I'll Have The Steampunk Dystopian Fairytale On The Rocks

Our current culture seems to have entered the age of enthusiastic cross-genre hybridization, resulting in an interesting cocktail mix of pretty much anything you could think of, from music to film, fashion, FOOD!!! and, of course, literature.
In music we have R&B soulstress Janelle Monae crooning to the bass-thundering youth-anthem We Are Young, by rock newcomers Fun. Most-played song on my iPod last month.

In film we have the found-footage independent sci-fi mockumentary Chronicle -- picture a home movie of a teenager who will one day become a Marvel super-villain, but before the tights and evil cape twirling. I thought it was wicked awesome.

In fashion you could probably look out a window and see any number of hybrid fashion horrors/wonders: bow ties and skinny jeans, mini-skirts and baggy tees, cardigans and jean shorts... Converse and tuxedos (ahem, guilty). We'll let you decide which are the horrors *winks*

In some refrigerators -- FOOD! -- there's barbeque chicken pizza (weird but you can't force people to see how wrong that is) cozying up to green tea ice cream (sounds weird until it's in your mouth) and bacon-wrapped chocolate (sounds weird and IT IS) romancing the white chocolate macadamia nut cream cheese wontons (your cholesterol will curse the day you were born, but your stomach will want to marry you AND your eating utensil, which is probably illegal in someone's fictional version of Earth but some things are above culinary legalities, real or imagined).

Which brings me to literature.

Cinder, the first book of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, is a great example of this popular multi-genre blending.

Inspired by the Perrault fairytale classic Cinderella, Cinder is set in a future distant enough that colonization of the moon has resulted in a lunar culture and race quite separate from Earth (which has become an amalgam of different cultures, primarily Asian). 

Traditional steampunk is usually relegated to historical periods set before the rise of electrical and electronic technology, but the world of Cinder somehow radiates a kind of gritty, less than pristine attitude; there is advanced technologically, yes, but the world still seems somehow more rugged than our present.

It might have to do with the throwback views of the society towards cyborgs, people who have replaced parts of their anatomy with organic machinery – they are treated as outcasts, sometimes property, sometimes criminals, but always less than human.

Cinder, the name of our female protagonist, is one of these cyborgs, as well as a skilled mechanic, both of which are catalysts for her involvement with Prince Kai (who just wanted his favorite android repaired), as well as the growing conflict between the people of Earth and the strange not-quite-human people of the moon (who have reasons of their own to despise Cinder beyond her mechanical prosthetics). 

Cinder is an intriguing re-imagining of a beloved tale which fans of The Hunger Games series, fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and fans of strong female characters in general will enjoy but be warned: it's not for the weak-stomached or squeamish or loose-bladdered (and if any of that intrigues you, you're just the type of person who should be reading it)!


True crime

I recently had my book club read The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi.  I enjoy reading true crime for the same reason I enjoy watching law and criminal television shows: I like reading about the evidence, the trial, and the psychology behind the criminal. 
I chose The Monster of Florence for my book club knowing that most of them do not read true crime regularly.  I thought this book might also appeal to those who enjoy reading non-fiction and like to learn about other cultures.

This book looks at a series of murders that takes place outside Florence, from the 1960s-1980s.  I was fascinated at how forensic science seems to be treated so differently in Italy.  The legal system is also so different from what we know here in the US.  I learned a lot about Italy too.  For instance, did you know the Italian language wasn’t unified until the 1960s (with the advent of television)?

While this book may be too gory for some readers, I really enjoyed it, and hope you will too.


Julie Hyzy White House Chef Mysteries

Want something different then your usual Cozy Mystery Series? Try the White House Chef mysteries by Julie Hyzy. The mysteries in this series revolve around the White House kitchen and its staff. You’ll read about the inner workings of the White House kitchen. White House staff, First Ladies and Secret Service are all intertwined in this series. The series heroine is Ollie Paras, assistant to the White House Executive Chef. We find out in the first book in the series that she has a chance of getting her dream job as the White House Executive Chef. As Ollie plans state dinners and other White House affairs she uses her skills as an amateur detective to solve murders involving heads of states, dignitaries and government officials.

State of the Onion
Hail to the Chef
Eggsecutive Orders
Buffalo West Wing
Affairs of Steak


Not So Mysterious Food Writing

Recently I posted about Culinary Mysteries and my love of food writing. Today I realized I ignored those of you who also love food writing, but don’t necessarily enjoy mystery novels. There are so many great non-mystery food writers out there and I wanted to mention some of my favorites.

I have been a fan of Anthony Bourdain since way before his television program, No Reservations. Ever since Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, his funky, funny expose of the world of cooking and restaurants, came out in 2000 I have been an instant fan. Bourdain can be sarcastic and irreverent but he is a serious chef who knows his food. He also knows how to tell as story.

My all time favorite food writer is Ruth Reichl. The first book I read by Reichl was Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table. This book tells the author’s life through food. Funny at times, serious at times this book is a great read. I have recommended it many times and it is always a hit. Try this author and see if you love her as much as I do.


How could I write about food writing without mentioning Julia Child? My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’Homme and Julie and Julia by Julie Powell are both good reads. I read these two books close together and I loved first reading about the real Julia Child and then reading about someone inspired by Julia Child. The women in both books impressed me by their willingness to take on new culinary challenges. I love cooking from scratch, but I have to draw the line somewhere. No cutting down exotic cuts of meat for me, thank you very much!

Another bit of food writing I have to recommend is Barbara Kingsolver’s, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. In this piece of non-fiction, Kingsolver and her family strive to exclusively eat homegrown or locally grown food for one year. In this book, Kingsolver and her family try not only to get closer to the land they live on and the food they eat but also to get closer each other as a family.

Other food writers to try: Michael Pollan and Molly Wizenberg.

Do you have any food writers to recommend?


Adventure is out there!

Appealing to children's discriminating tastes and perceptions is no easy feat. Often times I find, if you suggest it, they will reject it. Occasionally, I'll put my hand up to the side of my mouth and say, "This is a really good book, but I don't think your Mother would like it" and off the shelf it goes! More important than my charming asides [insert wry smile] is the enormous talent some Authors have for creating works which not only appeal to the child's sensibilites, but are also tales imbedded with lessons in courage, caring, moderation, and prejudice. Please find below a list of kids' faves.

101 Ways to Bug Your Teacher by Lee Wardlaw


Culinary Mysteries

 I love food and I also love mystery novels. I’ve always wanted to go to one of those murder mystery dinner theater shows. But until I do I’m content to read culinary mysteries. Some of these mysteries are more literary than others but all of them are fun.

A couple of years ago I got totally into Nadia Gordon’s, Sunny McCoskey Napa Valley mystery series. While I enjoy the mystery in the books I also look forward to hearing what chef and restaurant owner, Sunny, will be featuring on her weekly menu at her restaurant Wildside.

Although very different from Gordon’s series, Joanna Fluke’s Hannah Swensen mystery series is fun too. I love the recipes mixed in with the story. Sometimes I will pick up her books and flip through not for the story but for the yummy recipes.

Right now I’m reading On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle. This cozy mystery is the first in Coyle’s Coffee House Mystery series.

Here are some culinary mysteries I haven’t read, but they are on my to-read list:

Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles mysteries
JoAnna Carl’s Chocoholic series
Laura Child’s Tea Shop Mysteries
Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy B. Schulz mysteries
Peter King’s Gourmet Detective series
G.A. McKevett’s Savannah Reid mysteries

I’m probably leaving out some great authors. Comment on this post if you’d like to recommend a culinary mystery to add to this list.


Children's Picture Books Celebrate Imagination!

Take some time to “imagine” with some favorite picture books. Have a family read-aloud night, and join the Imagination Celebration -- happening in Orange County from April 20 through May 30th.

Travel to worlds where amazing adventures take place. Remarkable and peculiar characters turn up. Animals talk, and cakes fly! Things get lost—then found. Miraculous, unusual and extraordinary events happen! Books spark our imagination with stories that nourish and satisfy our inner yearnings. Books can Rock your World!

Hey Rabbit! by Sergio Ruzzier

Rabbit carries a very special little suitcase full of imagery: a jungle for his friend Parrot, a birthday cake made entirely of bones for his friend Dog, and a comfy bed for his sleepy friend, Bear. But Hey! What about Rabbit?

Millie’s Marvelous Hat by Satoshi Kitamura

Ever seen a hat that changes according to the thoughts of the wearer? Millie has one; Soon it seems everyone has an amazing hat of their own, including Millie’s mother.

A Boy and his Bunny by Sean Bryan

How strange to wake up with a bunny on your head! This boy names his bunny Fred, and they imagine all the things they can do together. What would you do if you woke up with a bunny on your head?

Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie by Joel Stewart

A big blue beastie wants to eat Dexter Bexley! See how Dexter outsmarts the hungry beast by using his imagination.

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

Cherub-like Harold decides to take a moonlight walk with his purple crayon. When he realizes there isn’t any moon, he draws one. Together crayon and boy create an adventure, get lost, and finally arrive back home.

Purple Kangaroo by Michael Ian Black

A clever monkey claims he can read minds! He asks readers to close our eyes and think of something. Anything! This read aloud story will have kids and adults laughing as monkey attempts to outsmart the reader with his wit and imagination.

Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis

A stick is not a stick if you use your imagination! Follow a very busy pig as he catches a shark, slays a dragon, and creates a masterpiece with his not-stick!

The Flying Garbanzos by Barney Salztberg

Circus acrobats the Garbanzo family juggle, trapeze and perform daring balancing acts in an attempt to rescue a flying birthday cake for the youngest Garbanzo’s birthday!


Finding Bliss in Bhutan

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”  --Maya Angelou

When Jamie Zeppa leaves Canada to teach in Bhutan, she leaves a busy world of planning, meetings, going out, and thinking about the future for a contemplative world, where getting by day-to-day takes over.  She tells her story in Beyond the Sky and the Earth.  In her new home, high in the Himalayas, she has limited transportation and her life revolves around the children she teaches, learning to cook with limited foods and supplies, and challenging her previous notions of what makes a good life. 

The thing that really grabbed me while reading this was the lyrical description of life and nature in Bhutan.  For example:  “Whenever we stop and climb out of the vehicle, I am struck by the silence.  It is particularly deep and strong higher up.  At the passes, when the wind drops suddenly, the silence almost hums, and I can feel the weight of the earth beneath me, intensified by the emptiness between this solid piece of ground and the nearest ridge, a short flight away.  It becomes a strange mental gravity.  If I stand too long, I begin to feel rooted” (31).  I, too, felt the heaviness of the earth and the silence pressing on my ears.

Zeppa went to Bhutan for a change, but had every intention to return home to Canada at the end of her stay.  However, the country changes her and when it comes time to return, she’s not so sure where “home” is anymore.  About halfway through the book she writes, “I remember my arrival in Bhutan and how miserable I was, and all the other teachers who seemed inexplicably content.  They were right all along, I think.  This is the most remarkable place, after all” (110).  By the end of her story, Zeppa even finds herself in a relationship with a Bhutanese man, which strengthens her ties to the country all the more. 

We tend to define ourselves by where we live, but in this dream-like memoir, Zeppa shows us that by leaving, we have the opportunity to redefine ourselves and our values.  In my opinion, this is part of the beauty of reading travel literature—even though we can’t hop on a plane and live the adventure ourselves, we can live and learn vicariously.


A Haunting Tale

Tighter by Adele Griffin is loosely inspired by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Trying to recover from a breakup and hooked on prescription drugs, seventeen year old Jamie is hoping for an escape from her troubles when she accepts a summer job on the island of Little Bly. The job is as an au pair for a wealthy man’s eleven year old daughter, Isa. She just wants a nice relaxing summer, but once on the island, Jamie learns of the deaths of the previous babysitter, Jessie and her boyfriend Peter. Not only were the deaths horrific and mysterious, but Jamie resembles Jessie! Soon she starts seeing the ghosts of Jessie and Peter. Jamie becomes obsessed with their mysterious and untimely deaths. Tighter retains the ambiguity present in Turn of the Screw; because of her addiction to prescription drugs, Jamie is never sure what's real and what's imagined. Jamie may be an unreliable narrator and somewhat annoying at times, but her voice is strong, rich and convincing. The other characters are very well developed as well, from the sad Isa, her enabled older brother Milo, the sweet potential boyfriend Sebastian and Connie, the ill-tempered housekeeper with a lisp.

This psychological novel has it all: paranormal activity, adventure, romance and suspense. Tighter is beautifully written, firmly plotted with just enough twists and turns to keep you spooked and captivated 'til its shocking end! It has a Younger Teen sticker in our library system and is recommended for 7th grade and up.



Girl Talk

In the heyday of Chick Lit (Bridget Jones, I’m looking at you) it was easy to scan the shelves and pick out the pastel covers that held yet another story of fashionable girl meets boy; girl acts crazy and almost loses boy to someone taller, thinner, richer; girl finally gets diamond ring; the end. As I got a little older and my life changed, I realized that I was not so much interested in 20-something dating stories anymore, but I do still like novels that give me a view into women’s lives.

For fans of The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Banks, Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close offers a similar style; in linked stories that follow Isabella, Mary, and Lauren through the 10 years after college graduation, Close explores the growing pains and peculiar rites of early adulthood. The three friends and their acquaintances attend endless bridal showers and weddings and try to maneuver new jobs, new family roles, and yes, even the occasional romance in their search for identity. Read this while you are waiting for the next episode of HBO's new show Girls.

On the other hand, Elissa Schappell’s Blueprints for Building Better Girls, while following a similar format of linked short stories, has a less Chick Lit vibe, garnering comparison to more literary writers like Lorrie Moore and Maile Meloy. Schappell’s stories are edgier, a little darker, exploring the choices her women and girls make, often with consequences harsher than those faced by Close’s trio. From teens to motherhood, Schappell connects with women at various stages of life whose lives have taken a slight turn off the straight and narrow path.


I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree

I just finished reading the memoir, I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree: A Memoir of a Schindler’s List Survivor by Laura Hillman. I picked the book up because Laura will be speaking at the Bowers Museum on Holocaust Remembrance Day and I am grateful that I did! I was so moved by Laura’s courage and strength.

Reading about the Holocaust can be emotionally difficult, but this book is written at a level that is appropriate for teens and adults. In the book Laura shares her personal journey as a young Jewish girl in Germany during World War II. Not only is it a story of survival during the darkest of times, but it is also a story of hope and young love. Laura and Dick Hillman, a young Polish POW, are two young people trying to support and protect each other in order to survive the nightmare of family loss and Nazi concentration camps. How Laura was able to survive and yet still maintain a positive and hopeful attitude is amazing.

Now I am looking forward to hearing Laura’s inspiring story first hand at the Bowers Museum on Thursday, April 19th at 1:30 pm. For details on her lecture click here.


Have I Read This Before?

I read a lot of books. Between books I read for my book club, audiobooks I listen to in the car and books recommended by friends and family I easily read about 6 books per month and maybe even more. I love books. But every now and then when someone asks me if I’ve read any good books lately I draw a blank. Ummmm…. I’ve read a lot of good books lately but I’m having trouble remembering the titles. Beyond wanting to recommend books to other people, I also want to be able to keep track of all the great books I read every month.

I think other people have this problem too. Friends and library patrons frequently mention how they think they haven’t read a particular title and then pick up the book and read the first chapter only to realize they’ve read the book before. My parents pass on their previously read books to me and a couple of months ago they gave me two copies of the same book! How do you avoid this? Some of the ladies in my book club have giant binders filled with scraps of paper and handwritten notes cataloging all the books they’ve read. But I’m so disorganized this would never work for me. I’d lose the scraps of paper or forget to jot down titles I’ve read. Hey, I might even lose the binder.

Luckily, about a year ago I started using Goodreads, a free online social networking site that enables me to organize my own “bookshelf” of books I’m currently reading, have read and would like to read. There is a lot more I can do with this website, but I primarily use it to keep track of what I read and to review books I’ve read. Another fun thing about this site is it provides me with book recommendations based on the books I’ve previously read. I use it as a tool to find new and exciting authors and to see what others thought of the same books I’ve read. I’m really enjoying my Goodreads account. I look forward to logging in and tracking and reviewing all the books I’ve read. Now when people ask me if I’ve read any good books lately I can direct them to my Goodreads account and they can see for themselves what books I liked and disliked. Check it out and let me know what you think.


Fairy Tale Fun

MaryJane and Herm Auch dress time honored fairy tales in an overcoat of modernity. Utilizing tongue-in-cheek humor, in addition to a slap stick play on words, Beauty and the Beaks: A Turkey’s Cautionary Tale, relays the story of Beauty, who owned a beauty shop, The Chic Hen (ta-dum), “where she made other chickens look their best. Though Beauty didn’t encourage it, the shop was the center of gossip, with chicken beaks clicking all day.” So one day a new chicken shows up. Turns out its Lance the Turkey arriving for what he thinks is an exclusive invitation to a feast. Suspicious of this special invite, Beauty does a little snooping and finds out that Lance is actually on the menu. “Wattle I do?” Lance wailed’ (yucka yucka); so the plot ensues: a make-over is the answer. First they try to teach him to fly, and then they go to work making him look like a chicken. With a subtle nod at naiveté, Auch manages to entertain us silly, while simultaneously offering up fodder for an identity versus conformity discussion.

And if this weren’t enough fun, the illustrations get even better. “Mary Jane made the chicken mannequins with needle-felted wool wings and yarn hand feathers. She sculpted a variety of polymer clay eyes and beaks for each bird, designed and sewed the outfits, and sculpted the shoes from polymer clay. Herm designed and built the sets from found and constructed objects. He made a miniature photo studio with movable lights. After photographing and scanning all the elements into his computer, he scaled them to fit the scenes.” Their metal artist son, Ian fabricated the chicken-sized beauty parlor chair for The Chic Hen. A must read for you and your small one!
Read Also: Chickerella, The Nutquacker, and Hen Lake.


Two Kisses For Maddy: A Memoir of Love and Loss

I’m getting excited for this year’s Literary Orange! Each year I try to read some books by the authors whose panels I will be attending. I feel this makes the day more enjoyable and entertaining. The first year I attended I hadn’t read any of the books by any of the authors. While I still enjoyed myself I kept thinking how much more I would have gotten from the panels and author presentations if I had some knowledge of the authors and the books they had written. This year along with attending presentations by this year’s keynote speakers, I will be attending the panel titled Memoirs: Life Goes On.

One of the authors featured on this panel is Matt Logelin, author of Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Love and Loss. I read the summary of the book and was immediately taken in by his tragic and compelling story. In this memoir the widowed author struggles to grieve the loss of his wife while caring for his newborn daughter. I appreciate the author’s willingness to share such intimate details of his life with readers. I also appreciate how the author doesn’t hesitate from sharing his missteps as well as his accomplishments. The author comes across as honest and human as he shares his story. I am looking forward to hearing Matt Logelin speak about what compelled him to write this memoir and to hearing him give us updates on how he is doing parenting his growing daughter. For more information about this book visit the author’s website.


Titanic Books

April 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the British passenger ship that went down in the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg.  There has been a boat-load of books written about this tragic event.  Here are some noteworthy titles.

The Dressmaker, a new novel by Kate Alcott, features the character Tess Collins, an aspiring seamstress hired by the famous designer Lady Lucille Gordon to be her personal assistant while they voyage on the Titanic.  Disaster strikes, and Tess is one of the last to escape the sinking ship; Lady Gordon assumes the role of lifeboat commandeer.  Personal dramas unfold during the ugly aftermath of the official investigation. 

No one writes action/adventure/espionage tales quite like Clive Cussler.  Raise the Titanic is one of his first books to feature Dirk Pitt, the handsome, witty, courageous protagonist with the devil-may-care attitude. 

A Night to Remember by Walter Lord, first published in 1955, is still one of the best factual accounts of the sinking of the Titanic.  Starting at 11:40 p.m. on April 14th the “unsinkable” Titanic strikes an iceberg, and by 8:50 a.m. the following morning it was all over.  The minute-by-minute re-creation is a real white-knuckler.

Although more than 1,500 people lost their lives that fateful night, over 700 others survived.  Lost Voices of the Titanic: The Definitive Oral History by Nick Barratt draws from never-before-seen archive material and eyewitness accounts by participants at every stage of the Titanic’s life.  A fascinating and illuminating book.


I Love My Book Club

I’m always saying, “I would never have picked up this book if not for the book club” at the end of every book club meeting I attend. Literally, I always say this. Well, I’m going to say it again. I would never have read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak if not for my book club. When it was first recommended by a book club member I jotted it down then, being a librarian, went straight to the computer to read book reviews and check the availability of the book. This is when I discovered this book was labeled older teen fiction. I just couldn’t believe my literary book club full of adults would enjoy a teen book.

I was wrong! I loved this book. And guess what, the ladies in the book club liked it too. One woman told me she thought it was one of the best books she has ever read. How is that for a recommendation? The story is heartbreaking in some parts, terrible and scary in other parts, beautiful and redeeming in others. The book takes place in Nazi Germany and the main character is Liesel Meminger, a girl who goes from being illiterate to being a lover of words. She is saved literally and figuratively by her ability to use words to tell her story and the stories of others. The book’s depiction of beauty in a world that is not always beautiful is what stays with me the most.

This post is a glowing recommendation of The Book Thief and of the power book clubs have to break readers out of their comfort zones. Let me finish by simply saying, I love my book club.


Ethical Intelligence

Ethical Intelligence: Five Principles for Untangling Your Toughest Problems at Work and Beyond
by Bruce Weinstein, PhD (2011). This is a good book for readers who want either an introduction to or a review of ethics as they are applied in daily life. The book, which focuses on the concept of ethical intelligence, is divided into three major sections. The first part introduces the reader to the five principles of ethical intelligence, the second describes how to apply ethical intelligence in the work environment, and the final part discusses how to apply ethical intelligence in our personal lives.

The five principles of ethical intelligence are (broadly):

- Do no harm
- Make things better
- Respect others
- Be Fair
- Be loving 

The chapters that make up this title are well written and easy to read. Those interested in applied ethics should find this title interesting because, as one reads through the text, it becomes obvious that the author is familiar with the subject matter. It’s also a plus that Mr. Weinstein also writes on the subject of ethics for Bloomberg Businessweek Online.

See where there are copies available through our catalog.


A Chinese Adventure Gone Wrong

"The border means more than a customs house, a passport officer, a man with a gun. Over there everything is going to be different; life is never going to be quite the same again after your passport has been stamped." --Graham Greene

With a title like Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, you’d expect a racy tale of international romance. What you get is very different, but still a page-turner. Shortly after the Chinese borders opened to Western tourism, the author, Susan Jane Gilman, and her college friend, Claire, plan to use the country as a starting point for a year-long round-the-world backpacking adventure. When they reach China, Susan writes, “We were now truly here, on the other side of the earth. All that remained was for us to step out onto the glistening tarmac and into the gloriousness of our lives.”

That rosy-eyed outlook quickly changes. Neither girl is prepared for the reality of China in 1986, where they are constantly watched by the government. They deal with bouts of stomach trouble and dirty hotel rooms. They slowly become indoctrinated into backpacker life, where the cheaper (and according to the backpackers, more authentic) your hotel room, the cooler you are. They experience a few idyllic days at the Green Lotus Peak Inn, eating stacks of banana pancakes.

However, Claire’s increasingly strange behavior makes Susan realize that she has to take control of the situation, abandon her vacation and get her friend back home. From beginning to end, this story kept me reading, wanting to know if Claire would keep it together or if China would get the best of the two travelers. If you’ve ever been on your own rough trip, or if you are an armchair traveler who wants a little excitement, then this is the book for you.


Zombie Apocalypse

I’m trying to add a little variety to my reading, but I found yet another desolate book. This time it’s the post-apocalyptic novel Ashes by Ilsa Bick. I didn’t come across much buzz about this book, but somewhere someone mentioned zombies so I had to read it; I’m hooked on AMC’s The Walking Dead. The premise of Ashes: An electromagnetic pulse wipes out all electronic devices, killing billions and turning some, mainly teens, into zombies. Zombies are referred to as the “changed” and those not effected by the EMP are the “spared”. Seventeen year old Alex is hiking in the mountains trying to sort out her personal hardships when this disaster occurs. Right before the EMP swipes the sky, Alex befriends an old man and his eight year old granddaughter, Ellie. Just like Alex, Ellie too has lost her parents. The grandfather is killed by the EMP so Alex feels obligated to take care of Ellie while trying to take care of herself and figure out what just happened. Not only is Alex spared from the catastrophic outcome, but her sense of smell is phenomenal, allowing her to foresee threats. During a gruesome battle against a changed teen, Alex meets a young soldier named Tom, who like her is spared. The three join forces and together the newly created family tries to survive; trying to determine who can be trusted in this post-apocalyptic world while battling the changed and those frantic to survive, who sometimes are scarier and tougher to fight than the changed!

The book is a little slow at times and Bick presumes everyone is familiar with the biblical references she makes, but its twists and turns, tenacious characters and plausible dark storyline never fail to keep you engrossed. The violence and grim plot make it an Older Teen book in our library system. As I mentioned, I didn’t know much about this book other than it had zombies so I wasn't aware it was the first in a trilogy. Imagine my shock and relief when I read the ending! The second book in the trilogy, Shadows, will be out September 25, 2012.


A Cross Country Walk To New York City

The Year We Were Famous
by Carole Estby Dagg is a page-turning historical fiction choice for children from fifth grade and up. It is 1896. The crops have failed and the Estbys are about to lose the farm. Unless. . . after coming out of a deep depression, Ma has a manic plan that might work. She has wagered with a publisher in New York City that if she walks without assistance cross country from Mica Creek, Washington, to New York City in just seven months, she will win $10,000, enough to pay off the mortgage. They are allowed only $5.00 cash to begin with, and the rest of any future necessities must be earned or otherwise acquired along the way.

Her daughter Clara persuades the family to let her accompany her Mom for her protection and off they start from their little Norwegian settlement in western Washington, equipped with warm coats and new boots, walking sticks, and satchels, hand-carrying their supplies. The weather is fine and they have high hopes. But reality sets in too quickly as they endure rain, snow, mountain climbs, flooding rivers, curious Native American tribes, feverish illness, a sprained ankle and more. Clara, an aspiring reporter, journals it all. Her journal entries, along with some insertions of her mother's letters back and forth to the publisher, as well as occasional correspondences from home, are the format for the story.

The story, based on the true story of the author's great aunt and great grandmother's adventure, will keep the reader engaged throughout, waiting to find out if they will make it despite dismal odds. Besides the survival theme, there is a romantic thread as well as Ellie struggles with her attraction to the exciting young reporter in Salt Lake City, while steadfast Erick is waiting to make her a farm wife when she returns home.

The authors website can be visited here. She does classroom visits. I loved the book so much that I emailed her the night I finished the book, telling her how much I identified with the characters who reminded me of my Norwegian grandparents, how much our library would be excited to have her and what could be the terms for a visit. But Uff da! or even Ish da! -- depending on how badly I must have embarrassed myself in my enthusiasm -- I have never heard back. But ja, well, it was a very good book.