draft for the following season. Not wanting to become part of the terrible mortality rate, he decides to draw on his skills as a mechanical engineer to "invent" - at least in this world - technology that could mean the difference between life and death.

Expect duels, assassins, monsters, sword fighting, and magic as well as technology, engineering, and scientific knowledge.  Christopher has entered a complex world with class divisions, political tensions, tension between church and state and upper and lower classes.  Although the writing style is very simple, the story is very fun and should appeal to fans of fantasy, gaming, time travel, and anyone who is intrigued by the thought of sending MacGyver back to medieval times and seeing what he comes up with.

BHG

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
By Simon Sinek
Portfolio, 2014. 256 pages. Nonfiction

In his latest work, author Simon Sinek, seeks to reveal the hidden dynamics of why some leaders inspire trust and commitment in those around them and other leaders do not. He uses examples from many businesses and organizations including the Marine Corps whose people trust each other enough to risk their own lives. Sinek reveals the simple steps leaders and organizations can take to inspire this kind of loyalty and thus create a stable and long lasting environment where people actually enjoy going to work.

This was a thoroughly captivating book not just about leadership in the work environment, but also an examination at how key events from the past century have changed our environments. I highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys reading about ethnography or really anyone who has a job.

AJ