Friday, June 15, 2012

Pick-Up Game (fiction) - street basketball, city life, real life

book cover of Pickup Game edited by Marc Aronson and Charles R Smith Jr published by Candlewick
Our best five players against your best five,
No blood, no foul,
You leaving? Who else wants to play?

Street basketball takes smarts as well as skills, as the guys on your team right now might be on the other team before the hour is out. Sometimes three-pointers will win it all, other times you have to finesse the game.

If you can't be at The Cage in person, the best streetball games you'll ever experience are in Pick-Up Game.  These writers love the game, know the people watching, take us to the asphalt heat of the court where we can feel the chainlink between our fingers as we watch the players and the ball rush through the summer swelter, hour by hour.

The first story was completed by Walter Dean Myers, then Bruce Brooks wrote his, and so on down the line. So the players and spectators wander in and out of different stories, sometimes starring, sometimes watching, always wondering how everything is going to turn out. Charles R. Smith Jr. uses his photographs of The Cage and his rhythmic, driving poetry to keep the flow going from story to story.

Get this great collection today in hardcover at your local library or independent bookstore; it's scheduled for paperback release in mid-October 2012.

Book info: Pick-up Game: A Full Day of Full Court / edited by Marc Aronson and Charles R. Smith Jr. Candlewick Press, 2011.  [Marc Aronson's website]   [Charles R. Smith Jr.'s website]   [publisher site

My Recommendation:  The Cage in New York City – home of the best pick-up basketball games ever, where street basketball means “no blood, no foul.” Many viewpoints, many stories from the players and the watchers and the wannabes on this hot July day. 

It starts early with a “Cage Run” as Boo and Fish hit the court to face that Waco guy who’s cooler than ice and twice as scary. The day heats up as players leave and enter the pick-up games, like hotshot ESPN who’s always showing off in case any college scouts are watching and “Mira Mira” who’s fast even if he’s shorter than most.

Outside the Cage’s chainlink wall, some watchers want in the game – like Ruben, who hates being called Kid,  who knows that “Practice Don’t Make Perfect” only playing will. That guy with the video camera is making the documentary that will get him into NYU film school -“He’s Gotta Have It” - the heart of the players, the meaning of the game.

The games get hotter as quality players show up, turning into a “Head Game” as ‘Nique is the only girl on the court and blasts past ESPN, dishes passes to Waco. Do the legends of street ball watch from the bench in the back? Will the TV crew suddenly arriving really shut down the game for some public-service announcement filming or will they use real players in “The Shoot”?

A whole day in The Cage, with so many ways to see the game, to be the game, in this great collective work by top fiction writers who love basketball and its fans and its place in the heart of New York City. Short stories by Walter Dean Myers, Bruce Brooks, Willie Perdomo, Sharon G. Flake, Robert Burleigh, Rita Williams-Garcia, Joseph Bruchac, Adam Rapp, Robert Lipsyte, and Marc Aronson are fittingly connected by poems and photographs of The Cage by Charles R. Smith Jr.  (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Way of the Sword, by Chris Bradford (fiction) - English teen, feudal Japan, samurai school challenges

book cover of Way of the Sword bk 2 Young Samurai series by Chris Bradford published by Disney Hyperion
Japan is closed to the outside world in the 1600s.
Foreigners can see little, learn even less.
But shipwrecked Jack is adopted by a samurai warrior,
training in the samurai ways,
his blond hair drawing attention he would rather avoid,
as a mortal enemy stalks him in the shadows.

In unskilled hands, samurai swords can draw blood from allies as well as enemies, so Jack and his friends must train, train, train to master their weapons - and their emotions.

Will Jack's growing samurai skills ever overcome the prejudice of those who think foreign 'gaijin' should be gone from Japan forever?

This swashbuckling Young Samurai series is available now at your local library or independent bookstore - start with book 1 - The Way of the Warrior (my no-spoiler recommendation here) to learn first-hand how blond, blue-eyed Jack found himself swept into life in feudal Japan.

Book info: The Way of the Sword (Young Samurai, book 2) / Chris Bradford. Disney Hyperion, 2010. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]  

My Recommendation: For English teen Jack, a year in samurai school in 1620s Japan has taught him much, but not yet enough to defend himself against classmates who consider it disgraceful that a ‘gaijin’ foreigner learns the samurai ways. No matter that his adoptive father founded the school or that Masamoto is still considered the finest samurai and best swordsman of their time. Now Masamoto has announced that he will teach the fighting skills of The Two Heavens to the school’s best students.

This two-sword technique makes a samurai master almost invulnerable to attack. Those students interested must pass four mighty tests of samurai skill and courage before the New Year festival, then go into the mountains to survive the legendary challenges of the Circle of Three.

Jack realizes that he must learn The Two Heavens to defend himself against Dragon Eye, who still seeks his father’s ‘rutter,’ the precious coded mapbook which is Jack’s only remaining link to his father and his native England. The ninja tried to kill the daimyo, local ruler of the province and patron of their school, but the student samurai forced Dragon Eye’s retreat as the villain vowed further revenge.

Training beyond their normal martial arts classes, Jack and his friends Akiko, Saburo, and adoptive brother Yamato, all strive to prepare for the Circle of Three tests. But rumors of Christians killed in other provinces and the new Scorpion Gang formed by student samurai to force the gaijin out of Japan worry Jack and invade his dreams.

Can Jack learn the new skills he needs to qualify for the Circle of Three? Is there any safe place to hide his father’s rutter so that DragonEye will not find it? Will he ever get home to England, or will he live forever as the gaijin samurai in this tradition-bound land?

This great sequel to Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior  leaves readers eagerly waiting the next book in the series! Includes glossary of Japanese words.(One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Faerie Ring, by Kiki Hamilton (fiction) - royalty, orphans, human and fae, a treaty in danger

book cover of The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton published by Tor Teen
"Long live the Queen!"
we hear during this Diamond Jubilee season for Elizabeth II.

Fascination with royalty is nothing new. Queen Victoria called Buckingham Palace home well over a century ago, celebrating her Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

Who's to say that Prince Leopold didn't borrow a particular ring from his mother's strongbox to show his royal brother Arthur? Or that certain well-dressed ladies at the masquerade ball at the Palace were not exactly who they seemed... or even as human as they appeared to be?

Commoners and royalty, the calm Seelie Court of Faerie opposed by the Unseelie Court determined to take back the world from humans... all bound up in the truce of The Faerie Ring. This first book in the series by Kiki Hamilton is an exciting read. Now, to wait for the October 2012 publication of book two, The Torn Wing !

Book info: The Faerie Ring / Kiki Hamilton. Tor Teen, 2011. [author's website]    [publisher site]    [book trailer]  

My Recommendation:  Not many orphans find themselves accidentally inside Buckingham Palace; only Tiki could accidentally find a gold ring as she escaped. The strange words of its inscription remind her of a childhood rhyme, but carry a violent oath about a treaty broken. Perhaps that’s why the London slum shadows now fill with winged beings trying to steal the ring back…

Tiki only picks pockets to keep her small family of other orphans alive in 1871’s brutal winter cold, hidden in an abandoned shop near Charing Cross Station. After her father and mother died of the fever, Tiki went to live with her aunt and uncle, whose leering grabs sent the young teen fleeing.

Fellow thief Rieker warns her of danger – from the Queen’s agents and from the winged ones she’s spotted. For the ring that Tiki found is more valuable than mere gold – it’s the treaty between Faerie and the mortal world. If it is out of Queen Victoria’s possession, then the separation between the two realms can be crossed over. As disasters begin to rock the human world and the Queen falls ill, reward posters about the gold ring appear. Tiki is too clever to directly return it and starts to formulate a plan that could get the orphans off the streets.

Why can’t anyone else see the faeries but Tiki and Rieker? Why does the ring’s inscription sound so familiar? Will Prince Leopold discover her secret before she can return the ring without endangering the orphan children she has sworn to protect? And who exactly is Rieker anyway?

This thrilling debut novel takes readers from the coal-smoky backstreets of Victorian London to the palatial halls of royalty as warring factions of Faerie take advantage of the ring’s absence to enter England for good and for evil.  (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.