Disparate lives collide in a rundown neighborhood on Pittsburgh's north side. The four Philips children are orphaned and then abandoned by their stepmother. They must feed and clothe themselves, as well as keep the rent paid and the lights on, without anyone figuring out their circumstances.
And then there's Nick Banks, a gambler and alcoholic trying to pay back his debts, who unknowingly performs a good deed for the oldest Philips kid. When a teenager is found dead from an overdose in a nearby abandoned house, Detectives Greer and Potocki are called in to help with the investigation. Banks becomes embroiled in the case, bringing the detectives and the bad guys too close to home for him and the Philips kids.
Why I picked it up: Orphan stories appeal to me. I was curious to see how the author would portray four present-day children trying to survive while keeping it a secret.
Why I finished it: In a world where the Philips kids feel like they can’t trust adults, the relationship they develop with Banks (reminiscent of Natalie Portman’s character’s with Jean Reno in The Professional) had me desperately rooting for a happy ending. These kids were smart, and their resourcefulness and good nature were astounding.
I'd give it to: Amy, who is in law enforcement in Cincinnati and knows how easily kids become pawns in the drug trade. She’ll cling to the threads of hope in this otherwise gritty crime story.
A major new SF novel from the author of the bestselling Mars Trilogy.
The year is 2312. Earth is no longer humanity’s only home. New habitats have been created throughout the solar system on moons, planets, and in between. But in this year, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront its past, its present, and its future. The first event takes place on Mercury, where Swan Er Hong, a woman who once designed worlds, will be led into a plot to destroy them…
“A challenging, compelling masterpiece of science fiction.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Intellectually engaged and intensely humane in the way SF rarely is.” — Iain M. Banks
Aliens have taken over much of the earth. The six teens on Recon Team Angel must infiltrate the aliens’ operations center. Each has been surgically modified to resemble the aliens, as well as exhaustively trained in mannerisms and speech habits. There’s a saboteur on their team.
Why I picked it up: Falkner is known for high-interest, high-action books whose plots move right along. I was looking for more books that I could hand out to kids when they ask for something that “won’t bore me.” I can sell this action-packed cover with my eyes closed!
Why I finished it: I visualized the alien base as Ayers rock throughout as it’s described as a large rock in the Australian outback. Because Falkner dribbled out details about the mission’s goals slowly, I kept reading to figure it out. It was worth the wait to discover the secret that the rock was holding.
I'd give it to: Ali, who devoured the Alex Rider series, because this features highly trained teens running around and blowing things up. Joey, my TA, because he would love the hi-tech weaponry the aliens use.
A suspenseful, entirely original thriller about a series of murders that may be the handiwork of a gang of international killers—or fallen angels. Think The Hunchback of Notre Dame meets The Silence of the Lambs, as told to Justin Cronin.
British private eye Jay Harper finds himself in Switzerland on the trail of a missing Olympic athlete. A hard drinker, he can barely remember how he got home last night, let alone why he accepted this job. When he meets the stunning but aloof Katherine in a hotel bar, he quickly realizes that he's not the only one in town who's for hire. She's a high-class hooker who can't believe her luck. Which is about to change. For the worse. In the meantime, man-child Marc Rochat spends his time in the belfry talking to the statues, his cat and the occasional ghost. His job is to watch over Lausanne at night and to wait for the angel his mother told him he'd one day have to save. When he sees Katherine, he thinks his moment has come.
“Steele’s lavishly atmospheric, witty, bloody, and swashbuckling tale of age-old struggles for dominion between angels and demons is the propitious first book in an ambitious new series.” — Booklist (starred review)
This is a day in the life of a toddler. Her mother is constantly begging her to behave.
Why I picked it up: The baby's curls float around her head like planets.
Why I finished it: Her big brown eyes are so cute. I love all her different expressions, whether she is dumping cereal on her head, writing on the wall, or kicking and screaming as she's dragged away from the playground.
I'd give it to: My friend Marlo. We are babysitting a little girl named Eva together. When Eva plays in the water she reminds me of this baby happily splashing in her bath.
Behind each great piece of software is a talented, concientious team of hardworking individuals dedicated to producing the highest quality product using internationally accepted best practices and industry standards. And then there are these guys.
Runtime Error collects the first eighteen months of Not Invented Here, the new comic strip by Unshelved co-creator Bill Barnes. 168 full-color pages, with bonus feature: the evolution of the designs for each major character, through three artists across two years.
Nine years ago, seven-year-old Ethan got into a car with two strangers and disappeared. Now he is home with his parents, his younger brother Blake, and his sister Gracie (the “replacement kid”). Everyone expects Ethan to have memories of life before the abduction, but he doesn’t. He only remembers his “mother” Ellen, the abusive children’s home in Nebraska (that he ran away from), and his time on the streets. Scared and confused, Ethan tries to cope with his real family, a brother who hates him, and his childhood friend, Cami, with whom he falls in love.
Why I picked it up: Gene gave it to me, and when I saw it was by the Wake series author I had to read it right then!
Why I finished it: Ethan is bombarded by conflicting, raw emotions: his love for Ellen and her betrayal in leaving him, his guilt over being famous and its effect on Blake, and his overwhelming feelings for Cami. There’s also a powerful and eerie undercurrent of foreboding throughout the story.
I'd give it to: Melissa, who lived in foster care for a time and, I’m afraid, could relate directly to many of Ethan’s experiences.
Children’s literature experts and library professionals Robins and Wildsmith select and review 100 of the best books of comics currently available for young readers and identify what attracts and entertains kids. Engaging young readers through comics is a major focus of A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics.
The unnamed narrator of this light, airy book is given the assignment to look deeply into the foods she eats every day. In a food diary she investigates the history of spices, nuts, fruits, sandwiches, mayonnaise, potato chips and other foods she eats during the week. Each entry is accompanied by fun drawings that keep things moving and entertaining. (One drawing of a family at the zoo has a man showing a little crack above his low-rise pants.)
Why I picked it up: This type of heavily illustrated fact book is effective at holding the attention of young readers. Plus they’re useful for research, since they contain end notes.
Why I finished it: I learned many things I did not know about the food I eat, and here are a few. Chips are saved from sogginess and staleness by foil-lined bags filled with nitrogen that keep light and oxygen out (both are mortal enemies of good chips). 2,000 years ago, Pliny the Elder thought that dripping onion juice in ones eyes helped with vision problems. The “hotness” of mustard and wasabi seeds are tied to sugar molecules and do not come out until crushed or ground, when the bonds to the sugar molecules are broken. And the world’s oldest edible cheese is a 200-year-old Swiss variety.
I'd give it to: My eight-year-old niece, Lily, because she would run around randomly repeating fun facts to our family members. My wife, Trish, who would learn some things she could use, like storing green fruits with a banana in a paper bag to make them ripen. (This works because bananas give off a gas called ethylene.)
Charlie the Mouse lives alone. He can read, watch TV, or play the guitar at any time of the day or night without bothering anyone. But he’s got a bad case of writer’s block.
One day a little blue bird flies in through his window. He introduces himself as Mister Solitude, and explains that he’ll appear whenever Charlie feels lonely.
Why I picked it up: It’s not just a French graphic novel translated into English (in case you haven’t been keeping score, I’m crazy for French comics), it’s also a full-sized hardcover. Most of these published in the U.S. are smaller versions of the original books, but they always look better when they’re bigger. Plus there’s a cute mouse on the cover.
Why I finished it: I loved the dreamy sequence where Mister Solitude visits Charlie, who is reluctantly riding a gondola wheel. He says, “Gondolas deprived of liberty. Sad airships of an impossible adventure,” and urges Charlie to enjoy the view. (When Charlie does, he realizes his gondola is flying above the clouds.)
I'd give it to: Tim, who’d identify with the image of Charlie atop all of the pieces of crumpled paper that contain the writing he’s rejected.
Book version of Solar System for iPad. The information and stunning photos start with the sun and move outward to the Oort cloud and comets, including the planets, moons, asteroid belt, Kuiper belt, and the dwarf planets.
Why I picked it up: The cover images, both photographic and computer generated, are beautiful.
Why I finished it: Arthur C. Clarke’s works are referenced several times -- my favorite is that Saturn’s moon, Iapetus, is referred to as the stargate moon (it’s the site of the portal that 2001’s Dave Bowman enters). The photos showing the contrast between Iapetus’s ice and the dark material coating part of its surface, as well as the image of its equatorial ridge, are amazing. I also loved the graphics for each planet (and a few asteroids) that show its orbit around the sun or, in the case of a moon, its planet.
I'd give it to: Allen, to share with his daughter, Sophie. I think Sophie would love the idea that even asteroids, like Ida, can have small moons, and Allen would love to get her more interested in science.
A history of the Louisiana Purchase, originally presented as a syndicated comic strip that ran in forty newspapers around the country, revised with new material at the end.
Why I picked it up: My sister Robin moved to New Orleans after Katrina, and has been sending my kids a steady stream of excellent books on the area ever since.
Why I finished it: This could be pretty boring stuff (it certainly was when I learned it in high school), but Chase consistently keeps it light and entertaining by highlighting the many interesting personalities involved. At the end I was astounded at all the twists and turns involved in one of the most important real estate deals ever struck.
I'd give it to: Dave Kellett, a student of the art of comic strips (he has two master's degrees). He will be as impressed as I was that Chase managed to pace the story so that every day had both a new fact and a funny moment.