Friday, July 29, 2011

The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson

What will the world be like 200+ years from now? The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson gives us a taste of the distant future, where you can jump into a cab driven by a life-like bot and get on (or off) the grid. Sure, it's easy to look something up on the iScroll embedded in your palm - but someone just might be tracking you...

The Fox Inheritance, Pearson's follow-up to The Adoration of Jenna Fox, tells us what really happened to Jenna's friends Locke and Kara after their tragic car accident. Their minds were suspended digitally for over 200 years before being downloaded into newly-created bodies that look almost exactly like they used to look. Told from Locke's POV, this book is for techies who dream of a future (im)perfect.

Though The Fox Inheritance could be read as a stand-alone, readers will have a better understanding of the story and its characters if they read The Adoration of Jenna Fox first. However, if you adored Adoration, make sure that you walk into Inheritance in the right state of mind: in other words, don't expect the second book to pick up right where the first one left off. The narrators have different voices and go on very different journeys. While the first book was highly introspective and showcased a protagonist having revelations about the world and about herself, the second has more action, as the characters travel across the country, running from the bad guys.

The Fox Inheritance will be available August 30th, 2011.

Read my recent interview with author Mary E. Pearson.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Burning good read - Summer of Night

So July is sweltering. My thermometer has taken an Alaskan cruise to cool off. I'm trapped in New Jersey, but I have books and air conditioning. So what better read for the season than one of the best horror novels written: Summer of Night by Dan Simmons.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Secret of the Yellow Death by Suzanne Jurmain

When you think of terrifying diseases today, yellow fever probably doesn’t top your list. A lot of people have never even heard of it. But just over a hundred years ago, yellow fever was pretty scary stuff. Between the mid-1600s and 1905, over 230 major yellow fever epidemics were recorded in the US. One of the most famous epidemics occured in Philadelphia in 1793, when nearly 10% of the population died of yellow fever and thousands of people fled the city in hopes of escaping sickness.

By the late 1800s, scientists were aware of bacteria and germs and were starting to make progress against diseases like cholera and typhoid. Not yellow fever. The symptoms of yellow fever had been recognized for centuries: fever, chills, intense headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, black vomit, jaundice. Yet no one knew what actually caused yellow fever.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Trash by Andy Mulligan

You can find some interesting things looking through a person’s garbage, but Raphael Fernandez finds stuppa most of the time. Stuppa is human waste, and it’s a decent way to describe Raphael and his family’s situation. They live in a shanty-town called Behala, where unwanted possessions pile high and residents make homes, food, and their livelihood out of the things that others throw away. Such is the life of a rubbish-boy.

One day Raphael finds something infinitely better than stuppa though: it's a bag containing a key, a map, and a wallet filled with more money than Raphael is ever seen. When the cops come looking for the bag, offering money to the people of Behala for it’s safe return, Raphael realizes the importance of his find, but the cops seem a lot more sinister than thankful.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gladstone's School for World Conquerors

Gladstone's School for World Conquerors has just released its third issue, and, so far, it's a fun comic. The art is kinetic and exciting, and the characters are great. The plot is a bit muddled, but it's worth a read.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Civil War Adventure

The Civil War we read about in school is a straightforward affair: North versus South, slave-holders versus the Emancipation Proclamation. What gets lost in this broad strokes approach is the fact that there were true believers and opportunists on both sides. There were deserters, doctors, and total fools. There were as many stories from the Civil War as there were soldiers and civilians and slaves who suffered through it.

In 2008, two comic book veterans, Chuck Dixon and Gary Kwapisz, found a common desire to publish "entertaining, historically accurate graphic novels set against the background of American history." This idea resulted in Civil War Adventure, a graphic novel anthology series that tells the story of the Civil War from as many points of view as possible. Some of the stories are fictional, others are drawn directly from private letters about the war: pro-slavery bushwhackers and anti-slavery jayhawkers both terrorize Bleeding Kansas, bored soldiers duel across no man's land, a nurse keeping a dying soldier alive long enough to dictate a letter home for him, black Union troops face their first battle. And nearly every story will reveal some hidden facet of the War Between the States you never knew existed.

Unable to get a publisher interested in Civil War Adventure, Dixon and Kwapisz founded their own company, History Graphics Press. Going the independent route allowed them to put the book they envisioned and work with a variety of artists. Also, if you order directly from the publisher, the books come signed with a sketch.

There's an incredible variety of stories in Civil War Adventure--some are funny, some are ghoulish, and some are will make you choke up. But every one shows the complexity of the supposedly cut-and-dried war we thought we knew.

(Cross-posted on my blog.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In case you missed it, KidLit Con 2011 is happening in September!

I have spent the past few weeks deeply immersed in the wonder that is planning for KidLit Con. Jackie Parker-Robinson (of CYBILS fame) and I have been fielding emails from bloggers asking about presentations, publishers asking about advertising in the booklet (yes, there will be a handy guide for the con this year with information on every attendee), authors asking about what the con is like, and, well, basically everyone asking everything about all of it.

It's totally fabulous and I'm so excited I could scream.

All the answers (or at least the start of the answers) can be found at the Kidlitosphere site. You can register there or submit a presentation idea or find out more about the hotel (free wifi!!!). What the site can't tell you though is why KidLit Con matters - and more importantly why it is something YOU should attend. Jen Robinson handles that over at her blog though with a post all about how the con has mattered to her in the past and why she is looking forward to it this year as well.

It's funny, but I'm not usually the type of person who attends conferences or conventions or, well, basically large gatherings of any kind. It's not that I'm shy (please) but more that I'm wary of the value to be found in such events. I understand going to see Springsteen in concert - I get to enjoy the music - but sitting in a room listening to a bunch of panelists talk about books and blogging? Is that a good use of my time? I really wasn't sure when the first KidLit Con was held in 2007 and I went to Portland in 2008 mostly because it was convenient and Jackie was going and could split a room and there was a chance to meet some friends I'd made online (like Jen!).

Also, to be perfectly honest, it was a chance to be alone without my husband and child for the first time in years. YEARS.

The getting out of town part was the value for me and everything else was just icing on the cake. That's the way I felt about it going down on the train anyway but after amazing meetings with authors Sara Zarr and Sara Ryan, after spending time with Jen and Sarah Stevenson and Greg Pincus and Lee Wind and Pam Coughlin and Betsy Bird and after Jackie and I very nearly talked ourselves senseless, well, the value increased hugely for me. KidLit Con was where the idea for Guys Lit Wire came together, where I decided to try out twitter, where I had several conversations about social media and what it can mean for authors, where frankly I stepped up and took a few lessons on not the craft of writing but the craft of participating in the publishing industry.

See, I think being a valued part of the litblogosphere is something you need to work on and work at and put time into. If it's something you want - if you see value in being here - then you need to take the time to find the best way be here. Some folks call it community, others say work on design, others will tell you it's all about varied content. WHATEVER. But if you want to take things up a notch and not just be a person with a little hobby but someone who is out there, mixing it up, asking questions, sharing thoughts, exchanging ideas, then just like anything else you are going to want to spend some time with other folks who are out here too. You will value that time with people who understand what you are trying to do and you will value the things you can learn from them as they will value what you have teach.

KidLit Con made me realize what I could do in this place I have carved for myself here and now, as my own book gets ready for release (even though it is not officially a kid book....), I feel a lot less terrified. I'm not alone out here and for a debut writer that is huge; that is the difference between fear and joy in more ways than you can count.

I'm sorry - I'm just too excited about how this year's con (SCOTT WESTERFELD IS KEYNOTE!!!) is coming together and I soooo want you to be involved in it and be there so I can meet you in person and you can be part of all the weekend awesomeness. Right now I must go and listen to Amanda Palmer very very loudly. You should too. And you should come to Seattle because in a thousand different ways it is totally and completely worth it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

Lyrian is a world where its people have been beaten down by its fearsome ruler, Maldor. The evil magician has completely destroyed each of his opponents down to their core. Some of the would-be heroes were defeated physically and left trapped in a perpetual prison. The others are invited to spend the rest of their lives in a resort enjoying food, comfort and peace, but also giving up any chance to be heroic.

This is the setting of Brandon Mull's new Beyonders series, which begins with A World Without Heroes. Jason and Rachel are known as Beyonders because in separate incidents they stumbled from our world into the alternate universe of Lyrian.

13-year old Jason soon gets into trouble in this strange land and finds a book with a cover of human skin. In the book is part of a word that can unmake Maldor, but opening the book also means that Jason has made himself known to Maldor. Now the only way to figure out a way home is to take the advice of the Blind King, find the six syllables of the word and save Lyrian from Maldor.

Mull has made Maldor a much more complex villain than we usually see in fantasy novels. He is devastatingly cunning and seems to loom over everything Jason and Rachel does to find the pieces of the word. There are a few rebels, but Maldor has left the people of Lyrian suspicious and afraid of everyone.

The plot in A World Without Heroes is often surprising, the former heroes are heartbreaking and the villains are quite sneaky and cruel. All of this adds to the tension for Jason and Rachel to succeed in their quest. Mull quite impressively fits a lot of ideas in a book that is driven by action and adventure. Our young characters learn a lot about the trap of being passive throughout life and what it means to be heroic.

I was incredible impressed with this book and look forward to the rest of the series. Fans of Mull's previous series, Fablehaven, will enjoy this as well as readers of Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) and Philip Caveney (Sebastian Darke series).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, by John Taylor Gatto

John Taylor Gatto was New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991, when he published Dumbing Us Down. I guess he knows what he's talking about. The following excerpts are from an earlier version of Chapter 1 that was published in The Sun (May, 1991), and Whole Earth Review (Fall 1991):

The first lesson I teach is "Stay in the class where you belong." I don't know who decides that my kids belong there but that's not my business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be returned... Over the years the variety of ways children are numbered has increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human being under the burden of numbers he carries. Numbering children is a big and very profitable business, though what the business is designed to accomplish is elusive.

The second lesson I teach kids is to turn on and off like a light switch. I demand that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. But when the bell rings I insist that they drop the work at once and proceed quickly to the next work station. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of.

The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything?

The third lesson I teach you is to surrender your will to a predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld, by authority, without appeal. As a schoolteacher I intervene in many personal decisions, issuing a Pass for those I deem legitimate, or initiating a disciplinary confrontation for behavior that threatens my control. My judgments come thick and fast, because individuality is trying constantly to assert itself in my classroom.

The fourth lesson I teach is that only I determine what curriculum you will study (rather, I enforce decisions transmitted by the people who pay me). This power lets me separate good kids from bad kids instantly. Good kids do the tasks I appoint with a minimum of conflict and a decent show of enthusiasm. Of the millions of things of value to learn, I decide what few we have time for. The choices are mine. Curiosity has no important place in my work, only conformity...

Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


If you were to offer a teen reader a chance to read the biography of a physicist, how many would bite? Not too many I would suspect. What if you told them it was about a Nobel-Prize winner? Still only a handful?  How about if you told them he was part of the team that helped develop the atomic bomb and later was crucial in discovering the fatal error that caused the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster?  About a scientist who would work out some of his theorems working at a table in a strip club, taught himself to crack safes, and would travel to Brazil and play drums in a samba band...   

And it's told in graphic novel format?  

The joy of reading about the life of physicist Richard Feynman, in any format, is that he was the original out-of-the-box thinker. He retained his child-like sense of wonder and his desire to figure things out and applied them to science the same way that artists and writers apply them to their craft. Following the unconventional and peripatetic life of an unconventional thinker provides an fascinating example of the rewards that come from following your dreams in any field. That Feynman had a sense of humor to match his sense of wonder is a bonus, and despite his preference for research over lecturing he was nonetheless brilliant showman.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park tells the story of two children in Sudan - one is Nya, a contemporary Sudanese girl observing the drilling of a well and the construction of a school in her village with the help of the people from Water for, and the other is Salva Dut, whose story occurred in 1985, when the civil war came to his village in Sudan. Salva ran into the bush to hide from the soldiers, eventually escaping as one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan". Salva is an actual person, whose story is much like that of the young Salva in Park's book - although in truth, some of the actual events in his life were far worse and more horrifying that Park depicts.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Haunting of Charles Dickens

Turning beloved authors into characters can be an awful lot of fun. We already feel as though we know them through their work, so it’s rather like stepping into the continuing adventures of a familiar friend. Lewis Buzbee’s The Haunting of Charles Dickens, draws upon an energetic side of the great writer, drawing on his perspicacious reporter’s background and broad imagination. In Buzbee’s mystery, Dickens is led into the seedy underground London crime world as a chance encounter with a mysterious spirit sets him on the path of his young friend Meg Pickel’s missing brother.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson

Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson
"Ari Fish believes in two things: his hero-Wayne Timcoe, the greatest soccer goalie to ever come out of Somerset Valley-and luck. So when Ari finds a rare and valuable Wayne Timcoe trading card, he's sure his luck has changed for the better. Especially when he's picked to be the starting goalie on his team. But when the card is stolen-and his best friend and the new girl on the team accuse each other of taking it-suddenly Ari can't save a goal, everyone is fighting, and he doesn't know who, or what, to believe in.

Before the team falls apart, Ari must learn how to make his own luck, and figure out what it truly means to be a hero."- summary from Amazon

I loved Aronson's debut Head Case and was really looking forward to reading her follow-up. This is a complete 180 from her debut and I really enjoyed it. I wasn't quite pulled in from the beginning (perhaps because I'm not much of a sports fan) but as I got further into the story, I got invested in Ari and the other characters. Aronson's first foray into middle-grade fiction is spectacular; she really nails the voice, the emotions, and the situations that happen as kids grow up. Their interactions all felt realistic.

I really liked the presidential quotes at the beginning of each chapter. It was a nice little touch because Ari has a thing for the US presidents and knows a lot about them. He even includes them in his pre-game rituals. I also have to say that I teared up a bit toward the end of the book and that almost never happens.

I honestly don't know what else to say about this book. I think it's fantastic and that pre-teens (especially boys, of course) will really enjoy it. Definitely a book to check out!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Marbury Lens

In some fantasy novels--like each of The Chronicles of Narnia--the protagonists pass from a less than ideal situation in this world to a place of beauty and adventure. In others (think Coraline) a character's escape from reality leads into a kind of hell, leaving character and reader to the conclusion that regular reality is pretty nice after all. But in Andrew Smith's The Marbury Lens, Jack passes back and forth between this world, which has become a kind of hell for him, to a fantastic world which is another kind of hell. In some ways the story comes down to which kind of hell Jack prefers.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor

For all the times I go looking for a specific book it's always more interesting when a book finds me instead.  I don't know how it's going to work for the generations coming up who will be more accustomed to finding their reading on the Internet, but I don't think I'll ever get over the meditative pleasure of trolling the shelves of used bookstores, flea markets, and library sales for a title or author or book cover that quietly whispers "Psst! Over here!"

The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was one of those books who caught my attention on a twenty-five cent shelf and turned out to be infinitely more rewarding than it's modest price.

In February of 1958 a destroyer from the Colombian Navy lost eight crew members overboard during a storm while traveling through the Caribbean. When the ship arrived at its home port two days after the incident a search party was sent out and, after four days, concluded there were no survivors among the eight lost men. Four days later – a full ten days after going overboard, a man named Luis Alejandro Velasco turned up half dead on a deserted beach in northern Columbia. Quickly he became a celebrity, a hero, and was telling (and selling) his stories to newspapers and advertisers. After over a month of notoriety he showed up at the offices of El Spectador offering to tell his story again, for a price. Among the three young men who ran that paper was a budding journalist named Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Originally, not wanting to trade in sloppy seconds, they rejected the sailor's offer but then changed their mind and very quickly learned that what Velasco was offering was a chance to tell the whole story, one that wasn't sanitized or authorized by the Colombian government.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Could It Happen To You? Guantánamo Boy

Right off, I knew this would be a tough one. With a title like Guantánamo Boy, I knew I would be doing some sniffling.

People: I don't like to cry. I so did not want to read this book.

And yet, I requested it from NetGalley (hi, FCC, a .pdf ARC, thank you), because to not read it would be cowardice. I can't hide from the facts of Guantánamo Bay prison. The ugliness that snatched people of Egyptian, Arabic, and in some cases, South Asian descent, and thrust them into trauma is real. The world is still full of fearful, knee-jerk, panic-driven, vengeful, racist people, and as a reader and writer I need to not hide my eyes because mean people suck, and sad things make me sad.

You need to read this book. I won't lie; I can't say I loved it, and want to read it over and over. It's not that kind of book. Frankly, parts of this novel may really mess you up. But it's worth a few tears, because it makes you think.