30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fantasy, Graphic Novel

Lucifer, Vol. 2 by Mike Carey, 416 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/27/2014

Book Two of the Lucifer series begins with Lucifer creating an entire universe outside of our own, complete with his own Adam and Eve. Universe building is cool and all, but there are parties in our universe that seek control over the new one. Mazikeen raises an army, which actually comes in handy. The Angel Michael’s daughter has a score to settle. Another angel takes out a contract on Lucifer.
A lot happens in this volume, but various story lines from the first book are starting to come together.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Dystopia, Graphic Novel, Science Fiction

Transmetropolitan, Vol. 2: Lust for Life by Warren Ellis, 208 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/26/2014

Volume two kicks off with Spider’s partner, Channon, moping over her boyfriend’s decision to download his consciousness into a sentient gaseous cloud. And it just gets weirder from there. Spider has some catching up to do after his self-imposed exile. He takes an extended tour of reservations, where ancient cultures are preserved (for better or worse). Volume two ends with Spider on the run from a variety of parties who want to see him come to harm (including a talking police dog with a serious bone to settle) and who somehow believe that he would actually care that they’re holding the cryogenically-frozen head of his ex-wife for ransom. They clearly don’t know Spider Jerusalem very well at all.
Darkly funny and full of surprises, volume two of Transmetropolitan doesn’t disappoint.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Dystopia, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Teen Books

Sekret by Lindsay Smith, 337 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/25/2014

Yulia’s parents used to be nomenklatura, members of the Soviet elite. Now, Yulia lives with her mother and brother, her father’s whereabouts unknown. They’ve been on the run, eluding the KGB, for several years. Then, on a day much like any other, Yulia uses her ability to read minds in order to get desperately needed supplies on the black market. Yulia senses something wrong and, before she can do anything about it, she is taken into custody by KGB operatives. It turns out that they had been specifically tracking Yulia for some time and not because of her parent’s former transgressions, but rather due to her psychic abilities. Yulia is forced to join a top-secret group of operatives with powers similar to hers. There, Yulia learns to block her own thoughts from being read and how to hone her own skills for the purposes of espionage. Yulia knows they have her mother and brother and she has been promised time with them as a reward for her cooperation. As if that weren’t incentive enough, the man in charge of their group, Rostov, is known as a “scrubber” and is able to “scrub” the thoughts right out of someone’s brain, only to be replaced with thoughts of his choosing. Yulia and her comrades manage to expose a traitor with connections to the CIA, only to discover that the traitor has had memories erased by another scrubber. This other scrubber appears to have even more power than Rostov. He’s also looking for Yulia. If this scrubber, who works for the enemy, is more powerful than the USSR’s scrubber, then Yulia’s not safe anywhere.
I found Secret to be both unique and fascinating. I’ve read quite a few books involving mind reading and other psychic powers, but this is by far the most realistic use of such powers that I’ve come across. The Soviet backdrop (a real dystopia!) is detailed and well-researched. Much of the plot centers around real events from the Cold War era (the space race, Cuban Missile Crisis). Further, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the KGB was doing research on physic abilities during this era(mainly in response to the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program), which makes this a fantastic merging of the paranormal and the historical. A cliff-hanger ending sets this up for a sequel.

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

Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast, 288 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/20/2014

Raphaelle and her family have just moved to a new home, which means a new school as well. This time around, Raphaelle decides she isn’t going to be the trouble maker she was at all of her previous schools. This time around, she is going to be Ella and she is going to be as normal as can be. She’s avoiding the Catholic schools this time around though her perfect and popular younger sister is content to stick with the parochial trend. Her father is now teaching at a University, which keeps him busy. Her mother, who had to give up her job for the move, struggles to find a part-time job to keep her mind occupied. As it turns out, Raphaelle/Ella doesn’t find things much easier in a public school setting, but she does enjoy her art classes. It is during these classes that she meets a boy, Samir and starts falling for him. Samir falls for her as well, but matters are complicated by Samir’s family being strict Muslims, who are none too fond of the idea of their son dating a Catholic (or lapsed-Catholic) girl. Raphaelle gets fed up with the limitations of the labels people are given and creates an extremely provocative work of art for the school art show. This particular piece of art is shocking enough to have a part of it taken down. Raphaelle gets suspended and her teacher may be fired. Things are so bad, Raphaelle has to get lawyer. And then they get worse.
While the main focus point of this story is the censorship issue, it’s bolstered by a host of other issues. Raphaelle’s mother and sister each have their own serious issues, all of which go almost completely ignored by their father. Her relationship, already complicated by religious issues, is strained over and over again by a variety of circumstances and invokes themes of faith, prejudice, and intersectionality. Other characters, like artsy jock David, the art teacher’s disabled daughter, and others complicate and round out an already interesting story. It’s a novel in verse, so it moves extremely fast. Most readers will finish this one in an afternoon. The sequel, Capricious, is out now.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Graphic Book, Memoirs

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney, 256 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/19/2014

Art and madness. Do the two always have to go hand in hand? Is there a reason so many artists/writers/creative types struggle with mental illness? If they had been alive today, in the age of modern medicine and therapy, would they still have been able to create their masterpieces? Ellen Forney finds herself having to deal with this very issue as she, a long-time comic artist, is diagnosed as bi-polar. Forney doesn’t just tell her story; she does her research as well. Forney tells readers about the illness itself, the medications, side effects and so-called “mad” geniuses. Early on in her treatment, she worries about the medication taking away or diminishing her creativity. By the end, she has found a middle ground. Things aren’t perfect and never will be, but readers can tell that Ellen is going to wind up OK.
Marbles is a fantastic graphic memoir. Forney, who is an Eisner-Award winning cartoonist (and the artist for Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) does an excellent job of demystifying this potentially devastating mood disorder by putting forth her story in a clear and concise narrative. It is abundantly clear that much of her progress is due to a talented doctor/therapist and a large support network of friends. Even so, it still took years to find balance and which serves as a good reminder to readers that these issues will not go away overnight or on their own. At times humorous, but always honest, this memoir is an excellent example of what the comic medium is capable of.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Teen Books

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige, 452 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/18/2014

Poor Amy Gumm. She lives with her mom in a dusty old trailer park somewhere in rural Kansas. Her mom, when not too depressed to leave the house, is always out drinking. At school, things aren’t much better. Amy’s pregnant arch-enemy, Madison, likes to start fights and blame “Salvation Amy” for them. On the day that Amy is sent home from school for fighting with Madison, a storm is brewing. The storm turns into a tornado and whisks Amy, her trailer and her mother’s pet rat, Star, off to another world – Oz, to be specific. The first thing Amy notices when she crash-lands is that Oz looks nothing like it’s supposed to. As Amy begins to meet the inhabitants of Oz, she quickly finds out that her more famous Kansas predecessor, Dorothy, is the ruler of Oz. Her loyal companions are still loyal, but corrupted by greed and power. Dorothy has become something of a dictator dressed in gingham. The use of magic has been forbidden by all save Dorothy and her counterparts. The rest of Oz is suffering dearly. Amy is quickly apprehended by and then saved from Dorothy by a Wicked witch, Mombi, who represents the resistance. Amy has no choice but to join the resistance and they have only one main goal: to kill Dorothy.
This is a fun take on the Wizard of Oz story. Amy makes a good foil to Dorothy’s false cheeriness. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Dorothy portrayed as a bad guy (the Fables comic series by Bill Willingham comes to mind), but she and her Oz counterparts are genuinely evil. I’m still a bit unclear as to how she made such a complete 180 from her original goody-two-shoes persona. Ostensibly, it’s the possession of magic that’s made her turn so evil, but for all I know, there might be more exposition coming in the subsequent novels. Either way, Dorothy and her entire gang make for some really creepy baddies. There’s plenty of action from beginning to end, but the pacing lags through the second half of the book. Some murky potentially-romantic entanglements drag the plot down further. It’s not nearly as much fun (nor as rooted in the original story) as Gregory Maguire’s work, but it will certainly still find a readership among readers who enjoy both a spunky female protagonist and retellings of classic stories.

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

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, 320 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/13/2014

When Ava Lavender was born, there were those who thought her to be an angel. Doctors were baffled; there’s simply no explanation for a girl to be born with wings. Ava’s mother, however, is used to strangeness in her life. To keep Ava and her twin brother, Henry, out of the public eye, Viviane, their mother, sequesters them in their house on Pinnacle Lane. As Ava begins to grow into a woman, she begins to stray from the house, seeking the company of other teenagers and possible explanations for her strangeness.
Ava’s story doesn’t really begin with her at all. It begins several generations earlier, in a small French town where Ava’s great-grandfather makes a decision to move his family to New York. This family includes Ava’s grandmother, Emilienne and her three siblings. All of the children are strange in their own way and each, save Emilienne, dies after falling in love with the wrong people. Emilienne decides to bury her heart and marries a baker. They move across the country to Seattle and into the house on Pinnacle Hill. It is here that Ava’s mother, Viviane, is born. It is only a matter of time before love plays its cruel tricks on her as well.
This book is absolutely gorgeous. Magic realism is rare in YA lit and this is magic realism at its finest (for any age group). To even attempt to create a synopsis of the story is to leave out so much of the myriad elements that make this book so wonderful. The language is evocative. The characters are memorable. The story is haunting. Love and its aftermath are central themes in Ava Lavender’s story, but there’s so much more to it than that. This is a novel that demands to be reread. As painful as it is at times, I will still unhesitatingly welcome the strange and beautiful world that Ava inhabits.
(nb: if this doesn’t wind up on either the Printz and/or Morris Award/Honor lists, I will cry. Or just lose my faith in ALA awards committees altogether.)

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

Transmetropolitan Vol. 1: Back on the Street by Warren Ellis, 144 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/13/2014

Journalist Spider Jerusalem has been off the grid for years. He’s got everything he needs to avoid humanity. Everything except for a completed contract, the remainder of which is now being called in by Jerusalem’s editor. Spider reluctantly moves back to the city, a futuristic hellscape of depravity and corruption. In other words, Spider’s back in his element.
I’ve read this volume before, but it was so long ago that I decided to reread it now that the library has the whole series. Transmetropolitan is hilarious, filthy, sacrilegious and all-around entertaining. Spider is a bit of a Hunter S. Thompson for the future, drugs, smokes and all. A great choice for cynics everywhere.

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

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, 258 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/08/2014

The year is 1960 and 13-year-old Sophie is being forced to live with her Aunt and Grandmother in rural Louisiana for the summer. Sophie, who usually lives in New Orleans with her single mother, is not happy even though it means she won’t have to worry about her mother’s criticism all summer long. Sophie’s aunt lives on what is left of the Fairchild family’s once-grand sugar cane plantation. There’s not much to do on the plantation, so Sophie spends her time outdoors exploring. On one of her excursions, she encounters a strange creature that grants her wish for adventure, family and friends. Sophie subsequently finds herself transported back in time to 1860. The plantation in 1860 is vastly different from the dusty, sleepy farm that Sophie had previously explored. This is the plantation’s hay-day; all the structures are new and solid, the atmosphere thrums with life. The Fairchilds have nearly 200 slaves working their crops and, when Sophie makes her first appearance, she is mistaken for a light-skinned slave. Realizing that attempting to tell her slave-owning ancestors that she’s traveled from the future would probably not make her transition any easier, Sophie begins to assume the identity of a slave.
Sophie’s journey is particularly fascinating because she originates from a pre-Civil-Rights-Movement South. Racism is still a part of everyday life even if slavery is a thing of the past. Sophie not only has to learn to fit in where she is uncomfortable, she experiences the bigotry first-hand. Sophie quickly discovers that the past is far more complicated than she had ever dreamed.
This book could have been a rip-off of other “modern-girl-travels-to-her-ancestors-past” books like Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic or Octavia Butler’s Kindred, but it most certainly is not. For one, Sophie is white, which takes her even farther out of her comfort zone. For another, Sherman weaves in themes from African mythology to paint a sophisticated portrait of a subjugated people. Linguistically, Sherman’s approach feels very authentic and she never shies away from the discomfiting details that flesh out daily life on the plantation. Sherman does, however, keep things appropriate for a younger audience by writing around some of the more violent aspects of antebellum life. It is still a sophisticated novel and will require a measure of dedication from readers, particularly younger ones. This book won’t have broad appeal, but it’s definitely worth a read.

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

The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost, 560 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/05/2014

Will West has been flying under the proverbial radar at his parent’s insistence for as long as he can remember. He keeps his grades mediocre and makes sure to hold back at his cross-country meets. His life is under control until one day, when he realizes he’s being followed by men in unmarked black vehicles. His instincts tell him that things aren’t right and he needs to get out of town. When an elite prep school called the Center for Integrated Learning contacts him with an offer of admittance due to an extraordinarily high standardized test score, Will figures he might as well go. What he discovers is that the remote Wisconsin boarding school is home to the country’s best and brightest. Will no longer needs to hold back; he can tap into his true potential. He finds quickly that he possesses even more impressive abilities than he ever thought possible. He quickly establishes friendships with his hall-mates and makes himself the enemy of the school bullies. As Will begins to explore both the school and his own abilities, he realizes that there is nothing random about the school finding him and that the connections he is discovering date all the way back to the middle ages.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book. I mean, I had just read another book involving a mysterious and elite boarding school, so it’s entirely possible I was just getting bored and/or confused with plotlines. I had a lot of problems with the basic premise. How can a kid who is so clearly a genius never question his parents’ instructions to not stand out? It seems to me that, since most parents typically push their children to do their best, it would be somewhat suspicious for the parents of an incredibly smart and talented kid to tell their child to hide all of it. Wouldn’t a genius, especially a teenaged one, have a few questions for Mom and Pop? I also really wished that I had some idea of what the titular prophecy actually referred to. I’ve been informed that much more will be made clear in the second book, but considering that Frost had 500+ pages to set everything up, one might think it’s not too much to ask to have at least a little more information. Instead, it winds up feeling like 500 pages of exposition, which is a bit tiring on many levels. On the upside, the pacing was quick and a few of the characters were entertaining.

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

Night School by C.J. Daugherty, 424 pages, 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, 487 pages, 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), 128 pages, 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, 326 pages, 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, 42 pages, 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, 368 pages, 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, 304 pages, 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, 128 pages, 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, 273 pages, 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, 192 pages, 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.