03. March 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Madeline, Teen Books

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, read by Madeline, on 02/20/2014

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

03. March 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Better to Wish by Ann M. Martin, read by Angie, on 03/02/2014

Abby Nichols is happy with her life in Lewiston, Maine. However, her father has aspirations for a better life. Her mother is often sad because of the two babies she lost. Abby and her sister Rose like living near the beach and on the same street as all their friends. Once her father’s business takes off, he moves them to a much bigger house in Barnegat Point. Her mother has another baby named Fred who is not normal. Soon after there is another baby girl named Adele. Her father becomes frustrated with Fred and sends him away to school, causing her mother to have a breakdown. Mr. Nichols is very controlling; he decides who the girls can be friends with and what they will do with their time. Abby doesn’t like living with her father’s restrictions and dreams of a different life.

This is an interesting story. It covers a long period of time in Abby’s life and jumps forward quite a bit here and there. This is the first in a planned series of four books spanning four generations of Abby’s family. It offers glimpses into the life of Abby and her family and what happens during her childhood years. I thought her father seemed overly harsh and controlling and really wanted more on why he acted the way he did. Her mother was clearly suffering from postpartum depression and Fred was of course mentally handicapped. I think fans of historical fiction will enjoy this book and look forward to reading the others in the series.

02. March 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Noelle, Romance

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani, read by Noelle, on 02/02/2014

I usually don’t pick up something so romantic and fanciful, but I’m glad I did.  I really enjoyed the beautiful imagery even if it was a bit too sentimental at times.  Carb Warning!  It will make you crave fresh pasta…and possibly opera.

Lush and evocative, told in tantalizing detail and enriched with lovable, unforgettable characters, The Shoemaker’s Wife is a portrait of the times, the places and the people who defined the immigrant experience, claiming their portion of the American dream with ambition and resolve, cutting it to fit their needs like the finest Italian silk.

This riveting historical epic of love and family, war and loss, risk and destiny is the novel Adriana Trigiani was born to write, one inspired by her own family history and the love of tradition that has propelled her body of bestselling novels to international acclaim. Like Lucia, Lucia, The Shoemaker’s Wife defines an era with clarity and splendor, with operatic scope and a vivid cast of characters who will live on in the imaginations of readers for years to come.

 

02. March 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Noelle

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, read by Noelle, on 02/11/2014

“What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to a
n English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war. Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can — will she? Darkly comic, startlingly poignant, and utterly original — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best”

 

28. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Starstruck by Rachel Shukert, read by Courtney, on 02/28/2014

Starstruck follows the struggles of three young women as they attempt to rise to fame and fortune in Hollywood. It’s the 1930′s; the “Golden Age of Hollywood”. The Great Depression has cast a pall on the country and tensions are revving up overseas. The glittering stars of Hollywood provide the distraction that keeps the American public entertained under troubling circumstances. Margaret lives in Pasadena with her high-society parents. She’s been groomed for her upcoming debutante debut, but wants none of it. A regular reader of the trade magazines, Margaret dreams of one day setting foot on the lot of famous Hollywood studio. She even skips school to hang out at a diner in LA where she hopes to catch even the slightest glimpse of one of her idols. On one of these outings, she has the good fortune to run into a powerful agent representing Olympus Studios. She’s offered a screen test; a opportunity most girls would kill for. She’s elated, but a problem remains: her parents will have nothing to do with Hollywood or acting. They want her to marry well and follow in their society footsteps. In stark contrast to Margaret, there is Amanda. Amanda worked her way up from the bottom. Poverty will make people do things they wouldn’t normally do and Amanda made the most of her good looks and charm in order to make money. It’s not uncommon in Hollywood, but if anyone finds out, all her hard work will be for naught. Gabby, on the other hand, is the girl born into showbiz. Her mother, a classic stage mother, raised her in Vaudeville prior to trying their hand in Hollywood. Gabby works hard and has no life outside of the studio, but her best never seems to be good enough. She’s a good singer, but struggles with the dancing that’s expected to accompany her talent. Instructed to lose 20 pounds by her director, Gabby begins taking diet pills.
The three girls’ paths cross on the storied Olympus Studio lot and their lives are forever changed. Deception, intrigue and a little bit of movie magic combine to make a stylish and compulsively readable series opener. Comparisons to Anna Godberson’s work would not be amiss here. Where this series shines, however, is the use of historical context to bolster the plot. None of the characters exist in a vacuum. Imagined characters brush shoulders with real Hollywood legends. Events like the Great Depression, the implementation of the Hays Code and tensions brewing at home and abroad add to the authenticity of the story while never distracting from the juicy plot. A great start to a fun and stylish new historical YA series.

28. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Teen Books

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, read by Courtney, on 02/21/2014

Josie Moraine is not your typical 1950′s teenager. To start with, most of the girls she’s met are not the daughters of New Orleans prostitutes. Most girls haven’t even set foot inside a French Quarter brothel. Josie’s been making money cleaning one up every morning for years. The brothel’s madame, Willie, is more like a mother to Josie than Josie’s real mother. Josie’s father is not even remotely in the picture. Her father figure is a local writer and book store owner who long ago gave Josie a room above the shop that she could escape to when circumstances got too tough. The store is currently run by the writer’s son, Patrick as the father is sick with what a modern reader can only assume is Alzheimer’s. Josie is done with high school and is hoping desperately to be able to leave New Orleans in the near future. When a wealthy man walks into her bookstore and speaks to her of colleges out east, Josie starts dreaming. Then the wealthy man turns up dead. Her mother leaves town with her abusive ex, Cincinnati, which also leaves a fair amount of drama in their wake. In the meantime, Josie is introduced to a girl her age who attends college at Smith and encourages Josie to apply as well. Josie becomes fixated on the dream of attending the prestigious all-women’s college, but circumstances seem to be conspiring to keep her in New Orleans.
Out of the Easy is a lovely period piece that transports the reader to a colorful era of New Orleans history. Josie’s is anything but sheltered. She brushes up against some of the roughest characters in the French Quarter, but always manages to keep her wits about her. She’s smart and tough. The other characters in our story are fantastic as well. Willie is the perfect madam-with-a-heart-of-gold. She’s shrewd and tough, but clearly cares deeply about Josie’s well-being. Josie’s mother is a complete terror and her ex, Cincinnati is palpably creepy. While the book is billed as a mystery, Josie does not fulfill the traditional book role of a teen spy who is somehow able to solve a murder all by herself. In fact, Josie is only interested in the murder because she developed an affinity for a man she had only met once. She sees in him a possible father, as far from the truth as it may be. She knows she’s desperate for a father and acknowledges that this desperation is likely why she cares anything about the murder of a wealthy tourist. It isn’t until she finds his watch in her mother’s room after her mother skips town that Josie begins to suspect this murder might involve people she knows. Even then, she doesn’t fill her time trying to track a killer, which is actually a really refreshing change of pace. The murder definitely affects her life, but not in the way that it might in most YA mysteries. What really shines in this book is the character development and the sense of place created by Sepetys. Out of the Easy is a wonderfully nuanced and layered novel.

28. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Award Winner, Courtney, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax, read by Courtney, on 02/16/2014

The War Within These Walls follows a young Polish boy whose Jewish family has been moved into the ghetto in Warsaw by the Nazis. Like so many others, Misha’s family endures devastating conditions. Misha begins to sneak through the sewers just to find food for his family. Eventually, his little sister joins him as well. Until she fails to return, that is. As things go from bad to worse, Misha joins his fellow Warsaw residents in one final stand against the Nazis.
The Warsaw Uprising is not addressed in YA fiction much, if at all. This slim novel brings the events of that struggle into focus with a sparse verse-like narrative and somber blue-grey drawings. It’s a lovely, if devastating, story about an important chapter in our collective history.

28. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs, read by Courtney, on 02/15/2014

Hollow City picks up almost exactly where book one left off. Jacob and his peculiar friends have left their loop with Miss Peregrine (who is still stuck in bird form) in tow. They’re not sure where they’re headed, but they definitely know that they need the help of another ymbryne to Miss Peregrine return to her human form. Without her, they cannot get Jacob back to his time and they will have no one to protect them from the hollows and wights. In their quest to get help, they meet a bunch of other peculiars from other loops. Along the way, they find that the hollows are collecting the ymbrynes in London for their own needs. In spite of the fact that London (and most of the rest of Europe) are deeply embroiled in WWII, the gang heads off to London.
Overall, this wasn’t really as good as the first book in the Peculiar Children series. It becomes readily apparent that some of the pictures are now requiring a bit more suspension of disbelief to accept them as part of the story. The other loops were interesting, particularly the all-animal loop. The pace, however, drags from time to time and the initial novelty of the format starts to wear thin. This book follows a lot of second-book-in-the-series formulas. The first book set up the world; this book has them hitting the road and leaves their world worse than its beginning. The ending clearly sets us up for the next book in the series. I didn’t hate it; I didn’t love it.

28. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

March (Book One) by John Robert Lewis, read by Angie, on 02/28/2014

March Book One is the first in a planned trilogy that tells the story of John Lewis and the Civil Rights Movement. John Lewis was an important member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and part of the group who helped integrate Nashville’s lunch counters. I really enjoyed how this story flashes back from Lewis getting ready to go to Obama’s inauguration in 2009 to his childhood, years in school, and his participation in the movement. We remember names like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, but may not be aware of the significant role played by people like John Lewis. I think this is a wonderful book that sheds light on the life of one of the Civil Right’s heroes.

27. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko, read by Angie, on 02/26/2014

Al Capone Does My Homework is the third book in the Alcatraz series. I read the first one and really liked it, but I had not read the second. Turns out I really didn’t need to. In this book, Moose’s father has been promoted to assistant warden and Moose starts worrying about him. Then one evening when only Moose and Natalie are at home, their apartment catches on fire. Everyone believes Natalie, Moose’s autistic sister, started the fire. Everyone but Moose and his friends. They set out to figure out who really started the fire. There was also a theft and people are receiving gifts from secret admirers. As always, there is a lot happening on Alcatraz.

I really enjoyed this book. I think it is wonderful that Choldenko includes an autistic character in this series even if they never label Natalie as autistic. I appreciate the fact that Natalie, although not like the other kids, is treated well by them. It is the adults who are afraid of her because she is so different. I liked how Moose and his friends and family try to work with Natalie so she can fit in better. I thought the mystery of the fire and the money was well done and intriguing. I also really like the fact that Choldenko has done her homework on Alcatraz and although she does take liberties with the stories she bases it on events and people who did or could have lived on Alcatraz.

26. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Tracy

I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe, read by Tracy, on 02/20/2014

An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband, inspired by the letters of a remarkable female soldier who fought in the Civil War.

Rosetta doesn’t want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they’ll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she’s always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she’s told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.

With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredulous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta’s strong will clashes with Jeremiah’s while their marriage is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future, and for their lives. Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.

23. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Call Me Amy by Marcia Strykowski, read by Angie, on 02/20/2014

Amy is a bit of a loner with no friends. Then she starts hanging out at Miss Cogshell’s house. Craig is not a loner, but he doesn’t seem to have any true friends. When Craig finds a baby seal he asks Amy for help. They end up taking care of the seal pup at Miss Cogshell’s house and become attached to each other. This is a story about friendship and responsibility and finding your place in the world.

23. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt, read by Angie, on 02/20/2014

Julian did something that got him suspended from school. He doesn’t want to talk about it though. When he gets in trouble again his English teacher makes him take on a journal project. He has to write every day and turn it in to his teacher. Julian talks about his friends and the neighborhood and school and girls, but he still won’t talk about what happened over Christmas break.

I actually liked this story a lot more than I thought I would. Julian is a very likable character even if he does seem to just go along with his friends. I thought all the nicknames the kids had were pretty funny and it made me wonder if kids actually did give each other nicknames like that in the 1960s. I really liked Julian’s growth in this book. It seems he really comes to accept who he is and what he has done. I thought the girl part was a little ridiculous, but it added a lot of humor to the story. I think this is a story kids are really going to relate to. Who hasn’t done something they regret and wanted to forget about?

23. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry, read by Angie, on 02/21/2014

Judith and her best friend Lottie disappeared. Lottie’s body was found and Judith came back with her tongue cut out two years later. Judith has to deal with her mother and brother’s contempt and the contempt of the people in her village. She keeps her silence and hasn’t told anyone what happened to her. Then her village is attacked and the one person who can help them is the man who kept her prisoner. Judith pours out her heart to Lucas, her childhood love, but only in her head. It is only after she makes a friend and decides to learn to speak again that Judith comes out of her shell.

This was a book I didn’t want to put down. Judith’s story is given out in little bits throughout the book and you are never really sure what happened to her. She is treated like a pariah in her village because she doesn’t speak, but once she finds her courage and her voice things are different. My only beef with this book was the fact that the time and place was so vague. It seemed to be Puritan New England, but that is never specified. However, I really enjoyed Judith and Lucas’s story and how their relationship grew throughout the book.

20. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction

Dogs of War by Sheila Keenan, Nathan Fox , read by Angie, on 02/19/2014

Dogs of War is a graphic novel in three parts. Each part deals with a war and a dog who was part of that war. We start out with Boots, a mercy dog in the trenches of WWI. The middle story is about Loki, a sled dog in Greenland during WWII. The final stories switches between flashbacks of Sheba in Vietnam and Bouncer back in Alabama. These stories are interesting, but I didn’t always feel like the illustrations were totally clear. At times I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on in them. I also wondered about the age this was geared towards. It seems meant for kids, but there was some graphic violence.

18. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool, read by Angie, on 02/16/2014

Jack Baker is leaving his Kansas home to go to boarding school in Maine. His mother has just died and his father is in the Navy. It is WWII and Jack has nowhere else to go. Maine is completely different from Kansas and Jack has a hard time fitting in. He makes friends with weird kid Early, but that doesn’t help him with the other kids. During a school break Jack and Early set out on a quest…a quest to find the great bear and prove that Pi (the number 3.14) is alive. Early is convinced that if he can just complete this quest he will also find his brother Fischer. Fischer was the school golden boy who we are told died fighting in France. Early is convinced he is still alive though. He has concocted a story about Pi, told through the numbers, that explains the journey Pi has to take. Early and Jack’s journey mirrors Pi’s as they head out into the wilderness.

I wasn’t quite sure what to think of this book as I was reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. Clare Vanderpool is completely unique in her storytelling. The whole time I was reading I was getting flashes of the types of stories Mark Twain would write, but this was different. There is a quest as Early and Jack set out down the river to find the great black bear. Along the way there are obstacles that distract them from their quest. What I found really interesting was how Pi’s story was woven through their own. As Early tells the story of Pi, his adventures are reflected in the boys’ adventures. Of course they are rewarded at the end of their quest but not in the way I expected. This is a unique and beautiful story about friendship and family and determination.

15. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Golden Girl by Sarah Zettel, read by Courtney, on 07/27/2013

In volume two of the American Fairy series, we catch up to Callie LaRoux in Hollywood, the seat of power for the Unseelie Court. Callie and Jack obtain jobs with MGM studios, which seems to be the best way of going about finding Callie’s parents and settling this whole prophecy business. Things start to go awry when Jack and Callie witness a young starlet, Ivy Bright (think Shirley Temple), about to be kidnapped by fairies. They rescue her with the aid of a well-known singer, Paul Robeson, who, in spite of being human, seems to know an awful lot about fairies. In the meantime, Shake is back, but not nearly as powerful as he was. Callie and Jack know they must be getting close to Callie’s parents, but there’s so much going on with Callie’s arrival in Unseelie territory that they get stalled just trying to keep themselves alive.
I was really excited about this sequel since I loved the first book in the series. This one just fell kind of flat for me. The plot has a lot of action, which will surely keep many fans entertained, but it seemed to lose some of the historical detail in exchange for action sequences. I’m still more than a little confused by the Paul Robeson and his role in the whole thing. He appears near the beginning of the book and then disappears from the plot for nearly half of the book. The Ivy Bright storyline is predictable at best, annoying at worst. Overall, the heavy reliance on action makes the book feel convoluted and considerably less magical than its predecessor. Here’s hoping the third book can manage to pull everything back together; I would really like to see the series redeem itself, especially since the concept is so good.

12. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia, read by Angie, on 02/11/2014

P.S. Be Eleven is the follow up to One Crazy Summer. It picks up with the three Gaither sisters on the plane back to Brooklyn from Oakland. They are no longer with their revolutionary mother Cecile learning about “the people” from the Black Panthers. They are back under Big Ma’s rule where they are not to make a negro spectacle of themselves. Things are different in Brooklyn; their father has a new lady friend he intends to marry and Uncle Darnell is home from Vietnam. Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are also introduced to the Jackson Five and go crazy! They start saving their money to see them at Madison Square Garden. Delphine has a new teacher in sixth grade who is different from anyone else. She has to get used to his teaching style and the change in the boy/girl rules. Seems like sixth grade is when boys aren’t nearly so gross to some of the girls. Delphine writes letters to Cecile to try and come to terms with all the changes in her life. Her mother responds to her letters with good advice and a reminder to Be Eleven, to not grow up too fast and be worried about things you don’t need to worry about.

This is a more enclosed story than One Crazy Summer. A lot of the action happens at home among the Gaither family as Big Ma and Pa clash over Uncle Darnell and Miss Marva. I really enjoyed the actual events that were woven through this story. There is of course the Jackson Five coming on the scene and the craziness that ensued from that, but also the election of Shirley Chisholm (the first Black woman elected to Congress) and the effects of being in Vietnam. We still have a bit of the Black Panther movement, but it isn’t nearly as prevalent as it was in the last book. I also enjoyed the clash of cultures between Big Ma, who doesn’t want to call attention to herself or offend the White Man, and Miss Merva, who is more hip and socially aware. It is an interesting peek at an exciting time in history.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Black Butler, Vol. 7 by Yana Toboso, read by Courtney, on 02/13/2012

I read this volume shortly after finishing viewing the Black Butler anime series. I was feeling all sad and missing the characters and then was like, “oh yeah! I’ve got another volume laying around that I haven’t read yet!” and all was good. Though I noticed that this whole circus story arc wasn’t in the anime. Too bad, ’cause it’s an intriguing little story.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Teen Books

Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury, read by Courtney, on 11/13/2012

Agnes Wilkins is standing in front of an Egyptian mummy, about to make the first cut into the wrappings, about to unlock ancient (and not-so-ancient) history.

Maybe you think this girl is wearing a pith helmet with antique dust swirling around her.

Maybe you think she is a young Egyptologist who has arrived in Cairo on camelback.

Maybe she would like to think that too. Agnes Wilkins dreams of adventures that reach beyond the garden walls, but reality for a seventeen-year-old debutante in 1815 London does not allow for camels—or dust, even. No, Agnes can only see a mummy when she is wearing a new silk gown and standing on the verdant lawns of Lord Showalter’s estate, with chaperones fussing about and strolling sitar players straining to create an exotic “atmosphere” for the first party of the season. An unwrapping.

This is the start of it all, Agnes’s debut season, the pretty girl parade that offers only ever-shrinking options: home, husband, and high society. It’s also the start of something else, because the mummy Agnes unwraps isn’t just a mummy. It’s a host for a secret that could unravel a new destiny—unleashing mystery, an international intrigue, and possibly a curse in the bargain.

Get wrapped up in the adventure . . . but keep your wits about you, dear Agnes.