Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

Watch Me Disappear
Jonathan and Billie are the perfect couple. They met on public transit, fell in love at first sight, and got married on a beach two weeks later. Nearly two decades later, they have a house in Berkeley, an environmentally-conscious teen daughter, and a seemingly perfect life. Billie is a stay-at-home mom who loves yoga and hiking, and Jonathan has worked his way up the ladder at a tech magazine. But their perfect life comes at a price. Jonathan is a workaholic, and Billie, a wild child in her youth, begins to grow bored and disillusioned with their life together. So, Billie decides to take a page from Cheryl Strayed's playbook and hike out her problems solo on the Pacific Crest Trail. Instead, she vanishes on her hike, leaving behind only a lone boot.

A year later, with Billie close to being declared legally dead, their daughter Olive begins to have hallucinations (or are they visions?) of her mother, very much alive. As Jonathan and Olive begin searching for answers, they find a tangle of secrets in Billie's past that makes them question everything about the woman they loved and thought they knew.

Janelle Brown weaves a compelling, twisty tale that will keep readers turning the page and guessing right up until the last sentence. A great summer read, perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage book cover This is the (mostly) true story of the world's first computer. British inventor Charles Babbage designed the "Difference Engine," the earliest predecessor to modern computers. In turn, his friend and confidant, Ada Lovelace, illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron, wrote the world's first computer program for it. In reality, sadly, the Difference Engine was never built. The design and the programming were technically correct, but theoretical. But who cares about reality? It's far more fun to imagine that they did build it, and then used it to further their rollicking steampunk adventures!

This graphic novel, with its charming black-and-white art, imagines what kinds of adventures they might have gone on, which is delightful on its own, but the truly amazing part is that the whole book is littered with footnotes and full-page spreads about the real Lovelace and Babbage. The author did a huge amount of original research about the oft-overlooked pair, and the way she swirls fact with fiction is masterful. If you're a fan of biography and/or steampunk, you'll want to give this a look.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted Agnieszka’s village lies at the edge of The Wood, a dark and sinister forest full of monsters and magic. They survive only by the mercy of The Dragon, a great and powerful wizard, but his mercy has a price. Every ten years, he descends on the village and chooses a girl to become his servant. The girls are never the same when they are released. Everyone has always known who will be chosen this year, Kasia, the good and brave and beautiful. So when the day comes and the Dragon chooses her unremarkable friend Agnieszka instead, everyone is stunned, especially Kasia and Agnieszka. So Agnieszka goes to his tower, and finds that nothing is as she expected. The Wood is advancing, huge and ominous, and if they aren’t able to stop it, it will devour her village and everything and everyone in it. And the Dragon isn’t what she expected either...

This is a tale deeply rooted in Russian folklore and fairy tales, but it subverts a lot of the tropes you usually see in the fairy tale genre. Not every author can build an atmosphere like this, both tense and whimsical. The descriptions of the forest are legitimately frightening, and the style of magic they use is really something different. Agnieszka isn’t your average fairy tale heroine, and the Dragon isn’t your average hero (or villain, or romantic lead, for that matter). If you’re a fan of dark fairy tales, give this a chance. It’s one of the best.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright

Get Well Soon book cover This is a book about plagues. More surprisingly, it’s a humorous book about plagues. Jennifer Wright, author of It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History, manages to balance being informative about a very depressing topic while maintaining a witty, upbeat writing style. The book progresses chronologically from ancient and medieval plagues into the modern day, with each chapter covering one plague (such as the dancing plague, leprosy, the Black Death, polio, etc.).

Interestingly, Wright not only covers the effects of each plague, but also critiques how it was handled at the time. In each case, brave people work hard to combat the terrifying diseases. Sometimes, these heroes are doctors and scientists researching and tracking the disease. Other times, they are individuals and communities rallying around the afflicted.

It’s a bittersweet book. Some chapters are hopeful and inspiring, while others serve as chilling examples of how mishandling a situation can turn it into a catastrophe. The book does a surprisingly good job of keeping up its cheery tone, while still showing sympathy and regret for those affected by the plagues. It’s informative and highly readable without being dense, and the author has some insights for modern audiences to heed.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Chocolate Cat Caper by JoAnna Carl

Crime de Cocoa
Lee McKinney is starting a new chapter in her life. She has moved in with her Aunt Nettie and has started helping with the bookkeeping for her Aunt’s business, TenHuis Chocolade, a popular chocolate shop in Warner Pier, MI. The high profile defense lawyer, Clementine Ripley, particularly loves the shop’s Amaretto truffles. In fact, she ordered those and a number of other chocolates from TenHuis for a party. While Clementine favors the shop’s chocolates, its owner, Aunt Nettie, doesn’t care for Clementine one bit. She is not the only one in town who has a poor opinion of the defense lawyer. Unfortunately, it was an Amaretto truffle spiked with cyanide that Clementine was eating when she dropped dead. All signs point to Aunt Nettie and Lee as those responsible for Clementine’s death. Can Lee find the real killer and clear herself and her aunt of a potential murder charge?

The Chocolate Cat Caper is a mystery that will leave you guessing who the murderer is until the end. This is the first in the "Chocoholic Mystery" series, and while the murder case is nicely concluded, there are opportunities left open for future developments for Lee and her aunt. The first three "Chocoholic Mystery" stories, including The Chocolate Cat Caper, are compiled in Crime de Cocoa.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller

Coming Clean
Have you ever left the kitchen sink dishes for another day? Do you have an extra room at home or a basement that's storage for stuff you rarely use but don't have the heart to discard? And do you feel guilty about it? That's nothing compared to Coming Clean.

Kim Miller is your average girl growing up in what appears to be an average family to Kim's friends and teachers, but her parents are hoarders, whose tendencies to keep every little thing escalates as Kim grows older. The Millers' hoarding gets so bad, they won't allow cleaners, repairmen, or anyone into their home. The bathroom is filled with junk and becomes nonfunctional, forcing Kim to shower away from home. The furnace breaks but isn't fixed, making for some chilly winters. Meanwhile, rats scurry through discarded belongings and a derelict kitchen, and the floor slowly disintegrates. As an adult, Kim becomes a neat-freak, obsessed with her clean and tidy apartment. Yet her parents' troubles plague Kim, as she takes on forced purges of their home and the insurmountable task of cleaning and packing required for each move her parents make.

While recounting her traumatizing childhood, readers may recoil at the horrors Kim's parents unwittingly bestowed, but Kim manages to balance her disturbing tale with compassionate pictures of her parents' kindness and the history that led to their hoarding tendencies.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian

The Lawrence Browne Affair
Afraid he will succumb to his family’s history of insanity, Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, lives like a hermit at his crumbling family estate Penkellis. Concerned for Lawrence’s well-being, the local vicar recruits a secretary to manage the earl’s affairs. Georgie Turner has spent his life swindling people out of their money, but guilt causes him to abandon his latest con. Georgie’s partners are bent on revenge, so he escapes to Penkellis, reinventing himself as a respectable secretary. Initially annoyed by the intrusion, Lawrence grudgingly comes to depend on Georgie, who readily adapts to the eccentric scientist and his odd habits. Their professional camaraderie gives way to an intense love affair, but both men believe they are unworthy of such a gift. Both are also deeply flawed as a result of their respective childhoods, but their willingness to accommodate each other’s deficits and accept one another unconditionally is what will have readers falling in love with them. 

Verdict Sebastian has crafted an epic romance in which Lawrence and Georgie share incredible chemistry. Although the book is not listed as part of a series, Georgie is the brother to Jack Turner, the rogue in Sebastian’s debut novel, The Soldier’s Scoundrel. Profoundly romantic and highly recommended. 

This review was originally published in Library Journal Xpress Reviews: E-Originals, January 19, 2017.