Friday, April 29, 2011

The Lucky Kind by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

What do you do when you realize your parents are people - people who make mistakes, people who had lives before you were born? What happens in that moment - and what happens afterwards?

Ask Nick Brandt, the main character in Alyssa B. Sheinmel's new novel The Lucky Kind. Nick's a junior at a private school in New York and, up until now, his life has been pretty solid. He's not the best student, but he's not the worst. He's the only child of two attentive parents. He's got a crush on a girl named Eden who is as intriguing as her name suggests. Nick and his best friend Stevie are as thick as thieves. Almost like brothers.

Then Nick discovers that he has a brother. A flesh-and-blood brother, born to his father's college girlfriend twenty-nine years ago and given up for adoption. His father's always known about his first son, and though he told his wife about his firstborn years ago, he didn't tell Nick. But now that Nick knows the truth, there's no way for him to forget it - and he can't see his parents the same way anymore. In the light of his father's lifelong lie - or omission of truth - Nick's home, his childhood memories, and his family's routines all seem tainted somehow.

I don't want to reveal too much here; I actually didn't want to tell you gentle readers about Nick's brother, but if I hadn't, this would have been an extremely vague, short, and unsatisfying review. To discover the circumstances under which Nick discovers the existence of his older brother and what happens to his family - which includes Stevie and Eden just as much as his blood relatives - check out The Lucky Kind. Make sure you also pick up The Beautiful Between, Alyssa B. Sheinmel's memorable debut novel.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Today I am trying a new kind of book review, at least for me. I call it The Half & Half Book Review. Here is how it works:

1. I read about half of a book.

2. I write a review.

3. When I finish the book, I‘ll write a second review, and go back and put a link to it in the first review.

This could be the start of something cool and exciting, or it could be the first and the last time I do this. We’ll see. Here’s my review of the first half:

When I was a kid my mom went through a jigsaw puzzle phase. She would take over the dining room table for weeks at a time and do enormous jigsaw puzzles. They had 1000 pieces, and sometimes even more, and each piece was the size of an atom. The images were often nature, like a picturesque pond surrounded by endless trees. It was the kind of jigsaw puzzle image that created nightmares with 700 identical-looking pieces of a tree and 300 specks of water. My mother took great pleasure in figuring these out, studying her puzzle as if it were the plan for the moon shot.

As I read Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt – after already having read his miraculous The Wednesday Wars – I am reminded of my mom’s jigsaw puzzles, because that is what Schmidt’s books are: complex jigsaw puzzle stories with many pieces that fit perfectly together to create a whole that works as if every piece was gently crafted for the sole purpose of completing that picture and creating that wholeness.

We first met Doug Swieteck in The Wednesday Wars. He was a character in the background, and his bully of an older brother – known there as “Doug Swieteck’s brother” – was also in that book. The Wednesday Wars was Holling Hoodhood’s story; Okay for Now is Doug’s story, and what a beautiful story it is (so far).

A teaser about the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair

Just wanted to give all of you a heads-up that the annual Book Fair will go live next week, starting Monday. I am putting the finishing touches on the Powells wish list for our school of choice and I'm delighted by how this is coming together. We have found a school in Washington D.C. that is desperately in need of the sort of bookish attention that the GLW Book Fair is known to bring. Get ready to change the world guys - this one is going to be epic!

Monday, April 25, 2011

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg

You probably know that King Tut is dead. But do you know how he died? Or how he was prepared for mummification, or what Howard Carter did to poor Tut's mummy?

Tutankhamun is the first of nineteen “awfully famous” people whose death is discussed in Georgia Bragg's How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous, with illustrations by Kevin O'Malley. As you might guess, this is a book about death. And not just any old deaths, but gross, disgusting, and miserable deaths. On the few occasions in which the death itself wasn't actually too gruesome, relatively speaking, what happened to a person's remains after death, well... As the introduction to the book warns, “If you don't have the guts for gore, do not read this book.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

Earlier this week we had a post about liking stories written by unlikeable people. Today we ask a similar question. Can you enjoy a novel with a unlikeable protagonist?

Ham on Rye takes the coming-of-age genre out for a night of drinking and leaves it shaking in the gutter. Its “hero” is Henry Chinaski, the thinly-veiled (if you can call him that) alter-ego of the author, Charles Bukowski. Growing up poor in Los Angeles around the Great Depression and World War II, Henry recounts his experiences as a child and young man.

To say that Bukowski’s writing is not for everyone is a monumental understatement. The young characters in this novel are aware of sex at a young age and mimic the language that they hear from their parents, and you hear just about every word imaginable. They experiment with alcohol, and Henry takes a liking to it right away.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Print your own Poetry Anthology!

For the past couple of years, I've offered a "short story anthology" post, where I link to some great short stories out there on the internet. This year, I thought I'd do the same thing with poetry for National Poetry Month. But you don't have to go to any links to read it, you only have to print it out, make a few simple folds and one little cut in the middle to have your very own anthology of poems for your pocket.

So, first, the anthology, then I'll explain the poems I chose and why. Click the image on the right for the file. This is a .jpg you print on a full sheet of 8.5x11 piece of paper, fold along the dotted gray lines, and make one cut along the solid gray line to construct the anthology. Here's a link (via for instructions on the folding and the cutting to turn it into a booklet. Join me after the jump for the breakdown of the poems...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Can you like stories written by unlikable people?

In high school, I fell in love with H. P. Lovecraft's horror stories. I was fascinated with the creaky, gothic atmosphere and the immense scale of them--monstrosities that had been hidden away for millions of years or travelled between the stars. But more than that, I was fascinated by Lovecraft himself. His father died in an insane asylum when Lovecraft was eight, and Lovecraft and his mother moved in with two aristocratic-but-poor aunts. He was bright, reading 1,001 Arabian Nights, The Iliad, and The Odyssey as a child, but because of his own psychological problems and lack of finances, he wasn't able to go to college. Instead, he made a living writing stories for pulp magazines like Weird Tales. This money was barely enough to survive on, and Lovecraft died poor and largely unknown.

As a gloomy, bookish teenager who was called "weird" more times than I can count, I saw Lovecraft as a fellow traveler, an author who gave voice to my fears and anxieties, somebody who could have understood me even when the people of small town Alabama didn't. Then I found out that Lovecraft was racist. Not just a little racist, either. He was a proud white supremacist, filling letters to friends with tidbits like, "Race prejudice is a gift of nature, intended to preserve in purity the various divisions of mankind which the ages have evolved."


So this around the time of year when I would tend to do a lit news dispatch, rather than a review, telling you how all the YA events at the recent LA Times Festival of Books went.

Except that given the filing schedule here at GLW, and where those “third Tuesdays” fall, it turns out that that posting would be nearly a month away.

So what we’re going to do instead is tell you what’s coming up at the LA Times Book Fest, weekend after next (Sat., April 30, and Sun., May 1). This way, if you’re a GLW reader in the SoCal area, you can come. Or can email your cousin Geoff in Bell Gardens or your Aunt Jen in Cerritos to get over there.

First though, note that two whole days of YA events -- on a “YA Stage” no less! -- is a recent development in Times Book Fest history. The overall gathering is the largest public literary fest in the country, and of course, being L.A., there are awards -- in the form of the LA Times Book Prizes. There’s a YA category, too, and for a long time, there’d usually be one YA panel comprised of that year’s nominees. So one panel, four or five people, and that’d be it.

For YA readings, you’d often find yourself on an outdoor stage, with jugglers and costumed characters designed to capture the attention of younger readers, those perhaps still in the “board book” phase of their reading lives. (Of course, by the time they grow into the “YA” demographic, the challenge for the Times may be fomenting a “Festival of Digital Reading Devices,” so perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty in giving up the jongleurs after all).

One of those stages has been the Target Children’s Stage, which has included MG writers (this year, for example, R.L. Stine and Lisa Yee), but again, those slots were few, and both MG and YA were generally underserved.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Graphically Altered Realities

Two of my favorite graphic novels of the last few months are RASL (Pocket Book One) by Jeff Smith and Brain Camp by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan and Faith Erin Hicks.

Jeff Smith, of Bone fame, has constructed a story of parallel universes and an art thief, who goes by RASL. RASL jumps from dimension to dimension stealing and eventually selling rare and precious works of art. The story also jumps in time, so we learn about the military background of “drifting” and the two other researchers who created the technology. RASL was scared of the implications of such a possibility and those fears are embodied in the violent, lizard-type villain who is tracking down RASL and killing anyone close to him.

He has the impossible task of protecting those he loves, getting away from the military, keeping his secrets and surviving. RASL is a violent and very smartly written graphic novel. This is a wonderful story and made me think of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, though fans of Doug TenNapel’s graphic novels are probably a better match for RASL.

Brain Camp is a fun and creepy graphic novel. Lucas is a troublemaker, whose mom is at the end of her wits. Jenna is just not living up to her parent’s expectations. Suddenly, after the summer has begun a man from a prestigious camp gives their parents hope by offering a take-it-or-leave-it chance to attend Camp Fielding.

As soon as Lucas and Jenna arrive they realize things are not as they seem between the strange food, overprotective counselors and missing campers. As they start to realize what is going on they become endangered and struggle to resist being zombie-fied like the other campers. This is great fun with interesting banter and all sorts of creepiness. Fans of Shaun Tan's The Arrival and the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O'Malley will enjoy this one.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Smiles to Go

Jerry Spinelli's Smiles to Go is about not knowing. The main character, Will, finds it hard to live in the moment. He likes to be in control. He likes to be certain, and he believes that he is sure about a lot of things. The day he learns that protons can die forces him to face the fact that there might be a lot of things he doesn't know. All of a sudden, his life seems full of not knowing. Not knowing if his only girl friend is actually meant to be his girlfriend. Not knowing if his pesky little sister is ever going to be become something other than annoying. Not knowing if there is anything in the world that is certain and forever. He figures out a lot of things in this book, but the best part is that he starts to realize there will be things he might never figure out. Life is mysterious and uncertain and freaky sometimes, but you've got friends and family to live it with you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems

I don't actually read a lot of poetry (I had a bad time with it in school.), but there are a couple of poets these days who always make me smile: Mary Oliver and Billy Collins. Mr. Collins' new collection, Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems, is one I'm looking forward to. I heard Garrison Keillor read one of the poems, and want to share it. Reading this poem silently is OK. But read it aloud, too, please. It's National Poetry Month, and they're best when read aloud.

"What She Said"
by Billy Collins

When he told me he expected me to pay for dinner,
I was like give me a break.

I was not the exact equivalent of give me a break.
I was just similar to give me a break.

As I said, I was like give me a break.

I would love to tell you
how I was able to resemble give me a break
without actually being identical to give me a break,

but all I can say is that I sensed
a similarity between me and give me a break.

And that was close enough
at that point in the evening

even if it meant I would fall short
of standing up from the table and screaming
give me a break,

for God's sake will you please give me a break?!

No, for that moment
with the rain streaking the restaurant windows
and the waiter approaching,

I felt the most I could be was like

to a certain degree

give me a break.

"What She Said" by Billy Collins, from Horoscopes for the Dead. © Random
House, 2011.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Recently in conversation I wondered aloud if we as a society weren't amusing ourselves to distraction. The internet in general and the microscopic attention spans of Twitter and chatting and text messaging was the source.  As I said the phrase it struck a wrong note to my ear.  Where had I heard it?  Why did it sound wrong? Of course I had to turn to the internet for clarification and instant gratification and discovered that I had incorrectly remembered the source as a title of a book I'd read long ago, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman.

Written in 1985 as an examination of how television has reformed our ability to think and communicate, Postman's thesis was that fifty years earlier two literary minds imagined tow distinctly different visions of the future. The more popular one (perhaps because it had the ticking time bomb in its title) was George Orwell's 1984 which postulated a dark world where Big Brother was watching and personal autonomy no longer existed and books would be banned. The other was Aldous Huxley's Brave New World which posed an alternate view, that we would find ourselves in a society that provided us with so much stimuli that we would be reduced to passivity and not care about books.  It was Postman's theory that television had brought us closer to Huxley's vision than any of us had imagined while we were too busy worrying about Orwell's warnings.

Curious to see what I remembered and what I'd forgotten, I was happy to see that Amusing Ourselves to Death had been re-released to coincide with its 20th anniversary, and that it was as startlingly relevant in addressing our current fixation with the internet.  I was also both amused and encouraged that my local library shelved this new paperback edition in the non-fiction YA section of the library.  Indeed, if there is an audience ripe for the history of our electronic culture and where it might be leading us, it would be teens and young adults.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

As John Keats wrote in the opening lines of his lengthy narrative poem, Endymion,

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darken'd ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits...
And so it is with The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan: the book is a joy to read, a thing of almost breathtaking loveliness that increases with reading more, or reading it again - a thing that "moves away the pall from our dark spirits", even as it sometimes dwells on despondence. It began as a Valentine's story for his friends - David has written one every year since his junior year in high school, and many of them can be found in his collection, How They Met and Other Stories (which I adore - the one about the Starbucks guy (called, appropriately enough, "Starbucks Boy") is a particular favorite) - and ended as this lovely, somewhat experimental novel. A thing of beauty indeed.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Grass Harp: a band of outsiders

In a 2000 New York Times interview with Frank Rich, Stephen Sondheim, the preeminent dramatist of the American musical theatre, observed, ”the outsider is basic to a lot of dramatic literature. This country’s about conformity. And so nonconformity is a fairly common theme...”

From Hester Prynne to Oedipa Maas, literature’s most compelling protagonists have been those whose conflicts puts them at odds with an entire society. On one level, stories of opposition provide more engaging narrative opportunities than those about unblinking agreement. But who hasn’t received some side-eye from the world’s Mary Worths now and then? Literature about outsiders presents a chance to find meaning in our own experiences of otherness.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Red Moon Rising by Peter Moore

Red Moon Rising by Peter Moore
"Being only half-vamp in a high school like Carpathia Night makes you a whole loser. But Danny Gray manages to escape the worst of the specists at his school. Thanks to genetic treatments he had as an infant, most people assume Danny's other half is human. Which is a good thing.

Ever since the development of synthetic blood – SynHeme – vamps have become society’s elite, while wulves like his father work menial jobs and live in bad neighborhoods. Wulves are less than second class citizens; once a month they become inmates, forced to undergo their Change in dangerous government compounds.

For Danny, living with his vamp mother and going to a school with a nearly all-vamp student body, it’s best to pretend his wulf half doesn’t even exist. But lately Danny's been having some weird symptoms -- fantastic night vision; a keener-than-usual sense of smell; and headaches, right around the full moon.

Even though it's easy to be in denial, it's hard to ignore evidence. There's only a month until the next few moon, and Danny's time is running out."- summary from Amazon

This was a really cool book. I enjoyed reading about this society that knows about vampires and werewolves and they all intermingle to an extent. The fact that it was humorous too helped as well; not many paranormals these days are funny.

With the paranormals being out and about in this world, there are prejudices running rampant and equal rights being wanted for werewolves. It mirrors our world in a way so that was fun to see a parallel there. I also liked the clever songs and artists placed in the book that were altered a bit to reflect the society being lived in (there's David Bo E with his song "Changes" all about the werewolf change).

The characters were really fun to read about and I loved their interactions. Danny was a great protagonist and his journey is a really interesting one with a cool twist. His friends are awesome too- I loved Claire and her sarcastic nature.

Overall, this is a great book that I think really anyone (even a teen boy) can enjoy- it's got an interesting take on paranormal, there is a romance but it doesn't take over the story and it's not overwrought, and it's funny. The ending worked for me as a stand-alone but I do think a series could happen as there are some unanswered questions (that could be left unanswered if it's a stand-alone; I know, confusing, right?). I'm really glad I read it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When Fantasy Grows Up, or How Babies are Really Made

You've read Tolkien and you've read C.S. Lewis and maybe even all those Eragon books about dragons by Christopher Paolini. Maybe you're thinking, this is great stuff: dragons and swords and magic and all that. Can't get enough of it. But maybe you're also thinking, isn't something missing?

Well, yes. I'll tell you what it is: sex.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dark Jenny by Alex Bledsoe

Hey guys - as Alex is away from his computer right now, we thought we used his scheduled day to give you a peek at what he's been up to lately. Here's the Booklist starred review for Dark Jenny:

The third Eddy Lacrosse novel finds Eddy and friends snowed in at his tavern-office when a large coffin is delivered. The explanation entails a long story that goes back to Eddie’s early years as an investigator and to the legendary island of Grand Bruan. Readers soon realize that Grand Bruan is an noirish alternate version of Great Britain; that its king, Marcus Drake, is alternate reality’s King Arthur; and that Eddy’s tale is another take on the final days of Camelot. Originally hired to keep an eye on a philandering husband, Eddy just happens to be present when one of the Knights of the Double Tarn is poisoned, and Queen Jennifer is accused of the crime. Worse, her loyal defender, Elliott Spears, is absent, along with Cameron Kern, the King’s old advisor (and magician). Bledsoe’s clever combination of noir and myth makes for an engaging story, and placing investigator Eddy at the center offers a fresh twist. Bledsoe’s characters are especially memorable, including Dave Agravaine, a bully who likes to hit women; overweight and overworked but loyal Bob Kay; and Marc’s nephew, Dread Ted Medraft—not to mention the giggleweed-smoking Kern. Fans of Bledsoe’s other blends of fantasy and noir will love his latest, and new readers will be able to jump right in. Try suggesting this to fans of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Tomb: Repairman Jack, #1 -- F. Paul Wilson

After reading F. Paul Wilson's recent YA prequels about Repairman Jack's earliest adventures -- things that happened to him before he was even known as Repairman Jack -- I knew it was finally time to sit down and read the series in order. Back in 1984, The Tomb introduced readers to Repairman Jack. It's been re-released a few times, with details updated -- cell phones added and so on -- to keep it set in the present day.

Jack has no last name, no social security number, and no bank account. He keeps his life savings -- in gold Krugerrands, no less -- taped to the pipes in his apartment. He makes his money "fixing" things -- but not appliances. For a fee, he'll fix your problem. But only if he thinks it's a problem that needs fixing -- although he's technically a career criminal, Jack has a stricter moral code than most law-abiding citizens.