Saturday, August 30, 2014

Guest blog: The Grisha Trilogy

Trilogies, or any multi-volume story-telling, can be tricky. No matter how good the first book, readers can lose “reading momentum” in the wait between volumes and/or dislike the developments in the middle books, and never read through to the conclusion. Or, the alternative can happen: Readers will love the material so much that their expectations will dwarf anything the writer can accomplish, leaving them disappointed (at best) with the resolution. And then there are the exceptions--stories that grab you from the very beginning, build with each volume, and end with a satisfying conclusion.
The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo is the latter for me. The trilogy began with Shadow and Bone, which was followed up by Siege and Storm. The final book in the trilogy, Ruin and Rising, is almost a textbook example of how an author should end a trilogy.

Alina Starkov, the long-awaited “Sun-Summoner,” has survived her latest encounter with the Darkling and his nichevo'ya, the Darkling’s “shadow warriors," but just barely. As she recovers from the battle, hiding in the tunnels beneath Ravka with a small group of friends and allies, the Apparat has continued to promote her as "Sankta Alina," causing the numbers of her followers to swell. Alina, however, is impatient with inaction. She has become obsessed with the Firebird, the third amplifier for her power, and believes it to be the only avenue to pursue to defeat the Darkling, destroy the Fold, and reunite Ravka. Alina knows that finding the Firebird and securing the amplifier will be difficul and dangerous, but is scarcely prepared for what securing--and using--the third amplifier will cost her...

Ruin and Rising wraps up the issues raised in the earlier works, while providing new challenges, revelations, and character development. Every time you believe you have figured out how the story will progress and conclude, Bardugo deftly adds or reveals something that changes everything you thought you knew. And the last 100 pages of the book are simply too good to put down. Ruin and Rising is a roller-coaster ride of a novel, in the company of all the friends and enemies you'd met earlier in the journey and come to love, hate, or love to hate!

Reviewed by Daryl M., reference librarian

Editor's note: I was happily surprised by the conclusion to this trilogy. I liked the first book, but didn't enjoy the second nearly as much, mostly because Alina was all over the place with her feelings for three different men! But the third one wraps everything up beautifully, and is in every respect a satisfying conclusion. This makes me so happy after the slew of bad third books I have experienced! I agree with Daryl. And bravo, Leigh.

For those of you who are enjoying or have yet to read the trilogy, you will like Leigh Bardugo's website, with extra details about the world of the Grisha.

Friday, August 29, 2014


We will be closed for Labor Day at the Central Library on Monday, and at the Buena Vista branch on Sunday and Monday. Have a lovely holiday weekend! See you Tuesday!

Monday, August 25, 2014

What we're reading: Time travel

I am a sucker for a good time travel story, so this weekend I took home Timeless, by Alexandra Monir, to see what a YA author would make of time travel.

The set-up is this: Michele lives in California with her mother, goes to Venice High, has a couple of besties, and leads a fairly normal life. The only unusual things about her are that she knows little about her father except that losing him broke her mother's heart; and that she is a descendent of the Windsors of New York, one of the "400 Families" considered the most fashionable socialites of the Gilded Age--but her mother is estranged from her family and Michele has never met them.

The other thing we discover in the first chapter is that she has a man of her dreams--a guy about whom she has dreamed ever since she was small, realistically and repetitively.

Then things change, and Michele ends up living in the posh 5th Avenue Windsor mansion in New York City with her grandparents, and weird stuff starts to happen. She finds a diary and a key, and they propel her into the past, where she discovers that the boy about whom she has dreamed actually exists--in 1910. Instead of a star-crossed romance, it's a time-crossed one. Etc.


I don't want to pan this book, because I can think of half a dozen teens, off the top of my head, who would probably love it, which is borne out by the number of five-star reviews on Goodreads. So I will say…not bad, but not great. Here are my reasons:
  1. The language: Although Monir is not a bad writer, and she obviously did her homework by conscientiously researching New York during all the time periods on which she touches, she was surprisingly inconsistent when it came to dialogue. Her present-day teens use expressions I have never heard from a teenager in the 2000s, and her past-tense people are occasionally similarly anachronistic.
  2. The romance: Michele has only seen Philip in her dreams, and yet he rapidly means "everything" to her. Then, when she actually meets him, it's pretty insta-love on both sides, with little reaction to the improbability of their situations.
  3. The plot: There is too much telling and not enough showing. There is too much talking and thinking and not enough doing. The story just feels small to me, in that Michele is obsessed with the minutiae without wondering much about the big picture, which leads me to...
  4. The time travel itself: I am a person who likes facts and theories, and I want stuff to make sense, so I was disappointed at the complete lack of a theory of time travel. The author's entire explanation (apart from a lot of pointless wondering on everyone's part) consisted of a little gushing from a classmate of the protagonist's--the only one in the present day to whom she reveals her ability to go back 100 years--who tells Michele excitedly that Einstein believed in time travel and therefore it must be possible. Really? That's it?
The accent here was all on the romance (although infatuation would be a better description) and the history, and not on the science. It was all desperate yearning for the person in the other time, trying to reach him or her, wanting to be together. In other words, a little cheesy, and surprisingly dull in some parts. The historical details were well done--I thought the best part of the book involved her ancestor, Lily--and there's a set-up for a sequel that seemed promising. I also liked it that the author included a few pages at the back about what research she did, where she went, and what books further inspired her or served as the foundation of the story. People who found her descriptions (which were good) of turn-of-the-(last)-century NYC will know where to look for more. Bravo for that. But really, I'd call this more of an historical fiction novel than a time travel story.

I will probably read the sequel (which is currently on order), just to see if things get more exciting, but it's not something I'm awaiting with bated breath.

Other time travel books (for adults, but suitable for upper-grade teens) that I have read and you might like (and that you can find at Burbank Public Library):

Kindred, by Octavia Butler
Timeline, by Michael Crichton
From Time to Time, by Jack Finney
Outlander (and its many sequels), by Diana Gabaldon
The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman
Somewhere in Time, by Richard Matheson
The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
The Map of Time (and sequel) by Feliz J. Palma
Blackout, All Clear, Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, all by Connie Willis!

By the way, when I searched the catalog for "time travel," the results were deceptive: If you search that subject under Location: "Fiction" you get back 50 titles; but if you search it under Location: "Science Fiction" you get back 70, and none of them crosses over! So we actually have at least 120 books at the library somehow involved with time travel just in adult fiction!

We also have a Time Travel LIST published in our "Have You Read" book lists under "Teen book lists" in the catalog, with 63 more titles, most of which also don't come up if you just search "fiction." My assumption would have been that the common theme of time travel would make them all come up when I asked for "time travel," but they did not. This is a good lesson in being thorough with your catalog searches at the library!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Teen review: Magical realism

Reviewed by Amy Sepulveda, 10th grade

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton, despite its long title, was just not a long enough book for me, taking into consideration the 301 pages of enigmatic wonder. It is a tenth-grade reading-level fantasy novel, that is unfortunately not part of a series. Walton’s novel has earned a 5/5 from me, for writing style, and plot and character development.

This admittedly very odd and thoughtful novel is full of love, heartbreak, and isolation. Throughout the book, we learn about Ava Lavender’s family as she attempts to find out why she was brought into this world with wings, when her twin brother Henry is anatomically correct (although his personality is strange). The story begins in the early 1900s with Ava’s great-grandfather, and Walton tells the tale of each life brought into their family before Ava and Henry. Each of Ava’s grandmother’s siblings has had a mysterious and gruesome fate, while her grandmother Emilienne lives on and takes over everything. Readers learn about the sad life of Ava’s mother Viviane, and then the teenage years of the twins, with Ava just trying to fit in with her best friend Cardigan’s friends when she sneaks out every night.

I found that I absolutely loved The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, though I admit I definitely had my doubts when I began reading. Each life I read about was so different compared to the others, even though many of them were siblings. I learned that no matter where one is from or what family one grows up in, each person has their own life and experiences with love. I at first believed that I would be bored just reading about other people’s sad, boring lives, but I discovered that other’s lives are not boring at all. They’re all full of adventure and finding new things in life that no one before has. Every page was compelling and it was impossible for me to put the book down because I was so intrigued. I would recommend this book to anyone, including adults, because there is a multitude of lessons that anyone, of all ages can learn.

The cover art shows a single golden feather, representing Ava’s wings, and also how anyone can be freed from the barriers they either set up for themselves or others put up for them.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Divergent and tattoos: Photos!

Three Dauntless and an Abnegation! The photos from our Divergent Event last Friday afternoon and evening are up on Facebook! Go here to see them!

Teens' Top Ten Time!

Time to vote for your top three favorites out of the list of 25! Did you save your ballot over the summer? Are you ready? Go HERE to vote! We will publish the results when they come out for Teen Read Week.

Teen review: Peculiar Children!

Reviewed by Melody, grade 11

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, is a fictional novel mainly consisting of fantasy and adventure. The main character is Jacob, a 16-year-old boy who has always craved adventure in his life. However, while attempting to live up to the expectations of his family, Jacob has abandoned the idea of an adventurous life. The only person who seems to understand Jacob is his grandfather. Grandfather Portman has been telling Jacob extraordinary stories involving monsters and children with “special abilities” since he was young, which constantly left Jacob in awe. Nonetheless, as Jacob matures the stories seem to become increasingly difficult to actually believe. When the mysterious death of Grandfather Portman occurs and a cryptic message is left behind, Jacob decides to embark on a journey to unmask his grandfather’s mysterious and dangerous past. Once on the journey, Jacob will discover much more than he thought imaginable and how unordinary his life truly is.

This novel is not only told in thorough details and descriptions, but with spooky yet fascinating photography. The story consists of 382 pages, including a preview of the sequel, Hollow City. For the time being, there is only a sequel to this novel, which is equally as intriguing. Although this book is filled with dangerous missions, there are not many gory details, making it appropriate for young readers. I would suggest this novel to those in the age range of 12 to 17 who enjoy thrilling and spine-chilling novels. I consider this novel enjoyable by almost all ages; there are not many novels that can be entertaining and exciting for such a huge age range. For this reason, it has easily become one of my favorites. It is not the typical adventure-filled novel; it is filled with the learning of true friendship, bravery, and being content with oneself. The authentic, vintage found photographs that are included make this novel specifically unique and endlessly fascinating to read. I would not change a thing about this novel and would rate it a 5 out of 5 stars. As for the cover, it is completely accurate for the spooky ambience portrayed throughout the novel. Fortunately, there is a movie in the making for this novel set to release in 2016!

Editor's note: Here is a photo of Melody meeting author Ransom Riggs at Comicon!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Teen review: A contemporary classic

Title: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath
Number of pages: 244
Genre: Realistic fiction
Part of a series: No
Rating: 4/5
High school level (9th grade up)

Reviewed by Amy Sepulveda, grade 10

In The Bell Jar, we explore Esther’s depression and experiences in finding what she wants to do with her life. Though she was once the most intelligent girl in school, Esther finds that she has difficulties finding her true passion in college. After winning prize after prize from the magazine she works for as a journalist, she realizes that she can no longer write or read, and she has trouble fitting in with her friends and colleagues. At the end of her vacation, Esther returns home for the rest of her summer break, and deals with a whole new set of troubles.

I would recommend this odd and somewhat sad story to a young teen who experiences a lack of self esteem and to someone who has problems maintaining a healthy state of mind. I unexpectedly enjoyed this novel about Esther’s troubles and can somewhat relate them to others.

The Bell Jar is full of wondrous metaphors and motifs that can be viewed in many different ways. I constantly found myself stopping to think about something that Esther had thought and wondering what brought on her behavior. It is an inspiring classic novel that can be helpful to so many.

Editor's note: This is a book that is sometimes read for school, but we went ahead and published the review here because it is also something of a contemporary classic that many (as Amy did) might enjoy reading on their own. Readers might be interested to know that this book is more than a little autobiographical in nature, written from the experiences of the author, Sylvia Plath, who did indeed suffer from low self esteem and depression, although she wrote some truly beautiful poetry before her tragic suicide at the age of 31. Here is a little more information about her, from the Academy of American Poets website.

If you don't understand the meaning of the title, a bell jar is kind of a mini greenhouse that is used to protect plants in the garden from frost in cold climates. So the jar is protection, but it is also containment, keeping a layer of glass between its inhabitant and the world. Plath used it as a metaphor for being trapped by social convention, for being separate from others, and perhaps for feeling exposed or on display.