Why I picked it up: I've loved the Tintin books since I was a kid, poring over the beautiful drawings.
Why I finished it: I had heard that Hergé had originally written for a conservative Catholic newspaper, but I had no idea that he had trouble working after WWII because of accusations that he was a Nazi collaborator, and that he desperately wanted to be a painter despite his success in comics.
I'd give it to: My brother will laugh at the visual salutes to moments from the Tintin adventures and mist up at Hergé's lifelong dedication to his friend and artistic mentor, Chang Chong-Jen.
Reese wants to stay home, but his father won’t let him skip the family boat trip. Reese’s little sister, Janie, deals with the vacation by bringing her pet snake, Pickles, on the boat.
Due to an unexpected storm, the family is shipwrecked on a strange island. (Pickles doesn’t make it, but Janie carries him around for a while, anyway.) They set up camp and begin exploring. The plants don’t look like plants back home, and odd, dangerous creatures abound. A strange artifact leads them to a building in the island’s center where Reese and Janie’s parents are captured by a tribe of horned beings.
Why I finished it: The great family moments. When dad is trying to start a fire with a flint and stone, mom hands him a book of matches: “Here’s what they use to start fires on my planet.” Later, Janie’s love of odd pets almost gets her and Reese killed when she starts carrying around an armadillo-like animal she finds on the trail (she calls it Johnny).
I'd give it to: My niece, Kyli, who would like the weird animals, especially the one tree that tries to eat the family.
Once up on a time there was an alien space traveller who could assume any form. It came to Earth a long time ago and has been walking among us ever since.
Did I say one shape-changing alien? Actually there are two. And while the Changeling is trying to learn about humanity and where it came from, the Chameleon is out for blood.
Then an alien spacecraft is discovered in the ocean, and the race is on to discover which of them it belongs to.
Why I picked it up: I have loved so many of Haldeman's books, each with a great premise and lots of authentic details, that at this point I'll read anything of his. But I'm pacing myself because one of these days I'll have read all his novels, and then there will be no alternative but to take him captive and force him to write faster.
Why I finished it: The Changeling learns a lot about humanity, good and bad, as a Marine in the Bataan Death March. Haldeman is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and this part was very moving, the more so for being seen through alien eyes. A great example of how science fiction can help us understand our world.
I'd give it to: Jenny, the Ohio librarian who came up with the funny title for our latest collection. I know she likes Star Wars, and I'm curious if she also reads more broadly in the genre. Plus there is a sweet and sexy interspecies love story in here too, if that helps get her interested.
In the post-Katrina chaos, a District Attorney goes missing and is assumed dead. His nephew wants to know what happened, so he asks around and hires the best private investigator he can afford. Claire DeWitt's method is questionable, her sobriety fleeting, and she may very well be insane, but if anyone can dig up the truth, she can, even if it is uglier than most folks can bear.
Why I picked it up: While I'm not a big mystery reader, I occasionally like to try a new series with strong, smart female characters. When I heard this one took place in New Orleans, I had to give it a shot.
Why I finished it: Claire's unconventional, mystical detecting technique is fascinating. It relies on illegal drugs and is based on a French detectives' handbook called Détection, which she discovered in an abandoned dumbwaiter as a teen.
I'd give it to: Brittney, who loves New Orleans as much as I do. She’ll be heartbroken by the troubled young people Claire encounters, and share her frustration that all you can do to guide people to better lives is to drop clues where they might find them.
Maddie and Queenie are unlikely friends after they meet in a shelter during a bombing raid. Queenie is practically royalty and Maddie is a working-class girl, inspired to work on planes and engines by her hero, one of the first women pilots in Britain.
Both are asked to join a secret British agency to help win World War II. Queenie gathers information through clandestine spy work. Maddie executes short-field takeoffs and landings to deliver and remove spies from occupied territories. Both girls enjoy being useful to the war effort, even though their lives are often at risk.
Then a mission goes wrong. Maddie’s plane is shot down when she’s flying Queenie behind enemy lines. Queenie is captured and brutally interrogated, forced to reveal secrets to stay alive. She believes Maddie died in the crash.
Why I picked it up: I talked with a representative of Disney/Hyperion at ALA midwinter and asked what upcoming book they were most excited about. She handed me a copy.
Why I finished it: It was nice to see a book about WWII that centered around two brave women. Maddie was a tomboy who always got dirty working on engines and tearing down engines. She was known for this, so she got the first call when the British opened up flight school for women. Queenie came from a privileged Scottish family, but answered the call when the British black ops teams came calling because of her ability to speak foreign languages like a native. Their friendship and willingness to support each other is the backbone of the book.
I'd give it to: Linnea, who would love that the story is told mostly through Queenie’s writings that are submitted to the Nazis. John, who loves the Resistance graphic novels and would like the details of how the French resistance operated under Nazi rule.
Calcata, a small Italian city on a mountaintop near the Vatican, hosted an odd and sacred relic for hundreds of years, a 2,000-year-old shriveled piece of skin about the size of a garbanzo bean that’s believed to be Jesus Christ’s foreskin.
David Farley, a New York-based reporter, lived among the residents of Calcata for a year gathering information about this relic. From the Middle Ages through the 1980's, believers traveled to the eclectic city to venerate Christ by viewing it. The Church was afraid that the attention it was attracting did not lead to God's glory, so if practicing Catholics mentioned the foreskin it could result in their excommunication based on a decree by Pope Leo XIII. When the foreskin was stolen in 1983, suspicion was cast on agents of the Vatican as well as Satanists. (There may also be reason to believe it was sold to fund the drinking of the clergyman on duty the night of the theft, though he never admitted to anything.) In his attempt to track the relic, Farley examines the history of relics in Europe, the collection of characters that inhabit Calcata, and the Vatican research library.
Why I picked it up: I heard author David Farley speak about this relic with Rick Steves on Steves’ NPR travel show.
Why I finished it: Not only does Farley cover the history of the Santissimo Prepuzio (the most holy foreskin), he also discusses the relic-crazy middle ages. Everyone from Charlemagne to Emperor Constantine’s mother collected holy relics including anything that had touched a saint, and, in some cases, the actual parts of saints (bones, blood, the Virgin Mary’s breast and breast milk, the Apostle Paul’s head). One church even claimed to have the head of the Apostle Paul from when he was a child! Up to eighteen cities claimed to have the actual foreskin of Christ at some point, until Calcata’s claim was bolstered by Vatican approval, circumcising the pretenders.
I'd give it to: My friend Mike, who would enjoy the Catholic beliefs and practices described by Farley. During an annual festival, the Holy Foreskin would supposedly, on the day it was shown to the town, drip three drops of blood. Many of the pilgrims who traveled to see it each year wanted to and were granted permission to kiss the relic.
Madcap university mystery. Girl detective Judy Drood, with the hapless Kasper Keene, investigates the disappearances of girls on campus.
Beautiful young women (some dressed like pirates), monstrous old men (some of them professors), photography, a puppet, and a misguided quest for eternal youth all figure in.
Why I picked it up: I loved Sala’s Cat Burglar Black and wanted to read some of his older comics.
Why I finished it: The dark edge in Sala’s other work is fully expressed here. The book is incredibly violent (though the dark, woodcut-like art makes it feel absurd). Here’s a body count by how victims meet their end:
stabbing (knife, trident, stick) 10.5
hammer and spiked mask 1
giant octopus 1
neck twisting 1
I'd give it to: My friend Dave, who went to high school with me, because he’d recognize how much the annoying girl detective reminds me of a busybody I once dated.
Keye Street’s life is in shambles. She’s a recovering alcoholic and still suffering stress due to her former position as an FBI violent crimes analyst. Keye now runs her own PI firm in Atlanta, where the police call her in to consult on a serial murder case. As victims' tortured and gruesomely posed bodies continue to pile up, Keye's commitment to staying sober is continually put to the test. As she becomes more involved with the case, the killer begins to draw her in deeper and threaten the people closest to her.
Why I picked it up: We were in the middle of a snowstorm in Seattle and I wanted a story set somewhere hot and humid to warm me up. I also needed a kick-ass female protagonist, and the book's description of Keye indicated she fit the bill.
Why I finished it: Keye is a total mess. She’s brilliant but flawed and very real, with a great sense of humor and loads of self-loathing. There are also a couple of very surprising twists and a very strong suspect, but the author kept me guessing to the end.
I'd give it to: Katy, who is in need of a strong female lead in her life right now, and will devour this fast-paced and engaging read in what little free time she has between law school and study groups. Katy will also love Keye's cat, White Trash.