Five people end up in a hotel bar near the Toronto airport while the world starts to collapse because the price of oil shot above $200 a barrel. First they hear gunshots, then explosions. A cloud of chemical fallout covers the city. Nobody can leave, and secrets begin to come out. Then they hear the footsteps of a sniper on the roof.
Why I picked it up: I'm a fan of Coupland but I hadn't read his more literary books yet.
Why I finished it: The best disaster books and movies make me think about morality, humanity, and society. Coupland brings in religion, evolution, brain function, the impact of technology on how people connect with each other, and the nature of stories. Any one of the ideas that bubble up in the five hours in the bar could be the beginning of another great novel.
I'd give it to: Matthew Baldwin, who would love the character on the Autistic Spectrum Disorder who is not only not helpless, but has a successful business and gets to be heroic, too.
(Editor’s Warning: The jacket copy says not to talk about what the book’s about. I think they’re afraid specifics will make it less powerful. We’ve avoided spoilers, but if you believe that might be true, stop reading now.)
Sara and Andrew met Little Bee two years ago on a beach in Nigeria. She and her older sister were being chased by soldiers who had killed everyone else in their village. Sara and Andrew tried to save them both, but didn’t think they’d succeeded. Devastated, they returned to England.
But Little Bee survived and escaped to England. She spent two years in a detention center near London, where she learned the Queen’s English. One day a guard clicked the wrong button on his computer. He released several people. Little Bee was one of them. And she managed to contact Sara and Andrew.
Little Bee and Sara take turns telling what happened to them beginning with the day they met.
Why I picked it up: It was one of the books on our table. The cover has an “Autographed Copy” sticker so I mistakenly thought it was by a local writer and wanted to support him.
Why I finished it: I love the way Little Bee tries to explain things in England to her friends back home, imagining how they would respond to her stories. And I loved the mistakes she makes with English words.
I'd give it to: My husband, Gene, who tried to read it once but couldn’t stay focused due to the book’s slow start. You have to try again. Read through the part with the crazy leader of the soldiers at the beginning and you’ll be hooked -- he offers Sara and Andrew a horrifying chance to save Little Bee and her Sister.
Deuce has just been given the job of huntress in the underground Enclave. She and the other members of her tribe live short, brutal lives, terrorized by Freaks who want to rend their flesh with claws and teeth. On her first mission with her new partner, Fade, she uses her fighting skills to make it to another outpost. But after returning home, she and Fade are cast out of the Enclave. They go topside and head north, looking for the safety Fade’s dad spoke of. Above ground they’ll have to face the sadistic members of the Wolves.
Why I picked it up: The cover had a blurb that said it was “For fans of The Hunger Games.”
Why I finished it: Credible characters and page-turning intensity! I loved the scene where Fade and Deuce, barricaded in an abandoned subway car, take on a dozen Freaks that bash through the windows in a frenzy of bloodlust.
I'd give it to: Angie, who would like the burgeoning love triangle between Deuce, Fade, and the head of the Wolves.
A collection of creative and hilarious answers to test questions divided according to academic subject. Richard Benson went through exams and talked with teachers to find the most amusing wrong answers. Sometimes the students have absolutely no clue, and other times you can see where the answer is coming from, though it’s amazingly wrong.
One of my favorite History answers was this one given in response to the question “Who was Socrates?”
“Socrates was a famous old greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. He later died from an overdose of wedlock which is apparently poisonous. After his death, his career suffered a dramatic decline.”
Why I picked it up: My friend Michelle brought it into my house, and after I read that when Adam cuts his arm and red blood gushes out it means "He is not a robot, he’s a real boy!: I refused to give it back to her.
Why I finished it: I have two teens. Laughter is how I survive. My husband and I giggled when we read it together -- we particularly liked an answer that defined Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as going from cake to ice cream to candy to chips to pizza.
I'd give it to: Mr. Bowman, my eighth grade math teacher, who would give us extra credit for Texas Aggie jokes. (We lived in Colorado, so Texas Aggie jokes were exotic to us.)
This new graphic novel series takes place in the microscopic world and features Squish (a comic-loving amoeba), his best friend Pod (also an amoeba), and the ever-happy Peggy (a paramecium). They attend school together (their teacher is a cross-eyed planaria). Squish has to deal with a bully who copies off his tests and threatens Peggy.
Why I picked it up: I’m a giant fan of Matt and Jenni’s Babymouse.
Why I finished it: Lynnwood, an oversized amoeba, occasionally eats his classmates.
To save her family from the D'Haran Empire, Abby needs the help of the powerful wizard Zorander. To get it, she calls due a debt between Zorander and her mother, who was a sorceress.
Why I picked it up: Never read a book by Goodkind, whose thick fantasy novels I see at the bookstores I frequent. Plus it was short (3 CDs).
Why I finished it: Because of Tsoutsouvas’ voice. As he read it, I felt like a king was telling me a bedtime story.
I'd give it to: Dee and Barb, in my writing group. It’s a straightforward story with a few well-done twists that we could all learn from, and it doesn’t feature the high level of violence I usually enjoy (but that they don’t) in fantasy novels.
Scott Carney, a freelance writer based in Kolkata, India, stumbled onto a book idea when he asked himself, “How many ways are there to sell a human body?” The results make up this compelling book. Trade in tissues, organs, blood, and bones; eggs for in-vitro fertilization; medical tourism; surrogate womb rental; and clinical drug testing are examined, warts and all. Supply and demand drive an aptly named red market for human body parts. It turns out there is a price for human life and it floats based on laws, countries, and a willingness to prosecute those who play fast and loose with moral and legal issues.
Why I picked it up: Gross subtitle. What’s a blood farmer?
Why I finished it: While it does spend a little time on the ethical issues attached to donating/paying for human body parts, it is mostly an examination of what is going on despite laws and good intentions. There’s a bag of tibias that will be made into flutes for Buddhist monks, an underground blood farm where transients are imprisoned and bled of blood twice a week, a printer that can make organs, and a room filled with twenty-one tons of human hair.
I'd give it to: Lexie, whose father spends hours a day hooked up to a dialysis machine because I think he’d like this peek behind the kidney transplant list’s anonymous curtain.
Lars and Rachel are a sweet retired couple living with their beloved, violent cat in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood. Their daughter Laura goes from checking in on them to doing all their cleaning and shopping, to giving sponge baths and taking them to the hospital, and eventually to providing hospice care. Every step along the way is documented thoroughly and honestly, effectively killing any romantic notions I still had about my final years.
Why I picked it up: The cover blurb by R. Crumb saying it moved him to tears and was one of the best things he had read. Plus, last summer, after a long debate and struggle, my family moved my grandmother to a nursing home.
Why I finished it: Reading this was like watching an incredibly slow train wreck, where you got to know everyone on board before it crashed: ongoing injuries coupled with resistance to medical treatment to avoid more bad news; years of hoarding mixed with loss of mobility and the ability to clean; losing interest in cooking and eating convenient crap with little nutrition; and struggling to stay independent but needing more help every step of the way. Laura was inspiring in that she continued to respond with love and wanted to help.
I'd give it to: My father, who lost his parents years ago, but still has a loving relationship with his stepmother and her newer husband. I hope this will aid him in providing thoughtful assistance and some concrete planning for himself.