Wednesday, June 6, 2012


You might have noticed a lack of new content on this blog.  There is a very good reason for my uninvolvment--I've been busy!

I'm nearing the end of my time as children's librarian at the Dunlap Public Library, while simultaneously running our Summer Reading Program.  That doesn't leave a lot of time to read and review books.  I've got to give this up soon, anyway, so I'm giving myself a break a couple weeks early.

My replacement is already at the library, and she is wonderful.  She may or may not continue this blog, but check back to see her thoughts if she does!

Thank you to anyone and everyone who has read my reviews--I've very much enjoyed sharing my love for YA and Middle Grade (and occasionally adult) books with all of you!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

Book Jacket

Life isn't like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple.  She's smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending.  After all, it's 1935, and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce.  So when Turtle's mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn't like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to stay with relatives she's never met.

Florida's like nothing Turtle has ever seen.  It's hot and strange, full of wild green peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure.  Before she knows what's happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she's spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways.

Inspired by stories of her great-grandmother, who immigrated to Key West at the turn of the last century, two-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer L. Holm beautifully blends family lore with America's past in this charming gem of a novel, rich in historical detail, humor, and the unique flavors of Key West.


The cover and title led me to believe this was a romance-of-the-summer book, and nothing could be further from the truth!  Turtle in Paradise had me hooked from the first paragraph, and its small-town charm and colorful kid protagonists made it impossible for me to put it down until I finished the story.

Turtle is a jaded pre-teen who expects trouble in life, but always rises above.  I love having a cynical protagonist who is brave and adventurous and enduring.  She's also incredibly funny as she explores Key West with her gaggle of boy cousins.  And those boy cousins!  They're the Diaper Gang, because they are the babysitters of the island.  Boy babysitters are my new favorite thing, with their kind disregard for crying (they just swaddle the kid and put it in a wagon) and top secret diaper rash cure.

This story touches on history, family, adventure, and the elusiveness of happy endings--all in a very 5th grade friendly (with no loss of adult interest, by the way) format.  I adored Turtle in Paradise.  It might be my new favorite for the Caudill award.

Five out of five sponges.

Release Date:  May 2010
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Harpist in the Wind by Patricia A. McKillip

Book Jacket

Though Morgon the Riddle-Master was reunited with his beloved Raederle, his purpose in life and the reason for the stars on his forehead remained a mystery.  All around him, the realm shook with war and disaster as mysterious shape-changers battled against mankind.  Without the missing High One, Morgon must assume responsibility for all his world.

After leading an army of the dead to protect his island of Hed, he and Raederle set out for Lungold, where the wizards were assembling against the evil Ghisteslwchlohm.  And behind them came Deth, the crippled harpist, Morgon's friend and betrayer.

But Lungold was only the beginning of the quest that would lead him to the truth of ancient struggle and the fate of the High One, until at last he could solve all mysteries and know his own awesome destiny!


McKillip must be some kind of genius for getting me to read her entire trilogy.  Her fantasy world of magic and shape-changers is incredibly cerebral and image-heavy.  Not my favorite thing.  And in each of her three books, I'm tempted to just give up on the story halfway through.

But then something happens.  A new question, a hidden motive, and I have to know what will happen.  The plot jumps forward at a neck-breaking speed, and there are more characters to keep track of in too short of time, but....somehow she makes me care!  I don't even know how.

You might have noticed I have mixed feelings about this series.  I suppose I can most easily say that Morgon's story is one I adore, while the way it is described is not my favorite.  That said, I kind of want to read them again someday, to see how hints led the way to the big reveal.  And because now I have a grasp on who is who and how things get done.

All that aside, Morgon and Raederle make up one of my very favorite couples in all of literature.  They are both powerful, both flawed and scared.  They fight for each other and against each other, and they care about each other very deeply.  I wouldn't mind having a romance like theirs.

Four out of five towers.

Release Date:  1979
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

Book Jacket

Part memoir and part education (or lack thereof), The Know-It-All chronicles NPR contributor A.J. Jacobs' hilarious, enlightening, and seemingly impossible quest to read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z.

To fill the ever-widening gaps in his Ivy League education, A.J. Jacobs sets for himself the daunting task of reading all thirty-two volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  His wife, Julie, tells him it's a waste of time, his friends believe he is losing his mind, and his father, a brilliant attorney who had once attempted the same feat and quite somewhere around Borneo, is encouraging but, shall we say, unconvinced.

With self-deprecating wit and a disarming frankness, The Know-It-All recounts the unexpected and comically disruptive effects Operation Encyclopedia has on every part of Jacobs' life--from his newly minted marriage to his complicated relationship with his father and the rest of his charmingly eccentric New York family to his day job as an editor at Esquire.  Jacobs' project tests the outer limits of his stamina and forces him to explore the real meaning of intelligence as he endeavors to join Mensa, win a spot on Jeopardy!, and absorb 33,000 pages of learning.  On his journey he stumbles upon some of the strangest, funniest, and most profound facts about every topic under the sun, all while battling fatigue, ridicule, and the paralyzing fear that attends his first real-life responsibility--the impending birth of his first child.

The Know-It-All is an ingenious, mightily entertaining memoir of one man's intellect, neuroses, and obsessions and a soul-searching, ultimately touching struggle between the all-consuming quest for factual knowledge and the undeniable gift of hard-won wisdom.


I'm officially a fan of Jacobs, and will read any books he writes on unusual life goals (see also my review of The Year of Living Biblically).  He is embarrassingly honest about his pride and his flaws, and he wrote a book about reading the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  Anyone who can make that a page-turner is obviously a great writer.

I loved the setup, going alphabetically through the topics he read, sometimes offering bits of trivia, sometimes using a term to delve into his personal life.  I was impressed that his life lined up so neatly with his project--struggling to get pregnant with his wife, struggling to figure out his relationship with his father--both of these issues continually crop up throughout his journey, and by the end both relationships are a little better because of the project.

Reading the entire Encyclopedia is impressive, but it's even more amazing how Jacobs draws timeless wisdom from the random facts he learns.  A non-fiction funny, wise, interesting book about one guy's weird goal?  I'm so glad I read it.

Five out of five school field trips.

Release Date:  September 2004
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Flora's Fury by Ysabeau S. Wilce

Book Jacket

Aside from her troublesome attraction to magick, Flora Fyrdraaca has spent her entire life doing what's expected of her.  Who else is going to keep order in her crazy family?  Yet at sixteen, she realizes that this life has been strewn with secrets and lies.  Lies have kept her from becoming a ranger, from perfecting her use of magick, from claiming her hidden birthright.

And then there's the matter of Flora's true mother.  Tiny Doom, killed years earlier by the Birdies, the Rupublic of Califa's evil overlords.  Was even her murder a lie?  Flora is sure of it--and she will do whatever it takes to find her, whether in the Waking World or Elsewhere.

Certain that only Tiny Doom can free Califa from the Birdie's rule, Flora embarks on a journey that takes her from sea to island to desert, and into an alliance with a brooding stranger with secrets of his own.  But only when Flora is very far from home does she discover how much the future of Califa is at stake--and how far the Birdies will go to destroy her.


Flora's back!  I adore Wilce's series (beginning with Flora Segunda and Flora's Dare).  The characters are brilliant and dysfunctional and heroic.  The setting is positively fantastic--it may be my favorite fantasy setting ever.  I know that's a huge claim.  I haven't really thought it through, but Califa is definitely in my top five.

Since I have such an intense love for the places and people of the first two books, I was initially dismayed with Flora's Fury.  Flora pretty quickly goes to new locations and primarily hangs out with new characters, with the exception of her loyal dog Flynn.  Apparently I love Wilce's world as a whole more than any specific characters, because I ended up loving this book. 

The criminal island of Barbacoa was super fun.  I really liked Tharyn the wer-bear.  And I loved Handhands haunting and helping Flora through her adventures.  And of course, Flora remains awesome.  She is older now, but still extremely self-involved and selfless at the same time.  She wants to help her family and her country, but she usually does so in her own way, without considering the actions or needs of others.  This makes her incredibly complex and relatable.  People are contradictory a lot of the time, and Flora is no exception.

For some reason, the Flora series doesn't get as much press or attention as it deserves.  Let's change that!  Read Flora, and spread the word of its greatness!

Five out of five long distance packages.

Release Date: May 2012
Reading Level: Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL WIL

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thou Shalt Not Road Trip by Antony John

Book Jacket

When does a spiritual journey turn into a rockin' road trip?  The moment Luke's book, Hallelujah, becomes a national best seller.

Luke's publisher sends him on a summer cross-country tour with his unpredictable older brother, Matt, as chauffeur.  Without Luke's knowing, Matt offers to drive Luke's ex-crush, Fran, across the country too, and things get a little crazy.  Luke thinks he's enlightened, but he actually needs to loosen up if he's going to discover what it truly means to have faith, and do what it takes to get the girl he loves.


Yikes.  A lot of this book was an uncomfortable trip down memory lane, back to those years when I thought being a Christian meant standing apart from others and looking down at them.  I even wrote stuff and pridefully imagined I would change the world if it ever got published.  Thankfully for me, nothing ever was, and I got to grow up and learn about true faith and love without all the drama Luke goes through.

Luke is a wonderful protagonist, because he is equal parts endearing and frustrating.  He's genuinely confused by life, and when anything outside his world view comes his way, he is completely unable to handle it.  Thankfully he has Fran in his life, a girl who has been abandoned by her family and friends, but never gives up on following God and making a difference in the world.  Even if most people are unwilling to be helped by someone with purple hair and tattoos.

I had no problem with Luke and Fran's struggling spiritual journey, but I was a little disappointed in the way Luke's Christian fans were portrayed.  I'll even lay off the open hostility they show to Fran, because as much as it pains me, that is too often true.  But the stupidity they have en masse, unable to tell that Luke's highly stylized and metaphorical book isn't 100% fact.  Ugh.  We Christians are not all stupid.

John juggles a lot of themes in his book, dealing with faith, family, and romance in some new and really awesome ways.  I loved it.

Four out of five Route 66 road trips.

Release Date: May 2012
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL JOH

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Book Jacket

With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance—until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?

This is a classic I avoided for years because it just seemed too sad.  I finally got around to reading it, wasn't as sad as I expected.  I think my lack of emotion is largely because I knew what would happen.  I can imagine how gut-wrenching the end of the story would be if I were reading it completely unspoiled.

Still, there's no question why Keyes' novel is a classic.  The diary format works wonderfully well, both in documenting the narrative and in revealing the slow increase and later, the faster decrease, of Charlie's intelligence.

Charlie's story illuminates the double-edged sword of intelligence--both how we react to others' intelligence and how we deal with our own.  I loved the examination, especially because it made me uncomfortable with my own prejudices.

Four out of five inkblots.

Release Date: 1966
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of our collection.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Guyku by Bob Raczka

Book Jacket

When you're a guy, nature is one big playground--no matter what the season.  There are puddles to splash through in the spring, pine trees to climb in the summer, maple seeds to catch in the fall, and icicles to swordfight with in the winter.

Nature also has a way of making a guy appreciate important stuff--like how many rocks it takes to dam up a stream, or how much snow equals a day off from school.

So what kind of poetry best captures these special moments, at a length that lets guys get right back to tree climbing and kite flying?  Why, guyku, of course!  And there's no better author-and-illustrator team to capture all the fun than two guys named Raczka and Reynolds.


Let's get past the fact that this book is about boys, yeah?  Why limit these awesome childhood memories to only half the world's population?  So we're just going to pretend that my kid girl memories are welcome in this boy book.

That said, I loved it!  The haikus flow so easily they don't even seem like haikus.  The emotions that three simple lines evoke are powerfully nostalgic.  I remember climbing trees, skipping rocks, building dams, catching helicopters from maple trees, hiding under snow-laden bush branches.  This book makes me want to run outside and be a kid again, with all the wonder and boundless energy of childhood.

The illustrations that accompany each haiku are fantastic.  The combination of words and pictures form really wonderful stories, my favorite of which is this:

If this puddle could
talk, I think it would tell me
to splash my sister.

Five out of five seasonal adventures.

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

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia A. McKillip

Book Jacket

By the vow of her father and her own desire, Raederle was pledged to Morgon, Riddle-Master of Hed.  But a year had passed since Morgon disappeared on his search for the High One at Erlenstar Mountain, and rumors claimed he was dead.

Raederle set out to learn the truth for herself, though her small gift of magic seemed too slight for the perils she must face.  The quest led through strange lands and dangerous adventures.  Only her growing powers enabled her at last to reach Erlenstar Mountain.  And there she discovered what she could not bear to accept.

Accompanied by Deth, the High One's Harper, she fled.  And behind them came a pursuer whose name was Morgon, bent on executing a grim destiny upon Raederle and Deth.

Her only hope lay in summoning the Hosts of the Dead, led by the King whose skull she bore...


Okay, so first, the book jacket is false.  Ignore it and trust my review:  this book is awesomesauce!  When I read the first book in this series, The Riddle-Master of Hed, I was underwhelmed.  The world-building happened super fast, and I could barely keep up with what was going on.  This time around, I had a much better understanding of the various countries and magic philosophies, so I could let myself get caught up in the story rather than constantly wondering what was going on.

It helps that Raederle is so amazing I'm actually considering naming a child after her.  She is right up there with Eowyn in terms of super cool girl fantasy characters.  Raederle is powerful, but scared of her power.  She worries that her nature will overshadow her upbringing.  She is told to stay home and get married off to someone now that Morgon is presumably dead, but instead she runs away and embarks on a quest of her own.

There are shape-shifters, illusions, life at sea, wizards come back to life from trees and pig-herdesses.  The magic in this trilogy is so fun!  And McKillip has great wit, a lot of which comes from the names she gives her characters--people seeking to kill Deth, for instance--and countries--no one likes the kings of Hel.  This is a great fantasy for people who don't want to invest in an 800-page tome. 

And Raederle and Morgon?  Are um, super adorable.  I didn't realize how much I shipped them until they were suddenly in the same room together, and then I did mental cartwheels and high fives at their awesomeness.  This is romance at its best--two strong characters who can stand on their own, but who are even stronger together.  I can't wait to see what is in store for them in the finale book of McKillip's trilogy!

Five out of five puddle/lakes.

Release Date: August 1977
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lousy Rotten Stinkin' Grapes by Margie Palatini

Book Jacket

Fox eyed a bunch of tantalizing grapes hanging from a vine growing high on a tree.

"Those juicy morsels are for me," he said with a grin.

The problem was, Fox was only so high...and the grapes were so, so, so high.

"No matter," said he.  "I am sly.  Clever.  Smart.  After all, I am a fox."

He made a plan...

And what a plan it is!  Here Margie Palatini and Barry Moser, who collaborated on Earthquack! and The Three Silly Billies, give an ingenious--and hilarious--twist to the well-loved Aesop's fable "The Fox and the Grapes."


Okay, I've got a personal bone to pick--I love foxes!  They are adorable, and I like when they are straight out clever.  Not when they think they are clever but are actually dumb, like in this story.

Regardless of that, do I like this book?  Not really.  The message is good--don't turn your back on something good just because you needed help to get it.  But I wasn't a fan of the way it was written.  The dialogue is almost stream-of-consciousness, with a lot of dashes and elipses.  It doesn't read like a children's story at all.

The pictures, however, are stunning. 

My love of foxes might be coloring my review, but I didn't find much extraordinary about this book. 

Three out of five hanging possums.

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

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

Book Jacket

Why did you pick up this book?  Did it have something to do with the eye-popping colors on the cover?

You can thank Bob and Joe Switzer for those shocking greens, blazing oranges, and screaming yellows.  The brothers invented a whole new kind of color--one that glowed with an extra-special intensity.  It took them years of experimenting, but their efforts paid off brilliantly.  Day-Glo colors helped win a war, save people's lives, and brighten everyday life--including this book!


It is super weird for me to think of people creating colors.  I had never really thought about the fact that day-glo colors are found nowhere in nature, and must therefore have been invented by someone.  Now I know that those obnoxious colors that hurt your eyes but do a great job drawing attention to themselves were made by the Switzer brothers.

This book is a biography-lite.  The story of Bob and Joe begins in their childhood, follows them as they pursue different dreams, then come together to create something that subtly changed the world. 

The illustrations are fun, and the random additions of day-glo colors to the pages makes the book's point every time--you cannot look away.  The story is both entertaining, informational, and inspiring.  Life might take you on a path you never expected, but some really great things might come from your detour! 

Four out of five rescue flags.

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

Monday, May 7, 2012

That Cat Can't Stay by Thad Krasnesky

Book Jacket

Cats.  You either love 'em or hate 'em.  But what happens when Mom loves cats and Dad doesn't?

To the delight of the cat-loving children, Mom keeps adopting stray cats.  Poor Dad's objections get more and more absurd:

Mom found a calico.
Dad said, "That thing has got to go.
There's no use begging.  Don't say please.
I don't like cats.  They scratch my knees.
They carry fleas.  They make me sneeze.
They're always getting stuck in trees.
I want it gone.  Vamoose!  Away!
I'm telling you, that cat can't stay."

But clever Mom convinces Dad to let each cat stay for a short time.  Once they're comfy in the house, they never leave!  One stray, then two, then three move in, and Dad is at his wit's end.  When stray cat number five arrives, Dad finally takes a surprising stand.

A delightful romp for dog-lovers, cat-lovers, and even cat-haters.


I'm definitely a fan of cats, and I'm also a fan of reverse psychology.  A strange combination to have in a children's book, but there you go.  That Cat Can't Stay is a great story of families, compromises, and flowy funny rhymes.

I liked the Mom, who points out what little chance these poor cats will have in the outside world.  I liked the Dad, who complained and railed against them, but was ultimately too compassionate to throw the cats out.  I liked the kids, who gleefully watched their house fill up with cats.  I liked the cats themselves, who were drawn with over-the-top distress when found and then over-the-top comfort when made part of the family.  And I liked the ending, which made everyone in the family happy.

The pictures are great.  The story is funny.  And it made me want to adopt a whole bunch of strays.

Four out of five cats in trees.

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

Friday, May 4, 2012


I have been very bad at keeping up with LEGO blog posts.  It is somehow too much work to plug in my camera, move pictures from one file to another, and then upload them here?  To make up for my laziness, I am now posting a MEGALEGO post.  There are pictures from our April LEGO clubs, as well as our first club in May.  Lots and lots of pictures below the cut!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy

Book Jacket

Gum has been around for centuries.  The ancient Greeks chewed sap from mastic trees.  The American Indians chewed spruce resin.  Men in top hats and women in puffy dresses chewed gum to cure things like stomachaches.  Gum wasn't that exciting.  But what if gum chewers could blow bubbles while chewing it?

In the late 1920s a factory in Philadelphia was working on a top secret project.  Month after month the workers experimented with different ingredients and formulas.  And month after month all they had to show for their hard work was a big sticky mess.  Would there be no bubble gum?  Sometimes the best inventions come from the most unexpected places...


Confession here:  I am really awful at blowing bubbles in gum.  I used to be so jealous of kids who could blow bubbles as big as their heads, or who could blow a bubble, close it off, and blow another into a chain!  Bubble gum is a tumultuous topic for me (not really), so learning about its history was pretty fascinating!

I love stories of accidental inventions.  I love stories of people inventing something far outside their field of expertise.  I love stories that explain how something we take for granted (like the pink color of bubble gum) was really just a case of right time-right place.  Life and progress is a strange meandering journey, and discovering a little bit of how things are made is almost always interesting. 

Also, the simple sentences used make for great out-of-context hilarity!  "He knew lots about math but not much about gum."  That is the saddest random fact to assign to someone.  I think I might use it on acquaintances from now on.

Next time your kid asks for a piece of gum, have him or her read this first! 

Four out of five Dubble Bubble gums.

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

The Story of Snow by Mark Cassino

Book Jacket

How do snow crystals form?

What shapes can they take?

Are no two snow crystals alike?

These questions and more are answered inside this exploration of the science of snow, featuring photos of real snow crystals in all their beautiful diversity.  Perfect for reading on winter days, this book by a nature photographer and a snow scientist will inspire wonder and curiosity about the marvels of snow.  And for those inspired to collect and study their own snow crystals, there are snow-crystal-catching instructions in the back.


I love snow!  When I was little, my "if I could change the way the world works" wish was for it to snow in the summertime.  After reading The Story of Snow, I am scientifically equipped to explain to my younger self that my dream is simply impossible.  Which is sad, but regardless of the temperature when it falls, snow is awesome!

This book does a great job of teaching simple lessons (the conditions under which snow is formed, the different types of snow) in an easy to grasp way.  Real pictures, with life-size comparisons, litter every page, making the whole lesson beautiful as well.

I learned a lot from this short book, and I imagine any kid who grows up playing in snow will find it fascinating.  If only I hadn't read it on the cusp of summer.  Now I have to wait several long months to fully appreciate my new knowledge.

Four out of five debris made into snow crystals.

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stickman Odyssey: An Epic Doodle by Christopher Ford

Book Jacket

Greek Epic the way it was meant to be stickman form!


This is...pretty much exactly what it says on the tin!  The story of Odysseus as a graphic novel of stickmen.  And it's awesome!  I love Greek mythology, and I especially love it when reinterpreted in different contexts.  Hilarious cartoons is a great new way to explore ancient myths.

What surprised me most was how expressive Ford manages to make his stick figures.  They are simply drawn, but they easily convey emotions and moods.  I never thought I would feel bad about the artistic quality of my stick figures, but, well.  It has happened.

The characters are also awesome.  Zozimos is hopelessly self-centered.  Alexa is the best ever--I loved how Zozimos kept talking about how he loved her for her beauty, and she would respond peevishly, "Yeah, but how about when I saved your life?  Do you love me for that?"  But the moral of this story is that Zozimos doesn't realize how much he depends on others, and the his fate is bound up in whether or not he can learn to ask for help!
Yup.  A hilarious cartoon Greek myth teaches a lesson, too.  This book is perfect for kids, and for anyone with a sense of humor, really.

Five out of five doomed prophecies.

Release Date:  August 2011
Reading Level: Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC FOR

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Book Jacket

For the first time in Spellman history, Isabel Spellman, PI, might be the most normal member of her family.  Mom has taken on an outrageous assortment of extracurricular activities--with no apparent motive.  Dad has a secret.  Izzy's brother and sister are at war--for no apparent reason.  And her niece keeps saying "banana" even though she hates bananas.

That's not to say that Izzy isn't without her own troubles.  Her boyfriend, Henry Stone, keeps wanting "to talk," a prospect Isabel evades by going out with her new drinking buddy, none other than Gertrude Stone, Henry's mother.

Things aren't any simpler on the business side of Spellman Investigations.  First, Rae is hired to follow a girl, only to fake the surveillance reports.  Then a math professor hires Izzy to watch his immaculate apartment while he unravels like a bad formula.  And as the questions pile up, Izzy won't stop hunting for the answers--even when they threaten to shatter both the business and the family.


By this fifth installment of the Spellman family's misadventures, reading about Izzy's life is like curling up in front of a fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate.  Never has dysfunction been so cozy.  It helps, I suppose, that although the Spellmans are still ridiculous, they are a bit more mature and communicative.

Mostly thanks to Demetrius, the recently freed wrongfully-convicted criminal who is now working for Spellman Investigations.  Both the Spellmans and I agree:  Demetrius is awesome!  I loved his logic and abililty to sidestep compromising conversations.  I loved his sneaky baking and random relationships with grandmothers and mysterious girlfriends.  He was a wonderful addition to the series, and I can't wait to read more about him.

I actually really liked the mystery parts of the book.  I cared about who was lying, how they were lying, and whether the lies would ever be uncovered.  Usually the PI stuff is skippable for me, but this time I was invested.

Rae is making a comeback for my affections, which inevitably means David is falling behind.  I still liked him, but these crazy siblings!  I can't ever like them or hate them at the same time.  Momma and Poppa Spellman were more likeable this time around.  And Isabel?  Well, I completely understand why she acts the way she does and chooses the way she does, but it did make me a little sad.

I'm super bummed that I've now caught up with real life and will have to wait for the next Spellman book like the rest of humanity.  Sad.

Five out of five running faucets.

Release Date:  February 2012
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Book Jacket

Raised in a secular family but increasingly interested in the relevance of faith in our modern world, A.J. Jacobs decides to dive in headfirst and attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year.  He vows to follow the Ten Commandments.  To be fruitful and multiply.  To love his neighbor.  But also to obey the hundreds of less publicized rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers; to play a ten-string harp; to stone adulterers.

The resulting spiritual journey is at once funny and profound, reverent and irreverent, personal and universal and will make you see history's most influential book with new eyes.

Jacobs's quest transforms his life even more radically than the year spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for The Know-It-All.  His beard grows so unruly that he is regularly mistaken for a member of ZZ Top.  He immerses himself in prayer, tends sheep in the Israeli desert, battles idolatry, and tells the absolute truth in all situations--must to his wife's chagrin.

Throughout the book, Jacobs also embeds himself in a cross-section of communities that take the Bible literally.  He tours a Kentucky-based creationist museum and sings hymns with Pennsylvania Amish.  He dances with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn and does Scripture study with Jehovah's Witnesses.  He discovers ancient biblical wisdom of startling relevance.  And he wrestles with seemingly archaic rules that baffle the twenty-first century brain.

Jacobs's extraordinary undertaking yields unexpected epiphanies and challenges.  A book that will charm readers both secular and religious, The Year of Living Biblically is part CliffsNotes to the Bible, part memoir, and part look into worlds unimaginable.  Thou shalt not be able to put it down.


I was intrigued enough by the title to want to read this book, but I admit I was wary of how Jacobs would treat my religious beliefs.  I was relieved to see that although Jacobs and I do not agree on many spiritual issues, I think we could be good friends.  He undergoes his year with quite a bit of humor, but he is also very respectful of everyone he meets, whether he considers their ideas crazy or thought-provoking.

It was incredibly interesting to see the Bible through an agnostic's eyes.  I learned from him as he wrestled with laws that I rarely consider.  I saw beauty in the Bible as he lived a simpler, more honest life filled with seemingly insignificant daily rituals that genuinely changed him.  And I saw that it is possible to disagree and still be civil.

I loved Jacobs style.  He is self-deprecating, insightful, and eager both to learn and to share what he learned.  The book flies, and I was equally entertained and taught.  Although I have no emotional connection to the Encyclopedia like I do to the Bible, I intend to read his first book as soon as I can get it!

Five out of five tassels.

Release Date:  October 2007
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

Book Jacket

Meet Bink and Gollie, marvelous companions who can always agree to put on their roller stakes.  In other matters, however (such as which socks to wear, the buying of goldfish, or venturing to the Andes Mountains), compromise is required.  But even if one sees a tree house as halfway up and the other as halfway down, these girls are always the best of friends.

Get ready for a laugh-out-loud bonanza by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and New York Times best-selling writer Alison McGhee, illustrated by award-winning artist and animator Tony Fucile.


This is a fantastic story of friendship, and the importance of loving and learning from people who think differently than ourselves.  Those of us who are more reserved could do with a spontaneous and exuberant friend.  And those who act before thinking could do with a friend who has a plan for everything.

The illustrations perfectly capture the personalities of our two protagonists, and make the settings come to life.  Jokes are told through the dialogue and even more often through the pictures.  But I can't just side-step the dialouge.  Bink and Gollie speak in a hilarious mix of formality and childishness.  When Bink asks Gollie what they should do, Gollie responds, "I long for speed.  Let's roller-skate!"

Differences are celebrated, friendship is celebrated, and readers are entertained.  I can't think of a better purpose to a book!

Five out of five brightly striped socks.

Release Date:  September 2010
Reading Level: Grade 1+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH

39 Clues: The Emperor's Code by Gordon Korman

Book Jacket

One belief has sustained fourteen-year-old Amy Cahill and her younger brother, Dan, on their hunt for the 39 Clues: They are the good guys.  But then a shocking discovery about their parents shatters everything Amy and Dan think they know, dividing the two siblings for the first time ever.  When Dan disappears in a country of more than a billion people, Amy has to make a terrible choice-find the next Clue...or find her younger brother.


China and Mount Everest!  This was quite fun.  I'm partial to Asia, so this was a great adventure for my tastes.  And the descriptions of Mount Everest (combined with my recent reading of Peak) made the race to Everest's summit very evocative.  Korman continuously referenced just how high 29,000 feet is, and you'd think that got old.  But no, each time my mind boggled. 

I also appreciated the Holts being useful for once.  They are so often the butt of the joke, and it was nice to see them excel.  Except, well, apparently money and connections accounts for more than physical strength.

I liked hanging out with Jonah Wizard again.  Seems like it's been several books since he's had a major role to play.  The combination of his story and Amy and Dan's identity crisis made me have a thought.  I wonder how this series would be different if it were YA instead of middle grade.  There is a lot of potential to explore family manipulations, nature vs. nurture, and a whole bunch of interesting ideas!  I'd love to have the psychology played into more, but I understand that this is skewed younger and is more adventure-oriented.  Which is fine.  The series does a good job at what it sets out to accomplish.

Four out of five silk scraps.

Release Date:  April 2010
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: J39C

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Book Jacket

Escaping from the brutality of an arranged marriage, seventeen-year-old Ismae finds sanctuary at the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old.  Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts--and a violent destiny.  If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death.  To claim her new life, she must be willing to take the lives of others.

Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany, where she must pose as mistress to the darkly mysterious Gavriel Duval, who has fallen under a cloud of suspicion.  Once there, she finds herself woefully underprepared--not only for the deadly games of love and intrigue, but for the impossible choices she must make.  For how can she deliver Death's vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?


I was so intrigued by this book.  A broken girl raised as an assassin who lives in a world where a version of the Greek gods and the Christian God coexist.  So much potential!  Throw in a romance between two people who do not want to be in love, and I thought sparks of originality and awesomeness would fly.

Unfortunately, they do not.  While there are some interesting turns of event, the story is largely predictable.  The good guys are too good, the main character is too good, and the bad guys are too evil.  There are some attempts to add depth to character's motivations, but they were too little too late for me.

As for Ismae and Duval?  Their's was not the romance I wanted.  I love sparky dialogue, witty retorts, and suspicions of motivation.  That wasn't here.  They pretty quickly fell in love, and while it took a long time for them to get around to acknowledging it, we the readers see it right away.  Not my favorite.

I did like the different layers of death portrayed, and the idea of someone acting on Death's behalf was interesting.  Figuring out the difference between vengeance and mercy was pretty cool, although even that seemed to be summed up too neatly.

I guess this book wasn't as gritty as I wanted it to be.  So if you don't want gritty and will probably like it!

Three out of five hidden crossbows.

Release Date:  April 2012
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL LAF

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa Lutz

Book Jacket

At the ripe old age of thirty-two, former wild child Isabel "Izzy" Spellman has finally agreed to take over the family business.  And the transition won't be a smooth one.

First among her priorities as head of Spellman Investigations is to dig up some dirt on the competition, slippery ex-cop Rick Harkey--a task she may enjoy a little too much.  Next, faced with a baffling missing-persons case at the home of an aging millionaire, Izzy hires an actor friend, Len, to infiltrate the mansion as an undercover butler--a role he may enjoy a little too much.

Meanwhile, Izzy is being blackmailed by her mother (photographic evidence of Prom Night 1994) to commit to regular blind dates with promising professionals--an arrangement that doesn't thrill Connor, an Irish bartender on the brink of becoming Ex-boyfriend #12.

At Spellman headquarters, it's business as unusual.  Doorknobs and light fixtures are disappearing every day.  Mom's been spotted crying in the pantry, and a series of increasingly demanding Spellman Rules (Rule #27: No Speaking Today) can't quite hold the family together.  Izzy also has to decipher weekly "phone calls from the edge" from her octogenarian lawyer, Morty, as well as Detective Henry Stone's mysterious interest in rekindling their relationsh...well, whatever it was.

Just when it looks like things can't go more haywire, little sister Rae's internship researching pro bono legal cases leads the youngest Spellman to launch a grassroots campaign that could spring an innocent man from jail--or land Rae in it.

The Spellmans Strike Again is hands down the most hilarious, thrilling, and moving book in this bestselling, award-nominated series.  And it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Isabel Spellman, no matter how much she matures, will never be able to follow Rule #1: Act Normal.


This might be my favorite Spellman book, which is impressive as the fourth entry in the series.  I thought the family mysteries were compelling as always, but this time the actual work-related mysteries intrigued me too.  I found the whole legal process of freeing an innocent man really interesting and terribly sad in a real-world context.

But let's not dwell on the terribly sad.  The Spellmans are nothing if not funny.  I loved the family rules!  And the way Albert would carry around doorknobs nonchalantly because the ones on the doors went missing.  And Henry's adorablely direct way of worming his way back into Izzy's life.  And Morty!  I love Morty!

Izzy is much more likeable now, I think.  She's still off-kilter and unusual and funny.  But she's lost a lot of the ingrained rebellious streak that could get annoying.  The crux of her maturity is demonstrated when, instead of egging someone's car, she merely lays a dozen eggs on the hood as a reminder of what could have been done.  Fantastic.

I continue to love David, and this time Rae is back to being awesome.  Everyone is starting to get significant others, and while that could be dangerous to add to the balance of such a hilariously dysfunctional family, Lutz does a great job partnering up her characters with people who ease their craziness but don't take it away entirely.

Five out of five organic gardens.

Release Date: March 2010
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff

Book Jacket

As far as Georgie knows, everyone has a thing:

The thing about poodles is that Georgie Bishop hates to walk them.

The thing about Jeanie the Meanie is that she would rather write on her shoe than help Georgie with their Abraham Lincoln project.

The thing about Andy's nonna is that she kisses Georgie's cheeks and doesn't speak one word of English.

The thing about Georgie's mom is that she's having a baby--a baby who will probably be taller than Georgie very, very soon.

The thing about Georgie...well, what is the thing about Georgie?


This is a great book!  It started off seeming a bit too "special lesson," specifically about dwarves.  And while I did learn a lot about dwarfism, the story quickly became about more than just Georgie's size.

Georgie is a dwarf who is scared that his unborn baby sibling will be able to do everything he cannot.  On top of that worry, his best friend has started hanging out with someone else.  And the most annoying kid in his grade has started hanging out with him.  That's a lot for a fourth grader to worry about.  But Georgie is super cool!  He makes mistakes and says mean things sometimes, but he is mature enough to apologize and work toward reconciliation.

The thing (hah) that sets this book apart, however, are the interjections by the narrator.  Every once in a while a special bolded font will tell the reader to do certain things, from holding their tongue between their fingers to measuring the heights of objects around the room.  I loved how the actions changed from being things Georgie couldn't do, to things anyone can do, to things Georgie can do that others probably can't.  It was a great addition to the story, proving that everyone has talents, everyone has struggles, and everyone has many "things" about them.

Four out of five presidents.

Release Date:  January 2007
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  BLUESTEM

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Black Heart by Holly Black

Book Jacket

In a world where magic is illegal, Cassel Sharpe has the most deadly ability of all.  With one touch, he can transform any object--including a person--into something else entirely.  And that makes him a wanted man.  The Feds are willing to forgive all his past crimes if he'll only leave his con artist family behind and go straight.  But why does going straight feel so crooked?

For one thing, it means being on the opposite side of the law from Lila, the girl he loves.  She's the daughter of a mob boss and getting ready to join the family business herself.  Though Cassel is pretty sure she can never love him back, he can't stop obsessing over her.  Which would be bad enough, even if her father wasn't keeping Cassel's mother prisoner in a posh apartment and threatening not to let her leave until she returns the priceless diamond she scammed off him years ago.  Too bad she can't remember where she put it.

The Feds say they need Cassel to get rid of a powerful man who is spinning dangerously out of control.  But if they want Cassel to use his unique talent to hurt people, what separates the good guys from the bad ones?  Or is everyone just out to con him?

Time is running out, and all Cassel's magic and cleverness might not be enough to save him.  With no easy answers and no one he can trust, love might be the most dangerous gamble of all.


What a great ending to a fantastic series!  Black's trilogy remains one of the freshest, most imaginative takes on magic to date.  Her story delves into the messiness of friendships, families, and relationships.  Nothing is ever easy, but many things are worth the trouble.

Cassel is one of my favorite protagonists.  He is smart, creative, and loyal.  He is hopelessly romantic.  He sees the world as one big con.  He trusts and can never trust.  He makes selfish decisions.  He messes up.  He pulls cons on people way more talented than him.  He is a big bundle of contradictions and emotions, and he feels very real because of it.

I loved how Black took the central drama of her previous books--Cassel struggling with whether or not he is good or bad--and expanded the question to the world at large.  Are the good guys really good?  And how bad are the bad guys?  Whose side should Cassel be on, and is anyone actually on Cassel's side?

This book is just as fun as its predecessors.  More cons!  More screwed up Sharpe family members!  More confusing Lila feelings!  More mind games!  So much fun.

Five out of five incriminating photographs.

Release Date:  April 2012
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL BLA

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The List by Siobhan Vivian

Book Jacket

It happens every year before Homecoming--the list is posted all over school.  Two girls are picked from each grade.  One is named the prettiest, one the ugliest.  The girls who aren't picked are quickly forgotten.  The girls who are become the center of attention.  Each one has a different reaction to the experience.

Abby's joy at being named prettiest is clouded by her sister's resentment.

Danielle worries about how her boyfriend will take the news.

Lauren is a homeschooled girl blindsided by her instant popularity.

Candace isn't ugly, not even close, so it must be a mistake.

Bridget knows her summer transformation isn't something to celebrate.

Sarah has always rebelled against traditional standards of beauty, and she decides to take her mutiny to the next level.

And Margo and Jennifer, ex-best friends who haven't spoken in years, are forced to confront why their relationship ended.

With The List, Siobhan Vivian deftly takes you into the lives of eight very different girls struggling with the issues of identity, self-esteem, and the judgments of their peers.  Prettiest or ugliest, once you're on the list, you'll never be the same.


This is the sort of book every girl, of every age, should read.  Scratch that, everybody should it.  While I am so glad to have high school (and the heightened level of pre-judgment that existed there) behind me, the insecurities and beauty myths surrounding American females affects all of us, no matter how old and wise we become. 

I completely enjoyed Vivian's story.  I worried that it would be hard to keep up with eight different narrators, but the author manages to establish each character very quickly, giving them each distinct voices and experiences.  Although each girl reacts to the list differently, every one of them seemed completely authentic.  I could empathize with each, which is pretty impressive, since some of them are simply awful.

I appreciated that Vivian never let cliches run the story.  There are no overwhelmingly happy endings.  There are small personal victories for some of the girls.  There are some defeats for others.  Some of the girls I started off hating became my favorite by the end, and some that I began liking ended up disappointing me.  It was especially interesting to me to see how being on the "pretty" side of the list affected the four girls.  Although they were given instant popularity, it by no means made their lives easier or better.

The story runs extremely quickly, the characters are relatable, and I'm guessing the plot will have some sort of resonance with every reader.  I loved it.

Five out of five Homecoming Queen ballots.

Release Date: April 2012
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL VIV

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Book Jacket

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places:  a city bus.  "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized.  "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter."  In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account of that year, Rubin carves out her place alongside the authors of bestselling memoirs such as Julie and Julia, The Year of Living Biblically, and Eat, Pray, Love.  With humor and insight, she chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.

Rubin didn't have the option to uproot herself, nor did she really want to; instead she focused on improving her life as it was.  Each month she tackled a new set of resolutions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, forget about results.  She immersed herself in principles set forth by all manner of experts, from Epicurus to Thoreau to Oprah to Martin Seligman to the Dalai Lama to see what worked for her--and what didn't.

Her conclusions are sometimes surprising--she finds that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that "treating" yourself can make you feel worse; that venting bad feelings doesn't relieve them; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference--and they range from the practical to the profound.

Written with charm and wit, The Happiness Project is illuminating yet entertaining, thought-provoking yet compulsively readable.  Grethen Rubin's passion for her subject jumps off the page, and reading just a few chapters of this book will inspire you to start your own happiness project.


This book is everything--funny, thought-provoking, and inspirational.  The last line of the book jacket is totally true.  A couple pages into the first chapter, I had already started a list of things I wanted to do, mostly centered on cleaning clutter from my house or starting artistic projects.  Rubin's experiences are invigorating!  Because she writes so honestly and simply, she makes her readers believe we can affect our happiness as well.

The wisdom that stuck out to me the most was the idea of happiness as a duty.  It's true that happiness seems a bit self-centered.  Why should I put so much effort into making myself feel better?  But Rubin shows, time after time, that our happiness directly affects others.  Emotional transference occurs, definitely, but happy people are also more likely to be charitable and kind.  It's hokey, but being happy really can change the world.

It also resonated with me that Rubin wasn't looking to change her life.  She wanted to appreciate what she had.  It is so easy to get bogged down in stress that we fail to see the little bits of beauty and joy that are a part of every day.  Taking the time to slow down and enjoy life is a lesson I know I could learn.

I loved this book, and I anticipate it will be a book I reread multiple times over the years so I can re-learn her words of wisdom.

Five out of five bluebirds.

Release Date:  December 2008
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Book Jacket

Private investigator Isabel Spellman is back on the case and back on the couch--in court-ordered therapy after getting a little too close to her previous subject.

As the book opens, Izzy is on hiatus from Spellman Inc.  But when her boss, Milo, simultaneously cuts her bartending hours and introduces her to a "friend" looking for a private eye, Izzy reluctantly finds herself with a new client.  She assures herself that the case--a suspicious husband who wants his wife tailed--will be short and sweet, and will involve nothing more than the most boring of PI rituals: surveillance.  But with each passing hour, Izzy finds herself with more questions than hard evidence.

Meanwhile, Spellmania continues.  Izzy's brother, David, the family's most upright member, has adopted an uncharacteristically unkepmt appearance and attitude toward work, life, and Izzy.  And their wayward youngest sister, Rae, a historic academic underachiever, aces the PSATs and subsequently offends her study partner and object of obsession, Detective Henry Stone, to the point of excommunication.  The only unsurprising behavior comes from her parents, whose visits to Milo's bar amount to thinly veiled surveillance and artful attempts (read: blackmail) at getting Izzy to return to the Spellman Inc. fold.

As the case of the wayward wife continues to vex her, Izzy's personal life--and mental health--seem to be disintegrating.  Facing a housing crisis, she can't sleep, she can't remember where she parked her car, and despite her shrinks persistence, she can't seem to break through in her appointments.  She certainly can't explain why she forgets dates with her lawyer's grandson, or fails to interpret the come-ons issued in an Irish brogue by Milo's new bartender.  Nor can she explain exactly how she feels about Detective Henry Stone and his plans to move in with his new Assistant DA girlfriend...

Filled with the signature side-splitting Spellman antics, Revenge of the Spellmans is an ingenious, hilarious, and disarmingly tender installment in the Spellman series.


It's hard to review later installments of a series.  What is there to say?  Yup, still funny!  I still tear through the book!  I still can't wait for the next one!

All true.  But I find that I do have some new thoughts concerning the third book about Izzy Spellman.  Mainly that I am impressed that a story about a girl putting her life together (albeit slowly) and growing up is massively entertaining.  There is the beginning of understanding and trust amongst the Spellman family members.  I especially loved exploring the relationship between Izzy and David.  More of that, please!

Rae has gotten less interesting.  But it's totally okay, because Izzy the narrator says the same thing.  What was adorable and hilarious in a 12-year-old is just obnoxious in a 16-year-old.  She had her moments, but my Favorite Sibling Award is now firmly in the hands of David.

And Henry.  Oh, Henry.  I love Izzy's perspective on romance--mainly that she can't handle it.  She spends most of the book trying to convince herself that she doesn't like him.  And no matter how that turns out, I adore an adult couple that attempts to prank a 16-year-old and fails.  That's good storytelling.

But mostly, it's still funny!  I still tear through the book!  I still can't wait for the next one!

Four out of five secret basement apartments.

Release Date: March 2009
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst

Book Jacket

Lulu always gets what she wants.  Even if it takes screeching till the lightbulbs burst, throwing herself on the floor, kicking her heels, and waving her arms in the air.  Until now.  For when she asks her parents to give her a brontosaurus for her birthday, they say--for maybe the first time ever--"No!"

So Lulu takes matters into her own hands and finds herself the perfect brontosaurus for a pet.  Or is he?  I'm not telling.

Beloved children's author Judith Viorst and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Lane Smith bring to life a raucous heroine and an elegant brontosaurus in an irresistibly fresh and funny story with an ending that will surprise you again...and again...and again.


Who knew that the best way to get an obnoxious kid to stop screaming is to have a brontosaurus claim her as his pet?  If only there were more brontosauruses around.

I knew I would like Viorst's story in her introduction, in which she explains that she knows brontosauruses are now called apatosauruses, but she doesn't care.  I agree.  It will always be a brontosaurus to me.  Just like Pluto will always be a planet.

The writing is very clever and funny.  I loved how Lulu stomps out of her house, and her parents immediately relax and eat cookies, enjoying the silence.  Lulu is a little terror, and while her change of heart seemed abrupt, does becoming a pet make you polite? was still a fun story to read.

Four out of five third endings.

Release Date:  September 2010
Reading Level: Grade 1+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey

Book Jacket

Ruth was so excited to take a trip in her family's new car!

In the early 1950s, few African Americans could afford to buy cars, so this would be an adventure.  But she soon found out that black travelers weren't treated very well in some towns.  Many hotels and gas stations refused service to black people.  Daddy was upset about something called Jim Crow laws...

Finally, a friendly attendant at an Esso station showed Ruth's family The Green Book.  It listed all of the places that would welcome black travelers.  With this guidebook--and the kindness of strangers--Ruth could finally make a safe journey from Chicago to her grandma's house in rural Alabama.

Ruth's story is fiction, but The Green Book and its role in helping a generation of African American travelers avoid some of the indignities of Jim Crow are historical fact. 


This is a great introduction to segregation and discrimination for kids.  The grossness of the time is evident, but it is also balanced by kindness and a family of people willing to help each other out.  This is a great topic to introduce to kids, discussing a recent past in which people were treated like animals for no other reason than the color of their skin.  I especially liked practical Ruth asking, "Why don't they want our business?  Wasn't our money just the same?"  Ridiculous.

The message of the story is both eduational and uplifting, but what really deserves mention are the pictures.  The setting comes alive, the characters are vivid, expressive, and realistic.  My absolute favorite picture was of Ruth and her parents singing loudly in their car, mouths happily stretched wide.

Stories about discrimination in the 1950s make me mad, and I generally hate them.  I just can't stand what we humans do to each other out of ignorance and hatred.  However, Ruth and the Green Book is a nice change of pace.  The badness is all there, but the story is ultimately one of love and kindness.

Five out of five brown bears.

Release Date:  August 2010
Reading Level: Grade 1+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Uglies: Shay's Story by Scott Westerfeld

Book Jacket

Uglies told Tally Youngblood's version of life in Uglyville and the budding rebellion against the Specials.  Now comes an exciting graphic novel revealing new adventures in the Uglies world--as seen through the eyes of Shay.  Tally's rebellious best friend who's not afraid to break the rules, no matter the cost.

A few months shy of her sixteenth birthday, Shay eagerly awaits her turn to become a Pretty--a rite-of-passage operation called "the Surge" that transforms ordinary Uglies into paragons of beauty.  Yet after befriending the Crims, a group of fellow teens who refuse to take anything in society at face value, Shay starts to question the whole concept.  And as the Crims explore beyond the monitored borders of Uglyville into the forbidden, ungoverned wild, Shay must choose between the perks of being Pretty and the rewards of being real.


I loved getting to see Shay's perspective!  She's such an interesting character, someone who figures out the pitfalls of her society before Tally, who falls in love with Tally's boyfriends before Tally does, but who has to stand by and watch as Tally gets all the credit (and all the boys) that Shay first discovered.  That would be....excrutiating. 

It was also great to see Uglyville and New Pretty Town in graphic novel format.  All dystopias should have pictures!  Okay, maybe not all of them, but it helped getting a sense of what was different in Shay's world compared to ours.  My one quibble is with the uglies themselves...they were not ugly.  In the slightest.  They had comic-exaggeratedly perfect bodies and lovely faces.  I know that the whole deal is that even "uglies" aren't necessarily ugly, but I would have liked to see Shay's skinniness rather than curves, or maybe seen a plump kid or two.  Nope, they're all adorable.

Each chapter begins with a helicopter view of the city, with a pinpoint on wherever the Specials are looking.  It gave a nicely ominous feel to the story, since we now know that the Specials allow uglies to explore, that they watch them and use them.  It made Shay's story stand out as a new thing--while she treads a lot of the same ground that Tally did, we the readers know what will happen, so we get that information right away.  Kinda nice.

Four out of five hoverboards.

Release Date:  March 2012
Reading Level: Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC WES

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

Book Jacket

To everyone at Meridian High School, Michael Vey is just your average, ordinary fourteen-year-old.  But Michael is anything but ordinary--in fact, he is electric.

When Michael's best friends, Ostin Liss and cheerleader Taylor Ridley, make an accidental discovery, the three of them learn that there are other kids with similar powers--and that someone, or something, is hunting them.

After Michael's mother is kidnapped, Michael will have to rely on his wits, his unique power, and his friends to combat the hunters, free his mother, and save the others.


I liked this book.  It was a fun, quick read with lots of dialogue and interesting plot points.  Evans has real skill for running gags that shift just before becoming old (like students calling Ostin 'Dallas' or 'Tex' because they can't remember his real name).  And the way in which the seventeen superkids both get their power and exhibit their power was nicely plausible.  I kind of didn't realize there were so many different ways electricity could affect a person.

Can you since that there is a "but"?  There is.  I just didn't think the story was very polished.  It's almost too quick...the bad guys jump from bad to good to bad before you can really doubt their motives.  The good guys band together so instantaneously that you have to wonder why they didn't get their act together sooner. 

It was also a bit worrisome to me that the kids jumped into a kind of scary revenge mode.  Some gleefully sprayed mace in unarmed guards faces, and others punished the bad guys with their worst nightmares.  That's probably realistic, but....I don't like my heroes to lower themselves to villain's standards!  Or if they do, I want it to be addressed and considered.  But no, the revenge stuff was painted as giddy and good.  It just made me cringe.

There's supposed to be a sequel, and while I enjoyed reading Michael Vey's story, I doubt I'll find out what happens next.

Three out of five surges.

Release Date:  August 2011
Reading Level: Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL EVA

Monday, April 9, 2012

If You're Reading This, It's Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch

Book Jacket

Beware: Dangerous secrets lie between the pages of this book.

Ok, I warned you.  But if you think I'll give anything away, or tell you that this is the sequel to my first literary endeavor, The Name of This Book Is Secret, you're wrong.

I'm not going to remind you of our heroes, Cass and Max-Ernest, or the ongoing fight against Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais.  I certainly won't be telling you about the nefarious Lord Pharaoh, or how the kids stumble upon the Museum of Magic, where the finally meet the amazing Pietro!

Oh, blast!  I've done it again.  I really can't help myself, now can I?  Let's face it--if you're reading this, it's too late.


I think this series might be a bit like candy--the first few bites are delicious, but after awhile, the sweetness doesn't sit right..

I still enjoyed Bosch's kooky world of secrets and hesitant narrators.  But the spark wasn't there like it was in the first book.  Partly, I didn't like the plot as much.  There was less of the ominous Midnight Sun, and more homunculous.  That whole story seemed a bit far-fetched.  I guess this whole second book felt a bit more outside-the-realms of possibility than before.  And I know it's meant to be fantastical, but in my head, there's a difference between becoming impossibly old and creating a creature in a bottle.

However.  I loved seeing more of Owen and Pietro.  I hope to see more of Lily.  And I loved the third member of Cass and Max-Ernest's logica survivalist team--Yo-Yogi.  The story was fun and it was a quick read, but I never got as excited as I did while reading The Name of This Book Is Secret.  I'll probably give the third book a try, though.  In all fairness, I read this write after rereading the Hunger Games series.  It never had a fair chance.

Three out of five Cabbage Faces.

Release Date: October 2008
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: J BOS

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Bride's Story by Kaoru Mori

Book Jacket

Acclaimed creator Kaoru Mori (Emma, Shirley) brings the nineteenth-century Silk Road to lavish life, chronicling the story of Amir Halgal, a young woman from a nomadic tribe betrothed to a twelve-year-old boy eight years her junior.  Coping with cultural differences, blossoming feelings for her new husband, and expectations from both her adoptive and birth families, Amir strives to find her role as she settles into a new life and a new home in a society quick to define that role for her.

Crafted in painstaking detail, Ms. Mori's pen breathes life into the scenery and architecture of the period in this heartwarming slice of life tale that is at once both wholly exotic, yet familiar and accessible through the everyday lives of the rich characters she has created.


This is technically set in nineteenth-century Turkey, but it might as well be modern Mongolia.  That's why I read it, really.  Reading a manga with yurts and lavish clothes and fermented mare's milk!  I am reliving my trip last summer!

Anyway, it was very interesting in it's own right.  The most obviously unusual part of the story is 20-year-old Amir's marriage to 12-year-old Karluk.  And...they both seem pretty okay with it?  I'm not against women marrying younger men, but the way their affection for each other alternated between romantic and mother/son felt a little squicky to me.  But most of the time, they were actually super cute.

My favorite part was the day-to-day life of Karluk's large family, all living together.  Little Rostum is maybe the cutest boy I've ever seen drawn, and his story of watching a wood carver felt very true and very funny.

I feel obligated to say that there was a page of nudity--non-sexual, but still--which was unfortunate, because it wasn't necessary.  Otherwise, I would happily add this book to my library's collection.  As it is, I think I'll just keep reading them on my own.

Four out of five lost lambs.

Release Date:  May 2011
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Book Jacket

They're baaaaack.

Their first caper, The Spellman Files, was a New York Times bestseller and earned comparisons to the books of Carl Hiaasen and Janet Evanovich.  Now the Spellmans, a highly functioning yet supremely dysfunctional family of private investigators, return in a sidesplittingly funny story of suspicion, surveillance, and surprise.

When Izzy Spellman, PI, is arrested for the fourth time in three months, she writes it off as a job hazard.  She's been (obsessively) keeping surveillance on a suspicious next door neighbor (suspect's name: John Brown), convinced he's up to no good--even if her parents (the management at Spellman Investigations) are not.

When the (displeased) management refuses to bail Izzy out, it is Morty, Izzy's octogenarian lawyer, who comes to her rescue.  But before he can build a defense, he has to know the facts.  Over weak coffee and diner sandwiches, Izzy unveils the whole truth and nothing but the truth--as only she, a thirty-year-old licensed professional, can.

When not compiling Suspicious Behavior Reports on all her family members, staking out her neighbor, or trying to keep her sister, Rae, from stalking her "best friend," Inspector Henry Stone, Izzy has been attempting to apprehend the copycat vandal whose attacks on Mrs. Chandler's holiday lawn tableaux perfectly and eerily match a series of crimes from 1991-92, when Izzy and her best friend, Petra, happened to be at their most rebellious and delinquent.  As Curse of the Spellmans unfolds, it's clear that Morty may be on retainer, but Izzy is still very much on the, cases--her own and that of every other Spellman family member.

(Re)meet the Spellmans, a family in which eavesdropping is a mandatory skill, locks are meant to be picked, past missteps are never forgotten, and blackmail is the preferred form of negotiation--all in the name of unconditional love.


I rarely delve into adult fiction, so whenever I find one I like, I view it as some fantastical gem.  Such is Lutz's Spellman series.  Although now that I think of it, even though the heroine is thirty, there is much in these books that is remniscent of YA books--a focus on family, through all their ups and downs, and there's even a teenage protagonist.  Rae Spellman, newly best friends with Inspector Stone, is one of my favorite parts of this series.

As is Inspector Stone!  His dedication to law and order (in every facet of life) makes for a very entertaining mirror of the Spellman's chaos.  And of course I was helpless to fall in love with him once it was made known that he was addicted to Doctor Who.  A man after my own heart.

Izzy remains incredibly smart and surprisingly dumb.  The best part of her idiotic moments are that they are usually because she is so smart.  As for the rest of the family, it was nice to see perfect-brother David acting like a schlub, and the horrible vacations of Mr. and Mrs. Spellman made for entertaining side stories. 

Mostly I love this book because of the surreal truth to it all.  Izzy hates it when her parents tail her or don't trust her answers.  But when they start acting suspicious?  She tails them and won't listen to a word they say.  If only my own neuroses were as entertaining as the Spellmans'.

Five out of five ladder escapes.

Release Date:  March 2008
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Black Radishes by Susan Lynn Meyer

Book Jacket

Gustave doesn't want to move from the exciting city to the boring countryside, far from his cousin Jean-Paul and his best friend, the mischievous Marcel.  But he has no choice.  It is March of 1940, and Paris is not a safe place for Jews.

When Paris is captured by the Nazis, Gustave knows that Marcel, Jean-Paul, and their families must make it out of the occupied zone.  And when he learns that his new friend Nicole works for the French Resistance, he comes up with a plan that just might work. 

But going into Occupied France is a risky thing to do when you are Jewish.  And coming back alive?  That is nearly impossible.


This book was excellent!  It is another facet of World War II, one that I knew little about before reading Gustave's story (which is largely based on the true events of the author's father's experience growing up). 

I tend to avoid Holocaust stories, one because they are so incredibly sad, and two, because sometimes the horror is sensationalized.  I much preferred Black Radishes.  The slow discrimination, both by Nazis and by some Frenchmen, felt just as horrible and more applicable to modern times.  Gustave and his parents are stripped of everything--their home, their jobs, their freedom.  Yet they are the lucky ones, because Gustave's father was born in Switzerland and knows German.  Meyer skillfully hints that if life was so bad for them, the rest of the Jews in occupied France, and espeically the rest of the Nazi empire, had it far worse.

This is a coming-of-age story, an adventure story, a spy story, and a heartfelt story.

Five out of five stuffed monkeys.

Release Date: November 2010
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Book Jacket

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss's family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plains - except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay - no matter what the personal cost.


How have I not already reviewed this!?  While writing my Hunger Games week post, I meant to link to each of my reviews to the trilogy. Mockingjay!  Thankfully I just finished rereading the series after watching movie, so thoughts are fresh!

And those thoughts are:  I HATE this book.  And I LOVE it because I hate it.  Here's what I mean: this book is painful to read.  Every character that I have doubted, loved, worried for--they all suffer, whether from mental collapses, torture, death, or manipulation.  Collins puts her characters through the most horrible things, and while I hate seeing them in pain.....I love that there are consequences.

Collins has masterfully written a series about war.  Not a glamorized war full of pure-hearted heroes and straight up evil villains.  Real people populate these books, with cloudy motivations, inherited worldviews, and real doubts as to what is right or wrong.  My heart is pretty much a twisted rag after reading about Katniss's inner turmoil.  She was unwillingly made into an icon of the rebellion.  She knows the Capitol is abusive and should be overthrown, but every move she makes toward freeing the Districts only results in more dead bodies. 

I just found this quote from Collins that pretty much sums upthe necessity of the horror and the complexity in her series, and especially this last installment:  "One of the reasons it's important for me to write about war is I really think that the concept of war, the specifics of war, the nature of war, the ethical ambiguities of war are introduced too late to children. I think they can hear them, understand them, know about them, at a much younger age without being scared to death by the stories. It's not comfortable for us to talk about, so we generally don't talk about these issues with our kids. But I feel that if the whole concept of war were introduced to kids at an earlier age, we would have better dialogues going on about it, and we would have a fuller understanding."

Despite all this darkness, there are some truly funny moments.  In fact, they are probably extra funny because of the sadness all around.  I laughed out loud at Finnick tossing off his hospital gown with a flourish, and later a guard commenting, "We can't be too impressed...we just saw Finnick in his underwear."  Then I laughed again when I described the scene to a friend.

With all the ways Katniss' life spirals into deeper levels of depression, it's amazing that Collins manages to give a happy ending at all.  But it's an ending I adore:  two broken people helping each other cope, survive, and grow together. 

Five out of five dandelions.

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

Monday, April 2, 2012

It's Been a Hunger Games Week

There has been little on my mind this past week besides Katniss, Peeta, President Snow, and the horrors of Panem.  Why?  Because The Hunger Games has taken over the world!

Like a huge portion of the USA, I went to see the new Hunger Games movie opening weekend.  I loved it!  It's right up there with Lord of the Rings as best book-to-movie adaptation (way above Harry Potter and especially Percy Jackson).  I could rave about it for hundreds of paragraphs, but I think its success is best summed up this way:

Usually, when I see a movie based on a book, the first thing I want to do when leaving the theater is reread that book, both to relive the awesomeness and to cleanse my mental palate of the errors made by the movie.  When I left Hunger Games?  I immediately wanted to reread Catching Fire and Mockingjay.  The movie had done such a good job at telling Katniss' story that I didn't need to read about it again--I wanted to continue with her ever-increasing horror story.

Books and movies aren't all, though.  I've been planning a Hunger Games party for the library, and last Friday, it happened!  41 middle schoolers/tributes showed up to live their own (less violent) Hunger Games.

I had some lovely librarian assistants (that's me dressed up as Effie, which worked well since I mostly ran around making sure things were staying on schedule).

This was not the end of the party!  Click the link to find out what happened next!