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Recommendations for Friday, April 25, 2014

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by billba tagged coming of agescience fiction

Unshelved strip for 4/25/2014

@bookblrb: After his beloved wife is executed, a miner in the Mars colony masquerades as a member of the ruling class.

Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover

Link to this review by danritchie tagged coming of agescience fiction

In a dystopian future, the R’tan tribe has been conquered by the Madronians who despise women and demand that firstborn females be left in the desert to die. The only way for a firstborn female to survive is to be declared male.

Tiadone is the first declared male in her village. She is raised to deny everything female in her mind or body. She has just finished her schooling and is on the cusp of puberty when three life-changing events all happen. She sees a firstborn girl being taken by the High Priest to die. Her rapion hatches, giving her a twined, eagle-like companion. And she must leave on a year-long patrol to guard the borders of her land, a rite of passage for the R’tan males.

On patrol with her childhood friend, Ratho, Tiadone’s blossoming femininity raises deadly issues: feelings for Ratho, her changing body, and questions about her future since she has no hope of having a family.

Why I picked it up: Gene sent me a publicity blurb and the story summary piqued my curiosity.

Why I finished it: Tiadone is a confused yet determined young woman. She is torn between her budding sexuality and her drive to justify her father’s choice to declare her male. If she exhibits feminine traits, or if anyone realizes she’s a female, both she and her father will be killed by the High Priest. She must be constantly on guard and careful to not betray her true sex while surrounded by pubescent boys.

It's perfect for: Anita, a huge fan of Elysia in Beta by Rachel Cohn. She will find Tiadone’s strength and resolve compelling. The way Tiadone’s determination and courage carry her through the first stirrings of womanhood reminded me of Elysia’s growing sense of self-awareness as she begins to experience sexual awareness and pleasure as the first teenage clone. Anita will also love Tiadone’s relationship with Mirko. The rapion is literally Tiadone’s alter ego; she and Mirko communicate through sounds and gestures, and he protects Tiadone and her secrets.

@bookblrb: A firstborn female must live as a male or be killed. This is difficult, and it gets tougher when she hits puberty.

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932: A Novel by Francine Prose

Emerging from the austerity and deprivation of the Great War, Paris in the 1920s shimmers with excitement, dissipation, and freedom. It is a place of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz venues like the Chameleon Club draw expats, artists, libertines, and parvenus looking to indulge their true selves. It is at the Chameleon where the striking Lou Villars, an extraordinary athlete and scandalous cross-dressing lesbian, finds refuge among the club’s loyal patrons, including rising Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi, socialite and art patron Baroness Lily de Rossignol; and caustic American writer Lionel Maine.

As the years pass, their fortunes—and the world itself—evolve. Lou falls desperately in love and finds success as a racecar driver. Gabor builds his reputation with startlingly vivid and imaginative photographs, including a haunting portrait of Lou and her lover, which will resonate through all their lives. As the exuberant 20s give way to the Depression of the 30s, Lou experiences another metamorphosis—sparked by tumultuous events—that will warp her earnest desire for love and approval into something far more sinister: collaboration with the Nazis.

Told in a kaleidoscope of voices that circle around the dark star of Lou Villars, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 evokes this incandescent city with brio, humor, and intimacy. Exploring a turbulent time defined by terror, bravery, and difficult moral choices, it raises critical questions about truth and memory and the nature of storytelling itself. A brilliant work of fiction and a mesmerizing read, it is Francine Prose’s finest novel yet.

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The Hit by Melvin Burgess

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

Scientists have created an expensive wonder pill which gives users an indescribably euphoric high for an entire week. The drug kills its users at the end of the week. The pill is appropriately called Death.

Adam and Lizzie are at Jimmy Earle’s concert, wondering whether the rumors are true that Jimmy intends to join the 27 Club of musicians who died at that age (Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, etc). When Earle takes Death, it is the impetus for many young people to join a violent rebel group, the Zealots, who oppose the intolerable levels of income inequality and power imbalance. The use of Death also increases.

Adam gets his hands on a pill and intends to sell it, but a series of events rock his world. In a moment of weakness, he takes it. The last week of his life is turbulent. He is kidnapped, participates in an armed robbery, and is swept up in a social revolution, all while trying to deal with his impending death.

Why I picked it up: I loved the idea of a drug that would (not could) kill whoever took it. I’m sure if it was real some people would.

Why I finished it: It had a psychopathic heir trying to “quad” people by cutting their C4 vertebrae with a knife, plus a final showdown and chase in an abandoned city of shipping containers. In the midst of all the action, it raises serious questions about what it means to be alive, at what point society is imbalanced enough that those who feel left out will take action, and how desperate a person must feel to take the deal Death offers.

It's perfect for: Christian, a kid many would consider at-risk. He would connect with Adam, who is a good kid struggling to match what he wants to do with what he must do for work, his family, and his friends.  The rough edges of this book and the realistic, surprising violence would draw him in.

@bookblrb: Adam takes Death, a drug that will give him a weeklong, euphoric high before killing him.

Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. by Rob Delaney

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged biographyessayshumor

Hilarious autobiographical essays on parenting, depression, sex ed, alcohol abuse, near death experiences, school, writing jokes, bed wetting, sobriety, and breaking into an abandoned mental institution with his mother.

Why I picked it up: The title.

Why I finished it: Delaney’s writing about his alcohol abuse is funny without making it sound like fun. In treatment after a car accident that broke both of his arms, he had to learn how to get by, but the lessons were not what you might think.

“I learned never to go into the bathroom after one of them had been in there. After a kicking junkie has taken a shit in a bathroom it looks like a baby elephant has been hosed off after playing in a muddy riverbank all day."

A meth addict he was in rehab with asked him how he masturbated with two broken arms. When I read his tender, detailed explanation of how he did it, I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe.

It's perfect for: Bill. By the time you read this I’ll have given it to him for his birthday. We differ on intellectual property issues, and I think he’ll like Delaney’s take: “My silent motto when people started stealing my jokes on Twitter was, ‘Go ahead and take ‘em, motherfucker. Here come five more.'”

@bookblrb: Funny essays on parenting, growing up, bed wetting, sobriety, and writing jokes.

The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon, drawn by Becky Cloonan

Years ago, the Killjoys fought against the tyrannical megacorporation Better Living Industries, costing them their lives, save for one—the mysterious Girl. Today, the followers of the original Killjoys languish in the Desert while BLI systematically strips citizens of their individuality. As the fight for freedom fades, it’s left to the Girl to take up the mantle and bring down the fearsome BLI! Collects The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #1–#6 and “Dead Satellites” from Free Comic Book Day 2013.

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Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems about Our Presidents by Marilyn Singer, John Hendrix

Link to this review by snow tagged biographypicture bookpoetry

Prolific children's author Marilyn Singer turns her attention to the forty-three men who have served as President of the United States. In a series of poems, she points out their highs and their lows, their triumphs and their failures.

Why I picked it up: I'm not much of a history buff, so I don't know as much about many of our Presidents as I'd like. Singer's short poems seemed like an easy entry point.

Why I finished it: I loved the layout. Hendrix's art is vibrant, full of swirls (especially in the quotes from the Presidents, which scroll across each page), and complete with plenty of small details to savor. They don't try for realism, but instead go for a cartoonish look that borders on caricature. They fill the pages and offer a lot of visual information. But the designers were careful not to overshadow Singer's poetry. The poems are printed in a clear, easy-to-read font and are never obscured by the images. Because Singer is a skilled poet, she manages to fit a lot of information into each poem, though none of them are overly long. (I could easily see my friend using these poems in her fifth grade class to help her students learn to distill events down to their main ideas and points.) Most presidents get their own poem, though Singer combines a few when appropriate, always making it clear why they share a poem. There are also biographies in the back of the book to give the extra information needed to understand the poems.

Readalikes: Where Do Presidents Come From?: And Other Presidential Stuff of Super Great Importance by Michael Townsend offers information through his trademark comic book silliness. If the Walls Could Talk: Family Life at the White House by Jane O'Connor is also a light-hearted look at the leader of the free world, focusing specifically on trivia about the Presidents.

@bookblrb: Illustrated poems about the first forty-three U.S. presidents.

Caged Warrior by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

McCutcheon Daniels is a teenage fighter working his way up the ranks of the underground MMA circuit in Detroit. His mother abandoned the family years ago. His father bets heavily on McCutcheon to finance his love of women and drugs. The only things McCutcheon cares about are his training and his five-year old sister, Gemma. A teacher, Mr. Freedman, tries to get McCutcheon a scholarship to a local private school, but McCutcheon’s dad forbids it. Mr. Freedman knows something is up, but by the time McCutcheon feels safe enough to tell him what is going on with his fights and his abusive father, McCutcheon is being forced to continue to fight.

Why I picked it up: Underground MMA cage fighting and teens are a match made in heaven, as far as book circulation goes.

Why I finished it: McCutcheon’s dad is a world-class douchebag. He keeps booking his son fights with more and more vicious fighters, with larger and larger purses on the line. I despaired for McCutcheon’s future in and out of the ring as the men who profited from his skills tightened their control over him by leveraging his love and devotion to his little sister. 

Sitomer is a former inner-city teacher. His experience helped him write a book that has realistic dialogue and situations, plus he has a real gift for making the fights come alive.

Readalikes: Why I Fight by J. Adams Oaks because both involve protagonists skilled at fighting in underground bouts who are fending for themselves, and both have lots of well-described, bloody fight moves sure to satisfy MMA fans.

@bookblrb: A teen fights in underground MMA matches to finance his father’s love of women and drugs.

The Plant Recipe Book: 100 Living Arrangements for Any Home in Any Season by Baylor Chapman

A follow-up to the widely popular Flower Recipe Book, The Plant Recipe Book is the next great thing in interior plant design, providing simple steps showing anyone how to create stunning living plant decor. Each one of the 100 “recipes” specifies the type and quantity of plants needed; clearly numbered instructions detail each step; and 400 photographs show how to place every stem. Traditional pots and plant containers are used, but so are less conventional vehicles and methods, like shutters and planting under glass. A basic how-to chapter provides planting techniques, a tools and materials list, sourcing and plant care information, and expert advice.

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Henny by Elizabeth Rose Stanton

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged picture book

The story of a chick named Henny who was born with arms.

Why I picked it up: The chicken on the cover had fingers, and she was waving to me.

Why I finished it: Lots of books about being different have the same arc: the person or animal has a hard time because of the difference and then figures out that it’s valuable. This is different. Henny both enjoyed being different (she could climb trees and use chopsticks) and didn’t enjoy it (she worried about things other chickens didn’t, like wearing long sleeves vs. short sleeves and whether or not she needed deodorant).

Readalikes: Two graphic novels about birds that are different: Chickenhare in which a half-chicken, half-rabbit must escape from a taxidermist, and Odd Duck, about two neighbor ducks who each consider the other weird.

@bookblrb: An odd chick explores the good and bad things about being born with arms instead of wings.

The Book of Jezebel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Lady Things by Anna Holmes, Kate Harding, Amanda Hess

Link to this review by darcy tagged reference

An illustrated encyclopedia by the editor of Jezebel that covers all facets of feminism and womanhood from love and sex to politics and nachos.

Why I picked it up: I'm a librarian so I'm naturally drawn to anything with the word encyclopedia in the title. When I opened the book and saw pastel colored endpapers which feature children reading, it brought to mind the wholesome Little Golden Books and I was hooked. I especially love the "this book belongs to" name plate that features a rocket, a tube of lipstick, anarchist feminism’s raised fist and a tampon.

Why I finished it: Just as any encyclopedia should, this volume taught me something every time I opened it. There were articles on women in history that I'd already heard about such as Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but also entries on Marilyn Wann, a "fat liberation activist" who, in 1993, was denied health coverage because of her weight. Her outrage kicked off a zine, book, and website called Fat!So?. The book also covered women in TV shows like Cagney and Lacey and Mary Tyler Moore, birth control, famous spinsters like Queen Elizabeth I and Florence Nightingale, and a rogue's gallery of misogynists including God, Ayn Rand and Phyllis Schlafly.

It's perfect for: My friend Rebekah. As a health care provider, she is a powerhouse of information on sexual health. I know that Rebekah would appreciate the frank discussion of birth control methods, and also the periodic table of terms related to menstruation: Ov for Ovulation, Or for On the Rag, Tt for That Time, or my personal favorite Gr for irritability.

@bookblrb: An illustrated encyclopedia that covers all facets of feminism and womanhood.

Upgrade Path: a Not Invented Here collection by Bill Barnes and Jeff Zugale

One of PCMag's Best Webcomics of 2013!

Software! The modern world runs on it, but where does it come from? In this collection of Not Invented Here comics you'll meet the shadowy figures who create and deploy the binary lifeblood upon which we all depend.

Yeah, we thought they'd be smarter too.

Features 24 months worth of full-color comic strips by Bill Barnes (Unshelved) and Jeff Zugale, plus bonus comics contributed by Krishna Sadasivam (PC Weenies), R Stevens (Diesel Sweeties), R K Milholland (Something Positive), and NIH's original artist, plus a foreword by Stepto.

Available in paperback and hardcover, and as a DRM-free ebook via Gumroad and the iBookstore.

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The Honest Toddler: A Child's Guide to Parenting by Bunmi Laditan

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged humor

Star of web and Twitter Honest Toddler brings the same snarky, it’s-funny-because-it’s-true sensibility to this how-to manual for living with and serving your toddler. From “loud responses” (do NOT call them tantrums; it indicates suspiciously high toddler bias) to grocery shopping (“lentils taste like wartime and look like destruction”) to personal grooming (“It is normal for a toddler’s head to look like a bear-fur-and-lint sandwich. Relax.”), HT provides everything you need to know about the most important person in your life.

Why I picked it up: I’m a fan and follower of Honest Toddler on Twitter, and far enough away from my kids’ toddlerhoods that I find everything hilarious.

Why I finished it: HT told me to. Very bossy, that one. Plus I loved the Fairy-Tale Reviews. The lesson of Sleeping Beauty? "Don't buy weird dips.” (There’s an extended, bizarre tangent in the retelling that involves the prince eating a lot of stinky dip. It’s his awful breath that awakens the princess, not the kiss.)

It's perfect for: People without children, and people whose children are past the toddler years who will be able to handle the thoroughness of HT's rules and regulations (250 pages of 10-point type) with the proper detachment. DO NOT give it to people with toddlers as it may hit a little too close to home and destroy their will to live.

@bookblrb: A snarky toddler tells parents how to live with and serve their own kids.

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