Author Archives: Jack L.

January 20, 2010

Book Review: MAX (Maximum Ride #5)

Posted by at 12:24 pm in Reads | Permalink

MaxThe "About the Author" section at the end of MAX (for ages 12 and up) mentions that James Patterson has sold over 160 million books worldwide. So in other words, he's basically sold 2 books for every person in Germany. That's pretty ridiculous.(Read more about Patterson in this interview by the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.)

But by page 14 of MAX it's obvious why he's so popular: James Patterson is a really fun writer. See, the flock — that's Max (the narrator), plus 5 other kids and a talking dog, all of whom have wings and can fly (just go with me on this) — are doing this air show, when all of a sudden the dog gets shot. Max grabs the dog, who's named Total (like Toto), and begins inspecting him for wounds. And the entire time, Total is doing this hilarious "woe is me" speech: "I don't have many regrets. . . True, I thought about a career in the theater, once our adventures waned. I know it's just a crazy dream, but I always hoped for just one chance to play the Dane before I died." Ha! See, "the Dane" refers to Hamlet, which is widely accepted as one of the greatest roles ever written, but a Dane is also a kind of dog! Get it? (It turns out Total is completely OK and was drastically overreacting.)

OK, so maybe I'm kinda breaking my long-standing rules about 1) not giving away plot stuff and 2) not explaining jokes, which is the most surefire way to rob any joke of all of its funny. But in this case, I'm not so worried. And that's because MAX is filled with dozens of hilarious little jokes and references like that; Mr. Patterson drops one, gives you about 2 seconds to get it, and then jumps to the next one. Spoiling one for you isn't the end of the world. The other thing that helps assuage my guilt is that the plot of MAX is by far one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read in my entire life, and it's very clear from the outset that Mr. Patterson knows it. He barely seems to care about the plot, to be honest. I'm guessing that for him, this ludicrous story is just an excuse to write fun dialogue for these characters and narrate a book in Max's wry, witty, self-deprecating voice.

The title of the book is apt, because Max really is the star here. She's the leader of the flock, so she's the main character; but more important, the reader sees everything that happens in the book through her eyes. And as a traditional narrator, Max is terrible. She keeps going off on these asides and rants about things that tick her off, and half the time it seems like she almost forgets that she's supposed to be telling a story. But Mr. Patterson does a phenomenal job of making Max funny, believable, and likable, so her shortcomings as a storyteller just end up making the whole book funnier and livelier. (There's a brief chapter where the narration shifts from Max's point of view to a generic third-person POV, and it's the most boring chapter in the book by far.)

Now I should probably give at least some sort of overview of the plot, so here it is: Max and the flock have to defeat some bad guys. And I should probably talk about the book's healthy doses of romance, fast-paced action, and pro-environmentalism. . . but honestly, none of that stuff really made much of an impression on me. Not that it was poorly done — far from it. It's just that I had so much fun listening to Max go off on her snarky rants that the rest of the book seemed pretty bland in comparison. I highly, highly recommend that you pick this book up and enjoy a solid 300 pages inside Max's neurotic, sarcastic, hilarious world.

What do you think, guys? The Maximum Ride series – thumbs up or thumbs down? Let me know in the comments!

Jack, STACKS Writer

December 16, 2009

Diary of a Wimpy Kid #4: Dog Days

Diaryofawimpykid_4_130 Hey, Splotters! Been a while since my last post. . . didja miss me?

If any of you read my review of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, you know I loved it. I thought it was hilarious. I’ve been keeping up with the series since then, and it hasn’t missed a beat so far. When my copy of #4 in the series – Dog Days - arrived in the mail, I was excited (and a little nervous) wondering how long can Mr. Kinney keep his hot streak going?

Here’s how I test how funny a book is: I take it onto the subway (or any public place where it would be weird to start laughing by yourself – people give you the evil eye like you wouldn’t believe). If I’m reading a book, and it can make me laugh despite knowing that everyone in the subway car is going to think I’m weird, then I know it’s funny. Dog Days passed that test about 30 seconds after I sat down. (I then had to endure 30 minutes of glares. Oh well.) It follows the same format as before: Greg Heffley, a ridiculously un-self-aware 8th-grader, narrates his life through a series of written and illustrated journal entries. This time, he covers his summer vacation, which he calls a “three-month guilt trip” because he likes to stay inside all day and play video games while everyone else is running around outside. (Hey, sounds like a perfectly good summer to me. . .) His parents aren’t huge fans of the idea, to no one’s surprise, and shenanigans ensue as Greg blunders and cringes through three months of enforced fun. It starts with Greg and his buddy Rowley running up a huge tab at the country club and gets better from there.

I’m going to follow my policy of not ruining any of the jokes for you, but some of the highlights include: Fregley; Li’l Cutie; “Hello, You’re Dead;” Champions Swim Meet; “Get a load a this!” Dog Days has my wholehearted recommendation. If you liked any of the previous entries in the series, you’ll love it. If you’ve never read any of those entries, you’ll love it. Heck, you’ll love it no matter what! Just. . . don’t read it on a subway.

Have you read Dog Days? How do you think it stacks up to the other Wimpy Kid books? Let me know in the comments!

Jack, STACKS Writer

BONUS WRITING PROMPT: In the book Frindle, Nick invents a new word for pen, and starts calling it a “frindle.” What everyday item would you rename, and what would you call it? Leave your answer in the Comments.


September 7, 2009

Author SPLOTlight: Mike Lupica

Posted by at 11:30 am in Authors, Reads | Permalink

Mikelupicabookfan One of my earliest memories is of going to Chicago's Comiskey Park (now U.S. Cellular Field officially, but always Comiskey in my mind) with my dad when I was about three. I was born and raised on the North Side of Chicago — if any of you are from Chicago you know how weird it was for a Northsider to be going to see the Sox for his first baseball game — and in Chicago, especially in the summer, baseball is life. Anyway, the details of the game are obviously very fuzzy, but something about it must have made an impression because I've been a baseball fan ever since. For me, nothing beats heading to the ballpark with some friends on a warm Sunday and watching your team pull out a close one against a division rival. And the best part of that whole experience is the moment when you step out from the concourse and see the baseball diamond open up below you. "Majestic" is the only word for it.

Which is all a long-winded way of introducing Mike Lupica. I'm guessing he feels the exact same way about baseball, and that's why I like him so much. Here's a guy who really gets the magic of the sport. Check out the cover of his most recent book, The Big Field:


That captures what I mean about the sight of the field perfectly. That's the kind of cover that speaks in a language that every baseball fan understands as if it were second nature. There can be no doubt that Mr. Lupica is a baseball fanatic, and it shows in his life's work: he's been a host for a sports talk show on the radio, a host for a sports talk show on TV, a columnist for all sorts of great publications (including Esquire, ESPN, and the New York Daily News), and a little league coach. The saying goes: "Those that can't do, teach." I think in Mike's case, you could say: "Those that can't do, write."

In addition to all that great writing about sports for magazines and newspapers, he's a very successful and well-known kids' author. His last book, Heat, followed the travails of a young little league pitcher from the Bronx. It got great reviews and sold like hotcakes. He's written a bunch of books about sports over the years, and that versatility — to go from screaming at the top of his lungs in the New York Daily News to writing about the plight of a working-class New York kid who just loves baseball — is the sign of a great writer. That breadth of experience definitely shows in all of his writing, and it's one of the reasons he's such a popular and powerful voice. His books are absolutely worth picking up if you're into sports at all.

See you at the stadium, Splotters!

— Jack, STACKS Staffer

August 17, 2009

Best Summer Movies

Posted by at 2:08 pm in Movies & TV | Permalink

It’s technically still summer, even though school is starting again soon, or maybe even already has started again for you! So what do you want to do at the end of a long day, or a long week? Grab some popcorn, a pizza, a couple of ice-cold Cokes (think I’ll have one right now. . .), open the windows, and plop yaself down on the couch to relax with one of these great summer DVDs! What
makes a great summer movie? A few things: a) No drama. Summer is fun, and drama is not. It should have a lot of action, romance or hilarity. b) Should be recent. The classics are great and all, but when you’re kicking back with that Coke in your hand, you don’t want your parents lecturing you about why the cinematography in Citizen Kane was so revolutionary.
Finding Nemo. My affection for Wall-E is established at this point, but when it comes to Pixar movies for the summer, you can’t beat the one that’s about the ocean. (Rated G)
Indiana Jones. This one has action, romance, AND is really funny. The rare trifecta! Plus there’s Harrison Ford, who might just be the coolest person to ever walk the earth. Indiana Jones 4 was naught but a pale shadow of the Nazi-punching joy of the original. (Rated PG-13)
Pirates of the Caribbean. I feel weird putting a recent summer blockbuster on here, but I think we all know that the first Pirates was something pretty special. It was way better and more fun than it had any right to be, and all that swashbuckling adventure stuff just screams “SUMMER!” to me for some reason. (Rated PG-13)
Singin’ in the Rain. Breaking my own rule about “no classics” here, but this one will never get old. Talk about romance! (Rated G)
Riding Giants. The ultimate summer movie. An Indie documentary about surfing, with some of the most beautiful cinematography ever (there I go again!) and a really great soundtrack. Nothing but sun, beaches and the ocean. Watching it never fails to put me in a good mood. (Rated PG-13)
Enjoy the summer, Splotters – it seems like it’ll last forever, but autumn will be here before you know it!
— Jack, STACKS Staffer

August 16, 2009

Coolest Libraries in the World

Posted by at 8:25 am in Trivia | Permalink

What’s better than a library? 

Library fact #1: They look sweet.

Library fact #2: They hold zillions of books.

Library fact #3: The books are all FREE!

Not sure what else there is to say! The world is full of amazingly gorgeous libraries, and sometimes I find myself surfing the web, looking at library pictures, wishing I could go to one and just sit there and read for hours . . .

With that in mind, I’d like to present (sigh) the Five Coolest-Looking Libraries On Earth!

Strahov Philosophical Hall, Prague
If you ever saw Beauty and the Beast, this is what I remember the Beast’s library looking like.

Austrian National Library, Vienna
The ceilings are so tall it kinda seems like a lot of wasted space. (Think how many more books could fit there!) But it sure is beautiful.

Suzzallo Library, Seattle

Suzzallo Library_iStock_000007821665Small

This looks more like a castle than an actual library, but who cares? It makes me want to read Harry Potter.

Trinity College Library, Dublin

Trinity College Library_shutterstock_1121085

This place is so big it can fit like a megajillion books! Think how long it would take you to read all of those, and how much smarter you would be after you did.

New York Public Library, NYC


Well here’s one I don’t have to rely on the Internet for – it’s a few blocks from where I’m sitting right now! And let me tell you, it’s magnificent. Huge and hushed and very welcoming with those famous lions out front. If you ever find yourself in the city, come check it out!

That’s all I got, Splotters! Any other cool libraries I should know about?

— Jack, STACKS Staffer

July 23, 2009

Writing Prompt: . . . and Zombies

Posted by at 10:43 am in Writing Prompt | Permalink

Zombies130 There are a few kinds of characters that are always awesome. Pirates. Vampires. Vampire Pirates. Robots. Ninjas. And my personal favorite: Zombies. Don't know what it is, but I love zombie books, movies, video games, whatever. If I ever find some sweet heavy metal about zombies, that will probably be all I ever listen to for the rest of my life. The Haunting of Derek Stone: City of the Dead looks cool, but there definitely needs to be more zombie books out there.

 I like asking “what if.” So in the absence of a dedicated zombie genre, I'd like to propose another game. Add “and zombies” to any book title you can think of, and let's just all imagine the hilarity that would ensue.

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July 7, 2009

Book Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Posted by at 9:41 am in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Reads | Permalink

Diaryofawimpykid_130It says it right there on the front: BAM! “The #1 New York Times Bestseller.” Well! That’s quite the endorsement. I’m like a lemming when it comes to following the purchasing habits of the masses, so I was literally unable to resist buying Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is impressive right off the bat. I really like the concept: a journal in both words and cartoons, kept by 7th-grader Greg Heffley. It covers a full school year, hitting a bunch of mini-stories along the way: Halloween, the school play, Christmas, a wrestling unit in P.E., writing the comic for the school newspaper, etc. There isn’t too much of a plot, but it doesn’t really matter because the writing and pictures are HILARIOUS.

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June 20, 2009

The FIVE: Animals That Are Smarter Than People

Posted by at 7:21 am in Reads | Permalink

I’ve been doing some research on talking animals. It seems like there are quite a few animals out there in the literary world that are smarter (or better, or cooler) than people, and I’ve taken the time to make a list for your perusing pleasure.

Anyway, here’s my FIVE list of animals that are smarter than people:

Thelionthewitchandthewardrobe 5. Reepicheep, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
Well, maybe not exactly “smarter,” but definitely more noble, humbler, stronger, and purer of spirit. I’ll never forget this: my dad read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to
me when I was a little kid, and at the end, when that little talking mouse paddles up that waterfall into the sky, he started crying. I’d never seen that happen before. Reepicheep has a special place in my heart.

Mrsfrisbyandtheratsofnimh 4. Nicodemus, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
The eponymous rats in this classic Newbery winner have literally developed their
own civilization with heat, electricity, hierarchy, food storage, etc. A more cynical person than me might say that compared to these rats and their leader, Nicodemus, we humans have yet to really work the whole civilization thing out.

7191163 3. Foaly, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Well, he’s a centaur . . . does that mean he counts for half an animal? Whatever. His crazy inventions, as well as his quick, witty banter with Commander Root, are half (see what I did there?) of why Artemis Fowl is so much fun.

Coraline 2. The Cat, Coraline by Neil Gaiman
It’s well documented by now that I love Neil Gaiman, and The Cat is one of his cooler characters — sarcastic, wise, sly, and smart enough to know the danger it’s in from the Other Mother. The Cat’s moments of fear and hilarious, forced bravery (when Coraline throws The Cat at the Other Mother) are great grace notes.

Hp3 1. Sirius Black, Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
Well, again, not really an animal, but he certainly spent plenty of his time in dog form! At any rate, Sirius/Padfoot was a loving godfather, loyal friend, and awesome wizard. I was speechless at the end of Book 5.

What do you guys think? Any smart talking animals I missed? Speak up!

— Jack, STACKS Staffer

June 13, 2009

Book Review: Artemis Fowl

Posted by at 7:37 am in Reads | Permalink

Jack's Ink Splot 26 Book Review of Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer I judge books by their covers. Not afraid to admit it. It’s unfortunate, but I do. I bet you do too. Say you’re in a bookstore, and you spot a cool, modern, eye-catching cover. Obviously, you’re gonna pick up that book first! At least, I would. My brain immediately goes into overdrive trying to figure out what’s depicted in the illustration.

All of which is to say that I wasn’t terribly excited to pick up Artemis Fowl. As you can see, there’s nothing super-graphic on the cover to entice me to read the story.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Compared to some of the more richly detailed book covers out there, it didn’t make me wonder, “Hmm, I wonder what that’s all about!” BUT(cliche warning!) it looks like the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” has been around in some form or another since the 1st century AD for a reason — namely, because you shouldn’t.
Penned by Irishman Eoin “It’s Pronounced Owen” Colfer, the Artemis Fowl series tracks the exploits of its titular character — a 12-year-old, self-styled evil genius. In the first book, Artemis seeks to restore the lost family fortune through less-than-legally-sound means. In this case, that involves trying to steal some fairy gold. See, it turns out that fairies, dwarves, trolls, goblins, etc. are real and have been living underground for years. I kinda rolled my eyes when I got to that bit of exposition in the book, ’cause the whole magical-creatures-are-hiding-in-plain-sight thing has been done pretty close to death recently (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and Twilight being among the more notable examples). But Colfer pulls it off well enough. He’s not as good at it as J. K. Rowling or Rick Riordan, but it never gets in the way of the story.

And what a story! Beyond cursory introductions to the fairy world and Artemis’ family history, there isn’t much in the way of background info, but you won’t miss it — the plot is quick, clever, and exciting. In a nutshell, Artemis cooks up an elaborate plot to find and acquire some of that famous fairy treasure, and things just go nuts from there. At the risk of sounding like a movie poster for a bad summer action movie, you get a front-row seat to a great battle of wits, technology, and magic (in other words “IT’S A ROLLER COASTER RIDE OF EXCITEMENT!!!!!”).

Artemis is a really clever and devious anti-hero, and his fairy rivals have some pretty cool gadgets/powers at their disposal. One of the things I appreciated about the story was its moral ambiguity: Artemis is motivated mostly by greed, and the fairies are mostly concerned with hanging onto their cash, rather than Doing Good or Upholding Truth. Still, both sides have moments where they rise above their baser instincts, and when they do, that nobility is all the more meaningful for having come from imperfect people (er, creatures). This is a level of emotional complexity that a lot of authors are afraid to tackle, and Mr. Colfer deserves some recognition for refusing to create a world that’s neatly divided into good and evil.

But enough of my yakkin’! Basically, Artemis Fowl is a lot of fun and you should read it. Look for a review of the graphic novel version of the series and possibly some trivia in the near future.

— Jack, STACKS Staffer