Sunday, August 17, 2014

ANDRE THE GIANT: LIFE AND LEGEND by Box Brown

Andre the Giant: Life and LegendBeginning in Molien, France, in 1958, this graphic novel* traces the wrestling career of Andre Roussimoff.  Over seven feet tall and weighing in at 600 pounds, the man was truly a giant. 


Author Box Brown captures the true flavor of professional wrestling as he chronicles Andre's life in and out of the ring.  Life in the spotlight led to heavy drinking and at times a vulgar lifestyle.  Brown explains that the stressful and physically taxing life of a wrestler would have been hard enough, but it was even more devastating for Andre since his huge bulk was due to a condition known as acromegaly.  Guaranteed, because of the condition, to have a shorter than normal lifespan, Andre made the most of his fame and traveled the world to perform for his fans.


Brown also lets readers into the inner world of pro-wrestling.  He describes the roles of hero and "heel" as the wrestlers get the crowd geared up before the fights.  In Andre's career he played both roles well.  Readers also learn some of the secrets of how moves are faked to create the theatrical performance well-known in the sport.


ANDRE THE GIANT portrays the man behind the legend in startling detail.  His personal life, his appearances in movies, as well as his professional career are clearly written and illustrated within the graphic format.


*One note of caution - considering the graphic novel style might attract younger readers, this reviewer cautions some of the language and innuendo are more suited to mature readers.

Friday, August 15, 2014

FAR, FAR AWAY by Tom McNeal

Far Far AwayFAR, FAR AWAY begins and ends with "the strange and fateful tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost."  The boy is Jeremy Johnson Johnson.  The girl is Jeremy's new found friend, Ginger.  The ghost is Jacob Grimm of the famous Grimm's brothers.


Jeremy and his father live in the Two Book Bookstore inherited from Jeremy's grandfather.  Considering that the store only carries copies of just two books (the two volumes of Jeremy's grandfather's autobiography) business is not exactly booming.  Jeremy's father is also suffering from depression and hasn't left the store, which is also their home, in years.  Since they are unable to pay the mortgage on the store, father and son may be out on the streets in a few short weeks.


Both Jeremy and his small town have some unusual quirks.  First, Jeremy has grown up hearing a voice that identified itself as Jacob Grimm.  Because of a tragic event that hasn't allowed Jacob to rest peacefully, his spirit has remained behind for centuries and his ghost currently speaks through and shares his famous tales with this lonely teen living in the town of Never Better. 


Never Better is home to a popular bakery.  Whenever the residents observe a mysterious green smoke coming from the bakery chimney, they know the baker is making some of his famous Prince Cakes.  The cakes supposedly possess magical qualities no one can explain. 


Another mystery in Never Better is the disappearance of several of its young citizens.  The police chief believes the disappearances are simply cases of run away kids, but Jeremy and Ginger begin to suspect otherwise.  The real adventure begins when Jeremy and Ginger become the next two missing teens.


Author Tom McNeal has cleverly created a modern day tale with the tone and flavor mimicking the fairy tales of old.  FAR, FAR AWAY will captivate fans of fantasy as well as those who usually prefer more realistic tales.  This reviewer believes there is a little something for everyone.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon

How It Went Down
Review ARC courtesy of NetGalley.com
Release date: October 2014


It is a case of violence in the hood.  A would-be teen gang member is shot and killed as he leaves a neighborhood store.  Did he have a gun or was it a Snickers candy bar clutched in his hand?


Tariq didn't have the best reputation, but that doesn't excuse the tragedy that ended his life.  He was running an errand for his mother and was shot leaving the store.  When a white man with a gun observed a black teen in a hoodie running from the store with the store owner hot on his heels, the white man opened fire and fatally shot Tariq.  What no one stopped to investigate was that the shop owner was simply trying to get Tariq's attention because he had forgotten to pick up his change.


HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon is proof that every witness has a different view of the event and every person has a different opinion about the victim.  The story records the nine days following Tariq's death.  Multiple points of view are presented taking readers into life on the streets of Tariq's neighborhood.  The emotional impact on Tariq's mother, grandmother, sister, and best friend are only a few of the many voices present in the novel.  Both friends and enemies as well as random participants in the events surrounding Tariq's death share their thoughts and reactions to the violence that is an unfortunate part of their daily routines.


Similar to recent real life events, HOW IT WENT DOWN definitely speaks to the racism, inner city violence, and how justice  is viewed by many today. 

TO THIS DAY: For the Bullied and Beautiful by Shane Koyczan

To This Day: For the Bullied and Beautiful
Review ARC courtesy of NetGalley.com
Release date: September 2014


Maybe some of you readers have already witnessed this amazing piece of material.  Author and poet Shane Koyczan first performed TO THIS DAY as a spoken word poem on stage.  From there it became a hit on You Tube, first as a recording of his performance and later as a video highlighted by the work of visual artists.  Now TO THIS DAY can be found in book form complete with Koyczan's poem, art from select graphic artists, and a detailed background of the history of the piece and the message Koyczan hopes to convey to the world about bullying.


TO THIS DAY expresses the conflicting feelings of an individual growing up in a vicious, intolerant world.  Whether suffering emotional or physical attacks, the victim of bullying struggles with how to carry on as each day presents what feels like insurmountable challenges.  As Koyczan explains, "Sticks and stones may hurt your bones, but words can never hurt you," are words that offer empty comfort to a child facing torment from his peers.  The power of the bully is overwhelming for those under attack.


Koyczan hopes his poem will speak to victims, perpetrators, and bystanders alike.  The power of his words combined with eye-catching and emotional artwork should ensure that his message touches anyone who turns the pages of this brilliant piece.  Those who have suffered at the hands of a bully will no doubt be able to see themselves at some point in the poem, and hopefully, rejoice that Shane Koyczan has been able to present their feelings for the world to see.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

ZOM-B CLANS by Darren Shan

Zom-B Clans (Zom-B Series #8)What's next for B?  When readers left her last, she had just begun battling the Klanners whose goal wasn't just to attack the zombies, but mostly to eliminate anyone who didn't fit their racist views. 


It would seem that with the world overrun with zombies anyone still alive would ban together no matter their race or ethnic background.  B and her fellow Angels are shocked to realize that these Ku Klux Klan crazies are intent on destroying the living or the dead if they represent some minority.  B thought she left those prejudices behind when she escaped her racist father.


To complicate matters, Dan-Dan has returned.  The fat man dressed in the sailor costume is guilty of killing children, and all B wants to do is rip him to pieces, but instead she finds she must protect him if there is any chance that she can rescue her best friend Vinyl and other Angels being held captive by the Owl Man.


The action and excitement continue as B takes daring chances in her attempt to return control of the world to the living.  Fans of Darren Shan's ZOM-B series won't have to wait long for book #8, ZOM-B FAMILY, due for release in October.

Monday, August 4, 2014

DARIUS & TWIG by Walter Dean Myers

Darius & TwigWhat a loss for the world of YA!  Walter Dean Myers's books offered the best in YA lit for the guys, especially the reluctant reader.  DARIUS & TWIG is one of his titles I hadn't read so when I saw it at the bookstore, I grabbed it for my classroom.


Set in Myers's infamous 145th Street neighborhood, the story tells of two friends hoping to escape the life of the inner city through college scholarships.  Darius is a writer being encouraged to edit a story he submitted for possible publication.  If he can tweak it as advised, it will be in print and potentially be his ticket to a better life.
Twig is a runner.  If he competes and performs at his peak, college scouts will be knocking at his door.


Both teens have the opportunity to live out their dreams, but family members and the hostile environment that surrounds them threaten to derail their plans.  Street violence, including robberies and shootings, create distractions that have Darius and Twig defending family and friends.  Within their families where support for their dreams would be expected, there is reluctance they find difficult to explain. 


In DARIUS & TWIG Myers is at his best.  Through the writing of Darius it is easy to imagine a young Myers fighting his own fight to improve his life and make a difference in the lives of so many others in the process.  If you somehow haven't discovered the amazing books by this awarding winning author, please jot down his name and head to your local library or bookstore today.

Friday, July 25, 2014

NEW BOY by Julian Houston

New BoyNEW BOY, set in the 1950's, is the story of a Southern high school student whose chance to attend a boarding school in Connecticut is an eye-opening experience.  Rob Garrett understands that the opportunity to enroll as the only black student at Draper has the potential to open doors for him that continuing to attend his local high school in Virginia will not.  He knows he should be grateful, but he is also incredibly nervous.


The administration at Draper makes Rob feel welcome, and classes are interesting and challenging.  Living in a dorm with all white students is a bit unsettling.  Rob treads lightly during the early days at the new school especially when he witnesses the blatant discrimination aimed at a fellow student unlucky enough to be an Italian with chronic acne.  Rob befriends the outcast, but as the challenge of his studies and maintaining a spot on the honor roll consumes his time, he finds it is difficult to be the attentive friend he knows he should be.


As Rob keeps in touch with friends in Virginia and visits home during holidays, he learns of the increasing fight to end segregation in the South.  Becoming used to the more free way of life for blacks in the North, he vows to help his Southern friends fight despite the risks and his parents' fears for his safety. 


Torn between life in two very different worlds, Rob's story gives a personal touch to the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950's.  NEW BOY by Julian Houston is an excellent novel for readers interests in seeing a different view of the fight to end segregation in America.