Friday, November 27, 2015

Guest Review: Horror

The Nest
by Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
244 pages
Stand-alone Horror
Ages 10 and up

Reviewed by Elizabeth B., Reference Librarian

The Nest is about a tween boy named Steve who is worried about his baby brother. His brother was born a few days ago with multiple health problems that cannot be fixed with surgery or medicine, and he will have to live with these health problems for the rest of his life. This will be a great emotional and financial burden for Steve’s family. Naturally, Steve wishes there was something he could do to help his little brother, but he is powerless.

Then, 10 days after his brother is born, and shortly after Steve gets stung by a strange wasp, he dreams about a mysterious figure who tells him that it can help his brother. At first Steve thinks it's just a wishful dream, but then he starts to see little clues in the world around him that suggests the figure is real and that it really can do something for his brother. After having multiple dreams about the figure, he finds out that all he has to do to help his brother is say “yes” in his dream. However, Steve begins to suspect that he may be saying “yes” to more than just saving his baby brother and that the figure may have more sinister intentions...

This is by far one of the creepiest books I have ever read. Not only is the story truly frightening, but the writing is hauntingly beautiful, and the stark and simple black and white illustrations by Jon Klassen add to the creepy tone of the book. What really unnerved me about the story was how it turned something simple (such as a wasp’s nest) into something much more sinister.

Another aspect of the book I really liked were the numerous plot twists for which Kenneth Oppel is known. He knows how to turn your expectations around and totally surprise you by going in an unlikely direction. I also appreciated the main character, Steve. I found myself identifying with his feeling of helplessness and his desire to do everything possible to help someone he cares about. One thing I did not like was the cover of the book. It does not catch your attention and is not an accurate reflection of the contents of the book. If I was not such a big fan of this author, I would never have picked up this book based on its forgettable cover.

I would rate this book a 5 out of 5, and would recommend it to readers of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, or any reader looking for an unexpected horror story that will haunt them long after they have read the last page. Be warned though—you will never look at a wasp’s nest the same way again!

Editor's note: This book is on order for the Children's section and should be here soon to creep you out!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What we're reading: End of a thrilling trilogy

I Am the Traitor is the third book in the "Boy Nobody" series by Allen Zadoff. Except that it's not called that anymore, now it's the "Unknown Assassin" series. Confused? We who buy books for the library were confused as well!

Zadoff initially released the first book as Boy Nobody, which we bought; but then he realized it would be a series, not a stand-alone. Since the sequel was to be I Am the Mission, his publisher talked him into a re-release of the first book, calling it I Am the Weapon, naming the third book I Am the Traitor, and changing all the covers to match. So we have both Boy Nobody and I Am the Weapon on the shelf, but it's the same book.


(My suspicion is that the publisher wanted to distance it from another YA book, called Nobody, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, which is also about a boy assassin, although with a slightly different twist! I reviewed that book here, but here's a tip: Her "Naturals" series and the new book The Fixer are both better than this early novel.)

I enjoyed Zadoff's series. I thought it was clever, interesting, and certainly action-packed, with the breathless fast pacing that appeals to both teens and adults. That kind of pacing is why James Patterson sells millions of books, despite his questionable writing skills. (Zadoff's are better, let me hasten to say!) We read the first book in 8+9 Book Club last year, and those who enjoyed it will want to round out their experience with this one.

In book three, we find out more about Boy Nobody, aka Zach, we get to connect again with Howard from Book Two (one of my favorite characters, because most real), and we meet a few new people while learning more about characters from previous books. There's a little romance, a lot of betrayal, and, of course, major action.
And there is a story arc and a satisfactory resolution to Zach's questions about his father and somewhat about The Program (although I, like others, would have appreciated an epilogue to know what happens to all those children!).

The emotion this series provokes most in me is to say, "it is what it is," because of what is not here. We never really learn much back story for Mother and Father, or what connection The Program has to the government, to other secret agencies--who knows it exists? Is it operating entirely on its own? That's hard to believe, given the public nature of many of its targets. Characterization is basic, and although what is there is nicely done, it's pretty scanty.

The whole point of this series is to keep you on the edge of your seat, guessing, and it does! But sooner or later you want to quit guessing and KNOW. Some things you do learn, many things you don't. So…I'd give this a 3.5, and say that I'm glad I followed through with the trilogy. I believe it will have many teen fans, but it's not a trilogy they will remember years later and say, Wow, those books changed things for me, or Gee, I think I'll reread that. It's sheer entertainment. And that's okay!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Book Cafe with Cornelia Funke!

Or, what we did last Thursday night! There is a narrative and
a whole bunch of pictures on our Facebook Page, here. Take a look!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Top Writers Revealed!

We were so pleased to receive entries for the "Once Upon A Time" Story Writing Contest from these 37 teens (in alphabetical order by last name):

Alex Avakian, Christopher Avakian, Angus Bailey, Zofie Basta, Amy Berberyan, Katelyn berg, Jackson Bokenkamp, Alyssa Chang, Zongze Chen, Prattay Chodhury, Kyla Coaxum-Ales, Bianca Darlington, Katrina Darwich, Nigel Dickens, Mina Enayati-Uzeta, Estro Gonzalez, Galia Housepian, Kyle Jonke, Ananya Katappagari, Nikoletta Kish, Mahima Kodavati, Emerson Lee, Kara Lee, Farah Malla, Elizabeth Marcou, Piper Mills, Vanessa Morales, Angelina Poghosian, Caressa Renna, Sasha Reynolds, Harrison Rothacher, Jane Shin, Emeline Singband, Mackenzie Smith, Mia Struck, Sarah Tominaga, and Alyssa Tong!

I'll get to the announcement of the top writers and runners up in a minute, but first we'd like to share some details with you:

Anarda and I spent a lot of time reading and rereading your stories, and considering their merits. We'd like to say, first, that everyone took a creative approach, and all the stories featured something memorable. (We would also like to encourage you to work on improving your spelling, punctuation, and grammar!)

For the first round of eliminations, we used our basic criteria:

First, five or six of you wrote stories that were not fairy tales. We used an extremely loose interpretation, but even so, science fiction or mystery stories, no matter how well written or told, did not qualify for this contest. So even though some of these stories were cute, clever, fun, and entertaining, we had to say no.

Second, the rules were plainly stated: The story was to be no fewer than four pages and no more than six pages long, in 12 point type, double-spaced. We had a few that were between one and three pages (in very large type), and two that were nine or ten pages (in really teensy type!). Again, we eliminated you. I can hear the wails of "but I couldn't tell my story in that short a length!" or "I said everything I had to say!" but if you enter a story contest in a magazine and they give you a page length or a number of words you have to hit and you don’t, they will disqualify you without even reading the story. We did read your stories, and we did enjoy and appreciate them, but we had to abide by the rules we ourselves set.

And now…

Our three top writers, in alphabetical order:

Alex Avakian, for "The Old Man's Journey"
The writing was consistent. We loved the use of the props the old man brought, and that he used kindness and trickery rather than violence to gain his objective. It was a great quest story.

Angus Bailey, for "Captain Rack and the Tin Match Box"
This was an imaginative, creative, and humorous true retelling of a traditional tale. The writing was consistent, the grammar was good, and the details were great.

Harrison Rothacher, for "Numochucho and the Three Fairy Dust Pixy Keys"
This story had a wonderful "voice." All the characters were distinct, and we liked the creation of a special way of speaking for the goat. It was hilarious and original.

These three writers each received $25 gift cards to Barnes and Noble bookstore.

Our five runners up, in alphabetical order:

Amy Berberyan, for "The Tower"
For a different viewpoint, good details, and a great dragon.

Nigel Dickens, for "Impiorum: The Wicked Backstory"
This was a dark, interesting twist on a Rumpelstiltskin retelling, with a lot of tension and suspense.

Ananya Katappagari, for "Promises, Paratroopers and Pigs"
The story incorporated traditional elements of classic fairy tales, but put a modern spin on them. We liked Ed and Edna.

Nikoletta Kish, for "Snow White"
The writing was strong, the changes in the story were effective, and Snow White grows into a person who makes better choices!

Kara Lee, untitled
This story was quirky, with great language and naming, and a fairy tale-like moral choice at the end.

These five writers each received
$10 iTunes gift cards.

We also had a small gift for each of the remaining 29 writers. Those who were not at our awards ceremony at Book Cafe to receive it, you can pick up your gift at either the Buena Vista or the Central Library, from Anarda or Melissa, Monday through Wednesday of this coming week!

Here are some elements we enjoyed from the stories that did NOT ultimately win a prize, which Anarda has set to rhyme (more or less):

An embarrassment of Riches,
That’s what we thought,
When we received all this plenty, 37 at last count!

While we laughed and sighed over them,
chuckled and grimaced, 
Corrected much grammar, yet loving the stories,
We realized sadly, and this you will know,
Some will be “winners,” and some…a little less so.
But “a little less so” is no small trifle.
Your creativity flowering
On these pages was considerable.
How best to honor you all?
That was our dilemma.
So here, very briefly,
Is our paean to you,
In gratitude and awe,
For the fine writing you did,
And will continue to do.

Starting with a Mermaid, dangerous and Fey,
Too short of a tale, alas, but exquisitely made.

A girl and a bird—or Beastess, as she’s called,
By angry villagers who want her to fall,
A novel in the making?
Yes, please, we implore!

Prince Charming appeared twice—and what a character,
But each time he was a LOUSE,
And required an “exterminator”!

Snow White, too, was a popular girl
In one she is Greek, with a long tale to tell,
And I can’t wait to observe the story unfurl,
I’ll bide my time impatiently for a publisher
To reveal this perfect pearl.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
So many retellings,
In one she is maddened by her husband’s excesses!
In another she is a schemer and victim of a murderess!

A boy as a Cinder wins a queen Cinderella,
Besting his step-bros with help from his mini-mouseketeeras;

A cold-hearted Princess learns that stealing hearts is a danger,
For her, for the Prince, for her hopes for hereafter!

And then there’s Prince Harvey, not known for his brains,
But brave, and adventurous, and blessed with odd friends.

Jason is another lucky one,
With shape-shifting buddies,
A runaway Princess lends spice to the story!

Bullies become friends in Nobody’s Tale,
And Sea-Monsters are whacked into Apples,
By friends who never fail.

There was a story about orphan Gray,
A boy with magic goodness, or that’s what they say,
And Time Machines feature
In a tale not quite Fae, but it’s fun, an Adventure!
What more can I say?

What of the tale of a Creator, whose death would bring the End,
So the Creator became Forgetful, and had an Adventure instead!

The power of weak over strong is evident in Avidyle,
Where an old man with a loving heart
Leads a kingdom against the vile.

And when we hold our contest for the writing of NOIR,
Do enter your story (you know who you are);

Ditto for a dystopian Burbank and mice,
a novel I think,
This prelude scared me—it was really quite nice!

I’m longing to join the TDTBT, full of intrigue and flutters,
And unreliable snarky narrators!

Poor Mad Hatter, that story’s really not fair!
And PC Monitors that host best friends—but where???

We love Ninja Grandmas who fight feisty Bad Wolves
With the help of granddaughters too sweet for their own good;

Another wolf is sheltered by a loving grandmother
Who teaches the young “hood” to love ALL of nature.

There was Joy who was gently romanced by a Prince,
but only after she found her strength combatting a Witch;

And a wicked Priest and mad Painter,
men who pushed a daughter away,
Only for her to find out it was her Mother,
Heartless Faerie Queen! who had led her astray;

Another Faerie Queen Mother appears, in a retold Bard play,
With whom playwright Omega is happy to stay;

Disobedient Lily’s story is a sad one,
A cautionary tale of a village full of woe,
As parents leave their hearts behind,
Their children sleeping forever more;

But Lilith’s story is the happy flip side,
Over riches and toys,
Offered by a Lonely Tree Boy,
She chooses Family and Kin,
And to listen Within.

And, if there’s a Point to this long, shambling verse,
An embarrassment of Riches,
That’s how we think of you first!

Thanks again for participating in our story writing contest! Congratulations to all who wrote!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Contest Entries, Book Cafe!

We are so pleased to tell you that we received 37 entries for our "Once Upon A Time" Re-told Fairy Tale Writing Contest! We have downloaded and printed out, or copied and distributed, all stories, and now Burbank Library staff will be reading your stories and choosing the writers whose stories we felt stood out from the rest!

Remember that the results will be announced this Thursday, November 19, at our BOOK CAFE with CORNELIA FUNKE, and that Cornelia herself will hand out the prizes!

What could be better than hanging with your friends, talking about books and eating coffee house treats, meeting Cornelia Funke, and then maybe getting an award from this stellar author of so many best beloved books for children and teens?

Cornelia is coming to talk with us about her new book in the Mirrorworld series. The Golden Yarn is book #3, after Reckless and Fearless. We are very excited to be the venue at which she is debuting this book! Many of us have read the first two books and have been eagerly awaiting book #3, and now it's coming to Burbank Public Library first of anywhere!

We hope you will do your best to attend this session of Book Cafe with Cornelia. Please be aware that this program is for teens in grades 6-12 only, per Cornelia's request. It's at 7:00 p.m. at the Buena Vista Branch, in the auditorium. See you there?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

What we're reading: Adult fiction appealing to teens

Although I found Canary, by Duane Swierczynski, on the adult New Fiction shelf, after reading it all I could think was that someone should nominate it for an Alex Award, because it's also the kind of book I think high school teens or "new adults" would love. (Please note that there are mature themes, so high school and college are the appropriate ages to read this.)  It reminded me of The Lock Artist, by Steve Hamilton, one of my Alex Award-winning faves that was also highly rated by high school book club.

Sarie Holland is a 17-year-old honors student in her first year of community college. She has so far avoided the "party hearty" habit of most freshmen, instead working on keeping up her grades and hanging out with her dad, who hasn't been the same since her mom died. But towards the end of the semester, she is persuaded into attending a party, where she makes a connection with D., a charismatic guy she has admired from afar. When he asks her for a lift home, even though it's way out of her way, she says yes; then he asks if she can make a stop along the way, so he can "pick up a book from a friend." She realizes that he's actually using her to make a drug run, but by the time she figures this out, he has taken off, leaving his drugs in her car to be discovered by a lurking policeman. She is (foolishly) loyal to D., so she refuses to give him up; the cop, a Philadelphia narcotics officer named Ben Wildey, is looking to bust somebody higher up the chain, and thinks if he can keep his claws in her and threaten prosecution (five years for possession), she'll rat out her "boyfriend," who will lead him to bigger players. Instead, Sarie turns herself into the perfect Confidential Informant (C.I.) by scouring Philly to find alternate people from the drug trade to sacrifice to Wildey. As he continues to hound her, she lets her desperation make her take risky chances that bring her to the attention of all the wrong people...

Some of the events of this book are so crazy that you find yourself saying "C'mon! Really?" as you read it. And yet, it's so well plotted, with such a fresh voice, that you keep reading anyway. It has multiple points of view done well, lots of twisty turns in the plot, and an explosive, unexpected ending--a real page-turner!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Book Club Report

Eighteen of our 20 members attended the November meeting of the 6+7 Book Club Tuesday night, to discuss Maile Meloy's fantasy, The Apothecary. The majority of club members were big fans of this book, and plan to read the sequels. In fact, there were only two people who gave a score below 8 when we rated it, resulting in an overall rating of 8.5. Positive aspects of the book: the creativity, the romance, the characters. Not so positive: historical inaccuracies (which we pointed out only holds true if you consider this magical realism, rather than alternative history!), and the ending, about which many were outraged.

We had a lively debate about what books to include in our list to vote on for January, which included new nominations as well as a raft of leftover suggestions from last month. The ultimate winner was Sylo, by D. J. MacHale. And in February, we will read The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor, in preparation for his February 11 visit!

Other books we considered:

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, by Ally Carter
Heist Society, by Ally Carter
I Am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore
Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel

Our next meeting is on December 8th, when we will discuss Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


A reminder that you have until TODAY at 5:00 p.m. to turn in your “retold fairy tale” story! So if you’re done but haven’t sent it, do it today! If you’re polishing it one final time, don’t procrastinate! We look forward to seeing what you have written!

Email it to, or drop it off at any Reference Desk BEFORE 5:00!

And remember: We will announce the top writers at BOOK CAFÉ with CORNELIA FUNKE, next Thursday night! Don’t miss that!

7:00 p.m. at Buena Vista Branch in the auditorium

Book-talking, coffee house treats, CORNELIA FUNKE!

She’s bringing/talking about the NEW BOOK in the Mirrorworld series,

The Golden Yarn.

(This program is for TEENS ONLY! Grades 6-12!)