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Recommendations for Friday, January 31, 2014

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by geneambaum tagged coming of agemystery

Unshelved strip for 1/31/2014

@bookblrb: Four peculiar kids made it through the test. Now they're the world's last hope.

The Eye of Minds: (The Mortality Doctrine Book 1) by James Dashner

Link to this review by danritchie tagged coming of agescience fiction

In a not-too-distant future, video games are so sophisticated that players enter an alternate, virtual world, the VirtNet, also called the Sleep. Michael, Sarah and Bryson are inseparable friends there and have highly developed programming skills that allow them to hack games. When a group of cyberterrorists, lead by an artificial intelligence named Kaine, begins creating KillSims, horrifying demons that suck the energy from players’ brains, resulting in very real deaths or lifelong comas, the VNS (VirtNet Security) seeks out Michael and his friends for covert help (they believe Kaine will not suspect the teens are VNS agents). The VNS wants to send them into the VirtNet to find the Path, a series of portals linking virtual worlds Kaine has created, which they will use to locate Kaine. The VNS will be tracking them, and if they succeed, the VNS will destroy Kaine.

Why I picked it up: Dashner’s The Maze Runner is my all time favorite series because of its rip-roaring action, plot twists, and fascinating, bizarre settings. I have been waiting to get my hands on his next book.

Why I finished it: It was worth the wait! 

To play, gamers need a Core implanted in their heads. This chip allows them to experience all the in-game emotions, sensations, and even virtual death as a reality. From the beginning, the quest for the Path is fraught with a series of bizarre and terrifying worlds which must be conquered. Knowing “death” will only send them back to the Wake (normal life) is Michael, Sarah, and Bryson’s only comfort. But after Michael’s friends “die” and return to the Wake, Michael’s Core is ripped from his head; his virtual death becomes permanent.

It's perfect for: My son-in-law. He will revel in Dashner's concept of future gaming, especially the 'coffin' game box where thousands of thread-like connectors attach to the body’s nerve endings, and a foam gel envelops the body to help create the reality of the Sleep, which includes physical soreness after combat, feeling full after eating virtual food, and much more.

@bookblrb: Teenagers battle an AI and cyberterrorists who can kill you while you play in a virtual world.

The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith

The author of the best-selling and universally adored No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series now gives us The Forever Girl, a novel about love and following one’s heart, and the unexpected places to which this can lead us.

Amanda and her husband, David, feel fortunate to be raising their son and daughter in the close-knit community of ex-pats on Grand Cayman Island, an idyllic place for children to grow up. Their firstborn, Sally, has always listened to her heart, deciding at age four that she would rather be called Clover and then, a few years later, falling in love with her best friend, James.

But the comforting embrace of island life can become claustrophobic for adults, especially when they are faced with difficult situations. At the same time that Clover falls in love with James, Amanda realizes that she has fallen out of love with David . . . and that she is interested in someone else. While Amanda tries to navigate the new path her heart is leading her down, Clover finds, much to her dismay, that James seems to be growing away from her. And when they leave the island for boarding school—James to England and Clover to Scotland—she feels she may have lost him for good. As Clover moves on to university, seldom seeing James but always carrying him in her heart, she finds herself torn between a desire to go forward with her life and the old feelings that she just can’t shed.

Through the lives of Clover and James, and Amanda and David, acclaimed storyteller Alexander McCall Smith tells a tale full of love and heartbreak, humor and melancholy, that beautifully demonstrates the myriad ways in which love shapes our lives.

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The Last Headbangers: NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless ‘70’s, the Era that Created Modern Sports by Kevin Cook

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfiction

NFL Football in the 1970s was startlingly different from today's professional game in run/pass balance, player size, salaries, and off-field player behavior. The decade was a time of barely-controlled violence, old-school coaches, hard-drinking teams, and players knocking heads in sub-standard helmets.  Monday Night Football was just beginning to bring television contract money into the game. Salaries were much less than today; some well-known players like Super Bowl winning quarterback Terry Bradshaw even needed off-season jobs to make ends meet. 

Cook interviewed many players and asked what they think about today's game as he reminisced with them about their heyday. The book ends with details about their current health problems, many due to head injuries.

Why I picked it up: I spend every Sunday watching NFL football with my three boys. Given that the 70s era of football is the first I am old enough to remember, reading this insider book was a given.

Why I finished it: Cook details stories of grit and toughness from seminal games of the 70s, many of which were clashes between the teams that dominated the decade -- the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders. He also tells of drug- and alcohol-fueled excess, like how Cowboys linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson carried liquid cocaine in his thigh pads so that he could snort it during games. One player shared that John Madden, coach of the Raiders, had a hilarious motivational quote that none of the players ever understood: “Don’t worry about the blind mule, just load the wagon.” Cook also covers the Darryl Stingley incident to prove how rough things were back then. (Safety Jack Tatum delivered a forearm blow to Stingley’s neck, paralyzing him for life. In today’s NFL, Tatum would have been suspended for several games at least, but in that rough and tumble time, he was not even penalized.)

It's perfect for: My Grandfather Gail, who grew up in the San Francisco area. Both the 49ers and the Raiders teams (who were originally from Oakland) get lots of ink, and Grandpa, always a big fan, would love reminiscing about all the plays he watched live forty years ago. And he would laugh at Hollywood Henderson’s quote about the intelligence level of Pittsburgh QB Bradshaw, “He couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the C and the T.”

@bookblrb: 1970s NFL football was rougher, lower paying, out of control, and fueled by off-field excess.

The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy by Martha Brockenbrough, Israel Sanchez

Link to this review by darcy tagged picture book

Inside the museum of truly old things lives the last Dinosaur Tooth Fairy. She spends her days polishing her collection of fangs. Much time has passed, and there are no more fangs to be had. She is all alone.

One day a little girl comes into the museum with a loose tooth. The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy is excited when the girl loses the tooth because she can add it to her aging collection.

Why I picked it up: The cover -- there’s something about a dinosaur in a tiara carrying a handbag that made me want to read this.

Why I finished it: The story progresses in the words and in the pictures. There was a clever description of the girl being swallowed by a giant, roaring monster, but the illustrations show her boarding a school bus. It was also fun to see the real Tooth Fairy lurking under the bed, ready to steal that tooth from the Dinosaur Tooth Fairy.

It's perfect for: My sister-in-law, Monica, who teaches first grade. Throughout the school year, teeth are dropping out of smiles several times a week, and she's surrounded by kids with gap-toothed grins. I know that this is a book she would read to her students. She will especially love the dinosaur humor, like the fact that when Dinosaur Tooth Fairy reaches for the tooth under the pillow, it will be hard to grab it because her arms are as short as her tantrums are long.

@bookblrb: Inside the museum of truly old things, the last Dinosaur Tooth Fairy polishes her fangs.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky: A Novel by Nancy Horan

From Nancy Horan, New York Times bestselling author of Loving Frank, comes her much-anticipated second novel, which tells the improbable love story of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his tempestuous American wife, Fanny.

At the age of thirty-five, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne leaves her philandering husband in San Francisco to set sail for Belgium—with her three children and nanny in tow—to study art. Stevenson too is escaping from his life, running from family pressure to become a lawyer. And so begins a turbulent love affair that will last two decades and span the world.

Now a TODAY show book club pick!

Request an Advance Copy.

View the Discussion Guide.

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Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged paranormal

Kate and her twin sister Violet have extrasensory perceptions of events to come. Kate wants nothing to do with them, but, much to Kate’s chagrin, Vi has made a name for herself as a psychic. The sisters live in St. Louis but lead largely separate lives: Vi the irresponsible one, Kate the dependable stay-at-home-mom. When Vi receives a sense that a major earthquake is about to happen, Kate initially dismisses it, but then Kate feels a warning for a particular date. Vi takes her prediction public, and a media frenzy ensues, with life-altering consequences that neither can foresee.

Why I picked it up: Sometimes, when I find a copy of a much-hyped book on the library shelf, I pick it up. Sittenfeld's been a literati darling since she was a teenager, and this one got the two-reviews-in-the-New-York-Times treatment, plus a long review in Slate and an Amazon Best Book of the Month nod.

Why I finished it: Sittenfeld made me care about the characters through Kate’s clear-eyed narration, and then served up a late-in-the-game plot twist that made me gasp with gob-smacky horror. Plus the novel is equal parts family story, cultural critique, and page turner.

It's perfect for: My sister, Gretchen. She isn’t clairvoyant or irresponsible or my twin, but she enjoys a ripping yarn with flawed, relatable characters, and she’ll particularly like Kate, whose passive-aggressive-martyr persona would even give a good Swedish Lutheran like Gretchen a run for her money.

@bookblrb: Kate’s sister Vi, a famous psychic, predicts a major earthquake. A media frenzy ensues.

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins, Jill McElmurry

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged nonfictionpicture book

Katherine Olivia Sessions grew up in northern California in the 1860s. She loved trees, studied them, and in 1881 became the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a science degree. When she started teaching in San Diego, City Park was a desert and a garbage dump, but she transformed the park and the city by finding and planting trees that could live there.

Why I picked it up: The textured forest on the cover reminded me a little of Gustav Klimt’s stunning Pine Forest II, which I saw in The Baltimore Museum of Art in October.

Why I finished it: I go to San Diego almost every year for Comic-Con. Balboa Park (the former City Park) is stunningly green and beautiful. While I know it’s hot down there, it’s incredible to me that 110 years ago the city looked desolate. Plus I had no idea the park and much of the rest of the greenery in the city is all thanks to one woman.

Readalikes: Other pro-science picture books like What Floats in a Moat?, Unusual Creatures, and Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle.

@bookblrb: Katherine Olivia Sessions transformed San Diego into a beautiful place by planting trees.

Hinterkind: Volume 1 by Ian Edginton

In a post-apocalyptic world where humans have been pushed to the edge of extinction by the creatures of fantasy and fables, The Hinterkind tells the story of one young woman's quest to fulfill her destiny and put the world right again. Fifty-seven years after an unspecified biological event has all but wiped out the human race, a green hand has moved over the face of the Earth. Leaf, root and shoot have steadfastly smothered the works of man, remorselessly grinding the concrete, glass and steel back into the minerals from whence they came. Mother Nature is reclaiming what's rightfully hers but she's not the only one…

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Outfoxed by Mike Twohy

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelpicture book

One night Fox breaks into the henhouse and steals a chicken. When he gets home, he realizes he grabbed a duck instead. After he decides to eat the duck anyway, it sets about convincing Fox that it’s a dog so that he will leave it alone.

Why I picked it up: On the back cover Fox is leading a duck around on a leash. This was odd enough to get my attention.

Why I finished it: Duck sniffs, jumps, slobbers, wags his tail, and even pees on the carpet in an effort to save himself. Brilliant.

Readalikes: Leo Lionni’s An Extraordinary Egg in which three frogs assume that the creature that hatches out of an egg is a chicken (they’ve never seen one before). And Chih-Yuan Chen's Guji Guji, a book about a crocodile who thinks he’s a duck.

@bookblrb: Fox tries to steal a chicken, but in his rush he steals a duck instead.

A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting by Guy Delisle

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged biographygraphic novelnonfiction

Delisle's comics about daily life with his children, which is only one step removed from disaster.

Why I picked it up: I met Delisle’s kids in Burma Chronicles and Jerusalem and wanted to get to know them better.

Why I finished it: Delisle decides it would be a hilarious prank on his son to pretend to have lost his arm to a chainsaw, proves that he and his wife aren’t giving money that supposedly comes from the tooth mouse by saying there is no way they would have forgotten two nights in a row, and eats his favorite cereal in the middle of the night so he doesn't have to share with his daughter.

It's perfect for: Parents who know they don't have to be perfect. (I think it would give the perfect ones aneurysms, particularly when Delisle teaches his son how to really go to town on a punching bag by telling him to pretend it's his sister.)

@bookblrb: Guy Delisle’s days with his kids are one step removed from disaster.

The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir

Apollo 13 meets Castaway in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller-set on the surface of Mars.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

A February LibraryReads pick!

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Confessions of a Hostie by Danielle Hugh

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged biographynonfiction

Airline Stewardess Danielle Hugh has been a hostie (flight attendant) for over twenty years. In that time, she has seen it all, from self-centered passengers, to the highly inebriated, to affairs between airline employees. With an enjoyable sense of humor, Hugh explains how things really work behind the beverage cart and what airline stewards and stewardesses are thinking at the end of a trans-Atlantic trip. Despite the travails of working with the public and living with constant jet lag, Hugh claims she wouldn’t want any other job because of the perks: waiting by the pool in Hawaii for the return flight, shopping in lively bazaars around the world, and restaurants with local dishes that can't be duplicated anywhere else. She also explains about romances between flight crew members; they are known as “Goodyear” relationships because they end once the tires hit the ground on the way home.

Why I picked it up: I always like behind-the-scenes books where insiders spill on what really goes down behind the scenes. I was sure Hugh would have some juicy stories!

Why I finished it: She did. There were stories of passengers who disrobed then ran up and down the airplane aisles, chain reaction vomiting, and even one about Hugh having to help when the crew had to handcuff a giant, irritated, inebriated man. My personal favorite was about the passenger who closed down the galley by taking a dump in the sink.

Readalikes: Heads in Beds, one of my favorite reads in the last year, by a hotel concierge who told about all the dirty tricks hotel workers play on guests if they are too demanding. Like in that book, Hugh reveals the difference between what she says to customers and what she's thinking -- the thoughts are much funnier in both cases.

@bookblrb: A veteran flight attendant tells all.

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