Jan 5, 2012

Dead end in Norvelt - John Gantos

Dead end in Norvelt - Gantos, John

Summary: In the historic town of Norvelt, Pennsylvania, twelve-year-old Jack Gantos spends the summer of 1962 grounded for various offenses until he is assigned to help an elderly neighbor with a most unusual chore involving the newly dead, molten wax, twisted promises, Girl Scout cookies, underage driving, lessons from history, typewriting, and countless bloody noses.

Library Media Connection
The town of Norvelt, Pennsylvania was founded in 1934 to provide out-of-work miners with affordable housing. By 1962, when this story takes place, the town is in decline. Jack's summer plans are thwarted when his mother places him under "house arrest," allowing him only to help arthritic Miss Volker. She dictates obituaries and historical facts to Jack who types them up and takes them to the newspaper office. When Miss Volker is accused of poisoning the women who died that summer, Jack sets out to clear her name. This is an interesting coming of age story. The town of Norvelt does exist, and author Jack Gantos did live there as a child. The town is populated by a series of eccentric characters who contribute to the humor of the story, and the relationship that develops between Jack and Miss Volker rings true. Gantos fans will find this one of his best works. Charlotte Decker, Librarian and Educational Reviewer, Cincinnati, Ohio [Editor's Note: Available in e-book format.] RECOMMENDED ¬ 2011 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

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Jan 2, 2012

Moby-duck - Donovan Hohn

Moby-duck: the true story of 28,800 bath toys lost at sea, and of the beachcombers, oceanographers, environmentalists, and fools--including the author--who went in search of them - Hohn, Donovan

Summary: When the author heard of the mysterious loss of thousands of bath toys at sea, he figured he would interview a few oceanographers, talk to a few beachcombers, and read up on Arctic science and geography. But questions can be like ocean currents: wade in too far, and they carry you away. His accidental odyssey pulls him into the secretive world of shipping conglomerates, the daring work of Arctic researchers, the lunatic risks of maverick sailors, and the shadowy world of Chinese toy factories. This work is a journey into the heart of the sea and an adventure through science, myth, the global economy, and some of the worst weather imaginable. With each new discovery, he learns of another loose thread, and with each successive chase, he comes closer to understanding where his castaway quarry comes from and where it goes.

Booklist Reviews
*Starred Review* Like Bill Bryson on hard science, or John McPhee with attitude, journalist Hohn travels from beaches to factories to the northern seas in pursuit of a treasure that mystifies as much as it provokes. His quest is to determine what happened to a load of 28,800 Chinese manufactured plastic animals in a container that fell off a ship en route to Seattle in 1992. Hohn's inquiry leads him to 10 Little Rubber Ducks (2005), children's author Eric Carle's idealized board-book version, and also to the plastic-strewn beaches of an Alaskan island, a Hong Kong toy fair, and the Sesame Street origins of the rubber duck's popularity. By turns thoughtful, bemused, or shocked, Hohn finds the story growing beyond his wildest visions as he learns about the science of ocean currents and drift and the lure of cheap plastic in a consumer culture that has dangerously lost its way. The resulting book is a thoroughly engaging environmental/travel title that crosses partisan divides with its solid research and apolitical nature. Rubber ducks as harmless, ubiquitous symbols of childhood? Not anymore, not by a long shot. This dazzles from start to finish. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

UCSB Reads

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For the win - Cory Doctorow

For the win - Doctorow, Cory

Summary: A group of teens from around the world find themselves drawn into an online revolution arranged by a mysterious young woman known as Big Sister Nor, who hopes to challenge the status quo and change the world using her virtual connections.

Booklist Reviews
*Starred Review* Doctorow is indispensable. It's hard to imagine any other author taking on youth and technology with such passion, intelligence, and understanding. Although perhaps less urgent than Little Brother (2008), this effort is superior in every other aspect: scope, plot, character, and style. Set in the near future and in locations across the globe (though primarily China and India), the story involves a sweeping cast of characters making a living—if you want to call brutal conditions and pitiful wages a "living"—in such virtual-game worlds as Svartalfheim Warriors and Zombie Mecha. Many of them, like 15-year-old Mala (known by her troops as "General Robotwalla"), endure physical threats from their bosses to farm virtual gold, which is then sold to rich First World gamers. Then these brilliant teens are brought together by the mysterious Big Sister Nor, who has a plan to unionize and bring these virtual worlds—and real-world sweatshops, too—to a screeching halt. Once again Doctorow has taken denigrated youth behavior (this time, gaming) and recast it into something heroic. He can't resist the occasional lecture—sometimes breaking away from the plot to do so—but thankfully his lessons are riveting. With it's eye-opening humanity and revolutionary zeal, this ambitious epic is well worth the considerable challenge. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

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Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: a World War II story of survival, resilience,and redemption - Hillenbrand, Laura

Summary: On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared--Lt. Louis Zamperini. Captured by the Japanese and driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor.

Kirkus Reviews
The author of Seabiscuit (2001) returns with another dynamic, well-researched story of guts overcoming odds.

Hillenbrand examines the life of Louis Zamperini, an American airman who, after his bomber crashed in the Pacific during World War II, survived 47 days on a life raft only to be captured by Japanese soldiers and subjected to inhuman treatment for the next two years at a series of POW camps. That his life spiraled out of control when he returned home to the United States is understandable. However, he was able to turn it around after meeting Billy Graham, and he became a Christian speaker and traveled to Japan to forgive his tormentors. The author reconstructs Zamperini's wild youth, when his hot temper, insubordination, and bold pranks seemed to foretell a future life of crime. His talents as a runner, however, changed all that, getting him to the 1936 Olympics and to the University of Southern California, where he was a star of the track team. When the story turns to World War II, Hillenbrand expands her narrative to include men who served with him in the Air Corps in the Pacific. Through letters and interviews, she brings to life not just the men who were with Zamperini on the life raft and in the Japanese camps, but the families they left behind. The suffering of the men is often difficult to read, for the details of starvation, thirst and shark attacks are followed by the specifics of the brutalities inflicted by the Japanese, particularly the sadistic Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who seemed dedicated to making Zamperini's life unbearable. Hillenbrand follows Watanabe's life after the Japanese surrender, providing the perfect foil to Zamperini's. When Zamperini wrote to his former tormentor to forgive him and attempted to meet him in person, Watanabe rejected him. Throughout are photographs of World War II bombers, POW camps, Zamperini and his fellow GIs and their families and sweethearts, providing a glimpse into a bygone era. Zamperini is still thriving at age 93.

Alternately stomach-wrenching, anger-arousing and spirit-lifting—and always gripping.
Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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A scanner darkly - Philip K. Dick

A scanner darkly - Dick, Philip K.

Summary:  Bob Arctor is a junkie and a drug-dealer, both using and selling the mind-altering Substance D. Fred is a law enforcement agent, tasked with bringing Bob down. It sounds like a standard case. The only problem is that Bob and Fred are the same person.
In this multiple-award-winning novel, friends can become enemies, good trips can turn terrifying, and cops and criminals are two sides of the same coin. In this highly autobiographical novel, Dick is at turns caustically funny and somberly contemplative, fashioning a novel that is as unnerving as it is enthralling.

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Jan 1, 2012

Modigliani: a life - Meryle Secrest

Modigliani: a life - Meryle Secrest

Summary: A profile of the celebrated modernist artist includes coverage of his upbringing as a Sephardic Jewish youth by a impoverished Italian family, his considerable training, and the ways in which his private battles with tuberculosis shaped his achievements.

Booklist Reviews
*Starred Review* With a keen nose for canards and unprecedented access to primary materials, exemplary biographer Secrest (Duveen, 2004) revisits the life and achievemen of artist Modigliani, who worked under a death sentence she believes he kept secret. Tuberculosis raged across Europe during Modigliani's brief life, infecting him when he was a book-loving, artistic teen in Livorno, Italy, and claiming his life in 1920, when he was only 35. Based on an intriguing set of clues she energetically delineates, Secrest theorizes about how the handsome, life-loving, ambitious artist concealed his condition. As for his notorious drunkenness, Secrest suggests that the alcohol helped control his persistent coughing. With this template in place, every aspect of Modigliani's life takes on new meaning, including his iconic portraits, which derived from his deep fascination with masks, the perfect symbol for his own camouflage. Modigliani's depictions of women constitute some of the world's most evocative masterpieces, and women close to him dominate Secrest's account, from his smart, cultured mother, Eugénie, to his lovers, the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, writer and journalist Beatrice Hastings, and, tragically, the "enchanting" art student, Jeanne Hébuterne. Secrest's new insights into Hébuterne, her suicide, and the struggles of her and Modigliani's daughter complete this astute and gripping biography. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

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The return of the Dapper Men - Jim McCann

The return of the Dapper Men - McCann, Jim

Summary: "[A] tale of a world in between time, where children have played so long it's almost become work, machines have worked so long they have begun to play, and all the clocks have stopped at the same time. This is how this land has remained, until 314 dapper-looking gentlemen rain down from the sky and set off in different directions to start the world again. Now Ayden, the only boy to still ask questions; Zoe, the robot girl all other machines hold dear; and the Dapper Man known only as '41' must discover what happened that made time stop, understand what their true places are in this world, and learn what 'tomorrow' really means. The sun is setting for the first time in memory, and once that happens, everything changes"--From publisher's web site.

Booklist Reviews
*Starred Review* This beguiling graphic novel joins the likes of Shaun Tan's The Arrival (2007) and John Harris Dunning and Nikhil Singh's Salem Brownstone (2010) as a book that is so immediately distinctive that it promises a unique reading experience—and more than delivers. In the dreamy land of Anorev, children, all under age 11, live underground among intricate gear-work mechanisms, while elegant robots live in abandoned houses aboveground: "Neither children nor machines knew which was work nor what was play, and neither seemed to be any fun or any use." All are perpetually stuck in the same day, and time has, essentially, ceased to mean anything—until 314 Dapper Men rain from the sky and set in motion the impetus for change. The sometimes slippery-to-grasp story plays around with classic Peter Pan themes, obliquely delivering the message that childhood is not something to hold in limbo; it can only find meaning and value in moving forward, in growing and changing and looking to tomorrow as much as revering today. But where this book truly stands out is how well the story works in concert with Lee's stunning artwork, which employs an art nouveau sheen. Arresting layouts give the book an ethereal, timeless quality and turn each page into a frameworthy work of art. A true dazzler that speaks on multiple levels for both child and adult readers and one that gets richer with each read. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Eisner Award Winner

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Shockaholic - Carrie Fisher

Shockaholic - Fisher, Carrie

Summary: Presents a memoir about the actress' relationship with her father, singer Eddie Fisher, her electroconvulsive therapy, and her past encounters with such recently-deceased celebrities as Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Senator Edward Kennedy.

Booklist Reviews
Carrie Fisher has written another book about herself. "Really? Again?" you might say. Or, as Fisher puts it, "Here's something about me, and here's another thing about me I don't think I told you." But her hope, as she says in the introduction, is that, upon completion, readers will say, "By the last page, I had forgotten she was an over–the–Beverly Hills mediocre actress." And, it's true, you do forget that, because, really, Fisher is a writer, an observer, and a keen one at that. Her way with words, even though she claims electroshock treatments have made her forget many of them, is raw and raucous. On the minus side, she only seems to want to observe her own life, and having done that before, she offers a book on the slim side, as though it, like her, has been to Jenny Craig. That said, she doubled-dated with Ted Kennedy, was fast friends with Michael Jackson, and reached a rapprochement with father Eddie Fisher when she realized all she had to do was play parent to his child. "Mentally ill" she may call herself, but she's never boring. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Fisher has hit best-seller lists throughout her writing career, beginning with Postcards from the Edge (1987). The success of her recent one-woman show on Broadway will spark additional interest in this autobiographical follow-up. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

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Astonishing X-Men Omnibus - Joss Whedon

Astonishing X-Men Omnibus - Whedon, Joss

Summary: Now in one titanic tome: the entire chart-topping run of super-team Joss Whedon and John Cassaday! Winner of multiple prestigious Eisner Awards, Whedon and Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men was a smash hit with critics and fans alike from the very first issue - winning praise from dozens of top media outlets including Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, TV Guide, and New York Magazine, as well as racking up nearly every major comic-book industry award. Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Whedon and Cassaday (Captain America, Planetary) assembled a tight cast - Cyclops, the Beast, Wolverine, and Emma Frost, joined by returning fan-favorite Kitty Pryde - and set forth a groundbreaking pace, from the opening pages of a Sentinel attack to the unexpected return of a beloved X-Man. Then, building on early momentum, they ratcheted up the danger and drama with a shocking second year, creating a must-read book that can truly be called "astonishing!" Collects Astonishing X-Men #1-24, and Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1.

Staff Review
Astonishingly wonderful!  Great for X-Men fans, Joss Whedon fans, or anyone who loves graphic novels.

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Everything - Lynda Barry

Everything. Collected and uncollected comics from around 1978-1982 - Barry, Lynda

Summary: The creator of "Ernie Pook's Comeek" presents a collection of her first strips and includes her earliest books--"Girls and Boys" and "Big Ideas"--in a treasury that explores such themes as bad love, bad hair, and being single. - (Baker & Taylor)

Publishers Weekly Reviews
Barry (What It Is; Picture This) has emerged as a 21st-century creative guru, a teacher with a knack for helping students find their inner spark. But in the late 1970s and '80s, she was a young cartoonist with a pocketful of underground influences and her own inimitable perspective on the world. In this first volume of an omnibus of her work, Barry introduces the collection of comics strips produced between 1978 and 1981 with drawings copied (her word) from artists like Dr. Seuss and R. Crumb, as well as what she calls the "sweeter line" of late '70s advertising illustrations. Barry's distinction between the "bitter" and the "sweet" informs the three strips collected—the scratchy-lined "Ernie Pook's Comeek," a collection of almost random observations and non sequiturs that sometimes veer into the incomprehensible; the ethereal line of "Two Sisters," about sweet-faced identical twins with an innocent but slanted view on life; and "Girls and Boys," with its chaotic panels and geometric figures, which focuses on the intense absurdity of relationships between the sexes. Barry's touch as a creator is already established even in this early stage, her talent for creating child characters, penchant for encouraging the reader to engage creatively, and touches of surrealism impelling a creative force that cannot be categorized. (Nov.)

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A prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving

A prayer for Owen Meany - Irving, John

Summary: In the summer of 1953, two 11-year-old boys--best friends--are playing in a Little League baseball game in New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills his best friend's mother. Owen Meany believes he didn't hit the ball by accident. He believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after 1953 is extraordinary and terrifying. He is Irving's most heartbreaking hero.

Library Journal Reviews
Diminutive Owen Meaney, the social outcast with the high, pinched voice, has an enormous influence on his friend Johnny Wheelwright--not least because the only baseball Owen ever hits causes the death of Johnny's mother. But as Johnny claims, ``Owen gave me more than he ever took from me. . . . What did he ever say that wasn't right?'' Spookily prescient, convinced that he is an instrument of God, Owen intimidates child and adult alike. Why Johnny ``is a Christian because of Owen Meaney'' is the novel's central mystery but not its only one: Who, for instance, was Johnny's father? Untangling these knots, the adult Johnny pauses to consider his religious convictions and distaste of American politics in passages that are neither especially persuasive nor effectively integrated into the book. And though Owen is a compelling presence, his power over others is not entirely convincing. Still, readers will be drawn in by the story of the boys' friendship and by the desire to see some resolution to Johnny's mysteries.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal'' Copyright 1989 Cahners Business Information.

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