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Recommendations for Friday, February 28, 2014

Polar: Came from the Cold by Victor Santos

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

Unshelved strip for 2/28/2014

@bookblrb: A shadowy organization tries to kill a retired agent. It’s a huge mistake.

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj by Anne de Courcy

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged historyromance

When Britain decided to institute the Raj -- British rule of conquered India -- in 1858, the British government committed to having many of its marriageable officers and men “in country.”  This left a deplorable lack of available men for the young ladies of means to marry back home. Attracting a suitable husband became that much harder, so to achieve their goals of stability, financial security, and children, many young British ladies traveled to India. This difficult trip around the Cape of Good Hope via steam ship took several months. Maggot-infested food and horrible sea-sickness were common. Women who made the journey to India were met at the pier by men discouraged from fraternizing with locals, then feted in a series of parties.  If no engagement had been made before it was time to leave (usually a short period of about a week), a woman could try again in the next city. Those who succeeded were posted with their new husbands in outposts where there were few other British ladies. Life could be hard, so when the couples gathered for regional parties, everyone dressed in their best clothes and partied all night.

Why I picked it up: I love period movies like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, where making a good marriage seems the only concern of the women of the time. This promised a peek at women who were so desperate that they would spend a year to try to find husbands they barely knew.

Why I finished it: In India at that time, milk and water had to be boiled and mosquito nets hung over beds. One had to keep their eyes peeled for rabid dogs, and bathrooms were checked frequently for snakes and critters that preferred cool floors. It took a lot to be a wife there. And when it was time for parties with the Maharajas, there were books of etiquette and rules that had to be followed. The Maharajas were often desperate to put on a good tiger hunt for important guests. To make sure the tiger killed was impressive, the Maharajas often commissioned tape measures with only eleven inches per foot to exaggerate the size of the tiger.

It's perfect for: My friend Annie, who married her husband in college then moved out to the West Coast to live with him, near his family. I bet she experienced a small taste of the loneliness that a British woman who married an officer posted to India would have felt.

@bookblrb: During the Raj, many British women made the difficult trip to India to find marriageable men.

Never Underestimate a Hermit Crab by Daniel Kaye

When you look into a hermit crab tank, it can sometimes seem like a whole lot isn't going on - but hermit crabs have secret lives that you wouldn't believe! Behind those shells, they are adventurous astronauts, dancing disco dynamos, and simply love being stylish. Journey into the secret world of hermit crabs take a look inside those shells - you can find a lot more than you'd imagine!

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Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged literaryromanceshort stories

Four strangers on a train from Edinburgh to London share stories of love. Andrew is a young art appraiser whose girlfriend’s rich father thinks he’s not good enough for her. Kay relates the story of her parents’ brief courtship and marriage as station masters in the Australian Outback. Hugh’s girlfriend might be terrific, or she might be a criminal, he isn’t quite sure. And poor closeted David still pines for his first crush, a boy he met as a teenager in Maine. Although the stories don’t intertwine, the common themes of love, loss, and connections missed and made create a seamless whole.

Why I picked it up: I read half of McCall Smith’s series (the ones featuring Mma Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie), but this is a standalone. I was intrigued.

Why I finished it: Like the rhythm of a train, the stories click along smoothly. It’s a zippy read.

It's perfect for: Readers who like the Isabel Dalhousie series because this book shares Isabel's analytical yet affectionate view of humanity (Why do we do the things we do? What do we owe one another? How do we make amends?), but without those books' sometimes stifling dissection of moral philosophy.

@bookblrb: Four strangers on a train share stories of love, loss, and missed connections.

The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan, Sophie Blackall

Link to this review by darcy tagged picture book

In Paris, France, a hundred and some years ago, a small postman loses his job when the post office decides to deliver mail using electric autocars. He is worried that he will not have money to pay rent and to care for Geneviève, his pet finch. While out walking, he discovers a boxing club that promises to pay cash for sparring partners. Even though he is small, he knows he's fast, so he takes a chance and climbs inside the ring.

Why I picked it up: The cover shows a small but fierce man wearing boxing gloves, standing in front of a giant pair of muscular legs. It looked like a good book about trying hard or facing down one’s fears.

Why I finished it: Lalouche turns out to be a boxing sensation! The engaging illustrations show a giant scribble in the middle of a boxing ring where Lalouche is faster than Ampère, a boxer with lightning jabs.

It's perfect for: Any adult or child who loves boxing, France, or picture books that show a character overcoming an obstacle. When other boxers laugh and tell Lalouche he is too small, he tries as hard as he can. Lalouche even has to borrow his boxing gear from an elementary school because he is so small. This story has it all: the triumph of the underdog, amazing illustrations, a short glossary of French terms, and a page in the back about la boxe française. (This style of boxing is closer to kickboxing since the fighters were allowed to use their feet.) The author's note includes an old photo of two men fighting where one is delivering a kick to his opponent's head.

@bookblrb: A small former postman becomes a boxing sensation.

Hunting Season: A Novel by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli

Both an absurd, quirky murder mystery and a brilliant, bawdy comedy that only Andrea Camilleri could create.

In 1880s Vigàta, a stranger comes to town to open a pharmacy. Fofò turns out to be the son of a man legendary for his magic garden of plants, fruits, and vegetables that could cure any ailment. That is, until he was found murdered. Fofò escaped the fate of his father, but has just reappeared looking to make his fortune. After getting mixed up with a local philandering bigwig set on producing an heir, he finds himself surrounded by a string of highly suspicious deaths.

Praise for Andrea Camilleri and the Inspector Montalbano series:

“Camilleri can do a character’s whole backstory in half a paragraph.”—The New Yorker

“Sublime and darkly humorous....Camilleri balances his hero’s personal and professional challenges perfectly and leaves the reader eager for more.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Download a free e-galley from NetGalley or e-mail librariansden@us.penguingroup.com to enter to win one of 20 free galleys.

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Proxy by Alex London

Link to this review by sharonlevin tagged coming of agescience fiction

In this dystopia, the 1% have really gone too far. The rich don't simply have different rules, they have proxies who endure all the consequences for their actions.

Since childhood, whenever the spoiled, rich Knox has done something wrong, Syd, his proxy, has had to endure beatings, electric shock, or hard labor. Why do proxies do it? Because they owe their souls to the company store. Food, education, and housing (such as it is) is paid for by their patrons. To get any extras like healthcare, proxies incur debt; most owe more than they have years to live.

One moment Knox is speeding down the freeway behind the wheel of a stolen car, trying to impress the girl next to him (he can’t remember her name). The next he crashes the car, killing her. As usual, Syd has to pay the price. But this time, Knox has gone too far; Syd is sentenced to death for Knox's crime. Because he has nothing left to lose, Syd tricks his way out of prison and ends up going to a party (his connection to get false papers is there) where he meets Knox.

Knox is fully aware of who his proxy is, and he has often watched Syd take his punishments, but Syd does not know Knox’s identity. Knox sees helping Syd as a way to rebel against his very powerful father.

Why I picked it up: I was in discussion with a friend who is very knowledgable about children’s lit and I voiced my frustration over trying to find books where being gay or homosexual was just a given, NOT a plot point. He recommended this book because Syd’s gay but it has nothing to do with the story.

Why I finished it:  Knox is a spoiled rich kid who doesn’t truly understand the consequences of his behavior, but he learns and grows over the course of the story. He finds himself protecting Syd after his father has put a very high price on Syd's head. Syd has seen the worst of people in his short lifetime. There’s been no one to take care of him, to nurture him, and to teach him empathy, yet he has a good heart. The many twists and turns of the plot left me just as unsure as Syd and Knox about whom to trust and what was the right thing to do.

It's perfect for: Juan, because he likes seeing teens outsmart adults. He’ll love seeing Knox and Syd go up against Knox’s father.

@bookblrb: In the future, the 1% do whatever they want while their proxies face the consequences.

What's Inside?: See-Through Pages and Magic Surprises! by OKIDO

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged nonfictionpicture bookscience

See what's inside a human body, a cave, a car, a robot, a house, and more via pages you hold up to the light to reveal their secrets.

Why I picked it up: I like books on inner workings, and this one had a strange, heavy-duty cardboard cover.

Why I finished it: While there's not really enough detail to be totally educational, I did want to see what was inside. And the low-tech method the book uses is pretty cool; you hold pages up to the light to reveal their secrets.

It's perfect for: Home story time and question time for younger kids. Parents can fill in the extra details, kids can color in the pages at the end, and library staff won't get mad if the pages rip while you're trying to see the insides. As an added bonus, the page where you draw your own prize inside a chocolate egg can build anticipation for future smuggling.

@bookblrb: Hold the pages of this picture book up to the light to reveal the inner workings of the human body, a car, and more.

My Wish List by Gregoire Delacourt, translated by Anthea Bell

Jocelyne lives in a small town in France where she runs a fabric shop, has been married to the same man for twenty-one years, and has raised two children. She is beginning to wonder what happened to all those dreams she had when she was seventeen. Could her life have been different?? ?Then she wins the lottery—and suddenly finds the world at her fingertips. But she chooses not to tell anyone, not even her husband—not just yet. Without cashing the check, she begins to make a list of all the things she could do with the money. But does Jocelyne really want her life to change???

“A runaway bestseller that looks set to follow the success of The Elegance of the Hedgehog.” —Elle (France)

??“What if the concierge in The Elegance of the Hedgehog became a seamstress in the Pas-de-Calais? ... My Wish List has a natural charm.” —L’Express (France)

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Frog Trouble...and eleven other pretty serious songs by Sandra Boynton

Link to this review by snow tagged picture book

What are the common themes of country music? Dogs, trucks, and trouble, of course! In this collection of twelve songs, singers ranging from Darius Rucker to Dwight Yoakam and Ben Folds to Brad Paisley sing their hearts out about the dogs they befriend, the trucks they love, and the frogs that give them no end of trouble. Includes a hardcover book featuring the words and music, plus lots of silly illustrations.

Why I picked it up: I have loved Boynton's collections of kids' songs since her first one, Rhinoceros Tap: 15 seriously silly songs.

Why I finished it: Boynton and collaborator Michael Ford continue to create music for kids that won't make adults want to kill themselves when the cd is played in the car for the nine billionth time. And this time they do it with a twang! What makes the songs work is that the music is taken seriously, even when the song itself is silly. When Kacey Musgraves croons "Don't they remember all the heartache so deep..." she could be singing in any country and western bar, at least until she goes on to say "...when somebody tells you it's time now for sleep." Boynton is great at expressing sentiment without sap. "When Pigs Fly," sung by Ryan Adams, takes a cheesy cliché and turns it into a beautiful anthem about the power of imagination and belief. And "End of a Summer Storm" is as hauntingly etherial as anything on Alison Krauss's mainstream albums, making me wonder if Boynton and Ford wrote it just for her.

It's perfect for: Martha, who loves to line dance. "Alligator Stroll," sung by Josh Turner, begs to be danced to. (There are even instructions for the dance.) It will be a little different than what her senior center group usually does, but I think everyone’s grandkids will get a kick out it.

@bookblrb: Country songs about frogs, dogs, trucks, and more.

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die by April Henry

Link to this review by jana tagged mysterythriller

When Cady wakes up in a cabin, she hears two men arguing about whether or not to kill her. She doesn't remember who she is, how she got there, or why the men want her dead. She fights back and manages to escape.

In a McDonald’s, the cashier, Ty, notices that she seems freaked out. The men coming in looking for her while she’s in the restroom. After Ty steers them away from her, she tells him what’s going on and he decides to help. On the run, they piece together why people are trying to kill her and who she is.

Why I picked it up: I wanted to see if I could handle a suspense novel. I put it off for a while but then in the airport my flight to California was delayed... and delayed…and delayed. I read the entire book before I arrived at my destination.

Why I finished it: The chapters were short and always ended on a cliffhanger. In one of my favorite moments, just after Cady escaped, she found a security guard and asked for help. He told her to get in his car so that he could take her into town. He helped her into the back seat and closed the door, then jumped into the front seat and did not start the car. She was locked in so it was super freaky. I had to know what would happen next.

It's perfect for: Sadie, my niece, who likes slow romances. Ty refuses to leave Cady until she finds her parents, and the story continues to reveal what a determined, generous guy he is along the way.

@bookblrb: Cady escapes the men who are trying to decide whether to kill her, but she doesn’t know who she is.

The Enchanted: A Novel by Rene Denfeld

A wondrous and redemptive novel for readers of Alice Sebold and Toni Morrison, told from the point of view of a convict whose magical interpretations of prison life allow him to find absolute joy while isolated from the rest of humanity and a female investigator who experiences her own personal salvation in her work as a death penalty investigator.

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Toxic War by Peter Sills

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged history

Agent Orange was one of the defoliants used by the United States forces in Vietnam. The Viet Cong were excellent at moving troops through forested areas unseen, so it was used to remove leaves from trees near bases and strategic routes. (Agent Orange was named for the orange band on the 55-gallon barrels that contained it; there were also herbicides called Agents Purple, Pink and Green.) Tests demonstrated that Agent Orange was of limited use, and it was making production workers back in the States sick, yet U.S. generals continued to expand the program. Its use was only ended by negative public opinion years later. They soon discovered the real villain, minuscule amounts of the toxic chemical dioxin made during high-heat production of Agent Orange, but the companies hid this so they would not be subject to more regulation.

The amount of dioxin sprayed over the country of Vietnam over a decade only amounted to 360 pounds (out of tens of millions of gallons of Orange sprayed), but that is enough to poison trillions of people. Dioxin and its negative effects were never acknowledged or explained to the public in the decades following the Vietnam War. Sills covers the extended legal fights by veterans for recognition of their Agent Orange-related illnesses by the government and Veterans’ Administration.

Why I picked it up: The U.S. government acted shamefully in trying to avoid blame for Agent Orange so they wouldn’t be held responsible for its effects.  I wanted to know why the military would work so hard to avoid responsibility.

Why I finished it: Unexpected, sometimes hilarious details from the men, like the sign put up by the pilots who sprayed Agent Orange, “Only you can prevent forests.” There were tons of painful personal stories, like that of veteran Dave Maier, who had an extremely rare tumor (ostensibly caused by Agent Orange). He suffered from extreme pain before doctors finally amputated his leg. Maier became a symbol for those fighting against the recalcitrant VA to get recognition that their symptoms were service-related. Many men experienced tumors, stillbirths of their children, issues with their nervous systems, and more only to be told that they were "making up stories."

It's perfect for: My school’s Advanced Placement history teacher, Lowell. He is a Vietnam vet himself, saved from combat by his superb typing skills. (He could type so fast that, in the 1980's, the computer cursor could not keep up. He spent the war in the typing pool.) He would understand the political pressures that quashed negative reports about Agent Orange, but he would also understand the anguish of the men he served with and be more thankful than ever that he wasn’t ever on a chemical-saturated battlefield.

@bookblrb: A detailed account of the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, and its consequences.

I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black, Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Link to this review by silver tagged picture book

A girl is bored. Nothing seems interesting until a potato complains that kids are boring. She is determined to show the potato that hanging out with kids is fun.

Why I picked it up: Michael Ian Black is hilarious. And I've seen my daughter make the frowning face on the cover.

Why I finished it: The words zip around the page, just like the little girl does. When she cartwheels, the words bend. When she skips, they hop. And when she spins they're a whirlpool. It's awesome. I wasn't just turning the pages, I was turning the book, too. 

It's perfect for: Rebecca. As the girl continues to fail to impress the potato, she begins to stretch her imagination. She uses props around her house to pretend to tame lions, battle dragons, and make the potato walk the plank. Rebecca could use the book to inspire the imaginations of her students as they try to work on art projects in her class. 

@bookblrb: Nothing seems interesting to a bored girl until a potato starts complaining about how boring kids are.

All The Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release by Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon

The long wait is over… It’s back in stock! Every album and every song ever released by the Beatles—from "Please Please Me" (U.S. 1963) to "The Long and Winding Road" (U.S. 1970) dissected, discussed, and analyzed in this lively and fully illustrated work. This first-of-its-kind book draws upon decades of research, to recount the circumstances that led to the composition of every song, the recording process, and the instruments used.

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Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelliteraryromance

After teenage Clementine catches the eye of a blue-haired woman while crossing the street, she starts to have erotic dreams about her. Clementine is a girl and girls like boys, though, so she starts dating Thomas. But after a female friend playfully kisses her, Clementine starts to face the truth about herself. Then her friend Valentin, who is in the process of coming out himself, takes her to a bar where she meets the blue-haired girl, Emma, and her girlfriend. They become friends and then they become much, much more, despite how unhappy their relationship makes Clementine’s parents.

Why I picked it up: I wanted to see the movie adaptation when it premiered in Seattle in October, but I was doing a reading of Fifty Shades of Brains at a sex toy store (see number 11). (I would have read the graphic novel anyway because it won the Audience Prize at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, which I’m going to attend at least once before I die.)

Why I finished it: The book opens after the death of Clementine. Emma reads a letter that Clementine wrote to her, and then she reads Clementine’s diaries. As she does, the entire story of their relationship is revealed. It’s a beautiful frame because in the midst of reading about the intensity of their love, it was easy to forget that Clementine was gone, but then I’d recall the frame and start wondering what happened to her and that pulled me right through this book.

It's perfect for: Michele. She and I bonded in a Greenwich Village bar at a party to celebrate the last issue of Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise. (She was crying in the corner after having read it, but she still managed to make fun of my “girly drink.”) I know she’ll really enjoy this love story because of the emotionally evocative storytelling, the amazing and spare use of color, as well as the erotic scenes.

@bookblrb: After Clementine dies, Emma experiences the intensity of their love by reading her diaries.

Jane, the fox & me by Fanny Britt, Isabelle Arsenault, Christelle Morelli

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged coming of agegraphic novel

The girls at school pick on Hélène. They write on the walls about her weight and her b.o. and they won’t talk to her on the bus. The second worst thing is that she used to be friends with all of them. The worst thing is that they all have to go together to nature camp in the woods, and there will be no place for Hélène to hide there.

Why I picked it up: With its soft drawings and amazing use of colors (bright orange-red and green on an uneven gray background), the cover promised this would be an unusual graphic novel.

Why I finished it: The art was even better than the cover promised. The drawings are somehow both sketchy and exact, and the use of different inks to texture the images really helped me feel the way Hélène experiences her school. And when she’s talking about Jane Eyre, a book she loves, the pictures explode with color.

It's perfect for: Tracy, my friend who has never liked how she looks in a swim suit. She’ll laugh when Hélène goes downtown with her mother to shop for one because she imagines herself as a sausage wearing it.

”Jane Eyre may be an orphan, homely, battered, alone and abandoned, but she is not, never has been and never will be a big fat sausage.

@bookblrb: Hélène’s former friends pick on her, and now they all have to go to nature camp together.

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

ISBN: (076117897X) Published by $11.95(US)

Workman’s first Library Reads selection! In his New York Times bestseller (and YALSA Outstanding Book for the College Bound) Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon showed readers how to unlock their creativity by “stealing” from the community of other movers and shakers. Now, in an even more forward-thinking and necessary book, he shows how to take that critical next step on a creative journey—getting known.

Show Your Work! is about why generosity trumps genius. It’s about becoming findable, about using the network instead of wasting time “networking.” It’s not self-promotion, it’s self-discovery—let others into your process, then let them steal from you. Filled with illustrations, quotes, stories, and examples, Show Your Work! offers ten transformative rules for being open, generous, brave, productive.

Kleon creates a user’s manual for embracing the communal nature of creativity— what he calls the “ecology of talent.” From broader life lessons about work (you can’t find your voice if you don’t use it) to the etiquette of sharing—and the dangers of oversharing—to the practicalities of Internet life (build a good domain name; give credit when credit is due), it’s an inspiring manifesto for succeeding as any kind of artist or entrepreneur in the digital age.

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Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others by Stacy Horn

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged nonfiction

Reporter and amateur singer Stacy Horn explores the history and evolution of amateur choral singing through the lens of her own experiences as a member of The Choral Society of Grace Church in Manhattan. Horn articulates the motivations and joys of singing together: why we love it, why it’s good for us, and how it changes us, both as musicians and people. She structures each chapter around a particular piece of music, from crowd pleasers like the Brahms Requiem to lesser-known gems such as Vaughan Williams’s “Toward the Unknown Region,” offering brief history lessons about the pieces and composers, and chronicling her own journey through each as a singer.

Why I picked it up: I’ve been singing in choirs since I was eight years old. These are my people.

Why I finished it: I was pleasantly surprised to see my college conductor, Jim Marvin, quoted several times. Plus, there’s a whole chapter on The Biebl.

It's perfect for: My church choir director, Joan, who’s an organist and piano teacher by trade but a choral singer by vocation. She’d love Horn’s depiction of choral music as the ultimate community builder.

@bookblrb: An amateur choral singer explores the joy of singing together.

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