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The Mongolian Conspiracy

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by geneambaum tagged mystery

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@bookblurb A killer in the employ of the Mexican government tries to uncover a Chinese plot to assassinate the U.S. President.

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged literary

Sprout is a hen who lays eggs in the coop. She can’t move or even sit on her own eggs, which fall down a chute after she lays them. She envies the animals who have the freedom of the barnyard, especially the beautiful hen who runs around out there with her chicks. Sprout’s secret desire is to hatch a chick of her own.

Sprout becomes weak and goes five days without laying an egg. The farmer and his wife decide to cull her. After being thrown in a wheelbarrow under a number of dead chickens, she awakens in a large, open grave. A weasel is targeting her for its next meal. Luckily the mallard known as Straggler is there to help her.

Why I picked it up: This book was made into a record-breaking animated film over ten years ago in Korea. I’d like to watch it, but I wanted to know the story first.

Why I finished it: When the other animals refused to let Sprout live in the barn, it was a bit disheartening. The dog, the gatekeeper, just couldn’t bring himself to break the rules and let her live there. And I especially hated the beautiful hen, who insisted that Sprout leave because the hen was very sensitive. But I loved that Straggler continued to stand up for Sprout, insisting she was brave.

And as she continues to survive outside the protection of the barnyard, despite the odds against her, I hoped she’d realize her dream.

Readalikes: My favorite book of chicken photos, Extraordinary Chickens, which also shows how much personality chickens can have. My family and friends used to pull it out at parties and figure out which chicken looked like which person. And Elmer, a graphic novel which takes place in a world where chickens have gained consciousness, about a chicken named Jake who returns home to find out about his family.

@bookblurb Sprout wants to hatch a chick and enjoy the freedom of the barnyard instead of just laying eggs in the coop.

Flora & Ulysses

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged graphic novelchapter book

Her heart hardened by her parent’s recent divorce, Flora is a self-proclaimed cynic who wants nothing more than to be left alone to read her comic books. But when she witnesses her neighbor’s new vacuum cleaner go on a rampage and suck up a defenseless squirrel, she softens up enough to let hope start creeping in again.

Why I picked it up: I always check out all the titles nominated for the National Book Award’s Young People’s Literature list, though I often don’t do more than look at them. But I am quite fond of Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, and loved the cover of this book, so decided to give it a try.

Why I finished it: I’m skeptical of talking-animal stories. But when the squirrel survived his ordeal, he gained the name Ulysses (from Flora) and superpowers (one of which is typing (not talking)). It was totally endearing. (I love typewriters!)  And I adored K.G. Campbell’s illustrations, particularly of the scrappy Ulysses with his missing fur. Best of all, during important parts of what will become Ulysses’s origin story, the book switches to comic format, like Flora’s favorite title, Incandesto! (it’s also the story of an unlikely hero).

It’s perfect for: Danielle, my squirrel-loving coworker, who has been up to her ears in adult books all year for the Alex committee, and will welcome a quick read with lots of heart.

@bookblurb Flora wants to be left alone to read comic books, at least until she meets a squirrel who can type.

Ghost Hawk

Link to this review by wally tagged historical fictionparanormal

Little Hawk’s life as a young Wampanoag Indian is changed by the arrival of the Puritans. He meets John Wakeley, and they become fast friends. They manage to stay close even after John sees his stepfather kill Little Hawk in a terrible misunderstanding.

Why I picked it up: I liked the premise of a friendship that crossed the boundaries of what both the Puritans and the Wampanoag Indians thought was right, and was surprised to see how the friendship continued after Little Hawk’s death.

Why I finished it: Susan Cooper’s description of early Puritan colonies growing at the expense of the local tribes fascinated me, and she embodied this huge transformation in these two boys as one grew to manhood while the other (Hawk’s ghost) could only watch.

Readalikes: Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet because both have detailed descriptions of wilderness survival, and of Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates, the most entertaining written book ever written about the Puritans.

@bookblurb Little Hawk, a young Wampanoag, stays friends with John Wakeley even after John’s stepfather kills him.

The Smartest Kids in the World And How They Got That Way

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged nonfiction

Journalist Ripley examines three of the world’s education “superpowers” — countries whose students score at the top of the Program for International Student Assessment, a test of critical reasoning and higher-order thinking. Through interviews with education ministers and teachers, Ripley posits that educational achievement stems not from socioeconomic factors but rather from the esteem in which learning is held by a society as a whole. If the culture values learning and expresses that value explicitly, making education a large-scale priority and academic rigor an expectation, its students will be well prepared to succeed in the twenty-first century economy, regardless of poverty levels, racial and economic diversity, and parental involvement.

Why I picked it up: As the daughter and granddaughter of teachers, and as the mother of two elementary-age kids, I have a keen interest in how, what, and why we teach students.

Why I finished it: When Ripley issued a call for schools and qualifying tests to drastically raise their standards for admission and passing grades, I stood up and cheered. (I used to be a prospective teacher, and I have a master’s in education.)

It’s perfect for: Young people considering studying abroad, because Ripley gives an unvarnished look at four American high schoolers’ experiences, good and bad, who are doing just that. Eric is profoundly lonely among Korean students who have no time for anything except test prep, and Kim fails to connect with the attention-starved daughters of her Finnish host mom. Their stories will make those who are merely seeking a novel experience reconsider.

@bookblurb An examination of the world’s education superpowers, and a theory on why their students do so well.

Backward Compatible A Geek Love Story

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged science fictionromancefantasy

Gamers George and Katie meet at a midnight video game release party when they grab the same copy of the game. George’s best friend Lanyon’s geeky pickup lines haven’t been working (“I believe you just failed your saving throw versus my charm spell”), so he is a constant third wheel in George and Katie’s burgeoning relationship. But they need him to play Fatal Destiny X (FDX) so they can be the first to defeat the hidden boss and claim the cash prize. While they grind away at FDX and continue leveling up, they also battle George’s Geo Metro, “Crimson Lightning,” best known for breaking down at the most inconvenient times. Much Mountain Dew and snack food is consumed during all-night gaming sessions, plus there’s an epic battle with the hidden boss in FDX.

Why I picked it up: Number one, clever title, but then when I saw it billed itself as a “geek love story” I was hooked. I’m not a gamer (it took me a half-hour get out of the crèche on Halo my first and only time playing it), but I do like gamer culture. And I am surrounded by gamers at my middle school library, so I like to be in the know.

Why I finished it: I liked the language, particularly the quirky, geeky references and in-jokes. One character, when he is being particularly serious, swears by Thorin Oakenshield’s nut sack. Lanyon claims that his friendship with George is exceptional, but can’t find any way to say it other than, “George and I are like Voltron. Useless individually. A giant robot of death when combined.”

It’s perfect for: My friend Neil who called in sick when the latest Grand Theft Auto game came out. He will laugh because he has done half of the total nerdcore things mentioned in this book. And he’ll love that George and Lanyon go to a party as a warg and its rider and that they spend hours at Denny’s discussing the merits of playing druids, black mages, thieves, and bards.

@bookblurb George and Katie’s geeky romance starts at a midnight video game release party.

Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos

Link to this review by emilyjones tagged picture book

The siren at the fire station lets the bomberos know that they have a job to do. Hector, Carlota, Juan, and Jose get their gear ready and jump in the fire truck to race to a house fire. But when the fire is out and everyone thinks the danger is past, there’s a meow from the second floor — a gato!

Why I picked it up: I was checking out my holds at the library and saw it on display in the children’s area. The font made me want to yell out the title, and I dug the firefighters’ thick, happy eyebrows. 

Why I finished it: The text and illustrations really complement each other. Together they allowed me to deduce the meaning of most of the Spanish words. (I was stumped by a couple, but the glossary in the back saved the day.) I can definitely see myself sharing this in story time and encouraging kids to figure out what the Spanish words mean.

It’s perfect for: Zack, an artist who works with multimedia. He will really admire how Santat uses the illusion of burnt paper along the edges of the pages to create a smoky atmosphere.

@bookblurb Brave firefighters race to a house, put out a fire, and then find a cat.

Art and Architecture of Insects

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfictioncoffee table bookscience

Full-page, black and white micrographs taken with a scanning electron microscope that show the amazing art and architecture of insects.

Why I picked it up: I opened the book up to a random page, and was absolutely stunned by the resolution of the photos, which show even the smallest hairs on the smallest insects clearly.

Why I finished it: When I read the opening pages, I was hooked. They explain that the insects were posed with tiny forceps, then coated with a thin layer of gold so that they’d show up in the electron microscope.

Head lice looks just as bad as you’d think when magnified thousands of times. The aquatic beetle nymph looks like my worst nightmare; it’s all legs and tusked mouth. Everyone I showed the pictures to recoiled. The book is broken into sections based on features like “exoskeletons,” “eyes,” or “antennae,” with accompanying photos and sidebars that explain the pictures.

It’s perfect for: My neighbors’ six- and four-year-old boys, because this is the kind of book that could spark an interest in science. It takes a subject we can see, like ants, and makes it compelling by showing the smallest details. Ants bodies are covered with fine hairs that are invisible to the human eye, touch-sensitive, and give them the information they need to move, gather food, and fight.

@bookblurb Black and white micrographs taken with a scanning electron microscope show the art and architecture of insects.

Queen of the Black Coast (Conan Volume 13)
The Death (Conan Volume 14)
The Nightmare of the Shallows (Conan Volume 15)

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged fantasygraphic novel

Conan pledges his sword to his friend Tito, master of the Argus, a trading vessel, and swears he’ll protect it from Bêlit, the piratical Queen of the Black Coast. After an incredible battle at sea, the beautiful Bêlit calls off her men and asks Conan to make her his queen.

Collects Conan the Barbarian #1 - #6 (Volume 13), #7 - #17 (Volume 14), and #13 - #18 (Volume 15).

Why I picked it up: I’m a huge fan of Wood’s and Cloonan’s work together: (Channel Zero, Demo, Northlanders.

Why I finished it: I love Cloonan’s leaner, wolfish-looking Conan. After she leaves the series Wood teams up with other artists who drew Northlanders. The story starts out in the middle of the action, with Conan running from the city guard. He joins the Argus by force, yet his personality quickly wins the crew (and me) over. But it’s Bêlit who is the star of the book. She’s savage, offers no mercy, and inspires fear in those who cross her path. When she travels to Conan’s cold, northern homeland, she has to deal with being laughed at and scorned as a mere foreign-born girl. In the third book, when Conan follows her to her desert homeland, her backstory is finally revealed.

Readalikes: Joe Abercrombie’s fantastic The Blade Itself, a book about an aging northern berserker, Logan Ninefingers. The violence is at times horrific, as it is in the Conan books, but there’s a lightness to it because Ninefingers is continually astonished to find himself still alive.

@bookblurb Conan becomes King to the merciless pirate Bêlit, Queen of the Black Coast.

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