Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Journey Beneath the Surface: Hobbit Week

Wow! Where has the time gone? It's hard to believe that we are entering our final week of teen summer reading activities here at CCPL; we will have our drop-in activities out Monday and Tuesday afternoons, and then complete our program with a party and prize drawing on Wednesday. 

This week's theme, appropriate for "Beneath the Surface," is Hobbit Week. The teens are testing their knowledge of hobbit trivia, finding hidden hobbits around the room, crafting hobbit feet and eye of Sauron necklaces, and even learning to write their names in Elven.

In case you don't know, The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again is a classic work of high fantasy by author J. R. R. Tolkien.  It serves as a prequel of sorts to Tolkien's more famous Lord of the Rings trilogy.  All the stories take place in Middle-Earth, a fantastical setting of Tolkien's creation that is somewhere "beneath the surface" of the world as we know it. Tolkien's work remains popular with fans of fantasy writing, and is seeing renewed interest now that movie versions have been/are being produced. (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was produced in 2012; according to the Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com, two more movies based on the book will be released, in 2013 and 2104.)

According to EBSCO's Novelist database, there are some characteristics that must be met when defining a work as "high" fantasy -- as opposed to low fantasy, urban fantasy, dystopian fantasy, etc.  High fantasy works take place in a secondary world, rather than the primary world that we know; fantasy world-building is a writing skill mastered by Tolkien.  His stories of Middle Earth, or Christopher Paolini's stories of Alaegesia, differ from J. K. Rowling's portal fantasy tales wherein the characters enter Hogwarts via Platform 9 1/2 in the primary world of London. In high fantasy, characters are engaged in a monumental struggle against some form of evil; because of the epic natures of these struggles, most high fantasy works are several volumes in length.

In tribute to Tolkien, then, the following are some of the best YA fantasy series recently published.  (Note:  Other than Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, which was reviewed in this blog on July 11, 2013, there are few Young Adult high fantasy works being written by male authors.  I have searched thoroughly our shelves, our catalog, and two literature databases, and have had little luck.  Male YA authors seem to be turning their attention more to dystopia, horror, and adventure genres, rather than fantasy.)

Graceling trilogy by Kristin Cashore.  In an unusual style of world-buildling, Cashore begins this trilogy with Graceling, a novel set in the world of the Dells that tells the story of Katsa, a young woman who is "graced" -- given a special talent.  Cashore then goes back in time with her second installment, Fire, portraying the world of the Dells at a time far before Katsa, when the world was populated by monsters rather than gracelings. In the final part of the trilogy, Bitterblue, Cashore returns to Katsa's story, and ties together the threads of the history of the Dells and the evil that has lurked there for generations. Filled with strong characters, imaginary creatures, and compelling moral issues, this trilogy does contain some content appropriate for older teens. (Both Graceling and Fire have been nominated for the Wyoming Library Association's Soaring Eagle award, and thus have been reviewed in earlier installments of this blog:  see February 26, 2011 and December 29, 2011.)

The Seven Realms, Cinda Williams Chima. I will admit that I have not yet picked up this four-book series, but I know quite a few of my fantasy readers have enjoyed it. I read an earlier series of Chima's -- The Warrior Heir trilogy -- and was impressed with her characterization.  The Warrior series, however, was actually low fantasy -- taking place in our primary world with a transition to a fantasy setting. The Seven Realms series is high fantasy, taking place in the kingdom of Fellsmarch. This is an excerpt of the School Library Journal review for The Demon King, the first book of the series:

"Princess Raisa comes from royalty and Han lives in poverty, but both are linked by the wizardry of The Demon King - Cinda Williams Chima's first book in the Seven Realms series. They meet when Han is avoiding the sometimes brutal authorities who wrongly accuse him of violent crimes and Raisa has donned peasant garb to learn about discontent in her kingdom. Multiple story threads reveal a conniving high wizard influencing the queen, an impetuous, but honorable princess, and a young man unaware of his magical past and unexplored powers. Both Han and Raisa have supportive friends and potential love interests, but the princess and the poor man draw on their own inner strength as they face the tension of unraveling lives and losses."

The series continues with The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, and The Crimson Crown.

The Lumatere Chronicles, Melina Marchetta.   This is my current favorite of not only fantasy, but Young Adult literature in general. I was impressed with Marchetta's complex, intelligent writing even before she ventured into fantasy literature. I reviewed the first book of this trilogy, Finnikin of the Rock, on June 21, 2012, and recently finished the second installment, Froi of the Exiles.  The final title, Quintana of Charyn, is on my to-read list - hopefully soon!  Marchetta spins a tale of a land torn apart by war, betrayal, and slavery, and of characters who are attempting to heal and restore their peoples. One common element of high fantasy missing from Marchetta's work is the presence of monstrous creatures; instead, the evil forces in this work have human faces. In that way, even though the setting and some of the characters' abilities are fantastic, the themes are powerfully real, and pertinent to both historic and current events. Be aware that, because so many of the story events are based on real-world happenings, all types of human brutality occur in this trilogy; it is one for more mature readers.

Tortall Universe and Circle Universe, Tamora Pierce. To give credit where it is due: while Tolkien is widely recognized as the master of high fantasy, no summary of Young Adult fantasy literature, and particularly fantasy by women authors, would be complete without mention of Tamora Pierce.  Pierce began writing YA fantasy in 1983, with the publication of Alanna: The First Adventure, the first installment of her Song of the Lioness quartet.  Since then, Pierce has crafted 27 YA novels, with her 28th, Battle Magic, due for publication this fall.  Alanna was the first story set in the Tortall Universe; five of her series are set in this world, along with a collection of short stories. Pierce's other two series, as well as three stand-alone novels, happen in the Circle universe.  Pierce was recently honored by the American Library Association with its 2013 Margaret A. Edwards award for lifetime contribution to the body of young adult literature.  Before Cashore, Chima, and Marchetta were writing fantasy stories with strong female leads wielding powerful weapons and even more powerful magic, Pierce was crafting these stories for an entire generation of teen readers. 

There are, of course, many more stories in our library's collection that will satisfy readers of this classic fantasy genre.  (See the July 11, 2013 post for reviews of Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, Fforde's Kazam Chronicles, and Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles -- all examples of high fantasy.)  And, of course, when it comes to fantasy, one can't go wrong reading the master; be sure to sample the rich stories of Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Discover Beneath the Surface: Underground Science Week

Note from Darcy:  Again, it is Johanna's turn to plan our summer reading activities and to write this week's post.  The idea of underground science shows up in many YA fiction titles, as Johanna points out. Remember that libraries house collections of intriguing nonfiction books as well. 
This week’s teen summer reading theme is Underground Sciences. Archaeology, paleontology, geology, and volcanology are just some of the sciences that explore and discover beneath the surface. The fiction books mentioned here take teens on journeys discovering ancient relics of human civilization, imagining the awesome power of the forces beneath the earth, and mixing magic with science in ways that captivate the mind. The following non-fiction books on this list represent only a portion of the library’s collection of fantastic young adult books discussing geology, archaeology, anthropology, and more.

TIM, Defender of the Earth by Sam Enthoven tells the tale of science gone awry. Two top secret government projects in London create havoc as they are released into the world. TIM (Tyrannosaur: Improved Model) is charged with saving Earth from a nanobot swarm, but he can’t do it alone. Chris, a boy struggling to win popularity, or at least not become an outcast, is the one chosen to channel the power of all living things and transfer the energy to TIM. Will Chris risk being “uncool” to help save the world? This short scifi novel contains great battle scenes including the destruction of several major London landmarks in a tale of magic versus science.

Darkhenge by Catherine Fisher tells a story of the power and rage that stems from sibling jealousy. Strange things keep happening to Rob, and he begins to feel that he’s losing touch with reality three months after his sister, Chloe, falls into a coma. Trying to escape the feeling that everyone around him is on hold just waiting for her to wake up, Rob takes a job drawing for an archaeological dig site. An upside down tree is unearthed, leading Rob to another world where Chloe waits. Chloe’s rage and jealousy of Rob’s artistic talent, which supersedes her writing talent, takes her on a strange journey through this alternate world where she has power. Aided by a mysterious poet/druid, Rob tries to convince Chloe to come home.

The Lost Stories by John Flanagan is a companion book to the Ranger’s Apprentice series. The book opens with archaeologists discovering old papers in what they believe to be Halt and Will’s old cabin! The scientists are very excited at finding something to prove the stories of the Rangers of old, which have become legend.  This book is not essential to the story of the Ranger’s Apprentice series, but contains ancillary tales which fill in some blanks from the saga as well as give you another look into the lives of the characters.

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan is the first book of the Kane Chronicles. Carter Kane has grown up traveling the world with his Egyptologist father, never staying in the same place for very long. His younger sister, Sadie Kane, stays with their grandparents and they rarely see one another. When in London visiting for Sadie’s birthday celebration, their father unleashes Egyptian god, Set. Now Sadie and Carter must find a way to free their father and contain Set. Riordan’s story brings Egyptian mythology to life in a powerfully entertaining way.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin explores the beginning of the end. One Friday night when Alex is home alone for the weekend, Yellowstone erupts. The book details how society falls apart as the ash rains down in a town 900 miles away. Alex leaves to find his family and meets with terrible misfortunes, almost dying several times. Just when it seems Alex has met his final end, he meets the mechanically gifted Darla and they travel together through the remains of Iowa to Illinois. The Ashfall trilogy continues with Ashen Winter, already out, and Sunrise, due in 2014. The unique idea of a volcanic end of the world creates an interesting, very realistic dystopian story.

The Early Human World by Peter Robertshaw and Jill Rubalcaba is a non-fiction book detailing the fossil record of early hominids and the records scientists have found of our ancestors, as well as hominids on different branches of the evolutionary tree. This book includes photographs, maps, and theories on hominid movement, lifestyle changes for early humans, and the development of early human technology. Stories of the archaeologists who found the fossils are interspersed with the factual text, giving readers an idea of what it’s like to be an archaeologist in the field. This book offers a great overview of anthropological archaeology and some of the science involved in discovering what we know of our ancient past.

Rocks and Fossils by Chris and Helen Pellant is a Visual Factfinder book containing information about rocks, gems, crystals, fossils, formation and mineral resources. This very informative book is similar to an illustrated encyclopedia. The beautiful illustrations on every page sit alongside facts about various rocks and gems including the chemical composition, where they can be found, how they were formed, and what makes them important. The book is fascinating for those who are interested in basics of rock finding, gemology, or beginning paleontology. The illustrations alone make this book worth reading.

Grave Secrets of Dinosaurs by Phillip Manning illuminates paleontology: the processes, the current knowledge, and the science behind re-creating dinosaurs. Full of technical descriptions and informative text, this book tells the story of a young man, Tyler Lyson of North Dakota, finding the hardrosaur mummy dinosaur and the process that allows scientists to discover new things about Earth’s old inhabitants. This book gives a fantastic look into the life of a modern-day paleontologist including the newest technologies used in this scientific field.

Volcano and Earthquake is an Eyewitness Book which gives a brief, colorful overview of the cause, effects, and famous historical occurrences of volcanoes and earthquakes. Eyewitness Books are full of pictures with small snippets of information which appeal to younger readers. The section on volcanology shows some of the tools and clothing that come with the job, including asbestos gloves and a thermocouple to record the temperature of molten lava.
Super Volcano by Greg Breining discusses the super volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park. This gritty non-fiction book begins when the author takes a three day class at Yellowstone and learns from his teacher the immense size and scope of the volcano which lies beneath. Research, history, and interviews create the body of this text while graphs, charts, pictures, and maps help illustrate the immensity of the caldera and what an eventual eruption could mean. The reassuring last chapter shows what measures scientists are taking to ensure we won’t be caught unaware if Yellowstone erupts. This book will help young readers better understand the history of the park as well as appreciate the geological aspects of Yellowstone.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Play Beneath the Surface: Dungeons and Dragons Week

This week during our Teen Room summer reading activities, we are exploring aspects of the role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons.  We have two active teen groups that meet weekly at the library to immerse themselves in a fantasy world of dragons, magicians, and intricate plots.  During our afternoon summer reading activities, some of the members of these teen groups have been helping other patrons learn how to create a character in order to play the game.  In addition, we have been playing with the “dragons” part of the game’s title with activities that focus on dragon food, dragon personality tests, and dragons in Young Adult literature.  The following are some of those books:

Inheritance Cycle, by Christopher Paolini:  By far our most popular dragon series here at CCPL, this quartet follows the epic story of Eragon, who finds out that he is the last of the Dragon Riders when an egg he finds hatches for  him, and he is faced with Saphira, a magnificent sapphire-blue dragon who becomes his friend and comrade in the fight against evil in the kingdom of Alagaesia.  Author Paolini does an excellent job of world-building, even going as far as creating an original language within the story. When I read the first book in this series, Eragon, I was fascinated to realize that Paolini published it when he was 16 years old!  After Eragon, the quartet continues with Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance.

Eon duology, by Allison Goodman:  The first of these two books, Eon: The Last Dragoneye, was a nominee for the Wyoming Soaring Eagle award last year, so it’s been reviewed already in this blog; see the October 24, 2012 entry.  The story tells of a thirteen-year-old girl who lives disguised as a crippled boy, in the hopes of being selected as the next Dragoneye, keeper of the magical forces that control weather, luck, and destiny.  There are traditionally twelve celestial dragons who each select their next Dragoneye; when Eon is selected by a mysterious thirteenth dragon, she is left without a mentor to help her learn to harness her dragon’s power. This story of ancient Asian culture and mysticism continues in Eona: Dragoneye Reborn.

Last Dragon Chronicles, by Chris D’Lacey: This seven-book series is popular with both middle-grade and high school readers, perhaps because it is different from typical dragon literature. It begins when a college student, David, takes rooms with Liz Pennykettle and her daughter, Lucy. Liz creates and sells clay dragon sculptures, and offers one to David. David is reluctant to accept at first; he senses mystery in the family he is living with. His dragon, however, presents only limited magic, and the story is much more about the relationships between David, Liz and Lucy than it is about epic fantasy battles. David is a writer, so there develops an intriguing story-within-a-story subplot. The seven-book series begins with The Fire Within; subsequent books are Icefire; Fire Star; The Fire Eternal; Dark Fire; Fire World; and The Fire Ascending.

Enchanted Forest Chronicles, by Patricia Wrede:  This series is one of the most entertaining of our selection of dragon literature.  It follows the story of young princess Cimorene, who would rather eat snails than endure the princess training her parents foist on her.  She is the youngest of seven daughters, and rather trying for her tired parents. When they attempt to wed Cimorene to a boring prince, she runs away to live with dragons, offering herself as a servant to the dragon Kazul. As she lives with Kazul, she attempts to intervene between humans and dragons to avoid unnecessary bloodshed; however, when the King of Dragons is killed, Cimorene finds herself involved in solving a mystery.  The first of this classic Young Adult series is Dealing with Dragons; the chronicles continue with Searching for Dragon; Calling on Dragons; and Talking to Dragons.

Kazam Chronicles, by Jasper Fforde: This new YA series is the first foray into Young Adult literature by popular adult fiction author Fforde.  The following review is taken from School Library Journal: 

Orphaned Jennifer Strange, 15, is the manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an organization that promotes the use of magic by its resident sorcerers, a quirky bunch at best. Within the course of one week, Jennifer becomes famous when she is named the Last Dragonslayer, and her already unusual life becomes one of danger, deceit, and dragons. She is called upon to kill the last dragon in the land and war threatens to break out as countries surrounding the Dragonlands vie for control of its vast and rich lands. Jennifer doesn't want to kill the dragon, but her duty and destiny are clear. Or are they?

The Kazam Chronicles begins with The Last Dragonslayer; the second book in the series, The Song of the Quarkbeast, came out in June.

We have lots more dragon literature in our Young Adult fiction collection!  Try a title from one of the above series, or come in and let us help you find another selection.  If there is one creature abundant in both the literature teens read and the games they play, it is a dragon!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Survive Beneath the Surface: Halo Week

Note from Darcy:  It's Rachael's turn to design our summer reading activities this week, and also her turn to write about the corresponding books.  Enjoy the following post about our selection of gaming-related material. 

This week’s summer reading theme focuses on survival beneath the surface. This theme lends itself well to another aspect of our teen room—video gaming! In addition to a Halo tournament this Wednesday, there are several video game-themed books that can be found in the CCPL Young Adult collection.

Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund. This book tells the background story of the fall of humanity characterized in the popular video game, Halo. While the brutal Covenant juggernaut sweeps inexorably through space, intent on wiping out humankind, only one stronghold remains--the planet Reach. Practically on Earth's doorstep, it is the last military fortress to defy the onslaught. But the personnel here have another, higher priority: to prevent the Covenant from discovering the location of Earth. The Halo series continues with Halo: The Flood by William Dietz; Halo: First Strike by Eric Nylund; Halo: Ghosts of Onyx by Eric Nylund;  Halo: Contact Harvest by Joseph Staten; and Halo: the Cole Protocol by Tobias Buckell.

100 Computer Games to Play Before You Die [Overdrive e-book] by Steve Bowden. From unforgettable classics such as “Donkey Kong” and “Space Invaders” to such modern phenomena as “Grand Theft Auto” and “Wii Sports,” computer games have been drawing people in for decades. But which of the vast array are true classics worth becoming addicted to? From the halcyon days of pixilated, one-dimensional blobs charging around a maze to escape from ghosts, to contemporary fully-interactive adventures, computer games expert Steve Bowden analyzes the 100 games that comprise his shortlist. (Note:  So far this title is only available as an e-book.)

The Halo Graphic Novel by Lee Hammock, Jay Faerber, Tsutomu Nihei and Brett Lewis. Marvel and Bungie team up to create The Halo Graphic Novel based on the best-selling video game. The graphic novel brings the Halo universe to life for the first time in a sequential art medium.

The Warcraft Archive by Richard A. Knaak, et al. In the mist-shrouded haze of past, the world of Azeroth teemed with wonders of every kind. Magical races and ancient beasts strode alongside the tribes of man -- until the arrival of the demonic Burning Legion and its baneful lord, Sargeras. Now dragons, elves, orcs, and dwarves all vie for supremacy across their scarred, war-torn kingdoms -- all part of a grand, malevolent scheme to determine the fate of the world. This 613-page tome actually includes four stories of the world of Warcraft:  Day of the Dragon by Richard A. Knaak; Lord of the Clans by Christie Golden; The Last Guardian by Jeff Grubb; and Of Blood and Honor by Chris Metzen.