Nick Twisp is a dangerous teenager.
Why? Simple, he knows he's destined for greatness and the desire for greatness can force you to do desperate things my friends.
We learn about Nick from his diary. He introduces himself innocently enough, declaring that he eventually wants to change his surname to "Dillinger" in order to make himself sound more assertive.
We soon learn that his name isn't the only thing Nick hates, he hates his trailer trash family and he hates his school and most of the people that he comes into contact with.
And oh yeah, he's obsessed with girls.
Convinced he's never going to be with a girl until he's middle aged, fate tosses Nick a bone when he meets Sheeni, a beautiful, intelligent and very manipulative goddess from the next trailer park over.
Once Nick meets Sheeni his life changes forever. He spends every waking minute planning, plotting and strategising his way into her heart.
Sheeni, being no fool, takes advantage of her newly found lap dog and uses Nick to perform menial tasks as well as larger, more illegal ones for her own amusement.
I don't want to give too mych away as the lengths Nick goes to in order to win Sheeni's love are desperate, criminal and most of all hilarious.
Payne perfectly captures the subconscious of a hormone riddled fourteen year old: anxious, confused, elated, depressed, conniving and depraved.
Convinced that everyone around him is a moron sent by the gods to thwart his every move, Nick is eventually forced to create his own alter ego to kick ass and take names.
As crass and insane as he is, I was still rooting for Nick the entire novel. One aspect of Nick's personality that I loved was how blissfully unaware he is to increasingly ridiculous setbacks he encounters.
Read Youth in Revolt, as usual, the film was unable to capture the level of insanity Nick goes to for Sheeni. It's a gut-busting, laugh out loud gem that will stick with you for a long time.
"Are you crying?" my wife asked me as I put down El Deafo, I was less than halfway through it.
"No," I said, "it's just dusty in here or something."
It was a lie, of course. El Deafo is really amazing and it will affect you greatly, unless you've got a heart made of a burned out hornet's nest, that is.
Here's the deal: Cece is your average child growing up in what can be surmised as 1970s United States. Then, at the age of four, she contracts meningitis and loses her hearing permanently.
She's provided with a device called a Sonic Ear, something that allows her to hear what her teacher is saying. Cece is understandably self-conscious of the device, as it's the 1970s and pretty much everything was made to resemble a Cadillac.
On top of this, Cece's family moves to a small town, meaning she has to start over, making new friends and trying not to go crazy as her classmates and teachers treat her trick gloves. When I was a kid I used to watch a film called "See No Evil, Hear No Evil" starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. I was much too young to be watching it but hey, I was a latch-key kid and once I figured out how to use the remotes on the satellite dish it was game over.
Anyway, there's a scene in that film that has stuck with me for over 25 years. Gene Wilder plays a deaf man, and he's being interrogated by a cop. The cop is being very condescending, and speaking to Wilder in a slow, almost childish tone. Wilder responds to this by mimicking the cop's tone. The cop then turns to Richard Pryor and says "Why is he speaking to me like that?"
Pryor says, "Because he's deaf, not stupid."
When Cece has to deal with people like the cop in that movie, she reverts to her superhero alter-ego, El Deafo, a person who says what she feels and stands up for herself in all situations.
Through it all, Cece describes her struggles with sign language, reading lips, understanding what is going on her favourite tv shows and surviving school like everyone else. There is a through-line, though, one that we all face: The quest to find a good friend, someone who will accept us for who we are.
This is what Cece seems to struggle with more than anything in this story, choosing someone she really digs and wants to hang out. Some of her friends are too bossy, to obsessed with her hearing aids, too manipulative, and so on.
El Deafo is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel, for whatever reason Bell decided to make her characters into rabbits. We don't need to know why, it's just the way it is and after a while you become so familiar with them that you wouldn't have it any other way.
Bell's ability to pour what is undoubtedly a very personal story onto the page in such an effortless, engaging way is the sign of an amazing artist and I was ecstatic to get in the Library and shove it in the hands of students I knew would love it before the term ended for the summer.
I can't wait to continue doing so in September.
The main character of Sarah J Maas' Throne of Glass is 18 year-old Celaena Sardothien, she is the world's most deadly assassin.
When I was 18 I was laughed out of a house party after it was discovered I'd been pronouncing the name of the band INXS as "Inks" for most of my teenage life. Not relevant to this review but I just wanted to give you some perspective on how Celaena and I differ.
For the past year Celaena has been doing hard labour in the brutal mines of Endovier. Her crime? She got caught doing what she does best, ending people's lives.
I once had a job going door to door asking people if they wanted their houses painted. I was threatened with physical violence on more that one occasion. Now THAT's hard labour, am I right?
Out of the blue, Celaena is dragged before the high court. She's given one chance at freedom, act as the Prince's champion in a high-stakes competition aimed at finding a new royal assassin.
If she wins, she'll spend four years being the King's lackey, then she can walk away forever. If she loses, she's sent back to the mines of Endovier where she'll most certainly die.
Celaena can't really get used to court life, she's bored to death by the pomp and circumstance, even if the majority of her time is spent training for the competition.
Then a wrench is thrown into the gears, the other competitors, thieves, thugs and assassins from around the land start to turn up dead. Not only does this look bad for the King (imagine if the contestants on The Bachelor ended up disembowelled in that giant fountain in the driveway) it propels Celaena on a quest to discover the dark secret lurking behind the walls of the opulent castle.
There's a lot of action, mystery and thrills in this novel, and a love triangle tossed in as well. Fans of The Hunger Games, Divergent and any fantasy adventures will devour this novel and be asking for its sequel.
I am excited to be able to properly book-talk Throne of Glass in September because I know the students will love it.
I've come to The Stand late in the game, the original was written before I was born. This copy, the 1,000-plus page behemoth I just put down,is the way King intended it to be released, uncut and without alterations.
You might think it's mad to take on such a task, but as they say in this novel: "Even the company of the mad is better than the company of the dead."
I'll start where King does, with Captain Trips. Captain Trips is the nickname given to the flu. This isn't your chicken-noodle soup, stay home from work kind of flu. No, Captain Trips wipes out 99.4% of the world's population.
The detail that King devotes to Captain Trips' decimation of everyday people's lives is one of the most terrifying things I've ever read, and it's easy to figure out why. We all get sick, everyone gets the flu at some time or another, it's inevitable. Let me tell you, after reading The Stand you'll be squeezing Purell over your Apple Jacks.
Ultimately, this is why this novel strikes such a strong chord: It seems 100% plausible. A super-flu is grown in the bowels of a top secret American military facility and one night it simply gets out, goes home with one of the guards, who takes it home to his wife and baby and boom, you've got yourself mass panic as the world falls into the clutches of an incurable sickness and chaos.
Miraculously, a small handful of people escape Captain Trips' long grasp. They're spread out across the country, but as fate would have it, they eventually find each other.
This would be fine if all they had to do was link arms and embrace a new "Little House On the Prairie" kind of attitude, but no, Captain Trips has opened the door to a thing of pure evil, and his name is Randall Flagg, aka The Walkin' Dude aka The Dark Man. Flagg is a recurring character in several of King's novels, often under different aliases. Flagg is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, he can drive you insane by looking at you, he can control the minds of animals and he has a very, very sick sense of humour. He is probably one of the scariest villains ever created.
Flagg exploits weaknesses in ordinary people, people that have survived Captain Trips but are scared and in desperate need for a leader. People like the Trashcan Man, Lloyd Henry and The Kid (a character so crazy I often wondered if he was the embodiment of The Kid from Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.)
Using these people, Flagg sets up camp in, where else - Las Vegas, the city of sin. From there, he sets up compound that uses fear and capital punishment (crucifixion) to maintain law and order. Flagg and his lackeys start to compile weapons of mass destruction in order to eliminate the competition, a group of survivors situated in Boulder, Colorado, led by the 108 year-old Mother Abigail Freemantle.
Mother Abigail claims to be a prophet of God, and those that have come to her have done so because their dreams have led them to her. Flagg also invades their dreams, infecting some to act as his spies, sleeper cells that are bent on destroying the "Free Zone" in Boulder.
On Flagg's side is Harold, an awkward, horny teen who falls in love with Frannie, another survivor from his hometown. Frannie eventually rejects Harold and his jealously eventually leads him to Flagg. Harold becomes a pivotal character in the struggle between good and evil in The Stand.
On Abigail's side is Stu Redman, a quiet, strong man whom Frannie falls in love with as they travel to Boulder. Stu eventually becomes the unofficial leader of Abigail's fledgling yet growing community.
After an act of sabotage, Abigail sends her strongest warriors west into the desert to confront Flagg and his henchmen. A showdown of Biblical proportions erupts, but not in the way you might think. It is a test of wills, a test of faith and of the belief that good must triumph at all costs.
I don't know what else to say. The Stand is an absolute masterpiece, it's The Lord of the Rings set in Las Vegas, it's The Book of Revelations packed into a .45 and shot into a hangar full of nuclear weapons. You will root for these characters, you will fall in love with them, you will hate them and you will be scared to death of them because at its core King has written a book about ordinary people surviving a world that has fallen into Hell. You'll find yourself in these pages, because there are little bits of us in every character. I cannot recommend it enough.
Robots that come to life is a story that's been around since Asimov wrote about them in the '30s, and before that too, probably, I'm no historian. That doesn't mean that every once in a while a story about androids and their human masters can't come along and take you on a really cool ride. Enter Alex + Ada, a story that demands your attention and keeps it to the very last page.
It's the near future, flying robots make your breakfast and you do all of your shopping, net browsing and socializing via a chip that you have implanted into the side of your head. It's like having Amazon.com as your sub-conscious, fun!
Our titular character Alex is depressed, he's still not over the girl that left him and he's not satisfied in his job. His grandmother wants to cheer him up by purchasing an android for him.
Now, when I say android, I'm not talking about something that looks like Johnny Five, these things are the real deal. They look just like you or I, the only way to tell them apart from humans is the logo they have tattooed on their wrist which they are legally obligated to keep exposed at all times.
Alex refuses his grandmother's offer, and she buys him one anyway. This is where things start to get really interesting.
At first, Alex decides to return her, eventually he caves and keeps her. The problem is, Alex doesn't want an android that only likes the things that he likes and agrees with everything he does. He wants one that will speak her mind and make decisions for herself.
Alex decides to try to "Awaken" Ada, a highly illegal activity that overrides the company hardware, making her a sentiment being.
What follows is an interesting journey into seedy online chat rooms, motels and FBI surveillance as Alex & Ada get caught up in the world of those that have been "Awakened."
I liked both how the story flowed and how sparse and crisp the artwork was. I also liked how this series did not start with any kind of post-apocalyptic nightmare where androids wake up and crush their human overlords. There are hints of this, yes, but the overall thread is one of romance and just trying to survive the information overload that exists in the modern age. There is also a lot of humour yet a lot of serious issues taking place in this series and I can't wait for the next one.
Rose Wallace's family have been going to Awago Beach every summer since, in Rose's words "like forever."
I'm going to be honest, this beautiful graphic novel had me hooked as soon as I saw the illustrated Tim Horton's coffee cup nestled snugly in the cup holder of Rose's father's car. I had no idea this was about a Canadian holiday, luckily, I had no idea what this story was about before reading it, which is, I think, the best way to approach it.
Due to the aforementioned Tim Horton's cup, This One Summer caused a deluge of memories for me: Visiting my grandparent's cottage on the lake in southwestern Nova Scotia, canoeing to the tiny sandy beaches sprinkled around the lake like smears of whip cream against the dark green backdrop of the woods beyond them. Making campfires, roasting s'mores, accidentally putting a fish hook straight through my friend Cory's finger and watching him faint from the sight of it and my brother and I having to literally carry him the half mile back to the - wait, I'm going off on a tangent here, back to This One Summer.
Every summer, Rose meets her friend Wendy, who stays in a nearby cottage. This particular summer, Rose and Wendy decide to plough through as many horror movies as they can, rented from the local convenience store, which also sells a barrage of candy and of course, turkey jerky. Rose is also struck by the boy who works at the store, even though he's much older, 18 to her 13? 14? We're never really told how old Rose is but it doesn't matter, her experience throughout this story can cover the entire tween to early teen experience.
The summer isn't spent in idyllic bliss, however. Rose must deal with her parent's constant bickering, which surrounds a family secret that I won't spoil here, you'll just have to read it.
Family secret aside, Rose's mother refuses to allow herself to enjoy one second of her time at Awago Beach, something that only deepens the rift between her and Rose's father. So much so, that her dad leaves one night, telling Rose that he has to go back to the city to catch up on work.
There's also a side plot running just under the family secret one. It surrounds the boy who works at the convenience store and an unplanned pregnancy and somehow Rose, Wendy and their parents get more involved then they want to.
This One Summer might not be an obvious choice for someone like me, who loves dungeon-crawling video games and graphic novels & books like "Sleeper" and "Post Office," but this one hit me hard with its gorgeous illustrations and coming of age story with a punch.
Recommended to anyone with a beating heart.
To say that I read Broxo would be misleading. I devoured it. Not only is it beautifully illustrated and chalk-full of characters you want to box up and take home with you to show your friends, the action comes on faster than a machine gun on crank.
Did I mention there was a Wampa-esque ice creature and zombies? Oh yes, lots and lots of zombies, and of course the chopping-up of said zombies.
The story opens upon a charred and desolate mountaintop. Giallongo is so effective in depicting the bleakness of his world that you can almost feel the cold seeping from the pages into your fingers. It is here we meet barbarian princess Zora, who has abandoned her family in search of another clan. Why has she left her family to embark on this quest, you ask? None of your business! Sorry, I mean, you’ll simply have to read the book to find out!
What I can tell you is that instead of finding the people she was looking for, she comes across Broxo, an uncouth, smelly boy who lives alone save for the aforementioned faithful ice creature. Broxo introduces Zora to the local culinary delights and attractions which include charred lizard and slicing the noggins off of the hoards of undead that roam the mountainside.
The dialogue between the two teenagers is sharp, funny and endearing. Broxo possesses street smarts, a "when in doubt always use a sword" kind of attitude which is paired effectively with Zora's refined yet guarded approach to life's situations.
The undead aren’t their only problem, though. There’s Gloth, a cowardly yet savage wolf that has the ability to talk through his seemingly endless rows of razor sharp teeth. Gloth patrols the land, looking for easy prey. He and Broxo have a history, and as you might expect, their paths are destined to meet again very soon.
Then there’s Ulith, a mysterious witch who has the ability to observe Zora & Broxo from afar with the help of her animal servants. Giallongo does a good job keeping the reader guessing what Ulith’s relationship to Broxo and her role in Zora’s quest is until nearer the end, with satisfying results.
Broxo is a graphic novel that sticks in your brain, it’s like snorting super glue. Actually, it’s nothing like snorting glue. In fact, do NOT snort super glue, ever. What I’m trying to say is that Broxo is awesome, Giallongo has created a rich, loveable cast of characters in a world you want to spend a lot more time in, even if the food is bad. I’d recommend this graphic novel to anyone aged twelve and up.
Twelve year-old Kester Jaynes has a big problem, - he can’t speak. Even worse, he doesn’t know why he can’t speak. The only thing he knows is that he hasn’t been able to say a word since his mother’s death six years ago.
Not only that, he’s locked up in a home for troubled children for reasons also unknown to him. Oh, and just to throw another wrench in the gears, the outside world has all but completely fallen apart. It’s been ravaged by global warming and a disease called “the red-eye,” which has rendered all but a few animals extinct and threatens humans with the same fate.
So, locked up, depressed, scared out of his wits, Kester is at the bottom of the barrel. Scratch that, he’s fallen through the bottom of the barrel into a pit of…well I was going to say poisonous snakes, but they’re all extinct.
Then one day while alone in his cell, Kester hears someone talking to him. It is then that he realizes it isn’t someone but something. Yes, Kester realizes that it is a cockroach that’s speaking to him and that they can communicate. Not only that, Kester soon learns that he can “talk” to other animals in his cell.
With the help of his varmint friends, Kester escapes the confines of his prison, only to learn that he has been chosen by the few remaining animals, the “last wild,” to save them from complete extinction. While on his adventure Kester starts to unravel the lies surrounding the deadly red-eye disease, the disappearance of the animals and his estrangement from his family.
Torday regularly switches between grim, heart-pounding and funny scenes, all of which flow seamlessly around Kester and his mission to discover the truth. The Last Wild is a highly entertaining and thought-provoking novel, one that shouldn’t be missed. I recommend it to ages 8 and up.
"Much nonsense has been written about the Knights Templar over the years," writes Jordan Mechner, creator of the awesome graphic novel, "Templar." He's right, there has been a lot of nonsense written about them. One of my favourites is that they stole un-published works of Shakespeare and hid them on Oak Island, Nova Scotia. Then there's the myth that they were all arrested on a Friday the 13th, forever marking it as an unlucky day, a day that would spawn countless terrible campfire stories and movies. I'm looking at you, Jason Takes Manhattan.
There's no nonsense in Mechner's Templar. He uses actual speeches from the Templar's leaders, members and detractors. Mechner re-creates 14th century Paris as meticulously as he can. We see both sides of the human experience, the gold-lined palaces, the poor wretches living in their own filth and the people who are just trying their best to survive.
This is probably what I loved the most from this book, Mechner doesn't gloss over anything, but he doesn't exaggerate either. Don't get me wrong, the book gets pretty dark at times, especially when depicting the Siege of Acre and the resulting massacre of the prisoners.
The through-line of Templar follows Martin and his friends. Martin returns to Paris after a long excursion around Europe only to find out that the woman he loves hasn't waited around for him. While he finds solace at the bottom of several pints of ale, the king orders the mass-arrest of the Templars, taking their treasure in the process and hiding it in the city.
Forced into hiding for months on end, Martin and his friends eventually discover that their treasure is still in Paris. He then recruits people that are sympathetic to his cause, including his jilted ex-lover, to help rescue the treasure and return it to the remaining Templars that have escaped persecution.
Templar is a deep story filled with smaller yet still interesting side-stories as well as fast paced action, Indiana Jones style puzzles and a well thought out romantic thread.
At 480 pages, it's not a quick read, but that's fine because I didn't want it to end.
Standish Treadwell can't read, can't write, Standish Treadwell isn't bright. At least, that's what his teachers and classmates think. The truth, of course, is much different.
Standish's dyslexic brain does operate on a slightly different frequency than everyone else, that much is a given, but he's anything but slow. His hyper-vigilance gives him an extraordinarily sharp & vivid insight into the world around him.
And what a world it is.
Don't be fooled, Maggot Moon is no syrupy, coming of age story. Standish doesn't find redemption in a group of misfit friends, he doesn't grab the eye of the girl that's way out of his league, he doesn't score the winning touchdown to the cheers of his newly-converted classmates. No, there's none of that predictable claptrap in this novel. No happy endings in Zone 7.
Standish lives with his grandfather in the aforementioned zone in a 1950's dystopian UK where mass surveillance, torture and Nazi-esque eugenics are as normal a practice as going to Jiffy Lube. Anyone who expresses the faintest sign of dissent, such as Standish' parents, disappear in the night, never to be seen again.
"Such a cruel nation is the monstrous Motherland. I'm amazed no one has risen up to throttle the bitch," Standish says in one of several memorable lines from this amazing novel.
Standish, in an attempt to mentally check out from the brutish nature of his reality, plays make-believe with his best friend Hector. Together they dream of traveling to the planet Juniper, imagine themselves driving Cadillac's, eating ice cream and watching television shows from the U.S.
Then, Hector and his family disappear and Standish decides he can't take it anymore.
The Motherland, obsessed with being the first country to land on the moon, is preparing to film the landing live on the one television channel everyone has. As an act of revenge,Standish and his grandfather decide to make a television event of their own, because if you're going to go down, you might as well go down swinging.
Maggot Moon is a faced-paced yet heavy book. Its themes on surveillance and government control are far too relevant in 2015. It'll make you angry, it will make you paranoid, it'll make you want to kick down the office doors of the MotherlandPunisher-style. Then, if there's anything left in you, it will make you cheer Standish's uncrushable human spirit. Highly recommended.