Saturday, June 17, 2017

Shutter Review


Book talk: Fighting vampires is in Micheline's blood. It's been the family business ever since Van Helsing fought Dracula, and her bloodline gives her a distinct advantage: the ability to see the aura of the undead. For her, exorcising ghosts and shooting vampires is just another day in the office. Micheline and her crew respond to emergency calls armed to the teeth with weapons both mundane and specialized, including a modified camera that can capture the spiritual energy of ghosts. But for Micheline a bad day at the office doesn't mean a paper jam. It results in her and her crew getting infected with a soulchain that will kill them in a week or less, unless they can exorcise the ghost that cursed them. With new purpose and higher stakes than ever before, Micheline does what her family has been doing for centuries: she hunts.

Rave: This is a fantastic horror story. It pays homage to Dracula while creating its own world. The explanations of the science behind the supernatural elements is satisfyingly detailed instead of the typical hand-waving and explanation of "because magic".  The horror elements are truly terrifying and the plot fast-paced, except for a few passages of backstory. I particularly enjoyed that it's set in the SF Bay Area.

Rant: The narrative got a bit overly dramatic at times and there were some cliched elements, but that's to be expected in a horror story.

Every book its reader: The book is pretty intense, but it should be perfect for horror fans and I don't know why someone who doesn't like horror would read it anyway. 8th grade and up.

Topics and Trends: SF Bay Area, Horror, Vampires, Ghosts, Supernatural,

The wonderful Naiomi Bates has made a trailer for the book:

I found this great image with a quote:

Bonus Quotes:
“Bloodlines and last names didn't make a man extraordinary — the extraordinary existed in what we did in life, not in who we were.”

Source: public library

Shutter by Courtney Alameda

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind Review

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition

Book talk: What would you do if your family didn't have enough to eat? If they didn't have access to running water or electricity? What if you had no money to fix any of it? If you're anything like William, then you'd head to the library! In this true story, William describes how he combined knowledge gained from studying library books with scrap metal and junk to make a windmill that changed his life forever.

Rave: This book is absolutely fascinating. Of course as a librarian I'm a sucker for any story about the transformative powers of libraries. William is remarkable and hearing his story in his own words was incredibly moving. Added morals about STEM, recycling, and life in Africa make this an ideal fit for classroom reading. It's an engaging read for students on their own too.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students 4th grade and up looking for an inspiring and gripping true story.

Topics & Trends: STEM, #weneeddiversebooks, Africa, Malawi, libraries, recycling, memoirs, drought, famine


I made this image from the cover of the book and a great quote in it:

Bonus Quote:

"No matter how foreign and lonely the world was outside, the books always reminded me of home, sitting under the mango tree.”

Source: school library

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers Edition) by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer: buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Book talk: Simon has a major crush, the only problem is he doesn't know who he's crushing on. After a pseudonymous post about not being openly gay in his high school, he met Blue. Blue and Simon have been messaging ever since, and Simon can't get enough of him. When another student discovers their e-mail conversations, everything is put in jeopardy. Simon is blackmailed with the threat of having not only his secrets revealed, but Blue's as well. How will he keep their secrets safe while staying true to himself? How far will the blackmail go? And most importantly, who is Blue?

Rave: I was a goner the moment I read the exchange ending in "I think you're cute and grammatical, too." I didn't know I could be so invested in a fictional relationship with a mystery crush. All the characters are fleshed out from the kid blackmailing Simon to his embarrassing but loving parents. The play brought me back to my own high school theatre days and the ending was simply perfect.

Every book its reader: I can't recommend this book enough. I've given it as a present and shoved my library's copies into plenty of hands. Great for those looking for a high school romance 8th grade and up.

Topics and Trends: LGBTQ, romance, school stories, high school theatre, secret admirers


I'm not surprised this book has inspired a lot of people to make fan art & tributes, including this trailer:

The publishers made these two quote images to promote the book:

Bonus Quotes:

“He talked about the ocean between people. And how the whole point of everything is to find a shore worth swimming to.”

“Really, though, there are only two kinds of weather: hoodie weather and weather where you wear a hoodie anyway.”

Source: public library

Simon vs. the Homo Spaiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Brief Reviews Fall 2015 Part 1

Heap House (Iremonger, #1) On the one hand, I liked just how weird and unlike anything else this book is. On the other hand, this book is really weird! The story it most reminds me of is Gormenghast with the Gothic atmosphere and the family dynasty clinging to odd traditions despite their world crumbling around them. But add to that talking objects that form a bond with a person, a healthy dose of cousin marriage, and a world seemingly based on the junk lady from Labyrinth. In the end it just didn't work for me. The internal logic of the world fell apart and while the world-building was detailed, the characters never went beyond archetypes. The characters were what drew me into the world of Gormenghast and these characters were not as engaging. It was refreshing just to read something different, and I can understand its appeal but it's not my cup of tea. Heap House by Edward Carey: buy it or check it out today!

A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of PoetryWhat I liked about this poetry collection was that the poets represented a variety of countries and Milosz's commentary on why he selected them. Getting into the mind of a man who is a great poet in himself to see what he likes when he reads poetry was an interesting experience, even if I didn't always like the same poems he did. A Book of Luminous Things edited by Czeslaw Milosz: buy it or check it out today!

Belzhar I naturally liked the premise of this novel: an English class that changes the lives of a group of troubled teens. I absolutely hated the conclusion and the lesson it imparts though. This is a completely irresponsible depiction of recovery from mental illness. Coping with mental illness is a long road that requires a lot of work and often many tries to get the right combination of therapy, medication, and life changes. Throwing a bunch of teenagers with serious mental health issues together then having them all end up in relationships with each other is not a happy ending--it is a recipe for disaster. There are no magical quick fixes when it comes to mental health and starting a new relationship before coping with your own issues is not usually a good idea--especially when the person you're in a relationship has unresolved issues of their own. It's not really about the power of literature in the end either, just the power of magical notebooks. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer: buy it or check it out today!

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle (Gabriel Finley #1)I really enjoyed the puzzle/adventure aspect of this novel. The ravens and their riddles were clever and fun to read about. The mythology of the book is appealing, especially Gabriel's discovery that is family has a special bond with ravens. The characters are a mess though. They're all paper-thin stereotypes. The most troubling aspect is that at the end a character with an abusive father decides to return to him to try and fix things and the adults in the book seem to think this is a good idea. What? They need to be calling child protective services and figuring out the best way to help this family. Not sending a kid back to a verbally and physically abusive father and just hoping it will all work out. I would not recommend this. There are plenty of good fantasy novels for children out there that don't imply that children can fix their abusive parents on their own. Gabriel Finley & the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen

Undertow (Undertow #1)A lot of my students love mermaids. A lot of my students love dystopias. I'm not sure how much those circles intersect though. This is the mash-up nobody asked for. I loved the main character and I would have enjoyed reading a book about her and her life without the evil mermaids, but the evil mermaids refused to go away. I still liked the book well enough until it got to the deus-ex-machina ending, at which point I was over it. I love this author, and I wanted to like this book, but it didn't work for me. Perhaps there's someone looking for a gritty mermaid story who will be delighted to find this book. I'm not that person though. Undertow by Michael Buckley: buy it or check it out today!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Dumplin' Review

Dumplin' (Dumplin', #1)

Book talk: “I hate seeing fat girls on TV or in movies, because the only way the world seems to be okay with putting a fat person on camera is if they’re miserable with themselves or if they’re the jolly best friend. Well, I’m neither of those things.” Willowdean goes by Will to her friends and Dumplin' to her ex-beauty queen mother. She is unafraid to wear her swimsuit and if people stare, then that's their issue, not hers. But when she enters a beauty pageant with some other unlikely contenders, her mother is horrified. First kisses, broken friendships, Dolly Parton, drag queens, beauty pageants, and self-discovery. This is one year Dumplin' will never forget.

Rave: I cannot get enough of Will's bold and sassy voice and her defiant attitude. She is a character worth rooting for, even when she makes mistakes along the way. It was refreshing to read about body image issues that are prevalent in society but rarely discussed--especially in such a nuanced and honest way. Those aren't the only issues that receive such a frank treatment either. Evolving friendships, romantic relationships, grief, and mother-daughter relationships all get the same funny and insightful treatment. Plus there's Dolly Parton. What more could I ask for?

Every book its reader: I'd give this to teens looking for a funny, realistic book 8th grade and up.

Topics and Trends: body image, beauty pageants, drag queens, romance, friendship, mother-daughter relationships, grief, the South


Check out these great images from the publisher:

You can find more quotes in this video:

Bonus Quotes:

“There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.”

“All my life I’ve had a body worth commenting on and if living in my skin has taught me anything it’s that if it’s not your body, it’s not yours to comment on.”

Source: public library

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Half a World Away Review

Half a World Away

Book talk: Jaden's parents wanted a baby, but by the time they brought him home he was already a toddler. The orphanage he was in often didn't give him enough food to eat let alone care and attention. Now he's eleven, but he can't stop hoarding food or lighting fires. He know's he's not what his parents wanted, which is why they're going to Kazakhstan to finally adopt a baby. When they get there though, the baby they'd thought they were adopting is already gone. They have to stay there and choose a new one. Meanwhile Jaden gets to know some of the toddlers there and forms a special bond with one.

Rave: This book breaks your heart then stitches it back together again. It is such a honest portrayal of the lingering effects of trauma and some of the possible complications of international adoption. I loved reading about all this from Jaden's perspective, and watching as he formed a bond with a toddler at the orphanage. There's a lot of harsh truths, but through it all there's good people who may make mistakes but are nevertheless trying hard to do the right thing. It's a quiet but important novel.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to kids looking for a tear-jerker 4th grade and up.

Topics and Trends: international adoption, mental health, pyromania, orphanages,


I made this image from one of my favorite quotes from the novel and a cool model of a heart I saw in a museum.

Source: public library

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

Monday, June 5, 2017

If I Ever Get Out of Here Review

If I Ever Get Out of Here

Book talk: There's a lot that Lewis loves about his life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation: the games of fire ball, his friends and family, and the ease and familiarity that comes from being with your own people. Life outside of the reservation isn't always easy. He's the only kid from the reservation in his advanced class at school, and the other kids never let him forget it. He's never had a friend in his class until George moves to the nearby military base with his family. They hit it off right away and connect over their love of music. But the base and the reservation are very different worlds. Lewis doesn't think George will understand and George can tell Lewis is keeping secrets. Maybe will a little help from his friends, Lewis will learn to let it be.

Rave: This book, set in 1975, has a lot of great musical references that fans of The Beatles and Wings will definitely appreciate. Most of the book feels like it could easily happen today though. Native Americans still face discrimination, vets still have difficulty getting the help they need, military families still move a lot, poverty is still widespread. All this means that even though the novel is set in the past, it has a lot to say about current events and issues.

The characters in this novel are well fleshed out. They are a mix of good traits and bad, they make mistakes while trying to do the right thing, and they help each other out when they're down. I grew to care for all of them and became completely absorbed in their lives even though there's not a fast-paced plot.

Every book its reader: Highly recommended for 8th grade and up looking for a realistic fiction story with strong characterization.

Topics & Trends: the Tuscarora Indians, the 70's, music, The Beatles, poverty, military families, bullying, friendship, #ownvoices, #weneeddiversebooks

This is the song that inspired the title:

Source: school library

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Phoebe and Her Unicorn Review

Phoebe and Her Unicorn (Heavenly Nostrils, #1)

Book talk: If a unicorn granted you one wish, what would you ask for? Phoebe wishes for infinity wishes, then infinity dollars, then super powers. When the unicorn refuses to grant her any of those, she aims for something more realistic: for the unicorn to become her best friend. But becoming friends with a unicorn is more  than Phoebe bargained for. The unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, is incredibly vain and clearly not used to close contact with humans. But on the other hand, she's a freakin' unicorn! Having a magical creature as your best friend can't be all bad...

Rave: This comic reminds me of Calvin and Hobbes, and I don't make that comparison lightly. The "Shield of Boringness" means that most of Phoebe's classmates can't see her unicorn. That doesn't stop them from having hilarious adventures on their own though. The sweeping imagination and spot-on humor mixed with the daily trials and tribulations of childhood make this comic a delight for all ages. I eagerly read each new volume as it arrives then pass it on to a colleague of mine who loves them too. The students make sure they rarely stay on the shelf for long.

Every book its reader: I wasn't kidding when I said all ages. The appeal and humor of this comic are universal.

Topics & Trends: humor, unicorns, comics


Source: school library

Phoebe and Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle by Dana Simpson: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Clover's Luck Review

The Magical Animal Adoption Agency, Book 1: Clover's Luck

Book talk: When Clover's friends get accepted into a horse camp and leave her behind, she knows she's fallen victim to her bad luck yet again. Then she stumbles upon a magical animal adoption agency in the woods by her house. She learns how to take care of fairy horses, unicorns left behind by spoiled princesses, and even a baby dragon. It seems her luck is turning around, until the owner of the agency disappears on a trip and leaves her to take care of the animals by herself. Will she be up to the challenge? Is there more bad luck lurking around the corner? Clover's summer is going to be either the best or worst of her life, but it certainly won't be boring!

Rave: I would have been all over this when I was a kid! Employee at a magical animal adoption agency would have immediately become my dream job, and I would have spent hours playing imaginary games where I was Clover. Even as an adult I couldn't resist the charm of this novel as Clover slowly gained confidence and learned how to take care of herself by taking care of others. Plus, fairy horses! They're tiny horses for fairies! Why has no one told me about these before?

Every book its reader: I'd give this to animal lovers and fans of fantasy looking for a sweet early chapter book. The reading level is 2nd & up but there's nothing in it that younger kids couldn't handle as a read aloud or if they're strong readers themselves.

Topics and trends: mythical animals, unicorns, dragons, pets, animal rescue


Source: school library

Magical Animal Adoption Agency: Clover's Luck by Kallie George, Illustrated by Alexandra Bolger: buy it or check it out today!