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Recommendations for Friday, May 03, 2013

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

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

Unshelved strip for 5/3/2013

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Link to this review by wally tagged historical fiction

When Dodger, a street urchin, rescues a young woman from her own coachmen one stormy London night, little does he suspect his entire life is about to change; he is about to go from being a mere sewer scavenger to becoming a street smart, up-and-coming young gentleman mixing with London’s wealthy and powerful.

Why I picked it up: I’ve probably read just about every book Terry Pratchett has written, but most take place on the magical Discworld. This is his second stand-alone novel (after Nation), and I had to find out if it was as good.

Why I finished it: Dodger’s growth as a decent person is great to watch, especially as he applies his street smarts to his new circumstances. He doesn’t lose his connection to the street, either; he maintains his friendship with Solomon, a watchmaker who helps him grow, and spends considerable time underground, exploring and contemplating his place in the world. Pratchett’s great strength, like Dickens’, is in creating characters out of the thinnest fragments of description, or out of the thickness of historical knowledge of a person. He always brings their humanity to the fore and lets them determine the course of the novel.

I'd give it to: My Aunt Arlene, who loves Charles Dickens, and who would love seeing the (seemingly) real Dickens meeting young Dodger, coaching him gently, and being surprised by Dodger's depth. Bonus: she'd also get to “meet” Dickens’ friend (at least in the book), Henry Mayhew, and see how he tried to get the rich to pay attention to the growing number of the poor.

Lexicon by Max Barry

At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren’t taught history, geography, or mathematics—at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science. Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as “poets:” adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.

“About as close you can get to the perfect cerebral thriller: searingly smart, ridiculously funny, and fast as hell. Lexicon reads like Elmore Leonard high out of his mind on Snow Crash.”—Lev Grossman, New York Times bestselling author of The Magicians

Lexicon grabbed me with the opening lines, and never let go. An absolutely thrilling story, featuring an array of compelling characters in an eerily credible parallel society, punctuated by bouts of laugh-out-loud humor.”—Chris Pavone, New York Times bestselling author of The Expats

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Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past by Ransom Riggs

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged coffee table book

A collection of vintage photographs rescued from swap meets, yard sales, and junk piles with writing on them. Because of these messages from the past, each picture seems like a small story waiting to be told.

Why I picked it up: I was fascinated by the author’s previous book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and was eager to see more of his found photo collection.

Why I finished it: These photos were a delightful mix of laugh-out-loud surprises and heartbreaking losses. I had favorites in every category. The chapter full of silly snapshots had a picture labeled “Drunk but Happy” where two lovely young women wearing men's hats are goofing on a lawn, looking mischievous. It reminded me that my older relatives might have been goofballs once, too.  The chapter on “Love and Marriage” had a ton of cute couples, but I was most struck by the sad dandy in the photo on which someone wrote “Wish I HAD A GIRL” -- he looks so bummed and lonely I wanted to give him a hug. The majority of the photos feature people, but one of the most gorgeous, "the locusts practically darken the sky", captured a swarm of insects eviscerating the landscape.

I'd give it to: Hank, who would really love the chapter devoted to four well-documented years in the life of a little girl named Janet Lee. It’s clear that her family loved this funny little girl dearly, and she is shown smiling and playing and riding horses. So when you learn she died at ten, it makes the collected snapshots all the more meaningful.  The one photograph in the book that has no words is of little Janet Lee in her coffin with her Raggedy Ann doll.

I Am Ozzy by Ozzy Osbourne, Chris Ayres

Link to this review by darcy tagged biography

Ozzy recounts (as best he can) his life as a young school chap in Birmingham in the fifties to prison, bands, addiction, and stardom.

Why I picked it up: My guilty pleasure is reading rock biographies, and I've loved Ozzy for a long time.

Why I finished it: The book has great photos of a young Ozzy in short pants, Ozzy with a bag of cocaine in his mouth, and many bad hair days. He does not take himself seriously and makes fun of himself from the beginning ("They said I'd never write this book. Well, f**k 'em, 'cos here it is. All I have to do now is remember something.") to the end (“As for what they'll put on my headstone, I ain't under illusions. Ozzy Osbourne, born 1948. Died, whenever. He bit the head off a bat.").

I'd give it to: My dad, Gary, whose Black Sabbath records were a nice refuge from the horrors of my mother's John Denver collection. I know he will appreciate the stories, especially the one about how this Prince of Darkness once worked in a slaughterhouse. John Denver never did that. 

Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

A book that will make you see yourself clearly for the first time. When Becky Randle's mother dies, she's whisked from her trailer park home to New York. There she meets Tom Kelly, the world's top designer, who presents Becky with an impossible offer: He'll design three dresses to transform the very average Becky into the most beautiful woman who ever lived.Soon Becky is remade as Rebecca, pure five-alarm hotness to the outside world and an awkward mess of cankles and split ends when she's alone. With Rebecca's remarkable beauty as her passport, soon Becky's life resembles a fairy tale. She stars in a movie, VOGUE calls, and she starts to date Prince Gregory, heir to the English throne. That's when everything crumbles. Because Rebecca aside, Becky loves him. But the idea of a prince looking past Rebecca's blinding beauty to see the real girl inside? There's not enough magic in the world. Defiant, naughty, and impossibly fun, Gorgeous answers a question that bewilders us all: Just who the hell IS that in the mirror?

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Libriomancer: (Magic Ex Libris Book One) by Jim C. Hines

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged fantasyparanormal

Isaac is a cataloguer at his local library. He used to be a porter, a magician who can pull items out of books into the real world, part of an order begun and still ruled by Johannes Gutenberg.

After a dryad, Lena, asks for his help in locating her missing boss, vampires try to assassinate Isaac. He and Lena try to figure out who is offing vampires, but they discover that both vampires and porters may be under attack by a porter who may be possessed by a character from a book. Normally, Gutenberg, a powerful libriomancer with a contingent of unstoppable automatons, would handle the situation, but he hasn’t been seen in a while so it’s up to Isaac and Lena.

Why I picked it up: Librarians like me dream of using books to solve the world’s problems. But, really, who wouldn't want to pull a laser-pistol from one of Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat books to use against a marauding vampire?

Why I finished it: The funny touches. When Isaac prepares for a battle, he wears an old raincoat modified to carry paperback books (his weapons) which he can access quickly. And I loved the limits and abilities of libriomancers: they can bring any item out of a book that can physically fit through the pages. Cars and rocket ships are out, but small, handheld weapons are easily accessible!

I'd give it to: Nels, who loves spiders, because Isaac has a danger-sensing fire spider named Smudge that heats up when it feels threatened, providing valuable warnings but often burning everything nearby.

Black Feathers: (The Black Dawn Volume One) by Joseph D'Lacey

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged science fiction

Gordon spent his childhood watched over by crows who perched on his crib whenever he was left outside. His parents apologized to him for bringing him into the world just as things were falling apart. They protect him as best they can until the men in gray raincoats, members of The Ward, come to take them away. Gordon escapes, but The Ward seems determined to capture him.

Hundreds of years in the future, Megan and her family await the rebirth of the world. The Keeper, the historian and wise man for Megan’s village, trains Megan to record her visions (which include Gordon) in The Book of the Crowman.

Why I picked it up: The book jacket teaser talked about the Crowman and how some believed he was the Devil, while others believed he was there to help. I liked the idea of a horror novel with a “villain” who might not be evil.

Why I finished it: The Ward was a great villainous organization. It’s made up of evil men out to profit from environmental Armageddon, and struck me as particularly nasty. Their laws are arbitrary and cruel. The leader is a misshapen man known for his interrogation technique -- he removes every tooth in a person’s mouth before he begins questioning them. When Gordon, a child, tries to escape them, my heart was in my throat as they called out to him, opening doors and cabinets to find his hiding spot.

I'd give it to: Alicia, because she goes for gore. This book has a few nasty scenes that won’t disappoint her, like when Gordon's friend is nailed to a tree.

Maya's Notebook: A Novel by Isabel Allende

Neglected by her parents, nineteen-year-old Maya Nidal has grown up in a rambling old house in Berkeley with her grandparents. Her grandmother Nidia, affectionately known as Nini, is a force of nature—willful and outspoken, unconventionally wise with a mystical streak, and fiercely protective—a woman whose formidable strength helped her build a new life after emigrating from Chile in 1973. Popo, Maya's grandfather, is an African American astronomer and professor—a gentle man whose solid, comforting presence helps calm the turbulence of Maya's adolescence.

When Popo dies of cancer, Maya goes completely off the rails. With her girlfriends—a tight circle known as the Vampires—she turns to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime, a downward spiral that eventually bottoms out in Las Vegas. Lost in a dangerous underworld, she is caught in the crosshairs of warring forces—a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol. Her one chance for survival is Nini, who helps her escape to a remote island off the coast of Chile. Here Maya tries to make sense of the past, unravels mysterious truths about life and about her family, and embarks on her greatest adventure: the journey into her own soul.

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Fool Moon: (The Dresden Files Book Two) by Jim Butcher, James Marsters

Link to this review by snow tagged mysteryparanormal

Harry Dresden, the only wizard listed in the Chicago phonebook, finds himself on the edge of the law yet again after Lt. Karrin Murphy, his contact at the police department, hires him to look into a series of brutal murders. Dresden is soon on the run from the police, accused of murder, and trying to stay ahead of a dangerous street gang. With the full moon on the rise and werewolves everywhere he turns, Dresden needs to find out who is human, who he can trust, and, most importantly, who is really a murderer.

Why I picked it up: I want to read the whole Dresden Files series, but my reading time is woefully short, so my boss suggested I take advantage of my commute. She thought I'd like the audiobooks because she knows I was a fan of Marsters' Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Why I finished it: Harry's a likeable guy, a touch old-fashioned, but as quick to admit his own failings as he is to step up to stop evil. The characters that surround Harry are equally relatable, from the petite, highly competent Lt. Murphy to the whip-smart, sexy reporter Susan Rodriguez. Even the bad guys are given depth. The crime lord Johnny Marcone makes an appearance, and his suave style contrasts nicely with Dresden's rough-edged honesty.

Buzzy Multimedia's audiobook production isn't as fancy as larger companies, but the simple style worked better for Butcher's supernatural noir. Marsters' narration captures Dresden's intelligence and dark humor, and he deftly brings all of the supporting characters to life, too.

I'd give it to: Jessica, who usually won't read anything written by a guy. She's a huge paranormal romance fan, though, and she'll love the budding relationship and tasteful, erotic sex scene between Dresden and Rodriguez. This is only volume two of the series, so the setting is new enough that she'll easily be able to get a sense of the world Butcher is building and be inspired to go back and pick up book one, Storm Front.

Cat Eyed Boy Volume One by Kazuo Umezu

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelhorror

This huge, 533 page collection includes containing five complete horror stories involving Cat Eyed Boy. Wherever he appears, something frightening happens.

Publisher's Rating: T+ for Older Teen.

Why I picked it up: Umezu, “the undisputed master of Japanese horror manga” (from the cover), also wrote The Drifting Classroom.

Why I finished it: It had a berserk, anything-can-happen feeling. In the first story, “The Immortal Man,” a creepy, scarred man gives a boy a package for his father. When they open it, the bundle contains a severed right hand. The scarred man later comes after the boy, but the boy pushes him in front of a train. Several of the man’s remaining limbs are severed, but that’s not even close to the end of the story. In “The Ugly Demon,” a deformed outcast tries to find a way to live a normal life with the girl he’s obsessed with, but his soul’s ugliness haunts him. Mad scientists, severed limbs, goblins, tidal waves, ghosts, and more feature in the other stories.

I'd give it to: My friend Dave. He’s quite an amateur carpenter, and I think the idea of the flesh-burrowing nail in “The One Legged Monster of Oudai” would horrify him.

The Queen's Consorts by Kele Moon

The Queen’s Consorts. Just laying eyes on one is a death sentence. So when Sari, who spent most of her life on the streets, ends up entangled in a steamy relationship with the two most forbidden men on the planet, she knows it can’t end well.

After a brutal attack, Sari’s taken to the Sacred City, exposing her to the secret lives of the Rayians who rule in the long lost queen’s absence. It’s in this darkly sexual world where she first meets the legendary consorts.

Too handsome and talented for their own good, Calder and Taryen have learned to trust only each other in order to survive. Bred to be feared warriors and exclusive companions to a queen, instead they’re slaves to other Rayians desires for them.

Their brutal lives make the two consorts hesitant to care for Sari when she’s unexpectedly dumped in their laps, but they soon discover she’s different from the cruel women they’re used to serving. Drawn to Sari on a soul deep level, Calder and Taryen can’t seem to stop themselves from going back for one more taste of the beautiful outsider… even when it puts the fate of the entire world in jeopardy.

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Real Volume 1 by Takehiko Inoue
Real Volume 2 by Takehiko Inoue
Real Volume 3 by Takehiko Inoue
Real Volume 4 by Takehiko Inoue

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged coming of agegraphic novel

This series about competitive wheelchair basketball and is told through the lives of three young men.

Basketball was the most important part of Nomiya’s life as a high school student. He walked away from a motorcycle accident that crippled his passenger, a young girl he didn’t know. He’s wracked with guilt about the accident, and quit the basketball team before being expelled from school for missing class.

Togawa was a competitive sprinter. He’ll do whatever it takes to win, but he’s frustrated by the level of commitment of the other players on his team.

Takahashi was captain of his high school basketball team. After stealing a bike, he’s hit by a bus. He’ll never walk again. (But at some point, it’s clear he’ll discover basketball will still be an option.)

Publisher’s Rating: T+ for Older Teen.

Why I picked it up: I’m a huge fan of Inoue’s Vagabond series about famed samurai Miyamoto Musashi. I recently found out that it’s on indefinite hiatus, so I decided to give this series a try.

Why I finished it: Nomiya is the kind of clueless, well-meaning goofball I like reading about. His attempts to visit the girl whose injuries he blames himself for, in order to figure out how to make things up to her, are rejected by her sister who sends him away. Nomiya is left to figure out what to do with his life, which leads to funny situations like when he takes a job performing on stage for kids in a Godzilla-like costume. He’s fired because, during the act, he beats up the costumed hero he’s facing. (The monster wasn’t supposed to win but he could’t control himself.)

I'd give it to: Grace would like the star-crossed romance between Togawa and Azumi. They were classmates years ago when Togawa ran track. He had decided to confess his feelings for her if he broke eleven seconds in the 100 meter dash. But disease claimed his leg before he could make that goal, and the question hangs in the air: will Togawa ever be able to tell her how he feels?

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