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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