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Recommendations for Friday, July 25, 2014

Learn to Program: Second Edition by Chris Pine

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

Unshelved strip for 7/25/2014

@bookblrb: A thorough but lighthearted approach to learning programming using the language Ruby.

Diamond Boy by Michael Williams

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

Henpecked by his wife to get a better job after the school where he worked closes, Joseph takes his family from one part of Zimbabwe to another, from the comparatively safe city of Bulawayo to a relative's house near the diamond fields of Marange. His son Patson is eager for the change, but realizes it is not everything it was supposed to be when a taxi driver refuses to take them there because it is too dangerous. Dumped off with their luggage in the middle of the road by the frightened driver, they meet a smuggler, Boubacar, who is able to spirit them to their relative through the land mines, crooks, and armed groups. Then the real trouble starts.The fields in Marange have diamonds deposited near the surface, in the dirt, as opposed to huge, underground mines. Thousands of people sift the dirt for small alluvial diamonds, trying to find large girazi, raw diamonds each worth enough to live on for several years. Mining was bad enough, but then the Zimbabwean army takes over and things quickly get even worse.

Why I picked it up: I read Williams’s book Now is the Time for Running years ago. It was gritty, realistic, historical fiction about a boy and his mentally handicapped little brother fleeing violence in Zimbabwe.

Why I finished it: Williams links this book to Now is the Time for Running by having characters from each cross paths as they are waiting to escape over a river into South Africa. If smugglers can help them make it past the wild animals and soldiers, they can each pursue a peaceful life. It is natural, organic, and a great addition to the book.

Williams has Patson go through quite a rough patch without ever becoming maudlin. I was completely captivated by Patson's hunt for his sister and his relationship with Boubacar. Physically scarred and muscular, Boubacar does not seem like he is the kind of man who will help, but he sees something in Patson that reminds him of his own rough childhood. He is a teddy bear who vows to help Patson get his sister back from the smuggler who has kidnapped her.

There is also a historical note at the end that explains the alluvial diamond fields in Zimbabwe, and the army's interest in using the money and people there to further their goals. At the high point of the Marange fields, there were 35,000 people working. Sure to be caught during the day, groups of bedraggled kids and adults sifted the dirt at night for diamonds when they could not be seen by security officers.

It's perfect for: My young friend Rachel. She has a social conscience and is always trying to inform herself about how she can help improve bad situations around the world. I am sure she is already up on blood diamonds, but this is Zimbabwe, not Sierra Leone. She will appreciate seeing how Patson not only tries to survive, but also tries to help others.

@bookblrb: Patson relocates to the diamond fields of Marange, Zimbabwe, with his family, but it’s very dangerous.

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

The stunning conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Magicians trilogy.? ?Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.? ?The Magician’s Land is an intricate thriller, a fantastical epic, and an epic of love and redemption that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnificent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole.

Praise for The Magician King: ?

“Grossman expands his magical world into a boundless enchanted universe, and his lively characters navigate it with aplomb.” —The New Yorker

“The Catcher in the Rye for devotees of alternate universes . . . A rare, strange, and scintillating novel.” —Chicago Tribune

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The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

Link to this review by danritchie tagged coming of agescience fiction

Prenna is a Traveler. She came to April, 2010, from the late 2090’s, along with several hundred others from a hellish future where humanity is doomed by a blood plague. (An earth too warm and wet had spawned hordes of mosquitos that spread the virus that doomed mankind.) The Travelers live in small groups throughout the northeastern U.S. They are controlled by an overbearing group called the Leaders that requires them to live by strict rules and watches over them via glasses they all wear because their eyes were damaged by time travel. No one knows of these emigrants except for Ethan, a young man who witnessed Prenna's appearance near a remote creek where he was fishing.

Four years later, Prenna is in love with Ethan, even though she is not allowed to be intimate with a time native. Ethan understands Prenna’s dilemma and never demands more from her than she can give. When an elderly homeless man befriends them, he begins sharing details about the future that no one should know. Then, after he is attacked in front of Prenna and shares a secret of great importance for the future, Prenna and Ethan set out to stop the events which lead to the blood plague.

Why I picked it up: I read Brashares Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series and was taken by her insight into young adults and her beautiful writing. 

Why I finished it: Prenna's and Ethan’s evolving relationship is amazing. He is the only person who knows what she is and the immense risk she is taking in trying to alter the future. Initially captured and isolated by the Leaders as a threat to their autonomy, she is freed by Ethan. Using newspapers and other information left by the homeless man as he died, the two have only days to change the course of events which lead to the future that Prenna and the Travelers escaped.

It's perfect for: Cynthia, who loves time travel and also is deeply interested in global warming and its ramifications. She will find Brashares's vision of the future believable, and will enjoy the delight Prenna experiences in the everyday things that were lost in the future: flowers sprouting in the spring, birds singing, and walking around free of mosquito netting.

@bookblrb: Prenna and the other Travelers come from a hellish future where humanity is doomed. Then she falls in love.

The Sister Season by Jennifer Scott

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged literary

The three Yancey sisters are coming home to their Missouri farm for Christmas to bury their abusive old bastard of a father, and nobody’s happy about it. The eldest, Julia, leaves her professor husband at home in hopes of bonding with her sullen teenage son after his suicide attempt. Middle sister Maya brings her kids and philandering husband, Bradley, to her own chagrin and that of youngest sister Claire, who supposedly slept with Bradley ten years prior. Mom Elise gamely holds out hope that old wounds can heal, but things don’t look good. It’ll take a week of awkward confrontations and one near tragedy to shake off the decades’ worth of hurt all four Yancey women have suffered.

Why I picked it up: I have a sister, grew up in the Midwest, and enjoy family dramas. This seemed like a good fit.

Why I finished it: It became clear early on that this was a Lifetime Original Movie in book form, and I can’t resist those.

It's perfect for: This has wine book club written all over it: unexpressed emotions, the endless quest for unattainable “perfection” as a wife and mother, a Bechdel-test-passing plot, and a few adorable kids to boot.

@bookblrb: The three Yancey sisters' families come together for Christmas to try to shake off decades' worth of hurt.

Coaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge

Link to this review by darcy tagged coming of agepoetry

Walker has had a hard time since his brother Noah died. The two shared a bedroom, and it’s difficult to see an empty bed every night.

After he prays to God to help his mother cope, Walker is surprised to find Jesus in his bedroom the next day. Even more surprising is how irreverent and sarcastic Jesus can be.

Why I picked it up: I'm not normally one to pick up books about Jesus, but I love novels in verse and I was intrigued by the title.

Why I finished it: From the first moment that Jesus arrived I was hooked by his honesty and sarcasm. "I would have been here sooner," he said, "but traffic on I-55 was awful." Walker's trying to adjust to a new life without his brother but it isn't easy. Koertge's portrayal of a Jesus who sets boundaries with Walker kept me coming back: ”You know what, Walker? I think I'll come back when you're in a better mood.” Extra points to Koertge for working in the Jesus action figure.

It's perfect for: Chris from my early Sunday school years. He would often interrupt lessons to ask our teacher if Jesus really looked like the white, long-haired hippie in the paintings in the church basement. Chris now hopes that Jesus is getting as bald as he is. I know that'd he'd love the part where Jesus tosses back his mane of hair and talks about how much he likes it, and that he could never go bald like Buddha.

@bookblrb: After Walker prays to God to help his mother, he finds an irreverent and sarcastic Jesus in his room.

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

Rosie Sinclair is one of the lucky girls at the Forge School. If she can keep up her popularity rate (viewer interest in her on the reality show about the high school), she will make it past the culling and get to spend the entire year at the school. But competition is tough, and to move up she will have to create some compelling drama. Her growing relationship with the hunky, hot dishwasher, Linus, promises to help.

Given to storing her sleeping pills in her cheek and roaming at night, Rosie is awake at odd hours and sees something she is not supposed to. Girls in her dorm are being wheeled away while asleep, and returned to bed with needle marks on their arms. When she checks her arm, she has a mark, too. Dean Berg is up to something, and Rosie dedicates her research project to finding and proving what’s going on. But the Dean is on to her, and she must be careful for both Linus' safety and her own.

Why I picked it up: Caragh O'Brien wrote a popular dystopian series called Birthmarked. She is adept at creating a world that is very different from ours, yet seems very realistic.

Why I finished it: It was a compelling mystery and reality TV show concept rolled into one. It was high-tech enough to be plausible, dangerous enough with all the snooping around and surreptitious video-taping to be suspenseful, and romantic enough with Linus and Rosie's growing attraction to each other that I was propelled forward in reading it. I liked how Rosie made her project for class to record ghostly activity, which allowed her to install video cameras around campus so she could monitor the Dean.

It's perfect for: Jennifer, an eighth grader at my school who likes romance novels. Linus' willingness to sacrifice his health, job, and freedom to help Rosie, even though he has not seen actual physical proof of her accusations about the Dean, will win over Jennifer’s heart. Jennifer will also love a sultry kiss with Linus that may or may not be staged for the cameras.

@bookblrb: Rose tries to keep her popularity up so that she can spend the year on the reality TV show shot at her high school.

Sheltered: A Pre-Apocalyptic Tale by Johnnie Christmas, Ed Brisson

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged coming of agegraphic novel

In a survivalist camp in the woods, families are getting ready for the end of the world by building bunkers and storing supplies. Many of the adults believe they’re not ready to survive long-term on their own. Some of the teenagers have also gotten the message that the apocalypse is just around the corner and that they’re not ready. They make the tough decision and execute their parents to ensure their own survival.

Collects Sheltered #1 - #5.

Why I picked it up: The subtitle. What’s “a pre-apocalyptic tale?”

Why I finished it: Victoria and Hailey are out in the woods having a smoke when they hear the gunshots. They’re not in on the plot, and after they see what the boys have done they run for a bunker. They have enough food to last a while, but without a radio or a telephone to call for help it’s up to them to save themselves.

Readalikes: Lord of the Flies, because it’s an answer to what would have happened if those boys had had guns.

@bookblrb: In a survivalist camp, teens get the message: the apocalypse is just around the corner and they’re not ready.

Jan's Atomic Heart and Other Stories by Simon Roy

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelscience fictionshort stories

Short comics set in a drab future full of robots, aliens, and at least one talking gorilla.

“The Cosmonauts”
Above the Talkaman Desert, a slightly idiotic cosmonaut figures out how to get along with the senior man on the space station.

“Jan’s Atomic Heart”
In Frankfurt, a man hit by a train is temporarily inhabiting a robotic body. There’s only one problem: it may be a bomb.

“Good Business”
Arms dealers sell weapons to insect-like aliens.

“Shipwrecked with Dan the Gorilla”
Brian and his friend, a talking Gorilla, face the end of their time stranded on a small island.

“Bar Fight"
A man and a giant alien squid get into a bar fight in orbit.

“Homeward Bound”
Two birds check out a crashed spaceship.

“Hunter Killer”
A human and alien patrol a desert in Federal Terran Space.

Why I picked it up: I remember reading and enjoying the title story when I bought it in a comic store years ago, and I wanted to try more of Roy’s comics.

Why I finished it: Roy’s science fiction feels short and personal. I love the way these moments imply a much larger reality without too much explanation. The soft, black-and-white art adds to this impression -- it’s easy to take in and creates the sense of a wholly underwhelming future.

Readalikes: It reminds me of the weirder, more 1950s-esque visions of Philip K. Dick in which, despite futuristic technology, everyone still has to go to a dismal job at a dismal office. My favorite of these is still Time Out of Joint.

@bookblrb: Short comics set in a drab future full of robots, aliens, and at least one talking gorilla.

Slam!: A Tale of Consequences by Adam Stower

Link to this review by snow tagged picture book

An oblivious boy, wearing headphones and reading comics, slams a door, knocking a ball off the roof. Then everything around him falls apart. The ball lands on a cat, who jumps on a woman's head, which causes her to spill her groceries on a jogger, and so on, until the aliens take off and a sleeping dragon awakes.

Why I picked it up: I like picture books that tell progressive stories through small changes to the art from the previous page.

Why I finished it: Slam! has a lot of words, but they are almost all sounds, so I kept thinking how much fun this would be to read aloud. Stower's art is terrifically cartoonish, particularly when he is drawing body language. And I loved going through each page a second and third time to find all the small details, from eyes peeking out of a sewer drain to treasure hidden beside a pirate's skeleton to a girl sharing ice cream with one of the aliens.

Readalikes: P.T.A. Night by Jeremy Scott is a progressive story picture book with a silly/scary theme, as monsters and aliens interrupt the after-hours goings-on at a school, like PTA meetings, preparing the next day's meals, and cleaning the halls. The always wonderful Mercer Mayer has a progressive story -- Octopus Soup -- that will appeal to fans of the movie Finding Nemo. Budding mathematicians will love Emily Gravett's The Rabbit Problem which follows the adventures of two rabbits in Fibonacci Field, where 1 + 1 quickly becomes 288.

@bookblrb: A boy slams a door, knocking a ball off the roof, and that causes everything around him to fall apart.

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