Friday, June 29, 2012

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

With references to Oingo Boingo, John Hughes, the movie Heathers, The Muppet Show, and Atari all within the first few pages – shut up, just shut up, Ernest Cline. You had me at Chapter One.

It’s 2044 and James Halliday, the eccentric but extremely wealthy creator of OASIS, an elaborate virtual world, has just died. Leaving behind no family but having amassed a great fortune, Halliday announces via a pre-recorded video that he will be leaving his billions and business to the first person who can successfully solve an elaborate virtual treasure hunt he created before dying. To collect all three keys and unlock the ultimate prize, what becomes known as Halliday’s Easter Egg, the person will need to be well-versed in every facet of Halliday’s life, especially his love of gaming and all things 80s, which is the era he came of age. Cool, huh? The first and only clue to get people started is…

Three hidden keys open three secret gates
Wherein the errant will be tested for worthy traits
And those with the skill to survive these straits
Will reach The End where the prize awaits

Needless to say, the thought of so much money and power sets off a world-wide gaming craze in search of the egg. For years no one gets anywhere and interest in the game starts to wane a bit until a teenage boy out of Oklahoma City, our hero Wade Watts, captures the first key. Then it’s on…like Donkey Kong!  (sorry, couldn’t resist…)

Wade comes from a desolate background – no parents, stuck living with an meth-head aunt in a junk trailer stuck atop other trailers (see paperback book jacket below) – so the virtual world of OASIS and the search for the egg is the perfect escape from reality for him. In OASIS, under his code name Parzival, he meets his best friend Aech and master gaming blogger and girl crush, Art3mis, who are also in search of the egg. They start as friendly competitors at first, until an attempt on Wade’s life and the death of a fellow gamer snap them all to attention. With hundreds of Halliday scholars and gamers on staff, a mass conglomeration called IOI makes known they’re going for the grand prize and will kill – both virtually and in reality – to win it. Wade and his buddies aren’t just playing for billions anymore – they’re playing for their lives!

There’s no way my book review – or any book review – can do justice to Ready Player One. Just as Wade and his fellow gamers would adjust their headsets and lose themselves in the virtual world of Oasis, I adjusted my reading glasses and lost myself in Cline’s retro futuristic world. In one of many fantastic scenes, while on his journey to obtain the first key, Wade is virtually inserted into the movie “WarGames,” a Halliday favorite, and must recite word for word everything the Matthew Broderick characters says – bonus points  for delivery, ha! It’s then mentioned that afterwards, a gaming company loved this concept so much, they created their own version with all kinds of famous movies. If and when this happens, I’d like to personally request “Sixteen Candles”  - particularly the last scene with Samantha and Jake sitting on the table, when Samantha blows out her birthday candles and Jake says, “Happy Birthday, Samantha. Make a wish,” and Samantha says, “It already came true”, cue kiss, crank up the OMD, and roll credits…sigh. I will make a fabulous Molly Ringwald.

You don’t have to be an 80s aficionado or gamer to thoroughly enjoy Cline’s literary treasure hunt. No surprise, Hollywood’s already jumped all over this, and a screenwriter is banging out a treatment as I type – now THIS is the kind of book that will be amazeballs, special effects and all, onscreen. Cline’s website is as cool as you’d imagine – all gaming icons and old school pop culture – so be sure to check it out at http://www.ernestcline.com/  .

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What actual Y.A.-ers are reading...

Delirium and Pandemonium - Lauren Oliver
Lena looks forward to receiving the government-mandated cure that prevents the delirium of love and leads to a safe, predictable, and happy life, until ninety-five days before her eighteenth birthday and her treatment, when she falls in love.

"They say love is a disease. That it infects you. Lena believes that until she meets Alex...and falls in love. Delirium shows how far Lena will go for love, and what she'll give up. Lauren Oliver wrote a powerful story showing us just what love really means. It is a great read and amazing story." - Luke, age 15

Bitterblue - Kristin Cashore

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck's reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle--disguised and alone--to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the 35-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

"This series is fantastic! It's filled with magic, action and a little romance, with major twists and turns! If you really want to understand the story, you need to read Graceling and Fire first because they set up this great series." - Kristen, 16

Variant - Robison Wells

Benson Fisher thought that a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life. He was wrong. Now he's trapped in a school that's surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive. Where breaking the rules equals death. But when Benson stumbles upon the school's real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape 'his only real hope for survival' may be impossible.

"You never know what to expect. You think you can believe what one character says, but then it's like the book tagline - 'Trust no one.' Can't wait for the sequel this fall!" - Kara, 15

The Fault In Our Stars - John Green

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs. for now. Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too - post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and - shockingly, to her - interested in Hazel.

"The Fault In Our Stars makes you smile, laugh, and cry. Laughing and smiling are not typically associated with cancer books, but TFioS breaks the mold. Green creates realistic characters which will seem to you like good friends by the end of the novel. I liked this so much I'm now reading another John Green book, Will Grayson, Will Grayson." - Chad, 16

Top Ten PVHS Check-outs (June 2012)

1. Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick - Joe Schrieber
2. The Catastrophic History of You and Me - Jess Rothenberg
3. The Fault In Our Stars - John Green
4. Variant - Robison Wells
5. Where It Began - Ann Stampler
6. An Abundance of Katherines - John Green
7. Bunheads - Sophie Flack
8. Dead to You - Lisa McMann
9. Divergent - Veronica Roth
10. The Eleventh Plague - Jeff Hirsch

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Selection – Kiera Cass

I’m one of those female freaks of nature who has never watched an episode of “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette.” I know!!  It’s not like I’ve got a problem with silly reality tv shows – I’ve watched all *cough* 18 cycles of “America’s Next Top Model” and my “Real Housewives ” addiction is so bad I even watched the *clears throat * Miami season -  but “The Bachelor/Bachelorette? Just. Never. Wanted.

So how did Kiera Cass’s new futuristic book, The Selection, about 35 girls selected to compete for the love of a prince jump onto my ‘to read’ radar?  That dress. That gorgeous powder blue chiffon dress on the cover spoke to me. It even spoke to my three year old, who saw me reading the book and said, “Wow, Mommy, that sure is a pretty dress.” Well done on the cover art marketing, HarperTeen.

Also, the librarian in me knows that even without the gorgeous dress on the cover, even without having ever watched an episode of “The Bachelor/Bachelorette,” c’mon…that plot is an easy sell to teens. But do the cover and premise live up to the promise?

The Selection is set 300 years into the future when Asia, specifically China, dominates the world and the United States of America is no more. It fell to China in World War III, was renamed American State of China, and then rose back to power after a war with Russia, when the country rechristened itself Illea with a monarchy as the government. Illean society is now divided into 8 castes – Ones being the royal family, Twos your wealthy, on down all the way to Eights, society’s homeless. The lowest of the low and the ones with the absolute least. So that bit of history and Hunger Games-ish society division in the book made me chuckle a bit, but I happily went with it…

Turns out the current king and queen’s only son, Prince Maxon, is now nineteen and ready to take a girl as his wife.  For Illean royalty, the prince chooses that special girl through a process known as “The Selection.” Thirty-five girls between the ages of 16 and 20 are randomly chosen to leave their families and castes for the opportunity to live at the castle with their competitors and vie to win the heart and hand of the prince. For as long as it takes the prince to make his decision, the girls are groomed and dressed only in the finest of clothes, eat with the royal family and go on one-on-one dates with the prince, and participate in press interviews with the nation’s Capitol Report tv show. One’s likeability with the citizens of Illea following the drama at home can impact her length of stay in the competition. Being chosen as one of the thirty-five girls comes with other benefits too. Their families are given extra money and food, which is huge if you rest on one of the low rungs of the caste-ladder.

America Singer is a Five. When she receives a letter in the mail about the Selection process, she expresses no interest in batting her lashes at a prince and playing fake to become his wife, even if it would help her family and own social standing. Thing is, she’s already in love with someone – a Six named Aspen. (Maxon? America? Aspen? Lawd, these names!!). Aspen loves America too, but no one is ever supposed to marry a caste beneath them. America believes love conquers all, and though she’s willing to disgrace her family to be with Aspen, he gets cold feet and breaks up with her riiiiiiiight when she learns she’s been chosen as one of the final thirty-five girls. Hurt, America decides to help her family and relents to go to the capitol to compete.

Of course, things get really good when America arrives at the castle. She quickly makes friends and enemies of the other girls, while a late night accidental run-in with the prince unwittingly turns her plans to simply last as long as she can on end. She makes clear to Maxon that she is still very much in love with someone else and is only there to help her family, but amazingly he admires her for her honesty and the two strike a friendship. As more and more girls are eliminated and Maxon and America grow closer, will America be able to let go of her feelings for Aspen and open her heart to the possibility of a future as Maxon’s wife? In true soap opera fashion, the book ends unresolved, and the Selection will continue into a book 2 and 3.

The Selection is a totally fun read.  Anyone who loved Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series or who’s a fan of fairytales will eat this like candy. Cass wisely writes the character of America as a girl with a brain who doesn’t give all the power to the guy, and both Maxon and Aspen are drawn to her because of her thoughtfulness and outspokenness.  

The CW has already snatched up rights to the book as a new tv series set possibly for next spring with Aimee Teegarden (Julie Taylor from ‘Friday Night Lights’, yay!) as the lead. You can read more about the show and Kiera Cass at http://www.kieracass.com/ . Also, Kiera Cass will be one of the authors appearing at this year's YallFest ( http://yallfest.org/ ) in Charleston, South Carolina, which I'm planning to attend along with some of my students. Yay!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

This Is Not A Test – Courtney Summers
“This is not a test. Listen closely. This is not a test. Do not draw attention to yourself. Once you have found a secure location, stay where you are and help will come soon.”

Sloane Price’s mother is dead, her dad regularly beats her, and her older sister/best friend Lily has just run away without so much as a note or word of ‘goodbye.’ The only possible black icing that could top that Cake of Sad would be a zombie apocalypse, right? Welcome to the world of author Courtney Summers, reader!  Not one to shy away from tough subjects, Summers earlier books Cracked Up to Be, Some Girls Are, and Fall for Anything tackled such issues as bullying, alcoholism, suicide and date rape. Here, she takes on child abuse and abandonment, throws in some zombies, and asks, “Would you fight to survive in a world you’ve given up on?”

We barely meet poor Sloane and get her family history and current mental state before fast-forwarding seven days later to Sloane boarded up in her high school with five of her not-so-closest high school friends. No mention is made of exactly how the town of Cortege got overrun with zombies. We just know that once the outbreak of 'infecteds' occurred, family and friends fell victim quickly and within a few days, this rag-tag group randomly met up during flight from their various homes. With a nod to John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club,” each character represents a stereotypical high school student type: there are twins Trace (the tough athlete) and Grace (the pretty popular girl); Harrison (the wimpy freshman geek); Cary (the outspoken leader); Rhys (the bad boy); and of course Sloane (the quiet realist).

Turns out if you’ve got to be trapped somewhere during a zombie outbreak, a school is a good place to take refuge. It’s got access to water and showers (the bathrooms and gym), food (cafeteria), clothes (lockers and the drama costume department), comfy furniture (teacher’s lounge), and outside communication (radios and computers). As the message, ‘This is not a test…’ plays endlessly on loop over the radio, the group work to barricade every door, window and access point into the school until they are left to deal with perhaps the scariest creatures of all – themselves.

Trace and Grace already hate Cary, since they blame him for the death of their parents. Seems during their initial escape to a safe haven, Cary sent Ma and Pa Casper down an alleyway first, claiming it was all clear, only to have the couple swarmed and eaten by infecteds as their children and the others watch on in horror before running. Harrison can’t stop crying and wringing his hands wondering how long until they’re miraculously rescued, while Rhys can tell Sloane is battling demons of her own and works to break down the barricade she’s put up to protect her personal pain. Throw in a zombie teacher break-in, an explosion, too many alpha males in close quarters, some hormonal hook-ups, and a shooting, and you’ve got a story you won’t be able to put down.

Summers is a master at building slow dread and doesn’t hesitate to hit you with a punch to the gut when you least expect it. During a few confrontations, I had to remind myself to breathe, and towards the very end, my husband had to leave and watch “Storage Wars” in another room because he said I was gasping and saying, ‘Oh no,’ too much – pfft, like he doesn’t gasp and say ‘Oh no’ at some of the bum deals those peeps end up with on “Storage Wars.”

While I liked Summers’ other books well enough, This Is Not A Test cements my fangirldom. Her next book, All the Rage, is set for a 2013 release and is a mystery involving something sinister that happens to a girl who tries to blackmail her rich classmates. To learn more about Courtney Summers, her novels and follow her on her blog, go to http://www.courtneysummers.ca/ .

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ripper – Stefan Petrucha

Put away your fangs, vamps. Retract your claws, werewolves. Stop flapping your wings, angels. See a dietician about your bad eating habits, zombies. The original big bad bogeyman is back and ready for a smackdown in your overcrowded Y.A. market – that would be Ripper. Jack the Ripper.  In the past year alone, no less than three Y.A. books have revisited the Ripper murders – first, as a modern update (Maureen Johnson’s excellent, The Name of the Star, which is set to be a series), then as a historical retelling (Amy Carol Reeves’ Ripper), and now as a steampunk reimagining of Ripper loose in 1890s New York City in Stefan Petrucha’s Ripper.

Ripper opens with Saucy Jack seemingly picking up where he left off seven years earlier in Whitechapel (a suburb of London) where he notoriously stabbed and mutilated the bodies of five women (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_the_ripper).  The killings abruptly stopped and the notorious serial killer was never caught, though to this day, numerous theories abound as to his identity. But what if they stopped overseas because Jack packed his knives and moved across the Atlantic? Hmm…

When two socialites end up dead Ripper-style in 1895 New York City, young NYC Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt seeks to assure the public that the killer will be caught – and squash the rumor that it’s Jack the Ripper, as letters written in the original Ripper’s handwriting to the newspapers and police would have them to believe. Enter undercover agent Albert Hawking and his 14-year-old orphaned protégé, Carver Young. Hawking has just recently taken Carver under his wing to train the boy to be a part of the New Pinkertons, a secret detective agency bent on using new gadgetry to help solve difficult crimes. The New Pinkertons have studied the original Ripper murders and letters and believe ol’ Jack is indeed alive and well and recreating his murders to impress someone very important to the killer – his son. His son, y’say? What son?! Why it seems none other than young Carver Young is Ripper Jr. - dun dun DUN!!

Before leaving the orphanage with Hawking, Carver manages to sneak into his file and steal a letter his father had sent to him there. Carver can tell from the letter that is father is shady, but little does he know daddy’s the most infamous serial killer on the planet! As the murders continue and tension in the city mounts, Hawking allows the boy to slowly figure things out for himself, so Carver can best decide how to handle the disturbing revelation and help stop his dad.

Told in brief but high action chapters (85 to be exact!), Ripper rips along at a good pace with a fun cast of characters - some real, such as Jack the Ripper, Teddy Roosevelt and his outspoken daughter, Alice, and Sarah Edwards, the crazy cat lady cat killer. Cool gadgets like rudimentary stun guns, one-man elevators, speaking tubes, office periscopes, and electric carriages all make appearances, and Petrucha knows how to keep those plot twists coming – so much so, that I didn’t see the big reveal at the end coming at all…and I’m not completely sure I buy it. That said, it’s a fun enough read and leaves the door open for more adventures for Carver and the New Pinkertons.

You can learn more about the author, book and view the Ripper book trailer at  http://www.petrucha.com/Books/Ripper.htm .

OMGreen! The Penguin Group is offering book clubs a chance to have a phone chat with John Green, author of my FAVORITE book this year, The Fault in Our Stars – so, of course, I registered (practically banging my fingers on the keypad for emphasis as to how much PVHS would love to chat!). I’m already planning to do a blog post in the near future with written responses from my students as to why TFIOS resonates so much with them. As I told The Penguin Group in my request, teens don’t just turn in TFIOS after reading it and say, ‘Yep, good book’ – they want to have DEEP LIFE DISCUSSIONS with others about Hazel and Augustus and cancer and crotchety Peter Van Houten and the universal salve that is mindless hours spent watching ‘America’s Next Top Model’ marathons on tv. If you haven’t yet read this book, then fire up the Kindle or Nook or get thee to your nearest library or bookstore – it’s truly amazing.

Please. Let. This. Phone. Chat. Happen.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Masque of the Red Death – Bethany Griffin

First off, fist pound to Edgar Allan Poe who is the ONLY old school author students universally love. Nathaniel Hawthorne? Nothing but haterade. Mark Twain? Sadly underappreciated. F. Scott Fitzgerald? One big 'meh.' Harper Lee? Love or hate. But Poe? In my 20 years of school librarianhood, I’ve never met a tween or teen who didn’t think Poe was THE MAN. It is a fact that any edition of The Complete Works of Poe will get the most 800s check-out love. God bless you and your dark musings, Mr. Poe.

Bethany Griffin’s The Masque of the Red Death, the first in a series, isn’t so much a rewrite of the Poe short story as a steampunk re-imagining of the back story behind Poe’s tale. In a world decimated by a deadly plague, how do the remaining survivors carry on? Do they live as if nothing is happening outside their windows or weep and wait in a dark corner for sure death? In Griffin’s world as in Poe’s, one’s social status has a little to do with that answer…

Araby Worth is the daughter of the scientist who created special porcelain masks that, if worn, keep away the contagion. Of course, only the rich can actually afford these masks so only the rich are afforded the luxury of stepping over the poor dead bodies in the street on the way to their nightly visits to the Debauchery Club – which is just that, a club with drugs, sex and 1800s-style rock ‘n’ roll. Araby lives locked away with her father and mother in the Akkadian Towers, apartments which rise high above the city further protecting them from the death and disease below, except when Araby goes out with bestie April to The Debauchery Club. Decked out in their expensive, corseted gowns, with their vivid-hued hair and glittery make-up,  April and Araby take full advantage of their time partying with the privileged at the DC as a way to forget the death and chaos lurking outside its club walls.

Things change for Araby one night after a bad drug hit. Will, a maskless but oh-so-hot and tattooed club security guard, takes Araby back to his place to help her recover. There she meets Will’s younger brother and sister and sees first-hand how the other half live. Will’s young sister, Elise, is able to wear a mask since Will saved up money to buy one for her – his brother Henry isn’t so lucky. Araby determines to speak with her father and see if he can secure a mask for her to give to Henry.

Masks are scarce, though, even to Araby and her family since the city’s mad ruler, Prince Prospero (who also happens to be April’s uncle), only allows a certain number to be produced and sold. It’s his sadistic way of lording his power over the citizens and ensuring enough of the poor masses die so he can stay in control. Nice guy. Meanwhile, there’s another whack-a-doodle known as Reverend Malcontent, who is working underground to overthrow Prince Prospero, rid the city of masks and let God sort it all out. You’ll either die or not die, and God will be the ultimate determiner of that, so says the Rev.

Annnnnnd somewhere in the middle of these two crazies is April’s brother, Elliott. Elliott can’t stand his uncle because, duh, PP’s sick and twisted AND he killed April and Elliott’s father in front of them with a knife across daddy's throat. Therapy for the two isn’t available – but revenge is! Elliott sanely reasons if enough masks can be produced, then rich and poor both can be protected, Prospero can be overthrown, and order and life possibly restored to the city. To achieve this, Elliott sets his sights on Araby – afterall, a hook-up with Araby means access to her dad’s information on producing the masks. Clever. Transparent, but clever.

The first half of the book drags a bit as Griffin sets all this up, but once this back story is out of the way, the action really takes flight and the characters come to life. Why do Araby’s parents treat her so coldly? What happens to April when she mysteriously disappears after a night at the DC with some older men? Prince Prospero, Reverend Malcontent and Elliott – who’s the real Big Bad in all this? And what of the love triangle with Araby, Elliott and Will – who truly cares for Araby and will be able to break the porcelain mask she figuratively wears to protect her heart? Just when you think you've got it all sorted, Griffin throws in a plot twist and leaves you guessing again! What's worse, since it's the first in a planned series, don't expect things to wrap up into one nice, big, velvety gothic bow bustle at the end either. The cruelty...
Griffin is currently a middle school teacher who appreciates the importance of pairing current Y.A. literature with the classics. Can’t help but feel in this case, Poe would approve. To learn more about Bethany Griffin and this book, check out her website at http://www.bethanygriffin.com/masque.html .