In an ideal world, somebody would have already written a comic book in which Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Caroline Kennedy decided to suit up in spandex and fight crime. This has not been done yet. I am waiting.
Meanwhile, Neal Bailey has delivered a collective graphic biography that explores the lives of these four American public figures. There are no invisible helicopters* like Wonder Woman drives, but there’s plenty of intrigue and drama and at least one scene with a gun. (Spoiler: it doesn’t turn out well for the moose.)
*Actually, there may have been invisible helicopters. I didn’t see any, but that’s the point of invisible helicopters.
Biographies often leave me bored, but Bailey homes in on the interesting parts and leaves out all the mind-numbing details that plague so many life stories. He touches lightly on the family, childhood, and backgrounds of the four women, deftly weaving in threads of modern American history, but the focus is on the women’s careers: Clinton’s tenure as First Lady, presidential candidate, and Senator; Obama’s legal work and First Lady activities; Kennedy’s intensely private work in law, politics, and charity; and Palin’s service as mayor, governor, and would-be Vice President. (Bailey wrote the section on Clinton prior to her appointment as Secretary of State, so those bits aren’t in here.)
This is suitable for tween and young adult readers, though I recommend it for adult readers who want to know more about some of the most powerful and influential women in the country. I would also encourage teachers to let their students use this text as a resource for school reports. It’s true that it’s a comic book graphic novel, but don’t let the pictures fool you: this is high-quality, well-researched biographical writing.
Check the WRL catalog for Female Force
Bo Whaley lives on an Air Force base in North Carolina. His father is the base commander, which just makes life complicated, especially when most of the kids in his class also live on base. To make life even more convoluted, his cousin Gari arrives from Seattle to live with him because her mother is being deployed to Iraq. They are assigned to the same class to help Gari fit in, but things go badly between them from the start.
The only good thing that is happening to Bo is his new teacher. Ms. Loupe, who is in her first year of teaching, has a tattoo and is young enough to have been taught by the principal. For Bo the best thing about her is her passion for theater. She engages the class in improv involving a beaten up couch, and Bo discovers in himself a talent for acting that previous teachers had seen as a propensity to talk and goof-off in class. His enthusiasm grows until he discovers that the big theater camp that the teacher is planning will be held next summer. He will be gone then, when his family is sent to their next military assignment, which makes Bo furious with the military lifestyle.
Ms. Loupe also gets the class working on a project to send supplies to her brother, who is stationed in Afghanistan. When her brother is declared missing in action, Ms. Loupe is understandably distraught, and Bo’s whole class want to help. In the most moving part of the book Bo, his cousin Gari, Ms. Loupe’s entire class and finally the whole community find a way to work together and, if not fix the unfixable, at least make things better. In the process they learn about each other, themselves, friendship and community.
In turn hilarious and heartbreaking, Operation Yes is aimed at middle grades, but has a lot to offer adults. As a librarian I love the literary profanity that the school librarian indulges in : “‘Frog and Toad!’ Miss Candy said. ‘Not again!’” or “Green Eggs and Ham!” I am doing a project on books featuring children with parents in U.S. military, and some of these books are impossible to get through without crying. Operation Yes is definitely in this category. Read it for a moving portrait of a community coming together or an accurate depiction of the military family lifestyle.
Check the WRL catalog for Operation Yes.
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
“The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour.”
If you feel your life is short on meaning, a book club might help. Book clubs are great. I trust the members of my book club to recommend books that sound wonderful— for example I realize I really like character-driven, women’s, historical fiction and I am always keen to hear about the new titles they suggest. But my book club may be even better for getting me off my chuff to read things that I wouldn’t have gotten around to otherwise. Man’s Search for Meaning is a book that may have intrigued me enough to pick up in the library, but it would have sat unread on my bedside table for weeks if not for my upcoming book club meeting.
It is a dense and sometimes disturbing read, but my head was bursting with ideas after getting through it. And then after discussing it with my book club, my head and heart were even closer to bursting. The cover of the copy I have says that there are over 12 million copies in print, so it is a book that has spoken directly to millions of people.
The author, Victor Frankl, was a psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor who attributed his survival in part to his abiding belief that, even in a concentration camp, his life had meaning. He wrote Man’s Search for Meaning in nine days in 1945 and it is remarkably without bitterness for a book written so soon after the horrific events that he describes. Viktor Frankl developed a form of psychoanalysis called logotherapy, which literally means the therapy of meaning. This is a book whose message can be interpreted in religious terms, but it is also extremely meaningful to people without a stated belief or formal religion. In modern times, perhaps more than ever in human existence, we are expected to be happy all the time, and increasingly if we are not happy, then we are seen as ill. To this idea Viktor Frankl said:
I would strictly deny that one’s search for a meaning to his existence, or even his doubt of it, in every case is derived from, or results in, any disease. Existential frustration is in itself neither pathological nor pathogenic. A man’s concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease.”
Man’s Search for Meaning is a book that I recommend for everyone. At some time or another most of us suffer from some form of existential angst and this is a wonderful book to put things in perspective. It is dense and full of weighty philosophical insights, but it is very readable, and if you are lucky, you may even have a book club to discuss it with.
Check the WRL catalog for Man’s Search for Meaning.
What happens after you die? Where do you go? What is it like? The Everafter, by Amy Huntley, has its own theory. Our guide through the afterlife is Madison Stanton. As the book begins, Madison is sure she is dead, but she doesn’t know anything more than that. She is floating in a vast emptiness, unsure of who she is, where she came from, or anything else about herself. It is only when she notices other things floating in the abyss that things begin to come back to her. The other things are seemingly unrelated objects: “A spoon. A pair of socks, hair clips, pieces of paper, peas, a cell phone, keys, flowers, a handbag, a doll’s shoe.” But each is special to Madison in a particular way. They are all items she had lost throughout her life.
As Madison gets closer to each object, she is thrown back into the time and place she lost it. In this manner she is able to relive events from her life. She can act as an observer, or become a participant by reentering her body. Madison can even change the events of her life by choosing to find the object, although that prevents her from returning to the moment. And some moments, those with her mother, father, best friend Sandra, and boyfriend Gabe, are times she wants to be able to relive again and again. Madison must decide how to use these objects, and determine if they can help her learn how she died.
Check the WRL catalog for The Everafter
Suzanne Collins achieved fame through her dark and dystopian Hunger Games series. Her latest offering is neither a dystopian tale nor a children’s fantasy series; instead she has written a picture book. Year of the Jungle is four-year-old child’s view of Suzanne Collins’s own experiences when her father was deployed to Vietnam in 1968.
Because Year of the Jungle is the newest book from a bestselling author, it has garnered a lot of attention. One review said that it would “bewilder” its intended audience of small children. Considering that over two million American children have had a parent deployed since 9/11, it must be a familiar story to many. Of course not all of them had exactly the same experience as Suzanne Collins, but many have had similar enough experiences that they will not be bewildered by this book.
Suzy hears that her father “has to go to something called a war,” leaving her not knowing “what anybody’s talking about.” She also learns that he will be in a jungle. Suzy knows about jungles from cartoons so she pictures her father in a happy place among her favorite cartoon characters. In a strong portrayal of a small child’s misunderstanding of the passage of time, Suzy is confused about the length of the year he will be away. The book portrays Suzy’s growing unease as adults give her unlooked-for sympathy, showing how adults can make things worse, even though they are trying to be kind. Suzy loves getting her father’s postcards, but they start coming less frequently and start to change. But for a child about to turn five the most devastating thing is the realization that he sent a birthday greeting to the wrong sibling. In the illustrations the cartoon jungle full of round and smiling animals changes into a far more sinister place with images of violence and fear.
It is hard not to speculate how Suzanne Collins’s early experiences influenced her imagination when writing her undoubtedly dark and violent Hunger Games series. As an excellent writer she has captured and condensed a world of childhood experiences into a very few words. James Proimos’ illustrations are of a rough cartoonish style that at first glance I didn’t find very attractive, but they do a great job of capturing Suzy’s innocence and her unusually early realization of the dangers of the world.
This is a picture book designed to be read aloud, and a parent or caregiver can judge if it is the right book for their child. I think it could be useful for young military children as it is ultimately comforting when her father returns safely, although it is so dark in places that an adult should read it first and decide if it is appropriate. I also recommend it for adults who are interested in Suzanne Collins, military children’s experience, or a darker picture book.
Check the WRL catalog for Year of the Jungle.
A man with an unwieldy mane of hair is noticed by a curious young girl named Bonnie who proclaims that he has “got crazy hair.” The man is very proud of his hair and he tells Bonnie that birds, gorillas, tigers and an entire menagerie of animals live in his hair. He goes on to describe that people live and go on expeditions, play music, fly, go to fairs, and sail ships in his hair. Bonnie recommends that he comb his hair to calm it down and the man says she can try so she does. But the man’s hair pulls Bonnie inside and she has grand adventures with all the people and animals inside the crazy hair!
Crazy Hair has a theme which may be unsuitable for really young kids along with a significant amount of text so I recommend this book for ages 4-8. This is a book kids will relate to because nearly all children have had experiences with trying to tame their messy hair! Crazy Hair is a great book to read aloud at storytime because the story is written in rhyming stanzas, so it has a great rhythm to it. The kids will also exclaim at the more fantastical elements of the story and the twist ending will keep everyone on their toes. Last but not least, Dave McKean’s abstract and quirky illustrations immerse you in the story and will create an excellent base for kids’ imaginations to run wild.
Check the WRL catalog for Crazy Hair.
To tell the truth, no librarian should have favorite books. There are too many out there to read, too many different circumstances under which to read them, too many ages at which to discover that a book you hated now speaks to you or one you loved falls flat. Under theoretical laboratory conditions, though, I might have to admit that I do have favorites, and that several of them are by Stephen King. The Stand. Salem’s Lot. Christine. The Green Mile. The Dead Zone. Night Shift. And, of course, The Shining. I still remember sitting by a pool in 95-degree weather and shivering as a snowstorm sealed me into the Overlook Hotel with the Torrance family and the reanimated dead.
Now King has returned to continue Danny Torrance’s story in Doctor Sleep. (And if you haven’t read The Shining, forget this review and go get that book. Seriously.) Of course, time has passed and Danny, now Dan, is all grown up. But the combined burdens of his childhood, his family’s history of drinking, and his dubious gift have left him a place no reader would have wanted to see the tow-headed little boy.
Dan is a drunk. A drifter, a brawler, sleeping with strangers who promise another high, or in a culvert if he has to choose between the price of a bottle and a bed. A full-blown alcoholic who hits his personal bottom early in the story, he spends the course of the novel running from his shame.
The thing is, Dan still has his shine, that ability to glimpse things that were or that are or that will be. It helps him reach in and hold the essential part of other people, and gives him extraordinary empathy. When he can hold down a job. But that same empathy gives him haunting visions that he cannot evade. This time, the shine guides him to a small town in New Hampshire, where he thinks he might be able to start again. Through the good graces of another person with just a little bit of the shine, and with the help of a hard-ass AA sponsor, Dan Torrance quits drinking. He also goes to work at the local hospice, where he and the resident cat comfort the dying and guide them to the threshold of whatever lies beyond.
But there are other special people out there in the world, and Dan becomes a sort of unwilling fulcrum between them. On one side is Abra, a young teenaged girl who out-shines Dan like a lighthouse outshines a flashlight; on the other, the True Knot, a band of psychic vampires who live on the pain and fear of children. Led by the horrific Rose the Hat (and like all subcultures, the Knot has insider names and public names), the Knot travels in a caravan of campers seeking out fresh victims. During their time off the road, they lie up in a charming Colorado campsite with a plaque that designates it as the site of the now-destroyed Overlook Hotel. When the True Knot detects Abra’s ability, they know that they could feed on her for decades, if they can seize and control her. Dan Torrance must pit his lesser abilities and Abra’s immature skills against Rose’s blind greed and power to save the girl and destroy the Knot. If he can survive the place of his own fears.
Like the best of King’s fiction, Doctor Sleep excels at framing the relationships between imperfect people drawn together to face an impossibly evil power. Sometimes those relationships are deep bonds: parent and child, teacher and student. Sometimes they are forged in hellish fires, as Dan discovers through his AA sponsors and supporters. And sometimes they erupt from the unlikeliest of sources to create the possibility of redemption. Maybe that’s the real reason I shouldn’t have favorite books: too many unlikely sources, too much need for redemption, too little time to find either.
Check the WRL catalog for Doctor Sleep
A Walk in London tells the story of a mother-daughter day-trip spent exploring the historic city of London. They wander from Westminster to Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London, visiting all the most famous and well-known London attractions. They see the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace, the bronze lions in Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the crown jewels in the Tower of London.
Each double-page spread features trivia in different, smaller fonts which can help to hold the attention of older children, enabling this book to be read and enjoyed by multiple ages at the same time. I learned that Norway sends a huge Christmas tree to London every year to stand in Trafalgar Square; there has been a cathedral on the site of St. Paul’s for more than 1.400 years; and the crown jewels have never been stolen, although Thomas Blood did try in 1671.
The book is full of lovely illustrations that are somewhat reminiscent of Quentin Blake’s style. The author is a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London. A Walk in New York was his first picture book, which began as a series of paintings that were short-listed for the Victoria and Albert Museum Illustration Awards. A Walk in London ends with a beautiful fold-out panorama of the Thames and the location of major sites on the river.
Without doubt this book would serve as a great introduction if your family ever plans a trip to London. The tour is rich with commentary about sites throughout the city, and so it’s also a wonderful way to explore a new city without ever leaving the comfort of your home.
Check the WRL catalog for A Walk in London.
Madison’s parents are dragging her to the beach over summer vacation. That doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? Well, Sandyland isn’t much of a beach, and Madison would rather spend her time with her friends at home. She has a great sophomore year planned and can’t wait to work as a photographer for the school paper. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a short vacation while her dad did a quick contracting job in Sandyland has turned into something very different. Her father’s job is taking longer than expected, her mother is looking for work, and her friends back home say there is an “Up for Auction” sign out on her lawn.
Making the best of things, Madison heads to the beach with her camera. When she drops it in the sand, and must get it repaired at the local “Psychic Photo,” two things happen. Madison begins to make friends with some local teens she meets at the shop, people she never would have looked at twice at home. Also, people begin to show up in her pictures who weren’t there when she took the picture. She and her friends are able to identify the woman in the first picture, but strangely, she has just died. Can her camera foretell death? And will Madison be stuck in Sandyland forever? This isn’t how Madison was supposed to spend her summer vacation.
Check the WRL catalog for Snap.
Although I most frequently read mysteries, fantasy, 19th century novels, and Southern fiction, something keeps bringing me back to Peter Høeg’s writing, though these stories in many ways fall outside my usual scope. While Smilla’s Sense of Snow was sort of a mystery, it was not particularly traditional, and Høeg’s The Quiet Girl is a peculiarly appealing blend of genres and styles. I think that it is the beauty of Høeg’s writing that keeps me on the lookout for his books on the new fiction shelves.
If you enjoy thoughtful, well-crafted sentences, along with occasional flashes of humor, you will find much to like in Høeg’s most recent novel, The Elephant Keeper’s Children. The novel follows the adventures and misadventures of Peter, the narrator, Tilte, and Hans, whose parents have disappeared off the fictional island of Finø, off the coast of Denmark. The children’s father is a church pastor, and as Peter tells it, his parents are not above manufacturing miraculous events to draw people to their church. With their parents gone, Peter and his sister Tilte set out to find out what they are up to this time, with help from their older brother Hans and a variety of unexpected acquaintances. As in any thriller, help appears when it is least expected, and shifting allegiances make the search even more challenging. Along the way, the pair encounters angry bishops, unstable teachers, a romantic pair of police officers, and terrorists aiming to explode a bomb at an ecumenical gathering. Høeg has an excellent feel for pacing a story, and his characters are all memorable.
But the book is not just a tour-de-force of fine writing. Høeg explores fundamentalism and belief, the power of love, and ultimately the nature of what it means to be human. With Peter as our guide, we come to see the world in a new way, to look for those “openings” that lead us to a better understanding of ourselves and each other, and that allow us to escape from the rooms that we put ourselves in. The title of the book is taken from an “old Indian saying”
In case you wish to befriend an elephant keeper,
make certain to have room for the elephant.
Check the catalog for The Elephant Keeper’s Children
On the surface, Grace is a typical teenager living in Mercy Falls, Minnesota. Her parents are caring but quirky, leaving Grace alone much of the time. She is haunted by a childhood memory of being attacked by the wolves that inhabit woods surrounding her home and being saved by a wolf with golden eyes. Throughout her childhood, Grace remembers seeing “her” wolf during the winter. What is the connection between them?
Maggie Stiefvater creates her own werewolf mythology based on temperature and occasional traumatic events. When the town believes that a teen has been killed by the wolves that roam Mercy Falls, the wolves are hunted and Sam, injured by a gunshot, literally falls into Grace’s arms in his human form. As the relationship between Sam and Grace develops, Stiefvater tells a moving and realistic love story between two teenagers willing to work and fight to develop their relationship. The emotions and missteps of young love are realistically portrayed.
The task of keeping Sam in his human form is fraught with danger, but Grace and Sam persevere. The supporting cast in Shiver is as well developed as the two main characters. They are the teens that populate our world. The combination of character development and lyrical language keep the reader riveted to the story. Plus the development of the characters in their wolf personas is equally well-done. All of this allows the reader to engage in the suspension of disbelief that makes great books and movies work. Shiver works. It is a complete package of character development, setting, suspense, and romance. Shiver is followed up by Linger and Forever.
Check the WRL catalog for Shiver
This hard-hitting historical novel is a “companion book” to the Edgar award-winning Code Name Verity, with which it shares a World War II setting and a handful of characters.
Rose Justice is an 18-year-old American pilot with England’s civilian Air Transport Auxiliary. Only recently arrived in England, she’s chirpy and excited about her work and a little naïve. She dismisses rumors of terrible things happening in German prison camps as propaganda. And one day, returning from a flight over France, she flies off course—while tipping a bomb out of the air, may I add—and suddenly two Luftwaffe jets are escorting her into Germany. Mis-classified with a group of French political prisoners, Rose is sent to the women’s concentration camp at Ravensbrück.
She has entered a different world. In six months, from September 1944 to March 1945, Rose has any remaining naïveté starved and frozen and beaten out of her, until the appalling becomes ordinary. She is taken under the protection of the Rabbits (we would say “guinea pigs”): Polish prisoners, mostly students, on whom the camp doctors have run unconscionable medical experiments. The Rabbits know that they will all be executed eventually, but various means of evasion may keep them hidden away for another week, or day… in perpetual hope that the war will end and someone will survive to let the world know what happened in this place.
Rose’s narrative is written after she escapes Ravensbrück. A survivor in a sort of post-war limbo, Rose is also concerned with how to return to “real life.” Having sworn to herself and others to “tell the world” about the atrocities at the camp, she isn’t even able to describe the experience to her family. The Doctors’ Trial at Nuremberg suggests one path to closure by way of judgment and retribution, but Rose is looking for other ways to redeem her experience.
A poet as well as a pilot, she creates a pilot’s metaphor—lift and weight, thrust and drag—to describe the forces that fueled her survival during and after the prison camp. Obviously, Rose Under Fire is a story carrying a lot of weight. It’s the strong relationships between very different women—women from the French resistance, Night and Fog agents, Girl Scout saboteurs and Soviet bomber pilots—that give the novel lift as well.
Check the WRL catalog for Rose Under Fire.
Science Verse is the story of a young student, who’s been struck with the curse of Science Verse! His science teacher, Mr. Newton, tells him that if he listens closely enough he will be able to hear “the poetry of science in everything.” And the next day, everything suddenly and inexplicably begins to rhyme!
The book is composed of a series of twenty-three poems that are intended to help children learn about and remember a whole variety of important scientific concepts. The author uses the rhythmic patterns of several famous poems with all-new content, ranging from dinosaurs, to evolution, the stars, and even scientific method. They vary in length from a few lines to several stanzas.
I’m a big fan of witty, well-written children’s books with plays on words and linguistic ingenuity. A few of my favorite poems in the book include: the water cycle (to “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring”), the food chain (to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”), atoms (to “The Song of Hiawatha”), the five senses (to “The Ride of Paul Revere”), and the Big Bang (to “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas”).
‘Twas the night before Any Thing, and all through deep space,
Nothing existed – time, matter, or place.
No stockings, no chimneys. It was hotter than hot,
Everything was compressed in one very dense dot.
Using the rhythms of familiar poems or nursery rhymes is a brilliant mnemonic device and the book comes with a CD to play that features all the poems in the book. Scieszka (“rhymes with ‘Fresca’ ”) includes a list at the end of the book, describing which well-known poems served as inspiration, for those intrinsically curious individuals who may wish to read the originals. But don’t worry: children do not have to be familiar with the original works in order to enjoy the humor. Lane Smith’s distinctive collage artwork compliments the text perfectly, incorporating drawings, paintings, and printed materials.
In addition to being a great read, this interesting, intelligent and irreverent picture book would be a great addition to any elementary teacher’s library. And if Science Verse is a hit, they’ve also written Math Curse, which is in the library’s collection.
Check the WRL catalog for Science Verse.
Ruined is a hauntingly mysterious ghost story that takes place in the heart of New Orleans. When Rebecca finds out that she has to leave her beloved hometown of NYC for a few months while her father is away in China for business, and stay with a little-known family friend in New Orleans, she is mortified. What about her friends? What about school? But there’s no choice, and Rebecca soon finds herself in the heart of the Big Easy, wandering through the Garden District and casting curious glances at the cemetery down the street from her “Aunt’s” house.
When she follows a group of the popular, old-money kids from her new private school into the cemetery one night, she surprisingly encounters a lonely girl, about her age, wearing a slightly torn dress. Interested but concerned that she will be discovered by the other teens, Rebecca asks the girl for a way out of the cemetery and runs off. As the days go by, Rebecca finds herself thinking more and more about the girl in the graveyard. When she returns a few nights later, Rebecca once again talks to the girl, but can’t help thinking there is something a little off about her. It is only when the girl, Lisette, takes her hand and she becomes invisible to the living that Rebecca makes a startling realization. Lisette is a ghost. But there’s a lot more than that to the story.
Once Rebecca looks into Lisette’s past, and her death, a shocking trail of clues, curses and hundred-year-old buried secrets comes to light. And the rich and powerful of the city are willing to do anything to keep the past hidden and their good names intact. A chilling tale with not only mystery and intrigue but also cultural detail and historical insight, this story will appeal to a range of readers.
Check the WRL catalog for Ruined.
The Legend of El Dorado was written and illustrated by Beatriz Vidal. The story was adapted by Nancy Van Laan for this book. Born in Argentina, Beatriz Vidal gives a fresh look at an ancient myth told by her father when she was a child. The native Chibchas people live near a magical lake called Lake Guatavita. In this beautiful land, ruled by the King, his wife, and his daughter, there are boundless treasures; the waters literally flow gold with the precious metal. But one day the princess disturbs the magical lake and awakens an emerald serpent. Tthe lives of everyone in the village are forever altered. So begins the legend of El Dorado, which translates to “the Gilded Man,” for the King must cover himself with gold powder before he can dive into the lake to save his young daughter. The illustrations in this book truly bring the magic of this story to life. The gold and the jewels nearly shine off the page, and the deep blues and greens of the water and landscape are simply enchanting. One could find themself wondering where such a country could be discovered, or if perhaps it is already there under their nose. Van Laan does an excellent job of adapting this story from its native language into English in such a poetic manner. It is hard to believe it was not originally told this way. This book is perfect for late elementary school students who are comfortable reading on their own. However, it is also highly appropriate for story times or group readings, or even for someone who wishes to read it to a younger child, especially because it is so visually appealing.
Check the WRL catalog for The Legend of El Dorado: A Latin American Tale.
What if fairy tales were real? Specifically, what if the story of Snow White was true? As Devoured begins, we find that there really was a Snow White, a wicked step mother, a magic mirror, a huntsman, and a prince. There was also a terrible legacy left to the descendants of both Snow White and the huntsman, in the form of a wish unknowingly granted to the wicked stepmother. With that groundwork laid, Marrone proceeds to a present day setting, and the story of a young girl named Megan.
Megan has had a tragic life. At age seven, she was in a car crash with her father and twin sister. Her father never regained consciousness, and her sister, Remy, died. Her mother has emotionally abandoned her, and spends all her time training for dance contests with the family dog. To make matters spooky, Megan is still visited by her sister, who shows her disturbing visions and gives her mysterious messages. Remy’s paranormal activity is amped up when Megan gets a job at the local theme park, Enchanted Land. All Megan wants to do at Enchanted Land is make some money, and keep an eye on her boyfriend and his “we’re just good friends” best friend Samantha. Unfortunately, Remy has other ideas. Remy warns Megan that someone will be killed, and shows her the image of a young girl with her heart cut out. Combine that familiar fictional murder method with the fact that the theme park owner has a talking mirror in her office and Marrone has herself a modern-day grim fairy tale.
Check the WRL catalog for Devoured.
Altered is a thrill ride from the beginning to the last page. We immediately meet Anna, who lives with her father in a rather isolated farmhouse. Anna and her father share some weekly traditions, like fresh lemonade and homemade cookies. She is also home schooled and learns not only the academic side of things but some tough hand-to-hand combat courses as well. However, the best part of Anna’s routine is her work, which she also shares with her father. Together they administer treatments and monitor the four teen boys who inhabit their basement. The boys have each been “altered” in some way, but the details are unknown.
Anna and her father work for “The Branch,” a completely secretive organization that they themselves know very little about. As readers, we demand answers. But the author seems skilled at giving little away, especially upfront. This incredible amount of “holding back” will keep readers flying through the pages on a search to know “why, who and how.” Each boy has a distinct personality; there’s Nick, resentful and angry, Cas, fun and playful, Trev, soft-hearted and exceedingly intelligent and Sam, the quintessential silent and strong leader who has Anna’s heart from the start.
When The Branch comes to retrieve the boys, Sam creates an escape and Anna’s father demands that she go with them, making Anna question everything she knows. As the boys hunt for clues to their pasts (which proves difficult as they cannot remember anything before the lab), Anna is searching for answers of her own. What the boys discover will shatter not only their own worlds, but Anna’s as well. The first in a series, Altered promises an exciting ride to readers who are desperate to find out the truth behind The Branch and the lives of everyone involved.
Check the WRL catalog for Altered.
It’s a wonder anyone lives in England, given the high murder rate and what must be a tough housing market for both amateur and professional detectives. And with all those historical figures taking on investigations in the US and UK, it’s a wonder they had time to write, make movies, or run their political careers. So when I was looking for a good mystery, I decided I’d steer clear of the usual place and time settings and give another location a shot. Outsider in Amsterdam happened to come to the fore. And what a unique tone and feel the city brings to this mystery.
Amsterdam in 1975 is a unique mix. The Dutch are still fully aware of the cost of the breakup of their empire, but not tolerant of the still-loyal castoffs of their former colonies. They are almost uniformly conformist to the laws that keep the city orderly, but don’t hesitate to cheat on their taxes or hire illegal immigrants. Hard drugs are anathema, but heroin addicts get treatment, including small doses of the real thing. Cops like Henk Grijpstra and Rinus DeGier spend most of their time handling petty crimes while waiting for more serious crimes to come up.
When Piet Verboom, master of a hybrid Eastern religious movement, is reported dangling from a noose in his office, Grijpstra and DeGier are assigned to investigate. The case appears open-and-shut, but of course small inconsistencies catch their interest–where is the money from the members-only restaurant and bar? Why did Verboom’s wife leave him? Why are all his employees happy to see him gone? And why is a former high-ranking constable in the Dutch colonial police, a Papuan, living practically rent-free in the building?
The investigation is driven more by their intuition and unwillingness to let even small details go than by strict procedure. When that intuition pays off, they must chase a dangerously clever criminal through Amsterdam’s narrow streets and over canals, and out onto Holland’s Inland Lake, but they net more than they initially bargained for.
As solid as the mystery portion of the story is, van de Wetering introduces solid characters for this first entry in a series. Grijpstra is a rumpled middle-aged family man willing to do almost anything to get away from his wife and (hinted at) children. DeGier is well-dressed, handsome, and a bachelor content with his surly cat, a houseplant on the balcony, and occasional female companionship. In many ways they are fairly innocent–they don’t have the innate wariness that marks most urban cops, and they don’t have so many difficult crimes to investigate that they are jaded.
There’s also some humor in the story, especially surrounding the running of the police budget. What do they do when the last VW is checked out of the police lot? Is it easier to walk to the crime scene or to catch a streetcar and submit for reimbursement? Can DeGier get expenses for a date with a potential witness if he sleeps with her?
Although WRL only has seven of the fourteen books, I’m looking forward to venturing through Amsterdam with van de Wetering as my guide.
Check the WRL catalog for Outsider in Amsterdam
Chalk & Cheese, written and illustrated by Tim Warnes, is a sweet and fun story of two unlikely friends. In this book the protagonists are Cheese, a British mouse, and Chalk, a dog living in New York City. Chalk and Cheese have been corresponding via postcards for quite a while, so one day Cheese decides he is going to visit his friend. However, the Big Apple is a lot bigger than this tiny country mouse expected. Both friends learn that they are very different from each other, especially in their upbringing, but by learning about these differences they are able to finally become even closer than before. This leads them to realizing that perhaps they are not too different from one another.
This cute story is set up much like a comic book, using the style of multiple panels per page. It is a great book for early elementary-aged children to read to themselves. The pictures and speech bubbles also make it a book that could be fun to read aloud in pairs. Warnes’ quirky writing style and original artwork make this a book that seamlessly blends picture book and comic book, something that is sure to appeal to any child who has a love for animals and travel.
Check the WRL catalog for Chalk & Cheese.
This book of short stories certainly lives up to its name; it is geektastic! Name a cult favorite, fandom, field, or following and it will at least be mentioned in this book. There might even be a whole story devoted to the topic. Star Wars, Star Trek, Buffy, RPG, MMRPG, Rocky Horror, astronomy, paleontology, academic bowl, theatre, you name it, it’s in here. As for the authors, they are a “who’s who” of popular YA writers. You’ll find stories by Scott Westerfeld, Cassandra Clare, Garth Nix, Kelly Link, John Green, and Libba Bray, just to name a few.
Some of my personal favorites include Black and Castellucci’s contribution “Once You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi All the Way”, which explains what might happen if a Jedi and a Klingon at a SciFi convention woke up in each other’s arms; Tracy Lynn’s “One of Us”, which is about a cheerleader who needs a crash course in all things geek to impress her football player (and closet geek) boyfriend; and finally, “The Stars at the Finish Line” by Wendy Mass, in which two rival high school students bond while finding 110 space objects in a Messier Marathon.
Some of the stories are more accessible to non-geeks than others, and even though I am geekier than some (most?), there were a couple of stories that I could not connect with. For the most part, however, the stories in this book would be enjoyable for all. Between each story there are illustrations/comics, which are particularly funny if you know enough about geeks to get the jokes. Also, be sure to read each author’s bio. Before reading this I would never have guessed just how geeky these authors are! This book was clearly written by geeks for geeks, and I highly recommend it.
Check the WRL catalog for Geektastic.