Thursday, June 30, 2011

Magician David Casas

I am a huge sucker for magic.  Part of me desperately wants to know how the sleight-of-hand works, but the rest of me is happy to be reduced to an open-mouthed simpleton, grinning a "WHAT!?" of disbelief.

David Casas delivered plenty of magic tricks that made me look ridiculous, jaw dropped down to the floor.  And really, what good is magic if it isn't, well, magical?

First there were birds appearing out of thin air (or rather, out of bits of cloth).

Then there were volunteers who refused to be cut in half, who counted to three in Chinese, and who boldly dared to master card tricks and card flips.

And finally, what is a magic show without an escape from a straightjacket? Worthless. Thankfully, David Casas ended his show with a bang and a laugh. And even though I'd already seen him perform this escape, I seriously worried for his success. But don't worry, he got out.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Abandon by Meg Cabot

Book Jacket

Pierce knows what it's like to die, because she's done it before.

Though she tries returning to the life she knew before the accident, Pierce can't help but feel at once a part of this world, and apart from it.  Yet she's never alone...because someone is always watching her.  Escape from the realm of the dead is impossible when someone there wants you back.

But now she's moved to a new town.  Maybe at her new school, she can start fresh.  Maybe she can stop feeling so afraid.

Only she can't.  Because even here, he finds her.  That's how desperately he wants her back.  She knows he's no guardian angel, and his dark world isn't exactly heaven, yet she can't stay away...especially since he always appears when she least expects it, but exactly when she needs him most.

But if she lets herself fall any further, she may just find herself back in the one place she most fears: the Underworld.


I saw this book marketed as the Hades/Persephone myth, which as far as myths go, I count as one of the best.  I was super excited to get my hands on this book for that reason, and also because I am a failure of a YA reader, since I've never yet set eye to Meg Cabot page.  Unfortunately, Abandon did little to encourage me to read anything else of hers.

Pierce's story is largely told through flashback, and I agree with the reviewer (from some website, sorry I don't remember) who suggested the book might have been more suspenseful if it had been told in real time.  It's just not possible to make Pierce's island high school adventures anywhere near as exciting as dying, or interacting with the Lord (or is he just Steward?) of the Dead. 

Which, let's be honest, there was very little swoon.  I am disappoint.  Pierce throws tea in his face to escape Hades (awesome!) and wants nothing to do with him (so much potential!).  And then she just....realizes she likes him?  I wanted more.

Okay, this is too pessimistic.  Things I liked?  The weather was ominous.  HAHAHA, oh man, that is not a good first "like."  I liked Pierce's family, both her environment-destroying father and environment-loving mother, as well as her troubled uncle and cousin.

This is supposed to be a trilogy, but I can't help but think they could have cut out 2/3 of this book and fit the whole trilogy in one.  As is, I probably won't jump at reading the second book when it comes out next year.

Two out of five diamond necklaces.

Release Date:  April 2011
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL CAB

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Abandon:

The Discriminating Fangirl
Sassy Monkey Reads

Monday, June 27, 2011

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

Book Jacket

There is a door at the end of a silent corridor.  And it's haunting Harry Potter's dreams.  Why else would he be waking in the middle of the night, screaming in terror?

Here are just a few things on Harry's mind:

-A Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher with a personality like poisoned honey
-A venomous, disgruntled house-elf
-Ron as keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch team
-The looming terror of the end-of-term Ordinary Wizarding Level exams

...and of course, the growing threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.  In the richest story, Harry Potter is faced with the unreliability of the very government of the magical world and the impotence of the authorities at Hogwarts.

Despite this (or perhaps because of it), he finds depth and strength in his friends, beyond what even he knew; boundless loyalty; and unbearable sacrifice.

Though thick runs the plot (as well as the spine), readers will race through these pages and leave Hogwarts, like Harry, wishing only for the next train back.


Thus continues my epic reread of the Harry Potter series before the final movie comes out on July 15!  (What will we do when there is no longer a new Harry Potter creation to look forward to?)

If you haven't read the Harry Potter series yet, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?  Go out and read them immediately.  Thank you.  For the rest of us, spoilers are ahead, because I will talk about each book with the revelations of the whole series in mind.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is my least favorite of the series, and during this reread, I tried to pinpoint why.  I've decided that it is because, despite not being the middle of the series, it is the middle of the plot.  It is in this book that things are the darkest, that Harry is the most clueless, and that things seem most hopeless.  During the sixth book Harry gains knowledge, and in the seventh he gains power. 

But here?  He's just a teenage boy who witnessed a murder and was tortured by the man who killed his parents, was then sent back to his abusive relatives without any word of how the wizarding world had changed because of Voldemort's return.  I used to really hate Capslock!Harry, but after five rereads, I completely sympathize with his frustration.

Another thing I hate?  The willful blindness of the Ministry of Magic.  I just want to punch Cornelius Fudge so hard his bowler hat flies off.  Choosing to believe Voldemort is not back (and therefore endangering everyone) simply because it would really suck if he had returned?  I'm sorry, that's stupid.  Sometimes we have to face the bad situation we're in and fight, even though it would be more comfortable to close our eyes.

I have a love/hate relationship with Umbridge.  I mean, she is a truly excellent villain.  Her pleasant, neat exterior masks a horrendous interior, bristling with discrimination, pride, and a little bit of torture (that blood pen detention?  deliciously evil).  So even though I think Rowling does a great job creating her, maybe she did too good a job?  Because she wins for too long!  She kicks Dumbledore out!  She is AWFUL.  It gets to the point that I feel like I am an oppressed Hogwarts student alongside Harry and Hermione and Ron.  Which duh, is good writing.  (I also think Umbridge as DADA teacher is a fantastic example of those people who are respected in society, but have a vendetta against teaching anything "dangerous" i.e. book banning....but that's another post for another website to tackle).

What did I love?  The last 100 pages are brilliant.  Seeing Dumbledore in all his power is chilling and fabulous.  Realizing that Dumbledore cares for Harry makes my heart melt.  Understanding that Harry and Voldemort are linked by prophecy (and by horcrux, as we'll later learn) blew my mind first time around.  The prophecy in general is so good, mixing free will with destiny in a truly mind-bending way.

And Sirius.  I kind of want to punch Harry too, for not contacting Sirius more often, especially once he had that mirror.  I just imagine Sirius gazing into it, waiting for Harry to talk to him, and he never does.  The poor man escaped from prison only to be imprisoned in his own home, full of memories of the life he tried to run away from but ultimately couldn't.  And then the one time he finally gets out....he dies.  SIRIUS.  You were too young!  (For reals, he was too young.  According to the books, Sirius/Remus/Snape should be 35 at this point....people responsible for the movie casting...FAIL.)

Still excellent, but too much pain for me to give full marks.

Four out of five ominous dreams.

Release Date:  August 2004
Reading Level:  Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL ROW

Fruits Basket Vol. 20 by Natsuki Takaya

Book Jacket

Kagura and Kazuma hotly discuss Tohru liking Kyo.  With Kagura's forceful encouragement, will Tohru be able to muster up the courage to tell Kyo how she feels?  Meanwhile, Ren is determined to get her hands on Akito's mystery box--even if it means killing for it!


It's kind of hilarious that all the Sohmas are just as invested (either positively or negatively) in Tohru and Kyo's relationship as I am.  Get a life, guys!  And me...

Ren and Akito are still creepy, but at least we now have Ren's backstory.  I'm going to venture a guess that Fruits Basket is all about love, and how that emotion can either encourage or destroy a person.  With Ren, it's destruction, of herself and all those around her.  It is sad, but I still find it very hard to feel badly for her.  She does awful things, and considers everyone else about twenty steps beneath her.  And that's nothing on Akito, who considers him/herself God.  That's more than twenty steps, yes?

But let's get on to this curse breaking thing.  Momiji is free now too.  What happened?  Do you just have to...choose not to be bonded to Akito?  Because that's pretty easy.  Or is it random?  I want explanations!  But regardless, I really like that breaking the bond is not the answer to all the Sohma's problems.  Momiji now feels left out and lonely, which makes total sense.  Nothing is ever easy, and that includes freedom.

And we end with Kyo's horrific revelation.  Like I wanted, his past with Tohru's mother Kyoko was explained.  Then it gets so. much. worse.  I'm amazed Tohru wasn't more put off.  Her powers of forgiveness are fantastic, which, of course, is why all the Sohmas love her so much.

Things are really getting moving!

Five out of five empty boxes.

Release Date:  July 2008
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  GRAPHIC TAK

Friday, June 24, 2011

Teen Junk Food Castles

Other libraries in the Peoria area have built things out of junk food for teen programming, and when I heard of this, I knew we had to do it at Dunlap.  Teens are scarce for programming during the school year, but I was super pleased when seven teens came to build castles out of graham crackers, marshmallow fluff (excellent glue), Starbursts, etc.  And let me tell you, if I had to defend myself against tiny little enemies, I would recruit these teens to construct my defensive castle. 

Check out the pictures below the cut!

Between Two Ends by David Ward

Book Jacket

In the musty library of his grandmother's strange, old house, Yeats reunites a pair of pirate bookends that turn out to be more than they seem.  These salty-tongued rogues can magically transport readers directly into the books they read, though they won't neccessarily help them get out.

Yeats, assisted by the pirates, navigates the unfamiliar world of the story of The Arabian Nights--dodging guards and tigers and the dangerous things that lurk in the margins of the stories--in order to save a long-lost girl and bring peace to his family.  But sometimes the magic of storytelling can be hard to break...


First, I really dislike when the book jacket is incorrect.  There aren't tigers in Between Two Ends, but there is a panther.  The person who creates book jackets should really be familiar with the novel they are advertising.

As for the novel itself, I really wanted to like it.  The cover is phenomenal.  The premise is really intriguing.  I liked the set-up: I understood why Yeats would risk so much danger because the problem was intensely personal.  Solving it was the only way Yeats could help save his father's sanity and his parents' marriage.

I loved the references to poetry and works of literature.  I loved the cats.  I liked the descriptions of Arabia, the dust and the smells.  It was very evocative. 

But somewhere along the line, the story just fell flat.  It's a quick read, but not at all engrossing.  I couldn't bring myself to really care whether or not Shari escaped from the book.  I never doubted Yeats' safety.  And the bit characters were a little too deus ex machina for my taste.

Some really good stuff here, but not enough to warrant anything higher than

Three out of five schimitars.

Release Date:  May 2011
Reading Level:  Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL WAR

Don't believe me:  Check out these reviews of Between Two Ends:

Cracking the Cover
Simple Pleasures Book Blog

Fruits Basket Vol. 19 by Natsuki Takaya

Book Jacket

As the Fruits Basket saga continues, the relationship between Tohru and Kyo becomes increasingly complicated, especially since most of the members of the Zodiac seem to look down on him.  Tohru comes to the realization that if she wants to save Kyo, she'll have to create some sort of trigger to break his curse.  But what, if anything, can cure Kyo?  The answer is right inside this next volume of the super-popular Fruits Basket!


More romance!  Yay!  Kyo's feelings are evident to everyone (except maybe Tohru), which embarrasses him and delights me.  He even asked her out on a date.  These adorable kids slay me.  And I love even more that they ended up going grocery shopping and peering into a pet shop window.  True love doesn't need extravagant restaurants of over-the-top displays of love.  The settled and lowkey nature of Tohru and Kyo's affection is what makes me love it so much.

I was really glad to see Shigure admit why they are all so horrible to Kyo, either explicitly or by disassociation (because really? they should have done something about the practice of putting a fellow Zodiac member in solitary confinement for their entire life a looong time ago).  It makes sense that people at the bottom of the social pile, cursed and abandoned, would choose to take out their frustrations on someone who has it even worse than them.  Poor Cat.

We also got some more information about Kakeru, Yuki's new BFF.  I like him quite a lot, and I'm so glad they are friends.  I'm reminded a bit of LOST, how these characters are all mysteriously inter-related through past events.  And Yuki asked Machi out on a date.  That is a little fast, considering it took him loads of volumes to realize his feelings for Tohru, but whatever.  I'm also glad that although his feelings for Tohru are more maternal than romantic, he can't stand to be in house when Kyo and Tohru are especially flirty.  Nice way to not drop a plot thread, Takaya.

Four out of five grown-up Momijis.

Release Date:  March 2008
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not yet owned by Dunlap.

Ouran High School Host Club Vol. 14 by Bisco Hatori

Book Jacket

In this screwball romantic comedy, Haruhi, a poor girl at a rich kids' school, is forced to repay an $80,000 debt by working for the school's swankiest, all-male club--as a boy!  There she discovers just how wealthy the six members are and how different the rich are from everybody else...

Hikaru has asked Haruhi to go out with him, but he doesn't want her answer right away.  Yet at the same time, he's trying to get Tamaki to realize he's in love with Haruhi too.  Is the Host Club prepared for a love triangle among its members?


This is it.  I'm done.  I would have stuck around for a few more volumes if Haruhi had agreed to go out with Hikaru, because that would have been fun to watch.  But without that bright ray of adorableness, I don't have any attachments to the series. 

As it is, I just don't understand anyone.  They do not act like humans!  No one has any emotional self-assesment skills.  Kaoru apparently liked Haruhi, but then didn't, but then DID, but then gave her up for his twin?  And now never thinks of her?  Hikaru wants to date Haruhi, but is also pushing Tamaki to express his love, although that will inevitably knock Hikaru out of the running?

And why aren't Mori and Hunny in it more?  They are the lone bright spots.  The little short at the end of the volume, "Mori's Day Off" was fantastic. 

Ouran has a lot of comedy, but there is no drama, and very little plot development.  I love comedy, but the funniest stories have some serious story in the mix as well.  Not so much here.  There was even a kidnapping in this volume.  That's real suspence and drama!  Except it ended up being so very silly.  I'm tired of 14 volumes of silly. was a good run.  Maybe it turns awesome in volume 15, but I just don't love it enough to keep inter-library loaning it and spending 45 minutes reading.  That level of non-commitment can't be good.

Two out of five fluffy blankets.

Release Date:  July 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not yet owned by Dunlap.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

LEGO Club (4-6 Graders)

This one is current.  Slightly older kids, still castles.  But what you really want are the pictures, and I can't think of anything original to type,!

LEGO Club (2-3 Graders)

I am a week late, but....better late than never, right?  You know the deal--2nd and 3rd graders, castle theme!  On with the pictures!

Fruits Basket Vol. 18 by Natsuki Takaya

Book Jacket

As rumors swirl about Machi trying to kill her little brother, Kakeru figures that the only person who can get the truth out of her is Yuki.  But when the two of them visit her, they learn a shocking secret.  Later, Motoko wants to tell Yuki her feelings before she graduates and leaves the school--and him--forever.  But will their parting be such sweet sorrow?  You'll just have to find out in this next volume of the super-popular Fruits Basket, the winner of Best Manga at the inaugural American Anime Awards Show!


Yuki, Haru, and Rin are the stars of this volume.  I like their stories (and I will talk about them more in a bit), but I laughed out loud when I got to the filler sketch at the end of the first chapter, because Kyo exactly expressed my feelings.  Here, I've even taken a picture of the page for you.

However, I did enjoy Yuki continuing to connect with Machi.  Takaya does such an excellent job of capturing the little gestures that add up to love.  Because we (with Yuki) learn that Machi has a rational hatred/fear of perfection, it is incredibly sweet to see Yuki casually snap the piece of the chalk, calming Machi without drawing attention to her anxiety.  Adorable!  (Also, I'm aware that sounds ridiculous.  Just read the manga and you will understand!)

Then we get more Haru and Rin.  Um, Akito is all kinds of awful.  I guess it makes sense that he/she would hate the Sohma women who find love despite the curse.  That is jealousy, and I can empathize with jealousy.  But locking someone in a secluded room?  Cutting their hair?  Breaking their will to survive?  It is going to take a whooole lot to make me forgive Akito.  More than just making his/her mother even more awful.

It is no surprise that I really liked the ending.  I'm glad the three people invested in finding a way to break the curse--Tohru, Rin, and Shigure--are meeting, if only temporarily.  And I LOVED how Rin was satisfied with a "someday it will be broken" answer, but Tohru adamantly insisted that it had to be before next spring.  She loves Kyo like whoa, but the other Zodiac members barely think of him.

And how cute was the picture of Tohru cuddling Cat!Kyo?  So cute.

Though I liked the story lines, nothing really jumped out as being awesome, so I have to go with an average rating.

Three out of five shorter haircuts.

Release Date:  November 2007
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Book Jacket

Everyone has to die.  We all know it.

With only a few months of life left, sixteen-year-old Tessa knows it better than most.

She's made a list, though--ten things she wants to do before she dies.  Number one is sex.  Starting tonight.

But getting what you want isn't easy.  And getting what you want doesn't always give you what you need.  And sometimes the most unexpected things become important.

Uplifting, life-affirming, joyous--this extraordinary novel celebrates what it is to be alive by confronting what it's really like to die.


Here's a small hint from me to you--if you want to avoid stifling sobs during your work lunch break, do not read Before I Die in front of others.  The ending is absolutely destroying.

I've read other books about teenagers learning to cope with their immiment deaths, but this one felt the most realistic.  It is for that reason that some parents might not like it, but come on.  If I were sixteen and staring death in the face, I could easily see myself wanting to try drugs, break the law, and have sex.  And I'm a "good girl." 

The thing that makes this book awesome is that these actions are not necessarily rewarded.  There are consequences to Tessa's good and bad choices.  It doesn't make her decisions right.  It just shows how desperate she is to live and experience as much of life as she can.  More than being tantalizing or erotic, those scenes pack an extra emotional wallop.  I don't think this book will encourage any teenagers to do anything rash.  It just inspires sympathy.

Tessa's slow decline is shown honestly and horribly.  She has to make frequent trips to the hospital, and (I don't think this is a spoiler because....look at the title) her last moments alive are painful in their authenticity.  Downham does not pull any punches or let the story fall into cliched territory.  It's magnificent, and I never want to read it again.

Four out of five last words.

Release Date:  September 2007
Reading Level:  Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  LINCOLN

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Before I Die:

Feeling Fictional
Lynn's Book Blog

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Book Jacket

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and complete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eye liner.

What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program – or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan – or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.

Fifty Teen Dream beauty queens crash on an island and have to survive.  That sounds like pure crack!fic, right?  And for awhile, it totally is.  Hilarity abounds on every single page.  Despite the fact that most of their fellow contestants are dead, the Teen Dreamers decide to continue their pageant preparations, perfecting their three-quarter poses and working on their dance routine.  When Miss New Mexico laments having a tray stuck in her forehead, the rest of them assure her that it will make her bangs really stand out.

I laughed out loud at this book more than any other in recent memory.  Bray has a wicked sense of humor that is right up my alley.

But Beauty Queens doesn't settle for just being funny (although the mad dictator and his stuffed monkey General Good Times is absurd and hilarious).  There are some real thought-provoking characters as hidden depths are slowly revealed.  Each of these girls has their own issues to deal with, whether it's the stigma of being a pretty girl, the pressure of being perfect, or struggling with prejudice based on race or sexuality.

In short, this book is fabulous.  I love when books sneak in bits of truth or little messages without making it a Message Book.  Throughout all the issue exploration, Beauty Queens remains laugh out loud hilarious.

And I cannot write a review of this book without mentioning my new favorite pairing:  Petra, Miss Rhode Island with a rather surprising secret, and Sinjin St. Sinjin, a TV pirate who looks bloody gorgeous in heels.  They rock my world.

Five out of five explosive hair products.

Release Date:  May 2011
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL BRA

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Beauty Queens:

Reading Rants
Frenetic Reader


What do cockroaches, owls, skinks, and armadillos have in common?  They can be found at the Dunlap Public Library!  Or they could this morning, when the Peoria Zoomobile taught the largest group in summer reading so far (conclusively proving that animals are the best thing ever) about insects, birds, reptiles, and mammals.

I have to admit, I was not particularly enchanted by the cockroach.  Or the skink, though that is an awesome name.  But the owl was all kinds of adorable (did you know that if humans had eyes like owls, proportionate to our bodies, they would be the size of grapefruits?), and the armadillo was pretty darn cute as well.

Whether the animals made me want to cuddle with them or not, our Zoomobile representative was very informative and entertaining.  Particularly when she discussed whether or not we would prefer to lose our head or our buttcheek.  The answer is obviously our buttcheek, because if we were a skink, we could grow it back.  Not so for our head, or the skink's.

More pictures below the cut!

Fruits Basket Vol. 17 by Natsuki Takaya

Book Jacket

Akito has more than skeletons hiding in the closet--the curse, dear reader, is not the only reason Kureno won't leave Akito.  And who can make Arisa understand Kureno's devotion to Akito?  Graduation is approaching, so everyone needs answers!  It's all right inside this volume of the super-popular Fruits Basket, the winner of Best Manga at the inaugural American Anime Award Show!


What the what!?  Okay, so they were not kidding around when volume 17 was heralded as the one in which secrets are revealed.  As such, I will be talking about them.  That means SPOILERS ABOUND, people.

I knew that Akito was actually a girl from forever ago, because an old roommate let it slip.  But I knew nothing of Ren, Akito's mother (who is shaping up to be the real villain of the piece, yes?  so that we can pity Akito and end up liking him/her?)

And what!?  There were adult relationships all over the place!  Kureno is not cursed (which deserves a big WHAT?? of its own, and how did it happen, and why doesn't he know?), but he stays with Akito (yeah, in that way) out of love and pity.  But not love love.  That's for Arisa, who he will not see because his loyalty lies with Akito.  Is it weird that I find that kind of cute?

But that is not even the craziest of the crazy!  Because then there's Shigure, who finally makes sense!  He loves Akito???  And Akito loves him!  But he slept with Akito's mother to get back at him/her because he/she is sleeping with Kureno!

This just became a soap opera, and I LOVE IT.

Will these crazy kids ever figure out how to break the curse and find love without that pesky "bond" being in the way?  I'm guessing yes, but I will keep reading to find out for sure!

Five out of five shocking reveals.

Release Date:  August 2007
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan

Book Jacket

The Goblin Market, where lives are won and lost and magic is bought and sold, has always been the center of Sin's world.  Now the war between the magicians and the Market is escalating, and her position as future leader is threatened by a rival.  Sin knows Mae can never really take control of the Market: Mae is a tourist, and her brother, Jamie, is not only a powerful magician, but also the Aventurine Circle's newest and deadliest weapon.  But as the Market gains strange new allies, support for Mae is growing, and Sin's only chance to lead is to accomplish an impossible task.

Among the most dangerous of the Market's allies are the enigmatic Ryves brothers.  Nick was once more than Sin's friend, but she cannot forget his demonic nature.  Alan has always been Sin's enemy, and she now owes him a debt she cannot repay.  Even as the unlikely allies discover common ground and new feelings arise among them, Sin realizes the brothers pose a greater danger than she dreamed.  Alan is marked--and being tortured--by the magicians, and Nick may be working for them.

When Sin's family secrets are revealed and betrayal comes from someone they trusted, a terrible sacrifice has to be made if anyone is going to survive the final battle.

The demon's surrender could destroy them all.


And thus concludes the fantastic trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan.  It ends exactly the way a series (or any book, for that matter) ought to end:  events are wrapped up, but the victory is vulnerable and anything could happen in the coming weeks, months, or years.  There's a real feel of reality to this series' conclusion, and I love it!

Another thing I love?  Sin.  I was extremely skeptical about having the third book narrated by someone who was only a minor character in the first two books.  But she won me over in no time at all.  She is fantastic!  She can fight, dance, manipulate, and care for her siblings.  It is a lot easier for her to integrate into the action of the story because of her fighting skills.  I felt her presence at certain events was a lot more plausible than Mae's forced participation in The Demon's Covenant.  However, both Mae and Sin have serious problems with eavesdropping, hahahaha.  Thank goodness, because the conversations Sin sneaks a listen to are juicy and wonderful.

Awhile ago I made some shipping predictions for Demon's Surrender.  I won't say whether I was right or not, but I will say that two of the three pairings made me absolutely giddy with joy.  The third rubs me the wrong way, but whatever.  I want my characters to be happy, so I'll feign some excitement.  But the other two?  PURE AWESOME.

I cannot continue without mentioning my two favorite characters.  Jamie was sadly absent for much of this book.  When he does appear, he is sadly lacking in witty quips (most of the time), but he more than makes up for that in being Mysterious and Awesome.  My other favorite character is Alan, and I was super pleased to see him a whole lot in this book!  He continues to be the most broken, manipulative, loving character I've ever read.  He breaks my heart and makes me swoon all at the same time. 

Although the story of Nick, Alan, Mae, Jamie, and Sin is over, I'm crazy excited to see what Sarah Rees Brennan has up her writing sleeve next.

Five out of five fever fruits.

Release Date:  June 2011
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL BRE

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of The Demon's Surrender:

The Book Smugglers
Mundie Moms

Ouran High School Host Club Vol. 13 by Bisco Hatori

Book Jacket

In this screwball romantic comedy, Haruhi, a poor girl at a rich kids' school, is forced to repay an $80,000 debt by working for the school's swankiest, all-male club--as a boy!  There she discovers just how wealthy the six members are and how different the rich are from everybody else...

Mei, wanting Haruhi to face up to her feelings, leaves out a magazine that has a checklist for determining whether a girl is in love.  As Haruhi reads through the checklist, she realizes that one host may have captured her heart without her even knowing...


Okay, so I know I harshed on Ouran High School Host Club in my last review, and I do still take issue with many things.  But it seems like Hatori listened to me (you know, retroactively, despite the fact that these are already published) because at least the characters are admitting their feelings!

Haruhi knows she loves Tamaki.  Hikaru freaking admitted to Haruhi that he likes her!  And he asked her to be his girlfriend!  But we won't find out her response until the next volume!  I'm so nervous for him, you guys.  I don't see how this can end well, but I have to know.

And Tamaki?  Is oblivious again?  I thought we had him realizing his feelings ages ago.  Although I do like how the rest of the club has figured out that the Host Club=family in Tamaki's mind.  So I guess his creepy father thing was warrented?  A little.  Ugh, I just still....don't like him.

Another thing that won me over is that Ouran does awesome field trips.  I like the story much better when the characters are out of their everyday lives and going somewhere new, like this volume's ski trip. 

Alright, Ouran.  I'm giving you a pass this time.  Please don't disappoint me!

Four out of five broken ankles.

Release Date:  November 2009
Reading Level:  Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not yet owned by Dunlap.


When I was in high school, I made a bow with my church's music minister.  He invited me (and some of the other youth) to go hunting with him, but I prefer to use my bow for recreational purposes only.  I like meat, but I want to blissfully buy my protein without seeing any of the stages between woodland animal and pile of food on my plate.

All that to say, when I found out this summer's reading program was themed A Midsummer Knight's Read, I knew I needed archery.  And I knew Bill Smith was the man to lead it.  He does archery programs at schools and at our church's annual Fall Festival.  He makes archery fun (we shot a T-Rex) and attainable (even two-year-olds were shooting with the bows).

More pictures below the cut!

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Book Jacket

Reader: beware.  Warlocks with dark spells, hunters with deadly aim, and bakers with ovens retrofitted for cooking children lurk within these pages.

But if you dare, turn the page and learn the true story of Hansel and Gretel--the story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.

Come on in.  It may be frightening, it's certainly bloody, and it's definitely not for the faint of heart, but unlike those other fairy tales you know, this one is true.


I love fairy tales, whether Disneyified or more authentically gruesome.  A Tale Dark & Grimm is definitely the latter (which is made obvious by the title).  One of my favorite quotes pertaining to children's literature is by G.K. Chesterton: "Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”  Gidwitz's retelling of Hansel and Gretel doesn't hold back on the unsavory bits (children are beheaded, girls cut off their own fingers, and boys travel to Hell and back), but it is through the darkness and the danger that some really fantastic life truths are explored.

It's not all philosophy, though.  This book is hilarious.  Most of it is the straight telling of the fairy tale, but every once in a while, particularly before the bloody sections, a bolded narrator interjects and warns of upcoming woes, or explains something that might not make sense to modern children.  For instance, when Hansel goes to Hell, he must steal the three golden hairs from the Devil's head in order to escape.  When the Devil falls asleep, Hansel reaches out....and the narrator breaks in to say he took:

"A hair from the Devil's head.

That's what he's going to take, right?


Wrong!  Are you crazy!  The Devil would wake up immediately!  And then it would be all over for Hansel, forever and ever and ever.

I hope that's not what you thought Hansel was going to do.  If you did, good luck if you ever end up in Hell."

In the end, Hansel and Gretel suffer more than any child should, but they learn about growing up, about forgiveness, about the hardness of life and the ability to make a difference for good.  I think all children (and all adults, too!) could use a dose of reality, which A Tale Dark & Grimm readily provides, despite its fiction.  I like happy fuzzy stories as much as the next optimistic person, but sometimes it is nice to be reminded that yes, the world can be awful.  But that's not the end.  What you do in the face of the awful is what matters.

Five out of five cartfuls of golden apples.

Release Date:  October 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: J GID

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of A Tale Dark & Grimm:

School Library Journal

Questor the Jester

Once upon a time, there was a court jester who could not make his king laugh.

He recruited help, but the first boy to volunteer didn't last long.

A girl agreed to make the king laugh, but she and the jester just couldn't connect.

Another boy mocked the jester mercilessly, though he eventually obeyed and carried himself away from the king's court.

Single acts wouldn't cut it.  So the jester recruited the Five Burritos to primp and pose for the king.

It worked!  The king laughed, but an unfortunate consequence occurred.  The king sent the jester and the Five Burritos through the Velcro Valley to find a map to the dragon's lair.

Baobob and Baobob were extremely grumpy.  They wouldn't give the map to the jester and the Five Burritos even when presented with a delicious fish/salt/mac 'n' cheese/chicken stew.  Undeterred, the jester stole the map out of Baobob the Wizard's hat.

The jester approached the dragon's lair....

...and ran away in fright.  How would the jester and the Five Burritos conquer the dragon?

Through laughter, of course.  And what is funnier than a Five Burrito Pyramid?

Well, maybe a sword juggling trick.

The dragon was won over by the power of laughter.  So much so that she joined the jester in a lifetime routine of comedy, ensuring laughter in the kingdom for years to come. 

Fruits Basket Vol. 16 by Natsuki Takaya

Book Jacket

A new chapter is opened in the Sohma family's history--and the rumors are true!  Kyo has indeed met Kyoko in the past...and when he did, she told him the story of how she met Tohru's father, which he then tells to us: Tohru's birth...the truth about her mother and father...Yuki's declaration of independence...

Grab your best friend and get ready for the New Year's Eve ball--everything you've been waiting to know is right inside the next volume of the super-popular Fruits Basket, the world's #1 shojo manga!


If I know Tohru (and after 16 volumes, or 95 chapters, I think I do), she would totally want her deceased mother to have known the love of her life.  And as luck has it, Kyoko and Kyo crossed paths back in the day!  Cue wedding bells.   Please?

What I don't get is why Kyo met up with Kyoko.  I assume that will be revealed later.  Otherwise it's totally random and a little bit annoying.  But despite that, it makes total sense from a character development point of view.  Kyoko used to be an angry girl with serious self-esteem issues.  Sound like any boys we know?  Yes!  Kyo's similarity to Tohru's beloved mother also explains why she has always been so forgiving and understanding of him.

And Kyoko!  Your story is so sad!  I am a little squicked at the relationship between Kyoko and Katsuya.  Eight years difference doesn't bum me out, but the fact that they started flirting/dating when he was a teacher and she was in middle school??  I just try to block that part out so I can enjoy the romance.

Their love is epic.  And far too brief!  Baby Tohru is adorable, and watching Kyoko and Katsuya interact and grow together and bring out the best in each other was just completely awesome.  Amazing that I could become so invested in a relationship in just a couple chapters.  And then, of course, it ends badly.  What I want to know, though, is why Tohru never talks about her dad.  Sure, he died when she was little, but it seems like her silence means more than that. 

In other news, we have further developments with Yuki.  It is increasingly obvious that Machi is going to be his one true love.  He's even cracking jokes about leaving Kyo and Tohru alone!  Yay, Yuki!  I'm so glad this love triangle business is settling out with very little drama.  What a nice change of pace.

Four out of five sweet but aloof dads.

Release Date:  April 2007
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn

Book Jacket

In his powerful new book, The Fred Factor, motivational speaker Mark Sanborn recounts the true story of Fred, the mail carrier who passionately loves his job and who genuinely cares about the people he serves.  Because of that, he is constantly going the extra mile handling the mail--and sometimes watching over the houses--of the people on his route, treating everyone he meets as a friend.  Where others might see delivering mail as monotonous drudgery, Fred sees an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those he serves.


A friend of mine is studying to get her Master's, and The Fred Factor was a book she had to read for class.  She highly recommended it, and since it was only 108 pages (short inspirational books are the best inspirational books), I gave it a go.

I'm so glad I did!  Although it is mostly concerned with the business world, Fred principles can, and should, be applied to all areas of life.  I tend to get really excited about NEW things, and as the newness wears off, so does my enthusiasm.  The key to a Fred life, though, is to maintain a passion for the things you do and the people you meet. 

This book makes me want to see every library patron as a friend and to put personal service over the company line.  The awesome thing about doing that (putting the customer first) is that usually, you'll be rewarded anyway.  If you bend the rules to make a patron happy, thereby losing a bit of money for the company, that might seem stupid.  But chances are that customer will become a dedicated return patron, and might even rave about your business to others.  So ultimately, it's a win.

Of course, that is not the full Fred principle.  Because even if you go above and beyond the call of duty, there is a good chance you will not be rewarded.  Living only for a reward will not bring lasting happiness.  You have to serve others because you WANT to.

I want to want to serve others all the time. 

Food for thought, and motivation to live each day like a Fred.

Four out of five thoughtful mail carriers.

Release Date:  April 2004
Reading Level:  Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Fruits Basket Vol. 15 by Natsuki Takaya

Book Jacket

Yuki's past finally is revealed!  But is it all too much to bear?  His sickness takes a turn for the worse, and after Akito reminds Yuki how loathed he is, his will to live might finally be drained...Meanwhile, as Tohru is getting ready to perform in Cinderella, the class decides that they have to rewrite the play.  But no amount of revision will prevent Tohru from improvising her loving feelings for a certain someone.  Just who is the mystery man?  A little bird tells us that the answer is right inside this next volume of the super-popular Fruits Basket, the world's #1 shojo manga!


This keeps getting better and better! 

I love when I know a book so well that I can anticipate events before they happen.  I thought Takaya was missing the ball by having the mysterious baseball hat in Tohru's past belong to Yuki.  I know Yuki, and I cannot imagine him ever wearing a baseball hat, but whatever, that's what the story said.  And then we get the full reveal in this volume!  Yuki, Kyo, and Tohru were bound together, even in childhood.  (And how awesome that Yuki put it on and said, "It doesn't suit me."  Like I said, Yuki-kun.)

Every bit of Yuki's past that is unveiled makes me love him more and more.  He and Kyo are opposite sides of the same coin, and the fact that they were almost forced into hating each other through myths and miscommunication breaks my heart.  I can't wait to see them eventually become friends.  That happens, right?  It has to happen.

And the Cinderella play?  GENIUS.  Every part was perfectly cast in the most awkward way imaginable.  Hana-jima as Cinderalla was inspired.  The pent-up emotions bursting out of our characters in contradiction with the play was great.  I love when drama reveals a character's hidden secrets (which is why "Once More With Feeling" is my favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode).

The romances are picking up, and I couldn't be happier.  I hope Uo gets in touch with Kureno.  I hope Machi and Yuki have an in-depth conversation and realize how perfect they are for each other.  And above all, I can't wait to see Kyo and Tohru finally, verbally express how much they like each other.  Because they are SUPER CRAZY ADORABLE.  The scene where he's playing keepaway with the script from her, and Yuki walks in, and Kyo's all embarrassed for being caught?  LOVE.

Five out of five extravagant costumes.

Release Date:  December 2006
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fish by Gregory Mone

Book Jacket

Maurice Reidy--nicknamed "Fish" because of his incredible swimming abilities--is sent to work as a courier to help support his struggling family.  Entrusted with a mysterious package of coins, Fish is waylaid by pirates who abscond with his delivery.  But he's determined to get the coins back by joining the crew: some of the wiliest (and smelliest) pirates on the high seas.

On board the pirate ship, Fish learns two things: that the strange coins could be the key to finding a fabulous treasure, and that the nasty first mate, Scab, could be planning a mutiny.  Can Fish retrieve the coins, find the treasure, save his family, and thwart Scab's dastardly plans?

Gregory Mone has written a fast-paced novel crackling with suspence and humor, starring an unlikely hero you won't soon forget.


I love pirates, though I admit my knowledge is largely centered on Captain Jack Sparrow.  They are a weird group to love, because there is no escaping the fact that pirates are smelly, murderous thieves.  But Mone cleared my conscience by showing that there are, in fact, two kinds of pirates.  There are those who pillage and plunder and kill (those which are pretty impossible to like), and then there are those who pursue mysterious treasures in dangerous waters (those which are AWESOME).

Fish starts off as neither--he's just a delivery boy.  The most dedicated delivery boy in the world.  And then he believably becomes an awesome pirate.  His ability to swim is unique in the world of piracy (which seems odd), and his non-fighting is actually incredibly awesome.  Who knew a non-fight could be just as dramatic as a real-fight?

What I loved most about Fish is that it dealt with the reality of life on a pirate ship (the smells, the fights, the politics) without ever being heavy-handed or too gruesomely detailed.  This is a perfect middle grade pirate book.

Four out of five Chains of Chuacar.

Release Date:  June 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Fish:

The Book Pirate
Reading Chick