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Recommendations for Friday, May 24, 2013

Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by billbarnes tagged mysteryscience fiction

Unshelved strip for 5/24/2013

Why I picked it up: Great pitch, right?

Why I finished it: Amidst the investigation of the central mystery there are some very moving and complicated human relationships. The reveal at the end was like a punch in the gut.

I'd give it to: Kara, who is nerdy enough to enjoy the time travel paradox stuff, which is convoluted and occasionally mind-blowing.

@bookblrb: The time traveller’s birthday party hits a snag when he discovers that next year’s self has been shot dead.

Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West's Greatest Escape by Mark Lee Gardner

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged history

The mythology surrounding Jesse James’s gang is powerful. This book is a historically accurate look at the men associated with Jesse James and his brother Frank. It shows that while the gang was feared and very good at what they did -- robbing trains and banks, working as a well-disciplined unit, and showing ruthlessness when necessary -- they were neither bulletproof nor invincible.

The planning and derring-do that carried them through so many robberies finally failed in Northfield, Minnesota, where several members were shot dead. The others fled town, pursued by posses from several towns, as well as agents from two law enforcement agencies, one of the largest manhunts ever.

Why I picked it up: I knew that Jesse James had quite a bit of questionable lore built up around him, and I wanted to know more about the robbery that led to his death.

Why I finished it: Weird trivia. Jesse was nicknamed “Dingus” by his fellow gang members because he shot off his own finger when practicing with his revolver and cried, “O, ding it, ding it!  How it hurts!” The body of one gang member, shot dead during a bank robbery, was stolen from its grave and turned into a medical skeleton that then spent decades in a doctor’s office before being sold to a private collector. Identity and forensic science were treated very differently back in the 1800s, too: Frank James was able to avoid conviction for murder and robbery because prosecutors couldn’t even prove he was in the state where the crimes occurred.

I'd give it to: My friend Jim, a trained counselor, because he would appreciate that an ongoing feud between the two law enforcement officers in charge of bringing down the gang, both of whom wanted the glory for themselves, helped the gang avoid capture.

@bookblrb: The James Gang was well-disciplined and ruthless, but their planning finally failed them in Northfield, MN.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

International Best Selling author Brandon Sanderson's explosive Young Adult Novel, The Rithmatist is on sale May 2013. Brandon Sanderson was personally chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and his first novel for young adult readers has been hailed far and wide from starred review in Kirkus Reviews to the New York Times Book Review.

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Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Paul A. Offit

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged science

Paul Offit pulls no punches in this unapologetic look at alternative medicine. Offit looks at vitamins, dietary supplements, acupuncture, and homeopathy, along with beliefs about the causes of autism and how to cure it, from a purely scientific viewpoint. Each evisceration of an alternative treatment is supported by footnoted, scientifically-vetted studies. (For example, Offit references acupuncture studies that used needles, no needles, or purposely misplaced needles. The effectiveness of the “treatment” did not vary in any of those categories.) Offit attempts to prove that alternative treatments that succeed do so because of the placebo effect based in people’s strong beliefs about natural treatments and distrust of the pharmaceutical industry.  Celebrities and others have encouraged well-meaning parents to treat sick kids with natural medicines and supplements (sometimes to deadly effect) and to avoid immunizations (leading to resurgences in some preventable diseases). Offit backs up his arguments with empirical evidence from scientific medical studies, whereas case studies of alternative practitioners and patients make these treatments seem naïve at best.

Why I picked it up: I saw that it was dedicated to all the science people who “dared proclaim that the emperors of pseudoscience have no clothes.” I have always been skeptical of some of the more outlandish claims of alternative medicine. In particular I remember a New York child custody case in the 1970's (see “Victims in the News”) where the parents wanted to treat their son's Hodgkin's lymphoma with Laetrile, which is made from apricot pits, based on an alternative medical practitioner's advice, and the state wanted to remove the child for proper treatment.

Why I finished it: Offit has a dry way of making his point about the beliefs of alternative medicine practitioners. He notes that Suzanne Somers (of Three’s Company and Thighmaster fame), a noted believer in naturopathy, has had botox shots and injects two milligrams of Estriol every day. He notes that Somers gets more media time for her views on cancer (on Dr. Oz’s show, as well as Oprah) than another author who merely was a Rhodes scholar and Pulitzer Prize winner for his book on cancer.

I'd give it to: My neighbor Dusty, because his recommendation that I take thirty times the RDA of vitamin C to fight off potential colds is specifically addressed in this book. (There’s no benefit, according to studies.) Also, my wife Trish, who believes St. John’s Wort can help depression, because Offit cites a study of 200 patients in eleven medical centers that discounts this popular belief.

@bookblrb: An unapologetic look at alternative medicine from a scientific point of view.

Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates by Martin Hopkinson

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged artcoffee table booknonfiction

Back when books were rare, expensive, and likely to be passed on from generation to generation, people commissioned custom bookplates that contained symbols of themselves and their families to paste into the books. Later, they became a cool art form (usually woodblock or other handmade prints) treasured by the people who had them made and others who collected them. This book features the high-art bookplates in the British Museum's collection.

Why I picked it up: I once bought a book on the veterinary cat care from the friends of the library book sale just for the cool bookplate.

Why I finished it: The bookplates are really neat -- some are puns on the owner's name, refer to interests or careers, have occult symbols, contain nudity (especially [this NSFW bookplate that belonged to a collector of erotic books), and most are gorgeous enough to be in an art gallery.

Now I want to commission my own personal bookplate!

I'd give it to: Kelsey, who just got into linoleum prints. She'd love the artistry and technique, and would be vastly entertained by this bookplate -- it was supposed to be deeply symbolic of anti-war sentiments but ended up looking like the cover of a death metal album. And for all the controlling librarians out there, here’s a bookplate with circulation policies printed right on it!

@bookblrb: Beautiful bookplates from the British Museum’s collection.

Re/Paired by Michele Zurlo

Keith Rossetti grew up the hard way--fleeing from his older sister's fists and finding addiction at a young age. It's a miracle he was able to make it into the FBI, and he fiercely guards his relationships with a handful of close friends.

When Katrina Legato's brother brought home his Marine buddy all those years ago, she fell head-over-heels in love. Ten years have elapsed, and she hasn't forgotten that toe-curling kiss he gave her for her eighteenth birthday. She knows he's a demanding Dom who doesn't respect his submissives or keep them for long, but if that's all she can have of him, then she'll take it.

When refusing Kat sends her to another Dom, Keith rethinks his decision. He plans to show her exactly why he's not a suitable life partner for anybody. But Kat, one of the only women he's allowed into his heart, isn't what he expected. She's no pushover. She demands more from him than anybody ever has, and he finds himself wanting to be the man she thinks he is.

As she repairs his damaged soul, a stalker targets her. When she's kidnapped, he'll stop at nothing to get her back.

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Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Link to this review by danritchie tagged coming of age

It is the summer before Allyson and her best friend Melanie go off to college, and they are finishing up an educational tour of Europe in Stratford-upon-Avon. In line to see the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, they are approached by a group of actors passing out flyers for Guerrilla Will, an avant-garde traveling troupe. Melanie wants to ditch the tour and convinces Allyson to go. After the play, one of the hot young actors catches Allyson's eye and tosses her a coin.

The next morning, on the train to London, Allyson bumps into the actor and they strike up a conversation. Willem is Dutch, a sometime actor and professional traveler with a follow-your-heart spirit. He convinces Allyson to spend the day in Paris with him since she has always longed to see it. Willem is carefree, and their day together is a madcap adventure. But she returns to London and then to the U.S. devastated, alone, and longing for the wild abandon of that day.

Why I picked it up: I've read Forman's books (If I Stay, Where She Went) and love her ability to capture the essence of inner turmoil.

Why I finished it: Allyson's parents have planned her life for her. She has always tried to be the perfect daughter, and the next step on that path is attending medical school. But that one day in Paris, with Willem showing her how to get lost in the moment, also showed her she needs to discover who she is. Dealing with that and her heartbreak over not knowing what happened with Willem made for an incredibly compelling read. (This is my new favorite book ever.)

I'd give it to: Karla, who favors complex coming-of-age stories like The Tragedy Paper. She will enjoy Allyson's new friend Dee, her reading partner in their Shakespeare Out Loud class. He is like no one Alyson has ever meet -- brilliant, black and flamingly gay -- and he ignites the passion and conflict in Allyson that begins her journey to grow and change as she tries to decide whether or not to find Willem.

@bookblrb: Allyson longs for the wild abandon of the madcap day she spent in Paris with a carefree actor.

Shadow and Bone: (Grisha Trilogy #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged fantasy

When Mal and Alina were orphans, wards of Duke Keramsov, they were tested by Grisha Examiners to see if they had any talent in the Small Science. They were just ordinary children.

Now, in their early twenties, both have joined the King’s army to fight for Ravka. Alina is scrawny, tall, and mousy. Mal is handsome, brave, and cocky. Alina loves him. Mal doesn’t know.

When they try to cross the Shadow Fold, an area of sifting darkness that divides their country, their sandskiffs are attacked by hundreds of Volkra: twisted, flying creatures that inhabit the darkness. Mal and other soldiers try to hold them off. Grisha with fire powers fight the monsters. After Mal is wounded, the situation seems hopeless. Something happens to Alina; light explodes from her, shattering the darkness.

She is revealed as one of the most powerful of Grisha, a Sun Summoner. She is rushed from the area near the Fold under guard and taken to the Little Palace to learn to use her abilities. But the soldiers trying to protect her from Ravka’s enemies end up delivering her into the hands of others who do not mean her or her country well.

Why I picked it up: I pulled it out of a box of review copies because the cover design is exquisite. My daughter picked it, for the same reason, when we were looking for something to read aloud together

Why I finished it: The Darkling, leader of the Grisha, was a great character. His power seems to be the opposite of Alina’s -- he controls darkness, and can even use it to cut people in two. He’s beautiful, unnaturally young, and his attraction to Alina makes her head swim despite her own feelings for Mal and the fact that everyone fears him. As the Darkling tries to help her realize her power so that she can help him destroy the Shadow Fold, Alina is torn between his flattery and the life she used to live.

I'd give it to: Emma, who hates wearing makeup. Genya is a Grisha with the power to improve her appearance and others’, and Emma would like the way that creates distance between her and the other Grisha (which allows her and Alina to become close friends).

@bookblrb: Alina has always been awkward. But after a dangerous trip into the Shadow Fold, her powers reveal themselves.

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum

This powerful and inspiring debut invites us into a landscape populated with young people whose lives have been irreversibly changed by misfortune but whose voices resound with resilience, courage, and humor. Inside the halls of ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities, we discover a place that is deeply different from and yet remarkably the same as the world outside. Nussbaum crafts a multifaceted portrait of a way of life hidden from most of us. In this isolated place on Chicago’s South Side, friendships are forged, trust is built, and love affairs begin. It’s in these alliances that the residents of this neglected community ultimately find the strength to bond together, resist their mistreatment, and finally fight back. And in the process, each is transformed.

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Bruised by Sarah Skilton

Link to this review by darcy tagged coming of age

Imogen survives a shooting in a diner. She is angry and ashamed because she has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and could have saved lives, but she completely froze. Now she's given up martial arts. But with the help of Ricky, another witness to the shooting, she works to rebuild her life.    

Why I picked it up: Since starting karate a year ago, I've been obsessed with finding teen books about girls in martial arts. When this advanced reader copy landed on my desk I squealed.   

Why I finished it: I don't know much about Tae Kwon Do, but the descriptions of Imogen's training in the dojang were close enough to karate that I was hooked.

The timing of the events in the diner shooting was well described. Throughout each chapter, Imogen slowly remembers more details such as the shooter's words, the cashier's response, the look in Ricky's eyes, and his shoes (which were later covered in blood). As her relationship with Ricky deepens, they try to talk about the incident together with a school counselor, but she becomes frustrated that she can’t remember all of the shooting.

I'd give it to: Sensei Gutierrez. I know she will love the passage that describes the belt levels, which says that once you reach black belt you are finally able to learn martial arts.

@bookblrb: During a fatal shooting in a diner, Imogen, a Tae Kwon Do black belt, froze. Now she works to rebuild her life.

Demons of Deep Space: (The Man of Steel) by Laurie S. Sutton, Luciano Vecchio
Cat Commander: (The Dark Knight) by J.E. Bright, Luciano Vecchio

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged chapter booksuperhero

Demons of Deep Space
Superman, with the help of Orion and Big Barda, battle Darkseid and his army from Apokolips.

Cat Commander
Batman is trying to protect an exhibit of Egyptian artifacts from thieves. But when, as Bruce Wayne, he attends the exhibit opening, he spots Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman). A few minutes after she leaves, everyone realizes a priceless sistrum is missing.

Why I picked it up: I can tell from the covers that illustrator Luciano Vecchio does a great job of capturing the style of the “old” Superman and Batman cartoons from the 1990s.

Why I finished it: It was a combination of the weird, the gross, and the nostalgic. I was scared of Darkseid when I first read about him in an epic story in Legion of the Super-Heroes. He’s a dark god who rules a planet that’s quite hellish, so it was surreal to see him in an easy-to-read chapter book aimed at little kids. In the Batman book, there’s a weird moment where he flirts with Selina at the opening -- try to make sense of their relationship, kids! And after he goes to Selina’s apartment to find the missing artifact, there’s a gross scene where he’s attacked by thousands of rats. (Because there’s a picture, I have to hide this book where my wife, who hates rats, will never find it.)

I'd give it to: Iggy (6), in the hope that these would lead him to want to find more stories of Gotham City and Jack Kirby’s Fourth World stories because right now, his continuing obsession with Cars makes it hard for me to pick out good gifts for him.

When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett

It’s the parenting guide for parents who thought they no longer needed one—for parents who worry as their 20-something kids struggle to grow up; who are saving for retirement but now have to reopen the bank of Mom and Dad; who look forward to downsizing but have a boomerang child living at home again.

And it’s the parenting guide that says it’s all going to be OK—just step back but stay connected, and don’t forget to take care of yourself. Kids may be taking longer to graduate from college, start a career, marry, have children, but it’s natural. Just as scientists a century ago discovered a new phase in life called adolescence, there’s now another developmental stage, emerging adulthood. According to Dr. Jeffrey Arnett, the world’s leading authority on emerging adults, and his coauthor, Elizabeth Fishel, author of Sisters and mother of two 20-something sons, the time spent in emerging adulthood actually helps kids become happier, healthier grown-ups.

When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up? covers every aspect of life for an 18- to 29-year-old, from that first taste of independence at college to that time at the end of the 20s, when the majority of kids are settling down. It explains what grown children are going through—intense self-focus, instability, a feeling of being “in-between” mixed with a breathtaking sense of possibilities—and how parents should deal with these changes, from six ways to listen more than you talk, to money 101 (and why never to use money to control your child’s life), to troubleshooting their failure to launch, to, finally, the dos and don’ts of promoting a successful transition to adulthood.

Because yes, they really will grow up.

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Marco Impossible by Hannah Moskowitz

Link to this review by snow tagged coming of age

Marco and Stephen are the middle school kings of pulling off "missions," everything from catching cell phone thieves to finding lost puppies. Marco's latest adventure may be his best yet, and the perfect way to cap off graduating from eighth grade: he plans sneak into the high school prom so that he can announce his love for Benji, the hot exchange student whose band is playing there and who will be heading back to England the next day. But Stephen's got his own worries that keep getting in the way of the mission. What if Benji isn't gay, and Marco gets his heart broken? More importantly, who has been threatening Marco? And will Stephen be able to keep him safe over the course of one long, crazy night?

Why I picked it up: It sounded adorable, and I was in need of adorable after several more somber books.

Why I finished it: It turned out to be a serious look at how friendships change and grow. Stephen and Marco are a very unequal pairing; Stephen is generally dragged along in Marco's wake as he flits from one pie-in-the-sky idea to another. Those around them, specifically Stephen's older brother, think that Marco is taking advantage of Stephen's laid-back nature. But Stephen loves his friend and isn't ready for them to grow apart, even though that is exactly what is happening, both emotionally and physically, as they're growing into very different young men, and will even be attending different high schools. I was caught up in both Stephen's reluctance to change and his grudging acknowledgement that it was inevitable.

I'd give it to: Destiny, who will identify with the ambivalence that Stephen and his siblings feel towards their father, who left them and their mother for another woman.

@bookblrb: Stephan and Marco’s last middle school mission: sneaking into prom so that Marco can confess his love for Benji.

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