Sunday, December 21, 2014

Teen review: Sci Fi / Action

by DJ MacHale
407 pages
Science Fiction
Book 1 of the Sylo Trilogy
Reading Level: Middle School

Reviewed by J. C., grade 9

Pemberwick Island, Maine is a small yet peaceful place...until one night Arbortown High's star quarterback Marty Wiggins suddenly drops dead with no apparent cause. Within a few days, a United States military group called SYLO drops in and blocks off the entire island from the rest of the world. The group is headed by Captain Granger, who informs the residents of the island that there is a deadly virus on the island responsible for Wiggins’s death, that must be stopped before it spreads. Tucker Pierce, who witnessed Wiggins’s death, notices many other suspicious things going on around town, including an aircraft explosion and a traveling salesman selling substances that can make you superhuman. Tucker soon finds out there is more to SYLO than they’re letting on, and with the help of his friends tries to find the truth of what’s really happening.

If I were to rate SYLO from 1-5, I’d give it a solid 3. DJ MacHale can still craft engaging story lines. However that’s the only thing keeping this book afloat. None of the characters are really memorable and most are two-dimensional stereotypes that are only there to try to get you invested in the story. I felt like I was being told everything through text instead of through action and events in the plot. The pacing was all over the place, and the foreshadowing and character development felt obvious and forced. Every element of this book felt like it was being used to advance the plot, giving me no time to really care about the characters and their barely existent motivations. And the story is amazing. It’s interesting and I want to see where it goes. But the finer details of the story just hold this book back.

I would recommend it to middle schoolers looking for a fun and simple story to pass the time. But anyone looking for complex characters or writing that challenges their view of the world is looking for something else.

Editor's note: I am with J.C. on this. Here is my review, which I wrote a while back but never published until now.

I read the first three of D.J. MacHale's Pendragon series, of which Merchant of Death is the first, and while they were a little too "talky" for my taste, I completely understood why MacHale has so many tween and teen fans. The adventures are imaginative and individual, Bobby is plausible, everything pretty much works. I recommend them constantly to a certain age and type of reader. I didn't love them enough to read the whole series, though, because ultimately I found Bobby's internal monologue and constant self-reflection a little tedious.

When I heard that MacHale was writing a sci fi series, I was excited on behalf of all his young fans. So I am sorry to say that I didn't care as much for this book.

It started strong (I love books about small, enclosed cultures on islands!)...but then ensued an entire novel of running around in circles. Lots of action scenes, very few explanations, and the clues weren't enough to lead me anywhere. I became impatient with the main characters' constant speculation about what was happening, because at a certain point anyone could see where things were probably heading, but no one said so, leading me to believe that they were either in on it, or they were the most oblivious people on the island. I felt like there were a lot of manufactured crises, and after they escaped the fifth or sixth one only to fall prey to the next, I just got tired.

I imagine that some of D.J.'s fans will love this series--judging from other reviews on Goodreads and elsewhere, many people liked it a lot more than I did. And I will refer you to a previous review on this blog by teen reviewer Allen, who did in fact love it. So I will buy the rest of the series for the library…but I doubt I'll be reading it myself.

If anyone has read Storm and/or Strike and can tell us how those turned out, we'd like to hear from you!


Friday, December 19, 2014

Teen review: Mythology and adventure

The Blood of Olympus is written by Rick Riordan and is the fifth addition to "The Heroes of Olympus" series. It contains 516 pages including the glossary. The Blood of Olympus is based on fantasy and mythology and is part of the second fictional series that revolves not only around the demigod hero Percy Jackson from Rick Riordan’s first series, "Percy Jackson and the Olympians," but includes new and heroic demigods all with a hard past and an even harder future on their quest to save the world.

I recommend this book for 7th through 9th graders, but of course if you want to read this thoroughly captivating book then go for it. Its romance, friendships, and pure heroic characters appeal to all ages.

The seven demigods, half god and half human, of the prophecy (with the help of trustworthy friends) have to do the impossible and save the entire world from complete destruction. As you follow these courageous characters throughout their journey to destroy Gaea, the evil earth goddess who wants to annihilate the twelve Olympians, you will watch as lasting friendships ensue and seemingly insurmountable feats are accomplished. There is sword fighting, ingenious plans, shape shifting and much more. The pure hearts of these demigods will make everlasting impressions on you. Of course in a war there are casualties, but in a war with divine powers… who will make it out alive? What will happen to beloved characters in the final book and battle? Percy, Annabeth, Leo, Hazel, Frank, Piper, and Jason have been through so much. How much more will they have to endure?

I am in ninth grade and have read all the books preceding this one and loved every bit of them. This series, including this book, is a must-read especially if you appreciate a truly inspiring story. I do not like to have to leave a character after just one book so I really enjoy series, but sometimes they can drag on. This series never once did anything to remotely bore me. Not only do I recommend reading this series, but the one before this one too. This book is definitely and without question a five, hard to imagine a better book. This book will forever be in my heart and I hope it will for you too. Rick Riordan is a genius.

Reviewed by Marlena, grade 9

Editor's note: If I were Rick Riordan, this is the kind of review that would make my day!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Teen review: Realistic fiction

In the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, the story is narrated by a typical teen named Clay Jensen and his friend and ex co-worker, Hannah Baker. There’s just one small twist… Hannah killed herself last month. However, before doing so she recorded 13 stories on seven cassette tapes as to why she decided to take her life. For reasons unknown to Clay, he receives a package in the mail containing these tapes. As the story goes on, we see that each story pertains to a person who somehow affected Hannah in her short life.

This 158-page realistic fiction novel is not part of a series yet it is a book that is worth the short read. Due to the book's subject matter and sensitive topic, I would recommend that only high school age people or older read the book, as it may be slightly disturbing. Also, the book is told from two shifting points of view so it may be hard to follow for some. I highly recommend this book to anyone willing to read it.

Reviewed by Mallorey W., grade 9

Editor's note: BPL has copies of this book available at all three libraries. We also offer it as an audio book at the Central Library. While we agree that the subject matter of this book is difficult, most reviewers recommend it for ages 13 up. We read it in our middle school book club a few years ago.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Teen review: Sci Fi / Romance

Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Obsidian young adult, sci-fi, action, romance novel (the first in the series) has been sadly underrated. It hasn’t yet grabbed the attention that it so deserves. Do not be thrown by the cover; contrary to popular belief, it is not all about a starry-eyed girl who needs to be saved by the mysterious and alluring boy/alien next door.

Moving to West Virginia was definitely a big change for Katy (or Kittycat), who had spent all of her 17 years in Florida. Of course, a change is exactly what her mom needed after her father passed away from cancer.

After moving in, she quickly comes to the conclusion that her neighbor, Daemon, is a jerk (but she says it in a rude way), and his sister Dee is just adorable! Dee soon becomes her best friend, and this results in a lot of time being spent with Daemon. Gradually, Daemon and Katy start hanging out together alone, and Katy notices some very strange things happening. One night, when she has a fight with Daemon and accidentally runs into the road, the truth is revealed: Daemon is an alien!

Katy handles this shocking revelation surprisingly well, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much. The main reason that she handles the news with ease is because she knows that she will do anything to protect her friends. She genuinely cares for both Dee and Daemon (even though she stubbornly denies her feelings for him), and wouldn’t want either of them to get hurt.

In just 335 pages, Jennifer L Armentrout manages to make you laugh, fall in love, and cry in terror (or at least she did that to me). This book is great for anyone who loves aliens, action, angst and hot boys. The characters are all very relateable. I’m not exaggerating when I say Katy was me. She was the awkward teenage girl who was obsessed with books and was always trying to do the best thing for her friends. Dee was the lovable best friend who is sweeter than can be. Daemon is the hot boy next door who insists on being shirtless 90% of the time; he’s rude at first, even cruel, but he feels terrible for making Katy feel hurt. He wants to protect her from his terrible and dangerous alien life. The book is marked as a young adult novel, but I would recommend it to 8th or 9th graders and up. There is some mature language, in addition to a minor scene in which another high school student oversteps his boundaries. Overall, I would give this book 4 stars out of 5, only because it took at least 100 pages for there to be any alien action whatsoever.

Reviewed by I.M.C., grade 9

Editor's note: For some reason, we own the sequel (Onyx) but not this first book in the series, so I'll take care of that at once, for all others who are intrigued by this review!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Teen review: Realistic fiction

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, is an angsty 224 pages following the twisted life of Charlie through a series of letters. This realistic novel is an amazing coming of age story. The main character, Charlie, is starting his life off at a new high school where he meets some unlikely friends. However, Charlie’s mental issues from his scarring childhood leave him troubled and unable to communicate his feelings. Throughout the book, his friends show him how it is to love and be loved, and the importance that friendships hold.

Although this novel is not a part of a series, I feel as if every teen should read it. From middle school up this book would be a great read. Also, the movie version of the book was created in 2012 with Logan Lerman as Charlie. The book is better, in my opinion, but the movie is one of my favorites as well.

Reviewed by Mallorey W., grade 9

Editor's note: I would differ with Mallorey in her age rating--I think this book is more for 9th grade up. However, everyone reads at their own level, to be individually determined! And Mallorey, we liked the book and movie too!  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Teen review: Science fiction

Ender’s Game
by Orson Scott Card
368 pages
Science fiction
For ages 12-18

Reviewed by J.C., grade 9

This classic book is about Ender Wiggin, a gifted child with a mind for strategy. He is sent from his home to the Battle School, where other kids like him are trained in simulations to fight off a future alien invasion. Ender proves to be not only a talented, cunning tactical master, but humanity’s best chance for survival. But it is soon revealed that what Battle School wants Ender to become may not be best for humanity after all.

It’s been more than 30 years since this book’s release, and the powerful story and messages it tells are still far from irrelevant. The characters’ motivations and feelings are clearly defined and shown. You relate to and feel for all of them. Card’s writing is brilliant, making complicated ideas and feelings easy to understand without losing the feelings it’s supposed to invoke. And the beauty of the book is it could be read as a thrilling action adventure book, or as a more philosophical take on human nature.

If I were to rate this book, I’d give it a 5/5. The characters, story, idea, and pacing were all phenomenal. There wasn’t a boring moment in this book, and the ending is not only surprising, but it really gets you thinking.

Editor's note: We love Ender's Game too. And don't forget that there are many sequels! Go back to Isaac's review to see the order in which you might want to read them...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Teen review: Fantasy and Dragons

Slathbog’s Gold
by M.L. Forman
406 Pages
Part of a series
Reading level: Late Elementary School – Middle School

Reviewed by S. C., grade 9

Alex never really thought anything more of his life other than living with his stepdad and working in their restaurant, until he saw a “help wanted” poster hanging in the window of a small, dusty bookshop. The strange part was that instead of saying "help," the sign said “Adventurers Wanted.” Alex decided to walk into the store and inquire as to the meaning of the sign. After the events inside, Alex gets thrown into a crazy wild adventure and gets introduced to a whole new world full of dragons, trolls, and other (more experienced) adventurers! Before Alex meets the leader of his company, Bregnest, he is sent to load up on adventure gear where some blacksmith uses a magic book to decide what type of weapon to use and the book says sword, axe or…staff…which is a wizard's weapon so that’s crazy! Or is it..? Alex meets everyone going on the adventure and they discuss the end goal: killing the great dragon Slathbog, claiming his horde of gold, and saving the kingdom!

I would give this book a 4.1 out of 5. This book is so enchanting to me, and it has a cool unique story line that captures your interest only a few pages in! Alex is truly a good human being and struggles with coming to grips with this ancient magical world at first, but soon becomes at home with all of the other adventurers.

Slathbog’s Gold is part of an amazing series called Adventurers Wanted; I highly suggest starting here and exploring this wonderful world full of lore and adventure on your own!

Editor's note: Burbank Public Library doesn't own this series, but I am mentioning it to the person who would do the ordering.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Teen reviews!

You may have noticed that we teen librarians at Burbank Public Library offer service hour credit for book reviews--one hour for one review. The reviews have to be written to our guidelines, which are under the tab at the top that says "book review guidelines" (duh). This aspect of the teen blog has gotten off to a slow start--during the past couple of years we have received a few here and there--but this year it apparently became more widespread knowledge that we offer this, because we now have about 30 teen reviews lined up for publication! (Service hours are due at our local schools this week or next.)

The reasons we are drawing this to your attention are:
1. You will be seeing a lot more teen reviews than usual during the next few weeks;
2. We are so pleased with the results!

The teen reviews we have received have been both thoughtful and thorough, and we are happy to see that they have taken this exercise seriously and done it justice instead of just doing the minimum necessary. We are proud to publish them, and for those reviewers we haven't yet spoken to in person, we'd just like to say that we would welcome your reviews any time, and not just for service credit. So if any of you enjoyed this experience, please keep reviewing for us!