Mental Floss on Youtube with John Green

I've mentioned Mental Floss before, but that was in the context of their books and magazines.  They have since spread their wings and have joined the ranks of publications with a video presence on YouTube.

I recommend the Mental Floss channel largely do to my interest in trivia, and the short, bite-sized nature of the videos, presented in rapid-fire format by... John Green.

Yes, that John Green.  Not being a big fan of his books (they are one of the reasons this blog exists; please don't take this too personally, Mr. Green, it is a matter of taste as much as anything), I was dismayed to find this, but he is perfect for the job.  His quick delivery and manner really serve the videos well.  He comes across knowledgeable and not too smug.

Find the YouTube channel here.

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Grand Theft Auto: Why boys aren't reading in September

I posted this last September, but this is clearly an appropriate post since the newest game, Grand Theft Auto V, is out this week and set to sell a billion dollars worth of copies by next month.  So if you didn't see it the first time, here it is again:

Jacked by David Kushner

Grand Theft Auto is an video game series that is entirely inappropriate for teens.  That said, c'mon.  Of course they have played it.  And of course they are waiting with baited breath for GTA V, due out sometime next year.  The series is infamous for its violent and sexual content, what with the brazen murder of innocent pedestrians, police officers and just general wreaking of havoc.  On the other hand, it's also a beautifully crafted series, each generation featuring groundbreaking graphics, freedom to travel the city and just cruise around absorbing the atmosphere.

Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto by David Kushner traces the history of the game from its humble beginning as a city simulator to the record shattering sales of the 4th edition that in its first 24 hours of sale made more money than any form of entertainment ever before in the same amount of time.  Grand Theft Auto was and continues to be a major cornerstone of gaming, but before it made it big, it was just a fringe game by a small start-up.

Parallel to the main story, Jacked also discusses the efforts by moral crusader Jack Thompson to get the game banned in the name of protecting child from the violent contained contained in the series.  This obviously never happened, but it serves to create a pretty scary villain for the story of the game.  (Scary, of course, if you like games and want to keep playing them).

The pace is a bit slow for my taste, and doesn't actually get into that much detail about the process, but this is more than I'd ever heard before about the behind-the-scenes of the series, so this is a good, reasonable-length approach to the subject, one that should be able to hold the attention of gamers who enjoy it.
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American Gun by Chris Kyle

I'm a suburban Canadian, so you might imagine I haven't spent much (any) time in and around gun culture.  My house had no guns, my friends and extended family had no guns, and aside from the gun range next to the archery range I trained at as a kid, had never seen a gun fired in real life.  (I did have a bunch pointed at me, though, due to a misunderstanding at my then workplace where I accidentally triggered an armed robbery alarm thinking it was a device for removing security tags from clothing).

I don't have any particular interest in firearms, but due to frequent video gaming, I've seen my share of brand names and style in digital form.

American Gun by the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle tells a brief history of 10 significant firearms that contributed to major points and events in US history, starting with the long guns that tamed the frontier in the early days of the country to the modern weapon of choice, the M16.

This book is a proud American book but a proud member of the military, but he doesn't really make any strong political or loaded statements about guns or gun control.  It's mostly a history of the weapons and their uses, both for good and for evil.

For boys who play a lot of games, particularly first-person shooters and for people just generally interested in military history, this is a good casual read.  It's siimply written and not terribly long.

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Mogworld by Yathzee Croshaw

Jim dies in the prologue.  All he wants to do is stay dead, but unlucky for him, he's been resurrected and hired as a minion of a dread necromancer.  It's the best job he's ever had, but it's just not the same as being dead.

After a brief time enjoying his undead life, some bizarre angel-type creatures swoop in a start deleting everything, permanently eliminating the necromancer, the castle and all but him and 2 other undead, which is strange: until the Deleter attack, people are resurrected into new bodies when they die, and even the undead come back when they try to wipe themselves out,  Jim embarks on a quest to find these Deleters and have them eliminate him, too.  But maybe taking some time to be a hero instead of completely dead might, maybe, not be the worst thing in the world.

Yahtzee Croshaw is a video game journalist and this, his first novel, shows it.  It is deeply rooted in games, particularly World of Warcraft-style multi-user games.  Readers who play that kind of game regularly will recognize all the hallmarks of adventure games and quests, including their frequent resurrection

The book isn't perfect - you can see the big reveal coming from a mile away, but assuming you enjoy adventure games, it won't bother you much, even if it seems like we are supposed to be surprised. 

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Summer is ending...

And with the end of summer comes the start of school and new reading lists. 

We'd like to know, what is on your reading list for fall, and what can you recommend for boys that we haven't covered in the past couple of years?

On another note, we know it's been a month since we've added anything new; don't worry, we've been reading and we'll have new stuff for you soon.
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The Hypnotists Book One by Gordon Korman

Strange things tend to happen around Jax Opus. The best basketball player can't score when Jax chants to himself, "miss miss miss". His therapist will really try to jump out of the window just because Jax jokingly says so. His best friend Tommy calls it luck, but Jax discovers that he was actually descended from a long line of hypnotists and he can bend people's minds when his talent was noticed by Dr. Elias Mako.

Invited to join Mako's elite institute, Jax learns how to control his abilities and hones his skills and soon becomes the star pupil. Everything seems to be going Jax's way, until one day, an old guy came up to Jax and told him that Dr. Mako is extremely dangerous and is going to manipulate Jax to do his evil bidding. That can't be true, Jax thought. Dr. Mako is a model citizen. Everyone knows that Dr. Mako "has devoted his life to New York City education and is an inspiration to every single one of us". Wait. Where has he heard this description of his teacher before? From everyone, that's where. Somehow everyone says the exact same line when they describe Dr. Mako. Now why is that, and could it have something to do with...hypnotism?

This is the first book in Gordon Korman's new series. There is always an ease in the way Korman writes that gets readers into his stories effortlessly, and in this new book, we are introduced to another one of his believable teen characters. Jax is a likable hero with an extraordinary talent, but more importantly he has a good heart. Along with his loyal buddy Tommy and his funny parents we have a great cast of characters.  The ending is surprising touching for a light read. Though the plot is simple and straightforward, it will still hold readers' interest. Korman is still one of the best authors to recommend to young readers who haven't quite found their reading bug yet.

Thank you, Scholastic, for providing an advanced review copy! The book will be published this August. Check out the dedicated webpage
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Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Elements, to most people, mean things like oxygen, gold, iron, tin, stuff like that.  Easily identified, popularly discussed stuff.  We may rarely see them in pure form, but we know they are there.  But there is far more to them than that.

Molybdenum.  Strontium.  The town in Sweden that produced eight hitherto unknown elements from one mine, just lying there.  When aluminum (aluminium? Both are right; the discoverer changed his mind a couple of times, and it could have been alumium) was considered a precious metal, not a throwaway for pop cans and cheap cars.

Periodic Tales tells the human story of the discovery, uses or practical lack thereof, and odd value of nearly all of the elements on the periodic table, and explains why in many cases it took so long for them to prove useful. 

Told in a bunch of thematic sections (money, power, things like that), Aldersey-Williams brings out the untold history of so many elements we might otherwise never think about.

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The Good, the Bad and the Infernal by Guy Adams

There is a town called Wormwood.  At least, that's what it's called this time.  It has gone by other names, it has existed in other places.  But this time, it's due to appear in the American West. Every time it appears, explorers and adventure seekers go out of their way to find it and unlock the secrets of the town. The biggest secret?  In the center of town there is a doorway into heaven.

The Good, the Bad and the Infernal is the story of a few of these explorers, none of whom realize what kind of journey they are about to embark upon.  Wormwood has a way of testing people, throwing weird mystical and supernatural obstacles in the way to challenge anyone who approaches, from people-eating towns to steam powered people.

The story is told in several separate, apparently unrelated, sections, one from the perspective of a banker on his way West, another featuring a band of villainous circus performers, and a third of a British inventor, his daughter and a group of monks.  It's pretty short, but it leaves a lot open for the next in the series, least of all the arrival at Wormwood.

There is a wildly inappropriate scene near the beginning of this book, FYI, so I'll aim this firmly at the older teens, but otherwise, neat premise.
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The Legionary Chronicles by Adam Nichols

Gaius, an ordinary sheep herder living in the countryside, has always longed to be a soldier in the Roman army. He gets his chance when he attracts the attention of a passing proconsul, who turns out to be Caesar himself. At Caesar's invitation, Gaius joins the Roman army, eager to fight exciting battles, avenge his father and find his fortune. Sure enough, his legion is soon engaged in all sorts of bloody battles, with Gaius and his friends often finding themselves fighting for their lives. But the battles are not Gaius' only concern. He's barely stepped into camp when he runs into Lanius, another soldier who immediately takes a disliking to Gaius. When he discovers a sword protruding from his bed after Lanius sneaks into his tent, he can't help but suspect Lanius' intentions are more sinister than he first thought.

I personally like to read historical fiction once in a while -- though the only other title I've read with a setting in Ancient Rome is the Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff back in university. I do remember enjoying the action and plot in the book, so I was interested in trying this series by Adam Nichols.

The first book of the series, War in Gaul, has a bit of a slow start and I found myself anxiously waiting for some serious action in the battlefield. There's a fair bit of conversation and description of the various characters and warring nations and it's not until near the middle of the book that you see the first large scale battle -- and Gaius ends up watching it, rather than actively participating. The book is written in old 'Roman speak', which helps to establish the era and culture, but has the potential to make things more tedious to read. That said, things steadily pick up after that, and Gaius has some exciting encounters with enemies trying to hack him up with various weaponry. The scenes are quite descriptive at times as well, and give a glimpse of the horrible, chaotic massacre the battles really were. There are plenty of historical, geographical and religious references in the story that are explained by footnotes at the end of each chapter. It was good to have these at this location instead of within the text, because I'm sure so many details would really bog down the plot.

I found the second book, The Golden Eagle, to be more interesting, mainly because the plot moved faster -- but I am still waiting for events and characters to come together to build and reach a real climax. Lanius is definitely a mysterious character that I hope will continue to add intrigue and an extra layer of complexity to the story.

I think this series will appeal to teens who are looking for historical fiction that gives a real sense of the era in which it takes place. And once they hit the bits with swords hacking and spears flying, they might want to read the entire series.

Check out the Legionary Chronicles on Adam Nichols' amazon page

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Blog Tour: SYLO by D. J. MacHale

Thank you for stopping by our blog for the SYLO tour.

The first one to die was Marty. He was playing football and dropped dead in the middle of the game. The second one was Mr. Nelson. He was competing in the sailboat race, lost control and crashed.  Before the third tragedy happens, the US military branch SYLO moves in and the residents of Pemberwick Island watches the president declares their home a quarantine zone on TV. They have found a deadly virus.

But is it really a virus? Tucker is not so sure. He saw things that just didn't add up. Strange explosion over the sea. Weird planes that make musical noises. A shifty guy offering him a red crystal-like drug that gives you super strengths. And when Tucker witnesses Captain Granger, the leader of SYLO, gunning down and killing a resident, he knows this can't be about a virus.

This is the first book in the new SYLO trilogy by Pendragon author D. J. MacHale. It has all the much sought after elements for a book that will appeal to boys: action, mystery, best pal, action, fighter planes, explosions, action, conspiracy, action, missiles, narrow escape, action, betrayal. Oh did I mention action? Readers will breeze through the book also because of its easy going writing. The characters are a little inconsistent in their behaviour sometimes, but likable. My only quibble is that it suffers from the "first book syndrome". Too many things are held in suspense for the next book, and I'm sure the characters will agree with me that we need at least a few answers to make this a satisfying read. Much like Steven's complaint about the James Dashner books, too much "I'll tell you later".

SYLO will be published on July 2. Thank you again to Razorbill for arranging this blog tour and providing us with an advanced copy.
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