A cat-like animal with a shell jumps off a rail onto a passing scooter. As it crosses a bridge, a creature jumps out of the water and breathes (fire?), causing the scooter to crash. The driver picks up the box he was transporting and carries it into the nearby junkyard where he buys a new scooter. He and the animal drive into a city that is one big dilapidated building: part factory, part market, and totally surreal.
Why I picked it up: It looks damned odd -- a little ghost-like white guy (drawn with pink lines) sits on a roof watching a yellow scene (drawn with brown lines). I flipped to the inside cover and there’s that little guy again, dancing on one foot while a monster either screams or breathes fire behind him.
Why I finished it: It just kept getting weirder, and it’s an incredibly quick read. (It’s nearly wordless.) When the crab claws attacked the cops who were hassling the driver, I knew I’d probably finish it. But then when the driver and animal look in a doorway and see the weird, oddly sexual scenes involving a giant squirrel, the man on the cover, and pretty girls, I had to finish it to see if there was a story that made sense. (There wasn’t.)
I'd give it to: Eddie, who used to work at my local comic store, because he’d enjoy the strange succession of perverse images toward the end of the book. I think his favorite part would be the multi-page fight between the pigtailed girl in the body stocking and the bald guy with the dragon tattoo.
Malcolm Fox works for the Complaints and Conduct Division of the Edinburgh police, what we call Internal Affairs in the United States. It is a thankless job. Fox is hated by his fellow officers, is never given latitude for his traffic violations, and gets cold stares whenever he enters a police station. Fresh off a successful prosecution, Fox is asked to assist the Child Protection Unit in the investigation of Jamie Breck, a cop suspected of trafficking in child pornography. But Fox’s job gets much more complicated when Breck becomes the lead investigator on a murder case where Malcolm Fox is a prime suspect.
Why I picked it up: Ian Rankin is most famous for his John Rebus books, which may be my favorite mysteries of all time. Rebus was an Edinburgh homicide detective, and the stories were always interesting and satisfying, with character development that spanned more than a dozen books. The Complaints is the first book in Rankin’s new series.
Why I finished it: The book is understated yet deliciously complicated. Malcolm is an unexciting plodder living a regular life who finds himself drawn into intrigue that threatens his family and career. As he pulls back the layers of the mystery, he is not sure who he can trust, and yet he keeps moving forward to find the answers.
I'd give it to: Will, a huge Michael Connelly fan. In Black Echo, homicide detective Harry Bosch also doggedly solved the case in defiance of his superiors. Ironically, Bosch’s antagonists were two nitwits from Internal Affairs, while Malcolm Fox had to put up with two bungling homicide detectives.
Karou is a blue-haired girl living a normal life, except for the frequent occasions when a giant bird appears to summon her. Then she heads to the workshop of her adopted father, Brimstone, where he labors to collect and string together human teeth. It is located at a nexus of passageways that leads to cities all over the world. As she runs his errands and collects teeth for him, Karou notices the doorways she uses to get back to Brimstone’s shop have all been marked with a handprint. She doesn’t worry about this until she sees all the doorways burn with a cold blue fire, leaving her no way to get back to Brimstone or to understand the war that she is in the middle of.
Why I picked it up: I loved Taylor’s Lips Touch Three Times because of non-clichéd details like goblins that fed off girls’ insecurities, and the bridge in an alien city that could only be crossed if one threw a cat into the yawning chasm to distract the tentacled creature below.
Why I finished it: The graded scale of wishes, payment for teeth collected for Brimstone by bounty hunters and villains, added to the mystery of what Brimstone was going to do with the teeth. Wishes range from weak scuppies at the base to a powerful bruxis, which can only be gained by pulling out one’s teeth with pliers.
I'd give it to: Jeff, who would love the guy who wished for wisdom and ended up living with an invisible creature on his back. It bowed him double and whispered to him constantly. Kala, who would like the star-crossed romance between Karou and an enemy that is sworn to her people’s destruction, because he’s cute and has intense eyes.
Kate, Michael and Emma were sent away by their parents on a horrible, snowy night. Kate is the only one old enough to remember their parents, though she doesn’t remember the super strong, shadowy men who her parents fought that night.
After being sent from orphanage to orphanage because they want to stay together, the three children end up in Cambridge Falls at a ramshackle mansion where they are the only wards. There, after accidentally activating the magical powers of an old photo and antiquarian book, they find themselves in the past. A strange lady named the Countess captures all three. She has ordered her minions (undead warriors called screechers) to kidnap all the children in New Cambridge to force their parents to help her find an ancient book of power.
Why I picked it up: I got an advance copy at a library conference, put it next to my bed (because of the title I mistakenly thought it was an Irish fantasy), and then started it four months later, once I finally got to that strata of the pile.
Why I finished it: It reads like Brandon Mull’s excellent middle-school fantasy series, Fablehaven. It has a little danger and death, but overall is more terrifying than gory. One of the kids, Michael, has a book on dwarves that he practically memorized, and he constantly cracks unintentionally funny lines about dwarfish women or honor. When he finally meets real dwarves, he’s so excited he almost wets himself.
I'd give it to: Jack, who would like the housekeeper’s sarcasm -- she continually makes snide, unwarranted comments about the children’s behavior under her breath. Michael, who would dig the shrieking, undead Morum Cadi and the madness inducing, subterranean Salmac-Tar.
The armies of the Union and the North clash near the town of Osrung, fighting for control of several hills, one of which sports large, vertical stones known as the Heroes. On one side Lord Marshal Kroy commands his Majesty’s Armies and tries to win a decisive victory. On the other side Black Dow, The Protector of the North, wants to send the Union bastards back to the mud. Forced to do the bidding of each leader are soldiers young and old, scarred veterans and young men trying to make a name for themselves in their first battle, some who know how to stay out of harm’s way and others who only feel at home when their life is on the line.
Why I picked it up: A blurb on Abercrombie’s first book, The Blade Itself, said it was worth reading for the violence alone. This has held true for all of his books (including this one).
Why I finished it: Curnden Craw leads his dozen, doing Black Dow’s bidding despite his arthritic joints and a desire to stop fighting. He privately yearns for the life he left behind when he became a warrior. In his first scene, he walks into an enemy encampment and does his best to follow orders without bloodshed. But later, when the fighting is thick, he does whatever he can to make sure he and those he leads survive.
Other characters drew me in as well, particularly Colonel Bremer dan Gorst, a frightening war machine and renowned swordsman with a high squeaky voice and pathetic fixation on another man’s wife, and Corporal Tunny, a standard bearer and war profiteer whose eager new batch of recruits are clearly not destined to live through the fighting.
I'd give it to: Flemtastic. He likes all that high and mighty fantasy, and he needs something this well-written and gritty. He’d have to wipe off the blood spatter when he finishes it, but I think he’d have a smile on his face. There’s a little magic, too.
Stefanski, an autistic kid, explains how he experiences social interaction differently than many other fourteen-year-olds. (He has trouble "reading" facial expressions and doesn't like making eye contact, but like anyone else he still wants to be included in conversations and social groups.) He gives tips on how to be a good friend to autistic teens (like be patient, and don't raise your voice or yell) in a very quick and easy-to-read way.
Why I picked it up: I've interacted with a lot of autistic kids and wanted to find out how well I did.
Why I finished it: Stefanski's tips on how to change the subject in a nice way, especially when he gets stuck on one of his favorite topics, are ones I'll be using with everyone, autistic or not. ("Okay, I get what you're saying, but can we talk about something else now?") He got his point across really well: he's a person with the same needs and interests as anyone else, but with different strengths and weaknesses that can be adapted to by speaking slowly, being ready to rephrase, and asking when you think you've been misunderstood.
I'd give it to: Jason, who who might use it as inspiration to decide to take a more active role in educating people at work about what he needs as a person with a learning disability. Maybe he could write a book, too!
The modern sex lives of the parents and children of several families in a small town. Fictional, but not very.
Why I picked it up: The first line is "Don Truby thought about Kelly Ripa's anus."
Why I finished it: Don proceeds to drive home from work during his lunch hour to masturbate to Internet porn, but his computer isn't working. So he uses his son's computer instead. Every moment in this book is equally uncomfortable and plausible, and as impossible to stop reading.
I'd give it to: Jenn, my son's homeschool math teacher, who will enjoy speculating about whether our children (and we) are as messed-up as everyone in this book.
After an evening of drinking, five college students discover they each have a superpower: flight, strength, telepathy, speed, and invisibility. At first they use their powers for fun, to save time, and to get revenge for past wrongs. But soon they decide that they should work towards something greater and band together as superheroes. However, just as they begin to learn how to handle their new abilities, the world starts to crash down around them. They realize that while their powers are great, they are still ordinary people.
Why I picked it up: A friend of mine does a annual reading project to encourage her library’s staff to read widely. This year’s project is a scavenger hunt, and one of the items to find in a book is a superhero. I took part this year, too, and I wanted to try an adult novel, rather than a teen book or graphic novel.
Why I finished it: I did not have the time of my life in college, so Mary Beth and Charlie’s ill-advised sexual relationship, Harriet’s fears of losing herself completely to invisibility, and Jack’s tendency to do too much for too many people were familiar.
I'd give it to: Emily, who grew up in the Midwest, would appreciate that this is a superhero title set in Wisconsin, rather than New York City.