Monday, April 29, 2013

A Brief History of the Dead

The Brief History of the Dead

Author: Kevin Brockmeier
Rating: 4/5 stars
Reviewer: Cheryl

Laura Byrd is alone at the end of the world. Stranded in Antarctica while a man-made pandemic sweeps the planet, she’s trying to piece together the mystery of what’s happening and what her future holds. On the other side of the veil of death, a city copes with the effects of the plague and pieces together the mystery of Laura Byrd.

In some respects, this is a survival story. There is an element of adventure in Laura’s struggle as she travels the frozen wastes in search of contact with others. In some respects, it is a warning. Though it seems to be set in the future, this is a familiar and realistic future. Threats from terrorism and ecological damage as well as the response to each from society as a whole are a natural extension from what we see today, reminding us that our fate is in our own hands. However, this is really a story about human nature, the strength of memory, and the ways that we connect throughout our lives. When all the busy work of life is stripped away, we find the small and inconsequential moments that mean everything.

While the style of writing is comfortable, it also has a dreamlike quality, at times fluttering back and forth through a character’s memory, lighting on minor details. These little things serve to illuminate aspects of their stories. We are introduced to a crowd of personalities and invited to discover the connections between them, which we do gradually, in quiet ways through the course of the book. Though the ending leaves us with no clear answer, it does leave us with a deeper understanding.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Author: Ron Rash
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Reviewer: Lydia

Ron Rash has compiled a collection of dark, gritty short stories that are nearly perfect in form. These narratives cast an unflinching eye at the other side of life; a view which reveals the depth—and oftentimes depravity—of human nature. There are no flashy attempts at postmodernism or big words here; rather, these stories are quiet, haunting, and exquisitely crafted.

The book begins with a selection of macabre stories that ruminate on death and the downward spiral into corruption. This section also happened to contain most of my favorite choices from the novel, among them “The Trusty” and “Something Rich and Strange.”

In “The Trusty,” a “prisoner sent to fetch water for his chain gang tries to sweet-talk a farmer’s young wife into helping him escape, only to find that she is as trapped as he is,” while in “Something Rich and Strange,” a “diver is called upon to pull a drowned girl’s body free from under a falls, but he finds her eerily at peace below the surface” (quotes courtesy of the inside book jacket). While the stories are short, the characters are deftly developed, and each narrative features a distinctive voice of its own. I also enjoyed “Those Who Are Dead Are Only Now Forgiven” and “Three A.M. and the Stars Were Out”, which are later selections in the novel. Both of these stories are a bittersweet look at loss, love, and life.

As I read more, I found that Rash’s book carried me through the short stories like a wave: the high points of the novel were great and chilling to the bone, while others only gently glided past me. I felt that the first handful of stories were the strongest, the middle of the book lagged in depth and creativity, and then the ending of the book picked up the energy and innovativeness of the beginning.

Overall, Ron Rash has compiled a collection of stories that look at the darker side of life, a life filled with pain, sorrow, and solitude, familial tension, drug and alcohol abuse, and the descent into sickness, madness, despair, and ultimately, death. These raw stories are deserving of a read, and not just once, but many times in order to catch each subtle and beautiful nuance.

Friday, April 19, 2013


Story and art by Tom Gauld
4.5/5 stars
Reviewer: Marina

This is the story of Goliath.  The infamous Goliath.  You know, David and Goliath- Goliath.  Gauld’s rendition tells a different side to the story, one that is touching and a little heart breaking.   Since it is told as a graphic novel, it makes for a quick read, but one that I found stayed with me long after I had returned the book. 

The art is simple and powerful at the same time.  Between the fantastic art and the new take on an old story, this book is a definite winner.  You can bet I’ll be picking up the next thing by Tom Gauld that crosses my path. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Disney Pixar All Time Favorites CD

Disney Pixar All Time Favorites CD
by Various Artists
4/5 Stars
Reviewer: Christi

Summary: Walt Disney Records presents their all-time favorite songs and scores from favorite Disney Pixar films in one CD. The album includes music from Toy Story 1,2, and 3, Cars 1 and 2, Brave, Finding Nemo, and more! This collection includes 15 tracks featuring vocal and score music from Pixar films.

Review: There are some great songs from some of Pixar's best movies! This is one CD that will be universally appreciated in your home, from kids to the adults. There is a lot of good variety and recognizable songs. I was a little disappointed that the last few songs were instrumental, but I still think it's a fun CD. I enjoyed the Randy Newman tracks a lot. This would make a great gift or be something to listen to in the car and would make a great addition to your child's music collection.

Everything on a Waffle

Everything on a Waffle
by Polly Horvath
4.5/5 Stars
Reviewer: Helen

Summary: Primrose Squarp is an eleven-year-old girl whose parents have been lost at sea during a horrific storm off the coast of British Columbia. She refuses to believe that her parents are dead and has a blind faith they will return...they are merely trapped on an island waiting to be rescued. She never waivers in this belief and is considered to be an orphan by the quirky islanders who sort of adopt Primrose (for babysitting fees, of course). Primrose tells of her amusing misadventures and the eccentricities of these caregivers.

Review: This is a humorous and charming book, despite the grim aspect of Primrose losing her parents and having to adapt to a new life. Through several mishaps; Primrose loses a toe, part of a finger, and a guinea pig's hair is singed, these events are made humorous rather than grisly. Ultimately, you are rewarded with a happy ending.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Puppy Place: Ziggy

The Puppy Place: Ziggy
by Ellen Miles
4/5 Stars
Reviewer: Denise

Summary: Ziggy is a loveable, curious dachshund that is given to a young boy named Charles. Ziggy's owner has too many dogs and after seeing how much interest Charles has in Ziggy, she decides to give the dog to him until his family can find Ziggy a new home. The story takes an exciting turn when the little dog escapes Charles' home.

Review: The Puppy Place series is great for a young reader who loves animals, especially dogs. Each book in the series tells the story of a different dog.This book shows how to properly treat animals, what to do if you lost your dog, and entertains readers with Ziggy's silly antics and canine point-of-view.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Flight Behavior

Title: Flight Behavior

Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Reviewer: Lydia

I’ve never read anything by Barbara Kingsolver—a notable American author—and I was pleasantly surprised by Flight Behavior. It is a studious and meticulously rendered novel, filled with lush detail and description. However, the novel is far from stuffy, and it addresses cultural, gender, racial, and social issues in a relevant yet humorous way.

The story centers around Dellarobia Turnbow (what a name!), a mother and wife who has already reached her midlife crisis at the ripe old age of twenty-eight. She is spread much too thin, and doesn’t take much pleasure in her day-to-day life.

That is, until the butterflies.

In a single instant, Dellarobia’s life is switched upside down and she begins on a path of revelation and awakening. When a natural phenomenon involving Monarch butterflies occurs on the Turnbow land, Dellarobia is thrust into the spotlight and must confront her family, her community, and ultimately, herself.

In the end I loved Kingsolver’s way with words. She vividly paints a picture of the local culture of her native Appalachia. While many will either love or hate the ending, it only leaves a slightly bad aftertaste after devouring this delicious novel.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ready Player One

Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Reviewer: Lydia

Ready Player One is an exuberant novel that will appeal to kids, teens, and adults of all ages. Whether you like 80s pop culture, dystopic novels, high-tech thrillers, or a combination of all of the above, then this book is for you!

The story follows Wade Watts, who lives in a future American society that has collapsed. By day he struggles to stay alive by roaming the streets, fending off muggers, and avoiding his family. However, there is one bright spot in Wade’s life, and that is the OASIS, a completely interactive multi-player game. Created by an eccentric computer designer named James Halliday, the OASIS has become society’s crutch; millions, if not billions, of people escape to this world instead of confronting their problems in reality.

Suddenly, though, James Halliday dies. The vast amounts of wealth he earned then comes into question; namely, who will receive his fortune? It turns out that before he died, Halliday created a “game”, like a contest, and the first person to win this contest also wins his fortune. Sounds easy, right?


As Wade races to win the game, he also races against time to stay alive. Many people want to win this same contest, and they’ll stop at nothing to be victorious—including murder. The novel is extremely well-written, fast-paced, and the plot is totally unique. My favorite part of the novel was the characters, and their humor and camaraderie in the face of so many obstacles.

The only drawback in this story is that everything fits perfectly together like a jigsaw puzzle, which makes the story a little too neat and convenient. There is always some magic spell, potion, hint, or virtual weapon that one of the characters uses in order to help them advance in the game. All in all, besides this one fault, Ready Player One is fun, fresh, and innovative. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Each Kindness

Each Kindness
by Jacqueline Woodson
5/5 Stars
Reviewer: Dawn

Chloe doesn’t really know why she turns away from the new girl, Maya, when Maya tries to befriend her. And every time Maya asks if she can play with Chloe and the other girls, the answer is always no. So Maya plays alone. And then one day she’s gone. After Chloe’s teacher gives a lesson on how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe knows exactly what she must do- show Maya some kindness. But Chloe must come to terms with the fact that Maya has moved away and she will never get the chance to show her an act of kindness.

This picture book packs powerful message- we don’t always get a second chance to do the right thing. The way that Chloe and her friends treat Maya is truly heartbreaking, but the reality is that children everywhere have to deal with this type of bullying on a daily basis. I think that the fact that this book does not end happy, with everything ok, will really resonate with readers. This is a great book to add to a bullying unit or to teach children the ramifications of bullying and what a little kindness can do to change the world.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Magic Kingdom for Sale — SOLD!

Magic Kingdom for Sale — SOLD!

Author/Artist: Terry Brooks
Rating: 4/5 stars
Reviewer: Todd

This is the story of Ben Holiday, a man who still laments over the loss of his beloved wife Annie and the child she carried. This loss took the better parts of him and left him slowly being dragged down into a deep depression. Having lost all his friends, save his best, to letting his connections to them die all it seems as if nothing will even give him the hope of recovery. Till an ad in a catalog sent to Annie catches his eye, Kingship of a Magical Kingdom. Against all good judgment, and the advice of his last friend he takes the chance that just might save him from self-destruction.

I’m going to be honest with you the first parts of the book feel as if they drag on, but they’re needed. The reader knows there’s a magic kingdom waiting for him to get to, but without the buildup we as the audience don’t know just how broken Ben has become. We wouldn’t be able to understand the person Ben is and was and who he has the potential to become.

Once we reach the kingdom of Landover the story picks up and the world is slowly shown to us as Ben learns of the kingdom and how it's slowly dying without a proper king. From that point Ben struggles to be the person, the King, that the people need. Even knowing that his efforts might result in his demise by forces who desire the Kingdom of Landover for themselves.

This book is about recovery, it's Ben and Landover's theme for this tale. But it shows recovery doesn't come just from one's self or from friends. It comes from having people be there for you, to have good friends who believe you you to help you restore your strength. And with that strength move forward, not just for them but yourself as well. How well Ben and the kingdom of Landover recover though? Well we'll have to read the series to find out.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Fifty Year Sword

The Fifty Year Sword
Author: Mark Z. Danielewski
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Reviewer: Lydia

I wish I could begin this review with an insightful quote or a funny scene from this novel, but that is, in essence, impossible. Where do I even begin with this book? Mark Z. Danielewski is an innovative, experimental fiction writer with an affinity for colored text, unusual line spacing, and non-linear storytelling. Author of the critically acclaimed novels House of Leaves and Only Revolutions, Danielewski has continued to evolve in the style that has made him popular.

When boiled down to its barest elements, this is a ghost story at heart. For such a slim volume, this is indeed a creepy tale, which will send shivers and goosebumps up your arms. Danielewski’s writing is hard to follow at times, as the way the book is formatted breaks up the text, and ultimately, fragments the reader’s understanding of the story. His characters also tend to make up words, or combine existing words, into unintelligible phrases. Still, there are some gorgeous passages in here, like little hidden gems, and I even wrote some of these lines down because they were so beautiful.

All in all, The Fifty Year Sword is a fast read (easily completed in under an hour) that is interesting and drastically different from anything else on the market. However, even the funky layout and inventiveness of its author couldn’t save this tale from being too short, too confusing, and in the end, unsatisfying.