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Recommendations for Friday, December 06, 2013

We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ

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

Unshelved strip for 12/6/2013

@bookblrb: After a crash landing on a deserted planet, a woman tells the men who plan to populate the planet to go take a hike.

The Mysterious Howling: (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Volume 1) by Maryrose Wood, Katherine Kellgren

Link to this review by snow tagged audiobookchapter bookhistorical fiction

Miss Penelope Lumley has just graduated from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females and been hired as the governess at Ashton Place, a country manor. But it is not until she accepts the job that she meets her three charges, and discovers that they were raised by wolves and found by Lord Ashton while hunting. Penelope must get Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia ready to meet society, or Lady Constance, the mistress of the house, will fire her and send the children to an orphanage. Penelope was well-prepared for teaching Latin and social graces, but if she can't get the children to stop chasing squirrels, then they'll never get any learning done.

Why I picked it up: This one lingered on my to-read list for a while until I stumbled over the audiobook and decided the time had come to give it a go. The attractive but odd cover appealed to me. I wanted to know more about why the young woman looked so lost and why the children were hunched over like dogs at her feet (except for the one boy who is climbing a tree after a squirrel).

Why I finished it: Kellgren's narration was spot-on. She aptly handled the gruff voice of Lord Ashton, the no-nonsense speech of Penelope, and the quavering tones of Lady Constance. She also made the growls and barks of the children adorable. Every time Cassiopeia said her name -- "Cassawoof!" -- I wanted to coo and pet her on the head. I was never confused about who was speaking (or howling). But all of this would be for naught if it weren't for Wood's engaging writing. Several times I found myself sitting in my driveway waiting for a chapter to end, and I gasped or laughed out loud at several points when the action reached a peak or the children did something silly. Wood's narrator has a dry humor that both acknowledges that the reader is living in a modern era, making references to cable television and such, and also deftly explains old-fashioned terms without ever breaking the flow of the story.

Readalikes:  Readers who want more stories about "poor bright females" (and males) should check out The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. Though Stewart's book has a more modern setting, there's still plenty of adventure, plus one little girl who is almost wolfish in her stubbornness. The Bad Beginning, the first book in Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, is a readalike for those who appreciated wittiness as well as the omniscient, professorial narrator, though it has a much darker tone than Wood's story. And for another tale set in England at the beginning of the same century, with an equally challenging child but with lots of magic, try Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis.

@bookblrb: Penelope Lumley has been hired as governess for three children raised by wolves.

Basher Basics: Space Exploration by Dan Green, illustrated by Simon Basher

From Basher, the illustrator who showed the periodic table in a whole new light and gave us his fresh spin on physics, astronomy, planet Earth, chemistry and more, comes a book that shines its light into out-of-this-world beings who make the universe tick.

Learn about the amazing research that is revolutionizing space exploration, from the pioneering space crafts and equipment known as 'Space Aces' that have been used to delve into deep-space exploration to the scientists known as 'The Outerplanetary Mob' that have not only taken voyages to space and back but have contributed to our understanding of the universe. Space Exploration is a compelling guide to developments at the very forefront of science – a must-read for anyone wishing to understand, and engage with, modern space.

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Papa's Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming, Boris Kulikov

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged historical fictionpicture book

A little girl in the 1850s introduces her papa, an inventor who builds and refines his underwater vehicles based on her innocent observations of the fish they see in the lake.

Why I picked it up: I'm charmed by that golden age of invention.

Why I finished it: The story has the wonderful repetition of the best bedtime stories -- each invention must be improved after a disaster in the lake, as gorgeous fish look on.

It's perfect for: Students doing their history day projects. This is the second picture book I've read based on original historical research, complete with notes at the end (the first was [ http://www.unshelved.com/bookclub/2010-6-18#DayGloBrothers)). They're fast and charming reads that demonstrate that valuable, original research is still being done.

Warning for parents of very young picture book readers: The father the story was based on died at forty-one, so skip the historical notes before bedtime.

@bookblrb: An inventor builds underwater vehicles based on his daughter’s observations of fish in a lake.

Frozen by Melissa De La Cruz, Michael Johnston

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of agescience fiction

Nat is hiding in plain sight as a dealer in New Vegas, wearing special lenses to hide her iridescent blue eyes. A simple iris scan would show that she was Marked with faerie magic, at which point she would be removed to a facility for her own good, according to the government of the RSA (Remaining States of America). Her job pays in heat credits because in a frozen world, heat is both the most important survival tool and currency. 

Nat is trying to save up enough for passage out of the city so that she can search for the Blue, a mythical place where the water is not fouled and the air is clean. Keeping herself fed and warm makes this difficult, though. After she palms a few chips at the casino, she has enough to hire Wes and his motley crew of army veterans to get her out of the city and protect her from the creatures outside.  

No matter what Nat does, though, she can’t get away from the insistent voice in her head that seems to be guiding her toward the Blue.

Why I picked it up: In a single afternoon, right before a trip to my local bookstore, I came across an advertisement for it in School Library Journal  and then a library colleague told me it was circulating well. When I saw a standing cardboard promo at the bookstore, I had to give it a try.

Why I finished it: The husband and wife authors construct an ambitious, well thought-out world. There is New Vegas, where people gamble with heat credits, swaddled in parkas in casinos where bomb attacks from Marked separatists and the Drau (faerie creatures the government has declared are enemy number one) are so common that the gambling on the floor never stops, even when people are killed. This attention to detail from the authors extends to Nat's escape on the sea, where she and the veterans must dodge trashbergs, floating clumps of discarded trash.

It's perfect for: Ecology-loving tree-huggers who love cliffhangers. There was a strong ecological preservation message, and every section of the book ends with Nat and Wes in another impossible situation. It reminded me of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series which also had a breathless pace and was set in a very screwed up world.

@bookblrb: Nat needs to stay warm in a frozen future while hiding the fact that she’s Marked with faerie magic.

Basher Science: Extreme Physics by Dan Green, illustrated by Simon Basher

In Basher's totally hip and quirky style, readers are introduced to the amazing research that is revolutionizing physics! From the pioneering experiments taking place in the Hadron Collider to NASAs deep-space exploration, Basher Science: Extreme Physics highlights the realm of miniscule things that was discovered in the early 1900s by scientists who were on the hunt for teeny-tiny parts of matter, the bits from which all larger things are made. This wild, uncertain world is bursting with crazy characters you're about to meet-youre gonna love them!

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Scorpion Shards: (The Shards Chronicles Book One) by Neal Shusterman

Link to this review by danritchie tagged coming of agescience fiction

Six sixteen-year-old teens began developing bizarre afflictions during puberty. Dillon is consumed by the need to destroy things. Deanna’s overwhelming fears grow daily. Lourdes gains weight even after she stops eating. Michael is driven by lust and his power over women; one kiss and they belong to him. Winston begins growing in reverse, shrinking back toward childhood. Tory has horrific acne and increasing joint pain.

When light from Mentarsus-H's supernova sixteen light years away appears in the night sky, each of these teens feels an overwhelming compulsion to leave their families and search for one another. Lourdes, Michael, Winston and Tory are drawn to a small Iowa town. They feel a powerful connection when they meet and discover they were all born at the moment the supernova occurred sixteen years earlier. (The dying star sent a powerful piece of its soul to each of the infants born at that moment. And these soul shards were possessed by demons that awakened when the teens hit puberty.) But the two others set out on their own path; Dillon and Deanna head west to create the ultimate disaster. Dillon has given in to his demon, and Deanna's fears are calmed by his destructive urges.

Why I picked it up: I have loved everything Shusterman has ever written, so when Gene offered me a copy, I grabbed it.

Why I finished it: I found the dual quest of the four compelling. As their demons grow stronger, their wills and loyalties are tested. Winston has regressed to a five year old, Michael rages and struggles to contain his need, Lourdes grows so big she can barely move and Tory begins to look like a freak and her pain becomes intense. They know they must follow Dillon's destructive path, but it’s not clear if they’ll survive long enough to stop him before he kills everyone on the planet.

It's perfect for: Jess, who will be fascinated by Dillon's ability to analyze people and situations and see complex arrays of probable outcomes. He seems psychic, but actually he has worked out every scenario and knows who to push and how to push that person to create chaos and feed his hunger. In one scene, he tells a girl that her boyfriend is just like his dad, a philanderer, which causes an argument. The boyfriend’s mother screams, distracting another boy riding a bike. A car hits him, leading to a chain of ever more disastrous events until the neighborhood is a physical and emotional shamble.

@bookblrb: After a supernova appears, six teens experience bizarre afflictions and a desire to seek out one another.

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged artnonfictionsuperhero

A book of brilliant and funny comic book-related infographics that show a depth of knowledge of the medium, characters, and business that is truly neurotic. There’s “A Venn Diagram of Sueprhero Comic Tropes” with three sets: “Underwear on the Outside,” “Tragically Dead Parents,” and “Cape.” (Superman and Batman are at the intersection of all three, but there’s only one Marvel character there -- Magneto.) A few pages from the butt-shaped “The Definitive R. Crumb Butt Matrix” is a chart of Stan Lee’s author credits.

Why I picked it up: I read this excerpt on the Wired site and wanted more.

Why I finished it: The book had me from the table of contents and introduction because I could tell Tim Leong was my sort of guy. The table of contents visually shows the variety of charts in the book (via a chart), as well as the number of superhero charts vs. non-superhero charts. The next page shows two breakdowns, “Charts that are funny” vs “Charts that are not as funny as I think they are (including this one).” I want a personal version of the chart like on pages four and five, where Leong visually shows the number of books on his shelf by publisher (DC dominates his bookshelf, though he’s got a nice variety), and strangely “Books I pretend I don’t own” seems to be almost equal to his “Books I’ve bought multiple copies of because I forgot I owned them.”

It's perfect for: You, if you’ve ever wondered at the size of Kandor, the difference between cosplay and crossplay, which spy won more battles in Spy vs. Spy, or the team affiliations of Marvel characters. (The latter is confusing even with the chart.)

@bookblrb: Nerdy infographics that lay bare the truth about comics, superheroes, and the author’s own collection.

Basher Science: Extreme Biology by Dan Green, illustrated by Simon Basher

Learn about the amazing research that is revolutionizing biology, from advances in medicine to genetic engineering. Meet the world’s toughest bacterium and a biologically immortal flatworm whilst learning about epigenetics, superbugs, nanomedicine and cloning. Extreme Biology is a compelling guide to developments at the very forefront of science – a must-read for anyone wishing to understand, and engage with, modern biology.

Topics discussed in this book include:

  • Hardcore Herd: Water bear, Conan the Bacterium, Planarian flatworm, Superbug (antibiotic-resistant microbes), Aliens
  • Gene Genies: Gene (including DNA, RNA, Nucleotides), Gene expression, Protein, Prion, Genome, Epigenetics
  • BioHacker Crew: Gene splicing, Recombinant DNA, Recombinant protein, Polymerase chain reaction, Genetically modified organism, Cloning, Gene machine, Shmeat (including tissue culture), Designer baby, Synthetic life, Biosafety (including bioethics)
  • Bioscience Buddies/Drug Dudes: Nanomedicine, Monoclonal antibodies, Broad spectrum antiviral, Pharming (the use of genetic engineering to grow drugs), Biosensors
  • Medical Mavericks: Face transplant, Regenerative medicine, Gene therapy (including DNA vaccine), Functional MRI

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Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani, Maris Wicks

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged biographygraphic novelnonfiction

Slightly fictionalized version of the story of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, all of whom were recruited to study primates in the wild by anthropologist Louis Leakey.

Why I picked it up: I always read Jim’s science-related graphic novels, and I’ve been waiting to read this since I saw Maris Wicks’s art at her table at 2012’s New York Comic Con.

Why I finished it: This is the best drawn and colored graphic novel I’ve seen all year. Wicks's pictures look simple, but they capture a range of emotions, textures, and a real sense of place for each of the book’s wild locations. She captures the personalities of these amazing, determined women as well as of the chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans they study.

It's perfect for: Anyone who sees the humanity in Monkey Portraits, fantasized about being Tarzan (like Jane Goodall did as a child), or enjoys watching people try to survive the wilderness in Naked and Afraid, though there’s very little non-ape nudity in this book. I’m giving it to my daughter, because she wants to be a vet. I think it will inspire her, show her the effort required to achieve her goal, and make her aware that there are a range of other dream jobs out there for people who love animals.

@bookblrb: The story of how Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas studied wild primates.

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding

Link to this review by darcy tagged nonfiction

Crystal meth is a problem across the U.S., especially in small agricultural towns. Journalist Nick Reding follows the spread of meth use and addiction in Oelwein, Iowa. Over the course of several years he interviews drug users, politicians, and other people who have been affected by meth use.

Why I picked it up: I've been doing a lot of research on meth for something I'm writing, and this came up in my literature search. The title grabbed me, too -- I imagined something like Disneyland filled with chem labs but without all the princesses.

Why I finished it: I was fascinated by the relationship between small towns, meth labs, and Big Agriculture’s takeover of America's farmlands. When large corporations move in, family farms and related businesses often can't compete against larger labor forces, higher production rates, and lower product prices. Farmers need money to support their families and declining farms. An easy way to get it is to sell large amounts of nitrous fertilizer to meth cooks, who use it as a cheap source for some of the the chemicals used in the manufacturing of meth. Young people, often the children of farmers, don't have enough work to support themselves, so they take jobs with the larger, big name plants. Meth is often sold to young people trying to stay awake to pull double shifts at these large plants.  

It's perfect for: Scott, the world's best bike mechanic and a science-minded guy. There is a part in the book where "small batchers" hire cyclists to ride around with mobile meth labs on the backs of their bikes. The movement of the bicycles provides the agitation necessary for making meth. This practice was so widespread that in one small town the mayor banned bicycles downtown. (I don't think that Scott would ever use his cycling powers for evil, though.)

@bookblrb: A journalist follows the spread of meth in Oelwein, Iowa.

Basher History: US Presidents by Dan Green, illustrated by Simon Basher

Basher's US Presidents shows you the nation's leaders as you've never seen them before. Every president, from George Washington to the winner of the 2012 election, has his own entry and speaks directly to the reader. In Basher's humorous fashion, these lively and enlightening articles bring history to life. Meet James Monroe, known as the "Last Cocked Hat" because he pranced around in an outdated wig, hat, and breeches! Learn more about "Uncle Jumbo" (better known as Grover Cleveland): the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. Find out how Ronald Reagan helped end the Cold War. Quirky facts add interest. Did you know that John Quincy Adams had a pet alligator? That Teddy Roosevelt (and his whole family) could walk on stilts? Or that Lyndon B. Johnson had worked as an elevator operator? Reading this book will put you on first-name terms with every single one of America's Head Honchoes!

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Half a Life by Darin Strauss

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged biographycoming of age

A few months before high school graduation, Darin Strauss killed Celine, a teenage girl from his school, with his car. It was judged a no-fault accident because Celine’s bike unexpectedly swerved into his lane, but it has towered over his life in the twenty years since it happened. Strauss is honest about every aspect of the tragedy, including his teen self’s worries about how this would affect him, whether his grief appeared legitimate and worthy to those watching him, and the pressure of having the girl’s mother tell him that he now had to do twice as well in life, “Because you are living it for two people.”  

Now a father and thirty-six years old, Strauss brings new insight to the experience that changed his life so monumentally.

Why I picked it up: It was recommended to me in The Book Lover’s Page a Day calendar. I wanted to see if an the author could make me understand his feelings about the experience then and now.

Why I finished it: Strauss shows the surreal nature of dealing with such an accident, especially as a teen. His family and friends sent him to see Stand and Deliver on the day of the accident to “take his mind off things.” He wonders if it was bad that he slept deeply and soundly the night of the accident, with no bad dreams. Going off to college the next year gave Strauss a way to escape his reputation as the guy who killed Celine, so for years, he buried his thoughts and memories of her death, never bringing it up to anyone he knew.

It's perfect for: A. Because of sexual abuse in her upbringing, she would understand Strauss’ claim that one has to have blinders, areas one doesn’t allow oneself to think of after a traumatic event. Strauss says that “without those blinders, [he] wouldn’t have made it.” Plus now, as A. did, Strauss has chosen to remove those blinders in therapy and examine his memories and thoughts.

@bookblrb: When Darian Strauss was a teen, he killed a girl with his car. This accident had a profound effect on his life.

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