Friday, January 30, 2015

DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK by Scott Blagden

Dear Life, You SuckCricket Cherpin will be eighteen in a few months, and as far as he can figure, his only options for the future will be dealing drugs or fighting competitively.  Having lived in a group home for orphans for the last eight years, his only "family" are a bunch of nuns and a passel of younger orphans.  As far as Cricket is concerned, his life sucks.

Tormented by a bully in his small school, Cricket vows to protect the Little Ones he considers to be his responsibility.  Using his fists to fight against his tormentor earns him suspensions and a bad reputation with the principal.  Mother Mary tries to encourage better behavior because she truly cares about him, but Cricket's bleak outlook on life doesn't allow him to see how much he means to her.

Cricket finds escape in creating and telling stories to the younger boys.  They live for this story time and hang on his every word.  When he is not entertaining the little ones, he hangs out with the group home Caretaker who offers tips on fighting and is the one who suggests a career in the fight business might be Cricket's only future option.

A letter writing assignment in English class opens up a conversation with a teacher who believes in Cricket and thinks he has opportunities available to him if he is willing to take the chance.  Her comments surprise Cricket and get him thinking about the possibility of life after the group home.

DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK by Scott Blagden offers readers an in-your-face view of life from a teen who is not afraid to tell it like it is.  Cricket will amuse, offend, and touch readers as they travel with him through life on the dark side.

Against Football by Steve Almond

I want to start by saying that I love football. There was a point in my life when I could watch any game that was on just because it was a football game. When my wife and I got married, we made an agreement that I could watch all the football I wanted as long as I was doing laundry as well. 

Let me tell you, we had the cleanest clothes, sheets, towels, drapes - anything I could put in the washing machine - in town! Having said all that, I now struggle with football as a sport. 

The violence on the field including sub concussive hits causing chronic brain injuries for players, the concussive hits sustained and delivered and the violence off the field, which the League is only just starting to really address, has made me question what my role as a spectator plays in supporting this machine. 

All of that doesn’t even touch the obscene amount of money involved in the football empire. Most people are able to identify the salaries and bonuses paid to the players a day coaches  but what about the salary paid to Roger Goodell, the TV contracts and the clothing endorsements? It all makes my stomach achieve churn.

Steve Almond’s book looks at many of these issues from the perspective of a fan. It is refreshing to hear the voice of someone like me. Someone trying to reconcile the ethics of watching and supporting such a violent sport with the love of the game. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What I Did Last Summer by A.R. Gurney

It's interesting to read What I Did Last Summer by A.R. Gurney now, more than 30 years after it was published, and consider that this play was set in a time almost 40 years prior to its publication.

In the summer of 1945, 14-year-old Charlie, his older sister Elsie, and their mother are vacationing in Lake Erie while Charlie's father is fighting in World War II. Eager to earn money (like his best friend Ted, who has his own lawn-mowing business), Charlie responds to artist Anna Trumbull's ad seeking a handyman and ends up becoming her student, even though he has little to no artistic ability. As the summer progresses, Charlie's mother and sister begin to realize how much Charlie is taken by Anna: he begins to share her ideologies and rattles off things about society and life at the dinner table that he never would have considered a few months earlier. Meanwhile, Charlie's pals Ted and Bonny are (kind of) seeing each other while (kind of) keeping an eye on Charlie.

Sometimes, when Charlie speaks directly to the audience, he has the air of an adult musing on his mischievous youth, but when he is engaged in dialogue with the other characters, he is clearly an kid. Once he sets Anna on a pedestal, that's it: her opinion trumps that of his mother or his friends, and he'd rather spend time with her than with anyone else. Those who have seen or experienced hero worship firsthand know how stubborn people can be in that situation, and how difficult it can be to reason with them.

Modern readers might find the piece a little too brief, but they might discover something refreshing about a coming-of-age story that's fairly simple rather than lurid, from a time when life moved a little slower than it does on today's information superhighway.
Bonus: Read a review of the 1983 production. The cast included Christine Estabrook as Elsie, who you may recognize Christine from any number of film, TV, and theatre roles, including Mad Men, Spring Awakening, The Usual Suspects, and American Horror Story.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Convergence (The Zodiac Legacy, Book 1) by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong

Stan Lee (yes, that Stan Lee) makes his prose novel debut in this series starter starring Steven Lee, a fourteen-year-old Chinese-American kid on a school trip to Hong Kong. Steven and his classmates are on a tour at a museum, but Steven seems to be the only who who notices their tour guide's odd, even suspicious, behavior. After hearing some muffled screaming, the tour guide abandons the class, and Steven decides to follow her deeper into the museum, where he nearly stumbles into a decidedly strange scene.

Every 144 years, a burst of energy that gives a person born in the corresponding year the power associated with of one of the animals of the zodiac is released. A rich and powerful man named Maxwell, however, is trying to claim all the zodiac powers for himself. The tour guide, whose real name is Jasmine, and one of her associates manage to stop Maxwell before he can absorb all the powers. Some of the power escapes, entering Steven and some other teens around the world.

Now Steven, Jasmine, and tech guy Carlos must travel around the world to find the newly empowered hosts before Maxwell does. As they gather together, they must learn to harness their powers and work together to have a chance at defeating Maxwell. But Maxwell is a war contractor and his minions are very well-trained.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Review: At Drake’s Command by David Wesley Hill

At Drake’s Command:The adven­tures of Pere­grine James dur­ing the sec­ond cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the world (Vol­ume 1) by David Wes­ley Hill is a his­tor­i­cal fic­tion book fol­low­ing the adven­tures of a sailor on a voy­age with the famous Fran­cis Drake.
Pere­grine James is hav­ing a bad day, he is on his way to get whipped in the pub­lic square for steal­ing, or rather falling for a rich man’s daugh­ter. Craftily he offers him­self to a pass­ing com­man­der as a sailor. The com­man­der is none other then the famous Fran­cis Drake, on a mis­sion from the Queen of Eng­land her­self, and decides that flog­ging will cer­tainly show the char­ac­ter of poor Perry James.

Perry, a cook, comes aboard Drake’s ship, the Pel­i­can, even though nei­ther he nor any­one from the crew knows where they’re going.

At Drake’s Command:The adven­tures of Pere­grine James dur­ing the sec­ond cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the world (Vol­ume 1) by David Wes­ley Hill is a fas­ci­nat­ing, well writ­ten novel which I found inter­est­ing and infor­ma­tive. I have always had a fas­ci­na­tion with Fran­cis Drake, ever since I did a report on him in 5th grade. I still remem­ber the fas­ci­na­tion with this man who pirated for the Queen of Eng­land.

I still have my project (a slides drawn on a plas­tic role for an over­head viewer — a pre MS Office PowerPoint).

As I men­tioned, this is a well writ­ten book with a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse into life aboard the s hip of Cap­tain Drake. The author cer­tainly seemed to have his research, but doesn’t go on mono­logues to prove so, he sim­ply weaves his find­ings into the narrative.

Mr. Hill used his research to envi­sion what sailors we know of might have been like, when­ever he could he used the names of those who were actu­ally on the voy­age to add to the authen­tic­ity of this fic­tional story. The author does ask the reader to rely on too many instant aces when the pro­tag­o­nist is either lucky, charm­ing or brave to pull him­self out of hotspots. As a new man on the ship I could believe those occur­rences once or twice (and that stretch­ing it), but the rest of the crew would have thrown him overboard.

This is a well writ­ten, fast paced and enjoy­able novel. I espe­cially loved the cho­sen occu­pa­tion of the pro­tag­o­nist, a cook, or a sea-cook, being a fan of Trea­sure Island I thought the homage to Long John Sil­ver as a wink and a nod to the genre.

  • 424 pages
  • Pub­lisher: Temur­lone Press
  • Lan­guage: English
  • ISBN-10: 0983611726
Article first published as Book Review: At Drake’s Command by David Wesley Hill

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Standish Treadwell can't read, can't write, Standish Treadwell isn't bright. At least, that's what his teachers and classmates think. The truth, of course, is much different.

Standish's dyslexic brain does operate on a slightly different frequency than everyone else, that much is a given, but he's anything but slow. His hyper-vigilance gives him an extraordinarily sharp & vivid insight into the world around him.

And what a world it is.

Don't be fooled, Maggot Moon is no syrupy, coming of age story. Standish doesn't find redemption in a group of misfit friends, he doesn't grab the eye of the girl that's way out of his league, he doesn't score the winning touchdown to the cheers of his newly-converted classmates. No, there's none of that predictable claptrap in this novel. No happy endings in Zone 7.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Manhunt by Kate Messner

I totally judged this book by its cover. It features three kids in a foreign city in all-action poses. They seem to be on the trail of some bad guy and they look determined to get him.  I thought to myself that it was worth a try.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Cavalier Mr. Thompson, by Rich Tommaso

I've recently been reading various collections from the golden age of comic strips: Hal Foster's brilliant work on Prince Valiant, Alex Raymond's gorgeous high-wire act that was Flash Gordon, Chester Gould's brutal, elongated tales of crime in Dick Tracy-- and they all have a similar approach to storytelling, a kind of loping, stretched, and suspended sense of narrative, where each storyline follows many threads and multiple characters, all brought together by chance and all with their own stories to tell. Reading these strips brought to mind Rich Tommaso's graphic novel The Cavalier Mr. Thompson, a crime comic on the surface, but so much more once you delve into its pages.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

ARES: Bringer of War by George O'Connor

George O'Connor has been busy retelling the Olympic myths using graphic novels for a while now, and the good folks at First Second books have been doing a great job getting the books out. They even have a website for the entire collection. What O'Connor is doing is fascinating. He's not just telling the original versions, but through his artwork and dialogue, is reimagining the stories in a more fleshed-out way.

I am obliged to say that when it comes to Ares, a bunch of the flesh ends up dead in the battle of Troy, since O'Connor chose to inject The Iliad into this book as a means of focusing on Ares, the god of war. While the "facts" from The Iliad are there, rather than focusing solely on the actions of the men on the field, O'Connor focuses on the proxy battles being fought among the gods and goddesses, with an emphasis on their desires and interferences. Further, in an interesting take, O'Connor tackles "daddy issues" in this book by depicting Ares's uneasy relationship with his father, Zeus, and the relationship between Askalaphos, a son of Ares, killed in battle. Whereas Ares thinks Zeus doesn't like him much, and gets confirmation from Zeus, Askalaphos thinks Ares is indifferent to his fate, but we see Ares both mourning and enraged by his son's death in battle.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan

In Kim Zupan’s The Ploughmen, there is no country for good men. No easy virtue, no simple truth. Only the land and the loss and the learning to live with it. The high lonesome of the Montana sky, an emptiness formed anew in all who inhabit its vistas.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Play me Backwards

Play Me Backwards

For fans of Andrew Smith's WINGER and GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE comes the latest YA novel by Adam Selzer. PLAY ME BACKWARDS is a hysterical look at the senior year of a slacker named Leon Harris.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

King Dork, Approximately by Frank Portman

King Dork, Approximately is Frank Portman's third book. His second book is Andromeda Klein and his first is King Dork (see SETH CHRISTENFELD's GLW review here). King Dork, Approximately is the sequel to that first book, King Dork, which I highly recommend you read first. (I also think you should read Andromeda Klein, but not because it has anything to do with the respective King Dork's, but merely because it is, in my humble opinion, the finest of Portman's work.)

If you haven't read the original King Dork, you may safely continue reading this review, but I would move forward with caution. I will try to write the entire review without revealing any juicy or surprising details contained within the first volume, but I may not succeed. If I have to reveal something important, I will introduce it by shouting "SPOILER ALERT!" and jumping up and down while waving my arms. Still, you could miss it if you're reading cavalierly or if you get bored with what I'm saying and decide to skip ahead a couple of paragraphs. So be attentive, ok?

The King Dork books are narrated by Thomas Henderson who, because of the alphabetic proximity of their names, is best friends with Sam Hellerman. Thomas and Sam are in a band whose name changes rather frequently. In fact changing the band's name is whole point of being in the band as, at the outset of King Dork, neither Sam nor Thomas own instruments or know how to play the instruments they lack.