Saturday, May 31, 2014

YA Guy Reviews... GODZILLA

Back in the day, monster movies were about monsters.

Oh, YA Guy knows they weren't only about monsters. I wrote a whole book about the other things they were about. Pick up a copy if you're in the mood.

But in classic films such as King Kong (1933) and Godzilla (1954), as well as modern classics like Alien (1979) and The Thing (1982), the driving force of the movie was the encounter with and--usually--defeat of the monster.

That was then, this is now.

These days, the driving force of monster movies is . . . bad family melodrama.

It began in the nineties--which, not coincidentally, was the decade that the "family values" campaign picked up steam in popular and political culture. The rhetoric of that campaign was complex and not very coherent, but it boiled down to the following: traditional (i.e., male-headed) families were in crisis, with an ensuing social breakdown epitomized by the out-of-control breeding of marginal (i.e., black and Hispanic) females; therefore, traditional (i.e., white) men needed to reassert control over their families and their society.

This discourse drives all three Jurassic Park movies, wherein nice-guy white male scientists have to save kids from ferocious, out-of-control female dinosaurs. It drives War of the Worlds (the Tom Cruise version), wherein a down-and-out dad becomes Father of the Year by fighting off dark-skinned, pregnant-bellied alien tripods. It drives Godzilla (the Roland Emmerich version), wherein a nice-guy white male scientist regains his girl (and thus presumably starts down the road to establishing a traditional family) by fighting off pregnant monster-lizards. It drives every movie Roland Emmerich ever made, but that's perhaps beside the point.

And now along comes Godzilla (2014), an unholy mess of a movie in which the title creature appears forty-five minutes into the film and occupies roughly five minutes of screen time thereafter, if you add up all the five-second segments of him slugging it out with giant pregnant insectoid thingamajigs. The rest of this painfully bad movie is taken up with the following: the story of a young army weapons expert, abandoned by his cuckoo conspiracy-theory father, who then abandons his own wife and young child when he's called to spring his nut-job dad from jail on the eve of the giant creatures' rampage. He reconciles with his dad (what a good son!), saves a little Japanese boy from the monsters (what a good father!), implausibly survives a thousand-foot fall from a train track so he can destroy all the monster-bug's offspring (what a really good father!), and even more implausibly, reunites with his wife and son, who have somehow avoided being crushed by the city that basically collapsed on them (what a really, really good father!).

Godzilla and the other monsters are entirely incidental to all this. But in Hollywood, where rich white men make most of the movies and most of the decisions, it's apparently really, really, really important to keep reasserting how really, really, really screwed up society would be if white fathers weren't in charge. So they dream up bigger and bigger CGI monsters to threaten society, only so white fathers can save it in more and more preposterous ways.

It's really getting to be a drag. I go to monster movies to see monsters, not to see rich white guys live out their anxious fantasies about social control.

I guess I need to go back to 1954, when Godzilla--and not some anxious rich white guy--was truly the King of Monsters.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

YA Guy Reviews... THREATENED by Eliot Schrefer

As YA Guy has probably told you, I love apes. So I was thrilled when I heard that Eliot Schrefer, whose novel about bonobos, Endangered, was a National Book Award finalist, plans to write three additional books on each of the three additional great apes: chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas.

And I'm happy to report that the second book in the series, Threatened (which deals with the bonobo's better-known cousin, the chimpanzee), is a small masterpiece, gorgeously written and profoundly moving.

Like Endangered, which I reviewed here, Threatened focuses on a young person's relationship with a great ape family--in this case, young Luc's relationship with the chimpanzees of his home country, Gabon. An orphan whose mother and younger sister died of AIDS and whose father abandoned his surviving child, Luc slaves away for a vicious debt collector to pay his mother's medical bill. But then salvation arrives in the form of a mysterious Muslim who calls himself Prof, a researcher intent on becoming Africa's answer to Jane Goodall. Though Luc joins Prof merely to escape his troubles, he forms a stronger connection to the man once they reach the jungles of Gabon and encounter a small and fragile family of chimpanzees. There Luc must decide which bonds to honor: his allegiance to Prof, or his commitment to the non-human subjects of Prof's research.

Threatened is a character-driven novel, with wonderful portraits not only of the frightened Luc and the shady, haunted Prof but of the chimpanzees whom Luc names Drummer and Mango. One of the fascinating aspects of the book is that while Prof tends to romanticize the chimpanzees, seeing them as virtuous alternatives to human depravity, Luc--and through him the author--offers a much more complex, balanced portrayal of creatures that are at once sensitive, caring, violent, and volatile. These chimps are capable of great tenderness, and also of great destruction. In other words, they're pretty much like us--as one would expect of humanity's nearest genetic relative.

The campaign for diversity in YA hasn't touched much (or at all) on inter-species diversity. But maybe it should. After all, non-human animals are among the most under-represented (and poorly represented) of populations in YA literature--and unlike human populations, they have no opportunity to tell their own stories. If the movement for diversity in YA ever does expand beyond human beings, Schrefer's wonderful novels will surely be included on any list of essential reading.

Monday, May 19, 2014

YA Guy Reveals... THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT by Shawna Romkey!

Today, YA Guy's thrilled to participate in the cover reveal for Shawna Romkey's THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT, book 2 in her "Speak of the Devil" series. Check out this freaktastic cover, then read about the book below!

The Devil Made Me Do It
Book Two: Speak of the Devil series
By Shawna Romkey

Coming July 1 - Go to hell!

Lily is working with the angels to stifle the last of the demon outbreaks and to figure out how to stop the Silence of God, so life can get back to boring normality. But all hell breaks loose when she’s stolen from school and brought face to face with the devil himself. Lily has to find her way back home to Luc, crack the prophecy that breaks the curse silencing God, and figure out how she and Luc can ever really be together. But Lucifer has other plans for her that don’t include her ever getting out of Hell intact.

About the Author:

Shawna Romkey, teacher by day, writer by night (or day or whenever anyone leaves her alone long enough to get some work done). Bestselling YA / NA paranormal author of Speak of the Devil. The second in the series, "The Devil Made Me Do It," will release July 1.

Shawna is from Kansas City, Missouri, but resides in Nova Scotia in a house by the sea with her husband, two sons, and--currently--two dogs (but that’s subject to change depending on the local homeless dog population).

For more info, check out her website at

Thursday, May 15, 2014

YA Guy Reviews... Book Reviews!

YA Guy has yet to receive a negative review for Survival Colony 9.

Which may sound impressive, but bear in mind, I've got only four reviews so far, all of them on Goodreads. So the baddies are certainly going to come.

This really doesn't bother me. Negative or critical reviews are part of the business. I don't like every book I read, so why should I assume that everyone will like the book I wrote?

Authors can be incredibly touchy about negative reviews--too touchy, in my opinion. Sometimes it even goes beyond touchy, as when authors send threatening emails or tweets to the writers of the negative reviews. I'm sorry, folks, but that's just plain crazy.

The flip side of this, however, is that some reviewers do seem to revel in how very bad they can make an author feel. When a review is full of expletives and personal attacks, I believe it's crossed a line. It should be possible to express one's dislike of a book without cussing at the book's writer. I mean, unless you're reviewing The Neo-Nazi's Guide to Hating Jews--the kind of book I wouldn't review anyway, as I wouldn't want to call attention to its existence--you can certainly be civil.

Mean-spirited reviews aren't new, of course. Way back when, long before the advent of the internet, I won a short story contest run by a local weekly magazine. The very next issue, a letter to the editor appeared, questioning the sanity of both me and the judges. (I blame that letter mostly on the editor, who I got the feeling didn't like my story but was overruled by the Famous Author who had final say in the selection.) And when I published my first academic book, one of the reviewers (a very well-placed one at that) absolutely eviscerated me; it's a miracle my career in scholarly publishing survived that debacle.

But you know what? It did. I lived to see another day, to write another book.

The internet has elevated the ugly review to prominence; the combination of universality and near-anonymity (or at least, lack of tangible consequences) has allowed reviewing to become yet another form of cyber-bullying, its purpose less to evaluate the book than to make the writer feel like crap. Some say this is because it's a bunch of frustrated writers producing this kind of review; I think it's just a bunch of not very nice people.

As authors, we probably can't change this culture of reviewing-with-intent-to-kill. The best we can do is write polite reviews ourselves and, when we get negative reviews, refuse to allow them to overwhelm us. That can be hard, especially for a debut author, but it's necessary lest the bad guys win.

That negative review of my first academic book I just mentioned--you know how I responded?

The way I was in the habit of responding to all my reviews in those days: by writing the reviewer a polite note thanking him for taking the time to review my book.

I never heard back from him. But I knew that I had done the right thing, and in that sense, I'd achieved a victory.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

YA Guy Reviews... THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN by Meredith McArdle (plus a giveaway)!

Today on YA Guy, I'm hosting Meredith McArdle's blog tour for her YA time-travel debut, THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN! Let's start with the blurb, then move on to my review and more information about Meredith and the great giveaway she's running!

About THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN: Amanda Obermann. Code name Iris.

It’s Testing Day. The day that comes without warning, the day when all juniors and seniors at The Peel Academy undergo a series of intense physical and psychological tests to see if they’re ready to graduate and become government operatives. Amanda and her boyfriend Abe are top students, and they’ve just endured thirty-six hours of testing. But they’re juniors and don’t expect to graduate. That’ll happen next year, when they plan to join the CIA—together.

But when the graduates are announced, the results are shocking. Amanda has been chosen—the first junior in decades. And she receives the opportunity of a lifetime: to join a secret government organization called the Annum Guard and travel through time to change the course of history. But in order to become the Eighth Guardian in this exclusive group, Amanda must say good-bye to everything—her name, her family, and even Abe—forever.

Who is really behind the Annum Guard? And can she trust them with her life?

Release date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Skyscape (Amazon)
Genre:  YA time travel thriller
ISBN: 978-1477847138

Buy links:

My review: What do you get when you combine an action-packed plot, a kick-butt heroine, and some of the coolest history lessons your high school teacher (never) taught you?


Meredith McArdle's time-travel debut is a hugely fun, exciting, and--yes--informative read. I know those three adjectives don't typically occur together, but the fact is, McArdle's plot enables her not only to keep readers on the edge of their seats but to correct some misconceptions about American history. The result is a book that's at once fast-moving and thoughtful, as the reader discovers along with main character Amanda (code name Iris) just how complex and twisted history (not to mention family and love) can be.

I won't delve deeply into the plot, since you just read the blurb. What I will say is that I found Iris's story particularly affecting, as she must leave behind everyone and everything she loves for the chance to serve in the top-secret Annum Guard. The Guard's work is fun, challenging, and exciting--as in one of my favorite scenes, where Iris and her companions foil a multi-million-dollar art heist--but Iris can never forget that she's trapped, unable to leave the Guard without risking imprisonment. As she tries to find her place in the Guard, an exclusive enclave that views her as an outsider, she's tormented by a past that includes her father's mysterious disappearance and her mother's psychiatric illness. The irony, of course, is that while Iris can change the past--as she does in one hilarious scene by throwing herself in front of a cab containing a senator she needs to prevent from casting a crucial vote--Amanda feels powerless to change her own fate. Watching Iris/Amanda take control of her life and unravel the secrets in her past is at least as much fun as watching her travel through time, altering events at the behest of her superiors.

If you're looking for a thrilling read with a cool premise and a sympathetic heroine--and if you suspect that history holds a lot more surprises and difficult truths than anyone ever told you--THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN just might be the book for you!

Praise for THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN: "THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN had everything I wanted in a story: I fell in love with the characters, gasped at the mystery, and laughed at Iris's unfailing snark. Lucky for me, this high-energy, edge-of-your-seat thriller is only the first in what I know will become one of my favorite series." ~Susan Dennard, author of the SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY trilogy

About Meredith McCardle: Meredith McCardle is a former lawyer who lives in South Florida with her husband and two young daughters. Like her main character, she has a fondness for strong coffee, comfortable pants, and jumping to the wrong conclusions. Unlike her main character, she cannot travel through time. Sadly. Her debut, THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN, will be published by Skyscape/Amazon Children’s in Spring 2014.

Social media links:
Twitter: @MeredithMcP

Rafflecopter giveaway: Amanda is giving away 2 Kindle Paperwhites, a signed hardcover of THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN, and a paperback + book-themed necklace. Enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, May 11, 2014

YA Guy Reads... Diverse Books!

YA Guy's been following the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement in YA literature, and doing my part to promote it. (For example, check out this post on the Fall Fourteeners blog.) It's an important moment in literary history, and I'm excited to be part of the YA community while it's happening.

So in the ongoing spirit of promoting diversity in YA literature, I want to list ten diverse YA books I've read this year. That's out of a total of almost 30 YA books read thus far in 2014, so about a third. I've provided links to my reviews if you need more convincing, but trust me--I wouldn't be listing these books if I didn't believe they all deserve to be widely read.

So, alphabetically by author's last name, here goes!

1. Austin Aslan, The Islands at the End of the World. A great sci-fi eco-thriller set in Hawaii and narrated by a half-Hawaiian teen, full of surprises and language as lush as the islands themselves.

2. Paolo Bacigalupi, The Drowned Cities. A multcultural cast and mixed-racial narrator anchor this astonishing science fiction novel, sequel of sorts to Bacigalupi's equally impressive Ship Breaker.

3. Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. With gay main characters and a beautifully realized evocation of being a high-school oddball, this book's every bit as good as you've probably already heard.

4. Christine Kohler, No Surrender Soldier. Based on the true story of a Japanese soldier who lived underground on the island of Guam for two decades after the end of World War II, this book treats themes of family, loyalty, faith, and community in rich and layered ways. I interviewed the author here.

5. Kristen Lippert-Martin, Tabula Rasa. A taut cyber-thriller with a Latina narrator and some of the most breathless action sequences you're likely to encounter anywhere.

6. Meg Medina, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. A searing examination of bullying, narrated by the Latina victim of the attacks.

7. Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Gringolandia. Totally amazing story of a Chilean political prisoner who returns to his family broken by torture, and who must try to reconcile with his teenage son.

8. Sherri L. Smith, Orleans. I haven't given this book a full review yet, as I've just finished it. But it's a genuinely inspired science fiction novel, the story of a future New Orleans separated from the U.S. after storm and disease ravage the community, and narrated by a teenage African American, Fen, in her own engaging and distinctive dialect. Watch for a review soon!

9. Christina Struyk-Bonn, Whisper. A futuristic fairy-tale of a world that demonizes all those with physical disabilities, including the narrator, a teenage girl with a cleft palate. I interviewed the author here.

10. Ned Vizzini, It's Kind of a Funny Story. The tragicomic story of a teen suffering from depression. The real-life tragedy of author Vizzini's recent suicide adds poignancy to the fictional narrator's survival.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

YA Guy Reveals... The Cover to Margo Kelly's WHO R U REALLY? (plus a giveaway)!

To celebrate the cover reveal for Who R U Really? Margo Kelly is giving away TWO Advance Reader Copies of the book! Visit to enter by Sunday, May 11, 2014!

by Margo Kelly
Merit Press -- September 18, 2014


Thea's overprotective parents are driving her insane. They invade her privacy, ask too many questions, and restrict her online time so severely that Thea feels she has no life at all. When she discovers a new role-playing game online, Thea breaks the rules by staying up late to play. She's living a double life: on one hand, the obedient daughter; on the other, a girl slipping deeper into darkness. In the world of the game, Thea falls under the spell of Kit, an older boy whose smarts and savvy can't defeat his loneliness and near-suicidal despair. As Kit draws soft-hearted Thea into his drama, she creates a full plate of cover stories for her parents and then even her friends.

Soon, Thea is all alone in the dark world with Kit, who worries her more and more, but also seems to be the only person who really "gets" her. Is he frightening, the way he seems sometimes, or only terribly sad? Should Thea fear Kit, or pity him? And now, Kit wants to come out of the screen and bring Thea into his real-life world. As much as she suspects that this is wrong, Thea is powerless to resist Kit's allure, and hurtles toward the same dark fate her parents feared most. Ripped from a real-life story of Internet stalking, Who R U Really? will excite you and scare you, as Thea's life spins out of control.

About the Author:

Margo Kelly is a native of the Northwest and currently resides in Idaho. A veteran public speaker, Margo is now actively pursuing her love of writing. Who R U Really? is her debut novel and will be published by Merit Press in September 2014. Margo welcomes opportunities to speak to youth groups, library groups, and book clubs.