Friday, March 29, 2013

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

By Bill Bryson
5/5 stars
Reviewer: Nichole 

This is an oldie, but a goodie.  Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or an armchair adventurer, there is something for everyone in this story of two unprepared, middle-aged men, who attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail.  Amusing quips, observances and anecdotes abound surrounding all the actions of the writer and his friend, from buying gear before the hike to various characters they meet along the way.  If they had undertaken a lesser trail, in less harsh terrain, the hilarity of their missteps and misfortunes wouldn’t be quite as intense, but the disparity of their battles with one another over things like snack cakes and then their battles within themselves when bears wander into their camp, give you a sense of how they spent much of their time in a constant state of confrontation, from without and within.  Physical challenges bring out the best and the worst in people, and Bryson and his friend Katz are no exceptions.  It’s a wild trek, for both the author and reader, and when you are blessed with writing as witty and astute as Bryson’s, it’s worth every second you invest in it.

What I was not prepared for in tackling this book was how much time the author spends revealing not just the splendor of the things they experienced, but the darkness underfoot, and the politics that skew everything around him.  It’s a lesson in ecology, history, and current events, and I dare you to read this and not immediately find yourself looking up information on places like Centralia, Pennsylvania.  It is eye-opening as well as entertaining.

Now I find myself craving a walk in the woods.  Perhaps not the Appalachian Trail, but certainly the trails available here, where there are hopefully no bears or Mary Ellens.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
4/5 Stars
Reviewer: Todd

The movie, and the book based off it, have deep messages concerning Fear, Revenge, and Acceptance. The movie touches onto the fact that when people are afraid; for themselves, for someone else, or of others, they can do horrible things they’d never do otherwise. And how one small spark of fear can become a blaze of destruction and pain that can, and will, consume anyone or thing that’s viewed as a threat. And in the madness of fear, anyone can be seen as a threat.

The story shows the hidden cost of Revenge, the twisting and degradation of one’s very being. How the pain and anger that drives one to terrible actions they think is justice, but is really just spreading those feels to others while never letting go.

The show shows we need Acceptance not just for others, but ourselves. We need Acceptance to give people the chance to show who they really are, if at the end of the day they deserve to be friends with you. But at that same time comes the greater chance we can be hurt, either by a friend or even someone in a position of power and authority. But even so we have to accept these risks because even though there are people that can hurt us it doesn't stop there being good people for us to cherish knowing.

Between the two versions I can't say one is better than the other. The movie was superb, the animation used to great effect to show the world and the characters off. The book was able to flesh out some side characters and the circumstances to Norman to embrace his gift openly, even though he knows it will give him grief from people who find him odd. This is a rare case for me in that neither version is superior; each is a shining example of telling the same story in different mediums and styles.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Soulless: Book One of The Parasol Protectorate

Author: Gail Carriger,
Rating: 4.75/5 Stars
Reviewer: Todd

For this review I’ve decided to take a look at the original novel that the previous graphic novel I talked about was adapted from. The easiest analogy between the two versions would be to compare them as plays. The graphic novel is minimalistic, cutting down on details of the story and “set” to allow the narrative to flow as smoothly as possible. The original novel version on the other hand is a production given a larger stage and works to fill it with a well detailed furnished set, the costumes elaborate to flesh out the details of the characters. It’s in this version of the story that I received an answer for every question I asked, and some I didn’t, about the world that Alexia lives in.
Besides letting us get to know the characters and their motivations better, such as learning a character who only appears twice, we learn how the supernatural coming out into the open affected the world, and that’s one of the biggest differences between the two versions right there. For the sake of space and efficiency of the medium the graphic novel had to drop letting us know that since the Age of Enlightenment, the 1600-1700’s, beings like vampire, werewolves, and even ghosts have been common knowledge.
In this version the characters beyond Alexia and the few main characters are more than mere shadows that appear for a moment before fading out of the scene. In this version their interactions carry emotional depth, and even learn more about who they are and their relationship to the Alexia. Which is a bit of a relief as otherwise in the adaptation they’re picked up and dropped without so much as letting us know their names, which is bad when one of those “shadow of a character” is supposed to be Alexia’s best friend.
Though a bit of fair warning must be given, what is merely alluded to in the adaptation is of course given a more through exploration. And since that includes scenes containing risqué material those parts may not be suited to the tastes of all. Overall I must give the original novel a higher level of approval for not only telling the same tale but giving it more

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Most Scenic Drives in America

The Most Scenic Drives in America: 120 Spectacular Road Trips

Reader’s Digest, Newly Revised and Updated
4 stars

Review by: Nichole

For the lovers of road trips, lovers of beauty, and lovers of the magical sights to be seen on our very own continent, this book is a great start to some fantastic ideas for trips of a lifetime.  How you get to these destinations is up to you, but each is a route designed for a vehicle (car, truck, RV, or motorcycle) with stops along the way, to show you some of the most spectacular areas you never knew existed, all accessible from the road.

There are classics like Yellowstone, the Pacific Coast Highway, the Redwoods, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Great River Road.  For roadtrip connoisseurs like myself, I nodded at the obligatory inclusion of these.  There were some lesser known inclusions closer to home, like Minnesota’s North Shore, the Black Hills area in South Dakota, the Bayfield Peninsula and Door County in Wisconsin, and an Upper Peninsula, Michigan drive, all of which I have done and highly recommend myself.  However, this book also brought to my attention places I hadn’t considered, like the Missouri Ozarks (full of caves and rivers and lakes), Icefields Parkway in Alberta (including Banff, glaciers, waterfalls and hot springs), the Delaware River Loop in New Jersey (stunning views), and the North Georgia Highroads (gorges, orchards, farms, mountains and waterfalls).

You’re not going to get any recommendations on where to stay or what restaurants to try.  You’re also not going to get an price listings for park entrances or hours of operation.  That’s not the point of this book.  This book is giving you suggested routes and routes alone.  Some side trips are suggested, but if you want to go on these road trips, you have to plan your own accommodations and get there on your own.  It does its job -- it lights a fire of inspiration in your heart.  There is something for everyone, and it’s not likely you will put this book down without wishing you had a million dollars so you could see each and every one of them.  And, oh, the glorious pictures!

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Nightmare Affair

The Nightmare Affair

By Mindee Arnett
4 stars
Reviewer: Marina

Dusty is a 16 year old Nightmare- kind of like a vampire who gets her magic and power from dreams.  What this means is Dusty has to sneak into people’s homes and climb on top of them to get into their dreams and feed.  This, as you can imagine, can lead to some sticky situations when Dusty gets caught feeding which is exactly what happens when Eli unexpectedly wakes up from his dream to find dusty on top of him.  Eli is different than a normal teenage boy, he has prophetic dreams that together with Dusty can lead them deep into mysteries.  

Set in a boarding school for otherworldly beings in Ohio, Dusty and Eli set forth to solve a mysterious death and get embroiled in even more mystery and danger.  This book is an exciting ride great for young teens and preteens.  You’ll be trying to figure out the mystery the whole time and get thoroughly involved in Dusty’s unique but still ordinary teenage life. 

This book is the first in a planned series.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Baffling & Bizarre Inventions

Baffling & Bizarre Inventions
by Jim Murphy
5/5 Stars
Reviewer: Helen

Just what the title implies….bizarre inventions actually created over the past 200 years.

An example of these inventions: a talking watch; an overcoat for two, a pair of pants for poodles. These are bizarre and utterly silly but there are some in the form of a guessing game that is both challenging and fun. What is a finger-supporting device used for? Can you really buy a talking watch? What is a beard grinder? There is even a device for shaping the upper lip or a life preserver for horses. These unusual inventions are a real treat for trivia lovers and any kid interested in science and inventions.  It also has some great illustrations of these inventions and is a fun book. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars

Author: John Green
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Reviewer: Lydia

    The Fault in Our Stars is a quiet winner; it’s sheer genius sneaks up on you halfway through the book when you find yourself making excuses to take the long way home so you can listen to the story unfold on audiobook in your car (I admit I’m guilty of this). It has been a long time since two characters have appealed to me so much.

    Simply put, Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters have cancer. But they are so much more than that; they are young, in love, and painfully aware of life and all its opportunities. They live in a hyper-real state of awareness about life, death, and immortality, and they must navigate and discover how teenager-y things like community college and learning to drive fits into the equation. 

    John Green’s writing is superb, and the characters jump to life through a masterful mix of humor, sarcasm, wit, and energy. While the book is classified as a young adult novel, I believe that people of all ages would benefit from reading this book. While I can only award this book five stars, be prepared for a stunningly good story—oh, and bring lots of tissues.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


by Michael Foreman
5/5 Stars
Reviewer: Sue

This wonderful picture book is about an unhappy goldfish, Bubbles, who can only swim “round and round, down to the bottom, and up to the top” of his fish tank.  Bubbles has a good friend, Cat, who comes up with a wonderful plan to take the fish with him as he explores.  But when Bubbles has the opportunity to swim away in the sea with the other fish, he makes the decision to stay with Cat. 

The large watercolor illustrations are a beautiful touch to this heartwarming story.  My favorite quote really sums up this story,“Let’s go home.  There may be lots of other fish in the sea, but I might never find a friend like you.”  Now Bubbles is happy as he explores the world with his good friend Cat.

Monday, March 4, 2013


1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles Mann
5 stars

Review By: Nichole 


We all know that in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  And hopefully we remember his plight of begging for money and trying to finance the trip to prove he could sail to East Asia for spices by heading west, and instead found the islands and continents comprising Central and northern South America.  We attribute a lot to Columbus’ trips across the ocean, among them the diseases that killed the indigenous peoples, the beginning of the spice trade routes by sea, and of course, African slaves being brought to the New World.  But there’s so much more to know!

The sweet potato was both savior and devil in China when it was secretly smuggled in by the Spaniards.  First it single-handedly pulled the country out of a terrible famine, and then led to deforestation and erosion in the raised farmlands where it was grown, which caused flooding that killed millions, as many people as it likely saved from the famine.

Hispaniola became almost uninhabitable when Europeans settled on the island and brought with their cherished banana trees, which the native fire ants found to be even more delectable than the people, and their own population exploded so much that humans found it difficult to survive there.

My favorite of all oddities I learned from this book: earthworms are an invasive species.  Two years ago I visited the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and in order to fish there, if you bring worms as bait, you are required to bring them back out with you (even the dead ones) because there are no worms in the northern Minnesota forests, and they want to keep it that way.  This baffled me, but it wasn’t until I read this book that I understood.  Worms were brought here and immediately began their natural job of breaking down the debris and undergrowth of a forest, so instead of shed leaves and pine needles breaking down naturally, lending their nutrients back to the soil, the earthworms were eating the debris instead and only some of the nutrients were ending up back in the soil.  Also, creatures that lived in the undergrowth no longer could live there.  Saplings that found protection from the undergrowth couldn’t take root and survive to become big, strong trees.  The very composition of the forests changed!  Areas like northern Minnesota and Ontario, which still do not have earthworms, have rich soil, varied forests, strong conifers, broad-leafed trees, and thick undergrowth carpeting the forest floors.  You will not find such forests in the areas where colonization took place early in European settlement, and that’s largely due to earthworms.

Post-Columbian Earth wasn’t just environmental, it was political, economical, and medical as well.  Opening up the door to new civilizations and creating a global economy changed this planet in ways we were never prepared for, and Mr. Mann lets us know that until we all become one, these types of exchanges will create the same types of devastation for each segregated environment, in ways we can’t even predict.  I highly recommend this book, from a scientific, historical and human perspective.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Circle of Heroes

The Familiars #3: Circle of Heroes

Author/Artist: Adam Jay Epstein
Rating (out of five stars): 5/5
Reviewer: Todd

Summary: Can the familiars bring magic back to the queendom?

Vastia is in a state of war. Led by the evil Paksahara, whose command of the Shifting Fortress gives her nearly unstoppable power, an army of undead animals is wreaking havoc on the queendom. With human magic still gone, it's up to the three prophesized familiars—Aldwyn, Skylar, and Gilbert—to capture the fortress and bring Paksahara down.

But it won't be easy. The three familiars must embark on a quest to gather seven descendants of the most ancient and powerful animals in Vastia. And to make matters worse, Aldwyn finds a troubling scroll that causes him to doubt the very truth of the prophecy that guides them –


As with the previous parts of this trilogy I found that the writing style was simplistic to help the young reader easily take in the story of good quality. As these qualities have remained constant across the Trilogy, I think the Familiars books are a good first step for a child into the fantasy genre. But the real appeal of these books I’ve found are the hidden themes touched upon.

The themes of this book as I’ve come across them are; Regret for what did and didn’t happen, Acceptance of the choices you’ve made and how they affected others, and Coping with the pressures of the roles others assign to you and possibly failing in them.

Throughout the course of the book the characters face their regrets concerning their actions and things outside their control; the loss of family and friends through death and fighting one another, learning that one choice could have changed everything, and finding out that the journey had become tainted from one unexpected return from their past adventures.

Accepting the world and the consequences your choices cause in it is a lesson that everyone learns and struggles with. One of the characters met on this latest part of the Protagonists’ journey has struggled for years with this lesson, for his kind literally possess the power to see the different outcomes of anyone’s past choices. Because of not accepting this lesson with regards to the loss of his dearest friend and knowing he could have done something different left him damaged in regards to sanity and emotional stability.

During the course of the story the main character learns that sometimes prophecies become false due to things unexpected. Because of this he doubts whether or not they will succeed, and these doubts only grow as he not only keeps this revelation hidden from his friends but learns if they had never met things would have progressed far differently than they had for the war. Finally this issue is resolved when someone gives him sound advice that can be taken to mean for people in the real world, “No matter what anyone says or decides for your future what you will or won’t become depends on your choices and the work you put to them.”

Continuing on with a trend I’ve found in these books is another theme aimed towards young adopted children. In the first book it was of a child wondering if his new home would truly accept him if they knew the real him underneath the stories he told to make himself more appealing to them. The second was about that child questioning about their birth family, and if what is learned will make them happy in the end. Here it’s about the child coming across something unexpected to make them doubt their place in the family, if the feelings given to them by the family could have just as easily given to someone else.

These themes were unexpected when I started the books, but they made it richer reading experience from my finding them. While these themes are a little advanced for the age group the book is geared they are things that will have to be confronted and these books can help the reader take the steps to do so. For these reasons, I have to applaud not only the Circle of Heroes but the entire series.