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Martian Confederacy Volume 1

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by geneambaum tagged science fictiongraphic novel

Gun Guys

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfiction

As a kid at summer camp, Dan Baum spent hours on the rifle range where he learned to appreciate the solid click every time he slapped the bolt into position to shoot again. Despite his parents’ disapproval and his status as a lifelong Democratic, Baum both owns a rifle and hunts.

To wander the world of American gun enthusiasts and attempt to figure out what makes guns so attractive to some, he camouflaged himself in a NRA hat. His search led him to a desert convention of machine gun aficionados, to a man who purchased his first gun for protection after being mugged and became a self-defense instructor, to an underemployed contractor who has over $3,000 dollars invested in his customized AR-15. (Baum refers to weapon collecting as “Barbie for men.”)

Why I picked it up: I am somewhat similar to Baum, a lifelong Democrat with a concealed-carry permit who packs heat at the grocery store. I don’t know what it is, either, but I also love guns. There’s something satisfying about slapping in a fresh magazine my Glock and racking the slide.

Why I finished it: Baum talks about the first few weeks when he was carrying a pistol every day, concealed in his waistband. He spent a lot of time analyzing passersby, watching to see if they were a threat or had bad intentions.  Scenarios constantly play out in his mind — what he’d do if that guy takes the lady in the tube top hostage or what if that shady-looking man pulls a balaclava over his face and demands the cash while Baum is in line at a 7-11? I laughed out loud when I read that part because I had similar thoughts when I began to carry my gun.

I found it interesting that many second amendment activists think poorly of hunters, calling them “Fudds” (after Elmer Fudd) because they generally don’t advocate for guns outside hunting.

Baum spends time in a police simulator where he must make split-second decisions about whether or not to fire his weapon. He was shaking with emotion and stress after just the first simulation because he was overwhelmed by having to make the decision. Having never drawn or fired my gun (except at the range), this made me rethink how difficult it might be to use it to defend myself.

I’d give it to: Evan, who is anti-gun and would like that the book doesn’t waste time talking about the Second Amendment. Baum looks for reasons why there are 270 million guns in the U.S.  Apparently video games drive many purchases, which is going to alarm Evan.


Link to this review by geneambaum tagged thriller

Jad Bell just took a job in southern California as the number two security man at WilsonVille, the world’s largest theme park. The owner is suspicious because Jad seemed too perfect for the job. And he should be — Jad (a “retired” Delta Force operator) and other government agents have been placed in parks across the country because of fears of a terrorist attack.

When the attack does come, Jad’s estranged wife and teenage daughter are caught in the middle of it.

Why I picked it up: I’m a huge fan of Rucka’s work.

Why I finished it: Not knowing it was about a terrorist attack on an amusement park, I started reading it on the way down to ALA Annual 2012 in Anaheim, and finished it after my daughter and I rode the terrifying roller coasters at Magic Mountain. The setting really added to the summer trip and the general creepiness I feel at seeing adults dressed in animal costumes, posing for photos with kids on hot summer days.

I’d give it to: Flemtastic, because it would freak him out so badly he’d start sleeping with his Glock (if he doesn’t already).

Stumbling on Happiness

Link to this review by mattdiamond tagged science

Every day we make decisions: what to eat, how to earn and spend money, what tattoo to get. Our goal is to make our future selves happy, but all too often we end up thinking our past selves were idiots. Why does this happen? Daniel Gilbert explains that these aren’t simply temporary lapses of judgment; they are caused by human biases that are predictable and repeatable.

Why I picked it up: The book description asks, “Why do dining companions insist on ordering different meals instead of getting what they really want?” This hit home because not only do I compulsively avoid ordering what people around me get, I also try to avoid eating the same dish on consecutive restaurant visits. I had no idea this was common behavior.

Why I finished it: There are many fascinating research experiments described in the book. Their purpose is to reveal how people make decisions, but I found some of them perversely funny. Hapless subjects were given menial tasks, flirted with, interviewed for jobs that didn’t exist, and told they might have dangerous medical conditions, all in the name of science.

The results are sometimes astonishing. In one experiment pedestrians who were distracted for a moment failed to notice when the stranger they’d been giving directions to was replaced by someone who looked completely different. This demonstrates that when making comparisons, we can fail to notice obvious things if we are not focused on them. This has consequences when we try to predict outcomes by comparing the past to the present.

In another experiment subjects were asked to predict how much they’d enjoy eating potato chips. They answered differently depending on what other foods happened to be nearby. Subconsciously they were comparing chips to the other foods to calibrate their answer, even though that comparison turned out to be irrelevant to the enjoyment of the snack.

This is not a self-help book; Gilbert is careful not to promise that his book will lead you to happiness. But the next time I find myself paralyzed over which digital camera to buy, I’ll have some idea why. And now I don’t care what you’re ordering — I’m getting the General Tso’s Chicken! Yes, again!

I’d give it to: My son, who has many interesting decisions ahead of him. He wants to move to California one day because he believes (like most Americans) that residents of California must be happier than those in other states. But as Gilbert explains, non-residents overestimate the effect of spectacular weather and scenery. Our mental picture lacks countless other factors that end up dominating how we feel.

Yoko Ono Collector of Skies

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged biography

Yoko Ono was born to wealthy, distant parents In Tokyo — she didn’t meet her banker dad for the first time until she was two-and-a-half years old. She attended the best schools in Japan and even attracted the romantic interest of the younger of the two crown princes of Japan, who also attended her school.

But her art was misunderstood, or perhaps just ahead of its time. She dropped out of school to elope with a struggling Japanese musician against her parents’ wishes. Over the course of several years, she achieved success in the art world with her avant-garde performance art. One of her most famous installations, Bag-ism, involved her and another artist climbing into a large black bag on stage and then moving around inside. (The audience was supposed to guess what was going on in the bag.)

During a gallery show she met the man who would become her third husband, John Lennon. The meeting was awkward. John took a bite of an apple that was part of the installation, then put it back on its pedestal with a cheeky smile. She was outraged but also sensed that he got her artwork on a basic level. Soon after they left their families and became a couple. Her time at John’s side, attending Beatles practices and events, opened her to criticism, especially when she dared offer her opinion about their music. (Of course, she was a musician, too, and had released several experimental albums already, including one with John.) 

Yoko’s estrangement from her daughter by her second husband continued to weigh on her. When she sought custody rights, her ex-husband disappeared with the girl. John and Yoko found her using detectives. They actually kidnapped the girl from her father, which ended with the frightened daughter screaming and yelling while they attempted to carry her away, at which point the police let the daughter choose whom to live with. (She chose her father.) After John’s murder, Yoko reunited with her daughter while raising Sean Lennon.

Why I picked it up: I know the rough story of the Beatles and certainly enjoy their music, but I only understand the popular media caricature of Yoko Ono. I wanted to fill in the gaps and learn something about her beyond her reputation for breaking up the band.

Why I finished it: There were interesting details about artistic and musical choices that Yoko and John made together, especially those that raised a ruckus. For instance, the cover of their experimental album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins featured them both naked as jaybirds, facing the camera. Critics instantly assumed, erroneously, it was Yoko’s idea, and that she was corrupting John (who up to that point was seen as well-behaved). And I loved John’s explanation of their relationship, “She didn’t fall in love with the Beatles, she didn’t fall in love with my fame, she fell in love with me, or myself. And, through that, she brought out the best in me.” 

I’d give it to: My friend Curtis, who attends art gallery shows and has a high tolerance for performance art. He would like hearing about some of Ono’s enigmatic installations, like the ladder that people climbed to read a tiny message, posted on the ceiling, that said, “Yes.” (Although the installation still exists, patrons are not allowed to climb the rickety ladder anymore.)

Vampirina Ballerina

Link to this review by snow tagged picture book

“If you are going to be a ballerina, you have to do more than wear a tutu and dream about dancing…”

Ballet is hard, even if you’re a vampire. It may take the whole family (and a lot of practice) to get one small dancer ready for her big debut.

Why I picked it up: My friend Emily recommended it to me. She knows I am a dancer who is also a sci-fi/fantasy geek, and she thought this would appeal to both parts of my personality.

Why I finished it: The delight of finding ballet elements throughout Pham’s charming art, like the quotes about dance written on the fronts of gravestones.

And as we follow the aspiring ballerina in her house, from one room to the next, we see her father recreating a Degas painting, a skeleton helping her practice, and photographs of both ballet and modern dancers on the walls of her bedroom.

I’d give it to: Josie, a very young soccer player who’s still a girly-girl, because she’ll like that the cover is sparkly and that the art is both pretty and funny. Her mothers will appreciate the gentle lesson about hard work and will identify with the vampire parents’ attempts to support their daughter’s obsession.

Bloody Chester

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelwestern

Despite being a skinny teenager, Chester Kates had a tough reputation when he came to the old west town of Averill. For a while he was known as Bloody Chester. But then everyone found out his last name, Kates, and he became Lady Kates around the town. He defended himself and lost a lot of fights.

After he ends up in jail, he’s hired to burn Whale, the next town over, to the ground. It’s supposed to be abandoned. When he arrives there, he finds that most residents have died of a plague or run off. The exceptions are Caroline, who is trying to take care of her father, a miner who won’t leave his claim, and Potter, whose father is dying.

Chester tries to figure out a way to get Caroline’s dad out of his mine. He hopes that if her dad will leave, she’ll leave with him. And he’d also like to know what she’s trying to find by knocking holes in Whale’s buildings with her ax.

Why I picked it up: The cover is great, with its deep reds and mysterious, dangerous-looking silhouettes. And it was published by First Second, whose graphic novels are unusually excellent.

Why I finished it: It turned both westerns and YA coming-of-age novels on their heads. Chester is neither tough nor noble, the few gunfights are anything but heroic, and his attempt to find a place in the world and a girl to share it with him don’t come to a John Hughes-ish ending.

I’d give it to: Tina, who liked the horrific 30 Days of Night. There are no vampires, but the plague creates horrific, lipless zombies that would get her reading, if shown the proper page (32) during a booktalk.

Mail-Order Mysteries Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads!

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged nonfiction

As a kid, Demarais loved the ads for novelties, props for pranks, and fitness programs at the back of comic books. His dad would never let him send in his allowance money, so as an adult he investigated what you really got for your cash by contacting collectors, searching eBay, and general sleuthing. Some stuff was wonderful, but most were disappointments that were very carefully described in ads so that they were not out-and-out fraud.

Why I picked it up: I was also not allowed to send away for these toys!

Why I finished it: Not only did the full-color photos of the advertised items satisfy my curiosity, I got a delightful mini-history of the guys who intrigued generations of comics readers.

I’d give it to: Andrew, who had a magic light-bulb when he was a kid, and would love the various magic props in similar ads!

The Light at the End

Link to this review by silver tagged horroraudiobook

In New York, in a single subway train during one night, eight people were killed. Seven people were murdered and one was even eaten alive by rats. Police had no clue who was responsible or why. The spate of murders continue. They always occur at night.

Stephen is looking for his friend Rudy, who was supposed to take the subway to Stephen’s apartment. He never showed up. Josephine also had an awful night. She and Rudy (her boyfriend) had a big fight, and she starts the day off with a panicked call from Stephen about Rudy’s disappearance.

Joseph works as a delivery man. He wants to be a hero, probably because he plays Dungeons and Dragons. He believes the killer isn’t human. He helps Stephen and Josephine track down Rudy in hopes of finding the killer and saving the world.

Why I picked it up: Among the books I was looking at on, I liked the long train track in a tunnel on this one’s cover. There was even a light at the end of the tunnel. It seemed like a cliche, but apparently I respond well to cliches.

Why I finished it: The story just sucked me in unexpectedly, just like the cover. I felt like I was somehow drawn to this narrow tunnel, and I had no other way out but to go through to the other end and finish the book.

I walked back and forth between work and home listening to this story. My face must have looked blank because I was focused on the book’s setting, the streets of New York. (One morning a bush next to the sidewalk where I was walking moved suddenly. I jumped back and shrieked. I thought it was a rat, since there are so many in this book. I hate rats. Luckily for me it was just a squirrel.)

I’d give it to: Rudy is really good looking in a goth sorta way. He’s also very full of himself, and he thinks he’s an amazing graffiti artist. He’s a real douche bag, and what happens to him makes him even more of a monster. My friend Genevieve would tear through this book in the hope of seeing this a-hole get what’s coming to him.

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