30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Graphic Novel, Humor, Teen Books

The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks, 106 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/14/2013

The Adventures of Superhero Girl is collected from Faith Erin Hicks’ popular webcomic, Superhero Girl. And it’s really, really funny. It is partly a send-up of common superhero tropes, but to do only that would be somewhat trite and over-done. Hicks doesn’t do that. Instead, she takes a girl who is just learning to live on her own and who just happens to have superpowers (but also a weakness for kittens, a awesomely-snarky roommate and angst over being in her older brother’s superhero shadow). Charming, smart and hilarious. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.

30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy, 362 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/09/2013

It’s 1952 and Janie’s family has found it necessary to leave their sunny LA home for the dramatically different city of London. Janie hates the fact that they had to move, but in this particular era, certain political views can make anyone a target; in this case, Janie’s parents. Shortly after her move to London, Janie meets the local apothecary and his son, Benjamin. When Benjamin’s father is kidnapped, Benjamin and Janie are left in charge of an ancient text, the Pharmacoepia, and are instructed to guard it with their lives. After a bit of experimentation proves that the recipes and spells in the Pharmacoepia are real, Janie and Benjamin realize that the stakes are higher than they had originally thought possible and that they must keep the Pharmacoepia safe from those who would wish their countries harm, namely Russia.
I’ve previously enjoyed Maile Meloy’s work and was excited to find that she was writing for younger audiences. This book was a delightful mix of historical fiction, espionage and magic. The characters are charming and clever and the situations they find themselves in are both humorous and exciting. This wound up being a great choice for my middle school book group. All of my readers thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns, as well as the historical angle.

30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Apocalyptic, Courtney, Horror, Science Fiction, Teen Books, Thriller/Suspense

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad, 355 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/07/2013

In the not-too-distant future, plans are being made to bring mankind back to the moon. It’s been decades since the first astronauts set foot on the lunar surface and NASA has now decided to send a new crew up. The twist this time is that they’ve decided to send three teenagers (for the ratings, ostensibly). A giant, world-wide lottery is held and three are chosen: Midori (a trendy Harajuku girl who longs to see the world), Antoine (the broken-hearted Parisian who wants to get as far away from his ex as possibly), and Mia (a musican from Norway who honestly has no desire to go to the moon, but is signed up by her parents and goes anyway). After their training, they’re off to be the first inhabitants on DARLAH-2, a space station that was built in the ’70’s but the existence of which has only just been made known to the public. Things go smoothly until the teens and their accompanying astronauts arrive at the station. First, the power goes out. Then people start dying.
I picked this up, thinking it was going to be a sci-fi book but was surprised to discover that this book is far more horror than sci-fi. The setting, however, did add to the claustrophobic feel- earth is days away, which means no rescue and nowhere to run. There’s a pervasive feeling of dread throughout in spite of the excitement that surrounds the fanfare put forth by NASA (the narrative is interspersed with advertisements promoting the lottery, as well as photos and diagrams from the mission itself).
I wound up using this book as one of my high school book group’s selections, with great success. There was plenty to discuss and all agreed that the book was definitely creepy. One girl claimed to have screamed. I, personally, had a few issues with the premise itself (i.e. who would ever think it’s a good idea to send minors into space?). I was also very unclear as to the nature of the menace facing the kids and crew. This was likely intentional, but still a bit frustrating. Overall, an unusual reading experience. Gotta love YA lit for its genre-blending tendencies.

30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Tarnish by Katherine Longshore, 448 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/05/2013

Longshore’s first book, Gilt, imagined the life of the doomed Catherine Howard (wife number 5 out of 6 for Henry VIII)through the eyes of her friend, Kitty. Her new book, Tarnish, goes back a little bit in history to focus on Howard’s more notorious cousin, Anne Boleyn. As I have a weakness for Tudor-era England, both of these books appealed to me greatly. Anne is, in particular, one of my favorite historical characters, but I have to admit that my knowledge of her life is more or less restricted to her life *after* meeting Henry. Longshore has the reader get to know Anne long before she becomes one of history’s tragedies. Anne is every bit as petulant as we might imagine. She is outspoken and headstrong, much to her father and brother’s chagrin. A life in court seems to be the most Anne could possibly hope for before she is forced to resign herself to a business-like marriage contract. Since Anne’s sister, Mary, is already at court, it is only a matter of time before Anne makes her mark. Little does she realize that the very features that drive her father crazy are the same features that will charm a king and change England forever.
The pacing of this book is considerably slower than in “Gilt”, particularly because this is not yet the Anne that we’ve come to know and love (or despise, depending on your perspective). We can easily see glimpses of the woman that will give birth to a queen, but we also have to get to know her as an awkward and emotional teenaged girl.

30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fantasy, Literary Fiction

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, 181 pages, read by Courtney, on 06/28/2013

gaimanGaiman wins again with this gorgeous little gem of a book. The story opens with a man on his way to a funeral in Sussex, the town of his youth. Upon his return, he is inexorably drawn to a house at the end of his lane. A house that he didn’t really remember until he was already walking up to it. As he gets closer, the memories resurface and he recalls a past so strange and mysterious that he can’t really fathom how he forgot it all in the first place.
You see, an evil was released in this sleepy little English town and the only person who could help our young narrator was a girl who lived at the end of the lane. Her name is Lettie Hempstock. She lives with her mother and grandmother. Lettie insists that the pond behind her house is, in reality, an ocean. Our narrator slowly recalls the details of this strange episode in his past as he sits by Lettie’s “ocean” as a grown man.
I don’t even really want to give away any of it, since this book is such a delightful journey to make on one’s own. Fans of Gaiman will naturally love this one. I sensed echoes of Sandman, Neverwhere and Coraline throughout and since these are works that I love through and through, these likenesses only served to make me even more enamored. Gaiman is such a wonderfully skilled writer, he doesn’t need hundreds of pages to create a fully realized tale. Indeed, this can easily be read in one or two sittings, though the atmosphere of the novel will linger long after the last page is turned.

30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Teen Books

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, 387 pages, read by Courtney, on 06/25/2013

The year is 1918. World War One rages on while the Spanish Influenza outbreak reaches epidemic proportions. Mary Shelley Black has been sent to live with her aunt in San Diego in an attempt to keep her out of the flu’s reach (and because her father has just been arrested for his anti-war efforts). Once there, she is reunited with old friends, in particular, a pair of brothers named Stephen and Julian. Stephen and Mary have some history together and quickly begin a relationship. Until Stephen has to leave for war, having signed up before Mary’s return to San Diego. Julian, on the other hand, has been taking the war and flu outbreak in stride with his photography business, which is making quite the income with its new direction: spirit photography. Mary, being the clever young lady she is, has serious doubts about the entire spiritualist movement in spite of her aunt’s insistence on Julian’s talents. Stephen dies just months after leaving, which prompts Julian to pressure Mary to sit for another photograph, claiming that Mary has unique spiritual magnetism. Mary is dubious until she gets herself struck by lightning and finds that her senses are now telling her that everything she thought she knew may, in fact, be completely in question.
This book is a very interesting mix of historical fiction, mystery and paranormal intrigue. Mary as a character is utterly charming and witty, which is so very necessary given her context. 1918 was indeed a very scary year for many Americans. Loved ones went off to fight in a brutal war, while those left at home dealt with the constant threat of the flu. So many had already died from both that spiritualism made a giant comeback (having been popularized in both the Civil War and Victorian eras). Mediums and photographers made a living off of the desperate survivors of both tragedies. The setting makes perfect sense for a supernatural spin as well. Both the historical and the paranormal contexts are aided by period photos throughout the book. Even the cover is absolutely contextual, which I love. “In the Shadow of Blackbirds” is a fascinating mashup of history, romance, the supernatural and mystery. Highly recommended.

30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction

Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda by Jean-Phillipe Stassen, 79 pages, read by Courtney, on 06/18/2013

Deogratias is a Hutu youth who has lived through and participated in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Told primarily in flashbacks, this graphic novel chronicles the mental toll the events of the war have taken on Deogratias. Prior to the conflict, he is a relatively normal teenager, falling in love for the first time and trying to figure out his life. The violence of the Rwandan conflict leaves Deogratias a broken man, one who can scarcely communicate with the outside world. The horrors he has seen and played a part in have destroyed his mind.
I can’t help but feel like this graphic novel only skims the surface of what really happened in Rwanda. The juxtaposition of past and present typically makes for effective storytelling technique, but somehow, it doesn’t work as well as it should here. The illustrations are decent, but not exemplary. I know the graphic novel format can be every bit as evocative, if not more so, than text alone, but it takes a very skilled artist to pull it off, particularly when there’s not a lot of text to explain the images. The simplistic artwork fails to give the reader the nuance that would set a book like this apart. What could have been a revealing portrait/introduction to the Rwandan genocide wound up being somewhat muddled. Not the best starting point for one just beginning to learn about Rwanda, but an interesting, if depressing, supplemental story.

30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Science Fiction, Teen Books

The Cydonian Pyramid by Pete Hautman, 368 pages, read by Courtney, on 06/17/2013

In book one of the Klaatu Diskos, we are introduced to Tucker Feye and we follow his journeys through time as he attempts to find his missing family. In book two, we focus on Lah Lia, the strange girl that Tucker’s father brought back to town after going missing the first time. It’s always been clear that Lah Lia is not an ordinary girl, but her story adds entirely new dimensions to the Klaatu Diskos world.
Born and raised as a sacrifice for the Lah Sept, Lah Lia is scheduled to be sacrificed when Tucker and his father come through the Diskos atop the Cydonian Pyramid. Lah Lia is able to escape the knife and throws herself into the nearest Disko. When she reaches Tucker’s time, she realizes that their time lines are intertwined and that, by avoiding her own fate, she may have undone history.
In the meantime, Tucker has found himself stranded in the Arctic, which is not a particularly convenient place for a Disko to deposit a person.
The Klaatu Diskos really starts taking off with the second book in the series. For every question that is answered, several more crop up. Hautman has created a universe that challenges and subverts in new and intriguing ways.

30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron, 319 pages, read by Courtney, on 06/08/2013

Here’s one for the dog lovers out there. After a brief and sad life as a stray puppy named Toby, a dog is reborn as Golden Retriever who finds a home with a boy named Ethan and his family. Ethan names the dog Bailey and together, they grow up. When the inevitable happens and Bailey’s time is up, Bailey is shocked to find himself reincarnated as a female German Shepard. All these lives lead this dog to wonder what his purpose on this earth is and what he (or she, in some cases) should do to achieve that purpose.
Told entirely from the dog’s perspective, this is an amusing and heartwarming tale about man’s best friend. It has its rough spots; humanity isn’t always nice or pretty, but Toby/Bailey/Ellie/Buddy always finds a way to make sense of every situation and adapt accordingly. I liked this book well enough, though found it a little too precious for my taste. I am, however, a dog lover and this novel did make me rethink the way I interact with my canine companions. While this book was originally published for adults, it really is appropriate for just about all ages. My middle school kids loved reading and discussing this book, so it could potentially be a fantastic family read aloud(providing the family likes dogs and all).

30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Literary Fiction, Teen Books

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, 272 pages, read by Courtney, on 05/31/2013

Midwinter Blood is one of the most unique and intriguing books I’ve read in a really long time. There are seven stories. The first takes place in the future, in 2073. The final story takes place before recorded time. Tying the stories together is a remote island that grows a singular orchid species and is inhabited by a community that exhibits some very curious traits. Each story takes place in a different times, but the stories intertwine in fascinating ways.
I’ve never really read a book quite like Midwinter Blood. It’s dark and mysterious. It’s grim and magical. It reads quickly but feels epic, even though the pages number less than 300. Few can tell a story the way Marcus Sedgwick does. Even fewer could pull something like this off. This won’t be a book for everyone, but that’s part of what draws me to it. Those who are looking for something that’s more than a little off the beaten path will be richly rewarded with Sedgwick’s sublime offering.

30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Science Fiction, Teen Books

The Silver Dream by Michael and Mallory Reaves, 256 pages, read by Courtney, on 05/29/2013

Joey Harker’s adventures continue in this, the sequel to InterWorld. Joey has saved the Altiverse and he and his alternate selves are continuing their missions to keep the peace. A mission goes awry when a girl named Acacia follows Joey back to base. Since the entire base is populated with alternate versions of Joey, a new face is big news. And potentially big trouble.
Confession time: I read this because the first book was so much fun and Neil Gaiman had a hand in it. I had assumed that Gaiman also had a hand in this since his name comes first on the cover. In larger print than the title. Then I realized that the cover really just reads “a story by…”, which means that, since Gaiman co-wrote the first book, he’s still getting credit for the second. But he didn’t write it, so don’t get your hopes up if you’re really into Gaiman’s work. I’m not saying this book is bad; that’s totally not the case. It isn’t quite as good as the first book either though. It might be because it’s been several years in between books or perhaps because Michael Reaves had his wife replacing Gaiman as the second half of the writing team, but for one reason or another, this installment just kind of falls flat compared to the first. Still an entertaining, if somewhat confusing, sci-fi romp.

30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Dystopia, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, 288 pages, read by Courtney, on 05/26/2013

In an alternate 1950’s England lives Standish Treadwell, a boy with different colored eyes and learning disabilities. Standish has lived a tough life under the Motherland’s rule. He lives with his grandfather because his parents have already been taken. Standish himself is constantly harassed for his difficulty with reading and writing as well as his “impure” appearance. Everything changes when a new family moves in next door. They have a son named Hector, who is everything that Standish wishes he could be: smart, brave, well-liked. One day, their football goes over the giant wall that the government has built in back of the row of houses. Hector rescues it, but discovers a government secret that threaten all of them.
Extremely fast-paced and told in an unusual narrative style, the novel comes complete with illustrations that begin as almost cute or quaint, but turn vaguely disturbing as the story progresses. This is as dark or bleak as the most ambitious of the futuristic dystopias out there, but its setting makes it far more eerie and believable. Standish is a protagonist to cheer for, in spite of his grim life. The world the characters inhabit may be ominous, but the characters themselves shine like the beautiful beacons of humanity that they are. This brilliant book is short-listed for the Carnegie Medal (and deservedly so!).

30. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

Trinkets by Kirsten Smith, 288 pages, read by Courtney, on 05/24/2013

Tabitha, Elodie and Moe couldn’t possibly be more different. Tabitha is your classic popular girl, with all the money, clothes and friends that come with such a status. Elodie is a “good girl”, decent grades, minimal drama. Moe is a cynical goth. Imagine Moe’s surprise when the other two girls show up in her Shoplifter’s Anonymous group. None of them like the group and decide to bond over their addiction to the rush of stealing. They cement their friendship by getting together to see who can steal the best stuff.
Trinkets is a super-fast read and the characters are entertaining, if more than a little cliched. The narrative switches between the three and reveals snippets of the girls’ family lives, which are, predictably, deeply flawed. While this wasn’t really the book for me, plenty of teen girls are going to snap this one up and many will likely see at least a little bit of themselves in one of the three protagonists.

29. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Humor, Pamela

Rococo by Adriana Trigiani, 272 pages, read by Pamela, on 07/27/2013

rococoNew York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani, beloved by millions of readers around the world for her humor, warmth, and captivating storytelling in the Big Stone Gap trilogy and Lucia, Lucia, takes on love, lust, tricky family dynamics, and home decorating in Rococo, the uproarious tale of a small Italian American town poised for a makeover it never expected. Bartolomeo di Crespi is the acclaimed interior decorator of Our Lady of Fatima, New Jersey. To date, Bartolomeo has hand-selected every chandelier, sconce, and ottoman in OLOF, so when the renovation of the local church is scheduled, he assumes there is only one man for the job. From the dazzling shores of New Jersey to the legendary fabric houses of New York City, from the prickly purveyors of fine art in London to luscious Santa Margherita on the Mediterranean coast of Italy, Bartolomeo is on a mission to bring talent, sophistication, and his aesthetic vision to his hometown. Trigiani’s glittering mosaic of small-town characters sparkles: Bartolomeo’s hilarious sister, Toot, is in desperate need of a postdivorce transformation–thirteen years after the fact; “The Benefactor,” Aurelia Mandelbaum, the richest woman in New Jersey, has a lust for French interiors and a long-held hope that Bartolomeo will marry her myopic daughter, Capri; Father Porporino, the pastor with a secret, does his best to keep a lid on a simmering scandal; and Eydie Von Gunne, the chic international designer, steps in and changes the course of Bartolomeo’s creative life, while his confidante, cousin Christina Menecola, awaits rescue from an inconsolable grief. Plaster of Paris, polished marble, and unbridled testosterone arrive in buckets when Bartolomeo recruits Rufus McSherry, a strapping, handsome artist, and Pedro Allercon, a stained-glass artisan, to work with him on the church’s interior. Together, the three of them will do more than blow the dust off the old Fatima frescoes–they will turn the town upside down, challenge the faithful, and restore hope where there once was none. Brilliantly funny and as fanciful as flocked wallpaper, filled with glamorous locales from New Jersey to Europe, from Sunday Mass to the American Society of Interior Designers soirée at the Plaza Hotel,Rococois Trigiani’s masterpiece, a classic comedy with a heart of gold leaf.

29. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Leslie, Teen Books

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, 563 pages, read by Leslie, on 07/27/2013

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3)

Eighteen-year-old Bitterblue, queen of Monsea, realizes her heavy responsibility and the futility of relying on advisors who surround her with lies as she tries to help her people to heal from the thirty-five-year spell cast by her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities.

The 3rd in The Graceling Realm series, I liked the medieval sense of the book without it being our medieval past. The touch of fantasy makes it more appealing to me.  Bitterblue comes to understand the horror of her father’s reign, while trying to make sense of why some of the horror is still occurring.  The two worlds of this book, Dell and the Seven Kingdoms, finally meet.  I can’t wait to see what follows.

29. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Leslie

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, 224 pages, read by Leslie, on 07/20/2013

One for the Murphys

Twelve-year-old Carley Connors can take a lot. Growing up in Las Vegas with her fun-loving mother, she’s learned to be tough. But she never expected a betrayal that would land her in a foster care.

Carley has to come to grips with her situation with her mother.  After landing in foster care, Carley learns to let herself be strong and face her past and how to begin her future.  Very good read for upper elementary and middle school readers.

29. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Leslie, Science Fiction · Tags:

Under the Dome by Stephen King, 1074 pages, read by Leslie, on 07/18/2013

Under the Dome

The small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, is faced with a big dilemma when it is mysteriously sealed off by an invisible and completely impenetrable force field. With cars and airplanes exploding on contact, the force field has completely isolated the townspeople from the outside world. Now, Iraq war vet Dale Barbara and a group of the town’s more sensible citizens must overcome the tyrannical rule of Big Jim Rennie, a politician bent on controlling everything within the Dome.

I enjoyed this huge novel, even though it took me longer than I wanted!  I liked the alien connection at the end and have to hope that could never really happen.  I will say that I am totally disappointed in the TV version of this book, it really doesn’t match up much, in fact, a lot of it is opposite from the book.  I would recommend it to any King fan.

29. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Jessica, Romance

The Game Changer by J. Sterling, 320 pages, read by Jessica, on 07/28/2013

Jack appeared at my door last night after six months of no communication wearing a Mets jersey and holding a dozen red roses. He told me he was sorry, that he loved me, and that he would earn my trust again. It took everything in me to not fall apart at the mere sight of him. I wanted to take him back into my life, but I needed to know that this time it would be forever…

In J. Sterling’s highly anticipated follow-up to her USA Today bestselling novel The Perfect Game, Jack and Cassie quickly realize that their new lifestyle can often be cruel and unforgiving. Their happiness is put to the test as the past is never truly far behind.

How do you stay together when the world’s trying to tear you apart?

29. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Autobiographies, Humor, Memoirs, NonFiction

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson, 318 pages, read by Angie, on 07/28/2013

One of the funniest books I have ever read! There I said it and it is true. I found myself actually laughing out loud during the reading of this book and have now become a huge Jenny Lawson fan. I want to hang out with her and hear more stories about her crazy taxidermist dad, her long-suffering but equally crazy husband Victor and Jenny’s crazy life and thoughts. I hope you are picking up the theme here…crazy! But in a good way.

This book starts with Jenny describing her childhood in Wall, Texas with her supportive mom and animal loving dad. We then move quickly through her school years; because really who wants to relive that! And we end with adulthood, marriage and motherhood. Jenny claims most of this book is true, and she does try to keep the reader informed of the not true parts. There are entertaining and unbelievable moments at every step of her life. From the magical squirrel hand puppet to the machete/vulture attack to the inevitable fascination with taxidermied animals, every moment is rife with crazy, funny incidents that will make you feel like your life is staid and boring in comparison.

Jenny narrates the audiobook herself and I would recommend reading it this way. She is hilarious and give little asides that may or may not be in the printed book. There is even a bonus chapter! As a disclaimer: there is a lot of cussing in this book. So if you don’t like bad words this may not be for you. But, it is really funny, super witty and just plain crazy…so read it!

29. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Apocalyptic, Dystopia, Fiction, Teen Books

Dance of the Red Death (Masque of the Red Death #2) by Bethany Griffin, 336 pages, read by Angie, on 07/28/2013

Dance of the Red Death takes place immediately after Masque of the Red Death. I will admit that it has been awhile since I read the first book and was a little fuzzy on details. Basically, Araby, Will, April, Elliot and the rest have fled the city. Araby’s dad has disappeared and they need him for a cure to the new plaque, the Red Death. Prospero is abandoning the city and Malcontent is trying to take over and infect as many people as possible. Elliot wants to return so he can save the city. Araby is torn between Will and Elliot . Can she forgive Will’s betrayal? Can she put up with Elliot’s quest for power? The group has to go back into the city and try to save it and themselves.

I really wish I had reread Masque of the Red Death because I forgot what was going on, but it did eventually come back to me while reading. This is definitely gothic and grotesque with all the infected people wandering around and the drowned world of swamps threatening to take the city. I really enjoy the atmosphere and the world created for these books. However…love triangle! I have made my feelings on love triangles perfectly clear (they are unnecessary and stupid!) and this one is a perfect example. I felt like the back and forth between Will and Elliot really took away from the story. These people are fighting for their lives and trying to save the world, yet every other page is a scene with Araby either making out with someone or debating the merits of the boys. I would have liked more of a story about them saving the city and the people. The end seemed so rushed that I was left wondering why we needed two books for it.