A guard is accidentally dropped into a prison planet with a black-masked prisoner. They curse and fight. After he’s hurt, the guard throws his guts at the prisoner, trapping him. But the prisoner gets loose, tears the guard’s arm off, and kills him with it. Then the prisoner dines on the guard’s corpse.
He’s not out of trouble yet. He angers a powerful boss by killing a worm-like creature, and then he has to fight the boss’ men.
Why I picked it up: Sean at Zanadu said it would change my life.
Why I finished it: I remember drawing violent pictures when I was a kid, usually in the margins of already graded papers. This is what they would have been like if 1) I could draw 2) I wasn’t afraid of a teacher or my parents ever finding them and 3) I needed counseling.
I'd give it to: Dan, who loved Joe Daly’s Dungeon Book One and was, (until last week!) like me, waiting for the next installment. What this book lacks in geeky D&D references it more than makes up for in grotesque violence.
Dutton follows six teens as they prepare for a nationwide science fair with prizes totaling over $4 million. Extensive information on each builds our interest until we meet them again at the big contest. One created, out of necessity, a solar-powered heater made from the radiator of an old junker and sixty-nine aluminum pop cans. Another is a girl who uses horses to help police officers suffering from depression lower their blood pressure and stress levels. The other projects cover a range of topics: leprosy, autism therapy at schools, bee colony collapse, and a working, home-made nuclear reactor. The book gives a sense of the accomplishments of extraordinary teens and the stress such a high-stakes contest creates.
Why I picked it up: My daughter religiously competes in local science fairs. She recently compared the differences in how diet, sugared and caffeinated sodas react to Mentos.
Why I finished it: There were 1502 contestants at the nationwide science fair, so winning the overall prize, which was an all-expenses paid trip to see the Large Hadron Collider, was likely out of reach for the six contestants the author followed. But all the kids’ lives were changed by their experiences. Some landed scholarships, others changed college majors or made career decisions. One founded a company with a projected $12 million in sales, earning him a rock-star following and even science groupies at the fair.
I'd give it to: My friend Nora, who helped our daughters create their tri-fold displays for the last three years’ science fairs. We’ve often joked about the few hours we spend on the project being too much, she would freak to see these kids’ levels of commitment. Carolyn and the VOICE volunteers at my school, who meet with interested students to share their knowledge, would be inspired by both kids and mentors who went way beyond expectations and logged hundreds of hours to help students excel.
Based on an episode of the BBC television series James May's Toy Stories (the series has spun off several other books: James May's Toy Stories, Scalextric Handbook, and Airfix Handbook), May, with a huge army of helpers and volunteers, builds a two-story house out of Legos, complete with Lego furniture, Lego food, and Lego plumbing!
Why I picked it up: I love the idea of the Lego house for the same reason May does: wouldn't it be cool to live inside the toys you played with?
Why I finished it: The technical challenges that are overcome (including the possibility of the whole thing flattening with May inside it) are cool enough, but the super-cool detail that the house has (Lego soup cans! Lego vacuum cleaner! Lego cat! Lego slippers! Even a Lego newspaper with a pixelated page 3 girl!) demonstrates the endless construction possibilities that Lego fans love. I was grinning through the whole book.
I'd give it to: Dawn, who would fall in love with the primary colors and this purely joyful meeting of creativity and the practicality. Not coincidentally, she's also the person most likely to help make a Lego house! I'd to slip a copy to the principal of Rose Hill Junior High. May had lots of kids and adults help him make giant versions of cool toys. This would be a great way to bring students, parents, and the community together, especially before Rose Hill’s upcoming remodel!
Scientists can only begin to explain the complexity and unpredictability of ocean waves. Thrilling firsthand accounts of the largest and deadliest on the record from around the world, include surfers pursuing the 100 foot wave, ship captains desperately trying to avoid them, and the author's personal experiences.
Why I picked it up: I am attracted to man versus nature survival stories.
Why I finished it: Potter's narration makes transitions seamless as the book weaves between science, sport, and man's tenuous relationship with waves throughout history. I was learning something while feeling fascinated, horrified, and entertained, often all at once.
I'd give it to: Duane, an accomplished free climber who has read all there is to know about rock climbing and thinks nothing else beats that kind of adrenaline rush.
In a post-apocalyptic world, clones of Daniel, along with his dog, Fox, live cut off from what’s left of humanity. After Daniel25 replaces the dead Daniel24, he reads and reflects on the autobiography of Daniel1.
Daniel1 was a French comedian, actor, and filmmaker, a rich celebrity known for his social commentary. He found love but not happiness in marriage, happiness but not love in a relationship with a much younger woman, and became involved with a cult that promised immortality.
Why I picked it up: It’s my friend Jon’s favorite book.
Why I finished it: I turned forty just as I finished the book, so Daniel’s observations about his own aging body and his declining attractiveness to the opposite sex resonated with me.
Later in the book, he’s happy (though he knows it’s temporary) because of the sex. My father had a similar focus after my parents' divorce. He never looked for happiness in marriage again, though he married several times. As a young man I had a front row seat for his emotionally empty relationships with women. I was remembering a lot as I read this book, and I was happier than ever that I’ve managed to avoid following in his footsteps.
I'd give it to: Flemtastic, who is more sincerely into spending time with his family than anyone I’ve ever known, because the narrator’s point-of-view is the opposite of his, and I think he’d take many of the same lessons from the story that I did. And to Mark, who was raised speaking French, and who would be able to provide a European read on Daniel’s life.
The further memoirs by Tucker Max, famous for sleeping with women and then blogging about it afterwards.
Why I picked it up: Gene read the title and thought of me. Then I remembered reading some particularly unpleasant posts on Tucker's blog a few years back, one of which I read to Gene, permanently scarring him for life.
Why I finished it: Tucker posted that he wanted women to come do his laundry. Not a euphemism -- he just doesn't like washing his clothes. After dozens of women came over to sleep with him (most of whom also did his laundry) he reasoned that women enjoy random sex as much as men, but they need plausible deniability. It's the usual story: women want to sleep with Tucker, and men want to be Tucker. I guess I fit in there somewhere, but mostly I enjoy how refreshingly direct and honest he is about everything.
I'd give it to: Mark, from summer camp, and Steve, from college. They were the Tuckers of my formative years, and I lived vicariously through their adventures. They would laugh out loud at what passes for a plot thread in this book: amidst all his rendezvous Tucker had two actual relationships, neither of which worked out, and at one fateful party in L.A. his two exes met. The results are explosive.
At twelve, Jacklin has to move to Zimbabwe from England, where his parents have enrolled him in a premier boarding school. Though sympathetic to blacks oppressed under Boer rule, he does not stand up for his friend Nelson, a black boy his age. Instead he falls in with Ivan, a bully enraged over the possible loss of his family’s farm under Robert Mugabe’s policy of reapportioning land. As Ivan becomes more violent, Jacklin must choose whether to allow Ivan to carry out his plans.
Why I picked it up: It looked a lot like one of my favorite books, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, which also deals with apartheid in southern Africa.
Why I finished it: The author based this book on his experience as a boarding school student in Zimbabwe. Because of this, he has a great ear for the crass, male student dialogue. For example, when a boy disappears from school, others wonder where he is. "Who gives a monkey's? ...Was he your bum chum or something?"
I'd give it to: My college roommate Steve, currently serving out 3 years in Zambia as a Pastor, because he deals with being a mzungu as he’s learning the rhythms of life in Africa, much like Jacklin. Stan, who follows world politics closely, would love this view of Robert Mugabe thirty years ago when people still saw him as an idealist.
On the day of her mother's funeral, Kate is overwhelmed by more than the loss of her mother. Her negligent brother has returned to the east coast for the ceremony, her son is trying to reunite her with her ex-husband, and a strange older woman seems to be following her. She returns home after the event only to be approached again by the woman, who introduces herself as Sara. She gives Kate a manuscript chronicling her love affair with Kate’s deceased father, Jack, and the legacy she built for Kate and her brother.
Why I picked it up: My mother finished it while we were on vacation. She said it was heartbreaking, but I’d enjoy the glimpse of New York in the 1950's and the insight into what it means to be a writer.
Why I finished it: When Sara thinks she has lost Jack, she is devastated. With the help of her brother and her writing, she is able to knit herself back together and create a life of her own. When her first short story is published, Sara is offered a job in a publishing house. She is able to attain a level of financial freedom unknown to most women of the era.
I'd give it to: Paige, who would appreciate and learn from the effort it takes Sara to become an artist, and how the creative process is the only thing that gives Sara direction. (Writing is extremely difficult for Sara after she loses Jack, but she finally breaks through her self-doubt.)