Friday, December 30, 2016

Dashing Through the Snow

Dashing Through the Snow
By Debbie Macomber
Ballantine Books, 2015. 244 pgs. Romance

Ashley Davison is a California graduate student trying desperately to make it home to Seattle for the holidays, but after she’s oddly denied a plane ticket and a rental car it seems like everything that possibly can go wrong is. Luckily, Ashley meets Dashiell Sutherland in the rental car line. Dashiell is a former army intelligence officer, who also happens to be traveling to the Seattle area for a job interview. Ashley and Dashiell decide to share the last available rental car, and together they begin a holiday journey full of everything from lost puppies to notorious biker gangs -- but the biggest surprise of all is that these two might be falling in love.

This book was a delight. Ashley and Dashiell were lovable, the plot was engaging and full of humor, and the romance was heartwarming. No one does holiday romance like Debbie Macomber. If it’s too late for one last Christmas novel, then be sure you add this one to next year’s reading list!

CNC

Redshirts

Redshirts
By John Scalzi
Tor, 2012. 317 pgs. Sci-Fi

When Ensign Andrew Dahl gets assigned to the Intrepid starship, he notices that low-ranking ensigns find a way of disappearing whenever it's time to make assignments for away missions.  On his own first few away missions, he only barely avoids death several times and watches many of his fellow ensigns die.  Soon, he begins to realize that something extremely odd is happening on his ship.

This is fun fan fiction for Star Trek fans who are familiar with the premise that "redshirts" are almost always the only ones to die on away missions on the show.  This book plays on that premise, toying with the idea of what would happen to Redshirts on an actual starship if they began to see that trend as well.  This is light reading, frequently humorous, and generally just good fun.

BHG

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Vote Loki

Vote Loki
By Christopher Hastings
Marvel, 2016, 120 Pages, Graphic Novels, Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Tired of not being stressed about the election? Get it back and more with this one-shot comic by Chris Hastings. Opening with a quick introduction of original character Nisa Contreras, an up and coming reporter with personal history with Loki, Vote Loki takes readers through a political campaign run by misdirection and the campaign slogan: "If I were your president, I'd lie right to your face, and you'd love it".

The story is silly, outrageous. It's not especially politically, though Loki's speech at the end (where he specifically notes he doesn't have any actual policy positions), is a bit of a jab at the general electorate. The illustrative style focuses on making the superheroes (Loki, Thor, Angela) look like real people; while the scenery becomes stylistic at times, the characters maintain an air of realism. Overall, Vote Loki is a fun, tongue in cheek story about politics. It's a little light on the action for a Marvel production, but the end product is still enjoyable. Hastings well captures the spirit of a contentious election season and encapsulates into an innocuous superhero story.

JMS

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Earl’s Betrothal: A Regency Romance

The Earl’s Betrothal: A Regency Romance
by Karen Tuft
 Covenant Communications, 2016. 264 pgs, Romance

 Captain Lord Anthony Hargraves returns home from the Peninsular War in 1812, to discover that his elder brother has died placing him next in line to inherit his estate. Reluctantly Anthony sets about the task of finding a wife so he can produce a legitimate heir. To make matters more difficult he has discovered feelings for his mother’s companion Amelia Clarke. Join in on the journey with Anthony and Amelia as they try to navigate a world that doesn’t easily let two different social classes mix.

 I loved this story. The relationship that grows between Anthony and Amelia is a lot of fun to watch develop. The other part about this story that I really loved is the author’s mention of Anthony’s experience with PTSD. For so long in society war was romanticized without ever mentioning the struggles the soldiers went through coming home. And the story is romanticized still, but I appreciated the acknowledgement toward those struggles.

MH

Curious Minds: A Knight and Moon novel

Curious Minds: A Knight and Moon novel
by Janet Evanovitch
Bantam Books, 2016. 323 pgs. Mystery

Riley Moon is a junior analyst at a huge bank; her first day on the job at a prestigious bank, she is sent to ease the concerns of the eccentric Emerson Knight. Mr. Knight is suddenly concerned about his gold and wants to see it. Since Mr. Knight is a wealthy enough patron they assign Riley as Mr. Knight's assistant. Soon Riley and Emerson discover an embezzlement scheme that will impact the world. Will they be able to stop the nefarious scheme before the world is thrown into economic collapse?

This was a fun story; I enjoyed the dynamic between Riley and Emerson . It is a light comedic read that helped me stay awake on my various road trips in the middle of the night. Emerson is a socially awkward genius who has a zoo in his house because his father wanted his own menagerie of animals. And Riley just graduated law school and is excited to start off her career and gets to follow Emerson around as he drags her across the country trying to solve this mystery. The banter between these two characters is fun to listen to.

MH

The Mistletoe Inn

The Mistletoe Inn
By Richard Paul Evans
Simon & Schuster, 2015. 300 pgs. Fiction

Although not a sequel, this is the second book in Richard Paul Evan’s Mistletoe Collection. If you haven’t read the first book in the collection, The Mistletoe Promise, don’t worry because the stories can be read out of order. In The Mistletoe Inn, Kimberly Rossetti is a finance officer from Colorado who dreams of being a successful romance author. Just as Kimberly’s life seems to be hitting rock bottom, her father gives her a once in a lifetime Christmas gift – a ticket to a romance writers’ conference at the Mistletoe Inn in Vermont. Kimberly is hesitant to attend the conference, but she can't resist the chance to meet her favorite author H. T. Cowell, a notoriously private author who is speaking in public for the first time in years.

The Mistletoe Inn is one of the best Christmas novels I’ve read this season. It's a bittersweet story, but the characters are inspiring and full of love and compassion. This heartfelt novel is perfect for the holiday season.

CNC

Replica

Replica
By Lauren Oliver
Harper, 2016. 236 pgs, 284 pgs. Young Adult

The first thing you need to know about this book is that it is two books in one. Replica tells the stories of Lyra and Gemma in a flip-book fashion. You can read one story in it's entirety  and then the other (which is what I did) or read alternating chapters. Once you read the first story, you flip the book over to read the second story.

Lyra is a replica, or what we might call a clone, and has lived at the Haven Institute in Florida her entire life. Haven is a facility surrounded by military guards and secrets. Most people have no clue what is happening on the private island where it is housed, including the replicas living there. Lyra only knows Haven as her home, but when an explosion rocks the island, she along with 72 (another replica) escape to see what there is beyond the Haven walls.

Gemma is a normal girl, except she has always felt less than normal because she is overweight. She is the only child of wealthy parents. Her father was one of the co-founders of Fine and Ives, a pharmaceutical company, although he parted ways with the company after a lengthy legal battle. Gemma doesn't know the history of why her dad and the company split, but she does know that whatever happened, her parents don't want to tell her about it. After an incident involving a Frankenstein mask and almost being kidnapped, Gemma  decides she needs to know more about Fine and Ives. Her research leads her to discover Haven, so she decides to go to Florida to see what she can learn.

This book is sci-fi with plenty of mystery elements mixed in. I found it to be extremely captivating and am anxious to read the sequel that should come out in 2017.

AMM

Saturday, December 17, 2016

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life

You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life
By Jen Sincero
Running Press Book Publishers, 2013. 254 pgs. Nonfiction

Jen Sincero is a bestselling author, speaker and success coach. There was a time in her life when she was very unhappy and she knew she needed to make some changes, she just didn't know what those changes should be. She read self-help books and hired life coaches and finally figured some things out. This book gathers all of her great tips and insights into an easy-to-read book full of humor, advice and inspiring stories.

This book has the ability to change your life, if you let it. The title itself should give you a warning that there is swearing throughout the book. Jen Sincero tells it like it is and she is very liberal with the expletives. What I loved about this book is that she keeps saying over and over again that we need to love ourselves, even with all of the weaknesses and mistakes we make. We are all great and we have enormous potential and can succeed beyond our wildest expectations but for some reason we are usually our biggest obstacle. We hold ourselves back and let fear and doubt determine the course of our lives. It is time to take control, to love the person we are and allow ourselves to be amazing. I listened to the audio version read by the author and highly recommend it, just be prepared for the swearing.

AL

Friday, December 16, 2016

Judgment at Verdant Court

Judgment at Verdant Court 
by M.C. Planck
 Pyr, 2016, 343 pages, Fantasy,

 The story of Christopher Sinclair, a man lost in an alternate dimension, continues in the strongest entry yet. Christopher, ever gathering allies and vassals through the innocence of his worldview, faces the challenge of hunting his old champion and friend for committing a terrible crime. On top of this, he is charged with clearing his section of the frontier, a merciless swamp filled with sapient wolves and dinosaurs, of all monsters. The path forward is fraught with dangers both seen and unseen, with the nobility he serves marking the chiefest danger.

I would almost consider the World of Prime series clean reads; there’s no swearing (none in Earth’s idiom, anyways), no sex, but there are moments of brutality that are heartbreaking in their inhumanity. This is one of the stronger points of Planck’s writing; without being graphic he paints a picture of despair and conjures revulsion in his audience when desired, but tempers it with the continual hope of the main character. Christopher's wrestling with the overarching plot point of "Dungeons and Dragons as implemented in life" continues to develop in complexity and depth, while the actual world building going on in the background strengthens the plot and characters considerably. The World of Prime series just keeps getting better.

JMS

Rebel of the Sands

Cover image for Rebel of the sands
Rebel of the Sands
by Alwyn Hamilton
Viking, 2016, 314 pages, Young Adult Fiction

Amani is desperate to leave the dead-end town of Dustwalk, and she's counting on her sharpshooting skills to help her escape. But after she meets Jin, the mysterious rebel running from the Sultan's army, she unlocks the powerful truth about the desert nation of Miraji ... and herself.

This book reads like a combination of a western and a tale from Arabian Nights. The two genres have more in common than I thought: Both are tales of living in an unforgiving land, and the people who live there have to be spunky in order to survive. A warning to those who are sensitive to language: this book is saltier than I expected, but it also seems appropriate for the genre. The pacing of the novel is quick, and full of plot twists that I did not see coming. This is the first book in a trilogy, and I can’t wait to pick up the second book!

MB

The Lost and the Found

Cover image for The lost and the found
The Lost and the Found
by Cat Clarke
Crown, 2016, 355 pages, Young Adult Fiction

THE LOST When six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, the only witness was her younger sister, Faith. Since then, Faith's childhood has revolved around her sister's disappearance—from her parents' broken marriage and the constant media attention, to dealing with so-called friends who only ever want to talk about her missing sister.

THE FOUND Now, thirteen years later, a young woman is found in the front yard of the Logans' old house, disoriented and clutching the teddy bear Laurel was last seen with. Can her sister finally be back? Faith always dreamed of her sister coming home; she just never believed it would happen. But soon a disturbing series of events leaves Faith increasingly isolated from her family and paranoid about her sister's motives. Before long, Faith begins to wonder if it's the abduction that's changed her sister, or if it's something else. . . .

This book grabbed me pretty early on. While there are a lot of stories about people being abducted, you don’t hear much about what a family has to deal with once that person has come back. Clarke does a good job of depicting the joy and relief, and also the adjustments and pains that come with dealing with such a dramatic event. Although all of the book blurbs I’ve read talk about Faith’s suspicions of Laurel’s behavior, much of this doesn’t come to light until the last third of the book. By this point, the book had me well in its clutches and I stayed up far too late in the night to see what would happen next.

MB

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Study in Scarlet Women

A Study in Scarlet Women (The Lady Sherlock series #1)
By Sherry Thomas
Berkley, 2016. 334 pgs. Mystery

Charlotte Holmes has been cast out, and she couldn’t be happier. She is determined to live life on her own terms, free of her family’s wishes or the expectations of high society. Charlotte hadn’t intended to go as far as becoming a social pariah in the process, but no matter. She will find a ladies home and a means to feed and clothe herself while she builds an investigative reputation as “Sherlock” Holmes. When a string of murders points to both Charlotte’s father and her beloved sister Livia as the culprits, she must reach out to old friends and new allies if she is to bring the true suspect to justice.

I’ve read a few of the plethora of Sherlock retellings published since the success of the BBC miniseries of the same name and found them enjoyable. I am also a fan of Sherry Thomas, so picking up her latest, which is a mystery, was a no-brainer. As always, Thomas’s prose is delightful and even better, she’s brought an original eye to a female retelling of Sherlock Holmes. Charlotte’s powers of deduction are very Sherlockian but instead of being cold socially, she knows the ruling families of high society and how to use her social skills to her advantage. I loved seeing how all the pieces of the Sherlock canon fell together. I can’t wait to read more.

HSG

QB


QB: My Life Behind the Spiral
By Steve Young with Jeff Benedict
Houghton Mifflin, 2016.  389 pgs. Biography

Steve Young is perhaps one of the most famous Mormons alive today.  I pointedly never paid attention to football for most of my life, and even I cannot remember not being familiar with his name.  However, despite his notoriety, this intimate and honest autobiography reveals a side of Young even his biggest fans may not know.

It is easy to view larger than life sports stars as completely self-assured and confident individuals. But the superstar athlete revealed in QB is a determined young man struggling with severe anxiety yet determined to conquer each and every obstacle placed in his chosen path.

I loved hearing the behind-the-scenes stories and the often play-by-play description of pivotal games and challenging moments.  Young’s narrative gives readers a glimpse inside the helmet of a professional quarterback and inside the mind of a man struggling with overwhelming expectations.  His family, his faith, and his will to excel all played huge roles in his many impressive achievements.  A wonderful memoir for fans and non-fans alike.

CG

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Chemist

The Chemist 
By Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 512 pgs. Fiction

To say that she is on the run would be an understatement. After becoming a liability to her classified government agency, she moves constantly, changes names frequently, and never goes to bed without donning a gas mask or setting elaborate chemical booby traps around her. Not to mention sleeping in the bath tub or driving hundreds of miles to and from a public library to check her email. When she is contacted by her former handler to finish one last job in exchange for the kill order on her back, she walks into a trap involving a rogue assassin she is forced to trust and a civilian bent on falling in love with her.

In Stephenie Meyer's preface to The Chemist, her first publication in eight years, she explains that the book is a result of "my romantic sensibilities and my obsession for Jason Bourne", which is an accurate description. The book is an entertaining if uneven and overly long romantic thriller. The first 200 pages are all thriller and I was completely engaged. As soon as the romance with Daniel hit – and that is not a euphemism – the suspense was put on hold, and the book lost my interest. But as the story continued their relationship became more believable and the book became a part-thriller once again.

While I likewise quibble with Daniel's lack of flaws and his instant acceptance of "her", I credit the book with pulling me out of a reading slump. I chose not to call her by any of her short-lived names (an aspect which didn't bother me), but if name is an important characterization for you keep that in mind. Meyer’s writing has improved and the audio book is also good. Here’s to hoping we don’t have to wait another eight years for her next book.

HSG

Shade's Children

Shade’s Children
By Garth Nix
Harper Collins, 1997. 310. Young Adult

Gold-Eye has lived his life on the run from Trackers, which can sent their prey from miles away; Myrmidons, beefy warriors who fight to the death; and Ferrets, which come out at night to drink the blood of unwary children. But Gold-Eye is also 15 years old, which is older than he ever expected to be. Ever since the Change, when every adult human on Earth disappeared, the world has been run by mysterious Overlords who raise children like cattle for the slaughter. When they reach the age of 14—their “Sad Birthday”—kids are shipped from dormitories to the Meat Factory where their bodies and brains are ripped apart to create inhuman monsters. So Gold-Eye is lucky, really, just to be alive. Lucky that his ability to see a few seconds into the future has kept him that way for so long.

After years on his own, barely surviving, Gold-Eye runs into more kids who have escaped the Dormitories, and these kids are doing more than just running and hiding—they’re fighting back. They have abilities too, from mind reading to telekinesis, and they’re taking their marching orders from a mysterious figure named Shade. Gold-Eye joins the team and accepts dangerous missions to gather intel about the Change, but it quickly becomes clear that in Shade’s single-minded war against the Overlords, his children’s lives are nothing but tools. To take down the Overlords and reverse the Change, though, isn’t it still worth it?


Though I generally find that post-apocalyptic YA is overdone, Garth Nix does get some credit for being one of the first. It was a compelling read, with fast-paced action and likeable characters. More impressive, it managed to provoke a bit of introspection, which is a seldom-achieved goal among post-apocalyptic lit. It punctuates the action with charts, diagrams, and snippets from Shade’s internal monologues that make you pause and consider the scenario through a moral lens. All together I enjoyed the book and would put it a step ahead of Hunger Games and other books in the genre. There is certainly some swearing and some open talk about sex (nothing graphic, of course), but as long as that’s not a problem I’d recommend this book for teen boys, especially those that enjoyed the Maze Runner series.

LLK

Monday, December 12, 2016

Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys
By Neil Gaiman
William Morrow, 2005. 336. Fantasy

In the beginning all the stories were about Tiger, the big cat. They were fierce stories about rending and tearing without mercy. But then Anansi, the spider, stole them from Tiger; then all the stories were about cleverness and trickery and Tiger always came off the worst. Anansi then moved to Florida, had a son named Fat Charlie, and proceeded to die of a heart attack while belting out karaoke. It was all rather embarrassing.

Fat Charlie had no idea until the funeral that his humiliating joke of a father was actually an ancient spider god. Nor did he have any inkling of the existence of his brother Spider—the one who inherited all the cosmic powers. But now Spider is in town and he’s eager to get to know Fat Charlie… and Fat Charlie’s fiancée. Especially Fat Charlie’s fiancée. Relations between the two brothers get rough, and all the while Tiger is lurking, looking for an opening to revenge himself on Anansi’s blood. It’s hardly fair, though. How can an ordinary man be expected to hold his own amidst legends and gods?


A kind-of sequel to American Gods, Anansi Boys is a typical sampling of Gaiman’s trademark magical realism. The mundane and the sublime are put side-by-side in a fascinating, sometimes humorous, juxtaposition. You definitely root for Fat Charlie as he is engulfed by a world not his own, and the deity figures are both mysterious and compelling. Though not my favorite Gaiman, Anansi Boys is definitely still a good read and I’d recommend it to fans of Gaiman or Terry Pratchett.

LLK

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Will it Waffle?: 53 Irresistible and Unexpected Recipes to Make in a Waffle Iron

Will it Waffle?: 53 Irresistible and Unexpected Recipes to Make in a Waffle Iron
By Daniel Shumski
Workman Publishing, 2014. 211 pgs. Nonfiction

Is there anything better than waffles on a lazy weekend? Or waffles for dinner after a busy day? I don't think so! This book is your one stop shop for all things waffles: the history of how waffles came to be, tips and tricks for cleaning your waffle maker, and how to make the tastiest waffles possible.

Best of all recipes for making waffles not only breakfast, but for lunch, dinner, and dessert are included. In college my roommate introduced me to chocolate waffles made by cooking cake batter in the waffle iron. This book expanded my waffle options with many delicious recipes. Did you know that you can make waffled pizza, s'mores, and even filet mignon?!? I tried the Toasted Cheese Wavioli (waffled cheese ravioli) which turned out pretty well. If you're looking to up your waffle game, this book is for you!

AMM

Monday, December 5, 2016

Talking as Fast as I Can

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between)
by Lauren Graham
Ballantine Books, 2016. 224 pgs. Biography
 
After years of waiting, fans of Gilmore Girls returned to Stars Hollow when four revival episodes were released on Netflix at the end of November. A few days later, star Lauren Graham released Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between). Graham has written before – her novel Someday, Someday Maybe was a well-reviewed bestseller – but this is her first foray into biographical essays. She offers details from her childhood, her years as an aspiring actress, her life as a TV star, and her struggles as a writer. She also shares the journal she wrote on the set of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, giving fans a behind-the-scenes look at the revival.

I’ve loved Lauren Graham for years now, so my views on the book are probably a little biased. Nevertheless, I have to say that I really enjoyed it. Graham is a clever writer, and the audiobook, which she narrates, is especially fun. I was surprised to discover that Talking as Fast as I Can is entirely clean, apart from a politely-told scene describing the audition where Graham discovered her discomfort with on-stage nudity. That’s a rare find in the world of funny celebrity memoirs.

SR

Belgravia

Belgravia
by Julian Fellowes
Grand Central Publishing, 2016. 416 pgs. Historical Fiction

At a legendary ball held on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, two families’ lives intersect and are forever changed. Decades later, the nouveau riche Trenchards and the aristocratic Bellasis clan collide again. I can’t say much without revealing major plot points, but rest assured that secrets, romance, class conflict, scandal, and lovable characters abound in this novel by screenwriter and producer Julian Fellowes. It’s not a profound book, but it’s well-written and a lot of fun.

Belgravia filled the Downton Abbey-sized hole in my heart. Featuring a wide cast of characters, some good and some bad, it is chock-full of the intrigue, drama, and cleverness I miss now that the TV series has ended. Fellowes has a masterful grasp on the 1840s setting, and this is one of the most believable pieces of historical fiction I’ve read. I might have struggled to keep track of the many characters with a less skilled narrator, but I listened to the audiobook read by Juliet Stevenson, and I can’t recommend it highly enough

SR

Rare Objects

Rare Objects
By Kathleen Tessaro
Harper, 2016. 378 pgs. Historical Fiction

Set in Depression-era Boston,  Rare Objects tells of Maeve Fanning, a first generation Irish immigrant determined to create a place for herself despite mistakes she has made an unhealthy interest in bootlegged gin and shadowy gentlemen. 
In order to start anew and secure employment at an antiques store, she bleaches her hair and hides her heritage.  Unfortunately, her past comes back to haunt her when a wealthy heiress shows up in the shop bringing with her the secrets Maeve most wants to keep hidden.
Maeve’s Boston is beautifully described in Tessaro’s quiet prose.  The antiques shop is an ideal setting for a story demonstrating that we all have a past, whether it be filled with joys or pains, and it makes us who we are.  And we are, each of us, unique treasures of indescribable value.  A lovely work of insightful historical fiction.

CG

Gentleman in Moscow

Gentleman  in Moscow
By Amor Towles
Viking, 2016. 462 pgs. Fiction.

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov was sentenced to house arrest by a Bolshevik tribunal because of his aristocratic legacy and attitudes.  His “house” is the Metropol, a grand hotel in the heart of Moscow.  And so a new life for him begins in a tiny attic room several floors above the large suite he previously occupied.

Fortunately, Rostov is an optimist and thanks to his gentlemanly charms he establishes a rich life filled with friends and purpose, despite his limited mobility. He also has a front row seat to decades of history in a city in almost constant upheaval, vastly different from the Russia of his youth.

I fell in love with the writing style of Amor Towles when he wrote Rules of CivilityA Gentleman in Moscow solidifies his standing as one of my all-time favorite authors.  Count Rostov stole my heart with his kindness and efforts to show everyone the greatest respect.  Add to the Count a cast of other vibrant characters, a rare look at a slice of history, and a range of beautiful insights to life and you have a wonderful treasure of a novel. 

CG

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything

Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything
By Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Simon & Schuster, 2016. 307 pages. Nonfiction

This book covers all things Seinfeld, starting at the beginning: how the show got started, casting, and details from writing and filming the show. Then it's growing popularity and importance at NBC, and finally the fandom fallout and numerous tributes and cultural references that continue to this day. There were many interesting anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stories about how memorable episodes and characters came to be, which I really enjoyed. But there were also a few stories about Seinfeld minutiae which came just short of being interesting for me. Overall, this is definitely a book for Seinfeld fans, and having a familiarity with most of the episodes will be helpful to fully understand everything referenced here (although they are all explained just in case you've never seen the show). If you aren't a Seinfeld fan, this would still be of interest if you enjoy learning about cultural curiosities or pop culture history.

BHG

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Star-Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen
by Roshani Chokshi
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016. 342 pages. Young Adult

In a fantasy world influenced by Indian mythology, Mayavati daughter of the raja of Bharata is born with a horoscope that predicts a marriage of death and destruction. Because of this, Maya is scorned and ridiculed by the other women in her father’s harem. Maya wants more out of life and fears marrying will force her to just move from one harem to another. So when her father makes plans to marry her off to prevent war, Maya attempts to rebel but is locked in her room. When a mysterious stranger, Amar, breaks into Maya's room claiming to be one of her potential suitors and offering her a chance to rule at his side, Maya jumps at the chance. But Amar’s kingdom is a place of mystery and shadow, a kingdom in the Otherworld. Amar asks Maya to wait until the next moon, then all will be explained, but is that more than she can give when mirrors offer glimpses of strange lands and the lines between life and death are blurred?

Vividly imagined and rich in mythic detail from Hindu folklore, debut author Chokshi has created a lush tale about betrayal, love, sacrifice, self-discovery, and making your own destiny. This is the author’s first novel, and while there are a few hitches, this is definitely an author to watch.

AJ

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
By John M. Gottman
Harmony Books, 2015. 295 pgs.

John Gottman is an expert on marriage. He has forever altered the way marriages are studies by deciding to apply scientific procedures to his observations. He has also followed marriages for years to see what happens to them. This book puts together the seven principles he has observed that can guide couples to long lasting relationships. It is full of practical questionnaires and exercises to do alone and as couples to discover the underlying reasons behind many common arguments.

This is one of those books that I probably need to read and re-read. There is a lot of information packed into a fairly small book. I listened to this on audio and I think I'm actually going to read the book format next time. The audio version doesn't work as well for the questionnaires and exercises. This is a great book for anyone looking to strengthen an already good relationship or rescue one that is struggling.

AL


Truthwitch

Truthwitch
by Susan Dennard
Tor Teen, 2016. 415 pages. Young Adult

Nineteen years into a 20-year truce, trouble is brewing in a land ruled by three empires and Safiya and Iseult, threadsisters bonded together for life, are unwittingly at the heart of the trouble. In the Witchlands, some people are born with magical skills. Hot-headed Safi a noblewoman of the Cartoran empire was born with the incredibly rare ability to tell if someone is telling the truth or lying. While quiet and scheming Iseult is a Threadwitch, despised for her Nomatsi ethnic heritage but able to perceive the emotional ties between people seen as colored threads.

Safi and Iseult just want to live their own lives, but Safi’s ability makes her target as empires jockey for position and power. Chased by the near indestructible Bloodwitch Aeduan, who can track a person across empires once he smells their blood and trying to keep from being caught up in the political machinations taking place, Safi and Iseult flee on a ship with Prince Merik, a Windwitch and admiral of Nubrevna who is trying to save his people from starvation after a horrible drought.

Told from the alternating points of view of Safiya, Iseult, Merik, and the ruthless Bloodwitch Aeduan, this book is loaded with political intrigue, magic, thrilling fight scenes, mythical creatures, action-packed adventure, and romance. I think most people will be happy to overlook the novel’s few flaws.

AJ

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells
By Sarah M. Eden
Shadow Mountain, 2016. 322 pgs. Romance, Historical Fiction

Paisley Bell has been acting as the temporary sheriff of the quiet town of Savage Wells, and been doing a great job of it, even though some doubt her ability because she is a woman. When the town council decides to hold tryouts to find a permanent replacement, her fiercest competition comes from the famous lawman Cade O'Brien. He has his own reasons for wanting to settle in the sleepy town and he is pleasantly surprised when Paisley can actually hold her own. Their quick banter turns into  mutual respect, but they both know that Savage Wells just isn't big enough for two sheriffs.

This is probably my favorite of all the Proper Romance books that have been published recently by Shadow Mountain. Paisley and Cade share a great chemistry and I loved all the quirky side characters. Sarah Eden is a great author and I have liked everything she has done, but in my opinion, this is her best. I really loved this book!

AL

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Heartless

Heartless
By Marissa Meyer
Feiwel & Friends, 2016. 453 pages. Young Adult

Cath was born to a brilliant world full of balls, tea parties, and flamingo croquet. Unfortunately, that isn’t the life she wants for herself. Despite being one of the privileged Wonderland nobility, Cath feels uncomfortable with her empty life full of frenemies and brainless men. She would rather follow her one true passion—baking—and join the working class by opening Heart’s greatest bakery. With her parents set on having her marry the bumbling King of Hearts, however, that dream seems far out of reach. When a new court jester appears and offers Cath an alluring blue-collar romance, she quickly finds herself falling head over heels. But can a love like this, disapproved of by everyone in Cath’s life, really last?

In the tradition of Gregory Maguire, this Alice in Wonderland prequel tries to provide a sympathetic backstory for the villainous Queen of Hearts. For the most part, I would say that she succeeds. You support Cath in her dream and feel drawn toward the mysterious Jest. Her transformation to become the heartless Queen of Hearts is a little less believable, though. The “off with their heads” theme seems to come from nowhere, and her blind drive for revenge at the end seems extreme. The book also suffers from quite a few Young Adult clichés: a love triangle, an ordinary girl that everyone seems to think is extraordinary for some reason, etc. Despite these flaws, however, the book was definitely a page-turner and no fan of the Lunar Chronicles will walk away disappointed.

LLK

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Born a Crime

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
by Trevor Noah
Spiegel and Grau, 2016. 304 pgs. Biography

Fans of The Daily Show are familiar with comedian Trevor Noah, who took over John Stewart’s post last year. His casting was controversial, since he was largely unknown in the United States at the time. Last week, he released his first memoir, Born a Crime. I listened to it expecting to hear the typical celebrity memoir filled with funny memories and maybe a moment or two of poignancy. Instead, I was blown away by Noah’s story.

The title of the book refers to the fact that Noah’s black mother and white father each risked five years of prison time for having a child together under South Africa’s Apartheid. “Where most children are proof of their parents’ love, I was the proof of their criminality,” he explains. On a daily basis throughout his childhood and youth, Noah experienced personal and institutionalized racism, and he struggled to find his place in a society that sharply divided black, white, and biracial people. Theft, assault, rape, and murder were each a frequent threat throughout his young life. Noah’s brilliant and devout mother refused to accept the limits placed on her based on race and sex, however, and Born a Crime is largely a love letter to her. It also includes hilarious depictions of Trevor’s antics as an overly-energetic and overly-intelligent child.

I can definitely recommend this memoir. Its essay format sometimes sometimes feels disjointed but often works brilliantly. The audiobook, narrated by the author, is also excellent. It deals with difficult subject matter and uses strong language, making it better for a mature audience.

SR

Monday, November 21, 2016

What Light

What Light
By Jay Asher
Razorbill, 2016. 250 pgs. Young Adult

Sierra has lived on a Christmas tree farm her entire life. She spends the majority of the year in Oregon with her best friends Rachel and Elizabeth. Sierra loves the family business and idyllic setting of her home. Every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas though, she and her family live in a camper in California running their Christmas tree lot. Sierra has Heather and many other friends in California and can't imagine spending Christmas anywhere else.

This year starts as any other in California, except for Sierra's fear that this may be the last year they sell at their Christmas tree lot. Her parents haven't said anything for sure, but Sierra has overheard a few tense conversations indicating that the business isn't doing very well. Sierra also meets Caleb, a local boy, and with that new friendship comes quite a few secrets and intense feelings.

I enjoyed this book and even though it had some tense moments, it had the same charm of a holiday movie on the Hallmark Channel. I learned a lot about the inner workings of a Christmas tree farm. While there were some aspects of this book that I thought were overdramatic, overall I liked this holiday read!

AMM

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl
by David Ebershoff
Penguin Books, 2000, ebook 494 pages, Fiction

This novel is an unusual, emotional, and deeply moving love story inspired by the lives of the Danish painters Einar and Greta Wegener at the turn of the twentieth century. This tender portrait of marriage and change starts with a simple favor asked by a wife of her husband in the paint studio, which sets off a course of transformation and realization that neither could have predicted. The Danish Girl tells the poignant story of Lili Elbe, a pioneer in transgender history, and those she was close with as they each navigate their loyalties, ambitions, and desires.

Having no transgender people in my immediate circles I was very curious how Ebershoff would approach this interesting and poignant story. I was wrapped up in the lush and vivid descriptions of Denmark, California and Paris and was so impressed with the writing and structure. This book makes you think and feel things about situations that seem almost incomprehensible for a normal life. What was surprising to me is the medical advancements that were available so much earlier than I expected. The various relationships and love triangles are deeply moving and emotional. This is only loosely based on the life of Lili Elbe, so it should not be read as biography, but rather as fiction. I am glad for fiction books like this that explore transgender issues (and some of the other harder topics of modern life) that often get twisted with politics, religion, and social concerns, rather than focusing on the individuals whose lives are directly affected. This book is intended for a more mature audience both with themes and writing style.

LP

Magic Bites

Magic Bites 
by Ilona Andrews
Ace Books, 2007. 260 pages. Science Fiction

Kate Daniels is a mercenary whose main job is to clean up paranormal messes. She finds out at the beginning of the book that some monster has killed her guardian. Kate goes to the Knights Order to persuade them to let her work her uncle’s case. As she investigates the murder she gets caught between The People (Vampires) and the shape shifters (werewolves, werebadgers…) who both blame the other for the deaths of their people. Kate is way over her head and doesn’t mind it that way.

I have fallen in love with this series.I will admit this one is a little slow going at first I really had to push myself through the first 50-60 pages but around 80 pages the story really picked up for me. I have read about one book from this series a day since I finished this first one. There is some language, but overall it is a really compelling paranormal fantasty with plenty of action to keep you entertained.

MH

Moon Called

Moon Called
By Patricia Briggs
Ace Books, 2006. 288 pages, Science Fiction

Mercy Thompson is not your normal Volkswagen mechanic living in the tristate area. Her next door neighbor is a werewolf, one of her clients for car repairs is a vampire, and her boss is a metal smith, not to mention she is a shapeshifter who can at will turn into a coyote. When Mercy’s neighbor Adam is attacked and his daughter kidnapped, Mercy is under the gun to try to help the werewolves save Jessie.

This is one of my favorite books, it is a paranormal romance that is fast paced and really tastefully written. I love the dynamic between Mercy and the other characters in the story. Some of my favorite characters beside Mercy and Adam are Zee who is a grumpy old gremlin, and Stephan a vampire who smells like popcorn and loves to talk Scooby Doo. Patricia Briggs is one of my favorite authors.

MH

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Curious Beginning

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1)
By Deanna Raybourn
Berkley, 2015. 368 pgs. Mystery

As much as Veronica loved her spinster aunt-cum-mother, she is ready to embark on her next adventure as soon as her aunt is dead and buried. Veronica longs for the freedom to travel on her own, discover new butterfly species, and enjoy the occasional romantic dalliance. Unfortunately, she returns to find their cottage ransacked and occupied by a stranger intent on her abduction. Fortunately, Veronica is prepared for such circumstances and thwarts his attempts before being whisked off to the safety of London by a protective, elderly baron who knew her mother. From there she is delivered into the custody of Stoker, a tattooed, fallen natural historian, and their mutual hostility is palpable. But murder follows and the two are forced to go on the run while uncovering the mystery of Veronica’s parentage and Stoker's past.

I’ve been a devoted fan of Deanna Raybourn’s historical mysteries for awhile now but she surprised me with her latest book, which completely lives up to its title. I reread it this fall for my book club and the entire club, without exception, adored it. It has the whole package – witty verbal sparring, one-of-a-kind characters, even pacing, and an unpredictable mystery. Veronica, who is an intriguing combination of Sherlock and Mary Poppins, and Stoker, the unexpected dark brooding hero, are free spirits and exceptions to the Victorian norm. Some may find their modern sensibilities implausible but as characters on the fringe of society, I found their views on feminism and morality tenable. Veronica’s arrogance and Stoker’s obstinacy can be grating at times, but overall this was a charming and addictive read.

HSG

Monday, November 14, 2016

Wild Card

Wild Card
by Jim Butcher
Dynamite Entertainment, October 2016. 144 pages. Graphic novel. Fantasy. 


Set in between Dresden Files novels White Night and Small Favor, Wild Card offers a look into the treacherous undercurrent of supernatural Chicago. Dresden, wizard, private eye, and mentor, races to stop a gang war and find the supernatural menace behind the killings that provoked it. Along the way, the reader gets a rare bit of narration by Murphy and Molly. 

Wild Card does a good job of showcasing the various factions Dresden faces off with, from Marcone, the Baron of Chicago, to Lara, the de facto leader of the White Court of vampires. It doesn't especially add to the overall plot line of the series, and the relationships between Dresden and his antagonists are generic, rather than an organic growth from previous material. The artwork is fantastic, however, and Murphy's fight with Puck was easily my favorite part, showing of both the skill of the artist and general epicness of team Dresden's token muggle.  While Wild Card wasn't my favorite addition to the Dresden Files, it was a fun read. The lack of intricate back story actually makes it better for an introduction to the series in graphic novel form; most of Harry's rogues gallery makes an appearance, but none of the overarching plot line is spoiled. If you're like me and eager for Peace Talks to come out, Wild Card is a good diversion to hold you over. 

JMS

The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star
By Nicola Yoon
Delacorte Press, 2016. 384 pgs. Young Adult

It’s seventeen-year-old Natasha Kingsley’s last day in New York. In twelve hours, she and her family will be deported to Jamaica. But there is one last shred of hope – a last-ditch meeting with an immigration lawyer to delay the deportation. On the way to the attorney’s office, Natasha bumps into Daniel Bae, who is on his way to an interview for an Ivy-league college he has no desire to attend. Their meeting sets off a chain reaction of coincidences, or so the logical Natasha believes. Daniel, ever the dreamer, sees their chance meeting as fate. Of course he and Natasha will fall in love and live happily ever after. But there are many alternate versions of the future, and neither Natasha nor Daniel knows which one will be theirs.

This book was already high on my radar but after it won the National Book Award (before it was even released!) my expectations were even higher. Within a few pages I immediately saw why it won the award. Illegal immigrants, multiracial characters, thoughtful prose – it ticks all the right boxes. But as I read further, I quickly found the story, which mainly takes place over the course of one day, to be award-worthy as well. As expected, Yoon’s writing is minimal and lovely. Her format – inserting an introductory chapter after each new character or concept is introduced – is refreshing.

I will warn you that if you are not a fan of May-December or insta-love romances this may not be for you. My disbelief wasn’t completely suspended but my adoration for Natasha and Daniel - who are complete opposites in personality - compensated for that. This is one of the best contemporary YA novels I’ve read all year.

HSG

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon
By Marion Zimmer Bradley
Knopf, 1982. 876 pages. Fantasy

Marion Zimmer Bradley tells the classic Arthurian tale with a unique twist: it is exclusively told from the perspective of women. It follows Igraine, Arthur's mother; Vivaine, the Lady of the Lake; Gwenhwyfar, Arthur's wife; and Morgaine, his half-sister; and tells the story of the rise and fall of Camelot from their conflicting viewpoints. A masterwork of new-wave feminism, it explores the sexuality of the Arthurian women, from Gwenhwyfar's suppressed longing for the forbidden Lancelot to Morgaine's open celebration of the "life force." It also places the Arthurian legend at the turning point in history when religion was teetering between the ancient druidic customs and the new worship of Christ. The title refers to the fact that the isle of Avalon, where druids and priestesses of the old religion are schooled, is receding further and further from the rest of Britain, hidden behind a literal and metaphorical veil of mists. Arthur is pulled back and forth between ancient Goddess and Christ, and it is the women that surround and influence him that ultimately must make the decision of faith for all of Britain.


As my lengthy summary might demonstrate, this is definitely a book of epic proportions, both in content and in size. It can definitely be slow going at times, too, with long, lagging periods between scenes of action. Despite this, the book is absolutely worth reading. It’s a provocative piece of literature that makes you question the basic norms of morality by turning religion on its head. It throws light on the contradictory powerful/powerless role of women, both in and out of the bedroom. Though written in 1982, its messages are directly applicable to today and make every page a worthwhile investment.

LLK

The Magnolia Story

The Magnolia Story
Chip Gaines, Joanna Gaines, and Mark Dagostino
Thomas Nelson, 2016. 208 pgs. Nonfiction

“Are y’all ready to see your fixer upper?”

If you’ve spent any time watching HGTV over the last three years, that phrase is probably familiar. Fixer Upper became a bona fide hit when it aired in the spring of 2013, largely thanks to the down-home charm of its stars, Chip and Joanna Gaines. The couple, who are also busy raising four small children on a farm outside Waco, Texas, make their living by turning rundown properties into families’ dream homes. With The Magnolia Story, they give fans a closer look at their life.

Although The Magnolia Story gives a brief glimpse into how Fixer Upper got its start, it isn’t a behind the scenes tell-all. Instead, this book tells the story of Chip and Joanna’s relationship and life leading up to becoming TV stars. Alternating between their two voices, it tells about their childhoods, their time as newlyweds, their risky business ventures, their failures, their successes, and their faith. I’m a big fan of Chip and Jo, so this book was a delight for me. It captured their warm, loving relationship, and I was surprised by how inspiring I found it. Without being overly preachy, The Magnolia Story showed how theirs is a life built on hard work, intuition, faith, generosity, and love.

SR

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Teeny's Tour of Pie

Teeny's Tour of Pie
By Teeny Lamothe
Workman Publishing, 2014. 272 pgs. Nonfiction

As a child, Teeny loved making pies alongside her mom. After graduating from college, she decided that she wanted to go on a pie making adventure. Teeny wanted to learn specifically how to run a small business as a lady pie baker.

I loved how she described this endeavor in an email she sent to to various bakeries about her idea. "I'm taking my education into my own hands, and embarking on what I'm fondly referring to as my "Tour of Pie." I'd like to spend a year traveling America, hopping from pie shop to pie shop, spending a month or so at each bakery, and soaking up as much experience and advice as possible. It's an ambitious project, and all the details have yet to be worked out, but it seems to be the most hands-on way to educatue myself in all things pie. Total pie immersion, if you will."

Teeny offered to work as a free set of hands at each pie shop, doing anything and everything they wanted in exchange for mentoring and advice. I loved following along with Teeny as she toured America. Her tour included stops in Seattle, WA, Ithaca, NY, Somerville, MA, Chicago, IL, Greensboro, AL, Davie, FL, Atlanta, GA, Los Angeles, CA and ended where all of this began, in her mom's kitchen in Littleton, CO.

Teeny's stories about what she learned were interesting and written in a way that made me feel like I was with her along the way. Most important, this book contains nearly 60 pie recipes, perfect for this (or really any) time of year!

AMM

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

March (The Trilogy)

Cover image for March. Book three
March, Book Three (Review of the Trilogy)
By John Lewis
Top Shelf Productions, 2016, 246 pages, Nonfiction Graphic Novel

John Lewis was one of the nation’s first Freedom Riders—one of the people who staged sit-ins at segregated lunch counters and movie theaters, and who insisted on riding the bus into Birmingham, Alabama, even though Klan leaders and policemen threatened the bus occupants at every stop. As the president of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Lewis was one of the speakers the day Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Lewis was also heavily involved in fighting for voting rights for all citizens. He was one of those attacked on Bloody Sunday, and he participated in the march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama--one of the main protests that encouraged the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

I don’t usually read graphic novels, but this is one that I think is an important read for anyone. Lewis’ dedication to what he calls the social gospel, and his tireless, nonviolent, committed work to that gospel is inspiring. Despite the dark subjects, this story has an upbeat tone, switching between two storylines: Lewis’ early work to end segregation, and the present-day story of now-Senator Lewis receiving a Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. While we have definitely come a long way from the conditions of Lewis’ childhood, the eerie familiarity of some scenes suggests we still have a long way to go.

MB

Monday, November 7, 2016

Underground Airlines

Underground Airlines
By Ben H. Winters
Mulholland Books/Little Brown and Company, 2016. 327 pgs. Fiction

Underground Airline is a terribly original work of speculative fiction.  It takes place in a world just like our own except that the American Civil War never happened and slavery is still legal in four states. 

The protagonist is Victor, a resourceful black man who works for the U.S. Marshall Service.  He uses his impressive skills to track down escaped slaves and return them to their rightful owners in exchange for his own continued freedom.  The current case takes Victor to Indianapolis where he quickly perceives he doesn’t have the whole story and much more is on the line than the life of this one run-away slave.

I am not sure exactly what I was expecting with this book but it is definitely not what I found.  Think a gripping Dirk Pitt adventure mixed with the social commentary of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent Between the World and Me.  I honestly couldn’t put it down while I was reading it and doubt I’ll ever be able to let go of its influence on how I view our world and country.
CG

Homegoing

Homegoing
By Yaa Gyasi
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 305 pgs. Fiction

Covering three hundred years and seven generations, Homegoing follows the lineage of two sisters, both born in Ghana, but each destined for very different legacies. 

Effia marries an English slaver and lives most of her life in relative ease and prosperity in a castle near the sea. Esi, her unknown half sister, is imprisoned in that same castle, then trafficked to America by means of the Gold Coast’s infamous slave trade.  Both women will bear children and those children bear children as well, each new generation being molded by the captivity and struggles of the generation before.

This is a powerful and gripping novel for a variety of reasons.  Gyasi writes with carefully descriptive prose building dynamic characters and nearly tangible settings that are difficult to forget.  Each of the 14 stories, which only cover pivotal moments in the subjects’ lives, left me wanting more and hoping desperately that the next story, about the next generation, will be happier than the last. Readers will definitely want to recommend this to others because of its merits, but also so they can discuss it with someone!

CG 

To the Bright Edge of the World

Cover image for To the bright edge of the world : a novel
To the Bright Edge of the World
By Eowyn Ivey
Little, Brown & Co, 2016, 417 pages, General Fiction

In the winter of 1885, decorated war hero Colonel Allen Forrester leads an exploratory expedition up the Wolverine River and into the vast, untamed Alaska Territory. As they map the territory and gather information on native tribes, Forrester and his team can't escape the sense that some great, mysterious force threatens their lives. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Sophie Forrester chafes under the social restrictions of being a pregnant woman on her own, and yearns to travel alongside her husband. She, too, explores nature, through the new art of photography, unaware that the coming winter will test her own courage and faith to the breaking point.

This sophomore book by the award-winning author of The Snow Child is just as hauntingly beautiful as its predecessor. Once again, Ivey takes a story of hardship and struggle and infuses it with fairy-tale elements. The Alaska Colonel Forrester and his crew traverse is one infused with magic, spirits, and unknown creatures. Yet the group’s very presence suggests that Alaska is on the cusp of change, and that soon the old magic will disappear.

Told through a series of journal entries and letters exchanged between Allen and Sophie, I was surprised to find that I was equally captivated by both stories. Elements of this story are based on an actual expedition in Alaska that occurred in 1885, and you can tell that Ivey really did her research. Photographs and brochures scattered throughout the book help add an element of authenticity. But most of all, Ivey’s writing made this story an immersive experience for me. I highly recommend this book!

MB

Friday, November 4, 2016

Shadow Queen

The Shadow Queen 
by 

Lorelai and her brother lost everything when their stepmother Irina killed their father and usurped the throne. Prince Kol is desperate to save his kingdom from an endless horde of ogres, and sees the foreign monarch Irina as his people's only hope. Told between these two perspectives as well as from Irina herself, this imaginative retelling of Snow White offers an exciting fantasy adventure that will leave readers excited to read more about the world of Ravenspire. 

Though inspired by the classic tale of Snow White, Shadow Queen transcends the bonds of the original, introducing mystical nature mages known as 'mardushkas', a fascinating race of half-dragons, and a complex political backdrop against which Lorelai wages war against Irina. Elements from Snow White (poisoned apples, a huntsman out for blood, an evil stepmother) appear within the story, but their inclusion elevates the story through subversion of the expected rather than limit the narrative. The love sub-plot remains secondary rather than upstaging the larger struggle; it rests mainly on the development of respect rather than raging hormones (though the pair is teased at one point for having them.) There are hints throughout the story of a larger conflict brewing, but Shadow Queen wraps up neatly enough that it isn't agonizing to wait for a sequel. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to fans of both fantasy and fairy tales. 

JMS

Friday, October 28, 2016

Korean Folk & Fairy Tales

Korean Folk & Fairy Tales 
by Suzanne Crowder Han
Hollym, 1991. 256 pgs. Nonfiction

This is a sampling of Korean stories which have been passed through generations via spoken and written traditions. It includes fables, anecdotes, fairy tales, origin stories and tales of the bizarre. Themes about life, love, power, money, family, justice, and humility are found throughout the stories, providing a window through which to gain some understanding of present-day Korean culture.

A society’s folklore can tell a lot about their traditional values, history, and influences. I really enjoyed this collection and the improved understanding of Korean culture it provided me. I love how short and consumable these stories are, with most no more than a few pages. I don’t know the original Korean versions of these stories, but there were a few stories where I felt the author used stronger language than was probably necessary. That was definitely the exception though, not the rule. This collection of stories is easy for me to recommend to anyone who loves folktales and fables, but I would advise parents to quickly read through a story before telling it to a young child. Not everything is suitable for very young audiences.

ACS

Thursday, October 27, 2016

I Am Not a Serial Killer

I Am Not a Serial Killer 
By Dan Wells
Tor, 2010. 271 pgs. Fiction

John Wayne Clever is not a typical teenager. John has long been drawn to dark and creepy things – a desire that is often feed by the work he does in his family’s mortuary. John knows that he is different, and he lives by a certain set of self-imposed rules meant to keep himself out of trouble and to keep those around him safe. But one day John comes face to face with the work of a true serial killer right in his own small town. John feels it's his duty to stop this madman, but can he do so without releasing his own demons?

This book is as weird as it is awesome. John is equal parts likable and disturbing, which makes for quite the unique protagonist. I loved the story and the turn it took that left me saying, “Ok, there is no way that really just happened.” There is not much more I can say about this story without giving too much away, but if you are looking for a good book to read this Halloween season I highly recommend this one.

CNC

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark
By Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey, 2003. 340 pgs. Fiction

Lou Arrendale has autism. He is extremely high functioning with a job, his own apartment, and a car. Set in the near future where autism has been cured for those born on the spectrum, Lou is part of a subset of people who received early intervention but was born after the cure was discovered. Lou likes his life, friends, and fencing and doesn't feel like his autism is a detriment.

However, his bosses boss Mr. Crenshaw feels otherwise. He sees Lou's department, made up of individuals who all have autism, as a draw on resources. Mr. Crenshaw schemes to have the entire department take part in a brand new experimental cure whether the employees are interested in the cure or not.

I thought this book was fascinating. I really enjoyed learning about how Lou saw and interacted with the world from his autistic perspective. This book left me with a lot of things to think about and would be excellent for a book club to discuss.

AMM

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue
by John McWhorter
Gotham Books, 2008. 230. Nonfiction

Most Anglophiles know the traditional history of the English language. Old English came over with the Saxons. The Normans brought a wave of words from Old French and the church added some Latin and voila, Middle English. Then Shakespeare happened, and there’s Modern English. John McWhorter insists that this is only half of the story, and the boring half at that. In Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue he explores the evolution of English grammar rather than vocabulary and does so from an explanatory rather than descriptive standpoint. Where did we get our meaningless “Do” and our “-ing” form for basic present? From the Celts of course. Why did our case system and many other grammatical complexities collapse in the transition to Middle English? Because the Vikings were butchering Old English as their second language. Using nontraditional linguistic evidence, McWhorter tells “the untold history of English.”

Anyone who loves English will enjoy this book and its fast-paced, conversational tone. Rather than the usual high-minded, esoteric tone endemic to academia, McWhorter gives a pop-linguistics telling of the story accessible to any layman. The one fault that I did find with the book was that it is presented some controversial opinions in a pretty one-sided manner. He makes the Celtic influence on English grammar, for example, seem the only logical interpretation of history, when many linguists actually hold contrary views on the matter. Perhaps a voice for the uncannonized and underrepresented needs to be strong to be heard at all, but I still would have appreciated a bit more prevarication. With that one reservation, though, it was a fabulous read and a lot of fun.

LLK

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Study in Charlotte

A Study in Charlotte
by Brittany Cavallaro
Katharine Tegen Books, 2016. 321 pages. Young Adult

This isn’t your typical re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes and Watson as teenagers. Instead Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson are the respective great-great-great grandchildren of the famous crime-solving duo. Though aware of each other’s existence, Charlotte and Jamie meet for the first time after each is sent to Sherrington, a private boarding school in Connecticut. Jamie is fascinated by Charlotte, who like Sherlock, is a brilliant genius who plays the violin, conducts scientific experiments, and dabbles with drugs.

When a student turns up dead after assaulting Charlotte and later fighting with Jamie, both become suspects in his murder. However, Charlotte begins to suspect they are being set up when she realizes the death has been staged like the famous Sherlock Holmes novel, The Adventure of the Speckled Band. To clear their names, Charlotte and Jamie must begin an investigation, putting their deductive skills to the test and very lives at risk.

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work and its adaptations will enjoy the many references to the original writings and a plot that includes poison, explosions, a deadly virus, and of course a possible connection to Moriarty’s descendant. However, be warned that there are some gritty topics such as drugs, rape, and death that make for a grim tale at times.

AJ