Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dust Girl Review

Dust Girl

Book talk:  Callie never knew her father.  He was a travelling musician and according to her mother he will be back any day now.  Despite all the years that have passed her mother keeps waiting and refuses to leave. Even though the town is almost deserted.  Even though they have no customers and no money left.  Even though Callie has the dust in her lungs and the doctor is worried.  While the whole dust bowl heads out West to California, Callie is stuck in Kansas waiting for a man she's never even met.  She thinks she'll die there waiting for him.  Until one day when everything changes.  The worst duster she's ever seen buries the town and she loses her mother in the storm.  Everything she thought she knew turns out to be wrong.  Fairies are real, and her father is one of them.  But they're not tiny, winged creatures and they're not all friendly.  Her mother's refusal to leave suddenly make sense: all this time she was trying to hide and protect Callie.  Now that they've found her, Callie has to run for her life in search of the mother she lost and the father she never met.

Rocks my socks:  This book takes so many usually disparate threads and weaves them together wonderfully.  It's historical fiction about life for those who stayed in the Dust Bowl.   There are fascinating details of life in that era from riding the rails to dance marathons.  It's an intriguing twist on fairy stories.  The politics of this fairy court and how it interacts with the human world will provide plenty of fodder for the later books in this series.  It's a novel about pouring your wishes into song.  Callie learns how to do that literally and work magic through singing, but actual songs from the era are omnipresent in the story.  Every chapter title is from song lyrics.  After I finished the novel I spent the rest of the day listening to a Woody Guthrie Pandora station.  It's about race relations and the practice of passing for white.  Even as they're fleeing supernatural forces, the characters have to face problems from the mortal world that stem from race.  It's about people who are navigating the rocky waters of identity.  Callie's mother is a mortal white woman and her father a black fairy.  The fact that she's biracial and half fairy comes into play as she encounters prejudice from humans and fairies and struggles to find a place where she feels like she belongs.  It's a story about the American Dream.  Callie's companion, Jack is a charming fast-talker who remains optimistic that he can reach wealth and fame despite his humble circumstances and troubled past: the kind of rags-to-riches dreamer American fiction is built on.  Finally the book is just a great adventure tale as Callie and Jack flee forces natural and supernatural including one enemy that is practically a zombie.

Rocks in my socks:  zip

Every book its reader:  Whether you're looking for historical fiction, fantasy, or adventure this book has something for you!  Fans of the Depression Era, music, fairies, and themes of race and identity will all have particular reasons to pick up this book, but anyone looking for a good story will enjoy it.  6th grade and up.


Sarah Zettel has her own website with a page for the book

Here's a video of Callie's favorite song, The Midnight Special:

And here's Do Re Mi by Woody Guthrie (there's other Dust Bowl themed Guthrie songs at this playlist):

Source: school library

Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Delilah Dirk Review

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (Delilah Dirk, #1)

Book talk: The daughter of a diplomat and an artist, Delilah grew up travelling the world.  She learned archery in France, acrobatics in Indonesia, how to survive in the jungles of India, and perfected her fighting technique in Japan.  She's a member of several royal courts, owns a flying machine, and is a skilled escape artist.  She is not someone you want to mess with.  So when she winds up in a Turkish prison, she is not concerned.  The question on her mind isn't how she will escape or even when she will escape.  It's where did the Lieutenant in charge of her interrogation learn how to make such a fine cup of tea?

Rocks my socks:  
This comic has everything that I look for in an adventure: a strong protagonist, repartee, gorgeous visuals, and tea!  Okay, so maybe I don't usually look for the last one in adventure tales, but I was pleasantly surprised by its presence.  Delilah is a wonderful, classic action hero complete with an improbable laundry list of skills, moral ambiguity, and foolhardy confidence.  I loved reading about her adventures and narrow escapes.  Selim is an excellent character as well.  He's a perfect foil to Delilah with his lack of adventuring skills, sensible fear in the face of danger, and fondness for quiet and tea.  My favorite part was the relationship between the two.  They remain travelling companions without a romantic plot and Selim realistically decides to part ways with her to return to a quiet life before realizing he's become too used to the excitement of life with Delilah.  Cliff successfully twists conventions of the genre while retaining the tone of a good, old-fashioned rollicking adventure tale.

Rocks in my socks:  It was all over so quickly!  I want more!

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to anyone looking for a good, light-hearted adventure.  I'd say it's fine for 5th grade and up.


Delilah has her own website where you can read the first two chapters of the comic for free!

Just when I thought I couldn't like the comic any more I found a short comic on Tor that Tony Cliff wrote where the part of Delilah Dirk is played by a cat!  A sassy cat!

Source: school library

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rotten Review


Book talk:  JD comes back from Juvie with only a week left before school starts.  He has a lot to do before then: make up with his girlfriend, deflect all questions about where he spent the summer, and above all else make sure that no one ever finds out what he did to get himself arrested.  He's had a lot of time to plan what he's going to do, but there was one thing he wasn't expecting.  While he was gone, his mom adopted a dog.  Not just any dog either, but a big Rottweiler with a past as shady as JD's.  His mom called the dog Jon-Jon, but JD knows the perfect name for him: Johnny Rotten.

Rocks my socks:  Watching JD and Johnny learn to trust each other and struggle to make things right after their past mistakes was heartwarming.  The book was far from saccharine though.  JD and his friends aren't exactly model citizens and the tone of the story is true to Johnny's punk rock name.  I spent most of the book eagerly flipping the pages because I wanted to find out if Johnny was going to have to be put down.  I grew fond of JD as well.  His voice sounded authentic and his struggles were all realistically drawn.  The supporting characters are well rounded and Northrop avoids facile solutions to the complex problems that arise.

Rocks in my socks: none

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to students looking for a realistic fiction book, especially dog lovers.  It's more relationship than plot driven, but it has an edge and a humor to it that gives it appeal to a crowd beyond those looking for a sweet dog story.  I'd say 7th grade and up.  


Michael Northrop has a website with a blog, bio, and more information about his books.

Here's a video all about Rottweilers for those unfamiliar with the breed (let's face it I'll take any excuse to post animal videos):

Source: school library

Rotten by Michael Northrop: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Goblin Secrets Review

Goblin Secrets (Zombay, #1)

Book talk:  In the city of Zombay clockwork creatures are powered by real hearts, goblins steal small children, and acting is strictly forbidden.  Rownie's brother has been missing ever since he was caught performing, leaving Rownie to fend for himself. That's why Rownie lives with Graba.  She may be a crazy, vengeful witch but at least working for her ensures that no one else messes with him.  Thanks to Graba, Rownie is surviving, but just barely.  He misses his brother fiercely and knows life will be better when he's found him.  So when an acting troupe puts up posters, Rownie has to see them.  Even if they are goblins, and Rownie has to steal the money from Graba to do so.  Soon Rownie has both the city guards and Graba's gang after him and if the goblins are right the whole city will flood. Unless they can find an actor fit to play a very difficult part.

Rocks my socks:  The setting is incredibly imaginative.  From the unique characters to the landscape and history of the city to the magical elements woven throughout the story.  I enjoyed reading about life in a traveling acting troupe with its puppets, masks, and other illusions.  Graba was a great villain reminiscent of Baba Yaga.  The prose was beautiful and I often found myself admiring the way Alexander phrased a sentence.

Rocks in my socks:  I never got my bearings with this book.  There were so many ideas and most of them were never fully explained.  The automatons are powered by something called coal that is made of hearts.  How this process works is still unclear to me.  It took me quite some time to realize that when they were talking about the magic of theatre they weren't being figurative and that the masks they wear really do have special powers.  For a while I thought that the stories about goblins stealing children and turning them into goblins were just fear-mongering rumors but apparently some human children really are turned into goblins although I'm still unclear on the why.  Several events that could have had a big emotional impact didn't because I barely knew the characters involved and had little context for what was happening.  I loved the ideas, characters, and setting, but I wish they had been more fully developed.

Every book its reader:  While I love immersing myself in a world and wading through rich details, many people will probably enjoy the fast-pace that frustrated me so much.  If you're looking for a fast-paced adventure set in an imaginative fantasy world, then look no farther.  Fans of the theatre will especially enjoy all the references to the trade.  I'd give it to 4th grade and up.


There's a website for the book where you can make your own mask.

William Alexander has a website cleverly separated into graphy (blog), bibliography, biography, and webography

The National Book Foundation has a page for the book with videos from the ceremony from the year Goblin Secrets won the National Book Award for young people's literature.

You can find the author reading an excerpt on YouTube:

Bonus Quotes:

“Our selves are are rough and unrehearsed tales we tell the world.”

“Backstage was chaos distilled into a very small space.”

Source: school library

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander: buy it or check it out today!