Microshelters by Derek “Deek” Diedricksen

Book – Deek Diedricksen travels around the world searching for the most creative and interesting tiny structures. His book highlights 59 small structures, including tree houses, tiny houses, caravans, cabins and playhouses. Their uses range from full-time living to vacation homes to backyard writing or zen retreats. Photos, floor plans and narratives offer showcase the clever uses of space and design ideas. Upcycling and recycling are components of most of the structures. Polycarbonate roofing was used for walls in some cases, pot lids and water jugs were used for a window in one structure. Sometimes height was used for additional space, with access through ladders or even staggered shelving. He also has led building and design workshops. Deek also includes chapters on the necessary tools, how to salvage and decorate and offers six plans with construction details. If you enjoy this book, you may also want to check out The Big Tiny by Dee Williams or Shed Decor by Sally Coulthard.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Book – I recognize that it is blasphemy of the highest order to suggest that any YA book about a group of young magic-users growing into their powers could actually be better than Harry Potter.  So let’s settle for ‘every bit as good,’ and ‘a wonderful new series to fill the Potter-shaped hole in your heart,’ and go from there.

Twelve-year-old Sunny is an outsider in more ways than she realizes.  Besides the culture shock of moving to Nigeria, her parents’ first home, after living in New York all her life, Sunny’s albinism keeps her out of the sun and away from the soccer games she loves.  Only school offers a chance to make friends, and these new friends know something about Sunny that she never knew about herself: she is one of the Leopard People, a keeper of secret powers that make her part of a secret worldwide community of magic-users.   Learning to access her new spirit face and the invisibility powers it brings is thrilling.  But Sunny and her friends also have a darker task to tackle: tracking down a magical child-killer and ending his reign of terror.

Akata Witch is an exciting, fresh and thoroughly enjoyable take on the magician-in-training trope.   While the deep vein of Nigerian culture underlying the tale is part of what makes it stand out in the sea of YA fantasy, Sunny’s American-born perspective makes this an easy world for an American reader to enter.  The result is a story with rich, original world-building that will leave you eager for the planned sequel, due in fall 2016.

The Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Book –  For a delectable romantic comedy, check out The Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan.

Meet Polly Waterford, a distraught young woman who is reeling from a toxic break-up.  When she is forced to move out of her boyfriend’s apartment, she has nowhere to go.  And that’s how she finds her escape, on the seaside of Cornwall in a tiny little house in the middle of nowhere.  All alone and far from home, Polly is overcome with loneliness.  She does the only thing she can do, she bakes.  Soon, what was only a comforting hobby turns into much more as the locals discover Polly’s mouth-watering baked goods.

However, the town baker has taken an instant dislike to Polly who has stolen all of her customers.  Can Polly ever escape a life of drama? What will she do when her toxic ex-boyfriend shows up in Cornwall?  This charming tale is full of drama, humor and romance–and of course visions of fresh baked bread.  Enjoy this sweet story that will keep you cozy in the chilly months ahead.

As a sappy romantic, I adore a good love story.  I particularly love romances that take place in a bakery, or food service setting.  If you liked The Little Beach Street Bakery, try The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal, and Since You’ve Been Gone by Anouska Knight.

 

 

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Book – Imagine waking up in the morning thinking you had a one night stand, because the man next to you is a stranger and when you look in the mirror you are shocked to see a woman in her late 40’s, since you think you are 20 something. And the man, Ben, tells you that he has been your husband for 22 years.  This is what happens to Christine every morning in the gripping story Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson.  She has a type of amnesia, supposedly from an accident she had over 20 years ago and each night when she goes to sleep her memories from the previous day are erased.

Every day after Ben leaves for work, Christine receives a phone call from neurologist, Dr. Nash who is trying to treat her condition, reminding her to write in her journal. As she secretly continues writing in her journal and meeting with the doctor, memories slowly start forming.  But instead of relief, Christine becomes fearful and confused, because she finds the words, “don’t trust Ben” written in her journal and she suspects that Ben and Dr. Nash are lying to her.  She is beginning to remember and they are both giving conflicting information about her life.  Are they trying to protect her or harm her?

A heart pounding psychological thriller with a surprise ending. This book has received many starred reviews.  It was also made into a movie by the same title.  Readers who liked Girl on the Train would probably enjoy this novel!

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Book – It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a John Grisham novel and I’m very glad that I read the legal thriller Sycamore Row.  Attorney Jake Brigance from A Time to Kill resurfaces to protect the interests of his client multi-millionaire Seth Hubbard who is battling terminal cancer.  Seth has handwritten  a new will rescinding the one he had previously drawn up at another law firm.  The following day he hangs himself from a tree. The new will cuts out his children, grandchildren, and ex-wives and leaves the bulk of his fortune to his African-American  housekeeper Lettie.

This is Ford County Mississippi, where racial tensions still run high as Jake battles the Hubbard family and an army of lawyers disputing the validity of the new will bestowing an excess of $20 million. Was Seth unduly influenced by Lettie, were his medications and pain clouding his judgement? This is a mystery that tries to get solved in this fast paced, suspenseful legal procedural.  Well written with great character development, this book is a must read!

The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O’Neal

Book – The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O’Neal is a warm and cozy book that proves it is never too late for a do-over.  Complete with actual recipes throughout the story, this novel is a great feel-good read.

Lavender Brown is a popular food blogger and the dedicated owner of the serene Lavender Honey Farms.  She has dedicated everything she has to her life’s work, and she’s proud of all she’s accomplished.  At the same time, Lavender knows she isn’t getting any younger, and she’s concerned that her business will fall into the profit driven hands of her relatives.  Lavender decides to invite her three close food blogger friends to the farm, in hopes that one of them will be a perfect match.

Ginny has been made famous by her scrumptious recipes and photos as a food blogger.  But her success has turned everyone in town against her, especially her husband.  Stuck in a place with no friends and an unfulfilling marriage, Ginny sets off on a whirlwind adventure with endless hope and possibilities.

Ruby is struggling to come to turns with a miserable break-up with her ex-boyfriend.  Pregnant with his child, Ruby prays that this trip to Lavenders farm will be her saving grace.

Val has recently lost her husband and two daughters to a tragic accident.  She is struggling to hold on to her remaining daughter, and hopes that Lavender’s paradise can help bring them back together.

A cute story, stock full of friendship, drama, romance, and a hint of spice.

 

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Book – Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal, is having a rough time of it. England’s magicians are torn by internal strife at the same time the country is demanding their assistance in the war against Napoleon, and Zacharias’s own reform ideas are being shoved to the side. And the rumors surrounding his own ascension to the post after his mentor’s death are stirring. As the first African Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias is none too popular among England’s magical elite.

Meanwhile, Prunella Gentleman, the mixed-race orphaned daughter of a mysterious wandering magician who has been raised by the mistress of a School for Magical Ladies, is growing frustrated with her lot. Ladies, after all, are not supposed to be magical, and those who are unfortunate enough to suffer the affliction have to be carefully trained to avoid using it at any cost. Prunella, on the other hand, is sure she could do something great with her life, if only she were given the chance.

The collision of these two – Zacharias who desperately wants to keep the peace, and Prunella who is determined to fend for herself no matter what society thinks – provides the largest part of the enjoyment of Cho’s first novel. Despite the cover, this is a Regency fantasy of the best kind, featuring dignified English magicians, grasping English politicians, and, uniquely, powerful and fascinating main characters from the underside of the empire. Fans of Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Mary Robinette Kowall’s Glamourist Histories should love this.

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? by Guy Consolmagno & Paul Mueller

Book – Lots of people have this idea that science and faith are inherently opposed, but the authors of this book – both astronomers with the Vatican Observatory, one a Jesuit priest and the other a Jesuit brother – are good evidence that doesn’t have to be the case. In six casual, chatty chapters, they discuss everything from the beginning of the universe to the end of it; the nature of Pluto, the Star of Bethlehem, and Galileo’s persecution; and, yes, if they (or rather, if Father Paul) would baptize an extraterrestrial.

The authors are Jesuits, so this is definitely a Catholic perspective on both the universe and on the Bible, but I think it’s illuminating for anyone. They argue that both of those vast and profound entities require you to choose how you’re going to go about understanding them, and that if you choose wrong, you’re just going to be more confused than you started – and they offer examples both from the history of science and from the history of theology.

My favorite chapter, though, was the chapter on Pluto. It turns out that both authors were part of the process of re-defining the elements of our solar system that removed Pluto from the list of planets, and they explain the complicated tangle of human categories, actual celestial bodies, and plain old human emotion that made that process so difficult and controversial.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal

Book – Why is there something so irresistible about a really skillful crime?  Maybe we should be rooting against the antiheroes of Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, or Catch Me If You Can, but if you love any of those films, or if you’ve ever found yourself binge-watching episodes of Leverage on a Friday night, I bet you don’t spend those viewing hours riveted by the tenacious law enforcement officials on our criminals’ tails (sorry, Tom Hanks).  If you find any of the above titles as fascinating as I do, no matter the moral failings of their protagonists, your next read should be The Man in the Rockefeller Suit–which is every but as thrilling but with the added bonus, incredibly, of being true.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter was an ordinary young man from a small town in Germany, but his ambitions were exponentially bigger than that.  He came to America as a student, ingratiated himself among the rich and powerful, and changed his identity several times before settling on the ultimate last name: Rockefeller.  Under the new persona of Clark Rockefeller, he lied and schemed his way into a marriage with an ambitious businesswoman, memberships in elite clubs and an art forgery con, among other things, living the high life and then some.  It took over thirty years and the kidnapping of his own daughter before his secrets finally caught up with him (including a murder case which remains tantalizingly unresolved).

In short, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit is a fast-paced and exhilarating example of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction that will appeal even to the non-fiction skeptic.  The audiobook is also excellent.

 

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Book –What happens when we die?  Does Heaven await us in the afterlife, or perhaps the fiery pits of Hell?  Maybe, our souls merely evaporate into the air, leaving no trace of our existence.  Shall we meet the pearly gates or travel the River Styx?

Gabrielle Zevin explores this age-old question of what happens after life in her novel, Elsewhere.  Imagine that you wake up in a strange bed, aboard a ship you’ve never seen before, embarking on a journey to a place you’ve never heard of, called Elsewhere.  Fifteen year old Liz thinks she’s having a bad dream, until it finally hits her; she’s dead.

Dead and stuck in Elsewhere, all Liz wants to do is go back home, or at the very least find a way communicate with her family so they know she’s okay.  But the afterlife has other things in store for her.  In Elsewhere, people age backwards instead of forwards, and they return to Earth as infants.  so Liz is placed in the custody of her late grandmother, a woman she has never known.  This isn’t how it was supposed to be!  Liz doesn’t want to build a new life growing young; she wants her life back.  Maybe, just maybe, there’s more to  the afterlife than meets the eye…

I adored this book as a teen, and still consider it one of my favorites today.  The world of Elsewhere seemed like a fantasy to me, a quite intriguing hypothesis of what lies in store for us in death.  A morbidly light read, with a fun cast of characters and a charming story.