30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Teen Books

Night School by C.J. Daugherty, read by Courtney, on 04/03/2014

 After getting arrested for the third time in one year, Allie has been sent to a remote boarding school for their summer session. She expects it to be something like a prison for troubled kids, so she’s extremely surprised to find out that the vast majority of the students both wealthy and academically talented. Allie knows she doesn’t fit in, but she makes the best of it. While she makes several friends quickly, she also makes some enemies by engaging in flirtation with a handsome student named Sylvain (super-wealthy and French) and by getting attention from badboy Carter West (mysterious, moody and on scholarship). Over time, Allie genuinely begins to enjoy being at Cimmeria Academy. She’s working harder on schoolwork than ever before and is starting to feel like being sent to Cimmeria was actually a good thing. There are just a few things that she can’t quite figure out. First, there’s the issue of the noises Allie hears on the roof every night. Second, how in the world did she manage to get into such an elite school? It’s clearly not a place where kids are typically sent for disciplinary problems. The students of Cimmeria tend to go on to Ivy League schools and many of the students are legacies, meaning their parents and grandparents attended Cimmeria as well. Allie doesn’t fit into any of those categories and isn’t sure why or how she wound up at such a fancy boarding school. Oh, and why had she never even heard of the school until being sent there?
When the school dance is disrupted by both a fire and a murder, Allie decides it’s time to start getting some answers.
It’s easy to go into this book expecting a paranormal story, but there are minimal, if any, paranormal elements in the story. Readers will be wondering what is going on up until the very end and even then, there will be questions. This is the first in a series, which means that that much of the plot is meant to be unresolved. Unfortunately, a good deal of time is spent on the love-triangle-angle, which has become such a cliche in YA literature at this point that I can barely tolerate it when I come into contact with it. Even worse, there’s a scene of near-rape that Allie is able to simply ignore. She is uncomfortable in her aggressor’s presence, but inexplicably fails to do anything else about it (she doesn’t tell anyone in authority; doesn’t seek help, medical or psychological; barely mentions it unless the perpetrator is in the same scene…). It just really bothered me that this type of violence was completely glossed over. Still, it was an interesting enough book, but probably not one I’ll be recommending anytime soon.

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

Divergent by Veronica Roth, read by Courtney, on 03/02/2014

Finally, a novel that lives up to its hype. I’d been hearing tons about this book and just got ahold of it last week. And then finished it in less than two days. Blazing fast narrative and a great protagonist make for a wonderful, um, diversion from everyday life.
This is definitely a dystopia, but there’s clearly much more to it than is presented in this book. Beatrice is born into the Abnegation faction where members are more or less ascetic. When citizens turn 16, however, they must make a decision to either stay with their faction or join a new one. Beatrice finds that she cannot choose her old faction; she doesn’t feel the selflessness required to fit in and thrive in the community. Her test results are inconclusive which makes deciding even tougher. Thing is, she’s not really able to be categorized as easily as the rest of the population and that makes her dangerous. She winds up joining the Dauntless faction, one that thrives on danger and bravery. She’s already ruled out the other choices of Erudite (the clever ones), Candor (where honesty is the best quality) and Amity (the nice, friendly, peaceful folks). Joining Dauntless isn’t as easy as it sounds though and even is Beatrice does make it through initiation, will she be able to keep herself safe from those who would be threatened by her divergence?
Ends on a cliff-hanger. I expect the world to become more fleshed out as the series develops. Good stuff.

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Graphic Book, History, NonFiction

March (Book One) by John Robert Lewis, Andrew Aydin (Co-writer), Nate Powell (Artist), read by Courtney, on 03/08/2014

March tells the story of its author, Congressman John Lewis, and his lifetime of work with the civil rights movement. The first in a trilogy, book one covers Lewis’s early days in Alabama, his meeting with Dr. King and the beginnings of the the bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins.
This is a great collaboration between a living civil rights legend and renowned comics creators. Readers will learn about a pivotal point in history from a point of view not seen in history books. Lewis came from humble beginnings and worked hard to change societal attitudes at a time when it was downright dangerous to do so. The artwork is great; detailed and evocative. I look forward to book two.

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

Elemental by Antony John, read by Courtney, on 03/09/2014

Thomas lives in an extremely small community on Hatteras Island (adjacent to historically mysterious Roanoke Island). A plague has wiped out the majority of the world’s population. The few survivors now live in remote communities or on board ships. Thomas is unique in an unusual community. He is the only one who was born without a power over the elements. Everyone else has a power, some weaker than others. When a hurricane blows into the region, Thomas and the other four younger residents are sent to Roanoke for shelter from the storm. When the bad weather passes, the kids realize that all the adults (Guardians) have been taken captive by pirates. Worse yet, their tiny settlement has been burned to the ground. It’s now up to Thomas and the others to rescue the Guardians, but Thomas realizes that the Guardians have been keeping secrets from Thomas. Secrets that change everything and drive Thomas to question everything he’s ever known.
I really wanted to like this book. I honestly did. I like Antony John a lot, both as an author and as a person. Or, at least I like his work when it’s grounded in reality rather than a speculative setting. The world building in Elemental is shaky at best. There’s no hint of why these “elemental” powers exist or how they connect to Roanoke/Hatteras (a far too specific choice of locales to be random). Thomas and company fall flat as protagonists. Thomas comes across as both exceedingly naive and remarkably obtuse. The two primary female characters don’t have much more going for them, though they do show signs of personal growth in the absence of Guardians. The only standout character is Griffin, Thomas’s deaf younger brother who also appears to have the power to see the future, a power that no one else in the colony possesses. I personally had problems with a few details that weren’t really integral to the plot, but bugged me endlessly anyway. For instance, do the Guardians really believe they can sustain/grow this colony with only 14 people?
Predictably, by the end, there are more questions than answers, which sets the reader up for the next installment. I probably won’t be along for the ride.

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

The Sandman: Overture Special Edition, #1 by Neil Gaiman, read by Courtney, on 03/09/2014

Each of the six issues of THE SANDMAN: OVERTURE will be followed the next month by its own Special Edition which will include an interview with a member of the creative team, plus rare artwork and more. This issue starts things off with an interview with J.H. Williams.

This issue will include the entire first issue of the new miniseries, including the gatefold in its original form before coloring, giving readers a behind-the-scenes at J.H. Williams’ unique process. Williams’ original coloring will be shown in addition to the black, white and gray tones of the original work. In addition, the lettering will be translucent, allowing the reader to see the exquisite artwork behind the word balloons.

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

Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel, read by Courtney, on 03/15/2014

Peggy Fitzroy, an orphan with a wealthy extended family finds herself in a most unusual position when she encounters the rotund Mr. Tinderflint, who offers her a top secret offer of employment. Through a series of unfortunate mishaps, Peggy finds herself in no position to refuse. It turns out that Mr. Tinderflint is something of a spymaster. His previous charge, Lady Francesca, has recently died. The plan is to send Peggy in her place to the court of King George I. There, she will play the role intended for Lady Francesca; she will be a maid to Princess Caroline. It’s a difficult charge. Tinderflint and his accomplices refrain from telling Peggy what they hope to get from her while she’s at the palace. They also fail to tell her about the interpersonal intricacies that would make her ruse more believable. Peggy, to her credit, excels being a quick wit and assumes the position with minimal obvious difficulty. The longer Peggy stays at court, the more convinced she is that Lady Francesca’s death may not have been a natural one. Peggy will need to maneuver quickly in order to avoid a similar fate.
Palace of Spies is an intricate tale of intrigue. The reader has no more idea of what Francesca was up to than Peggy does. Peggy is tons of fun as a main character. She’s witty and savvy when it comes to dealing with the elite. The language is rich and suits the time period well. The court of King George is brought to vivid life here. The denizens of the court are simultaneously frivolous, conniving and, on occasion, deadly. Readers will sympathize with Peggy, who just wants to survive the ordeal and live life on her own terms.
To say that this book is flawless would be remiss, however. It’s difficult not to take issue with the idea of a stranger being able to literally take over the life a well-known court personality. Francesca had friends, enemies and lovers at court. While it’s not totally unbelievable that she and Peggy could look alike enough to be mistaken for one another (particularly with the amount of makeup and accessorizing that accompanies the era’s fashions), it’s hard to believe that even those close to Francesca fail to notice the difference in both appearance and personality. If the reader is able to suspend their disbelief enough to make this work, there’s still the issue of following the dizzying plot. It takes forever for the reader to figure out what’s exactly going on. There are almost too many mysteries going on at the same time, enough to make the otherwise delightful narrative lag in places. Still, it’s important to note that this is the beginning of a series, so many answers will likely come in upcoming installments. Hand this one to fans of feisty and clever female protagonists. There’s a lot to like here.

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

The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson, read by Courtney, on 03/17/2014

Laila has just arrived in America, but she’s not the average immigrant. Her father was the ruler of a Middle Eastern country who has been killed in a bloody coup led by her uncle. Laila, her mother and brother have relocated to the US with the aid of the CIA. It doesn’t take Laila long to discover that just about everything she thought she knew about her father was inaccurate. Where she and her little brother had thought him a king, the rest of the world regarded him as a corrupt and brutal dictator. Still reeling from being torn out of the only life she’s known, Laila finds the US to be overwhelming. Laila is unused to being able to walk about without body guards. She’s never attended school. Never had friends. Laila is immediately befriended by her peer ambassador, Emmy, who helps to introduce Laila to American teenage life. All the while, Laila’s mother is in contact with local refugees who were once targeted by her father, her uncle (now the new dictator) and the CIA. Who is helping who? Will this family’s life ever be peaceful? Can Laila ever atone for her father’s transgressions against their people?
This unique novel puts global conflict into context. The country Laila’s family hails from is unnamed, but feels very similar to several other oppressive Middle-Eastern regimes. Laila’s family has a lot to deal with, ranging from dealing with the death of their patriarch to coming to terms with a man they thought of as a gentle family man, rather than a brutal dictator responsible for innumerable deaths and atrocities. Laila is a fascinating, complex character. Her mother is quite interesting as well. They have both come from a culture where women had few rights and now live in a country where they are expected to take care of themselves and their family. Laila’s mother does it the best way she knows how: manipulation and bargaining. The plot will keep readers on their toes, because the motivations of the players that shape Laila’s world are unknown even to Laila. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Delphine by Richard Sala, read by Courtney, on 03/21/2014

Delphine tells the tale of an unnamed man searching for his estranged girlfriend. The girl, Delphine, had gone back to her hometown to help with her ailing father, but never returned. The protagonist has managed to track down the town, but is immediately beset by a string of bizarre and creepy occurrences that seem to conspire to frustrate his efforts. He encounters witches, monsters, secret passages, mysterious woods and other stuff of fairy tales. This is, ostensibly, a spin on Snow White (told from the perspective of the prince), though I failed to see the connection until it was pointed out to me. The fairy tale allusions are clearly intentional and Sala’s dark and haunting artwork lends itself well to the atmosphere of the story. It takes awhile to get a grip on the process of events, but that appears to be part of the journey.

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

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, read by Courtney, on 03/21/2014

Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday will go down in history. If all goes as planned, that is. Leonard’s plan is relatively simple: visit his four favorite people so that he can give them a parting gift, track down a former friend named Asher, shoot Asher and then shoot himself. Leonard has in his possession his grandfather’s WWII-era Nazi handgun, which he takes to school with him on that fateful day. Leonard begins his rounds, delivering his personalized parting gifts to the few people that mean anything to him: his elderly Bogart-quoting neighbor, an Iranian classmate who is also a musical prodigy, a Christian home-school girl who hands out pamphlets in the subway station and Leonard’s Holocaust teacher, Herr Silverman. Each and every one of these characters (and a few more along the way) notice something is going on with Leonard; he’s chopped off all his hair, he’s giving away treasured possessions, he’s acting differently. Leonard manages to dodge their questions and concerns and continues to work through his plan. All the while, he can’t help but hope that at least one person will remember that it’s his birthday or that someone will try to stop him. The ultimate question, however, is will Leonard follow through with his plan to end the life of a fellow teen as well as his own? Is there any way for him to come back from the brink?
There are a lot of books out there that address teen suicide, as well as teen shooters. Leonard makes for an interesting protagonist. He’s not particularly likeable, but he’s also not completely despicable. He’s really smart and has serious difficulties relating to people his own age. His attitude towards the rest of his school and society at large is reminiscent of a modern-day Holden Caulfield. What sets Leonard apart as a character is the added element of his relationship to Asher, the former-friend Leonard is determined to kill. It takes a good deal of time to understand the motivation behind his target, but when it comes up, it’s pretty serious. The reader will rarely agree with the actions that Leonard takes, but they will likely have some similar frustrations in their lives. My only real issue with this is the attitude regarding the vast majority of the adults in this book. Only two of them are trusted by Leonard; the rest of the adults are only doing their duty, or, in the case of Leonard’s mother, completely shirking it. Leonard’s story is angsty and sad, but with good reason. The action is interspersed with “Letters From the Future”, which adds a hopeful note, even when things appear bleakest. Hand this one to fans of 13 Reasons Why and Everybody Sees the Ants.

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

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, Jen Wang, read by Courtney, on 03/26/2014

Anda spends the vast majority of her free time playing the MMORPG, Coursegold. She is thrilled when she is invited to join a girls-only guild. Her life feels complete. One of Anda’s guild members encourages Anda to do some side work killing off gold farmers in exchange for some quick cash (the gold farmers just collect gold and rare prizes to sell on the online marketplace for real money). Believing the fundamental idea of gold farming to be wrong, Anda is at first happy to kill off these low-level players. Then she realizes that they’re not fighting back. She lingers behind to chat with one of the gold farmers and discovers that he is actually employed by a company in China. The farmer calls himself Raymond and explains to her that he spends extremely long hours working to help pay his family’s bills. The pay is low and the conditions are grim, but no one dares to complain for fear of losing their jobs. Anda is appalled and encourages Raymond to organize against his employers, only to find that her worldview is distinctly privileged and that her encouragement may have done more harm than good.
In Real Life has a lot going for it. The protagonist is a smart, plus-sized gamer girl and the artwork depicting the game world and the real world is both charming and nuanced. The subject matter is important for those in the gaming world to know about and is rarely discussed in popular culture. I wish, however, more time had been spent on the lives of the Chinese teens who work in these internet cafes/sweatshops and how the process itself works. The concept of gold farming is more comprehensively addressed in Doctorow’s novel, For the Win, so those wanting to know more will want to read that next.

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Informational Book, NonFiction, Teen Books

Rookie Yearbook Two by Tavi Gevinson, read by Courtney, on 03/27/2014

Can I just say how much I love Rookie? Loooove it. And it makes me really happy that a good deal of the online-only magazine is being published in these “Yearbook” editions. The format is identical to the first Yearbook, but the depth and breadth of the subject matter is fresh and relevant. Rookie tackles things that most other teen magazines wouldn’t dare to. Faith, sexuality, art, music and activism are all given equal weight and credibility. The fashion spreads are moody and creative (and refreshing free from brand names and prices; something I’ve always found particularly irritating about most magazines). Themed playlists and colorful art abounds throughout. There’s not a single teenaged girl I wouldn’t recommend this to. In fact, I think most adults should check it out too. I know I learned a thing or two. And boys? If you want to understand girls a little bit more, consider this a really good starting point.

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Courtney, Fantasy, Fiction

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente, read by Courtney, on 03/27/2014

September has now been to Fairyland twice. As the final book in the Fairyland trilogy begins, September is yearning to go back to her favorite magical place. She’s been stuck in Nebraska for over a year, helping her family and learning to drive a Model A. It’s all horribly dull in comparison to her beloved Fairyland. Finally, after months of waiting, September is whisked away to the moon by the impetuous Blue Wind. They arrive at a way station on the moon. September is given an occupation (criminal) and is given a task. The moon is being torn asunder by a giant Yeti and September will need all of her wits and her old pals, A-L and Saturday to save it and Fairyland.
The third of the Fairyland books does not disappoint. The Moon over Fairyland is as whimsical as Fairyland itself. The main difference this time is September herself. She is no longer the eager and uninhibited girl who was first whisked away. This September is a girl who is starting to grow up. She has matured emotionally since she left and now finds herself holding back. She is also now confronted with the consequences of her previous actions in Fairyland, which have far-reaching effects. This final book is very much a metaphor for the process of growing up and becoming a woman. Taken literally, however, it’s a delicious and detailed adventure story with a spunky young protagonist. Either way, it’s a satisfying addition to the Fairyland series.

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

The Hit by Melvin Burgess, read by Courtney, on 03/29/2014

Imagine a world, not too unlike our own, where a drug exists that can give users the ultimate high for an entire week. The drug, Death, makes everything about you better: your appearance, your mental process, your physical ailments, everything. The catch? Death is completely, one hundred percent lethal. Within a week of ingesting it, the user will die of heart failure. Ostensibly created as an euthanasia drug where the terminally ill could get one last good week before death, the drug has hit the black market. Thousands of disaffected citizens have taken the drug (and died, of course), but everything reaches a fevered pitch at a concert in Manchester where the lead singer of one of the most popular counter-cultural bands dies at the end of a sold-out concert after a week on Death. Adam and his girlfriend, Lizzie, are at that concert; front-row and center. Shortly after the singer collapses, the riots begin. As Adam and Lizzie slowly make their way through town, they feel like they’re on top of the world – it’s a revolution!
The next day, things start to turn sour for Adam. His brother has gone missing and is presumably dead, which means that Adam will be forced to support the family in his brother’s absence. He fails to tell Lizzie about it and winds up being a complete jerk to her. With his brother gone and Lizzie being over him, Adam finds himself spiraling into a serious funk. It’s bad enough that when he gets an opportunity to take Death, he actually swallows the pill, condemning himself. Then things start getting really interesting.
I felt that the premise to “The Hit” was fascinating, but Adam was not the most likeable of characters. He’s insanely selfish and it tended to bother me that Lizzie was willing to put up with it (even if he is dying). I really just kept wanting Lizzie to walk away from the whole thing, but she sticks with her boyfriend no matter how bad he gets or how bad the situation he’s created has gotten. This book does get major props for having genuinely evil and creepy mob-style villains. They’re positively chilling. Overall, this is an interesting and diverting read that manages to pose some serious questions. Consistent action sequences (with plenty of violence) and a fast pace make this a good pick for reluctant, but mature readers.

01. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Apocalyptic, Courtney, Teen Books

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, read by Courtney, on 03/07/2014

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. History will show that the world actually ends with 6-foot-tall carnivorous praying mantises that displace humanity from the top of the food chain. Austin Szerba is interested in the ways in which events, however small, coalesce into what we later call history. Through a fascinating intersection of circumstance and chance, Austin is in the prime position to present a detailed history of the end of the world.
Ealing, IA is your average dying Midwestern small town. The factory that once kept the town afloat shut down years ago. The local mall is nearly vacant. There’s really not a lot for teenaged boys to do. Austin and his best friend, Robby, hang out (skateboard, smoke) in the area behind the mall in the spot they’ve named “the Grasshopper Jungle”. Up until this point, the most challenging thing that Austin’s ever had to deal with is the possibility that he might just be in love with Robby, who came out of the closet in middle school. But Austin really loves his girlfriend, Shann, too. The three of them are best friends, but no matter what the situation, hanging out with them invariably leaves Austin both horny and confused.
One day, Robby and Austin are beaten up in the Grasshopper Jungle by a quartet of bullies. This is the beginning of a chain of events that put Robby and Austin in a prime position to witness the beginning of the end. It just takes them awhile to put all the pieces together and to understand their own role in them.
I’ve been struggling to figure out how to even describe this book. The plot is unusual, to say the least. On one level, it’s a darkly humorous apocalyptic tale. On another level, it’s story about teenagers figuring out who they are and how they fit into this world. On yet another, it’s about all the connections, seen and unseen, that turn seemingly isolated incidents into a greater understanding. Grasshopper Jungle is hilarious and heartfelt, apocalyptic and profane, realistic and completely outlandish. The writing is reminiscent of earlier Kurt Vonnegut works, which is a major bonus point for me. I can say with certainty that I’ve never read a book quite like this one. It’s honestly the kind of book you’ll just have to read and experience to see what I mean. I loved it.

05. March 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Graphic Book, Informational Book, NonFiction

Hip Hop Family Tree, Vol. 1 by Ed Piskor, read by Courtney, on 03/03/2014

Ed Piskor has taken on an extremely ambitious undertaking in his on-going Hip Hop Family Tree comic strip. Originally serialized online at Boing Boing, the comic has now been collected and bound for our reading pleasure. Beginning with some of the earliest house parties and rap battles and moving up through rap’s mainstream breakthrough in Blondie’s single, “Rapture”, this first volume has a lot of ground to cover. The end of the book features an index and discographies, both of the artists and the beats/breaks frequently used by DJs.
I totally get why the format is used for this history of hip hop, but I still can’t help but feel like there’s something missing here. It gets difficult to keep track of all the names and alliances. There are definitely tons of noteworthy moments featured throughout, but more organization and contextual information would have been helpful.

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, Teen Books

The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond, read by Courtney, on 02/23/2014

Billy Dean is a special child. He is born on a day of death and destruction, when bombs nearly destroyed the small town of Blinkbonny. He is the only life that came out of that dreadful day. Billy’s world consists entirely of a small attic room with locks on the door. His mother, a beautiful hairdresser, is his only contact with the outside world. She teaches him nearly everything he knows. Billy’s father only comes around from time to time, smelling of incense, candles and cigarettes. When his father does come around, he tells Billy strange and confusing tales. One day, his father leaves and does not return. Billy’s mother decides it is finally time to bring Billy out into the world.
At the age of 13, Billy sees the world for the first time and is both frightened and entranced. There are only two other people who are aware of Billy’s origins: the woman who helped birth him, Misses Malone and the local butcher, with whom Billy’s mother has been having a relationship. As it turns out, Misses Malone has plans for Billy that involve talents Billy is unaware of possessing. It begins with Billy being used as a medium to help connect survivors with their lost loved ones. It escalates into healing the sick. Billy is treated as an angel, with everyone from miles around coming to town for his blessing. Billy isn’t so sure and suspects that he may actually be the monster that his father once told him he was. He isn’t even sure about his own abilities. He’s fairly certain that he’s not who everyone else seems to think he is.
David Almond’s newest is definitely a challenging read. The entire book is narrated by Billy whose spelling can only be described as phonetic. Billy’s story is unusual and the particulars are revealed incrementally. This is likely going to be one of those books that readers either love or hate. I doubt there’s much middle ground. I, for one, found this to be a strangely compelling tale, the likes of which I haven’t come across in YA literature very often. Appeal may not be broad, but for more sophisticated readers, this will be a fascinating and rewarding read.

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: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel

Lucifer, Vol. 1 by Mike Carey, read by Courtney, on 02/17/2014

Fans of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman will remember Lucifer as the devil who retired from Hell and locked the door behind him. Now Lucifer Morningstar is back and starring in his own comic. He’s out of retirement and major plans. It’s going to take a bit of trickery, magic and obfuscation, but when Lucifer sets his mind to something, there’s really very little one can do to change his mind.
I love the world of Sandman, so it’s really no surprise that this comic would appeal to me. Many of the players that we know and love are present in this story. I didn’t love it quite as much as Sandman, but for those who just can’t get enough (and can’t wait for more of the new Sandman prequels), Lucifer should tide them over nicely.

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.