Everything you need to know to torture your siblings physically and mentally: all the classic moves, plus some modern twists like buying a universal remote to up the ante in the war for the TV.
Why I picked it up: I liked Wilson’s How to Survive a Robot Uprising and I have fond memories of tormenting my little brother.
Why I finished it: This book was clearly written by a master of the craft. I learned many new moves, and because Wilson uses the standard names for the techniques, I was able to find out what some of the ones I had only read mention of were (including many from the excellent brother-torture novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha). The light tone of the book helped as I was overwhelmed with memories of childhood battles.
I'd give it to: Jen, whose adult sisters are clearly getting out of line. Gigi, an only child, so she can learn about what she’s missing out on.
The reincarnation cycle encompasses the Spirit World, Half World and our world, the Realm of Flesh. When things are going well, all are in balance, allowing for movement back and forth. But the cycle is broken. Before she is born, Melanie’s parents escape from Half World for her sake. They set in motion a chain of events that necessitate Melanie’s return to Half World fourteen years later. To help her parents, she must face Mr. Glueskin, a creepy man-beast who can break off pieces of his sticky tongue to bind prisoners as well as swallow people whole.
Why I picked it up: Recommended by a librarian friend. I mistakenly thought this was originally published in Japanese (it wasn't, the author is Canadian) and decided to read it because I wanted to read a fantasy in translation.
Why I finished it: The menagerie of strange, half-human characters that populate this shadow world. It definitely has its own rules. Think of the willful craziness of Tim Burton’s films set in a world whose inhabitants continually relive their nightmares. This is bizarre in the extreme, and a certain group of kids will love the inspired wackiness of it.
I'd give it to: Donnie Darko fans like my friend Phil, as this has the same dark spirit and not everything makes sense. Cassidy, who continually doodles bizarre creatures on her folders. MT, who would see herself in the nerdy, self-doubting Melanie.
The Cardturner: a novel about a king, a queen, and a joker by Louis Sachar. Read by Louis Sachar. Random House / Listening Library, 2010. 9780307712158. Reviewed by Silver
Alton’s mother obsessively tries to stay on good terms with his rich uncle, who is dying because of diabetes. During summer vacation, she volunteers Alton to drive his blind uncle back and forth between his mansion and the bridge center. Alton also has to be his uncle’s cardturner because the last one was fired for asking the master player, “Are you sure?”
Bridge interests Alton, and plays nicely into his malfunctioning and embarrassing family history.
Why I picked it up: I needed an audio book, and I loved Sachar’s Holes.
Why I finished it: Bridge is similar to the trick taking game Wizard that I like to play. I wanted to know more about the game, and about how far Alton’s mom would push him to make sure they inherited his uncle’s money.
I'd give it to: Michel, who likes games and has the weirdest, most dysfunctional family I’ve ever seen or read about. And to Donnie who was always a good friend to girls but never a boyfriend, because Alton’s best friend dates the girls he likes.
Poop Happened! A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee, illustrated by Robert Leighton. Walker Books for Young Readers, 2010. 9780802720771. Reviewed by Gene Ambaum
The history of the world in terms of what people did with their waste, diseases, bugs, and bathing habits from ancient times to present day. Illustrated with drawings, photographs, and rats and insects scattered on pages throughout.
Why I picked it up: The opening chapters read like a kid’s version of The Big Necessity, which I loved.
Why I finished it: It has much more of a historic focus than The Big Necessity, and it was a real opportunity to build my poop-related vocabulary: gongfermor, garderobe, closestool, and Venus Cloacina (to name but a few). The historic details about the toilet habits of ancient Romans and others had me howling, particularly as I re-shot (in my mind) famous movie scenes in light of the information I read here. I’d never considered how truly filthy the streets were in ancient times, and I now never want to swim in a castle’s moat.
I'd give it to: Middle and grade school history teachers interested in bringing the past alive for students like me. I never cared about what was in our textbooks, and my teachers were clearly as bored with them as I was. Why didn’t they ever discuss how to go to the bathroom in medieval armor, kimonos, or fancy royal gowns?
Hollywood Hellraisers: The Wild Lives and Fast Times of Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Warren Beatty, and Jack Nicholson by Robert Sellers. Skyhorse Publishing, 2010. 9781616080358. Reviewed by Bill Barnes
Trashy group biography of four movie stars who, between them, slept with most of Hollywood over the last four decades.
Why I picked it up: Wanted to see if I was mentioned by name.
Why I finished it: (I wasn't, but everyone else was.) Became fascinated by the contrast between Warren Beatty, supremely self-confident, and Marlon Brando, damaged goods. Both were very smooth with the ladies, though. How did I miss that Warren dated Madonna during the whole Dick Tracy thing?
I'd give it to: My mom, to add to the pile of movie-star tell-all biographies I've recently given her. Elizabeth, a homeschooling mom who loves to talk about celebrities and sex. Maybe she'll add it to her kids' curriculum.
Maggie’s father tears her from high-society right before her debut and takes her west. He’s broke and has a job waiting in the wilds of the nascent Yellowstone National Park. Tom, a geologist’s son, slightly distracts her from her predicament. Mr. Graybull, a moneyed suitor, promises a return to a privileged life. A female photographer creating a pictorial essay on the park shows her that independence is possible, and possibly desirable. Maggie learns the truth about her mother’s madness and death, along with other family secrets, and must choose which life she wants.
Why I picked it up: Because it looks like the kind of sappy book my wife loves. I got it for her, figuring I would plow through it and pass it on.
Why I finished it: It is as much a book about the gloriousness of early Yellowstone as it is about society and relationships. The nature scenes are compelling, the budding love affair is delicious and Maggie’s growth is palpable.
I'd give it to: Victoria, who enjoys Janette Rallison’s clean, relationship-driven novels.
A space capsule unexpectedly falls into the Indian Ocean, where it is recovered by the U.S. 5th Fleet. It’s from the 1960s, and it is not empty. The astronauts insist on speaking to NASA personnel. The story they tell seems impossible, but requires further investigation.
Astronaut Helen Freeman, upset at the cancellation of NASA’s Mars mission, is trying to be a better mom. But after being called in to help investigate the capsule, she has a hard time keeping her promises to her daughter.
Why I picked it up: Given the title, the cover image puzzled me. (The title still does.)
Why I finished it: This graphic novel quickly establishes an X-files meets From The Earth to the Moon vibe. I was genuinely creeped out after I found out who the astronauts were, but I was not disappointed as more details were revealed.
I'd give it to: Lisa, from my writing group, who wrote an amazing science fiction story last year and would like the realistic tone and hard science in this book. Dave, who likes the realistic look of Brian K. Vaughn’s Ex Machina, would find a lot to love in the art of this book.
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Jan. 19, 2018 Downer's Grove, IL
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