Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Empty: By Suzanne Weyn



It's the near future - the very near future - and the fossil fuels are running out. No gas. No oil. Which means no driving. No heat. Supermarkets are empty. Malls have shut down. Life has just become more local than we ever knew it could be.

Nobody expected the end to come this fast. And in the small town of Spring Valley, decisions that once seemed easy are quickly becoming matters of life and death. There is hope - there has to be hope - just there are also sacrifices that need to be made, and a whole society that needs to be rethought.

Teens like Nicki, Tom, and Leila may find what they need to survive. But their lives are never going to be the same again.


I was looking forward to Empty. I had read Xisle by Steve Augarde and Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, and this book sounded in my opinion a lot like these books, because of its dystopian future based on a lack of resources. I thought it looked fun, exciting, and like a great book to read.

Boy was I wrong.

Empty bored me from page one. It was a preachy book that was filled with hollow characters and a poor plot. No one wants to read about the horrors of the environment without a decent story behind it, and this is especially true in a young adult/children’s book. But that’s exactly what Empty did, it read like a boring memo about the frightening rate we are using our resources.

Not only that but what little story the book did have felt disjointed and jumbled together because of the splintering of the many points of view of all the different characters in the book. If the author had chosen just a few of these characters to concentrate on then I feel confident she could have at least salvaged part of the story line.

That said, what really annoyed me was that this book could have been really good. The author did a horrible job breaking the book into too many perspectives and ultimately making it too preachy. Yes, there are successful ensemble books, and there are many books which convey important messages about the environment that contain decent if not good plots, but this just doesn’t happen to be one of them.

3 out of 10


Publisher: Scholastic Press

Published: October 1, 2010

Price: $17.99

Hero: By Mike Lupica



Fourteen-year-old Zach Harriman can feel the changes. The sharpening of his senses. The incredible strength. The speed, as though he can text message himself across miles. The confidence and the strange need to patrol Central Park at night. His dad had been a hero, a savior to America and a confidante of the president. Then he died, and the changes began in Zach. What Zach never knew was that his father was no ordinary man--he was a superhero, battling the world's evil. This is a battle that has been waged for generations and that knows no boundaries.

And now it's Zach's turn to take on the fight. It's Zach's turn to become a hero.


When it comes to elementary and middle school sports novels, Mike Lupica is king. He’s written countless books about everything from football to basketball to baseball, and so when I saw he was coming out with a superhero novel I thought he’d be a great person to write one, (because of his experience with suspense and pace in the story) and so I marked it in my calendar and I couldn’t wait to pick up a copy for myself.

When I picked up Hero though I was a little disappointed, this wasn’t the all inclusive for any age book for I was expecting, this was a superhero book for kids in middle and elementary school (I don’t know why I was expecting anything else, but I was.) Of course even with that disappointment I still decided to finish the book, and I have to say it was pretty good.

Ok, now understand when I say that this book was pretty good, I had decided to try to put myself in the mindset of someone in middle school to better evaluate the book. So when I did that I found the book much more enjoyable and a great book for kids.

Hero is full of mystery, action, and superpowers, what’s not to love? The characters don’t develop as much as one might hope, and the end seems a little corny, but the story and the fun a reader will have reading it are top notch, and in my opinion that’s what matter most. Making this a good book for middle school and elementary school kids (especially boys).

8 out of 10 (for elementary/middle schoolers)


Publisher: Philomel

Published: November 2, 2010

Price: $17.99

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Atlantis and Other Places: By Harry Turtledove



A famous naturalist seeks a near-extinct species of bird found only on the rarest of lands in "Audubon in Atlantis." A young American on a European holiday finds himself storming an enchanted German castle in "The Catcher in the Rhine." The philosopher Sokrates plays a key role in the Athenian victory over the Spartans in "The Daimon." Centaurs take a sea voyage aboard "The Horse of Bronze" to a land where they encounter a strange and frightening tribe of creatures known as man. London's most famous detective, Athelstan Helms, and his assistant Dr. James Walton are in Atlantis investigating a series of murders in "The Scarlet Band."

This collection includes these and seven more amazing stories of ancient eras, historical figures, mysterious events, and out-of-this- world adventure from the incomparable Harry Turtledove.


There are some authors who’s names are just synonymous with science fiction and good writing in general. Such authors include Orson Scott Card, Philip K. Dick, Douglas Adams, and Harry Turtledove. Personally I’ve read a good number of these authors books and loved them all. That is all except Harry Turtledove. I don’t know why but I’ve never picked up and read one of Mr. Turtledove’s books. I’ve always heard wonderful things about them and how he’s such an amazing and intelligent author, but when it came time to read one of his many books I always found myself reading something else instead.

So when I was sent Atlantis and Other Places I felt this anthology of short stories would be a perfect place to see what this master storyteller has up his sleeve. And I have to say it was some show.

If you don’t know what Turtledove is famous for is his historical science fiction and fantasy. These books encompass a range of history subjects from ancient civilizations to the present. In Atlantis and Other Places Turtledove does a fantastic job of sampling a number of his different histories and stories. My personal favorite was The Horse of Bronze, a short story about the first time centaurs encounter humans in their search for tin. It’s very well told and had just the right amount of action and intrigue to keep the reader going in the story. But what I was most impressed by the story was the narrative voice. Turtledove does a fantastic job creating a relatable, intelligent, yet intriguing voice in Chiron, the famous centaur from the Greek myths.

That said not all the stories are gems, I personally didn’t love a few of the stories but overall I enjoyed more than I disliked. Also, considering I usually don’t love short stories that fact that Turtledove was able to both keep my attention in his stories and have the majority of them come out with a positive reaction really speaks to his ability as a writer. Therefore in my opinion if your haven’t read Harry Turtledove then you should, and Atlantis and Other Places is as a good as any place to begin in your soon to be interest in this fantastic author.

8 out of 10


Publisher: Roc Hardcover

Published: December 7, 2010

Price: $24.95

Archvillain #1: By Barry Lyga



Kyle Camden knows exactly where he was the night Mighty Mike arrived: Sneaking around the fallow field behind Bouring Middle School (motto: "The U Makes It Exciting!"), running the electrical cabling that would allow him to dump the contents of the old water tower on the visiting football team during the next day's game.

Which is why he couldn't tell anyone where he was.

Or what he saw.

Those lights everyone saw in the sky weren't tiny meteors burning up in the

atmosphere. They were some kind of strange, supercooled plasma that bathed the entire field - including Kyle - in alien energies, energies that boosted Kyle's intellect and gave him superpowers.

Unfortunately, the energies also brought Mighty Mike to earth.

Kyle is the only one who knows that Mighty Mike is an alien. Everyone else thinks that Mike is just some kid who stumbled into the field, got beefed up on meteor juice, lost his memory, and decided to start rescuing kittens from trees. But Kyle knows the truth. And he'll do anything in his power to stop Mighty Mike, even if it means being an Archvillain!


Fans if Barry Lyga’s previous books may be a little surprised when they pick up his newest book, Archvillain. Archvillain is written for a younger audience, and it certainly reads like it.

That said this is not a bad book. Personally once I got over the differences and expectations from his previous books in style and content I really enjoyed it.

Archillain reads like Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible and the recent blockbuster movie, Megamind. I’ve always liked superhero stories and I’m guessing that if you read Lyga’s previous books you’re not new to the superhero genre yourself (given Lyga recently wrote Wolverine: Worst Day Ever.) This is clearly a superhero story but told from the point of view from the villain. It’s got clever and funny moments and kids in middle school and elementary school will love the action and pace of the book, making it a perfect fit for its desired age group.

All in all while I was disappointed that Archvillain wasn’t in Lyga’s normal vein of stories, I still enjoyed it. And I guarantee that kids (especially boys) in middle/elementary school will love it to, making it a fun good read for the holidays.

8 out of 10


Publisher: Scholastic Press

Published: October 1, 2010

Price: $16.99

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Five Flavors of Dumb: By Antony John



The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig.

The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band's manager and get her share of the profits.

The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she's deaf?


There are only a handful of truly talented young adult writers who can just knock the socks off anyone who reads their books. Authors like these create loyal fans who follow them to whatever their newest endeavors are. Such authors in my opinion include Jordan Sonnenblick, John Green, Rick Riordan, and Hilari Bell. If you haven’t read any of these authors I just mentioned you should, but the important thing to take away from this is that the author of Five Flavors of Dumb, Antony John, exhibits a number of characteristics to put him in this category of authors through his latest book, Five Flavors of Dumb, making it a must read for anyone out there.

Five Flavors of Dumb is fun, exciting, and full of engaging characters but most importantly it’s just plain well written. I know some people may think the premise seems odd, having a deaf teenager manage a rock band, but I implore you to reconsider with this book. John makes it work and he does it in a way that really makes the story and characters shine as a result of it. Piper is a fantastic protagonist and through John’s words readers truly get to feel her struggles. Her brother and the other supporting characters are both realistic as well as entertaining. And even Piper’s father becomes an intriguing character.

Besides the characters John does a terrific job creating an engaging and intriguing plot. Five Flavors of Dumb does not contain twists and turns such as the movie The Sting, nor does it focus on a sappy romantic love story like Twilight, instead it is a strong young adult premise with just enough twist to keep its readers on their toes and subplots that will both educate and engage readers worldwide.

John does a fantastic job creating a compelling and engaging story that both educates and captivates and really fills the story with fun realistic characters for the reader to enjoy. I personally loved this book and can’t wait for Antony John’s next book, because I truly believe Five Flavors of Dumb is a fantastic book that that anyone who picks it up will cherish.

I highly recommend.

10 out of 10


Publisher: Dial

Published: November 11, 2010

Price: $16.99

Spray: By Harry Edge



A group of teens sign up for an assassination game on the streets of a big city. Their weapons: pressurized water guns. It’s meant to be a game, a sport. But for some, it’s more than harmless fun. To win, they’ll use any means necessary.

Two hundred players. Three weeks of tense cat-and-mouse action. Every stalker is being stalked and only one player will be left standing. No one will be the same.

Through multiple points of view, Harry Edge puts readers right in the middle of the action—watch your back!


When I first started reading this book I thought it was just about a giant game of assassin via water guns, but Edge really tried to make this book more than that. He attempts to show stronger and broader themes of war, water shortages, and broken families. Unfortunately in my opinion he doesn’t do a great job in completing some of these broader themes plotlines, or at the very least, making them connected to the story. But he does strike home with a few of them. And in the case of the broken family and Han looking for her brother it really adds to the suspense of the story.

That said some of the details Edge includes such as Han’s real looking gun at the end of the book, are not necessary to the story and really should have been cut in the editing process.

As for the characters I liked a good number of the main characters but none of them were to deep. I felt like some of the interactions (and especially the relationships between some of the characters) were especially painful to read (most specifically Shell’s and Matt’s relationship). My other big complaint about the characters is that they weren’t consistent with their ages. It didn’t make sense who was working and who was in school and it was also hard to tell who was what age. One of the only people I knew how old they were was Han, and she didn’t come close to acting her age.

But while I complain about these details the real fun and excitement in the book is the hunt-or-be-hunted attitude of the book. Edge really does do a great job making the book fun to read and in my book this is one of the best qualities a book like this can have. He does this by instilling a sense of urgency in the book really making the readers care about who wins the competition.

All in all Spray is a fantastic book for fans of Survivor and fans of games like Assassin and Werewolves. The adrenaline pumped action will win over readers of all ages (especially middle school boys). While it does have its drawbacks Spray is fun and exciting and if you’re just looking for something to pick up and read then this is a good book for you.

7 out of 10


Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Published: November 9, 2010

Price: $9.99

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tyger Tyger: By Kersten Hamilton



Teagan Wylltson's best friend, Abby, dreams that horrifying creatures--goblins, shape-shifters, and beings of unearthly beauty but terrible cruelty--are hunting Teagan. Abby is always coming up with crazy stuff, though, so Teagan isn't worried. Her life isn't in danger. In fact, it's perfect. She's on track for a college scholarship. She has a great job. She's focused on school, work, and her future. No boys, no heartaches, no problems.
Until Finn Mac Cumhaill arrives. Finn's a bit on the unearthly beautiful side himself. He has a killer accent and a knee-weakening smile. And either he's crazy or he's been haunting Abby's dreams, because he's talking about goblins, too . . . and about being The Mac Cumhaill, born to fight all goblin-kind. Finn knows a thing or two about fighting. Which is a very good thing, because this time, Abby's right. The goblins are coming.


I’ve always been a fan of myths and books based on myth. Whether they be Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series about Greek myths, or his Kane Chronicles series about Egyption myth, or Michael Scott’s conglomeration of almost all myths in his The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series. It is upon myths that human kinds’ imaginations is created. And it is from these building blocks that we get some of our best books and stories.

In Tyger Tyger Hamilton does a fantastic job introducing us to the world of Irish myth and lore. Between the stories of Queen Mab, Fear Doirich, and the Mac Cumhaill had an interesting mixture of stories. Besides that I really felt Tyger Tyger moved along at a good pace. Hamilton creates a world with incredibly vivid and captivating scenery that will be sure to delight readers worldwide.

Of course, one of my concerns with Tyger Tyger is that while I loved many of the minor characters such as Raynor Schein, Mamieo, and Aiden, I felt Teagan was almost to weak of a character to be leading this engaging story. Considering this is called “A goblin Wars Book” it looks as if Hamilton plans to make this into a series. If so then I hope she either replaces Teagan as the main character with one of the stronger more interesting minor characters or makes Teagan into a stronger more willful character.

All in all Tyger Tyger is a fun book to read. I felt it could have been better if Hamilton had made Teagan into a stronger protagonist but the setting, plot, and mythology surrounding the story more than make up for this weak character.

7.5 out of 10


Publisher: Clarion Books

Published: November 15, 2010

Price: $17.00

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Ring of Solomon: By Jonathan Stroud



Bartimaeus, everyone’s favorite (wise-cracking) djinni, is back in book four of this best-selling series. As alluded to in the footnotes throughout the series, Bartimaeus has served hundreds of magicians during his 5,010 year career. Now, for the first time, fans will go back in time with the djinni, to Jerusalem and the court of King Solomon in 950s BC. Only in this adventure, it seems the great Bartimaeus has finally met his match. He’ll have to contend with an unpleasant master and his sinister servant, and runs into just a “spot” of trouble with King Solomon’s magic ring….


I’ve been a fan of Stroud’s other books for years, including his Bartimaeus Trilogy and his standalone novel Heroes of the Valley. So naturally I was a little worried that this new novel might not be as good or engaging as some of his past since it’s been so long since Stroud’s last release. But I have to say I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest with The Ring of Solomon.

The Ring of Solomon takes place in the time of King Solomon, back from the stories of the old testament. Of course Stroud doesn’t just give us a bland retelling of the stories of King Solomon instead he puts his own twist on the stories using everyone’s favorite djinni, Bartimaeus, to still up trouble, make insulting yet humorous wisecracks, and cause overall general mayhem.

Personally, I found Asmira a much easier and more interesting lead human character to read than Nathaniel. But the true star in all of these books continues to be Bartimaeus. He is still the mischievous, wise cracking, character that we came to love in the previous books. Stroud does a fantastic job of reestablishing Bartimaeus’s character though, so new readers of the series wont be lost by any of Bartimaeus’s remarks or style.

As for the other human characters they are all 3-D and interesting. My personal favorite was King Solomon, I was genuinely surprised with some of the twists Stroud had in there for the king, and I really enjoyed them. There are some “evil” characters, but to be honest, Stroud does a fantastic job making sure his characters are complex enough that they are able to surprise even loyal fans of Stroud’s other books.

As for plot twists The Ring of Solomon has plenty to entertain and keep readers on their toes. Nothing new for fans of the previous series.

But the real important aspect to take away from this is that fans of the previous Bartimaeus books will love this book. Side remarks detailing Bartimaeus‘s exploits from the previous books are described in much fuller detail, characters such as Faqarl make a fun guest appearance, and the footnotes are so hilarious that anyone with a pulse should love them. These aspects and other positive points really tie the books together, making the overall experience that much richer.

All in all while I was originally scared the book wasn’t going to live up to its predecessors, this fear was wholly disproved. The Ring of Solomon is a fun exciting book with likable characters, a good pace, and enough twists and turns to keep fans interested. Not only that but this prequel to the series does a fantastic job making it possible for new and old fans of the series to enjoy and understand many of the jokes and plot lines. All in all a great book.

8.5 out of 10


Publisher: Hyperion Book CH

Published: November 2, 2010

Price: $17.99

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Side Jobs: By Jim Butcher



Here, together for the first time, are the shorter works of #1 New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher-a compendium of cases that Harry and his cadre of allies managed to close in record time. The tales range from the deadly serious to the absurdly hilarious. Also included is a new, never-before-published novella that takes place after the cliff-hanger ending of the new April 2010 hardcover, Changes. This is a must-have collection for every devoted Harry Dresden fan as well as a perfect introduction for readers ready to meet Chicago's only professional wizard.


Jim Butcher is a fantastic author. His books have repeatedly hit #1 on the NYT Bestsellers list. He has creative and in depth plots, his characters are both 3D and engaging, and his books always end in a level of suspense leaving the reader wanting more.

All in all there is very little disagreement whether Butcher is a great author.

What readers may be curious about is how well he can tell his stories through short stories and novellas. To answer that readers would need to read Butcher’s latest book Side Jobs.

Side Jobs is an collection of all of Butcher’s previous short stories as well as a brand new novella that takes place hours after the end of Changes. And while everyone may have different opinions about this book, I personally had mixed feelings.

I wanted to love it because I’ve loved almost every other book Butcher has written, but I really feel part of his magic is in the buildup in his stories. Because of this I never felt the real punch Butcher was going for in his stories. They were nice enough, and it’s always great to read more about the world of Harry Dresdan but all in all it didn’t do it for me.

Now, I could also be a little disappointed because the novella at the end that fans such as myself have been waiting months for, was not nearly the story I was looking forward to. I love reading about Murphy through Harry’s eyes but for some reason I never really felt the connection with her character as she helped Billy solve the mystery of Georgia’s disappearance.

Because of that and my natural dislike of most short stories I was unimpressed with the book but still can’t wait for the next novel, Ghost Story.

6 out of 10


Publisher: Rock Hardcovers

Published: November 2, 2010

Price: $25.95