Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by billba tagged graphic novelliterary

Unshelved comic strip for 1/6/2012

@bookblrb: Daddy never understood why he lost his family, his job, and his health, but Happie was always there with him.

1000 Opas and a Dead Body (Skullkickers Volume 1) by Jim Zub, Edwin Huang, Misty Coats

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged fantasygraphic novel

A hard-drinking, axe-wielding dwarf and a big guy with a pistol try to earn enough money to get by in the the age of swords and sorcery. But after killing a fat werewolf they can’t get paid. When the Chancellor is assassinated, they try grabbing his killer for the reward, but have no luck. So they try to collect a reward by retrieving the Chancellor’s body from an evil necromancer and his minions.

Contains Skullkickers #1-5

Why I picked it up: Zub is a gentleman, and the Skullkickers team did a great guest book club comic for us, so I wanted to read it.

Why I finished it: The highly specific age rating on the back cover says it all.

“This book is for Teen Readers 13+ and includes the following -- alcohol use, comic mischief, and cartoon violence. And by “violence,” we mean: ugly face mashing, an axe in the skull, groin kicking, broken teeth, lopped off ears, choke holds, a gunshot in the face and an arrow in the eye. Ouch!”

I'd give it to: My sister Traci, who collects spoons and hates werewolves (she prefers Team Edward), because she’d enjoy the way the lycanthrope is dispatched at the beginning of the story.

@bookblrb: Two mercenaries, a hard-drinking, axe-wielding dwarf and a big guy with a pistol, try to earn enough money to get by.

Americus by MK Reed, Jonathan Hill

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged coming of agefantasygraphic novel

Neil would rather be reading. He and his friend Danny just finished middle school. They rush to the local library to get the newest book in The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchild, The Huntress Witch.

But Danny’s mother finds the book. She thinks the book is evil, that witches serve the devil, and that the library is trying to lead her son astray. She tears up the book, sends her son to military school, and goes to war with the library.

With Danny gone, Neil is more alone than ever. He gets a meaningful job and tries to find the courage to stand up to Danny’s mom as she tries to get the Apathea Ravenchild books removed from the library.

Why I picked it up: This book was custom made for librarians to love. We’ve all met cranks like Danny’s mother.

Why I finished it: I really liked it when Neal discovered punk music after Danny was sent away -- the moment and his interest felt genuine. But I knew I was going to love the book as soon as the young adult librarian talked back to Danny’s mother as she was ranting against the book: “You know, you won’t be able to control his decisions for much longer. If you treat him like a baby now, you’re going to lose him completely.” (Unfortunately Danny’s mother doesn’t listen.)

I'd give it to: If I were rich, to every misguided person who wants to ban Slaughterhouse Five, Harry Potter and And Tango Makes Three. But not in the hope that I’d change minds, but just so that I could tell the story of having done so at dinner parties.

@bookblrb: Neal and Danny love the Apathea Ravenchild books, but Danny’s mom think they’re evil and tries to get them banned.

The Downside of Being Up by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

Link to this review by snow tagged coming of agehumorromance

Bobby’s got a problem, but unfortunately it’s not a very big one -- he pops a boner at the worst times. After his math teacher is scared by his teeny weeny peeny, he ends up in “correctional erectional therapy.” But what he really needs is relationship counseling, because Bobby is falling hard for Allison, the new girl at school.

Why I picked it up: Ever since I was on the Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults committee that put together the "Sex is..." list, I can’t help looking for teen books that would be a good addition to that list if it is ever updated.

Why I finished it: It was quick, a little gross, and funny, a slightly more mature Diary of a Wimpy Kid with plenty of skewering of modern educational bureaucracy and parents who care more about appearances than their children’s feelings. It also had a very sweet romance. Bobby was a delightfully realistic boy, and his efforts to woo Allison -- a smart and very capable young woman -- are endearing.

I'd give it to: Christopher. He usually prefers fantasy, but since he is currently struggling to deal with puberty, he’ll identify with Bobby and his problems.

@bookblrb: Bobby pops boners at the worst times. After scaring his math teacher, he is sent to correctional erectional therapy.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of agefantasy

Elisa is sixteen, about to become Queen of a large country, but she is at a low point. She is overweight, under appreciated, and about to be married to a man she has never seen. As the Bearer, the possessor of the living Godstone, she is supposed to achieve a Service in her life, though she has no knowledge what great feat she’s supposed to accomplish. Her new husband is older and kind, and she settles into her new life. Her world is suddenly turned upside down when she is kidnapped. She finds herself on the border helping to deal with a fierce tribe that threatens to annihilate the known world. Elisa might suspect providing aid is her Service, except she finds out her people have been lying to her about her Service all of her life.

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

Why I finished it: The cover markets it as a paranormal novel, but it is a very strong fantasy story. Elisa’s growth as a character is the high point of the book, coloring many of the scenes with a rare depth. For example, as she suffers to cross the desert because of her lack of physical fitness, she finds that she enjoys her hard-earned callouses and new muscles.  Elisa’s showdown with a pack of fire-wielders out to kill her and cut out her Godstone is one of the most thrilling parts of the story, especially when Ximena, her nanny of sorts, takes out a would-be assassin with a hairpin!  Good stuff!

I'd give it to: Morgan, who loved Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, because both books share a determined, female protagonist with kick-butt powers who comes into her own.

@bookblrb: Queen-to-be Elisa is supposed to perform a great Service. But when she’s kidnapped she discovers she’s been lied to.

Maman's Homesick Pie A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan

Link to this review by silver tagged biography

Donia always felt comfortable in the kitchen. As a young girl in Iran, she loved spending time hovering over her mother’s shoulders until her mother found jobs for her: washing fruit, peeling, chopping, and arranging patients’ trays (they lived on the top floor of the hospital her parents, a doctor and nurse, owned).  

While on vacation in Spain, Donia and her family learned that Iran was being swept by protests against the monarchy. Their lives became unpredictable after they returned home.

Why I picked it up: The author, pictured on the back of the book, is beautiful -- she has dark hair and irresistible, bright blue eyes. 

Why I finished it: Donia introduced me to her beautiful hometown, Tehran, delicious food (including recipes), and, most importantly, to her mother, Atefeh, whom I loved. Atefeh was an exceptionally strong lady who fought for women’s rights in Iran, and supported her kids so they could become who they wanted to be. (Donia was supposed to become a doctor like her dad. When she told her parents she wanted to be a cook, her dad was furious. Her mom reminded him that the child's life was hers, and they were supposed to help her no matter what.)  Atefeh also had a great sense of humor. Her advice to her daughter-in-law, who asked how to tell if a persimmon was ripe, was “ask your husband to hold a persimmon in one hand, and your breast in the other hand. If they feel the same, they are ripe.”

I'd give it to: All my foodie friends: Tracy, Kathryn, Jennifer, Ellery, Andy and Terry.

@bookblrb: Donia tells the story of her life in Iran, and of her mother’s kitchen, around the time of the Islamic Revolution.

The Outcasts (Brotherband Chronicles Book One) by John Flanagan

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged fantasy

After a raid went bad, Thorn made an oath to his dying friend: he would take care of the man’s wife and son back home in Skandia. But the loss of a hand makes him feel worthless, and he spirals into drunkenness.

Hal, the dead man’s son, grows up smart and inventive. He’s always tinkering with and improving sails, weapons and other tools. Hal enters brotherband training, small group drills and war-lessons to turn him and other boys into the fierce Skandian warriors who use dragon boats to pillage unsuspecting towns. A reluctant leader, he is chosen as skirl of his group, and set against two more highly ranked brotherbands in a competition to determine their future as warriors.

Why I picked it up: It’s a book set in the world of the Ranger’s Apprentice series focused on the Viking-like berserkers and their martial culture.

Why I finished it: The characters. Hal is very likable. He automates the water supply for his mother’s kitchen (causing a flood of sorts) and repeatedly outsmarts a class bully. Thorn’s story of redemption from drunk to father figure is nuanced and compelling -- I can’t wait to see where his growing relationship with Hal is headed. Ingvar, a member of Hal’s brotherband, is physically immense but extremely nearsighted; it’s funny when Ingvar almost takes off their instructor’s head (by accident) with his iron-studded club.

I'd give it to: My nephew Corey, who would find similarities between trying to make friends in middle school and the brutal training Hal endures.

@bookblrb: The smart and inventive Hal trains to become a Scandian warrior to pillage unsuspecting coastal towns.

To Market, To Market by Nikki McClure

Link to this review by billba tagged picture book

We meet the people who bring the produce, baked goods, and other products for sale at a local farmers market.

Why I picked it up: My mom has a nearly infallible record of giving great books to my kids. She picked this one for my daughter Rosie, knowing that our family talks a lot about food and where it comes from.

Why I finished it: I learned something on almost every page: how salmon is smoked, that there is such a thing as maple honey (I'm in), why beekeepers blow smoke into hives (thinking there is a fire, the bees eat honey and become docile), and lots more. The cut paper illustrations convey a lot with black and white and just one or two other colors.

I'd give it to: Pretty much every homeschool family I know, to generate ideas for field trips, in the hope that they invite me along, too.

The Wilder Life My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged biographyromance

Wendy loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books when she was a girl. As an adult she finds herself remembering the joy of that historical world. She sets out to explore the reality of the series by trying out frontier tasks like making sourdough starter from scratch and pouring hot molasses syrup into snow to make candy. She tours the many historic sites and museums that have sprung up around the towns in the books, and reads piles of books on Laura and her co-author/daughter, Rose. Her boyfriend Chris watches her growing obsession with amusement, then starts reading the books himself for the first time.

Why I picked it up: I read an excerpt about her surprise that her batch of hand-churned butter tasted just like “normal” butter. I have totally been in that moment of shock, realizing how much I'd romanticized something from a favorite childhood book (for me it was knitting a sock like the girls in Eleanor Estes' Moffatt family books). 

Why I finished it: I laughed out loud at the rustic-skills weekend filled with people preparing for the end of the world, the revelation that the real Pa once packed up the family at midnight to skip out on the rent, and Wendy and her boyfriend Chris grinding winter wheat while watching French and Saunders.

My heart also melted when Chris was excited at seeing the real places from the books, and totally understood when Wendy didn't want to burn the haystick she’d twisted. (It’s a hank of hay twisted into a log -- the Ingalls family burned them in The Long Winter when there was no firewood left.) He called it her "prairie baby" when she cradled it on the way out of the Ingalls Homestead activity building. (When you finish the book, you'll be happy to see their wedding photo.)

I'd give it to: Every woman who ever read the Little House books. I want to start a book club so we can talk about all the details that stuck with us (trundle beds!), wear sunbonnets, and gossip about all the dirt in the book on the real-life Ingalls family.

@bookblrb: Wendy explores the reality of the Little House books via frontier chores, food, historic sites, and research.

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