Republic by Plato, Robin Waterfield

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by guest tagged historyliterary

Unshelved comic strip for 1/27/2012
Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear, Dan John Miller

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged science fiction

Teacher is suddenly torn from dreams of the woman he loves. He finds himself in a cold, hostile environment inside a giant space vessel. His memory is spotty. The ship has not arrived at a planet but is instead in interstellar space. And there are deadly creatures hunting him.

With the help of a few others Teacher tries to survive the extreme, incomprehensible place, evade the genetically engineered monsters on the loose, figure out why they were awakened, and ultimately how to save their ship.

Why I picked it up: I found a copy in Korean at my local library, which I brought home for my mother-in-law to read. I wanted to be able to discuss another book with her, other than Harry Potter and The Color of Earth. Plus I was driving to California.

Why I finished it: The beginning hooked me. Cold, helpless, hungry, and lost, Teacher needed to follow and trust a little girl who seemed to know him.

I'd give it to: Jenna, because it’s a love story full of many-legged monstrosities, and she enjoyed both Cloverfield and Super 8.

Levitation Physics and Psychology in the Service of Deception by Jim Ottaviani, Janine Johnston

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged graphic novelscience

A stagehand setting up for a magic show tells the roustabouts how the mechanism for the levitation illusion was invented, stolen, and improved on its way to the theater.

Why I picked it up: I am an Ottaviani fan and wanted to see how he'd combine science and magic in a graphic novel.

Why I finished it: The ingenuity involved in the mechanics of levitating a person on the stage with no visible support was as much of a jaw-dropper as watching a great stage magic show. Even the guy who stole the idea (he watched the show over and over, offered to buy the secret, and even jumped on stage during a show after his other ideas failed) ended up doing a huge amount of experimentation to make the trick portable.

I'd give it to: Stephanie, my booktalking buddy, for the essential role stage patter and story played in getting the audience into a magical mode of thinking, turning an engineering feat into a work of art.

My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

Since she was two and followed a lizard down an old well, necessitating a rescue carried out live on network television, Brooklyn (Brooks) has made poor choices repeatedly. Her latest, at fifteen, landed her in a police station -- she threw a raging party at her mother’s model home and, drunk, burned it down by trying to cook plastic fruit.  Her sentence requires 200 hours of community service at a local rest home where she spends her time calling bingo and reading Choose Your Own Adventure books to a grumpy old lady. The books give her the idea to put her life online, anonymously, and let her blog readers make her decisions. Soon, they are choosing who she dates and her after school clubs and activities. But Brooks will have to decide for herself whether farming out her choices is a good idea.

Why I picked it up: Nominated for my book committee, but also, I was a fan of one of her previous YA books, The Karma Club.

Why I finished it: I grew up during the first explosion of Choose Your Own Adventure books in the 1980’s, and loved the comfort of getting to start a book over when something went south with my decisions. I could see how attractive it would be for Brooks to allow others to weigh in on her decisions. 

There were also some funny scenes. In one scene Brooks starts a small riot at the rest home by proposing the senior citizens play Monopoly instead of Rummikub. In another Brooks describes giving out candy to smiling, costumed kids on Halloween when she herself was depressed: “I find myself bitterly doling out little nuggets of advice with each Snickers bar…’Have fun now. Because it's all downhill from here’.”

I'd give it to: Jessica, who raises therapy dogs.  She’d love the scene where Brooks brings a non-therapy goldendoodle into the nursing home under false pretenses. 

One Nation Under Sex How the Private Lives of Presidents, First Ladies and Their Lovers Changed the Course of American History by Larry Flynt, David Eisenbach

Link to this review by sharonlevin tagged history

It's shocking, intriguing and frightening to realize how the course of world events has been influenced based on the sex lives of those in power. For example:

  • Two representatives were sent to court the French as the Revolutionary War was beginning. If we had only sent John Adams (uptight, judgmental, anti-monarchy) to represent the colonies, we’d still be under British rule. Luckily we also sent Benjamin Franklin. His flirty nature, great appreciation of women, and brilliant marketing (he sold the future United States as a freewheeling country that France would love to support) got us the assistance necessary to defeat the British.

  • John F. Kennedy reappointed Hoover as FBI director to the dismay of his liberal backers because Hoover had files on JFK’s extramarital activities.

  • An argument over a woman’s virtue caused Andrew Jackson to dump John C. Calhoun from his presidential ticket. Calhoun then became a great supporter of states’ rights, the “father of Southern secession.”

Why I picked it up: Sex! Politics! Scandal!

Why I finished it: Because I will never have a history class that teaches like this, and I will never remember a history class the way I remember this book. (When I try to get students interested in history I always tell them, “It’s People magazine, only older.”)

I'd give it to: Dr. Gloria Russo, who, when she taught history said, “Sit down, I’m going to tell you a story.” And she did, but a little less salaciously than this book.

The Plague Ships (Baltimore Volume 1) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Ben Stenbeck

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelparanormal

Graphic novel follow-up to the illustrated Baltimore; or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mignola and Golden.

Lord Baltimore (bald, grim, a war veteran, an amputee, an aristocrat) continues to seek revenge by hunting the vampire Haigus and the undead on the French coast in 1916.

Contains Baltimore: The Plague Ships #1 - 5.

Why I picked it up: Baltimore doesn’t mess around. He’s not your average vampire fighter -- he carries a harpoon instead of a stake.

Why I finished it: The shadowy, stylized violence is extraordinary. I loved it when a few vampires tried to get away in a zeppelin (but didn’t make it).

I'd give it to: My friend Abby, who used to host parties to watch Lost. She’d love the story after Baltimore is shipwrecked on a cursed island, and she’d appreciate that it has a logical and coherent ending.

Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged coming of agegraphic novel

Two twenty-something Korean-American friends from the Bay Area explore where they are at, came from, and might be going as they slurp pho, make awkward confessions about high school, and stalk a sad romantic.

Why I picked it up: I read it years ago and was lured back in by the exquisite new cover featuring goldfish on a transparent dust jacket. (Also I've developed a crush on the author, whom I spotted at Portland's Wordstock -- he is as cute as his comics are wonderful.)

Why I finished it: While I'm grateful to be past the painfully directionless stage of development Nancy and Simon are experiencing, existential angst still lives in the far corners of my generally happy heart. Plus, the art still stuns me with its simple elegance.

I'd give it to: Naurry, who is still looking for direction well into his thirties. He would also relate to the pressures of being a first generation Korean-American.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged historical fiction

Frankie Pratt is an intellectually lively girl in the 1920’s. In her late teens, she has a naïve dalliance with an older man that goes poorly, but ends up enabling her to become a scholarship student among the rich at Vassar College. She discovers her literary side, edits the Vassar Review, and goes to New York to become a writer.  There, she makes strong relationships, but after she surpasses her mentor, she decides to move to Paris. Circumstances bring her back to the States eventually, where an old flame helps her to find her way again.

Frankie’s story is told entirely through scrapbook pages, with notes inserted among pages filled with antique photos, newspaper headlines, tickets, magazine covers and advertisements.

Why I picked it up: This book is like nothing else I have ever seen. It took a few pages to get used to the reading format, but some of the photos and advertisements were as much fun to scrutinize as the text.

Why I finished it: Frankie not only escapes the gravity well of her dusty, small town, she makes it all the way to expatriate-filled Paris where she works with the likes of James Joyce and Hemingway.  We get to see the world with her as she witnesses historic events like Charles Lindbergh’s solo Atlantic flight, and as she grows through trying circumstances.  Plus, there were fun, old advertisements, like the one for Dr. Walter's Famous Medicated Rubber Garments, sure to reduce superfluous flesh!

I'd give it to: My aunt Anne, who does genealogical and historical research as a hobby, because the scrapbook format would put her firmly in the book’s time period.

Wickedly Charming by Kristine Grayson

Link to this review by snow tagged fantasyromance

Mellie just wants to set the record straight about wicked stepmothers. After all, she did the best she could with Snow White. It wasn’t her fault that the girl was spoiled and got into trouble. Charming just wants to run his bookstore and try to see his daughters occasionally. He’s had enough of so-called happily-ever-after and his ex-wife Ella (aka Cinderella). When Mellie meets Charming, she tries to resist her attraction to him, but he may have the idea which will help her overturn stereotypes and tell the human world the truth about fairy tales.

Why I picked it up: I love fairy tale retellings, and the hunky guy on the cover didn’t hurt!

Why I finished it: Grayson has her characters use books, writing, and storytelling as a way to change the world. Charming’s love of reading, Mellie’s avoidance of it, and their efforts to get a story written and published rang very true.

I'd give it to: Jessica, who loves paranormal romance and might at first think that this is both too traditional a fantasy and too tame for her (there isn’t any physical intimacy until almost the end of the book). But Mellie’s take-charge attitude will appeal to her, and she’ll love the idea of the “ugly” stepmother getting her own prince charming.

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