Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sisters Abroad: Interviews from the Mormon Women Project

Neylan McBaine, editor
Patheos Press, 2013. 137 pgs. Nonfiction

This slim volume is a collection of interviews with 13 Mormon women from 13 different countries. Each is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were interviewed as part of the Mormon Women Project which now includes about 250 interviews with women from 22 countries. The selection published here in Sisters Abroad includes the following interviews: Galina Goncharova, Russia; Sahar Qumsiyeh, Palestine; Swarupa Katuka, India; Agnes Twagiramariya, Rwanda; Dagmar Patricia Kollmeier, Germany; Adeline & Veronique Defranchi, France; Terese Kanyanga, South Korea; Ildiko Kovacs, Hungary; Gina Traynor, Ireland; Faustina Otoo, Ghana; Rostya Gordon-Smith, Czech republic; Ines Piñate, Venezuela; and Siu Man, Hong Kong.


The stories here are diverse, fascinating, and inspiring and each provides a glimpse into these women’s struggles, sacrifices, dreams, and hopes.

SML

Friday, October 30, 2015

Napoleon: A Life

Napoleon: A Life
By Andrew Roberts
Viking, 2014. 926 pgs. Biography

Napoleon wrote a lot of letters.  It is estimated he produced around 33,000 missives during his life.  This new biography is the first to take advantage of the recent release of some of those letters.  Roberts uses these new insights into Napoleon's life and thoughts to produce this single volume account of his life from the cradle to the grave. 

This is not a biography for the faint of heart.  It is long and it is full of military and political details.  But it is still fairly readable and, at least as far as I could tell, a balanced depiction of a very complicated man.  Roberts presents many aspects of Napoleon's life not just focusing on his imperial aspirations but also on his personal and family life.  I'm not sure I would have ever been able to sit and read this tome, but I did enjoy listening to an audio version with the speed set to 1.5.

CZ

K-Pop Now!: The Korean Music Revolution

K-Pop Now!: The Korean Music Revolution
By Mark James Russell
Tuttle Publishing, 2014. 128 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction.

There are a wide variety of factors that have contributed to the development and growing popularity of K-pop, or Korean pop music. Russell provides a broad overview that includes historical and cultural influences, as well as describing what makes the industry unique and different from Western music. From there, Russell provides overviews of some of the current hottest artists in boy groups, girl groups, and solo acts, then briefly ventures onto the future of k-pop and what to expect when traveling to South Korea.

Russell’s enthusiasm for this topic is clear, and this book touched on all the parts I would expect. It actually felt like a cross between K-Pop: Korea's Musical Explosion, and the Stars of K-pop series, but better, much better. While most of the book is very upbeat and light hearted, I was especially happy to see the darker side of the industry mentioned, the hard work, long contracts, and sometimes dishonest producers and managers. For those interested in K-pop, this book hits all the right notes and I would highly recommend it.

ACS

Washed Away

Washed Away
By Geoff Williams
Pegasus Books. 2013. 356 pgs. Nonfiction

In March, 1913, the worst flood in the history of the United States took place.  The flooding occurred in fourteen states leaving millions homeless, hundreds dead and injured, and thousands of homes and buildings destroyed. The flooding was preceded by tornadoes that dropped bodies from the sky and then freezing rain.  This flood, which few of us have ever even heard of, was the most widespread disaster in U.S. history.  Published for the 100th anniversary of the great flood, this book vividly tells individual stories of tragedy and heroism. SH 

Paris Architect

Paris Architect
By Charles Belfoure
Sourcebooks Landmark. 374 pgs. Fiction

Lucien Bernard is a talented but self-absorbed architect in Nazi occupied Paris.  A commission from a wealthy Parisian to design a factory for the Germans offers him financial security but hinges on his willingness to design a hiding place for a wealthy Jewish man. Valuing his professional success more than he fears danger, Lucien accepts the challenge and eventually designs ingenious hiding places for several Jews the Nazis are hunting. As Lucien is drawn further and further into danger he is finally forced to reevaluate his life and decide what is most important to him, his career and his mistress or resistance to the Nazis. Be prepared for a few fairly explicit sex scenes – after all the setting is wartime Paris and some of the characters are more interested in daily pleasure and survival than in moral standards. SH

Alienated

Alienated
By Melissa Landers
Disney Hyperion, 2014. 344 pgs. Young Adult

Cara Sweeney has been busy the last few years fighting her way to the top of her class and preparing to apply for college to become a journalist.  She's been trying to do all of this amidst the upheaval caused when aliens made contact two years ago.  Now Cara has been hand-picked to host the first ever alien exchange student, and it's an opportunity every journalist would kill for.  Unfortunately, when Aelyx arrives, he is cold, infuriatingly brilliant, and disdainful of anything to do with humans.  When Cara's classmates get swept up by anti-L'eihr paranoia, threatening notes start appearing in her locker and she must be escorted to classes by a police officer.  But the shared hardship gives Cara and Aelyx some common ground, and they begin to form a tentative friendship.

This was a fun book that will appeal to fans of science fiction and young adult books (with a bit of Pride and Prejudice thrown in there, too).  While the plot may seem a bit predictable, there are a few surprising elements of complexity that keep the story moving along.  This is the first in a series.

BHG

I Am Malala

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
By Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb
Little, Brown and Company, 2012. 327 pgs. Nonfiction

Malala Yousafzai grew up in Pakistan during the years that the Taliban began to grow in power and influenced daily life in Pakistan more and more.  As the daughter of a school principal, Malala and her father spoke out in favor of education for girls, a dangerous act as the Taliban had forbidden older girls to attend school.  On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, Malala was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school.  Amazingly, she survived, and has now become a powerful advocate for girls' education, speaking in front of presidents, world leaders, and the United Nations.

I listened to this, and it was one of the best best audiobooks I've ever heard, which makes sense considering it won a Grammy.  Much of the book talks about Pakistan: it's history, customs, culture, and the evolving political landscape over Malala's lifetime.  It's actually quite fascinating and helps to set context for the attack on Malala in 2012.  I would recommend this to anyone, but especially to teens and young adults.  You will learn a lot about what is happening in this part of the world, as well as about this amazing young woman who stood up for what she believed in such a dangerous time and place to do so.

BHG

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
by M.T. Anderson
Candlewick, 2015.  456 pgs.  Nonfiction

      Three percent of the world's population died in World War II, and thirteen percent of Russia's population died in the same war. Eight hundred thousand to a million of those people died in the siege of Leningrad, when Hitler decided that rather than waste troops and armaments on taking the city, he would just surround it and let the population surrender or starve.  They starved. Dmitri Shostakovich was born in Leningrad and was considered a hero of the Russian Revolution musically. It was not long into Stalin's tenure when Shostakovich and many other Russian artists realized that the Revolution had devolved into brutal totalitarianism and if they expressed their true feelings in their music, or writing, or art, they would be exiled or killed. By framing the story of Leningrad in the Second World War with Shostakovich's life, M.T. Anderson has created a powerful, heartbreaking narrative of human endurance and determination. Those most likely to die in Leningrad were those who tried to live by saving their strength; those who lived kept going to work, kept sharing and cultivating their gifts and talents, and kept creating. A staging of "The Three Musketeers" was completed with only two of the musketeers standing. One had died on stage. Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony was performed while the city was still under siege, by a skeletal orchestra whose conductor could barely lift his hands to lead them. Symphony for the City of the Dead is an extraordinary story of unbelievable suffering and determination. Written for young people, it speaks to all ages and, indeed, might best be reserved for the later grades of high school and on up. The story of Russian suffering between Hitler and Stalin has not been as well told as many of the other horrors of World War II.  This books makes a good start towards redressing that imbalance.

In the Dark Places

In the Dark Places
by Peter Robinson
HarperCollins, 2015.  326 pgs. Mystery

When an expensive tractor goes missing, no one in Inspector Banks' squad is excited about investigating a penny-ante crime in the countryside. But what begins as a mere theft blows up into something much worse when two young men from the neighborhood go missing, and a Afghanistan veteran's dog discovers a pool of human blood in an abandoned hangar. The two cases begin to converge after a gruesome discovery is made when a van goes off a cliff in a hailstorm, and Inspector Banks' team must try to find and stop a butcher (both meanings of the word) before he strikes again. Very few write police procedurals as well as Peter Robinson, and this 22nd entry in his Inspector Alan Banks series is filled with nuanced characterizations, a relentlessly swerving plot, and mayhem aplenty. You may not be a vegetarian when you begin this books, but you may convert by the end. Well done, but plenty gruesome.

Orbiting Jupiter

Orbiting Jupiter
by Gary D. Schmidt
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 183 pgs. Young Adult

There are several improbabilities in Gary Schmidt's latest novel for teens, but they are all swallowed up by the tender profundity of this story of a very young man who has become a father, but who has never seen his daughter and does not know where she is. Released from a juvenile detention center into the foster care of the Hurd family, Joseph takes a long time to warm up, but he does, to 12-year old Jack, Jack's patient and loving parents, and to Rosie the cow, who loves him instantly. But Joseph cannot be happy until he knows where his daughter Jupiter is, and sees her for himself. In the meantime, he is treated unkindly as school by teachers and students, but embraced by other teachers who discover his skill in mathematics, encourage his thoughtful choice of reading matter, and who give him responsibility for helping younger students. Joseph warms to his new home and family, resists the demands of his brutal father, but leaves when he gets a lead on his daughter's whereabouts. Gary Schmidt once explained that what interests him in his writing is that point when a boy decides either to become a man, or to stay a child forever. Orbiting Jupiter explores precisely that moment in two boys' lives: Joseph's and Jack's. The ending is bitter, but also sweet. Joseph's story can be read in about an hour, but it will stay with you for years to come.

Nonrunner’s Marathon Guide for Women

The Nonrunner’s Marathon Guide for Women
By Dawn Dais
Seal Press, 2006. 249 pgs. Nonfiction.

Dawn Dais felt that running was for other people, and that, at least for her, it was not a natural ability that so many others seemed to have. Nevertheless, she embarked on a journey to run a marathon and recorded her experiences along the way. This book serves as a helpful guide for women who want to run a marathon, but aren’t runners and don’t know where to start.

Running a marathon had always been on my bucket list, but I have never, ever, been a runner. By following the training schedule in this book and using it as my main guide and resource, I reached that goal. Unlike other guides for runners, this one stands out because the author is hilarious and hilariously self-deprecating. She’s a regular woman, not an athlete, though she did have experts coaching her. It was the humor and realistic advice that kept me going, and this book is something I would absolutely recommend to any woman who wants to run a full or half marathon. Even if you want to experience it vicariously, I highly recommend this book.

ACS

Einstein's Trunk

Cover image for Einstein's trunk
Einstein’s Trunk
By Jim Haberkorn
Bonneville Books, 2011, 234 pages, Suspense Fiction

The Russians have learned that Einstein has left a trunk full of formulas for making a nuclear bomb that is sixty times more powerful than anything that exists today. Einstein's great-granddaughter Yohaba, a brilliant physicist in her own right, and an ex-spy, Rulon Hurt, are the only ones who can stop them from stealing it.

Part James Bond and part DaVinci Code, Haberkorn’s debut novel is a fast-paced thrill ride. Rulon Hurt is different from your average spy. His training as a secret agent is enhanced by experiences growing up in rural Idaho farming, bull riding and competing in the hammer throw on his high school track team. With a completely different background from Rulon’s, Yohaba’s sharp intellect makes the two a formidable duo.

Bonneville Books is one publisher that usually gets a “Clean Reads” label, but suspense thrillers don’t lend themselves to being violence-free. While Rulon Hurt doesn’t permit himself a license to kill, he definitely has a license to maim.

MB

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business


By Dick Van Dyke
Crown Archetype, 2011. 287 pgs. Biography

This is a terrific little journey through Dick Van Dyke’s “Lucky Life.” He gets his start in radio. Then he joins Phil Erickson on the road doing a comedy routine. He did some television work for a few years, then landed a part in Bye Bye Birdie. This was followed by The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and somewhat later Diagnosis Murder. There were of course, a number of other films and television work, but these are certainly his most memorable work.

There are no scandals here—well they might be mentioned, but there’s no dwelling on them—and perhaps that is the secret to Van Dyke’s “Lucky Life”—a optimistic outlook that focuses on the good. This is the story of a kind, earnest, and talented man who found ways to spread his good-natured entertainment far and wide.

SML

Twice in a Lifetime

Twice in a Lifetime
By Dorothy Garlock
Grand Central Publishing, 2015. 372 pgs. Romance

Clara Sinclair's husband was killed in WWII. Her world shattered that day but she eventually learned to live with the pain and move forward. She has made a life for herself in Sunset, Missiouri but now she is faced with a rebellious teenage son and a mother in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's. When her truck breaks down, it is the last straw and all she can do is sob. Drake McCoy is a drag racer who is just passing through town looking for his next easy win. When he sees Clara sobbing in her truck, he offers to help. He is drawn to Clara's kindness and beauty and discovers that he might not be in such a hurry to leave this town. Neither of them realize that they both have enemies closing in fast that might end their romance before it has even begun.

This is the first Dorothy Garlock book I've read. I enjoyed the description of the small town and that it examined what happened to a widow after the war was over. The beginning of the novel was fairly slow paced but the adventure toward the end kept me flying through the pages. There is some language and sexual content that may not be appropriate for every reader.

AL

The Eleventh Brother: A Novel of Joseph in Egypt

The Eleventh Brother: A Novel of Joseph in Egypt
By Rachel K. Wilcox
Deseret Book, 2015. 333 pgs. Historical Fiction

This novel adds depth to the Bible story of Joseph of Egypt, from the time he was a young boy with his brothers, to being thrown in the pit, to becoming a ruler in Egypt. Joseph overcame many trials in his life but one of his biggest struggles was learning to forgive his brothers.

It was obvious that the author has done some serious research into this story and the history of this time period. There are many flashbacks, that at times can be a little confusing. but eventually lead to a fuller understanding of the characters and their actions. 

AL

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir
By Felicia Day
Touchstone, 2015. 260 pgs. Biography

Felicia Day’s wonderful memoir starts off with a foreword by none other than Joss Whedon who describes her as “stranger than I am.” This is high praise from a man who represents a great deal of strange.

For those who are not familiar with Day, she is commonly known as “The Queen of the Nerds” since she is an active gamer and her projects usually feature connections to that world.

“You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)” is a look at her unusual childhood, her discovery of the world and people of online gaming, her successes as a writer and producer of Internet Web series, and her struggles with anxiety and finding balance in life. She is honest, engaging and really very funny. I was surprised by her frank discussion of an online gaming addiction and the stress and depression that can be caused by an overachieving personality.

I completely loved this book! I had high hopes and was not disappointed. I expected to be entertained, but was surprised when I felt inspired and also gained a bit of understanding into why online gaming is so popular and addictive, something I have never been able to grasp. I listened to an audio version, read by the author, and recommend it.

Felicia’s memoir belongs aside other recent favorites by Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling.

CZ

P.S. I Still Love You

P.S. I Still Love You
by Jenny Han
New York: Simon and Schuster BFYR, 2015. 337 pgs. Young Adult.

Continuing the story from To All the Boys I Loved Before, sweet, goofy Lara Jean discovers that loving someone doesn’t always make things perfect. First, she is humiliated when someone posts what appears to be a steamy scene of her in a hot tub. Then she is further frustrated when her new boyfriend doesn’t immediately believe her when she figures out it was his ex-girlfriend. Finally, things are made even worse when another boy from her past enters the picture.

Lara Jean has a lot to learn about love and she is definitely up for the challenge. I enjoyed this heartfelt, coming of age story especially as Lara Jean experiences so many difficulties such as rumors and peer-pressure. Through all these troubles, she sticks to what she believes.

AJ

Emmy & Oliver

Emmy & Oliver
by Robin Benway
New York: Harper Teen, 2015. 343 pgs. Young Adult

At age eight, Emmy expects she will be friends with Oliver forever, but when he is kidnapped by his father, Emmy and her friends, parents, and neighbors’ world is changed forever. When, miraculously, Oliver reappears 10 years later, they are overjoyed and expect life to pick up right where it left off. However, Oliver thought his mother abandoned him and finds it difficult to pick up the pieces of his old life. Emmy must find a way to help Oliver bridge the time gap and find a new future with her in it.

This is a sweet YA novel set in the popular contemporary, realistic genre. Examining the effects of loss, the author does a good job writing about the bonds of relationships for both friends and family.

AJ

Monday, October 26, 2015

Born With Teeth

Born With Teeth
By Kate Mulgrew
New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2015. 306 pp. Biography

Starting with her upbringing as part of a large Irish-American in Iowa and ending with her reunion with the daughter she had been separated from as a young woman, the author relates her story with verve and not a little dramatic flair. This is rather apropos, given that she began her television career on the soap opera, Ryan's Hope. Readers will most likely know her from her portrayal of Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager and her current work in the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black. While she does relate in some detail the challenges and accomplishments of her work, whether on stage or screen, she focuses her attention on her personal life, family, romantic relationships etc. Her struggles with her decision to put up her first child for adoption, her failed marriage, and her rough and tumble childhood are described with real feeling but stopping short of being maudlin. This is to be recommended for anyone who enjoys a good celebrity biography that provides grace and humor in equal measure.

CHW

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Born of Persuasion

 Cover image for Born of persuasion
Born of Persuasion (Price of Privilege #1)
By Jessica Dotta
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2013, 435 pages, Historical/Inspirational Fiction 

In 1838, at the young age of 17, Julia Elliston finds herself an orphan. She has a mysterious guardian she has never met who has arranged for her to serve as a lady’s companion in far-off Scotland. Julia has just two months to come up with a plan of her own, and that means she has two months to get married. Two options present themselves. Should Julia cast her lot with her childhood sweetheart, Edward; or with the mysterious and alluring Mr. Macy?

When I see a cover like this I automatically make some assumptions: the story is historical fiction, possibly inspirational fiction, and there might be some light romance. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I picked up this novel and discovered it was a gothic tale!

Julia Elliston can’t trust anyone. Everyone she knows has an ulterior motive. Mr. Macy especially feels like he was pulled directly from a Bronte novel with his dark looks and mysterious, brooding past. I was actually fairly convinced he was a vampire (in the Bram Stoker definition of the word) for most of the novel, and now that I’ve finished I’m not 100% certain that he isn’t. Dotta’s writing is definitely reminiscent of the time period, and that usually works to her advantage in building the suspense, although it sometimes drew me out of the story too.

This is a great read for anyone interested in the Brontes or other gothic writers of the time period. Be forewarned: This is actually the first book in a trilogy, and I’ve got book two checked out!

MB

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop
Crown, 2015. 400 pgs. Fiction.

Jean Perdu is lost. Twenty years ago, the love of his life left him without warning, and ever since, Jean has avoided relationships of any kind. He runs The Literary Apothecary, a barge bookshop on the Seine where he recommends books based on the emotions of his customers. He can’t seem to face or heal his own pain, however. After a new neighbor convinces him to finally read the letter left by his love, Jean sets sail down the river. Joined by an insecure but bestselling author, a lovelorn Italian chef, and two cats, Jean finds peace as he journeys from Paris to Provence.

This international bestseller was a pleasant read that occasionally surprised me with its poignancy. A few passages really resonated with me, including one where two characters discuss sensory memories and grief. The cast of characters was charmingly quirky, and I was pleased with the way everything wrapped up, even if some readers might feel that all the loose ends are too neatly tied up. I will warn that the story is slow and meandering; many readers will love it, while others might find it silly or boring. For me, the writing and the story weren’t perfect, but they were enjoyable. It was a good escapist read.

I listened to the audio version recorded by Ray Sawyer and overall felt like it was a decent audio pick. The author includes a lot of asides and flashbacks, so in audio format I sometimes had trouble figuring out what was going on. I was also initially confused whenever Manon talked about her mother, since Manon and Maman sound quite similar when spoken aloud. I enjoyed Sawyer’s reading, however. He reads narrative in his own British accent, but does a nice job using accents and distinctive voices to identify each character.

SR

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
By Marie Kondo
Ten Speed Press, 2014. 224 pgs. Nonfiction

Professional organizer Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing has been topping nonfiction bestseller lists for months now, and for good reason. Her methods differ from what readers might find in other organization books. Rather than offering tips on storage and how to maximize space, she instead urges readers to discard any items that don’t “spark joy.” The ultimate goal is to have a particular spot in the home for every remaining item. Theoretically, one never has to organize again.

If taken seriously, Kondo’s book has the potential to live up to its title; her methods really can be life-changing. As I read my way through the book, I spent a month going through everything I own and carefully deciding what to keep. After selling or donating at least fifteen garbage bags full of items, my dresser drawers, closet space, and book shelves have opened up. (I’m not alone, since consignment shops and used bookstores around the country have seen an influx of recent donations due to the “Kondo effect.”) I found it especially helpful to consider each item individually, analyzing whether it really brings me happiness right now, regardless of its cost, who gave it to me, its past sentimental value, or its potential usefulness. I also love the way my dresser looks after following Kondo’s advice to store folded clothing upright in the drawer so that you can see everything at once and remove an item without displacing anything else.

In general, I feel more relaxed in my space and have found it much easier to keep things tidy. Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect for me of reading Kondo’s book and following her instructions has been how great it has felt to get rid of things. I expected to feel guilty or anxious, but instead, just as The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up promises, I felt only relief. I definitely found Kondo’s tendency to anthropomorphize belongings a little foreign (she talks about storing items in ways that will make them happy and recommends verbally thanking possessions before discarding them), but there is something strangely freeing about acknowledging what a particular possession has done for you and then letting it go. Decluttering may well become a way of life after reading this book.

SR

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Dorito Effect : The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor

The Dorito Effect : The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor
By Mark Schatzker
Simon and Shuster, 2015. 259 pgs. Nonfiction

Have you ever noticed that your tomato doesn’t really taste like a tomato? Or that eating a pear-flavored Jelly Belly gives you more pear flavor than eating an actual pear? Welcome to the weird world of food science, where flavors are synthetic and we’ve traded real taste (and nutrition) for yield. At the same time, we’ve gotten really good at making junk food taste better and better. This book illuminates the unforeseen consequences (obesity, compulsive overeating, etc.) we all experience when junk food has more flavor than actual food.

This book was an eye-opening explanation of the food desert most of us live in today, and how we got here over the last 75 years. All of this crazy tinkering with food and flavor has, of course, wreaked havoc on our bodies and brains. This book was a fun, quick read that helped me understand much better my own attitudes about food, and how I can find fruits, vegetables, grains, and meats that actually taste like they’re supposed to: delicious, complex, and satisfying (no salad dressing required).

LC

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Fall

The Fall 
By Bethany Griffin
Greenwillow Books, 2014. 420 pgs. Young Adult

Madeline and her twin brother Roderick are the last in a long line of Ushers, growing up in the very haunted House of Usher. Madeline knows the House wants to keep her and her brother there forever, at any cost. Can Madeline save her brother, and maybe herself, before the House drives them to madness?

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is one of the most popular short stories Edgar Allan Poe ever wrote. This retelling and fleshing-out of the story from Madeline’s point of view made for a book unlike any I have ever read before. The novel jumps around to different events in Madeline’s life, and does not tell her story in a linear fashion. At first, I found this disorienting and even a little upsetting, until I realized that is exactly how this book is supposed to make you feel. After that, I enjoyed letting the book take me on a very creepy, atmospheric, and truly frightening adventure. A perfect Halloween read.

LC

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Gigantic Beard that was Evil

The Gigantic Beard that was Evil
By Stephen Collins
Picador, 2014. unpaged. Graphic Novel

Dave lives on the nice and tidy island of Here. Day after day Dave wakes up, goes to work, comes home for dinner, and then sketches the view from his front window while listening to “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles. Each day is perfectly predictable, and that's just how Dave likes it. Then one morning everything changes when Dave wakes up to find an extra-long chin hair. Facial hair is disapproved of on the island of Here, so Dave tries frantically to shave. Despite his best efforts, the hair comes back even longer. Soon enough one hair has grown into a gigantic beard that changes Dave’s life and his community in some unexpected ways.

Whether you’re a graphic novel enthusiast or just trying out the genre, this book is for you. Collins's illustrations and lyrical prose beautifully tell this quirky story about the importance of individuality and questioning why our society is the way it is. This is a quick and fun read that you won't regret picking up.

CNC

Friday, October 2, 2015

Where All Light Tends to Go

Where All Light Tends to Go
By David Joy
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015. 260 pgs. Fiction

On the day that should have been his high school graduation, Jacob McNeely finds himself deeper than he's ever been in his family's meth business. Jacob has always known he would never leave his dissatisfying life in his small North Carolina town -- with an addict mother and a meth-lord father the odds have never been in Jacob's favor. But Maggie is a different story. Throughout their lifelong friendship, Jacob has known that Maggie was meant for more. So, when Maggie’s promising future is put in peril and Jacob's father commits an extra heinous crime, Jacob is finally forced to act. He must decide where his loyalties lay and who is worth fighting for.

Where All Light Tends to Go is David Joy’s debut novel, and I am so excited for all that’s to come from this promising author. Joy’s novel fits nicely into the country noir genre I’ve been enjoying lately, and the influence of other Appalachian authors like Ron Rash is felt distinctly. I loved the character development, and Joy’s candid portrayal of a boy wading through life’s biggest questions in such a harsh and gritty environment. I read parts of this book as well as listened to the audio book, and it’s hard to say which experience I liked more. MacLeod Andrews reads the book beautifully, but some of Joy’s deeper passages hold gems that I liked re-reading a few times. However you choose to enjoy this book, do because it’s good. Be prepared for language and violence that matches the weighty themes the author confronts.

CNC

Mind MGMT, Vol. 1: The Manager

Mind MGMT, Vol 1: The Manager
by Matt Kindt
Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books, 2013. 196 pp. Graphic novel

Two years after the mystery of Flight 815, wherein 120 passengers and crew are afflicted with total amnesia mid-flight, a young journalist attempts to track down an alleged 121st passenger who may have been involved. Maru soon finds herself deeply enmeshed in a global conspiracy involving a secret government agency, Mind Management, and a rogue agent determined to destroy it. This is a fantastic read, quick paced, engaging and very much reminiscent of the X-Files with the super secret agents possessing frightening psionic powers. There is even a Smoking Man. The art is deliberately rough and sometimes whimsical but arresting and conveys real drama. This is the first volume in an ongoing series.

CHW

Heart-Shaped Box

Heart-Shaped Box
By Joe Hill
William Morrow, 2007. 376 pages. Horror

Now retired, aging rock star Judas Coyne has taken up several hobbies, one of which includes collecting macabre and bizarre artifacts from all over the world. So when a haunted suit appears on an online auction site one day, Jude purchases it without a second thought.

The suit arrives in a heart-shaped box. That night, Jude and his girlfriend, Georgia, begin to see an old man stalking the halls of their home. The ghost, dressed in the black Sunday suit, wields a deadly crescent-shaped razor that he uses to hypnotize his victims. Danny, Jude's manager, is the first to fall victim to the ghost's macabre lullabies. Georgia tries to shoot herself. And when the ghost comes for Jude, he realizes the specter is more malevolent than he can stand, and must try to rid himself of the being.

Jude soon learns the suit belonged to Craddock McDermott, stepfather to one of Jude's former lovers who committed suicide shortly after he left her. McDermott swore to avenge her death . . . but as the story unfolds and the ghost's true motivations come to light, Jude and Georgia find themselves locked in a bloody fight for their lives, for justice for the dead, and maybe even their very souls.

Clever, chilling, at times humorous, and even touching, Heart-Shaped Box is a standout ghost story. At first, Jude is a brusque, unlikable character who wins readers over through his sheer gumption and grit, and the way his relationship with Georgia shifts from tolerance to true affection of the course of the novel is admirable. Craddock makes a truly terrifying antagonist, with black scribbles over his eyes and the patience in his malevolence. While not overly gory, this one still requires a high tolerance for frightening imagery and razor-edged tension. Highly recommended.

CA

The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls
By Lauren Beukes
Mulholland Books, 2013. 375 pages. Science Fiction

Harper Curtis isn't your standard serial killer: thanks to a strange, dilapidated house he discovered in a 1920s Chicago slum, he's able to travel through time killing his "shining girls," or as he puts it, "young women burning with potential." Since he can slip through time, every one of his crimes are perfect . . . until he tries to kill young Kirby Mazrachi in 1989 and fails. Barely.

By some miracle, Kirby survives Harper's brutal attack. Now in college and working as an intern for the Chicago Sun Times, Kirby allies herself with a washed-up homicide reporter, Dan, to try and track down her killer. As remarkable and impossible as the task seems, the duo begins piecing together clues Harper has left scattered through history. It's not long before Harper realizes that Kirby's survived, and that she's looking for him. Rather than be caught, he vows to finish the job he started back in 1989. Unable to outrun the killer, Kirby and Dan must find a way to outwit him before it's too late.

Beukes' genre-bending novel is a science fiction masterpiece, blending in elements of horror and hard-boiled detective fiction. The tension is heightened by the shifting points of view and the novel's non-linear format, in which Beukes gives readers glimpses of Kirby and Dan's (horrifying) future hundreds of pages before the events come to pass. Beukes excels particularly at rendering Harper's victims as three-dimensional, which only makes his knife cut deeper into the reader. With gorgeous prose and enough gore to make even seasoned horror readers squirm, The Shining Girls is a perfect read for a gloomy October day.

CA

Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper
by Daniel Jose Older
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015. 304 pages. Young Adult

All Sierra Santiago wants to do this summer is paint a mural on the side of an aging Brooklyn junklot, hang out with her friends, and listen to music. But when the junklot's murals start inexplicably fading from the walls, Sierra realizes something supernatural's about to go down in the neighborhood. Her stroke-addled Abuelo manages to grasp a moment of lucidity to mutter something about "shadowshapers" to her, but before Sierra can decipher his meaning, he slips back into oblivion.

Now, armed only with a single clue, Sierra must uncover the history of the shadowshapers before her ancestral power to animate art is stolen from her. Aided by a similarly-gifted Haitian boy and a colorful cast of friends, Sierra must battle the her way past a number of terrifying supernatural creatures and stop the evil professor trying to take her people's power for himself.

First of all, I must say I've never read anything quite like this book, much in part due to the novel's explosively creative magic system. I love how the shadowshapers' abilities are steeped in art! The plotting is tight, the characters vivid, believable, and unique--even better, there are a lot of people of color in this book. Sierra's a confident, body-positive heroine who's more focused on her artistic goals than on romance; and her developing relationship with fellow shadowshaper Robbie is built on friendship and mutual respect. It's a refreshing thing to see in a YA novel.

The increased focus on diversity in kidlit is beginning to yield some truly remarkable titles, and I'm glad Older's Shadowshaper is one of the titles leading the charge. Recommended for anyone, but a must-read for those who love urban fantasy.

CA