Saturday, October 26, 2013

FLASH REVIEWS: Recent Audio Reads in Historical Fiction

I'm back with more quick reviews of my recent audio reads! I just finished two Bloody Jack Adventures  plus a couple of adult historicals. So here goes...

The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Audience: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

When the powers that be try to keep her from practicing her craft as a physician, Renaissance woman Gabriella Mondini decides now is the time to go searching for her long-lost father. What follows is a journey across Europe and beyond that calls to mind the Canterbury Tales. Through her entries in her diary and additions made in an anthology of diseases begun by her father (also a physician), readers are privy to Gabriella's adventures and obsessions. A woman physician in sixteenth-century Venice, Gabriella Mondini had the potential to become a fascinating character. The plot in and of itself is certainly intriguing, but the pacing is uneven and the supernatural elements are clumsily integrated and all too predictable. O'Melveney is a poet, and the prose is lyrical and striking at times; however, it also frequently veers into pretension and excessive description. Probably the only reason I finished this audiobook is Katherine Kellgren, whose magnificent voice performance kept me engaged.

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert  Goolrick
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Audience: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Psychological Suspense/Southern Gothic

When Charlie Beale arrived in the small Southern town of Brownsburg with a suitcase full of money, it was the summer of 1948. Decades later, a man who knew Charlie and was witness to Charlie’s torrid, fateful affair with the young bride of the town’s wealthiest man recounts the story. I was downright mesmerized by Goolrick's A Reliable Wife, but Heading Out to Wonderful lacked the tension and immediacy I expected in his follow-up novel. The setting and storyline had the haunting, nostalgic quality of a folk ballad, but the finale seemed forced and arbitrary. Also, I was troubled by the occasional awkwardness of the narrative voice and some unacknowledged loose ends. For example, it is never explained (MILD SPOILER AHEAD...HIGHLIGHT TO READ) how Charlie came by that suitcase of money. Although this was the most interesting part of the story to me, I would have understood if that particular plot point remained a mystery. But the fact that none of the book's characters seem to wonder or question it makes no sense. Still, even with all that being said, I think Heading Out to Wonderful would make a fantastic book club read. The recurring themes of lost innocence, sin and forgiveness, identities abandoned and recreated, and memory itself leave much to discuss.

Mississippi Jack by L.A. Meyer
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Adventure/Humor
Series: Bloody Jack Adventures #5

I am still a little furious at Jamie. But at the same time, I also like him a bit better now. In the past, Jamie has been almost too perfect for the wonderfully flawed adventuress that is Jacky Faber. Now, I see him as a more developed, if flawed character and I like him better for it. In this latest adventure, Jacky and Jamie are once again separated as Jacky makes her way down the Mississippi in a rollicking adventure reminiscent of the best tall tales. Legendary boatman Mike Fink even plays a significant role in the story. New love interests also emerge—most notably the irascibly charming Sir Richard Allen—to throw a wrench in Jacky and Jamie's relationship. Not to mention the intervention of the British Navy and Intelligence Agency, marauding Indians, and a homicidal Mike Fink. Also, did I already mention that I love Katherine Kellgren? Because I do. Her fabulous performances make the Bloody jack series a joy to listen to, bringing Jacky and the gang to vivid life.

Mt Bonny Light Horseman by L.A. Meyer
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Audience: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Adventure/Humor/War Story
Series: Bloody Jack Adventures #6

This time around, Jacky is tasked by British Intelligence to act as a spy against the French. Those who love the battle scenes of earlier Bloody Jack novels won't be disappointed. And Jacky being Jacky, there are also new flirtations for the more romantically minded (though the new love interest fails to live up to the standard set by Jamie's previous rivals for Jacky's affections, IMHO).

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tracy's Favorite YA Reviews

It's hard to believe, but Book News & Reviews hit its two-year anniversary back in August! More than 70 reviews later, I've given out only a handful of 5 and 4.5 star reviews so readers would know which books really stand out for me. Many of those selections have been YA books, so to wrap up Teen Read Week, I thought today would be a great time to look back on some of my favorite teen titles reviewed here on the blog.

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Reviewed: August 9, 2011

This book is still very close to my heart. It was my very first review for Book News & Reviews, but more importantly I read it at a time when, like Amy, I was coping with my own grief and guilt over the loss of a loved one. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour deals with some difficult issues, but it is also an undeniably fun book about music, friendship, and adventure. It made me cry, it made me laugh, and it made me reflect. Amy and Roger's playlists inspired me to create my own mixes in memory of my mother, a task which gave me something concrete to do and helped me deal with her loss. Sometimes you are lucky enough to discover the perfect book at just the right time. I'm glad that I found Amy & Roger's Epic Detour when I did. Read my original review »

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Reviewed: December 6, 2011

Now that Divergent is one of the "It" books, with a devoted fandom and a highly anticipated movie on the way, I can proudly say that I discovered it fairly early on. (I actually read it months before I wrote my review because I was waiting for library copies to come in.) As I said in my original review, I liked it far it more than The Hunger Games. For me, Tris is a more believable character and I love the dynamic between Tris and Four. Which makes me wonder why I STILL haven't read Insurgent although it's been sitting by my bedside since shortly after the release date. I think secretly I know the wait for the final book would drive me crazy. But since Allegiant comes out this month, it may be safe to proceed... Read my original review »

I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Reviewed: December 23. 2011

This book was such a surprise to me. There was very little buzz, and it wasn't a contender when awards time rolled around. But, trust me, it's a gem. This is what I wrote in my original review:
Intertwining a gripping survival story with a sweet tale of first love, I'll Be There is one of the best, most heartfelt books I've read in ages. It's one of those stories that completely mesmerizes you and still lingers in your mind weeks later. And puts a smile on your face. There is a magic to Sloan's prose: it is thoughtful and yet carries an immediacy that makes each page a joy to read. There is nothing flashy in her writing; it is vivid and precise, allowing the extraordinary characters and their predicaments to move the story along. Am I sounding a bit fan-girl crazy and over-the-top in my praise? I apologize. But. I love this book.
Excessive and gushy perhaps, but I stand by what I wrote 100%. Read the full original review »

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Reviewed: February 22, 2012

Unlike I'll Be There, this is a book that was on everyone's radar. Well, anyone remotely familiar with YA literature who hasn't been living under a rock for the past few years. Almost universally known as the book that will have you crying your way through at least one box of Kleenex, The Fault in Our Stars actually did not push those particular buttons for me. It was heartbreaking but, for me, not tear-inducing. Instead, I simply enjoyed the heck out of the smart, quirky, book-loving characters and John Green's always stellar dialogue. Read my original review »

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Reviewed: June 23, 2012

This is the fifth book in the series and easily my favorite yet. I wasn't fully on board the Mortal Instruments bandwagon early on, although I enjoyed the books well enough. I simply felt that Clare's writing was not as polished as I wanted it to be. I got a kick out of her sharp, snarky humor and strong characterizations, but I also spotted a lot of plot inconsistencies. Maybe that was related to errors in the audiobook recordings, but I doubt it. But City of Lost Souls won me over once and for all. The tension and angst were at full throttle from start to finish, and the audiobook was fantastic. (Seriously, I am so glad the producers ditched Ed Westwick and stuck with Molly Quinn on her own.) The City of Bones movie may have been a HUGE disappointment, but I can't wait till the final installment of the series comes out in May 2014. Read my original review »

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbotsky
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Reviewed: August 16. 2012

I was a late discoverer of this fabulous cult classic. My love for this book is mostly down to the strong, engaging voice. The fact that it's set during in the 1990s, when I was a high school student myself, probably has a little something to do with it at well. This is an engrossing, full story with excellent characterizations and relatable issues. Although on the surface my high school experience was nothing like Charlie's, I still felt like we had everything in common. I especially recommend the audiobook, which brings out Charlie's voice perfectly.
Read my original review »

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Reviewed: February 11, 2013

This book made a huge impression on the 2013 Youth Media Award committees (<---check out that cover to see the evidence), and it's clear why. The simple narrative, without any unnecessary literary embellishments, packs a powerful punch. This is a novel that succeeds on multiple levels and tackles A LOT of issues without ever becoming heavy handed or preachy. In hindsight, I am seriously tempted to bump up my star rating to a five!  Read my original review »

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Reviewed: June 12, 2013

Urban fantasy meets horror meets historical fiction in this near-perfect series opener. The 1920s have never been creepier or more intriguing, and I love the diversity of the characters and personalities.This is a book that works both as a self-contained novel and as a wonderful lead-in for the rest of the series. Although I read it months ago, The Diviners is a book that I keep coming back to in my mind over and over. I can't wait to see what comes next and how the many disparate characters will eventually come together.  Read my original review »

If you're interested, other books I've awarded 4.5 or 5 stars to include:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

BCPL's Ultimate Teen Booklist, 2013 Updates

As promised last year, BCPL's Ultimate Teen Booklist has been updated! We have carefully selected a few new titles to add and have updated title lists for ongoing series. Here is a quick summary of our additions for 2013:

New to the List:

Aristotle and Dante and the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz  (2012)
In the summer of 1987, two 15-year-old loners meet and forge a powerful friendship. This stunning novel about identity and acceptance deals with several teen “issues,” including sexual and ethnic identity, but never comes across as heavy handed. With simple, lyrical prose Sáenz creates a magical tale that speaks of universal truths and fears. High School.

Blankets (graphic novel) by Craig Thompson (2003)
This graphic memoir is a poignant tale of sibling rivalry, first love, artistic inspiration, and personal faith. Thompson’s relationships are skillfully depicted in all their nuances, and he is brutally honest about his struggles with his fundamentalist upbringing and the complexities of young love and sexuality. Blankets is a compulsively readable story, and the pen and ink drawings are sensitive and dynamic, perfectly capturing the characters’ moods and the snowy Midwest setting. High School (mature).

The Diviners by Libba Bray (2012)
Featuring disparate teen protagonists with nothing in common other that a secret special ability, a ghostly serial killer, and the vivid setting of Prohibition-era New York, this is a vivid historical fantasy with a horror spin. Best of all, while the story comes to a satisfactory resolution, there are overarching mysteries that promise good things to come in the rest of the planned quartet. High School.

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson (2003)
With short, spare sentences that say everything, Johnson tells the story of a sixteen-year-old single dad. The fear, the exhaustion, and the overwhelming love for his newborn baby daughter all come through perfectly as Bobby comes to grips with what parenthood means for his life and struggles to make the best decisions he possibly can for his daughter. Short, poetic chapters alternate between “now” and “then,” creating a suspenseful mood that will translate well for reluctant readers. High School.

 Hate List by Jennifer Brown (2009)
When Valerie and her boyfriend compiled a “HateList” of all the people they dislike or who have wronged them, she had no idea he would come to school with a gun and use it as a checklist for a killing spree. Five months later, school is back in session and Valerie is a social outcast struggling with her own guilt and grief. This is a wrenching, intimate portrayal of the aftermath of a tragedy, told from a unique perspective. High School (mature).

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1970)
In this first volume of her autobiography, poet Maya Angelou reflects on her life up until the age of seventeen. Told through a series of scenes depicting both gut-wrenching moments of heartbreak and fear and life-affirming events and relationships, Angelou’s story is a poignant tale of growing up in 1930s rural Arkansas. With bare honesty, humor, and grace, Angelou weaves a lyrical masterpiece that is both timeless and inspirational. High School.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
After reuniting with two former classmates from her “special” English boarding school, a thirty-something woman begins to reconsider her supposedly idyllic years at the school only to question friendships and unearth disquieting memories. Set in a fully realized dystopian world, Never Let Me Go paints a gripping portrait of adolescence in an increasingly bleak future. High School.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (2000)  
In this allegorical story about popularity and the courage of nonconformity, an eccentric new student named Stargirl arrives at Mica High School  to inspire fascination and scorn with her oddball behavior and strange dress. Her ebullient, uninhibited ways and determined kindness attract 11th grader Leo Borlock immediately, but when the rest of the school shuns them both, will Leo be able to balance his need for acceptance with his love for Stargirl? Middle School/High School.

Series Updates:
Bloody Jack Adventures by L.A. Meyer
Xanth by Piers Anthony

So what do you think of our additions? What are your favorite titles from this year that we should consider for the next update?

Get the complete annotated list on our library website »

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fall 2013 Giveaway!

I just finished my annual Fall cleaning, and guess what I found? A handful of ARCs (Advance Reading Copies), just waiting for you to claim them!

Rules of entry are at the end of the post. Please note that all prizes must be picked up at a BCPL location. Contest ends at 12:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 31, 2013.

Here are the titles I have available:

Enon by Paul Harding (September 2013)
A devastating portrait of a father desperately trying to come to terms with the loss of his beloved thirteen-year-old daughter, killed in an accident. –NoveList

The 100 by Kass Morgan (September 2013)
When 100 juvenile delinquents are sent on a mission to recolonize Earth, they get a second chance at freedom, friendship, and love, as they fight to survive in a dangerous new world.   –NoveList

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole (July 2013)
A love story told in letters spans two world wars and follows the correspondence between a poet on the Scottish Isle of Skye and an American volunteer ambulance driver for the French Army, an affair that is discovered years later when the poet disappears.   –NoveList

Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant (July 2013)
A tale inspired by the lives of Borgia siblings Lucretia and Cesare traces the family's rise in the aftermath of Rodrigo Borgia's rise to the papacy, during which war, a terrifying sexual plague, and the family's notorious reputation forge an intimate bond between brother and sister.   –NoveList

Mother, Daughter, Me by Katie Hafner (July 2013)
A health and technology journalist documents the author's efforts to promote family bonds and healing during a haphazard year spent sharing a home in San Francisco with her complicated octogenarian mother and teenage daughter.   –NoveList

The Village by Nikita Lalwani (July 2013)
Traces the efforts of a team of journalists to understand and document life in an experimental open prison where convicted murderers share their lives in a humble village, a site that becomes increasingly and dangerously subject to the dubious moral codes of its drama-seeking visitors.   –NoveList

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (June 2013)
Traces the story of an American rowing team from the University of Washington that defeated elite rivals at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics, sharing the experiences of their enigmatic coach, a visionary boat builder, and a homeless teen rower.   –NoveList

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver (June 2013)
Visited by a high-powered attorney who has initiated a clemency petition on her behalf and who is also the mother of her victim, death-row inmate Noa is slowly persuaded to share the events surrounding the murder in spite of her reluctance to reveal the whole story or have her life extended.   –NoveList

Transatlantic by Colum McCann (June 2013)
A tale spanning 150 years and two continents reimagines the peace efforts of democracy champion Frederick Douglass, Senator George Mitchell and World War I airmen John Alcock and Teddy Brown through the experiences of four generations of women from a matriarchal clan.   –NoveList

Walking with Jack by Don J. Snyder (June 2013)
Documents the author's efforts to fulfill a promise to caddy for his son if the latter qualified for a professional tour, describing his training at age fifty-seven to study caddying in Scotland, where he lived like a monk.   –NoveList

Icons by Margaret Stohl (May 2013)
Icons #1

After an alien force known as the Icon colonizes Earth, decimating humanity, four surviving teenagers must piece together the mysteries of their pasts--in order to save the future.  –NoveList

Wasteland by Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan (April 2013)
Wasteland Trilogy #1

In a post-apocalyptic world where everyone dies at age nineteen and rainwater contains a killer virus, loners Esther and Eli band together with a group of mutant, hermaphroditic outsiders to fight a corrupt ruler and save the town of Prin.   –NoveList

Game by Barry Lyga (April 2013)
I Hunt Killers #2

After solving a deadly case in the small town of Lobo's Nod, seventeen-year-old Jazz, the son of history's most infamous serial murderer, travels to New York City to help the police track down the Hat-Dog Killer.   –NoveList
Read Tracy's review of Book 1, I Hunt Killers.

A Week in Winter by Paul Harding (February 2013)
Follows the efforts of a woman who turns a coastal Ireland mansion into a holiday resort and receives an assortment of first guests who throughout the course of a week share laughter and the heartache of respective challenges.   –NoveList

Niceville by Carsten Stroud (June 2012)
Niceville Trilogy #1
When a young boy literally disappears before security cameras while walking home from school, an ensuing search is conducted by ex-Special Forces veteran Nick Kavanaugh, who with his lawyer wife encounters an ancient malevolent power linked to a deep crater.   –NoveList

Rules of Entry

1. To enter, use the Rafflecopter widget below. To be eligible for the drawing, you are required to log in to the widget with your e-mail address or Facebook account AND leave a comment at the bottom of this post stating which ARCs you would like to receive. (Choose up to ten. You are not guaranteed to win your top choices, but we do our best). Click "+1" and "Enter" on the widget only after you have posted your comment below. After completing the first task, you can also earn bonus entries by following the directions in the widget.

2.  All ARCs must be picked up at a Bullitt County Public Library location. Winners will be notified via e-mail and will be posted on this blog. Contest ends at 12:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 31, 2013.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Updated on 10/18/13 to add:

Apparently there is still some confusion about entry. Basically, there are two separate steps which MUST be completed to finalize your entry.

#1 Make sure you leave a comment at the bottom of this post stating which ARCs you would like to receive. Otherwise, I will not know which prize(s) to give you if you win the drawing.

#2 Log in to the widget above and click "Enter." (See image below.) You must log in with your e-mail or Facebook account so that I will be able to contact you if you win. I began using the Rafflecopter widget for two reasons: 1) to protect contact information of participants; only I will see your e-mail address as opposed to if you were required to post it with your comment and 2) to facilitate multiple prize entries and select winners randomly.

There are also additional tasks, such as liking the BCPL Facebook page or commenting on another post on this blog. You will earn extra entries for completing these tasks
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