Monday, July 28, 2014

Erebos : it's a game. It watches you.

Erebos  by Ursula Poznanski
translation from the German by Judith Pattinson

Like most of his friends, Nick Dunsmore enjoys playing video games.  But he's never played anything like Erebos.  The rules are strange:
*  Always play alone.
*  Do not talk to anyone about the game.
*  Don't copy the disk unless instructed by the game.
and strangest of all:
*  You have only one chance to play.  If you break the rules, or if your character in the game dies, the game is over and you can never play again.

Strangest of all, the game itself seems to know when players break the rules.  But how?

As more of Nick's classmates join the game, things get even more bizarre, especially when the game insists that players conduct "missions" in the real world.  Some missions seem quite innocent, like picking up a box hidden in a park and hiding it in a different park.  But soon enough, the missions become sinister.

The story is nearly as compelling as the game itself.  Players quickly become addicted to the adventure, and many are willing to do anything to gain status within the world of Erebos.

Yes, anything....

More dire than Ready Player One (Cline, 2011), with less gore and fewer technology details than REAMDE (Stephenson, 2011), this game-gone-bad novel will appeal mostly to teen gamers.  Sophisticated readers may trip on some of the setting details, some politically incorrect racist and sexist statements which may or may not be a result of translation into English from German, and the distinctly Scooby Doo ending: "foiled by those meddling kids!"

Recommended for ages 13 to adult.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ice Dogs

Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

14-year-old champion musher Victoria Secord has always loved racing her sled dogs through the Alaskan bush...and, after her dad dies in a trail accident, the sport is Victoria's lasting connection to him.  He taught her how to be independent, self-reliant, and an expert at surviving in the wilderness.  But when she and her dogs encounter first an injured "city boy" and later a blizzard, Victoria's skills are put to the ultimate test: life and death.

This fast-paced adventure, written by an experienced musher, features lots of stuff I like in a book: realistic action, suspense, and a convincing touch of romance between the two main characters.  The events are entirely plausible, and Victoria's response to them makes sense.  Her relationship with her dogs is wonderful--she knows them as individuals, and identifies their strengths within the team.  Plus, she is a smart, awesome protagonist in a sport that is mostly dominated by men.  Victoria doesn't dwell on her "minority" status, but she acknowledges that being a girl (and not a very large one) gives her both advantages and disadvantages in competition, and she is smart enough to use whatever edge it takes to win...and to survive.

With two modern main characters, this book may appeal more broadly than Gary Paulsen'sDogsong, which also tells the story of a dogsled journey.  Pair Ice Dogs with Julie of the Wolves and Hatchet for lovers of survival fiction.

Highly recommended for readers ages 10 to adult.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders

Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders  by Geoff Herbach
Gabe Johnson (called "Chunk") doesn't have much in his life.  He isn't a scholar or a jock, he doesn't have a girlfriend, and his home life is kind of pathetic.  Although he isn't very musically talented, Chunk is happiest in the high school band, and looks forward to marching camp each summer.

When money for the music program is cut, and at the same time a new cheerleading dance squad is formed and funded, Chunk deduces (correctly) that proceeds from the school soda machine, which supposedly supported the band, have been diverted to the cheerleaders.

Chunk doesn't just get mad.  He also makes plans to get even.

The reader knows from page one that Chunk's plans went awry, because the book is narrated in a police report. The characters begin as stereotypes: cheerleaders, jocks, geeks, goths and stoners.  However, nobody stays inside the boundaries of a stereotype, and that is why this story is worthwhile. The journey to the police station is convoluted, funny, poignant, and feels very true, especially to this former-high-school-band-weenie reader.

A bit of minor cussing, no sex, some tactful kissing (mostly off-page), and some sweet romance.

Recommended for readers ages 12 to adult.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Fangirl  by Rainbow Rowell
audiobook read by Rebecca Lowman and Maxwell Caufield

Cath assumed that Wren would always be by her side, no matter what.  After all, the girls are identical twins, and have shared every aspect of their lives together, always.   But when they leave home for their first year of college, Wren wants to try living her life as an individual, leaving Cath feeling abandoned and alone.

The only time Cath doesn't feel pathetic is when she's writing fanfiction.  She takes characters from her favorite book series and writes her own stories about them--and Cath's version, in which the two main guy characters are in love, has thousands of fans of its own!

But Cath is so busy writing fanfiction that she is overlooking some awesome real people.  Like her dad, who loves her.  And like that cute boy who asks her to read out loud, maybe....

For readers who would sometimes rather stay inside a fictional world.  Isn't that all of us, sometimes?

The audiobook is completely engrossing, with Rebecca Lowman reading Cath's world and Maxwell Caufield reading exerpts from books and stories about Simon Snow.

Some cussing, allusions to sex and sexual situations, and a fantasy-world-within-the-real-world.  Highly recommended for ages 14 to adult.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Between Two Worlds

Between Two Worlds  by Katherine Kirkpatrick

Eqariusaq has had an almost life-long association with polar explorer Robert Peary and his family.  When she was very young, the family renamed Eqariusaq "Billie Bah" and brought her to spend a year in America with the Peary family, where she spoke English, wore "civilized" clothing, and was the first of her people to see the modern world filled with trees, horse-drawn carriages, trees, museums, and more.  Billie Bah successfully returned to her people, but she thinks that her journey inspired others to go with the Pearys, and none of these have ever returned.  All save one died of disease...including Billie Bah's own parents.

Now 16 years old, Billie Bah must face changes in her life.  She loves her husband, but she also grows to love one of the sailors she is "traded" to (temporarily) in exchange for guns and ammunition.  She discovers the truth about her parents' death, and she tries to sort out her feelings for Peary and his family and find her own place in the world.

The real Billie Bah with Robert Peary

Woven into the story are fascinating details of life in this tiny Greenlandic community.  Tribal customs and expectations, vocabulary, and descriptions of building fox traps, auk snares, and  rock igloos are described with meticulous detail that never becomes didactic or boring.  Extensive author notes identify factual (and fictional) aspects of the story.

Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  An excellent choice for historical fiction or diversity assignments.

Alcohol, death, ghosts, grieving, guys, multi-ethnic, recommended, religious beliefs, sexual situations, star trek sex.

The Moon and More

The Moon and More  by Sarah Dessen
Emaline knows that her life will change dramatically at the end of summer.  That's when she'll go away to college, leaving behind her family, her boyfriend, and the familiar people in the small beach town of Colby where she's spent most of her life.

What Emaline doesn't know is that her life will also change dramatically before the end of summer:  her boyfriend cheats on her, her absentee father shows up with Emaline's young stepbrother in tow, and Theo, a handsome and sophisticated boy from New York, comes to town to help make a documentary film about a reclusive local artist.

As she always does, author Sarah Dessen draws readers into a cozy story of summer love, a little bit of heartbreak, a flawed but not irredeemable main character, and a cast of friends and family who are just enough like our own that we feel we know them all from the very first paragraph.  Unlike many teen novels, Dessen writes the parents (both bio-parents and step-parents) as well-rounded, mostly-likeable characters.

Recommended for readers ages 12 to adult.
Alcohol, cussing (mild), friendship, guys, parents, star trek sex, step-parents.

The Taking

The Taking by Kimberly Derting                            

At sixteen , Kyra is a star softball pitcher.  In the car after the championship game, she has a fight with her father.  Running down the street, she sees a flash and is blinded.  The next thing she remembers is waking up next to a dumpster, still in uniform.  When she makes her way home, she finds strangers in the house- a man and little boy.  Although she runs into the house, calling for her mother, she is forcible removed by the man.  

Across the street is Kyra’s boyfriend’s house.  They have a serious relationship, so it is a natural place to go for comfort.  As she goes in the back door, she runs into the arms of her boyfriend, Austin.  Except that it isn’t Austin, it’s his younger brother, Tyler who looks a lot like him. Tyler was twelve last time she saw him. 
In fact, five years have elapsed.  Kyra still feels sixteen.  The world however, has gone on, and lives have been changed.  Her boyfriend Austin, now in college, has become involved with her best friend, Cat.  Her parents are divorced since her father is now and alcoholic, spending full time trying to understand what he believes is an alien abduction.  Her mother remarried, and the man and boy in Kyra’s house are the new husband and son.
In trying to make sense of it all, Kyra has to understand the missing time.  In a growing relationship with now seventeen-year-old Tyler,  Kyra is approached by other missing and returned teens as well as men in black suits from the government. 

First in a series where we will most likely encounter more aliens and chase scene after chase scene now that they are discovered.