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Dog Stars by Peter Heller

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

heller-dogIn this post-apocalyptic novel, we meet Hig and his dog, Jasper. Hig survived the world-ending flu pandemic and more. His only companions are Jasper and Bangley, a survivalist and weapons enthusiast. Hig’s way of escaping the monotony and horror is to fly. He goes on perimeter checks for Bangley, he flies to living forests to find deer, and he returns to a hidden stash of sodas in a crashed 18 wheeler. Jasper is his co-pilot; he’s getting on in years, and is almost deaf, but he’s a great companion. Bangley understands that Jasper is an early warning system. When Jasper dies, Hig goes into an understood decline, then decides to go exploring further that his gas will allow. He will have to find a safe place to refuel the plane–he has no idea what he will find, or even if he will live through it.

Heller is an adventure writer who often contributes to NPR. He is also a contributing editor at Outside magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure, and other magazines. He knows how to describe nature and has a good eye for detail. I was a little worried about the post-apocalyptic setting, but it drew me in and I ended up really liking the book.

The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

the-tournamentMatthew Reilly’s new novel is historical fiction and a mystery, so he’s mixing two genres, rather well. I thought. I wanted to read it because of the historical side, and didn’t really know it was a mystery until I got to into the book.

Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan (and basically emperor) of the Ottoman Empire has invited all the kings and rulers to send a chess master and representative to take part in the greatest chess match ever. He is a man very few people ever say no to; two Papal representatives attend. Henry VIII of England, whose delegation travels the farthest, decides to send his teen-aged daughter Elizabeth. After all, she is third in line to the throne at this time, and not expected to reign. She is accompanied by several chaperones—her tutor, one lady in waiting, a nice, stalwart couple, and ten guards. Not many guardsmen when going into possibly enemy territory, especially when they can’t enter Istanbul proper… Her tutor happens to be Roger Ascham, worldly, esteemed scholar and solver of mysteries. When a papal representative is murdered, The Sultan asked Roger to investigate. (His name was suggested to the Sultan by Michelangelo.)

There is a lot of name dropping here, but it all could have happened. The story moves along with several more murders, which as it turns out are all connected. Elizabeth learns lessons daily about dealing with nobles and royals from other countries and other religions. I didn’t know all that much about chess, playing the game that is, but I still found it interesting. And as Reilly wrote in the afterword, Elizabeth’s younger years are not that well documented. She could have gone abroad. Elizabeth meets Ivan IV of Russia here (known to history as Ivan the Terrible), who did correspond with her and even proposed to her. History would indeed be different had she accepted.

Armada by Ernest Cline

ZZ48DF98ECBy Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Armada is Ernest Cline’s second book. Those of us who loved Ready Player One may be slightly disappointed.   We were expecting lightning in a jar again.

Zack loves video games; he really got into them trying to get to know his deceased father. His mother told him about a box of his things in the attic and he had been exploring his father’s notebooks and games. So, when he saw a space ship that looked exactly like one from the video game Armada outside his school window, you would understand why he thought he was hallucinating. He wasn’t. A larger spaceship lands in the schoolyard, and his friend and boss calls him to get in. Just him. While on route to an underground bunker, he learns that his world and everyone else’s is about to drastically change. The aliens are real, Armada, the game that swept the world, was a training program to help fight off the aliens and Earth is under attack. Because he has a high score in Armada (in the top 10!), he is automatically an officer. He is assigned to the dark side of the Moon, to a forward base for the earth forces, to fight off the alien attacks. But is it possible all is not what it seems? Could his father possibly still be alive? Can Earth be saved??

This book will remind you of Ender’s Game, but not so serious and shocking, and the movie The Last Starfighter. While it does seem formulaic in parts, there is room for a sequel. Perhaps, like in other science fiction series, the first book sets up the story and the story continues where it left off.

Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Kelsea had never known her mother Queen Elyssa, but she knew that when she turned 19 she’d have to leave the only home she’d ever known to become Queen of Tearling. The Queens Guards came for her stealthily, since several parties wanted her dead before she took the throne. Kelsea’s trip to New London was arduous but eye-opening, not to mention the guards who never looked at her. She kept a mental log of all she saw wrong on her trip to the capital. How would she ever fix anything? Where could she possibly start?

She learned about the Red Queen in Mortmesne and the treaty that called for 250 people of Tearling to be sent there each month for who knew what, children included. Tearling had started a lottery to choose those to be sent. And she learned that her mother was nothing like what she imagined her to be. Can she become a strong queen for Tearling? She can do no more than try.

This book, The Queen of the Tearling, has been talked about for months. It was one of the books to read, according to so many review journals and word of mouth. If you like fantasy adventure, you’ll like this book. If you liked Fire by Kristin Cashore, you’ll like this book. (But I think it’s better…) When I saw it on a shelf in my library, I checked it out. I devoured it in two days. Now I have to wait for the sequel. Because there has to be a sequel! There has to be!

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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In Uprooted, Novik turns to her Polish heritage for a change of pace from the world of Temeraire. Don’t worry, though, another book in that world is due out next year.

Agnieszka grew up in a valley that borders The Wood. Every ten year, the Wizard Dragon picks a young girl as the price for keeping the valley safe from The Wood, which is corrupted, dangerous and unpredictable. Things that go in The Wood don’t come out, or come out changed and mad (insane, not angry.) Agnieszka’s best friend Kasia is perfect at all she does. Everyone assumes that Kasia will be chosen by Dragon. Nieshka can’t keep clean, she can’t cook, plus since she knows she won’t be chosen, she didn’t bother to learn to cook or sew. She’s totally unprepared. But when the time comes, Dragon does choose Agnieszka, no Kasia.

For several months Nieshka is terrified and lonely. Dragon is brusque and either ignores her or complains about her messiness. Then Kasia’s mother frantically asks for her help; Kasia has been abducted by beings from The Wood. Nieshka runs to rescue her friend, learns that she has magic herself, and meets the prince determined to free his mother from The Wood. The Queen was taken twenty years ago – no one believes it possible to rescue anyone from The Wood.

Can Nieshka succeed?? What will the Wood do if she and Dragon can free the queen?

I listened to Temeraire, but never read the rest of the books about fighting on dragons during the Napoleonic Wars. But this book, I fell right in. It took me a while to realize that Jaga, who Agnieszka was most like, was Baba Yaga, a witch from Slavic mythology. Her mobile house walks around on three chicken legs… When talking with a friend, we both agreed it will make a great movie. Let’s see if someone makes an option on the book to make a movie.

Forgotten History: The WWII Novels of Ruta Sepetys

By Howard Shirley. Teen Department

The Battle of Britain. Pearl Harbor. Stalingrad. The Holocaust. Seventy years later, the events and places of the Second World War echo in our minds, in stories we’ve told over and over, in novels, memoirs, television and film. One might think there is nothing new to discover, no secrets left unexamined. But the truth is that much of that history still remains hidden and forgotten, not because of conspiracy or government secrets, but merely because few have bothered to look— except for novelist Ruta Sepetys.

rutasepetys_photoThe daughter of a war refugee from Lithuania, young Ruta grew up hearing stories of her family’s escape from war-torn Europe. A Lithuanian military officer, Ruta’s grandfather found himself in the crosshairs of Stalin’s secret police, when the Soviet Union overran Lithuania and her sister Baltic states, Estonia and Latvia, in the opening months of World War II. Knowing without any doubt what he and his family’s fate would be, the officer fled into Germany with his family, including Ruta’s father, a young boy. They lived out the war in a refugee camp, little more wanted by the German government than the Soviets. Eventually, the family immigrated to America; the boy grew up, married, and Ruta was born.

But as Ruta herself says, that was only ever half of the story. Because though the war had ended, Lithuania would remain in the Soviet grip for fifty years. And among those in that grip, were the other half of the Sepetys family—the aunts, uncles and cousins she never knew, who had not slipped from Stalin’s noose.

And a noose it was. From 1941 through 1944, Stalin arrested, tortured, deported and murdered Lithuania’s political and intellectual classes en masse, in a ruthless effort to crush the Lithuanian nation and erase its culture from Europe, replaced by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Communist Party.

Ruta’s family was part of that purge. Herded into crude train cars built for cattle, with the outside labelled “Thieves and Prostitutes,” Lithuanian doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, and their families, including the elderly, children and even infants, were shipped across the breadth of Russia to Siberia, some even forced to settle in the tundra above the Arctic Circle. Denied food, medicine, winter clothing and even the most rudimentary shelter, countless numbers died from neglect and exposure. Others were killed outright by the brutal NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB of the Cold War era. And, of course, any of Lithuania’s political or military classes, not to mention college professors and journalists, were never sent to Siberia; they were carted into Soviet prisons on trumped up charges, tried, convicted and executed by Stalin for the Glory of Mother Russia.

Most in the West had no idea, or for that matter, even cared.

Until Ruta Sepetys asked what happened to her cousins.

In her curiosity, Sepetys found the forgotten story of her family and the Lithuanian people—a story she had never fully known. As she says, there was only one thing she knew to do: pick up a pen, and write.

tumblr_mg09hdS6En1rgach4o7_400And she did. She wrote her first novel, Between Shades of Gray, the tale of a girl very much like the Sepetys cousins, a teenager with dreams of being an artist, who is instead swept up into the nightmare of Stalin’s greed. Between Shades of Gray is her story, but it is also the story of the Lithuanian people—the forgotten history that to this day Russian strong men wish to keep hidden. It is a tale of survival, of fortitude, of hope, and of love. Now translated into over 30 languages and sold in 45 countries around the world, Between Shades of Gray has broken open the lock of history, and the story of Lithuania and her Baltic neighbors is now known around the world, and will never be forgotten.

But this blog is about novels, not just one book.

Because Ruta has found another forgotten piece of history to bring before the world. And it’s the answer to this question:

What is the greatest maritime disaster in history?

The sinking of the Titanic?

Not even close.

It is the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustoff, a civilian liner acting as a refugee ship, and filled by Baltic and German civilians trying to escape the rape of eastern Europe by the Soviet Red Army. The Gustoff went down in the freezing Baltic Sea, in the winter of 1945, sunk not by an accidental encounter with an iceberg, but a torpedo strike from a Soviet submarine. On board were an estimated ten thousand people; almost all were civilian refugees. Barely a thousand survived.

Nine thousand souls lost. Nine thousand stories forgotten.

But not by Ruta.

34352-1With her latest novel, Salt to the Sea (February 2016) Ruta Sepetys once again takes a moment in history the world has overlooked, and restores it fresh before us. Four teens flee the Soviet onslaught, each with their secrets, their fears, and their dreams. Four stories converge on a German port, the Baltic Sea, and the Wilhelm Gustoff. Through the eyes of these teens, Sepetys explores questions of guilt, forgiveness and redemption, what is truly meant by bravery and cowardice, and what happens when the soul abandons compassion for self-deluding pride. Ruta’s writing is always captivating; the simplest sentence carries weight beyond its words. The smallest detail sparks a vivid image, sometimes stark, sometimes brilliant, but each time beautiful. With her words, Sepetys captures moments in time, like memories renewed to life. With this story, Sepetys explores the human heart. There is adventure, there is mystery, there is villainy, there is tragedy, and there is hope. In Salt to the Sea, the forgotten are forgotten no longer, and in Ruta’s pen, the sea gives up its dead.

You’ll have to wait until February to read Salt to the Sea, but Between Shades of Gray is available now on our Teen Room shelves. Pick it up, and transport yourself into a history you never knew, and a story you will never forget.

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson

By Lisa Lombard, Reference Department

51T0Af5ixxL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_This is a non-fiction book primarily set in the Dominican Republic. Kurson has written about John Chatterton and John Mattera and and the true story of their search for a legendary pirate ship, the Golden Fleece. This book takes you on an adventure to find the Golden Fleece, where you not only search the waters for the wreckage but learn about the history of pirates during the late 1600’s. You learn about Joseph Bannister, the captain of the Golden Fleece, as well as the hardships that plague hunters looking for a ship with virtually no documentation of where it was supposed to have sunk.

I really enjoyed this book which surprised me because I normally do not read non-fiction books but this story was a page turner. It was full of adventure, mystery, history and pirate stories that move along at a great pace. I even found the background chapters on Chatterton and Mattera to be interesting as they told of each man’s youth and how they came to be underwater treasure hunters/ship hunters. I found myself feeling the same frustrations and joys with Chatterton and Mattera which I greatly enjoyed. To me, that makes any story good or in this case, a great story! I would highly recommend this book if you are looking for an exciting adventure without having to leave the comfort of your home.

No Summer Slacking! Six Sweet Selections To Savor Before September

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Below is the annotated—and sanitized– version of a conversation that took place in my kitchen, once upon a time. (Verbatim content has been carefully edited for appropriateness on a family-oriented website.)


Child: “But Mooooooooooom, it’s summer. I don’t want to read books in the summer.”

Me (interspersed epithets redacted for decorum’s sake): “Are you kidding me with this? You are aware of what I do for a living, right?”

Child: “Reading is so boring.” (strategic eye roll by child inserted here.)

Me: “Okay, I don’t even know who you are. And don’t roll your eyes at me.”

Child: “OMG. I hate reading.”

Me: “Well, now you’re just being hurtful.”

 

Hence, my attempt to prevent another parent from hearing those vile sentiments is manifested below in a short-but-sweet list of summer reads for kids. In no particular order:


6178UNtUYML._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Pete The Cat’s Groovy Guide To Life by Kimberly and James Dean. Personally, I aspire to be as cool and laid-back as Pete, and to have just a fraction of his unparalleled fashion sense. In this charming new book, Pete makes a personal interpretation of his favorite famous inspirational and feel-good quotes. For instance, Wayne Gretzky said “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” and Pete distills that to “Go for it!” Books starring this brilliant blue feline generally range within a 1st-2nd grade reading level but are appropriate and enjoyable for readers of all ages.

 

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10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle. Duck overboard! Well, ten of them, to be precise, accidentally tossed from a freighter out into the sea by a raging storm. Each one of them floats off on a journey to a different part of the big wide world, making friends with animals along the way. The tenth little duck gets the best ending of all. Carle’s signature cut-paper collage style, combined with a sweet story, makes for a lovely counting adventure. AR level 2.4.

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13 Words by Lemony Snicket. Feeling a little triskaidekaphobic? (Yes, it’s a thing.   Go look it up. Do I sound like somebody’s mother?) Let this whimsical and striking little adventure help you get over it, just as 13 words such as “haberdashery” and “panache” help the main character, a quirky blue bird, get over his despondency. AR level 3.5.

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The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamilo. A precious tale by the Newbery award-winning author of The Tale of Despereaux and Flora and Ulysses. Edward, a remarkable yet arrogant rabbit, teaches us that even the coldest heart can learn to love, to endure loss, and to love again. The story alone soars from DiCamilo’s talent, but the stunning illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline take this book to another level of kid-lit. AR level 4.4

 

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Spy School by Stuart Gibbs. Precocious 12-year-old Ben Ripley takes a “leave of absence” from his public middle school to attend the Central Intelligence Agency’s super-secret Espionage Academy, which is billed to the general population as an elite science school. This fast-paced, charming book is the first in a series, which continues with Spy Camp and Evil Spy School. AR level 5.3.

 

61zvD2jvP4L._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey. When siblings Dorrie and Marcus chase Moe, an ill-tempered mongoose (is that redundant?), into the custodian’s closet in their local public library, they discover something that many of you may already know; to wit, librarians are not a group to be trifled with. This secret cabal of blade-slinging, sword-swinging, karate-chopping, crime-stopping warrior librarians has a mission: protect those whose words get them into trouble, anywhere in the world and at any time in history. Dorrie and Marcus go on a fantastic adventure and make lots of new friends along the way, and the book ends with the door wide open to a sequel. AR level 5.8.

 

Happy reading!


(Opinions, implied profanity, and suggested readings are solely those of the author and should not be considered a reflection on other WCPL employees. The author also does not advocate young patrons running into the janitor’s closet at the library. If your mongoose gets away from you, please ask an adult for assistance.)

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department

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Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood—those with common, Red blood serve the Silver- blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.

To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.


I actually enjoyed this book despite the numerous YA novel cliches that it invokes.  Yes, there is an oppressive government, the main character is one of the oppressed and discovers she’s “special”, she becomes part of the revolution, and there is a love triangle.  However, this typical story is made more interesting when the oppressive group are armed with superpowers, such as super-strength, super-speed, telepathy and various abilities to manipulate metal, plants, fire, water, animals, ect., which makes it much more difficult for the oppressed to fight back.  Unfortunately, the characters are a little predictable and flat, with the main character acting inconsistent and thoughtless, but the revolution and the rebel’s plans make it much more interesting.  When battling against a superhuman group, sometimes dark and violent decisions have to be made.

Overall, it feels like a typical YA government oppression book, but it saves itself with a ruthless rebellion and superpowers.  These two aspects add an edge that heightens the tension and danger in the book and makes the reader want to discover what happened.  My hope is that the rest of the trilogy focuses on darkness of the rebellion instead of the romance or the drama between characters.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department

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Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.” Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.


Filled with well-drawn characters and a future that will make you think, this book was engaging.  The setting may be an apocalyptic future where small bands of people are gathered in fortified bases to keep out the “hungries,” but the book really isn’t about the action, or the fight like most apocalyptic books.  It’s about a group of people trying to survive in a world that’s collapsed.  The character’s are the core of the book and are what draw the reader in, although that does mean that the pace can drag a little.  There’s Melanie, a strangely intelligent feral child that just wants love and acceptance, Ms. Justineau, Melanie’s teacher whose affection and compassion for her students causes her pain, Sergeant Ed Parks, a good man who is suspicious of the feral children, and Dr. Caldwell, who will do whatever it takes to save the world no matter the consequences.

There were several big twists in the book that didn’t really come as a surprise, such as why Melanie is strapped to a chair for class, but that really didn’t bother me.  There was a predictable science based logic, and I really enjoyed that adherence to logic.  The world Carey created made sense and felt like this apocalyptic future could be a possibility.  However, even though it can be a little predictable, the ending took me by surprise, although in hindsight, I should have expected it.

This was a really intriguing book with a realistically built world, rounded empathetic characters, and an ability to make a person think about hard questions and the future.

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