Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Big Read is a program to encourage reading and discussion of the same book in a geographical area. This year’s Big Read title is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

In Fahrenheit 451, firemen no longer put out fires, they start them. The reading of books is forbidden, and any home containing books is burned to the ground. One fireman, Guy Montag, begins to question his life and his job before rebelling against the society he lives in.

First published in 1953 and set in a future U.S., this classic dystopian novel rings true today. Bradbury successfully predicted some aspects of 2013 America. For example, when Guy returns home from work, he finds his wife stretched out on the bed: “And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind.”

This passage brought to mind the many people I see walking around today who are so focused on the music coming out their Ipods that they pay no attention to their surroundings and are almost incapable of interacting with others. Some people don’t seem capable of existing in silence for even a short period of time.

One of the key themes of Fahrenheit 451 is how television (which Bradbury calls the televisor), not even widely found in homes in 1953, keeps people from enjoying the natural world and conversation with others. Bradbury certainly had that right!  He writes, “The televisor is ‘real.’ It is immediate, it has dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right. It seems so right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn’t time to protest, ‘What nonsense!’” Bradbury was certainly a visionary when it came to imagining the addiction some Americans have to electronic devices and how we buy in to the opinions we hear through the media rather than thinking for ourselves.

If you like a book that challenges you to think about your own life and society, I recommend Fahrenheit 451. Free copies of the book are available at the Galesburg Public Library while supplies last.

In April you are invited to join one of the discussions of Fahrenheit 451 sponsored by the Galesburg Public Library:

Tuesday, April 9, 1:00 pm upstairs at the library
Thursday, April 11, 6:30 pm at Knox College’s Kresge Hall
Friday, April 19, 6:00 pm at Alternate Realities.

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

Nora, an elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, refers to herself as "the woman upstairs" -- that benignly amiable person in everyone's life who kind of hangs around the outskirts of the action. In her younger years she dreamed of being a successful artist and having a family, but those dreams have long since stopped seeming attainable.  Then the Shahids move to town: Reza, the shy, bullied new student in her classroom; his mother Sirena, a glamorous Italian artist; and his father Skandar, a Lebanese college professor in town on a fellowship. When Sirena invites Nora to share an artists' studio with her in Somerville, Nora doesn't know what's more exciting: the space to once again explore her artistic dreams, or the friendship with the mysterious newcomer. Before long, Nora finds herself deeply involved with the whole Shahid family, even falling in love with each of them individually. But how real are the relationships, and what does she really know about the Shahids?

My favorite thing about this book was the voice of Nora. As a narrator, she was nervous, flawed, and incredibly vulnerable. I found myself physically invested -- as in, I would cringe with every awkward moment, and feel my face get red every time she experienced shame or self-consciousness. I enjoyed that for as well as the reader gets to know Nora, the Shahids remain really evasive as characters, so the reader is put in the same position as Nora -- curious, attracted, and completely unsure. I would recommend this to readers looking for contemporary fiction a few steps more complicated than your average beach read.

The Woman Upstairs will be available April 30, 2013.

Gulp by Mary Roach

Gulp by Mary Roach follows the entire alimentary process: the journey of food from one end to the body to the other. A book for the more adventurous reader, Gulp answers questions the reader never knew she had.  Why do dogs lick their wounds? Why can we light our farts on fire? What does partially digested food taste like? Roach divides the book into chapters, each covering a different strange anecdote about the study of the digestive process.
                Rather than a scientific overview of the “alimentary canal” Gulp is a series of mostly humorous stories, more about the people who study digestion than the actual study of it.  Roach’s descriptions of the scientists whom she has met can become a bit silly: “If a man can be said to resemble a tooth, van der Bilt is a lower incisor” (Roach, 130).  A person searching for a serious scientific study should not look to Gulp.  However, a reader with a strong stomach and good sense of humor, will love it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

33 Minutes by Todd Hasak-Lowy

Submitted by Drew, teen reviewer:

33 Minutes is about a boy named Sam Lewis. He is in 6th grade. He has 33 minutes before his old best friend beats him up. Sam doesn’t know what made Morgan mad enough to beat him up. Was it Chris a kid that just moved next door to him? Will Sam get his friend back or get beat up?

I recommend this book to 3rd-5th graders who like mysteries. I give this book 3 stars out of 5 stars.

33 Minutes is available now.

Buddy by M.H. Herlong

Submitted by Reagan, teen reviewer:

Buddy is about a boy named Lil’ T and his buddy, Buddy (the dog). Buddy and Lil’ T have a very friendly relationship, only it doesn’t start that way. In fact, he didn’t even start out as Lil’ T’s dog. After they meet by coincidence, they become best friends. They go through a lot together, VERY thick and thin situations. Buddy isn’t your normal dog either, but you will have to read why.

I would recommend Buddy to all junior high school kids because it is remarkably amazing. I give this book a 4.5 star out of a 5 star rating. I give it this because the book was near perfect. This book is so real you will see yourself in it. I really recommend Buddy to all ages from 11-18.

Buddy is available now.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wicker

I read a lot of books. Very rarely while I’m reading a book do I think to myself, “I’ve never read anything like this before,” but that happened while reading The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.

This debut novel is set in New York in 1899 New York. It revolves around two unlikely characters and their unlikely friendship. In the part of Lower Manhattan known as Little Syria lives a tinsmith named Arbeely. A local woman brings him an old, battered, copper flask. She asks him to knock out the dents and polish it up. As he begins to repair the delicate scrollwork on the flask, a jolt knocks him off his feet, and a naked man appears on his shop floor. The naked man is a Jinni, a creature of fire from the Syrian Desert who has been trapped in the flask for a thousand years. Although released from the flask, an iron bracelet that cannot be removed keeps him from resuming his natural form.

Meanwhile, in a different part of New York, a rabbi encounters a Golem – a woman fashioned of clay in Prussia who travelled to New York with the master who commissioned her but then died on the steamship. She is sentient, but lost, with no master and therefore no purpose.

The author’s prose is often lovely and lyrical. As the steamship carrying the Golem approaches New York, after her master Rotfeld has died on board:

“The deck was crowded with people, and at first the Golem didn’t see what they were waving at. But then, there she was: a gray-green woman standing in the middle of the water, holding a tablet and bearing aloft a torch. Her gaze was unblinking, and she stood so still: was it another golem? Then the distance became clear, and she realized how far away the woman was, and how gigantic. Not alive then; but the blank, smooth eyes nevertheless held a hint of understanding. And those on deck were waving and shouting at her with jubilation, crying even as they smiled. This, too, the Golem thought, was a constructed woman. Whatever she meant to others, she was loved and respected for it. For the first time since Rotfeld’s death, the Golem felt something like hope.” (p. 15)

The author spends considerable time introducing us to the Golem Chava and the Jinni Ahmad, their neighborhoods, and their neighbors. I don’t know much about turn-of-the-century immigrant New York, but the descriptions of the people, their jobs, their homes, and their pastimes rang true. The passages set in Syria and Prussia also felt right. I was very caught up in the characters and the setting.

The plot drags a little after we’ve met both characters but they have not yet met each other. But that soon passes. The two meet by accident late at night and recognize a completely different yet kindred spirit in the other. As I continued to read entranced, I had no idea what would happen next. So often with novels, especially first novels, I am not happy about the ending, but I was very satisfied with how this tale ended.

The cover compares The Golem and the Jinni to The Night Circus, A Discovery of Witches, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I thought it was considerably better than all three.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland

Submitted by Sharon, teen reviewer:

You would think that having your mother die would bring you closer to your best friend rather than drive you apart. Instead, Jules Clayton and Cricket Thompson go through what feels like the worst summer of their lives. For Jules, her summer is ruined by her mom's death, but for Cricket, it's having to spend the summer without her best friend.  I loved this book!  It was addictive!

Nantucket Blue will be available May 7, 2013.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

Submitted by Jazmyne, teen reviewer:

This fairytale begins when Sophie Petheram’s dear father dies. Sophie moves from New England to the Wyndriven Abbey in the Mississippi, to live with her French godfather Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, who she never met. His enchanting handsomeness can only be matched by his mysterious life. Soon Sophie begins to unravel his past and becomes very disenchanted. Sophie goes from having daydreams, to nightmares. This great girl meets people and loses them, but stays strong.

This book is highly intriguing. It deserves 5 stars, and is mysterious yet romantic. And it tells how a shut-in girl can become brave and strong.

Strands of Bronze and Gold is available now.

Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green by Helen Phillips

Submitted by Lindsay, teen reviewer:

Madeline Flynn Wade has never really spoke bird-tracker, even though her dad is like the best bird-tracker in the world. When her dad goes on a business trip (birdtracking) for seven months, the “creepies” start. That’s just the least of their worries.

I recommend this book because it brings this family together. It is a very descriptive and detailed book. It makes the flowers and jungle seem like fantasies from another world! This is a great adventure, but has the same twists and turns as a mystery! I would give it five stars.

Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green is available now.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

With You or Without You by Domenica Ruta

     Of course I'll sound like an idiot, but I'm going to use the word anyway.  Radiant.  This writing in this book is radiant.  That's the word that kept springing to mind when I first started reading this memoir, and yet it makes no sense, since it's about a frequently dark albeit often funny childhood and young adulthood.  Not until I finished the book did I figure out why I kept thinking the word:  This book completely makes apparent, lights up, reveals, radiates, if you will, a specific life at a level that most memoirs do not.  Actually, two lives, since the book is about her mother as much as herself, and it's no spoiler to tell you so, as the mother is quite a character.  Most books about the development of an addiction show much less self-knowledge as well as much less awareness of the causes and course of that addiction, and yet without the unpleasant sense of self-importance that is so frequently found in this genre.  Plus it was SO well written!  Oh, did I say?  And funny too.  Hard to put down.  Ok, I'll stop repeating myself and go away, but I'm just saying....I'd read anything written by Domenica Ruta from now on out! 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland

Submitted by Gabriel, teen reviewer:

This review is about a book called Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy. The main characters of this book are dragonets named Clay, Tsunami, Starflight, Kestrel, Glory, and Sunny. There is a war taking place at this time and also a prophecy that supposedly can stop this war. Not all dragons believe in this prophecy. A group called the Talons of Peace is keeping the 5 dragonets who are the only dragons who can fill the prophecy trapped under a big mountain. These 5 dragonets have been trying all their lives to escape the mountain. What the 5 dragonets don’t know is that there is a reason why the Talons of Peace have been keeping them trapped in a mountain for so long. 

I would give this book four stars out of five, because it was good but it wasn’t so good that I couldn’t stop reading or couldn’t wait to pick it back up. 

Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy is available now.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Palisades Park by Alan Brennert

submitted by: Linda Wilson

Palisades Park is a well written story about life in the period when amusement parks were abundant. I felt the author’s way of describing the action, smells, sounds actually made me feel as though I was personally seeing the events and lives in the Palisades Amusement park during the era of the 1920’s through the 70’s .

Alan Bennert is a new author to me, however now that I have read Palisades Park I am very happy to see that he is an author of many books I think I would like to read.
The story line is easy to follow, and kept me entertained throughout the whole book, wanting to know what happens to the characters in the story. I would highly recommend this book, as a great read!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma

When she was in the fourth grade, Alice Ozma and her father challenged themselves. Her father, a school librarian, read aloud to her almost every night. The challenge was for him to read to her every night for 100 nights. They called it the Streak, but when the 100 days ended they were not ready to quit. The Streak ended on the day Alice left for college, after 3,218 straight days of her father reading to her.

In The Reading Promise, Ozma talks about the Streak, her relationship with her father, and her love of reading. I was somewhat disappointed because the books that they read are not very prominent in the story. That criticism aside, it was an enjoyable journey with her from fourth grade to adulthood. As a public librarian, it was a pleasure to read a book celebrating books and reading.

The foreword written by her father notes, “In 1985, the Commission on Reading, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, declared, ‘The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.’” At the end of the book, Alice notes, “We called it The Reading Streak, but it was really more of a promise. A promise to each other, a promise to ourselves. …[i]t was a promise to the world: a promise to remember the power of the printed word, to take time to cherish it, to protect it at all costs.” The last page of the narrative is followed by a “Reading Promise” that the reader can make.

I didn’t fully trust Alice Ozma as a narrator; after all, 22 is a pretty young age at which to be writing a memoir. She clearly idolizes her father but harbors feelings of blame and resentment toward her mother. But Ozma does capture a loving relationship between a father and a daughter and their shared love of reading. I recommend The Reading Promise to anyone with a passion for reading.

Speaking of a love of reading, you are invited to join the Galesburg Public Library or another participating area library in celebrating reading with this year’s Big Read of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Find out more at

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Snapper by Brian Kimberling

Snapper by Brian Kimberling is a fictional memoir of sorts, about a young man who is in love with a free spirited woman who won’t commit to him and who monitors birds for the government in the woodlands of Indiana. 

The narrator seems to be trying to be positive about Indiana while shedding light on its shortcomings, but it really comes across as anti-Indiana. (For example, “if Indiana is the bastard son of the Midwest, then Evansville is Indiana’s snot-nosed stepchild.”) 

There are passages that are well written and interesting, and that’s why I kept reading and finished it, but it did not hold together as a book for me. One example of a passage I liked: “Indiana is rural, agricultural, and surrounded by bully states with great confidence in their own sophistication.” I am guessing that much of this is truly autobiographical, and perhaps the book would have worked better as nonfiction. (The cover says the author “grew up in southern Indiana and spent two years working as a professional birdwatcher”.)  
The book is basically a series of short stories and is a good book for picking up and putting down instead of reading in one sitting. As a bird lover, I especially enjoyed the chapter that begins "There are three ways to inspect a bald eagle's nest." It includes a story about an eagle stealing a fisherman's fish, the man threatening to shoot the eagle, and the eagle's mate attacking the man. It sounds like it is based on a real incident the author observed. The author notes, "Contrary to popular conception, bald eagles have no diving scream. When you hear it in movies, it's a dubbed recording of the noble red-tailed hawk." I was pleased to see this in print as I tell people this frequently.

The title is not very representative of the whole book. There is an incident when the narrator is a child involving a snapping turtle, but the incident was not, in my opinion, important enough to be used as the book’s title.

If you are a fan of quirky literary fiction, or like to read about Indiana, Snapper might appeal to you. I read an advance reader’s edition of Snapper. It will be published in April.

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

I am an adult who enjoys a well-written story intended for kids. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is just such a book. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audio version.
I have read the first Mysterious Benedict Society book, and while I liked it okay I was not persuaded to read the next one. I didn't realize this was a prequel until I had started it. In my opinion, it is better than The Mysterious Benedict Society. You definitely do not need to read the later books to enjoy this one.

Nicholas Benedict is a precocious nine-year-old orphan with genius intelligence. He is just arriving at a new orphanage, which has recently acquired a new director. There are many problems at the orphanage, along with a missing inheritance from the woman who used to live in the orphanage manor. The new director is furtively searching for the missing treasure, so Nicholas begins his own search. Like all book schools and orphanages, this one contains a gang of bullies. Nicholas get the better of them and is ostracized by all his fellow orphans, due to intimidation by the bullies. Eventually Nicholas makes some friends, solves the secret of the treasure, and fixes most of the orphanage's problems.

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict reminded me of the Lemony Snicket series, but it's better. (I enjoyed the first few Snicket books, but grew increasingly less impressed and loathed the final book in the series.) Extraordinary Education also has a Roald Dahl feel to it. Implausible but nonmagical things happen. Even though I easily predicted some of the plot developments, it was still fun getting there.

My opinion may be affected by the excellent audio edtion. It kept me entertained through two long car trips.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Rump: the True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Submitted by Samantha, teen reviewer:

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin is about a 12 year old boy who is very confused about himself. This story is set in the time of most fairy tales and the time of dragons, kings, and witches. Rump lives in a kingdom where your name is your destiny. Rump is worried about his destiny because he thinks, how can you know your destiny if you only have half a name? One night after much warning, Rump discovers a talent that will cause much trouble. Rump is then forced to go on a wonderful and crazy journey. Will Rump find out his destiny? 
I would recommend this book. I thought it was a really good book. I would give it 5 stars out of 5. This book is a classic fairy tale with an amazing twist. It is a must read.

Rump will be released on April 9, 2013.

Revolution 19 by Gregg Rosenblum

Submitted by Zoe, teen reviewer:

Set in the future, Revolution 19 is about three siblings on a hunt to find their parents. Their freepost is attacked by bots and, on their own in the woods, they fight for survival. They survive, just to come to a city where they are befriended by a teenage girl and her family. They have seen people die and be tortured just to protect them, “Are they monsters to do that? Should they have even gone into the city? What will happen next?” Those are thoughts that run through the children’s heads. The siblings plot against the bots. Will their plan follow through? This book has action, adventure, and a little bit of romance. 

I would give this book 5 stars out of 5. If you like books where children take control and the author leaves you with a cliffhanger then this is the book for you.

Revolution 19 is available now.

Homesick by Kate Klise

Submitted by Macey, teen reviewer:

During Homesick, things get a little crazy! Calvin says he owns a splinter from the Holy Cross, but is he really just crazy?  That’s how things get started. All because of the splinter, he loses his wife. The main character Benny is having a difficult time without his mom around. But when the house starts to clutter, can things get any worse? When Myron starts his own radio business, no one thinks he will have any viewers. But are they wrong? All when things start to get good, bad stuff starts to happen again. From girls to the radio shack to clutter, can Benny keep up?

I would most definitely recommend this book! If you’re looking for a great interesting book that is entertaining, funny, and pulls you in? Then Homesick is the right book! It’s a great book for children and young adults. I would probably give it a 9 out of 10 rating. It kept me interested, and wanting more. But there were some parts that could have been more descriptive. All in all, I think this was a great entertaining book, and you should read it!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Nobody's Secret by Michaela MacColl

Submitted by Kaitlyn, teen reviewer:

I believe the book Nobody’s Secret was incredible. There were twists and turns around every corner. I couldn’t stop reading when I picked it up. It was very intriguing. You would guess what was going to happen next and it was the opposite.

The book is about Emily Dickinson who meets a handsome young man when days later he turns up dead in her pond. He had gone by Mr. Nobody but come to find out his name is James Wentworth. Emily feels the obligation to find out what happened to him. They thought it was death by drowning but there was no water in his lungs. But to find out the end you’ll have to read it yourself.

Nobody's Secret comes out in April 2013.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackmann

Iraq War veteran Ellie appears a second time as author Lisa Brackmann's main character in her new book Hour of the Rat, due out June 2013. (The first book was Rock Paper Tiger.) Dealing with a whole host of issues, from a leg injured in the war, to a former lousy husband, to a slightly annoying mother, Ellie lives in China trying to establish a career as a dealer for contemporary Chinese artists. One of her clients is under suspicion by Chinese authorities. Called in for questioning, Ellie is warned off selling any more of her client's works. She has also been asked by an old army buddy in the States to track down his difficult brother who is somewhere in China. (Yea, right. China is just a little place.) Ellie promises to try. To evade Chinese authority pressure, she takes a vacation, using the vacation as an excuse to look for her friend's brother. However she is not exactly a free agent to do this. Self-guilt makes her ask her mom to go along. In turn, her mom asks a male Chinese neighbor to go along, too. Not exactly a great tour group. They go along but don't play any part in the action. They act as sort of vague comic relief.

Using the barest of clues of where to look for the brother, Ellie, with mom and neighbor in tow, sets off across China and proceeds to get herself into one tight spot after another. She faces international corporate greed, bioengineering, ecological issues, danger and bodily harm. Mom and neighbor are left on their own, to their own devices, while Ellie travels to remote areas of great beauty as well as ecological decrepitude.

There are moments of wry humor as well as a few intense twists. Along with the nitty gritty, there is a softer element involving a little dog. The reader needs to suspend common sense along with Ellie, as she does some really stupid things. In the end, one is left a little unsure exactly who the bad guys really are, or more likely, who the badest of the bad really are. There are lots of candidates. The conclusion is a little weak and definitely leaves one feeling that Brackmann is going to continue with her character in yet another book. 

This one includes elements of travel, food, danger, technology, animals and sex; perhaps a few too many elements. There is the usual 20-21st century collection and repetition of "four-letter" words. Ellie's frequent use of them makes her a  little one-dimensional. Brackmann's improper use of prepositions and pronouns also makes me wonder if that is supposed to reflect Ellie's contemporary nature or the bad grammar of the author. Overall, the book was a superficial, but entertaining, fast read in spite of its flaws. If you like a tough, contemporary chick-novel, give this a try.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner

Submitted by Matt, teen reviewer:

Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time is about a boy named Dak, a girl named Sera, and a boy named Riq. It is set in America and Europe. The SQ are controlling the world. There are some things in time that are not supposed to happen, including the voyage of the Santa Maria where the Amancio brothers throw Columbus overboard. 

If you like action adventure books you would like this book. I would give it 7.5 stars out of 10, because it wasn’t what I thought it would be like. Still you could like this book.