Wednesday, September 20, 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.



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.