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Recommendations for Friday, March 14, 2014

No Way Out: A Mystery Tale (The Black Beetle Volume 1) by Francesco Francavilla

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

Unshelved strip for 3/14/2014

@bookblrb: The Black Beetle protects Cold City from a mysterious, maze-covered villain.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight, Khristine Hvam

Link to this review by emilyjones tagged audiobookmystery

Kate Baron is a single mother and up-and-coming partner in a prestigious law firm. Her daughter Amelia is a smart and sweet teenager with excellent grades and a promising future. When Kate receives a phone call about her daughter cheating in class, she is understandably surprised. After she arrives at her exclusive private school to confront her, Kate's shock turns to horror and grief when she is told that Amelia jumped off the roof. Kate cannot accept that her daughter would kill herself, especially when she receives an anonymous text on her phone: Amelia didn't jump.

Why I picked it up: Reviews likened it to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and I really enjoyed Flynn's earlier books. Plus, it's a great title: for me it invoked an image of picking up the pieces of a girl's life and trying to put it back together again, like Humpty Dumpty.

Why I finished it: The mean girls at Amelia’s school were unapologetic and their parents' willful ignorance made my stomach churn. While I was annoyed with Kate's initial inaction, I began to better understand her behavior as her grief ebbed and the anger crept in. The narrator skillfully expresses the sorrow as well as the turmoil when Kate discovers -- too late -- how much Amelia suffered at the hands of her classmates.

It's perfect for: Max, whose daughter is starting high school this fall. I don't think some parents fully realize how cruel and extreme cyberbullying can be, and what it really even is. Max thinks she has kept her daughter safe from all the "bad guys" but the reality is that some of them might be in her class at school.

@bookblrb: After Kate's daughter Amelia supposedly commits suicide, Kate tries to figure out what really happened.

A Time To Break Silence by Martin Luther King, Jr. Introduction by Walter Dean Myers

The first collection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s essential writings for high school students and young people, A Time to Break Silence presents Dr. King’s most important writings and speeches—carefully selected by teachers across a variety of disciplines—in an accessible and user-friendly volume. Now, for the first time, teachers and students will be able to access Dr. King's writings not only electronically but in stand-alone book form. Arranged thematically in five parts, the collection includes nineteen selections and is introduced by award-winning author Walter Dean Myers. Included are some of Dr. King’s most well-known and frequently taught classic works, including “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “I Have a Dream,” as well as lesser-known pieces such as “The Sword that Heals” and “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” that speak to issues young people face today.

Click Here for Teacher’s Guide

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Alice in tumblr-Land: And Other Fairy Tales for a New Generation by Tim Manley

Link to this review by craigseasholes tagged classichumorpicture book

Fairytale and classic children’s lit characters get a status update in a series of humorous, illustrated online entries for grownups. Tweet that, you big bad wolf!

Why I picked it up: Alice falling into an open laptop grabbed me and hurled my curiosity down the rabbit hole of reimagined fairy-tale characters with a decidedly 21st century twist. Snow White spends her time with a glass of wine, getting hot as she drifts online to photos of Ryan Gosling. I like, TOTALLY fell for it.

Why I finished it: Rapunzel cuts her hair and starts dating a girl. Cinderella tries her hand as an artist, but suffers a setback when her Twitter hashtag buzz drops. Little Red Riding Hood hits the singles bar scene but keeps running into wolves and pushy huntsmen. Beauty and the Beast get an apartment and muddle through conflicting emotions. The Ugly Duckling finds a great filter and finally posts an awesome selfie on Instagram.

Readalikes: Cracked and fractured fairy tales like Jon Sciezka’s The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. Manley’s tumblr or this collection of funny Amazon product reviews are good bets, too.

@bookblrb: Classic children’s lit characters star in humorous, illustrated online entries for grownups

The Millionaire and the Scrublady and Other Parables by William E. Barton

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged literaryshort stories

William E. Barton was once one of the most famous writers in the United States. This volume collects nearly eighty of his parables which were originally published in the 1910s and ’20s under the pseudonym Safed the Sage. Safed-as-narrator offers slice-of-life moral lessons in a deliberately old-fashioned voice: “The daughter of the daughter of Keturah came unto our habitation, and she sought the Cookie Box of Keturah. And thus did Keturah’s own children in their day.”

Why I picked it up: Fellow church choir members pressed it upon me -- it’s been their go-to gift for friends and relatives for years.

Why I finished it: Each parable is short enough to be read as a morning devotion, meaty enough for a day’s worth of contemplation, and universal enough to be enjoyed by those without a Christian or religious bent.

It took me two or three parables to get into the voice and spirit, but once there, I was hooked. About a friend to whom he lent money, Barton writes: “Yea, it was not according to his Principle to pay the Interest, neither was it in his Interest to pay the Principal.”

It's perfect for: Fans of Jan Karon’s Mitford series and Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon books will find a kindred spirit in Barton, who mixes the divine and the earthly with similar skill and affection.

@bookblrb: Eighty parables penned by “Safed the Sage,” originally published in the early 20th century.

Sticks And Stones by Emily Bazelon

Being a teenager has never been easy, but in recent years, with the rise of the Internet and social media, it has become exponentially more challenging. Blending keen journalistic and narrative skills, Emily Bazelon explores facets of bullying through the stories of three young people who found themselves caught in the thick of it, bringing readers on a deeply researched, clear-eyed journey into the ever-shifting landscape of teenage meanness and its sometimes devastating consequences. The result is a groundbreaking book that will help parents, educators, and teens themselves better understand what kids are going through today and what can be done to help them through it.

“Intelligent, rigorous . . . [Emily Bazelon] is a compassionate champion for justice in the domain of childhood’s essential unfairness.” —Andrew Solomon, The New York Times Book Review

“Thoughtful and moving, incisive and provocative, Sticks and Stones is essential reading for any educator trying to negotiate the minefield of bullying.” —Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed?

“Bullying isn’t new. But our attempts to respond to it are, as Bazelon explains in her richly detailed, thought-provoking book. . . . Comprehensive in her reporting and balanced in her conclusions, Bazelon extracts from these stories useful lessons for young people, parents and principals alike.” —The Washington Post

Click Here for Teacher’s Guide

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Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson, Larry Sloman

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged biography

Mike Tyson is the most exciting and controversial heavyweight fighter since Muhammad Ali. He earned hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of a career that saw him dominate the baddest men on the planet (several of his opponents forfeited before fights because they feared long-term injuries) and behave in whatever fashion he desired (he publicly beat up his promoter, Don King, on multiple occasions). Tyson takes us back to his childhood as a truant (he quit attending school at seven years old), gang member, and thief breaking into houses, pickpocketing, and mugging strangers.  Tyson shows us this rough childhood to explain his world-view, that everyone is alone and one can only depend on themselves. After seeing a thirteen-year-old Tyson spar for six minutes, boxing trainer Cus D’Amato told Tyson that if he listened to him, he would be the champion of the world one day.  D’Amato trained him and also gave him a home, daily affirmation, and a way to see himself as a success through disciplined training and boxing. D’Amato’s death shortly before Tyson became heavyweight champion unbalanced Tyson, who depended on D’Amato to center him. Despite years of success, that was the beginning of the end for Tyson; he had no one to help him process his thoughts and insecurities as D'Amato had.  Eventually his demons won out and he went through a long period as a divorced, penniless drug addict despite the hundreds of millions he had won.

Why I picked it up: I remember listening to the fight where Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear twice, spitting out a chunk of flesh the second time and getting disqualified. Rioting started inside the casino where the fight was held, with gunshots and people hiding under craps tables.  This was the world of Tyson: bats#*t  crazy and unpredictable. I wanted to hear his version of this fight.

Why I finished it: If you want dominant Tyson, there is round-by-round description of the fights and the men he beat over a six-year period where he went undefeated and unified all the heavyweight belts.  If you want monster Tyson, his rape conviction and jail time is a prominent feature of the book, as well as his crass sexual behavior with women. If you want to consider Tyson as an overgrown, emotionally stunted child, you have plenty of evidence; Tyson continually threw grapes at the head of a challenger while on a flight, and he once wiped his bare ass on a vanquished opponent’s mink coat outside a nightclub.

It's perfect for: Nels, the toughest man I have ever known, who boxed in the military. Nels could take some serious punishment in a fight and continue without feeling the same kind of pain that I do when I engage in much less risky behavior (like exercising to a workout video after a few months off). Tyson spends a lot of time explaining the motivations that drove him to success, one of which was the memory of being bullied as a child and how helpless he felt. Tyson claims that every boxer has a reason why they are in the ring, and this book would help Nels reflect on what his reason for fighting was.

@bookblrb: An in-depth biography of boxer Mike Tyson including his childhood and most infamous fights.

The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged coming of agefantasygraphic novel

Nate just moved into an old house. Beneath the floorboards of his new room he discovers an old tape recorder with a note on it that reads “find him.” On the reel-to-reel tapes is the voice of Walter, a boy who went missing long ago. He talks about a world of magic around town that no one else can see. It’s full of talking squirrels, evil crows, tiny men, living dolls, and the Shadows in the dark forest.

With the help of his neighbor, Tabitha, Nate sets out to find Walter. To do that they’ll have to face the agent of the Shadows, the Vespertine, who threatens them and their families.

Why I picked it up: I’m a fan of Scholastic’s Graphix graphic novel line, plus this one looked unusually dark for the publisher.

Why I finished it: Ruth’s drawings are moody and amazing. It’s hard for me to tell if they’re graphite, pencil, black and grey ink, or a combination of all three. Their colorlessness really adds to the sense of foreboding, particularly as things get dark, while his use of texture conveys the seriousness of a threat, the innocent spookiness of Tom Button (the living doll), and the sense of wonder Nate and Walter feel at the magic around them.

Readalikes: Doll Bones, another spooky story featuring a doll (though Holly Black’s is scarier than Tom Button), and The Cats of Tanglewood Forest for a different vision of a magical world in and around ours which is as wonderful as it is frightening, and which is full of Charles Vess’s beautiful drawings.

@bookblrb: Nate goes searching for a boy who disappeared into a hidden world of magic.

Aimless Love by Billy Collins

The poetry of Billy Collins has appeared in many respected periodicals and notable anthologies such as the Pushcart Prize anthology, Best American Poetry, and The Poets Laureate Anthology published by the Library of Congress. With this new collection of engaging, surprising, sometimes humorous, and remarkably accessible poems written over the last decade, the 2001–2003 U. S. poet laureate and New York Public Library Literary Lion, often referred to as the most popular poet in America, uses poetry as a vehicle to activate his readers’ imaginations and transport them to an inspiring new place. In the poet’s own words, he hopes that his poems “begin in Kansas and end in Oz.” Touching on the themes of love, loss, joy, and poetry itself, these poems showcase the best work of this “poet of plenitude, irony, and Augustan grace” (The New Yorker).

Email highschool@randomhouse.com for a free classroom poster

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Dot to Dot by Malcolm Cossons, Neil Stevens

Link to this review by darcy tagged picture book

Dot and her grandmother, who is also named Dot, share the same birthday. Young Dot lives in London, but Grandma Dot lives across the ocean in New York City. Dot would love to send her grandmother a card for their special day, but doesn't know if it will reach her in time. Across the ocean, Grandma Dot tries to catch a plane to London to reach Dot for a birthday celebration.

Why I picked it up: Not only did I find the title catchy, I learned it was a book where one story starts on one side, then the book flips over for the second story.

Why I finished it: Both Dot and Grandma Dot overcome many obstacles to reach one another in time for their birthday. Young Dot misses the post and can't mail her card in time. She tries to send the card to New York by bird and even snail. When that doesn't work out, she tries to dig a tunnel under the ocean.

Grandma Dot gets the last plane ticket, but it's the long way to London. Along the way she stops in Beijing, Mumbai, and Rome to pick up a few more grandkids.

It's perfect for: My daughter Hannah, who is named after my grandmother Hannah. Although they don't share the same birthday, they live many miles away from one another. I can't wait to watch the two of them take turns reading this book. Directly in the center both Dots meet with an enormous hug and a birthday party.

@bookblrb: Dot and her grandma Dot try to reach each other in time for their birthdays.

The PS Brothers by Maribeth Boelts

Link to this review by snow tagged coming of age

Russell and his best friend Shawn really, really, really want a dog. So much so that they decide to start a pooper scooper business to pay for a Rottweiler puppy being sold by a man in their neighborhood. But the boys soon realize that something is wrong at the neighbor's house. Why are his other dogs -- all pit bulls -- always hurt? And what's going on in the room behind his house? Russell and Shawn have to muster all their courage to solve this mystery, especially if it means giving up their dream.

Why I picked it up: I love dogs, but I'm always reluctant to read children’s books that feature dogs because so many of them die. The PS Brothers sounded like all of the dogs would make it through to the end, so I gave it a chance. (Plus there is a cute Rottweiler on the cover.)

Why I finished it: Boelts captures the perspective of an eleven-year-old without being overly sentimental or sounding like she's trying too hard. Shawn and Russell are adorably scrappy kids I was rooting for the entire time. The boys' longing for a dog -- a friend who will love and protect them -- is palpable without being sappy, and their brotherly friendship touching.

It's perfect for: Alan. His twin sister loves the Baby-Sitters Club books, and he'll appreciate that Boelts' fast-moving story features boys who are entrepreneurs.

@bookblrb: Russell and Shawn try to figure out why their neighbor’s pit bulls are always injured.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian, by debut science fiction novelist Andy Weir, is a survival story about an astronaut who gets left behind on the red planet when his crew believes him to be dead. ??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 book I just couldn’t put down! It has the very rare combination of a good, original story, interestingly real characters and fascinating technical accuracy. . . .” —Astronaut Chris Hadfield, Commander of the International Space Station and author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

“Smart, funny, and white-knuckle intense, The Martian is everything you want from a novel.” —Hugh Howey, New York Times bestselling author of Wool

Click here for Author Q&A

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Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn

Link to this review by billba tagged superhero

It's been decades since the superhero team known as The Olympiad patrolled the streets of Commerce City. Celia West, daughter of its two famous leaders, never developed powers of her own, but she does her best to protect the city as head of the powerful West Corp.

She has used her considerable resources to track down the secret identities of all the city's former heroes and, with the help of a few anonymous scholarships, put all their grandchildren in the same exclusive private school as her daughter.

Now their powers are beginning to emerge, and they're teaming up.

Why I picked it up: Marvel and DC may co-own the word "superhero," but I always enjoy seeing a new take on this hallowed genre, and doing it without pictures takes some chutzpah.

Why I finished it: Celia's daughter Anna has a simple ability, not as flashy or as powerful as her friends', and in typical teen fashion she is terribly insecure about it. This focus on character and relationships keeps the whole book grounded.

Readalikes: Mark Waid's run on Fantastic Four, which was much more about family than super heroics, and Soon I Will Be Invincible, a more adult prose novel about a world of superheroes.

@bookblrb: The children of the world’s first superheroes come into their own powers.

Cairo by G. Willow Wilson, M.K. Perker

Link to this review by wally tagged graphic novelparanormal

When Ashraf, an Egyptian drug smuggler, sells a stolen hookah containing a jinn to Shaheed, a Lebanese-American with murky plans of martyrdom, he sets in motion a tale of destiny involving a local drug lord, a much-censored journalist, an idealistic American, and a number of demons.

Why I picked it up: When I reviewed G. Willow Wilson’s book Alif the Unseen, Gene said it made him want to reread this book, so I couldn’t resist. It’s also a mix of mystical Islam, modern life in the Middle East, and stories from Arabian Nights.

Why I finished it: The author and the artist know how to move a plot along. Every two or three pages the focus turns from one set of characters to another, pulling me headlong into a complex story that touches on some deep ideas. When Shaheed first uses the magical sword, it tells him to submit rather than attack or defend, which leads Shams (the jinn) to give Shaheed a copy of the Quran (the word “Islam” means submission) and quote this line from Rumi: "Your boundaries are your quest."

It's perfect for: Radwan, who would love the quick action on the one hand, and the respect for and knowledge of Islam on the other. 

@bookblrb: A stolen hookah that’s home to a jinn sets in motion a tale of destiny.

The Finisher: They Don't Want You to Know the Truth by David Baldacci

#1 New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci as you've never seen him before.

Why would Quentin Herms flee into the Quag? There was nothing in the Quag except certain death.

Vega Jane has never left the village of Wormwood. But this isn't unusual; nobody has ever left the village of Wormwood. At least not until Quentin Herms vanishes into the unknown.

Vega knows Quentin didn't just leave; he was chased. And he's left behind a very dangerous trail of clues that only she can decode.

The Quag is a dark forest filled with terrifying beasts and bloodthirsty Outliers. But just as deadly are the threats that exist within the walls of Wormwood. It is a place built on lies, where influential people are willing to kill to keep their secrets. Vega is determined to uncover the truth, but the closer she gets, the more she risks her life.

With The Finisher, master storyteller David Baldacci conjures a thrilling, imaginative world where things are as wrong as wrong can be, and introduces us to an unforgettable heroine who must think fast, look close, and defy all odds in her fight to do what's right.

"Consistently using smarts, cunning, and improvisation, Vega proves herself a strong, admirable heroine as she's thrown through time, uncovers lies and mysteries, and takes possession of magical artifacts."--Publishers Weekly

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Oak by Max Badger

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged fantasygraphic novel

A young orphan lives with the strength of a tree and without a fear of death. He travels from place to place, and ends up having a magical adventure. After a bit he’s grabbed by the gigantic Elsinar, Lord of the Snakes, who wants to make a meal out of him. As they fight, they fall over the edge of a cliff. They work together to climb back up and form an unexpected friendship.

Why I picked it up: It’s a beautiful book. Plus Sean at The Comic Stop told me two things about it: it’s one of the last books published with the help of a Xeric Grant, and the author works at a grocery store I frequent.

Why I finished it: The first few pages read like a fable. The orphan’s father and a tree he’s about to cut down try (and fail) to pull one over on death, who has come for them both. Badger’s depiction of death as an amorphous, smoky blob let me know that whatever this was going to be, it wasn’t something I’d seen before. (The closest I can come to explaining it is it looked like Jeff Smith had drawn a vaguely humanoid alien microbe in heavy pencil, in the style of Joe Casey and Tom Scioli’s Gødland. And yes, I know how hard that is to understand.)

After he falls into the hidden tomb of King Owek and talks with the king’s ghost for a while, he leaves with a scepter and sets out to find his friend, Clara. In King Owek’s tomb, the orphan is fearless, much to the king’s ghost’s irritation. He even gives the specter a hug when it talks about how its wife has already moved on. It’s a funny, touching scene in which the orphan’s childish cluelessness and kindness triumphs over greed and fear.

It's perfect for: Parents who love Joe Daly’s Dungeon Quest series but who have kids that are too young for that D&D-inspired graphic novel series. This one has the same stream of consciousness feel along with a healthy dose of magic and the undead, and the orphan even gets a cute pet cloud.

@bookblrb: A strong, fearless young orphan talks to a King’s ghost and befriends the giant Lord of the Snakes.

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