Masterminds

Hello, dear readers. I bring greetings from the comfort of my home during my gloriously uneventful spring break. So far, I’ve managed to finish a couple of books, watch way too much TV, and see two rather boring movies. (The movies were Batman vs. Superman and Allegiant. Not impressed with either of those films.)

Anyhoo…let’s move on to one of the books I recently finished, Masterminds by Gordon Korman. This book is another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, and it’s the first book in a trilogy. (The second book, Criminal Destiny, is already out.)

I feel fairly certain that the Masterminds series will be a hit with most upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s full of action, suspense, mystery, a bit of science fiction, and a bunch of kids who discover that their entire lives are basically lies. Good stuff.

The town of Serenity is a lot like Mary Poppins–“practically perfect in every way.” There’s no crime, no poverty, no conflict of any kind. Every backyard has a pool, and no one really wants for anything. Sure, it’s kind of boring sometimes, but that’s to be expected in a town of only thirty kids. Serenity is almost completely closed off from the rest of the world, and most of the residents like it that way.

Most of them.

One day, Eli Frieden and his best friend Randy decide to do a little exploring outside of city limits. They don’t make it far before Eli is doubled over with some weird illness and rushed back to town. When Eli wakes up, he learns that Randy is leaving Serenity to live with his grandparents. Eli doesn’t really know what’s going on, but he’s sure that Randy isn’t telling him everything…and he’s right.

Eli begins to do a little digging, and he discovers that Randy wasn’t sent to live with his grandparents. But if that’s true, where did his best friend go? Why the big secret? What exactly is happening in this small, seemingly perfect town?

Eli enlists the help of a few friends in his quest for answers, and they begin to uncover the horrible truth about their town. Nothing is what it seems in Serenity, not even their own families. What does all this mean for Eli and friends? And what is the town’s strange connection to some of the most vicious criminals in the country?

Can a bunch of kids find out what’s going on, escape the lies surrounding them, and find help in the world outside of Serenity? Discover the truth for yourself when you read Masterminds by Gordon Korman!


Masterminds will probably not be a hard sell with my students. I won’t have to say much more than “a group of kids figure out that they’re parents are totally lying to them about their whole lives, the kids have to discover the truth, and deal with the fact that *spoilers* they have a weird connection to a bunch of criminal masterminds.” The books will fly off the shelves.

Most of my students–and many others, I guess–enjoy a good book that depicts kids getting the jump on adults, especially when those adults are doing something kind of horrible. I think readers who like Masterminds may also enjoy the Runaways graphic novels by Brian K. Vaughan and others. These books follow the children of supervillains. Awesome.

If Masterminds sounds like your cup of tea, you can learn more on author Gordon Korman’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Instagram.

Don’t Turn Around

My latest read, Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon, is one of the 14-15 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award nominees. Even though I’m an elementary school librarian now, I still try to read as many of these nominees as possible. With Don’t Turn Around, I’ve now read three of the SCYABA nominees–with I Hunt Killers and The Opposite of Hallelujah being the other two. (Only seventeen more to go!)

Anyway, I finished Don’t Turn Around last night, and let me just say that this book was a thrill ride from start to finish! Combine runaway teens, computer hackers, government/corporate espionage, a mysterious disease, experimenting on humans, and spies, and you’ve got this book covered. It was a pretty intense read and totally believable…especially if you’re kind of paranoid to begin with. (Some may classify this book as science fiction–and it is–but I’d also call it realistic fiction. Some of the stuff in this book is entirely plausible and, loathe as I am to even think of it, could be happening right now.)

When sixteen-year-old Noa wakes up on an operating table, she’s not exactly sure where she is or why she’s there. All she knows is that she has to get away…but that’s not exactly easy when all she’s wearing is a hospital gown, armed thugs are chasing her, she doesn’t know where she’s been held, and she’s in pain from whatever procedure has been done to her. Eventually, though, Noa makes her escape…but what now? She’s an orphan on the run, and it’s becoming crystal clear that she’s being hunted by some bad guys. Just who can she trust?

Enter Peter. Peter, a teen hacktivist, has also found himself on the receiving end of some odd threats. After digging into some of his father’s business dealings with something called AMRF, armed men break into his house, steal his computer, and threaten his life. Peter, who’s scared but determined to find out what’s going on, calls on a fellow hacker to discover just what his family is mixed up in.  That hacker goes by the name of Rain…but we know her as Noa.

Soon, Noa and Peter learn that they are entangled in something much bigger than either of them realized. They have become targets in a conspiracy so huge that it seems insurmountable. With some help from their hacker alliance, however, Noa and Peter may have found a way to uncover the truth and take their enemies by surprise. But will it be enough to expose all the lies? Just what is AMRF, and why is Noa so important to them? What will these two resourceful teens uncover, and what will their opposition do to silence them? Watch your back as you dive into the conspiracy in Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon!

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I couldn’t possibly highlight all of the twists and turns in this book without giving too much away. Read it for yourself, and I’m sure you’ll be taken on the same ride that I was. Don’t Turn Around featured almost nonstop action and intrigue, and I was riveted the entire way through.

Readers who enjoy suspense will definitely find a winner with this book…especially if they like their suspense with a heavy dose of computer hacking, spies, and bio-medical ethics (or lack thereof). Don’t Turn Around could also lead to some interesting discussions. *Mild spoiler* When it comes to experimenting on humans, how far is too far when the results could potentially save lives? (This could even lead to discussions about the experiments done by Nazi scientists and how that relates to medical ethics today. Intense stuff.)

Be on the lookout for the second book in this exciting new series, Don’t Look Now, which is in stores now! There’s also a prequel novella, No Escape, which you might want to check out. (I’m planning to as soon as I finish this post.) Book three, Don’t Let Go, should be released in late summer.

If you want to learn more about Don’t Turn Around, the first YA novel by Michelle Gagnon, check out her website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. You may also like the book trailer below. (I know I did!)

The Death Cure

Spoilers ahead!  If you haven’t read James Dashner’s The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials, do that before continuing with this post.  This post will focus on the third book in this trilogy, The Death Cure.  If you haven’t read the first two books, I promise I will spoil things for you!

The Death Cure picks up immediately after the events of The Scorch Trials. Thomas is in isolation at the WICKED compound, hoping for a chance to escape.  He doesn’t know what he’ll do or where he’ll go if he gets his chance, but he knows he has to get away from WICKED.  They are not to be trusted.

Eventually, Thomas’ moment comes, and he, along with several of his friends, escape WICKED and begin a journey to find answers.  They must also face the fact that one of them has the Flare, a brain-eating disease that transforms normal people into raving maniacs.  Can they find help–or even a cure–before a dear friend becomes a dreaded Crank?

Thomas and company make their way to Denver, a city that should be a safe haven for them.  But something is not quite right when they arrive.  No one in this city will make eye contact, people are walking around with cloth or masks over their faces.  Thomas was led to believe that the Flare was not present in Denver, but why are so many people acting as if it’s a real threat?  And why are those immune to the Flare–like Thomas and some of his friends–disappearing by the dozens?  Has WICKED infiltrated this supposedly safe city, or is someone else playing games with people’s lives?  What could the possible end game be?

As Thomas and his friends slowly uncover the truth behind all the lies, it becomes ever clearer that there are no winners here.  Lies abound from every side, and Thomas must trust his instincts to keep himself and everyone he loves alive.  He has to decide who to believe and if anything he’s been told by WICKED could ever be true, including the likelihood of a cure for the Flare.  Even if a cure is possible, millions of people will die.  And it seems that at least one person may have to be sacrificed to make a possible cure into a reality.  Will Thomas allow that to happen?  Can he face losing even one more person if it means the salvation of the human race?  The answers are not easy, but Thomas must face them if he has any hope of retaining his sanity, his life, or the fate of humankind. 

Read The Death Cure by James Dashner to learn that sometimes the only way to cure a disease is to kill it.

This has not been my best post on a book, and I’m sorry for that.  In my defense, however, it is impossible to capture everything that occurs in this book, even in this whole series.  The Death Cure is a quick read, but it is action-packed, and so much happens to these characters that I couldn’t possibly cram it all into one blog post.  I will say that the ending was somewhat satisfying, even if it seems that it was all part of a master plan.  I was sad that several characters I came to like in this series didn’t make it to the end.  (No, I won’t tell you which ones.)  On the other hand, I was kind of happy that a few characters I had come to despise didn’t make it, either.  You win some, you lose some.  Overall, I did enjoy this series, and I hope you will, too.

If you’d like to read more about The Maze Runner trilogy and author James Dashner, I encourage you to visit http://www.jamesdashner.com/.  Not too long ago, an announcement was made to this site that we can expect a prequel to The Maze Runner.  It’s called The Kill Order and will be released sometime in 2012.  Apparently, this story will tell us about the events that led to the creation of WICKED and the maze.  It focuses on the sun flares that hammered the earth and the disease that hit mankind shortly thereafter.  Doesn’t really sound like an uplifting story, does it?  But I’m sure it will be just as captivating as The Maze Runner trilogy.  I, for one, am eager to learn more about how everything started.

Jekel Loves Hyde

After finishing Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side yesterday, I immediately moved on to Beth Fantaskey’s second novel, Jekel Loves Hyde. I liked how the author dealt with tormented teenagers in her first novel, so I figured I would enjoy the same in her second work. I was not disappointed. As you may have guessed, Jekel Loves Hyde has a connection to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s definitely interesting to read about how that case, if true, could have had long-lasting and far-reaching effects on future generations.

Jill Jekel has just lost her father.  He was murdered, and secrets about his life are beginning to come into focus.  It seems he was engaged in some criminal activity involving some stolen chemicals, he depleted Jill’s entire college fund before he died, and the circumstances surrounding his death are mysterious at best.  Jill’s mother is hanging on to her sanity by a very thin thread, and Jill just doesn’t know how much longer she can hold everything together.

There may, however, be a way to regain control of her life.  Jill has an opportunity to enter a chemistry competition with a grand prize of a $30,000 college scholarship.  She just needs a project idea…and a partner.

That partner is the mysterious Tristen Hyde.  Everyone knows that Tristen has a dark side, but they have no idea just how dark it can be.  See, Tristen is a direct descendant of the Mr. Hyde, the monster from Stevenson’s supposed work of fiction.  Well, it’s not fiction to him.  Tristen knows that when emotions get too high, when he gets too angry, the Tristen everyone knows disappears, and the monster lurking within takes over.  He’ll do anything to banish the monster forever, including working with Jill Jekel to recreate the experiments detailed in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

But how can two teenagers, one who is painfully shy and another who has something of a split personality, hope to recreate these awful experiments?  The answers they seek are hidden in Jill’s father’s work, and, through their journey to find a cure for Tristen and hope for Jill, these two young people may just discover that some answers, some secrets, were meant to be kept hidden.  As Tristen seeks to tame the monster within himself, Jill yearns to become the powerful, confident person she’s never been.  Could a cure for one lead to the destruction of the other?  And can the growing feelings between Jill and Tristen possibly survive when it’s not always clear when a monster will come between them?  Find these answers and more when you read Beth Fantaskey’s Jekel Loves Hyde.

Although I liked Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side a little more, I still found Jekel Loves Hyde to be a very satisfying read.  I especially identified with the character of Jill Jekel–shy, lets people walk all over her, never stands up for herself, a little boring, but always with the urge to break out of her shell and really let the emotions run wild.  I highly recommend this book and urge readers to pair it with Stevenson’s novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Should be interesting.