Monday, December 30, 2013

Pretending to Grow Up

Across the fields of yesterday
He sometimes comes to me,
A little lad just back from play -

The lad I used to be.

And yet he smiles so wistfully
Once he has crept within,
I wonder if he hopes to see
The man I might have been.

- Sometimes by Thomas S. Jones, Jr.

Earlier this month, I posted this poem at my blog, Bildungsroman, after discovering it at  I think any adult, male or female, can relate to this - be it wistfully, happily, regretfully, or any combination of emotions that childhood memories and adult aspirations can create. When I was little, I read and enjoyed all of L.M. Montgomery's novels about the life of Anne Shirley, but I always preferred the earlier volumes - especially the first book, Anne of Green Gables - to the later volumes in the series. Earlier this year, I read Now I'll Tell You Everything, a novel in which the main character chronicles her life from her late teens all the way into her sixties. (See my post about the Alice McKinley novels by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for more information on the entire series.)

But back to the poem Sometimes. With the piece being written by a man and specifically using male pronouns, it made me think of books with male protagonists  - modern classics like Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary and the Matthew Martin books by Paula Danziger. What happened to them after those books? What were they like at age 20, 30, 40? Did Encyclopedia Brown become a bona fide private detective? A cop? Is Maniac Magee a teacher? A father?

When I interviewed Judy Blume in 2008, I figured out how old Fudge, Peter, Sheila and Tootsie would be, based on the publication year of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and asked the author, "Do you ever consider what they would be doing in their adulthood, their middle age?" She responded, "Peter and Fudge can never grow up!"
But in my mind, other than Peter Pan - which is an entirely different post - it's interesting to consider how our favorite fictional characters might turn out when they grow up. The triumphs and the tragedies of childhood undoubtedly shape the lives of real people, and a lot of wonderfully written middle grade and young adult books capture these experiences. So...what happened next?

What do you think happened to your favorite characters? Who became the men and women they thought they'd be? And who always smiles when they think of the child they used to be?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ninety Percent of Everything by Rose George

Shipping is an industry that largely takes place out of sight. The surfaces of the world's oceans can be empty, isolated places. When a cargo ship berths in a port--now farther away from cities, since these ships need deeper harbors--tens of thousands of containers are unloaded in less than a day, then the ship is ready to depart on the next leg of its voyage. It's quite unlike the way shipping worked five or six decades ago, when teams of men worked for weeks to unload significantly smaller ships. Rose George calls shipping the "invisible industry," but until I read Ninety Percent of Everything, I didn't realize how appropriate a descriptor "invisible" is. More than not knowing how many goods are actually transported via cargo ship, shipping is invisible in other, less obvious ways. "How ironic," writes George, "that the more ships have grown in size and consequence, the less space they take up in our imagination."

There are many mind-boggling stats in George's Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate (for example, "The biggest container ship can carry fifteen thousand boxes. It can hold 746 million bananas, one for every European on one ship" and "Add shipping to the list of polluting countries and it comes in sixth. Ships create more pollution than Germany."), but George is more concerned with the personal. I read a couple of reviews by readers who were expecting something more technical and logistical, and yes, if that is your interest, you may be disappointed. But I found the book illuminating and extremely relevant, giving readers a glimpse at a world we rarely stop to think about.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Wonderful Joy of Ballou HS & Their New Books!

That's how the students at Washington DC's Ballou Sr High School and their librarian Melissa Jackson feel about the recent Guys Lit Wire Holiday Book Fair. Via the Powells Books wish list, 59 books were bought and shipped to Ballou where they have been very gratefully received.

I love seeing something like this happen - it's really what the holiday season is all about. Thanks so much to everyone who helped make these kids happy and to all of you out there who believe in the power of books to change lives.   :)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winger by Andrew Smith

Hello all!  My name is Angie Manfredi and I am super-excited to be a contributor here at Guys LitWire.  I’ll be blogging once a month and I guess there’s one thing I need to start with: I don’t think there are books for guys and books for girls.  Nope. I believe only in books for readers. If you ask me to recommend a good book for a guy, I’d be stumped.  Why?  Because I’d need to know more about that guy. So, I won’t be writing about “books for guys”.  I don’t even know what those would be.  What I will be writing about is books about guys.  Books about guys who are assassins, books about guys from history, books about guys who fall in love, books about the guy next door, books about guys who are Kings.  I want to write about the best books about guys and featuring guy characters, to recommend them to readers, not genders and then leave it YOU to determine which readers - boys or girls or even those who don’t identify as either - are right for those titles.

And so, for me, it’s fitting that my first post here at Guys LitWire is about one of the best books about guys I’ve ever read: Andrew Smith’s Winger.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Computer Games from the Other Side

When I was ten or eleven years old, I sat down with a programming book, our family's Timex Sinclair T1000 personal computer connected to a blurry television screen and started to teach myself how to code in a language called BASIC. My first program probably looked something like this:

10: PRINT "Hi everybody! My name is Brian!"
20: GOTO 10

You can probably tell what this program did. It's not much, but from there on I was hooked. Anyone who has written computer programs knows the feeling of power and euphoria you get when a computer program you've written finally works exactly as you envisioned it. If you'd had that feeling you've also had the deep frustration and despair that comes with code that just won't work the way you want it. Coding is an emotional roller coaster. If you've never felt either of those experiences, it's time you started living and learned to code.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Many Thanks for a MOST Successful Holiday Book Fair for Ballou!

The Book Fair for the Ballou Sr High School Library has ended and on behalf of both Guys Lit Wire & Ballou, please accept our thanks for the 59 books that were bought off the wish list at Powells Books. These titles were all much desired by the students at Ballou and I am sure they will be delighted by the arrival of each and everyone.

You are all wonderful but we send out a special thanks to our reader Jodie who has been with us since the beginning and continues to contribute to Ballou on each and every book fair.

Happiest of Holidays to all of you & Best Wishes for an amazing New Year!

The wish list is closed now as any books ordered at this point would likely arrive after the school is closed for the holidays.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dogs of War

The holidays loom on the horizon, time gets tight, and I find my reading habits drift toward quick, comfort reads to hold me until I can get to the "real" things in my pile. I've started four or five books in the past month that I truly want to savor but when I need a quick narrative fix I hit the graphic novel pile. Again.

Dogs of War is exactly what it declares itself to be: three stories of dogs that have served in US Armed Services. "Boots" is the Red Cross rescue dog helping ID bodies outside the trenches during WWI; "Loki" is stationed in Greenland during WWII, a sled dog with a wild spirit waiting for the right master; "Sheba" did her tour of duty in Vietnam where the bond between her and her trainer becomes the key that helps heal the vet once he's stateside. The narrative for each dog's story is distinct, the mood and feel of each war vastly different from the one before, free of the politics of the wars themselves. The stories stand as a testament to loyalty, bravery, and faithfulness of man's best ally. Or in this case, a soldier's closest comrade.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

In his most recent comedy special, Aziz Ansari has a bit about how low the standards for men are today, to the extent that any man who manages to dress in something more formal than cargo shorts will have women throwing themselves at him. Ansari often raises questions about masculinity in his comedy, and I thought of these questions as I read Carrie Mesrobian’s outstanding young adult novel Sex &Violence, which raises many questions of its own about what it means to be a man, and does not pretend to have easy answers to any of them.

Evan Carter thinks he has all the easy answers. Identify the girls who are a bit “left of center.” It might be a hair color thing, or a piercing, or that she dresses a bit more provocatively. Something identifies her as “The Girl Who Would Say Yes.” Inevitably, Evan obtains the answer “yes,” sometimes without even having to ask the question. And since Evan’s father moves frequently for work, Evan (whose mother died in an accident years ago) can be secure in the impermanence of all his relationships.
But Collette is different. And the way Evan’s “relationship” with her ends is different. Different bad. Different scary. Different in painful and permanent ways.

The fallout from the Collette situation (trying hard to avoid spoilers here) leads both Evan and his father back to the family’s lake home at Pearl Lake, Minnesota, for the summer. As a broken Evan tries to put himself back together, he starts to see his father change from the workaholic computer geek he had always known. And as Evan begins to fit in with his peers in this small lake community, he starts to see possible models for relationships beyond what he had known in his life as “Dirtbag Evan.” In particular, the beguiling Baker, who is literally the girl next door.

Mesrobian has created a stellar narrative voice in Evan, and I was most impressed that characters who were often presented as stereotypes by Evan were never allowed to remain stereotypes. The lunkhead football player, the criminal townie-- all are shown to have more nuance than our initial introduction to them. Even Baker, who could have been little more than a Manic Pixie Dream Girl for Evan, becomes a strong character in her own right.

With more than a soupcon of Holden Caulfield in Evan, Mesrobian successfully straddles the line between honoring influence and being derivative. But Sex & Violence is so much more than The Catcher in Pearl Lake. An old book about loons and lakes, a forbidden island sanctuary, an abandoned mansion on the island, an estranged uncle with a secret, A Clockwork Orange—all play significant roles in the sprawling plot. And they all work.

Evan says late in the book that perhaps “being a man was mostly about knowing when to shut up about something.” So I will shut up now about how great Sex & Violence is, and just urge you to read it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Don't Trust your Parents, Avoiding Murdering Anyone and Prepare for Anything

Fairy tales are all the rage of late, especially dark versions which are retold on film and TV -- Disney's Maleficent and ABC's Once Upon a Time being just the latest manifestations. Of course these tales are many times removed from their source material, primarily the European folk tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

There's no need to rail against modern reinterpretations of the classic fairy tales. In fact it's very much in the tradition to retell fairy tales and to change them in the retelling as Philip Pullman reminds us in the introduction to his collection Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version which he published last year on the 200th anniversary of the original. There is nothing sacred about the contents of these stories. Each teller (or TV producer) can take them and change them and make them his or her own.

Still, going back to the "original" tales is simply a lot of fun. Pullman's collection is a great book for this. First of all, his selection includes most of the classic tales that appear in modern renditions, but it also includes rarer stories and some really strange ones like "The Juniper Tree." Secondly, his translations are clear and direct and when he adjusts or embellishes, it's for good reason, usually to make the telling a bit more entertaining. Also they come with informative, amusing notes and enlightening references to similar folktales from other traditions.

So let's review: what do the original tales tell us that the new versions don't?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Buying Books for Deserving Teens is a Great Way to Celebrate the Holidays!

Just wanted to thank everyone who has bought books for Ballou High School so far. Your kindness is much appreciated!!!

There are plenty of books under $10 on the list and so many lovely hardcovers if you are willing to spend $15 or $20. All the books are sent directly to librarian Melissa Jackson at Ballou and will go right on the shelves. Please get all the details in our earlier post and if you can't donate than post or tweet and spread the word on this holiday book fair!


Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell

Billingwood, England, 1867. A family is out in town for a nice outing. They look at shops and generally enjoy the day. Then, they hear a rumble and commotion. A giant monster is ravaging the town! They seek shelter in an accommodating stranger's cellar and wait out the rampage. When they emerge, the town has been smashed up, and it's the most exciting thing ever! There are even souvenirs to be had. This is the best day out this family has ever had. You see, the monster over their town, Stoker-on-Avon, is really pathetic. He hardly leaves his hill. In fact, it's been 536 days since their monster rampaged. It's all a bit pathetic, really. It's hurting tourism and destroying the town's morale. So the town council sends a disgraced scientist (with a tagalong newsie) up the hill to see if they can't get their monster on the rampage again.

Monster on the Hill is a charming graphic novel. I picked it up because I saw it listed on the Cybils nominees this year and loved the quirky story. Rayburn, the monster, is over dramatic, sensitive, a bit of a whiner with a self confidence problem, but he is quite the amusing character. This book is perfect for upper elementary and middle grade readers, although. I think anyone would find it enjoyable. I can't wait to share it with my cousins.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Spread Some Holiday Good Cheer With Ballou High School & Pledge To Read 5 Books With the Students

As many of you know, we are very big friends with librarian Melissa Jackson at Ballou Sr High School in Washington DC. Melissa has done an amazing job over the past few years of taking her school library from less than one book for each student to a ratio now of more than five. She will be moving into a modern library and media center next fall when the new Ballou High School is opened. (The old one was built in the late 1950s - almost SIXTY years ago!)

But while the facilities are truly impressive, the budget does not have room for new books. So, we have updated the Ballou Wish List at Powells Books and hope that many of you will consider buying a book for these worthy students as you do your own holiday shopping.

Before you head over to the wish list though, please take note of Ballou's We Read! Reading Initiative that includes a pledge to read five books by April. If you want to show your support of Ballou's efforts to get teens reading, then print out the pledge, sign it and send a picture holding it up to Melissa via instagram or on their facebook page. You can even send a tweet letting her know you promise to read books in support of Ballou.

And now, after the cut find out more about shopping the wish list for Ballou!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Readers and Filmmakers Go SNOWBLIND

 Attention filmmakers (and readers!)

Want to show the world what you can do AND spread the love of a good book? St. Martin's Press and Talenthouse are accepting 1-minute trailers for Christopher Golden's upcoming book SNOWBLIND. All of the submitted videos will be seen by some pretty cool folks - legitimate directors, writers, producers - and one will be selected to be the book's official trailer.

If you are interested, you should enter.

If you know other filmmakers - be they amateur or professional, adults or teens or kids - please let them know about this incredible opportunity.

Trust me. I've read the book, and it's amazing. With edge-of-your-seat tension and jaw-dropping twists, Christopher Golden's Snowblind blizzard is going to blow you away!

So what are you waiting for? Spread the word, gather a production team, and make that mini-movie!

Here's the official press release and all of the pertinent information. Good luck!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis

Imagine a novel by the love child of H. G. Wells and Mary Shelley, one that rounds out the werewolf-sized hole in the pantheon of 19th Century classic monster speculative fiction, and you have some idea of the great gothic science fiction that is Kirsten Bakis's Lives of the Monster Dogs.

The premise is fantastic-- in all meanings of the word-- as well as absurd. In the near future, a small community of what are referred to as "monster dogs" show up in New York: cultured, dressed in elaborate Germanic clothing from over a century ago, and, due to extensive prosthetics, walking upright and speaking both German and English.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Battling Boy

Something happens to boys around the age of thirteen. For some its the physical transformations of puberty, the ungainly growth, the cracking of the voice. For others its the emotional and chemical roller coaster that creates lapses of judgment and awkward situations. It can also be marked with a ceremony of passage toward adulthood but is most often noted with the exasperation of adults. For he Battling Boy it means being plucked from the middle of his street games with his friends and sent without discussion to another world to serve as a superhero. Tough gig.

For Battling Boy that planet is Earth, and in this parallel universe where the youngest of teens are sent to weaker planets to help them survive, this planet has some serious problems. For one thing, there are monsters about. At first glance it appears these boogie men are little more than cloaked child snatchers, serious enough to require a curfew for children but hardly monsters. Very quickly though their victims are caught in nets, bound and gagged, and promised to be fed to spiders. Then along comes a flying hero to save them -- Haggard West --- in very much the garb and style of 1930s comic strips, with his leather flying gear and improbably gadgets. There's a pulsating variance between the comic and the serious where the expectation, like a serialized radio drama, is that the danger will be averted at the last minute and the bad guys will get away with a cliffhanger threat.

Instead, West is shot out of the sky, dead. The children do not escape their dreaded fates. And somewhere in the universe a boys is turning thirteen and about to be thrust into the middle of this mess.

This is how Battling Boy opens.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

I have a special subgenre of books that I call “gutwrench” books. This subgenre is reserved for books that literally (wait, that is what “literally” means, right?) rip your guts out when you read them. They are the antithesis of light and breezy, they deny facile endings, they are not “tweetable.”  Consider Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridain, or Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief. These are books whose elemental truths stay with you long after reading, even when you might wish their discomfiture would let you let them go. To this subgenre I now add Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Computer Problems

Much of technology reporting is a kind of cheerleading. Isn't the Internet amazing? Look at all the stuff we can do! Look how fast we're developing new cool things! In a few years computers will be even super -faster! And super-smaller! And the Internet will be even super-cooler!

When anyone does get critical, it's usually to complain that technology is stealing too much of our attention, or our creativity, or something. Kids spend too much time Tweeting! Too much screen-time is frying our brains!

Jaron Lanier doesn't think technology is in such a great place. And he doesn't think the problem is with kids being addicted to their phones. For him, the problem goes much much deeper. In You are not a Gadget: A Manifesto he argues that our technologies have "locked us in" to a particular way of thinking. Our computers and gadgets, because they were not made thoughtfully enough, are now controlling us.

If you love your phone or your iPad or your laptop, you might be suspicious of this book, but do understand that Lanier is no Luddite. He is a musician and a technologist who has done a great deal of work in the field and has stretched his consideration of human/computer interaction into applications, virtual reality experiments and neurological studies. He is not critical of technology as whole, but merely of technology as it currently is. He believes our gadgets offer much more promise and possibility than is currently being explored.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Stray in the Woods by Alison Wilgus

Last month, I learned of the extremely cool story A Stray in the Woods by Alison Wilgus, thanks to a tweet and corresponding Instagram posted by fellow author and artist Dave Roman. I was immediately drawn to the title and the adorable cat on the cover. Then I went to Alison's site and discovered how the story was written. In her own words: 

A Stray in the Woods was originally posted on Tumblr, updating at least once per week barring holidays and travel. After each update, I took suggestions via the "Ask Box" as to what Cat should do -- Investigate an object? Move into another room? Eat something off the floor? These "commands" could be mundane or ridiculous, foolish or brave, serious or silly -- the only rule was that they be possible for Cat to do, given the current circumstances. When I sat down to draw an update, I would read through all of the commands that had been submitted and select one as the basis for the next page.

That's right! Interactive storytelling! With cats! How cool is that?

Well, I read the entire thing in one fell swoop and I can tell you: Very cool. The pictures truly tell a story, with the text explaining all that needs to be explained. Moving forward one prompt at a time, Wilgus created one or more pictures per prompt and developed a really nifty story for readers who are as curious as her feline protagonist.

As you read the comic, look for my three favorite panels: a cat stretch, a cat nap, and a catnip mouse.

Bonus: It has a theme song, written by Paul Tuttle Starr, which is just as cute as the cat. Listen!

Follow A Stray in the Woods by Alison Wilgus on Tumblr and pick up the bound book, which is being published after an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign.

Fun fact: Dave Roman and Alison Wilgus wrote The Last Airbender prequel comic Zuko's Story.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead by Rebecca L. Johnson

This is one of those books filled with so much fascinating yet disgusting information that you can't help but read parts out loud to other people so they can be grossed out right along with you.

Or maybe that's just me. Because I started reading this at work one day and just had to read some sections aloud to my co-workers. Like when Rebecca L. Johnson explains how a certain fungus grows inside the corpse of a type of carpenter ant, until "a long, skinny stalk erupts through the dead ant's head." Or the description of a wasp laying an egg on a cockroach, then the egg becoming a larva that slowly eats the roach's internal organs while the roach is still alive. (And then I absolutely had to show my co-workers the accompanying pictures, as well. I mean, just look at page 24.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Better Nate Than Ever

All Nate Foster wants is to see his name in lights on Broadway. Or to see a Broadway show. But he's stuck in his small Pennsylvania hometown. Stuck, that is, until he and his best friend Libby hatch a scheme to get Nate to Broadway. Nate hops a bus to New York City, where everyone is super nice and helpful (bless him), and finds his way to the auditons for E. T.: The. Musical, where he not only wows the casting folk with his, erm, unique charms but meets up with his estranged aunt as well.

Hijinks and not a few shenanigans ensue as Nate tries to keep his trip secrect from his parents, make it to callbacks, get some food, and not lose his money or himself in the big city. Does he win the covented role of Eliott? Does he keep the whole trip secret from his parents and avoid an epic grounding? Well, you'll just have to read it and see.

I adore Nate Foster. I have a couple students in my 7th grade language arts classes who have the same goofy charm and upbeat nature that Nate has. This book does deal with some heavier issues, like Nate's parents' not-great marriage, homophobia, bullying and sibling rivalry, but Nate's wit and humor keep it from drifting into afterschool special territory and keep it totally appropriate for younger middle school students. I'm definitely going to recommend it to my students.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Cyborgs are Coming . . . or You can Make Your Own

A couple of days ago I came across an article about a science kit that allows kids to turn cockroaches into iPhone-Controlled cyborgs. My first reaction was to check the post date and make sure it wasn't April 1. But the kit is apparently not a joke and really does allow you to connect an electronic device to a cockroach and then control the bug from your iPhone. It kind of disgusts me, but I can't decide exactly why. There seem to be a lot of choices.

But for today here's the point: if you can buy a toy that allows kids to play with neuro-surgical implants, then the world depicted in Daniel Wilson's Amped may not be terribly far away.

Amped is a near-future story of human brain implants. The device, sold as Autofocus, enhances brain focus but can also be used for other brain-enhancing functions. Mostly, implants are used to treat ADD, epilepsy and other neurological brain disorders as well as repair brain damage. But they make anyone who wears them smarter.

Owen Gray, a high school teacher, has an implant which was installed by his neurosurgeon father, but to the best of Owen's knowledge it doesn't do anything except prevent epileptic episodes. The implant becomes a problem, however, when public opinion turns against the implanted, known as “amps,” and the Supreme Court revokes most of the rights of implanted persons in the U.S. Violence erupts and Owen attempts to escape to his father's lab. Just before the lab is destroyed, killing Owen's father, Owen learns that his father went all mad-scientist on him and the amp in Owen's head is military grade with “something extra,” turning his mind and body into a deadly weapon. All he has to do is activate it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

If I Ever Get Out Of Here by Eric Gansworth

     Bros. Bro-tank. Brah. Brotastic. Bromance. Brohemia. The rise of “bro” culture saddens me, not least because so much of the “bro” persona is a thinly veiled attempt to hide the awkwardness of male friendship, particularly among young men. One of the strongest qualities of Eric Gansworth’s If I Ever Get Out of Here is that it so evocatively presents that very awkwardness, as the narrator Lewis Blake and the newly arrived George Haddonfield bond over music, girls, bullies, family, and Wacky Packages (yes, the book is set in the 1970s, and I had forgotten all about Wacky Packages until reading If I Ever Get Out of Here).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Night to Remember

A Night to Remember is the definitive tale of the sinking of the Titanic. Walter Lord interviewed more than sixty survivors. And he wrote this minute-by-minute account of the collision with the iceberg, and
the experiences of passengers and crew.

In 1898 a struggling author named Morgan Robertson concocted a novel about a fabulous Atlantic liner, far larger than any that had ever been built. Robertson loaded his ship with rich and complacent people and then wrecked it one cold April night on an iceberg. This somehow showed the futility of everything, and in fact, the book was called Futility when it appeared that year...

Fourteen years later a British shipping Company named the White Star Line built a steamer remarkaby like the one in Robertson's novel. The new liner was 66,000 tons displacement; Robertson's was 70,000. The real ship was 882.5 feet long; the fictional one was 800 feet. Both vessels were triple screw and could make 24-25 knots. Both could carry about 3,000 people, and both had enough lifeboats for only a fraction of this number, But, then, this didn't seem to matter because both were labeled "unsinkable."

On April 10, 1912, the real ship left Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York. Her cargo included a priceless copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam and a list of passengers collectively worth two hundred fifty million dollars. On her way over she too struck an iceberg and went down on a cold April night.

Robertson called his ship the Titan. the White Star Line called its ship the Titanic.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

FOR THE GOOD OF MANKIND? by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein

It's not every day that you get a book about medical experimentation on humans in the mail, so when one arrived from the lovely publicists at Blue Slip Media, it got my attention.

FOR THE GOOD OF MANKIND? The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation is a slender but fact-packed nonfiction book by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein. Part history, part ethical study, part human rights narrative, this thought-provoking volume, geared toward the high school crowd, will get your attention and provide an excellent introduction to a range of topics from the (mis)treatment of slaves, prisoners, orphans, minorities, and the mentally ill to war crimes in Nazi Germany to the rules for testing of medical treatments and vaccines on humans to genetic testing and stem-cell research and more.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Be Afraid: Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era by James Barrat

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution humans have been worrying that the fancy machines they've created will one day get tired of serving humans and rise up in revolt. In fact, from Isaac Asimov to Battlestar Galactica it's been such a common trope in science ficition books, movies and TV, that the concept doesn't even really seem scary anymore. It's just movie nonsense. In the meantime, we've gotten so cozy with our machines that we trust them implicitly. My iPhone would never hurt me would it? My XBox and I are friends, right? My Roomba is interested only in eliminating dirt from my floor, isn't it?

According James Barrat, author of Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, we are safe from our machines for now, but soon we should be afraid, very afraid. A future generation of machines is coming and they could be nearly omnipotent. They also may not have our best interests at heart.

Barrat is talking about the fast-evolving area of Artificial Intelligence, or AI which seeks to build machines smart enough to match or exceed human intelligence. He fears that developments in AI will almost inevitably lead to a technology which we cannot control. Barrat breaks AI into three types. The first is limited AI, the kind of AI that is already widely in use, driving, for example, Google search engines, Netflix affinity programming and iPhone's Siri virtual assistant. The second type of AI, which he expects to emerge in mere decades, is AGI or Artificial General Intelligence. AGI will have intelligence and abilities roughly equivalent to human beings. Finally, ASI, or Artificial Super Intelligence which far exceeds human smarts will emerge and when that happens, we'll really be in trouble.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Shift by Jennifer Bradbury

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Sometimes, life takes a detour.

Shortly after graduating from high school, Chris and his best friend Win set out on their bicycles, determined to travel across the country before college. Like all good road trips, this trek is bumpy, memorable, and metaphoric. Towards the end of their journey, Win unexpectedly takes off by himself. Feeling abandoned and upset, Chris finishes the trip alone. When Chris comes home without Win, he has to answer to his parents, Win's parents, and the police. Where did his best friend go? Why? What really happened between Point A and B?

As close as he thought they were after ten years of friendship, Chris found himself surprised by some of the things his best friend did during their trip. He learns even more as he unravels the mystery of Win's disappearance. In the summertime sequences, their dialogue is always comfortable, sometimes teasing, sometimes competitive. They are friends who almost act like brothers, but they aren't one in the same. Chris comes from a working class family while Win, whose parents are well-off, obviously has difficulty getting along with his father. Growing up, the boys didn't really think about going their separate ways, but now that they have, Chris must figure out what his friend wanted and what he must do.

Readers will easily navigate through Jennifer Bradbury's novel Shift. Like a good film noir, the story unfolds using both the past and the present: the chapters alternate between the here-and-now, with Chris starting his freshman year of college, and the summer, as Chris and Win make their way across the country. Their friendship and the investigation are accompanied by bicycles, patches, jackets, one glove, small towns, campgrounds, diners, and postcards. Though the element of mystery is always there, Shift is not a whodunnit. Instead, it asks: Why did Win leave? Who is he, really? How well do we really know anyone?

My favorite line from the book reads as follows:

Reality had a disappointing habit of not measuring up to my memories.

I also really enjoyed Chris' assessment of his situation:

[E]veryone kept telling me how much fun I was going to have in college, how much freedom I'd have. I was starting to believe that I'd used up my lifetime quota of both on the trip this summer.

Further Reading
Read my exclusive interview with author Jennifer Bradbury.
Also check out ShelfElf's GLW post about the book.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

It's 1968. Things aren't great on Long Island for Doug Sweiteck, but he has a couple friends, and he has just met the great Joe Pepitone, who gave him, Doug Sweiteck, the hat from right of his head. But then Doug's brother swipes the hat, and his father loses his job and packs the whole family up and moves them to stupid Marysville, way up in the Catskills. Now Doug must navigate the perils of a new school, where everyone thinks he's just a thug like his brother, an abusive father and a host of other problems. He finds unlikely allies, like Lil Spicer, the daughter of the deli owner for whom Doug works as a delivery boy, and Mr. Powell, one of the town's librarians. And while the Doug's story is one heck of an emotional roller coaster, it ends on a note of hope, just as the Apollo 11 mission launches to the moon.

If I were a proper reviewer, I'd write something like, "Okay for Now is a book that is by turns heart-rending and life-affirming, and it will have you rooting for Doug Sweiteck all the way." But let me tell you what this book did to me as a reader. My dog Jack had this stuffed squirrel called Jeffrey. When Jack would play with Jeffrey, he'd shakeshakeshake until Jeffrey's neck snapped, then he'd put Jeffrey down and gently lick his fur and fluff him up til he was ready to play again (unlike the real squirrel he once caught, but that's another story). This is what Schmidt did to my heart. That moment when you find out why Doug won't take his shirt of in front of people? shakeshakeshakeshake When Doug and Lil get parts in a Broadway adaptation of Jane Eyre that Doug inadvertently inspired? It's okay Reader-Buddy! This is gonna be fun! It's gonna be good! And when Doug's brother Lucas comes home from Vietnam? Good, right? But then you learn that he's lost his legs and might be blind? shakeshakeshakeshake And when Lil gets sick opening night and you think it's stage fright, but then you learn the real reason? SHAKESHAKESHAKESHAKE YOUR HEART WILL NEVER REALLY BE WHOLE AGAIN Just kidding, Reader-Buddy! Everything will work out! You'll see! Keep reading! Trust me!

I gave up an evening of grading to finish the book, and the next day, I told my students this book left me totally gutted and they needed to read it immediately. I read the first chapter to my creative writing students, because Schmidt is a master of creating believable and interesting characters, and the voice those characters have is incredible.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, this book is one of the nominees for the 2014 Young Readers Choice Awards. It is also the companion novel to the equally wonderful book The Wednesday Wars

This is cross posted over at (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Red Moon Rising by Peter Moore

Most of Danny’s classmates at Carpathia Night High think he’s half-vamp, half-human, and he’d rather not correct their mistaken assumption. True, being thought of as half-human puts Danny near the bottom of the high school hierarchy, but Danny knows how most vampires treat werewolves, so why not pretend he’s half-human.

Humans, vamps, and wulves co-existed for thousands of years. Over the past century, the status of vamps rose considerably, thanks to the development of synthetic blood for vamps to drink instead of, you know, human blood. But wulves? They have few rights, are often discriminated against, and are generally poorer and less educated than humans and vamps. Worst of all, wulves are required to register with the government so they can be herded into compounds every month during the full moon, when they undergo the Change. The compounds are dirty and brutal, surrounded by electric fences and armed guards. Not registering is illegal, and anyone aiding moonrunners—unregistered wulves—is breaking the law as well.

So when Danny starts feeling poorly—and his headaches are accompanied by enhanced vision and sense of smell—he knows something is not right. Is his wulf side emerging, in spite of the genetic treatments he received as a child? With the full moon coming up soon, Danny doesn’t have much time to figure out what’s going on. Or what he’ll do if he Changes.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Boxers & Saints

When Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese was published back in 2006 it received a lot of high praise and a whole slew of awards, not the least of which was the 2007 Printz Award for a teen book, the first graphic novel to win coveted American Library Association recognition. While ABC was widely embraced and helped firmly establish graphic novels as "legitimate" literature for children and young adults. It almost seemed like from that moment on people were looking for the next graphic novel to achieve that same level of recognition, and on some level it must have put some pressure of Yang himself to know how high a bar was set for him by his own work.

I'll be honest, The Eternal Smile (2010), Prime Baby and Level Up (both 2011), were good but they didn't really strike me the same way ABC did. However Yang's latest, Boxers & Saints, an ambitious two-book story covering the Boxer Rebellion in China, may end up overshadowing his earlier work, and the fact that it just landed on the National Book Award shortlist is partial proof of this achievement.

Which is all a highfalutin way of saying Boxer & Saints is a pretty awesome piece of storytelling, graphic or otherwise.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I COULD CHEW ON THIS: and other poems by dogs by Francesco Marciuliano

Last year, the world was taken by storm by Francesco Marciuliano's I Could Pee On This: and Other Poems by Cats, reviewed here in January, 2013. This year, Marciuliano has followed up with the ever-so-slightly less clever I Could Chew on This: and Other Poems by Dogs, featuring an awful lot of poems about chewing, eating and throwing up, as well as things like dog embarrassment, separation anxiety, and more.

The book is divided into four chapters: Inside, Outside, By Your Side, and Heavy Thinking, which contains one of the most poignant poems in this mostly humorous book. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Each chapter page includes a maxim of sorts, and the one for "Inside" is possibly my favorite:

We were wolves once
Wild and wary
Then we noticed you had sofas

Here's a two-page spread with the first poem in the book, "I Lose My Mind When You Leave The House", which pretty well sums up how (at least some) dogs react when their owners step outside:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Kindness for Weakness by Shawn Goodman

I have never before read a book where the author considers apologizing for the book in the author’s note. (I’ve read too many books where I felt the author should have considered apologizing; that’s for another review.) But a sort of apologizing is what Shawn Goodman does at the end of his powerful young adult novel, Kindness for Weakness:
“I wish I could offer an apology for the fact that this such a sad book…”

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Problem now is Waiting for Book Three

In an earlier post this summer I gushed over Maggie Steifvater's Stiefvater's The Raven Boys. Book two of that series, The Dream Thieves comes out on September 17. It provides ample evidence that this is a story unlikely to weaken as it develops.

Spoiler alert: I'll try to avoid major plot revelations from either book, but we're talking about a sequel here. Read forward at your own risk.

The Raven Boys series centers around, Gansey, Ronan, Adam and Noah a group of boys enrolled at Aglionby, an exclusive boarding school in the small Virginia town of Henrietta, and a townie girl, Blue the sole non-psychic resident of 300 Fox Way, a house of psychic women offering readings to Henrietta's residents. The undisputed leader of this group is Richard Gansey--he goes by simply "Gansey"--who hails form a wealthy and powerful old money family from Washington D.C. Gansey is obsessed with finding Glendower, a 15th Century Welsh king whose body, legend has it, has been transported to America and interred somewhere near Henrietta. The rest of the group is nearly as dedicated to finding Glendower as Gansey is.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. by Greg Pincus

Eleven-year-old Gregory Korenstein-Jasperton really likes writing - but no one in his immediate family knows it. His dad, his older brother Owen (often simply called O), and his little sister Kay are all really good at math. Really good. And while Greg gets basic math just fine, his head starts to spin when his relatives and teachers start discussing more complex mathematical theorems. He'd rather be hanging out with his best friend Kelly at The Slice, her mom's bakery/coffee shop, eating a piece of warm apple pie while they read each other's stories. Kelly can't wait to go to Author's Camp, and Greg lets her believe that he's going to go, too. He'd love to spend the summer writing, but he knows his parents would rather he attend Math is Magic Camp. ("Dad, I don't want my days to be 'mathemagical.' Please.") His family really does mean well, and so does Greg - they just want different things.

It's time for Greg to bring his math grade up. His friendly math teacher Mr. Davis gives Greg a journal so he can write about math - what he thinks about it, times when he found math it in the real world, how he can and does actually use it more often than he thinks - and improve both his understanding and his grade. Meanwhile, Greg finds himself saying he's going to enter the City Math competition, hoping it will make his parents happy even though he really doesn't want to do it. His dad won the City Math competition the first year it was held, and his brother has won the event multiple times. Greg holds his tongue, not even telling Kelly, or Mr. Davis, or his mom, a woman know for her enthusiasm and her...interesting Wednesday night dinner concoctions, about what he's really going on. As the school year races on and it gets closer and closer to deadlines and event times, Greg grows increasingly worried that he's going to disappoint everyone, especially his dad and his teacher. Along the way, he discovers the Fibonacci sequence, and is surprised to find a way to combine his love of writing with his math project.

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. is a story about learning to follow your heart. Greg Pincus' debut novel is filled with scribbles, secrets, slices of pie - and π pi! Though Greg deliberately or impulsively doesn't tell the whole truth sometimes, it's important to note that he isn't a compulsive liar. Instead, he's the type of person who will side-step questions and avoid certain subjects and conversations as much as he can for as long as he can. And who doesn't do that when they're uncomfortable, or ashamed, thinking they aren't living up to the expectations of people they care about, people they are trying to impress or comfort? Greg has a good heart, and readers will feel for him from page one. Kids who are passionate about their favorite hobbies or have secret talents of their own will want Greg to talk about the write stuff with his family and friends, and will be satisfied with the ending of his story. (Though they'll probably want Pincus to write a spin-off about Kelly, or maybe a book about Kay. I know I'd read both!)

For more of my thoughts on the book, visit my blog, Bildungsroman.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Sage is an orphan and a thief, always on the run from trouble. But this time, when he is caught by a nobleman named Conner, he can't run any farther.

The kingdom of Carthya is on the brink of civil war. Factions are forming—different groups plotting to take over the throne—and Conner has been carefully laying plans, looking for someone to pose as the long-missing Carthyan prince. Sage finds himself unwillingly entered into a dangerous competition with several other orphans, all aiming to outdo the others and win Conner’s favor.

The stakes are high. After all, only one false prince is needed—only one boy can win the competition to be the (fake) Carthyan heir, and no way will Conner let any of the unlucky losers spill the beans about his scheme. Sage has no particular desire to ascend the throne but if he wants to stay alive, he must play along with Conner's game.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Apache Superhero Kickin' Butt, and Taking Names

Even before this summer's box office flop of The Lone Ranger, the issue of Native appropriation has haunted writers. Stereotype, thy name is Laura Ingalls Wilder's "savages," Twilight's fantastical sidekick, Jacob, and every other racially problematic representation of broken English speaking, nature-communing, peace-pipe smoking, peyote-tripping, Native character with a braid full of feathers.

So, it was with a little bit of trepidation that I received a copy of KILLER OF ENEMIES, by Joseph Bruchac. I mean, it sounded so typical: a story about an Apache girl being her tribe's designated killer of enemies... whose favorite weapon is .357 Magnum... and who survives in this post-apocalyptic landscape to serve her scarred and insane genetically modified leaders...

Um, wait. On second thought... not THAT typical...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Get Out of your own Backyard

There's a whole world out there. You probably already knew that already, but in case you are like I was in high school, I thought I might make the point directly.

I grew up and went to high school in a small, highly homogenous town and while my teachers didn't exactly hide the fact that we were part of a larger, more diverse world, they certainly didn't emphasize the point, particularly not in my literature classes which featured, Shakespeare, Hardy and a slew of American writers mostly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Not that these are bad people to read. I've grown to love Whitman and Dickinson and Hawthorne and someday I may even convince my brain to enjoy Melville. But the thought of reading something in translation or from a foreign country other than the one with the Hobbits seemed completely anathema to those creating curriculum.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Perhaps you have heard of Neil Gaiman before - he's written some rather popular books for kids, such as Coraline and The Graveyard Book, which, if you've read them, probably strike you as "for all ages", really, since there is so much smartness and cleverness (not quite the same thing) and humor and horror inside the pages that surely they make as much sense to teens and adults as to children. Or perhaps you've heard about his rather popular books for adults, including Stardust, the Sandman graphic novels, or American Gods and its successor, Anansi Boys. There are other books in both categories, of course, as well as picture books and such, but the salient point is that it's likely you've heard of him before now.

If you've heard of him, then you know that Neil Gaiman is a Captain of Fantasy (a title I have just now created for him): one of those writers who can write fearlessly about the sorts of things that make us afraid. The sorts of things you never even considered fearing before, but that are pretty terrifying to consider. And they exist in magical worlds that exist just on the margins of the everyday world we inhabit. In Stardust, there was a wall that separated Wall, England, from a magical kingdom beyond, in which witches and even stars were real, living beings. In The Graveyard Book, the being to fear was not a ghost or a vampire (those were actually quite friendly sorts), but a hit-man sent to kill a small child. And in Coraline, the thing to fear was a being known as the Other Mother, a shapeless, formless, powerful sort of being that was able to assume a form and create an entire parallel world in an effort to capture Coraline's soul.

His current book opens with an epigraph from Maurice Sendak: "I remember my own childhood vividly. I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn't let adults know I knew. It would scare them."

It's a worthy warning for what is to come.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane shares some of the devices I mentioned in his earlier works: the narrator, a grown man, returns home to Sussex, England, where he recollects a story that happened in his youth. It starts out in our usual, everyday world, but quickly moves into some other sort of realm - involving some women, the Hempstock women, who are not quite the farmers they seem, and a preternatural being.

Let me be clear: This is decidedly a book for adults (and teens, in my opinion), despite the fact that much of the story being related transpired when the narrator was a child. Besides nudity (remember, it's a print book, not a graphic novel, so it is whatever you imagine it to be), there are decidedly grown-up concepts in the book. Including a rather interesting discussion of whether grown-ups exist, plus a look at what father/son relationships are like, and how they can leave a mark. There are questions, such as whether we are our bodies, or whether we are something else that exists within our bodies. And there is, in case you hadn't already worked it out, magic.

To sum up: The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about eternity and knowledge, about good and bad, existence and being. It is about all of those things, and none of those things, and about magic. And you should read it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.
                   Emily Dickinson

Boy Nobody insinuates himself into the lives of his targets. Gains the trust of someone close. Comes complete with a plausible backstory. Leaves quietly after the mission is accomplished. No family. No friends. No attachments. No questions asked.

The ultimate assassin. And only a teenager.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen

I can't help myself! I keep reviewing books by Gary Paulsen. But he's just so good! How good? Harris and Me reminds me of Tom Sawyer (The book, not movie.), that's how good. It also reminds me of another of Paulsen's books, How Angel Peterson Got His Name. If you liked that one, you owe it to yourself to read Harris and Me.

A young city boy is sent to spend the summer on his aunt and uncle's farm. Though he has lived many places over the years, he has never experienced anything like farm life . . . and he has never met anyone like Harris, his daredevil of a cousin (Publishers blurb).

I didn't know I was in love until it was all over and it was too late to do anything about it...

She had wide blue eyes and blond hair in braids that hung down her back, and she smiled and didn't look away when I looked at her, and I thought I would die.

"Hi. I'm Elaine...

"I've been staying with my grandmother in North Dakota..."

She said it like it was another country and I thought I might tell her that I had lived in the Philippines... and in Texas and had seen California and pretty much everything in between but nothing, absolutely nothing came out.

I don't know how long we could have gone on like that, her talking, me with my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth, wishing I could disappear, but time kicked in and took over. It was late... and the rest of the kids came out of the back room.

Harris spied me instantly and took in the situation in a glance. He came up to the table -- the ubiquitous bottle of orange pop in his hand -- and plunked down in a chair.

I made eye motions at him to leave but he ignored them and spoke to Elaine.

"How do you like my cousin?"

She smiled. "He seems nice."

Harris shook his head. "That's what I thought but he ain't right."

I pushed at his shoulder.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"In the head. He ain't right. It was something to do with when he was borned. They cut the cord too fast or something and his brain didn't get into the light. Brains got to get into the light or they don't work right. You remember that Severson kid? How he kept leaning left and ate his snot all the time?" Harris pointed at me with his chin. "It's the same with him."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Texts From Bennett by Mac Lethal

Mac Lethal is a rapper.  Since he’s also a white guy, people like to ask him if he wants to be “the next Eminem.”  He’d rather be the first himself—a dedicated, verbose, and conscious rapper.  He has a pretty good life—a nice house, a loving (if high-maintenance) fiancée from the right side of the tracks, and a career that’s well on its way up.  Then Bennett shows up.

Bennett is Mac’s cousin.  He’s seventeen years old, spends most of his time stoned, talks like the ultimate gangsta, and claims to be “thirteen percent black.”  He too is a rapper (albeit one with no skill), fixated on the worst “hos and bling” aspects of the genre.  In short, he is everything Mac is not.  He is also, however, family, and when family gets kicks out of its house and arrives at yours, its hazed-out mother and conspiracy-nut not-quite-stepfather in tow, you don’t leave it on the streets.  Even if that would probably be a better idea than letting it stay.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Surpassing the Creepy Standard

As a kid, I always hungered for good ghost stories. Not horror, mind you. I wasn't all that interested in blood and gore and zombies (though I developed an appreciation for that sort of thing later), but I was all about spooky, creepy interactions with the supernatural.

Good ghost stories for kids, though, were surprisingly hard to find. I'd scour the library shelves or I'd order something from Scholastic with a promising name like The Haunting of Sand Hill. The author would then go about setting up passably spooky things like shimmerings in the distance and creaking floorboards. But the final chapters were invariably disappointing, outlining Scooby-doo like explanations that revealed there was nothing supernatural going on at all. The shimmering was always an illusion caused by a heat wave or something. Lame.

The state of supernatural literature for children has markedly broadened in the years since I was a kid and that instinct to provide rational explanations for spooky events has waned. But it's still sometimes hard to find a good ghost story, one with the right amount of creepy that doesn't descend into either a lot of cheap scares or long-winded nonsense about "crossing to the other side."

Holly Black's Doll Bones, though, is the kind of ghost story I was, and still have been, looking for.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Prowlers by Christopher Golden

In recent years, the number of books about shapeshifters, werewolves, ghosts, and other extraordinary characters has multiplied. If you're digging through all of these series in search of your next read, look no further: Prowlers by Christopher Golden has been republished! Get all four books now!

I highly recommend Prowlers. It contains all of the elements which are vital to a good horror story: intriguing protagonists who are both fallible and brave, villains who are devious and memorable, high stakes, interesting plot twists and reveals, and lots of action and tension. Here's my capsulized summary and review:

At age nineteen, Jack Dwyer's best friend Artie is murdered. Not by humans, but by Prowlers, a group of ancient creatures whose handiwork is typically thought to be that of wolves.

But these are no wolves. They are animals, but their ability to think, their emotions and their need for revenge makes them as cunning as humans. Jack, as well as most of America, knows nothing of the Prowlers... That is, until Artie travels from the Ghostlands to tell his friend what truly happened.

Prowlers is positively riveting and inventive. Before the book was through, I was captivated by the villains, connected to the protagonists, and yearning to go on the prowl again.

Luckily, Prowlers is the first of a quartet of novels, so I could continue the journey with Jack and company through the other books. Of course, when the fourth and final book came out, I pretended it wasn't the last book. It couldn't be. As soon as I turned the last page, I felt the need to read all four books again. And again.

Here's the official book flap summary for the first book:

Long have the packs lacked a great leader. Scattered far and wide, they have hunted as best they could in the hard lands, in places where their predations could be passed off as the work of true wolves. Instead of...Prowlers

When nineteen-year-old Jack Dwyer's best friend Artie is murdered, he is devastated. But his world is truly turned upside down when Artie emerges from the Ghostlands to bring him a warning.

With his dead friend's guidance and the help of the one person who doesn't think he's insane, Jack learns of the existence of the Prowlers. Under bold new leader Owen Tanzer, the Prowlers, already eight packs strong, have united. They move from city to city, preying on humans until they are close to be being exposed, then they move on. And unlike werewolves of legend, they aren't human beings whom the moon transforms into wolves...they are savage beasts masquerading as humans.

Jack wants revenge. But even as he hunts the Prowlers, he marks himself -- and all of his loved ones -- as prey. 

There are four books in the series, and they should be read in order:
Laws of Nature
Predator and Prey
Wild Things

Click here to learn more about the series.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Axe Cop by Malachai and Ethan Nicolle

Axe Cop: the name says it all. One day a cop found a magical axe and used it to fight crime. Around the same time, five-year-old Malachai Nicolle teamed up with his professional artist brother Ethan to write a comic book. Ethan took Malachai's words—which usually involve explosions, aliens, and secret attacks—and gave them a visual flourish. And thus Axe Cop was born.
Contained in these pages is a frenzy of unchecked childhood imagination that has been given infinite space to roam free. Malachai invents adventures involving machine gun-toting dinosaurs on the Moon and magic babies with unicorn horns. Axe Cop's adventures are narrated in a plain-spoken manner which adds to their appeal. Axe Cop always says exactly what he is thinking.
"We should put these heads on a stick and hide bombs in them."
This sense of hyper-earnestness and lack of sarcasm on display makes book's tone ridiculously refreshing.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer

The Reluctant Assassin (W.A.R.P. #1) by Eoin Colfer
London, 1898 --  Riley stands over his mark, an old man sleeping in his bed. His master, Albert Garrick, has brought Riley here to make his first kill. He edges closer to the mark. He doesn't want to be a killer, but he's more afraid of Garrick than the man in the bed. The man wakes up, and it's clear he's no ordinary man. Before Riley can figure out what the strange man means when he says that others will figure out what happened, Garrick forces his hand. But as the man is dying, something very strange happens, and Riley finds himself transported.

London, present day -- After embarrassing the Bureau when her first assignment goes south, teenage Special Agent Chevron Savano finds herself babysitting a strange pod in a house in London, working with the strange Agent Orange, who will tell her nothing but that she must watch the pod. Chevie expects nothing but boredom from her assignment. Until the pod lights up and releases Riley (and the corpse of the man Garrick killed) in modern day London. Unfortunately, Albert Garrick soon follows, and Chevie and Riley must team up if they are to survive the murderous wrath of Albert Garrick.

I really enjoyed this book. I polished the whole thing off in one long, late night reading session. The opening sequence, with a knife in the dark, reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book, and Albert Garrick is a villain of the same stripe as the Man Jack in that book, with a bit of Gaiman's Croup and Vandemar thrown in as he stalks Chevie and Riley across time and space. I also really liked Riley and Chevie. Sometimes I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief when kids are also kick-ass spies and such, but Colfer built a believable world for his kick-ass characters in a story that's a fun blend of The Bourne Identity and Oliver Twist.

As you can see, this book is the beginning of a series, but the book works very well on its own, so if you want a great action story without committing to a series, you should definitely check this out. And, if you really like the characters, you can look forward to their future adventures without waiting at the edge of a cliffhanger.

This is cross posted at (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading

Monday, July 22, 2013

Itch: The Explosive Adventures of an Element Hunter by Simon Mayo

Some people collect baseball cards.

Others collect comic books.

Fourteen-year-old Itchingham Lofte collect elements. You know, as in lead, sulfur, phosphorous, and the other elements that make up the periodic table. It's an unusual hobby, and one that often gets Itch into unexpected trouble.

Itch's element collection is pretty small, comprised of things he's scavenged from home or managed to buy from a peddler. But some elements are expensive, and some are too dangerous to be sold. When Itch buys a sample of what he thinks is uranium, but turns out to be an extremely radioactive unknown element that could change the world, he must figure out how to keep the rocks out of the clutches of villains who are willing to do anything to get their hands on the mysterious new element.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Inner Game of Tennis

"To uncover and explore the potential within the human body is the quest of the Inner Game; in this book it will be explored through the medium of tennis." (From the author's introduction)

Here is a great article (more than a review)about this book's effect on readers' performance. The ideas are helpful for more than just tennis. I did not read it when it was published in the seventies, because I had William Tilden's How to Play Better Tennis, which really did help my game. I have not been on the court in years. But now I will read The Inner Game of Tennis. It may inspire me to play again, but even if it does not, I expect to learn to find the state of "relaxed concentration" necessary to peak performance. Sounds good to me!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress

Summer, the time Hollywood likes to bombard movie theatres with action movies where lots of things blow up and the balance of life as we know it may hang in the balance. In a world where digital special effects can deliver the most mind-bendingly realistic visions of destruction we have become numbed to the possibilities of things more deadly happening, literally beneath our feet, quietly preparing to destroy mankind.

This is the premise of Nancy Kress's ecological science-fiction story After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall. Despite sounding like a trilogy, what Kress delivers is a tale told fragments of Earth before, during, and after the planet has gone about the process of putting itself back into balance. It's probably best not to say too much about what, exactly, happens except that if you're a fan of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions -- or more importantly, what happens after all three of those things happen at once -- then that's all you need to know going in.

Well, almost.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

BLUFFTON by Matt Phelan

BLUFFTON by Matt Phelan is an interesting sort of tale. It's fiction, but it's exceptionally real. Named after a place, it's about a fictional boy named Henry, who lives in Muskegon, Michigan, and visits the nearby community of Bluffton, located near the shores of Lake Michigan. Except in a lot of ways, it's about a different boy -- a real boy known as Buster Keaton, who grew to be one of the greatest directors (and actor/directors) in history. Only truly, in the end, it's about what life was like in Bluffton during three consecutive summers (1908-1910), when the vaudevillians came to stay.

You see, once upon a time, before there were movies, there was vaudeville, described by "Ed Gray, Noted Monologuist" in the book as follows:

Vaudeville is variety.

A veritable cavalcade of comedians, jugglers, dancers, magicians, acrobats, musicians, and dramatic actors . . . . all for short, precise acts of the highest entertainment value!

A day in the theater promises twelve to fifteen acts to amuse, inspire, electrify, edify, and enlighten (for one small price).
And along with Harry Houdini, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and others, Buster Keaton was one of the biggest stars of the vaudeville circuit as part of a family act called "The Three Keatons". Their style of act was known as a "knockabout act", in which Buster got kicked, thrown, and dragged around, all while keeping a deadpan expression on his face.

This book is and is not all about Buster Keaton, but it does give you a good impression of what his life and childhood were like, and how it differed from the lives of "normal" children, who grew up in one place, went to school, and had to help out at home or in their father's shops. The book also makes clear why it was that in later years he always said that the happiest days of his life were the summers he spent in Bluffton.

The early 20th century and the people of Muskegon and Bluffton are brought wonderfully back into life, allowing the reader to experience what it must have been like for local kids to mix with the vaudevillians (and a little bit of the vice versa experience). Real - and realistic - in a way that a straight-up biography would not have been, for some readers this book will be a gateway to further research into Buster Keaton and/or vaudeville or Keaton's movies. And that can only be a good thing.

I reviewed an ARC of the book, which was (woefully) in black and white, but came with a fold-out card showing what some of the full-cover spreads are going to look like - and they are spectacular. Below is a photo I took of one of the spreads on the card, although I'm sorry to say that it doesn't do the work full justice. Still, it gives you a feeling for the aesthetic of the book, which is due out on July 23, 2013: