Book Review- Brain Jack by Brian Falkner

The computer age is here, with our every keystroke we blaze a trail that anyone can follow.  But what if we didn’t have to type in our thoughts, what if we could just connect up to the computer interface with our mind.  Imagine how much faster we could be, how we could form some type of collective consciousness to better the world.  That is the premise of Brain Jack.

Sam Wilson is a computer super geek.  He delights in the challenge of hacking into systems, moving around unnoticed then leaving without anyone the wiser.  Sam thinks he is invulnerable until the day the government catches up with him after he causes the biggest Internet crash the world has seen.  Instead of locking him up and throwing away the key the government offers him the chance to use his abilities to aid the world.  But as good as the team he has hooked up with is they can’t stop the cyber attacks that have begun to cripple the Internet.  So, they must turn to the latest technology of neural headsets to use thoughts to combat the cyber-terrorists.  Only it gets worse, people start to die and society starts to fall apart.

This story is incredibly fast-paced; I found it hard to put the book down.  I have recommended it to others who have also had the same reaction.  This story is a  War Games (MGM,1983) for a new generation.  There are a few faults I found with the story but on the whole I enjoyed it.  I have to admit that I found the idea of Las Vegas being nuked into oblivion inspired; I also liked the concept of gaming addiction taken to such an alarming degree. Both of those ideas make this work thought provoking for the readers.

I really enjoyed the story and could easily see this as a movie.  I recommend this book to any one from pre-teens on through adults who love a good story that can carry you away from your every day life.  This is a great summer read!

Age Range: Pre-teens on up.

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner. Ember . Reprint edition 2011.  368pp.


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Book Review- Little Women & Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

In this book, Emily must write a paper for school about what she would change in her favorite story.  She chooses Little Women by Louisa May Alcott; Emily is certain that she knows how to improve the story.  But somehow she is transported into the story as the fifth sister who does not quite fit in.  Emily tries to change the story to suit herself but finds that it is not as easy as she thought.  While stuck in the story she begins to realize that maybe her life back home wasn’t as bad as she previously thought;  she also wonders if she will be cursed to remain in the book to endlessly repeat the same actions without any hope of a reprieve.

Lauren has taken a beloved classic and allowed the readers to do a what-if?  Generations of readers have wondered what would have happened if Laurie had chosen Jo over Amy, or what if Beth had been saved at the last minute.  It is an intriguing premise and a good one for younger readers.  It has been done before, notably by Jasper Fforde in The Eyre Affair, but for the pre-teens and teens who have not read his work this is a good introduction into the concept of being able to enter into a work of fiction to affect a change.

I would recommend this book to the legions of Little Women fans out there who have ever fantasized about how they would have written the original story.

Age Range: Pre-teens on up.

Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted.  Bloomsbury USA Childrens. 2011. 320 pp.

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Book Review- Curveball: The year I lost my grip by Jordan Sonnenblick

The transition from 8th to 9th grade is hard enough without your whole world crumbling around you.  That is what happens to Peter during the summer before starting high school.  His future as a baseball pitcher on the high school team comes apart when an injury to his arm changes all that.  Just as he can no longer get a grip on the baseball, Peter is also losing his grip on his life.  As he struggles to find a new normal, Peter must deal with the ups and downs of high school, trying to explain his injury to his best friend and catcher and dealing with the disturbing changes occurring with his grandfather.

The story is told with gentle humor from a boy’s point of view.  Peter is not your typical jock; he has depth and a sensitivity that allows him to consider how his choices affect those around him.  His deep love for his grandfather is what helps him to finally face up to life.

I read this book around the same time as I read John Green’s The Fault in our Stars.  While both books deal with life’s inevitability and how the quality of our living is important, I found this book to be upbeat and enjoyable whereas Green’s story left me feeling depressed.

Age range: Pre-teens & teens

Curveball: The year I lost my grip.  Jordan Sonnenblick. Scholastic Press. 2012

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Book Review- Darkness becomes Her by Kelly Keaton

Ari is a teenager who has been stuck in the foster child program due to her mother’s suicide at an early age.  While life has been hard for her, Ari finally finds a good foster family to live with but she still yearns for answers to her mother’s death.  At the sanitarium where her mother died, Ari finds out that New Orleans might hold some information that could lead her to the answers she desperately seeks.  In this story, New Orleans has been left abandoned after a series of hurricanes has devastated the area.  The only people living there are the stuff of nightmares.  Ari chooses to go into the danger alone but eventually meets people she learns to trust.

Keaton has crafted a story that, at first, seems similar to other occult teen romance novels.  There is a disaffected teen who doesn’t fit in thrown into a smattering of vampires, precocious pre-teens with amazing powers, ancient curses and a world turned upside down.  I was afraid it would be too much like Twilight but Keaton was able to prove me wrong.

Her heroine is quite able to take care of herself due to years of abuse and neglect.  The other characters are interesting and add spice to the story without taking away form the plot.  I liked how the author used the idea of civilization abandoning a major city, leaving it to form a new type of existence.  I was also pleased with her explanation of the origin of the curse that haunts Ari and her ancestors.

I can easily recommend this book to teens who are looking for strong female characters.  Those who love Greek mythology might also like this book.  It took a little bit of time before I got into the story but once there it picked up speed.  Just one bit of warning, there is a fair amount of profanity in the story.  While some may not find it offensive, others could be turned off by it.

Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton.  Simon Pulse. Reprint 2012.

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Book Review- The Brotherband Chronicles: Book 1 The Outcasts by John Flanagan

This new series is an outgrowth from Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series.  If you have read that series you will know what this one is like.  I am not disparaging Flanagan’s work; I found the story to be engaging with likeable characters in interesting situations.

Hal Mikelson is a half-blood Skandian.  His father was a warrior and his mother was a slave from outside; consequently Hal is viewed as an outsider, considered to be never quite good enough by the locals.  When he comes of age, he must train together with other young men to form a brotherband, a group of warriors who will eventually go out into the world to make their fortune.  Hal’s band is made up of misfits from the village who learn to depend on the best qualities of each other to overcome the tasks set in front of them.

In many ways this story is predictable but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of it.  Since it is part of a series, there are unresolved issues at the end of the book that will make the reader hungry for the next book in the series.  Flanagan’s writing is suited to the pace of the book; this is an action story so there is no need for superfluous words.  Think of this book as escapist fun; it is good for reading at the beach on on a long trip.

Age Range: 12 years old on up.

The Brotherband Chronicles: Book 1 The Outcasts by John Flanagan. Philomel Books, NY. 2011. 434pp.

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Book Review- Steve Jobs: The man who thought different by Karen Blumenthal

An apple with a bite taken out of it.   A tall man on stage wearing a black mock turtleneck with matching jeans.  These iconic images from the last half of the twentieth century embody the public faces of one of the most successful businesses in the history of the world.  But how many of us actually know of what went on behind the scenes; how did the home computer industry start and how much of it was due to the drive and vision of Steve Jobs.

This book is just as much  a biography of Apple,Inc. as it is a biography of Steve Jobs.   Karen Blumenthal digs into the backgrounds of both to try to explain the phenomena of the technological revolution.  Jobs was a complicated man and Blumenthal shows all his sides, complete with warts.  If you idolized Steve Jobs some of the revelations in this book might make you feel uncomfortable.  Likewise, if you thought he was over-rated you will be surprised by what you learn.  Suffice it to say that he was more than a face on a stage; he was a human being, complete with foibles, who was able to change the way the world thinks.

This book is geared towards teen readers, digital natives who have grown up never having known a time without computers or connectivity. Because most of her readers weren’t even born before 1995, Blumenthal uses historical inserts throughout the book to further explain life & culture before the dawn of the home computer.

There were many facts I found surprising while reading this book.  The history of Apple’s beginnings were new to me as were Steve Jobs personal life.  I found this to be an interesting story and would recommend it to just about everyone.  There are possibly two things worth mentioning: one, Blumenthal cleaned up any quotes that might have been considered offensive and two, Steve Jobs had an out of wedlock daughter.

Age Range: 15 years old on up.

Steve Jobs: The man who thought different by Karen Blumenthal. Feiwel & Friends, 2012. NY. 304pp.

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Book Review-Chomp by Carl Hiaasen.

Wahoo lives in south Florida and works for his father, a wildlife handler, helping to take care of animals that have found a haven on their property.  But times are tight; Wahoo’s mother must take a job in China to earn enough money to keep the family solvent  while the father recovers from an injury caused by an iguana falling out of a tree and giving him a concussion.  Rashly, Wahoo agrees to a job working for an inept TV survivalist who is more of a buffoon than an adventurer, helping him to film his latest show in Florida’s Everglades.   But even the lure of high pay may not be enough to Wahoo and his father on the job.

Just to complicate matters they attract a classmate of Wahoo’s who is escaping her abusive, alcoholic father.  Ultimately, things come to a head in a mid swamp confrontation between the abusive father, an hallucinogenic TV host, a wounded air boat driver, Wahoo & the girl.

This story is fast paced, very funny, and creates the most amazing mental images.  It makes a great summer read; this is pure escapist literature that is pure fun.   I can easily see this being made into a movie that people would enjoy. I especially think this would be a good audiobook to hear read in the car on a long trip.

Age Range: 11 years on up.  This is good for the entire family.

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen. Knopf Books for young readers, 2012. 304pp.

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