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.

28. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel, Humor

How Are You Feeling? by David Shrigley, read by Courtney, on 02/15/2014

With advice like this….
“How to Become a Better Conversationalist:
Smile
Listen
Avoid talking about anything
interesting or worthwhile.
Helpful Acronym: FURRY
Feel
Uplifted
Really
Really
Yes
Other helpful acronyms:
GLUE
BEANS
FLACID [sic]
CLOGS
…how can you go wrong?
Seriously though, I laughed out loud throughout.

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

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

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

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

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen, read by Courtney, on 02/11/2014

The False Prince starts out with a teenaged orphan named Sage stealing a slab of meat for the others in his orphanage. On his way home, Sage runs into a man called Connor who shows a great deal of interest in Sage. After a discussion with the lady who runs the orphanage, Sage finds himself along with three other orphan boys his age in the custody of Connor and his henchmen. Connor tells the boys he has a plan. That plan involves one of the boys becoming wealthy and powerful beyond his wildest dreams. The boy that is chosen will be part of a massive and dangerous secret. The boys that aren’t chosen? Well, no one seems to want to say out loud what will become of them. Escape is a tempting option, but when given the chance to leave, one of the boys does and is promptly killed for his decision. Sage decides he will go along with Connor to see just what he is plotting, as much out of self-preservation as his own curiosity.
Once at Connor’s estate, it is revealed that the royal family is, in fact, dead. The eldest son and his royal parents had all been poisoned some weeks prior, but no one outside the king’s inner circle knows. Connor is one of the king’s advisers and is thus privy to such information. Connor decides to take matters into his own hands. His plan is dangerous. There was once a second son in the royal family. The younger of the two boys had been sent away years ago by his parents due to behavior-related incidents. Instead of going to the boarding school he was supposed to attend, the young prince ran off, only to wind up on ship that is overtaken by pirates. According to the official narrative, the prince did not survive. Since no body had ever been found, however, Connor decides that he will create an alternate story where the prince was secretly in hiding. Lacking an actual prince, Connor is determined to train the orphans that he’s tracked down to be as much like the real prince as possible. Then, when the public has been informed that their beloved king and queen (and heir) are dead, Connor will present the rest of the advisers with his version of the prodigal son. Naturally, the boys not chosen will be privy to treasonous secrets, which puts their chances at long and happy lives at a minimum. Sage decides that, even though he really doesn’t want to be the king, he would prefer not to die just yet, so he sticks around and attempts to play Connor’s game.
The False Prince is a delightful series opener. Sage is a fantastic character with wit and cleverness to burn. The rest of the cast of characters are equally intriguing and nuanced. The playful tone of the narrative counteracts the more serious questions of political intrigue and personal identity. The pacing is impeccable and a massive twist at the end will leave readers reeling and hankering for the next book in the trilogy (if they don’t go back and reread the book with different eyes). I had my middle-schoolers read this one for our most recent book group and they all loved it.

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

No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale, read by Courtney, on 02/09/2014

Kippy Bushman has lived in Friendship, WI for her entire life. It’s a nice, small, cozy town. The kind of place where everyone goes out of their way to be nice and they’re polite even if they’re upset. Thus it is a considerable shock when Kippy’s best friend, Ruth Fried, is found dead. In a cornfield. Strung up from a tree like a scarecrow. It’s a particularly vicious murder by any town’s standards, but for Friendship, it’s downright unthinkable. The town is paralyzed with the loss. Kippy is given the unsettling task of deciphering Ruth’s terrible handwriting in her journal so that she can redact “the sex parts” for Mrs. Fried’s benefit. Bit by bit, we learn more about Ruth, who, as it turns out, is not a particularly nice person. Kippy is stunned by the terrible things Ruth wrote about her and is left feeling rather conflicted. Ruth was, after all, everything that Kippy was not. Ruth was the party girl; the one who would steal another girl’s boyfriend just for the fun of it. There were plenty of people who weren’t sorry to see Ruth dead, in spite of their crocodile-tear-filled TV interviews to the contrary. The police are so anxious to put the case to rest that they quickly arrest Ruth’s boyfriend and keep him in custody. While Kippy doesn’t like the boyfriend, she is forced to admit to herself that the facts don’t add up. The killer is still out there and it’s very likely that he wasn’t a stranger. Kippy teams up with Ruth’s brother, Davey, and her neighbor, Ralph, to do some investigating of their own, much to the chagrin of the Friendship Sheriff’s department.
I picked this one up because it was billed as a sort of “Fargo-meets-Mean-Girls” premise, but I don’t know if that’s really accurate. It is most definitely a darkly comedic whodunit, so it bears at least some similarity to Fargo (minus the woodchipper, mercifully), but that’s where the similarities end. Honestly, I can’t really compare this to anything else I’ve read; this book takes some very strange turns. I did enjoy Kippy as a character, even if she was a bit hard to relate to. She has a sweet relationship with her father. Many of my favorite characters in this book, however, were introduced very late in the book and left me wishing they’d turned up earlier. While this is relatively straight-forward mystery, the plot takes some very unexpected paths to get there. I kind of wish that the pacing had been more even, but I was reading while on vacation, so my attention may not have been as consistent as usual (which is, of course, my fault and not the book’s). Overall, a very original and darkly humorous twist on the teen murder mystery.

28. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Mystery, Teen Books, Thriller/Suspense

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, read by Courtney, on 02/03/2014

Until he was 10, Jasper “Jazz” Dent lived with his father, Billy. Then his father was caught and arrested for the brutal murders of scores of women. Now, Jasper lives with his grandmother and tries his best to live as normal a life as a kid can live when said kid spent his formative years being raised by a serial killer. His grandmother is completely insane and blames Jazz’s long-absent (likely dead) mother for Billy’s violent tendencies. The rest of the town of Lobo’s Nod regards Jazz with unease. Everyone suspects he’ll turn out just like his father. The only two people who are willing to treat Jazz as a person wholly different from Billy are his girlfriend Connie and best friend Howie (who happens to suffer from extreme hemophilia).
Jazz’s upbringing makes him eternally convinced that he might still be just like his father, even though most signs point otherwise. Instead, Jazz uses the skills he learned from his father to investigate a local murder that seems strikingly similar to one his father might have committed. If his father wasn’t already in jail, that is. Unfortunately, local law enforcement doesn’t seem too keen on having the teenaged son of a serial killer helping them out with their current case load, so Jazz and his friends are more or less on their own. Then the body count starts rising and even the police realize that they might just need Jazz’s help to stop the killer before he can claim anyone else.
I Hunt Killers is a fun, bloody, fast-paced thriller. Comparisons to Dexter/Castle/Hannibal are inevitable, but not entirely accurate. Jazz knows the mind of a serial killer, but he comes across as far too empathetic to be a killer himself. Connie and Howie are great characters; they also have the bonus qualities of being about the last two people Jazz would ever hurt if he did ever turn to killing. The plot is a bit on the preposterous side, but it’s still an intriguing concept. I assigned this to my high school book club and a great discussion ensued.

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

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, read by Courtney, on 02/01/2014

Up until recently, Hayley and her father have been living on the road. Hayley’s father, a veteran with PTSD, has been trucking and picking up odd jobs to earn a living. They never stayed in one place very long, so Hayley hasn’t much in the way of traditional schooling. At long last, Hayley’s father decides to settle down in his hometown so that Hayley can go to school and graduate like a normal teenager. While not exactly enthused, Hayley settles into a life than is indeed more or less normal. She makes friends, even starts falling for a boy. The only problem is that she’s not exactly sure that being here is helping her father. He’s not always getting out of bed in the mornings, he gets drunk and angry at unpredictable times, he still wakes up screaming in the middle of the night…Even if Hayley does find a way to live a normal life, who will take care of her father?
The Impossible Knife of Memory takes on the tough subject of a parent home from war and still bearing the scars, physically and emotionally. Hayley has never had a stable life, but it is the only one she knows and she would rather be at her father’s side than anywhere else. The downside to her life with her father is that she is ill-equipped to deal with her own life. She too seems to suffer from a form of PTSD. Hayley’s internal struggles add a sense of immediacy to even the everyday hurdles she encounters. The relationship between father and daughter is nuanced; there’s a lot of love and a lot of anger. Hayley also must try to understand the drama of her friends and their situations, something she is unaccustomed to. It takes some time for her to realize that life-altering struggles are a part of everyone’s life, not just hers and her father’s. Hayley will definitely say and do things that will make readers want to yell at her, but in the end, Hayley’s growth as a person satisfies.

15. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Ex Machina: The Deluxe Edition, Vol. 5 by Brian K. Vaughan, read by Courtney, on 04/28/2013

The final deluxe hardcover collection of Brian K. Vaughan’s spectacular series mixing politics and superheroes.

In this last deluxe EX MACHINA hardcover, Mayor Mitchell Hundred descends into the NYC sewers to learn why he was given the strange powers that helped him become the heroic Great Machine while a powerful new foe reveals a terrifying plan that’s been in the works since the series began.

Then, in the very last EX MACHINA adventure, will Mitchell Hundred’s new archenemy, a dogged reporter with powers far beyond those of the Great Machine, finally bring down his administration? Will the tragedies that Mayor Hundred warned about from the beginning finally come to pass?