30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Lucid by Mike McMillian, 112 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/29/2012

Interesting premise: an uber-secret organization within the government that utilizes mages to protect the citizenry. A rogue entity known as the “Pendragon” evidently has the power to grant magic to the general population, presumably for nefarious purposes.
The premise mostly works, but there’s not enough development to keep it rounded out. I don’t ultimately feel like I connected with any of the characters and am not certain I will continue to follow the series. The liberal use of spells is interesting, but one must guess at what they actually do (as least until one gets to the bonus material where the “spells” are named, if not described), which makes for some puzzling action sequences. This is written by the actor who plays Rev. Steve Newlin on True Blood, so for a “celebrity” book, it’s not too shabby. I’m not a huge fan of the artwork, but it seems to fit the tone of the story, so I’ll give it a pass.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Teen Books

There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff, 256 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/29/2012

OK folks. There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is: God exists. The bad news? God is an arrogant, insolent, lustful, forgetful teenaged boy named Bob. Bob’s mother won our corner of the universe in a poker game and pawned it off on her underage son. Bob had some fun creating our world, but grew bored rather quickly and let things get tremendously out of control. The only thing really holding it all together is Bob’s personal assistant, Mr. B. Mr. B is sick of dealing with Bob and has already requested a transfer, though he has yet to tell Bob. The only thing Bob cares about at present anyway is a young zoologist assistant named Lucy. And Mr. B expects that to pass in the typical melodramatic disaster that tends to create dramatic weather patterns around the globe, usually leading to widespread suffering and destruction. No one is happy when Bob falls in love. Not even Bob.
This book made me laugh and think, which is my favorite combination of reactions to a book. The tone and universe remind me a bit of some of my other favorite comedically-inclined authors (Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Moore…). If you’ve ever wondered why your prayers seem to fall on deaf ears, well, here’s a possible answer. But never fear, there’s a silver lining…

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction

A Bride's Story #1 by Kaoru Mori, 192 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/26/2012

The first installment in this manga series takes us to nineteenth-century Central Asia where we meet a young groom, Karluk, and his older bride, Amir (8 years his senior). As is custom, she moves in with his family and succeeds in impressing everyone with her many talents (archery, cooking, etc.) and generally amiable disposition. It is unusual for a groom to marry a woman so much older, so this marriage is really more of a practical partnership than a love arrangement. In many cases Amir seems closer to a mother figure or older sister than a wife. Interspersed with the main story are lovely little episodes of daily life. The artwork is stunning; I haven’t seen such elaborate detail rendered in black and white in some time.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, 549 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/25/2012

When Ismae was in the womb, her mother went to an herbwitch to end the pregnancy. It succeeded only in leaving scars on Ismae’s back, indicating that she is, in reality, a daughter of death. Her father sells her into an arranged marriage to a brutish hog farmer who quickly realizes she’s not what he bargained for. Ismae is found huddled in a locked shed by the priest who performed her marriage ceremony and is taken off to a convent. It is the late 15th century in Brittany, during a brief period of independence. Many in Brittany still worship the old gods, as Ismae quickly discovers upon entering the convent. This particular convent operates in the service of St. Mortain, the god of death. Ismae is trained in a wide variety of ways to kill a person, as well as techniques in stealth, deception and seduction; anything that will allow the novices to carry out Mortain’s will. It is here in the convent that Ismae discovers the gifts that accompany her unusual parentage. For her third mission outside the convent, Ismae is sent off with a member of the Breton court, a man named Duval, in order to spy on him and assess any other risks to the young duchess, Anne, at the behest of her chief adviser, Chancellor Crunard. It doesn’t take very long at court for Ismae to realize that nearly everyone has an agenda, but whose is the biggest threat remains to be seen.
I really, really enjoyed reading this book and can only hope that the rest of the series holds up. It’s such an unusual setting and time period, which had me looking up the history of the region and its personages. Anne is indeed a very real person, an exceedingly young heir, betrothed to just about any male with the potential to help solidify her hold on the nation. There is no convent of St. Mortain (nor is there a St. Mortain, for that matter). There is, however, a region of Brittany known as Mortain, so there’s that. There are several “old gods” that were worshiped by people in the region during this era, so that much is accurate. The ins and outs of court life are told in fascinating detail and Ismae makes for a fantastic character. This novel is not so much action-driven, in spite of the fact that Ismae and her sisters are assassins, rather, it is more character-driven. Ismae’s faith is tested more than once, which forces her to question her own purpose in a society where absolutely nothing is morally black and white. This book is an epic tale with a broad range of thematic elements including, but not limited to, duty vs. individual culpability, faith and uncertainty, vengeance vs. mercy. I only wish I could have heard a bit more about Ismae’s training at the convent.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Tammy · Tags:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, 533 pages, read by Tammy, on 04/22/2012

A beautiful story uniquely told through a blend of text and pen and ink drawings. The story follows Hugo through his quest to understand himself, his father and what his future is meant to be. Hugo also helps an elderly gentleman revive his love of life and his art which he had given up years ago.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Claudia, Fiction, Historical Fiction

A Good American by Alex George, 384 pages, read by Claudia, on 04/01/2012

Alex George’s  novel A Good American has received a lot buzz since its’ publication date of February 7.  Alex George was featured in the February issue of Book Page….and this is where I learned he lives in Columbia and practices law.  According to this article, George had just moved to Missouri in 2003 when he was struggling to write another book, and got the idea that most people have never had the experience of moving to a new country.   The result is a lively story of the that begins in Germany in ends in the small fictional town of Beatrice, Missouri.  Beatrice is populated with unforgettable characters: a jazz trumpeter from the Big Easy who cooks a mean gumbo, a teenage boy trapped in the body of a giant, a pretty schoolteacher who helps the young men in town learn about a lot more than just music, a minister who believes he has witnessed the Second Coming of Christ, and a malevolent, bicycle-riding dwarf. A Good American is narrated by Frederick and Jette’s grandson, James, who, in telling his ancestors’ story, comes to realize he doesn’t know his own story at all. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies, the Kennedy assassination, and beyond, James’s family is caught up in the sweep of history. Each new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American.   A Good American is a novel about being an outsider—in your country, in your hometown, and sometimes even in your own family.


30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, NonFiction, Tammy

Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe, 308 pages, read by Tammy, on 04/29/2012

This is a funny and surprisingly moving account of a life lived almost entirely in the public eye. Going from small town Ohio and community theater to being uprooted by a loving but unstable mother and moved to the unique counterculture of Malibu in the seventies, Rob Lowe handles his early fame as best he can. A teen idol at fifteen, an international icon and founder of the Brat Pack at twenty he is easily seduced by the excesses that marked the eighties, leading to his quest for family and sobriety. Never mean-spirited or salacious, Lowe delivers unexpected glimpses into his successes, disappointments, relationships, and one-of-a-kind chance encounters with people who shaped our world over the last twenty-five years. These stories are as entertaining as they are unforgettable. .

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Tammy · Tags: ,

Clair de Lune by Jetta Carleton, 276 pages, read by Tammy, on 04/29/2012

A long-lost novel of innocence threatened, by the author of the beloved classic The Moonflower Vine. Found after her death.

This novel is set in 1941 prior to America’s entry into WWI at a southwest Missouri junior college. The author takes a note or two from her own life and writes about a young single woman teaching English in Missouri but yearning for a writing career in New York City. Allen Liles has taken a job as a junior college teacher in a small town, although she dreams of living in New York City. She has always done what was expected of her by her family and by society. Then she meets two young men: George, a lanky, carefree spirit, and Toby, a dark-haired, searching soul with a wary look in his eyes. Soon the three strike up an after-school friendship, bantering and debating over letters, ethics, and philosophy, enjoying current music such as Debussy’s Clair de Lune.  Everything is innocent at first, but soon develops into a giddy flirtation,  despite the rules of teacher conduct especially for a young female teacher with her own apartment off campus. Will Allen follow her heart or conform to everyone’s expectations of her?

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Romance, Tracy

The Calhouns by Nora Roberts, 601 pages, read by Tracy, on 04/30/2012

The Calhoun sisters Catherine, Amanda, Lilah and Suzanna live in the Towers their family home by the sea with their aunt Coco. It’s old and falling apart so they either need to sell or fix it up but there isn’t enough money. This book is three books in one featuring Catherine, Amanda and Lilah. In each story they fall in love and get closer to finding the valuable emeralds their grandfather gave to their grandmother.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Informational Book, Kira, NonFiction, Science

Musicophilia : tales of music and the brain by Oliver Sacks, 381 pages, read by Kira, on 04/30/2012

Musicophilia – music as affliction and music as treatment – so the philia is like in hemophilia, (not as in Anglophilia lover of english stuff).

Dr Sacks writes about his experience with different neurology patients, particularly those with injuries that led to changes in their musicality.

I had thought I’d learn a lot more neurophysiology, but Sacks delved more into the patients lives and interactions.  The synesthesia (cross-sensory perception) parts were really interesting.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fantasy, Fiction, Teen Books

Switched by Amanda Hocking, 318 pages, read by Angie, on 04/29/2012

Wendy just wants an ordinary life…something she has never had. Her dad died when she was five and her mom tried to kill her when she was six. Her mom never believed Wendy was really her child; she claimed she was a changeling and evil. Wendy has been raised by her brother Matt and her aunt Maggie. She doesn’t fit in and she is beginning to wonder if her mom was right. Then she meets Finn who confirms it. She is a changeling. In fact, she is a troll or Trylle and a princess and it is time for her to rejoin her people.

I had high hopes for this book; it seems like people really love it and rave about it. I am not sure what everyone saw in this book, but I didn’t see it. Wendy is whiny, manipulative, crabby and not really that likeable. I can see why she had no friends and had to use persuasion to get people to do what she wanted. The Trylle are just strange and not because they are trolls. The troll part is fine, the sending their children out to be raised by humans as part of a scam to get money is fine. What I don’t get is the fact that they bring Wendy back into the fold as their princess and queen-to-be and then expect her to know everything about how to act and by a Trylle with no training and no background knowledge and they punish her when she doesn’t know things. Bizarre! As in all teen books there is a romance angle and a bit of a love triangle. I don’t get the Finn/Wendy romance. Didn’t find it believable for the most part and the Rhys/Wendy bit was just dumb. Not sure why every boy had to have the hots for Wendy…see my previous comments about her whiny/crabbiness.

Do I think Amanda Hocking has done an amazing job…yes. She is very young and self-published and has made a ton of money. Great job! People seem to love her books. So far I have read two and am not that impressed but I do admire her; I just wish she was a little better.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Planesrunner by Ian McDonald , 274 pages, read by Angie, on 04/29/2012

Everett Singh sees his father get kidnapped; he reports it to the police but they seem to cover it up. Then he gets a mysterious computer program called the Infundibulum from his father. This is a map of all the parallel worlds that exist. Everett’s father discovered the map and a group of people want it. They kidnapped his father and now they are after him. Everett uses the map to jump to another world (there are 10 known worlds) and finds an airship crew who agrees to help him rescue his dad.

This book read very visually and kind of like a movie. I could see the action very clearly as I was reading it…and there is a lot of action in the book. The kidnapping happens at the very beginning and things just pick up from there. I love that the setting is London (even if it is London of two different worlds); this gives the book a more international feel and it helps that Everett isn’t your typical main character. He is Punjab Indian, which I thought was fantastic. Everett was a great main character even if he was a little too smart and perfect at times to be believable. He was still likable and I was able to overlook the super smarts for the most part. It was really the side characters who made this book great though. I loved the Everness crew. They were quite the collection of individuals and really fun to read about. I also enjoyed the fact that with 10 different Earths you can have 10 different histories and McDonald does a good job exploring this. The Earth Everett jumps to is very steampunky where oil was never used and everything is carbon based. There is different history (Confederate States) and McDonald did a great job integrating it into the story. I can’t wait to explore the other worlds and see where this series leads.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Romance

Soulless by Gail Carriger, 384 pages, read by Angie, on 04/28/2012

Alexia Tarabotti is one of a kind in a Victorian world populated by vampires, werewolves and other paranormal types. One of a kind in that she doesn’t have a soul. This means that she cancels out the other paranormals in her world. We meet Alexia at a ball as she has hidden herself away in the library for a spot of tea. Unfortunately, a starving vampire chooses that moment to rudely interrupt her and she is forced to kill him. In comes Lord Connall Maccon the head of BUR (they deal with the paranormals) and the alpha werewolf. There is a lot of verbal sparring and flirting between the two. Mystery abounds…why was the vampire starving, why would he attack Alexia (most don’t), who created him, etc?

This was a fun, charming book. I liked the setting of Victorian England and the integration of the paranormal into society. It gave the book a different feel from most paranormal romances. Alexia is a fun, quirky character. She is very reminiscent of Amelia Peabody from the Elizabeth Peters books and Maccon does remind me of Emerson, but since I love those characters I was ok with the comparison. They are Victorians with spunk and wit and charm who have dashing adventures. The romance between Alexia and Maccon is steamy at times, inappropriate at others (why they decide to have a make-out session when they are captured I don’t know), but it is a nice believable romance. There is a bit of steampunk in this book but it doesn’t seem necessary for the story and it is fairly minor.

My one complaint about the book is that there is a lot of repetitiveness to the writing. Alexia’s description of Italian, dark skinned, big nosed, big bossumed, is used over and over again. I think after a couple of times we really do know what she looks like. The same for Lord Maccon. Then their is the descriptions of clothing like Miss Ivy’s hats and Lord Akeldama’s eccentric attire. It seemed excessive and a bit overdone, but since Carriger did it in every scene maybe that was her plan.

Overall I really enjoyed this book. It made me smile and I will probably read the others in the series.

30. April 2012 · 1 comment · Categories: Fiction, Janet, Science Fiction

The Lost World by Michael Crichton, 393 pages, read by Janet, on 04/29/2012

After Jurassic Park people have wondered if there could be prehistoric animals still living somewhere on Earth.  Supposedly they lived only a few thousand years then were killed by the falling of meteors.  At a convention in 1993, Dr. Malcolm dicussed the extinction of these animals and said complex animals were unable to adapt to changes in the Earth’s atmosphere.  A young palentologist, Richard Lavine, did not agree that all dinosaurs would have died and had heard rumors of some strange animals existing on an island near Costa Rica.  He had enough money to fund an exploratory trip to the island, Engin, with several other scientists, Sarah Harding, a field biologist from Africa, and Dr. Malcolm.  This is an excitiing adventure where the crew actually did find extinct animals reproducing on the island.  Of course, many of these animals were meat-eaters and the people looked like a good meal.  They had some very close adventures and the main characters did survive.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Janet

Absolute Fear by Lisa Jackson, 404 pages, read by Janet, on 04/13/2012

Do you ever have trouble remembering something important?  Lisa Jackson was about killed and all she remembered was seeing her lover’s face in the window, aiming a gun at her.  Very unnerving!  Throw in connections to an old asylum where she spent much time as a child while her father treated the patients, several murders with numbers tatooed on them, and a mentally deranged man who feels God is instructing him to dispatch with certain people.  This is a fast-moving, hard-to-put-down book.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Informational Book, Janet, NonFiction

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, 378 pages, read by Janet, on 04/29/2012

“The Classic that Launched the Environmental Movement” is just as scarey now as it was when written in the 1960s.  Chemicals are partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world.  Insecticides and weed sprays are still used everywhere there is a pest.  When first tried, many birds, animals, good trees and plants, and humans died from the effects.  They have supposedly been chemically changed to only harm the chosen items, but who knows what effects are still damaging others without recognition?  The leader of the insecticides, DDT, was first synthesized by a German chemist in 1874, and won the Nobel Prize in 1939.  Forms of it are still in many pesticides today.  Carson noted that “since mid 1940’s over 200 basic chemicals have been created for use in killing insects, weeds, rodents, and other organisms described in modern vernacular as ‘pests’.”  Many more have been invented now.  Today we have many cancer-producing agents.  What will be next?  This is a very frightening story that is still being seen taking place around the world.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Andrea, Apocalyptic, Contemporary Fiction, Science Fiction, Thriller/Suspense

The Maze Runner by James Dashner, 374 pages, read by Andrea, on 04/29/2012

After reading the post-apocalyptic Hunger Games series, I decided to start reading James Dashner’s Maze Runner series. There were several similarities between the two series. This book, like the Hunger Games series, is all about sacrifice, survival, and death. It is also going to the big screen. However, there were a few differences that made me like the Hunger Games much more. Although I liked The Maze Runner’s plot, I found Dashner’s writing style to be a little irritating. The creepy maze, desperation to find a way out, and suspense of the situations made me continue on, but the frequent breaks in the flow of the book (each chapter averaged about 2-4 pages at the most) seemed to chop the book up a little awkwardly. Overall, it was a good idea for a book and I am looking forward to learning what happens to the characters next.

28. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Fantasy, Tracy

The Witch's Daughter by Paula Brackston, 389 pages, read by Tracy, on 04/28/2012

Bess Hawksmith was cured of the black plague by her mother with magic. They both watched as the villagers and the rest of their family died from the disease in 1628. The price her mother paid was to be hanged after a witch finder came to the village and convinced the townspeople that she and another lady were responsible for some of the deaths. When Bess is shunned by the villagers she makes the same mistake and becomes a witch also with the help of the evil warlock Gideon. Unlike Gideon Bess is determined to use her magic to help others as a nurse.  But a life of immortality is lonely and she is constantly on the watch for Gideon who is pursuing her.

27. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Apocalyptic, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fiction, Teen Books

Cinder by Marissa Meyer , 387 pages, read by Angie, on 04/25/2012

Cyborg Cinderella…post-apocalyptic world…Earth and Lunar peoples at odds…strange plague ravaging the planet…handsome prince…evil queen. This is the world of Cinder and it is a fun, fast-paced adventure-filled world.

Cinder is a cyborg mechanic living with her adopted family in New Being after WWIV. As a cyborg she is not considered human but property of her family. Her stepmother hates her because she believes Cinder caused the death of her husband. Cinder meets Prince Kai when he brings her an android to fix. Soon after Cinder’s stepsister Peony falls ill with the plague and her stepmother volunteers Cinder for medical research. At the medical facility Cinder learns things about herself; who she is and where she came from. All of this is set against the political backdrop of Earthen/Lunar politics that Kai is dealing with. The moon is ruled by an evil queen who uses magic (or bioelectricity) to control people. She wants to marry Prince Kai and through that union rule Earth.

First of all I loved the character of Cinder. She is kickass and awesome. Who wouldn’t love a cyborg Cinderella who is also a mechanic. The image of her coming to the ball all wrinkled and stained and in a crashed car just made me smile. I like that she solves her own problems, she doesn’t depend on anyone else, she doesn’t whine about her situation, she just does what needs to be done. I also like some of the other characters like the evil Queen Levana. She is just so nasty and exactly what an evil queen should be like. Prince Kai reminded me of the Disney princes a bit…he was kind of bland and more like a placeholder than a real character. Didn’t leave that much of an impression on me. I didn’t really buy the romance between Kai and Cinder. I didn’t think they actually had time or motivation to develop feelings for each other more than just a simple crush or thinking the other was “hot”.

I thought the Cinderella plot was well done; however, since we knew it was there it is a bit obvious throughout the story. You know who she is and the big revealing twist of her identity is not a surprise at all if you have been paying attention. I liked the modern twists though. The foot falling off at the ball (because it is her cyborg foot), the chariot is her old car she fixed up, the dress is her stepsisters castoff and wrinkled and greasy. I thought these were charming ways to tell the Cinderella part of the story.

I did think the world building was a little generic. The story is supposed to be set in New Beijing but we really don’t get any Asian influences. However, I really did like the Lunar stuff. I liked what Meyer did with a lunar colony…they developed abilities, the way they are ruled through glamour and manipulation, they cause a plague on earth, they want to take over earth, etc.

This is a series that I think has a lot of potential. It sounds like the next book in the series is about Little Red Riding Hood so I am interested to see how Meyer ties it all together. Definitely worth the read.

27. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet, 416 pages, read by Angie, on 04/23/2012

This is a multi-generational story about one family covering WWI through modern day. This book is told through the viewpoint of Clem as he tells his story and the story of his grandmother, mother and father this telling is interrupted with historical asides about the Cuban Missile Crisis which coincides to the tales of Clem’s teen years.

As I was reading this I kept questioning the placement of this book in the teen section; it reads more like an adult book then teen. Not that teens can’t read and enjoy it, but most of the characters are adults and the situations they deal with are more adult. They only teen storyline is Clem’s teen years and that doesn’t even read as a major plot point. I don’t think adults would read it and think they were reading a teen book.

I like multi-generational historical fiction. I like knowing what happens to an entire family. It makes the family more real to me and helps really set their place in a historical sense. Clem and his family all have very similar experiences…disappointment, lovelessness, loneliness, wanting more but not getting it, not being happy. I think their lives are interesting in their mediocrity. Unfortunately, Peet breaks up this story of the family with constant back and forths through time and asides about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The back and forths through time are not really the problem. They do break up the flow of the narrative but you can deal with them. The historical information however is dry, boring and reads like a textbook at times. You wonder about the authenticity and accuracy of the information. I think the book would have been better served without this information.

Then there is the end…I understand what Peet was trying to do here. He wanted to show the similarities between the Cuban Missile Crisis and 9/11. Unfortunately, it just comes off as too coincidental and too much of a set up. I didn’t buy it and I didn’t like it. This book is getting great reviews and lots of people love it. So don’t take my word for it…read it for yourself and decide.