08. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Graphic Novel

Fairest, Volume 3: Return of the Maharaja by Sean E. Williams, et al, read by Courtney, on 06/28/2014

Ordinarily, I love anything in the Fables universe and the Fairest comics tend to be no exception. Until now. It’s not that the story arc is terrible, it’s just not that great. It’s also really tough to overlook the fact that the Fairest series was meant to shine a spotlight on the women of the Fables universe. Who takes center stage in this volume? Prince Charming. Yes, there is a female protagonist. Yes, she is capable of kicking butt. But it still reads like she’s there to be yet another love interest for Prince Charming. If this were Fables proper, this story arc might have worked all right, but in the context of Fairest, it’s almost insulting and definitely disappointing.

08. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Historical Fiction

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert, read by Courtney, on 06/26/2014

In the fall of 1898, a young ventriloquist named Ferret Skeritt falls from the sky in a hot-air balloon and lands on the house of a pair of elderly sisters in rural Nebraska. He sustains a broken leg and a few other injuries, but nothing is as broken as his heart. Earlier in the year, Ferret was anticipating the beginning of the Omaha World’s Fair, much like the rest of the city. At the time, Omaha was a much smaller and rougher town. Ferret makes most of his living with his ventriloquist act, thanks in no small part to his elaborate puppet, Oscar. For extra change, Ferret offers his services as a letter writer, specializing primarily in love letters. One night, while hanging around the theater, Ferret briefly meets a young, beautiful actress named Cecily. They don’t even have a conversation, but Ferret is a man obsessed. He eventually tracks her down in the fair’s midway and they begin to fall in love. Things seem perfect for a time. Together, they explore the fair.
Enter Billy Wakefield, one of the wealthiest men in Omaha and one of the principal financiers of the fair. He takes notice of Ferret and Cecily, invites them to his fancy parties, attempts to buy Ferret’s puppet. At first, Ferret, blinded by the early onset of love, fails to notice Billy’s interest in Cecily. Later, as Cecily’s health begins to deteriorate, Wakefield intensifies his efforts, promising medications and the best doctors money can buy. Ferret isn’t sure what to believe, but he doesn’t trust Wakefield (though he does take advantage of the fact that Wakefield is willing to give him a large sum of money for his puppet, Oscar). Cecily, on the other hand, agrees to travel with Wakefield to “take the waters” at various hot springs. Ferret wallows in her absence, but naively believes she’ll recover.
The first 2/3rds of this book is fantastic. I’m an Omaha native and a bit of a history buff, so I recall visiting the local history museum as a kid and being captivated by images of the Omaha World’s Fair. When I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to read it for the historical elements, if nothing else. The details of the fair absolutely met (and probably exceeded) my expectations. I loved trying to imagine how the pavilion would have sparkled in the sun with its white paint, dusted with crushed glass. The titular swan gondolas floated upon a massive lagoon that stretched the length of the main pavilion. On the fringes were the midway; the seedier (and more intriguing) parts of the fair. As readers, we take this journey alongside Ferret. As the summer wears on, the fair begins to lose its luster, much like the love between Cecily and Ferret.
To get into my issues with the final 1/3rd of the book, I would have to spoil several plot points. Suffice it to say, the last portion reads like an extremely long epilogue that takes place in the winter after the fair. Things get convoluted and the pacing becomes inconsistent. A good deal of the last portion begins to weave in some “Wizard of Oz” references, but their inclusion doesn’t make as much sense in the context of the novel. I think that if this book had ended prior to the last section, it might have felt much more cohesive. Still, it’s a mesmerizing read with vivid detail that has hints of The Night Circus and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s YA work.

08. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel

Transmetropolitan, Volume 4: The New Scum by Warren Ellis, read by Courtney, on 06/21/2014

The election looms closer, Channon is back and Spider continues to be, well, Spider. This one feels more transitory than some of the other stories, but I do enjoy the world-building. The level of detail in this series is truly astonishing.

08. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel

Transmetropolitan, Volume 3: The Year of the Bastard by Warren Ellis, read by Courtney, on 06/20/2014

Spider is covering one of the biggest stories of his life- the upcoming presidential election. The only problem is that he’s having trouble keeping himself going. He’s got fame and fortune, but that’s what drove him to exile last time. So now he’s got a campaign to cover and both parties desperately want his support. This series continues to be both smart, scathing and hilarious.

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

This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready, read by Courtney, on 06/19/2014

David and Mara used to have a fairly ordinary life. Then, their older brother joined the armed forces and was killed. Now, the family is a complete mess. Over the course of their grieving, David’s parents first turn to the Evangelical Church for answers. It helps, to an extent. David is “saved” and his parents start to come out of their depression. David and Mara are taken out of the public schools and put into a religious homeschooling group. Over time, the church ceases to be enough for David’s parents and they find solace in a group that believes in the end of the world. Instead of calling it the “Rapture”, this new group calls it the “Rush” and claim to know exactly when it’s going to happen. David and his sister are dubious, but their parents appear completely convinced. As the date for the “Rush” draws nearer, David’s father becomes increasingly unhinged, speaking only in Bible verses. In the forty days before the “Rush”, David and his sister are asked to give up everything worldly to prepare for their salvation. Aside from not really believing that the end of the world is coming, David has some other problems with this situation. He’s a baseball star with college scouts following his every pitch. He’s got a girlfriend that he’s absolutely crazy about. In other words, he really doesn’t want to give up his entire life.
When the book opens, it is the night of the “Rush” and David and Mara have missed it. Instead of being at home with their parents on the night that they are supposed to be taken to Heaven, David and Mara have gone to an after-prom party and missed the deadline. When they return home, their parents are gone. No messages or notes. Their clothes laid on on the bed under the covers as though they had simply vanished. Needless to say, David and Mara are concerned. They don’t believed their parents have been “Rushed”, but something is clearly not right. Now they need to figure out what happened to their parents before word spreads that two teenagers are living by themselves.
The premise of this book is fascinating to me. I’m not a religious person, so it was interesting to see how a practitioner would view the world. Smith-Ready miraculously manages to keep this story from either glorifying or vilifying those of faith, but always remains critical of those who would use faith to achieve their own ends. I’m not 100% sold on the parents’ reaction to their eldest son’s death, but a catalyst was needed and grief is a powerful one. David and Mara make a great sibling team. David is a person of faith, while Mara is a skeptic who manages to play the part of a religious person to avoid confrontation with her parents. David’s girlfriend, Bailey, provides a great foil to David. Bailey is not religious either, but is curious and considerate when the topic of religion comes up, which happens frequently. I will admit that my brain fuzzed out a bit during the baseball-heavy portions of the book, but overall, this was a very engaging take on faith and religion. Would likely make a very good book club read.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Teen Books

The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, read by Courtney, on 06/13/2014

The Midnight Dress is a gorgeously rendered tale of murder, friendship and sewing. When Rose arrives in Leonora with her father, she is not expecting to stay very long. She and her father have been driving around Australia in their RV for years, never staying in one place for very long. She grudgingly enrolls herself in the local high school and does her best to avoid everyone. She unwittingly winds up friends with Pearl Kelly, the lovely and gregarious girl who smells of “frangipani and coconut oil”. Rose is unaccustomed to having friends and her gruff demeanor is designed to keep it that way. Pearl has a way of getting under one’s skin though and, as the Harvest Festival draws nearer, Rose finds herself heading to the seamstress Pearl recommended to have a dress made. The seamstress is an elderly woman named Edie who lives in a giant, dilapidated house at the base of the mountain. She was once a dressmaker of some renown, but has since become regarded as a witch. Rose, in spite of herself, continues to come back, week after week to help Edie hand-stitch the beautiful midnight-blue dress that Rose will wear for the Harvest Festival parade. Through it all, however, the reader knows that one of these two girls will not survive the night of the Festival. Who, how and why remain a mystery.
Each chapter begins with a flashback showing a tiny portion of the fateful night, but the information is meted out so deliberately that the reader is driven to push on in order to find out how the pieces fit together. The rest of the story is told in a more linear fashion, but is no less mysterious. Pearl and Rose make such a wonderful pair. Pearl is sweetness, dreams and light. Rose is twilight, introspection and nature. Edie’s backstory expands the world inhabited by the girls. The landscape of their coastal Australian town is as much a character as any of the humans. While there’s nothing explicitly magical about this tale, there’s something about the writing that feels as though this might be magical realism. The narrative may move slowly, but this is not a novel to rush through. Readers who stick with it will be richly rewarded by the dazzling writing, vivid landscape, and memorable characters.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel, Romance

Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh, read by Courtney, on 06/07/2014

Clementine’s life is normal enough, even a bit boring. Then she meets Emma and everything changes. They are passionately in love. Then a mistake accidentally outs Clementine to her parents, which evidently makes everything fall apart. The next thing the reader knows; they are adults and one of them has died.
The first half of this graphic novel is beautiful. The illustrations are lovely. Then we get to the end and everything feels extremely rushed. The tragic death felt cheapened by being somewhat unbelievable (or was that just a translation issue? I can’t really tell). Overall, decent but not life-changing.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Multicultural Fiction, Teen Books

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, read by Courtney, on 06/07/2014

Sophie’s mother runs the only bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo, so vacations spent with her mother are anything but ordinary. On one of her excursions outside of the sanctuary, Sophie comes across a man with a baby bonobo in a cage. Seeing the poor physical state of the young bonobo, Sophie decides to take matters into her own hands. She takes out her spending money and barters with the man. She arrives back at the sanctuary with a lighter wallet and a very ill baby bonobo who may not even survive without its mother. Sophie’s mother is infuriated as Sophie’s action likely prompted the man to poach more of the endangered species. A penitent Sophie is determined to be the best surrogate she possibly can be. Towards the end of her scheduled trip, her mother has to leave to take a group of bonobos to a release site upriver. Due to a variety of factors, the release cannot be delayed simply because Sophie’s flight is scheduled at the same time. Sophie doesn’t mind; it will give her that much more time to bond with the baby bonobo that she’s named Otto.
A few days after her mother leaves, civil war breaks out in Congo. The president has been killed and the resulting power vacuum has caused the UN to evacuate all westerners. Sophie is told she will be leaving early. When the UN van arrives, however, Sophie cannot bring herself to leave Otto and jumps from the van as it pulls away from the sanctuary. By the time she gets back, rebels have encroached on the sanctuary. Sophie manages to hide with Otto in an electrically-fenced enclosure. She’s temporarily safe from the rebels, but the adult bonobos are another story.
It quickly becomes evident that Sophie cannot stay, so she makes a daring escape and is followed by several of the adult bonobos from the enclosure. Together they make their way across the war-town countryside as they head for the release site where Sophie’s mother went. The journey takes Sophie across dozens of miles of the DRC. At every turn, Sophie is confronted with the realities of war: child soldiers, starving families, violent militia men, death, destruction.
Endangered excels because it focuses not just on the astonishingly-human bonobos (who share nearly 97% of our DNA) and their plight, but because it refuses to operate in a vacuum. The DRC is a country with a complicated history and is also home to the largest population of bonobos in the world. When a country with vast natural resources has been traditionally mismanaged by colonial powers, however, everyone loses. Sophie’s journey is harrowing, unexpected and strangely beautiful. The narrative moves quickly without sentimentalizing. Sophie is a relate-able main character; she often acts according to her heart, which opens the doors for consequences that are often surprising and formative. Readers will appreciate the swiftly-moving narrative that utilizes popular literary elements like survival and eluding armed militias and grounds them in a very real context. The ending ties up a bit too tidily and Sophie gets extremely lucky on more than one occasion, but these foibles can be easily overlooked. The rest of the story is totally solid though not for the faint of heart.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel, Paranormal, Teen Books

Morning Glories: Deluxe Collection, Volume 2 by Nick Spencer, et al, read by Courtney, on 06/05/2014

The hit, epic series about a sinister boarding school and the kids trapped there, trying to solve the mysteries of time and space – presented once again in a beautiful, oversized, deluxe hardcover format, with copious bonus material including sketches, character designs, cover galleries, and more.

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

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, read by Courtney, on 06/03/2014

I’m kind of feeling like E. Lockhart lulled me into a false sense of security with her more light-hearted previous novels. This one was devastating and I’m still kind of reeling from the final moments of the book.
Cadence Eastman Sinclair comes from an extremely wealthy family. The type that summers on a private island off the coast of New England. The type that plays tennis, owns pure-bred golden retrievers, and inherits mountains of money. These summers on the island are golden. Cadence and her cousins, Johnny and Mirren, are joined by Johnny’s step-father’s nephew, Gat and all four are roughly the same age. They call themselves the Liars and set themselves apart from the rest of the family.
Something terrible happens the summer they are all 15, but Cadence can’t remember any of it. All she knows for certain is that she had some sort of head injury that leaves her with devastating migraines. Two years later, she finally returns to the island to find a lot of changes. The Liars are still there and they are very much the same as she remembers, but the main house has been rebuilt, the family tiptoes around the events of two summers ago, and the family’s patriarch is showing signs of Altzheimer’s. Cadence is determined to uncover the truth about that fateful summer, but no one wants to talk about it. Not even the Liars. Everyone wants Cadence to remember things on her own.
Gradually, the memories start coming back and Cadence is able to begin piecing together the events that have brought the family to this point. As it turns out, some things really are so painful that the brain will block them out. I don’t envy Cadence on any level.
This is one of those books with a surprise ending. Some readers may figure it out, but I wasn’t one of them. It completely caught me off guard and left my heart hurting. It’s a brilliant book with fantastic and intriguing characters, even if they’re not always likeable.

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

Into That Forest by Louis Nowra, read by Courtney, on 05/28/2014

Two girls survive a terrible flood in the Tasmanian bush and are rescued by a pair of Tasmanian tigers who raise them in the wild. Their story of survival is remarkable, as they adapt to the life of the tiger, learning to hunt and to communicate without the use of human language. When they are discovered and returned to civilization, neither can adapt to being fully human after their extraordinary experience. Totally believable, their story will both shock and captivate readers as it explores the animal instincts that lie beneath our civilized veneer and celebrates the ways of the tiger.

07. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Teen Books

Sunny, Vol. 2 by Taiyo Matsumoto, read by Courtney, on 05/28/2014

The latest manga masterpiece from the Eisner Award-winning creator of Tekkonkinkreet.What is Sunny? Sunny is a car. Sunny is a car you take on a drive with your mind. It takes you to the place of your dreams. Sunny is the story of beating the odds, in the ways that count. It’s the brand-new masterwork from Eisner Award-winner Taiyo Matsumoto, one of Japan’s most innovative and acclaimed manga artists. Translated by Tekkonkinkreet film director Michael Arias!

07. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Locke & Key, Vol. 6: Alpha & Omega by Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodríguez (Artist), read by Courtney, on 05/26/2014

The shadows have never been darker and the end has never been closer. Turn the key and open the last door; it’s time to say goodbye.

The final arc of New York Times bestselling Locke & Key comes to a thundrous and compelling conclusion.

An event not to be missed!

Collects Omega #1-5 and Alpha #1-2.

07. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery, Teen Books

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, read by Courtney, on 05/26/2014

“We all have a secret buried under lock and key in the attic of our soul. This is mine.”

In May 1980, fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his barding school in Barcelona. For seven days and seven nights no one knows his whereabouts…

His story begins in an old quarter of the city, where he meets the strange Marina and her father, Germán Blau, a portrait painter. Marina takes Oscar to a cemetery to watch a macabre ritual that occurs on the last Sunday of each month. At exactly ten o’clock in the morning, a coach pulled by black horses appears. From it descends a woman, her face shrouded be a black velvet cloak. Holding a single rose, she walks to a gravestone that bears no name, only a mysterious emblem of a black butterfly with open wings.

When Oscar and Marina decide to follow her, they begin a journey that transports them to a forgotten, postwar Barcelona–a world of aristocrats and actresses, inventors and tycoons–and reveals a dark secret that lies waiting in the mysterious labyrinth beneath the city streets.

07. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel

The Tale of Brin and Bent and Minno Marylebone by Ravi Thornton, Andy Hixon (Visual Art), read by Courtney, on 05/20/2014

Brin and Bent are poolkeepers at The House for the Grossly Infirm. Their days are spent abusing the House residents with bleach and chlorine, spying on them through holes they have drilled in the walls. They do not know that someone else comes to the pool at night: Minno Marylebone, a child like no other.

Pure and beautiful, every night the child enters the water and becomes celestial, laughing and riding the currents as the pool turns into a sea. Then one night Brin and Bent find the wax that has spilled from Minno’s candle and decide to lie in wait…

With this dark yet achingly beautiful tale, Ravi Thornton takes the graphic novel to a new level. The combination of her deft and masterful writing with the stunning artwork of Andy Hixon creates a wondrous and dark experience.

07. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Mystery, Teen Books

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick, read by Courtney, on 05/20/2014

Laureth Peak’s father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers–a skill at which she’s remarkably talented. Her secret: She is blind. But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness. She Is Not Invisible is an intricate puzzle of a novel that sheds a light on the delicate ties that bind people to each other.

07. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley, read by Courtney, on 05/18/2014

Raleigh doesn’t have a soul. A cat stole it – at least that’s what she tells people – at least that’s what she would tell people if she told people anything. But that would mean talking to people, and the mere thought of social interaction is terrifying. How did such a shy teenage girl end up in a car with three of her hooligan classmates on a cross-country road trip? Being forced to interact with kids her own age is a new and alarming proposition for Raleigh, but maybe it’s just what she needs – or maybe it can help her find what she needs – or maybe it can help her to realize that what she needs has been with her all along. This special hardcover edition of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s classic coming-of-age graphic novel includes previously uncollected shorts and extra bonus material.

07. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Mystery, Teen Books, Thriller/Suspense

Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell, read by Courtney, on 05/18/2014

Rule One—Nothing is right, nothing is wrong.
Rule Two—Be careful.
Rule Three—Fight using your legs whenever possible, because they’re the strongest part of your body. Your arms are the weakest.
Rule Four—Hit to kill. The first blow should be the last, if at all possible.
Rule Five—The letters are the law.

Kit takes her role as London’s notorious “Perfect Killer” seriously. The letters and cash that come to her via a secret mailbox are not a game; choosing who to kill is not an impulse decision. Every letter she receives begins with “Dear Killer,” and every time Kit murders, she leaves a letter with the dead body. Her moral nihilism and thus her murders are a way of life—the only way of life she has ever known.

But when a letter appears in the mailbox that will have the power to topple Kit’s convictions as perfectly as she commits her murders, she must make a decision: follow the only rules she has ever known, or challenge Rule One, and go from there.

Katherine Ewell’s Dear Killer is a sinister psychological thriller that explores the thin line between good and evil, and the messiness of that inevitable moment when life contradicts everything you believe.

07. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (Illustrator), read by Courtney, on 05/13/2014

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean present their masterpiece in a completely remastered and redesigned edition overflowing with bonus material!

Somewhere in London, a film director is dying of cancer. His life’s crowning achievement, his greatest film, would have told the story of a European village as the last hour of 999 A.D. approached – the midnight that the villagers were convinced would bring with it Armageddon. Now that story will never be told. But he’s still working it out in his head, making a film that no one will ever see. No one but us.

Serialized in The Face in 1989, expanded and revised into a graphic novel in 1992, and adapted for radio in 2000, Signal to Noise has never stopped evolving. The bonus material in this first-time hardcover edition captures every leg of the journey, including three related short stories unseen in nearly two decades, an additional chapter created for the CD release of the radio drama, and a new introduction by Dave McKean along with the original by Jonathan Carrol and the radio drama introduction by Neil Gaiman.

07. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fantasy, Fiction, Romance, Teen Books

Poison by Bridget Zinn, read by Courtney, on 05/12/2014

Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she’s the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart . . . misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king’s army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she’s certainly no damsel-in-distress—she’s the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.