Friday, February 28, 2014

Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi

Recently, I ordered several books for our school library, including this much-hyped middle grade novel about immigration reform. I mean, about conditions in the meat processing industry. No! It's about corruption in the legal system based on the evils of money. Ack! What I am trying to say is, a novel about ZOMBIES. Yeah, that's right! It's about zombies, and baseball. Or so I am reminded, when I look at the cover....

Thursday, February 27, 2014

It's Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini

Craig Gilner "wasn't someone you'd pay a lot of attention to."

According to him, "you wouldn't see me in the halls at school and go "There he goes, Craig Gilner - I wonder what he's up to."" He's just a regular guy, gets decent grades, got into a good high school and can't quite handle the stress, has a crush on his best friend's girlfriend, and, oh yeah, his depression is so bad he can't eat, ever, and one night he walks into a hospital and tells them he wants to kill himself, and ends up in an adult psychiatric ward surrounded by a fascinating cast of characters that are simultaneously very funny and very sad.

It's Kind of a Funny Story is a novel, but it's based on the author's actual experiences of hospitalization for suicidal ideation. "It's 85% true," he said in an interview.

And the title is perfect, because it really shouldn't be funny. But it is. When Craig calls a suicide hotline, the operator isn't helpful: "For someone in Anxiety Management, he's giving me an exercise that is fairly confusing and anxiety-provoking." When the cop assigned to watch him him in the emergency room is talking on his cell phone, Craig wonders 'what company gives you service in here; they could like use it on a commercial: a guy behind padded walls, "can you hear me now?" Craig is smart and complex enough to see the humor in his extraordinarily painful situation, and that makes him a really likable protagonist. His responses to depression and stress feel real and comprehensible. Many young men experiencing sadness or depression will be able to connect immediately to his perspective, and will follow him into some pretty tough and introspective places.

Also, the fact that it was made into a movie with Zach Galifianakis might also help get teen boys interested.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

Choosing Day. How does one choose what they want to do for the rest of their life? Will is struggling to decide. He's not big enough to go to battle school and train to be a knight, he's not good enough with words to be a diplomat or a scribe and he definitely doesn't want to end up as a field laborer on a local farm. As an orphan and a ward of Castle Redmont, Will has no "family business" to go in to. What Will doesn't know is that he has been watched his whole life by Halt - the Ranger.

 To the average Araluen citizen, Rangers are near magical people. Moving from place to place without being seen, knowing things seemingly unknowable and defeating opponents in battle no other warrior would face. Will is not sure if he wants to be the apprentice to the mysterious Ranger. He has many questions about the skills required, the methods of training and about his own past. Halt, not much of a talker, needs to adjust to the life of being a mentor as he trains Will in the arts and skills needed to be a Ranger of the Realm.

This first installment in the Ranger's Apprentice series sets up all of the adventure, honor and glory awaiting Will, Horace, Alyss, and the rest of Will's friends from Castle Redmont.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How my list of books to read got way longer

It's amazing what a good list can do. Make you think, make you—meaning me—feel old (because nostalgia and all that), but also introduce you to new things.

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) puts out several lists of recommended books each year. All are worth checking, but this year, the one that really caught my attention was the Outstanding Books for the College Bound list.

In the past, I have to admit, this is the list I paid the least attention to. But this year's list includes so many of my favorite books from the past few years (like Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking series, Quiet by Susan Cain, and especially Spillover by David Quammen, which tops my personal Favorite Books Published Recently list, hands down) that I seriously want to go and read everything else on the 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound list that I haven't yet read.

According to the list's introduction, "the 2014 list is designed to mirror academic disciplines. It is divided into five categories: Arts and Humanities, History and Cultures, Literature and Languages, Science and Technology, and Social Sciences." And while it does include books college students have been assigned to read, such as Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the purpose of the list is not to mimic college reading lists, but to encourage teens to "broaden your horizons and deepen your understandings, whether you are preparing for college or looking to expand your learning in other ways."

A number of books on the Outstanding Books for the College Bound list have been reviewed here at Guys Lit Wire, which will give you an idea of the breadth of the list:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Dare Me by Eric Devine

I thought for sure that my first official review for this blog would be an big honking fantasy, because that's where my heart lies in a lot of ways. But instead it's going to be a YA contemporary that I decided to read because it sounded like a YA contemporary that I was planning to write and I'm glad I did. Dare Me by Eric Devine is an older YA book that is hard to categorize (I'll get to that in a moment) and was a fantastic read with a little bit of something for every kind of reader.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner

Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner is a western novel taking place in 1837 This is Mr. Lautner’s debut novel.

At age 12 Thomas Walker, a sheltered boy living in New York City, joins his father, a traveling salesman, to go out west and sell Samuel Colt’s revolutionary "Improved Revolving Gun". Not long after their travels start, Thomas’ father is killed by robbers, and the young orphan tries to make it back home with his few possessions, including a wooden model of the gun, and no money, relying on the kindness of strangers.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by Ian Culbard

Lovecraft has always been a subject of interest for folks looking to adapt works to other media. He’s probably the literary figure of the last century who casts the largest shadow, in terms of direct and indirect influence. I’m thinking of this, in part because of my fascination with the new HBO series True Detective and its allusions to Lovecraft with images of “a spaghetti faced man” and “the King in Yellow” (by way of Robert W. Chambers). But Ian Culbard’s series of graphic novels adapting Lovecraft consumed me even more when I encountered them recently, and they are perhaps the finest adaptations of Lovecraft’s stories I’ve yet seen.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston

blackhelicopters 335x500 Review: Black Helicopters
 Black Helicopters is about choices, the ones that come automatically, like scratching an itch and the ones that were made for us. It's also about tension, reading it feels like being caught in an ever-tightening vice.  Valkyrie (Valley) lives with her father, referred to as Da, and her brother Bo. To say that Da “enjoys” nature would be like saying Charles Manson “enjoyed” the Beatles. Valley and her family are off the grid. Way off the grid. It’s safe to assume that they are living in the wilds of Montana but it could be anywhere, really.

Da teaches Valley & Bo how to survive in the wild. The only trouble is that he isn’t just prepping them for a Camper Activity badge from the Scouts, he’s teaching them paramilitary and bomb-making skills. Together they make that Ruby Ridge family look like the Brady Bunch. The bombs are for Da’s customers, people who want to send judges, lawyers, abortion doctors and anyone else who pisses them off, a message.

In addition to having them make weapons, Da fills his children’s heads with a steady helping of paranoia and fear. He tells them that government-controlled Black Helicopters are everywhere and that they will kill them on sight. He tells them that their mother was murdered by the helicopters eleven years before and that they must be prepared for “Those People” to burst through their door at any moment.  

Black Helicopters is short, (166 pages) so it’s hard to write about it and not spoil it a little bit. I would stop reading now unless you want to know at least part of the ending.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sidekicked by John David Anderson

 Drew is a very sensitive kid- his five senses are amplified. He can see what his classmates are writing on tests from across the room, he can smell what the neighbors are having for dinner. He is a superhero in training, as are all the members of H.E.R.O. a school club formed by Mr. Masters, who himself is a superhero. Drew and his friends are all paired up with mentors who will train them to one day be heroes themselves.  Drew's mentor is battling demons of his own and can't help Drew as he could or indeed should.  When a strange menace begins threatening the city, Drew and his friends must come together to prevent catastrophic consequences.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

We talk so much about nonfiction these days.  What does common core mean for nonfiction?  What can we do to make nonfiction and common core mesh with our larger readers’ advisory goals?  Where is nonfiction headed, especially the relatively new subgenre of nonfiction for young adults? How can we connect nonfiction with the right readers?  And even more than that: how can we encourage more readers to discover they may just be the right readers for nonfiction even if they don’t know it?

These are great and important questions to ask.  But I don’t want us to lose sight of the heart of nonfiction.  A great true story, told well and with passion and attention to craft, can change and challenge readers in the same way any fictional tale can.  Steve Sheinkin’s latest book, The Port Chicago 50, is that kind of true story and that kind of nonfiction.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Interworld & The Silver Dream

The Silver Dream is the long-awaited follow-up sequel to Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves' Interworld from 2007. Interworld is the story of a boy named Joey who always gets lost. One day, on a school outing, he gets so lost that he Walks right out of our world and into another dimension. Adventures and sci-fi shenanigans ensue, and Joey turns out to be a dimensional Walker who is part of a team that fights to save the world from the evil Binary and HEX organizations.

In The Silver Dream Michael Reaves and Mallory Reaves continue Joey's story.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

I haven't finished this yet.

It just released yesterday, under my radar, and I'm deep into it. What it's got is two hormonal 16 year old boys, an empty Iowa town after the local factory picks up and leaves, and end-of-the-world devastation brought about by giant insects and genetically modified food. Here's how it opens:
I read somewhere that human beings are genetically predisposed to record history.
We believe it will prevent us from doing stupid things in the future.
But even though we dutifully archived elaborate records of everything we've ever done, we also managed to keep on doing dumber and dumber shit.
This is my history.
There are things in here: babies with two heads, insects as big as refrigerators, God, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, war, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty.
Just like it's always been.
I'll be back with a full report when I'm done because I haven't had this much fun with an out-there premise since Tim, the Defender of Earth, and that had a Yoda-like Kraken, a T-Rex and a nanoswarm leveling London like something out of a 60s monster movie.

So my apologies for being late here, but I really need to get back to it. Knock me down a grade or two if you must, but I gotta find out what's on the minds of two hungry, horny six-foot praying mantises.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

THE OGRE'S WIFE by Ron Koertge

THE OGRE'S WIFE: Poems may have some of its basis in fairy tales, but it hews toward the original (sometimes savage) Grimm versions. You won't find any Disney here. There are, for instance, takes on Little Red Riding Hood, The Ogre's Wife, Beauty and the Beast, and more, including a poem entitled "The Death of Hansel". One of my favorite of the fairy tale poems is probably "The Gingerbread Man".

The Gingerbread Man
by Ron Koertge

This is not the one about the childless couple and the cookie
that leapt from the oven and ran away from everyone
and everything but the fox.

This is the one about the woman who, while her husband was
snoring, baked a burly gingerbread man. Piece by piece.
Arms and legs, pelvis and chest. And then assembled him
in a kitchen illuminated only by lightning.

He was wonderful: tall and dark with penetrating eyes
and a wry smile. She lay down on him. It was simultaneously
intoxicating and melancholy. She knew it couldn't last.

A night or two later while she was caressing her lover
she knocked over a wine glass and in came her husband
in his nightshirt to see what was happening.

Immediately he knew what to do: he started at the rival's
toes and began to eat. His wife watched, horrified and
excited. Legs and thighs, belly and arms, eyes and nose.
And then he kissed her with what had become the sweetest
lips in the world.
Don't like fairy tales? That's okay, too. Most of the book is something else entirely.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reality Boy by A.S. King

“Reluctant readers” is not always a euphemism for “guys,” but it often is. In fact, the euphemism may deserve its own post on Guys Lit Wire. This, however, is not that post, at least not entirely. But it is about A.S. King’s Reality Boy, which was recently named to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) 2014 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers list. And deservedly so, as there is much about Reality Boy to draw in readers, reluctant or otherwise.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

All it takes is one bus ride for Donovan Curtis to know, without a doubt, that the Academy of Scholastic Distinction is not Hardcastle Middle School. What’s more, Donovan doesn’t even need to show up to his first class to know, without a doubt, that he isn’t gifted. He’s creative, and funny, and smart, but he’s definitely not gifted. So when he sets into motion an improbable series of events that culminates in a ginormous metal globe crashing through school’s gym doors—an act that ultimately (and accidentally)-- sends him to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction, he (ahem) rolls with it because it’s the perfect place to hide out for a while.

 Gordon Korman’s Ungifted is Donovan’s story.  While it isn’t a deeply serious text, it’s a fun read that explores the ideas of what it means to be truly gifted, what makes us outcasts, and how the bonds of community can be both built and strengthened when we look outside of our own worldview and experience life through a different set of lenses.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Youth and War

John Knowles' A Separate Peace is classic literature, the kind of book you might be assigned at some point to read for school. But if you're not, you should read it anyway, and if you are, you shouldn't let that keep you from seeing what a fantastic book it is.

Gene Forrester is a student at Devon, a New England boarding school in the early years of US involvement in World War II. His life is punctuated by stunts and pranks, such as leaping from the high branches of a tree into the depths of a river, an act of daring which the boys imagine will serve as training for their own inevitable involvement in the war. As Gene narrates is life at Devon, he speaks mostly of his relationship with his roommate and best friend Phineas, or Finny, a boy of incredible athletic talent and personality who has such ease among the other boys and the teachers at the school that it leaves Gene feeling estranged and envious. As his story unfolds, Gene's uncertain feelings toward Phineas become so twisted and confused that they ultimately lead to tragedy.