Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Change of Location

Although I am no longer a librarian, I still love reading and have decided I can't go without reviewing them.  I've started a new personal book review blog, since this one is very much tied into my former job.  I anticipate shutting this blog down entirely by this summer, so if there are any stragglers still checking out this site, I would love to invite you to join me at my new book review site.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


You might have noticed a lack of new content on this blog.  There is a very good reason for my uninvolvment--I've been busy!

I'm nearing the end of my time as children's librarian at the Dunlap Public Library, while simultaneously running our Summer Reading Program.  That doesn't leave a lot of time to read and review books.  I've got to give this up soon, anyway, so I'm giving myself a break a couple weeks early.

My replacement is already at the library, and she is wonderful.  She may or may not continue this blog, but check back to see her thoughts if she does!

Thank you to anyone and everyone who has read my reviews--I've very much enjoyed sharing my love for YA and Middle Grade (and occasionally adult) books with all of you!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

Book Jacket

Life isn't like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple.  She's smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending.  After all, it's 1935, and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce.  So when Turtle's mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn't like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to stay with relatives she's never met.

Florida's like nothing Turtle has ever seen.  It's hot and strange, full of wild green peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure.  Before she knows what's happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she's spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways.

Inspired by stories of her great-grandmother, who immigrated to Key West at the turn of the last century, two-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer L. Holm beautifully blends family lore with America's past in this charming gem of a novel, rich in historical detail, humor, and the unique flavors of Key West.


The cover and title led me to believe this was a romance-of-the-summer book, and nothing could be further from the truth!  Turtle in Paradise had me hooked from the first paragraph, and its small-town charm and colorful kid protagonists made it impossible for me to put it down until I finished the story.

Turtle is a jaded pre-teen who expects trouble in life, but always rises above.  I love having a cynical protagonist who is brave and adventurous and enduring.  She's also incredibly funny as she explores Key West with her gaggle of boy cousins.  And those boy cousins!  They're the Diaper Gang, because they are the babysitters of the island.  Boy babysitters are my new favorite thing, with their kind disregard for crying (they just swaddle the kid and put it in a wagon) and top secret diaper rash cure.

This story touches on history, family, adventure, and the elusiveness of happy endings--all in a very 5th grade friendly (with no loss of adult interest, by the way) format.  I adored Turtle in Paradise.  It might be my new favorite for the Caudill award.

Five out of five sponges.

Release Date:  May 2010
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Harpist in the Wind by Patricia A. McKillip

Book Jacket

Though Morgon the Riddle-Master was reunited with his beloved Raederle, his purpose in life and the reason for the stars on his forehead remained a mystery.  All around him, the realm shook with war and disaster as mysterious shape-changers battled against mankind.  Without the missing High One, Morgon must assume responsibility for all his world.

After leading an army of the dead to protect his island of Hed, he and Raederle set out for Lungold, where the wizards were assembling against the evil Ghisteslwchlohm.  And behind them came Deth, the crippled harpist, Morgon's friend and betrayer.

But Lungold was only the beginning of the quest that would lead him to the truth of ancient struggle and the fate of the High One, until at last he could solve all mysteries and know his own awesome destiny!


McKillip must be some kind of genius for getting me to read her entire trilogy.  Her fantasy world of magic and shape-changers is incredibly cerebral and image-heavy.  Not my favorite thing.  And in each of her three books, I'm tempted to just give up on the story halfway through.

But then something happens.  A new question, a hidden motive, and I have to know what will happen.  The plot jumps forward at a neck-breaking speed, and there are more characters to keep track of in too short of time, but....somehow she makes me care!  I don't even know how.

You might have noticed I have mixed feelings about this series.  I suppose I can most easily say that Morgon's story is one I adore, while the way it is described is not my favorite.  That said, I kind of want to read them again someday, to see how hints led the way to the big reveal.  And because now I have a grasp on who is who and how things get done.

All that aside, Morgon and Raederle make up one of my very favorite couples in all of literature.  They are both powerful, both flawed and scared.  They fight for each other and against each other, and they care about each other very deeply.  I wouldn't mind having a romance like theirs.

Four out of five towers.

Release Date:  1979
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

Book Jacket

Part memoir and part education (or lack thereof), The Know-It-All chronicles NPR contributor A.J. Jacobs' hilarious, enlightening, and seemingly impossible quest to read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z.

To fill the ever-widening gaps in his Ivy League education, A.J. Jacobs sets for himself the daunting task of reading all thirty-two volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  His wife, Julie, tells him it's a waste of time, his friends believe he is losing his mind, and his father, a brilliant attorney who had once attempted the same feat and quite somewhere around Borneo, is encouraging but, shall we say, unconvinced.

With self-deprecating wit and a disarming frankness, The Know-It-All recounts the unexpected and comically disruptive effects Operation Encyclopedia has on every part of Jacobs' life--from his newly minted marriage to his complicated relationship with his father and the rest of his charmingly eccentric New York family to his day job as an editor at Esquire.  Jacobs' project tests the outer limits of his stamina and forces him to explore the real meaning of intelligence as he endeavors to join Mensa, win a spot on Jeopardy!, and absorb 33,000 pages of learning.  On his journey he stumbles upon some of the strangest, funniest, and most profound facts about every topic under the sun, all while battling fatigue, ridicule, and the paralyzing fear that attends his first real-life responsibility--the impending birth of his first child.

The Know-It-All is an ingenious, mightily entertaining memoir of one man's intellect, neuroses, and obsessions and a soul-searching, ultimately touching struggle between the all-consuming quest for factual knowledge and the undeniable gift of hard-won wisdom.


I'm officially a fan of Jacobs, and will read any books he writes on unusual life goals (see also my review of The Year of Living Biblically).  He is embarrassingly honest about his pride and his flaws, and he wrote a book about reading the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  Anyone who can make that a page-turner is obviously a great writer.

I loved the setup, going alphabetically through the topics he read, sometimes offering bits of trivia, sometimes using a term to delve into his personal life.  I was impressed that his life lined up so neatly with his project--struggling to get pregnant with his wife, struggling to figure out his relationship with his father--both of these issues continually crop up throughout his journey, and by the end both relationships are a little better because of the project.

Reading the entire Encyclopedia is impressive, but it's even more amazing how Jacobs draws timeless wisdom from the random facts he learns.  A non-fiction funny, wise, interesting book about one guy's weird goal?  I'm so glad I read it.

Five out of five school field trips.

Release Date:  September 2004
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Flora's Fury by Ysabeau S. Wilce

Book Jacket

Aside from her troublesome attraction to magick, Flora Fyrdraaca has spent her entire life doing what's expected of her.  Who else is going to keep order in her crazy family?  Yet at sixteen, she realizes that this life has been strewn with secrets and lies.  Lies have kept her from becoming a ranger, from perfecting her use of magick, from claiming her hidden birthright.

And then there's the matter of Flora's true mother.  Tiny Doom, killed years earlier by the Birdies, the Rupublic of Califa's evil overlords.  Was even her murder a lie?  Flora is sure of it--and she will do whatever it takes to find her, whether in the Waking World or Elsewhere.

Certain that only Tiny Doom can free Califa from the Birdie's rule, Flora embarks on a journey that takes her from sea to island to desert, and into an alliance with a brooding stranger with secrets of his own.  But only when Flora is very far from home does she discover how much the future of Califa is at stake--and how far the Birdies will go to destroy her.


Flora's back!  I adore Wilce's series (beginning with Flora Segunda and Flora's Dare).  The characters are brilliant and dysfunctional and heroic.  The setting is positively fantastic--it may be my favorite fantasy setting ever.  I know that's a huge claim.  I haven't really thought it through, but Califa is definitely in my top five.

Since I have such an intense love for the places and people of the first two books, I was initially dismayed with Flora's Fury.  Flora pretty quickly goes to new locations and primarily hangs out with new characters, with the exception of her loyal dog Flynn.  Apparently I love Wilce's world as a whole more than any specific characters, because I ended up loving this book. 

The criminal island of Barbacoa was super fun.  I really liked Tharyn the wer-bear.  And I loved Handhands haunting and helping Flora through her adventures.  And of course, Flora remains awesome.  She is older now, but still extremely self-involved and selfless at the same time.  She wants to help her family and her country, but she usually does so in her own way, without considering the actions or needs of others.  This makes her incredibly complex and relatable.  People are contradictory a lot of the time, and Flora is no exception.

For some reason, the Flora series doesn't get as much press or attention as it deserves.  Let's change that!  Read Flora, and spread the word of its greatness!

Five out of five long distance packages.

Release Date: May 2012
Reading Level: Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL WIL

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thou Shalt Not Road Trip by Antony John

Book Jacket

When does a spiritual journey turn into a rockin' road trip?  The moment Luke's book, Hallelujah, becomes a national best seller.

Luke's publisher sends him on a summer cross-country tour with his unpredictable older brother, Matt, as chauffeur.  Without Luke's knowing, Matt offers to drive Luke's ex-crush, Fran, across the country too, and things get a little crazy.  Luke thinks he's enlightened, but he actually needs to loosen up if he's going to discover what it truly means to have faith, and do what it takes to get the girl he loves.


Yikes.  A lot of this book was an uncomfortable trip down memory lane, back to those years when I thought being a Christian meant standing apart from others and looking down at them.  I even wrote stuff and pridefully imagined I would change the world if it ever got published.  Thankfully for me, nothing ever was, and I got to grow up and learn about true faith and love without all the drama Luke goes through.

Luke is a wonderful protagonist, because he is equal parts endearing and frustrating.  He's genuinely confused by life, and when anything outside his world view comes his way, he is completely unable to handle it.  Thankfully he has Fran in his life, a girl who has been abandoned by her family and friends, but never gives up on following God and making a difference in the world.  Even if most people are unwilling to be helped by someone with purple hair and tattoos.

I had no problem with Luke and Fran's struggling spiritual journey, but I was a little disappointed in the way Luke's Christian fans were portrayed.  I'll even lay off the open hostility they show to Fran, because as much as it pains me, that is too often true.  But the stupidity they have en masse, unable to tell that Luke's highly stylized and metaphorical book isn't 100% fact.  Ugh.  We Christians are not all stupid.

John juggles a lot of themes in his book, dealing with faith, family, and romance in some new and really awesome ways.  I loved it.

Four out of five Route 66 road trips.

Release Date: May 2012
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL JOH