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

A Wounded Name by Dot Hutchison, read by Courtney, on 01/28/2014

I believe this is officially the 4th or 5th Hamlet retelling I’ve read and it’s one of the better ones. Summarizing the plot here is kind of pointless, because it’s Hamlet told from Ophelia’s point of view. What might be more helpful is to highlight some of the choices made in this adaptation. First off: the setting. Elsinore has gone from castle to elite boarding school with Hamlet Sr. as the headmaster. Overall, it works. It’s insular enough to evoke the same claustrophobic feel of Elsinore castle. Then there are the characters: Ophelia, everyone’s favorite girl-gone-crazy, evidently nearly drowned as a child and has since been seeing ghosts, bean sidhe and the morgens (of which her late mother is one). It does add another dimension to poor Ophelia, but ultimately doesn’t do her any favors. The timing of the plotline is more or less the same, though this one starts a bit earlier – right after the death of Hamlet Sr.
The narrative is very stylized and tends to incorporate actual phrasing from the original text where it fits. Overall, it works pretty well. The pace is rather slow, so patience will be required on the reader’s behalf. The writing is lyrical, though occasionally repetitive, which might turn some readers off. I personally was on the fence with this one. At times, I really loved it and then at others, I found myself getting sick of the whole thing. No real surprises here, but still an interesting take on a classic.

07. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Drama, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Noelle

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout, read by Noelle, on 12/29/2013

Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan–the Burgess sibling who stayed behind–urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.
With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, “The Burgess Boys” is Elizabeth Strout’s newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art.

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.

31. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Kira, Literary Fiction, Paranormal · Tags:

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley, read by Kira, on 10/30/2013

The-Firebird-CroppedNicola’s Russian grandfather was persecuted for his paranormal abilities, thus she has kept her paranormal talent hidden.  By holding objects she is able to retrieve memories of people who have held the object.  However, she decides to track down the origins of a family heirloom said to have been a gift from the Russian Empress Catherine.  Nicola knows that the family tale is true, but will need to find proof for the object to have any value.  She enlists the help of Rob a man she previously dated, but ran away from when their psychic talents got them noticed.

On the negative side: Rob is way too perfect, always there, super talented.  Even worse though is the love-interest in the parallel tale firbirdof Anna and Edmund.  Anna is repeatedly humiliated by Edmund and finds herself falling for him. Yuck! Gross!  There are 2 surprises towards the ending of blueariPicFirebirdAnna’s tale.  You can see the first one from a mile away.  The other one surprised me.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere, the coziness of the settings – London, Scottland, Russia…

I also enjoyed the amount of authentic detail worked into the background of the book.  For example, in the book Slains Castle was being renovated into apartments – which when I looked online, is actually the case.  In the book Nicola and Rob visit a Russian chain restaurant named Stolle that serves pies (meat pies I think).  Turns out such a chain actually does exist in Russia.  Just neat!


firebird redtumbr Firbird

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

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

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

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

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

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

26. June 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Literary Fiction, Tammy

The Canterbury Tales by Adapted by Seymour Chwast from Geoffrey Chaucer, read by Tammy, on 06/21/2013

A graphic novel translation of the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer.

To pass the time on their way to Canterbury, England a group of pilgrims decide to tell each other tales as they travel along on their motorcycles. The visual joke of people in Middle English dress on motorcycles instead of horseback and on foot maybe the best laugh for those who are already familiar with the stories and it is the only way the story diverges from the original tales. It is an accessible updated retelling in modern  English and a unique way to introduce new readers to the famous tales. Includes adult content and adult drawings. I missed the cadence of the original poetry but now know why we didn’t read all the stories in my college class. canterbury tales

24. June 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Janet, Literary Fiction · Tags:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy, read by Janet, on 06/23/2013

The RoadThis is a rather tight-nerved tale full of love between a man and his son as they travel through the American countryside after it has been blasted and burned.  Very few people are left, very little food can be found, and no one can trust anyone else.  The man remembers how things used to be, but the son is too young to know of the “good old days”.  They are headed south, for warmth and the ocean, but it is winter and still uncomfortable.  They both have illnesses from their hard life, but the man loses his battle at the end of the tale and the boy is taken in by a man who had a family and was aware of his circumstances.  A good ending for a frightening tale.

10. May 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Janet, Literary Fiction · Tags:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, read by Janet, on 05/06/2013

This is a delightful story of a boy who escaped the killer who murdered his parents when he was just a toddler.  He managed to crawl up the hill from his parents’ home to a graveyard.  The spirits there felt sorry for him and took him in, sheltering him from the killer, who was convinced to leave and forget his reasons for being there.   One couple took over as his parents, providing a snug home for him in the forsaken funeral chapel and a half-way person brought him food and clothing and watched over him when he was big enough to leave the graveyard.  Several of the spirits (who appeared real to Bod) taught him math, reading, and understand others.  Not knowing his name, they named him Nobody and called him “Bod”.  He also learned how to fade into invisibility, go through walls, and see in the dark.  Eventually he began to mature and the killer returned for him.  By this time Bod was very aware of how to use his powers.  I had no ideas before this story how helpful the graveyard souls could be!

30. April 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fantasy, Literary Fiction

Labyrinth of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers, read by Courtney, on 04/16/2013

This is going to be a difficult review for me to write as I am extremely conflicted regarding my feelings about this book. First things first: I’m a huge fan of Walter Moers and I’ve read everything of his that’s been translated into English. This is the sequel to City of Dreaming Books, which I adored. Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since I found out that it even existed (and then I had to wait for the translation). So, there’s all that. When last we left our protagonist, Optimus Yarnspinner, he had been to Bookholm, become imbued with “orm” and had battled all manner of evils in the labyrinth only to see the city go up in flames along with the mythical Shadow King. Our story now picks up 200 year later (Lindworms like Yarnspinner evidently live very, very long lives). Yarnspinner has been resting on the laurels of his best-selling status for some time now. He’s churned out countless works, making him one of the most well-known authors in all of Zamonia. Thing is, the “orm” has left him and his works aren’t getting the reviews they once did. Yarnspinner could hang up his hat and live out the rest of his days in comfort, but he receives a most curious letter written in a style that could best be summed up as “pre-orm Yarnspinner-esque”. Yarnspinner realizes that while he didn’t write the letter, someone has gone to great lengths to get his attention, particularly because of the very last sentence: “The Shadow King lives”.
Yarnspinner heads back to Bookholm and runs into a couple of his old friends who have apparently conspired in some way to bring him back to the bookish city. So that’s the first few chapters. The rest? Yarnspinner’s musings and digressions on the “modern” Bookholm. Seriously, that’s pretty much it. Not that it isn’t entertaining to read, because it is. It’s really clever; almost painfully so. Observant readers may note that the names of all the authors, composers and artists mentioned are anagrams for real world counterparts (and yes, it all works in context as well). I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure them all out, not to mention the fact that I pestered my co-workers for days to get help on some of the trickier ones. I *did* feel pretty smart when I figured them out though. A bit exhausting though. And takes one out of the narrative, particularly when there’s a whole string of anagrams. There’s also a very “meta” feel to the whole thing as Yarnspinner revisits his experiences and engages in new experiences like puppetism. Yarnspinner even watches an entire puppet play of “City of Dreaming Books”, which is described in great detail.
The kicker, though, is at the end where Moer’s “translator’s” note indicates that he had to split the sequel into two halves (a la “Kill Bill”) because it would have been unwieldy otherwise. So, evidently, the rest of the plot will be happening in the third book. Which probably won’t be translated for another couple of years. All I can say is that it better be worth the effort of reading Labyrinth of Dreaming Books. Who am I kidding? I’ll totally read it either way.

Crossovers-2 coverThe two volumes of “Crossovers” are a fascinating and highly enjoyable read for anyone interested in the interactions between various pulp, mystery, adventure, and science fiction characters with each other and real people throughout history.  The premise of the book was inspired by SF writer Philip José Farmer’s “Wold Newton” concept which he developed in the 1970s:  a “radioactive” meteorite crashed near Wold Newton, England, in 1795 and affected several carriages full of people who were passing by.  Their descendants became highly intelligent and powerful heroes (or villains) such as Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarty, Dr. Fu Manchu, Doc Savage, Lord Greystoke (Tarzan), and many more.  Farmer wrote popular and detailed biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage in which he explored the family trees of many “Wold Newton Family” characters.  Over time, the concept has been expanded and continued by Win Scott Eckert and others to become the “Crossover Universe.”  Mr. Eckert has done a fantastic job of compiling references to literary heroes who have met each other (or “crossed over”) and had adventures together, and thus co-exist in the same fictional universe. Volume 1 covers the dawn of time up through 1939, and Volume 2 covers 1940 into the far future.  (Mr. Spock himself claimed Sherlock Holmes as an ancestor of his!)  There are 2000 entries in this chronology and 300 illustrations. Reading these two books is fun and will send you scurrying to find many of the stories and books that are referenced.

 

27. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Horror, Literary Fiction, Teen Books

Darkwater by Catherine Fisher, read by Courtney, on 02/18/2013

Here we have a story where two parts become one. In the first half of the book, we meet Sarah Trevelyan, descendent of the once-proud and wealthy Trevelyans. She has been reduced to assisting in a local school house to make ends meet for her and her ailing father. All the while, the spectre of her family’s former glory, Darkwater Hall, looms over her. Sarah would give just about anything to get her family’s honor back. One day, she meets the new lord of Darkwater Hall, Lord Azrael, who offers her a job assisting him with his alchemy. She eventually strikes a bargain with him that will restore her estate to her family, but only with the caveat that Azrael will return for her soul in a hundred years.
In the second half of the book, we meet a teenager named Tom. Tom lives in our time, but in the same location as Sarah. Darkwater Hall has become a prestigious school that Tom would love to go to, if he only had the intelligence and talent. Tom’s self-esteem gets bolstered when he meets Darkwater’s newest professor, Dr. Azrael, who just happens to want Tom as his assistant. It’s only a matter of time before Tom is faced with a bargain of his own.
I love stories that intertwine like this and Catherine Fisher is a great writer. There are certainly echoes of her other work here. Her characters are great as well. Sarah is believable, if not always likeable. Tom is hard on himself and unnecessarily so, just as many other teens are. I love that these two characters actually meet and relate to one another in spite of their vastly different origins. The Faustus-like theme is obvious, but it’s a delightful take on it.

Crossovers-1 cover

The two volumes of this book are a fascinating and highly enjoyable read for anyone interested in the interactions between various pulp, mystery, adventure, and science fiction characters with real people throughout history.  The premise of this book is inspired by SF writer Philip José Farmer’s “Wold Newton” concept which he developed in the 1970s:  a “radioactive” meteorite crashed near Wold Newton, England in 1795 and affected several carriages full of people who were passing by.  Their descendants became highly intelligent and powerful heroes (or villains) such as Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarty, Dr. Fu Manchu, Doc Savage, Lord Greystoke (aka Tarzan), and many more.  Farmer wrote popular and detailed biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage in which he detailed the family trees of many “Wold Newton Family” characters.  Over time, the concept has been expanded and continued by others into the Crossover Universe.  Win Scott Eckert has done a fantastic job of compiling references to literary heroes who have met each other (or “crossed over”) and had adventures together, and thus co-exist in the same fictional universe.  Volume 1 covers the dawn of time up through 1939, and Volume 2 covers 1940 into the far future.  Reading these two books is a fun and highly addictive experience!

 

30. January 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Literary Fiction, Short Stories

We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., read by Courtney, on 01/14/2013

This slim volume covers two previously unpublished Vonnegut works. The first, “Basic Training”, is a very early novella, written a few years before “Player Piano”. “Basic Training” follows young Haley to his relative’s farm after the death of his parents. The head of the family is known as The General and runs the family in military fashion. The second half of the book is a unfinished novel entitled “If God Were Alive Today”. It is classic late Vonnegut, bitter, ironic and unabashedly honest. The protagonist, Gil Berman, is a self-proclaimed stand-up comedian who tackles everything from politics to morals to social mores and just about everything in between. Both works are semi-autobiographical, which should come as no surprise to any Vonnegut fan.
Both stories are interesting from a contextual point of view. I’ve read just about every Vonnegut book I’ve been able to get my hands on. It’s fascinating to see the development between the early and late Vonnegut writings, even if they can’t really hold a candle to the extant works. I do wish, however, that he had had a chance to finish “If God Were Alive Today”. Great potential there. Many classic Vonnegut-isms.  Not, however, for the Vonnegut initiate.

 

 

31. December 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg, read by Tracy, on 12/31/2012

It’s 1946 and World War II has ended. The residents of Elmwood Springs Missouri are living the simple life just like most small towns. At 9:30 AM there is a half hour radio show hosted by Neighbor Dorothy that is broadcasted all over Missouri.  This radio show is full of music, local news, letters from fans with recipes and an occasional guest author.  Dorothy is a wife, mother and the best cake baker in town. The people of the town are the subject of this book and you can’t help but feel like you know them or someone like them even if you don’t live in a small town. People pass through the town and some have a big effect on the townspeople. A gospel singing family and a tractor salesman with dreams of making life better for Missourians. This book is hard to put down and when it ends in the year 2000 you wish there was more. Fannie Flagg is an amazing author.

04. December 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham, read by Tracy, on 12/04/2012

Luther and Nora Krank decide to not do all the traditional, expensive, stressful things they normally do at Christmas. When their daughter goes to South America for a year they book a cruise and tell all their friends and neighbors they are skipping Christmas this year. I thought this was a great idea but things don’t turn out the way I expected. The neighbors complain when they don’t decorate their home and they lose the yearly street competition. All their friends are upset because they aren’t having their party.  How selfish can they be going on a cruise instead of buying fruitcake no one eats and a Christmas tree from the boy scouts. Even though Luther offers to contribute money for the spring camp out. So when the daughter decides to come home for Christmas at the last minute they scramble to decorate and buy food for a dinner party that no one can attend. I was really disappointed that they wouldn’t tell their daughter the truth and go on the cruise.  It wasn’t as hilarious as the review said it would be.

30. November 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani, read by Tracy, on 11/30/2012

Ave Maria Mulligan is considered a “furriner” in the town of Big Stone Gap Virginia. She was born there but her mother was from Italy. In a small town there is a lot of gossip. So when Ave learns her father wasn’t her biological father she feels even more a foreigner. The author grew up in Big Stone Gap so she knows all about life in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Ave is a self proclaimed spinster at 35 and runs the towns pharmacist. She keeps busy with the local theatre group and her friend Iva Lou Wade the bookmobile driver. Big Stone Gap is a nice place to live but Ave wants to find her real father some day. I enjoyed this book and want to go to The Carter Fold and see what it’s all about with the music and atmosphere.

11. November 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, read by Tracy, on 11/11/2012

This is the third book in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. I read the first, The Shadow of the Wind, and was instantly hooked. The second book, The Angels Game, didn’t keep my interest and I didn’t finish it.  I did finish this one and really enjoyed it. Daniel Sempere works at the book store his father owns in Barcelona in 1957. He is married and has a son. One day a man visits the shop and buys an expensive book. He asks Daniel to deliver it personally. It’s for a  friend and co worker Fermin. Fermin is getting married soon but he has a story to tell Daniel about his years in prison.   Some of it involves Daniel’s mother who died when he was young. A lot of men were imprisoned wrongly after the war. This isn’t the end of the story so I have another book to look forward to.

10. November 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Food, Literary Fiction, Tracy

Bordeaux by Paul Torday, read by Tracy, on 11/09/2012

This is a very sad story. Wilberforce has worked years developing his own software business. His finance manager Andy tells him he needs to find some friends and have some fun. Life isn’t all about work. While driving home one day he passes a wine merchant’s store and since he knows nothing about wine decides to stop in. He meets Francis Black and his friends and is encouraged to do some tasting. From that moment on his life changes, first for the better, but later for the worse. Francis has thousands of bottles of wine and no heirs to leave them to. He asks Wilberforce to take on this responsibility.  Wilberforce agrees but then becomes an alcoholic, although he says he just enjoys drinking wine.  I think Wilberforce was lonely and really needed friends but he didn’t realize he would become obsessed with wine. Sad story.

26. October 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

The Road to Grace by Richard Paul Evans, read by Tracy, on 10/24/2012

This is the third book in The Walk series. Alan Christoffersen has lost everything important in his life. His wife dies and when his business goes under he loses all his possessions. In the first book he decides to walk from Seattle to Key West Florida. I enjoyed most of the first two books because of the places he walks through and the people he meets along the way. In this book he makes it to St. Louis. Unfortunately Alan is starting to experience physical problems. He suffers from dizziness and passes out several times by the side of the road. The first time a driver stops and gives him a ride to the hospital. They run tests and the man offers to let him recover at his home. When he feels better he continues and stops in Hannibal Missouri to do some touring. I enjoyed this part since it’s a place I want to see someday. When he gets dizzy again he wakes up in another hospital with some bad news. The books are well written and fun at times but I don’t think I will continue since the ending to this one is sad.