Monday, June 30, 2014


Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to FlyLiving in Clay Allison, New Mexico, should mean that Arlo Santiago is into football and keeping the team's legend alive for the community, but football definitely isn't Arlo's game.  He spends his time playing the video game Drone Pilot.  When he isn't gaming, he is riding one of his dirt bikes stunting with friends in the desert.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Young Wizards Series by Diane Duane

Before Harry Potter went to Hogwarts, Nita Callahan stumbled into the library and discovered a book that would change her life. That book was called So You Want to Be a Wizard.

In the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, Nita and Kit, two thirteen-year-olds living in Manhattan, discover that magic is real and taking place every day, in every corner of the world. This is set in our world; however adept they become, the teens still have to go to school, do their homework, and clean their rooms. They take the Wizard's Oath and become dedicated to their studies and their work, under the tutelage of adult wizards Tom and Carl. They learn the Speech, which enables them to communicate with other sentient beings - so Kit can then communicate with his adorable dog, Ponch. As the series continues, Nita's sister gets into the mix, and her story arc pulls in technology. With a diverse cast with a range of abilities and interests, the odds are good that readers will find one if not more character that they can relate to, and the series will appeal to boys and girls alike.

I strongly recommend this series to anyone and everyone who likes Harry Potter, The NeverEnding Story, The Keys to the Kingdom, and other such intelligent, inventive delights. The Young Wizards series has all of the action and magic that fantasy fans seek, be they kids or adults. Though the first book came out over twenty years ago, the characters have barely aged, and the writing quality has never lessened - only strengthened, in my estimation.

Make sure you read the books in order:
- So You Want to Be a Wizard
- Deep Wizardry
- High Wizardry
- A Wizard Abroad
- The Wizard's Dilemma (my favorite in the series)
- A Wizard Alone
- Wizards' Holiday
- Wizards at War
- A Wizard of Mars
- Games Wizards Play (coming in 2015)

Companion books: The Feline Wizards (for adults and teens)
- The Book of Night with Moon
- To Visit the Queen (aka On Her Majesty's Wizardly Service)
- The Big Meow

Friday, June 27, 2014

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Let's face it: we are all of us, but perhaps especially young guys, guilty of judging books by their covers. That's why books have cover art, after all, and it's why we have terrific, heated conversations about that art when it doesn't match up to reader -- or worse, author -- expectations. (An example.) It's no surprise that a book with a really kickbutt cover can gain wings to fly off the shelves, which is how Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas got selected for my middle school library and why I had to wait until summer vacation to get my hands on a copy.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

California Bones, by Greg van Eekhout

Daniel Blackland is an osteomancer, able to absorb and wield magic by consuming the bones of magical creatures. But this gift is a bit of a drag, because it's an osteomancer-eat-osteomancer world out there - eat the bones of an osteomancer, and you absorb all the magic that they absorbed in their lifetime, which means that powerful osteomancers need to constantly watch their back for all the people looking to eat them and steal their power. Daniel should know. As a young boy he watched his dad get eaten by the tyrannical Hierarch of the independent nation of Southern California. 

Since then, he's been on the run. Ten years later he's living underground and organizing heists with his motley crew of buddies magical and mundane. People like Moth, whose healing powers allow him to regrow kidneys (and come back from the dead), and shape-shifter Jo, and Cassandra, his ex, who is good at lots of things, and who he maybe, kind of, sort of, still has feelings for.

As the son of a famous enemy of the Hierarch, keeping his head down has been a matter of life and death. And when he gets the opportunity to invade the Hierarch's own personal bone stash, where enough magical artifacts are stored up to make him a wealthy man many times over, he knows he shouldn't do it. Nothing about this job feels right, but it's also an opportunity to settle an old score, and he takes it anyway. And shenanigans ensue. There are betrayals, reversals, surprises, and several truly awesome deployments of radical crazy wacky magic. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

The VirtNet has it all! Everything a person could want to do can be done within the Virtnet - without real physical consequences. The higher quality your NerveBox (or coffin), the more sensation you feel while in the VirtNet - the good and the bad. Die in the VirtNet and just wake up in your coffin - after experiencing your death.
Michael is a good gamer, significantly better than good actually. As a gamer, all Michael wants to do is gain experience points and level up to Lifeblood Deep, the ultimate game in the VirtNet. The VirtNet Security (VNS) has a different plan for him, they want Michael and his friends to help the VNS bring down the criminal mastermind Kaine. If they succeed, they will be set for life! And really, what do they have to lose - it's in the VirtNet. It's all just a game right?
Dashner moves this story along at a fast clip and keeps the reader guessing where he is headed. Readers that enjoyed the Maze Runner series will like this one too.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

I'm late. I know, I'm a terrible reviewer, but end of the school year had me all bunched up. Anyway, here's my review for a terrific MG/young YA book called The Riverman by Aaron Starmer.

Every culture, nation, people, town, city, village, school and even neighborhood has it's own myths, legends and folklore. I firmly believe that it comes from our base need, as a species, to tell stories to explain the things about the world around us that scare us. Starmer explores both of these ideas in this brilliantly written book that brings me back to my youth while keeping me grounded in who I am today.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell

On June 21, 1964, three young men disappeared in Mississippi. Upon hearing the news, their co-workers, families, and friends immediately feared the worst: that James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were dead, killed because of their work in the voter registration effort known as Freedom Summer.

It was dangerous work and everyone knew it. Don Mitchell opens The Freedom Summer Murders by describing the treatment civil rights workers would expect in Mississippi and explaining why they were there, that "[f]or many years before the 1964 Freedom Summer, Mississippi held a special place of terror for America's black population." And, to paraphrase the words of one of Mississippi's few black lawyers during Freedom Summer training, the state's white citizens would be even tougher on white volunteers.

Michael Schwerner and his wife Rita had been working in Mississippi for CORE, the Congress for Racial Equality, since January. James Chaney was from Meridian, Mississippi, one of the first people to help the Schwerners, and quickly indispensable to their work. Andrew Goodman was a Freedom Summer volunteer. On June 21, Rita was in Ohio, helping with Freedom Summer training. The three men were in Mississippi, where they "were brutally murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, with the complicity of the local police."

Friday, June 20, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: Superman: Earth One, vol. 1 by J. Michael Straczynski

Superman: Earth One, vol. 1 by J. Michael Straczynski (writer) and Shane Davis, Sandra Hope (artists) is a reboot of the famous superhero. Earth One is a comic even by DC which retells the earlier adventures of some of its characters.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sabriel by Garth Nix

I was going to review a completely different book, but then I happened upon a copy of Sabriel, by Garth Nix. I've never read it, but had always heard good things. What drove me to finally read it is the fact that this copy I found has the old cover, the one with the gorgeous painting of the title character by Leo and Diane Dillon. The image has always stuck with me, and maybe I was holding off in fear that the book wouldn't live up to the hauntingly beautiful cover.

The book's been mentioned here before, and it's not exactly a new title, but I have to talk about it here because its story has gripped me like I haven't had a book seize my imagination in years. It is dark, and rich, and moody, but with jolts of intense action and stabs of humor. Nix walks a tightrope's path above conventions of the genre, and the experience is unlike any other fantasy read. I cannot remember the last time I read a novel which so effortlessly blends powerful influences (the likes of Ann McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Fritz Lieber) and yet stands alone as its own thing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

When I was in the fifth grade my friends and I watched Commando starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. In that film, Jenny Matrix (Alyssa Milano) is kidnapped by a South American crime syndicate. Luckily, her father, Ahhnold, happens to be the human equivalent of Voltron and spends three quarters of the movie blowing basketball-sized holes through the afore-mentioned kidnappers.

When the movie was finished, my friends walked away feeling smug that they had just seen something their parents wouldn't let them watch in a million years. I on the other hand, had nightmares for weeks about being kidnapped. Never mind that the only thing I owned that could even remotely be used for ransom were my Star Wars bed sheets, the fear remained.

Today, I'm a little older, a little wiser, and little less scared of being kidnapped. That said, The Bunker Diary  made the skin crawl off my bones. The story opens with Linus, a sixteen year-old dropout living on the streets, busking and scouring train stations for spare change and food. One day, he comes across a man he believes to be blind. Offering to assist the man with his luggage, Linus is knocked unconscious and thrown into the back of a van. Hours later he wakes up in what appears to be an abandoned bunker.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence by Geoffrey Canada

If you have paid any attention to education reforms in the toughest parts of the Bronx, New York then you may have heard the name Geoffrey Canada. He is behind some revolutionary schooling options that have demonstrated proven results. Canada hails from those tough parts and grew up having to learn some harsh life lessons. This book in graphic novel format is a take on the novel of the same name. Jamar Nicholas did the illustrations.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Roller Coaster Science

Summer means different things to different people, but as a teen (before I was old enough to get a job) summer was the time I got to do the things I really wanted to do and learn. I took ceramics classes and learned to swim and read the books that I wanted to read. I also came up with all sorts of crazy projects, like tearing apart my bike and rebuilding it as a lowrider chopper. One summer, I made what I called 'ramps' which, essentially, was a marble roller coaster. Through trial and error I learned about drops and turns, what worked and what didn't, and had a great time figuring out what sort of things I could recycle into my amusement.

Who knew I was learning physics in the process?

While Roller Coaster Science hews toward tweens who might be only vaguely familiar with the concepts and principles involved, the text is friendly without being condescending to more knowledgeable readers. Each spread introduces a concept -- acceleration, force, mass and weight, etc -- along with an experiment to demonstrate how it works. Or doesn't work as the case may be. The back half of the book includes pre-printed paper ramps to punch out and assemble. Build the coaster according to directions, get a marble, and let it rip!

Then get some paper towel rolls, funnels, old garden hoses, scraps of wood, whatever you can get you hands on and go crazy with some "practical" physics!

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Torch Keeper

The Culling (The Torch Keeper, #1)  The Sowing (The Torch Keeper, #2)  
The Culling is the first book in The Torch Keeper series, a sci-fi adventure quite similar to The Hunger Games. Lucian "Lucky" Spark is Recruited into a challenge that weeds the weak from the strong, and must then become an Imposer in the corrupt Establishment. 

If he fails, they will kill his little brother. 

He will do anything to keep his brother alive, even sacrificing the other Recruits. When Lucky falls in love with another recruit named Digory Tycho, he must balance his feelings for Digory with needing to keep his brother alive. The Establishment will take your loved ones, and they will use them against you. Lucky must keep his loyalty to his loved ones while hiding his hatred of The Establishment.

Fast-paced and exciting, The Culling is a great dystopian series with a male protagonist and LGBT relationships.

In the second book in the series, The Sowing, Lucky has made it through the brutal Trials and almost completed training to become an Imposer for the Establishment, all while secretly fighting back as a rebel called The Torch Keeper.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College by Halley Bondy

Just in time for high school graduation, Zest Books has released 77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College, a follow-up, if you will, to their book 97 Things to Do Before You Finish High School. It's got some really practical items in it - like tips on how to decorate your dorm room to make it feel more like home, how to find and rent an apartment (and avoid being scammed by rental agents and landlords), suggestions on how to interact with the community where your school is located (including volunteering at a shelter and joining a political campaign), maximizing your college experience by taking a class outside your major just because you're interested in it or learning a language you've never studied, and more. Split into seven sections of eleven suggestions each, it provides a mix of fun and practical tips.

One of my favorite tips is one that my favorite college junior employed earlier this year: Tip #40 - Sever toxic relationships. It's great for helping to identify what a toxic relationship is (complete with a sidebar on what an abusive relationship is, because yes, abuse sometimes happens with friends, too), and tips on how to do it. Heck, rather than just describing it, how about I give you this tip as an excerpt?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff is a charming book. And if you think “charming” sounds too effeminate a for a book by a guy, about a guy (in part), in a review by a guy, and thus forms a lesser compliment because of that supposed feminine connotation, then you need to read this book more than you know.

“It’s all role-playing, I think as we walk (116).”

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger

Tom Angleberger’s Fake Mustache is quite possibly the weirdest book I’ve ever read. Or at the very least, it’s in the top 10.  I keep thinking it’s what would happen if director Wes Anderson  (Grand Budapest Hotel; Moonrise Kingdom) tried to rewrite Captain Underpants.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Virgin Territory by James Lecesne

Dylan's got enough problems before the Virgin Mary shows up.  He's stuck living in Jupiter, Florida, having moved there wih his widowed father, Doug, to take care of his Alzheimer's-riddled grandmother.  He's not exactly enamored of his job caddying at one of the town's ten million golf courses.  He's been banned from the internet after Doug caught him "trading e-mails with a thirty-seven-year-old woman with a filthy screen name."  He's grumpy that Pluto has been downgraded from planet to dwarf.  And slowly but surely, his memories of his mother are fading bit by bit; when they left New York City several years earlier, Doug inadvertently left behind the bag containing all of the family photos, leaving Dylan without any visual reminders of her.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Three Parts Dead (Craft Sequence #1), by Max Gladstone

A god is dead. Who killed him? And why? And what's going to happen to the six million people who live in a city powered exclusively by his magic?

"Three Parts Dead" is a very unusual detective story. Tara is a young magician, expelled from her academy in disgrace after she attempted to expose a professor's sick experiments. She's got a lot to prove, and when she's hired to help solve the mystery behind the untimely death of fire god Kos Everburning (patron deity of the city of Alt Coulumb) she knows it's her only shot at building an independent life for herself. When she learns that her old nemesis professor from the academy is involved in the murder of Kos, the stakes get significantly higher.

The Second Triennial MrChompchomp Commencement Address

Three years ago I stood before you and complained. I complained that no one had ever asked me to deliver a commencement address. And because no one had ever asked me to deliver a commencement address, I took it upon myself to deliver one anyway. And you took as it was intended: as a lesson in self-bootstrap-pulling-uppedness.

And yet three years have gone by. That's plenty of time even for the most ardent of commencement-organizing procrastinators. I have been diligent, nay, obsessive about checking my email and answering my telephone and while I have had the most fascinating conversations with people selling some very interesting pharmaceuticals, I have not, even a little bit, been asked to deliver a commencement address. Not even for a preschool promotion or an Email for Seniors training class. No words preceding the certificating of a boating safety instruction group. No final thoughts before a leatherworking badge ceremony. Nothing. Nada.

And so I am emboldened to deliver my second commencement address to you, the ever-loyal readers of GuysLitWire.

As you sit out there beneath the cool protective shade of your mortar boards considering what comes next in your life, I know you aren't worried. You are thinking there's nothing I can do to screw up my life too bad. And even if someday I do, say, fail the bar exam or accidentally destroy a city by haphazardly messing with my pet lizard's DNA, I can always fix it. I can fix it because soon someone will invent time travel and I can buy a trip to the past or steal one or just crash a time travel party and I can return to the point of my mistake and do things differently this time around.

Do I have it right? It's as if I've read your minds, isn't it?

Catalogging Penguin, Summer & Fall 2014

And in the latest round of looking at publisher catalogs, this time we're talking about Penguin and some of their titles that caught my eye. Here we go!

Circle of Stones by Catherine Fisher (August). We've got 3 separate narratives that all come together across time. This includes a teenage girl with an a lot of questions in her past who is on the run in Bath, England; a apprentice in 1740 dealing with a creepy boss and, in ancient England, a druid King because druids = mysterious. Fisher is called "the first lady of British fantasy" and never disappoints so this is certainly one to watch out for.

Like No Other by Una La Marche (July). A bit of a modern day Romeo & Juliet here: Devorah and Jaxon live in the same Brooklyn neighborhood but don't meet until stuck in an elevator. She has always followed the rules of her strict Hasidic upbringing while Jaxon "is a fun-loving nerd who has never had much luck with girls." Their families forbid any relationship (presumably after they emerge from the elevator) but the teens risk all to be together. HOW FAR WILL THEY GO TO BE TOGETHER???!!! Classic teen fare, interesting twist with the Hasidic upbringing, here's hoping it skates afternoon special melodrama and gives good story.