Posts filed under 'Adventure Stories'


“Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen

195 pp.

Brian’s parents have divorced and he is going to visit his father in Canada, flying in a small Cessna with a middle-age pilot whose name escapes him (Jim or Jake) The trip is alternately exciting and boring until the pilot has a heart attack and dies. Brian tries to call for help over the radio, but he does not know his flight number or location. Eventually his cries are not heard. When the plane runs out of gas, Brian has been preparing mentally to land as close to the edge of the lake as he can manage to steer.

Brian’s survival in the wilderness is never a certain bet. The book depicts the difficulty of his situation. The only useful tool he has is a hatchet his mother insisted he take. Things that work in the movies don’t work for him; whenever something does work, it is though patience and persistence. Lighting a fire or gathering food can take all day. Mosquitoes nearly eat Brian alive; he is sunburned and blistered and always hungry.

Some of Brian’s first food is raw snapping turtle eggs, and the details of his eating them provide a context for understanding what true hunger is. However, he learns new survival techniques each day and become more aware of his environment. Eventually he is able to spear fish and shoot ruffed grouse with a bow and arrow. When a tornado strikes, Brian’s “house” is ruined, and it’s easy to understand how basic live can become.

This is a good tale of maturing, of survival. It is a detailed description of all that Brian must do to continue to exist and seems very realistic. Many students read this one before they get to high school. If you haven’t read it, do so, just so that you have same experience in reading a good adventure book as the rest of your classmates. (It’s a ‘cultural literacy’ thing.) I don’t like when Paulsen seems to imitate Hemingway’s style, but it may appeal to others—and who knows? Maybe there’s a literary criticism essay on ‘style’ just waiting to be written.

4 comments May 15, 2009

“The Sorcerer of the North” (Book 5 in “The Ranger’s Apprentice” series) by John Flanagan

I’m sure this book—and the series—is being marketed as a guy’s book—which it is—but I loved it. In fact, I’ve read all five of the books in the series and recommend all of them to anyone interested in adventure or fantasy.

Though books 2-4 follow, chronologically, right on the heels of the last, book 5, “The Sorcerer of the North,” begins with five years having passed. Will is now a true Ranger on his own rather than just Halt’s apprentice.

Will is assigned to the Fief of Seacliffe, a place where there is little action, because he is new to the job and needs some practical experience. However, very soon he is called to a secret assignment. On the kingdom’s northern border, Castle Macindaw appears to be beset by sorcery. Even those who don’t believe in such stuff cannot attribute their problems, such as ghost sightings and possession by evil, to anything else. And Lord Orman, the son of the deathly-ill proprietor of the castle, appears to be involved in practicing dark arts.

Will is to discover what is happening by going in disguise as a roving musician. Alyss, also no longer an apprentice, but a Courier in her own right, is also dispatched when things get rough. She, too, is in disguise—as a dimwitted, self-centered woman of noble caste. She and Will are romantically interested in one another. Even some Skandians with evil intent (the treaty of the last book is in jeopardy) make an appearance.

Although I did miss some of the characters I’ve come to know, especially Princess Cassandra (and Halt until he finally appeared about halfway through the book), I liked seeing Will with more responsibility for his own fate.

January 7, 2009

“Gods of Manhattan” by Scott Mebus

I’m on a crusade to read more ‘fantasy’ books that appeal to guys as well as girls. “Gods of Manhattan” is one. I had seen it recommended to readers who like the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series—that would be me! So I read “Gods.” While I found it much choppier than the Percy Jackson books—and sometimes lacking explanation for the hierarchy of the spirit world—it is a fast, fun book.

Thirteen-year-old Rory Hennessy, who doesn’t believe in magic, acts as a ‘volunteer’ for a magician who performs true magic at Rory’s sister’s ninth birthday party. Suddenly, much that appears to be magic comes to light. Rory sees weird stuff—a cockroach riding a rat, a Munsee Indian who appears to have come from an earlier century. How can this be?

Rory discovers that he is a “Light”—someone mortal who can see into the spirit world of Manhattan—known as ‘Mannahatta’ in the novel. Real historical folks from New York are alive in this spirit world as gods of many, often mundane, things. You could impress your teachers with a book report that mentions Peter Stuyvesant, John Jacob Astor, Walt Whitman, Alexander Hamilton, Horace Greeley, Babe Ruth, Zelda Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker.

Basically the spirit world is in trouble and it’s up to Rory to help save Manhattan. There’s a murderer on the loose—one that is killing gods. A second problem is that the Munsee Indian spirits are locked in Central Park and cannot escape the curse that keeps them there. Rory wishes to free them. And he and his sister Bridget (who is a pretty tough little kid) have many cool adventures while trying.

December 1, 2008

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

I recently read “The Alchemist” and thought you might enjoy it when a teacher asks you to read a fable, fantasy or fairy tale. This book, published in Brazil in 1988, is not a traditional fable or fairytale, but it has all the elements your teacher may be looking for.

Although Santiago is a shepherd in Andalusia (in Spain), he is well educated and loves to read. His father had intended that Santiago becomes a priest, but the boy loves to travel; his father helps him purchase a flock so that he can live out this dream. It seems that traveling within Spain would have been enough for the happy young man, but he has a dream of treasure near the pyramids in Egypt. Once the dream takes hold in his life, many fantastic things take place.

Santiago meets ‘the king of Salem,’ who instructs him to follow his dream, sell his flock of sheep and head to Africa. He says, “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation.” This, then, is the theme that propels the characters.

So Santiago decides to follow his “Personal Legend.” Not everything is easy for him. In Tangier, Africa, he is immediately swindled out of the money he earned by selling his flock. He must earn it over by working and through imaginative ways of creating business. Yet there are always omens for Santiago to follow, and the whole universe is conspiring to help him realize his dream. He meets gypsies, a king, an Englishman, a camel driver, desert men and women and finally the alchemist who helps him succeed. Santiago falls in love with a desert girl, Fatima. Because it is a fable, the only thing that really bothered me about the story—I accepted the universe helping Santiago, even to the point of his having to perform a miracle and coming through—was that Fatima’s “Personal Legend” seems to be to wait around for her man. As a girl, I related more to the adventure.

I know this book has been compared to A. Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince,” and I think you might like that as well. However, it’s been years since I read it, and when I did, I read it in Spanish (although it was originally published in French), a language I was less than proficient with. Ask your French teacher about “The Little Prince.” The author is much loved.

November 20, 2008

“The City of Ember”

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

With the movie version coming soon, I decided to read “The City of Ember.” It’s a quick, easy read, but very engaging. Science fiction and fantasy fans will like it, but I think anyone looking for an adventure might enjoy it.

Though the novel doesn’t directly state the fact, the reader soon understands that Ember is a city underground, provided for by the “Builders” over two hundred and forty years ago. Ember’s problems are many. The Builders—hoping to create a society that will escape the fate of the world above ground (whatever that is—I thought of a nuclear holocaust), stored provisions to last at least two hundred years. They also provided directions for the residents to leave Ember and come back above ground. But these directions have been mislaid and no one in Ember knows that there is an outside world. There is only their city—artificially lighted through electricity generated with the help of the river. Outside of the city everything is pitch dark and nothing exists. As the electrical infrastructure deteriorates and the food stores run low, everyone is frightened but they don’t know how to solve their problems.

Two teens, Lina and Doon search for clues. Both have been assigned their jobs the same year. These assignments are random and Doon gets ‘Messenger’ whereas Lina gets ‘Pipeworks.’ They agree to exchange and it is through their jobs that they gain some knowledge of the problems the city is facing. They make important discoveries and see a way out of Ember into a brighter future. However, in another matter, they are accused of lying and causing the city’s residents to panic. Knowing that no one will believe what they have discovered and with the mayor’s security force on their trail, they must decide whether to save themselves.

Add comment September 29, 2008

“Trouble” by Gary D. Schmidt

No matter what a person does to avoid it, trouble can find him. That’s what Henry Smith learns although his father has always said that staying away from Trouble was easy enough.

The Smiths are a much untroubled family as the story opens—wealthy, they live in a New England mansion that has been in the family for over 300 years, situated in a perfect town called Blythbury-by-the-Sea. Henry’s older brother, Franklin, is a superstar high school athlete and rugby player. Life is good.

One night while he is out running, Franklin is struck by a truck and lands in the hospital in a coma. Life for the Smiths changes overnight as they wait to see if Franklin will live or die. When the alleged driver of the vehicle, Chay Chouan, a Cambodian immigrant, comes forward, the town anti-immigrant sentiments run high. But at the pre-trial hearing, Henry finds out things that he had never known about his brother, including that he had often made fun of Chay and beat him while his friends held Chay down. Franklin’s true character appears to be that of an arrogant, privileged jerk.

Chay is not convicted of a crime, but his family disowns him because they are ashamed of him. Confused and angry, Henry decides that he is going to climb the most rugged mountain in the area, Mount Katahdin, partly because Franklin had told him he wouldn’t be able to do it. Henry’s friend Sanborn, comes along, fearing that Henry will be hurt if he goes alone.

Although it’s a coincidence that the two boys are hitchhiking and Chay picks them up—in the very truck that hit Franklin—as the reader, I believed the story because I understood that Chay was stopping for ‘black dog’—a dog that had been his until his father starved and then threw the dog in the ocean. The three boys then hike the mountain together and we learn more about each of their lives. Chay is the product of a rape in a Cambodian re-education camp and he’s also a protector of Henry’s sister.

The trip results in danger, revelation, a new understanding of the characters, and the opportunity for forgiveness. It brings up issues such as immigration, a bad economy and even the repercussions of slavery. This was a great book and A Junior Library Guild pick. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

September 17, 2008

The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan

 Book three in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series finds Percy, Thalia (daughter of Zeus), Grover and Annabeth discovering two new half-bloods or heroes. Unfortunately, Dr. Thorn of the school where the new orphaned heroes reside proves to be a monster. He kidnaps Annabeth. When the heroes team up with Artemis, goddess of the hunt, she too is kidnapped and her huntresses join forces with the heroes to effect a double rescue. Their search for Annabeth and the goddess takes them across the United States. Again this is fun with Greek mythology. Here we meet Apollo, whose sky chariot in now a red Maserati and who composes some really bad poetry. More adventure!

January 24, 2008

Sea of Monsters

Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

I loved The Lightning Thief so much that I had to continue the series. This is the second book in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. This time, Percy is finishing seventh grade and hoping to go back to Camp Half-Blood Hill for the summer. On the last day of school, Percy’s PE class is attacked by Laistrygonians—giant cannibals in Greek mythology—and Percy and a homeless classmate are saved by Annabeth (Percy’s best friend from book one). Immediately, Percy learns that the sacred tree guarding the camp has been poisoned and the camp is under attack. Another surprise is that the homeless boy, Tyson, is a Cyclops and Percy’s half-brother (Poseidon is also Tyson’s dad). Finally, Percy is having nightmares that his friend, the satyr Grover, is in danger.

With the scene set, Hermes sends Percy off on a quest to find Grover, who is the prisoner of the Cyclops Polyphemus (yes, the one that Odysseus fought). To do so, he must cross the Sea of Monsters (now called the Bermuda Triangle) and survive Scylla and Charybdis. At the same time, Percy must retrieve the Golden Fleece, which will heal the sacred tree. Always lurking in the background is Luke, the former friend who betrayed Percy and who is trying to bring the Titan Kronos back to power so that Olmpus can be overthrown.

This second book in the series is another fast-paced adventure, with more hilarious takes on the Greek gods. Circe now turns men into guinea pigs (real pigs are too much like real men and messy) and Hermes wears track shorts and a ‘New York City Marathon’ t-shirt. Oh—and he invented the Internet as well (sorry Al Gore!)

Add comment January 24, 2008

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

 The Lightning Thief is quick, easy, good fun. The protagonist, Percy Jackson, is a hero. No, not of the Rambo type. A hero in the Greek tradition—that is, he is the son of a Greek god and a human. Never mind that the story is contemporary. Mount Olympus has been relocated to the 600th floor of the Empire State Building in New York. The entrance to Hades is at DOA Recording Studios in Los Angeles. The gods and other immortals can be found interfering in daily human life, just as they did in Greece thousands of years ago. Of course, their look is up-to-date. Aeres looks like a Hell’s Angel and rides a Harley; Medusa runs a statuary shop (yes, her garden décor is so realistic that it is purchased from all over the world!). 

When Percy, aka, Perseus, is attacked by a monster in the form of his algebra teacher, his mom knows it’s time for him to go to Camp Half Blood Hill for safety and to find out his true identity—that Poseidon, god of the sea, is his father. Unfortunately, Poseidon has been accused of stealing Zeus’s lightning bolt and the fate of mankind rests in Percy’s ability to complete his quest and return the missing property. Check out the modern version of the Labors of Hercules and meet the new rendition of not only Aeres and Medusa, but Poseidon, Hades, Zeus, Procustes, Charon and the Eumenides (Furies). You don’t have to know much about Greek mythology to have fun with this book, but if you do, you’ll love the connections, both subtle and outrageous.

January 24, 2008

Life of Pi

Here’s another story that begins in India, but marches to a very different drummer. The main character, ‘Pi’ Patel is named after a swimming pool in Paris. His father, a zoo keeper, decides to immigrate to Canada, and sells the animals. Most of these stay in India, but a few are destined to cross the ocean and live in distant zoos. During the Pacific crossing, the ship capsizes and Pi is thrown overboard into a 26-foot-long lifeboat. Though his family all die, Pi finds himself floating with Richard Parker—a 450 pound Bengali tiger from his father’s zoo—as well as a zebra, a hyena, and an orangutan. The most rudimentary knowledge of the animal kingdom will tell you which of the animals survives. But Pi tells the reader that this is a story with a happy ending, so the reader wonders–how will Pi survive with Richard Parker onboard?


Pi does survive with the tiger—for 227 days. And, yes, the journey is an epic one. Pi uses all his knowledge of the animal kingdom as he realizes that the tiger’s survival is necessary to his own. He expounds on faith and his understanding of Christianity and Islam as well as his native Hinduism. He makes an argument for the environmental value of zoos. Both his ill-fated meeting with another castaway and his salvation on a mystical island may be unbelievable, but who cares? The story is so weird and intriguing on so many levels, that the reader will follow Pi’s faith in the universe anywhere it takes him.

Add comment December 4, 2007