Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

sandcastleBook – Chris Bohjalian pays homage to his Armenian roots in Sandcastle Girls, by telling the story of “The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About”. The genocide of over ½ million people by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The account is relayed through Laura Petrosian, the great granddaughter of Elizabeth, an American from Boston and Armen from Armenia. While researching her genealogy for a book, Laura comes across letters and photographs of her great grandparents that help her piece together her family history.

Elizabeth and Armen meet in Aleppo Syria in 1915.  Elizabeth, is a nurse recently graduated from college who accompanies her father on a mission to provide humanitarian aid to Armenian Refugees. Armen is an engineer working for the Germans who is desperately looking for his missing wife and baby who were lost during the deportations and mass murders. The two soon become very fond of each other. They are separated when Armen leaves to fight for the British Army. Elizabeth and Armen’s love flourishes in spite of continuing genocide and war, as they write letters to each other.

This is an enduring love story that also gives us heartbreakingly gritty details about the atrocities of the horrific events. It was a bit difficult to get through due to the subject matter, but definitely worthwhile.

El Deafo by Cece Bell

el deafoBook – After becoming very sick as a child, Cece began to lose her hearing.  El Deafo chronicles Cece’s experiences, from going to school, making friends, and using a hearing aid device.  El Deafo is the perfect mix of fiction and biography.

Inspired by real life experiences, this is a beautifully illustrated story told in graphic novel form.  As someone who really hasn’t read a lot of comic books, I found the artwork to be very refreshing.  The characters reminded me of my favorite childhood tv show, Arthur, with their animal likenesses.  Each character has rabbit-like features, with a pink triangle nose, and tall ears.

One of my favorite things about this book is Cece’s description of her hearing aid, the Phonic Ear.  Young Cece  introduces the device as bulky, unattractive, and heavy; it makes her feel awkward and uncomfortable.

In school, her teacher wears a microphone that is connected to the device.  With her earpieces Cece is able to hear every word her teacher is says, both in the classroom, and  any other place in the building!  With her newfound powers of hearing, Cece discovers her inner superhero, El Deafo.  I adored the honest and charismatic narration of this little girl, and hope you will too.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

rookBookThe body you are wearing used to be mine. So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her. She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

The single most important thing in a book written in the first person is that the reader likes the main character, preferably right away. Fortunately, I liked Myfanwy within about a page and a half. She has an entirely reasonable reaction to waking up surrounded by dead bodies without knowing who she is: she checks herself into the most expensive hotel she can find and panics. And then she thinks, I have got to figure out what is going on. And she does.

Myfanwy is that rare character who strikes a perfect balance between perfectly normal and exceptionally capable. The way she handles her job as supernatural administrator is hilarious – lots of “um, sure, okay, let’s move the meeting with my colleague’s second body up by half an hour.” If I have a complaint, it’s that the mystery behind the whole plot of the book is a little slight. There are so many characters coming and going that when the traitor was finally revealed, it took me a few minutes to remember who he was.

This reminded me delightfully of China Miéville’s Kraken and Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series; readers looking for more deeply weird urban fantasy will like those as well. The sequel, Stiletto, is due out in June.

Food Whore by Jessica Tom

food whoreBook –Introducing Food Whore, the debut novel by author Jessica TomIt’s The Devil Wears Prada meets Ratatouille, all in one book!  What’s not to love? Because of my adoration for The Devil Wears Prada,  I knew I had to read this book as soon as possible.

Meet Tia Monroe, a young woman trying to make something of herself in the world of food. Much like the main character, Andrea from The Devil Wears Prada, Tia  has a plan on how to get her dream job, starting with a great internship.  She is confident that nothing can go wrong.

When her assigned internship turns out to be the coat check for a  high-end restaurant, everything starts to fall apart for Tia.  But then she meets a mysterious man, the famous, and most feared food critic, Michael Saltz, who has a secret–he’s lost his sense of taste!  Saltz promises Tia money, food, and unlimited designer clothes; she agrees to serve as his palate, as ghostwriter for his reviews.  However, Tia soon grows dissatisfied with the arrangement, envious for the notice Saltz receives for all of her hard work.

We’ve all heard the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” yet 90% of the time, it’s the cover that pulls me in.  Food Whore was no different for me; I found the cover art to be stunning.  A simple, white cover contrasted with a burst of vibrant red pomegranate seeds spelling out the title.  It appealed to the foodie in me who loves the beautiful colors of food.  A deliciously fun adventure, with secrets, lies, and spicy romance.  This book is a delectable dish you can’t resist.  I can’t wait to see what Jessica Tom brings to the table next!

 

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

one thousandBook – One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd is a fascinating account of the “Brides for Indians” program, which was a treaty between Ulysses S. Grant and Cheyenne India Chief Little Wolf in 1875. May records the adventures of herself and the other 999 brides- to-be. This is her ticket out of the insane asylum, where she was incarcerated for having an affair.  All of the women were prostitutes, prisoners, mental patients, or indigents that were offered full pardons.  The agreement being that they would be indentured to the Cheyenne for two years, would have to bear them children, and then would have the option to leave. The U.S. government felt that, the women would be able to tame the savages and that in turn the Indians would take on the white ways once they were given children that were half breeds.

May’s personal journals are full of humor, love, and respect for the other women. She thoughtfully reflects on the beauty and wilderness of the land as they journey across the west to meet their husbands.  Her accounts also detail the culture and lifestyle of the tribe, as she becomes one of Little Wolf’s wives.

Even if you are not a fan of Westerns, this is a fascinating read about these pioneer women.  If you enjoy this book, you might also like These is My Words and The Diary of Mattie Spenser.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

indexBook-  Thursday Next is a SpecOps (Special Operations) agent in an alternate universe Britain where literature is at the center of people’s lives, dodos are not extinct, and the Crimean War is ongoing. The story revolves around Thursday’s attempt to capture wanted criminal Acheron Hades, who just happens to be her former English professor. Acheron, the third most wanted criminal in the world (if you don’t know the first two, you don’t want to know), has found a way to enter the world of books and starts holding various book characters for ransom. Thursday must find a way to follow him and rescue Jane Eyre before Bronte’s masterpiece is ruined.

This book is enormous fun, but if it has a flaw, it’s that it tries to go in too many directions at once. Various diverse subplots include Thursday’s reconnecting with her former fiance, fighting vampires, and her father’s excursions through time. Never fear, though:  this book begins an ongoing series where most of these plot threads get resolved and more elements introduced along the way. We own the first book in audio and paper copies, and the rest of the series in paper copies, here at the library. The Eyre Affair will appeal to fans of other British authors specializing in the zany and fantastical, such as Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

61vo1zbYYpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book – After her call-out in Jen’s Hamilton review for the also-excellent Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, I thought it was high time that Sarah Vowell had a blog post all to herself.  And now that I’ve made it through one whole sentence and have lulled you into a false sense of security, there’s half-a-chance you won’t instantly click away when I try to convince you that you might have fun with a book about the Puritans.

No, wait–really, though!  I wouldn’t have believed it myself before The Wordy Shipmates, but the history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony can (and in this case does) read as the tale of a group of quirky, infighting, self-important but also idealistic world-travelers who were, paradoxically, equal parts ruggedly individualist and staunchly authoritarian.  In fact, Vowell’s whole point is that our mental image of stern, humorless old men and women in weird buckled hats ignores the fact that the earliest European settlers in America were actually, y’know, people.  They had foibles and feuds and personalities that most histories tend to bury under a sea of brown homespun, but which Vowell makes it her mission to bring to light.  What I love about all of Vowell’s history books–but something which may or may not be your cup of tea, so fair warning–is the casual and personal tone of her writing.  She is not a detached historian writing from a distance; she is a character in her own story, discussing American history as it relates to herself in the present and thereby, I think, making it relatable for her readers too.  She is funny and personable, and learning history from her is like hearing it from a friend.

Just in case I’ve convinced you to give it a try, you should know that in addition to the paper book, you can borrow The Wordy Shipmates as an e-book or an audiobook on CD.

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

naturalsdropBook — Cassie is seventeen years old and is a natural at reading people. In just a few minutes she can figure out your job, your income, and other personal details about your life. With skills like that, it should be no surprise that the FBI asked her to join, The Naturals, special program for teens like her. A program for teens with abilities the FBI can use to solve cold cases. Cassie sees this as an opportunity to solver her mother’s murder case. So she leaves her family behind and moves in with the other members: Lia who can spot lies; Sloane who remembers everything; Dean another profiler; and Michael who can read emotions. For the Naturals, solving cold cases quickly becomes dangerous when a current case hits closer to home for Cassie and her new friends and they must learn to trust each other to survive. Of course a love triangle appears between Cassie, Dean, and Michael because what YA book does not have a love triangle?

What has been described as Criminal Minds for the YA world, The Naturals is perfect for those who love crime, mystery, with some romance tossed into the mix. Jennifer Lynn Barnes creates a great story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Plus, its the first of a series of books! Killer Instinct and All In will pull you into a great story line as Cassie and her friends work with the FBI to solve more crimes.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Book – An undeniably alien communication is received on Earth. While governments bicker and argue about what to do next, the Jesuits quietly fund their own miniature space program, designed to send one small group of scientists and missionaries to the signal’s source, to see what they can find. It goes…about as well as first contacts with Jesuit missionaries traditionally goes: fine, until it isn’t, and then it’s horrible.

This is the story of Father Emilio Sandoz, priest and scientist, heretic and – perhaps – saint, who went to another world to meet the people there and suffered terribly for his mistakes. The story is told largely in flashback, as Sandoz is interviewed by the Vatican to determine exactly what went wrong with the mission and who is to blame. So even though large portions of the book are really very happy and cheerful, there’s an ominous cloud hanging over the whole as we wait to find out just what went so terribly wrong. It’s also a story about good intentions: how much having them can and can’t make a difference, and how we apportion blame for things we wish had never happened.

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh

Book – What do a PhD candidate and a gang leader have in common? They both have a vested interest in the life of gang members and their actions. Sudhir was a graduate student at the University of Chicago during the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. In Gang Leader for a Day Sudhir befriends J.T., the leader of the Black Kings, a gang on the Southside of Chicago. The two have a chance encounter when Sudhir is trying to get surveys filled out by tenants at a Chicago projects high-rise. This meeting will lead them to develop an interesting relationship that will span over 10 years.

J.T. shows Sudhir what it takes to lead a gang and how the gang operates. Sudhir learns that gangs are structured and operate very similar to most corporations. The major difference being the products (drugs), and employee discipline delivered when gang members do not meet organization expectations, which comes in the form of violence.

Sudhir broke the mold for sociological studies when he performed this research. Normally sociologists use surveys to collect data on why subjects feel the way they do. Sudhir decided to immerse himself in gang culture in order to find out what gang life was like, how the community dealt with the gang, and why J.T. returned to the gang life after having attended college and a job at a downtown business. Sudhir also develops relationships with several community members and leaders allowing Sudhir to obtain a better understanding of life in the projects of Chicago’s Robert Taylor homes.

I listened to the audiobook and would like to recommend it for those trying audiobooks for the first time. The reader had a voice that made me want to listen and kept a good pace. Audiobooks can be tricky because many factors will affect the listener’s experience. Readers with interest in true crime, gang culture, and sociological studies will enjoy this book.