Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Harry Potter Tournament aftermath

We had a silly good time last Friday night at the Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit Tournament! We had eight teams of three participating in the quest to know the most about Harry Potter, and they did extraordinarily well, considering that our merciless emcee, Brenden, made sure to pick the hardest question from every card with which to challenge our players!

After about 90 minutes, we started the second round, having eliminated four of the eight teams, and then the game heated up, with Brenden pulling tough questions from the seven books as well. We ended up running out of time and rewarded three of our four teams (The Graingers, The Marauders, and The Restricted Section) with their own copies of A Journey Through A History of Magic. Thanks to ALL our 24 players, and to their friends and family for coming to cheer them on!

If you want to see all the pictures from Friday night, go to our Facebook page to see the photo album! (And "like" us while you're there, won't you?)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit!

Tomorrow night, Friday, April 20th, is our Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit Tournament, emcee'd by our resident Potter prodigy, Brenden Bostic. It's after hours at the Buena Vista Branch in the auditorium. Teen participants, in teams of three, will compete to become the wizards of Potterlore.

Those who have signed up to compete may arrive at 5:30, before the library closes, for a little pre-program prep; everyone else will be admitted after the library closes, through the side doors directly into the auditorium. Family and friends of participants are welcome to attend as audience (but NO COACHING!).

There will be PRIZES for the top team!

We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

What we're reading: Verdict on the trilogy

A couple of weeks ago, I published a book review here of Walk on Earth a Stranger, the first book in the Gold Seer Trilogy by Rae Carson, and promised to come back when I had read all three books. If you will recall from my previous review, Leah, who is able to sense gold in the ground (or anywhere, really), runs away from her home in Georgia, masquerading as a boy, and joins a wagon train out west to the Gold Rush that began at Sutter's Mill in 1849.

Book two, Like A River Glorious, begins after Leah and her (remaining) companions from the wagon train (including her best friend and potential love interest, Jefferson) have arrived in California and have begun to explore their options in terms of staking claims, creating a town, and making a life together. After the harrowing journey they all survived, their travel group has evolved into a family, and they intend to stay together and share their fortunes.

This is the part of the story, however, where Leah's Uncle Hiram catches up to her. He's a nasty piece of work, and surrounds himself with other reprehensible people, so it's no surprise that Leah and her friends find themselves united against him, and that he will play every dirty trick in the book (including kidnapping and blackmail) to gain the upper hand and force Leah to serve his agenda. In the beginning, the power and influence is all his, but what with Leah's special power and the loyalty and quick-wittedness of her friends, that situation begins to turn.

In the third book, Into the Bright Unknown, Leah and her group have become rich, thanks to her special gift, but in these lawless times, that fact makes them a target for the unscrupulous, including the cynical billionaire for whom Leah's Uncle Hiram was working. But after having to fight against her uncle, Leah is determined that no one else is going to hurt her friends or take away her freedom, ever again. So the crew hatches a daring plot to take care of the threat for good.

I enjoyed reading this trilogy. It had a nice balance of historical accuracy with fictional character development; it had friendship, romance, and danger in equal parts, and kept my interest from beginning to end. It also accurately portrayed some of the nastier sides of humanity at the time, pointing up the persecution of the Native Americans and supposedly freed slaves, and the abuse of the Chinese in the mines, and also discussing the government corruption present in frontier towns of the day. Bottom line, it was an engaging saga from start to finish, and whether you are in need of a work of historical fiction to satisfy a school requirement, or you just want to read a good true-to-life story, you can't go wrong with this trilogy.

Do remember to pick up a copy of our historical fiction book list for teens, "Back In the Day," next time you come to the library! It will give you many more suggestions for good stories set in an historical context.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Teen review: Witchery

Half Bad
by Sally Green
582 pages
First of a trilogy
Reading level: 9th grade and up

Reviewed by Orkideh, grade 12

Witches are divided into two groups: White Witches and Black Witches. The power is in hands of White Witches, and whoever is a Black Witch is sentenced to torture and death. The story begins when the son of the most wanted Black Witch is born. He was named Nathan. Nathan is the only half coded witch ever existed, he’s half black and half white. The Council of the White Witches gave the order of his death, but his mother couldn’t do it so she ended her life. Nathan had to live with and be raised by his grandmother and his other siblings that weren’t from his father, and his siblings had to live with the son of the man who killed their father. Yes, Nathan’s father, Marcus, killed their father. Years come and go, and the restrictions for Nathan become worse and worse each year from the Council of White Witches. He cannot talk to any other White Witches except his family, he cannot go where he wants, and he needs to report the places he wants to go and wait for permission from the Council. The restrictions are much more and worse than anyone can imagine, and all of them have been set by the Council to catch Nathan’s father, the most wanted Black Witch, Marcus. However, Nathan has never seen his father and he tells himself that he won’t ever do what the Council wants from him to his father.

The cover of this book is really awesome. It was the first thing that caught my eye. After reading the short summary on its cover, I decided to read the book. However, what I expected from it was far different. I didn’t like the book at all. All of it is how Nathan is suffering because of the Council. There’s no happiness, no shock, no excitement, but only sadness and torture. At the beginning, I liked how it was written, but as I continued, I got bored and frustrated by all the things that happen to Nathan. Half Bad is a part of a series, continuing with Half Wild and then Half Lost, but I am not going to read them. I really don’t recommend this book to anyone because all of it is about an innocent guy who’s been suffering all of his life. I rate this book 1 out of 5.

Editor's note: I read the first book in this series, and I did go on to read about half of the second book, but I never finished it. I didn't dislike it as Orkideh did, but the first book was pretty unrelentingly grim. Checking circulation statistics in our catalog, it looks like about half of the people who read book #1 made it through book #3.

I did think Nathan had an interesting voice. I liked that he can barely read but he can communicate through drawing. I liked that he can't sleep inside but has to be in nature. I liked the twist that although he is the kid everyone expected to go bad (and he does live up to their expectations, almost against his will), there is also this element of witchery. It keeps you guessing. But I didn't make it through the second book because, like Orkideh, I got tired of all the unrelenting meanness towards Nathan!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

April 6+7 Book Club Report

Our book up for discussion at the 6+7 Book Club this week was The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, and unfortunately it didn't claim a place in the hearts of our 17 in attendance as it has in mine (I love this whole series and have read it three times). Perhaps this book is just not for younger readers? Or you have to have a special appreciation for low-key British humor? Anyway, people variously found it confusing, weird, or boring, and aside from a few affections for specific characters, and one person who excused it by saying Hey, it's the first in a series so maybe the scene-setting is what made it slow and the others are better? it wasn't particularly popular. It did score three ratings of 9, but it also received four ratings of 4, with a final average score of 6.25 out of 10.

We also took some time to discuss last month's book, since we had to cancel March's book club meeting due to a conflict with back-to-school night for all middle schoolers. Gone, by Michael Grant, was much more popular with the group as a whole. It generated a couple of lively discussions, including whether this book (or series) would make a good video game, with people "leveling up" to more complex main characters as they earned points in various ways (the consensus was yes, maybe); and a spirited debate about whether the people in this book were better or worse than the people in The Hunger Games. Some felt that a society which had become so immune to human suffering that they could watch teenagers kill each other on TV for fun was far worse than the people under the dome who turned into murderers under pressure, while others felt that the massive societal conditioning in the HG scenario gave some excuse, while these kids under the dome just gave in to their secret baser instincts when given the opportunity. I'm not sure we came up with a clear final verdict, but the discussion was fun!

While the group was split down the middle about whether they would continue with the series (two already had, several said they intended to, while others said absolutely not! way too gory and awful), the scores in general were much higher, and the book ended up with a score of 8.5 out of 10.

For May's book club, we will be reading Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, which worries me a little, because it, too, is set in an alternate England; but we have had firm positive reviews for this one in the past, so hopefully the premise of ghosts haunting London will score higher than dragonslayers nurse-maiding magicians!

We meet next on Tuesday, May 15.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Teen review: New series by Delaney

A New Darkness, by Joseph Delaney
340 pages
Part of a series
Reading level: high school

Reviewed by Orkideh, grade 12

Thomas Ward, who is the local spook of the County, couldn’t finish his apprenticeship due to his master’s death. He was the apprentice of the most famous spook of the County, but after his master’s death, he had to continue on his own. He’s never been popular among the villagers because of his career. Everyone believes that wherever he goes, he brings ghosts and unfortunate events, so everyone always tries to stay away from him unless he’s needed for spooky businesses. There’s one girl, however, who has a different belief than the others. She’s called Jenny and she has always wanted to be a spook; therefore, she’s been trying hard to impress Thomas Ward to become his first apprentice. Meanwhile, there’s a serious danger ahead of all the humans on Earth, but nobody knows anything about it. The only one who can save everyone in the world is Thomas Ward, but he knows little of the danger. He believes the situation is far beyond his abilities, but his witch friend believes the opposite.

This is the only horror fiction that I really enjoyed reading. One of the things that I really liked about it was how the author narrated a spook’s life with all of its danger and negative attitudes from ordinary people. The author did a great job writing this book, it does not make you bored at all. I am one of those that gets bored by common stories really fast, but this one was different. Surprise, grief, shock, and happiness were all of the feelings I got from this book. The end of the book particularly made me feel emotional. The other thing I liked was its cover, because it gave me the exact feeling of its horror and spooky theme. Finally, I recommend this book to teenagers and others who are looking for a really good horror and fantasy fiction novel. I haven’t read the second book, which continues the story, so I really don’t know if it’d be as good as the first one. But I am sure that this book won’t ever make you bored, and that you will have a deep connection with the characters. I give this book rating of 4 (better than most) out of 5.

Editor's note: A New Darkness is the first of a fairly new trilogy called The Starblade Chronicles, by the author of The Ranger's Apprentice, and continues that story line. We don't own it at BPL, but based on Orkideh's recommendation, perhaps we will purchase it and its sequels!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Guest review: Thriller

Kill Switch
by Chris Lynch

Reviewed by Larry U., library monitor and eclectic reader!

Although Kill Switch, by Chris Lynch, has an engaging plot, its real strength is in its characters. When we meet the story’s first-person protagonist, Daniel, we learn that he will start college in the coming fall and that he’s been taking the lead in caring for his grandfather, who has been battling with dementia. For a number of weeks, “Da,” the name Daniel calls the old man, has been reminiscing about his past work for the U.S. government. He talks about his clandestine assignments, many of which are unspeakably violent. Daniel understands that Da’s crippled mind has been blending reality with fantasy, but all he can do is try to understand his grandfather and be patient.

Rather than spoon-feed his readers information when developing his characters, Lynch invites them to connect the dots on their own, sharing just enough details, through realistic dialogue and David’s impressions, to flesh out the humanness of every character in the story.

The beauty of the story is rooted in the complex relationship between David and Da. The grandson begins to wonder if his grandfather is actually telling the truth. When circumstances dictate that he must flee with his grandfather, the reader is taken through some unexpected twists. In the end, we learn that the context of the term “kill switch” isn’t what the reader expects. Highly recommended!

Editor's note: If you enjoy this kind of story, you might also like I Am the Weapon, by Allen Zadoff, or The Naturals, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Friday, April 6, 2018

10-12 Book Club Report

Again (!) we had a small group of seven members (out of 14) for our 10-12 Book Club. (We certainly hope that all of you will attend for our final meeting next month!) April's book was All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders, a well-reviewed debut novel that was nominated for last year's Alex Awards. Our group of seven (and two absentee voters) also gave this book high marks.

Grace commented: "I liked that the writing was blunt and quick, with good sentence structure and description."

Katrina's favorite character was, of course, the assassin Theodolphus. "He was sarcastic."

Aaron said he would classify this as science fiction rather than fantasy, because of all the science involved, but some of us also agreed that you could apply a wider designation of speculative fiction to this book, because it includes both science and witchcraft.

It was an interesting read, and provoked some thoughts about the end-of-the-world scenarios involved. Some people sailed right through it and considered it a quick read, while others of us struggled and felt it was a slog, particularly the early pages in which the two protagonists, Laurence and Patricia, are so unremittingly and relentlessly bullied by their peers, their teachers, their parents...apparently everyone with whom they came in contacted wanted a piece of them! It was hard to read about.

Those of us who finished the book enjoyed the highly implausible but utterly satisfactory ending, and the consensus was an 8 out of 10.

May's book is the space opera Starflight, by Melissa Landers. I'm predicting it will also be a hit with these readers.

And the month of May is our final meeting of the year, for all three book clubs. We won't leave you in the lurch, however; Anarda and I have great things planned for BPL's Teen Summer Reading Program, from June 11-July 28, including several sessions of the perennially popular Book Café, some new crafts and skills to learn, and our third annual lock-in murder mystery finale, designed by our TAB! We hope you will all sign up for TSRP starting May 15, online at our website (burbanklibrary.org).