Archive for the ‘Horror’ category

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).

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

May 7th, 2012

I am convinced that Ken Oppel is required by contract to have at least one weird creature in his books. We’ve had flying cats, lonely bats, and maybe even mutated rats (that last one I may be wrong on, but it rhymes, so I’m keeping it).

In This Dark Endeavor, though, the creatures are real. Some are rare, but they still exist. That’s what I love most about the book. Yes, it’s a prequel to Frankenstein and it’s all about alchemy, but the chemistry and the biology stay pretty realistic.

Victor Frankenstein, creator of the famous monster, is the protagonist and the narrator. What is interesting is that Victor is deeply brooding – which, little known fact, is also a requirement by contract for YA characters. Oppel does a good job setting up the man who will try to conquer death itself through science. I guess that’s part of the trend of the “when they were young” books that are coming out; we get to see the origins of well-known characters.
The downside of that trend, though, is that those books sometimes rely too heavily on prior knowledge from the original source. While I benefited from having read the original Frankenstein, students that have read only This Dark Endeavor were still able to understand and appreciate what was going on. In fact, some went on to check out the original.

Having a semi-villain for a protagonist makes for an interesting romance. Normally, you cheer for the hero to win their love, but this time he’s trying to steal from his brother, we know he’s making things worse, and can’t quite endorse what he’s doing. It’s definitely not your normally love story.

Oppel succeeds in making the Frankensteins seem like a real family from history and the characters are the backbone of the story. Students who like adventure stories and won’t be daunted by an 18th-century setting will enjoy it.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

December 1st, 2011

I just finished The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s the story of Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick, two teens on a small Celtic island that is visited by man-eating horses every year.

Yeah, I said it: man-eating horses.

If you’ve heard of kelpies or water horses, you’ve heard of the capaill uisce. Every November, the small island of Thisby holds a race in honor of the water horses.

Yeah, a race course full of man-eating horses.

While this may not seem like the smartest idea, it’s all about tradition and connection with Thisby’s roots. There is a definite conflict between those who want to follow the old ways and those that want to get off of this crazy island.

Surprisingly enough, the protagonists want to preserve the old ways, which is cool. Normally YA heroes are rebellious, and there is a tinge of that. Puck is the first girl to race and there are a few scenes that deal with inequalities between men and women. Puck also has to figure out how to be a strong woman without becoming too much like the crass men of Thisby. Yet Puck doesn’t want her brother to move to the mainland and leave behind their history. Sean is the most capable jockey because he knows the traditions behind raising capaill uisce.

The actual race is only a small portion of the story, which I was a little disappointed in. It’s one big race, so I guess there are no quarterfinals, semifinals, and all that to progress through. The race is quick and that’s how it’s described in the book.

The pacing of the book is a little bit slower because you follow Puck and Sean around on a small island. They keep running into the same characters during the build-up and training before the race, but those characters are described very well. You can tell what motivates each of the island inhabitants.

While the pacing is a little slower, that does not mean that there aren’t enough suspenseful moments to break up the routine. One of my favorite scenes is Puck being caught outside at night by a capaill uisce and her trying to escape.

There is a romance that develops between Puck and Sean that is interesting because the first-person narrative switches back and forth. I’m glad that both characters are focused on more than just each other, an example other YA heroes could learn from, so getting inside their brains was not all obsessive inner monologues.

The rich mythology that Stiefvater has built up is what makes the story, even if she did pick and choose with the myths. Thisby seems so real. I also missed which time period the book takes place in, but small details like the types of radio programs people are listening to or the types of outfits helps place the setting.

It’s worth a read. I’ll booktalk it on Monday and see if junior highers are interested in horses that will eat your face off.

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.

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.

Nightlight by the Harvard Lampoon

November 19th, 2010

I haven’t read the Twilight series.

Yes, I know.

Even though I haven’t read the books or seen the movies, I’m familiar enough with the plot of the series to understand the jokes in the Harvard Lampoon’s Nightlight.

Most of the book plays off of Stephenie Meyer’s writing style and how Bella is characterized. In Nightlight, Belle Goose stalks a boy named Edwart because she thinks that he is a vampire. The plot line revolves around her being clueless to the world around her as she acts out most cliches found in supernatural romances, thinking that every boy is super-obsessed with her and that she is smarter than anyone around her.

Here’s an example of her oblivious nature as she considers another possible vampire at the school:

I thought back to the tables in the cafeteria: Edwart’s table, Jocks, Populars (my table), Arty Kids, Vampires. He must have sat at the last one.

On top of her cluelessness, random events will be thrown in for humor (it’s a parody, after all). Belle loves having a big truck because she can make slushies by throwing snow in the back and driving like crazy. Supporting characters (what English teachers would call flat characters) don’t have names and Belle makes a point to say that the character has some forgettable name like “Lululu” and is not important at all.

Nightlight frequently steps out of the narrative to make a book joke, one that is only funny while reading. Belle says something in italics and comments that she learned at an early age to say things in italics because people listen better. A scary foreshadowing is that something scary will happen in chapter ten. It literally says chapter ten.

For being the Harvard Lampoon, it’s actually pretty clean. I think students would enjoy it (I know they would because it’s students who asked me to read it in the first place). I’m not going to booktalk it simply because I haven’t found an Accelerated Reader test for it yet. Once there’s an AR test, I’ll work it into my lineup.

Ghost in the Machine by Patrick Carman

September 3rd, 2009

I must be honest and admit that I am a huge fan of Skeleton Creek and, as such, have high expectations for the sequel.

To talk about the sequel, though, I’m going to need to talk about some details from Skeleton Creek. To avoid ruining the surprises, I’m going to place a giant picture of a crow here to warn you of spoilers.

Spoiler Alert!
I see Ghost in the Machine by Patrick Carman as an alternate ending to the first book.

Carman gained a huge amount of respect from me by how he left Ryan and Sarah in the dredge in the first book. To think that they would be trapped there forever left me in the same level of awe as when Anthony Horowitz shot Alex Rider at the end of Scorpia (and we knew that he was moving on to the Raven’s Gate series, so we thought that was the end of Alex…Ark Angel and Snakehead took some effort to exceed that feeling of “wow”).
Update: I just talked with a teacher at lunch. She laughed with excitement to hear that Ryan and Sarah had made it. I guess I have too much English teacher running through my blood; I enjoy it when characters die.

Frankly, I was disappointed to see Ryan’s name on the journal.

But then I realized that there were so many questions left unanswered: who’s left of the Crossbones, what’s up with the alchemy, and will Ryan and Sarah ever hook up?

It was in the quest to find those answers that I really enjoyed Ghost in the Machine. This book takes on more of a murder mystery/conspiracy theory style to it.

There are still the suspenseful videos. In fact, I don’t think I learned from my experience of sitting alone in the dark with my MacBook watching the videos for the first book. One in particular, where a character is breaking into someone’s house in the middle of the night, has the whole Rear Window/Disturbia “No! Get out of the house!” vibe to it.

What makes the experience work is that Patrick Carman is a talented screenwriter on top of novel author. His choice of director doesn’t hurt, either.

One part that I liked is a scene where they parody the creepy videos (and an Internet trend) to release some stress during the investigation. Even though I saw the joke coming, it still made me crack up.

It’s a great book that students will enjoy. I don’t see anything wrong with students watching the book’s videos during lunch in the library. The screaming heads may be disruptive to a silent reading program, but I have seen groups of students get behind the first book and catch up on the videos during their off hours. (And I think that’s one of the concepts that I appreciate about Patrick Carman’s experiment. These students are using their own free time to explore more of the story.)

I’m an official fan now. We have a Patrick Carman category on the site.

Inside Access: Ghost in the Machine by Patrick Carman

July 9th, 2009

If you liked Skeleton Creek, the creepy immersive technology ghost story book, then I’m guessing you’ll like Ghost in the Machine. (‘Ghost in the Machine’ is a programming term for when code goes wrong and it looks like everything you’ve done is right. Future Professionals will remember what my previous major was in college.)

What’s great is that Patrick Carman is giving a lot of behind-the-scenes access to the work in progress.

Check out the Back Lot to be able to follow the actors, director, and the rest of the crew on Twitter and the main blog to follow the big updates about the project.

Neil Gaiman reads Graveyard Book

June 23rd, 2009

On his book tour, Neil Gaiman read parts of his Newbery-winning book, The Graveyard Book.

Now we get to see his readings in their entirety, from the first chapter to the end. Very cool! Click here to check it out.

Fact: Vampires Love Cinco de Mayo

May 5th, 2009

I never knew.