Friday, June 29, 2012

Teen Boat! by Dave Roman and John Green

Sometimes, the boy known as Teen Boat! - because that is his name - wishes he could be a regular kid, but sometimes, having the power to turn into a boat (or just float like one) comes in handy. Smitten with a foreign exchange student, a girl named NiƱa Pinta Santa Maria, Teen Boat! experiences plenty of teenage trauma just walking down the halls of his school, not to mention on the docks. Faced with all of this excitement and angst, will Teen Boat! capsize or stay afloat? Tune in - er, grab the book - and find out!
With the launch of Teen Boat!, Dave Roman and John Green are sure to delight readers - and perhaps attract boating enthusiasts while they're are it. Accurately described as "half teenage drama, half nautical adventure," this graphic novel will especially appeal to twenty- and thirty-somethings with a wry sense of humor, perhaps even more than the target teen demographic.
Fun Facts!
- Teen Boat! began as a mini-comic and was honored with the Ignatz Award. - Dave Roman proposed to Raina Telgemeier through a comic based on their relationship - and she extended the comic to show her reply. You have to see this.
- John Green the comic book fellow is not to be confused with John Green the novelist. They both rock. If you're looking for John Green's art, visit If you're looking for the Nerdfighter who wrote the novel Looking for Alaska, visit You can find Dave Roman at
- Check out my exclusive interview with Dave Roman at Bildungsroman as part of the 2012 Summer Blog Blast Tour.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Crazy by Han Nolan

Crazy by Han Nolan

Jason's mother is dead and his father is crazy. His mother died after a suffering from a stroke and his father, who has had delusional episodes his entire adult life, is now off his meds and Jason is trying to keep it together, keep his dad fed and get him back on his meds while coping with general high school issues, and he's not handling things particularly well. One of his coping mechanisms is his audience of imaginary friends. Jason watches his life like a movie, and his inner monologue is the studio audience watching along with him. 

But his coping mechanisms aren't working as his father's condition deteriorates, and Jason is assigned to a support group that meets with the school counselor and three other students. The story follows a pretty predictable arc from here (Jason learns to trust his friends, social services gets involved, etc). Crazy is a fairly typical problem novel, but that's okay. Typically, I don't enjoy these types of books. They tend to be preachy or cheesy like a Lifetime movie or overly gritty and shocking, but Nolan strikes a good balance in this story. She pulls just enough punches so the readers get a good, emotional ride through the story but aren't left completely wrecked by the end. Looking through the descriptions of her other books, it seems like they follow a similar pattern.

I read this book in two sittings. Nolan's prose is very easy to get into, and I really liked Jason's voice and the descriptions of his father's mental illness were interesting (the path his delusions followed), so while this sort of novel isn't really my cup of tea, I would definitely recommend her books to the kids at my library who like Ellen Hopkins-esque stories (although this book isn't nearly as gritty as a Hopkins book). Crazy is also one of the nominees for the 2013 Young Readers Choice Awards, so if you live in the Pacific Northwest and your school or public library participates in the YRCA program, consider checking this book out.

This is cross posted at my blog (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Listen up

Heard any good audiobooks recently?

I didn't listen to audiobooks when I was a teen, back when they were only available on cassette tapes or CDs. Technology has changed since then, and now there is also much more variety in terms of titles available to listeners.

Basically, it's a great time to be an audiobook fan.

Audiobooks extend the reading experience. A good narrator can draw you in to a story that you struggled with in print, or highlight nuances that you may have missed while reading the book. A great narration (and production) can make a good book even better, a funny book even funnier.

But maybe you haven't tried an audiobook before. Maybe you don't think it really counts as reading. Maybe some free audiobooks will change your mind?

Sync is a FREE promotion, giving away two audiobook downloads (a recent YA book and a classic) each week. This summer's first set of downloads has already expired, but a full schedule of upcoming titles is available. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud is coming up later this week, then Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed in Blood the following week, and Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant near the end of the summer, to name just three of the books that will be available.

For more audiobook suggestions, try the Audies and the Odyssey Award lists, or the monthly AudioSynced roundups at Stacked and Abby (the) Librarian. And don't forget to check out your public library's audiobook collection!

As for what I've been listening to, Susan Duerden's narration of Daniel O'Malley's The Rook is excellent (I blogged about the print book earlier this year). Also, with the last(!) Artemis Fowl book coming out next month, I've been revisiting the audiobooks, read by Nathaniel Parker. Except for his pronuncation of the name Nguyen in the first chapter of book one, I love Parker's narration. He gives each character a distinctive voice, using a variety of accents, and he really captures both the humor and adventure of Eoin Colfer's books.

If you already like audiobooks, what have you been listening to?

Cross-posted at The YA YA YAs.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri

Cole's on the wrong track. He's been skipping school and hanging out with the wrong crowd. Mom has had it with him. So she packs his things in the car and takes him from Detroit to Philadelphia where his dad lives.

Ghetto Cowboy, by G. Neri, is based on a true story of horse raising that does actually occur in North Philadelphia. Cole has never met his dad and his mom isn't thrilled with bringing him back into their lives, but it's her last option.

"He's different is all, but maybe different is what you need."

The practice of caring for horses in the city emerged a couple decades back in some of Philly's neighborhoods. One way to discourage gang violence was introducing kids and teens to horse care. The documentary program This American Life visited those neighborhoods a few years ago and shot this great film.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Judge Bao & the Jade Phoenix

When I was in my late teens, I became obsessed with a couple of different mystery writers. They all wrote offbeat, macabre, out of print books that wree fun to hunt down and read. One of my favorites was a man named Robert Van Gulik, who, while he was an ambassador in China, discovered and translated an ancient Chinese mystery tale of a judge who solved crimes. Van Gulik went on to write fifteen or so of these novels, all in the style of that original book he translated, all featuring the same detective: Judge Dee and his handful of loyal retinue that helped him solve crimes.

Since then, I've discovered that the Chinese mystery tale has a long history, particularly in drama dating back to the middle ages, and that Judge Dee isn't the only historical detective. In fact, another Judge, Judge Bao, is even more legendary: having taken on corruption, greed, and villainy at the highest levels of government, he achieved a kind of Robin Hood status, and he was immortalized as both a folk hero and central figure in Chinese prose, drama, and opera.

Now Judge Bao has been brought to America through this translation of a French graphic novel which captures all the mystery, intrigue, and flavor of those ancient tales. There's so much texture here, so much life in this wonderful package of a book, I'm excited that Archaia has committed to this otherwise odd choice for a French comics import.

When you pick up this graphic novel, it is half-sized, like many online formats, and I don't know why they've published it this way, but it gives it a fast, fun-to-hold feel. Cartoonist Chongrui Nie brings a strong Chinese tradition to the art-- each panel is heavily worked over in layers of line art on top of  ink-cuts on top of brushwork. I've not seen a lot of Chinese comics, but in the ones I've seen, characters' features are always beautifully rendered, and Nie holds true to that here. It does lead to some stiff layouts, but that actually, for me, contributes to the "Chinese feel" of the comic.

The plot is convoluted, involving seemingly multiple mysteries--a falsely accused young man, a corrupt city government, a murdered handmaiden--which are tied together by the end. I say this not to disparage the work, but instead to suggest it warrants multiple readings. The story involves lots of intrigue and plotting, but it's not just a comic filled with talking heads-- Judge Bao's bodyguard/warrior friend contributes several action scenes. There is a smattering of gratuitous nudity as well, but certainly not on the level of a Vaughn Bode comic or any of the comics you'd find in a random issue of Heavy Metal years ago.

Overall, this is an exciting, handsome first volume for what I hope is a regular addition to both my mystery and graphic novel shelves.

You can check out this first volume in the series at this preview.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ultimate Spider-Man

Miles Morales never wanted to be a hero. He just got bit by the wrong spider and the wrong time.

Since 2000, Brian Michael Bendis and a variety of artists have crafted the acclaimed Ultimate Spider-Man series. Marvel's Ultimate imprint was intended to tell more realistic stories of their iconic characters, doing away with some of the goofier aspects and convoluted history that had built up over the decades. And one aspects of this new, more real reality is, when a character dies, they aren't coming back. No more clones or alternate dimension dopplegangers--dead is dead.

This finality was brought home recently when Peter Parker was killed defending his Queens neighborhood. But his legacy lives on in the Ultimate universe, especially by inspiring a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Mind's Eye

I have a mental problem. Ok, I have several, but in particular I have trouble with navigation, with finding my way around even familiar places. On a regular basis my wife asks me to run an errand and I have to admit I have no idea where I'm supposed to go. "But we've been there a dozen times," she says, exasperated. It doesn't matter, especially if she was one the doing the driving (which, because of this problem, she often is). There's a slightly better possibility that if I've driven somewhere in the past that I'll remember the way, and an even better, if still small, chance that I can find my way somewhere that I've walked or bicycled to. But, usually, it's hopeless. It took me nearly a year of practice to be able to comfortably drive from my own house to my in-laws, a distance of eighteen miles and involving only four turns. Thankfully, I have GPS on my phone, and I'm strangely ok at reading and following maps, which I consult often, sometimes even to get around the neighborhood in which I've lived for twelve years.

Now, thanks to reading Oliver Sacks' The Mind's Eye, I have a name for my condition. It's called topographical agnosia and I share it with Dr. Sacks himself and Jane Goodall, among many others.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Legend by Marie Lu

Marie Lu's new entry in the world of teen dystopia novels are a worthy companion to popular series like The Hunger Games, Incarceron and Divergent. Legend interestingly shows both sides of the world placing one main character with the Republic and the other on the run. Lu employs a back and forth narrative between 15-year olds June and Day.

After failing to be placed in the Republic's ruling class, Day becomes their worst enemy. The Republic doesn't know his name, his face or his whereabouts but they know he needs to be stopped. To help save his family from the plague, Day is causing all sorts of mischief like destroying important airfields and breaking into hospitals looking for cures. He has lived his life in the slums and his only goal is to protect his family.

June has spent her whole life in the Republic and she is becoming the perfect warrior. She is smart and being groomed to serve the Republic in the highest levels of the military. When the mysterious Day is involved in the death of her brother, she is determined to avenge his death.

June goes undercover in the dangerous world of the slums, living off the streets to hopefully find Day and bring him to justice. However, as the trap tightens around Day, June realizes the Republic may not be as innocent as she thinks.

There is some really great action scenes throughout the book and both characters are very strong and easily carry the first installment in this series. Other characters are not fleshed out very well and just serve as backdrops to the evolving relationship between Day and June. There are also not many details to the world at all. The author expects the action the hook readers into her world and for the most part, it works well. I don't read many series all the way through, since I have to keep up on so many titles, but this is one I'll definitely go for the second installment.

Fans of the aforementioned titles along with I am Number Four, Matched and most dystopian teen books will enjoy Legend.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hex by Allen Steele

Rendezvous with Rama meets Ringworld in this novel set in the Coyote series. Allen Steele's latest Coyote-universe novel explores a new take on the Big Dumb Object trope (any overly large object, usually of alien origin, that causes a sense of wonder just by existing). Only the BDO in Hex isn't quite so dumb.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Twice 22 by Ray Bradbury

A little over a month ago our local high school announced its summer read for all students was Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, which I thought was not only a great selection but as good an opportunity to reread it myself with an eye toward recommending it here. Then last week Ray Bradbury died and that dredged up a whole bunch of memories of my first experiences with his work and so I'm shifting gears.

The short story anthology Twice 22 has a number of things going for it. First, it's a collection of Bradbury's short stories from the 1950s and 60s when he was pretty much in his stride and hitting them all out of the park. Second, when summer comes around I tend to find my attentions divided and short stories are easier to take in at once (as a side benefit, I end up reading more during the summer). Finally, specifically, this collection actually comprises the two Bradbury books I owned and read when I was in sixth grade – A Medicine for Melancholy and Golden Apples of the Sun – which combined is a pretty good place to start.

The thing about Bradbury, perhaps the most misunderstood thing about him that I suspect time will eventually correct, is that he isn't a writer of science fiction. True, he writes about space and life on mars and of a near-distant future (some of these stories take place in the early 2000s – imagine!) but the core of all these stories is the way Bradbury examines humanity. Doesn't matter whether he's writing about mail-order brides for colonists on another planet or telling of a love affair between a living dinosaur and a fog horn, in the end Bradbury's tales always leave a door open for the reader to explore their place within them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

4 Fantastic Novels

I was going to review just one of the 4 Fantastic Novels (Borgel), but discovered that it is not in print except in this collection.

That actually works out well, because at least three of this collection are fantastic. The other, The Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror is not one of my favorite Pinkwater books (I have many favorites.)

One of which, The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death probably set me up to be disappointed by The Baconburg Horror.

His picture books are often wonderful, too. There's frequently a silliness that just makes me laugh.

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

It starts with a creepy introduction, and Ron Koertge's take on fairy tales gets darker and twistier from there.

Do you want to sleep? Find another storyteller. Do you
want to think about the world in a new way?

Come closer. Closer, please.
I want to whisper in your ear.
Written largely in free verse (although much of it reads like spare prose, and not actual poetry), this collection is decidedly not a hearts-and-flowers account of Happily Ever After (HEA). And it's accompanied by what appear to be cut-paper representations of many of the tales.

For instance, the first story fills you in on what happened to Cinderella's stepsisters after Cinderella moved to the castle, and it involves various forms of mutilation and wishing for death. There are other characters who don't exactly get their HEA endings either, such as the characters in Rapunzel (who knew?), the mole in Thumbelina, and the father in Hansel & Gretel (at least impliedly, based on Koertge's telling).

Some of the tales are brought forward in time to the present, such as "The Little Match Girl", which features a kid trying to sell CDs on a corner in a very bad neighborhood, Little Red Riding Hood, or "Bearskin", in which the soldier who makes a deal with the devil is a veteran from Iraq, living in the psych ward at the Veterans Administration hospital.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

I’m trying to imagine the pitch for this book: We have a teenage narrator who is obsessed by film. But not current or popular films. Film school films. Obscure films. In fact, a major role in this book will be occupied by German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s 1972 cult classic Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Our narrator and his angry friend will remake it. Oh, and the third main character is a girl with leukemia. And the book has lots of profanity.

Author Jesse Andrews calls Me and Earl and the Dying Girl a “weird little book.” It is. But it works wonder with its weirdness.

“You can pretty much take any sentence in this book and if you read it enough times, you will probably end up committing a homicide.”  This is the voice of Greg Gaines, the “Me” in Jesse Andrews’ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. And what a narrative voice it is—profane, witty, self-deprecating. Speaking of profane, the “Earl” of the title is Earl Jackson, Greg’s best (only?) friend, and the poet laureate of profanity. Earl and Greg make films together: Earl to escape his home life (he lives in squalor and his family puts the “diss” in dysfunction) and Greg to escape himself, though he is not self-aware enough through most of the book to realize this.

Greg’s theory about surviving high school involves hiding in plain sight—acquaintance with all groups, friends with none. This is where Rachel comes in. The Dying Girl. Greg originally spends time with Rachel only to mollify his mother, but his relationship with Rachel starts to affect his overall social invisibility.

Like the protagonists in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Rachel is neither a saint nor a stereotypical “Cancer Teen.” Her passivity in the face of her illness at times infuriates Greg. And the “lesson” is more nuanced than, say, a Lurlene McDaniel book. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is likely to be lumped in with TFIOS. Understandably, as both share a subject matter and a snarky tone that helps mitigate the treacle factor that stalks such a topic.

Andrews uses multiple narrative techniques to propel the story and construct Greg’s unique voice. Foremost among these is screenplay format, which, given the role film plays in Greg’s life, seems organic rather than gimmicky. Bullet points, interior monologue, and newspaper headlines also feature. Greg is the funniest young adult narrator I have encountered in some time; I think teen boys will respond similarly (that may say something about my maturity level). 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Travesties by Tom Stoppard

In his play Travesties, Tom Stoppard lets his imagination run wild with a moment of 1917 in which several titanic figures of the early twentieth century found themselves in Zurich. At the intersection of Lenin just before his return to Russia, Tristan Tzara conceiving Dada, and James Joyce working on Ulysses, this is a moment just before the revolutions, political and artistic, are primed to explode.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Another Jekyll, Another Hyde by Daniel and Dina Nayeri

Another Jekyll, Another Hyde by Daniel and Dina Nayeri
"When his billionaire father marries French governess Nicola Vileroy, high society is all abuzz — but Thomas, the most popular student at Marlowe, is just plain high. Ever since his girlfriend Belle dumped him, he’s been spending less time with old friends and more time getting wasted at clubs. But after someone slips him a designer drug one night — and his stepmother seems to know way too much about his private life — things really start to get scary. As Thomas’s blackouts give way to a sinister voice inside his head, and as news of a vicious hate crime has students on edge, Thomas comes to the sickening realization that Madame Vileroy has involved him in a horrifying supernatural plan. How can he muster the strength and will to stop it? The pulse-quickening climax revisits Jekyll and Hyde as a current-day cautionary tale laced with a heady dose of paranormal intrigue."- summary from Amazon

First off, let me say that while this could be read on its own, it's probably best to have read the previous two books beforehand. I read this without having read the second book because I didn't realize there was a link between the books. I just thought they were retellings of different stories focusing on different characters. While this is true, I didn't think those characters would be ones we'd seen in previous books or that characters from previous books would be involved in the current book. So that kinda threw me a little bit when I started reading since there were some spoilers from the previous books.

OK, moving on, I did still like the book though it wasn't as good as the first. I didn't feel the same connection or suspense with these characters. It was creepy and thriller-ish, sure, but that didn't necessarily morph into "I must continue to read this book!". It took me a bit of time to get through it even though it's shorter than its predecessors.

I did enjoy seeing into the history of Vileroy throughout the years, both from her own perspective and from a third person perspective, now that this is the conclusion. The climax of the book was very interesting and the ending was handled well.

Overall, while I did enjoy the book, I think it's more of a library book than one to purchase, but it is an interesting series to check out. I'll be visiting Another Pan, the second book, soon!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Here, Bullet by Brian Turner

I never quite developed the muscles for reading poetry.  The year that it was covered in my high school, I had a kind but somewhat inept English teacher who could have done a better job of introducing me to Betjeman and who probably shouldn’t have let me memorize a song from Chess for a recitation assignment.  (Don’t cry for him: after one year teaching private school eleventh graders, he fled back to his girlfriend in England and subsequently became a mildly successful novelist and critic.)  So I’ve been trying to build those muscles as an adult and not quite succeeding.  Thanks to podcasts (mostly from Poetry Magazine, who produce several terrific ones), I’ve discovered that I enjoy listening to poetry, but I still find reading it to largely be a challenge.

Although he mostly covers fiction, Michael Silverblatt does occasionally interview poets on his invaluable radio program Bookworm.  (He also makes me jealous, as he once noted on the program that he has two separate apartments: one to live in and one that holds his books.)  A few years ago, one of his guests was a poet named Brian Turner, who had recently published his first book after returning from a tour of duty in the Middle East.  And a year or so later, when I found myself browsing the poetry shelves at the big Barnes and Noble in Union Square, looking for something to try reading, my mind flew back to that intriguing interview and the fascinating excerpts that Turner had read.  And so I bought Here, Bullet and proceeded to read it slowly over the course of two months, a poem or two at a time every few nights.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Who Took My Squid?

Kraken, by China Mieville, is the story of a dead giant squid that's gone missing, that's disappeared entirely, tank and preserving fluid and all, from its home at the British Museum of Natural History. A police division dedicated to the investigation of religious cults (and secretly to supernatural phenomenon) interviews museum staff including Billy Harrow, the original curator of the giant squid. But the police aren't the only ones after the squid. There's also a kraken worshipping cult which believes that giant squid are kraken babies, and is furious at the animal's disappearance. And there's a powerful London crime lord who happens to be trapped in animated tattoo on another man's skin. When, against the advice of the police, Billy discusses the crime with his friends, he is drawn into a bizarre adventure that redefines his understanding of London and of reality itself.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

The defining moment of Faith Erin Hicks's Friends With Boys for me is the scene where Maggie takes her new friends Lucy and Alastair to the movie theater to watch Alien, which results in the punked-out and tough-looking Lucy quivering in fear and hiding from all the violent, bloody action taking place on screen whilst Maggie and Alastair watch with eager anticipation and bored indifference, respectively. It's one of the first stereotype-shifting moments in a book which is mostly about shifting the standard high-school stereotypes into different perspectives.