It’s a Hackers World!

silence of sixThe Silence of Six by E.C. Myers

My First Read from my Shelf Control pile!

I can’t believe I’ve actually completed one of my TBR’s.  Yes, I know my list has around 200 on it but every journey begins with that first step.  So I choose to celebrate.

See my Shelf Control post for the summary.

Why I recommend it:

This book was so much fun.  It’s my first read for 2018, and I have already completed Book 2 and the book of novellas set in the same universe.   Max, our main protagonist is a strong narrator and the author has developed his voice so well I feel I know him.  Penny and Risse, the sisters who aid Max in his quest to take down social media giant, Panea, are equally brilliant, and I loved how often it was their hacker skills that saved the day.

In addition to the characters, I also liked delving into the world of hackers. Whether the hacking was realistic or not, I’ve no idea and I don’t really care, but I found it equally fascinating and disturbing.  The Silence of Six raises the question of privacy and the increasing resemblance of our world to 1984.  Our reliance and obsession with technology is increasing exponentially, and I wonder if we may one day encounter a Terminator scenario.  And our dependence on technology has also opened us up to cyberterrorism.  Both popular trends right now for books and movies, but the question is “how close are these scenarios to our future reality?”

Suitable for ages 12 and above.

In Other Lands – (Shelf Control #2)

in other landsTitle: In Other Lands
By: Sarah Rees Brennan
Published: 2017
Target:  10+

Synopsis (via Goodreads):  

The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border—unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and—best of all as far as Elliot is concerned—mermaids.

Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.

How I got it:   As I started compiling my To Be Read list last month, I realized that I had several books by Sarah Rees Brennan still to read.  I’ve been reading Brennan’s work since she was sixteen and am a huge fan but I’ve fallen behind and out of touch.  So I went to find out what she’s been up to lately.  I was shocked to learn of her recent health issues but relieved and delighted to find she still has her rapier wit and a new book out.  I had to buy it immediately.  Books by Sarah Rees Brennan are exempt from the Book Buying Moratorium.

When I got it:   December 2017

Why I want to read it:  Sarah Rees Brennan is the only writer who has ever made me spontaneously laugh out loud when I was reading her work.  She creates original characters with personalities that just leap off the page.  While I have yet to read her last series (maybe it’s the female lead that’s putting me off?), I am excited to start this one.

Are Clones Human?

TheHouseoftheScorpionA fascinating question really.  With the advancements in genetics it’s only a matter of time I imagine.  Clone stories seem to be everywhere over the past couple of years (Orphan Black anyone?but it’s a haunting story I read a few years ago that really made me think about the evolving definition of humanity.

Like some of my favourite stories recently (Curious Incident, Wonder, Out of Sight) House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer sets out to make you question perception and uses first person point of view to maximum impact.  The novel is set in the dystopian world of Opium where we meet Matt, a young clone of the local drug lord who was bred for parts.  Matt is treated like an animal with no more rights or feelings than a cow bred for meat.  Farmer’s writing is so vivid and we are right there with Matt as he battles for identity and questions who he really is.  An unusual take on the traditional Coming of Age story but very effective.

Several of my grade 10 students have read The House of the Scorpian since I added it to their Independent Study List, and it has prompted some great debate and deep thinking in their writing.  A good story that gets kids talking is always a good thing in my book 🙂

I have yet to read the sequel, The Lord of Opium, but it’s definitely on the To Be Read list for this year.

Ages: 12 and up         Rating:  4.5 stars

The Silence of Six (Shelf Control #1)

In keeping with the goal of this blog, I’ll only be looking at the YA and children’s books on my list, still, I’m confident there’s little chance of running out of material to write about.

I begin with a Sci-Fi thriller which is next up after my current read.silence of six

Title: The Silence of Six
By: E.C. Myers
Published: 2014
Target:  14+

Synopsis (via Goodreads):  

WHAT IS THE SILENCE OF SIX, AND WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
These are the last words uttered by 17-year-old Max Stein s best friend Evan just moments before he kills himself after hacking into the live-streaming Presidential debate at their high school.
Haunted by the unforgettable image of Evan s death, Max s entire world is upended as he suddenly finds himself the target of a corporate-government witch-hunt. Fearing for his life and fighting for his own innocence, Max goes on the run with no one to trust and too many unanswered questions.
Max must dust off his own hacking skills and maneuver through the dangerous labyrinth of underground hacktivist networks, ever-shifting alliances and virtual identities all the while hoping to find the truth behind the Silence of Six before it s too late.

How I got it:   This book was part of my recent $200 buying spree during a rare bookstore visit to see a student of my promoting and signing her new book.  I merrily roamed Chapters tugging the wheely cart behind me and tossing into it any books that struck my fancy.  This is how I met Ross, your friendly neighbourhood Chapters employee, who much to my surprise, really new his stuff.  His enthusiasm for particular titles was infectious and I tossed several of them into my cart.  This particular book still bears the sticker with “Staff Pick by Ross” on it.

When I got it:   October 2017

Why I want to read it:  The premise is very “Ready Player One”; young adult sci-fi intrigue with a male lead.  Eager to finish my current read to get to this one.

A Boy and His Demon

novice imageThe Novice by Taran Matharu

          Fletcher has no idea how he ended up in Pelt working as a blacksmith’s apprentice but he loves his adoptive father and life is pretty good despite the war going on around them.  A chance meeting leads to the discovery that he has the rare ability to summon demons.  Forced to flee the village for a crime he didn’t commit, he travels with his demon, Ignatius to the academy for Summoners where he is taught the ancient art.

Classes are gruelling and the divide between nobles and commoners is trying but Fletcher finds he is unusually gifted and prepares to serve as a Battlemage in the war against the Orcs.  Rivalries grow and betrayal is rampant as Fletcher must decide who to trust.

I’ve always enjoyed books with a male lead and Fletcher doesn’t let me down.  He’s a well-developed character, heroic yet flawed and I really enjoyed the relationship between him and his demon, Ignatius.  Even all the minor characters came from well thought out backgrounds.  The plot is nothing new (Hero’s Journey and all that) but for some reason, I didn’t mind.  Fletcher was believable and the relationships he formed worked for me.

I have just started the third book in the series and am still enthralled with the world that Matharu has created.

Rating:  4.5 stars             Recommended for 11+.

 

What if it was you?

5-12-Esperanza-Rising1With what’s happening in the US right now in regards to immigrants and immigrant rights, I was reminded of a wonderful story I read for one of my Masters courses.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan is a story of drastic change and the necessity of adaptation.  It’s a story of extreme racism and stereotypes.  Our heroine, Esperanza is forced to flee Mexico with her family.  She has been exceeding wealthy all her life but suddenly she finds herself on the outside looking in.  She is now one of the poor she used to judge. The novel opens our eyes to the hopes and dreams of those who came to the “new world”, looking for a better life.  For some, like Esperanza, it is to escape from possible hardship and even death.  This book really makes you think and question but it is not a difficult read.  A straightforward story with a wonderful reflection on how we treat others.

I not sure what the answers are regarding immigration, but I do know that I’m an immigrant and Canada has gifted me with a wonderful life in a beautiful country.  While I understand the need to protect citizen’s rights, I sometimes think we lose sight of exactly how privileged we are.  How can we deny basic freedoms to others if we have the capacity to provide them?  Just as Esperanza discovered, we should be careful because who knows?  One day it could be us.

Ages: 10 and up            Rating:   4 stars

 

 

What If You Could Buy Immortality?

cover_replica

Replica by Jenna Black

I’m not sure how I came to read Replica, but it doesn’t seem to be one that everyone’s talking about (or was talking about) but it should be.

Sixteen-year-old Nadia Lake lives in a futuristic society where human replication technology is a reality; carefully controlled by its creator, Paxco. Nadia comes from a high-class family and lives a life of privilege, although she’s not too keen on the paparazzi that follows her everywhere; eager for the latest on the fiance of notorious playboy, Nathan Hayes, heir to Paxco.

They’re not in love but they are friends and everyone appears satisfied with their match. That is until Nate is killed and the wrong person was the last to see him alive. When the new Nate wakes up in the replication chambers he is missing a month of memories. Nadia and Nate set out to find the killer and prevent the world from discovering Nate’s secret, a secret that could destroy everything they know.

Replica has riveting characters and an intricate plot. I loved the friendship between Nadia and Nathan and how they looked after each other. The idea of being unable to die is not new but the twist of being born a replica intrigued me. Also, it was interesting to see how the replicas were treated by their society even if they were the elite when they were “alive”. There are two more books in the series. I highly recommend them all but put the first just that bit above the others.

Ages: Teen

Rating: 5 stars for this part of the series (4 for the others)

First Love

So let’s see, there was my horsey phase and my search for cat books. Both of these phases were defined as me reading every book I could get my hands on with the sought after theme. As I moved into my teen years, I followed the seemingly common trend of moving into the Romance phase. I get the feeling that the phase begins much earlier chronologically now than it did when I was young, still I was about 11 or 12 when I discovered Harlequin category romances. You remember, the sweet ones. When it was all about the relationship, the “spark” and the “longing”. The heroines were always virgins, there was kissing but no sex, and always a marriage proposal/understanding at the end.

As with all my other phases, I read every Harlequin I could get my hands on. And honestly there were some great stories which still stick with me. Devil on Horseback by Elizabeth Graham The Ice Maiden by Sally Wentworth and One of the Boys by Janet Dailey to name a few. I’m curious to read them again and see if my cynical adult brain would feel differently about them – yet at the same time I don’t want to know.

first loveHarlequin and Silhouette dominated the romance market back then and they eventually realized what a huge market they could tap into by targeting teens. In 1981 Harlequin premiered their Sweet Dream line and a few months later along came Silhouette with their First Love series. sweet dreamI bought every one that hit the shelves for quite a while and devoured them. Cliquey Pizza has a wonderful post about the Silhouette series on her blog that details many of the titles.  Each of these books dealt with the usual high school drama of first loves, first dates, friend drama etc.  These stand-alone novels were immensely popular and led to the introduction in 1983 of the mega popular continuing teen series, Sweet Valley High. But that’s a separate post all it’s own. More to come on that front.

Category romances have evolved dramatically since my childhood days and, having no interest in reading sex scenes, I stopped reading them ages ago. I did move onto regular romance like Johanna Lindsey and Julie Garwood for awhile, but eventually stopped those too as I grew more cynical about the whole idea of love.

Recent trends towards erotica are not surprising but just as all my high school trends are returning (think legwarmers and leggings) it appears the “sweet” form of romance is also making a comeback. Readers are looking for “new and different”. They’re tired of the “norm” and what could be more new and different today than no explicit sex, no kink and no sleeping around. Interesting idea. Looking forward to seeing how the trend evolves.

Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman

Malorie BlackmanWhile I don’t often pan a book publicly, especially when it’s an author I love, I’m feeling a little blind-sided by Chasing the Stars. I have read just about everything Malorie Blackman has written; I even wrote a major paper on her for my Masters programme. Her picture books are great fun, and Noughts and Crosses has been a mainstay of my grade 10 English curriculum for years. So I think part of my determination to finish this book came from my disbelief that Blackman had actually written it.   It was the same sort of feeling I had when I read Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling; only my commitment to the author and the feeling I owed her something for past joys, kept me reading to the end.

Chasing the Stars is toted as Othello in space. Now I didn’t know this until I got half way through and decided to check out GoodReads to see if anyone else was hating on it as I was. Once I knew that I could play the “which character represents which character” game. That made it slightly more interesting but I still continued to skim from about midway to the end.

The novel tells the story of Olivia and her brother Aidan who are on their way back to Earth three years after a virus wipes out everyone else on their ship. Our do-gooder captain stops to risk her life to save a colony being attacked by the evil Mazon race. They manage to save a number of the colonists, and Olivia is faced with a new community on her ship after being alone for three years. An interesting premise and one I was enjoying until page 54 when Nathan came on the scene and Olivia was reduced to a hormonal teenager complete with such worldly observations as “Whoa! He was gorgeous”. Yes, explanation point. From this point on, our fearless leader is constantly “flushing” and “feeling the heat rise in her face”. Okay, fine. I can deal with the attraction. She is eighteen and has been alone and hormonal for three years. And yes it is young adult and romance, I’m fine with that; Noughts and Crosses is a romance but it’s so much more as well. This book is not.

Blackman insults her readers when she has Olivia and Nathan fall in love and get married within days of meeting each other. While I understand the novel is aimed at a teen audience, who may not be as jaded as I, even a teen audience needs more of a build up to their “Romeo and Juliet” scenarios.  Othello and Desdemona worked because they were married and established as a couple for some time before the play started. Having Olivia and Nathan meet and marry in the first third of the novel felt forced and as a reader I was apathetic after that.

Following their “joining” Olivia and Nathan are challenged by the “green-eyed monster”, leaving them to behave even more out of character. Nathan goes from loving to cold and angry within pages and Olivia loses all the common sense she must have needed to captain the Aidan.  There is a murder mystery subplot and hints of some interesting characters but both were under-developed. The story is told in alternating view points between Olivia and Nathan which got confusing at times, even with the different font. Olivia’s brother Aidan was probably the one redeeming character. I thoroughly enjoyed him but that’s not surprising as I also adore Iago in Othello, which appeared to be Aidan’s role.noughts and crosses

I scanned through to the end to make sure my guess at the “twist” was right and to fulfill my duty as a Blackman fan.  Ultimately, I am compelled to reread Noughts and Crosses and try to pretend Chasing the Stars was all just a bad dream.

If you have yet to read Noughts and Crosses I suggest you get on that right away.

Ready Player One

ready-player-one-book-cover-389x600So, definitely not a book from my childhood as I read it only five years ago, but Ernest Cline’s fantastic dystopian novel contains so much 80’s nostalgia that I felt it deserved it’s own special post.

I have no idea how I heard of the novel as it is a debut, thus it can’t be that I’d read other works by the author. I also bought it in hardback so I must have really wanted to read it. I finished it and immediately read it again, right after buying copies for my pop culture loving friends and family (those my age especially). What makes the book so wonderful is that you don’t have to get all the allusions to 80’s pop culture to understand the story. In fact, I added the novel as an independent study for my grade 10 students, and they have thoroughly enjoyed it also. For us children of the 80’s, the pop culture references are a delight as you can’t help but get a little thrill each time you recognize one. I remembered vividly the scene from War Games and the swallows from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Joust also features prominently and I couldn’t help but remember flying that friggin’ ostrich around with a joystick.  If you’re interested, the wonderful educational site, Schmoop, catalogues them all for us here.

Cline has created a vivid world and an underdog hero you can’t help but root for. The story is set in 2044 and the world has succumbed to decay and an environmental crisis. A la the Matrix, citizens escape into a more welcoming and idealized world in the OASIS, a virtual reality world created by James Halliday, an eccentric billionaire and 80’s pop culture fan. In his will, Halliday leaves his vast fortune to the first person to discover the Easter Egg he has hidden in the OASIS. Millions set out to find it but as the years go by with no progress, only the most devoted remain determined in their search.

Our hero, Wade, is an 18 year old orphan when we meet him, and he has devoted his entire life to searching for the Easter Egg, just have many others including a well-organized and well-funded conglomerate which is determined to find it before anyone else. When Wade is the first player to find the copper key (after beating the game of Joust), he becomes a target as all set out to beat him to the end.

As leery as I am about film adaptations especially of a novel I love, I can’t think of a more perfect person to take on the film version than Steven Spielberg, himself an 80’s geek. Cline is also the screenwriter so I’m feeling pretty good about this one, despite a niggling feeling it will be CGI and action heavy. Those lucky enough to attend the panel at Comic Con this past week were given a first look at the film which premiers March 30th. This will be one I see opening weekend.