Monday, November 30, 2015

The Total Money Makeover

The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness
By Dave Ramsey
Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2009. 259 pgs. Nonfiction.

With so many people sliding, or plummeting into debt, Ramsey offers a straightforward and uplifting method to help people get out of the debt cycle, start saving, investing, and making money. This book is broken up into the baby steps of his method, making it very easy to follow. He has also interspersed success stories in every chapter to help uplift the reader and illustrate how accomplishing each baby step can look.

Now with a student loan in my name, I wanted to start looking at becoming financially fit in general. Ramsey’s baby steps seem manageable and doable, if you’re willing to work at it. The success stories are truly inspiring, and Ramsey includes an element of spirituality to his reasons for becoming financially fit, but he never gets preachy. Ramsey himself states that much of what’s included in his book isn’t new knowledge, and that’s true. This isn’t new information, but it’s laid out and presented in a way that’s very accessible. If you want to get financially fit but have little financial knowledge, this is a great place to get started.

ACS

The Master Algorithm

The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World
by Pedro Domingos
Basic Books, 2015. 352 pgs. Nonfiction

This book discusses one of today’s hottest science topics, that of machine learning and the algorithms that allow it. In the digital age, algorithms are used for just about everything including how Amazon and Netflix recommend books and movies to email spam filters to how Obama’s 2012 election campaign used four simple questions to help win the election. However, our current algorithms do have their failings. They still fail to do seemingly simply things a human brain can do in an instant such as recognize a cat from any angle no matter how blurry the image.

In addition to giving you a basic understanding of how machine learning algorithms work, this book also discusses the quest to find the master algorithm. The one algorithm capable of discovering all knowledge from the data it is fed. This would include curing cancer, completely understanding evolution and genetics, and so much more.

I think this book would be the perfect read for anyone with a slightly better grasp of math and science than me. The author does try to write this for the average person and there were many fascinating parts, but I also found myself a little lost at times. Overall, a great read to better understand how important data is becoming in everyday life. Something we are all affected by and, therefore, should have a basic understanding of.

AJ

The Other Daughter

The Other Daughter
By Lauren Willig
St. Martin's Press, 2015.  296 pgs. Fiction

Rachel Woodley was raised by her loving and proper mother in a small English town.  She grew up believing her father was killed while traveling abroad, working as a botanist.  But when her mother unexpectedly dies, Rachel discovers that she may be the illegitimate daughter of an English Earl.  Angry about the deception, Rachel is determined to discover the truth.  To do this she must infiltrate the 1920's London "party crowd", a task made possible with the help of Simon Montfont, a gossip columnist with his own ax to grind.

"The Other Daughter" is a delightful novel.  Fans of Willig's "Pink Carnation" series should seriously consider delving into the authors' growing number of stand alone historical novels. While some of Willig's romances can get a little steamy, "The Other Daughter" can be safely added to most clean read lists.

CZ 

The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family’s Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis

The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family’s Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis
By Simon Goodman
Scribner, 2015. 353 pgs. Nonfiction

The Gutmanns were once among the most wealthy and powerful banking families in Europe. This Jewish family had planted roots in Germany and multiple generations worked to build an impressive dynasty. However, their legacy and influence could not protect them from the Nazis and their property was stolen away piece by piece and scattered during both the war and its aftermath.

Simon Goodman, the grandson of Fritz and Louise Gutmann who were imprisoned and murdered by the Third Reich, discovered fairly late in life of his family’s grand legacy and of the treasures that were never returned despite his father’s lifelong efforts to restore them. After his father’s death, Simon picked up the standard and worked to track down whatever pieces of art he could find that once comprised his forebears’ priceless collections.

Goodman has an amazing story to tell and he tells it extremely well. His family’s rise to power and their experiences during the years of conflict and war were fascinating. Also fascinating, though a bit less gripping, were Simon’s legal battles to regain ownership of the stolen art.

“The Orpheus Clock” provides a very personal perspective on a topic recently highlighted in both the book and movie versions of “The Monuments Men.” History enthusiasts are sure to appreciate this recent release.

CZ

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Lake House

The Lake House
By Kate Morton
Atria Books, 2015. 495 pgs. Fiction

The Edavane family is shattered when their toddler son vanishes on the night of the annual midsummer's eve party they hold at their estate. Seventy years later a young London detective stumbles on the abandoned house as she is on leave to sort out her own life problems and she can't help but wonder what happened to make a family leave such a majestic home. She triggers a series of events that will lead to many shocking revelations for herself and the Edavane family.

Kate Morton again weaves a story between generations that span from WWI to 2003. She expertly examines the anguish of a mother loosing her child, through several different scenarios throughout the book. I really enjoyed this book and will be recommending it to others. Because of the jumping from past to present, it helped that I was actually reading the book so that I could keep track of the dates and look back if I wanted to check when an event happened. My only complaint is that the author wrapped up everything a little too nicely and after all of the detail throughout the book I would have liked more at the end.


AL

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
By Jenny Lawson
Flatiron Books, 2015. 329 pgs. Biography

Jenny Lawson has suffered with mental illness her whole life. In this candid biography she  explores what it means to really live life, not just survive it. She doesn't try to hide the fact that she has severe depression and anxiety and by being so honest in her book she makes others realize that they are not alone in their struggles.

This book is crazy and a little random and absolutely hilarious. This is a book that had me laughing so hard that I couldn't even read the words on the page. I think I actually snorted a couple times too. The thing I liked most about this book is that she shares many crazy experiences but then she has deeply profound passages about what it means to live life with depression and with all the very real, very scary thoughts that accompany it. As someone who has suffered from depression off and on over the years I recognized the truth in her words.  The author does use a lot of strong language throughout the book.

AL

The Sleeper and the Spindle

The Sleeper and the Spindle
By Neil Gaiman
Harper, 2015. 66 pages. Young Adult

Neil Gaiman's newest newest fairy tale is one part Snow White, one part Sleeping Beauty, and one hundred percent absorbing. On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets off with three of her dwarven subjects to investigate the cause of a mysterious sleeping plague that's sweeping across a neighboring kingdom. As if a sleeping-plague wasn't odd enough, the sleepers are capable of talking in their sleep and lumbering after the travelers, almost zombie-like. 

The tale's biggest twist lies in the Queen's discovery of the spindle-pricked maiden who, as the key to the sleeping plague, waits to be awakened . . .

While the story leaves nothing to be desired -- Gaiman's storytelling is always masterful -- it's Chris Riddell's gilt-adorned illustrations that truly steal the show. While I had part of this story read aloud to me, I kept stopping the reader to admire the panels, and to take in the detail in the Queen's dress, or to point out some of Riddell's subtle humor in the art. This is not only a book to read, but one to savor and treasure.

CA


Big Data

Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live
By Viktor Mayer-Schonberger & Kenneth Cukier
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 242 pgs. Nonfiction

You may have heard the term “Big Data” mentioned, but not fully understand what is meant by it. Well if you’d like to better comprehend this new process that is revolutionizing economics, science, culture, and government, then you should definitely read this book. Written to be understandable by the average person, the authors seek to explain what Big Data is, how it will change our lives, and the dangers and implications that exist.

In a way that was simply impossible before, the world is now able to capture and store massive amounts of data. This transition means that businesses and other organizations no longer have to rely on samples and estimates. Instead, they can analyze complete data sets quickly and cheaply making it far easier to see the whole picture and make decisions based on what the data is saying. Throughout the book, the authors use great examples to illustrate where Big Data is and the big changes to come. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about Big Data and understanding the technological world we live in.

AJ

Monday, November 23, 2015

S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome

S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome
By Mary Beard
New York: Liveright Publishing, 215. 606 pp. Non-fiction

Mary Beard, a Cambridge don specializing in classics, presents a fresh and enlightening history of Rome's first thousand years (approximately), starting with its uncertain beginnings as a refuge for vagabonds, runaways slaves,etc. and ending in 212 CE with the Emperor Caracalla decreeing that all freeborn men within the empire are Roman citizens. In this scholarly and somewhat revisionist work, the author reexamines and reevaluates famous persons, battles and political struggles as well as the more prosaic aspects of Roman society and domestic life. While it is a bit more academic in style, lacking the narrative flow one often experiences in popular non-fiction, this book is very interesting and highly readable. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in ancient history. If you read and enjoyed The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everett or Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra, this would be a good choice as well.

CHW





Saturday, November 21, 2015

Silver in the Blood

Silver in the Blood 
By Jessica Day George
Bloomsbury, 2015. 368 pgs. Young Adult.

Seventeen year old cousins Dacia and Lou are thrilled to travel across Europe to meet their mothers’ noble Romanian family. Shy Lou is especially excited to escape her debutante responsibilities in New York society for a time, while Dacia is looking forward to flirting her way across the continent. Their Aunt Kate’s increasingly odd behavior and a series of mysterious encounters with a stranger who calls them The Wing and The Claw set their nerves on edge as they travel, however. By the time they arrive in Romania and meet their numerous cousins (all male), their stoic aunts and uncles, and their decidedly un-grandmotherly grandmother, Lady Ioana, the girls are suspicious of the Florescu clan and their family friend, Mihai Dracula. As they uncover the Florescus’ dangerous and magical secrets, Lou and Dacia must choose between following their family and doing what is right.

Fans of Jessica Day George may find Silver in the Blood a little surprising, since it differs from her other books in setting and tone. Unlike her fairy tale retellings and fantasy novels, it has a historical setting and a darker feel. The plot took a while to get going, but once the girls finally piece together what is happening, it gallops along nicely. I did find the diary entries and letters interspersed throughout the novel unnecessary, since they rarely revealed anything new. Overall, though, I enjoyed the story, especially the conclusion and the character development. In spite of the werewolves and vampires, Silver in the Blood is less a paranormal romance than it is a clever historical fantasy twist on Bram Stoker.

SR

Friday, November 20, 2015

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister
By Amelie Sarn
Delacourt, 2014. 152 pages. Young Adult

Intellectually gifted and studious Sohane, 18, has always taken care of her beautiful, athletic younger sister Djelila. As French-born Algerian Muslims, the sisters face different forms of religious persecution outside their home: The devout Sohane is expelled from her public school for wearing a head scarf; while Djelila, who wears tight jeans, smokes, and kisses boys in public, becomes a target for a Taliban-like teen gang that enforces Islamic extremism in their neighborhood. While the boys' taunting is merely sharp words and a slap at first, it escalates into a violent act that ends one sister's life, and changes the other's forever.

Sarn's novel was on my weeding list after only a year on the shelf; but in light of recent events, I wanted to spend an evening with it before deciding whether or not to discard the book. I expected to learn something about the Muslim faith; however, I did not expect to find such a nuanced and sensitive look at what it means to be Muslim, especially when one lives in the Western world. Sarn never gets too heavy-handed with her message; and the relationship between Sohane and Djelila is endearing, as are their relationships with the rest of their family. The grief the family endures after Djelila's violent murder feels realistic, as does Sohane's struggle to understand how she fits into the world as a hijab-wearing feminist, especially after her sister's death.

In short, we're keeping this one.

CA

Leaves on the Wind

Leaves on the Wind
By Zack Whedon
Dark Horse Books, 2014. 152 pgs. Graphic Novel

After being tossed around the 'verse by various circumstances, the crew of Serenity is forced to come out of hiding when one of their own is captured.

Fans of the show "Firefly" and the film continuation of the story, "Serenity," will be thrilled with this latest installment in the Firefly universe.  Brown coats will be especially pleased at the continuing storyline following the "Miranda" leak as well as revisiting beloved characters.  Be sure to check out one of the first three graphic novels if you haven't seen them yet.  Start with Those Left Behind.

Carry On

Carry On
By Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Griffin, 2015. 522 pgs. Young Adult

Simon Snow is the "chosen one," a young wizard who has been plagued through his entire education at the Watford School of Magicks by a mysterious evil nemesis.  It doesn't help that his roommate for the past seven years, Baz, might be a vampire as well as trying to kill him.  As he starts his last year at school, Simon seems to have more to deal with than ever: his wand doesn't work half the time and when it does, he blows something up.  His girlfriend might not be his girlfriend anymore and his nemesis has been running around wearing his face.  Worst of all, Baz hasn't bothered showing up for school and Simon can't imagine what kind of trouble he has been brewing in his absence.

Sound familiar?  This story has obvious - and intentional - parallels to Harry Potter, but with entirely its own spin and point.  Readers looking for a "grown up" version of Harry Potter will probably find this appealing (if they don't mind frequent language).  I would also highly recommend this to fans of Rowell's other books, her talent as a writer shines in this new (for her) genre.

BHG

Girl Waits with Gun

Cover image for Girl waits with gun 
Girl Waits with Gun
By Amy Stewart
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, 408 pages, Historical Fiction

In 1914, sisters Constance, Nora, and Fleurette Kopp live on a secluded farm in the country, just outside Paterson, New Jersey. On a drive into town for supplies one day the sisters’ horse and buggy is literally run over by Henry Kaufman, a local silk mill owner, and his gang of thugs, all riding in his brand new car. While most people would stay away from such a high-powered man, Constance insists that justice be served. When she demands he pay for damages, Kaufman responds with bricks through windows, veiled threats, and even bullets. Instead of backing down, Constance rises to the occasion, taking her complaints to the county sheriff, doing a bit of investigating of her own, and learning to shoot a gun.

Based on a true story, and with an exceedingly interesting main character (Constance Kopp became one of the country’s first female deputy sheriffs), this book was a lot of fun to read. It was full of suspense, with many twists and turns, and it managed to be witty as well. Constance is a fully-fleshed character with many interesting motivations. Stewart’s research shines through with her use of text from newspaper articles of the time and seamless use of actual historical events. Historical fiction fans and fans of female sleuths will love this book.

MB

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl: A Memoir

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl: A Memoir
By Carrie Brownstein
New York: Riverhead Books, 2015. 244 pp. Biography


Prior to her appearances in the fantastic comedy series, Portlandia, Carrie Brownstein was known as one of the founding members of the riot grrl/post punk band, Sleater-Kinney. In this book, starting with her childhood and continuing through the course of her music career, she relates her struggles growing up with an anorexic mother and a closeted gay father. Through music, both as a fan and performer, she was able to find a community where she could overcome her anxieties and find a path to self-discovery and self-expression. This was a fun and entertaining read, witty, engaging and heartfelt but never maudlin or narcissistic as celeb biographies can oftentimes be.

CHW

America's Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve

America's Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve
by Roger Lowenstein
New York: Penguin Press, 2015. 355 pp. Non-fiction.

Anyone who follows economic and financial news recognizes the pivotal role the Federal Reserve plays in our national economy and as a partner with other nations' central banks. This book explains the extraordinarily improbable creation of the Federal Reserve in the face of vociferous opposition to the creation of a central bank, both from within government circles and the public at large. The book is divided into two parts: the first covering the efforts of key players in banking and Congress to formulate a blueprint for a central bank, following the financial panic of 1907, that would be palatable to a country suspicious of the money power; the second part summarizes the legislative battles fought to get the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 passed. The author does a nice job illustrating both the pressures the new industrial economy was placing on a banking system no longer able to cope against a public highly suspicious of centralized power in general and financial power in particular. While the Fed has cemented its role in public affairs, it has been and remains a locus of controversy and conspiracy (see The Creature From Jekyll Island). This is a highly readable examination of a fascinating period of American history.

CHW

Monday, November 9, 2015

Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened
By Allie Brosh
Touchstone Books 2013.  369 pgs. Nonfiction.

In 2009, Allie Brosh launched a blog with a rant about her neighbors’ annoying music. By the end of the year, she had begun illustrating her entries using simplistic drawings she created in Microsoft Paint, and Hyperbole and a Half was born. Brosh’s hilarious essays and illustrations focus on her childhood, her dogs, her resistance to being an adult, and her struggles with depression. Even if you’ve never heard of Brosh, you’re likely familiar with her illustrations, particularly the “Clean all the things!” or “X all the Y!” meme. You may also have heard of the Alot, the fictional creature Brosh imagines to calm her rage whenever someone misspells “a lot.”

When I first discovered Brosh, I spent three days reading her entire blog, laughing so hard I cried. Brosh’s first book, which shares her blog's name, includes several of her most loved entries, as well as ten entirely new essays. I didn’t love the most of the new essays quite as much as my old favorites, but they still had me in tears of laughter. In particular, Brosh’s new essay “Motivation” spoke to my procrastinating soul on a profound level. A few other favorites:

• The Party (my all-time favorite)
• The God of Cake
• This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult
• The Simple Dog
• The Parrot
• Depression Parts 1 and 2

Brosh’s book is a great introduction to her work, highlighting both her humor and her surprising emotional depth. Be aware that although the content is generally clean, Hyperbole and a Half frequently uses strong language. I’m already anxious for Brosh’s next book, Solutions and Other Problems, to hit the shelves in October 2016.

SR

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

by Richard Lyman Bushman, with the assistance of Jed Woodworth
Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. 740 pgs. Nonfiction

There has long been a need for a well-documented, thoroughly researched, balanced account of Joseph Smith. Bushman provides a dense yet readable narrative and integrates recent research and discoveries into his work (recent at the time of publication back in 2005). There’s a lot of detail here and some interesting possibilities raised such as the location where the Church was organized (traditionally Fayette, New York—Bushman suggests Mansfield). Also the date when the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored (traditionally May-June 1829; Bushman suggests a data as late as late as June or July of 1830).

By a wide margin this is the finest biography available on Joseph Smith and will likely remain so for quite some time. Perhaps following the completion of the Joseph Smith Papers Project a new biography will appear, utilizing yet further sources and synthesizing additional strands from the life of this singular man.

SML

The Desert Between the Mountains: Mormons, Miners, Padres, Mountain Men, and the Opening of the Great Basin, 1772-1869

The Desert Between the Mountains: Mormons, Miners, Padres, Mountain Men, and the Opening of the Great Basin, 1772-1869
by Michael S. Durham
Henry Holt, 1997. 336 pgs. Nonfiction

This quick survey of the history of the Great Basin begins with geography and geology, the Native American presence, and the first Spanish explorers in the region. It then moves on to various explorers and mountain men criss-crossing the region. Lastly it tells of the pioneering efforts of the Mormons in the region, the “Utah War,” the short-lived Pony Express, and concludes with the arrival of the transcontinental railroad.

The narrative moves breezily and uses footnotes sparingly. If nothing else, this overview whets the appetite for further reading on such explorers as John Fremont and Jedediah Smith, tales of the fur trappers, and tragedies such as that of the Donner Party and the mountain meadows massacre.

SML


Friday, November 6, 2015

Thug Notes: A Street-Smart Guide to Classic Literature

Cover image for Thug notes : a street-smart guide to classic literature
Thug Notes: A Street-Smart Guide to Classic Literature
By Sparky Sweets, PhD
Vintage Books, 2015. 288 pages, Non-Fiction

Based on the YouTube channel Thug Notes, this book covers sixteen classics of literature in an un-classical way. Think Cliff Notes or SparkNotes with street cred. Each classic is covered in seven topics: A quick introduction of why the book is important (called So What’s the Deal?); a rundown of the cast of characters (Homies); followed by a fairly good, quick summary of the plot (What Went Down). Popular themes, images, and symbols are also covered, followed by popular quotes (Say What?) from both the book and from other famous authors (Shout-Outs) who have covered the same topics, all summarized and worded to make sense to a thug. Images throughout the book help drive the message home.

If you’re wondering how the marriage of classic literature and thug works, I’ll let this book speak for itself:

“To me, a thug is somebody who buck da system; who stand up and try to make they imprint on da world. A thug live how they wanna live, and do what they wanna do, even in da face of a world tellin’ ‘em they gotta act a certain way. Most of da novels and authors in this book you holdin’ ain’t no different. Some of da best works of lit can be thought of as expressions of rebellion or great dissatisfaction wit’ da world . . . and to me, plenty of rappers singin’ they heart out ‘bout da same thangs.”

While I personally see this book as more of a comedic book about literature than a helpful study guide, this book does give a good summary of each of the classics covered. Fans of Texts from Jane Eyre and other comedic literary pieces will probably also enjoy Thug Notes. Be forewarned,“thug” language is pervasive throughout, and includes some swearing.

MB

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Frank & Ava: In Love and War

Frank & Ava: In Love and War 
By John Brady
Thomas Dunne Books, 2015. 304 pgs. Nonfiction

Teenaged southerner Ava Gardner dreamed of becoming a real-life Hollywood actress. She moved to Hollywood at age 18, and a few years and two short-lived marriages later, Ava met Frank Sinatra. Together, they embarked on a life-long torrid affair replete with passion, anger, love, drunkenness, jealousy, and one attempt at marriage. Though their relationship was volatile and often painful, they cared for each other until the end.

This book read like a salacious whirlwind through classic Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s. I was astonished at how many famous people were deeply involved (sometimes for better but usually for worse) in the lives of Gardner and Sinatra. This book is sensational reading for anyone with an interest in classic Hollywood, celebrity gossip, or watching a decades-long train wreck unfold before your very eyes. You can’t look away!

LC

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Lord Fenton's Folly

Lord Fenton’s Folly 
By Josi S. Kilpack
Shadow Mountain Publishing, 2015. 336 pgs. Romance

Alice Stanbridge has been in love with her neighbor, Lord Fenton, since she was a young girl. When Lord Fenton suddenly asks Alice to marry him, she is sure all of her dreams are about to come true. However, Alice soon discovers that Lord Fenton’s reasons for marriage are more practical and disinterested than romantic. As the day of their marriage approaches, will Alice be able to marry a man who doesn’t love her?

This book was a fun read. Josi Kilpack has managed to create strong, believable characters with honest emotional arcs. The plot can be a little slow at times, but watching the main characters grow from childhood to awkward engagement to loving marriage was entertaining and worthwhile. This novel will satisfy any lover of period romance, but could also be a great introduction to the genre for new readers. Good clean fun!

LC

The Dead House

The Dead House
By Dawn Kurtagich
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015. 432 pages. Young Adult

More than two decades ago, the so-called Johnson Incident caused Elmbridge High to burn down, claiming the lives of three students and causing another, Carly Johnson, to disappear.

The main suspect? Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly's "sister" and nocturnal alter-ego. For months, the sisters have been communicating back and forth via a shared diary--they use it to write each other notes, corroborate their stories, and plot against the psychologists who are trying to integrate them. Nobody's sure if Kaitlyn actually exists, if she's a piece of Carly that fractured away after her parents died; or worse, if a more sinister force has possessed Carly's body and mind.

So when Carly disappears--in part due to an occult ritual--Kaitlyn goes searching for her sister in the dark, haunted house that only exists in their nightmares. 

Told through a series of diary entries, notes between the sisters, psychologists' transcripts, video clips, creepy photos, and more, The Dead House definitely keeps readers guessing as to whether or not Carly and Kaitlyn are suffering from mental illness or dealing with a demonic denizen. While I found it difficult to get emotionally attached to either Carly or Kaitlyn, I think that distance played into the novel's voyeuristic, found-footage style. The book's exterior and interior design is gorgeous; and despite being a hefty 400+ pages, this book may appeal to reluctant readers due to the amazing (and very creepy) artwork. This is a great next step for fans of Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Madeleine Roux's Asylum

CA



Daughters Unto Devils

Daughters Unto Devils
By Amy Lukavics
Harlequin Teen, 2015. 281 pages. Young Adult

After the terrors of last winter, sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner's life hasn't ever been the same. Not only did her family get snowed into their high mountain home last winter, but their pregnant mother fell deathly ill and gave birth to a blind/deaf daughter who's been nothing but a harbinger of more travails to come. Amanda's life is hard; but when she realizes she's pregnant with the postal boy's child, it becomes a nightmare.

Now winter is nigh again, and nobody's keen on another six months trapped in the cabin. The family loads up a covered wagon, intending to find an abandoned homestead on the prairie. Pa chooses a house that looks solid enough on the outside; but it's what's on the inside that counts. The family finds the home splattered with old gore. The floorboards are missing, ripped out for no apparent reason. And at night, Amanda can hear an eerie, keening baby's wail coming from inside the house.

When strange things start happening around the house, it becomes clear to Amanda that something's already possessed the land the Verners have taken as their own . . . and it isn't happy with the new neighbors.

This novel's often pitched as Little House on the Prairie meets Stephen King; and for the most part, it holds up to that praise. While slow to get started (there's a lot of information dump in the first few chapters), the images presented are certainly horrifying and stick with the reader long after the novel's done. Amanda's dedication to her family and her faith is admirable, and the deep physical/emotional claustrophobia Lukavics creates on the page is perhaps the most frightening aspect of the novel.

P.S. I'm not sure I'll ever get the image of the dead baby standing in the cornfield out of my head. Ugh.

CA