Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mike Dawson's Troop 142



This week I’ve finally gotten around to Mike Dawson’s Troop 142, a graphic novel about one Boy Scout troop’s travails over a week away at camp. I was prompted to read it because of his post about the book’s sales history on his blog. That discussion is something I’ll take up later, but first my review.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

Imagine this: New York City has been hit with a dirty bomb. No, I'm not talking about a bomb that tells inappropriate nursery rhymes, I'm talking about a bomb that spreads radioactive waste, slowly killing everything in its wake. Throw in some climate change-related disasters, a super addictive online video game and you've got the perfect recipe for the dystopian sic-fi thriller that is Shovel Ready.

Spademan is a hit-man, before that, when the world was still semi-normal, he was a garbage man. Then the terrorists dropped the bomb on New York, killing his wife and his will to carry on as he did before. 

He has specific rules about his job, he kills both men and women but he won't kill children because according to him that's "a different kind of psycho." Then, out of the blue, he's given a job with a very lucrative payoff. The catch? The target is an eighteen year-old pregnant girl.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Knightley and son by Rohan Gavin

Father son books are always interesting to read because depending on the age of their son there is always some subtle tension in the relationship. For young sons the father prods his progeny, trying to get him to be a better player, athlete etc. Older sons, in trying to carve their own niche and explore their individuality are often at loggerheads with their fathers. In this book, the relationship is somewhere in between.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hurricane Fever by Tobias S. Buckell

Not the US cover, but I prefer this one.
Let's say there's something wrong with the planet's climate and hurricane season produces a steady flow of class 5 hurricanes. And suppose the Caribbean found itself the focus of international attention, the kind that pushes the island nations together to form their own unified political coalition, down to its own world-class spies. While we're at it, let's have the island still welcome tourists, but now we're talking major industrial players in high rises throwing hurricane parties.

And in the middle of all this someone has finally created the ultimate chemical weapon, one with a really nasty bigoted edge to it, that's about to be launched via the winds of the coming storm. There's only one lone, retired local ex-spy who has figured it all out... but can he stop it from happening?

Hurricane Fever is, for me, the perfect spy-thriller-action-adventure-beach-read. It's a summer movie in a book, well-written, and at just under 275 pages proof that the compelling story full of character and suspense can be achieved without the unnecessary bloat of, say, a Clancy doorstop.

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"Fire on the Mountain," by Terry Bisson

Maybe you remember John Brown from your history class. An abolitionist, he believed that peaceful reform of slavery was impossible, and only a violent disruption of the slaveholding status quo would end this massive, brutal injustice. In 1859 he attempted to start a slave revolt by seizing the US arsenal at Harper's Ferry in Virginia, but the assault went wrong and he and his comrades were caught and executed for treason.

Terry Bisson's Fire on the Mountain is an alternate history that asks the question - what if the assault had succeeded? What if instead of a civil war started by slaveholders who wanted to continue exploiting human beings, America had a revolution started by people who believed that all human beings should be free? In real life, John Brown worked closely with Harriet Tubman, and many scholars believe that if she hadn't been prevented by illness from traveling south to help him plan the attack, he would have succeeded. Fire on the Mountain takes a simple change - she didn't get sick, she helped the rebels, the attack was successful and started a revolution - and extrapolates a whole complicated marvelous utopian future from that. It opens 100 years later, as the prosperous state of Nova Africa is about to put a man on Mars, and pieces together the history through letters and testimonials. 

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

THE GREEN TEEN COOKBOOK: Recipes for All Seasons--written by teens, for teens

The Green Teen Cookbook, edited by Laurane Marchive and Pam McElroy, is both a cookbook and a resource for thinking about and shopping for food. The first of the book includes essays/articles on things like how to eat healthfully and/or seasonally, eating organic foods, levels of vegetarianism, how to be a locavore, and what fairtrade means. Between the title and the first chapter, I expected it to be a vegetarian cookbook, but it isn't-- it includes all sorts of recipes, including some for meat, chicken, and fish. All of the recipes focus on the use of fresh foods.

The second chapter includes recipe for making staples such as mayonnaise, pesto, salsa, and chicken or vegetable stock, and more. It also has a non-staple in the form of chocolate spread (not called Nutella, but still...) The remainder of the book is organized into sections by meal types: Breakfast & Brunch; Soups, Salads & Sandwiches; Snacks & Sides; Main Courses; and Desserts. Each recipe submitted by a teen includes a picture of the teen cook at the top of the page, along with a quote about the recipe and why they like making it or recommend it.

The selections include everything from simple dishes like French toast, Green Salad, or Apple Chips to more sophisticated or involved recipes. As a long-time cook and follower of recipes, I found myself wishing that some of the recipes had been proofed better or written just a bit more clearly. The "Summer Lasagna" comes to mind (not, apparently, a teen recipe), where the recipe calls for mozzarella, but doesn't specify that it should be shredded mozzarella, although on reading and re-reading the recipe, it became obvious that was probably what was intended (you mix it with ricotta, and mixing unshredded mozzarella is either impossible or inadvisable. That said, the variety of dishes is excellent, and the personal introductions by the teen chefs who donated the recipes are inspiring -- they explain where they learned to make the dish, or why they like making or eating it. Each recipe also comes with a photograph of the finished dish, and some come with additional "quick tips", like the one for crepes, which says that "Your first crepe will most likely not [] be perfect but don't worry, you will get the hang of it."

Here's a photo of what a two-page spread in the book looks like. It features recipes for "Chicken with Ginger and Broccoli", supplied by Dong Tran, and "Chili Con Carne", from Clare Gosling.



A great book for teens wanting to start cooking or start their own cookbook collections.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan




Jim Eisenreich played Major League Baseball in the 1980s and ‘90s, including a stretch beginning in 1993 with my beloved Philadelphia Phillies. But, rightly or wrongly, I remember Eisenreich not because he was a member of the ’93 Phillies team that won the National League pennant, but because he was my first introduction to Tourette syndrome. (Or, as it is sometimes written, including in When Mr. Dog Bites, Tourette’s syndrome.) Eisenreich’s battles with Tourette’s included a stretch in the ‘80s when he was unable to play.


Today, Tourette’s is often used as a punchline, as popular culture focuses on what is known as coprolalia, the involuntary use of socially unacceptable words. Dylan Mint, the teenage narrator of Brian Conaghan’s When Mr. Dog Bites, is one of those with Tourette’s who also exhibits coprolalia. And no doubt one of an even smaller group who occasionally uses his Tourette’s as an excuse to say inexcusable things. Because while Dylan has Tourette’s, he is, first and foremost, a teenage boy.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

WILD THINGS! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature

Wild Things! “You make my heart sing. You make everything groovy.”

And why not? This is a book full of quirky stories, little-known information, and heaps of authorial personality. What else would you expect from Betsy Bird, Jules Danielson, & Peter D. Sieruta? It covers topics such as art in books, and includes a sketch from The Paper Bag Princess in which the princess has obviously clocked the odious Ronald). It discusses LGBT authors (including Louise Fitzhugh, who wrote Harriet the Spy), characters, and issues in books and how far that topic has come over the years (or hasn’t, as some authors find themselves disinvited or marginalized, regardless of whether they themselves are gay or straight). It covers censorship and book banning (which ones and why – some of which is hilarious for how off-base it seems), along with some issues of censorship based on racism that actually sound a bit right (think of the horrifying descriptions of Native Americans in some of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books or some of the words used to describe people of color over the years).

And then there’s the chapter on celebrity books, which gets things just right in the epigraph, a quote by Jane Yolen: “I’m getting out my pointy bra and brushing up on my singing and dancing, because there’s no good pop music out there.” As the chapter points out, what “celebrity book” often means is something with almost no content, or something with a preachy message, which would have been shot down if it had been submitted by an author who was not a celebrity. Thank you, Betsy, Jules, and Peter, for articulating the exact issue.

There are more chapters, too. Such as the books that kids love but critics hate, and books as big business, and more. And all of it is well-researched and delivers the sort of story and content that will delight and surprise, as well as entertain and motivate.

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Avalon by Mindee Arnett

Avalon by Mindee Arnett

Avalon starts off with a bang - Jeth and his crew of teenage thieves must steal a ship and get it back safely to their crime lord boss, Hammer. Then the action slows, and we learn about the crew, Jeth and Lizzie's past, their parents' deaths, and all about their ship - also their home - the "Avalon". Soon we're swept up in their newest job - collect a lost ship from the treacherous Belgrave Sector - like the Bermuda Triangle of space - and get back to their home station within 2 weeks. With faster-than-light metaspace travel, potential paranormal powers and aliens, a government conspiracy, budding romance, quirky/funny friends, and all kinds of action Avalon is one hell of a joyride.


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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Space Opera 101, or How to Cure Your Zombie Obsession and Learn to Love Humanity

Much of the new YA science fiction out lately is dystopian, portraying futures plagued by environmental disaster, totalitarian governments and technology misused to such a degree that it threatens human freedom if not human existence. Plus, there are zombies everywhere. Why do kids like this stuff so much? If I were a cultural theorist I might propose that when you grow up with persistent unemployment and a deadlocked government in the face of environmental crisis, rampant disease and ongoing devastating wars, you can get a tad pessimistic.

Ok, you can't be blamed for your lousy outlook. Not your fault. Still, as my mother used to say, if you keep making that sour face it will get stuck that way and if you keep reading this depressing stuff you are only going to sink deeper and deeper into gloom.

There's an alternative, a cure, for your mood, if not for the world. While little of it has found its way to YA, in adult sci-fi there is a concurrent trend with a more hopeful and longer range vision for humanity.

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