Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows by Jacqueline West

Book Jacket

When eleven-year-old Olive moves into the crumbling mansion on Linden Street, she's right to think there's something weird about the place, especially the walls covered in creepy antique paintings.  But when she finds a pair of old-fashioned glasses in a dusty drawer, she discovers the most peculiar thing yet--

She can travel inside these paintings to Elsewhere, a world that's strangely quiet...and eerily sinister.

Olive soon finds that Elsewhere has secrets to hide--and the most annoying of them is Morton, a small boy with a big temper.  As he and Olive form an uneasy alliance, Olive finds herself caught in a plan darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wats to be rid of her by any means necessary.  It's up to her to save the house from the shadows, before the lights go out for good.

For fans of Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman comes a tale at turns haunting, moving, and darkly funny (and best if read with a flashlight under the bed sheets--shhh!).


There is so much to love about The Books of Elsewhere.  It's for fans of Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman (translation: slightly odd, definitely awesome)!  There are three talking cats who may or may not be evil!  A place called Elsewhere?  Genius!  And really, there are few ideas cooler than being able to jump into a painting.

This was a quick, fun read.  The plot twists are not overly twisty, but I didn't always know what to expect.  Olive is a great protagonist--curious but cautious, easily annoyed but easily forgiving, brave and resourceful in a pinch.  And again, talking cats!  One of which thinks he is Lancelot or a pirate on any given day.

And the best thing about this book?  It finishes its story, but there will be more to come!  I am tired of cliffhangers, because I am tired of waiting.  But continuing a story in a wonderful universe while also giving closure?  That's my kind of series.

Five out of five pirate cats.

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

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty

Book Jacket

When her best friend, Hope Weaver, moves away from Pineville, New Jersey, hyperobservant sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling is devastated.  A fish out of water at school and a stranger at home, Jessica feels more lost than ever now that the only person with whom she could really communicate has gone.  How is she supposed to deal with the boy- and shopping-crazy girls at school, her dad's obsession with her track meets, her mother salivating over big sister Bethany's lavish wedding, and her nonexistent love life?

A fresh, funny, utterly compelling fiction debut by first-time novelist Megan McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts is an insightful, true-to-life look at Jessica's predicament as she embarks on another year of teenage torment--from the dark days of Hope's departure through her months as a type-A personality turned insomniac to her completely mixed-up feelings about Marcus Flutie, the intelligent and mysterious "Dreg" who works his way into her heart.  Like a John Hughes for the twenty-first century, Megan McCafferty taps into the inherent humor and drama of the teen experience.  This poignant, hilarious novel is sure to appeal to readers who are still going through it, as well as those who are grateful that they don't have to go back and grow up all over again.


I admit, I was not a fan of Jessica Darling at first.  She reminded me too much of Bianca from The DUFF--pessimistic, mopey, and cynical (my review of The Duff can be found here).  But as Jessica's story went on, I realized why she was so depressed.  The combination of parental pressure, physical and psychological abnormalities, as well as the lost of her best and only friend....well, her bad mood made total sense.

However, more than the explanations made up for the complaining was Jessica's sense of humor.  She sees everything, has an opinion on everything, and will absolutely make fun of it, whether it's herself or her "friends" or the teenage experience.

Although I did not have quite the high school drama that Jessica does, I appreciated the unflinching way Megan McCafferty analyzes teen relationships, whether they be familial, friendship, or romantic.  I found Sloppy Firsts to be completely addicting, and by the end I really and truly cared for Jessica Darling.  Can't wait to read the next in the series, Second Helpings.

Four out of five midnight runs.

Release Date:  August 2001
Reading Level:  Grade 10+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL MCC

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

Book Jacket

After a family tragedy, Emily, Navin, and their mother move to an old ancestral home to start a new life.  On the family's very first night in the mysterious house, a strange noise lures them into the basement, where Em and Navin's mom is kidnapped by a humongous, tentacled creature and dragged down behind the basement door.

The kids give chase down a twisty spiral stairway and find themselves in a strange and magical world below.  Most surprising of all, it seems that their great-grandfather, who was an inventor and puzzle maker, was there before them--and he's left some unfinished business.

Now it's up to Em and Navin to figure out how to set things right and save their mother's life!


Confession:  I am quickly becoming a huge graphic novel fan.  Amulet: The Stonekeeper was recommended in some of my fancy book ordering catalouges, and I totally see why.  The story was immediately gripping.  I was amazed at how quickly the family relationships were established, and how much I cared for them from pretty much page one.  Such is the power of pictures telling a story alongside the words.

And the pictures!  So good.  They tell the story without being overly fancy, until the end when something crazy awesome happens, and the pictures become gorgeous.  Because the situation deserves gorgeous pictures.

I devoured this book in half an hour, and I am definitely going to order it for Dunlap's library.

Five out of five mechanial bunnies. 

Release Date: January 2008
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where in Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  GRAPHIC KIB

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion

If you don't get the Chillicothe Times Bulletin, then you probably didn't read their article about Dunlap Public Library's new Youth Services librarian.  Yeah, I mean me!  I am still young enough to be totally excited about being in the paper, but I am mature enough to be hopeful that this article will bring more patrons to Dunlap's programs!

Check out the article at the Chillicothe Times Bulletin website here.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

Book Jacket

Of especially naughty children, it is sometimes said: "They must have been raised by wolves."  The Incorrigible children actually were.

Discovered in the forests of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander keep his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bit; and Beowulf is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.

Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess.  Only fifteen years old and a graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position.  Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin berbs and the proper use of globes, first she must eliminate their canine tendencies.

But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures?  Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner?  Will Penelope be able to civilize the Incorrigibles in time for Lady Constance's holiday ball?  And what on earth is a schottische?

Penelope is no stranger to mystery, as her own origins are also cloaked in secrecy.  But as Agatha Swanburne herself once said, "Things may happen for a reason, but that doesn't mean we know what the reason is--at least, not yet."


Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books, and I love parody as much as the next person.  So a book that lovingly mocks the 19th century governess trope is guaranteed to intrigue me.  By page 15, I knew I was hooked when I read this: "Penelope had read several novels about such governesses in preparation for her interview and found them chock-full of useful information, although she had no intention of developing romantic feelings for the charming, penniless tutor at a neighboring estate.  Or--heaven forbid!--for the darkly handsome, brooding, and extravagantly wealthy master of her own household.  Lord Frederick Ashton was newly married in any case, and she had no inkling what his complexion might be."

And really, it's the words that make this book so worth reading.  It's like Maryrose Wood is a hilarious combination of Jane Austen and Lemony Snicket.  In fact, I just have to quote another section that seemed like it could have been copied straight from A Series of Unfortunate Events (and I mean that with the highest praise--if you haven't read the 13-book series yet, do it now!). 

"Extraordinarily busy places are often compared to beehives, and if you have ever seen the inside of a beehive, you already know why this is so.  (It is not necessary to actually set foot inside of a beehive to confirm this, by the way.  They are too small and too full of bees for in-person tours to be truly convenient.  But there are alternatives:  One could peer inside using some sort of periscopelike magnifying device, for example.  Or one could simply accept that beehives are busy and get on with it.  This second option is called "suspending one's disbelief," and it is by far the easiest row to hoe, now and at other times, too.)"

This should be enough to entice everyone to read The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling, but if it is not, I assure you that the plot is quick, the children adorable and hilarious, Penelope austere and hilarious, and Lady Constance vain and hilarious.  Obviously, if you want a funny read, you should try this.  Though be warned!  None of the mysteries are actually solved!  I didn't know that going in, so it was a bit disappointing to realize I would have to wait until The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery to get some answers.

Four out of five howls.

Release Date:  February 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 5-8
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL WOO

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January Make and Take

Despite depressing weather and the first time we've been open on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we had a really nice turnout for our Make and Take craft on Monday!  Tis the season to be snowy, so I mixed up some "snow" (1/3 glue, 2/3 shaving cream) which turned out really nice and soft.  I definitely recommend you try that at home.  The kids used the snow to decorate a construction paper scene.

I really like how these Make and Take crafts are going.  For now I plan to make them monthly programs!  Next one is a Valentine's Day craft on Friday, February 11th, from 3:00-5:00 p.m.  Come and go as you please!

Monday, January 17, 2011

8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Book Jacket

8:08 a.m.

I'm like a boxer before the title fight.  Except I'm not in the ring, I'm in the auditorium.  About to be front and center stage.  Again.

I will not lose my breakfast.

I will not lose my breakfast.

Joe C. and Ruthie are right behind me--they've got my back no matter what.  Charlie's in the audience, probably so excited he can't stay in his seat.  And Mialonie Davis, the most beautiful girl in the world...

I got this.  Right?

I know Donovan is out there too, hating me more than ever.  But what matters now is the Olive Branch Shelter, and Clarke Junior School here in Brooklyn, and getting through this speech alive.

I will not lose my breakfast.

This all started with George at the Olive Branch.  Or in homeroom with the election announcement.  Or maybe back when I got my nickname, right here on this very stage.

Maybe I should just tell you the whole story...


Wow.  This is easily one of the best books I've read in the past year.  I could recommend this to people of any and all ages--there's nothing inappropriate in Reggie's story.  Few books so masterfully deal with issues like God, school spirit, homelessness, community service, racism, crushes, friendship, and peer pressure.  It never becomes preachy, and in fact has a genuine sense of humor running throughout.

Reggie doesn't let his embarrassing 1st day of 8th grade (and his resulting nickname, Pukey) stop him from getting involved at the local homeless shelter with his church's youth group, then carrying his passion for helping others into his school's presidential campaign.  His relationships with best friends Joe C. and Ruthie are authentic and heart-warming.  His crush on Mialonie is perfect, and Reggie's discovery of love worth pursuing (with someone who loves you for you, and not someone who wants to change you) is a great lesson for everyone.

This book is so good, guys.  Go read it now! 

Six out of five Night Man comics.  Yeah, that's right.  Six out of five.

Release Date:  January 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL RHU

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

Book Jacket

They have always scared him in the past--the Rangers with their dark cloaks and mysterious ways.  Folks in the village claim that Rangers have the power to become invisible at will.  A skill Will would now dearly love to have.

Will's heart had been set on Battleschool, on becoming a hero to the kingdom.  But Will is small for his fifteen years, too small to be a warrior.  He possesses other skills, though--a Ranger's skills.  He can move silent as a shadow.  He can climb.  And he is brave.

He will need all these skills and more.  For Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces.  A battle for the kingdom is destined to begin.  A battle the likes of which Will cannot even imagine.

Combining the intensity of a young King Arthur with the epic fantasy of The Lord of the Rings, John Flanagan brings to America the adventure of the year.


One of the reviews I read for this book described it as the story of a young Aragorn.  It takes almost no stretch of the imagination to believe that this story takes place in Northern Middle Earth where the Rangers train.  Camoflauged cloaks and tracking skills and ridiculously awesome weapon stunts seem to be the Ranger standard, whether in Lord of the Rings or Ranger's Apprentice.

Flanagan does an excellent job of making his story feel incredibly real.  I think I actually went through Battleschool and Ranger training along with Horace and Will.  I enjoyed the day-to-day grittiness and exhaustion that Flanagan makes somehow interesting.  And of course, there's heroism and friendships and adventures.

I really liked this book despite a cheesy perfunctory romance and a bit of authorial over-explaining.  The Ruins of Gorlan will be a sure-fire hit with boys, and if they are anything like me, girls as well.

Four out of five flaming arrows.

Release Date:  June 2005
Reading Level:  Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL FLA

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Flyte by Angie Sage

Book Jacket

It's been a year since Septimus Heap discovered his real family and true calling to be a wizard.  As Apprentice to ExtraOrdinary Wizard Marcia Overstrand, he is learning the fine arts of Conjurations, Charms, and other Magyk, while Jenna is adapting to life as the Princess and enjoying the freedom of the Castle.

But there is something sinister at work.  Marcia is constantly trailed by a menacing Darke Shadow, and Septimus's brother Simon seems bent on a revenge no one understands.  Why is the Darke Magyk still lingering?

Bring fantasy to new heights, Angie Sage continues the journey of Septimus Heap with her trademark humor and all of the clever details readers have come to love.


I am loving the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage (first book, Magyk, reviewed here)!  Since the readers are already acquainted with the cast of characters, Sage wastes no time getting to the good stuff--kidnappings, escapes, dodgy hideouts, dragons, and flyte.

Septimus and Jenna are fantastic kids with whom I would happily be BFFs, regardless of the fact that they are ten years younger than me.  I loved seeing Septimus excel at magyk and Jenna settle into the authority of a Queenling.  Simon was a wonderful villan, both pitiable and horrendous. 

And c'mon.  There's a dragon!  And most everyone considers it a nuisance, not some great mystical sign of salvation (although I'm pretty sure it might turn out to be just that).  I can't wait to read the next book in Sage's series.

Five out of five Thunderflashes.

Release Date:  March 2006
Reading Level:  Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL SAG

Monday, January 10, 2011

Goddess Girls: Artemis the Brave by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Book Jacket

Artemis's friends and classmates see her as the most courageous goddessgirl at school.  Little do they know that despite her expert archery skills, the smelly Geryon, ring-nosed Minotaurs, and scorpions in Beast-ology class scare her as much as they do anyone else!  But what's really bothering her now is that funny feeling she has whenever she looks at Orion.  She's never had a crush before.  Will she find the courage to talk to Orion, to make him see her as more than a pal, and to ace Beast-ology class?

Authors Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams put a modern spin on classic myths with the Goddess Girls series.  Follow the ins and outs of divine social life at Mount Olympus Academy, where the most privileged godboys and goddessgirls in the Greek pantheon hone their mythical skills.


I am a huge fan of Greek mythology in any incarnation, so when a teacher friend of mine recommended these Middle Grade books about the gods and goddesses as middle schoolers, I had to check them out.  And I'm glad I did!  While the lessons are pretty heavy-handed, it is a fun, quick read.  I was really excited to see Orion as a character (since that is the only constellation I can ever find), and while he was a rather awful person, I found him hilarious.

The little bits of mythology thrown in were my favorite parts, such as when Apollo sighs that he should have known Daphne didn't like him because she kept hiding behind trees.  There's humor, friendship, and lessons about love and courage in Artemis the Brave.  I'm guessing the other books in the series (starring Athena, Aphrodite, and Persephone) will be similarly great.  Definitely recommended for younger readers!

Four out of five minotaurs.

Release Date:  December 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 1+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  J HOL

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Book Jacket

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy.  He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead.  There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy--an ancient Indigo Man beneath the hill, the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer.  But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack--who has already killed Bod's family.


A story about a boy raised by ghosts could very easily become campy, but Gaiman tells the story of Nobody Owens (brilliant name) with a very gothic and fairy tale feel.  Bod's adventures growing up are both mystical and very natural, as Gaiman captures the personality of a typical boy growing up.  I loved every bit, from the deliciously terrifying organization that is out to kill Bod (the Jacks of All Trades) to his friendship with a girl who thinks he is her imaginary friend.  I especially loved Miss Lupescu and Silas, Bod's guardians, who are a werewolf and a vampire respectively, but unlike any werewolf or vampire you've read before.

Gaiman's talent lies in making the mundane terrifying and the terrifying mundane.  In the graveyard with Bod, the ghosts are friendly and protective.  Outside in the real world is where the danger lies.

Brilliant book.  This was my second readthrough, and I loved it even more this time.

Five out of five epitaphs.

Release Date:  September 2008
Reading Level:  Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  J GAI

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Paws to Read

On Saturday morning, the Peoria Humane Society brought in some of their trained therapy dogs so Dunlap patrons could read to the world's most appreciative audience.  Obviously, much adorableness ensued. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

Book Jacket

About the author:  Hiccop Horrendous Haddock III was a truly extraordinary Viking Hero, Warrior chieftain, awesome sword-fighter, and amateur naturalist.  He was known thorughout Vikingdom as "the Dragon Whisperer" on account of his power over the terrifying beasts.

But it wasn't always like that...


I am going to lead a book club on How to Train Your Dragon on January 24 (upcoming events are listed here), and I am excited to talk about this book with 3rd-5th graders!  And maybe draw our own dragons, complete with lists of skills and attributes, because how is that not awesome?

I have not seen the movie based on Cowell's book, so my opinions are strictly book-related.  And I loved it.  Hiccup is instantly likable and relateable, if you are intimidated by dragons and unsure that you can live up to your parent's expectations.  Hiccup has brains while his rival for the Viking chieftainship has brawn.  I will always be in favor of brains defeating brawn.

Hiccup's relationship with Toothless, his dragon, was also wonderful.  Toothless is wholly self-interested and arrogant, but no dragon can remain unmoved by the power of Hiccup's jokes and kindness. 

Also, can I just say that Cowell is a brilliant writer who obviously enjoys the English language?  Her character's names are inspired and hilarious, and the whole story is told with a very fairy tale-esque flavor.  The pictures that accompany characters and scenes are also truly funny.

Four out of five dragons.

Release Date:  May 2004
Reading Level:  Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  J COW

Monday, January 3, 2011

Matched by Ally Condie

Book Jacket

In the Society, officials decide who you love.  Where you work.  When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices.  It's hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate.  So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one...until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.  Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices:  between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path no one else has ever dared follow--between perfection and passion.


I was so much looking forward to the release of this book that I accidentally ordered two copies for our library.  I do not regret this, because I think this dystopian story deserves to fly off the shelves.

The world that Condie created is fantastically believable.  Set at some unknown date in the future, the Society closely monitors all human activity, guaranteeing peace, order, and a kind of happiness.  Everyone's life is planned for them, and I found myself understanding the appeal of such a system. 

Finding love is very tedious, and how are you ever going to know if the person you end up with is really meant for you?  Well, the Society matches you with the person who most complements your personality and genetics.  Finding a job is stressful, and you knows if you will be able to find something that will fulfill you and use your skills?  The Society monitors your schoolwork and playtime, so that when they assign your job to you, it is tailor-made to your preferences.  And getting old is terrifying, what with the gradual process of losing your bodily functions or your mind.  The Society takes care of that too, with enforced euthenasia at age 80, so that everyone gets to live a long healthy life without having to deal with the inevitable slow decline.

What I love about dystopian books is this:  yes, life might actually be better if someone regulated and arranged big life choices for us.  But is that worth giving up free will?  Obviously, most books choose no, it's not worth it, and Matched is no exception.  Throw in some shady Outer Province wars and the hints of more overt manipulation, and I'm fairly certain a revolution is in the works for the rest of the series (yes, this is the first of a planned trilogy).

I also loved Cassia's family.  It was so nice to see loving and supportive parents when broken homes are far more common in today's novels.  Condie acknowledges the benefits of the Society in the portrayal of Cassia's parents--they are perfectly suited for each other, and genuinely love each other despite the arranged marriage.  Cassia's grandfather was one of my favorite characters in the book, as he subtly fights against the system by encouraging creativity and hiding the most dangerous weapon of all:  human words, a poem that opens Cassia's mind and urges her to rage against injustice instead of sit idly by. 

The only thing I didn't like was the appearance of yet another YA love triangle.  I loved Xander, Cassia's lifetime best friend, who is funny and caring and genuinely loves her.  But he was shunted to the side fairly quickly in favor of the mysterious and haunted Ky.  Ky's archetype is pretty prevelent in our culture, so I'm sure more readers will prefer him, but I just wanted Cassia to end up with someone she can love without the drama.  I guess no drama would make for a boring read, though.

Anyway, romance qualms aside, Matched was a truly excellent book.  It's gearing up to take the YA world by storm (and it is already optioned for movie making), so everyone should definitely check this one out!

Five out of five green pills.

Release Date:  November 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL CON

The Fury by L. J. Smith

Book Jacket

Love can kill.

Elena: with Damon at her side, and wild with her craving for blood, the changed Elena struggles to control her desires.

Damon: his hunger for the golden girl wars with his hunger for revenge against Stefan.

Stefan: tormented after losing Elena, he will do anything to get her back.  Even if it means becoming what he once despised...

Getting what they want may come at a deadly cost.


The Fury is a quick read, but ultimately, I found it pretty disappointing.  It is the third book in L.J. Smith's Vampire Diaries series (my review of the first two can be found here), so don't read this if you want to avoid being spoiled!

There was a lot of potential in this book:  seemingly dead people come back to life, misdirection as to who really is the Big Bad, and Elena's nearly complete personality change after becoming a vampire.

But...the potential never actually had a great payoff.  I was most excited about the change in Elena, and figuring how and why it happened.  But the cause was never explained, and she became the same old Elena as soon as she read her diary.  I still don't see the point of her character change for the first couple chapters.

There was also a potentially interesting relationship shift between brothers Stefan and Damon.  First there was reluctant cooperation, leading toward a grudging trust.  However, once again, the idea was far more interesting than anything that happened on the page.  I wanted more!

Apparently there is still one more book in the Vampire Diaries series, but I honestly have no idea what else can happen.  I'll read it, but my hopes are low.  However, I keep hearing good things about the TV show, so I will probably check that out someday soon...

Two out of five mysterious tigers.

Release Date:  1991
Reading Level:  Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not owned by Dunlap.