The Serial Killer Whisperer by Pete Earley

This sounds like a fiction premise.  It's almost too ridiculous to be true: A teenager gets into a serious accident at summer camp and nearly dies.  Upon awakening, he has changed.  He needs to relearn absolutely everything, incluging how to eat, how to walk, how to live life again. He has a uncontrollable rage, managed only by intense medication.  He loses all his friends, and retreats to books and the internet. There, he becomes obsessed with serial killers, and on a whim, he writes one a letter.  They reply

This isn't fiction.  Tony Ciaglia really found himself in exactly this position, and placed himself as the only friend to some of the US's worst killers.  Over the course of his correspondence, he tries to draw out more information about their crimes, and even tries to elicit more confessions, information and locations of undiscovered victims.  He even goes to visit some of these killers in prison, and discovers that not all of them are as friendly as they seem. (They are killers, after all.  Who'd have guessed?)

The book includes transcripts (odd misspellings included) of the letters the killers wrote, and many of them are disturbing.  It's a fascinating look into their minds, with their rationalizations for what they did.  While I wouldn't recommend this to just any kid because of the occasionally gruesome tidbits, older teens would certainly find it intriguing.
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The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

I don't read many award winners or even nominees, and I generally try to avoid "quality literature".  I don't know what it is that bothers me about it, but I guess I generally lean towards pop culture, not intellectual whatever.  So at first, The Sisters Brother didn't appeal to me.  I didn't bother to read the description.  I didn't even notice the cover: two silhouettes aiming guns, forming the shape of a skull.

So to my surprise, I enjoyed it, mostly.  It's a bit of a western.  The brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, are hit men working for the Commodore.  Eli is getting tired of the work, but commits to finishing this one last job.  the first half of the book is a series of anecdotes from the journey from Oregon City to San Francisco, including a run in with a bear, a dentist appointment where they discover the pleasures of tooth brushing, and a weird old lady who may or may not have cursed them.  About halfway through, the story coalesces into a more standard, straightforward plot.  The brothers discover that their target may be a ticket to riches if they keep him alive. 

I won't suggest this book is for everyone.  While it isn't difficult, it also isn't a rousing action adventure.  It reminded me a lot of True Grit in its pacing and odd diversions.  The appeal to a general audience of teen boys may be limited, but it is certainly worthy of consideration for more thoughtful young men, though more forthe upper teens than lower. 

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Dragon Age novels by David Gaider

If you've had it up to here with my game tie-in book reviews, fear not, as I am almost finished with the ones I care to read.

Dragon Age is a fantasy game that features, oddly, very few dragons.  Why they called it that is explained in the first book of the series, but the excuse is frankly weak, but never mind (someone sees a dragon, therefore, it's the Dragon Age!).  Dealing in the usual fantasy tropes of swordplay, magic and mages, elves, dwarves, castle, etc., it also features a religion awfully similar to Christianity, but with women instead of men in all the usual roles.

Set in a Renaissance Europe analogue in the world of Thedas (a sort of acronym for "THE Dragon Age Setting".  See what they did there?), specifically the country of Fereldan, the first two Dragon Age novels are direct prequels to the games. All of the novels feature some characters and locations from the games, with progressively more references being made in the second and third books.

The Stolen Throne tells the story of Prince Maric, the rightful heir to the throne of Fereldan, which has been usurped by invaders from the neighbouring country of Orlais.  The pretender is a vicious, vindictive man who dominates and abuses the people of his host country.  A rebellion is underway, and the Rebel Queen, Maric's mother, is killed.  Maric escapes a similar fate and is rescued by Loghain, a displaced farmer and member of a roving band of refugees also running from the authorities.  Maric reluctantly rejoins and eventually leads the rebellion with the help of an equally reluctant Loghain.

The Calling continues Maric's story.  Maric is now a restless leader, his beloved wife having died, leaving him heartbroken.  When a band of Grey Wardens come with a quest to prevent a Blight of demons, he elects to join them through the abandoned underground roads of the dwarves.

Asunder is distinct from the first two titles and ties more directly to the game series with more characters and references to events of the games.  The story is still good, but isn't quite as engaging as the first two if the reader hasn't played the source material.  That said, I think it was the best of the three if you have played the games, serving more as a murder mystery and less of a grand quest as the other two books.

I liked these books more than I expected.  Because they were written by the lead writer of the games, he was familiar with the world and could play in it without feeling forced.  These are good adventures, though some experience with the game would certainly help.  These are best suited to older teens, or at least teens who are reading adult material already.
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Pandemonium by Chris Wooding and Cassandra Diaz

Seifer has lived all his life in his small village in the mountains, playing Skrullball (very much like Quidditch in the Harry Potter series, except without broomsticks) and wishing he could find out what lies beyond mountains, despite the fact that his father tells him there's nothing there but pain and sorrow.

Then Seifer gets his chance to find out -- he's attacked, kidnapped and brought to the royal palace in Pandemonium. The Prince has gone missing and Seifer, who strangely looks just like Prince Talon, must pretend to be him, so that the citizens of Pandemonium will not panic and the kingdom's enemies will not become bold enough to attack. Seifer is also to be used as bait to draw out those who might have kidnapped the prince. Knowing the danger of doing this, Seifer only wants to go back home to his family -- but if he refuses, he will be fed to psychotic carnage beasts.

However, it's no easy task for Seifer, a commoner of an isolated village, to learn how to behave like royalty and to assume Prince Talon's personality (which is egotistic and harsh). He has to fool Prince Talon's two sisters, officials, generals and enemies, and things get more complicated when Seifer falls for the daughter of a Baron from a nearby clan. But the kingdom is on the brink of war and if Seifer doesn't pull his impersonation off, he's not the only one who's life will be at risk.

After reading Malice and Havoc, I was excited to see what Chris Wooding's first graphic novel would be like. I thought he'd do the illustrations himself, since he did the ones in Malice and Havoc -- but it turns out Scholastic hired Cassandra Diaz to do the artwork. The illustrations mimic Japanese manga styles and are done in dark tones of grey, blue and red, which suits the characters and storyline quite well.

Most of the characters of the book are creatures that look human-like, but have various additions, like wings or horns. Seifer looks like an ordinary human, except he has large black wings (yes, he can fly), pointy ear-like things on the sides of his head (very much like a bat) and eats raw meat and bugs. The story jumps right in, with little explanation regarding the different species (if you can call them that), their magical powers or history. I thought a little more detail on these facts would have been nice -- but then again, the plot is pretty understandable without them, and allows the reader to get into the action faster. And while the plot isn't particularly original or sophisticated, I did have fun reading it. Besides, it really wasn't written to provoke deep thought. Just read Chris Wooding's comments about Pandemonium from his website: "It will make you happy while you eat cupcakes. What else do you need to know?"

With the way the book ends, it seems that a sequel should follow, though there's no word on when it will be published. 

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Discworld by Sir Terry Pratchett

I've mentioned this before: I have an uncle who started most of my early reading obsessions by giving books for birthdays and Christmas.  When I was 14, my uncle gave me my first Discworld books, Men at Arms and Soul Music.  I was thrown right into the middle of the series without any background, and I loved them.  I've since acquired nearly all his other books from the Discworld series and otherwise, and a number of other tie-in media, like almanacs, maps, TV adaptations, video games, and even a cookbook.

It is Britsh comic fantasy, a bit like a more refined Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Terry Pratchett recognizes the tropes of fantasy and mythology but plays with them to build his stories.  Characters in the novels know this, and their actions are often guided by that knowledge (the hero wins, the no-name thug will die, 1-in-a-million chances come up 9 times out of 10, the mysterious stranger is obviously up to something, etc.)

For people who want literature for their kids, this series is good for it:  Terry Pratchett weaves a lot of social commentary into the stories.  Using fantasy standards such as trolls, elves, dwarves, werewolves, vampires and such as stand-ins for various cultures, he addresses a lot of modern issues such as racism and intolerance, gangs and violence, and even large-scale economics and terrorism, all without coming across as preachy.

I wouldn't recommend starting at the beginning; Terry Pratchett didn't really hit his stride until about 10 books (of 39 so far), at around Reaper Man.  This is where a lot of the fantasy elements and straight-up jokes are played down and the character and character-driven humour take over.  Even then, there are quite of number of cross-genre mashups here, including detective, noire, military, comedy, martial arts, murder mystery, pop culture, kids books, etc.

The series itself can be divided into several sub-series, in addition to a number of standalone works, though all of them do have appearances by characters from each subgroup:

The City Watch (my personal favourite)
The Witches
Rincewind and the Wizards
Death (he's actually a nice guy, and pretty thoughtful, too, even if he doesn't understand people very well)

Plots don't span multiple novels, but there is a lot of progression in characters and the world in general as people are promoted and technology marches on so reading them in rough order is recommended but not required.

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The A.V. Club on Orson Scott Card

Our friends at the A.V. Club have posted another Gateways to Geekery, this time on Orson Scott Card.  They obviously recommend Ender's Game first.  They do mention that he is a bit of a controversial figure, but they mention that if you set that aside, his work stands up pretty well.  Perhaps it will hurt my cred, but I haven't actually read anything by him yet.  I guess it should go on my list, hmm?
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