Alex is a junior member of the villainous Cloak society, so for his 12th birthday, he and the other Betas (young members) participate in robbing a bank. Alex is supposed to use his telekinesis to open a bank vault door, but fellow team members Mallory and Titan have to take over when he can't. He also makes the super villain faux pas of saving a member of the Junior Rangers, Kirbie, when she is almost killed by a flying fire hydrant. He doesn't know why he would do such a thing, other than it seemed like the right thing to do. Cloak is ramping up their activity and have plans to attack Sterling City and take down the Rangers, but Alex isn't really sure what the plan is after they are successful, and starts to doubt the motives of his group, which means doubting even his mother. He arranges to meet Kirbie, and discusses his doubts with her. He rather likes her, and can see her in color instead of in the constant blue glow that his super powers give him, so he is angry when Cloak kidnaps her and his mother reads Kirbie's minds in order to use her knowledge to give Cloak the advantage. This knowledge does give the group an advantage, but Alex and the other Betas realize that the plan they have is truly evil... and maybe they aren't. Things end badly for everyone, which in this case hopefully means A SEQUEL!!!
Strengths: When I get something really fabulous, I frequently have a hard time explaining it. This was awesome. I loved the snarky tone (the first paragraph is the funniest one I've seen since Sonnenblick's Notes from the Midnight Driver), the brilliantly reasoned explanation for the Cloak's powers, and Alex's struggle to do what is right despite the way he had been raised. The cover promises action and the book delivers that and so much more. Really, really liked!
Weaknesses: The logo on Alex's shirt looks like Darth Vader. And we have another really evil mother, which always distresses me.
In a future where wars are fought off-planet by gamers funded by corporations, Tom has lived near casinos with his gambling and alcohol addicted father for years, rarely checking into his virtual school, but spending lots of time playing VR games. He comes to the attention of the military and is given the opportunity to go into military training. Eager to escape life with his father, he agrees, only to find out that a condition of his acceptance is having a neural processor implanted in his brain. He's a little leery of the device, as well as of how he has been manipulated, but agrees and becomes part computer. With the help of fellow students Vik and Wyatt, he is able to get used to his new skills and put up with the inevitable bullies. Things get a bit dicey when his quasi step-father appears on the scene and infects his system with a virus that makes him like the man and his corporation, but Wyatt eventually puts that right. Even trickier is Tom's virtual relationship with Medusa, the top fighter from the other side to whom Tom is inexplicably drawn. There are (virtual) battle scenes aplenty, and a second book on the way.
Strengths: Another really great book! Fans of Ender's Game or Falkner's Brain Jack (or even Divergent) will adore this.I wish that Surly Teen Boy were here to read it! First off, Sammy Yuen should be hired to design just about every middle grade SFF cover.
Weaknesses: While I really liked the beginning where Tom was in the casinos, this might not speak as well to boys who like SFF. It will, however, draw in more high schoolers, so it's okay. This took me a LONG time to read, but that was probably because I was really enjoying it and wasn't willing to rush through.
Because this blog is aimed at librarians and patrons of school libraries, I will not review books that are published solely in e-book formats or that are self published. Books should fall within the target demographics of this blog.