Friday, September 22, 2017

Miles Morales: Spider Man by Jason Reynolds

51+N5foXMFL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (331×499)I was browsing School Library Journal's site under the Diversity tab and I came across an interview with Jason Reynolds in which he talked about how pleasantly surprised he was when he was approached by Marvel to write a yfic adaptation of the new incarnation of Spiderman, Miles Morales. This fact alone made me search out this book.

In case you hadn't heard about this new reboot. Miles is half African-American, half Puerto Rican and lives in Brooklyn. He is still coming to terms with his powers and whether or not he should use them. He has more pressing concerns namely trying to keep his grades up at school, the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy.

He and his father are close-his dad is the only other person besides his best friend Ganke who knows about Miles' alter ego-so father son talks between the two are interesting to say the least. Miles' father is intent on seeing his son do well and to avoid the many pitfalls that could befall him. Miles' dad wasn't exactly an angel in his younger days.

Miles' financial situation at home is precarious at best which is why when a silly lapse in judgment leads to serious consequences at school he finds himself having to make some hard decisions.
Miles is a teenager after all and peer pressure is a huge part of a teen's existence. In a few scenes Miles succumbs to peer pressure and uses his powers to get the upper hand on unsuspecting folks. One scene in particular seems like it could have occurred in any one of those old hip-hop movies from the 80s.

The villain in this book isn't exactly like the Vulture, Green Goblin or Doc Ock in terms of costumes and over the top garb. Reynolds puts a great spin on the teacher student dynamic and the power dynamic that exists in the classroom.  This was a great read, highly recommended, hopefully there are a few more books in the works. This would be an awesome series.



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

We See Everything by William Sutcliffe

The future sound of London is an air raid siren.
Lex lives on The Strip. No not the area of Las Vegas which according to everyone who goes there "has been ruined since the mob left".

The Strip is what's left of London after a series of brutal wars between the government and an organisation known as The Corps.

To the government, The Corps are terrorists, plain and simple. To those in The Corps, the government's 24-hour drone surveillance, lies and disorder has left them no choice but to fight back.

Lex's father is a member of The Corps, and therefore a target. Their family does their best to survive in an anxious, bombed-out reality

Friday, September 15, 2017

Midnighters trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

When Jessica Day moves to the seemingly sleepy town of Bixby, Oklahoma, she has no inkling that she'll learn the town's supernatural secrets one sleepy night. When she wakes up at exactly midnight, she sees raindrops outside which appear to be frozen - not made of ice, but rather, suspended in mid-air. She cautiously, carefully treads outside and takes in all of the quiet beauty of the night. She thinks it's all a dream . . .

. . . until her new classmates tell her otherwise. Dess, Rex, Melissa, and Jonathan are connected by the time they were born: the stroke of midnight. This is a stroke of luck, for better or for worse, for it permits them to move around the town during the Secret Hour that starts at midnight, when everyone and everything else freezes. Each teenager has a cool ability which is truly unique. Thanks to Scott Westerfeld's creative mind, even those powers you may think are typical of sci-fi stories, such as flying, have a new spin. He also makes math a superpower. Woo hoo! These powers are tested when the group has to fight the Darklings, creepy creatures literally from another time, creatures that can ONLY move around during the Secret Hour. Research, plans, patterns, steel, and thirteen-letter words must be prepared, and sacrifices must be made.

Read the Midnighters trilogy
in order:
The Secret Hour
Touching Darkness
Blue Noon

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

To read or not to read: Hamlet, illustrated three ways

I'm not certain that anyone reads Hamlet in high school anymore (at least as an assignment). I can think of many reasons why they should, including it being, hands-down, one of the best pieces of work written in the English language. Moody Danish Prince comes home from college because his father died, only to find out that his mom has married his dad's brother. I mean, that set-up alone is full of drama. But when Hamlet meets his father's ghost, and the ghost tells him that he didn't die of natural causes, but was murdered by the same dude who married his widow and took his throne? Well.

Throw in some additional plots - the uncle scheming to get rid of Hamlet, Hamlet meeting up with his girlfriend, whose father is a counselor to the king, a few additional murders (SO MANY MURDERS), and the plot is crazy good. As are so very many of the lines in the play. It's not limited to Hamlet's most famous soliloquy, which begins "To be or not to be, that is the question."

Now, I get that Shakespearean texts aren't always super easy to understand. And hey, these were supposed to be plays, acted out on stage in front of live audiences. Sure, you can watch movie versions -- the most faithful is probably Kenneth Branagh's version, which includes pretty much the full text, where other versions edit a bit, though my daughter especially likes the versions with David Tennant or Ethan Hawke, both of which are set in modern times (the latter being in New York City).

But if you need to read the play and think you might like some help in understanding it, may I recommend reading either the No Fear Shakespeare graphic novel or the Manga Shakespeare edition?

I'll explain the pros and cons of each version in the remainder of this post.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller





For Matt, eating is about control. And not eating is the ultimate exercise of that control. Because if you can control this elemental need, you might be able to control other elements of your life as well, including the disappearance of your older sister, the economic and emotional traumas affecting your mother, and your sexual attraction to the boy you are convinced is involved in your sister’s disappearance. An eating disorder as the means of creating order in a disordered universe.

You might even be able to control your very senses. Like a fasting anchorite using his hunger to fuel an insight into God, Matt believes his hunger can heighten his sense of smell, his hearing, even his physical dexterity. His mind can become a weapon against the bullies who plague his high school existence and the doubts that lurk in every silence within his home and his mind. He can be the one in control. He hungers for it.

Sam J. Miller’s debut novel The Art of Starving structures its story to reflect The Art of War, Sun-Tzu’s famed Chinese guide to fighting. Each chapter presents another “rule” about survival. Surviving not eating, surviving bullying, surviving poverty, surviving emotional isolation. What begins as a mystery involving what role sometime bully and full-time soccer star Tariq plays in the disappearance of Matt's sister Maya evolves into a moving presentation of Matt’s struggle to have others accept his sexual identity and his own struggle to accept his physical identity.


The Art of Starving challenges the reader with its raw portrayal of Matt’s eating disorder and its steadfast refusal to acknowledge whether Matt’s “powers” serve as powerful metaphor or supernatural manifestation. With its aching honesty and elegant writing, The Art of Starving makes me wish this book had existed for former students and glad that it does for current and future ones.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow has done it again, my mind is blown. The futuristic world he has created hits close enough to home to really make a reader think about what is in store for this world we insist on destroying.

Hubert Etc, Seth, and Natalie are pretty tired of the same old same old. Because really, how many anti-establishment parties can one go to and still look yourself in the eye in the mirror - even if they are printing food, shelter, meds or some other necessity for the downtrodden of the world?

The government in collaboration with, or under the direction of, the ultra rich have control of everything and aren't making things better. The anti-establishment movement in the "real world," or  Default, is not changing anything either. Why not just walkaway? Follow the pioneers of walkaway and leave Default behind.

Walkaway has been flourishing. Society has evolved to the point where individuals work for the benefit of all. There is enough clothing, food and shelter for everyone. More resources can always be scavenged and printed into whatever is needed. Science too has advanced, making the government and ultra rich in Default take notice. I mean, who doesn't want to live forever - even if it is as only a consciousness inside a machine.

I would recommend this book to older teens as there is a fair bit of profanity, sex and drugs. Despite that, I think that they will relate to the amazing characters and crazy world Doctorow has created.
 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Read this book now: In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

My review of In Other Lands was in the August issue of Locus magazine so I can finally talk about why I think this is one of the best books of 2017. Here's a bit of my review:

I have rewritten the first paragraph of this review a half dozen times, trying to find some way to make clear that Sarah Rees Brennan has created a nearly perfect YA fantasy  without gushing. I can’t do it. In Other Lands is brilliantly subversive, assuredly smart and often laugh-out-loud funny. It combines a magic world school setting with heaps of snark about everything from teen romance to gender roles, educational systems and serious world diplomacy. The protagonist, Elliot, directs his often peevish analysis and jaded perspective on everyone he meets and everything he sees, but his evolution from bratty thirteen-year old to soulful seventeen-year old is a thing of beauty to witness. Elliot’s transformation, along with his deepening relationships with friends Serene (Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle!) and Luke, is the book’s heartbeat. As you can tell from my gushing, the characters are impossible to resist and combined with the engaging plot Brennan has worked a miracle with In Other Lands. Mark my words, folks; this author has  written what must be considered one of the best books of the year.

This is a fantasy that begins in our world when Elliot finds out (in the very first pages) that he is just magical enough to be offered a chance to study in the Borderlands at Border camp. Unlike the wonder that is Hogwarts however, (and the giddy way every student adores Hogwarts), Elliot is less than impressed with the place he ends up. He agrees to stay there because his mother left when he was a baby and his father has been disappointed ever since; in other words, no one will miss him back home. (An appropriate "your son has been offered a full scholarship to an excellent private school" story is easily accepted by his father.)

But Elliot is a bit of a smart ass, (actually a lot of a smart ass), and he gets pissed that there are no microwaves or computers or, for the love of God, post-it notes! He misses pens and pencils (what is the deal with quills?????) and he thinks a lot of what the Borderlands folks embrace is a bit nuts. So while he's there for the relief from endless boredom back home, the killer library and the potential to one day meet mermaids (hence the book's cover), he is not one to gloss over the shortcomings of the full-time fantasyland he is living in. This makes Elliot a bit of a grump but also also entirely relatable and from the very first few pages readers are going to love him.

Far more than just a story about a kid fitting into a magical world though, In Other Lands tackles a ton of other issues. Elliot makes friends with Serene, an elf who has her own issues with fitting in as elves don't typically attend the human training camp, and Luke who is the all-around gorgeous golden boy who everyone loves and comes from a great heroic family and is good at everything he does and ought to be a complete entitled ass but quickly bonds with Serene as warrior buddies in training and thus becomes friend with Elliot as well. (Even though Elliot tries really hard not to like Luke and is jealous of his every moment with Serene.)

Then there are the other classmates all of whom are interesting and carrying varying degrees of their own baggage and some interesting parents (especially Luke's) and teachers (some less appealing than others) and the biggest thing which is the Borderlands society that is a whole lot more focused on fighting and training to fight and preparing to fight then Elliot thinks makes sense. In  fact, as he trains to be a diplomat, (in the woefully under appreciated diplomats program), he gets to take a long look at what business as usual looks like in the Borderlands and that leads him to a few conclusions. Here's a bit of what he thinks as he works on a peace treaty:

He tried to put in things that would please the elves without hurting the humans, and vice versa. He argued with people who believed nothing should ever change, as if fixing something broken was sacrilege. Surely there was a better way to do things, out in his world, in the civilized world. 
Except there were still wars in his world. It was only in stories that there was one clear evil to be defeated, and peace forever after. That was the dream of magic land: that was what could never have been real. 
Everyone imagined a battle that would bring peace, and the only that ever worked, ever brought peace for even a heartbreakingly short time, in any world, were words.

And boom—Brennan treats her readers like adults and gives them smart tough things to think about and says out loud what a ton of folks think deeply about and man, she just nails the whole power of diplomacy.

Seriously, someone should gift every member of the State Department with this book.

Beyond the fitting in and war and peace there is also, of course, a lot of romance happening. It's high school after all and crushing and dating and sex happens. (Yes, sex happens. Thank you Ms. Brennan for not pretending that it doesn't!) Some predictable dating takes place and some very unpredictable dating takes place. There are straight romances and GBLTQ romances. And the big romance, the one the book builds up to in tiny little increments with each turning page, is WONDERFUL.

I mean it, this might be the best couple in YA fiction that any of us have read in AGES. (I won't spoil with names but man, will you ever cheer when they get together!!!!)

Also, Serene is the greatest feminist warrior badass in the history of teen fiction and the matter of fact way in which she addresses differences between the sexes sparks so many hilarious moments that I can't even pick just one to share. (Let's just say her take on getting your period is all the rainbow- sparkly-thank-you-patron-saints-of-all-women-everywhere goodness every teenage girl ever wanted.)

To sum up: great, unique characters, a traditional fantasy setting that is reinvented in an entirely fresh way, witty conversation that comes straight out of a Hepburn & Tracy movie, dazzling romance that does not overshadow the plot or involve the characters being stupid in the name of love, and a unicorn who scares the living shit out of everyone! (Not that unicorns must be scary, but this one is just so cool!)

When I finished In Other Lands it was with an enormous amount of respect for what Sarah Rees Brennan has accomplished. This brilliant novel becomes more and more intense and funny and engaging with each page and is so utterly enjoyable that it was the easiest thing in the world for me to fall in love with it. This is what we need more of in YA fantasy, this is what we need more of in YA fiction. Buy the book, read the book, recommend the book. In Other Lands is the real deal and by far what everyone needs to be reading this year.

I loved it. I loved every damn minute of this book and I'm so glad it is out in the world.





Friday, August 18, 2017

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780143107293
While wondering what to share at Guys Lit Wire today, I browsed my bookshelves and remembered how happy I was when Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman came out. I've always enjoyed classic fairy tales, and I thoroughly enjoyed Pullman's His Dark Materials series, so I couldn't wait to dig into this collection. Pullman selected fifty Grimm tales to retell, ranging from the well-known (Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Snow White) to those perhaps not as well known to the general populace (Hans-my-Hedgehog, Lazy Heinz).

Pullman doesn't shy away from the violent aspects of stories, but he doesn't purposely make them overly gory either. For example, those familiar with the origin stories of Cinderella won't be surprised by what happens to the stepsisters' feet and eyes, but it shouldn't cause nightmares for those who shy away from horror movies. Pullman also keeps the light stories light, and retains the humor in stories with sassy scoundrels and silly sorts.

At the end of each story, Pullman notes the 'tale type' and the source of the story, lists similar stories, and often adds a few additional thoughts. It made me glad to see other storytellers named, including published authors and lesser known folks that the Grimms interviewed when they were collecting stories. If they hadn't shared those stories and the Grimms hadn't committed them to paper, they may have been lost through time. There's also a lovely introduction and a bibliography at the front of the book.

The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich is not one of my favorite Grimm tales, nor one of my least favorites. I've read it and seen it in many different forms. Somehow, though, I never encountered a version with Iron Heinrich, the loyal servant who had three iron bands placed around his heart to contain his grief when the prince disappeared, "for iron is stronger than grief." Upon the prince's return with his new princess, the bands on Heinrich's heart break, because "love is stronger than iron." That explanation and that image struck me deeply, and I'll never forget where and when I first read it.

Another fun discovery was Gambling Hans, which ends up being an origin story for "every gambler who's alive today."

Like I said, I've always liked fairy tales - but not necessarily for the typical reasons, for the "happily ever after" endings and the weddings and whatnot. I always have been and always will be surprised when characters up and marry other characters after knowing each other for five seconds! I prefer the journeys the characters take, the lessons they learn along the way, especially when they include twists, surprises, and talking animals.

If you enjoy TV series like Once Upon a Time and Grimm and feel the urge to re-read some of the original stories, pick up Philip Pullman's collection. Whether you pick at it little by little, story by story, or read it all over the course of one stormy night or one long weekend, if you like fairy tales, you're sure to enjoy it - and it may prompt you to pick up additional books related to the original stories or their tellers!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Simon is the most hated person in school.

As the creator of a gossip app called "About That," he regularly posts school rumours that often expose people's mistakes or secrets.

When four students find themselves in detention for something they all deny doing, they aren't surprised to find Simon in there with them.

Then, the unthinkable happens, Simon dies in front of them and within minutes they are all suspects. Each student has a reason to want Simon dead.

Each student is holding a secret that might uncover the truth, and the creepiest thing? Simon's "About That" app continues to run after his death. Rumours and gossip continues to spread and as the police and news reporters swarm their lives, the students find themselves pushed to the breaking point.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Posted by John David Anderson

x500.png (500×757) Disclaimer: My oldest son is going to middle school in the fall and I am concerned about bullies and general meanness. I know I am not the only one, quite a few parents had questions about bullying in the open house last month.

Middle school is an awkward time for kids. They are coming into their own and finding a tribe to protect themselves from wolves. The schisms between tribes are usually difficult for middle schoolers to navigate since they haven't experienced anything like that before.

John David Anderson's Posted explores what occurs in one such tribe at Branton Middle School when the principal bans cell phones. The story is told from the viewpoint of Eric, an awkward, somewhat nerdy but decent kid who hangs out with fellow misfits nicknamed Bench, Deedee and Wolf. They eat at their table every day during lunch period and play Dungeons and Dragons on Friday nights.

The cell phone ban at school forces the kids to go old school to communicate and they start using post-it notes in class and worse, on lockers. Anderson explores what happens when kids say things that are downright mean and also what happens when kids unintentionally hurt others. Eric's tribe must deal with turmoil in their own family life, mean kids at school, a new kid called Rose and the sudden stratospheric rise of one of their own on the sports field.

Anderson's characters are ones you root for instantly and the antagonists made my blood boil although I couldn't help wondering what they were dealing with in their own lives. This is a great little book although some of the themes explored might go over the heads of younger readers. I recommend it for fifth grade and up. If you have read every Wonder book and spin-off try this novel.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Gork, The Teenage Dragon by Gabe Hudson




Size matters. No dragon wants his horns to be too small or his heart too large, especially during the awkward teenage years. Suffering from both of these maladies, our hero Gork must navigate the toxic dragon masculinity of WarWings Academy and Planet Blegwethia.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Guys Read: Funny Business

Guys Read is "a web-based literacy program for boys founded by author and First National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature Jon Scieszka." Mr. Scieszka has put together several books collecting different types of stories, including this. Guys Read: Funny Business is the first that he published.
I've been enjoying reading the stories, though I haven't finished it yet. One of my favorites so far was written by editor Scieszka and Kate DiCamillo (who wrote the amazing Because of Winn-Dixie). "Your Question for Author Here" is told as a series of letters between middle school student Joe Jones and author Maureen O'Toople. Joe contacted her for a school assignment he considers "lame." She agrees to answer his questions if he will answer some she poses to him. I imagine that Scieszka and DiCamillo have received letters from students regarding "lame assignments," and they have fun with this story. Quoting from it won't work very well, so I'm going to just recommend you get the book, and see how it works out. The other stories are worth your while, too. Funny Business!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

CASTLE IN THE STARS: The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice

"Gory Gods of Gaul!" It's a steampunk alternate history involving Mad King Ludwig, King of Bavaria, some nasty Prussians (including one with a sword hidden inside his cane), a boy named Seraphin and his father, plus two Bavarian servants. In this book, the characters are concerned with the notion of aether, as proposed by the Ancient Greeks, and seek to make their way into space using hydrogen balloons and "aether engines". Those balloons are used to ascend nearly into space, with suggestions being made of future space travel.

The format of this graphic novel is an oversized hardcover picture book measuring 8-3/4" x 11-1/2". It contains 62 oversized pages in full color throughout. It is Book One of what will be a two-part series (that was originally released in France in 2014 in newspaper format). The French text and illustrations were by Alex Alice; the English translation of the text contained in the new First Second edition is by Anne and Owen Smith.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Not A Drop To Drink by Mindy McGinnis

It's always just been Lynn and her mom in their house with their barn and most importantly their pond. She's never had any real contact with other people, except at the business end of the rifles they carry. Lynn lives in a world where those who have water live and those who don't, don't. They have it, and they mean to keep it. It's a hard life with a to do list that never ends. The two must purify their own water, gather firewood enough for a freezing cold winter, grow and can enough food to last through that same cold winter, and of course protect the pond from all who would like to take their water from it. 

Two new fires can be seen in the area and they make Lynn's mother edgy. who is out there? How many of them are there? When will they come for the pond?

McGinnis gives us a lot to think about in a world where weather is becoming more severe, oceanic water levels  and worldwide temperatures are on the rise, and the number of humans continues to increase with every day that passes. What would I be willing to do to protect what is mine? Would I be willing to share with anyone else? I'm thirsty just thinking about it...

This is the first of two books to keep you on the edge of your seat and see who survives. 

A great recommendation for fans of Divergent, The Hunger Games, and Article 5. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Ararat by Christopher Golden


Looking for a story to help you escape the heat of summer? Christopher Golden's newest thriller ARARAT is bound to give you chills.

I found myself holding my breath more than once while reading this book - pretty much any time that they were climbing up or down the mountain. The stakes can't get any higher (no pun intended) than when you're dangling off the side of a mountain - unless, of course, there happens to be a demon in a mix. Then you're just bound for disaster no matter what happens.

Mount Ararat is a real place. It is, in the words of Wikipedia, a snow-capped and dormant compound volcano in the extreme east of Turkey. The novel features a multicultural cast of characters who have come to Ararat from all over the world - and for all different reasons. The storyline incorporates a good mix of action and character-driven stories with a touch of the supernatural. Some characters are explorers, others researchers; some believe they've found Noah's Ark while others are skeptic; some are fighting for their beliefs while others are simply trying to survive.

Here's the jacket flap summary for this action-packed story:

Fans of Dan Simmons' THE TERROR will love ARARAT, the thrilling tale of an adventure that goes awry.

When a newly engaged couple climbs Mount Ararat in Turkey, an avalanche forces them to seek shelter inside a massive cave uncovered by the snow fall. The cave is actually an ancient, buried ship that many quickly come to believe is really Noah's Ark.

But when a team of scholars, archaeologists, and filmmakers make it inside the ark for the first time, they discover an elaborate coffin in its recesses - and when they break it open, they find that the cadaver within is an ugly, misshapen thing - and it has horns. A massive blizzard blows in, trapping them in that cave thousands of meters up the side of a remote mountain - but they are not alone.


Read an excerpt now.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Encounters by Jason Wallace

When I was a kid I was obsessed with UFOs.

My dad witnessed the unexplained object streak across the sky at his home in Clark's Harbour Nova Scotia in 1967. It would be known as the Shag Harbour UFO incident because many locals claimed to have seen a craft crash into the ocean. Some told stories of thick orange foam covering the top of the water and Russian ships suddenly converging on the area.

Whatever it was, it was an experience shared by others and the stories remain to this day.

Encounters is all about a shared experience. Based on the Ruwa, Zimbabwe UFO incident when dozens of school children claimed to have seen silver discs land behind their school, Encounters follows the journey of six children that have their lives changed forever because of the alleged alien encounter.

Finding Mighty by Sheela Chari


51NUxUJi+yL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (329×499)
I grew up in the 80s and was always fascinated by the emergence of the hip-hop movement. From afar I watched as b-boys used the tenets of the movement (rapping, djing, b-boying and graffiti) to express themselves in the dawn of a new era. Thus, when I saw Sheela Chari's new book, Finding Mighty I was instantly drawn to the cover and the book did not disappoint.

Chari is of East Indian descent and the main protagonists are of East Indian descent as well, something that I had not seen in many middle grade novels but which was a refreshing change as I feel it is critically important for kids to read about different perspectives and cultures.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints- Myla, Peter and his older brother Randall, and centers around the mysterious death of the boys' father, Omar. Randall has joined a group of graffiti artists who tag different parts of the city at night. One night Randall disappears and leaves cryptic clues to help his brother find him. Peter starts to search but soon realizes that he can't do it alone.

In addition to all of the above, Myla and Peter have to deal with being new sixth graders and the transition that this entails. Myla for her part feels invisible and in one interesting exchange between her and Peter they reflect on the pros and cons of the different neighborhoods. Chari does a wonderful job of touching on some deep issues in a very sensitive manner.

There are more characters too including the boys' weird uncle, an ex-con called Scottie Biggs and a nosy reporter called Kai Filnik who has a knack of popping up in the most unexpected places. This is a mystery with twists, turns and a great deal of heart. Highly recommended. Natasha Tarpley's The Harlem Charade is another great mystery set in and around New York City. Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer series is a great series of intricately plotted mysteries for middle grade readers.

Read other reviews like this on my blog here!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Old Yeller

I don’t always review fiction. When I do, I want it to be really good. Old Yeller is really good.
The book is “assigned reading” fairly frequently in the schools. I hope that students don’t decide to dislike it because it’s school work. Ideally they would get to read it before a teacher tells them they must (I remember so many of my fellow students hating the assigned Moby Dick. I read it on my own years later and consider it Melville’s masterpiece, no question.).
Anyway, Old Yeller is told by Travis, who is fourteen. He didn’t like the dog at first, but over time, changed his mind. Old Yeller turned out to be a wonderful dog. The ending of the story brought a tear to my eye, and the recognition that I had just read a great book. I had known about it for over fifty years. Finally, I knew what all the fuss was about.

“Every night before Mama let him go to bed, she’d make Arliss empty his pockets of whatever he’d captured during the day. Generally, it would be a tangled up mess of grasshoppers and worms and praying bugs and little rusty tree lizards. One time he brought in a horned toad that got so mad he swelled out round and flat as a Mexican tortilla and bled at the eyes. Sometimes it was stuff like a young bird that had fallen out of its nest before it could fly, or a green-speckled spring frog or a striped water snake. And once he turned out of his pocket a wadded-up baby copperhead that nearly threw Mama into spasms. We never did figure out why the snake hadn’t bitten him, but Mama took no more chances on snakes. She switched Arliss hard for catching that snake. Then she made me spend better than a week, taking him out and teaching him to throw rocks and kill snakes.

"That was all right with Little Arliss. If Mama wanted him to kill his snakes first, he’d kill them… The snakes might be stinking by the time Mama called on him to empty his pockets, but they’d be dead.”

The author, Fred Gipson, wrote two follow-ups to Old Yeller: Savage Sam, and Little Arliss. I haven’t read them yet. But it won’t be long.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

DECELERATE BLUE by Adam Rapp & Mike Cavallaro

There's an old English Beat song that ends "faster faster faster faster STOP (I'm dead)". (The name of the song is "I Just Can't Stop It", from an album of the same name.) It turns out to be almost a summary of this amazing dystopian graphic novel, Decelerate Blue, which is set in a hyperkinetic future. In that future, everyone has a chip in their arm and is constantly monitored by "Guarantee", which appears to be an industrial state entity of some sort. Chips are scanned all the time.

SPEED is the goal. And possibly brevity. Things are described as "hyper" instead of super or great. Modifiers like adjectives and adverbs are avoided by most people. Contractions are mandatory whenever possible. People end spoken statements with the word "Go", which is rather like hitting "enter" on a text, but may also be a short form of "Go, Guarantee, Go", which is repeated all the time by characters to signify their allegiance to the idea of keeping their "guarantee" and trying to operate at the necessary speed to satisfy the requirements of the state.

Angela, the main character, is more of an "old school" girl who prefers things to be slower and have more meaning than is allowed in the "GO" world in which she lives. When she is slipped a copy of "Kick the Boot", a novel by Kent Van Gough, she learns that he predicted this hyper world and its machinations.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book by Jomny Sun





Report to the Interstellar Committee re: What is an Earth Book?

Based on a study of everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too by jomny sun.

1. Earth Books contain simple drawings, often accompanied by words. But not always. Sometimes just simple drawings.

Rumors abound that some Earth Books contain ONLY words. I cannot verify this.

2. Despite reports to the contrary, spelling in Earth Books has not been standardized.

3. Nothing is not a minor character in Earth Books.

4. Wordplay is highly valued in Earth Books, particularly what are called “puns.” Puns are called “cringe-worthy” when they are highly effective. Puns may be a similar species to “Dad Jokes.” The Lesser Earth People do not think puns are worthy of anything but disdain. The Even Lesser Earth People write about Earth Books that use puns and use those very same puns, thus lessening the impact of those puns for the reader. Such actions are worthy of disdain.

5. Earth Books cause readers to “catch feelings.” (Earth People also catch fish and catch illnesses.) These feelings include but are not limited to the following: sadness, happiness, regret, compassion, empathy, remorse, tenderness, hope, and a smile. Some Lesser Earth People say that a smile is not a feeling, but those Lesser Earth People tend themselves not to smile, even when no one is around. “Catching feelings” is related to “The Feels.” Earth Books have “All The Feels.”  

6. Earth Books can be read by Earth Children and Earth Adults, together or separately. Earth Books show us that friends don’t have be human, but friends make us more human.

7. Reading Earth Books like everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too make Earth People More instead of Lesser.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Storm Front: The Dresden Files Book 1 by Jim Butcher

I have been told for years that I should pick up Storm Front, the first book in the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher - but I just haven't. I know that this series has been written about before (here,) but I just needed to add my appreciation as a representative of the holdout readers. After finishing this first installment, I can tell that this will be one of those series that feels like a pair of comfortable slippers. Any time there is a little lull in my to-read list or a time when I just feel the need for something familiar and comfortable, I'll look to Harry Dresden to see what antics my new favorite wizard is up to. 

As a fan of Harry Potter, it was interesting to have magic be an open part of the world and not hidden away in an alternate reality to those on non-magical skills.  I love the fact that Harry Dresden lives in Chicago and works with the Chicago PD to solve some of the more "odd" cases. As wizards go, Harry has magical abilities, but is not all powerful and I find the matter-of-fact nature of it all pretty refreshing after wizards like Gandalf and Albus Dumbledore who seem so omnipotent and huge.  A real tough guy investigator, but only human. Thus, mistakes are made, he gets himself into several tight situations and has a pretty cool cast of supporting characters to interact with. 

Older teens and adults alike who enjoy urban fantasy, wizards, and crime novels will love this series. If you have been hesitating as I have been, don't wait any longer. Do it, dive into the world of Harry Dresden and all of the magical adventures that take place there. I really think you will be happy you did.


Here is the listing of titles in the series in order.
Storm Front
Fool Moon
Grave Peril
Summer Knight
Death Masks
Blood Rites
Dead Beat
Proven Guilty
White Night
Small Favor
Turn Coat
Changes
Ghost Story
Cold Days
Skin Game

Friday, June 30, 2017

Get these books on your radar now (& check out the covers!!!!)

New covers are showing up on twitter lately for upcoming books. These caught my eye & I wanted to be sure you get them on your lists. Sequel to the outstanding Shadowshaper (you really need to read that now!), here's what author Daniel José Older told Teen Vogue about his upcoming book (due in September):

Definitely one thing about all my work, one thing in particular here, is looking at the power of community. Thinking about how much we can change when we get together and fight for it. This is a book that is explicitly a protest novel in the sense that the characters hit the streets protesting against violence and the different forms that it appears in in their lives. That is very much entwined with the larger narrative of what they are doing with their lives and trying to survive and the magical fights they are in. It is all tied together, not just like, "Oh, fight the power on one hand and then simply go off and do some cool magic stuff." They are all very much connected, whether it is the actual painting coming to life and fighting bad guys for you or it's you in your most difficult moment when you're most alone finding some kind of truth in a song or a book and that becomes a thread which is a lifeline that will pull you out of wherever you are. All those are forms of art saving lives and that's what is always on my mind when I am writing Shadowshaper books.


Eve Ewing's Electric Arches (due in ) is "an imaginative exploration of Black girlhood and womanhood through poetry, visual art, and narrative prose." The cover is flat out amazing but the description is even better. From the publisher:

Blending stark realism with the surreal and fantastic, Eve L. Ewing’s narrative takes us from the streets of 1990s Chicago to an unspecified future, deftly navigating the boundaries of space, time, and reality. Ewing imagines familiar figures in magical circumstances―blues legend Koko Taylor is a tall-tale hero; LeBron James travels through time and encounters his teenage self. She identifies everyday objects―hair moisturizer, a spiral notebook―as precious icons. 

Her visual art is spare, playful, and poignant―a cereal box decoder ring that allows the wearer to understand what Black girls are saying; a teacher’s angry, subversive message scrawled on the chalkboard. Electric Arches invites fresh conversations about race, gender, the city, identity, and the joy and pain of growing up.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone (due in October) is ripped from the headlines. Here's the publisher's description:

Justyce McAllister is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. He is eventually released without charges (or an apology), but the incident has Justyce spooked. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous—and white—debate partner he wishes he didn’t have a thing for.
 
Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure.
 
Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up. Way up. Much to the fury of the white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. And Justyce and Manny get caught in the crosshairs. In that media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack. The truth of what happened that night—some would kill to know. Justyce is dying to forget.

Monday, June 26, 2017

An Outstanding Series You Must Not Miss: Scientists in the Field

Google “American schools bad” and you get 237 million hits which is simultaneously impressive and depressing. Of course a lot of those hits are thousands of articles repeating the same thing thousands of other articles are saying and a lot of them are dubious conclusions of what “bad” means. (For some folks it apparently means that schools are teaching sex education that includes something other than abstinence; in others it means that American History is too depressing.) But it’s clear that buried in all the hyperbole is a very real concern that much of what is going on in our schools is not nearly as impressive as it should be and as a country, we could be doing a lot better.

The most prevalent topic mentioned to improve schools is a higher focus on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). The desire to increase enrollment numbers in these fields of study has drawn the attention of political figures across the spectrum and the targets are everyone: Boys with short attention spans! Girls with low self esteem! Minorities from under privileged backgrounds!. Programs encouraging STEM are discussed ad nauseam but what much of that coverage lacks is perhaps the very thing teens need the most: a reason to want to become actual scientists.

Science itself is a popular discussion topic—”robotics” will get you 65 million+ hits; space travel will get you 439 million and “plastic in ocean” will get you 80 million—but what individual scientists do on a daily basis to tackle these subjects and others like them is a mystery when compared to more straightforward professions like doctor, lawyer or airline pilot. Science is just so big that unless Neil deGrasse Tyson is being interviewed about Pluto again, it’s hard for most adults (let alone kids) to name an actual living scientist. 

Quite frankly, the whole thing can get very frustrating.

But before panic sets in, the Scientist in the Field series needs to be checked out. Launched in 1999 by writer Sy Montgomery and photographer Nic Bishop, these books aimed at older middle grade and teen readers, combine curious writers with talented photographers and the fieldwork of a host of scientists around the world. Winners of dozens of awards highlighting their wide appeal, timeliness and whip smart content, the series shows readers not only some of the interesting and important science happening today but also what actual scientists look like (which is, happily, pretty darn diverse).


Scientist in the Field books tackle a wide range of subjects from volcanic eruptions and ocean trash to the invasion of North America by the destructive Asian long horned beetle, the search for intelligent life in the universe, the dangerous impact of pesticides on frogs and conservation efforts to save animals like the sea turtle, snow leopard, tree kangaroo and bees.

In the 40+ books to date, readers visit urban, suburban and wilderness destinations as the profiled scientists do their work. There are a lot of physically uncomfortable situations (it gets very hot in Brazil while tracking tapirs for example and very cold in Alaska while studying bowhead whales). But the hands-on nature of the jobs requires these men and women be out in the world getting close to their subjects. While labs certainly feature in many of the books, the scientists are clear that they can not find the answers they are looking for online—you have to get outside and, more often than not, you have to get dirty.

The structure for each title is similar: a writer and photographer generally match up with a small group of scientists engaged in single project. Sometimes the books focus on one individual and while in other cases they follow the work of several scientists who are attacking a project from multiple angles. With in-depth interviews and overviews of the scientific methods used, backgrounds of the team members and unique aspects of the problem like history, geography or cultural impact, the series fully immerses readers in places familiar, (a pond in Wyoming or neighborhood in Massachusetts), and foreign, (the cloud forest of Papua New Guinea or mountains of Mongolia). While American scientists often play a part even in the international settings, local scientists are always significant to the narrative as well, sometimes even risking their lives to find answers as in “Eruption!” which is about volcanoes in the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Diversity is, in fact, a byword for every aspect of the Scientist in the Field series. The subjects and locations are diverse, the type of science, (astronomy, geology, biology, forensics, entomology and on and on), is diverse and most refreshingly, the men and women involved cover a vast range of ages and ethnicities. Readers will see themselves in these books simply because somewhere within them is someone who looks like they do.

So what kind of scientists do you meet here? People like Curt Ebbesmeyer who tracks sneakers and toys lost at sea to map and track ocean currents in Tracking Trash; volcanologist Supriyati Andreastuti, who collects and measures volcanic ash in Eruption!; Tyrone Hayes who leads his graduate students out to collect pond water samples so they can study the impact of pesticides on frogs in The Frog Scientist and Hazel Barton who hunts in underground caves for microbes that might hold the secrets to life under the harshest of circumstances in Extreme Scientists.

Mysteries figure large and small in the books of this series, and so do adventures and surprises. The authors don’t sugarcoat the record keeping or statistical analysis that is necessary for good science, but they can’t keep the excitement out of their narratives. More than anything though, they make readers believe that science is possible for anyone; you just have to find the subject that gets you excited and then get out there to learn more about it. The Scientist in the Field series proves you can do it; no matter who you are or where you come from, you can have a life like the people in these books and you can change the world while you are living it. And more than anything, that is a pretty amazing (and inspiring) message for any teenager to discover.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson

Black Hole Sun / Won't You Come / And Wash Away the Rain

Soundgarden's dark lyrics were floating around my mind while I read this thrilling sci-fi adventure from Kevin Emerson.

The year is 2213, but no one's really counting anymore because the Earth is dead, swallowed by the sun as it goes supernova.

Earth's population has gone to Mars, but it's only a short stay because Mars isn't safe from the sun's wrath either.

Mars is just a place for the Earthlings to get their act together before they embark on a 150 year journey to a new home.


Liam was born on Mars, and the thought of leaving it behind is crushing, but he goes along with it because leaving is better than being melted to nothing. Liam's friend Phoebe is also disappointed about leaving, together they reminisce about their time together and get ready to board the last starliner to leave the red planet.

As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds

Ernie and his brother Genie are from Brooklyn so they've seen it all and then some and they aren't afraid of nothing. That is until their parents pack them off to a small town in Virginia one summer to stay with their grandparents. Rural Virginia is a lot different from the big city for a lot of reasons, chief among them being that for one, they live out near woods where all kinds of critters (and snakes) live.

Genie, is younger and he looks up to his older brother Ernie. Ernie is cool, always wears sunglasses and unfailingly sticks up for Genie, especially when other kids call him names like Geenie Weenie. They share a close brotherly bond and they need that bond more than ever since their parents are going through a bit of a rough patch-the summer trip to their grandparents' is meant to be a chance for their parents to work out some issues.


26875552.jpg (318×474)Everyone is scared of something. For a kid like Genie this is a coming-of-age moment in his life since he isn't used to seeing grown ups have such visceral reactions to things that scare them. Grandpa for his part, although he is blind does not hesitate to do things around the house, the fact of which astounds the boys.

Reynolds deftly intertwines various topics in this novel, among them the complicated nature of family relations and the dichotomy between city life and country life.

Being brave in most books for this age group involves kids finding the strength to do (or say) things. Reynolds inverts that dynamic and shows us that it's ok not to do things that scare us. Some read alikes to this book are Shelley Pearsall's The Seventh Most Important Thing, Andrew Clements' The Jacket and Daphne Benedis-Grab's Army Brats.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Teen Survey: Nathaniel


School's out for summer! A recent high school graduate filled out our GuysLitWire Survey. Here's what he had to say:

Name: Nathaniel

Age:
18

Grade:
12th (just graduated)

Books recently read for fun:
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Books recently read for class:
The Iliad
by Homer
Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West
Hamlet by William Shakespeare (It's always been my favorite Shakespeare play!)
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Books you read as a kid:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle

Why you like to read:
I just do.

Favorite book genres/topics:
Dark thinky stuff and biographies.

Favorite books:
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Favorite playwrights and plays:
Shakespeare

Favorite type of music:
Classical

Anything else you want to say:
Hi!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

California Dreamin' by Pénélope Bagieu

All the leaves are brown
and the sky is grey
I've been for a walk
on a winter's day . . .


CALIFORNIA DREAMIN': Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas is a graphic novel by Pénélope Bagieu, who also wrote and drew Exquisite Corpse, featured in this post last year. The book was originally published in French, then translated into the English by Nanette McGuinness.

This graphic novel tells the story of Ellen Cohen, known by most people as Cass Elliot (a stage name based on a reversal of her initials), known by still more as "Mama Cass", from her childhood in Baltimore to her 24th birthday, shortly after signing a record contract as part of The Mamas & the Papas. There are no color spreads inside the book, but the colorful story telling and clear identification of characters by image make it easy to follow.

Nearly every chapter is from the perspective of a different person in Cass's life, from her sister to her parents to high school friends to fellow musicians. And it totally works in conveying the essence of her persona - her charm and wit, her social consciousness, her insecurities, her desire for love - with its spare telling of incidents and chapters in Cass Elliot's life.

It's an honest portrayal, complete with drug use and language, and is a page-turner in the best sense. While many of the pages include frames and boxes for images, there is an interesting fluidity to Bagieu's style, as in the chapter entitled "Bess", which is named for her mother. While Bess is framed throughout, she finds Cass in the basement with Michelle and John Phillips and Denny Doherty, completely tripping on acid. Those pages are rather free-form (except for any appearance by Bess).



The book does not cover Cass's success with The Mamas & the Papas, or her later solo career, but it paints a clear picture of her childhood and early development. A truly clever biography.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dan vs. Nature by Don Calame

Dan vs. Nature by Don Calame had me on page 2 with “uriniferous homunculi.” The young adult novel solidified its hold on page 190 with its description of a certain bodily function sounding like “a didgeridoo played into a pot of loose mashed potatoes.” And my affection for this hilarious tale was cemented on page 261 with a reference to Blood Meridian. Cormac McCarthy references AND virtuoso uses of figurative language to describe the sight, smell, and sound of human excretion? This is the book for me.

If you laughed at any or all of those examples, Dan vs. Nature is the book for you as well, a tour de force mash-up of juvenile humor and SAT vocabulary in the season of Survivor that will never air. The novel starts tamely enough: Teenage nebbishes Dan and Charlie are accosted by what Charlie describes as the aforementioned “homunculi.” Dan’s life only gets worse when his mother reveals that she is engaged to manly man Hank, who Dan can only see as the latest in a series of bad choices his mother has made since his birth father ran off years ago. And Dan’s life seems to bottom out when his well-meaning mother reveals that Dan’s birthday present is a male-bonding survival wilderness trip with Hank.

Charlie, however, has the brilliant/deranged idea to use the trip to torment Hank and convince him to abandon the relationship with Dan’s mother. I do not want to spoil the particulars, but the plans involve hacking a “practice baby” from Dan’s high school and turning it into a liquid-spewing demon, a copious amount of doe urine, and doctoring various substances so Dan spends a lot of time with his “sluices” opened at both ends.

Zany and gloriously debauched, the deterioration of the wilderness trip in Dan vs. Nature more than compensates for the general predictability of the overall plot resolution. It’s not so much the fluidity of the plot as the fluids in the plot that will keep you reading. The introduction of less-than manic pixie dream girl Penelope as a potential love/lust interest for both Charlie and Dan also makes for a satisfying subplot. And how can you deny a book that begins with the main character being punched in the ass, continues with him punching himself in the junk, and ends with him getting punched in the face not once but twice? Dan vs. Nature pulls no punches in its gleeful depiction of man and nature at their most elemental.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Sign of the Beaver

It's not perfect. But The Sign of the Beaver is a good story. Good enough to be named a Newbery Honor Book, as a matter of fact.

It tells of thirteen-year-old Matt, who is left to guard the new home they built in the wilderness of Maine, when his father heads off to bring the rest of the family from their old house in Quincy, Massachusetts. He loses his hunting rifle to a thief, and worries that he may starve. But some locals Indians help him in exchange for Matt teaching the young Attean to read.

"An uncomfortable doubt had long been troubling Matt. Now, before Attean went away, he had to know. 'This land,' he said slowly, 'this place where my father built his cabin. Did it belong to your grandfather? Did he own it once?'

'How one man own ground?' Attean questioned.

'Well, my father owns it now. He bought it.'

'I not understand.' Attean scowled. 'How can man own land? Land same as air. Land for all people to live on. For beaver and deer. Does deer own land?'

How could you explain, Matt wondered, to someone who did not want to understand? Somewhere in the back of his mind there was a sudden suspicion that Attean was making sense and he was not. It was better not to talk about it. Instead he asked, 'Where will you go?'

'My grandfather say much forest where sun go down. White man not come so far.'

To the west. Matt had heard his father talk about the west. There was good land there for the taking. Some of their neighbors in Quincy had chosen to go west instead of buying land in Maine. How could he tell Attean that there would be white men there too?"