Monday, August 18, 2014

Great Geek Reads

Looking for some fiction that's not just literate, but also 1337? Try these! 

Book CoverReady Player One by Ernest Cline is the great American video game novel. Its plot is basically a cheesy video game plot: will the main character dodge obstacles, evade the nefarious supervillain, escape dungeons, and save (well, okay, meet) the princess? But then its setting is a meta-commentary on video games: the world plays a giant virtual reality game. That's where the schools, jobs, and fun are now, leaving a bleak wasteland of "meatspace" behind. Hidden within this game are Easter eggs and challenges (some of which involve meticulous recreations of classic video games themselves) that the hero has to find and solve. And yes, the audiobook is totally read by Wil Wheaton.

Book Cover
Book CoverYou by Austin Grossman and Codex by Lev Grossman are by pop-culture savvy twin brothers who perfectly capture the rarely-delivered promise of infinite possibility in gaming culture. You draws on years of real-world video game design experience, while Codex boasts the Da Vinci Code-esque appeal of delving into a secret world's mysterious ancient texts.

Book CoverMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan takes Codex and raises it one: what if Google got its hands on one of those ancient mysteries? Throw in some great bookstore-employee anecdotes, references to geek arcana from ancient Apple hardware to Ruby data visualization to typography, and you've got a perfect e-Read.

Book CoverDown and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow (also available as a free download on the author's website) takes you on a hilarious and mind-bending adventure in a post-capitalist Disneyworld, where reputation is everything.

Book CoverRedshirts by John Scalzi is fun for Trekk[er|ie]s who always wondered about the inner lives of the semi-interchangeable, frequently disposable "Redshirts." It will also appeal to the better-socialized (I kid, I kid!) who can gloss over the in-jokes for a lightweight sci-fi caper.

And let's throw one more bonus mention to Andy Weir's addictive debut The Martian, which Elizabeth reviewed recently. It's basically Island of the Blue Dolphins meets Gravity. Does it have geek cred, you wonder? Let's just say that an ASCII chart is of pivotal plot importance, and leave it at that.

Are any of your favorites missing? Nerd rants welcome in the comments!

Happy reading,

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: Talking to the Dead

Talking to the Dead is the first book in a new series by Harry Bingham.  Fiona Griffiths is a policewoman in Cardiff, Wales.  As the most junior member of her investigative unit, her job is to do what she is told.  Fiona is intelligent, efficient, and intense.  She also has a problem with following orders.

When Janet Mancini, a former prostitute, and her six year old daughter, April, are found murdered in a squalid drug house, Fiona is determined to solve the crime.  Janet has definitely been trying to make a better life for herself and her daughter.  She has a job, a nice apartment and is described as a loving and caring mother. Why were they even at the drug house? Things just do not add up in Fiona’s mind, especially when a credit card belonging to a missing billionaire is found with their bodies.  Although Fiona has been assigned to another case, she ignores orders and investigates the murders. She feels close to little April and wants to solve her murder. After all, Fiona, like April, knows what it is like to be dead.

The heroine in this book is as intriguing as the mystery she solves. Fiona has many secrets and the reader will enjoy the twists and turns in this tale. Talking to the Dead is recommended by the Mystery Book Club at Wheeler Taft Abbett, Sr. Library.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Heat: Adventures in the World's Fiery Places

“You don’t know jack about heat.” (My patience with northern friends wears thin in the summer when they complain about steamy temperatures). “There’s nothing you can tell me about heat. I live in Tucson-- I wrote the book.

Well, maybe I didn't actually write it—but biologist Bill Streever did. It's called Heat: Adventures in the World's Fiery Places and it’s well worth reading. Streever comes at the subject of heat from every angle you can imagine--and some that you probably can’t--including science, geography, history, physiology, and culture, and he has something intriguing to say about everything. In a style reminiscent of Bill Bryson he moves seamlessly from one hot topic to the next, and I found myself following eagerly. Factoids abound, and they are endlessly fascinating! A hike through Death Valley leads to ruminations on the effects on the human body of heat exhaustion and dehydration (the eyelids and lips disappear, the nose shrinks but the tongue hardens and swells. Don’t leave home without your water bottle). This naturally reminds him of the story of Pedro, who 100 years ago was lost in the deserts of southern Nevada and wandered eight days without water, surviving by chewing on cactus and pulling the stingers off scorpions so he could suck out their moisture.

With an easy narrative voice Streever takes us from peat bog people to Charles Dickens in a coal mine, from firebombs in Dresden to volcanoes in Hawaii, from the invention of matches to the invention of microwaves. It's all a tasty gumbo of science, anecdotes, radical travelogs and Streever's own, personal (and sometimes  jaw-dropping) heat-oriented experiments, like drinking crude oil and  fire walking.

It seems odd that the last word on heat should come from an Alaska resident (Streever lives in Anchorage) but he comes by his interest honestly. His previous book, Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places, was a NYT bestseller.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

Michael Moss's absorbing, well-researched book Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us will cause you to look at your Lunchables, Oreos, and Kool-Aid in a brand new way. This book doesn't lectures about the value of leafy greens or call for the abolishment of Twinkies. But it does provide fascinating insights into the processed food industry: how companies carefully select the most appealing proportion of salt, sugar, and fat, and then advertise their products to reach their target audience. What makes ice cream so delicious? Why is it nearly impossible to eat just one potato chip? What happens to our bodies and inside our brains when we too frequently indulge in sugary, salty treats? Salt, Sugar, Fat will inspire concerned curiosity about the way the processed food industry has come to monopolize our palettes, and opens up the possibility that there might be a better way to eat.

~Queen of Books

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: The Good Food Revolution

The Seed Library Book Club recently met to discuss Will Allen's The Good Food Revolution. Will Allen is the CEO of Growing Power, a nonprofit organization dedicated to growing healthy food and building stronger communities. Allen's Milwaukee farm is a model of urban food production that inspires people around the world. The Book Club met at the perfect location for the topic - Tucson Village Farm, a working urban farm dedicated to reconnecting young people to healthy food by teaching them how to grow and prepare fresh produce.

The Good Food Revolution is part memoir, part history lesson and part social commentary. Allen sets his family's story in the context of historical events, revealing how experiences and opportunities were shaped by social and political realities. Allen's resume is strangely varied: professional basketball player, salesman, fast food manager, and disco entrepreneur. Over the years, the pull of his agricultural roots proved stronger than any corporate ties. Eventually, Allen dedicates all of his considerable energy to an urban farm. The book raises many issues for discussion, including food justice, health disparities, race relations, and poverty. A reader must be impressed with and inspired by Allen's drive, perseverance and commitment to improve the health of his community.

The next Seed Library Book Club is August 23, 2014 @ St. Gregory's Community Garden. We will read Animal, vegetable, miracle: a year in food by Barbara Kingsolver. You might enjoy previous book club selections including Farm City: the education of an urban farmer by Novella Carpenter and Seed To Seed: a growing revolution to save food by Janisse Ray.

Please check the catalog for many more titles available as a Caboodle for your book club.

~ Susannah

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

More Books About Bikes

I try to read a variety of books, but sometimes my brain just gets stuck on a topic and those books just leap to the top of the list.  Of course, it also helped that there was a display of books at the Main Library about bikes for an entire month - oh the joy!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Walter Dean Myers: 1937-2014

Last week, the YA world lost one of its greats, Walter Dean Myers. He wrote poetry and prose. he wrote books about war, about love, about drugs, about growing up African-American in America. Most of all, he wrote books that didn't shy away from difficult or harrowing topics.

Just a few of his over 100 books:
Monster - about a 16-year-old boy on trial for murder
Fallen Angels - Ricky signs up for the Army because he can't afford college. Little does he know that the Vietnam War is ramping up.
Sunrise Over Fallujah - explores the invasion of Iraq from the perspective of another young Army private, Robin, who is the nephew of Ricky from Fallen Angels
What They Found: Love on 145th St - Short stories in verse format pull you into the world of Harlem and all the complex family, friend, and lovers' relationships there.

Myers started publishing in 1968 and was still writing at the time of his death. We will miss him, but we still have his books.