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First Day On Earth

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by geneambaum tagged science fictioncoming of age

Marvel Comics The Untold Story

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfictiongraphic novel

When Stan Lee got his first comic writing credit in 1941, the industry was very different than today. At one point early in Lee’s career, four in five grade school children read comic books. (That number is now less than one in ten.) Back then many comics were simply compilations of newspaper strips. They were cheaply illustrated, pulpy, and simplistic. Today’s comics, because of new printing technology, use an extensive color palette and feature sharp details as well as longer, more complex stories.

In the 1960s, Lee was a demanding, controlling editor and writer at Marvel who ran a crew of writers, inkers and artists in cramped offices while developing characters that are still popular today, including Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four and others. Many creators who had given decades to Marvel, like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, ended their working relationships with the company because of they way they were treated. (Some started their own companies or worked for competitors, though most ended up back at Marvel.)

Why I picked it up: My parents didn’t encourage me to read comics when I was a kid, but I loved them when I got my hands on them.

Why I finished it: There were interesting details about lawsuits filed by the creators of popular characters seeking royalties. Stan Lee fired writers and artists who complained about their rights, claiming the contracts were very clear and that all characters were owned lock, stock and barrel by Marvel. Lee has continued to defend the company at the cost of lifelong friendships with artists who were there from the beginning, including Kirby. (Kirby received a token payment from Marvel instead of a portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars his characters have earned for the company. His estate unsuccessfully pursued lawsuits until last year.) For his support, Lee was rewarded with a lucrative one million dollar per year contract, though that contract was later voided because of Marvel’s bankruptcy.

I’d give it to: Mark, who has collected Hawkeye comics since childhood. He would have to admit that he has been manipulated by crossovers over the years because whenever Hawkeye appears in another book, he buys it.

Mamika My Mighty Little Grandmother

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged nonfictioncoffee table book

When photographer Sacha Goldberger discovers his beloved ninety-something grandmother is getting a little blue, he brings purpose back to her life by making her his number-one model.

Why I picked it up: I saw a few of the photos from this series on Boing Boing and was completely drawn in.  I’ve never seen so many great pictures of someone so old.

Why I finished it: Once you start going through the photos you realize that Mamika is a brilliant comedian. At first she is merely humoring her grandson, but you can see that once she discovers how much fun she’s having, something blossoms deep within her for the first time in years. 

I’d give it to: Sunny. As I turn forty she is getting ready to retire at seventy. She has promised me that my next thirty years are full of all kinds of adventures, and I expect her future will be as unapologetically full of fun, style, and glamor as Mamika’s.


Link to this review by flemtastic tagged fantasy

The prince’s decapitated body has just been discovered. One of the dragons in human form seems to be responsible. Dragon-human relations are at their lowest point since the peace was signed decades ago. 

Phina recently joined the royal court as musical tutor to the princess. If anyone spots the band of scales on her body, or otherwise finds out she’s a half-dragon, she could lose everything. Yet she joins the deceased prince’s bastard brother, Kiggs, to figure out who killed the prince and find a way to maintain the fragile peace.

Why I picked it up: The enthusiastic cover blurb by Christopher Paolini and because a friend told me that the dragons in this book are unique in the fantasy genre.

Why I finished it: The dragons are in human form, but their personalities come across as almost Vulcan — they have a hard time recognizing emotions in others, greet people awkwardly, and have a scientific bent. Phina’s interactions with her tutor (a dragon) are among the most heartwarming and interesting to me. They clearly love and respect each other, but her tutor cannot admit it for fear of falling prey to his emotions.

I’d give it to: Imogene, who reads my library’s dragon books. She would love that Hartman’s dragons scheme and plot, yet also have to take care of everyday tasks like tending their scales with oil.

The Shiniest Jewel A Family Love Story

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelbiography

Unmarried at age fifty, Marian Henley decides to adopt a baby from Russia. Dealing with the bureaucracy and paperwork of the adoption is heartbreaking at times. Adding to her stress, Marian and her boyfriend try to figure out what this means for their relationship, and her father’s health takes a turn for the worse.

Why I picked it up: It was on the graphic novel shelf at my local public library next to a Fantastic Four book by Jonathan Hickman.

Why I finished it: Henley’s drawings remind me of John Porcellino’s comics in that both use simple lines of equal weight to tell highly personal stories. Henley is particularly masterful at drawing faces with just a few strokes, with which she manages to express the entire range of human emotions.

I’d give it to: Megan, who would admire Henley’s courage at deciding to adopt alone, and also the problems she faced trying to explain her decision to others.


Link to this review by geneambaum tagged fantasywestern

Jesse Fox stops in Tombstone on the way to Mexico, only to discover that his friend, Dr. Chow Lung, has been expecting him. Fox tries to deny that magic exists and that he has strange powers. He’s drawn into a conflict with unknown sorcerers on behalf of his friend and the city. He’s also drawn to an attractive young widow, Mildred Benjamin, whom he tries to spend time with (it’s difficult because she’s determined to be proper despite how far they are from polite society).

Why I picked it up: I’ve been craving westerns. The fact that this was supposed to have magic, too, didn’t hurt.

Why I finished it: As Jesse Fox slowly starts to understand his powers, it becomes clear that others are also using magic in and around Tombstone. Wyatt Earp is clearly one of them. But it’s wonderfully unclear if Earp is utterly evil, or out to protect his family and Doc Holliday, or both. (Holiday himself, after he becomes aware of magic, is suspicious of Earp, who may be responsible for Holiday’s sickness.)

I’d give it to: Jenny, who would enjoy Mildred Benjamin’s journey from typesetter to writer, from proper widow to being herself.

Blizzard of Glass The Halifax Explosion of 1917

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged history

The explosion caused by a collision and fire aboard a ship loaded with WWI munitions in Halifax’s harbor in 1917 was the largest explosion ever (until Hiroshima). It scarred a generation. The mistakes leading to the disaster and the stories of the families that were shattered are told from moment to moment.

Why I picked it up: I love Walker’s nonfiction, and I hadn’t read anything on this disaster.

Why I finished it: In her discussion of sources Walker says that most adult witnesses never spoke of the day that started with a massive shockwave and ended with fires and a blizzard. Only the children would talk about what had happened to them. The stories told by the children of five families capture the strange, disjointed day in heartbreaking detail: the brother identified only by his watch, the young girl trapped under an overturned sink, and the mother who never spent the five-dollar bill that her husband was carrying when he died.

I’d give it to: John, an avid family historian, for the importance that stored artifacts, packed away since the day of the disaster, played in uncovering these stories.

The Thief

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged mystery

A pickpocket drifts along, lifting wallets from people on the subway. Recently he took part in an armed robbery at the insistence of some gangsters. His friend, who was also there, hasn’t been seen again. As he looks into the disappearance, the thief finds he has the attention of a cruel, manipulative, and powerful man.

Why I picked it up: I like mysteries set in foreign countries, and I decided to give this a try because it’s short (211 pages) and won the 2009 Kenzaburo Oe Prize.

Why I finished it: In a grocery store, the thief sees a mother and her son shoplifting. They’ve already been caught by the store detective, but don’t realize it yet. He warns them, and then gives them tips on how to steal, starting an odd relationship with the boy and his mother that lasts the entire book.

I’d give it to: Sung, who loves Takashi Miike’s more extreme films. He would enjoy the mystery surrounding the head gangster because as the thief finds out more about him, the only thing that’s revealed is the gangster’s cruelty.

Bay Area Graffiti

Link to this review by davidtomashek tagged nonfictioncoffee table bookart

In 2004, Steve Rotman began photographing graffiti in and around San Francisco. This book collects a few hundred of his best photos. There are many types of graffiti represented, from scrawled tags to large representational murals. Many are elaborate pieces representing the artists’ names with dozens of colors and art that seems to jump off (or break out of) the walls they’re painted on. Rotman spent a lot of time with the artists themselves, and some pages feature an artist’s work and commentary.

Why I picked it up: One summer I took pictures of graffiti all over Denver. I loved that a blank space could suddenly be filled with art, and I was shocked that it could disappear just as quickly. This book succeeds in recording some of this fleeting work.

Why I finished it: I have always been clueless about graffiti culture. This book challenged a number of my assumptions, including calling them “graffiti artists.” They use the term “writer” to distinguish themselves from street artists (the irony being that only street artists try to push a message). There is a vast array of attitudes among these writers, ranging from

“I hate that the one thing that I know how to do and the one thing that I really love is against the law.”


“I don’t want to have graffiti in my life as an art form. It’s a way to vandalize. I like that graffiti is totally detached from society and that it’s hated.”

I’d give it to: Kathy. Over coffee at Muddy’s she used to regale me with the exploits of taggers like Xmen, who allegedly tagged a police station. Occasionally I would take a break from her banter and go to the restroom to read the walls.

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