What Boys Like: Assassin's Creed

October 30th saw the release of Assassin's Creed III, the highly anticipated fifth installment of the Assassin's Creed video game series (Assassin's Creed II was three games, and I'm ignoring all the extra side games that came out on various handheld devices).  This is a huge release, and the story is pretty fascinating: you are an Assassin in the middle of a millenia-long struggle with the Templar order, currently fighting it out in the Revolutionary-era American Colonies.  The game is developed by a Montreal-based , French-owned video game company, and is being heralded by some as aside from some sci-fi elements being one of the most faithful and accurate reproductions of life in that era in pop culture.

What does this all mean for reading?  This isn't a gaming blog, after all.  As I noted when I previously discussed Assassin's Creed, the series is very well researched and rooted largely in true historical events, using real historical figures, of delving into more obscure or controversial moments in these figures' lives.  Example: Ben Franklin advocated taking older woman as mistresses as they were "more experienced".  He also apparently enjoyed farting.  A series like this with a small in-game encyclopedia can easily inspire gamers into investigating the background in more detail.  Given that the topic this time around is the American Revolution and especially Native American issues surrounding it, there is a lot of material for kids to dig into. 

Games often have good stories, but they are often as detailed as this.  But in many cases, there is a lot that can be taken from them in terms of inspiration for further reading.  Pay attention to what kids are playing and you'll get an idea of what books you can recommend.  I often start my reader's advisory by asking not what they read but what they play.
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Upcoming Teen Books Winter 2013

Here are some upcoming books that may be good reads for boys. Let us know if you know of others, or if you're going to be publishing one.
Annotations are mostly from publishers

There's no stopping to sequels is there?

The third book in Will Hill's excellent Department 19 series will be coming out in April. "Dracula is on the verge of coming into his full power. Department 19 is on the back foot. Ladies and gentlemen: welcome to war."
I'm sure Mr. Hill will continue to wipe sparkle vampires off the planet with this book.

Marcus Yallow's high tech rebellion continues in Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. Marcus, now a webmaster for a politician, has to figure out what to do with a thumbdrive full of Wikileaks-type evidence and how to rescue his kidnapped ex-girlfriend.
I should get a hold of the first book soon.

One of our favourite series for preteens and teens is ending. The third book in Brandon Mull's Beyonders series, Chasing the Prophecy, will be coming out in March 2013.  Jason and Rachel will be heading off onto their separate quests to "become the heroes Lyrian needs".

Other sequels:
Nano wars continue in BZRK book 2 by Michael Grant.
And of course, a yet-to-be named Miss Peregrine by Ransom Riggs.

Now for some non-sequels:

Crap Kingdom by DC Pierson caught my eye because the premise is similar to Magic Kingdom For Sale SOLD!, the Terry Brooks' book I'm reading right now. Tom Parking is whisked away from Earth because he is the prophesized Chosen One to restore a magical kingdom to its former glory, but there is nothing desirable about this kingdom: "The kingdom is mostly made of garbage from Earth... the king hates Tom. Also, the princess likes to wear fake mustaches. And being Chosen One seems to consist mainly of cleaning out rats' noses at the Royal Rat-Snottery."
The smart thing to do of course is to turn down the job, but when Tom finds out the kingdom just replaces him with his best friend Kyle, he wants it back.

Mojo by Tim Tharp looks like a good one for mystery fans. Dylan is trying to solve a missing rich girl case so he can get some respect at school, but attaining "mojo" is not that easy and Dylan will find himself suck into a dangerous underground club.

It's nice to see a ghost story with a male protagonist. Far Far Away by Tom McNeal is about Jeremy who "can hear voices. Or, specificially, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm." But will Jacob be able to protect Jeremy from the "unhappy ending" that Grimm fairy tales often end in?

Eoin Colfer is starting a new series called WARP: The Reluctant Assassin, which Publishers Weekly called "Oliver Twist meets The Matrix time-travel adventure series".
Catherine Fisher has a new sci-fi / fantasy series Obsidian Mirror.
Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff, "starring a teenage boy with no name or history - the perfect soldier-assassin" (from Publishers Weekly)

What books are you looking forward to read this winter? 
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Preteen Read: The Unwanteds Book II: Island of Silence

Lisa McMann, author of the popular teen series The Wake Trilogy, moved into the kidlit world with her Unwanteds series. The first book, which came out in August 2011, introduced us to a town called Quill where creativity is forbidden and anyone showing signs of it will be named an "unwanted" and sent to die at the Death Farm. Alex, one of the Unwanteds, thought he's going to die at the age of 13, unlike his twin brother Aaron, who is going to attend a prestigious university to be trained to be a government official. Instead, Alex discovered the secret world of Artime, right next door to Quill but cloaked by magic, where residents embrace their creative powers, train them up and transform them into combat skills. At the end of the first book, with the archvillain defeated and the Quill government overthrown, there's no need to hide Artime anymore.

The second book begins with Alex struggling with his new responsibilities and believing in himself, being singled out as a possible successor to his mentor Marcus, the creator of Artime. Meanwhile, his twin Aaron, who has lost all power because of the co-existence of Quill and Artime, is plotting his revenge against his brother and all of Artime by inciting all the disgruntled Quill residents.  And in the midst of the brewing conflict are a boy and a girl, who came to Artime unconscious on a sinking raft, each of them wearing "a thick band made of metal thorns that weave(s) in and out of the skin around their necks". Where did these mysterious visitors come from?

Even though the promo quote on the cover says this book is "Hunger Games meets Harry Potter", the magical part is more prevalent throughout the two books. Awesome covers and generous spacing between lines will appeal to readers who like fantasy but don't want to feel overwhelmed, and once the story is set into motion, it is non-stop action and chaos and you can't read fast enough to find out what is going to happen next and who can be trusted. It does take some time for things to get started, but I think the characters are likable enough that you wouldn't mind getting to know them a bit more. Eagerly waiting for the third book.
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Momentum by Saci Lloyd

You know what got me reading this book?

The cover.

I can't quite remember when all the teen book covers started using photographs and looking like movie and shampoo ads - but once upon a time the majority of book covers consisted of drawings. The stylized retro look of this cover -- plus the huge eyes made me pick up the book right away.

Surprise, surprise -- it's another dystopian. But, having heard of Saci Lloyd's Carbon Diaries (confession: I haven't read it yet), I decided to give this a try.

In this future society, the world is going through an energy crisis and everyone is scrambling to figure out how to generate more energy. Society has been split into two main groups: the wealthy, powerful Citizens and the poor Outsiders who rebelled against harsh government regulations. Everyone is hooked up to an eyepiece that enables them to escape to a virtual reality and communicate with each other.

Hunter Nash is a privileged citizen who secretly sneaks into the favelas, Outsider territory. He's fascinated by their freedom and the way they run up walls and jump from rooftop to rooftop. Here the Outsiders are hunted by Kossaks, the brutal government army force who destroys their homes and indiscriminately beats and kills them. Hunter knows there'll be serious trouble if he's seen in the favelas, but he's training himself to jump like the Outsiders and can't stay away.

The trouble starts when Hunter sees a Kossak shoot down a young Outsider boy and stumbles on the boy's secret funeral procession. Suddenly he's caught up in hiding the key that will reveal the Outsider's security network -- something that the Citizen government would kill for.

I like how the action in this book starts right away (someone gets killed in the first ten pages) and pretty much keeps rolling through the book. There are a couple good surprises along the way and I found the conclusion to be satisfying in that it was realistically open ended, but resolved enough of the plot to end the book.

I would have liked to have the whole jumping from building to building thing among the Outsiders play a larger part in the plot (I thought this element was actually cooler than the virtual reality bit) and I'm not convinced that Hunter's character was as developed as it could have been, but all in all, this book is a good high energy, fast paced one that will grab the attention of most readers.

Check out Saci Lloyd's website where you can watch Momentum's book trailer and find information on her other two books, Carbon Diaries 2015 and Carbon Diaries 2017. Oh, and take a look at the links on her website to youtube videos of Pakour -- yes, real-life people actually scale walls and leap from buildings like the Outsiders in Momentum...

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The Infernals by John Connolly

Last we heard from Samuel Johnson, he's foiled Mrs. Abernathy's plan to open the portal for the Great Malevolence and his demon army to invade the world. Now Samuel, with all that craziness behind him, is trying to psych himself up and ask a girl out, though he can't see quite well so instead, he's asking a letterbox if she wants to go on a date.
Samuel may have gone back to his normal life, but he's not forgotten. Oh no. Far from it. Down in the Infernals, Mrs. Abernathy, who has lost all her clout with her fellow demons, is stewing and plotting revenge.  She is going to drag Samuel down to her territory this time. But have no fear, Samuel has his loyal dachshund Boswell, and a new cast of helpers: two cops, an ice-cream man and a traveling troupe of elves (who are really dwarfs).
Just like The GatesThe Infernals will delight readers who are looking for funny, adventure, wit, and some great friendships.  The characters are just priceless, and Terry Pratchett fans will be glad to see the same quality footnotes from Connolly.  This continues to be a great series for teens who are looking for something smarter than the usual fare.

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Blog Tour: Breakaway by Michael Betcherman

When his father's is convicted of murdering hockey player Marty Albertson and sent to prison, Nick decides to quit trying in school, stop talking to his girlfriend and leave his hockey team. The only thing he can think about is finding a way to clear his dad's name and get him out of prison. He rides the bus all over the city, waits on street corners and at entrances of stadiums for hours, looking for the man who may have framed his father for the murder. It's the only clue he's got -- a bald headed, limping man he believes left incriminating evidence on his dad's jacket. But after months of searching, Nick is no closer to proving his dad's innocence.

He becomes even more frustrated when his father tells him to stop looking, accept the situation and get his life back together. Nick decides then to prove to everyone that he'll find the real culprit, succeed in school and hockey, and well, maybe even talk to his ex-girlfriend.

Soon after, Nick realizes that two people very close to him have possible motives for the murder. Could it be his hockey coach who's career dreams were destroyed by Marty? Or his dad's agent who is  secretly exchanging money with a mysterious man? Nick soon finds himself breaking into offices, hacking into email accounts and using hidden cameras... and when he thinks he's finally found the killer, he knows he might just be the next victim.

I don't usually read novels that focus heavily on a particular sport, as I'm not exactly a sports enthusiast and tend to find all the details on game play a bit tedious (and confusing if I'm not familiar with the sport). I do like mysteries though, so I volunteered to read the book and review it when RazOrbill announced this blog tour.

I'm not sure if it's just me, but it seems that the typical "whodunit" mysteries are becoming more and more rare in YA literature. It was a breather to have a storyline free from vampires, werewolves and post apocalypse devastation.

The Vancouver setting made the book a unique read and it was interesting for me to be able to picture landmarks and streets referred to in the book. Add hockey, a sport very familiar to us over on this side of the planet, to the mix and the descriptions in the book became pretty much photographic for me.

I found the story to have a strong premise; however, I do think the plot could have used some more twists to make things less predictable. A couple more suspects or red herrings would have made the story more suspenseful. The characters were fairly stereotypical -- though, following formulas isn't necessarily bad, and Nick's emotions in general were pretty realistic. As for the story's conclusion, the positive changes in the attitudes of the characters seemed a bit quick and problems presented in the book resolved too easily for me. I personally like some loose ends to make things more realistic and to leave room for my own interpretation.

That said, this book does have the selling points of hockey, mystery and romance, which will definitely appeal to some readers. It's a also good choice for anyone who is looking for a novel set in Vancouver (there really aren't that many around).

Michael Betcherman is the author of two online novels Suzanne and The Daughters of Freya. He has won awards for his documentary and TV screen plays which include Was Justice Denied? (Turner Network Television), The Team (CBC) and 72 Hours: True Crime. Breakaway is the first novel he has written for young adults.

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Borderlands novels by John Shirley

If there is a problem with the Borderlands novels, it's that Claptrap isn't featured nearly enough.  That, and they aren't really very interesting.  

Borderlands is a video game series set on a planet called Pandora (not the one from Avatar).  It's a hive of bandits and deadly creatures, irresponsible corporations and a bazillion different guns.  The game is a straight forward shooter.  You run around, shoot everything that moves, and collect whatever loot the guys you shoot drop.  Is it violent? Ridiculously so.  Is it for teens? Probably not, but that never stopped them from playing it.  The games are firmly tongue-in-cheek and don't take themselves too seriously.

This is where the books (Borderlands: The Fallen and Borderlands: Unconquered) fall flat: they don't take the same tone as the games, even though the settings are the same and many of the familiar characters and creatures are featured.  The novels simply aren't as... charming?  Is that the right word here? As usual with video game books, the plot doesn't really matter.  They exist to provide players with another opportunity to spend time in the gaming world that they love.  This formula has mixed results: the Mass Effect novels got progressively better, the Elder Scrolls books were refreshing in that they weren't tied too tightly to the games, but the Assassin's Creed books were just awful.

Author John Shirley has previously adapted Bioshock, a game I didn't much like, but I loved the book. 
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