09. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Snap by Ellie Rollins, read by Angie, on 04/08/2014

Danya loves her pony Sancho. She takes him with her everywhere and he is her best friend. When she finds out her parents have sold Sancho she is determined to save him. Danya and her cousin Pia run away with Sancho to Florida. They are determined to find Danya’s grandmother Angie, Danya’s favorite author and who she has never met. They are on a hero’s quest like in Angie’s books. There are certain tasks they must complete in order to complete the quest. The three of them travel from Kentucky to Florida with the help of those they meet along the way. They wrestle alligators, join the circus, stow away on a cruise ship and spend the night in Graceland.

I thought this was a fun book, completely unbelievable, but fun. Somehow the girls get a pony to hide in a truck, ride in a motorcycle sidecar and stay in a cruise ship cabin. There is never any mention of the horse doing his business (which I am sure would be terribly messy wherever they were). There are times the group is recognized and chased by police or concerned citizens, but they always manage to outwit them and make their escape. I liked Danya and Pia and Sancho, but I couldn’t quite buy their story or stop questioning how they were able to do what they were doing.

09. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Cal Ripken, Jr.'s All-Stars Wild Pitch by Cal Ripken Jr., Kevin Cowherd, read by Angie, on 04/08/2014

Last summer Robbie Hammond hit a kid in the head during a baseball game. Ever since then his pitching has been terrible. He can throw a huge fastball in practice, but anytime there is someone batting he just throws fouls and clunkers. His team is on a losing streak and Robbie’s pitching isn’t helping. Then he meets Ben, a kid who lost an arm but still has a great throw. With Ben and his friend Marty’s help, Robbie starts to deal with his phobia of hitting another kid.

This is a typical celebrity written book. It isn’t horrible, but it isn’t really good either. Ripken is writing what he knows in baseball, but the story doesn’t have a lot of depth. It is a little too after school special for my tastes. Very predictable story and not the best writing. Ripken should stick with what he knows…playing baseball…instead of writing about it.

08. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Jessica, Romance

Fueled by K. Bromberg, read by Jessica, on 04/07/2014

What happens when the one person you never expected suddenly happens to be the one you’ll fight the hardest to keep?

Colton stole my heart. He wasn’t supposed to, and I sure as hell didn’t want him to, but he crashed into my life, ignited feelings within me that I thought had died forever, and fueled a passion that I never knew could exist.

Rylee fell out of that damn storage closet and into my life. Now I don’t think I’ll ever be the same. She’s seen glimpses of the darkness within me, and yet she’s still here. Still fighting for me. She is without a doubt the saint, and I am most definitely the sinner.

How is it the one thing neither of us wanted—neither of us anticipated that fateful night—has us fighting so hard to keep?

He steals my breath, stops my heart, and brings me back to life again all in a split second of time. But how can I love a man who won’t let me in? Who continually pushes me away to prevent me from seeing the damaged secrets in his past? My heart has fallen, but patience and forgiveness can only go so far.

How can I desire a woman who unnerves me, defies me, and forces me to see that in the deep, black abyss of my soul there’s someone worthy of her love? A place and person I swore I’d never be again. Her selfless heart and sexy body deserve so much more than I’ll ever be capable of giving her. I know I can’t be what she needs, so why can’t I just let her go?

We are driven by need and fueled with desire, but is that enough for us to crash into love?

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 misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home, and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.

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

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

Take it. Live it. F*** it.

A new drug is out. Everyone is talking about it. The Hit. Take it, and you have one amazing week to live. It’s the ultimate high. At the ultimate price.

Adam is tempted. Life is rubbish, his girlfriend’s over him, his brother’s gone. So what’s he got to lose? Everything, as it turns out. It’s up to his girlfriend, Lizzie, to show him…

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Melody, Romance

Lady Sundown by Nancy Bush, read by Melody, on 04/05/2014

As beautiful and reckless as the Oregon wilderness, Lexie Danner was determined to become an animal doctor and wed the man of her choice. But when she and her infuriating stepbrother were forced to fight a scheming land baron, they discovered a love as boundless as the mountain skies.

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Paperboy by Vince Vawter, read by Angie, on 04/05/2014

A young boy in 1959 Memphis takes over his friend Rat’s paper route for the month of July. For any other boy this would not be a problem, but this boy stutters and has a hard time communicating with people. They often assume he is slow or stupid or try to finish his sentences for him. On the paper route he meets Mr. Spiro, a merchant marine. Mr. Spiro likes to chat with the boy and doesn’t mind that it might take a while to get the words out. Each week with the paper collection he gives him a piece of a dollar bill with a word on it: Student, Servant, Seller, Seeker: the four parts of your soul. He also meets a beautiful but sad housewife who drinks too much and is in an unhappy marriage. Then there is TV boy who just stares at a silent TV all day long; it isn’t until the end of the summer that we learn he is deaf and learning to read lips.

The paper route is set against the backdrop of this boy’s home life. His parents are gone a lot and he is being raised by Mam, the Black housekeeper. Mam doesn’t treat him any different because of his stutter either. She helps him and guides him. There is trouble with a junk man who seems to be connected to Mam and who is taking the boy’s things. He also finds his birth certificate and realizes the man he calls his father is not his father. But he realizes this man makes the time to play pitch and catch with him and be his father even though he doesn’t have to. We finally learn the boy’s name at the end of the book. He never says it because it is impossible for him to say with his stutter.

This is a wonderful story about a young boy dealing with a difficulty. I like the fact that it is based on the author’s own life and struggles with his stutter. He never overcomes it, but he does learn to live with it. I thought the racial issues worked themselves into the story very well. This was the segregated South on the eve of integration and racial tensions were everywhere. I did think the story with the junk man seemed a little extraneous to the main story, but it didn’t take away from the story. I would recommend this book.

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery

Lawless by Jeffrey Salane, read by Angie, on 04/05/2014

M Freeman has gotten accepted to the Lawless School. After a very strange interview, she is whisked away from her mother and her home. Her life before of tutors and homeschooling is over. But the Lawless School is not what it seems. The classes are not your normal classes and this is not your normal boarding school. It is a school where the children of exceptional criminals come to learn their craft. Turns out her parents aren’t art restorers and dealers, but art thieves. Her dad was a graduate of Lawless and may have been killed because of something he learned there. M (yes that is her full name) discovers that her tutors have been preparing her for this life of crime her entire life. She has been born a thieve and she is good at it.

This is a crazy thrill-ride of a book. The school itself is insane in the extreme, but really fun. M never knows who she can trust and that seems to change on a daily basis. There is of course a huge mission, a secret code, a message from her dead dad, and an end of the world scenario. The story is in no way believable or possible and the twist at the end is just a little too strange for my tastes. However, it is a fun book if you don’t think about the improbability of it all.

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Finding Zasha by Randi Barrow, read by Angie, on 04/06/2014

Ivan is a 12 year old boy living in Leningrad when the Germans start bombing the city during WWII. Soon the city is cut off and supplies are running out. People are starving and freezing every day. Ivan lives with his mother in an apartment building in the city. Their upstairs neighbor Auntie Vera moves in with them when her apartment is damaged during a bombing. Auntie starts teaching Ivan all about how to survive during wartime, lessons she learned during WWI. Soon Auntie and Ivan are going to leave the city. Ivan’s mother works in a factory that is being moved to the Ural Mountains. Auntie and Ivan are going to take the ice road over the lake and out of Leningrad. They end up with Auntie’s sister-in-law in Vilnov. Soon they have joined the partisans, the people fighting against the Germans throughout Russia. Ivan catches the attention of Major Axel Recht because he plays the concertina so well. Ivan is moved into the Nazi headquarters and also starts taking care of Recht’s two German Shepherd puppies Zasha and Thor. Ivan is completely attached to the puppies and wants to save them from Recht. When the time comes to leave Vilnov, Ivan and the partisans take the puppies with them. They escape to Uncle Boris’s cabin in the woods where they spend the rest of the war.

I didn’t realize this was a prequel to another book until I was finished reading it. I guess the sequel takes up the story of Zasha and what happens to her after she is taken at the end of this book. I found the historical aspects of this story interesting. The Russian side of WWII is not one we in the west hear about a lot so a different perspective was nice. However, I didn’t find Ivan that great of a character. He was fine except for the role he had to play. I didn’t believe he could be a partisan; he just wasn’t sneaky or calm enough. He acted on his emotions too much and put the mission in danger several times. I also found it a little far fetched that this group would welcome him in so quickly and completely. I enjoyed his attachment to the dogs but also thought that was a bit over the top as well. The first part of the book was all excitement and adventure, but the back half really slowed down as the final years of the war passed. Some kids will stick this one out but it is not for everyone.

03. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Leslie, Mystery · Tags:

The Shadow Collector's Apprentice by Amy Gordon, read by Leslie, on 03/31/2014

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In the summer of 1963, after his father has inexplicably disappeared leaving Cully with his three eccentric aunts on their barely profitable apple farm, Cully goes to work for a mysterious antiques dealer who has the strange hobby of collecting shadows.

Another good read for both boys and girls, from Amy Gordon.  A bit of mystery rolled in with suspense and history.  Some of it is a bit far-fetched for me, but not for kids.  They will enjoy this one as a Mark Twain nominee.