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Archive for the ‘Melissa’s Picks’ Category

omensOmens is a fast-paced book with a nice mix of mystery and paranormal plot.

Olivia Taylor-Jones grew up in a privileged family.  She attends the right type of charity functions, works as a volunteer at a shelter, and is engaged to be married to a handsome, proper CEO with political ambitions.  Her life couldn’t be more perfect, until everything falls apart.

Reporters uncover that she was adopted and her birth parents are serving time for several heinous murders.  Everyone has heard of the serial killers Pamela and Todd Larsen.  Olivia just had no idea that she was their daughter.

The scandal and zealous publicity hounds are a bit too much for her adopted mother and fiance – so Olivia flees.  At first she tries to find an apartment in Chicago, but because of her reluctance to tap into her mother’s money, she has very limited resources. After a particularly unsettling experience in a cheap, but unsafe, neighborhood she takes the advice of an older man and heads to Cainsville, a small town just outside of the city.

Cainsville is an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past. And Olivia feels strangely connected to the place.  She lands a job as a waitress at the local diner and begins a rocky relationship with her birth mother’s lawyer, Gabriel Walsh.  Walsh would like Olivia to help mend his professional relationship with Pamela Larsen – and Olivia wants to meet Pamela to find out about her past.

In the course of investigating her parents’ alleged crimes, Olivia stumbles upon the truth about one of the murders.  Poking around in the past puts Olivia and Gabriel in danger – but also brings the two unlikely partners closer.

I appreciated that this one murder mystery was solved and I wasn’t left completely hanging at the end, though I know the story has many other issues to resolve. I’ll keep reading the series because I care about the characters and love the hints about there being something more than what meets the eye.

If you are just now starting the series — lucky you! — the second book just came out. Visions provides additional material as to what is so special about Cainsville’s residents.

I would definitely recommend picking up the book if you enjoyed Karen Marie Moning’s Darkfever series (Gabriel and Barron have similar personalities) or Richelle Mead’s Gameboard of the Gods.

Check the WRL catalog for Omens

Check the WRL catalog for Visions

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whistlingHere’s another fantastic book I read based on my colleague Nancy’s suggestion.  Like her last recommendation, The Supreme’s at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, this one takes a look at friendships and race relations in the South.

Starla Claudelle is an impetuous, spunky 9-year-old kid who learns a lot about the world during a two-week adventure in the summer of 1963.

Her mother moved to Nashville to be a country music star when Starla was just 3 years old.  She has vague memories of a beautiful woman with a lovely voice, and her most prized possession is a demo record her mama sent her a few years ago.

Starla rarely sees her dad who works on an oil rig in Biloxi. She is growing up under the care of her grandmother, Mamie, who doesn’t have a lot of patience with Starla.  Maybe Mamie is just worried that Starla won’t grow up into a proper young lady without the restrictions and high demands, or maybe she’s just got a mean streak…

After losing the privilege of attending her favorite holiday festivities because she was defending a younger girl against a bully, Starla decides to sneak out for the 4th-of-July parade and get her share of candy. When she is caught by one of Mamie’s friends, Starla reasons that she might as well run away to Nashville and live with her famous mother instead of staying in Cayuga Springs and being sent to reform school.

There aren’t many cars on the road on the holiday, and Starla is beginning to rethink her impulsive action when a black woman pulls up and offers her a ride.  You know from the start that Eula doesn’t believe Starla’s story about why she’s on the road alone, but Eula takes her home anyway and eventually helps her get to Nashville to find her mother.

Through the course of the story Starla learns about kindness and meanness, justice and injustice, truth and lies. And the reader learns it, too, through her eyes.

I loved the way the reader, Amy Rubinate, handled the narration of the audiobook.  I particularly enjoyed Eula’s voice – soothing and calm. I looked forward to hearing what she had to say, especially after hearing Starla go on about something she was upset about. Rubinate received AudioFile’s Golden Earphones Award for her work on this book.

When I got nervous that Starla was going to get in a heap of trouble, what Starla referred to as getting a “red rage,” I had to turn off the CD and pick up the book.  It sounds silly, but I cared about the characters too much to listen to something bad happen to her or Eula.  And no, I won’t spoil the story by telling you whether my fears were unfounded.

I’d recommend this one to book groups looking for a something like The Help or as Nancy suggested, The Sweet By and By. There is a lot to discuss about friendship, family and racial tensions. A reading group guide is available online at the publisher’s website.

Check the WRL catalog for Whistling Past the Graveyard

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Whistling Past the Graveyard

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dorothyModern 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

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catwomanFavorite villain of all time: Catwoman.  And here’s a whole young adult graphic novel devoted to her!

This book starts off with the origin story of the feline felon. Early comics had her as a bored socialite who liked the taste of danger in stealing jewelry, while later comics expanded her background to mousy, expendable secretary or avenging prostitute. In all scenarios she turns to a life of crime, and despite Batman’s efforts she will not reform.

Chapters then address her costumes (tight), tools of the trade (poisoned perfume and fabulous whip, to name a few), and an ongoing flirtation with Batman. Each chapter includes frames from comics, tv shows, or movies to help illustrate the point. My favorite part of the book is the interspersed comics that show the feline arch-villain as she appeared in the 1940s through early 2000s. The book even ends with a Bob Kane “Batman with Robin” adventure featuring Catwoman.

This Catwoman book is more overview than in-depth study. It’s a purr-fectly delightful read. But Catwoman fans will have to go to another source for information about how the character was fully developed and which comic artist contributed what feature to the story.

Check the WRL catalog for Catwoman

 

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batman1

Batman Week, Day 3. Today’s post highlights a small sample of Batman books for the younger generation.  These books are very popular at the library, so be sure to check the catalog if you don’t see these on the shelf!

Let’s start with a Junior Graphic Novel, Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight, written and illustrated by Ralph Cosentino.

This book covers the basics of the Batman story and introduces four familiar villains without going into a specific story of how they are vanquished. The layout is very similar to a picture book with many of the illustrations covering both pages. But like a comic strip, the book has word boxes and the familiar sound effects (boom! bonk! pow!).  While the story talks about Batman studying hard to outsmart the bad guy, the pictures show him using his physical strength to subdue the villain.

This one is recommended for grades 1-3. If you like the look of this book, Cosentino has written about Superman and Wonder Woman as well.

The library also has several titles in the Junior Easy Reader series by Scholastic.  I borrowed a few books for reading level 2 (reading with help) and level 3 (reading alone).  These were my favorite stories:

Level 2 stories like I Am Batman and Batman Versus Bane have pictures on every page, but also tell a simple story of how Batman uses his brains and cool gadgets to battle the bad guy. These stories in particular have illustrations reminiscent of the Dark Knight movies.

The Mad Hatter, a level 3 story, has a more complex plot and fewer pictures. The pictures are more comic-like with frames and word boxes, and the story is quick moving action. Once people report that their hats have been stolen, Batman quickly figures out that the Mad Hatter is once again in Gotham City. He catches up to the bad guys at a museum, but the Mad Hatter escapes with a cryptic message: “My next adventure will be my crowning glory!” Batman knows the villain is up to something big and has to figure it out before the Mad Hatter strikes again. Brains and cool gadgets once again help Batman make the city and its citizens safe.

batman3 And finally, the Junior Fiction chapter books include a DC Super Heroes series about Batman by different writers and illustrators. I picked up The Fog of Fear. This was the most complex story of the batch I collected. Written in chapters with an occasional picture, the book features many challenges for Batman to overcome. A master criminal called “The Scarecrow” releases a fog on Gotham City. It appears to be just a nuisance until Batman discovers that water will react with the fog to create hallucinations of your greatest fears. Batman has to figure out a way to clear the dense fog from the city. And in the process, he must help a friend who gets transformed into a vicious Man-Bat!

This is definitely another action-packed adventure for young fans who are ready for a bigger reading challenge. My only gripe was the illustrations. I love Legos, but didn’t like that the Batman in this series looked like a Lego character. Probably not a big deal for the audience this is actually aimed at—but I thought the illustrations from the Scholastic series were better. I also liked the added features at the end of the book—a profile of the villain, discussion questions about the book, and writing prompts for further activities.

Check the WRL catalog for Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight

Check the WRL catalog for The Mad Hatter

Check the WRL catalog for The Fog of Fear

 

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onebighappyDogs cuddling with goats?  An owl raising a goose? A cat caring for a litter of bunnies?  So much cuteness in one book!

One Big Happy Family is a quick read that will put a smile on your face.

Author Lisa Rogak has compiled 50 examples of cross-species friendships.  She explains that the parenting instinct in these cases defied the animals’ natural predator instincts. And whether the relationship lasted a lifetime or just a few weeks, when the young animal needed assistance most the adult animal stepped up to the plate.  As Rogak writes, “in doing so they serve as an inspiration.”

The pictures are the real draw for this nonfiction book. Every few pages there are darling photos of animals.  Brief narratives describe the origins of the relationship.  These can be quickly zipped through so you can “oooh” and “aww” your way to the next picture.

In fact, let’s just show a couple of images that will convince you of the appeal more than any number of words I can use.

dalmation bunny

 

Check the WRL catalog for One Big Happy Family

 

 

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orphantrainOrphan Train caught my eye on the New Books shelf. I had not heard about the orphan trains before and enjoyed gaining some insight through this story.

According to PBS’s The Orphan Trains, the Children’s Aid Society, a precursor to our modern-day foster care, arranged trips between 1854 and 1929 to relocate thousands of orphan children from the streets of New York to the Midwest.  The organizers believed that farmers could use these homeless children as laborers, but hoped they would also treat them as part of their family and make sure they got an education.

Kline’s story is told through Molly and Vivian.  Molly is an angry, misunderstood teen about to age out of the foster care system.  She is arrested for stealing a book from the library and has to perform community service or go to jail.  Her foster mother is fed up with her and doesn’t want to put any more effort into the relationship.  Molly’s boyfriend helps arrange a service project for an older woman, Vivian, who employs his mother.

Vivian has Molly help her downsize her belongings.  But as they open boxes in the attic, Vivian  is reminded of her past and the experiences she had losing her family and being relocated by the orphan trains.  As they talk, Molly and Vivian develop a strong bond from having had similar experiences trying to fit in with foster families.

I enjoyed Vivian’s saga, though my heart ached for all the ups and downs of her life. I especially liked the way Molly’s present-day life and Vivian’s past were similar.  The story was an enjoyable, quick read for me.  My only criticism of the book is the ending — and I love happy endings!  I just felt that everything tied up too neatly.

This book seems to be a popular selection for book groups; in fact, we have the title available as a Gab Bag.  If you want to use it for your own discussion, questions can be found on Christina Baker Kline’s web site. In talking with others who had read the book, we all agreed that it inspired us to look into the real-life events of the orphan trains.  Tying the historical fact to the fictional story would make good talking points.

Check the WRL catalog for Orphan Train

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