Posted on December 9, 2012 by Virginia
A story of three neighbouring kingdoms and the young people who are caught up in a brewing war, all because of a reckless display of power by an arrogant young lord that resulted in the death of a wineseller's son.
Princess Cleo of Auranos witnessed the whole thing. She could have prevented the tragedy, but she didn't. Now, bearing the guilt of an innocent death, Cleo is sneaking back to Paelsia to chase after a legend to cure her dying sister.
A dangerous endeavour, since Jonas Agallon will hunt her down if he knows she is back in his territory. Jonas, who swears to avenge his brother's death, is planting the seeds of a revolution and forming an alliance between Paelsia and Limeros to take on the wealthy and abundant Auranos.
The focus of Limeros' King Gaius though is not so much on the impending war but on a prophecy surrounding her daughter Lucia that is supposed to come true when she turns sixteen. He is starting to have doubt and is getting impatient, but it's only because Lucia hasn't revealed to him what she is turning into.
The only person she can confide in is her dear brother Magnus, but lately, he seems aloof and temperamental. Little does she know that Magnus suffers everytime he sees her, struggling with growing feelings towards his very own sister.
Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes (pen name for Michelle Rowen) is a very readable high fantasy, and readers will easily immerse themselves in this world of political intrigue. The chapters alternate among the three kingdoms, and as the story builds to a crescendo, you eagerly await the inevitable collision of the characters. The cast is a bit uneven though. Cleo and Jonas are much more proactive characters that are fueled with a strong purpose, and the other two pale in comparison and it's difficult to sympathize with everyone's stories. Scenes that should make a bigger emotional impact often felt rushed or came out of nowhere, so they are not as convincing as they can be. I also wish the book will explore and expand on the magic mentioned, but overall, it's a good start to a series.
This book is quite different from the kinds of books we usually talk about on this blog, so just to add a note from our blog's perspective, even though the Assassin's Creed like character on the cover may suggest a promising read for boys, the melodramatic romantic scenes and the overarching theme of forbidden love can be off-putting to some.
Thank you to Razorbill, Penguin Canada, for providing the advanced copy of Falling Kingdoms and inviting us to join the blog tour. Visit the official website.
Posted on December 6, 2012 by Steven
Set in an Imperial Roman style world. All humans have one or more "furies" magical creatures who are associated with the major classical elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water with metal and wood tossed in for good measure. These furies allow their "crafters" to manipulate their respective elements for various purposes. Watercrafters can help heal, serving as doctors. Firecrafters can manipulate emotions, etc. The more furies one has control of grants people Citizenship in the Empire, with all duties and privileges that entails. And then there's Tavi. He has no furies, and is the only one in the world not to. Guess who the hero is?
I realize that this series isn't new. In fact, it finished in 2009. However, the most interesting part is how it came to be. That alone is a great selling point. It doesn't hurt that the books are pretty entertaining on top of it.
Posted on November 25, 2012 by Virginia
The police is calling it a terrorist attack, but Jud knows better. It was ghosts. Ghosts murdered the subway riders. Ghosts pulled out the victims' tongues and stabbed them in their eyeballs. Not terrorists. You can tell from the "crazy ramblings" of the survivors, but no one will believe them, just like no one believed that ghosts, not he, killed his mom years ago. The only reason why Jud is not locked up is because people don't really know who he truly is. His father has given him a new identity, and has asked him to join his secret organization, CRYPT. Any case that MI6 thinks has anything to do with paranormal activity goes to CRYPT, and the group is not particularly welcomed by others. Not only are people skeptical about the existence of ghosts, but the group is also a laughing stock because the team is made up of... teenagers. What do they know?
If you're not prepared for an intense ride, don't pick up this book. The first ten pages or so will show you right away that the author is not kidding and he's not going to let you go easy. If a reader is looking for thrills and chills, he/she will be hooked right away. The vivid goriness is at its best, but the rest of the writing somewhat pales in comparison, and the lines, like characters puking at crime scenes, can get repetitive and old. Nevertheless, CRYPT is an interesting spinoff from the teen spy fiction genre, and readers will sympathize with Jud's daily struggle, pretending to be another person, one who can't even talk to his own father, and living in fear that someone may recognize him. It will be interesting to read the rest of the series and see how Jud and the other characters develop.
Here's the book trailer:
Posted on November 22, 2012 by Steven
Bear hopes the [Halo prequel] trilogy acts as a sort of gateway drug for gamers who might not be regular readers.
“These people haven’t read a lot of science fiction,” he notes. “And with the Halo trilogy … they’re being introduced to Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, my own fiction — all that sort of stuff. The classic SF that I was raised on in the 1950s.”
These books aren't always very good (often not), but they are still worthwhile. Read the article here.
Posted on November 16, 2012 by Steven
Shapes is great for history and trivia buffs. the book does provide frequent historical context on why things are, include brief overviews of colonial America, Canada and Mexico, plus plenty of wars. The chapters are bite-sized, no more than a couple of pages per state, and it does get a bit repetitive, but it is well worth a look.
This would be particularly of interest to fans of Maphead by Ken Jennings
Posted on November 3, 2012 by Virginia
Oh, how nice it is to see Sam and the gang in action again. What I love most about this series is the cast, so I am happy to read about them doing just about anything and eavesdrop on their conversation.
There is a good story in the sequel Necromancing the Stone too of course. Now that Sam has killed the evil Douglas, he has to adjust to his new life as he takes Douglas' place on the magical council as the necromancer. Unsure of his power and guilty about the changes he's caused in his friends (after all, one of them has been turned into a ghost and the other a werebear), he is not feeling any love either from the magical council, his girlfriend's entire clan, not even the garden gnomes in his new mansion.
When a mysterious murder happens, everyone is looking towards Sam to prove himself by finding the killer, and he better does it quickly, since the evidence all points to the victim dying at the hands of a necromancer. Now, wait a second, isn't Sam the only necromancer left?
Yes, he is.
As crazy as Necromancing the Stone sounds, with a full ensemble of any paranormal creatures you can imagine (and some you never dream of), the book is ultimately about a boy growing up, being thrown into a strange world of responsibility, and trying to do the right thing. McBride's writing is plenty funny and witty and the dialogue is spot on, and yes, there is swearing but never excessive. The additions of James the house spirit and Minion round up an already charming cast. You'll smile when you figure out who Minion is supposed to be.
Visit Lish McBride's website and follow @TeamDamnation on Twitter.
And what do you guys think of the redesigned covers?
Posted on October 31, 2012 by Steven
What does this all mean for reading? This isn't a gaming blog, after all. As I noted when I previously discussed Assassin's Creed, the series is very well researched and rooted largely in true historical events, using real historical figures, of delving into more obscure or controversial moments in these figures' lives. Example: Ben Franklin advocated taking older woman as mistresses as they were "more experienced". He also apparently enjoyed farting. A series like this with a small in-game encyclopedia can easily inspire gamers into investigating the background in more detail. Given that the topic this time around is the American Revolution and especially Native American issues surrounding it, there is a lot of material for kids to dig into.
Games often have good stories, but they are often as detailed as this. But in many cases, there is a lot that can be taken from them in terms of inspiration for further reading. Pay attention to what kids are playing and you'll get an idea of what books you can recommend. I often start my reader's advisory by asking not what they read but what they play.
Posted on October 29, 2012 by Virginia
Annotations are mostly from publishers
The third book in Will Hill's excellent Department 19 series will be coming out in April. "Dracula is on the verge of coming into his full power. Department 19 is on the back foot. Ladies and gentlemen: welcome to war."
I'm sure Mr. Hill will continue to wipe sparkle vampires off the planet with this book.
I should get a hold of the first book soon.
Beyonders series, Chasing the Prophecy, will be coming out in March 2013. Jason and Rachel will be heading off onto their separate quests to "become the heroes Lyrian needs".
Nano wars continue in BZRK book 2 by Michael Grant.
And of course, a yet-to-be named Miss Peregrine by Ransom Riggs.
Now for some non-sequels:
The smart thing to do of course is to turn down the job, but when Tom finds out the kingdom just replaces him with his best friend Kyle, he wants it back.
Eoin Colfer is starting a new series called WARP: The Reluctant Assassin, which Publishers Weekly called "Oliver Twist meets The Matrix time-travel adventure series".
Catherine Fisher has a new sci-fi / fantasy series Obsidian Mirror.
Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff, "starring a teenage boy with no name or history - the perfect soldier-assassin" (from Publishers Weekly)
What books are you looking forward to read this winter?
Posted on October 21, 2012 by Virginia
The second book begins with Alex struggling with his new responsibilities and believing in himself, being singled out as a possible successor to his mentor Marcus, the creator of Artime. Meanwhile, his twin Aaron, who has lost all power because of the co-existence of Quill and Artime, is plotting his revenge against his brother and all of Artime by inciting all the disgruntled Quill residents. And in the midst of the brewing conflict are a boy and a girl, who came to Artime unconscious on a sinking raft, each of them wearing "a thick band made of metal thorns that weave(s) in and out of the skin around their necks". Where did these mysterious visitors come from?
Even though the promo quote on the cover says this book is "Hunger Games meets Harry Potter", the magical part is more prevalent throughout the two books. Awesome covers and generous spacing between lines will appeal to readers who like fantasy but don't want to feel overwhelmed, and once the story is set into motion, it is non-stop action and chaos and you can't read fast enough to find out what is going to happen next and who can be trusted. It does take some time for things to get started, but I think the characters are likable enough that you wouldn't mind getting to know them a bit more. Eagerly waiting for the third book.
Posted on October 17, 2012 by mel
I can't quite remember when all the teen book covers started using photographs and looking like movie and shampoo ads - but once upon a time the majority of book covers consisted of drawings. The stylized retro look of this cover -- plus the huge eyes made me pick up the book right away.
Surprise, surprise -- it's another dystopian. But, having heard of Saci Lloyd's Carbon Diaries (confession: I haven't read it yet), I decided to give this a try.
In this future society, the world is going through an energy crisis and everyone is scrambling to figure out how to generate more energy. Society has been split into two main groups: the wealthy, powerful Citizens and the poor Outsiders who rebelled against harsh government regulations. Everyone is hooked up to an eyepiece that enables them to escape to a virtual reality and communicate with each other.
Hunter Nash is a privileged citizen who secretly sneaks into the favelas, Outsider territory. He's fascinated by their freedom and the way they run up walls and jump from rooftop to rooftop. Here the Outsiders are hunted by Kossaks, the brutal government army force who destroys their homes and indiscriminately beats and kills them. Hunter knows there'll be serious trouble if he's seen in the favelas, but he's training himself to jump like the Outsiders and can't stay away.
The trouble starts when Hunter sees a Kossak shoot down a young Outsider boy and stumbles on the boy's secret funeral procession. Suddenly he's caught up in hiding the key that will reveal the Outsider's security network -- something that the Citizen government would kill for.
I like how the action in this book starts right away (someone gets killed in the first ten pages) and pretty much keeps rolling through the book. There are a couple good surprises along the way and I found the conclusion to be satisfying in that it was realistically open ended, but resolved enough of the plot to end the book.
I would have liked to have the whole jumping from building to building thing among the Outsiders play a larger part in the plot (I thought this element was actually cooler than the virtual reality bit) and I'm not convinced that Hunter's character was as developed as it could have been, but all in all, this book is a good high energy, fast paced one that will grab the attention of most readers.
Check out Saci Lloyd's website where you can watch Momentum's book trailer and find information on her other two books, Carbon Diaries 2015 and Carbon Diaries 2017. Oh, and take a look at the links on her website to youtube videos of Pakour -- yes, real-life people actually scale walls and leap from buildings like the Outsiders in Momentum...
Posted on October 11, 2012 by Virginia
Samuel may have gone back to his normal life, but he's not forgotten. Oh no. Far from it. Down in the Infernals, Mrs. Abernathy, who has lost all her clout with her fellow demons, is stewing and plotting revenge. She is going to drag Samuel down to her territory this time. But have no fear, Samuel has his loyal dachshund Boswell, and a new cast of helpers: two cops, an ice-cream man and a traveling troupe of elves (who are really dwarfs).
Just like The Gates, The Infernals will delight readers who are looking for funny, adventure, wit, and some great friendships. The characters are just priceless, and Terry Pratchett fans will be glad to see the same quality footnotes from Connolly. This continues to be a great series for teens who are looking for something smarter than the usual fare.
Posted on October 6, 2012 by mel
He becomes even more frustrated when his father tells him to stop looking, accept the situation and get his life back together. Nick decides then to prove to everyone that he'll find the real culprit, succeed in school and hockey, and well, maybe even talk to his ex-girlfriend.
Soon after, Nick realizes that two people very close to him have possible motives for the murder. Could it be his hockey coach who's career dreams were destroyed by Marty? Or his dad's agent who is secretly exchanging money with a mysterious man? Nick soon finds himself breaking into offices, hacking into email accounts and using hidden cameras... and when he thinks he's finally found the killer, he knows he might just be the next victim.
I don't usually read novels that focus heavily on a particular sport, as I'm not exactly a sports enthusiast and tend to find all the details on game play a bit tedious (and confusing if I'm not familiar with the sport). I do like mysteries though, so I volunteered to read the book and review it when RazOrbill announced this blog tour.
I'm not sure if it's just me, but it seems that the typical "whodunit" mysteries are becoming more and more rare in YA literature. It was a breather to have a storyline free from vampires, werewolves and post apocalypse devastation.
The Vancouver setting made the book a unique read and it was interesting for me to be able to picture landmarks and streets referred to in the book. Add hockey, a sport very familiar to us over on this side of the planet, to the mix and the descriptions in the book became pretty much photographic for me.
I found the story to have a strong premise; however, I do think the plot could have used some more twists to make things less predictable. A couple more suspects or red herrings would have made the story more suspenseful. The characters were fairly stereotypical -- though, following formulas isn't necessarily bad, and Nick's emotions in general were pretty realistic. As for the story's conclusion, the positive changes in the attitudes of the characters seemed a bit quick and problems presented in the book resolved too easily for me. I personally like some loose ends to make things more realistic and to leave room for my own interpretation.
That said, this book does have the selling points of hockey, mystery and romance, which will definitely appeal to some readers. It's a also good choice for anyone who is looking for a novel set in Vancouver (there really aren't that many around).
Michael Betcherman is the author of two online novels Suzanne and The Daughters of Freya. He has won awards for his documentary and TV screen plays which include Was Justice Denied? (Turner Network Television), The Team (CBC) and 72 Hours: True Crime. Breakaway is the first novel he has written for young adults.
Posted on October 4, 2012 by Steven
Borderlands is a video game series set on a planet called Pandora (not the one from Avatar). It's a hive of bandits and deadly creatures, irresponsible corporations and a bazillion different guns. The game is a straight forward shooter. You run around, shoot everything that moves, and collect whatever loot the guys you shoot drop. Is it violent? Ridiculously so. Is it for teens? Probably not, but that never stopped them from playing it. The games are firmly tongue-in-cheek and don't take themselves too seriously.
This is where the books (Borderlands: The Fallen and Borderlands: Unconquered) fall flat: they don't take the same tone as the games, even though the settings are the same and many of the familiar characters and creatures are featured. The novels simply aren't as... charming? Is that the right word here? As usual with video game books, the plot doesn't really matter. They exist to provide players with another opportunity to spend time in the gaming world that they love. This formula has mixed results: the Mass Effect novels got progressively better, the Elder Scrolls books were refreshing in that they weren't tied too tightly to the games, but the Assassin's Creed books were just awful.
Labels: video game
Posted on September 29, 2012 by Steven
Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto by David Kushner traces the history of the game from its humble beginning as a city simulator to the record shattering sales of the 4th edition that in its first 24 hours of sale made more money than any form of entertainment ever before in the same amount of time. Grand Theft Auto was and continues to be a major cornerstone of gaming, but before it made it big, it was just a fringe game by a small start-up.
Parallel to the main story, Jacked also discusses the efforts by moral crusader Jack Thompson to get the game banned in the name of protecting child from the violent contained contained in the series. This obviously never happened, but it serves to create a pretty scary villain for the story of the game. (Scary, of course, if you like games and want to keep playing them).
The pace is a bit slow for my taste, and doesn't actually get into that much detail about the process, but this is more than I'd ever heard before about the behind-the-scenes of the series, so this is a good, reasonable-length approach to the subject, one that should be able to hold the attention of gamers who enjoy it.
Posted on September 24, 2012 by Virginia
Thinking back to all the zombie novels you've read, do the good ones have elements Higson talk about?
Here are a couple we've reviewed:
World War Z
Dead of Night
What's your favourite zombie read?
Posted on September 21, 2012 by Steven
For those who love Greek gods in the modern world, the Rick Riordan series are great. The idea of the Pantheon rampaging across familiar places makes the myths that much cooler. I mean, how many of us really have any experience in Greece, particular the ancient kind?
The Age of Zeus has the Pantheon returning to the world after being away for a couple thousand years. Through their might, the world has fallen into peace policed by the familiar ancient beasts and gods. Of course, they still have their ancient urges: the monster rampage and the gods demand tribute, erupting into their famous rage when they aren't satisfied.
Enter a rich arms dealer who seeks to return the Earth to human rule and a small group of people who have lost everything to the gods. Together, they form a new team of Titans, based on the original god-killers. And they, unlike all the resistance movements that came before them, find a way to hurt the Olympians.
As familiar as the Greek myths are, and even though The Age of Zeus is very familiar with these myths, this is an action book first and foremost. If anything, this feels like a pulp novel or a cheesy sci-fi miniseries. The Titans are on a mission to destroy the Olympians, and that's all this book is about.
This is fine for teens, but for younger kids, it's a no go: there's some language and mild sexual content, though it's relatively mild.
James Lovegrove has written a couple of other books along the same lines, The Age of Ra (Egypt) and The Age of Odin (Norse).
Posted on September 12, 2012 by mel
The book is slow to start (which might lose some readers), but once Will finds the underground world, the pace picks up and there are plenty of chase scenes, fights and tense moments. I found the tone quite dark and serious, which made things suspenseful and more scary. Gordon does a good job of creating the underworld and the bad guys. I've always felt the antagonist(s) of a story play a large part in making the plot exciting. If they're not evil enough, why would you care if the characters got away or not? In this case, the Styx were terrible enough to keep me rooting for Will...
I wouldn't recommend this to readers looking for immediate action since it takes so long for the excitement to start, but those who don't mind sticking around longer will probably get hooked on the series, as it really does have a good plot and ends with a bit of a cliffhanger. And while it's categorized as children's fiction, the dark storyline would probably make it suitable for young teens too.
This is the first in the series of six books (five have been published so far). Visit the Tunnels website for info on the sequels, plus special documents (e.g. Will's journal) and deleted scenes.
Posted on September 8, 2012 by Virginia
Life is tough to say the least, so when the kids were offered a chance to win money and prizes for their families by playing a simulation video game, everyone excitedly enters the competition. Mika is also hoping to win, not just because he wants a better life for his parents, but he also believes that somehow through this contest, he's going to find his twin sister Ellie. Everyone tells Mika that Ellie is dead, but he knows that's not true. He can sense her. She's got to be somewhere...
It's one of those "wake up in the middle of the night and can't get to sleep" nights that I started The Roar, and that was a bad, bad idea, 'cause I couldn't stop reading. The book opens with a breathtaking pod fighter chase scene (Star Wars anyone?) and ends with a chilling cliffhanger (yes it's a series), and it's full of mysteries in between. The plot will satisfy all different kinds of readers: those who like their government conspiracies, those who like dystopian worlds, those who like some good video game action, those who like an evil villain who seems pretty invincible... Even though lots of things you suspect or are told right off are not quite resolved till much later, for this book it really is the journey that counts. It's a 500-pager, probably could stand to be edited a bit so there are fewer details and themes that don't quite fit the main story and kept me wondering, "where did that come from?". Maybe in the sequel. There are a few characters I'd like to see more of for sure.
Have to get a hold of that sequel The Whisper, which came out in February 2012.
Posted on September 6, 2012 by Steven
One of my go-to site for is Wikipedia. I don't have to go into too much detail on what it is; you should all know by now. That said, there's some neat stuff on there that should pique the interest of many young folk with a taste for the weird. The best way to get at it? Look no further than the rather thorough List of Unusual Articles. Here you will find everything from articles about perfectly logical sentences consisting of only the word "Buffalo" to the novels of Saddam Hussein, as well as weird bits of math and science.
Kotaku is good for those who want to keep abreast of the gamer industry. Kids tend to obsess over stuff, and kids who love games and gaming want to know what's coming. Kotaku is quite good at keeping up, and though they often discuss the business side of things as much as games themselves.
Neither of these sites are intended for teens, but I don't like to think of them as needing dumbed-down content. If it fits their field of interest, I'll suggest it. So the warning comes: the content is not always kid-friendly, particularly the Wikipedia stuff. They'll cover anything, so be warned.
Posted on September 4, 2012 by Virginia
Everyone reveres Peter's dad, a notable scientist who has successfully engineered artificial life and saved the honeybees from extinction, which in turn saved the plants and saved the humans. So when Alpha challenges his work in class, Peter is impressed. And curious. Who is this girl?
Turns out she is a Strakerite. Peter has been taught by his dad all his life that Strakertites are "superstitious primitives", who believe in the story one Kyle Straker has recorded on tapes detailing the upgrade of humans by aliens. Because people with power and status like Peter's dad have been so outspoken against the non-scientific beliefs of the Strakerites, they're ignored and relegated to the fringes of society.
Now Alpha, a Strakerite, is asking Peter for help. It's difficult for Peter not to be skeptical, but when Alpha shows him a picture of a committee that has conducted scientific research into Kyle Straker, Peter is shocked to recognize a man in the photo: his father. What is he doing there?
The Future We Left Behind is a refreshing sequel because it incorporates and recalls the first book in an ingenious way. The sequel features an entire new set of characters but still advances the story of the first book. Readers will eagerly peel back the layers of mystery surrounding Peter's family, and while reading Human.4 is like watching an episode of Twilight Zone, this second book has the same degree of intrigue and mystery, but feels more personal and has room for more readers' investment in the characters. I have to admit though the book can be hard to sink your teeth into right away, unlike the first book (well, that's what high expectations will do to you). At the same time, if you've read and liked the first book, you'll probably keep reading, and you won't regret it.
Do visit the author's website and blog, and thank you Egmont USA for providing this advanced copy via NetGalley.
Posted on August 31, 2012 by Steven
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein is a favorite of mine. A colony on the moon has been providing resource to Earth for years with little support in return for the residents on Luna. When the computer that runs most of the systems gains consciousness, it becomes the rallying point of the Lunar citizen to revolt and declare themselves and independent nation. The story has a lot of political discussion and examines the structure of underground resistance groups.
Jennifer Government by Max Barry is set in a world where corporate interests have dominated responsible government, leaving little power left for the former authorities. In this world, people take the name of their employers as their last names, and companies can literally get away with murder.
Of course, you can also go with the obvious: Animal Farm, 1984, The Giver. There's a lot out there.
Any other suggestions? Let us know in the comments!
Posted on August 22, 2012 by Virginia
Scot Gardner has written several critically acclaimed novels for young adults. His debut novel, One Dead Seagull, was followed by White Ute Dreaming, a powerful story of first love, mates, and a yellow dog. His third novel, Burning Eddy, was shortlisted for the CBC Award and the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adults. Gravity was also shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award in 2007. The Dead I Know was published by Allen & Unwin in Australia in 2011; it is the first Scot Gardner novel to be published in Canada.
(Updated, August 23) The Dead I Know has just won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 2012, in the Older Readers category. Congratulations, Scot!
Was there an inspiration for the story of alienation in The Dead I Know?
I had a job as a youth worker for a number of years before becoming a writer. The story—Aaron’s story—was based on the life of a young man I knew during that period. He’d lost everything—parents, siblings, uncles and aunts: the lot. His courage to face the abject alienation life had handed him was the inspiration for The Dead I Know.
How did you come up with the title?
The working title was The Swing. It played on the idea that Aaron was stuck oscillating between a past that threatened to eat him alive and a future with promise. My Australian publishers thought the title was a bit abstract for the nature of the work, and I agreed. The Dead I Know was one of a dozen or so alternatives I wrote.
Aaron has had a pretty unfortunate life, current circumstances notwithstanding. Do you get attached to your characters to the point where you feel guilty about what you've done to them?
Part of the job is being prepared, nay, compelled to take our characters to hell (and hopefully, back again). It’s not always a pleasant journey for the writer and I did suffer for my craft alongside Aaron—there were times I had to come up for air, soak up the summer and remember that the darkness was all make-believe.
Do you have any experience with the dead?
My godparents, Kevin and Annette, are funeral directors and they let me behind the velvet curtains at their establishment, allowed me to work with other people’s dead and get a feel for the industry. I realised how much grace there was with a good death and how much of a body blow it is when a life is cut short. I couldn’t have written the book without their stories and honesty.
Who was your favourite character to write in this book?
John Barton’s pre-teen daughter Skye was my favourite character to write. She had attitude as soon as she hit the page and her feistiness propels Aaron’s self-discovery. Much of her spunk is bravado, covering her own wounds and confusion. I like that in real people, too.
If you sleepwalked, where do you think you'll end up?
I live in the mountains and I know if I sleepwalked I’d end up wedged in a wombat’s burrow or knee-deep in the creek.
It seems like every book and movie has a sequel these days. What would you do if you'd to write one to The Dead I Know?
I think a sequel to The Dead I Know would take Aaron deeper into the human experience. He’s so fragile, even at the end of the book, and I think his story would explore friendships with people his own age, bungled romances and death close to home.
Do you have a target audience in mind when you write, or do you just go with whatever story you feel like?
I write what I’m drawn to write and at this stage of my career it’s realist fiction featuring young adults as the main protagonists—the publishers call it ‘Young Adult Literature’. Many of my adult friends are drawn to read YA for the same reasons I am; the writing is clean and ambitious and the stories often compact and dark. I’m still fifteen in so many ways (does anyone ever grow out of fireworks??) and I love the sense of wonder at the world that comes with it.
What did you read when you were a teenager?
Not much. I read Asterix and Obelix and Tintin. I liked the Gerald Durrell books about collecting animals for zoos (it was the 80’s and that stuff was still acceptable). I didn’t read a novel of my own volition until I was 17. I got bored and read one the school librarian had recommended for me: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. It was a story about a boy who ran away from home and subsisted in a hollow tree with his pet falcon. I’d found a glorified northern-hemispherical version of my summers. I fell in love and haven’t stopped reading since.
Our blog tries to gather teen and adult fiction and non-fiction that may appeal particularly to boys. Any recommendations?
Some of my favourites for boys include Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Doug Macleod’s hilarious Confessions of a Teenage Body Snatcher, Gary Paulson’s Hatchet books, John Marsden’s über-gritty Dear Miffy and Phillip Gwynne’s Deadly, Unna and Nukkin Ya. I loved Markus Zusak’s The Messenger (or I am the Messenger in the USA) and his earlier books about Cameron Wolfe are classics (The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe and When Dogs Cry).
Thanks again to Scot and Penguin Canada for arranging the interview!
Posted on August 19, 2012 by Steven
The Dead I Know reminds me a bit of I Am Not a Serial Killer. Both are young men working in a mortuary with the dead. Both are lonely, troubled youth, though with different problems. Both have peculiar home lives. Neither was what I expected, and for both books that's where the problem lies. I expected a bit of supernatural story in this one.
Aaron feels like he doesn't quite fit in the world. He lives in a trailer park with Mam, but wakes up in random places. He has terrible, recurring nightmares. And now, he has a job in a mortuary. But with the owner and caretaker John showing him the ropes and helping him get through the stress of dealing with mourning families, Aaron gradually finds that he likes the work, and even comes to discover that maybe he doesn't have to bury his personal life so deeply.
Ultimately, it's hard to tell what this book is about. For me, it was a story about overcoming your past and finding your place in the world despite that past. Aaron suffered terribly, and never really had a chance to deal with it emotionally. The nature of his early experiences are really terrible, though, and that's what confused me about the story. For the sake of the story being told, did it need to be so rough?
Having said all that, the nature of working with the dead as a funeral director is a good draw. There's the potential for gruesome imagery and the possibility of some morbid humor. Whether it actually happens or not is irrelevant; the mere possibility is a selling point, especially for young guys who might otherwise avoid a story like this one about emotional self-discovery.
The Dead I Know is well-suited for book reports. It's not too long, has a troubled character, and a dark secret that stays secret to the even the reader deep into the story.
Thank you Penguin Canada for providing us with the preview copy of The Dead I Know.
Posted on August 16, 2012 by Virginia
"It was over coffee and biscuits that Grandma Ives offered to return Cameron’s father from the dead."
Okay, who can resist and is not be intrigued by a first line like that?
When his dad was found dead by the beach, Cameron went to live with his grandma, whom he's met maybe once or twice. Before they get to know each other, she offers to resurrect his dad.
Grandma Ives is not your ordinary grandmother type. There is nothing warm and fuzzy about her, but she does know about The Daemon Parallel, a hidden world that co-exists with Edinburgh, and she knows spells that can raise the dead. That's just what Cameron needs. He misses his dad, and he wants to figure out the cause of his mysterious death, but first, we'll have to see if Cameron has inherited the special powers that will enable him to travel back and forth between the two worlds, to deal with the daemons, and to help his grandma get the right ingredients to complete the resurrection spell.
This impressive debut novel has just the right blend of action, mystery, adventure, magic, supernatural, humour and character development. Most of all, I was surprised at how "right sounding" the voice of Cameron is. The things he said are exactly the kinds of stuff I'd expect a kid to say. Despite the title and perhaps the cover, the book doesn't rely on just grossness or goriness to carry the story, even though you will encounter many daemons in the book, and underneath all the fantastical elements is a boy who is trying to figure out if he's doing the right thing or not. And what a gutsy ending! Not going to spoil it for you, but throughout the book, I was thinking, is the author really going to do that? No way. It's just a red herring I'm sure. No, wait, he's really going there. Nice.
Posted on August 13, 2012 by Virginia
Pale is a 67-page book designed for reluctant teen readers, and I thought, okay, I haven't really read any impressive Hi/Lo (High Interest / Low Reading Level) books yet, but this is Chris Wooding, so I'm sure it'll be different.
The story is set in a world where people can be brought back to life with a special serum, as long as their bodies are compatible. The only thing different when you come back is that you will look visibly different. The serum turns your whole body white, hence the term "Pale". People are not fond of the Pales at all. They are shunned for life and banished to live in The Graveyard. Just ask Jed and Kyle. If they see a Pale coming towards them, they'll go over and beat him up. Just because.
Then one day, Jed got hit by a car. When the paramedics asked his girlfriend Sadie if they should use the serum on Jed, she panicked and said yes because she didn't want to lose him. Jed was now a Pale. He hated the idea at first and was really mad that he got changed, but he knew that he was still Jed, even if he looked different. No one else understood that though and accepted him. Not his parents, not his best friend, not even Sadie. Sadie who turned him into a Pale in the first place!
I was disappointed with the story. It feels unfinished and the characters don't seem natural to me. The changes in them are too abrupt and not very believable. It is also too much of an issue book sprinkled with a bit of sci-fi, which is what bugs me mostly about many teen Hi/Lo books. Haven't we moved past that in teen literature? We want a variety for anyone, not just books about taboo subjects that we adults for some reason think every teen loves.
This is what the author said on his website about Pale.
"Now listen y’all. This book was written for a specialist market. It’s very short, and the language and story are much, much simpler than the books you’re used to reading from me. If you’re curious, or if you’re a completist, or if there’s someone you know who’s a struggling reader and might like this sorta thing, then by all means pick it up; it’s a creepy little sci-fi tale that may tickle your fancy. But if you’re expecting something in the vein of Malice or Alaizabel, you’ll be disappointed. I wouldn’t want anyone spending their hard-earned readies and then being gutted because of the content."
Okay, Mr. Wooding. I will still read every one of your books because I like your stuff too much, but your explanation/excuse is not good enough. Why do Hi/Lo books exist in the first place? To entice kids and teens who have difficulties reading to read of course. By giving them a book that is easier, kids will not have such adversity to books and they'll discover the joy of reading. Which sounds fine in theory, but the problem with many of these books is that often, not only the language, but also the plot, is simplified. How are we supposed to convince a kid that reading is good stuff with mediocre stories? The concepts in the books don't have to be dumbed down, and no, I'm no writer, but I'm sure a good one can tell an equally great story even if they're somewhat limited by the kind of words they can use, or the number of pages they have. If a story is crazy intriguing, wouldn't it motivate kids to try harder? I would like to think so.
I immigrated to Canada when I was 15. For the first couple years here, I had trouble understanding everyone around me, especially my classmates, who used words and slang I've never heard of from my minimum Hong Kong English classes. I still remember one of them asked me for a calculator one day, and when I asked her to repeat what she just said, she said it louder and slower, mimed the pressing-calculator motion, and explained what a calculator is. Duh, I know what a calculator is. I just didn't catch what you said. Just because I couldn't speak the language perfectly didn't mean I'm stupid, I remember thinking.
What is your experience with Hi/Lo books? What are some of the better ones you've come across? Do share in the comments.
Posted on August 9, 2012 by Steven
Did you know that humans put another rover on Mars? One specifically designed to look for evidence that life exists or existed on Mars? Or that it was also intended to pave the way for a potential visit by humans to the Red Planet?
There has been a lot written about that planet. Here's just a tiny selection of Mars and space related stuff.
Kim Stanley Robinson' s Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Blue Mars and Green Mars) is an interconnected series of short stories about the settlement and development of a Martian colony. It's a major cornerstone in science fiction and winner of numerous awards, though I will admit I was a bit bored by it.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein is even more legendary. Valentine Michael Smith, an orphaned child of the first human visitors to Mars, is adopted by Martians and raised in their culture. When he returns to Earth as a young adult, he struggles to adapt to Earth and human culture. This isn't a young adult novel, as Heinlein doesn't shy away from controversy regarding human sexuality and other mature topics. Still, it a major piece in Heinlein greater body of work.
Edited to add: Also set on Mars is Black Hole Sun, which we've previously reviewed.
Packing for Mars by Mary Roach looks at all the preparations that are required even before we consider sending a human to Mars. Like Roach's previous works, this isn't a hard-science examination; while it does have all the science in there somewhere, it's just as much about the people as the tech. And to get a sense of the tone? She watches a live video feed of herself pooping in a training exercise on how to use space toilets.
Solar System: A Visual Exploration of All the Planets, Moons and Other Heavenly Bodies That Orbit our Sun by Marcus Chown. Like the previously recommended The Elements, Solar System is a beautiful book with fantastic photos and descriptions of the subject matter. While it obviously covers more than Mars, it certain is a big motivator to look at the universe around us.
I can't resist. While the game isn't a masterpiece, it is interesting: Red Faction: Guerilla is the story of a near-future mining colony on Mars that is in the midst of a miner's revolt. You play as a recently joined revolutionary set out to demolish the infrastructure of the ruling corporate ownership. Big draw? You can destroy pretty much everything with a sledgehammer. Everything.
Posted on August 3, 2012 by Steven
I try not to put any messages in my books. Really, I Just want kids to say, "Gee, I can turn to a book for just entertainment.!" The rule for children's books has always been that characters had to learn or grow in every book. I tried to break that rule. The kids [in my books] never learn. The just run away.
I totally agree. We want kids to love reading, but we also seem obsessed with learning something every second of every day. All that learning must be exhausting. It's nice to give them a break and just have let them have fun every now and then. Imagine, kids not reading about empowerment and self-esteem and drugs for half an hour. We don't want them to see sex, violence or drug use in movies and video games, but if that's not in a book, the book isn't worth reading.
Posted on July 30, 2012 by Virginia
First off, 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad is not the best written book. Perhaps something is lost in translation from the Norwegian original. Nevertheless, this science fiction still has its merits and good entertainment value. Here's our joint review (contains spoiler):
Steven: It took way too long to get into the real story. The first 150, maybe even 200 pages, were just setting up who these characters were, but this background info, except maybe in the case of Mia, was not mentioned ever again in the rest of the book. This book seriously violates the principle of Chekhov's Gun and it makes for a frustrating reading experience. None of the background info helps us care more about the characters because their backstories are irrelevant to the rest of the plot.
Like the bit about Antoine's girlfriend. The chapter from her point of view in which she feels that something bad has happened to him is quite pointless, since readers already knew about it.
Virginia: That is definitely my biggest complaint about this book too. Fortunately, for those who stick with the book, it does get better and progressively more intense. Once they were on the moon and mysterious and horrible things started to happen, we have a story. You kinda knew that there's no hope for these guys, and I'm glad they stick with that throughout, rather than taking the easy way out. I like the ending. Feels right to me and it fits.
Steven: The book could have ended a couple of pages earlier, though. Things are spelled out to us that may have been better left to the imagination. I already know that a threat exists: it was explained to us more than once already.
Virginia: Maybe it's priming for a sequel... Well, like we said, despite its flaws and plot holes, the book is still worth recommending. One thing I know we both really like is that this book is one of the rare cases where even though we have a female protagonist, it's not about a girl, and so there's no girly-ness to it at all.
Steven: The book also really reminded me of a Japanese horror Manga. I haven't read many, but the ones I have read felt much like this: hopeless and bleak. Come to think of it, it seems most Nordic entertainment that we get over here is like that. Maybe this isn't unusual. You tell me, Virginia. You read Nordic authors.
Virginia: Yah, probably pretty grim, even for crime fiction. The main guys are generally more flawed, and at least for the ones I've read, you don't really feel the triumph of solving a crime and a job well done at the end. Can't get enough of them though.
Despite its flaws, we'll still recommend this sci-fi/horror to readers who enjoy Alien, Event Horizon, Solaris, or the more depressing Philip K. Dick works.
Posted on July 24, 2012 by mel
In the world in which Sadie and Noah live, two groups are secretly fighting for the control of minds on the micro scale, in the brains of world leaders. On one side is a group led by the Armstrong twins, brilliant but power-hungry brothers that were born joined at the head, with three eyes and three legs. They claim their goal is the re-wire the brains of as many humans as possible to bring about world peace (which involves killing off any opposing forces). Their group operates under the disguise of the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation (AFGC), which has stores all over the world. On the other side is BZRK, a secret organization that tries to ensure fredom of thought by stopping the Armstrong twins.
Technology has allowed for the creation of biots and nanobots -- living microscopic beings made from spider, cobra, jellyfish and human DNA. These biots/nanobots are not robots, but are a detached part of the person whose DNA is included in the biot. The person not only controls his/her biots but also sees, hears, and feels whatever happens to them. (And yes, you can create multiple biots for one person.) These biots are small enough to climb into ears and ears, then burrow to the brain where they can re-wire whatever they want. Unfortunately any damage to the biots are also felt by the "owner" as equivalent pain (e.g. if your biot's leg is ripped off, you feel like your leg is being ripped off). If all the biots are destroyed, the person usually goes insane.
Operating multiple biots that are busy re-wiring someone's brain or fighting off other biots while still going about daily life is not an easy task. Those who are able to do this are usually super gamers or crazy.
Noah is recruited by BZRK after his brother, a previous BZRKer, goes insane. He joins the fight in hopes of escaping his depressed parents and revenging his brother.
Sadie is familiar with the technology -- her father was the one who came up with it -- and is drawn into the conflict when her father and brother are killed by AFGC.
AFGC is about to infiltrate the brains of the US and Chinese presidents and the Prime Minsters of Britain, Japan and India. Attempts to stop them is suicidal -- but it looks like Sadie and Noah don't have much choice but to join the fight.
It took me a little while to get into this book (probably due to the fact I was reading it sporadically), but once I did, I found it it pretty intriguing and exciting. The beginning is a bit choppy, as Grant tells the story through the perspectives of several different characters (I also find his writing style fragmented at times), but as the story developed, I found the movement smoother and faster.
The whole thing with little nanobots crawling in people's brains had the right amount of creepiness and grossness and I'm sure will appeal to many guy readers. Scientific details are minimal kept simple, so it makes for an easy sci-fi read.
Michael Grant is the author of the Gone and Magnificent 12 series. He also co-authors the well-know kids' series, Animorphs. Visit his website to watch trailers of some of his books.
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