The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Squirrel Power by Ryan North, Erica Henderson

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

Unshelved comic strip for 9/25/2015
What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night by Refe Tuma, Susan Tuma

Link to this review by darcy tagged artcoffee table bookhumor

A collection of photos of the antics of plastic dinosaurs by the creators of the web sensation Dinovember.

Late at night, when the kids are in bed, Refe and Susan Tuma convert their house into a playground for these plastic dinosaurs. Their antics are messy and always hilarious. They say it's for the kids, but it's clear the adults are having the most fun. 

Why I picked it up: A coworker could not believe I didn't do Elf on the Shelf for my kids at Christmas and made me promise to at least play with plastic dinosaurs after I looked at this book. The Elf on the Shelf tradition dictates that parents stay up after their little darlings are in bed, and pose the elf doll in the middle of naughty antics like getting into the cookie jar or hiding in the book case. (Here’s an entertaining and slightly NSFW series of inappropriate Elf on the Shelf poses.) I have a hard enough time staying up late one night to fill stockings, so I was shocked at a family that plays with plastic dinosaurs for the entire month of November.

Why I finished it: Not only were scenes witty, they were well executed and photographed. In one, the plastic dinosaurs are playing in the freezer. One holds a popsicle and another is trapped in the ice maker. The caption says, "The dinosaurs accidentally find themselves in an ice age of their own design." My favorite was a collection of dinosaurs standing in front of a refrigerator writing poetry with word magnets. The background poetry shows gems such as "smelly butt" and "me crush house." The caption reads, "Ancient man bared his soul on the walls of his cave. Plastic dinosaurs use refrigerator magnets. “

It's perfect for: My brother Jeff and my sister Gayle. Years ago during some high school shenanigans we came into possession of a fiberglass porch decoration shaped like a dog. That dog was named Aloysius and has shown up uninvited at our houses and family get-togethers through the years. Aloysius was once sent to me wearing a diaper and a bib when my first child was born. Recently, after I turned forty, I found him on my porch decked out and ready to party. It takes a lot of planning to get Aloysius dressed up and secretly dropped off, especially when one sibling lives in Alaska. I know that Jeff and Gayle will appreciate the thought (and pure vandalism) that goes into each shot as the Tumas wreck their house to create scenes of dinosaurs dumping flour, painting on walls, and creating other epic messes. It makes me very glad that Aloysius never did that. 

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who's ever been chosen.

That's what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he's probably right.

Half the time, Simon can't even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor's avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there's a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon's face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here -- it's their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon's infuriating nemesis didn't even bother to show up.

Carry On - The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you'd expect from a Rainbow Rowell story - but far, far more monsters.

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Bastards: A Memoir by Mary Anna King

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged biographycoming of age

Mary Anna King was barely three when she lost her first little sister, who was sent to live with grandparents when her parents split up (they couldn’t afford to keep all three of their kids). Over the course of several years, King lost four more sisters as her mother kept getting pregnant and arranging adoptions for each unexpected baby. Shipped off to Oklahoma with her brother to live with her mother's strict parents and reunite with her first lost sister, King struggles to form her own identity amid shifting allegiances and a brittle sense of self-worth.

As her other lost sisters reach majority and begin to search for their birth family, King yearns for yet fears the strong connections she sees among her siblings even though they've been separated for decades. It's a stunning, clear-eyed true story of ties that bind and ties that break.

Why I picked it up: In a box of potential review books, this one stood out for its themes of family and loss, and the fact that I'd have to hide the title from my kids.

Why I finished it: This is a gut-puncher of a memoir that manages to be funny and hopeful, too. From the early, tragicomically awful death of a favorite uncle through the last awkward reunion with a lost sister, King shows unflinching honesty and a flair for small moments of grace and humor.

Readalikes: It's kind of an American version of Angela’s Ashes with a more complicated genealogy.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows-the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family's show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she's been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it's a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace's life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

Beautifully written, and richly imaginative, Anna-Marie McLemore's The Weight of Feathers is an utterly captivating young adult novel by a talented new voice.

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Chasers of the Light: Poems from the Typewriter Series by Tyler Knott Gregson

Link to this review by robert tagged poetry

Tyler Knott Gregson saw a manual typewriter in an antique store, rolled a page from a broken book he was buying around the platen to test it out, and typed his first typewriter poem. “I fell in love,” he confessed.

Gregson mainly writes typewritten love poems of astounding brevity on found scraps of paper (such as the back of receipts), and then scans them for publication. He also uses thick black markers on loose book pages to cross out text and reveal hidden love poems. They’re not all love poems, though. He also superimposes pastoral poems atop the photographs that inspired them (Gregson is also a photographer).

Why I picked it up: The typed style of the title attracted my interest as I took a gander at the “New Books” shelf at my local library. (I still own and occasionally use manual typewriters.)

Why I finished it: I've already mentioned that Gregson's poems are short. They encompass breathtaking passion in as few as twelve words. The love poems were sensual but not explicit. And the use of scanned images instead of printed text for the typewritten and redacted found poems allowed me to appreciate the medium as well as the message.

It's perfect for: The customers at the florist where I work. A life partner or potential life partner deserves a great message on a card as well as a beautiful bouquet. I'd like to think reading three of Gregson's poems would inspire something more personal and meaningful than “Happy Thirtieth Anniversary.”

Breakaway by Kat Spears

When Jason Marshall's younger sister passes away, he knows he can count on his three best friends and soccer teammates--Mario, Jordie, and Chick--to be there for him. With a grief-crippled mother and a father who's not in the picture, he needs them more than ever. But when Mario starts hanging out with a rough group of friends and Jordie finally lands the girl of his dreams, Jason is left to fend for himself while maintaining a strained relationship with troubled and quiet Chick. Then Jason meets Raine, a girl he thinks is out of his league but who sees him for everything he wants to be, and he finds himself pulled between building a healthy and stable relationship with a girl he might be falling in love with, grieving for his sister, and trying to hold onto the friendships he has always relied on.

A witty and emotionally moving tale of friendship, first love, and loss, Breakaway is Kat Spears at her finest.

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Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

Fourteen-year old Joseph comes to live with Jack's family as a foster child. Joseph has been removed from his home because of his abusive father and because Joseph fathered a child who is being kept from him. He is fixated on seeing his daughter, Jupiter. Jack keeps trying to reach out to Joseph, but he has a hard time getting through his tough exterior. Finally, after spending tons of time together doing chores and at the dinner table, the family is able to get Joseph to open up. But things change for the worse when Joseph's father comes back into his life because he sees a chance to make money.

Why I picked it up: Gary Schmidt wrote the fantastic Okay For Now and is a two-time Newbery Award winner. I read everything he writes.

Why I finished it: I was engaged throughout this story in Jack and Joseph's budding friendship and in whether Joseph would be able to see his child. Gary Schmidt is a genius at slow, organic character development and uses small moments to show how Joseph is changing. Jack, a quiet and observant kid, notes each time something breaks through Joseph's tough exterior and makes him smile. 

Readalikes: Counting by 7s by Holly Sloan. Both books have a similar feel because readers get to know the characters intimately through "real-life" moments, and neither uses twists and turns to maintain interest.

How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras

Georgia has always lived life on the sidelines: uncomfortable with her weight, awkward, never been kissed, terrified of failing.

Then her mom dies and her world is turned upside down. But instead of getting lost in her pain, she decides to enjoy life while she still can by truly living for the first time. She makes a list of ways to be brave-all the things she's always wanted to do but has been too afraid to try: learn to draw, try out for cheerleading, cut class, ask him out, kiss him, see what happens from there.

But she's about to discover that life doesn't always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But in the process, you realize you're stronger than you ever imagined...

This fearless, big-hearted, deeply moving book will make you laugh, cry, and inspire you to be brave.

"Georgia's Greek-American heritage offers a distinctive backdrop for the novel's themes of emotional healing and self-discovery, while Georgia herself emerges as a realistically flawed and genuine protagonist." —Publishers Weekly

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Last Plane to Heaven by Jay Lake

Link to this review by wally tagged science fictionshort stories

Before Jay Lake died of cancer, he compiled this book of thirty-two of his best short stories, ranging from gritty speculative fiction to steampunk to Lovecraftian weirdness.

Why I picked it up: When Gene was passing out the books to us reviewers, this one got a lot of knowing nods. I had never heard of this author, so they let me have it.

Why I finished it: From the moment I read the title story, I was hooked. "Last Plane to Heaven" follows a band of mercenaries sent to the Russian steppe to recover a Soyuz capsule. They find an Australian aborigine who dreamed herself into space, and now must dream herself away from the soldiers who are after her. The narrator learns he is dreaming his own destruction (and all the others are doing the same to themselves) thanks to the power of the girl, but once he understands that, he is able to join her and her quest for freedom.

The other stories in this book are just as powerful and fascinating. In "The Women Who Ate Stone Squid," an all-female crew discovers a lost civilization on an uncharted planet. Their lowly pilot is sent to explore it, but her love of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Martian novels may be clouding her into believing that she is a warrior facing down giant squid people. In "The Woman Who Shattered the Moon," an aging, despotic African scientist is given parole forty years after she destroyed the moon. She returns to her ruined stronghold with no regrets, but realizes she is too old to rebuild her forces and begin again.

It's perfect for: Rachelle, who loves reading about the old West, especially in alternate histories. She’ll enjoy "They Are Forgotten Until They Come Again" which follows a future tribe of native post-Americans as they ready themselves to sacrifice a deformed baby in the Columbia River. The baby's mother calls down a sudden rainstorm and flash flood upon them, killing everyone but the narrator, who has no choice but to follow her and her now-healed baby into a new land. She'd also love "Jefferson's West," which has Lewis and Clark discovering the gates of Eden in the American wilderness, crossing its threshold, and bringing heavenly punishment upon the whole nation.

Milo's Hat Trick by Jon Agee

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged picture book

Milo is a terrible magician. If he doesn’t pull a rabbit out of his hat tomorrow night, he’ll lose his job. Luckily he meets a bear who can help (he knows how to jump into a hat). Unluckily, Milo loses his hat.

Why I picked it up: I love Agee’s picture books. Last week I ordered the ones that I hadn’t read from the Seattle Public Library.

Why I finished it: The bear is supposed to jump out of the hat when Milo whistles. After Milo loses the hat and it’s mistakenly carried to a restaurant across town by another man, someone whistles for a waiter. The bear leaps out. Chaos ensues. I had no idea how it would all work out.

Readalikes: Two other great picture books about headwear, Brimsby’s Hats, about a haberdasher out to make new friends, and Dr. Seuss’s The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, about a young man who finds it unexpectedly difficult to remove his hat before the King.

Just So Happens by Fumio Obata

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged coming of agegraphic novel

Yumiko has made a home of London where she works as a designer with her fiancé Mark. When her father dies in an accident, she returns to Japan for his funeral. She comes to terms with her grief, navigates her distant and somewhat awkward relationships with her family, and figures out what Japan means to her.

Why I picked it up: I liked the look of the watercolors on the cover.

Why I finished it: The rest of the book uses a very pleasant, understated color palette as well, and the drawings are beautiful without overwhelming the story.

Why I finished it: I was reminded of my wife, Silver, and how she fits in (and doesn’t) in South Korea where she was born. Silver is clear about what Korea means to her (she loves it) and her relationship with her family is great, but like Yumiko she was very different from others where she grew up and is alienated from its culture a bit. The similarities first caught my eye when Yumiko avoids Japanese people on the street in London -- Silver often does that with Koreans as we walk around Seattle. I had to keep reading to see if the book offered any insights into my wife.

Readalikes: This book made me want to visit Japan again, so I recommend the two books that make me feel like I’ve just been there: Halfway Home, a graphic novel memoir about a sixteen-year-old’s summer journey to Japan, and Tokyo On Foot, an illustrator’s collection of drawings of the people and places he saw over six months in the city.

The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged mystery

It’s 1975, just after the revolution in Laos, and most of the experienced professionals who worked for the previous government have fled the country. Dr. Siri is appointed the new national coroner despite having only worked as a jungle medic since his training in Paris. He used to dream of the people who died under his care and assumed that was his mind's way of processing guilt. Now the dead are appearing to him when he's awake, giving him silent hints as to why they died. After the very suspicious death of a prominent Lao People’s Party member, he decides to go beyond the bounds of his job and solve mysteries like his literary hero, Maigret.

Why I picked it up: I wanted to continue reading Cotterill's Jimm Juree series on my vacation, but it wasn't available as an ebook. His Dr. Siri series was.

Why I finished it: Dr. Siri is old enough to not be cowed by bureaucrats throwing their weight around, and he has a knack for figuring out the motivations of the people he's tracking. He struggles to perform forensic tests based on a textbook -- he doesn’t have access to a working lab or many of the chemicals he needs -- but his eye for the out-of-place and his ability to see how everything fits together more than makes up for this.

Readalikes: As ghosts and prophetic dreams crept into Dr. Siri's life and investigations, I was reminded of my other favorite detectives who are caring despite being hardened by what they've seen, and who are also in touch with the supernatural: Hessius Mann and Felix Castor.

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