29. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake, read by Angie, on 01/28/2014

It is 1871 and the year the pigeons came to town. They descend on Placid and nest nearby. It is also the year that Georgie’s sister Agatha disappears. The sheriff brings back a body wearing Agatha’s dress, but Georgie is positive it isn’t Agatha. She sets off on a quest to learn the truth. Billy, Agatha’s beau, goes with her. Together they travel the same path as Agatha and try to discover what happened to her. There are cougars and counterfeiters and kidnappers along the way, but they do eventually learn some if not all of Agatha’s story before they return to Placid.

Georgie is an outstanding narrator. She is sure of herself and her abilities even though she is just a little girl. I like the fact that she ends up saving the day and Billy and solving most of the mystery. I am not sure how much appeal this will have to kids as it did get a little bogged down. The kids reading this might appreciate the ending and how everything was neatly tied up, but I thought it was a little too neat. Everything gets explained and Agatha’s story is brought to light, but I think it would have been better to leave a bit of mystery. I didn’t buy that Georgie would never shoot a gun again even though she is a sharpshooter. I thought that was out of character and didn’t make a lot of since. I got a little bored with all the information on the pigeons, but it is a fascinating part of our history so I appreciated the information.

2014 Newbery Honor Book.

Flora is a pig ready for adventure. As a little piglet in her pen she was always looking outside and trying new things. More than anything she wants to pull a sled. She idolizes the sled dogs she sees training on the farm. One day she sees her chance and gets taken to a ship. She thinks her time is now; she will finally get to have the adventure she has always wanted. Unfortunately, she soon finds out she is on the ship for a completely different reason. Then the ship hits an iceberg and sinks and now Flora, the captain and crew, the surviving sled dogs and one adventurous cat are stranded in the Arctic. Flora has to prove she is more than food if they are all going to survive.

This book reminded me a little bit of Charlotte’s Web. It is a fun adventure story with a pig lead. I like the fact that Flora has to prove her worth, but she is always confident in herself and her abilities. There are some good messages in here about being yourself and living up to your potential and doing things even when others say you can’t.

28. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody, read by Angie, on 01/27/2014

This is the story of William Shackley, son of Rodric who is off on crusade with King Richard. Geoff Shackley is regent for his nephew Will. Will is a boy on the cusp of manhood who is not really sure how to make the leap. Circumstance force him to grow up however when Sir Guy of Gisborne comes to the castle and forces a fight that leads to Geoff’s death. Will and his mother escape but become separated. Will finds himself a hostage of the Merry Men led by Gilbert. Of course there are other Merry Men: Rob the drunk with a secret in his past, John Little the bear of a man who is also a good friend, Much the Miller’s son who is actually Much the Miller’s daughter, treacherous Stout and others. Will convinces the group to raid Shackley Castle for its treasure which sets off events beyond their control.

Matthew Cody explains in the author’s note that there are many variations on the legend of Robin Hood. Sure he took some liberties with the story but the basics are here and they work. I really enjoyed the fact that the story was told from Will Scarlet’s point of view instead of Rob’s. This is really Will’s story and the group becoming the Merry Men of legend is just part of that story. Will has to grow up and realize his past life is in the past; there is no way to get back what he has lost. He has to move on and create a new life. A life with Rob and the Merry Men in Sherwood Forest, robbing the rich to help the poor.

21. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Tracy

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, read by Tracy, on 01/18/2014

A horse is a horse of course unless of course the horse is Black Beauty. Animal-loving children have been devoted to Black Beauty throughout this century, and no doubt will continue through the next.
Although Anna Sewell’s classic paints a clear picture of turn-of-the-century London, its message is universal and timeless: animals will serve humans well if they are treated with consideration and kindness.
Black Beauty tells the story of the horse’s own long and varied life, from a well-born colt in a pleasant meadow to an elegant carriage horse for a gentleman to a painfully overworked cab horse.
Throughout, Sewell rails – in a gentle, 19th-century way – against animal maltreatment. Young readers will follow Black Beauty’s fortunes, good and bad, with gentle masters as well as cruel. Children can easily make the leap from horse-human relationships to human-human relationships, and begin to understand how their own consideration of others may be a benefit to all.

21. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Tracy

The New Countess by Fay Weldon, read by Tracy, on 01/02/2014

From the award-winning novelist and writer of Upstairs Downstairs, the third book in a brilliant trilogy about what life was really like for masters and servants before the world of Downton Abbey. England, 1903. Lord Robert and Lady Isobel Dilberne and the entire grand estate, with its hundred rooms, is busy planning for a visit from Edward VII and Queen Alexandra just a few months a way. Preparations are elaborate and exhaustive: the menus and fashions must be just so, and so must James, the new heir and son of Arthur Dilberne and Chicago heiress, Minnie O’Brien. But there are problems. Little James is being reared to Lady Isobel’s tastes, not Minnie’s. And Mrs. O’Brien is visiting from America and causing trouble. Meanwhile, the Dilbernes’ niece, Adela is back and stirring up hysteria in the servants hall by claiming the house is cursed. The royal visit is imperiled, but so are the Dilberne finances once more. His Lordship is under tremendous stress, and the pecking order will soon be upset as everything at Dilberne Court changes.The New Countess is the final novel in Fay Weldon’s exciting trilogy that began with Habits of the House and Long Live the King. The bestselling novelist and award-winning writer of the pilot episode of the original Upstairs Downstairs lifts the curtain on British society, upstairs and downstairs, under one roof.

13. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Lara's Gift by Annemarie O'Brien, read by Angie, on 01/11/2014

Lara is the daughter of the kennel steward. She has been trained since birth to take over once her father retires. Her father desperately hopes for a boy to carry on the tradition and doesn’t really want Lara to be the steward. Lara loves the dogs they breed, the famed Russian borzoi, and one day wants to have a dog fine enough for the czar. Lara also has a secret. She has visions related to the dogs. Her father wants her to stop having visions and to keep them a secret. But what if her visions may save the dogs or her father?

I liked the historical aspect of this story and the fact that I learned something new. I had never heard of borzoi or of their significance in Russia. I thought O’Brien got a lot of the historical prejudices perfect in the story as well. My only issues were the visions and the quick turn-around of the ending. There was no explanation for the visions and since the story was pretty straight-forward historical fiction other than them I found them a little out of place. The ending just seemed too abrupt a change for the rest of the story.

08. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Mystery

Violent Cases by Neil Gaiman, read by Courtney, on 12/29/2013

Violent Cases marks the beginning of many astonishing and award-winning collaborations between author Neil Gaiman and artist Dave McKean. It is now offered in a hardcover format with an expanded art section and introductions by Alan Moore, Paul Gravett, and Neil Gaiman! A narrator remembers his childhood encounters with an old osteopath who claims to have treated Al Capone. Gradually, the England of the 1960s and the Chicago of the 1920s begin to merge into a beautifully drawn and hauntingly written tale of memory and evil.

08. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Saints by Gene Luen Yang, read by Courtney, on 12/08/2013

Saints is the second part of Yang’s duology “Boxers & Saints”. It follows Four-Girl, a fourth daughter so named because her family no longer even had the interest in naming a fourth girl. Poor and neglected, Four-Girl decides she must be a devil. How can she be more of a devil? Why, by seeking out the “foreign devils” (the missionaries) that are becoming increasingly present in rural China. The missionaries give Four-Girl a name, Vibiana and a community that accepts her as she eventually accepts it. While she finds some peace in Christianity, she cannot ignore the rumors of an uprising against the Christians, both foreign and Chinese. Vibiana must now become prepared to choose between her country and her new-found faith. She begins to have visions of Joan of Arc, who encourages her to follow her faith even as the missionary stronghold is attacked by the Boxers.
While each of these books can be independently, the full range of their complexity is not revealed until both are read. We meet Four-Girl/Vibiana briefly in Boxers and Little Bao makes a reappearance in Saints. Four-Girl and Bao have more in common than they think. Where Four-Girl imagines Joan of Arc, Bao imagines himself and his followers as the Chinese gods. Both are from smaller villages that are impacted dramatically by imperialist forces. I really, really love how the two stories are told and how they’re presented. This treatment of showing each side through a different visual context seems like it should be simple and yet I have never seen/read anything quite like it. The reader develops sympathy for both sides of the conflict, which is probably how all historical conflicts should be presented. There are always multiple ways to view a story or incident, but it is frequently difficult to see beyond one side or another. Yang does an excellent job of balancing a complicated story with excellent storytelling technique.

08. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang, read by Courtney, on 12/08/2013

Boxers begins the two-part story of the Boxer Rebellion, which took place in China at the end of the 19th century. Fed up by increasing presence of foreign missionaries and soldiers, a boy named Little Bao begins training in the traditional art of Kung Fu along with several others from the village. As foreign influence spreads, so too does the general sense of discontent among many of the Chinese commoners. Bao and his friends believe that they have taken on the power of their own gods; gods who help them win their battles against the “foreign devils” that appear to be taking over China. They travel from town to town, training more men (and even some women) to join the fight. As the violence reaches its apex, Bao finds his band of men winning over and over. Even still, there is a heavy price to pay as many of Bao’s own countrymen and women are being identified as “secondary devils” (Chinese converted to Christianity) and are slaughtered for it. Is this what the gods wanted?
The first half of this story is gripping and action-packed. It is difficult, however, to review this book without referencing the second, so I’ll save my thoughts on the work as a whole for my review of Saints.

08. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Big River's Daughter by Bobbi Miller, read by Angie, on 01/07/2014

River Fillian is a river rat. She travels with her father up and down the Mississippi. Disaster strikes in December 1811. The earth shakes and trembles, the river changes course and flows backwards and River’s father is swallowed like so many others. River is rescued by Annie Christmas another river pirate who travels with her sons. River is turned over to Jean Lafitte in New Orleans, who it turns out has designs on Fillian and Annie Christmas’s trade routes and contacts. River escapes, with a tiger, and finds Annie again. They set off to find Blackbeard’s treasure. Traveling down the river and across the swamps, they are pursued by Lafitte and other pirates as they try to make it to the treasure first.

This is not a book for everyone. The tale is told using colloquial language that will be difficult for some kids to understand. The book doesn’t lend itself to ease of use either. The type is small and close together like something that was printed 50 years ago (also not kid friendly). Lastly, there are topics covered in this book that are not for the younger readers. There is a lot of violence and death as well as discussion of mistresses and such. So the more mature reader might be the better audience for this book.

Once you get into the story it is an entertaining yarn. You aren’t sure how much to believe and how trustworthy the characters are telling the tale. I really enjoyed the mix of real history with the fiction of the book. The backmatter gives information on the real people discussed in the story. I thought River was spunky and had a lot of gumption which was definitely entertaining to read.

20. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Noelle · Tags:

The Maid's Version: A Novel by Daniel Woodrell, read by Noelle, on 12/17/2013

I’ve been a fan of Daniel Woodrell for a while, but I honestly wasn’t sure if this book would live up to all of the critical hype.  The subject matter in particular didn’t suck me in at first.  However, I eventually got quite caught up in Woodrell’s savory-rich storytelling style.  I also loved how he threw generous daggers of raw insight into the human condition all throughout the book, making the characters and their plights undeniably fascinating.

18. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Tracy

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, read by Tracy, on 12/08/2013

Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie’s grandmother’s abandoned home near Salem, she can’t refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest–to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.

As the pieces of Deliverance’s harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem’s dark past then she could have ever imagined.

Written with astonishing conviction and grace, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane travels seamlessly between the witch trials of the 1690s and a modern woman’s story of mystery, intrigue, and revelation.

18. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Drama, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Pamela

Prayers for Sales by Sandra Dallas, read by Pamela, on 12/17/2013

prayersSet in the high country of Colorado and during the Depression, this is a story of women’s strengths and friendships amid the harshest living conditions.  Hennie Comfort has lived in Middle Swan for seventy years.  She doesn’t sell prayers, but Nit Spindle, a young wife new to the area, wants to buy one for her little girl who passed away before they moved to Colorado.  This is the segue that Hennie needs to befriend Nit and over the course of the story they share their deepest hardships and secrets while visiting, quilting, and walking the hills in spring.  A few twists and turns in this story line kept me listening to this book.  It’s not all gloom and doom – lots of good things happen to the characters.  Recommended to those who like a little history woven within a story.

16. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Book, Historical Fiction, Tammy

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, read by Tammy, on 12/16/2013

wonderstruckA beautifully illustrated novel by the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which the movie Hugo is based on. This novel combines two separate children’s lives into one coherent story through text and full page illustrations. An imaginative book that won’t soon be forgotten. Even though it’s a children’s book the story and drawings may be appreciated even more by adults.

Eel lives in Victorian London. He makes his way working a number of jobs; working in a tavern, cleaning up for a tailor, taking care of the animals for Dr. Snow and occasionally as a mudlark finding useful things in the Thames. Eel is accused of stealing at the tavern and loses his place. He tries to get the tailor Mr. Griggs to vouch for him and discovers he has the blue death, or cholera. Soon hundreds of people in his neighborhood have gotten sick or died. Eel seeks the help of Dr. Snow to figure out what caused the outbreak and what can be done to stop it.

This book is a fabulous mix of fact and fiction. There really was an outbreak of cholera on Broad Street at this time. Dr. Snow really did figure out the cause and help stop the outbreak. He was the first doctor to link cholera with water contamination. While Eel and some of the others in the book didn’t actually exist, their stories mix very well with the historical facts. This is a very fast-paced book with lots of intriguing plot twists.

Under  Under the Eagle is Simon Scarrow’s first book.  Cato joins the Second Legion as an Optio, a rank usually reserved for veterans, much to the dismay of the other men in his Century.  However, under his Centurian Macro, he grows into the position. Along the way, they become involved in a plot involving lost gold and the Emperor.

This is Mr. Scarrow’s first book.  The author mentioned that he is attempting to create a Richard Sharpe character for the Roman Legion.  That is a pretty high standard, but he is off to a decent start.  It will be fun to see if the characters become a bit more dynamic in the upcoming novels.  He also kind of yada-yadas the battles, which I also hope improves.  All-in-all, a good start and a fun read.

11. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Poetry, Rachel, Teen Books

Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford, read by Rachel, on 12/09/2013

Before the legend of Billie Holiday, there was a girl named Eleanora. In 1915, Sadie Fagan gave birth to a daughter she named Eleanora. The world, however, would know her as Billie Holiday, possibly the greatest jazz singer of all time. Eleanora’s journey into legend took her through pain, poverty, and run-ins with the law. By the time she was fifteen, she knew she possessed something that could possibly change her life—a voice. Eleanora could sing. Her remarkable voice led her to a place in the spotlight with some of the era’s hottest big bands. Billie Holiday sang as if she had lived each lyric, and in many ways she had. Through a sequence of raw and poignant poems, award-winning poet Carole Boston Weatherford chronicles Eleanora Fagan’s metamorphosis into Billie Holiday. The author examines the singer’s young life, her fight for survival, and the dream she pursued with passion in this Coretta Scott King Author Honor winner. With stunning art by Floyd Cooper, this book provides a revealing look at a cultural icon.

I loved this book of poetry! It was a quick read, but full of biographical information on one my favorite jazz singers. The illustrations were beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

 

03. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fantasy, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Teen Books

Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel, read by Courtney, on 11/13/2013

One hundred years ago, steamboats ruled the rivers. Captain Twain of the Steamship Lorelei is one of the best-known captains on the Hudson River. One day, he rescues a mermaid who has been injured by a harpoon. The captain hides her away in his quarters and tends to her wounds. As she recovers, the two begin get to know one another. Twain, who hopes to be a writer one day, also finds that his writing block has vanished. Meanwhile, the ship’s owner, the Frenchman Lafayette has been corresponding with a mysterious author about ways to rid oneself of a mermaid’s curse. The mysterious author prepares for a very public debut aboard the Steamship Lorelei. As the three characters’ lives converge, so too do elements of mythology and folklore, culminating in a series of events that none of the characters could have ever foreseen.
I went into this thinking that it had something to do with that other Twain of Midwestern fame, but such is not the case. The real Mark Twain is, however, referenced at least once by the characters themselves. Captain Twain is, in many ways, a parallel to the literary figure. I loved the artwork in this comic; it suited the story beautifully. It tends to have an almost-underwater/dreamlike quality to it. The story is rich and unexpected, with distinct magic-realism tendencies. In short, it’s pretty much everything I look for in a graphic novel.

25. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Tracy

Black Out by John Lawton, read by Tracy, on 11/19/2013

In the tradition of John le Carré, Eric Ambler, and more recently, Joseph Kanon, Black Out is a stunning wartime thriller. As the Luftwaffe makes its last, desperate assaults on the battered city, Londoners take to the underground shelters amidst the black out. Detective-Sergeant Troy starts with the clue of a neatly dismembered corpse leading him into a world of stateless refugees, military intelligence, and corruption all the way to the top of Allied High Command.

22. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Steam-punk, Teen Books

Soulless: The Manga, vol. 1 by Gail Carriger, illustrated by Rem, read by Courtney, on 11/06/2013

I can’t help but think that this manga is really more for established fans than those new to the Soulless series. I haven’t read any of the series, so I didn’t really know what to expect when I picked up the manga-style adaptations. I was not terribly impressed. In fact, I was kind of annoyed at the whole experience.
The story is lacking in detail and world-building, but that’s probably the result of it being an adaptation. The artwork is merely OK; it uses a lot of manga tropes, which, in an American comic, feels off somehow. I’m honestly getting very tired of popular series being turned into “manga”. Particularly annoying to me in this particular volume is the depiction of the female characters. The ridiculously large breasts and plunging necklines come across as entirely superfluous.
I wanted to like this series; I really did, but ultimately it just fell flat.