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!

39 Clues: The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis

Book Jacket

The hunt for 39 hidden Clues that lead to an unimaginable power have taken a heavy toll on fourteen-year-old Amy Cahill and her younger brother, Dan.  They've just seen a woman die.  They're wanted by the Indonesian police.  They're trapped on an island with a man who knows too much about the death of their parents.  And a tropical storm is rolling in.  Just when they think it can't get any worse, it does.  Because the Cahills have one more rattling skeleton for Amy and Dan to discover...the terrible truth about their family branch.


South Africa this time!  I don't know much about the country, so it was nice to learn some history with a big side of adventure.

Now that there has been death in the hunt for the 39 Clues, the story feels quite a bit darker.  Amy and Dan are realizing that some people they thought were bad might be good, and more alarmingly, people they thought were good might not be trust-worthy at all.  Normally I'd like a good dose of darkness, but this time I'm undecided.  So much of what is fun about this series is the romping, madcap adventures that have no real consequences.  It just feels strange to watch our pure-hearted heroes get a bit dirty.

As for the side characters: Nelly is still my favorite, and I look forward to learning more of her secrets.  I am losing patience with Ian.  I'm okay with one, maybe two, instances of "Um, parental figure, I have a feeling what you are doing is evil, but I'll go along with it..."  But eventually Ian needs to step up and claim some moral ground, because I'm getting bored with him.  On the other hand, Hamilton Holt is quite the surprise!  He's been saving the day quite a bit lately, in both physical and intellectual ways.  Interesting.  Good to know all the Tomas clan aren't brutish and stupid.

Four out of five aloe plants.

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