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The Problem with Stories about Amnesia (Solved by Robert Glancy and Jason Bourne)

Wed, 2014-04-16 15:00

Anyone who cares about narrative, movies, or both should be reading Matt Bird’s Cockeyed Caravan blog. He spends most of his time there deconstructing the narrative structure of Hollywood movies and explaining how and why movies do (and don’t) work. But while he only discusses movies (and usually big-budget Hollywood ones at that), his insights are invaluable for anyone interested in the way narrative works in any kind of fiction. I’ve cited his ideas many times over on my personal blog and in conversations with other book lovers.

For the last week or so, he’s been looking at The Bourne Identity, which, aside from the spying and car chases, has a very similar underlying structure to Robert Glancy’s Terms & Conditions, reviewed below. As I say in my review, it’s a very well-worn amnesia plot, which Matt describes much better than I did in my review:

There are lots of movies in which the hero has some form of amnesia or memory-tampering, only to discover that, in the life he can’t remember, he was actually, gasp, one of the bad guys…But don’t worry, there’s still time to do the right thing!

The problem with this plot, Matt says, is that it doesn’t make much sense. Why would someone change into a “good guy” just because he gets amnesia?

The idea that, if we could start again with a clean slate, we’d all naturally choose to be nobly heroic action figures, even it means rejecting everyone from our past life (indeed, entering into a “kill or be killed” relationship with them) seems utterly vainglorious.

The Bourne Identity solves this dilemma by reversing the order of events: rather than Bourne’s amnesia causing him to become a “good guy”, it is a mental crisis over the fact that he’s a bad guy which causes his amnesia. Interestingly, Glancy’s novel uses the exact same technique.

Of course, since the revelation of this solution to the “amnesia problem” occurs at the end of both works, we need something to keep us occupied in the meantime. Bourne offers us thrills, and Glancy offers us laughs. His idea of using a lawyer who writes terms and conditions as his protagonist is nothing short of brilliant, as it leads to endless variations on the theme of terms and conditions, and endless footnotes to clarify (or sometimes muddy) the narrator’s thoughts. I wouldn’t say this is the most teen-friendly title we’ve reviewed here–the narrator is a bit older, and spends a lot of time thinking about his job and his marriage. But the humor alone, along with the search for identity should be more than enough to appeal to literate teens.

GLANCY, Robert. Terms & Conditions. 272p. Bloomsbury USA. Apr. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9781620406434; ebk. ISBN 9781620406441.

Glancy takes a relatively standard-issue amnesia story–a man loses his memory; he begins to regain memory; he realizes he doesn’t like the person he was before he lost his memory; and he takes the opportunity of his amnesia to become a better person, usually through a relationship with a woman. Glancy brings his story crackling to life with his quirky sense of humor and an ingeniously designed metaphor embodied in the novel’s title. The amnesiac is Frank, a contract lawyer who specialized in making contracts unbreakable (or breakable, depending on the client) through fine print—-those “terms and conditions” that no one reads. Much of Glancy’s humor resides in his own version of terms and conditions–hilarious footnotes, many of which go on for well over a page and often directly contradict the main text. Meanwhile, Frank’s slow path back to memory revolves around the mystery of what caused the “little episode” he had just before his car accident. The solution to that mystery brings to the fore the novel’s central theme: what is it that makes a man—his actions or his intentions? Frank’s answer to that question and his path to full personhood should resonate well with teens on their path to adulthood.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

Where the Dystopian Craze meets Literary Fiction

Mon, 2014-04-14 07:00

On Such a Full Sea was published in January, so we are a bit behind here. Truth be told, we did not receive a copy for review, nor did we assign the book to a reviewer. I mention this because it’s such a great example of two of the strengths of presenting book reviews in a blog format. One, we have a group of savvy reviewers behind us–AB4T is hardly just Mark and me talking about the books we’ve read. Two, the blog format allows us the flexibility to include a book we might have missed, at the last minute. Diane read On Such a Full Sea for her own pleasure, recognized its potential and recommended it for the blog. I love having smart librarians watching our backs!

Much like Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, On Such a Full Sea is a genre book by a writer known for the literary. You have probably heard of The Surrendered, Chang-Rae Lee’s last novel, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, which one of my English teacher colleagues named his favorite novel of 2010 but stopped short of recommending for the school library. Too dark. Too sad. How fortunate that we can now comfortably share the work of this extraordinary author with our readers.

Ron Charles of the Washington Post compares it to 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale and Fahrenheit 451, classics that reflect our society back at us in a guise that illuminates its faults in new ways.

Maureen Corrigan doesn’t show quite as much enthusiasm in her NPR review. She goes straight to a comparison with the most popular YA dystopian series, and declares Katniss much better company than Fan!

LEE, Chang-rae. On Such a Full Sea. 368p. Riverhead. Jan. 2014. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9781594486104.  

Sixteen-year-old Fan lives in harmony with the close-knit residents of B-More, a labor enclave that produces fish for wealthy consumers. She cares for the fish in her large tank with elegance, capable of staying underwater for seemingly impossible lengths of time, sensitive to the tiniest changes in their environment. She is in love with Reg, a tall boy who tends vegetables near her tank. Their love story is woven into the fabric of B-More as if it were shared by all—until the day that Reg disappears. This is when Fan becomes the heroine of B-More, the adventurer whose story is known and told again and again, by leaving their cloistered world and venturing into the unknown chaos beyond. No one has ever walked out before. But she must find Reg, for she is pregnant with his child. Her  long journey is told by the collective residents of B-More in an eerily omniscient voice. Their love and admiration for Fan gives the tale a resonance of legend, how she walked away from their predictable world and experienced the unknown. This unusual narrative voice, paired with an absence of quotation marks, may challenge some readers, but Lee’s gorgeous writing continually pulls them forward, eager to join in Fan’s great adventure. The dystopian setting, an America many years into the future, populated with colonists who have long forgotten their Chinese ancestry, works well to grant Fan access to all the possible fates of a wanderer. Recommend this to teens who appreciate literary, nuanced work such as that of Cormac McCarthy or Margaret Atwood.–Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

Categories: Library News

A Look at Minor League Baseball from John Feinstein

Fri, 2014-04-11 11:43

We’re two weeks into the baseball season, the Giants are in first place in the National League West, and all is right with the world.  That must mean it’s time to start reading some baseball books, specifically John Feinstein’s Where Nobody Knows Your Name.

Feinstein is a prolific sports writer, with nonfiction works on golf, college basketball, and professional football. He’s also written a series of Young Adult mysteries all revolving around sports. In his newest, he takes the reader through a year in the life of minor league baseball. I haven’t read it yet, but just talking to our reviewer about it, I’ve already learned several interesting tidbits about life in the minors, and baseball fans of all ages should find this fascinating.

FEINSTEIN, John. Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball. 384p. index. Doubleday. 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780385535939; ebk. ISBN 9780385535946.

Feinstein once again delivers his specialty: an inside look at a single season in a sport. In this case, it is minor-league baseball, specifically focused on Triple-A and a few teams on the East coast during the summer of 2012. Although he has stories from many players and others, the book revolves around two managers; a few players, most of who had spent some time in the majors; and one umpire. Feinstein uses comments from a variety of individuals to demonstrate the real truth of Triple-A: guys are happy to be paid to play baseball, but really, no one wants to be in the minors. He does a particularly good job of showing the minors from the point of view of the manager: of course you want to win games, but your main job is to get your players ready for the majors, which may very well mean losing your best athletes as the season progresses. The book is a bit scattered, due in part to the very nature of the minor leagues, with people coming and going all season long. Still, baseball fans will revel in the wealth of detail and the warm and funny stories about players and find themselves carefully reading the daily Transactions in the newspaper to watch who is being sent down and who is being given his shot at the big leagues.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

Categories: Library News

A Game of Thrones

Wed, 2014-04-09 07:00

In September 2011, about 5 months after HBO’s TV series Game of Thrones debuted, Dynamite Entertainment began releasing the comic series A Game of Thrones, adapted by Daniel Abraham, with art by Tommy Patterson. The indefinite article is significant: unlike the TV series–which is attempting to adapt the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series, but mysteriously chose to exchange the book series’s title for (most of) the title of the first novel–the comic’s intention is (so far) to adapt only the first book, into 24 issues of 32 pages each. And the comic’s mission is almost complete, with issue 32 hitting stores last month.

Meanwhile, Bantam has been collecting 6 issues of the comic series at a time and publishing them as volumes in A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel. Volume 3, collecting issues 13-18, also came out last month.

I’ve gone into all this detail, because I didn’t quite know what to make of these graphic novels when I picked up Volume 1 a few months ago, and I needed a little background to figure out how to situate them between the novels and the TV show. I also bring up the complicated history in part to explain why, although I’ve been quite enjoying the graphic novels, I won’t be publishing an official review of them. We only publish current reviews on this blog, and I can’t quite bring myself to review Volume 3 by itself–it doesn’t make much sense without the first two and ends on a tremendous cliffhanger, requiring the soon-to-come fourth volume. Plus, I really can’t be sure how much my knowledge of the TV show has influenced my ability to make sense of the incredibly complicated plot.

Nevertheless, you should buy these for your teen collection. Abraham (who, by the way, is one half of the writing team behind James SA Corey’s The Expanse, which we reviewed the first two volumes of) has done an amazing job of splitting the difference between the novel and the TV show, offering visual, highly accessible experience like HBO, but providing far more detail from the books. Here’s where I admit a dirty secret: I’ve never read the novels. I know! But I’ve spent a lot of time with people who have (including my wife), and I’ve spent many hours poring over the back matter in the novels, with all that great heraldry business (hey, I’m a librarian–I love backmatter). So I can’t speak to the comic’s fidelity to the novels, but I can say that it is fabulously more detailed than the TV show, and the added detail makes sense of many issues which troubled me watching the show. And the comic is certainly a great place to send teens who (like me) love the TV show but are not quite willing to give up their lives to reading several thousand pages of the same story.

Patterson’s art, meanwhile, is not among the best I’ve seen in a graphic novel–it’s a bit blocky, and he’s not great with facial expressions. But it has its strengths, among them the ability to stay closer to Martin’s descriptions of his characters than the TV show (which has to deal with the pesky business of finding real humans who look like characters), although I miss the smirking face of Jack Gleeson as the slimy Joffrey.

All in all, I very much look forward to Volume 4′s publication, and I hope Abraham and Patterson decide to continue on to A Clash of Kings.

Categories: Library News

The Weight of Blood

Mon, 2014-04-07 07:04

Laura McHugh‘s debut novel is set in rural, small-town Missouri, deep in the Ozarks. This dark coming-of-age mystery follows a 17-year-old girl determined to investigate the murder of a friend from school, a search which leads to the earlier murder of her own mother.

Told from multiple perspectives, the novel’s strengths include its setting (the author grew up in the Ozarks), pacing, characters and voice. Readers will be propelled by the suspenseful thriller elements of the plot.

I can’t help but think of Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell, thanks to the setting, violence, and protagonist. Other reviewers have mentioned True Grit, as well as novels by Laura Lippman and Tana French.

Shelf Awareness ran a “Maximum Shelf” feature on The Weight of Blood, which includes an enlightening interview with the author (but I think their introductory description gives too much away–so skip it if you want to avoid spoilers). included it in a list of 5 Mysteries You’ll Want to Finish in One Night, and it was the top Library Reads pick for March.

MCHUGH, Laura. The Weight of Blood. 320p. Spiegel & Grau. Mar. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9780812995206; ebk. ISBN 9780812995213.  

At 17, Lucy is growing into the exotic beauty of her mother, Lila, who went missing when Lucy was still a baby. Folks in the small Ozark town of Henbane seem to know everything about each other, but Lucy has never been able to piece together the true story of Lila’s disappearance. She certainly can’t get any information from her father, Carl, or his brother, Uncle Crete. And Lucy is now more preoccupied with the death of her friend, Cheri, whose dismembered body was found stuffed in a tree. The tension of  festering secrets pervades the book, which alternates between Lucy’s present-day investigations and Lila’s arrival in Henbane nearly 20 years earlier. There is a dark link between the generations, formed by Uncle Crete’s evil propensities, which threatens to destroy both Lucy’s family and the town that shelters it. Lucy tells her story with the determination of a girl who must have answers. Sneaking out at night, breaking into houses, and pumping everyone she knows for information, she is the girl in horror movies with her hand on the basement door. At the same time, readers begin to understand the terrible fate that has befallen too many girls in Henbane. The level of suspense and horror draw comparisons to Gillian Flynn, whose Sharp Objects (Shaye Areheart Books, 2006) was also set in the Ozark Mountains. The Weight of Blood is well paced, making it the kind of book to devour in one sitting. Teens who like dark mysteries will not want to miss it. –Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

Categories: Library News


Wed, 2014-04-02 18:40

Mai Jia has published three novels and a novella in his native China and has won several awards for them. But Decoded (2002) marks the first time his work has been published in English, and based on this one, we can only hope the rest of his work isn’t far behind. Some readers may be turned off by the math, or by the healthy doses of Chinese folklore and history, but for many others, those sections will be the attraction.

JIA, Mai. Decoded. tr. from Chinese by Olivia Milburn. 320p. Farrar. Feb. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9780374135805.

The world of espionage brings to mind TV shows like “Alias” or the books of John le Carré, but the reality is usually much more mundane.  Mai Jia, a former member of the Chinese intelligence community, exposes that mundanity and illuminates the world of the people who work at those jobs in his new novel. The bigger story is that of a Chinese unit, Unit 701, a sort-of Bletchley Park area where workers attempt to decode information encrypted by China’s enemies. One of those workers is Rong Jinzhen, scion of a family famous for its mathematical ability—so famous that in the 1870s they founded a math academy that eventually became N University. Jinzhen is something of an outcast in the family and is first raised by Mr. Auslander and then mentored by Jan Liseiwicz, along the way developing mathematical abilities that surpass even those of his family. After the revolution, Jinzhen is “recruited” to help decrypt the infamous PURPLE code; it is his position within that community that allows him to protect his family during Mao’s cultural revolution. His story ends with a breakdown, caused by the loss of his precious decryption notebook and briefcase, and disgrace. There is a lot of math here, but even those whose interests don’t lie in that direction will find its inclusion bearable.  What differentiates this story from others is the sweep of Chinese history and life that readers get as Jinzhen’s story unfolds, as well as the commentary about the strains on an interior life so intensely focused.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT

Categories: Library News

Touchstones of American History

Mon, 2014-03-31 07:00

A new novel by Alice Hoffman is always cause for celebration. The Museum of Extraordinary Things conjures up the sights and sounds of early 20th century, Gilded Age Coney Island and New York City. Hoffman’s many teen readers will appreciate the magical love-at-first-sight between her two young protagonists, and fans of The Night Circus will see echoes of Celia’s isolated upbringing in the strange daily regimens insisted upon by Coralie’s magician father.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival is Jennifer Chiaverini‘s 23rd novel — she is best known for the Elm Creek Quilts novels. As the author explains in her blog, Kate Chase Sprague was an historical figure and Chiaverini’s novel is based on Mary Todd Lincoln’s actual rivalry with her. This novel would make a terrific accompaniment to study of the Civil War or Lincoln’s presidency.

HOFFMAN, Alice. The Museum of Extraordinary Things. 384p. Scribner. Feb. 2014. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9781451693560; ebk. ISBN 9781451693584.  

Coralie grows up in a home that also includes her father’s museum of freaks and grotesqueries. She is barred from visiting until her 11th birthday, when she becomes part of his collection. Years of his grooming make it clear that because of her deformity, she is to be put  alongside his sword swallowers and fat ladies. Hoffman also tells the story of Ezekiel, or Eddie, a freak in his own way. After escaping a Russian pogrom and ending up on New York City’s Lower East Side, Eddie rejects both his father and their Orthodox community. He becomes a “finder” of people and things in the underbelly of the city. His wanderings lead him to an apprenticeship with a photographer, another way to observe the world around him, gathering information and images. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire propels Coralie and Eddie together in a series of haunting encounters (and almost-encounters) until they finally collide in a scene that will leave readers wiping ashes from their eyes and clearing the smell of smoke from their noses. Telling her story in alternating chapters, Hoffman has crafted a thoroughly researched novel that evokes the sights, smells, and sounds of New York City and Coney Island in the early 20th century. She has also written an alluring love story that will appeal to teen readers of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (Doubleday, 2011) or Caleb Carr’s The Alienist (Random, 1994). The Museum of Extraordinary Things is strange and beautiful.–Meghan Cirrito, formerly at Queens Public Library, NY

CHIAVERINI, Jennifer. Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival: A Novel. 352p. Dutton. Jan. 2014. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780525954286. LC 2013035542.  

Attending a banquet at the White House in celebration of the new President, Abraham Lincoln, 17-year-old Kate Chase is certain that her father, Salmon P. Chase, should have been the man in that office. She is equally sure that she would have made a much better First Lady than that less-than-impressive Mrs. Lincoln. But while her father never makes it past the primary elections, he does become Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury and, later, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and advisor to the President.  And so, while Kate may not be the First Lady when she enters the ballroom, she is in her element as the “Belle of Washington City.” Young, beautiful, and politically savvy, she remains at her father’s side throughout his political career. She is witness to—and participates in—the politics surrounding Lincoln’s rise to the Presidency, the breaking apart of the country, and the devastation caused by the Civil War. She falls in love with the dashing “Boy Governor” from Rhode Island, William Sprague, and their tempestuous relationship causes her as much grief as joy and love. Teens who enjoy reading about the Civil War will definitely appreciate this novel. Kate’s version of events gives a unique view of life in political Washington City during this tumultuous time in American history. While young soldiers die around her, she attends balls, plans her wedding, and lives an exciting life at the center of political power. Recommend this book to readers who like insight into life behind the scenes.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Categories: Library News

Show Your Work!

Fri, 2014-03-28 07:00

Two years ago, I was electrified by Austin Kleon‘s Steal Like an Artist. I gave a copy to each of the students in my literary magazine club at school, and have continued to booktalk it in the library. It made its way onto our Best Books of 2012 list.

Now I’m pleased to offer a review of Kleon’s follow-up, Show Your Work!, in which he tackles the question of how to get discovered. While this book has less to offer teens than Steal Like an Artist, it is still valuable, especially for young people who are seriously pursuing a creative field.

There is an extensive post by Maria Popova on Brain Pickings about the book, including multiple quotes and examples. She sums it up perfectly with this phrase: “In some ways, the book is the mirror-image of Kleon’s debut — rather than encouraging you to “steal” from others, meaning be influenced by them, it offers a blueprint to making your work influential enough to be theft-worthy.”

KLEON, Austin. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered. illus. by Austin Kleon. 224p. Workman. Mar. 2014. pap. $11.95. ISBN 9780761178972.  

While Steal Like an Artist (Workman, 2012) was about inspiring creativity, Kleon’s follow-up is about self-promotion in a digital age, about  “how to influence others by letting them steal from you.”  The central concept is sharing one’s process online as a way to gather fans and get to know other people with similar interests. They may become collaborators, clients, or patrons. Kleon advocates sharing something every day—but not just anything. Use the “So What? ” test, and don’t share pet and sunset photos. The strongest sections are on attribution and the importance of listening to (or reading, watching, or experiencing) what others share. Likewise, the concepts of flow (daily tweets or posts) and stock (the durable product) are likely to be valuable new ideas for teen readers. There are a lot of “do nots” in the second half and at times the tone is a bit strident, especially in the sections on taking criticism, avoiding “vampires” (people who steal energy), and earning money.  Steal Like an Artist is an ideal book for beginners, perfect for teens. Show Your Work! speaks less to a young audience, with advice on sustaining work over the long haul, making a living, and finding time for creative work while bringing up children. Still, for the serious creative young adult, it holds many excellent recommendations offered in an easy-to-digest, appealing manner. The black-and- white design is dynamic, varied, full of quotes, illustrations using Kleon’s “Newspaper Blackout” technique, and diagrams that reiterate the text in a graphic way.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Categories: Library News

Dreams of the Golden Age

Wed, 2014-03-26 12:49

When I reviewed Carrie Vaughn’s After the Golden Age back in 2011 (and listed it among our Best Books of the Year So Far), I had to be somewhat coy about my favorite aspect of the novel, because it was revealed in the final pages. But now, I think the time for spoilers has passed: Vaughn’s great contribution to the super hero genre was a brilliant explanation for why everyone with superpowers seems so devoted to, as Superman puts it “truth, justice, and the American way.”  In Vaughn’s version, the scientific experiments which lead to the characters’ powers are actually intended to inculcate loyalty. Thus, the superheroes’ sense of justice is directly intertwined with their powers.

Vaughn doesn’t have anything quite so groundbreaking to say in this sequel to After the Golden Age, but she certainly probes the question further–getting much more nuanced about what it means to be loyal, and especially to whom one should be loyal. The sections of the novel focused on After the Golden Age’s heroine, now a middle-aged corporate executive, may be less than thrilling, especially for those coming to the series for the first time. But fans of the first book will be interested to see what has become of Celia, and all teen superhero fans should be excited about the main plot of teen superheroes learning to use their powers for the first time.

VAUGHN, Carrie. Dreams of the Golden Age. 320p. (After the Golden Age Series). Tor. Jan. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780765334817; ebk. ISBN 9781466815452.

Adult/High School–In this sequel to After the Golden Age (Tor, 2012), Vaughn follows the parallel stories of that novel’s heroine, Celia West, now the most powerful businesswoman in Commerce City, and her daughter, Anna, who has begun to develop a superpower: a preternatural ability to geolocate anyone whom she knows enough about. Celia has been using the vast resources of West Corp. to track and influence the lives of the children and grandchildren of Commerce City’s original generation of superheroes, bringing this young generation together in the same private school, and asking her friend, Police Captain Mark Paulson, to keep a loose leash on these budding superheroes. Meanwhile, Anna and her superpowered friends, having no idea that they are being watched, believe they are clandestinely setting up a new Olympiad—the name of her grandfather’s super team–although petty high school infighting quickly splits the group into two supergroups. It wouldn’t be a superhero novel without a supervillain, and, sure enough, there’s the shadowy figure called The Executive who is out to control the future of Commerce City. Much of Celia’s story centers on mundane issues of city politics and urban planning, but this information turns out to be crucial to the final confrontation. More importantly, Anna’s adolescent blundering with her new powers (and with teen friendships and relationships) should be reason enough for teens to pick this up. This is not as clever or as funny as the first novel, but it’s nevertheless a strong entry by the always-reliable Vaughn.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

Pure Adrenaline

Fri, 2014-03-21 07:17

I’m finally on spring break, and I hope many of you are enjoying (or looking forward to) a vacation around now, too. Speaking of which, do I ever have a great beach read for you (and the teens you serve, too)!

This is my first Patrick Lee novel, but it won’t be the last. Great characters, breathless action, twists and turns…  Yes, some of it verges on the outlandish (that whole military-experiment-gone-wrong thing often does, right?), but Lee’s writing is so strong he gives the reader plenty of reasons to buy in.

I finished Runner hoping that Sam Dryden’s first novel might spawn a series, and looking at the author’s website – “The first Sam Dryden thriller!” — I think I’m in luck. He’s tough but caring. Wounded by a tragic past, but keeping it together. Contemplative, yet a man of action.

For more, I recommend Dirk Robertson on the Criminal Element website. He does a great job of pinpointing just what it is about Runner that works so well.

LEE, Patrick. Runner. 336p. Minotaur. Feb. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781250030733; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9781250030757.  

Sam Dryden is out jogging in the middle of the night when he collides with a young teen, obviously terrified and running for her life. He feels compelled to help her. Former military (Delta, Rangers and beyond), Dryden lost his wife and daughter five years earlier and has been drifting ever since. Rachel reveals that for the last several weeks she has been held in a laboratory, restrained, drugged, and questioned. That night her captors had decided to kill her, so she escaped. The big twist? Rachel can read minds. Actually, reading minds is not her only power, but she cannot remember anything farther back than her time in the lab. Dryden knows that the drugs she’s been given will wear off in about a week. He needs to keep her safe until her memory returns, so they go on the run. Martin Gaul works for one of two competing corporations experimenting with genetic manipulation for the government and has connections to the director of Homeland Security. It is crucial that Rachel die before their latest project goes live. Either way, the world is about to change irrevocably. As “military-experiment-gone-wrong” thrillers go, Runner is exemplary. The action is breath-taking. Dryden and Rachel are sympathetic characters whose abilities are extraordinary but not impossibly far-fetched, and they make for more than one exciting role-reversal. What may seem like too-convenient coincidence (Rachel encounters a resourceful ex-military guy right when she needs him?) makes sense in the end. Teen fans of Patterson’s “Maximum Ride” series (Little, Brown) who are up for something more realistic will love this.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Categories: Library News

Biographies, part two

Wed, 2014-03-19 07:17

Last week, Mark wondered if teens are still reading biographies — or are they less popular now than when he was a teen?

It’s true that we don’t review very many biographies here. But we do review quite a few autobiographies and memoirs each year. Has the publishing landscape shifted? Are today’s teens simply more interested in the deeply personal?

The readers in my school library (granted, all girls) are clearly more drawn to autobiographies like My Beloved World and I am Malala. The latest Edmund Morris biography or Doris Kearn Goodwin? Not so much, although I buy those too. Graphic biographies like Persepolis and Feynman do move, and biographies with great writing and a sports hook like Swimming to Antarctica and The Blind Side still get noticed. Isaacson’s Steve Jobs (all 656 pages of it) was a hit, and Unbroken circulates regularly.

Some of the shift could be attributed to shorter attention spans, but I also think the majority of teens are most interested in people who are affecting their lives, right now.  With today’s first review we offer a biography that involves a phenomenon very popular with teens — Minecraft. Hosting Minecraft programs has become a common way of bringing teens into libraries. Larsson’s book is both a biography of its creator, Markus “Notch” Persson, and about the gaming industry surrounding him. Need I say more? 

Our second review is a memoir that we actually reviewed before. Prison Baby was self-published in 2011 under the title Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus: Inside the World of a Woman Born in Prison. Author Deborah Jiang Stein found a mainstream publisher, Beacon Press, and expanded her book. She shares some of that process on The Huffington Post in “Persist, Above All Else.”

LARSSON, Linus & Daniel Goldberg. Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus “Notch” Persson and the Game That Changed Everything. tr. from Swedish by Jennifer Hawkins. 256p. bibliog. photos.  notes. Seven Stories. Nov. 2013. Tr $21.95. ISBN 9781609805371.  

More than 35 million copies of Minecraft have been downloaded, and YouTube is full of  videos. In this biography of its creator, the game is explored from pre-inception to the launch of the official version at MineCon in November, 2011. (43,000 people attended MineCon in Las Vegas, even before the game’s official release.) Readers will also learn about the Swedish gaming industry, which is robust and creative. Persson, known as “Notch,” is a programmer who rarely left his computer day or night and began working  at gaming companies while inventing Minecraft on the side. As its sole creator, he was at one point pulling in thousands of dollars a day. Minecraft’s simple graphics show that the genius of the game isn’t in its appearance; it’s in the desire and planning of a man who knows how games work and how people like to play them. Readers also learn about Persson’s family (complete with a father and sister who are drug addicts) and the rest of the Minecraft team as it stands today, but it always comes back to the unassuming creator. The book is incredibly readable and delightfully informative. Recommended not only for people who play, but for the librarians and teachers who serve the players.–Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

JIANG STEIN, Deborah. Prison Baby: A Memoir. 171p. Beacon. Mar. 2014. pap. $14. ISBN 9780807098103. LC 2013039396.  

This unique and startling memoir brings together the worlds of prison and closed adoption. When Jiang Stein was 12, she was snooping through her mother’s dresser drawer and found a letter that revealed the secret drama of her birth: she was born in a federal prison in West Virginia to a heroin-addicted mother. While part of her was relived–this discovery explained a lot, including why she looked darker than her white adoptive parents. It also distanced her more from their academic and privileged lives. Spiraling into shame, she became involved in drugs, addiction, crime, and violence. Surprisingly, she never ended up in prison; when she became sober she went back to the prison in which she was born. Ultimately she became a sought after presenter inside women’s prisons everywhere, reconciled with her adoptive parents, and became a loving mother herself. Anyone who knows about the closed adoption or prison system will be amazed at the information Jiang Stein was able to uncover: baby photos, a lock of hair, her “prison mother’s” records, files, and letters, even a yarn toy she made for her daughter. It is this toy that became the cover of the memoir. Prison Baby was originally self published under the title Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus (2011). This version is significantly different in content with a lot more specifics and information about her journey, but it’s just as poetically written. The author’s personal struggles and insights will fascinate and resonate with teens everywhere.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA

Categories: Library News

That Old Black Magic

Mon, 2014-03-17 07:00

A little more than a year ago, I posted an Omnibus Mystery Review Post, featuring six mysteries, many entries in series and/or by prolific mystery authors. So I expected sometime around now to have a new crop of reviews of many of the same authors, but so far I’ve been striking out. Jacqueline Winspear is taking a break from Maisie Dobbs, with a non-mystery novel called The Care and Management of Lies–we may end up with a review of it on this blog, but it won’t be by me as it didn’t peak my interest.

Meanwhile, we did read Alan Bradley’s newest Flavia de Luce novel, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, and the new Kate Shackleton novel from Frances Brody, Murder in the Afternoon, but we found that neither one quite lived up to their series forerunners, although fans should certainly be aware that they are out there. And Simone St. James and Thomas Perry haven’t written new novels yet.

So that leaves us with the newest entry in Mary Jane Clark’s Piper Donovan series, which, unlike the novels above, manages to up the ante on the previous books in its series.  It also revolves around the famous St. Patrick’s Day parade in New Orleans, which works out perfectly for today.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!–why not celebrate with a great mystery?

CLARK, Mary Jane. That Old Black Magic. 320p. (Piper Donovan Series). Morrow. Jan. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062135476.

Adult/High School–After her traumatic near-death experience in Footprints in the Sand (Morrow, 2013), Piper Donovan wants nothing more to do with amateur detective work. Instead, she’s in New Orleans, focusing on her more traditional careers of cake decorating and acting, landing a brief internship with a master baker and a small but prominent role in a film featuring the city’s famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade. But of course, this is a Piper Donovan mystery, and, before long, the bodies begin to pile up: three to be precise. They are all seemingly connected to various voodoo spirits, leading a local radio DJ to label the perpetrator the Hoodoo Killer. Piper does a surprisingly good job of staying out of the mystery, but she eventually stumbles on the solution nonetheless. Clark hews closely to the formula of the previous entries: fast paced, short chapters; brief glimpses of the killer’s viewpoint; a wedding cake; and strong, if not first-rate prose. The one innovation here is excellent and unexpected: after so many amateur detectives solving dozens of murders, it is refreshing to see a detective actually feel the emotional weight of the crimes she witnesses, even displaying symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Teen fans of the series should find everything they love here, and the hints at PTSD may even stretch their thinking about the assumptions of the genre.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News


Wed, 2014-03-12 07:00

I remember reading a lot of biographies when I was a teenager. Not memoirs or autobiographies (although I read those too), but big, thick books about famous people written by someone who had done a lot of research. I was obsessed with the Beatles, and I know I read several massive biographies of John Lennon and Paul McCartney each. I also read biographies of baseball stars like Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.

My questions today is, was I a weird teen? Wait, don’t answer that – let me rephrase. Are there teens out there who are reading those types of “true” biographies? I know teens love memoirs–Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called “It” is probably the most popular nonfiction book at my library. And we’ve talked often on this blog about the fact that the Alex Awards has a heavy bias towards memoirs.  But very few (if any – it all depends on how you count) Alex Awards have gone to biographies like the ones I described in the first paragraph.

We know that biographies are being written and being written very well. From 1964 – 1983, The National Book Award had a separate award designated, variously, “History and Biography”, “Biography”, or “Biography/Autobiography”. Even given its own separate or semi-separate category, biography seeped over into other nonfiction awards, with biographies of John Keats, Mark Twain, and others winning for “Arts and Letters” and a biography of Einstein sneaking into the “Science” category.  In the 30 years of awards since the nonfiction awards were consolidated into a single category, something like 33 “true” biographies have won or been nominated for the NBA.

So great adult biographies are out there – but they seem to be a bit beyond the reach of teens. Over the past several months, I’ve been looking for a good adult biography to recommend on this blog and have struck out even on big names like Mozart and EE Cummings. Am I missing something here, or are there not as many good adult biographies for teens as there used to be?

Or, maybe a more plausible guess: maybe all the great biographies for teens are actually being published for teens these days? The YALSA Nonfiction Award has given out stickers to biographies of Steve Jobs, Janet Joplin, PT Barnum, Claudette Colvin, and Leonard Bernstein.

Help me out–are there adult biographies that I should be recommending to my teens, or should I just be happy there are so many great YA biographies?

Categories: Library News

Family Drama and Mental Illness

Mon, 2014-03-10 07:21

Today’s books are about family, relationships, secrets, and coming-of-age. Both move back and forth in time, and include characters suffering from mental illness.

Sarah Cornwell‘s debut novel, What I Had Before I Had You follows a mother’s memories back into her own turbulent adolescence. The thread that connects past and present is bipolar disorder, which runs in Olivia’s family. Olivia’s mother, Olivia’s 9-year-old son, even Olivia herself, all experience it. The novel includes compelling elements of mystery, of finding oneself, of navigating complicated relationships — all popular with readers of realistic fiction.

Rachel Joyce follows her own popular debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry with Perfect, which she considers “a story about truth as well as perfection.” The story alternates between 11-year-old Byron, in 1972, and 50-something Jim, who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder in the present. It hinges on a car accident that unravels Byron’s perfect family. Two mysteries — what happened during the car accident, and just how the past and present stories connect — propel the novel forward. Eleanor Brown’s Washington Post review points up its themes of social class, gender roles, mental illness, and “our search for perfection and control in an imperfect and uncontrollable world.”

CORNWELL, Sarah. What I Had Before I Had You. 288p. Harper. Jan. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780062237842; ebk. ISBN 9780062237866.  

In this engrossing debut novel, Olivia, recently separated, returns to the Jersey Shore town of her youth with her teenaged daughter and nine-year-old son. When her son, recently diagnosed with early-onset bipolar disorder, disappears, she spends the night looking for him. As she visits the haunts of her past, she recalls her teenage years in this place. Her mother often disappeared for days or weeks at a time, and she maintained a room in the house for Olivia’s twin sisters, who died at birth. The summer Olivia was 15, she saw two girls on the beach that she was certain were her sisters. Her attempt to find out who they were took her eventually to New York, and to finding out things about her family that turned her life around. The greater part of this novel is the story of Olivia as a teenager, and it is an absorbing coming-of-age story, as Olivia learns truths about parents and children, friends and lovers, honesty and lies, guilt, and forgiveness. Teens will be intrigued by her attempts to find out who she is, both at home on the shore, and in the wider world of New York. Her relationships with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend, her sisters, her own friends and boyfriends, and–in the present-day–her husband and children, are complex, and while Olivia’s life is often turbulent, it is always interesting.–Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Library, CA

JOYCE, Rachel. Perfect. 400p. Random. Jan. 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9780812993301; ebk. ISBN 9780679645122.  

Eleven-year-old Byron’s life is forever impacted when his mother is involved in a minor car accident.  Accidents don’t happen in his world—his mother is perfect, their home is immaculate, and his father’s gift to his mother (a Jaguar) is untouched. Byron’s friend James now wishes he had never shared the news article about scientists adding two seconds to the year, because Byron blames the accident on the extra time.  The two boys concoct a plan to investigate the accident while Byron’s mother is unraveling. In a parallel tale, readers meet Jim, an adult with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Is he the grown-up version of James? The mystery isn’t solved until the end of the novel.  While not a fast-moving read, Joyce’s second novel will attract teens who enjoy lush and slowly revealed family traumas. Much of this literary novel revolves around mental illness and how patients were treated in society and at home in the early 1970s and in contemporary society. The alternating chapters are easy to distinguish—Byron’s story is in past tense and Jim’s tale is in present tense. Teens will be most interested in Byron’s coming-of-age story and how he deals with his mother, who is increasingly becoming more distant.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

Categories: Library News

Short Work

Fri, 2014-03-07 07:00

Neither of the books reviewed below looks much like a traditional short story collection. Eileen Gunn’s Questionable Practices includes stories as short as one page long, a poem, and a “steam-punk quartet” of stories. Novak’s collection, meanwhile, mocks the whole concept of a “short story collection”, calling itself, in the subtitle,  “Stories and Other Stories”. And like Gunn, Novak has a knack for knowing when to end a story – many of his stories are merely a page or two long, but when he needs more space, he’s happy to stretch out as well.

Both of these books are also “humorous”, though what that means in each case is vastly different. Gunn’s idea of a funny joke starts with elves killing your parents, while Novak’s starts at a support group for transgender people. Fortunately for me, I find both of these authors hilarious, as well as terrific prose stylists. Bet on Novak–with his Sedaris-like observations, and Office-pedigree–to make more of a splash with teen readers. But definitely give Gunn’s book to teens with the right sensibility.

Then again, short stories and humor – I’ve discussed them both before, and all the usual caveats apply.

GUNN, Eileen. Questionable Practices. 208p. Small Beer. Mar. 2014. Tr $16. ISBN 9781618730756. LC 2013047730.

This quirky story collection begins with a love triangle between a man, a woman, and a Sasquatch—the man sees the Sasquatch as a beautiful woman; the woman sees the Sasquatch as a beautiful man; they all sleep together; and all three plus the woman’s mother end up on Maury arguing over paternity. And it only gets stranger (though never funnier) from there. Later stories feature Kirk and Spock slash-fic, semi-parodical steampunk, several sets of evil elves, and an incredibly moving account of a veteran’s failed attempts to reintegrate into society. Aside from the veteran’s story (the last in the collection), the overwhelming mood is darkly comic science fiction—like a strange blend of Terry Gilliam and Margo Lanagan. Teen fans of either or both of those geniuses would do well to turn to Gunn for a similarly unique ride. Her prose is vividly off-kilter, her plots memorable and usually hilarious, and her characters recognizable even when they are tropes. And even though nothing is quite what it seems in these stories, the author’s firm grip on dream logic makes everything feel meaningful, even when it doesn’t quite make sense.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

NOVAK, B. J. One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories. 288p. Knopf. Feb. 2014. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9780385351836.

Novak’s subtitle slyly and appropriately questions his book’s status as a “story collection.” Less than stories, these are sketches, extended jokes, and essays. The modus operandi here is to take a commonplace idea or phrase and push it to its comedic extreme. “If I had a nickel for every time I spilled a cup of coffee” becomes a mathematical examination of how much money you could actually make at five cents per spilled cup (not much). “Life is a roller coaster” yields a literal roller coaster being test-marketed to mixed reviews. John Grisham’s novels are all titled “The [something]”–what if he published a book actually called “The Something”? And so on. This could get tiresome quickly but Novak, who honed his comedic chops as a writer and performer on The Office, deftly avoids any feeling of repetition, first by casting his net for jokes far and wide, and, more importantly, with an incredible sense of pace. Just when the brief vignettes seem about to overwhelm the collection, he will inject a longer story with real characters and sometimes even a bit of pathos. This book is perfect for fans of Novak’s work on The Office, readers of humorists like David Sedaris, or for teens just looking for a comedy collection to browse. The “discussion questions” are not to be missed.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

The Martian

Wed, 2014-03-05 07:00

I feel like we’re in the middle of a 6-part series on science fiction here on AB4T, but there really was no intention behind it. These are the books and reviews in front of us!

Today I present The Martian. I think Andy Weir and Crown Books must have the luck of the Gods. Thanks to their timing, one line sells this book, “If you liked Gravity, you should try The Martian.” But frankly, The Martian is so much better.

First, there’s no forced sentimentality, no swelling soundtrack. The words on the page are enough to create fear, incredulity, jolts of fear, and laughter. Yes, laughter. Watley’s sense of humor makes the book. Without it, some readers would be hard-pressed to wade through the scientific jargon and step-by-step procedures. But because his humor makes Watley so human, the novel becomes incredibly suspenseful. When one wrong move means death, alone, millions of miles from home, the reader is on the edge of her seat wondering if Watley can figure out how to survive against all the odds. 

This is the most realistic science fiction novel I’ve come across. No alternate worlds or super powers. No time travel or alien beings. There’s NASA ingenuity and training, and the hard and fast laws of physics, biology and space travel. Great stuff.

WEIR, Andy. The Martian. 368p. Crown. Feb. 2014. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9780804139021; ebk. ISBN 9780804139038.  

A small team of astronauts on the third manned NASA mission to Mars is overtaken by a violent dust storm and ordered to abort. As the crew struggles to return to its landing vehicle, Mark Watley is struck by a flying antenna that pierces his suit and his pelvis and knocks him down a hill far from the others.  Lucky for Watley, the way he lands allows blood to create a seal around the hole in his EVA suit and he survives. Only problem–he’s been left behind on Mars and everyone thinks he’s dead. He has the Hab to live in (built to last 31 days), a couple of rover vehicles, six EVA suits, food for 300 days, and no way to communicate with NASA or his team, now on its way home. Watley is no slouch, however. A mechanical engineer and botanist, he immediately begins figuring out how to survive. His methodical problem-solving and ability to “fix broken stuff” is astounding, but he needs to be rescued before his life-support systems wear down or his food runs out. Watley is great company and it’s a good thing, because nearly the entire novel is made up of his detailed, technical end-of-day log entries. He has a great sense of humor (his entries are punctuated by smart remarks), and a can-do attitude. This is a unique survival novel. Weir makes the real science in science fiction intriguing and suspenseful. Physics and robotics geeks will rejoice. Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” has nothing on Mark Watley.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Categories: Library News

On the Run

Mon, 2014-03-03 07:49

Last week I observed that it’s been quite a winter for science fiction, and today we share two more SF recommendations. Both feature an alternate history aspect and siblings on the run.

In Daniel Price’s The Flight of the Silvers, six people watch as our world is destroyed before being whisked away to an alternate America. Upon arrival they gain the ability to manipulate time. Classic SF tropes combined with the pacing of a thriller? Teens are the perfect audience for this one.

The Flight of the Silvers is the first in a series of as yet undetermined length. (The author’s website offers FAQs about the Silvers series.) Book two, The Song of the Orphans, is in progress.

In Robert Charles Wilson’s Burning Paradise, our history has been changed through the interference of an extra-terrestrial hive-mind. Wilson’s protagonists are part of a small group of humans who know about the manipulation. They are exposed at the beginning of the novel and go on the run. Nonstop action ensues.

Reading Gary K. Wolfe’s analysis of Burning Paradise on Locus Online, this sentence struck me, “The central moral question of the novel is also a familiar one from dysto­pian and anti-utopian fiction: is such peace and prosperity a reasonable trade for the loss of free will and self-determination?” Teen readers of dystopian fiction (and they are legion) have been facing variations of this question in novels from Delirium to Unwind to The Knife of Never Letting Go. Burning Paradise adds an extraterrestrial entity pacifying humans in order to cultivate them for their own purposes. I can imagine readers who enjoyed The 5th Wave last year getting excited about this one.

PRICE, Daniel. The Flight of the Silvers. 608p. Blue Rider: Penguin Books (USA). Feb. 2014. Tr $28.95. ISBN 9780399164989; ebk. ISBN 9781101620045.  

On October 5, 1912, a temporic blast destroyed half of New York City and changed everything we understand about time. Welcome to AltAmerica, existing in an alternate reality created by the blast.  Here, instead of moving in one direction beyond human control, time can be manipulated, even made solid.  Six people—the Silvers—are pulled from ordinary America and deposited into AltAmerica, each now having chronokinetic abilities.  Their time-twisting talents, such as re-creating past events with sound and light or moving objects forward or backward in age, are commonplace. Where average AltAmericans use appliances to maneuver time, the Silvers have the power within them. Because of this, they are targeted by government agencies, a mysterious group that wants them dead, and a time-traveler with a grudge.  As they struggle to sort out their relationships and their new abilities, all while trying to outrun their pursuers, they become an intriguingly dysfunctional family:  two squabbling sisters; two teens, one a shy girl who becomes a leader, the other a boy genius with Aspergerlike tendencies; a cartoonist who was pulled from his booth at Comic-Con; and an alcoholic former child prodigy. This fast paced thriller’s vibrant descriptions of the culture of AltAmerica and the new abilities, crimes, and language related to manipulating time create a credible world that will excite science-fiction fans while still appealing to a wide range of readers.  Although this is the first book in a trilogy, the story is both solid and satisfying.–Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA

WILSON, Robert Charles. Burning Paradise. 320p. Tor. Nov. 2013. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780765332615.  

Seven years ago, Cassie’s parents were killed for their involvement with the Correspondence Society, a secret group that has discovered the existence of an ancient, alien organism permeating the Earth’s atmosphere. This organism, coined a “hypercolony,” encircles the globe, forming a radiosphere that subtly alters human communication. So it is that in Cassie’s world, the nation is celebrating the anniversary of Armistice Day 1914, which marks 100 years of a peace that has only been achieved through the interference of the hypercolony. Now, however, remaining members of the Corresponence Society are facing a new attack. Cassie and her 12-year-old brother, Thomas, flee to the nearest Society member for protection, who turns out to be 21-year-old Leo Beck, disagreeable son of the Society’s patron, and Leo’s girlfriend, Beth. The foursome, all children of Society members, is left to race cross-country, seeking refuge as they dodge detection from the hypercolony’s humanlike agents, the simulacra. Readers of Wilson’s previous novels, including his Hugo award-winning Spin (Tor, 2005), will again appreciate his skill at saturating everyday human interactions with terrible paranoia. From the outside, anyone could be human…or they could be a simulacrum. The distinguishing factor is that the simulacra bleed out a ghastly green fluid that smells like decayed plants. The only sure-fire way to tell who is human, then, is to make them bleed, often with tragic consequences. While the story includes chapters told from the vantage point of adult characters, Cassie’s tale forms the core. Despite enduring painful betrayals, she is ultimately most vested in preserving the future of humanity. A slam dunk recommendation for scifi fans. –Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

Categories: Library News


Wed, 2014-02-26 13:34

Last week I praised Julianna Baggott for publishing her science fiction Pure trilogy within 2 years. Then on Monday, we posted our review of  MD Waters’s Archetype, which has a sequel due out in July.

Well, Jeff VanderMeer has got them both beat–if the scheduling works as planned, the entirety of his new SF trilogy, The Southern Reach, will be published between February and September. Below is our review of the first in the series, Annihilation, and if it is anything to go off, this trilogy is going to be impressive.

Yes, this is another dystopian trilogy, but the themes here are not what you would expect. Rather than the cultural and political themes we usually get in this genre, VanderMeer focuses on more philosophical themes, questioning the boundaries between the individual and her society, and between linearity and circularity. With the narrator under the influence of a mind-altering toxin throughout the text, it makes for a heady ride of ideas, while never skimping on the action and world-building.

I’ve got the sequel, Authority, on my desk right now, and I can’t wait to get to it, as well as the final volume, Acceptance.

VANDERMEER, Jeff. Annihilation. Bk.1. 208p. (Southern Reach Trilogy). Farrar. Feb. 2014. pap. $13.00. ISBN 9780374104092.

Adult/High School–VanderMeer’s suspenseful, thought-provoking dystopia follows a scientific expedition into the mysterious Area X, a region that has been utterly abandoned following an unexplained Event. Previous expeditions attempting to determine the current state of Area X have resulted in the disappearance, murder, suicide, and amnesia of the various expeditionary members. The current group, consisting of a psychologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist, and a biologist (the narrator), quickly locates a strange tunnel–though the narrator insists on calling it a tower–that contains a bizarre, meandering, apocalyptic text written on the walls in some sort of plant life. Upon accidentally inhaling some spores of the plant, the biologist begins to undergo strange changes, especially in her perception, lending the rest of her narration a hallucinatory quality. Though her altered state leaves all fact in doubt, it becomes apparent that all is not as it seems in Area X–the dead seem never to really die, boundaries extend further than seems possible, and everything in the region seems to loop back in on itself. And the other members of the expedition, especially the psychologist, may have their own agendas. Throughout the novel, VanderMeer focuses on two key juxtapositions–linearity versus circularity and self versus other–both of which play off the grander theme of the porousness of borders and boundaries. The young female narrator and the dystopian setting should bring plenty of teens to this rich, multi-layered text, thankfully only the first in a trilogy, the rest of which will be published this year.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News


Mon, 2014-02-24 07:00

This is a great season for adult science fiction with teen appeal. Some years we barely see any. This year we have 3 outstanding titles already (Red Rising, Burn, and now Archetype) with three more reviews coming soon.

I started Archetype thinking I was reading it just for fun. I didn’t “assign it” to myself for this blog, rather, it was getting enough raves from the right places to make me curious, and I found some time (love those January & February long weekends!) to give it a try.

I love a book where I don’t know what’s going on at the beginning, that makes me figure it out along the way. I want the world to be just familiar enough that I don’t have to work too hard. I want just enough clues to keep me connected to the plot, but I also want surprises. It’s hard to find books with the perfect balance, but Archetype had it from the first pages. It also had a great balance of action and concept. It both got my adrenaline going and made me think.

The other thing I love about Archetype is that it is a true thriller. The pacing never flags and it keeps the revelations coming. There were a few times that I was frustrated with the narrator, thinking “come on, isn’t it obvious?!” More often than not the surprises were on me.

It didn’t take long to realize this was going to work for teen readers, too. The pacing, Emma’s voice, the nature of her struggles, and the accessibility of the world and the writing would have been enough. But we also meet Emma in her early teen years partway through the novel, and understanding what girls have to contend with in this world ups the stakes somehow.

This is M.D. Waters’ debut novel, and it’s a great choice for teens who have read The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies. Here they’ll find romance (some of it rather steamy), a kick-ass, smart heroine, and issues of infertility and a woman’s right to control her own body. Indeed, in this future world women have little choice about anything, and the few who are fertile have even less choice, though they are more prized.

* WATERS, M. D. Archetype. 384p. Dutton. Feb. 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780525954231.  

Adult/High School–Emma wakes up in the hospital with no memories. Fortunately, her devoted husband, Declan, is by her side, helping her relearn everything, from the words for colors to the way they met. But the more she recovers, the less she believes anything he, or her doctor, tell her. If she was in such a terrible accident, where are her scars? She has persistent nightmares and a voice in her head that urges her to hide her thoughts from them. One of her nightmares is of floating in a tank, unable to speak or move, watching a man sitting nearby, weeping. Why won’t he save her? One is of going into battle next to Foster, her second in command. In another she arrives at a training center for girls and learns the ropes from a girl named Toni who is later shot for trying to leave. And to her shame, another takes place on the beach with a man she loves–but it isn’t Declan. Waters expertly lays out the puzzle pieces, keeping the answers just out of reach. Archetype has elements of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (Houghton Mifflin, 1986) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (Knopf, 2005), but the author has created a future world, and a dynamic heroine, all her own. This is the perfect fast-paced, dystopian thriller for teens ready to move into more complex fare, and the epilogue will launch them right into waiting anxiously for the sequel, Prototype, due in July.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Categories: Library News


Fri, 2014-02-21 07:00

And so it ends. We reviewed Julianna Baggott’s Pure exactly two years ago. Later in the year, we named it one of our favorite books of the year so far, and were then validated when it won a 2013 Alex Award. A year after Pure, we felt just as strongly about its sequel, Fuse.

Now the trilogy comes to a close with Burn. When Angela posted our review of Fuse, she mentioned the love/hate relationship many of us have with trilogies and series. Baggott’s trilogy has been one of the good ones. For starters, she’s the very opposite of writers like George R.R. Martin, who keep readers waiting for decades–this trilogy has been published within a two year period. What’s more, the final volume is even faster paced than the first two, unlike some ponderous final volumes I could name–note the almost identical page counts of the three novels. Most importantly, the quality has stayed consistently high throughout the series. And as our reviewer notes, the final volume leaves you wanting more. Thanks Julianna!

BAGGOTT, Julianna. Burn. 3. 432p. (Pure Series). Grand Central. Feb. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9781455502998; ebk. ISBN 9781455503025.

Adult/High School–As the third book in the trilogy begins, Pressia, Bradwell, El Capitan, and Helmud are still at Newgrange, a sacred piece of land that was spared during the Detonation. The inhabitants there have survived unmarred but now live an eerie existence as they desperately focus on repopulation. While there, they learn that Partridge is now the leader of the Pure within the Dome. The action picks up as the characters struggle to maintain their integrity in a world powered by secret alliances and hideous permutations of science. Partridge tries to make the Pure understand their culpability in the Detonation and the ruined lives of the wretches, but his revelation backfires when the Pure turn to mass suicide. Pressia takes off on her own, intending to infiltrate the Dome and reunite with Partridge, even as Partridge remains a pawn in his own kingdom. It’s no longer clear whether Pressia and her allies still have the same goals, or if they will inadvertently destroy each other in the process of rebuilding the world. Throughout the series, Baggott has created unforgettable characters; who can forget the relationship between El Capitan and the brother welded to his back? In addition, images from the Pure universe, such as the vicious swirls of Dusts, the grotesquely muscled soldiers, or the golden children in the field, are among the most vivid in speculative fiction. The pacing in this final installment is much quicker than in the first two volumes, with new twists and revelations in each chapter. It’s all over entirely too soon.–Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

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