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Recommendations for Friday, January 18, 2013

Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples

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

Unshelved strip for 1/18/2013

Velveteen by Daniel Marks

Link to this review by danritchie tagged paranormal

Before she died, Velvet was a goth teen with an attitude. Now she haunts the serial killer who murdered her and tries to save his potential victims. But haunting is against the rules of Purgatory.

Purgatory is a dark and primitive world made up of districts each ruled by a Station Agent. Velvet works and “lives” in the Latin Quarter. When not sneaking back into the world of the living, Velvet is a salvager: She and her team free souls trapped by banshees. When she is sent to free a soul, Violet returns with Nick, a hot jock murdered by a thug.  

Unrest is growing because of a group of souls determined to leave Purgatory on their own terms. As these rebels ramp up their efforts, Violet finds herself torn between her need to haunt, her will to stop the rebels, and a relationship with Nick.

Why I picked it up: I saw a press release about it and wondered just how a world of Purgatory would work. Also, the author is local for me (I live near Seattle).

Why I finished it: Velvet is an exceptionally complex soul. She’s remorseful for her haunting -- it’s not only against the rules, it causes other problems in Purgatory, too. But these feelings are in conflict with her need to save her killer's next victim from what she went through. Fiercely independent, she finds a relationship with Nick daunting. Romance is forbidden; it could affect both her ability to do her job and to move on from Purgatory to her final destination, whatever that might be.

I'd give it to: Kyle, who is fascinated by poltergeists. He will find Marks’ portrayal of Purgatory captivating; it’s a world made up of humanity’s cast-offs where the dark skies are occasionally lit by the glow of souls moving on.

Little Elvises: Junior Bender #2 by Timothy Hallinan

LA burglar Junior Bender has (unfortunately) developed a reputation as a competent private investigator for crooks. The unfortunate part about this is that regardless of whether he solves the crime or not, someone dangerous is going to be unhappy with him, either his suspect or his employer.

Now Junior is being bullied into proving aging music industry mogul Vinnie DiGaudio is innocent of the murder of a nasty tabloid journalist he'd threatened to kill a couple times. It doesn’t help that the dead journalist’s widow is one pretty lady, and she’s trying to get Junior to mix pleasure with business. Just as the investigation is spiraling out of control, Junior's hard-drinking landlady begs him to solve the disappearance of her daughter, who got involved with a very questionable character. And, worst news of all, both Junior's ex-wife and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Rina, seem to have new boyfriends. What a mess.

"Hugely,splendidly entertaining... Full of delightful characters, and dialogue that provides at least one good laugh on every page, the book is so hard to put down you’ll swear it’s been glued to your hands." —Booklist, STARRED Review

Enter to win an advance copy here.

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What Caesar Did for My Salad: The Curious Stories Behind Our Favorite Foods by Albert Jack

Link to this review by sharonlevin tagged nonfiction

Did you know that Lea and Perrins were chemists in Worcester, and the invention of Worcestershire Sauce was a (very) lucky accident? This book is full of stories about common and not so common foods and spices. Jack blends history, food origins, and politics.

Why I picked it up: There is no fact too trivial that I don’t want to know it. Plus I love to eat.

Why I finished it: I learned about everything from haggis to hollandaise, which is actually French. (I ways thought it was Dutch, since Hollandaise means “Dutch” or “from the Dutch” in French.)  “Freedom fries” wasn’t the first time the U.S. changed the name of a food because of politics; the terms “Salisbury steak” for hamburger and “hot dog” for frankfurter were used during WWII so that purveyors of these foods wouldn’t be considered pro-German.

Every page made me a more delightful or irritating dinner companion, depending on your point-of-view.

I'd give it to: Matteo, who consumes more beef jerky than anyone else I’ve ever met. He’d like the facts about his favorite snack. The word “charqui” comes from the Quechua tribes of the Andes and means “dried meat.”

Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate by Rick Bowers

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged nonfictionsuperhero

The Superman radio show, hugely popular with kids and their parents, aired a series of episodes where Superman battled (and defeated) a racist secret society, a thinly disguised reference to the KKK. This was a surprising and lauded early attempt to have a message of racial and religious tolerance in a national entertainment show. How did it happen?

Why I picked it up: I loved Bowers' The Spies of Mississippi.

Why I finished it: Bowers does an incredible job of giving the historical background of both the KKK (it had many interrupted incarnations and was very much a for-profit operation) and Superman (not just how the character was in the first wave of comic book popularity but also how he was a new sort of hero who defended the weak and had many values in common with the Jewish culture of his creators). The threads of intolerance and a new kind of tolerant hero coming together make for a great, true-life adventure.

I'd give it to: Michael, for the section that dispels the legend, repeated in Freakonomics, that the radio show gave away the secret code words and ceremonies of the Klan. (Stetson Kennedy, who went undercover in the Klan, overstated how much he helped provide information for the show and how effective the show was in slowing down Klan recruiting.)

The Legend Of Zelda: Hyrule Historia

Dark Horse Books and Nintendo® bring you The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia, containing an unparalleled collection of historical information on The Legend of Zelda™ franchise. This handsome hardcover contains never-before-seen concept art, the full history of Hyrule, the official chronology of the games, and much more! Starting with an insightful introduction by the legendary producer and video-game designer of Donkey Kong™, Mario™, and The Legend of Zelda™, Shigeru Miyamoto, this book is crammed full of information about the storied history of Link’s adventures from the creators themselves! As a bonus, The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia includes an exclusive comic by the foremost creator of The Legend of Zelda manga—Akira Himekawa!

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Gods of Mischief: My Undercover Vendetta to Take Down the Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang by George Rowe

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfiction

George Rowe never thought of himself as a rat. He grew up hard; he ran away from home as a teen (he returned years later, but only to beat up his stepfather). He became one of Hemet, California’s biggest meth cooks and drug dealers. At twenty-seven he got a wake up call when his eight-year-old stepson asked him if he was a drug dealer. Rowe was shocked. He said no. Then he immediately went cold turkey, walked away from both the drugs and the money he made selling them, and started a landscaping company. He didn’t instantly become an angel by any stretch of the imagination, but his new life, with its hard drinking, womanizing and cage-fighting for cash at underground events was arguably better than dealing drugs. He also continued to hang out at bars where the motorcycle gangs congregated, drinking with them and admiring their bikes.

Years later, bikers from the local Vagos gang beat up a friend of Rowe's for refusing to give up his position at a pool table. The man, who had two small children and a third on the way, was beaten badly by the bikers. Two days later he disappeared. The bikers smugly bragged about "taking care of the problem." Rowe was disturbed; he knew the bikers felt that they were above the law and that they needed to be taken down. A local cop put Rowe in contact with the ATF, where Rowe made the difficult decision to go undercover as a gang member.  Rowe swore that the men involved in his friend's killing would have a day of reckoning and that he would be there to see it.

Rowe joined the Vagos. But to be accepted as a full member he had to earn his patch. It was a stylized picture of Loki, the Norse god of mischief, and symbolized the members’ decision to live at the margins of society. Even though he was known by many Vagos members, he still had to endure several months as a prospect. He was expected to do whatever patched brothers wanted: he cleaned bikes, ran errands, bought beers, and even beat up a guy because he was told to. Rowe collected intel on local members and the national leadership of the Vagos, including several murderers who had evaded justice to that point. Rowe spent three years undercover, fearing for his life. He told no one else about going undercover, not even his girlfriend, who rode on the back of his bike at all the rallies.

In the end, when seventy-two carefully coordinated raids on the Vagos took place, over 700 agents simultaneously arrested and charged forty-two members.

Why I picked it up: I wanted to hear how these despicable men were brought to justice.

Why I finished it: George Rowe is brutally honest. He tells what a douchebag he was back in the day, a self-proclaimed racist who constantly called a coworker the N-word every time he saw him. (That same coworker later saved his life when Rowe had a cardiac arrest at work because of his drug use.)  He talks extensively of the hard work it took for him to overcome a lifetime of ingrained racism instilled in him by his father and associates. There were also many tense moments in the three years Rowe was undercover, like when the chapter president came by while his house was being wired by ATF agents.  Rowe pretended it was no big deal, that he was just having a burglar alarm installed, and the agents continued while he swigged beers with one of their primary targets.

I'd give it to: Jeff, my friend that moved up from California a few years ago. He told me stories about how nerve wracking it was to have a large pack of bikers with super-loud exhaust pipes pass him on the freeway. After reading this, he’d be glad he never flipped them the bird (or at least that no one ever noticed if he did).

How the SEC Became Goliath: The Making of College Football's Most Dominant Conference by Ray Glier

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfiction

Ray Glier is a freelance journalist based in Atlanta, GA. He has spent the last twenty-six years covering SouthEastern Conference (SEC) football. Teams from that conference have won the last six national championship games and have had the most players drafted into the National Football League over that same period.

With methodical documentation and statistics, Glier shows how player personnel directors (a position normally found only in NFL franchises) have used advanced metrics and strategies to identify and analyze players for recruitment. Potential players size and speed are noted, and their stats are tracked at summer camps and during high school games so college coaches know what to expect. The SEC also leads the nation in the quality of its facilities, the spending per athlete, the number of coaches, and pay for the coaches as well.

Glier busts a few myths about the SEC, like their reputation for rampant cheating. In terms of the number of major investigations by the NCAA, the SEC trails the Big 10, the Pac-12, and the ACC, lending credence to the SEC’s view that the frequent complaints about cheating are nothing but sour grapes by losing teams.

Why I picked it up: I am a college football fan who has watched my UW Huskies get shelled by Louisiana State University and the Mad Hatter (LSU Coach Les Miles) two years running. Plus had to live with the SEC’s stranglehold on the national title.  I wanted to know if this would give me any ammunition to accuse them of cheating, or to find hope for the future of other conferences.

Why I finished it: Glier relates the SEC’s intense desire to win to the South’s losing the Civil War.  He says it is a pride issue because the South still resents the Northerners for interference. Football provides a surrogate battlefield where the South can be victorious. They have stepped up the intensity in every aspect of football so much that every moment is precious, so much so that several SEC coaches travel via their universities’ private jets and helicopters to see potential recruits in action.

The SEC’s graduation rate for players (relative to regular student graduation rates) is better than in the Big Ten, which complains the loudest about SEC cheating. But the conference schools’ focus on football has hurt other sports. SEC schools average twenty varsity sports whereas other conferences’ schools have twenty-five or more. Department money is used to pay exorbitant coaching salaries, and not just for head coaches -- several offensive coordinators make over a million dollars per year. While Glier often compliments the SEC and its commissioner, Mike Slive, for other decisions and leadership, he also criticizes its handling of athletes accused of criminal misconduct. When former University of Florida running back Chris Rainey was arrested for threatening to harm a woman, he played in the next game like nothing had happened off-field.

I'd give it to: Ken, a diehard Oregon Ducks fan. They lost two years ago to Auburn and Cam Newton in the national championship game, a loss that has plagued Ken daily since then. He would appreciate having some ammunition against the SEC for his next bar-room argument.  This is not a book for newcomers to college football, but Ken could definitely handle it.  

Future Games by Paula Guran

Human competition is eternal. No matter what the future brings, sports will be a part of it. But what forms will these games take? Who will be the spectator, who will play? Will aliens be our opponents or machines? What rules will we play by? What will be at stake? What rewards will be reaped by the victors? What fates await the defeated? Will the entire universe be our arena or will our world be smaller than today? Visionary authors speculate on what swifter, higher, stronger will mean in the near and distant future.

CONTENTS (alphabetical order)

  • “Distance” by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
  • “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card
  • “Anda’s Game” by Cory Doctorow
  • “Breakaway” by George Alec Effinger
  • “Pawn” by Timons Esaias
  • “Will the Chill” by John Shirley
  • “Diamond Girls” by Louise Marley
  • “Run to Starlight” by George R.R. Martin
  • “The Fate of Nations” by James Morrow
  • “The Survivor” by Walter F. Moudy
  • “Listen” by Joel Richards
  • “Name That Planet!” by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
  • “Man-Mountain Gentian” by Howard Waldrop
  • “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” by Scott Westerfeld
  • “Ladies and Gentlemen, This Is Your Crisis!” by Kate Wilhelm
  • “Kip Running” by Genevieve Williams

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Larf by Ashley Spires

Link to this review by ang tagged picture book

Larf is a sasquatch. He is a vegetarian, has a pet bunny, and no one believes in him (he likes it that way).

Life is quiet and solitary. So when Larf reads in the newspaper that a sasquatch will be making a public appearance, he is confused. He hasn’t scheduled an appearance. Even if he had it certainly wouldn’t be on a Wednesday -- that’s laundry day! 

Is it possible that he isn’t the only sasquatch in the world? With his bunny, Larf heads into the city, determined to find the answers.

Why I picked it up: A big fan of Binky the Space Cat, I will read anything that Ashley Spires writes or illustrates.

Why I finished it: The illustrations are charming and make the story’s deadpan humor even sillier. Eric (Larf’s bunny) has a perpetually stupefied expression that gives me the giggles.

I'd give it to: Sarah, who is always amused (and slightly frightened) by the giant sign in our city that reads, “Intergalactic Headquarters of Bigfoot.” She’ll hope the sasquatches in our backyards are as quirky as Larf.

Broxo by Zack Giallongo

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged fantasygraphic novel

Zora of Tethede, Princess of the Granitewing Clan, arrives at Peryton Peak expecting a royal welcome from the local clan. Instead she’s attacked by a zombie then rescued by the young Broxo and his friend, Migo (picture a large, white, one-horned polar bear with bat ears).

Why I picked it up: The only hint of Broxo’s enemy on the cover -- the creatures are reflected in his sword.

Why I finished it: It’s not a typical post-apocalyptic tale. The undead were members of Broxo’s clan and they don’t die when their heads are chopped off. They don’t die at all, at least not in a fight. (Of course, they need Broxo’s help to be set free.)

There’s also just the right amount of potty humor, like when Broxo tells Zora to come quick to see Migo’s giant poop.

I'd give it to: Ben, who would recognize (and appreciate) the resemblance between Migo and the classic Star Trek monster Mugato.

Steamwork Chronicles 3: Steel Dominance by Cari Silverwood

A brilliant researcher, Sofia must unravel the ancient puzzle of the Clockwork Warrior or her career will be in tatters. Yet the tomb of the warrior is in the dangerous city of Byzantium, inside the harem of the Emperor. She knew she'd have to pose as a slave--but not that her “owner” would be the incredibly bossy, gorgeous bodyguard she's been assigned.

A life of military duty has left Dankyo unprepared for Sophia. He's never met a woman quite like this. She's smart and beautiful, and she's something that he's finding almost irresistible--despite the way she fights against masquerading as his slave, she's submissive right down to the bottom of her soul. And that's bringing out every dominant instinct in his body.

But even as he realizes she's captured his heart, the city explodes into madness. Surviving seems impossible. Can love and a Dom who will never give up overcome sheer bloody-minded evil?

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Prison Pit Book Four by Johnny Ryan

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelscience fiction

A gore-splattered, noseless, fanged, foul-mouthed professional wrestler named Cannibal F*ckface is thrown onto a prison planet and kills everyone he meet. He soon replaces his left arm with a fanged leech-thing that’s holding his arm (it was torn off). The leech-thing spits out the arm and swallows CF’s head. Black gunk erupts out it and joins with the arm, spawning a gooey, lumpy, vein-covered, brain-like creature that helps CF smash out of the Caligulon, the crystal prison where he’s trapped. And that’s just the first few pages.

Why I picked it up: I read the first three graphic novels in this series. Can’t stop now.

Why I finished it: Stabbing. Rending. Black blood everywhere. But it was the knife thrown into a grotesque creature’s spurting urethra and out its back that really sold me on this quick read.

I'd give it to: My daughter. This reminds me of nothing as much as the violent, disturbed drawings I’ve seen in some middle-school boys’ notebooks. Next year, I’m going to tell her it’s like a mind-map for her male classmates. If she believes me, I hope we can put off conversations about her dating for a few extra years.

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