Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reality Leak

A review that originally ran in the Edge of the Forest:

Reality Leak Jodi Sensel with illustrations by Christian Slade (Henry Holt, April 2007)

When Acme, Inc. rolls into South Wiggot, Bryan’s not entirely sure what to think. Something about the company head, Mr. Keen doesn’t seem quite right. Before long, Bryan and his best friend Spot (a girl who thinks she’s a dog) are finding messages popping up in the toaster instead of toast, tea bags that turn into mice, and a message in a bottle… in the toilet.

When Bryan gets a job at Acme planting popped popcorn that grows into glowering dandelions, they know something very, very strange is going on. Of course, none of the adults in town believe them. Can Bryan and Spot figure out what Mr. Keen’s up to and can they stop it before it turns ugly?

Mr. Keen comes off as a slightly sinister Willy Wonka in this wonderfully bizarre tale about the unexpected, the importance of dental hygiene, and the power of Imagination. Sensel’s imagination keeps the story moving in completely different directions with every page turn, making the book hard to put down as the reader wonders what will happen next.

Slade’s drawings well-capture some of the books odder oddities and add to Mr. Keen’s creepiness.

The ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel. While this book is a tough act to follow, we hope there is another in the works.

Modern update: No sequel. :(

Book Provided by... The Edge of the Forest, for review in their publication (sadly, now defunt. sniff sniff sniff.)

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Legend of Captain Crow's Teeth

Legend of Captain Crow's Teeth Eoin Colfer

The Woodman brothers (whom we first met in the Legend of Spud Murphy) are back and on holiday on the Irish Coast. Oldest brother Marty likes terrifying his younger brothers with the tale of Captain Crow, whose ghost searches the shores for the cabin boy that got the better of him in life. Will's pretty sure that Captain Crow's coming for him this summer, and the town's obsession with the tale, which comes to head at the junior-junior disco for 9-12s isn't helping!

Definitely a hilarious tale, made funnier by illustrations by Glenn McCoy, what I loved most was the interaction between the brothers, especially HP. HP's very bright, but only talks in baby-talk when his parents can hear him, because he realized that babies get away with everything. The concept of the junior-junior disco made me laugh, as did Will's nervous excitement looking up to it and complete disappointment that it ends up being. A fun and funny story for younger middle grade kids. It's also fun to compare Colfer's work here with his stuff for teens, such as The Supernaturalist.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Personal Musings

This week I survived an earthquake (lots of downed books) and an hurricane (lots of downed small branches.)

My next challenge? I go back to work on Monday. If the library system has regained power.

The earthquake also closed my library branch all last week. They've determined the damage isn't structural (yay!) so they're reopening on Monday, just in time for me to return and help reshelve all the books that fell.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weekly Geeks

Everything changes. Weekly Geeks is ending after this week. I didn't always participate and always wished I did it more regularly, but it was a fun meme.

It was started by Dewey, an energetic book blogger who passed away in 2008. She had hinted to health problems and pain on her blog a few times, but I don't think any of us realized how serious it was or even if they were related. One day there was a post from her husband telling us that she was gone. But she left her mark. Weekly Geeks lived for 3 more years until participation has slowed to the point where it's now ending. But Dewey's biannual 24-hour Read-a-Thon is still going strong. She was big on connecting bloggers to other bloggers and I think she'd be happy that 3 years later, she's still succeeding in getting us all to play together.

And now, one of my favorite weekly geek memes, which has been repeated a few times, is when I post my list of unreviewed books, and you ask me questions about those books, so it's easier for me to write my review. They're in order I read them. It does not include books I've already written preliminary reviews for (so, that's huge Cybils backlog from 2009 isn't included.) It may make you feel better about your reviewing backlog to note that my backlog starts way back in April 2007. Oiy vey. I obviously need your help.


Midnight at the Dragon Cafe Judy Fong Bates
Name Me Nobody Lois-Ann Yamanaka
Chicks with Sticks: (Knit Two Together) Elizabeth Lenhard


The Murder Of Bindy Mackenzie Jaclyn Moriarty
The Spell Book Of Listen Taylor Jacyln Moriarty
Shopgirl Steve Martin
An Order of Amelie, Hold the Fries Nina Schindler
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds Pual Zindel
Feeling Sorry for Celia Jaclyn Moriarty
The Year Of Secret Assignments Jaclyn Moriarty
Toning The Sweep Angela Johnson
Nothing But The Truth Avi
Cathy's Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 Sean Stewart, Jordan Weisman
Shooter Walter Dean Myers
Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff Jennifer Holm
The Winning Element (The Specialists) Shannon Greenland
Native Tongue (The Specialists) Shannon Greenland


Born Too Short: The Confessions of an Eighth-Grade Basket Case Dan Elish
A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat Gail Gauthier
A Girl, A Boy, and Three Robbers Gail Gauthier
Ballet Shoes Noel Streatfeild
Winter's Child (Once Upon a Time) Cameron Dokey
Snow (Once Upon a Time) Tracy Lynn
Midnight Pearls (Once Upon a Time) Debbie Viguie


The London Eye Mystery Siobhan Down
The Nine Pound Hammer (The Clockwork Dark, Book 1) John Claude Bemis
Wild Things Clay Carmichael
The Shrouding Woman Loretta Ellsworth
Ransom My Heart Meg Cabot and Mia Thermopolis
The Birthday Ball Lois Lowry
Posh and Prejudice (Diary of a Chav) Grace Dent
A Whole Nother Story Dr. Cuthbert Soup
Only the Good Spy Young (Gallagher Girls) Ally Carter
Zombies vs. Unicorns Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

The Unsinkable Walker Bean Aaron Renier
The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker (Strangely Beautiful) Leanna Renee Hieber
Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, Book 3) Suzanne Collins
Bad Kitty Gets a Bath Nick Bruel
e Squared: A Novel Matt Beaumont
Fables Vol. 14: Witches Bill Willingham
Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) Lenore Skenazy
A Hat Full of Sky: The Continuing Adventures of Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men Terry Prachett


Shades of Grey: A Novel Jasper Fforde
Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee Robert van Gulik (translator)
Paul Is Undead Alan Goldsher
Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker (Book #2) Megan McDonald
Sideways Stories from Wayside School Louis Sachar
The Popularity Papers: Book Two: The Long-Distance Dispatch Between Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang Amy Ignatow
Wolf Mark Joseph Bruchac
Lost and Found: Three by Shaun Tan Shaun Tan
Hush Eishes Chayil
Twilight of Avalon: A Novel of Trystan & Isolde Anna Elliot
Queen of Babble Meg Cabot
One of Our Thursdays Is Missing: A Novel Jasper Fforde
Jack of Fables Vol. 8: The Fulminate Blade Bill Willingham
Fury of the Phoenix Cindy Pon

So, any books you want me to review first? Any burning questions? ASK AWAY!

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Smart Dog

A review that originally ran in The Edge of the Forest:

Smart Dog by Vivian Vande Velde (Magic Carpet Books: October 2007, reissue)

Amy doesn’t have many friends, and is the easy target of the mean girl Kaitlyn. One day, walking to school, trying to time it so she arrives late enough to not make herself stand out and early enough so she’s not late, she meets a dog. This dog doesn’t do the normal doggy things, but instead asks very politely for help. A talking dog? It turns out that Sherlock is a science experiment from the local university and he escaped the lab to avoid having his brain dissected.

All Amy has to do is convince her parents to let her keep Sherlock and to keep him away from the graduate students who are trying to bring him back to the lab. However, with Sherlock’s helpful advice (plus the advantages of having an adorable dog) Amy is able to find the inner strength to make some friends and stand up to Kaitlyn once and for all.

Kaitlyn is the perfect mean girl, and their teacher, Sister Mary Grace is not the stereotypical nun, but rather the perfect balance of discipline and fun.

Smart Dog is honest and funny, veering into slapstick in areas. Middle grade girls will respond to the mean-girl drama and animal lovers are sure to fall for the lovable Sherlock.

Book Provided by... The Edge of the Forest, for review

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Booking Through Thursday

Today's Booking Through Thursday is a must answer, even if there's only one minute left in Thursday (at least in my time zone)

Sometimes I feel like the only person I know who finds reading history fascinating. It’s so full of amazing-yet-true stories of people driven to the edge and how they reacted to it. I keep telling friends that a good history book (as opposed to some of those textbooks in school that are all lists and dates) does everything a good novel does–it grips you with real characters doing amazing things.

Am I REALLY the only person who feels this way? When is the last time you read a history book? Historical biography? You know, something that took place in the past but was REAL.

Regular readers know that I love history. It's the second largest section on my bookshelves (After fiction.) I even majored in it instead of literature. I think one of the reasons why I love studying history over literature is because history is all about the story, the who, what, where, when, and why. It isn't about the metaphor or craft which are things I enjoy analyzing, but not as much as character and plot. History is all character and plot.

So to answer the question, when was the last time I read a history book? Yesterday.

The last two books I've read were history. One, A Girl Named Faithful Plum: The True Story of a Dancer from China and How She Achieved Her Dream will be reviewed in an upcoming issue of School Library Journal. It's a biography of a ballet dancer in post-Cultural Revolution, pre-Tian'anmen China and her experiences at the Beijing Dance Academy. The other, Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History is about the Peshtigo fire, a largely forgotten tragedy. I reviewed it yesterday.

My book I'm currently lusting after is history-- To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. WWI, dissent, and England? YES PLEASE!

History is gripping and beautiful. Heartbreaking and inspiring. It is the story of us as humanity. Sometimes I marvel at the fact we survived it all, but we're still here, just making even more history.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Last Little Blue Envelope

The Last Little Blue Envelope Maureen Johnson

It's the Christmas after Ginny returned from Europe. She and Keith are still in a weird transatlantic thing. Maybe. She hasn't heard from him lately. Then Ginny gets a message from someone who has the envelope that got stolen at the end of 13 Little Blue Envelopes, so she's off to England to surprise Keith and finish the journey she began last summer. But, Oliver has other plans. He won't give Ginny the envelope. He's memorized it and if she wants it, he gets to come with her and they'll sell the artwork as soon as they get back and he gets half the cash. Keith won't let Ginny travel alone with such a f***wad and so he's in, too. With Ellis, his new girlfriend.

I'm conflicted about this book. I loved seeing Europe in winter and revisiting some of the places Ginny had gone the previous summer. It has a lot of the same feel of adventure and travelogue of the first book. BUT. The romantic subplot is just SO WRONG AND HORRIBLE that it completely ruined the book for me. There's more on my Spoiler blog, because I have to talk about the very end, so it's spoilery, and full of adult language and no astricks.

ARC Provided by... publisher at ALA

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Firestorm at Peshtigo

Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History Denise Guss and William Lutz

On October 8, 1871, Peshtigo, WI burned down. A combination of drought, wide spread and intense forest fires, and a storm system that most likely spawned an F5 tornado combined to create a firestorm that the armed forces would study in WWII to plan the firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo.

There was a tornado of fire, 1000 feet high and 5 miles wide. Sand was turned to glass. A billion tress in Wisconsin's virgin forest were gone--a forest so thick and dense you couldn't walk through it in a straight line, with trees 180 feet tall and so thick two people couldn't hold hands around them. Embers and shrapnel from exploding trees set fire to boats docked 7 miles offshore. The peat bogs smoked for a year afterwards.

Peshtigo had 2000 known residents. 1800 died. Many others outside of Peshtigo, on both sides of the Bay of Greeny Bay died for an estimated death count of 2500. It's hard to say-- no one knew how many people were in the area. Lumberjacks and railway crews mean a transient population. Immigrants arrived on a regular basis, including a boatload the day before. Plus, the fire burned so hot that all that was left of many of the dead was a pile of ashes that then blew away in the storm.

It's the deadliest fire in US history and one of the deadliest natural disasters. (Galveston's the worst, Johnstown or Peshtigo are second and third. Using the numbers that Gess and Lutz put forth, Pestigo was more deadly than the Johnstown Flood.)

Despite all this, have you ever heard of it?

I'm guessing you haven't, and I know why--it took place on the same night as the Great Chicago Fire. We learned about it in school, mainly because we were closer to Peshtigo (about 50 miles north of Green Bay) than Chicago. Even in school though, it was taught alongside Chicago, more of a "by the way, the same night Peshtigo burned down and did a lot more damage and killed a lot more people." I always thought it was coincidence that both fires happened at the same night.

No. Fires had been raging in the upper midwest for months. A prairie fire that swept from the Dakotas, across Minnesota, hit the Wisconsin woods where it met with fires already burning. Coupled with a severe weather pattern on the 8th and large portions of the upper midwest burned on October 8th. Not just in Chicago and NE Wisconsin, but large chunks of Michigan, too.

And when morning dawned, help was hard to come by. The telegraph lines had burned and when they could get their pleas to Green Bay, Milwaukee, Madison, they had already dispatched any supplies they had on hand to Chicago.

This is an excellent social history of Peshtigo before, during, and after the fire. It focuses mainly on the people and the town. It briefly mentions the Michigan fires, but doesn't really talk about them. It does talk about the Chicago fire. I could have used a little more "big picture" to see how much burned that night.

My only other complaint is the way they use "Green Bay" is confusing. Green Bay refers to two things-- the city and the actual bay in Lake Michigan that the city (and Peshtigo) are on. In the Green Bay area, we tend to say Green Bay for the city and the more clear, if a bit redundant "Bay of Green Bay" for the body of water. The book doesn't distinguish between the two and sometimes I thought they were talking about town when they were talking about the bay and vice versa.

Where the book really comes alive is in the prose. Gess and Lutz are both known for their fiction writing and they bring that imagery to this book, so we get passages like this:

Most firest are containable, controllable; few ever reach dangerous proportions. In a firestorm, size is not as important as intensity, unpredictability, and the kaleidoscopic effects produced from such extremes of heat and movement. A firestorm's operatic voice displays incredible range, from the barely audible soft cackle to the roar. Its choreography is multipatterned; it slinks, streams, shoots, vibrates, marches, pitches, bursts, stalks, and rolls forward, upward, backward, and in circles. Because it is blind and deaf, it cannot be trusted to make distinctions, will not see of hear the pain of children, the cries of women, the shouts of men. A firestorm knows no empathy, only hunger--and never thirst. Wind is the invisible bully at its ack, whipping flames into a frenzy of lusty gorging. It must eat and cannot get enough and the more food it consumes the hotter and more passionate it becomes. It cannot contain itself and blows its volatile, noxious breath sky-high in whirring convection columns as the cold air rushes in at its feet, pumping its overheated, bloated belly full of hot air upward. Sand will feed it, bark, kerosene, hay, sawdust, clothes, coal, leaves, wooden buildings, trees, flesh. Anything combustible will do. Staying alive is all that matters for a firestorm.

You can feel the smoke burn your lungs reading this book. I highly recommend it as an excellent introduction to a forgotten tragedy.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

History Just Keeps Repeating

I'm currently reading a fascinating book on the Peshtigo Fire that I hope to review on Monday.

But I came across a quotation that I wanted to share:

On this questions of fuel, we are to calculate by ages of the Earth, and not by the life of man. Fuel will be required so long as man shall inherit the Earth, for his comfort and for existence. Without fuel, humanity would cease to exist. Viewed in this light, the deposits laid up during uncounted periods of time... in the shape of coal, petroleum and peat, and which man is now drawing out and using for fuel or wasting, must be exhausted.--Increase Lapham

It's still a relevant statement. But it was written in 1867 and he was talking mainly about the deforestation of Wisconsin's virgin forests.

Also, as a side note, about 6 months ago, I read several baby naming books (my favorite being Bring Back Beatrice!) and I learned that old-fashioned names, or "colonial graveyard names" are currently very in. Names like Abigail, Emma, Charlotte, etc. So I really, really hope we're about to see a slew of little boys named Increase.

Book Provided by... my local library for the one on the fire. Bring Back Beatrice was sent for review by the publisher. It's not what I review on this blog, so I didn't, but their timing was perfect as I was trying to name a baby, so I did read it and used it and loved it, so I wanted to give it a shout-out.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Exit A

A book I read in 2007:

Exit A: A NovelExit A: A Novel Anthony Swofford

Amazon description:
Seventeen-year-old Severin Boxx, an earnest, muscular high-school-football star, lives on an American air force base on the outskirts of Tokyo. Severin is mad for Virginia Kindwall, the base general's daughter, who is a hafu -- half American and half Japanese. Beautiful, smart, and utterly defiant of her father, Virginia has become a petty criminal in the Japanese underground.

Severin is soon caught up in Virginia's world, and together they drift through the mad neon landscape outside the walls of the base, near the busy Haijima rail station, a place of movement, anonymity, and sudden disappearance. Exit A is one of its many shadowy doorways. Severin and Virginia fall into trouble way over their heads and are soon subjected to the enormous, unforgiving tensions between America and Japan. Years later, Severin and Virginia remain lost to each other, until an emotionally frayed, thirty- something Severin embarks on a quest to find Virginia -- and the part of himself taken from him when his boyhood abruptly ended.

Darkly irreverent, frankly erotic, at once suspenseful and emotionally overwhelming, Swofford's Exit A builds inexorably toward a climax as it audaciously plumbs the legacies of war, the wish for redemption, and the danger of love..........

I adored the first half of this book-- the part were Severin and Virginia are in high school. I loved the descriptions of base life and the town/base interactions and the general and cultural tensions between the Americans and Japanese.

But then when it fast-forwards to them as adults, it lost me. It took a weird turn about North Koreans kidnapping Japanese kids and I didn't understand why Severin and Virginia grew into the adults they grew into. The ending was also really weak.

It was all the more disappointing because the first half of the novel was so very, very good.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Booking Through Thursday

This week's question is:

You’ve just had a long, hard, exhausting day, and all you want to do is curl up with something light, fun, easy, fluffy, distracting, and entertaining.
What book do you pick up?

Meg Cabot. I self medicate with Meg Cabot books all the time.

In fact, here's my proven cure for a pick-me-up after a long, awful day.*

1. While driving home, put on the Glee soundtrack and sing along really, really loudly.
2. Come home, give puppy kisses.
3. Turn on dance music like Lady Gaga,Robyn, or Madonna.
4. Dance around the kitchen while mixing a cocktail.
5. Turn on chill music likeAdele, She and Him, or Belle and Sebastian
6. Read Meg Cabot and drink cocktail.

You'll notice Kung-fu Princess (Biblio Baby's new nickname) doesn't play a role in this. That's because this dates back from before she was around.
Book Provided by...

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Toby Wheeler: 8th Grade Bench Warmer

This review (or an edited version of it) originally ran in The Edge of the Forest/

Toby Wheeler: Eighth Grade BenchwarmerToby Wheeler: Eighth Grade Benchwarmer by Thatcher Heldring (Delacorte Press, August 2007)

Toby is just your average gym-rat, playing basketball down at the rec center whenever he gets a chance. When the junior high’s new basketball coach sees him play, he invites Toby to join the team. Toby’s never been one for the organized play of the school team, but maybe joining the team will help repair his friendship with JJ, the team’s star. Toby and JJ used to be best friends, but this summer JJ’s been growing distant and leaving Toby further and further behind.

Joining the team only creates more problems than it solves. Toby’s regulated to the bench and his attitude isn’t winning him any points with JJ, who continues to drift away. Toby’s budding relationship with the coach’s daughter Megan just creates further tension.

There’s also an odd subplot that pits Toby’s dad (who works for the lumber company) against his mother (an environmental activist).

Toby’s relationship with JJ is one we don’t see enough of in tween literature. Toby’s first person narration captures the confusion of changing friendship while still believably sounding like an eighth grade boy. Also, the budding relationship with Megan is handled in such a way to still be a “boy book.”

Overall, it’s a done, yet still heart-warming sports story about a guy learning the meaning of teamwork, a coach remembering how to play for the love of the game instead of winning, and a really killer basket right at the buzzer. A good bet for sports stories fans in the 10-14 age range.

Book Provided by...

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.