Sam and Hayden are best friends, they're not popular in school, girls are an enigma wrapped in a mystery to them, they share a love of indie pop music and online gaming. In short, they were destined to be pals.
One evening, Hayden decides he wants to attend a party, Sam is confused, he knows who's going to be there, people he and Hayden have no connection with. Plus, parties aren't really their thing, playing D&D and watching comic book films are more up their street.
Still, they go to the party together, and everything goes wrong.
The next morning, hungover and irritable, Sam visits Hayden, only to find him dead, a bottle of booze and little mountain of pills sits beside the bed.
In his shock, Sam's able to notice a thumb drive with a note attached to it. It's a playlist, the note says "For Sam. Listen, and you'll understand…"
Sam spends the next few weeks listening to the playlist and meticulously piecing together the fateful night that led to his friends' demise. Insomnia soon settles in, and we as readers become witness to Sam's steep decline into paranoia and confusion about who Hayden really was.
It doesn't help that a mysterious, beautiful girl reaches out to Sam immediately after Hayden's funeral, providing cryptic clues about Hayden's playlist and his online personality.
Part mystery, part exploration into teen angst, Playlist for the Dead will be very popular with a teen audience and I look forward to sharing it with my students.
I rushed blindly into reading Armada with very high expectations. I loved Cline's first novel, Ready Player One and found myself recommending it to anyone who loved video games, D&D or sic-fi/fantasy in general. I have to be honest and say that Armada is no Ready Player One, not by a long shot.
I'll start with the good, Armada definitely made me nostalgic for my youth - jamming quarters into Gauntlet & Double Dragon arcade cabinets, sitting for hours on my bed trying desperately to beat The Legend of Zelda on NES. Even the cover seems to glow with light from an arcade game. It's a novel that wants you to remember the golden age of video games, and that's kinda the problem.
Zack Lightman is a seventeen year old video game nerd with a tendency for physical violence. His father died in a mysterious factory explosion when Zack was one, leaving a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder. His mother, who Zack refers to as "hot" (huh?) can recite Battle Star Galactica and World of Warcraft references better than any Cheeto-crunching basement dweller in the state.
Zack finds solace in a video game called Armada, an online flight simulator he plays every night with his friends. Armada may be the reason Zack lost his girlfriend, but it's also the one thing that keeps him focused and connected to his deceased father, who was also a massive gaming nerd.
After school, Zack spends his time working at Starbase Ace, a shabby video game store owned by Ray, a video game aficionado and Yoda to Zack's Luke. Zack seems happy to not have a plan in life, whittleing away the hours paying Armada and debating Star Trek vs. Star Wars with his friends.
Then, everything changes. Bored in class one day, Zack's gaze wanders to the window where he sees a flying saucer, and not just any flying saucer, the enemy ones from the game Armada. Convinced that he's hallucinating, Zack tries to shrug it off.
The problem is, you can't shrug off an alien invasion.
Every gamer has done it - imagined what it would be like if their favourite game turned out to be true and they were called up to engage in the real life version. Heck, just the other night I had a dream I was asked to save the world by catching as many bass as is humanly possible whilst listening to horrible music - just like the greatest video game ever made, seen here.
Turns out, Zack isn't hallucinating, the invasion is real. So real that a spacecraft lands at his school, men in futuristic uniforms hop out and tell him that he's part of an elite crew of Armada gamers needed to save the earth. That's right, all of those hours of playing video games finally paid off, the game wasn't just a game, it was a training module to prepare humans for the real deal.
Zack is rushed off to a secret base where he's given a few hours to digest the news that the world is about to be attacked by millions of alien craft and he and his slacker friends are the only hope.
That's the good part. I'm going to try not to be too negative, because I really, really wanted to like this novel. The problem for me is that Cline crams so many video game / music / film references into this story that at times it feels as if he inserted them first and then tried to write a story around them.
I don't mind the references, like I said, they made me nostalgic and I guess that's the point, I just felt like the plot and characters suffered because of them.
There's that, and then there's the awfully predictable ending that will make any fan of Ender's Game or The Last Starfighter roll their eyes so hard they'll fall into the back of their skull.
That said, it's a faced-paced, easy read and I am genuinely looking forward to recommending this novel to teens in the library that are immersed in this culture. I can tell Cline had a blast writing it, at least it feels that way, and I guess that should stand for something.
I've heard that Spielberg is making a film out of it, as a Librarian it's sacrilege to say this but I think the film could be done a hell of a lot better and I really look forward to it.
Drugs are bad, mmkay?
Near-future London has been devoured by riots. The culprits? Out of control teens labelled "feral" by the media and the police.
Huge swaths of misbehaving students have been put on a new wonder drug called Concentr8. It's like Ritalin on steroids. Wait, that might be confusing, it's like Super-Ritalin. There, that's better.
Concentr8 has been "proven" by the medical community, often backed by pharmaceutical companies, to reduce criminality in youth suffering from ADHD.
Then, out of the blue, the program is stopped cold. The teens, suddenly deprived of their precious drug, go all Dee Snider and decide that they "Ain't Gonna Take It," hence the riots.
The novel focuses on a young gang, although they wouldn't call themselves that. It's made up of Blaze, Troy, Lee, Femi & Karen. They've been on Concentr8 for many years and decide to wander out and see if they can capitalize on the rioting.
The problem is Blaze, their unofficial leader, decides to take things to a brand new level. He holds a man at knife-point, robs him and takes him to an abandoned warehouse in London where he holds him hostage. The others go along with the crime, because that's what gang members usually do.
With no real plan in mind, they tie the hostage to a radiator and decide to wait out the riots.
Told from multiple perspectives, including all of the gang members, a journalist, the hostage, a police negotiator and the mayor of London, Concentr8 delivers a fast paced, gritty ride through a week-long hostage crisis initiated by a group of troubled teens that don't really know what they want or why they did what they did in the first place.
I'll admit, I didn't know very much about ADHD going into this novel and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the little snippets of research Sutcliffe provides at the beginning of each chapter on drugs like Ritalin and the motives of pharmaceutical companies.
Fans of Trash by Andy Mulligan and the film Attack the Block will really enjoy Concentr8. It's about kids being steamrolled by a system they didn't ask to be a part of. It's about how frantic we are to label kids as having ADHD or bi-polar or whatever disability is the hot new thing. Check it out.
A mythical beast that supposedly roams the land outside of an English boarding school, the mother of all snowstorms and the claustrophobic hysteria worthy of The Shining. This is Monster by CJ Skuse.
Natasha, or Nash as she's known by her friends, is attending the highly acclaimed Bathory Boarding School. Nash is competing to be Head Girl, no easy feat when you consider the competition that surrounds her - conniving, ego-centric girls that will high five you with one hand and stab you in the back with a compass with the other.
Then there's Maggie, Nash's only real friend at Bathory. Maggie has issues, in that she appears to be desperate to leave Bathory under any means necessary. This includes violating every rule possible, resulting in the girls having all of their internet and mobile phone privileges removed by the school's Matron.
Nash has bigger fish to fry, though. Her brother, Seb, has gone missing on a trip to South America, the only contact she has with her parents is on a shoddy pay phone in the school's reception area. Added to this, she's convinced she saw something in the woods one evening after her school netball game. Something big, something with yellow eyes. Her instincts tell her it's nothing, a trick of her imagination, but there's also a part of her brain that tells her it could be the fabled "Beast of Bathory," a gigantic cat-like creature that prowls the area, feeding on unsuspecting tourists and students.
Nash's only reprieve in the mundane life of a Bathory girl is to travel into the local village to pick up supplies for the Matron. This means she gets to talk to the boy who works in one of the shops, Charlie. Nash is smitten with Charlie and his mysterious good looks, something that's not lost on Maggie and the other girls.
With Christmas approaching, most of the girls leave for home, but not Nash, she's stuck at Bathory because her parents are in South America desperately searching for Seb. Staying behind is her friend Maggie and a small handful of other girls whose parents have yet to arrive to pick them up.
Then, it happens. The snowstorm of the century. Now, I'm from Eastern Canada, and I couldn't help feeling that a lot of these girls' problems could be fixed with a Craftsman snowblower and a little elbow grease, but this England we're talking about here. I've lived in the UK for a few years and have seen bus services shut down after less snow to fill an ice cream cone. So when it snows heavily in this story, I'm sympathetic to the fact that there's literally no way anyone can get in or out of Bathory.
Things go from bad to worse when one of the girls goes missing, the Matron organizes a search party and things get even worse. Think The Shining mixed with The Hound of the Baskervilles and you'll get the idea. No internet, no cell phones, the power is going on and off, people are going missing, it's a glorious mess that will make you happy to be in the warm confines of your bed as you read it.
I'm excited for the release of this novel because I know the teens at my school are going to eat it up. Skuse creates a feeling of claustrophobia and tension that is ratcheted up a notch every chapter. You know things are going to go horribly wrong for the characters yet you can't stop reading, a sign of a great book.
Sometimes you gotta get your head cut off just to clear it.
Being a teenager can be awkward: The acne, the hormones, the constantly making an idiot out of yourself. When I was 16 I had a date with a girl, not just any girl, a girl whose looks could melt statues.
I had recently purchased a car for myself, a VW bug that cost less than an iPod touch. I parked it outside of her house before our big first date and when she came out everything went into slow motion, she opened the passenger side door and slid in like a dream, I could smell her perfume and her shampoo and she was perfect and I was sweating stones that could crush entire cities.
Trying to maintain some shred of coolness, I looked at her and in my best nonchalant voice I said, "Hey, you look really nice."
She turned and looked at me with her ice-blue eyes, her long blonde hair falling down over her shoulders and she said, "Is that a Q-Tip in your ear?"
So yeah, being a teenager can be awkward.
Now imagine all of that PLUS the fact that you die of leukaemia, get your head chopped off and reattached to another body and wake up five years after your death.
Yes, this is what "Noggin'" is all about. Travis Coates wakes up after agreeing to an experimental and controversial medical procedure in which his head is removed from his dying body, cryogenically frozen and attached to the body of some poor sap that died of a brain tumour and didn't have much use for his head.
The pros: Travis' new body is in much better shape than his old one, and apparently his new feet are pretty rad at skateboarding. Oh yeah, there's the whole 'being alive' perk too.
The cons: It's been five years since Travis 'died,' so all of his friends are at college and he's still in high school. Then there's the fact that his pre-beheading girlfriend has moved on and is engaged to another guy. Most people in Travis' life believed that the procedure wouldn't work, not even his parents, so they removed everything from his room, and his best friend, who spilled some pretty heavy secrets to Travis on his deathbed, is acting very strange now that he's back from the dead.
There's also a bizarre side effect to being reanimated, the fame. Paparazzi hound his home and his school, everyone wants to look at his scar, people send boat loads of letters to him proclaiming that he's either the second coming of Christ or Satan himself. His face is on the news every single night.
Whaley has a great knack for making you laugh out loud and get choked up almost on the same page, the dialogue is crisp and smart and the characters are people that I wish I could've hung out with when I was in high school. Highly recommended.