Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Big Reveal, or Not

There are two kinds of people who watch movies or read books like The Sixth Sense or Fight Club which rely on big secrets for their intrigue. There are those who like to figure out what the big surprise of the story is going to be before it gets revealed and those who like to wait to be surprised by the story when it reveals its secrets in its own time. (Among movie-goers, there is a subset of the first kind who likes to blurt out the surprise midway through the movie, spoiling the fun for everyone within earshot. These people are called "jerks." I confess to being a recovering jerk.)

The story in Scott Sigler's new book, Alive, is one which relies heavily on big secrets and big reveals. Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil any of them.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Certain Slant of Light and Under the Light by Laura Whitcomb

Whether or not they contain ghosts, many books have been described as haunting. Laura Whitcomb's writing is definitely that, especially in her imaginative take on ghosts, A Certain Slant of Light and the follow-up novel, Under the Light.

For more than a hundred years, Helen has been a ghost with no way to communicate with the living. She can see people, but they can't see her -- until one day when someone looks right at her. James is a teenager, alive and well, and he wants to get to know her. The more they talk, the more is revealed about Helen's past, as she struggles to remember her life. How did she die? Why can James see her? Light reveals shades of darkness and traces of hope as Helen struggles to recall her life -- and James begins to make her a part of his life.

I strongly recommend reading A Certain Slant of Light first. Though I suppose you could read Under the Light on its own, trust me, if you know the characters went through in the first book, it will make the second book all the more poignant.

Trivia time: The title of the novel comes from an Emily Dickinson poem.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

Jennifer E. Smith has managed, with The Geography of You and Me, to write a YA romance that is a lot more about coming of age and finding your way then it is all the traditional dramaramaof teen love. Frankly, this is a story that readers who have little interest in romance will actually enjoy which is great. It's about connecting with somebody, about finding someone you like and getting to know them (in the most old fashioned of ways - through postcards!) rather than the sort of "he loves me/I love him/maybe I love another him more/tingly kisses/heavy petting" love triangle business that seems to be everywhere. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.)

For a large part of The Geography of You and Me Lucy and Owen aren't even in the same country, let alone dating. The novel dwells more on the sudden connections that people can make and their sometimes surprising staying power. This might make it the most romantic of all scenarios after all but that is neither here nor there. It's a good read with good characters and a lot to say about family and that is what mattered to me and why I enjoyed it.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Listen to some books this summer with SYNC

If you haven't listened to an audiobook before, here's your chance to try them out.

If you're already a fan of audiobooks, here's your chance to pick up some titles you may have already wanted to listen to.

The annual SYNC: YA Literature Into Your Earbuds promotion, which gives away two complete audiobook downloads a week--a current young adult title along with a thematically paired classic or required summer reading title--starts up again next week, on May 7. Each audiobook is available for free for one week only, based on a set schedule, so take a look at the schedule and start planning.

This year's lineup includes:

You must have the (free) OverDrive app or software installed on a smartphone, tablet, or computer to download the audiobooks, and based on previous years' procedures, I'm assuming you'll also have to supply an email address. But did I mention the audiobooks are free?

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Schottenfreude by Ben Schott

As an English major and later an English teacher, I observed a disturbing trend among some of my peers: a startlingly large number of them were positively gleeful about their inability to do math. I was always somewhat horrified by their protests of, "Oh, I'm an English major, I don't do math" -- I mean, it wasn't like I expected them to teach calculus or anything, but they were whipping out calculators to add pairs of two-digit numbers. By the time they stopped groaning about having to do math, found their calculators, and turned them on, I'd already done the arithmetic in my head. Still, they seemed quite content -- proud, even -- that simple math was beyond them. Their einmaleinswiedergabeschwächenstolz astonished and stuck with me.

What, you didn't know there was a word for that?

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Big Game by Daniel Smith

Oskari REALLY doesn't want to go through the ritual hunt required by his village. What does spending the night out in the woods and killing something, anything have to do with signifying that he has become a man? As Oskari is heading to the hunting grounds he and his father discussed as his best chance for killing an animal, the sky opens up and a helicopter full of paramilitary men lands and proceeds to prepare for their mission - which happens to be shooting down Air Force One. As the plane goes down, the President is ejected from it in an escape pod. Oskari finds this pod, releases the President and they figure out just what is going on.They realize that they are now the prey being hunted. Now, the President must rely on the survival skills of this boy-in-the-process-of-becoming-a-man if he wants to get out of this wilderness alive. 

The book is now a movie slated for release on June 26th, 2015 and is rated PG-13. It should be an action packed adventure. 


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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Troubles of Johnny Cannon by Isaiah Campbell

Can a book for younger readers (middle school aged) combine aspects of  the  Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War and Cuba and still be entertaining? After reading Isaiah Campbell's The Troubles of Johnny Cannon I would definitely say yes.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky

In the small town of Utopia people live very long lives and possess some very interesting quirks. One boy and his family are all very lucky, one of the school teachers always knows what is going to happen with the weather, there is an amazing batch of strawberry jam that shows up a few times of year courtesy a particularly gifted gardener and aspiring teen screenwriter Jack Bell sees dead people.

The crazy thing about Jack is that his "gift" isn't even the most amazing one in his family.

This is just how it is in Utopia. Some people believe in all the mystery, others do their best to ignore or even debunk it. Whatever. It's all live and let live mostly but then a girl dies at the local private college, (which includes coursework in mind reading, fortune-telling and teleportation), and starts visiting Jack. The problem with Alice is that she doesn't know how she died and the dead always know how they died. She wants Jack to sort it out and soon enough he discovers that her death is not the worst thing to happen in Utopia and rather is just the start of things getting a lot worse, especially for the guy stuck in the middle of it all.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai

The great samurai saga Usagi Yojimbo, by Stan Sakai, is one of my favorite comics sagas of all time. Yet it is unfortunately unknown to so many people. The ongoing adventures of Usagi, a ronin warrior monk, and the assorted friends, rogues, and enemies, are stories I read regularly, over and over again. Imagine an anthropomorphic 17th century Japan, with rabbit samurai, fox thieves, rhinoceros bounty hunters, clans of ninja bats, conniving snake lords... it's as if Carl Barks (Donald Duck Adventures, Uncle Scrooge Adventures) and Akira Kurasawa (Seven Samurai, Roshomon) made comics together.

There is nothing better to do on a lazy afternoon than to get lost in the sword fights, political intrigue, epic battles, and suspenseful monster hunting tales that make up the twenty some odd volumes of this tremendous series. And did I mention the humor? Usagi Yojimbo has it all!

Waaay back, in the early years of this blog, Jesse mentioned Usagi Yojimbo, but I felt it was well worth the time to revisit this great comics samurai epic.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Descent by Tim Johnston

I've got a bone to pick with Tim Johnston.

I read the last 100 pages of Descent in a flurry, staying up to 1:00 am and then going back and re-reading the last 10 pages just to make sure I didn't miss anything.

It's that good.

The problem is, I've got a two year old that has the sleeping habits of a wolverine on Red Bull, which means I'm running on three hours of sleep and about a gallon of coffee this morning as I write this.

Speaking of being a father, Descent represents a parent's worst nightmare. There is nothing more terrifying than the thought of someone kidnapping your child, it's the kind of stuff that can drive you insane just by thinking about it. That's why I make sure both of my children are always armed with semi-automatic weapons. Joking.

You might say that the kidnapping theme is one that has been done again and again, and you'd be right. However, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that there's a good chance you haven't read one written as powerful as this. This is no run of the mill "literary thriller." The writing in this story is about as good as it gets.

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