Thursday, March 22, 2018

What we're reading: Historical fiction with a twist

The new series called "The Gold Seer Trilogy" by Rae Carson begins with Walk on Earth a Stranger, in which teenager Leah Westfall is living with her parents in Georgia, working on the family farm and worrying a bit about her father, who has been ill for some time. Leah's father, "Lucky" Westfall, is known in town for his good luck in discovering gold. Georgia was one of the first gold rushes to take place in America, and Lucky was one of the so-called "Twenty-Niners," because gold was discovered there in 1929. The family then applied for and received a large homestead in that state and settled in to farm, but supplemented their income by looking for gold.

They had a particular advantage in this respect, because Leah has a talent that the family has taken pains to keep secret for her whole life: She can find gold. It's really almost as if the gold finds her; she can be walking or riding along, minding her own business, and suddenly the presence of gold overwhelms her senses, and she is drawn to it like a dowsing stick to water. So the Westfall family has a secret stash of gold dust under their floorboards for when emergencies strike; but they have to be exceedingly careful not to reveal the full extent of their riches, for fear the locals will storm their property looking for more!

This is the situation at the opening of the book. There is a little character development of Leah's mother and father, and we also meet her best friend, Jefferson McCauley, a half-Irish, half-Indian boy who suffers at school from being looked down on as a "half-breed," and at home from having a drunken abusive father. Jefferson shows up one night at Leah's door (with a bruised face) to tell her he's had it, that he's leaving to go out west. There has been recent news of a huge gold find at Sutter's Mill in California, and gold fever has struck many, resulting in caravans of wagons heading out. Jefferson hopes to find a place traveling with one of these, and urges Leah to come with him; but Leah doesn't feel she can leave her beloved parents behind, even to be with her friend on this exciting journey.

A few days later, though, tragedy strikes, and Leah is now on her own and running from someone who wants to use her for her special ability. She leaves everything behind and sets out on the road, hoping to catch up with Jefferson at some point, and to ultimately disappear into the crowds descending on California.

Although the paranormal aspect of this book (Leah's gold sense) adds a little intrigue to the story, in the first book it isn't a terribly important feature. It does help her out of a few tight spots, but the book is primarily a detailed account of what it was like to cross a vast, mostly empty country in the days when a wagon and a couple of mules or oxen were your fastest mode of transportation, and you were basically dependent for survival on what you could carry in your wagon or on your person.

It also, in Leah's case, is the story of what it's like to masquerade as a boy so as to avoid all the pitfalls of being a woman in the days when women were powerless and relegated to specific roles: cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and child-minding. How much easier to cut off your hair, don boys' clothing, drop your voice to a lower register, and be a man. Many women couldn't have done it, but since Leah's father raised her to hunt and shoot, to muck out the horses' stalls, and all the other things necessary to farming and homestead life, the deception is easier for her than for some.

This was a good tale, with a diverse crowd of settlers and immigrants (Irish, German, French-Canadian), as well as African slaves and Natives from several tribes. The book deals realistically with the mistreatment of the latter by the white man, and also deals with the part religion played in daily life and in prevalent attitudes. Altogether, the book seemed historically accurate, an interesting and eventful account of the crossing of the continent. I plan to read the other two books in the trilogy (don't they have beautiful covers?), and will come back here to give my verdict!


If you enjoy reading historical fiction, or if you have received a request from a teacher to pick out an historical fiction novel to read for school, help is at hand: We teen librarians have developed a 14-page annotated book list of the historical fiction offerings in our teen fiction sections at the three branches. The list is at the printer now, but will be available in about a week or so. Please come to the library's teen section to take a look at this helpful and diverse list of stories from "back in the day"!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

6+7 Book Club Report

There isn't a whole lot to report, since we ended up having to cancel our meeting, due to Open House nights at all the middle schools in Burbank! It's too bad we couldn't get together this time, because our book choice (Gone, by Michael Grant) was highly anticipated by much of the club. But we asked our members to email in their comments and ratings, and a few of them did, so we will share those here.

Gone starts out in a little seaside town. Sam is in class, listening to his math teacher drone on, when suddenly, between one second and the next, the teacher has disappeared. Upon hearing noise out in the hall, the students go out to discover that ALL the grownups--in fact, anyone over the age of 14--has disappeared. Going out into the street, they discover crashed cars, still running but with no one at the wheel; and investigating further, they find stoves with the burners still on, scorching frying pans of eggs, and babies left alone in empty houses. Then they find out that there is some kind of dome over their town, enclosing them inside it with no way out. Are they wrong to worry that they're trapped inside with a nuclear power plant, and that some of them are starting to exhibit extra abilities?

Teya said:

Overall, I really liked the book. It reminded me of the book The Girl Who Owned A City, where everyone over the age of 12 dies. The main character Lisa takes over and makes her own militia. The story continues on how she tries to survive.

Now, speaking about Gone, my favorite character was Astrid Ellison. I really liked the part where Mary was "babysitting," and when Lana crashes. (Not to be vicious though). 😉

In my opinion, the book had some not so interesting parts, like where Orc and Howard fight Sam and the others when they went off with the golf cart and talked about the FAYZ, but those moments only lasted for a very short moment. I also liked how Sam had these cool light powers and how the (now dead) girl from the fire had fire powers.

So, overall, the middle part of the book was really interesting and I really enjoyed it. The ending was good, too.

Lastly, I rate this book an 8/10.

Cece said:

Likes: I like how the book was written. It gave a lot of details and made me feel, at times, that I was in the book. I like the hero in the story. I thought he was brave. I liked the concept of the storyline. How they have the powers.

Dislikes: It was a very gory book. Not my kind of thing. I was a bit disturbed a few times, and wanted to stop reading. It bothered me enough that I don’t want to read the next book. I also didn’t care for how it was kind of all over the place with so many points of view. Needed to be more controlled.

Rating 4/10.

Elizabeth said:

I thought the book was okay. It was often hard to follow as it changed perspective a lot. I had a hard time getting into the book, as it was kind of boring. The first part was basically "Oh no, we're trapped! AHHHHHH! Everything is chaos!" Then the "powers" thing was a bit confusing as well, since they weren't completely explained. I bet that things would be explained in the later books, but it didn't really get me to want to read the other books. "The Poof," as they called it, is weird. It's like "YAH. Come with me. You're 15! You're old now. SO come with me. GRR >:( why would you come. *insert rage here. I'm not your mom! I'm an evil weird thing! MWAH HA HA HA. >:) You will come with me eventually." I would rate the book 7/10.

Kaleb said:

Nothing, but gave the book an 8/10.

So based on the opinions and ratings of these four people (out of 16!), the book receives a 6.75 rating.

Next month's book is The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, and you can pick it up any time at either Central or Buena Vista at the front desk.

Since we didn't meet and couldn't nominate new books, we did a Surveymonkey featuring the top three books that didn't get selected from last month:
  • Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud (Lockwood & Co. #1)
  • Jackaby, by William Ritter (Jackaby, #1)
  • Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles, #2)
Only six people out of our 16 members voted on this, but since we said we'd go with whatever result we had by the end of last Friday, we're going to go with the majority. Which means we will be reading...

Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud

Our next meeting is on April 10; don't forget to pick up your book, so you're ready!

Monday, March 19, 2018

What we're reading: An extra treat

Night of Cake and Puppets, by Laini Taylor, illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo

190 pages, plus extra illustrations (sweet!) and a graphic novel adaptation from Daughter of Smoke and Bone (oh, please make it happen!) and the first two chapters from Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

For those of you who are fans of the poetic writing and delirious romance of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, here comes a little treat: Laini Taylor has written a novella detailing the first date and first kiss of Zuzana and Mik in a snowy, dream-like Prague. Zuzana, otherwise known as the Rabid Fairy, the tiny violent one...well, Zuzana is small and she is fierce! She is beautifully described in the trilogy and, for a secondary character, leaps off the page and practically steals the scenes in which she appears.

Mik, the young violinist with whom puppet-maker Zuzana has fallen deeply in interest, is not so well described in the trilogy, for the good reason that it is not their love story that is being meticulously chronicled in those books. Still, we know from DOS&B that Zuzana is in love with a boy she sees weekly in the Prague marionette theater but with whom she hasn’t traded even a word, not until one evening, and then the magic truly happens for the two of them. This is that missing chapter, and it is indeed full of magic, both emotional and practical, because Karou, protagonist of the trilogy, has given her best friend Zuzana five scuppies to help her along in her quest to romance Mik. What is a “scuppy”? Aha! Caught you! Go read the trilogy to find out about scuppies and much, much more, and then read this novella.

This was NOT a satisfying read, if only because, after finishing it in one sitting, I immediately wanted to read the trilogy again. And then read this novella again. In Prague. With snow falling, preferably sitting at the Poison Kitchen, eating sacher torte with very chocolate-y chocolate. With my beautiful artistic husband. Sigh. And this lovely little book is handsomely illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo, Ms. Taylor’s husband “in real life.” Double sigh. La vie est belle.

Editor's remarks: Nice review, Anarda. I loved how Taylor named it "cake and puppets" as a riff on "smoke and bone," "blood and starlight," etc. This used to be available only as an e-book, but I'm happy to say they released a hardcover and we have it! Follow the link, above, to find a copy. Even though this is more or less a stand-alone, Goodreads numbers it as #2.5 in the series, so that would be between Smoke and Bone and Gods and Monsters, for all of you who want to be precise in your reading order!

Friday, March 16, 2018

What we're reading: Third book

I have been waiting with great anticipation to read Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire. Her first two books in this series—Every Heart A Doorway, and Down Among the Sticks and Bones—were tiny jewel-like masterpieces (all three books are under 200 pages), and Sticks and Bones won a 2018 Alex Award for adult books with teen appeal. (Actually, in this case I think it's a teen book with adult appeal, but either way, it's appealing to both!) I picked it up yesterday morning, and finished it today, and it was both everything I was expecting and nothing like what I thought it would be, which is the best that you can wish from a book.

We meet characters from the first two stories—Christopher, who longs to return to his love, the Skeleton Girl, in a world best compared to an eternal celebratory Dia de los Muertos; Kade, who is still preparing for his legacy as Aunt Eleanor's successor at the Home for Wayward Children, still plying his needle to create proper clothing for those who show up and need to feel comfortable and comforted, and still researching all the doors and worlds and directions third-hand by interviewing all who arrive at the school, bereft of their "place"; and Nadya, who has been at the school going on five years but hasn't yet given up and gone home. We also meet some new characters: Cora, the fat girl who is also a champion swimmer, and who yearns to return to the world where she was a mermaid with blue and green hair who never had to leave her element, the water; and Rini, who bursts upon the teens at the school like a revelation of what a Nonsense world can produce, Rini with her candy corn eyes and naïveté, in search of her mother, Sumi. Sumi, who in this world died last year to serve Jill's crazy plan to get back through her door, making Rini impossible in her future, causing Rini to begin to dissolve, one finger at a time.

So, this is the quest: Somehow get Sumi back so that Rini doesn't disappear. Kade, Christopher, Nadya, and Cora must recover Sumi's bones, restore her spirit, and find her nonsense, so that she is once again complete. To accomplish this, they must trek across several worlds not their own, being careful not to do anything that would cause them to stay there, all the time hoping to find their several ways back to their own doorways.

It's a wonderful chapter to this three-part story (here's a link to my review of the first two), and once again McGuire provides the language pictures to carry the reader completely into the worlds she paints. I couldn't put it down, and I strongly suspect I will re-read this series more than once. McGuire has really struck a nerve with the idea that for those who feel like misfits in their own lives, there may exist doorways into places where they feel completely themselves, where they are loved, wanted, needed, where they belong. The yearning to get there lives with some people their whole lives, but in McGuire's books, some of the people actually get to experience this coming home, for a little while—or, for the lucky, forever.


An end note: My understanding was that this would be a trilogy, but apparently (according to intel on Goodreads) McGuire has at least three or four more books up her sleeve, depending on her publisher's willingness to go forward. So although this book is written with a satisfying conclusion that could leave the series there, we can, perhaps anticipate more "portal fantasy" about the children waiting, with Aunt Eleanor, to go "home."

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Announcing the 2018 Alex Award Winners!

The Alex Awards are given to 10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The winning titles are selected from the previous year's publishing. The award is sponsored by the Margaret A. Edwards Trust. Margaret Edwards pioneered young adult library services and worked for many years at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. Her work is described in her book The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts, and she has served as an inspiration to many teen librarians. She was called "Alex" by her friends, and that's how the awards got their name.

Here is a listing of this year's winners. Most of these will be more appropriate for older teens (grades 9-12).

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells: Stuck on a distant planet with an exploratory crew, a Security Robot kills time watching soaps. After a group of scientists is killed, the robot (now calling itself “Murderbot”) must figure out how to save its crew from a similar fate.

The Clockwork Dynasty, by Daniel H. Wilson: Automata Elena and Peter are "born" in Peter the Great's Russia… or are they? Can they really live in the power-hungry world of humans? And can they find the "breath of life" before it is too late?

Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (a book we have already pitched for high school book club!): In this dark fable, twins Jillian and Jacqueline venture to a dangerous world where they must choose one of two paths. As they discover their true selves, they find that love and adventure are among the most hazardous things.    
Electric Arches, by Eve L. Ewing: Wielding words and images like lasers, and bending genres to her will, Ewing’s poetry and prose tells stories both personal and universal. With humor and gravitas, this collection spotlights the joy, cruelty, and struggle of life. (Nonfiction)

A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea, by Melissa Fleming: This gripping account follows Doaa Al Zamel's journey to Egypt and her harrowing days at sea as she leaves her war-torn home for the promise of a better life in Europe. (Nonfiction)   

Malagash, by Joey Comeau: Already grieving for her dying father, Sunday plans to release a computer virus that memorializes his words and laugh. But she begins to realize that to fully understand him, she needs to embrace his relationships with other family members.

Roughneck, by Jeff Lemire: In the snowy recesses of northern Canada, a down-and-out former hockey player must confront his past when his long-lost sister returns to town battling demons of her own. Can they save each other? Or will violence swallow them both? (Graphic novel)

She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper: Polly, an 11-year-old girl with “gunfighter eyes,” her teddy bear, and her estranged father suddenly find themselves struggling for survival in a world ruled by gangs. Fast-paced and thrilling, this will make your heart race.

Things We Have in Common, by Tasha Kavanagh: Yasmin wants to be close to the most beautiful girl in her school, but surely a freak like her has no chance. Unless, that is, she can save her from the man who was staring at her from the woods.   

An Unkindness of Magicians, by Kat Howard: The Wheel is turning and Sydney is determined to have fate spin her way. Meanwhile, magic is faltering and there are people who will do whatever it takes to save it. 

The books on this list owned by Burbank Public Library have links to the catalog; we will be ordering the others to complete the list within the next month. If you are a teen who feels like you are growing out of YA books, these might be your next step--give them a look!

Friday, March 9, 2018

10-12 Book Club Report for March

Twelve members of the 10-12 Book Club met Thursday night to discuss (play with) Romeo and/or Juliet, by Ryan North, a "chooseable path" adventure. You can "play" as Romeo, as Juliet, or (if you can find your way there) as various other characters, and the book advertises a "quadrillion" ways to play, and includes the addition of ghosts, pirates, cross-dressing, name it, Ryan North threw it in there as an option.

Although some of us didn't see the appeal and thought the book was silly, others enjoyed the challenge of making it through an entire story rather than being prematurely dead, married off to someone else, exiled to another city, or in jail for murder! We went around the room and said what our first "story" was, and how it ended, and then we chose a story and read it together, trying to pick out the next step each time that seemed to indicate longevity. We made it through about half an hour, so we didn't do too badly.

The ratings varied widely, but most were pretty high, and it ended up winning an 8.5.

Next month's book is All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders, an intersection of dystopia and magic.

For May, we narrowly picked Starflight, by Melissa Landers, as our last book of the school year. It's basically space opera, with pirates, and will be a fun and entertaining read for the club! (I already read it, and liked it a lot.)

Other books we considered, in approximate descending order of popularity, were:

Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire
Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, by David Wong
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Sumi
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

The club meets next on April 5.


Monday, March 5, 2018

What we're reading: British (humorous) fantasy

The Chronicles of Kazam, books 1, 2, & 3,
by Jasper Fforde
The Last Dragonslayer
The Song of the Quarkbeast

The Eye of Zoltar

We chose the first in this series as our April book for 6+7 Book Club, and I was so excited to get to read it again (last time was in 2013) that I jumped right in this weekend and knocked off the first one in two days. After I finish reading the book for 10-12 Book Club this week (if I ever do! it's a "choose your path" mystery), I'm going back to the series and reading the rest again.

Jasper Fforde is an adult author best known for his series about Thursday Next, a literary detective who can enter novels to chase bad guys who plan such nefarious actions as kidnapping Jane Eyre off the pages of her own book!

A few years back, he branched out into young adult fiction by creating a charming and delightful cast of characters in a kingdom eerily similar to the British isles, in which magic, formerly prevalent, has begun to wane.

The protagonist is a plucky young foundling named Jennifer Strange, a 15-year-old who is working as the temporary manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians (and what a quirky bunch they are!), because the adult manager, the Great Zambini, whose assistant she used to be, has gone missing, lost in some kind of time-warp spell. The "agency" is actually a hotel, and the magicians both live and work there, creating quite the atmosphere (a spectral moose, an echo in one of the bedrooms, and so on). But an unexpected prescient vision by one of the magicians reveals that Malcassion, the last dragon in the world, is going to die, and that Jennifer is destined to be the Last Dragonslayer! She's not too thrilled about this eventuality, as you can imagine...

The other two books continue Jennifer's story. In the second, the not-exactly-evil-but-definitely-self-serving King Snodd is trying to wrest control of magic away from the Kazam magicians, to his own benefit, and Jennifer has to figure out how to outsmart him in this exercise. There are no dragons, but there is more about Quark Beasts. In the third, the mighty magician Shandar returns from the dead to demand the eradication of dragons (otherwise he has to give up his considerable fee for getting rid of them, which he obviously didn't do), and the only way he'll see reason and leave the dragons be is if Jennifer can produce the fabulous jewel known as the Eye of Zoltar. Needless to say, a perilous quest with a 50 percent failure rate stands between Jennifer and her goal, but hey, she's intrepid and her friends are...let's call them well-meaning...

There is going to be a book #4 (isn't there, Jasper Fforde?!), but it's been sitting on Goodreads on my "want to read" shelf with a changing working title since 2014! The current name is Humans v. Trolls, which possibly indicates that we will find out more about the Troll Wars that are mentioned throughout the other three books. I keep thinking that if I re-read the rest one more time, the fourth one will then magically manifest, because I have willed it so! All of you who feel likewise, believe with me! Let's wrap up the Chronicles of Kazam!


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

8+9 Book Club Report for February

On Tuesday night, the members of the 8+9 Book Club met to discuss Trial by Fire, a parallel-worlds fantasy novel by Josephine Angelini, and first of a trilogy. This was a book provoking much discussion. Three people loved the book, there was a large group who liked parts but not the whole, and there were several who really disliked it.

Some liked the characters but weren't fond of the parallel-worlds concept. Some liked the world-building but thought the characters weren't either likeable or engaging. Some enjoyed the idea of magic vs. science but didn't care for the way it played out in the story. Many had problems with both the inconsistencies and the many unexplained factors, from what goes on in the other 12 of the 13 cities to how the primary witch comes to power and what happens if someone with diametrically opposed views takes over. What roles do council and coven play? How do you explain the mysteries of the willstones? How did this version of the world come to be divided in the ways that it did? And why does every witch in sight want to "claim" Rowan, for goodness' sake?!

Some of these answers will conceivably be found in the two sequels, but only three or four people will probably bother to read them. Our final score for the book, with 14
out of the 18 in attendance voting (the others not having finished the book) was
6 out of 10.

The club will read Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, for its March discussion, just in time for the movie to come out that following Friday.

When it came time to pick a book for April, we had quite a few "legacy" nominations on the list, so we had some fun: Before we voted on books we wanted, we voted on those we didn't want. We called out the names of all 14 books on the old list, and people voted them off until we brought that list down to five; and then we added two new nominations. Our final pick was Every Day, by David Levithan.

Other books we considered but didn't pick, in descending order by popularity, were:

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Ablom
The Fixer, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Starflight, by Melissa Landers
A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson
We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

Next month, the club meets on March 27th.