Thursday, May 18, 2017

What we're reading: An amazing fantasy

I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, with one of our book clubs back in 2012, I think. I wrote a short but positive review on Goodreads at the time:
"I liked this book a lot. It took me awhile to get into it, but it helped that Karou was an artist and hung out with art people, I'll always read a book if it has that angle. Then exciting things started to happen and I was hooked. I have to say, with my dental issues, this was a hard book to read, though! If you don't get that reference, you'll just have to read it for yourself. Looking forward to the sequel."
But somehow I never made the time to go back and read the two other books in the trilogy. It's possible that it was because the book deals with familiar tropes (angels and demons) that don't interest me that much. and also features a great big old insta-love (Karou and the angel Akiva) that caused me not to return to it...or maybe I just got busy reading the next book club book and moved on. But the thing that was so great about the series, as Anarda (who did read the whole thing) pointed out, was that Taylor basically took the tropes and turned them on their head--not all the demons were bad, and the angels certainly weren't all good! Because I remembered that, and also what a master Taylor is at both world-building and at wordcraft (what a lyrical writer she is!), when I saw Strange the Dreamer on the teen new books shelf, I snapped it up.

This is the book that I was waiting for Taylor to write. This is the book that captures her ability to lure you into a world so completely and complexly drawn that when you come up for air, you can't believe that you're not really there.

It starts with an orphan, named Lazlo Strange. All orphans are given the surname of Strange, but Lazlo really is a little offbeat. He survives being raised by a community of priests who were ill prepared and not particularly beneficent towards all the orphans they got stuck with after war caused parentless children to "arrive like shipments of lambs" at the monastery. He grows up repressing an active imagination that is obsessed with a lost city that lies on the other side of a vast desert; he learns about it from one of the elderly and senile monks for whom he must fetch meals, and Brother Cyrus's stories possess his mind almost to the exclusion of all else. But the practicality of the monks doesn't allow for stories, or play, or anything, really, but work. So Lazlo works in their scriptorium, copying manuscripts, until the day the brothers succumb to a meal of bad fish and he gets sent on an errand to the Great Library of Zosma. He never goes back. The library entices him with its stock of stories, and he disappears into its grasp until he is discovered days later, and taken on as an apprentice. The master who discovers him in the stacks says, "The library knows its own mind. When it steals a boy, we let it keep him."

Lazlo assumes he will end his days as a librarian, but after years of doing his job while indulging his passion for researching the lost city he has never forgotten, a surprising and wonderful thing happens: Proof of its existence manifests, and changes Lazlo's destiny.

This book is a combination of the best of everything. At its heart, it's the story of an underdog, like Harry Potter, or Peter Parker, or Gen from the Queen's Thief series, who gets the chance to become something more. But it's not just that; there's also the rich world-building, the magical, dreamy language, the powerful and intriguing ideas about gods and monsters. The book is completely immersive, and I hereby declare it my best book of the year. I was going to add "so far" at the end of that sentence, but I really can't conceive of liking anything more than this!

It is the first book of a duology, so you do have to suffer through the "to be continued" aspect when you read it. But read it anyway--it's so good that I guarantee you'll want to read it now and then reread it later when the sequel is ready to drop.

I'm so glad I included it in the illustration for the cover of the Reading Log for Teen Summer Reading--perhaps more teens will find it because of that, and if they are fantasy readers, they need to find it!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Teen review: Middle school adventure

The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase
(Book #2 of Candymaker series)
by Wendy Mass
Realistic fiction/adventure
534 pages
Appropriate for middle school teens

Reviewed by S.J., Grade 6

If you have a sweet tooth, enjoy adventure, and love surprises even more, then The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase is the right book for you! The Candymakers books are a series written by Wendy Mass, that fits in the genres of realistic fiction and adventure. This book has 534 pages and is geared toward readers between grades 5-8 (middle school age).

This book is a sequel, and is written from four perspectives: Daisy the fun-loving spy, Logan the son of the Candymaker, Miles the bookish map-loving boy, and Philip the stubborn violin prodigy! After the National candy-making contest at Life is Sweet, these four friends' lives are back to normal--until, that is, the Harmonicandy comes off the conveyer belt. A mysterious box addressed to Logan Sweet sent by Franklin O. Griffin arrives, holding an even more mysterious contract signed by Logan’s grandfather and four other people, talking about secret beans. The four friends are invited on a road trip to introduce the Harmonicandy to other Candy Factories! Can Logan, Daisy, Miles, and Philip figure out the mystery around the contract and the meaning behind the beans? With the stakes higher than any of them predicted, how will this Harmonicandy tour really end?

I thought this book was a really intriguing sequel to the first book, The CandyMakers. Each character’s perspective was entirely different from the others', except for their mutual love for candy! They all attach to each other in different ways, and every relationship is different! I love Miles's and Logan’s relationship the most, because they became fast friends in the first book, and the Life Is Sweet candy factory brought them even closer. But I was kind of disappointed with the character AJ. I thought that he would be better explained in the second book. because all I knew about him is that he is Daisy’s cousin who is also an awesome spy. Here we learn that AJ and Daisy are developing a brother-and-sister type of relationship, and that AJ is always up for journeys. I wished I could learn more about his background, rather than his traits.

My favorite character has got to be Daisy, because she has SO many cool spy gadgets and has SO many abilities! Being a spy means she gets to go on exciting missions and can carry 30 pound weights, swim underwater for a long time, and go undercover! Also, she is a strong, passionate, and kind person who isn’t afraid to stand up for people and put her foot down when things get out of bounds.

The cover of this book has an RV, a chocolate bar, the environment, and the outlines of the heads of Logan, Miles, Philip, and Daisy. I liked it because it featured the key factors of the book: the characters, where the book's setting would be, and that the RV is somehow important! I think this book deserves a rating of 5, because it was descriptive, action-packed, and took me on the ride the characters were going on!

Friday, May 12, 2017

6+7 Book Club report

This past Tuesday, 13 of us met to discuss The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, to eat pizza and snacks, and to talk about what else we were reading and what were our plans for the summer.

Everyone liked the book, and its lowest score was a 6 out of 10, with the final rating being a solid 8. Some people doubted that other people knew for sure the "nature" of Silas (Nobody's guardian), but the rest of us convinced them with a laundry list: Only goes out at night, sleeps in a big "box" lined in white satin, only wears black, doesn't eat or drink (at least not in front of people), has cold skin, is able to baffle people's minds so they forget things...yeah, he was definitely one of "those." Everybody liked Bod and his ghostly friends, some liked Scarlett while others found her a bit irritating, some liked the whole Jack story arc better than others, but everyone agreed it was an engaging story.

People's list of books they were reading was eclectic, from Percy Jackson to Stephen King. I wracked my brain for some YA horror titles, and passed along Jennifer Bosworth's newest, The Killing Jar, to Sophia (who loves horror), only to have Rhett check it out! Summer destinations were also interesting, and included both in-state, stateside, and overseas destinations. But all promised to sign up for and attend as many of our Teen Summer Reading programs as possible!

As far as we could tell (given that five people were absent), it looks like we have five members promoting to the 8+9 Club in the fall. All three clubs will have a joint meeting during August, at which we will meet new and promoting members and choose books to read to discuss at our first official meeting in September.

See you this summer!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Teen Summer Reading is coming!

This year's theme for the teen summer reading program is "READING BY DESIGN," so teens this year will participate in a design exercise to promote more reading in our community: We're going to build three Little Free Libraries (LFLs) for Burbank this summer!

We will have six sessions: Design, primer, paint, assemble, decorate, decorate, and then we will install! Any teens may drop into single sessions to work with us at whatever stage, but teens who sign up to complete all sessions will receive service hours for school. No experience is necessary; we will coach you through each step with help from various experts.

We have picked out three great locations to showcase your work and provide books to walkers, bikers, and commuters. The LFLs will also be an ongoing chance for teens to earn service hours during the rest of the year, as they check in on them periodically and refresh the book selection they contain.

For those who are reading-minded but not interested in participating in the LFL project, we will also have four sessions of the ever-popular Book Café. We serve cappuccino and cookies, and teens bring the books they are reading to book-talk to one another. So if you have a favorite book that you just know other people would want to read if only they knew about it, bring it and tell them!

The other feature of Book Café that everyone loves is the opportunity to socialize with authors. Every year we invite two or three authors to join us. They talk about their books and their writing process, and answer all the questions you've been dying to ask them, like, "Will there be a sequel to that?" or "Why did you kill off my favorite character?" or "How could she fall for that guy, he's so sappy!" And then you can just hang with them and chat.

If you attend three of the four sessions of Book Café, you get to choose a free book from our amazing stash. And this year we have a special gift for each and every person who attends any of the Book Café sessions as well (while supplies last).

We're also going to "build a better world," under the direction of Peter Abrahamson, LEGO enthusiast--yes, we're building LEGOTOPIA! We provide the LEGOs and you provide the creativity. The buildings you create for the city will be on display in the glass case in the Central Library lobby through the month of August.

And of course, it wouldn't be summer without Reading Logs and Book Reviews. If you write down all the books, graphic novels, and manga you read, we will give you a ticket for each one (limit three per day), and every Friday we draw from our big jar of tickets to award three prizes per branch for nine lucky readers! The prizes for the reading log are gift cards to places such as Starbucks, Target, Pinkberry, In-n-Out, and more. If you write book reviews, you are eligible for three drawings (one every other Friday) for bigger prizes, including See's Candy and Barnes & Noble gift cards, and movie tickets. All you have to do is write a few sentences describing what the book you read is about, followed by a few sentences about why you liked it (or didn't!), and we'll put you in the drawing.

Finally, to wrap up our summer of reading, our wonderful Teen Advisory Board (TAB) is revisiting the success of our big finale program last year. That's right, we're having another Murder Mystery lock-in, after hours on a Saturday night at the Buena Vista Branch. Picture this: You're at a celebrity book-signing at the Scene of the Crime mystery book shop. Suddenly, from a back room, someone screams "Murder!" It's "BODY IN THE BOOK SHOP!" But who dunnit, how, and why? YOU follow the clues to solve the mystery!

You can register for summer reading beginning Monday, May 22nd, at Then stop by the reference desk to get a brochure and a reading log to get you started. We hope to see you this summer at the library!

Monday, May 8, 2017

What we're reading: Another nominee

My next foray into the Teens' Top Ten nominees list was The Killing Jar, by Jennifer Bosworth. I was initially attracted to the book because of its gorgeous cover and interesting title; when I realized who had written it, I was also pleased. Jennifer Bosworth wrote a book called Struck back in 2012, and was a guest author at our library, along with Lissa Price, who wrote Starters, when we had a writing contest for our teens centered around dystopic and post-apocalyptic fiction. Struck had an interesting concept and a lot of action, but it was her first YA novel, and it felt to me like she was trying to do too much in one book. But a lot of our teens enjoyed the book, and I have kept an eye open ever since to see what she would write next. It's been such a long time that I feared she was going to be a one-book wonder, but it seems she had lots of life changes going on (she moved from Los Angeles to Portland, for one thing), and more teen books were delayed--until now.

I don't quite know whether to simply call The Killing Jar paranormal, or to venture into the horror classification--there are elements that are kind of "Children of the Corn," but while some are grotesque and kind of ghastly, I didn't find the story itself too frightening, except in a few isolated moments.

Kenna has a horrifying event in her past that defines her. Because of a dark power she has trouble controlling, she has strict rules for her life, partially enforced by her mom, but mostly self-generated: She keeps to herself, is careful not to get too emotionally close to anyone, and doesn't touch people. But things are looking up: Her best friend, Blake, enters her in a music contest and her entry is chosen out of thousands.
She's having feelings stronger than friendship for Blake, and wonders if she dares to explore that. But just when she lets down her guard, the past catches up with her, and when the crisis is past, Kenna is living in a commune with a relative she didn't know she had, and trying to decide whether it's ever going to be possible to go home...or if she wants to.

The writing in this is dynamic, the plot moves fast, and we jump into the action from the beginning. The story and events keep the reader intrigued to the very end. Along the way, some of the language--Kenna's descriptions of the ecstatic experience of nature, for instance--is truly beautiful. The one thing I'm going to say, and I can't believe I'm going to say it, is that although I find many YA books too long and wish they had had a more ruthless editor, this book could have used another 100 pages to address the scanty coverage of some things. There were a lot of mysteries that should/could have been discussed, fleshed out, or resolved. Some of the relationships seemed shallow, and I wondered about the inner motivations of the people involved, but there were no explanations. The ending was climactic, but it left so much unexplained that I am inclined to expect a sequel, although none may be forthcoming, because it's not obvious whether it's intended to be a stand-alone or part of a series.

Still, it was an exciting and enjoyable book, and the paranormal element was so unusual and so graphically described that I think it would grab a lot of readers.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

What we're reading: Another Teens' Top Ten nominee

For the cover of this year's Reading Log for Teen Summer Reading, and also for my illustration for Book Café, I chose to depict some of the books from the Teens' Top Ten nominees list for this year. I reviewed Love & Gelato, by Jenna Evans Welch, a few days ago, and have since read two more.

The first is a story about Jasmine, whose family immigrated to this country with her from the Philippines when she was a young girl. They sold her on the concept of the American dream, and were strict parents, encouraging her to throw all her energy into studying and cheer squad, so she could get into a good school and make something of herself. Jasmine goes along with this program, and is a single-minded scholar who foregoes a social life to constantly hit the books--and it pays off. One day, a letter arrives for her, and she is thrilled and excited to discover that she is has won a national scholar award, which includes with it a big dinner in Washington and a chance to meet the President, but also a real shot at getting a full financial ride at any school she chooses. But when she rushes home to share her excitement with her family, she doesn't get quite the reaction she was expecting: Her parents reveal to her that they lost their work visas years ago, meaning that the entire family--Jasmine, her parents, and her two little brothers--are in the country illegally. No green cards, no papers, means no scholarships, no college, and possible deportation.

The title of Melissa de la Cruz's book, Something in Between, expresses the ambivalence her character feels as she explores who she really is in light of this information. Is she an American, or is she a person with no status? For so many years she has put everything else on hold to do the right thing for her parents, and now she's wondering why she sacrificed everything for a lie.

With the national dialogue on immigration, paths to citizenship for undocumented people, and so on, I think this is the kind of story that demands to be highlighted right now. It was pretty well done, and there were some truly poignant moments, especially as Jasmine's priorities are abruptly shifted and she finds herself furious, sad, and at a loss for how she should feel about her change in status.

When I first started reading the book, I was afraid that the treatment would be a total cliché, so I was pleasantly surprised when everything didn't resolve in quite the way I expected. I even learned some things I didn't know about the immigration process. There was, however, still a lot of "in the nick of time" plot points that seemed a little convenient. And as usual (maybe I just have to stop reading teen books with romance in them?), I disliked intensely the meet-cute insta-love between Jasmine and Royce the senator's son, although there were elements of the relationship that I did like, based on the characters' different personalities. I mostly enjoyed the book, and particularly appreciated how it addressed both blatant racism and the nuances of small but offensive stereotypes.

Another TTT entry follows in a day or two...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

10-12 Book Club Report

Tuesday night, 18 of us gathered to discuss the last book of the school year, I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson. I'm so glad we chose this for our last book, because the response was overwhelmingly positive. People loved the compelling three-dimensional characters, the elements of magical realism, the quirky way in which the story was told. Different people had different favorites, but everybody loved someone or something about the book, and our rating was a high 8.85.

We then went on to have a lively discussion about the television show that has been made from Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, and whether it's a good or a bad thing, and whether people are getting from the show what we readers got from the book, and whether there should have been a stronger message attached at the end about where people contemplating suicide could get help. The consensus was that the show is good, we dislike some of the flip reactions from people on social media, and we thought an 800 number at the end couldn't have hurt. It also seemed like the show was setting up for a second season, but...what would be in it? We didn't know, and thought that was a bad idea.

We were so grateful that Cami brought pizza for us to our last meeting, and enjoyed it greatly! We were also happy that she brought along friend and book reviewer Amy Sepulveda to celebrate her birthday with us.

We missed those who didn't show up, particularly wondering why those who are graduating from high school and therefore also from book club weren't at our final meeting. Here is a picture of seven of our graduating seniors; Camille and Zoey left before we had the idea to take the photo (so sorry), while Zofie, Mike, and Alice weren't in attendance. Anarda and I couldn't figure out whether Sabina is graduating this year, but we think yes. If so, we're losing 13 of our 22 members! Some of them have been with us since 6th grade, so it's a big loss. We embarrassed everyone by reminiscing about what they were like as middle-schoolers. (For one thing, most of them were a lot shorter!)

Left to right: Cami, Caleigh, Margaret, Julia, Alex, Casey, and Ryan

We're really going to miss you! Those who are staying in the area, come see us, and those who are traveling far from home (Oregon, Boston, Edinburgh!), remember that we have a plan for an Alumni Book Club once a year in August! We have loved having you in book club! We hope to see you at Book Cafe before you go.

May the Fourth Be With You!

Tonight, for May the Fourth (etc.), we are having a special screening of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, at the Buena Vista Branch, at 5:45 p.m.

The screening is sponsored by the teen department, but all are welcome to attend, and movie snacks will be provided.

There will be a drawing for teens only, for Star Wars-related prizes!

This screening is a "food-raiser" and the price of admission is one non-perishable food or toiletry item from the list below, which will be donated to the Burbank Temporary Aid Center (BTAC)'s pantry.

Please be prompt! (it's a long movie!) and join us to celebrate May the Fourth!

Requested items are:
macaroni & cheese, peanut butter, cereals, canned fruits, canned vegetables, canned soups, canned meats, rice, pasta, instant potatoes, pancake mixes, syrup, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant. Please, NO ramen.