Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Skip Beat by Yoshiki Nakamura

Book Jacket

Kyoko Mogami followed her true love Sho to Tokyo to support him while he made it big as an idol.  But he's casting her out now that he's famous!  Kyoko won't suffer in silence--she's going to get her sweet revenge by beating Sho in show biz!

Kyoko knows she's not plain and uninteresting, no matter what Sho says.  With the help of a little makeover, Kyoko's ready to exact her revenge.  But first she needs to land an audition, and she sets her sights on the agency where Sho's lead rival works.  Her persistence pays off, but her broken heart turns out to be a disadvantage.  Kyoko has lost the will to love anybody, let alone fans she's never met.  Can the agency see past this problem to Kyoko's true star potential?


Can the readers see past (all the) problem(s) to Kyoko's true star potential?

Not this reader.

I was looking for a new manga series to love, and Skip Beat is not it.

Two out of five life size posters.

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

Monday, August 29, 2011

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce


Book Jacket

Flora Fyrdraaca knows taking shortcuts in Crackpot Hall can be risky.  After all, when a House has eleven thousand decaying rooms that shift about at random, there's no telling where a person might end up.  But it's not just household confusion that vexes Flora, what with Mamma always away being Commanding General of the Army, Poppy drowning his sorrows in drink, and Crackpot Hall too browken down to magickally provide the clean towels and hot waffles that are a Fyrdraaca's birthright.

Yet Flora is nothing if not a Girl of Spirit.  So when she takes a forbidden shortcut and stumbles upon her family's biggest secret--Valefor, the banished Butler--she and her best friend plunge happily into the grand adventure of restoring Valefor to his rightful (or so he says) position.  If only Flora knew that meddling with a magicakal being can go terribly awry--and that soon she will have to find a way to restore herself before it is too late.


I love everything about this book.  And my love only grew on this, my second read through of Flora's first adventure.  Here are some things I love, in list form!

1.  The Spanish/Aztec inspired world.  Califa sounds fabulous, and the quetzals sound terrifying.  The whole thing is so well thought out.

2.  The new lingo.  I'm pretty sure I'll start greeting people with "ave" and agreeing by saying, "ayah, so."  How does Wilce create new slang that, upon hearing it, you think, of course that's what it means!

3.  Flora's dysfunctional family.  Poppy is one of my very favorite characters, a broken man who lived a horrible life, trying to show his love but mostly coming off seeming very insane.  And Mamma is fantastic as the general of Califa, overwhelmed with work but trying to be a good mom all the same.

4.  Flora eats!  A lot!  I love that she is a heroine with some fat on her.  And it doesn't matter.  She stress eats, she eats because she enjoys it, and then she goes off and does awesome things.

5.  Udo is one of the most flamboyantly amazing characters of all time.  I love him and Flora together, and it is obvious they are in that great space between Best Friends and True Love.

6.  The "Segunda" part of the title comes from the fact that Flora is the second flora that Mamma and Poppy had.  Their first daughter named Flora died, so they had another girl to replace her.  There is so much deliciously traumatizing about that.  Messed up family.  See #3.

7.  Good people are bad!  Bad people are good!  The world is not so simple as we'd like.

8.  I want a Valefor, even if he is incredibly selfish and cares for nothing but himself.  I love him.

Since I love Flora's family, and I love the way Wilce writes, hears a bit of a quote, straight from page 10, so no worries on spoilers.

"When Mamma is home, she gets up at oh-dark-thirty and makes me get up with her, so that we can have family time at breakfast.  This, of course, is not really family time, since Poppy isn't there, and Idden isn't there, and the First Flora isn't there.  On these occasions, it's just Mamma and me, half a family, having half-a-family time.  And since that's all we are ever going to have, that's what we have to learn to like."

Five out of five Dainty Pirates.

Release Date: January 2007
Reading Level: Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL WIL

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

Things Mean A Lot
Blog Critics

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca

Book Jacket

"We choose to go to the Moon.  We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

--John F. Kennedy, 1961

Simply told, grandly shown, here for a new generation of readers and explorers is the story of Apollo 11.  Here are the steady astronauts, the ROAR of rockets, and the silence of the Moon.  Here is a challenge met, a journey made, and a view of home, seen whole, from far away.


Despite the fact that I am a huge Doctor Who fan, I've never been much interested in space travel.  I realize that traveling to and landing on the moon is a huge accomplishment, but let's go further!  Let's explore our planets, and other galaxies!  Apparently I have interplanetary ADD.

Still.  This is a fantastic book in terms of telling the story of Apollo 11 for young children.  The strangeness of it all is captured quite well, and the ways in which a rocket and takeoff function are very well explained.  I even learned quite a bit!  But I am left with one huge question--are all those parts of the rocket that were shed throughout the journey to the moon left as space junk?  Are we littering space with huge rockets?  Kind of sad, and also weird.

I was a little surprised that there were no real pictures at any point in the book.  I think cartoons were a wise choice, because there likely aren't actually pictures of all the details the book describes.  But I would have liked a real photo of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin at the end, maybe.

Three out of five sleep restraints.

Release Date: April 2009
Reading Level: Grade 2+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Book Jacket

Julia and Eliza are family, but they're also best friends.

They share everything, and now that Julia's mom has gone overseas to serve with the National Guard, Julia is going to spend the summer living with Eliza and her parents.

If the situation were different, Julia would be thrilled--but she's distracted with worries about her mother.  On top of that, Julia meets the boy she decides she wants to be her first kiss.  For the first time in their friendship, Julia and her thoughts are traveling to a place that Eliza can't follow.  And Eliza discovers that it's not any easier to be the one left behind.

In her follow-up to the award-winning Anything But Typical, Nora Raleigh Baskin has written a powerful, touching story about the summer that will change two best friends' lives forever. 


I'm pretty sure this book is best read by adults reminicsing about that awkward age when you alternate between glorying in make-believe and being crippled by your growing self-awareness.  The Summer Before Boys is a lovely novel with absolutely beautiful prose.  Whether teens will get into it?  I don't know.

I did like that a large part of the story focuses on Julia's mixed emotions about her mother's involvment in the military service.  I haven't read many stories about kids in that situation, so it was pretty eye-opening to me.  I rarely even remember that there's a war on in our country, but of course children of men and women serving in Iraq and/or Afghanistan cannot forget that fact.

Also?  This book made me really sad that summer is over.  I wanted to run along hiking trails with Julia and Eliza, getting sticky with sweat and cooling off with an ice cream bar.  I wanted to have sleepovers with friends, go to outdoor movies, and jump in a lake.  Basically, I want to be 12 again, which is something I never thought I'd say.

My main problem with the book is a pretty massive misdirect that....I think was a lie?  I don't know, but I don't like being tricked by a book.  A mystery, sure.  But if you tell me something as if it's a fact and then that thing doesn't happen?  I don't approve.  Still, I've got to give it

Four out of five niece/cousins

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

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of The Summer Before Boys:

Books With Bite
YA Librarian Tales

Monday, August 22, 2011

Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident by Eoin Colfer

Book Jacket

The world's youngest criminal mastermind is back.

Artemis is at boarding school in Ireland when he receives an urgent e-mail from Russia.  In it is a plea from a man who has been kidnapped by the Russian Mafiya: his father.  As Artemis rushes to his rescue, he is stopped by a familiar nemesis, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon fairy police.  But this time, instead of battling the fairies, he is going to have to join forces with them if he wants to save one of the few people in the world he loves.


I don't know how I feel about the Artemis Fowl books.  I must have liked the first one if I voluntarily chose the second for a quick read.  But...I'm not invested in the series.  I suppose one of my problems is that Artemis straddles the line between villain and hero very poorly.  It's obvious he's not all bad (or even at all), so I get tired of waiting for everyone, including himself, to realize he's awesomesauce.

The world of fairies, centaurs, goblins, and trolls is fun, but gets a little too juvenile for my tastes.  Foaly is funny for about two lines of dialouge, and then I'm ready for his story to be over.  Mulch and his disgusting skills were shockingly funny the first time around, but I wasn't excited to see him again.  And the villains?  Were pretty two-dimensional.  I never really feared them.

As for the good, I liked Artemis and Holly finally growing a bit closer.  I do love Butler.  And I liked the scenes in Russia--I wish more of the book had focused there. 

Two out of five magic acorns.

Release Date: May 2002
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL COL

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Book Jacket

When eleven-year-old Gregor follows his little sister through a grate in the laundry room of their New York apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland beneath the city.  There, humans live uneasily beside giant spiders, bats, cockroaches, and rats--but the fragile peace is about to fall apart.

Gregor wants no part of a conflict between these creepy creatures.  He just wants to find his way home.  But when he discovers that a strange prophecy foretells a role for him in the Underland's uncertain future, he realizes it might be the only way to solve the biggest mystery of his life.  Little does he know his quest will change him and the Underland forever.

Rich in suspense and brimming with adventure, Suzanne Collins's debut marked a thrilling new talent, and introduced a character no young reader will ever forget.


I'm going to take a stand and say that Suzanne Collins is the only author capable of making me feel deep sadness at the death of a cockroach.  Her authorial talent is boundless!

But really, I'm serious.  Collins managed to create a well-formed world that lurks miles beneath NYC, populated by the kind of creatures you'd expect--rats, bats, roaches, spiders.  Oh, and extremely pale humans with purple eyes.  (I've always wanted purple eyes!  Maybe I should move to the Underland.)  More than just creating a world, Collins makes her readers care for it.  None of her creatures are cuddly, but still I loved them, grieved for them, and cheered for them.

Gregor himself is a wonderful protagonist.  He feels very much like a young boy, albiet one who has had to grow up too fast.  He takes care of his little sister Boots, but he also gets fed up with her.  He wants to save his dad, but he feels overwhelmed by the title of "Warrior."  If he were real, I would definitely want him to be my best friend, I don't even care about the age difference.

Sometimes I feel like Collins is just messing with the world.  "You think a book about a dark and creepy place filled with massive bugs won't sell?  Watch this!  You think a book about kids killing each other for others' entertainment won't sell?  Watch this!"  Then she conquers the world.  And I welcome it.

Four out of five mysterious prophecies.

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

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Gregor the Overlander:

The World's Strongest Librarian

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Testing the Ice by Sharon Robinson

Book Jacket

When Jackie Robinson moves his family from New York City to Connecticut, the beauiful lake on their property is the center of everyone's fun.  The neighborhood children join the Robinson kids for swimming and boating.  But oddly, Jackie never goes near the water.

In a dramatic episode that first winter, Jackie is called upon to test the ice on the lake to make sure it's safe for ice-skating.  But why, Sharon wonders, is he always so afraid to go near the water?

In a stunning metaphor for Jackie Robinson's legendary breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Sharon Robinson honors her extraordinary father's memory with her warm, graceful storytelling.  Two-time Caldecott Honor Book artist Kadir Nelson has created richly rendered painting that radiate with the beauty and spirit of one of America's finest heroes.


I am not a huge sports fan, and I fear my lack of knowledge of Jackie Robinson affected my opinion of this book about his courage and his family.  Which is strange, actually, because my biggest complaint is that I would have rather seen more about his role in the Civil Rights movement as a colored Major League baseball player than his role as father.

But maybe that wouldn't have been age appropriate.  This is a lovely story about courage, both in big cultural decisions, and in smaller, everyday decisions.  The pictures are also lovely, and I particularly liked the pages that show their new house with its acres of land and lake, long shadows stretching behind the Robinson family.

Not my kind of book, but I think that is my fault, not the books'.

Three out of five broomstick taps.

Release Date: October 2009
Reading Level: Grade K+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  MONARCH

Monday, August 15, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Book Jacket

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch.  Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker--his classmate and crush--who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

Hannah's voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons she decided to end her life.  Clay is one of them.  If he listens, he'll find out why.

Clay spends the night cirsscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide.  He becomes a first-hand witness to Hannah's pain, and learns the truth about himself--a truth he never wanted to face.


I want to force anyone and everyone to read Thirteen Reasons Why.  It is an emotional reminder that the smallest insults or actions can have a huge impact on a person.  How are we to know what someone else's life is like?  Maybe something we consider "no big deal" is the straw that will break their back. 

Too often, books about teen suicides veer into overemotionalism.  While sad, I usually close them and think, "Thank goodness I never treat anyone that way" or "No one was ever like that at my high school."  But Thirteen Reasons Why never strays into scenarios that are too dramatic, making it a book that is relatable to just about everyone.  Because yes, the "Hot or Not" lists circulated my high school.  And rumors flew around, mostly without stopping to consider whether they were true or not. 

Even if you were saintly enough to never pass on a single rumor, this book still has something to say to you.  It's not enough to simply avoid antagonizing people.  We must also pursue those who are hurting, not taking the easy way out by avoiding them or accepting their half-hearted assurances. 

Amazingly, for a book that is dually narrated by a dead girl and the boy who had a crush on her, it ends on a surprisingly hopeful note.  With its fantastic set up, important message, and inspirational ending, I have no choice but to give Thirteen Reasons Why:

Five out of five cassette tapes.

Release Date:  October 2007
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL ASH

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Thirteen Reasons Why:

A Blog About Nothing
Dustin Disco

Friday, August 12, 2011

Extra Credit by Andrew Clements

Book Jacket

It isn't that Abby can't do her school work.  It's just that she doesn't like doing it.  When a warning letter is sent home, Abby realizes that all of her slacking off could cause her to be held back--for real!  Unless she meets some specific conditions, including taking on an extra-credit project: find a pen-pal in a foreign country.  Simple enough (even for a girl who hates homework).

When Abby's first letter arrives at a small school in Afghanistan, Sadeed Bayat is chosen to be her pen pal...Well, kind of.  He is the best writer, but he is also a boy, and in his village it is not appropriate for a boy to correspond with a girl.  So his younger sister dictates and signs the letter--until Sadeed decides what his sister is telling Abby isn't what he'd like Abby to know.

As letters flow back and forth between Illinois and Afghanistan, Abby and Sadeed discover that their letters are crossing more than an ocean.  They are crossing a huge cultural divide and a minefiled of different lifestyles and traditions.  Their growing friendship is also becoming a growing problem for both communities, and some people are not happy.  Suddenly things are not so simple.


A book about pen pals between Illinois and Afghanistan?  Already I know why Extra Credit is nominated for both the Bluestem and Caudill awards.  And I'm not gonna lie, I think it should win. 

The glimpses we get of Illinoisian and Afghani life show us that both cultures are wildly different, and yet Abby and Sadeed connect on a very easy level, in just a few letters.  I loved seeing them learn to appreciate new parts of the world, as well as learn to love their home more, through their interactions with each other.

My one qualm is Sadeed's impeccable English.  I don't care if he's the best student.  He is twelve, and English is at least his third language.  I ran an English club in Senegal for the top English students, and one of my favorite activities was cracking up at their unintentionally funny essays.  It takes years to master a language, spelling and grammar and especially idioms.  The fact that Sadeed was flawless was a little jarring to me.  But whatever.  No one wants to read a misspelled letter in a book.

Still, I loved this story.  I want to hug it forever.  It didn't try to gloss over the military issues or cultural issues, or the hard feelings that exist between some USians and Afghanis.  But Extra Credit proved that those bad feelings do not have to win.  They don't have to be the only way we relate to each other.  And that is beautiful.

Five out of five little mountains in the mail.

Release Date:  June 2009
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  BLUESTEM or CAUDILL

Juniper Berry by M. P. Kozlowsky

Book Jacket

The house was a mansion, the lake was a pool, Kitty was a dog, and Juniper Berry was an eleven-year-old girl.

Such is life for young Juniper: a series of contradictions.  She is the daughter of the world's most famous film stars, and yet she is alone.  She lives on a palatial estate, but she feels trapped.  And even though she is closer to her mother and father than anyone, she couldn't feel more distant from them.  In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Berry have been cold and disinterested and cruel, not at all themselves lately.  And lonely, imprisoned Juniper and her equally beset friend, Giles, are determined to find out why.

On a cold and rainy night, she follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods.  What she discovers is an underworld also filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world's secrets bound in a balloon.  For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make.  And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn't.

M. P. Kozlowsky's debut is a modern-day fairy tale of terror, temptation, and ways in which it is our choices that truly make us who we are.


Brilliant!  This book is brilliant.  I am a big fan of fairy tales done right--a fantastical story that teaches a lesson in a slightly scary, slightly touching way.  This is definitely a modern fairy tale.

Juniper is a great protagonist.  For much of the beginning of the book, she wanders her house alone, unable to connect to the help, who treat her parents (and by default, herself) reverantly because of their celebrity status.  Most distressing of all, her parents ignore her at best and rail at her at worst.  Her memories of happy times with them in the past make their present behavior all the more heartbreaking.

Things pick up when she meets sad and bullied Giles.  They discover why their parents are so different--and instead of helping them right away, Juniper and Giles fall prey to the tempting offers of the disgusting creature.  Because really?  If something told you it could make your dreams could come true (deep, heart dreams), I think it would be hard to resist.

But of course, like all good fairy tales, there is a happy ending for our main characters, if not for all the side characters.  And really, that is what makes me love the book so much.  It is more classic Grimm than the sterilized Disney versions, and I believe this makes it a stronger story overall.  This quote by Kozlowsky sums it up perfectly, "I write to convey the dangers of the world and the light hidden deep within it – there is always a way through the oppressive gloom and a child must know that."

Five out of five monoculars.

Release Date:  April 2011
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  J KOZ

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

The Book Smugglers

Thursday, August 11, 2011


As our last LEGO Club of the summer, I let the boys make whatever they wanted.  The freedom turned out pretty awesome, as they slowly moved from making to castles to making cars.  That naturally led to car races, in which their creations plummeted off tables and exploded into several pieces to raucous cheers.

Boys.  They are a strange group, but highly entertaining.

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Book Jacket

Percy Jackson's seventh-grade year has been surprisingly quiet.  Not a single monster has set food on his New York prep-school campus.  But when an innocent game of dodgeball among Percy and his classmates turns into a death match against an ugly gang of cannibal giants, things get...well, ugly.  And the unexpected arrival of Percy's friend Annabeth brings more bad news: The magical borders that protect Camp Half-Blood have been poisoned by a mysterious enemy, and unless a cure is found, the only safe haven for demigods will be destroyed.

In this fresh, funny follow-up to The Lightning Thief, Percy and his friends must journey into the Sea of Monsters to save their beloved camp.  But first, Percy will discover a stunning new secret about his family--one that makes him wonder whether being claimed as Poseidon's son is an honor, or simply a cruel joke.


This is my least favorite of Percy Jackson's adventures, so I'll divide this review up into things I like and things I don't.

Things I Like

The theme of differences, and accepting people who are different, and the need to avoid stereotyping are all excellent, and done well.  I like that Percy is not immune to social pressures, and that he too is upset when Tyson turns out to be his cyclopes half-brother.  But he overcomes that prejudice by seeing how awesome Tyson can be.  Which is how prejudice is overcome--by interacting with, seeing, and understanding people who are different from us.

Things I Don't Like

I'm pretty sure I enjoyed the story of Odysseus when we read it in high school, but Percy's modern journey?  Falls a little flat.  And I think the reason is their motivations for their journeys.  Odysseus just wants to get home, so every monster and obstacle that crops up is truly horrible, and you feel for the struggle he is going through.  But Percy chose to go on the quest.  Yes, to save his friend, so what choice did he have?  Point is, he knew there would be dangers, and we are expecting them.  With Odysseus, I mostly just thought, "Another monster?!  This poor man!  Just let him go home!"

Three out of five satyr brides.

Release Date: March 2006
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL RIO

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas

Book Jacket

In a city that runs on a dwindling supply of magic, a young boy is drawn into a life of wizardry and adventure. Conn should have dropped dead the day he picked Nevery's pocket and touched the wizard's locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus magic and work spells. But for some reason he did not. Nevery finds that interesting, and he takes Conn as his apprentice on the provision that the boy find a locus stone of his own. But Conn has little time to search for his stone between wizard lessons and helping Nevery discover who—or what—is stealing the city of Wellmet's magic.


It's hard to make old ideas seem new, but Prineas makes magic and apprentices refreshing and completely enjoyable.  Conn is the quintessential honorable thief, who leaves his thieving behind once he steps into the world of magic (and who wouldn't?).  Nevery is the cantankerous wizard who treats Conn well, but not too well.  And Benet is the silent hulking servant/bodyguard who first knocks Conn upside the head, but ends up knitting him a sweater by the end.  Benet is my favorite.

I loved everything about this world, especially the city of Wellmet, with its seedy Twilight area, the islands of the wizards, and the upscale Sunrise section.  The idea that magic is a being, and not just a force, was very intriguing, and will be further developed in future books, I'm certain.

Conn's story flys by, and I'm definitely ready to see where his curiosity takes him in the next installment of the Magic Thief series.

Four out of five locus magicalicus (magicalici?)

Release Date: June 2008
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of The Magic Thief:

Straight On The Books
Young Adult Book Reviews

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Harry Potter Party

I wish our library could be Hogwarts all the time, even if it meant wearing an itchy beard all the time.  I can't write about the evening without using a bad pun, so we'll get it out of the way right now: From the very beginning, the night was magical.

With the lights out and everyone outside, I moved to open the door and saw the crowd of kids' faces light up at the sight of my outfit.  I let them in, waved my Elder Wand, and said, "Lumos!"  The lights turned on, and the kids grew even more excited.  By drawing a nametag with a House name on it, the kids were Sorted.  With the exception of a group of girls (who wanted to be in Gryffindor) and a group of boys (who wanted to be in Slytherin), everyone accepted their drawn House.

As Dumbledore, I got to wander from class to class (including Charms, where they made wands, and Transfiguration, where they got HP symbols face painted) talking to the kids.  Some of them told my fortune (with origami fortune tellers they made at Divination) and others threatened to fight me because of their newly received Dark Marks.  Luckily, I convinced them to join my side as double agents.

After an hour of classes, we watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.  At the very end, when Voldemort breaks into Dumbledore's tomb, the row of kids in front of me turned around and said, "I bet this is hard for you to watch."

Best program ever.  I hope we can do it again, because Harry Potter will never be gone, so long as there are those who remember him.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

Book Jacket

Nineteenth-century England is not the place to be practicing magic.  In this prim and proper world, twelve-year-old Katherine Ann Stephenson is at a loss: Her sisters, Elissa and Angeline, have recently entered Society and now gossip incessantly in whispers; her foolish brother, Charles, has gambled the family deep into debt; and Stepmama wants nothing to do with them at all.  What can Kat do but take matters into her own hands?

Luckily Kat has inherited her mother's magical talents and has the courage to use them--if she can only learn how.  But with her sister Elissa's intended fiance, the sinister Sir Nevile, showing a dangerous interest in Kat's magical potential; her sister Angeline creating romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat's reckless heroism will be tested to the utmost.  Will her powers be enough to win her sisters their true loves?


I love Jane Austen, I love magic, and I love taking something familiar and twisting it so its new.  Kat, Incorrigible has all these things!  The preoccupation with love and marriage (especially for families in need of financial security) is the major theme of Austen's novels, and this carries into Burgis' story, with some awesome differences.  1)  The main character is twelve, so she's not worried about marriage herself, but for her sisters.  2)  The eldest sister feels obligated to marry a man to save her family from financial ruin, but he is mysteriously and likely evil!  3)  Burgis totally makes fun of the romanticism, reveling in scenes of over-the-top gothic drama and magic spells to find true love gone awry.

I find this to be fantastic.

Kat is a wonderful main character, always sharp and ready for action.  Her reaction to the highwayman (choose me to be your hostage!) made me laugh out loud.  Because I would totally do the same.  She doesn't get everything right, but she always has a plan.  Her love for her sisters (and theirs for her) felt authentic--they all get frustrated with one another, but their loyalty and protectiveness always wins out.

There is a definite ending to the story (yay for no cliffhangers!), but the door is wide open for sequels, and I believe I've seen some advertising for the next of Kat's adventures.  I'm very excited to learn about the world of Guardians, and I really want to meet her off-screen father.  More, please!

Five out of five glowing hand mirrors.

Release Date: April 2011
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL BUR

Don't believe me? Check out these reviews of Kat, Incorrigible:

Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Reading Vacation

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Book Jacket

It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up.  The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition.  The British Darwinists emply fabricated animals as their weaponry.  The Leviathan is a living airship, the most formidable airbeast in the skies of Europe.

Aleksander Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run.  His own people have turned on him.  His title is worthless.  All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service.  She's a brilliant airman.  But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With the Great War brewing, Alek's and Deryn's paths cross in the msot unexpected way...taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure.  One that will change both their lives forever.


Okay, but really?  I think this was Westerfeld's thought process as he dreamed up Leviathan, "What is necessary to make the awesomest book world possible?  Alternate history centering on WWI, of course.  There will have to be a hidden non-heir to the Austrian throne.  And why not make it an alternating story between the prince and a girl?  A girl who has to dress up as a boy to fulfill her dream of being a British airman?  Oh!  And it will be a steampunk universe, where WWI was a battle fought between complex machines a la Star Wars and evolution times 20 fabricated beasties.  Yeah, that should do it."

Clankers and Darwinists.  So brilliant.  I wish it weren't AU, because if the world were actually like this?  It would be a lot more interesting.  Westerfeld's world is fully realized--even the language and slang is different, and surprisingly easy to pick up.  I will admit that being thrown into such a well-thought out, but wholy different, world can be a bit confusing.  Thankfully there are pictures every once in a while!  This was extremely helpful, especially in understanding what a Huxley is, or how intimidating a Stormwalker would be.

I like Alek well enough, but it is Deryn who steals every scene she's in.  Her personality jumps off the page, and I would totally want to be her BFF if she'd let me.  Still, both of their stories drag a bit at the beginning.  It isnt' until their stories crash into each other that they really shine and the plot gets moving. 

Leviathan is a book unlike any other.  It completely deserves to be nominated for the Caudill award.

Four out of five barking spiders.

Release Date: October 2009
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL WES

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

The Book Smugglers
Ron Reads

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

The Three Musketeers (Dover Thrift Editions)

Book Jacket


Giant Porthos; elegant Aramis; mysterious, haunted Athos:  they are fearless, loyal and unstoppable.  They're also rogues, seducers and swindlers.  But when thousands will die in a war fought over lost love, and lethal royal intrigues are daily events, people don't just need heroes--they need legends.


Armed only with quick wits and a lightning sword, young D'Artagnan just wants to serve with the King's Musketeers.  He soon finds himself saving his queen from the subtle, deadly traps of her enemy, Cardinal Richelieu, and Richelieu's agent--the sadistic, beautiful monster Milady.  Now Porthos, Aramis and Athos must keep the boy and his lover from being crushed in an international clash of political titans...

But can even the Three Musketeers help D'Artagnan save himself from the insane hatred of Milady's cruel revenge?


The Three Musketeers was one of my favorite books in middle school, and when I reread it last month, I found it was just as awesome as I remembered.  A bit problematic in the "use and abuse women" theme, but....this book is just so fun.

It is, I think, the ultimate boy book.  Adventure, swordfights, and dangerous journeys!  The pride of these men is ridiculous--seriously, it's better to die in a duel than to just accept a stray insult?--but I find it endearing.  Especially when our main characters are legendary and cannot lose a fight.

I have mostly no knowledge of how much of this book is historically accurate.  I assume the royalty and events are real, but was war really the result of the love between the Duke of Buckingham and Anne of Austria?  Was Cardinal Richelieu's hatred of the queen the result of scorned love?  I dunno, but it makes things interesting.  And also horrible, what with the Duke owning up to killing thousands of men just so the Queen will hear his name.

Strange times.  Wouldn't want to live in them, absolutely love reading about them!

Also, I want friends like Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.  Guess I'd better offend some people, start duels with them, and be interrupted by the Cardinal's guards.  On my to-do list.

Four out of five fleur de lis.

Release Date:  1844
Reading Level: Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  DUM

And there's a movie coming out in October.  Looks a bit unrealistic fight-wise, but that will probably only be excellent.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

Book Jacket

We now present the seventh and final installment in the epic tale of Harry Potter.


Thus concludes my epic reread of the Harry Potter series before the final movie comes out on July 15! (I did finish reading it on July 15, though I was out of the country and unable to post, so you'll just have to trust me on that.)

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.

You know the book in your hands is going to be awesome when you get a book jacket like the one above.  And it is not misleading!  I don't care what people say about how the camping drags on--false!  It is a much needed (and not all that long) respite in between massive amounts of adventure, action, and the deaths of beloved characters.

That is something that Rowling does extremely well.  You really don't know who she is willing to kill off--no one is safe.  In the beginning of the book, I was positive that Hagrid would die (and she even psyched us out with that one), but then she blindsided me with Hedwig.  The death of Fred Weasley remains one of the most horrible in all literature--every time I read it, I cry.  And Lupin and Tonks?  Rowling's deaths are all the more gut-wrenching because she doesn't linger on them...they happen quickly, or off-page, and the full weight of them takes a long time to sink in.

Also, Harry's death?  Oh my.  Before this book was released, I was positive that Harry would die, sacrificing himself to save his friends.  I anticipated a Christ-like character, but I did not at all guess that Rowling would make him, well, far more Christ-like, actually dying and rising again.  SO MUCH AWESOME. 

How did I jump right to the end?  My bad. 

The hunt for horcruxes was very well done.  That task is hugely daunting, and I felt the Trio's frustration.  The addition of the hallows could have been overkill, but somehow managed to fit right in.  I will admit that the wand ownership final showdown was a little confusing on first read (especially as it was 6:00 a.m.), but as of this third time through, it's much more understandable.  And the difference between pursuing the horcruxes or the hallows, and Harry's decision?  ALL KINDS OF BRILLIANCE. 

That brings us to Harry's poor child, saddled with two of the names most likely to result in bullying:  Albus Severus.  No, not really, I don't want to talk about him or the epilogue in which everyone still bashes on the Slytherin house (what?  how did that not end up being a plot point?  only time I'm giving you negative points, Rowling).  I want to talk about the men who lent him their names.

Dumbledore.  Unlike a lot of fandom, I loved the reveal of his past and its shadier sides.  I felt Harry's fear as tidbits were brought to light.  But in the end, I'm so glad we know Dumbledore's story.  The wise mentor is an archetype that usually foregoes explaining how they got to be wise mentors.  And really?  Wisdom comes through pain, most times.  Of course Dumbledore would have to dabble in the dark to understand why it is so important to fight against it.

Snape.  OH SNAPE.  I've never been one of those people who loves you romantically.  But you broke my heart!  The chapter dedicated to your memories is maybe my favorite of the whole book.  Undying love!  Losing that love because of self-stupidity (first because of rash name-calling, second because of rash ambition)!  THE PAIN.  And asking to see Harry's eyes (Lily's eyes) with your last breath?  Stop it!  You are destroying me!

The story of Harry Potter is epic and well-deserved of its extreme popularity and fan loyalty.  Even though the final movie has been released, and the only thing we have to look forward to is Pottermore (I still don't really get what that is...), I have a feeling Harry Potter will live on in fanfiction, fan art, and literary essays for decades to come.  Actually, I'm pretty positive it will be a classic, and centuries from now, kids will be reading it in high school English classes, analyzing its awesomeness.

Release Date: July 2007
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL ROW