Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Saying Goodbye to Guys Lit Wire

This is the final post for Guys Lit Wire.

We started this site many years ago (I'm honestly afraid to even see how many years), after an online discussion about how teenage boys seemed less willing to browse for books they wanted than teenage girls. (The argument being that if the guys had more easy to find recommendations, they would read more but when they didn't know how to find books on subjects they liked, they just gave up looking.)

So that was what we set out to do (as evident from the site's name): recommend some books that we thought teenage boys would like. This often meant books from a boy POV, or graphic novels that might lure in reluctant readers, or nonfiction that might appeal to specific audiences that don't read a lot but like certain subjects. What all of these books had in common is that one of our many contributors thought it was a good book and deserved some more attention from readers who would probably love it if they knew about it. We certainly hope that all kinds of kids and teens (boys and girls) have picked up a book because of something we posted here.

Beyond that, we also supported several schools and organizations devoted to getting books into the hands of kids who needed them via underfunded library shelves. Cumulatively, over 10,000 books have been bought & shipped due to our efforts. Most recently, for Ballou Sr High School in Washington DC, over 200 books were bought off their wish list by our readers and sent their way at the end of 2017. 

Support for the Annual Book Fair for Ballou will continue, as I take those posts over to my site, Chasing Ray, and continue to host the book fair there. Please follow me on twitter, (@chasingray), for updates on that effort.

Personally, Sarah Stevenson & I would like to thank everyone who was with us on this ride. We are both writing much more heavily now on our own projects and bring an end to GLW with a heavy but grateful heart. Simply put, it is time. All of us at the site are confident however that we accomplished far more here than we ever thought possible. The archives will remain live and there are a ton of great book recommendations to peruse; be sure to check them out. 


Colleen Mondor & Sarah Stevenson
January, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

24974996.jpg (315×475)Lots of authors are publishing gritty, raw stories grounded in current events and this book by Nic Stone is another that falls into this category. The young man on the cover bears an uncanny resemblance to Trayvon Martin what with the hoody and all. Also on the cover is a quote from author Jason Reynolds proclaiming the novel to be "raw and gripping". That quote alone was enough to make me pick this book up as it will for many readers, I am sure.

Justyce is bright, articulate and for the most part just a regular high school kid trying to make it to graduation and then make his way to a prestigious college if all goes well. In the novel's intro we meet him trying to do right by his on again, off again girlfriend Melo who is about to make a bad decision. His actions are somehow misconstrued by a passing police officer and before he knows it Justyce ends up face down with a face full of asphalt. This is only the precursor to what is destined to be an eventful Senior year to say the least.

As it so happens Justyce's grades have allowed him to gain entry to one of Atlanta's most prestigious private schools where seemingly every teacher has at least three degrees. Most of the students are bright, many come from well to do families such as his best friend Manny whose parents are successful professionals. As you would expect, the campus is not very diverse and some of the students display white privilege (perhaps a bit too predictably by lamenting the fact that minorities have it "easy") Justyce's way of dealing with the many, many changes occurring in his life is to write letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He's studied the Civil Rights leader's speeches in class and is trying to reconcile the words and the values espoused therein with the realities of daily life. As if that isn't complicated enough, there is also the not so small matter of the evolving relationship with his debate partner SJ.

I've read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely and this novel is just as gripping, timely and relevant. Stone does a great job balancing the heavy stuff with some touchy feely stuff so it isn't too hard to digest. Well worth a read.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

How Buildings Learn

Anyone interested in architecture should read this book by Stewart Brand. Brand won a National Book Award for the Whole Earth Catalog, and is a co-founder of Global Business Network, a futurist research organization fostering "the art of the long view." How Buildings Learn features a lot of illustrations and insights about building and buildings. I especially enjoy the comparison of two structures on the campus of MIT:

The legendary Building 20 (1943) was an artifact of wartime haste. Designed in an afternoon by MIT grad Don Whiston, it was ready for occupancy by radar researchers six months later... In an undertaking similar in scope to the Manhattan Project that created the atomic bomb, the emergency development of radar employed the nation's best physicists in an intense collaboration that changed the nature of science. Unlike Los Alamos, the MIT radar project was not run by the military, and unlike Los Alamos, no secrets got out. The verdict of scientists afterward was, "The atom bomb only ended the war. Radar won it." ... Author Fred Hapgood wrote in 1993 of Building 20, "The edifice is so ugly that it is impossible not to admire it, if that makes sense; it has ten times the righteous nerdly swagger of any other building on campus... Although Building 20 was built with the intention to tear it down after... World War II, it has remained... providing a special function... Not assigned to any one school, department, or center, it seems to always have had space for the beginning project, the graduate student's experiment, the interdisciplinary research center.

In a later chapter, Brand describes famous architect I.M. Pei's third MIT building, known informally as the Media Lab and formally as the Wiesner Building:

It may have been my familiarity with MIT's homely, accommodating Building 20 just across the street that made the $45 million pretentiousness, ill-functionality, and non-adaptability of the Media Lab building so shocking to me... Nowhere in the whole building is there a place for casual meetings, except for a tiny, overused kitchen. Corridors are narrow and barren. Getting new cabling through the interior concrete walls - a necessity in such a laboratory - requires bringing in jackhammers. You can't even move office walls around, thanks to the overhead fluorescent lights being at a Pei-signature 45-degree angle to everything else.

The Media Lab building, I discovered, is not unusually bad. Its badness is the norm in new buildings overdesigned by architects...

Brand finishes How Buildings Learn with a list of good books, writing, "They are the texts I would reach for if I was going to work on a building..."

Monday, January 8, 2018

Black Light Express by Phillip Reeve

From my recent review of Black Light Express for Locus:

Philip Reeve’s absolutely incredible world building again takes center stage in Black Light Express, the sequel to Railhead. The second book picks up soon after the events that brought Railhead to a stunning close, with former thief and unwitting catalyst Zen Starling having fled the Network Empire along with Nova, his android girlfriend. Meanwhile, completely against her will, Threnrody Noon, the Paris Hilton of the empire-controlling Noon family, has assumed the position of Empress. She is only a pawn of more powerful interests however and virtually trapped in the palace attending a haze of pointless engagements while her former fiance, Kobi, is on the other side of the galaxy about to be forced into a corporate approved marriage with someone he has never met. Basically, the fallout from Railhead is reverberating across all the lives of the major characters while, unknown to them, it’s about to get a lot lot worse. 

What Black Light Express (and the first book, Railhead), offers readers is sentient trains, a vapid rich girl who decides she doesn't want to be a pawn anymore, political machinations, alien technology, aliens, dinosaur-descended aliens, human-android romance, the fact that the human-android romance is the best kind of romance, more stupid rich people, the satisfaction of rich people losing because they are stupid, a protagonist who is smart and scrappy and more than willing to walk on the wrong side of the law because playing by the rules gets you only so far (and those rich jerks are the ones who wrote the rules in the first place).

Oh - and a train is killed and that is far more upsetting than you would think. 

As I wrote in my review, I'm really surprised that these books are not more well known. They  are excellent SF (which is not too common in the YA literary world) as well as being excellent political mirrors for much of modern society. Check them out!

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy

From my recent Locus review of The Disappearances, a WW2 era fantasy that includes a curse, a literary mystery, some grave robbing, and the disappearance of the stars:

Initially, Emily Bain Murphy’sThe Disappearances reads as straightforward historical fiction. It’s 1942 and teenage Aila is facing the stark reality of life in the wake of her mother’s recent death. To make matters worse, her father is off to the war in the Pacific and she and her younger brother Miles must go live with their mother’s oldest friend in Sterling, Connecticut, where she grew up. Aila knows very little about her mother’s childhood but is resigned to doing her best to fit in. Readers will feel immediate empathy for these children and their predicament but likely expect little in the way of fantasy from reading the first few pages. Then Aila and Miles arrive in their new home with the Clifton family and, in spite of the pouring rain that greets them, Aila is stunned to notice that Matilda Clifton remains completely dry. Clearly, everything in the seemingly dull town of Sterling is not as it appears. 

Highly recommended for those who like to see how things used to be done (before cell phones which would have made a lot of the clue-following in this book a lot easier!) and as a reminder that sometimes nothing beats hitting the library. (Cue relevant Doctor Who quote here!)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Barefoot Sisters Southbound

I have enjoyed several books by people who have through-hiked the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). But Isis and jackrabbit (their trail names) set off barefoot from Mount Katahdin in Maine on their way to Springer Mountain in Georgia (They used boots after the snow started falling on them in Virginia.).

They take turns telling the story, and that sets this book apart from others I have read. I got to see things through both their eyes. So they reignited my hope to hike the A.T. Okay, not barefoot. And I'd probably start in Georgia and hike north, but still. There's a community of through hikers there every year. To be part of that community! A lot are unable to finish for one reason or another. But still...

A beat-up green Dodge ground to a halt on the gravel beside us, and the driver rolled down the window and shouted over to us, "thru-hikers?" We smiled and nodded. "Hop in!"

We loaded two packs into the trunk. Isis and Blade clambered into the backseat with the third. The powerful reek of week-old sweat filled up the hot interior of the car, but the driver seemed not to mind.

"I hiked northbound in '88," he said. As we sped down the two-lane road to Gorham, New Hampshire, we exchanged names and hiking stories. He stopped in the driveway of a large B&B at the edge of town. The gray building just ahead of us, an old hay barn, had an A.T. sign by the door, and a crowd of familiar people longed on the strip of lawn beside the driveway.

"Welcome to The Barn," the driver said. A look of nostalgia stole over his face, a bemused mixture of joy and regret that we would see on the faces of many ex-hikers when they talked about the Trail. "Make the most of your hike. It doesn't last forever."

We thanked him and the battered station wagon pulled out of the drive and was lost in the stream of traffic.

Inside the Barn, the accommodations were fairly basic: a common room downstairs with a TV and VCR, board games, magazines, and fuzzy plaid-upholstered armchairs that had seen better days...

At a bookstore just down the street from the hostel, we shelled out the money for a copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Hardcover. We had debated endlessly with ourselves and each other: is it worth the weight? In the end, the prospect of truly entertaining trail reading had won out...

Matt, Blue Skies, and Tenbrooks caught a shuttle out of town in the early afternoon. The rest of us, a motley crew of southbounders and a few northbounders, convened at Mr. Pizza at 6:30...

They proceeded to pig out - a frequent occurrence for thru-hikers when they hit town. Two of them each ate "The Stomper," a pizza that measured one hundred and ninety-two square inches! Long-distance hiking burns a lot of calories.

If you enjoy The Barefoot Sisters Southbound, you're in luck. Because Isis and jackrabbit (Lucy and Susan Letcher) "yoyoed," turning around and hiking back to Maine. And they wrote a book about that, too: The Barefoot Sisters Walking Home. I enjoyed that one too.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Kick by Mitch Johnson

Budi has a plan. He wants to be a football star like his hero Kieran Wakefield.

When Budi's a star he won't have to work in the sweatshop anymore. He won't have to be beaten by his foreman when he doesn't work fast enough or makes mistakes. Most of all, he'll be able to pay for his Grandma's medication and move his family into a neighbourhood that isn't crawling with poverty, sickness and addiction.

This is Budi's life, yet he doesn't stop dreaming.
Then one evening when Budi and his friends are in the street playing football, he accidentally kicks the ball into the home of The Dragon, the most dangerous man in Jakarta. The Dragon is angry, and tells Budi to do some dirty work for him. If he refuses, The Dragon will use his influence with the police department and make life even worse for him and his parents.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Time Loops

Have you ever formed a time loop while tying your shoes? Probably not. But have you ever read a book or watched a TV show or film where someone experienced a day over and over again? It's more than déjà vu -- it's actually happening on repeat, sometimes with different results, sometimes with the same results, and it seems as if it will never stop repeating - until, of course, the character finds a way to make it stop.

Time loops are not to be confused with time travel, another of my favorite sci-fi plot devices. In time travel, one moves forward or backward in time, willingly or otherwise. Doctor Who has time travel. The Boys are Back in Town by Christopher Golden has time travel. Groundhog Day, however, has a time loop. This film is so well-known that he is often referenced by characters experiencing time loops; more than once, I've read or heard a character say, "This is like Groundhog Day," rather than, "Gee, I'm experiencing a time loop!"

Many movies and television shows have explored time loops. Consider, if you will, the episode "Shadow Play" on The Twilight Zone, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Life Serial," "Monday" on The X-Files, Supernatural's "Mystery Spot," or "And Those We've Left Behind" on Fringe. Some of these loops have been comedic, others dramatic, with the best ones (in my opinion) being those which deftly mix the two.

Another clarification: Plots such as those in the television series Tru Calling and Seven Days (the latter of which I sadly never saw when it aired) weren't considered to be true time loops: both shows had worked off of a second-chance premise, with Tru repeating a day in attempt to save someone's life, while Frank used the Chronosphere (also known as the Backstep Sphere) to go back in time seven days to "avert disasters."

I really enjoyed Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, an intriguing and inventive novel in which the main character, Samantha (Sam), is killed in an accident only 80 pages into the book - then wakes up in bed, unharmed, only to find that it's not the next day - instead, it's the same day, the morning of her last day. She relives the day, bewildered and disbelieving. That evening, tragedy strikes again. The day repeats again, and again, a few times over. Sam does different things each time, spending one day being more cautious, another throwing caution to the wind, still another being more appreciative. It's an amazing book, and I highly recommend it. (And no, I haven't seen the movie yet.)

Like the novel The Time Traveler's Wife, Before I Fall has no overt sci-fi elements: there are no gadgets or gizmos or time machines that the characters use, accidentally or otherwise. Neither of those books have wizened characters who assist the protagonists with magic or explain the rules of the game to them. Instead, Henry and Sam have to figure things out (or make things up) as they go along. However, while Henry has Clare to confide in, Sam tells no one; while Henry travels through time involuntarily, Sam keeps repeating the same day involuntarily.

The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende, the fantasy novel that has owned a piece of my heart since childhood, also employs a time loop. It is not the main plot, but rather just one of the many pieces of this elaborate and imaginative story. I don't want to give anything away; I'd rather encourage you to pick up the novel and discover things yourself. Whether or not you've seen The NeverEnding Story movie (which I think is wonderful) or the subsequent sequels or other film/TV attempts based on the book (which didn't compare), I implore you to read the original book.

Now, if you want to get technical, I haven't read the original, Die unendliche Geschichte, because it's in German, which I don't know. Instead, I've read the English translation by Ralph Manheim.

But I digress. Time loops are delicate things which not always treated so delicately, nor do they always have to deal with delicate matters. Time loops are not always handled or broken in the same way. Sam's story in Before I Fall is nothing like Phil's in Groundhog Day, and when they finally break their loops, they do so in completely different ways. The parameters and circumstances established by Danny Rubin in Groundhog Day do not apply to Sam. Likewise, though concepts such as chaos theory, the butterfly effect, and fate are discussed to different degrees in many time loop stories, they are never exactly the same - unless, of course, you personally choose to read that book or watch that episode or movie over and over and over again - which, in some cases, I wouldn't blame you for doing! When they're really inventive and strong, time loop stories can be fascinating. Some of these stories benefit from a second reading or viewing, because you notice things you may not have noticed the first time through.

Having a lackluster weekend? Go read or watch someone dealing with a time loop. Afterwards, you'll probably be happy that you are moving in a forward direction . . . or are you?

My Side of the Mountain

This has never happened to me before: I enjoyed the sequel more than the original! Be assured, though, My Side of the Mountain
is very good. Young Sam Gribley goes off to live in the wilderness quite comfortably in a huge hollow tree. He trains a young falcon he named Frightful:

"Every day I worked to train Frightful. It was a long process, I would put her on her stump with a long leash and step back a few feet with some meat in my hand. Then I would whistle. The whistle was supposed eventually to mean food to her. So I would whistle, show her the meat, and after many false flaps she would finally fly to my hand. I would pet her and feed her. She could fly fairly well, so now I made sure that she never ate unless he flew to my fist.

"One day at breakfast I whistled for Frightful. I had no food, she wasn't even hungry, but she came to me anyway. I was thrilled. She had learned a whistle meant 'come.'

"I looked into her steely eyes that morning and thought I saw a gentle recognition. She puffed up her feathers as she sat on my hand. I call this a 'feather word.' It means she is content."

I also enjoyed this, from near the end of the book: "I returned to my patch on the mountain, talking to myself all the way. I talk to myself a lot, but everyone does. The human being, even in the midst of people, spends nine-tenths of his time alone with the private voices of his own head. Living alone on a mountain is not much different, except that your speaking voice gets rusty, I talked inside my head all the way home, thinking up schemes, holding conversations with Bando and Dad and Matt Spell...
"I cooked supper, and then sat down by my little fire and called a forum. It is very sociable inside my head, and I have perfected the art of getting a lot of people arguing together in silence or in a forum, as I prefer to call it. I can get four people all talking at once, and a fifth can be present, but generally I can't get him to talk. Usually these forums discuss such things as a storm and whether or not it is coming, how to make a spring suit, and how to enlarge my house without destroying the life in the tree. Tonight, however, they discussed what to do about Matt Spell. Dad kept telling me to go right down to the city and make sure he published nothing, not even a made-up story. Bando said, no, it's all right, he still doesn't know where you live, and then Matt walked into the conversation and said that he wanted to spend his spring vacation with me, and that he promised not to do anything untoward. Matt kept using 'untoward' - I don't know where he got that expression, but he liked it and kept using it - that's how I knew Matt was speaking; everything was 'untoward.'"

What I liked there was that it seemed that author Jean Craighead George described how her stories got generated. Characters in her head interacted, and she transcribed what took place onto paper. I could be wrong, but maybe.

The sequel that I liked even more is called On the Far Side of the Mountain. There's a third book, Frightful's Mountain, but I have not read it yet. It's here at my desk, so it won't be long.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Lyrical, visceral, and wise, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz haunts the melancholy middle between heartbreak and hope.