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Another month has passed, and that means it’s time for me to talk about the books I especially enjoyed this month.

The first one I’m going to talk about is Seanan McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road:  Rose Marshall’s life ended when Bobby Cross ran her off the road; now she hitchhikes across the United States, protecting travelers and guiding those whom she can’t save to the afterlife.  As her reputation grows, Rose appears in a variety of ghost tales and legends. However, Bobby Cross still stalks the roads, and Rose decides to take matters into her own hands.  Seanan McGuire has created a compelling story that winds its way through a unique ghostly ecosystem.   For those who find some of McGuire’s other works too brief, this one might satisfy their need for longer works from this author.

Next up is Sarah Beth Durst’s The Lost.  One day, Lauren drives straight instead of taking the turn and drives until she ends up in the town of Lost.  The desolate Lost is filled with individuals seeking what they’ve lost, but never getting anywhere.  With responsibilities weighing heavily on her, Lauren tries to leave only to find she can’t. In order to leave, Lauren will have to figure out what she lost.  This story has a compelling, eerie setting, and Durst uses it well as she unfolds an intriguing, relatable, and creepy story.

As a librarian and bibliophile, I was compelled to pick up Anders Rydell’s The Book Thieves.  The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries and the Race to Return A Literary Inheritance tells the story of the fate of many of the Jewish libraries throughout Europe.  Over the course of the book,  Anders Rydell traces the likely fate of these collections through the War and after the fact. Ryell’s descriptions of how the Nazis pillaged the libraries and separated the materials before reforming them collections meant to serve Nazi goals is disturbing.  Even as Rydell tells this story of the destruction of the original libraries, he also discusses the efforts to return books to the original owners or their descendants. Librarians and book lovers with a taste for history should find this equal parts fascinating and sad.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters follows Karen, a girl who fills her days documenting her favorite monsters and her life in her notebook .  After  the lady upstairs, Anka, dies mysteriously, Karen decides to investigate Anka’s story.  As she uncovers the story of Anka, Karen comes to learn secrets about others around her and discover things about herself. My Favorite Thing is Monsters is an intriguing graphic novel from newcomer Emil Ferris; with its wonderful colored pencil  illustrations and unique story, this coming of age tale will be sure to fascinate.

In Angie Thoma’s The Hate U Give, Starr lives two lives: she attends a college preparatory school, but she still lives in one of the poorer Black neighborhoods.  She keeps these two lives separate until, one day, a cop murders her childhood friend, Khalil, As speculation swirls and loyalties are tested, Starr will have to navigate her grief and an increasingly dangerous situation in order to find her voice.  The Hate U Give’s well-developed cast and strong interpersonal relationships are the story’s backbone, and the author successfully  highlights the racism and socioeconomic issues that confront this country in an approachable way.  I’m looking forward to seeing more from Angie Thomas.

When I saw that Janet Mock’s new memoir, Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me, was out, I immediately acquired a copy.  In this memoir, Mock  explores her first love and marriage, and her journey to break into journalism. Mock’s insights, delivered in a conversational style, make this a swift, engaging read, and readers who enjoyed Mock’s first memoir, Redefining Realness, will likely enjoy this one as well.  

That’s all, folks!  Catch you next month!

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May has come and gone, and it is time to discuss my favorite books of the month!  


First up is Brian McClellan’s Sins of Empire.  In Fatrasta, powder mage Lady Vlora Flint and her mercenary group, the Riflejacks, are tracking down a political rebel at the behest of the Lady Chancellor; they are aided by MIchel Bravis,a member of the Lady Chancellor’s own secret police, and Ben Stykes, a former cavalry officer .  Although she fled to escape the politics of her home country, Vlora quickly finds herself embroiled in a political battle as the Chancellor’s secret police vie for control with the rebels. The situation becomes dire when an artifact that will change everything is discovered.  I greatly enjoyed McClellan’s Powder Mage series (which I’ve talked about on this blog), and Sins of Empire is the beginning of what has the potential to be another great series. The worldbuilding is compelling, and the narrative is full of action and humor; I also enjoyed reading the story for both the reintroduction of old characters and some new faces.  

 

Next, I especially enjoyed One Hundred Nights of Hero, by Isabel Greenberg.  This graphic novel follows Cherry and Hero, two lovers who are caught in a diabolical wager between two men.  To save herself and her lover, Hero tells stories collected by a secret, all-female storytelling group. This kick-ass feminist fairy tale will be a hit with those who like non-traditional fairy tales and stories that riff off classical fairy tales.

 

K.B. Wagers’ Behind the Throne and After the Crown follow Hail, a former gun runner who returns to her family’s kingdom to solve the mystery of her sisters’ murders and assume the birthright she had previously fled.  The first two volumes in this science fiction trilogy are action-packed with plenty of humor and wit; Hail’s snarkiness.   Pick up this up if you are looking for a fast-paced science fiction read.

 

Last, but certainly not least, is Hidden Figures, which tells the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden–four African American women who worked for NASA during the early days of space research and the Space Race.   Despite living in the South during Jim Crow, these incredibly intelligent and talented women successfully contributed to key NASA projects and missions, including John Glenn’s mission to orbit the earth.  With great detail and charm, Margaret Lee Shetterly unfolds these women’s stories, and the story she unfolds is far more intriguing and nuanced (and with fewer white savior overtones) than the film.  If you are passionate about stories with strong women-particularly women of color-pick this one up.

That’s all, folks!  Catch you next month!

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Another month has come and gone, and I’m back with my favorite books of the month.

Queen of Blood (Durst):  In Renthia, a Queen, a woman with the power to keep the spirits in check, brings balance to the country for as long as she is able.  The current queen Fara is powerful, yet the spirits still harm her subjects.  Daleina, a young, weak student, and her mentor, a crusty knight, struggle to bring balance to the kingdom, but, in doing so, uncover a dark secret.  I really enjoyed Daleina as a character; she is aware of her faults, but learns to work with them–something I deeply respect.  The story is also extremely compelling with lots of twists and turns–I will be watching out for the sequel.

Hillbilly Elegy (Vance):  Hillbilly Elegy has been getting a lot of recognition, and it’s well deserved. In this memoir, J.D. Vance describes his family’s history and the experience of growing up in a hillbilly family and how he managed to escape the vicious cycle of poverty that traps so many.  He also ruminates on what the hillbilly community needs to do to move out of the vicious cycle of poverty and addiction.  This is an essential read for anyone trying to understand the needs of marginalized communities.

The Stone Heart (Nameless City #2-Hicks): The sequel to Nameless City begins where Nameless City left off: the General of All Blades is working to establish the council, but other members of the Dao occupation are reluctant to give up power.  Meanwhile Kai and Rat uncover a secret the Monks of the Stone Heart have protected for centuries, and this is one that could change everything.  The Stone Heart was just as compelling as The Nameless City, and Faith Erin Hicks’ full-color illustrations excel at portraying the world and the characters’ personalities.  Fans of Avatar the Last Airbender series and stories that talk about difficult issues in lighter ways will enjoy this graphic novel series.

In the Garden of Beasts:Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (Larson):  Nonfiction writer Eric Larson tells the story of  William E. Dodd, the American ambassador to Hitler’s Germany.  Larson takes the reader through Dodd’s experiences navigating encounters with key Nazi officials while dealing with the power struggles and indifference to the results of Nazis’ hateful rhetoric from home.  Given that we all know the end of the story, this is a fascinating and accessible look at individual and national response to a crisis in the making.

That’s all!  Catch you next time!

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Towers Trilogy (Karen Sumner-Smith):  In a world where magic is currency and status, Xhea, who has no magic of her own, scrapes out a meager existence in the Lower City by plying her ability to see ghosts.  One day, a man from one of the floating Towers, brings her a glowing ghost and asks her to hold onto it.   The ghost Shai and Xhea form a friendship that will change the world of the Lower City and the Towers.   Xhea and Shai’s characterizations are both excellent, and their friendship drives a compelling story about privilege and change.  Read this series if you’re looking for  a good story about female friendships changing the world.

How to understand Israel in 60 days or less (Glidden): Cartoonist Sarah Glidden documents her experiences on a Jewish birthright tour to Israel and her struggles to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Glidden effectively takes the reader through her reflections and gives a nuanced picture of life in Israel.  While this would not be a good primer on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, readers will find themselves wanting to know more.
Passenger Duology (Bracken):  Etta is a world-class violinist; on the dawn of a major performance, she is spirited away from her world and flung back to the American Revolution.  The patriarch of the Ironwood family, the most powerful time traveler family, wants her to track down an astrolobe, a powerful time travel artifact, and he holds her mother hostage to ensure her cooperation.  Nicholas-a young man under the thumb of the Ironwood family, is pulled into the quest as well.  Together, Etta and Nicholas  have to work against the clock and learn about this new world.  Bracken delivers an engaging time travel story about discovering your place.  This YA series will be sure to leave readers on the edge of their seats.
Binti: Home (Okorafor):  While Binti has been enjoying her time at the Oozma University, she still struggles with her experiences during her trip out to the intergalactic University.   To settle herself, she decides to return home in order to center herself.   However, Binti’s experiences have significantly changed her–will she be able reintegrate herself into the community she left behind?  The sequel to Okorafor’s Binti is just as imaginative as the first book; Nnedi Okorafor expands the setting considerably as Binti navigates her time at home.  Check this out if you are looking for awesome science fiction!

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Another month has come and gone, and that means another top books of the month are in order!  Here are the books that I especially enjoyed this month.

The Bear and the Nightingale (Arden): Vasilisa lives with her father and siblings in the far north of Rus. Vasilisa is a wild child, who has the ability to talk with the spirits and folk creatures-an ability that is very dangerous to have in her Christian world.  When her world is threatened by a dark force that has long since lain dormant, Vasilisa will have to muster her strength and few allies in order to defeat it.   I absolutely adored this book! Katherine Arden skillfully builds Vasilisa ‘s world so that I was fully immersed in this cold, wild setting, and I loved Vasilia’s freedom and determination.  Fans of fairy tales and strong female protagonists will love this one.

Catastrophic Care (Goldhill): The American health care system is a major point of contention, and the debate on how to fix it is fierce.  David Goldhill makes a compelling argument for changes that would dismantle the current system: he claims that by using insurance to pay for  health care, the system is not accountable to its customers–which drives up costs and the frequency of medical error.   In addition to pointing out these issues, Goldhill lays out a thoughtful solution that is worth poring over.  Catastrophic Care is a fascinating read for anyone who’s looking for insight into the issues in the system and a possible solution.

Norse Mythology (Gaiman): I’m sure this one will be on folks’ radar, but I really enjoyed Gaiman’s Norse Mythology.  Gaiman skillfully captures the humor and power of some of the classic Norse myths and breathes life and humor into the stories.  Of course, every writer will leave their mark on the telling, and Gaiman is no different–and I love what he did!  Fans of Gaiman and/or Norse mythology will want to check this one out.

City of Saints and Thieves (Anderson): Christina considers herself an excellent thief: she works for the Goondas, a street gang in Kenya, and she has proven herself to be capable in her role, which is very different from the usual role girls in the gang have.  For years, Christina has planned revenge against Mr. Grayhill, the murderer of her mother, who had entered his household as a refugee.  When the first part of her plan–break into Grayhill’s mansion to steal information–goes horribly awry, Christina has to journey to her native Congo to uncover her mother’s secrets in order to solve the mystery.   Natalie C. Anderson has created a smart, sympathetic heroine in Christina and a thrilling story that will leave readers on the edge of their seats.

That’s all, folks!  Catch you next time!

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It’s a new year, and the reading is good!  Here are my favorites from this past month.

Evicted (Desmond):  This book explores the experiences of individuals living  in Milwaukee’s low-income housing.  Author Matthew Desmond follows the tenants and landlords as they struggle in a vicious cycle that few will break from.  Desmond’s storytelling abilities make this an engaging, if depressing, narrative, but Evicted is also an important look at the impact of income inequality and the changes we need to make.

Julia Vanishes (Egan): Julia has a special talent: she is able to vanish at will.  This is a useful talent to have when one spies and steals for a living.  In a world where witches are executed (including her own mother), Julia forces herself to keep her eyes on the prize: the riches she earns from her jobs. When Julia goes to spy at Mrs. Och’s house, she uncovers a house of strange secrets; her employer, however, is interested in a mother and her child, and Julia soon finds her loyalties and sense of self tested.  I appreciated the unique setting and magic, and I liked Julia’s resourcefulness and grit.  I am looking forward to the sequel.

Being Mortal (Gawande): We’re all going to die, so how do we maintain a life that’s worth living?  Physician Atul Gawande uses a mix of personal narrative and research to explore the way medicine handles end of life care.  Gawande questions whether we, as a society, have been focusing on the right things toward the end of life; medicine focuses on life extension rather than quality.   This was an engaging and touching read, and it got me thinking about the kind of life I want for myself and my parents as we all age.

Behold the Dreamers (Mbue): Cambodian immigrants Jendi and Neni dream of having a better life in America.  When Jendi becomes the chauffer for executive Clark Edwards, they think they’re on the way.   Edward’s wife Cindy is kind to their family and even finds a summer position for Neni.  However, when Clark’s firm becomes tied up in a scandal, the revelations and results will rock the worlds of both families.  Behold the Dreamers is a bittersweet story about the experiences of two very different families; Mbue skillfully makes both families sympathetic while still exploring themes of class and race.

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Another year has passed, and that means it is time for my favorite books of 2016 post!  I hope you either see something you enjoyed this year, or find something new to read!

Nonfiction: I read so many fascinating nonfiction books this year, but the one that really drew me was Mychal Denzel Smith’s Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, which chronicles Smith’s coming of age as a young black man in America.  Smith has a unique and compelling voice, and I found myself  completely engrossed.  If you are looking for books on the black experience, I found this one highly accessible and eye-opening, especially when paired with books, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Jeff Chang’s We Gon’ Be Alright. (Honorable Mentions: Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates); The Nazi Hunters (Andrew Nagorski); Born on the Edge of Race and Gender (Willy Wilkinson))

Graphic Novels: Monstress (Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda) takes this spot.  Monstress follows Maika Halfwolf, a young woman who has a literal monster inside of her.  As she tears through obstacles to her answers, she  also awakens forces that have long laid dormant. Monstress’ art is gorgeous and immersive, and Maika is an engaging heroine in what is shaping up to be a great story. I can’t wait to read more.  (Honorable Mentions:  The Nameless City, by Faith Erin Hicks; Toil and Trouble, by Mairghead Scott, March 1-3, Lewis et al; Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill)

Realistic Fiction/Literary Fiction:  The Last Painting of Sara De Vos (Dominic Smith) takes this category.  The story explores the intertwined lives 0f Sara de Vos, one of the few Dutch female artists; Marty De Groot, the descendant of the owner of de Vos’ last remaining painting; and Ellie Shipley, an angry grad student who forges the painting.  After Ellie gets her life together and acquires a professorship in Sydney, Australia, her life threatens to unravel when both her forgery and the original come to Australia for an exhibit. Smith does a superb job of building up the character dynamics and weaving the story threads together in this engrossing novel.

Science Fiction & Fantasy: The Paper Menagerie (Ken Liu) was my favorite science fiction and fantasy book this year.  Liu blends science fiction concepts, history, identity, and mythology in this compelling collection of unique science fiction stories that should not be missed.  (Honorable Mentions: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Becky Chambers); Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction (translated by Ken Liu))

Young Adult: The YA winner is Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea.  Salt to the Sea follows a group of teenage refugees who, along with thousands of other refugees, board the Wilhelm Gustloff in order to escape the German-Soviet conflict in the last year of World War II.   Their relief is short-lived: a submarine attacks the Wilhelm Gustloff, which sinks, taking most of its passengers with it.  Sepetys has a knack for bringing to life relatively unknown historical events (The Wilhelm Gustloff lost over 9,000 of its 10,000 passengers, and the tragedy is considered one of  the (if not the worst) worst maritime disasters, even though not many know about it), and this book was no different. Salt to the Sea is a compelling story with sympathetic characters, and reading about the characters’ experiences brought tears to my eyes.    (Honorable mention: Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo)

Best wishes for 2017!  Happy reading!

 

 

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