We'll be back

What with Christmas time being here and all, we might not be posting much next week, so look for more reviews and such starting again after New Year's.  It's only a week and a half away, so don't fret.  That's unless I get some time-sucking video games as a present.  Who has time for books when they have video games, right?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Steven (and Virginia and Melanie)
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100th Post and the End of the Year Roundup

This post is our 100th at Boys Do Read.  If you've read our "About Us" page, you'll find that this blog was created from a presentation at the British Columbia Library Conference with the intent on broadening the possibilities at what we can offer teen boys to read.  We've covered a little bit of everything, from the obvious (comics, sports books) and the not-so-obvious (Across the Universe; have you seen that cover? No boys would want it).

We've seen a lot of material in our quest to find good boys' reading.  Some was great, some not so much.  So, without further ado, we present our recap of 2011.

Teen books no boys will ever borrow:

We know that these aren't intended for boys, but they both certainly aren't doing any favours to anyone who claims that boys should read anything.  I'll venture there are a lot of girls (two of the bloggers here perhaps?) who feel the same way about these books

Teen books no boys will ever borrow, but they should:

Yeah, the handsome dude and the kissy lips aren't really helping on these ones.  But the books were good.

Teen book trends we'd like to see killed off:

Melanie: Zombies that go to high school. Surfer vampires. Fairies. Mermaid struggling with self identity. Pegasuses (pegasi?)?  They are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. I hope with the approaching finale of the Twilight film series, the book industry will take the hint. 

Unless they all go back to old school vampires and sirens whose bloodsucking and cannibalistic tendencies .  Then we'll welcome them back with open arms.

Steven: First person, present tense.  Seriously.  It seems lazy.  I mean, the narrator, in the midst of all this action, has time to write down their every thought?  I don't buy it at all, and it's too distracting and I can't suspend my disbelief.

Virginia: Romance novels disguised as dystopian, especially those in which the guy characters serve no purpose other than being the love interest. My second vote would be for series. Stop writing series!

Genre that should come back (but without any girlification)

Science fiction a la Asimov/Heinlein/ClarkeNot that it should be specifically for teens, but there doesn't seem to be much of it around.  Eric Walters' End of Days gives me hope, though.

Writers who should write more, more, more

Ransom Riggs (two votes for him!),  Lish McBride (yeah, it's paranormal.  But at least it's funny).

Adult authors who should never write for teens again

James Patterson, Harlan Coben (really couldn't get through Shelter)

Books for kids that you wish you could give to teen boys

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
All of them can be enjoyed by all ages, but let's face it, it's hard to convince a teen to take something kiddie, and you don't want to insult their intelligence.

Book that, despite all its shortcomings (including being just awful), we still recommend:

Assassin's Creed.  The video game tie-in is a big draw.

Books that should be included in library teen collections even though some of them seem completely  useless:

Novelty books like F in Exams, Five Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth and Ten Ways to Recycle a Corpse. Why? Teen guys will read them -- and you will find that the rest of your library customers will like them too!

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Invasion by Jon S. Lewis

First book of the C.H.A.O.S. series
Colt McAlister has spent a day with real life aliens. Not that he remembers it. CHAOS (Central Headquarters Against the Occult and Supernatural) made sure of that when they invited Colt to a facility posing as a regular military academy to test his abilities and potential. Colt may have lived his whole life in ignorance and bliss, but when his parents were killed in a car accident, he got a tip from a stranger: Your parents were murdered. Your mom was about to expose the omnipotent Trident Industries' mind control scheme and so they had to get rid of her.  And from that point on, Colt's normal life is turned upside down, when he discovers more than he ever wants to know about a secret organization and his grandpa's secret past.

I want to like this book, and when I read the first six chapters, I did kind of like it. A little thrown off because you were hit with the story without much explanation, but kids training to be secret agents battling extraterrestrials? Nothing super original, but it can be fun. The story then took a turn once the first CHAOS scene is over, and Colt and the readers both have to go through a lot of secrecy from all the other characters, and impatience started to seep in.  There was too much conspiracy talk and the escaping from evil guys scenes got a bit repetitive. Some of the alien creatures and the high-tech weapons and vehicles were pretty cool, and there were some interesting story threads, but not enough to hold my attention. Danielle and Oz, the other two major characters in the book, are much more personable than Colt, which doesn't help either. Invasion did receive positive reviews, and a sequel is coming out in January 2012, so this may be a good one to include in your teen collection for your sci-fi readers.
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Bioshock: Rapture by John Shirley

Listed on Metacritic as one of the best video games ever, Bioshock is the story of a man who is trapped in a mysterious city under the sea.

Set in the 1960, Jack finds himself in a plane crash, only to be rescued by a mysterious man named "Atlas".  The city, called Rapture, was built by an industrialist names Andrew Ryan as a utopia, but, inevitably, it collapses.  All that remains are the unlucky survivors who have become addicated to mysterious substances known as ADAM and EVE.  These give suporpowers to users.  As the story proceeds, you discover that Jack is in fact Andrew Ryan's son who was bred and brainwashed to come back and kill him, then take over Rapture for "Atlas".  Most of the story is relayed through audio diary recordingsof various characters that you find along the way, none of which are required to complete the game.

That's the game.  I played it, didn't like it terribly much, though the underwater setting was intriguing and impressive.  It is a well constructed game world that looks like something Walt Disney would have built had he had unlimited funds.  the game has since spawned to sequels, one in 2010 and the next coming in 2012.

Bioshock: Rapture is the story of Andrew Ryan and the rise and fall of his city.  If it wasn't connected by title to a game I had played, I would never have known any connection.  This is a surprisingly well written story, a great dystopian read.  Ryan builds his city on the premise of zero regulation, but won't allow anyone to lead for fear that infiltrators will come and ruin his perfect society.  Of course, internal pressure, claustrophobia and bad people do it just fine on their own.

Even though I know exactly how the story ends as far as the game goes, I was impressed at the end when it felt like the book really wrapped up the story.  It feels like it can stand alone, though I can't say for sure having come in knowing the plot. 

Even points in the game the would seem odd outside of a video game context (gun vending machines, special powers, little girls with scary diving bell-clad monsters) have been explained and used appropriately in the books.  Nothing is forced like it was in Assassin's Creed.

As far as video game tie-ins go, this is the best one I've read yet.
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What Boys Like: Playin' Guitar

... or the drums, or some weird instrument no one has ever heard of.

While we often think of sports books, comics and biographies of relevant boys' interest topics, there is one thing that doesn't seem to come up very often.  Music books.  The technical kind.  In every grade in high school, there are dozens of boys who dream to be rock stars, noodling about on their cheap guitars, hoping to get good instantly so they can pick up girls.

Guys and girls both like music, and teenagers in particular find themselves carving an identity out of their favorite bands and songs.  And music is even more personal than ever, since much is absorbed alone via headphones, and even more is downloaded in private at home from the internet.  Even so, kids just want to get it out and share their passion.  Some kids write songs, but some just aren't quite up to it, and have to figure out their favorite songs on their own.  They likely don't know many songs aside from the few they play on infinite loop trying to figure out a tricky chord sequence or a fancy riff.

The good news is there are plenty of books for that, called fake books.  These books contain the very basics of music: a single melody line, lyrics and the chords.  They aren't usually super complicated, and often aren't even 100% correct (one I have at home is missing an entire verse of Come Sail Away. For shame!), but they are close enough to the real thing that you can, as the title says, fake it.  This assumes the reader know the basics of their instrument, particularly the names of the chords, but generally they do.  If not, they is usually a chart in the book somewhere showing how it's done.  There are many different fake bookss out there, so be sure to choose appropriate ones.  I'm not sure that Disney songs or Broadway hits will cut it, but Beatles, Stones and Rock Guitar editions would be good choices.

Another good idea is Guitar for Dummies-type books.  Some have songs, some are more method books for learning the technical aspects of playing.  Either way, guys will appreciate it.

Your library might already have all these books in the adult section, but there is no reason they can't be highlighted for teens.  If you know any teenaged musicians who are just learning to play, these books are for him.
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Axe Cop by Malachi and Ethan Nicolle

I'm a guy, and I'm here to tell you that I have no idea how girls think, or the rationale behind what they do. Women and girls are a mystery to us guys. Likewise, I know that boys don't make much sense to them.  I would like to offer a hand in resolving this situation.  I present to you: Axe Cop!

This is how little boys think.  Yes, Axe Cop, the story of a cop with an axe. Created by Malachai and Ethan Nicolle, a pair of brothers who love to hang out together.  You see, Malachi is a kid.  He was 5 when Axe Cop was created, with his comic illustrator brother who was 29 at the time. They would play together, with Malachi inventing stories and characters on the fly, the same way all little boys play.  Ethan would just take these stories, streamline them, and put them out as a web comic.  The only editing he would do is just to make sure that the story flowed a little more logically.

Okay, logic is a stretch, but this is what I mean:  the stories are pure, unadulterated (literally) imagination.  They are violent, but only in the way a little kid obsessed with dinosaurs and superheroes could think of.  They are crude, using plenty of poop jokes because poop is funny.  They are utterly bizarre, with a T-Rex with sunglasses and machine guns for arms and a baby with a magical unicorn horn that grants wishes. 

Axe Cop has been going for nearly 2 years now, so you can almost track the growth of Malachi as he gets older, so you can sort of figure out how boys grow up (do we ever?).

The Axe Cop world is ever expanding.  From its humble start as a web comic intended for friends and family, it has expanded to print issues by Dark Horse, collections of the web material (Volume 3 in February), Hallowe'en costumes and a theme pack for the Munchkin card game.

The web comic is free and there is a full archive, so if you want to know what it's all about, get to it right now.  Otherwise, go ahead and get the issues from Dark Horse. 

And just for a taste, here is one of my favorites.
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The Gates by John Connolly

Samuel Johnson just wants to take more advantage of the whole Halloween business by trick or treating a few days earlier than everyone else. He never would have thought he would witness the opening of the Gates of Hell at his neighbour's house at 666 Crowley Avenue.

The Abernathys, aka the neighbours, just want to have a fun evening by pretending to contact the dead. They never intend to summon the one and only Great Malevolence himself.

Of course, it can't be that easy to open a portal between us and the Underworld, but a group of scientists in Switzerland have made a particle accelerator in the hopes of recreating the Big Bang, and just at the right time, something "escapes" from it and creates an opportunity. Thanks!

Samuel tries to tell his mom about what he saw at the Abernathys, but of course she doesn't believe him.  When will adults ever learn? Now demons, monsters, unpleasant things in general, are taking over the human world, trying to pave the way for the Great One, but humans are not going down without a fight.

John Connolly is most famous for his Charlie Parker detective series. This standalone novel is in the adult section of my library, but the whole time I'm reading it I feel like this can be an older kids'/teen book, and it looks like it's been re-released as such just a few months ago. The Gates is a lot of fun to read, complete with cheeky footnotes and over-the-top characterizations. The demons' naivety, like Nurd's first experience in a Porsche and encounter with the police, is rather amusing. Other reviews have pointed out the humour in this is quite similar to Hitchhiker's Guide or Christopher Moore or Neil Gaiman, and I think those are all fair comparisons. As my co-worker, who recommended this book to me, pointed out, you need to be able to accept and like strange and twisted things to enjoy this book.

Anyone out there read his crime novels? What do you think of them? Leave us a comment.
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End of Days by Eric Walters

End of the world stories are very common, whether they are planetary natural disasters, human-created problems, or technological meltodowns.  Some are better than others, of course, but it is a rich field of literature.  I've reviewed a few already for this blog, including Life As We Knew It, which I though was a very realistic approach to disaster, and Death Cure, which was a terrible conclusion to the end of the world.  It's very common in science fiction, and a driving force in action.  Think in terms of movies: the action of  Armageddon, and the more intellectual Deep Impact.

Eric Walters' End of Days fits squarely into this mold, though it leans closer to the Deep Impact side of things.  It takes a two-pronged approach, one that feels like a typical adult sci-fi, and another featuring a teenager who leads a pack of youth in a rundown city.

A prominent astronomer discovers that an distant asteroid is en route to Earth, and will likely cross our orbit right when we are at the same point several years hence, destroying much of Earth's life much in the same way the dinosaurs were wiped out..  A secret cabal promptly kidnaps him and several other scientists to help plan a means of preventing disaster, all without letting the public know of any danger.  Meanwhile, an eccentric billionaire is coming up with his own plans, just in case the scientists fail.  He plans to build an underground compound to protect a handpicked group of people to weather out the decades that the surface would be inhospitable.  For this, he needs young people, including a seemingly ordinary teen from New York.

If the threat of Death From Above wasn't enough, religious extremists are welcoming the disaster as judgement from God and will stop at nothing to prevent the scientists from succeeding.

End of Days works, and having read it immediately after Death Cure, I liked it so much more.  Dealing with the end of the world in both books, I was so much more satisfied with Eric Walters' approach, especially when the issue of trusting others to know what they are doing comes up.  There are no ghosts in the machine for him, and no major plot holes come immediately to mind.

It is a teen book by a YA author, but it doesn't feel like one.  There is no overwrought emoting or angst, and the presence of a teenaged character has no impact on the storytelling.  There is a perfectly good reason that they need a kid his age: he will live longer than old people, so could perform his role until the world can get back to (relative) normal, so it doesn't feel like a teen was included to appeal to teen readers.  In other words, a perfect book for someone who doesn't like teen books.
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Death Sentence by Alexander Gordon Smith

On the topic of sequels, I have been eagerly anticipating the third book to the series Escape from Furnace. The series has turned out to be one of my favourite thrillers, where the bad guys are super evil and there's enough suspense to keep me biting my nails the whole way (see my post for a review of the first book in the series). For some reason, I thought the this was a trilogy -- only to discover that the fourth and fifth books are still on their way. I was a bit nervous starting this third book -- since a series that is dragged on too long can really kill the plot. I mean, for how long can a bunch of convicts run away from monsters and prison guards before all the chase scenes become the same? You keep thinking Alex and his friends are going to escape... only to find out at the end of the book they're trapped AGAIN. Having a bit of an attachment to this series, I seriously hope Smith comes up with some interesting plot twists to keep the story alive.

(Warning: this next section contains spoilers!) Death Sentence immediately jumps into the action and picks up the story right where book two, Solitary, left off. And yes, Alex is still stuck in Furnace Penitentiary, this time captured by the evil Warden and at risk of being transformed into one of the monster black suit guards.With Alex now in close contact with the Warden, we begin to learn the real purpose behind the prison. Furnace is really just a supply of subjects for experiments that strive to create a race of  humans that have no weaknesses -- creatures that have superhuman strength, do not fear or feel remorse and are only motivated by anger and hatred. Everyone who undergoes the experiments (and survives) pretty much have their memories wiped out and believe that they were created by the Warden. The ideas here aren't entirely unique -- but this doesn't mean the series won't turn out to be good.

I haven't quite finished the book yet -- but so far so good. The action has made it pretty difficult to put the book down and while this third book has revealed the most answers so far, there are still enough loose ends in the plot to keep me wondering what is going to happen next.

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The Death Cure by James Dashner

Death Cure is the long-anticipated finale to the Maze Runner series. Two of us have read this, and we can't agree on whether this is a good ending or not.


Breaking news from this morning: There is a fourth book!  I was angry, let me tell you. So angry when I read that. Just leave it alone. 
I started this post before I found out, and now I feel like there's no point of writing what we think of the so-called ending anymore...

Thomas and his friends from the Glade are given the choice to have their memories restored so that they can help WICKED complete the final step of finding a cure to the flare, but since nothing from WICKED should be trusted, they decided to escape instead to Denver, where supposedly only the immune and uninfected live...except it is far from a safe place. And they need a cure soon, because one of theirs, Newt, has been infected. He is slowly losing it...

Maze Runner is one of my personal favourites. I remember when I first discovered it, I was telling everyone to read it. I was not super thrilled about the second book The Scorch Trials, because I felt that it lacked motive and action and it had the Cranks. I have no problem with zombies usually, but I thought Dashner could have, should have come up with something better than that, after that awesome first book. As with any series you are passionate about, you approach the final book (::scoff::) with caution.

For me, the third book definitely has Dashner's signature non-stop action and it's more about the ride than what you ultimately find out. I am okay with that. I can see how some readers feel cheated because we still didn't find out that much more, and it's totally reasonable to expect all these secrets to be exposed. I can also see where Thomas ended up sort of nullify the whole premise and point of the series. There are definitely some deus ex machina moments that bother me too, but I feel for Thomas. The way I read it, he started out thinking that he can carry out a noble plan and sacrifice himself for a greater purpose, but in the end, he realizes he can't. He's not a superhuman. He's not a hero. He just wants his friends to be alive. Selfish? Yah, but I can't blame him.

Clearly, no one really feels closure. Maybe so much that they have to put out a fourth book to explain it all!


Well, I'm one of them who didn't feel closure.  I liked the first book a lot too, but one little niggling problem was the fact that all the explanations were always deferred.  "I'll tell you later," someone will say, or "there's no time for that now".  On and it it goes. It got worse in the second one. Even so, there was a pretty appealing premise: was Thomas really responsible?

We find out in book 2 and 3 that he probably was, but never why, never how.  When the chance to find out appears in Death Cure, our curiosity is never sated.  Thomas turns down the chance to have everything settled.  While we do find out about the circumstances in the world, we never get to the meat of Thomas and the Gladers' involvement.

I felt we were cheated. Thomas felt like he was doing what was best for him and his friends, but it does nothing for us; as the readers, we get nada.  Other characters get the answers, mind you, but since the series follows Thomas, we are never enlightened.  What closure does come appears out of nowhere with characters we never meet.  I know Virginia's argument above suggests that Thomas discovers that he may not be so noble and tough, which is fine in real life, but this book never struck me as too concerned about realism.  It felt like the wrong kind of ending to the wrong kind of book.  In an action series, the hero is noble and tough, and would do the right thing.

There are too many unanswered questions: Why was he psychic? Why did he help plan things?  Why did they all change their minds if they went in to the project knowing full well what was going to happen?  If they were all super genius kids before all this, why didn't it seem so afterwards? 

James Dashner is writing a fourth book that will supposedly answer all the questions.  I'm guessing even he felt cheated out of the end.  He'll probably need to write a fifth one to explain that one, and a sixth to clear the fifth one up.

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Assassin's Creed novels by Oliver Bowden

This is a big month in video games, with major new releases for all the big consoles.  Call of Duty, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword... the list goes on.  I've talked about it before: video games appeal to guys.  And a good way to reach them is through the novelizations.

The Assassin's Creed series of games is great.  Rooted in historical fact and packed with significant historical figures and locations, all fairly accurately represented, the game is a feast for the eyes and could be even considered educational, even if the overall premise is... unlikely. For generations, even into modern day, the secret organizations of the Templars and the Assassins have been at each other's throats, fighting for world dominance and control over magical artifacts.  In the games, set mostly in renaissance Italy, you witness the life of Ezio Auditore as he works to bring down the Borgia family.  You play as viewers of genetic memories rather than the characters themselves; it's confusing to describe, but it makes sense as you play.

As for the books... well, they are terrible.  I've covered good game novels and okay ones, but this series is easily the worst I've read so far.  It completely drops the genetic memory aspect, which is the real plot of the game.  Rather than using the world and creating a new story,  it's a straight retelling of the events of the game, and I think that is where it fails.  It treats every event like an important plot point, even if in-game it was just a way to teach the controls for how to play.

It just doesn't work.  That said, because of the recognition factor, these can be a popular read.  I can't recommend them based on quality, but that is no reason not to have them.  Getting boys to read is more important, and if it takes something like this to get them started, then go for it.
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Unexplained Phenomena

Judging from the response to booktalks I've done, most older elementary and young teen guys are usually intrigued by unsolved mysteries involving deadly monsters, hauntings and extraterrestrials. This interest shouldn't be surprising, seeing as many teen guys are interested in science fiction and horror. Unexplained Phenomena, published by Capstone Press, is a new non-fiction series covering the topics of ghosts, cryptids, aliens and demons.

I took a look at two of the books from the series: Searching for Aliens, UFOs and Men in Black and Tracking Sea Monsters, Bigfoot and Other Legendary Beasts. Each book presents the the information like a mystery case to solve, laying out the evidence (alleged sightings, folklore, scientific facts, etc.), then offering a verdict and/or possible explanations. The layout is appealing, with lots of photos and illustrations and short snippets of text. Information is presented in a variety of ways: diagrams, maps, timelines, photos and coloured boxes with interesting facts. You can easily scan and pick out different parts of each page to read, and you don't have to read all the information chronologically to understand what is being presented. A glossary and lists of recommended books and websites are included at the end of each book.

The text is easy to understand -- but also pretty brief so this probably won't satisfy someone looking for an in-depth or more scientifically detailed read on these topics. The exploration of various scientific and historical explanations just skims the surface and is definitely not comprehensive. I would say this series is more suitable for upper elementary or young teens, as the material is on the simplistic side. Saying that, this series makes for a fun, quick, non-intimidating read. Reading about real-life "Men in Black" and dinosaur species that might still be alive sure kept my attention...

Thank you to Capstone Press for making copies of these books available to the Boys Do Read Blog writers. 

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The Onion A.V. Club on Terry Pratchett

As part of their ongoing Gateways to Geekery series, the A.V. Club has produced a feature on getting into the Terry Pratchett books, particularly the Discworld series.  I started reading these when I was 12 or 14 (my uncle gave me one as a  present. Thank you Uncle Philip!) and haven't stopped almost 20 years later.  I've since met Sir Terry, which happened to be the first day I saw my wife-to-be (I didn't meet her then; I was bored waiting in line with a buddy of mine to meet the author and systematically created nicknames for all the other people in the line, and she was apparently one of them).

One of us will eventually cover his books in a more detailed post, but in the meantime, I think you, our readers, might be interested in the article, particularly since the latest in the Discworld series, Snuff, has just been released.
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What Boys Like: Call of Duty

We're starting a new feature here, sort of a quick primer on things of interest to boys that aren't books or comics.  Movies, music, video games, whatever it might be, something that you should know when you are  asking boys what they want to read.  It's easier to recommend material when you know what they already like, and usually their interests extend beyond books.

Today's item: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (COD:MW3)

Over the course of the three games in the Modern Warfare series, Russian extremists have taken over their country and are now in the process of invading the West, with the US and the UK (among others) firmly in their sights.  You play the role of various special forces operatives from both the US and the UK set out to prevent this from happening.  In the first game, you ultimately fail.  It isn't afraid of killing you off to move the story along.  The second and newly released third game continue the story.

While the plot is a fairly bland one, the real appeal of the game is in the multi-player modes.  With a Playstation or XBox Live account and a headset microphone, players can perform missions, issue orders and generally play soldier with friends.  Aimed at adults (the weapons, tactics and graphics are all pretty realistic), teens nevertheless play.  It just an advanced form of the classic war games boys have always played like cops and robbers.

This game is rated M, and is rated M for a reason.  It's a realistic, violent, representation of war.  While not inappropriate for younger audience (it is far from glamorous and it isn't gratuitous), it isn't the worst, either. Remember, most gamers are adults.

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The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Given the final book in the trilogy just came out about two weeks ago, it's a good time to take a look at the book that started it all.

Another plane has safely landed at the JFK airport, but it shuts down suddenly and every light goes off. When all attempts to communicate with the plane fail, they call in various emergency response teams, including Dr. Eph Goodweather of Disease Control, fearing that something has happened to the people on the plane. Something did...and it's going to spread to people on the ground. Eph reluctantly teams up with a seemingly out-of-his-mind professor and Holocaust survivor and together they battle an ancient evil.

Pan Labyrinth's Del Toro has taken the classic vampire and given it a make-over and drained anything that is "romantic" about the concept. Instead, he gives us something totally gruesome and horrifying and definitely not for the squeamish. Everyone has his/her own demon to deal with literally, and the humans seem to be fighting a long losing battle right from the start. It's kinda hard to keep up with the big cast of characters, and there is only so many times you can truly feel scared and worried as you read about these vampire attacks.  Still, there are some great cinematic scenes and it's a good one to suggest to mature readers who are looking for something that will "scare your pants off" (what a kid told me she's looking for the other day)

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Relic Master: The Dark City by Catherine Fisher

Our mission at Boys Do Read is to suggest material that boys would be interested, regardless of genre or target audience, within certain parameters.  We aren't likely to suggest something that doesn't have immediate, obvious appeal, with mushy pastel covers or challenging plot lines that we have to convince guys to get to like.  It's not like we don't want them to read those books, but if they are hesitant or picky readers, will they ever take them?

Even so, there are some things look the part, but I just can't recommend them.  Not because they aren't suited to boys; more like, they just aren't very good.

Here is one that looks like a good fit for boys: it's fantasy; it has a teen boy as a lead character; there's mystery and, allegedly, action.

The Makers are an old, vanished civilization who had powerful abilities and tolls they left behind, and the order of Relic Masters have the ability to manipulate and use these relics. The outlawed Order are out and about searching for a powerful Relic, an item left behind by the Makers.  The Watch are the ruling power in the land, and they have outlawed the Order and are seeking the relics too, allegedly to destroy them.  Relic Master Galen and his 16-year-old apprentice Raffi are out searching, and find themselves forced to do some dirty work for a crook, and end up being spied upon and eventually infiltrated by a young member of the Watch (a girl, no less!)

I found the plot very thin.  Not a lot happens, and what does happen doesn't feel fully thought out.  At one point, they are headed to an old city that seems mysterious and possibly destroyed, and is huge ("millions of streets", claim more than one character), and seems like a huge deal to get to.  I thought the whole series would be a quest to get there, but they were there in no time, with little difficulty, and once they were there, a bunch of plot points come together a little too conveniently.

I couldn't figure out the motivations for most of the characters or what the point was, really.  I know there are sequels and I may give them a try, as they might explain what's going on, but for the first book of a series, it doesn't do a very good job of world-building.

This is apparently a YA book, but it feels a bit younger to me.  The writing is pretty simple and the spacing of the lines and the words is huge, so it feels like they did it to pad the page count to 376.  It took me no time to read (just under 2 hours, though I consider myself a fast reader).

While I can't really recommend it in general (to boys or girls), I will concede that there is an interesting hook at the end.  The identity of the Makers is...

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Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences by Brian Yansky

Jesse is sitting in History class one day when everyone suddenly slumps over on their desks. He hears a strange voice in his head: "I am Lord Vertenomous and I claim this planet in the name of the Republic of Sanginia. You have been conquered by the greatest beings in the known universe. It took ten seconds."
At first Jesse thinks he's gone crazy -- but realizes the invasion is real when he is unsuccessful in waking any of his classmates and runs outside to discover that everyone else has fallen into the same strange sleep. He is captured by the aliens and informed that he has been saved because he is "superior product" who can hear the aliens' telepathic messages. Jesse and several hundred other humans others who are also capable of "hearing" are rounded up and made to be slaves to the Republic. The aliens use mind power to inflict pain, read thoughts and kill. Their control seems so complete everyone appears to have succumbed to fear and obedience. But as time goes on, Jesses realizes that his telepathic abilities are not limited to hearing the aliens – he finds himself seeing glimpses of other people’s memories, entering people’s dreams, communicating with others without speaking and even blocking the aliens’ access to his mind. When he notices the aliens are shocked and nervous about his new found abilities, he realizes that there might be a way to fight back after all. Jesse and some of his new friends come up with an escape plan to find human rebels rumoured to be in Mexico.

From the title of this book, I was expecting a funny read – and I did find myself laughing at some of the conversations and comments made by Jesse – but most of the time, the mood was more on the serious side. At times it felt grim, with the characters coming to grips with the fact that their families and friends were dead and that they might be living under the rule of the aliens forever. I liked how the book alternated between the first person narration by Jesse and letters and a personal log written by the alien Lord Vertenomous. The plot of the alien invasion, capture and escape to find other rebels was quite predictable, but having to put the two perspectives together to try to figure out what was going to happen made the story more interesting. While this isn’t a non-stop thriller, the book jumps into the alien invasion right away and there was enough suspense to keep me reading. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a short, straightforward sci-fi novel.
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1001 [things] Before You Die

Lists are fun.  They provide endless hours of fun and debate.  There are Top 10 lists, Top 11 lists, Top 500 lists and lists of variable lengths.  Lists are an industry unto themselves.  While there are many books of lists (have I said that word enough yet?) the books published by Universe are a cut above.  Thick, heavy, long as they are (1001 things being a pretty ambitious target to hit), they do a great job.  With that many items, it's pretty easy to find enough stuff that everyone is interested in, no matter what their taste.

There are several books under the banner (hence the vague title of this post) but I should be clear:  for boys, the ones of prime interest will be the Songs, Albums, Comics and especially Video Games. There are other titles in the series (Books, Children's Books, Battles That Changed the World, Food, Art, etc.), and they'd probably like the Beer one too, but these are teen boys we are talking about.  We should still pretend they have no idea about that stuff.

The lists are comprehensive, and are sorted chronologically.  In some cases, the lists go back centuries, though in the case of video games I suppose merely decades, unless da Vinci was more ahead of his time than we thought and we just haven't discovered it yet.  In all cases, they cover all genres.  In music, there is pop, rock, rap, blues, electronic, indie, you name it.  Video games covers all the major systems and types, from stand-up arcade hits to Angry Birds and everything in between.

These books are well suited to casual browsing.  There is no narrative as each entry is entirely self-contained without reference to anything else in the book.  They especially well-suited to groups of people sitting around it, fun for promoting debate about whether a certain item should be on the list, and comparing who has seen/heard/played what from the list.   I've got the albums one, and I flip through it just to count how many of the albums I own.  Likewise the games one: I've played a lot, but it's just as interesting to see what I've missed.

It's an expensive book, though.  It cost me a lot buying albums I discovered through reading the book.

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The Secret Journeys of Jack London Series #1: The Wild by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon

The Secret Journeys of Jack London #1 The Wild
Seventeen-year-old Jack London dreams of striking gold, just like all the other men and women traveling to Yukon. He willingly embarks on a treacherous journey across the wild north through blizzards and mountains and raging rivers, all the while keeping his optimism and enthusiasm for what he considers an adventure, but little did he know that the wilderness has something else in store for him, and he is going to find out who really is Jack London, if he survives the ordeals.

I sneaked a peek at the plot prior to reading (really, why do I do that all the time to give myself expectations?), and I knew the authors have weaved in a couple legends, and this survival story will turn supernatural. The first hundred pages or so are well written, and it will thrill many readers that enjoy this type of story, but it's not really my cup of tea, so I was anxiously waiting for something "different" to happen. Once the story takes that strange turn though, I find myself wishing that Jack is back fighting nature. The wolf as Jack's spiritual guide doesn't quite work for me.  I don't mind the inclusion of the Wendigo, a flesh-eating monster, but it almost comes in too late in the book. Also, I prefer one scary villain, but the attention is divided when Jack encounters of the temptress Lesya and has to find a way to escape, and the subplot takes away the horror of the Wendigo.

Even though the book is marketed to teens and upper-elementary kids, it reads more like an adult book. It's difficult to like a book when the main character is not someone you particularly care to root for. Also not quite sure if Jack London fans will want to read this because of the strange mixture of fantasy and historical. 

Allegedly a movie deal has already been made, and the sequel Sea Wolves will come out in Feb 2012.
Author websites: Christopher GoldenTim Lebbon
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Good vs Evil graphic novels

Stone Arch Books, imprint of Capstone Press, recently released a new series of comics/graphic novels called Good vs Evil. Each book has two storylines, one pictured above each other. The top panels show the story from the antagonist's point of view (in reddish hues), while the bottom panels reveal the perspective of the protagonist. You can read each line one at a time or look at both top and bottom panels at the same time. What results is an interesting glimpse into the different perspectives held by different characters.

I've read two books from the series so far: Alien Snow and The Awakening. 

In Alien Snow, a young boy, Noah, enters a shop to buy a spaceship model. But instead of selling him the model, the shop owner makes Noah look into a snow globe and traps him inside it. It turns out that the shop owner is an evil alien collecting human specimens.

The Awakening is set in Tokyo, where a girl finds a tape player at the subway. When she turns the music on, a monster under the subway wakes up and hunts her down.

At the end of each book is a 'visual glossary' that points out details in the illustrations that give you clues about the story's setting and foreshadowing as well as particular drawing techniques and their purpose.  'Visual questions' are also listed at the end of the books -- questions about the illustrations, plot, title, and author's intent in using certain images. For example, one question suggests that the reader run the words 'alien snow' together when saying it to see if they can figure out another meaning to the title (sounds like 'aliens know'). Include is also information on how the book (or comics in general) are created, from manuscript to pencil drawings to adding colour.

I really liked how the stories were told mainly through illustrations (there's very little narration or dialogue) and the endings were open ended (and a bit bizarre and disturbing!). I found that these aspects, combined with the different perspectives pictured by the two storylines, really made me engage with the plot more, requiring me to slow down to decipher what was really going on. At first glance I thought the double storyline would be a bit gimmicky, but after actually reading the books, I found I liked comparing the different viewpoints. I think this series opens the way for some good discussion and would be great for upper elementary/teen bookclubs or school novel studies. And I think think kids and teens will totally eat them up...

Thank you to Stone Arch Books, imprint of Capstone Press, for making copies of these books available to the Boys Do Read Blog writers. 
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Upcoming Winter 2012 Teen Books for Boys

It's that time of the year to go through the Winter catalogues and see what we have in store for the guys this season. Here are a few titles that jump out so far, and descriptions included are from publishers. What have you seen that looks like it's got potential? Please leave us a comment. 

Ripper by Stefan Petrucha
March 2012 Penguin Young Readers Group
Nice cover! Sophisticated and mysterious. And Jack the Ripper. Need I say more.
Carver Young dreams of becoming a detective, despite growing up in an orphanage with only crime novels to encourage him. But when he is adopted by Detective Hawking of the world famous Pinkerton Agency, Carver is given not only the chance to find his biological father, he finds himself smack in the middle of a real life investigation: tracking down a vicious serial killer who has thrown New York City into utter panic. When the case begins to unfold, however, it's worse than he could have ever imagined, and his loyalty to Mr. Hawking and the Pinkertons comes into question. As the body count rises and the investigation becomes dire, Carver must decide where his true loyalty lies. Full of whip-smart dialogue, kid-friendly gadgets, and featuring a then New York City Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, Ripper challenges everything you thought you knew about the world's most famous serial killer. 

Kill Switch by Chris Lynch
April 2012 Simon & Schuster
Cover looks kinda boring, but the espionage plot sounds pretty good, and Chris Lynch is a pretty good writer.
All Daniel wants to do is spend one last summer with his grandfather before he moves away for college and his grandfather’s dementia pulls them apart. But when his dear old Da starts to let things slip about the job he used to hold—people he’s killed, countries he’s overthrown—old work “friends” show up to make sure he stays quiet. Was his grandfather really involved in a world of assassinations and coups, or are the stories just delusions of a crumbling mind? On the run from the police (and possibly something worse) before he has time to find out, Daniel may have to sacrifice everything to protect his grandfather from those who would do him harm. 

Lexapros and Cons by Aaron Karo
April 2012 Simon & Schuster
By a stand-up comedian, and film rights have been sold already.  Hopefully it's good funny and not the unnatural kind.
High schooler Chuck Taylor knows his OCD is out of control. The weird routines that he relies on to keep himself together are scaring everyone off. Yes, he shares a name with the icon behind the coolest shoes in the world—but even he knows his complicated system for which pair of "Cons" he’s going to wear on which day is completely nuts. The shrink his parents make him see isn’t helping, partly because her patient only pretends to take the drug she’s prescribed, and partly because he doesn't like the fact that she wears sneakers in their sessions.
Bad things are definitely going to happen to Chuck. But maybe that’s a good thing. Because in order to get a handle on his life, win back his best friend, and have a chance with the amazing new girl at school, he’s going to have break some hardcore habits, face his demons . . . and get messy.

Playground by 50 Cent
November 2011 Penguin Group
Thirteen-year-old Butterball doesn't have much going for him. He's teased mercilessly about his weight. He hates the Long Island suburb his mom moved them to and wishes he still lived with his dad in the city. And now he's stuck talking to a totally out-of-touch therapist named Liz.
Liz tries to uncover what happened that day on the playground - a day that landed one kid in the hospital and Butterball in detention. Butterball refuses to let her in on the truth, and while he evades her questions, he takes readers on a journey through the moments that made him into the playground bully he is today. 

The Final Four by Paul Volponi
March 2012 Penguin
Four players with one thing in common: the will to win
Malcolm wants to get to the NBA ASAP. Roko wants to be the pride of his native Croatia. Crispin wants the girl of his dreams. M.J. just wants a chance.
March Madness is in full swing, and there are only four teams left in the NCAA basketball championship. The heavily favored Michigan Spartans and the underdog Troy Trojans meet in the first game in the semifinals, and it's there that the fates of Malcolm, Roko, Crispin, and M.J. intertwine. As the last moments tick down on the game clock, you'll learn how each player went from being a kid who loved to shoot hoops to a powerful force in one of the most important games of the year. Which team will leave the Superdome victorious? In the end it will come down to which players have the most skill, the most drive, and the most heart.

Of course there are going to be sequels:
Fugitives (Alexander Gordon Smith's Escape from Furnace series. See review)

Seeds of Rebellion (Brandon Mull's The Beyonders series. See review)
Invisible Sun (sequel to David MacInnis Gill's Black Hole Sun. See review)
Ruins (Orson Scott Card's Pathfinders series)
Run (sequel to James A. Moore's Subject Seven. See review)
The Dragon's Apprentice (James A. Owen's Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series. See review)
A Million Suns (sequel to Beth Revis' Across the Universe. See review)
The Rising (sequel to Will Hill's Department 19. See review)

More to come in the next few weeks...
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Fable: The Balverine Order by Peter David

Not all video game adaptations are created equal.  That is to say, some are actually halfway decent.  I've mentioned previously Mass Effect novels and how while they have appeal based on source material, they aren't actually very good.  I will review others soon that are even less flattering, including Assassin's Creed and Bioshock.  (Don't take this to mean you shouldn't let boys read them.  I know, I know, don't give junk when there is better stuff available.  But remember, better stuff doesn't always mean appealing stuff, and you have to start somewhere.)  With Fable: the Balverine Order, I've found one that's actually pretty entertaining.

Set in the fictional land of Albion, where magic (called will) and pre-Victorian technology such as rifles and pistols co-exist, mythical beasts may well be real.  One of these beasts is the balverine, and giant wolf-like creature, sort of like a more evil werewolf.  Thomas, the son of a town merchant, claims his brother was killed by one of these beasts, and when he comes of age, he decides to head out on a quest with his loyal servant/best friend James to find and kill it.  Of course, all is not what it seems and they find themselves mixing with angry giant women, pirates, and mysterious folks of all types.

The plot isn't original at all but it doesn't really matter.  It's a pretty standard quest, with the guys going from point A to point B to point C pretty efficiently, meeting most of the problems you would expect in this kind of story.  What sets it apart from other video game books is that if you didn't know that's what it was, there is no giveaway.  The writing is casual and straightforward, nothing complicated, and foreknowledge of the game world is unnecessary.  It's also pretty funny, too. (The game has its moments, too.  Conversation in the game is handled via "gestures" such as thumbs up, laugh and, of course, fart.)

The games the novel is based on (Fable, Fable II and Fable III) are pretty popular, but I wouldn't say they are the most appealing to teens.  I wouldn't put this in a collection as the only game tie-in since other books like Halo and World of Warcraft have more obvious appeal, but it probably would have the broadest appeal to the general public, non-gamers included.
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The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If you don't already think clowns are creepy, you will after you read this book. (Oh and before you read any further, a spoiler alert, as I do talk a bit about the book's ending!)

It's 1943 and 13 year old Max and his family have decided to move away from the danger of war in the city to a house on the coast near a small town. The moment they arrive at the train station at the town, Max feels uneasy about the move. It's not just the anxious looks on his mother and sisters' faces that unsettle him -- it's the strange clock at the station that seems to move backwards and the unblinking cat that appears to be waiting for them.

Through his new bedroom window, Max sees an overgrown garden with white statues just a little ways from his house. Intrigued, he breaks through the rusted gate and discovers that the they are statues of different members of a circus troupe -- a lion tamer, a strongman, a female contortionist... and in the middle of the garden is a stone clown, arm extended in a fist. At his feet is the symbol of a six pointed star. When Max looks at the clown a second time, he realizes that the clown's hand is now an open palm instead of a fist.

It's the beginning of a frightening chain of events: strange voices in the house, keys turning and closets opening by themselves, stone angels coming to life. When Max's new friend shows him a shipwreck with the same six pointed star and a dangerous accident puts his younger sister in the hospital, Max realizes he needs to find out what really is going on -- quick.

Zafon does an excellent job at creating a dark, ominous mood -- you get a real sense of foreboding as the tension grows with each mysterious incident. I found the plot to be pretty succinct and it felt more like a short story than a full length novel (214 pages, with large text and wide spacing). I like how it didn't have a typical happy ending where the protagonist saves the day by defeating the enemy and the author wasn't afraid of ending with some loose ends. That said, I felt that some of the more intriguing elements of the story (e.g. why clocks were going backwards, the meaning of the six pointed star, how the Prince of Mist became immortal) could have used a bit more explanation.

I must say I was happy to read a story where the paranormal was actually sinister and dangerous.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is the author of the Midnight Palace (YA) and the internationally known adult novels, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game.

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This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel

This Dark Endeavor:  The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel
How far would you go to save someone you love?  Victor Frankenstein finds out when his twin brother Konrad is on his death's bed and no one can figure out why he is sick. Stumbling across a secret library in his mansion, he discovers his family's dark secret and dabbles in alchemy to make the Elixir of Life to cure his brother. Will he succeed?
Incidentally, CBC Books had a "Kelley Armstrong recommends" column the other day and she reviewed this book. She said, "It help fills a void in the girl-dominated young adult market by telling a story that should be an easier sell to boys, while still appealing to girls." She's right about the girl-dominated part (and I don't know why people still argue that YA lit serves male and female readers equally), but to me, this book is more like, "well, girls will like this, and boys may read it too". I don't think this book has "it".  It has potential for sure, and when I first read about the plot, I was excited too to meet the twins, but the story moves too slowly, and it feels like forever in between the scenes that have stuff happening. Those rare scenes, exciting as they may be, are not enough to hold my interest. I also don't care much for the characters. The love triangle is particularly irritating, not to mention that both guys seem a bit wishy-washy compared to Elizabeth, the fiesty cousin that they're both in love with, which bugs me 'cause males need strong characters and models too.  I remember being fascinated by the real Frankenstein when I finally read it years ago, but I find Oppel's prequel lacking in all the delicious details. Feels like everything is saved for some sort of sequel.
For a much better portrayal of a pair of brothers trying to create life and living with the consequences of playing god, try the manga Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa.
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Classic of the Day: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

With the recent passing of Steve Jobs, there has been much about what he helped do to create the modern world.  Much of the focus is on his more recent achievements, such as helping conceive the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, but his influence starts much farther back, in the early days of microcomputing with the Apple I.  His influence reminded me of previous visionaries.  To whit, Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick and  2001: A Space Odyssey.

Published in 1968 as a companion work to the film of the same name, it was ahead of its time in many of the predictions it made.  While not particularly accurate on a large scale (no bases on the moon, no tourist travel to space stations, etc.), computers were represented relatively accurately in their abilities.  Sure, there are no superintelligent computers out to kill us, but they do play a mean game of chess.

The story itself is about the evolution of man from its apelike origins to space exploration, all due to a big black monolith that just sort of sits there, in Africa, then the moon, and finally orbiting Jupiter (or Saturn, depending on which version you are reading).  And then some weird stuff that no one understands.

Why should teen boys like it?  Well, there isn't anything in particular that is exciting about it; there is no high-paced action.  But it is a bit of a local story, so to speak, even if set in space.  It's our space, in our solar system.  And most of it is perfectly plausible.  Space travel is slow and boring and lonely, so even if it is science fiction, it is still realistic.  It's sort of the best of both worlds, fulfilling the fantastic heroic adventure wish of being an astronaut that a lot of boys have while still being something they could realistically hope to achieve (until the end, anyway).

The book is slow, though it does make more sense than the movie.  The sequels (2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three, and 3001: The Final Odyssey) are more conventional narratives with less philosophical musings, and 2010 was also made into a movie.

It is recommended to the nerdier kids for sure.  It's not a long read, but it is heavy, so 16 and up is best.

Incidentally, Arthur C. Clarke is credited with coming up with the geostationary communications satellite (one of the reasons TV, GPS, cellphones, and other stuff like that work).  He is also responsible for one of my favorite quotes, Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."  Like the iPhone.
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Shadowmagic by John Lenahan

Conor is sitting in his living room watching TV one day, when two mounted warriors charge in, attempt to kill him with a spear and then take him and his father captive. He wakes up in the ancient magical land of Tir Na Nog -- a world of talking trees, spells, and mythical creatures like banshees and imps. It turns out that his mother, who he believed was dead, is a exiled sorceress (and alive), and his father is a runaway prince of Ti Na Nog. A prophecy has stated that Conor is dangerous to this magical world and, indeed, it seems that everywhere Conor turns, someone is out to get him (particularly his dad's evil brother). Fortunately he finds some allies in a banshee named Fergal, the princess Essa and Araf (an imp) who joins him in his journey to find his parents and the Fillilands, where he will be safe from his attackers.

This book got my attention because a commentator stated that the story was like Percy Jackson being "hurled across the dimensions into Middle Earth"... I think a lot of us are on the lookout for a YA series (or single novel) with the action, humor and good plotlines of Riodan's books, and of course, I decided to give this a try.  It does has a fairly light-hearted mood and there are some funny moments (mostly funny thoughts or comments by Conor), but I didn't find the characters or magical world as interesting as the ones in Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. They just didn't have the same intrigue and depth. While the plot doesn't move quite as quickly as Riodan's, it does jump into the action right away -- the book opens with Conor already captured and asking questions about why people are trying to kill him. The story was intriguing at some points, but a bit too predictable for me. More avid readers, and especially those who have read a lot of fantasy, might not find this substantial enough.

All in all, I wouldn't say this is a Percy Jackson equivalent, but reads alright as a light fantasy, and I'd recommend it to those looking for a quick, simple read.
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Inventory by The Onion A.V. Club

While targeted at older audiences (20s-30s), the Onion A.V. Club covers a broad range of pop culture topics, including music, movies, video games, comics and more.  Unlike the Onion, though, the news and stories are all real, though they still approach the subject matter with some humour.  Think of it as the online version of your local alternative newspaper, without the, ahem, 'adult' classifieds in the back or the boring local politics.

The website usually delves into the deeper recesses and lesser lights of the entertainment industry, covering bands that don't make the Top 40 and movies that don't win the weekend box office (though they still do that, though generally just to mock them): things that a lot of clever and with-it teenagers seek out to escape the norm.  For example, today's features are an interview with Mark Hamill and a video of They Might Be Giants performing Chumbawamba's Tubthumping.

More relevant to us here is the occasional features that they put up, in this case, the A.V. Club Inventory.  Roughly every week, they produce a list on a random topic, like "11 Videogames That Prompted Fear and Outrage" or "6 Keanu Reeves Movies Somehow Not Ruined by Keanu Reeves".  The lists were compiled into book format and they added a few by celebrities.

The lists are of a general theme, not so much just enumerating movies and songs, but actually giving a short discussion of the merits (or lack thereof) of the subject matter.  While they are often oddly specific (the full title is Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined by Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists, with emphasis on Obsessive), they often lead to new discoveries, something kids that age are looking for, something obscure that will make them feel special.

Not all of the lists are family-friendly, but that's not unusual for books of lists, and is in fact part of the appeal, the risque.  That does mean that this is more appropriate for older teens, 16 and up, partly because of the mature themes of some of the lists, but also because the older kids are more likely to know the topics of discussion.
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Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

It's not often these days that I come across a fantasy novel that I would stay up past my bedtime to read. I was happy to discover that Beyonders is one of these books.

Jason is just a regular high middle school kid who loves baseball and animals. While volunteering at the zoo one day, he hears strange music coming from the hippo and falls into its mouth... and into the world of Lyrian. In his attempt to find his way back to his world, he stumbles on a creepy book bound in skin (complete with a blinking human eye) and learns about a magical word that will defeat the evil magician currently ruling Lyrian. He is suddenly being hunted down by soldiers, giant boarhounds, and other scary creatures and embarks on a quest to find all the syllables of the magical word before he is disposed of. Along the way he is joined by Rachel, another girl from his world who has also been mysteriously transported to Lyrian, and Farin, a creature who can detach his limbs at will. To find the syllables, they must battle man eating crabs, get across a quicksand lake, survive a treacherous swamp full of poisonous snakes and bugs, all the while trying to evade the evil magician's minions.

I was a bit wary at first since the idea of falling into a hippo's mouth seemed a bit far-fetched, but as a read on, I found that the plot moved well and that the magical world was definitely intriguing enough to keep me interested. The characters are complex enough that you're not always sure whether they are good or bad, and there's a great twist at the end. ( I don't want to reveal too much or I'll spoil it for those of you who might read this book!) While this is often classified under children's fantasy, I would recommend it to teens looking for a fast paced, easy to read fantasy.

Brandon Mull is also the author of the Fablehaven series (which I am now planning to read as well). This is the first in the Beyonders series, and I can't wait to read the sequel...
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The Phantom Limb by William Sleator

It's a strange sensation, Isaac thought as he put his hands into the mirror box. It's like he has three arms. Being a big fan of optical illusions, he is really excited when he found the box the previous owners of his house have left behind. Isaac can totally see how this can make amputees feel like they still have both arms, and take away the phantom pain.
He wishes something can make his mom feel better. She's been in the hospital for a while now, even though she's admitted with something pretty minor.  
Then he saw it. The arm moves. No, not his own, but the one reflected in the mirror. It is now waving at him.  Isaac quickly withdraws his hands from the box, but the arm... It is still there. 
After just a dozen pages, I knew I want to booktalk this. The concept is awesome.  You can either take the mirror box angle, or the serial killer one (yes there is a serial killer on the loose).  The problem though, is that the story falters with too many implausible happenings, especially the stuff at the hospital. Even the bullies don't seem very realistic.  The hospital visits get repetitive and frustrating without progressing the storyline, and it is really difficult to believe that Isaac will get dragged not once but twice for some strange procedures in the hospital.  When the most believable thing in the whole story is the ghost, there is a slight problem.
Thank you Amulet Books for making this eGalley available on netGalley.
Do you booktalk mediocre books that you know will draw potential readers in?  Tell us in the comment section.

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Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

You work in a fast food joint, you've dropped out of college, and you have no prospects for the future.  You work with your best friends, none of whom have many prospects either, so while nothing is great, it isn't that terrible either.  But as hijinx ensue with your buddies, you bust the brakelight of on an expensive car, and the guy comes in to your restaurant read to bust heads.  He sees you, and suddenly his attitude changes.

This is what happens to Sam.  It turns out, much to his surprise, that he isn't in fact a normal guy.  He's a necromancer.  And the guy whose car he busted is one, too.  Only much more powerful, the terrifying head of the local Council (of mythical and paranormal beasts and such).  And he wants Sam and his powers.

This book reminds me of a YA version of Christopher Moore's style.  I suspect the author would appreciate that comparison, and I think it's apt. Moore's books are set in the real world, with real locations and brands that help make the story more absurd when angels and demons appear and everyone in it is witty or sarcastic. Lish McBride pulls the same style here for a similar effect.

Set in Seattle, featuring real city locations, it feels more odd when the weird stuff starts, given that these are real places you could actually visit. It is firmly paranormal: werewolves, fey, necromancy, witches (real magic ones, not Wiccan), zombies, talking severed heads...  But it never loses its sense of humour, and never takes itself too seriously.  The story is told in a combination of first person from Sam and third person for everyone else, which I find an odd and initially jarring choice, but it settles in pretty well.  

Not really for serious fantasy readers, this is more humour than paranormal.  When reading the title, think of an Elton John song and of Phoebe on Friends.  You'll get what the mindframe you need to be in for this book.  
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Last Week's SLJ Books for Boys Webinar

Last Tuesday, School Library Journal hosted a webinar called "Books for Boys". Jon Scieszka moderated the talk, and representatives from Simon & Schuster, Random House Books on Tape and Candlewick talked about recent and upcoming books for boys of all ages.
Scieszka started the talk by introducing his Guys Read website, which has some pretty interesting booklists (my favourite being "At least one explosion"). They've also got a "start a guys read field office" initiative and their guys read charter.
I've included their slides here (PDF). Thanks for giving us permission to put this up, SLJ!
Which titles are you most excited about? Leave us a comment.
p.s. I know this is not really for teens, but I need to give a shout out to Mac Barnett's It Happened on a Train. It's one of the funniest things I've read.

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Classic of the Day: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

It should be obvious that I won't actually set out the plot of this book in too much detail.  If there is anyone out there who hasn't read it, I'd be shocked.  This book is required reading in pretty much every English-speaking school in the world, and probably in other languages as well.

So why should I even mention it?

Well, think about it like this:  Let's say you, as an adult, absolutely love reading, and wish you could promote every excellent book you read to 13-to 16-year-old boys.  You tell them that there is a particularly interesting book out there that involves a plane crash, a deserted island with mysterious beasts, a bunch of youngish boys and no adult supervision.  And best of all, it's violent and has been banned in many places at one point or another.  (There is also that gross pig's head on the cover which helps.)

Sounds pretty cool...  then you tell them to analyze it chapter by chapter to investigate the meaning of pretty much everything that happens.

I tell you, that's pretty much the worst thing you can do, and will make the kids never trust another adult again when they recommend a book.  Reading is now a chore, no matter how good the book might be.

So here is why I mention this classic: so that you give it to them before it is assigned in class.  I know, I know.  It's violent.  It's got language.  It's difficult. It has concepts we might not want kids to read just yet.  I say too late to worry about that.  I've already recommended Battle Royale, and we all know how popular The Hunger Games books are.  These things are plenty of the above as well.  Here is one that, should a reluctant parent hesitate to give those other books a try, would certainly not mind their kid taking a classic.

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Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising by Jason Henderson

Alex Van Helsing's last name has always been the subject of vampire jokes, and he himself has never taken the idea of blood-sucking monsters seriously -- until he is attacked by a girl with white skin and fangs. His father has told him all his life that "such things do not happen" but Alex know something strange is going on. One night, he sees one of his teachers at his boarding school sneak off on his motorcycle and follows him to discover that not only are vampires real, but that there is a network of vampire hunters, of which his family used to be a part of. The Polidorium -- vampire hunters -- have been tracking a dangerous vampire clan lord to find Scholomance, a secret vampire training centre. The next evening two of Alex's friends are kidnapped by the vampire lord. Alex and his teacher know they need to find Scholomance and rescue them before it's too late.
In an earlier posting, I mentioned how difficult it is to find vampires that are the traditional scary, blood-thirsty type found in Stoker's Dracula. The ones in this novel are more along those lines: white skin, long fangs, superhuman strength, and looking for human blood (actually it seems that some of the vampires in this story also want to eat human flesh). What's different is that these vampires mix technology and supernatural power, go through school/training (I find this kind of comical -- why would you need to go through training if you are naturally/impulsively evil already?) and are more on a quest for power and immortality, rather than vulnerable females. Fortunately, none of the vampires here are swooning for humans or going to high school (though there's reason to believe that Alex's teacher may have vampire blood in him).
The story itself is predictable and cliche, but it reads alright as a no-brainer action novel. There's the usual vampire lore with stakes, silver bullets and relics; weaponry (crossbows, guns, knives), some good chase scenes and explosions. No romance yet (though there is potential with one of the main female characters) and the writing is pretty passable. This is the first in a series.
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Auslander by Paul Dowswell

Auslander by Paul Dowswell cover
Piotr is very aware of his nakedness, even among all the equally naked boys. He doesn't know where his eyes should look, or can look, especially with all the soldiers and their rifles watching them closely.
Then it's his turn to enter the Race and Settlement Main Office. All sorts of strange medical instruments lie scattered on the table, waiting to measure him, to deliver their judgment. However, the two white-coated men only takes a quick measure of his ear and sends him away. "We hardly need to bother...he looks just like that boy in the Hitler-Jugend poster".
I don't like historical fiction. I especially don't like historical fiction about wars, so Auslander is way out of my comfort zone, but Dowswell's meticulous details and well-paced narrative draws me in and keeps me in his haunting world. I read that the author has also written several non-fiction on World War II, and you can tell he knows his stuff.
The gripping first chapters, which describes the screening process to see if Piotr is "racially valuable" and worthy of reclamation, reads like the beginning of a dystopian novel, but better, because this is not mere fiction.  The exploration of the whole "racial hygiene" and "racial science" beliefs is frightening and fascinating at the same time, and it adds another level to the story.  Piotr, renamed "Peter", the German version of his name, moves from Warsaw to Berlin and is recommended for adoption into a prestigious German family. Despite his seemingly successful  assimilation into his new family and his new world, he is an "Auslander", a foreigner, and will remain so, as he gradually and painfully realizes.  His aspiration to be a Luftwaffe pilot and to serve the Fuhrer is slowly replaced by his horrors at the "one hundred percenters" who will do and believe anything the Nazis dictate. Even though you think the author will probably let Peter live at the end of the book, his life is in danger right till the last chapter on the very last page. It's intense.
» Visit the author's website
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