Friday, May 30, 2014

THE SCAR BOYS by Len Vlahos

The Scar BoysIt starts with Harry's attempt to write his 250 word college essay, but he quickly realizes he has too much to tell in a mere 250 words.  Even though he knows the Faceless Admissions Professional (FAP) will probably not read it, he begins to tell his story and readers of THE SCAR BOYS get to follow along.

At the age of eight, Harry becomes the victim of bullies who tie him to a tree during a thunderstorm.  The boys run when the storm begins leaving Harry alone.  The tree is struck by lightning and a flaming branch crashes down.  Harry suffers severe burns on his head, face, and neck and spends the next several years having multiple reconstructive surgeries while in therapy to help him deal with the trauma.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Catalogging Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Fall 2014

Soooo.....paging through the HMH fall catalog and found some very cool titles. Here's an overview on what caught my eye:

Beetle Busters by Loree Griffin Burns, photos by Ellen Harasimonwicz & The Next Wave by Elizabeth Rusch. These are the new releases in the STELLAR Scientists in the Field series. These books never disappoint — solid information, outstanding photos, great profiles of men and women all over the world who are making a difference. They are diverse by nature of topic and the scientists they cover (race, ethnicity, gender) and every single time I sit down to read one I learn something valuable and interesting.

In Beetle Busters, the topic is the Asian longhorned beetle which is invading US hardwood forests and must be stopped. Bonus in this one - beetle-sniffing dogs!  Then Elizabeth Rusch looks at tidal power in The Next Wave and considers the "amazing devices that cling to the bottom of the sea floor and surf on the crests of waves" to capture energy in the Pacific Northwest.

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde continues the Chronicles of Kazam series. This is just flat out fun fantasy reading! You've got a smart, brave protagonist in 16 year old Jennifer Strange who is stuck managing the Kazam Mystical Arts Management agency. Jennifer herds a bunch of wizards all of whom are different degrees of nutty/ornery while dealing with all sorts of political and economic issues which will ring as very familiar to readers. This go-round an impossible task is issued by the Might Shandar and a road trip ensues. No vamps or werewolves to be found in the Kingdom of Snodd; just solid fun and no small amount of hilarity. (With a bit of troll fighting, etc.)

Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover

I would love to hear what male readers think of FIRSTBORN - a book about gender roles, genocide, and honor.

In her latest novel, Lorie Ann Grover explores what it takes for a young woman to survive in a war-torn world where she has been forced to live as a male her entire life. In this society, when a couple's firstborn is a son, everyone rejoices; but when the firstborn is a daughter, she is left to die in the wild - that is, unless the parents choose to raise her as a male. If that is the case, they must enforce all of the gender-based rites upon her (him) as the child grows up. Though, thankfully, the child does not endure surgery at birth or thereafter, s/he is expected to suppress all feminine traits and to dress, act, and live as a male. The child must follow all gender-based rules and initiations, including serving their country for a year, and s/he will never be allowed to marry or have children.

Tiadone, the protagonist of FIRSTBORN, has accepted her fate without question. Or, at least, always keeping those questions and concerns to herself. She lost her mother in childbirth and was raised by her father, a man she truly loves and admires. When she is the age to undergo initiation and soldier on, she is happy that her best friend, Ratho, is by her side. But when their friendship - and Tiadone's heart - is tested, things are thrown into a whirlwind.

Luckily, Tiadone also has Mirko, a beautiful bird that grows with her. In this novel, all of the children are given an egg at birth which hatches shortly before their initiation and serves as a hybrid protector-confidant-partner until the human has completed their required time serving in the military and it is time for them to separate. With this relationship and connection, the rapion is similar to the dæmons in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, but without the shapeshifting or the speech. Instead, the winged ones communicate through gestures and movements, and they become extremely attuned to their person. While the other birds are silent, Mirko has the gift of song, which only sets Tiadone further apart from the others. Mirko is easily my favorite supporting character in the novel. Without ever uttering a word of English, he is able to communicate everything he needs to through a flick of his tail or a nod of his head, and it is clear that he understands every single word Tiadone says. He has a sassy streak that makes her laugh and he always encourages her to follow her heart and be brave.

Lorie Ann Grover has created a remarkable story. Tiadone's people, the R'tan, are governed by the Madronians, forced to follow their rules and share their beliefs, and this oppression parallels Tia's own. On her journey, which is just as emotional and internal as it is literal and physical, she pushes herself to the limit and embraces who she really is, inside and out, on her own terms. Tiadone often has to make incredibly hard decisions and sacrifices, leading to an ending I never would have predicted and which I absolutely celebrated. Those who enjoyed Grover's verse novels will find lovely surprises nestled within this prose novel, including, hopefully, the strength to spread their own wings and fly.

Bonus: Check out my playlist for the book!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb

Adolf Eichmann was one of the most despised men in the world, with good reason. As the man tasked with carrying out "The Final Solution of the Jewish Question," which resulted in the death of approximately 6 million Jews in Europe during World War II, people had every reason to hate him. Bascomb does a great job pulling together the story of how Eichmann was found - mostly through pure luck - and then captured and whisked away to Israel for trial. The most amazing part of this story, to me, is the determination and composure of those that sought to capture Eichmann and get him to trial. Many of the team members were either survivors of Nazi concentration camps or had lost family members as a direct result of the orders Adolf Eichmann gave to remove Jews from Europe. Knowing this about the team members, one would think that it would have been almost impossible to be in such close proximity with the person directly responsible for so much pain and suffering in their lives and NOT exact revenge. This mission was really important to these Jews, members of a new nation who knew that the Germans were not going to prosecute any more Nazi leaders. If they wanted the story of the Holocaust to be told they needed to do it on their terms, on their soil and in front of the world media outlets. The way this story plays out is as good as any spy story written - and its real!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Catalogging Candlewick Fall 2014

The Fall 2014 catalog from Candlewick has a lot to celebrate (no surprise). Here are few that caught my eye:

Animalium - Curated by Katie Scott & Jenny Broom. First in the "Welcome to the Museum" series, each title will be "organized into galleries that display more than 200 full-color specimens accompanied by lively informative text." This one is aimed at 8-12 years olds but the illustrations are fantastic - looks like an all ages title/coffee table book to me.

The Name of the Blade by Zoe Marriott. "When Mio sneaks the family katana—a priceless ancestral sword—from her parents' attic, she just wants to spice up a costume. but the katana is more than a dusty antique. Awakening the power of the sword unleashes a terrible, ancient evil onto the streets of unsuspecting London. But it also releases Shinobu, a fearless warrior boy, from the depths of time...."

Sounds like some good adventure, a bit of romance and certainly something with unusual history and setting.

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman. The author has done a great job in the past pulling disparate images and text together to form a fierce whole and I'm interested to see what he does with the commanding topic of our time. "...Fleischman arms teens with basic tools to uncover vested interests and falsehoods by vetting sources, following the money and checking references so they they can make informed decisions about what actions to take in the worldwide battle against climate change, overconsumption and dwindling resources."

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Interview with the Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen

Jennifer A. Nielsen, author of the Ascendance trilogy (and the very charming Underworld Chronicles trilogy, as well as an installment in the Infinity Ring series) made a stop at my middle school while on a visit to Boise in April. Nielsen was funny, down-to-earth, quite well-spoken, and really just terrific to hang out with for the short time we spent together during her appearance. I felt very fortunate to be hosting her at our school!

She gave an inspiring and eye-opening talk about an author's life and work, and while signing books took the time to speak individually and personally to each of a long line of starstruck students. She was also gracious enough to visit our library and have her picture taken by our giant READ sign, and agreed to an interview about her past and future work, her audience, and the possibility of a False Prince movie.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen

I want to tell you a story.

There's a sixth grader who frequents my school library (I'll call him Tim), checking out an astonishing number of books every day. In fact, in the past eight months, he'd checked out well over 200 books -- but every one of them was a graphic novel. Nothing wrong with that, but I occasionally wondered what it would take to get him to make the jump from visual to verbal narrative.

And then, in fourth quarter, he checked out The False Prince, the first book in the Ascendance trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Catalogging Chronicle Fall 2014

A couple of books caught my eye in the recent Chronicle Books catalog. The Who, the What and the When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History by Jenny Volvovski, Julia Rothman and Matt Lamothe is a unique combination of history and art that provides short biographies of a ton of folks few readers will be aware of. From the catalog copy:

...this offbeat illustrated history reveals 65 people you've probably never heard of, but who helped shape the word as we know it. Muses and neighbors, friends and relatives, accomplices and benefactors—such as Michael and Joy Brown, who gifted Harper Lee a year's worth of wages to help her write To Kill a Mockingbird. Or John Ordway, the colleague who walked with Lewis and Clark every step of the way.

The catalog also shows Ian Stewart, 6th member of the Rolling Stones and Julia Warhola, Andy Warhol's mother. (I'm still freaking out over the Browns who gave Harper Lee a year of money so she could write!!!)

Also, be on the lookout for the The Spiritglass Charade by Colleen Gleason, another Stoker and Holmes novel and sequel to The Clockwork Scarab.  This time around there is a case of spiritualist fraud, some pickpockets, vampires returning to London and an attempt to tag a client as a "lunatic" (which was a very scary thing to be tagged with back then).

I'm also mightily intrigued by the group art project The Thing The Book: A Monument to the Book as Object. No idea what this is going to look like overall, but the pictures in the catalog sure are intriguing. It's from the artists who curate for THE THING Quarterly.

[Post illustration by Keith Negley. From his tumblr: The person I was assigned is Christopher Morcom. He was Alan Turing’s first crush, but died from tuberculosis as a young man. Turing was devastated and inspired him to explore the concept of an intangible soul in a tangible body which eventually led to the birth of computer science. Very honored to be a part of this great project.]

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Wall by William Sutcliffe

The story starts innocently enough - Joshua and his friend are kicking a football around in their hometown of Amarias when the ball goes into an abandoned construction site. Chasing after it, Joshua discovers a demolished house and a tunnel hidden in the ground. He knows he shouldn't go in, the site itself is off-limits, but he's unable to resist exploring.
Coming into this, I had no idea what The Wall was about or the subject matter it would cover, so please forgive me for thinking that Joshua would emerge from the tunnel into some sort of magical land.
This is not what happens, you quickly learn that Joshua knows exactly where he is and where the tunnel will lead. He knows that there is a giant wall separating Amarias from the people "on the other side."
He also knows that traveling to the other side of the wall is forbidden, not only by his mother and stepfather, but by the authorities. However, all thoughts of the trouble he could get into are wiped from his mind after he emerges from the tunnel and is immediately chased by a group of local street toughs.
With the help of an anonymous girl, Joshua is able to escape the boys and make his way back to the tunnel so he can go home. It isn't long before he decides to travel back so that he can repay the girl for her kindness. The more he gets to know the girl and her family, the more he comes to realize that his preconceived notions of good and evil aren't as cut and dry as he thought.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Forgive me Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Matthew Quick is a New York Times bestselling author and one of his books-The Silver Linings Playbook- has been adapted into a film. With that said I admit that I went into this one with high expectations and as it turns out I wasn't disappointed.

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore

One Night in Win­ter by Simon Sebag Mon­te­fiore is a his­tor­i­cal fic­tion story tak­ing place in Rus­sia, right after World War II. Mr. Mon­te­fiore is an award win­ning his­to­rian whose book Jerusalem: The Biog­ra­phy was a favorite of some guy named Clin­ton. This is his sec­ond novel. 
Moscow 1945. As Stalin and his courtiers cel­e­brate vic­tory over Hitler, shots ring out. On a nearby bridge, a teenage boy and girl lie dead. But this is no ordi­nary tragedy and these are no ordi­nary teenagers, but the chil­dren of Russia's most impor­tant lead­ers who attend the most exclu­sive school in Moscow. Is it mur­der? A sui­cide pact? Or a con­spir­acy against the state? Directed by Stalin him­self, an inves­ti­ga­tion begins as chil­dren are arrested and forced to tes­tify against their friends — and their par­ents. This ter­ri­fy­ing witch-hunt soon unveils illicit love affairs and fam­ily secrets in a hid­den world where the small­est mis­takes will be pun­ished with death.
One Night in Win­ter by Simon Sebag Mon­te­fiore is an excel­lent novel, enjoy­able, intel­li­gent, easy to read and fac­tual. This is one of those rare books which trans­ports the reader to another time and another place.

The author man­ages to weave his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters (Stalin, Molo­tov) with fic­tional char­ac­ters flaw­lessly. The feel­ing of gov­ern­ment para­noia is con­veyed with a believable fash­ion which sucks the reader into the days before the Cold War began, when Stalin was rest­ing on his lau­rels from win­ning World War II, but still sus­pi­cious at his peo­ple, and espe­cially his generals.

 The char­ac­ter of Gen­eral Her­cules Sati­nov (what a won­der­ful name), Stalin’s advi­sor and a full mem­ber of the polit­buro was drawn won­der­fully. A man of steel on the out­side, we get to know what his inner tur­moil when being led into a trap by Stalin and falling in love with another woman, some­thing he wouldn’t allow him­self to do.

The cen­ter of the story is a group of kids from var­i­ous classes who get arrested and inter­ro­gated. Most of the kids are chil­dren to upper class par­ents (gen­er­als, politi­cians, enter­tain­ers) and think they’ll be all right. How­ever, Stalin sees this as an oppor­tu­nity to test the loy­alty of the par­ents to the state (mean­ing him­self) and uses them to his benefit.

This novel, by an out­stand­ing his­to­rian, is a grip­ping, intel­li­gent story. The author adds some his­tor­i­cal / facts vs. fic­tion notes at the end which are always wel­comed and, in my eyes, add an extra dimen­sion to any his­tor­i­cal novel. Below is the song Katyusha which is ref­er­enced in the book sev­eral times and, to be hon­est, played in my head most of the time I was read­ing it.

  • 480 pages
  • Pub­lisher: Harper
  • Lan­guage: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062291882
Dis­claimer: I got this book for free.
Article first published as Book Review: One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

When I was younger, I was consumed with the idea of monsters. I loved monster movies, monster stories, monster toys, etc. I'm sure that if I had saved my writing from my youth they would've been filled with monster stories or things about monsters. From Godzilla to the Gremlins, monster stories attract me, so picking this book up was a natural and I wasn't disappointed. This was as much an extrapolation of what I was probably writing when I was a kid: my friends and I the only thing standing between a monster and the destruction of the world and that is clearly one of the indelible reasons that I loved Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith so much.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson and #WeNeedDiverseBooks

If you've been anywhere around social media in the past month, you have probably seen tweets, posts, and pictures boosting the signal of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. The mission statement of the campaign is simple: something has to be done about the lack of diversity in children's literature.

What started as a grassroots effort by a group of writers, publishers, and readers skyrocketed into a movement with coverage in places like Salon and LA Times.

The outpouring of voices was so fantastic that BookCon even created a special panel in response.

It was during this amazing movement that the author Kate Messner came up with The Great Greene Heist Challenge - a way for those who support diverse children's literature to make their voices heard by buying a copy The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson - by buying so many copies the book became a NY Times Bestseller.  Before long, independent bookstores across the country were getting involved by challenging each other to sell as many copies as possible. Publishers Weekly covered the challenge and Johnson has a running list of participants and prizes on his website.

YOU can participate in this movement by pre-ordering your own copy of The Great Greene Heist, which will be released next Tuesday.  And here's the best part: The Great Greene Heist is worthy of all this attention and acclaim because it's a truly wonderful book.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Download some awesome audiobooks for free from SYNC

This year's edition of one of my favorite book/reading events began today. Each summer, SYNC gives readers free downloadable YA and classic audibooks--two titles every week, one a current YA title and a thematically similar classic title. Many of the YA titles are new, as in published in the last year or so. The only catch is that the audiobooks are available for free for just seven days, then a new pair of titles will be available. Oh, and you do need to enter your email address in order to download the book, but you won't get any spam or anything.

This year's SYNC program will run until August 13 and includes several books reviewed here at Guys Lit Wire, including Eoin Colfer's WARP: The Reluctant Assassin and Cristin Terrill's All Our Yesterdays. Other books you can download this summer include Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and bunch more. The full download schedule is here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

undecided. navigating life and learning after high school by Genevieve Morgan

It's May, and that means the end of the school year is here or nearly here. Maybe you're in high school. Maybe, like so many kids in high school, you still don't know what you want to be when you grow up. This is normal, in case nobody else has told you so. And lots of folks who think they know change their minds. Then change them again when they hit 30 or 40 or 50. (Just saying.)

Guess what? This book can help. Its mission is to offer you options and support. The author, Genevieve Morgan, asserts in the introduction, "But you are not a robot on a track. You are an individual living in a free society and, by the age of eighteen, can make educational decisions for yourself."

I recommend that you challenge your own idea of who you are and open up to the possibilities the world has got offer. I want you to look forward to your future with a sense of optimism and adventure, not resignation and dread. Your future will be what you make of it. As you go through your options, keep in mind one important thing (and, honestly, this is the same thing that a lot of parents would probably agree mattered the most at this age): whatever direction you take, make a commitment to yourself to keep challenging yourself after high school. Choose a path that challenges your brain, increases your skills, and helps you gain real experience. Almost every occupation that has a high degree of personal satisfaction (and competitive pay) will require some level of continuing education and hands-on training. Where you get that education, when you get it, and how long it takes you--well, that's a different story. That's what this book will help you sort out.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

It’s the old, old story: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy develops fatal illness, boy has head surgically removed and cryogenically frozen, boy is re-animated five years later with a donor body, girl has moved on.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Revolution 19 & Fugitive X

The next Revolution is happening now: Kevin, Nick, and Cass are lucky —they live with their parents in a secret human community in the woods, safe from the Bot City established after the robot revolution of 2071. Then their village is detected by bots and completely destroyed. Hopeful that their parents have been captured by bots --and not killed--, the teens risk everything to save the only people they have left in the world—by infiltrating a city controlled by their greatest enemies.
In Fugitive X, Nick, Cass, and their little brother Kevin are separated by warring forces in a dystopian world controled by robots. Nick ends up with a group of hostile rebels. Cass is captured and reeducated by the bots. Kevin is indoctrinated into a hidden encampment in the forest known as The Island, where he discovers secrets about the origin of the bots, and about his family.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

5 Questions for Bryon Quertermous

For this month’s post instead of a review, I spent some time chatting (well, emailing) with my old writing center colleague Bryon Quertermous.  Recently, Bryon left a M-F 9-5 job for life as a full-time mystery writer and editor. Most importantly he’s living proof that guys do read, and write.

1.     Why do you read? – Because I love using my imagination. It’s the only entertainment that lets me get lost completely in a world. I also love to read because I love words. I love to see how other writers use words.

2.     Is there are “worst book I ever read?” If so, what is it?-Not really. I’ve read a few stinkers in my time, but I always learn something from them.

3.     What’s your absolute favorite book? – Catcher in the Rye, which is funny because I know a lot of people who would list that as one of the worst books they ever read. But it was a book I read at just the right time and at just the right age to really speak to me. I still try to read it once a year.

4.     You have a young son.  What 3 books do you want to make sure he reads by the time he’s 18? – Catcher in the Rye, obviously. He’s named after the private detective character Spenser, so I would love him to have read at least the first book in that series (by Robert B. Parker), and I also want him to read a really long book, the equivelent of the marathon for a reader.  My first attempt was Gone With The Wind but I never quite made it through, so my first winner was It by Stephen King and then The Stand.

5.     What’s the first book you remember reading that left you going “Whoa”?-Misery by Stephen King. Back in my day, before YA, there wasn’t much for kids who read through all of the Hardy Boys and other few books for kids, so I was allowed to go into the adult section of the library and that was the first book I checked out because it was about a writer and I was already thinking about being a writer. Whoa, indeed. Still love that book.

Bryon Quertermous is a reader, writer, and editor. He edits crime fiction for Angry Robot Books and his first novel, MURDER BOY, will be published this summer and he’s currently writing the sequel that will be published in January. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel

Becca Williamson does not believe in love. Her former best friend Huxley (yeah, that’s a name) dropped her like a sack of eggs after starting to date handsome Steve. Her über-cool older sister sank into depression being dumped six hours before her wedding. And even her parents seem to tolerate each other more than love—for their anniversary, they get Chinese take-out and watch documentaries. And so Becca has fashioned herself into the Break-Up Artist, New Jersey’s premiere destroyer of high school couples and savior of friendships. She’s successful as can be—thanks to computer skills, human psychology, and a skeleton key that lets her get into any locker in school. And then she’s hired by a mysterious man calling himself “Robert Towne” who has a mission for her: break up Huxley and Steve. At the same time, Becca finds herself contending with her current bestie Val’s 0-to-60 relationship with film geek Ezra--not to mention her own attraction to him.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

It's all Relative (Almost)

Most of us assume that while relativity is certainly true it's both more strange and more complicated than we can possibly understand and not especially relevant in our day to day lives. Beyond that, we might consider pictures of Einstein with his tongue sticking as cheesy yet amusing, but the details of his theories we tend to put in the Things I don't Need to Worry about Right Now bin along with How my Microwave Works and What is my Spleen For?

Jeffrey Bennett's What is Relativity? (public library) makes Einstein's major theories both understandable and relevant. He makes it clear by building up the stories slowly, first introducing concepts that go down fairly easily, like how measures of speed depend on your point of view. For instance, a plane can appear, from the ground, to be flying at several hundred miles an hour, but the same plane, when viewed from the moon, can look perfectly stationary while the earth travels at several hundred miles an hour beneath it.

To these concepts he adds the fact that the maximum speed of light in a vacuum is always the same (around 300,000 meters per second), no matter what your point of view is. This constant speed of light means that when you start travelling at speeds close to the speed of light, not only do things like speed become relative depending on your point of view, so do things like length, mass and time.

That's where all the weirdness comes in, like space voyages taking hundreds of years to people on Earth but only decades in the spacecraft, or objects freezing in time at the edge of black hole.