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Six-Gun Gorilla

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

Click for the full-sized comic

Originally published in Six-Gun Gorilla #1 - #6.

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

Zak is looking forward to WashingCon, a fantasy convention where he can revel in all of his nerdy pursuits at once. But he needs to take part in a Quiz Bowl competition the same day to earn extra credit for his English class or he won’t graduate. He is sullen and uninvolved until Ana, another quiz team member, catches his eye. Buttoned up and intensely focused, Ana is irritated by Zak and his casual attitude toward life and the future. But when Ana’s little brother Clayton runs off to the convention that Zak has described to him, Ana and Zak ditch their chaperone to find Clayton. They must get back before Ana is busted by her overprotective parents and Zak fails his class.  Clayton isn’t easy to catch, though, so Ana and Zak spend the evening chasing after him around the con where Zak is beloved and Ana gets a chance to see him in his milieu.

Why I picked it up: Brian Katcher wrote a fantastic, diamond-in-the-rough book that I just happened across called Playing with Matches. It’s about a girl covered with burn scars and the nerdy loner who learns to see beyond them. It was a magical book, so I have read everything Katcher has published since then.

Why I finished it: This book has a little bit of everything: romance, high school life and pressures, and farce. There are hilarious scenes, like when Zak says that he was inspired by the battle cry of a warleader taking part in mock combat, even though Zak barely speaks Orkish. There’s a wedding at the con where attendees are made to choose a side — not bride or groom but Star Wars or Star Trek. Some guests are dressed as Ewoks and one woman is cosplaying Slave Leia. Ana and Zak begin to like each other, and it is a casual, organic development that had me cheering.

Readalikes: Julie Halpern’s Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, another exuberant celebration of nerdom, which is about a girl recently defriended by more popular girls who chooses to hang with some nerdy boys. She discovers she really enjoys them because they’re authentic and friendly, even if it means pizza feasts, Dungeons and Dragons, and a loss of social status.

Eyes Wide Open

Link to this review by craigseasholes tagged nonfictionscience

Fleischman connects the dots so that readers can understand and then investigate the facts behind the headlines of today’s environmental crisis. Text and images blend into a compelling, informal presentation that questions and observes, then invites reflection and points out opportunities for further investigation.

Why I picked it up: Before it was published, Paul Fleischman offered the book to a group of school librarians who in turn created an online community. Inspired by the chance to connect with others, I joined teacher-librarians around the world to discuss this book.

Why I finished it: It’s loaded with stories, examples, and images for students to follow into understanding both the science and politics behind the headlines. Fleischman encourages readers to ask questions like: Why don’t we get to see what’s behind hot dogs or cell phones? What’s the impact of large scale meat production and processing? What is the environmental cost of cell phones, and where do they go when we discard them? Using end notes and citations, students can begin to understand the scale of a problem and begin to search for solutions. 

It’s perfect for: Teachers looking for material on critical thinking skills around current events and environmental issues. (They may want a class set!) The four page “How to Weigh Information” section in the appendix is a great guide and encourages students to look for professional journals and established news sources, ”follow the money” on who is funding websites or publications, and to check for logical fallacies and emotional appeals.

Readalikes: Mark Kurlansky’s World Without Fish is a graphic novel examination of the environmental degradation of seas and its impact on the fish we rely on for food. Like Fleischman, Kurlansky moves young readers to examine the politics, science, and economics that are driving many fish populations dangerously low. And both books seek to compel their readers to action. Let’s hope they succeed.

I Don't Care If We Never Get Back 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged nonfiction

Baseball fanatic and stats geek Ben Blatt devised an algorithm outlining the most efficient way to see games in all thirty major league stadiums in the shortest amount of time. Then he convinced his baseball-agnostic friend and fellow funny guy Eric Brewster to spend the month after college graduation on the most epic road trip ever. (Epic, that is, except for all the parts that sucked.)

Why I picked it up: I love baseball and have a soft spot for Harvard Lampoon guys, which both authors once were.

Why I finished it: A trip like this tends to start with great enthusiasm and then gradually devolve into bickering and boredom. Thankfully, the book does not suffer the same fate. Though the descriptions of individual games do get shorter and less distinct once they pass the twenty-game mark, the boys’ (mis)adventures with hard-nosed ticket scalpers, misread time zones, and useless foam fingers make the time fly. Plus I had to find out if Ben would ever get pulled over for going 105 in a 65 zone.

It’s perfect for: My friend Jake, who’s a huge fan of the Crosby/Hope “road” movies. Despite the baseball hook, it’s the boys’ evolving relationship — not the details of twenty-seven outs, thirty times — that’s the real story here. 

Thank You, Octopus

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged picture book

Out in the harbor, on a little tugboat, a boy and an octopus play cards.  As night falls, Octopus helps the little boy get ready for bed. But Octopus is a terrible babysitter. Or maybe a very good babysitter who really likes to play alarming but harmless bedtime pranks, because what babysitter hasn’t secretly wanted to paint children’s teeth instead of brushing them?

Why I picked it up: My friend Brian, a children’s librarian in Illinois, recommended it. And I really can’t resist picture books that feature an octopus.

Why I finished it: Any book with an octopus in a union suit should be hilarious, and I laughed out loud over and over while reading it. Many of the gags seem like one time gotchas, but when I went back and re-examined the art closely I realized just how brilliantly this book’s words and pictures played off each other. Being promised a nice warm bath only to find out it is made out of egg salad is one thing. But when you look closely at the reveal, it isn’t just a picture of the terrible moment before the boy is submerged in a huge vat of gooey yellow muck, there are scattered eggshells and empty, giant mayonnaise jars that show Octopus spent a lot of time preparing. And in the corner of the page is the edge of a tuba, hinting at a joke two pages away.

Readalikes: This has great potential for a story time or read aloud call and response like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems. Children will not only be reminded to express gratitude, but also to set good boundaries by saying “No, thank you!” with great vigor to things like being dried off by a tuba.

The Rise and Fall of the Gallivanters

Link to this review by darcy tagged coming of agehistorical fiction

In 1983, girls are mysteriously disappearing from Portland, Oregon, and Noah becomes obsessed with finding out where they’ve gone. He’s convinced that the brothers from a creepy German brewery have something to do with it. One night, he comes across a mysterious Bowie look-alike named Ziggy who reignites Noah’s passion about getting his band back together. Unfortunately their ultimate gig will take place at the same creepy brewery.

Why I picked it up: I’ve taken many writing classes from M.J. at Bellevue College, and I’ve heard bits of this novel in many stages. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. 

Why I finished it: Sometimes I feel there are books written specifically for me, and this is one of them. It contains everything I enjoy in fiction: music, bands, great dialogue, alter egos, illness, and family tragedy. The portrayal of punk in the early 1980s got my attention, but I was hooked by the unraveling story of Noah’s dad’s suicide and the dark, shifting cloud that seems to come for the people Noah loves.

It’s perfect for: My sister Gayle, who will especially enjoy the scenes in the record shop where Noah and his bandmates hang out. Its owner, the eccentric Jojo, will remind her of a certain record store owner back home in Spokane. She will also love the posters and T-shirts in the shop that reflect all of David Bowie’s personas from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke.

Terra Formars Volume 1
Terra Formars Volume 2

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged science fictiongraphic novel

In Volume 1, an international crew of fifteen astronauts is about to land on Mars. Their mission: eradicate the cockroaches that have been terraforming the surface for 500 years. It’s the largest extermination in history. But on Mars they find that the cockroaches have evolved into tall, muscular humanoids. They are not only incredibly strong, they’re intent on wiping out the astronauts. Not to worry, though, the astronauts have had insect DNA embedded into their bodies, so they have the strength and abilities to fight back.

Volume 2 starts years later, as the final astronauts for the next mission are being selected. A young man who defeats a bear in a cage match, unarmed, is selected to undergo the risky insect DNA procedure, along with several other candidates. They set off for Mars to face what they know is a tough enemy. Unfortunately the cockroaches are even more prepared than they thought.

Publisher’s Rating: Rated M for Mature. There’s also a sticker on the front that says “Parental Advisory EXPLICIT CONTENT.”

Why I picked it up: Viz’s Mark de Vera told me how great this science fiction manga was years ago, before Viz started translating it into English.

Why I finished it: In the opening scene, an astronaut on the way to Mars is eating bondaegi, a snack I learned to like while living in Korea but which every other member of my family refuses to eat with me. Luckily I have friends with better taste than my wife and daughter. (In case you’re an amateur editor, my spelling is intentional — I disagree with Wikipedia.)

In Volume 1, a reveal about the astronauts is handled expertly, over quite a bit of time, story-wise. (It’s spoiled by the cover if you’re paying close attention. I wasn’t.) As soon as that’s out of the way, the completely violent, gory, and entertaining fight commences.

Readalikes: The only manga I’ve ever read with this level of graphic violence is Gantz, in which people who have just died are forced to play a game and kill aliens with futuristic weapons. However this book lacks the explicit sexual content of Gantz, at least in these two volumes. With manga you never know what the next book will bring.

Just the Tips a sexual guide from the creators of Image Comics’s Sex Criminals

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged horror

Editor’s note: If you’re at work, if someone can see over your shoulder, or if you’re easily embarrassed or scandalized by sexual humor, don’t click on any of the links in this review. In fact, if you’re the latter, just skip to the next review right now.

Short (mostly Tweetable) sex tips, passages of poorly written erotica, pick-up lines, illustrated hot sexual positions, “sexpert” Q&A, dirty talk, and reviews of adult films that may sound familiar (The Squirt Locker, All That Jizz). Includes many illustrations including “great peenies throughout history” (Lincoln’s Rail Splitter).

Why I picked it up: Sex Criminals is totally fun. But one of the things folks who read graphic novels instead of monthly comics miss out on are the letters pages. This book collects the madness of those pages, including excerpts of true tales from readers.

Why I finished it: This sex tip on the first page had me in tears. “When making love, whisper in her ear, ‘god is dead,’ to let her know that it’s OK to get real freaky.” Then I fell apart reading the poorly written “EROTICA to read to your illiterate lover” on the next page, about a woman named Janice who wants to have sex with a vampire (not a werewolf). Apparently the word “peener” makes me giggle helplessly.

But it’s not just a book that makes me laugh. Wally, who has much more highbrow tastes than I do, was in tears after I showed him the illustrated explanation of brimping, which, according to Fraction and Zdarsky, was brought to us by “the Creators of ‘Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific!’”

Readalikes: Superbad: The Drawings. A collection of the penis drawings shown at the end of the movie of the same name. I remember one of a penis with a Rambo-like red bandana, shooting a machine gun. And New York Dick, photographs of penises drawn on advertisements in the New York subway system. Zdarsky’s depictions of members in Just the Tips becomes the third volume in any YA collection serious enough to support the artistic pursuits of boys who find drawing what’s in their pants both fulfilling and hilarious.

Wrapping with Fabric Your Complete Guide to Furoshiki: The Japanese Art of Wrapping

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged nonfictionart

Furoshiki is the art of wrapping gifts or items to carry using beautiful fabric squares, an old-fashioned art that fell out of favor with the rapid modernization of Japan after World War II. This book of techniques aims to bring it back for its beauty and practicality.

Why I picked it up: I had seen a couple of furoshiki wrapping techniques online and liked the idea of an almost infinitely customizable, reusable bag you could make with simple folds and knots.

Why I finished it: The straightforward instructions make everything look super easy, and the fabrics are gorgeous. One reviewer complained that the fabrics had to be of unusual rectangular sizes (they are based on the traditional widths of kimono fabric), but all of the patterns would work with a square.

It’s perfect for: Charlotte, a gracious hostess and guest, who will love the pretty and elegant ways she can carry a bottle of wine (or even two) and a bouquet to a party. Even cans of beer can be transported with class!

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