Friday, March 4, 2016

Teen Review: Lost Stars

Star Wars: Lost Stars
by Claudia Gray
551 Pages
Science Fiction/Fantasy
Part of the Journey to the Force Awakens
          group of novels

Reviewed by Michael Zhang, grade 12

Lost Stars is a young adult novel, part of the lead-up to the cinematic blockbuster event of 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Set during the events of the Original Trilogy of Star Wars movies that began with the first movie in 1977, the book follows two major characters: an upper class citizen named Thane, and his peasant best friend, Ciena Ree. The two characters are fast friends due to a mutual love for space, and they both enlist in the evil Galactic Empire’s Imperial Academy to become TIE fighter pilots, a dream they both desperately desire. However, when Thane experiences firsthand the horrific acts of the Galactic Empire, he defects to the Rebellion, placing the two friends at opposite sides of a galaxy-spanning war, leaving both characters to choose which they prize most: each other or the Empire.

The book was a riveting read, with many cameos and appearances from characters of the Original Star Wars trilogy. Genre-wise, it was a bit of a hodge-podge, combining romance, espionage, and space operatic action! The latter surprised me, as the space battles in the book were well fleshed out and developed. I also thought that it had great character development through the conflict between the two main characters, and I was rooted into the novel from cover to cover. While it claims to be a young adult novel, I feel that older audiences might still enjoy it, and any Star Wars fan would be immensely satisfied. The only reason I feel that someone might not like it is due to the lack of Force users in the book, as many seem to think that’s iconic to Star Wars; however, for me personally, that did not irk me.

The cover is also glorious, depicting a Star Destroyer burning up in the atmosphere of the desert planet Jakku, along with the Imperial insignia and the Rebel Alliance Starbird forming opposite ends of the cover, symbolizing the conflict between the two main characters.

I’d rate this book 4/5 stars. It was rambunctious with action and characters that you cared about whether they lived or died. I was glued to the page with attachment to the characters, and by the end, I couldn’t wait for more.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

10-12 Book Club Report

There were 14 members of 10-12 Book Club in attendance on Tuesday night to discuss The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller.

Anarda reports that most of the club thought that the author's language was beautiful--plain, but descriptive--and felt like the bit of Homer they had read in the past years in school, with the subtle repetitions and rhythms of the language. Julia marked up her copy of the book whenever she found a particularly moving passage, and commented that there were, in fact, a lot of mark ups in the book! The experience of reading the book was an immersion in the times.

All were appalled by the brutal, power-hungry men, and their treatment of the women as possessions more than as people. The consensus was that Achilles and Patroclus were the only good men! (although Odysseus wasn't that bad). Margaret talked about the revenge, death, and fate portrayed in the Greek plays, and the volatility of the gods. The battle scenes were admired, and the portrayal of girl children versus boy children was deemed terrible! Specific scenes were picked out and discussed for their depiction of social mores: Go to war and win prizes (gold, weapons, slaves) and gain glory...oh, and fulfill that oath you made years ago. There was some discomfort expressed about the love depicted between the two men, although the consensus seemed to be that the descriptions were subtle.

One book club member mentioned how she had loved so many of the books we had read as a club over the years, and virtually everyone concurred. It's nice to hear that confirmation.

The final rating of the book was an 8.5, with the spread being between 6 and 10.

For the month of April, we will read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz. And for May, our last month of book club this year, the club chose The Just City, by Jo Walton.

Other books we considered:

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out
          the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson
Ripper, by Stefan Petrucha
Proxy, by Alex London
Lock In, by John Scalzi
A Darker Shade of Magic, by Victoria Schwab
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery

Our next meeting is on Tuesday, April 5.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What we're reading: Jackaby

Sorry for the mysterious silence on this blog for five days; "someone" has been sick in bed and not thinking about anything except kleenex and tea. Before getting too sick to read (which, believe me, has to be sick indeed!), however, I did enjoy the book Jackaby, by William Ritter. I remember thinking, when I ordered it for the teen section, "Oh, this looks like fun!" and it was.

It starts out with the arrival on the docks of Miss Abigail Rook, late of England, and now to become a resident of New Fiddleham, New England (I don't remember a state being specified, but it sounds like any typical New England village or town). It's 1892, just to set things in context, which must be done in order to explain Miss Rook. The expectation of her parents was that she would either go to college (her father liked that idea) or she would settle down, get married, and get past her aversion to frills and furbelows (that was her mom's vision), but Abigail wasn't interested in either fate. So she stole the money set aside for her college fund, and set out to make a life.

Seeking gainful employment as soon as possible (the college fund having been quickly depleted), Miss Rook starts making the rounds of the town, and after many failures, she runs into R. F. Jackaby, private detective (of sorts), as he's about to do his thing at a crime scene. Curious and determined, she tags along and immediately gets caught up in the struggle between the police department's need to believe in logical, "regular" reasons for the brutal serial killings in their midst, and Jackaby's more creative theories. And since Abigail has a gift for noticing the kinds of things to which the police and Jackaby are oblivious, she is the perfect foil for them both.

As I said, I enjoyed reading this. I would like to note, however, that once again a publisher eager to capitalize on the fandoms of others has made a colossal mistake in publicizing this as "Sherlock Holmes meets Dr. Who." While I will agree that there is a bit of Holmesian wisdom that issues forth from Jackaby, and also that his proclivity for the weird and his refusal to ignore any possibility, however random, could remind one of the Doctor, that blurb probably brought down the Goodreads ratings by one to three stars by the many teens (and perhaps also adults!) who saw that, fastened onto it, and expected way too much.

It's a fun book. It's well researched, well written, the scene setting was good, the characters are in some cases quite fascinating, and the mystery, solved partly in collaboration with and partly in opposition to the police, was engaging. Why not let it stand on its own two feet and allow the reader to draw the conclusion about what detective it reminds them of?

For me, this book had sort of the same feel as the Lockwood & Co. books, by Jonathan Stroud, but perhaps for an older audience. They are quite different in their details, but they have in common the solving of mysteries by young and odd people, and are set in a world where the paranormal peeks through and says "gotcha!" every once in a while. If you liked those, you might try Jackaby.

The only problem I had with this book was that I figured out who the villain was fairly early, which was disappointing, because then I had to sit around waiting for everyone else to figure it out too. But that's a minor caveat to a positive review! Readable and entertaining.

Also, isn't that a great cover?

If you do like the book, Burbank Public Library also has the sequel, Beastly Bones. Also a nice cover. I do, however, have one more bone to pick with the publisher: Don't you hate it when they release an initial book under a particular name (such as Jackaby), and then all the other books in the series have to have a subtitle saying "A Jackaby Novel" so you know they're related? The publisher obviously knew (since the book clues you in at the end) that this wasn't a stand-alone novel, so why not start out as you mean to go on, and come up with a separate name for the first book from the name of the series? For instance, in the aforementioned Lockwood & Co. series, each book has its own discrete name (The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, The Hollow Boy, etc.), and then all of them have "Lockwood & Co." on them as well, so you know that they go together! Good job there.

And as long as I'm being a nag, could you possible NUMBER the books on the spine, so that those of us who shelve them in libraries and bookstores could not only shelve them in order, but also find the right one for the right reader?

Okay, I'm done. Thank you. Now go read Jackaby and tell me what you think.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Teen Review: Star Wars for Gamers

Star Wars, The Old Republic: Revan
by Drew Karpyshyn
298 Pages
Science Fiction/Fantasy
Part of the Star Wars: Legends continuity of novels and The Old Republic series of tie-in novels
Reviewed by Michael Zhang, Grade 12

In the Star Wars canon, there are few characters as enigmatic as Revan. A pivotal character in many games and other works in the Expanded Universe of Star Wars, Revan has been a personal favorite character of mine, and as a young kid, some of my favorite memories were playing through Star Wars games such as Knights of the Old Republic, so when I heard recently that the writer of KOTOR was doing a novel based on my favorite Star Wars character, I jumped at the chance to read it.

For those who are unfamiliar, the book follows Revan (go figure), a central character in the KOTOR games. In this tie-in novel to the MMORPG game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, we learn more about Revan’s history and legacy as both a Sith Lord and Jedi Master, and while I will keep details light in regards to plot details to avoid spoiling the games and the book, suffice it to say that Revan is totally awesome as a character.

As for the book itself, I enjoyed it a lot. It was a welcome chance for me to reconnect with the character that I had known so well in prior works, and it serves as a bridge between what happened in prior events, as well as the events to come. In particular, I really liked the interaction between Revan and his allies, as well as the tongue-in-cheek references to the original KOTOR game.

Overall, I’d rate it 4/5 stars. There’s no real flaw with the book, just that it’s really safe in a lot of ways, and doesn’t take as many risks as I would like. The cover is absolutely majestic, encapsulating the character perfectly, and unlike most books, I WOULD judge this book by its cover, simply because it’s absolutely beautiful. Finally, I’d also recommend playing through KOTOR and KOTOR 2 on PC or Mac, as while it’s an old game, it’s still a wonderful story with brilliant writing, and it’ll help maximize your enjoyment of this novel.