Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Teen Review: Realistic fiction

The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd
Fiction, Coming-of-age novel
302 pages
High school reading level

Reviewed by
Katelyn Harms, 8th grade

The Secret Life of Bees is Sue Monk Kidd's first novel. Set in the summer of 1964, this coming-of-age novel features Lily Owens, a motherless 14-year-old girl whose entire life was set around a memory of unintentionally killing her mother when she was a small child. Overwhelmed with the need to know about her mother and escape the father who never forgave her, she left Sylvan, South Carolina. Arriving with her black stand-in mother in the small town of Tiburon, South Carolina, she learned just what she didn't want to know about her mother. But, she managed to find herself.

This is a fantastic rendition of a young girl's journey to find a mother. Sue Monk Kidd's voice brings an astonishing amount of realism to this beautiful story. This book contains more sorrow and pain than anyone can bear to hold, but it also brings a fierce kind of happiness that will stick with the reader through thick and thin. Kidd's passion gleams persistently throughout the piece, and each reader finishes the book with a glimmer of her strong persona.

This has to be one of the best books I've ever read. I find myself reluctant to share it with anybody else because of the impact it has made on me. Although if you're to read any book, The Secret Life of Bees is the best option you'll find. I would rate this book a 5/5. Sue Monk Kidd is a splendid Southern voice, one you won't be able to find anywhere else. I know I'll be reading other books of hers; I've already started on The Invention of Wings. This novel will impact readers young and old. I know, without a doubt, that you'll enjoy it.

Editor's note: We have both of these books as sound recordings (audio books), and the DVD of the movie made from The Secret Life of Bees. Katelyn, we hope you will review The Invention of Wings for us when you have finished it!

Monday, April 14, 2014

What we're reading: A new series

The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkoski

What happens when cunning strategy encounters unexpected sympathy from the wrong side of conquest? In this novel of intrigue and forbidden love, Kestrel--a young noblewoman of the Valorian empire--buys a native slave at auction in the conquered kingdom of the Herrani, despite misgivings. She shouldn’t have been at the slave market in the first place, and her wealthy household doesn't need another slave. And yet the auctioneer has made the young man (a blacksmith) sound attractive, since her powerfully placed father needs his own smith to serve his personal guard. And the slave himself stirs her pity with his refusal to sing at the auctioneer’s behest–to sing?! Kestrel herself is a talented pianist, an oddity amongst a group of aristocrats who value only the accomplishments of fighting prowess in both sexes. She impulsively bids for the young smith, and when she finally wins him, she is told by a bystander that she has earned “the winner’s curse,”--winning an auctioned item but only by spending too much for it. And it doesn’t take long for the reader and Kestrel to understand how steep the slave’s price really is.

This is a fine story for those who enjoy seeing the play of sharp minds and sympathetic hearts meet, engage, withdraw, and engage again. We are not in the realm of non-stop action, or heroines who enjoy nothing more than beating up the requisite heartthrob and/or his rival for her affections. Actually, there is such a scene, but Kestrel is a reluctant fighter, knowing full well she doesn’t have the skill or the thrilling heart of a warrior. What Kestrel has is sympathy for others (including the enslaved people of the Herrani kingdom where she lives with her General father), an unusual appreciation for “civilized” culture, and a highly strategic mind that her father admires. Soon she will have to choose a career--either marriage or soldiering--in all probability having to leave her beloved music reluctantly behind. And then Arin, the blacksmith, begins to insinuate himself into her mind. Why had she bought him? She is praised for his purchase, he is a fine smithy, but to where are the weapons he is forging disappearing? Are they really vanishing into the estate manager’s pockets as profits from their illegal sale on the black market? And why is she having Arin leave his blacksmith duties to escort her to her friends’ houses, to their parties, to her trips to the market? Why does she find it comfortable to talk to him, but disagreeable to hear the compliments of her male peers? Whatever made her play the piano for him, and play a piece of music that he chooses? And why did he tell her his real name? Can a master truly befriend a slave?

The build-up of this first book of a trilogy is slow but steady, and the world-building is far less (delightfully) descriptive than it was in the author’s earlier trilogy, The Kronos Chronicles. We learn a few things about Kestrel’s society: blond invaders bent on conquest, with a “barbaric” culture that extolls battle and domination and ever-expanding borders; and a little of Arin’s now-subsumed Herrani people, with their love of learning and the arts turned into entertainments performed by slaves for the enjoyment of the conquerors. Maybe that’s enough--for now. Crossed and double-crossed, it is the glancing interplay between these two accidental friends that furnishes the push in this story, young trapped people who will find their paths entangled and very painful to trod before this book is finished. I anticipate more anguish and intrigue for them and those they care about before the trilogy is finished, and I look forward to reading every page to come.

My rating: 4

Reviewed by Anarda

Saturday, April 12, 2014

More April events...

April 18

Central Library
3:30 p.m.

We will be making chalk art on the sidewalks around the Central Library, the day before the Downtown Burbank Arts Festival on San Fernando. Award-winning chalk artist Bianca Ornelas will be available to give you tips and tricks! YOU MUST SIGN UP FOR THIS: email melliott@burbankca.gov!

April 25

Buena Vista branch
6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Sing, dance, play an instrument, do stand-up, recite poetry, or…karaoke!
YOU MUST SIGN UP FOR THIS: Send your name, phone, and what you will do, to melliott@burbankca.gov!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Teen review: Realistic fiction

Kira Kira
by Cynthia Kadohata
YA, Realistic Fiction
Not in a series
Reviewed by F. Bustillos, 9th grade

Cynthia Kadohata's Newbery award-winning Kira Kira is a quietly heart-breaking novel that explains the life of a Japanese-American girl named Katie and her family moving from a Japanese community in Iowa to the deep south of Georgia in the 1950s. It is Katie's optimistic older sister Lynn who teachers Katie how to see the joy in life, beyond the blandness in their young lives. Lynn is the one who shows and explains to Katie the "kira-kira," the "shining, glittering" moments and little beauties in life. And it is Lynn who becomes terminally ill, causing the family to fall apart. Katie is depended upon to remind the family of the "kira-kira" that still exists in the future, even during the hard times in life.

This book is written in first person, from Katie's point of view. I felt as if some of the strong vocabulary used in the book didn't match said POV, since Katie wasn't even in middle school and she didn't get good grades, so that was a little off. I guess the reading level must be middle school and above, because the vocabulary is pretty leveled up with normal speech with the exception of a few outdated words (due to the novel's setting). Katie strongly explains her relations, thoughts, and surroundings, from her lonely environment to the feelings she has towards her interesting family members. I loved how Katie was honest throughout the book, no matter how strange or sentimental her thoughts were. And I especially adored how she explained the relationship between her and her older sister, Lynn. Those moments of both sweet and bittersweet little anecdotes in the story made it easy to fall in love with the book. Lynn taught Katie how to have fun during boring times and made sure that she was grateful for the small things in life. Lynn set such a stellar example for Katie that I feel bad that I don't set such a good example for my own younger siblings.

The turning point of the story is when Lynn falls desperately ill, and in the meantime she becomes distant to Katie. There are so many changes in the book that it's surprising that Kadohata managed to fit them all into 244 pages. The sweet sisterhood that Katie grew accustomed to during Lynn's carefree youth becomes replaced with quietness and fear. Katie doesn't fit the cliched circumstances of a main character who stores immense fortitude, and that makes this book different (in a good way.) This book is very inspiring because deep inside, Lynn still feels the same optimism she used to have before she obtains her deteriorating sickness. Katie also begins to form some "kira-kira," which shows that even through the "downs" in life, there will inevitably be an "up." I have read this book thrice, and whenever I read it, I still feel that inspiring "kira-kira" growing inside of me each time I turn the page.

I give this book a 5/5. The story is inspiring, well-paced, moments not too vague, and the literary realism it includes makes it perfect. I would recommend this to people who aren't really optimists, or anyone who wants to believe that philosophically, there will always be a rainbow after a thunderstorm.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014



CHAT with the author!
BUY BOOKS! (such a deal)
See you there???

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Brief reviews by Leon M.

Here are some opinions from a new reviewer, 8th grader Leon M. We usually like to feature reviews that are a little longer and more in-depth than this, but there is a certain satisfaction to Leon's level of succinctness! I have a suspicion that Leon MAY have read some of these for school, but...I liked the array of reading because it was a nice mix of easy, fun fiction, more challenging mystery, and a couple of nonfiction books, which is a variety to which we can all aspire. It's so easy to get stuck in one genre or type of book and never try anything new. Finally, I put them up because these are a great example of the kinds of book reviews you might do this summer on our online Teen Summer Reading Program link! More on that coming soon

Holes, by Louis Sachar
233 Pages
Fiction, not part of series
Middle School reading level

Stanley Yelnats, a boy who has bad luck due to a curse placed on his great-great-grandfather, is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp, for a crime he did not commit. 
This book is a fun read. Not a particularly hard book, good for new readers.

And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
173 pages
Fiction, murder mystery
8th grade up

The book revolves around a group of 10 strangers invited to an "Old Friends Party" on an island, where they eventually get murdered one by one. It constantly keeps you thinking about who the killer really is. In my opinion, it showcases the talent and skill that Agatha Christie has when it comes to showing emotion in her books. It really immerses you in the world of the story.

Editor's note: This book, also previously published as Ten Little Indians, is considered by many readers to be the best mystery novel ever written.

Night, by Elie Wiesel
120 Pages
First book in a three-part series of autobiographies (Night, Dawn, Day)
8th grade up

The book Night is a firsthand account through the eyes of Elie Wiesel, who was taken to the concentration camp Auschwitz in 1944. It shows the hardships and horrors he experienced. This is a great book if you are looking to learn about the Holocaust. It also shows what the Jewish people suffered. I would definitely recommend it to people learning about and/or interested in the Holocaust.

The Freedom Writers Diary, by Erin Gruwell
314 Pages
Nonfiction -- Journal Entries
Not part of a series
8th grade up

The Freedom Writers Diary is a collection of journal entries from the students of teacher Erin Gruwell. The journal entries show the hard life that many kids and teens in bad neighborhoods face daily, including the students of Room 203.
I would recommend it to those looking for a good book to read. Interesting to learn and read about the students' lives.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

This week at the library...

Meet the author!

On Wednesday night at the Buena Vista branch at 7:00, you will have the enormous good luck to be able to meet and spend time with John Corey Whaley! His book Where Things Come Back won the Printz Award (the highest award given in teen fiction by the American Library Association) in 2012. He now has a new book out, called Noggin, and it sounds like a hoot. Come hear him talk about it! And you can buy either/both of the books and get them autographed right on the spot. Noggin is releasing to the public on Tuesday, and we have Corey on Wednesday--yay!

By the way, if your teacher lets you get extra credit for attending this program, your teacher is awesome. No, that's not what I was going to say (though true). What I was going to say was, we will have proof of attendance slips that we will hand out to you at the end of Corey's presentation (before the autographs).

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Teen Review: The Hobbit

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, is a fantasy novel that is 310 pages long. It is the prelude to the Lord of the Rings series. I would recommend this book to people of all ages, although ideally for kids/teens. The book is about a group of 14 people--12 dwarves, a hobbit, and a wizard--who set out on a journey to take the dwarves' former home back from a dragon named Smaug. The dwarves’ kin used to live in the Lonely Mountain, mining an immensely large amount of gold and jewels. But the jewels attracted the dragon, who flew to the mountain and drove all the dwarves out. Twelve of the remaining dwarves have recruited a Hobbit to accompany them on their journey to act as a burglar.

The book must have been very well planned and thought out, because there are many different species and places in the world of Middle-earth. The book takes place in an entirely different, big world that is only partially explored in this book. The plot is also very interesting, including mini adventures within the one big over all adventure. The reader will always be entertained, because there is always action, whether it is battling orcs or trekking through an enchanted forest.

The writing style, though, is not very child friendly at times. Sometimes the author lacks fluency and randomly mentions things that have nothing to do with the plot. For example, in the middle of Gandalf (the wizard) trying to persuade Bilbo to go on the journey, there is a random paragraph that mentions Bilbo’s heritage. Another problem with Tolkien's writing is that there are rather large time jumps. It will take the author a chapter to describe the events of one day, and then he will gloss over the events of the next week in one paragraph with almost no description. This can get pretty annoying after a while.

Other than these minor complaints, I found The Hobbit  to be a mesmerizing book that never stops entertaining the reader. The setting is completely original, creating a world full of surprises. People still try to understand the secrets of Middle-earth. I rate this book 4/5 due to minor technical difficulties. Read this book and you will not be disappointed.

Reviewed by DS, Grade 8

Editor's note: If you like this book, you might want to explore other books about it at the library. For instance, The Art of the Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, features all the illustrations that Tolkien made for the book. The Complete Tolkien Companion, by J. E. A. Tyler, explores its lands, legends, histories, languages, and people. The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, by Robert Foster, is the A-to-Z guide to Tolkien's universe. And, of course, there's always the movie.