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Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by guest tagged coming of agescience fictiongraphic novel

The Beekeeper's Apprentice

Link to this review by vanessaborden tagged mystery

During World War I, fifteen-year-old Mary Russell, walking the fields near her home, meets the famous (and now retired) detective, Sherlock Holmes.  Mary does not immediately recognize him. She replies to his condescending remarks with brilliance and biting wit. Holmes is astounded by the young woman’s intelligence and soon takes Mary and her education under his charge.  When not studying university texts, she assists him on local cases. But then Holmes is called in to help solve a kidnapping. Mary proves her worth as a partner, but their success puts both her and Holmes in danger.

Why I picked it up: I went through a mystery phase where I read all of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie I could get my hands on. When I saw this book, I was fascinated by the twist: a mystery involving the brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes with an independent and equally intelligent female sidekick.

Why I finished it: Although the cases are layered and keep the reader guessing, I enjoyed watching the development of Holmes and Mary’s friendship under the social restrictions of post-Victorian England. Their relationship would have been impossible without strict chaperonage, but the war required adjustments to social standards.

I’d give it to: My grandma, who would appreciate and empathize with the challenges of being a fiercely intelligent, independent woman in a society that doesn’t have a place for one.

Dark Inside

Link to this review by danritchie tagged horrorscience fictioncoming of age

After a series of apocalyptic earthquakes decimates the planet, an ancient evil is unleashed. It preys on people’s souls, their darkest deeds, regrets and self-loathing. Most of those left alive have a horrific lust for blood letting and murder. They are the Baggers, bent on the death and destruction of the few normals left as well as of each other.  

Five very different teens try to survive and find safety. There is no power or fresh food. Death and carnage are everywhere. They must endure, learn to trust one another, and deal with betrayal, heartbreak and a shared destiny none of them could have imagined.

Why I picked it up: While browsing for books I read the first chapter, which is from one of the five points of view used to tell the story. The sense of overwhelming despair was haunting and compelling.

Why I finished it: The tension and torment found in the dark need to survive as well as the teen’s heartrending desire to help others. One of the teens, Michael, ignores his comrade’s pleas for help when attacked, but then desperately tries to find redemption.

I’d give it to: Baggio, because like the light crew kids in Ship Breaker, these kids need cunning, strength, trust, and more than a little luck to survive. Their choices are complex and frequently disturbing, and he would relish the “teens against a crazed world” scenario.

The Last Great Game Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds that Changed Basketball

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfictionhistory

In 1992, in the NCAA basketball tournament’s Round of 8, a game was played between two storied teams. Duke was on the rise, and Kentucky was recovering from NCAA sanctions after an envelope full of money burst open while being delivered to a recruit. The game was a revelation to hoops fans. The Kentucky players, overmatched in the talent department, utilized coach Rick Pitino’s high-octane offense and ridiculously hardcore training. They stretched Duke’s players to the ends of their abilities.  Behind the scenes, Wojciechowski shows the effects of sanctions on Kentucky, recaps the season leading up to the tournament, details both coaches’ stresses and worries, and tells the story of the game itself, quarter by quarter, as it heads for its amazing conclusion.

Why I picked it up: My son got it for Christmas, and as soon as he had raced through it I had dibs. I remember watching the game live, as a senior in college, and being shocked at the ending — it truly might be the best game of any kind that I’ve ever seen!

Why I finished it: The way two of Duke’s star players, Hurley and Laettner, worked together was the main reason for their team’s stellar season, but Wojciechowski shows there was quite a bit of tension between the two. The older Laettner played the part of mentor and tormentor to toughen up the younger Hurley. It got so bad that Hurley finally hurled a ball straight into Laettner’s face from three feet away during practice, and then, fearing retribution, ran out of the gym.  Also, Kentucky was playing with a bunch of local heros and nobodies, and it was thought they would be unable to compete at the highest level, so this game had the potential to provide a Hoosiers moment.

I’d give it to: Trent, who has every John Feinstein NCAA basketball book collected in hardback in his bookcase (the best is A Season on the Brink). This book reminded me of the investigative pattern Feinstein uses in his books to explain how the big moments in basketball have heightened meaning if you understand the background.

Luz Sees the Light

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novel

Luz’s city is prone to frequent blackouts. Because the price of fuel is on the rise, everything is more expensive, including the shoes that she’s been saving for. Her cranky neighbor Gord reacts by stocking up for the end of the world. But Luz finds a better way to spend her energy — with the help of her friends, she fixes up an abandoned lot in her neighborhood.

Why I picked it up: I flipped through it and saw that Dávila used only one color (a light, creamy yellowish brown) in addition to black and white. I love comics that do this (as I’ve said before).

Why I finished it: I really enjoyed the emotional range Dávila’s characters express, despite how few lines she uses to draw them. And I loved how she shows the change of light during the blackouts by using the color for lines, white for highlights, and black for the fill color — it’s beautiful.

I’d give it to: My friend Emily, who would love the reason Robert acts “all freaky and secretive” (hint: she adores rabbits). She’d enjoy this herself, and there’s a chance her preschool-aged son, Iggy, might like it, despite the lack of talking cars.

Old City Blues

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged science fictiongraphic novelmystery

Agent Solano fights crime in a futuristic, post-flood New Athens reminiscent of both Blade Runner and The Ghost in the Shell. Someone or some robot has been murdering cyborgs. The latest victim is the Hayashi of the Hayashi Corporation, which practically rebuilt Greece after the flood. Then the investigation leads back to the Hayashi Corporation itself.

Why I picked it up: Sean at Seattle’s University District Comic Stop told me it was worth reading.

Why I finished it: Milonogiannis uses black, white, and a single shade of gray to create many interesting effects with “light” in the book. Parallel lines are used to show speed, which is normal, but in some scenes they add to the texture of objects and the background, and once to show that an image is a hologram. I loved the way this book looks.

I’d give it to: Manga expert Robin Brenner. The screen tones and the sketchy quality of the art would remind her of FLCL, and this would probably be the first graphic novel by a Greek creator she’s ever read. (Mine, too.)

The Survival Kit

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

Rose’s mom, a font of energy and joy, passed away several months ago. Both Rose and her father are having a tough time dealing with her death; her father disappears or drinks, and Rose avoids things that remind her of her mother. The laconic teen boy who takes care of her mother’s gardens, Will, is able to empathize because he suffered a similar loss. Then Rose discovers a survival kit that her mother hid and left for Rose before her death, and it begins to help her live and feel again.

Why I picked it up: I read Freitas’ This Gorgeous Game last year, an entertaining book about a respected priest and educator who grooms a young female protégé for nefarious purposes. 

Why I finished it: It moved me to the point of tears when Rose saw others’ love for her mother, a grade-school teacher who had struggled against cancer. This ground has been tread by other writers before, but Freitas brings a poignancy to Rose’s and Will’s feelings about grieving for a loved one that never feels mawkish or clichéd.

I’d give it to: I tried to give it to my wife, who lost her mother suddenly, years ago. I hoped it might be something she could read and see herself in. She refused, but I am still leaving it around the house and by her bed in the hope that she’ll pick it up. 

Where Children Sleep

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged coffee table booknonfiction

As a part of a project on children’s rights for a division of Benetton, Mollison travelled the world taking pictures of where children age four to seventeen sleep, which he pairs with a portrait of each child. The rooms are everything from a suburban bedroom to a shared common room in a mud hut.

Why I picked it up: The teens I booktalk to love to see books about ordinary life in other parts of the world.

Why I finished it: The book shows cultural differences, the divide between rich and poor families, and the effect that political and criminal conflicts have on kids. Even in the U.S., it’s clear kids are dealing with difficult living situations that the photographs make it hard to ignore.

I’d give it to: Gail, who teaches junior high social studies. She can use it to start discussions with her students on tough global issues like refugees, homelessness, AIDS, child labor, and drug abuse while giving the kids human faces to connect with.

The Woodcutter

Link to this review by emilyjones tagged mystery

Wilfred “Wolf” Hadda had a life others could only dream of. The son of a poor woodcutter, he fell in love with the daughter of his father’s employer, married her, and built a successful business. But the fairy tale ended when he was convicted of an unspeakable crime and sent to prison.

Now, after years of silence, Wolf shares his journal entries with the prison psychiatrist. Released on early parole, he returns to his childhood home to the surprise of the people who abandoned him when he was convicted.

Why I picked it up: The cover looked menacing. Then I read the quote from The Count of Monte Cristo on the page before the prologue: “I must have been mad,” he said, “the day I started planning revenge, not to have ripped my heart out!”

Why I finished it: I wasn’t sure if I could trust Wolf’s narrative or his motives. I also felt an affinity for the psychiatrist as her determination to figure Wolf out begins to jeopardize her career and her private life. She is sucked into his story and blurs the line that defines the doctor/patient relationship.

I’d give it to: Derek, who has more than occasionally shared detailed revenge fantasies involving former coworkers, a boss or two, and a bully from eighth grade, and whose mind will be blown by the ingenuity and patience required for Wolf to carry out his intricate plans. 

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