Posts Tagged ‘Keith H.’s Picks’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Keith H’s Picks

December 31, 2014

They say too many books will spoil the broth, but they fill my life with so much, so much love.  I read primarily science fiction and fantasy, with a dose of comics and science fiction/fantasy for kids and teens.  I’m pretty well rounded.  These are my favorite science fiction and fantasy books that were new to me this year.

MMistbornistborn: the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Vin is a street urchin who gets wrapped up with a gang attempting to overthrow the imperial Lord Ruler. She lives in a world  divided into  commoners and  allomancers, who are sorcerers able to ingest certain metals to give them a specific power.” Coinshots” can use steel to propel metal through space. “Tineyes” use tin to enhance their senses. “Thugs” use pewter to enhance their strength. Most allomancers can only use a single metal but the most feared are Mistborn, who can use the powers of all metals. Sanderson’s writing became increasingly well-known after he was selected to finish Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series. I prefer Sanderson’s own works, which are still epic fantasy with thorough world-building, but considerably less sprawling. (Trilogies instead of 10+ book epics)  Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first book of the Mistborn trilogy.

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
After Yeine Darr’s mother dies, she is called to the imperial city by her grandfather, the emperor. Her upbringing as a barbarian leaves her outcast in imperial society. She soon finds that she has been chosen to compete for the throne against two cousins who are immeasurably more well-versed in magic and backstabbing than her. To top it off, gods made incarnate are also meddling with the competition. I read this initially because it was compared to Octavia Butler, but Jemison creates her own unique universe in this innovative work. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first book in “The Inheritance” trilogy.

The Knife of Never Letting GoKnife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Todd lives on a planet recently settled by humans. Unfortunately, a native virus has killed all of the women and given men the curse of “Noise”, constantly hearing each other’s thoughts. Todd learns a secret which causes him to flee their settlement with his dog, Manchee. Todd can also hear his dog’s thoughts. Manchee’s dog voice has replaced the voice of Dug, the dog from “Up”, in my imagination of what dogs sound like while speaking English . This story is told in a dialect that takes some initial getting used to, but becomes second nature quickly. This brutal, face paced story was published as a teen book but due to some disturbing themes, I wouldn’t give it to anyone under 15.

The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
A historical fiction, immigration story with a fantastic twist: the immigrants are magical beings. Chava is a Golem, a lifelike woman made of clay by an outcast rabbi who practices Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a Jinni, a fire spirit born in the deserts of Syria, recently released from being trapped inside a copper flask. They meet while trying to find their places in the chaos of late 1800s New York City. The details of Jewish and Arab mythology and culture are well-researched and intriguing. Watching Chava and Ahamad become friends and soul mates was a pleasure straight to the end.

Among OthersAmong Others by Jo Walton
A seemingly unreliable narrator describes her life as the daughter of an evil fairy. After fleeing to her father’s home, Morwenna is promptly sent away to a boarding school in the English countryside. As an avid reader, she finds solace by joining a science fiction book club at the local library. Any speculative fiction fan will enjoy the club’s discussions of the great authors of SF:  LeGuin, Delaney, Heinlein, Asimov, et al. This book is like a love letter to SF combined with an awesome to-read bibliography.  Among Others was the winner of the 2012 Nebula and Hugo awards for Best Novel.  Read another review.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

October 8, 2014

Star Wars: Jedi AcademyJeffrey Brown brings the heavily cartoon illustrated middle-grade novel popularized by Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series to the Star Wars universe.

The story features a young boy, very reminiscent of Luke Skywalker, named Roan. Roan dreams of being a fighter pilot like his father. His dreams are crushed when he finds that he has not been accepted into pilot school, but must instead begin training to become a Jedi.

Yoda, as the headmaster, is one of the only characters from the movie world, but there are plenty of familiar alien species and droid types. One of the most entertaining was his unintelligible female Wookie gym teacher, often pictured wearing head and wrist sweatbands like a furrier Bjorn Borg. Others include the tutor droid T-P3O, the Mon Calamri Librarian Lackbar and a school bully who looks remarkably similar to Darth Maul. This book documents an eventful school year where Roan learns to make friends, duel with a light saber and use the force. Anyone who has experienced middle-school will empathize with Roan’s experiences and root for him to find the Jedi Path.

Jedi Academy is not to be confused with author Tom Angleberger’s equally laudable Origami Yoda series, which takes place in a realistic Earthbound setting featuring characters who are fans of the Star Wars mythos. I would recommend this series for upper-elementary and older Star Wars fans. It is filled with many Star Wars puns and movie references. For example, the kids go to Ralph McQuarrie Middle School and a couple of the origami villains are named Jabba the Puppet and Darth Paper.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Join us on Saturday, October 11 from 3-5 p.m. for Star Wars Reads Day when we’ll have fun crafts, trivia, books, and more in an event for all ages to celebrate all the reasons why we love Star Wars.

Best New Books of 2013: Keith H’s Picks

December 16, 2013

Hi! My name is Keith and I’m a children’s librarian who enjoys scifi and fantasy books that straddle the line between adult and teen fiction. Some of my favorites of 2013 were:

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
I was initially standoffish because Sanderson is most famous for his Mistborn fantasy novels and finishing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  My high fantasy days are mostly over. But, the synopsis drew me in since it reads like a comic book plot. Steelheart is set in a world where an event has given some humans super-powers. Unfortunately, everyone who gains these powers becomes criminal sociopaths, known as Epics. The story focuses on a young man named David whose father was killed by an Epic named Steelheart. Steelheart is impervious to physical attacks and has declared himself Emperor of Chicago. David joins a resistance organization working to free the city from Steelheart’s tyranny. This book reads like a blockbuster  movie, deftly moving from one action packed scene to another. I couldn’t put it down and ended up finishing it in a day.

Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi
I love the teen novels of Bacigalupi – gritty dystopias with strong characters and no romance! When he released his new book, Zombie Baseball Beatdown, it was marketed towards middle-grade readers from 5th to 8th grade. This threw me for a loop.  Judging it by its cover, it appears to be a book about members of a sports team who must destroy some zombies with their baseball bats. And it is…but it is so much more. You get an inkling of this when the main character declares his hero as Spider Jerusalem from Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, a very adult graphic novel.  The protagonist is an Indian-American  middle-schooler named Rabindranath Chatterjee-Jones, called Rabi by his friends. Rabi and his friends fight against the havoc wreaked by industrialized corporate meat, immigration law, and racists. Oh yeah, and in the process they seriously beat down some zombies.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
“After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.” The story begins with a teen named Cassie trying to survive an earth that has already been devastated by alien invasion. Most of the planet’s population has been eliminated, and the few humans that are left are hunted by strange beings which appear in human form. So Cassie has trust issues… The only person she trusts is her little brother, who she will protect at any cost. Be warned, there is a goofy love triangle. Fortunately, there are enough firefights, explosions and plot twists to forgive that.

Saga: Volume Two by Brian K. Vaughan
(I’m kind of cheating here because you wouldn’t want to read Volume Two before reading Volume One, which was actually published in 2012.) Saga is the award winning science fiction graphic novel series written by Brian K. Vaughn (Y the Last man, Pride of Baghdad). It has been described as “Romeo and Juliet meets Star Wars meets Game of Thrones”. This is one of those comics that is a good entry point for readers who are curious about comics, but don’t feel compelled to read super-hero stories. Saga is the story of mixed-species couple who meet as a guard and prisoner in a P.O.W. camp. Alana and Marco fall in love, have a baby, and go on the run…but not necessarily in that order.  They are chased by a multi-limbed female humanoid/arachnid assassin and a bounty hunter with a cat partner that says, “Lying” when someone is not telling the truth. It all sounds insane, but has a very cool storyline and some pretty innovative storytelling. The artwork by Fiona Staples is beautiful. If you enjoy science fiction and/or quirky romance, give it a try – just be prepared for some adult content.

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Set at the turn of the century during the Boxer Rebellion, these two graphic novels offer different perspectives on a tumultuous time in China’s history.  Boxers follows Little Bao, whose village has been invaded by a brutal priest and his enforcers. Bao tries to stand up against the oppression of the Christian missionaries by gathering an army of peasants. They learn to use kung-fu to channel the power of Chinese deities to defend their culture and religious traditions. The companion volume, Saints, tells the story of Four-Girl, an unnamed fourth daughter in a family that doesn’t want her. She is baptized by the same priest from Little Bao’s story. Four-Girl embraces Christianity and finds acceptance from fellow worshippers, who give her the name Vibiana. Visions of Joan of Arc and Jesus give Vibiana the strength to stand up for her right to practice the faith of her choice. One of the interesting things about these two books is that both main characters, Little Bao and Vbiana, are compelling and sympathetic. Each one has a very direct connection with their respective faiths. Put together, the stories of this National Book Award finalist offer a well-rounded take on a historical period I knew little about.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

November 6, 2013

I have long been a fan of dystopian literature written for adults. From Huxley’s Brave New World to Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, I love to read stories about our world gone wrong. In recent history, it has become more socially acceptable for adults to be caught reading kids/teen fiction. Since Suzanne Collins published the Hunger Games, there have been a slew of imitators churning out teen “coming of age/romance in the apocalypse” drivel. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed Hunger Games, but there was a little too much angsty adolescent love for my taste. The Gale/Peeta dichotomy was an annoying distraction from the violent social commentary.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, while featuring a teen protagonist, is at its bones a story of survival while attempting to maintain a moral code in a brutal world. The story is set in the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in a time when the world’s supply of oil has run dry. Scavengers have created an industry of stripping derelict oil tankers of any usable commodities when they wash up on shore. The main character, Nailer, spends as much time as he can away from a miserable home life. His amphetamine addicted father regularly beats him and spends their savings on booze and drugs. One day, Nailer finds a beached clipper ship in a nearby cove. It contains opulence like he has never seen which, by finder’s rights, is now his to claim. While exploring the ship, he also finds a teenage girl, half-dead trapped under the bed of the stateroom. He is faced with a choice: free her and try to get her to safety or let her die and be the wealthiest member of his community.

Bacigalupi creates a believable, brutal world full of desperate and dangerous characters. This book has just the right combination of sci-fi action and compelling characterization…and no sappy teen romance!

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

July 22, 2013

bookcover.phpThis is one of those books that people kept telling me I “had to read”, which is always off-putting. First of all, it is about a middle school girl and I am a man in my forties. Also, judging a book by its cover, it looks like historical fiction and I tend toward Fantasy and Science Fiction. But I trust my 11 year old daughter’s taste in literature, so when she told me she loved it I gave it a try. I’m happy I did.

This Newbery winner from 2010 is a fun little puzzle of a book. While it sits somewhere between the genres of mystery and science fiction, this book could be appreciated by any adult who spent some formative years during the 1970s. Set in Manhattan, it follows a few months in the life of a sixth grader named Miranda. Miranda lives with her single mother and is tasked with helping her prepare for an appearance on the “$20,000 Pyramid” game show. Her mom is convinced that their lives will be better if only she can win the big prize.

Miranda’s ordinary life takes a turn for the weird when a boy randomly punches her best friend, Sal. Miranda soon meets the bully, Marcus, at school. She befriends him while discussing Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Marcus is convinced that time travel is possible but points out discrepancies in L’Engle’s plot. Miranda soon begins to find cryptic notes around her house and inside her belongings, notes that may have come…FROM THE FUTURE! Her life begins to spiral out of control as she tries to make sense of the oddness.

This book is an intriguing examination of finding meaning in the strange little coincidences that happen around us and the difficulty of having and keeping friends. It is still totally relevant to this 40 year old’s life and I would presume, yours as well.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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