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Eternal Smile, by Gene Luen Yang & Derek Kirk Kim

Read This! - Fri, 2015-01-02 01:01

Abby shares this review:

In the last couple of years I have discovered how much I enjoy graphic novels. This format contains stories that run the gamut of literature, with the benefit of interesting, beautiful, and funny illustrations. In the same way that the illustrations in a children’s picture book contribute to the story so that the effect is greater than the sum of its parts, graphic novels do the same thing for more complicated storylines. The shorts in The Eternal Smile are all about escape, in one way or another.

The first, “Duncan’s Kingdom,” begins with a classic fantasy gambit—a knight of the realm is sent off to kill a great enemy of the kingdom, but he is plagued by a mysterious dream. In his dream, which is told without text, we see the back of a woman, sitting at a table, an old-fashioned glass soda bottle sits next to her. In the realm of the enemy, Duncan discovers a bottle that looks the same, bearing the label “Snappy Cola;” he’s mystified by this bottle and what it might mean. The artistic style of this story is fairly realistic, but with some stylized elements. The colors in the day time scenes are warm, tones of red and dark yellow predominate; but the scenes that take place in the evening are cool, in grays and purples. I especially like the way that Duncan is drawn in classic hero style, with a small dimple in his chin.

The next story is drawn in a style reminiscent of the old Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck adventures. “Gran’Pa Greenbax and The Eternal Smile” features a money-grubbing frog, his two equally greedy granddaughters, and his hapless assistant, Filbert, who does all the real work despite his pronounced stutter and obvious fear of his employer. Greenbax’s goal is to have a golden pool, filled with money, so deep that he can dive into it without hitting his head. Filbert is his ideas man, relentless in his search to find Gran’pa Greenbax his next “get rich quick scheme.” At the end of his rope, Filbert brings them all to the desert to view “the eternal smile,” the name he has given to the smile-shaped anomaly in the sky. Greenbax is furious, but then decides to build a “Church of the Eternal Smile” to solicit donations from parishioners to fuel his greed. The church, however, does not operate as smoothly as he expects.

The final story in this collection is “Urgent Request”; the characters are very stylized, rounded figures rendered in shades of black and grey on yellow paper. Janet is a low-level programmer for CommTech and her shyness is evident. The text is spare, but the story unfolds with details added by the illustrations. Shortly after Janet is turned down for a promotion and humiliated by her boss, she receives an urgent request from Prince Henry Alembu of the Royal Family of Nigeria, asking for her banking information so he can send through a wire transfer of funds. Readers will recognize this as one of the classic email “phishing” scams to bilk people out of their hard earned money. What Janet does in response is as surprising as it is fascinating.

Just as words combined with pictures make a whole greater than the sum of their parts, these three disparate stories work together to create a thought-provoking book. The Eternal Smile is a quick read and readers who have read Gene Luen Yang’s Prinz award-winning young adult novel American Born Chinese will recognize both the drawing style and exploration of identity. Derek Kirk Kim is the author of Good as Lily, which is also in our collection.

Check the WRL catalog for The Eternal Smile.

 


Categories: Read This

Don’t Even Think About It, by Sarah Mlynowski

Read This! - Wed, 2014-12-31 01:01

Jennnifer D. shares this review:

It’s just about flu season, so it’s the perfect time to read a book about what could happen when you get your flu shot.  Getting a shot is not the most pleasant experience, so here’s a little incentive.  It might just give you ESP.

After getting their flu shots, twenty-two students of Bloomberg High School can suddenly read each other’s minds.  Everyone’s thoughts are on display.  Unfortunately, knowing that people can read your mind can make you think of all the things you’d least like others to know.  That time you cheated on a test.  That time you cheated on your boyfriend.   These teens quickly learn that they don’t want to know what their parents, teachers, and even best friends really think about.  Not that there aren’t benefits:  better grades, better relationships, better futures.  It’s easy to be the smartest person in the room when you know what everyone else is thinking.

Secrets might be a thing of the past for these students, but they all have one big secret to share.  In the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”  The chances of twenty-two keeping a secret are next to nothing.  Soon everyone from their parents to the CDC knows about their abilities and it’s time to decide.  Whose thoughts do they want in their heads for the rest of their lives – their own, or everyone’s?

Check the WRL catalog for Don’t Even Think About It.


Categories: Read This

The Game of Sunken Places, by M. T. Anderson

Read This! - Mon, 2014-12-29 01:01

Charlotte shares this review:

Thirteen-year-old best friends, who describe themselves as “two lobes of the same brain,” visit an eccentric uncle at his Vermont mansion, and in the tradition of such vacations, end up in peril. Gregory, the smart-alecky one, warns his friend Brian that Uncle Max is eccentric, but it becomes obvious when they arrive and he has the butler burn all of their luggage. Uncle Max prefers that boys wear knickerbockers and speaks like a character out of Dickens.

Exploring the house, the boys discover a curious board game without any rules but with a layout that seems to correspond to the old, Victorian house and its grounds. As the boys solve puzzles, the board expands to reveal more pathways and tests. It’s no Candyland, though… more like Zork, with gruesome monsters lurking in the dark, trolls, and a mysterious stranger with a bladed yo-yo. Someone really should have taught these boys not to get involved in a magical game before they know the rules… or the stakes.

A bit like Narnia by way of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, this first book in a series has marvelously despicable villains and writing that combines a real sense of malice with a wicked, nutty sense of humor.

I liked the friendship in this book. The boys are very different, but they “get” each other; Gregory’s off-the-wall sense of humor is balanced by Brian’s quieter, deep-thinking approach to problems. They may get on each other’s nerves, but neither doubts that the other will be there when it counts.

The ending has some nifty twists and sets the story up to continue in three more books.

Check the WRL catalog for The Game of Sunken Places.


Categories: Read This

The Magician’s Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo

Read This! - Fri, 2014-12-26 01:01

Jennifer D. shares this review:

Kate DiCamillo’s work has always been quite popular, but The Magician’s Elephant  is definitely my favorite. It features an eclectic cast of characters including a fortune teller, two orphans, a magician, a nun, a dog, an ex-soldier, a policeman and his wife, and an elephant.

One of the orphans, Peter Augustus Duchene, is searching for his sister. He has been told that she is dead but maintains the hope that, somewhere out there, she is alive. His hopes seem to be well-founded when he meets a fortune teller who tells him that in order to find his sister, he must “follow the elephant.” While that prospect seems to be quite the impossibility, at least the fortune has confirmed that Peter’s sister is alive. Then he overhears the most amazing story. A magician in town has performed an unbelievable trick. He has materialized an elephant out of thin air! Could this be the elephant that will lead Peter to his sister?

The Magician’s Elephant is a quirky, lovely book that quietly tells a story of, as Ms. DiCamillo puts it, “love and magic.”

Check the WRL catalog for The Magician’s Elephant

 


Categories: Read This

Linger, by Maggie Stiefvater

Read This! - Wed, 2014-12-24 01:01

Noreen shares this review:

When I decided to read Linger, I was both excited and a bit cautious. Shiver, the first book in this trilogy, was amazing and, in my opinion, it set a new standard for teen fiction dealing with Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies, and whatever.  Would Linger live up to my expectations, or like many second, third and fourth books in a series, would it just rearrange the characters and problems ultimately telling the same story over and over?  What a wonderful surprise to find that Linger is as compelling, beautifully written, and enjoyable as the first book.

Sam and Grace are still two teenagers grappling with teen problems as well as the new reality that Sam will no longer shift from human form to wolf.  His internal struggle with this is amazingly believable.  Grace is struggling as well, with a strange illness and with the angst of not yet being 18 and totally free to make her own choices.  These are real teens who have teen problems, but who also have the determination to fight for what they want.

Isobel, a somewhat minor and unlikable character in the first book, becomes a major player in Linger.  As with all of us, she too is a complex teenager whose façade of sarcasm and anger starts to crack, making her another real teen who is vulnerable and struggling with life. Stiefvater accomplishes this while retaining Isobel’s feisty approach to reality.  And then there is Cole, a new character, as complicated and real as the others.

While Grace’s parents have previously been pretty nonchalant about Grace’s activities, in Linger they start reacting to some situations in a more stereotypical parental way.  All of this makes all of them very real.  Most people are much more complicated than they seem at first, and Maggie Stiefvater has created characters with whom we can all identify on multiple levels.

Linger is filled with subtle foreshadows and clues that let the reader speculate on the future of Grace and Sam.  But somehow the author has provided just enough surprises as the reader reaches the conclusion of the book, to keep you both reading, wondering, and worrying about these people you have learned to like, respect, and love.

After reading the last page, I marveled at how much I enjoyed the book. I certainly look forward to checking out the final book of the trilogy, Forever.

Check the WRL catalog for Linger or Shiver

 


Categories: Read This

Winter’s End, by Jean-Claude Mourlevat

Read This! - Mon, 2014-12-22 01:01

Jeanette shares this review:

Sometimes, I come across a book that I immediately determine to read. Winter’s End was one of these. The gloomy cover with the solitary hooded character in a wintry landscape, a slight splattering of blood across the top, made this book irresistible. Novels in which seemingly powerless characters do their best to survive and bring down an unjust authoritarian regime are among my favorites.  I figured that since it was originally in French and translated into English, it might be a story of broad appeal.

Helen and Milena are orphaned teenagers at a prison-like all-girl boarding school during the oppressive reign of the Phalange. Helen’s depression gets the best of her, so she requests a visit to her assigned consoler, and names Milena as her companion. The girls will be allowed out of the school for three hours. If they do not come back in time, another student, Catharina Pancek,  will be punished by being placed in isolation until the girls return.

On their way to the consolers’ houses, Helen and Milena meet two students from the boys’ school, Milos and Bartolomeo. The four exchange names and construct a way to keep in touch by sending notes through the Skunk, a man who takes care of laundry for both the boys’ and the girls’ schools.

Consoler Paula and her little boy Octavo are the closest thing to a family Helen has known. They welcome Helen into their home for a few hours. Octavo shows her his homework while Paula fixes hot chocolate and delicious baked potatoes. When Helen’s visit is over, she goes to meet Milena. Instead of her friend, she finds a note saying, “Helen, I’m not going back to school. Don’t worry. I’m all right. Ask Catharina Pancek to forgive me. Milena. (Please don’t hate me).”

That is how the book starts. The four students escape from school, Milena and Bartolomeo together at first, followed several days later by Helen and Milos. On the run, the students learn about their parents: how and why they died and what they themselves can do to revive the dormant resistance movement against the Phalange. The story is told from multiple points of view: from Helen’s, Milena’s, Milo’s, Catharina’s, and from one of the Phalangist hunters sent to find them.

There is nothing clichéd in this book. The hunters use trained dog-men—genetic combinations more hound dog than man—that can walk upright, hunt, and use limited speech. There is a race of humans called cart-horses or horse-men, who take pride in finishing any task they’re asked to do or die trying. Milena’s beautiful singing voice plays a prominent role in the novel, as does Milos’s training and skill in Greco-Roman wrestling. It is the age-old struggle of a determined group fighting against a powerful regime, but the cold, repressive society Mourlevat has created is unique and darkly fantastical.

In reading this novel, I found myself immersed in the oppressive world Mourlevat created. I would recommend it to young adults as well as to adults who enjoy dystopic fiction but don’t require complex romantic relationships in their reading.

Check the WRL catalog for Winter’s End

 


Categories: Read This

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger

Read This! - Fri, 2014-12-19 01:01

Jennifer D. shares this review:

Yoda was wise beyond his 900 years, but how wise is Origami Yoda?  Or, perhaps more importantly, how wise is Dwight, the boy who wears the origami Yoda finger puppet and gives him his voice?  Because, socially speaking, Dwight seems to be pretty inept.  He is known for making a fool of himself, especially with girls, yet, when he speaks in Yoda’s voice, genius advice comes out.  Could Yoda really be speaking through the puppet, or is Dwight actually a genius?  Tommy and his friends are determined to thoroughly investigate the matter.

What follows is a diary entry formatted story, similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  We get stories and drawings from Tommy and his friends explaining how they have benefited from the advice of Origami Yoda.  By the end of the book, you may be just as surprised with their findings as Tommy is.    Don’t miss the final section of the book, where you, too, can learn how to make an Origami Yoda!

Check the WRL catalog for The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.

 


Categories: Read This

The Pinhoe Egg, by Diana Wynne Jones

Read This! - Wed, 2014-12-17 01:01

Jan shares this review:

I have decided to take a risk and recommend one of my favorite books ever. It has a satisfying story, strong characters who are learning about themselves, magic and magical creatures, a magnificent horse, evil elderly relatives, a castle, and children who are better people than the adults around them. How could any book need more? In fact, my enduring ambition is to live in Chrestomanci Castle.

The Pinhoe Egg is shelved in the children’s section and is certainly enjoyed by children, but it is also a marvelous book for teens and adults to relish. If you guiltily enjoyed the early Harry Potter books for their humor, magic, and “Englishness” you will probably love The Pinhoe Egg and the rest of the Chrestomanci Series.

Marianne Pinhoe lives in a quiet English country village. The school holidays are starting and she is looking forward to having free time and working on her story about romantic Princess Irene. Unfortunately for Marianne, her family has other plans. Marianne is to run errands for her ailing grandmother, Gamma, while her older brother Joe is to go to work as a boot boy at nearby Chrestomanci Castle and report back what he learns (to spy, in other words!). On Marianne’s very first morning at Gamma’s house things start to fall apart as the old woman is visited by members of the Farley family from the next village and Marianne’s Gamma appears to go mad. The entire, overwhelming, extended family gather round to look after the old woman and decide that they need to clear out her house to sell. The attics are forgotten, and one day in search of Gamma’s constantly straying cat, Nutcase, Marianne discovers a strange spherical object covered with strong “don’t notice” spells. Thinking that it is useless, Marianne gives it to Eric Chant (or Cat) from the Castle, unknowingly betraying her family’s Sacred Trust. What is the spherical object? Could it be an egg? And what is the Sacred Trust and has Marianne done a bad thing in breaking it, as her father says, or a good thing as the people at the Castle claim?

(Note that the object is clearly described as round and mauve with speckles, and not gold and hen’s-egg shaped as it is shown on this cover.)

This book can be enjoyed on its own, but readers of Diana Wynne Jone’s other Chrestomanci books will recognize plenty of characters. I enjoy series like this which include the same characters, but are told each time from a different person’s perspective. We get to see how our favorite characters are seen by other people in other situations–sort of like seeing your teacher in their tatty track pants in the supermarket during the weekend.

Although I have read The Pinhoe Egg several times, I have just listened to it on CD during my commute. Diana Wynne Jone’s wry humor and Gerard Doyle’s engaging narration have seen me looking like a fool and laughing out loud.

Check the WRL Catalog for The Pinhoe Egg

 


Categories: Read This

Meridian, by Amber Kizer

Read This! - Mon, 2014-12-15 01:01

Jennifer D. shares this review:

Strange things happen to Meridian Sozu. Her biggest problem does not come from boys, homework, or an unhappy family life. Her biggest problem is the fact that animals tend to drop dead around her. She believes she is causing their deaths, but in truth they just seem to find her when it is their time. Her problem was limited to animals until her sixteenth birthday. On her way home from the bus stop, a car crash occurs that kills many of her classmates. She is uninjured, but has a painful physical reaction to the event. As the strange pains send her to the brink of unconsciousness, Meridian is swept up by her parents and rushed to the bus station. This is not exactly a typical parental reaction, and it becomes clear that her mom and dad have not been entirely honest with her. They send her to live under the care of her aunt, saying that they love her, but that they will probably never see her again. Not the happiest of birthdays. But this significant birthday is the key to her new life. She is beginning to come into her powers as a Fenestra.

Your next question is bound to be the same one Meridian posed when she first heard the term…what is a Fenestra? A Fenestra is a half-angel, half-human hybrid, whose job it is to help souls cross over for the Creator. She must learn how to control her ability, or the pain she felt after the car crash will eventually kill her. Her aunt, who also happens to be a Fenestra, will train her with the assistance of a young man named Tens, who has been somehow cosmically chosen to be Meridian’s protector.

In their efforts to train Meridian, her aunt and Tens are up against a few deadlines. In addition to avoiding her own death, Meridian must learn to wield her new powers quickly to fight a new threat that is looming in town. If there are angels around to help souls cross for the Creator, there are also those whose job it is to send souls to the Destroyer, called Aternocti. They are hoping to destroy Meridian before she can fully control her powers.

A battle is looming between the Fenestra and Aternocti, and Meridian is caught in the middle. Author Amber Kizer has clearly spent much time developing the story of Meridian’s world. Meridian and the reader both learn about her abilities and the history of the Fenestra together as the story unfolds. The story is continued in the sequel, Wildcat Fireflies.

Check the WRL catalog for Meridian.


Categories: Read This