Author: Barry Lyga
Jasper Dent, vol. 1
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Seventeen-year-old Jasper Dent (better known as Jazz) did not have the most normal childhood. Actually, he was raised by his dad, a notorious serial killer–raised to think like and eventually become a killer himself. But now Jazz’s dad is behind bars and Jazz wants a different life for himself. So when the body count begins to rise in his small home town, Jazz decides to (unofficially and without the sheriff’s permission) assist with the investigation. Because he knows how the killer thinks. And to prove to the town that he’s not like his dad . . . only, is it the town or himself that he needs to convince?
So, I’ve never read much Barry Lyga, but I Hunt Killers was an interesting enough read. It’s kind of a mashup of a contemporary YA novel and an adult crime thriller. And I guess that’s where I get my weird personal reactions to this story. Because on the one hand, I really enjoyed it, but on the other hand, it’s kind of strange and unsettling in a way I’m not sure I like. There’s this total dichotomy, even though in the book the elements are actually combined pretty well. On the crime thriller side, you get this guy who can get into the killer’s head, you get some pretty intense crime scenes, some very painfully intense flashbacks to the guys’ childhood, and a puzzling mystery that gradually unfolds. And on the YA side, you’ve got this kid who is struggling to even see himself as human, who struggles to see the people around him as human rather than just as things to be used. There is a ton of psychological and emotional baggage and internal conflict going on. And then you’ve got Jazz’s awesome girlfriend Connie and his BFF Howie–both of whom get dragged into the mess that Jazz involves himself in. The writing and the pacing of the story are good. The author clearly put a lot of research into this book. And I would read more of Barry Lyga’s books. I probably would read more of this series, even. But I still feel just a bit off about I Hunt Killers . . . but maybe that’s the intended results, because how can a book about a kid who was raised to be a serial killer ever really be okay?
Author: Stephen King
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Clay Riddell has finally gotten his big break, signing a ridiculously good deal for his comic Dark Wanderer as well as a sequel. But his euphoria doesn’t get a chance to last for long as the world around him seems to go mad in a matter of minutes. People lose all appearance of reason, attacking each other, biting, running cars into buildings and people. In the following days, as Clay manages to make contact with a few normal people, it becomes apparent that this madness is linked to using a cell phone . . . and these days, who doesn’t use one? Distraught and desperate, Clay and his new companions, Tom and Alice, begin making their way across country in an attempt to reach Clay’s estranged wife and son–while doing their best to avoid run-ins with those who have come to be known as “phoners”. Especially as the phoners’ behavior becomes increasingly concerning and odd.
Stephen King is an amazing author, and while Cell is probably not my favorite of his books, it is certainly both an exciting and a thought-provoking read. It actually reminds me a great deal of Patterson’s Zoo, only better in every aspect. The idea of someone hacking the cell phone system is both chilling and just possible enough to get under the reader’s skin, however improbable the reprogramming of millions of people’s brains using such a signal is. I admired that King limited the story, kept it to a select group of individuals, kept the reader from knowing everything that’s going on, and never revealed the actual source of the problem. It made Clay and his companions’ experience seem much more present and real, more emotionally gripping. And this is certainly an emotionally loaded story, full of adrenaline and horror and sorrow and worry, but also of affection and laughter and joy, surprisingly enough. I enjoyed the characters and found that each brought something indispensable to the story. On a much more detailed note, I loved the allusions to Clay’s comic and his attention to signage and fonts (which is carried through by using different fonts in the text at key moments); I just found that this added a nice extra touch of character development. For those interested in a chilling cyberpunk zombie story that’s a bit open-ended, I think Cell is a great choice, one I would certainly recommend.
Author: Louis Sachar
My rating: 4 of 5
It all started when Marshall and Tamaya took a “short cut” through the woods to avoid a bully. Or maybe it was before that, when a scientist caught up in inventing a new, renewable fuel source came up with the idea of Biolene, a genetically engineered microorganism that reproduces every thirty-six minutes. Whatever the case, the moment Tamaya stuck her hand in a muddy puddle covered in strange fuzzy stuff and threw that mud in the face of Chad–the bully who had tracked them down in the woods in spite of their precautions–she became part of a historic disaster on a grand scale. And just maybe, she became the girl who saved the world.
Louis Sachar’s writing is always a treat to read, with his easy humor and readable text. Fuzzy Mud was all of that, but it took a more intense perspective than most of his books. It was excellent. The characters were enjoyable, and they prompted the reader to take another look at bullying–from both sides of the situation. Furthermore, the entire plot was crafted in such a way as to raise ecological awareness about a number of hot topics: fuel shortages, overpopulation, and genetic engineering to name a few. As I said, the actual plot writing was intense, but also middle-grade appropriate. I really enjoyed the way notes from the legal proceedings over Biolene were interspersed within the text in a way almost reminiscent of that used in Carrie. Furthermore, the addition of mathematical equations scattered throughout to demonstrate how quickly one microorganism can become thousands really served to add a great sense of tension, as did the petri-dish illustrations at each chapter header–complete with samples doubling each chapter and spilling over the page! I think for middle-grade and older readers who enjoy an intense but thoughtful biological/ecological thriller, Fuzzy Mud is an excellent choice.
Author: Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5
WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE
If you know something’s going to happen, are you morally bound to do something about it? Johnny Smith never imagined considering that sort of moral conundrum the night he took his girl Sarah to the fair. They were just having a good time . . . until a tragic accident later that night left Johnny in a coma. Nearly five years later, he awakens to find his world irrevocably altered: his girl married, his youth vanished, his health crippled. And the strangest changes to his mind. Johnny Smith finds that memories related to locations are a “dead zone” in his brain, something he can’t bring into focus. But as if to compensate for this loss, he also finds that he sometimes gets what can only be termed “psychic flashes” when he touches things–memories of pasts that he never knew, awareness of present events that are deeply-kept secrets, and worst of all, knowledge of future events and the corresponding responsibility of that knowledge.
The Dead Zone was a fascinating read from a psychological and moral standpoint; it’s more introspective than some of King’s writing (although I am regularly impressed by the way his books tend more towards the psychological and less towards the thriller–a very positive thing in my thinking). Johnny Smith’s character was a good choice in that he’s a “good guy” from a religious heritage, and although not religious himself, he has strong moral feelings about life–but he’s also conflicted in a lot of ways. That makes for some very interesting psychological development. Plus, he’s the sort of guy who just wants a normal life; he’s totally not interested in the whole “psychic” gig. King’s exploration of the effects of brain damage and the resultant flashes on Smith’s daily thought processes in interesting also. Additionally, I think he did a good job progressing the plot through foreshadowing and hints without there ever being a great deal of “action” per se until the very end. In spite of that, I never found the story boring–okay, I consumed the entire 400+ pages within a couple days. Without giving away details, I thought the ending was more Carrie-esque, while still fitting the rest of the story; I guess you could say it was the inevitable conclusion of Smith’s condition. In any case, for adult readers who enjoy a good psychological thriller, I would highly recommend The Dead Zone.
NOTE: I forgot to add this above, but I found his treatment of the 1970’s U.S. to be quite interesting as well, especially his treatment of the political environment of the time.
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody, vol. 12
My rating: 4.5 of 5
The year is 1914, and the tension surrounding the first World War is casting a pall over even the Emersons’ archaeological fervor. David has been imprisoned somewhere as a potential troublemaker, Ramses is the scorn of European society in Egypt for his pacifist views, Nefret seems to be drowning her sorrows in flirtation. Meanwhile, Turkish troops approach the Suez Canal, and it seems all Amelia and Emerson can do is watch and work half-heartedly on their unpromising wadi. Or at least, so it seems until they discover that Ramses and David are actually both in Egypt doing extremely dangerous undercover work for the British government. Of course, they can’t allow the two to face all that danger alone, so they immediately pitch in to help–as if Amelia could resist such a temptation!
Elizabeth Peters’ historical mysteries are consistently well-written, exciting, and full of character. Such was the case with He Shall Thunder in the Sky. It was really interesting in this volume to see a side of WWI history I’d never really gotten before–apparently there was a good bit more action away from Europe that I had known. And of course, Amelia and her family make any story more amusing with their absurd, larger-than-life characters and their bent for getting into any trouble that might happen to be around (or for manufacturing it if the situation demands). I really liked that, in this volume, Ramses and the other children are adults in their own right–they’re such good characters that it’s quite enjoyable to read the sections from their perspectives as a complement to Amelia’s own story. Plus the whole love story part of this volume is really sweet, even if you don’t much get that impression until near the end of the book. He Shall Thunder in the Sky is a fantastic blend of history, romance, archaeology, and espionage that’s truly a delight to read; highly recommended for anyone who enjoys historical mysteries.
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody Mysteries, volume 14
My rating: 4.5 of 5
The year is 1917, and the war is beginning to make travel extremely difficult. Not that that’s about to keep Amelia and her brood out of Egypt. Defying any danger with a stiff upper lip, the Emersons make their way from England back to their archaeological digs near Luxor, only to find that local tomb robbers have discovered a previously-unknown tomb . . . one they suspect might be royal. Of course, the family deems it their duty to find this tomb and protect it before the robbers completely clear its contents. Meanwhile, the family is kept busy on other fronts keeping Ramses away from the War Office and their attempts to bully/persuade him into doing more secret service work behind enemy lines. Amelia’s certainly got her hands full–and couldn’t be happier!
As with all of Peters’ Amelia Peabody books, The Golden One is a delightful admixture of mystery thriller, archaeological adventure, and historical romance of the best sort. Her portrayal of the setting is detailed and skillful without being burdensome–you get what you need to appreciate the setting, but she doesn’t spend pages on unnecessary description. The balance of the historical setting–the war and such–against the Emersons’ personal lives and interests is also excellently done, suiting the largely first-person style of the narrative. I also enjoyed in this volume having the contrast between Amelia’s own first-person voice–very Victorian, feministic, and full of personal witticisms–and the extracts from “Manuscript H” which are told in third-person from Ramses’ and Nefret’s perspective. The generation gap is clearly evident, and the contrasting perspectives are easily distinguishable and provide additional helpful information about what’s happening at any given time. Also interesting about this particular volume is the duality of the plot: one thread focusing on Ramses’ mission into the Turkish lines as a spy of sorts, sandwiched between two other sections focusing on the Emersons’ archaeological work and attempts to find the new tomb. It’s a bit unusual for these stories, but it works quite well. All in all, I think The Golden One is an excellent archaeological mystery for anyone even remotely interested in that genre, as well as for anyone just wanting an exciting and engaging story. Also of note, as this is the fourteenth volume of the series, it definitely includes numerous spoilers for previous volumes, but if you don’t care about that, there’s certainly enough background in the book itself to read it independently without needing to read the others first.