Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Song of the Red Cloak

Song of the Red Cloak by Chantel Acevedo reads like one of those high budget movies where the guys wear little skirts and have impeccable abs. 300 has nothing on the world Acevedo created in her YA fantasy which is an ode to Spartan lore.

The book begins with two fathers testing their newborn Spartan sons by pouring wine over their faces to take away their air and test their mettle. Think of it as water boarding the ancient way. One baby cries while the other responds with silence.
Next we have a vision from a Sybil that predicts doom in a way only a Sybil can. A vague prophecy stating that if both the boys are allowed to live then Sparta will be doomed. A dog’s expert nose decides the fate of the newborn prince who must perish but while his father is holding him over the pit he was bade to toss him into he is overcome with grief. For the quiet child chose this moment to cry and a downtrodden father returns to his palace shamed because he did not do his duty and murder his son.
Fast forward a few years and we are at the Spartan Academy where both princes are in attendance. Here is where the story takes off at a breathtaking pace and the plot begins to weave through the prophecy with startling conclusions.

Acevado brought the world of the Spartans to my front door. I was enamored by the amount of research that had to go into the writing of this novel and impressed by how much culture I consumed while reading for entertainment.

Song of the Red Cloak
has it all: Spartans, battles, vague prophecy and the added bonus of feeling true to the period. The relationships between the two princes, their friends and the slaves are noteworthy and meaningful. I think the book is a fabulous contribution to the YA historical genre. Do you like historical novels?

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Volume 1

In 2004, HITRECORD, an open collaborative production company, was launched. Owned by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the website allows people to post their music, art, words, and other creations, and encourages others to remix those creations into something new. One person's photograph inspires another person's poem. A filmmaker posts a short and asks around for a composer to provide score music for the film. It's an interactive, constantly-active website, and Gordon-Levitt himself posts frequently, using the handle regularJOE.

And yes, it is a company. When profits are made, the company and the contributing artists split profits 50/50. In September 2011, they released hitRECord RECollection: Volume 1, which contains a hardbound 64-page Book, a DVD, and a CD, and in December, they released The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Volume 1, which is the subject of this review.

When HITRECORD asked for contributions for The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, they received 8,569 submissions. 8,659. 60 were selected, edited, and reprinted. Each story is comprised of less than 50 words; each illustration is composed in black and white. The full list of creators and credits can be found at the end of the book, a table of contents that includes URLs so interested readers can look at the original submissions as they first appeared on the HITRECORD website, hitrecord.org

Many of these tiny stories inspire a giggle, or a moment's pause. My favorites include dancing with the dust on pages 13-14, the flickering stars on pages 32-33, the element of surprise on page 38, the other worlds on pages 62-63, and the pile of books on pages 68-69, the ghost of pages 72-73, and the encounter of Coincidence and Fate on pages 80-81. Each of these stories and accompanying images struck a chord with me, a loud, resonating chord. Kudos and congratulations to all of the contributors. I look forward to future volumes in the series.

What are your favorite pieces in this collection?
What do you think of flash fiction in general?
Leave your comments below!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Flip by Martyn Bedford

When Alex wakes on a Saturday morning, everything seems different. His mom is calling for him to hurry, but she sounds odd. And why does he need to get ready for school when it's the weekend? The last thing he remembers from the night before is leaving his best friend's house and running through the street. Now Alex feels very unusual. His mom calls again.

"Philip! It's five to eight!"

Author Martyn Bedford poses an unusual question in his novel Flip: What would you do if you woke up as someone else? Despite the improbable chance of this ever happening, it is a query that I often asked myself when I was younger.

No doubt this was fueled even more by viewings of Being John Malkovich, in which people pay to enter the head of the enigmatic actor. But while that film played the scenario for dark comedy, Bedford manages to really ponder the realities of dealing with such a problem down to the last detail.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

FEED by MT Anderson

Have you been inside a Barnes and Noble lately? When I walk into my neighborhood Barnes and Noble their YA sections look like a New York Publisher’s marketing dream. An entire large section labeled “paranormal romance.” Really? Even more disheartening is this fact: ninety percent of the books on their shelves are written and marketed for girls. Honestly, in that sea of Sarah Dessens and Stephanie Meyers and Lauren Olivers it’s hard to find books for guys. Even sports books are hard to find, buried in rows of love and vampires. This is not to knock those books or authors. They’re popular for a reason. People like them and they’re reading, and that’s a good thing. And there's certainly nothing wrong with some love and romance. Working in education I see firsthand that boys are just not reading books like girls, and that because of how our schools teach reading (and what they make them read!), they are literally teaching boys to hate reading. Rather than solving the problem our schools are perpetuating it and bookstores have become their partners in crime. But hey, we know there are lots of good books for boys and we know boys will read them. How about putting some of them out? How about making some of them visible?

So, I thought for this month I would go back a few years to the better days when bookshelves actually had some variety and a boy could walk up and rather easily find a good book. The book today will be the masterful Feed by M.T. Anderson. This is a dystopian novel published before teens knew what “dystopia” meant. We’ll call that BHGE: Before Hunger Games Era.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This month, I turned to Mr. Internet for inspiration. While updating bibliographies at work, I came across this post on the Art of Manliness blog -- 100 Must Read Books: The Essential Man's Library. There are lots of pictures of mustachioed men splashed across the blog, and nothing says manly like a nice, waxed handlebar mustache, right? I knew I could trust the compilers of this list to lead me to some great books you guys might love. There are some great titles on the list, but the one that caught my eye was Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Saint-Exupéry might be best remembered as the author of Le Petit Prince, but he was also a pioneer of aviation and wrote a couple well-loved and well-regarded books about the early days of aviation. He disappeared somewhere over the Mediterranean in 1944 and is presumed to have died on that flight.

Night Flight is the story of three flights, from Patagonia, Paraguay and Chile, all headed to Buenos Aires to drop off mail for the overnight plane to Europe. The action of the story covers one night. Night flights were a new service because it was incredibly dangerous to fly at night, even in the best weather. And on the night this story takes place, a storm is coming. Not all of the flights are going to make it to Buenos Aires safely. Adventure, danger, tragedy -- Night Flight is the perfect story.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Awards, awards, and more awards

The American Library Association's Youth Media Awards, honoring the best books for children and teens, were announced this morning. If you love youth literature and, okay, are a bit of a geek, it's always fun to watch the live webcast of the awards and hear the cheers as titles are announced. Or the quiet buzz as it's announced that the Schneider Family Award ("for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience") committee chose not to select a winner for the 0-8 years age range, and only two Newbery Honors were selected.

The full list of Youth Media Award winners can be found here. Some highlights:

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley won the Printz Award for excellence in YA literature and the Morris Award for the best debut YA novel. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey received a Printz Honor, along with Why We Broke Up, written by Daniel Handler, art by Maira Kalman; The Returning by Christine Hinwood; and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award for teens went to The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Lovers Dictionary by David Levithan were among the Alex Award winners, given to the best adult books with teen appeal, and have been reviewed here at Guys Lit Wire.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos won the Newbery Award, with Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai and Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin earning honors.

Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck received a Schneider family honor for middle school.

Some of the selected lists have already been announced, including the Rainbow List for GLBTQ books for children and teens.

Whew! I don't know about you, but my reading list just got a lot longer.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mecha Corps by Brett Patton

Darn good mech action! That pretty well sums up how I feel about Mecha Corps by Brett Patton. I read a Gundam series awhile back, and the Robotech novels, and Starship Troopers, and Armor: all those had powered armor or mecha of one or another. Other science fiction I've read has had powered armor. They've all been good, but Mecha Corps just freakin' kills it! This book, apparently the start of series called the Armor Wars, is what all mecha fiction should be like.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cape Books: Thoughts on the Nature of Genre

I read a lot of comic books. With some exceptions (Hellboy, Northlanders), most are superhero titles from the two major comics companies: Marvel and DC.

The superhero mold was stamped in 1938, with the first appearance of Superman. There have been highs and lows in popularity, but superheroes have largely dominated comics ever since. (As well as American culture in general. Superman alone has been featured in almost every medium popular in the last 75 years, from serial radio to over a dozen video games.) Despite this, or more likely because of it, people sometimes dismiss superhero titles as "cape books," or more commonly, "another f*cking cape book."

As comics struggle to find their footing in the new millennium, a lot of the blame for shrinking sales falls on the superhero books. Detractors see all superhero books as the same, churned out for fanboys already invested in the characters. The thinking goes that industry will never find new readers unless it expands into new genres. I'm all for trying new things, and again, I do read non-superhero comics (American Vampire, the recently completed Samurai's Blood), but I also believe that the reason the superhero genre has thrived for so long is because it's an incredibly flexible genre, able to be bent and stretched to suit almost any taste.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Making Faces

I'm not big into TV police procedurals like CSI. I find them a little cold as far as storytelling goes. But the science of forensics which these show's reference (though sometimes a little sloppily), I find completely fascinating.

The Girl with the Crooked Nose: A Tale of Murder, Obsession, and Forensic Artistry by Ted Botha, just released in trade paperback by Penguin, chronicles the work of Frank Bender, one of the world's most successful forensic artists.

Frank Bender's work goes well beyond that of a typical police sketch artist. Bender creates full, three-dimensional sculptures of his subjects, forming heads with faces in clay and plaster from forensic evidence. Most often he works with the skulls of victims to create a likeness for identification purposes. Sometimes he creates a bust of the living from scratch, based on pictures to show how a missing subject would have aged and changed over time. His work has led to countless identifications and the capture of nine fugitives.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Graphic Novels -- Sidekicks and Bad Island

Sidekicks by Dan Santat and Bad Island by Doug TenNapel are two recent adventure graphic novels that are great for younger teens.

Sidekicks is the story of Captain Amazing’s pets. As the superhero gets older he decides to hold auditions to find a new sidekick. Of course his pets, Metal Mutt, Fluffy the hamster and the household's newest pet, a chameleon named Shifty all want the job and begin training at night. The dog fares well with his powers, but that is not the case for Fluffy and Shifty. Luckily they meet up with Static Cat who used to be one of Captain Amazing's pets when he left under strange circumstances. The pets' complex histories are revealed as they embark on some ridiculous training sessions like removing an elephant from a restaurant.

As the intrigue builds leading up to the Sidekick Auditions, a new superhero, Wonder Man, has been dispatching villains with ease around the city and will surely be the front runner for the job.

This is a funny graphic novel with a much deeper plot than one would expect. Personally I think seeing a hamster, with one humorous super power, wearing a costume is awesome and easily worth the effort in picking up this book.

Doug TenNapel has been reviewed on guyslitwire before with Ghostopolis and others. Bad Island continues TenNapel's ease with telling fantastic stories with a thoughtful human element. In Bad Island, we follow the son of a great leader and warrior who yearns to join his people in battle. His father, however, is convinced he is not ready and bars him from fighting. The son goes forward anyway, jumping into battle and getting in over his head resulting in his capture.

Meanwhile, a family is getting ready to go on vacation. Dad is forcing them to take a trip on a sailboat, but Reese does not want to go and his sister Janie is more concerned about her pet snake. When they encounter a storm and end up on a strange island, the family has to bond together to survive. When they start finding strange artifacts and getting chased by odd and frightening creatures, Reese must step up and prove that he is becoming an adult capable of leadership. It is fun to watch the family work through the strange puzzles and learn what the island really is.

Fans of the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, Jeff Smith's Bone and anything by Doug TenNapel will enjoy these graphic novels.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Death and the Penguin

A writer, organized crime, and a penguin: these are the wild mix from which Andrey Kurkov forms his bleakly comic novel Death and the Penguin (translation by George Bird).

In the post-Soviet Ukraine, Viktor, a writer who has found no success in novels or short stories, obtains a job preparing obituaries for a newspaper’s files. When the subjects of his pieces begin dying off in suspicious circumstances, Viktor finds himself the entangled pawn of a shady power struggle that spans the celebrities, the mob, and the government. Lost in a maze of unclear alliances and loyalties, he attempts to discover the part he must play.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pushcart Prize XXXV: Best of the Small Presses

I'm always on the lookout for good nonfiction. Some of the best I find are in The Pushcart Prize. Editor Bill Henderson publishes it once a year, and includes short stories and poetry, as well.

My daughter gave me the 2011 edition in September, but immediately borrowed it. When I visited last week, I got to read a bunch of good stuff, but especially liked "Freaky Beasts: Revelations of a One-Time Bodybuilder." Here are some excerpts:

In the ... documentary Pumping Iron (1977), Arnold Schwarzenegger... likened a good workout pump to an orgasm... I cared more for what was permanent, for what I could carry through the day with me: the body armor that announced the arrival of a formidable opponent, a disciplined warrior... a man. Because, after all, being a man is the chief concern of any adoleswcent male, whether he recognizes it or not...

I needed another fifty pounds of lean mass, and it looked like anabolic drugs were the only route. If someone had told me then that in just over a year I would waltz across a stage in a frenzied bodybuilding competition, wearing only a blue bikini bottom, tanned an unnatural bronze, and mushroomed on three different anabolic drugs, I would have doubted it. My only focus at this juncture was to look like a genetically enhanced Atlas, to be the strongest eighteen-year-old guy in town.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Heathers by John Ross Bowie

The difference between a classic movie and a cult classic is a degree of slavish devotion. Classic movies, generally, are acknowledged by critics as great examples within the history of film, often elevating the medium to an art. Cult movies rarely aspire to the greatness or attention the receive and usually have a devoted following despite and not because of their critical attention. It falls to their fans – on blogs and message boards and at conventions and on Internet fan sites – to convince the rest of the world of their true worth.

Enter the Deep Focus series of film guides from Soft Skull Press.

Calling itself "A Novel Approach to Cinema" the series (six books so far) give authors permission to delve deep into their love of a specific film, elevating them from cult fanatics to cultural archaeologists. And while Jonathen Letham's interrogation of John Carpenter's They Live initially drew me to the series it's actor and author John Ross Bowie's take on Heathers that sold me. Somewhere between film criticism and fanboy obsession, this is where budding teen cineastes are going to find meaningful film theory. They'll also perhaps discover an otherwise overlooked cult classic like Heathers which, Bowie makes the case, is the ur-Mean Girls movie and an eerie foreshadowing of the Columbine massacre.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Filthy Shakespeare by Pauline Kiernan

Ever wonder what the Bard was on about? I mean, really on about? If you've read Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet for English class (and if you haven't, you probably will), you've probably figured out that there are some double meanings in the text. And if you've ever been to a live production of one of his plays, the snickers from at least some of the members of the audience have probably cued you in to the fact that just because it's Shakespeare doesn't mean it's high-brow. In fact, Shakespeare's plays were well-loved by the (unwashed - literally) masses during his lifetime, and with good reason: even the tragedies have really bawdy bits in them.

Hence today's book: Filthy Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Most Outrageous Sexual Puns by Pauline Kiernan. The book has a somewhat titillating title, and it certainly is chockablock full of blunt - nay, crude - sexual terms. But it does a good - if overenthusiastic - job of identifying representative scenes in many of the plays that involve decidedly bawdy terms.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Psychopath Test--Jon Ronson

‘I heard a story about her once,’ said James. ‘She was interviewing a psychopath. She showed him a picture of a frightened face and asked him the emotion. He said he didn’t know what the emotion was but it was the face people pulled just before he killed them.’ (10)

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Edumacation of Jay Baker -- Jay Clark

Jay Baker, high school freshman and Ohio native, is in love with his best friend, Cameo Appearance Parnell. (Rather from shrinking from her unusual name, she embraces it with every fiber of her cheerleader self.) Unfortunately, she's always dating some jock or another. As far as Jay's concerned, they're all pretty much interchangeable.

All except for his arch-enemy, Mike Hibbard. A long time ago, they used to be friends, but then Mike turned into a complete meathead jerk, and spends much of his free time at school harassing Jay.

Stuff on the homefront isn't so hot, either: Jay's mother is moving to the local trailer park for the next three months because she and his father have decided to take a trial separation from each other. And then Jay's sister informs him the separation probably has something to do with the fact that their mom has been boffing Some Dude Named Keith. 

Along with the expected emotional distress, all of this drama is wreaking havoc on Jay's Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Don't Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble

Don't Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble
"Some people spend their whole lives looking for the right partner. Nate Schaper found his in high school. In the eight months since their cautious flirting became a real, heart-pounding, tell-the-parents relationship, Nate and Adam have been inseparable. Even when local kids take their homophobia to brutal levels, Nate is undaunted. He and Adam are rock solid. Two parts of a whole. Yin and yang.

But when Adam graduates and takes an off-Broadway job in New York--at Nate's insistence--that certainty begins to flicker. Nate's friends can't keep his insecurities at bay, especially when he catches Skyped glimpses of Adam's shirtless roommate. Nate starts a blog to vent his frustrations and becomes the center of a school controversy, drawing ire and support in equal amounts. But it's the attention of a new boy who is looking for more than guidance that forces him to confront who and what he really wants."- summary from Amazon

Trumble has written a really emotional, funny, realistic debut. It's one of the best books I've read all year, if not THE best. I was a bit wary in the beginning because I didn't like Nate at all. I thought he was being really pissy for no reason and had no idea what an amazing boyfriend he had. Seriously, I was REALLY frustrated so it took me a bit of time to get 100 pages in. But once I got there, and Nate's past got revealed as well as good times between Nate and Adam were shown, it came together. What Trumble did here is a huge accomplishment- she made a really realistic character who felt like a real person. Nate is an extremely flawed character and there will be times that you like him and times you don't, but in the end, you still root for him. For the whole book, I was like "JUST TALK THINGS OUT!!" and "WHY ARE YOU BEING SO STUPID?!" It doesn't happen often that I get that invested in characters and a story. I felt like I was reading about people I knew and they were telling me everything that was going on.

I loved the friendship between Nate and Danial (btw, not a fan of his name at all- I'm one of those people who reads the words in their head- like an internal audio book- so everytime I came to his name, I was like "It should be Daniel!"); it's how all relationships should be between gay and straight people, especially men. Sexuality shouldn't be an issue and your friends should be loyal and willing to stand up for you.

I really liked the way Trumble unfolded the story, telling it a bit out of order. It starts out in the present day with Nate driving Adam to the airport for his off-Broadway job and from there, it goes back to when they first met and started dating back to present day then back to a memory. It's like every other chapter was written about an event in the past. Trumble also does not shy away from sex and sex talk- there's nothing graphic but it's also not sanitized in any way. Adam and Nate have a true relationship. There's also a nice epilogue that takes place 10 years in the future, which I loved.

Overall, this is a book I could go on and on about. I loved it that much. It's a stellar debut and I absolutely cannot wait to see what Trumble has in store for us next!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

One Hundred Percent Lunar Boy by Stephen Tunney

Hieronymus Rexaphin is a teenager like lots of other teenagers. He fights with his parents. He falls for girls way out of his league. He sneaks out at night to hang with his friends. He’s really good at history and English but terrible at math.

Also, he lives on the moon two thousand years from now and he’s legally prohibited from removing his glasses and showing anyone his eyes. Hieronymus suffers from a condition called Lunarcroptic Ocular Symbolanosis, which is to say that he was born with eyes tinted the fourth primary color. It’s not a mixture of the three primary colors we know, but a genuine fourth one, and people who don’t have the condition are unable to process it, which means that seeing the eyes of a hundred percent lunar person, as those with LOS are called, can cause seizures—although if the authorities are to be believed, it can cause madness. (Should a pair of hundred percenters look in each other’s eyes—WHICH HAS NEVER EVER HAPPENED—they will instantly die. Or so it’s said.) It also means that Hieronymus can see the future.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Where to Start

You've seen Terry Pratchett's Discworld books recommended on this blog before. I mentioned two in this post, and recently Debra reviewed his latest (the 39th in the series), Snuff. If you read those posts you know already that you don't have to start reading the series with book #1. In fact, you can start pretty much anywhere. Everything you need to know is contained in each book. And even when information is repeated, Pratchett is clever enough to keep it interesting and funny every time.

That said, there's also no reason NOT to begin at the beginning. The first book in the series, The Colour of Magic, introduces readers at a somewhat greater length than the others to the cosmology of Discworld: Discworld is not a globe like Earth. Instead, it is a disc, this disc is help up on the backs of for enormous elephants. In turn, the elephants are standing on the back of a giant turtle, known as the Great A'Tuin. The Great A'Tuin, thus loaded, swims through space.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

When I sat down to start reading A.S. King's Everybody Sees the Ants, I thought I was just going to read a little bit to get started, and then put it down to go do something else. I should have learned from my similar experience with Please Ignore Vera Dietz, because three hours later I had finished the book and was screaming "Where was this book a decade ago, when it would have been infinitely more helpful?"

I'm pretty sure that particular feeling is just the occupational hazard of reading young adult books when one is not a young adult. In this case, it was brought on by the fact that Everybody Sees the Ants is less of a book about bullying—it feels like a disservice to try to sum it up that way—as it is a book about being young and male, and trying to figure out what that whole business of "being a man" is about in a society with strictly enforced gender norms. Especially when your particular experience of "being male" lies outside those gender norms.

It's also a book that's not afraid to raise these kinds of complex questions in the midst of reality-bending dream trips to Vietnam and snarky, culture-deconstructing talking ants.