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Author Archives: Recidivist Reader

The Postmortal by Drew Magary

The Postmortal by Drew MagaryThis book starts with hypotheticals.  What if you didn’t have to grow any older, but could freeze your body’s aging process and stay exactly the same age as you are today?  (Your current position on the aging spectrum might affect your answer to that one.)  Now — what if everybody had access to this cure for aging?  What might a society of perpetual 20-somethings look like?  How would religion, politics, and social mores change as a result?  And how terribly wrong could it go?

I love the premise of this book.  John Farrell is 29 years old in 2019, the not-too-distant-at-all-future, when the cure for aging is discovered.  Initially illegal in most countries, Farrell has the right kind of connections to get access to the cure on the black market almost immediately.  It is important to note that this cure is only for aging itself — which means it is not the same thing as immortality.  You can still die of cancer, or a car crash, or a nuclear bomb.  You just can’t die peacefully in your sleep of old age.  Within a few years the ban is overruled, and society at large jumps at the chance to stay young forever.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHave you ever felt haunted by a book that wanted you to read it, no matter what?  The wonderfully-titled Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children followed me around for a couple of weeks, then appeared in my house under suspicious circumstances.  Which is to say, it was recommended to me on various websites, by word of mouth, and I saw it reviewed all over the place.  But I resisted, and wasn’t sure that I really wanted or needed to read it.  I wish I could remember what finally convinced me to pick it up, or where or when I finally bought it.  All I can say for sure, however, is that it made its way into my home, at the very top of my TBR, and I’m grateful that it did.

This book takes a series of odd (or let’s say “peculiar”) vintage photographs and builds a narrative around them.  The concept works so well that it becomes entirely plausible to consider the pictures as proof of the story, instead of merely a jumping off point for spinning this yarn.  In truth, I would have been fascinated by the book if it was just a collection of strange and creepy photographs with whatever limited information about their origin was available.  (The photos all come from personal collections, mostly cultivated through flea markets and other somewhat anonymous sources, so there is probably very little solid information available on any of them.)  In some cases you can guess at the techniques used to create an image of an invisible boy, or a girl trapped in a jar, or a young man lifting a large boulder with one hand.  Though I still found it impressive in an age when “dodge and burn” was not achieved by a mouse click in Photoshop.  Other of the photos are not as easy to explain away, and I spent more time than I care to admit just staring at them in amazement.

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Tollins: Explosive Tales for Children by Conn Iggulden, illustrated by Lizzy Duncan

Tollins: Explosive Tales for ChildrenThis book is gorgeous.  I knew as soon as I picked it up that it had to be mine.  And it didn’t disappoint.

Conn Iggulden is best known for his Dangerous Book for Boys, a 2007 runaway bestseller that counteracts today’s culture of overprotected children by suggesting “dangerous” activities they might engage in.  Tollins, published in 2009, follows suit.  A Tollin is like a fairy, except bigger and not as fragile.  And by “not as fragile,” Iggulden means that they can be used as an ingredient in fireworks, with non-lethal results.  Fairies are actually used and abused by Tollins throughout these stories.  It feels wrong to laugh at “fairy cushions” and “fairy handkerchiefs,” which are not cushions and handkerchiefs made BY fairies, but rather actual squashed and snotty fairies.  At the same time, well, fairies have had their day.  These stories are about Tollins, and if a few fairies get crushed in the making, it’s hard to be too broken up about it.

Tollins have always led idyllic lives, drinking nectar in the summer and waiting out the winter in underground tunnels.  But when their way of life is threatened by the arrival of a train station, fireworks factory, and other developing human innovations, they must find a way to cope with the changing world.  The book is made up of three stories, all starring a Tollin named Sparkler who dares break the First Law of Tollins: don’t speak to humans.  Granted, what Sparkler says to humans involves the fact that it is not strictly necessary to use Tollins as ingredients in fireworks, but this still gets him in a bit of trouble with the High Tollin.  For such short stories, there manages to be a good deal of adventure, cunning, and humor packed in.

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Killing Kate by Julie Kramer

Killing Kate by Julie KramerThe Riley Spartz books are exactly the kind of wonderful mid-list offering that I never would have stumbled across anywhere other than a bricks and mortar bookstore.  The bright covers drew my attention when shelving and lent themselves to being a centerpiece of any display.  And, invariably, I read the cover blurb, flipped open to the first page, and found myself hooked.  I took Riley Spartz home with me, spent a few tense hours with her, and have never failed to pick up each new title on publication day since.

These are not serious, high brow mysteries, but nor are they your grandmother’s cozies.  They manage to strike a happy medium of being witty and intensely entertaining, while having real suspense and depicting actual violence.  Protagonist Riley Spartz is an investigative reporter for a Minnesota TV station, and as such she is just as worried about ratings and sweeps as she is with finding murderers.  Her job makes her an interesting “amateur sleuth” in that she’s not actually an amateur at all.  Riley knows all the tricks on digging up dirt on people and getting the information she needs out of interviews and well-placed contacts.  But her goals are different than most murder investigators: she is more interested in telling a good story than finding justice, though both always seem to happen in the end.  The mechanics of how reporters go about building a story for their television audience are given in detail and add authenticity to the story, along with providing insight into a world most readers have never visited.  In a way, these books are a workplace dramedy, with reporters and networks in constant competition for stories and ratings numbers, not to mention budget cuts and unsympathetic bosses.  Unlike most P.I./homicide detective characters, Riley always has her plate full of concurrent ongoing investigations, and the subplots, usually involving animal mysteries, are just as intriguing without distracting from the lead story in any way.

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Poindexter Makes a Friend by Mike Twohy

Poindexter Makes a FriendMy nephew thinks I bought this book for him.  While he’s somewhat correct — it really is a fun book to read to a child, so borrow one (a child, that is) if you have to — apparently I am still working on my “sharing” skills, because this one lives at my house, not his.

It’s about a young pig named Poindexter who is shy around his relatives and other kids in the neighborhood, preferring to read to the stuffed animals in his room instead of joining the kids outside.  This reminds me so much of my nephew, who gathers his stuffed animals around him during bedtime stories, saying, “Come here, friends!”  (Although he also loves running around outside, but I digress.)  Poindexter is perfectly happy with this arrangement, but how is a well-adjusted, well-read young pig to make friends with other animals that are not stuffed?  He finds solace in the local library, where he sits and reads but also helps the librarian push the book cart and reshelve books.  I was a very happy aunt indeed when I pointed to the picture and asked where Poindexter was going, and my nephew immediately responded, “Library!”

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The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town by Gregory Miller

The Uncanny ValleyThe premise of The Uncanny Valley is that a radio station in central Pennsylvania launched a campaign to compile stories and personal accounts from small town citizens that showcase the culture of their hometowns.  Supposedly, thirty-three entries came from the same unheard-of town called Uncanny Valley, which may or may not have ever existed on a map, and the tales they tell are singular and incredible.  Those stories are collected in this book, written in thirty-three individual voices belonging to the residents of this ethereal town.

It would be easy to categorize this as a collection of ghost stories, except that so many of them are about living, breathing people who stay that way, albeit usually with some kind of transformation.  Rather, this is a series of distinctly peculiar tales that add on one another to create a composite view of a remarkable town and its denizens.  In bite-sized installments, none of the stories more than a few pages long, we are taken on a journey through the strange and wondrous annals of the Uncanny Valley.  The fictional small town setting serves as a microcosm, within which rules we live by are bent at will and nothing is more certain than uncertainty.

Miller manages his large cast of characters adeptly, successfully transitioning between old and young, male and female, corporeal and not.  Their personal tales are deftly interwoven, giving credence to their existence as neighbors, family, and friends.  It’s fun to see characters who gave testimony earlier in the book appear in the third person walking in and out of their friends’ accounts.  Frankly, I was waiting for some historical or character discrepancy to surface, but was pleasantly surprised to find consistency throughout.

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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Book Reviews, Horror

 

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Love Drugged by James Klise

Love DruggedHigh school can be a tricky four years to navigate under the best of circumstances.  For 15-year-old Jamie, there is an added complication: he is gay.  We’re living in 2011, when acceptance of the LGBT community is continually reaching new highs, but coming out to family and friends can still be a very difficult and terrifying step, especially for a teenager.  Jamie doesn’t want to wave flags or march in parades; he just wants to feel “normal” and make it through high school intact.

When a classmate discovers Jamie’s identity on a website for gay teens, he decides to preemptively dispel all rumors.  To protect the secret of his sexuality, Jamie begins seeing a girl named Celia Gamez, who is rich, beautiful, and popular.  Celia’s father happens to be in the business of developing new pharmaceutical drugs and lets slip one day that he is testing a new pill that can “cure” homosexuality.  Jamie thinks this is the perfect opportunity to finally become “normal” and carry his relationship with Celia to its expected result.  He steals some of the pills and secretly begins taking them before hanging out with Celia.

As you can guess, this plan doesn’t work out exactly as Jamie had imagined.  The exact downward spiral is best read firsthand, so go get yourself a copy.  I’ll wait…

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Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Ricardo Cortés

Go the F**k to SleepA friend and loyal reader of our blog requested that I review this book, and what a great suggestion that was.  Timely and certainly a fun book to review!  Her reasoning was:  “Because if you like it, I’m buying it for all my friends who have kids.”

With that kind of endorsement, who could resist?  That is what we’re here for, after all.

If you live under a rock and haven’t heard about this new picture book, it started as a joke.  Author Adam Mansbach posted the following status update on his Facebook profile one night: “Look out for my forthcoming children’s book, ‘Go the F**k to Sleep.’”  It received an overwhelming response, so he began to draft some actual verses.  Originally scheduled to be released in October, the release date was moved up several times due to demand and insane levels of pre-ordering.  It was finally released June 14th.  And it gets better: Samuel L. Jackson narrated the audio version, which is available for free on Audible.

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A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

A Sick Day for Amos McGeeConsidering this is book won the 2011 Caldecott Medal, I’m hardly the first person to sing its praises.  If you are not familiar with it, you’ll be wanting to find a copy at a bookstore in your area.

The story involves a zoo keeper named Amos McGee, who is attuned to the personalities of the animals in his charge and works to accommodate them.  He runs races with a tortoise, for instance, and the tortoise always wins.  The owl is afraid of the dark, so he reads stories to him.  The penguin is shy, so they just sit together in companionable silence.

Then one morning Amos wakes up sick and can’t go in to work at the zoo.  The animals take it upon themselves to visit him and return the kindness he has always shown them.  They play games with him, read books to him, and generally keep him company until he feels better.

I like how this book shows a loving relationship between a caretaker and his charges.  It also sends a strong message that if you treat others kindly, they will return the favor, without sounding the least bit preachy.  The illustrations are done in pencil and woodblock, giving the book an old-fashioned feeling, though it is brand new.  Every page features animals big and small – look for the hidden mice and birds throughout the story.  Even his bedspread at home has an animal theme, decorated with a peacock feather pattern.

Great read for an afternoon home sick or as a bedtime story!

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2011 in Book Reviews, Children's

 

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Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems

EdwinaI am declaring this week Children’s Book Review Week here at BwoB, both because I’m a little behind on my other reading and because it’s nice to try writing outside my usual realm of YA, genre, and select non-fiction.  It should be noted that many of the titles I review this week were first recommended to me by fellow blogger hardboundandgagged, our outstanding kids’ bookseller in another life, when they let all of us, y’know, sell books.  She’s helped me stock the libraries of my first niece and nephew, who are my current excuses for reading picture books.

Presumably everyone reading this blog has heard of Mo Willems, best known for his Pigeon and Knuffle  Bunny series.  Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct, is a bit off the beaten path of his other work, but still retains his signature wit in both the text and illustrations.  It stars Edwina, a dinosaur who didn’t get the memo about her species’ extinction and continues to help everyone in town and bake cookies.  A young boy named Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie (and you have to love that name) sets out to convince everyone in his class that dinosaurs truly are extinct, thinking it will make Edwina – obvious proof to the contrary – disappear.  Eventually Edwina hears him out, is convinced that she is extinct, but decides she just doesn’t care.  The book ends with Edwina and Reginald sharing some fresh-baked cookies.

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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Book Reviews, Children's

 

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