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Recommendations for Friday, January 20, 2012

Infinite Kung Fu by Kagan McLeod

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by geneambaum tagged fantasygraphic novel

Unshelved strip for 1/20/2012

12 Things to Do Before You Crash and Burn by James Proimos

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged coming of age

Hercules was driving his mom up the wall after his father died, so she sent him to spend the last two weeks of summer with his Uncle Anthony in Baltimore. Anthony is busy and doesn't want Hercules to get in trouble on his own, so he gives him a list of twelve jobs to do, one per day.

Day one? Choose a mission. Herc decides to find the gorgeous, unattainable girl he met on the train to Baltimore.

Why I picked it up: I'm a fan of the mythological Hercules and wanted to see how well the story of his twelve labors could be updated.

Why I finished it: Hercules ends up finding out a lot about who he is, and how he isn't like his dad (a famous self-help guru everyone loved), by mostly messing up his jobs on the way to success. One adventure starts out with Herc being chased by a pack of neighborhood dogs, only to be saved (barely -- he loses part of his jeans) by an angelic-looking girl who curses out the dogs until they flee. That's when he realizes he's found the best pizza place in town (task #2), because the pizza waitress saved his butt and gave him a kiss!

I'd give it to: Clint, a bit of a reluctant reader, because I think he'll enjoy getting to know the suave Hercules, and the short chapters won't bog him down. He'll also like that there's enough swearing and off-page sex to insure that it wouldn't be assigned in class.

What's a Homeowner to Do? by Stephen Fanuka and Edward Lewine

From assembling a tool kit to understanding the pros and cons of casement and double-hung windows, , you’ll find out everything you’ll need to know to keep your home in working order. With hundreds of clear, helpful illustrations, this essential reference covers such topics as how to install a ceiling fan; determining the right amount of paint to buy; and many more. Most important, you’ll get expert advice on when a repair is something you can do yourself and when it’s best executed by a professional.

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Desert Angel by Charlie Price

Link to this review by danritchie tagged coming of agemysterythriller

In the southeastern California desert, Angel wakes up and finds her mother murdered. She knows it was Scotty, the latest in a long line of her mom’s sleazy, abusive boyfriends. She also knows he will come after her. Desperate, she collects food, clothing, and a weapon from their trailer. As she turns to leave, Scotty shows up and tries to kill her.

Angel manages to escape into the desert. Alone and terrified, with Scotty on her trail, Angel is sheltered by the tightly knit Latino community and a teacher named Rita. But Scotty knows how to find people. Angel knows she and her new family will never be safe. She must find him first.

Why I picked it up: I have read all of Price’s previous titles. Each, like this and The Interrogation of Gabriel James, has been a taut psychological thriller.

Why I finished it: I had to see if Angel could come to terms with her overpowering terror, rage, and self-loathing. She blames herself for her mother’s murder because she told her Scotty had sexually abused her, and all she wants to do is run. Can she finally accept help and trust people who care for her?

I'd give it to: Debbie, who will empathize with Rita's patience, understanding and faith as she supports and guides Angel in coming to terms with her mother's death. Ezequel, a kid from a rough background who will recognize the value of the Latino community’s loyalty and support.  

Dream Golf: The Making of Bandon Dunes by Stephen Goodwin

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfiction

Mike Keiser made his fortune by founding a greeting card company. He is terse to the point of rudeness and does not suffer fools quietly. When Keiser invested in an ocean-side, gorse-choked plot of land on the Oregon coast, he wasn’t concerned about making money (though he made a lot). He was, in his own words, “not interested in commercial golf. I was interested in dream golf.” He believed golfers would come from all over the world to an extremely small town, hours away from Portland. He paid cash for everything, then hired young and controversial architects whose vision he believed in and backed their decisions. Not only did the courses succeed, the first two courses at Bandon Dunes debuted among the top twenty-five courses in world rankings.

Why I picked it up: On my two visits to Bandon Dunes, I felt like I was visiting the holy land! The place is nothing but golf, golf and more golf.

Why I finished it: There were a million impediments to the course opening. When Keiser needed to buy more acreage to help with the routing of holes, a stubborn landowner refused to sell or even meet to talk about it. (At the last hour, the landowner declared bankruptcy and sold the land Keiser needed.) Exemptions to environmental regulations were needed because of nearby cranberry bogs and wetlands; because Bandon Dunes was able to show they cared as much as the state about the environment, they got them. Keiser’s unerring vision steered the course through one challenge after another.

I’d give it to: Norm, because things said in the book by critics, players and Keiser himself mirror the ecstatic mutterings we were making during our seven-hour car ride back to Seattle after our trip.  Rafa, a golf friend who is always just a little bit better than I am, because he is experienced enough in golf to understand both the philosophy of the architects and their specific decisions on the holes.

How Carrots Won the Trojan War: Curious (but True) Stories of Common Vegetables by Rebecca Rupp

How Carrots Won the Trojan War is a delightful collection of little-known stories about the origins, legends, and historical significance of 23 of the world’s most popular vegetables. Discover why Roman gladiators were massaged with onion juice before battle, how celery contributed to Casanova’s conquests, how peas almost poisoned General Washington, and why some seventeenth-century turnips were considered degenerate.

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Habibi by Craig Thompson

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelliterary

Habibi’s parents sold her to her husband, a scribe, when she was nine. He taught her to read and write stories from the Qur’an and elsewhere. Then she was kidnapped.

Three years later she lives on a boat in the desert where she does her best to raise a small black child, Zam. She trades for what they need to survive with passing merchants, criminals, and nomads. She tells Zam stories and teaches him his letters.

Much later Habibi lives in a palace as part of a Sultan’s harem. She’s pregnant with his child. Unable to abort it, she gives birth to a son. But she pines for Zam, who she considers her true child, and whose fate remains unknown.

Why I picked it up: Thompson’s Blankets is one of a handful of graphic novels that are so good they make people who don’t like comics reconsider the medium.

Why I finished it: Habibi’s spirit is amazing. She truly comes to life when she grabs Zam and makes a run for it from the slavers, freeing them both. And I learned a lot about both the Bible and the Qur’an. But what really kept me going was Thompson’s art and storytelling style. He integrates Islamic calligraphy into the images throughout, and this (along with the stories shared) helps hold the nonlinear narrative together. It’s absolutely stunning, and made me appreciate the calligraphy more than any museum exhibit ever has.

I'd give it to: My wife, Silver. She’ll be moved by the art, and I think she’ll be able to get past the way men use Habibi to satisfy their sexual appetites to the story’s message of hope.

Home-Field Advantage by Justin Tuck, Leonardo Rodriguez

Link to this review by billba tagged biographypicture book

NFL Superstar Justin Tuck explains how his childhood helped him become so tough.

Why I picked it up: I don't do football, so I'd never heard of the author, but the artist's watercolor illustrations do incredible things with facial expressions and “camera” angles.

Why I finished it: My daughter was captivated by the entire Tuck family. I think they're how she pictures her birth family.

I'd give it to: John, who loves Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Justin's sisters Christale and Tiffany at one point evoke that movie's creepy twins. No wonder he learned how to run.

Gifts From the Gods: Ancient Words & Wisdom from Greek & Roman Mythology by Lise Lunge-Larsen and Gareth Hinds

Ancient names come to rich and fascinating life in this lavishly illustrated gift book for mythology fans and word lovers.

Did you know that “museums” were initially temples built to worship the nine muses, the goddesses of the arts? That “Janus” was the god of the doorways and hallways, and we have named our janitors after him?

Where did these words — and other words, such as chaos, genius, nemesis, panic, echo, and narcissus — come from? From the ancient stories of the Greeks — stories that rang so true and wise that the names of the characters have survived for centuries as words we use every day. The brief stories here not only impart the subtle wisdom of these ancient tales, but make us understand the words, and our own world, more deeply.

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Icefall by Matthew Kirby

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged chapter bookhistorical fictionmysterythriller

The Viking king’s three children have been sequestered at a winter camp where they will be safe. Young Harald is the King’s heir, Asa is the first daughter and a real beauty, and plain Solveig, the second daughter, doesn’t have much to recommend her. Just before the ice forms over the water, locking them in their hideout, a band of their father’s berserkers bring supplies for the winter. Someone in their midst (a saboteur) poisons their food supply. The winter is spent in fear. The tension comes to a head as the spring thaw begins. Soon the channel will be clear of ice, and they will find out if their father won the war.

Why I picked it up: Nominated for my book committee BFYA.

Why I finished it: Interesting details about the battle craze that overcomes berserkers, to the point where they can take a mortal wound yet continue to fight for a while. There’s also a mysterious situation reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing in that the characters are stuck in a frozen place, suspicious of each other, trying to figure out who isn’t what he or she seems. Death and red herrings abound!

I'd give it to: Maisie, who liked Lilli Thal’s Mimus, about the training of a court jester. That job is about much more than mere entertaining, as is the job of a skald (bard), which Solveig discovers in the course of this book as she starts her lessons.

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Link to this review by davidtomashek tagged chapter bookfantasymystery

Peter longs for his lost sister so much that he spends his only florit on a fortune teller. Unfortunately, the fortune teller’s advice makes no sense. “Follow the elephant,” she says, “and she will lead you to your sister.” There has never been an elephant in the city of Baltese. But that evening, a magician attempts to pull a bouquet of lilies out of his hat and instead brings an elephant crashing down on the front row of the auditorium.

Why I picked it up: I have fond memories of listening to the audio book of The Tale of Despereaux on a car trip years ago. I loved the way DiCamillo told an adventure story with heroes and villains where, in the end, everyone wins.

Why I finished it: As the book begins, the city is cold and grey, and most characters are in a state of despair. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the characters with hope start having a larger voice in the book, and their hope spreads to others until it is literally parading down the streets.

I'd give it to: Grant, who was delighted when he tried to look up the countries of Florin and Gilder from The Princess Bride and discovered they were fictional.  I want to see if the same thing happens when he reads about Baltese.

Five Funerals and a Bucket of Blood: Skullkickers Volume 2 by Jim Zub, Edwin Huang and Misty Coats

The second SKULLKICKERS adventure is a wondrous tornado of action-adventure: a den of thieves, a city of danger, nobility, stupidity, plant monsters, dinner parties and bloodthirsty faerie folk. Jump on board to see why Ain’t It Cool News says “Everyone who loves comics should buy SKULLKICKERS.”

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A Zoo in Winter by Jiro Taniguchi

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelliterary

In this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Hamaguchi works at a small fabric wholesaler in Kyoto. On his days off he goes to the zoo instead of playing baseball with his coworkers. After a scandal involving the boss’s daughter, the boss won’t let her out of his sight. But he does allow her to go out with Hamaguchi. After she elopes with her lover, Hamaguchi moves to Tokyo. He inquires about a position as an assistant to a manga artist, and he is immediately put to work finishing pages with fills, solids, and whites. He sinks into a life in comics and eventually finds the motivation to work on personal projects.

Why I picked it up: I’m a big fan of Taniguchi’s graphic novels, particularly Icaro and A Distant Neighborhood.

Why I finished it: The near romances are pitch perfect. As they continued to spend time together, I was constantly wondering if the boss’s daughter was going to make a move on Hamaguchi. And later, after he begins meeting a sick young woman who loves reading, it’s wonderfully unclear if they’re more than friends.

I'd give it to: Sung. The architect in him would enjoy Tanaguchi’s incredible background images of Japan, and the romantic that lurks in his heart would love the way Hamaguchi’s first manga is inspired by his feelings for a woman.

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