08. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Science Fiction

Global Frequency by Warren Ellis, read by Courtney, on 12/15/2013

Are you on the global frequency? If so, you’re one of 1001 agents scattered across the globe. Each one of the members has a skill set, everything from technology to Parkour, that drew the attention of the enigmatic Miranda Zero, the spokeswoman/leader of the Global Frequency. If you’ve been tapped by Miranda Zero, you may find yourself called in by her central operations operator, Aleph. Aleph will keep you connected with your new comrades and together, you will all mount incredible rescue missions of the top secret variety, the sort that’s too difficult for more conventional organizations. Being on the frequency is both an honor and a risk.
In trademark Ellis style, this comic is simultaneously original, exciting and thought-provoking. It’s a short series, so it’s all nicely collected in one volume. Each comic is a different rescue operation featuring different characters. Technically, the comics can be read in any order and still not diminish one’s understanding of the series.

08. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Bad Unicorn by Platte F. Clark, read by Courtney, on 12/13/2013

It’s kind of hard to begin to describe what all happens here in Bad Unicorn. Middle school student Max Spencer has been in possession of a book called the “Codex of Infinite Knowability” for as long as he can remember. Little does he know that the mere fact that he can hold the book without getting shocked proves that he is, in fact, the descendent of a very powerful wizard from another universe. As it turns out, there are other universes, and in one of those universes, a carnivorous unicorn named Princess has developed an insatiable hunger for non-magical flesh (human, in particular) and conspires with her wizard to find a way to the Techrus (our world). A very powerful and evil wizard makes a deal with Princess: find they boy with the book and, in exchange, Princess is free to turn Texas into an all-you-can-eat human buffet. Things go pretty awry though. An ill-timed spell lands Max and his friends in the distant future, a time when all machines have become sentient (and Princess has converted to an immortal robot body, because why not?) and both humans and magic are extinct. Princess is on the hunt. Max is mostly clueless and lost. Someone had better figure something out before the squirrels take over.
Some books start out funny and lose steam after a few chapters. There are very few books that can remain consistently funny through and through. This, however, is one of them. It’s extremely clever and occasionally a bit dark. It’s a brilliant skewering of the entire middle-grade fantasy genre while exemplifying everything that’s great about that genre. Bad Unicorn reads a bit Douglas Adams for a younger crowd. Older audiences won’t be disappointed either. A ton of fun and a refreshing change of pace.

08. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Stories

The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne M. Valente, read by Courtney, on 12/02/2013

The Melancholy of Mechagirl is a compilation of short stories and poems with Japanese-themed undertones. Each story is completely unique and highly literate. Some are more sci-fi, some are more fantasy. Some don’t even have humans as the main subjects. Many are deeply rooted in folklore.
My personal favorites from the collection were “13 Ways of Looking at Space/Time”, which retells various creation stories from a hard science fiction perspective, and Killswitch, a story about a game that deletes itself upon the player’s completion of the game. It cannot be duplicated or replayed. In a sense, it only exists for the person playing the game at the moment.
As it turns out, Valente (author the Fairyland series), spent several years living in Japan and was clearly changed by the experience. She acknowledges that her perspective is not that of one who is native Japan; rather she uses her experience as an outsider to focus her approach. It never feels like she’s appropriating Japanese culture. It feels more like a combination of respect, curiosity and love for the country Valente found herself in when she married a man in the Navy who was stationed in Japan.

08. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Dystopia, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fiction, Kristy, Romance, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, read by Kristy, on 12/08/2013

Feisty Scarlet is young the star of the second book in the Lunar Chronicles series. When her grandmother, a former military pilot, goes missing, Scarlet does everything she can to find her. This quest to find her grandmother leads Scarlet on a dangerous journey with the street fighter, Wolf. Her quest also leads her to cross paths and develop and unexpected friendship with Cinder.

This book subtly deviates away from the retelling of Cinderella and instead displays innovative retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. Fans of the first book will be sure to enjoy the second book in this series. My only complaint is that Cinder’s storyline fades too far into the background of Scarlet.

08. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Dystopia, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fiction, Kristy, Romance, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Cinder by Marissa Meyer, read by Kristy, on 12/05/2013

Cinder, the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series, is a must-read for teens or adults who enjoy retellings of classic fairy tales. This book features a teen named Cinder: a talented cyborg mechanic who has a miserable home life and a mysterious past. Despite her second class status and occupation, Cinder manages to catch the eye of the local prince. But with a plague destroying the earth’s population, a war being threatened by a ruthless lunar queen, and Cinder concealing the fact that she’s a cyborg, will the romance between these two blossom or burn?

This retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale is fresh and original. But be warned: once you pick this book up, it will be hard to put down!

03. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Leslie, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Time Riders: The Doomsday Code by Alex Scarrow, read by Leslie, on 12/31/2013

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The TimeRiders travel back to Robin Hood’s Middle Ages to search for the mythical Holy Grail and to stop the future from changing.

Once again, the Agency team finds themselves trying to figure out how to change time back to it’s proper line. I enjoyed this one, with it’s reference to the Middle Ages, Robin Hood, the Templars, etc. This time, however, the team members all have moments where they are tempted to leave the altered time line as it is.  I guess when you come from a future that isn’t so great, changes can seem to be better.

03. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Leslie, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Time Riders: The Eternal War by Alex Scarrow, read by Leslie, on 12/20/2013

The Eternal War (TimeRiders, #4)

A time wave has altered the entire history of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln followed Liam into the present from 1831 and now the world is in a dangerous state of limbo. If the TimeRiders can’t return Lincoln to the past, the Civil War will never end.

I like this series, I seem to find myself reading them, even though the characters seem to follow the same plot line in each book.  I read 4 before 3, something I admonish my students not to do, but it was all good.  What I really find fascinating is how the author takes a story, changes what happens to any historical figure and imagines how the future would turn out without that character.  In this particular book, however, I cannot imagine that the Civil War would continue for as long as it does in altered time, as well as certain technologies never being invented, all because Lincoln isn’t President.  I guess that’s makes me a reader and not a writer.

31. December 2013 · 1 comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Science Fiction

The Ninja Librarians by Jennifer Swann Downey, read by Angie, on 12/31/2013

Dorrie and Marcus accidently open a portal to Petrarch’s Library. The Library connects to many other libraries in many other times. Their portal is the first in the 21st century and they are greeted with suspicion by some. They are still able to start apprenticeships though. Marcus follows his true love into the world of plants and Dorrie learns swordcraft from Cyrano de Bergerac. Petrarch’s Library is filled with librarians whose mission is to save those throughout history who are persecuted for speaking out. The head of the library is Hypatia of Alexandria and many other historical characters inhabit this world. Dorrie and Marcus learn that there is also a secret society called the Foundation who works against Petrarch’s. They must decide if they want to go home to their world or learn how to become Ninja Librarians themselves!

What could be better than ninja librarians? I can’t think of a thing. This story is filled with adventure, sword fights, espionage and all kinds of craziness. But it also tells the story of some of history’s persecuted. Characters like Socrates and Hypatia and Saul of Tarsus (Paul of the Bible). There is a message throughout the book about speaking the truth and being persecuted for it. I loved Dorrie’s spunk and Marcus’s humor and fascination with Star Wars (he even gets Cassanova to do a play based on the movie). I think it would be amazing to travel to a place connected to so many other times and places and where you get your meals by reading them from a book. So very imaginative. Now I must go and practice my ninja skills. Never know when you might be called upon to be a ninja librarian.

I received a copy of this ARC from Netgalley.

30. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fiction, Science Fiction · Tags:

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, read by Eric, on 12/27/2013

When late returning home from a trip to the market for milk, a father explains to his children why he was delayed. A simple setup for an inventive (and hilarious) science fiction adventure story, told as only Neil Gaiman can. Or, possibly, as Douglas Adams would have, because Gaiman seems to be channeling his spirit. The adventures take the father through familiar time-travelling tropes, but the fun is in how Gaiman ties it all together with a neat bow at the end. I especially like his various descriptions for gelatinous aliens. The illustrations are by Skottie Young, and are as funny as the text.

27. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction · Tags:

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, Skottie Young (Illustrator), read by Angie, on 12/26/2013

Mom has gone away to a conference leaving dad in charge. She left instructions, but those don’t seem to be working out very well. It is breakfast time and there is no milk for the kids’ cereal and no milk for dad’s tea. So it is off to the store for dad. It takes ages and ages and when he finally gets back he has a story to tell. It involves aliens, dinosaurs, pirates, time travel, hot air balloons, pretty ponies, vampires and so much more. But the milk takes center stage in every aspect of the story and fortunately makes it home for the cereal and tea.

This is Neil Gaiman at his most irreverent and creative. It is a story that just gets more and more preposterous as it goes along. Dad is clearly making stuff up to make his prolonged trip seem more reasonable and he does a great job of it. I loved the rambling nature of the story and the pure silliness of it. The illustrations were wonderful and really helped bring the story to life. I can just imagine the kids listening to dad tell his story and rolling their eyes or breathlessly waiting for the next big thing to happen.

20. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Dangerous by Shannon Hale, read by Angie, on 12/19/2013

Maisie Danger Brown has big dreams; dreams that seem impossible since she only has one arm. However, she wins a contest and gets to go to a private space camp. While at space camp she meets other kids and becomes part of the fireteam that wins a trip into space. In space, Howell, the director of the program, shows them alien tokens. When the kids touch the tokens they are implanted into them and give the kids special abilities. Now that the kids are superheroes they begin to train together and learn about their powers. The alien technology isn’t safe and it starts changing the kids. Soon they are pitted against each other. When one dies their token gets absorbed by the kid touching them. Maisie accidentally absorbs a second token and takes off scared. There are groups trying to control the kids; there are alien invasion threats; and there are threats to Maisie and her family. She doesn’t know who to trust or if she can trust herself.

This book seemed ridiculous from beginning to end. It was really difficult to finish it because the story was just so out there. I usually love Shannon Hale’s work, but this one just didn’t work for me. The kids are mature way beyond their years. The alien technology thing was just bizarre. The relationship between Maisie and Wilder made me cringe every time they were together. And then came the alien invasion and Maisie’s single-handed work to stop it. I want my science fiction to be at least a little plausible and this one just wasn’t.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.

11. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Apocalyptic, Dystopia, Fiction, Kira, Romance, Science Fiction · Tags:

Allegiant by Veronica Roth, read by Kira, on 12/06/2013

This title unlike the previous 2, is narrated by both Tris and Tobias. I’m Not sure this adds that much (unlike hearing Beans narrative in contrast to Ender’s version of the same story). I’m always suspicious that the author is trying to pad their work to add more pages.  Maybe Roth is pulling a Hobbit Movie extension trick, trying to get as much out of the story as she can.  Overall, I liked this book, no it wasn’t as fast-paced as the other two, but you gained a lot of explanation.  I wonder if Roth knew where the series was headed when she published the first book.

 

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If a song was playing during the opening scenes, it could be the Who’s “Don’t Get Fooled Again” new boss, same as the old boss…

04. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow, read by Courtney, on 11/03/2013

Calling all remixers, hackers, activists, freedom fighters and rebels! Your book has arrived. Cory Doctorow hits it out of the park again with another scathing indictment of government surveillance and corruption. Our protagonist, Trent (aka Cecil B. DeVil), is your average teenaged bloke. His main distinguishing characteristic involves his obsession with remixing the films of his favorite movie star. When his hobby gets his entire family kicked off the internet for copyright violations, Trent/Cecil decides to leave home and head for London. In London, he meets a colorful array of characters, including the unflappable Jem, who teaches Cecil all he needs to know about Squatter’s Rights and dumpster-diving (i.e. how to be homeless with class). Eventually, Cecil gets a new laptop and begins to remix again. He’s getting increasingly popular online and is developing something of a fanbase. He joins up with a couple of other remix artists and become part of a network of “pirate cinemas” (film screenings in random locations like graveyards and abandoned sewers) across London. As his popularity increases, so too does his rap sheet. The British government is in the process of passing even more draconian copyright laws and they (or, rather, the large media corporations who hold the rights to Cecil’s downloads and have massive influence at the governmental level) are not happy with Cecil’s work. Cecil and co. find themselves drawn into the fight against criminalizing artists who use previously copywritten material as their artistic medium. Is Cecil a criminal? It certainly doesn’t appear as such. He merely views his art as putting things together that no one ever thought to combine before. And honestly, is that really so different from any other modern art form? Isn’t everything a remix at this point?
This book is every bit as much a call to action as it is a fun, well-written coming-of-age/speculative narrative. Cecil grows as a person, meets other fascinating and well-written characters, and learns a lot. Readers will learn something new, guaranteed. The book may be set in the not-too-distant future, but it’s certainly not a future that would require binoculars or any other corrective lens. This is exactly where we (not just Britain, but every copyright-obsessed nation) are headed. And it isn’t pretty.

03. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Bryan, Dystopia, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Allegiant by Veronica Roth, read by Bryan, on 11/20/2013

allegiantThe final part of the trilogy, Tris and Tobias’s lives continue to be jumbled as they are selected to leave Chicago and visit the outside world.  Once there, they find that their entire world-view is false and they have to decide to live in this reality or face that all they know will be erased.  This book is a good conclusion to the trilogy, although the wrap-up chapters take way too long, in my opinion.  The book is also written differently than the others — it alternates between Tris and Tobias as first-person POV.  It becomes clear why Roth did this as the story unfolds, but I found it a bit distracting.

02. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Bryan, Dystopia, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Insurgent by Veronica Roth, read by Bryan, on 11/07/2013

36zxyqpbInsurgentTris Prior continues on her adventures in factioned Chicago.  This book is the typical second act of a three-act play — darker and basically a “how much worse can it get” plot.  Tris’s life continues to unravel with losses of family and friends.  Politically things erode to a point that she is faced with joining the Factionless.  However, there are agendas at play there as well…

This book continues the pace of the previous and does a good job building to the climax.  Not a bad read.

02. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Bryan, Dystopia, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Divergent by Veronica Roth, read by Bryan, on 11/03/2013

divergentTris Prior lives in a future Chicago that is recovering from war.  Society is broken into groups of like people, and at the age of 16, each person gets to choose their group.  Tris makes a difficult decision to choose against her family’s group and the adventure begins.  Plots are uncovered and all of society (as they know it) is at stake.  Much like the Hunger Games, this book is a good read and would be appealing to teens who do not feel in control of their lives.  It is fast paced but still has some substance.

27. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Lisa, Mystery, Science Fiction

The Lambkins by Eve Bunting, read by Lisa, on 11/01/2013

Kyle Wilson was the size of a regular ninth grader until crazy Mrs. Shepherd injected him with a shrinking formula. Now he’s a prisoner in her dollhouse, the fourth Lambkin in Mrs. Shepherd’s collection! She loves them and would never harm them, she says . . . as long as they don’t make her angry.

One thing is certain. Kyle and the others must figure out how to escape, and fast.

22. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Dystopia, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Insignia by S. J. Kincaid, read by Courtney, on 11/11/2013

Tom and his father have been traveling from place to place, grifting along the way to keep themselves fed. When Tom’s talent for virtual reality simulation games gets noticed, he is tapped by the those in the highest echelons of the US military to join their elite group of combatants who are currently fighting World War III. Tom agrees and is quickly shuttled off to the Pentagonal Spire, where these new types of soldiers are trained. He’s in for a bit of a shock when he gets there though. While the military aims to get the best and brightest, natural traits just aren’t enough in this brave new world. Each plebe (combatant-in-training) must receive a neural transplant. The brain is altered in such a way as to enhance memory and processing, while also allowing plebes and combatants to directly connect to the space ships that are doing the actual fighting in the war. Tom isn’t crazy about the transplant and realizes that he’s been manipulated, but eventually agrees to it on his own terms.
At first, Tom kind of loves his new transplant; he’s faster, smarter, better looking – everything that he wasn’t before arriving at the Pentagon. It isn’t long, however, before the drawbacks of the technology become glaring apparent. For instance, Tom learns rather quickly that the brain can be easily accessed and hacked by others, including curmudgeonly teachers, bullies, enemy combatants and the corporations that finance a plebe’s promotion to combat. Naturally, in a school full of teenagers with the same type of implant, hijinks ensue.
For me, this book had a kind of Ender’s-Game-meets-Harry-Potter (or Percy Jackson, if you prefer)vibe. Tom and his friends were, to me, strongly reminiscent of the Harry-Ron-Hermione trio. His programming professor reminded me of Snape. The bully? Total Draco potential. The virtual training and manipulation of children comes across as an updated rendition of Ender’s battle school. It’s both fun and thought-provoking. I read this with my middle school book group; everyone in the group loved it. Interestingly enough, roughly half the group said they’d love to have similar implants while the rest shuddered at the thought.

21. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Science Fiction

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemelmans Marciano, Sophie Blackall (Illustrations), read by Angie, on 11/20/2013

Alexander Baddenfield is the last of the Baddenfields. Each member of the family has died in some very unpleasant way at a young age. At age 12, Alexander is sure he is going to end up the same way despite the fact that he has been protected and coddled by his man Winterbottom (a Winterbottom has always taken care of the Baddenfields). So he concocts a plan to implant the nine lives of his cat into himself. He finds a mad scientist to do the operation and it is successful. Alexander now feels invincible and quickly wastes his lives by touching the third rail, being thrown head first into a wall during a car crash (he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt), being swallowed by his python, being gored by a bull repeatedly and drowning. When he is down to his last life he finally starts to take precautions, or goes completely off the deep end depending on your point of view. However, a simple allergic reaction finally gets him in the end.

This book had the feel of Lemony Snicket or Roald Dahl, but didn’t quite live up to its ancestors. Alexander really has no redeeming qualities, not even in the end, that would make you want to cheer for him. The true hero of the book is Winterbottom, but he seems so one note that you don’t want to cheer for him either. The book is a quick read, but not necessarily a fun one. The first half is a family history of the Baddenfields and how they died. The second half is all about how Alexander keeps dying. Some of the deaths are fully fleshed out and described and others are not. I found it a little uneven and repetitive.

12. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Apocalyptic, Fiction, Kira, Science Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

Insurgent by Veronica Roth, read by Kira, on 11/12/2013

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I enjoyed parts of this book immensely – however, the romance aspect of “oh, I couldn’t possibly be honest with him” drove me nuts.  But the action was uptempo like Divergent, and the ending was good.  I was told it was a cliffhanger, but I thought it was a good ending – everybody wound up where they should be, but new things were going to happen next!  Can’t wait to read the next one.