Good Books and the Random Movie

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30 April 2016

My Year Zero

My Year Zero by Rachel Gold is the story of one young woman finding her place.

Lauren lives with her father in Duluth, Minnesota. She is one of three out lesbians at her high school and she is hoping she doesn't have to wait for college to find her first girlfriend.

A visitor to her school will change everything. Sierra is in town from the Twin Cities visiting a friend. She is much cooler than the people in the school. And Lauren is drawn to her. After a conversation, Sierra invites Lauren to join her story group. They are writing an epic science fiction story online. Lauren can take over one of the characters already in the story - she just has to stick with is already know about her.

Convincing her father to let her travel to Minneapolis to stay with Sierra over break, Lauren joins the group. She tries to spend time with them, but lives three hours away. The distance between herself and the life she wants is more obvious than ever. And her life at home is not great. Her father pays no attention to her except to criticize. Her only outlet is the story and other people writing with her.

Gold is quickly becoming one of my favorite YA authors. I loved this book. The characters, both the ones I like and the ones I don't, are compelling and real. The story within the story was great - and a great idea. And two people coming together who understand each other - at a time in their lives when not many do - was beautiful.

Gold, Rachel. (2016). My Year Zero. Tallahassee, FL: Bella Books.

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27 April 2016

Powerless

Powerless by Tim Washburn reads like a great disaster movie.

It is the middle of the night in Boulder, Colorado when an alarm goes off at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center. The intern on duty was never trained on what to do if an alarm sounded - it was so unlikely to happen.

Satellites have detected a coronal mass ejection. A CME is a geomagnetic solar storm of invisible matter that can cause mass power outages if it hits Earth. Think a giant solar flare. The largest CME on record hit in 1859 - back when the use of electricity was pretty low compared to today.

The scientists best guess is that the storm would hit the northern hemisphere in as few at seventeen hours. If so, it will kill all electronics - from the power grid to cell towers, from the pumps that control fresh water and sewage to the controls at the nuclear plants. Basically, life as we know it will grind to a halt.

President Harris and his advisors have to decide whether to tell the public - causing a mass panic and wars over water and canned goods - or allow it to be a surprise and risk every person in a hospital or on an airplane.

Zeke Marshall lives on the edge of his parents land in Oklahoma. He is a retired army vet who makes furniture. His workshop has been losing power off and on all morning. He doesn't know that soon power from Anchorage to Boston to London will be out. But his time in Afghanistan may give him the skills to survive and maybe even make it to Dallas to collect his sister and her family and bring them home.

Washburn has written a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat, worst-case scenario - one that could actually happen. This is a great read for fans of disaster movies, natural disasters and Earth science. It illustrates how much we rely on electricity for every part of our lives.

Washburn, Tim. (2015). Powerless. New York: Pinnacle Books.

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25 April 2016

Burn (Anna Pigeon #16)

Burn by Nevada Barr is the sixteenth book in her Anna Pigeon series - a park ranger with the National Park Service.

Anna is on leave following a couple of intense situations and injuries. In order to get away from just sitting at home - she has never been great at being idle - Anna decides to visit a colleague in New Orleans.

Geneva works at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. She is a ranger, but spends her days singing - most of the rangers assigned to New Orleans are singers and musician who educate about the history of the area and its music. 

Anna runs into a group of what she thinks of as gutter punks. When one of their dogs gets away, she automatically follows the dog. When she catches him, the man who lost him is not grateful - he lashes out at her. And when she returns to one of the apartments behind Geneva's house, he is there. Jordan rents one of the other apartments. 

Geneva, who is blind, has a different image of Jordan that Anna sees. Geneva pictured a woman, and Jordan always pays rent on time. Anna is convinced that Jordan is up to something and decides to follow him to find out what.

Barr has created a great character in Anna Pigeon. She has seen a lot through the series of books - each set in a different national park. Mystery readers will devour this series. Adventure and outdoor enthusiasts will love the setting and harrowing situations in which Ranger Pigeon finds herself. If you don't know the series, you can start at book one - Track the Cat - or book 17 which is a look back at Anna's first park assignment: The Rope.

Barr, Nevada. (2010). Burn. New York: St. Martin's Press.


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19 April 2016

The Honor of the Queen (Honor Harrington #2)

The Honor of the Queen by David Weber is the second book in his Honor Harrington series - Honor is a spaceship captain in the Manitcore Navy far in the future - after humans spread through the stars.

Generations ago a group of people left Old Earth in search of a planet free of the slavery of technology. They left to go back to an older way of life - a way based on the Bible. After founding a planet, a schism formed among the people  - between those who wanted strict adherence to the word of God in all thing and the more moderate.

Now there are neighboring worlds filled by the progeny of the followers of Austin Grayson. The planets Grayon and Masada. And the worlds are located in space between the two superpowers in the galaxy - two superpowers who are edging toward war. Each side - Manticore and Haven - sees the benefit of becoming allies with (and possibly constructing forward bases on) Masada or Grayson.

Captain Honor Harrington is in charge of a fleet of Manticore ships headed toward Grayson on a diplomatic mission. While she is a fine captain and tactician, she is an odd choice. For the Graysons do not believe women to have the capacity to be in any role other than wife. Women have no rights on Grayson and are protected by their husbands. Their delegates will be in for a shock. (And Grayson is the more liberal of the two planets.)

Meanwhile, the People's Republic of Haven has moved a couple of high tech war ships into orbit to aid Masada in their plot to take Grayson  - following God wishes.

Weber has created a fascinating military science fiction series with a great character at the head. Honor Harrington is the best we can hope to evolve into as a species. The politics and religion makes for interesting reading, partly due to current trends in our own society. Reader's will want Honor in charge if they ever have to face a threat in the galaxy.

Weber, David. (1993). The Honor of the Queen. New York: Baen.

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13 April 2016

A Tyranny of Petticoats

A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers, and Other Badass Girls edited by Jessica Spotswood is a short story collection of some of the most popular YA female authors writing historical fiction.

Stories across America - from dogsleds, ships, stagecoaches, trains - from 1710 to 1968 - some great authors tell stories of young women following their own paths in the times when gender roles were more rigid.

Highlights include Andrea Cremer's tale of the supernatural creatures competing to decide which side of the American Civil War they will help, the North or the South. Caroline Tung Richardson tells the tale of a spy for the South hidden among Washington, D.C. society.

Beth Revis's tale tells of a young woman leaving Chicago to avoid an unwanted marriage - and becoming a teacher to the child who would become known as Annie Oakley.

YS Lee, already a master of historical fiction, tells the tale of two sisters who own a saloon in the Alaskan gold rush - and of the man who tries to steal it.

Elizabeth Wein continues her theme of historical fiction and pilots to follows a girl who idolizes Miss Bessie Coleman, the first black woman in America to earn a pilot's license.

Kekla Magoon and Robin Talley finish out this great collection with stories of the Civil Right Movement. Magoon with a Black Panthers story set in California. Talley's set in Chicago.

A Tyranny of Petticoats is a great collection of short stories about American women, and a great addition to any book collection.

Full list of authors:
J. Anderson Coats
Andrea Cremer
Y.S. Lee
Katherine Longshore
Marie Lu
Kekla Magoon
Marissa Meyer
Saundra Mitchell
Beth Revis
Caroline Tung Richmond
Lindsay Smith
Jessica Spotswood
Robin Talley
Leslye Walton
Elizabeth Wein

Spotswood, Jessica. Ed. (2016). A Tyranny of Petticoats. New York: Candlewick Press.

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10 April 2016

Not Otherwise Specified

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz is the story of Etta's life from when her friends disowned her to when she figured out who she wanted to be as a person.

Etta is having trouble with her friends. She is a part of a group of lesbians at an all girls school in small town Nebraska. But she is not lesbian. She is bi. She told her friends, but when she dates a guy, they shun her.

Without her support network Etta focuses on the other parts of her life. She attends a eating disorder group after school where she befriends one of the other members - the shy, younger Bianca.

Bianca and her brother are part of a group of local kids who are auditioning for a prestigious performing arts high school in New York city. Though Etta has applied every year, she has not gotten an interview. But this year is different. There will be regional tryouts in dance, voice and theater before they ever look at the application.

Etta and Bianca, along with Bianca's brother and best friend, grow closer. Etta starts to look at the decisions she has made in her life and see that maybe some of them were maybe the right decisions but made for the wrong reasons.

Moskowitz has created a talented, likable character who doesn't fit into her school or town, but learns that it is more important what she (and maybe a close friend or two) thinks than people she would not like to hang out with anyway. Etta grown into herself - the person she is on the inside.

Moskowitz, Hannah. (2015). Not Otherwise Specified. New York: Simon Pulse.

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09 April 2016

Life After Life

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is an amazing book. Read it now!

Ursula was born on a snowy night in February 1910 to Hugh and Sylvie Todd. She is the third Todd child, to be followed by two more.

But there are complications. Ursula is born with the umbilical cord around her neck - blocking the flow of oxygen. She dies.

Again, February 1910 on a snowy night - Ursula Todd is born and the doctor arrives in time to save her.

And so her life goes. Either a divine intervention resets Ursula's life so that she lives, or we are seeing one of the possibilities - alternate timelines - of her life.

Ursula lives in a fascinating time in western history. Her father, Hugh, will fight in WWI. England, and the lives of everyone in it, will be greatly affected by World War II a few years later. Siblings Pamela and Teddy, aunt Izzie and Ursula's parents live through good times and bad - with the decisions Ursula makes bearing more weight that any of them would think.

I cannot say much else without major spoilers. This is one of the best books I have read. The writing is excellent, the storytelling superb and the twist - the thing that makes this book absolutely unique - combine to make it a must read. Fans of writers like Lauren Groff, AnneMarie MacDonald or Sarah Waters will especially love it.

Atkinson, Kate. (2013). Life After Life. New York: Back Bay Books.

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06 April 2016

Lumberjanes

Lumberjanes by Noelle Steveson and Grace Ellis, drawn by Brooke Allen, is a great (award winning) YA graphic novel series.

Lumberjanes are campers at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types. Five of them who share a cabin and are great friends - Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley - can find adventure anywhere.

Along with a strong message of girl power, the Lumberjanes use the best curses, siting famous women including Bessie Coleman and Mae Jemison, and solving puzzles with the likes of the Fibonacci sequence.

Follow them on an Indiana-Jones-like adventure through woods stocked with wacky and dangerous creatures from Yeti to talking statues.

Three volumes are currently out in the Lumberjanes series:
1. Beware the Kitten Holy
2. Friendship to the Max
3. A Terrible Plan

Readers from ages 13 to 50 will enjoy this wonderful series.

Stevenson, Noelle and Grace Ellis. (2015). Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy. Los Angeles: Boom Box!

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04 April 2016

Journey to Munich (Maisie Dobbs #12)

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear is the twelfth book in her historical mystery series featuring Maisie Dobbs.

It is 1938. Maisie Dobbs is back in London after time spent in Spain, once again being a nurse in a war. She is still recovering from a personal loss. When she returns to London, she is not sure where she belongs. Her old flat is rented out and her house has too many memories. She finds herself walking toward her old office when she encounters a man with whom she used to work.

Robert MacFarlane is no longer with Scotland Yard. He now works for the Secret Service. And he has a job for which he needs Maisie's help. Having no plans of her own, Maisie agrees to a meeting.

The German government has been holding a British man in one of their prisons - at Dachau. They have agreed to release him, but only to a relative. Unfortunately, the man's only relative - his daughter - is not well enough to travel. And she does (slightly) resemble Maisie. The man is a boffin, or engineer, and England needs him for the likely war with Germany. Luckily, the Germans do not know how valuable an asset they have captured.

Maisie will come in contact with the Nazi machine, in a city cowed by fear. On top of her assignment, she will be asked by a family friend to look in on his daughter who is rumored to be in Munich, and ask her to come home - a request that will put Maisie in more danger as she is going not as herself but as Edwina Donat.

Winspear is an amazing writer. Of the one hundred plus books I read each year, this is one of my favorite series. Maisie Dobbs is one of the best protagonists in fiction. Read this series from the beginning. Read it now! Go on, run to your library or bookstore and get started!

Winspear, Jacqueline. (2016). Journey to Munich. New York: Harper.

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