Monday, June 29, 2015

Tin Men by Christopher Golden

Christopher Golden's novel Tin Men has officially hit stores - and it's hitting hard. Without giving too much away, l can tell you, this timely story is going to stay with you. Here's the mini-summary from the publisher:

Brad Thor meets Avatar in this timely military thriller for the drone age, which spins the troubles of today into the apocalypse of tomorrow. A rocket ride of a read packed with high action, cutting-edge technology, and global politics, Tin Men begins with the end of the world as we know it and takes off from there.

I love sci-fi stories that are based in science and technology, stories that present us with possible, plausible situations that stir up society as we know it - I adored the original Twilight Zone and was intrigued by Black Mirror - and Tin Men is right in that category. Christopher Golden's take on technology, society, and responsibility will make you think about very real near-future possibilities. Are all of these advancements in medicine, military, and media doing more harm that good? Fueled by strong characters made stronger through interwoven stories, Tin Men will open your eyes to how the world could be, for better or worse, because of human decisions and indecision, action and inaction.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Bonus points for those willing to discuss the various Cybermen storylines from Doctor Who with me.

Read an excerpt from TIN MEN by Christopher Golden.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Accidental Sorcerer by K.E. Mills

When we're children, we all believe that we're going to be People of Historical Import. No one plays at being a mid-level bureaucrat on the playground -- we're all royalty, astronauts, spies, heroes.

Gerald Dunwoody was no different -- and, just like the vast majority of actual people, when he grew up he discovered that his imagined life of adventure was just a fairy tale. He grew up believing he'd be a great wizard, and instead, he's reduced to doing safety inspections at wand manufacturing plants, dismissed by coworkers, humiliated by neighbors higher up the wizarding food chain. He is miserable, he is unfulfilled... but he is employed, making a paycheck, paying the rent. Welcome to the real world, Gerald.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

When Sam wakes up all he remembers is the argument. He needs to go and talk to Hayden to see if their friendship is still intact or if the damage is irreparable. When Sam gets to Hayden's house Sam finds him in his bed, dead. Next to Hayden is a thumb drive with a note that lets Sam know it is for him - a playlist Hayden has made to help him understand why he chose to end his own life. As Sam listens to the playlist, he gets more and more confused. He starts to meet some new people and realize that they had connections to Hayden as well, though the more questions he asks, the more questions he has.
Bad things start to happen to the kids Hayden and Sam called the "Bully Trifecta," which includes Hayden's older brother. People look at Sam and wonder if he is the vigilante "taking care of" the bullies.
I found myself seeking out the songs on the playlist to know exactly what Hayden left Sam with for clues to his life and the end of it. A truly beautiful and haunting playlist full of songs of introspection, frustration and a desire to be heard. This book at times pulls at the heart strings and at others gives glimpses of hope for teens today struggling with their own identities and how to be in this crazy world.

Monday, June 22, 2015

My Neighbor Seki by Takuma Morishige

Yokoi wants to be a good student.

As for Seki, the boy who sits at the desk next to Yokoi, well, he rarely seems to be paying attention in class. Nope, instead Seki is busy creating a Rube Goldberg-esque domino course on his desk, or pulling out any number of unexpected things from his bag or his desk to create elaborate games or otherwise amuse himself, and yet no one except for Yokoi seems to notice this.

Seki's, and mangaka Takuma Morishige's imagination, is something to behold, as Seki's alternately amusing or weird or just stupendously creative ideas take shape on his desk. My Neighbor Seki is a deceptively simple manga. Each chapter follows the same formula: Seki starts working on something, Yokoi tells herself to focus on the teacher's lecture, but still can't help getting caught up in whatever it is Seki is doing. Within this simple framework, however, Morishige writes and draws a very fun and enjoyable comic, and you can't predict what Seki will devise next. Morishige's artwork is on the simpler, understated side compared to other manga I've read, and he makes great use of panels and page turns to depict Yokoi as realizes what Seki is up to. And you can't blame Yokoi for being distracted in class when Seki is so much more interesting.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Book Review: A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel

A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention by Matt Richtel is a fascinating book which conveys much scientific information in an interesting way. There is much scientific information presented in the book, but it is never dry or boring.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese adventures

Post written by Justin Colussy-Estes

Right now, in the US, we're in a golden age of reprints. So many classic comics - from Bud Sagendorf Popeye collections and the Walter Simonson prestige format oversized edition, to comic strip collections like the Complete Far Side boxed set and Leonard Starr's Mary Perkins On Stage - are available, in print, and, for the most part, affordable. But there's notable holes in the material you can get, particularly when it comes to non-manga foreign material. One of the biggest missing pieces in the pantheon of comics greatness, however, is now available. The phenomenal Italian cartoonist Hugo Pratt and his rogue adventurer hero Corto Maltese is now available again in English for the first time in over two decades through gorgeous reprints from IDW.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Alex + Ada #1 by Jonathan Luna & Sarah Vaughn

Robots that come to life is a story that's been around since Asimov wrote about them in the '30s, and before that too, probably, I'm no historian. That doesn't mean that every once in a while a story about androids and their human masters can't come along and take you on a really cool ride. Enter Alex + Ada, a story that demands your attention and keeps it to the very last page.

It's the near future, flying robots make your breakfast and you do all of your shopping, net browsing and socializing via a chip that you have implanted into the side of your head. It's like having as your sub-conscious, fun!

Our titular character Alex is depressed, he's still not over the girl that left him and he's not satisfied in his job. His grandmother wants to cheer him up by purchasing an android for him.

Now, when I say android, I'm not talking about something that looks like Johnny Five, these things are the real deal. They look just like you or I, the only way to tell them apart from humans is the logo they have tattooed on their wrist which they are legally obligated to keep exposed at all times.

Alex refuses his grandmother's offer, and she buys him one anyway. This is where things start to get really interesting.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti

Group think, lust for power, oppression of minority groups and flimsy justifications for war are all themes explored in Richard Kurti's Monkey Wars. If you think that those themes sound like they have been plucked from news headlines over the past decade then you are correct.  The only difference is that these things occur in a monkey society in present day India.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book

Anita Silvey compiled "Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life" for this book.
The notables include many great writers, but also a heart surgeon, a TV film critic, at least one librarian (Yay!), a physics professor, a cancer researcher, a climate scientist, and so on. I'll quote Azar Nafisi's recommendation (She wrote Reading Lolita in Tehran, a wonderful memoir/piece of history, by the way.)

I first heard about The Thousand and One Nights when I was about four, and my father each night would choose to tell me a story from the treasure trove of Persian classical literature. The last time I read it was for a private class I had with seven of my female students in 1995.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Neil Gaiman's "Make Good Art" speech.

And yes, that appears to be the actual title of this small book, though one usually finds it as Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman, with graphic design by Chip Kidd. The text is something that Gaiman wrote for a commencement speech, which he delivered in 2012 to the University of the Arts. The book is a triumph of graphic design, using a variety of fonts, font sizes, and several colors (turquoise, red and white), to convey the text, which is both inspirational and aspirational. It's the perfect gift for new graduates, or for anyone anywhere involved in a creative life (which is, to be fair, most everyone I know).

It includes bon mots like:

"People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. . . . If you don't know it's impossible it's easier to do."

"If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that."

". . . I decided that I would do my best in future not to write books just for the money. If you didn't get the money, then you didn't have anything. If I did work I was proud of, and I didn't get the money, at least I'd have the work."

"The problems of failure are hard. The problems of success can be harder, because nobody warns you about them."

"Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: MAKE GOOD ART."

"[W]hile you are at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do."

I could go on, but I won't.

This book has no pictures, yet it's a highly visual undertaking. Chip Kidd, noted book designer, did the layout, and manages to visually represent the text in exciting and interesting ways, conveying with font, size, and text placement the meaning or feeling of the textual passages. If you are interested in book design or graphic design, this is a not-to-be-missed book.

Two links for you:

Firstly, you can get an idea what the book looks like by checking out the online web preview at HarperCollins. It lets you see what the pages actually look like, and is somewhat better than photos I could manage, since they lit it just right - the turquoise print doesn't come over well in most photos.

Second, here's the speech in full, as delivered by Neil Gaiman in 2012, if you are so inclined. I warn you that it's awesome, and also that it may make you want this book a bit more:

Monday, June 8, 2015

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

“He stared at ruin. Ruin stared straight back.”
                                    John Berryman (Dream Song 45)

My school uses a student information platform that tells me, as the classroom teacher, which of my students has a known medical condition.

But a scant few medical notices refer to any sort of mental illness.

Not because my school is untouched by the vagaries of neurochemistry—rather because mental illness remains too often undiagnosed, untreated, and too uncomfortable to discuss.

As Caden Bosch, the main character of Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, says, “Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids are swept under the rug.” Challenger Deep, with lyrical power, challenges us to change this reality.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler tells a long overlooked story from World War II that is incredibly interesting. Phillip Hoose, author of The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, Claudette Colvin and many other impressive nonfiction titles, tackles here the story of the teenagers who served as the primary resistance against the German occupation of Denmark starting in 1942. It's a story of stealing guns, cutting wires, sabotage and bombing during wartime. For readers looking for something new on WWII (which I think is pretty much everyone), this is a must read.

Hoose takes readers through his discovery of the story and how he met Knud Pedersen, one of the teens primarily involved. Using numerous sources as well as Pedersen's own words (denoted throughout the text), he explains how the RAF Club was formed soon after the German Army arrived and then, a few months later, how the larger Churchill Club was formed. In both cases the members were teenagers (and later a few young men), who dedicated their time to making life difficult for the Germans even though most of the adults around them appeared determined to cause as little trouble as possible.

The personal story of the boys and their escalating efforts is peppered with information on the larger issues of the bloodshed in Norway (which did not allow the occupation), the underground efforts in Sweden (which was neutral but supportive of the resistance), and more importantly just why the Germans were interested in any of these countries to begin with. (It's not about occupy and conquer for the sake of occupy and conquer, but rather about raw materials, trains, industry and infrastructure).

I have long felt that WWII literature for children's & teens relies far too much on the Holocaust to the detriment of many other important stories from the war. It's way past time for books like The Boys Who Challenged Hitler (and M.T. Anderson's upcoming Symphony for the City of the Dead) to be written so teens can learn more of the complex elements of the war.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

THE FALL by James Preller

Review ARC courtesy of Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends Publishing
Release date: September 2015

It was 2:55 am as I finally gave up on the notion of sleep.  Having started reading THE FALL by James Preller earlier in the day, I knew sleep would not come until I had finished Sam's story.  Now, having turned the last page, it still haunts me and will for quite some time.

Sam Proctor has decided to record his thoughts about the events leading up to the suicide of classmate Morgan Mallen.  Morgan jumped to her death from the town's water tower, and Sam must come to terms with whether or not he may have played a part in her decision to end her life.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Why Now and Not Then?

When a writer reaches a certain level of renown, and then suddenly a book touted as his "previously unpublished first novel," is finally published, you have to wonder, what happened? Is this first novel actually no good, but now that we know the writer is good, we'll read it anyway? Or is it simply that the publishing industry was too lame, greedy, or snotty to recognize decent work when they saw it the first time?

Greg Keyes' Footsteps in the Sky is one of those works, a suddenly-first-time-in-print-first-novel. Having now read it, my curiosity is further piqued. While the writing is at times disjointed, indicative of a first attempt, the story holds its own and the book is well worth reading.

Monday, June 1, 2015

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Adam Silvera pulls off a pretty impressive trick with his compelling and surprising novel More Happy Than Not. First, he gives readers Bronx native Aaron Soto who is crazy about his girlfriend Genevieve, enjoys hanging out with his childhood friends in the neighborhood, has a new pal named Thomas who he likes talking about movies, hopes and dreams with and, finally, he just might be coping with his father's recent suicide. For chapter after chapter in fact, Aaron's life plays out as typical, albeit a bit more emotional, teenage angst. But then, the wheels start to go off his life a bit and he starts to like Thomas more and more which makes him wonder if he might not be as crazy about Genevieve as he thinks he is.

Yep, Aaron might be gay but—and here's the big twist—that is not entirely what this book is all about.

This is tough because I don't want to ruin the plot. I don't want you to lost that opportunity for "WHOA" that I had in the middle of the book. So you're just going to have to trust me that there is a hell of a lot more to More Happy Than Not than a coming out story (not that those stories aren't great). One twist I can tell you about (as it's on the back cover) is that Aaron's confusion over his sexuality makes him consider taking the memory-relief procedure offered by the Leteo Institute. That slight bit of sci-fi in the narrative brings all sorts of philosophical questions into the story as Aaron wrestles with its risks and possibilities. It's really the only hint that the book is taking place in the future and thus makes this an extremely relateable title, whether you like science fiction or not.

Otherwise, there is a lot about growing up in the same neighborhood, about how joking around with your buddies might not be the same as a teenager as it was when you were a kid. It's about grinding poverty and making good and bad choices (as in drugs and crime) and about wanting something more than what you have but not even really knowing what that more can be. And, More Happy Than Not is about a kid who thought he was figuring everything out and then suddenly realizes that he might not know anything at all. These are all questions that will be familiar to teen readers because we all have them. Aaron just has a tantalizing way of solving them, by forgetting.

What would you do if life got too complicated? If the question intrigues you then read More Happy Than Not. It's a thought provoking, funny, smart read with a great (diverse!) cast that will leave you thinking long after the last page is turned.