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The Rise of Ransom City

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by billba tagged science fictionalternate historywesternfantasy

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Why I Picked It Up: I loved The Half-Made World, for which this is a sort of sequel, although the two books are quite different and absolutely stand on their own.

@bookblurb The autobiography of the inventor of the Ransom Process, which could end the war between the Line and the Gun.

Fortunately, the Milk

Link to this review by wally tagged chapter bookhumor

Two children want milk for their breakfast, and with their mum away, dad is responsible for going down to the store and getting some. When he returns much, much later, he explains that he was captured by aliens. He jumped off their flying saucer and landed in the sea, where he was captured by pirates. He was walking the plank when a rope ladder appeared from the sky. He climbed up to a hot air balloon piloted by a time-traveling dinosaur named Dr. Steg. After that, things got really silly.

Why I picked it up: I’ll read anything by Neil Gaiman, so this short children’s book was too good to pass up.

Why I finished it: The father tells the most outrageous story, and yet it hangs together.  Also, the pen and ink illustrations by Skottie Young give it just the right sense of wackiness.

It’s perfect for: John, who loves reading to his kids (and occasionally making up his own stories). He’d love the quick plot, how every detail ends up perfectly explained, and the smug look on the father’s face when he finishes the tale and hands over the milk.

@bookblurb Dad goes to the store to get milk and comes back much later with an excuse involving aliens, pirates, and a dinosaur.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged literarycoming of age

“If you believe you are the author of this book, please contact Haslett & Grouse Publishers (New York, New York) at your first convenience.” With that begins this odd, hypnotic debut novel about a frustrated writer, his wunderkind roommate/rival, and the actress they both love in different ways. From college through young adulthood, from New York to Thailand to Ghana to Iceland, this story of a man who always wanted to be a writer, but who managed to lose every novel he ever wrote, has enough twists and turns to keep even the most careful reader guessing.

Why I picked it up: Like Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, the novel explores issues of youth, talent, wasted potential, and unrequited love. Plus the cover features a leopard with a typewriter for a head.

Why I finished it: It reads like interlocked short stories. Links from one chapter to the next provide continuity, while our unreliable narrator plants subtle (and unsubtle) changes throughout the story to keep the reader off-balance.

It’s perfect for: Your favorite college sophomore. The novel has just enough literary oomph to make him or her feel smart, without getting bogged down with self-importance.

@bookblurb The story of a man who always wanted to be a writer but who lost every novel he ever wrote.

People I Want to Punch in the Throat Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged essayshumor

Jen Mann says the things that we all think but don’t feel comfortable verbalizing. Usually she does this in her super-popular blog of the same name. In this book of collected wisdom from the frazzled mother and wife, she goes into more depth pointing out the over-the-top behavior of the suburban housewives that surround her. Mann and her husband (always referred to as “the Hubs”) moved from New York City to Kansas to start a family and, as Mann puts it, to get away from “rubbing up against strangers’ junk on the [crowded] subway.” However, trouble finds her. It’s nothing major, just her cleaning lady suddenly moving to St. Louis, the hyper-competitive bake-sales at school, a Mom’s Night Out at the gun range, and more.

Why I picked it up: I had never heard of the blog, but the title of the book was funny and I figured that anyone who could come up with it deserved to have her book read.

Why I finished it: Even though I am a librarian and working dad, I found a ton to identify with. I laughed out loud when she said that whenever she sees a pair of Truck Nutz (fake testicles usually attached to the back of a jacked up SUV or truck), she immediately thinks “small penis.” She is down-to-earth and willing to share her experiences, even slightly embarrassing facts like that she met her husband on AOL. Lastly, I felt like she was my female doppelganger when she referenced Red Dawn, a horrible yet memorable Patrick Swayze movie I remember watching when I was a teen.

It’s perfect for: My friend Sugar, who was once asked about her front bottom by one of her young girls when they were showering together. Because Mann reports a similar conversation with her four-year-old about a mustache on her “china,” I think they’d have a lot to talk about if they ever met. Moreover, I think Sugar would die laughing at some of Mann’s other misadventures, like her showdown with a committee of superior classroom moms planning a sugar-free Halloween party.

@bookblurb Wife and mother Jen Mann shares her experiences and rants about the suburban housewives that surround her.

Asylum of the Birds

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged artcoffee table book

A monograph of ninety black and white photographs by Roger Ballen. Live birds feature in most, along with people (or sometimes just a body part intruding into the scene), animals, masks, wires, sculptures, other found objects, and photographs. There are usually sketchy drawings on the walls or whatever is in the background.

Why I picked it up: That photograph on the cover looks freaky, especially the person wearing the wide-eyed mask with the dead bird in its mouth. (It’s the top left picture in this gallery containing images from the book).)

Why I finished it: Overall the photos are as spooky as they are compelling. In “Smirk,” bones are posed atop what appears to be a piece of leather. On the leather are drawings that may be faces. Beneath one, which partially incorporates a fold, is a row of teeth. It took me a moment to realize that those belong to a person posing behind (or perhaps beneath?) the drawing. Creepy.

Readalikes: This reminds me of the work of Dave McKean, both his dark drawings in books like Varjak Paw and especially his Sandman covers, which featured unexpected collages of bones and other objects.

@bookblurb Artsy black and white photos featuring birds, found objects, and people (or just a few of their body parts).

Year of the Jungle Memories from the Home Front

Link to this review by snow tagged picture bookhistorical fiction

Suzy’s father is going away to a place called “Viet Nam.” She hears that it is a jungle and thinks of her favorite cartoon character, who lives in a cartoon jungle. Maybe Viet Nam will be like that. But as the year rolls on, her father’s postcards arrive further and further apart before finally stopping completely. Suzy begins to worry that her father will never come home.

Why I picked it up: My father went to Vietnam before I was born. He doesn’t talk much about it, and the few stories he’s shared have been sobering enough that I haven’t wanted to press him for more, though my mom has told me a little. And I was wondering what life was like for my friend Ken’s two kids when he was sent to Afghanistan.

Why I finished it: Proimos’ art might, at first, seem an odd fit, with its bright, cheerful colors and big-eyed, cartoonish figures. By the end of the story, though, his pictures of a happy, if worried, home life contrast nicely with the fears that young Suzy has for her absent father, allowing me to fully feel the family’s anxiety and their dependency on one another.

Collins sticks with the same first-person point of view which makes the stories in her Hunger Games series so immediate and powerful, and aptly captures the feelings of a little girl. Suzy’s voice becomes more worried and confused as the year drags on.

In the end I didn’t learn any more about Viet Nam, but that was okay. I feel like I got to know the feelings of family members at home, and maybe I can talk about it with my mother, who was just a high school senior when her boyfriend (who became my father) and her older brother went off to war. And I was left with this: “Maybe my dad is lost in the jungle. Maybe he can’t get out. Maybe he never will.” My father has been slowly leaving the jungle for over forty years now. I hope that Suzy’s has been, too.

It’s perfect for: Jason, who has an idea for a horror comic for kids. He needs to see how Proimos builds the tension in Suzy’s nightmare visions of what the jungle must be like. Her dreams gradually get darker and more dangerous while remaining appropriate for a young audience, which is a delicate balance.

@bookblurb After Suzy’s father goes to Vietnam, his postcards arrive further and further apart and finally stop completely.

Fu-go The Curious History of Japan's Balloon Bomb Attack on America

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged history

During WWII, there was a Japanese army unit tasked with creating balloons that would use the strong trade winds to cross the Pacific Ocean, then randomly drop incendiary bombs to start forest fires and create havoc in the U.S. This was a direct response to the Doolittle raid. Several hundred of these balloon-bombs (made with a curiously strong paper) successfully flew over the Pacific carrying a rig of ingenious ballast bags full of sand and bombs. The jet stream at 30,000 feet could carry a balloon from Japan to the United States in three days if everything went well. The United States military scrambled to come up with a method to track or eliminate the balloons, and to rob Japan of their propaganda value by censoring mention of them from local papers. This also endangered citizens who came across the balloons unawares. Over 9,000 balloons were launched, and more than 300 were found in the United States, some as far east as Michigan. The only known fatalities from the balloons were in Bly, Oregon, where six people (mostly children) were killed at a picnic.

Why I picked it up: This is the kind of history that I want to know. How had I not heard of this weapon? Was it successful? For me, this ranks right up there with training dolphins to destroy enemy ships at sea.

Why I finished it: All of Japan united behind the emperor and the war effort. The Japanese schoolgirls in factories who pasted together the strong, light sheets of paper did not know their eventual use, they just knew they were for the war. Sumo venues and music halls were taken over to test-inflate the large balloons. One balloon hit high-voltage lines outside the Hanford nuclear facility, cutting power for several hours. Hanford produced much of the plutonium that was in the nuclear bombs that later hit Nagasaki and Hiroshima. United States authorities were particularly worried about biological warfare agents being spread via the balloons, but there was no indication there was ever anything but incendiary devices on board.

It’s perfect for: My son Caleb. He is a junior at Western Washington University, studying to be a high school history teacher. He wants to be a fount of off-beat information like this to interest his students.

@bookblurb During WWII, the Japanese army launched over 9,000 balloons across the Pacific to drop bombs on the U.S.

Superman and the Men of Steel (The New 52) (Superman Action Comics Volume 1)
Bulletproof (The New 52) (Superman Action Comics Volume 2)
At the End of Days (The New 52) (Superman Action Comics Volume 3)

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged superherographic novel

At the beginning of this relaunch of the DC Universe, Superman is new in Metropolis. He’s feared and he doesn’t have his full powers. He’s seen as menacing not just by Lex Luthor, but by the police, who are trying to arrest him for being a vigilante.

This all quickly changes and the tide turns against Luthor, even though the world realizes Superman is an alien. Then it’s on to a convoluted series of expertly interwoven stories involving time travel, the Legion of Super-Heroes, beings from the fifth dimension, the Anti-Superman Army, the death of Clark Kent, the Phantom Zone and Superman’s dog, Krypto.

Contains Superman — Action Comics #1 - #8; #0, #9 - #12, Annual #1; and #13 - #18 respectively.

Why I picked it up: Morrison’s All-Star Superman is one of my favorite graphic novels. I wanted to see what he’d done with Superman in DC’s New 52.

Why I finished it: There’s a great moment in the first book where Superman stops to save a girl’s cat from a tree, and the girl from being run over by a truck. She screams, completely freaked out. It was so against my expectations that it was hilarious.

Morrison always has a plan, and it always comes together beautifully. I trusted him, and it paid off. Images and incidents in Volume 1 are inexplicable until “ah ha!” moments in Volume 3.

Readalikes: My other favorite Superman comic, Superman: For All Seasons which, in addition to being the best version of the classic Superman origin story, is one of the most subtly, beautifully colored comics I’ve ever seen.

@bookblurb Superman is new to Metropolis. He doesn’t have his full powers, plus he’s seen as a menace by Lex Luthor and police.

An Age of License A Travelogue

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged graphic novelbiography

The stars aligned and allowed Knisley to travel all over Europe: Norway for a comics festival, France to stay with her vacationing mom, Germany to see friends, and Sweden to visit a cute guy she’d met in New York. She’s more self-assured than she was during her trip in French Milk, but travel once again makes her reexamine her assumptions about life and her blossoming career.

Why I picked it up: I thought it was this forthcoming book about planning her wedding.

Why I finished it: Knisley has a great eye for what makes travel fun: what’s different, what’s delicious, cool museums, cute kitties, history, even the strange inconveniences. I want to eat Norwegian boller, Swedish yellow pea soup, visit the East Germany museum, see the poop-obsessed ancient hospital at Beaune, France, and everything comics-related in Angoulême!

It’s perfect for: Starting discussions about relationships and how women are treated at comic conventions. Knisley’s cute guy ends up being a whirlwind travel romance, full of possibility but clearly removed of the stresses of everyday life. He’s handsome, charming, but then gives her a huge guilt trip about privilege. (He lives in a vegan commune in Stockholm — yikes!) There is one page that could be a timely addition to the ongoing discussion of sexual harassment at comic and sf conventions — two creepy fans stalk Knisley at the Norwegian comics festival and later published a sexually explicit zine complete with their demeaning fantasies about her!  

@bookblurb Cartoonist Lucy Knisley travels to a Norwegian comics festival and then around Europe as she examines her life.

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