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