Month: August 2020

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Teen Fantasy Fiction Novels with Strong Female Protagonists

Teen Fantasy Fiction Novels with Strong Female Protagonists

Mary Swabb, Learning & Information Services Supervisor 

Fantasy fiction has always been a favorite of mine. Specifically, young adult or teen fantasy fiction. For those who may not favor fantasy fiction, the Encyclopedia Britannica states that it is, “imaginative fiction dependent for effect on strangeness of setting (such as other worlds or times) and of characters (such as supernatural or unnatural beings).” My passion for fantasy solidified after reading “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” when I was twelve. There was a huge fandom surrounding the novels at that time.  My siblings and I all devoured the first three novels in the series before attending a midnight release party, at our local Walden Books, for the fourth novel. It seemed like there was something in Harry Potter for everyone: adventure, mystery, magic, strong friendships, triumph over adversaries, etc. Perhaps this was why the books had mass appeal. Personally, I enjoyed reading Harry Potter and other fantasy novels because they allowed me to traverse worlds full of magic and wonder, meet characters with a variety of personalities and abilities, and experience the thrill of adventure. Two decades have passed since my passion for fantasy novels began, but I still enjoy them.

Currently, I favor reading fantasy with strong female protagonists who overcome insurmountable odds to achieve their goals. I find the strength within these female characters inspiring, and their stories of adventure thrilling. Take Kamzin in Heather Fawcett’s, “Even the Darkest Stars,” for example. Kazmin was selected to become her village’s shaman, but secretly desired to become one of the emperor’s royal explorers (elite climbers) who are responsible for mapping the Empire’s arctic mountains. Kamzin’s path was set until Shara, the greatest royal explorer, came to her village needing her family’s help. Kamzin is more than willing to help Shara if he would take her on his next expedition, a quest to retrieve a talisman from the tallest and deadliest mountain in the Aryas. And so, Kamzin’s journey begins amidst a chance encounter, a shocking betrayal, and a promising adventure that may just shed light on Kamzin’s family history. Kamzin’s story continues in, “All the Wandering Light.”

If you find the paranormal and supernatural interest you, in addition to non-linear narratives, then check out Rin Chupeco’s,“The Bone Witch.” A dark and captivating tale about Tea, a young girl from a small town who accidentally raises her deceased brother from the dead. This catches the attention of the empire’s asha, elemental magicians, who are revered and commodified for the wealth and health of the empire. Tea’s gift for necromancy is rare and makes her a bone witch, a witch who can raise the dead and battle daeva, monsters who terrorize villages. Tea follows Lady Mykaela, her new mentor and the only other bone witch in the kingdom, to the capitol to train as an asha for House Valerian. While training in the capitol, Tea begins to learn that not all asha are created equal and her experiences highlight the cracks in the foundation of capitol society. Tea’s ominous journey continues in, “The Heart Forger,” and culminates in, “The Shadow Glass.”

Historical fiction and fantasy pair well together in my opinion, and I find that I quite enjoy narratives that reimagine history or seamlessly blend the historical with the fictional. “Sky in the Deep” by Adrienne Young is such a novel. Young weaves elements of Vikings and seafaring Scandinavians with a fictional setting and characters to create a bold and beautiful tale of survival, discovery, adventure, family, and love. “Sky in the Deep,” begins on the battlefield following Eelyn, a seventeen-year-old Aska warrior as she fights with her father and best-friend against the Riki clan. The Aska and the Riki have a long running feud that leads to skirmishes every season. As an Aska warrior, Eelyn’s life seems straightforward, until she sees her deceased twin brother on the battlefield fighting for the Riki. Eelyn attempts to follow her brother, but is taken captive and enslaved. As she lives among her enemies, Eelyn is forced to question who she can trust, and ultimately how she can unite two clans to face an even greater enemy. Young continues the chronicles of the Aska and Riki clans in “The Girl the Sea Gave Back.”

For more book recommendations, please contact Manhattan Public Library at 785-776-4741 ext. 200 or refstaff@mhklibrary.org. If you’d like more personalized book recommendations, please fill out a request for a personalized reading list at https://www.mhklibrary.org/personalized-reading-list-2/.

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Tragedies at Sea: Outstanding Historical Writing

Tragedies at Sea: Outstanding Historical Writing

By Marcia Allen, Collections Manager

Are you familiar with the story of the Andrea Doria?  She was a luxury liner, built after World War II, well known for elegantly appointed rooms and gourmet meals. The ship frequently hosted celebrities such as film actresses and business CEO’s. With a capacity of some 1200 passengers and a crew of about 500, she was touted as one of the safest and speediest ships on the ocean. A freakish tragedy in July of 1956, however, proved otherwise.

Greg King and Penny Wilson have just published an excellent piece of historical nonfiction entitled “The Last Voyage of the Andrea Doria” that dramatically recounts that final excursion. We learn of the craftsmanship that went into the liner; we learn of its sterling reputation as something of a floating palace; we discover the roster of passengers who ventured to travel from Genoa to New York on the fateful voyage.

What makes this book exceptional? The backgrounds of a few of the personalities is a start. Because we learn so much about their past experiences, their plans, and their relationships with other passengers, we come to see them individuals which lends a personal immediacy to the story. We learn, for example, that Captain Piero Calamai was a shy fellow, devoted to the welfare of his passengers and his beloved ship, a man who never raised his voice to erring crew members. We discover the heartbreak of Thure and Martha Peterson, a couple devoted to each other, who had saved money for many years to travel to sites where their parents were born in Sweden. They were able to extend their trip to sightsee in France, but their delayed return to the U.S. placed them on the decks of the Andrea Doria.

What also elevates this book is its excellent research into the last hours of the voyage. In dramatic detail, King and Wilson recount the coincidental chain of events that caused a horrendous collision. Thick fog off the coast of Nantucket and a change in the departure route by the stoutly built liner called the Stockholm brought the two ships into contact. Last-minute efforts to avoid collision drove the raked and reinforced bow of the Stockholm into the starboard side of Andrea Doria, penetrating several decks.

The outcome is what you would expect. Lives were lost, but most passengers stranded at sea were rescued by immediate responses of all available watercraft. The Andrea Doria sank some hours later, and legal courts later determined who was to be blamed. King and Wilson have written a masterful account of all that occurred that day in July.

To my amazement, King and Wilson had written a previous book about the sinking of the Lusitania. Entitled Lusitania, that older book has some of the same flavor of the Andrea Doria story, with personality studies, ship history, and vivid details about the actual sinking. But that is where the similarities between the two stories ends.

First of all, the demise of the Lusitania was no accident. In the midst of World War I, British forces had chosen to ignore standard Cruiser Rules, under which ships were required to post their authentic flags and avoid any camouflage of colors or markings. The British decided to ignore such rules. Secondly, the Lusitania was known to carry munitions intended for the British, as America had agreed to be a wartime supplier for the British. That made the ship fair game for German forces.

It was only by luck that Kapitanleutnant Schwieger, commanding U-20, spotted the British liner. Seeing his opportunity in the middle of a war zone, he fired a torpedo that inflicted a death blow to the ship. The Lusitania, long thought to be unsinkable, foundered on its side, disabling lifeboats and crippling many passengers, and managed to stay afloat only 18 minutes more.

The loss of life in this book is heartbreaking. Hundreds of victims were never found, and many of those who did survive were emotionally shattered. Because there were no preparations for evacuation on board and because there was a shortage of life jackets, loss rates skyrocketed. And subsequent court trials did little to assure that future disasters could be avoided.

I strongly advise reading one or both of these books. While we may not be drawn to disaster reading, both create a sense of immediacy that is so often missed in historical accounts. We become close observers of tragedies at sea and we realize a clearer understanding of the causes. And the eyewitness testimonies are incredible to read. Excellent reading.

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Quick Picks for Kids

Quick Picks for Kids

By Jennifer Bergen, Program Manager

We all know kids need good books that inspire them, amuse them, and spark their curiosity. With library stacks closed from browsing, it can be a struggle to find new children’s books for every child in your family. Most kids are not reading the New York Times’ bestseller lists or listening to author podcasts (although I know you hardcore readers are out there!).  That’s where the expertise of children’s librarians can be of help.

“Quick Picks for Kids” is a library service we offer for parents or older kids to call and speak with a children’s librarian, Mon.-Fri. between 10:00-4:00, and we will put together a pile of books to suit your children’s interests and reading level. Using the “holds” system already in place, we can pull up to 15 books per library card. You will be notified when your stack for your super-readers is ready to be picked up in the library lobby.

Why ask a librarian? This can save you time, especially if you or your kids do not have specific titles in mind. Librarians may ask about books your child has read and enjoyed, which helps us find “read-alikes.” For example, if your child has enjoyed the “Dog Man” books by Dav Pilkey, we might pull “Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure” by Jeff Kinney. This spinoff of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series is told from the little brother’s point of view and includes a ridiculous misadventure he is writing with his brother’s help. “Dog Man” readers might also go the route of “Zo Zo Zombie” by Yasunari Nagatoshi, a manga (Japanese style) graphic novel with outrageous humor similar to Pilkey’s stories.

Reading level is another important aspect librarians will inquire about when choosing titles for your child. A child who is still learning to read and is having success with Mo Willems’s popular “Elephant & Piggie” books might like Jan Thomas’s silly stories about cow, duck and friends, or “Pete the Cat” books from the “I Can Read” series. Other go-to authors at this level are Ethan Long and David Milgrim for early vocabulary and sight words. Young readers can go through a stack of these books in a day or two sometimes, so load up.

Maybe you have a reluctant reader at home who complains about reading time or always finds other things to do. The question is, what are those other things you child loves to do? We can find some great nonfiction books about Legos, art, pets, video games or athletes. Tie-ins to popular TV shows, movies and games can draw a reader in, even if it doesn’t interest the parent at all. Maybe they want to read the “Lego Star Wars Character Encyclopedia” from beginning to end. That will include some unfamiliar words building their vocabulary, and complex thinking when they relate what they read to other information they already know.

Does your child like a variety of books on many topics? Perfect! Librarians have been paying attention to the new books coming in, and they always have a list of favorites in their heads, so being asked to just pull a bunch of good books is like a little gift.

Young readers may have missed out on books recent publications like “Fire Truck vs. Dragon,” or “The Guide to Minecraft Dungeons,” or the new series “Unicorn Diaries” by Rebecca Elliott (author of “Owl Diaries”.) We don’t want you or your kids to miss out anymore. Please, make our day, and ask us to find some library books that your kids will love.

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Alex Award Winners

Alex Award Winners

By Grace Benedick, Teen Services Librarian

Every year the Young Adult Library Services Association gives out a number of literary awards. Although many awards are given to just one book or author, the Alex Awards are given to ten books written for the adult market but which may have special appeal to young adults, ages 12-18. Often the protagonists of the winning titles are teens. Winners are always selected from the previous year’s published titles and usually include a few best-sellers that are already highly popular titles. Keeping that in mind, some of these titles may have long wait lists!

Dystopian Fiction

An eerie futuristic tale, “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” by C. A. Fletcher is set in an earth with very few humans left after a mysterious wave of infertility led to a dwindling population. Griz lives with his parents and dogs on a quiet island. One day a stranger steals their supplies and one of their precious dogs. Griz gives chase, only to discover that the outside world is not quite what he was led to believe.

“Do You Dream of Terra-Two?” by Temi Oh is sci-fi with a focus on the interpersonal. After NASA determines that there is another inhabitable planet called Terra-Two, a small crew of young astronauts are sent to settle there. But before they can reach it, the 23-year journey will test them all to their limits.

Memoirs

“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, who uses the pronouns e/em/eir is a graphic novel relating the ups and downs of growing up and finding eir identity as nonbinary and asexual. A great memoir for all readers, this book will be especially meaningful for teens still exploring their own identities.

Sara and Tegan are twins and a successful indie music duo. Their memoir, “High School,” focuses on their teenage years and their tumultuous relationship as siblings, as well as exploration of their lesbian sexuality and an emerging musical career.

AJ Dungo’s “In Waves” is a graphic novel memoir of a romantic relationship and a tribute to his late partner. Dungo weaves back and forth through time sharing episodes of their time together and highlighting her determination to keep surfing against all odds, even after losing a leg and even while fighting bone cancer.

Historical Fiction

“The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead also won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. At the start of the novel, teen protagonist Elwood is an idealist with a bright future until a chance encounter ends with him in Nickel Academy, a horrific and abusive reformatory. There he befriends Turner, who has a more cynical view. Together they attempt to survive an institution bent on destroying them. The novel is based on the history of Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Florida.

Opening in the 1960’s, Angie Cruz’s “Dominicana” is the story of young Ana, who is pressured to marry an older man and move from the Dominican countryside to New York City. In New York City her husband’s brother cares for Ana in her husband’s absence, allowing her greater freedom than she has ever known. Can she return to the way things were when her husband comes back home?

Other Genres

Best-seller, “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston is a light-hearted rom-com. The son of the president of the U.S. is forced to into a performative friendship with longtime rival, the prince of Wales, after news outlets publish photos indicating that the two do not get along. A fresh take on the hate-to-love trope, the budding romance in this story is complicated by the characters’ political roles and very public lives.

“The Swallows” by Lisa Lutz is a psychological thriller with a revenge plot. Set at a prestigious prep school, a newly hired teacher sparks a revolt with a simple writing prompt. The assignments turned in reveal a deeply harmful environment. Unable to stand by, she joins the girls in a plot to bring down sexual predators among the boys at the school.

“Middlegame” by Seanan McGuire is a dark fantasy that follows two children as they grow up and into immense power. Created by an alchemist intent on using them to gain control of the world, the twins were raised apart from one another. In spite of the separation, their connection is unbreakable and their powers are their own.

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Funny Books and Spontaneous Laughter

Funny Books and Spontaneous Laughter

by Jared Richards, Technology Supervisor

Let’s talk about funny books and spontaneous laughter. In general, spontaneity isn’t for me. I can appreciate spontaneity in others, but I like a good plan. I want to consider thoughtfully, and be prepared for, all possible contingencies. I envision spontaneity as flinging oneself into the void and hoping there’s a sufficient amount of water or a trampoline to catch you. I’ll pass.

I’ve qualified my feelings on spontaneity, however, because spontaneous laughter is great. I’ve always been amazed by the ability of words on a page to conjure all the emotions and their byproducts. One minute your eyes are scanning across the page, and the next they’re welling up with tears. Even better, though, is when a laugh escapes your mouth, that you didn’t even know was hiding in there. I’m always up for that type of spontaneity.

Many years ago, my sister introduced me to one of my favorite books, “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)” by Jerome K. Jerome, which was originally published in 1889. I’ve read it several times, and recently listened to the audiobook, which we have at the library. It follows three men (and a dog) taking a boat trip on the Thames. Loosely framed as a travelogue, it’s really just a collection of anecdotes, each more humorous than the last, told with a straight face, making them all the funnier. I laugh every time I read about them trying to set up a tent in bad weather, having flashbacks to my own, less entertaining, experiences as a Boy Scout.

For a slightly more timely book, there is “My Man Jeeves,” a collection of short stories by P. G. Wodehouse originally published in 1919. Our main character, describing his own brain as being “constructed more for ornament than for use,” relies on the advice of Jeeves to get him and his friends through various predicaments, to varying degrees of success.

In the first story, “Leave it to Jeeves,” Corky, a struggling artist, has been commissioned to paint the portrait of a baby. Corky and the baby don’t get along, at least if you ask Corky, and the conversation about the appearance of the baby in the final painting, brought me to tears.

Another one of my favorite books is “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole. My sister also introduced me to this book. If you don’t have a sister, I’d recommend looking into getting one. In my experience, they’ve got some pretty solid book recommendations.

Toole’s novel follows various characters around 1960s New Orleans. The main character is Ignatius J. Reilly, an odd duck to say the least, who is skilled at not only getting himself into undesirable situations, but also landing on his feet on the other side. The writing is clever, and I found myself laughing at the ridiculousness throughout.

The book, originally written in 1963, was not published until 1980, but won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year. Sadly, Toole committed suicide in 1969, so he never got to see how successful his novel became.

The most recent book I’ve read is Max Wirestone’s “The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss,” a very funny, nerdy mystery. Dahlia, who has no prior detective experience, is hired to track down the thief of a digital spear from an online video game. And then the plot thickens considerably, spilling over into the real world.

I have a history of liking side characters more than I like main characters, and Charice, Dahlia’s eccentric roommate, comes close to repeating that history. But Dahlia wins out in the end. She’s highly relatable, very likeable, and she is briefly concerned about her library books not getting returned. Can’t go wrong with a responsible library patron.

There’s also a very brief reference to Laurel and Hardy, which automatically wins me over.

Some books manage to elicit a smirk or an appreciative grunt. If you’re lucky, though, you’ll find the ones that can trigger spontaneous laughter. The kind that garners sidelong stares from the people around you, and maybe a little concern as you wipe the tears from your eyes and try to catch your breath.

During the uncertain times in which we find ourselves, I take comfort in knowing I can count on the library to cheer me up. I can flip through the pages of a physical book, swipe through them on my phone, or hit play on a digital audiobook, and turn off the outside world for a bit.

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