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Descender Volume 1 Tin Stars

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

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First Published as Descender #1 - #6.

Publisher’s Rating: Rated M / Mature.

Monsters on the Loose! A Seek and Solve Mystery

Link to this review by robert tagged mysterypicture book

Who’s been stealing the Halloween candy? Join a Detective Frankenstein’s Monster as he searches a busy town and haunted house scenes to find clues as to which of six suspects is swiping the treats. Every inch of each densely illustrated page rewards observant readers with silly gags and even sillier spooks. If you were a mummy, wrapped in cloth bandages, would you go water-skiing?

Why I picked it up: The cover image seemed to promise madcap illustrations.

Why I finished it: It rewarded careful reading. I found skeletons in the cemetery enjoying mixed drinks and witches engaging in broom races overhead.

In each of the pictures, the detective monster holds or sees a clue. At the end, the clues are all shown on one page together so that I had a fair chance at solving the mystery.

It’s perfect for: Anyone who’s not like my mother. There aren’t that many big spiders in “Tarantula Town,” but the few that are there, dropping down on silken threads, would be too much for her.

The Kind Worth Killing

Link to this review by diane tagged thriller

On a flight home from London, millionaire businessman Ted meets the beautiful and intriguing Lily. Ted tells her that he has discovered that his wife is cheating on him with the contractor building their new home. As their conversation (and attraction) deepens, Ted jokingly suggests that it would be simpler if he just killed his wife. Lily volunteers to help. What starts out as a fantasy quickly becomes a plan.

Why I picked it up: Advertised for fans of Gone Girl and the classic Strangers on a Train, I was hoping for a suspenseful page-turner that would keep my attention on a long plane flight. Plus I love reading first novels, and this is Swanson’s debut.

Why I finished it: This fast-paced psychological thriller has so many plot twists it’s impossible to predict what will happen next. The story is told in chapters that alternate between present day plot to kill Ted’s wife and Lily’s past. As I learned more about Lily’s experiences with people “worth killing,” I couldn’t put it down. For once, the hype proved true, and my six-hour plane ride flew by.

It’s perfect for: My friend, Bre, a psychology teacher who enjoys books about people who deviate from the norm. She loved The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith and No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, so I know she’ll love reading about Lily.

Orphan #8

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged literary

Rachel Rabinowitz is a terrified, powerless orphan, separated from her brother after their unfaithful father causes her mother’s death. At the orphanage where she’s sent, she’s subject to cruel, disfiguring medical experiments in the name of science.

Thirty-five years later, Rachel Rabinowitz is a respected nurse struggling with her own cancer diagnosis when she realizes her newest patient is the same Dr. Solomon who subjected her to the unnecessary radiation that caused her disease.

In alternating stories of past and present, van Alkemade weaves a tale of good and evil, loyalty and betrayal, love and death. With the doctor’s life literally in her hands, Rachel must decide whether revenge will satisfy her deep anger, or if it’s even possible.

Why I picked it up: It had a Boys From Brazil vibe that intrigued me: the consequences of experiments by so-called experts on helpless children.

Why I finished it: I wanted to see if and how Rachel would exact revenge. She clearly had means and motive, and no one would suspect a responsible nurse of doing anything to harm her patient. What’s a little extra morphine to an old lady who’s dying anyway? But after a lifetime of heartache, and with her own mortality in the forefront of her mind, would killing Dr. Solomon really make Rachel feel better?

It’s perfect for: Well, my mother-in-law snatched it as soon as I finished it, so I guess “sixty-something bookworms with second-generation immigrant parents?”

A Field Guide to Radiation

Link to this review by wally tagged science

Wayne Biddle begins this field guide to radioactivity with the fact that since the Manhattan Project made atomic energy available for use, there have been five incidents which have threatened human life on a large scale: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Recognizing the danger of substances we cannot see, smell, taste, touch or hear, he lays out a field guide to everything from general concepts (containment, fission, half-life) to units of measurement (becquerels, curies, grays) to specific isotopes (Chromium-51, Iridium-192).

Why I picked it up: Two of my cats needed radiation therapy for hyperthyroidism, so I decided to do some research.

Why I finished it: The cross references are treasure maps of knowledge. After exploring Iodine-131, long in use in thyroid therapy, I learned about beta and gamma radiation, Geiger counters, the short life of Marie Curie, krypton, and more. What started as a quest for specific information turned into a broad exploration of a field I knew almost nothing about.

It’s perfect for: Madeline, whose curiosity for science would keep her absorbed for hours. She would appreciate the recent history (numerous mentions of Fukushima and its fallout, for instance) as well as some that is less often taught, such as how American nuclear reactors weren’t designed to contain melted fuel because forty years ago regulators believed meltdowns were impossible.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfiction

The University of Montana Grizzlies had a great run on the football field in Division 2 (now Division 1 FCS); they were the most-winning football program for the first decade of the 2000s. But their success may have had a darker side. In 2013, the office of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said it was examining eighty reports of sexual assault in Missoula as well as eleven on campus that made him question the actions of the university, the local police department, and the prosecutor’s office. The rape scandal hit its peak with the trial of Jordan Johnson, the Grizzlies’ star quarterback, who was accused of raping a friend who clearly and repeatedly told him no. The trial promised to be both sensational and embarrassing for the university. Then the female prosecutor, who had been resistant to filing charges against football players, quit and went to work for the accused star quarterback.

Why I picked it up: I have read every single one of Krakauer’s books since Into Thin Air. They are, without exception, some of the best non-fiction I have ever read. Krakauer can turn the tangled history of a notable event into an eminently readable timeline via exhaustive research and the way he writes about larger than life characters.

Why I finished it: Krakauer succeeds in showing that there was something rotten in the prosecutor’s office, perhaps due to an unhealthy adoration for the athletes on the field. I was pulled along as I waited for the jury’s decision.

It’s perfect for: I’m going to recommend it to my friend Jim, who has a daughter who will be a college freshman next year. I think it will spur him to have some very important conversations with her about how to protect herself at college.

Orion and the Dark

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged picture book

Orion is afraid of a lot of things (wasps, girls, popping balloons), but nothing scares him more than the dark. He’s tried to take care of the problem (everlasting lightbulb, night vision goggles, pet glowworms), but nothing works. Then the Dark comes alive and enters his room.

Why I picked it up: I love the mixture of textures on the cover, from the swirling background to the shadows that look like they were done with graphite or crayon to the watercolory darkness of the creature made of night sky holding the boy’s hand.

Why I finished it: When the Dark pays Orion a visit, he remembers his manners and puts out his hand. In the book, when the Dark responds, there’s a trimmed page in the shape of the Dark’s hand — by pulling it across and putting it on top of Orion’s, I made them shake and revealed the word balloon where the Dark introduces himself. (He tells Orion it’s time to stop being so afraid and invites him on an adventure.) It’s beautifully designed.

Readalikes: Cécile Boyer’s Run, Dog!, which features wide, two page spreads of a dog chasing a red ball. Within most there are several smaller pages that can be turned to advance the action, changing the larger picture by altering details. It’s beautiful, and reminded me of the page of Orion described above.


Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged biographygraphic novel

Vincent van Gogh loves painting the orchards and fields of Arles and wants to create a home and studio for artists there. He worries about paying back his brother for rent and art supplies, and is frustrated that others don’t share his vision of a refuge for artists. His hallucinations and rages eventually make it impossible to live on his own. He moves to an asylum and later lives in the care of a kind doctor in Auvers so he can be close to his brother.

Why I picked it up: The drawing of van Gogh on the cover is simple and cartoony but still instantly recognizable.

Why I finished it:: Stok shows van Gogh’s enthusiasm and aspirations so well that I felt like I knew him and wanted him to succeed. It was hard to see him reach his limits and have to accept so much help from others when he wanted so badly to be independent.

It’s perfect for: Gene, who reads enough graphic novels to really appreciate how much is conveyed in the book’s heavy lines and bright colors. Van Gogh’s obsessions and distance from reality creep in gradually via dots and lines that begin to surround his head. Eventually everything around him, including the panel borders, becomes distorted. When he’s lucid, his intensity shows in his hair, which becomes more unruly. His inner life is made clear even in the color choices on the pages.

For As Long As It Rains

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelliterary

A man and a woman having an ongoing affair are spending a few days alone in a house in the woods in Holland, having sex, talking, and playing music together. Outside it’s raining.

Why I picked it up: I supported the Pow Pow Press Kickstarter last year at the Artist Spotlight: Zviane level because I wanted that cool drawing of the little guy sitting in a fanged mouth.

Why I finished it: There are details that make this seem like a real affair — the awkwardness of talking about their partners, the man (who has lost his glasses) trying on the woman’s to see if they work for him, and the awareness that this may be the last time they meet.

The sex scenes are amazingly graphic and had a realistic, playful quality and never made me cringe. (I don’t enjoy sex scenes, especially in graphic novels, that don’t serve the story I’m reading or that take away from the tone of the story. I enjoy those that have moments of genuine awkwardness.) At the end of the book, they start talking about a way to create a score for sex, as if it’s a piece of music. And the next time they do, the score for their session appears above each of the panels, the staff filled not with notes but with the symbols that appear inside the front flap (which serves as a key).

Readalikes: I’m not usually moved by many sexually explicit graphic novels, but these three are each amazing in their own way: Blue is the Warmest Color, about an intense relationship between two women; Colleen Coover’s happy and positive Small Favors; and Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It which introduces nine creators and their work, most of which features large, muscular men. (The latter is quite an antidote to the wispy, elfin lovers in most yaoi manga, which is written by women.)

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