Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy
by J.D. Vance
Harper, 2016. 272 pgs. Biography.

Part memoir, part sociological analysis, Hillbilly Elegy tells the story of J.D. Vance, his family, and the poor, discontented rust belt culture in which he was raised. As a young married couple, J.D.’s grandparents moved from Appalachian Kentucky to Ohio in search of a middle class life. In some ways, they succeeded - J.D.’s grandfather found a good job in manufacturing, their children finished high school and some college, and J.D.’s grandmother became a nurse. But in other, more profound ways, the culture of poverty loomed over their lives and the lives of their neighbors, most of whom were also Appalachian transplants. Alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, family dysfunction, and abuse remained, and as manufacturing jobs left the area, poverty returned.

Through the support of his MaMaw, his own hard work, and several fortunate opportunities, J.D. graduated high school, joined the marines, and eventually graduated from Yale Law School. Hillbilly Elegy is at turns moving, funny, and eye opening. I felt like the writing could have benefited from a little more editing and direction, but Vance's insights were so interesting that it didn't bother me too much. His story offers an honest, personal look at poor, white America and a unique perspective on the forces shaping culture and politics today.

- SR

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones

Alcatraz versus the Scrivener’s Bones
By Brandon Sanderson
Scholastic Press, 2008. 322 pages. Young Adult

Alcatraz is back for another sinister library adventure. This time he has to follow a clue about his long-lost father, even though it might lead him to the dreaded Library of Alexandria. The ghoul-like curators are after his soul, and a half-mechanical monstrosity known as a Scrivener’s Bone is after his life. Alcatraz is going to have to outsmart them both, but fortunately he has some allies. Two new Smedries—one with a talent for getting lost and the other with a talent for waking up incredibly ugly in the morning—plus two Crystin make for a formidable team. The team fight their way through the booby-trapped library and even learn a little more about the Smedry Talents on the way.

This volume is very much in keeping with the first book in the series, Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians. It’s just as silly and ridiculous, and has just as many bizarre asides from Alcatraz. In the first book, Alcatraz attempts to prove that he is not a good person; in this second volume he tries to demonstrate that he is a liar. It actually gets a little irritating that he stops the action at the beginning of each chapter to interject some unrelated nonsense, but if you read the first book then you’re already used to that. The comedy isn’t quite as stellar since the far-fetched librarian conspiracy and the ridiculous Smedry Talents have already been established, but Sanderson definitely keeps things going in a good direction. Overall I think that this is a solid installment and the series is something I’d recommend to anyone looking for something light and humorous.


LLK

Monday, March 20, 2017

Lady Cop Makes Trouble

Cover image for Lady cop makes trouble
Lady Cop Makes Trouble
by Amy Stewart
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 310 pages, Historical Fiction

When Constance Kopp becomes one of the nation's first deputy sheriffs, she has already proven that she can't be deterred, evaded, or outrun. But when the wiles of a German-speaking con man threaten her position and her hopes for this new life, and endanger the honorable Sheriff Heath, Constance may not be able to make things right. Now she's on the streets of New York City and New Jersey tracking down victims, trailing leads, and making friends with girl reporters and lawyers at a hotel for women. Cheering her on, and goading her, are her sisters Norma and Fleurette.

The first book in this series, Girl Waits with Gun, was one of my favorite books of 2015. Not only is this a fun mystery/action/adventure series, it’s based on the true life story of one of America’s first female sheriffs. While Lady Cop Makes Trouble isn’t as lighthearted as its predecessor (although it still has its moments), it’s still meticulously researched. I was also glad to see that all of the characters had become more fully fleshed-out from the previous book. This is a great book for those who like historical fiction, strong female characters, and intriguing mysteries.

MB

Scythe

Cover image for Scythe
Scythe
by Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster, 2016, 433 pages, Young Adult Fiction

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life--and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe--a role that neither wants. These teens must master the "art" of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

While the premise of this book is compelling, I kept putting off reading it because I wasn’t sure I would like it. But the rave reviews started rolling in, it was deemed a Printz Honor book, and it was showcased in our program, Best Books of 2016. I knew I had to see what all of the hype was about.

Shusterman is an expert storyteller, and he had me hooked from the first page. Although people live in what many would call the perfect society, envy, jealousy and greed still exist, and the motivations of the scythes are complex. While some scythes argue for humane killing methods, others consider themselves to be omnipotent, able to do anything without people questioning their authority. While I think this book works well as a stand-alone title, I’m interested to see where Shusterman takes this story with the next book of the planned trilogy.

MB

Friday, March 17, 2017

By Your Side

By Your Side
By Kasie West
HarperTeen, 2017. 342 pgs,  Young Adult

Autumn has spent her Friday afternoon at the library working on homework with her friends. They have plans to go up the canyon for a bonfire before the girls spend the weekend at a cabin. It was going to be the perfect way to spend a three day weekend.

However, Autumn's weekend plans are derailed when she runs back into the library to use the bathroom and when she goes back to the underground parking lot all of her friends have left. Each car thought she was riding with someone else. Autumn is now locked in the library with no way out until Tuesday morning. And to make things worse, her cell phone is in the trunk of her crushes car!

Her anxiety about this predicament doesn't immediately abate especially when she discovers she isn't alone. Dax, a boy who goes to her school and has a rough reputation is also locked in the library. They spend the days raiding the staff lounge fridge, learning about each other (tentatively at first) and playing games to pass the hours.

The setting for this book is loosely based on our library! That made this book a really fun read. I felt like I had to suspend my belief just a touch too much on some aspects of this book though. I didn't quite understand why Autumn and Dax couldn't just leave through an emergency exit or why there wasn't a landline phone available for them to call home. However, those things aside, I enjoyed this contemporary young adult book.

AMM

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Traveler’s Gift

The Traveler’s Gift 
by Andy Andrews
Nelson Publishers, 2002. 211 Pgs. Nonfiction

David Ponder has hit rock bottom, he has lost his job , his daughter is sick, and he gets in a car accident. In the midst of all of this he gets to travel through time to meet up with great people in history such as: Abraham Lincoln, Anne Frank, King Solomon, and Christopher Columbus. Each person gives him a lesson on decisions one can make which influences their success.

I love this book. This is one that I have read multiple times and every time I do I feel resolved to be better. Each of the “lessons” given through this book is very well written, and I find that it gives insight to some of these great people in history. Not saying that they were all perfect human beings but they each had something of value to contribute to this person’s story which I find inspiring. It is good to remember that these people were human and it was their choices that made them great not their circumstances.

MH

A Viscounts Proposal

A Viscounts Proposal
by Melanie Dickerson
Waterfall Press, 2017. 279 pgs. Fiction

Leorah Langdon has no patience for the false politeness that permeates Regency Society. After watching her parents be absolutely miserable her entire life she has vowed to challenge societies norms. She has resolved instead of marrying, purely for wealth and standing in the community she will only be married if she falls passionately in love. But her hopes may be thwarted when she is discovered alone with Viscount Withinghall a stuffy, pompous gentleman in his overturned carriage. It will take everything they have to preserve her good reputation and find out who is trying to kill/sabotage the Viscount.

I really enjoyed this story. Leorah is a fun forward thinking character and the Viscount is like Mr. Darcy, he is distant and calculating at first but you fall in love with him as you get to know him. The fun thing about this book is that you get some insight about what he is thinking as you read, which I find most enjoyable.

MH

Sins Of Empire

Sins of Empire
by Brian McClellan
Orbit, 2017. 624 pages. Fantasy.

Vlora Flint, a veteran of the Adran revolution and storied powder mage, leads her mercenaries on a hunt for revolutionaries in the swamps of the Fatrastan wilderness. When the despotic ruler of Fatrasta suddenly recalls her Riflejacks to the capital to hunt for a community organizer with ties to rebels, Flint discovers a warren of conspiracies and competing interests. Between murderous rebels, scheming secret police, and the specter of an empire not seen for hundreds of years, it would take a miracle for her people to make it out alive.

Told from the perspectives of Flint, a member of the secret police (Michel Bravis), and a convicted war hero (Ben Stykes), Sins of Empires brings together the best elements of McClellan's talents. Sins brings back the epic rifle and magic battles from the Powder Mage trilogy, along with one of the most creative and interesting magic systems, the competing powder mages (mages who draw strength and speed from imbibing small amounts of gunpowder and can control detonations to manipulate bullets or whole supplies of gunpowder), privileged (who can summon elemental forces like fire and ice), and the mysterious magic of the bone-eyes. While the action and intrigue are as splendid as ever, McClellan's characters in Sins demonstrate new skill and depth. Sins of Empire is already on my list for best books of 2017. At 600 pages, most books will have lulls, but Sins maintains a pace that will keep readers engaged to the very last page.

JMS

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ever the Hunted

Ever the Hunted
by Erin Summerill
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 392 pages. Young Adult

Outcast Britta Flannery has always been distrusted by the people of Malam because her now dead mother was from the neighboring enemy country of Shaerdan. So after her father is killed, she has no one to rely on and is soon arrested for poaching. While awaiting her execution, Britta is offered a deal. Instead of being put to death, she can use her expert tracking skills to capture the man believed to be her father’s killer. Britta is shocked to learn it is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice and her best friend whom she has secretly loved.

With no alternative, Britta sets off with three of the king’s guard. Her tracking soon leads her to neighboring Shaerdan, home to female magic-weavers known as Channelers. There she discovers more about her own unrealized powers and that not all is as it seems both in the people she has encountered and in the worsening relations between Malam and Shaerdan.

It’s been a while since I’ve read any quest fantasy so this was a fun take on the genre. The story is full of engaging characters, adventure, and romance that definitely kept me turning the pages.

AJ

The Girl from Everywhere

The Girl from Everywhere
by Heidi Heilig
Greenwillow Books, 2016. 454 pages. Young Adult

At 16, Nix has known no other home than her father’s ship, The Temptation. But with her father’s navigational skills and an accurate map of the desired destination, the ship can travel through time to any place both real and imaginary. Through their time traveling adventures, Nix and her father, Slate, have gathered a wonderfully diverse crew that includes roguish Kashmir, a teen boy they saved from an alternate Persia and who Nix has a complex relationship with.

Slate, is from current day New York, but he met Nix’s mother, Lin, in Honolulu’s Chinatown in the1860s. Slate has been consumed with trying to find a map back to this time to save Lin from death during child birth.

During their latest attempt, The Temptation ends up in 1884 Hawaii, but all is not lost when Slate gets word of the existence of an 1868 map. The only problem is the men who own the map want Slate and his crew to rob the King of Hawaii’s treasury in exchange for the map.

This is a fast-moving adventure. Nix is an intriguing character who uses her wits to outsmart foes. In addition, reading about colonial Hawaii, where the majority of the adventure is set, and a time period I knew almost nothing about, was very interesting.

AJ

Friday, March 10, 2017

Start of Darkness

Start of Darkness
by Rich Burlew
Giant in the Playground, 2007. 116 pages. Fantasy, Graphic Novel

How do villains become monsters? Are they born evil, or are they shaped by their experiences? In this prequel to the Internet sensation Order of the Stick, Burlew explores the origins of the lich Xykon and Redcloak, high priest of the god of goblins. From a boy crying about his dead dog and a young man defending his village, Darkness chronicles their descent into two of the most ruthless characters in comics.  


Start of Darkness is bleak. As a prequel, the end fate of the (an)tagonists is a known factor; as Burlew mentions in his introduction, the villainy demonstrated by Redcloak and Xykon go largely unpunished. Though the story switches around the perspectives, the primary focus is Redcloak. Despite cataloguing in exquisite detail the depths to which he sinks to achieve his goals, Darkness's largest emotional appeal is the humanization (a term he would find terribly specist) of Redcloak and the goblins. The themes of desperate action and sacrifice for the greater good clash with the reckless evil of Xykon. 


Having said all that, Start of Darkness is hilarious. Burlew's simplistic drawing style (including a colorful section of crayon art detailing the creation of the world) downplays much of the darker plot points, while his playful pop culture references and 4th wall breaking make even the transformation of Xkyon from sorcerer to lich funny. Burlew's great strength lies in his ability to seamlessly flit between the humourous and the dramatic. Darkness will be tremendously enjoyable to both fans of the web comic and to new readers. 


JMS

Scrappy Little Nobody

Scrappy Little Nobody
By Anna Kendrick
Touchstone Books, 2016. 304 pages. Biography

Actress Anna Kendrick tells stories from her life up to now, starting with her childhood and "rags to riches" story (mostly just a lot of hard work), stories from her time in different productions, and her experiences in the limelight and a few various relationships and lessons she's learned. Though there's not much in the profound, soul-changing vein, there are plenty of interesting and funny stories. Written with a lot of sarcasm and yet a practical, no-nonsense sort of tone, this is best experienced in audio book form where you can get a sense of her personality through her voice. I've listened to a few underwhelming celebrity audio books where they didn't seem to want to "perform" their own writing. In contrast, Kendrick gives everything to her performance, ratcheting up the personality and wry humor in what ends up being a very entertaining read. I would recommend this to fans of Mindy Kaling's books. Be aware: there's plenty of language and discussion of sexual scenarios.

BHG

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Fireman

Fireman
by Joe Hill
William Morrow, 2016. Fiction

Harper Grayson is a nurse volunteering her time to help those infected by a terrifying plague that is spreading throughout the country.  The doctors have named the infection Draco Incendia Trychophyton, but everyone else just calls it Dragonscale.  The first symptom is an array of tattoo like marks across the body and the final symptom is spontaneous combustion leaving victims mere ash.  When Harper contracts the disease she is quarantined in her home until a mysterious fireman with uncanny pyrotechnic abilities takes her to a hidden community of survivors.

Novels by Joe Hill have been on my “To Read” list for years, but I have never managed to read one.  Now I’m mad that I wasted so much of my life not devouring his novels!  This is a great story with amazing characters and nonstop pacing.  Hill is both a gifted writer and an extraordinary storyteller, a rare and wonderful combination.  I will never again let a Joe Hill novel slide down the priority list.  With this one book, he’s one of my favorite writers!

CG

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology
by Neil Gaiman
W.W. Norton & Company, 2017. Fiction

Thor, Odin and Loki come to life in Neil Gaiman’s new imaging of ancient Norse mythology. He starts from the very beginning when the nine worlds are created and Odin sacrifices his eye for wisdom.  Then he tells about the adventures of the gods.  He describes their daring quests and terrible trials ending in Ragnarok when all things come to an end.  Each tale contains Gaiman’s unique pacing, humor and perception staying true to the legends of the great north but instilling in them with new life for a new generation.

Listening to Gaiman tell his stories is a wonderful experience.  I listened to this novel in just a few days and reveled in the author’s gifts as a storyteller.  While this is considered a novel, it reads somewhat like a collection of short stories which fly by much too quickly. I loved Norse Mythology and can see it becoming a favorite recommendation for road trips with its wide appeal and great audio production.

CG

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
Del Rey, 2017. 336 pgs. Fiction

For generations, the noble Vladimirovich family has lived a difficult but peaceful life on the edge of a Russian forest. The family and the local villagers praise God in church on Sunday and leave offerings for the magical creatures who watch over their homes and stables throughout the week. Young Vasilisa Vladimirova has a peculiar gift, however, and secretly sees and talks with these friendly spirits. When a new, terrified, and fiercely devout stepmother and a captivating young priest arrive, they demand that the villagers stop their idol worship and abandon their traditional practices. Alone in her determination to honor the old ways, Vasilisa must defy both her place in society and the evil forces growing falsely in the name of Christ.

Again and again over the past few months, I stumbled across starred reviews of The Bear and the Nightingale in major review journals. As a result, my expectations were extremely high. Luckily, when my hold finally came in I was captivated from page one. First time author Katherine Arden writes beautifully, creating vivid characters, an entrancing story, and a lush world based on Russian folklore. The second half of the novel reminded me in small, lovely ways of The Hero and the Crown or The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, but in other ways it was utterly unique. Though aimed at an adult audience, The Bear and the Nightingale will appeal to teenagers as well. Just as a warning, however, it does feature dark creatures that gave this squeamish librarian the heebie-jeebies, so I wouldn’t recommend it for especially young readers. Overall, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long while, and I’ll be recommending it left and right in the months to come.

SR

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Wanderlost

Wanderlost
By Jen Malone
HarperTeen, 2016. 316 pgs,  Young Adult

Aubree can’t think of a better place to be than in perfectly boring Ohio, and she’s ready for a relaxing summer. But when her older sister, Elizabeth, gets into trouble for really the first time in her life, Aubree is talked into taking over Elizabeth’s summer job, leading a group of senior citizens on a bus tour through Europe.

Aubree doesn’t even make it to the first stop in Amsterdam before their perfect plan unravels, leaving her with no phone, no carefully prepared binder full of helpful facts, and an unexpected guest; Sam, the tour company owner’s son. Considering she’s pretending to be Elizabeth, she absolutely shouldn’t fall for him, but she can’t help it.

This was a fun, light read that made me wish I was traveling to Europe in the near future. I fell in love with the descriptions of each new city they visited as well as the very unique personalities of each of the guests on the tour.

AMM