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Recommendations for Friday, February 01, 2013

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

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

Unshelved strip for 2/1/2013

@bookblrb: Jack's wife is expecting. But he’s more at home underwater, where his dad disappeared and Jack now hears voices.

Smells Like Pirates by Suzanne Selfors

Link to this review by gigi tagged humormystery

Homer Pudding has just been made a member of L.O.S.T., an exclusive organization of treasure hunters. His dog, Dog, can’t smell normal things but can smell treasure.

In a video message after his funeral, Lord Mockingbird tells his relatives that he flushed all his money down the toilet. He then has a special message for L.O.S.T.'s members. (He was the founder.) He tells them who NOT to elect as leader (leaving one member very surprised).

They’re all hanging out in a hotel when Homer sees his “friend” Lorelei on TV. She’s holding a book that Homer left in his room, and which has the pieces of Rumpold Smeller’s treasure map in it. After Homer and his friend Hercules track down Lorelei, they set off together to find Smeller’s treasure.

Why I picked it up: I really liked the first two books in the series, Smells Like Dog and Smells Like Treasure.

Why I finished it: I liked the part when Homer, Lorelei, Hercules, and Dog find Angus MacDoodle and ask him how to read Smeller’s map. At first he wouldn’t talk to them, but then he saw Dog and read it for them because he once had a Bassett hound. And Angus talks weird. (I think he’s Irish or something.)

I'd give it to: Maisy, because she would like the part when Homer goes to Lorelei’s secret lair underneath the museum. It has a soda pop fountain and a pet whale shark.

The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook by Shaun Tan

"I'm often wary of using the word 'inspiration' to introduce my work--it sounds too much like a sun shower from the heavens, absorbed by a passive individual enjoying an especially receptive moment. While that may be the case on rare occasions, the reality is usually far more prosaic. Staring at a blank piece of paper, I can't think of anything original. I feel utterly uninspired and unreceptive. It's the familiar malaise of 'artist's block' and in such circumstances there is only one thing to do: just start drawing." --Shaun Tan.

And when Shaun Tan starts drawing, the results are stunning. In THE BIRD KING: AN ARTIST'S NOTEBOOK, we find a window into the creative process: the stops and starts, the ideas that never took off, and the ones that grew into something much bigger. Fans of THE ARRIVAL will recognize the quirky, surreal sensibility that is so distinctly Shaun Tan in this stunning collection, and gain insight into how his many gorgeous books were made.

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Underwater Dogs by Seth Casteel

Link to this review by darcy tagged coffee table booknonfiction

Over eighty photographs show the maniacal, slightly creepy faces of dogs as they dive underwater for sticks and balls. 

Why I picked it up: The bug-eyed dog on the cover looks like my chocolate lab, Fionn. 

Why I finished it: Every picture made me laugh. On land they are wagging their tails, smiling and drooling, but something happens underwater in their quest for the tennis ball. Dogs like Rhoda, Ralphie, and Stanley look like freakish fish of the deep and at times reminded me of anglerfish and viperfish. I couldn't wait to turn the page to see more of their glassy eyes, splayed paws, and cavernous mouths burping out bubbles. 

I'd give it to: Dora, the lady at my local pool who hosts a quarterly dog swim (just before they clean it), so she'd have something fun to look at after an evening of hosing dog hair out of the filters. 

@bookblrb: Photographs of maniacal, bug-eyed dogs diving underwater.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged science fiction

Winston Niles Rumfoord and his dog flew a spaceship into a chrono-synclastic infundibula near Mars. Now he materializes at his home in Newport, Rhode Island, every fifty-nine days. His wife, Beatrice, always refuses to speak with him.

Rumfoord insisted Malachi Constant, the richest man in America, meet with him on his next visit. Rumfoord tells Constant that he will be mated to Beatrice on Mars. That his son Chrono’s good luck piece is important. And that his ultimate destination will be Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.

Why I picked it up: I devoured Vonnegut’s books when I was in high school and college, but I hadn’t read one since then. My friend Heather was rereading this one, as she apparently does every year, and told me it’s one of her favorite books. And it’s one of the few I never read. (Plus Box Brown did an excellent guest comic about this book years ago.)

Why I finished it: My favorite Vonnegut books are the ones where you can tell he was having a good time while writing them, and he was clearly having fun with these characters and the story. Constant and Beatrice do everything they can to avoid their destinies, but the universe conspires against them. The novel seems to be building toward a Martian invasion of Earth, but it’s all a complete let-down and a misdirection out of which a new, utterly idiotic religion is born. (And this religion unexpectedly places the novel in the same world as Vonnegut’s famous short story, “Harrison Bergeron,” which I first read in middle school.)

I'd give it to: Dave. He’d like that, in the novel, the purpose of life on Earth isn’t utterly pointless, even if it is a bit ridiculous.

The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age by Janet Wallach

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged biography

Society during the Gilded Age was all about the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts trying to outdo everyone via lavish entertainment, gigantic houses, and membership in exclusive clubs. But there was also Hetty Green, the “Witch of Wall Street,” who wore frumpy clothes and took a public transportation to the bank even though she made a fortune in the male-dominated stock market. She focused on coldly, calmly researching potential investments, buying low and selling high. Green had a reputation for extreme frugality due to somewhat sensational articles in New York papers that reported she had only one suit of clothes which she stuffed with newspapers when she was cold. She supposedly even told her washerwoman to launder only the dirty parts of her dress to save money on detergent. (While these may have been slight exaggerations, it is true that she lived in boardinghouses for years, under assumed names, ostensibly to avoid New York taxes.) Yet she was warm and inviting and even occasionally mixed with polite society. She married for love, and her husband stayed with her throughout her life, although they separated when he speculated in the market with Hetty’s money but without her permission.

This thorough look at the real Hetty Green includes her Quaker upbringing and her misogynistic, disapproving father. Both left her with traits that drove her throughout her life, in particular, the Quaker bent for plainness and a desire for approval (probably to fill the void left by her father’s love, which he never gave) via making money.

Why I picked it up: When I was a child, I remember hearing about an eccentric multi-millionaire who had millions but lived like a Bowery bum. Upon reading the jacket copy on this book, I realized Hetty Green was the person they were talking about.

Why I finished it: Hetty Green once carried $200,000 in cash on public train to a bank. On getting there, she was chastised by the banker for carrying that much cash. He wanted her to take a hansom cab at least. She retorted, “A carriage, indeed! Perhaps you can afford to ride in a carriage -– I cannot.”  Hetty’s son Ned suffered a leg injury which Hetty tried to treat herself.  It is likely that not seeking immediate treatment led to permanent damage that in turn led to amputation years later.  When Ned began to work with her, she sent him from NY to Chicago with hundreds of thousands of dollars in a satchel to deliver to a bank. But when he arrived, he was dumbfounded that the banker told him the satchel was full of worthless coupons -- his mother had tested him before trusting him with real money.

I'd give it to: Julietta, who would identify with Hetty Green’s independent streak.  To quote the New York Times from her obituary: “She had enough of courage to live as she chose and to be as thrifty as she pleased, and she observed such of the world’s conventions as seemed to her right and useful, coldly and calmly ignoring all the others.”

@bookblrb: The eccentric “Witch of Wall Street” made a fortune in stocks while living a bizarrely frugal existance. 

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged picture book

“One day, a black dog came to visit the Hope family.” Everyone was freaked out. As they took turns looking at the dog through the windows, it got bigger and scarier.

Why I picked it up: The painting of the house in a snowy landscape on the front cover looks marvelous, both because it’s slightly cartoony and because the dust jacket has an opalescent coating. (It almost but doesn’t quite sparkle.) It took me a while to figure out that the shadow in front of the house is a giant, subtle paw print.

Why I finished it: When Small, the only member of the family who isn’t afraid, goes out to meet the dog, the dog is the size of a sports stadium. It towers over her. Its nose looks huge. But its eyes told me it’s just a dog and everything is going to end well despite how big it is.

I'd give it to: My nephew, Layton, who will love that the dog has to shrink to chase Small through the woods and then through a playground, even though it never gets quite as small as the chihuahua Layton has at home.

@bookblrb: A gigantic black dog waits outside the Hope home. Small, the only one who isn’t frightened, goes out to meet it.

Monty Python's Flying Circus: Complete and Annotated...All the Bits by Monty Python, Luke Dempsey

Link to this review by billbarnes tagged coffee table bookhumornonfiction

Complete scripts from all forty-five episodes of the groundbreaking British TV comedy show, copiously annotated and illustrated with color photographs.

Why I picked it up: There was simply no chance of my not opening this book up. The influence of the Pythons on my sense of humor and worldview cannot be underestimated.

Why I finished it: The annotations added enormously to my understanding of the material, which is packed full of throwaway gags featuring extremely obscure and/or dated references. Now when I hear "How can I go off and join FRELIMO" I will know what they're talking about.

I'd give it to: My son Theo, whose twelve-year-old brain recently started appreciating the Python brand of clever silliness. We listened to Spamalot throughout the Christmas holiday, and we are now slowly making our way through the Python oeuvre. He is exactly the sort of kid who will memorize all 880 pages of this book. I only hope he uses this knowledge for good.

@bookblrb: Every word from every episode of *Monty Python's Flying Circus*, annotated, with photos.

Small and Tall Tales of Extinct Animals by Hélène Rajcak, Damien Laverdunt

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged science

Each two-page spread has an illustration of an animal that is now extinct, with cool facts about it, including when (and sometimes how) it disappeared. Each includes a comic about how people interacted with the animal, since all of them lived at the same time humans were around, even if that was more than 10,000 years ago! Some of the comics are true stories of how humans found or studied these animals, while the others are legends about the animals that were passed down long after they were gone.

Why I picked it up: Gene saw it in Las Vegas and thought I would like the comics. (He was right.)

Why I finished it: The cartoons are funny. My favorites tell the stories of the discovery of an intact frozen wooly mammoth, the Micmac legend of how the giant beaver became regular-sized, and John James Audubon's sneaky ways of painting portraits of birds that later vanished.

I'd give it to: Milo, who soaks up facts faster than his parents can provide them. He'll like the Frieze of Vanishing Animals at the end, which is a timeline showing when each animal lived and how big they were in comparison to both people and each other.

@bookblrb: Cool, illustrated facts about extinct animals, each depicted in a funny, true, sometimes sad comic. 

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged fantasy

Ananna is a member of the Tanarau, a powerful family in the Pirate Confederation. When she balks at an arranged marriage, she must hide out to avoid the assassin her would-be in-laws promised to send after her. When the assassin, Naji, does catch up to her, she saves his life; he is now cursed to protect her or forfeit his own life.

To dispel the curse, they must travel together across the desert to find a powerful magician. But on top of the curse, a broken assassination contract, and a jilted family, Naji is also pursued by powerful beings from the Otherworld.

Why I picked it up: A colleague told me it was perfect middle school fantasy, which is something I am always trying to find for my school’s library.

Why I finished it: The pirate culture was well-developed: all pirates have tattoos on their stomachs proving their membership in the confederation, and a captain flies colored wedding sails to celebrate upcoming nuptials (I love that word, too). And the accidental bond between Naji and Ananna created difficulties during their journey; they always had to be near one another, and when Ananna was in danger it caused Naji pain, which made things even more difficult for them.

I'd give it to: Jos, a student of mine who would be thrilled to read about Naji’s ability to merge into shadows and appear anywhere else the shadow touches. While he wouldn’t admit it, I am sure that, even as an eighth grader, he would slink around his house in his underoos, trying to scare his sister by practicing Naji’s assassin shadow skills.

@bookblrb: An assassin is sent to kill Ananna after she balks at marriage. She saves his life and he is cursed to protect her.

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