Modern day teen Amy Gumm is having a tough time at home and at school. Her day gets worse when a tornado barrels through her Kansas trailer park home and deposits her in the land of Oz. Amy quickly finds out this isn’t the Oz of the storybooks. What was beautiful and magical is dull and dead.
Like Dorothy, Amy wanders the countryside looking for a way home. Along the way she makes a few friends. But instead of watching out for wicked witches, Amy and her companions are on the lookout for the Tin Woodman and his soldiers.
Dorothy came back from Kansas many years ago and something has gone very, very wrong.
The Tin Woodman is now the Grand Inquisitor of Oz. You can get arrested (or worse) for sass, for not smiling, for lack of loyalty… As Amy comes quickly to realize, all of Oz is subject to Dorothy’s bizarre and selfish whims.
The Scarecrow and Lion aren’t much better. Scarecrow used his brains for horrible experiments which make the machine-human hybrids of the Woodman’s army. The Lion attacks villages and kills innocent people. He is fearless – and completely lacking compassion. And Glinda the Good is actually an evil slave-driver who makes the Munchkins mine for magic!
All is not without hope. There is an underground movement to remove Dorothy from power. The formerly wicked witches want Amy’s help. They spring her from prison and begin training her in magic and combat techniques so she can play her part in freeing Oz from the tyranny.
This debut novel certainly gives a unique and dark twist to the Wizard of Oz story. The tale itself follows a familiar story arc of a strong, female teen relying on herself to overcome obstacles (think Hunger Games, Divergent, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) – but the similarities and differences with the familiar children’s story makes this new YA book a very interesting read.
Dorothy Must Die ends with plenty of questions still needing to be answered. A sequel is expected in March. I’m looking forward to my next trip to Oz.
Check the WRL catalog for Dorothy Must Die
It’s Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, the day the guns finally went silent in a Europe shattered by World War I. The Armistice was scheduled to begin at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. One bitter joke that made the rounds in the trenches – “Why didn’t they wait ’til the eleventh year?”
Of all the novels which emerged from the War to End All Wars, All Quiet on the Western Front is surely the greatest. While its imagery and the episodes it recounts did not exactly break new ground, Remarque captures both the external devastation of the war and the internal havoc it wreaked on a generation of soldiers. The fact that this story is about Paul Baumer, a German, matters little – it could be about Paul Bois or Paul Wood, or any young man from any country affected by the War. They saw the same horrors, suffered the same degradation, endured the same unendurable lives. But there was a difference even within the armies, and All Quiet on the Western Front unflinchingly told readers how an entire generation was lost.
Paul and his classmates join the Army en masse under the exhortation of their schoolmaster. Filled with patriotism and the orderly knowledge only young men fresh from the classroom could retain, they enter their training regime and begin to learn the ways of a random world. When they arrive at the front, they learn entirely new lessons about a chaotic world striving to kill them. They serve with men of all classes and from all regions of Germany, all of whom are gradually descending to the most basic levels of humanity. Paul and his friends have the farthest to fall, but the trenches eventually make all men equal.
When I was very young, All Quiet on the Western Front gave me a graphic illustration of war stripped of its illusions of honor. Only as an older reader did I become aware of Paul’s complete loss of self. Having gone straight from childhood to a debased manhood, Paul realizes that he has nothing to return to – unlike the older men, he cannot take up a pre-war life. Unlike the younger, he cannot return to a meaningful school life. That changed my understanding of the ending, which I had remembered along the lines of Richard Thomas’s portrayal of Paul in the 1979 movie. Remarque’s original is far more tragic.
The original title, Im Westen nichts Neues, translated literally from German means “In the West, Nothing New.” Whether Remarque meant it as literally as the translation suggests, or as a warning in light of the increasing aggression and xenophobia characterized by the rise of the Nazis is hard to say. Unfortunately, it seems that Ecclesiastes was and continues to be right.
Find All Quiet on the Western Front in the WRL catalog.
I work on a public service desk, so I see lots of people from all walks of life and economic classes. When they ask for computer help, or to use the phone, it is impossible not to see or hear what they’re doing. (The cardinal sin of librarianship is denying them service based on those observations.) But when I hear someone reeking of cigarettes negotiating a payday loan, or see a woman with a toddler and a baby bragging about her sexual adventures on Facebook, it’s hard not to mentally question their choices. Linda Tirado has given me 191 pages of smackaround for my presumption in asking those questions.
Tirado came to international attention when her essay on the bad decisions many poor people make went viral. Based on that attention she was able to get a book deal to expand on the post, and to share the experiences of other people she knows. Those people might as well be the ones I see coming in the door of the library, because they face the same problems: minimum wage jobs where they rarely get 40 hours, second jobs that frequently conflict with the first, unreliable cars, uncertain housing, lack of resources or time to buy and cook fresh food, and difficult choices about prioritizing the little money they earn.
So why do poor people smoke? Wouldn’t you, if it cut down on hunger, gave you a jolt of energy, and allowed you some break time at work? Why do poor people live in such lousy housing? Wouldn’t you, if you had to come up with first and last months’ rent plus a security deposit on a place that goes for more than a few hundred bucks a month? Why do they pay sky-high interest rates on short term loans? Wouldn’t you, if your car broke down and it was still a week until payday? Why are they so poor at planning for the future? Wouldn’t you be if a supervisor, a manager, a district supervisor, and corporate policy all dictated when you could go to the bathroom?
Our prejudice towards the poor is enshrined in our public policy, which begins with an automatic suspicion that poor people can be divided into the worthy poor and those who are to blame and ought to pay the price. And I’d bet you couldn’t get 10 regular people, much less the 21 senators, 51 delegates and 1 governor in Virginia to agree on who is worthy. Tirado’s writing is conversational and often funny, but her humor doesn’t negate the anger in her voice when she talks about those policy-making individual and political prejudices. And her name couldn’t be more perfect for this book – it’s a cross between a tirade and a tornado, demanding that we listen and pay attention.
Check the WRL catalog for Hand to Mouth
Get Well Soon, Grandpa! by An Swerts and Jenny Bakker is a great book to help parents explain what happens when an older family member gets sick.
In the story, Faye visits her grandpa for the night, and when he is getting ready the next morning he has a stroke. Faye is very nervous as she calls her mom, who then arrives with the doctor.
Grandpa Bert is admitted to the hospital and stays there throughout the summer. When he gets out, he comes to stay with Faye and her mom. Faye learns about physical therapy and speech therapy from the therapists who come to help her Grandpa.
This is a longer book and would be great for older children. If a family member is ill or injured and has to go to the hospital, reading this book with your children can help you answer questions they may have. The story is very informative about what happens when a loved one has a stroke, but is also told gently, and can help to ease children’s fears.
Check the WRL catalog for Get Well Soon, Grandpa!
Jennifer D. shares this review:
The author, Jody Feldman, attributes her inspiration for this story to an encounter with a student looking for a read-alike for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While The Gollywhopper Games has a bit of the flavor of that classic book, Feldman has certainly crafted a story that stands on its own.
Gil Goodson is determined to participate in this year’s Gollywhopper Games, an annual event sponsored by the Golly Toy and Game Company. He has done his research and is ready to play. If only he wasn’t running late to stand in line to get an entry ticket. Being late is not the only thing Gil is up against in his effort to win the grand Gollywhopper prize. His father, a former Golly employee, was accused of stealing millions from them a year ago and although he was acquitted he is still the town pariah. Gil wants the family to move from their home in Orchard Heights to make life easier, and that’s just what his father has agreed will happen, if Gil wins the Games.
Gil must match wits with thousands of other contestants in feats of knowledge that combine facts about the Golly Company with general trivia and physical challenges. He makes friends and encounters old foes as the story plays out, and you will find yourself cheering for the good guys and hoping the cheaters get their comeuppance. The toy company’s headquarters, where part of the game is held, is almost another character in the story, since it is just as fantastical as Wonka’s chocolate factory. See if you can figure out the puzzles before Gil and his competitors. Would you have won the Gollywhopper Games?
Check the WRL catalog for The Gollywhopper Games.
This very satisfying debut fiction from a seasoned food writer was delightful to listen to on audiobook CD. Julia Whelan got most of the parts spot on, and even though deepening her voice for the male characters is a bit comical, the lively reading of Ruth Reichl’s intriguing tale and multifarious characters kept my daughter and me engaged thoroughly. She and I enjoy sharing many of the same books, especially adult titles that also hold appeal for teens. In fact, I would not be surprised to see Delicious! turning up among YALSA’s 2015 Alex Award nominees for books published in 2014—I hope, I hope!
Billie Breslin, also known as Wilhelmina to the Fontanari family, where Sal calls her Willie, feels fortunate to have landed a competitive position at Delicious magazine (obviously inspired by Gourmet, which discontinued in 2009 and was last headed by Ruth Reichl as editor). It doesn’t take long for Billie’s extraordinary palate to be recognized; she has the uncanny talent for detecting even the most obscure ingredients and flavors and has a knack for suggesting the precise tweak needed to perfect a recipe. Yet, she adamantly claims that she is definitely no cook! Her new friends in New York soon suspect she’s harboring some darkly saddening secret, however. Meanwhile, she’s determined to work her way into food writing, which she quickly and very cleverly accomplishes.
Delicious magazine closes down, but Billie is retained to handle customer service matters, working solo in the Timbers mansion, where she stumbles upon a secret room. Mysteriously secreted letters slowly reveal the details of a World War II correspondence between a 12-year-old girl interested in cooking and Chef James Beard when he was on staff at the magazine. We’re also provided with letters written in the present, diary-like words Billie addresses to her older sister. This partially epistolary read brings the reader deeper into the thoughts of our leading lady. The plot revolves around Billie’s collaboration with Sammy and Mitch to preserve the historic letters and library before it’s too late.
Some of the most remarkable characters in Reichl’s very clever and page-turning tale are those who are not actually in this story but mentioned in the letters and by the characters, the librarians who organized the forbidden library and the legendary James Beard. Along the way, readers will learn fascinating details about war-time prejudices and the history of culinary challenges during rationing. Readers will even be taken on an architectural history tour of New York and learn historical tidbits about the Underground Railroad. Delicious! is delightful, and it is so pleasing to see one of America’s food-writing favorites succeed as a novelist too.
Check the WRL catalog for Delicious!
Or check out the audiobook, read by Julia Whelan.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
Two stories are being told as the novel begins, one about Peter and one about Thea, and as the book progresses the stories converge in an unexpected way.
Thea lives underneath Greenland in a community called Gracehope. The inhabitants have lived under the ice for centuries aided by technology that far surpasses that on the surface—what they call the “wider world.” Gracehope is beginning to grow beyond its means, and Thea believes that it is time for her people to rejoin the rest of the world. Her mother died in pursuit of a way to expand Gracehope, and the desire for exploration has certainly been passed along to her daughter. Thea meets with great resistance, however, because Gracehope’s inhabitants remember how savagely they were once hunted in the world above. Gracehope is their refuge.
Peter is the son of a scientist who studies glaciers, and for the first time he will be accompanying his parents on a research trip to Greenland. His mother is strangely nervous about his coming along, and not just the “he’ll miss so much school” type of nervous. She has been known to have episodes where she seems to detach from life, which his father explains away by saying she has a headache. Peter knows something else is wrong. He’s had a headache before, and it didn’t make him act like that. When his mother starts questioning Peter about how his head feels, he decides not to tell her his secret. One of his headaches came with a vision, a glimpse into the future.
Aside from its imagining a community beneath Greenland, First Light is a subtle fantasy story. Certain characters have abilities outside the norm, but this is not an explosively supernatural novel. It’s an excellent story filled with questions that I’m pleased to say are all answered well enough for me by the end. It’s a nice change from the cliff-hanging series titles that are so popular right now. I can’t wait to see what Ms. Stead has in store for us next.
Check the WRL catalog for First Light.
Charlotte shares this review:
You get to Alcatraz by being the worst of the worst. Unless you’re me. I came here because my mother said I had to.
The original setting is the first great thing about this book: it’s 1935, and Moose Flanagan’s family has just moved to Alcatraz. His father works as an electrician and part-time guard on the famous prison island. Between his father’s long work hours and the family’s ongoing troubles trying to raise his special-needs sister Natalie, no one seems to have much time for Moose. So maybe no one will notice this scheme cooked up by the warden’s daughter, a 12-year-old femme fatale named Piper, to market Alcatraz laundry service—the only laundry service run by convicted felons!—to kids at school.
In 1935, no one used the word “autistic” yet, which makes it even harder for Moose to explain why his 16-year-old sister needs babysitting, or throws tantrums, or has such a phenomenal gift for numbers. Mrs. Flanagan has tried everything she can imagine to break through Natalie’s isolation. Her last hopes are fixed on a progressive, experimental boarding school, the Esther P. Marinoff. But if the school won’t let Natalie enroll…
I expected this book to be funny, but I did not expect it to bring tears to my eyes, which may have happened. Sure, the gangster legends and the rules of life on a prison island are interesting. Did you know Al Capone started the first soup kitchen in Chicago?
But this is not a one-gimmick book; it’s a compassionate story about an ordinary, likable family under a lot of stress. There are tensions in every relationship, especially between Moose, a kid shouldering the responsibilities of an adult, and his mother, who can’t enjoy her son’s accomplishments without resenting the things her daughter will never have. The character of Natalie was inspired by the author’s sister, Gina, who had a severe form of autism; maybe that’s why both the strengths and the weaknesses in this family seem so true.
And it’s funny. If you’ve already enjoyed this book, head straight for the sequel, Al Capone Shines My Shoes, in which Piper continues to be a real piece of work, Moose finds it difficult to be best friends with everybody, and J. Edgar Hoover gets his pocket picked during dinner. Now with more gangster action!
Check the WRL catalog for Al Capone Does My Shirts.
Or try the audiobook.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror is a volume of short stories told within the framework of a great uncle sharing scary tales with his young nephew. These are not terribly terrifying tales, but they are just eerie enough to capture a wide audience. They are also good for those of us who like a good scary shiver, but do not want to be kept awake all night with fright.
Among my favorites of Uncle Montague’s tales are “The Un-Door”, about two con-artists performing a séance which goes very wrong, “The Gilt Frame”, in which a girl is offered three wishes and is not very careful with them, and “A Ghost Story”, which tells the story of a girl attending a wedding to which she was invited, but at which she is not really welcome. “The Demon Bench End”, and “Offerings” are fine stories, as well. The impetus for telling these tales comes from items decorating Uncle Montague’s study – artifacts from the lives of those whose stories he now tells. We come to learn that Uncle Montague has a story of his own to tell.
For those looking for more just-spooky-enough stories, this book is followed by Priestley’s Tales of Terror from the Black Ship.
Check the WRL catalog for Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror.
Barry shares this review:
Neil Gaiman is probably best known for his writing for adults, the superb graphic novel Sandman or carefully crafted fiction such Anansi Boys or his collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens. I think though that Gaiman deserves to be equally well known for his writing for children and young adults. Coraline is a sublimely creepy tale that is a perfect read on a rainy autumn evening.
As in so many tales of the supernatural, our heroine, Coraline, finds herself at loose ends. She and her parents live in an old ramshackle house that has been turned into flats. She has explored the grounds, and had encounters with the other inhabitants of the place (a pair of aging actresses and an old man who says he is training a mouse circus). On a rainy day, while exploring indoors, Coraline discovers an locked door, whose entrance, when opened, has been bricked over. The door holds a strange fascination for her though, and one day she unlocks the door to find that the bricks are gone.
Of course she goes on through, and there finds a strange version of her own world. Coraline meets her “other” parents and her strange neighbors are apparently there too, as well as a disturbing community of talking rats, who seem to have dreams of domination. Coraline quickly discovers that there are other children trapped in this seemingly pleasant, though skewed version of her home, and she takes it on herself to save them and to restore the balance of her world. She faces some horrifying creatures in her quest, and finds help where she least expected. Through his use of language and his power of description Gaiman creates a world that is both believable and chilling.
Check the WRL catalog for Coraline
Charlotte shares this review:
Wisecracking brothers with swords and guns, on the run from the demons that killed their father. This could have been a run-of-the-mill teenage urban fantasy with demon hunting and chase scenes, but first-time author Brennan also gives us an intriguing, sardonic narrator who hooked me into a story I didn’t expect.
Sixteen-year-old Nick Ryves is a man of few words and many weapons. His priorities are simple: to protect his brother, Alan, at any cost, and to protect their mother, but only because Alan has some weird, sappy attachment to her. In general, other people and other people’s emotions are a waste of Nick’s time.
The Ryves brothers have stayed one step ahead of the demons for years, but this time, they’re slowed down by two kids from school: Jamie, who’s unwittingly gotten himself marked for demon possession, and his devoted sister Mae, who’s willing to do anything to get him un-marked. They’re messing up the uneasy balance of Nick’s family triangle. They’re throwing off his priorities. Alan’s taking stupid risks just to help Jamie, or maybe to impress Mae, and for the first time in their lives, he’s hiding secrets from his brother. This cannot end well.
I loved Nick’s point of view. I loved watching him try to interpret the world through his brother’s reactions and facial expressions. (And then he would cross the line from grumpy and laconic to really, truly, take-the-knives-away-from-this-boy scary, and I’d wonder what I’d gotten myself into.) Brennan springs surprises throughout the fast-paced plot. Even while I was congratulating myself on predicting some plot twist, a character would sneak around my mental blind side and do something completely unexpected.
While the focus is on brothers Nick and Alan, there’s a solid ensemble cast in which each of the characters gets a moment and some Buffyesque one-liners. The Demon’s Lexicon wraps up without a cliffhanger, but it’s also the setup for what should be a fun and unconventional series.
Check the WRL catalog for The Demon’s Lexicon.
Andrew shares this review:
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. 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
Charlotte shares this review:
I do try to be a cool aunt, but Aunt Peg, Ginny Blackstone’s bohemian artist aunt, takes the cake. Who wouldn’t enjoy an expenses paid tour of Europe? The only problem is that Aunt Peg isn’t there to share the adventure any longer. Ginny’s “runaway aunt,” never the most reliable person, took off two years ago without a forwarding address, and the next thing her family heard, she had died overseas. As the next best thing to being there, she’s left her 17-year-old niece money for a solo plane ticket to London and 13 envelopes, each to be opened only in a certain time and place.
London, Edinburgh, Paris, Rome: in each city, Ginny has instructions. Find a particular café, fund a starving artist. When in Rome, ask an Italian boy out for cake! Obviously Aunt Peg’s posthumous mission is not only to retrace her European travels, but to push quiet Ginny out of her comfort zone. Feeling more and more ordinary without the company of her extraordinary aunt, Ginny fumbles her way through the assigned tasks. She meets the Harrod’s manager who packs Sting’s holiday baskets, is temporarily tattooed by a famous artist, and is briefly adopted by the world’s most frighteningly organized tourist family. It’s an emotional scavenger hunt: with each letter, Ginny learns a little more about her aunt’s missing two years, and that she isn’t finished grieving for her aunt… or quite through being angry that she vanished in the first place.
Teens will enjoy Ginny’s not-exactly-a-relationship with her adopted starving artist and the whirlwind tour of Europe with nothing but an oversized backpack and a bank card, but I finished this book thinking about things from the aunt’s perspective. If you wanted to lead someone through the greatest hits of your life—the places where you were the happiest, or learned the most important lessons—where would you send them?
Check the WRL catalog for 13 Little Blue Envelopes.
There’s a sequel, too: The Last Little Blue Envelope.