Friday, May 31, 2013

This Ain't no Disney Movie

These days you can't spit a mouthful of poisoned apple without it splatting against another adaptation of a classic fairy tale. Many of these remakes emphasize the darker aspects of fairy tales. Some of them move the fairy tale characters and situations into more modern settings. Others, annoyingly, feature Kristin Stewart.

The twisted fairy tale subgenre has lately been quite overdone. And yet, a series like Cornelia Funke's Mirrorworld books demonstrates that despite over-exposure, dark fairy-tale inspired stories can still be both gripping and original. Starting with Reckless, the series follows the Reckless brothers, Jacob and Will, into what they call the Mirrorworld, an alternative reality in which fairy tale creatures (or at least their dark counterparts) exist for real. This is a world populated by living stone-skinned gargoyles (called, simply, Goyl), evil witches (known as Child Eaters) , shape-shifters who can change into animals, blood-thirsty unicorns, and, among many other things, curse uttering fairies. In Reckless, the younger brother, Will, is scratched by a Goyl and his skin begins slowly turning to stone.

(SPOILER ALERT -- if you haven't read Reckless and don't want the story spoiled, stop here. Read my full review of Reckless here, if you want)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Magic Zero is a must-have series!

In the world of Magic Zero, everyone and everything is magic.

Everyone, that is, except for Timothy. For his own safety, his kind father kept him hidden away for years, providing him with a safe haven and a chance at a decent - albeit magic-free - childhood.

When his father passes away, Timothy is flung back into the world. Now everyone knows he exists. Who can he trust? Where can he go? He must decide who his allies are - and quickly, because assassins are coming for him.

The books are packed with action, fantasy, and drama. Timothy is surrounded by intriguing, strong characters: a warrior who can blend in with his surroundings; a robot buddy of his own creation; firebreathing, war-torn dragons; a talking raven named Edgar; and Cassandra, a girl who may or may not be on the same side as her power-hungry grandfather.

You simply must put Magic Zero in the hands of kids who love magic and fantasy series. There's something here for everyone, whether you like the otherworldly creatures in The Spiderwick Chronicles or the battles and tribunals featured in Star Wars. This is a great introduction to the works of the imaginative and prolific authors Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski. Each author has released a multitude of titles individually, including Golden's chilling Shadow Saga (thankfully, these vampires do not sparkle) and Sniegoski's best-selling teen angel series The Fallen. Older readers (meaning teens and adults) should check out the pair's dark fantasy series The Menagerie, which I often compare to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and give to fans of the X-Men.

Back to Magic Zero: Is this for the Harry Potter crowd? Yes, no doubt about it. At the core of the story, you've got a boy who becomes an unlikely hero in a world filled with magic. The really cool flip in Magic Zero, what sets it apart from other books starring a Young Boy on a Magic Quest, is that Timothy's the only person who cannot wield magic. Also, we know this going into the book, rather than being a loss or gain of powers somewhere along the way. Magic Zero is inventive, the premise well-developed and executed. Just wait 'til you see what happens when Timothy approaches a door protected by magic. Also, there are dragons, robots, talking animals, and more, more, more. Steampunk aficionados, check out the alternate sources of energy used in these books; Star Wars fans, prepare thyself for a battle of epic proportions.

Read the books in order:
Magic Zero
Dragon Secrets
Ghostfire - available June 4th
Battle for Arcanum - available August 27th

Get the Magic Zero series online now!

Magic Zero Magic Zero Dragon Secrets Magic Zero Ghostfire


Monday, May 27, 2013

Download some audiobooks this summer with SYNC

By the time I remembered to write about SYNC last summer, the first few sets of downloads had already elapsed. This year, though, I'm on top of things!

For those who aren't familiar with SYNC, it's a promotion sponsored by AudioFile magazine and audiobook publishers giving away free audiobook downloads. Each week, for twelve weeks, two different audiobooks are offered: one middle grade or young adult novel, and one classic. The books change every week and you do need to have special software, the Overdrive Media Console, installed on your computer or mobile device. But I did mention these audiobooks are free, right?

And the list of books to be given away is pretty awesome, including a couple of books that others have recommended here at Guys Lit Wire, Carter Finally Gets It and Frankenstein. Other books I'm planning to download? Rotters (I've heard it's got some rather graphically disgusting parts, but if I can handle Chelsea Cain and Mary Roach, I should be able to handle this, right?), Letter From Birmingham Jail, The False Prince, Grave Mercy, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and, well, take a look at the full SYNC schedule here. The first set of audiobooks will be available beginning May 30.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Manhattan Projects Volume 1: Science Bad by Jonathan Hickman

I thought that Manhattan Projects was weird, and then the main characters stuck a cybernetic spike into Franklin Roosevelt's head, creating the world's first artificial intelligence.
Woe to anyone hoping that Jonathan Hickman's comic book series would be an accurate retelling of the construction of the atomic bomb. Sure, it gets mentioned from time to time. The real driving force of Hickman's story, which ended up on many top comics lists last year, is the idea that the atomic bomb is just one of the hideous creations that super-geniuses Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, and Richard Feynman were working on. The other stuff... it ain't pretty.
What's more, the weapon of mass death was the least reprehensible thing that these brilliant men were involved with. Their other projects spiral the story into a mash-up of alternate history with a steady portion of pulp horror.
Take Mr. Oppenheimer, for example. He seems quiet and mild-mannered, but we find that his identity has been assumed by his evil twin brother, who murders and then cannibalizes his victims, gaining their knowledge and souls for a schizophrenic army. You still with me?
All of these figures have their deep, dark secrets. Einstein, locked up by the government, drunkenly obsesses over a 2001-style monolith. What secrets does it hold? Probably some hideous ones.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Loki's Wolves

Loki's Wolves by KL Armstrong and MA Marr

Matt Thorsen and his family have a secret. They are descendants of Thor, god of thunder. In fact, most people in his small hometown of Blackwell, South Dakota, are descendants of Norse gods, including Matt's classmates Fen and Laurie Brekke, who are descendants of Loki. Which is trouble enough for the 8th graders, but now, Ragnarok is at hand, and Matt has been chosen as the champion of Thor's descendants, the one who will fight the giant Midgard serpent. As Loki's descendant, Fen is expected to help thwart Matt's attempts to stop the end of the world, but instead, Fen and Laurie team up with Matt, at the behest of the Norns, to join forces with other descendants of the gods, to change the story and prevent the ice age and end of the world they believed Ragnarok would usher in.

In general, I liked this book (the beginning of a trilogy). I'm a huge fan of Norse mythology and have been looking for something along the Percy Jackson lines in this myth system, and for the most part, Loki's Wolves fills the bill. The writing isn't quite as vivid as Riordan's series. It's rather heavy on exposition, relying on info dumps to set the scene. I liked that the characters (well, Matt and Fen) knew of their godly heritages instead of suddenly learning about it and then being thrust into battle. As a result, the exposition isn't handled quite as smoothly as I'd like, and because of this, I think the books are better suited to younger middle grade readers -- not that these kids don't deserve good writing. I'm just remembering myself as a burgeoning novel reader, and I was more forgiving of clumsy exposition. And it's not all exposition. There's plenty of action. Matt, Laurie and Fen face off with trolls and maras and wolves. And this book ends with a rather exciting cliffhanger. So while I was occasionally put off by less-than-deft info dumps, I do think that kids looking for more Riordan-esque mythology series will enjoy this series.*

This review is cross posted at (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading, with a few extra tidbits (or, if I'm honest, a bit of whinging) if you're interested in that sort of thing.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Goes Down

For years, science writer Mary Roach has been writing books about how science deals with uncomfortable subjects, the sort of subjects you are supposed to avoid in polite company. In Stiff, she explores the world of cadavers; in Spooked she follows the scientific search for the soul; in Bonk she dives into science and sex (recommended for mature adults only, not because of the raciness of the subject matter but because it will rob the young of all the mystery, romanticism and power they associate with the subject). Her next book, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, carries on the tradition, tagging along on science's trek through the digestive system.

There are really two ways to approach such uncomfortable subjects. One is to get extremely clinical. If you've ever had an especially embarrassing malady--and I'll spare you any descriptions of mine--your doctor and the workers in the medical lab may have used this approach, explaining things using Latin terms and refusing to crack a smile. The other approach is to glory in everything that makes you squeamish. There's a certain thrill in being grossed out. This is well understood by the makers of horror films and by ten year-olds the world over. It's also well understood by Mary Roach.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The last, wonderful word, from the Book Fair for Ballou High School

More than 160 books bought off the list - all books they requested and wanted and now can thoroughly enjoy. Thanks so much for participating and watch this fall when we jump back on the list for a holiday book fair!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Around the World by Matt Phelan

Ever see or read Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days? It tells the story of a gentleman named Phileas Fogg who accepts a wager requiring him to circumnavigate the earth in 80 days' time or forfeit quite a lot of money (£20,000, which, accounting for inflation and all, would be a bit more than $1 million dollars (US) these days). It's a great story, and one I highly recommend for its character development, adventure, and derring-do. But that is not precisely what I'm here to talk about today.

Today, I'm talking about three real-life people who were inspired by Jules Verne's story to travel around the world themselves: Thomas Stevens, who made the trip by bicycle, Nellie Bly, one of the first American reporters to become a celebrity, and Joshua Slocum, a retired sea captain who sailed solo around the world. Specifically, I'm talking about Matt Phelan's remarkable graphic novel about those three individuals, each of whom had their own reasons for their journeys.

Thomas Stevens, 1884

Thomas Stevens decided to leave his job in the mines to seek fame and (hopefully) fortune by riding first across the U.S., then around the world. After traveling from San Francisco to Boston, Stevens secured a sort of sponsorship from the Pope Manufacturing Company. The owner of the company didn't believe that cyclists ought to be paid professionals (hear that, Lance Armstrong?), but he agreed to pay Stevens for his written accounts of his journey.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Scowler by Daniel Kraus

How do you defeat a monster without becoming a monster yourself?  Nietzsche warned us of this danger years ago (“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”).

That’s the big question in Scowler, a brutal Midwestern gothic novel by Daniel Kraus. Ry’s father, Marvin, is a monster by any definition. He abuses his wife, terrorizes his children, bullies everyone he comes into contact with. Marvin even bullies the very land he farms. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Ultimate Teen Book Guide

The Ultimate Teen Book Guide is a collection of more than 700 book recommendations put together by editors Daniel Hall, Leonie Flynn, and Susan Reuben.

Open this Guide and you'll be opening the door to tons of lovable heroines, deplorable villains, or fantastical worlds....

Ever wonder what your favorite author's favorite book is? Many of today's most popular authors have weighed in on the books they love the most. There are also recommendations by other teens, as well as by librarians, illustrators, editors, and other people who work with and love books.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Interview: Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks

Last week Craig reviewed the new graphic novel Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, and as excited as I was to see it here at Guys Lit Wire I was extremely bummed because I wanted to review it myself! No matter, I got the chance to interview author Prudence Shen and illustrator Faith Erin Hicks about their influences, the competitive passions of jocks and nerds, and as a bonus one of my favorite expressions – chuckleheads – makes an appropriate appearance.

A million thanks to Gina Gagliano at First Second for making it happen.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

Iain M. Banks's Culture novels are the best of the modern space operas. Centering on the Culture, a post-scarcity utopia devoid of hierarchies and overseen by hyper-intelligent AI Minds, they tend to focus on clashes between the ideals of the Culture and other galactic civilizations. For that reason, the novels center around Contact and its secret service Special Circumstances, whose goal is the delicate balance between nudging other civilizations towards the Culture's philosophies without becoming conquerors themselves. The Player of Games, the second Culture novel to be published, places this conflict front and center with the game of Azad.

With a certain amount of subterfuge, Contact orchestrates the Culture's greatest game-player, Jernau Morat Gurgeh, to visit the Azadian Empire, a rare interplanetary empire that has managed to cohere together around Azad, a game used to determine fitness for government positions. Azad is a fantastically complex board game, played on three giant boards hundreds of meters across, and capable of encoding philosophies and politics in the gameplay. The driving force of the novel once Gurgeh arrives in Azad is the clash between Gurgeh's Culture-influenced philosophies and the Azadian imperialist philosophies, both on and off the game-board.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

I'm going to avoid a long speech about judging books by covers. I don't actually think the cover to Luis Alberto Urrea's hilarious and fascinating novel, Into the Beautiful North, is bad or off-putting. But I can see how, if you're a guy that doesn't just pick books up and read the first few pages to decide what books to read, you might not see all the qualities this book has to offer.

Put simply, I wish this book's sense of humor and rapid plot were more readily broadcast by the cover. Consider the setup: 19-year-old named Nayeli is inspired by the classic western film The Magnificent Seven to take back control of her home village in Mexico when she realizes there are no men in town to help fight off the recently arrived bandidos. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Being Friends With Boys, by Terra McVoy

Here's a thing that's strange: I like reading YA books.

On the face of it, that doesn't seem strange, except that I'm a guy, and that doesn't seem to be acceptable to publishers, book designers, marketing departments, and a whole host of other folks who are responsible for getting YA books onto shelves. No surprise, it's why guyslitwire exists, really.

But yesterday, a new book came into the store, and, despite having a generic YA cover with a girl's face(seen here on the book's page), and an awkward/not quite punny title: Life After Theft, I took a look at the description (maybe it was because of the awkward title?).

It's about a guy who's haunted by the ghost of a klepto, and he agrees to return the stuff she stole so she'll stop haunting him.
That's a book I'm interested in! That's a book with a hook, one which (I think) guys as well as gals will be intrigued by. But the cover and the title? Especially the cover? No guy will ever read it.

That's something deftly avoided by Terra McVoy's newest paperback release, Being Friends With Boys. It's about a girl in high school who's part of a band (she's their manager and writes the songs), and everyone else involved is a guy. The cover is understated, and has a heart in the coffee cup, but it's dark blue and doesn't chase me away. No, I'm intrigued. And for good reason.