Archive for the ‘Action’ category

Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter

March 14th, 2012

“And I remembered ‘normal’ might never be the same again.”

That, in a sentence, is the theme of the series and the core idea woven throughout the entire plot of the fifth book in the Gallagher Girls series. Cammie Morgan is a senior in a high school for spies. She still worries about what boys think and if her friends like her, but now more than ever her bigger worry is why people are trying to kill her.

Students and adults who have talked to me about what they enjoy about the series always share one common factor: Ally Carter’s ability to expertly portray the voice of a teenaged girl. Not once does Cammie sound unauthentic. What’s really cool is that, in book five, the importance of loyalty to sisterhood is emphasized and plays an important role at key plot points. A number of students I’ve talked with have been let down/ignored/backstabbed by friends and to have a main character who remains loyal even through conflict is promising.

Cammie’s view of herself is also challenged in book five. What makes her special is her ability to blend in, earning the nickname “Cammie the Chameleon”. Within the first few pages of the most current book, her concept of herself is thrown out the window and she has to figure out anew who she is. Yes, that’s a common theme in YA novels, but there’s a reason. During junior high and high school, students are trying to figure out who they are. Ally Carter continues to explore Cammie’s perception of herself without it being redundant or too conceited.

I’m a fan of spy stories. Alex Rider was one of the first book series that got me hooked on YA. The issue with having a main character as a spy is that he or she will be put in life or death situations. Spies sometimes use guns in those situations. What I appreciated in Out of Time is that an instructor says that a spy needs to know about guns but that “…weapons make you lazy”. Keen senses are what keep you alive. Ally Carter, Batman applauds you. (And, as I’m sure you’re aware, George Clooney once played Batman.)(Even though I like to block that from my memory.)(Do I hear music?)

Just like how when people talk about Hunger Games, they talk about other stories that had arena fighting first, Out of Sight had elements found in Bourne Identity and Chuck. The key, though, is in taking those elements and remixing them to make something new in the context of the Gallagher Girls. It’s something that I realized when I read the gazillionth dystopian book or superhero story (and yet still enjoyed Legend, Divergent, and The Unwanteds). The spy stuff that happens in Out of Sight is the next logical progression, which is a good thing, and is rewarding for fans of the series.

Students like an antagonist to cheer against and we definitely have that in book five. There is a ton of information revealed about character backstories, which should make longtime fans of the series happy. There are also references to conversations and lessons from book one, which is great at unifying the series. I also appreciated the fact that the school library was integral to the plot.

Side note: readers who have family in the military will appreciate when Cammie says, “When in doubt, find a marine.” I think I may have also caught a Brennan-Black author duo reference in there.

The series needs no recommendation from me, but I give it. It’s been a fun new tradition to read the books while on Summer/Spring Break. I started it at 10 this morning and finished it a little before 10 tonight. It was an enjoyable read and has a great lead into the sixth and maybe final (Cammie is a senior, after all) book of the series. Librarians, you know what to do. Stock up.

For a history of real spies in the United States, check out The Dark Game.

Legend by Marie Lu

February 2nd, 2012

I finished Legend by Marie Lu last night. (The last 100 pages really flew by – especially since I had my dystopian Pandora playlist pumping through my headphones. Getting ready for today’s booktalk was also a productive motivator.)

Legend is set in a dystopian future where the United States no longer exists. (Does that sound familiar?) Thankfully, only a few times did it tread into Planet of the Apes/Battlefield Earth “We were on Earth ALL ALONG?!?” territory. What really drives the storyline are the characters.

Day is 15 years-old but a master criminal a la Robin Hood, stealing from the Republic and giving to the citizens of the poor sectors. June is a master tracker, a police officer in the style of Javert from Les Mis. Day is accused of killing June’s brother and she vows to track down the criminal…by the stars (I couldn’t resist a Les Mis reference).

Romantic tension and a jealous third character? Check.
A hero driven to save his/her sibling from the evil government? Check.
Fighting with wits instead of a big gun? Check.

I like how Lu worked in some of those standards for a dystopian YA novel. The guns are so advanced that they track which user is firing them. If a criminal is on the run, he doesn’t want a gun blaring his location to government computers. I do appreciate that Lu did her research when it comes to hacking the computers. She describes what privileges the user needs (instead of just having the character say, “I hacked into the computers”), but doesn’t go into detail with how to do it. This isn’t The Cuckoo’s Egg.

In a sea of current dystopia, Legend stands out. Gone is whiny angst, replaced by action stars that threaten the existence of the Republic and the Colonies. The pacing matches that of a Hunger Games, a decent balance between dialogue and jumping off of a building. There are decent plot twists and turns that go beyond “The evil government is evil.” The sectors seem real, like actual people live there, and definitely have the Les Mis vibe.

The book is already being adapted for the big screen and its producers are Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, the people who brought you a few movies about some book called Twilight.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that you’ll hear more about Legend as it gets bigger. It definitely has the makings for a series.

The official Hunger Games trailer has been released

November 14th, 2011

Check out the trailer on iTunes by clicking here. I won’t spoil too much, just that it does include the platform/minefield scene that made me realize back in 2008 that Hunger Games was going to be different than other dystopias.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

September 12th, 2011

If you read my review of Matched, you’ll know that I’m starting to get worn out by my favorite genre. I love dystopian sci-fi, but, like eating Hot Pockets for a month, it starts to get old.

With that in mind, Divergent had to work really hard for me to get over preconceived notions. Yes, there were maniacal government workers. Yes, there was a secret the protagonist had to hide on penalty of death. Where Divergent exceeds, though, is in what Veronica Roth did not do.

Tris did not have to choose between her childhood friend and the wild, mysterious boy. The development between her and Four is paced really well. The other boy that tries to make advances is awkward and almost provides a little comic relief.

So yes, many of the plot elements have been done before, and done recently (I could have sworn I’ve seen that ending before), but it’s still a fun story. Dystopian sci-fi used to be my favorite genre, but now the plotlines are very, very similar. There were still parts that caught me off guard, which is why I can give it my recommendation. The Dauntless scenes were great and I loved what Roth had to say about life. It was every jumping off of a train or diving into a simulation that kept me going.

Plague by Michael Grant

June 29th, 2011

Plague is book four in the Gone series. If I’m telling the full truth (which now there is a mutant kid who can tell if you’re lying), I was a little hesitant to read Plague because I thought that Michael Grant had finally sold out by telling a killer virus story. That story has been told before. The flu does go crazy in the FAYZ, but the bigger plague is like “swarm of locusts” plague.

The Darkness (still one of the cooler YA villains) has summoned bugs that breed like parasitic wasps (National Geographic should be labeled as a horror channel). The bugs, conveniently enough, cannot be damaged by Sam’s laser hands and the residents of Perdido Beach must find some way to survive.

What always impresses me is that Grant can keep the story going full-tilt until it explodes in the last 30 pages. I did know going into the book that this was not the end of the series, so I knew there would be huge gaps left, but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment.

Amidst all of the superpowers lies a story of teens dealing with tough teen issues. This one is just as edgy as the previous three books. The ironic part is that Grant doesn’t use swearing in the narrative. You’ll see characters say a “rude word” but not read the actual word. I’m glad because the issues that the kids deal with are tough enough without language distracting for some readers. More than one teen battles depression, which is extremely realistic considering how chaotic their world is where life can end unexpectedly. Some have a crisis of faith. The girl running the makeshift hospital has to decide who to treat and who to let die. Tough stuff.

Romance shows up and is used to show the duality theme that runs throughout the course of the series. Sam and Astrid seem to be the perfect couple, but as life hits them hard, they are rocked badly. Caine and Diana are together, but Diana must come to grips with Caine’s true nature (FYI: HE’S CRAZY).

These two relationships are just one example of Michael Grant making comparisons between characters. Computer Jack struggles with his new muscle-bound identity and whether he’s defined by the people around him. Brianna floats between comic book fantasy and grim reality. Astrid has to deal with being the good girl even though she wishes she could ditch her autistic brother. Like I said – tough issues.

My only complaint is the inclusion of throw-away characters. The series has a ton of kids, but that allows Grant to focus on scenes across an entire town. This is more than just Sam and Astrid’s story. Yet the throw-away characters are the ones who Grant names and in the same sentence has a bug eat. “A boy, who people called Buster, oh no – bug eats him.” (My own version of the scene, not Grant’s own words.) Grant was not afraid to kill off characters in the first three books, so I wonder why this book mainly had Red Shirts dying. Not a big complaint, since most authors are afraid to kill off characters they love, but I did notice.

Plague is a very enjoyable read and it always surprises me how quickly the series reads, considering the length of the books. The fourth book sits at 490 pages.

This is a case where you definitely have to read the first three books in order to really get what is going on. Librarians, it is worth the purchase, especially since I know the series is super popular.

Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

June 10th, 2011

I received a package in the mail that contained Uncommon Criminals on Wednesday. Since the book doesn’t come out until June 21, I can only assume that this package was connected to a certain con involving a mouse, my library, and large amounts of Italian food.

On Wednesday, I had to put aside reading The Help to read Uncommon Criminals. I had to set down the recently-received book in order to go watch Les Mis performed live at Gammage.

I know. Tough life.

So now I have just completed Uncommon Criminals two days later and can assure you that it’s a great book. That should go without saying, much like any review I could try and give for Les Mis, but it’s nice to know.

This is book two in Heist Society, although I do believe that students could check out this one having not read the first one. (What happens many times with popular novels is that book one always has a huge wait list in my library. Book one definitely is needed for greater depth, but book two can stand on its own unlike some YA series.) Kat is not a thief, despite what her criminal family and resume of heists say. She is approached by an elderly woman who claims to be the rightful heir of the Cleopatra Emerald who wants it brought back to her. Not only is it supposed to be a rare gem, but it also carries with it an ancient curse.

I was glad to see that Carter stayed away from the temptation to make this a paranormal story and instead kept true to her characters. The curse, though, provides a cool backdrop for the developing love between Kat and Hale. Another great overarching idea is Kat’s conflict with herself. No matter who she has to go against or what system she has to trick, Kat’s biggest enemy is her destiny. She does run into a rival thief who represents one possible future for Kat and it’s great to see her face that head-on at different parts of the book.

There’s an exceptional quote towards the middle of the book in a conversation between Hale and Kat:

“Someone did them first, Kat. Don’t forget that. Someone, somewhere did them first.” He shrugged. “So we’ll do something first. Who knows? Maybe a hundred years from now, two crazy kids will be debating the merits of the Kat in the Hat.”

And this, my friends, is what Young Adult fiction is all about. Faced with a task larger than themselves and adults that are all too fallible, the teens must forge their own path and give the readers hope that they, too, count for something in the world. A Wall Street Journal article recently stereotyped YA fiction by one tiny slice of the genre and this hope is the perfect response to that article. Another memorable line from Kat is when she wonders if it’s true that love is the greatest con. For many YA readers, both teen and otherwise, this is a fear that has creeped in at least once and we cheer her on hoping that it’s not just one big lie.

Granted, the book isn’t all just internal *cough* Matched *cough* conflict. There are enough helicopters, rappel lines, and even a yacht to keep me interested. This series more than Gallagher Girls is great for the Long Con developing well over time in the course of one book.

Do your best to purchase multiple copies of Uncommon Criminals from legitimate booksellers on June 21. And librarians, if you no longer have a budget for books, let’s have a little chat about the benefits of the Paul Bunyan versus the Jack and the Beanstalk. You know what I’m talking about.

True Grit by Charles Portis

May 18th, 2011

Brace yourself. I am about to say something un-American:

I have not seen either True Grit movie.

I fully expect John Wayne to ride up on horseback and punch me. I accept the consequences.

Chalk it up to my age, but I have never been one for Westerns. That’s stuff for my dad and grandpa. I am a product of post-Space Race entertainment. Star Wars and Star Trek are my visions of wild frontiers. Westerns sometimes are downright uncomfortable with their portrayal of non-White races and other times just seem so boring.

Then I watched Firefly.

Yes, I had heard Han Solo labeled a space cowboy, but it wasn’t until I saw the crew of the Serenity stroll around in dusters and laser revolvers that I finally showed an interest in Westerns. I wanted to learn more about Joss Whedon’s inspiration for the series and that led me to Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This is a great book if you haven’t read it and makes the Civil War come alive.

But what about Western fiction? Sure, I could watch a Western movie. Who doesn’t like The Magnificent Seven? But could I sit down and read a Western?

Thankfully, I began my experiment with True Grit by Charles Portis.

This book does not need me to recommend it. This one’s a classic. When older teachers hear me talking about it, they’re like, “Well, yeah!” So, older readers, you can sit back and enjoy your wisdom accrued over the years. This review is for the younger crowd.

Main character Mattie is a teenage girl on her own in the world attempting to right a wrong. This screams of YA fiction, so I don’t know why it hasn’t been pushed recently in secondary libraries. Mattie’s father was killed by the man he was trying to help. The killer, Tom Chaney, will probably be lost in the system and escape punishment. Mattie recruits washed-up Marshal Rooster Cogburn as her hired gun to track down Chaney. Portis will have to forgive me that, as I read, I pictured Haymitch from The Hunger Games as Cogburn.

I think a teen reader will appreciate the story, although the rising action part of the plotline does take a little bit as Mattie is trying to get Cogburn to help her. Those scenes develop Mattie as a character and show where she can hold her own with any adult, but they’re not action-packed. Her characterization is right up there with Katniss and Tally Youngblood. Some critics will try to convince you that Mattie is like Huck Finn.

Sure. They’re both:

  1. Young
  2. Fast-talking
  3. Southerners

But if I were going out into the badlands to hunt down a crew of killers, I would never take Huckleberry Finn with me. He’d be more likely to chew loudly on some straw, pull a prank out of boredom, and get us both killed. Mattie has the determination and purpose that makes for a strong female protagonist. (Yes, I do understand that Katniss and Tally get whiny. They’re not uber-heroes. They’re human.)(Well, fictional humans.) Huck Finn is more about fate and where The River will take you.

Get True Grit by Charles Portis. It’s worth the read, even if you’re not a big Western fan. Now that I’ve finished, I plan on getting the new version of True Grit on Netflix. The reviews have said that it stays pretty closely to the book.

Katniss, Peeta, and Gale cast for the Hunger Games movie

April 4th, 2011

You’ve probably heard that Katniss is going to be played by Jennifer Lawrence. You’ll also be seeing her as a young Mystique in the new X-Men movie coming out later this year.

Gale, Lone Wolf hunter extraordinaire, will be played by Liam Hemsworth, Miley Cyrus’s boyfriend (as of the time of this writing).

Peeta, the lovable baker’s son, will be played by Josh Hutcherson. You might see him in the remake of Red Dawn that comes out later this year. He was in Bridge to Terabithia and The Vampire’s Assistant.

I Am Number Four by…[cough]…Pittacus Lore

February 28th, 2011

Half-way through I Am Number Four I decided to research the fictional author Pittacus Lore (the author bio said that he’s an Elder on Lorien, so the cynic in me was suspicious).

It turns out it’s James Frey teaming up with Jobie Hughes. Jobie Hughes is just starting out, with no titles out right now on his own (as of the time of this writing according to his website). James Frey is the author of the controversial A Million Little Pieces (controversial since most of the book was fabricated, including his involvement in a real train accident that killed two teens).

That knowledge did influence my reading of the book. Lore’s (I’ll go with the pseudonym) descriptions of high school are, for the most part, realistic. As John Smith, alien Number Four, navigates the hallways of a small school in Ohio. He has to try and blend in so that no one will realize he’s an alien. It’s very Clark Kent/Smallville in its concept. A distraction for me was that the football team/cheerleaders were the mini-antagonists until the bad aliens showed up. In every high school, are all football players jerks? It’s a nitpick, though, because I know it’s a common element in Young Adult fiction.

A fun author reference is when Number Four gets fake IDs. The names are James Hughes and Jobie Frey.

The Mogadorians, the real villains of the story, are an evil race (I’m sure there’s got to be one or two good Mogadorians, right?) of polluters who use nightmares as weapons. They are always one step behind the survivors of Lorien and want to kill Number Four. The cool concept of the book, though, is that a protective spell-ish thing has been set on the Loriens. They can only be killed in order and have a tattoo on their ankle to let them know where they are in line. When Number Four has three burn marks in his tattoo, he realizes he’s next to be hunted.

Henri is his Lorien mentor, fulfilling the Gandalf/Ben Kenobi role seen in other hero stories. Henri instructs him in the ways of the Force Legacies, powers that develop as John/Number Four gets older. Stories that involve this element are a great picture of stepping into the unknown as you mature from child to adult. While we’ve seen many stories use this technique, Lore does it well.

Fans looking for alien fights will have to wait until the very end or be satisfied with quick flashbacks to when the Mogadorians invaded Lorien. I found myself enjoying the high school sequences more than the final boss battle and that may be an indication of James Frey’s influence. He does drama well.

Yes, I do have some complaints, but those do not outweigh my enjoyment of the book. It’s a story we’ve seen before, although I Am Number Four proves that it’s all in how you tell the story.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

January 18th, 2011

I have to be careful with what I read around students. I guess my face is pretty easy to interpret, because when I covered another teacher’s class at the end of last semester, students knew that the book I was reading was suspenseful based solely on my expression. I then explained to them that I was reading Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist.

I know that book two, The Curse of the Wendigo, is already out and I’m late to the party, but I’ll still give a quick opinion (aside from the fact that I don’t like the change to book one’s cover. I love the photo of the experiment beaker and miss it in the paperback edition).

The Monstrumologist is scary. There are no two ways around it. After reading a section of the book one night, I went to take out the trash to the alley and I was afraid an anthropophagi was going to pop out of the ground and eat me. That would be especially scary because yelling, “Look out! There’s an anthropophagi!” would take way too long and I’d be long gone before some other unsuspecting townsfolk tried to take out the trash.

The biggest compliment I can give Rick Yancey is that he made me question whether the protagonist would make it to the end of the book, even though the book is in first-person perspective. (Think about it for a second.)

The book is extremely detailed, though, so some caution needs to be shown. This is definitely not one for the elementary shelves. The first part of the book reads like a Discovery channel show where the scientist and his apprentice dissect pieces of evidence to track down the monster. The book gets grimmer as the hunt becomes more dire.

I truly appreciated the relationship between the apprentice and the monstrumologist. It mirrored the Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson banter of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and had many one-liners worthy of repeating. Interactions with other characters are also enjoyable because of the well-written dialogue.

Also of note is how each prominent character represents a different philosophy prevalent in the time period. The monstrumologist looks at the world as an empiricist and treats the apprentice in what seems to be a cold, calculated way. A rival of the monstrumologist shows up and evaluates the world similar to Nietzsche, saying that there is no good or evil but only the morality of the moment. Apprentice Will Henry has to sort through his own philosophy as he witnesses the horror that the world offers and must fight to see what’s good despite what others may say.

The Monstrumologist is definitely one for older readers, but is most certainly a good read for those that can handle it. The students that have checked it out so far have been able to tackle the 19th-century vocabulary and I’ll be interested to see if that has an effect on the book’s circulation.