Saturday, February 6, 2016

10-12 Book Club Report

Twelve of our 20 were in attendance to discuss Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Turns out, though, that there wasn't much discussion, because people seemed to love it unreservedly. They were fans of the clever puns, the mad characters, and the twists of plot, and the final rating was a high 8.5.

We did discover something amusing--I had checked the hardcover book out of the library, and noticed that at the bottom of the cover, it says "CIES OF AGNES NUTTER, WITCH." Was it a mistake? What happened to the rest? No, turns out the publisher printed two covers for this book--one with the angel on the cover and one with the devil--and split the subtitle, "The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch" in two (the first half says 'THE NICE AND ACCURATE PROPH"), so that half was on the one and half was on the other. We puzzled over whether they thought this would cause people to buy the book twice, one with each cover, in order to reunite the subtitle, and concluded that only collectors would do so.

After handing out the book for next month (The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller), we took a little more time than usual to discuss the books from which we would select our April reading, and the final vote was close, the result being Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, winner of both the Stonewall Book Award and the Pura Belpre.

Other books we considered included (in descending order according to number of votes):

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Lock In, by John Scalzi
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
Room, by Emma Donoghue
I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
The Fifth Wave, by Rick Yancey
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
Proxy, by Alex London
Where the Stars Still Shine, by Trish Doller

Our next meeting is on Tuesday, March 1. Those who missed this meeting can pick up their book at Central or Buena Vista Circulation desks.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Teen review: The Martian

The Martian
by Andy Weir
369 Pages
Science Fiction

Reviewed by Michael Zhang, Grade 12

One of my favorite science fiction novels in recent memory, Andy Weir’s The Martian is a riveting tale of survival and perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds in an inhospitable environment. Recently adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film, The Martian tells the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut and botanist trapped on Mars after an accident during a deadly dust storm led to his crew leaving him for dead. Mark must learn how to survive and thrive on a planet where life doesn’t exist.

The novel is a delight, timely and relevant in every way, as we experience Mark’s successes and failures through his own eyes. What’s particularly fascinating to me about this book is how well researched it is, with scientifically accurate facts and references to real life events in the book. In fact, as far as I know, the only implausible element of the book lies in the dust storm that leads to Mark being stranded on Mars in the first place.

I really enjoyed this novel, and I would give it 5/5 stars. It’s a highly enjoyable book that evokes the feel of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The cover is also captivating, and evokes the imagery of the novel, both the original cover as well as the film release’s cover. I’d recommend it for reading by any middle or high school student.

Editor's note: We read The Martian, a 2015 Alex Award-winner, for 10-12 Book Club and enjoyed it every bit as much as Michael did. Here is my mini-review. I would caution for younger readers, however, that if you are offended by swearing, there's a fair bit of it. Well, wouldn't you swear a lot if you were in Mark Watney's situation? C'mon!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Teen review: End of the trilogy

Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil
by Drew Karpyshyn
296 Pages
Science Fiction/Fantasy
Part of the Star Wars: Legends continuity of novels, Darth Bane Trilogy
Reviewed by Michael Zhang, Grade 12

Dynasty of Evil is the final chapter of the Darth Bane Trilogy by Drew Karpyshyn. It concludes the story of Darth Bane and Darth Zannah, two Sith Lords who would represent the eventual evolution of the antagonists of the Star Wars universe. Taking us to new planets never before seen in the Star Wars universe, like Doan, and returning us to older planets steeped in lore such as Ambria, Dynasty of Evil is the epic conclusion to the novel trilogy that first introduced us to Darth Bane.

Following 10 years after Rule of Two. Bane is now a wiser, and more powerful Sith Lord, though his age is beginning to impair him, and Zannah is now a fully realized Sith Lord. Bane fears that his apprentice may never rise to challenge him, so he begins to look for a new apprentice, while Zannah prepares to exact vengeance on her master for doubting her abilities, setting in motion the eventual showdown of these two characters. Now equally matched, both Master and Apprentice must duel to the death, even as a figure from Bane’s past returns to haunt him.

The cover is an accurate reflection of the novel, and showcases both of the main characters. Though I feel like it doesn’t hint too much at the plot, it’s nevertheless altogether passable.

I’d rate this novel 3/5 stars. While it’s relatively readable and entertaining, I felt that it left a significant amount to be desired in the finale of such an enjoyable and pivotal story line in the Star Wars canon. However, I feel that those who read the first two books will enjoy the references to prior novels and will want to see these two characters to the end.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Teen review: Introducing Darth Zannah

Darth Bane: Rule of Two
by Drew Karpyshyn
318 Pages
Science Fiction/Fantasy
Part of the Star Wars: Legends continuity of novels, Darth Bane Trilogy

Reviewed by Michael Zhang, Grade 12

In Rule of Two, set 10 years after the first book in the Darth Bane Trilogy, we find Bane as an impulsive, enraged, and powerful villain, in the prime of his life. Whereas the Bane in the first novel, Path of Destruction, was developing as a character into the villain we suspect he becomes, Bane in Rule of Two is a scheming, devious villain, a Master of the Dark Side, and like every Master of the Dark Side of the Force, Bane has an apprentice.

Darth Zannah is the exact opposite of the physical powerhouse that is Bane, eschewing the brute force of her Master for a more arcane approach to power, favoring the dominion of the mind and psyche over the power of the physical self. Serving as a perfect complement to her Master, they wield opposite spectrums of the Force to great effect. We see much of the novel from Zannah’s eyes, and she emerges as a strong female protagonist, never needing to be saved by her Master, and approaching, or even exceeding, his power in several instances.

I liked this novel a lot, even more than Path of Destruction. It’s a worthy sequel, and Karpyshyn significantly improves on his prose. A standout part of the book is the epic battle scenes, and while I’ve avoided plot details in much of my review, I will say that the climax of the novel is not to be missed.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Teen review: Darth Bane!

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction
by Drew Karpyshyn
324 Pages
Science Fiction/Fantasy
Part of the Star Wars: Legends continuity of novels, Darth Bane Trilog

Book review by Michael Zhang, Grade 12

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction is a science fiction and fantasy novel in the Star Wars: Legends continuity of novels and books, set more than a thousand years before the events of the Star Wars films. The first in a trilogy, it follows the origin story of Darth Bane, a major character in the Star Wars canon who goes on to become the founder of the modern Sith Order as we know them in the movies.

The book follows Bane, or as he is named when we first encounter him in the novel, Dessel. We get to see his rise from a metal miner and smelter into the legendary figure that he becomes in Star Wars lore. It’s a worthy beginning, and tells the story of “rags to riches” in an interesting and riveting way. Karpyshyn is great with mysticism, bringing a lot of his skill as a fantasy and video game writer into describing riveting fight scenes, esoteric and mystical powers, as well as providing great fan service for those who are big fans of the Star Wars lore. Bane in particular is the dream antihero. He’s physically powerful, yet knowledgable and in no way a brute. We see everything from his eyes, and we get to see him grow from his mistakes, learn about his powers and abilities as he becomes the founder of the villainous order, filling in some of the rich history that is only hinted at in the movie saga.

Overall, I’d rate this novel a 4/5. I loved the battles and the rich descriptive text, as well as the cameos and fan service the novel offers. The only thing that prevents me from giving it another star is that I felt that the writing quality wasn’t quite on the level of other authors such as James Luceno. I feel that Karpyshyn’s prose is just a smidgen off the mark, but that’s in no way indicative of me disliking the novel, just a minor nitpick.