27. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fantasy, Graphic Novel, Paranormal, Teen Books

Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 2 by Thomas Siddell, read by Courtney, on 07/22/2012

I’m really wishing I could remember the first volume of Gunnerkrigg Court, because I’m still having difficulty figuring out exactly what the overarching plot is. I do remember that I really enjoyed the first one, and I recall many of the characters (particular the not-so-human ones). As far as I can tell, Antimony is continuing her education at Gunnerkrigg Court and many amusing and/or mysterious things happen. A good chunk of the story oscillates between Antimony’s perspective and her late mother’s. The most memorable episode of this volume is her meeting with Coyote, made possible by his love of Annie’s mother. The artwork is fantastic and the reading is enjoyable, even if one doesn’t exactly remember where the story was headed in the first place.

27. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Losers in Space by John Barnes, read by Courtney, on 07/21/2012

Now,this is true sci-fi. And Barnes makes it quite clear from the first “Notes for the Interested” that this is *hard* sci-fi (in other words, science fiction with an emphasis on the science and technology being as realistic as possible given today’s knowledge). While it may have its technical moments, the story is anything but boring. In this future, technology has made it such that very few humans have to work and one of the most lucrative forms of work is entertainment. In a world where the vast majority of people have, quite literally, nothing to do, the meeds (think a mash-up of media and feeds) reign supreme. If one isn’t extra talented in a particular field, the best way to get famous is to get your face in the meeds as much as possible.
So, given all that, we have 6 teens who all have few prospects as far as their intelligence or celeb-status go. One of them, Derlock, comes up with an idea to stow away on a up-pass ship to Mars where they will wait until it is too far out to turn around and then reveal themselves so that they can revel in their new-found fame. Unfortunately, things go horribly wrong within days of departure. The main part of the ship is lost in a massive explosion and the stow-aways are the only ones left in their part of the ship. If they’re going to survive their trip, they’re going to need to figure out how to correct their course, repair their communication systems and avoid sabotage by sociopathic Derlock. Can Susan and her team make it back to Earth or will they drift off into space, never to be seen again?
The particularly great part of this book is the number of levels it works on. The main plot itself is fast-paced and full of twists, mainly courtesy of Derlock. There’s definitely a satirical element going on as well with the media angle. And then there’s the characters, all of whom are unique and distinct. Susan, the narrator, finds herself constantly surprised to find out what her friends are capable of when circumstances demand diligence and teamwork. And then there’s Fwuffy. What’s not to love about Fwuffy?
This is truly a fantastic book that will leave the reader thinking about it long after the last page is turned. Plus, the reader might learn a few things along the way. Bonus!

27. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Courtney, Graphic Novel

Stickman Odyssey by Christopher Ford, read by Courtney, on 07/16/2012

No classic story is complete until you’ve read it in stickman form. Just sayin’.
Really, this is a hilarious volume that makes the Odyssey entertaining for any age. Follow Zozimos on his adventures after he is banished from Sticatha. You’ll meet golems, smart ladies, sailors and so much more. All in stickman form! Now I need to track down the next volume (aaaaand…ordered).

27. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Andrea, Historical Fiction · Tags: ,

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay, read by Andrea, on 07/27/2012

This was one of those books that shocked me. I got chills, teared up and learned something about the Holocaust that I was unaware of. I have always been interested in the history of WWII. I have learned quite a bit from various books, movies, and relatives about what it was like to live in the early to mid-40s. However, most of those were in America’s point-of-view, German’s POV, or Russia’s. But I never knew about the French involvement in the Holocaust. I didn’t think it existed. I assumed that the Germans had everything to do with the removal and extermination French Jews, hence occupied France, most specifically, Paris.

Sarah’s Key is a haunting tale about a young Jewish girl named Sarah living in Paris at the height of the Holocaust and Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in the same city sixty years later. Julia is assigned a story highlighting the Vel’ d’Hiv’, the tragic roundup of thousands of French Jews by the county’s own police. Her research leads her down a twisted road of painful secrets that eventually lead to Sarah and her story. The book’s chapters alternate from Sarah’s point of view to Julia’s and eventually stays with Julia’s voice. This story reveals a part of the Holocaust that seems to be brushed aside instead of learned openly like the rest of that tragic part of WWII. This was a very interesting historical book, a story I think should be read in schools to educate others about this part of the Holocaust. I remember learning about Auschwitz and some of the other well-known camps, so it would only make sense to learn about Vel’ d’Hiv’ and France’s involvement as well.

25. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Apocalyptic, Courtney, Horror, Teen Books · Tags:

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, read by Courtney, on 07/13/2012

Yes, a thousand times yes! This might be my new favorite zombie novel. Sloane’s life is miserable. And that’s before the zombies kill nearly everyone. Sloane had been planning on killing herself the day that the undead broke through the door of her house. Yes, she’s depressed. But that’s not even the half of it. Her mother died when Sloane was young. Her father was severely abusive. Her sister, Lily, ran away six months ago, in spite of promising to take Sloane with her. Now, petrified of her father and reeling from her sister’s betrayal, Sloane is faced with the zombie apocalypse. She winds up back at her high school with a handful of others who have managed to survive. There is distrust and in-fighting immediately and personalities continually clash. All Sloane wants to do is die. Nightmares of her father wake her up more at night than the fear of the undead.
What does one do when the world appears to be coming to an end? When you didn’t want to live in the first place? This is such a fascinating twist on the classic zombie novel. Summers, who has already proved herself an exceptional YA writer, once again shows her skills in giving voice to an all-too-common issue (the depression, not the zombies), giving this novel an added emotional charge.

25. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Romance, Teen Books

Gilt by Katherine Longshore, read by Courtney, on 07/11/2012

This officially marks the second novel about Catherine Howard that I’ve read in the past couple of years. It’s easy to see why she would make a great YA character. She’s young; a mere teenager when she marries the aging Henry VIII. She’s tragic; if one knows her story, one knows it does not end well. She’s the queen of one of the most notorious kings in English history and yet, still one of the least well-known. Catherine was quite literally plucked from near-obscurity and placed in court, where she was then noticed by Henry who was disenchanted with his then-wife, Anne of Cleves. That marriage gets annulled and Henry marries the youthful Catherine who ultimately fails to produce an heir and is accused of adultery. Her fate is the same as her late cousin, Anne Boleyn.
This particular novel is not from Catherine’s perspective. Instead, it is from that of her best friend, Kitty Tylney. Kitty is a nobody. Her parents sent her off to live with the duchess and have little to do with her. Kitty is taken under Catherine’s (Cat’s) wing early on. Cat is presented as a girl who knows how to use people to get what she wants, regardless of the consequences. She is not the most sympathetic character, but it is easy to see how those around her can become caught up in Cat’s schemes and charisma. When Kitty finally joins Cat at court, she quickly realizes that her life has never really been her own. Cat becomes increasingly demanding, both emotionally and physically, leaving her friends toiling away in the wake of her secrets. When the final curtain falls, Kitty can do nothing to help her former friend.
I really enjoyed this one. It was more than just a historical novel. Cat comes across as a classic spoiled brat/mean girl who is capable of making just about anyone bend to her will. Kitty is the type of friend who will do anything for her friend, even when it means denying herself the things she wants. Kitty winds up sacrificing nearly everything for the sake of her friendship with Cat and only realizes very late that her life has never been her own. It was fascinating to hear the story told from a friend’s point of view rather than from Catherine’s. It was also interesting to see age-old dramas played out in a royal setting where lives really were at stake.

24. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Informational Book, NonFiction, Science

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, read by Angie, on 07/24/2012

Our bodies can go through a lot when we are dead and Mary Roach discusses it all. This book takes a look at the life of the human cadaver. Roach tells us what happens when you donate your body to science (you are probably going to be used for surgery practice), how bodies are used for crash test dummies, head transplants, crucifixion studies, human composting and so much more. The life of the human cadaver is fascinating, often gross, but never boring. I can say the same thing about this book. Not the best thing to read while eating, although I did, but it will definitely keep you interested. I loved the chapters on ancient medicines made from human remains and human secretions and human excrement and a whole lot of other things you don’t want to think about. I found the crash test dummy chapter and the airplane crash chapter equally fascinating. But nothing can really top the human head transplant chapter. That was some seriously page turning stuff! This book will make you think about your remains and what you want done with them. Will you go for the traditional burial, cremation, human composting, or donate your body to science?

24. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fiction

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, read by Angie, on 07/20/2012

Breadcrumbs is a delightful novel. I enjoyed the mix of fairytale and reality. Ursu did a really good job of mixing these two genres into a seemless story.

Hazel is an imaginative fifth grader who lives next door to her best friend Jack. They have always played together being superheroes or knights or anything their imagination can come up with. Until one day Jack gets a sliver of glass in his eye and everything changes. Suddenly, Hazel is babyish and Jack doesn’t want to spend any time with her. Then he disappears; supposedly to visit an aunt (who no one knew existed). Hazel doesn’t understand this sudden change and she doesn’t cope with it very well. Jack was her one friend and confidant, the one person she could always count on. Her world without him is not so great. She doesn’t fit in at school, she doesn’t have any friends and everyone things she is Crazy Hazy. Her father has left and doesn’t have time for her and her mother just wants her to grow up and deal with everything maturely. But Hazel knows something is going on with Jack and when Taylor tells her he saw Jack go into the woods with an impossibly tall, thin woman she decides to follow him. What happens next is a quest straight out of fairy tales. Hazel encounters different beings that challenge her on her quest to get to Jack; however, they also help her find herself and her strength to go on. In the end she does rescue Jack and get him back to civilization. But you don’t know if things will ever be the same.

You can’t help but feel for Hazel throughout this book. She is a misfit who lives in a world of imagination. Unfortunately, those around her only deal with reality. It makes it really hard for her to fit in. And then her one rock, her point of salvation, Jack turns on her and she gets no sympathy or help. Her mother constantly pushes her to be more realistic and to make more friends and to basically be someone she is not. She isn’t the most supportive of mothers, not that she is a bad mom, just not really clued in to who her daughter is or what she needs. But Hazel knows and she sets out to get it. She knows that even if she and Jack aren’t best friends anymore they should still be in each others lives. She knows something is wrong with him even when no one else does. Her journey through the woods challenges her in ways she never imagined but each challenge makes her stronger and more determined on her quest.

The story is a great mix of fairytale fantasy and reality. Jack’s plight and the journey through the woods can be seen as a metaphor for childhood friends growing up and apart but it is also a classical fairytale journey. It works on both levels and I think that is the strength of this book. Hazel does have to grow up a bit in this book; she has to accept that things are not always going to be as they were. She does this but not after some personal struggles. This is such a wonderful book and I would highly recommend it.

24. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Mystery · Tags:

Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs, read by Angie, on 07/18/2012

Henry the Hippo has gone belly up and Teddy decides that it is his mission to find out who exactly killed him. Henry is the mascot for FunJungle the zoo theme park where Teddy and his family live. It is supposed to be the perfect Zoo, but why did someone kill Henry and why are the adults trying to cover it up? Teddy and his friend Summer set about to investigate. There are chases through the zoo, suspicious characters, animals on the loose, smuggled emeralds, and other shenanigans.

This is a fun mystery that I think kids will enjoy. Teddy and Summer are smart and interesting. They think for themselves and they solve the mystery when the adults can’t. My only compliant about the book is the numerous environmental/conservation/animal education passages/messages in the book. They are sometimes rather long and they break up the flow of the plot. Most of it is good information and the message is good, but it is just this side of preachy and hitting you over the head. I wish it had been worked into the story a little more successfully. I get what the author was trying to do, but the execution didn’t always work. Wasn’t totally unsuccessful, but bordering on MESSAGE book at times. Aside from that I liked it and I think kids will too. I am not even sure they will notice the other stuff as much; they may just pay attention to the main plot of the book.

This is a 2012-13 Missouri Mark Twain Award Nominee.

24. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Thriller/Suspense, Tracy

The Inquisitor by Mark Allen Smith, read by Tracy, on 07/22/2012

When the police take a suspect into the interrogation room it’s usually a pretty calm situation with a lawyer present so the suspect has some rights. In the information retrieval business things are very different. The main character in this book, Geiger, is known as “The Inquisitor” He is paid to get the truth out of people. Nobody knows where he lives not even his partner. His clients are usually mobsters or corporations with lots of money who will pay to get the truth. This book is action packed with a lot of violence. I couldn’t put it down.

23. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Andrea, Romance, Thriller/Suspense

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, read by Andrea, on 07/21/2012

This was a really interesting book. Full of magic, illusions, and suspense it was very difficult to actually get up and do important stuff in between chapters. It is a story of love and finding out who you truly are, etc. However, the way it is written is so interesting. Morgenstern wrote The Night Circus similar to how a 3 ring circus appears. Each ring has its own act. They work independently, yet together they make sense as a whole. Thus the plot of this book. There is the past, future and present life of the circus all rolled up into one book. Each chapter is dated and mainly follows the lives of Celia, Marco, and Bailey and their role in the life of the circus. Since the time when they were very young, Celia and Marco have been trained in the art of illusion. Celia’s instructor (who happens to be her father) and Marco’s instructor, two pretty ancient illusionists with a long standing rivalry, are extremely competitive and basically use their pupils as a show of who is the best illusionist of the two. Venue? The circus. Time limit? There isn’t one. Sadly for Celia and Marco, they are unaware that they have been bound to one another through their instructors’ challenge until they have fallen in love with one another and it is too late to withdraw their feelings. In love, they need to make a tough decision: lose the circus or lose each other. The entire book was almost dreamlike or fantastical, and I was certainly disappointed when I read the last sentence.

22. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Tracy

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, read by Tracy, on 07/21/2012

After reading “A Discovery of Witches” I was really happy to hear it was part of a trilogy. I’m not really into vampire stories but this one is different. Diana Bishop is a witch who hasn’t been trained to use her powers. Until she met and fell in love with Matthew Clairmont, a vampire, she led a  quiet life. They meet in the first book and decide to do some time traveling so she could find a witch to help her control her powers. That’s where this book starts when they arrive in Elizabethan England. Since vampires live a long time Matthew was already known in this time period and had many friends and enemies. It’s a long story with lots of interesting characters, some true some fictional. They also are searching for a book Ashmole 782 that is missing pages and seems to be alive.I  enjoyed the authors description of the clothing that people wore in that era. Of course the women had to suffer all the layers and heavy cloth that the fashion in those day required. At least they were warmer.

20. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Tracy

Deed of Murder by Cora Harrison, read by Tracy, on 07/20/2012

One man is dead, another missing and one other wounded. If this happened today the police would have a forensic team dusting for prints and DNA. In 1511 Ireland they didn’t have those conveniences, they relied on physical evidence and some collective deduction. Mara who is the local Brehon, judge, is in charge and uses her young law students to find out who and why it happened. A deed is also missing and could be the reason for the crimes. The author gives us some interesting historical law terms at the beginning of each chapter. “On the binding of Deeds of Contract. There are some circumstances which can make a contract be declared invalid. A contract made while drunk ( except in the case of co-ploughing agreements which are valid even if one or all the parties are drunk at the time of signing)”

20. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Informational Book, Memoirs, Tracy

Sixpence House by Paul Collins, read by Tracy, on 07/19/2012

There is a town in Wales called Hay-on-Wye that has forty bookstores. Paul Collins and his family visited it and decided to move there from San Francisco. Paul is an author and is writing a book called Banvard’s Folly.  This book, however,  is about their experiences at the “Town of Books”. He and his wife think it’s the perfect place to raise their son and search for a house to buy. Sixpence House was a pub at one time but is now for sale and falling apart. Anyone who loves books would want to live in Hay-on-Wye. Right? Is too much of a good thing bad? Maybe so.

19. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Inspirational, Memoirs, NonFiction, Tammy · Tags: , ,

The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo, Bob DeMoss , read by Tammy, on 07/18/2012

A moving story about one family’s struggle to “stay the course” and follow God’s will for their lives and ministry despite dangerous opposition from one wealthy member of the community who is also their neighbor. Shootings, bombings, threatening mesages… none of this made the pastor and his family leave the church and community that begged them to stay until one fateful night when the author was 7 years old. The daughter of the pastor Rebecca tells us her story and fills in and verified her memory using court documents, interviews with adults who were also there, newspaper accounts etc. Despite the anger directed at them the parents continued to forgive their neighbor and young Rebecca learned that forgiveness is truly the only way to move on and heal. Honest but uplifting.

17. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: History, Janet, NonFiction · Tags:

Women of the West by Dorothy Gray, read by Janet, on 07/17/2012

This country owes a lot to the efforts of the remarkable but rarely identified women of our western past.  Most are familiar with Sacajawea’s help to Lewis and Clark, but who knows of Narcissa Whitman, who ran a mission and helped travelers on the Oregon Trail, sending letters home that described conditions taking place during those years.  Many letters written by these early western women have been backgrounds for books.  Juliet Bier cared for three children while driving their cattle through Death Valley, following her husband, who was venturing ahead.  She helped many of the ’49ers along the trail and was later called “the best man of the party”.  There was Dame Shirley, who wrote descriptions of life in the California Gold Rush, minority women such as Biddy Mason and Donaldina Cameron, who taught and helped early settlers and the down-trodden Chinese culture, Esther Morris and Carrie Chapman West who led women in their new right to vote, and Ann Eliza Young, who won her fight agaiinst polygomy in the Mormon culture. Bright Eyes, daughter of Omaha Chief Iron Eyes, educated Indian children, then grew politically and gave many speeches in the East, particularly Boston and Washington D. C., leading a crusade for Indian justice.

There were many women who let the world know the conditions in the West as they taught, lectured, and led policital groups to help the cause of those being unfairly treated. More that were mentioned in the book were:  Agnes Morely Cleveland, Pamela Mann, Ella “Cattle Kate” Watson, Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress), Anna Howard Shaw, Bethenia Owens-Adair, Lucy Anthony, Miriam Davis Cott, Mary Elizabeth Lease, and Willa Cather. These were only some of the well-educated women who gave their all in the arts and political fields, as well as personally, to help the people settling the West.

17. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, Teen Books

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl, read by Angie, on 07/16/2012

Keeping the Castle is your typical historical romance. It has your spunky heroine who is in dire straights, your hero who must win the girl but who keeps his circumstances hidden, strange family members who get in the way, friends who must be taken care of and all kinds of other obligations.

Althea Crawley must marry rich. She has to take care of her family and secure a rich husband in order to ensure that her mother and brother do not lose crumbling Crawley Castle. Her two stepsisters, who are rich, are certainly not going to help. The only problem is that Althea is a little too outspoken for the men around Little Hoos in York. Then it seems things are looking up when Lord Boring and his party of eligible bachelors comes to town. Lord Boring is handsome and rich and starts courting Althea, but he also starts spending time with her stepsister Charity. Then there is Mr. Fredericks, Lord Boring’s poor cousin, who keeps arguing with Althea and getting in her way.

As I said, very typical historical romance. If you have read any romance books you probably had this one figured out fairly early on. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun to read. It was a quick light read. There were several parts that were quite funny and I really liked Althea and Mr. Fredericks. However, I do wish it was more original. It really did seem to be following the same formula that most historical romances follow which is too bad because it definitely had potential.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher at PLA 2012.

17. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen-Fernlund, read by Angie, on 07/16/2012

This is a peanut-free book about competitive scrabble and finding your place in the world. Ambrose is a misfit. He has no friends; he doesn’t fit in at school. Then one day some kids put a peanut in his sandwich at school. This almost kills him since he is severely allergic to peanuts. His mom throws a fit and decides he needs to try correspondence school. So now he spends all his time in their basement apartment doing school work and playing scrabble with his mom. That is until he meets his upstairs landlords son Cosmo (the former drug addict who just got out of jail for breaking and entering) and convinces him to join the West Side Scrabble Club. Suddenly Ambrose has a place where he fits in and people who like him for who he is.

This was a wonderful book about a kid looking for a place of his own and finding it with the scrabble group. I really liked Ambrose. He was strange and unusual and his mouth often got him in trouble but he was very likeable as a main character. I liked his journey through the book. He starts out very sheltered and isolated and ends up with the whole world open to him. I think my only concerns about the book are that the mom comes off very one dimensional and hysterical throughout the entire book. She is often unlikeable and not someone you would root for. And there is entirely too many mentions of Ambrose taking a poo or having a diarrhea poo…TMI…really don’t need that information. Other than that I really enjoyed the book and would definitely recommend it.

17. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: NonFiction, Tammy · Tags: ,

The Man who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett, read by Tammy, on 07/15/2012

A look at why people steal books: love of the book or author, profit or prestige of owning a collection. For unrepentant book thief John Gilkey steals to accumulate a collection to prove he is a “gentleman” because in his deluded mind it’s only fair – if he wants it the world should give it to him. The world including individuals, libraries and book sellers that he sees as keeping him from what is rightly his.

Almost as obsessive is Ken Sanders who is driven to catch him and has helped connect book dealers to alert each other about book thiefs and their methods. The author Allison Bartlett talks to both dealers including Sanders and interviews Gilkey trying to understand what makes some people stop at nothing to posses the titles they love even after jail time.

17. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction · Tags: , ,

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon , read by Angie, on 07/15/2012

Sam is the son of a prominent civil rights leader. He and his brother Stick help their father at demonstrations, but it is sometimes difficult being in the spotlight. Then Stick secretly joins the Black Panthers. Suddenly, Sam’s world is not what he thought it was. He is confused and exposed to things he knew nothing about. He has to make choices and decide what role he wants to take in the movement.

Sam is one of those characters that you see in so many young people. He doesn’t think for himself; he just absorbs what others are thinking and doing and takes that on. He lives under the shadow of his father and then Stick. He just goes with the flow and follows the next new thing or whoever influences him the most. It is not until the end of the book that you really see him thinking and acting on his own. In a way this makes him a harder character to like, but it makes him a little easier to identify with. He takes the easy path in some ways because it is easier to go with those who are strong and influential and powerful. You can see how he can get caught in the web of his father or the Panther’s influence without ever really seeing the underlying causes they are fighting for. He is just a surface dweller; he doesn’t delve deeper to see what is really happening in his community and the world around him. So many people are like Sam both today and in the past.

I think the strength of this book is not in the characters but in the movement it portrays. So often Civil Rights era books seem so one-sided; only showing the Dr. King method of protesting/demonstrating. But this book seems to show both sides of the movement. The Black Panthers are often vilified and shown as militant terrorists almost. But this book shows that they were not always like that. They were concerned about their community and wanted to help in a more immediate way than they saw the movement working. They opened health clinics and gave away free breakfasts and patrolled their neighborhoods and not all of them were all about the guns and violence. I think this book did a great job of showing what the Black Panthers were all about, but how they could revert to violence. It was a violent time, especially if you were Black. I think the book also did a good job of showing how both sides worked together towards their common goals even if their methods were often different.

An excellent book on the Civil Rights Movement and definitely worthy of the Coretta Scott King Award.