11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Joyce · Tags:

In Front of God and Everybody by K. D. McCrite, read by Joyce, on 01/30/2013

In the summer of 1986, eleven-year-old April Grace, who lives on a rural Arkansas farm with her family, across a field from her grandmother, has her sense of Christian charity tested when a snooty couple from San Francisco moves into a dilapidated house down the road and her grandmother takes up with a loud, obnoxious, and suspicious-acting Texan.
11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Lisa, Teen Books

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, read by Lisa, on 01/30/2013

Standing on the fringes of life…offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

This is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Jessica

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty, read by Jessica, on 02/10/2014

My Darling Cecilia
If you’re reading this, then I’ve died . . .

Imagine your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret – something so terrible it would destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others too. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive . . .

Cecilia Fitzpatrick achieved it all – she’s an incredibly successful business woman, a pillar of her small community and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia – or each other – but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s devastating secret.

10. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Starring Jules: As Herself by Beth Levine Ain, Anne Keenan Higgins (Illustrator), read by Angie, on 02/09/2014

Jules is an entertaining young girl with Pizazz! She has a lot to deal with at school what with her former best friend coming back from a fancy vacation and not liking her anymore. Then there is the new girl Elinor of London who she hopes will be her new best friend. She also has her very first audition coming up. The only problem is that it is for orange mouthwash and Jules doesn’t do anything orange since the orange sherbert incident. It will take all the help of new and old friends as well as her grandma to get her ready for her debut.

This was a good beginning chapter book for girls. Jules is a fun character who likes to collect words and make lists. I enjoyed the fact that her family was pretty much normal with just a few entertaining quirks. Her little brother was awesome. I also liked the fact that even though she felt left out when Charlotte found new friends she learns that friendship goes both ways.

07. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Fiction

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence, read by Courtney, on 08/17/2013

When Alex Woods was 10 years old, a meteorite crashed through the roof of the house he was living in, striking him in the head. After recovering from the coma induced by the physical trauma of a meteorite hit to the head, Alex develops a seizure disorder. The seizures, combined with his single-mother’s quirky vocation as a tarot card reader, make for an unusual upbringing that isolates Alex to a rather extreme degree. As he nears his teen years, he meets Mr. Peterson and his life changes forever. What begins as a chance encounter turns into a full-fledged friendship between two very unusual individuals. When Mr. Peterson realizes he is going to die, Alex becomes more like family and it becomes a race to accomplish as much as they can before Mr. Peterson’s disease catches up with him.
The beginning of the book features Alex at 17, being stopped by border patrol with a massive quantity of marijuana in seat next to him. He is also very, very certain that he has absolutely done the right thing. The reader follows Alex as he tells his side of the story, which necessarily includes many detours and unusual circumstances.
This is an interesting take on the classic bildungsroman. Alex is certainly not like most kids or teens, which makes him an intriguing narrator. Mr. Peterson is a classic curmudgeon. Alex’s mother, while not exactly run-of-the-mill herself, is kind and loving even if a bit smothering. The only place where I’ve really got to deduct points is for the basic plot. There are a lot of great details, but the overall story is one we’ve heard time and time again. Awkward teenage boy befriends grouchy/lonely old man and everyone learns/grows from the experience. Mix in some feels due to the old man dying of a rare disease and you’ve got what amounts to a fairly predictable story. Major bonus points for all the Vonnegut love though.

07. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Fiction, Teen Books

Punkzilla by Adam Rapp, read by Courtney, on 09/18/2013

This epistolary-style novel follows teenaged runaway, Punkzilla, as he travels across the country to see his dying brother. Most of the letters are from Punkzilla to his brother, describing his own reasons for leaving home and his life in Portland. His brother has been keeping his distance from the family ever since coming out to his homophobic parents. Punkzilla’s life has been challenging too. His relationship with his family is strained as well; he has already been exiled to military school prior to running away. When he does receive the letter from his brother announcing that there is little time left, Punkzilla feels an urgent need to reconnect with his older brother. Here and there, letters from both parents to Punkzilla illustrate the circumstances that both brothers have had to contend with and the frustration they share is palpable.
In classic Adam Rapp fashion, this story is swift-moving and heart wrenching. Punkzilla does and says a lot of things that are clearly misguided, but remains sympathetic nonetheless. The real achievement is the growth that the reader sees throughout Punkzilla’s journey and how he interacts with the people he meets. This is a tough and gritty coming-of-age story and a decent choice for reluctant readers.

07. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Kristy, Teen Books

A Step from Heaven by An Na, read by Kristy, on 01/15/2014

When she is five, Young Ju Park and her family move from Korea to California. During the flight, they climb so far into the sky she concludes they are on their way to heaven — that Heaven is in America!Life in America, however, is far more difficult than the Parks dreamed. Jobs are scarce and money is even scarcer. Young Ju’s father soon becomes so depressed and angry that he loses the ability to control his own behavior, his drinking increases, and he hurts his family both emotionally and physically. Dominated by the mores and traditions of their native land, her family is ill-equipped to function in the world they’ve chosen and they each respond in a way true to their character.

07. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Kristy, Teen Books

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, read by Kristy, on 01/05/2014

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

06. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Claudia, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Driftless by David Rhodes, read by Claudia, on 01/15/2014

David Rhodes’s long-awaited new novel turns an unblinking eye on an array of eccentric characters and situations. The setting is Words, Wisconsin, an anonymous town of only a few hundred people. But under its sleepy surface, life rages. Cora and Graham guard their dairy farm, and family, from the wicked schemes of their milk co-op. Lifelong paraplegic Olivia suddenly starts to walk, only to find herself crippled by her fury toward her sister and caretaker, Violet. Recently retired Rusty finds a cougar living in his haymow, dredging up haunting childhood memories. Winifred becomes pastor of the Friends church and stumbles on enlightenment in a very unlikely place. And Julia Montgomery, both private and gregarious, instigates a series of events that threatens the town’s solitude and doggedly suspicious ways. Driftless finds the author’s powers undiminished in this unforgettable story that evokes a small-town America previously unmapped, and the damaged denizens who must make their way through it.

06. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Madeline

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, read by Madeline, on 01/07/2014

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

05. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags: ,

The Saturday Boy by David Fleming, read by Angie, on 02/04/2014

Derek’s father has been deployed to Afghanistan for months. Derek’s only communication with him is through letters. He keeps all of his dad’s letters in a Knight Rider lunchbox and reads them whenever he needs his dad. Derek is also having a tough time at school. His friend Budgie is only nice to him when they are alone. At school he makes fun of Derek and is very mean to him. Derek lives a lonely life filled with superhero comics and cartoons. Then one day he finds out that his father’s helicopter has been shot down and he did not survive. Derek’s world turns upside down and he and his mom have to figure out how to cope.

I really enjoyed this story. II thought it was touching and sad and funny and all the things you would want from this type of book. However, it wasn’t perfect. Derek seems to be a bit immature for his age (5th grade). He still believes in Santa Claus and is obsessed with his favorite cartoons. Derek also seems to have some behavioral problems where he acts out without thought. I thought the bullying from Budgie was well done and showed just how insecure kids are at this age. It is the time where they are growing out of being a child and becoming young adults. This is the period when they become more aware of what others think of them and how they are perceived. Budgie isn’t a bad kid, but he doesn’t have a lot going for him. So he bullies Derek and others to make it seem like he is more secure than he is. Derek tries to deflect the bullying, but can only take so much. This is a story about a boy trying to become a man without his father around, but it is also the story of a boy just trying to be himself. Great message and a great read.

04. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Drama, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Noelle, Thriller/Suspense

Gone Girl by Gillian FLynn, read by Noelle, on 01/28/2014

So, I finally decided to read this book that everyone has been talking about since it was first published.   I have to admit, as cliche’ as it sounds, it did in fact, live up to all the hype.  It was absolutely riveting.  I haven’t been so absorbed in a book in a long time. The visualization while I read was extremely vivid, as it was set in a small Missouri town much like the one I work in daily.   It even had a character with my first name, Noelle, which is quite unusual.  So, you’ve got my attention, Ms. Flynn. Your book was pretty awesome. I’ll be waiting for your next novel.  In the mean time, I need to read Sharp Objects.

03. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, read by Courtney, on 01/31/2014

Up until recently, Hayley and her father have been living on the road. Hayley’s father, a veteran with PTSD, has been trucking and picking up odd jobs to earn a living. They never stayed in one place very long, so Hayley hasn’t much in the way of traditional schooling. At long last, Hayley’s father decides to settle down in his hometown so that Hayley can go to school and graduate like a normal teenager. While not exactly enthused, Hayley settles into a life than is indeed more or less normal. She makes friends, even starts falling for a boy. The only problem is that she’s not exactly sure that being here is helping her father. He’s not always getting out of bed in the mornings, he gets drunk and angry at unpredictable times, he still wakes up screaming in the middle of the night…Even if Hayley does find a way to live a normal life, who will take care of her father?
The Impossible Knife of Memory takes on the tough subject of a parent home from war and still bearing the scars, physically and emotionally. Hayley has never had a stable life, but it is the only one she knows and she would rather be at her father’s side than anywhere else. The downside to her life with her father is that she is ill-equipped to deal with her own life. She too seems to suffer from a form of PTSD. Hayley’s internal struggles add a sense of immediacy to even the everyday hurdles she encounters. The relationship between father and daughter is nuanced; there’s a lot of love and a lot of anger. Hayley also must try to understand the drama of her friends and their situations, something she is unaccustomed to. It takes some time for her to realize that life-altering struggles are a part of everyone’s life, not just hers and her father’s. Hayley will definitely say and do things that will make readers want to yell at her, but in the end, Hayley’s growth as a person satisfies.

03. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

EllRay Jakes and the Beanstalk by Sally Warner, Brian Biggs (Illustrations), read by Angie, on 01/30/2014

EllRay has to deal with bullies and skateboarding and friends trying new things in this book. EllRay really wants to learn to skateboard and thinks his cool, older neighbor Henry is just the one to teach him. Trouble maker and cool guy Fly is always hanging out at Henry’s and he doesn’t want little kids around. He is a bully and puts Alfie’s life in danger. EllRay is also dealing with one of his friends making friends with the kid who bullies him. On top of everything else EllRay has to compare himself to a fairytale for a class project.

This series is a good one for beginning readers. It deals with real issues that kids deal with. I like the fact that there is a lot going on in EllRay’s life; it makes him seem more real.

31. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Kira · Tags:

Something Missing by Matthew Dicks, read by Kira, on 01/30/2014

something missingMartin a career criminal with OCD, only steals items that won’t be missed.  Food, cleaning supplies, and higher end pieces, like good thiefjewelry that hasn’tsomething_missing_coer been used or silver.  He likes his “clients” and when he accidentally knocks a toothbrush in the toilet, he is unable to just wash it off, but rather replaces it, which leads him to his first good deed.  He begins to think that maybe he is meant to be in these houses for more than personal acquisitions.

Something missing refers to both the items in people’s homes as well as relationships in Martin’s life.

good thief2

31. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Lisa

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, read by Lisa, on 01/22/2014

In the tradition of Out of My MindWonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life… until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

31. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Lisa

Listening for Lucca by Suzanne LaFleur, read by Lisa, on 01/10/2014

“I’m obsessed with abandoned things.” Siena’s obsession began a year and a half ago, around the time her two-year-old brother Lucca stopped talking. Now Mom and Dad are moving the family from Brooklyn to Maine hoping that it will mean a  whole new start for Lucca and Siena. She soon realizes that their wonderful old house on the beach holds secrets. When Siena writes in her diary with an old pen she found in her closet, the pen writes its own story, of Sarah and Joshua, a brother and sister who lived in the same house during World War II. As the two stories unfold, amazing parallels begin to appear, and Siena senses that Sarah and Joshua’s story might contain the key to unlocking Lucca’s voice.

30. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

EllRay Jakes the Dragon Slayer by Sally Warner, read by Angie, on 01/30/2014

EllRay Jakes’s little sister Alfie has a problem. Suzette Monahan has been mean to Alfie and causing all the other girls to be mean as well. EllRay tries to get Alfie to stand up for herself, but that doesn’t work. So he decides to take matter into his own hands and teach bully Suzette a lesson. This is a pretty decent beginning chapter book about bullying. It shows both sides of the issue with Suzette’s bullying of Alfie and EllRay’s bullying of Suzette. There are also some other instances of kids picking on others which could also be construed as bullying. I liked the fact that EllRay and his family are African American since there aren’t a lot of beginning chapter books featuring non-white characters. I think it is important to show diversity in books so kids can identify with the characters they are reading about.

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

Lily and Taylor by Elise Moser, read by Courtney, on 01/24/2014

In spite of the cute cover, this is not a book for the faint-of-heart. It opens on Taylor acting as a witness to her sister’s autopsy after her sister dies in a horrible domestic abuse accident. Since Taylor and her nephew had been living with her sister, they must now move to their grandmother’s house and attempt to move on with their lives. Taylor leaves behind an abusive boyfriend and finds that life is actually bearable when she doesn’t have to fear the safety of her nephew or herself. She meets Lily, another “girl with Baggage”. Lily lives with her mother, who was brain-damaged in an accident years ago. It’s left Lily’s mother jobless and largely dependent on Lily for the day-to-day running of the house. The first time Taylor invites Lily over to her grandparent’s house for dinner, her abusive boyfriend Devon turns up and demands that Taylor come with him. Lily, recognizing that something is off, hops into the car with them. Devon has brought a driver, a guy named Conor, who clearly owes Devon a favor. The foursome drive off to a cabin deep in the woods, far out of cellphone range and even farther from civilization. Things go from bad to worse as the girls wait to see if they’ll survive this unexpected trip.
Domestic abuse is not exactly uncommon in YA lit, but rarely is it presented in such a frank way. It’s clear that Taylor has been around abuse her entire life and sees submission as a survival mechanism. She rarely, if ever, thinks about herself. She has devoted her life to others, whether they treat her well or not. She also sees in herself the potential for the same type of anger and violence, which disturbs her. Lily is less prone to letting a guy call the shots for her; she’s been witness to her mother’s failed relationships and recognizes the signs of a person about to become violent. She still has trouble speaking up for herself, however.
This is a heart-breaking little book. It took me days to read it simply because it was hard to face the circumstances of the young women in the book. Still, Lily and Taylor are women of potential. The reader can sense that there’s more to them than the abuse and neglect they’ve endured. The reader will cheer these girls on as much as they’ll want to shake them for not fighting back. There are no easy answers in situations like these and this book does not pretend to have answers. Strings are left untied at the end, but there’s a note of hope that this fragile friendship may bloom into salvation for both young women.

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

Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark, read by Courtney, on 01/10/2014

This novel-in-verse rotates through three different perspectives. First, there are the high school kids, Brendan and Vanessa. Brendan and Vanessa have been a couple for a long time. They’re both fairly popular and are athletes. Vanessa is a fairly normal girl, with the exception being that her sport of choice is wrestling. Brendan is the star of the wrestling team, so the two spend a lot of time together. On the surface, their relationship is perfect, but under the surface, they’ve got some serious issues that neither one wants to talk about. Vanessa has thrown everything she is into this relationship, to the point where she is in danger of losing the few female friends she has left. Brendan is secretly questioning his gender identity. He can’t understand why he sometimes feels as though he would rather be his girlfriend than be with her. When he learns the word “transgender”, it sends shock-waves through the core of his being. Deep down, he realizes this is a word that might apply to him. In a fit of confused angst, he throws a rock through the window of a local GLBTQ teen center where our third narrator, Angel, works. Angel is a male-to-female transgendered person who has seen some incredibly difficult times. As a result, Angel has found a calling in helping young people come to terms with their sexual orientation and identities. Can Angel help Brendan, even if Brendan isn’t really sure who he is?
Freakboy takes on a whole host of issues, though the transgender one obviously takes front and center. Brendan and Vanessa’s relationship issues are painfully realistic. Vanessa has clear self-esteem issues and frequently misinterprets Brendan’s actions. She defines herself through having a boyfriend and, while she’s obsessed with her relationship, she remains surprisingly self-absorbed. Brendan is by far the most well-developed character in the book; he’s not the type of person who definitively knew his identity from a young age and he doesn’t always hate being a boy. Angel, on the other hand, seems like she’s there to provide the reader with a more traditional transformation story or to show how an adult might handle being trans rather than contributing to the overall plot. Angel is a great character, but her integration into the narrative feels rough and somewhat forced.
Overall, a decent, if heavy-handed, tale of teenagers dealing with a tough and under-addressed issue.