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Recommendations for Friday, January 10, 2014

Ultra: Seven Days by Joshua Luna, Jonathan Luna

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by billbarnes tagged graphic novelsuperhero

Unshelved strip for 1/10/2014

Collects Ultra #1-8

Why I picked it up: The magazine and tabloid covers, advertisements, and articles sprinkled throughout each issue. They do a beautiful job establishing that this world is just like ours would be if our supermodels were, you know, super models.

Why I finished it: Although the three main protagonists in this book talk about men a lot, it nonetheless passes the Bechdel Test, and their dialog generally rang true to my ear.

It’s perfect for: My Not Invented Here collaborator Jeff. He draws sexy women in the style of Dan DeCarlo, but I’d love to have him take a swing at the Luna Brothers’ more realistic, simple lines so that we can make different kinds of comics together one day.

@bookblrb: Pearl Penalosa, the celebrity superhero Ultra, has seven days to find true love, if she can survive that long.

News from Heaven by Jennifer Haigh

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged literaryshort stories

Through a series of connected short stories, Haigh chronicles the lives of the men and women of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, a mining town in rapid decline since its coal-boom heyday. Beginning with the late-Depression-era experiences of a Bakerton girl who works as a cook and servant for a Jewish family on the Upper West Side of New York, and ending with the contemporary story of a widow who uncovers unwelcome secrets among her late husband’s belongings, the stories weave back and forth among families and across generations.

Why I picked it up: I’ve been a fan of Haigh’s since Mrs. Kimble, her debut novel.

Why I finished it: I used to love short stories, but then I lost interest in favor of novels. A collection like this one, with just enough intra-story overlap to keep me engaged while the individual stories played out, was the perfect compromise.

It's perfect for: My father-in-law, a Baby Boomer who grew up outside Pittsburgh. Although his family were steelworkers, he’d identify with the tight-knit, fiercely loyal, sometimes suffocating community of Bakerton.

@bookblrb: Intertwining stories across generations tell the story of Bakerton, PA, a mining town in decline.

Cemetery Girl: Book One: The Pretenders by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden

Charlaine Harris, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels and the Harper Connelly Mysteries, and New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden present an original graphic novel illustrated by acclaimed comic book artist Don Kramer—first in a brand-new trilogy.

She calls herself Calexa Rose Dunhill—names taken from the grim surroundings where she awoke, bruised and bloody, with no memory of who she is, how she got there, or who left her for dead. She has made the cemetery her home, living in a crypt and avoiding human contact. But Calexa can’t hide from the dead—and because she can see spirits, they can’t hide from her.

Then one night, Calexa spies a group of teenagers vandalizing a grave—and watches in horror as they commit murder. As the victim’s spirit rises from her body, it flows into Calexa, overwhelming her mind with visions and memories not her own.

Now Calexa must make a decision: continue to hide to protect herself—or come forward to bring justice to the sad spirit who has reached out to her for help...

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Girls, Girls, Girls: (The Black Book [Diary of a Teenage Stud] Volume 1) by Jonah Black

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged coming of ageromance

For two years, Jonah Black attended Masthead Academy, a boarding school in Pennsylvania. Then something happened. He was expelled at the end of the school year for an incident he won’t talk about, involving a girl (Sophie) with whom he’s obsessed. Now he’s back in Pompano Beach, Florida, living with his younger sister and his mother. He should be a senior but he’s being held back and forced to take the same classes again because he didn’t technically finish eleventh grade. Worse, his sister is a genius and has skipped a grade, so she’s living the life of a senior. His mother’s book, Hello Penis, Hello Vagina, along with her radio advice show, have catapulted her to national fame. And his best friend, Posie, a beautiful surfer, is dating a lying jerk.

Jonah needs to escape from the eleventh grade, figure out what to do about Sophie, and deal with possible feelings for his friend Posie. And he needs to figure out the identity of the mystery girl he keeps meeting in an AOL chat room.

(Note: The book is presented as if the text is the diary entries of Jonah Black, but it’s clearly labeled as and sold as a novel, so that’s just a pseudonym.)

Why I picked it up: When I noticed this four-book series was out of print a few years ago, I snapped up a set to read with my daughter at some point. When Fangirl made her laugh out loud a few months ago, I decided she was ready for it.

Why I finished it: It’s a pitch-perfect look into a girl-obsessed teenage boy’s head. Jonah’s desire to lose his virginity made me more uncomfortable than it ever made my daughter, but it was a good test for me -- I want to be open about talking about sex with her, so reading about it shouldn’t be embarrassing (and by Vol. 4 I hope it won’t be).

Readalikes: Pete Hautman’s The Big Crunch, because Wes is as likable, romantic, and realistic as Jonah Black. It feels so honest and real it reminded me of Burgess’s Doing It, but without all of the crass detail. (I love that book, too, but I think I’ll keep my copy hidden until my daughter is at least twelve.)

@bookblrb: Jonah tries to figure out what to do about the girl he’s obsessed with and his feelings for his best friend, Posie.

The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT by Debbie Stier

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfiction

Debbie Stier’s son would be taking the SAT in a year, and he was not motivated to prepare. To understand what would help him most, she started an intense, year-long process to get herself ready to not only take the SAT, but to get a perfect score. She tried a new SAT prep method each month. Stier took the test seven times, developing a system to get into the proper mindset. Test conditions varied greatly, from tiny desktops in a gymnasium, to quiet classrooms with huge desks, to chaos when a test-taker vomited during the test. (It wasn’t cleaned up until after the test was over.)

Stier says that had she known how difficult the project would be, and the costs to her family in missed communal time and pressure, she might not have done it. 

Why I picked it up: I have had three sons go through the SAT process with varying results.  Next up is my daughter, in a year.  I thought I might pick up some advice to give her by reading this book.

Why I finished it: Stier gives all the methods a try.  Kaplan, the Princeton Review, Kumon, personal tutors, one to one counseling with a test-taker who achieved a perfect 2400 score, the ubiquitous vocabulary cram books, and even the famed Advantage Testing Service, which can cost $800 an hour.  She is quite thorough in her critique of each style of preparation, even offering corrections to the advice that the major companies give. She also shows that the major preparation companies don’t agree on major things like how to tackle grammar problems. (Princeton Review: “Do not base grammar questions on what sounds right.”  Kaplan: “Listen for the errors in the writing section. If you hear a mistake, your work is done.”)

It's perfect for: My friend Jeff, who homeschools his kids and has a few years to get ready before they take the SATs. He is a math geek (he was one of those famed Christian card counters) who would understand Stier’s feeling when she received a 600-page book of math problems: “...it was like a box of Lucky Charms with just the marshmallows.”

@bookblrb: Mother Debbie Stier tried a new SAT prep method every month in an effort to get a perfect score.

Foreign Gods, Inc. by Okey Ndibe

Foreign Gods, Inc. tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery.

A meditation on the dreams, promises and frustrations of the immigrant life in America; the nature and impact of religious conflicts; an examination of the ways in which modern culture creates or heightens infatuation with the “exotic,” including the desire to own strange objects and hanker after ineffable illusions; and an exploration of the shifting nature of memory, Foreign Gods is a brilliant work of fiction that illuminates our globally interconnected world like no other.

“We clearly have a fresh talent at work here. It is quite a while since I sensed creative promise on this level.”—WOLE SOYINKA, WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE

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Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

Link to this review by danritchie tagged coming of ageparanormal

After seventeen-year-old Kennedy’s mother dies of heart failure, a ghost appears in her room and her cat tries to kill her. She’s saved by twin boys who explain that the ghost and her cat were vengeance spirits, and convince her that she needs protection. The boys are two of four teens who carry on the work of the Legion of the Black Dove, protecting mankind from demons controlled by an ancient spirit called Andras. All of their parents were killed the same night as Kennedy’s mom, and they believe Kennedy is the fifth and final member of the Legion. Together they must find the source of Andras’s power and destroy it.

Why I picked it up: Garcia was the co-author of Beautiful Creatures, one of my favorites. I thought it would be fun to see what she conjured up on her own.

Why I finished it: As the five teens set out to find the symbol that can destroy Andras, Kennedy is convinced she has no special power and cannot help the group. Each piece of the puzzle is guarded by vengeance spirits, and at every step Kennedy finds her photographic memory more helpful than she could have imagined. Yet she remains confused -- a piece of the Legion symbol appeared on each of the other teens’ arms after they first used their power to destroy a spirit, but hers hasn’t appeared. Is she really one of the Legion, or just a kid in with the wrong crowd?

It's perfect for: Cici, who absolutely loved Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code and will embrace this world of ancient societies and symbols revealed in the journals. And she’ll also enjoy that the salt and cloves used as ammunition in the inventive weapons causes the demons to explode.

@bookblrb: After spirits try to kill her, Kennedy finds she may be one of five teens charged to protect mankind from demons.

American Rust by Philipp Meyer

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

Isaac and Poe graduated from high school two years ago, yet neither has been able to escape the dying Pennsylvania steel town of Buell. Isaac finally decides to leave with no real plan and asks Poe to accompany him on the first leg of his journey. They are attacked at an abandoned warehouse where Isaac kills a homeless man to save Poe. It appears they will get away with it, so Isaac continues on his journey alone. His life on the road is harrowing; he is not cut out to be a transient. But Poe’s is worse; he returns home and is arrested for murder. Poe struggles to make it in the general population at prison while awaiting trial, fighting to stay strong and to not rat out Isaac.

Meyer’s novel deftly asks, “When the things that hold a society together break down, what is left for those who cannot leave?”

Why I picked it up: With Detroit continually in the news because of its financial trouble and the number of derelict houses being bulldozed, the rust-belt is under scrutiny. When I heard of this book from a friend, he pitched it as “desperate people in a dying town.”

Why I finished it: The people of Buell live lives of not-so-quiet desperation. Life and the economy have passed them by, and they feel powerless. There is a very real inertia working against all of them. Some wait for manufacturing to return, others destroyed their bodies working when they were younger, still more cannot afford the tuition for further schooling to get a better job, and there are those who are tied down by family obligations. 

I particularly liked Meyer’s sentences which reminded me of Hemingway’s. At times Meyer puts six or seven short, jumbled sentences in a row to relate the thoughts of a character. They give a clipped, factual, matter-of-fact feel to the story.  

It's perfect for: My friend Jon, whose parents moved from the Rust Belt at the beginning of the decline of Pennsylvania’s steel industry. Because they got out early (when Jon was too young), they didn’t feel the full pain of the economic collapse, but Jon’s relatives and friends did. This will fill him in about what they went through, and especially the courage it took for his parents to strike out for a place where they didn't know anybody. 

@bookblrb: One teen leaves town and finds that life on the road is harrowing, but his friend’s life at home is worse.

Thunder and Roses by Dawn Montgomery & Ditter Kellen

Tonya knows it's time for a decade long conspiracy to come to a head, but no one can know her true identity. Her feral nature and instinctive mistrust have kept her alive for the past five years of deep cover. When her only choice is to run or face death, she runs. What she doesn't count on is Dakota Thunder, a Council bounty hunter who never misses a target. Tonya is running out of time, and the only man she can trust is the last man who should ever believe her.

Dakota Thunder is no stranger to betrayal. From a childhood born of nightmares to the death of his sister, he knows exactly what his kind are capable of. No one escapes his justice. What should have been a routine bounty pick up drops Dakota in the middle of a deadly blood feud involving shifter trafficking, extortion, and murder revolving around one wise-cracking beautiful woman of leopard royalty. She gets under his skin, digging her claws into his heart and reminding him of things buried long ago. He'd planned for everything except Tonya and the evidence that could bring down one of the most powerful organizations in the shifter world.

Nothing could have prepared them for their explosive attraction or the depths at which a madman would fall in order to destroy everything they love. With nowhere to turn, and the net growing tighter, they'll have to trust in one another to survive.

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Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist by Tim Federle

Link to this review by emilyjones tagged cookbookhumorliterary

This is a true homage to classic literature and to anyone who has ever picked up a book and a drink. Each delightfully punny concoction, like The Postman Always Brings Ice, Gone with the Wine, and A Cocktail of Two Cities, is introduced with a brief paragraph about its namesake along with mixing instructions. In addition to the cocktail recipes there is a glossary of tools, terms, different kinds of liquors, and even a few drinking games as well as non-alcoholic options.

Why I picked it up: An awesome independent Seattle bookstore, Third Place Books, posted a blurb about it on their Facebook page, and I bought it that same day. The title was enough for me!

Why I finished it: I couldn't stop reading it aloud to my husband and laughing mid-sentence. It is cleverness and silliness and total awesomeness mixed, shaken, and strained into a glass rimmed with salt. While some puns are a bit of a stretch and there is no way I'd ever drink Tang with warm milk ("White Tang"), the drinks we tried were super tasty. I've already decided this will be my go-to gift for dinner parties, birthdays, and all major holidays. 

It's perfect for: Aarene, a children's librarian with a knack for renaming fairytales (I still want to read Crystal the Methamphetamine Fairy), who will especially appreciate the puns.

@bookblrb: Recipes for literature-inspired cocktails (with non-alcoholic options).

Welcome to Mamoko by Aleksandra Mizielinska, Daniel Mizielinski

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged artboard bookpicture book

“Tonight is the town carnival, but will everybody be able to go?”

Characters (animals and one alien) are each introduced with a short question, and their adventures can be followed across the next seven wordless, two-page spreads.

Why I picked it up: The cover is filled with weird, colorful creatures.

Why I finished it: It’s the biggest, coolest board book I’ve ever seen, and it’s full of details that only come into focus when I concentrate on one character at a time. Alexander Stripe, the zebra wearing a red necktie, is in a hurry, but he stops to help Thomas Spot, the dog who is injured when he steps on something sharp. Otto Trump, the pink elephant, roller skates along with his friend Vincent Brisk (I’m not sure what kind of animal he is), who is going on a date. As these and many other stories take place on the same pages, Cosmo Lense beams down from his spaceship and photographs the goings on.

It's perfect for: Kids big and small who like to find Lowly Worm in Richard Scarry stories and love the I Spy books (but could use a little more story).

@bookblrb: A board book filled with a myriad of odd, colorful creatures whose adventures play out on every page.

Her: A Memoir by Christa Parravani

Link to this review by darcy tagged biographycoming of age

Christa and her identical twin, Cara, did everything together. One afternoon Cara went for a walk in a secluded area and was brutally raped and beaten. This sent her into a crushing cycle of fear and depression, and she began to use drugs. Eventually Cara overdosed and Christa was left alone.

Christa's memoir is about her grief and fear, but also about building her life again after the loss of her sister.

Why I picked it up: The title was intriguing -- I immediately wanted to know what it was about. It’s based on the nickname that Cara used for Christa. The cover also showed a haunting photo of the two sisters wearing dark hooded coats, standing in the snow. I couldn't look away.  

Why I finished it: There have been times when I wished I had a twin, but this look inside the relationship between twin sisters was not what I expected. I’d heard of the unspoken language between twins. Other details emerged that surprised me, like the emotions on watching a twin suffer from addiction and depression, and facing the image of one’s dead sister in the mirror every morning. At Cara’s sister's funeral, people seemed shocked to see Christa, a walking talking version of the deceased. 

It's perfect for: Terra, a unique patron at my library. She claims that she was a twin in a past life. She's always searching for books on reincarnation, and I know that she will love the way Christa writes about communicating with and dreaming of her sister after her death.

@bookblrb: A memoir about dealing with a sister’s crushing fear, depression, and eventual overdose.

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