Friday, January 13, 2017

Flying Lessons & Other Stories

The co-founder of We Need Diverse Books, Ellen Oh edited this collection. She dedicated it "to the memory of Walter Dean Myers, who said 'There is work to be done.' So our work continues." I'm a big fan of Myers, and am happy to see the work continue here.
Ms. Oh has put together ten stories from diverse authors.

Characters are not all cut from the same mold, these are stories for all of us. Writers include Kwame Alexander, Kelly J. Baptist, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Tim Tingle, Jacqueline Woodson, and the great Walter Dean Myers.

As with any anthology, there are some stories I like better than others - that's to be expected. I can't really pick a favorite, but Matt de la Peña's story, "How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium" was as good as the title. And Meg Medina's "Sol Painting, Inc." made me laugh so much at one point (commenting on a painting business), I had to set the book down a while and collect myself. So try some Flying Lessons & Other Stories!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


The latest entry into George O'Connor's Olympians series is ARTEMIS: Wild Goddess of the Hunt, a slender graphic novel jam-packed with stories about Artemis, from her origin (elder twin to Apollo, whose birth was covered in APOLLO: The Brilliant One, reviewed here at Guys Lit Wire last January) to stories of folks who slighted her (not a good idea) or tried to woo/marry/spy on her (ditto).

In the spread below, you can see Artemis outsmarting Otus and Ephialtes, who are the Alodai - two mutant sons of Poseidon who want to marry Artemis and Hera, never mind that Artemis has sworn never to marry and Hera is already married to Zeus. Once a year, they storm Olympus. Each year they get bigger and stronger and come closer to succeeding before Zeus knocks them back. Turns out that the only one who can kill them is the other brother. Artemis makes that work.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Dodgers by Bill Beverly

“All the land—people talked about America, someday you should see it, you should see it, you should drive across it all. They didn’t say how it got into your head” (102).

America got in my head while reading Bill Beverly’s Dodgers, just as it gets into the head of the novel’s main character, East. And it will get into your head to, as you follow East on his journey from South Central Los Angeles through the Midwest (including a tension-filled stop in my home state, Iowa) and into Ohio.

Dodgers is the story of East, a fifteen-year-old corner boy ordered by his boss and biological father Fin to lead a van load of four young black men (including East’s estranged half-brother Ty) into whitest America to take care of some “business” involving a witness. And the story of the inevitable complications that arise when the “business” becomes messy.

But Dodgers is also the story of America: the underbelly and the overbite, the parts you fly over and the parts you are afraid to enter, the racial and cultural bubbles and the overlap of their Venn diagrams, the supply and the demand sides of the drug trade, lives that are a series of grifts and grasps. The frayed edges of family, whether it be the violent confrontations between East and Ty, the street code of Fin’s criminal enterprise, or the bonds that develop in Ohio between East and his new boss, Perry, at the paintball house. America as a series of broken homes, figurative and literal.

Broken into three equally compelling sections, Dodgers takes the crime novel on a worthy road trip. Though set in contemporary America, Dodgers shares certain aspects of genre, theme, and tone with season two of Noah Hawley’s Fargo, and I could see the book being adapted into a future season of the show. I hope that sounds like high praise—it is meant to.

Monday, December 26, 2016

7 Books in 2017

2017 is merely days away, and if you recently received gift cards to your favorite local bookstores or online bookshops, you may be anxious to redeem them. Here are seven titles coming out in 2017 that may appeal to this blog's readers - and to this blog's writer, too! :)
I have always been fascinated by Rumspringa, a rite of passage for teens in some Amish communities. Snowbirds by Crissa-Jean Chappell, coming out first thing in January, follows Lucy as she searches for her best friend Alice, who has disappeared in the middle of Rumspringa. "I really hope she finds her," I said to myself when I read the book summary; I am also simultaneously steeling myself for something akin to As Simple as Snow by Gregory Galloway, just in case...
Three February titles are attracting my attention: the illustrated novel Grim Death and Bill the Electrocuted Criminal by Mike Mignola and Tom Sniegoski, the anthology Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World by Kelly Jensen, and the novel We Are Okay by Nina LaCour.

Mignola, famous for creating Hellboy, among other things, teams up with my pal Tom Sniegoski for an illustrated pulp novel about two unusual heroes fighting evil and seeking justice. If you like Mignola's collaborative works with Christopher Golden, like Baltimore and Joe Golem and the Drowning City, check out  Grim Death and Bill.

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World by Kelly Jensen features pieces from 44 different contributors, including illustrators, musicians, novelists, dancers, and leaders. I feel like Leslie Knope from Parks & Rec would appreciate this book. Sending a virtual high-five to Kelly for assembling these essays and illustrations.
If you haven't read a Nina LaCour novel, you are missing out, and you need to rectify that immediately. Go get Hold Still and her other works, read 'em and weep, then prepare for her next book, We Are Okay. The protagonist is halfway through her first year of college, so this book is ready for readers in that end-of-teens/early-20s spot who are searching for a story that reflects their current experience.

Ararat by Christopher Golden comes out in April. It's adventure time: A newly-engaged couple climbs Mount Ararat in Turkey, gets hit by an avalanche, and discovers a cave that some believe is Noah's Ark. When they uncover what's really trapped inside the vessel - and when they, too, are trapped by the blizzard - things get even stranger, and deadlier. I'll read anything Christopher Golden writes, and as I am not one for climbing mountains or going outside during a blizzard, I look forward to reading this page-turner while bundled under a multitude of blankets and drinking cocoa and shouting things like, "Go back! Go back!" to the characters, even though I know they can't hear me. Golden's books are like movies pressed between two covers.

Sarah Dessen's thirteenth novel Once and for All will be available in June. The main character, Louna, is the daughter of a wedding planner. Typically told in first-person and led by a female protagonist trying to make her way through this world, Dessen's novels appeal to those who like realistic contemporary fiction with elements of romance, family, and community.
 September will bring us Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough. Between the buzz of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony award-winning musical Hamilton and the presidential race, 2016 brought politics to the dinner table, the watercooler, and school cafeterias alike, igniting conversations between people of all ages. Those who dug Hamilton (like me!) might be interested in picking up this non-fiction book and learning more about the ten-dollar founding father. Just you wait...

These are just seven of the books I'm looking forward to checking out when they are released in 2017.  There are plenty more where that came from, and I have a running list of them at my blog, Bildungsroman. What 2017 releases are you aching to read? Leave a comment below and let me know! Happy holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Dogs by Allan Stratton

Cameron and his mum are on the run.

Cameron's dad is a maniac, an abuser and all around psycho. That is, at least, what Cameron's been told since he was young.

After five years of jumping around, they settle on an old farmhouse in a place called Wolf Hollow.

Right away Cameron senses something's not right. He feels he's being watched from the cornfield, from the old disused barn, from the road, everywhere. He tells himself it's just his imagination, but with his mum filling his head with horror stories about his dad, he can't really be sure.

Then there's the boys at school, and the stories about the farmhouse that he's just moved into. The former owner went nuts, murdered his family and was eventually torn to pieces by his own guard dogs. Cameron can't figure out if this is true or just small town gossip.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Fever Code by James Dashner

Image result for the fever code

How was the maze built?   Is WICKED good?   These are just some of the questions that fans of this series have been asking themselves for the past few years.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

We are recommending science books.....

.....because science does not change depending on your political persuasion. It never has, and it never will. If you choose not to believe in science then we here at Guys Lit Wire would appreciate it if you would please remove yourself from all conversations on the subject. (And also all science-related Congressional committees.) (And also all cabinet level positions that involve running departments staffed with scientists.)


Now onto the recommendations!
1. The entire SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD series. These books work for a wide age range and are notable not only for their stellar content but outstanding design as well. The author/photographer combo embed with a variety of scientists working in areas from sharks to frogs to volcanoes and space travel. The chapters are concise, the photos clear and intense and the focus is always on the fascinating work being done by scientists (male, female, all races, American & international) in the field. A personal favorite for me is Tracking Trash which was a page turner for everyone who saw it on our coffee table a few Christmases ago. (And got us all talking about the garbage in the oceans.) Check these titles out - I can't recommend them enough.

2. The books of Mary Roach. From Grunt, (on the science of war), to Packing for Mars and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (+ more), Roach has carved out a fascinating niche as an author who immerses herself in a subject and then presents it in a highly engaging and readable fashion. Check all of her work out & read this recent interview with Wired on Grunt.

3. Next of Kin by Roger Fouts & Stephen Mills on years of researching chimpanzees (and development of sign language communication with them) which led to Fouts's turn against biomedical research using  chimpanzees.  With a forward by Jane Goodall, this will appeal strongly to animal lovers. (And younger teens should also check out Jim Ottaviani's graphic novel Primates for short bios of Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas.) Jane Goodall has written a slew of books, all worth checking out - 50 Years at Gombe is especially impressive.

4. Multiple Exposures by Catherine Caufield and The Age of Radiance by Craig Nelson both take a long look at the history of the Atomic Age and the "use, misuse and control of the power of radiation from the discovery of x-rays and radium to the present day." Also check out Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss which combines a biography of their tragic research into radioactivity along with Redness's unique artistic presentation. Jonathan Fetter-Vorm has an outstanding graphic novel history of the Manhattan Project with Trinity and Jim Ottaviani's Feynman is everything you would ever want to know about what of the greatest physicists of all time. (Also see Richard Rhodes's definitive history, The Making of the Atomic Bomb.) Finally, Shelly Emling (who wrote the wonderful Fossil Hunter about Mary Anning) has a biography of the Curie family: Marie Curie and Her Daughters which covers the decades-long period after her husband's death and Curie's constant battles against sexism as she continued to work.

5. The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein. Tons of accolades for this one &amp, as it chronicles of the story of a teen, it has been appeal for readers in his age group. From Booklist: "Silverstein recounts how Hahn, while a high-school student in the early 1990s, tried to assemble a breeder nuclear reactor in a garden shed. Seeking the origins of such audacity, the author extensively interviewed Hahn and worked backward from the day in 1995 when EPA personnel clad in ventilated moon suits took away Hahn's radioactive material. To Silverstein, Hahn was two things at once: a kid out of time who imbibed 1960-style nuclear optimism from a chemistry book published that year and a kid of the times, the product of divorce. Neither parents nor stepparents, consumed by work and personal problems, supervised young David, who, utterly heedless of danger, re-created the experiments of Marie and Pierre Curie with a monomania that fed his fantasy of going nuclear. Aghast at Hahn's recklessness but amazed by his mad-scientist resourcefulness, Silverstein regales readers with an irresistible tale."

6. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  It should be on high school reading lists everywhere, not only for the science issues it tackles but the moral issues that demand classroom discussion. Skloot has written a masterpiece, plain & simple. Read about what she is doing for Lacks's descendants in this NY Times article. And then just buy it. Really. Just buy the book.

(Here's a bit from the NYT review that really stayed with me: "But The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is much more than a portrait of the Lacks family. It is also a critique of science that insists on ignoring the messy human provenance of its materials. “Scientists don’t like to think of HeLa cells as being little bits of Henrietta because it’s much easier to do science when you dissociate your materials from the people they come from,” a researcher named Robert Stevenson tells Skloot in one of the many ethical discussions seeded throughout the book.")

7.  Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. I reviewed this one for Booklist and I'm so glad it has been made into a movie. It's a classic example of forgotten/hidden history and along with Margaret Hamilton receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom last month, an excellent stab at shining light on the historic record. From my review for Booklist: "....many of the women, particularly African American women, were employed not as secretaries but as “computers”: individuals capable of making accurate mathematical calculations at staggering speed who ultimately contributed to the agency’s aerodynamic and space projects on an impressive scale. Shetterly does an outstanding job of weaving the nearly unbelievable stories of these women into the saga of NASA’s history (as well as its WWII-era precursor) while simultaneously keeping an eye on the battle for civil rights that swirled around them. This is an incredibly powerful and complex story, and Shetterly has it down cold. The breadth of her well-documented research is immense, and her narrative compels on every level."

Take a minute and check out the trailer for the upcoming movie which looks AWESOME:

Also check out Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt on the women who were employed early at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and T-Minus, another great graphic novel from Jim Ottaviani, on the race to the moon and, if you can bear to have your heart broken, Laika, by Nick Abadzis, the story of the little Russian dog who became the world's first space traveler. (I prefer the ending to that tale found in the picture book Laika: Astronaut Dog by Owen Davey. It's wonderful.)

8. Elements by Theodore Gray is both visually stunning and very well written (even funny). Gray has a ton of fans and for good reason. He actually collects the elements which seems...impossible, but is true and is a great way in which to make the whole Periodic Table a real thing and not some abstract poster that hangs on a classroom wall (which is how most of us see it). Gray has also written Molecules and fans can get a puzzle of his version of the Periodic Table and a photographic card deck which allows users to create their own table. 

I'll be adding more to the post in the coming days. (I haven't even gotten to the Darwin books yet!) And please feel free to make your science recs in the comments. Thanks!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

An amazing Cyber Week of gift-giving for Ballou Sr High School Library!

Our hope for the Cyber Week book fair for Ballou Library was that 50 new books would be bought from the amazon wish list for this underfunded Washington DC school. After the annual book fair in late October (that kind of got lost in the election madness), we saw over 100 books head to the school which was fabulous but, as always, we here at Guys Lit Wire hoped for more. (Don't hate us for being greedy about books for school libraries. We will never tire of wanting more books for school libraries.)

But you guys - YOU GUYS! - we blew past our modest goal and saw more like 150 books go to DC during Cyber Week and it is so awesome!

So many generous people bought so many wonderful books for Ballou. Tons of graphic novels were sent, along with some excellent novels, some biographies, a cookbook, THREE DC Encyclopedias, (Yep, there was a contingent really waiting on those as you can see) and so much more. I could go on and on about how much the kids wanted these books and how excited they are to receive them.

Some folks even paid for gift wrapping the books which was just so kind; so incredibly kind. The students at Ballou will be out of school soon for winter break but now they head off to the holidays with, between the two book fair events, nearly 300 new books on the shelves of their library. We will certainly be working with Ballou's librarian, Melissa Jackson, in the new year to send more books to the school and hope you will help us again. A lot of things are happening in America right now and more than ever supporting our public schools is the job for everyone. Thank you for what you did for Ballou at the closing of the year.

 Thank you so very very much!

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

This is my metric for success as a reading teacher: When a student checks out a book from our classroom library, reads it in one night, returns the next day to ask if the next book in the series has been published, and seems legitimately crushed when he finds out the answer is no. Such was the case with Brittany Cavallaro’s A Study in Charlotte, Book One in the Charlotte Holmes series.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Spoken Word Revolution Redux

Billy Collins has a great poem called "Introduction to Poetry," where he suggests how students could enjoy a poem, but it ends,

"But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

"They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means."

That pretty much describes how school taught me to hate poetry. But it turns out, I don't have to find out what it really means! And I can enjoy a poem best if I hear it read aloud. Best of all is if I hear the poet read it. The Spoken Word Revolution Redux lets me do that with the included CD. It includes slam, hip-hop poetica, dub poetry, musical interpretations, European performance poetry, and some youth poetry too. There are readings by Billy Collins, Ted Kooser,and Mark Strand, who have all been U.S. Poets Laureate.

There are some eye-opening, ear-pleasing, sweet readings to listen to. I haven't actually read the book yet - it's mostly the text of the poems, along with some commentary introducing the writer. What I have done is gotten the first volume, called The Spoken Word Revolution (slam, hip hop & the poetry of a new generation), and started listening to it. It's awesome too!