home bookclub podcast store talks
The Affinities

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

The Confidence Game Why We Fall For It... Every Time

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged nonfiction

Konnikova has written a thorough investigation into the minds, motives, and methods of con artists. While there are plenty of examples of fraud, the book focuses on why we are susceptible to con men’s pitches and why we believe the stories they spin. For example, the true gift of grifters is not dazzlingly fast talking, it is their ability to listen. They are able to pick up on our predispositions, and then use the information we provide to spin stories that appeal to us and make us feel special. Once we have bought into a story, we will go to great lengths to continue believing, including breaking long-held financial practices and taking huge risks with our money.

Why I picked it up: I wanted to know why otherwise intelligent people fall for what are obvious, stupid hustles.

Why I finished it: Grifters and con men know that we use snap judgments to evaluate people. If they appear refined and wealthy and use certain language, we see them as rich and successful. The narrative we have running in our heads is the most important part of the con.

I kept asking myself, “What kind of person could trick and destroy someone by abusing their trust?”  Unfortunately, the answer is people who prioritize their desire for wealth and power above the happiness and property rights of everyone else.

As anyone that has received the emails or solicitations from “Nigerian Princes” knows, the notes are often badly spelled and horribly written. I have often thought this was a failing of the writers; that they were uneducated or unable to spell. Konnikova shares that the notes are purposely written like this. A note that is too legitimate can actually pull in too many victims, including people that are not ripe for taking. (If the letter was perfectly spelled, many people would answer who then would not fall for the next part of the con, wasting the con man’s time and effort. However, if a poorly spelled note brings a response, the grifter knows that is a fish worth hooking.)

It’s perfect for: My friend Nick, who hates being taken advantage of. (Obviously nobody likes it, but once he gave twenty-five dollars to a businessman that went door to door to sell a lawn aerating service. The guy never showed up again. We still haven’t heard the end of Nick’s rants about it.) Nick would want to arm himself with the knowledge Konnikova gives, like that if you allow a salesman to do you a small favor (like picking something up for you) you are two-and-a-half times likelier to agree to give him money.

Lucha Loco The Free Wrestlers of Mexico

Link to this review by darcy tagged coffee table booknonfiction

A collection of portraits of luchadores alphabetically arranged by wrestling name. Also included are short quotes by each wrestler, everything from personal (“I can’t wear a closed face mask because I suffer from claustrophobia” -Negro Navarro) to the realistic (“If I hadn’t made it as a wrestler, I think I would have become a lawyer” -Solar) to the bizarre (“I once ironed my brother’s clothes while he was still wearing them.” -Andy Barrow).

Why I picked it up: I’ve always been fascinated by flashy, masked Mexican wrestlers

Why I finished it: There was a short introduction (in both English and Spanish) that piqued my curiosity. Luche libre isn’t just a sport, it’s theater. Personas are adopted and costumes are acquired. The most important part of the costumes are the masks that hide identities and create mystery — the wrestlers could be anybody. The costumes range anywhere from a shirtless man in wrestling shorts like Apocalipsis (“I feel like a hero, strong like an annihilator, really.”) to the more dramatic like Las Momias mummy duo’s shredded suits and scary, toothless masks (“We’re the mummies, here to serve the people.”).  

It’s perfect for: I recently met a kid named Jason during a middle school visit who has an encyclopedic knowledge of wrestling. I watched a lot of WWE with my dad as a kid, so Jason and I talked about Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Rowdy Roddy Piper. But he told me that he thought El Santo was the greatest wrestler that ever lived. He was so passionate when he mixed words like “art” and “magic” in describing matches that I think he’d love the quote by a wrestler named Tony Rivera: “Art is everywhere. The outfit is an art — the masks, the colors — free wrestling is a feast.” 

Milwaukee Mayhem Murder and Mystery in the Cream City's First Century

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged essayshistorynonfiction

Short, gripping, true tales of tragedy and strangeness drawn from local Milwaukee newspaper stories that ran from the 1840s to the 1940s. These are presented in four sections: Murder, Accidents, Vice, and Secrets. Some are as in-depth as pieces in The Atlantic while others are just collections of a few sad facts that spark the imagination.

Why I picked it up: The review in Publishers Weekly promised a bingo-addicted woman who bludgeoned her landlady, a moon-faced bigamist, and suicide by cannon.

Why I finished it: Even though I had no illusions about the good old days, my jaw dropped at the story of an eight-year-old boy who bought a gun at a junk shop and accidentally killed a two-year-old. The stories were so dark and intense I couldn’t read them all at once, but I came back to the book again and again.

Readalikes: Fighting Fire for the horror and heroism of huge blazes, and Blizzard of Glass for a longer exploration of a heartbreaking event through primary sources. 


Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelcoming of age

Alison’s mom isn’t excited about her daughter’s budding romance with Darren, a boy who blew up his brother’s hand with firecrackers years ago. Alison’s friends don’t like him, either — they think he’s a pyro. Couldn’t she go out with a normal guy?

After things get out of control at a friend’s party, Alison leaves with Darren. He wants to show her how much he likes her, but his idea of a romantic gesture is not only strange, but also dangerous.

Why I picked it up: I’m a fan of both Reed’s (Americus, The Cute Girl Network) and Dalrymple’s (The Wrenchies, Pop Gun War, It Will All Hurt) comics.

Why I finished it: Dalrymple’s drawings and Reed’s dialogue work together to show how awkward teenagers can be. I loved the dorky but well-intentioned Paul, who, when offered a drink at a party, bluntly says, “I don’t drink. Because we’re sixteen.” (Dating Paul, Alison says, would be like dating someone’s dad.) Even the creepy Darren is somewhat endearing: he sees Alison as a loner like him, and longs to know how she’s able to keep people from messing with her — something he’s never been able to manage. 

Readalikes: Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia, a graphic novel about punk teens in a religious compound waiting for their parents to return from a pilgrimage. Like Palefire, it features young adults trying to make good romantic choices, but messing up most of the time. 

Razzle Dazzle The Battle for Broadway

Link to this review by emilyreads tagged history

New York Post theatre columnist Michael Riedel traces the history of Broadway from the early twentieth century to today. Focusing mainly on Gerald Schoenfeld and Bernie Jacobs, the geniuses behind The Shubert Organization, Riedel chronicles Broadway’s rise and fall and rise through the years: the decay and rebuilding of Times Square, the devastation of the AIDS epidemic, the British invasion of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh. It’s a thick love letter to a New York institution like no other.

Why I picked it up: I’m just a Broadway baby.

Why I finished it: I admit, I was worried after the first couple chapters that this would end up being 400 pages about grouchy old white guys arguing with each other. But Riedel goes deeper, highlighting both the strong personal relationships that made the Broadway machine run (Bernie Jacobs’s paternal affection for Michael Bennett, for example) and the artistic challenges in bringing a story to life on the stage. For me, who grew up with old Rodgers & Hammerstein and came of age with Sondheim, Prince, Lloyd Webber, and Rice, it was a treat to learn about some of the stories behind the shows I love. And, good Lord, Chess really WAS a colossal mess from start to finish.

Readalikes: Pair this with the new coffee-table book Musicals: The Definitive Illustrated Story for a one-two punch of gorgeous pictures and juicy insights, especially when it comes to big-budget spectacles of the 1990s and 2000s. Seeing Elaine Paige in full Grizabella attire, for example, after reading about her struggles to nail the right tone for “Memory,” was surprisingly affecting.

First Man Reimagining Matthew Henson

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged biographygraphic novelhistorical fiction

A somewhat fictionalized biography of African American explorer Matthew Henson, who reached the North Pole ahead of the famed Robert Peary in 1909, and who became part of Inuit mythology.

Why I picked it up: I’m a fan of Nick Bertozzi’s Shackleton, so I leapt at the chance to read another graphic novel about an explorer, especially one I’d never heard of.

Why I finished it: Henson’s story has a compelling start — it opens with him working as a janitor late in life, during his last day at work, at the American Museum of Natural History. As he mops the floor and endures the disrespect of museum visitors, he’s thinking about when he joined the crew of the Katie Hines in Baltimore in 1879 and how he learned to deal with ignorance and hate. The man has endured much, and it becomes clear that he knows more of the exhibits he’s cleaning than even the museum’s director.

And Schwartz’s blue, white, black, and gray color palette lets him express the coldness of Henson’s world as well as the coldness of the Arctic later in the book, and it also works beautifully in the Inuit-style drawings throughout that reminded me that Henson is a legend.

Readalikes: I find that I learn about U.S. history best though graphic novels and books about things I’m interested in, like comics and toys. My interest in memorabilia is currently pulling me through David Pilgrim’s excellent, Kickstarter-funded Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice and that this will teach me more about the U.S. in Matthew Henson’s time.

Mother Bruce

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged picture book

Bruce is grouchy bear who lives alone in the woods. He dislikes just about everything except for eggs. One day he seeks out fresh goose eggs for a recipe, but to his dismay instead of cooking they hatch. Bruce suddenly finds himself the adopted mother of four confused but committed goslings.

Why I picked it up: I like books that mess with my expectations. Bruce is not the most motherly name, and it is clear from the cover that he is not particularly maternal. But what really got me was Bruce’s unibrow. The skepticism it expresses is something I could really relate to.

Why I finished it: When Bruce prepares to cook his beloved eggs, using elaborate recipes he finds online, things start to get weirdly hilarious. He pushes a shopping cart into the river to select fresh salmon, supports local businesses by stealing honey from a nearby hive, and interrogates the goose to verify that her eggs are free-range organic.

Readalikes: Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer by Una LaMarche is a funny memoir also filled with incidents of confused youth, and, later, awkward parenting. Any parent who snorts at all the jokes their kids miss in Mother Bruce (like when he straps on the quadruple baby carrier, or suffers through their stubborn teen months) will also enjoy Una’s everyday comic catastrophes.


Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of agescience fiction

Jacob and his friend Alice have their world turned upside down when they are forced to flee the Lowlands because its walls have been breached by giant spiders and other massive bugs. (Usually the walls are enough to turn away the insects, but this time their attack seemed coordinated.) Grudgingly taken in by the rich folks who live in the well-protected Highlands, Jacob, Alice, and Jacob’s boss Charles look into the attack. They’ll need some of the steam-powered clockwork gadgets that Jacob and Charles make, as well as all their courage, to investigate the bug-infested catacombs below the city.

Why I picked it up: Steampunk is relatively new for middle school readers. I was hoping that this book would be a good way for me to introduce the genre to my students.

Why I finished it: There are lots of giant bugs in the book, not just the pillbugs that are harvested, ridden, and farmed, but also cooler bugs like the black-carapaced Red Death beetles. There are also poisonous Widowmaker spiders (with large fangs) and the maggot-like, pulsing carrion worms that show up where corpses fall.

There are various bugs in the catacombs when Jacob is there, and his light suddenly goes out. I was truly able to feel how scary it would be to have the liquid, chitinous sounds of dozens of giant insects coming for me in absolute darkness.

It’s perfect for: Ayush, a student who just showed me a picture of his pet tarantula. Jacob sometimes plays with small spiders, even letting them ride on his shoulder. Ayush would love that, and also that Samuel, the spider knight, has a giant jumping spider that he rides — when things go sideways, he can simply jump it up onto a nearby roof to get out of danger.

© 2002-2016 Overdue Media LLC, all rights reserved. "Unshelved" is a registered trademark of Overdue Media LLC.