Maphead by Ken Jennings

I doubt the name Ken Jennings has much meaning for kids these days.  I can't believe that it's been 8 years since his historic run on Jeopardy!, a 75 episode run that landed him a ton of cash. Nevertheless,  Mr. Jennings spun that time in the spotlight into a writing career, focusing largely on trivia topics, and his books are actually really good.  His first book was a history of trivia itself, the second a sort of daily trivia quiz almanac.

Maphead is his most recent.  Like a lot of young people, he grew up obsessed with maps and geography.  He'd read atlases cover to cover, imagining visting all the little oddities that appear, the funny names, the weird choices of communities that appear over larger, more famous cities.  Here, he visits with mapmakers, collectors and other mapheads who share his obsession.

This book isn't really about maps so much as the people who enjoy them.  Kindred spirits to a lot of young people I know.  Certainly I was like them.  In fact, I recommend all his books for people like that.  Maybe not his forthcoming book, what with being about bad parenting advice.  But read Maphead. and Brainiac. 

Email Facebook Twitter Favorites More

Under My Skin by Charles De Lint

Something strange is happening in Santa Feliz. People -- particularly the teens -- have been changing into wild animals and back again. They've been coined "Wildlings" and the Federal Government is offering to help anyone with their new found "abilities". But none of those who have gone to the government facility for "orientation and training" have ever returned.

Josh is incredulous when he turns into a mountain lion and almost kills his mom's boyfriend. He wants to keep everything a secret and  live a normal life, but when he starts to meet other Wildlings and finds out what is happening to them, he realizes this might not be possible. Other kids at school are getting suspicious and it seems that he's being followed by not only government agents, but other mysterious strangers as well...

The story is told with alternating perspectives of the two main characters: Josh and Marina. This creates suspense as some details only get revealed through one perspective, but it also seemed slow down the movement of the plot sometimes. I felt like there could have been less talking and mulling over their situations and more action. Things started to move pretty good closer to the end of the books and I wish there was a bit more of that excitement throughout the book.

While the idea of being able to turn into animals is a pretty cool one, it personally kept reminding me of the children's series, Animorphs. However, I do think De Lint's writing and development of plot and characters will appeal to many readers who will most likely want to continue with the series after reading this first book.

Be sure to check out Razorbill's What Wildling Are You website where you answer a short questionnaire to determine which animal you'd turn into if you were a Wildling. (I was disappoint to discover that I am a boring rabbit...)

Charles De Lint is a World Fantasy Award winning author who has written plenty of other books (most of them adult titles). For a list of his work visit his website.
Email Facebook Twitter Favorites More

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Ever wonder what the life of a Redshirt is like?  You know, the guys from Star Trek who go on the away missions and get killed by whatever mysterious threat is creeping about the planet.  Andrew Dahl and a few other new crew mates are assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Galactic Navy.  The quickly find that the existing crew members are terrified of going out on away missions since someone of low rank always dies, usually of something stupid and pointless, like ice sharks and land worms.  More, the Captain, Science Officer and a couple of others seem to get into really strange and unlikely scenarios on a weekly basis, often surviving debilitating injuries and diseases only to recover and do it all again, like clockwork.

One word of warning: this book is not a at all what you expect.  Like I Am Not a Serial Killer, there is a bit of a twist that could potentially kill any interest in the book if you aren't prepared for it.  This book is deeply philosophical and quite amusing at the same time, but isn't what I expected.  In fact, it reminded me something of Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder.  What the heck, I'll *spoilers* it: It's a TV show.  This is a work of meta fiction, and the characters in the book discover that they are being controlled by the writers of a science fiction series that's a bad knock-off of Star Trek.  It gets even deeper than that, but I'll save at least some surprises for later.  Suffice it to say, they need to find a way to get to the writers to prevent any further deaths.

The book is capped off with three codas, sections that take the premise a little more seriously and are the most philosophical part of the book.  Looking for a fun romp, skip these, but otherwise they make for a surprisingly thoughtful story.

Point being, Redshirts is a fascinating read, and, like the aforementioned Sophie's World, is great for guys with a taste for philosophy.  It's a bit unsettling for aspiring writers, though, since it calls into question the power and control you have over your characters, but it's pretty neat.  Onoe other note: language and some sexual discussion.
Email Facebook Twitter Favorites More

Everybody Loves Our Town : An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarm

When I was a teen, I hated modern music.  Pop music just washed right over me, and rock music of the day just didn't sink in though I might have preferred it over pop.  My musical tastes were just being formed when the big news hit: Kurt Cobain was dead.  I knew the music, and I knew who he was, but for me, it was all about '70s rock.  My Kurt Cobain was John Lennon, when died when I was a baby.  15 years later, a lot of guys think the same way, but their version of '70s rock is '90s music.  The faces have changed, but the story remains the same.  Modern music sucks; old music is better, end of story. Historical personalities more meaningful, more thoughtful, and just cooler.

Everybody Loves Our Town : An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarm tells the story of the music scene that passed me by, but marks a major point in musical history that a lot of young men these days look at the same way I saw Led Zeppelin and the Who.  With interviews with major figures from the Seattle scene, it fills in a lot of details and clears up a lot of myths about what it was really like in the late '80s and early '90s when it hit big.

This isn't for everyone, mind you.  This is best for guys who already know a bit of the history or the music of the era.  Jumping in cold isn't much fun; there are just too many names that wouldn't otherwise mean much.

Email Facebook Twitter Favorites More

Beyonders: Seed of Rebellion by Brandon Mull

I must say this is becoming one of my favourite series. I previously posted a review on the first book of the series (A World Without Heroes) -- and this second book is going to receive another glowing report.

Jason manages to return to the magical world of Lyrian (yes, through the hippo's mouth again) after unwillingly returning home and spending several months worrying about Rachel and the others he's left behind. With the evil ruler Maldor growing in power, unrest and danger have increased -- and Jason has become Maldor's most wanted enemy. Jason knows he must warn the Blind King, Galloran, that the magical word supposed to destroy Maldor is a fake, and find Rachel without getting caught. This proves difficult though, with Maldor's almost invincible lurkers tracking him.

Fortunately, Jason manages to reunite with Galloran, Rachel and others on his side. They decide the best course of action is to rally up as many people as they can to fight against Maldor -- but this means traveling through dangerous territory, fighting zombie-like creatures, surviving attacks from tentacled swamp monsters and confronting a dangerous wizard. There's even more action in this sequel than the first book.

Brandon Mull has done a great job in creating a fascinating fantasy world with with intriguing creatures. Many of the characters in the previous book appear again here, and as they become more developed, you can't help but become increasingly attached to them. Many of them are definitely complex and mysterious enough to keep you on your toes. I found myself completely immersed in the book and wishing the story wouldn't end. It's one of those great adventures that you almost wished you were a part of in reality.
Email Facebook Twitter Favorites More

The Elements by Theodore Gray

I like science, and I really like physics and chemistry, though in a sort of casual way.  I don't know the math behind how gravity affects matter and light, or what ratios of various chemicals are required to make other, cooler explosive chemicals.  There are a lot of good science books out there, but a big problem with a lot of books is pictures: not a lot have them, or at least not in the detail you might want to put things into perspective.

Books about the elements suffer particularly because elements are atoms, and some are incredibly rare.  The Elements solves this problem.  Author Theodore Gray is a bit of an element aficionado, a collector of elements.  He has in his personal collection an example of nearly every element listed in the book, and all of the photographs are from that collection.  A brief description accompanies each item, and the best part, a common use for the element is listed as well.  Oddly, this isn't as common as it should be.

Not really heavy reading, this is a coffee table book, but as science books go, this is a beautiful example.  In fact, the format is so good, there is a follow-up about the solar system.

Edited to add: There is also an iPad app of it, with a few more features.
Email Facebook Twitter Favorites More
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...