Monday, February 19, 2018

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows book cover Kaz Brekker is a dangerous man. He's called “Dirtyhands” because no crime is too vicious or immoral for him, for the right price. One day he is approached with an offer he can’t refuse: gather an elite group of thieves and con artists, travel to the faraway Ice Court, and free one prisoner. It sounds straightforward enough, but no one has ever infiltrated the Ice Court, an impenetrable frozen fortress, and escaped with their lives. The prisoner they must free is the inventor of a substance that turns the Grisha-- people naturally capable of small, simple magics-- into crazed, all-powerful gods of destruction. If they succeed, they will be rich beyond their wildest fantasies. If they fail, they will die. But criminals like Kaz just love to gamble…

Six of Crows is a young adult fantasy heist book with a sizable cast of extremely fun characters, all with elaborate backstories and motivations. There’s Inej, the girl who can move like a shadow, and Matthias, a former Ice Court soldier who longs to return to his old life, as well as Nina, the Grisha who fought, fell in love with, and betrayed Matthias years ago. Their complex interactions make the book very engaging, and the plot really rolls along once it gets going. If a fantasy heist book sounds appealing to you, and you don’t mind keeping track of six characters at a time, it’s a great adventure. If you enjoy it, make sure to get the sequel, Crooked Kingdom. You might also want to check out Bardugo's Grisha trilogy, which takes place in the same world. If you're looking for a more adult fantasy heist book, try the Gentleman Bastard series as well.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Beartown book coverIn Beartown, hockey is life. All hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the little town's revival lie in the upcoming semi-final match, which will hopefully lead to a final match and, ultimately, a win. In just a few more games, Beartown could be transformed. No longer would it be a declining, secluded, forgettable place. Instead, it would be reborn as a major hockey destination. Perhaps there would be a new ice arena, or new sponsors would swarm the city. As a reader, you root for the young men, seventeen year old boys, who could make this happen. They are so close to victory. Then, one day, something happens. An incident occurs. And this incident, even though it happens outside the hockey arena, turns out to be the real game changer.

While Beartown is a book about hockey, the reader does not need to be a hockey fan to appreciate the story. The first chapter piques curiosity right away. The characters are excellently fleshed out, and the story is very timely, especially with current events regarding harassment, rape, and the treatment of women. If A Man Called Ove made you into a Backman fan, then this is one you won't want to miss.

Monday, February 5, 2018

In His Hands by Adriana Anders

In His Hands book coverAbby has belonged to the Church of Apocalyptic Faith for so long she can barely remember her life before, except for living in a car with her mom and going hungry. However, her small community of faith is not as idyllic as it appears. Abby wants out, but leaving the Church isn't easy. If caught fleeing, she could be killed... or worse.

Luc, the grape grower next door, just wants to be left alone with his vines. He keeps to himself and in return has no problems with his strange neighbors. But when Abby lands on his doorstep, something in her eyes won't let him turn her away. And just like that, he's in the middle of a war with the Church during the worst snowstorm he's ever seen, all while falling for a woman he's just met.

This is the third book in the Blank Canvas series. Each story is a standalone, but there are some spoilers if you read them out of order. Adriana Anders's books are all in paperback only, but she isn't your average mass-market paperback writer. While her novels are definitely romances, they also touch on very deep, serious subject matters. In His Hands takes you inside an apocalyptic cult, bringing light to all its blessings and evils. Anders's writing style is engrossing, but it does use a vast vocabulary-- I had to look up a few words in the dictionary! I highly recommend this entire series, and I can't wait to read her other works!

Monday, January 29, 2018

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

From Here to Eternity book coverKnown for her web series, Ask a Mortician, Caitlin Doughty is a proponent of making funerals more natural and meaningful than the current impersonal, profit-driven model. In this, her second book, she explores funeral customs and death rituals of other cultures: visiting cemeteries, witnessing funerals, and attending celebrations of the dead the world over. She describes old-fashioned funeral pyres, cremation ceremonies involving chopsticks, and the reverent tending of mummified relatives. Many of these seemingly exotic rituals include close personal interactions with the deceased’s earthly remains; a stark contrast to the rather antiseptic practices promoted by the American funeral industry. Doughty laments that we have so distanced ourselves from death, that it is only viewed with fear and disgust, whereas other cultures continue to foster relationships with their loved ones, remembering them, honoring them, and including them in family life even after they have passed on.

If you like the readable nonfiction style of Mary Roach or have ever wondered why a burial can’t be a simpler, less expensive affair, this book will interest you. You may also wish to read Doughty’s first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, a memoir of her time working in a crematory.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young book cover Rachel is on a date— one of her first since her divorce and her foray into online dating— when her date asks her daughter’s name. When he learns it’s Aviva, he can’t help but bring up disgraced congressional intern Aviva Grossman, who had an affair with the handsome, beloved, and very married Florida Congressman Aaron Levin. That Aviva is, of course, Rachel’s daughter, and so ends the date.

Rachel has barely heard from her daughter since the end of the affair, when Aviva fled South Florida to get away from the scandal and attempt to get on with her life. Now, even though it has been more than a decade, Aviva is still reviled while the congressman is still in office. Aviva has had to reinvent herself as Jane, a small-town wedding planner. When she decides to rekindle her love of politics by running for mayor, she risks the collision of her carefully planned new life and her notorious past.

Zevin tells the story of the Avivagate scandal and its aftermath through the eyes of the women it has affected the most, including the congressman’s wife and Aviva herself. The story is in turns hilariously funny, tender, and moving. Zevin’s flawed but likable characters and her skill at weaving humor into a thought-provoking story make it a must-read.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

I Hate Fairyland, Vol 1: Madly Ever After by Skottie Young

I Hate Fairyland book coverEvery child dreams of going off to Fairyland to have magical adventures, but Gert is one of the lucky ones who was actually able to go. She wouldn't call it lucky, though-- more like a nightmare. She's been trapped in Fairyland (and her six year old body) for nearly thirty years trying to find the magical key that will let  her leave. Along the way she's made more enemies than friends, and the people of Fairyland are willing to go to extreme lengths to get rid of Gert, one way or the other.

Funny and gory aren't often found together in the same story, but Skottie Young easily pulled it off with I Hate Fairyland. Full of over-the-top violence, chaos, bright colors, and energetic character design, I Hate Fairyland is delightfully quirky and entertaining. Definitely not for the kids though!

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

The Book of Joy book cover On the Dalai Lama's eightieth birthday, he was able to spend one week with one of his closest friends, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Author Douglas Carlton Adams tagged along to interview both men and record their interactions. This book is the product of that week together.

Both of these men, great moral and religious leaders, grew up in vastly different cultures, but both share a worldview, what the Archbishop calls "Ubuntu," that everyone in the world is connected and interdependent on one another, and that the more we are divided, the less joyful we will be. Although they have lived through horrible times and seen unspeakable things happen to their people, both men are loving and playful, not cynical or angry. They make jokes at each others' expense and have long discussions about life and morality and how to be joyful and grateful and generous even when there is so much suffering.

If you are looking for something heartwarming and spirit-lifting, The Book of Joy lives up to its name and then some. In a world that can seem angry and chaotic and divided, this book offers to renew your hopes. It's a great way to start a new year.