Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Book Jacket

Bilbo Baggins was a hobbit who wanted to be left alone in quiet comfort.  But the wizard Gandalf came along with a band of homeless dwarves.  Soon Bilbo was drawn into their quest, facing evil orcs, savage wolves, giant spiders, and worse, unknown dangers.  Finally, it was Bilbo--alone and unaided--who had to confront the great dragon Smaug, the terror of an entire countryside...


YAY!  I just...really love Tolkien.  Rereading The Hobbit is like taking a warm bath.  I just want to snuggle into the story.  Yet despite its comfort factor, I am amazed that each time I read it, I draw more from the story, and love the characters in new ways.

Let's take Bilbo, hobbit hero and predecessor to future hobbit hero Frodo.  Bilbo likes eating and watching nature do its nature thing in Hobbiton.  When he is thrust into an adventure, he spends a good chunk of time bemoaning his state and wishing he were home.  But when push comes to shove, he realizes he can do far more than he ever imagined (or needed to be, home under The Hill).  The best part about Bilbo is that he takes his experiences and learns from them!  He does one thing awesome, so the next time something scary comes along, he is more confident.

Of course, it must help to have a ring that turns you invisible.


Gandalf is brilliant.  Thorin Oakenshield is nicely pompous, and prideful to a fault.  I adore Fili and Kili, and Dori is a friendly curmudgeon.  But Smaug!  I want a snarky dragon!  I mean, not really, because he would be snarky up until he ate me.  But.  His scenes are delicious (har har).

I cannot wait until The Hobbit becomes a movie next year.  I will be there at midnight with bells on (or maybe a cloak.  Or a ring.  Or a dragon!). 

Five out of five men of Dale.

Release Date: January 1966
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL TOL

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Otis by Loren Long

Book Jacket

Otis is a special tractor.  He loves his farm and farmer.  He particularly loves the little calf in the next stall, whom he purrs to sleep with his soft motor.  The two become great friends, romping in the fields, leaping bales of hay and playing ring-around-the-rosy by Mud Pond.

But when the big yellow tractor comes to the farm and replaces Otis, he is cast away to rust beind the barn--until the little calf gets stuck in Mud Pond.  Then there is only one tractor (and it's not big or yellow) who saves the day.  It's little Otis!

Artist Loren Long has crafted an unforgettable story--and a truly unforgettable character.


I have never in my life thought of a tractor as cute, but Long has changed all that.  Otis is adorable.  If I had to give a big blue ribbon to either him or the little calf, I...wouldn't know which to choose.  The artwork is amazing.

However, I just really dislike stories about inanimate objects being real, when the object is to make me feel bad about replacing them.  Sometimes tractors get old.  Sometimes playing with toys isn't fun anymore (I'm looking at you, Toy Story), and I don't want to be emotionally manipulated into thinking they have feelings.  So.  I can't love Otis, because he emotionally manipulated me.

However, I like stories about odd friendships, and I appreciated that Otis saved the little calf by helping her save herself.

Three out of five haybales.

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

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Book Jacket

Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life.  Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability.  She's spent years trying to teach David the rules from "a peach is not a funny-looking apple" to "keep your pants on in public"--in order to head off David's embarrassing behaviors.

But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a surprising, new sort-of friend, and Kristi, the potential next door friend she's always wished for, it's her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?

Filled with humor and warmth, Cynthia Lord's debut novel takes a candid and sensitive look at feeling different and finding acceptance--beyond the rules.


This book made me feel all the feelings.  Not in a gooey way.  Lord has a fantastic ability to write an "issue" book--relationships with handicapable people--with real honesty, humor, and poignancy.

I loved Catherine because she is equal parts loyal and defensive.  She felt like a real 12-year-old.  I loved the honesty of her relationship with every single character.  She loves her little brother, but is always looking for the next way he will embarrass her.  She loves her mom and dad, but resents that they pay more attention to David than to her, while simultaneously realizing they have to.  She desperately wants to be friends with Kris, but isn't willing to open up about the things she really cares about.  And she genuinely likes Jason, the boy in the wheelchair who uses picture words to talk, but she is uncomfortable with how other people see her when she is with him.

It's all very heartbreaking and uncomfortable--because I share those same incongruous emotions when it comes to handicapable people.  That's why books like Rules are so important, to remind the privileged and the healthy that everyone deserves respect, attention, and friendship.

Five out of five grape sodas.

Release Date: April 2006
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Physik by Angie Sage

Septimus goes back in time with Jenna, Nicko, Snorri, and Beetle to the time to save them.  Septimus is apprenticed to Marcellus Pye who is Princess Esmerelda's brother.  (Jenna is recognized as Esmerelda.)

Recommend to:  Everyone

Jiyoon (grade 3)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Drink Slay Love by Sarah Beth Durst

Book Jacket

Pearl is a sixteen-year-old vampire, fond of blood, allergic to sunlight, and mostly evil...until the night a sparkly unicorn stabs her through the heart with his horn.  Oops.

Her Family think she was attacked by a vampire hunter (because, obviously, unicorns don't exist) and they're shocked she survived.  They're even more shocked when Pearl discovers she can now withstand the sun.  But they quickly find a way to make use of her new talent.  The vampire king of New England has chosen Pearl's Family to host his feast.  If Pearl enrolls in high school, she can make lots of human friends and lure them to the king's feast--as the entrees.

The only problem?  Pearl's starting to feel the twinges of a conscience.  How can she serve up her new friends--especially the cute guy who makes her fangs ache--to be slaughtered?  Then again, she's definitely dead if she lets down her Family.  What's a sunlight-loving vamp to do?


With a title that mocks Eat Pray Love and is about a vampire being horned by a unicorn, I was really looking forward to a cracktastic fun read.  Unfortunately, the book was not as funny as I wanted it to be, but neither did it manage to be dramatic or the least bit suspenseful.

There were two things I liked:  Durst's description of Pearl being in the sunlight for the first time (she was born a vampire, not made, so it was the very first time for her).  It was beautiful and felt very real.  I also loved the idea of were-unicorns.

Unforutnately, I really want someone else to write a story about were-unicorns.  And that's never a good sign.

The characters never felt realistic.  Nearly all the high schooler's dialogue was so outrageously "witty" that I couldn't take them seriously.  Many plot threads had the potentail for drama but mostly fell through.  There were hints that vampires have consciences even without being staked by a unicorn, and that would have been fascinating to explore!  But less than twenty pages after explicitly mentioning this, the door to examining it was closed. 

I wanted a lot more out of this book than I got.

Two out of five bad proms.

Release Date: September 2011
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL DUR

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian

Book Jacket

Prepare to laugh out loud while reading this tell-all tale from a goldfish.  With his bowl to himself and his simple routine, Goldfish loves his life...until one day...When assorted intruders including a hyperactive bubbler, a grime-eating snail, a pair of amorous guppies, and a really crabby crab invade his personal space and bowl, Goldfish is put out, to say the least.  But time away from his new companions gives him a chance to rethink the pros and cons of a solitary life.  And discover what he's been missing.


Sometimes it's not that we don't like's just that we need space.  At least, that's what I took away from this book about the travails of a housepet.  Me and Goldfish, we understand each other.  Thankfully, though miffed that people keep taking over his home, Goldfish comes to appreciate them, disgusting though they might be.

The real fun of this book comes to those who have been fish owners.  The silly plants and bubble divers.  The gross but fascinating snails that clean the tank scum.  Guppies who seemingly multiply overnight.  And crabs, scuttling around unseen until they pinch you.  Fun stuff.

But not fun enough to make me want to own fish again.  Or to make me vote this as Monarch winner.

Three out of five fish faces.

Release Date: April 2010
Reading Level: Grade K+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH

Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

Book Jacket

Percy Jackson isn't expecting freshman orientation to be any fun.  But when a mysterious mortal acquaintance appears on campus, followed by demon cheerleaders, things quickly move from bad to worse.

In this latest installment of the blockbuster series, time is running out as war between the Olympians and the evil Titan lord Kronos draws near.  Even the safe haven of Camp Half-Blood grows more vulnerable by the minute as Kronos's army prepares to invade its once impenetrable borders.  To stop the invasion, Percy and his demigod friends must set out on a quest through the Labyrinth--a sprawling underground world with stunning surprises at every turn.  Full of humor and heart-pounding action, this latest story promises to be their most thrilling adventure yet.


I love mazes and labyrinths.  I loved it in King's Quest, Final Fantasy 8, and Harry Potter 4.  I love fall corn mazes.  They fill me with dread and excitement.  There's something so quintessentially adventurous about willingly getting lost in order to find something. 

So Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Tyson delving into an epic Labyrinth that spans the entire United States, filled with tricks and missteps and monsters--I'm in love!  It is no surprise that this is my favorite of the Percy Jackson series. 

This time around Nico has a larger, and darker, role.  He quickly became one of my favorite characters.  Rachel I'm not so in love with, though that is probably because of the way Percy's romance with Annabeth is complicated by her (and by Luke, and by Calypso....lots of love trials in this book).  I loved the appearances by some of the gods and goddesses.  When they are good, they break my heart.  When they are bad, I am gleefully entertained.

Five out of five blue hairbrushes.

Release Date: May 2008
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL RIO

A Birthday for Bear by Bonny Becker

Book Jacket

Bear does not like birthdays.  He doesn't like parties or balloons, cards or candles.  In fact, Bear does not like anything to do with birthdays at all.  He would much rather spend his birthday alone cleaning his house, but Mouse, small and gray and bright-eyed, has other ideas. 

The creators of A Visitor for Bear team up again for another comedy about the curmudeonly Bear and his eager friend, Mouse.


Who doesn't like birthdays?  Well, my roommate in college.  But despite knowing her, I still cannot fathom being unexcited about my birthday.  So a story about a bear who would rather clean his house than eat birthday cake and open presents!?  I can't relate.

It doesn't help that we are given no hints that Bear actually does want to celebrate his birthday (through words or pictures) until all of a sudden, he's sporting new roller skates, surrounded by balloons, and chowing down on chocolate cake.  Whoops, spoilers.  I didn't love it, although it's nice that a level book is a part of the Monarch nominees.

Two out of five mousey disguises.

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Panda Kindergarten by Joanne Ryder

Book Jacket

School is in session!  But this is no ordinary kindergarten class.  Meet sixteen young giant panda cubs at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda at the Wolong Nature Reserve.  The cubs are raised together from infancy in a protected setting, where they grow strong.  Under the watchful eyes of the scientists and workers, the cubs learn skills that will help prepare them to be released into the wild.

Follow a day in the life of the cubs with Joanne Ryder's spare and simple text and full-color photographs by Dr. Katherine Feng, Wolong's leading photographer.

These special cubs have captured the attention of people around the globe.  Thanks to dedicated staff and unique resources at Wolong, this threatened species now has a second chance.  Here is the true story of their incredible journey toward hope and survival.


Pandas are one of the animals that make me think, "But you are impossibly cute?  Are you really real?"  The photographs in this book have not assured me of their reality.  Many of them make me curl into myself and sigh, "Aaaawwww."

And sixteen of them?  Can't handle it.

I anticipate many kids, after reading Panda Kindergarten, will want to grow up and be a panda scientist.  Maybe some adults will want to change careers, too!  Their job is recorded as one of dedication, love, and lots of fun.

I do wish the book had dealt a bit about how growing up in the nursery differs from growing up in the wild.  It was mentioned that pandas often have twins, but will only take care of one.  At the nursery, workers make sure the second twin is well-cared for, but what happens in the wild?  I assume the worst, but I would like to know for sure!

Still, a very good, very cute book.  Now excuse me while I go cuddle with a panda stuffed animal.

Four out of five panda playgrounds.

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

Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis

Book Jacket

In the form of warm, relaxed letters to a close friend, C.S. Lewis meditates on many puzzling questions concerning the intimate dialogue between man and God.  He considers practical and metaphyiscal aspects of prayer, such as when we pray and where.  He questions why we seek to inform God in our prayers if He is omniscient, whether there is an ideal form of prayer, and which of our many selves we show to God while praying.  The concluding letter contains provocative thoughts about "liberal Christians," the soul, and resurrection.


Lewis is the author I respect the most.  I genuinely love to read everything he wrote (excepting, perhaps, The Problem of Pain, which took me three tries to get through).  He can take the most complicated theological issues and make them completely understandable.  On the other hand, he takes things I assume are simple, and makes them very complicated.  I love him for both of these things.

In this book, which is really his side of a letter correspondence, Lewis talks about prayer.  I am not good at praying, and some of his suggestions were kind of awesome.  He discusses many of the issues with prayer--why even bother?  why is it so hard?  I loved every bit of it.  Lewis writes as if he is sitting in a comfy chair, chatting with you and cracking jokes. 

And maybe that's what I love about him most of all.  Throughout all situations and all theological discussions, he maintains a sense of humor, and a sense of humility.

Five out of five thinky thoughts.

Release Date: March 1973
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Duck at the Door by Jackie Urbanovic

Book Jacket

Knock, knock, knock!

Someone's outisde the door...but who?

Meet Max--a duck for all seasons.


This was a cute enough story about a duck who takes over a household--much to everyone's chagrin.  But when he leaves, they realize how much they miss him, and welcome him back gladly the next winter.  Him, and the rest of his flock.

I liked the idea of a duck skipping migration because he wanted to experience winter.  I liked the adorableness of an animal-filled house.  And I loved the page where all the animals surround their owner as the words say, "Someone had to talk to Max.  But who?"  Very cute.

However, the story wasn't especially unique or wonderful.  I liked it, but I don't think it quite deserves to be nominated for the Monarch award.

Two out of five remote hoggers.

Release Date: January 2007
Reading Level: Grade K+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:MONARCH

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Adventures in Cartooning by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost

Book Jacket

Cartooning is what happens when you send your drawings on an adventure!

On this adventure, you'll meet an impatient knight, a cowardly horse, and a magical elf.  Our heroes are off to rescue a princess and slay a dragon...and they're learning to make comics along the way!

In Adventures in Cartooning, simple lessons in cartooning are woven into a rip-roaring story.

The only thing more fun than reading this comic will be making your own!!!


I love this book!  I used to like drawing comics, and I would have loved to have such a fun guide as this to inspire me.  The authors' ability to combine a really good tale (mysteries, candy-snatching dragons, magic beanstalks!) while teaching cartooning skills is kind of extraordinary.

The fact that they included a bit of artwork by a child who read their book was a very nice touch.  It showed that anyone really can be a cartoonist.  The only thing standing in the way of your creativity is your own self-doubt! 

Five out of five cowardly horses.

Release Date: March 2009
Reading Level: Grade 1+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Book Jacket

There's been a terrible mistake.  Wayside School was supposed to be built with thirty classrooms all next to each other in a row.  Instead, they built the classrooms one on top of each other...thirty stories tall!  (The builder said he was very sorry.)  That may be why all kinds of funny things happen at Wayside School...especially on the thirtieth floor.  You'll meet Mrs. Gorf, the meanest teacher of all; terrible Todd, who always gets sent home early; and John, who can read only upside-down--along with all the other kids in the mixed-up school that came out sideways.  But you'll never guess what's in store for Wayside School on Halloween!  Part of Louis Sachar's popular Wayside School series, this nutty story about the confused antics at Wayside School remains a classic for readers who like their books slightly...sideways.


I loved this book when I was in grade school.  Even when Sachar's imagination went far beyond mine, my confusion was always mingled with a good dose of giggling.  Hidden inside each off-the-wall story is a hint of truth, especially regarding the emotions of kids.  Who doesn't remember the seeming unfairness of punishments?  Or the helplessness when everyone is in on a joke but you?

Okay, but maybe I never found myself in a showdown with a dead rat wearing raincoats. 

Sachar's book is an excellent imagination booster, and obviously its appeal is lasting, since it has been nominated for the Bluestem award 26 years after it was published.

Four out of five green balls.

Release Date: August 1985
Reading Level: Ages 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Book Jacket

The Silmarillion is J.R.R. Tolkien's tragic, operatic history of the First Age of Middle-Earth, essential background material for serious readers of the classic Lord of the Rings saga. Tolkien's work sets the standard for fantasy.  Beginning with the Music of the Ainur, The Silmarillion tells a tale of the Elder Days, when Elves and Men became estranged by the Dark Lord Morgoth's lust for the Silmarils, pure and powerful magic jewels. Even the love between a human warrior and the daughter of the Elven king cannot defeat Morgoth, but the War of Wrath finally brings down the Dark Lord. Peace reigns until the evil Sauron recovers the Rings of Power and sets the stage for the events told in the Lord of the Rings. This is epic fantasy at its finest.


I am a fan of the epic.  I want my drama to be high, my heroes to be admirable, and my villains to be despicable.  I love beauty and truth and (wow, I feel like I'm about to quote Moulin Rouge), and The Silmarillion has it in spades.

The first story is the creation of the world, and oh my word, it's beauty kills me.  When I read it, I feel like my eyes are wobbling back in forth with emotion, like an anime character.

And then Tolkien goes on to build this world where I want so badly to live, where there is peace and creativity.  But it doesn't last.  There is evil in the world, and slowly, throughout stories of heroes and villains and fate, it crumbles.  Kingdoms are overthrown.  My favorite characters are killed.  BAD THINGS HAPPEN.  And I get so crazy invested in Tolkien's world that it makes me unbearably sad.

I just want good things to stay, okay?

Anyway, The Silmarillion is crazy good.  The story of Beren and Luthien is one of the best.  If you like Lord of the Rings and can't get enough of Middle-earth, then this is the book for you.

Five out of five trees of Valinor.

Release Date: January 1985
Reading Level: Ages 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL TOL

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang

Book Jacket

 Dennis Ouyang has always struggled in the shadow of his parents' expectations.  His path is laid out for him: stay focused in high school, do well in college, go to medical school, become a gastroenterologist.  It may be hard work, but it isn't complicated...Until suddenly, it is.

Between his father's death, his academic burnout, and his deep (and distracting) love of video games, Dennis is nowehere near where his family wanted him to be.  In fact, he's just been kicked out of college.

And that's when things get...weird.

Four adorable--and bossy--angels, straight out of a sappy greeting card, appear and take charge of Dennis's life.  And so Dennis finds himself herded back onto the straight and narrow: the path to gastroenternology.  But nothing is ever what it seems when life, magic, and video games collide.

With deceptively simple, cute art by Thien Pham, and a magical-realist plot that keeps you guessing up until the last moment, Gene Yang has returned to the subject he revolutionized with American Born Chinese.  Whimsical and deadly serious by turns, Level Up is the next step in a powerful tale that Yang has made his own: coming of age as an Asian American.


This graphic novel is nearly flawless.  I say nearly, but....I can't actually think of a flaw.  Level Up is a serious reflection on the complications of love between parents and children, and it is a hilarious story in which angels bring coffee and statues change shape.  The humor is both subtle (or in the background of the panel) or in-your-face, like the disgusting assignments that must be done in the name of med school.

I loved this book.  Anyone who has ever felt parental pressure, or has wondering what to do with their life, or has an imagination, or simply appreciates a dose of whimsy with their reality, will love Level Up too.

Five out of five extra lifes.

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

Butterflies and Moths by Nic Bishop

Book Jacket

Butterflies shimmer as they glide through the air.  Moths are more secretive, flying at night.  But both grow up in an amazing way, transforming from wriggly caterpillars into beautiful winged insects.  See them up close in Nic Bishop's photographs!


I'm going to try something new--a live blog reading!  Here are my thoughts as I read Butterflies and Moths:

Butterflies belong in fairy tales, but they're real!  Hahaha, okay, cheese.

When I visited my friend in Mongolia, she told me she was afraid of butterflies.  I couldn't believe it, because well, Bishop says they belong in fairy tales and I kind of agree.  Turns out she was afraid of moths and didn't know the difference.  That made more sense, but I still kind of scoffed.  NO.  SHE WAS RIGHT.  Apparently there are some moths that feed on the tears of sleeping animals and others that drink blood!!  That is the scariest thing I've ever read.

Blergh.  Caterpillars are mostly gross.  I used to catch them and put them in buckets, now I am squeamish.  Growing up isn't all fun. 

Haha!  Caterpillars look so hilarious--OH MY GOSH it looks like a snake!  That is awesome!  Camoflauge defense for the win.

Monarchs are the mean girls of butterflies.  Even their caterpillars are pretty, but if you eat one, their poison will make you sick!  Like I said, they are mean girls.  Ooo, but I love the idea of caterpillars using ants as their bodyguards.  There's a story in there somewhere.

Wow!  Butterfly wings up close are phenomenal!  I am learning things!

It never stops being amazing and weird that caterpillars turn into butterflies.  Ridiculous.

Eurrrgh!  A praying mantis eating a butterfly!  I didn't want to see that.

Hahaha!  So the butterflies mating picture is kind of beautiful (and not sketchy, btw), but the description!  "{A male butterfly} may search along rivers and sunny trails, swooping on anything that looks like a female.  It might just be a falling leaf, or even a bumblebee.  It doesn't take much to confuse the male." 

Nic Bishop seems like an awesome guy.  His photographs are phenomenal, and his dedication (waiting years to take that creepy snake-caterpillar picture!) is mind-blowing.  Pretty cool book. 

Four out of five transformations.

Release Date: March 2009
Reading Level: Ages 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH


The older 3-5 graders anticipated that November's LEGO theme would be Thanksgiving.  When I told them it was, in fact, pirates, they asked if they could combine the two.  Thanksgiving Pirates?  Yes please!  Really, this simply resulted in pirate ships and pirate fights...over Thanksgiving food, such as one kid's red radioactive turkey.  I'll leave that to the pirates.

Pictures below the cut!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods by Suzanne Collins

Book Jacket

Book Two left off with Gregor reading the Prophecy of Blood: a prophecy that calls for Gregor and Boots to return to the Underland to help ward off a deadly plague.  But this time, Gregor's mother refuses to let him return to the Underland...until the rat Ripred assures the family that Gregor and Boots are just needed for a short meeting, which the crawlers will attend only if their "princess" Boots is present.  Gregor's mom finally relents, on the condition that she go with them.  The Underland plague is spreading, and when one of Gregor's family is stricken, he begins to understand his role in the Prophecy of Blood, and must summon all his power to end the biological warfare that threatens the warmblooded creatures of the Underland.  Fans of Suzanne Collins's acclaimed fantasy series will find more suspense and action than ever in this thrilling third saga.


After the epic bromance of Gregor and Ares....Ares becomes deathly ill and they cannot adventure together.  Sad.  Luckily, there is always Ripred to fill the empty space in my heart.  Gregor, his sister, and the snarky rat are off on another quest to save the Underland.  This time they are joined by two rats (I love how subtley Collins is dealing with, and healing, the animosity between the humans and the rats) and two mysterious jungle-dwelling humans!  I loved Hamnet and Hazard.  I love that the Underlanders are starting to lose their pride by learning the languages of the other Underland creatures.  The mental image I have of Hazard screeching in Lizard is pretty hilarious, I have to say.

The threat of a plague was nicely ominous.  There was a real sense of danger to the story.  The twist at the end was horrible and emotionally the best possible way.  I love that Collins' is willing to explore the heights, and often the depths, of humanity to tell a good story.

Four out of five rat-eating plants.

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

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

Book Jacket

The Myth:  Alice Liddel was an ordinary girl who stepped through the looking glass and entered a fairy-tale world invented by Lewis Carroll in his famous storybook.

The Truth:  Wonderland is real.  Alyss Heart is the heir to the throne, until her murderous aunt Redd steals the crown and kills Alyss's parents.  To escape Redd, Alyss and her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, must flee to our world through the Pool of Tears.  But in the pool Alyss and Hatter are separated.  Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author, to whom she tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life.  Yet he gets the story all wrong.  Hatter Madigan knows the truth only too well, and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.


I like Carroll's Alice in Wonderland all right, but it's not a book I rave over.  Beddor's reimagining of Alyss's story, though?  Yes, I will rave!  Here is a Wonderland with a plot, with drama and tragedy and the coolest ideas.  I actually almost believe that Wonderland is a real world, and that Alice Liddel was misunderstood.  It's that good.

My favorite part of Wonderland was the fact that imaginations are used as tools.  You can imagine things into being, and like my favorite fantasy stories, imagination can be used for either good or evil.  It's finding the right way to use your imagination that makes all the difference between Alyss and Redd.  That whole concept is summed up really excellently when Alyss goes into the maze;  I wanted to underline sections of the book, so enormous and beautiful was the truth Beddor dealt with.

There is an ending to the story, with the possibility for more.  I've just ordered the other two books in the trilogy for our library.  I have no idea where the story will lead, but, well, that's the fun of a wild imagination!  It can lead you anywhere.

Five out of five Crystal Continuums.

Release Date: September 2006
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: LINCOLN

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

Book Jacket

Find the 39 Clues.  What would happen if you discovered that your family was one of the most powerful in human history?  What if you were told that the source of the family's power was hidden around the world, if the form of 39 Clues?  What if you were given a choice--take a million dollars and walk away...or get the first Clue?  If you're Amy and Dan Cahill, you take the Clue--and begin a very dangerous race.


This series (The 39 Clues) was recommended to me by one of the kids in our Monday Book Talk.  I listened to the audiobook over the course of a week, and while I loved Riordan's trademark adventure with hilarity, I think I'm a little too old for the series?  Wow, I never thought I'd say that.

The thing is, I can believe 11-year-olds fighting monsters and saving the world when they are demigods.  But just regular old kids?  Dan and Amy are a little too awesome.  Not to mention their pre-teen relatives, who have no problem attempting to kill their cousins.  What kind of family is this!?  Maybe that is part of the plot, since their family apparently secretly rules the world.  I keep expecting to be disappointed there, though.  Is the end going to be that the Cahills are really just...the entire human race?  Is their secret to being awesome that...I dunno, they have imagination?  Or that the process of getting to the final Clue has made them world travelers and world changers?

I just don't see how the end can live up to the set up.  But maybe it will!

Despite all this complaining, it was a very entertaining book.  Riordan captures kids very well (aside from the aforementioned superhuman abilities), and he frequently makes me laugh.  The puzzles were interesting.  The danger sometimes felt very real.  And I am always a fan of books that take me all over the world, so big points there.

Three out of five catacombs.

Release Date: September 2008
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: J39C