The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by geneambaum tagged coming of ageromance

Unshelved comic strip for 4/22/2011
Tender at the Bone Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl

Link to this review by saracole tagged biographycookbook

A memoir by the Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet that couples her relationship with food to her relationships with people. We first meet Ruth at a family dinner party. Her mother is a terrible cook and has a marked lack of concern for the sell-by dates of the foods she presents to guests. Ruth's future is foreshadowed by her self-assigned role -- preventing her favorite guests from eating the particular foods she knows will not agree with their digestive systems.

Each chapter includes recipes from the story. (Even though I'm a bit of a foodie I found I was too invested in what was coming up to spend much time on them.)

Why I picked it up: Thanks to the Seattle Public Library's staff shuffle, we have an entirely new set of librarians at our branch. One of them, Erica, created a display of her favorite books. I found myself standing near it while waiting for my kids to finish picking out materials and started looking over her choices. The author's note at the beginning of this book starts, "Storytelling, in my family, was highly prized."

Why I finished it: Ruth does a great job conveying the humor and adventure of her life while maintaining a genuineness that is both compelling and inviting. She was suddenly sent to boarding school in French-speaking Canada. Instead of wallowing in the shock of being wrenched from her world, she snuck away from school on the weekends to discover the restaurants of her new city.

I'd give it to: My new friend Susan, who, like Ruth, puts a lot of energy into pursuing her passions, even when they require traveling around the world. Plus she is married to a former chef, so I know food plays a prominent role in her life. (I'm paying an overdue fine to keep this book while I write this review. I can't renew it because I already told her about it, and she has it on hold.)

The Poisoner's Handbook Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged historyscience

Back in the bad old days, government jobs in New York City were given to people who did favors for their political party. They didn't actually have to do anything for the generous paychecks. After the coroner showed up drunk at one too many murder scenes, the city was forced to start using a real medical examiner system instead: someone who was actually trained in medicine, had to pass a test proving it, and could actually do the job. The mayor tried his best to go back to the old system, or at least keep the office underfunded, but the dedicated new staff started finding out how people died and catching murderers.

Why I picked it up: Super-great science writer Mary Roach recommended it highly (via a blurb on the jacket).

Why I finished it: I was inspired by how Charles Norris, the first NYC medical examiner, bought supplies out of his own pocket, found the best people in a brand-new field, and pushed everyone to excellence. The staff actually invented new ways to detect poisons, even ones that had never before been detectable, sometimes using resources plentiful in New York like stray dogs and dead transients. I also loved the gruesome murders that they solved!

I'd give it to: The dedicated (and underpaid) staff at the clinics that help people reduce the harm of drug addiction, who will be impressed at the risks Norris took to stand up against the deliberate poisoning of alcohol (and alcoholics) during prohibition. James, a big Firefly fan, for the guys who drank five cent glasses of "smoke," a deadly combination of water and industrial fuel at bars in the back of paint stores and markets -- sounds like Jayne's kind of cocktail.

The Blue Shoe A Tale of Thievery, Villainy, Sorcery, and Shoes by Roderick Townley, Mary GrandPre

Link to this review by theo tagged fantasy

Hap, a shoemaker's apprentice, gets caught thieving and is shipped to a mine in the giant mountain Xexnax. Sophia, a sorceror-to-be, gets caught trying to help Hap escape and is questioned and tortured. Grel, a shoemaker, makes a shoe which turns out to be magic. (Anyone who sees it is immediately seized by the desire to own it, and so everyone buys shoes from him.) But when Hap steals a jewel from the shoe, the magic stops.

Why I picked it up: Our library's teen librarian said I'd like it a lot. And I thought it was cool that the writing was blue.

Why I finished it: I wanted to see whether Hap stopped Slag, the man who runs the mine, from taking the Great Blue, a gigantic diamond in the exact middle of the mountain. (Legend says it can make people live forever and know everything.)

I'd give it to: My mom, who would like Mag the Mule Driver, part of the Resistance trying to overthrow Slag's rule. She's a very strong woman, physically and mentally.

To Timbuktu nine countries, two people, one true story by Casey Scieszka, Steven Weinberg

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged biographygraphic novelromance

Casey and Steven meet while studying abroad in 2004. By 2005 they’re in love and promise to be together after college. In 2006 they graduate and head off on their adventure together: teach English in China for six months, travel through southeast Asia for a few months, and then head to Mali (Casey was awarded a Fullbright Grant to study the role of Islam in education there). Along they way Casey writes, Steven draws, and they enjoy their relationship. But not every moment of the adventure is fun or easy.

Why I picked it up: Loved the loose, cartoony drawing of Steven and Casey on the cover. I’m not normally one to read travel books or memoirs, but flipping through the books and seeing Steven’s drawings on almost every page made me want to read it. (They also did a fantastic guest Unshelved Book Club comic about Jason’s The Last Musketeer, which I love, too.)

Why I finished it: Casey’s words are the perfect compliment to the drawings, or vice-versa. When they’re first dating in Morocco in 2004, where they’re both studying abroad, they know it can’t last. At the end of the semester they have to part ways, and they return to opposite sides of the U.S. She asks, “Is it naïve to hope that we can still be friends?” And in a darkened doorway on the opposite page, she and Steven steal a kiss, hidden from host parents and passers-by. It’s an amazingly romantic moment. And it happens right at the beginning of a 500ish page book about their travels together, so the page count itself reassured me that things between them worked out.

I'd give it to: My wife, Silver. The positive, active, respectful way Steven and Casey sink into life wherever they’re living would stand in opposition to the attitudes of many of the English-only foreign teachers we knew in Korea. And she’d love the hopeful way that Casey and Steven try to make a difference wherever they are. (See information about what they did in Mali at locallanguageliteracy.org)

[Read Gene's interview with Casey and Steven here]

The Gun by C.J. Chivers

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged historyliterarynonfiction

This fascinating history of machine guns starts with Richard Gatling’s hand-cranked machine gun and moves to Hiram Maxim’s first fully-automatic machine gun. Much of the book focuses on the story of the invention of the AK-47, the world’s most enduring machine gun. First used to brutally suppress the Hungarian revolution in 1956, the AK-47 became a symbol of revolution and a weapons broker’s dream because it’s cheap, inexpensive, and effective. It is sometimes called the Africa-Killer because it has been used to devastating effect by African child soldiers. Knockoffs have been produced around the world, so definitive statistics are hard to come by, but tens of millions have been manufactured in the last 60 years. The United States Military has recently captured AK-47’s in Afghanistan that have been in use since the 1950s.

Why I picked it up: Recommended by Unshelved reader Robert Leone, and I have seen enough images of people (including Osama bin Laden) brandishing AK-47’s that I thought I should brush up on the history of the weapon.

Why I finished it: Quotes like the one given by K-47 inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov, who said, in a rare moment of honesty, “...[The AK-47] was like a genie out of the bottle and began to walk on its own in directions that I did not want.”  The anecdote about why the flawed AR-15 was selected as the weapon meant to help US soldiers fight the Vietnamese, who had AK-47’s. It was chosen partially because of a demonstration where the general in charge of purchased the Army’s next rifle got to shoot a few watermelons and watch them satisfyingly explode.

I'd give it to: My brother-in-law Jon who purchasing a gun safe before putting a much needed new roof on his house. Steve, a Vietnam Vet, who carried the AR-15 in country and probably has some strong opinions of his own.

Pride (Pandora's Box Volume 1) by Alcante, Didier Pagot, Jerome Saincantin
Sloth (Pandora's Box Volume 2) by Alcante, Radovanovic, Jerome Saincantin
Gluttony (Pandora's Box Volume 3) by Alcante, Steven Dupré, Jerome Saincantin

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelscience fiction

From the back covers: “Each volume in the series links a deadly sin to Greek mythology and modern technology.”

Pride -- Narcissus Shimmer, President of the United States, is up for reelection. He’s ahead in the polls, so the opposition goes to extraordinary lengths to uncover dirt on him. The President has a serious illness and is somehow linked to a baby born secretly at a biotechnology lab.

Sloth -- Paris Troy holds the world record in the 100 meter dash. After an injury and some time off, he has a hard time getting back up to speed on the track. Doctors can’t help, but his brother offers him another solution, doping.

Gluttony -- Teze’s wife is about to give birth to their first child when his father has him named head of the AFSSA (the French agency in charge of food safety). His agency faces a crisis when a new form of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease), which fails to show up on standard tests, begins claiming human victims.

Publisher’s Rating: 15+

Why I picked it up: There was a scared looking baby on the cover of Volume 1 and burning piles of cows on the cover of Volume 3.

Why I finished it: Like a lot of folks, I read to validate my fears and beliefs. So I wanted to rush right to the third book (I choose not to eat beef anymore because of mad cow disease), and read the first two to get there. All three are entertaining -- each dramatizes a contemporary technological issue with moral implications and tells an entertaining story with strong characters.

I'd give it to: Bill Schadt, for his high school library, because these would be nice fictional compliments to the books in the Opposing Viewpoints seris (and for other other science-related, issue-oriented books in his library).

The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean

Link to this review by vanessaborden tagged coming of ageliterary

Dora is about to graduate from college but feels lost. She is contemplating putting off real life by going to graduate school.  She has a crush on her boss at the coffee shop but she’s uncertain if he’s interested in her. 

Then her grandmother, Mimi, has a stroke. Dora rushes home. She runs Mimi’s vintage clothing store while contemplating the loss of the woman who raised her. Dora didn’t have time to pack and so she has to start wearing the vintage dresses Mimi has been collecting for her, clothes she never felt worthy of wearing. But when she is forced to step into Mimi’s shoes, she discovers her backbone and her life’s ambition.

Why I picked it up: One of my New Year’s resolutions was to re-vamp my wardrobe to be more flattering and to represent not only who I am, but who I want to be. I stumbled upon this book when I needed inspiration to continue. 

Why I finished it: Dora discovers that her grandmother has been writing short stories about each of the dresses, an imagined history of each garment. While my grandmother was alive, she and I would spend most of our yearly week together pouring through her jewelry box. I loved hearing the stories behind each of the pieces and when I wear something of hers now, it has more weight because of the story behind it. Mimi’s stories about the dresses accomplish the same thing, lending import to both the garments and wearing them.

I'd give it to: My mom. With her background as a ballet seamstress, she would understand the power of clothing that Dora discovers. Though she is initially uneasy about wearing the dresses, she receives compliment after compliment and slowly grows into both the dresses and herself. 

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged fantasy

Trei’s family is dead, buried under the mud and lava that wiped out their entire town. He goes to stay with his mother’s extended family on the floating islands. There he is encouraged to pursue his passion for flying with the Kajurai, men who soar like birds on the dragon winds that hold the islands hundreds of feet in the air. Then an army from Trei’s homeland tries to invade -- its mages have a new weapon that can smother the winds. Trei and his cousin Araene must find a way to save their home.

Why I picked it up: Nominated for my ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults.

Why I finished it: Translucent air dragons! Molten rock drips from magma dragons' bodies as they rise into the air. The wings used by the Kajurai are made with feathers of different bird species, each of which has unique characteristics.. 

I'd give it to: Ian, who enjoyed Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn, which also features a courageous young woman stepping outside society’s strictures -- Trei’s cousin, Araene, disguises herself as a boy to attend the Hidden School for mages.

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