Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Galgorithm

Galgorithm
by Aaron Karo
Simon Pulse, 2015. Young Adult. 310 pages.

When Shane Chambliss was in 9th grade, he had his heart broken by a woman he now only refers to as Voldemort. Shane moved on and decided to use all that he had learned to help other teenage boys avoid the same mistakes. Enter the “Galgorithm,” a mathematical formula that when used correctly will greatly improve any geeky boy’s chance to get his gal. Oddly Shane never felt comfortable sharing his side job with best friend since birth, Jak, short for Jennifer Annabelle Kalkland. Shane has never felt more than friendship towards Jak, but when a former Galgorithm pupil decides to use the formula on Jak, Shane discovers he may have more feelings than he thought.

This is an enjoyable take on the “best friends who fall in love” plot. Shane and Jak are endearing characters with fun, witty banter. I especially enjoyed that the story is told from Shane’s perspective. One drawback is that it does take a bit for the story to get going.

AJ

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders

The Tokyo Zodiac Murder
by Soji Shimada
Pushkin Vertigo, 2015. 316 pgs. Mystery

 It’s 1936 Japan, and an eccentric artist has been found murdered in his locked studio by one of his daughters. As the investigation progresses, his journal reveals a horrific plan to create the perfect woman, Azoth, from the body parts of six of the women he’s been living with, all his daughters or nieces. Astrology, alchemy, and insanity are all clear in his writings. Shortly after his death all the murders occur in exactly the way he described. If he’s dead, who committed the murders and how did they get away with it?

Fast forward to 1979 and the case is still unsolved. Kiyoshi Mitarai, an astrologer, fortuneteller, and armature detective has one week to solve the case when new evidence is brought directly to him. Can he do it?

I really enjoyed this book, and appreciated that the author adds a note to the reader, telling us when all the clues have been presented and we have enough information to solve the murders. I admit I am nowhere near clever enough to have figured it out. However, you super sleuths out there may have better insight than myself.

I’m going to say this was a clean read, but I debated a bit. Due to content, it’s not as squeaky clean as a cozy mystery, but the language was clean and there really wasn’t anything graphic. I could easily recommend this to anyone who likes to follow along and have a fair shot at solving the mystery along with the characters.

ACS

The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora
By Scott Linch
Bantam Spectra, 2006. 499 pgs. Fantasy

As a child, Locke Lamora was the most gifted orphaned thief in Camorr.  As he grew older he was apprenticed to the "Gentleman Bastards," a crew of talented con artists who can swindle more money out of the wealthy than they know what to do with.  Now as an adult, he leads the Bastards in elaborate confidence games and lucrative deceptions.  But one day their efforts are threatened when the Gray King kidnaps Lamora and compels him to act as a pawn in a deadly plot to take control of Camorr's underworld.

This book has a lot to offer: great characters, a well-developed plot, and plenty of intrigue to keep the pace fast and every interaction interesting.  This is great storytelling and as the first in a three book series promises to offer plenty of entertainment.  Fantasy fans who enjoy series like Sanderson's Way of Kings or Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice will like this.  There is plenty of strong language in this book so be forewarned.

BHG

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

As Death Draws Near

As Death Draws Near (Lady Darby #5)
By Anna Lee Huber
Berkley, 2016. 342 pgs. Mystery

Sebastian and Kiera are finally enjoying a long-awaited honeymoon in the scenic Lake District when they are interrupted by an urgent letter from Sebastian’s father. Unbiased private investigators are needed immediately at Rathfarnham Abbey school in Ireland, where a nun related to the Duke of Wellington was recently murdered. When a second nun is slain in a similar manner, Keira begins to suspect the girls are harboring a secret that may cause more fatalities in an already hostile religious environment.

After discovering this series last year I quickly devoured all four then-published books in a month’s time. The meticulous research and the mystery in this book was more complex than in the last book and likewise more satisfying. Kiera and Sebastian investigating as a married couple is a turning point for the series, but Huber handled the new dynamic well. There is no excitement or suspense lost as the couple faces new challenges. Kiera in particular is well drawn. Huber makes even her inner anxiety over juggling future motherhood with work compelling. This is a perfect series for fans of Deanna Raybourn and Tasha Alexander.

HSG


Rise and Shine

Rise and Shine
By Sandra D. Bricker
Moody Publishers, 2014. 285 pgs. Romance

In this modern re-telling of Sleeping Beauty, Shannon Malone awakes from a coma to learn that 10 years have passed. She had a diving accident while on her honeymoon and during the time she was in the coma her husband has passed away. Her handsome doctor, Daniel Petros, seems to know quite a bit about her although they never met prior to the accident. Daniel helps her navigate the world as technology has changed quite a bit in the decade she was asleep.

This was a fun read with a few serious topics addressed. Seeing the world through Shannon's eyes was enlightening. It would definitely be a shock to wake up having 10 years gone by. If you've enjoyed Sandra D. Bricker's Tanglewood series, give this one a try!

AMM

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lady Helen Finds Her Song

Lady Helen Finds Her Song
By Jennifer Moore
Covenant Communications, 2016. 225 pgs. Romance

Lady Helen travels to India with her mother and new step-father, General Stackhouse. The General is being stationed in India to govern the British troops there. Helen know she is different than most of the other British women because right from the start she loves the new culture and all of the colors and sights of India. Captain Michael Rhodes is one of the first people Helen meets as she gets off the ship but it is the dashing Lieutenant Arthur Bancroft that takes her breath away.

I really enjoyed this Regency romance. I liked discovering more about the Indian culture and the part the British played in their history. Helen is a very likeable character that is just trying to find her place in the world. There was a bit of of love triangle in this book, but it wasn't over the top and it didn't bother me at all. I actually enjoyed getting to know all the different characters and I love books that have a happy ending.

AL

Thursday, August 18, 2016

This Savage Song

This Savage Song 
By Victoria Schwab
Greenwillow Books, 2016. 464 pgs. Young Adult.

In a divided city at war with monsters, Kate Harker wants to be like her cutthroat father, who allows the monsters to live in the city and forces humans to pay for his police force. Like his father, August Flynn wants to protect the innocent in a more forgiving way, except for one problem - he is one of the monsters. When Kate meets August at school and eventually discovers his secret, the two are forced to flee the city or die.

After devouring the first two books in Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic series for adults, I put This Savage Song on my radar. I didn’t find it as compelling as her parallel magic Londons but it was still an enjoyable read. The plot takes its time to develop and the world-building is not entirely original. However, when Kate and August finally reveal their intentions and team up, it was hard to put down. Overall the book is quite dark and the soul-stealing monsters are frightening at times so I would not recommend this to younger readers.

HSG

Love and Gelato

Love and Gelato
By Jenna Evans Welch
Simon Pulse, 2016. 389 pgs. Young Adult

Lina's world crashes down when her mom gets sick and dies a few months after her diagnosis. Suddenly Lina finds herself in Italy fulfilling her mom's dying wish that she spend time getting to know her father, a man she's never met. Shortly after she grudgingly lands, Lina is given a journal her mom kept when she lived in Italy during college. Lina uncovers her mom's secrets, finds friends in local teenagers, and comes to understand herself during the course of the summer.

Despite the heavy topics of sickness and death, this was a fun, breezy summer read. I used Google Translate quite a bit to figure out the Italian phrases scattered throughout the novel. This book furthered my desire to go back to Italy someday and also gave me major cravings for gelato! I'd recommend this book to those that have enjoyed books by Jennifer E. Smith, Stephanie Perkins, and Jen Malone.

AMM

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Smart and Sexy

Smart and Sexy
By Jill Shalvis
Brava/Kensington, 2007. 269 pages. Fiction, Romantic suspense.

Noah Fisher is a handsome and successful pilot who owns a private airplane company with his two best friends. Bailey Sinclair is a recently widowed and attractive woman, who happens to be Noah's secret crush for the past several years. Bailey is desperate to find the money hidden by her conniving late husband and concocts a crazy plan to force Noah to help her. Jetting off to the possible hideouts, the two find dangerous men chasing them, adventure and love.

This is #1 in the Sky High Air trilogy and I thoroughly enjoyed all of them. They are fast paced and very amusing. Despite being what I like to refer to as ‘escape fiction’ (where you just get lost for a few hours in a cute, fun, interesting story), these books have relatable characters and the story isn’t too far fetched. The love story is heartwarming and the suspense is just enough to keep the pages turning but not actually be scary. Typical of Jill Shalvis contemporary romance books- this is not a clean read- there steamy scenes and language throughout. I would categorize this trilogy as good beach/pool reads, keeping you entertained and yet requiring very little brain power.

LP

Smoke

Cover image for Smoke : a novel
Smoke
By Dan Vyleta
Doubleday, 2016, 431 pages, Science Fiction

Welcome to an alternate Victorian England where wicked thoughts (both harmless and hate-filled) appear in the air as telltale wisps of Smoke. Thomas Argyle, a son of aristocracy, has been sent to an elite boarding school. Here he will be purged of Wickedness, for the wealthy and powerful do not Smoke. After a trip to London, Thomas and his best friend Charlie witness events that make them begin to question everything they have been taught about Smoke. But if everything they have been taught about Smoke is a lie, what else about their world is lies? And who can they trust?

Vyleta asks some age-old questions about faith and reason and the nature of good and evil with this novel. In this gaslamp fantasy version of Victorian England, the answers are frightening but also very intriguing. While the main premise is a philosophical question, and the story occasionally gets bogged down by it, this book also contains plenty of action and unexpected plot twists. Vyleta also keeps things interesting by constantly switching perspectives in the story. Every character has a different motivation for the things they do.

I wasn’t surprised to find out that Vyleta is currently working on a sequel, as the ending felt very unresolved (if hopeful) to me, but the book definitely held my attention to the end. This book is getting comparisons to the Harry Potter series, but I must admit that I didn’t really see the connection.

MB

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics

Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics
By Nicholas Wapshott
W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 400 pages. Nonfiction. Biography

Nicholas Wapshott compares and contrasts the two leading economists of the modern era, John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. Both came from comfortably well off families, though in the First World War, Hayek served in Austria's air force while Keynes worked for the British treasury and helped his friends avoid enlistment. Both men watched in horror as the poor financial decisions of the UK and the punishments of the Treaty of St Germain plunged the world into depression and were inspired to search for the truth of economics. The rivalry between the two schools of thought they developed has defined political economics ever since.


Written in the wake of the 2008 recession and subsequent bailout, Keynes Hayek aims to elucidate the debate between Keynes argument for government intervention and Hayek's argument that government intervention at best only delays the inevitable. Wapshott, a career journalist and prolific biographer, sheds light on both theories by connecting them to the individual; while the subject matter and the need to quote from the two economists and others in the field make the text abstruse at times, his narrative approach allows for understanding by those with no economic background. I highly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone hoping to learn more about how the economy works and why it matters what we do to it, though fans of biographies in general will also enjoy it. 

JMS

Homegoing

Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 305 pages. Fiction.

In a well woven and page turning debut, Gyasi’s Homegoing follows the family trees of two Ghanaian sisters, Effia and Esi, one captured and sold into slavery and the other married off to a slave trader. The book gives glimpses into the lives of six generations of their progeny, over a 300 year time span, through various incarnations of captivity and oppression. As one sister’s lineage faces war and British colonial intrusion in Africa, the other’s decedents live through dark times of slavery in the Southern United States.

As I read, it was abundantly clear that this book was important, as well as moving and at times truly heart wrenching. The perspectives and intersections of tribalism, colonialism, slavery, and the evolution of racism in the U.S. and in Africa were present and palpable. I would recommend this book, highly, to pretty much anyone, especially those hoping to gain a deeper understanding of this time in history.

RC

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Gene

The Gene: An Intimate History
By Siddhartha Mukherjee
Scribner, 2016. 592 pgs. Nonfiction

Siddhartha Mukherjee's 2010 The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer won him the Pulitzer Prize thanks to his skill explaining science in an approachable, personal, and compassionate way.  In his new book, Mukherjee focuses his passion and wisdom on the astonishing story of genetics. 

The Gene begins with Mendel's work breeding peas.  His meticulous experiments provided science with a very basic understanding of hereditary patterns and helped make possible the discovery of DNA.  Over the next 200 years, other researchers, scientists,and doctors slowly grew to better understand the form and function of these mysterious and massive molecules. 

But beyond the science of the gene, Mukherjee truly shines when illuminating the social and cultural implications of each discovery.  The history of genetics is rife with issues and controversy and many of those are honestly and thoughtfully presented in this new work.  The Gene is a wonderful piece of science writing sure to educate and enlighten those who pick it up.

CZ

Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Everyone Brave is Forgiven
By Chris Cleave
Simon & Schuster, 2016.  432 pgs.  Historical Fiction

Mary North was born into privilege and wealth.  But when World War II breaks out, she abandons her Swiss boarding school and signs on to help the war effort as a teacher for the children of London who have not been evacuated.  Tom, her administrator and eventually her lover, avoids joining the army because his work is classified as essential, unlike his roommate and best friend Alistair who is soon transferred to Malta. While Alistair is home on leave, he, Tom, Mary, and Mary's best friend Hilda meet on a double date which is interrupted by a bombing raid that changes them all.  Each of these Londoners will suffer through the war, battling their own demons, and showing their own brands of bravery.

I know what you are thinking.  You are thinking you are a little tired of World War II historical fiction.  I know that is what I was thinking.  But I am so glad I still picked up this wonderful, bittersweet novel of courage and love.  Cleave has crafted some wonderful characters that I grew to love.  Their witty banter and heartbreaking honesty drew me in completely.  I also appreciated a more real portrayal of the damage war produces to individuals as well as to landscapes while maintaining a hopeful tone. If you enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See or The Nightingale, you should definitely pick up Everyone Brave is Forgiven.

CZ

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Woman in Charge

A Woman in Charge
Carl Bernstein
Vintage Books, 2008. 638 pgs. Biography

At the Democratic National Convention last month, Hillary Clinton said, “I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me.” It certainly can be hard to figure out who she really is – popular opinion of Clinton paints two wildly different pictures. Is she the “congenital liar” and criminal depicted by her political opponents, or, as her staunch supporters say, is she an idealistic advocate for children and women who has been maligned by the right? Hoping to learn about Clinton’s life in a balanced way, I did a little research to find a good biography, and A Woman in Charge by Carl Bernstein consistently came up as the most recommended option.

I was impressed by this biography and recommend it to anyone looking for a well-researched account of Clinton’s life. Bernstein, famous for his investigative reporting with Bob Woodward on the Watergate scandal, approaches Clinton with understanding and often admiration. At the same time, he sharply criticizes many of her actions, particularly the way that her intense privacy leads her to secrecy and cover ups.

My only disappointment was that A Woman in Charge focuses closely on the Clintons’ time in the White House and was a little less detailed on other times in their lives. It is particularly short on information about Hillary’s time in the Senate, and since the biography was published in 2008, it of course includes no details about her experiences as Secretary of State. I’ll have to do some outside reading about her work in those offices, but overall I feel like I came away from this biography better informed for the November election.

- SR

Thursday, August 11, 2016

M Train

M Train
by Patti Smith
Knopf, 2015. 253 pages, Biography

Punk Rock star Patti Smith banks on her previous writing success (Just Kids) with this collection of meandering, almost dream-state, biographical jottings. Though her thoughts and blurred sense of reality meander as she travels across the globe visiting places sacred to her (e.g.: a dilapidated French prison, burial sites of various poets, artists and anarchists), there is one thread that ties these scenes together: her serial patronage of hole-in-the-wall cafes where she drinks copious amounts of coffee and writes (she claims) on napkins. Smith uses cafes and coffee to put her in the mindset to “channel” people of historical or artistic interest, then begins writing about them, and then buys train, plane and/or bus tickets to track down a site of importance to her chosen person. My favorite vignette was about the time Smith joined a meeting of the Continental Drift Club, which is dedicated to the “perpetuation of remembrance” of Alfred Wegener, the man who figured out that continents drift.

Although Smith’s mystic and sometimes pedestrian writing captivated my creative side, I would only recommend this book to a Patti Smith fan, or someone who wants to glean creativity from some of Smith’s muses. There is a certain arrogance to publishing a book that includes so many accounts of what was eaten at meals, and what was worn during walks. I venture that most people who don’t know Patti Smith wouldn’t have the patience to read through all that to get to the next chapter. I’ve added some titles to my must-read list because of the books she praised in this biography. But alas – M Train is not going onto my re-read list.

BBG

The Passion of Dolssa

Cover image for The passion of Dolssa : a novel
The Passion of Dolssa
By Julie Berry
Viking, 2016, 478 pages, Young Adult Historical Fiction

In mid-thirteenth century Provence, Dolssa de Stigata is a fervently religious girl who feels the call to preach. For this she is condemned by the Inquisition as an "unnatural woman," and hunted by the Dominican Friar Lucien who fears a resurgence of the Albigensian heresy. A few towns away, Botille is a matchmaker trying to protect her sisters from being branded as gypsies or witches. When Botille finds the hunted Dolssa dying on a hillside, she feels compelled to protect her--a decision that may cost her everything.

For those who don’t know, a synonym for the word “passion” in the title is “martyrdom.” So this isn’t necessarily a happy story. However, it is beautifully written and well researched. Although it deals with dark topics, the relationships between many of the characters were positive and uplifting.

The character of Dolssa is based on famous mystics such as Julian of Norwich. Berry could have painted Dolssa as wholly angelic, with little to no personality. However, Berry gives her trials and inner struggles to help make her more relatable. Botille is even more relatable, and this is really her story and the story of the townspeople affected by Dolssa. This was a great introduction to a topic I knew little about, and the beautiful writing has stayed with me.

MB

Monday, August 8, 2016

Big Girl: How I gave up dieting and got a life

Big Girl: How I gave up dieting and got a life 
by Kelsey Miller
New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016. 278 pages. Biography.

Kelsey Miller has done it all to try to lose weight, from Weight Watchers to the newest fad diet and even some more unhealthy options, but she’s still (and always has been) a “big girl”. Some of the diets work, for a while, but the weight always comes back. It isn’t until Kelsey discovers “intuitive eating” that she learns to respect the body she lives in, and end the dieting cycle for good.

This isn’t a sob story about dieting ups and downs, but a fun read about one women’s struggle to accept herself as she is, get in tune with her body, and live her life as a big, happy, healthy girl. For the most part, this is a light, fun read which is relatable and at times, laugh out loud funny. It won’t give you the magic cure for weight loss woes or the formula for learning to accept yourself, but at least gives the sense that no one is alone in this all too familiar struggle and provides encouragement for those looking to stop dieting permanently.

RC

No Other Will Do

No Other Will Do
By Karen Witemeyer
Bethany House, 2016. 364 pgs. Historical Fiction

Emma Chandler's suffragette aunts taught her to be a strong, independent woman. Because of this, Emma decided to start Harper's Station, a women's colony that offers help and hope to women in need. They are doing just fine until someone starts to threaten the colony and the threats begin to escalate. Emma realizes that this time she does need a man to help protect those she loves and there is only one man she trusts enough to ask. Malachi Shaw is an explosives expert for the railroad, but when he receives Emma's telegram he drops everything to help the girl who once saved his life.

Karen Witemeyer is a talented inspirational historical fiction author. Her stories usually have very likable characters and are set in the Old West. She masterfully weaves faith into her stories without it feeling forced or it becoming the main focus. I will say that although I loved all of the characters of Harper's Station and the plot kept me interested, I felt that the writing in this book wasn't as good as some of her past books. This was still a great, feel good story that was the perfect thing to relax with at the end of a long day.

AL

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Midas Flesh


The Midas Flesh 
By Ryan North
BOOM! Box, 2014. 128 pages. Graphic Novel. Science Fiction. 

A team of three explorers find their way to a deserted planet, entirely covered in gold. The planet is frozen in a single moment of time, frozen in gold at the exact minute King Midas makes his famous wish. As they race to find what they regard as a super weapon, the powerful federation, conqueror of the known galaxy, closes in. At the heart of the story is the Greek myth of King Midas, as the comic conjectures the final result of absolutely everything Midas touched turning to gold. Featuring a talking dinosaur, a sapient slug, and a diverse cast of humans, the Midas flesh is entertaining from start to finish.

Ryan North’s bizarre and charming story meshes well with Paroline and Lamb’s beautiful artwork. Despite some stressful situations, the language is both developed enough for adults and clean and simple enough for children. The plot is typical of the web comic writer; an old story taken to (what could be called its logical) extreme. Funny and thought provoking, The Midas Flesh is worth your time.

JMS

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Dark Days Club

The Dark Days Club
by Alison Goodman
Viking, 2016. 482 pages. Young Adult.

It’s London 1812 and Lady Helen Wrexhall should be preparing for her presentation to the queen and her coming out party, but when one of the housemaids mysteriously disappears and some of the clues lead to enigmatic Lord Carlston who has just returned to England after waiting out the rumors that he contributed to the death of his wife, Helen knows she should stay away. Knowing and doing are not the same and Helen soon finds herself plunging deeper and deeper into Lord Carlston's world where she discovers that a cabal of demons have infiltrated London society and that she has inherited special powers from her dead mother that can help fight these demons.

Goodman’s novel deftly blends supernatural elements with a richly described historical Regency setting. If you like these elements, then you should definitely pick up this clever, fast-paced book. I personally prefer more of a blend of fantasy and historical fiction so it wasn’t quite my cup of tea.

AJ

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 and 2

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 and 2
Original Story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne; Script by Jack Thorne
Scholastic, 2016. 320 pgs. Fiction

Nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry Potter works as the Head of Magical Law Enforcement and has difficulty connecting with his youngest son. Albus, a Hogwarts student who struggles in class, on the Quidditch pitch, and among his peers, resents the pressure his father’s fame places upon him. After being sorted into Slytherin, he befriends Scorpius Malfoy, who similarly fights against his famous name and the assumptions that are made about him because of it. When Albus overhears an emotionally charged conversation between his father and Amos Diggory, the young boy decides it’s time that he and Scorpius rewrite history.

As a proud member of the Harry Potter generation, I of course went to a midnight release party to claim my copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. After reading it, I have mixed feelings. It was a delight to return to the wizarding world, and the play tells a dark, compelling story (one better suited to teens and adults than children) that I loved. I missed J.K. Rowling's distinctive voice, however. Although she conceptualized the story, the actual script for the play was written by Jack Thorne. He captures Rowling’s characters perfectly, and I often got glimpses of a similar kind of humor through the dialogue. Because it was a script rather than a novel, however, the descriptions were limited to stage directions, and this made me realize that Rowling as a narrator is one of my favorite aspects of her books. Overall, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child wasn’t quite as magical for me as the original seven books, but I think I might feel completely differently had I seen rather than read the play. Anyone want to offer me tickets and a flight to London?

SR

Beyond All Dreams

Beyond All Dreams
By Elizabeth Camden
Bethany House 2015, 362 pages. Fiction.

Set in 1897 Washington, D.C., this is a Christian-historical fiction-romance-mystery novel about two unlikely people discovering their true selves, finding love and uncovering political secrets. Anna O'Brien, a librarian at the Library of Congress is assigned to assist the handsome and charming young congressman Luke Callahan with political research. As they work together more political secrets are uncovered and some seem to link to her father’s shipwreck from 15 years previous. As the secrets are uncovered their relationship is strained as personalities clash and public work life meet.

As a mystery book alone this story would fall very flat, but for a historical/romance/ fiction book it was quite lovely. It was a really fast read and fairly predictable, but also so heartwarming. I could relate to the characters and I really liked the way the various relationships played out. Strong Christian values were interspersed, but not overwhelming. This book made me want to read other Elizabeth Camden novels. If you like the TV show Scandal then you'd like this clean, historical version of the DC political world full of PR drama and romance.

LP