Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Justin Tells Us About Spy School!

Guess what, guys? A new friend has sent us a review! His name is Justin, he's 14 (almost) and he has quite a story. He used to hate reading; in fact, he was "that kid who would read short 20 page nonfiction books for my weekly assignment." Then he found the book Playing with Fire by Bruce Hale and was hooked. Since then he has read lots of other stuff and now runs a blog about books! (like the Iron Guy) That blog is called Justin Talks Books and you can visit it here. He has run the blog for two years and is a particular fan of Stuart Gibbs. Mr. Gibbs even gave Justin a special shout-out once. How cool is that! Justin will tell us about one of Mr. Gibbs's most popular books.

Spy School by Stuart Gibbs

Spy SchoolSummary: Benjamin Ripley, a 12 year old living your average middle school life is being recruited for a science academy, secretly a spy school. Oh it's just another typical recruitment with a top-notch spy appearing in your living room after a long day of school. Ben has a "cryptography" skill and even though he bombs his SACSA's (basically a pre-assesement in self-preservation) he's kept in the school because of his "talent" for cryptography. Along the way he meets Erica Hale- the most beautiful girl he's ever seen, the best student in spy school's history, and a legacy (she's even related to all time spy legend Nathan Hale) But the introverted isolated Erica reaches out to Ben and reveals he has no skill whatsoever. Instead, he's being used as bait for something called Operation Creeping Badger, a plan created by the CIA to weed out the mole in Spy School. Ben decides to hop on the train for one main reason: getting to spend time with Erica. I mean for three years she's practically been lonelier than a rock on a deserted island and now she reaches out to a nerd like Ben? Not only does it bring us his coolness by a mile, but spending time with your crush is the best feeling ever. But is it worth if it you end up being dead? Follow Stuart Gibbs's fantastic thriller through elaborate plans, midnight escapes, and lots of gun fighting as Ben and friends try to answer the question: Who's the mole? Oh and try to not get killed in the process.

What I liked: Everything? But seriously, it's just a well-written book. Humorous moments were weaved well into the diverse book. Lots of actions scenes, which of course you'd expect from a James Bond-esque book. I definitely liked the inclusion of a legacy in a book. I mean if you think about it any time you read about a private school there's always someone "who's great grand-father was the founder" or something like that. Not only is Erica's deceased relatives the founders of the school, but the country in general has been at the mercy of their family. I could talk for about 10 pages of how this book is awesome, but I feel like there wouldn't be any point to it.

What I didn't like: Let me just start out with saying: the cursing. Yes, there are bad words in this novel, but keep in mind this: I talked to the author himself and he said that he only stuck in the various language because it could give some character to the book, to spice things up. He was advised to do so by somebody (an editor I think?) and so he did and he received a million hate comments for it. He's removed all bad language from the rest of his books (unless you consider "stupid" "dumb" and "idiot" bad words) Another thing I didn't like was the classic format for all middle grade books. While it varies, in MG if we're talking about a kid and school it's always: There's a loser at blah blah school. Suddenly he catches a break and he talks to his crush. For half the book everything is really awesome with only minor flaws. Then there's a huge conflict at the end. The ending is either "YAY! We made it!" or "Aw, we lost" I feel like I could explain the plot of this book at a general level using the normal MG format, and while it's not bad, it's just overused.

Final Thoughts: A really, really, really great book with some minor flaws but nothing enough to make it bad.

Rating on 'the scale': 9.5 out of ten

Why? Minor flaws but nothing major. Really a great books that keeps things exciting and fresh.

Related: Spy School series by Stuart Gibbs/ Playing w/ Fire series by Bruce Hale/ Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Thanks, Justin! We really appreciate it. Stuart Gibbs is a popular author with guys. Our friend Reid told us about this book back in March. I may have to look up some of his books myself. Please keep in touch and send us more reviews.

All right, boys, this is a good start to summer! School is almost over and there will be lots of fun stuff to do but don't forget that reading is one of them. As you can see from Justin's story, reading is a great thing for guys. So write in and tell us over the summer what books, graphic novels, biographies or nonfiction you're reading. After all, the Iron Guy (and Justin and Reid and lots of other boys) believe that--


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Summer Break = Summer Fun!

HomeHey guys, I guess I don't need to tell you that summer is almost here! Our guy radar is already picking up the end of school and the beginning of summer fun. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library has also kept its radar out for summer and we've got something great to keep you reading and having fun. It's our new Summer Break program. (it's what we called Summer Reading in years past) We've changed it up a bit. You can get credit for reading, of course, but you also get credit for doing other cool things. You can also read, write, create, explore, play and give. At the end of 20 hours of doing such fun stuff (10 hours of it would be reading), you get a free book! You also get a coupon for a free Junior Frosty at Wendy's and a $5.00 fine waiver card (which means you can escape $5.00 in overdue fees) for signing up. Does this sound good? You bet! Got more questions? I'm sure you do. Check out the Summer Break website to find out more and to sign up. (and, guys, be sure to tell your parents they can sigh up too!)

The Iron Guy loves reading, of course, but is also excited that we can do other things as part of Summer Break. Here are some things I plan to do:

Keeping up my MANLY physique

Engaging in mortal combat with killer barbarian animals

Transporting myself back in time to train with other Ancient Greek demigods

Yep, it sounds like this will be a great summer. Sign up for Summer Break, boys, and start Living Summer to the Fullest!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Memorial Day Blast From the Past--Heart of a Shepherd by Roseanne Parry

Greetings right before Memorial Day, guys! The library will be closed that day, so I wanted to recommend something before then. Sometimes I go and find a book I've read before and tell you about it. I call these Blasts From the Past and I've got a good one today. It's Heart of a Shepherd by Roseanne Parry, which I read way back in 2009 and it has stuck with me all these years. (you could read my original review here) This is a remarkable story, all about what a 12-year-old boy goes through when his dad is deployed to Iraq (that war was in full swing when this was written), his older brothers go off to college or the army and he has to run the family ranch with his grandparents. This is realistic fiction, which means there are no swordsmen or magicians, no powerful families running worldwide conspiracies and no spaceships outrunning Imperial cruisers. But it is all about real-world real problems faced by a real-world boy. The library has plenty of copies, so be sure to get one, read it and think this weekend about all the brave men and women who have fought and died to protect our right to, among many other things, read freely what we like.

(BTW, you could read an interview with the author here)

One more thing--I'm uploading a video that fits the spirit of this weekend. This is a scene from Henry V by Shakespeare. Now don't freak out on me, guys!! Shakespeare is very cool and this is a great scene. Henry and his English troops are about to fight the French at Agincourt. The English troops are badly outnumbered and Henry's cousin, Westmoreland, comments on it. Henry says, basically, "That's good. I wouldn't want one man more! Those who live through this fight will have enough glory to last until the end of time. Those who don't have the stomach for this fight can go home now and I'll give them the money to get back. But those who live through the day will celebrate this day (St. Crispin's day) the rest of their lives, even when they're old. They'll show their scars and tell what the story of what happened. Any man who stays with me is my brother, no matter how poor you are."

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers..."

And I'm using the old version from 1944. The British government asked that terrific actor Lawrence Olivier to make this movie because England, once again, found themselves badly outnumbered--except this time by the Nazis. England badly needed some inspiration. Listen to this and see if your heart doesn't swell:

(If you want a full modern-day rendition of this speech go to the No Sweat Shakespeare site here, read through the speech and then get it in today's language)

This really sums up the spirit of Memorial Day--remembering the bravery of those who fought in the past and, as in Heart of a Shepherd, more recent years.

And guess what--England won at Agincourt! And World War II.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Who Was, Where Is and What Is--Four Cool Nonfiction Books for Boys

Kids everywhere like the Who Was...biographies. I can tell because we can never keep them on our shelves here at the library. And there are good reasons behind that--the books are interesting, informative and make good quick reads. Plus the writers really know how to move the stories along and keep a reader hooked until the last page. Today the Iron Guy will tell you about a Who Was.. biography and three other books published by the same company. And what stories they tell!! Epic lives and epic struggles. Building magnificent structures under impossible conditions. Conquest, assassination, deadly diseases, endurance, heroism and dictatorship--all here in these terrific books!

The first is Who Was Julius Caesar? by Nico Medina and it starts off with a terrific story. When he was twenty-five, Julius Caesar, sailing from Rome to Crete, was captured by pirates, who intended to hold him for ransom. Did he he cry out in fear? Plead for his freedom? No, he laughed in their faces and told them he was worth more than twice the ransom they asked! Furthermore, he wasn't afraid of what they'd do to him; he thought about what he would do to them when he got free--and he did!
Julius Caesar was inspired by Alexander the Great and tried to accomplish great things--and he did! He  became governor of many provinces, spent ten years conquering new territories for Rome, and eventually was the most important man in Rome. And he became Rome's first permanent dictator. He carried many good projects but did he love power too much? Especially as permanent dictator? What finally happened to him? You'll have to read this book to find out! But when you do, you'll see why Julius Caesar and his story dominated the ancient world and still casts its shadow to this very day.

Then we have three books (Where is the Great Wall? by Patricia Brennan Demuth, Where is the Brooklyn Bridge? by Megan Stine and What is the Panama Canal? by Janet B. Pascal) that are related because they are about huge structures built with old technology that, incredibly, are still in use today. It's amazing that these things ever got built. People had to build on tops of mountains, under and over rivers and through dense, hot, steamy, disease-infected jungles. Brilliant people had to figure out, sometimes from scratch, how to build where no one ever attempted such things before, how to solve problems that no one had ever encountered and cure diseases that no one knew how to deal with. People worked long and hard on these structures for years and sometimes died--from yellow fever in Panama, from "the bends" on the Brooklyn Bridge or from just plain being worked to death on the Great Wall. But, in spite of all these obstacles, the work persisted and the projects were completed. We have the results of all that determination today in the Great Wall, the only human structure visible from space, and the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal, which are not only still used but still marveled at by thousands of people every year.

And what larger-than-life personalities you meet in these books! Emperor Qin, the first emperor of a united China (believe me, you would not want him to be your boss!), Washington Roebling, who helped put out a fire in the "cassions," the underground foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge and ruined his health, his brilliant wife Emily, who ran the building of the bridge for many years, Ferdinand De Lesseps, the Frenchman who had built the Suez Canal and was certain he could build the Panama Canal (he was wrong!) and, of course, Theodore Roosevelt, one of the most colorful presidents this country ever had.

All four of these books tell the amazing stories of amazing people. You will definitely want to read these, guys! As I said, the writers know how to make the stories move and you will turn page after page to see what will happen. In addition, there are good timelines at the back of each book and bibliographies that lead to more books about these subjects.

How could you lose, guys? Check these out and read these terrific stories.

(PS to teachers--these books would be great if you ever have lessons on any of these topics!)

UPDATE--today is Nonfiction Monday. Be sure to take a look and see what other cool nonfiction books people are reading.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb

What's this? Two reviews in one week? The Iron Guy has been doing some heavy lifting with his reading and reviewing lately! But I had really wanted to get something in for May the Fourth and I had also mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had been reading this book. It's about time I finished it, don't you think? Anyway, I ramble. Let me clue you in to this really good sci-fi adventure story, Secrets of the Dragon Tombs by Patrick Samphire.

The year is 1816. Humanity, especially the British Empire, has colonized Mars. Young Edward Sullivan wants to be like W. A. Masters, the spy and adventurer he reads about every month in his favorite magazine, Thrilling Martian Tales. Yet adventure comes all too quickly when the famous Sir Titus Dane visits the Sullivan house. It turns out that he's there for more than a social call; he is looking for a map for a hidden Dragon Tomb, one of the places where the Ancient Martians buried their emperors and left all sorts of advanced technology. He hopes to claim the technology for himself and maybe even sell some to the Emperor Napoleon, who is winning his wars on Earth. Sir Titus finds the map but needs someone to decipher the Ancient Martian inscriptions that tell where the Tomb is located. That someone is Edward's father, a brilliant scientist and inventor who has created a sort of computer. Sir Titus kidnaps the father and the rest of the family, hoping to force Edward's father into solving the puzzle but Edward, two sisters and his blathering idiot cousin Freddie escape. How could this assortment of kids ever hope to rescue their family from such a powerful bad guy? And is there more to Freddie than what you see on the surface? And if they ever find Sir Titus, will it be too late?

If you want adventure, this book has it! Thrilling crash landings in the jungle, sword fights with bad guys, fights with mechanical crabs and a dangerous bite from a spider-slug. And more! This has enough excitement to please any guy. Plus you have the exotic setting of an alien world. Forget what we know about Mars these days--this book draws on old books and magazines from way back in the day that imagined Mars or even Venus to be places a lot like Earth. Once you accept that and just enjoy the story, you'll be in for a good time. And I bet that, if you enjoy sci-fi or not, you'll get a lot of excitement out of this book. (and guess what--there's going to be a second one, The Emperor of Mars. It'll be worth waiting, guys!)

Written in 1917!
One more thing--and you can ignore this part if you want--I've got a question for all you boys. I'm very curious about this. As I said, this book draws on a lot of old books. Like the John Carter of Mars books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (author of the original Tarzan) in the 1910's. In these books, the climate and atmosphere of Mars wasn't that much different from Earth's. When I was 16, I read Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, one of the most terrific books ever, in which human beings walked and drove around Mars like the were in their own neighborhoods on Earth. Once I reviewed a sci-fi book (Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein) written in the 1950's in which a bunch of cadets crash-landed on Venus and had adventures there. We were willing to accept these ideas (even if suspected they weren't accurate) because no one had explored those planets.

The real Mars
Since those days, we've sent up several satellites and rovers that have actually gone to these planets and beamed back images of what Mars and Venus are truly like. Now we know that Mars is a barren rock and Venus has a pressure-cooker atmosphere that disintegrates spacecraft before they reach the surface. So let me ask--would any of this current knowledge interfere with your enjoying a story like Secrets of the Dragon Tombs? You boys have grown up seeing pictures from the rovers and knowing the true conditions of Mars. Could you just sit back and enjoy the story or would you say, "Oh, man, Mars isn't like that!" I had no problem with it but I'm from another generation, growing up reading those older books but what about YOU? Leave me an answer in the Comments section under this post and let me know.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

May the Fourth be With You--2016

Greetings, guys and guess what day it is? Come on, you'll never guess! Come on, I bet you'll never guess in a hundred...Wait a minute, that thing off to the left might give you a clue.

Of course today is May 4 and it's STAR WARS Day! What a great day. Every guy I know loves Star Wars. And wasn't The Force Awakens a terrific movie? You bet!

Well, there are so many Star Wars books and graphic novels out there that we could probably fill an Imperial Battle Cruiser with them but I'm going to tell you about only one--a good SW graphic novel. It's Star Wars: The Original Trilogy by---well, it's by a lot of artists but the manuscript adaptation is by Alessandro Ferrari. This graphic novel covers all three of the original movies--A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi.

I won't summarize the story because just about everyone knows it--and probably knows it by heart! This graphic novel does it justice. The artwork and the story stay true to the movies, unfolding scene by scene and even line by line from the originals. And, yes, all the excitement, the battles, the high-speed chases, the incredible interiors of space ships, and the cosmic drama of Luke, Vader and the Emperor are here. The artwork is first-class and, as I said, the writing stays close to the original story, which hardly needs any improving. Anyone who enjoyed those original three movies will enjoy this.
Now, this graphic novel isn't perfect. In fact, it had one major flaw that didn't ruin it for me but kept me from enjoying as much as I could have. You can see it (sort of) on the picture of the book's cover. Look at the way they drew Luke, Leia and Han. You see those big eyes on Luke and Leia? And that long chin on Han Solo? It makes them look too cartoonish. At least it did for me. It may not bother you. In any case, however, don't let that stop you from checking this out. It's really good. I liked it. You will too.
The Iron Guy says, "Read it you should. Enjoy it you will."
One more thing. On last year's May the Fourth post, I showed the trailer for The Force Awakens. Well, guess what--there's going to be a new Star wars movie this December!! It's called Rogue One and here's the trailer:

Can't wait!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Blast From the Past--Fangbone!

Greetings, reader guys all across the reading world. Every once in a while, when things are really busy, I like to write a post that features something I read some time before. I call it a Blast From the Past and today I'm going to feature a graphic novel series that I really enjoyed and I have no doubt that you'll like them too. It's called FANGBONE! THIRD GRADE BARBARIAN by Michael Rex.

Now, come on, guys--how could you NOT want to read something with that title?? Just look at that cover and tell me you don't want to run to your local library and check out a copy! And that's just the first one. There are two more--The Egg of Misery and The Birthday Party of Dread. This series has it all--an evil wizard (the story revolves around his evil big toe), razor dragons, science fair projects, monsters at birthday parties, school bullies, friendships--and hot wings! So what is this series about? Well, the best way to find out would be to read my original review. Then, as I said, head over to your local library and find a copy. We have plenty! I could guarantee that you WILL have a great time reading these. So what are you waiting for? Go forth, eager ones, and check out FANGBONE!