Archive for the ‘Action’ category

SYLO by D.J. MacHale

November 25th, 2013

SYLO by D.J. MacHale kept me guessing the whole time as to who the villains were and what motivated them. That’s saying a lot, because I’ve seen many stories about a crazy government taking over. That’s the big trend right now, right? But SYLO covers new ground as we wonder if there’s another, bigger threat that the super controlling government agency is protecting the populous from.

It does have the stereotypical underdog male protagonist, his goofy friend, and the tech-savvy girl/potential girlfriend. So the characterization is a little routine, but it’s the plot that will keep you reading. A small island off of the East Coast of the United States has been quarantined and high school student Tucker Pierce intends to find out why. A mysterious disease is reported, a shipment of superpower-enabling crystals washes up on shore, and high tech aircraft haunt the night skies. It’s got all the makings of a Men in Black story, but, like I said, it’ll keep you guessing.

It’s the first part of the series and I appreciate that MacHale wrote an introduction explaining that this is not Pendragon. In the current market, where there is so much series loyalty and students get upset when an author writes in a different style, it was probably a wise move on MacHale’s part. It’s still science fiction, but it has a little bit more of an edge than the first Pendragon books. It’s worth getting a copy for your library to test the waters of its popularity. It’s a well-known author but not necessarily a well-known series since it’s new, so it may take a bit before you need multiple copies unless you booktalk it.

United We Spy by Ally Carter

October 18th, 2013

I’ve folowed the series from start to finish now, which is tough when trying to keep up with so many series being launched each month in YA fiction. Part of it is because of Ally’s visit to our school when the series first started out, but part of it is that the series has stayed classy without resorting to too many trends or gimmicks. It’s been about spies and sisterhood, and that continued through to the end.

While there are many girl power moments in the book, I appreciated when Cammie realized that Zach had friends – that not every aspect of his life revolves around her. That’s been true of Cammie, which has been so refreshing. The books haven’t really been about getting the boy and, despite some fan complaints, Zach is not Cammie’s main protector. It’s all about the Gallagher Girls.

What’s great is seeing that tradition pass on to the younger girls of the academy. My students that were at Ally’s visit to our school have now graduated high school. They are now outside in the wide open world and, much like the Gallagher Girls, must decide what to do with the rest of their lives. One important transition is understanding the need to train up the next generation, to give back. Cammie matured throughout the series, no doubt about that, but matured in ways that matter. Again, I can’t stress enough how much I appreciated that the romance plotline was present but was not Cammie’s main hero journey.

The Circle of Cavan is still at it and the Gallagher Girls must stop chaos from erupting around the world. Having read the whole series from start to finish, it was pretty cool seeing details from the other five books show up, whether it was antagonists popping up again or Cammie reliving a moment from the first book but from a different perspective. I also appreciated the title. I know how much Ally struggled with following up I’d Tell You I Love You, but Then I’d Have to Kill You, but United We Spy is the perfect wrapping up of the series in both title and plot. The last three chapters read like a season finale of Alias, which is great because Ally has mentioned that Alias made her question what it would look like to train a whole school of spies. I could hear the theme music playing and then the fade to black as the credits roll.

Ally, nice job on the series. I know that you don’t need my approval, but it takes some skill to maintain a six book series and I’m glad that I was there to see the whole thing play out.

Vietnam: I Pledge Allegiance by Chris Lynch

September 20th, 2013

For our current students, soldiers from the Vietnam War are their grandparents’ ages, much like how my grandparents were in the World War II generation. Chris Lynch’s Vietnam series puts the war into perspective in an approachable manner.

The set-up is that the four books in the series follow the experiences of four friends from the same small town in New England. Each friend serves in a different branch of the military, so the reader gets to see the war from four vantage points. Morris, the protagonist of the first book, is in the Navy. What’s great is that students can see what life was like on a cruiser, see how distant the war was, and then follow Morris as he’s tranferred to a river runner on the Mekong River. He never knows where the next attack will come from and his eyes are opened to the darker parts of war.

What I appreciate about the book is that it’s not too preachy. With a tagline like “If friendship has an opposite, it has to be war”, you know that it will have some anti-war sentiments. For the most part, though, that’s Morris worrying about his friends. There is action that military or history enthusiasts will appreciate the detail down to the last C-123. The book does not glorify combat, though. This is not Call of Duty. People die unexpectedly; those left behind grieve as they spend the hours of tedium waiting for the bursts of chaos. This is war from an enlisted soldier’s eyes.

It’s a great book and a strong start to a series. It’s definitely worth having in your library.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

June 24th, 2013

If you read my Steelheart review, you’ll remember that one thing I loved about it was that the dystopian government took on such a different look that it was refreshing.

Under the Never Sky does not do that. It’s still a crazy government that does not want its secrets to get out to the public and the super technological control (I mean, the domes of Logan’s Run are back) is justified to keep the order. Okay, I get it. I loved it when The Giver did that (or, more accurately, Fahrenheit 451.) The villain is the same, just with a different name.

That being said, I like the world that Rossi has created. People out in the wild have developed enhanced powers revolving around one sense. Some people can see like falcons, others can smell like wolves (you know, they have a sensitive nose – they don’t actually give off canine odors). Trying to figure out which character had which enhanced sense was part of the fun.

The narrative alternates between two protagonists that have distinct voices, so Rossi did well with that. The male protagonist was a bit too angsty for me, a tortured anti-hero rebel with a hidden heart of gold (translate: dangerous yet safe, like the “bad boy” from a boy band) but I’m guessing that I’m not the target demographic.

When it comes down to it, though, it was an enjoyable read, albeit formulaic, and I’m interested in reading the sequel.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

June 4th, 2013


No, seriously. Wow.

To call Steelheart epic would be a horrible pun and I will resist the temptation to call it that, but it’s an accurate description.

I am an avid fan of sci-fi action stories and yet I have hesitated in picking up the latest spec fic greatness because I’ve been burned out by the genre – more specifically, the overpopulating of the market with Hunger Games/Divergent/Uglies clones. The farther you go down the line of clones, the more the DNA of a good story starts to degrade.

That may not be the most powerful metaphor, but confusing metaphors is one of my new favorite character flaws thanks to David, the protagonist of Steelheart. He’s a standout hero by not being a standout hero. Part of the mystery is David’s background, so I won’t go into much detail. (I realized this as I was typing. There’s a big paragraph that I just erased; now you’ll have to read the book and I can geek out at/with you about how David wasn’t a predictable protagonist.)

We have a dystopia, but instead of a crazy government run by Donald Sutherland, it’s a tyranny of what would happen if Superman was a jerk. The guy can fly, punch through a wall, and shoot lasers out of his eyes. His eyes, people! Why do we trust him? He could turn and enslave us without thinking twice. That’s what the Epic Steelheart has done.

Steelheart is similar to Superman, although he shoots energy out of his hands. Very different. There are a ton of references to comic history throughout the beginning of the book; I appreciated streets named after comic creators and buildings named after people who have portrayed supers on the big screen. The fact that Steelheart can turn things to steel – making him a Man of Steel (wokka wokka) – is no coincidence. The fact that fashion has looped all the way back to a 1940s/50s style adds to the homage.

Don’t be fooled by the references to the comic Golden Age, though. The tone is dark, the opening scene being especially haunting. The characters have depth. At first I tried to stereotype them. (“Oh, this guy’s like Roadblock from G.I.Joe or Gambit from X-Men.”) The characters, while reminiscent of other memorable characters, have their own wants, conflicts, and quirks.

The action is extremely well-paced. The backstory of Newcago and its inhabitants is revealed right alongside the human effort to survive in a superhuman dictatorship. There are high speed chases of helicopters versus motorcycles (what I liked about Yancey’s Alfred Kropp) and yet the action is human enough that I felt emotion at the end of the scene, hoping that the characters would be okay.

This one’s going to be huge when it comes out in September. I’m so glad that I read it despite having passed over it a few times in my queue. Brandon Sanderson has talent and it makes sense since he’s the author that was chosen to finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time…epic.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

April 15th, 2013

Throw Dune, Ender’s Game, Star Trek, Dr. Who, and Hunger Games into a blender and you get A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I like all of those stories. There’s centuries of intergalactic scheming. There’s a battle school. There’s even an arena where tributes run to the weapons to get the upper hand in combat. (Okay, so the arena scene was kinda meh because I kept picturing Katniss in the background trying to get to the cornucopia.)

Princes are superhumans that travel the galaxy and do whatever they want – or at least that’s what Prince Khemri thinks as he is connected to the Imperial Mind. When he’s connected to the Imperial Mind, he doesn’t have to fear death. He can be reborn as long as the Imperial Mind finds him worthy. It’s when Khemri is stripped of his connection to the Imperial Mind that we start to worry about him as a character. He becomes a regular mortal – a la Superman II when the Man of Steel just wants to be Clark Kent. While he’s mortal, he starts to relate to the humans that he once thought were subservient. He is engrossed in a tiny conflict in one small solar system, but is willing to risk it all to help his newfound friends and realizes that one tiny system may play a bigger role in the Empire.

The worldbuilding is great. The Tek is well-defined (this device is biological, this one is mechanical) and consistent. Part of it felt like a video game power system, and that may very well be because the game was released before the book as an advertisement. I liked P.J. Haarsma’s Rings of Orbis better as a pioneer in book-related gaming, though.

It is a standalone book, not a series, which is quite the shocker in today’s YA speculative fiction market. I liked it and wouldn’t mind seeing more stories from different Princes.

Fear by Michael Grant

November 27th, 2012

At its core, Michael Grant’s Gone series is about children transitioning into adulthood – and, you know, superpowers and horrific monsters and all that. That theme of transition carries through to the very last page of Fear and it’s done very well. Yes, the story is action-packed and suspenseful, but it’s the tough life situations that the characters grapple with that floors me.

When we transition from our teen years into adulthood, we look at what we’ve been taught all our lives and then form our own opinions and beliefs. Multiple characters in Fear go through this process and are stuck at different stages. That developmental dissonance does get edgy, though, since the same doubts and fears that the characters have are ones that students have and it may hit a little too close to home – or, on the positive, provide a voice for students who may not have someone to talk about with these issues.

I can’t say much more about the plot because that would ruin the great endings of the other books in the series, but I will say that there is a countdown again in this book and I am impressed with how Michael Grant can pull off a satisfying, climactic ending each time and yet keep it pretty free of clichés (even though you know there’s going to be a super-powered brawl at the end of each).

Amulet: Prince of the Elves by Kazu Kibuishi

November 13th, 2012

I’ve been a fan of Kibuishi’s Amulet series since the first book and enjoy seeing more and more of the grand scale of the story. It’s still about the characters, with Emily and Navin developing more into their roles as heroes.

Where this one branches off, though, is in following Prince Trellis of the Elves for the majority of the narrative. We get to walk around in a trippy memory/dream sequence (signified by squiggly borders around the frames, obviously) and learn about the causes of the war with the elves. We do get to learn more about the actual amulet, which is great because some of my suspicions from the first book are finally starting to play out.

Side note: We use the SpringBoard curriculum in our district and this graphic novel ties in with the angle analysis in the unit for The Giver. The perspectives that Kibuishi uses are definitely on purpose to communicate mood and focus.

The artwork is amazing and always captures both the awe and panic of the setting and plot in such vivid detail. My only complaint is the length between each book’s release. After having worked my way through Bone and enjoying the seamless continuity, I miss Amulet‘s flow and found myself wondering, “Who’s that bearded guy? I’m sure I would have remembered such an awesome beard.” Amulet will translate really well into one giant book when it’s all said and done, though, so it’s no big fault on Kibuishi’s part.

Nevermore by James Patterson

August 18th, 2012

I just finished Nevermore  by James Patterson and feel like I have come to an end of a journey. I remember when the first one came out while I was in the classroom and pretty much any student that I recommended it to enjoyed it. The series isn’t as big as it used to be at our school, but this is an enjoyable end to the series.

It is the end, right? It says so on the cover. It even comes with a sticker that says “Maximum Ride R.I.P.” Side note: Nevermore should be one word, so why did they hyphenate it? I guess now that the most recent books are one-word titles (Max, Fang, Angel), it’s tough to stick with the current layout/font scheme.

So, to tell you much about the book would give away a ton of spoilers. This person switches loyalties, this person comes back from the dead. What I can tell you about is the character development. The focus of Max’s last book is on her choosing between Fang, her friend from the beginning, or Dylan, a boy genetically-engineered to be her perfect match. You know, the usual.

Since Max’s chapters are from first-person POV, we do see her struggling with the choice of who she wants to run away with. I know the conflict has been building throughout the series, but she definitely was more concerned with the safety of her flock than her own happiness in the first books. I guess that’s a sign of the other characters proving themselves, which is a life situation many can relate to as they grow up.

Some things don’t change, though. When Max fights, she still slaps Erasers on the ears and breaks their eardrums. That combat move has been used over and over throughout the series. So are the high-flying dips and weaves. That’s who Max is, though.

That’s the other conflict of the book. It was foretold that Max would save the world, but as you come to the close it seems like that won’t happen. Like I said, anything more would be a spoiler, but I will say that it kept me sorta guessing (I knew there were probably one of two outcomes to the book) as the pages flipped by.

And it’s a James Patterson book. The chapters are short and well-paced. It didn’t take me too long to finish the book, despite what anxious students and teachers have said as they tracked my bookmark’s progress. That’s a good sign that even though interest in the series has waned, there are still fans who will appreciate a good ending to a YA empire.

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

July 10th, 2012

I have not seen much Cold War fiction for middle grade students. For nonfiction, I definitely recommend The Dark Game. I was intrigued instantly by the premise of The Apothecary: a young girl’s family is accused of being Communist, so they flee to England where she meets up with a mysterious apothecary.

The first few chapters of the book meet my expectations for spies. The main characters are caught up in watching for information exchanges, secret handshakes, and scary intelligence agents from East Berlin. The apothecary and his cohorts have made amazing breakthroughs in chemistry that will greatly impact the growing nuclear threat. Yes, sign me up.

Then the kids turn into birds. (This explains the birds on the cover, which I thought were some symbol for innocence or whatever and in no way the actual main characters of the book. Nope. The kids are birds.) The story shifted dramatically for me there and I remember being disappointed that magic realism had to be thrown in. So many middle grade novels resort to magic and I was looking for something new.

On the positive, the main character is not some chosen one from an ancient civilization/order. At least we don’t have to rehash that trope – as far as I know, since this book follows another trend of setting up a series. “I will return.” Yep. This is just book one.

The Cold War paranoia and the politics of nuclear weapons is portrayed really well and makes it worth the read. There was enough action to keep readers interested; it wasn’t a bunch of people spouting off ideologies. It’s a good book that I know students will enjoy. The ones that have read it have said so. I just wish it didn’t follow the alchemy trend of books like This Dark Endeavor and others that are out right now. It’s tougher to write a book where you have to think through a character’s escape and not simply resort to, “They drink a potion and everything’s swell.”