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Recommendations for Friday, May 30, 2014

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by billba tagged nonfiction

Unshelved strip for 5/30/2014

@bookblrb: How to convey numerical data as effectively and meaningfully as possible.

Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfiction

In 1990, if you gamed, you played a Nintendo gaming system. The reclusive, quiet company from Japan dominated the gaming landscape. Its sales made up over ninety percent of the market. Nintendo was able to dictate terms to developers, game makers, and retailers, infuriating everyone. When Sega, a scrappy, small video game console maker hired Tom Kalinske, a CEO known for his magic touch at Mattel (think Barbie and He-Man), change was in the air. Sega started marketing itself aggressively as the “anti-Nintendo,” the machine gamers graduated to when they were no longer little kids. That attitude and willingness to challenge Nintendo in retail pricing, the way it worked with developers, plus the release one of the most popular fighting titles ever -- the bloody Mortal Kombat -- made the competition for market share intense. This is the story of how Sega took on the monolithic Nintendo, and even held a majority of market share for a while.

Why I picked it up: I graduated from high school and entered college during these years. I played Duck Hunt with my friends and Donkey Kong on my breaks at the pizza joint where I worked.

Why I finished it: Kalinske and Nintendo disliked each other enough from all the hijinks and undercutting that they had to be bodily separated by the Toys R Us chairman in the hallway outside an industry meeting where analysts, bankers, and retailers gathered to hear about the future of gaming.

There were neat details about certain games. Nintendo bet heavily in its early years on a game called Radarscope in arcades. They got early (bad) feedback, and did a last second switch for Donkey Kong, which went on to be a massive hit and saved Nintendo. Popular games like Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog was almost quite different, until Kalinske argued for changes. (Sonic’s sidekick was originally a busty girl named Madonna.)

It's perfect for: Steve Wiebe, who taught at my son’s middle school. He was one of the stars of the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

@bookblrb: How Sega took on Nintendo in the early 1990s.

The Blonde by Anna Godbersen

Part biography, part spy thriller, and part love story, The Blonde is a whip-smart re-imagining of the relationship between Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy that draws on historical events to create a dark tale of American celebrity, sex, love, violence, power, and paranoia.

At the height of the Cold War, Marilyn Monroe was the most infamous woman in the world. But what if she was also a secret Soviet spy?

In 1947, a young, unknown Norma Jeane Baker meets a mysterious man in Los Angeles who transforms her into Marilyn Monroe, the star. Twelve years later he comes back for his repayment, and Marilyn is given her first assignment from the KGB: uncover something about JFK that no one else knows.

But a simple job turns complicated when Marilyn falls in love with the bright young President, and learns of plans to assassinate Kennedy. More than anything, Marilyn wants to escape her Soviet handlers and save her love—and herself. Desperate, ruthless and brilliant, what she does next will leave readers reeling.

From New York Times bestselling author Anna Godbersen comes a whip-smart re-imagining of the life of Marilyn Monroe, set in a world of silver screen glamour and political intrigue. At once a crackling portrayal of Old Hollywood, an intimate portrait of the larger-than-life star, and a cat-and-mouse thriller, The Blonde is history rewritten as it could have—and might have been.

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W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged mystery

Two seemingly unrelated deaths open a Pandora’s box of unknown relatives, medical malpractice, and homelessness in the latest Kinsey Millhone mystery. A homeless man found dead on the beach had Kinsey’s name and number in his pocket. Turns out, he’s a distant cousin on her father’s side, who Kinsey, orphaned in a car accident at age five, never knew existed. Soon she is in the thick of family drama; the dead man, Terrence, named her as the sole beneficiary of the half-million dollars he’d won in a wrongful-conviction settlement. Meanwhile, a shiftless private detective is shot by unknown assailants, and Kinsey finds herself drawn into settling his affairs because his latest case uncovered damaging information about Terrence’s cause of death. With cameo appearances by a swoon-worthy elderly neighbor, his hypochondriac brother, and a terrible Hungarian cook, this latest chapter in Grafton’s alphabetical series does not disappoint.

Why I picked it up: I’ve already committed myself to the first twenty-two letters of Grafton’s alphabet, so I couldn’t stop now.

Why I finished it: The last twenty pages of any Kinsey mystery are always a always heart-stopping and action packed, plus someone often dies, and I wanted to make sure Henry’s new cat, Edward, was okay.

It's perfect for: Mildred, who thinks mysteries are too simple, too gory, and too ripped-from-the-headlines. Grafton’s no-nonsense, intelligent prose and the throwback fun of her 1980s setting can win over even the hoity-toitiest book snob. 

@bookblrb: Two seemingly unrelated deaths open a Pandora’s box in the latest Kinsey Millhone mystery.

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

Luc is an orphan who earns coins by helping to do dishes at the local café in Gabon. When the Professor comes to town toting a silver briefcase, all Luc can think about is what is in the case and how he can steal it. Luc accompanies the Professor into the wilds to study chimpanzees, in part because of his magnetic personality and also to get away from his abusive handler.

They soon locate a chimpanzee family group and are attempting to observe their behavior. Although they try to watch the chimpanzees from afar, the chimps are curious and soon Luc and the Professor are trying to fit in with the chimpanzees while avoiding poachers and predators. Then the Professor gets very sick.

Why I picked it up: I had read Schrefer’s National Book Award Finalist Endangered last year and really enjoyed the story of an American girl living in peril with bonobos at an animal refuge.

Why I finished it: Luc is an enjoyable character, but he is not an angel. He spends a good portion of the book planning to rob the Professor. When his former handler comes after him, I could feel Luc’s terror. But the relationship that Luc develops with the chimps is the real highlight of the book. While one chimp takes a real shine to Luc, others have a very antagonistic relationship with him and, at times, he is in real danger.  At one point, Luc sees the chimpanzees stalking him as a group, much like he’s seen them do when hunting, right before they ripped their prey apart limb-from-limb.

It's perfect for: My niece Emma. She has always wanted a pet monkey. Luc has a pet vervet monkey named Omar that is either on his shoulder or skittering through the trees, trying to stay ahead of predators. Emma would love how Luc cares for Omar -- he even risks his life to save him when a group of chimps hunts him.

@bookblrb: Luc accompanies the Professor into the wild to study chimps, and also to rob him.

Against The Grain: A Coach's Wisdom on Character, Faith, Family, and Love by Bill Courtney, Michael Arkush

Bill Courtney — entrepreneur, football coach, and subject of the 2011 Oscar-winning documentary Undefeated — shares his hard-won lessons on discipline, success, teamwork and triumph over adversity, in time for Father's Day.

In Against the Grain, Bill Courtney shares his convictions on the fundamental tenets of character, commitment, service, leadership, civility, and others that, in his decades of success as an entrepreneur and educator, have proven to be the keys to a winning and meaningful life and career. Each chapter tells the story of one of these tenets through compelling anecdotes of the colorful characters in Bill's life, leading to a deeper understand of the meaning of each and how to employee these fundamentals in all aspects of one's life. Against the Grain intertwines inspiring and thought-provoking anecdotes, lessons, and amazing real life examples. Bill's passion for us all to reconsider our own approach to life and constantly improve upon it comes across on every page.

"Coach Courtney is an ultimate competitor with a passion for excellence. He continues to be an inspiration to coaches and players all around the football world - from high school to college to the pros - and also those from off the gridiron as well."-- Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks Head Coach and New York Times bestselling co-author of Win Forever

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The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson

Link to this review by snow tagged coming of agefantasy

The Yeti family has lived in the mountains near Tibet for a long time, but now tourism has brought humans dangerously close to their secluded habitat. With the help of two children, siblings Con and Ellen, the Yeti attempt a dangerous journey to England where they hope to find sanctuary at the ancestral home of their human governess, Agatha. But when a hunt club sets its sights on a exotic hunt featuring them, the Yeti need their friends to help them survive.

Why I picked it up: I've been a fan of Ibbotson's work since it was first brought to the States back in the late 90s, during the Harry Potter heyday, when publishers were scrambling for more British children's fantasy.

Why I finished it: It has the same gentle humor and mild action as Ibbotson's other children's books. (Sadly, though, this is the last Ibbotson book, published posthumously.) The Yeti are delightful with their big, hairy bodies and backward feet, and Con and Ellen are cheerfully plucky. The trip across the globe doesn't downplay the dust and bother of travel, but it’s adventurous and full of mysterious places and new people. She shows the power of both peaceful resistance and of the "little guy." The people willing to speak up for the Yeti include local school children, the homeless, the elderly, and the blue-collar truck driver. There is something comforting in reading a tale that says, "Yes, you can make a difference just by being willing to help."

Readalikes: Budding environmentalists should also check out Ibbotson's Island of the Aunts. It's a bit more fantastic than The Abominables -- with a plethora of mythical sea creatures -- but has the same dry wit. Graphic novel fans will find a soul mate in James Burks' Gabby & Gator, about a young woman who befriends a lost (and carnivorous!) alligator.

@bookblrb: The Yeti family leaves Tibet for England to find sanctuary, but a hunting club sets its sights on them.

Waterloo & Trafalgar by Olivier Tallec

Link to this review by darcy tagged picture book

Two soldiers, one orange (obviously French) and one blue (obviously English), sit across from one another divided by a fence. They watch each other all day, armed and prepared to fight.

Why I picked it up: The title caught my attention. I have a special fondness for British and European history, and I wanted to know how a picture book would use Waterloo and Trafalgar.

Why I finished it: In a wordless picture book, Tallec shows children the pointlessness of war. I couldn't wait to see what each solider would do to annoy the other. The blue soldier happily watches a snail, and later acts horrified when he spies the orange soldier cooking the snail on a barbecue. They spy, shout, and even engage in a noise war with music until the tension mounts and they finally resort to their guns.

Readalikes: Another wordless book, Zoom by Istvan Banyai, which draws you in with shifting perspectives in the illustrations. Each page settles you in to what you believe is a solid reality. But with each turn of the page, the perspective pulls, and what was once a postcard from a friend becomes part of an ad on the side of a bus. Zoom ends by pulling back to reveal a picture of the Earth, and a sense that all those little things don't matter much. I feel the same way when reading Waterloo & Trafalgar. At one point I have an affinity for the orange soldier, a page later my alliance shifts to the blue, and then, at the end of the book, the perspective changes and I see the small area the soldiers have been fighting over.

@bookblrb: Two soldiers sit across a fence from one another, armed and prepared to fight.

Remember The Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days by Bill Whitfield, with Javon Beard

Michael Jackson's former bodyguards reveal the amazing truths of the late superstar's last years—his life in seclusion with his children, his financial crises, his preparations for the This Is It tour, and the weeks leading up to his shocking death.

Hounded by the tabloid media, driven from his self-made sanctuary at Neverland, Michael Jackson spent his final years moving from city to city, living with his three children in virtual seclusion-a futile attempt to escape a world that wouldn't leave him alone. During that time, two men served as the singer's personal security team: Bill Whitfield, a former cop and veteran of the security profession, and Javon Beard, a brash, untested rookie, both single fathers themselves.

Stationed at his side nearly 24/7, their job was to see and hear everything that transpired, and to keep everyone else out, making them the only two men who know what 60 million fans around the world still want to know: What really happened to the King of Pop?

Driven by a desire to show the world who Michael Jackson truly was, Whitfield and Beard have produced the only definitive, first-person account of Michael Jackson's last years: the extreme measures necessary to protect Jackson and his family, the simple moments of happiness they managed to share in a time of great stress, the special relationship Jackson shared with his fans, and the tragic events that culminated in the singer's ill-fated comeback, This Is It. The truth is far more compelling than anything you've yet heard.

An indispensable piece of pop-culture history, Remember the Time is the story of a man struggling to live a normal life under extraordinary circumstances, the story of a father fighting to protect and provide for his children. Remember the Time is the book that dismantles the tabloid myths once and for all to give Michael Jackson back his humanity.

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William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher

Link to this review by billbarnes tagged classicscience fiction

Star Wars, the original movie (I will never buy this “A New Hope” nonsense), presented in the form and style of a Shakespeare play.

Why I picked it up: In fifth grade I was a huge Star Wars nerd. I even published a fan club newsletter called the Daily Droid. (It was weekly, and the fan club had no other members than me.) Then I discovered girls, followed one of them into an English Lit class, and stayed for most of high school. It’s a small miracle I never wrote this book myself.

Why I finished it: This is no simplistic translation into iambic pentameter and Elizabethan English. Doescher shows real insight into both the trilogy and Shakespeare’s style, with characters making asides to the audience that reveal much more about their knowledge and motivations than the movie could (or would) ever show. When Darth Vader has Leia captive he muses:

”The Princess hath shown great resistance to
The mind probe - ‘twere as if she knew the Force
And hath a Jedi’s blood to overcome
The piercing of her mind by a machine.
Belike it shall be some length of time yet be
Until we can extract the thoughts therein.”

It's perfect for: Rolf, whose homeschooling family has started limited readings of the Bard. Gene has often suggested Star Wars: The Manga as a great introduction to manga because the universal knowledge of the story allows readers to focus on learning a new storytelling form. The same principle applies here. Rolf’s boys will be charmed by the very Puck-ish R2-D2, who bleeps and bloops when talking to the other characters, but reveals his machinations in perfect English to the audience when he has the stage to himself.

@bookblrb: The original Star Wars movie presented in the form and style of a Shakespeare play.

musk ox counts by erin cabatingan, matthew myers

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged humorpicture book

Musk Ox and Zebra are back, this time in a counting book. Musk Ox is supposed to star on the first page, but he gets lonely and goes to the “2 yaks” page for a visit. Annoyed, Zebra tries to get him to go back to his page. Things don’t go Zebra’s way.

Why I picked it up: It features the same characters in a is for musk ox.

Why I finished it: Musk Ox fixes page one. He puts a sign on Zebra’s back that says “1 zebra kick me,” which Zebra doesn’t see. Then he insists rightly that he didn’t mess up the “2 yaks” page by being on it -- there were still only two yaks on it. And then he annoys Zebra throughout the rest of the book, making fun of rote counting books along the way.

It's perfect for: Bethany, whose mother used to babysit me. Her brother and I used to collect snails in the garden, but she hated them. I know she’d love the “6 snails” page because Musk Ox steps on the lot of them. (He explains to Zebra that “that’s nature.”)

@bookblrb: Musk Ox is supposed to star on page one, but he gets bored and annoys Zebra through the rest of the counting book.

Big Russ & Me: Father & Son: Lessons of Life by Tim Russert, Luke Russert

Over the last two decades, before his death in 2008 at the age of 58, Tim Russert had become one of the most trusted and admired figures in American television journalism. Throughout his career he spent time with presidents and popes, world leaders and newsmakers, celebrities and sports heroes, but one person stood out to him in terms of his strength of character, modest grace and simple decency—Russert's dad, Big Russ.

In this warm, engaging memoir, a #1 New York Times bestseller upon its initial release in 2004, Russert casts a fond look back to the 1950s Buffalo neighborhood of his youth. In the close-knit Irish-Catholic community where grew up, doors were left unlocked at night; backyard ponds became makeshift ice hockey rinks in winter; and streets were commandeered as touch football fields in the fall. And he recalls the extraordinary example of his father, a WWII veteran who worked two jobs without complaint for thirty years and taught his children to appreciate the values of self-discipline, of respect, of loyalty to friends.

These deep roots stayed with Russert as he forged a remarkable career, first in government and then in media, and finally in his 16 years at Meet the Press as one of the most recognized and trusted face in television news. As Russert explains, his fundamental values sprung from that small house on Woodside Avenue and the special bond he shared with his father—values he passed down to his own son, Luke. As Tim Russert celebrates the indelible connection between fathers and sons, readers everywhere will laugh and cry in identification with the life lessons of Big Russ and in mourning of Tim Russert, a big American voice in his own right.

For this special 10th anniversary trade paperback edition of I*Big Russ & Me*, Tim's son Luke will contribute an extensive introduction, commenting on his father's legacy, and on how these lessons passed down from his grandfather impact the third generation. Luke had just graduated from college in 2008 when his father passed away. Since then, he has followed in his father's footsteps, working as a special correspondent and congressional reporter for NBC news and contributing frequently to various NBC and MSNBC outlets. Despite his youth, Luke has already shown that the ideals promoted by Big Russ in midcentury Buffalo still apply in 21st century New York, and that these lessons are as relevant for us as ever.

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Noah by Darren Aronofsky, Niko Henrichon, Ari Handel

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged classicfantasygraphic novel

During a long, punishing drought, wicked men rule the world. Noah’s home is a refuge for his family. After he starts to have visions of a flood that will destroy the world, he tries to warn the people of Bab-Ilim. He tells them that men need to change, to treat the world with mercy or the Creator will destroy it. Bab-Ilim’s leader, Jubal-Cain, does not heed the warning; instead he leads his men on an attack that destroys Noah’s home and the animals that live there.

Noah and his family set out for Mount Ararat. There, with the help of the monstrous, six-armed Watchers, they build an ark that will save the beasts when the rain comes.

Why I picked it up: The icon on the front cover, above the title -- it’s the shape of the ark. It promised good design, so I took a look. (I had no idea it was a graphic novel adaptation of Aronofsky’s first draft for the screenplay for Noah.)

Why I finished it: I enjoyed Aronofsky’s version of angels. When they saw Adam and Eve fall from the Creator’s grace for a single mistake, they descended to earth to teach them science and magic. This cost them their wings, and caused the Creator to abandon them. Now they help Noah because they can see the Creator is talking to him, and they hope to have a chance to serve the Creator again.

And Noah is a serious bastard. After men realize the truth of his visions and come begging for a place on his ark, Noah tells them to start building. He makes false promises to take a few of them on his ship, but privately he decides the world will be better off without men, and that his sons will be the last.

Readalikes: After the rain starts, Jubal-Cain and his men lay siege to the ark. There’s a brutal battle between them, Noah, and the Watchers. It reminded me of the book-length, ultra-violent battle in Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes, in which two sides try to take and maintain control of a hill, though there’s much more swearing in Abercrombie’s book.

@bookblrb: Graphic novel adaptation of the first draft of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah screenplay.

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