Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

In this endearing picture book, Little Crab faces a very big fear: leaving a tiny tide pool and venturing out into the ocean for the first time. Little Crab is hesitant at first, but with Big Crab’s help, Little Crab Together they face the huge waves and meet many new ocean critters. Little Crab has so much fun that it becomes difficult to leave when it’s time to go home. The illustrations are cute, primarily using the crabs’ eyes to show their emotions. They are also simple yet colorful, highlighting how rewarding trying new things can be. What once seemed scary turns out to be a wonderful adventure. This book is perfect for helping little ones conquer their own fears. If Little Crab can do it, so can they!

Located in Children’s Picture Books (E HAUGHTON)

Good Guys, Bad Guys by Joanne Rocklin

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

This joyful, lively picture book features a group of neighborhood friends and their day of imaginative play. Separated into two groups—the “good guys” and the “bad guys”—the children find themselves out on the ocean, headed to outer space, and causing mischief on a farm. The bad guys are always causing trouble, but the good guys are always there to save the day, whether it be rescuing you from having to walk the plank or zooming in with capes to rescue the human race. The book’s rhyming text bounces along, and the illustrations show large smiles on all the kids’ faces. At the end of the day, they all must go home to their own houses, but there is already talk of how they will play tomorrow. This is a great book showcasing kids playing together and using their imaginations. Overall, a very fun read!

Located in Children’s Picture Books (E ROCKLIN)

The Circus of Stolen Dreams by Lorelei Savaryn

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

The Circus of Stolen Dreams by Lorelei Savaryn was a quick, atmospheric read. Andrea’s brother disappeared three years ago, and she wishes she could just forget about it all. When she discovers Reverie, a magical circus in the woods, she thinks she’s found what she’s looking for. In the circus, children can experience all the dreams and fun they could ever want. However, Reverie turns out to be much more sinister than it initially appears.

I enjoyed this book. The concept was interesting and well-executed. The writing flowed nicely, and the characters learn to grapple with difficult things. I thought I would be able to predict the ending, but the it was better than what I had imagined. I also really enjoyed reading about the different dreams the children experience within the various circus tents. I would definitely recommend this book for middle-grade readers who like fantasy stories, family stories, and a mysterious circus atmosphere.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Fable by Adrienne Young

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

Fable by Adrienne Young is a fantastic young adult novel, filled with action, high-seas adventure, and slow-burning romance. After being abandoned by her father on a dangerous island, Fable has to learn to survive among ruthless traders, merchants, and deep-sea divers. Her goal: to make enough money to pay for passage to her father’s headquarters. Along the way, she finds herself trying to fit in with a tiny ship crew, all of whose members are around her age—an odd thing for this world of dangerous deals and violent storms. This was a book I had a hard time putting down. It kept me interested from beginning to end. The side characters were intriguing, and I enjoyed learning every bit of information Fable discovered about them. I also enjoyed watching as the friendships and relationships evolve. I highly recommend this book and can’t wait to read its sequel!

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC YOUNG)

How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) by Barbara Kingsolver

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

For me, Barbara Kingsolver’s How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) was a mix of poems that I loved and poems that did not resonate with me at all. The collection as a whole felt like it was made up of too many disparate pieces. Each of the seven sections has a different theme, and I had a difficult time connecting them into a whole. One section is composed of “how to” poems, one section is about a trip to Italy, one section is a long-form poem about knitting, etc. In my opinion, this book would be better off as several chapbooks, rather than a single collection.

Many of what I consider the collection’s best poems appear in the second half of the book: “Six Women Swimming Naked in the Ocean” (p. 59), “Will” (p. 62-63), “Ghost Pipes” (p. 89), and “Love Poem, with Birds” (p. 94). These and others are filled with beautiful language and imagery. For example, the speaker in “After” (p. 67) describes her daughter as “ocean-eyed,” and in “Where It Begins” (p. 81-86), the speaker states, “There will be whole days of watching winter drag her skirts/across the mud-yard from east to west” (p. 81). “Ephemera” (p. 93) plays off the structure of the book of Genesis, beginning with this: “And the equinox said let there be light.” While I did like a few poems in the first sections of the book, the later poems seemed to speak to me more.

I truly wish the entire collection left me stunned like these poems did, but that was unfortunately not the case. In the first section (the “tow to” poems), many of the endings felt forced. The title poem (p. 7) ended with this: “Imagine your joy on rising. Repeat as necessary.” However, I feel the poem would have been much more powerful if it ended on the previous stanza:

…Anything left undone
you can slip like a cloth bag of marbles
into the hands of a child
who will be none the wiser.

The poem’s actual last two lines dull the wonder and discovery throughout the rest of the poem. Many other poems in this section ended flatly as well. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of the collection’s fifth section. So many of those poems listed famous poets, to such a high degree that it felt like name-dropping. And it just didn’t seem connected to any of the other sections.

With all that being said, I’m left with this: How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) is a collection of mixed success for me. While I disliked more than I liked, the poems I did truly love redeemed it for me a bit. While I probably won’t be reading the whole collection again, I will certainly go back to those poems.

Available through the Bridges Library System

The Sisters of Straygarden Place by Hayley Chewins

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

The Sisters of Straygarden Place by Hayley Chewins is a strange little book filled with magic, mystery, and sisterhood. After their parents left seven years ago, Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine live alone in a house that takes care of all their needs. It feeds them, clothes them, and even cleans up after them. As long as they do not venture into the tall, silver grass that surrounds the house, everything will stay as it is and the house will continue to take care of them. However, one of them breaks this rule and gets sick with an illness that seems to have no cure.

I read a YA book a while back about a magical house and liked it, so I figured I’d like this one too. I was right. The story is mysterious, intriguing, and a bit strange—all things I love in a book. At times I felt things were a bit underdeveloped, but the book is meant for a younger audience and moved along at a fast pace, so it didn’t really bother me. The big reveal was interesting, even if it wasn’t entirely how I wanted the story to go (and I’m honestly not sure exactly how I was hoping it would go). The ending was sweet and tied everything up nicely. Overall, I enjoyed the story a lot, and I’d recommend this book for middle-grade readers who love magic and stories about family bonds. It is a great, fast-paced read that is sure to leave readers turning page after page.

Located in Children’s Fiction (J FIC CHEWINS)

The Kinder Poison by Natalie Mae

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

Something about this book fell a little flat for me, which was a bummer because I really wanted to love it. It was interesting and I wanted to know what would happen, but I wasn’t all that attached to the main characters. I actually was more interested in Marcus, Melia, and Maia—some of the various side characters. I also liked the setting and the magic system on which the world operates. I was intrigued by the book’s premise. However, the story as a whole felt underdeveloped. Many of the character relationships felt rushed and a little unrealistic (it is a fantasy novel, but I still expect the relationships to make sense). The big reveal surrounding one of the royal siblings was creative and interesting, but I didn’t feel like there was enough of a foundation established for that reveal to feel organic. There is supposed to be a sequel, so maybe this book was more about setting the stage for the main event. I will probably pick up the next book to see how everything comes to and end, but it won’t be high on my list of reading priorities.

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC MAE)

The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett is a historical novel that follows Theodora Fox as she races across 1937 Europe to rescue her father and find Vlad the Impaler’s cursed ring before their enemies do. This book has some of everything: treasure hunting, adventure, romance, fast-paced action, and dangerous magic. Bennett kept me turning pages and needing to know what would happen next. I liked the main characters and the story’s premise. Despite that, though, I didn’t enjoy the book overall as much as I thought I would. It just wasn’t entirely what I expected, and I didn’t feel entirely satisfied when I closed it. This slight dissatisfaction probably comes from the fact that I read another historical novel a few months ago that also involved Vlad the Impaler’s legacy (Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco, if anyone is interested). That book practically knocked me off my feet, so I think I was expecting this one to do the same. That being said, it was a fun and intriguing read that kept me interested throughout. If you like adventure and deadly intrigue, I would recommend picking this one up.

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC BENNETT)

Before You Were Born by Deborah Kerbel

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

Before You Were Born is a beautiful picture book written by Deborah Kerbel and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo. In rich, poetic language, the book describes parents’ love and anticipation for their arriving baby: “You were…/A curve in the road, up ahead out of view,/A whispered secret that only we knew.” The writing feels almost magical as it wanders through the habitats of different animals, including birds, deer, and foxes.

The illustrations also feel magical. Done in clay and acrylic wash, they are just stunning. The details and colors are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in a picture book. I find new things to look at each time I pick up the book. Both children and adults will enjoy taking their time through the pages.
I highly recommend this picture book. This is a story of love parents (or other adults) can share with their children. The rhyming text and detailed illustrations flow very well and will hold readers’ interest. This book would also make a great gift!

Located in Children’s Picture Books (E KERBEL)

Our Lady of the Ruins by Traci Brimhall

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

Traci Brimhall is quickly becoming one of my favorite poets. When reading her work, I am always excited to see what each poem will show me. Our Lady of the Ruins is a unique collection that “tracks a group of women through their pilgrimage in a mid-apocalyptic world” (from the back cover). Brimhall creates her own mythology that deals with trauma, spirituality, and the death and destruction that wars and plagues leave in their wake.

One of my favorite poems in the collection was the long poem titled “Hysteria: A Requiem” (pp. 47-53). I am not someone who typically enjoys longer poems, but this one was stunning in both form and content. It is divided into multiple sections, each section telling a vivid and thought-provoking story. Each section also contains a second story told in the footnotes. I’ve never seen a poem quite like this before. And this wasn’t the only piece that stood out to me. Brimhall’s collection is filled with startling lines and images: “angels crawl the walls of the cathedral” (from “To Poison the Lion,” p. 44), “I…rowed/over the ocean’s deep meridian/and dreamt a deluge for thirty nights” (from “Dirge for the Idol, p. 63), and “creation is sacred violence” (from “The Orchard of Infinite Pears,” p. 82). These are only a few.

Without diving too deep into poetic analysis, I also want to make note of the striking similarities between Brimhall’s “The Colossus” (p. 31) and “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (first published in 1818). Both poems appear to comment on the notion of a fallen empire, describing the remains of large statues found in a desert. One very intriguing difference between the two poems, however, is that the face of Shelley’s statue is described like this: “Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,/And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command” (lines 4-5). Brimhall’s statue, on the other hand, is distinctly described as being “facedown” (line 3) and there seems to be a fear of it: “What if we recognize the face? What if/the world doesn’t end here?” (lines 19-20). I really enjoyed how these poems could be analyzed in conversation with each other.

Overall, this collection is both haunting and inspiring. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves poetry or who loves apocalyptic narratives. I picked up a copy from the library, but I think I’m going to have to purchase my own!

Available through the Bridges Library System