Jennie's Picks (page 1)
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Jennie is a huge tech dork who has lived in Arizona for so long that 60ºF feels intolerably cold. She really enjoys explosions, giant spaceships, ghoulish monsters, and other common features of the "neat, something else blew up" genres. Although some would say otherwise, she would vociferously argue that graphic novels and genre fiction are totally littérature sérieuse. Sometimes she comes back from her first love — sci-fi and the Milky Way (to see the lights all faded, heaven is overrated, etc) — and reads books about economics, technology, LGBT interests, and philosophy.
Novik's newest conjured up all the magic of my old childhood favorites. Staying up late three nights in a row, I consumed Uprooted with the same glee I had once consumed the novels of Tamora Pierce or Dianne Wynne Jones. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that fantasy could be scary but redeeming, classic but excitingly new, romantic but not cliche. Uprooted is all of those things, and more. I highly recommend this one to people a bit weary of the doom-and-gloom of fantasy blockbusters like Game of Thrones or the formulaic predictability that plagues YA fantasy and/or dystopian bestsellers.
Ahoy matey! If you like pirates, you'll like Cambias' near-future tale of both high seas and space piracy, complete with lots of high-dollar hauls, lawless murder, and swashbuckling thrills. Santiago is all plucky military insubordination and heroics when it comes down to thwarting the aims of the amoral but brilliant space pirate David (who also happens to be her ex-boyfriend). They soon cross paths with hapless Anne, an intrepid sailor of the high seas, who is drawn into their orbit while trying to sail around the world. Soon, all three are embroiled in an international high-stakes game of billion-dollar vice and villainy. While Corsair has just enough campy thrills to be solid mindless fun, Cambias' near-future imaginings of lunar mining shipments hijacked by hacked satellites is plenty techy enough to please even the pickiest of geeks.
This is my favorite Stephenson novel since Snow Crash. Which is saying a lot, because I think this will be for hard sci-fi what Snow Crash was for cyberpunk: an impressive and timeless example of that particular sci-fi subgenre. So, Seveneves in a nutshell: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Elon Musk, and a large group of diverse badass women do incredibly difficult nerdy stuff in space. Honestly, this book is so intelligent that it hurts. If you're the kind of geek that really wants to read hundreds of pages about what cool stuff people can do with orbital mechanics, swarm physics, hijacked comets, and micro-robotics, look no further. Think of it as Andy Weir's The Martian on steroids, plus some H. G. Wells-style utopia, and a healthy dose of World War Z end-of-the-world horror. Yes, it's really that awesome, I promise.
Talk about a book that hits you right in the feels. McCloud's latest is not only gorgeous, it's evocative and dramatic enough to physically hurt. In cinematic illustrations (I could almost hear the overwrought indie soundtrack), he deconstructs the stereotypical archetypes of the starving artist and the manic pixie dream girl in two incredibly flawed protagonists who are possibly worse together than they are alone... and they're pretty awful alone. Pretend you've got the bad-idea love story of Romeo and Juliet, add some art, and then set it in modern New York with a deceptively dark urban fantasy twist. That's The Sculptor. Pick this one up if you want to spend half a day marveling over McCloud's art, and the other half feeling sad.
Cambias tackles some of my very favorite topics in sci-fi: alien contact and the "hard" science behind realistic near-future space exploration. Here, he crafts a tale of three dueling cultures (two alien, one human) through several different points of view. Where he really shines is through the character of Broadtail -- a curious and scientifically-motivated being living beneath the massive pressure and icy crust of his dark homeworld ocean. Outcast from his home, he wanders through the depths in hope of finding an achievement to call his own. Through almost accidental contact with the intrepid and stubborn human explorers, and their isolationist foes, he finds his own destiny. I'd highly, highly recommend this to fans of Kim Stanley Robinson, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, or Andy Weir's The Martain, and the movies Interstellar and Gravity.
This fabulously scandalous retelling of a hapless history of hooking up in New York is blisteringly funny. Oliver pulls no punches, dishing out the nitty-gritty details, like exactly how much his admiration for his neighbor's terrace factored into his decision to sleep with him, also, what it feels like to have a disapproving Asian physician examine you for STDs. His humor is always extremely self-deprecating, to hilarious effect, such as when he waxes poetics about how pathetically addicted he is to social media, drinking, avoiding commitment, and his habits of hovering awkwardly in corners during parties. Although the laughs come fast and furious, there's a real undercurrent of genuine sentiment under the all the absurdity, making this a highly inappropriate, but nonetheless thoughtful, examination of sex, urban life, alienation, and being alone in a crowd.
Gregorio's newest book tackles a monstrously-important emerging issue: the question of gender identity and what it means to be a boy or a girl in a world that often does not understand ambiguity or respect self-determination. Kristin, a girl born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), is a sympathetic protagonist and a compassionate introduction to intersex individuals. The author's willingness to tackle hate crimes, teenage sexuality, and high school bullying without melodramatics or coy aversion to the details gives Kristin's story a particularly realistic feel. Sensitive and informative, None of the Above is a valuable fictional resource.
There are books you read to enrich yourself, to revel in the artistry of the English language. And then there's books that you read because they keep you up all night with giant freaking space battles. Golden Son the latter, and a paragon in the "neat, something else blew up" genre. Pretty much everything you could possibly want in a dystopian sci-fi novel is turned up to eleven, and then Brown adds even more explosions, betrayals, and gory duels. This book was exciting enough that I cried, couldn't eat, and then experienced a little chest pain. Highly recommended to people who enjoy juggling things on fire or wrestling alligators.
My problem with Brian Vaughn is that everything he does is brilliant. I learned this troubling fact when I was first introduced to his work with this series. And hey -- if you missed this when it was new, don't worry, it's still just as good a decade later. Yorick Brown is the only surviving man when a plague wipes out every man on Earth. What sounds like the lurid plot for a sexploitation film becomes the vehicle for the most touching exploration of love, gender, and coming-of-age I've ever found in a graphic novel. I should confess that I'm a total evangelist for this series, and hopefully, after you read it, you will be too.
You might be on the fence regarding this book, what with how similar it sounds to Harry Potter. Clare and Black do pull heavily from the "magical school" trope to draw in initial attention. But although I thought I'd find it derivative and boring, I never did. The two authors deftly introduce a likable and diverse cast of teenagers navigating the perils of friendship, loyalty, and encroaching war without coming across as cheesy or insincere. Where they really shine is the absolute doozy of a plot twist at the end. I thought I had this one's "big reveal" pinned down, only to be totally thwarted halfway through and then blindsided by the actual reveal. This series starter is sure to please the voracious middle-grade and teenage fantasy enthusiasts in your life.
Where was this book when I was in high school economics? Chang's brilliant and timely hands-on guide to basic economics demystifies the financial headlines while unearthing all the ideological and historical context behind the op-ed articles. If textbooks were written like this, we'd have a world of the very "active economic citizens" that Chang beseeches his readers to become -- before more bad economic decisions go unquestioned. Pick this one up if you want to be the person in every Happy Hour conversation who finds herself or himself cringing at your friends' opinions.
The best non-fiction books, in my opinion, shouldn't just entertain you, they should change you. Carr, like in The Shallows, expertly takes an ubiquitous convenience of modern life--previously the Internet and now, automation--and dismantles everyday idealistic assumption about the benefits of their increasing dominance of our lives. Using a mix of anecdotes, statistics, history, and even the theories of the Luddites and Marxists, Carr provides many convincing reasons why we should think twice before putting technological progress--self-driving cars, self-flying planes, self-trading stocks--before human beings who may not be best served by becoming mere shepherds or monitors of complex systems and algorithms. His chapter about how the brain processes spatial information, for instance, compelled me to turn off my GPS before I lose my sense of direction and become a slave to my smartphone. But Carr is not simply an alarmist. The Glass Cage is still a celebration of technology and progress, but one that asks us to consider the human consequences of its misuse.
Where California Bones really shines is the fantastic world-building. Urban fantasy is almost a dime-a-dozen today, but Eekhout's newest stands above a lot of the pack with an inventive (and gruesome) magic system and coherent dystopian setting inspired by the landmarks and history of Los Angeles. The familiar twists and turns of a heist plot seem more exciting and unique, cast in the light of Eekhout's dog-eat-dog (literally) Southern California. Yes, this book involves cannibalism. There's an awful lot of tension and horror to mine when your characters regularly face the existential crisis of being eaten alive by their foes. And this first installment of a trilogy very liberally exploits that feeding frenzy for a break-neck, never boring, thrill ride.
I found it prophetic that Piketty's treatise on 21st-century economic policy was titled exactly the same as Marx's 19th-century book on the very same topic. Like Marx, Piketty has written a game-changer--absolutely shattering myths about taxation and capitalism that both the left and the right have held for centuries. Capitalism, he argues, is no equalizer. The convergence of post-war incomes was a great anomaly. Instead, capitalism inherently preserves the great wealth of executives, wealthy heirs, and others who deliberately manipulate a system rigged in their favor. And, he shows, the game they rig will threaten democracy itself unless we preemptively combat it with more progressive taxation than even most leftists would dream of proposing. But Capital is no book of lofty academic ideas and ideals. Piketty (and his translator) are surprisingly readable, and he drives his points home with impressive amounts of historical and cross-country data--much of which he gathered himself. You'll read passages of this out loud to your politically-minded friends over coffee or wine, I guarantee it.
Noggin is seriously touching YA fiction, and perfect for fans of John Green. Whaley's protagonist, Travis, is pitch-perfect all the way through. Not to mention his cast of memorable supporting characters, all of which have their own unique voice. Mostly, I loved Noggin because of its allegorical power and how expertly it touched on the universal themes of growing up with such an outlandish premise. Travis tackles, head on (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) his short-sighted teenage naiveté, the dangers of expecting people to be exactly what you want them to be, taking for granted your support system, and how to let go of people who've moved past you. Mostly, Noggin is about learning to live again after you've given up, and how to convince the people you lost to risk caring enough to lose you again. Don't hold it against me, but I might have teared up at some scenes.
You'd think you're too smart to fall for a con—particularly a con involving a murderous German immigrant, who posed as a member of the high-profile Rockefeller family for nearly two decades. But that's exactly what happened to Ivy-educated author Walter Kirn—he fell for it. In Blood Will Out, Kirn reveals how he was duped by a real-life Mr. Ripley posing as "Clark Rockefeller," a man who preyed on Kirn's vulnerability, his willingness to politely collude in lies rather than create a scene, and his pride in keeping such distinguished company—to literally get away with murder. Blood Will Out is not just a good yarn, but an excellently written one as well. Kirn dissects his own deception with the regret of hindsight and the frustrated rage of a man betrayed by a fiend he thought a friend. You can't help but feel sorry for Kirn, and share the same manic creeping dread as he discovers just how much he aided in his own beguilement. If you loved In Cold Blood, this one is for you. Just don't read it with the lights off.
Green's prose reminds me a lot of Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking Trilogy)—sparse, beautiful and haunting. Nathan lives in an England where witches reside alongside humans. There are White witches, who are good, and Black whites, who are evil—and then there's Nathan, the product of a White mother and a Black father. And not just any Black witch, but the most feared of them all. Nathan's childhood as a known "Half Code" is fraught with incredible discrimination, culminating in the Council of White witches separating him from his family and keeping him in a cage. Green weaves a much subtler magic than other teen fantasy authors, preferring to let the bleak cultural bigotry of the world she builds and the unforgettable characters speak for themselves. Books and authors like this are why you should be taking teen fiction seriously.
Pierce's dystopian sci-fi jaunt will inevitably draw comparisons to The Hunger Games or Ender's Game with its themes of stratified class structures and twisted youth worship, but in tone it echoes the brutality of A Game of Thrones or Battle Royale. Darrow is sixteen and already a man, employed as a Helldiver, the deadliest job in his caste of short-lived "Reds," who toil in virtual slavery to terraform Mars for Earth's colonists. But that thin veneer of soothing propaganda is ripped wide open when the higher colors hang his wife. Recruited to a terrorist group and surgically transformed into the highest caste to take them down from inside, Darrow must discover how far he's willing to go for revenge—and if hate alone can sustain a man. Dark and fast-paced, I didn't put this one down until it was already light outside. This deserves the hype!
After the Golden Age is a fun, nostalgic read, tailor-made for comic book nerds. Every major plot point was a treat—with plenty of references to things like doomsday devices, spandex and how evil goons are never very reliable. But behind the send-up to Golden Age comic book geekery, there is a cast of real characters. Through her protagonist Celia West, Vaughn explores the timeless theme of growing up in the shadows of your parents and their accomplishments—Celia's parents are the most famous superheroes of Commerce City, and she's just a normal accountant. Vaughn manages to both satirize and celebrate comic book tropes while crafting such a compulsively readable novel that I couldn't put down. Oh, and the sequel, Dreams of the Golden Age, just came out, and it's just as good.
With chronic migraines and enough allergies to write a book on digestive discomfort, I was looking for anything—a magic pill, hypnosis, standing on my head—to alleviate the daily flare-ups of this health problem or that one. One of my doctors suggested radically changing what I ate, and a friend with a similar problem (IBS) raved about the success she had on the Paleo diet. So I took the plunge—with Sanfilippo's help. Reading "Practical Paleo" is like having a nutritionist in your back pocket. You'll get charts of what sugars and fats to eat, which to avoid, and all the science (and it's pretty good science -- I'm a huge skeptic when it comes to cure-all diet voodoo science) behind why margarine and canola oil is bad and bacon fat and butter is good (and tastier, by the way). Plus, the recipes are delicious and EASY. I especially loved the chorizo meatballs, and I'm going to admit that I eat "baconnaise" on pretty much everything when I get around to making it. I love how "Practical Paleo" isn't really a diet—it's a holistic nutritional guide to making lifetime changes for your health. The crowning achievement of this dense book is Sanfilippo's 30-day meal plans—all tailored to what you want Paleo to do for you, whether it's fat-loss, super clean eating, managing a misbehaving thyroid, or eating for neurological health. I've since moved on to a more ketogenic diet—Paleo and Atkin's bastard bacon-obsessed child—for my migraines, but this book is still a touchstone of good advice and easily-modified recipes.
I like the Cannes. I like graphic novels. So when I heard an adaptation of a graphic novel had taken the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, I had to read it. Blue is the Warmest Color lives up to the hype and more. Maroh's art is emotive, but sparse, managing to convey the terrible burden of a life, and a love, in the margins. Veering between the raw operatic tragedy of teenage passion and the subtle, somber adversities of adulthood endings, Clementine's coming-out manages to be familiar, yet exotic–woven as it is with the many shades of blue Morah chooses to represent mercurial Emma. This is a timeless, beautiful graphic novel–one I'm sure to read again and again.
Boxers and Saints, Gene Luen Yang's most ambitious project to date, tells the story of Bao and Four-Girl, two Chinese peasants from the same village who wind up on opposite sides of the Boxer Rebellion. In Boxers, Bao follows the hopes and desires he finds embodied in the Chinese pantheon to lead the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist. Yang's art blends historical fact with Chinese mythology to depict the steep price Bao pays to become a hero. This theme is carried into Four-Girl's story, Saints, painted in more muted colors. Never given a name (being fourth-born is an omen of death), Four-Girl is mistreated by her family her entire life. She finds acceptance in the encroaching Christian missionaries, who baptize her Vibiana. Abandoning Chinese culture, she finds inspiration to defend her beliefs through the story of Joan of Arc. Boxers and Saints left me deeply affected; Vibiana and Bao will stay with me a long time. Just as American-Born Chinese, Yang's Boxers and Saints is a triumph of graphic novels.
Burial Rites is gorgeous, the kind of book you both praise and jealously damn the author for masterfully writing. Melancholic and achingly claustrophobic, Kent's prose recreates the agony of waiting to die and the inevitable, impossible process of accepting one's harsh fate. Told in shifting points of view, Agnes' cynicism towards her impending death stay with you even after the axe falls. Kent also doesn't spare the reader from the heartless expanses of an Icelandic winter, faithfully detailing the minutia of a 19th-century peasant's rural life. What Kent has created is a beautiful speculative biography of a life half-lived, but hard-fought.
Super Graphic combines two of my very favorite things: graphic design and unapologetic geekiness. Flipping through this book is like viewing a collection of the very best cutting-edge design pieces, except every single one references the parts of pop culture you like best. Here, there's almost 200 pages of clever, hilarious, and genuinely informative, scatterplots, bar graphs, pie charts, and more. Leong's use of color, scale and sparse text to convey massive amounts of information about the confusing, wonderful worlds (sorry, *universes*) of comics make this the kind of gift nerds of all stripes would be ecstatic to receive. This is the kind of coffee table book, without the coffee table price, that any comic aficionado should be proud to display alongside stacks upon fire-hazard stacks of Superman, X-Men or Avengers back issues. And if you're more of an indie comic fan, like me, then there's plenty in here on indie favorites like Persepolis, Y: The Last Man, and The Walking Dead. Super Graphic is seriously beautiful and serious about comics.
Think you've read enough about dystopian futures and superheroes? No, you haven't. Sanderson takes those two genres and hits the ground running, constructing a post-apocalyptic world ruled by ruthless, invulnerable superhumans called "epics." Even though Steelheart is packed with enough gritty action scenes to please any adrenaline-junkie, there's still plenty of meaty world building and meaningful character development. I was thrilled to be taken aback by no less than three major plot twists; two I didn't see coming, and one I *thought* I did, until the big reveal. I knew that Sanderson was a brilliant epic fantasy writer. His first foray into young adult science fiction proves that he's just a brilliant writer, period.
Vaughan is the kind of guy nerdlings like me should know – he produced LOST, wrote Runaways (an excellent X-Men spinoff) and is the genius behind Y: The Last Man, one of my favorite indie comic series. So when I heard he was working on another indie sci-fi comic, my response was "yes please," followed shortly by, "shut up and take my money." Saga is what happens when you combine Star Wars and Romeo and Juliet, and then add a dash of genre-savvy absurdism. Fiona Staples' artwork – a beautiful mix of extreme detail and abstract shading – fleshes out giant talking cats, space pirates, forests of spaceship trees, men with television sets for heads and lots of gritty battles. Here's the bottom line: Saga is just really nifty, and the reason why indie comics should be on your radar.