Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What we're reading: A ghost story, a love story

Meet Me At the River, by Nina de Gramont, is told from two viewpoints, that of Tressa, trying to cope with the death of her boyfriend, and Luke, the boy who is dead but can't leave. I don't want to say too much about it, because I so much enjoyed discovering the facts of the story in exactly the way the author wanted me to, which was not immediately, not all in a paragraph of explanation, but gradually, through the interchanges, the thoughts, the scenes, that I'd like other readers to have that experience.

This book is more than either a ghost story or a sad love story. It is as deep and intense as the river in its title, and I love the involvement of so many people and what each of them brings to it. The part about Tressa's mother reminded me of Where the Stars Still Shine, by Trisha Doller, and although Tressa wasn't damaged in quite the same way by her mother's odyssey of wandering with Tressa, the theme brought a similar contrast to the plot of the things that happen when you stay put vs. when you are always on the move, playing into Tressa's reluctance to move an inch from where she was when Luke died.

I wonder if de Gramont had an ulterior, underlying motive for calling the book Meet Me at the River. It does come directly from a scene in the book, but I found myself humming while I was reading, and finally figured out that the song playing in my head in response to this book was the hymn "Shall We Gather At the River?" by Robert Lowry, a song they sang at funerals in my childhood, a song laden with images of crossing over, being with loved ones. So much of this book is about death, but so much about life, too.

The writing is beautiful. This quote, when Tressa says goodbye to Carlo:

It seems so unfair, how hard life is, just getting through every day. It's hard enough without these endless goodbyes. Every sixteen hours or so we living have to close our eyes all night long, just so we can recover.
And others I would share but that, again, I don't want to spoil the read. If you loved A Certain Slant of Light, by Laura Whitcomb, this book has the same intensity, the same sensibility. Beautifully done.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What we're reading: Steampunk

The best way I can describe Etiquette and Espionage, by Gail Carriger (to give you a frame of reference) is that it's like Ally Carter's book, I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, only it takes place on a dirigible with steampunk trappings. So, boarding school for girls: check. Secret agenda at said boarding school (training girls to be spies): check. Intrepid protagonist who flouts the rules to achieve her objective: check.

And was cute. It was quirky. Some of it was ingenious. It was also overly self-conscious, and if I'm going to be absolutely truthful, I became a little bored with it. The action just wasn't there (like it is in Carter's series). I felt like it took forever to get to any kind of a plot. I mean, something happens in the first chapter, and it takes until halfway through the book before you find out definitively what it is and what it's for (sort of), and then it takes until the LAST chapter for anything to resolve? Not worth the wait.

I felt like a lot of the adult characters were unnecessary and just cluttered up the scenery, while the subsidiary teen characters (like Monique) were kind of one-dimensional, verging on stereotypical. I did like Sophronia (the protagonist), and Genevieve Lefoux, and also the character of Soap, just for the contrast of the coal stoker to the society girls, and I loved the "mechanimal" dog.

I see from some of the reviews on Goodreads that this is a YA prequel of sorts to the author's adult series, the Parasol Protectorate. Maybe, if I had read those books first, I would be more charmed by this?

I give it a 3/5: readable and entertaining, but not one of my faves. That said, if you are a steampunk devotee (which I am not), you might like this a lot better than I did. The sequel, Curtsies and Conspiracies, is also in our library.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Program report: Chalk art!

Oh, we had big fun on Friday afternoon at the Central Library! I wish more of you had come to enjoy it with us. I hope you had a chance to see some of our CHALK ART before it got washed away. This is definitely a program we will revisit someday. If you want to see the complete gallery of photos, go to the gallery on our Facebook page!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What we're reading: Noggin

We so enjoyed our visit from John Corey Whaley, the Printz Award-winner for Where Things Come Back, and author of the new book Noggin! What a fun, accessible guy!

His new book sounded like a hoot, and I couldn't wait to read it. It's a bizarre combination of science fiction and coming of age: Travis Coates, 16, is dying of leukemia. He has a last strange alternative to death, which is to choose to be decapitated (!) and have his head cryogenically frozen until science catches up and he can live again by having his head attached to a donor body. (Yes, the book does take place in the future, but not noticeably so--not far enough in the future to significantly impact technology or lifestyle.) So Travis and his friends and family figure it's going to be at least 15-20 years before this happens (if ever--let's be realistic about his chances here), but surprise! it becomes possible in five years--a donor body (a guy in great health except for his terminal brain tumor) becomes available, the operation is done, and wham! Travis is back.

The problem is, Travis feels like he's just been down for a short nap, while for everyone else who was in his life, he was effectively dead, and they have grieved and moved on. The biggest problem for Travis is that while he remains 16, his girlfriend is now 21, and engaged to someone else!

So this is the part of the book where it becomes much more about an ordinary teen with ordinary problems--friend problems, family problems, girl problems. Yes, everything is impacted by Travis coming back from the dead, but mostly it's about a teenage boy, trying to adjust to his world and figure out his life. Not so different from any other teen (except for the scar around his neck).

I really enjoyed this book. As a sci fi geek, I admit I would have liked more of the science to be present (for instance, I wanted more than the little hints about muscle memory on the part of the body), but I recognize and respect Corey's reasons for not going there (he said he wanted it to be more about the human relationships and less about the science), and I think he pulled off a really good tale. The humor is a great counterpoint to dealing with several serious subjects (death, relationships, choosing your future), and Travis's journey is unexpectedly real, considering his back story. The book was fun, entertaining, thought-provoking, emotionally evocative, and well-written. And no chance for a "head" joke (including the title) was left unexploited. Good job, Corey!

By the way, you teens who also bought the book, we'd love to hear what you thought of it!

Friday, April 18, 2014


Don't forget--TODAY at 3:00, we are gathering outdoors on the OLIVE side of the Central Library, to make CHALK ART on the sidewalks, with artist Bianca Ornelas! If you have not signed up, there is still some room, so take a chance and come by. If you have something specific in mind that you want to put on the sidewalk and you don't want to rely on your imagination, then bring a reference photo. And...wear clothes that you don't mind getting covered in chalk!

Hope to see you this afternoon!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Teen Review: More realistic fiction

Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak is a 198-page realistic fiction novel with a middle to high school age reading level. I thought it began to go off topic occasionally, so I would rate this 4/5. Once one has read the book, the cover shows a recognizable tree in front of a young girl named Melinda, whom the story follows. There is no sequel to Speak, but the story ends with an unpredictable and conclusive epilogue.

Melinda is a young high school freshman who suffers from the trauma of her recent past. Over summer vacation, after her 8th grade graduation, she went to a party with her friends, and her entire life changed in just ten minutes. Something happened that would scar her memory for life. Not even halfway through the party, she believed that her life was over and she lost all of her friends. In Melinda's flashbacks, the reader can just imagine being in her place as events transpire. With no one around for help, one can feel Melinda giving up on everything. Once school starts in the fall, she must learn to get through high school trying to find her place and fit it, but she cannot reveal the deplorable secret to her old friends that has been eating at her for months.

With such a realistic character, I love the way Anderson creates a scene that can happen any day in any normal high school environment. Melinda was created to portray a young girl whose life has been stolen in a way that she can still get back but struggles to, and stories like that are less common now. Speak shows the proper character development of a teenager and how she becomes herself again after hurling her old self out of a window to be buried in the dirt of a garden full of weeds. It proves that anyone can find themselves if they've forgotten who they truly are. Many young people now need this influence because they are being hurt in ways that no one, especially not a child or teenager, should ever be hurt. I would recommend this to anyone who has ever been lost and is looking for a way back home.

Reviewed by Amy Sepulveda, 9th grade

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Teen review: HG again

I have just read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. It was a very interesting and fun book at about 374 pages. It is a science fiction book, so it proves to contain an interesting plot. I would recommend this book to people grades 6 and up because of some of its violence and mature content.

The book is about how the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is living in a place that was once North America called Panem. Panem is divided into twelve districts, each having a different role in supporting Panem’s economy. The people of Panem’s districts once attempted to revolt against their oppressive government stationed in the rich, poshy city called the Capital. The districts failed, angering the Capital. As punishment, each of the districts must give one boy and one girl to participate in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death in a massive arena that replicates certain climates. Katniss is chosen in a random selection called the reaping, and now she must show her worth in the arena or die trying.

I really liked this book overall, and would recommend it to all my peers. The author does a great job of describing Katniss’ whole situation, putting you right in her position. You could almost feel her anger, sorrow, and happiness throughout the book. The scenery is also vividly described in each of the different places we encounter in the book. From District 12 to the arena, you will be able to picture any scene from the book after reading it. Due to the unique plot, the story proves to be a page turner sure to keep you up at night. I had to force myself to put it down after hours of straight reading. The plot takes some unpredictable turns throughout the book, so you won’t be reading a cliché happy ending book.

In conclusion, the Hunger Games is a page-turning descriptive book sure to fulfill your reading needs for weeks. This book is one of my favorite books of all time, so I encourage you to read it. I give this book a 5/5 rating.

Reviewed by DS, grade 8

Editor's note: The library has, of course, the two sequels, plus all three books as sound recordings, plus the two DVDs. I imagine that, given his favorable rating, this reviewer will keep going through the rest of the series!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Teen Review: Realistic fiction

The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd
Fiction, Coming-of-age novel
302 pages
High school reading level

Reviewed by
Katelyn Harms, 8th grade

The Secret Life of Bees is Sue Monk Kidd's first novel. Set in the summer of 1964, this coming-of-age novel features Lily Owens, a motherless 14-year-old girl whose entire life was set around a memory of unintentionally killing her mother when she was a small child. Overwhelmed with the need to know about her mother and escape the father who never forgave her, she left Sylvan, South Carolina. Arriving with her black stand-in mother in the small town of Tiburon, South Carolina, she learned just what she didn't want to know about her mother. But, she managed to find herself.

This is a fantastic rendition of a young girl's journey to find a mother. Sue Monk Kidd's voice brings an astonishing amount of realism to this beautiful story. This book contains more sorrow and pain than anyone can bear to hold, but it also brings a fierce kind of happiness that will stick with the reader through thick and thin. Kidd's passion gleams persistently throughout the piece, and each reader finishes the book with a glimmer of her strong persona.

This has to be one of the best books I've ever read. I find myself reluctant to share it with anybody else because of the impact it has made on me. Although if you're to read any book, The Secret Life of Bees is the best option you'll find. I would rate this book a 5/5. Sue Monk Kidd is a splendid Southern voice, one you won't be able to find anywhere else. I know I'll be reading other books of hers; I've already started on The Invention of Wings. This novel will impact readers young and old. I know, without a doubt, that you'll enjoy it.

Editor's note: We have both of these books as sound recordings (audio books), and the DVD of the movie made from The Secret Life of Bees. Katelyn, we hope you will review The Invention of Wings for us when you have finished it!