Friday, October 20, 2017

Poetry

Poetry can be loud, it can be quiet, it can be musical, it can be classic, it can be modern, it can be freestyle, it can be metered, it can be anything you want it to be.

Poetry is not all old-fashioned and stodgy - and it isn't limited to sonnets and haikus, either. Poetry comes in all different forms and touches on a wide variety of topics and genres. There are verses and vows and limericks and lyrics. There's epic poetry, lyric poetry, speculative poetry (yep, sci-fi/fantasy/horror themes can creep into poems, too!) Poems pop up in greeting cards and commercials. They are shared in verse novels and at poetry slams.

Like plays, many poems are meant to be heard. Read a poem out loud, or listen to it being read by the author or another brilliant performer, and you might find yourself transfixed and transformed.

Think of a song with lyrics that you really like. Those lyrics just might be poetry, set to music. Check out some performance poetry. Consider Lin-Manuel Miranda's mind-blowing award-winning musical Hamilton. See what I mean? Rhythm and rhymes.

I had a lovely conversation with someone who translates poetry. She is fluent in multiple languages and loves melodic, meaningful words. She spoke of the challenge of keeping the original intention of the poem and being aware of both the connotations and the denotations of words used. When poems have a certain meter, feeling, or flavor,  it can be more important to use words that capture those feelings and rhythms than having a perfectly exact word-for-word translation, she said. Some words don't translate so precisely, she added, especially if it's a colloquialism or a turn of phrase.

Why am I posting about poetry today? Every Friday, bloggers around the world participate in Poetry Friday. This weekly event has roots in the world of academic blogs. I learned of it nearly ten years ago through the book blogging community and have been participating at my blog, Bildungsroman, every week since. Anyone may participate, and different blogs host the roundup each week.

Do you have any poets or poems you really enjoy? Feel free to leave them in the comments below!

If you're so inclined, donate some poetry collections and verse novels for the Ballou Book Fair!
http://tinyurl.com/BookFairBallouHS



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

 When her big chance comes, however, she throws it all away to rescue a teenager drowning off the coast of her island home.
Interacting with a human is strictly forbidden in Diana's culture, let alone saving one and hiding them in a cave.

This, however is no ordinary human. Her name is Alia and unbeknownst to her she is a Warbringer, someone who may be responsible for the greatest war ever to befall the human race.

Using a controversial myth as a guide, Alia and Diana set off to end the curse that Alia has become convinced she carries.

she does her best to stand out.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Annual Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School Is On!

It's Time to Send More Books to Washington D.C.

Welcome to the annual Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School!

For the 8th year, Guys Lit Wire is delighted to invite readers to help this school fill its library shelves by shopping their Amazon wish list. There are hundreds of books to choose from covering every topic you can think of and we hope you will buy a book or two for this worthy school and help its students and wonderful librarian, Melissa Jackson, gain greater access to more titles. The school depends on this annual book fair and we are happy to host it. This is our chance to help the students obtain books they want to read and we can't do it without your help!

Ballou Sr High School's students face many obstacles; all of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunch and last year its graduation rate was 57%. But in 2017 every member of the senior class applied to college — a first for the school — and we certainly believe that the library was a huge support to them in their efforts.


Our Goal

We hope to send at least 150 books to Ballou this year and there are plenty of titles at a wide variety of prices to choose from. It's important to stress that this is a list that is reviewed and approved by Ballou students and includes many many books that they have requested. There are poetry and novels, biographies and cookbooks, graphic novels, science, travel and more. There is literally something for everyone on this list and we are sure that you will find a book (or more!) that you want to gift to these worthy students. 

We know 2017 has given us all so many things to worry about and, sadly, so many people who are in need of assistance. With Ballou the need is ever present however and, we believe, critically important. Libraries are the heart of every school and every community; they are part of the long game that can positively transform a community and are especially critical to the hearts of young people. Books can be game changers in the life of a teenager — heck, books ARE game changers and we want to get as many as we can into the hands of Ballou's students. 


The Details

The Amazon wish list can be found here. It is also easily searchable at Amazon under "Ballou High School". If you would like to embed a link in a post or tweet (and PLEASE DO!!), use this one: http://tinyurl.com/BookFairBallouHS

And here is the url in case the links are not working for you:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/2CU17Q38C3P68/ref=cm_wl_sortbar_o_page_1?ie=UTF8&sort=universal-title 

The mailing address is already set-up for checkout and there are nearly 500 books to choose from with a wide price range. We do hope you will find a book that you want to send to Ballou and help us make life a little better for a great bunch of a kids.

The Book Fair for Ballou High School Library will stay open for 2 weeks and we will keep you posted here on how things go. Be sure to follow @chasingray (GLW moderator Colleen Mondor's twitter feed) and watch the Ballou Library feed for shoutouts from Melissa (@BallouLibrary) as books show up.


Just one book will make a huge difference.

You can learn a bit more about Ballou by watching this short video from the Washington Post. We certainly hope it will persuade you to support the book fair and all efforts for these most worthy students.



















Friday, October 13, 2017

Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years

Carl Sandburg wrote, in his preface to Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, "For thirty years and more I have planned to make a certain portrait of Abraham Lincoln. It would sketch the country lawyer and prairie politician who was intimate with the settlers of the Knox County neighborhood where I grew up as a boy, and where I heard the talk of men and women who had eaten with Lincoln, given him a bed overnight, heard his jokes and lingo, remembered his silences and his mobile face.

"The Mayor of Galesburg in 1858, Henry Sanderson, is the only individual of casual record who carried warm cistern water to a bathtub for Lincoln and saw Lincoln taking a bath. There in Galesburg Clark E. Carr, author of "The Illini," repeated Bill Green's remark about Lincoln, "He can make a cat laugh." And there Lincoln when bantered about his backwardness with women, answered, "A woman is the only thing I am afraid of that I know will not hurt me."

"The folk-lore Lincoln, the maker of stories, the stalking and elusive Lincoln is a challenge for any artist. He has enough outline and lights and shadows and changing tints to call out portraits of him in his Illinois backgrounds and settings -- even had he never been elected President.

"Perhaps poetry, art, human behavior in this country, which has need to build on its own traditions, would be served by a life of Lincoln stressing the fifty-two years previous to his Presidency. Such a book would imply that if he was what he was during those first fifty-two years of his life it was nearly inevitable that he would be what he proved to be in the last four."

So a challenge: Try it. If you think that a six-volume biography of Lincoln is too much, I understand (The first two volumes are "The Prairie Years," followed by four of "The War Years."). There are shortened versions available, a three-volume paperback set, or a one-volume abridged version. I read the three-volume set many years ago. And I wondered if I would ever try to read the entire six volumes. Well, I am. I got through The Prairie Years pretty easily. Volume 1 of The War Years took a bit longer (I kept getting interrupted.) And I have just started volume 2. I love that Sandburg grew up knowing people who knew Lincoln. And he was a great storyteller. That is what sets his Lincoln biography apart, for me, and why I intend to keep reading.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Freefall by Joshua Bellin





When I give a genre talk about science fiction to my students, my main claim is that all good science fiction, no matter how apparently “alien” (literally and figuratively), is actually saying something important about the world in which we live (or at least the world that existed when the work first appeared). Not necessarily in an allegorical way, but in a way that makes the narrative more than just a story. With Joshua Bellin’s Freefall, I now have another title to share as evidence for this claim.

Bellin's young adult science fiction novel begins with Cam waking up from "deepsleep" on a distant planet, confused, alone, and frightened. This is not where he was supposed to wake up, not how the colonization of a new planet was supposed to begin. This is not why he endured a thousand-year induced coma, and this is not why he and the other Upperworlders fled a dying Earth.

Flash back a thousand years, as Bellin's novel does in alternating chapters throughout most of the book, and we discover Cam becoming "woke." A young man waking up to the costs of his privilege, a young man learning to question a world where a minority control nearly all of the wealth and power. A young man who learns some truths about the Lowerworld and about himself, truths tied to his growing devotion and love for a beautiful and mysterious Lowerworld leader named Sofie.


Sofie and her movement want justice for those born in the Lowerworld, a justice denied them by the social stratification the Upperworlders have used to plunder Earth until the planet can no longer sustain human life. Now Sofie and her movement want representation among those privileged enough to be able to flee to a new world and a new life. Cam, raised by Upperworld society and media to believe those in the Lowerworld deserve their fate, rebels against this worldview as the race intensifies to find a world worth viewing.

Bellin leaves plenty of truths for the reader and Cam to discover in the intense action of the final section, as Cam struggles to survive on "Otherworld," truths that reveal the sacrifices necessary for justice. With clear and disturbing parallels to our current political and environmental realities, Freefall uses the darkness of space to do what all good science fiction should: shine a light on what it means to be human.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

I admit, I like it when things fit into nice, neat categories. The satisfaction I get when I can categorize and label things according to how I perceive or interpret them is immense. Well, sometimes, not everything can be sorted out and categorized all nice and neat.

From page one as Riley started to write the initial therapeutic blog post as assigned by Riley's therapist, I wanted to figure it out. I wanted to know what gender Riley was assigned at birth. I felt guilty about trying to use a label, but I wanted to be able to categorize Riley as male or female, cisgender or transgender, homosexual or heterosexual. I get all of those things, they make sense to me - they are categories. I had heard the term gender fluid before but I hadn't really thought about it, at least not in a concrete way - more theoretically. I really appreciate how Garvin described Riley's gender fluidity (AND that this is not how every gender fluid individual experiences it) as a dial from female on one extreme to male on the other. That makes sense to me.

The fact that as Riley meets people both at school and at the LGBTQ support group assumptions are made and genders assigned based on looks and or a few actions without consideration for how an individual might identify their own gender is oddly comforting to me. As I said before, I admit I try to label people I meet. I try not to, but I know I do. So, to see Riley trying as well helps my guilt factor for wanting to label Riley, but also reiterates how deep the gender normative labels run in our society. We can do better, we need to do better. Gender is only a part of who a person is, it doesn't really encompass the depth and breadth of who and/or what an individual is.

I will definitely be recommending this book to my students, AND their parents! There is a lot in here for both age groups to draw on and learn from.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Before and Afterlives by Christopher Barzack and The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

It's my favorite time of year! In celebration of fall, here are a couple of reviews from a few years ago of perfect Halloween season reads.

Christopher Barzak has a riveting take on Alice in Wonderland in his short story collection Before and Afterlives. "The Mad Tea Party" is brief and lacerating, a tale that delivers a clear message on the perils of madness. Grown-up Alice returns to her childhood home after the death of her mother. Upon arriving, she takes on a porcelain Cheshire Cat, recalls a flight attendant dressed in white and sporting a pocket watch who hastened her on her way, craves tea, and dreams of playing cards. This Alice is wounded and angry, destructive and broken. She is the girl who will prompt readers to ask why Carroll's Alice felt compelled to follow the white rabbit in the first place, and what she might have been running from. If Howard writes a fantastical version of Alice's mental health legacy, Barzak plumbs even deeper depths and goes full-on reality. I'm still thinking about the eight pages of "The Mad Tea Party."

 Elsewhere in Before and Afterlives, Barzak shares the history of the scariest haunted house ever in "What We Know About the Lost Families of -- House," reveals a bitter emotional legacy for the parents of a runaway teenager in "The Drowned Mermaid," and reaches deep into the heart of a living boy who finds solace in the resting place of a dead one in "Dead Boy Found." Throughout this collection, Barzak effectively writes people contending with their fears and doubts but most especially he writes about loneliness, and it is this writerly radar for alienation that perhaps makes him so perceptive when it comes to his teen characters. The boy in "Dead Boy Found" is like any other, but Barzak teases out his sorrow page by page, paragraph by paragraph, giving readers a peek at teen humanity that will ring all too true for many high schoolers. He achieves similar results with a sister coming to turns with her older brother's sexuality and unorthodox romance in "Map of Seventeen" (this has to include one of the best portrayals of truly great parents I have read in ages), and further with a daughter forced to confront her father over the effect of his paranormal profession in "The Ghost Hunter's Beautiful Daughter."

The tour-de-force, however, is "The Language of Moths," in which a brother learns to appreciate his autistic sister and together they weather a challenging summer and come to an unexpected understanding that, really, makes everything all better. Barzak makes it all seem so easy, these gentle glimpses into his characters' lives, and even though these lives might include mermaids or ghostly parents or talking fireflies, the extraordinary aspects are not what make his tales so magical. It's the way he sees plain ordinary people that gives his stories such power; the way he sees us and yet loves us anyway. Bravo.

Margo Lanagan wanders yet again into the territory of dark myth she travels so well with her multi-generational look at seal wives (selkies) and the land men who claim them in The Brides of Rollrock Island. From the young girl with a stark and frightening seal kinship whose unforgiving childhood leads her down a path to cold and cruel witchery to the boy who challenges a lifetime's worth of social mores to save his mother, Rollrock takes readers into the hearts of its island residents and the subtle way in which rape can affect a society.

Generations of disappointment weigh down Rollrock Island, and even those who are bewitched cannot deny their own responsibility in the sorrow of others (or that they sought out the bewitching in the first place). As one seal wife is driven by abject despair to suicide, the families gather to witness her sad end and know that the same possibility haunts each of their homes as well. Real love -- honest love -- is not easy, but at least it is true and fair, something the men of Rollrock have willfully forgotten and the women are lost without. Lanagan is a master at sparing her characters no quarter, at forcing readers to recognize every moment of weakness that propels her narratives. But with Rollrock, she shows how complicated love and longing can be, how emotions can be manipulated and harsh family dynamics can destroy far easier than love can mend. By every measure, this novel is the very definition of tortured romance and the author never lets you forget that.

Margo Lanagan has rightfully received praise for her previous titles and The Brides of Rollrock Island is worthy of equal measure. I was struck while reading it, however, by how adult it is. This is a novel for teens, and many of the characters in the shifting points of view are quite young, but it has an adult sensibility and awareness of the serious choices we make in the world. Margo Lanagan understands teens like few other authors today; she grants her audience a literary respect more often seen in the pages of The New Yorker than the exhaustive paranormal section of the local bookstore. Kidlit, my ass. Read her pages and see yourself as the serious reader Lanagan knows you to be while gaining a newfound respect for the always complicated world of teenagers.

These reviews were previously published (several years ago) in my column for Bookslut.

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.