Melissa shares this review:
Teenager Lex Bartleby has gotten in trouble, serious trouble, more times than her parents can handle. As hard as it is for them, they send her to her Uncle Mort’s for the summer, hoping he can help her work out a better release for her destructive behavior.
Lex doesn’t understand why she’s so angry all the time, but nevertheless dreads the trip to her uncle’s. She’s prepared to hate every minute she’s away from her twin sister, Cordy.
It turns out, though, that Uncle Mort has experience with angry teens–in fact, he seeks troubled kids out for a pretty special job. Mort is a Grim Reaper, and he finds that kids with Lex’s issues make great apprentices.
Lex is surprised to find that she has a natural ability to quickly free the soul from the deceased–and for once in her life she has lots of friends who seem to understand her. As an added bonus, those wild urges to act out start to fade as soon as she starts working as a reaper.
When the Junior Grims notice a series of suspicious deaths, Lex and her partner Driggs, try to figure out what’s going on. It looks like someone has gone rogue and is killing off people whom he or she thinks deserve to die–murderers, liars, cheaters, etc.–which is something Lex has struggled with ever since her first day on the job. Why shouldn’t these bad people get punished for their deeds?
The book answers some questions, but definitely leaves enough open that you’ll have to read the sequel, Scorch. Thankfully, that book, too, is in the library collection.
The world-building and explanation of how the Grims collect and deliver souls to the Afterlife is fascinating. And the wide assortment of characters in the town make for interesting reading. The author writes with a nice mix of humor and action. I couldn’t help but turn the page to see what would happen next.
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In Alex Latimer’s Lion vs. Rabbit the jungle animals were tired of Lion bullying them! They tried hiring someone to handle Lion but Bear couldn’t and Moose couldn’t and Tiger couldn’t. Soon enough Bear, Moose and Tiger were on their way home having been defeated by Lion. Who could take on the bully king of the jungle? Rabbit arrives and soon Lion is wondering how this small creature can win at every contest. Rabbit uses his brain and a few surprises to show Lion that it’s no fun being a bully. I’ve read this book in many story times and it’s always a winner.
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An evil and cruel plot involving small children. Alien animals such as the spider-like rat-snake or camel-like drom. Levitating cars. A secret underground rebellion. All these combine to make an intriguing science fiction world. Add in mystery, adventure, romance and action and Tankborn has it all.
Kayla 6982 is a GEN or Genetically Engineered Non-human who was created in a tank. She is the lowest level of the tightly controlled, rigidly stratified society on the planet Loka settled by survivors of a ravaged Earth. She grew up with an unrelated “nurture mother” and has no control over where she lives, her education, job, or life. She can be electrically reset (similar to being lobotomized) for the smallest infraction.
Despite her lowly status Kayla is happy living in the Chadi tenements with Tala, her kind but stern nurture mother and her mischievous nurture brother, Jal. But she knows her time there is short, because at the age of fifteen she will receive her Assignment which will determine her future work. Her best friend, Mishalla, has already been Assigned and they may never see each other again as GENs are not allowed to contact each other after they are Assigned. Kayla’s sket (skill set or genetically modified ability) is great arm strength, so she expects to be Assigned to manual labor.
To her surprise, Kayla is Assigned to assist an elderly high-status man, Zul. Before long, she learns that things are not what they seem. Kayla is strongly attracted to Zul’s great-grandson, handsome Devak, although she knows that romance between them is forbidden. The highborn family hide many secrets and Kayla must rethink her world and unlock the secrets because she, Mishalla, Devak, Zul and dozens of innocent children are in grave danger.
Try Tankborn if you like well-imagined dystopias featuring young protagonists like The Hunger Games or Divergent.
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Have you ever wondered why, despite putting one in your mouth every day, you don’t taste your spoon? I had never considered cutlery’s marvelous properties that mean it is simultaneously malleable in production, slow to corrode and unreactive in our acidic mouths. In fact, I had never considered the properties of the millions of unregarded everyday objects that we live in, drive on, sit on, eat and use every moment of our lives. That is where scientist Mark Miodownik comes in with this wonderful book about material science. It sounds like a dry topic and I would never have guessed that such a book could be fun, but it entertains enormously as it informs. Remember that “everything is made from something” but even Mark Miodownik couldn’t cover everything, so he has limited himself to ten substances and written a chapter named after an intrinsic quality of each, so “Trusted” for paper and “Fundamental” for concrete.
My favorite chapter has to be the one about chocolate, which is of course “The most deliciously engineered material on earth.” Beware, though: you won’t be able to read about the “wild and complex, sweet and bitter cocktail of flavors” without getting an urge for a Little Something. ( I will admit that I had to partake and “Flood [my] senses with warm, fragrant, bittersweet flavors, and ignite the pleasure centers of [my] brain.”). If chocolate is not your thing you can read Stuff Matters for the explanation of why the sky is blue on page 98 and how this relates to the “Marvelous” substance aerogel, which “is like holding a piece of the sky”.
Stuff Matters is a great book that I recommend for everyone. It is accessible enough for middle school and high school science classes, with lots for the students to learn: “The definition of the temperature of a material is, in fact, the degree to which the atoms in it are jiggling around.” It is very readable for everyone while also being accurate, up-to-date science written by a scientist. Try it if you liked the fascinating nonfiction of The Riddle of the Labyrinth: the Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox, or the intersection of science, history and society in The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, by Deborah Blum. You should also read it if you have ever been in a concrete building or wrapped a gift in paper that is strong, colorful and creasable.
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Above the East China Sea is a profound statement about the sorrow of war. It is both an eerie ghost story and a story about the love in families, especially between two sets of sisters, alive seventy years apart and both torn from their closest sibling by war.
Modern day Luz is a military child, stationed on Okinawa and emotionally pummeled to the point of suicide by the recent death of her sister, Codie, in Afghanistan. Her family now consists only of her and her mother, who has left on a TDY (temporary duty). Luz is alone in a new place and has no family or friends around, a very plausible illustration of how isolated military families can be.
Parallel to Luz’s story is the wrenching tale of Okinawan Tamiko, who was a teenager at the time of the World War II battle of Okinawa. In the litany of horrors of World War II, the Battle of Okinawa isn’t well known, but it killed more people than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs combined and caused unimaginable destruction and deprivation for the Okinawan people and the permanent destruction of their traditional Okinawan way of life.
As the book starts Tamiko seems to be a hostile, even evil, ghost bent on Luz’s destruction for her own ends, but as Luz learns more about her past and forges a connection with local Jake, the reader receives hints about the mysterious connection between Tamiko and Luz. Okinawa is portrayed in its lush tropical beauty with its proud past, uneasy relationship with Japan and current heavy U.S. military presence.
Like Sarah Bird’s other book about U.S. military family life, The Yokota Officers Club, many details of military life ring true. For example: clothes from the BX are lame (a claim my children have made all their lives), “we’re not racists, but we are rankists,” and military kids have the “CGI ability to constantly splinter and then reconstitute on a spot halfway around the world” and even the claim that “military kids enlisted at birth.” Like The Yokota Officers Club, Above the East China Sea emphasizes the importance of siblings for children who move every few years and can’t form lasting friendships — “the question that military kids hate the most…Where are you from? Where is your hometown?” Luz says, “Codie was my hometown.” She was “my sister who always took care of me” and “the only person on earth who really knew me, who would really, truly care if I vanished.”
Try Above the East China Sea if you like compelling historical novels about young women’s lives in a time of war like Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. I also recommend it for people interested in the lives of contemporary military families, who may also be interested in a recent Association of Library Services to Children blog post about serving military families in the public library.
Check the WRL catalog for Above the East China Sea.
Who’s the scariest thing in the jungle? Is it the mighty tiger or the great crocodile? David G. Derrick Jr. has written and illustrated this great book where tiger and crocodile boast about who is the scariest. On and on they challenge each other, until they discover they are far from home and something is looking for them. Something big, something scary!
Of course, it turns out alright but the little scare at the end is just right for story time.
Check the WRL catalog for I’m the Scariest Thing in the Jungle.
Lizzie shares this review:
“Humankind is down to just a few thousand people who live in a city surrounded by three concentric walls. The walls protect them from their enemies, the ravenous giants known as the Titans. The Titans appear to have only one purpose: to consume humanity.”
Attack on Titan is a bloody manga with an abundance of death. This manga is full of adventure, emotion, and lots of gore. It all starts when a certain titan kicks a hole in the outer wall.
The main character, Eren Yeager, is a relatable punk with a serious attitude. After enduring the worst moment of his life, Eren proclaims that he will kill every titan in existence. His drive is one quality everyone talks about throughout the book. Another great thing about this book is that the side characters are shown and explained. Unlike other books, they continue to use side characters instead of dropping them halfway through the book.
The theme of this manga is survival. Since titans have almost wiped out mankind, people have to learn how to protect themselves and what it means to truly live. Though survival is important, people still ruin relationships with others who could very well save their life. In this manga, everyone has their own bad quality.
The plot of humanity being close to extinction is a very overused topic, but this manga is a little different. Instead of starvation or alien-like creatures coming to kill humanity for some reason, they have human-like creatures attacking them.
Altogether, this first volume really stuck out to me. It has its fantastic main and side characters, each with their own unique qualities, along with a thriving plot that keeps the reader wanting more. I rate it 5 stars.
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Something happened in Levy, South Carolina when Magnolia was seven years old. She is now in her eighties living in a nursing home, possibly with Alzheimer’s. In her own words she is “trapped somewhere deep behind my eyes, waving… calling… but no one can hear me.” Her husband George is dying, but with his trademark dry humor, he knows that they have enjoyed a good life and he still adores his beautiful wife “even though [we're] on the first floor where dementia lives, even though we are older than dirt, she is lovely and sweet and she is my bride.” But they are both learning that the past is never lost when people who lived through it are still alive.
When a life-size photograph of Magnolia and Joe, a stranger from their past, arrive at the home on the same day, we start to learn of a tangled web of lives, in the present and in the distant past. Each character, from Annie, their kind, but disappointed caretaker, to Ash, Magnolia’s long lost brother, tells his or her own story, some in the first person, some in the third person. Most of the characters have long buried secrets to hide and may not even admit the truth to themselves, so beware: everyone may not be a reliable narrator.
The Inheritance of Beauty can be read on several different levels. First it is a straightforward novel, with a leisurely revelation of the 70-year-old mystery, while it describes the sadness of families split by terrible circumstances who never get back together because no one wants to be the first to make contact. The characters are well-drawn, memorable and mostly thoroughly likable. It can be enjoyed as a touching love story of Magnolia and George’s relationship that lasted from childhood into old age. It also has touches of magic realism that are harder to spot: when my book club discussed it, only one of us noticed that a journey to a pond and a wetting symbolized a character’s baptism and rebirth.
The Inheritance of Beauty will appeal to lovers of Southern fiction, particularly for caretaker Annie’s lovely speech patterns. It is a good book for readers of Still Alice by Lisa Genova, which also deals with Alzheimer’s Disease, but on more practical everyday level.
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Never fall in love with someone who has chosen to die.
Palmares Três is a futuristic Brazilian pyramid city, a vivid backdrop for this young adult novel. After global catastrophe in the distant past, humanity has rebuilt pockets of civilization, but with a lingering mistrust of new technology and a twisted political system born out of the times of chaos. Genetic modification has extended lifespans, creating a culture and a political system that doesn’t begin to take you seriously as a mature adult until you’re in your thirties.
And every few years the youth elect, in a spectacle reminiscent of early seasons of American Idol, a Summer King who holds the title for one year before the reigning queen slits his throat in televised public sacrifice. Yes, if you can imagine Ryan Seacrest hosting an Aztec ceremony—and really, it’s not so hard—you’ve got a good handle on politics, Palmares Três style.
The king’s death reinforces his choice of the next queen, but he doesn’t really have a choice. It’s all bloody political theater that plays to the young crowd and reinforces the ruling matriarchs. Until Enki, who is gorgeous and talented, a candidate from the lowest class of Palmares Três society. His wild popularity is probably the first sign that the city’s government might be massively out of touch with its citizens.
June Costas, the narrator, is a young, ambitious artist who is just graduating from street graffiti to installation art that challenges the city rulers. (One of her projects is the body-mod shown on the gorgeous book cover: patterned lights embedded under her skin.) She starts out just another young woman screaming with the crowd, but her art catapults her into the public eye, a complicated relationship with the Summer King, and a whole world of things she did not want to know about how her city is governed and about what it’s like to love someone who plans to die. Even June can’t figure out whether Enki is in this game for a few months of privilege, access to limited-edition body-modifying tech, and fans lining up to be his lovers; whether he truly has a death wish; or whether he’s figured out some new way to serve the city they both love.
This is a serious-minded take on art and politics, acts of rebellion, and using your own life (and) death as a canvas. Johnson writes vivid, sensual prose steeped in Brazilian phrases, dance, and song. Palmares Três culture, at its best and worst, comes to life in lots of little details. The worldbuilding reminded me of Nnedi Okorafor’s alternate Nigeria in The Shadow Speaker, but this book is aimed at older teens and young adults. Although most of the words eventually make sense from context, I admit, I could have used a glossary. But what this book could really use is a playlist—after reading about the ways Palmares Três kids blend music and art and political protest and dance, you’ll really want to queue up a samba.
Check the WRL catalog for The Summer Prince.
I have tried gardening on several continents with many climates and soil types. I soon learned that a plant that grows well in one place may get resentful and sulk — or outright die— in another. That is why gardening books that address local conditions are spectacularly useful. Here in southeastern Virginia we are well served by Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way: 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardener, by Wesley Greene. When I was starting to grow herbs I was looking for a book about a particular type of plant rather than tightly focused on one place, and Southern Herb Growing has turned out to be a wonderful resource to help me with our hot and humid conditions.
The author Madalene Hill was the national president of the Herb Society of America in the 1980s and her expertise shines through. The first part of the book is called “A Herbal Primer” and covers getting started with sections on soil, mulch and propagation. A large part of it is given over to design ideas including historical knot gardens and theme gardens. The before and after photos can be a little discouraging because the full, tangled cottage-garden look that I crave may take five years to grow. I guess I just have to be patient and wait for my two inch tall sprigs of rosemary to become bushes! And for those readers who can only dream of the space to grow a proper garden, the book includes container gardening (which herbs are well suited to).
Around half the book is the “Growing Guide” with hundreds of herbs listed alphabetically with advice for growing them in the hot, humid South, the herbs’ historical uses and significance, and their modern culinary and medicinal uses. Each listing has the scientific genus and species names, as well as alternate names, so from from Acanthus to Yarrow you should be able to find almost any rare or common herb you are interested in.
Southern Herb Growing is a great book for all gardeners, especially if you want prosaic advice poetically put such as “Basils go home to their fathers at the first sign of cold nights in the fall.” It includes hundreds of beautiful photographs of herb gardens growing throughout the South, so try it whether you are able to immediately use their advice to improve your current garden or look at the lovely pictures and dream…
Check the WRL catalog for Southern Herb Growing.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, the end.
Wait a minute, what really happens after the great fall? He could not be put together again?
Not according to Dave Horowitz. In his book Humpty Dumpty Climbs Again, we have an outgoing, mountain climbing egg until the great fall and on doctor’s orders he must not climb again. This, of course, leads to one depressed egg. He’s sitting around in his underwear, watching TV and eating potato chips. His nursery rhyme friends all visit trying to snap him out of it but it’s not until the king’s favorite horse needs rescuing off the side of a mountain that Humpty Dumpty gets back in the climbing gear and to the rescue! I read this book in story time quite often and it never fails, the kids love Humpty Dumpty and his go for it attitude. Thank you Dave Horowitz for a great book.
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Looking at the cover of The System, you see a striking image of college football – an enormous stadium filled with cheering crowds awaiting the contest to begin on that emerald green field. As you zoom in on that field, that crowd, that contest, the reality gets dirtier and dirtier, until it seems that field is the Astroturf covering the edge of an open grave. Benedict and Keteyian have climbed into that grave, and The System is the report they’ve sent back.
Football has long been the hallmark of college education in the United States. It is the rare institution of higher learning that doesn’t field a team. At the top of that pyramid, where iconic names like Notre Dame, Alabama, and Oregon reside, football is a big part of the college experience, and a successful program can seemingly make or break a school. And it shows in enrollments, donations, and construction.
Benedict and Keteyian seemingly had complete access to every aspect of the schools they covered. Meetings between coaches and players, athletic directors and boosters, students and inquisitors, victors and victims are recounted in incredible detail. And every detail seemed to come down to money.
The contrasts are staggering: a booster can give $185 million to support an entire program, but a player can be sanctioned for a $3.07 (yes, that’s three dollars and seven cents) accidental overpayment on a summer job. Coaches are routinely the highest paid state employees (even before the product endorsement deals and speaking engagements) when teachers, cops, and librarians are losing their jobs and pensions. T-shirts, jerseys, hats, and memorabilia bring millions in revenues, while student athletes supposedly earn nothing. An athlete accused of criminal activity can get legal advice from top-tier law firms, while their victims must rely on poorly paid prosecutors, and face threats and shaming for jeopardizing the program. And over it all is the mantle of the NCAA, which screams about teams offering cream cheese on bagels but misses the flagrant violations of their arcane regulations.
The authors present each chapter as a story in and of itself, but the overall narrative is connected by the story of Mike Leach, the coach who created the stellar program at Texas Tech, but was fired for his tactics in disciplining a weak player. After an extended absence from football, he was hired by Washington State University, where he once again laid the foundations of a successful program, but also underwent another abuse investigation, in which he was exonerated. From the coach recruitment process to the creation of a team, through the discovery and recruitment of players to the relationship with the school administration, readers see Leach in every aspect of his professional life. We even get a glimpse of the difficulties Leach’s wife Sharon faces as a coach’s wife.
Even for people who don’t care anything about football (and I count myself among their number), The System is a penetrating look at a dominant part of American culture. Whatever you feel about the game, you are sure to come away rethinking your position. There’s a lot that needs to be scrapped, some things that can be fixed, and some profound positives that deserve highlighting. Let’s hope real change can come from the discussion The System ought to start.
Check the WRL catalogue for The System
Jessica shares this review:
Get ready for a fast paced, post-apocalyptic thrill ride. Author Aguirre appeals to a wide range of readers in this first of a planned trilogy, which has ample amounts of action, suspense and adventure.
The world now isn’t a place we would easily recognize. The ruins are all that remain, along with the violent gangs who inhabit them and the underground subcultures living in communities known as “Enclaves.” However, roaming the underground tunnels is another set of creatures as well. Known by members of the Enclaves as “Freaks,” these creatures are absolutely zombie-like, with a lust for human flesh. In this frightening view of the future we meet Deuce. She exists within the Enclave, a strong and dedicated member who lives for her coveted position as Huntress.
The Enclave has assigned the role of Hunter/Huntress to members of the community who will defend them against the “Freaks.” On her naming day, after fifteen years of training and waiting, Deuce is assigned the role of Huntress. Ever diligent and never questioning, she takes on the role with fervor. But everything begins to slowly change when she is partnered with another hunter, Fade. Fade is an outcast who arrived at the Enclave after surviving for years on his own topside. Never fully accepted and a self-made loner, Fade still possesses a unique skill set that is highly valued—fighting and killing. Together, Deuce and Fade begin to make notable discoveries about their leaders and start to get a glimpse of the dystopian society they have called home for years. After a devastating event forces Deuce and Fade to be banished from the Enclave, they must learn to survive not only the topside gangs, but the “Freaks” who have found their way up as well. An ideal read for fans of The Hunger Games and Graceling.
Check the WRL catalog for Enclave.
This is a delightful, interactive story suitable for preschoolers up to second graders. As a children’s librarian I quite often get asked for picture books concerning manners. Captain Bob is a policeman tasked to keep good order in his community and enforce good manners when necessary. The vibrant, contemporary illustrations enhance the fun, rhyming text. The neighborhood is made up of a variety of bugs. Captain Bob arrives in his little bubble police car – Wee-O! Wee-O! Wee-o! Woo! He comes across greedy ants, naughty beetles, and speeding spiders on their motor cycles. He visits with local bees and helps re-locate the neighborhood cockroaches to a nearby land fill. Captain Bob even manages to rescue a baby flea and reunite him with mom. Finally he gets a call to quiet down some hard-partying cockroaches. This is all in a day’s work for this hard working policeman. Eventually he gets to hurry home.
to my nest
And the bugs
that I love
Cece Bell, the illustrator, is known for her Sock Monkey books. She has a great site for children’s book reviews on her webpage: http://cecebell.wordpress.com/. On a local note, she is also a former student of William and Mary! Denise Dowling Mortensen is known for her books: Wake up Engines and Goodnight Engines.
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With a life like Allan Karlsson’s, who wouldn’t want to live to be 100 years old? Befriended by Francisco Franco and Robert Oppenheimer, creator of both the American and Soviet atomic bombs, drinking buddies with Harry S. Truman, consultant to Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, and rescuer of Mao Tse-Tung’s wife, smuggled in a Russian submarine, imprisoned in both the Soviet gulag and a North Korean prison, Bali beach bum, translator for an ambassador to France… All this because Allan had that most 20th Century of skills – blowing stuff up.
Now, at the age of 100 (having blown up his home) Allan is in a nursing home. He’s not finished with life, so an hour or so before the local dignitaries are coming to begrudgingly celebrate his centenary, Allan goes AWOL. Not that he has anyplace in particular to go - although that’s never been a problem – but he doesn’t have any desire to stay. He first has to get clear of his small town, so he steals an unguarded suitcase, boards a bus, and takes off into the wilderness.
To his surprise, the suitcase is stuffed with cash belonging to a motorcycle gang. The cash greases his way from one haven to the next, usually one step ahead of the bikers, until he winds up with a string of characters, including an elephant, in his wake. One, Detective Chief Inspector Aronsson, begins the case searching for a missing old man; next it appears that the old man has been murdered by bikers, then that the old man may be a murderer himself. Across the length and breadth of Sweden the ever-increasing cast runs, until they all wind up in the same place.
Interspersed with his modern-day story is Allan’s biography. For no particular reason, at the age of 34 he set off for Spain and was caught up in the Civil War. From there, he was shunted from place to place as wars and rumors of wars made him persona non grata in some places and persona most grata in others. After all, explosions are the best friends a politician ever had.
But that talent isn’t the only thing that characterizes him. In a world filled with competing -isms, Allan is devoutly apolitical and atheist. He is willing to let others talk endlessly about their beliefs, as long as they don’t try to convert him. He’s scrupulously honest about his indifference, but punctures cant when it conflicts with commonsense objectives, like blowing something up. And he can drink. Whoo, boy, can he drink.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a picaresque novel, a road story in which a relative innocent disrupts the world and creates a satirical take for readers. Some people compare it to Forrest Gump, but I don’t think that’s an apt comparison. After all, Forrest was a kind of blank slate onto which people wrote their own beliefs. Allan Karlsson is his own man, blowing whichever way events take him but always living true to his code. “Never trust a man who won’t drink with you.” As a philosophy, you could do worse.
Check the WRL catalogue for The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Rhyming text follows a boy and girl’s week of play, in which the children get covered with brown mud on Monday, purple popsicles on Tuesday, yellow Jell-O on Wednesday, and so forth. At the end of each day–such as the purple popsicle one– the text exclaims, “Dunk me in the tub, please, for purple kid tea!”
Yes, I know, that sounds a little gross. But the cartoonish illustrations of the kids submerged in different colors of bath water are a great way to help kids learn colors. And kids will love belting out the “refrain.”
This book would be fun to read and then share again with a flannel board. A color matching game would be another great follow-up.
Check the WRL catalog for Kid Tea.
Melissa shares this review:
This debut novel by Carrie Harris is fun—if, like me, you enjoy the occasional zombie book!
High school junior Kate Grable is the football team’s student trainer. She is hoping that the experience will help her get into a good medical school, but up until now she’s pretty much just been in charge of the Gatorade cart.
One afternoon she notices a bunch of unlabeled bottles in the coach’s cabinet. She suspects they are steroids until one of the players collapses at a party. Kate swears the boy is dead, until he lurches to his feet and walks away. He can’t be dead if he walked away, right?
After a few more players show the same grayish skin and dead-like symptoms (like trying to munch on other students), Kate is ready to think the unthinkable. Something has turned these players into zombies.
Before the whole town comes down with the zombie infection, Kate has to find a cure. And if she manages to get a date to the homecoming dance in the meantime—so much the better!
The books are fast-paced and easy to get into. It isn’t particularly scary reading about zombies running loose in school. And while there is a certain “ew, gross” factor, even that is handled with humor. Add that to the usual high school angst, and friendships, and crushes…. it makes a great introduction to a series of books about geeky Kate and her high school adventures. I wonder what will happen next to this aspiring medical student!
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It was a cause celebre in France and much of the liberal Western world, a scandal that exposed cultural divisions thought to have resolved years before. It discredited a government, tarnished the honor of an entire army, and inflamed relations among already-antagonistic neighbors. It elevated some men and broke others. It brought infamy on an obscure little island off South America, and led to the creation of a new country. And it was, and is, a drama suited for a novelist such as Robert Harris. It was the Dreyfus Affair.
Harris begins his telling of the story with the degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer who was convicted of espionage and treason. In it’s immediate aftermath, Georges Picquart is elevated to the decidedly sordid world of French counterespionage. Picquart’s new department had just achieved an astounding success, ferreting out Dreyfus’ plot to sell secrets to the hated Germans, and providing the evidence which convicted him. The antisemitism whipped up by leaders in all areas of French life would cool as Dreyfus was shipped off to serve his life sentence on Devil’s Island, and the Army could return to planning their next attack on Germany.
But Picquart begins uncovering inconsistencies and hidden files, and even more frightening, evidence that there is another spy in the French Army – or that the wrong man was convicted. His efforts to investigate are stymied, until it is plain that something more than a botched trial has happened. When he is disgraced and transferred to a dangerous colonial post, he becomes convinced that corruption at the heart of his beloved institution now threatens the ideals of France, and he embarks on a dangerous course.
Harris uses all of the staples of the spy thriller to unpack this story. The secret codes, forgery, surveillance, plots and counterplots, paranoia, and red herrings could easily have been created out of whole cloth. But Harris does not deviate from historical accuracy; the drama of the story stems from the inner workings of Georges Picquart’s mind and from his growing conviction that justice and balance must be restored by one courageous person. In the background is his knowledge of Alfred Dreyfus’ plight – the lone prisoner on Devil’s Island, with guards forbidden to speak to him, his tiny hut surrounded by a wall, his every letter censored or withheld at whim, the Dreyfus’ family’s unshakeable faith that his innocence will come to light – and the urgency of freeing the wrongly convicted man.
So how did the Dreyfus Affair accomplish all that I claimed in the first paragraph? It was the openly anti-Semitic fervor of the Catholic Church that led to the definitive separation of Church from the French government. The affair caused several parliamentary governments to fall, and the senior officers of the Army were forced to retire. And for one journalist covering the breaking of Alfred Dreyfus, it led to an inescapable conclusion – for Jews to be safe, they had to have their own home. Thus was born Theodor Herzl’s push for a Zionist movement, which led to the creation of Israel. All this because a few men decided that it was easier to persecute a Jew than take a few simple steps to solve a real crime.
Check the WRL catalogue for An Officer and a Spy
So, what would you give for the chance to see a dead loved one again? How about seeing them at the significant times in their lives, times you couldn’t possibly have known about? What about the chance to talk with them in their afterworld? Sixteen-year-old Zoe discovers that the price may be far more than she believed possible.
Zoe’s father died unexpectedly. Not only has she lost her beloved dad, his life insurance company has declared that he never existed (at least in their files). She and her mom are forced to move from their familiar home to a cramped urban apartment while Zoe’s mom searches for work. Zoe has a history of cutting and drug use, so her mom is always on her back.
Her sole consolation is a young man she regularly sees in her dreams. Valentine is like a brother to her, and the tree fort they hang out in is a refuge from the bizarre world beneath their feet. He listens to her, offers good advice, and is genuinely present and concerned for her. But she doesn’t have any idea if he’s real or a manifestation of something else.
While skipping school and mindlessly wandering through San Francisco, she winds up in front of an old record store specializing in punk music on vinyl. But the weird store owner has another room, one only certain people can see. Inside the room are discs that have captured the lives and souls of the dead. Zoe gets a taste of her father’s life, but she’ll have to pay with something more precious and talismanic if she wants more. When she decides she won’t pay and is cut off, she must summon her wits and her courage to find a path to the underworld.
But that underworld is a hellish landscape, a purgatory without hope of either redemption or judgment. Zoe has to negotiate her way through a bizarre parody of a city, evading vengeful spirits whipped up by hatred of the living, and searching for an exit known only to ones who would kill her, or worse.
Kadrey has created a resourceful, determined young woman who is surprised by her own strength, and set her in an eerie world filled with disturbing imagery. The tone reminded me of two other books reviewed here on BFGB – John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things and Robert Olen Butler’s Hell. Unlike the latter though, I would feel comfortable suggesting this to older teens. Most of all, it reminded me of the classic Greek stories of Orpheus and Odysseus’ journeys, and indeed the book has many subtle allusions to Greek myth. This is definitely a dark book with some heavy themes, but a good read.
Check the WRL catalogue for Dead Set
If you are looking for a fun, but quiet, action book for toddlers, this is a great one. The children can join in with the little red bird as she wakes, takes a deep breath, then scrunches under a spider web, creeps around a corner and even jumps over the cat during an early morning outing.
The text is minimal, and the bright illustrations are ideal even for a large group. Children and adults will suspect what is coming when the Early Bird happens upon the Early Worm. But never fear. This little story ends with a fun surprise.
This author has another title, Night Owl, scheduled to be released in January of 2015, and I’m looking forward to it!
Check the WRL catalog for Early Bird.