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Recommendations for Friday, January 04, 2013

A Planet of Viruses by Carl Zimmer

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

Unshelved strip for 1/4/2013

He's Gone by Deb Caletti

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged literary

Dani Keller lives on a houseboat in Seattle with her husband, Ian. Their relationship started as an extramarital affair and caused a lot of turmoil. One of Ian’s daughters asked him not to come to her high school graduation. They still won’t speak to Dani other than to let her know that their mother does everything better.

One morning Ian is gone. Dani waits for him to come home with the paper, but his absence goes from inconsiderate to frightening.  Soon, the police are involved, flyers are distributed, and Dani is on the news begging for information about Ian’s whereabouts.  She questions their relationship and whether he could have just left, gone back to his first wife, or if something terrible might have happened to him.

Why I picked it up: Deb Caletti’s son attended my middle school years ago, and she even came to talk to me in my library on parent-teacher night. I have enjoyed her books for years because of their focus on quirky, realistic characters and relationships.

Why I finished it: For me, this book was about the damage caused by Dani and Ian’s relationship and the baggage they brought to their marriage. Dani’s insecurities are front and center.  At times, she worries Ian has cheated on her, like he did on his ex-wife with her. Other times, she questions whether she even loved Ian, or if she simply latched on to him to get out of an abusive marriage. Dani’s soul searching extends to other areas of her life, too. She explores her guilt when her daughter sprained her ankle on a hike, which Dani ignored for days.

I'd give it to: My friend Kym. Dani feels a constant stress in her relationship with Ian. (She talks about having to make every sexual encounter great, not just good, because she feels like she’s always competing against Ian’s memories of his ex-wife.) I wonder if Kym feels stressed by her post-divorce relationships, too.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

The rigors of high Victorian Society require superior execution in the following disciplines: the courtesy; proper fan deployment; the serving of tea; and dance.

The rigors of high-risk Victorian Espionage require superior execution in the following disciplines: encryption and decryption; proper weapons deployment: the serving of poison; and infiltration.

Happily, a singular institution addresses both needs: Madamemoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Located in a dirigible hovering over an undetermined area of Great Britain, Madamoiselle Geraldine’s provides students with the certain je ne sais quois to succeed at marriage or mayhem dependent upon her interests.

In the same vein as Jack London and John Le Carré, Gail Carriger’s seminal adventure Etiquette & Espionage recounts the exploits of Sophronia Barnaclegoose, Madame Geraldine’s most famous alumnae. For the discerning and intrepid readers at your institution.

Enter to win a copy here.

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Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged historical fiction

Josie is a level-headed girl saving every penny for college. She cleans the whorehouse where her mother works. She’s also a clerk at a bookstore where she indulges her love of literature and hangs with Patrick, her best friend. Josie is nervously awaiting the results of her application to Smith while helping Patrick keep his father out of the local insane asylum. She juggles all of this plus a burgeoning relationship with Jesse, a local car mechanic.

Josie’s mom has never been a good mother or role model. But when she takes up with Cincinnati, a criminal who threatened Josie, it is almost too much for her.  Then a rich man dies under questionable circumstances and her mother is called in for questioning by the police.  Her mother bumps everyone’s lives into crisis mode and may derail Josie’s future.

Why I picked it up: After Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray, I would read whatever she puts out there.  By the way, it sold thousands of extra copies because booksellers and readers ordered her book about a Lithuanian girl in a concentration camp thinking it was Fifty Shades of Grey.

Why I finished it: The characters. The madam of the house, Willie, is clearly Josie’s biggest fan. She sends Josie off to the countryside when the murder investigation gets a little hot, gives her relationship advice, and yells for coffee first thing in the morning if Josie is late with it. Josie and Patrick have a great platonic relationship, too. One funny part involved them flashing pre-determined hand signs at the bookshop to signal what genre of book they thought a customer would buy, all for a dime bet.

I'd give it to: Nora, who loved Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil, which is set in Savannah, because Out of the Easy also gives a great sense of a city (New Orleans) at a particular moment in history. I was surprised to not find fleur-de-lis painted on my walls after I was done reading.

Mythmaker: The Life of J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by Anne E. Neimark

Link to this review by snow tagged biography

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." When John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote these words on a blank page in an examination book he was grading for one of the classes he taught at Oxford University, he had no idea of the magnitude of the story he was about to write. But this simple professor -- who loved languages and mythology and dragons -- was compelled to find out what a "hobbit" was and, in doing so, craft one of the greatest fantasy novels of all time. Neimark's biography explores Tolkien's life including his childhood in Africa, his studies at Oxford, his military service in World War I, and of course writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Includes an index and a chronological list of Tolkien's writings.

Why I picked it up: I spent two weeks at Oxford University many summers ago and heard a lot about Professor Tolkien. But I didn't know much about his life before Oxford. Also, with all the press surrounding the release of The Hobbit movie I wanted to learn a little more about how he started writing the Middle Earth books. (Though I don't usually read biographies, Neimark's book had a friendly, approachable cover and a manageable page count.)

Why I finished it: Neimark's writing is clear and easy to follow. She avoids making the biography into a Hollywood-style drama. She allows Tolkien’s moments of pain -- losing both parents at a young age; his forced separation from the girl he loves; the horrors of war -- to stand starkly on their own. This also highlights the joy he found in work and family. Readers familiar with Tolkien's hobbits will see how their praise of good food and close family ties mirrors Tolkien's own world.

I'd give it to: Emily Rose. Almost nine years ago her parents played the music from The Lord of the Rings movies in the delivery room when she was born. As she's grown up, she's heard a lot about hobbits and dwarves and magical rings. I think she'd like that Tolkien was a devout Catholic (just like her family) and that he fell in love with his wife when he was very young (Emily Rose's father has loved her mother from the moment he met her in high school).

When We Wake by Karen Healey

On the best day of her life Tegan Oglietti finally felt she was making a difference. She was out there on the front lines with her friends taking on the power-that-be in order to make the world a better place.

On the best day of her life Tegan Oglietti died.

The next day of her life Tegan Oglietti was reanimated at a government facility a century after her death. She wakes to her worst nightmare: a world in ruins, everyone she loved long dead. Can Tegan make a new life, new friends? Most of all can she make a difference?

Enter to win a copy here.

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Rebel in a Dress: Cowgirls by Sylvia Branzei, Melissa Sweet

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged biography

These cowgirls aren't just horse riders, ranch hands, and sharpshooters. They're also independent, tough, and make their own decisions about their lives. Each inspiring, short biography has painted portraits and cool collages of their lives, and some have photographs, too.

Why I picked it up: I'd never seen a collective biography like this. It’s not that they’re from similar professions or backgrounds -- I mean a book about tough people with the same attitude.

Why I finished it: There were famous cowgirls like Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane, but also some I'd never heard of like poet Georgie Connell Sicking and Mary Fields, the first African American woman to work for the U.S. Postal Service (she was super tough but also took care of people in need). I learned a lot!

I'd give it to: Stephanie, who works in a rural library. The teen girls she talks to would like a book about girl power that’s set in the backcountry.

Beta by Rachel Cohn

Link to this review by danritchie tagged science fiction

In a post environmental warfare dystopia, there is a remarkable man-made paradise where the world's richest dally. This is Demesne, an island archipelago with super-oxygenated air, calm waters protected from the raging ocean, and where visitors are served by replicants (clones) whose souls are replaced with data and memory chips.

Elysia is one of only two Beta teen clones. Because of their hormonal imbalance, teens have never been cloned before. Demesne’s governor’s wife purchases Elysia because she wants to replace her headstrong daughter who recently left to study on the mainland.

At first Elysia seems like a perfect replicant. But she begins to experience quirks, and see strange images she believes are from her First. She also has an uncanny feel for the water and soon begins experiencing compassion, lust, and anger. As Elysia strives to understand her emerging humanity, she finds herself embroiled in a secret replicant insurrection.

Why I picked it up: I read the intro to the publisher’s galley and found the idea of a resilient teen struggling to shed a life of servitude compelling.

Why I finished it: Elysia’s growing sense of self-awareness as she begins to experience sexual awareness and pleasure, and when she mourns the death of the family cook.  I also found myself fascinated by this world where ugly decadence exists in what should be a perfect paradise; replicants are non-entities, tools to enhance the lives of those who can afford a carefree existence.

I'd give it to: Rebecca, who loves feisty female teen protagonists, and will relish the blossoming sense of purpose Elysia experiences as she fends off attempts to turn her into a consort and explores her need for freedom.

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler

Once upon a time in the Midwest, there lived a boy named Aaron. He learned to read, rode his bike, loved his parents. Each day was special for that day might be The Day: The day when Jesus came again in glory to take up the faithful to live at His right hand. Then his family would be together forever in a thrilling future with the Savior.

Once upon a time in the Midwest, there lived a teenager named Aaron. He, studied hard, played hymns, loved his parents. Each day was special, for that day might be The Day: The day he saw his first movie, starred in the school play, tasted his first kiss. That future was every bit as thrilling as his childhood dream of living with the Savior.

Aaron Hartzler’s Rapture Practice recalls his teenage journey to discover the person he truly his without losing the family he loves.

Enter to win a copy here.

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Ganesha's Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel, Emily Haynes

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged picture book

Ganesha, the Hindu god, was once a kid with an elephant’s head who rode around on a magical mouse and loved sweets. But when he bit down on a jawbreaker (against the mouse’s advice), he broke his tusk.

Why I picked it up: I flipped it open to the endpapers, which are filled with sketches. It’s a beautiful contrast with the rest of the book, and I felt like I was getting a behind-the-scenes peek at the book’s creation.

Why I finished it: I haven’t liked pink this much since I chewed Hubba Bubba as a kid. The colors really pop, and the flat, 2D look of the art reminds me of older picture books I read as a kid (though none of them looked this bright).

I'd give it to: Sameer, so that I can hear his critique of the wordless, two-page summary of The Mahabharata that Ganesha writes down using his tusk. He’ll probably rail against all of the details that are missing, but I’ll be able to get him to admit that this story is just plain fun, too.

Empowered Volume 1 by Adam Warren

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged graphic novelsuperhero

Empowered is the lame name of a novice superhero having a really tough time getting the respect of her peers. The source of her powers, a regenerating super-suit, tends to get destroyed much too often, leaving her naked and embarrassed as she waits for her teammates to come to her rescue.

Why I picked it up: I came across it when I was browsing on Amazon. I was surprised by the good reviews and that I’d never heard of it.

Why I finished it: Warren drew me into a story that’s full of fan service by getting into Empowered’s head and really fleshing the character out by asking some really smart questions. Why would a superhero continue under such mortifying circumstances?  How would this affect her self-confidence and development as a hero? Is she stupid or exceptionally brave? This made it more than a T&A-heavy sideshow.

I'd give it to: Rachel, who understands what a burden having a sexy body can be, and would find Empowered's journey from lonely sex object to sexually confident hero in a satisfying relationship as interesting and titillating as I did.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Evie O’Neill is exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. Too bad she has to live with her uncle Will and his obsession with the occult. Evie worries he’ll discover her secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will comes to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer. As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

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Monsieur Jean: The Singles Theory by Philippe Dupuy, Charles Berberian

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novel

The world seems to be mocking thirty-something Jean and his bitter friend, Felix, with images of love and lust.

Why I picked it up: I love comics that use black, white, and one color. And thanks to the blurb at the back of the book, I now know this is called duotone! (Why didn’t any of you librarians ever tell me that when I was ranting about books like this??)

Why I finished it: The story had me right from the beginning. It opens with M. Jean’s recurring dream: three assassins want to kill him. They’re in his room when he wakes up and in the bathroom when he’s in the tub. When he begs for the chance to see his favorite film one more time, they inexplicably accompany him to the theater.

I'd give it to: Mike will like Jean’s friend, Felix, who has so much charisma he can seduce women by telling them about his stinky feet, but who doesn’t know when to shut up.

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