Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Boolean Gate by Walter Jon Williams

Mark Twain and Nicola Tesla fans take note: Walter Jon Williams has a novella due out on Halloween about the friendship between the two and how Samuel Clemens came to believe that Tesla presented a threat of science fiction proportions to planet earth. At 120 pages The Boolean Gate is a smooth, very enjoyable read that allows Clemens to meander in and out of thoughts on writing under a powerful (and world renowned) pseudonym and Tesla to be presented in all his wicked cool inventive best. Of course there is also the matter of a potential alien invasion and some body snatcher type activity but that is just icing on the cake. Williams has written the neatest of literary love letters - he brings Clemens alive as he struggled with the decisions he has made both personally and professionally and their impact on the death of his adult daughter Suzy and the desperate illness of his dear wife. He also gives us a manic Tesla, desperate to invent absolutely everything he can imagine and yet plagued with the business difficulties that would bring about the end of his career. This is Clemens and Tesla, talking about the future, pondering the possibilities and dreaming about futures that you and I still long for.

And it's also Tesla kind of falling into occasional stupors wherein he speaks bizarre and random things and sounds like he's possessed. (This would be the alien invasion bits.)

With all the recent excitement about Tesla's old factory maybe, finally, hopefully, on the way to museum status, The Boolean Gate (which showcases the building of that factory and Wardenclyffe tower), is a perfect treat. It's subtle undercurrents about genius and madness and the creation of powerful, uncontrollable, alter egos also makes it a great choice for October reading. Consider it a Halloween gift for those seeking a unique blend of high literature and spookiness. It's a gift that would most certainly be well received in any reader's hands.

More on Tesla here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rock On by Denise Vega

Rock On: A Story of Guitars, Gigs, Girls, and a Brother (Not Necessarily in That Order) by Denise Vega lives up to its title. Here's why.

Ori has a band. A band without a name.

Ori has an older brother named Del. The boys were very close until Del went away to college, only to return home unexpectedly, with a chip on his shoulder.

Ori has a guitar. It's a loaner. He's working at a music store and saving up for a sweet Les Paul.

Ori has friends. Good ones. And together, they make good music.

What Ori doesn't have - yet - is the confidence that he needs to lead the group, and to walk out of his brother's shadow and forge his own path. But maybe, if he lets out the music that's in his head, his heart, and his fingertips, he'll get there.

You've got to love a lead vocalist and songwriter who is searching for the right things to say and the right notes to play. Ori's just that. I think he'd get along well with Nick from Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

I really enjoyed the scenes with Ori's friends. The group's dynamics are great. When they get together, whether it's to make music or just to hang out, they are comfortable with one another. They are solid friends, and their dialogue sounds authentic. None of the main characters are profane or inane, and every person in the group is important to that group. No one in the band tries to be the star or upstage anyone else; each member is good at what they do, and they just want to play music. They are getting their feet wet by performing at local venues and preparing for a Battle of the Bands competition for high school groups. All the while, Ori has to deal with his unpredictable older brother.

Ori used to look up to Del, but now Del seems to be looking down on him. Though Del was popular and cool, he always looked out for his kid brother and included him in things. During the short time he was away at college, something changed. Now, Ori sometimes sees a flicker of the brother he used to know, but most of the time, it's like Del's a complete stranger. He used to be supportive of Ori's efforts; he's now critical. He used to smile and joke around with Ori; now he's cold, if not rude. He's also messing up Ori's potential relationship with a girl. The brothers' feud builds throughout the book and boils over realistically.

The band is in need of a bass guitarist for the first quarter of the book. If you want to know more about the newest member of the band, if you'd like to find out what RSB stands for, and if you want to know other reasons why this book rocks, click here to read my full-length review at my blog, Bildungsroman.

Monday, August 27, 2012

We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Y. Levinson

As Cynthia Levinson notes in We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March,
Segregation in Birmingham wasn't just a way of life. It was the law. The city's Racial Segregation Ordinances, adopted in 1951, demanded almost total separation of blacks and whites.

Many southern cities mandated separate drinking fountains, bathrooms, scools, and seats on buses for blacks and whites. But Birmingham's ordinances went even further... (p. 7)
Even after other Southern cities desegrated, Birmingham resolutely refused to do so. When segregation finally came to an end in Birmingham, it was due to the courage and strength of thousands of children and teens who would not give up despite a faltering plan to fill city jails and, therefore, impede the enforcement of segregation laws. Dwindling numbers of adults marched and were arrested in April. But in early May, thousands of young people protested, marched, and went to jail, bringing the nation's attention to Birmingham.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Outlaw by Stephen Davies

Jake Knight seems to have it all. He's a fifteen-year-old technology whiz who can jump a ten-foot wall with his parkour skills. He's enrolled in a nice British school, and his dad is an ambassador to the small West African country of Burkina Faso. To Jake, Africa is a land of excitement and adventure...and he will soon learn that it is also the land of the Outlaw.

Jake thinks his boarding school life is pretty lame and spends his time playing Geothimble, a scavenger hunt that uses GPS technology.  When Jake's extracurricular activity gets him suspended, he is sent to his father's embassy. Jake could not be happier, but little does he know that he's about to get enough excitement to last a lifetime.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (2012)

Don't be fooled by the Urban Outfitters-esque cover, the giant sunglasses or the rainbow t-shirt (which I want, desperately), and say these two words to yourself. Road. Trip.

Colby and Bev have plans. While most of their friends are heading to college in the fall, Colby and Bev will be knocking around Europe, forging their own path. But first, road trip, a tour of the Pacific Northwest with Bev's band The Disenchantments (Bev and their friends Alexa and Meg). Colby and Bev have been planning this trip since the 8th grade, working hard and saving all their money for this trip. Except Bev tells Colby, a day into their tour, that she's not going to Europe but instead is going to college in the fall. And for the rest of the book, Colby is left to figure out what he's going to do -- what he really wants to do.

This book is a great contemporary read. No zombies. No aliens. No dystopia. The characters are cool, normal kids. I could have been friends with these kids (if I'd gone to a cool art high school, also a favorite fiction element for me). Their problems are big and real but not insurmountable and not hyper-dramatic. No one's dying, no one's been horribly abused or has a drug problem (although every time Bev lit a cigarette, I wanted to shake her and scold her). I admired Colby's dedication to his dream. When I was in 8th grade, I wanted to be a pop singer, like a bad Disney starlet in the years before that was a viable option. I wouldn't have dared to travel anywhere, especially on my own. So I admire dreamers with enough practical sense to work towards those dreams, especially teenagers. As for the choice Colby must make, well, I'll let you read the story to find out what he does.

Oh, one other favorite fiction trope? Playlists. Back in the day, we had mix tapes, and my friend and colleague Jen, who recommended this book to me, was so enamored of this book that she made a Spotify playlist of the music mentioned in the book.

Cross posted at my blog (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

You Want Brains with that?

Calling a book "gimmicky" is usually an insult, but criticizing Sean Beaudoin's books for using gimmicks would be like going to see a magician and complaining that he used sleight-of-hand. The gimmicks are the point. And Beaudoin takes them right over the top

His first book, Fade to Blue, takes place, partly, in a comic book insert. His next book, You Killed Wesley Payne is a noir detective novel set in a high school and centers on a baroque diagram showing the relationships between high school cliques. His new book, The Infects, is a zombie novel which layers one odd gimmick onto another, all of it somehow fusing together to create a, more or less, coherent narrative.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Rogue Angel: Destiny - by Alex Archer

Rogue Angel: Destiny by Alex Archer, intrigued me when I first saw it on an end-cap at a bookstore. What's not to like? A hot chick with a sword! The back cover made it sound even more interesting.

The main character, Annja Creed (pronounced "Anya"), is one of those characters that can, and has, done it all. She's a young, somewhat experienced archaeologist, has studied martial arts and can hold her own in a brawl, can free-climb a rock face, knows how to use guns, etc. Oh, and she hosts a not-quite-respectable TV show called "Chasing History's Monsters." Her producer on the show, Doug Morell, is a recurring character, usually phoning her at inopportune moments during her chase scenes.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Meet Writers GLW Likes!

If you're in the South come Labor Day, come to my town for the Decatur Book Festival! I haven't mention this here in too long, but this year's line-up is very, very exciting. Here's just a few folks from the teen/YA stage we've mentioned here at GLW who will be at the festival this year:

Barry Lyga will discuss his new book I Hunt Killers (reviewed by Trisha last month)
David Levithan, a Guys Lit Wire favorite, will debut his book Every Day
Kenneth Oppel has Such Wicked Intent, a follow up to his Victor Frankenstein prequel, This Dark Endeavor (reviewed by Debra last year when it came out)
Neal Shusterman, a prolific YA author, will be at the festival for the first time to talk about his new book, Unwholly. His book Unwind was reviewed several years ago by Becker

I'm also excited about two other authors that fall outside the purview of this blog, but I want to give them a special shout out: Dame Darcy has been doing some amazing, unique (aka-- if Charles Addams or Edward Gorey were into Victorian ghosts) cartooning for going on two decades now with her comic Meat Cake, and now she has a funky cool book I can't wait to see.

Joe Meno's Office Girl is the book I'm currently reading, and I don't think I've read a book that so captures what it means to be in your twenties in a long time (maybe Douglas Coupland's Generation X? Armstead Maupin's Tales of the City?). I've fallen in love with the two main characters, Jack & Odile, in all their neurotic, art-obsessed, end-of-the-millenium funk.The perfect time to read this? That Spring and Summer at the end of high school or college or when you've just been dumped or fired. Basically, any given moment in that decade from 17 to 27.

There's even an auction so you can bid to win an hour visiting with an author! Which would be even cooler if, you know, we were rolling in dough. NEVERTHELESS-- cozy up to a friend/crazy uncle with deep pockets and get them to bid so you can tag along.

Book festivals are great, because they become a place where you can swim in cool books, discover all kinds of new authors, find yourself chatting it up with somebody you didn't even know you knew (through their writings), and every person around you has got their face buried between pages of something great to read.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Poorcraft by C. Spike Trotman and Diana Nock

This fall, millions of young people will be heading off to college. They'll be dealing with bills, rent, and sometimes even learning to cook for themselves for the first time. Even more will soon start their first jobs, move to unfamiliar cities, and chase their dreams. All this will involve learning to live on their own and within their means. One great resource to help them develop these skills is Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less.

Written by C. Spike Trotman and illustrated by Diana Nock, Poorcraft tells the story of a wasteful girl, Mil, learning the "fine art of living well on less" from her thrifty friend, Penny. And while, yes, the humor in this book is pretty groan-worthy, the advice is solid and well organized. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect on frugal living, from housing to food to entertainment. The book contains tons of resources for people just starting out including simple recipes and links to useful websites. There's also information on avoiding scams like payday loans and for-profit colleges.

Of course, Poorcraft isn't just for young people starting out. Almost everybody could stand to spend less these days, especially if they want to do more with their lives than work and worry about bills. When pitching the idea on Kickstarter a few years ago, Trotman said she got the idea to write Poorcraft after meeting many people who dreamed of writing comics but "aspiring creative types are pretty easily discouraged by the specter of the 'starving artist.' It doesn't have to be that way! And not enough people realize that."

Poorcraft is available from Iron Circus Comics as a $10 paperback or a $5 DRM-free ebook. (Cross-posted on my blog.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie

E.M. Kokie's debut novel packs a wallop.

Matt Foster is a 17-year old junior in high school. And, like many kids who are trying to figure out how to grow up and what, exactly, that means, he's got issues. It's clear from the first chapter that he's got a problem dealing with anger. (And boy, does he have a lot of anger to go around.) There are kids at school constantly baiting him with their anti-military talk. He's struggling with feelings for his friend Shauna, whom he'd like to be something more. He can't help but compare himself to his older brother T.J., who enlisted in the Army. And he's left alone to deal with his father, who has turned out to be a bully. A hard-hitting bully with an alcohol problem.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dying To Know You by Aidan Chambers

“In gaining your freedom to be you have lost your choice of being anything else” (184).

So says the unnamed narrator of British author Aidan Chambers’ thoughtful novel, Dying To Know You.  And he should know, for although his exact age is never given, he is (in a bold break from young adult novel convention) an old man. The “freedom to be” he gained long ago was to be a writer, to spend his life with stories, words, and books.  And also with his wife, Jane, whose recent death has left him bereft, unable to write again. He doesn’t know how to be anything else than a husband to Jane and a writer, and now he is neither.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Why Read Moby-Dick?

The summer I was sixteen, Moby-Dick was the ominous cloud over late July. Of the dozen or so book we’d been assigned as summer reading, this was the one that stood monument in the break, before which no others could be read, after which no others could intimidate, the one book upon which we knew our teacher’s first impressions would be built and therefore the one book we could not speed through half-assed.

Somewhere in the middle of the seventy-page chapter on the leviathans of the deep I gave in to it. I slowly found vivid the world Melville had constructed, found drama and suspense in the epic scope of a novel that constrained its action to the space of a ship. Looking back, it now consistently ranks among the best books I read in high school.

The Book consigned to the purgatory of preparatory summer reading, we were left to tackle it largely on our own. My classmates arrived on the first day of school each having taken away different notes of import from this “American Bible.” I was never really sure if I did, in fact, “get” Moby-Dick.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Baby's in Black

Baby's in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles is a graphic narrative about the prehistory of The Beatles. In 1960-1962, they were playing small clubs in Hamburg when the police discovered that guitarist George Harrison was not old enough to play clubs, and he had to go back to England. The drummer then was Pete Best, and Stuart Sutcliffe played bass.

The band were working on their act, backing up singer Tony Sheridan on stage and on an album.

Sutcliffe fell in love with photographer Astrid Kirchherr. She was responsible for creating their "long hair" styling (It's hard to believe now how shocked people were then.), and shot an early, still-famous series of photos of the group.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"My friends call me Vlad..."

Among the many things that have bothered me about the vogue of vampire stories that have been generated for the last five years or so the one that has bothered me is how safe the creatures of the night seem. Yes, there is a sensual, sexual tension involved with all that blood, but in the end the vampire as a romantic fantasy neuters their true horror. I'm not saying writer's can't play around with characters and genres, but there comes a point where you have to stop calling them vampires.

The late Carlos Fuentes' Vlad delivers a modern tale of Count Radu who has come to Mexico to, well, his reasons are baroque and complicated. As narrated by Yves Navarro, the young lawyer is charged with helping the Count get settled into his new home on the edges of Mexico City with some unusual modifications to his home: a tunnel from the house to a ravine, windows bricked-up from the sun, trees removed from the back of the house, drains in the floor of every ground floor room...

By the end of the first chapter the familiar reader will recognize Fuentes taking Bram Stoker's Dracula for his outline. By the end of the third chapter something else is simmering in the story, a tragedy in N's personal life, the details of middle class Mexican life, the too-good-to-be-true marital bliss described in detail, all suggesting that horror to come will take on a double edge. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

I had a long-running conversation with a couple friends on Facebook that started out discussing tragic / bittersweet vs. artificially happy endings and quickly sprawled (for me, anyway) into the differences between reading for comfort and, for lack of a better phrase, reading for discomfort. Because we're all nerds, all examples given were fantasy novels, particularly Tolkien (who can be both bittersweetly tragic and cloyingly comforting) and current fantasy megastar George R.R. Martin; those two are of quite different polarities, and it's hard to find fantasy these days that slots somewhere between the quaint tidiness of Tolkien and the messy melodrama of Martin—fantasy more complex than simple Good vs. Evil, but also not filled to the brim with horrible people.

One that does come to mind, though, is Robin Hobb's Six Duchies novels, which hits a good balance between the medieval European high fantasy setting with the darker elements of intrigue, violence, and upheaval. I bring this up in particular because the first trilogy (Farseer, consisting of Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin's Quest) suits itself particularly well to teens looking to break away from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings but don't feel comfortable with (or, more likely, have parents who shoot you Disapproving Glares of Death for suggesting) reading A Song of Ice and Fire.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Henry Franks by Peter Adam Salomon

Who—or what—is Henry Franks?  This is the question that permeates Henry Franks, the forthcoming first novel by Peter Adam Salomon.

What we know is what Henry himself knows.  He’s an outcast in his school in Georgia near the border with Florida.  He’s horribly scarred from a car accident that killed his mother and left him comatose and nearly dead.  And he remembers nothing: everything he knows about his life before he woke up from the coma is what his father has related to him.  Also, he keeps having these dreams about murdering people.