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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?

Winner:
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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