Friday, July 24, 2015

Recommended Reading: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

Book Description:

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is the utterly beguiling tale of a ten-year-old blind orphan who has been schooled in a life of thievery. One fateful afternoon, he steals a box from a mysterious traveling haberdasher—a box that contains three pairs of magical eyes. When he tries the first pair, he is instantly transported to a hidden island where he is presented with a special quest: to travel to the dangerous Vanished Kingdom and rescue a people in need. Along with his loyal sidekick—a knight who has been turned into an unfortunate combination of horse and cat—and the magic eyes, he embarks on an unforgettable, swashbuckling adventure to discover his true destiny.

Peter Nimble is an earlier work from the author of The Night Gardener, which we enthusiastically recommended at the beginning of the year. Peter Nimble isn't quite that good, but it's still a lot of fun. The Night Gardener is middle-grade horror, with more focused themes and more overall success as a story, while Peter Nimble is a fantasy that relies on quirky characters and worldbuilding.  

The tone is light and not-quite-realistic, hearkening back to some favorite middle-grade books like The Phantom Tollbooth, but the actual content is a little more mature with lots of character deaths and injuries. The narrator has a Lemony Snicket sort of style where not everything he says in his asides can be trusted, but the target age range for this book may not understand that -- the narrator talks about how apes can go months without drinking water and have a hump to store water in, for instance. An older child would know this is tongue-in-cheek, but a younger child who's used to those kinds of educational asides might just take it at face value. 

Either way, Peter Nimble is a fun read for middle graders. It's got wacky characters like the cat-horse-knight Sir Tode, and a huge talking dogfish named Frederick. It's got enough action and jokes to keep things moving, but is also complex enough for older kids who want more of a challenge!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Recommended Reading: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Book Description:

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving,
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

This book is the perfect choice for any book lover, a celebration of all things bookish and quirky. It's fun and funny, full of quotes you'll want to put on mugs, but it's also very touching in some places. The love story is sweet, but also heartfelt. While the plot appears random at first, bordering on magical realism, the ending brings all the little plot threads together... and the books. The literature references are many and varied, always perfect for the occasion. Plus, A.J. Fikry is the NSL Book Club's pick for August! Click here for more information.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Recommended Reading: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

Book Description:

Tired of memoirs that only tell you what really happened? Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. You will be born in New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life, you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.

Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song. Yes, if you buy one book this year, congratulations on being above the American average, but make that book Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography!

A creative, interesting book. The "choose your own adventure" gimmick means it can never be too heavy, never too serious, and the short sections keep you interested. There's no way to read in chronological order even if you wanted to, so what you get is a dreamlike jaunt through NPH's memories... It's less a "memoir" or any kind of biography and more just behind-the-scenes peeks at the actor and the productions in which he's performed. As he says several times, he loves to see the secrets behind the curtain! He doesn't act like it's some great work of literature except in jest, which allows the depth it does have to come through -- his love for his husband and kids is palpable, and you can tell he's a born performer. Funny and heartwarming!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Recommended Reading: Young Avengers Omnibus

Book Description:

It's not important what our parents did. It matters what we do. Someone has to save the world. You're someone. Do the math. The critically acclaimed team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie reinvent the teen super-hero comic for the 21st century - uniting Wiccan, Hulkling and Kate "Hawkeye" Bishop with Kid Loki, Marvel Boy and Miss America. No pressure, right? When Wiccan makes a horrible mistake that comes back to bite everyone on their communal posteriors, we cue five issues of hormonal panic. Fight scenes! Fake IDs! Plentiful feels! (a.k.a. "meaningful emotional character beats" for people who aren't on tumblr.) Young Avengers is as NOW! as the air in your lungs and twice as vital.

High-quality superhero hijinks and pitch-perfect characters. It's big, it's colorful, it's fun, and it's intense! There's a fantastic character lineup in the description, and every character gets something important to do in the plot. They combine and play off each other well, and they make a great team. They act realistically, they're young, but they're teens and 20-somethings who want to be good people and strong superheroes... They have troubles, but they don't whine. The plot is great too, with an interestingly meta villain and a good excuse for the team to be on their own. (After all, if Captain America could just swoop in and save everyone, it would've be a very interesting story!) If you've enjoyed the popular new Ms. Marvel or award-winning Hawkeye, this is a great next step!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Recommended Reading: Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Did you or your child start the Series of Unfortunate Events, but never finish? Since Netflix has announced a new TV series based on the books, this summer is the perfect time to go back and read 'em all!

The thirteen books follow the misadventures of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire. The three children are sadly orphaned at the beginning of the series, and are put in the care of the nefarious Count Olaf, who tries to get their inheritance for himself. The children escape, and spend the rest of the series traveling between different guardians and trying to evade the Count.

That description really doesn't do the series justice, though, because it's all about the tone. Lemony Snicket -- a pseudonym of author Daniel Handler -- is one of the best narrators in fiction. He frequently stops to inject his own commentary, explain vocabulary, and foreshadow future events. It's a great opportunity to teach literary methods, but it's also just plain hilarious, and it makes the whole series unique. While others tried to imitate the books' tone in the wake of their success, no one ever quite managed it.

A few books in the middle can seem a little repetitive, as they follow the established formula of introducing a new guardian, having Count Olaf appear in disguise, and then ending with the guardian's departure (through death or other events). If you push through to the later books, though, you'll be rewarded with a fantastic ending. It may seem rambling, but by the time you get to the end you realize it's one complete, satisfying story, and well worth the effort!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Recommended Reading: Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson


Book Description:

As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco’s job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. DJ's boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond. Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans’ fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters.

While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the Otherworld crumbled. Now, the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering the soldiers sent to help the city recover. To make it worse, Gerry has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ’s new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. 

Local author Suzanne Johnson's "Sookie Stackhouse meets Harry Dresden" series is a perfect choice for urban fantasy fans. Johnson uses the New Orleans setting to great effect, and she's created a realistically complex fantasy world around it. The heroine is more scientifically-minded than most heroines, but she's still fun and sassy. The writing is a little choppy in this first book -- the mystery elements can be overly obvious, and the romantic subplots unwieldy. Still, it's a strong and atmospheric first book, and in the sequel (River Road), those problems are solved!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Recommended Reading: Freakin' Fabulous by Clinton Kelly

Book Description:

Clinton Kelly won't just revamp your wardrobe -- he'll revamp your life! The huddled masses yearn to be fabulous, and finally Clinton Kelly is heeding their call. As co-host of TLC's popular What Not to Wear, he regularly transforms dumpy fashion disasters into traffic-stopping, get-an-instant-promotion, reignite-the-passion-in-that- relationship makeovers. But fabulousness doesn't stop with style. Let's face it: you might look good, but if you're chomping on that crudité with your mouth wide open, nobody at the party will talk to you -- even if you can explain to them what crudité actually is. Of course, the keys to being better than everyone else aren't always so obvious. Don't worry; Clinton's here to help.

Want to dress, speak, behave, eat, drink, entertain, decorate, and generally be better than everyone else? That's the subtitle of this book, so it's probably the one you're looking for! Clinton Kelly of What Not to Wear fame may be sassy and funny, but he also gives great advice. This book covers all the basics, from fashion fundamentals to simple party recipes. He focuses on doable, easy-to-remember rules, throwing in a few "Wow, I never thought of that!" tips for good measure. Plus, the book is visually appealing with a great page design -- like a long, fun magazine. Find it in nonfiction!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Recommended Reading: Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova

Book Description:

When Christie settles in the Artist Alley of her first ever anime convention, she only sees it as an opportunity to promote the comic she had started with her boyfriend. But conventions are never what you expect. Soon the whirlwind of events sweeps Christie off her feet and changes her life.
This three-volume manga is a cute, funny introduction to the Japanese comic style. It's a simple story about two people meeting at a manga convention, but it manages a good pace with lots of details. The plot is just realistic enough to involve the reader but light enough to keep things fun, and unlike many other manga series, this one finishes off quickly with a satisfying ending in just a few volumes! Plus, the romance is adorable. Find all three Dramacon volumes with the rest of the manga in the YA department!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Recommended Reading: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake


Book Description:

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. Yet she spares Cas's life...

This 2011 release is the perfect YA book for anyone who loves the show Supernatural. It's got the ghosts, the creepy houses, the young professional hunter... The plotting is excellent and really manages to fuse a ghost story with a full-length YA novel. Ghost stories are generally a short-story format with very basic characters, so that's no mean feat. The characters are compelling, and it's great to see a YA novel from a boy's point of view. There's some romance, but the focus is on the ghost story. 

The series is complete in two volumes, the sequel being the equally-excellent Girl of Nightmares!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Recommended Reading: That Summer by Lauren Willig

18404166Book Description:

2009: When Julia Conley hears that she has inherited a house outside London from an unknown great-aunt, she assumes it’s a joke. She hasn't been back to England since the car crash that killed her mother when she was six, an event she remembers only in her nightmares. But when she arrives at Herne Hill to sort through the house—with the help of her cousin Natasha and sexy antiques dealer Nicholas—bits of memory start coming back. And then she discovers a pre-Raphaelite painting, hidden behind the false back of an old wardrobe, and a window onto the house's shrouded history begins to open...

1849: Imogen Grantham has spent nearly a decade trapped in a loveless marriage to a much older man, Arthur. The one bright spot in her life is her step-daughter, Evie, a high-spirited sixteen year old who is the closest thing to a child Imogen hopes to have. But everything changes when three young painters come to see Arthur's collection of medieval artifacts, including Gavin Thorne, a quiet man with the unsettling ability to read Imogen better than anyone ever has. When Arthur hires Gavin to paint her portrait, none of them can guess what the hands of fate have set in motion.

Lauren Willig is most known for her Secret History of the Pink Carnation books; a comedic historical-romance series based around Napoleonic-era spies. However, in recent years she's been branching out into standalone novels with much different tones. That Summer still has its share of humor and romance, but on the whole it's a more serious book. It's intense, but it's not a whirlwind of overwrought emotions. Slimmer than the Pink Carnation books, yet with a new layer of complexity. There's something about it that's calculating, which suits its content very well. It's comprehensively researched, you get dropped right into the world of pre-Raphaelite artists, but Willig never allows the research to overwhelm the story itself. The characterization is perfect the whole way through, and you'll still be thinking about these people long after their stories are over... Be warned, the ending is shocking. Not everything turns out well.

Released last June, That Summer isn't your typical light beach read, but it's still a great choice heading into the summer months!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Recommended Reading: Food Rules by Michael Pollan

Book Description:
Food rules book cover.jpg
Eating doesn't have to be so complicated. In this age of ever-more elaborate diets and conflicting health advice, Food Rules brings a welcome simplicity to our daily decisions about food. Written with the clarity, concision and wit that has become bestselling author Michael Pollan's trademark, this indispensable handbook lays out a set of straightforward, memorable rules for eating wisely, one per page, accompanied by a concise explanation. It's an easy-to-use guide that draws from a variety of traditions, suggesting how different cultures through the ages have arrived at the same enduring wisdom about food. Whether at the supermarket or an all-you-can-eat buffet, this is the perfect guide for anyone who ever wondered, "What should I eat?"

In 2009, Michael Pollan, author of books like The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, condensed the messages of his previous works into one easy-to-read introduction. If you're struggling with a New Year's resolution -- or just trying to eat better, or even just wondering HOW -- Food Rules is a great choice. The basic rule is threefold: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Pollan breaks each prong down into simple guidelines and explanations. For instance, under the "eat food" section, he advises to only eat what your grandmother would recognize as food -- thereby cutting out anything overprocessed. While some of his rules may not apply in every situation, this book is still a fantastic starting point!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Recommended Reading: "Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal" by G. Willow Wilson

20898019Book Description: 

Marvel Comics presents the new Ms. Marvel, the groundbreaking heroine that has become an international sensation! 

Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City — until she's suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! When Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them, as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to bear? Kamala has no idea, either. But she's comin' for you, New York!

It's history in the making from acclaimed writer G. Willow Wilson (Air, Cairo) and beloved artist Adrian Alphona (RUNAWAYS)! Collecting MS. MARVEL (2014) #1-5 and material from ALL-NEW MARVEL NOW! POINT ONE #1.

G. Willow Wilson's new series Ms. Marvel is one of the hottest comics of the past year, featuring a brand-new heroine in the Marvel Comics lineup. Kamala Khan, the young woman who accidentally gains the power to shapeshift and transform, begins as a relatable high-schooler. She's geeky, charming, friendly, and funny from the beginning, but as the series goes on, she also becomes surprisingly charismatic. She's creative in using her powers, she's honest with herself and others, and she always searches for the right thing to do -- not the easiest or the least-bad thing. Most intriguingly for a superhero, she also searches for ways to resolve problems without using violence.

The writing is excellent, plus it's worth taking the time to read slowly because of all the little sight gags in each panel. The plot contains several guest appearances from other Marvel characters like Wolverine and the Inhumans, but you don't need any special knowledge to enjoy this comic -- just jump right in!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Recommended Reading: The Bad Kitty series by Nick Bruel

Bad Kitty is a unique series about a singularly ill-behaved cat,and all her friends and relatives. Each new addition plays with the form a little more, and expands Bad Kitty's circle of acquaintances! The first installment is a picture book with several fun rhyming lists, and the second book (Poor Puppy) builds on the same formula, adding new characters and some counting. Later books become more like easy chapter books, or hybrids of the two forms -- some are mostly text with lots of pictures, while others are mostly pictures with a little text. Kitty's friends include the puppy, the baby, all the cats on her street, Uncle Murray her petsitter, and more! Each book includes alphabetical lists, but as the series progresses they also include counting, fun facts about cats, different picture styles, etc. Kids with housecats will definitely recognize Kitty's antics, and since the series can progress along with a developing reader, it's a great choice for all ages.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Recommended Reading: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher

17262540Book Description:

Inspired by one of the greatest creative minds in the English language—and William Shakespeare—here is an officially licensed retelling of George Lucas's epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying...pretty much everything.

Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter—and complete with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations—William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

A surprisingly great book! It's not just a bunch of "thous" and cheap jokes -- it really is a Shakespearian Star Wars. It's in full-on iambic pentameter, and Shakespearian style come through in the characters and structure. It works remarkably well. The plot sticks along closely with the movie, but the characters can stop and monologue, bringing something new to the story without changing the plot. It's full of Shakespeare references and Star Wars jokes, but all very gentle, not parodic. For instance, at one point Luke says something like "I couldn't be more invested in this rescue if Leia was my own SISTER!" My favorite part in the whole book is that R2-D2 can talk, but decides (Hamlet-style) to act like he can't.

My one criticism is that I'd actually like to see it diverge more from the movie plot, to make it function more as a play. In a movie, you can have a little two-minute scene with the villains and then go back to the main story. In a play, that many rapid scene changes would be cumbersome and impractical. I didn't affect my enjoyment of the book, but I would've liked to see how things might change to make it more stage-friendly. 

Check your local library for location -- it may be in juvenile, adult fiction, or classics.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Recommended Reading: You Are Here by Chris Hadfield

Book Description:

Divided by continent,
You Are Here represents one (idealized) orbit of the ISS. This planetary photo tour -- surprising, playful, thought-provoking, and visually delightful -- is also punctuated with fun, fascinating commentary on life in zero gravity. In the spirit of his bestselling An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, You Are Here opens a singular window on our planet, using remarkable photographs to illuminate the history and consequences of human settlement, the magnificence (and wit) of never-before-noticed landscapes, and the power of the natural forces shaping our world and the future of our species.

Chris Hadfield is now well-known for his tweets from space and his talks on being an astronaut. In October 2014, following up on his previous bestseller, he released this book of photos taken from the International Space Station. The pictures are gorgeous, and Hadfield's perspective really comes through in his creative choice of subjects... He provides just enough text to explain what you're seeing without overwhelming it, keeping the focus on the pictures themselves. It's not just any coffee-table book, it's a trip around the world from a brand-new perspective.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Recommended Reading: "X-Men: Age of Apocalypse"

Book Description:

Charles Xavier is dead - killed twenty years in the past during a freak time-travel accident - and the world that has arisen in his absence is dark and dangerous indeed. The Darwinian conqueror Apocalypse rules with an iron fist, ruthlessly enforcing his dictum that only the strong shall survive - and in Apocalypse's long shadow, hidden among a downtrodden humankind, are a group of ragtag freedom fighters led by Xavier's oldest friend, Magneto: the Amazing X-Men! When Bishop, last survivor of the true Marvel Universe, locates the X-Men and explains how the world went wrong, these embittered mutants and their tenuous allies must risk everything - and undertake a dangerous and multi-pronged quest - to put things right!

Get ready for the next X-Men movie, X-Men: Apocalypse, with the classic four-volume graphic novel! It's a complex story, so you'll enjoy it most if you have some knowledge of the X-Men already, but there's no need to be an expert. This collection organizes a wide variety of comic issues into a coherent story that flows remarkably well, and you really get the feeling and the atmosphere of being on Apocalypse's Earth. This story showcases a compelling set of alternate characters who have remained popular in the Marvel universe ever since, including a heroic Magneto, a dark Nightcrawler, the new character Blink, and many more. A fantastic story on its own, it's also a must-read in the X-Men canon.