Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself
, released by Joe Abercrombie in 2006, is the massive introduction to his First Law Trilogy, now an ongoing series. It is excellent, well constructed and well written, but for very specific tastes.

To say it is from the Grimdark subgenre is an oversimplification. It certainly is, but it's from the lighter end of this notoriously heavy subgenre, and agile enough to play with expectations.  This is a very character-driven book, taking the now-popular convention of having multiple point-of-view characters following their own plots, with their own backstory, and their own inner lives. This is not a book of heroes and villains, but rather of greys and blacks. You'll spend time in the minds of good people doing bad things, and bad people doing good things. For example, the author does a masterful job of creating sympathy for a professional torturer, contempt for a strong-jawed swordsman, and hope for a reluctant berserker.

The world is wholly invented high fantasy, a curious mix of early colonialism tropes, savage Northmen tropes, and high wizard tropes, but delivered with a modern insight and a fair amount of humor.  The central story that develops as the plotlines merge is about the reappearance of magic in a world that sees sorcery as a relic of bygone eras (if not imaginary), complete with a Merlin-analogue returning. The technology is up to the level of naval armadas and saber duels, but just shy of gunpowder. The author is dealing with repugnant elements - colonialism, torture, sexism - but is fairly adept at allowing for modern insights to peek through the text, and cutting the darkness with humor and trope subversions. The author comes closest to crossing the sensibilities of the reader with the use of "savage other" tropes that echo colonialist attitudes toward the middle-east, but they are delivered by unsympathetic in-text colonialists in a way that allows the reader a wider perspective. You should know going in that torture is a recurring element of this book, but the author leaves the graphic details to the reader's imagination.

All of this is not to say this is not a dark book. It is made of ugly politics and callous manipulators and false friends, in a world where the sheen of high culture hides humanity's ugly nature. I have not read the second book yet, but the first left me eager for more. For those who like Grimdark, this is one of the best examples I have read, rivaling G.R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) in scope and similar in tone and approach. This would be a fine recommendation for what to read next after catching up on Martin's grand opus. The Blade Itself is a brilliant introduction to a promising series, an excellent choice for any fantasy fan, and a must-read for Grimdark fans.

- review written by Scott Bonner

Friday, December 18, 2020

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

 Are you a fan of autobiographies?  Do you follow politics closely?  Then check out Barack Obama's newest book, A Promised Land.

This first volume of Obama's presidential memoirs tells the story of his journey from a young man to the president of the United States.  He takes leaders through his political education, organizing years, and first term in the White House.  Offering thoughtful insights on presidential power, politics, and diplomacy,  this personal and beautifully written book perfectly captures Obama's belief in democracy and progress.

I listened to the audiobook version of this memoir and cannot recommend it highly enough!  Obama takes you through his life and early presidency with good humor and profound understandings, matching warm stories about his family with a deep dive into his work.  Listening to him read all of his thoughts to you definitely improves the experience, though it is a longer audiobook - nearly thirty hours long.  I didn't know going in that this is just the first in a series of his presidential memoirs, so now I'm excited to see what he'll be writing next!   

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I recently read a book called “The Lightning Thief.” I’m very familiar with this book series. This story dives into Greek Mythology and introduced me to a lot of the Greek gods and goddesses. The story starts in upstate New York with Poseidon’s son “Percy Jackson” unaware of who his real father was. He is a 12 year old troublemaker that got kicked out of many schools in his past. He lives this miserable lifestyle with his mother being his only delight.

A time came where Percy’s mother took him on a trip to a beach. This was a chance to sit down and talk about his mental problems in and out of school, with plans to let him know his real father’s identity. Until an unfriendly 7 foot creature comes into play and takes his mother’s life. Percy manages to kill the creature and passes out in the process. He then wakes up at a place called Camp Half-Blood, a herd of Satyrs and unusual creatures from Mount Olympus. Zeus accuses Percy of stealing his master lightning bolts and it's up to him and his two companions, “Grover” and “Annabeth” to use the 10 days they’ve been given to return Zeus’s stolen property. In the process he learns who his father is with questions of his abandonment, and uses what he learns at camp to get back his mother.

This book was very adventurous and a great way to start learning about Greek mythology. It was the first advanced chapter book I read. Being a chapter book without any pictures and a blank theme, this would be the first book in that category you would actually enjoy. The author gets very detailed with his words. The book helps work your mind and has you re-imagining certain things from the book. This book is a great way to start diving into bigger and more detailed stories.

Review written by Devon W.

Friday, December 11, 2020

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Are you a fan of thrillers?  Then check out this chilling New York Times and USA today bestseller by Alyssa Cole.

Sydney Green grew up in the Brooklyn neighborhood she calls home, but lately it feels like gentrification is changing her community overnight.  Hoping to reconnect to everything that is slipping away, she and her new neighbor Theo start creating a tour to highlight the neighborhood's past and present.  But what if all the people who've vanished from the block haven't just moved to the suburbs?  And what if their research puts Sydney and Theo right in the sights of some sinister forces?  Is it all in Sydney's head, or is something bigger at work?

I really enjoyed Cole's sharp, witty writing style. This is one of those psychological thrillers where something just feels... off for much of the book, but you can't tell who or what is to blame. It also did a good job of making everyday encounters a plausible part of the unsettling vibe, so you're never sure which sinister things are sinister on purpose. Check it out if you're looking for a fast, suspenseful read!

Friday, December 4, 2020

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

If you're looking for something merry and bright to read this Christmas, look no further!

When Vivian Forest's daughter invites her along on the work trip of a lifetime, she's excited to take in the British sights and spend a relaxing holiday away from her home in California.  She isn't expecting to meet the charming, intriguing Malcom Hudson, the Queen's private secretary.  The spark of flirtation between the two of them is instantaneous, but can their relationship last past Vivian's return flight on New Year's Day? 

This book was such a fun way to kick off December.  Some of the tropes and the beats in this novel will be familiar to romance readers, but Guillory's clever writing and sweet characters were more than enough to keep me reading with a smile on my face.  I would definitely recommend curling up with this quick, cozy read this winter.

Monday, November 30, 2020

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

This is a beautiful story about friendships, family, grief, and peace. Our main character is Leigh Chen Sanders, Leigh travels to Taiwan to meet her grandparents due to her mother's suicide. There she uncovers family secrets and chasing after ghosts. Her mother is the bird that keeps reappearing in moments, Leigh also deals with the fact that on the day of her mother's suicide, she kissed her best friend and crush, while her mother was taking her own life.

This book made me feel so many things, all at once. I've cried a lot during this book and surprisingly smiled during beautiful moments. I love how the author made this book so breathtaking she always had you second guessing yourself of what would happen next. She explained the characters emotions so well and their actions, it was so beautiful and raw. I would highly recommend this book to people who love adventure, paranormal fiction, and a little bit of romance. This book is great to read on rainy days by the fireplace.

Review written by Genevieve C.

Monday, August 24, 2020

One to Watch

The only way I can describe this book is that it was a roller coaster I knew I was getting on.

Bea Schumacher is a plus size fashion blogger and lover of Bachelor-esque T.V. show, Main Squeeze. But this latest season of contestants is nothing new, and Bea takes to the internet to voice her frustration in the lack of diversity and body sizes present. 

When her rant takes the internet by storm, she expects to get a nasty call from her favorite T.V. show but instead, she's invited to be the next Main Squeeze!

With any novel centered around a plus-size protagonist searching for love, you know you're going to get the tropes, and this story didn't disappoint. But there were unexpected twists and turns and even the expected ones were fun to read. Overall, this was a fun story to pass the time on my daily drive home. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a happy story about looking for love in exactly the wrong place.

Big Summer

 If you're needing some body positivity mixed with social media stardom, then this is your book. 

Daphne Berg is a successful influencer and she's more popular than she's ever been. Her body positive, tell it like it is, plus-size style has gotten her designer duds and sponsors galore. So when her ex-friend invites her to be a part of her wedding, she's thrown through one massive loop. 

This story is a fun summer beach read, that takes a sharp turn about halfway through the book. While I don't want to give anything away, you'll be sitting on the edge of your seat wondering what exactly is going to come next. But one thing I can tell you, it'll be binge worthy.

The Lost and Found Bookshop


Recently I've read a string of books that have been about bookshops. For the longest time I actually thought I'd read this title already, but soon realized my error after reading the inside jacket cover. As a librarian, I think we have a soft spot for any titles having to do with books, but this one was pretty special. The Lost and Found Bookshop is a story of family, history, and trust that seamlessly blends San Francisco history and society into the story. The protagonist is not happy with her job, but too fearful to take on the risk of her mother's bookshop which would provide an unsteady income. Upon the death of her mother and her grandfather's unwillingness to sell the shop, she is forced to make the choice between security and happiness, family and independence. Add in a good looking handy man who knows a thing or two about classic literature, and you've got a soft and heartwarming story about finding your way when the outcome isn't certain.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Gilded Hour

 I was first drawn to the beautiful cover of this title but put off reading it because of it's girth (it's a total of 768 pages). So when the audio book came up as available on Overdrive I decided it was time to see if it sounded as good as it looked.

It. was. worth. every. minute (and there were 1,800 minutes total). The book's details of an 1880 New York City created a vivid picture without seeming to drone on and on. The characters were unique, but still believable for the time period. I didn't want to stop listening, and found myself listening while gardening, doing laundry, and everything else in between! 

The story centers around the family of Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie who are both doctors and working in the local women's hospital. They are well off, which allows them to skirt a number of the preconceived notions of the time period, but both women still deal with issues of racism, sexism, and women's rights. It's a beautiful, yet realistic picture of a changing time period.

If you're a lover of historical fiction, feminists, and medicine, you'll love this first book in Sara Donati's new series. 

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good

"And though she be but little, she is fierce."

Helena, regarding Hermia, in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (slightly modified from its original form)

I cackled all the way through An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good. Yes, a homicidal old lady is a hilarious concept, and none of the five stories disappoint. But my inner old lady and introversion felt a kinship to Maud, and that's what kept me turning pages. I took off half a star because mysteries aren't exactly my cup of tea, but I ended up loving these stories and there's so little of this book!

I cannot tout Maud enough. Little Maud, as we discover, has lived quite a life. Her fiance spurned her because she was not rich. She made a career as a teacher. She cared for her mentally ill sister, Charlotte, until Charlotte's death. Maud outlived her family and retained ownership of their large apartment. Her neighbors glared at her, a single, elderly lady, and she continued to live her life. Maud earned her comfortable life, which makes the intrusions all the more intolerable.

"Maud lived alone, and she went on vacation alone. That was the way she wanted it. Freedom, no idle chatter, and no problems."

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good

I recommend this book to anyone rendered mildly homicidal by an overly-extroverted neighbor. If you, dear reader, have ever contemplated the pros and cons of murder to avoid an imminent social situation, I beseech thee: live vicariously through Maud.

Read more at Aida Fox Reviews.

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires

 No sooner had housewife Patricia Campbell silently wished for something exciting to happen in her small town did the mysterious James Harris show up on her block. Patricia has a bad feeling about Mr. Harris, but is her intuition obscured by the massive amounts of true crime books her book club is reading?

I was disappointed, but not unhappy, with Grady Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires (referred to from here on out as TSBCGTSV). I place the blame an earlier Hendrix book, We Soul Our Souls.

We Sold Our Souls is a satanic, brutal, raw, and METAL story. Kris is a former rockstar guitarist, scraping herself through “normal” life after fame. Kris must get the band back together after a dark revelation occurs, to say the least. There are no Stepford Wives for miles in We Sold Our Souls, and edgy humor is abundant. If adapted to film, and adapted well, there is no way We Sold Our Souls would merit a rating less than “R.”

I had recently finished We Sold Our Souls when news broke of a forthcoming Hendrix title. Publisher Penguin Random House markets TSBCGTSV as, “…Steel Magnolias meets Dracula.” I would describe it as one of those horror movies that squeaked by with a PG-13 rating just shy of an R-rating. If you enjoy Stranger Things, you will appreciate the well-developed 90’s aesthetic of TSBCGTSV.

While I did not enjoy TSBCGTSV as much as I thought I would, let it be known that I will and do read everything Grady Hendrix writes. I recommend The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires as a multi-faceted, intermediate-level horror read.

Read more at Aida Fox Reviews.

Big Girl Panties

Holly, a young widow, is not happy with how she looks. She knows she's gained some weight but who hasn't? Unfortunately, she's been stuck next to personal trainer to the stars, Logan, on her homeward bound plane ride. What ends up happening, every romance lover can expect.

I didn't expect much from this book and was pleasantly surprised with it. This isn't a fitness Cinderella story, but two people coming to terms with the long-held biases of society and finding each other along the way.