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Recommendations for Friday, December 13, 2013

Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing by Leonard S. Marcus

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by billbarnes tagged artbiographypicture book

Unshelved strip for 12/13/2013

@bookblrb: Bank clerk Randolph Caldecott taught himself to draw and forever changed the way children’s books were illustrated.

Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile by Nate Jackson

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged biographynonfiction

Nate Jackson will tell you himself that he was not an NFL star. He came from a tiny division three college and made the practice squad of an NFL team only because his coach knew someone who knew someone. He got cut and rehired several times -- once he barely got his uniform before his new team cut him again. 

This memoir is a look at how cold, impersonal, and even boring being a NFL player can be (except for when it is awesome). Nate tells about rehabbing injuries (he tore his hamstring muscles multiple times), how expensive it is for players to get tickets for friends and family, and feeling constantly, physically broken down. But he also tells about scoring his first touchdown twenty feet in front of his parents, and the superb feeling of being part of a winning team.

Why I picked it up: I remember Nate Jackson as a receiver/tight end for the Denver Broncos. I picked up the book for my three sons, all NFL fans who plan their weekends around watching football. After they each finished it, I thought I should try it, too. 

Why I finished it: Jackson’s description of the workout programs he and his teammates endured, with players often crying and vomiting afterward. He explains that “each teardrop that hits the ground fertilizes [his coach’s] torture garden.” He even discusses (with humor) his reasons for abstinence before a game; he prefers to “keep his weapon locked and loaded.” Nate doesn’t write to embellish his legend, so he is refreshingly honest, like when he talks about trying Human Growth Hormone for the first time because he was on his way out of the league and wasn’t ready for his football dream to die.

It's perfect for: My friend Don, who has three fantasy football teams. He would love the details Jackson shares about his coaches and fellow players. He was not a fan of his head coach in Cleveland, Eric Mangini, a complete control freak he referred to as “Mangina.”  He also talks about special team plays and explains how players’ “lanes” are numbered on kickoffs, so that they don’t run into each other while gunning for an opposing team member.

@bookblrb: Nate Jackson’s NFL tell-all focuses on the less glamorous, impersonal, boring side of playing pro football.

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

In the sequel to Better Nate Than Ever, Nate Foster’s Broadway dreams are finally coming true.

Armed with a one-way ticket to New York City, small-town theater geek Nate is off to start rehearsals for E.T.: The Broadway Musical. It’s everything he ever practiced his autograph for! But as thrilling as Broadway is, rehearsals are nothing like Nate expects: full of intimidating child stars, cut-throat understudies, and a director who can’t even remember Nate’s name.

Now, as the countdown to opening night is starting to feel more like a time bomb, Nate is going to need more than his lucky rabbit’s foot if he ever wants to see his name in lights. He may even need a showbiz miracle.

The companion novel to Better Nate Than Ever, which The New York Times called “inspired and inspiring,” Five, Six, Seven, Nate! is full of secret admirers, surprise reunions, and twice the drama of middle school...with a lot more glitter.

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The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged literary

Gwen is mourning the loss of her husband after he dies unexpectedly. Her sister Margot is mourning the loss of her dignity after her OB/GYN husband is convicted of being a personal sperm donor to several patients, and then her divorce settlement is obliterated by Bernie Madoff. Gwen and Margot become roommates in Margot’s penthouse in the Village, and try to build a new life without the men who defined them. They pick up a sassy gay friend/roommate, Anthony, who helps Margot both coax Gwen into the dating world and weather the storms when Margot’s husband tries to win her back.

Why I picked it up: I’ve always been drawn to Lipman’s work because of great reviews and the excellent, Art Deco-esque covers, but I've seldom picked her books up. This one caught my eye because, unlike most buzzworthy summer fiction, it wasn’t a doorstop -- it checks in at a breezy 252 pages.

Why I finished it: I could not stop hate-reading about Charles, the narcissistic, clueless, selfish, creepy-as-all-get-out convicted felon who nonetheless finds his way back into Margot’s good graces. He’s so hopeless that I almost (ALMOST) felt sorry for him.

It's perfect for: My colleague, Marcia, an urban goddess who has been a grownup in the dating pool of Manhattan. I wonder if she’s ever had a date as bad as the high-powered executive who changed the time of his dinner with Gwen via voicemail, then yelled at her for not being ready on time.

@bookblrb: Gwen’s husband dies and her sister is divorced and broke. They try to build new lives in New York.

The Rime of the Modern Mariner by Nick Hayes

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged graphic novelliterarypoetry

A man leaving his divorce hearings stops in a park and sits on a bench to eat his lunch and read a newspaper. He is approached by a strange man he assumes to be homeless who tells him a bizarre tale of a terrible journey across the ocean. The journey starts when the man plans to travel by boat to Japan to acquire some whale bone dominoes, shoots an albatross for sport, and dooms the entire crew with his poor judgement.

Why I picked it up: When I was a teenager I really got into Iron Maiden for a while, mostly because it irritated my dad, though I liked the music, too. My absolute favorite song of theirs was a retelling of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" because when they performed it on stage special effects made it look like the band was on a ship. That lead me to find the illustrated version by Gustave Doré, which is also fantastic. I wanted to see if this could hold a candle to both.

Why I finished it: The art was awesome. Hayes uses black, blue, and white to create a vision of the undersea world that looks both familiar and alien. These illustrations resemble woodblock prints because their sculpted, bold lines end in delicate curls, but they have a strikingly modern style, too. (Here is a great article about how he came up with the idea for this book.)

It's perfect for: My scuba diving buddy, Cousin Loubee, who would be drawn in by the gorgeous depictions of sea life in the swirling ocean depths, and horrified by all the trash that has infiltrated once-pristine waters.

@bookblrb: A man on a park bench listens to a strange tale about a doomed boat journey.

Also Known as Elvis by James Howe

Skeezie Tookis navigates a pivotal summer of first crushes and tough choices in this conclusion to the bestselling and acclaimed quartet that began with The Misfits.

Skeezie Tookis, also known as Elvis, isn’t looking forward to this summer in Paintbrush Falls. While his best friends Bobby, Joe, and Addie are off on exciting adventures, he’s stuck at home, taking care of his sisters and working five days a week to help out his mom. True, he gets to hang out at the Candy Kitchen with the awesome HellomynameisSteffi, but he also has to contend with Kevin Hennessey’s never-ending bullying. And then there’s the confusing world of girls, especially hot-and-cold Becca, his maybe-crush. And the dog that he misses terribly. And the dad who left two years before, whom Skeezie is convinced is the cause of all his troubles. In the words of the King, Skeezie Tookis is All Shook Up.

Skeezie’s got the leather jacket of a tough guy, but a heart of gold—and his story, the fourth and final chapter of the beloved Misfits series, is brimming with life’s tough choices, love in all directions, and enough sweet potato fries to go...

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Once Upon a Banana: A story told in street signs by Jennifer Armstrong, David Small

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged humorpicture book

A street performer chases his monkey through the streets of a city. It steals a banana, ignores a “Please Put Litter In Its Place” sign, and discards the peel on the sidewalk, starting a hilarious chain of events.

Why I picked it up: Small’s autobiographical graphic novel, Stitches, was amazing, but I’d never read one of his picture books.

Why I finished it: When the biker ignores the “No Parking In This Space” sign with a toothless, rule-breaking grin, then pays for his transgression when he slips on the banana peel, I knew the book had a sense of justice. And the look in the biker’s face as he fell was hilarious.

It's perfect for: Little kids who like puzzle books like the I Spy and Where’s Waldo? series. Each two-page spread requires a careful look to see how the events on the previous spread led there, and closer “readings” reveal more and more details.

@bookblrb: A street performer chases his banana-stealing monkey though the streets of a city. Chaos ensues.

Huck Runs Amuck! by Sean Taylor, Peter H. Reynolds

Link to this review by ang tagged humorpicture book

From the point of his “trendy beard” to the “tips of his super-grip toes,” Huck is one flower-crazed mountain goat. Eyes wide and tongue lolling, he frolics in search of his favorite treat. Every time he almost has those delectable petals in his mouth, a mishap sends him tumbling, but Huck refuses to give up.

Why I picked it up: The charming cover features a deranged goat with a flower in his teeth.

Why I finished it: Sometimes it is poetic (“Cardboard boxes taste like boring afternoons.”), sometimes the humor is subtle (the German Shepherd barks, “Voof!”), and sometimes it is just get-the-giggles silly (Huck tries to eat Mrs. Tuppleton’s flowery underpants). As a read-aloud, it is flawless. The pacing and rhythm, combined with moments of suspense and audience participation, are the stuff that magical storytimes are made of.

It's perfect for: Teacher and fellow fortysomething, Laura, because the artwork feels like a throwback to the cheerful simplicity of the books we grew up with. In these uncluttered drawings, Huck’s facial expressions are so whimsical that when she shares them with her second grade class, they will grin just as goofily as the goat does.

@bookblrb: A hungry mountain goat tries to find some flowers to eat.

The Call of the Bully: A Rodney Rathbone Novel by Scott Starkey

Rodney Rathbone is back in this sequel to How to Beat the Bully Without Really Trying—but will his superstar reputation survive summer camp?

Rodney’s parents surprise him by signing him up for summer camp—pitting Rodney against the toughest kid at camp and an old nemesis out for revenge. Will Rodney get by with a little help from his friends?

From facing treacherous rapids to leading a nighttime spy mission, Rodney soon finds himself in the unlikely role of camp hero. How long it lasts will depend on whether a former adversary gets her way…

Fun, exciting, and full of surprises, the “fast-moving story lines and larger-than-life characters” will make you “sit up and take notice” (School Library Journal)!

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The Lost Bank: The Story of Washington Mutual -- The Biggest Bank Failure in American History by Kirsten Grind

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged historynonfiction

This is the story of hubris, greed, dysfunctional relationships, and bad leadership. Washington Mutual (WAMU), a bank that was a small, community lender in the early 80s, grew exponentially through questionable acquisitions of banks and sketchy, sometimes fraudulent mortgage lenders to become the sixth largest bank in the United States. With the aggressive, ambitious Kerry Killinger at the helm, WAMU securitized risky adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) and increased sub-prime lending to boost its stock price (and therefore Killinger's pay). When the housing market imploded, many of the ARMs and sub-prime loans failed, leading to bank runs by customers and, eventually, to federal agents seizing control of WAMU. Not only did anyone who held stock in WAMU lose everything, former employees also lost their pensions. WAMU remains the biggest bank failure in U.S. history.

Why I picked it up: WAMU was omnipresent in my home state, Washington, for most of the last thirty years. I grew up watching their commercials and even had a checking account there.  When I saw the book while walking through the library, I read the inside cover blurb and was hooked.

Why I finished it: Killinger, known for his anti-confrontational stance, was so ill-equipped for the task of leading the bank out of trouble that even as the housing market imploded, he hosted a party for top mortgage agents in Hawaii. It was also sad and instructive to read that William Longbrake, a longtime executive at the bank, raised red flags about the inability of many mortgagees to pay their monthly bills as the housing bubble grew, but no one wanted to listen to him because so much money was being made.

It's perfect for: My brother-in-law, who lost his house during the foreclosure crisis that followed WAMU’s collapse. Nobody at the bank would help him, the terms of his ARM were predatory, and in the end he lost everything. He has often thought that the banks were “clueless” (his language was rarely this tame), but this will give him factual ammunition about the bank’s behind-the-scenes actions. 

@bookblrb: How hubris, greed, dysfunction, and just plain bad leadership brought down Washington Mutual Bank.

The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey

Link to this review by wally tagged humor

The anonymous (probably for his protection) narrator tells how he and his friend Don go to Hawaii to find the Golden Monkey, a legendary, priceless statue. Along the way they encounter a cursed hula girl figurine, a beautiful native named Leilani, hordes of tourists, and turtle men.

Why I picked it up: Jack Handey wrote it! If you have ever laughed at one of his Deep Thoughts, whether on Saturday Night Live or on a greeting card, you will know that is more than enough. And yes, he's a real guy.

Why I finished it: Every paragraph made me chuckle, and I had belly laughs at least every five pages. The narrator is nothing short of an idiotic sociopath, offering lines like, “I thought about my girlfriend back in America. What was her name again? It was something like Snargaret.” And he spends a lot of time drinking the only supply he brought along on the expedition -- Glenriddance, an expensive scotch -- leaving all the work to Don.

It's perfect for: Scott, whose sense of humor is just as juvenile as mine.  He would love the absurdity of the one-liners and the running jokes, such as the time he prays to a pelican not to peck him to death, and then deifies it with lines like "What in the name of the Pelican God was going on here?"

@bookblrb: Two men go to Hawaii on an absurd adventure to find a priceless statue.

Runt by Nora Raleigh Baskin

An insightful exploration of middle school bullying from multiple perspectives, by the award-winning author of Anything But Typical.

Elizabeth Moon grew up around dogs. Her mom runs a boarding kennel out of their home, so she’s seen how dogs behave to determine pack order. Her experience in middle school is uncomfortably similar.

Maggie hates how Elizabeth acts so much better than everyone else. Besides, she’s always covered in dog hair. And she smells. So Maggie creates a fake profile on a popular social networking site to teach Elizabeth a lesson.

What makes a bully, and what makes a victim? It’s all in the perspective, and the dynamics shift. From sibling rivalries to mean girl antics, the varying points of view in this illuminating novel from the award-winning author of Anything But Typical show the many shades of gray—because middle school is anything but black and white.

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The Black Axe: (Mouse Guard) by David Petersen

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged fantasygraphic novel

This prequel to Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 and Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 tells the story of Celanawe (“KHEL-EN-AWE”), who, as a kind of medieval superhero known as the Black Axe (named for the weapon he wields), helped protect mouse civilization from predators and foes.

In spring of 1115, a distant, aged relative of Celanawe’s seeks him out at his remote post. She is on a quest to locate the Black Axe (the weapon), and she needs his help. Together they sail across the treacherous Northern Sea to a land which, unknown to them, is filled with ferrets.

Publisher’s Rating: E Everyone: “This book contains content suitable for readers of all ages. It may contain minimal violence."

Why I picked it up: After looking through David Petersen’s original drawings at a con years ago, I picked up one of my favorite art books, the black and white edition of Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, which reproduces his inked pages at their original size and includes vellum overlays Peterson uses to add rain to drawings. I already loved his art, but this special edition made it even more amazing, and I’ve never missed one of his books after that.

Why I finished it: Once they cross the sea, the mice go to a hall in the hill, on the advice of several crows. It was clearly built by creatures much bigger than mice, yet they venture inside. Celanawe stands up to them, sword in hand, and demands what is his. It’s amazingly brave, more so because he’s so small and absolutely ready to back up his words with action if need be. He then makes a deal with the ferrets -- they will give him the Black Axe in exchange for killing a fox which is plaguing their land. (It’s an epic fight.)

It's perfect for: My writing mentor, Frank. His fantasy stories' settings are always rich and fully realized, so he’d appreciate the details of mouse civilization, like their funerary rights and the fact that they only turn to fishing after running out of supplies at sea (the necessity of eating flesh is repugnant to any non-seafaring mouse). And I think he’d enjoy the ferrets, too, who are civilized in their own way and have no desire to kill when they’re not hungry.

@bookblrb: The story of the Black Axe, protector of mouse civilization, named for the weapon he wields.

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