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Author Archives: Recidivist Reader

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

Wonder ShowThey say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  I beg to differ.  See that cover over there on the left?  Kind of amazing, right?  And the hand drawn goodness wraps around to the back as well.  In all honesty, it almost didn’t matter what this book was about.  I fell in love with the cover art and had to bring it home.

Thankfully, the story is just as delightful as the paper it’s wrapped in.  Wonder Show tells the tale of a young girl, Portia, whose father leaves the dust bowl in search of work.  Her aunt takes care of her for a while, but ultimately puts her in a home for “wayward” girls under the watchful eye of a man known only as Mister.

Without giving anything away, events transpire and Portia runs away to join the circus.  Literally.  Actually, she meets up with the “wonder show,” which is basically a sideshow of human abnormalities that travels alongside any circus that will have them.  As she adjusts to circus life she makes friends and enemies, confronts fears, and learns to be a part of a very unusual family.

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Awkward by Marni Bates

Awkward by Marni BatesIn high school, I wasn’t awkward at all.  I had all the right clothes, hung out with all the right people, and got invited to the best parties.  Plus I dated the hottest guy at school.

Okay, so none of that is true.  Especially since my school was all girls.

If you don’t think about high school (whether it was years ago or you’re still there) and cringe, this book may not be for you.  But I’m pretty confident that most people feel out of place and awkward during their teen years, and this book understands that feeling perfectly.

Mackenzie is bookish and clumsy, but is mostly okay with that because she has her ridiculously high GPA and close group of equally nerdy friends to keep her company.  So what if she attends study sessions instead of parties on the weekend?  There’s nothing wrong with that.  (I mean, that’s what I did, and look how I…oh, never mind.)

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Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman

Why We Broke UpI read this book in one night instead of sleeping.

Things you should know: Daniel Handler also writes children’s books as Lemony Snicket, best known for A Series Of Unfortunate Events.  Maira Kalman is an artist who has published books of her own work along with illustrating books written by other people.  (We previously reviewed one of her picture books here.)  Together they create a physically beautiful book, with glossy pages, full color illustrations, and gorgeous endpapers.  There was basically no chance I wouldn’t buy myself a copy.

The story itself is a letter from a teenage girl, Min, to her boyfriend-for-six-weeks, Ed.  It starts with a box of things that symbolize the relationship to her, which she is unceremoniously dumping on his doorstep.  Each chapter starts with a full-page illustration of an item from the box, followed by a somewhat stream-of-consciousness retelling of how it became important.

If a six-week relationship seems insignificant to you, and definitely not worth being heartbroken over, you may be an adult with a very bad memory of what it’s like to be a teenager.  Min and Ed’s story is full of firsts and lasts, at times painfully awkward while otherwise being perfectly sweet.  Mistakes are made, lessons learned the hard way – and yet, from an outside perspective, the experience gained in six weeks of Min’s Junior year is invaluable.

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The Girl With The Crooked Nose by Ted Botha

The Girl With The Crooked NoseI watch a lot of NCIS, where 40 minutes and one amazingly talented forensic scientist are enough to solve even the most horrific of crimes.  Real life, however, takes longer and doesn’t always yield such clear-cut results.

Enter Frank Bender.  He came upon his calling as a forensic artist almost accidentally, when he attended an autopsy in lieu of taking an anatomy course to help with his sculpting.  In the storage room, there was a body of a woman who had not been identified – he was told, “We have no idea what she might have looked like.”  Looking at her skull, however, Bender realized that he did know what she looked like.  And he asked permission to sculpt a bust of her face.

Five months after he completed her bust, the woman was identified as Anna Duval, a missing persons case from Arizona.

With a successful ID came more skulls needing faces.  Bender learned more about forensic reconstruction and streamlined his technique.  He visited the Mütter Museum to study differences in skulls (and later exhibited some of his completed busts there – leading to the identification of yet another victim).  He set up a studio for his unusual hobby.  And when the Mexican government asked the U.S. for help in identifying some of the more than 400 women killed since 1993, Bender was a natural choice for the task at hand.

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The Wikkeling by Steven Arntson, illustrated by Daniela J. Terrazzini

The Wikkeling

You can tell this book is unusual just by looking at it.  Its shape is a perfect square, it is bound in cloth with no dust jacket, and the cover art is strangely wonderful.  The contents do not disappoint – this is a tale of children living in a dystopia, looking for adventure and causing a bit of mischief.  It also defies a brief description or easy packaging, but I’ll try.

The world of The Wikkeling is really just an exaggerated version of the rapidly accelerating and expanding world we currently inhabit.  Schools are standardized to the point of homogeneity, with constant, instantaneous performance evaluations.  If any student or school falls behind, the consequences are dire.  Children are kept “safe” and “secure” through continuous monitoring to account for their movements throughout the day, an elaborate seat belt system on the bus, and even a camera trained on their beds to watch over them in sleep.  Old houses are destroyed to make way for plastic edifices and books are done away with completely in favor of computers.  Traffic never lets up, with near-total gridlock even in the middle of the night.  It all adds up to a scary, but not completely unbelievable, vision of the future.

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The Burning Soul by John Connolly

The Burning Soul by John ConnollyWithout checking, I think I can safely say that John Connolly is the most-mentioned author on this blog.  But that’s for a very good reason – he’s one of my all-time favorite authors and people.  Plus he’s been kind enough to publish two books per year recently and still finds the time to tour and do interviews to talk about them.  So we, in turn, keep reviewing his books and posting his interviews.

Normally I don’t like to review books in a series, unless it’s the first title.  I’m the kind of person who has to start a series from the beginning, and unfortunately I often abandon some series because they have too many books and I too little time.  This being the 10th Charlie Parker PI novel that Connolly has put out, I can understand that it’s easy for people to feel overwhelmed if they haven’t read any of his previous mystery novels.

Have no fear.  You can start the series at the beginning, with Every Dead Thing, and enjoy your way up to the newest installment.  But The Burning Soul, more than any of the others in the series, I believe, can be read on its own without the preceding books.  Of course, once you’re done, I still recommend spending the next year reading the series from the beginning in anticipation of his next release, but hey – I’m biased.

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Richard Castle’s DEADLY STORM: A Derrick Storm Mystery

Deadly StormThe immortal Oscar Wilde said that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” It’s all I can think about when I read a Castle book.

Castle is a show on ABC about a mystery writer, Richard Castle, who is on a perpetual ride-along with NYPD detective Kate Beckett.  Being a fan of the mystery genre and writers in general, this show appeals to me quite a bit.  It’s generally a good mix of drama, comedy, and good old-fashioned sleuthing (though I could do with a bit less drama at times).  It doesn’t hurt that Nathan Fillion (of Joss Whedon’s short-lived but much beloved Firefly) plays the title character.

But what made me really fall in love with the show is that they have been publishing the books that Castle is supposedly working on each season.  And they have become bestsellers, these books written by a fictional author.  (I always wonder if real, live mystery authors get upset about that.)  With so many shows and movies ripping their stories from books, or series of books, it’s a fun change to see the show itself producing an original series of books as a tie-in.

That series is the Nikki Heat series.  Book 3, Heat Rises, was released in September and is on my “currently reading” stack.  This year they went even further, however, and released two books.  Deadly Storm is a graphic novel interpretation of Richard Castle’s novel of the same title – the first in a series that supposedly shot him to fame and fortune.  Except the original novels don’t exist, making this “adaptation” yet another layer of fabrication.  Have we gotten stuck in a metacognitive loop yet?

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Posted by on November 1, 2011 in Book Reviews, Graphic Novels

 

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