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Recommendations for Friday, November 16, 2012

Martian Confederacy Volume 1 by Jason McNamara, Paige Braddock

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by geneambaum tagged graphic novelscience fiction

Unshelved strip for 11/16/2012

Gun Guys by Dan Baum

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfiction

As a kid at summer camp, Dan Baum spent hours on the rifle range where he learned to appreciate the solid click every time he slapped the bolt into position to shoot again. Despite his parents’ disapproval and his status as a lifelong Democratic, Baum both owns a rifle and hunts.

To wander the world of American gun enthusiasts and attempt to figure out what makes guns so attractive to some, he camouflaged himself in a NRA hat. His search led him to a desert convention of machine gun aficionados, to a man who purchased his first gun for protection after being mugged and became a self-defense instructor, to an underemployed contractor who has over $3,000 dollars invested in his customized AR-15. (Baum refers to weapon collecting as “Barbie for men.”)

Why I picked it up: I am somewhat similar to Baum, a lifelong Democrat with a concealed-carry permit who packs heat at the grocery store. I don’t know what it is, either, but I also love guns. There’s something satisfying about slapping in a fresh magazine my Glock and racking the slide.

Why I finished it: Baum talks about the first few weeks when he was carrying a pistol every day, concealed in his waistband. He spent a lot of time analyzing passersby, watching to see if they were a threat or had bad intentions.  Scenarios constantly play out in his mind -- what he’d do if that guy takes the lady in the tube top hostage or what if that shady-looking man pulls a balaclava over his face and demands the cash while Baum is in line at a 7-11? I laughed out loud when I read that part because I had similar thoughts when I began to carry my gun.

I found it interesting that many second amendment activists think poorly of hunters, calling them “Fudds” (after Elmer Fudd) because they generally don’t advocate for guns outside hunting.

Baum spends time in a police simulator where he must make split-second decisions about whether or not to fire his weapon. He was shaking with emotion and stress after just the first simulation because he was overwhelmed by having to make the decision. Having never drawn or fired my gun (except at the range), this made me rethink how difficult it might be to use it to defend myself.

I'd give it to: Evan, who is anti-gun and would like that the book doesn’t waste time talking about the Second Amendment. Baum looks for reasons why there are 270 million guns in the U.S.  Apparently video games drive many purchases, which is going to alarm Evan.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Malaya, 1951. Yun Ling Teoh, the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle-fringed tea plantations of Cameron Highlands. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in memory of her sister, who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice “until the monsoon comes.” Then she can design a garden for herself.As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to the gardener and his art, while all around them a communist guerilla war rages. But the Garden of Evening Mists remains a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?

“The unexpected relationship between a war-scarred woman and an exiled gardener leads to a journey through remorse to a kind of peace. After a notable debut, Eng (The Gift of Rain, 2008) returns to the landscape of his origins with a poetic, compassionate, sorrowful novel set in the aftermath of World War II in Malaya…Grace and empathy infuse this melancholy landscape of complex loyalties enfolded by brutal history, creating a novel of peculiar, mysterious, tragic beauty.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“A rising star from Malaysia returns with an elegant and haunting novel of war, art and memory. . . . Tan writes with breath-catching poise and grace. [The Garden of Evening Mists is a novel of] linguistic refinement and searching intelligence. . . . as readers may surmise, [Eng] cites Ishiguro as an influence. But for all its mission to “capture stillness on paper. . . . The Garden of Evening Mists also offers action-packed, end-of-empire storytelling.” -Boyd Tonkin, The Independent (UK)

“As intricately designed as a Japanese garden, this deceptively quiet novel resonates with the power to inspire a variety of passionate emotions…A haunting novel certain to stay with the reader long after the book is closed.” – Booklist “Like his debut, The Gift of Rain (2007), Tan’s second novel is exquisite…Tan triumphs again, entwining the redemptive power of storytelling with the elusive search for truth, all the while juxtaposing Japan’s inhumane war history with glorious moments of Japanese art and philosophy. All readers in search of spectacular writing will not be disappointed.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

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Alpha by Greg Rucka

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged thriller

Jad Bell just took a job in southern California as the number two security man at WilsonVille, the world’s largest theme park. The owner is suspicious because Jad seemed too perfect for the job. And he should be -- Jad (a “retired” Delta Force operator) and other government agents have been placed in parks across the country because of fears of a terrorist attack.

When the attack does come, Jad’s estranged wife and teenage daughter are caught in the middle of it.

Why I picked it up: I’m a huge fan of Rucka’s work.

Why I finished it: Not knowing it was about a terrorist attack on an amusement park, I started reading it on the way down to ALA Annual 2012 in Anaheim, and finished it after my daughter and I rode the terrifying roller coasters at Magic Mountain. The setting really added to the summer trip and the general creepiness I feel at seeing adults dressed in animal costumes, posing for photos with kids on hot summer days.

I'd give it to: Flemtastic, because it would freak him out so badly he’d start sleeping with his Glock (if he doesn’t already).

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Link to this review by mattdiamond tagged science

Every day we make decisions: what to eat, how to earn and spend money, what tattoo to get. Our goal is to make our future selves happy, but all too often we end up thinking our past selves were idiots. Why does this happen? Daniel Gilbert explains that these aren't simply temporary lapses of judgment; they are caused by human biases that are predictable and repeatable.

Why I picked it up: The book description asks, "Why do dining companions insist on ordering different meals instead of getting what they really want?" This hit home because not only do I compulsively avoid ordering what people around me get, I also try to avoid eating the same dish on consecutive restaurant visits. I had no idea this was common behavior.

Why I finished it: There are many fascinating research experiments described in the book. Their purpose is to reveal how people make decisions, but I found some of them perversely funny. Hapless subjects were given menial tasks, flirted with, interviewed for jobs that didn't exist, and told they might have dangerous medical conditions, all in the name of science.

The results are sometimes astonishing. In one experiment pedestrians who were distracted for a moment failed to notice when the stranger they'd been giving directions to was replaced by someone who looked completely different. This demonstrates that when making comparisons, we can fail to notice obvious things if we are not focused on them. This has consequences when we try to predict outcomes by comparing the past to the present.

In another experiment subjects were asked to predict how much they'd enjoy eating potato chips. They answered differently depending on what other foods happened to be nearby. Subconsciously they were comparing chips to the other foods to calibrate their answer, even though that comparison turned out to be irrelevant to the enjoyment of the snack.

This is not a self-help book; Gilbert is careful not to promise that his book will lead you to happiness. But the next time I find myself paralyzed over which digital camera to buy, I'll have some idea why. And now I don't care what you're ordering -- I'm getting the General Tso's Chicken! Yes, again!

I'd give it to: My son, who has many interesting decisions ahead of him. He wants to move to California one day because he believes (like most Americans) that residents of California must be happier than those in other states. But as Gilbert explains, non-residents overestimate the effect of spectacular weather and scenery. Our mental picture lacks countless other factors that end up dominating how we feel.

Lincoln: A President for the Ages by Karl Weber & Participant Media

The First American. Frontiersman and backwoods attorney. Teller of bawdy tales and a spellbinding orator. A champion of liberty some called a would-be tyrant. Savior of the Union and the Great Emancipator. All these are Abraham Lincoln—in his time America’s most admired and reviled leader, and still our nation’s most enigmatic and captivating hero. Timed to complement the new motion picture Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg, Lincoln: A President for the Ages introduces a new Lincoln grappling with some of history’s greatest challenges. Would Lincoln have dropped the bomb on Hiroshima? How would he conduct the War on Terror? Would he favor women’s suffrage or gay rights? Would today’s Lincoln be a star on Facebook and Twitter? Would he embrace the religious right—or denounce it? The answers come from an all-star array of historians and scholars, including Jean Baker, Richard Carwardine, Dan Farber, Andrew Ferguson, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Allen C. Guelzo, Harold Holzer, James Malanowski, James Tackach, Frank J. Williams, and Douglas L. Wilson. Lincoln also features actor/activist Gloria Reuben describing how she played Elizabeth Keckley, the former-slave-turned-confidante of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln; and a selection of speeches and letters that explore little-known sides of Lincoln; “The Faces of Lincoln,” exploring his complex contemporary legacy. Whether you’re a lifetime admirer of Lincoln or newly intrigued by his story, Lincoln: A President for the Ages offers a fascinating glimpse of his many-sided legacy.

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Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies by Nell Beram, Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged biography

Yoko Ono was born to wealthy, distant parents In Tokyo -- she didn’t meet her banker dad for the first time until she was two-and-a-half years old. She attended the best schools in Japan and even attracted the romantic interest of the younger of the two crown princes of Japan, who also attended her school.

But her art was misunderstood, or perhaps just ahead of its time. She dropped out of school to elope with a struggling Japanese musician against her parents’ wishes. Over the course of several years, she achieved success in the art world with her avant-garde performance art. One of her most famous installations, Bag-ism, involved her and another artist climbing into a large black bag on stage and then moving around inside. (The audience was supposed to guess what was going on in the bag.)

During a gallery show she met the man who would become her third husband, John Lennon. The meeting was awkward. John took a bite of an apple that was part of the installation, then put it back on its pedestal with a cheeky smile. She was outraged but also sensed that he got her artwork on a basic level. Soon after they left their families and became a couple. Her time at John’s side, attending Beatles practices and events, opened her to criticism, especially when she dared offer her opinion about their music. (Of course, she was a musician, too, and had released several experimental albums already, including one with John.) 

Yoko’s estrangement from her daughter by her second husband continued to weigh on her. When she sought custody rights, her ex-husband disappeared with the girl. John and Yoko found her using detectives. They actually kidnapped the girl from her father, which ended with the frightened daughter screaming and yelling while they attempted to carry her away, at which point the police let the daughter choose whom to live with. (She chose her father.) After John’s murder, Yoko reunited with her daughter while raising Sean Lennon.

Why I picked it up: I know the rough story of the Beatles and certainly enjoy their music, but I only understand the popular media caricature of Yoko Ono. I wanted to fill in the gaps and learn something about her beyond her reputation for breaking up the band.

Why I finished it: There were interesting details about artistic and musical choices that Yoko and John made together, especially those that raised a ruckus. For instance, the cover of their experimental album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins featured them both naked as jaybirds, facing the camera. Critics instantly assumed, erroneously, it was Yoko’s idea, and that she was corrupting John (who up to that point was seen as well-behaved). And I loved John’s explanation of their relationship, “She didn’t fall in love with the Beatles, she didn’t fall in love with my fame, she fell in love with me, or myself. And, through that, she brought out the best in me.” 

I'd give it to: My friend Curtis, who attends art gallery shows and has a high tolerance for performance art. He would like hearing about some of Ono’s enigmatic installations, like the ladder that people climbed to read a tiny message, posted on the ceiling, that said, "Yes." (Although the installation still exists, patrons are not allowed to climb the rickety ladder anymore.)

Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, LeUyen Pham

Link to this review by snow tagged picture book

"If you are going to be a ballerina, you have to do more than wear a tutu and dream about dancing..."

Ballet is hard, even if you're a vampire. It may take the whole family (and a lot of practice) to get one small dancer ready for her big debut.

Why I picked it up: My friend Emily recommended it to me. She knows I am a dancer who is also a sci-fi/fantasy geek, and she thought this would appeal to both parts of my personality.

Why I finished it: The delight of finding ballet elements throughout Pham's charming art, like the quotes about dance written on the fronts of gravestones.

And as we follow the aspiring ballerina in her house, from one room to the next, we see her father recreating a Degas painting, a skeleton helping her practice, and photographs of both ballet and modern dancers on the walls of her bedroom.

I'd give it to: Josie, a very young soccer player who’s still a girly-girl, because she'll like that the cover is sparkly and that the art is both pretty and funny. Her mothers will appreciate the gentle lesson about hard work and will identify with the vampire parents' attempts to support their daughter's obsession.

John Quincy Adams by Harlow Unger

He fought for Washington, served with Lincoln, witnessed Bunker Hill, and sounded the clarion against slavery on the eve of the Civil War. He negotiated an end to the War of 1812, engineered the annexation of Florida, and won the Supreme Court decision that freed the African captives of The Amistad. He served his nation as minister to six countries, secretary of state, senator, congressman, and president. John Quincy Adams was all of these things and more. In this masterful biography, award winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals Quincy Adams as a towering figure in the nation’s formative years and one of the most courageous figures in American history, which is why he ranked first in John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Profiles in Courage. A magisterial biography and a sweeping panorama of American history from the Washington to Lincoln eras, Unger’s John Quincy Adams follows one of America’s most important yet least-known figures.

Praise for American Tempest:

“A stirring chronicle.”—Boston Globe

“Unger’s exciting historical account raises questions that are as relevant today as they were in 1773.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Praise for Lion of Liberty:

"Excellent...Fantastically engaging...the perfect introduction to the founder whose rhetoric started a revolution."— NPR.org

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Bloody Chester by JT Petty, Hilary Florido

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelwestern

Despite being a skinny teenager, Chester Kates had a tough reputation when he came to the old west town of Averill. For a while he was known as Bloody Chester. But then everyone found out his last name, Kates, and he became Lady Kates around the town. He defended himself and lost a lot of fights.

After he ends up in jail, he’s hired to burn Whale, the next town over, to the ground. It’s supposed to be abandoned. When he arrives there, he finds that most residents have died of a plague or run off. The exceptions are Caroline, who is trying to take care of her father, a miner who won’t leave his claim, and Potter, whose father is dying.

Chester tries to figure out a way to get Caroline’s dad out of his mine. He hopes that if her dad will leave, she’ll leave with him. And he’d also like to know what she’s trying to find by knocking holes in Whale’s buildings with her ax.

Why I picked it up: The cover is great, with its deep reds and mysterious, dangerous-looking silhouettes. And it was published by First Second, whose graphic novels are unusually excellent.

Why I finished it: It turned both westerns and YA coming-of-age novels on their heads. Chester is neither tough nor noble, the few gunfights are anything but heroic, and his attempt to find a place in the world and a girl to share it with him don’t come to a John Hughes-ish ending.

I'd give it to: Tina, who liked the horrific 30 Days of Night. There are no vampires, but the plague creates horrific, lipless zombies that would get her reading, if shown the proper page (32) during a booktalk.

Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! by Kirk Demarais

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged nonfiction

As a kid, Demarais loved the ads for novelties, props for pranks, and fitness programs at the back of comic books. His dad would never let him send in his allowance money, so as an adult he investigated what you really got for your cash by contacting collectors, searching eBay, and general sleuthing. Some stuff was wonderful, but most were disappointments that were very carefully described in ads so that they were not out-and-out fraud.

Why I picked it up: I was also not allowed to send away for these toys!

Why I finished it: Not only did the full-color photos of the advertised items satisfy my curiosity, I got a delightful mini-history of the guys who intrigued generations of comics readers.

I'd give it to: Andrew, who had a magic light-bulb when he was a kid, and would love the various magic props in similar ads!

Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen by Stephen Bown

The Last Viking unravels the life of the man who stands head and shoulders above all those who raced to map the last corners of the world. In 1900, the four great geographical mysteries—the Northwest Passage, the Northeast Passage, the South Pole, and the North Pole—remained blank spots on the globe. Within twenty years Roald Amundsen would claim all four prizes. Renowned for his determination and technical skills, both feared and beloved by his men, Amundsen is a legend of the heroic age of exploration, which shortly thereafter would be tamed by technology, commerce, and publicity. Féted in his lifetime as an international celebrity, pursued by women and creditors, he died in the Arctic on a rescue mission for an inept rival explorer. Stephen R. Bown has unearthed archival material to give Amundsen’s life the grim immediacy of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World, the exciting detail of The Endurance, and the suspense of a Jon Krakauer tale. The Last Viking is both a thrilling literary biography and a cracking good story.

For 1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half

"Bown incorporates a sprawling cast of characters, including Ferdinand and Isabella, Columbus, Magellan, Sir Francis Drake, and members of the ostentatious Borgia clan, into what is both a judicious synthesis of the surrounding scholarship and an entertaining look at the evolution of international law on the high seas. In lieu of earth-shattering revelations, Bown provides general readers and fans of the period with a work meant for pure enjoyment." - Booklist

"A well-delineated, exciting history of a particularly contentious period of international trade." - Kirkus

"Historian Bown offers an entertaining...chronicle of intrigue, deception, and power struggles in the early modern world...Bown’s captivating study presents a fresh glimpse into the origins of the age of exploration and conquest as other nations challenged the primacy of Spain and Portugal." - Publishers Weekly

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The Light at the End by John Skipp, Craig Spector

Link to this review by silver tagged audiobookhorror

In New York, in a single subway train during one night, eight people were killed. Seven people were murdered and one was even eaten alive by rats. Police had no clue who was responsible or why. The spate of murders continue. They always occur at night.

Stephen is looking for his friend Rudy, who was supposed to take the subway to Stephen’s apartment. He never showed up. Josephine also had an awful night. She and Rudy (her boyfriend) had a big fight, and she starts the day off with a panicked call from Stephen about Rudy’s disappearance.

Joseph works as a delivery man. He wants to be a hero, probably because he plays Dungeons and Dragons. He believes the killer isn’t human. He helps Stephen and Josephine track down Rudy in hopes of finding the killer and saving the world.

Why I picked it up: Among the books I was looking at on audible.com, I liked the long train track in a tunnel on this one's cover. There was even a light at the end of the tunnel. It seemed like a cliche, but apparently I respond well to cliches.

Why I finished it: The story just sucked me in unexpectedly, just like the cover. I felt like I was somehow drawn to this narrow tunnel, and I had no other way out but to go through to the other end and finish the book.

I walked back and forth between work and home listening to this story. My face must have looked blank because I was focused on the book's setting, the streets of New York. (One morning a bush next to the sidewalk where I was walking moved suddenly. I jumped back and shrieked. I thought it was a rat, since there are so many in this book. I hate rats. Luckily for me it was just a squirrel.)

I'd give it to: Rudy is really good looking in a goth sorta way. He’s also very full of himself, and he thinks he’s an amazing graffiti artist. He’s a real douche bag, and what happens to him makes him even more of a monster. My friend Genevieve would tear through this book in the hope of seeing this a-hole get what’s coming to him.

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