18. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Andrea, Children's Books, Fiction

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead, read by Andrea, on 09/17/2012

Georges (the “s” is silent) and his parents move from their house to an apartment in Brooklyn when his dad loses his job. His mom, a nurse, decides to work a double shift at the hospital. His former best friend is now part of the “in-crowd” a group Georges or “Gorgeous” as most of the people in that group call him. Not only is Georges’s home life falling apart, his school life has also become barely tolerable. After noticing a random poster advertising a Spy Club in the basement of his apartment building, Georges, after encouragement from his dad, decides to take a chance and check it out. There he meets Safer, a boy around his age, and Candy, his younger sister. Just like the works of Georges Seurat, the painter he was named after, Georges learns from Safer how to look at the world bit by bit instead of always looking at the world as a whole. With that knowledge he is able to face his biggest fears and accept what is happening in his life.

Liar & Spy is a story that teaches readers of all ages. It teaches the value of mustering up the courage to stand up to bullies and the fears that threaten to drag you down. It teaches the value of understanding your friends and realizing they are more important to you than you think.

18. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Janet

The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, read by Janet, on 09/18/2012

Known as “Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity”, this story is a excellent description of the journey of a man whose daughter was abducted during a family vacation.  He was in “Great Sadness” when he received a note from God inviting him to an old shack where evidence of his daughter’s murder had been found.  What he learns about life, truth, and God and the other Heavenly Entities transforms his life and answers questions we all have about how to deal with pain with their help.  This is a very comforting story that teaches a lot about understanding through a higher degree of insight.

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

Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Sean Qualls (Illustrator) , read by Angie, on 09/15/2012

Hibernia is a preachers daughter with a passion for singing. Otis is an orphan with a love for riddles. And Willie is a boxer with an abusive, alcoholic father. Otis and Willie end up in an orphanage and that is where these kids meet when Hibernia’s church choir sings for the orphans. The love of Joe Louis brings these stories together. The setting is 1936 during the height of the depression and the beginning of Joe Louis’ rise to Heavyweight Champion.

This was a nice historical story about the importance of Joe Louis to the African American community during this time. Each of the characters voices were interesting and distinctive. I really enjoyed all the references to the Joe Louis boxing matches and to the Harlem jazz and blues scene as the kids experienced them through the radio. This is a very upbeat story even when bad things are happening to the kids. I wish it would have been a little more serious at times but I enjoyed the joy of the ending.

17. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel, read by Angie, on 09/16/2012

Mike is an out of work construction worker single father. He has no money for his son Cam’s birthday. He ends up buying a cardboard box and together they create a cardboard man who comes to life. Soon they are creating all kinds of cardboard things. But mean kid Marcus is jealous of Cam’s cardboard creations and steals the cardboard creator. He creates monsters who take on a life of their own. Soon cardboard is running wild and terrorizing Marcus, Cam, Mike and the rest of the neighborhood. They have to band together to stop the cardboard creations before it is too late.

This is an interesting morality tale about being happy with what you have, making changes for the better in your life, and not letting darkness and despair run your life. I think it is a little too heavy handed on the morality lessons but there is enough monsters and mayhem that I think kids will enjoy this.

17. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Biographies, Children's Books, Graphic Book, NonFiction

Around the World by Matt Phelan, read by Angie, on 09/16/2012

Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days inspired many adventurous souls to take up the challenge and circumnavigate the globe. Matt Phelan tells the stories of three of these adventurers.

First we have Thomas Stevens, former minor, who decides to travel around the world on a high wheeler, the predecessor of the bicycle. It takes him two years, but he travels the world and introduces the bicycle to many who had never seen it.

Next is intrepid reporter Nelly Bly, who with the support of her newspaper decides to travel the world in less than 80 days. She meets Jules Verne, has several delays, but manages to make it home in 72 days.

Finally is Joshua Slocum, a retired sea captain, who fixes up an old boat and sails around the world alone. He has storms and pirates to contend with but in three years he makes it back home.

These were all real people and their stories were interesting to read and see. I thought Phelan did a particularly good job on the Stevens chapters. The illustrations really brought the story to life. I wasn’t as impressed by the Slocum section. I guess it was much darker and more introspective than the previous chapters; it had a lot of flashbacks to his previous journeys. I guess I didn’t feel it had the same feeling of joyous adventure as the others. But this is a great graphic read on people who have traveled the world.

17. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Meanwhile by Jason Shiga, read by Angie, on 09/14/2012

So chocolate or vanilla? Your choice determines the path you take in this inventive little book. Jason Shiga has to have a twisty mind to keep all these stories straight. I used to love choose your own adventure books when I was a kid but I haven’t read one in ages. This is a different take on choose your own adventure. I loved it. Each decision leads to a different outcome and it is all told in a twisty-turny, timey-whimy way. I am not sure how it was written but it was fun to read.

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

13 Gifts by Wendy Mass, read by Angie, on 09/14/2012

A school prank leads Tara into trouble and exclusion from her parents’s trip to Madagascar. Instead she is sent to stay with her aunt, uncle and cousin in Willow Falls. Along the way all her money is stolen and she finds that she needs a way to make it back during the summer. This leads to an encounter with Angelina, the mysterious proprietor of the junk shop in town. Angelina sends Tara on a quest to collect 13 objects. With the help of her new friends Tara sets off on a quest that will change the town.

So not having read 11 Birthdays or Finally, I didn’t know the back story for some of these characters or the town of Willow Falls. I don’t think that makes a huge difference though. You can enjoy this book on its own or as part of the series. I thought this was a fun read. Tara and the other kids in Willow Falls are great characters. I liked the magical adventure aspect of this story. And the conclusion was a great way to tie everything together. I might have to check out the other Wendy Mass books about Willow Falls because this is definitely a fun tween read.

16. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Classics, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Poetry, Tammy · Tags:

The Death of King Arthur: A New Verse Translation by Simon Armitage, read by Tammy, on 09/15/2012

A new translation of the alliterative poem written in Middle English around 1400 AD originally known as The Alliterative Morte Arthure. Simon Armitage who recently received acclaim for his translation of the classic alliterative poem, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight turns his talent to this classic. He follows King Arthur’s bloody conquests across Europe until his bloody fall, with many of his loyal knights, through a poignantly described burial scene. The language is still lyrical and moving in spite of being a translation.

16. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Historical Fiction, Tracy

Small Island by Andrea Levy, read by Tracy, on 09/16/2012

They use to say “The sun never sets on the British Empire”. During World War II Jamaica was part of the British Commonwealth.  Children in schools were taught to speak English and learned all about England’s history. When Hortense and Gilbert Joseph move to London after the war they are confused and angered by the treatment they get because they have dark skin. Gilbert served in the RAF and knew the Yanks didn’t want them. But this was England and they were British subjects. They live in a boarding house with other Jamaican’s because of the kindness of Queenie Bligh. Her husband Bernard joined the military but never came back when the war ended. Each chapter in this book is written from the perspective of each of these four characters. Prejudice is confusing to me. If a country is at war then what does it matter the color of your skin if you volunteer to help. This book won several awards. It made me angry and sad at times. But that’s what makes it a good book.

15. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Graphic Novel, History, Memoirs, NonFiction, Tammy · Tags: ,

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon, read by Tammy, on 09/14/2012

Drawing on the unique historical sites, archives, expertise, and unquestioned authority of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, New York Times bestselling authors Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón have created the first authorized and exhaustive graphic biography of Anne Frank. This is a concise introduction to not only Anne Frank and her family but history of Nazism, concentration camps, general history of WWII and how the conflict spread as well as the years immediately after the war. I had not realized prior to reading this the first concentration camp built and opened in Germany was to house German citizens who opposed the Nazi parties new policies.

15. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Graphic Novel, NonFiction, Tammy · Tags: , , ,

Mesoamerican Myths by David West, read by Tammy, on 09/14/2012

A brief introduction to Aztec and Mayan mythology with a couple of creation stories and details and information on other mythological deities in the Aztec and Mayan culture. There are serpents, gods, and heroic and magical twins.

14. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, read by Courtney, on 09/14/2012

I loved “Shadow of the Wind” and I liked “The Angel’s Game”, so I was pretty excited to find a new book set in the same world. Unfortunately, “Prisoner of Heaven” falls flat in comparison to its predecessors.
Daniel is now grown up and has a child. Sempere & Sons Bookstore is gearing up for the holiday season and Fermin is fixing to get married. A man from Fermin’s past appears prompting him to finally share his secrets with Daniel. The narrative then shifts to the worst days of the Spanish Civil War. Fermin is in prison with a writer named David Martin who is teetering on the brink of madness. He is kept alive by a malevolent guard named Maurico Valls who aims to be the country’s preeminent writer and intellectual. He forces Martin to “rework” his material to make it palatable to the masses. Martin, in his madness and misery, tells Fermin of his true love, Isabella, Daniel’s mother. Fermin manages to escape from prison in the hopes of fulfilling Martin’s request of making sure Isabella and her family are taken care of.
All of the characters are interconnected, but the story lacks the punch of Zafon’s previous work. This slim volume lacks the vivid detail of the first two books in the series and, as a result, feels rushed and unfocused. Oddly enough, it moves fairly slow too. It’s not a bad book, it just doesn’t compare to the books it follows and as such is a bit of a disappointment. Fortunately, the series is written in such a way as to allow the reader to read the book in any order they choose. Perhaps if this book didn’t have to live under the shadow of the first two, it would seem much more accomplished.

14. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, read by Courtney, on 09/09/2012

There are few, if any, teen books written that focus on the plight of those from the Baltic region during World War II. Thus, this book felt like completely new territory to me. While I’m familiar with the Gulag system used by the Soviets, it had never occurred to me that entire families might have been put to work in them. As it turns out, thousands of men, women and children were taken from their homes and places of work in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. These people were deemed criminals and were packed into trains to be shipped off to the wintery lands of Siberia. This book tells of one family’s plight. Taken from their home in Lithuania, a mother and her two children are put on a train and sent east. They travel an astonishing distance only to be put to work in beet fields. They fall ill, they freeze, they go hungry. And then they’re sent to the Artic Circle and forced to build shelter not only for themselves but for the guards as well. No matter how bad it gets, the family never falters in their faith that one day, they will be able to return home, be reunited with their husband and father (who is sent to a different series of camps/prisons). Their love for each other, their culture and their homeland are something that the Soviets could never break them of.
The author’s note at the end indicates that people were not able to return to their homelands until after Stalin’s death. Even then, they were still considered criminals and their story was a strictly enforced secret. It was only after the end of the Soviet Union that countries like Lithuania recovered their independence and their people were able to begin healing. This story represents all those whose stories will never be heard. It also stands as a testament to the power of love and hope. I would absolutely like to see this book make the final list of Gateway Award nominees. It is a well-written, deeply moving and important historical perspective.

14. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, read by Courtney, on 09/09/2012

This officially marks the second time I’ve read this book, as well as the second time I’ve used it for a high school book group. I must say, this is a novel that holds up to rereading and remains one of the best discussion books I’ve ever used. The plot sounds simple: a teenaged girl, Hannah Baker, has committed suicide. Before her death, she recorded a series of tapes to be passed from person to person. There are 7 tapes with 13 of the sides used. A “Baker’s dozen”, so to speak. Each side of each tape pertains to a reason that contributed to Hannah’s decision to end her life. Each reason is a person and each person on the tapes has to hear the tapes or risk copies of the tapes being made public. The story is told through the eyes of a boy named Clay, who cannot, for the life of him, figure out what he did to appear on these tapes. Clay had worshiped Hannah from afar and had worked with her, but has never, to his knowledge, done anything to hurt her. The only way to find out why he’s on the tapes is to listen and what he hears will change his life forever.
This is the sort of book that actually does possess the power to change lives. Each and every incident in the book is excruciatingly realistic. All of my teens acknowledged that “stuff like this happens all the time”. The incidents themselves connect in tragic and unexpected ways. Hannah’s story is devastating. She continually hopes that things will get better until everyone she’s ever reached out to has thrown her vulnerability back into her face. Her story reminds us to be actively conscious of our actions. It’s not just about the bullies that overtly harass. It’s also those of us that won’t meet someone’s eye when they pass in the hall. It’s about scooting away from someone at the lunch table. It’s about passing on rumors and ill-informed gossip. It’s about realizing that everyone has a story of their own and that nothing occurs without context. It’s about remembering to listen, to be kind and to be respectful. I know plenty of adults that need to read this as badly as teens do. This is not just a book for teens. This is a book for humans. It may break your heart, but it’s worth it.

 

14. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Brian, History, Inspirational, NonFiction

Singing Over Me by Danielle C. Stammer, read by Brian, on 09/13/2012

On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 Tornado struck Joplin, Missouri destroying much of the community.  Danielle C. Stammer retells her amazing story  as she and her family barely escape, as some call it, “The Finger of God”.  This book will tug at your heart.  You feel for the family as you try to imagine the horror they went through and how they rebuild their lives from not one but two tragedies. I enjoyed the book but miss the detail.  The book seems hurried and not fully thought out.  I’m sure hearing Danielle in person would be a special treat.  The book needed to be written for no other reason then to release the emotional energy trapped inside Stammer.  Danielle and family have relocated to Jefferson City, Missouri.

13. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Graphic Novel · Tags:

Zombies Hate Stuff by Greg Stones, read by Angie, on 09/13/2012

Did you know zombies hate sock monkeys? but they like teddy bears. Seriously how can anybody not like sock monkeys???? Zombies also hate rain and nudity and santa. But don’t worry because they like mimes and celery and disco. But don’t even get them started on clowns or unicorns. Most of all zombies love you!

What a fun little book. I really enjoyed the illustrations and the lists. Easy to read this tiny treasure; takes about a minute. So pick it up and enjoy!

13. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods, read by Angie, on 09/13/2012

Saint Louis Armstrong Beach (yep that is his name) is a musically talented young man in New Orleans. He lives with his chef father and social worker mother in Treme. Saint plays his clarinet for tourists in the French Quarter and is saving up to buy a new clarinet. He has adopted a stray dog named Shadow. He and his family closely watch the progress of Tropical Storm Katrina has it heads towards New Orleans and turns into a hurricane. As they get ready to evacuate things start falling apart. His mom can’t leave the hospital until all the patients are safely evacuated and Shadow runs off. Saint makes the decision to not evacuate and go find Shadow. He takes shelter with his neighbor Ms. Moran during the storm.

This was a really quick read but covered a lot of territory. I have never lived through a hurricane, but I thought Woods really conveyed the tension of the people in New Orleans leading up to the storm. The majority of the book is set before the storm so there is a lot of information. She does a good job of introducing us to the characters in Saint’s neighborhood. You could also feel the tension during the storm as Saint and Ms. Moran take refuge in her attic and watch the flood waters rise. I wish there was more detail about the aftermath of the storm. It seems like that is when things really fell apart in New Orleans and it isn’t even touched on here. Saint is reunited with his family and they all come through the storm fine. There are a few minor mentions of the poor people and their inability to evacuate and the Superdome, but nothing is mentioned about what happened to those people during and after the storm. I think that is a missed opportunity, but this is still a really good little book.

13. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Paranormal · Tags: , ,

13 (Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong , read by Angie, on 09/12/2012

Well this is the final book in this series and it goes out with a lot of action and appearances by all our favorite characters. 13 picks up right where Spell Bound left off. Savannah is still trying to get her powers back and the Supernatural Liberation Movement wants to infect people with a virus and out the supernaturals to the world. Of course, our valiant heroes must stop SLAM; so they all come together in one action packed sequence after another. We see Elena and Clay, Jeremy and Jaime, Hope and Karl, Savannah and Adam, Eve and Kristof, Lucas and Paige and a bunch of other random characters. The story is told through Savannah’s POV but there are chapters that allow some of the other voices to join in the storytelling.

I have really enjoyed this series since I read Bitten and am a little sad to see it end. However, I do admire authors who are able to actually end long running series. Do I think we will never see these characters again? Not really, I have a feeling they will pop up in Armstrong’s YA series or in future books.

As a finale to a series this wasn’t bad. We got to see and say goodbye to all our favorite characters even if they didn’t play a huge role in this book. I will admit that the changes in location and nonstop action sometimes got a little confusing; it seems like they rush from one disaster to another. However, it is a satisfying ending and everything seems to work out in the end. There are still loose threads though and room for Armstrong to revisit this world.

13. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Brian, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Batman Versus Predator by Dave Gibbons, read by Brian, on 09/12/2012

Gotham City is hot this year….one of the hottest years in history, inviting the Predator down to hunt.   Batman vs Predator is one of the better crossover novels as the Cape Crusader must battle the deadly Predator.  The art work is very good.  Gibbons has constructed a tale that is interesting and witty.  Batman must use everything in his arsenal to battle the Predator. 

13. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Brian, Cats, NonFiction

ZooBorns Cats! by Andrew Bleiman, read by Brian, on 09/10/2012

Do you like cats?  I mean all type of cats? This is the cutest book in the World displaying cats born in zoos around the World.  There are tons of pictures of cats with all the biographical information and general details about the cat.