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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Hung Up by Kristen Tracy

Usually, when I get a call from a stranger who asks for someone else and I say, "Sorry, you have the wrong number," the person on the other end of the line just hangs up on me, showing off their excellent social skills and phone manners. I'd rather have the experience shared in Kristen Tracy's new novel Hung Up, where a wrong number leads to a really cool friendship.

Lucy calls what she thinks is a trophy place and leaves a brief message. She doesn't get a response. A few days later, she calls and leaves another message. No response. Another call. No response. Naturally, she grows increasingly frustrated with each call. Two weeks later, someone finally picks up when she calls - only it's not the engraver. It's James, a guy Lucy's age who got a recycled number from a phone company. He apologizes for the confusion and wishes her luck tracking down her order.

A week later, James calls Lucy and leaves her a message. Over the course of the next two months, the teenagers keep in touch. At first, they communicate solely over the phone, without meeting face-to-face. They become friends and share funny things that happened to them during the day as well as more personal anecdotes.

Sometimes, you just need to hear the voice of someone that cares about you - and sometimes, you just need to be heard.

Instead of using your typical narrative form, this story is told in a series of voicemails and phone conversations, making for a quick read. With only two characters speaking, you really see (and hear) the world through their words, because all you have to go on is what they say. The dialogue is great, very snappy and fun. There's serious stuff there, too. The book ends at the perfect moment. I'd compare that moment to a similar moment in another book I read recently, but that would give too much away.

I enjoy Kristen Tracy's books because they are always full of dramedy, and I love dramedies1 because that's what life is, a mix of comedy and drama - and that's what Hung Up is. And it's great. So you should read it, and we should talk about it, okay? Give me a call later when you're done.

1. Ask me about the TV show Leverage sometime. I really love that show.

Review originally published at Little Willow's blog, Bildungsroman.

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