Saturday, May 9, 2015

Guest blog: A fantasy sequel

In The Winner’s Cursethe first book in The Winner’s Trilogy (here is Anarda's review), author Marie Rutkoski introduced readers to Lady Kestrel, daughter and only child of General Trajan of the Valorian army, and Arin, the Herrani slave Kestral impulsively purchased at auction. Theirs is a rocky relationship from the start, a dance that challenges them to examine truths they each hold firmly. Each alternates in leading the dance, sometimes in spite of the titles of slave, master, prisoner or incarcerator. In The Winner’s Crime, that dance continues as the stakes grow and the penalties for failure become deadly.

To end the Valorian Empire's war with Harran, Kestrel has agreed to marry Verex, the Emperor’s son. She did this to save Arin’s life, as well as those of hundreds of Valorian and Herrani soldiers. While Kestrel longs to tell Arin why she has chosen the life she now lives, she worries about his reaction. Arin looks at Kestrel’s engagement and sees another well-orchestrated and executed power play. But he also sees what others don't: that despite the façade she presents, she is unhappy. He has also noticed that she has stopped playing her music. In spite of (or possibly because of) how well they know one another, neither fully trusts the other.

The palace courtiers still whisper about Lady Kestrel and the slave for whom she fought a duel and who has become the Herrani Governor. While most of the whispers at court are meaningless gossip, Kestrel begins to hear things that--under her keen strategic intellect--fall together, take shape and yield important information. She may have uncovered something that could destroy the new Herrani state. But whom can she trust? Whom can she tell? Is Kestrel prepared to commit treason?

In this second book in the series, Rutkoski increases the cast of characters, introducing new ones and developing existing ones. She also introduces another culture within the world she has built that is every bit as compelling as the Valorians and the Herrani. The intrigues are fascinating and the characters are captivating. And Rutokoski's descriptions of the world she has built, so close to our own and yet incredibly different, are lush and evocative.

Like its predecessor, The Winner's Crime is a frustrating book. While it is clear that Kestrel and Arin could, and would, make each other happier than they have ever been, everything seems stacked against them, from the societies that surround them to their own honorable ideals.

There is no publicized release date for the third and final installment in this series.

Reviewed by Daryl M., reference librarian

Friday, May 8, 2015

Teen review: Historical fiction

Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, is a young adult novel* that will keep you wanting more. This 1997 historical fiction novel follows the story of W. P. Inman and Ada Monroe as the point of view switches between chapters. Inman is a wounded deserter who is fighting as a Confederate soldier in the American Civil War. Ada, who is the love of his life, is waiting for W.P. on her farm in his home town of Cold Mountain. The 356-page novel won the National Book Award for Fiction and I would recommend this book to those at a high school reading level. Even though I obviously wasn’t alive during the time in which the book is set, everything seems very historically accurate. Additionally, the hard times faced during such a brutal war are made up for by a beautiful love story creating a perfect balance of love and loss.

*Editor's note: While we agree that this is a riveting novel, and that it may be suitable for young adults--and in fact does appear on some high school reading lists--this book was written for adults and is shelved in the adult fiction section at Burbank Public Library. We also have the DVD of the movie made from the book.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Teen review: Jellicoe

On the Jellicoe Road is a riveting young adult novel written in 2006 by Melina Marchetta. The novel follows the story of Taylor Lily Markham who was unfortunately abandoned by her parents as a young child. As she grows up, her guardian Hannah is the only one who really seems to care for her until one day when Hannah simply disappears.

This 432-page novel won the Michael L. Printz award for excellence in young adult literature. During reading the novel, I was reminded to be grateful for living the life I have. Taylor’s struggles, although difficult, are enlightening in the end.

The reading level for this book would be high school because of some mature content. On the Jellicoe Road will be a great addition for any summer reading list and I would highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Mallorey W., grade 9

Editor's note: Although the broad classification would be realistic fiction, you could call this one of the "boarding school genre" books, and also a mystery and a coming of age novel! Melina Marchetta is a versatile writer, with several realistic fiction novels and also a fantasy trilogy. Try some of them!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What we're reading: Circus!

Girl on a Wire, by Gwenda Bond
386 pages
Fantasy / mystery / realistic
Reading level: 13 and up

Many or most circus books seem to start with someone running away. This one is no exception, but Julieta Maroni is already a circus performer, and she's running away to make an impression on the rest of her family. She believes her father, the best wire walker in the world, is passing up the opportunity of a lifetime by refusing to join the giant Cirque American because of a decades-old feud between the Maronis and the Flying Garcias, and with this gesture she manages to make him change his mind, despite her grandmother's vehement objections. The stage is thus set for hidden agendas, sneaky vendettas, and star-crossed love fueled by tragedy. (Yes, the protagonists' names are Romeo, called Remy, and Julieta, called Jules. I know...but go with it.)

My dithering about what genre label to paste on it comes from the book itself--there is a firm belief by several characters in the power of superstition and the ability to perform magic that required the fantasy label, while the mystery of who was trying to sabotage the return of the Maronis to the Big Top and the contemporary setting of the story mandated including "mystery" and "realistic" as well.

This is not my favorite from an admitted obsession with circus books (that would have to be A Stranger at Wildings, otherwise titled Kirkby's Changeling, by Madeleine Brent), but I did enjoy it. There were a few awkward, clunky moments and some missed opportunities to be better than it was, and I felt like the suspense was maintained so long that the ultimate payoff fell a little flat. But the descriptions of the performances on the high wire and trapezes were completely engaging, as were Jules and Remy (and Sam and Dita) as the young protagonists bent on solving the mystery and uniting the families--and at the end of the day, who doesn't love a book about the circus?

I also liked that it featured an historical figure who actually did what the fictional character emulates in this book--Bird Millman, who was an extraordinary high-wire artist, performing with several prominent circus acts (Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey) in the 1920s.

Bird Millman walks a wire above Chicago, 1922.

I wrote a piece about circus books for our main library blog back in 2013 when I had just finished reading another YA circus book (That Time I Joined the Circus, by J. J. Howard) that mentions a lot of other titles you might enjoy if this sub-subgenre is also one of your favorites. Rather than re-blogging it here, I will just provide a link. Check it out for many more circus-based tales!

(BPL also has this as an audio book if you'd rather listen.)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Teen review: Finding John Green

Looking for Alaska is John Green’s first novel and arguably his most life-like novel to date. John Green’s mastery of the written word is shown in full in Looking for Alaska because not only does he cram humor and emotion into each of the 221 pages in his novel, but he does so in the exceptionally talented way of misleading the reader into a false sense of security and then shattering that security with a single word spoken with such realness that instead of reading a fiction novel, it feels like reading a biography.

This book is a young adult novel and because of the inclusion of coarse language this book might be better suited for a freshman (like me) through senior reading level. It is, however, an incredibly easy and interesting read.

In the novel, the very unsocial Miles Halter (nicknamed Pudge) transfers to a private school in Alabama. Pudge is obsessed with the last words of famous people. Alaska Young is described as the “hottest girl ever,” and she, Miles, and their other friends, The Colonel and Takumi try to get through high school. Every character is so in depth that it feels real. Everything is great for a short while and Pudge even gets his first girlfriend, but then the tragedy strikes. The cover of the book is of a black background with smoke in front of it. The first time I saw this background I immediately thought that the smoke was cigarette smoke, but it turns out that the smoke is from a candle.

I would rate this book at a solid 5 simply because it is pure literary genius. This novel is smart, witty, funny, sad, tragic, and so well thought out that it actually does feel like a work of art. It feels like a piece of art that needs to be titled “ The Great Perhaps.”

Reviewed by Basil, grade 9

Editor's note: As much as you all love the books of John Green, there is a lot more to him. Check out his biography, which will lead you to all his YouTube ventures, individually and with his brother, Hank. He's a pretty cool guy!