Twelve year-old Boston orphan Jack joins the California gold rush with his butler, Praiseworthy.
Why I picked it up: It was one of many books we gathered to read aloud during our family trip to San Juan Island for whale watching. We were all unbearably curious to find out what the bizarre title meant. As for why my wife chose the book in the first place, I'm sure the cover's depiction of Praiseworthy as a bearded Pierce Brosnan had nothing to do with it.
Why I finished it: We returned from our trip with two chapters left to go and multiple plot points to resolve. Would Jack and Praiseworthy hit pay dirt? Will Praiseworthy survive his scheduled fight with the Mountain Ox? And how does Praiseworthy feel about Jack's beautiful Aunt Arabella, anyway? Then my faithless wife and fickle children finished the book without me! Fortunately I am not above reading a few chapters of a classic YA novel by myself. And a good thing, too, because who wants to watch a grown man giggle and tear up at the same time?
I'd give it to: Theo's friend Jacob, who, like most home schoolers I know, is still sweet and un-jaded enough to enjoy a light, old-fashioned story with moral lessons and absolutely no super villains. There is, however, at least one explosion.
P.S. We did, in fact, see whales.
Taryn Simon spent five days in JFK airport's U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Site and the U.S. Postal Service International Mail Facility. She took more than 1000 pictures of what those agencies seized or detained during that time. The result is a book featuring almost everything that can be smuggled, either with criminal intent or, sometimes, because of ignorance of the consequences.
Why I picked it up: I saw a sample of the photographs for this project and was amazed.
Why I finished it: Cow dung toothpaste, p. 108. A box of khat addressed to my hometown, p. 250. A stack of boxes of Artillery King sex pills with cover art clearly stolen from an X rated movie, p. 366. A container of something unidentified, only labelled as "biohazard," p. 414. Page after page of animal penises, counterfeit clothing, illegal pills, and raw meat smuggled in plastic bottles.
I'd give it to: Darren, a high school teacher and food inspection activist who could use something super-crazy to get students to think about the reasons for regulations controlling food and drugs.
Conor is struggling. His mother is being treated for cancer, and he has vivid nightmares every night. When the yew tree on the hill becomes a monster and grabs him through the side of his house, Conor is scared and belligerent. The yew claims that Conor called him. It will tell Conor three stories, then expects Conor to tell him the fourth. Over the next few nights, Conor and the monster tree meet nightly at seven minutes past midnight for conversations that will change his life.
Why I picked it up: Nominated for my book committee Best Fiction for Young Adults. Plus Patrick Ness, on the cover, talks about feeling pressure to flesh out the idea for the book that came from Siobhan Dowd, who died from cancer before she could write it.
Why I finished it: The book started to hit me when I was able to connect the yew tree monster with the fear inside Conor. He had to start facing life after his mom’s death, even before she was gone, by planning to live with his grandma in her cold, sterile house. He didn't want to deal with those kinds of questions because he thought it meant he was giving up on her.
I'd give it to: Kim, because this book is all about dealing with grief, something she has had to struggle with herself.
Bee Jin plans to ride her bike from New York to San Francisco and (she hopes) lose her virginity along the way. After an accident, she rents a room in The Green Pine Inn. She notices that the painting in her room has been altered, so she follows the housekeeper, Cyrus. He’s altering the art in the rooms, painting funny elements into otherwise boring paintings.
Bee catches a ride with Cyrus and then takes a housekeeping job with him at a hotel in Newark. They dodge hotel security to sleep in unoccupied rooms and he starts working on the art. But his other habit, helping himself to pharmaceuticals in rooms he cleans, causes problems. He and Bee soon find themselves in the middle of a drug deal gone bad.
Why I picked it up: I loved Little’s Shutterbug Follies, which also featured Bee.
Why I finished it: This book has a real sense of fun throughout. Bee’s suffering as a hotel maid is entertaining -- she walks in on a naked exhibitionist and has to clean up after a rock band’s party. Cyrus’ improved paintings are amusing -- he adds a sports car and an old hitchhiker to a rural barn scene and a lovey-dovey whale to an otherwise boring picture of a sailing ship. Plus after Bee finally does have sex, it’s somewhat graphic (if cartoony), frequent, and clearly enjoyable.
I'd give it to: Emily, because the retro hotel furniture reminds me of her house, and she’d enjoy the overall old motel feel of this book.
Along with the other survivors of the Maze, Thomas looks forward to resuming his life. But no -- there is yet another test for the boys. Infected by the Flare disease, they are sent out to traverse land scorched by solar flares. Their reactions to each obstacle will be studied as part of some grand experiment to help mankind survive. They need to navigate the scorching heat, make it through a city of crazed cannibals, and battle robots to make it to the safe haven where they’ll be rewarded with the cure.
Why I picked it up: The Maze Runner was too good not to read the sequel. I love Thomas because his logical side is often in conflict with his impulsiveness.
Why I finished it: Before the boys are sent on this new trial, the lone girl from the Maze disappears. She and Thomas share telepathy as well as a very close relationship. Her telepathic voice says, “Trust me,” but her mission is to betray their trust and kill Thomas.
I'd give it to: Miles, a dystopian sci-fi-natic who goes for the “things aren’t really as they seem, or are they” storylines. This one is full of bizarre twists.
Naughty Prince Harry likes practical jokes. But his father, King Reginald of Armpit, wants him to be a knight. When the brave and famous Sir Fartsalot (with his trusty sword Lucille) visits the castle, King Reginald asks him to take Harry on the road and give him a taste for adventure.
After Sir Fartsalot “defeats” the castle’s vegetarian moat monster, a child looks at his mustache and says, “Booger.” Harry convinces Fartsalot the Booger is a frightful creature that no one talks about. They take to the road to find and defeat it.
Why I picked it up: It was my daughter’s pick for a book to read together. She thought it sounded funny.
Why I finished it: Fartsalot is a clueless old man who eats nothing but turnips. After meals, he’s often visited by the Foul West Wind, which he takes as an omen that a great evil is loose in the land. He thinks this Booger sounds like the evil he’s been looking for.
I'd give it to: Ariel, who would like the anti-princess sentiment and the names of the other knights, Sir Bedwetter and Sir Cedric Knotaclew. And my niece, Vanessa, who also thinks turnips betoken great evil.
Annabel, the oldest of eight children, has caught the attention of an Earl who can help support her struggling family. Unfortunately the Earl in question is her grandfather’s age and only wants her for her — ahem — ample form, which promises many healthy children. And Annabel seems to be falling for Sebastian, the handsome and despised nephew of her intended Earl.
Why I picked it up: I had been reading too many serious teen books and graphic novels. I needed a fluffy romance novel with likable characters and a sweet romance. Julia Quinn’s Regencies deliver both.
Why I finished it: Until I read this, I’d forgotten that I’d read the first two books in the series (The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever and What Happens in London). The first two were cute, but Sebastian and Annabel’s story was more solidly constructed. It was easy to believe that they were a perfect match because they filled in each other’s gaps. I really appreciate romances where the partners are equal in intelligence, wit, and strength.
I'd give it to: My friend Jessica, a struggling writer who yearns to craft the kind of snappy, sharp, funny dialogue that Quinn makes look so easy.
Fifteen-year-old twins Victor and Konrad live an idyllic life in a mansion on the shores of Lake Geneva with their family, the Frankensteins. Their cousin Elizabeth is a constant companion, as is their friend Henry. They find a secret passage to the dark library under the family’s house. Inside are fascinating books about alchemy. Their father bans them from the library. But then Konrad falls ill with a mysterious disease, and the doctors cannot help. Victor spends more and more time there, compelled to help his brother. Victor, Henry and Elizabeth must risk their lives to obtain the ingredients for the Elixir of Life, or Konrad will surely die.
Why I picked it up: Kenneth Oppel wrote some of the most popular books at my school library, including Airborn, so I thought this was worth a try. Plus I got a review copy six months before it came out!
Why I finished it: This is more than just a straightforward adventure because of the strong emotional motivations of Victor’s character. Everything he does is rational and warranted by his responsibility for his brother. Victor’s personality turns darker and darker as he watches his brother waste away, and we see the reasons for the shift.
I'd give it to: Sarah, because she would like the tension Victor’s unrequited love for Elizabeth brings to the story.