Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Everything BreaksAuthor Vicki Grove impressed me years ago with REACHING DUSTIN so I was thrilled to see this book at the bookstore a few weeks ago. More of a young adult offering, I predict it will be popular with both teen guys and girls. A creative combination of reality and touches of mythology-related fantasy, EVERYTHING BREAKS speaks of friendship and loss in a unique way that tries to make sense of needless tragedy.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

On October 2nd, the kids from homeroom 10B at Bloomberg High School in Manhattan got flu shots.

On October 3rd, they developed telepathy.

In Sarah Mlynowski's latest novel, the aptly-titled Don't Even Think About It, a group of fifteen-year-olds realize that knowledge is power -- and that power isn't all it's cracked up to be. Initially, some of them think it's neat to be able to read other people's thoughts, but then they realize it's a two-way street, and that other people from their homeroom can read their thoughts, too. The kids have to figure out ways to shield their thoughts or else risk exposing not only their own secrets, but also things that they know about their friends and family. Now they know each other's silly, fleeting thoughts and trivial concerns about zits and jeans and crushes as well as more serious matters of cheating (on boyfriends and girlfriends, on quizzes and tests) and they aren't sure what to do about their unexpected condition. During their private lunchtime meetings, self-perception mixes with group reception. When people realize what their friends, family members, and classmates really think about them, they get hurt, and alliances shift. Soon, it's clear that they have to decide whether or not to tell others about their telepathy - whether or not they are prepared for the fallout.

There's a lovely lightness in Sarah Mlynowski's YA books. That's not to say that she doesn't tackle serious subjects, because she does (what one character in particular discovers about his parents will break your heart), but the fact is she allows her characters to be young and act young and be impulsive sometimes and be selfish sometimes and occasionally have narrow fields of vision simply because that's their world right now - that what happens in their home and at their school and with their friends, that's their whole world. Then these characters realize what life is really like for other people, that what you see is not always what you get, and that every single person has ups and downs and worries and hopes. They ultimately realize what Buffy told Jonathan in Earshot, the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that also dealt with the ramifications of telepathy:
"Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own. The beautiful ones. The popular ones. The guys that pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling. The loneliness. The confusion. It looks quiet down there. It's not. It's deafening."
You might look at the cover of the book, which showcases three teenage girls, and wonder why I'm posting about this at GuysLitWire. The book has protagonists of both genders. Mlynowski has chosen to use the first-person plural "we" throughout the book, never pinning the narrator to be one specific character but instead letting the group at large relate their story. Nicely, each of the main characters has a distinct storyline and personality, from the easily-worried Olivia to the carefree Cooper, from Tess, who has a crush on her best friend, to BJ, who hits on every girl in his path.

YA readers may also pick up on little shoutouts to other authors and books, such as one character's nail polish color being called We Were Liars, a nod to a novel by E. Lockhart.

If you liked Don't Even Think About It, keep your eyes peeled for the sequel, Think Twice, which is scheduled to come out in 2015.

If this is your first taste of Sarah's writing, check out her backlist of titles, which also includes novels for adults and for younger readers.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

Count­down City by Ben H. Win­ters is the sec­ond novel in a tril­ogy. The first book, The Last Police­man, intro­duces the reader to a doomed world and a cast of characters.

Hank Palace used to be a police offi­cer with the Con­cord, NH police depart­ment, how­ever the world is com­ing to an end and the PD has been fed­er­al­ized. Hank still has a sense of pur­pose, and when an old friend asks him to find her miss­ing hus­band he takes on the challenge.
How can he find some­one in a world with no gaso­line, no phones, no way to tell if the hus­band is sim­ply ful­fill­ing his wishes before he dies.
Count­down City by Ben H. Win­ters finds the world 77 days before a huge meteor will hit and will end life as we know it. As expected many peo­ple are going nuts, the gov­ern­ment declares (basi­cally) mar­tial law and no one is really pay­ing atten­tion unless you have a gun.
Our hero, ex-policeman Hank Palace, does have a gun and a sense of duty and pur­pose but he starts los­ing hope as it becomes more clear that the inevitable is about to hap­pen. The char­ac­ters around Hank start speak­ing as if they out­side the novel, but can talk to the pro­tag­o­nist, basi­cally telling him to stop being so naïve and start fac­ing reality.
The mys­tery is far­fetched and the author asks the reader to take a leap of faith when it comes to the plot. Palace eye sight must be super­hu­man for him to observe all the minis­cule clues and leaps in logic – but that’s not what the story is really about so he gets a pass.
This is another well writ­ten, inter­est­ing book where the sto­ry­line takes sec­ond place to the descrip­tions of a soon to be doomed world and how soci­ety falls apart at the seams. Mr. Win­ters nar­ra­tive is well writ­ten, eas­ily read and cre­ates a thrilling world.
  • 320 pages
  • Pub­lisher: Quirk Books; First Edi­tion edi­tion (July 16, 2013)
  • Lan­guage: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594746265
Buy this book in paper or electronic format
Article first published as Book Review: Countdown City by Ben H. Winters on

Lockstep, by Karl Schroeder

Toby McGonigal is a seventeen year old boy on a routine space mission, heading for a far-off moon of the planet his family has colonized.

But something goes wrong. And when he wakes up, 14,000 years have passed. And everything has changed.

Lockstep is an inventive YA science fiction novel that will appeal to brainy readers who enjoy complicated worldbuilding, and many young men will connect to Toby's fundamental challenges (you know, looking for his mom, taking care of his brother, who by the way has become a dictator ruling over 70,000 worlds, pretty standard stuff).  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

When the royal family of Carthya is killed, their deaths are kept a secret in order to give the regents of the kingdom an opportunity to either find long lost Prince Jaron or prove him dead. During this time, one regent (Conner) searches the orphanages of the country and rounds up four orphans that have some resemblance to the lost Prince. Conner wants to train these four boys to be a Nobleman in the two weeks time before the regents meet again to announce the deaths of the Royal family and select a new King. He is hoping that one of these four boys can be transformed into his very own lost Prince. Such a deception would place the boy on the throne with Conner as the true ruler in the background. A false prince. The lie of a lifetime, for a lifetime. To pretend to be the Prince in order to be crowned the King, to rule the country and to marry the betrothed princess Amarinda.

The boys have other plans. They realize what it will mean to either be chosen or not chosen and so they are making plans to best Conner at his own game. As the ringleader, front runner and all around trouble maker, Sage does his best to make life difficult for Conner and his plan.

Nielsen builds a world full of details and well developed characters. Great for readers in 4th grade and above. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

If you haven't heard of The Crossover yet, you're officially on notice.  Here's your chance to read this book before the awards talk.  And, yes, there should be serious awards talk about this book and not just because it has already received five starred reviews but because it is a breath-taking and dazzling fast break work of art.  So, forget the awards talk (though it will certainly be warranted) and believe me: you should know this book because you'll want to put into kid's hands and share it with them.

Book Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters is a novel set in New Hampshire during a time when an asteroid is hurling towards Earth.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

War Brothers by Sharon McKay & Daniel LaFrance

After reading the graphic novel War Brothers, I realized that I’ve never really experienced hardship in my life.  The most harrowing moment I’ve experienced lately is seeing the “Temporarily Out of Stock” message on Amazon when trying to buy a pair of slippers.

War Brothers is a nightmare on paper. What’s even more troubling is the fact that it’s entirely true. It takes the reader on an exploration of unspeakable violence, torture and the limits that people will go to survive.
The year is 2002, Jacob is a 14 year old boy from a wealthy family, living in the Ugandan city of Gulu. Life is good and Jacob is looking forward to returning to school and catching up with his friends. On the periphery of this setting is the now-infamous Joseph Kony and his group The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who are abducting children, forcing them to fight for his cause or be murdered themselves. His cause being the complete destruction of the Ugandan government and everything it stands for.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Zane and the hurricane by Rodman Philbrick

Hurricane Katrina was a devastating event that uprooted families, shattered a community and changed the way the country responds to natural disasters.  I for one vividly recall the images on the nightly news and the delayed response to the calamity. Folks were interviewed and were so desperate for some sort of assistance that they said they were "refugees". Foreign nations offered to send aid to the US- usually it's the other way around. This book is told from the viewpoint of a young boy who for all intents and purposes is a foreigner to New Orleans- Zane is a young boy from New England who visits the area in an attempt to reconnect with his father's side of the family.  It is just his bad luck that his visit coincides with the worst storm to hit the area in years.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Winner's Curse

(I'm a few days late, I apologize!)

What a stunning book! The Winner's Curse is a beautifully written with two great protagonists and terrific supporting characters, it's another book that I'm glad I read because it helps straighten out some ideas I have in my own writing. It also will not get the kudos it deserves for being a spectacular fantasy book. I think it suffers (and I hate using that word) from "girl in the frilly, pink dress on the cover but that's your problem if your a guy and it bother's you syndrome."

The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely

There are burdens we cannot be expected to bear alone. This is a theme in so much of young adult literature, and after more than twenty years of teaching teenagers, it is a cardinal truth I recognize about life. For far too many young people, the burden remains unshared, either because they feel they have no one in their lives to trust, or their guilt and shame is such that they are afraid to speak, or in the case of many males, they are culturally conditioned to believe stoically bearing burdens is what men do.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lies Beneath

This is not your typical mermaid story!

First of all, the protagonist is a guy. Second, his home waters are Lake Superior - the largest of the Great Lakes.

Calder is a merman, but not by choice or by birth. Along with the daily struggles of not drying out, keeping his tail a secret, and feeding on the emotions of humans, Calder must return to his adopted sisters in order to exact revenge on the Hancock family and avenge their mother. Calder unexpectedly falls in love with Lily Hancock, who is not at all fazed by his being a merman. Calder must then balance obligations to his family, a merman's promise, and his newfound love for Lily.

I absolutely loved this book. It really hit home because I vacationed at Lake Superior throughout my childhood, and I often imagined magical creatures and monsters below the waves. The writing was superb, the characters were fascinating and quirky and so very real. The biology and myth the author creates to explain her mermaids is believable and original. I would highly recommend Lies Beneath to anyone interested in folklore and paranormal YA from a guy's perspective.

If you liked Lies Beneath then don't miss the last two books in the series, Deep Betrayal and Promise Bound.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wolverton Station / Sleep Donation

As much as I wanted to review something poetic this month the closest I'm going to get is the pair of rhyming digital-only book titles listed above!

First up, a delightful appetizer of a short story called "Wolverton Station" by Joe Hill, where an unctuous American businessman suddenly realizes between stations on a British train that he is surrounded by wolves. Literally. Not werewolves, but human-sized, clothes-wearing canis lupus. Casual as he can our businessman tries to pretend that its a prank, a hoax, a protest against The Man, but toward the end there's no denying these wolves are real, and so is the danger.

"Wolverton Station" is the kind of story that plays out like an episode of The Twilight Zone by keeping the action claustrophobic and as close to the main character as possible. Why are there wolves, why is he the only human, how did he end up in the situation... questions for which there is no answer, and none is really necessary. It's a breezy read, the kind its easy to get caught up while traveling and short enough to gobble down in one sitting.

For Karen Russell's e-novella Sleep Donation I don't know whether to recommend being well-rested before diving in or to try and time it so you drop off immediately after reading. Either way, you're going to want to be sure you can sleep afterward.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

CAMINAR by Skila Brown

Over the past couple of days, I have had the immense pleasure of reading Skila Brown's debut novel in verse, CAMINAR, a Spanish word that means "to walk". It tells the story of Carlos, a Guatemalan boy living in the early 1980's, a time of intense civil unrest and war within his country. The book is composed of individual poems from Carlos's point of view, and they convey in snap-shot like sequence what it was like to live in Guatemala at a time when young men were being conscripted to fight in the army or with the guerrillas, and many people, including a lot of older men, were killed or disappeared if they protested. It was also a time when the army occasionally (or far too often) slaughtered entire villages over suspicion that they harbored guerrillas or for other, unspecified, reasons.

The book opens with poems that establish what Carlos's village, home, and daily life are like, including the concerns about the army and the guerillas. Carlos is old enough to start to work in the coffee fields, though his mother would rather he stay in school. Some of his friends mock him for his fear of the dark, something he overcomes through the book as far worse horrors unfold.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Apothecary by Maile Maloy

There’s something completely irresistible about the intersection of alchemy, speculative fiction, and history. Maile Maloy’s The Apothecary is one of those books.  It manages to bring them together in a way that is always smart, often intriguing, occasionally funny, and altogether engaging.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

This Just In

Ok, maybe it's not really news, having been announced four months ago, but Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood and Co. : The Screaming Staircase won a 2014 Cybils award for Sci Fi / Fantasy.

What, you may ask, are the Cybils? Comes, somehow, from Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards which is given each year to the most deserving nominated books as determined by a group of dedicated bloggers. You can read more about it here.

Who, then, is this Jonathan Stroud? He is probably best known for a group of books known collectively as the Bartimaeus trilogy, about a young wizard in training who is, decidedly, NOT enrolled at Hogwarts. Rather than learning magic through taking classes at a boarding school, Stroud's magicians are apprentices who learn to control dangerous demons who, hopefully, carry out their bidding. Some might say the Bartimaeus books are even better than those books about that wizard whose name rhymes with Nary Notter.

What is this Screaming Staircase? Just as Stroud's Bartimaeus books take place in an alternative Victorian England where things like demons can be summoned, The Screaming Staircase takes place in a different alternative Victorian England. This England has been invaded, for some unknown reason, by ghosts of the dead.