Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lock & Mori by Heather Petty

I was waiting for the next season of Sherlock to come out, and I just wanted a little something to tide me over. Petty has written an intriguing alternate version of the Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty duo. A fast paced mystery set in modern times. I particularly enjoyed the development of the characters as they work through the mystery and learn more about their skills at observation and where they lack knowledge to accurately deduce the outcome.

I look forward to the release of the second in this series (December 6, 2016) to see how she continues to develop these characters and create her own "Sherlock" world.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Killing and Dying: Stories by Adrian Tomine

Killing & Dying is a graphic novel nthology of amazingly written stories about people who live ordinary lives but end up in weird, sad or funny situations. Trust me, you'll fly through these stories and curse the story-gods that there weren't more!

There are six stories, "Hortisculputre" which is the somewhat depressing tale of a guy who becomes obsessed with a form of landscape artwork that only he truly appreciates. It's the story of a guy trying to make something of his life and nearly losing everything he has in the process.

"Amber Sweet" is about a woman who is a dead ringer for an online porn star. How their lives intertwine is touching, funny and strange. 

"Go Owls" is one of the most hard hitting in my opinion. Two people meet after an AA meeting, they seem to get a long and decide to move in together. Their story is tragic as their addictions and shortcomings bubble up to the surface over and over again. 



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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

This is a  lever novel unlike many I have seen before and I won't be surprised if it gets on many "must read" lists. I say that because while it mentions many of the popular YA tropes of the past few years, the overall theme is that real life is a much scarier proposition for teens to navigate.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Beats: A Graphic History

For me, the writers I think of as "Beats" included Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and a few others I paid less attention to. Gary Snyder, sort of, since Kerouac did base a character in The Subterraneans on him. But I don't like labels much, and neither do most of the writers. Critics, on the other hand, love to categorize artists and writers into this slot or that literary movement.

This graphic narrative (NOT novel) views the beat writers alongside those of the "San Francisco Poetry Renaissance." There was certainly some overlap, some mutual influence. It's a very readable look at a bunch of mid- to late- twentieth century American writers. Beyond the four I mentioned, there are also profiles of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Olson, Michael McClure, Philip Lamantia, Kenneth Patchen, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, Philip Whalen, and several more good writers. The profiles tell a little about their lives and their writings.

Politically & culturally, Patchen was a rebel. Though variously identified as a communist, anarchist, Trotskyist, beat, surrealist, or dadaist, he rejected all labels... Above all, he hated war. "Any man with a gun aimed at another man is Hitler."

Many of those labels could be applied to a lot of writers. The labels may help us appreciate their work, but I'm reminded of Duke Ellington, who didn't always like the category "jazz." He composed music. Period.

Several artists drew these comix, and several people wrote the profiles, making The Beats: A Graphic History a lot of fun!

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

If I Was Your Girl

I know out there in the kidlit community the questions "What exactly is a 'boy book?'" and "Do we really need books specifically made *for* boys?" Inherent in the first question is a need for a solid definition, in the second an argument against the idea that boys and girls think and read differently. I'm not going to try to answer these questions, but I do want to present an opportunity to think about what we want from the books boys read, and how do we best achieve that.

Okay, kind of a heavy start for a review, but this is Guys Lit Wire, and I think most of us here are committed to this idea of championing really solid literature in all formats for a broad audience of boy. This time around, perhaps a non-obvious choice on the surface if you judge by the cover, and that's my point. You look at If I Was Your Girl and think "Hmm. Is that really a boy book?" Then you read a little.

Amanda has just been picked up at a bus station by her Dad, who she hasn't seen in six year, needing to get out of the town where her Mom lives and start her life with a clean slate. She arrives in Lambertville, GA with a black eye and the overall desire to just crawl into a ball and hide after a stint in the hospital. She approaches her new school with the usual apprehensions about being the new kid in town, afraid she'll land in the same scrapes but with the hope that something will change, because she has.

You see, back at her old school she was known by her birth name, Andrew.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Thing With Feathers by Noah Strycker

Or, as the subtitle says, "The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human." This remarkable nonfiction book, reads like a poetic recounting of both biological and anthropological fact, woven as creative nonfiction. It's by Noah Strycker, who holds the World Record for birdwatching's "Big Year" - 6,042 species of birds in 2015, and wrote Among Penguins, about his time in Antarctica.

Strycker is 30 years old, and is a prime example of someone living their (possibly geeky/nerdy) dream life. He happens to really love bird-watching, and learning about animal behavior. As a result, he has traveled extensively around the globe, been on all seven continents, and made a living while writing for Birding Magazine (where he's an associate editor) and publishing surprisingly engaging nonfiction accounts of bird life and behavior. Having read great reviews in the newspaper, I snagged my copy in an airport bookshop while traveling, and was happy to have it as my companion.

The Thing With Feathers is divided into three main sections: "Body", "Mind", and "Spirit", each containing 4-5 chapters. The chapters aren't cumulative, but are stand-alone ideas, although there are obvious overlaps and inter-relationships as the book moves along. The very first chapter is about pigeons - specifically, racing pigeons, which manage to navigate distances really well and can often find their way home even when great lengths are taken to drop them someplace far away (and to confuse them about how they got there). Along the way during that chapter, Strycker relates stories of mammals (dogs and cats) who also found their ways long distances to return to their homes or families.

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Monday, May 9, 2016

The Haters by Jesse Andrews




Full disclosure before I review Jesse Andrews’ new novel, The Haters: I am myself a reformed hater, albeit one who suffers from occasional relapses. The hating by the characters in Andrews’ novel is mostly of the musical kind, but I also drank the literary haterade. In my defense, doing so was somewhat required of an English major, at least when I was an undergraduate (which was post-admission of women, pre-availability of the Internet to anyone but hardcore physics/chemistry majors in the basement of the science building whose existence on campus I knew of only as myth).

The former hater in me would begin this review by asserting with a certain weariness that Andrews’ second novel is nowhere near as good as his first, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which I knew and loved WAY before the rest of you did, and certainly WAY before it became a film and (sigh) they published a version with “Now A Major Motion Picture!” on it. Haters know that all artists who achieve any level of fame are inherently corrupted, and all subsequent work can only be hated on.

The Haters is about Wes and Corey, best friends and music geeks, who meet Ash, guitar goddess, at a summer jazz camp none of them particularly like. The trio bond over their mutual love (and hate) for music and the fact that, as high school boys, Wes and Corey are more than a little girl-crazy. Ash is their manic pixie guitar goddess, and she sparks them to embark on an epic and hastily planned road trip through the South trying to find places to let their band perform. (First performance? At an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.)

Andrews, as he showed in his first novel, writes teenage boys well and hilariously. Well, hilariously from my viewpoint.  Me and Earl was a divisive book, and I imagine The Haters will be too. Wes and Corey manspread their extended manpart jokes throughout the novel; if that sounds crass and distasteful to you, The Haters will engender your hatred. If that sounds crass and amusing, this book is for you.

Wes, as our narrator, occasionally pulls back the curtain of humor he uses for protection to show us the loneliness and insecurity behind it.  And Corey, well, I mean, he’s the drummer. All drummers have issues. Spinal Tap knew it. The Muppets knew it. It’s a truth about life, and through their misadventures in relationships and gigging, all three characters in The Haters understand some more important truths about life and manage to grow a little by the end. And, no, that’s not a dick joke, but I guarantee you Wes and Corey would have made it into one.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The End of the Worlds

Practical Applications of Multiverse Theory, by Nick Scott and Noa Gavin, doesn't know exactly what kind of book it wants to be.

Scott Simmons is an awkward high school student who hangs out with a group of social outcasts--specifically several nerds plus an enormous guy named Ted who doesn't speak except to say "Hey, man" occasionally. For the most part Scott tries to just lay low and appear invisible to his classmates, hoping in this way to survive and eventually escape from his school.

Davey Burgess -- a name Scott thinks sounds like "something the movie Juno threw up"--is Scott's arch nemesis and near polar opposite. She's cute, the captain of the cheerleader squad and seeks out as much attention as the school will give her. She is also mean, relentlessly ambitious and has her sights set on becoming homecoming queen. She hates Scott as much as he hates her.

Yet, the two keep running into one another.

It all begins, as Scott describes, with a Dr. Pepper can that is somehow incorrectly filled with Hi-C. Scott manages to spill it on Davey's 80s spirit day t-shirt. This is the first and most innocuous of a number of strange occurrences that lead the two characters to an understanding that the universe as we know it is coming apart at the seams. Initially only Davey and Scott can see what's happening. For example, Scott's friends become lizards, try to eat him and then return to being human. And Davey's biology specimen frog comes to life and pleads with her to not cut it up.

After days of denial the two come to realize something is seriously wrong with the school as they slip in and out of realities populated by lizards, monsters, robots and sexy cannibalistic teenage girls who want nothing more than to mate with Scott before they consume him.

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Essential Maps for the Lost by Deb Caletti



Both Madison (Mads) and Billy have their futures ahead of them - futures heavily shaped by their mothers. And, perhaps, by each other. But when the story starts, when their stories first intersect, only one of them is present: Mads, when her morning swim leads her straight into the path of a body, a woman who has taken her own life: Billy's mother.

Deb Caletti imbues all of her stories with realistic sensibility and captivating characters. Though the premise outlined above may sound grim, Essential Maps for the Lost is buoyed by hope: hope for better days, hope for positive change. The story is led by two characters who struggle to take control over their own lives while they search for reasons or answers related to recent events. Written in third person, the book flips back and forth between Billy and Mads, allowing the reader to see both perspectives - which is especially interesting when they are in the same scene, so the dual narrative allows us to be privy to both characters' thoughts. The third person style also permits a cool omniscient element, with occasional phrases directing the reader's attention to something - almost like a finger pointing, "Look there," "Remember this moment later" - that are more like gentle nudges than pushy wink-wink moments.
Billy and Mads, both post-high school and both innate caretakers, have found jobs they love: Billy works at a no-kill animal shelter and literally rescues dogs, while Mads babysits a baby girl that she wishes she could protect from the world. But neither of them are happy at home. Billy now lives with his grandmother, a woman full of cruel remarks and judgements about her late daughter, while Mads is staying with her aunt, uncle, and cousin for the summer while she takes real estate classes at Bellevue Community College - all part of her mother's plan for Mads to become her working partner the second she passes the licensing exam. 
But once Mads and Billy meet, once their lives collide, their futures change. Or is it that their options change, and their true futures reveal themselves? It is not easy to alleviate the burdens of the abandoned or create a map for the lost. It takes courage to face the ogres of depression and loss. With strength of spirit combined with gut instincts and personal truths, Mads and Billy find their way out of the deep and onto their next journey.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I had no idea that this had happened. When people are asked to name massive ships sunk on the open sea, everyone knows about the Titanic and the Lusitania, but the Wilhelm Gustloff is not on anyone's radar. It really should be. The sheer loss of life from this single maritime disaster was and is astounding.
In this terrific piece of historical fiction, Sepety's masterfully weaves the stories of a ragtag group fleeing in front of the Soviet advance across former Prussian territory at the close of World War II, a young German naval recruit preparing the ship to sail, and a Prussian teen escaping his past. As the Soviets press the Nazis back, foreigners, the wounded, the sick, Jews and all others considered to be of lesser stock than themselves are all rounded up and either executed or shipped off to a gulag.

This truly is a wonderful and tragic story. Despite the fact that these characters were not real people, we get a real sense of what it must have been like to flee from the Soviet invasion from the East pressing toward the unknown of the German occupation farther West. Which empire is the lesser of the two evils?
I would highly recommend this to those that liked Code Name Verity or The Book Thief. 

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