Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Make It Safe Project

I just learned about The Make It Safe Project at Lee Wind's blog. I hope that you (yes, you, wonderful readers) will help support Amelia's efforts. Here's more about the project, as detailed at their website:
The Make It Safe Project donates books about sexual orientation and gender expression to schools and youth homeless shelters that lack the resources to keep their teens safe.

Giving: We donate books to K-12 schools, their Gay-Straight Alliances (a group that educates the school community about equality), and LGBT-inclusive youth homeless shelters nationwide. For information on how you can help give books or receive books for your school or shelter, please click here.

Support: If you are wondering what starting, leading, or joining a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) would be like, you can browse through stories written by teens who have been involved with GSAs here.

Advice: If you have experience starting, leading, or being in a GSA, you can anonymously submit a story about your experience here.

One book can save a life.

For every $100 raised, the Make It Safe Project sends a pack of GLBTQ books to a school or youth homeless shelter. The pack will include around ten of the books on the following list:

Fiction Books
Ash by Melinda Lo
Annie On My Mind by Nancy Gardener
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan
Luna by Julie Anne Peters
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan
Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez

Nonfiction Books
It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller
GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens by Kelly Huegel
Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge
Kicked Out edited by Sassafras Lowry
Like Me by Chely Wright
Let's Get This Straight: The Ultimate Handbook for Youth with LGBTQ Parents by Tina Fakhrid-Deen

If you are a student, teacher, parent, or principal at any K-12 school or a volunteer or client at a youth homeless shelter in the USA and your school or shelter is in need of books, please contact the Make It Safe Project.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Stupendous Dodgeball Fiasco by Janice Repka

With a plot line parallel to what's going on with this season of Glee, where Kurt's campaign platform for student government was to end dodgeball, this Middle Grade novel is a fast and fun read.

Phillip's dad is a clown. Literally. He's Leo Laugh-a-Lot. Phillip's mom is The Fat Lady. But 11 year old Phillip doesn't fit in at the Windy Van Hooten Circus. He doesn't want to be the guy following behind the elephants with the giant pooper-scooper. And everything 'circus' he tries to do ends in disaster. All Phillip wants is to be a regular kid.

So when he goes to live with his aunt and uncle in Hardington, the unofficial Dodgeball Capital of the World and home to The American Dodgeball Company, he thinks he's finally gotten his chance.

But there's a bully, B.B., who doesn't like him. Her dad is the hard-as-nails P.E. Coach. And every P.E. class is dodgeball. Every. Single. One.And Phillip is the #1 target.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sidekicks by Jack D. Ferraiolo

After spending the past six year as sidekick to the famous superhero Phantom Justice, Bright Boy (real name: Scott Hutchinson) decides it’s time for a change. Scott still believes in saving people from evil villains, but can’t he do it while wearing something other than bright yellow tights? The tights are embarrassing to begin with, but when television cameras catch him getting a little, uh, involuntarily excited while holding the very attractive woman he just rescued, Bright Boy becomes a joke. Seriously, even the little kids at Scott’s school are laughing at Bright Boy.

It doesn’t help that Phantom Justice’s archnemesis, Dr. Chaotic, returned to town after a five-year hiatus (translation: he just broke out of prison). Dr. Chaotic’s sidekick, Monkeywrench, was always a thorn in Bright Boy’s side, and now Monkeywrench is back as well. Only Monkeywrench now has a brand new, totally awesome, costume.

So not fair.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

The wolves will not stop chasing Ben through his dreams. They are wild and persistent, leaving paw prints in the snow next to Gunflint Lake, Minnesota: The boy's home.

Jump back fifty years. Rose lives just outside of New York City, where the bright lights and tall towers tempt her to visit--much against her parents’ wishes. Though separated by time, Ben and Rose are both looking for a place where they can belong. Thus begins Wonderstruck.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Mind's Prisoner

Sapphique, the sequel to Katharine Fisher's Incarceron, continues the story of two dystopic worlds: one, the Realm, artificially frozen in time roughly around the 18th century; the other, Incarceron, a failed uptopia set up for the incarceration and rehabilitation of massive numbers of The Realm's prisoners, which has instead devolved into a kind of organic-mechanical hybrid hell full of metal forests and half-mechanical animals. Travel between the two worlds (or even any sharing of knowledge) is forbidden for all except the Warden of Incarceron. One legendary figure, however, Sapphique, escaped long ago, leaving behind him a religious hope in both worlds fueled by tales of his exploits.

SPOILER ALERT: To speak of Sapphique requires that we reveal some of the surprises of Incarceron. So if you are determined to have nothing spoiled, go read volume one now. Kelly Fineman has an excellent review of Incarceron here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet is the long running graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi. The series began in 2008 with the Stonekeeper and earlier this year the fourth installment, The Last Council, was published.

The Amulet series began with a car accident and the tragic death of Emily and Navin’s father. When the family moves to live in the abandoned home of Silas, the children's grandfather, they are drawn into the world of Alledia where their mother is abducted by a creepy, walking, squid-type creature. Emily and Navin plunge into the world to save her. Luckily the children have the help of Silas’ inventions and find Silas himself, though he only has enough strength left to explain the choice Emily must make concerning a magical amulet she found in his house.

Emily accepts the power of the amulet to become a Stonekeeper, but it becomes a double edged sword. Emily must save the world of Alledia and finds that the amulet's motives are not always pure, much like the ring in J.R.R. Tolkien's epic series.

In the fourth book we find that Emily's crew has grown and she has seemingly succeeded in completing an important quest, which was to find the lost city of Cielis and receive help from the Guardian Council. There is, however, something wrong with the city with its scared residents and large prison. Emily decides to go along with the training program for Stonekeepers despite the uneasy feeling that they need to flee.

The real power of Amulet is not in the action and adventure, which is great, but in how Emily fares in becoming the leader of her family and working to navigate in a simultaneously beautiful and horrifying world she doesn't understand. Early in the book, Emily is told, "When you begin to realize the true weight of your actions you will awaken to become the person this world needs you to be."

Amulet is a wonderful series with emotional depth, exciting action and a fascinating world to explore. Fans of Jeff Smith's Bone and anything by Doug TenNapel will enjoy Amulet.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ghosts of Ascalon by Matt Forbeck and Jeff Grubb

Books based on computer games? It’s the best of both worlds! Many different games have a literary component to their worlds: WoW, Starcraft, and Halo to name a few. With Ghosts of Ascalon, the PC game Guild Wars recently entered the list of games with novels based on their lore. You don't have to be a fan of the game though, or have ever played the game, or even be at all familiar with the setting to enjoy the book.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Inquisitor's Apprentice

I'll be honest, this past year I've stepped away from YA and MG fiction, taking some time away from kidlit just to recharge my batteries. This fall, though, I dove back in big time. Gorging on one kind of book (in this case, fantasy and science fiction), one genre can be a real recipe for burnout. But the really great books that rise above all others can excite in ways that aren't just about the thrills of one book, but the kind of thrills that make you eager to pick up other books because they remind you just how awesome reading can be. One of those books, for me, is The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty. Read on to find out why...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

420, Scientific Atheism, and Street Photography

photo: Vivian Maier
Toward the end of the year I get this sudden urge to want to recommend all sort of books to people, mostly stemming from years of retail bookselling where that was all I did for the last six weeks of the year. And because publishers know this is where they can scoop up a large chunk of annual revenues the holiday season is full of all kinds of attractive new releases.

Many of which I want for myself.

This leads me down a path where I sometimes think holiday shopping can make us all a little selfish. But weeding through my various wish lists I find a number of things that would make interesting and inspiring gifts for teen guys, particularly creative, free-thinkers.

Ready Player One


Insert quarter. Ready Player One. Designed by Ernest Cline.

Level One: The story of Wade Watts in the year 2044, as the teen tries to navigate a cruel reality as he simultaneously navigates the much cooler virtual reality of OASIS, a massive multiplayer world that (think WoW X Second Life X Facebook, and then put an exponent around your product) everyone is playing and many have made their preferred existence.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Writing by Stephen King

I bought a copy of Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft when it first came out eleven years ago. It's an interesting sort of book - part memoir (pretty much to the point of being a personal exposé), part inspiration, part nuts & bolts writing advice, filled with the sort of humor you'd expect from Stephen King (if you've read enough of his work or have heard him speak, that is, and know better to expect only thrills and chills from his work).

Part of his memoir was included in Guys Write for Guys Read, an anthology previously reviewed here. That excerpt from On Writing is a painfully funny story about a babysitter named "Eula, or maybe she was Beaulah. She was a teenager, she was as big as a house, and she laughed a lot. Eula-Beulah had a wonderful sense of humor, even at four I could recognize that, but it was a dangerous sense of humor . . ." King relates a series of horrible-yet-funny stories involving this particular babysitter, including that "Eula-Beulah was prone to farts--the kind that are both loud and smelly. Sometimes when she was so afflicted, she would throw me on the couch, drop her wool-skirted butt on my face, and let loose. 'Pow!' she'd cry in high glee."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel

You probably know Mary Shelley's classic Gothic horror, Frankenstein. Mad scientist creates monster, monster kills a bunch of people. And of course, we are left with the question -- just who is the monster in the story? I imagine that is one of the questions Kenneth Oppel asked when he started to write This Dark Endeavor, the first book in a new series exploring just what set young Victor Frankenstein on the descent into darkness.

It is summer in Geneva and it seems that 16 year old Victor Frankenstein, his twin brother Konrad, their cousin Elizabeth and their good friend Henry have nothing more exciting on the horizon than boating on Lake Geneva, riding through the countryside surrounding Château Frankenstein and putting on plays that Henry writes for the group. Then Konrad falls deathly ill. No doctor can help him. So Victor, Elizabeth and Henry, with help from mad alchemist and an old book they found in the château's Biblioteka Obscura, set out to find and make the Elixir of Life and cure Konrad. Of course, getting mixed up in alchemy, well, you know it won't end well.

I did not particularly like Victor as a character, but the best thing about Kenneth Oppel's writing is that he gets the details just right. He builds Victor into a complex and interesting character, and I even though I didn't like him and I knew how his story would end, I still found a lot in Victor with which I could sympathize. I had to keep reading, knowing tragedy was coming. But Oppel made me believe and hope that Victor could turn his story around.

I loved Frankenstein. I loved wrestling with the complex themes, but it left me wanting more, and This Dark Endeavor is an excellent companion to Shelley's classic AND an excellent story in its own right. I can't wait for the sequel.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Saint George and the dragon: Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem

Saint George and the Dragon. In case we don’t remember the story: there’s a city, outside of which lives a horrific dragon. To stop him from terrorizing the city, the citizens periodically deliver their younger members as sacrifice. One day, George, knight in shining armor, arrives to save them from their oppression. He is baptized, takes the sign of the cross as his protection, and rides out to slay the dragon. He does, of course, peace is restored, and the people go on to healthy, normal, well-adjusted lives.

But let’s consider this story from another vantage. What if we discard the knights and dragons? What if this is a story about Christian modernity imposing itself upon—wiping out really—a native pre-modern system of beliefs? The dragon as the embodiment of all the druids and witches and wild, uncontrolled, earthly paganism that grew up out of the land. Saint George riding in on the productive rationality of a new era. For those of the modern persuasion, this a winning tale. Rationality, productivity, order: not bad things for your patron saint to represent. However, to the adherents of the pre-modern this is the end of a way of life - collateral loss in the inexorable onward march of Civilization.

Such is the moment at which we encounter “Rooster” Johnny Byron at the start of of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem. He lives alone in his trailer, inhabiting—squatting, really—a patch of woods at the edge of what has during that time become a nice, prosperous subdevelopment. One imagines rows of freshly-painted McMansions. A fixture in the village for decades, he’s known by all for better or worse, barred from every pub and the go-to for drugs and drink. As the dawn breaks, two policepersons are serving him yet another notice of complaint after yet another raging party the night before. When he finally emerges from the trailer, he runs through what appears to be a hangover-curing routine–cold water, raw eggs–while trying to piece together the blackout part of his night. He’s amazed to discover that he’s led the assembled in a cheering assault upon his flat-screen television, the pieces of which now lie scattered about the stage. This is our hero, this wild, reckless, drunken fool of a mess.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe, by Jane Goodall

There's no doubt in my mind that understanding human behavior is easier if you look at other primates too.

Jane Goodall looks back Through a Window to tell us what she learned studying chimpanzees for thirty years. Her earlier book, In the Shadow of Man, was good, but this one's importance is hard to overstate. It's not easy choosing what to quote, but here goes:

Often I have gazed into a chimpanzee's eyes and wondered what was going on behind them... I shall never forget my meeting with Lucy, an eight-year-old home-raised chimpanzee... Lucy, having grown up as a human child, was like a changeling... I watched, amazed, as she opened the refrigerator and various cupboards, found bottles and a glass, then poured herself a gin and tonic. She took the drink to the TV, turned the set on, flipped from one channel to another then, as though in disgust, turned it off again. She selected a glossy magazine from the table and, still carrying her drink, settled in a comfortable chair. Occasionally, as she leafed through the magazine she identified something she saw, using... American Sign Language...

Chimpanzees can plan ahead... at Gombe, during the termiting season: often an individual prepares a tool for use on a termite mound that is several hundred yards away and absolutely out of sight.

...chimpanzees possess pre-mathematical skills: they can ... differentiate between more and less. They can classify things into specific categories... separating a pile of food into fruits and vegetables on one occasion,
and, on another, dividing the same pile into large versus small items, even though this requires putting some vegetables with some fruits.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer

“I closed my eyes again and saw myself back at the foot of my parents’ driveway. The enormous jar of pickled garlic was just where I’d left it. I walked up the path to the front door. There was Claudia Schiffer, seductively scrubbing herself with a sponge in a tub of cottage cheese. I opened the door and turned to the left, and inhaled a noseful of the fish that was still laid out across the strings of the piano, curing in peat smoke. I felt its flavor on my tongue. I could hear the high-pitched chatter of those haughty wine bottles on the couch, and feel the three pairs of luxurious cotton socks on the lamp brushing softly against my forehead.”

What is this—a passage from some lost surrealist novel or a scene from a movie aping early Buñuel? Nope, it’s a memory palace.

And what, pray tell is a memory palace? That’s a better question.

More Classic Dystopia!

In the real world, you want to avoid dystopia (a society, culture, or environment in which it is extremely unpleasant to live), but in fiction, bring it on! Last month I looked at Ninteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, the two most famous works in the genre. Today, I'll explore few more contemporary classics.
A Clockwork Orange, written by Anthony Burgess in 1962, takes place in a world driven by violence. Its protagonist is a young gang leader names Alex who nightly sates his desire to commit "ultra-violence" by cruising neighborhoods with his gang hurting people. Eventually he is captured, imprisoned and "reformed" through a process that strips him of virtually all passion. Sent back out onto the street, Alex is now defenseless and becomes, for a time, a victim of the very type of crimes he previously perpetrated.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thank you for helping Ballou!

We are closing out the Holiday Book Fair for Ballou High School and want to thank everyone for their support. The final tally is 110+ books off the Powells wish list and we are mighty pleased. I will be in touch with Melissa Jackson at Ballou and let everyone know how it all looks from her end but please know how much your books are appreciated and what a big difference this will make in the lives of a lot of teens. Behind the cut, check out what some folks bought.

ICO: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe

ICO: Castle in the Mist is a novelization of the PS2 game ICO, a game largely renowned for being a highly abstract, stripped-down platform-puzzle game. The book and game both center around Ico, a child born with horns offered up as a sacrifice to a mysterious, shambling Gothic castle. Once left alone, Ico quickly discovers another captive of the castle, a girl in a cage who does not speak his language, and who is pursued by shadow creatures who emerge from the castle floors and attempt to pull her down into the castle with them. In the game, Ico must then solve a number of puzzles, fend off the shadow creatures and guide the girl—Yorda—by the hand through the labyrinthine castle.

There's a bit of dialogue that explains some basic story—primarily that Yorda is the daughter of the Shadow Queen, the castle's ruler—but the game is largely left open to each player's interpretation of the events. This reliance on interpretive storytelling makes novelization particularly challenging—you're competing with everyone's interpretation, rather than expanding already established story. So I was a little skeptical when I noticed that Haikasoru would be translating ICO: Castle in the Mist—and then I noticed that the novelization was by Miyuki Miyabe, author of the 800-page RPG-as-coming-of-age epic Brave Story. I figured it would be a good book, if not necessarily a particularly good adaptation. Plus LOOK AT THE PRETTY COVER. (yes I know it's just the original game cover, but we didn't get the original game cover here in the US, so there.)*

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Awesome sale books left on the Holiday Book Fair for Ballou

We are winding down the Holiday Book Fair for Ballou High School at the end of the week and wanted to highlight a few remaining titles - all of which are on sale - that we hope can be considered for last minute purchasing. The fair has gone very well; it's our first foray into the holiday season and we are so grateful to all the folks who have spent a few of their shopping dollars to stock Ballou's library. They need books, lots and lots of books and every little bit that each of you have done is much appreciated. You all rock, seriously. Now please pass the word on these ridiculously cheap books begging to be purchased, (Revolution is Not a Dinner Party for $3.75 - in hardcover!!!), and help us make the fair end with the best possible bang.

Always Running: La Vida Loca Gang Days - $7.98
Animals Make Us Human - $10.98
Best Art You've Never Seen - $15.95
The Big Sea (by Langston Hughes) - $7.98
DC Noir 2 - $7.98
Dragon's Child - $11.29
EONA - $8.98
Inventory (by the AV Club) $8.98
Jack: Secret Histories $6.98
Magical Life of Long Tack Sam $6.98
A Northern Light $4.98 (!!!!!)
Pilgrimage (by Annie Leibovitz - this is $15 off the cover price) $35
A Place to Stand (by Jimmy Baca) $7.98
Red $6.98
Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party $3.75 (there are 2 separate sale prices - grab this one!)

The Salt Eaters $5.98
Secret History of Moscow $7.98
This Boy's Life $7.98
Three Across $12.50
When Fish Got Feet.... $9.95

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
"It's 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They've been best friends almost as long - at least, up until last November, when Josh did something that changed everything. Things have been weird between them ever since, but when Josh's family gets a free AOL CD in the mail,his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they're automatically logged onto their Facebook pages. But Facebook hasn't been invented yet. And they're looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.

By refreshing their pages, they learn that making different decisions now will affect the outcome of their lives later. And as they grapple with the ups and downs of what their futures hold, they're forced to confront what they're doing right - and wrong - in the present."- summary from Amazon

You have no idea how much I loved this book. The 90s nostalgia alone is just amazing, but factor in the whole Facebook aspect, an awkward friendship, and a dual narrative and you have made me one happy blogger.

Reading Emma and Josh's story was such a quick, compelling read; it was so hard to put down. The dual narrative really helps and it was interesting to see both sides, especially when the friendship was strained and awkward because it really gave the reader a good sense of what's going on in both of their heads. Both characters go through a fantastic journey and are clearly changed for the better by the end of it.

Going back to the 90s nostalgia, I just loved it- the Macarena, watching Friends and Seinfeld when they were new, not knowing Ellen DeGeneres was gay (by the way, her 90s sitcom was hilarious- you should all check it out), and so many other things. The authors make it so that even if you weren't very aware of the late 90s, you can still understand the references in a way based on the context. I will say there was a funny part for me when I was reading and I forgot it took place in 1996. Emma was in her car and said it didn't have a CD player but she had found a cassette tape of a Green Day album to play. I was like “How did you find a cassette tape nowadays?!” and then I remembered it was 1996 and not current day. Also, interesting fact I found out on Pop Up Video- the phrase “cassette tape” has actually been removed from the dictionary.

Overall, just a fantastic book and a wonderful collaboration between Asher and Mackler. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

FTC: Received ARC from publisher.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci

A startling, wonderful novel about the true meaning of being an alien in an equally alien world.

"We are specks. Pieces of dust in this universe. Big nothings.

"I know what I am."

Mal lives on the fringes of high school. Angry. Misunderstood. Yet loving the world -- or, at least, an idea of the world.

Then he meets Hooper. Who says he's from another planet. And may be going home very soon.

I picked this book up on a whim. It seemed so small and I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment that only a small read can bring.

I found myself pouring over the words, slowing down, even rereading sections where I thought the prose was most beautiful. This very small read packed a huge punch.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Every You, Every Me by David Levithan with photographs by Jonathan Farmer

Evan's best friend is Ariel.
Evan's only friend is Ariel.
Ariel is gone.

But what happened to Ariel? And who is sending photographs of Ariel (and other people, initially unidentified) to Evan?

David Levithan's novel Every You, Every Me incorporates photographs by Jonathan Farmer. While Evan scrutinizes each and every picture and note he receives, it is worth remembering the tagline on the cover of the book: "A picture is worth a thousand lies." Readers have more than one mystery to figure out here. Evan's first-person narration is mostly directed to Ariel, addressing her from the get-go, using "you" frequently and really pulling you into his story and in his thoughts - but do you think he's a reliable narrator, and do you think he had something to do with Ariel's departure? Your opinion may change from chapter to chapter as more backstory is detailed, and it may change again when the truth is finally revealed in the final chapter.

Kudos, David Levithan, for incorporating Zeno's dichotomy paradox into your story. Thank you.

My favorite Farmer photo in this book appears on page 228 - but don't you dare turn to that page until you've read pages 1 through 227. It won't mean as much if you look ahead.

If you like Every You, Every Me, you should also read As Simple As Snow by Gregory Gallaway, which I've talked about here at GuysLitWire as well as at my own book blog, Bildungsroman. Snow also employs a teenaged male narrator, a missing-in-action vivacious female friend, and mysterious elements.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Works: Anatomy of a City by Kate Ascher

I happened to read the November issue of Wired while searching for a book to write about for a recent blogger celebration of city books. I wanted to write about YA nonfiction, but outside of Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities (which I do want to read in the near future, but I haven't been in the mood for biographies lately), nothing caught my attention. Until Wired ran a brief excerpt from Kate Ascher's The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper and mentioned that Ascher had previously written a book about cities.

That earlier book is The Works: Anatomy of a City. Okay, so it's not a YA book like I originally wanted, but it does have YA appeal. This is largely due to the book's format, which mixes short text blocks to introduce subjects, and devoting most of the page to infographics.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Wildwood by Colin Meloy

How five crows managed to lift a twenty-pound baby boy into the air was beyond Prue, but that was certainly the least of her worries.

So begins Colin Meloy’s new novel Wildwood, in which a girl named Prue must journey into the Impassable Wilderness, outside her hometown of Portland, Oregon, in order to retrieve her brother--with an awkward classmate named Curtis tagging along. Due to some misfortune involving coyotes donning military uniforms, the two must separately navigate this strange world where talking animals uneasily coexist with humans who have never met anyone from the outside world. A revolution is about to happen, and Prue and Curtis quickly find themselves on opposite sides.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Machine Man by Max Barry

Australian novelist Max Barry has a keen sense of what humanity is experiencing and moving towards. His topics have ranged from marketing (Syrup) to modern office culture (Company) to a future where corporations are in control and run the government (Jennifer Government). Machine Man began as an online project, where Barry wrote one page of his book a day. It was then expanded and published as his fourth novel.

Charles Neumann is a scientist that loses a leg in an accident at work. While coping with the shock of losing a limb and learning to walk on a crude prosthetic leg, Charles realizes this is an opportunity to start improving himself.

Machine Man opens with Charles' thoughts on wanting to be a machine,

“AS A BOY, I WANTED TO BE A TRAIN. I DIDN’T REALIZE THIS WAS unusual— that other kids played with trains, not as them.
They liked to build tracks and have trains not fall off them. Watch them go through tunnels. I didn’t understand that. What I liked was pretending my body was two hundred tons of unstoppable steel. Imagining I was pistons and valves and hydraulic compressors. “You mean robots,” said my best friend, Jeremy. “You want to play robots.” I had never thought of it like that.
Robots had square eyes and jerky limbs and usually wanted to destroy the Earth. Instead of doing one thing right, they did everything badly. They were general purpose. I was not a fan of robots. They were bad machines.”

Charles meets prosthetist Lola Shanks who loves her job a little too much. The two click, but are soon caught up in the company that wants Charles to create better products for them and experiment on himself. Barry pushes the limits of his characters and readers begin to wonder how far Charles will go and how many products he will use on himself.

Machine Man is a darkly humorous tale that melds fantastic sounding technologies with our modern world. Barry uses some of his past themes of out of control corporations, how people become to feel like cogs in a machine and our constant nervousness of the future. Some of the action scenes are a bit over the top and are maybe unnecessary, but they don't detract from this interesting and wonderful novel.

Fans of dystopian novels, The Unidentified by Rae Mariz and anything by Cory Doctorow will enjoy Machine Man.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Once and Future King by T. H. White

One of the classics of Arthurian fiction is T.H. White's The Once and Future King. I spent, probably, a couple of years or more greedily reading just about any Arthurian Fiction I could find. I read T.H. White's The Once and Future King maybe around 15 years ago - it's been quite awhile. I remember enjoying it. I'm still a fan of Arthurian fiction, but I haven't read any in some time. The Once and Future King, I read when I was on that binge: fiction and non-fiction Arthurian material alike.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sparkplug Comics and the legacy of Dylan WIlliams

Recently, the comics community lost one of its greats. If you never heard of Dylan Williams, its because we live in a golden age for comics. I know that doesn't make a whole lot of sense on the face of it, but there are so many graphic novels coming out these days from so many different publishers  that it's hard to see the impact of a small, DIY publisher like Sparkplug.

Yet every book and comic from this small press is an expression of the love Dylan had for the medium. Recently I had a chance to pick up some of Sparkplug Comics books, and I'd like to recommend a few of their best. If you've never seen a minicomic, you're in for a treat...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We are Going Back to Ballou for a Holiday Book Fair!!

Wrap Text around ImageFor all of you who recall the story of Ballou High School in Washington DC from earlier this year, we are delighted to announce that GLW is partnering up again with school librarian Melissa Jackson to get some more books to Ballou. While the year began with less than one book for each student in the Ballou library (the American Library Association advises a minimum of eleven books per student), after our successful spring book fair and the publicity that surrounded it and Melissa's own efforts, Ballou now has four books for each student which is a huge improvement. But, improving is not enough, we want to hit and then exceed the ALA minimum and so we are going to shamelessly take advantage of everyone's holiday joy and gift-giving mood this time of year and hopefully add to the stacks at Ballou with this smaller, but no less enjoyable book fair.

And yes, we will be back in the spring with another big fair for the school again.

One thing we want to stress is that this list is put together with Melissa's input and is comprised of books that Ballou wants and needs. That is part of why we put these book fairs together - we want to gift a school with books they have chosen, not the books we want to give away. It's not cheap and it's not easy, but it's a good thing to do and we hope that you will help us make it happen for Ballou.

Here is the direct link to the wish list at Powells. (And if you want to share it: As you all know, we work with Powells because it is a bricks and mortar independent store that is a big part of the city of Portland and we here at GLW like to support bricks and mortar stores at every opportunity. This means there are a few more hoops to jump through when it comes to ordering books but we hope you understand how worthy our cause is both for the school and the store.

It is perfectly fine to purchase used copies of a book (more bang for your buck) but please check and make sure the book is in “standard” used condition and not “student owned” (you will have to click on the title and leave the wish list to check this). The “student owned” copies are very cheap for a reason - they are written in and thus not a good choice for this effort. Also, if at all possible please purchase hardcover copies as they will hold up better and be on the lookout for "SALE" prices as a bunch of the books are on sale this year and quite reasonable.

Once you have made your selections head to “checkout” and you will be prompted to inform Powells if the books were indeed bought from the wishlist. This lets the store know to mark them as “purchased” on the list. After that you need to provide your credit card info and also fill in the shipping address. Here is where the books are going to:

Melissa Jackson, LIBRARIAN
Ballou Senior High School
3401 Fourth Street SE
Washington DC 20032
(202) 645-3400

It’s very important that you get Melissa’s name and title in there - she is not the only Jackson (or Melissa) at the school and we want to make sure the books get to the library.

After all that you buy the books and you’re done! Please head back over here when you get a chance though and leave a comment letting us know who you are, where you’re from and what you bought. Starting tomorrow I will have a continuously updated post listing everyone’s purchases so we can see the books flying their way to our nation’s capitol. I’ll be in constant touch with Melissa too so I can let you all know how things go on her end. The book fair will run through cyber Monday on November 28th and we'll keep you updated on things even after it shuts down. (Hopefully as a sellout.)

And follow us on twitter (@guyslitwire) for updates as well!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Speaking Out

Friend of Guys' Lit Wire, Steve Berman, has compiled a new book, Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up, and he wants your help getting it into school libraries.

The anthology, partially inspired by Dan Savage's It Gets Better Campaign, features stories about gay and transgender teens overcoming intolerance and homophobia. As the back cover says, "Queer teens need tales of what might happen next in their lives, and editor Steve Berman showcases a diversity of events, challenges, and, especially, triumphs."

And now, Berman is working to get this important book in schools, trying to raise $2000 by the end of the years, which will allow him to donate copies to 200 school libraries. (You can also nominate a school to receive a copy of Speaking Out.) The fundraising campaign started with a bang, raising $500 in the first week. It's leveled off some since then, and it could use your help. A ten or twenty dollar donation may not seem like much, especially given the amount of cruelty and hate gay teens face everyday. But Guys; Lit Wire is built on the belief that the right book, reaching the right person at the right time, can change a life. Steve Berman and the contributors of Speaking Out are carrying that idea to the next level.

The Other Kind of Dystopia

It's my contention that you can't read too much dystopian literature. The world, after all, is going to go down the tubes eventually--it may already be circling the drain--and the more you read about that happening, the better prepared you'll be when it does.

There are lots of ways for the world to turn to doo-doo. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four in which a totalitarian state takes control of everything and rules with an iron fist--surveilling all citizens, and abducting and torturing all dissenters. Fear is one way to control a population. But there are others. In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, another dystopian classic, for instance, pleasure is used readily to control the population. The citizenry of Brave New World is fed drugs to keep them happy and ignorant, encouraged to be as sexually promiscuous as possible and is distracted from questioning the status quo by endless entertainment, games and sports. Science and technology are applied to every aspect of human life. Babies are gestated in factories and both their genes and their development environment are strictly controlled. Children are educated in a similar factory-like setting. Distinct classes, or castes, are created by a combination of genetic engineering and brainwashing. But the state in A Brave New World claims a higher purpose. While in Nineteen Eighty-Four the totalitarian Party sought only to maximize its own power, the World State in Brave New World at least pretends that it's out to eliminate suffering for its people, even if that comes at the cost of also eliminating freedom, love and passion. A number of characters in Brave New World don't find the combination of lots of sex, heavy doses of drugs and ample entertainment options as fulfilling as the World State would expect and their struggles with finding something deeper drive the plot of the book.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Monster Calls

In days gone by, unknown parts of the world were marked on maps with the designation "Here Be Monsters." Now we have mapped the world, but when it comes to dealing with grief, loss, and guilt, there still "be" monsters in our minds. With A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness has given us the terrible beauty of a timeless parable.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

There are, for the boy learning what it means to be a man, two shining examples to be found in Western literature: Hector of Troy and Sam Vimes. This is a bold claim, considering that a) I am a lady and b) I'm a newbie at Guys Lit Wire (hellooo!), but hear me out.

Hector is possibly the paragon of ideal Western Man: father and husband, diplomat and warrior. He defends his home and his snotty brother Paris (who I would have cheerfully handed over to Menelaus, but I digress), even though this leads to a grim and glorious death. Not an easy example to live up to, but being a man isn't easy, and being perfect is impossible.

Which brings me to Sam Vimes, Commander of the Watch of Ankh-Morpork and protagonist of Sir Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel Snuff. Sam is just a copper, through and through, a good man working in a world that is at best bloody complicated and at worst deadly and cruel. In Snuff, Sam's wife Sybil has insisted he take a holiday, and they head off into the countryside to Sybil's ancestral home Crundells. The holiday begins well enough, as Sam gets to know the countryside, taking Young Sam, his six year old son, out for fresh air and edifying nature activities, like studying animal poo (no, really). But something stinks in the country, beyond the poo, and soon enough, Sam has a murder on his hands. I'll leave the plot summary here. Suffice it to say, murder is only the start, and once again Sam finds himself attempting to obey that most demanding of mistresses, the Law (and also keep his wife happy).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?

"Aw, dig it, Pete! Does a tiger wear a necktie?""No, but it isn’t  in the nature of a…"

With this question, Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?, Don Petersen prompts the exploration that guides his 1962 play about a group of young addicts placed in a rehabilitation center. With addiction standing in for the scope of circumstances, behaviors, and modes of thinking in which one can become stuck, Petersen uses his characters to reflect on the conflict in one’s nature between immutability and the possibility of change - predestination against agency.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Coney Island of the Mind with CD, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Poetry became better for me when I stopped having it as assigned reading. And when I'm not feeling self-conscious, and I read it out loud, then I'm doing it right.

You don't have to get the book-CD version of A Coney Island of the Mind. But hearing Ferlinghetti read these will be a treat. Here's one:

Christ Climbed Down
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

CHRIST climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagon sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody's imagined Christ child
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hark! A Vagrant (+ bonus review: a vulgar dictionary!)

I think that if my sixteen-year-old self could have transported into the future of now and been exposed to Hark! A Vagrant he would probably crush pretty hard on Kate Beaton.  There's a trifecta of humor, history, and smarts in her collection of web comics that would have knocked me over with a feather and tickled me into a giddy fanboy state. Not that any of this is wasted on the adult me, I've just grown better at keeping my fanboy crushing at bay. Mostly.

Armed with a college degree in history, and the righteousness to ask the tough modern questions, Beaton skewers events and people from the past, primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries. Military heroes, musicians, authors, politicians, and characters from literature all end up on the barbed end of her devilish cartoon pitchfork. Perhaps what makes these comics funny is that across the board they tend to talk a lot like modern young adults. Occasionally obscene, often snarky and irreverent, I not only would have eaten this up with a spork as a teen, I might have actually paid more attention in history in literature classes if I'd actually realized how fun it could all be. I did, after all, make a home movie when I was a teen that showed Beethoven riding a bike in Los Angeles, eating a falafel, and buying one of his symphonies at Tower Records.

I also think this collection speaks to what I find most depressing about modern comic strip artists who still appear in newsprint, that most of what passes for comics today are lame, safe, and simply lacking anything below the surface of tired one-liners. If someone wanted (I'm sure someone, somewhere already has) I bet they could blame the downfall of print news media on the comics that used to be the one sure draw a newspaper had at bringing up younger readers. But while I digress, my point is that the comics in Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant made me laugh out loud the way I once did. And about stuff like Nancy Drew acting somewhat clueless, Shakespearean characters pointing out their own ridiculous circumstances, and proper Victorian ladies with potty mouth.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Toradora! volumes 1-3

Ryuuji Takasu has a huge crush on one of his classmates, Minori Kushieda, but hasn't been able to work up the nerve to talk to her, partly because everyone assumes he's a delinquent due to his shifty-looking eyes. It doesn't help that her best friend is Taiga Aisaka, known as the "Palmtop Tiger" for her short stature and hot temper. And it really doesn't help when he catches Taiga accidentally slipping a love letter to his best friend, Yuusaku Kitamura, into his bag. And it really really doesn't help when Taiga breaks into his house at 3AM to violently reclaim her letter.

Fortunately for all involved, this doesn't end in bloodshed but rather an uneasy truce, best described as "Ryuuji will now do anything Taiga asks him to, and in return might get to spend some supervised time with Minori". And so begins the quest to hook up Taiga and Kitamura, a task which leaves most of the school wondering what fresh terrors are in store now that the two most irrationally feared students suddenly appear to be dating.

This is just the setup premise for Toradora!; to try to explain the twists and turns both comedic and serious taken since then would rob you of the pleasure of watching them dynamically evolve through the first three volumes.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey
"A boy who can see the world's secrets and unravel spells with just a glance.

Braden's witch eyes give him an enormous power. A mere look causes a kaleidoscopic explosion of emotions, memories, darkness, and magic. But this rare gift is also his biggest curse.

Compelled to learn about his shadowed past and the family he never knew, Braden is drawn to the city of Belle Dam, where he is soon caught between two feuding witch dynasties. Sworn rivals Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe will use anything--lies, manipulation, illusion, and even murder--to seize control of Braden's powers. To stop an ancient evil from destroying the town, Braden must master his gift, even through the shocking discovery that Jason is his father. While his feelings for an enigmatic boy named Trey grow deeper, Braden realizes a terrible truth: Trey is Catherine Lansing's son . . . and Braden may be destined to kill him."- summary from Amazon

I've been excited for this book for a little over a year now. I initially "met" Scott Tracey on the wonderful gay news site AfterElton while browsing around profiles and we chatted a bit. He did an interview with me for my GLBT Week last October and then I was so happy receiving an ARC at BEA (thanks Gabrielle!).

I'm glad to say that the wait and excitement was worthwhile. This is a really good debut and I can't wait to read the next book in the series and see what happens. Braden is a great main character and I really enjoyed following along on his journey (especially when it came to the scenes with Trey!) with all the twists, turns and shocking reveals.

Tracey has a fantastic world in Belle Dam that has a lot going on, history-wise, that'll take a while to unravel. I loved all the magic going on because I'm all about witches. There's always something happening and the story is just so compelling. There are some interesting characters here too, my favorite probably being Jade. Trey was a bit too hot and cold for me to really like a lot, but I can see why he does that and so I do like him a little. I hope for more romance between him and Braden in the sequel.

Overall, a compelling debut with a twist on witches and the Romeo and Juliet story. What more do you want? (It's a paperback too, so not too expensive!).

FTC: Received signed ARC while at BEA (Gabrielle from Mod Podge Bookshelf won a copy at Teen Author Carnival and was kind enough to get it signed for me!). Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Year that Used to be the Future

Last month, a New York Times column complained about children's and YA literature, the kind of stuff GuysLitWire exists to promote. According to the commentary, kid and YA lit is all too dark, filled with too many werewolves and vampires and Death Eaters and too much dystopia. But I wonder exactly what such commentators have against these books, because, while they may involve dark subjects, they pretty much never promote darkness. Rather, just the opposite. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, for instance, is an enemy of the oppressive government and a champion of freedom. Nowhere in Harry Potter is the reader encouraged to be like Voldemort. It's not that the books encourage evil that bothers these critics, it's that they acknowledge it at all. The critics seem to be saying, "Hey, youth of today, stop thinking about this nasty stuff! Be happy and shiny!"

I think this is bad advice. I think we ought to be encouraging kids to read dark, dystopic literature. I mean if there's a zombie apocalypse when I'm old (or older) and I fall down and can't get up, I want the youth of today prepared to deal with the zombie menace, you know?

Friday, October 28, 2011


We can all name them. Books we never want to end. Books that we hope possess the magical ability to sit on our bedside table each night and grow more chapters for us to read the following morning. Well, here is a Please-Don’t-Ever-End book. Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet is an exhilarating read, intellectually, creatively, aesthetically. It is wild and bold and filled with extraordinary and lovely writing. It is like no other young adult book I have ever read. It is one of the best books I have read in years. It is masterful.

Life is a postmodern novel, with an epic story that deeply challenges typical narrative structures. It sweeps across the world from the British countryside to Cuba to America; it mixes fiction with fact; it changes from third person to first person -- sometimes in the middle of a chapter! It spans great chunks of time, opening with a suicidal Nazi pilot in the final days of World War II and ending with – well, I won’t tell you what it ends with. But how many books have you read cut from a teen romance for a chapter on the history of Cuba? Or zips from imminent teenage sex to John F. Kennedy debating the Cuban Missile Crisis inside the Whitehouse? Sometimes an exploding missile can be metaphorical.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Everyman's McLuhan

Sometimes, reading makes me feel stupid. There are some smart people in the world, linguists and philosophers and political theorists, who can say things that sit in that area just outside the realm of my understanding. I sorta get what they're saying, but not entirely, and the fact that they are taken seriously, debated and proffered as great thinkers, makes me feel like I have a defect.

That said, there are people whose words I came across at a young age, whose ideas stuck with me and made me want to try and understand them. In my teens I came across a pair of paperback designed to appeal to the hipsters of the early 70s, books full of soundbites and quotes richly supported by free-form photo-collage work. One was a book by Buckminster Fuller called I Seem To Be A Verb and the other The Medium Is the Message by Marshall McLuhan. Of the two I was better able to grok, mostly, what Fuller was saying because the message was all about preserving what he called Spaceship Earth. The McLuhan book on the other hand stood just outside the boundaries of my brain's comfort zone. I could tell he was saying something important about the effect of media on society but I couldn't quite find a way to condense his message into talking points for conversation.

Every once in a while I've tried to dip back into McLuhan and thought I found an entry point when I came across Douglas Coupland's biography. Coupland, who popularized the term Generation X and is of my generation, crafted a readable biography but only glanced at McLuhan's theories. Still, I felt like I was getting closer to understanding if nothing else the evolution of how McLuhan came to see the world the way he did. Then, days after I finished Coupland's biography, I came across Everyman's McLuhan and my brain sighed Finally.

Lost States

Growing up in Southern California it is hard not to notice that there is a simmering animosity with neighbors to the north. It isn't so much that Sacramento, the state's northern nowheresville capitol, is out of touch with the urban hipness of Los Angeles, Hollywood, and the wealthy enclaves of Santa Barbara and San Diego counties. Nor was it the hippie-centric enclaves of Santa Cruz and San Francisco who felt that the south was nothing more than water-stealing conservatives. It was the fact that California was, and is, a "destination state" that draws immigrants from all over the country, so much so that fewer than one in seven Californians is a native. Basically, the state is full of people up and down the coast who'll never agree with one another; dividing the state into factions seems like a good idea only until it comes time to discuss how to do it, at which point things fall apart.

Every state in the United States, apparently, has some version of this story. Reading Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It is a fun little romp through the growing pains of a young nation and the people who would mold it to their personal agendas. Some of these lost states were merely boundary squabbles latter settled by politicians, others were publicity stunts designed to attract tourists or business, and still more have been proposed as a matter of political or economic practicality like the annexation of various islands for some strategic advantage. Each of the Lost States receives a brief history of its proposal and why it failed as well as a map outlining (or in most cases approximating) it's location in relation to what state is currently in its place.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Gay Fish is a Good Fish

What is Fish, drawn well, and features lots of hugs and gay boys looking moon-y over other gay boys?

Cavalcade of Boys by author and cartoonist Tim Fish!

I've been a fan of Tim's artwork ever since he drew for the whimsical series, Young Bottoms in Love. Cavalcade is over 500 pages of gay goodness, more of a graphic anthology than a graphic novel, as it features recurring characters and their romantic adventures and mishaps.

Tim understands the trials-and-tribulations of being gay and in your late teens/early 20s. While the overall goal of the book is certainly comedic, there are some heart-wrenching situations--times you, as reader, will want to cry out "Foul!" or "Don't do it, man!" Your emotions will be scored raw at times--you will want to tear out some pages and pin them to your wall, tear out some pages because the boys you have come to care for have done bad things. Like life.

The art is safe, if you're wondering. Some panels are suggestive rather than demonstrative. Any reader above 14 should read this and grin.

Check out Tim's website, which I wish was less minimalistic. His books can be a bit hard to find, might be more expensive than other gay comics, but the price and the hunt is worth it. Like love.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Project by Brian Falkner

I have to admit that as titles go, The Project is definitely on the bland side. Despite this, the book itself is quite exciting, even though it is about the most boring book in the world. As Luke, one of the main characters in The Project, puts it, "This is a book about the most boring book in the world, which is a different book altogether."

Luke and Tommy wanted to avoid reading the book they were sure was the most boring, The Last of the Mohicans. And what better way to avoid reading (especially if, like Luke, you can't stand reading) than pulling a prank that demonstrates your feelings about the book? Unfortunately, as awesome as the prank would have been, Luke and Tommy get caught. They will still have to read The Last of the Mohicans...unless they can prove that the James Fenimore Cooper classic really is the most boring book in the world, in which case the vice principal of their school will let them do their English assignment on the book of their choice.

A quick Google search doesn't bring up anything that will help Luke's case. He does, however, find an article about a 19th century book that many historians consider the most boring book in the world. Only one copy of Leonardo's River was published, and it's been missing for over a hundred years. It's worth a fortune, so there's no way Luke has just stumbled upon it in an Iowa library, right?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

An interview with Edward Ormondroyd, author of "David & the Phoenix"

Some days, you have just GOTTA love the internet.

A random comment left on the Charlotte's Library blog MONTHS ago garnered me an email from author Marc Tyler Nobleman (BOYS OF STEEL: The Creators of Superman) and a link to his Edward Ormondroyd interview!

Edward Who, you ask?

Edward Ormondroyd (I love that last name) is the author of my favorite 1963 (reissue, Purple House Press, 2003) time travel novel TIME AT THE TOP, which Charlotte so ably reviewed for an August TIMESLIP TUESDAY feature, and to which, I must admit, I wrote a very fanfic-y sequel at about the age of twelve. (Do not ask to see this thing. No: do not.)

Mr. Ormondroyd's first novel, DAVID AND THE PHOENIX, has seen a resurgence of popularity due to The Boy Wizard -- a lot of boys+magic novels are going into reprint for the same reason, which is All To The Good -- and as the Phoenix novel is a favorite of Marc's, he tracked the author down. Discovering that somehow Edward Ormondroyd had never before been interviewed, Marc set to it with forty-one questions. Forty-one!! The interview is - for obvious reasons - in two parts; Part the first, here, followed by its conclusion.

I was happy to see that TIME AT THE TOP is the author's all-time favorite book of those he's written - it's mine too! I hope that eventually someone redoes the 90's Showtime movie version of the book, because they totally ruined it. (Stupid 90's TV.) Ahem.

Thank you Charlotte, for reviewing an old favorite of mine, and thank you, Marc, for going the extra mile to actually finding the author and letting him know how much his works are loved.

It's the internet: for once using its powers for good.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Why Chromosome: Why Boys Do Love Books

My online acquaintance Alethea told me about the upcoming event called The Why Chromosome: Why Boys Do Love Books. It sounded like something GuysLitWire supporters would like, so I thought I'd spread the word! The details are as follows:
The Why Chromosome is an author event and book signing for readers, writers, bloggers, and educators interested in middle grade and young adult literature. Our special focus will be on boys and encouraging their love of reading.

When: Sunday, October 30, 2011 - 1:00 - 4:00 pm

Where: Mrs. Nelson’s Toy & Book Shop, 1030 Bonita Avenue, La Verne, CA 91750

Grassroots organization Bridge to Books is following up their successful YA in Bloom summer party with another author extravaganza, The Why Chromosome: Why Boys Do Love Books!

The end-of-October event will feature a panel of seven young adult and middle grade book authors to discuss boys and their reading habits. Authors Jonathan Auxier, Greg van Eekhout, Mark Jeffrey, G. Neri, Andrew Smith, John Stephens and Allen Zadoff will participate in the panel. They will also be available to sign books.

Ticketed attendees will enjoy food, drinks, swag bags and will also have the opportunity to participate in a trivia contest, win raffle prizes, and have their books signed.

Readers of all ages are welcome to attend, as the goal of the event is to bring together young readers, parents, educators, librarians, authors, and publishers, in the organization’s continuing mission to unite book lovers of all kinds. The overall goal is simple: To connect kids to reading.

Tickets are available through Mrs. Nelson’s Toy & Book Shop at (909) 599-4558.

Visit the event website for blog updates as the event approaches:

To buy tickets or learn more, visit the Bridge to Books blog. Bookmark that site and check it for details on future events.

Authors, publishers, volunteers, and sponsors who would like to get involved with the Why Chromosome events should email

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Children of the Street by Kwei Quartey

Sometime last year I mentioned the Cain-prize-winning short story "Stickfighting Days" by Olufemi Terry. It's about street boys - orphaned or homeless kids - who roam the worst areas of an unnamed city in Africa (most likely Nairobi) looking to get by and take out their frustrations in a violent, deadly "king of the hill" series of stickfighting contests.

I couldn't help but think of Terry's story as I read the new mystery by Kwei Quartey: Children of the Street. In it, a serial killer is preying on the abandoned and lost street kids of Accra, Ghana, and it paints a pretty bleak picture of street life in the West African city. Quartey's detective, Darko Dawson, has a heart as big and open as any I've ever encountered in mystery fiction, and his dogged pursuit of the killer takes him, and us, on a tour of some the most startling, gutwrenching aspects of the capitol city of one of the world's fastest growing economies.

But that paragraph, the one I just wrote, gets at some of the strongest, and weakest, elements of this ultimately fascinating mystery.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Brian Wood's Northlanders

Q. What happens when a viking gets bit by a radioactive spider?

A. The radioactive spider gets viking powers.

Brian Wood's Northlanders contains very little of the fantastic elements common in most comic series. There's no superpowers or zombies. And while Norse mythology comes into play in some story arcs, it serves to add flavoring and background. For the most part, this is real, raw history. But when it's history of a culture as brutal and beautiful and fascinating as the Norse, all that other stuff just gets in the way.

Also unique for an on-going series, Northlanders doesn't focus on a particular cast of characters. Instead, Wood said in an interview, "From day one it was always my desire to cover as much ground as possible.  Right now, I have stories that span from 760-1100 AD, from Russia to Greenland, from the perspective of men, women, and children, from the Vikings themselves to the people they conquered (or tried to).  That breadth of story is what makes the book what it is."

Since Northlanders is an anthology series, you can jump in at just about any point. However, I do recommend the graphic novels The Plague Widow and Metal and Other Stories as excellent places to start.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shape-Shifting Fantasy Adventure: THE CLOUD ROADS

I wasn't familiar with SFF author Martha Wells, but I was intrigued by the refreshing premise of her YA fantasy novel The Cloud Roads. You'll find no vampires or werewolves here, but you will find shapeshifters who can morph into flying beings both beautiful and terrible. In a starred review of an earlier novel by Wells, Kirkus Reviews said, "In a field teeming with clones, retreads, and solipsistic doorstoppers, Wells dares--and gloriously succeeds--to be different." And different this one is—but the story rests on a solid foundation of some of my favorite fantasy tropes. Moon, the protagonist, is an orphan with an enigmatic past, who finds out he is not alone in the world but rather a member of a race of shapeshifters, the Raksura. Neither he nor the Raksura know it yet, but they need him in order to save their entire race from another set of shape-shifters: the violent, destructive, and unscrupulous Fell.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Compulsion by Heidi Ayarbe

The numbers have been good, so lately life has been pretty good. If Jake Martin can keep things together and win a soccer title for his high school, he can forget about them. But for now, the prime numbers are the only thing keeping him on an even keel.

In Heidi Ayarbe's Compulsion (Compuls1on on the cover), Jake has been barely keeping up with school and especially struggles with showing up on time. With a teacher looking to make an example of a jock, Jake can't be late or he will be ineligible for the championship.

Ayarbe delves into compulsiveness and how it can rule every part of someone's life. Readers are given unique insight into his thoughts as Jake constantly checks on the time and other numbers and how they make him feel. With only his sister as a confidant, Jake is convinced that after he gets his trophy and graduates that he can forget about prime numbers and his reliance on them.

This is an interesting novel and teens interested in mental health and compulsiveness will appreciate its fairly blunt portrayal. Jake is a strongly drawn character and readers will be rooting for him in the midst of his struggles and unhealthy relationships.

Dropping into Jake’s thoughts is interesting at first but it can make parts of the novel difficult to slog through. The point is to really get readers to understand what Jake is going through, though it can be tedious and a bit overwhelming.

I usually give recommendations of similar books, but I am somewhat stumped on this one because of its uniqueness. My best idea is sports books about overcoming obstacles and the emotions affects that goes into the craft like Robert Lipsyte's Center Field.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems

Rewarding though it is, poetry is not always welcoming. Emily Dickinson is rather staid. Robert Frost is so somber. Muriel Rukeyser is frequently esoteric. Even Shakespeare’s sonnets can be at times as overwhelmingly florid as the lace cushions on your grandmother’s couch.

Frank O’Hara has seen a resurgence of interest lately. His Meditations in an Emergency popped up in Mad Men and friends keep bringing him up. O’Hara achieves the neat trick of placing within a taut form a spontaneous eye for his world.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

We are looking for new posters

It's that time of year again - some of our regulars have moved on to other things and we need a few more posters here at Guys Lit Wire. It's a small commitment - only one day a month - and you can write about any book or bookish topic that would appeal [primarily] to teen boys. We are particularly looking for posters of the male persuasion (sorry gals - it was a lot of the men who have left us recently).

Contact me at colleenATchasingrayDOTcom if you're interested.

Autobiography of My Dead Brother

Walter Dean Myers writes nonfiction, short stories, and some amazing novels. Autobiography of My Dead Brother is one of those novels, a National Book Award Finalist, in fact. Myers' descriptions and dialog ring true:

"On a serious tip" -- Calvin held his hand up -- "there was one more thing that Mason asked me about."
"He's out of jail?" Rise asked.
"No, but his trial is coming up soon," Calvin said. "He told me that he wants the Counts to rough up the bodega store owner. Send him a message."
"He wants what?" Benny put his soda down. "And what did you say behind that?"
"The only witness against him is the store owner," Calvin said. "He said that if we went over and pushed him, you know, scared him, he probably wouldn't testify."
"Yo, man, that is so not together," Benny said. "The dude's in jail and looking for company. He ain't getting my mama's child for a roommate."
"He said he didn't do it," Calvin said. "He said the Man is jacking him up and the store owner is going along with it."
"I'm not messing with it," Benny said. "You can bet on that."
"I didn't even hear what you said," Gun said.
"I got to decide." Rise had draped his sweater over a box and now picked it up and started putting it on. "Maybe we should be the no-Counts instead of the Counts. I don't know, if we're not willing to stand up for each other, maybe we should forget about the rest of the thing and just move on in our separate ways. No big thing. Eventually you reach manhood, then you got to go through or turn around and go back."
"This isn't about manhood," C.J. said. "This is about crime."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme

Remember learning nursery rhymes when you were a kid? Ever wonder what Jack and Jill were doing? Ever think that maybe Andrew Dice Clay was onto something? Then Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme: The seamy and quirky stories behind favorite nursery rhymes by Chris Roberts is the book for you.

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

One saucy explanation of this rhyme is that "up the hill to fetch a pail of water" is actually a euphemism for having sex and that "losing your crown" means losing your virginity (in much the same way that people might "go to see a man about a dog" or get up to ab it of "how's your father" if they want to be vague about what they are doing). So here you have a rhyme about a young couple slipping off for a bit of "slap and tickle" and the regrets that come later. This may explain why Jill is the one most severely punished in the additional verses once her mother realizes that she has been frolicking in the hills with jack. It is interesting that Jack runs off rapidly, probably to tell his mates about what happened.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rex Riders by J.P. Carlson

Earlier this year we had the mash-up of Cowboys & Aliens (plus James Bond and Indiana Jones) which, whether you liked it or not, was a killer idea. Now consider taking cowboys and aliens and adding in dinosaurs. (Yes, dinosaurs!!!) Intrigued by all the potential awesomeness? Well then you need to take a look at Rex Riders where J.P Carlson has done exactly that as well as giving readers some classic western writing and good guys and bad guys and horses and stage coaches and a rampaging triceratops.

Come on, you know you're curious!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bronxwood -- Coe Booth

Cybils season has commenced, as I'm sure you already know.

(If not, where have you been? And more importantly, go nominate your favorites! You only have until October 15th: Better to do it now, while you're thinking of it, instead of planning to do it later only to realize on the 16th that you've missed the deadline.)

This year, I'm one of the YA panelists. I'll be reading a whole lot of books in a short period of time, which means lots and lots of short reviews.

Without further ado: A bit about Bronxwood.