Sunday, January 8, 2017

The History of Wolves

I stumbled upon Emily Fridlund's debut novel quite by accident, but once I began reading, I felt I had locked eyes with a wolf in the wild: fully entranced, it sent shivers of excitement, terror, and disbelief up and down my spine in an instant.

The plot synopsis from GoodReads says, "Linda has an idiosyncratic home life: her parents live in abandoned commune cabins in northern Minnesota and are hanging on to the last vestiges of a faded counter-culture world. The kids at school call her 'Freak', or 'Commie'. She is an outsider in all things. Her understanding of the world comes from her observations at school, where her teacher is accused of possessing child pornography, and from watching the seemingly ordinary life of a family she babysits for. Yet while the accusation against the teacher is perhaps more innocent than it seemed at first, the ordinary family turns out to be more complicated. As Linda insinuates her way into the family's orbit, she realises they are hiding something. If she tells the truth, she will lose the normal family life she is beginning to enjoy with them; but if she doesn't, their son may die.

Superbly-paced and beautifully written, HISTORY OF WOLVES is an extraordinary debut novel about guilt, innocence, negligence, well-meaning belief and the death of a child."

I felt such worry for Linda in that given her own less-than-conventional upbringing, she was not equipped to care for 4 year old Paul Gardener in a way that would allow her to understand that something was amiss. I wanted at several points to shout out, "That's not normal! You should tell someone!" But alas, no one had done that for her, so how was she to know?

There were also times when I wanted to gaurd Linda herself, to reach out and grab her by the arm and say, "Come on, we've got to get out of here. This isn't going to turn out well!" It really made me feel I was witnessing a tragedy and powerless to stop it.

Throughout the book, Linda relies on her obsevational skills and instincts. That would be great fodder for book club discussion! In fact, there is much about Linda's own ruminations regarding her life and experiences that would fuel great discussion! (For example, the differences between thoughts and actions, parenting styles, and if there is social boundary between religious beliefs and a community's need to protect its most vulnerable members just to name a few.) It would be great to hear the differing views between readers, each coming to the book with their own background assumptions and experiences.

Once I started, I found it very hard to put this book down. I gave History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund 4 out of 5 stars on GoodReads.

From the Author's Website . . .

One of the most daring literary debuts of the season, History of Wolves is a profound and propulsive novel from an urgent, new voice in American fiction.

Teenage Linda lives with her parents in the austere woods of northern Minnesota, where their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world. Isolated at home and an outsider at school, Linda is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is faced with child pornography charges, his arrest deeply affects Linda as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong.

And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake and Linda finds herself welcomed into their home as a babysitter for their little boy, Paul. But with this new sense of belonging come expectations and secrets she doesn’t understand. Over the course of a summer, Linda makes a set of choices that reverberate throughout her life. As she struggles to find a way out of the sequestered world into which she was born, Linda confronts the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do—for the people they love.

Winner of the McGinnis-Ritchie award for its first chapter, and A BEA Buzz Book and An ABA Indies Introduce Selection, Emily Fridlund’s agonizing and gorgeously written History of Wolves introduces a new writer of enormous range and talent.

About the Author . . .

Emily Fridlund grew up in Minnesota and currently resides in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Her fiction has appeared in a variety of journals, including Boston Review, Zyzzyva, FiveChapters, New Orleans Review, Sou'wester, New Delta Review, Chariton Review, Portland Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly. Fridlund's collection of stories, Catapult, won the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and will be published by Sarabande in 2017.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Nourishing Meals Delivers

This book is a godsend to folks who have dietary concerns which affect their health. Many people are looking for options which include dairy-free, gluten-free or soy-free dishes to provide optimal nutrition for their families.

This book is FULL of helpful tips, background information, and research. The best part is that it doesn't simply offer readers a small handful of recipes. We are talking about 484 pages filled with 365 easy-to-follow, delicious recipes you can start using on day one! And good news . . . you can find most of the ingredients at your local grocery store without having to find any specialty shops or mail-order sources. (Although on the off-chance you live on a secluded island accessible only by sea plane, online shopping sources are also included among the inclusive appendix at the back of the book.)

My thanks to Blogging For Books for the free copy I received in exchange for this honest review. From the Publisher . . .

It can be daunting to live a whole foods lifestyle in today’s busy world—even more so to prepare plant-rich, allergen-free meals that’ll get the whole family around the table. Popular blogger Ali Segersten and functional medicine expert Tom Malttere are a team devoted to teaching their children—and readers—the importance of living a whole foods lifestyle. Nourishing Meals makes it easy and fun with dishes that burst with flavor, such as their Cherry Pecan Salad, Butternut Squash and Pinto Bean Enchiladas, Chipotle-Lime Roasted Chicken, and Banana Coconut Cream Pie.

Every recipe in the book is free of the most common allergens: gluten, soy, eggs, and dairy, as well as refined sugar. And these dishes are designed to appeal to everyone, including vegan, vegetarian, seafood, and meat-eaters. In addition to wonderful food, Ali and Tom offer easy, doable steps to help you change your family’s health, tips for making the transition easier, and ways to get the kids excited about wholesome foods. They map out the best foods and recipes for every stage of having a family, from pre-conception and pregnancy through each year of a child’s life. And they explain in accessible terms what makes their recipes so effective for achieving optimal health. Originally self-published with an avid following, this edition will feature more than 30 new recipes, and many of the original recipes have been updated. This new edition will also include 100 beautiful all-new food photos featured in two inserts.

With an easy, tasty recipe for every day of the year, it’s never been simpler to adopt a healthy, whole foods lifestyle!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Natural Color Is Amazing

As someone who loves working with fiber via spinning and knitting, I was really excited to get my hands on a copy of Sasha Duerr's Natural Color. What an invaluable resource for anyone who loves natural products, color, and care of the environment!

Duerr provides readers with a great introduction to the world of natural dying. The book is structured around the seasons, which makes sense since the plants used to make the dye come into their prime at different times throughout the growing season. I find it interesting also that natural dye colors will vary depending on the specific soil and climate so that different regions and areas will have different color pallets.

I learned several things from reading this book. I really had very little sense of just how many natural plant sources provide such an array of color! I did not realize that one could, in several cases, alter the color outcome of the dye pot by adding different ingredients into the pot. I found it amazing that there are several sources of natural color that don't need anything added to the dye pot to make them colorfast. Nature is amazing!

Along with the various plants to gather seasonally, Duerr offers readers preparation instructions for getting your fabrics and fibers ready to be dyed. In each seasonal section of the book, there are a handful of "recipes"--hands on projects with instructions for dying anything from place mats and napkins to curtains, shirts and even a hat! Duerr provides tips within the recipes and in the introduction to each section's natural dye materials as to which will work the best for dying plant based fibers (cotton, linen, etc.) versus animal fibers (wool, alpaca, silk, etc.).

As someone who plans to keep this book and reference it often for upcoming fun with natural dying of yarns for truly unique projects, the one thing I recognize I am going to need by way of additional reading material to make the best use of Natural Color, is a field guide to plants in my area. Duerr's book does not offer a lot of help in identifying the specific plants by sight if you want to go out and gather some materials. It is important to have said guide so that you can avoid any "look alike" plants which may be poisonous. (For instance, where I live there is a plant which resembles Queen Anne's Lace which can leave blisters where it comes into contact with skin.)

If you are interested in natural dying and the colors produced by nature's pallet, you will definitely want to get a copy of Natural Color. My thanks to Blogging For Books for the free copy I received in exchange for this honest review.

From the Publisher . . .

A beautiful book of seasonal projects for using the brilliant spectrum of colors derived from plants to naturally dye your clothing and home textiles.

Organized by season, Natural Color is a beautifully photographed guide to the full range of plant dyes available, drawn from commonly found fruits, flowers, trees, and herbs, with accompanying projects. Using sustainable methods and artisanal techniques, designer, artist, and professor Sasha Duerr details achievable ways to apply these limitless color possibilties to your home and wardrobe. Whether you are new to dyeing or more practiced, Duerr’s clear and simple ingredients lists, step-by-step instructions, and detailed breakouts on techniques such as shibori, dip-dye, and block printing will ensure beautiful results. With recipes to dye everything from dresses and sweaters to rugs and napkins, Natural Color will inspire fashion enthusiasts, home decorators, textile lovers, and everyone else who wants to bring more color into their life.

About the Author . . .

SASHA DUERR is an artist, designer, and advocate for the slow fashion movement who works with organic dyes, alternative fibers, and the creative reuse of materials. She is a professor at the California College of the Arts with a joint appointment in textiles and fine arts. Her work has been shown in galleries and museums across the United States and abroad. In 2007 Duerr founded the Permacouture Institute with the Trust for Conservation Innovation to encourage the exploration of fashion and textiles from the ground up. Her extensive work with plant-based dyes and ecological principles through local land-based sources and community has been featured in the New York Times, American Craft Magazine, Selvedge, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Curious Charms Of Arthur Pepper

I loved this charming, intimate story of life in the wake of the loss of a spouse and coming to terms with memories of your loved one versus new-found facts of the life lived before you. Wonderful!

You can find a bit more details about the plot of this delightful tome below in the "From the Publisher" section. I found it to be a fresh and surprising tale which was surprisingly easy to identify with. You live with an intimate partner for all of your adult life, but may never know fully who that person was before they met you. You may have inklings, snapshots, and traces...but not having been a part of that time/place, you will always have only the perspective of an outsider looking in.

The writing is so well done, I had complete visions of each character drawn in detail in my mind's eye. How I chuckled when Arthur was dodging his neighbor's knock on the door! And the sight of him stuffed into the back of the neighbor kid's car zooming along on a trip he's not sure he really wanted to be on! These genuinely funny moments are matched by more serious, contemplative, even poignant moments of reflection, grief, and personal growth which are all a part of Arthur's journey in the book. It is truly excellent!

From the Publisher . . .

Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same grey slacks and mustard tank top, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden.

But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam’s death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam’s possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he’s never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the story behind each of the charms – and the truth about his wife’s secret life before they met. It’s a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places.

About the Author . . .

Phaedra qualified firstly as a stained glass artist before gaining her professional Marketing qualifications. She has worked as a waitress, stained glass designer, film festival organiser and communications manager.

She enjoyed her first real writing success when she entered and won several short story competitions, and she now writes full time.

Phaedra lives in Saddleworth, UK, with her husband and son, where she enjoys walking, eating chocolate, and arts and crafts. Her idea for The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper emerged as she showed her own childhood charm bracelet to her young son and told him the stories behind each of the charms.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Women In Science Is Awesome!

This book is awesome! For all those who are working to get girls into STEM, this is a valuable aid. Women In Science contains concise yet thorough introductions to 50 women who made a difference in a variety of scientific fields gathered together in one, fun and funky book.

Younger readers will be amazed at the rich and diverse history of women who have been at the forefront in various scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematics fields. Heck, this 50 year old reader was astounded to learn of some of these ladies! This will undoubtedly push these readers to dive in deeper either to specific types of science that will pique their curiosity or to learn more about the lives and times of these fascinating pioneers.

For older readers, this book is an invaluable reference tool which provides quick and concise overviews of the woman and her accomplishments....a perfect jumping off point sure to instigate further research.

Let me add that I love the layouts, the font, and really EVERYTHING about this book!! It should be a part of every elementary and middle school library and every teacher's classroom collection. If you have a daughter, granddaughter, niece or other girl in your life, please get her a copy of this book! If you are raising boys to celebrate the girls and women in their lives, get them a copy of this book!

My thanks to Blogging For Books for the free copy I received in exchange for this honest review.

From the Publisher . . .

A charmingly illustrated and educational book, Women in Science highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection also contains infographics about relevant topics such as lab equipment, rates of women currently working in STEM fields, and an illustrated scientific glossary. The trailblazing women profiled include well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more!

About the Author . . .

Rachel Ignotofsky is an illustrator and author based in beautiful Kansas City, MO. She grew up in New Jersey on a healthy diet of cartoons and pudding. She graduated with honors from Tyler School of Art's graphic design program in 2011. Now Rachel works for herself and spends all day and night drawing, writing and learning as much as she can. Her work is inspired by history and science. She believes that illustration is a powerful tool that can make learning exciting. Rachel hopes to use her work to spread her message about education, gender equality and scientific literacy.

Rachel is always available to answer questions or comments. email her at:

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Two-fer: Super Heroes & Strange Bedfellows

Wouldn'the it be great to have a super power? What would you pick? Superhuman strength? Invisibility? X-ray vision?

Now just imagine your whole family has super powers! And they fight crimes! And you somehow get the lamest super power EVER!

Kids will easily slip into the fantasy of the story and will, undoubtedly, identify with Peter in his dilemma of feeling awkward and inadequate. I think they will also soak up the positive message this book offers!

From the Publisher . . .

Everyone in Peter Powers' family has super awesome superpowers. His dad controls fire with his mind, and his mom can fly. His big brother makes copies of himself, and his little sister is super-strong. And his baby brother even turns invisible! But all Peter can do is--this is really embarrassing--make ice cubes with his fingertips.

When Captain Tornado comes to town and begins robbing banks, will Peter Powers and his totally lame abilities step up to save the day--or will he get cold feet? Join Peter Powers and his fantastic family for their first action-packed and fun-filled adventure to find out!

Peter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers is the first in a new chapter book series of exciting stories about a young boy who has the worst superpower ever. Each story is full of humor, action, and fun, but the charm can be found in the heartfelt message about the power of family, friends, and having confidence.

About the Authors . . .

KENT CLARK is a superhero by day, and a writer by night. When he's not getting cats out of trees or saving the world from monstrous alien supervillains, he's reading a book. He also has a terrible weakness-he can't say no to tacos, comic books, or video games.

BRANDON T. SNIDER writes books about Transformers, Minions and even Batman! When he's not writing superhero stories, he's either on TV or eating as much cheese as possible in order to unlock cheese-related superpowers-which is not working.

DAVE BARDIN is an illustrator by day and, well, night too. When he's not drawing in his Stronghold of Seclusion he patrols the streets, protecting the innocent and vanquishing evil. Strangely, the source of his powers is also his one weakness-MASHED POTATOES!

This book was hard to put down!

Unfortunately, instances of child abductions make big news and most everyone is familiar with at least one case....and for many people and communities, the familiarity hits much too close to home. Too often the news stories end in tragedy (the discovery of a body) or leave everyone in heartbreaking limbo. But what happens when the child is found, whether in days, weeks, or years?

Mathieu takes readers on the journey of recovery from such trauma through the eyes of Ethan, who was kidnapped at age 11, four years ago,--and Caroline, who's brother Dylan, was taken several days ago by the same man. The questions, the experiences, the conversations, and the visceral reactions triggered by PTSD are heartbreakingly real and so well written!

Written for a YA audience, I believe the book appeals to a wider audience as I found it quite compelling!

From the Publisher . . .

A tragic kidnapping leads to an unlikely friendship in this novel about finding light in the midst of darkness from the author of The Truth About Alice.

When eleven-year-old Dylan Anderson is kidnapped, his subsequent rescue leads to the discovery of fifteen-year-old Ethan Jorgensen, who had gone on a bike ride four years earlier and had never been seen again. Dylan's older sister, Caroline, can't help but wonder what happened to her brother, who has nonverbal autism and is not adjusting well to life back home. There's only one person who knows the truth: Ethan. But Ethan isn't sure how he can help Caroline when he is fighting traumatic memories of his own captivity. Both Caroline and Ethan need a friend, however, and their best option just might be each other.

About the Author . . .

Hi! I’m young adult author Jennifer Mathieu (pronounced Muh-two, but if you speak French you can pronounce it better than that. Sadly, I don’t speak French.) I’m a writer and English teacher who lives in Texas with my family. A native of the East Coast and a former journalist, I enjoy writing contemporary young adult fiction that treats teenagers like real people. I love to eat and hate to cook.

My thanks to the publishers for the complimentary copies I received in exchange for honest reviews.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Mixing Up Drinks & Danger

It seems appropriate that Quirk books publishes this novel with a plot like nothing else with which I am familiar with. Imagine: the real guardians of your neighborhood are the local bartenders who use their special talents of mixology to keep the supernatural beasts and demons at bay, thus protecting humanity and those particularly vulnerable folks who imbibe, make merry or drown their sorrows.

The idea was so novel, it drew me right in. Paul Krueger's book, Last Call At the Nightshade Lounge, has been deemed "a novel for new adults"--which is to say it is intended to bridge the gap between YA readers and "adult" readers. Think millennials I guess.

You can read the plot synopsis form the publisher below. As a work of paranormal fantasy, I enjoyed Kruger's lot as something new and fresh. The bar scene is not, and never really has been, a part of my life, so I had to rely on the pop culture images of neighborhood pubs and local watering holes one gathers from television and movies to imagine many of the settings in the book.

I tried to figure out how I would feel about the characters if I were the 20-something age of Bailey, Zane, and their fellow barkeeps. From the perspective of a 50 year old, they seem like the worst cliches attributed to their generation: at best, not ambitious, at worst, lazy; unsure of what to do with their education yet having some sense of entitlement; unable to leave behind their college or even high school days and meet the adult expectations of society (so looking a bit spoiled).

I really enjoyed the bartender notes and drink recipes interspersed throughout. It was fun information and added to the sense that different liquors provide different magical properties. The inclusion of this material added depth to the plot that this magical know-how could perhaps be the ancient knowledge of a secret fellowship passed down through the centuries.

My thanks to the publisher for the ARC I received in exchange for this honest review.

From the Publisher . . .

In this sharp and funny urban fantasy novel, booze is magic, demons are real, and millennial Bailey Chen joins a band of monster-fighting Chicago bartenders instead of finding a “real” post-college job.

Bailey Chen is fresh out of college with all the usual new-adult demons: no cash, no job offers, and an awkward relationship with Zane, the old friend she kinda-sorta hooked up with during high school.

But when Zane introduces Bailey to his monster-fighting bartender friends, her demons become a lot more literal. It turns out that evil creatures stalk the city streets after hours, and they can be hunted only with the help of magically mixed cocktails: vodka grants super-strength, whiskey offers the power of telekinesis, and rum lets its drinker fire blasts of elemental energy. But will all these powers be enough for Bailey to halt a mysterious rash of gruesome deaths? And what will she do when the safety of a “real world” job beckons?

This sharp and funny urban fantasy is perfect for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and grown-up readers of Harry Potter. Includes 14 recipes from a book of ancient cocktail lore.

About the Author . . .

Paul Krueger is, down to the very bottom of his black little heart, a city rat. Raised in and around Chicago, he got his learning on in New York before scuttling off to Los Angeles, where he lives now.

His short fiction has appeared in the anthologies SWORD & LASER and NOIR RIOT. His debut novel, LAST CALL AT THE NIGHTSHADE LOUNGE, is due out in June of 2016 from Quirk Books. It’s about a secret society of bartenders who fight demons with alcohol-magic, and yes, it’s very much autobiographical.*

His non-writing hobbies include cooking, playing ukulele, Pathfinder, and boring strangers with long, involved stories about his cat. He’s also a musician, singing lead for the Adventure Time-themed punk band Lemonbadd.

If found, Paul should be returned to Ms. Jennie Goloboy of Red Sofa Literary, who is very patient with him.

*for a very loose/nonexistent value of “autobiographical”