Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book Club Report

There were 17 in attendance at November's 6+7 Book Club to discuss Uglies, the first book in the early dystopian series by Scott Westerfeld, and it was a lively and protracted discussion! We ranged across plot, characters, metaphors, our own standards of beauty, possible other ways the story could have gone (we have a couple of fan fiction writers in this group), and every time we thought we were done, Mohammed or Mei Li had another question, George or Ava had another comment. The rating for the book was 8.25, the highest so far this year.

Next month we are reading House of Secrets, by Ned Vizzini and Chris Columbus, and for January we picked The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin.

Other books we considered (in no particular order):

     A Long Way from Chicago, by Richard Peck
     The Edge of Nowhere, by Elizabeth George
               (or did you mean the one by John E. Smelcer?)
     The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester
     The Giver, by Lois Lowry
     The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot
     The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
     13 Treasures, by Michelle Harrison
     Searching for David's Heart, by Cherie Bennett
     Circle of Secrets, by Kimberley Griffiths Little
     Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment, by James Patterson
     Blood On My Hands, by Todd Strasser

Eleven of us in the 8+9 Book Club gave a high rating of 8.75 to the teen thriller The Naturals, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. It’s about a group of kids with skills—not superpowers, just extraordinary abilities that are attractive to the FBI. Two are profilers, one is a human lie detector, one can calculate the odds of anything, and one can read and gauge human emotions—who better to put together as a team to solve cold cases? Problem is, they don’t stay cold…

We had a lively discussion, and everyone is in the library looking for the sequel (or begging to borrow Melissa's ARC). Next month we are reading Unspoken, by Sarah Rees Brennan, and the choice for January is Rot and Ruin, by Jonathan Mabery.

Other books we considered (again, in no particular order):

Switched, by Amanda Hocking
Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
Heist Society, by Ally Carter
Six Months Later, by Natalie Richards
Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
The Darkest Minds, by Alexandra Bracken
Splintered, by A. G. Howard

The 6+7 Book Club next meets on December 9, and the 8+9 Book Club on December 10.

Teen review: Fantasy/Sci Fi

The Supernaturalist is a 267-page science fiction book by Eoin Colfer, the author of the critically acclaimed Artemis Fowl series. This book is about an abused orphan growing up in the corrupt Clarissa Frayne Institute for the Parentally Challenged, where he and a thousand other boys are put to work testing dangerous chemical products, because...who else will? However, the boy--Cosmo--knows he has to escape the institution before he’s seriously injured or worse. He sits, waiting patiently for the perfect moment, and it comes. After his incredibly narrow escape, he is taken in by the Supernaturalists, a group of teens dedicated to eliminating supernatural forces on Earth. Cosmo must learn to work with the group to save all of mankind. However, he will later find out the truth of his work, and who the real enemy is.

This book was great to read. Between the brilliant moments of action and wit, The Supernaturalist never fails to surprise. The plot is filled with twists and turns that keeps the story new and fresh at every moment. It always seems as if every time the Supernaturalists take a step forward, they are pushed two steps back. They’re not only faced with supernatural problems, either. They’re faced with sappy day-to-day challenges that teens in our world have, about love, family, and friendship. The Supernaturalist is a deliciously made chocolate cake, and Eoin Colfer had the perfect recipe.

This book deserves a 4 out of 5. Eoin Colfer is a great author, and he’s certainly deserving of this rating. There’s never a dull moment in this book, and to me, that’s all a book needs to be a great one. I would recommend this book to all future-setting lovers, especially those who adore dystopia. The reading level starts from about 13 years old, but to be fair, it’s not exactly a hard book to read. The Supernaturalist is not part of a series, and I think I’d like it to stay that way. It has a great ending, and it works very well as a stand-alone book.

Reviewed by Isaac Kim, grade 9

Editor's note: There is also a graphic novel version!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Teen review: Ancient worlds

Rick Riordan, the popular author of the Percy Jackson series, took a little break to introduce the Kane Chronicles, with the first book in the trilogy being The Red Pyramid. The Red Pyramid is certainly not a far cry from the Percy Jackson series, using the same basis of blend between reality and ancient mythology, featuring gods, goddesses, monsters, and more from a new Egyptian (as opposed to Greek) template. At a sizable 516 pages, this fantasy book revolves around two teenage siblings who are thrown from their normal, everyday world into an confusing, painful, but exciting land of lore believed not to exist. They will face great danger, betrayals, and a lot of enemies. Yet Riordan is able to keep things light!

I enjoyed this book, the reason being that Rick Riordan is able to use literature in a way that connects with the reader. Using humor and relatable situations, he’s able to sculpt The Red Pyramid like a lump of wet clay. The plot also follows the standard Riordan time limit--the characters are only given a certain amount of time to accomplish one thing or another. Somehow, the suspense, drama, and humor mix very well together. Finally, the cover of The Red Pyramid shows a great image of main characters Sadie and Carter standing before…well, the Red Pyramid. It’s aesthetically appealing, and if I judged books by their covers, I would assume this book to be a 5 out of 5.

I would recommend The Red Pyramid to kids and teens alike, if they enjoy reading fantasy. It’s not a particularly hard book to read, vocabulary wise. However, some of the topics this book covers are for more mature audiences. I would rate this book a 4 out of 5. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it’s certainly worth a read. If you’ve read the Percy Jackson series, then starting The Red Pyramid is like a breath of fresh air.

Reviewed by Isaac Kim, grade 9

Editor's note: We also have this as an audio book, and there is a graphic novel as well!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

What we're reading: Thriller

Valentina Cruz is the daughter of a wealthy Miami art dealer, the apple of her father's eye and his knowledgeable companion at museums, galleries and art sales. She has two sisters, a bunch of friends, a boyfriend, beautiful clothes, a car, and a virtually unlimited allowance. So why is she suddenly living in Montreal under a pseudonym, busking with her mandolin on street corners for spare change and modeling for a lousy painter, living in the closet of an apartment she shares with three other people, and freezing through the Canadian winter? Why has she changed her identity, left her life of privilege, and failed to tell anyone--including her beloved Papi and her boyfriend Emilio--where she has gone?

Kiss Kill Vanish, by Jessica Martinez, received a fair share of ones and twos in amongst the fours and fives on Goodreads, and after checking it out, I almost brought it back to the library without reading it because of that--but I'm glad I decided to give it a chance, because I was engaged by this book. Were there things wrong with it? Definitely: too much self-absorption on the part of the protagonist, some cliché, a love triangle (which I usually hate)... But I liked the way Martinez revealed "Jane" (aka Valentina) to us and to herself, and let her gain knowledge and self-trust throughout the book; and I ended up liking the love interest too.

It's one of those "you must suspend disbelief" kinds of thrillers, with some absurdist stuff that you could say is completely implausible, but hey, it's entertaining! The ending was a bit tidy, but…I'd say if you like books like Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins (for teen angst and foreign locales), or I Am the Weapon, by Allen Zadoff (for the teaser background of the organization and for the suspense), you'd probably like this too. Yes, I know those are weird books to compare to one another, but this one kind of brings it all together. Pretty good writing, the right level of teen drama, interesting locales and dilemmas…yeah, I'd go 3.5 out of 5 for teens.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Teen review: Dystopic fiction

The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer, is a fantastic science fiction book, in which the main character, Matteo Alacrán, is cloned from the somehow simultaneously callous and compassionate El Patrón, the drug lord and ruler of the aptly named land of Opium. Unfortunately for Matt, clones in this dark world are used for spare organs, and considered as livestock. The thought of a clone that isn’t brain dead disgusts the average inhabitant of Opium. So Matt must overcome the constant harassment thrown at him by children and adults alike; make alliances, friendships, and rivalries; and discover the dark truth about Opium and his own existence.

Nancy Farmer does a great job of spreading out exposition, as opposed to writing a single block of historical text that we don’t want to read but we have to in order to understand the context of the story. In all seriousness, this is a great way of keeping readers engaged for the full 380 pages of brilliance. This is just one of the many reasons I adore The House of the Scorpion and Nancy Farmer both. Other reasons include:
  • Brilliant concept
  • Amazing character development, complexity, interaction, and backstory
  • Gripping plot full of intense moments
  • Mysteries throughout the whole story
Honestly, it’s hard to find fault with this story. My only real criticism, if you can even call it that, is the slightly weak ending. It was a good ending for sure, however, I felt a little incomplete--and this is how I segue into the sequel, The Lord of Opium. I have read this book, and it is great. It doesn’t quite live up to the first, but it’s still fantastic. I am now at peace with The House of the Scorpion series,

 I give this book a solid 4.75 out of 5. I would like to give it a 5, but I feel like a book that deserves that rating would have to be the undisputed champion of all books in existence. The House of the Scorpion is a great book, and I would recommend it to science fiction and culture lovers everywhere, with reading level starting from 13 years old. There really is no age limit. All in all, this book is a great read.

Reviewed by Isaac Kim, grade 9

Editor's note: This book was first published in 2002, and it took Farmer more than a decade to release the sequel. Now there is speculation there may be a third...? There was also a movie option taken out in 2013 and renewed for 18 months this past May, but I can't find a hint of any further progress on that.


The Genre-X Book Club meets tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Central Library! For all of you who were sad when you graduated and had to leave high school book club, here's a good continuation. It's hosted by Jeff Whalen (you remember him from Open Mic Night) and Laura McMahon, and tonight's discussion is Just Kids, by Patti Smith. Join in!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Teen review: Realistic fiction

Holly Goldberg Sloan’s I’ll Be There is a fictional book that covers very real conflicts. In just 392 pages, the story fits in the two teenage lives of Emily Bell and Sam Border, whose lives intertwine by fate. Sam and his little brother, Riddle, have to live in poverty with their abusive father, and Emily is a middle-class girl with a wonderful and caring family. They couldn’t be much more different, but they form a strong relationship. Together, they try to work past conflicts and find solutions.

I enjoyed this book because of the realistic perception of real-world problems portrayed in a conflictual setting. The story is very well handled, with just the right amount of light shining on all the right characters. Emily, Sam, and Riddle have a lot of personality and back story behind them, making them mysterious and intriguing, especially Sam and Riddle. I’ll Be There inspires strength in hard times, and faith. It is really cool watching these young adults grow with support from each other.

I would recommend this book to mature teenagers looking for realistic fiction with hints of romance. The reading level would be about ages 13 to 16 years old. If you’re a fan of fantasy and science fiction, I can’t say you’ll enjoy this book. As a fan of the aforementioned genres myself, I personally rate this book a 3 out of 5. 3 out of 5 works well for me, because I don’t usually read realistic fiction, yet I’ll Be There definitely kept me intrigued throughout the whole story, and there was never a dull moment. This book is part of a series. I have not yet read the sequel, but right now I would say the book works well standing alone.

Reviewed by Isaac Kim, grade 9

Editor's note: I loved this book, which we also read in high school book club, where it received high ratings. My review is here. I would probably revise Isaac's age range upwards to 15 and above. The sequel is called Just Call My Name, and is available at the Central and Buena Vista branches.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Remember Genre-X!

Are you or do you want to be a member of the new Genre-X Book Club? It's not your mother's book club…. This is for all of you who have aged out of teen book clubs but want to continue to discuss your reading with like-minded people!

The next meeting is THIS THURSDAY, November 13, at 7:00 p.m., at the Central Library, and the club will be discussing Just Kids, the award-winning memoir by Patti Smith. YOU SHOULD GO! (Even if this is news to you and you didn't have a chance to read the book, you can go, listen in, and see if this club is what you want!)

For more info, contact Jeff or Laura at

Next month's meeting is December 18, and the book will be the graphic novel Black Hole, by Charles Burns.