Ciudad Juarez, often described as a jewel of Mexico, is under siege. The drug cartels, motivated by the drug business, want control. Much of the Mexican Army’s 10,000 troops there, as well as the police, are compromised and help protect and preserve the cartels. Anyone who speaks up about the violence runs the risk of vanishing and ending up buried in the yard of a death house with dozens of others.
Charles Bowden spent months in Juarez talking with victims, reporters, and killers. He offers no answers or easy solutions, just a sobering accounting of a year’s worth of drug violence. And things are apparently getting worse. Bowden accounts for 1,607 deaths in 2008, when he was researching his book. 2009 was not yet over when this book was finished, but the total was already over 2,400.
Why I picked it up: I saw it in a used bookstore and thought about the trip to Mexico I put off last year because of everything I had been reading about the drug-related violence there. I felt like I should read up on the consequences of America’s endless appetite for illegal drugs. (But I only had six dollars on me, and it was nine dollars, so I got it from the public library days later for nothing!)
Why I finished it: Bowden spends time with El Pastor, a man who runs an insane asylum in the desert outside Juarez. One of his patients is a former beauty queen who was repeatedly gang-raped and left for dead. He meets with a sicario (Latin for “dagger-carrier”) who assassinated at least 250 people for the cartels, and details how one turns off the thinking process while torturing a man to death, garroting someone, or placing burning tires over a man’s body.
I'd give it to: My friend Derek, who I’ve good-naturedly argued with over drug-legalization policies (he'd say legalizing drugs and removing the money component would solve Juarez’s problems). And my friend Ryan, who cannot read more than three pages of any book without falling asleep. Because of its fragmented, stream-of-consciousness style, the random, shotgun feel of this book would make it a perfect fit for his habit of reading little bits at a time.
The highly anticipated follow-up thriller to the bestselling The Informationist! The tough, compelling, razor-sharp character of Vanessa electrified readers from the first novel and, as the boxed Publishers Weekly starred review predicted, “Thriller fans will eagerly await the sequel to this high-octane page-turner.”
Kokeshi (traditional Japanese dolls) show off their kimonos, while challenging kids to solve simple seek-and-find puzzles by lifting flaps and trying to spot different items. Information about Japanese culture is included, along with Japanese vocabulary words printed in both kanji and romaji (our alphabet).
Why I picked it up: My manga reading has sparked an interest in kimonos, and I was excited when I saw this picture book about them.
Why I finished it: I love puzzle books, even simple ones. Parot’s art is cute enough to engage the part of me that loves Hello Kitty. (But the colors are more muted and the pictures look hipper, so I didn’t feel silly reading it.)
I'd give it to: Gracie, who is too young to borrow any of my manga, but who enjoys dressing up. She’ll love the page that encourages her to pick her favorite kimono out of a closet.
A collection of personal ads from the missed connections section of the New York City craigslist site, selected and illustrated by Blackall.
Why I picked it up: I had a crush on this book from the second I glimpsed it in the Workman's catalog. I'd been let down by a similar collection, before, and didn't want to get my hopes up. But I love Blackall's work on the Ivy and Bean series, so I figured I could give it a chance.
Why I finished it: Blackall's sweet and imaginative illustrations capture the magic of missed connections. Many of them feature the sweet, shy smile that starts things off. Fantastic elements capture the spirit of the dreamer: maps made into umbrellas, a giant octopus stretching out of a purse, a devil with a teacup, a man with a house tattooed on his neck, and a pair of gentlemen in old-fashioned striped bathing suits holding a manatee. These are the beginnings of stories that deserve happy endings.
I'd give it to: Sarah, who is ready to make her own connection, could use a charge of the hope that radiates out of these pages, and the reminder that somewhere, the perfect guy is seeking her, too.
Picture book-length graphic novel about Zoe teaching her friend, Robot, how to pretend.
Zoe: “Look at the pillows and think mountains.”
Robot: “Robot sees only pillows.”
Why I picked it up: The awesome endpapers feature Zoe and Robot having a good time together dancing, drawing, singing, laughing, and playing. Plus I met Ryan Sias in artist’s alley at ALA Annual 2011.
Why I finished it: It’s hard to say what I love more: the way Sias makes great use of the simple layout, the eye-popping colors, or his delightful character designs.
I'd give it to: Brandon, if I can find him. We used to make cushion and pillow mountains in his basement, and take death-defying “toboggan” runs down his stairs to crash into them. Whether he’s got kids or not, this would be a perfect opportunity to re-connect with him.
It’s 2083. New York is a crowded metropolis rife with crime where many goods are rationed. Chocolate and other products containing caffeine are illegal. Anya’s father was killed because he was head of the notorious Balanchine crime family. She wants nothing to do with the family’s Balanchine Special Dark chocolate. She merely wants to go to school, take care of her dying grandmother and siblings, and forget her family’s illegal activities. She immediately hits it off with the new boy at school, Win, but he’s the Assistant Prosecutor’s son. Her older brother, handicapped from an accident, is being drawn into the Family despite her best efforts. Still, she can handle everything. But then an attempt is made on her ex-boyfriend’s life, and Anya is the main suspect.
Why I picked it up: I could probably do without the chocolate, but I’d get sleepy in the early afternoon without my caffeine. When I found out that the main character was the daughter of a deceased crime boss, I was sold.
Why I finished it: Anya hates the politics and factions within the Balanchine family, but she is good at navigating both. I enjoyed watching her get dragged, kicking and screaming, into being a part of the family's business relationships because Zevin is a master of putting characters in difficult moral positions. Once Anya must ask for favors to protect her brother and sister, she is beholden to other family members and trapped in their web of favors and debts.
I'd give it to: Anna, because she prefers futuristic novels that don’t center around environmental collapse or running from unkempt gangs through deserted cities while she tries to figure out what went wrong. And she’d love the romance between Win and Anya -- it’s tortured, angst-ridden and forbidden by all adults in the book (it’s perfect).
Isolated islands in the tropics and off the coast of Alaska once held a huge number of species of insects and birds. Research in the last twenty years has revealed that hundreds of birds that we never knew about went extinct after the arrival of Polynesian settlers and European explorers. But it wasn’t the exploitation of resources that caused the collapse of these island ecosystems -- it was the arrival of rats. Polynesians brought them as food and Europeans brought them as stowaways. Rats became the most efficient bird hunters that the islands, previously devoid of mammals, had ever seen.
Why I picked it up: The devastation brought on by rats was mentioned in Kakapo Rescue and I wanted to know more about the efforts to save unique animals.
Why I finished it: One of the reasons that rats survive so well in difficult environments, even the frozen Aleutian islands, is their instinct to store food. If they're the sole predator in an area with flightless birds or birds that nest on the ground, they stock up so much food that they’re never able to eat it all. The description of mountains of seabirds rotting in rat warrens created a vivid mental image of the ecological havoc rats create.
I'd give it to: David, who would like the guys who set out to eliminate not just rats, but other imported seabird predators from the islands off Baja California. It started when a biologist who happened to have a rifle with him found an island beset by predatory pigs (and started shooting). Then he recruited a retired wildcat trapper, a former poacher who was very good at hunting at night, and a surfer/biologist who loved the sweet waves available during his off-hours. They end up smuggling guns, ammo, and rat poison across the Mexican border!
Mrs. Fox and Mr. Badger live together with their kids: Ginger (fox), Berry (badger), Grub (badger), and Bristle (badger).
In A Hubbub, the kids practice arguing and build a clubhouse together, and during spring cleaning they have a water fight.
In What a Team, Ginger wants to build a boat but Bristle doesn’t really want to. So Ginger, Grub and the others go home to get some tools to build the boat. Ginger builds one, and so does Grub (with the help of his friends). Bristle ends up wanting to build a boat, too. And then they have a race.
Why I picked it up: I read the first one and really liked it.
Why I finished it: I really like Berry, the youngest badger. She always tags along with the older kids, she mispronounces words (like Ginger’s name), and she’s super cute.
I'd give it to: Parker. She’d like it when Ginger, Bristle, and Grub make a clubhouse and then have to chase away some cats who want to take it over.
This feature length documentary on Wikipedia starts out by following founder Jimmy Wales as he travels and speaks about the online encyclopedia, then provides an in-depth explanation about how it works and interviews excited writers, editors, and users from all over the world. Its strengths are many: free, available in a number of languages, can be updated and corrected immediately and by anyone who sees the need, and can be accessed from anywhere (even if the government isn’t too excited about its content). But then the critics weigh in and discuss its weaknesses: lack of editorial judgment as to what is important, a small, inner circle of power-users exerts a huge amount of control, and anonymous contributions means that an article’s bias is unclear.
Why I picked it up: I use Wikipedia a lot. I had a basic understanding of how it worked, but lacked an in-depth view of what’s great (and not) about it.
Why I finished it: I was a little surprised when the critics pointed out that a recognized expert in a field gets no respect on Wikipedia. They have just as much input as anyone else. I was alarmed to hear that, basically, the person most likely to win an editing war is the person who has the most time to devote to it, the implication being that experts, because they’re usually employed, can’t beat an unemployed guy living in his mother’s basement. And I was shocked to find out that, if an editing war goes on too long, Jimmy Wales basically has the last say as to what’s in an article (and so what truth is presented).
I'd give it to: Samantha, who took the library staff development job I left a few years ago -- I think this one should be shared with librarians and paraprofessionals alike.