Thursday, March 31, 2011

In the Days of the Vaqueros: America's First True Cowboys by Russell Freedman

Oh American History class, how I do shake my head when I look back on you. I love American history (I ended up teaching it for five years to soldiers at one point) and yet I have never been able to shake my frustration at how one-sided our study of history is. Yes, yes, yes - the victors write the story but what has driven me nuts about history textbooks and teachers my whole life is all the stories that have nothing to do with winning or losing that get left out anyway. Case in point: cowboys. I grew up on John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, Gunsmoke and The Rifleman. And Wild Wild West, The Big Valley, Wanted: Dead or Alive (Steve McQueen!!!!)

I've got a dog named "Hondo", people. I thought Louis L'Amour was everyone's idea of leisure reading in junior high.

The problem with all this western wonderfulness (and it is all wonderful) is that the heroes were Caucasian thus providing us all with yet another skewed version of our nation's past. Russell Freedman (the great Russell Freedman) makes an attempt at setting yet one more record straight with his outstanding In the Days of the Vaqueros. In this amply illustrated volume readers learn about the cowboys in Spanish Mexico who were there when American settlers first showed up. Cowboys took "their clothing, saddles and lingo from the vaqueros". You could even argue that cowboys took their image as well. But the vaqueros were first and there is a solid record testifying to their achievements. They just didn't make it into the books (or tv shows) and so, like a lot of other great American stories, we have forgotten they every existed.

Can I say again how much I love Russell Freedman?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

THE YEAR WE DISAPPEARED by Cylin Busby and John Busby

If you like your stories to have closure, or even poetic justice, don't expect it out of this one. It's gritty, it's frightening, it's messy—and it's true. And just like real life, not everything gets tied up in a neat bow in the end.

The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir is a true story. In 1979, Massachusetts police officer John Busby was brutally shot while starting his shift, losing much of his lower jaw. He survived, but his life and the lives of his family members were irrevocably altered. The story is told in alternating first-person chapters from the point of view of John Busby and his daughter Cylin, who was nine years old at the time of the shooting.

It's not an easy story to read. First, John does not pull any punches in his description of the horrific shooting or his long, painful recovery.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Secret Journeys of Jack London by Christopher Golden & Tim Lebbon

Are you ready to take a journey into the wild?

Bestselling authors Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon have teamed up to create THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON. Jack certainly lived a wild life, which inspired Golden & Lebbon to create this new book series based on his real-life travels. They've taken his true stories and his fiction and mixed in urban legends and myths of the time. While THE SECRET JOURNEYS series is fiction, not biography, the books are extremely well-researched, and spooky elements add another level of intrigue to the richly detailed stories.

But don't just take my word for it -- check out the awesome reviews in VOYA (5Q 4P) and Booklist ("Golden and Lebbon's gamble is peppering their story with the fantastic and the supernatural, and it pays off in this gung-ho series starter...Golden and Lebbon write with gritty assurance. Best of all, this first chapter kicks the door wide open for almost anything in book two.") Also, 20th Century Fox has acquired the film rights to the series, and don't you want to read the books before the movie comes out?

The first book, THE WILD, is now available. (Get it from IndieBound!) When seventeen-year-old Jack London travels to Alaska to join the Klondike Gold Rush, the path he treads is not at all what he expected. Along the way, he encounters kidnappers, traders, traitors, and a mysterious wolf. Jack must face the wild head-on in order to survive.

I had the pleasure of setting up and kicking off the blog tour for THE WILD. Drop by all of the stops on the tour to learn more about the authors, the illustrators, the Gold Rush, urban legends, and, of course, Jack London.

* Little Willow interviews the authors at Bildungsroman
* Tim Lebbon blogs at Lectitans with Kiba Rika
* Kim Baccellia interviews the authors for Si, Se Puede! and reviews the book for Young Adults Book Central (YABC blog)
* Discover the secrets behind the creation of the book's cover with Melissa Walker, author of Small Town Sinners and readergirlz diva
* The authors chat with Justin, another GLW poster, at Little Shop of Stories
* The authors swing by Rebecca's Book Blog
* Martha Brockenbrough picks the brains of Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon...and considers what Jack London may have said
* Martha Brockenbrough interviews Jordan Brown
* Martha reveals The Evolution of a Monster
* Golden and Lebbon visit Brian Keene, author and journalist

Want to help spread the word about this action-packed new series? Download the electronic press kit for THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON.

2012 Update: Check out my review of The Secret Journeys of Jack London, Book Two: The Sea Wolves.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pick-Up Game edited by Marc Aronson and Charles R. Smith Jr.

It's not just basketball games that go down at The Cage, the fenced-in court on West 4th Street in New York City. In Pick-Up Game: A Full Day of Full Court, nine short stories introduce a handful of players and spectators there on one July day.

I'm calling Charles R. Smith the point guard in Pick-Up Game, since it's his photographs and poems that lead in to the stories that comprise the book. Told in different voices, from different perspectives, each story picks up where the previous story leaves off. As co-editor Marc Aronson writes in the Afterword, "We chose the setting and the date and gave each author a time slot. Each author knew who was on the court because we didn't let an author write a new story until the previous one was done. Each writer came on the court knowing who was playing, who had won, but ready to tell his or her own story." (p. 164)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nothing by Janne Teller

Sometimes reading a book can be like sticking a wet finger into an electrical outlet. Some books – not many, but some – have the power to zap you across the room. And not necessarily from great writing or characters, but from the sheer boldness of the story or the scope of the subject matter. The amazing novel Push by Sapphire is like that. Nothing is also an electrical outlet book; it shocks you and blows your synapses into overdrive. Is it a good book? Yes. It is a great book? Probably not. Is it worth reading? Absolutely.

Nothing is not for the faint at heart or perhaps for some who take their religion seriously. This book, like my previously reviewed book, the brilliant, Tales of the Madman Underground, will just about never set foot into a classroom. I’m sure it will at some point, and when that happens the censors will come crawling (and clawing) from every direction. The fact that a school or parents would try to ban it is even more reason to read it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Christopher Rowe Interview

As I mentioned in my review of the novel Sandstorm last Thursday, author Christopher Rowe is a friend. He's also one of the most interesting guys I know when it comes to talking about books, especially fantasy and science fiction. His knowledge is deep and broad, and if you ever have a chance to go hear him read, he's fantastic. After conducting the interview, though, I realized I never knew just how much thought he as an author has put into figuring out what the books he read as a teen still mean to him and for him today.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

Way before I went through my own angsty teen phase, and long before I had ever even heard of a guy named Holden Caulfield, I was absolutely devoted to another teenage wonder. He is the namesake of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾.

Living in lower-middle class England in the early 1980’s, Adrian is a curious guy just trying to figure out what do with his life. Adrian doesn’t want to be a punk like his friend Nigel, he doesn’t want any more spots on his face, and he definitely doesn’t want to take up drinking after hearing the disgusting noises he heard his parents make downstairs on New Years Eve. He thinks that he wants to be an intellectual, but he’s still not quite sure what that requires…possibly some poetry.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft

Does it count as required reading if you assign a book to yourself? Even if it doesn't, I would still have to read Conrad Wesselhoeft's Adios, Nirvana.

There's the guitar-o'-fire cover that alone would compel some of us to give it a read, and there's the main character's bond with his buddies -- his "thicks" -- that leaps right out at you from the novel's very first lines ("Hey, man, get down!" "Dude, don't be an idiot!"). But for me, there's more to it than that.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When you think Dark do you think Dark Beer?

I've mentioned in a prior blog entry how much I enjoy the work of Tim Powers (if Pirates of the Caribbean 4 is any good, it will be because the based some of it on his excellent On Stranger Tides). One of my favorite of his books is Drawing of the Dark... which is a terrific blend of beer and Arthurian lore and magic. Yes, I said beer

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

In The Floating Islands Trei‘s world is falling apart. His home is destroyed in a natural disaster, leaving him without a family and grieving the loss of his talented sister. After an Aunt and Uncle closer to home decides not to take him in, he leaves on a long journey to Milendri, one of The Floating Islands.

As his ship approaches the exotic lands, Trei is astonished by The Floating Islands and the dragon magic that keeps them hovering above the ocean. When he sees the kajurai glide over his ship, he desires more than anything to become one of the men who fly through the sky with wings made of feathers.

Once there, he attempts to settle in with his Uncle Serfei and Aunt Edona and cousin Araene, who acts cold towards him at the beginning. Eventually they bond, as Trei leaves for a chance to become a kajurai and Araene secretly stumbles upon a society of magicians and her own magical powers.

Loyalties are strained as Trei begins training to be a kajurai. Rumors of war between Trei’s birth place and his new home become reality and The Floating Islands are not prepared to withhold the powerful attacking navy. Araene and Trei become integral parts in whether the islands can survive.

I love fantasy books with a clear sense of place and history, with J.R.R. Tolkien being the obvious master. Neumeier creates a vivid and unique world, which I would put on a level of some of my favorites like Sharon Shinn, Kristin Cashore and Shannon Hale. At times the plot builds very slowly, but this is a good, exciting fantasy.

Fans of book like Incarceron by Catherine Fisher and Monster Blood Tattoo by D.M. Cornish will enjoy The Floating Islands.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Annexed by Sharon Dogar

Sharon Dogar's novel, Annexed, presents the story within Anne Frank's famous diary through a new, imagined perspective. Peter van Pels was the teenage boy who shared the Annex with the Franks and his parents. In this novel, Dogar tells the story of their struggle for survival through Peter's eyes. This dramatic shift in point of view has the potential to influence readers' perception of Anne's story, and that fact is part of why there has been some controversy around the release of this book. You should take a few minutes now or later to read some of the opinions (1, 2), and then Dogar's response. I hadn't been aware of the discussion prior to reading the book.

I read Anne's diary at least three times when I was young, beginning when I was twelve or so. It's been a long time since I reread it. Dogar's book made me want to do that, and I hope that this response is shared by other readers. I think I need to reread the diary in order to say definitively how I feel about Annexed. I don't think that the characters - particularly Anne - come off with the same complexity as I remember in the diary, though the tone of the book often felt very much in line with the original work - tense, at times hopeful, full of frustration and barely suppressed fear.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sandstorm by Christopher Rowe

Rowe is a Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Award finalist who has written several fantastic short stories of speculative fiction. He’s also a good friend, so when he told me his first novel was going to be a Dungeons & Dragons book, I thought, “huh. Well, at least he’s got a book coming out.”

I haven’t read a D&D novel since before the original Dragonlance books. I’ve always heard good things about those in particular, but my experience with stories based on role-playing, or even based on other kinds of properties (the Star Wars movies, or the Legend of the Five Rings CCG, or even comic books), has been rocky to say the least. It seemed that the very way in which RPGs free your imagination to create any kind of story you might want to tell somehow constrained fiction, limited it and made it feel flat and small.

Questions like this occupied my mind as I picked up Sandstorm, Christopher’s book. In the initial pages, I found myself asking whether or not characters or actions worked “in-game” or not. What might be a character’s stats? How might a fight work in terms of attack dice and hit points and initiative?

Without realizing, though, those kinds of questions and thoughts quickly faded. Instead, I asked questions like, “what’s going to happen next?” and, “how will the hero, Cephas, get out of this situation?” and, “what does the mysterious Corvus Nightfeather, a crow-headed assassin, want with Cephas?” In short, all the things you ask about a compelling, character-driven fantasy adventure.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg

Writing about the modern South is hard. Lazy authors slip into one of two extreme caricatures. Either they get caught up in the romanticism of white-columned porches and the Kentucky Derby, or they take cheap shots at the tacky poverty of trailer parks and BBQ pork rinds.

In his memoir, All Over but the Shoutin’, journalist Rick Bragg traces his path through the best and worst aspects of the South. The son of an Alabama cotton picker, Bragg climbed up a pile of journalism awards to the New York Times, then returned home as the newspaper’s Southeastern corespondent. Along the way, Bragg witnessed extreme poverty but also the stubborn pride and deep faith that come with it. He discusses racism--even sharing vague memories of a George Wallace rally--but Bragg never lets slurs become the full measure of the people they’re screamed at or the people screaming them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

GB Tran's "Vietnamerica"

Arist/writer GB Tran is the first American-born son of a couple who fled Vietnam during the fall of Saigon. Though "fall" is a multi-layered word in this context, connoting loss (from an American perspective), and that mid-70s moment that represented the first time Vietnam had been united under its own rule, after battling the French, Japanese and Americans (of the recent conquerors -- there were the Chinese before that).

That their first "unified" government turned out to be as radically imperfect as the ones it replaced, is all too typical of history, and here, we see the stunning nexus of family, national, and global histories, the last two constantly affecting the first.

In Vietnamerica, Tran gives his account of growing into adulthood, an American future as a videogame-playing graphic artist ahead of him, while finally becoming curious about what his own family's role in those previous events (and the role of events in his family) actually was. And curious, too, how it came to be that he was the first native-born American among his half-sisters and secret-wielding parents. Like a peeled onion, much of the structure in this graphic novel is curled and a bit scattered, and with the cross-cutting and time-shifting -- between his father's and mother's families -- you're not always sure whose story you're following. But by the last act, with a shattering, unresolvable reveal about his paternal grandfather, and a series of splash panels leading up to his parents' nose-hair escape, you're riveted.

As a side note, Vietnamerica shares a title with an earlier prose book, about the "homecoming" of Vietnamese kids fathered by U.S. serviceman, who, abandoned in Vietnam, were airlifted back here some decade-plus later.

This isn't that, but Tran-- who, I'm given to understand, was discovered by his publisher at artists' alley at the San Diego Con -- tells of homecomings here too, in the sense of people reconciling themselves to who and and where it is they come from, and just as importantly, where they find themselves at now. Here it's a multi-generational task, not just a young person's. Or as he notes, "a family's journey."

A journey where "home" is often the hardest thing to find. But this is fine take-along reading for your rucksack, when you're on similar travels of your own. Or sitting exactly where you're at, right now.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Burton & Swinburne Adventures #1 by Mark Hodder

After finishing up my January column, I had a couple more alternate history titles drop in my lap, and after I read the description of Mark Hodder’s The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, it took about two seconds for me to dive right in: “Sir Richard Francis Burton, an explorer, a linguist, a scholar, and a swordsman. His reputation tarnished; his career in tatters; his former partner missing and probably dead.” Richard Burton? Seriously? Really? Burton was one of the greatest explorers in British history (and they have a lot of explorers to choose from). He was brilliant and fearless and sexy, and right up until he settled into a life of domesticity and, well, dullness, he lived larger than most of us can imagine. It’s not so much that his later years were bad ones, just that they weren’t as exciting as his earlier ones, and when you read about him you have to wonder, what if. Mark Hodder clearly wondered the same thing, and he dropped Burton into an alternate history title that doesn’t just assume times have changed, but makes that change a plot point that is the tip of a mystery of epic proportions.

What you have is a creature right out of B-movie science fiction who appears in the streets and countryside of Victorian England to grope young women and leave them shocked and/or permanently damaged. The creature gets into an altercation with Burton, making several statements that suggest they know each other, and then vanishes, leaving the explorer alarmed and shaken. He barely has time to register what has happened before he is summoned by the Prime Minister and offered a job working unusual cases that fall outside traditional police work. It seems a pack of wolfmen (not what you think) are attacking people in the poorer sections of the London. Burton sets out to investigate and soon enough, as we know it will, all hell breaks loose.

It doesn’t take long for the reader to grasp some serious differences in Hodder’s London. Most noticeably, this is not Victorian London, as Victoria herself is dead, the victim of an assassin’s bullet in 1840 (in real life the assassin was unsuccessful). In the years that followed, there has been some minor political upheaval and a ton of technological and religious upheaval. As Booklist noted in its review, Hodder includes “steam-driven velocipedes, rotorchairs, verbally abusive messenger parrots, a pneumatic rail system, and robotic street cleaners.” Throw in the Libertines, Darwin, poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, inventor Isambard Kingdom Brunel, some engineered messenger dogs, and a ton of other intriguing characters real and imagined (Oscar Wilde, newspaper boy!) and the history and action converge in an enormously compelling way. But the heart of the story remains the question of Spring Heeled Jack, and what he is hunting for. As Burton gets ever closer to answers, readers will find themselves surprised in numerous ways -- all of which come together in a fantastic ending that promises more adventure in the future. (The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man is due out at the end of the month.) I loved the thrills and chills, and my inner historian geeked out all over to see Burton and Swinburne together (Hodder hews quite closely to Burton’s biography, here which raises the novel’s impact several notches), but it’s the way the mystery comes together that kept me turning the pages. Start this one only if you have some time on your hands; it won’t be easy to put it down.

Crossposted at Bookslut - more on Clockwork Man here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tristan: Strangely Modern Medieval

Wagner’s operas don’t exactly burst with action. For all the battles and dragons and curses, they often boil down to a lot of standing around and singing. Tristan and Isolde is the pinnacle of this tendency, as frustrated love is sublimated into long-form meditations on Schopenhaurian dichotomies placed musically atop the tension of unresolving harmonies. Lots of content, but little action. So it is surprising to find in the source material, Gottfried von Strassburg’s medieval epic Tristan, not high-minded philosophy, but an unexpected blend of King Arthur and Terry Gilliam.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in all Fifty States

When Pete Jordan started college, "Other classmates talked about becoming lawyers. Still others aspired to being accountants and dentists. When asked of my own plans... What I wanted was to be free of a job; to travel the country and have friends nationwide whom I'd visit. So my standard answer was, 'I'm just gonna come crash on your floor when you're a successful lawyer/accountant/dentist.'

"It was a claim many took as a joke. Years later, they'd discover firsthand that I wasn't kidding."

After his rude mouth cost him his college bookstore job, Pete worked at a burger joint, and was demoted to dishwasher fairly quickly. "Why the others despised this chore was beyond me."

When he moved to Kentucky, and found another dishwashing job, "hungover, I dragged my sore body and aching head over to Perkins, managing to arrive only twenty minutes late."

[Working at UPS, he was told, "You have a lack of enthusiasm for your work."

"Enthusiasm? I picked up smooshed boxes off the floor. What was there to be excited about?"]

"... Karl asked for my half of the rent...

"'Take it easy... I'm gonna find a job right now.'

"If I wasn't even qualified to pick up packages off a floor, then I definitely wasn't qualified for any of those jobs that demanded 'experience.'"

"A sign in a ... window caught my attention: 'Dishwasher Wanted.'

"The boss-guy asked if I could start in the morning. I could.

"That was it. I was hired."...

"Karl refused to believe that I'd found work in only ten minutes."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes

Eric and Sarah Byrnes (always with both names) have been friends since Eric was a fat kid and Sarah Byrnes was... that girl with the burns on her face. Through his involvement with swimming, Eric has slimmed down but he still loyal to the one friend he had during hard times. But now Sarah Byrnes is lying in a mental hospital in a catatonic state. It frustrates Eric that he's losing his friend and he seeks out a former mutual enemy for answers. When Eric hears that her facial scarring wasn't the accident she claims, he confronts Sarah Byrnes in the hospital and learns that she has been faking her catatonic state out of fear of her father.

It's heavy stuff, gritty and real, which makes it both challenging and rewarding for readers. Crutcher likes to populate his stories with underdog athletes because not every kid on the team is a star but they try just as hard, sometimes harder, that those it comes more naturally to. In Eric we see a kid who hated being fat enough to do something about it, but would then willingly give that hard-earned weight loss up to maintain his connection with his friend Sarah. It's that dedication and devotion that gives Eric his depth and makes him more than a character, it makes him real.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Half-Life of Planets by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin

A book that's a version of "He Said, She Said," The Half-Life of Planets is told in chapters that alternate between the perspective of Liana, a science-minded girl who is dismayed at having been called a slut, and that of Hank, a talented guitarist who happens to have Asperger's syndrome. The characters meet in the hospital's ladies room, where Liana is licking her wounds while waiting for her father to get some test results when Hank bursts in (by mistake, obviously) because he's spilled an energy drink in his crotch. As "meet-cutes" go, it doesn't actually get much better than this, really.

Liana and Hank meet again at the snack machine, and strike up something that looks like a friendship - or maybe a flirtation. Liana thinks Hank is merely intense and broody (a classic musician stereotype, if you will, and one that she digs), whereas Hank can't help noticing Liana's breasts. Oh - and he notices that Liana actually talks with him, an experience that Hank isn't quite used to. When you can't read social cues well, it can be hard to figure out how people expect you to react and interact, after all.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Rikers High -- Paul Volponi

Some advice from 17-year-old Martin Stokes on surviving Rikers High:

Forget about your homeboys. They mostly cut you loose when you're locked down. Mine did. My two best friends from my block, dudes I grew up with, hadn't visited once. I don't even mention their names to Mom anymore. It's like they don't exist to me now. Only people that really care about you, like your close family, would go through that kind of trouble just to see you.

Martin's been at the Rikers Island jail for almost sixth months, pending trial for a committing a crime that he didn't even know was a crime. His court date has been delayed for the third time, and his face has just been sliced open -- a cut that requires 53 stitches to close -- in a fight that he wanted no part of.

He's ready to go home. But now he's got two more weeks at Rikers until his next court date, and hopefully -- hopefully -- then he'll be headed home. Rikers High is the story of those two weeks, and everything that Martin witnesses and experiences during that time.

Rikers High is a compelling account of day-to-day life in a juvenile detention center -- and if it feels authentic, it should: in writing it, Paul Volponi drew on his six years teaching at Rikers Island. The book never seems Ripped From the Headlines or in any way exploitative, and while there are adults (and inmates) who behave abhorrently at moments, I didn't feel that any of the characters came off as two-dimensional. Especially given that the narrative was entirely from Martin's point of view.

There are wide ranges of pacing and tone as Martin counts down the days to his next court date. At moments, seconds seem longer than hours, while at others, time goes by so fast that there almost isn't enough time to process what's happening; sometimes, Martin has himself completely in control, stone-faced and silent, while at others... maybe not so much. All that said, there was only one storyline that really hit me emotionally -- but the one that did hit me hard.

Definitely recommended to fans of Monster, After and other stories about incarceration.


Book source: ILLed through my library.


Cross-posted at Bookshelves of Doom.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Leverage by Joshua Cohen

Leverage by Joshua Cohen
"The football field is a battlefield

There's an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid on-and off-the football field. And it claims its victims without mercy-including the most innocent bystanders.

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a school's salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes."- summary from Amazon

This is one REALLY intense book. Like, for reals intense. I had to actually put it down several times because I just needed a breather from it all. Cohen pulls no punches in this 400+ page novel. It's realistic, raw, heartbreaking as well as uplifting (well, in the end), and insanely intense.

If you know me at all, I am not a football fan. Yeah, I have teams I root for (Redskins and Steelers) but that's only based on familial loyalty (Mom is from Pittsburgh) or geographical proximity (I grew up outside DC). So I never really understand why people get so worked up over football- the people playing it, the coaches, the parents. It's just a GAME, not a life or death situation here. What Cohen shows here is a raw look into how far people will go to win and be "strong". Strong is in quotes because what I like about this book is that the football people only view strength in one way- being bulky and huge, winning all the time, being what they deem to be manly. But Cohen shows there is strength in so many other ways, like in different sports (Danny is a gymnast, a sport football looks down on) or even having the courage to speak up when something is seriously wrong.

In the summary, steroids are mentioned. In this story, it's one of those things where people have an idea that it's going on, but don't really care as long as it works and the team wins. Some of the football players take it, but not all. The three who do take it are COMPLETELY messed up in the head and almost become like animals at times. It was interesting for Cohen to really show that in the story and just how these characters were kinda shaped. It felt like they were always kind of like that and the steroids just brought it out more. What bothered me a lot was that the Coach was actually GIVING this stuff to his players. The Coach is a whole other story though- he runs his football team like it's a war zone (he actually calls them "soldiers" several times), and he makes fun of them a lot when they're maybe slacking a tiny bit (calling them ladies and that they need to be wearing dresses). This is where all the problems start- the Coach is making them think they own the school and are gods. The parents aren't much better; one scene later in the novel sticks out to me prominently. Calm the eff down and just have some fun. Football is not THAT important, nor should it be.

I really enjoyed the dual perspective of this novel- it was utilized in such a good way and just really worked for this story. Both characters were exciting and interesting to read, and the secondary characters are mostly fleshed out well. The story was really compelling, and the ending was simply a work of art. I literally didn't put the book down for the last 100 pages. It was amazing. I do wish there had been a bit more but I can live with how it ended.

Overall, a really amazing, realistic, intense debut novel and one I think everyone should read, even if you don't like football (this may actually give you more of a reason to hate football, lol). Although let me say that there is some graphic content in the book (and lots of swears) so keep that in mind when deciding to read this book or when giving it to someone else.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesday Comics Hardcover by Various

There's a scene in Seinfeld where Kramer goes on a book tour to promote his coffee table book, which, coincidentally, is about coffee tables and also has pop-out legs so it can double as a coffee table. That's kind of the way I feel about DC Comics' Wednesday Comics hardcover. This is a gargantuan book - at 11"x18" it's unlikely you've seen a graphic novel like this before. And while it doesn't have pop-out legs, I'm sure you could probably use it as a lap desk comfortably.

The good thing about this particular size is that, while it does make for some unwieldy reading, it also perfectly simulates the original publishing format of this material. Wednesday Comics was a weekly experimental format tried by DC in the summer of 2009 to emulate the style of Sunday color comic strips. Each of the twelve issues was published on newspaper-sized newsprint and featured a selection of stories by top comics creative talent. I raved about it when it first started right here on GuysLitWire, so take a look at that early preview if you want more details about the original format.

While the newsprint version of Wednesday Comics definitely harkened back to an old style of print media, the hardcover screams the merits of high tech publishing. The colors and bold lines of the original were striking, but they are now rendered with amazing clarity on high-quality paper. And, while it was nice to read weekly installments of each of the anthology stories, it's better still to read them all in one sitting to get the full effect intended by the writers and artists (and fortunately DC decided to publish each story in its entirety before moving to the next one, rather than emulating the original anthology format).

Speaking of which, don't expect amazing, earth-shattering stories here. It's clear from the get-go that this is a project aimed at emphasizing the artwork, and it does that very, very well. Most of the stories are fun, quickly-digested bits of trifle with maybe a cliffhanger or two thrown in for good measure. The exceptions to this are Neil Gaiman and Michael Allred's bizarrely-Clutch Cargo take on Metamorpho, the Element Man and the almost-obscenely perfect Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth story by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook. Most of the others are exciting eye candy - not that there's anything wrong with that. Just give a quick glance at Kyle Baker's Hawkman story and you'll marvel at just how good an artist the man actually is.

At its best, the Wednesday Comics hardback is an explosively eye-catching art book, filled with some of the best the comics industry has to offer. At its worst, well.... for a fan or even a rabid, comics-reading kid, I just don't see a downside. I just wish I could still pick up great stuff like this for a quarter at my local Red & White.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Fourth Realm Trilogy

The Golden City, the last of John Twelve Hawks Fourth Realm Trilogy books is now available, concluding the series that begins with The Traveler and continues with The Dark River. The story centers around two brothers, Michael and Gabriel Corrigan, who discover that they are each "Travelers," people with the ability to separate their souls from their bodies in order to travel to other realms. Pretty much all of the great thinkers and leaders, especially those with a mystical or philosophical bent, were Travelers. Jesus was a Traveler as were the Buddha and Plato. Many of the revolutionary ideas these figures brought to humanity were learned from their voyages to these parallel realms.