31. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Informational Book, Inspirational, Kira, NonFiction

A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-first Century by Rebecca Ann Parker and John Buehrens , 184 pages, read by Kira, on 08/30/2014

download  download (1) Rebecca Parker West President of the Star King Ministry, as well as a Methodist Minister co-writes this with John Buehrens (co-author of A Chosen Faith).  They examine the commonalities of liberal Christian theology, exploring what is fruitful among various interpretations.

Progressive Protestants are committed primarily to the healing and creative transformation of themselves, their neighbors, and their world. They often experience ‘theology’ primarily as ideas and teachings that are authoritatively presented and hamper more than they help the work of the followers of Jesus. Their lack of a positive theology is one reason for their marginalization in today’s religious scene. Buehrens and Parker begin with the life of service and work for justice and deepen it to show the implicit beliefs that it assumes and that are implicit in it. They show that progressive Protestants can be proud and articulate about their beliefs

One of the themes woven throughout this book, is that we are called to build Heaven on Earth.  The structure of the book did Not work for me, they assigned different aspect of liberal Christian religion to various structures of a house.  The foundation or the floor makes sense, but I just wished they had defined their terms (I’ve encountered eschatology, but don’t remember what it means), and Not attempted the metaphorical bridge.  However, I really enjoyed this book, Christian-Leftwanting to incorporatedownload (2) it into my life.

30. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, NonFiction, Pamela

Kiefer Sutherland: Living Dangerously by Christopher Heard, 267 pages, read by Pamela, on 08/30/2014

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This book chronicles Kiefer Sutherland’s rise to Jack Bauer fame, professionally and personally.  He did not ride into show business on his daddy’s, Donald Sutherland, coat tails as some may think.  He did it his way.

We get a glimpse of his early life, his struggles early in his film career, as well as intermittently throughout, and his incredible work ethic.  He’s never late for work and is the consummate professional.  Sutherland works hard and plays hard.  He pays the price and reaps the reward for both.  Much of what is recanted in this book you’ve probably heard some rendition of through the Hollywood grape vine, but it’s fun to read it anyway.

From movies, to voice overs, to personal relationships, to his interest in helping young music talent breaking into the business, this book covers it all.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Mystery, Teen Books, Thriller/Suspense

The Half Life of Molly Pierce by Katrina Leno, 231 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/28/2014

Here’s one with an unusual premise (for a YA book, anyway). Molly has been losing large chunks of time for the last year and she doesn’t know why. She’ll be doing something and then, the next thing she knows, it will be hours later and she will be somewhere else doing something else with no memory of how or why she’s there. She’s scared to let anyone know about her problem though, so she tries desperately to keep it all to herself. She sees a therapist, but is convinced that if she tells him what’s going on, he’ll give her medication, which she doesn’t want. One day, when Molly has one of her episodes, she witnesses a boy on a motorcycle get hit by a car. She feels compelled to sit with him in the street and later go to the hospital with him. He’s fatally injured, but seems to know who she is, though he initially calls her “Mabel” before calling her “Molly”. Molly is sure she’s never seem him before though he seems equally sure they’re actually quite close. On the ride to the hospital, Molly agrees to call the boy’s brother, Sayer. He too, seems to know who she is and, when he arrives at the hospital, Molly finds herself inexplicably drawn to him. She’s also convinced he knows far more than he’s letting on and she needs some answers.
I kind of had a hard time deciding how I felt about this one, but it ultimately didn’t have much of an emotional pull on me. It will come as no surprise (and thus doesn’t count as a spoiler) that Molly suffers from a Dissociative Identity Disorder. Her “alter” is named Mabel. Molly has no clue that Mabel exists though Mabel seems to come out quite a bit. The narrative does shift from Molly to Mabel. Molly is skittish and depressed; she has a habit of leaving her sentences trailing off in the middle of them and acts awkward around just about everyone. Mabel, on the other hand, is more outgoing, speaks in complete sentences and has the distinct advantage of being able to remember everything, not just the moments when she is the dominant personality. Added to the mix of dealing with two identities is a kind-of mystery – how do Lyle and Sayer know her? Why are they so loyal to her? Why does the family tip-toe around Molly? It all makes sense in the end, even if the memories recovered in the wake of the accident are revealed in reverse chronological order. The end, however, feels a bit cheesy and contrived, so that was a bit of a letdown. Otherwise, the book was swift and compelling and just different enough to keep my interest.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fantasy, Teen Books

Fluff Dragon by Platte F. Clark, 384 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/25/2014

Max Spencer has just finished saving the world from Princess the unicorn, but that was in the future. Now, they’re back in the present, but still in the Magrus, a magical realm. Max and his friends, gaming nerd Dirk, comic shop owner (and dwarf) Dwight and Sarah, the brains of the operation and resident kick-boxer, are would love to go home, but the revelation that there are forces far more dangerous than Princess are at work and will still destroy the future if this rag-tag crew doesn’t take matters into their own hands. Someone is hard at work killing all the dragons and if the dragons go extinct, the Magrus will grow cold and barren. Also, the Codex of Infinite Knowability is on the fritz, and, since they need it to tell them how to perform the magic to get home, they really can’t go anywhere anyway. Not until they can take the Codex to the place where it was written. In the meantime, Max and Co. pick up a few new companions, including the titular Fluff Dragon, Puff and a pair of Fire Kittens named Moki and Loki. Of course, there are also villains galore. Since Princess was defeated in the future, she’s still around causing trouble. Then, there’s Rezermoor Dreadbringer and his zombie duck, not to mention the insidious Maelshadow who’s truly pulling the strings. Max and his friends have their work cut out for them.
So, I really enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, but this one isn’t nearly as funny or engaging. Which is not to say that it isn’t enjoyable; it is. Just not *as* good as the previous one. It may, perhaps, be because there are far fewer excerpts from the Codex, which typically have a kind of Hitchhiker’s Guide feel to them. It may also be because the plot feels murky – there’s a lot going on and much of the humorous world-building is lost in the mix. It is, however, nice to meet some of the creatures that were only mentioned in the first book, but never encountered, like the fire kittens. Other characters don’t get to spend much time with our primary characters, so one can only hope that they’ll be back for the conclusion of the trilogy. This winds up feeling more like a traditional fantasy book (with a sense of humor, of course), rather than the surprisingly clever mashup of fantasy and sci-fi/time travel of the first book. I’m having trouble putting my finger on what exactly is was about Fluff Dragon that didn’t quite do it for me, but I still can’t help but look forward to the concluding book to this trilogy.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fantasy, Graphic Novel, Mystery · Tags: ,

Murder Mysteries by Neil Gaiman, 112 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/18/2014

A young man is stranded in LA around Christmas time. After a brief tryst with an old acquaintance, the man feels like he isn’t ready to go back to the place he’s staying. He sits on a bench for a smoke when an older man walks up to him, asks him for a smoke and then offers him a story. The story is about a time before humans when the angels were still working out things like the concepts of “green” or “love”. The angels all lived in beautiful city in the sky. Each has their purpose as dictated by God. One day, an angel is found dead. It appears that the death is not from natural causes. Some say it might be suicide, but Raguel (the angel of vengeance and justice) thinks otherwise. Who could possibly have killed the angel and why?
This isn’t just any murder mystery. It’s the original murder mystery. The first murder, ever. And since it’s Neil Gaiman writing it, you know it’s going to be tragic and slightly humorous. The artwork is gorgeous and this particular edition has bonus features with commentary by artist P.Craig Russell, as well as early drafts of the artwork. Just because you think you know how it might end, doesn’t mean that there won’t be some completely unexpected twists and turns by the end. It’s a lovely graphic novel, even if it is a touch disturbing.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Informational Book, NonFiction

It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd, 296 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/17/2014

It’s Complicated is the result of a ten-year study investigating the effects social media has on our nation’s teenagers. danah boyd traveled all around the country interviewing teens and parents. What she found may surprise some. Many of the fears and assumptions held by adults tend to be misguided and/or hyperbolic. The ways in which teens use the technology varies from teen to teen, but much of their use is consistent with the psychological and social needs presented by physical interactions with their peers. It’s important to remember that simply because we adults may use the same social networks, we may use them for different purposes. Most of the things we fear about online interactions, i.e. predators, bullying, etc. tend to be greatly exaggerated and may, in fact, be worse in the physical world. There’s a lot teen psychology here as well, which helps not only in understanding how the software is used, but also why (and which sites, for that matter).
I may have only given this three stars, but a lot of that is because so much of this book feels like common sense if you anything at all about teenagers. It presupposes that you, as the reader, may only have limited interaction with teens (or interaction with a limited number of teens) and thus may not have spent much, if any, time researching their behaviors. I work with teens on a daily basis, so it kind of felt like this book was preaching to the choir. The biggest take-away here can basically be boiled down to: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Teens are doing what they’ve always done; they’re just adapting current technologies to do so (mainly because their access to public spaces and unstructured time has drastically increased over the years). Still, for those who may not feel as well-versed in teen behaviors, this is an informative read.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Dystopia, Teen Books, Thriller/Suspense

The Violet Hour by Whitney A. Miller, 312 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/15/2014

Harlow Wintergreen is the daughter of VisionCrest’s patriarch. VisionCrest is one of the fastest spreading and most pervasive religions in the world. Fully a quarter of the world’s population adheres to the tenants of the faith. Harlow doesn’t consider herself a believer, but being in the public eye forces her to maintain a semblance of solidarity. Further complicating her life, Harlow also suffers from horrific and violent visions and hears a voice encouraging the violence. She’s been able to hide the visions from her friends and family, but when her father takes a group of high-ranking VisionCrest members and their families to Asia, the visions intensify. On her 17th birthday, Harlow undergoes the initiation and eventually tells her father about her visions. Her father freaks out and calls her an abomination. The next day, the group moves on to China. Without her father. They stay at a high-ranking official’s compound and Harlow quickly discovers that there are factions within VisionCrest that seek to unseat her father. There’s also a resistance faction that believes both groups have strayed from the true faith. Harlow isn’t sure what side she’s on, but she knows it has something to do with the voice and her visions. Either way, things will get worse before they get better.
The Violet Hour has a unique plot and style. The cult is based out of the United States, but the vast majority of the action takes place throughout Japan, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. It’s vaguely dystopian, but the world still looks very similar to the world we are familiar with. Harlow and her BFF, Dora have a sweet, solid friendship. There’s also a bit of romance involving a boy named Alex whose family was kidnapped by unknown forces (as, apparently, many other VisionCrest families have been). Alex was returned, but his family is presumed dead. Their relationship is frustrating, to say the least. Alex is involved with a girl that Harlow hates and acts alternately hot and cold with Harlow. His motivation is unclear until the end of the book. The world building in this falls a bit short. The reader discovers little about VisionCrest, with the exception of a ritual or two and discussion about the politics of its members. What they actually believe and ask of their members is unclear. Nevertheless, many readers will be willing to overlook these flaws since other aspects of the book are relatively strong.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Courtney, Fiction, Teen Books

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein, 304 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/12/2014

The town of Alexandriaville, OH has been without a library for 12 long years, but they’ve just built a new one that will, quite possibly, be the most fascinating (and fun!) public library ever. That’s because it’s being built to celebrate the birthday of one of the town’s most famous residents: master gamemaker, Luigi Lemoncello. When it is announced that 12 lucky 12-year-olds will be given the opportunity to spend the night in the new library, Kyle jumps at the chance. He’s a huge fan of Mr. Lemoncello’s games and cannot wait to see what what’s inside. Naturally, Kyle becomes one of the 12 lucky kids to be the first to enter the library. The night is full of fun games, but little do any of the kids know that the real game hasn’t even started yet. As the lock-in draws to a close, a new and more exciting contest is announced: the first one to escape the library will win the prize of a lifetime. They can only use the resources within the library and cannot go out the way they came in. Since the library used to be a bank, it seems pretty impenetrable. Kyle teams up with some of the nicer kids so that they can be the first to exit and share in the prize.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this book is a lot of fun. The library itself sounds like an extremely cool (and extremely expensive) building. The narrative is peppered with references to popular children’s and teen books. There are puzzles here and there that the kids in the book have to solve and the reader gets to go along for the ride. Unfortunately, readers aren’t given a chance to solve anything on their own (something my middle schoolers were anxious to do), so it feels like a bit of a let-down when the answer comes right away. The prize is one that, to me, doesn’t feel very appealing, but perhaps to a 12-year-old, it might be. The characters aren’t particularly well-developed and most of their actions are predictable. There’s a definite “Willy Wonka” vibe to this book, except you would replace “chocolate factory” with “library” and “Willy Wonka” with “Luigi Lemoncello”. And instead of golden tickets, you have winning essays. This is an entertaining read, but I can’t help but think it could have been better executed.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books · Tags:

Friday Never Leaving by Vikki Wakefield, 352 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/10/2014

Friday Brown has lived her entire life on the road with her mother and in near-constant fear of the family “curse” of the women all dying in or near water on a Saturday. She’s never had an actual home to call her own. When her mother dies of cancer, Friday is left on her own. Her mother tried to get Friday to stay with her wealthy grandfather, but Friday isn’t comfortable there. Friday runs away to the city where she finds a silver-haired boy that doesn’t speak. He goes by the name of Silence and agrees to take her to the spot where he’s living. As it turns out, he is part of a community of homeless teens who all live in a squat and answer to an older teen known as Arden. Friday suspects that Arden might be manipulative, but she also makes Friday feel as though there is someone looking out for her. Still grief-stricken over her mother’s death, Friday decides to make life with these kids work. All of them live beneath the radar and get by on busking, turning tricks and petty theft. Things go relatively smoothly until Arden decides it’s time for the group to move. To a ghost town in the middle of the outback. A ghost town that’s been abandoned with good reason.
This Australian import offers the reader a rare glimpse into the lives of disenfranchised, homeless teens without feeling like a “problem novel”. None of these kids have had what amounts to an ordinary life. Most of them have experienced some kind of abuse, which actually sets Friday apart from the rest of the kids. While Friday hasn’t lived an enviable life, she did have a mother who loved her, something the kids in her new “family” dream of. These kids live their lives at the mercy of those around them. Friday and Silence have a beautiful and unique friendship that centers itself around protecting each other’s well-being. Arden, the “matriarch” of the group, is both fascinating and intimidating. She cares for the kids on a certain level, but is also manipulative and controlling. This character-driven novel may not move quickly, but the lure of the characters will draw readers in. The writing is lovely, which somehow seems to be endemic to all the authors I’ve read who hail from Australia (seriously, what is it about that country that produces such amazing YA authors?). The emotional pain and discomfiting nature of Friday’s circumstances feel uncomfortable, but her growth as a person is palpable. Readers will be hoping and praying that these kids make it into adulthood unscathed.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books, Thriller/Suspense

Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan, 352 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/07/2014

I was so surprised when I met Holly Goldberg Sloan and she told me that there would be a sequel to I’ll Be There. It had felt like it wrapped up all the loose ends and, since it didn’t end of any sort of cliff-hanger, I didn’t even suspect that a sequel could be in the works. Since I adored its predecessor, I was definitely excited to read Just Call My Name. And then, lucky me, I got an ARC from the good folks at Little, Brown.
So, our story left off with Clarence Border in jail and his sons being taken care of by the Bell family. Sam and Emily are now an established couple. Riddle is starting to settle into the Bell household, much to the chagrin of Jared Bell. Sam lives on his own in an apartment while he takes summer school classes to prepare for college courses in the fall. Things seem pretty solid until a new girl comes to town. Her name is Destiny and she is the type of girl that seems to attract trouble. She’s tiny, bubbly, large chested and charismatic. She latches on to Emily, Sam and Robb (formerly Bobby, Emily’s unfortunate prom date from the last book). Emily can tell that the boys are attracted to her, even if they don’t want to admit to themselves. Sam can tell that Destiny is attracted to him and he becomes desperately afraid of being in her presence, lest he do something that will ruin his relationship with Emily. Robb seems infatuated with her and quickly finds himself finding a place for her to stay as it is established early on that she’s something of a transient. With Destiny disrupting the peaceful calm that the crew had found in the absence of Clarence Border. In the meantime, we watch Clarence plotting and scheming until he finds the perfect opportunity for escape. He’s got a score to settle with the Bell family and his boys. And he knows exactly how and where to find them.
So, I had some trouble figuring out what to rate this book. On the one hand, it was totally engaging, especially since I was already familiar with the vast majority of the characters and their circumstances. The idea of Clarence re-entering the picture is dreadful, but it’s what gives this story its sense of urgency. On the other hand, I’m not entirely certain that I’m loving the Destiny angle. The name “Destiny” and her characterization winds up feeling a tad heavy-handed in the context, though she is absolutely a compelling character. She represents the first major challenge for Emily and Sam’s relationship and acts as a distinct foil to Emily’s character. Otherwise, it’s a true pleasure to be back in the heads of these characters. We’re learning a bit more about Emily’s brother Jared, who’s having trouble sharing his space with this strange new kid, Riddle. Bobby, rechristened Robb, is almost exactly the same as he was went we saw him last in spite of his efforts to reinvent himself. Other than Clarence, the adults are mostly absent from this story. The characters are ultimately what make this pair of books shine and, in that sense, this sequel is a pleasure to read.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fantasy, Teen Books · Tags: ,

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, 181 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/02/2014

Gaiman 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.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fantasy, Teen Books

To Bear an Iron Key by Jackie Morse Kessler, 250 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/31/2014

During a childhood Midsummer’s Eve, Bromwyn defies her grandmother’s orders and finds herself face to face with the fairy king. He offers her a place within his kingdom, but she refuses. Her refusal is a slight to the fae and it will come back to trouble her in the future. A few years later, Bromwyn is a teenager and has been training with her indomitable grandmother, the town’s witch, for most of her life. She is now engaged to marry the blacksmith’s apprentice in a betrothal arranged by their families. She would prefer to be the master of her own fate, but does little other than argue about it with her mother. Bromwyn would rather go about her business and hang out with her best friend, Rusty, the baker’s son. On that fateful day, Rusty, who has a nasty habit of pickpocketing, manages to pick the pocket of Bromwyn’s grandmother. As it turns out, Rusty has unwittingly stolen the Iron Key that locks the door between their world and the world of the fae. As such, Rusty is now the Guardian and therefore responsible for locking the door at the end of Midsummer Eve, the one night of the year that fairies are allowed in the human world. Bromwyn quickly discovers that her grandmother has set them up; Bromwyn is about to have her abilities tested as she takes on her grandmother’s role of setting the terms and conditions of the fairy visit, a tricky endeavor as the fae tend to find loopholes in just about everything. If Bromwyn and Rusty fail, the door will remain open for an entire year during which the fairies will be allowed to steal children and kill or maim the adults. Rusty takes it all in stride and quickly makes a mistake, causing the fairies to challenge the pair for the right to walk the earth.
This is a great take on the fairy theme. These aren’t cute or pretty fairies; they’re mischievous at their best and deadly at their worst. Bromwyn and Rusty make a great pair. Bromwyn is stubborn and slightly arrogant while Rusty is charming and slightly irresponsible. Together, they’re wholly entertaining. The action mostly takes place over the course of one evening (save for the prologue), which adds a sense of immediacy to the action. For some reason, the structure of the novel feels unusual which, for me, adds to the appeal. There are a lot of elements here that we’ve seen before, but they’re presented in a way that makes this novel feel fresh and unique. Action, romance, fairies, witches and a great sense of humor make this a good choice both for all ages.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Apocalyptic, Courtney, Fiction, Teen Books

The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell, 294 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/22/2014

Temple has been on her own for a long, long time. She’s been living on an island lately, but the season is changing and it’s only a matter of time before the will have to move on. The zombies will come. So Temple takes off. She starts off attempting to stay with an established community, but accidentally kills a man in the process of defending herself from his advances. She is then forced to flee before the other men retaliate. Temple decides it’s better to move on her own. She picks up a companion, a man with special needs that she finds and feels compelled to help care for. Together, they embark upon a journey that takes them across the American South. They’ll meet a variety of other people and groups who have all adapted (or not adapted, as the case may be) to this post-apocalyptic and unforgiving landscape. All the while, the brother of the man killed by Temple is determined to track her down to exact his version of justice.
This book was amazing, particularly for a zombie novel. I’ve read a fair amount of zombie-related fiction, but nothing has ever had quite the same emotional impact that this book had. Of course, it’s really not so much about the zombies in the first place. It’s definitely Temple’s story. Temple is tough, street-smart and has the soul of a poet. The book opens on a moment that captivates Temple and fills her with a sense of wonder. Moments later, she’s smashing in the head of a zombie with a large rock. She’s compassionate to an extent, but survival is her primary motivation. And then there’s the fact that this book starts years after the zombie infection has taken hold. Temple doesn’t know who her parents were, she’s never seen the inside of a school. She doesn’t know how to read. She does, however, know how to survive. There’s also a running theme of religious imagery that is both poetic and thought provoking, particularly since it shares space with a setting that seems almost entirely devoid of happiness and hope. Highly recommended.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Teen Books

Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock, 384 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/19/2014

Starbird Murphy has spent her entire life on the Free Family Farm, headquarters to one of the longest-running intentional communities in the country. Starbird has never used a cell phone, watched TV or attended school. When forces conspire to send Starbird off to the city to be a waitress at the Family’s restaurant, Starbird is less than thrilled. Everyone tells her that working in the restaurant must be her “calling”, but Starbird is certain that waitressing cannot possibly be considered a true “calling”. She has no desire to leave the Farm, even though it could provide an opportunity for her to reunite with her brother who has been “lost” to the community for years. She doesn’t really enjoy her current work with the chickens all the much either, but everything and nearly everyone she loves is on the Farm. Members of the Family don’t question the posts they’re assigned and they always embrace their calling, or, they didn’t until their leader, EARTH left on a mission three years prior and never returned. Now, the population of the Family is dwindling and it’s getting harder and harder to keep things afloat. When the boy Starbird is crushing on turns out to have his attention elsewhere, Starbird grudgingly agrees to go work at the restaurant. Following this path, however, means that Starbird will have to live in a city, go to a public school and even (gasp) handle money. Starbird is about to find out that not everything is as it seems; the Family has serious issues while the Outside may not be nearly as bad as the Family’s elders made it out to be.
I couldn’t help but be interested by the premise of this novel. I had recently seen a documentary about the Source Family and the parallels between the Free Family and the Source Family are striking: both had similar structures and values. Both were run by a charismatic man. Both attempted to keep themselves afloat by running organic restaurants in large cities. The primary difference between the two is time. The Source Family didn’t last much longer than a decade, while the Free Family has at least 3 generations of devotees. Starbird and her brother were born into the cult life and thus knew no other sort of life. Starbird does not, however, come across as terribly naive, as one might expect. She is devoted to her life within the Family, loves its leader and is suspicious of the world outside. Things are not perfect, even on the Farm, and Starbird is much like any other teenager when she’s around her mother and “siblings”. It is only once she is able to gain some distance (and get over extreme homesickness) that she is able to start seeing the cracks in the Family’s foundation. While the storyline is not surprising, Starbird’s journey is still fascinating and well-written. There is just enough world-building to make the Family seem like more than some silly cult, even it does turn out to be ethically questionable. No one is forced to stay against their will and the brainwashing is far more subtle than expected. Starbird fights assimilation for her first several weeks outside of the Farm, but eventually begins to accept friendship from outsiders. Readers will understand what is happening with the Family long before Starbird does, but watching her grow as a person is more than satisfying enough.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel, Teen Books

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann, 96 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/14/2014

It’s hard to even know how to describe this graphic novel. It takes some of the cutest illustrations you’ve ever seen and turns them into something utterly chilling. A community of storybook-esque characters find themselves marooned in what appears to be a giant forest. The reader, of course, knows that the characters are actually tiny and have sprung from the head of young girl’s corpse. Because it’s that kind of story. Situations that would normally be adorable in a fairy tale setting wind up having unspeakable consequences and every turn of the page can yield either clever or maudlin humor. This juxtaposition makes for a totally engrossing experience than can really only be seen/read to be truly understood.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Jessica, Romance

Sweet Addiction by J. Daniels, 293 pages, read by Jessica, on 08/29/2014

81bvGuUpCML._SL1500_Wedding hook-ups never amount to anything.

Those who partake in this wicked little activity know the rules. Get in. Get laid. Get out. There’s no expectation of a relationship. It is what it is.

Dylan Sparks knows the rules. She’s familiar with the protocol. And she engages in the best sex of her life with a complete stranger at her ex-boyfriend’s wedding.

Reese Carroll doesn’t care about the rules. He wants more than just one night with Dylan.

And Dylan finds him too addicting to pass up.

Sweet Addiction is the story of one woman’s struggle to keep things casual, and one man’s desire to never let her go.

29. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Teen Books · Tags: ,

Torn by David Massey, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 08/28/2014

Ellie is a 19-year-old medic in the British Army on her first tour of Afghanistan. She is stationed at a remote outpost and must figure out how things work very quickly. This involves becoming one of the guys to the guys in her squad, dealing with the irrational commanding officer who happens to be the only other medic and woman and figuring out how to handle herself on patrols through hostile territory. On her first patrol she has to help a squad-mate who has stepped on an IED and she gets her first glimpse of the mysterious Aroush, a young Afghan girl who seems to show up when death is coming. On the next patrol the squad captures a young Afghan boy, Husna, who is a member of the Young Martyrs, a group of young boys who fight everyone from the Taliban to the Afghan security forces to the coalition forces. Ellie and Husna develop a friendship as she questions him to try and find out more about the Young Martyrs and a weapons cache they stumbled across. Then they set out into the mountains to find Husna’s village and the cache accompanied by a group of U.S. Navy Seals. But there is more to this mission then they are told and there is more to Aroush than anyone knows. 

There were parts of this book I really liked. I liked the story of a young, naive, inexperienced soldier trying to figure things out in a war zone. Ellie’s reactions to the things happening around her seemed very appropriate for the most part. I actually enjoyed the conspiracy theory aspect of the mission as well. I especially liked the story of Husna and his village and his friendship with Ellie. I even thought the slightly supernatural Aroush worked with the story. What I thought was completely unnecessary was the budding romance between Ellie and the Navy Seal Lieutenant. The book only takes place over the span of about a week so the fact that this romance was even included in the story seems a bit farfetched. Every time Ellie got all dopey-eyed over the hotness of Ben I rolled my eyes. She seriously thought about his hotness while they were out on patrol and the Taliban were following them…really! I think the book could have been much stronger without this romance plot.

28. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Kim, Romance, Thriller/Suspense

Into the fire by Anne Stuart, 378 pages, read by Kim, on 08/27/2014

Determined to find the truth surrounding the mysterious death of her cousin Nate, Jamie Kincaid confronts Dillon, Nate’s darkly seductive best friend, to get answers, but when bizarre accidents begin to happen, Jamie wonders if Dillon is trying to hide something–or save her from being the next vict

28. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Angie, Fiction, Paranormal, Short Stories · Tags:

Otherworld Nights by Kelley Armstrong, 320 pages, read by Angie, on 08/27/2014

This is a fabulous collection of short stories and a novella set in Armstrong’s otherworld universe. It has been a while since I read a lot of the books in this series so placing the stories and characters was something of a challenge at times. However, these stories reminded me of how much I enjoy the world Armstrong has created. 

I received this book through NetGalley.

28. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Drama, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Noelle

All I Love and Know by Judith Frank, 422 pages, read by Noelle, on 08/28/2014

Absolutely fantastic.  I give this book a starred review- Noelle

With the storytelling power of Wally Lamb and the emotional fidelity of Lorrie Moore, this is the searing drama of an American family on the brink of dissolution, one that explores adoption, gay marriage, and true love lost and found.

For years, Matthew Greene and Daniel Rosen have enjoyed a contented domestic life in Northampton, Massachusetts. Opposites in many ways, they have grown together and made their relationship work. But when they learn that Daniel’s twin brother and sister-in-law have been killed in a Jerusalem bombing, their lives are suddenly, utterly transformed.

The deceased couple have left behind two young children, and their shocked and grieving families must decide who will raise six-year-old Gal and baby Noam. When it becomes clear that Daniel’s brother and sister-in-law had wanted Matt and Daniel to be the children’s guardians, the two men find themselves confronted by challenges that strike at the heart of their relationship. What is Matt’s place in an extended family that does not completely accept him or the commitment he and Daniel have made? How do Daniel’s complex feelings about Israel and this act of terror affect his ability to recover from his brother’s death? And what kind of parents can these two men really be to children who have lost so much?

The impact that this instant new family has on Matt, Daniel, and their relationship is subtle and heartbreaking, yet not without glimmers of hope. They must learn to reinvent and redefine their bond in profound, sometimes painful ways. How does a family become strong enough to stay together and endure when its very basis has drastically changed? And are there limits to honesty or commitment–or love?