Wednesday, November 30, 2011

First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci

A startling, wonderful novel about the true meaning of being an alien in an equally alien world.

"We are specks. Pieces of dust in this universe. Big nothings.

"I know what I am."

Mal lives on the fringes of high school. Angry. Misunderstood. Yet loving the world -- or, at least, an idea of the world.

Then he meets Hooper. Who says he's from another planet. And may be going home very soon.

I picked this book up on a whim. It seemed so small and I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment that only a small read can bring.

I found myself pouring over the words, slowing down, even rereading sections where I thought the prose was most beautiful. This very small read packed a huge punch.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Every You, Every Me by David Levithan with photographs by Jonathan Farmer

Evan's best friend is Ariel.
Evan's only friend is Ariel.
Ariel is gone.

But what happened to Ariel? And who is sending photographs of Ariel (and other people, initially unidentified) to Evan?

David Levithan's novel Every You, Every Me incorporates photographs by Jonathan Farmer. While Evan scrutinizes each and every picture and note he receives, it is worth remembering the tagline on the cover of the book: "A picture is worth a thousand lies." Readers have more than one mystery to figure out here. Evan's first-person narration is mostly directed to Ariel, addressing her from the get-go, using "you" frequently and really pulling you into his story and in his thoughts - but do you think he's a reliable narrator, and do you think he had something to do with Ariel's departure? Your opinion may change from chapter to chapter as more backstory is detailed, and it may change again when the truth is finally revealed in the final chapter.

Kudos, David Levithan, for incorporating Zeno's dichotomy paradox into your story. Thank you.

My favorite Farmer photo in this book appears on page 228 - but don't you dare turn to that page until you've read pages 1 through 227. It won't mean as much if you look ahead.

If you like Every You, Every Me, you should also read As Simple As Snow by Gregory Gallaway, which I've talked about here at GuysLitWire as well as at my own book blog, Bildungsroman. Snow also employs a teenaged male narrator, a missing-in-action vivacious female friend, and mysterious elements.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Works: Anatomy of a City by Kate Ascher

I happened to read the November issue of Wired while searching for a book to write about for a recent blogger celebration of city books. I wanted to write about YA nonfiction, but outside of Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities (which I do want to read in the near future, but I haven't been in the mood for biographies lately), nothing caught my attention. Until Wired ran a brief excerpt from Kate Ascher's The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper and mentioned that Ascher had previously written a book about cities.

That earlier book is The Works: Anatomy of a City. Okay, so it's not a YA book like I originally wanted, but it does have YA appeal. This is largely due to the book's format, which mixes short text blocks to introduce subjects, and devoting most of the page to infographics.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Wildwood by Colin Meloy

How five crows managed to lift a twenty-pound baby boy into the air was beyond Prue, but that was certainly the least of her worries.

So begins Colin Meloy’s new novel Wildwood, in which a girl named Prue must journey into the Impassable Wilderness, outside her hometown of Portland, Oregon, in order to retrieve her brother--with an awkward classmate named Curtis tagging along. Due to some misfortune involving coyotes donning military uniforms, the two must separately navigate this strange world where talking animals uneasily coexist with humans who have never met anyone from the outside world. A revolution is about to happen, and Prue and Curtis quickly find themselves on opposite sides.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Machine Man by Max Barry

Australian novelist Max Barry has a keen sense of what humanity is experiencing and moving towards. His topics have ranged from marketing (Syrup) to modern office culture (Company) to a future where corporations are in control and run the government (Jennifer Government). Machine Man began as an online project, where Barry wrote one page of his book a day. It was then expanded and published as his fourth novel.

Charles Neumann is a scientist that loses a leg in an accident at work. While coping with the shock of losing a limb and learning to walk on a crude prosthetic leg, Charles realizes this is an opportunity to start improving himself.

Machine Man opens with Charles' thoughts on wanting to be a machine,

“AS A BOY, I WANTED TO BE A TRAIN. I DIDN’T REALIZE THIS WAS unusual— that other kids played with trains, not as them.
They liked to build tracks and have trains not fall off them. Watch them go through tunnels. I didn’t understand that. What I liked was pretending my body was two hundred tons of unstoppable steel. Imagining I was pistons and valves and hydraulic compressors. “You mean robots,” said my best friend, Jeremy. “You want to play robots.” I had never thought of it like that.
Robots had square eyes and jerky limbs and usually wanted to destroy the Earth. Instead of doing one thing right, they did everything badly. They were general purpose. I was not a fan of robots. They were bad machines.”

Charles meets prosthetist Lola Shanks who loves her job a little too much. The two click, but are soon caught up in the company that wants Charles to create better products for them and experiment on himself. Barry pushes the limits of his characters and readers begin to wonder how far Charles will go and how many products he will use on himself.

Machine Man is a darkly humorous tale that melds fantastic sounding technologies with our modern world. Barry uses some of his past themes of out of control corporations, how people become to feel like cogs in a machine and our constant nervousness of the future. Some of the action scenes are a bit over the top and are maybe unnecessary, but they don't detract from this interesting and wonderful novel.

Fans of dystopian novels, The Unidentified by Rae Mariz and anything by Cory Doctorow will enjoy Machine Man.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Once and Future King by T. H. White

One of the classics of Arthurian fiction is T.H. White's The Once and Future King. I spent, probably, a couple of years or more greedily reading just about any Arthurian Fiction I could find. I read T.H. White's The Once and Future King maybe around 15 years ago - it's been quite awhile. I remember enjoying it. I'm still a fan of Arthurian fiction, but I haven't read any in some time. The Once and Future King, I read when I was on that binge: fiction and non-fiction Arthurian material alike.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sparkplug Comics and the legacy of Dylan WIlliams

Recently, the comics community lost one of its greats. If you never heard of Dylan Williams, its because we live in a golden age for comics. I know that doesn't make a whole lot of sense on the face of it, but there are so many graphic novels coming out these days from so many different publishers  that it's hard to see the impact of a small, DIY publisher like Sparkplug.

Yet every book and comic from this small press is an expression of the love Dylan had for the medium. Recently I had a chance to pick up some of Sparkplug Comics books, and I'd like to recommend a few of their best. If you've never seen a minicomic, you're in for a treat...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We are Going Back to Ballou for a Holiday Book Fair!!

Wrap Text around ImageFor all of you who recall the story of Ballou High School in Washington DC from earlier this year, we are delighted to announce that GLW is partnering up again with school librarian Melissa Jackson to get some more books to Ballou. While the year began with less than one book for each student in the Ballou library (the American Library Association advises a minimum of eleven books per student), after our successful spring book fair and the publicity that surrounded it and Melissa's own efforts, Ballou now has four books for each student which is a huge improvement. But, improving is not enough, we want to hit and then exceed the ALA minimum and so we are going to shamelessly take advantage of everyone's holiday joy and gift-giving mood this time of year and hopefully add to the stacks at Ballou with this smaller, but no less enjoyable book fair.

And yes, we will be back in the spring with another big fair for the school again.

One thing we want to stress is that this list is put together with Melissa's input and is comprised of books that Ballou wants and needs. That is part of why we put these book fairs together - we want to gift a school with books they have chosen, not the books we want to give away. It's not cheap and it's not easy, but it's a good thing to do and we hope that you will help us make it happen for Ballou.

Here is the direct link to the wish list at Powells. (And if you want to share it: As you all know, we work with Powells because it is a bricks and mortar independent store that is a big part of the city of Portland and we here at GLW like to support bricks and mortar stores at every opportunity. This means there are a few more hoops to jump through when it comes to ordering books but we hope you understand how worthy our cause is both for the school and the store.

It is perfectly fine to purchase used copies of a book (more bang for your buck) but please check and make sure the book is in “standard” used condition and not “student owned” (you will have to click on the title and leave the wish list to check this). The “student owned” copies are very cheap for a reason - they are written in and thus not a good choice for this effort. Also, if at all possible please purchase hardcover copies as they will hold up better and be on the lookout for "SALE" prices as a bunch of the books are on sale this year and quite reasonable.

Once you have made your selections head to “checkout” and you will be prompted to inform Powells if the books were indeed bought from the wishlist. This lets the store know to mark them as “purchased” on the list. After that you need to provide your credit card info and also fill in the shipping address. Here is where the books are going to:

Melissa Jackson, LIBRARIAN
Ballou Senior High School
3401 Fourth Street SE
Washington DC 20032
(202) 645-3400

It’s very important that you get Melissa’s name and title in there - she is not the only Jackson (or Melissa) at the school and we want to make sure the books get to the library.

After all that you buy the books and you’re done! Please head back over here when you get a chance though and leave a comment letting us know who you are, where you’re from and what you bought. Starting tomorrow I will have a continuously updated post listing everyone’s purchases so we can see the books flying their way to our nation’s capitol. I’ll be in constant touch with Melissa too so I can let you all know how things go on her end. The book fair will run through cyber Monday on November 28th and we'll keep you updated on things even after it shuts down. (Hopefully as a sellout.)

And follow us on twitter (@guyslitwire) for updates as well!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Speaking Out

Friend of Guys' Lit Wire, Steve Berman, has compiled a new book, Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up, and he wants your help getting it into school libraries.

The anthology, partially inspired by Dan Savage's It Gets Better Campaign, features stories about gay and transgender teens overcoming intolerance and homophobia. As the back cover says, "Queer teens need tales of what might happen next in their lives, and editor Steve Berman showcases a diversity of events, challenges, and, especially, triumphs."

And now, Berman is working to get this important book in schools, trying to raise $2000 by the end of the years, which will allow him to donate copies to 200 school libraries. (You can also nominate a school to receive a copy of Speaking Out.) The fundraising campaign started with a bang, raising $500 in the first week. It's leveled off some since then, and it could use your help. A ten or twenty dollar donation may not seem like much, especially given the amount of cruelty and hate gay teens face everyday. But Guys; Lit Wire is built on the belief that the right book, reaching the right person at the right time, can change a life. Steve Berman and the contributors of Speaking Out are carrying that idea to the next level.

The Other Kind of Dystopia

It's my contention that you can't read too much dystopian literature. The world, after all, is going to go down the tubes eventually--it may already be circling the drain--and the more you read about that happening, the better prepared you'll be when it does.

There are lots of ways for the world to turn to doo-doo. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four in which a totalitarian state takes control of everything and rules with an iron fist--surveilling all citizens, and abducting and torturing all dissenters. Fear is one way to control a population. But there are others. In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, another dystopian classic, for instance, pleasure is used readily to control the population. The citizenry of Brave New World is fed drugs to keep them happy and ignorant, encouraged to be as sexually promiscuous as possible and is distracted from questioning the status quo by endless entertainment, games and sports. Science and technology are applied to every aspect of human life. Babies are gestated in factories and both their genes and their development environment are strictly controlled. Children are educated in a similar factory-like setting. Distinct classes, or castes, are created by a combination of genetic engineering and brainwashing. But the state in A Brave New World claims a higher purpose. While in Nineteen Eighty-Four the totalitarian Party sought only to maximize its own power, the World State in Brave New World at least pretends that it's out to eliminate suffering for its people, even if that comes at the cost of also eliminating freedom, love and passion. A number of characters in Brave New World don't find the combination of lots of sex, heavy doses of drugs and ample entertainment options as fulfilling as the World State would expect and their struggles with finding something deeper drive the plot of the book.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Monster Calls

In days gone by, unknown parts of the world were marked on maps with the designation "Here Be Monsters." Now we have mapped the world, but when it comes to dealing with grief, loss, and guilt, there still "be" monsters in our minds. With A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness has given us the terrible beauty of a timeless parable.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

There are, for the boy learning what it means to be a man, two shining examples to be found in Western literature: Hector of Troy and Sam Vimes. This is a bold claim, considering that a) I am a lady and b) I'm a newbie at Guys Lit Wire (hellooo!), but hear me out.

Hector is possibly the paragon of ideal Western Man: father and husband, diplomat and warrior. He defends his home and his snotty brother Paris (who I would have cheerfully handed over to Menelaus, but I digress), even though this leads to a grim and glorious death. Not an easy example to live up to, but being a man isn't easy, and being perfect is impossible.

Which brings me to Sam Vimes, Commander of the Watch of Ankh-Morpork and protagonist of Sir Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel Snuff. Sam is just a copper, through and through, a good man working in a world that is at best bloody complicated and at worst deadly and cruel. In Snuff, Sam's wife Sybil has insisted he take a holiday, and they head off into the countryside to Sybil's ancestral home Crundells. The holiday begins well enough, as Sam gets to know the countryside, taking Young Sam, his six year old son, out for fresh air and edifying nature activities, like studying animal poo (no, really). But something stinks in the country, beyond the poo, and soon enough, Sam has a murder on his hands. I'll leave the plot summary here. Suffice it to say, murder is only the start, and once again Sam finds himself attempting to obey that most demanding of mistresses, the Law (and also keep his wife happy).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?

"Aw, dig it, Pete! Does a tiger wear a necktie?""No, but it isn’t  in the nature of a…"

With this question, Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?, Don Petersen prompts the exploration that guides his 1962 play about a group of young addicts placed in a rehabilitation center. With addiction standing in for the scope of circumstances, behaviors, and modes of thinking in which one can become stuck, Petersen uses his characters to reflect on the conflict in one’s nature between immutability and the possibility of change - predestination against agency.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Coney Island of the Mind with CD, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Poetry became better for me when I stopped having it as assigned reading. And when I'm not feeling self-conscious, and I read it out loud, then I'm doing it right.

You don't have to get the book-CD version of A Coney Island of the Mind. But hearing Ferlinghetti read these will be a treat. Here's one:

Christ Climbed Down
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

CHRIST climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagon sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody's imagined Christ child
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hark! A Vagrant (+ bonus review: a vulgar dictionary!)

I think that if my sixteen-year-old self could have transported into the future of now and been exposed to Hark! A Vagrant he would probably crush pretty hard on Kate Beaton.  There's a trifecta of humor, history, and smarts in her collection of web comics that would have knocked me over with a feather and tickled me into a giddy fanboy state. Not that any of this is wasted on the adult me, I've just grown better at keeping my fanboy crushing at bay. Mostly.

Armed with a college degree in history, and the righteousness to ask the tough modern questions, Beaton skewers events and people from the past, primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries. Military heroes, musicians, authors, politicians, and characters from literature all end up on the barbed end of her devilish cartoon pitchfork. Perhaps what makes these comics funny is that across the board they tend to talk a lot like modern young adults. Occasionally obscene, often snarky and irreverent, I not only would have eaten this up with a spork as a teen, I might have actually paid more attention in history in literature classes if I'd actually realized how fun it could all be. I did, after all, make a home movie when I was a teen that showed Beethoven riding a bike in Los Angeles, eating a falafel, and buying one of his symphonies at Tower Records.

I also think this collection speaks to what I find most depressing about modern comic strip artists who still appear in newsprint, that most of what passes for comics today are lame, safe, and simply lacking anything below the surface of tired one-liners. If someone wanted (I'm sure someone, somewhere already has) I bet they could blame the downfall of print news media on the comics that used to be the one sure draw a newspaper had at bringing up younger readers. But while I digress, my point is that the comics in Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant made me laugh out loud the way I once did. And about stuff like Nancy Drew acting somewhat clueless, Shakespearean characters pointing out their own ridiculous circumstances, and proper Victorian ladies with potty mouth.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Toradora! volumes 1-3

Ryuuji Takasu has a huge crush on one of his classmates, Minori Kushieda, but hasn't been able to work up the nerve to talk to her, partly because everyone assumes he's a delinquent due to his shifty-looking eyes. It doesn't help that her best friend is Taiga Aisaka, known as the "Palmtop Tiger" for her short stature and hot temper. And it really doesn't help when he catches Taiga accidentally slipping a love letter to his best friend, Yuusaku Kitamura, into his bag. And it really really doesn't help when Taiga breaks into his house at 3AM to violently reclaim her letter.

Fortunately for all involved, this doesn't end in bloodshed but rather an uneasy truce, best described as "Ryuuji will now do anything Taiga asks him to, and in return might get to spend some supervised time with Minori". And so begins the quest to hook up Taiga and Kitamura, a task which leaves most of the school wondering what fresh terrors are in store now that the two most irrationally feared students suddenly appear to be dating.

This is just the setup premise for Toradora!; to try to explain the twists and turns both comedic and serious taken since then would rob you of the pleasure of watching them dynamically evolve through the first three volumes.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey
"A boy who can see the world's secrets and unravel spells with just a glance.

Braden's witch eyes give him an enormous power. A mere look causes a kaleidoscopic explosion of emotions, memories, darkness, and magic. But this rare gift is also his biggest curse.

Compelled to learn about his shadowed past and the family he never knew, Braden is drawn to the city of Belle Dam, where he is soon caught between two feuding witch dynasties. Sworn rivals Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe will use anything--lies, manipulation, illusion, and even murder--to seize control of Braden's powers. To stop an ancient evil from destroying the town, Braden must master his gift, even through the shocking discovery that Jason is his father. While his feelings for an enigmatic boy named Trey grow deeper, Braden realizes a terrible truth: Trey is Catherine Lansing's son . . . and Braden may be destined to kill him."- summary from Amazon

I've been excited for this book for a little over a year now. I initially "met" Scott Tracey on the wonderful gay news site AfterElton while browsing around profiles and we chatted a bit. He did an interview with me for my GLBT Week last October and then I was so happy receiving an ARC at BEA (thanks Gabrielle!).

I'm glad to say that the wait and excitement was worthwhile. This is a really good debut and I can't wait to read the next book in the series and see what happens. Braden is a great main character and I really enjoyed following along on his journey (especially when it came to the scenes with Trey!) with all the twists, turns and shocking reveals.

Tracey has a fantastic world in Belle Dam that has a lot going on, history-wise, that'll take a while to unravel. I loved all the magic going on because I'm all about witches. There's always something happening and the story is just so compelling. There are some interesting characters here too, my favorite probably being Jade. Trey was a bit too hot and cold for me to really like a lot, but I can see why he does that and so I do like him a little. I hope for more romance between him and Braden in the sequel.

Overall, a compelling debut with a twist on witches and the Romeo and Juliet story. What more do you want? (It's a paperback too, so not too expensive!).

FTC: Received signed ARC while at BEA (Gabrielle from Mod Podge Bookshelf won a copy at Teen Author Carnival and was kind enough to get it signed for me!). Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Year that Used to be the Future

Last month, a New York Times column complained about children's and YA literature, the kind of stuff GuysLitWire exists to promote. According to the commentary, kid and YA lit is all too dark, filled with too many werewolves and vampires and Death Eaters and too much dystopia. But I wonder exactly what such commentators have against these books, because, while they may involve dark subjects, they pretty much never promote darkness. Rather, just the opposite. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, for instance, is an enemy of the oppressive government and a champion of freedom. Nowhere in Harry Potter is the reader encouraged to be like Voldemort. It's not that the books encourage evil that bothers these critics, it's that they acknowledge it at all. The critics seem to be saying, "Hey, youth of today, stop thinking about this nasty stuff! Be happy and shiny!"

I think this is bad advice. I think we ought to be encouraging kids to read dark, dystopic literature. I mean if there's a zombie apocalypse when I'm old (or older) and I fall down and can't get up, I want the youth of today prepared to deal with the zombie menace, you know?