The Internet is a Playground by David Thorne

David Thorne might be insane. Billed as a humorist on the back of the book, he is apparently a graphic designer from Australia, but reading this, he doesn't seem to like to do any actual work; instead, he prefers to harangue his co-workers and his clients. He seems to be able to get away with some pretty cruel and unusual stuff, including taunting the police, creating a mocking missing poster for someone's cat, trying to pay an overdue fee with a drawing of a spider, and giving his boss grief over every little request.

The book is a collection of blog posts from 27bslash6. Language warning. But also really funny to a certain sense of humour (mine included). While this could qualify as a novelty book since it is a spinoff of anothre medium, it is a little more substantial than most other novelty books. There aren't many images in the book, but those that are there are well worth it (see the missing-cat posters mentioned above).

The best part for the more hesitant boys here is that, even though it is a thick, heavy book, there is no story and no continuity from segment to segment. If bored, the reader can just move on to the next section or skip around to whatever strikes their fancy. I think the subtitle of the book is all the hook needed for those guys: "Irreverent Correspondences of an Evil Online Genius".
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Novelty books rock

Today a boy at the library asked me for the book "Five Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth and Other Useful guides". I immediately made a mental note to put a hold on this item myself -- I mean, who wouldn't be at least slightly intrigued by the title? To my disappointment our library did not own the item, but fortunately it was available through interlibrary loan.
It seems like there are plenty of these kind of books around these days -- humorous, satirical non-fiction -- or perhaps a better term might be "novelty books", as the aim of these books is often just to amuse the reader, rather than offer any kind of in depth information or story. They range from blog books (e.g. I Can Has Cheezeburger? A LOLcat Collekshun - cat photos with funny captions) to parodies (e.g. 101 Places Not to See Before you Die) to slang dictionaries (e.g. Mo Urban Dictionary). My favourites feature everyday blunders, such as F in Exams (funny exam answers people actually wrote) Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong and Passive Aggressive Notes: painfully polite and hilariously hostile writings. These are the kind of books that your strict English teacher would never let into her classroom -- much less even consider as a book. They're the kind of material that librarians have purchase for the library in secret, in case someone tells them that library funds should be used more "wisely". They are also the kinds of books that draw the interest of just about anyone because of their bizarre topics and edgy (often deviant) perspectives. Some we might read with disgust or morbid fascination, but I find it's almost impossible for me to resist at lest flipping through such books. I say we stop worrying so much about literary merit and let those boys find out what the five good reasons are to punch a dolphin.
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Alfred Kropp series by Rick Yancey

I remember the only time I went to see a movie where the crowd clapped and cheered was at Independence Day, when Will Smith punched the alien. There is just something so charming about the good old action heroes, especially ones like Will Smith, when they're heroic AND funny, and Alfred Kropp is just like that.  He's definitely a likeable guy you'll root for.
Alfred's parents were dead, and he now lived with his uncle. It sucked to lose your parents for sure, but it sucked even more when everyone else kept reminding you about it. Alfred's school counselor was one of those people who just wouldn't let it go: "Do you hate school, Alfred?" "Do you hate your family from dying?" "Do you hate them for leaving you all alone in this world?"  Man, Alfred didn't know he was supposed to hate and resent so many things.
Then his security guard uncle asked Alfred to help steal something from his boss' office. If they succeeded, this guy was going to give them one billion dollars! Imagine that, Alfred!  But Alfred wasn't so sure. This all sounded pretty fishy to him, but what could he do?  He couldn't say no to his uncle, and he didn't want to anger him and be sent to a foster home.  Seriously! He didn't mean to be an accomplice. He didn't mean to steal Excalibur, the legendary sword of King Arthur. And he definitely didn't mean to give the sword to the bad guys.
An action-packed novel with lots of comic relief. Personality-wise, I like Alfred more than the others from the crop of characters in similar teen novels'.  Rick Yancey is also the author of The Monstrumologist series (so disappointed to see they've changed the look when the second book came out. Why?  The first one was so much creepier!). Check out his website.

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What about "Graphic Novels"?

Comics are cool. Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Transformers. Sandman, 100 Bullets, all these are fun, occasionally very violent and/or explicit, and nearly always considered "Boys' stuff". For some reason, though, many people call them "Graphic Novels". They are comics. They were printed in little 32 page issue at comics shops, full of ads and everything. It almost as if we were embarassed to stock comics... After all, we don't call TV shows "condensed films" or newspapers "ephemeral books". Comics are a medium unto themselves, just as film, radio and visual arts are. Let's be proud of that.

Enough of that rant. When we think of graphic novels, that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. What qualifies? What fits our focus here of books for boys?


You've got you X-Men, your Spiderman, Batman, Superman, so on and so forth. These are the stuff of summer blockbusters, and they've been around for decades. Sure, the histories might be confusing (these guys never age, yet the world and technology around them march on). But beware! There are tons of published trade paperbacks collecting tons of eras of comics, and not all are created equal. Know your users. If they are generally a younger audience, chances are they won't care for the collections in black and white or from the '50s and '60s (or even the ever-so-long-ago '80s).

Self-contained stories

Some series don't really qualify as superheroes, or plainly aren't superheroes. These tend to be grittier and much more mature, so you need older and possibly more literate readers. These are things like 100 Bullets (recently optioned to be made into a TV series) or Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. These are not ongoing series; rather, there is a fixed plot that occasionally makes sense. These ones are far more controversial due to the more intense violence and sexual mature themes.

What not to give boys

Don't assume Graphic Novels = boys will read them. There is plenty out there that is just not appealing, yet I see them on all sorts of recommended lists. These are often single-volume stories that are closer to novels than comic series. For example, there is Blankets. A classic tale of young romance, feelings and growing up in a repressive home, it is also boring, plain and unappealing to average comic book readers who want action! action! action! Or American Born Chinese, an interesting and weird story of an American-born Chinese person. Still not really the comic that comic readers are looking for (I did like it, but still. It's not really the same audience). To me, these have some merit on their own, but they are the difference between a Harlequin romance and Booker Prize winners. It doesn't make them bad (I would prefer a Harlequin over a Booker almost everytime if I was so inclined to read adult fiction about things I don't care about). It just makes them different.

If you need an idea of what you should get, have a look at the amazon.com lists, or check out this blog. It has links to plenty of other comics blogs, and he clarifies the amazon list a little. Or, look at the upcoming summer blockbusters. That's pretty much a sure bet.
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The Accidental Genius of Weasel High by Rick Detorie

I think a lot of us wish there were more books like the Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. So when I heard that this new book was the "Wimpy Kid for high schoolers" I was definitely interested in taking a look at it.
Larkin Pace is a very ordinary 14 year-old dealing with the usual bullies at school, a bratty, spoiled older sister and confusing relationships with girls. Like Greg in the Wimpy Kid series, he has a best friend, Freddie, who is pretty clueless and socially awkward. There are some funny parts -- Freddie who wears his bedroom slippers to school, Larkin's plans to impress Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard with his movie ideas about shampoo girls, and Larkin's attempts to impress the girls at the school dance by wearing multiple shirts under his regular one to make himself look bigger.
I didn't find it as funny or as natural as Wimpy Kid -- and parts of the storyline were pretty cliche. The illustrations and font didn't have the fun cartoon feel either. But to be fair, reading this after Wimpy Kid probably affected my perceptions...
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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I was totally mislead by the old-timey photo cover. I didn't know what to expect of the book, and as the story got weirder and weirder, I was like, "wait a second, this book sounds like the X-Men! (or maybe it's because I just watched X-Men: First Class)"  And if I have looked more closely at the cover, I would have noticed that the girl in the photo was levitating. That would have given me a clue.  Anyway... it's a super interesting book, with great photos like the one on the cover that make the story all the more eerie.
Since Jacob was small, his grandfather had told him about the island, the safe haven where he grew up, alongside with many other children who could do extraordinary things. His grandfather would take out the strange photos and show Jacob one by one, recalling the fond memories of the girl whom they had to hold down to prevent her from floating away, the twins who could lift very heavy things, the girl who could make fire with her hands, the boy with bees in his stomach, and so on and so forth. It was all fascinating to Jacob, but as Jacob got older though, he could see the implausibility of his grandfather's stories. He could see the amateur manipulation of the photos. And he was mad. He was mad because he loved his grandfather so much and he so wanted to believe his stories.  Just before he died from a strange attack by some sort of wild animal in the woods behind his house, his grandfather called Jacob and urged him to go to the island and find the "bird" and this mysterious letter.  Jacob was torn. He wanted to respect his grandfather's last wish, but on the other hand, he feared he'd get confirmation that everything his grandfather told him was a lie. 
Stories about kids with strange powers are pretty common, but it's the setting and the way the author set it up against a historical period that makes this really intriguing.  I was definitely not expecting where the author took the book. Love it!
The book is being sold as a teen book, but it feels a bit like an adult book with kids in it. It's thoroughly enjoyable, and I think Fox has already bought the movie rights to this. Go see the creepy photos, and check out the book trailer here.
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Classic of the Day: Hello, America by J. G. Ballard

Okay, not exactly a classic novel so much as a novel by a classic author. J. G. Ballard wrote mature and complicated science fiction novels, a few of which were filmed into entirely-inappropriate-for-teens movies, such as David Cronenberg's Crash and Empire of the Sun. Normally the books are a bit hard to read and don't have straightforward plots, but for Hello, America he changes it up a bit and creates a pretty clear plot.

In the mid 22nd century, a ship steams across the Atlantic from England to bring explorers and engineers to a long-abandoned America, a continent devastated by ecological disaster. Finding that the country has been desertified, a vast Sahara in the New World, they nevertheless find a few survivors that scrape survival from the leftovers of the once great nation. Finding their way to Las Vegas, the crew discovers a lush jungle has covered everything west of the Rockies, and survivors are attempting to rebuild society. But, as often the case in such novels, not is all as it seems.

It was odd; as I was reading this, I was reminded of video games I had recently played: Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. Both are set in the same locations as this novel, and while the plots aren't the same, the environments are. Abandoned wastelands of Washington DC and shocking survival and vitality in Vegas. The book reads almost like these games.
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Excalibur: The Legend of King Arthur by Tony Lee and Sam Hart

This was one classic tale that was not too painful to get through -- in fact, this condensed comic version was quite enjoyable. It only covers the basic storyline of Arthur: pulling the sword out of the stone, Lancelot and Guinevere's affair and the battle with Morgan Le Fey, omitting other tales like the quest for the Holy Grail and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. But even the basic storyline offers lots of sword fights, treachery, and dark magic -- one of the best things about this were the evil fairies (no sparkly ones with wands -- phew!).
The tone and atmosphere is of course similar to that of epic fantasy novels -- serious and heavy -- but without the epic length.
Tony Lee is the author of some other comics including the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies graphic novel and Dr. Who series. Lee and Sam Hart have created a similar work to this one on King Arthur -- Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood.
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The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Chaos Walking Series Book One

What if people can hear what you are thinking right now?  That you can be saying something and they can just look at you and know if you're telling the truth or not? That's the kind of world Todd Hewitt lives in. Noise, they called it. Everyone's thoughts are broadcasted to everyone else constantly. When the settlers first arrived on the planet, they fought a war with the natives, who released a germ that killed all the women and made the men hear each other's thoughts.  Animals talk too, but as Todd pointed out, there's a reason why they shouldn't. His dog Manchee seemed to only have a few things to say: "poo, Todd, poo", "squirrel", "run". That's pretty much it.
A month before he turned 13 and could finally become a man like everyone else in his town, Todd was taking Manchee for a walk and he heard a silence. A silence, like a hole, in all the noise. Excited, Todd tried to walk back home as calm as he could as if nothing had happened, but as you can imagine, there is no such thing as a secret in Prentisstown. As he walked past the church, he could hear Aaron the preacher asking for him in the Noise. Todd ran back home, and the minute his guardians Ben and Cecil saw him, they knew it's time for Todd to leave the town. They produced a bag that was packed long ago and told him to go. Run now, Todd, and don't come back!
A heart-wrenching read. A don't-talk-to-me-I'm-reading read.  Ness' writing is impeccable for the story. Nothing flowery, just raw emotions. All the characters are as good as you can get, and Booklist called Manchee "the finest talking-dog characters anywhere". It's also one of the best fugitive stories I've read. So good, you've got to read this.
And now I'm scared. I'm scared to read the sequels. What if it ruins it like other sequels do so often?
p.s. Came across Frank Cottrell Boyce's (author of Millions and Cosmic) review of this book in the Guardian. I like his comments about the young adult genre.
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Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios

Not every teen boy is a nerd, and not every fan of superhero comics is so obsessed or even interested as to find our whether or not certain caped crusaders and otherwise super-abled people could plausibly do what they do. But there are lots of us out there who do care.

This book is a bit of a science lesson dressed in tights. Could Superman really leap tall buildings in a single bound? (No, he masses too much for the amount of energy that would be required to give him the required lift.) Could Iron Man really have a power plant implanted in his chest without killing him? (No, it would get too hot.) Could the Atom really shrinking to atomic sizes and beyond? (No, there is an absolute minimum distance in the universe, so the atom couldn't be smaller than that.) James Kakalios is a physics professor from the University of Minnesota who felt that physics could be taught in a more interesting way then the old stodgy examples of beams of light and little bits of stuff no can ever see. Using characters from the Silver Age, he illustrates major concepts such as the speed of light, atomic theory, and spacetime.

Is is science and some of the concepts are pretty heavy at some points, so this isn't for everyone, but the connections to popular culture are obvious. There is certainly a teen audience for this, particularly if there are lots of nerdy kids around.
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Department 19 by Will Hill

A book I was really looking forward to after reading lots of good things about it on the web, with endorsements like "full of old-school vampires who would rather tear your throat out than kiss your face off" (from the Book Zone) or as the publisher puts it, "make a Darren Shan novel look like a romantic comedy", you've got to wonder what kind of book this is.
Jamie Carpenter was constantly reminded that his dad was a traitor to the country. He remembered the night they came for him and the menacing shadows in the tree. He resented his dad. It's because of him that he and his mom had to keep moving to get away from the gossip. Somehow each town they stop had a way of finding out.
Then one night on his way home, he's attacked by a girl of inhuman speed. It's obvious that this girl could kill him pretty effortlessly, but she hesitated, and that's when Jamie got rescued by a large man who introduced himself as Frankenstein. When they got back home, his mother was gone. Kidnapped. Jamie wanted nothing more than to go find his mom, but Frankenstein forced him into the car and drove him to Department Nineteen, a top secret government agency that specialized in the supernatural, and Jamie found out that his father used to work here, and someone wants revenge and payback and is going to hunt Jamie down till he gets it.
A non-stop action book, with an abundance of gore and some pretty disturbing scenes. A lot of interesting details, especially when it flashes back to the story of Van Helsing and Stoker and the first Dracula, and how Department 19 was created in the first place. Those gothic scenes were great.  Love the old-school vampires. What a relief from you-know-what!  Love the stakes and the weapons the guys carry. It makes me feel like watching From Dusk Till Dawn again. I also like the slow transition of Jamie from being completely helpless and clueless to taking matters into his own hands.  Somewhat predictable plot-wise, but it didn't really take away from the enjoyment of the book. And what a cover! Love it!
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Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Imagine a world where the government has set up a sort of weird game where a bunch of teens are sent to a remote location and are given a single, simple task. Kill everyone else. No, you aren't living in The Hunger Games. This is real (well, not really, but it sounds better that way).

Every year, one class of kids is sent to a secret location, given a backpack full of supplies, survival tools and a random weapon. The kids, of course, don't know what's going on; they believe they are on a simple field trip, but they awaken to find explosive collars around their necks and are sent out with instructions to kill each other. If they enter a specified forbidden zone, BOOM! If no kids are killed in any 24 hour period, BOOM!

While the book talks about all the students, its focus is on Shuya and his search for his secret girlfriend Noriko. Don't worry, it doesn't turn into a touchy-feely story, except when the touching is to kill and the feeling is pain.

Originally published in Japanese, this book was quickly adapted into a Japanese movie and a manga, both of which are a bit on the violent side, though the violence is only really extreme because all of the characters are teens. But then, so it is in The Hunger Games.
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