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Recommendations for Friday, July 11, 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

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

Unshelved strip for 7/11/2014

Why I picked it up: I was excited to hear that J.K. Rowling had written this mystery novel under a pen name. My wife and I read the Harry Potter novels religiously as they came out, one by one, even getting the first volume from Canada before it hit the U.S. But it was only when I read the first four volumes to my kids (it got a little too scary for them after that) that I realized what a good writer she was. For me, the magic of those books is the writing.

@bookblrb: Cormoran Strike isn’t in a good place to solve a high-profile murder case. Then his new temp changes his life.

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Link to this review by wally tagged literarymystery

Los Angeles, 1970. When Doc Sportello gets a visit from his ex-girlfriend, Shasta, who wants him to investigate a plot against her current boyfriend, real estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann, he is in for a wild ride. Doc’s pursuit of the plotters, Mickey’s wife and her boyfriend, leads him down a rabbit hole. There’s an old schooner named the Golden Fang, now used for smuggling drugs and counterfeit cash (featuring Nixon’s face), a legally dead musician named Coy Harlingen who disrupts leftist rallies, a nasty loan shark who will stop at nothing to build his Las Vegas empire, black power groups, and his old nemesis, Bigfoot Bjornsen, a solid LAPD officer who has no problem using hippies like Doc to investigate his own past.

Why I picked it up: I love Thomas Pynchon. I’ll be the first to admit his books are not easy reads, and I’ve been known to set them down midway through only to pick them up months later, start over, and finish them. While many of his novels are as challenging as any classics by Russian authors, this one moved to the must-read stack when I heard a film version will be released in December 2014.

Why I finished it: Pynchon has always excelled at creating memorable characters and placing them in deeply paranoid times and places. Doc is an easy-going P.I. whose unreasonable worries are influenced as much by his constant joint-smoking as they are by the dangerous people and organizations surrounding him. His relationship with Bigfoot Bjornsen grows throughout the book, from a professional enmity to something approaching friendship, although they would never take it that far. 

It's perfect for: David, who reads crime novels but who has a pronounced Pynchon-phobia.  I’d tell him this is like a late 60s film noir right down to its repeated references to John Garfield films and obscure (perhaps imaginary) surf bands. David would enjoy the masterful handling of the mystery itself, as well as the plot twists. He’d also be hooked by the Golden Fang. Is it a schooner?  A real estate development?  A detox clinic?  A dentist office?  

@bookblrb: Doc Sportello investigates a plot against his ex-girlfriend’s current boyfriend, a real estate mogul.

The Home Place: A Novel by Carrie La Seur

Carrie La Seur makes her remarkable debut with The Home Place, a mesmerizing, emotionally evocative, and atmospheric literary novel in the vein of The House Girl and A Land More Kind Than Home, in which a successful lawyer is pulled back into her troubled family’s life in rural Montana in the wake of her sister’s death

The only Terrebonne who made it out, Alma thought she was done with Montana, with its bleak winters and stifling ways. But an unexpected call from the local police takes the successful lawyer back to her provincial hometown and pulls her into the family trouble she thought she’d left far behind: Her lying, party-loving sister, Vicky, is dead. Alma is told that a very drunk Vicky had wandered away from a party and died of exposure after a night in the brutal cold. But when Alma returns home to bury Vicky and see to her orphaned niece, she discovers that the death may not have been an accident.

The Home Place is a story of secrets that will not lie still, human bonds that will not break, and crippling memories that will not be silenced. It is a story of rural towns and runaways, of tensions corporate and racial, of childhood trauma and adolescent betrayal, and of the guilt that even forgiveness cannot ease. Most of all, this is a story of the place we carry in us always: home.

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Legend: (Drenai Tales Book 1) by David Gemmell

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged fantasy

Ulric has taken control of a number of disparate barbarian tribes and has gathered an army of over 500,000 men. All that stands between them and the Drenai Empire is Dros Delnoch, a fortress with six high walls that defends a narrow pass. The general in charge of Dros Delnoch doesn’t have his own respect, much less his men’s, and the fortress currently has only one-third of its complement of defenders. Many of these are farmers and the like.

But there is hope for the Dros. The ailing Earl of Bronze has summoned his old friend, Druss the Legend, who is on his way with his feared, double-headed axe. He’s past his prime, but he’s decided he doesn’t want to die of old age. The Earl’s daughter, Virae, is returning to the Dros with the Thirty, a group of warrior priests with psychic, perhaps superhuman, powers. She’s also bringing the newly discovered love of her life, Rek.

Why I picked it up: I saw Gemmel’s Drenai series on some best fantasy series list. His name seemed familiar (which means I’ve probably seen it on a lot of lists), but I’d never read one of his books. I decided to start at the beginning.

Why I finished it: Druss was great, not only because of the idea of an aging warrior battling his aches and pains as much as he’s fighting the enemy, but because he’s characterized by everyone’s reactions to hearing his name. It’s clear that songs are sung about his deeds even though we never hear them.

But my favorite character was Rek. He was a bit of a coward, but he was so overcome by his feelings for Virae that he didn’t hesitate to stand beside her, ready to die. It didn’t matter that he was going to perish defending Dros Delnoch. Rek had to overcome fear to do the right thing, whereas a braver man would have just done so out of habit.

It's perfect for: Flemtastic, who reads quickly enough to enjoy fantasy novels that include lots of tedious, unnecessary backstory, but makes them unreadable to slow readers like me. I want him to understand what I look for: books like this that don’t waste my time.

@bookblrb: All that stands between the barbarian tribes and the Drenai Empire are the six walls defending a narrow pass.

Rule 34 by Charles Stross

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged mysteryscience fiction

Liz Kavanaugh, a Detective Inspector working for the Edinburgh Police, is pretty sure she has seen it all. As leader of the Rule 34 Squad, it is her job to track bizarre crimes and internet memes in order to stop copycat crimes before they are committed. After a local man is killed by a malfunctioning vintage enema machine, Liz finds out that there have been a number of strange deaths resulting from household appliances gone amok. It’s impossible that one person could have caused all of the malfunctions, but Liz sees a pattern. How many people will die before she can convince her commander there is a real threat, possibly a new type of serial killer, on the loose?

Why I picked it up: Someone suggested this to my science fiction book group because it had hacked 3D printers turning out piles of unexpected dildos. We chose it because we are all incredibly mature.

Why I finished it: Stross filled the book with brilliant, near-future speculation on recessions, mental health treatments, crime syndicates, and surveillance states. I was hooked.

Readalikes: The brainy, action-packed For the Win by Cory Doctorow because Rule 34 will also take you to unexpected places which are way more exciting than you would expect from books about near-future economics.

@bookblrb: A Detective Inspector in Edinburgh notices a pattern of strange deaths caused by household appliances.

Coletti Warlords: Reality Bites by Gail Koger

Bree never thought her dimwit act, military grade mace, cattle prod, or dumping a ton of stinky manure on Jaylan's head would encourage his pursuit. Who knew a Coletti warlord would think of being zapped with a cattle prod as foreplay? Or a determined opponent only heightened his enjoyment of the chase?

The chase comes to an abrupt halt when the Tai-Kok attack Tucson, forcing Bree to team up with the Coletti warlord to stop them. Suddenly plucked from Earth by a crazed Tai-Kok commander, Jaylan and Bree find themselves stranded on a hostile alien world, and being tracked by a deadly Askole assassin. It’s really no time for the two of them to fall in love.

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Skinny by Donna Cooner

Link to this review by silver tagged coming of age

Ever and her mother were always on the chubby side. They loved eating M&Ms and frequently devoured Snickers bars in the car on the way back home from exercise class. After her mother’s death, Ever went to bed with a handful of M&Ms in her mouth, thinking that when she woke up the nightmare would be over and her mom would be there again. Now she weighs 302 pounds.

Ever wants to sing in a school musical so that she can awe people the way she did at church when she was younger. She’s tired of people treating her like she’s stupid because she’s big, and she’s sick of being treated as if she’s invisible. Ever decides the only way these things will ever happen is if she loses weight. So she does something she’s been afraid of and gets gastric bypass surgery.

Why I picked it up: There are always a lot of books on our table. My daughter is in the middle of reading most of them. (She likes to read about ten books at a time.) One day I saw this galley on the table. I liked this one because of the cute girl on the cover, and that it came with a tape measure wrapped around it.

Why I finished it: Ever’s super-geeky friend Rat exercises with her and, when she’s down, reminds her of what she has to do to achieve her goal. As a physical therapist I frequently work with people like Ever. I’m not sure many are as lucky as her, though, in terms of having someone who will go through this tough process with them. The surgery itself makes the stomach very small. People who have it cannot eat much; they can consume only liquids for several weeks, and they cannot eat anything containing sugar because it makes them sick. They also have to exercise so as not to lose their muscle mass while they are not eating. No matter why they started having eating disorders (a lot of times it is due to psychological issues), they tend to spend lots of time eating and thinking about what to eat or what not to. After surgery, they can't eat like they used to, so they have lots of time. Unless you have someone with you encouraging you to do something else, like socializing or exercising, this is really hard.

It's perfect for: Mary, who believes gastric bypass surgery shouldn’t be done on anybody, ever. She frequently rants about large people. She thinks they get big because of bad habits: they eat too much, they don’t move, or both. She’s wrong. Professionally, I am still not too keen on the idea of young adults getting this type of surgery because they are still growing and their bodies are not fully formed yet. But seeing this experience through the eyes of a person who went through surgery as a sixteen-year-old gave me a lot to think about. I hope that after reading this book Mary will stop and think before making blanket statements like that.

@bookblrb: Ever is tired of being treated as if she’s invisible and stupid because she’s overweight. She decides to get surgery.

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged literary

Thirty-four-year-old Thomas feels like something is wrong, and he has a plan to fix it. He drugs, kidnaps, and shackles a former friend in an abandoned military base by the coast in California. He just wants to talk to him to help get a few things straight. Then he nabs a former Senator, and then several more people, and chains them up so that they’ll talk to him and help him make sense of the world. Thomas knows he won't be able to get away with it for long, but surely he’ll have long enough to find out what he needs to know. Nobody can hear their screams, so Thomas is in complete control of the situation, if not of his mind.

Why I picked it up: I read Eggers’ memoir of his difficult childhood back when it took the publishing world by storm. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was touching and hopeful.

Why I finished it: I became desperate to see what would happen to Thomas. Would a sniper suddenly take off his head? Would he harm the captives, or keep his word not to? At times, I felt like I knew which way it would go, then my sense of the story would change entirely. It’s all dialogue, without a word of description, so it moves in spurts and tumbles forward. When captives tried to outwit Thomas during their rambling discussions, I held my breath to see if they could get him to make a fatal blunder and allow their rescue.

It's perfect for: My friend Russ, an English teacher in high school. I wonder if the book was the result of a bar bet that Eggers could write a book with zero exposition. It's like when foolish English majors try to write a short story, or even worse, a whole book entirely in second person. Remember that Russ?

@bookblrb: Thomas kidnaps and shackles his friend in an abandoned military base so they can talk.

The 12 Bottle Bar: A Dozen Bottles. Hundreds of Cocktails. A New Way to Drink. by David Solmonson and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson

It’s a system, a tool kit, a recipe book. Beginning with one irresistible idea--a complete home bar of just 12 key bottles--here’s how to make more than 200 classic and unique mixed drinks, including sours, slings, toddies, and highballs, plus the perfect Martini, the perfect Manhattan, and the perfect Mint Julep.

It’s a surprising guide--tequila didn’t make the cut, and neither did bourbon, but genever did. And it’s a literate guide--describing with great liveliness everything from the importance of vermouth and bitters (the “salt and pepper” of mixology) to the story of a punch bowl so big it was stirred by a boy in a rowboat.

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U2: The Definitive Biography by John Jobling

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged biography

This is a behind-the-scenes look at an over-exposed band which still carefully controls its image. Ireland's U2 is one of the most popular bands of all time and has sold 240 million albums since 1976, yet their humble origins and early struggles almost nixed the band. Personal arguments, issues with marketing and record contracts, and even members' participation in a cult almost derailed their careers. They succeeded in large part due to a manager many see as the fifth member of the band, who had an overwhelming, sharp focus on success from day one. While pursuing international stardom, U2 was actively trumpeting their Christian values. This was no small matter for many fans because U2's faith was a selling point. The author argues that their religious convictions became a contrived PR exercise. (Bono did go on to become a respected ambassador for several causes, though this ignited resentment from bandmates because of the time away from their work.) For serious fans, each of U2's albums is discussed at length, with details about the origins of memorable songs.

Why I picked it up: I have loved U2 ever since they made what I consider to be the best album in the history of the world: The Joshua Tree. Seeing U2 live was on my bucket list until I saw their 360 tour in Seattle. I figured I would get an inside peek at the band members and learn something.

Why I finished it: When beliefs about accountability and social justice touted by the band for decades were tossed aside for tax reasons (U2 moved their base of operations from Ireland to the Netherlands to avoid taxes), it made me wonder about hypocrisy, especially because they constantly scold others to do their part. For hardcore fans, facts like these may change their opinions of the band, as it did mine. It is not a hatchet job by any means, but understanding some of their career and life decisions make me respect them less.

But there are still tons of tidbits interesting for fanboys like me. Paul Hewson (Bono's real name) claims to have loved chess and to have played in international chess tournaments as a young man. In fact, his father says, he beat the chairman of his local chess club once. Larry, the drummer, was very seriously almost dropped at the beginning of the band. They auditioned several other drummers, and probably were going to substitute someone for him, but then his mother died in a car wreck, and the other three couldn't drop him after that. U2 signed its first record contract with Island Records in a girls' bathroom at a club to get away from clubgoers. Edge's signature sound comes from working with a bombed-out, drug-using producer the band hated, who suggested reverb effects that opened a new palette of sounds for him to paint with. Lastly, right before the The Joshua Tree, Bono was roundly criticized by all three bandmates for bringing substandard lyrics to the album. He crawled away, feeling like an insecure schoolboy, and came back with fantastic lyrics that are widely recognized as iconic.

It's perfect for: My neighbor and good friend, Sugar. She is such a U2 fan that she once went to Dublin and staked out U2's studio to get a prized picture of herself next to Bono. I've seen it! And I think that Sugar would want to know everything there is to know about U2, good and bad.

@bookblrb: A definitive, behind-the-scenes look at the band U2.

The Shattering by Karen Healey, Saskia Maarleveld

Link to this review by emilyjones tagged audiobookmystery

Friends Keri, Janna, and Sione struggle to make sense of their older brothers' suicides. As they begin to believe that their brothers were murdered, it seems that the residents of idyllic Summerton may be to blame.

Why I picked it up: I am volunteering in a high school library while my husband and I are living in New Zealand for six months, and I couldn't resist a young adult novel written by a Kiwi and set on the south island.

Why I finished it: I was confounded as to what the motivation could be for the murders, and how complex they would be to commit. I had a soft spot for Sione, who tries so hard to not let his affection for Janna interfere with his search for the truth. And I appreciated his perspective on what to wear and how to interact with the girls he finds attractive. 

Listener beware: I haven’t been in New Zealand long enough to attest to how authentic Maarleveld’s accent is.

It's perfect for: Dawn, a savvy teen services librarian who keeps up with teen trends, Dawn will appreciate Janna's eclectic fashion sense (red shiny gloves with a black strapless petticoat dress and military boots) and references to the local music scene.

@bookblrb: Keri, Janna, and Sione don’t believe their older brothers killed themselves. They think they were murdered.

Alone Forever: The Singles Collection by Liz Prince

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged biographygraphic novel

Autobiographical comics about awkwardness, crushes, punk music, beards, her cat (Dracula), friendship, flirting, and other stuff.

Why I picked it up: I became a fan when I read Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed?, which is both gross and feel-good fuzzy. I became a bigger fan when my daughter bought some art from her at a comics show a few years ago, and she was completely kind and cool. Now I always stop by her booth and buy whatever she’s published.

Why I finished it: It’s charming and a bit heartbreaking. Liz sees the perfect guy while waiting for the subway -- he’s got a beard and he’s reading a book on home recording. She keeps smiling at him so that he’ll see her smiling at him when he finally looks up. But he never looks up, and she looks progressively creepier and more desperate as she thinks, “Look at me look at me look at me...” It’s also one of the best sequences in the book -- doing away with panel borders really lets Prince show the power of her art and her layouts. She’s an amazing cartoonist, and she makes it look effortless.

Readalikes: Older Jeffrey Brown comics from before he got married, when he was a little less lucky at love, like Clumsy and Unlikely.

@bookblrb: Autobiographical comics full of awkwardness, crushes, punk music, beards, a cat, friendship, flirting, and more.

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