Review: Monument 14

Monument 14
Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another good one in the newest YA movement that depicts the actual apocalyptic event instead of just the civilization that develops after the catastrophe. Clever of Laybourne to strand the children in a super store and so not having to endow any of them with unrealistic abilities or skills (like archery) they wouldn’t have had in a technology dependent society. I enjoyed the realistic aspect of the event itself-weather anomalies paired with seismic events causing human’s own hubris of chemical weaponry to put the final horrific spin on the disaster. The children and teens must use their ordinary talents to keep themselves alive in an extraordinary situation. Most of the story rings true and the ending leaves readers wishing they immediately had the next book on their bedside table.

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The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

AUTHOR: James Dashner

LENGTH: 320 pages

PUBLISHER: Delacorte Press

SOURCE: purchased

SUMMARY: Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it’s addictive. Thanks to technology, anyone with enough money can experience fantasy worlds, risk their life without the chance of death, or just hang around with Virt-friends. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway?

But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he’s holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The effects are horrific—the hostages have all been declared brain-dead. Yet the gamer’s motives are a mystery.

The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker.
And they’ve been watching Michael. They want him on their team.
But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system human eyes have never seen and predators he can’t even fathom—and there’s the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever.

REVIEW: Dashner has done something that seems quite the challenge for authors who have written a popular trilogy…he’s followed the successful Maze Runner series with the first in another promising series. The Eye of Minds is the first installment in The Mortality Doctrine and it is a masterful mix of science fiction and reality. Virtual video games have become more and more accessible to the average gamer in the last 10 years so the premise of The Eye of Minds is not complete science fiction. The extent to which society is entrenched in the virtual world is exaggerated in the books but it takes no large stretch of imagination to see Dashner’s created world where the virtual is more appealing than the real world may be a reality sooner rather than later.

Michael and his friends Bryson and Sarah are recruited by the organization that polices the virtual world because they know that to defeat a hacker sometimes the only solution is to hire another hacker. There is a cyber terrorist named KaIne who is perpetrating the unthinkable: he’s holding players hostage in the VirtNet. The police believe that the kids have a better chance of infiltrating Kane’s organization than if they go after him outright. In order to defeat KaIne, Michael and his friends must go off the known grid and delve into the seedy underbelly of the VirtNet.

Michael and his friends being asked to hunt a cyber-terrorist might at first seem far-fetched. However watching my own students and, for that matter my own children, become immersed in video games, it doesn’t seem such a stretch that these kids could lose themselves and alienate themselves from their parents in a virtual world. At 15 Michael is given almost unfettered independence save a housekeeper who lurks on the periphery. As he ventures deeper into the off-grid areas of the VirtNet, the connection to the real world becomes more and more tenuous for Michael and for the reader. Bryson and Sarah seem a little flat but because Michael only knows them through the VirtNet and has never met them in person, that seems plausible.

The settings used in the VirtNet give the story a sense of scope and surrealism akin to the feeling one has at an amusement park. This feeling of Big and Other helps readers feel the pull of the VirtNet in the same way the characters do. There is also a surprising amount of violence in the story. The closer Michael gets to discovering who and where KaIne is, the more aggressive and brutal become the tasks he must complete to stay on The Path. The violence and gore rise to peak levels in the Winter and led me to wonder how much violence is too much violence – in gaming and in books. The description of the kids’ hacking seemed a little vague and the only reference I had for it was scenes from The Matrix. Using that mental image gave the story an even stronger sense of surrealism that enhanced rather than detracted from the overall experience of the book.

The tension between Michael’s virtual experiences and his detachment from the real world (along with the fates of Bryson and Sarah) is honed throughout the book striking a good balance between action and nightmare. The suspense of seeing whether Michael will reach his goal while evading KaIne’s clutches builds to a climax that will make readers retrace their steps through the book, looking for clues and seeing Michael’s actions in a whole new light. Gamers will love the premise behind The Eye of Minds and wish that the VirtNet could become a reality. Even readers with a limited knowledge of gaming will marvel at the possibility of the VirtNet become a very real part of life in the near future.

THUMBS UP! to False Memory by Dan Krokos

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Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Length: 352 pages

Source: won in a blog giveaway

Summary: (via goodreads.com) Miranda wakes up alone on a park bench with no memory. In her panic, she releases a mysterious energy that incites pure terror in everyone around her. Except Peter, a boy who isn’t at all surprised by Miranda’s shocking ability.

Left with no choice but to trust this stranger, Miranda discovers she was trained to be a weapon and is part of an elite force of genetically-altered teens who possess flawless combat skills and powers strong enough to destroy a city. But adjusting to her old life isn’t easy—especially with Noah, the boyfriend she can’t remember loving.

Then Miranda uncovers a dark truth that sets her team on the run. Suddenly her past doesn’t seem to matter… when there may not be a future.

Review: I am ashamed to admit that I kept putting of reading this one. I received a signed copy as part of a blog giveaway, put it in a box, and didn’t think about it again until winter break. I am so glad I dug around in that box! False Memory is gripping. It’s not an action-a-minute page turner but it stays with you after you’ve closed the book. I had to remind myself that I owned the book and it wasn’t going to disappear so I could put it down to, you know, feed the children or shower or whatever. I have to hand it to Krokos – his plot line is twisty. There were multiple times that I backed up a few pages to make sure I was following the story correctly; not because it was confusing, but because whichever twist just occurred changed the way I had interpreted earlier events so I had to process the new implications of the plot twist. Is that a convoluted enough explanation for you?

My favorite thing about Miranda is her strength and determination to figure it out for herself and be her own person. She realizes that despite what is in her past, she can only live in the present. She must make the most of right now and continue shaping her identity instead of trying to recapture what’s lost. Peter and Noah seem a bit flat but I loved Rhys. And with so much to think about: clones, memory loss, parents (or lack thereof), “psychic warfare”, political intrigue, and hand-to-hand combat… there’s plenty to keep readers turning pages.

One minor caveat: Miranda’s memory loss and subsequent recovery seems a little convenient at times. The short snippets of memory tend to give her the right information at the right time. I would have liked it if the memories were a little more confusing for her. I wasn’t too harsh to judge on that matter though because, having never lost my memory, I don’t know what it’s like nor what it’s like to recover bits and pieces. I trust that Dan did his homework.

Overall, a definite thinking woman’s book and a series I’ll be keeping my eye on.

Science-Fiction Reborn in the Classroom

Big Brother lives (again) in the classroom. With the resurgence of pleasure reading , thanks in large part to J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, today’s middle and high school students are clamoring for engaging stories. And it seems that they don’t have to be completely original stories either. The dystopic genre has taken over the popularity crown from fantasy in the last year or two. Science fiction of this nature has fascinated generations of movie, TV, and book enthusiasts. For skeptical sci-fi readers, traditional science fiction seems to be a turn-off. Readers just venturing into the genre don’t seem too keen on aliens and space travel, so futuristic societies created after an apocalyptic event seem a little less intimidating and more like realistic fiction than science fiction. And like any good Bridge Book, these dystopic series are creating a whole new generation of science fiction fans who are easy to move along to classic sci-fi after their appetites have been whetted with some of today’s popular series. These three series can be used to bridge students to more classic science fiction.

THE DIVERGENT SERIES by Veronica Roth

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

THE MATCHED SERIES by Ally Condie

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

THE CHAOS WALKING TRILOGY by Patrick Ness

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.

BRIDGE: All of these series have one thing in common: they are legitimate science fiction that novice sci-fi readers will not THINK is science fiction. Resistant sci-fi readers usually think that all science fiction involves space or aliens or zombies or robots. For readers who are not true science fans, this can be a reason to avoid the genre. These books provide a path to more classic science fiction and its like. There are several classic dystopic novels and series to point students toward when they’ve finished contemporary science fiction titles.

FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.

First published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is a classic novel set in the future when books forbidden by a totalitarian regime are burned. The hero, a book burner, suddenly discovers that books are flesh and blood ideas that cry out silently when put to the torch.

1984 by George Orwell

The Oceanian province of Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain) is a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (Ingsoc) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as thoughtcrimes.Their tyranny is headed by Big Brother, the quasi-divine Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but who may not even exist. Big Brother and the Party justify their rule in the name of a supposed greater good. The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports the current party line. Smith is a diligent and skillful worker, but he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

DUNE by Frank Herbert

Set in the far future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which noble houses, in control of individual planets, owe allegiance to the imperial House Corrino, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides, the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides as his family accepts control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the “spice” melange. Melange is the most important and valuable substance in the universe, increasing Arrakis’s value as a fief. The story explores the multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the forces of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its “spice”.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy either the contemporary or the classic titles listed here might also enjoy The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Black Hole Sun (The Hell’s Cross Series) by David Macinnis Gill, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess,  or The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.

Thumbs Up! to SCARLET (Lunar Chronicles Book2) by Marissa Meyer

SOURCE: ARC loan from friend who won it from author

PUBLISHER: Feiwel & Friends

LENGTH: 464 pages

SUMMARY: Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. 

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

REVIEW:  While continuing Cinder and Kai’s story, the book also delves into Cinder’s creation as a Cyborg as well as giving more insight into the tension between the Lunar colony and Earth. The conflict created between Cinder and Kai in the first book rings true in the second with both characters realistically missing the other but steadfastly committed to their current course. Queen Levana and her minions seek to destroy earth and at no other time has Earth posed such a threat as now that Cinder is part of the equation. Readers will still hate Queen Levana and root for Cinder and Kai to figure out a way to defeat her, even if they must do it separately. It is good to have Iko back and the conflict between Cinder and her adoptive family intensifies as we find out more about how Cinder came to live with them.

The introduction of Scarlet and Wolf is what really makes reading it a multi-layered experience instead of just a linear continuation of the first book. As readers discover Scarlet’s connection to Cinder and why her and her grandmother’s stories are important to the book, they will come to appreciate the complex conflict Meyer has created. Scarlet will undoubtedly play a key role in the resolution of the conflict and Wolf’s competing loyalties will keep readers guessing. Wolf and Scarlet are drawn into Cinder and Kai’s personal and political struggle. Scarlet must trust Wolf despite his earlier duplicity if she is to survive and they must all trust their instincts if they are to succeed in uniting Earth and bringing out Levana’s defeat.

READERS: The Lunar Chronicles books will appeal to fans of science fiction and post apocalyptic fiction. There is a healthy serving of action with a sprinkling of relationship drama to keep all readers happy. Fans of classics will appreciate the links to traditional fairy tales with a decidely technological twist. Sophisticated middle grade readers will enjoy the story but it may be too complex for readers who struggle with length or plot complexity.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy this book might also enjoy Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Looking Glass Wars book by Frank Beddor, or The Jenna Fox books by Mary E. Pearson.

Is the NEVER SKY really so much science fiction?

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TITLE: Under the Never Sky and Through the Ever Night

AUTHOR: Veronica Rossi

PUBLISHER: HarperCollins

LENGTH: 384 pages

SUMMARY: Since she’d been on the outside, she’d survived an Aether storm, she’d had a knife held to her throat, and she’d seen men murdered. This was worse.

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland—known as The Death Shop—are slim. If the cannibals don’t get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She’s been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild—a savage—and her only hope of staying alive.

A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile—everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky.

In her enthralling debut, Veronica Rossi sends readers on an unforgettable adventure set in a world brimming with harshness and beauty.

BRIDGE: It is interesting to ponder how close we are to having to live in a world similar to Aria and Perry’s. We have certainly made leaps & bounds in technology development and our environmental situation continues to become more complex. Investigating the outcomes of these issues present quite a few applications across curricular disciplines that teachers could pull in when reading Rossi’s series. The dual points of view make it an interesting title to dissect in an English class and this would be an excellent book to use in literature circles with other science fiction or post apocalyptic titles to delve into the potential fates of the world’s economy and ecosystems. SCIENCE: While reading the book, students could explore what materials and supplies would be needed to sustain pods like Reverie and Bliss. Students could also hypothesize about what the “aether” actually is and if any type of global disaster might cause the types of storms described in the book. It would also be interesting to research how far away we are from the SmartEye technology used in the books. MATH: They could calculate the size of the structure needed to house original inhabitants and successive. Other calculations could be done to determine the rate at which the population could reproduce in order to not outgrow the pod. HISTORY: There is a strange dichotomy of governing structures in these books. While the Dwellers seem to work on a Grecian or Roman system of democratic council representation, the feudal system is omni-present in The Real. Students could research these two structures and compare them to the different power structures represented in the book. Students could also do a mini-investigation into the history of tribal markings and tattoos. The markings seem to play an important role in The Outsiders’ world and the paleontological implications of this type of body decoration.

READERS: Science fiction fans will enjoy this book and it is balanced with both action and romance so will appeal to multiple types of readers. The story itself is more plot based than introspective so less accomplished readers won’t miss much. There is some subtle layering within the emotional conflicts both Aria and Perry face but nothing that would keep one from enjoying the story if it is missed.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy Rossi’s series might also like Bumped & Thumped by Megan McCafferty, The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie, or The Enclave books by Ann Aguirre.

The Jupiter Chronicles: The Secret of the Great Red Spot by Leonardo Ramirez

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TITLE: The Jupiter Chronicles: The Secret of the Great Red Spot

AUTHOR: Leonardo Ramirez

PUBLISHER: Leonardoverse

LENGTH: 90 pages

SUMMARY: (via amazon.com) Book One of a Steampunk Series: A great war has been fought and lost by The Jovians. Now, the answer to their freedom lies within the Great Spot and it’s up to Ian and Callie to uncover its secret.

REVIEW: The summary above doesn’t give much information about the story. Ian and Callie live with their mother and are not quite sure what happened to their father. He left home on a voyage and never returned. Ian has faith that their father will return and as the siblings explore the items their father left behind, they discover a telescope that isn’t just a telescope and are mechanically (it’s Steampunk) transported to Jupiter. There they discover the planet is inhabited by the Jovian people and a secret that links this strange planet to their father.

Much like the amazon.com summary, this book is short and sweet. It is a great bridge book to more complex text like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. This book is simplistic in its plot structure and there are short chapters which would make it good for younger or struggling readers. The plot moves quickly and there’s not much one would wish to skip over. While clearly targeted toward a young audience, the book tackles some serious topics like abandonment and combat for sport. I feel that it borrowed a little from some of the more popular middle grades and young adult texts out there but it is a very approachable structure and simple writing for beginning and struggling readers. As an 8th grade teacher, I feel this would be a great stepping stone for my readers who are below level and are interested in The Hunger Games series or The Infernal Devices with its Steampunk elements. For more developed readers, the borrowing from other series will be obvious and even a little off-putting, but it is still worth a read for younger readers.