Friday, July 21, 2017

Ararat by Christopher Golden


Looking for a story to help you escape the heat of summer? Christopher Golden's newest thriller ARARAT is bound to give you chills.

I found myself holding my breath more than once while reading this book - pretty much any time that they were climbing up or down the mountain. The stakes can't get any higher (no pun intended) than when you're dangling off the side of a mountain - unless, of course, there happens to be a demon in a mix. Then you're just bound for disaster no matter what happens.

Mount Ararat is a real place. It is, in the words of Wikipedia, a snow-capped and dormant compound volcano in the extreme east of Turkey. The novel features a multicultural cast of characters who have come to Ararat from all over the world - and for all different reasons. The storyline incorporates a good mix of action and character-driven stories with a touch of the supernatural. Some characters are explorers, others researchers; some believe they've found Noah's Ark while others are skeptic; some are fighting for their beliefs while others are simply trying to survive.

Here's the jacket flap summary for this action-packed story:

Fans of Dan Simmons' THE TERROR will love ARARAT, the thrilling tale of an adventure that goes awry.

When a newly engaged couple climbs Mount Ararat in Turkey, an avalanche forces them to seek shelter inside a massive cave uncovered by the snow fall. The cave is actually an ancient, buried ship that many quickly come to believe is really Noah's Ark.

But when a team of scholars, archaeologists, and filmmakers make it inside the ark for the first time, they discover an elaborate coffin in its recesses - and when they break it open, they find that the cadaver within is an ugly, misshapen thing - and it has horns. A massive blizzard blows in, trapping them in that cave thousands of meters up the side of a remote mountain - but they are not alone.


Read an excerpt now.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Encounters by Jason Wallace

When I was a kid I was obsessed with UFOs.

My dad witnessed the unexplained object streak across the sky at his home in Clark's Harbour Nova Scotia in 1967. It would be known as the Shag Harbour UFO incident because many locals claimed to have seen a craft crash into the ocean. Some told stories of thick orange foam covering the top of the water and Russian ships suddenly converging on the area.

Whatever it was, it was an experience shared by others and the stories remain to this day.

Encounters is all about a shared experience. Based on the Ruwa, Zimbabwe UFO incident when dozens of school children claimed to have seen silver discs land behind their school, Encounters follows the journey of six children that have their lives changed forever because of the alleged alien encounter.

Finding Mighty by Sheela Chari


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I grew up in the 80s and was always fascinated by the emergence of the hip-hop movement. From afar I watched as b-boys used the tenets of the movement (rapping, djing, b-boying and graffiti) to express themselves in the dawn of a new era. Thus, when I saw Sheela Chari's new book, Finding Mighty I was instantly drawn to the cover and the book did not disappoint.

Chari is of East Indian descent and the main protagonists are of East Indian descent as well, something that I had not seen in many middle grade novels but which was a refreshing change as I feel it is critically important for kids to read about different perspectives and cultures.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints- Myla, Peter and his older brother Randall, and centers around the mysterious death of the boys' father, Omar. Randall has joined a group of graffiti artists who tag different parts of the city at night. One night Randall disappears and leaves cryptic clues to help his brother find him. Peter starts to search but soon realizes that he can't do it alone.

In addition to all of the above, Myla and Peter have to deal with being new sixth graders and the transition that this entails. Myla for her part feels invisible and in one interesting exchange between her and Peter they reflect on the pros and cons of the different neighborhoods. Chari does a wonderful job of touching on some deep issues in a very sensitive manner.

There are more characters too including the boys' weird uncle, an ex-con called Scottie Biggs and a nosy reporter called Kai Filnik who has a knack of popping up in the most unexpected places. This is a mystery with twists, turns and a great deal of heart. Highly recommended. Natasha Tarpley's The Harlem Charade is another great mystery set in and around New York City. Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer series is a great series of intricately plotted mysteries for middle grade readers.

Read other reviews like this on my blog here!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Old Yeller

I don’t always review fiction. When I do, I want it to be really good. Old Yeller is really good.
The book is “assigned reading” fairly frequently in the schools. I hope that students don’t decide to dislike it because it’s school work. Ideally they would get to read it before a teacher tells them they must (I remember so many of my fellow students hating the assigned Moby Dick. I read it on my own years later and consider it Melville’s masterpiece, no question.).
Anyway, Old Yeller is told by Travis, who is fourteen. He didn’t like the dog at first, but over time, changed his mind. Old Yeller turned out to be a wonderful dog. The ending of the story brought a tear to my eye, and the recognition that I had just read a great book. I had known about it for over fifty years. Finally, I knew what all the fuss was about.

“Every night before Mama let him go to bed, she’d make Arliss empty his pockets of whatever he’d captured during the day. Generally, it would be a tangled up mess of grasshoppers and worms and praying bugs and little rusty tree lizards. One time he brought in a horned toad that got so mad he swelled out round and flat as a Mexican tortilla and bled at the eyes. Sometimes it was stuff like a young bird that had fallen out of its nest before it could fly, or a green-speckled spring frog or a striped water snake. And once he turned out of his pocket a wadded-up baby copperhead that nearly threw Mama into spasms. We never did figure out why the snake hadn’t bitten him, but Mama took no more chances on snakes. She switched Arliss hard for catching that snake. Then she made me spend better than a week, taking him out and teaching him to throw rocks and kill snakes.

"That was all right with Little Arliss. If Mama wanted him to kill his snakes first, he’d kill them… The snakes might be stinking by the time Mama called on him to empty his pockets, but they’d be dead.”

The author, Fred Gipson, wrote two follow-ups to Old Yeller: Savage Sam, and Little Arliss. I haven’t read them yet. But it won’t be long.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

DECELERATE BLUE by Adam Rapp & Mike Cavallaro

There's an old English Beat song that ends "faster faster faster faster STOP (I'm dead)". (The name of the song is "I Just Can't Stop It", from an album of the same name.) It turns out to be almost a summary of this amazing dystopian graphic novel, Decelerate Blue, which is set in a hyperkinetic future. In that future, everyone has a chip in their arm and is constantly monitored by "Guarantee", which appears to be an industrial state entity of some sort. Chips are scanned all the time.

SPEED is the goal. And possibly brevity. Things are described as "hyper" instead of super or great. Modifiers like adjectives and adverbs are avoided by most people. Contractions are mandatory whenever possible. People end spoken statements with the word "Go", which is rather like hitting "enter" on a text, but may also be a short form of "Go, Guarantee, Go", which is repeated all the time by characters to signify their allegiance to the idea of keeping their "guarantee" and trying to operate at the necessary speed to satisfy the requirements of the state.

Angela, the main character, is more of an "old school" girl who prefers things to be slower and have more meaning than is allowed in the "GO" world in which she lives. When she is slipped a copy of "Kick the Boot", a novel by Kent Van Gough, she learns that he predicted this hyper world and its machinations.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book by Jomny Sun





Report to the Interstellar Committee re: What is an Earth Book?

Based on a study of everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too by jomny sun.

1. Earth Books contain simple drawings, often accompanied by words. But not always. Sometimes just simple drawings.

Rumors abound that some Earth Books contain ONLY words. I cannot verify this.

2. Despite reports to the contrary, spelling in Earth Books has not been standardized.

3. Nothing is not a minor character in Earth Books.

4. Wordplay is highly valued in Earth Books, particularly what are called “puns.” Puns are called “cringe-worthy” when they are highly effective. Puns may be a similar species to “Dad Jokes.” The Lesser Earth People do not think puns are worthy of anything but disdain. The Even Lesser Earth People write about Earth Books that use puns and use those very same puns, thus lessening the impact of those puns for the reader. Such actions are worthy of disdain.

5. Earth Books cause readers to “catch feelings.” (Earth People also catch fish and catch illnesses.) These feelings include but are not limited to the following: sadness, happiness, regret, compassion, empathy, remorse, tenderness, hope, and a smile. Some Lesser Earth People say that a smile is not a feeling, but those Lesser Earth People tend themselves not to smile, even when no one is around. “Catching feelings” is related to “The Feels.” Earth Books have “All The Feels.”  

6. Earth Books can be read by Earth Children and Earth Adults, together or separately. Earth Books show us that friends don’t have be human, but friends make us more human.

7. Reading Earth Books like everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too make Earth People More instead of Lesser.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Storm Front: The Dresden Files Book 1 by Jim Butcher

I have been told for years that I should pick up Storm Front, the first book in the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher - but I just haven't. I know that this series has been written about before (here,) but I just needed to add my appreciation as a representative of the holdout readers. After finishing this first installment, I can tell that this will be one of those series that feels like a pair of comfortable slippers. Any time there is a little lull in my to-read list or a time when I just feel the need for something familiar and comfortable, I'll look to Harry Dresden to see what antics my new favorite wizard is up to. 

As a fan of Harry Potter, it was interesting to have magic be an open part of the world and not hidden away in an alternate reality to those on non-magical skills.  I love the fact that Harry Dresden lives in Chicago and works with the Chicago PD to solve some of the more "odd" cases. As wizards go, Harry has magical abilities, but is not all powerful and I find the matter-of-fact nature of it all pretty refreshing after wizards like Gandalf and Albus Dumbledore who seem so omnipotent and huge.  A real tough guy investigator, but only human. Thus, mistakes are made, he gets himself into several tight situations and has a pretty cool cast of supporting characters to interact with. 

Older teens and adults alike who enjoy urban fantasy, wizards, and crime novels will love this series. If you have been hesitating as I have been, don't wait any longer. Do it, dive into the world of Harry Dresden and all of the magical adventures that take place there. I really think you will be happy you did.


Here is the listing of titles in the series in order.
Storm Front
Fool Moon
Grave Peril
Summer Knight
Death Masks
Blood Rites
Dead Beat
Proven Guilty
White Night
Small Favor
Turn Coat
Changes
Ghost Story
Cold Days
Skin Game

Friday, June 30, 2017

Get these books on your radar now (& check out the covers!!!!)

New covers are showing up on twitter lately for upcoming books. These caught my eye & I wanted to be sure you get them on your lists. Sequel to the outstanding Shadowshaper (you really need to read that now!), here's what author Daniel José Older told Teen Vogue about his upcoming book (due in September):

Definitely one thing about all my work, one thing in particular here, is looking at the power of community. Thinking about how much we can change when we get together and fight for it. This is a book that is explicitly a protest novel in the sense that the characters hit the streets protesting against violence and the different forms that it appears in in their lives. That is very much entwined with the larger narrative of what they are doing with their lives and trying to survive and the magical fights they are in. It is all tied together, not just like, "Oh, fight the power on one hand and then simply go off and do some cool magic stuff." They are all very much connected, whether it is the actual painting coming to life and fighting bad guys for you or it's you in your most difficult moment when you're most alone finding some kind of truth in a song or a book and that becomes a thread which is a lifeline that will pull you out of wherever you are. All those are forms of art saving lives and that's what is always on my mind when I am writing Shadowshaper books.


Eve Ewing's Electric Arches (due in ) is "an imaginative exploration of Black girlhood and womanhood through poetry, visual art, and narrative prose." The cover is flat out amazing but the description is even better. From the publisher:

Blending stark realism with the surreal and fantastic, Eve L. Ewing’s narrative takes us from the streets of 1990s Chicago to an unspecified future, deftly navigating the boundaries of space, time, and reality. Ewing imagines familiar figures in magical circumstances―blues legend Koko Taylor is a tall-tale hero; LeBron James travels through time and encounters his teenage self. She identifies everyday objects―hair moisturizer, a spiral notebook―as precious icons. 

Her visual art is spare, playful, and poignant―a cereal box decoder ring that allows the wearer to understand what Black girls are saying; a teacher’s angry, subversive message scrawled on the chalkboard. Electric Arches invites fresh conversations about race, gender, the city, identity, and the joy and pain of growing up.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone (due in October) is ripped from the headlines. Here's the publisher's description:

Justyce McAllister is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. He is eventually released without charges (or an apology), but the incident has Justyce spooked. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous—and white—debate partner he wishes he didn’t have a thing for.
 
Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure.
 
Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up. Way up. Much to the fury of the white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. And Justyce and Manny get caught in the crosshairs. In that media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack. The truth of what happened that night—some would kill to know. Justyce is dying to forget.

Monday, June 26, 2017

An Outstanding Series You Must Not Miss: Scientists in the Field

Google “American schools bad” and you get 237 million hits which is simultaneously impressive and depressing. Of course a lot of those hits are thousands of articles repeating the same thing thousands of other articles are saying and a lot of them are dubious conclusions of what “bad” means. (For some folks it apparently means that schools are teaching sex education that includes something other than abstinence; in others it means that American History is too depressing.) But it’s clear that buried in all the hyperbole is a very real concern that much of what is going on in our schools is not nearly as impressive as it should be and as a country, we could be doing a lot better.

The most prevalent topic mentioned to improve schools is a higher focus on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). The desire to increase enrollment numbers in these fields of study has drawn the attention of political figures across the spectrum and the targets are everyone: Boys with short attention spans! Girls with low self esteem! Minorities from under privileged backgrounds!. Programs encouraging STEM are discussed ad nauseam but what much of that coverage lacks is perhaps the very thing teens need the most: a reason to want to become actual scientists.

Science itself is a popular discussion topic—”robotics” will get you 65 million+ hits; space travel will get you 439 million and “plastic in ocean” will get you 80 million—but what individual scientists do on a daily basis to tackle these subjects and others like them is a mystery when compared to more straightforward professions like doctor, lawyer or airline pilot. Science is just so big that unless Neil deGrasse Tyson is being interviewed about Pluto again, it’s hard for most adults (let alone kids) to name an actual living scientist. 

Quite frankly, the whole thing can get very frustrating.

But before panic sets in, the Scientist in the Field series needs to be checked out. Launched in 1999 by writer Sy Montgomery and photographer Nic Bishop, these books aimed at older middle grade and teen readers, combine curious writers with talented photographers and the fieldwork of a host of scientists around the world. Winners of dozens of awards highlighting their wide appeal, timeliness and whip smart content, the series shows readers not only some of the interesting and important science happening today but also what actual scientists look like (which is, happily, pretty darn diverse).


Scientist in the Field books tackle a wide range of subjects from volcanic eruptions and ocean trash to the invasion of North America by the destructive Asian long horned beetle, the search for intelligent life in the universe, the dangerous impact of pesticides on frogs and conservation efforts to save animals like the sea turtle, snow leopard, tree kangaroo and bees.

In the 40+ books to date, readers visit urban, suburban and wilderness destinations as the profiled scientists do their work. There are a lot of physically uncomfortable situations (it gets very hot in Brazil while tracking tapirs for example and very cold in Alaska while studying bowhead whales). But the hands-on nature of the jobs requires these men and women be out in the world getting close to their subjects. While labs certainly feature in many of the books, the scientists are clear that they can not find the answers they are looking for online—you have to get outside and, more often than not, you have to get dirty.

The structure for each title is similar: a writer and photographer generally match up with a small group of scientists engaged in single project. Sometimes the books focus on one individual and while in other cases they follow the work of several scientists who are attacking a project from multiple angles. With in-depth interviews and overviews of the scientific methods used, backgrounds of the team members and unique aspects of the problem like history, geography or cultural impact, the series fully immerses readers in places familiar, (a pond in Wyoming or neighborhood in Massachusetts), and foreign, (the cloud forest of Papua New Guinea or mountains of Mongolia). While American scientists often play a part even in the international settings, local scientists are always significant to the narrative as well, sometimes even risking their lives to find answers as in “Eruption!” which is about volcanoes in the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Diversity is, in fact, a byword for every aspect of the Scientist in the Field series. The subjects and locations are diverse, the type of science, (astronomy, geology, biology, forensics, entomology and on and on), is diverse and most refreshingly, the men and women involved cover a vast range of ages and ethnicities. Readers will see themselves in these books simply because somewhere within them is someone who looks like they do.

So what kind of scientists do you meet here? People like Curt Ebbesmeyer who tracks sneakers and toys lost at sea to map and track ocean currents in Tracking Trash; volcanologist Supriyati Andreastuti, who collects and measures volcanic ash in Eruption!; Tyrone Hayes who leads his graduate students out to collect pond water samples so they can study the impact of pesticides on frogs in The Frog Scientist and Hazel Barton who hunts in underground caves for microbes that might hold the secrets to life under the harshest of circumstances in Extreme Scientists.

Mysteries figure large and small in the books of this series, and so do adventures and surprises. The authors don’t sugarcoat the record keeping or statistical analysis that is necessary for good science, but they can’t keep the excitement out of their narratives. More than anything though, they make readers believe that science is possible for anyone; you just have to find the subject that gets you excited and then get out there to learn more about it. The Scientist in the Field series proves you can do it; no matter who you are or where you come from, you can have a life like the people in these books and you can change the world while you are living it. And more than anything, that is a pretty amazing (and inspiring) message for any teenager to discover.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson

Black Hole Sun / Won't You Come / And Wash Away the Rain

Soundgarden's dark lyrics were floating around my mind while I read this thrilling sci-fi adventure from Kevin Emerson.

The year is 2213, but no one's really counting anymore because the Earth is dead, swallowed by the sun as it goes supernova.

Earth's population has gone to Mars, but it's only a short stay because Mars isn't safe from the sun's wrath either.

Mars is just a place for the Earthlings to get their act together before they embark on a 150 year journey to a new home.


Liam was born on Mars, and the thought of leaving it behind is crushing, but he goes along with it because leaving is better than being melted to nothing. Liam's friend Phoebe is also disappointed about leaving, together they reminisce about their time together and get ready to board the last starliner to leave the red planet.