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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The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Having survived four waves of alien attacks, having watched her family get killed off one by one, Cassie is so, so tired of running and hiding, but she forges on, because of a promise to his little brother to come get him from the camp, a promise she is not sure she can keep anymore.  How do you get help when no one can be trusted and when you can't tell the enemy from your fellow human beings?

The 5th Wave is Rick Yancey's new offering and it's quite a departure from his other books. It's been getting a lot of buzz and glowing reviews, and it looks like something that will be fitting for our blog.  The book does pretty well in maintaining tension through the 450+ pages, and not providing any descriptions of the aliens makes the story more suspenseful and creepy. "Don't trust anyone" is indeed a good motto for any survivors in Cassie's world, and readers will be doubting who is the good guy, if there is even one. However, the romance was forced and poorly written and did not work for the story at all.    (I thought we're not trusting anyone here) The story was also a little too predictable so while you want Cassie to reunite with her brother, you never doubt that it will happen. It was more the story of Ben Parish, Cassie's old classmate, that gave me incentive for me to read on.

I read that aliens are going to be the next big thing in YA. Let's see how others stack up to the 5th Wave.
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The Book of Rule

For the trivia nerd, little bits and pieces of information on any topic will be vacuumed and absorbed into the system.  I did this as a kid (and still do) by reading all the weird little atlases, almanacs and topic guides that I could find. Publisher DK does a great job of this kind of thing for younger kids with the Eyewitness series: visual guides for every little topic.  They do make adult books, too

The Book of Rule explains the system of government of for every country in the world.  Don't know the difference between bicameral and unicameral?  Democracy vs. Republicanism vs. Theocracy?  Absolute Monarchy vs. Constitutional Monarchy?  Is Canada run by the Queen of England? Is their a country where their king is elected? (There is, but the ruler isn't called a king) Who, exactly, elects the US president? (Hint: it's not the people)

I acknowledge that this book is a touch out of date (nearly 10 years old), but generally speaking, the information holds true.  Most countries don't change that much that frequently.
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Fast and Furious Reads

The Hub by Yalsa shared a nice movie-inspired Fast and Furious reading list with books promising "lots of action, adventure, and danger".
What else would you add to this list?

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You may have noticed that we haven't posted a whole lot in the past month.  It happens.  I've read a lot of books lately, but none of them felt quite like something I ought to recommend.  Dan Brown's Inferno? Not very good, compared to the other three in the series.  Weird Al: The Book? A bit underwhelming, plus not super relevant to kids of this generation.

So I've got nothing. 

And so do kids, sometimes. 

You want to get them to read.  You've offered all of the books that we've recommended, but they've read it all, or maybe they just aren't taking anything.  If the boy in your life reads occasionally, then there probably isn't anything to worry about.  Maybe they've just hit a dry spell.  It happens to me sometimes. 

Maybe you've just read a heavy book and are mentally exhausted.  Maybe you found a cool game that distracted you for a few weeks (worse if it's a mobile or portable game). Whatever the case, one distraction and he's off  books.  If he isn't reading anything right now, just wait it out.  Chances are he'll find something.

(Note that this really doesn't apply to guys who don't ever read at all.  That's a separate issue entirely.  Another post for another day.)
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Crap Kingdom by DC Pierson

Be careful what you wish for. Isn't that what they always say? It's not until now though that Tom fully appreciates the warning. He has dreamt about being whisked away to some magical fantasy land or parallel universe on countless occasions, so when it actually happened, when he was told that he, plain old boring Tom Parking, is the Chosen One in the prophecy to restore the "Kingdom", he can't wait to see this place.

It didn't take long to lose all the excitement because: a). the Kingdom is made from garbage from Earth and b). everyone is depressing and the King hates him. So, Tom does the smart thing: he says "no, thank you" and goes back home.  Forget about it.

Until he finds out his best friend Kyle is now the Chosen One. Not only that, Kyle is making things work. He has even acquired magical powers. What? No one says anything about magical powers.

A story about an unlikely and reluctant hero who figures out how to take on responsibility and focus on the important things in life. Tom and Kyle are both very likable characters and sometimes it's hard to find a book where you get to read about just a bunch of normal guys. The target audience for this book will find the story quite amusing and funny I think.

Recommend The Magic Kingdom of Landover series by Terry Brooks when they finish this one, starting with Magic Kingdom for Sale. Sold!

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Apocalypse on the Set by Ben Taylor

Movies are fun, and movies that in the process of being filmed went terrible wrong are often even more fun.  Apocalypse on the Set outlines the troubled production of nine movies that didn't quite go as planned.  Though the movies in the book are generally fairly old even today they resonate. 

There's Waterworld, famous for its insanely high production costs and poor reviews (but in retrospect wasn't maybe quite so terrible). There's the Twilight Zone movie that killed its star and two child actors in a helicopter crash. 

Pulgasari is a particularly interesting case: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il kidnapped a respected South Korean director and his actress wife to kickstart the North's film industry.  It worked, for a time, but North Korea isn't the paradise it's made out to be.

Apocalypse is fairly short, with basically an overview of each highlighted film, but for movie-loving kids it's a good taste of how Hollywood and film making really works.
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The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie

Not one for the younger set, I'll say.

Is there a sympathetic character in the lot?  It's possible, but look what we've go to choose from.  Glokta is be a merciless, pitiless torturer, even when he knows his prisoner is innocent.  Jezal is a self-centered, womanizing party-boy (and above average fencer).  Logen Ninefingers is an unstoppable barbarian killer who wishes he never picked up a sword, but does anyway.  Not many of the other characters fare much better in the redeeming quality department.

Whatever the case, The Blade Itself and the First Law series of which it is the first part is a fun read.  All of the characters have some degree of wit to them, and if they aren't funny outright, at least they are clever.

It's hard to put together the plot of the series, though.  Know that you won't really know what;s going on at all until the whole thing wraps up.  Nothing really becomes clear until the end.  There is a war in the North, a brewing invasion somewhere to the south, and the King is sick and dying with to idiot sons posed to take the throne.  Trouble is a-brewin' in the capital, so Questions Must Be Asked.  Beyond that, I can't say much more without giving it all away.

I'll say again, though: not one for the younger set.  It's bloody, violent, and mature.  But for older teens, it's fun and compelling.
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Horse Ebooks

I'm not sure if there is anything I can say about the Twitter feed on this one: it's just a bunch of words.  Literally.  They generally don't make a lot of sense.  Just fragments and phrases. Some make a weird sense ("Your muscles are responsible") and others are... odd (Cheddar apple).  Tt's just a spam account by a spambot to promote an ebook service.

You may wonder why I bring this up.  Well, somebody decided it would be fun to take the more understandable ones as inspiration for a comic.  Thus Horse E-comics was born. 

There isn't much more to say...
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This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong

John Dies at the End felt very much like a book that was written in pieces without a particular goal in mind, with weird episodic sections that didn't always tie together too neatly.  This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don't Touch It comes together much more tightly, with a plot that's (mostly) coherent and character motivations that make a little more sense.

After the events of the previous novel, things haven't really settled down much in the town of "Undisclosed".  It's still a terrible town, with nothing much to recommend it.  David and John still are useless layabouts.  Only now, and infestation of weird spider-like parasites are taking over and zombifying people.  With humans mutating into super-killers and a government unable to quell the fears of the nation, the infected are quarantined in the hospital where they think the outbreak began.  Obviously David and John know better.

This book is slightly less insane than the first, but what it loses in crazy it picks up with a better story, even if it feels like a messed up comedy version of the Walking Dead.  There are still the swears and the reference to drug use as in the first, but it feels tamer, more accessible.  You certainly need to have read the first book to understand why John and David are special, and why David's dog Molly seems unusually clever.

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Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

I am always on the hunt for books that might appeal to those Percy Jackson fans... and this one caught my eye because it was about Indian mythology (and had a cover that suggested there might be some good action).

Ash Mistry is visiting his aunt and uncle in India, when his uncle takes on the job of translating some pictograms for the mysterious Lord Alexander Savage. Ash is immediately suspicious of the large payment offered for the job and the creepy appearance of Lord Savage and his employees. Somehow they seem to resemble reptiles and dangerous predators a little too much...

Ash is at an archeological site near Lord Savage's home when the ground suddenly gives way and he falls into an undiscovered area under the site. He accidentally pricks himself on a golden arrowhead, which leaves a sliver in his finger, and begins to see visions of the battle against the evil demon king Ravana. It turns out that Lord Savage is indeed an evil bad guy who wants to release the demon Ravana so that he can become immortal.... and the golden arrowhead is exactly the thing he is looking for. Unfortunately Ash and his sister become the primary target for Lord Savage and his employees -- who are really demons in disguise. 

With the world at risk of being overrun by murderous demons, Ash needs to find a way to stop Lord Savage. This means battling giant birds, monstrous reptiles and shape shifting wolves. 

I liked the action and pace of the plot and definitely found bits about Indian mythology intriguing. I do think the gods/demons will interest many Percy Jackson fans. I don't find the conversation and characters to be as humorous as the ones in Rick Riordan's books but there are some witty comments that give the characters distinct voices and keep the tone of the book light. The whole thing about incarnation added an interesting layer to the plot, but I felt it could have the potential to become a bit of a cop out where it doesn't matter if characters die because they'll come back to life later anyway.

This is more suited for preteens (pretty much the same audience for the Percy Jackson series). Visit the Ash Mistry blog for character profiles, info on Indian Mythology, book excerpts and activity sheets. And yes, there is a sequel: Ash Mistry and the City of Death.
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Shades of Earth by Beth Revis

Almost two years ago we reviewed Across the Universe by Beth Revis.  You may recall that book: we discussed the misleading and unappealing (to boys) cover.  Well, the publishers must have listened, because over the various printings and editions of it and its two sequels, we went from this:

To this:

To these:

All I can say is thank you.  These are much better, and much more unisex.


From Across the Universe, where Amy wakes up from a cryogenic sleep too early only to find that life aboard the Godspeed has changed to a bizarre society nothing like expected, to A Million Suns where she and Elder discover that the Godspeed may already be orbiting their destination (and has been for decades or even centuries), we finally arrive at Shades of Earth and the possible conclusion of the journey and the series.

Having been forced at the end of the previous book to evacuate and land despite warnings that the planet iss swarming with monsters, our crew successfully lands the shuttle and wakes the remaining cryogenically frozen crew members.  Facing this strange turn of events, Amy's militarily-minded father and the scientists don't trust the shipborn Godspeed residents and immediately clash.  This tension is only made worse by a mysterious force murdering folks.  Is it aliens?  It must be aliens.

Reading this series is reading a genuine classic sci-fi story.  One can find more than a few social critiques in this, the same way the the stories of old did.  Despite initial impressions (and those old covers) there is no more romance in here than there is in any other sci-fi series.  I only wish that it hadn't been written in first-person present tense.  Even with that in mind, I still recommend it.  I quite enjoyed it.  Just make sure to get the ones with the newest covers.

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Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stent

People generally run away when they hear gunshots. Not Colin though. He stayed right where he was so he could see the nine-millimeter handgun. The gun that mysteriously went off in his school cafeteria while people were eating Melissa's birthday cake.
Everyone believes that the gun belongs to Wayne Connelly. It fits. He's the big bad wolf in school. Wayne is sent home and not to show up at school until further notice. End of story. Colin, however, knew they've got the wrong guy. Even though Wayne's absence at the school means no more head dunking in toilet water for Colin, he is going to prove Wayne's innocence, but so far, the only evidence he's got is that Wayne was a neat eater and the gun had icing and cake all over it.
Teen realistic fiction is not my usual reading fare, but I've heard good things about Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stent, and I know a few teens who enjoy straightforward and funny school stories, so I thought I'd give this a try.  Colin Fischer is an okay read. Every book that is written with a protagonist with an autism spectrum disorder trying to solve a mystery will undoubtedly be compared to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon.  It's hard to not find the premise derivative, but the voice of the narrator is strong enough to keep readers' interest, and the footnotes give extra insight into the mind of Colin. How the friendship develops between Colin and Wayne also feels natural. The mystery, on the other hand, is weak and even by the end of the book, when Colin "solves" the mystery so to speak, there is really no explanation for the motives behind the gun.
Colin Fischer is a non-intimidating read, so it'll be a good one to suggest to teens who are looking for a light read. Another selling point for this book is the authors' previous works. They've collaborated as screenwriters on the X-Men and Thor films, and that fact may earn the book some credibility.  Note: The book for the most part is appropriate for younger teens, but there is a vague reference to some "funny business".
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More boys reading

We aren't the only ones out here on the internet doing this kind of thing.  There are a good many others finding great boys' reads, and we haven't really done much to send you their way if you haven't already found them.

I won't go repeating other people's lists, but I will link you to a good one someone else made: Maggie Lyons Blog.  I don't want to steal her hard work, so head on over there for plenty of blogs and resources.
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Seconds Away by Harlan Coben

I had no idea this was a sequel.  I also had no idea that it was a spinoff of Harlan Coben's adult series.  I picked it up and started reading, and was tossed into the middle of a story I didn't know anything about. Seconds Away picks up immediately after the events of the first book, Shelter.  Mickey Bolitar finds himself in the home of an apparently crazy old lady who informs him that his dead father is not in fact dead, and that the paramedic that supposedly helped them is in fact a Nazi from 80 years ago, unaged.

I didn't immediately understand any of this, but the story is well recapped so I got the gist of the previous book.  Mickey and his outcast friends saved another classmate from a terrible situation, but it left the town and his new school under the impression that he was a troublemaking bad kid. 

Now an even sorrier situation comes up: the most popular, prettiest girl in the school (who incidentally helped Mickey out in the previous installment) is now in hospital, having been shot.  Her mother was murdered in the same incident.  Mickey is determined to get to the bottom of this. 

Also, he's trying to make the school basketball team.  Priorities, you know?

Seconds Away feels forced, almost as if the author was holding back in the name of writing for teens.  That said, it's still pretty page-turney.  You can pick it up without having read the first book or the adult series and still get a good idea of what's going on. This is probably best suited to kids who are reasonably advanced readers but are still maybe a little too young for more mature sex and violence.  Make no mistake, there is murder here, but nothing graphic.

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2013 Printz Award Winner and Honour Books

What does everyone think about the winners of the 2013 Printz Award Winner and Honour Books?

In Darkness by Nick Lake

Honour Books:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna
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Classic of the Day: Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

I'm sure I would have loved this as a teen boy.  It's short, it's fairly quick to read, it's weird, and it has a strange ending.  Now, I'm not loving it, but it's not the book's fault or that of Mr. Vonnegut.  Why?  It came at the wrong time of my life, probably.  But more on that later.

In Cat's Cradle, our narrator, John (or Jonah; he sort of explains that's it's both), tells us the story of his trip Caribbean nation of San Lorenzo and his subsequent adoption of the local religion "Bokononism".  Or maybe it's not about that.  Maybe it's about John (or Jonah's) investigation of the life of one of the (fictional) fathers of the atomic bomb, Felix Hoenikker and his odd children.  Or it's not either of those things.  It could be about the madness of the arms race and the uses and absues of science.  Point being, a weird made-up religion that everyone believes anyway, a dying dictator, and a crazysuper weapon are all involved.  Whatever: it's probably about all these things, and likely some other stuff that I haven't noticed.  

Cat's Cradle is filled with lots of pop philosophy that is great for young minds. This is the kind of book the "cool" English teacher would give his students, the one that opens their minds and gets them thinking.  It feels a bit rebellious, and is a frequent target of banning.  The fairly simple writing and the light humour cover a deeper message, and makes for a thought-provoking story.

As an aside, while I never read this one when I was a teen, I read a couple of others that performed the same role for me: Time Enough for Love by Robert Heinlein and Jostein Gaarder`s Sophie`s World.  Both explored philosophical ideas from various perspectives, both got weird in the end and both kept me up all night, just thinking about stuff.  I`m sure if I went back I`d find them a bit less appealing, but I loved them at the time.  Are there any books that affected you the same way?

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Z by Michael Thomas Ford

Protect the zombies, people. Sadly, more of them are probably going to be turned into romantic interests after people watch Warm Bodies.
This zombie story, luckily, has none of that.

It's just a game, Josh thought. He doesn't understand why his mom is making such a big deal about the zombie game he's been playing. Sure, his aunt was turned into a zombie and died as a result, but that was way back. There have not been any zombies since the vaccine. So when Josh was approached by other online players to play a secret underground "live-action" virtual zombie game, Josh is all for it, but is it really just a game?

Z by Michael Thomas Ford is really not about defeating zombies who are terrorizing the world, but more about a group of teens uncovering some secret plot and fighting against it, and they have to kill some zombies along the way, and need to guts to kill some of their own who have turned. The book is neither good nor bad. Nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing you can't predict. The text is sparse on the page, and since there are zombies and flamethrowers, this book may be a nice one to give to readers who are looking for a quick, easy read. It's likely that there is going to be a sequel, since the story is not resolved in the end.

More zombie reads to come.
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Tales of the Weird: Unbelievable But True Stories

A sabre toothed squirrel? Deadly blobs of slime in the ocean? Frogs as big as house cats?
It seems that most people can't get enough of bizarre facts and stories.

National Geographic has just published a collection of stories taken from their Daily Weird News webpage. You'll find over 100 stories in the book featuring things like frogs with fangs, wasps that can recognize faces and preserved brains. Some of them document specific events, such as the finding of headless skeletons in the UK, while others explore natural phenomena, sink holes and UFO shaped clouds. Each entry is just a couple pages long and provide facts, background and possible scientific explanations. You'll also find photos and little fact boxes featuring interesting "truths" related to each story (e.g. "people have taste receptors in their lungs").

Though most of the stories are not as shocking as those in Ripley's Believe it or Not books, most of them are strange enough to keep the reader interested. I also like the discussion of the science behind the stories -- accessible and concise. 

My only complaint is that the book could use some colour (photos and text are all black and white) and some better quality paper (it's pretty much newsprint). National Geographic's Weird But True series for kids is much more aesthetically appealing with all it's coloured images and test in many fonts and sizes. The kids' series of course, basically consists only of one sentence factoids which makes it easy to include so many images, but I do think some of this style could have been used in this new book.

All in all, Tales of the Weird is a fun read... and I even found out why the end of the world didn't happen December 31, 2012...
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The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

One day in the near future, plans for a dimensional transporter are released for free on the internet, something so easy and so cheap that children can build it.  When you flip the switch, you move over to another Earth, almost exactly the same as ours except people never evolved leaving it in its unadulterated state.  Flip it again and you go to the next one, on and on.  You can go in two directions, sort of like the number line with positive and negative numbers.  This instantly solves most of Earth's resource problems and overcrowding issues.  There are some minor inconveniences: you can't bring iron in metallic form, and you get pretty nauseous for a while after "stepping". But other than that, the worlds are there for the taking.

There is one man who can do this without a device, totally on his own, and he is famous for having stepped farther than anyone else, thousands of Earths away.  When he gets back to the "real" Earth, his is commissioned by a Tibetan mechanic reincarnated into a supercomputer to go on the longest expedition yet.

They find more than they expect.  There are others out there moving towards our Earth, and they are running from something...

The Long Earth has a classic science fiction feel: this is a story of exploration.  There is no action set pieces, no major violent incidents with lasers and giant spaceships.  (There are in fact no spaceships, though there is a resourceful super-robot.)  This is the first part of a two-part story, and it shows.  It feels like the authors are leading up to something that never quite arrives, but a planned follow up should satisfy those points.  As a reader familiar with Terry Pratchett's work, I can tell which bits are his, but this is nothing like his usual work.  I can't speak to Stephen Baxter's contribution, though this may lead me to read some of his stuff.
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Year-end wrap up

Three days into 2013 and I still haven't read anything!  Since 2013 has proven to be a tremendous disappointment book-wise (where are all the acclaimed books? I demand instant gratification!) So what were the books that caught my eye, one way or another, in 2012?  This could be longer, but I had a weird December.  This is really just to remind everyone that we do still exist! I"m only speaking for me here.  Virginia and Mel may not agree with me on these.

Rave book that I just doesn't getThe Fault in our Stars by John Green.

Sorry, pretty much everyone.  I don't get it.  This is everything I object to in Young Adult lit.  Feelings.  Issues.  Dead or dying people.  Overly clever and witty young people.  I tried to read this for this blog, I really did, but I couldn't get into it.  Goodreads readers voted this one the Best Young Adult fiction novel of 2012.  Not me.

Book I would have reviewed if it weren't about an old man last relevant nearly 40 years ago: Who I Am by Pete Townshend.

The Who are great.  They are among the best bands ever, held the Guinness Record for loudest rock band and created the theme songs to all the CSI shows.  But that was all back in the '60s and '70s.  Pete is to kids today what Little Richard was to me.  Old news.

Laziest review I wrote this year: The Internet by Everyone

Seriously.  I reviewed the Internet. Twice.

Best comment: Roy Gill on The Daemon Parallel

We don't get a lot of comments (we won't bite, really), but the fact that the author himself commented is always cool.

Runner-up:  These gems.

Thing that most kept me from reading (...or did it?): Video Games.

I covered a lot of video game novels in 2012.  Reading is reading, whatever the topic.

Coolest book-related experience in real-life: Virginia and I met Lemony Snicket (well, his representative Daniel Handler).  Odd Fellow.

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