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Teenagers From Mars

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by guest tagged graphic novelcoming of age


Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

Finley lives and breathes basketball. He’s so serious about his game that he breaks up with his longtime girlfriend every basketball season so that he can focus. Coach contacts him out of season and asks him for a big favor: befriend Russ, a teen basketball phenom who just lost his parents to a double murder. Russ’s grandparents live in Finley’s town, so Russ has a place to live. But Russ now calls himself Boy21 and talks about returning to his spaceship, so he’s going to have a hard time fitting in at school.

Why I picked it up: Quick’s last book, Sorta Like a Rock Star was an entertaining and heartwarming tearjerker. I’m a huge fan.

Why I finished it: Quick has a gift for bringing his characters to life, and he doesn’t disappoint with Finley. Finley’s teammates call his girlfriend, Erin, “lil baby,” which she hates. Finley is reluctant to stand up to his teammates because he rarely speaks, and this draws Erin’s ire and makes him real because he is also disgusted with his inability to stand up for her. Russ’ return to mental health is nuanced and subtle.

I’d give it to: West Coast native Matt, who would appreciate both the basketball and the peek inside an East Coast town like Bellmont, where ethnicity matters and speaking out can cost one dearly. Kendra, who would love that Erin is also a gifted basketball player and would enjoy her relationship with Finley and his whole family.

Disenchanted Madame Xanadu Volume 1

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged fantasygraphic novel

Nimue, forest nymph and Mistress of the Sacred Grove during King Arthur’s time, must find a place in the human world where her magic is an asset, and where her continuing youth doesn’t cause suspicion. Throughout history she opposes the heartless forces of destiny: first as a seer in Xanadu, then for Marie Antoinette up until the French Revolution, and as a consultant to those trying to bring Jack the Ripper to justice.

Contains Madame Xanadu #1 through #10.

Publisher’s Rating: Suggested for Mature Readers.

Why I picked it up: I read the second volume in the series and liked it.

Why I finished it: Comic book origin stories usually bore me, especially for mysterious characters like Madame Xanadu. But Wagner has woven a story through history that includes both real people and characters from the DC comics universe (most often the Phantom Stranger). It’s worth reading for the storytelling craft on display alone.

I’d give it to: Bill. He wouldn’t pick it up for the cover (no superheroes), or when I told him about the Eisner Awards won by the writer, artist, and for the series, but I’d sell him on it by comparing it to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (one of the Endless even makes a cameo).

Hint Fiction An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged short stories

Swartwood was writing very short pieces for Flash Fiction magazine. Inspired by Hemingway’s apocryphal six-word story, Smartwood proposed that a story’s basic elements could be boiled down to next to nothing by trimming all the fat and keeping a hint of the major conflict. He held a contest for stories of twenty-five words or less. The best entries are published in this slender book.

Why I picked it up: I found it on a library shelf where staff place their favorite books.

Why I finished it: My favorite fantasy story in the collection is L.R. Bonehill’s “Cull”: “There had been rumors from the North for months.  None of us believed it, until one night we started to kill our children too.”  Marshall Ryan Maresca’s “Reminder” has me dying to know more: “The tiny stain never came out.  No one else would notice, but he always knew.  They were his favorite pants.” 

I’d give it to: My friend Jim, because he enjoys wordplay on Says You! every Saturday, and he’d love how much meaning these stories squeeze out of a single word.

How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired

Link to this review by davidtomashek tagged literary

It is a hot summer in Montreal and the unnamed black narrator sits in his apartment on Rue Saint-Denis and attempts to write his novel on a Remington once owned by Chester Himes. But there are many distractions. His flatmate Bouba sleeps on the sofa twelve hours a day and then wakes to make metaphysical pronouncements. Beelzebub lives upstairs and shakes their apartment with bouts of noisy, violent copulation. But mostly the writer is distracted by women — white women, intellectual white college girls from rich families, well-brought-up white feminists on the Scarsdale diet — as he explores the stereotypes surrounding foreign born, French-speaking black men. The book is full of philosophizing, failed pick-up attempts, and explicit liaisons that show his obsession, envy, and bemusement.  

Why I picked it up: I can’t remember who recommended it, but two years ago I could not find the English translation of this book anywhere. It has since been reprinted in its first U.S. edition.

Why I finished it: Laferrière is great at making me feel what’s happening, even when it’s something as simple as the unnamed narrator lying around his muggy apartment: “A distant buzzing awoke me. Airborne above the sink, an enormous green fly with bloodshot eyes is crashing into things. The fly looks blind. Totally drunk on the heat.”  Or when writing: “With great ceremony, I remove the dust cover from the old Remington 22. The machine gives me a nasty look.  We haven’t seen each other for a long time.”

I’d give it to: A young woman I once knew named the men in her life: Workout Guy, Officer Delicious, Lawyer Guy.  She would appreciate the similar nomenclature in this book: Miz Literature, Miz Sophisticated Lady, Miz Snob, and many others. She would also enjoy its Bukowskiesque narrative.

Last Call The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged history

Prohibition started as a small political movement. Through strategic use of single-issue voters, odd political marriages, and legal loopholes advocates managed to amend the Constitution. Then all hell breaks loose because some people still really want to drink and some organizations wanted to make money selling them alcohol. (This book is soon to be a Ken Burns documentary.)

Why I picked it up: James Lileks really liked it. Plus it had a long waiting list at my library, which is a good sign for a hefty book on American history.

Why I finished it: The dirty business of political wrangling was fascinating. I spotted some techniques I’ve seen in recent elections, like the use of code words — “wet” and “from New York” were used to describe presidential candidate Al Smith, instead of the one that would cost him the most votes, “Catholic”. I was surprised that the bootlegging empires in Canada and West Indies weren’t just benefitting criminals. They also funded ports near the US. And I learned what my school’s history textbooks never talked about — the racism and religious bigotry that played a big role in prohibition, which Last Call covers in their stomach-churning glory.

I’d give it to: JB, who would be fascinated by the foot-dragging in redistricting after the census showed a huge demographic shift that would have moved political power from the (mostly dry) rural areas to the (mostly wet) cities. This made it possible for the dry minority to keep their political power.

Pluto Volume 1
Pluto Volume 2
Pluto Volume 3
Pluto Volume 4

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged mysterygraphic novelscience fiction

Dark, revisionist mystery story by Urasawa (Monster, 20th Century Boys) and Nagasaki based on “The Greatest Robot on Earth” storyline from Osama “The God of Manga” Tezuka’s classic Astro Boy series.

Four years ago, members of the Bora Survey Group were dispatched to the Kingdom of Persia to look for robots of mass destruction. They found nothing, but that didn’t stop the devastating 39th Central Asian War.

Now, the robot detective Gesicht, Special Investigator for Europol, is investigating two related murders: Mont Blanc, beloved robot of the Swiss Forestry Service, and Bernard Lanke, who worked to preserve the laws that gave robots their rights. Gesicht cannot uncover evidence of a human perpetrator at the crime scenes. He begins to investigate whether a robot may have committed the crime. But robots are programmed so they cannot kill humans.

As the killings continue, it becomes clear the members of the Bora Survey group are being targeted. So are the seven most advanced robots in the world, most of whom took part in the war. Gesicht is one of them.

He has a long list of suspects: anti-robot hate groups, disturbed by robot equality; Goji, the man rumored to be responsible for creating Persia’s robot army; and Tenma, who created the advanced boy robot Atom.

Publisher’s Rating: T+ for Older Teen.

Why I picked it up: I love Urasawa’s manga. But even if I didn’t, the books’ designs would have drawn me in — each volume features a different character’s face, off-center, so that his or her left eye is on the spine. When all of the volumes are together on a shelf it’s a striking display.

Why I finished it: Atom looks incredibly innocent when he appears at the end of the first book. The other advanced robots are adults or warriors, and feature weapons, strengths, and powers that are obvious. But I knew Atom must have powers, from having read the original manga. And so I was waiting for him to reveal what he could do.

I’d give it to: Nancy, who would be so enamored of the craft that went into this book that she’d want to share it with the students in her high school’s library. (The fact that it’s complete in eight volumes and doesn’t have any nudity or fan service would make it fit in the school’s collection, too.)

Supergods What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human

Link to this review by billba tagged nonfictionsuperhero

One of comics’ premier writers gives a very personal history of superhero comics.

Why I picked it up: Morrison is alternately brilliant and incoherent, but he has produced some of my favorite comics (All Star Superman, New X-Men, JLA: Earth 2), and I was interested to understand whence comes his unique voice.

Why I finished it: Morrison’s experience of comics greatly overlaps with mine (I even lived in England during the early 80’s) and his expert analysis of certain staples of superhero literature (e.g. Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns) made me want to read them all over again, and to pick up those I haven’t already read. On the other hand his musings on psychedelia and the fifth-dimensional aspect of comics were eminently skimmable.

I’d give it to: Dave Kellett and Zach Weiner, two great cartoonists who don’t read comic books. They need some educating in why superheroes are important. And awesome.

Sweet Mandarin The Courageous True Story of Three Generations of Chinese Women and Their Journey from East to West

Link to this review by silver tagged nonfictionbiographyliterary

Helen (a lawyer) and her sisters Lisa (an electrical engineer) and Janet (an accountant) decided to leave their white-collar jobs and open a Chinese restaurant in Manchester, UK. They want to show who they are through the food they serve — not full Chinese, not full British, but British-born Chinese.

Lily, their grandmother, a determined young Chinese mother decided to go to England to continue serving the family she worked for in Hong Kong. She believed this was the only way to give her kids a future and leave her gambling, no-good husband.  She left her two young children with her mother without knowing when she would see them again.

Lily started a Chinese restaurant in Middleton, a city where no other Asian person lived at the time. She made her restaurant a place that served the community, providing good food and generous portions at affordable prices.

Forty-some years later, her highly-educated granddaughters returned to where they witnessed their parents’ and grandmother’s hard work to serve the community in the same way.

Why I picked it up: The book has been on the shelf for the last two years staring at me. (Gene’s note: I buy books for Silver all the time, like any good librarian husband. She seems annoyed and then, eventually, she reads and loves them. I bought this one after meeting Helen at the Miami Book Fair a few years ago.)

Why I finished it: The way Helen mixed her grandmother’s story with her own made it feel like I was talking to her in person. She didn’t glorify her grandmother’s backbreaking work or make the story terrifying, but she somehow managed to find humor in it. Helen let me see inside her family, which is very far from the typical view Westerners have about Asian tiger moms. (Her siblings are all successful without their lives being orchestrated by overly demanding parents.)

I’d give it to: Lily, who worries about her twins not being able to speak her mother tongue, Serbo-Croatian. I think her daily behavior around her kids will give them the strength they need to understand who they are and where they come from. And maybe they will want to learn the language when they are older, just like Helen did. 

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