Friday, February 28, 2014

Teen Tech Week Contest!

To highlight the many great tech resources available at your local library, we’re having a fun and easy contest! During the month of March, visit this www.facebook.com/scplteens and post your favorite library tech resource OR something you’ve learned to DIY because of the library.* Tag your post with #TTW14.

On April 1st, we’ll draw a winner at random to win a $50 Amazon gift card.

If you’re not on Facebook, you can email your entry to teens@infodepot.org, and we’ll post it for you. For teens ages 12-18 or in grades 7-12.

Heather's Book Review: Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries, Volume 1 by Hey-Jin Jeon

Lizzie Newton is equal parts Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, a budding mystery writer who does more than write mysteries—She solves them, too. No one wants to believe this of her, though, because this is the Victorian era, after all, and women don’t do that sort of thing. This is why Lizzie must hide her talents behind a masculine pen name and send her deductions through her lawyer-in-training fiancé, Edwin. But this doesn’t stop her from traipsing onto crime scenes as she sees fit, prodding corpses, and showing up everyone who thinks she’s wrong with a cute grin and the power of logic and science.

I didn’t expect much of Hey-jin Jeon’s Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries Volume 1 simply because I’d never heard of it before. Now that I’ve finished it, I can’t help but wonder why. It’s a true gem of a comic.

What’s most impressive about Lizzie Newton is the number of things that could have gone wrong in the comic compared to the number of things that it did very well. The illustration on the cover—wide-eyed Lizzie, smiling sweetly in a frilly dress—led me to expect the adventures of a vapid girly-girl who stumbles clumsily but adorably into her solutions because that’s what happens in manga where the protagonist is a cute girl. Lizzie is anything but. While she is absent-minded, it’s in an intellectual way—She’s so distracted by the thrill of solving a mystery that it never occurs to her that it is NOT OK to poke her finger into the bullet hole in a corpse’s head before the police even arrive to investigate the scene. And though she is, for all appearances, a cute Victorian lady with limited practical sense, there’s a real brain behind that bonnet, and a personal collection of books and scientific equipment to back it up. She’s a perfect combination of “feminine” cuteness and “masculine” logic, without being an exaggeration of either. Her relationship with Edwin is also refreshingly positive. Edwin himself is a capable (as opposed to amusingly bumbling) companion. Though he does, of course, become exasperated with Lizzie’s absent-mindedness, he’s ultimately supportive of her investigative hobbies and does what he can to make Lizzie’s discoveries known—in her name. In fact, in addition to portraying a female protagonist who is productively interested in science (as opposed to using science for comedic, explosive effect), the comic makes a notable effort to say, “You know that famous male scientist who discovered that thing? Yeah, half of that work was done by an un-credited woman” (in this face, Ada Lovelace, who wrote the language for the Analytical Engine that preceded Charles Babbage’s unfinished Difference Engine). Yet none of these feministic elements are ever preachy. Lizzie Newton is definitely a Girl Power/Girl-Who-is-GASP-Interested-In-Science book, but it’s more interested in its amusing characters and the details of its plot to dwell on the social concerns that it brings up.

Plot-wise, it’s an interesting whodunit, though the process Lizzie follows to solve the mystery is more interesting than the mystery itself. I never really cared about who may or may not have killed whom in the story, but that was mostly because 1) they were background characters anyway, and 2) the rest of the comic is more interesting.

The art in the book is also worth a mention. The detail that artist Ki-ha Lee puts into costumes and settings is reminiscent of Yana Toboso’s Black Butler, as is the occasional tonal shift between dark, dramatic illustration and funny chibis. In fact, I’d go as far to say that this manga is what Black Butler would be if it involved a detective and an actual point. Tonally, the two are almost identical (even if their stories are ABSOLUTELY dissimilar). The care put into the artwork also recalls Kaoru Mori’s Emma, which was noted for its artist’s obsessive interest in Victorian details, even if her character designs were a bit blah. Lee’s designs lean more toward Toboso’s distinct, expressive characters. Either way, the artwork is lovely and enough reason, on its own, to read the book.

Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries Volume 1, then, is an excellent manga for readers who enjoy a good mystery with wonderful art, a dash of scientific investigation, and a sneaky lot of girl power spunk. (Note: The back of the book claims that it also contains “a spot of Jane Austen,” which it doesn’t, unless you count the fact that Lizzie shares a name with one of Austen’s protagonists. Also Jane Austen was Regency, not Victorian, so GET YOUR LITERARY PERIODS STRAIGHT, MARKETERS. Anyway, regardless, Austenites are likely to enjoy it because frilly dresses and pride-and-prejudice-smackdowns and stuff.)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Susan's Book Review: Amelia Cole and the Unknown World by Adam Knave

Full disclosure: I know this graphic novel exists and read it because I went to college with D.J. Kirkbride, one of the authors. I was worried I wouldn’t like it and would end up lying to him about it, but I’m super happy to report that I enjoyed it! It’s unlike any other graphic novel I’ve read, yet it definitely has some familiar elements. Amelia is a mage who lives in two different worlds: a magical and a non-magical. Only she and her Aunt Dani can cross between the worlds, until one day when Amelia runs into a demon in the non-magical world. Dani decides the risk of crossing is too great and seals the portal forever, dying in the process. Just before she passes, Dani confesses that there aren’t just two worlds and in fact, Amelia is from a third. In shock and on the run from police because of magical disturbances, Amelia locates a glowing door in Dani’s basement and uses it to escape into what turns out to be the unknown world.

The door is one-way, so she’s stuck there, reeling from the loss of her only family and dealing with the knowledge that this new world even exists. She needs a friend, so she uses her magic to conjure a golem out of the rubble where she landed. She goes exploring and finds that this world seems like the other two realms smashed together. There’s magic, but not everyone has it, and some people stare when she uses it. She has nothing, but quickly lucks into a job as the super of an apartment building (which conveniently comes with a studio apartment) and she makes fast friends with some locals.

Unfortunately, drama follows Amelia and it’s not long before she’s gotten the attention of local police and someone known as the Protector. There’s also a shadowy figure governed by some sort of council who’s pulling the strings of the Protector. Aunt Dani said she promised Amelia’s parents she’d keep her safe and that’s why she kept the world a secret, so chances are Amelia is someone more important than she realizes.

I really enjoyed the character of Amelia. She’s smart, sarcastic, and genuinely wants to help people. I like how that’s a natural drive of hers and I don’t need an origin story to know why, it’s just the way she is. Lemmy, the golem, can’t speak, but he’s a loyal and selfless companion who is also a hard worker, so I’m a big fan! I had a little trouble following the story with a bunch of narration happening via caption boxes, but I think that’s more an issue with me and how I process the panels. I’m excited for Amelia’s next adventure and might even seek out the monthlies!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Travis' Book Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Ten years ago, Calamity happened.  A burst of red light suddenly appeared in the sky, and a small percentage of people around the world developed amazing powers and abilities. The ones who gained power are called Epics, and many are so strong they can change entire landscapes and world infrastructures with little more than a thought. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, however, and the strongest Epics quickly began to fight over and claim territories, recruiting weaker Epics, destroying governments, and enslaving all of those without power.

Eighteen-year-old David lost everything in Calamity. Caught in the middle of an Epic’s rampage, he learned quickly that the world has no superheroes. His father believed the heroes would come, though; that they would appear and save them from the tyranny of the Epics. For that belief, David’s father paid with his life. Trying to protect his son, trying to defend an Epic he mistook for a hero, David watched as his father was brutally murdered by Steelheart, one of the most powerful Epics in the world - the same Epic his father was trying to protect. Before he was killed, though, David’s father did something that no one had done before or has done since – he made Steelheart bleed. Enraged, Steelheart went on a rampage that ended with the Epic turning the entire landscape of Chicago into steel before declaring himself the city’s leader. Ten years later, David is the only surviving witness to the events of the day that led to Steelheart being wounded. Armed with that memory, David seeks to join the Reckoners, a resistance movement dedicated to killing Epics, with one goal in mind – kill Steelheart.

Steelheart is a novel that simply should not work, and if anyone other than Brandon Sanderson wrote it, it probably wouldn’t. The novel is basically a smorgasbord of YA and comic book clichés. It is set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic near-future, has an average and clumsy (especially with words) teenage protagonist, clean curse-words (Sparks!) and features a mysterious insta-love inspiring character with hidden abilities that continuously makes the protagonist lose focus. The super-powered characters and freedom fighters in the novel are all Sanderson’s take on comic and pop cultural icons. Steelheart is literally, the “Man of Steel,” while other epics have powerful psychic abilities like Professor X, foresight and agility like Spiderman, and one even has the power to never run out of bullets, which is most likely a reference to 80s action movies starring guys like Schwarzenegger. The individual aspects of the novel are all far from being original ideas, and any comic book fan will find a lot familiarity in the Epics’ powers. Some readers may even recognize that the Reckoners are basically The A-Team, including driving a van! While some of these references may seem like a parody, Sanderson’s fans, who recognize his fantasy literature prowess and general awesomeness, will probably read the novel as being satirical of both genres. I mean, come on, a guy famous for being a ghost-writer of one of the largest epic fantasy series calls his villains the Epics!

In spite of the lack of the originality in its individual elements, though, Sanderson must have channeled the spirit of the guy that first combined cookie dough and vanilla ice cream because he turns two simple, familiar, and well-known elements into something far more satisfying than its parts. From start to finish, Steelheart is an action-filled adventure, full of twists and turns and plenty of cliffhangers. Just the pacing of the novel shows that Sanderson is a master of his craft, and he fully engages the reader with his world-building and direction.  Some of the elements of the novel seem to come out of nowhere simply for the sake of pushing the plot, though, like the fact that every Epic has a secret weakness, whether it makes sense or not. One Epic’s power is nullified by being attracted to a woman, for example, and others could be a word, a symbol, a specific date, or any random number of possibilities. Even this element, though, helps the reader join the ride as the main characters use David’s experience to find out what can kill Steelheart. Every element, however, including the technology used by the Reckoners, the characters’ pasts and personalities, and David’s memory are all pieces of one big puzzle that culminate into an exciting climax and conclusion. Steelheart keeps the reader excited, keeps the reader guessing, and more importantly, keeps the reader reading. It is a wonderful book that I would definitely recommend to older teens looking for an exciting read, especially guys since the narrator is an 18-year-old guy, and comic book fans. Be warned that the novel is full of violence, with dozens of deaths, including an infant, just in the opening pages. So, the novel is probably not appropriate for younger or more conservative readers.