Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The OTHER TeenZone Book Reviewer

It’s my great pleasure to welcome the one- the only- Rebecca Fleming as the other TeenZone blogger.
Kindly, Rebecca has agreed to take on the difficult job of helping to review books, old and new (and the romances, too. Ick.)
Hopefully it’ll spiff up our content too.
Please welcome her, and be sure to share these book blogs with your friends.

Name: Rebecca Fleming
Occupation: Librarian
Special Skills: Alphabetizing; Baking; Knitting; Random Trivia Recall; Sweet Tea Connoisseur
Background Information: A lifetime of reading led to degrees in Literature and History before Library School.  The reading has continued, and takes many forms – from all things Jane Austen to contemporary YA to fairy tales and time travel. In addition, the Librarian demonstrates thorough knowledge of football, Star Wars, Disney princess movies and most things Middle Earth, as well as indicating a definite preference for Superman (though Captain America is close competition). Enter into Scrabble and other word-games with the Librarian at your own risk.

Scrabble game
Scrabble game (Photo credit: jcolman)

Good thing I don’t play Scrabble! Looking forward to hearing more from ‘the Librarian’ in the near future.


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Twilight Series Review

I’m not sure how I landed on this series for review. It’s fairly well known that I find Edward, Bella and Jacob to be silly renditions of the their respective monsters. However, I don’t think I have ever seen quite the same reaction and following like these books have gained. Even years after their initial release in 2005, I see folks of all walks coming back to check them out and read them again.
There is something to be said for this trend.
Certainly, if you think about other famous literature that has generated this kind of intense public affection, you would remember the the Harry Potter series was exceptional for its fame, and of course, more recently The Hunger Games trilogy.
I’ve labored through the books of the Twilight series and what I’ve found didn’t match up to what I expected.
Meyer’s writing is clear and concise. She develops very good sympathy for her characters, so that when bad things happen to good vampires and shape changers I actually found myself feeling sad.
But beyond the reading, beyond the excellent PR, why did these titles fix the imagination of the American Teenager so hard to their pages?
I wish I knew.

The whole story in a nutshell
Okay, so, we all know that Harry Potter is from a wizarding family that was killed. Harry is rescued by other magical characters and brought to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he invariably slides through all the Jungian archetypes of the epic hero and eventually destroys his nemesis. (Whew!)
We also know quite a lot about Katniss Everdeen and her adventures fighting the Capitol and President Snow. (That girl was on fire!)
(Twilight) Isabella ‘Bella’ Swan moves to Forks, Washington (the state) and along with the other thrills and spills of late adolescent life, she becomes attracted to Edward Cullen. He’s a member of a family of vampires that feast on animals, rather than humans. Of course, there are all the trials of being of different ‘kinds’, that is, when a human loves a vampire, but we’re used to that.
So then along comes James, a vampire from a different family that does feed on humans. James is drawn to hunt and feed on Bella, and in her attempt to face him, she is mortally wounded. At the last minute, Edward saves the day, or, er, well, the night.
(New Moon)  Edward is feeling extremely guilty for the harm that befell Bella while facing James. So he and his family leave Forks, Washington, hoping to keep her safe.
But Bella is sad that Edward is gone, and she finds life extremely hard, until she meets Jacob, a werewolf (actually he’s a shape changer and not real  werewolf (to the relief of werewolves everywhere!) but why split hairs?
Jacob and his pack of shape changer wolves must protect Bella from Victoria, who is seeking vengeance for the death of James.
Edward hears that Bella is dead, and intends to kill himself. (Gosh, this is such happy stuff). Alice, Edward’s sister brings Bella to Italy, and she manages to save Edward from himself.
The Volturi coven, an extremely old and powerful vampire family, try to force Edward to make Bella a vampire, but eventually they are released from Italy, and go back to Forks. All very happily ever after.
Remember the whole ‘Team Edward, Team Jacob’ thing? Yeah, well, here’s where it comes into play. In Eclipse, though you may have forgotten, Victoria is still gunning for Bella, and creates an army of vampires to battle the Cullen family and destroy Bella. Meanwhile, Bella must try to decide who she’s more loyal to, her buff shapeshifter friend Jacob and his tribe, or Edward, the sulky pale vampire and his family. Well, Who would you choose?
Anyway, Bella loves Edward, so she follows him, but regardless the werewolves and the vampires join forces to destroy Victoria’s crazy bad vampire army. (Is anyone else getting dizzy? Just wait!)
Bella keeps Jacob from dying in battle (because he’s sad that Bella only loves Edward) but she tells Jacob that she loves him too, but just not as much. Edward destroys Victoria and her army, and Bella and Edward are engaged.
In Breaking dawn there are three separate sections, each dealing with separate issues, though, they are all about Edward and Bella.
In the first section, Edward and Bella are celebrating their honeymoon on Esme’ Island off Brazil. While it is discovered that Bella is pregnant, the fetus is half and half (human and vampire) they return to Forks.
Concerned that the baby’s natural vampire tendencies are weakening Bella, but she is determined to keep the baby, feeling a link or bond with it.

The second section is told from Jacob’s point of view, and deals with the issues between the Cullens and Jacob’s tribe. When his tribe become convinced that the baby will be too dangerous to live, they agree to try to destroy her. Jacob leaves and forms his own pack with two other shape shifters. He intends to protect Bella, but when she falls and is massively injured, Edward must save her by making her a vampire. However the baby is born, and thinking Bella dead, and the baby responsible, Jacob tries to kill it.
Nevertheless, he finds that the baby is his soulmate, and imprints on her.

In the last section, of course, the idea of a hybrid vampire human is evil to the ancient Italian family, the Volturi, and so they come to destroy Renesmee. However, now, once again Jacob’s tribe, and the Cullen’s are all one big happy group, ready to defend their hybrid. Everyone develops special powers, and despite how odd she is, Renesmee is allowed to live, there are executions, and a battle scene, and so on. You can read it.

In my opinion...
I’ll be honest, I never really liked this series. I thought that the vampires were rather wimpy, and the whole Edward vs. Jacob thing was rather difficult to get past. So many of the cool aspects of the story; that each vampire has a specific power, for example is swallowed whole by the gritty descriptions of feelings, the frenetic necessity to keep up with names and family loyalties and the inescapable tendency for me to imagine Edward and Jacob and Bella as they were portrayed in the films (I still refuse to sit through even one of those).
The stories, however are compelling enough that you must finish, especially since you tend to identify with at least one of the characters.
Being a big fan of Russian literature, I found myself comparing the intensely character driven stories to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. In fact, for me, those parallels are rather frightening.
Once I began to see that there was a type of validity to this form of storytelling, and of course when I was able to accept that the species in the story were more or less not metaphorical, but meant as actual descriptions of characteristics, like superheroes, I was better able to handle the stories.
If you love supernatural, gothic or horror novels, and you haven’t read the Twilight Saga, you’re missing out.
Now please forget that I admitted to any of this.


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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pottery Slam 2013

In the Beginning...
When I took the Teen Services position last Fall, I had some good ideas for programming tucked away in my ‘Big Idea’ brainstorming book. I felt good about my start, and worked to build ideas with the young people of our community in mind.

A colleague suggested I do a ‘Poetry Slam!; a program where you hold a poetry reading for the young people in your community to come to the library and share their spoken word, rap and so on.
When the lightning struck, it was at the very end of the day and I was clearing out my inbox and tidying up my to-do list. There was an email from the local arts guild mentioning some important information about local potters.
Randolph County has some of the most talented potters in the world, and as a result are world renown for their skills. Why not have a pottery slam? Instead of having teens come to the library to make and read poetry, why not have them come to the library to make pottery with a few of these famous potters?
And that’s how it all started.

On the Friday Before...
When friends and colleagues began to whisper about snow, I clenched my jaw and tried not to listen. Weather is one of those uncontrollable factors in library programming. In one of my other auxiliary duties, I do a bi-monthly screening of popular movies. Sometimes these are well attended, but sometimes they’re not. Usually, weather is a big factor.
However temperatures were in the mid-sixties that day, so I went home hopeful that the Pottery Slam would not be affected by inclement weather.

The Big Day Arrives... White.

Early Saturday morning, peeking between the blinds, I saw snow, and my heart sank. The Pottery Slam! was not set to begin until noon, but if roads were slippery or if the snowfall was too deep, my potters and my patrons would be no-shows. For hours, I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to postpone my program. However, in the end, with help from my director, I emailed my potters, and posted a confirmation of our Facebook Page: Hey Teens! We are still having the Pottery Slam! Today... at 12 pm. See you at Asheboro Public Library!”

Better than I Ever Hoped...

When the potters arrived, unperturbed by the snow, and began to set up, the only fear I had was that none of my teen patrons would show. The really wonderful thing about the weather that day was that regardless of how hard it snowed, and it snowed hard, none of it stuck. The roads were only wet.
As the kids and their folks arrived, (and many came through that day, to my surprise) I realized that the program was a success.

How to be a Good Potter...
I don’t know how to be a potter. However, from what I saw of my three potters on that day, there are three things you need to be a good potter.
1. You have to be a good teacher.
2. You have to be patient and encouraging,
3. You have to be willing to put up with a nervous librarian.
All three potters, Adam Wiley, Betsy Browne and Joseph Sand just took over. They worked their magic and helped others to learn how as well. Aside from wondering out of the room periodically, to look at the snow and check for more patron participants, All I did was mill about and take pictures. As the young people circulated through the different stations, creating their own pottery, I saw another wonderful, but unexpected side effect occurring. Moms and Dads also sat down by the wheel and made some pottery, getting into the fun of it with their kids.

In the End...
I couldn’t have hoped for a better day. Loads of people made loads of pottery which will be glazed and fired and put on display, before I give the pieces back to their makers.
The program fulfilled several aspects that all teen programs should seek to attain. It was hands on; it involved members of the community who will make an unforgettable impression; and it was fun.
I was lucky that my program managed to hit all of these and more.
And on top of it all, with the help of Adam Wiley and the Randolph County Community College’s pottery department, the pots were all fired and are now on display!

Special Thank You’s
This program would not have been a success without Adam, Betsy and Joseph; thanks guys for all you did!
Andrew Johnson who helped cut out extra cardboard squares right before we ran out.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov

Classics in the TeenZone

Have you ever walked through the TeenZone and wondered why there are so many ‘old books’? Those Old Books are considered classics of literature by many people, including your teachers and those responsible for creating the curriculum at your school. The reason that you’ll find them mainly in the TeenZone is because you’ll be required to read some of them at some point, for school. But we also keep them there, even after the curriculum changes, just in case.
It’s obvious that those aren’t books you would naturally seek out, as most teens prefer to read modern and up-to-date books as opposed to those Old Books. However, at some point you may be out of things to read and your librarians hope (and so do your teachers) that you will pick up an Old Book and find the same life-changing enjoyment that we found there as well.
Well, we can hope, can’t we?

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov.

For me, Foundation is one of those books that I remained ignorant about until just this year. Like most teens, I also tend to avoid certain Old Books. However, I’ve always liked all of Isaac Asimov’s work, and somehow, I just didn’t know about Foundation.
The basic premise of the story is very simple. In the distant future, the entire Milky Way Galaxy is inhabited by humanity. It is one big Galactic Empire.
Sound familiar?
Just wait!
Hari Seldon is a psychohistorian, which is a big word for the complex science of figuring out what will happen next. Seldon scientifically predicts the end of the Empire in three hundred years, and a three millennia long dark age to follow. He says that the cracks that will cause this break-up have already been made, there is nothing humanity can do to stop the inevitable crises.
However, Hari Seldon has also looked far enough into the future using his complex mathematics, to see that instead of three thousand years of barbarism, he can help shorten the era of horrors to only a thousand years, and create the means to welcome the age of a Second Galactic Empire.
To do this, he creates the Foundation, a complex scientific community on a far distant rim world of Terminus, where all of the information throughout all of the galaxy is stored and collected into one huge Encyclopedia Galactica, with which future generations can learn to slow the destruction of the empire.

How is this not an Old Book?
So, nothing about what I’ve described seems interesting? Try to give it a chance. The ideas in this book are better than the imagination of the author could ever have predicted. In Asimov’s day, especially in the 1930’s when this book was originally published as a series, the word on everyone’s mind was ‘Atomic’. By the time the revised version was published in one book in the 1950’s the world had already witnessed the complete destruction of two Japanese cities by Atomic Bombs. In just a short twenty year period of time, things of imagination had become incredibly and frighteningly real.
Of course, we no longer worry so much about nuclear power. We understand things better now, than ever before. But from Asimov’s point of view, the entire future would be (and was) shaped by who had the biggest weapons.
Foundation is a good story if you like complex science fiction with spaceships and laser blasters and nifty future tech. But the best thing about the book is that it is not a book about the future at all. It is a book about right now.
How? Well Asimov seemed to know that certain things were true about humans, regardless of how advanced they were technologically or morally. Basically, humans have desires. Those desires lead individuals to make decisions that do not incorporate the lives of anyone else, but may affect those others in a very real and terrible way.
In his own way, Isaac Asimov is saying that unless we turn our thoughts to the future and begin to think about the way we want things, we’ll have to give up our primitive drives and motives and come together for a peaceful world. That sounds like something quite modern to me.

In my opinion...

Foundation is about one man’s hope to end or slow the terrors of civilization and to eventually create a new Mega Utopia in the galaxy. But beyond that, it is the story of those people whose lives allow that change to come to reality.
Mainly, it is a book about science, and the truth of scientific discovery. Just like today, new discoveries are always  just around the corner. The question is, can we use those discoveries for good or will we always find a way to destroy with them?
Unlike other books that have but one hero, who races in a quest against a terrible future, Foundation is comprised of all the many people who help to bring about a greater change; a change beyond themselves.
Hari Seldon, the creator of the Foundation, knows that he will not live to see the New Age, but inspires those who follow to trust his science and act for the better of the galaxy, rather than themselves.
Unlike other books about the future of society and science, Asimov’s story revolves, as I have said, on the small acts of individuals, rather than the larger actions of groups and whole countries and planets.
This book is an easy read, humorously and elegantly out-of-date and quite intelligent. And like Asimov’s other creations, like I, Robot, it leaves you wondering whether or not he could see into the future like Hari Seldon, as well.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The New 52: Batman and The Court of Owls part 2 of 2

Previously, we looked at The New 52, a DC reboot of it’s fifty-two most popular characters, specifically Grant Morrison’s reboot of Superman. You can read my previous post to get my feelings on that particular story line. As promised, though, this week I will focus on the Batman story reboot, and my feelings about it.

The New 52, Batman, and The Court of Owls.
To begin with, there’s not a lot you can do to ‘reboot’ Batman. If you change too much of his history, or if you rewrite his circumstances too much, then you tamper with all of the awesome that Batman is. However writer Scott Snyder does quite a bit to amp up the circumstances and the action and the background story so that the familiar is not ruined, but enhanced.
So, Gotham city is still being protected by the Caped Crusader and all the Rogues in his gallery are locked in Arkham Asylum. However, unlike previous comics, all three Robins are together at one time. Dick Grayson, the first Robin is now Nightwing, but he still operates in Gotham City, not in Bludhaven, as before. Also, Batgirl, and Selena Kyle (Catwoman) all seem to be alive, fully functioning and active.
The story opens with Bruce Wayne preparing to change the face of Gotham City and rebuild it and expand it to make it the City of the Future, with the help of mayoral candidate Lincoln March. However, a dead body brutally stabbed with small knives engraved with owls, and a message to Bruce Wayne causes the Dark Detective takes up the mystery of The Court of Owls, an ancient crime organization, spread throughout all of Gotham City.

My Opinion
So, just like always, Batman is a little hard to take. He’s driven, that’s assumed, but he can be a little too single-minded and stubborn. Snyder’s interpretation, which I like, is that Batman’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. While searching for the Court of Owls, it becomes clear that this crime society is more powerful and deadly than any of the other crazies Batman has ever faced. While that seems like a typical plot line, in this case it’s true. Following a trail in history and in the stone of the buildings of Gotham, Batman stumbles on an extremely old conspiracy to rule Gotham from the shadows. This puts him in high gear, trying to win back his streets, but his drive and inability to stop when necessary put himself and his family in danger.
The foundation of this, is illustrated by the fact that bats are a natural prey of owls.
Snyder’s storyline is perfect, catching all of the nuance and dark-hearted action from all of Batman’s previous renderings. Greg Capullo’s art is fantastic. During one scene where Batman is lost in the Court’s labyrinth, his tortured hallucinations will have you turning the book every which way, trying to follow what’s happening.

This version of the Gotham City Mythology does a lot to endear itself to those of us who love it already. Batman is not a one-sided character. Unlike Superman, or any of the other Justice Leaguer, he’s a non-superhero. No special powers that he did not attain specifically for his war on crime. That said, when he’s hurt in battle, or loses sight of his ultimate goal, you feel for him.
The story gets a little weird in spots, especially since they’re introducing this very important aspect of Gotham history well into an already established universe, but even so, it only serves to make a wonderful and more lush landscape for the Caped Crusader to be in.

In the end...
Read this book as though you know nothing of the Batman legacy and you will be pleasantly surprised. But if you read it, as I have, coming from years of books, comics and movies under your belt, then you’ll still be pleasantly surprised. The art is really amazing, the storyline and it’s premise are really well thought out and pretty unbelievable in terms of a revamp. Much better than the Superman reboot, anyway.
Thus ends my graphic novel critique of DC’s The New 52. We’ve also got The New Justice League and Green Lantern from the reboot as well. Stop by and check them out!

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The New 52: a Review of Superman and the Men of Steel, part 1 of 2

It’s hard not to know who Batman and Superman are. Chances are, you not only know of them, but you know a bit about them. Their respective histories, or mythologies as they are referred to in the comic business, have several aspects which are very familiar. Batman is millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne by day. His parents were murdered and he vowed to do something about the crime in Gotham City. Superman is really Clark Kent, an alien from another world who gets his powers from our yellow sun, and who is virtually indestructible.
However, in an attempt to keep characters from being considered too ‘stale’ by readers new and old, DC Comics agreed to let the writers take some new liberties with the ‘canonical mythologies’ to add a little spice to the aging characters. They did this in 2011 by creating fifty-two new titles, based on their most popular characters and starting all of their comics anew, with a Number 1.
This review is one of two. First up, Superman’s reboot.

Superman Action Comics “Superman and the Men of Steel”.

As you can see from the cover, Sups is not in his traditional Kryptonian uniform. Instead he’s just got jeans, boots and his Superman t-shirt and his cape. While it gives him a rather Smallville, Kansas look, this is hardly the wierdest change from the story.
Instead of Krypton being destroyed by an expanding sun, which only Jor El, Superman’s (or Kal El, his Kryptonian moniker) father discovers, but which none of the Kryptonians believe, the planet is destroyed by an alien computer virus (Brainiac, basically) which takes over technology and then destroys the planet.
Jor El sends his only son, Kal El in a rocket to Earth, which is standard legend and he is raised by an older couple in Smallville. However, as his powers develop, he moves to Metropolis and tries to fight for right, using his powers for good.
Part of the reboot, he is no longer married to Lois Lane, and with both of his adoptive parents deceased, Clark is unable to reconcile his obvious alien nature to that of humanity. Instead of fighting for truth, justice and the American way, like before, he sometimes uses his powers to scare bad guys into confession.
The story centers around Clark coming to terms with a humanity that is terrified of him. It also features the same information plague that destroyed his own homeworld and his battle to save the world.

My Opinion
For as long as I can remember, Superman had a strong sense of morality, but was basically a perfect good guy. He knew that he was needed and he did whatever he could to save humanity, in many cases from itself. Tough, and nobody’s fool, Sups was still likeable and in some cases one-sided. He always did what was right.
While I would rather be whipped in public than say an ugly word about Grant Morrison, author of many wonderful story arcs within the DC Comics Universe, with this series of comics, I think he made some mistakes.
First: Superman needs a strong female character. It is his ties with Lois that allows him to seem a bit more human.
Second: Superman would never have doubts about what he does. Creating a Man of Steel who doubts, and who is easily swayed by public opinion creates an underlying sense that it is only because he has super powers that he uses them. In other words, it takes away his motivation to do anything good, besides just exercising his super strength.
Last: Lois’ father being a general in the army working on a super soldier program is just a tad too much like the Hulk and Betty Ross and her pops. Sorry, but down that road lies trouble.
I have always liked Superman. He’s not as polarizing as Batman, but he’s still able to throw down and take names. His homegrown idealism is not only infectious, but we find ourselves wishing he were real, to help aid this world and the people in it. He becomes a demi-god of sorts, a displaced son, adopted by a whole planet, who rely on him for his inherent strength and goodness. Not to mention how cool it would be to fly, like that. And be invincible.
Morrison’s reboot of Kal El is a bit grittier; Sups isn’t devoted to only one ideal, and he struggles to understand why people are frightened of him, and not grateful for his intervention. He is brash, a bit clumsy and not nearly as god-like as before. He’s just a guy with super powers trying to do right, as he sees it, but possibly not as the world wants it.
There’s a hint of sadism too, as the newly minted Professor Luthor revels in rolling out all kinds of horrid tortures for the Kryptonian, only to find that he remains unscathed.

Tremendous art, and a good story line keep the Superman reboot interesting. There are a few places throughout where the action and the dialog seem to imply a change of time or another ‘shift’ in the story which make it a little hard to follow.
Superman’s new mythos is a addictive, but not because it’s new. It’s largely borrowed and in general a vast pastiche. But, it is sort of fun to see how the Kryptonian we all know and love holds up to the much darker and scarier world and characters as Grant Morrison has created it.

In the end...
I recommend it, if only because of the chance to appreciate a different take on an old hero. The art is amazing, and Rags Morales and Andy Kubert and the rest probably cemented themselves into the comic book artist hall of fame for their work which is extremely good.

Next week: Batman: Court of Owls.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, by Lish McBride

Life is complicated sometimes. 
No one knows that better than Sam LaCroix. He’s a fry cook at a local fast food joint. Other than navigating the perils of fries and friends, Sam’s doing just fine.
That’s when Douglas shows up.
Douglas is a Necromancer. What is a necromancer, you ask? A Necromancer is a sorcerer who uses an arcane form of magic to control the dead and a bunch of other scary tricks.
Douglas recognizes Sam as a fellow Necromancer, but Sam, who up until now thought that he was an average guy, has no idea how to use his latent powers.
Douglas gives Sam an ultimatum. Join him or be destroyed. The ultimatum comes in the form of Brooke, whose severed head arrives in a box and tells him Douglas’ demands.
Sam has a week to decide. A week to discover things about himself he didn’t think possible.
A week.
Needless to say, in a Harry Potter kind of way a whole new supernatural world is opened up to Sam. And when he winds up in a cage with Brid, a young girl who is also a werewolf; well, let’s just say being exciting is an understatement.
Lish McBride’s first and completely breakout novel captures the slightly ironic tone of American twenty-somethings trying to make a way in the world. She also captures the mundane day-to-day existence in such a way that it come across more tongue-in-cheek.
With a wide variety of Werewolf vs. Sorcerer vs. Vampire vs. Demon Hunter vs. Zombie books out there, one more in the supernatural fiction sea would seem like a drop in a bucket.
McBride’s writing and storytelling never falter and her sense of humor and keen awareness of the turmoils of life bring about a story that’s not only funny, but hard to put down.
To be honest, I love Gothic literature (not Goth, that’s something else). Poe and Lovecraft and Stoker are all on my bookshelf.
I admit that I was little concerned about a hunky sorcerer and girl werewolf book. But the tone of the story had me laughing from the git-go. There’s really no other way to deliver this kind of supernatural fiction, or else it begins to seem as if it takes itself too seriously.
What really got my attention, though, was the William C. Morris award for “impressive debut book by an author writing for teens”. A book of this length and style must be pretty darned good to win this prestigious award, and Lish McBride must have some chops to bring about a winner right out of the gate.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is the first book in what will likely be a very successful
series. The sequel is another lovely play on words, Necromancing the Stone.

Check out both of these books at your local branch, and be prepared for a hilarious supernatural nail-biter with one talking decapitated head, and so much more!