Friday, December 31, 2010

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Book Jacket

Marcelo Sandoval hears music that nobody else can hear--part of an autism-like condition that no doctor has been able to identify.  But his father has never fully believed in the music or Marcelo's differences, and he challenges Marcelo to work in the mailroom of his law firm for the join "the real world."

There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm.  He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire.  But it's a picture he finds in a file--a picture of a girl with half a face--that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight.

Reminiscent of The Curious Incident of teh Dog in the Night-Time in the intensity and purity of its voice, this extraordinary novel is a love story, a legal drama, and a celebration of the music each of us hears inside.


I don't know if this is simply the psychology minor in me talking, but Marcelo in the Real World was absolutely fascinating!  Its narrator, an autistic seventeen-year-old boy, describes his view of the world in such a way that causes intense empathy for him, and by extension, all autistic persons.  When other people call Marcelo stupid or retarded, you want to slap them in the face, because you know he's not;  you've been in his head and you see all the thoughts and cognitive steps he takes.  If anything, I've come away from this novel thinking that autism is really a heightened intelligence--so much going on in their brains that they can't express what they feel as quickly as "normal" people can. 

Aside from all the interesting themes about mental disorders and are they really disorders?, the running idea of suffering, and what we as mere individuals, can do to fight it or endure it was just wonderful.  Very realistic, but very encouraging. 

"The right note sounds right, and the wrong note sounds wrong." 
"That's what faith is, isn't it?  Following the music when we don't hear it."

Marcelo in the Real World is a beautiful story.  There is some intense language, although it used more thoughtfully than violently.  That's hard to explain, but for mature readers, this book is definitely a must-read!

Five out of five mailrooms.

Release Date:  March 2009
Reading Level:  Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL STO

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Winter Break Programs: Movie and Craft

We finished our winter break programs with, I think, the best yet.  For the first hour, we watched one of the Planet Earth segments: Pole to Pole.  I've seen this several times before, but the beauty of our planet always overawes me.  I was very excited that all the kids sat through the whole thing--the awesomeness of nature is just as entertaining as any cartoon.

For a while now, I've been collecting random bits of librarian life--boxes and paper from packaging, receipt wheels, that sort of thing.  After watching Planet Earth, the kids used all that junk that would have been thrown away and made some truly cool creations!  With the new year approaching, and recycling more necessary than ever, it was encouraging to be reminded that kids love to create with anything--even stuff adults consider garbage.

From the awesomely bizzare to the bizzarely awesome, these kids definitely created works of art.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Winter Break Program: Duct Tape Purses

Nathan Holzinger, Dunlap alumnus, made a purse for his mother out of duct tape.  One of our librarians saw her with it, and long story short, we asked him to teach a class on how to make them!  They really end up looking sleek, and even though I'm not crafty, I'm pleased with my creation (from the outside--the pockets I attempted inside are another matter entirely).

Pictures below.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter Break Programs

Pictures speak louder than words, right?

Last Wednesday (December 22) we provided materials for drop in children to create a Make and Take craft--a snowman made of a peanut butter jar.

Last Thursday we showed Miracle on 34th Street. 

This week we will be providing space for Nathan Holzinger to teach us how to make purses and wallets out of duct tape (Wednesday, December 29 at 1:00--$2 fee and bring your own duct tape!), then showing a 45 minute segment of Planet Earth before making a recyclable and creative craft (Thursday, December 30 at 1:00--FREE).  Sign up for both by calling 243-5716!

Check out all our upcoming programs HERE.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

Book Jacket

Gabry lives a quiet life, secure in her town next to the sea and behind the Barrier.  She's content to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse.  Home is all she's ever known, and all she needs for happiness.

But life after the Return is never safe, and there are threats even the Barrier can't hold back.

Gabry's mother thought she left her secrets behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, but like the dead in their world, secrets don't stay buried.  And now, Gabry's world is crumbling.

One night beyond the Barrier...

One boy Gabry's known forever and one veiled in mystery...

One reckless moment, and half of Gabry's generation is dead, the other half imprisoned.

Gabry knows only one thing: if she is to have any hope of a future, she must face the forest of her mother's past.


The Dead-Tossed Waves is a companion novel to Ryan's first book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth (review here).  Although the plot is reminiscent of Forest, the personality of the protagonist breathes new life into the (ah! zombie breach! escape!) storyline.  Whereas Mary was single-minded in her hope for a better life and wouldn't let anyone or anything stop her, Gabry is content to stay where she is, too scared to dream of anywhere bigger than her home.

The best part of this story is Gabry's growing self-awareness.  She thinks she can never be as brave as her mother.  Yet while she worries and pities herself, she risks infection to visit a friend outside the Barrier.  She is far braver than she realizes, and it is a joy to watch her discover the inner strength she always had. 

Between the first and second books, the world has grown.  Whereas we wondered along with Mary whether there were any other survivors or any safe place left in the world, now we know.  I found that the existance of other cities and societies added both hope and hopelessness to the weight of the story.  There is a world to see and explore, but everyone is fighting the same battle (zombies as a metaphor for death = awesome).

The romance in this book is once more heartbreaking, realistic, and mostly skipping the melodrama (which is how I like it).  I particularly loved the character of Elias, who always hides one more secret than he tells.  I thought I knew where Ryan was taking his character, and I was prepared to be very upset.  But then she pulled yet another twist, and everything fell together perfectly.

This book is gorgeous.  If I ever have to survive a zombie apocolypse, I can only hope to face such disaster with the courage and hope of Gabry and Mary.  If only March 22, 2011 (and therefore, Ryan's third book, The Dark and Hollow Places) would come quicker!

Five out of five stars.

Release Date:  March 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL RYA

Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

Book Jacket

Welcome to the tyrannical city of Jewel, where impatience is a sin and boldness is a crime.

Goldie Roth has lived in Jewel all her life.  Like every child in the city, she wears a silver guardchain and is forced to obey the dreaded Blessed Guardians.  She has never done anything by herself and won't be allowed out on the streets unchained until Separation Day.

When Separation Day is canceled, Goldie, who has always been both impatient and bold, runs away, risking not only her own life but also the lives of those she has left behind.  In the chaos that follows, she is lured to the mysterious Museum of Dunt, where she meets the boy Toadspit and discovers terrible secrets.  Only the cunning mind of a thief can understand the museum's strange, shifting rooms.  Fortunately, Goldie has a talent for thieving.

Which is just as well, because the leader of the Blessed Guardians has his own plans for the museum--plans that threaten the lives of everyone Goldie loves.  And it will take a daring thief to stop him...

Museum of Thieves is a thrilling tale of destiny and danger, and of a courageous girl who has never been allowed to grow up--until now.


I can officially declare that my new favorite genre is dystopian stories.  I love books that expand upon one aspect of our current culture until it becomes something monstrous and eerily believable.

Museum of Thieves is a fascinating picture of a society so bound by fear that there is little joy or excitement left in life.  Children are chained to their parents until they are sixteen for their own protection (lest they drown in water or be kidnapped by pirates), and everything that could possibly be dangerous (from dogs to plague) is kept hidden in the Museum of Dunt.

I loved this book, and I found myself questioning the value of safety and security.  What good is life without a little danger?  One of my favorite moments is when Goldie discovers the joy of running, something she had never been allowed to do before, because of course, you're far more likely to fall when running than walking.

This book has magic, adventure, villians, heroes, and awesome animal sidekicks.  There were times when the mythology was a little confusing, but regardless, I couldn't put this book down.

Four out of five hidden rooms.

Release Date:  September 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not yet owned by Dunlap.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Geektastic edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

Book Jacket

Haven't you heard?  Geek is the new cool!  Acclaimed authors Holly Black (Ironside) and Cecil Castellucci (Boy Proof) have united in geekdom to bring together stories from some of the bestselling and most promising players in young adult literature.  This collection includes stories form the following geeks:  M. T. Anderson, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, John Green, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Barry Lyga, Tracy Lynn, Wendy Mass, Garth Nix, Scott Westerfeld, Lisa Yee, and Sara Zarr.

With illustrated interstitials from comic book artists Hope Laron and Bryan Lee O'Malley, Geektastic covers all things geekly, from Klingons to fan fiction, theater geeks, and cosplayers.  Whether you're a former, current, or future geek, or if you just want to get in touch with your inner geek, Geektastic will help you get your geek on!


I don't know if geek is the new cool, but does it matter?  Geeks are people who love something passionately, and that is awesome in my book (which is probably a biased opinion, because I am by all accounts a geek).  This anthology reminded me of all the ups and downs a geek can experience, whether it's being shunned by the popular crowd or finding acceptance from likeminded individuals. 

Geeks see the world with different eyes, with more wonder and more imagination.  This anthology of short stories definitely captures that unique quality, and if you have ever considered yourself a geek of any kind, you will find something to love in this book.  I know I have been inspired to up my geek quotient!

Four out of five stars.

Release Date:  August 2009
Reading Level:  Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not yet owned by Dunlap.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Book Jacket

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait.  Not for her license--for turning pretty.  In Tally's world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time.  In just a few weeks Tally will be there.

But Tally's new friend Shay isn't sure she wants to be pretty.  She'd rather risk life on the outside.  When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world--and it isn't very pretty.  The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all.  The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.


I am a huge Scott Westerfeld fan, and this is the series that won me over (Uglies is followed by Pretties, Specials, and Extras).  I love dystopian novels, and Westerfeld's future is incredibly believable and fully thought out.  Tally is an excellent protagonist--adventurous and caring, but deeply conflicted about whether she should put herself or her friends first.

This book takes our culture's obsession with beauty to its logical conclusion--a world in which everyone undergoes surgery to look as equally beautiful as everyone else.  Is individuality a price worth paying for a cohesive society?  Westerfeld isn't afraid to show the pros of the Pretty world as well as the cons, and this book (as well as its sequels) will definitely stay with you long after reading.  Entertaining and thought-provoking!

Five out of five brainwashings.

Release Date:  March 2005
Reading Level:  Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL WES

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Book Jacket

"You, darling, are the Duff.  Designated.  Ugly.  Fat.  Friend," Wesley clarified.  "No offense, it's not like you're an ogre or anything, but in comparison..."  He shrugged his broad shoulders.  "You have hot friends...really hot friends."  He paused, watching the action on the dance floor for a moment, before facing me again.  "The point is, scientists have proven that every group of friends has a weak link, a Duff."


I have about equal feelings of admiration and reservation for Keplinger's debut novel.  As such, I'll just divide this review into categories.

The good:  I loved the idea of the Duff--the friend who is less attractive, who makes her other friends feel better about themselves in comparison.  I think everyone can relate to that feeling, or at least all girls.  The revelation Bianca has toward the end--that her gorgeous friends each feel like the Duff themselves--serves to undermine the whole idea of the Duff, proving that labels are just harmful self-esteem destroyers.

The bad:  I just think this book glorifies an unhealthy sexual relationship.  How often does an abusive sexual relationship between a womanizing playboy and a cynical girl turn into true love?  Um, probably not very often, and I have a problem with books that preach such a dangerous message. 

The in between:  Bianca herself is a polarizing protagonist.  She is extremely cynical and sarcastic.  Now, I am a fan of wit and sarcasm, but she could just be overwhelmingly pessimistic.  At times, I honestly wondered how she had friends, let alone two boys fighting for her.  On the other hand, it was nice to see an honest character, struggling against the fairy tale idealization of love while experiencing all those hormones that feel like love.  She definitely feels like a real person, but whether I would want to hang out with her in real life is a whole other matter.

This book is for mature teens, due to sexual content and language.  If you can handle that, it is a very interesting and honest look at the insecurities nearly everyone struggles with.

Three out of five insecurities.

Release Date:  September 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 10+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not owned by Dunlap.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Bone Story

Will is a regular attender of the library's 3-5 Grade Young Author Club, and today he wrote a story specifically for this blog:

Fone Bone, Smiley, and Phoney were out in the woods with a rat creature scout.  They were on a scavenger hunt to find a rat creature tooth.  Suddenly King Dok jumped out of the trees with an army of rat creatures.  They ran back to the house and grabbed Thorn.  They went in the basement with Luics and Gran'ma Ben.  But that wouldn't stop King Dok and his army.  They tore open the windows, jumped in the house, and broke the door.  But they could not find the basement.  The head rat creature told King Dok they could not find the basement, so King Dok went in and found the basement.  They broke in. 

However, they had a secret door, so they got out and ran for teh Bone's home town, Boneville.  But a rat creature picked up their scent.  So when they found them they attacked them.  They dashed off, and Fone Bone called for the dragon.  When he came he fought King Dok.  It was a battle to the finish.  The dragon won!  So they celebrated.

The End.

The Awakening and The Struggle by L.J. Smith

Book Jacket

A deadly love triangle. 

Elena: the golden girl, the leader, the one who can have any boy she wants. 

Stefan:  brooding and mysterious, he seems to be the only one who can resist Elena, even as he struggles to protect her from the horrors that haunt his past. 

Damon: sexy, dangerous, and driven by an urge for revenge against Stefan, the brother who betrayed him.  Determined to have Elena, he'd kill to possess her.

Collected here in one volume for the first time, volumes one and two of the Vampire Diaries, the tale of two vampire brothers and teh beautiful girl torn between them.


I've not seen any of The Vampire Diaries TV show, but an author whose blog I follow loved the original books growing up, so when I found them on our library's shelves, I figured I'd give them a try.  The first two books are bound together, not sure why, but it works just fine for me since book one flows right into book two without a pause.

My first thought when reading this was that I sure hoped Stephanie Meyer never had.  The similarities between Twilight and Vampire Diaries are pretty numerous, though I have to say Vampire Diaries does it better.  Why does every single boy in the entire school want to date Bella Elena?  Not because she's plain and clumsy (because that is just wishful thinking).  Because she's super crazy popular and gorgeous.  At least that makes sense. 

I have said before that I'm sick of love triangles, but I can't seem to get away with them.  At least this one was interesting in that I honestly don't know who the author wants me to root for.  And that is awesome!  There is that silly Epic Love set up between Elena and Stefan from the start (with declarations of love made before they've had a real conversation...guh!), but then Damon points out that she's really too spirited and prideful for Stefan, and much better suited for Damon himself. true.  So we'll see where Smith takes that.

(I hope she takes it in the Damon direction.  Give me a snarky, confident guy who is slightly evil over a brooding, self-hating slightly good guy any day.)

All in all, it was an entertaining read that was never boring.  I'll definitely keep reading the series, but it didn't change my life.  Though it's not like all books have to!

Three out of five stars.

Release Date:  1991
Reading Level:  Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  SMI

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Book Jacket

 In Mary's world, there are simple truths.  The Sisterhood always knows best.  The Guardians will protect and serve.  The Unconsecrated will never relent.  And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village.  The fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

But slowly, Mary's truths are failing her.  She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power.  And, when the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness.

Now she must choose between her village and her future, between the one she loves and the one who loves her.  And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth.  Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death?


I forced myself to wait a day between finishing Ryan's book and reviewing it, but still I can mostly only flail.  I have never been a fan of zombies, and I have never read a book or watched a movie about them.  I knew Forest of Hands and Teeth was getting rave reviews, but I was fully expecting to be underwhelmed.  I was so wrong.

Even if I was ambivalent about zombies, I am so into books where all seems lost, and the stakes are incredibly high, and yet the protagonist pushes forward in the hope of overcoming.  And that is even better when the protagonist is a girl, because just sayin', that is rare in our media.  Even better better, when the girl protagonist who fights on manages to do so while being a grounded, flawed person, not some hyped up super-chick.  And Mary is flawed and selfish, but she's also curious and determined and she doesn't give up hope on the people she loves. 

But I can't ignore the fact that this is a book about the world after the zombie apocalypse.  And you know what?  I actually like zombies.  Not the zombies themselves, with their shuffling and their disgusting gaping wounds.  But I love the metaphor.  Some of my favorite moments in the book were when Mary makes self-aware connections between the insatiable desire she has for a boy, or her relentless pursuit of finding the ocean with that same all-consuming desire that fuels the zombies' attack.  Nicely done, Ms. Ryan.

One more thing.  I am sick of love triangles, and I'm sick of "love will save me from everything!" storylines so often found in YA.  So when Forest of Hands and Teeth veered into love triangle land, I was resigned to the same ol' same ol'.  But I was so wrong.  I will not say why, because I don't want to spoil.  But my hope is restored in YA books dealing with love in honest relationships, and hard choices, and personal priorities.

My heart is shattered from reading this book, and I don't know how Ryan will ever put the pieces together again, but there are two more books in this series, so I guess maybe there's hope.  (There's always hope, as Mary knows.)

Continued by The Dead-Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places.

Five out of five stars.

Release Date:  March 2009
Reading Level:  Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL RYA

Thursday, December 9, 2010

New YA Books

As I grow into my new job as Youth Services Librarian, one of my new assignments is book ordering!  Which means I get to choose what children, middle grade, and young adult books get added to the library collection.  So much power.  So much love!  I am especially excited to add to the young adult section, because that is the genre of my heart.  How can I not adore the category that gave me Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, White Cat, Uglies, etc etc?

This part of my job fills me with happy.  Most parts of my job fill me with happy, really.  But this especially!  Of course, it does nothing for me to add books to our collection if you, the library patrons, do not read them!  So come young, come old, and enjoy these new YA books I have purchased for you.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
     A post-apocalyptic zombie book!  I have been wanting to read this ever since the rave reviews came rolling in before it was even published.  And in fact, I took it upon myself to be the first person to check it out, and I am currently halfway through.  Will review soon.

Reckless by Cornelia Funke
     I've read Funke's The Thief Lord, which was excellent, so I am itching to see more of her work.  Reckless is about a pair of brothers traveling to Mirrorworld, and naturally, hijinks and adventures ensue.  I'm sold.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
     I actually interlibrary loaned this book a couple months ago.  I enjoyed Clare's City Of series, and this is a prequel of sorts, though you don't have to have read anything to understand what's going on.  How much do I love the world of Shadowhunters and the Enclave?  So much.  How much do I love the incessant YA love triangle genre?  Not so much.  But if it's your thing, you will love Clockwork Angel.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
     Sequel to Shiver, a love story between a girl and a wolf!  Who is really a boy.  It's werewolves, kind of, but without most of our pop culture connotations.  I enjoyed the first book, and will definitely read this when I get the chance.  I'm curious, actually, because I felt the first book ended quite nicely.  I guess Stiefvater had a few more tricks up her authorial sleeve.

Torment by Lauren Kate
     Sequel to Fallen, which I have not read.  But I want to, because the covers are both gorgeous.  I am easily won over.  In a genre of vampires and werewolves, why not throw in a little angel love?  Can't say much as I haven't read either of Kate's books, but I intend to change that asap.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray
     Enough with the supernatural romances, amiright?  Going Bovine sounds absolutely fantastic, as it is a story about a young man with Creutzfeldt-Jacob (more commonly known as mad cow disease, hence the title) who goes on a possibly hallucinatory quest a la Don Quixote.  How can that not be awesome?

Pegasus by Robin McKinley
     One of my great failings as a reader is my so-far non-relationship with Robin McKinley.  My favorite friends love her, and my favorite authors love her, but somehow I have not gotten around to reading any of her books.  I plan to correct this failing asap, and it looks like Pegasus is an excellent place to start as an epic fantasy about the adventures that a girl and a pegasus (not of the love relationship variety, thank goodness) embark upon. 

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
     I never knew I liked AU (alternate universe) stories until I picked this up.  Westerfeld creates his own version of the WWI era, in which the Germanic countries are Clankers who fight with machines, and the British allied countries are Darwinists who fight with fabricated beasties.  Add in the fleeing son of Archduke Ferdinand and a British airman who is really an airwoman, and brilliance ensues.  Check out my review of Leviathan's sequel Behemoth here.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
     I admit, my knowledge of this story comes only from the Studio Ghibli anime production.  Which was excellent, so I would imagine the source material is similarly excellent.  Plus, one of my favorite authors fangirls Diana Wynne Jones like nothing else, so I have confidence that this is an awesome book.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
     Reading this book was an odd experience.  I could not point to anything in particular that made it amazing, and as I read I wondered what was so great about it, but I could not stop reading.  And then the end came, and there was a massive twist that made my brain explode, and I immediately had to read it again, after which I shoved it in all my friends' faces and made them read it.  Suffice it to say, I would shove it in your face as well, if we weren't blocked by the interwebs.

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
     Sequel to The Thief.  Once again with the awesome.  More political intrigue, hands being cut off, and a little romance thrown in.  I can't say much without giving away spoilers, but you must read this series.

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
     The third in Turner's series.  Although it is told from a completely new character's POV (which made me shake the book angrily, because why wasn't Gen front and center?), it quickly became my favorite of the three.  Turner spins stories in a very unique and understated way, and the Attolia series is one of my favorites.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Book Jacket

A trio of today's best-selling authors--John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle--brings all the magic of the holidays to life in three hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and kisses that will take your breath away.


I have to admit that I don't read the backs of books very often, so I had no idea that the three stories would be woven together.  When I got to the second story and saw familiar characters, I felt like I had discovered something new.  But whether you are aware of the interconnectedness going in or not, it is great fun to see how the lives of each story's characters merge and impact the others.

I am a huge fan of John Green (DFTBA!), and that is pretty much the only reason I checked out Let It Snow.  But I'm glad I did!  I have found two new authors who are worth investigating (though I would rank the stories as such: Green first, Johnson second, and Myracle third).  The stories are all designed to create the warm fuzzies--both about Christmas and romance.  While some of the romances felt a little too convenient, the ways in which couples fell in and out of love were very entertaining.

Definitely a good book to curl up with while it snows outside.

Four out of five stars.

Release Date:  October 2008
Reading Level:  Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not yet owned by Dunlap.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rare Beasts by Charles Ogden

Book Jacket

"Hello, little Hamble!" Edgar exclaimed, holding it up so he could look into its mismatched eyes.  "Not another one like you in all the world.  Definitely exotic!  Definitely worth a lot of money!"

"Your Hamble isn't nearly as exotic as my Uggpron or these Snifflepops," said Ellen.

Puppies and kitties.  Bunnies and birds.  Hamsters, gerbils, lizards, and a chicken.  Dozens of pets separated from their loving owners, trapped in the dank basement, each undergoing its own unique and terrible transformation.

Oh, the horror!


Two horrible twins steal their neighbors' pets, decorate them in tinsel and paint, and attempt to sell them as exotic animals in order to fund future mischief.  Along the way--impromptu songs of gleeful revenge, hilarious chariactures of adults, and a bit of vocabulary snuck in, Lemony Snicket style.

Rare Beasts is a quick, fun read.  There seems to be a trend toward villainous protagonists, but I feel like it's been done better in other books.  Ellen and Edgar really have no redeeming qualities, and the fact that their parents abruptly left them doesn't do enough to endear them to readers.

So while this is a witty and creative book, I wouldn't rush to recommend it.  If you have a spare hour, enjoy!  If you never get around to reading this, don't fret.  Unless you love seeing sneaky children's plans being foiled, in which case:  Go read!

Three out of five stars.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Magyk by Angie Sage

Book Jacket

The seventh son of the seventh son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead.  That same night, the baby's father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a newborn girl with violet eyes.  The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own.  But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son Septimus?

The first book in this entralling new series by Angie Sage leads readers on a fantastic journey filled with quirky characters and magykal charms, potions, and spells.  Magyk is an original story of lost and rediscovered identities, rich with humor and heart.


Magyk is, in a word, delightful.  That sounds incredibly hokey, I know, but it's the best word I can come up with.  The setting and the characters are all presented with such humor and wit that I couldn't help smiling throughout the whole book.  (I don't recommend smiling at a book in public--people are bound to think you are strange.)

Sage has thought out a wholy realized magical world that is an awesome combination of medival life and Harry Potter.  The magical charms are hilarious, covering all kinds of needs, from Shield Bugs to Freezer Burn.  The narrative flows from one character to the next, so that there is no main character.  Everyone, from the villian to the dog to the youngest kitchen maid, gets to take center stage at some point.  As a result, the reader gets to see the story from everyone's point of view, which makes for a very entertaining read.

It's a great book.  I can't wait to continue the series.  If you like stories about magic, or stories about family, or even just stories that make you laugh, then Magyk is for you.

Five out of five mistaken identities.

Release Date:  March 2005
Reading Level:  Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL SAG

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Middle School Young Authors (November 30, 2010)

When I was in middle school, I wrote poetry like a madwoman.  During a stage in life when teenagers are trying to figure out who they are and how the world works, I believe writing can greatly help them process and understand.  And anyway, it's a lot of fun.

Three friends returned for our second Middle School Young Authors club.  They are some of the most hilarious girls who can also write compellingly and thoughtfully.  We started with writing "I am..." sentences, and their self-assesments ran from amusing boastfulness ("I am gorgeous." and "I am better than you.") to some really excellent writing ("I am the one to cock an eyebrow at your jokes.")

They next made a list of five unwanted gifts, which ranged from boxes to lightbulbs to boyfriends.  Then each girl chose one unwanted gift and wrote a story about it.  I am always amazed at how different each story turns out, even though everyone is given the same prompt.  One girl wrote an essay explaining why a certain gift was unwanted.  Another wrote a fairy tale in which the unwanted gift actually became something valuable.  The last girl wrote a hilarious story about how she got the unwanted gift (answer:  senile great-grandmothers).

Someone once said that great writing should either make us laugh or make us cry.  This group definitely has the laughter part down (and I'm sure they could make me cry if they wanted).  Pictures below.


Monday, November 29, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis

Book Jacket

Narnia...the world of wicked dragons and magic spells, where the very best is brought out of even the worst people, where anything can happen (and most often does)...and where the adventure begins.

The Dawn Treader is the first ship Narnia has seen in centuries.  King Caspian has built it for his voyage to find the seven lords, good men whom his evil uncle Miraz banished when he usurped the throne.  The journey takes Edmund, Lucy, and their cousin Eustace to the Eastern Islands, beyond the Silver Sea, toward Aslan's country at the End of the World.


I love C. S. Lewis in all his literary incarnations--I'll take his theology, his space trilogy, his apologetics, and his children's fantasy.  I even took a class that was entirely devoted to the life and works of Lewis while I was in college.  The Narnia series has long been a favorite of mine, and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader is my favorite of the seven books.  Each adventure that King Caspian and his crew face becomes more and more thrilling.  By the time they reach the End of the World, I feel like my heart has grown to fill my entire body.  Lewis kills me with his simple truths and his descriptions of places my soul wants to visit.

I love Eustace's story.  It only makes sense that it would take transforming into a dragon for him to learn how to become bearable.  I love the Island of Darkness, and the simple horror of dreams coming true.  The albatross that whispers to Lucy in Aslan's voice, "Courage, dear heart," is one of my favorite passages from all books ever.  And of course I love Aslan, who is firm and loving and always there when he is most needed.  He isn't a tame lion, or in the case of the Dawn Treader, a lamb. 

This is a book that only gets better with age.  Stories that seemed to be mere tales of adventure suddenly are full of depth and spiritual insight.  Lewis is brilliant.  Everyone should read him.

Five out of five talking mice.

Release Date:  1950
Reading Level:  Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  J LEW and YPL LEW

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

Book Jacket

Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper, and his best friend is a guy named Leo. They’re all students at the Wilderness School, a boarding school for “bad kids,” as Leo puts it. What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly? Jason doesn’t know anything – except that everything seems very wrong.

Piper has a secret. Her father, a famous actor, has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare about his being in trouble. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits during the school trip, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out, whether she wants to or not.

Leo has a way with tools. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too – like the curse everyone keeps talking about, and some camper who’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them – including Leo – is related to a god. Does this have anything to do with Jason’s amnesia, or the fact that Leo keeps seeing ghosts?

Join new and old friends from Camp Half-Blood in this thrilling first book in The Heroes of Olympus series.


We had a launch party for the release of Rick Riordan's newest book (and watched Mr. Riordan himself via the interwebs as he read an excerpt from this book!) back in October, but I resisted using my librarian powers for selfish purposes and signed up on the waiting list like a normal patron.  Well, my turn to read the newest saga of Greek-gods-meets-modern-America has arrived!

Riordan has outdone himself.  Part of my love for this book might stem from the fact that I have gotten used to myths merging with the world I live in, but mostly I think it has to do with some really fully-formed and likable characters.  Jason is the quintessential hero, but he has no memory of who he is, and is therefore crippled with confusion and fear.  Piper is beautiful and sassy, which should by all rights cause me to roll my eyes at yet another dream-girl character, but instead she confronts all those stereotypes and made me admire her.  Leo is hilarious, but he avoids being a useless funny sidekick by realizing he is exactly that--and revealing to us that he is far more scarred than his witty exterior lets on.

I'm amazed at Riordan's depth of psychology, and his gleeful distortion of literary tropes.  Awesome, sir.

But don't let your eyes glaze over in boredom.  The story is fast-paced, with battles and mysteries and hilariously characterized Greek gods and monsters.  The addition of Roman mythology is wonderful--instead of ignoring the fact that our world has two different names for the same gods and goddesses, Riordan weaves it all together in his own Riordan Mythology.

I should also mention that yes, Percy and Annabeth and all the rest appear in this book.  They'll have even bigger parts in the books to come, unless I'm completely off my prediction game.  So there's that, even if you don't love Jason, Piper, and Leo (which you will).

Five out of five mechanical dragons.

Release Date:  October 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL RIO

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Young Authors Grades 3-5 (November 23, 2010)

Only three months into a monthly program, and already we have a steady clientele!  Granted, it's a small group, but I think these kids more than make up for the small size with their awesome talent.  My goal for the writing clubs we offer at Dunlap Public Library is to introduce students to multiple free writing prompts, to increase their creativity and ability to create quickly, as well as to increase their comfort in sharing their creations with other students.

Today we covered three different prompts.  1)  Write multiple statements that begin with "I am...", 2) Write a poem about a color using that color crayon, and 3) Write a story that begins, "She would not give him the last piece of pie." 

I am constantly amazed at the imaginations these kids have.  I assumed the "I am..." prompt would result in statements about their ages or heights or personalities.  Not so!  Instead I was greeted with statements like "I am a bomb.  I am going to eat you.  I am an invesibele {sic} person."  Or "I am the wrath of my brother.  I am in a secret hideout in the Night Winter Forest.  I am going to stay ten all my life."  Brilliance.

These kids have great minds, and I'm so glad that I get to share in their creativity and craziness for an hour each month.  I hope more 3-5 graders join us on December 21 at 3:00 p.m.!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

Book Jacket

The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker powers.

Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan’s peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.

Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what’s ahead.


I loved Westerfeld's Uglies series, so when I discovered he had a new series out (first Leviathan, then Behemoth), I jumped to read them.  While I like the futuristic techological story of the Uglies books more, I was still very much caught up in the alternate-history world of Behemoth.  To be honest, World War I never much interested me, but a story that follows Archduke Ferdinand's fictional son on an adventure through Istanbul?  In a world where one side of the war (Clankers) fights with machines and the other side (Darwinists) with fabricated "beasties"?  My interest is piqued.  And not only with the fictional world which Westerfeld created--reading his alternate history made me want to know more about what actually went down in the 1910s.

Alek is a believable aristocrat thrown into the real world.  He is talented and gifted, but his flaws (like an unfortunate inability to keep his identity secret) are realistic enough to gain reader empathy.  Deryn is the perfect soldier, with great instincts and a level head in the heat of battle.  However, she is also a girl.  Both her position in the British military and her unrequited crush on Alek (who simply thinks of her--who Alek thinks is a him--as a friend) could come to disastrous ends if her secret is revealed.

I loved the characters, and that is what makes me love a book.  Added to that is my love for Istanbul and the giddy joy I felt reading about the spices and chaos of the Grand Bazaar.  Behemoth is a quick read, filled with adventure and secrets and skulking around in the night.  Make sure you read Leviathan first, though!

Four out of five stars.

Release Date:  October 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not yet owned by Dunlap.

Family Reading Night (November 18, 2010)

The state of Illinois celebrates Family Reading Night once a year, and Dunlap Public Library joined the fun this year!  We dressed up as characters from our favorite books, drew posters, made bookmarks, and wrote letters to our favorite authors.  Everyone who came also put their name into a drawing for books donated to the library. 

That's me, dressed up as Hermione Granger

Writing to Barbara Park

Making bookmarks

Making a poster for Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy

Book Jacket

Can superhuman Power be used for good or does its exercise always addict the user and end badly?  Will nature rise in revolt against technology?  Would we find everlasting life a bore and a burden? 

These are among the distrubing questions raised by Tolkien's enthralling epic of adventure, The Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien himself hoped that his stories would help his readers become better people, and he consciouusly drew upon some of hte most troubling and challenging themes from mythology, religion, and philosophical tought. 

Professors Bassham and Bronson have recruited a Fellowship of scholars trained in philosophy and also steeped in the lore of Middle-earth, to delve into some of the fascinating issues raised by The Lord of the Rings.  The writers' Quest was to steer clear of both "the webs of wizards" and "the haste of fools," to arrive at a truer understanding of the most magnificent tale of our time.


I've got to own up to my fangirlishness and admit that I was completely and totally in love with J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy (and supplementary books) for four years of my life.  They are still my foundation on which I compare other fantasy epics.  So a book of essays about the moral questions raised in The Lord of the Rings?  I'm so there. 

I mean, really, how is a book not awesome when the dedication is "To the entwives--wherever they may roam."

If you love LotR and you like to think deep thoughts, then you should definitely check this one out. 

Favorite essay:  Tolkien and the Nature of Evil (pg. 99)

Four out of five stars.

Release Date:  August 2003
Reading Level:  Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not owned by Dunlap.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Book Jacket

Junior is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation.  Born with a variety of medical problems, he is picked on by everyone but his best friend.  Determined to receive a good education, junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighboring farm town where the only other Indian is the school mascot.  Despite being condemned as a traitor to his people and enduring great tragedies, Junior attacks life with wit and humor and discovers a strength inside of himself that he never knew existed. 

Written with raw emotion by accalimed writer Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, his first novel for young adults, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one unlucky boy trying to rise above the life everyone expects him to live.


I was given this book for Christmas last year, and it was so engrossing that I read the entire thing in between morning presents and an afternoon with the extended family.  For that alone, I recommend it.

However, it is worthy of praise for much more than its readability.  Alexie revealed a new world to me; the story is a semi-authobigraphical story of his own adolescence growing up on a Spokane Indian reservation.  Junior, the narrator, is an intelligent and ambitious high school freshman who is caught between his Native American heritage and the future that seems to be possible only through integration into white society.

While that sounds heavy-handed, the book is anything but.  Junior maintains a sense of humor even when addressing the depressing issues of alcoholism and poverty that are prevelent on the reservation.  Much of his personality is revealed through cartoons that he "tapes" onto the pages.  He is an awesome kid who is trying to make his way in the world without abandoning those who are not as ambitious as he.

I loved the book.  There are some mature themes, so I wouldn't recommend it for all ages, but adults and mature teens should definitely give it a read.  It's funny, it's sad, and it will make you think.

Five out of five stars.

Release Date:  September 2007
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL ALE

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

Book Jacket

Blending rich elements of Welsh legend and universal mythology, Lloyd Alexander creates the imaginary kingdom of Prydain to tell a tale of enchantment, both good and evil, and of the Assistant Pig-Keeper who wants to become a hero.

In an enthralling chronicle, Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper to a famous oracular sow, sets out on a hazardous mission to save Prydain from the forces of evil.  He meets adventures in which humor and high valor are blended in a way that will keep readers of many ages completely absorbed--for this is fantasy that is rooted in reality and truth.

For, as Mr. Alexander says in his introductory note: "Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we believe we can do.  Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared.  To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart.


A 5th grader in my last book club recommended that I read The Book of Three.  It's an old school fantasy in which a young kid is swept into events bigger than he can imagine, which is pretty much the setting for all of my favorite books ever. Since a couple of my favorite author/bloggers claim Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain as influential to their reading lives, I figured this was a safe bet for an entertaining read.

I have to admit I was a little disappointed.  I don't think I've ever said this about a book before, but I felt like this one became too epic too quickly.  Before I could get my head into Alexander's world of Prydain, Taran (the boy protagonist) is following runaway pigs, facing evil villians with pretty faces, and castles are crumbling.  It all felt too contrived.  Of course the kid who dreams of glory will immediately run into the man he idolizes, who will naturally take him under his wing even though the kid is mostly useless.  The ending was similarly quick and too neatly wrapped up.  The bad guy was defeated before I really had a chance to fear him.

And on a completely personal preference, I just don't like when books give characters unpronouncable names.  I don't care if it looks cool--fantasy doesn't necessitate ridiculousness.  Sure, sure, Alexander was channeling the Welsh, and maybe they had names like Eilonwy or Arawn, but it's too many Ws for my taste.

I did, however, love Eilonwy.  Her stream of consciousness conversations with herself are hilarious.  She's very slightly unhinged, which is perfect for the neice of an evil enchantress who joins the good fight just to spite her aunt. 

Although I never really liked Taran, which is not great since he is the main character, I did appreciate what Alexander did with his character.  Taran is known throughout the book as an Assistant Pig-Keeper, but despite his low-status job, he is determined to do his part in a quest that is much bigger than anything he could have prepared for.  It's been better done in other books (I'm looking at you, Frodo) but the idea is still inspiring.

I will probably read the rest of the series at some point in the future, so I guess it was decent.  However, it was definitely not a page turner.

Three out of five stars.

Release Date:  1964
Reading Level:  Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL ALE