Archive for the ‘Suspense’ 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.

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.

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).

3:15 by Patrick Carman

March 25th, 2011

Patrick Carman impresses me with constantly trying to push the ways that traditional paper books interact with digital technology. (See me rant and rave like a fanboy for Skeleton Creek here.)

The new book-ish creation is 3:15, a collection of stories that are in smart phone app format.

So cool!

Here are links to both the Apple and Android app store versions.

I’ll give you my reactions as I experience it:

The app layout looks great and professional, very akin to a Kindle/nook app layout (and what I would expect a Shelfari app to look like if they ever got around to it (hint hint)).

I downloaded the app from the store for free. It then showed me a selection of stories to read. I clicked on the first story and it brought me back to the app store to download it. (I wonder why the download redundancy…) I am appreciative that it doesn’t change too much of my phone’s settings.

Nice. 3:15 is the first app listed on my phone. Yay, alphabetical order!

I like the swiping to change the pages, but I miss the Kindle tap on the side to flip pages. When the phone goes into standby, it messes with where I left off and resets to the first page. A couple of times while I was swiping it scrolled the opposite direction.

There’s also random red letters. I would initially think these were formatting errors, yet I know it’s Patrick Carman and suspect it’s a code.

I got to the end of the story and a video started to automatically load. It had trouble loading; I don’t know if it was my phone that was slow, my network, or other people using server bandwidth for the streaming video.

The Listen Read Watch buttons were a little misleading – I thought I had the option of listening to the story or reading it. The buttons are more of a progression, not nonlinear options.

The story is great, an eerie tale of a delivery boy tasked with carrying out a dying man’s final wish. The boy does not and… I don’t know what happens next because the video won’t load. Buried Treasure is the free story, so I wonder if the ones you pay for load better.

Video took a while, but is SO worth it. Very professional film quality. Nicely done, PC Studios!

Obviously this is brand new and I’m excited for what Patrick Carman has to offer. I’m sure the glitches in the app will work themselves out. (Well, the software techs will work them out. We don’t want a Ghost in the Machine, right?) The key is that the writing is solid and enjoyable.

The first story is written by Paul Chandler, author of Peeper. 3:15 looks to be a promising short story anthology. One is A Night on the Dredge. Fun stuff.

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.

The Crossbones by Patrick Carman

September 15th, 2010

Sarah Fincher goes on a road trip.

The characters from Skeleton Creek get to branch out from their small town and explore some of the haunted places around the United States. Ryan has found a piece of paper with a series of clues on it and he sends Sarah thousands of miles to go find out more information about the different locations.

The Crossbones is different than the first book. Students, let’s make that clear. There are videos and the journal, but the focus in book three is more on uncovering The Crossbones’ secrets. There is one part where I did jump, even though I was sitting in the library, but the action here is more of a National Treasure variety. (Although being stuck in an underground tunnel with a potential killer is right up there with being stuck underground with a ghost. Both are situations I’d rather not be in.)

Book three is also different because they have a new person playing the part of Sarah. That’s my guess, since she’s no longer on camera and her voice is different. The videos are also more professional looking, which I think takes away from the realism. Sarah’s talented, but I liked it when she was dropping the camera on the dredge floor. That’s no knock on Jeffrey Townsend – the videos look great; it’s just a style thing for me. Most of the passwords on the site now link to three types of video: footage from Sarah, a polished documentary, and rough reel-to-reel film from a member of the Crossbones.

The places that Sarah visits are real, which is great because students can research the history if they want to learn more. There’s even a map of the trip that she takes, in case you want to plan a family vacation around centuries-old conspiracies.

The main mystery, when solved, was an, “Oh. I didn’t know that.” moment for me. The real kicker was discovering the hierarchy of the secret society and wondering how involved Ryan’s family is in it.

The Crossbones is different, but it’s still a good read. It could be read as a standalone novel, but I think you need the first two books to truly connect with the characters.

Personal note: Ryan has to drive a minivan that leaks oil and has bad tires. I’ve done that and can relate. A funny comment in one of the videos is a Crossbones member talking about how it wasn’t until Andrew Jackson that they found a president they liked.

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.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

June 16th, 2009

What’s the toughest part about Hunger Games? After finishing it, the next book that I read just doesn’t have as much grab for me.

I wonder if that’s a problem for Suzanne Collins. As I talked with students and staff about what to expect with Catching Fire, we had no clue how the author would follow up such a great story.

Now I can’t figure which one’s my favorite.

We knew that there would be rebellion. There’s no way that Capitol officials would let Katniss’ act of defiance go unnoticed. In the first book it is made very clear that Panem resembles Ancient Rome, hosting the games to crush the spirits of the rebels by crushing their kids.

Book two starts out with Katniss on a victory tour. The haunting President Snow warns her that her actions affect more than herself, a poorly veiled threat that her family is in danger unless districts are calmed down into obedience.

While people hold on to a strand of hope, they can still fight.

Katniss has been swept up in events larger than herself and has become the face of the resistance. In this way it keeps with characteristics of a successful YA book: a protagonist that ends up on her own and must figure out who she is, what she truly stands for, as forces push her from all sides.

I’ll be honest: in the first book, I cheered when the games started. I couldn’t put the book down once we had seen the tributes standing on the platforms in the minefield. I stayed up until the early morning, finishing the book and many caffeinated beverages.

In Catching Fire, seeing people thrown into the Games sickened me. I was literally distressed for the characters and angry at Panem’s injustice. I couldn’t stand the Capitol citizens’ compliance with how things were being run.

I have a renewed sense of social activism after reading the book. Seeing food so readily available, with Capitol socialites purposely vomiting so that they could gorge on more, reminded me that there are so many hungry people out there, in our country and others. We need to take action to help our fellow humans – and we’re running out of time.

If there’s one theme repeated throughout the book, it’s that your own mortality is a countdown. We have limited time. Katniss realizes what her goal is and is in a race to meet that goal before her life is snuffed out. She sees the other victors for who they are, as people scarred from the previous Games, people who need compassion but have been dehumanized for society’s entertainment. (One of the victors paints his nightmares from the Games. He has not slept a solid night since being thrown into the arena.)

Pretty challenging stuff for a teen book. But what Suzanne Collins does extremely well is take issues like social concern and mortality and blend it with an engaging, action-packed story. It’s a story that junior high and high school students can connect with, as evidenced by my students constantly having this book on a wait list.

When September 1 comes around, make sure you grab a copy (or four) to continue one of my favorite series. With book two, we knew that there would be rebellion. Book three is scheduled to wrap up the trilogy – I think I have a clue as to what will happen next, but I know that Suzanne Collins will blow away my expectations.

Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Missing Series

March 18th, 2008

Last night I finished Book 1: Found in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s new Missing series. Just like any Haddix book (she’s so much a favorite author of mine that she has her own category) it has great suspense and mystery. This time, though, she busts out the sci-fi as well.

All of the stuff that made the Shadow Children series work is still in it. The premise is that a plane mysteriously shows up at a terminal and the only people on board are 36 babies (no pilot – the cabin is completely dark once workers show up).

But what sets this apart from the Shadow Children series is that the action picks up in the second half of the book. In Among the Hidden you have lots of ‘What type of society is this?’ and ‘Why is he hiding?’ type questions with one sad twist at the end. This book, though, is not as society-challenging but instead is more like a TV show. (But that’s okay. It’s a great read.)

I know I shouldn’t give quotes from an ARC (the book comes out later this spring) but here’s one of my favorites (with understanding that it could change its wording once published):

“I can’t believe they think you’re on their side,” Mr. Hodge said. “You must not have told them what you want to do.”

Terribly mysterious!

I finished the book last night and it should be noted that I started the book that morning.
Now on to Max Ride 4. Just picked it up this morning.

Bunker 10

February 22nd, 2008

Oh my goodness! Crazy book. I just finished Bunker 10 by J.A. Henderson and anyone who loves surprise endings, like Ender’s Game, needs this book.

A military installation in the middle of a forest blows up on Christmas Eve. This book is the story of the inhabitants’ last day. What is a lot of fun is that it is told in 24-style, with chapter headings simply reading what time it is.

This is not a story of terrorists or war – the entire threat comes from within the facility. The plot has a lot of surprises so I can’t tell too much, but I can give you the headings for the general sections of the book:

  1. The Grandmother Paradox
  2. Genetic Pollution – (n) the dispersal of contaminated altered genes from genetically engineered organisms to natural organisms, esp. by cross-pollination
  3. Meme

But it’s not just about the science, which is pretty cool science, but it has a lot of action sequences, as well. Librarians – if you have Michael Crichton books on your shelf, you’ll do well to get this book.