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Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by billba tagged chapter bookhumor

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@bookblurb A woman who loves children provides parents with uniquely effective solutions to their kids' behavioral problems.

Never Fall Down

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged historical fiction

Arn is a hustler on the streets of his Cambodian village, selling ice cream and making money however he can. Then the Khmer Rouge army rolls into his village and life turns upside-down. All the villagers are separated from their possessions and their relatives, given a pair of black pajamas, and forced to work in rice paddies. (Farming was considered a traditional Cambodian job, and the Khmer wanted to eliminate all Western influences.) The lack of food and water plus the long hours claim many lives. But more are executed by the sadistic soldiers who are out to eliminate Cambodia’s intelligentsia. The Khmer kill anyone wearing glasses, with soft hands, or those who lack a tan (which shows they don’t work outdoors).

Arn survives four years in the work camps. He does his best not to stand out or draw attention to himself in any way. Then, once he understands the Khmer, he ingratiates himself by learning a native musical instrument (the khim) and then playing it at the Khmer leaders’ parties. When the Vietnamese army nears, Arn is forced to fight for the Khmer.

After a chaotic trip across Cambodia, Arn is near dead. He is rescued and taken to a refugee camp. From there he is eventually sent to the U.S. where a foster family takes him in. Despite difficulties adjusting to his new life because of his past and his guilt over fighting for the Khmer, Arn opens up and publicly speaks about his experiences in Cambodia.

Why I picked it up: Patricia McCormick has a reputation for tackling tough issues like child slavery (Sold), an Iraq War veteran’s guilt over killing a civilian (Purple Heart), and self-mutilation (Cut).

Why I finished it: One of the first “R” rated movies my parents ever let me watch was The Year of Living Dangerously, about an American journalist covering the Cambodian Civil War. At the end, when he flees, he has to abandon his Cambodian assistant to the Khmer Rouge and the killing fields. This book will inform students of the same horrific events. This is not to imply the events of the war are sanitized; they aren’t, but they’re not sensationalized, either. Arn witnesses life-shattering brutality until he is completely desensitized: he is told to shove bodies into a stinking pit of corpses after a Khmer soldier kills the people one by one with an axe (so that no bullets are wasted). The contrast between life in Cambodia versus life in the U.S. is startling; he and his fellow refugees stuff their pockets with food at one of their first dinners here because they’re not sure when they’ll see that much food again.

I’d give it to: A former student of mine whose his father killed his mother and then himself right in front of him. He has struggled to not let that incident affect every aspect of his life, and I hope he would see himself in Arn’s attempt to overcome the horror of what he witnessed.

@bookblurb Arn made a living on the streets of his Cambodian village. Then the brutal Khmer Rouge turned his life upside-down.

Barnum's Bones How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged picture bookhistory

Even when he was a little kid, Barnum Brown found and collected fossils on his family’s farm. By the time he went to college, he was digging up entire dinosaurs in South Dakota and Wyoming. He was good enough that he was hired to find enough dinosaurs to make the American Museum of Natural History in New York the greatest in the world!

Why I picked it up: The T. Rex Barnum Brown found in Montana is the centerpiece of the museum today — everyone wants to see it first! And the book’s endpapers, the first bit I saw, had the letters back and forth between Brown and Professor Osborn, the man who hired him, while Brown was dinosaur hunting.

Why I finished it: I had thought of paleontology as being a slow and painstaking process. But I found out it can also be a race against time, and a competition with other museums to find the best stuff!

I’d give it to: Paul, a snappy dresser, who will be delighted that Brown wore a suit and tie, shined boots, a bowler hat, and a full-length fur coat even when he was out in the field.

@bookblurb Young Barnum Brown collected fossils on his family’s farm. He became one of the best dinosaur hunters in the world.

The Great Pearl Heist London's Greatest Thief and Scotland Yard's Hunt for the World's Most Valuable Necklace

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged historymystery

Pearls used to be much more difficult to obtain they are today (due to farmed pearls).  Divers would risk life and limb bringing up oysters from deep in the ocean then traders would buy them in batches, hoping that one would contain a pearl. The brokers who purchased pearls had a hard time matching them for jewelry. In 1913, after a decade in the making, a beautiful, fifty pearl necklace worth more than twice as much as the Hope Diamond hit the market in London and Paris. While this necklace was being mailed between Paris and London (as was the custom at the time), a gang of thieves that had surveilled the owners stole the necklace and disappeared. Joseph Grizzard, the gang leader, was widely held to be the greatest thief of his time. But he still had to dispose of the loot for hard cash. This is where Scotland Yard detective Alfred Ward entered the case. It became a chess match between the two as each, aware of the other’s involvement, attempted to do his job. 

Why I picked it up: I love detailed descriptions of famous crimes.

Why I finished it: Grizzard was quite a character.  He once stole the Ascot Cup, a 68-ounce gold cup made by King Edward as a trophy for a horse race. He was never convicted of the theft, but he was known to serve drinks from it at his dinner parties. Grizzard was wealthy and did not need the money from the necklace; he enjoyed the planning and intrigue. And Grizzard was cool under fire. When police came to a dinner party he was holding to fence some jewels, they searched his house, finding nothing. He then fished the jewels out of his soup and restarted the bidding. 

I’d give it to: Rich, because he would love that the success of a major heist might turn on something small and uncontrollable. For example, it’s possible that Grizzard’s usually sound judgment was clouded by his diabetes.

@bookblurb The world’s greatest thief tries to fence a fifty-pearl necklace before Scotland Yard can bring him to justice.

Thomas Jefferson The Art of Power

Link to this review by billba tagged biographyhistory

A new biography of Thomas Jefferson, with a special focus on his mastery of politics.

Why I picked it up: I love learning about history through the lens of one person’s life, but for the most part I’ve never been very interested in the early Presidents. Then I saw Jefferson in Paris and became fascinated by his long relationship with his slave/half-sister-in-law, Sally Hemings, who I now always assume looked just like Thandie Newton.

Why I finished it: It filled in a few gaps about their relationship, relying in part on the memories of their children. It also emphasized that the author of the Declaration of Independence was overseas, serving as ambassador to France, while the Constitution and Bill of Rights was written, and watched from the sidelines. And when Jefferson finally returned home to become the first Secretary of State, this founding father and icon of the Revolution found that he didn’t know half the people he was supposed to be working with.

I’d give it to: My Dad, who never fails to let me know that we are descended from Dr. David Hosack, one of the witnesses to Alexander Hamilton’s fatal duel with Aaron Burr. He would enjoy hearing details about the long political (and philosophical) rivalry between Jefferson and Hamilton. Jefferson eventually commissioned marble busts of Hamilton and himself and placed them in his home, facing each other, so that they might be in respectful opposition for all eternity.

@bookblurb A biography of Thomas Jefferson that focuses on his mastery of politics.

The Drifting Classroom Volume 1
The Drifting Classroom Volume 2
The Drifting Classroom Volume 3

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged horrorgraphic novel

A young boy, Sho, has a fight with his mother. He leaves for elementary school, but soon after he arrives there is a huge explosion. All that’s left of the school is a huge crater. Everyone assumes all of the children and teachers were killed.

To those in the school, it seemed like there was a massive earthquake that lasted for several minutes. When it’s over, Sho, the teachers, and the other students discover they’re in the middle of a desert wasteland. At first they assume the city around them was destroyed and that somehow the school was spared. But there’s evidence that something much weirder is happening.

The kids panic. The principal stabs a hysterical kid with his glasses to get everyone’s attention. Food and water are in short supply. Kids and teachers turn on one another. Many die horribly and violently at the hands of those they trusted and respected.

And somehow Sho’s mother can hear her son calling for help.

Publisher’s Rating: Rated M for Mature / Parental Advisory Explicit Content

Why I picked it up: I was talking to Yuji, who is on sabbatical in Seattle for a year from his job at a Japanese university. He asked me what I do for a living, and I told him about Unshelved. He told me he used to translate books for Viz, including Inoue’s Vagabond. I completely geeked out (and probably scared him with my enthusiasm for the series). I asked him what series I should read and, without hesitation, he told me about this weird horror title (which he also translated).

Why I finished it: For the same reason I watch foreign horror films. American horror movies almost always use the same old tricks to make me jump. But when I watch horror movies from other countries, I have no idea what’s going to happen, and I feel truly uneasy. This book gave me that same feeling because of the teacher who’s a serial killer, the insanely violent school lunch delivery man, and the children jumping from the building. And there’s more.

I’d give it to: My niece, Kyli. She’s only twelve, but her parents have let her see every horror movie she’s wanted to watch. I’m not sure why she likes them — she seems immune to scenes that scare her friends. But I’ve been using her love of the genre to introduce her to YA and adult horror books over the last year, and her birthday is coming.

@bookblurb An “earthquake” strands a Japanese grade school in a horrific wasteland. Students and teachers turn on each other.

The Holy or the Broken Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah"

Link to this review by ang tagged nonfiction

Filling two notebooks with approximately eighty verses, Leonard Cohen spent half a decade writing the song “Hallelujah.” The original version, vocally overproduced and synthesizer-laden, was tucked away on the second side of an album that CBS deemed a disaster and refused to release. Instead of quietly rolling over and becoming a footnote in Cohen’s canon, “Hallelujah” began a slow and improbable metamorphosis. The song proved to be extremely malleable; by adding, subtracting, or rearranging verses, artists reinterpreted the song in their own ways. 

Alan Light follows it through the nearly 30 years since it was first recorded, explaining its roots, literary value, and its absolute refusal to give up and go away. He pays particular attention to its many manifestations, in particular John Cale’s restructuring of the song, and both its role as the defining performance in Jeff Buckley’s tragic story, and the way Buckley’s version became the “definitive representation of sadness for a new generation” after 9/11.

Why I picked it up: “Hallelujah” was the first song I tried to play on my magical ukulele. It is a simple song, and Cohen’s limited range makes it accessible to those of us whose voices are best restricted to the shower and the car. Despite its musical simplicity, it’s deeply complicated on an emotional level. I wanted to know why this song gets under people’s skin.

Why I finished it: I became fascinated with the innumerable covers of this song.  Throughout the book, musicians tell personal stories of how they discovered “Hallelujah,” what it means to them, and how they chose to interpret it. John Cale recollects coming home to find his floor covered with faxed verses after asking Cohen for lyrics to work with. Cale transformed the song, intertwining biblical imagery of temptation and downfall with sexual undertones and longing. He replaced Cohen’s redemptive elements with desolation, and stripped the arrangement down to a single piano. This raw, emotional version became the new standard. 

I expected other cover versions to come across as a hundred tedious retellings of the same story. Instead, they turned out to be a hundred vibrant, nuanced stories somehow all told using the same words. The descriptions of the recordings, paired with a listing in the back of the book, fueled a full-blown YouTube “Hallelujah” addiction.

I’d give it to: Walker, to whom I have passed notes since the tenth grade. Though we’ve evolved from notebook paper to electronic messages, we still punctuate our conversations with movie quotes, song lyrics, and great lines from books.  This one is full of quotable moments; in particular, he’ll like Bono’s apology for his truly wretched version, and Kurt Cobain’s plea for “a Leonard Cohen afterworld, so I can sigh eternally.”

@bookblurb The origin of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah" and its numerous, nuanced reinterpretations.

The Longest Way Home One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down

Link to this review by sharonlevin tagged nonfictionbiography

Actor Andrew McCarthy (Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire) has a second life as a travel writer: he is an editor-at-large at National Geographic Traveler and has written for the The New York Times, The Atlantic, and many other magazines. 

In this book, McCarthy travels the world while trying to figure out why he can’t follow through on a wedding with his fiancée, the mother of his four-year-old daughter. Go down the Amazon? Sure. Climb Kilimanjaro? No problem. Commit yourself to the love of your life? Um, later maybe. 

Why I picked it up: I picked it up because McCarthy would have been my dream date, once upon a time.

Why I finished it: McCarthy is an outstanding writer. His prose is fluent without being overly flowery, and he travels to places I would never go. McCarthy’s adventure on the Osa Peninsula, for example (the subtitle of the chapter is “People said to avoid this place”), begins when he grabs the small plane he’s about to board and gives the wing a shake. “The entire plane rocks badly.” He goes on a night hike in the jungle where his guide has a long pole and hook, in case of snakes. (The worst is the smallest (and hardest to see), the poisonous fer-de-lance.) But it’s not just the wildlife that makes the Osa a scary place, it’s the humans: prostitution, drugs, armed crazies. One of his guides shrugs and says, “It’s the Osa.”  

I’d give it to: Lis, who loved the spiritual journey in Eat, Pray, Love and the edge of your seat reading experience of Into Thin Air. This book is a perfect combination of the two.  

@bookblurb After life as a teen idol, Andrew McCarthy avoids settling down by becoming a globe-trotting travel writer.

The Infinite Horizon

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novel

A modern, dystopian retelling of The Odyssey.

An American army Captain is fighting an unwinnable war in the middle east. After a series of tactical catastrophes the U.S. is pulling out. The Captain and his men hold the airport against relentless attacks. After the last plane leaves, they dress themselves in civilian clothes and begin a long, wayward journey home.

Back in upstate New York, the Captain’s wife is trying to keep their son and their land safe. Armed men fight one another for the water she controls. She wishes her husband were home, but does what needs to be done after her son is kidnapped.

Contains The Infinite Horizon #1 - #6.

Publisher’s Rating: T+ / Teen Plus

Why I picked it up: Great, minimalistic cover featuring the Captain walking toward me against a faded orange background.

Why I finished it: The early scene, when the Captain takes out a pirate submarine with a small boat showed me that the book was going to hold nothing back. And the vision of the cyclops as a Russian cyborg killing machine was simply excellent.

I’d give it to: Dawn, because there’s something any teen librarian could love about the way the Captain takes a group of heavily-armed African child soldiers under his wing.

@bookblurb A retelling of The Odyssey: a U.S. army captain tries to return home after an unwinnable war in the Middle East.

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