Monday, January 30, 2017

Atlas Obscura

The book Atlas Obscura is the incredible encyclopedia/adventure guide that developed from the equally impressive website of the same name. Arranged geographically, the book takes readers on a mind blowing tour of the world that includes entries about museums of the odd and strange (and even mummified dead), geographical oddities and all sorts of unexpected art and architecture. It's endlessly fascinating and sometimes downright creepy.

This is the kind of book that is designed to beguile - it draws you in with the full color illustrations, shifting fonts and cool topics and before you know it, you are learning a ton about all kinds of thing you never even thought to look into.

There are also details about visiting all of these places, ranging from whether or not they are dangerous to how to catch a boat or bus or truck to get you there. But even though you might never plan to go to some of these places (which often redefine the words "off the beaten trail"), it doesn't matter. The text is cheeky and fun on its own, even without the round-trip ticket to see it for yourself.

A few of the entries discuss some sexy type destinations (who knew there was a bathroom in the Vatican with paintings of frolicking nymphs?) but nothing seriously explicit or beyond what you would see in any museum. It's perfectly fine for teens and honestly, seems tailor made for that age group (especially those who like the mention of occasionally creepy places.

Check it out - and the website - for something truly special.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Langston Hughes

Today, I want to share the words of Langston Hughes.

I am so tired of waiting,
Aren't you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two -
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.

Dear readers, and writers, and bloggers, and teachers, and librarians, and publishers, and mentors: A lot of people are feeling the weight of the world right now. Lend them your ear, and your shoulder. Let them share their stories with you, and share your stories with them. Lend them books that have helped you get through hard times, and encourage them to read, and write, and speak, and share. Words can heal. Believe in the power of books. Keep hope alive.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander

A football star tries to get with a girl that is out of his league so to speak.That is the initial premise of this novel but as with many such books, there is a bit more beneath the surface. Kwame Alexander is more famous for his award-winning The Crossover but He Said, She Said does a good job of exploring complicated themes while still making the book accessible.

Image result for he said she said novelYou would think that a guy who speaks about himself in the third person (using his nickname to boot) is an incorrigible narcissist. Anyone can change if they have the right motivation however and in this case the motivation is a woman.  Claudia is a French-speaking, novel-reading, article-writing knockout who resembles Beyonce. There is one problem though, she only dates college guys. Worse, she knows all about T-Diddy's reputation with the females.  T-Diddy will have to change his game up if he ever wants a chance with Claudia.

The seed idea of this novel is the result of a writing workshop Alexander's hosted with some teens and the dialogue is spot on. I liked the fact that some of the chapters were completely in Facebook format chat complete with likes, comments and sub comments.

As T-Diddy does all he can to court Claudia he realizes that his play handbook does not have a chapter for a woman like her and he resorts to serious measures to woo her. That's when the consequences become serious. I like that the wisdom of the ancestors is also recognized as they frequently offer guidance to T-Diddy about matters of life and love. I did have an issue with the portrayal of Claudia as snooty; being black and liking finer things are not mutually exclusive. Some read alikes for boys would be Anna Banks' Joyride and Dana Davidson's Jason & Kyra.

See lots of other reviews on my site here

Click Here to Start by Denis Markell

When I was a kid, my favourite movie was The Goonies. I would shove our well-worn VHS copy of it into the giant Panasonic player and my friends and I would pretend we were those kids, faced with insurmountable odds, solving riddles, getting into trouble, doing something fun.

Click Here to Start brought up all those great memories for me as I read it in one sitting over the weekend.

Twelve year-old Ted loves video games, particularly the  "escape the room" genre. He spends way too many hours of a hot L.A. summer sitting on his laptop cracking codes, solving riddles and beating the games, sans-walkthrough.

Then Ted gets news that his great uncle has passed away. In addition, he's left Ted everything in his apartment along with a cryptic message that there's treasure to be found.
At first, Ted thinks that his great uncle just left behind a lot of junk.

That's until he realises that the apartment is actually a riddle unto itself, a real life escape the room game. Together, with his friends Caleb & Isabel,  Ted must solve the riddle before the treasure gets into the wrong hands.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Flying Lessons & Other Stories

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


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

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

Dodgers by Bill Beverly

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

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

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

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

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