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Recommendations for Friday, December 30, 2011

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by geneambaum tagged historical fictionmystery

Unshelved strip for 12/30/2011

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged paranormal

Theseus Cassio Lowood (Cas) is a teen ghost hunter who has moved to Thunder Bay to track down and kill a violent spirit, Anna Dressed In Blood.  Anna, a victim of a horrible murder herself, has been killing kids and transients who venture into her house. As part of his research, Cas visits the house with a high school classmate, Anna eviscerates the other boy but doesn’t harm Cas. After finding evidence of black magic, Cas teams up with Thomas, a boy who can read minds and perform spells. He returns to Anna's house to find out his ghost killing techniques don’t work on Anna, and that her ghost is not his biggest problem.

Why I picked it up: The girl on the cover in a lacy white dress, her hair flowing sideways, the hem of her dress soaked in blood. Also, nominated for my BFYA book committee.

Why I finished it: At first it sounded like a ghost-with-a-heart-of-gold book, but it turned out to be much more. The book doesn’t get caught up in the mechanics of how or why ghosts survive and do bad things, but focuses on the relationships between characters. Watching Anna try to fight off the evil inside her is creepy and deliciously scary at the same time, especially when stringy black liquid ropes go coursing up her arms, her eyes go black, and her dress drips blood.

I'd give it to: Matthias, who would like Cas’ sarcastic bravado when facing horrible situations, like when ghosts explode near him, leaving behind noxious fumes and spattering him with gore.

Awakenings by Edward Lazellari

Link to this review by billbarnes tagged science fiction

A hard-working, married New York cop and an indolent porn photographer have something in common: neither can remember anything that happened prior to thirteen years ago. Meanwhile, some truly creepy dudes from another world are looking for a prince who came through a portal with a retinue of protectors...thirteen years ago.

Why I picked it up: There’s a nice juxtaposition on the cover: a clean-cut policeman and scary yellow-eyed guy in a hoodie. (Hoodies are scary.)

Why I finished it: The bad guys ensure the loyalty of their human minions by taking out their hearts and holding on to them until their mission is done. I think we've all had that job.

I'd give it to: Carmen, who really liked dating cops like Cal, who is big, strong, and faithful. Then he discovers that he is a noble promised to a hot little number back home. Complications are going to ensue in forthcoming volumes, and Carmen is all about complications.

Dark Souls by Paula Morris

Link to this review by danritchie tagged paranormal

Miranda and her brother, Rob, survive a horrific car accident that kills Miranda’s best friend, Jenna. As she watches the police investigate, she sees Jenna’s spirit rise from her body and walk into the fields. In the months after the accident, Rob becomes reclusive, claustrophobic and aloof. Miranda tries to come to terms with the accident, Jenna’s death and being able to see and feel ghosts. 

Their parents decide to spend a week in England for a pre-Christmas therapeutic holiday of sorts -- they will be working, while Miranda and Rob will be free to explore York. On her first night there, Miranda sees a striking young man in a candle-lit window. She knows he is a ghost –- she feels the chill of his spirit and sees the red stain on his neck. The next day, while wandering the ancient streets of York, she meets Nick, who somehow knows she can see ghosts as he can. Nick shares a ghostly history of York with Miranda, while Rob hooks up with a local girl whose family runs a pub. 

Soon Miranda finds herself involved in a mystery made up of equal parts the historic Madman’s Fire, the ghost, and Nick’s urgent need to help his dead brother.

Why I picked it up: I loved my medieval history classes, and anything that blends English history with a good ghost story is on my radar.

Why I finished it: Nick. He is an enigma, one moment spouting tales of York’s past, the next sullen and sulky. He and his dead brother are somehow tied to the brothers involved in the Madman’s Fire.

I'd give it to: My good friend Don, who devours anything and everything historic and English, because he’ll enjoy the references to the Roman walls, the history of the York Minister, Clifford’s Tower, the old city walls and the Opera House, which are all central to the story.

Deadwood by Pete Dexter

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged historical fictionwestern

In 1876 Wild Bill Hickock and Charlie Utter travel to Deadwood, in the Black Hills. Bill is a famous gunfighter and treated as a celebrity (he starts drinking as soon as he wakes up, often for free). Charlie is a businessman, a hunter and former miner, obsessed with staying clean (he bathes every day). He takes care of Bill and is one of the only folks who knows his private side.

Deadwood is filled with unique characters, come to seek their fortune or serve others doing so. The Bottle Fiend is a softbrain who runs a bathhouse, collects bottles, constantly thinks about suicide. The China Doll, concubine to a powerful man in the insular Chinese community, is sometimes sold to others. The blowhard Captain Jack likes to hear himself recite poetry and tell stories. Homely Calamity Jane Cannary drinks, seeks trouble, and believes she can heal the sick. And the whore master Al Swearengen is disgusting, capable of terrible violence and possessed by paralyzing cowardice.

After Bill is murdered, Charlie has to find his place among them.

Why I picked it up: I was in the mood for a great western. Then I thought I found out one of my favorite TV shows was based on a novel. (I was mistaken, but I still think HBO owes Dexter some cash and credit.)

Why I finished it: The book was just as funny as the TV show. In some ways the book is more disturbing and foul, and throughout it I kept thinking about the choices made in the adaptation. There isn’t as much swearing here and Al Swearengen is both more vile and weaker than in the series. At the center of both is Bill Hickock’s loyal friend Charlie, succeeding and failing in trying to be a good man before and after Bill’s death. (I’m a sucker for loyal characters in books and movies. My favorite character in Star Wars has always been Chewbacca, and I was sucked into Firefly by Zoe and Wash’s marriage.)

I'd give it to: My friend Marin, who’s writing a book on American medical history, who’d enjoy (and be horrified by) the concoction Calamity Jane uses to nurse patients with smallpox, and the way Bill tries to fight venereal disease by covering himself with mercury.

Life with Mr. Dangerous by Paul Hornschemeier

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged graphic novelliterary

Amy is in a rut. She has stopped making art. Her jerk boyfriend broke up with her before she could dump him. Her best friend moved to San Francisco. And she is stuck in a dead end job, just like her mom. The brightest thing in her life is her addiction to the cult cartoon, Mr. Dangerous, the story of a sad character who is constantly mistaken by his neighbor for a baby, weed, rabbit, or other things, with tragicomic results.

Why I picked it up: Even though I found the last Paul Hornschemeir book I read, Mother Come Home incredibly depressing, I find myself drawn to his use of color. Plus the cat on the cover is really lovely.

Why I finished it: It did do an incredibly good job of capturing the loneliness of single life. She finds it is too easy to be comforted by Mr. Dangerous’s nonsensical, repetitive plot, the routines of daily life, and the warm but shallow company of her cat. Amy struggles to get the perspective (and momentum) to stop repeating her mistakes. 

I'd give it to: Dave, who knows how very easy it is to get cynical and bummed out when things keep going less stellar than planned. I hope he can find inspiration in Amy's willingness to take a big risk and fight apathy.

Stickman Odyssey: An Epic Doodle by Christopher Ford

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged fantasygraphic novel

Zozimos, a young stick-figure warrior, is seeking the land of Stickatha, the kingdom he should rightly rule. On the way, he meets murderous kings, ghosts, giants, golems, the wrath of the gods and some good friends, too.

Why I picked it up: An epic stick-figure adventure in the style of Greek myths is totally my speed.

Why I finished it: There are jokes for people who have an in-depth knowledge of myth (like the tighty-whitey wearing monstrous child of a woman and a magical beast who is teased by his step-siblings) and those who don't (he's defeated when Zozimos, sick from eating enchanted candy, barfs into his single, giant eye).

I'd give it to: Kate, who will enjoy that while Zozimos encounters many magical foes, his biggest problem is that he's a conceited jerk. She'll also like that the women he meets kick monster butt.

Willie & Joe: Back Home by Bill Mauldin, Todd DePastino

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged comic stripshistoryhumor

Bill Mauldin earned everyone’s respect documenting WWII in his Willie & Joe comics. He planned to kill his characters on the last day of the war, but his editor at Stars and Stripes told him he had to return them to civilian life. Mauldin went home to a wife he hadn’t seen in years and a son he’d never met. A collection of his comics was a bestseller, movie studios were offering a record amount for the rights, and he was famous. He wanted some time off, but he had a syndicate contract that required he produce four cartoons a week. He did. But instead of projecting the ideal of unity and celebration readers and editors expected, they reflected reality: bitter civilians, failed marriages, economically disadvantaged combat veterans, racism, and the witch hunt for communists.

The comics in this collection date from 7/31/45 to 12/31/46.

Why I picked it up: I needed more room on my shelf of books to review. This huge volume was taking up enough space for three smaller books.

Why I finished it: These comics are beautiful. Each single-panel comic is blown up to a full page, so that Mauldin’s artistry can truly (and easily) be admired without squinting. The sentiments expressed are astonishing and bravely progressive for the time. (Many were censored by the syndicates.) Here are a few of my favorites: a Japanese-American veteran being refused service at a bar, a rifleman being refused a job because he didn’t get useful training in the service, Wilie & Joe confronting racism as they look for work the Purity League banning a book, and a monument to the real unknown soldier.

All Images © 2011 Estate of William Mauldin, used with permission.

I'd give it to: My grandfathers, if they were still alive. I’d never thought or heard about the poor reception combat vets received after WWII. (I mistakenly thought that only happened to our soldiers after the Vietnam War.) I wish I knew what they experienced. I’ll settle for giving this to the next WWII vet I meet and hope that it sparks a conversation.

Wrestling Reality: The Life and Mind of Chris Kanyon, Wrestling's Gay Superstar by Chris Kanyon, Ryan Clark

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged biographynonfiction

Growing up, Chris Kanyon fought with his brother all the time, never knowing that learning to absorb a beating would serve him well later in life, after he became a pro wrestling star in the WWE. What separates Chris from all the other wrestlers was that at the end of his career, he came out as the first openly gay wrestler. After struggling with manic depression, he committed suicide at the age of forty-two.

Why I picked it up: I grew up in the heyday of the WWF (later WWE) and WCW pro wrestling circuits. I never considered myself a Hulkamaniac and never believed the Iron Sheik was actually from Iran, but I did watch a few TV shows and a pay-per-view cage match or two. I remembered Chris Kanyon from the 1990’s, and, after several former wrestlers killed themselves in violent ways, I wanted to know more.

Why I finished it: The book not only tells about Kanyon’s personal struggles to hide his sexuality as a young man, but also the trials and tribulations of making it in wrestling, where one must create a character, play to the crowd, and develop physical skills. Kanyon is brutally honest about the wrestlers he meets, his decision to take steroids, and exploring his sexuality.

I'd give it to: Tito, who would love the behind-the-scenes look at how a wrestler advances through the jobber stage, where the wrestler’s job is not to win but to make his opponent look good, to where he gets a push and is written into the stories and feuds that fuel pro wrestling.  

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