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.