Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Teen Survey: Calvin

It's time for another reader survey! It's all well and good for me to post about a book I've read and enjoyed, but here's some input from an actual teen.

Name: Calvin



Books recently read for fun: Fall of Giants by Ken Follett - It took me a while, but it was a fantastic read and ultimately awesome! - and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell - heart-wrenching, and you really want the main characters to get together.

Books recently read for class: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Books you want to read: Winter of the World and Edge of Eternity, the second and third books in the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett.

Books you read as a kid: Harry Potter! Book of choice; just great. My sister read the 7th book 13 times.

Why you like to read: I can't stop reading; it's a passion, and it takes my mind off school.

Favorite book genres/topics: Sci-fi/historical fantasy. Fantasy books transport me into new worlds (so) it's hard to stop reading.

Favorite authors: Ken Follett

Favorite playwrights and plays: West Side Story

Favorite movies: Airplane! My favorite movie by far. I love comedy movies.

Favorite musicians/music genres: Jazz

Anything else you want to say: Reading is awesome!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Five of my favorite books from 2015 (and six 2016 books I'm looking forward to)

It's that time of year for bloggers to make some lists. So, with the caveat that there are a lot of 2015 books that I haven't gotten to yet, like Thing Explainer, here are my five favorites from this year.

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario
Lynsey Addario is now an acclaimed, award-winning photojournalist and combat photographer who has worked in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Libya (where she and several colleagues were kidnapped). But though she began taking pictures as a teenager, she never considered photography as a career until after graduating from college. At first, photography was something she did to earn money to travel around the world. Then, as she increasingly ventured into dangerous regions despite the risks and the effects on her personal life, it became her job and her calling. It’s What I Do, featuring some of Addario’s photographs, is an eye-opening memoir exploring how she became a photographer and why she continues to venture around the world to document war and injustice.

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson
Here in the U.S., when we think of 20th century Russia/Soviet Union, things like the fall of the Romanovs, communism, and the Cold War come to mind, not World War II. As M. T. Anderson demonstrates, in order to understand what happened during the war, we do need some understanding of the Romanovs, communism, and the Cold War, but it’s also worth noting what we’re ignoring by overlooking the Soviet role in World War II: it “eventually suffered 95 percent of the military casualties inflicted on the major Allied powers (the U.S., the U.K., and the USSR)—and 90 percent of Germans killed in combat died fighting them.” An estimated 27 million Soviets, both military and civilian, died during the war, over 15% of the USSR’s population. The city of Leningrad (formerly Petrograd, formerly and now once again St. Petersburg) suffered under a German siege lasting 900 days; a million people died, and a million others went to desperate lengths to survive the freezing cold and starvation. It is in this context—the instability of the last days of the Romanovs, the rise of the Communists, then the treacherous consolidation of power by Joseph Stalin, and the suffering of World War II—that the famous composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who was alternately honored and denounced by the authorities, wrote his Seventh Symphony during the siege of Leningrad in honor of his beloved birthplace. (See also Colleen's review from earlier this year.)

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Family and loss are themes that are not usually the themes in jfic books and when one does encounter one such book it is hard not to feel depressed upon completion of the book. This novel is different however, so light is the author's touch (it is no wonder she has won awards for her writing) that the book is a page turner despite the heavy subject matter.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Elizabeth Grey is a witch hunter. No, she's not chasing down bed knobs and broom sticks, she's the real deal. Her work includes taking down dangerous wizards & necromancers that summon ghouls, impose curses and generally wreck havoc in their city.

One day, after a long shift of crushing evil, Elizabeth and her partner Caleb go for a drink at the local watering hole. One thing leads to another and Elizabeth finds herself disoriented, confused and frightened.

In her delirium, she finds herself in possession of illegal substances and in a cruel twist of irony is accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death.

Waiting to die in a freezing jail cell, abandoned by her friends and sick with fever, Elizabeth is offered salvation from an unlikely source, a notoriously dangerous wizard named Nicholas Perevil.

Saved by the enemy, she's asked to perform a deadly task as payment: Find and destroy the source of the life-draining curse that's been thrust upon Nicholas by an unknown adversary.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Back in the fall, The New York Times Magazine asked its readers whether they would go back in time and kill baby Hitler if such a possibility existed. And because we are heading into an election year in America, and because the twenty-four-hour news cycle must be constantly fed, and because the Internet and any mention of Hitler is a toxic combination, the question went viral.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens

Who says a book needs to be a new release? Certainly not those of us at Guys Lit Wire.

This one has the benefit of being out of copyright and therefore available for free download on pretty much every platform you can think of, though being a bit of a traditionalist, I prefer an actual book. There's a lovely, slim, leather-clad volume available quite reasonably at Barnes & Noble, but today, I'm going with the Candlewick Press edition illustrated by P.J. Lynch, since it was close at hand.

Perhaps you've seen one of the (many) film versions of this story, from the Muppets to Patrick Stewart to Vanessa Williams to Bill Murray (in Scrooged) to musical versions and animated versions (including Mr. Magoo, Mickey Mouse, and one with Jim Carrey). They are all good, in their ways, but nothing comes close to the humor of Dickens's writing, and the conversational tone of the narrator.

Here, for instance, is the start of the story, from "Stave One: Marley's Ghost":

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don't know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

FUZZY MUD by Louis Sachar

Fuzzy Mud

Author Louis Sachar, famous for HOLES, is back with a new release called FUZZY MUD. 

Tamaya and Marshall attend Woodridge Academy.  Tamaya is in fifth grade and her mother insists that she not walk to and from school alone.  Since Marshall, a seventh grader, lives nearby, he is Tamaya's companion twice a day.  Years have gone by uneventfully, but that is about to change.

Marshall is the victim of school bully Chad Hilligas.  When Chad threatens to beat Marshall up on the way home, Marshall insists he and Tamaya take what he calls a "shortcut."  The supposed shortcut takes the two through the woods and makes Tamaya very uncomfortable.

The two soon become separated in the dense woods.  Sure that she has heard Chad following closely, Tamaya trips in her rush to escape.  She feels her hand sink into something she describes as "fuzzy mud."  When she hears footsteps coming closer, she clutches a handful and flings it at the noise.  The mud hits Chad full in the face allowing Tamaya to make her escape.

Overnight Tamaya's hand develops an unusual rash which develops into bleeding blisters.  The condition worsens throughout the next day, and she begins to wonder what happened to Chad.  That worry deepens when it is announced at school that Chad has been reported missing.  After that the plot (and the mud) thickens.

This frightening tale is perfect for middle grade readers.  Many of them may have not even heard of HOLES or Sachar's other books, but FUZZY MUD is sure to earn fans who can then be pointed in the direction of his earlier books.

Previously posted at readingjunky.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Reading Without Reading: Dramatic Audio from LATW

Some literature—novels, short stories, essays—you are meant to read, silently, to yourself. But some—spoken word poetry, play scripts, film scripts—have to be performed to be complete. You can read them, sure, but you're truly only getting a fraction of the picture.

LA Theatre Works is a loosely affiliated group of actors who perform audio-only productions of many of our finest theatrical works. The casts are often composed of well-known tv and movie actors like John Lithgow, Hilary Swank, Neal Patrick Harris and many many others. Most of their plays are from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They run the gamut from recent Broadway dramas by the likes of John Guare and Wendy Wasserstein to classics like Arthur Miller’s a Death of Salesman. They do, however, have a number of productions by Shakespeare and Sophocles. Here’s a hint: If you’re struggling to read Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet or Julius Caesar for English class, try to listening to a professional production instead. It will do wonders to clear up the language. And it’s not cheating, I swear!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Celebrate Cyber Monday with a last 2015 gift for Ballou High School Library

We have opened up the wish list for Ballou High School one last day this year, just in case you have a few dollars to share with library while you are in the midst of your Cyber Monday shopping. You can find all the details about the Book Fair for Ballou in our post from November 9th and check out the remaining 198 books on the Amazon wish list here.

Books make wonderful gifts—we hope that you are planning to share all of your favorites and more with your loved ones this holiday season.

Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden

Not everyone is who they appear to be in Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden.

Frank isn't where he thought he'd be in life. Literally. He's recently been confined to his basement by a menacing assailant who looks like exactly like him. This strange man starts to live Frank's life, getting a better job, establishing a better reputation, even looking better, while his original becomes weaker and more miserable, handcuffed at the bottom of his house. The longer he's trapped there, the more Frank forgets who he was - and the less he wants to remember.

Tess, scarred physically and emotionally by the curves life has thrown her, tries not to harbor resentment for her ex-husband, Nick, who seems to have moved on quite easily after their divorce. He even has a new girlfriend. One day, when Tess encounters Nick in the street, he acts like he doesn't know her, even claims to have another name. Then Tess calls her ex and discovers he's nowhere near Boston, and that man she saw - that perfect twin - couldn't have been him. But who was it, then? Tess confides in her best friend, Lili. But soon, Lili has troubles of her own - and perhaps a double of her own, too...

Audrey's work debunking faux psychics and charlatans has also exposed her to people who do have a sixth sense and who can communicate with the dead. Well-educated and happily married with a baby on the way, Audrey knows that there is true evil in this world - and she must be careful not to let it touch her family, or herself. But she can no longer keep such things at arm's length when a group that she worked with years ago comes knocking at her door, needing her help and expertise in order to protect themselves and their loved ones from the strange dopplegangers that are populating their lives...

Dead Ringers is a new twist on the evil twin story, one of otherworldly horror laced with intrinsic doubts, where personal histories and dark, supernatural elements mix with motives and instincts that are deeply human. Combine that with strong, layered characters and this makes for a frighteningly real foray into our darkest fears.

Christopher Golden employs a diverse cast, the kind I wish more movies, TV shows, and other stories would showcase: characters with different backgrounds, different skin colors, different pairings and homes and physical limitations and emotions and responsibilities - and these character traits are described and discussed responsibly. For example, how Nick deals with things, because he has Asperger's, which is never an excuse, never an apology or a punchline, simply the scope through which he views the world. I also appreciate the fact that although most of the main characters are roughly the same age and have some overlapping interests, they are at different stages in life and have vastly different jobs.

Let's not forget our youngest character, Maddie, Nick and Tess' daughter. She is delightful, youthful, and important to the story without ever being a textbook pawn nor a victim.

And that ending! Once again, Golden gives a solid conclusion to the overall story and wraps up the individual storylines, then delivers a haunting final page that tears right into the eyes and hearts of readers.

There's a certain element in this book that reminded me of a classic story I enjoy. I won't say which one, because I don't want to give too much away, but I will say the way Golden employed this item gave me shivers and slivers.

Dead Ringers was released November 3rd, 2015.

If you're new to the world of Golden books, check out my post Where to Start: Reading Christopher Golden.
My favorite standalone novel by Golden is The Boys Are Back in Town.
His latest releases include Tin Men and Inheritance.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

I don't usually like to read the little blurb on the dust jacket of a book if I know I am going to read the book simply because of the brilliant author who has written it. So, maybe in this case I should have.  I have to admit, I was thoroughly confused to start with in this book! I just kept reading, trusting that Ness would somehow pull all of the craziness together. I mean zombies, soul-sucking ghosts, indie kids, blue lights and Gods all have a part to play in this. That's a lot of territory to cover! As usual, we are left with an amazing finish to a beautifully written story. Despite my initial confusion, I really liked this book and have suggested it to many teens as something new and fresh to read. Many authors try to relate to the lives of teens and what they have to deal with each and every day, but in this story I think that Patrick Ness hits the nail on the head in a sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and sometomes touching way. The underlying threads of difference and acceptance make this a story with something for everyone.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

And that's a wrap (almost) for the Book Fair for Ballou High School

As I write this (on Sunday night), we have 198 books left on the wish list for Ballou High School. As we started at just under 400, and several books are being sent direct to Ballou by authors, I can safely say that well over 200 books (more in the area of 250) have been bought for the school library this year.


I won't lie - constantly updating twitter and reaching out to folks on other social media, makes this book fair seem never ending sometimes. (I'm sure that some of the folks who follow me because I'm an aviation writer were endlessly confused over the past two weeks as I bombarded them with tweets about YA titles to send to a DC public school.) But it is so WORTH IT. The kids have already started receiving books and librarian Melissa Jackson is delighted with what they have received. We certainly accomplished some great stuff for Ballou over the past two weeks and I am so happy, as always, to have been a part of this.

We are going to pop back up on Cyber Monday, just in case some of you are in a gifting mood that extends beyond your own family and friends. If we can maybe get another 10 or 20 books that way, it will sure make the holiday brighter for Melissa. Personally, I wish I could send her 10,000 books and turn Ballou into one of the best teen libraries in the nation. It's something to aim for, don't you think? Every library in America should be that great.

Stay tuned until next Monday but in the meantime - THANK YOU so much for your support of the Book Fair!

Friday, November 20, 2015

UPDATED: Doing all we can for the Ballou High School library

We are getting ready to shut down this weekend the Book Fair for Ballou High School in Washington DC but wanted to thank everyone who has purchased books so far. We have about 150 books headed to DC from the amazon wish list and appreciate so much each and every book that has been bought. (As you can see, the kids are delighted with the books that have already arrived.)

In case you have not bought a book yet, there are some titles left on the wish list that we would especially like to see bought. These are all series books and as you know, it's awful when you are left hanging by a cliffhanger or receive the last books in a series and not the first ones! So please take a look at these books, or, of course, feel free to purchase anything from the list. We will likely open it up again, briefly, for Cyber Monday, so keep that date in mind as well.

Books are the best gifts in the world and the kids at Ballou High School, along with librarian Melissa Jackson, are so very happy that you have sent so many of them to fill their library's shelves.

Wish list link again: http://tinyurl.com/BookFairforBallou


Crown of Midnight by Sarah Maas 
Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas (Books 1 & 3 in the series were bought)

Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine (The sequel, Of Dreams & Rust, was bought)

Solitary by Andrew Gordon Smith (The first in the series was bought)  

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason (The 2nd & 3rd books in the series were bought)

Just Another Hero by Sharon Draper  
The Battle of Jericho by Sharon Draper (The 2nd book in the trilogy was bought but not books 1 & 3)  

The Story of Owen by EK Johnson (the sequel, Prairie Fire, was bought)  

The Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen (The first book in the series was bought)

(Titles that have been struck through have been bought since this post went live!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Mary Iris Malone is not okay.

Her family has imploded and she's lost her home, forced to move in with her dad and his new girlfriend in Mississippi, which Mary, or Mim, as she prefers to be called, dubs "Mosquitoland".

Unsettled, heavily medicated and fragile, sixteen year old Mim learns a life-altering secret: her mom is sick in Cleveland. Mim decides to take matters into her own hands, she steals money from her dad's girlfriend and hops on a Greyhound bus.

On her thousand-plus mile journey Mim meets a slew of unforgettable characters, some helpful, some treacherous. Even more, she has to cope with her own mind, which she doesn't fully trust after being picked apart by psychologists and pharmaceuticals.

Mosquitoland is told in a diary-style format, for me, very reminiscent of Perks of Being a Wallflower, one of my favourite novels. I'm not sure if this made the novel more appealing to me, but I really enjoyed Mim's voice. It's deep without being preachy, dry, witty and best of all, fearless.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Galgorithm by Aaron Karo

Imagine that there was a formula that you could use whenever you had a crush on someone that was almost guaranteed to work. Imagine if there was a list of techniques that, if followed faithfully would eventually make the cutie you were eyeing start to like you back.

 Now imagine if a high school senior was the one who had devised such a strategy. What do you think he would do with it? Galgorithm by Aaron Karo explores what could happen if such a scenario were to occur.

 Shane is a high school senior in a cushy middle class  suburb in California. He makes good grades, stays out of trouble and is generally well-liked. He hangs out with his best friend Jak (Jennifer Annabelle Kalkland) mostly but he has a secret that even she doesn't know- he is a dating consultant sought out by lovelorn students throughout the school.

   Shane's methods seem to be very effective however- he has hooked up the most unlikely couples. Balloon and Hedgehog, Reed and Marisol to name a few. But soon things start getting weird. A staff member at school seeks Shane out desperate for help with a colleague and Shane must decide if he wants to help a grown up.Then one of the most attractive girls at school falls for Shane but he can't shake the nagging feeling that he likes someone else. He will have to make some hard decisions.

If you are looking for a book that analyzes teen problems and tries to find a cause for their angst then this book isn't for you. This was a breezy read filled with beautiful, high-achieving kids. Although I don't usually read books like this I admit that I enjoyed it very much. I highly recommend this book for readers aged 13+.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Update on the Book Fair for Ballou!!!!

First, thank you so much to everyone who has bought books off the wish list for the Ballou High School library in Washington DC! Already, more than 100 books are on their way to wonderful librarian Melissa Jackson and her students and we could not be more thrilled.... .

...unless we could get them even more books this week! The book fair remains open, the list is still up at amazon. (Here's the link if you want to share it: http://tinyurl.com/BookFairforBallou.)

If you have any question about the book fair, be sure to check out our earlier post or drop a comment and we will get back to you as soon as we can. (You can also email me direct at colleen@chasingray.com.)

These books are making a huge difference in a lot of lives and the Ballou students are thrilled to pieces to be receiving them. Check out the happy faces below - all that joy for books. Now you can see why we love supporting this library and keep coming back year after year.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Tao of Pooh

Benjamin Hoff's The Tao of Pooh is an easy introduction to Taoism. (I'd give a link to Powells.com, but the site isn't responding right now.)
Hoff refers to the Tao Te Ching, and uses Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, and company for illustration.
A basic principle of (Taoism) was that this Way of the Universe could not be adequately described in words... Still, its nature could be understood...
For example, Taoists talk about the "Uncarved Block," or things in their original simplicity:
When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way... you will discover that simple... mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun.

Piglet thought that they ought to have a Reason for going to see everybody, like Looking for Small or Organizing an Expotition, if Pooh could think of something.
Pooh could.
"We'll go because it's Thursday," he said, and we'll go to wish everybody a Very Happy Thursday. Come on, Piglet."

From the state of the Uncarved Block comes the ability to enjoy the simple and the quiet, the natural and the plain. Along with that comes the ability to do things spontaneously and have them work, odd as that may appear to others at times...
The animals in the Forest don't think too much; they just Are... If you compare the City with the Forest, you may begin to wonder why it's man who goes around classifying himself as The Superior Animal.
"Superior to what?" asked Pooh.
"I don't know, Pooh. I've tried to think of something, but I just can't come up with an answer."
"If people were Superior to Animals, they'd take better care of the world," said Pooh.
"That's true," I said.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cat's Cradle

Veteran's Day in America is also Kurt Vonnegut's birthday, a dubious pairing if ever there was one for a writer who survived the fire bombing of Dresden during WWII and became vocally anti-war as a result. Year after year high school students are given gateway to Vonnegut through Slaughterhouse Five with the understanding that it is a great work of Literature, that it is often censored, and that it is a satirical anti-war book crucial to the Vietnam War protests. As with most required reading, students will rarely move beyond an author's so-called greatest work and never explore further.

But for me the ultimate Vonnegut book is Cat's Cradle, a satire of science, technology, religion, and the post-Sputnik Cold War era that is both more biting and funny than Slaughterhouse Five, and no less personal to Vonnegut.

Told in jabbing short chapters, the story is narrated by John (who calls himself Jonah) who is basically writing a memoir. It was originally supposed to be about what Americans were doing on the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, but as John follows the thread to Felix Hoenikker, a physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb, and his children, John/Jonah finds himself falling down a rabbit hole of connection that leads to the fictional island of San Lorenzo, modeled on Duvalier-era Haiti. In San Lorenzo John/Jonah finds himself and the Hoenikker kids in the company of the island's dictator "Papa" Monzano who is dying of cancer and is about to hand over the island to the Hoenikkers (who uncomfortable hand over the country to John/Jonah) before killing himself with a chard of ice-nine, a chemical created by the late Dr. Hoenikker that turns all water-based cells it comes into contact with into ice at room temperature.

Yeah, it's a convoluted plot, and that doesn't even cover the cult-like religion called Bokononism that brings about a mass suicide that nearly destroys the world. John/Jonah is more like his literary kin Ishmael who survives to tell us this tale.

As for the personal element, ice-nine does exist, it was co-created by Vonnegut's brother Bernard at the GE labs where Vonnegut was working in Public Relations at the time.  

The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume One by Daniel Kraus

Dearest Reader,

If you dare, join me in the tale of one Zebulon Finch.

Revel in the ribaldry as Finch leaves the cosseted nest and joins the nascent Black Hand gangsters in fin-de-siécle Chicago!

Wince in sympathy as a reanimated Finch endures indentured servitude in Dr. Whistler’s Pageant of Health and Gallery of Suffering!

Recoil in horror as Finch discovers the cadaverous truth behind Dr. Leather’s People Garden!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Earth + Space: Photographs from the Archives of NASA

In case you're feeling the need for a bit of the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey (I know I was, upon seeing this gorgeous book), here's a link to the opening, complete with a cosmic image (not from the book, alas): Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss opening.

With a warmly written preface from Bill Nye (the Science Guy), this book is chock-full of photographs that will take your breath away. The photos are all from NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration). They prove that the Universe is a dynamic, fantastic place, full of more galaxies than most people ever thought to imagine, and with more stars being born - or dying - at any given time than most people would think to count. And while we refer to the night sky as black or dark blue with white or yellow pinpoints of light, these photos make plain that the Universe is far more vast, active, and colorful than we give it credit for.

The text, written by Nirmala Nataraj, a science writer and photographer, explain what each photo depicts using clear, descriptive language that help to put the workings of the known Universe in context. The photos come from various telescopes and spacecraft over the years; some are produced using different wavelengths, allowing scientists (and now, lucky readers) to detect and observe cosmic activities that would otherwise be invisible using standard visible wavelengths of light.

More than a coffee-table book (although it's pretty awesome for that purpose), it's a must-see/must-read for anyone interested in space or science. And isn't that most of us?

A stellar, or should I say "out of this world"?, addition to anyone's library.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Return of the Book Fair for Ballou High School Library!


It is time yet again to buy books for the library at Ballou Senior High School in Washington DC!

Every year, Guys Lit Wire lends its platform to host a book fair for Ballou. Working with librarian Melissa Jackson and her students, we build a wish list of titles they need and then ask the internet to buy a book (or 2) (or more) and send some joy their way. It's quick and it's easy and for book lovers in particular, it's a no-brainer.

We all know that books matter to kids, and we all know why buying books for teens who do not have wide access to them is a smart investment in our world's future. For Ballou, the school fund for book purchases is not large and as a Washington Post article showed earlier this year, the dollars for books in DC often go to wealthier neighborhoods. Also, when they get money schools like Ballou are often not able to purchase the sort of fun or seemingly frivolous titles that teens would really to read. That is where the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Ballou comes in. We buy the books the kids ask for, plain and simple.

So here's the deal:

This year we have moved the wish list from Powells Books to Amazon. I know that will be a bit painful for folks (really, I do), but there has been an issue with the availability of smaller press/diverse titles through Powells. On several occasions, books we wanted to include on the list were not on their shelves and could not be purchased. We've let it slide but combined with some concerns about unacceptable used copies showing up, this year we decided that going with Amazon was just the best thing to do. I hope you can understand.

The Amazon wish list can be found here. If you would like to embed a link in a post or tweet (and PLEASE DO!!), use this one: http://tinyurl.com/BookFairforBallou. (And yes, I know that sometimes when you search for the list by name on Amazon, it doesn't show up. I have no idea why, so spare yourself the frustration and use the link!)

The mailing address is already set-up for checkout and there are nearly 400 books to choose from with a price range that starts under $5. We do hope you will find a book that you want to send to Ballou and help us fill their shelves with the titles these kids want so very much to read.

The Book Fair for Ballou High School Library will stay open for 2 weeks and we will keep you posted on how things go. Leave us a comment when you buy a book and watch the Ballou twitter feed for shout outs from Melissa (@BallouLibrary) as books show up.


 [Post pics of author MK Asante and students in the Ballou Library during an author visit last month.]

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Sophomores and Other OxymoronsKnowing how popular David Lubar's SLEEPING FRESHMEN NEVER LIE has been with my students, I didn't hesitate to pick up a copy of SOPHOMORES AND OTHER OXYMORONS as soon as it hit the bookstore.  In my opinion, the continuing high school adventures of Scott Hudson did not disappoint.

Things have definitely changed since the arrival of Scott's baby brother Sean.  Other than the fact that the little guy is usually loud, moist, and smelly, he is kind of cute.  Scott's father is still hoping to open his own garage, his older brother's band is enjoying some success, and it looks like Scott may soon have a sister-in-law.

With high hopes for sophomore year, Scott is determined to advance his friend relationship with Lee to a romantic level.  He is looking forward to contributing some high quality writing to the school paper.  He also has every intention of keeping his grades up and his prospects for a great future open.

Day one of sophomore year begins on the bus with an annoying freshman in need of Scott's advice and protection.  This is followed by a disgusting encounter with a partially dissected cat resulting in an embarrassing bout of public vomiting.  Worst of all, in English, the class that should be the highlight of his day, Scott discovers that the teacher most definitely doesn't appreciate his wit and wisdom.  It's beginning to look like sophomore year might not be all Scott dreamed it would be.

David Lubar packs in plenty of humor and tons of word play for readers as they navigate sophomore year with Scott and friends.  Quirky characters, non-stop action, and witty vocabulary will have readers laughing all the way through this hilarious page-turner.  Will Scott return for junior year in the near future?  We can only hope.

Previously posted at readingjunky.blogspot.com

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Railhead by Philip Reeve

Zen Starling is a small time thief and a railhead. He snags valuables from shops in distant towns and cities where no one knows his face. To get around, he rides the rails which take him from planet to planet across the galaxy.

In Zen’s universe, humanity has dispersed throughout the galaxy, but it hasn’t done so by space travel. Instead, trains link planets together. On each planet the trains travel as normal trains do, on tracks over ground, but when they pass through K-Gates they carry their freight and passengers to different worlds.

After riding the rails, Zen returns to his backwater home planet of Cleave, where he fences his ill-gotten goods to Uncle Bugs, a local junk shop proprietor who happens to be a swarm of intelligent insects within a vaguely humanoid frame. He uses the money he gets to help his sister Myka support their mother who, debilitated by extreme paranoia, can do nothing for herself. It’s not a happy existence and Zen uses the trains as much for mental escape as to get around.

After one simple heist, just some jewelry, Zen is pursued by a destructive drone and an odd-looking girl. But it turns out they don’t want to arrest him or exact revenge. They work for a shadowy figure called Raven who travels the galaxy on a half-insane train over long-abandoned rail lines. Raven wants to hire him to steal something, a piece of art, from the most powerful family in the galaxy.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Amity by Micol Ostow

Looking for a book to give you goosebumps this Halloween? Check out Amity by Micol Ostow. Inspired by the house on 112 Ocean Avenue - the Amityville Horror - this work of fiction follows two teenaged protagonists who moved in the same house ten years apart. Gwen and Connor narrate alternating sections in first person, making readers privy to their innermost thoughts as they begin to see and hear things which are out of the ordinary: faces in mirrors, dirt and blood on their own hands and faces, whispers in the night. Objects appear and disappear from different rooms in the house; the air thickens and chills. Yet no one else seems to see and hear these things. No one, except...

Each protagonist has a sibling that is (or was) close to them: Connor has a twin sister, while Gwen has a brother who is barely a year older, a brother who has become more distant and hostile since they moved into the house. Meanwhile, ten years earlier, Connor had a similar temperament, giving into dark thoughts and violent urges, seeming to feed on the evil energy of the house while simultaneously it fed on him.

The parallels between the two stories grow more evident as the story continues, and then things begin to line up, overlap, and explode.

The dual narrative definitely works in this scenario, with Gwen's fear that she is going crazy (again) contrasting effectively with Connor's unapologetic enjoyment as he embraces his darkness. Gwen thinks she's pathetic, but readers will find her sympathetic; Connor is twisted, and he likes it that way. It is interesting to note that both characters are trying to be happy in their own ways and both are pretending to be something they're not.

With short, unnumbered chapters - sometimes no longer than three-quarters of a page - the action moves quickly, and the format and plotting of the story should attract and intrigue horror fans, even those with shorter attention spans.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

All Scam wanted was a ride home from a night out.
Scam, Crash, Flicker, and Anonymous are led by their "Glorious Leader" Bellwether and call themselves Zeroes, not heroes. They all have powers, they just aren't quite "super." Maybe the phrase "in training" could be applied to the Zeroes. It's not like they don't have good intentions most of the tiome when they try to use their powers, but control seems to be an issue. When Mob enters the group, the problems and the possibilities seem to grow. The group needs to pull it together becasue the mission has gone from theoretical to the real deal. Lives stand in the balance and the Zeroes must own their powers in order to get the job done.
Westerfeld, Lanangan and Biancotti pull together a fantastic cast of characters trying to find their way in the world. Please, somebody tell me that this will develop into a series! Whew, I looked - it's planned as a trilogy. I highly recommend this book. A really fun read that moves along, quickly drawing the reader into the wolrd of the Zeroes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Some 2016 titles to get on your radar

Here are a few titles, with their brief catalog copy descriptions, that I think you should keep an eye out for next year:
Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings find escape from their constrained lives via their rich imaginations. The glittering world of Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy world of Gondal literally come to life under their pens, offering the sort of romance and intrigue missing from their isolated parsonage home. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as the characters they have created—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go. 

There is a legend that a Great Spotted Whale lives in the ocean; local fishermen still talk of it, although the first sighting fifty years ago was never corroborated. Now, two young whale watchers each set out to find the whale, one armed with sound recording equipment, the other a camera. Mid-ocean their boats collide, so they pool their resources and set off together to capture incontrovertible proof that the mythical Great Spotted Whale exists. The eventual sighting is a magical moment: the whale is truly phenomenal, and swimming along beside her is a small whale calf. The children return to shore, solid proof in hand. As an added twist to the story, they discover that it was their own grandparents who first sighted the Great Spotted Whale fifty years ago. The Murrow’s epic, wordless adventure is brought to life with Ethan’s stunning graphite drawings, which convey the drama and haunting beauty of the ocean, and capture the majesty of this awe-inspiring creature.

This is a wordless picture book that appears absolutely stunning. Artistic teens are going to love it - as well anyone who appreciates truly great art.

In 1934, Irène Curie, working with her husband and fellow scientist, Frederic Joliot, made a discovery that would change the world: artificial radioactivity. This breakthrough allowed scientists to modify elements and create new ones by altering the structure of atoms. Curie shared a Nobel Prize with her husband for their work. But when she was nominated to the French Academy of Sciences, the academy denied her admission and voted to disqualify all women from membership. Four years later, Curie’s breakthrough led physicist Lise Meitner to a brilliant leap of understanding that unlocked the secret of nuclear fission. Meitner’s unique insight was critical to the revolution in science that led to nuclear energy and the race to build the atom bomb, yet her achievement was left unrecognized by the Nobel committee in favor of that of her male colleague.

Radioactive! presents the story of two women breaking ground in a male-dominated field, scientists still largely unknown despite their crucial contributions to cutting-edge research, in a nonfiction narrative that reads with the suspense of a thriller. Photographs and sidebars illuminate and clarify the science in the book.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods by Hal Johnson; illustrated by Tom Mead

Sure, you've heard of Bigfoot and chupacabras, but what about snoligosters, wapaloosim, and leprocauns (not leprechauns)? The ghoulishly fun Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods introduces readers to twenty legendary and fantastical creatures, including the latter three.

Our guide to the "wild and untamed" lumberwoods of North America is a cryptozoologist, one who is, "if I do say so myself, at or near the forefront of my field. So many colleagues have been eaten by chimeras, incinerated by salamanders, or pecked to death by barnacle geese; there is not necessarily much competition left."

Each short chapter is devoted to a single creature, accompanied by an illustration (some of which glow in the dark!), and explains why it is so hard to find, as well as what it does to the unfortunate people who, purposefully or accidentally, run into one. Fortunately for us, our cryptozoologist narrator has encountered many of them firsthand, like the toteroad shagamaw in Maine or the whintosser in California, and survived to share his wisdom.

I'd like to say that the stories in this collection are deliciously gory, except some of them involve rather unfortunate meals. Then again, considering the Acropelter entry in particular, this is probably a fitting description.