Saturday, February 6, 2016

10-12 Book Club Report

Twelve of our 20 were in attendance to discuss Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Turns out, though, that there wasn't much discussion, because people seemed to love it unreservedly. They were fans of the clever puns, the mad characters, and the twists of plot, and the final rating was a high 8.5.

We did discover something amusing--I had checked the hardcover book out of the library, and noticed that at the bottom of the cover, it says "CIES OF AGNES NUTTER, WITCH." Was it a mistake? What happened to the rest? No, turns out the publisher printed two covers for this book--one with the angel on the cover and one with the devil--and split the subtitle, "The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch" in two (the first half says 'THE NICE AND ACCURATE PROPH"), so that half was on the one and half was on the other. We puzzled over whether they thought this would cause people to buy the book twice, one with each cover, in order to reunite the subtitle, and concluded that only collectors would do so.

After handing out the book for next month (The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller), we took a little more time than usual to discuss the books from which we would select our April reading, and the final vote was close, the result being Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, winner of both the Stonewall Book Award and the Pura Belpre.

Other books we considered included (in descending order according to number of votes):

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Lock In, by John Scalzi
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
Room, by Emma Donoghue
I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
The Fifth Wave, by Rick Yancey
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
Proxy, by Alex London
Where the Stars Still Shine, by Trish Doller

Our next meeting is on Tuesday, March 1. Those who missed this meeting can pick up their book at Central or Buena Vista Circulation desks.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Teen review: The Martian

The Martian
by Andy Weir
369 Pages
Science Fiction

Reviewed by Michael Zhang, Grade 12

One of my favorite science fiction novels in recent memory, Andy Weir’s The Martian is a riveting tale of survival and perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds in an inhospitable environment. Recently adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film, The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut and botanist trapped on Mars after an accident during a deadly dust storm led to his crew leaving him for dead. Mark must learn how to survive and thrive on a planet where life doesn’t exist.

The novel is a delight, timely and relevant in every way, as we experience Mark’s successes and failures through his own eyes. What’s particularly fascinating to me about this book is how well researched it is, with scientifically accurate facts and references to real life events in the book. In fact, as far as I know, the only implausible element of the book lies in the dust storm that leads to Mark being stranded on Mars in the first place.

I really enjoyed this novel, and I would give it 5/5 stars. It’s a highly enjoyable book that evokes the feel of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The cover is also captivating, and evokes the imagery of the novel, both the original cover as well as the film release’s cover. I’d recommend it for reading by any middle or high school student.

Editor's note: We read The Martian, a 2015 Alex Award-winner, for 10-12 Book Club and enjoyed it every bit as much as Michael did. Here is my mini-review. I would caution for younger readers, however, that if you are offended by swearing, there's a fair bit of it. Well, wouldn't you swear a lot if you were in Mark Watney's situation? C'mon!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Teen review: End of the trilogy

Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil
by Drew Karpyshyn
296 Pages
Science Fiction/Fantasy
Part of the Star Wars: Legends continuity of novels, Darth Bane Trilogy
Reviewed by Michael Zhang, Grade 12

Dynasty of Evil is the final chapter of the Darth Bane Trilogy by Drew Karpyshyn. It concludes the story of Darth Bane and Darth Zannah, two Sith Lords who would represent the eventual evolution of the antagonists of the Star Wars universe. Taking us to new planets never before seen in the Star Wars universe, like Doan, and returning us to older planets steeped in lore such as Ambria, Dynasty of Evil is the epic conclusion to the novel trilogy that first introduced us to Darth Bane.

Following 10 years after Rule of Two. Bane is now a wiser, and more powerful Sith Lord, though his age is beginning to impair him, and Zannah is now a fully realized Sith Lord. Bane fears that his apprentice may never rise to challenge him, so he begins to look for a new apprentice, while Zannah prepares to exact vengeance on her master for doubting her abilities, setting in motion the eventual showdown of these two characters. Now equally matched, both Master and Apprentice must duel to the death, even as a figure from Bane’s past returns to haunt him.

The cover is an accurate reflection of the novel, and showcases both of the main characters. Though I feel like it doesn’t hint too much at the plot, it’s nevertheless altogether passable.

I’d rate this novel 3/5 stars. While it’s relatively readable and entertaining, I felt that it left a significant amount to be desired in the finale of such an enjoyable and pivotal story line in the Star Wars canon. However, I feel that those who read the first two books will enjoy the references to prior novels and will want to see these two characters to the end.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Teen review: Introducing Darth Zannah

Darth Bane: Rule of Two
by Drew Karpyshyn
318 Pages
Science Fiction/Fantasy
Part of the Star Wars: Legends continuity of novels, Darth Bane Trilogy

Reviewed by Michael Zhang, Grade 12

In Rule of Two, set 10 years after the first book in the Darth Bane Trilogy, we find Bane as an impulsive, enraged, and powerful villain, in the prime of his life. Whereas the Bane in the first novel, Path of Destruction, was developing as a character into the villain we suspect he becomes, Bane in Rule of Two is a scheming, devious villain, a Master of the Dark Side, and like every Master of the Dark Side of the Force, Bane has an apprentice.

Darth Zannah is the exact opposite of the physical powerhouse that is Bane, eschewing the brute force of her Master for a more arcane approach to power, favoring the dominion of the mind and psyche over the power of the physical self. Serving as a perfect complement to her Master, they wield opposite spectrums of the Force to great effect. We see much of the novel from Zannah’s eyes, and she emerges as a strong female protagonist, never needing to be saved by her Master, and approaching, or even exceeding, his power in several instances.

I liked this novel a lot, even more than Path of Destruction. It’s a worthy sequel, and Karpyshyn significantly improves on his prose. A standout part of the book is the epic battle scenes, and while I’ve avoided plot details in much of my review, I will say that the climax of the novel is not to be missed.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Teen review: Darth Bane!

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction
by Drew Karpyshyn
324 Pages
Science Fiction/Fantasy
Part of the Star Wars: Legends continuity of novels, Darth Bane Trilog

Book review by Michael Zhang, Grade 12

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction is a science fiction and fantasy novel in the Star Wars: Legends continuity of novels and books, set more than a thousand years before the events of the Star Wars films. The first in a trilogy, it follows the origin story of Darth Bane, a major character in the Star Wars canon who goes on to become the founder of the modern Sith Order as we know them in the movies.

The book follows Bane, or as he is named when we first encounter him in the novel, Dessel. We get to see his rise from a metal miner and smelter into the legendary figure that he becomes in Star Wars lore. It’s a worthy beginning, and tells the story of “rags to riches” in an interesting and riveting way. Karpyshyn is great with mysticism, bringing a lot of his skill as a fantasy and video game writer into describing riveting fight scenes, esoteric and mystical powers, as well as providing great fan service for those who are big fans of the Star Wars lore. Bane in particular is the dream antihero. He’s physically powerful, yet knowledgable and in no way a brute. We see everything from his eyes, and we get to see him grow from his mistakes, learn about his powers and abilities as he becomes the founder of the villainous order, filling in some of the rich history that is only hinted at in the movie saga.

Overall, I’d rate this novel a 4/5. I loved the battles and the rich descriptive text, as well as the cameos and fan service the novel offers. The only thing that prevents me from giving it another star is that I felt that the writing quality wasn’t quite on the level of other authors such as James Luceno. I feel that Karpyshyn’s prose is just a smidgen off the mark, but that’s in no way indicative of me disliking the novel, just a minor nitpick.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What we're reading: The end of a series (and an era)

Nac Mac Feegles, what hae?

In book club a few years ago, we read The Wee Free Men, the first book in Terry Pratchett's delightful series about the  adventures of the young witch Tiffany Aching and her tiny blue-skinned Pict friends, the argumentative and slightly profane Nac Mac Feegle. Although the series falls within his massive, career-encompassing Discworld series (which he began in 1983 and which includes about 40 books!), you can read this series within a series while knowing absolutely nothing about the bigger picture, which I have (a couple of times). The books, in order, are:

The Wee Free Men

A Hat Full of Sky


I Shall Wear Midnight

Right around the time he wrote the third book in this miniseries, Sir Terry (he was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1998 and knighted by the Queen in 2009) announced that he was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Sadly, the disease moved quickly, and Pratchett passed away in March of last year, at the age of 67.

Before he passed, however, he got a good ways into a fifth and final book in the Tiffany Aching series, and that book was published posthumously in September 2015. It's called The Shepherd's Crown, and shows us Tiffany Aching coming into her own as a young but powerful leader of the witches of her world. The wall between her land and that of the Faerie has weakened, and the death of a powerful witch has emboldened the fairies to once again cross over to wreak havoc. Tiffany and her allies must unite to repel them and re-seal the wall.

Even though some reviewers feel that The Shepherd's Crown is not up to Pratchett's usual standards (because someone else finished the book), I thought that it was lovely, and that it followed through with and expressed the personalities and story lines from the rest of the series. I'm happy to have a resolution to Tiffany's story--although there is potential here for so many more books, so I'm sad there will be no more.

If you haven't read this series, my personal opinion is that if you're a fan of fantasy (and enjoy good writing, with characters who could step off the page), it's a must.

Members of 10-12 Book Club who are currently reading Good Omens (co-written by Pratchett with Neil Gaiman), if you like that, you could try this before embarking on the optimistic project of reading Discworld from the beginning.

I hope Terry Pratchett is wandering somewhere on the Chalk with Grannies Aching and Weatherwax, Thunder and Lightning at his heels, listening for the faint cry of "Crivens!" on the morning breeze.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Teen review: Another book in the series

Editor's note: We don't usually publish reviews of sequels, but we have published SO many reviews of the book Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld, that I asked George if he would send a review of one of the other books instead. Here it is!


by Scott Westerfield
Second in a series of four books
Science fiction / dystopian

Reviewed by George S., grade 8

In the 384-page novel Pretties, by Scott Westerfield, Tally Youngblood finally becomes pretty. She joins a clique called the Crims, who are Pretties that focus on doing tricks just like the Uglies do. However, their party gets crashed by Uglies, and Croy, an old friend from the smoke, arrives. He says he will leave something for Tally at Valentino 17. When Tally and her new boyfriend Zane go to Valentino 17, they discover he has left them a cure. Tally and Zane become cured of the lesions that make them so-called “pretty-heads,” and they find they want to leave behind their home and take along the Crims to complete the impossible: Escape!

I enjoyed the other books of the series more than I did Pretties, my least favorite. Tally and Zane get cured, and then what do they do for the next 150 pages? They just sit around thinking about their love, and then all of a sudden Tally says, “Hey, Zane, I’m tired of this old dump, let’s escape.” That summarizes basically the entire book. Scott Westerfield made this book very slow; there is almost no action! And half of the time Tally and Zane will kiss each other, or Shay will get angry at Tally. I would rate this book 3 out of 5 stars just for this extremely disappointing lack of action. I would recommend that you get through this book so you can read Specials, because in Specials Scott Westerfield redeems himself.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

This week at the library...


Teens: Are you bored with life? We have the solution: Bored Board Games Night! Join us on Thursday night, January 28, at 6:30 p.m., at the Buena Vista Branch in the auditorium.

We have DIXIT. We have World of Warcraft and Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit Games! Plus all the regular stuff: Burbankopoly, Mystery Date, Scrabble, and more! Or bring your OWN games if you want to, and bring your friends too! Snacks will be served. For TEENS in grades 6-12 only.