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Recommendations for Friday, June 04, 2010

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by billbarnes tagged horrorscience fiction

Unshelved strip for 6/4/2010

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged fantasy

The fourth book in the series that started with The Thief tells the story of Sophos, a boy in the first book. Heir to his uncle’s throne, his home is attacked as part of a rebellion. He escapes his kidnappers by living as a slave for a time. After risking his safety to save his father and discovering that he is now King of Sounis, Sophos flees to a neighboring kingdom ruled by his friend Gen. But there he finds that, despite his personal trust for Gen, it has very little to do with their relationship as kings.

Why I picked it up: I’ve never been disappointed with a book in this series. That puts it up there with Llloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Books.

Why I finished it: Sophos’ long first person narrative had me a little worried, but by the time the story catches up with the prologue, I needed to see how he handled his new responsibilities. Turner’s novels sneak up on me like that -- the details build in a way that’s not completely obvious to me until I suddenly find that I’m 100% invested in the story and cannot put it down. Each of the other books in the series also has a satisfying twist that I didn’t see coming, and this was no exception.

I'd give it to: Brad, who liked Brandon Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension (which I just finished), because they both have young rulers struggling to figure out what a king is and how he should act, though they’re very different in their approaches. F., who feels like she’s always got to be polite to “visiting dignitaries,” would love how Sophos deals with the foreign ambassador.

From the Ashes by Bob Fingerman

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelscience fiction

Bob Fingerman and his wife, Michele, survive end of the world. Everything’s simple and they’re enjoying themselves. But then they meet surviving cannibals, mutants, zombies, and religious zealots.

Why I picked it up: On the back cover, there’s a MODOK-like caricature of Fox News host Pat O’Reilly hovering over a crowd of mutants.

Why I finished it: Fingerman’s love for his wife and his potty humor kept me reading through the first part of the book. He celebrates the death of his wife’s Blackberry but worries about hemorrhoids, bad breath, and the leather pants his wife makes him wear. Then as they begin to encounter other survivors, the book becomes a long-form (and entertaining, if you’re left-leaning) political cartoon full of swearing and science fiction movie references.

I'd give it to: Rick and Mike, two geeky friends of mine who are religiously conservative in some ways but liberal in others. I think they’d love/hate the book because it would push all of their buttons at once.

The Great Motion Mission: A Surprising Story of Physics in Everyday Life by Cora Lee , Steve Rolston

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged science

The plot is not that important. It involves a fairground that is to be torn down to build a physics research center. But it does serve as a way to bring out the big guns and convince doubters that physics can be as cool as carnival rides.

Why I picked it up: I hoped that physics would make the book fun.

Why I finished it: You know what? Physics made it really fun. The author did a great job connecting physics to sports, art, music, weather, and even fairground rides. It also highlighted really cool physicists (like Feynman!) and cool things about physics (the five states of matter!) and the ongoing puzzles in the physics world (quantum entanglement!). It was accessible without being dumbed down.

I'd give it to: The two 6th grade boys who were excited to find the kids' novel written by Stephen Hawking when we were looking for fantasy books to read. Dads who are excited to do science experiments with their kids, even when it isn't science fair time.

The Halo Encyclopedia by Tobias Buckell

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coffee table booknonfictionreferencescience fiction

DK brings their pictorial treatment to the Halo Universe. The backstory of the Covenant and their war with the humans of earth is fully explained. Pictures predominate.  Each weapon, machine, and vehicle is lavishly displayed in photographs or screenshots.  Items that are extremely difficult to earn are explained, like the Hayabusa armor. The book is current through Halo 3, but does not include Halo ODST. 

Why I picked it up: I have hundreds of students whose first comment on seeing this plus-sized book would be, “Cool!  Can I check that out?”  Also, Master Chief is on the cover in full regalia.

Why I finished it: It was interesting to read the complete story of the Halo universe that’s present throughout Halo 1, 2, and 3. I wanted to be able to speak Halo with all the teens in my library.  The pictures and technical specs on the vehicles are really cool!  It is thorough and well organized.  While I read it straight through, it is perfect for picking up for 5-10 minutes at a time. 

I'd give it to: This is guaranteed to be a good coffee table book for any twenty-something still living in his parents’ basement.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Link to this review by moonshadow tagged coming of agescience fictionthriller

Katniss has lived out her life in District 12. Her father died in an explosion in the coal mine where most of the population works. Katniss took on the responsibility of feeding her family. Hunting illegally and selling the surplus on the black market, Katniss scraped by, barely.

Every year the Capitol demands two tributes from each District, one girl and one boy between the ages of twelve and eighteen. They are entered in the Hunger Games. All twenty-four tributes are placed in an arena, and the entire country must watch them kill each other until only one remains. The victor is given enough money to live in luxury.

Why I picked it up: The book was recommended to me multiple times by friends and by a man who works at Barnes & Nobles.

Why I finished it: There is a group of tributes called the Careers who have trained in anticipation of entering the Hunger Games. Katniss is an abnormally good shot with a bow because of her poaching, but it seems unlikely that she can match these bloodthirsty, well-trained tributes. Katniss doesn’t seem to have a chance at winning, so I wanted to know if she did.

I'd give it to: Jesse, who would find Collins’ picture of the future enthralling – this country, Panem, is built upon the ruins of North America. Kina, who loves birds, and would adore the mockingjays that populate Panem’s trees. The birds are a genetically engineered hybrid, and will repeat any song perfectly, as long as they like the singer’s voice.

Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged fantasyromanceshort stories

Three short stories, each revolving around a kiss that is more than a kiss, make up this fresh and inventive fantasy collection. Each begins with a set of detailed illustrations of the story. In the first story, goblins feed on the longings of young girls. The second involves a human ambassador to hell in British Raj India who must bargain daily with the devil for the lives of children doomed to die. In the last, when a girl’s eyes change color right before her birthday, she discovers she is half Druj. She becomes a pet of the demon queen of her race, in a dying city, with the knowledge that once she becomes of childbearing age, she will be disposed of.

Why I picked it up: Taylor also wrote Dreamdark: Blackbringer and Dreamdark: Silksinger. She consistently brings intelligent and fresh wrinkles to fantasy.

Why I finished it: The twisted fantasy story where, each time the city’s denizens use the high bridges that criss-cross the city, they must toss a cat to the monsters in the ravines, to distract them while they run across.

I'd give it to: Stephen, a dog lover. And K.A. who, like the British lady in the second story, knows about making hard choices.

The World Inside by Robert Silverberg

Link to this review by billbarnes tagged science fiction

In the year 2381 there's no such thing as overpopulation. It’s not because of effective family planning or a devastating plague. We just decided that more people is better, and now there are 75 billion of us. That's too many to spread out in conventional ways, so we build up, up, up. Now almost everybody lives in giant apartment buildings ("urbmons") freeing up the Earth's surface for farms to feed them.

Why I picked it up: I was on a Silverberg kick in the nineties after a friend gave me his copy of Dying Inside. Now Orb is rereleasing them, so I'm on a whole new Silverberg kick.

Why I finished it: Each chapter is written in the point of view of a different character in the same urbmon, forming an nicely interleaved story. Getting into the head of a character we've been observing from afar never gets old. And all this is surprisingly relevant in light of this analysis which shows that the entire U.S. could fit comfortably into New Hampshire.

I'd give it to: My brother-in-law Damon, an avowed Objectivist, who knows that every prediction to date about the dangers of overpopulation has been wildly wrong.

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