Anya’s a high school student, a Russian immigrant who wants to forget she used to have an accent and wear the wrong clothes. She feels fat and fears she’ll soon look like her mother. She frequently skips gym class to smoke with her friend, Siobhan.
One morning, distracted by events at the bus stop, she falls down a deep hole in the park. She’s trapped. Anya soon discovers a set of old bones and meets Emily, the ghost they belonged to, who fell down the well and died there ninety years ago.
When Anya is rescued, the ghost comes home with her. She’s particularly useful during tests, when she can whisper other students’ answers to Anya. But then Emily becomes obsessed with getting Anya together with Sean, a boy she likes, even after they see how badly he treats his girlfriend. Despite Anya’s protests that she’s no longer interested, Emily finds unpleasant ways to motivate her former friend.
Why I picked it up: My daughter and I chose this graphic novel together from among the review copies on our shelf. (Probably because of the ghost on the bottom of the spine, near the First Second logo.)
Why I finished it: On page 12-13 the amazing two-page sequence where Anya falls down the hole.
And then there’s the scene at the library where the geeky Russian immigrant teaches her what microfilm is and how to use it. If I still worked at a public library, I’d tear it out and post it by our machine so that I would never have to explain it again.
I'd give it to: Bella because it deals wonderfully with a young girl feeling awkward in her skin, and because the realistic teen behavior (smoking, drinking) would horrify her mother a little.
Keepers are members of the Order of Relic Masters, trained to find, study, and use magical relics from the Makers, who left years ago. Members of the Watch deny the power of relics and will do anything to stop the Keepers.
Raffi is apprentice to Relic Master Galen. They must secretly travel to Tasceron, the city of the Makers, in order to restore Galen’s powers. Along the way, they pick up a slim girl named Carys who says she’s looking for her father but who may have other motivations.
Why I picked it up: Picked up a galley at ALA San Diego from this author of Incarceron. It’s the first volume of four books in the series originally published years ago in the UK, each to be published here one month apart, and I wanted to see if this was an effective gimmick.
Why I finished it: It sounded post-apocalyptic but is set on another planet, Anara. I loved Fisher’s descriptions. In the drowned forest of Karsh, trees hundreds of feet tall grow from the sludgy, black water, creating a perilous maze for ships to navigate. Beneath the ruined city of Tasceron, decades-old fires burn as the brutal Watch patrols its rubble-strewn streets.
Warning: It ends in a cliff-hanger that will have me hunting for the sequel as soon as it comes out.
I'd give it to: Ian would love the strange creatures like the bat-like Draxi and the magic-like sense-lines that Raffi casts in concentric circles for protection.
Mason’s only connection with his dad is a DVD of him reading the The Runaway Bunny. When he plays the DVD in front of four catatonic teens at a high security nursing home, one of them (the gorgeous girl with the same tattoo on her arm that his dad had) wakes up. Her first and only memory is the fear that the Gardener, the man who made her, will find her. Mason helps her escape and search for answers.
Why I picked it up: A colleague told me she thought the cover gave away the end of the story. (It does, but it doesn’t matter.)
Why I finished it: The plot really moves along! Mason needs to help Laila by finding a special greenhouse. (She’s weakening because she can’t eat like a normal human.)
I'd give it to: Cydney, who’d love the romance. Mason has always been a bit of a loner because his face is disfigured. He has a natural bond with Laila because her legs are scarred due to the Gardener’s experiments. As Mason tries to take care of Laila, he becomes aware of his feelings for her.
Moscow, 1936. After the body of a brutally tortured woman is found in a church, Captain Alexei Korelev of the Militia's Criminal Investigation Division is assigned to the case. Once a second body is found, mutilated in the same way, signs point to a ring of smugglers trying to get religious icons out of the country. Korolev tries to find the killer while he struggles to balance his religious faith with his desire to follow the party line.
Why I picked it up: I worshipped David Benioff’s City of Thieves (set during WWII in Leningrad) resulting in my love affair with historical novels set in the Soviet winter.
Why I finished it: Vivid descriptions of the hunger, oppressive cold, and perpetual paranoia that citizens and militia all shared.
I'd give it to: Dan, who read Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, but needs to read another novel about an early 20th century Russian serial killer.
Rigg can see the past. Humans and animals leave shimmering trails behind them as they walk through life. These fade over time but never disappear completely. Rigg can see all of them. Since he was old enough, he has walked the woods with his father, trapping animals and discussing topics from languages to banking. Rigg has no idea why he needs to know about these things, but he enjoys learning. Plus, his father will never answer his questions.
Then Rigg’s father dies suddenly, but not before putting him on the path to finding Rigg’s sister. He soon has a bag of jewels and a destination: Aressa Sessamo, the capital the People’s Republic, former capital of the hated Sessamoto Empire.
Why I picked it up: Orson Scott Card is an inspiration to me, particularly when I write.
Why I finished it: Rigg discovers that he has the power to not only to see the past, but to change it.
I'd give it to: Ben, who’d enjoy the political realities of the founding of the People’s Republic. The people rose up against the Sessamoto Empire and were presented with the illusion of equality, though nothing had really changed because they were then ruled by the Republic’s richest citizens. And Jenna, who’d love the scientific precision with which Orson Scott Card explains time travel via the physics of folding space-time.
Jessica is a runner through and through. About an hour after she set a new district record, a tow truck with bad brakes takes out the school bus returning from the meet. The girl in front of her dies and Jessica loses her right foot.
Her injury causes trouble for Jessica when she returns to school -- kids stare, she feels like a freak when a boy she likes starts paying attention to her, and she has difficulty accepting help from her friends. Her parents struggle with insurance companies and bills. But Jessica brings a runner’s determination and focus to her recovery.
Why I picked it up: Nominated for the BFYA list, it’s been the subject of quite a bit of positive chatter from my committee-mates.
Why I finished it: This book made me tear up several times. Jessica makes a new friend, Rosa, when she’s put in the back of her math classroom because of her wheelchair. Rosa has CP, but she’s a math whiz who tutors Jessica. After realizing she’d ignored Rosa before, Jessica’s goal becomes to push Rosa in a wheelchair through a 10K race while wearing her new running leg.
I'd give it to: My old teacher buddy Chuck, who taught a survival science course that talked about Positive Mental Attitude being the most important thing one can bring along on a trip. PMA is crucial to Jessica’s recovery, too, so I know Chuck would enjoy it and pass it on to his students. (I already gave it to my wife because she says life is too short to read depressing books.)
Illustrated books that each feature a classic poem illustrated by a contemporary artist. Includes a one-page essay about the writer, his work, and the poem opposite a page about the art and artist.
“The Raven” features cross-hatched, shadowy black ink figures. “Casey at the Bat” paints the baseball players as contemporary inner-city young men playing at a field surrounded by streets and buildings. In “Jabberwocky,” a bizarre, totalitarian world turns violently bloody at “snicker-snack!” “The Owl and the Pussycat” depicts an odd and unexpected romance in an animal-filled world. (This is my favorite, probably because I’d never read it before.)
Why I picked them up: The books themselves are beautiful and beg to be picked up, particularly because of the matte cover, cloth spine, and glossy paper. They each have a translucent sheet that adds something to the art on title page. I discovered them at the publisher’s booth at ALA last year, and kept going back until I’d read them all.
Why I finished them: They’re short, fun, and not at all intimidating, three things I’ve never heard myself say about a book of poetry.
I'd give them to: No one. I loved them so much I’m keeping these for myself, in my man-cave’s permanent collection (filed between the Harlan Ellison Hornbook and Mouse Guard: Fall 1152). But sometime I’ll probably buy a copy for Rebecca, a grade school art teacher who teaches my daughter and her friends on Sundays.
In the late 1800s, the bicycle was an amazing new invention, but by the early 1900s it had become a huge craze in the United States. Everyone was taking up bike riding. People started setting speed and endurance records. And many women found freedom in being able to get away from their homes and farms under their own power. Because getting around quickly and safely was so exhilarating, these women also started wearing shorter skirts (and even bloomers!) instead of huge puffy skirts that got tangled in the wheels. This freaked out conservative people who worried that this would lead to women demanding the right to vote, work, and determine their own destinies.
Why I picked it up: I am fascinated by the stories I had heard about early endurance bike riders like the guys in Two Wheels North who rode primitive bikes on horrible roads.
Why I finished it: During an endurance race in Minneapolis, Lillie Williams did a header over the front wheel of her bike, breaking her collarbone and shoulder, but she kept riding for nine more miles! After only two lessons, Annie Kopchovsky left her life as a wife and newspaper ad saleswoman to try to win $5,000 by riding around the world alone. Irene Brush and Jane Yatman traded world records back and forth, ending up with an angry rivalry. Imagine all of these extraordinary women just waiting for the bicycle to come along!
I'd give it to: The girls’ skateboarding group Skate Like a Girl, because people who put them down are just afraid of their freedom and confidence. David, because the vintage bicycle illustrations from sheet music and in cigar ads, and portraits of cyclists both amateur and hard-core, paint a vivid picture of the era and make the book gorgeous and engaging.