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Denise's Picks

Book Cover for The 10 Women You'll Be Before You're 35 James, Alison
The 10 Women You'll Be Before You're 35

This light and entertaining book comes off as pure Chick Lit fluff at first, but it actually offers some encouraging insights and helpful advice. The New Graduate phase, for example, can be frightening and chaotic, but the book assures the reader she'll soon be competent and confident. However, once the reader hits the Worker Bee phase, she must reach back into her New Graduate days and resurrect some of her old wild-and-crazy attitude. Above all, the book stresses that one should value and draw on all of one's phases, in a balanced way, rather than going off the deep end -- either as a reckless Party Girl, or a fitness-obsessed Body Conscious Babe. While this book is no serious therapeutic treatise, it's a great reminder that we all have to grow up and go through the same awkward phases, that they will eventually end, and that none of us are alone.
Recommended by Denise, March 2007
Book Cover Savage, Sam

Firmin is the story of one literate rat's philosophical struggle with life. He was the runt, the thirteenth in the litter, born in the basement of a used book store. Unable to compete with his siblings, he was forced to eat the shredded paper of his nest, which happened to be pages of Finnegan's Wake. Eventually he learned to read the scraps instead of eat them, and thus was born an avid bibliophile with frightening intellect. As Firmin's understanding of and affinity for humanity grows, he thinks of himself less and less as a rat. And yet his undeniable ratly appearance and inability to speak will forever separate him from the humans he loves. Fortunately, his life isn't without occasional periods of happiness, though those are few and hard-earned. Is Firmin a "fur-man," or just vermin? The book offers no easy answers. Sam Savage uses this brilliant, tormented, and self-aware rat as a way of digging into the darker side of human nature, as well.
Recommended by Denise, July 2006
Book Cover
Norris,Chuck (with Ken Abraham, Aaron Norris, and Tim Grayem)
The Justice Riders

General Sherman wants to hasten the end of the Civil War. To this end, he commissions Captain Ezra Justice to select six of the best men he can find, and lead them on secret missions that could get them all hung as traitors if they're caught. Captain Justice assembles Shaun O'Banyon of the Irish Brigade; Reginald Bonesteel, a disgraced former member of the Queen's Guard in England; Harry Whitecloud, a Princeton-educated Native American medicine man; Carlos and Roberto Hawkins, half-gypsy twins with a penchant for explosions; and Nathaniel York, a former slave owned by Justice's family, who happens to be Ezra's best childhood friend. The Justice Riders' exploits do, in fact, help bring about the end of the war, but of course, their troubles are just beginning. This book is the first in a projected series. It's a must-read for fans of explosions, roundhouse kicks, the Walker, Texas Ranger TV series, and all things Chuck Norris.
Recommended by Denise, June 2006
Book Cover Anna Jane Grossman and Flint Wainess
It's Not Me, It's You: The Ultimate Breakup Book

So, he's not that into you any more, or maybe it's you that's not into him. Unfortunately, you've never been all that good at kicking people to the curb. Well, now you're in luck! Flint and Anna Jane have dissected the process for you, from Relationship Death, through Rock Bottom (see also their travel guide), all the way to getting over it ("hint- it's never really over"). They give good advice on such tricky points as web stalking, replacing the furniture your ex took, and the perfect songs to play while eating ice cream in the dark. They packed the book with quotes, pie charts and graphs, based on a survey of 500 other veteran daters, so even if you've been dumped, you can feel a little bit less alone. They offer "Profiles in Not-A-Lot-Of-Courage," which analyze the breakup history of celebrities, such as Liz Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor. They even have some real-life adventures in breaking up, and offer alternatives to the craziest. (For example-- instead of burning down your ex's house, have a campfire and toast marshmallows over their stuff.)
Flint and Anna Jane say, "Breakups are often treated like a memory box or a crazy aunt that should be locked up in the attic. But we think that even though they can be ugly, breakups are something to be embraced... After all, they're unavoidable, and potentially a lot more interesting than another white wedding."
Recommended by Denise, April 2006
Book Cover Jasper Fforde
The Big Over Easy

Humpty Dumpty sat on his wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Or did he?
Down-and-out Detective Jack Spratt of the Nursery Crimes division is put in charge of the investigation, and he's found a few things that don't add up-- Humpty's numerous shady business dealings, for one, and a lengthy string of ex-girlfriends, for another. And what's with the strange hole in the victim's shell, that appears to be months old? Solving the crime will be harder than it sounds-- Spratt must dodge his ridiculously successful ex-partner and nemesis, who is attempting to take over the investigation by any means necessary. Furthermore, every question he answers only raises more questions. Why was Humpty buying up the Spongg Foot Care company, when it was on the verge of bankruptcy? Is the murder of Mr. Willy Winkie, across the alley, related? Where did the 28 foot long human hair in Humpty's apartment come from? Will Spratt's assistant, Mary Mary, go over to the enemy? And most importantly, will Spratt get to do a write-up for Amazing Crime Stories magazine, so he can be inducted into the Detective's Guild?
Like all of Fforde's books, this one is fun and silly. But, also like his other books, the constant references to other stories, and the artistic spoofing of mystery cliches (for example, "the butler did it"), means there's a lot more meat on the bone than you'd think. Reviewers have not been kind to this book, but I think that's only because it's the first in a spinoff series, and not one of Fforde's celebrated "Thursday Next" books.
Look for a sequel later this year -- currently titled The Fourth Bear.
Recommended by Denise, January 2006

Walpuski's Typewriter by Frank Darabont
Walpuski was a struggling writer, with five dollars to his name, when his typewriter broke. Getting it fixed on credit turned out to be the best, worst, and most dangerous thing that ever happened to him.
This novella was written by a very young Darabont, long before he got into a film career. He admits it was a silly, pulpy, and distinctly unpolished piece several times over the course of the introduction. Still, it's entertaining, it has a classic horror feel to it, and it definitely pays homage to the greats who influenced him. Darabont works for Castle Rock Entertainment, and was involved in The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, as well as a few others.
Recommended by Denise, October 2005

Buddha In Your Backpack: Everyday Buddhism for Teens by Franz Metcalf
Teen Nonfiction
This is a fascinating, insightful, useful, and pretty trustworthy book. It begins with historical and philosophical overviews, then proceeds into "practical" chapters on homework, dating, and body image (to name just a few). This is the best part: the book doesn't just give the reader a new internal perspective, it shows the reader how to apply Buddhism to common, everyday problems. The book also recognizes that not everyone's parents or family will be accepting of Buddhism, and gives the reader some strategies for handling the situation. It cautions that not everybody is willing to be similarly awakened by the reader's newfound wisdom, either, and explains that these people must be handled gently, with typical Buddhist compassion. Highly recommended for anyone, teen or not, who wants to know more about Buddhism as a contemporary practice, rather than a historical curiosity.
Recommended by Denise, September 2005

Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man? by Charles Barkley
In this book, Barkley interviews several prominent figures about their thoughts and observations on race, among other things. His comments are interspersed throughout. See what Tiger Woods thinks about his own career. Read Samuel L. Jackson's and Morgan Freeman's views of the film industry, and George Lopez's opinion on TV. Hear what Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are saying about race and politics. Get some insight on the relationship between the black and jewish communities. (And, see what everyone's saying about Bill Cosby's most controversial remarks.) As intelligent, eloquent, and fearless as I May Be Wrong but I Doubt It, but much more focused.
Recommended by Denise, August 2005

Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage
This book embraces, uplifts, and celebrates each of the "seven deadly sins." Savage sets up the experiment with a little biblical research, then gets philosophical about sinners in general, and the ways in which morality might be overrated. He proceeds to dedicate a chapter each to Lust, Envy, Sloth, Greed, Pride, Anger, and Gluttony. He tries to seek out the happiest sinners in each category, with mixed results, then he follows them to see the natures and implications of their sins. Read this book, and you'll have an entirely different outlook on sin and morality, American politics and priorities, and plain-old getting along.
Recommended by Denise, August 2005

Shadow of the Giant by Orson Scott Card
This is the fourth book in the "Bean" series, which begins with the events of Ender's Game, but remains on Earth and follows the friends Ender left behind. By now, the children of Battle School are in their teens, and nobody would argue that they're still children. Bean and Petra have some of their own, in fact... they just don't know where they are. Alai's Caliph of the Muslim world, Virlomi's running India, and Han Tzu ("Hot Soup") is emperor of China. Oh, and don't forget Peter Wiggin, the Hegemon - it's his job to make sure the Battle Schoolers don't destroy the world. This book is a satisfying conclusion to the series' issues of world history, although you're left (not unpleasantly) wondering what happened to a few of the characters at the end.
Recommended by Denise, April 2005

Born to Run by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon
This little forgotten gem is the purest urban-fantasy fluff, but the real selling point is how convincingly these authors weave their weird, unrelated story elements into a somewhat coherent world.
Tannim is a sport-racing enthusiast and human mage. Keighvin Silverhair, his boss, is the leader and lord of Fairgrove Industries, a company with a secret double life. They don't just design, build, and race cutting-edge cars; it's also a true underhill Elfhame. Tania is a teen runaway, forced to turn to prostitution to survive-until she meets Tannim and the elves, who are fierce in their defense of abused children, of all species. Unfortunately, elves aren't all good guys. The Fairgrove crew has Dark-Elf enemies, and these scoundrels are willing to use any means necessary to destroy them. At first, Aurilia and Vidal are content to undermine Fairgrove's racing credibility, but when that becomes impossible, they begin to consider more discreet, and deadly, tactics.
If you like fantasy of all kinds, read this book while traveling, lounging, or simply for a bit of "mind candy." Granted, it deals with some pretty heart-wrenching subjects, but if you stick it out, the Shining Heroes always save the day. It's the first of a series, so if you like it, there's plenty more where that came from!
Recommended by Denise, February 2005

Egg Story by J. Marc Schmidt
Graphic Novel
This slim graphic novel is thoroughly endearing, without being saccharine. It begins with the birth of the main egg, Feather, and his sister Five Spots. They leave the farm, arrive at the store, and end up in refrigerator, where they meet Old Man Broccoli. Then, Feather and his friends escape being breakfast, only to realize that their troubles still haven't ended. I don't want to give away too much, but it involves true love, shopping sprees, and a ninja lifestyle. The eggs' adventures are charming and silly, but at the same time have a grimly realistic edge to them. This book will change the way you think about the contents of your pantry, and just maybe, your life.
Recommended by Denise, February 2005

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
This book appears to be a regular historical romance for the first few pages, while Claire Randall and her husband relax in Scotland at the end of WWII. However, by a quirk of fate, Claire discovers an ancient stone circle that inexplicably throws her back into the 1700s. The adventures that follow involve an abusive British army officer, a mysterious Scottish outlaw, and the entire clan MacKenzie of Leoch. Funny, charming, nerve-wracking, and heart wrenching, but don't worry! Four more books follow, and the author has plans for a sixth.
Recommended by Denise, January 2005

Dune by Frank Herbert
Often referred to as "the most important science fiction book of all time," this book is one of those great classics that somehow never actually get read. Part of the problem is its dense language and deep philosophical debate. Part of it is the way the plot is structured. The characters often know what's going on before the reader, but Herbert never states this; he just lets the readers continue reading, confused and regularly feeling like they've missed something. However, most, if not all, is revealed in the end, and the book has so many relevant, timely issues to discuss that perseverance is always rewarded.
Recommended by Denise, January 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This very silly sci-fi series has a very complicated plot. It is basically the story of "average guy" Arthur Dent, of England. He's rescued from the Earth shortly before it's blown up to make way for a Hyperspace Bypass, and spends many years afterwards traveling through space and time. His companions are Ford Prefect, an intergalactic hitchhiker pretending to be from Earth, Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Universe, Trillian, an Earth woman pretending to be an intergalactic hitchhiker, and Marvin the Paranoid Android, a frighteningly intelligent robot with low self-esteem. Using the cutting-edge technology of the Heart of Gold (a space ship run on the newly-developed "improbability drive"), they attempt to find out just what the deal is with this Universe, anyway. This is best read in the complete and unabridged omnibus, "The More than Complete Hitchhiker's Guide." The story is complicated enough without forgetting bits between volumes, and besides, you won't want to stop reading!
Recommended by Denise, October 2004

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Ender Wiggin is a rare Third child in a society that permits couples to have only two. From birth he's attracted trouble, because of this distasteful circumstance, and also because he's one of those bright, sensitive kids who just naturally seem to enrage bullies. The government that allowed his birth, however, sees great potential for Ender to become an outstanding military commander, and his strategies with the bullies only emphasize their hopes. For the Earth is at war with an alien, insect-like race that seems determined to wipe out all of humankind. Ender's training is cruel and merciless, however, and his Battle School may be teaching him more than they realize. Will Ender become the salvation of Earth, or will he give in to doubt and be broken forever?
Recommended by Denise, October 2004

The Living Blood by Tananarive Due
This book is the sequel to My Soul to Keep, Due's riveting fantasy/thriller novel about Jessica and David Wolde. Their second child, Bee-Bee, was born with unusual gifts, and Jessica is too new to her powers to teach her daughter. Her only option seems to be a reunion with David, and the people who he calls "Life Brothers." However, Jessica's only previous experience with the Life Brothers has been terrifying. How can they welcome her now, when they were determined to destroy her before? Furthermore, seeing David will reawaken all the painful memories surrounding their parting. Can Jessica contend with her own unresolved past in time to save Bee-Bee's future?
Recommended by Denise, October 2004

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