Friday, September 12, 2014

What we're reading: Sequel

I was lucky enough to have a librarian friend who went to the American Library Association convention this summer and brought home a bunch of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies)--for me! Yep, half a dozen YA titles not due out for months--such riches! I am sorry to say I haven't had time to read all of them yet, but the one I was most looking forward to was finally up this past weekend. That was Sinner, by Maggie Stiefvater, which is the fourth book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, and it took me so long to get around to it that it released in the meantime, and we now have it available in the library! So you can read it, too!

That series was a trilogy (Shiver, Linger, Foreverfor a long time, but then she wrote this spin-off, which is about Isabel and Cole, off in Los Angeles--Isabel trying to survive her toxic family while fitting in with the pretty people, and Cole recreating himself as a musician by getting clean and sober and booking himself on a reality TV show that follows him around while he cuts a new album. But his real reason for coming to Los Angeles, says Cole, is to reunite with Isabel. Wistful sigh. There are so many things that could go wrong between them, not the least of which is Isabel's severe lack of trust and, well, Cole's tendency to turn into a wolf. Yes, I mean literally. But there are so many things that could go right, too...

I really liked this book. Maggie did such a good job of projecting Cole's and Isabel's dynamic personalities onto the page that I expected to go online, look up, and see the whole reality TV thing about their lives play out like Big Brother. (If you DO go to that website, there's a nice surprise waiting for you...)

It's been a loooong time (with many books between) since I read the trilogy, and although there were a few points at which I wish I had dipped back in to remind myself of things, this book mostly stood on its own without a refresher. So if you have NOT read the trilogy you might still enjoy the book quite a lot...but I think the back story is still essential. You need to know who these people were to understand the significance of who they are and who they want to be. I think I liked this book even better than the series, in some ways, because it was about two of the edgiest, most charismatic characters, and of course it was set in Los Angeles, which gives it an added something for we Angelenos!

Good one, Maggie! Now, on to Blue Lily, Lily Blue! Coming in October...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Club Report: 10-12

Tuesday night was the first meeting of the year of our newly configured 10-12 Book Club, which is now LARGE. We graduated four or five from last year’s club, but promoted a whopping 11 up from the 8+9 Club, and then added a couple of newbies. We feared it would be unwieldy, but perhaps it’s the perfect mix!

We had a civilized and wide-ranging discussion among the 21 (out of 28!) in attendance of Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A. S. King, which garnered everything from rave reviews to total pans. Those who enjoyed the book (four or five) empathized with Vera, her dad, and/or Charlie, while the others disliked Vera's passivity and Charlie's destructive behavior. But that was the point of the book, really--to illustrate that you shouldn't stand by and be ignored or, worse, ignore what’s going on around you and not act on what is right or wrong. Was Vera whiney or was she withholding? Was she stuck-up or was she simply smart and quiet? What you thought about Vera determined how you felt about the book. It was a good discussion! Everyone had something to say, and not everyone agreed with what others were saying, but no one got too riled up. The final verdict was a rating of 7 out of 10. (It was actually 6.9ish, so we rounded up.)

Next month’s book is The Butterfly Clues, by Kate Ellison. And after considering an eclectic array, the club chose More Than This, by Patrick Ness (don't you love the cover?), as the November book. (Some--including Anarda and I, who are enthusiastic fans--remember him fondly from reading his Chaos Walking series three years ago.)

Other books we considered and will keep on "the list" for future proposals (in no particular order):

The Sharp Time, by Mary O'Connell
The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reality Boy, by A. S. King
Noggin, by John Corey Whaley
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer

Those of you who missed, there are three copies of The Butterfly Clues currently available for pickup (one at Central, two at Buena Vista), and five more copies on order. We discovered last night while taking roll that three people we thought were 9th-graders and still had another year in the other club are actually sophomores and will be joining us! So if you don't get a copy right away, bear with us and we'll let you know when it comes in.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Club Begins!

Hey, book club peeps! We're starting up our meeting cycle for 2014-2015!

This coming Tuesday, September 9, is the first meeting of the 10-12 Book Club. We will be discussing Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A. S. King, and we will be receiving (for next month) The Butterfly Clues, by Kate Ellison.

The following Tuesday, September 16, is the first meeting of the 6+7 Book Club. We will be discussing Pendragon: The Merchant of Death, by D. J. MacHale, and we will be receiving (for next month) Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud. Please note that this month we will be meeting at Buena Vista branch, in the storytime room, due to a scheduling conflict, instead of at Central where we normally meet.

And the night after that--Wednesday, September 17--is the first meeting of the 8+9 Book Club. We will be discussing Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, and we will be deciding on next month's book at our meeting. (We didn't pick a second one because so few members were in attendance at our summer meeting, so we thought this would be more fair.)

A few reminders:

  1. If you are not able to attend the meeting, you MUST tell us ahead of time! Drop us an email, leave us a phone message.
  2. Remember our code of conduct for meetings: Listen when others speak. Don't talk over them. Don't hold side conversations. Be respectful.
Can't wait to see you all and hear your thoughts about the books! (Yeah, okay, and about your summer, your new school year, etc.)

Friday, September 5, 2014

What we're reading: Drama + ESP

Don't Even Think About It, by Sara Mlynowski

How would you describe this book? Gossip Girls meets paranormal fiction? Some New York high school sophomores get their annual flu shot, and apparently it's a bad batch with an unexpected outcome: A day later, they can read minds. The phenomenon has a few limitations--they have to be in pretty close proximity, and you can block them by putting somebody else's head (or a wall) between you--but otherwise, everyone's thoughts--including each others', of course--are open to them.

It's a great title, and a fun idea--think of all the possibilities! If you could read the minds of those around you, what would you do? How would you use your special powers? (and would you use them for good or evil???) But...although the story was cute and fun, and using the side effects from vaccinations was a clever premise (given all the stuff in the news about this), it was also predictable, and a little bit silly. It's not a bad book, could have been a lot better.

First of all, these characters are supposed to be in high school, but a lot of their interactions and dialogue read more like immature middle schoolers (especially considering they are New York high-schoolers, presumably more sophisticated than most), so the voices didn't ring true for me.

Second, they are all so completely self-obsessed!!! Nothing intrudes into their worlds other than their own singular angsty drama. Granted, having ESP would take some getting used to, some settling in, some probing of the boundaries, but…we never see them out in the world reacting to the thoughts of non-related others--it's all about themselves. Does he like me? Oh no, now I know for sure. Are they judging me? No, I'm not even on their radar, which makes me happy and sad at the same time. Oh boy, if I sit next to the smart guy, I can get all the right answers on the test! Wow! It would have made the phenomenon much more interesting if they had, say, encountered and outed people with nefarious plans, or eavesdropped on the local politico to see if he was sincere or something.

Perhaps (I would really like this) the author has plans to broaden the canvas in the sequel? These characters would be a lot more interesting as telepathic crime-fighters (in their after-school hours), for instance, than they are as the insular gossip-obsessed clique we saw in this book. I'll check back when/if it comes out.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Teen blog: Series

Dark Triumph
by Robin LaFevers
385 pages

Second in the "His Fair Assassin" trilogy
High school reading level

Reviewed by Farah M., college girl!
When Sybella arrived on the doorstep of St. Mortain half mad with grief and despair, the convent sisters were only too happy to offer her refuge--but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons. However, her assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father's rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother's love is equally so. But when Sybella finds an unexpected ally, she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for.

After reading the first book, Grave Mercy, I had high expectations of this book and I wasn’t disappointed. What I loved was that this book wasn’t about Ismae but about Sybella and her story. This surpassed the expectations I had held after reading Grave Mercy, since I wasn’t as attached to Ismae as I am to Sybella. She’s a strong assassin and woman who needs to discover her heart while away from her tyrant of a father. And discover it she does. Along her journey, there are those who follow her who worm their way into her heart and aide her in her acceptance. The language used for both novels was also amazing; it was exciting reading a text that wasn’t common English. Like any book, Dark Triumph has a set of characters you will grow to love and hate, who will take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions on every page and chapter.

I highly recommend this book, along with the first book, Grave Mercy. I found them both to be entertaining to read and unique each in its own way. It is also beneficial that these two books don’t necessarily need to be read in order, because each book is based on a different character. However, I know some people would think otherwise and it’s enjoyable either way. Make sure to look out for LaFever’s third installment, releasing on November 4th. It's called Mortal Heart, and is written from Annith’s perspective.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Teen review: Coming of age

Reviewed by Melody, grade 11

Winger, by Andrew Smith, is a young adult book portraying the journey of growing up, being a rebellious teenage boy, and surviving all the confusion that comes with it. The main character, Ryan Dean West, resides at a boarding school where he is two years younger than everyone else in his grade. Not only is he the youngest, but he is also the smallest on the rugby team, which evidently leads to a certain amount of bullying. However, this school year he decides things will be different. His self-doubt won’t stop him from being determined to convince his best friend Annie that he is no longer the “little boy” she’s always considered him to be. Nonetheless, he realizes his careless mistakes will make convincing Annie that they are meant for one another much harder than he thought. As if this wasn’t difficult enough, he must survive being roommates with his biggest bully. Ryan Dean West will take “go big or go home” to a whole other level. He will prove to his bullies how courageous he truly is, as well as to anyone else who decides to confront him. The book totals 439 pages and is not part of a series.

This story is pretty easy-going at first, but underneath all the jokes, there is tragedy and learning to live with the post heartache of it. I did not necessarily dislike this book, but I definitely didn’t love it. I fell somewhere in between. This book is mainly intended for a mature audience due to the fact that Ryan Dean gives his point of view through the eyes of a teen boy coming of age. This could be a little disturbing for young female readers. I personally could not relate to most of what Ryan Dean endured, so this is perhaps the main reason for my not loving it. I did constantly find myself anticipating what would happen next, which is always a pleasant component in a book, especially since many books contain foreseeable endings. In addition, there are comic strips included in the story, which portray more of Ryan Dean’s persona and make the story much funnier. However, my absolute favorite detail of this book is how accurately Ryan Dean’s character is interpreted. He acts exactly how an average teenage male his age would.

I would recommend this book to a mature teenage audience, someone who enjoys an honest yet funny story about being a real 14-year-old and how difficult yet exciting growing up can be. This book does contain language and actions that could be inappropriate for readers younger than high school level. I would rate this book a 3 out of 5 stars, only because I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. Nonetheless, this book is certainly worth reading, and the ending is a complete shocker!

Editor's note from Anarda: I will add my two cents' worth. First, I need to make a disclaimer: I am not a teenage boy, nor have I ever been a teenage boy, so I am placing myself in the hands of the author with the hope that he will enlighten me about young men coming to terms with their increasingly complex inner world. That said, Andrew Smith did connect me with the misery and self-deprecation, ,joyfulness and hope of Ryan Dean--and yes, Ryan Dean's exploits made me laugh and cringe. I agree with this reviewer that the book is intended for a high school audience, but I also think a lot of male and female readers out there will give this book an enthusiastic thumb's up. This was one of my favorite books of 2013, and I would recommend that those who enjoyed this book might want to check out King Dork by Frank Portman (and you thought you were the only one who hated Catcher in the Rye!). If you really want to go on a strange ride or two, Andrew Smith's The Marbury Lens and Passenger (DIRE, DARK, DISTURBING HORRORS, completely surreal and nothing like Winger--but I found them ultimately rewarding) and A.S. King's Reality Boy.

Monday, September 1, 2014

What we're reading: Realistic fiction?

I picked up Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian, read a few pages, put it down, and came back to it a few days later, because of a misunderstanding that I want to share with you, so you don't go there too! In the first chapter, the author refers to a part of Vermont as the "Northeast Kingdom," and since I had never heard anyone refer to it in this way, I mistakenly assumed that this was a dystopian novel set in the future when America had been broken up into kingdoms. Not so! Apparently this is a common nickname for a certain part of Vermont. I was reluctant to read yet another in the long line of dystopian tales (haven't dystopia gone the way of vampires yet???), so I put it off; but the prose was powerful enough to tempt me to come back to it after I finished the other two books I was planning to read, and then I figured it out.

But in a weird way, this IS a dystopian novel, in the sense that it takes place in the wake of a disaster, and new lives have to be constructed. It is about one 17-year-old girl who is the daughter of a Vermont nuclear power plant engineer. He gets the blame for a reactor meltdown that turns 30 square miles of the state into a radioactive wasteland (there are rumors that he was drunk at the time of the accident), and she experiences, pardon the pun, the fallout. Her mother also worked at the plant and was present when the explosion took place, so in one moment Emily becomes an orphan and is simultaneously homeless (forcibly evacuated from the contaminated zone), and notorious for being the daughter of the most hated people in Vermont. The book does not take place in the future: It is realistic, it is present-day, and it is chilling.

Emily's story is told in first person in a disjointed, random style, and shows so clearly how one person can create a story from her own self-involvement that may be largely untrue but that makes perfect sense in the light of her incomplete information. It highlights the tragedy of how young people's lives can just fall through the cracks of our society, and no one notices or cares, or if they do, it's not enough. It highlights the courage (and foolhardiness) that street kids must have in order to survive.

It also shows (for me) that allowing any part of our energy strategy to rely on nuclear power is sheer insanity.

Finally, the book showcases the brilliance of Chris Bohjalian's prose, characterization, and storytelling skills. This is somehow the first book of his that I have read (which is surprising, considering he's written 18 others!), but it definitely won't be the last.

I am reviewing it here because although it is being marketed as an adult book, I think older teens would be enthralled by it. I hope that someone thinks to nominate Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands for the Alex Award this year--it's the perfect candidate. You can find it on the New Book Shelves at all three libraries.

(Recall that the Alex Awards are given yearly by the American Library Association to 10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Guest blog: The Grisha Trilogy

Trilogies, or any multi-volume story-telling, can be tricky. No matter how good the first book, readers can lose “reading momentum” in the wait between volumes and/or dislike the developments in the middle books, and never read through to the conclusion. Or, the alternative can happen: Readers will love the material so much that their expectations will dwarf anything the writer can accomplish, leaving them disappointed (at best) with the resolution. And then there are the exceptions--stories that grab you from the very beginning, build with each volume, and end with a satisfying conclusion.
The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo is the latter for me. The trilogy began with Shadow and Bone, which was followed up by Siege and Storm. The final book in the trilogy, Ruin and Rising, is almost a textbook example of how an author should end a trilogy.

Alina Starkov, the long-awaited “Sun-Summoner,” has survived her latest encounter with the Darkling and his nichevo'ya, the Darkling’s “shadow warriors," but just barely. As she recovers from the battle, hiding in the tunnels beneath Ravka with a small group of friends and allies, the Apparat has continued to promote her as "Sankta Alina," causing the numbers of her followers to swell. Alina, however, is impatient with inaction. She has become obsessed with the Firebird, the third amplifier for her power, and believes it to be the only avenue to pursue to defeat the Darkling, destroy the Fold, and reunite Ravka. Alina knows that finding the Firebird and securing the amplifier will be difficul and dangerous, but is scarcely prepared for what securing--and using--the third amplifier will cost her...

Ruin and Rising wraps up the issues raised in the earlier works, while providing new challenges, revelations, and character development. Every time you believe you have figured out how the story will progress and conclude, Bardugo deftly adds or reveals something that changes everything you thought you knew. And the last 100 pages of the book are simply too good to put down. Ruin and Rising is a roller-coaster ride of a novel, in the company of all the friends and enemies you'd met earlier in the journey and come to love, hate, or love to hate!

Reviewed by Daryl M., reference librarian

Editor's note: I was happily surprised by the conclusion to this trilogy. I liked the first book, but didn't enjoy the second nearly as much, mostly because Alina was all over the place with her feelings for three different men! But the third one wraps everything up beautifully, and is in every respect a satisfying conclusion. This makes me so happy after the slew of bad third books I have experienced! I agree with Daryl. And bravo, Leigh.

For those of you who are enjoying or have yet to read the trilogy, you will like Leigh Bardugo's website, with extra details about the world of the Grisha.