Reb is weeks away from moving away from the Pacific Northwest to study architecture at Columbia University. She is looking forward to putting some distance between her and her family when suddenly, because of an unexpected job opportunity for her father, Reb’s whole family moves to the east coast. But within days of arriving in their new home, her father announces he is leaving and turns everyone’s lives upside down.
Why I picked it up: I always enjoy Justina Chen's ability to create a sense of place.
Why I finished it: I felt the rawness of Reb’s difficult relationships: she is dealing with her own breakup, her father, who just let everyone down, and a renewed love for her grandparents. I was also intrigued by the mysterious, crying voice that Reb continued to hear in her head before the cross country move. It gave her the sense that something terrible was going to happen, and it kept me turning the pages.
I'd give it to: Patty, who would especially love Reb’s awkward interview with an architect in New York. Reb's dad set it up for her, but the architect was not impressed by her designs. Patty herself once flubbed a medical school interview, and she was sure she'd be washing bed pans for years.
2005 EISNER AWARD NOMINEE: When Ely's beloved dog, Tommy, is hit by a car, he goes to his grandpa's house for the summer to get his mind off things. While exploring a nearby cave one day, he discovers a full-grown but friendly Tyrannosaurus Rex. As the news of the dinosaur grows around town, so does the friendship between Ely and his Jurassic pet. But Randy, the mean kid down the street, decides he's going to make life miserable for Ely and his dinosaur—to devastating effect.
Our protagonist is a nameless teenage assassin who gets a new name for each mission. Because he’s young he is able to get close to targets (often by befriending children) who adults could never reach. After he eliminates them he slips away.
On his current mission, as Ben, he attends a prep school in New York. He must kill the mayor in five days. As he gets to know the Mayor’s jaded daughter, Sam, he starts to question his orders and his handlers. (Unbeknownst to Ben, Sam has some secrets of her own.)
Why I picked it up: I loved Zadoff’s humorous, semi-autobiographical Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have. He has a knack for capturing realistic teen dialogue.
Why I finished it: Zadoff allows us to gradually see Ben push back against his handlers, who he never sees. Despite his combat skills, unusual maturity, and ability to read behavioral tics, Ben’s youth becomes more and more of a factor as he pines for a connection or family. There are also several well-choreographed, entertaining fights, like the one where Ben incapacitates four burly guards who pop out of a Lincoln Towncar -- he gets inside the car where the limited space gives his slighter frame an advantage, then knocks the last guard unconscious by slamming a cell phone into his temple.
I'd give it to: My student Josh, who likes this kind of smart, fast-moving story where a teenager infiltrates security systems and operates heavy machinery!
Darya has discovered the perfect gift for her daughter’s twenty-fifth birthday: an ideal husband. Mina, however, is fed up with her mother’s years of endless matchmaking and spreadsheets grading available Iranian-American bachelors: 5 points for good teeth; minus 10 for no graduate degree; plus 20 if it can be proven that they’re kind to their mothers. Having spent her childhood in Tehran and her adolescence in New York City, Mina has experienced many cultural clashes, but now the greatest battles are erupting at home. As an adult, Mina thought she would find balance and clarity, instead she is more conflicted than ever about her parents’ traditions and the challenges that come with straddling two very different cultures.
To work things out, mother and daughter embark on a journey to Iran. Back in the familiarity of their hometown, the two women gradually begin to understand each other. Mina discovers a newfound respect for her mother’s traditions while Darya comes to terms with the blend of Iranian and American life that define her daughter. But when Mina falls for a young man who never appeared on her mother’s matchmaking spreadsheets and when Darya is tempted by an American musician, will this mother and daughter’s tender appreciation for each other survive?
Just before Michael's twelfth birthday, his parents lost their jobs. They decided to buy a boat and sail around the world. One night, somewhere near Australia, they hit rough water. Michael was thrown overboard along with his dog and soccer ball. His parents didn't realize what had happened until the next day.
Why I picked it up: My mommy always brings home books from the Recommended Books shelf at our library. I was out of other things to read, and I'd never read a "marooned on an island" story before.
Why I finished it: This book kept surprising me. After using his soccer ball as a flotation device for himself and his dog, Michael washes ashore. When he lights a signal fire, an old man suddenly walks up and puts it out. This is Kensuke, who doesn't ever want to leave the island.
I'd give it to: My sister Rosie, when she's a little older, because she will love Michael's dog, Stella Artois, who protects him from the monkeys and other creatures on the island.
When trying to save a woman from slavers, Sam screwed up. Royally. Now Linda wants nothing to do with him. Or with BDSM. She won't even admit she's a masochist. As a dominant and sadist, he can give her what she needs, and when an opportunity arises, he slips into her life, intending to make amends. She's everything he knew she would be…except for her bullheaded determination to be 'normal'.
Now the horrible time is past, Linda just wants to return to her small conservative town, pick up her quiet life, and be normal. But how can someone who likes pain be 'normal'? To her dismay, when someone spray-paints her home with obscenities, Sam shows up to rescue her. Again. Doesn't he understand that the last thing she needs in her life is a sadist? He's amused by her objections. But his dry sense of humor doesn't disguise that he's tough as nails and dominant and stubborn. He's not going to let her drive him off this time. All too soon, she realizes she wants him to stay.
When he takes her to the Shadowlands, she finds a new home…until she hears a voice from out of her nightmares.
Note:This book contains strong but consensual sadistic elements that may be uncomfortable for some readers.
J. Patrick Lewis, former economics professor and current Children's Poet Laureate offers up twenty-six silly poems about real, non-traditional holidays such as Happy Mew Year for Cats Day (Jan. 2), Yell "Fudge" at the Cobras in North America Day (June 2), Ohio Sheep Day (July 13), and International Cephalopod Awareness Days (Oct. 8-12).
Why I picked it up: I am a proud new rat owner, and I didn't realize that April 4 was World Rat Day.
Why I finished it: I liked that Lewis focused his attention on animals, as well as insects and birds. There are a lot of random holidays out there -- Talk Like a Pirate Day, anyone? -- but he keeps his poetry collection about those holidays that feature living creatures. Even the one time he branches out a bit, on Limerick Day (May 12), his limericks are still about animals. And there's plenty of puns and humor, which always makes kids poems so much fun.
Raff's illustrations are delightful. Her watercolors are bright and cheerful, and I liked that she included rats in most of the pictures, making finding them a visual game.
I'm a sucker for dragons, so my favorite poem was probably the one for Appreciate a Dragon Day, January 16. In "Eight Table Manners for Dragons," Lewis advises dragons to "Play with your food, but don't let it run around screaming" and "Chew your food. Once."
I'd give it to: Keenya, who loves chocolate as much as I do. She might be brave enough to try "Chocolate Covered Ants" on December 16, aka Chocolate Covered Anything Day.
Fresh from his latest attempt to get Buffy to act on her feelings for him, Spike has fled to the dark side of the moon. His trip leads him to a group of dangerous demons and a rude awakening from his reverie, which in turn leads him on an unexpected adventure to . . . Sunnydale!
Collecting Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike—A Dark Place #1–#5.
Timmy Failure is a proud, confident, and absolutely terrible detective. With his trusty partner, Total (who happens to be a real polar bear), Timmy proclaims his own Greatness to anyone and everyone, pausing only occasionally to borrow his mother’s Segway without asking and, every once in a while, to take on a case. (Please note that this review will not mention the Evil One, rival detective Corrina Corrina, whose very existence is a threat to Timmy’s livelihood and well-being.) Surrounded by idiots -- his mother, his best friend, his mother’s horrible boyfriend, and the tangerine-smelling Molly Moskins -- Timmy must stay strong, secure in his Greatness, even when all evidence points to the contrary. After all, as Timmy notes from the start, “It’s harder to drive a polar bear into somebody’s living room than you’d think."
Why I picked it up: Because of the hype: lots of ads, lots of buzz in industry circles, and a big display at both my local Barnes & Noble and my local indie bookstore. I figured I needed to find out whether the fuss was worth it.
Why I finished it: I had to know whether Timmy would receive any kind of comeuppance or reality check (though I was fairly certain he wouldn’t). Also, POLAR BEAR.
I'd give it to: My daughter’s classmate Max, who is sweeter than Timmy but just as devious. I’ve seen him enjoying the Wimpy Kid series and witnessed him goofing off when he should have been studying. He and Timmy would be fast friends.
Jasper Rabbit loved carrots. He ate them all the time, wherever he went. And then, one day, three carrots started following him.
Why I picked it up: The art is black and white and orange. Right now it’s spring, and I may be missing Halloween a little.
Why I finished it: The art is amazing; they look like detailed, elegant graphite drawings over quick, rough sketches which are still slightly visible in some places. And the various orange tones, from dark and menacing to bright and happy, really add a sinister tone as the creepy carrots close in on Jasper.
I'd give it to: Jess, because I can’t imagine a better vegan horror story than root vegetables out for revenge, and she’ll laugh at the toothiness of Jasper’s stalkers, too.
Nathan Rabin, known for blogging about the music scene, decided to investigate two very different bands known for their devoted fans. Phish is a jam band in the vein of the Grateful Dead known for ten minute songs, made up of four middle-aged white guys. Insane Clown Posse (ICP) is two hip-hop artists (Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope) from Detroit who dress in mad clown outfits. Their rabid, often violent group of fans are known as “Juggalos” and “Juggalettes.”
Rabin attended many Phish concerts, traveled along with the Phishheads, and participated in all of their traditions. He also attended two ICP Gatherings (the yearly festival of all things Insane Clown Posse, usually held in a remote location that will allow the craziness that takes place there), as well as the official, annual ICP Halloween concert, Hallowicked. Both bands' fans have drawn jeers, but Rabin found that both groups were looking for family and acceptance. Despite being diagnosed as manic-depressive while writing the book (Rabin’s life was falling apart), he was able to appreciate their music and even came to identify with fans of both.
Why I picked it up: Ever since my students began wearing Insane Clown Posse T-shirts, I wondered what it was about these freaks that attracted such a rabid following. I also read a book about Phish a year back or so (Phish: The Biography), so I knew quite a bit about Phishheads.
Why I finished it: I hadn’t heard of the annual Gathering for fans who are “down with the clown,” which is quite bacchanalian. Tila Tequila made a terrible decision in agreeing to perform at the event. From the moment she stepped on stage the crowd threw soda cans, beer bottles, rocks and fecal matter at her until she fled the stage, bleeding.
Alternately, at the Phish concerts, Rabin cheerfully lists the illegal substances he purchased from the infamous “Lot” that is outside every Phish concert, where every type of drug is available. He even recounts trying nitrous oxide, which can be hard to hide from the cops because it requires giant metal tanks that are the same size as ones used to inflate helium balloons. (There was a funny description of a bunch of spaced-out Phish fans under a tree, collapsed around a metal tank.)
I'd give it to: Young (but old-souled) Dylan, a student at my middle school is bummed he will never get to see the original Grateful Dead in concert. Phish is as close as he will get. Perhaps this story will make him more interested in the band.
Ben Spooner’s summer job sucks, but at least he’s being paid well. He’s driving across the country with Greg Alston Colby, one of the Colby’s who own the nationwide chain of stores that bear their family name. While they give prizes to contest winners in the middle of nowhere, they’re supposed to be helping the local stores figure out why they’re underperforming. But Greg is using the opportunity to have employees kiss his ass. And he won’t stop regaling Ben with stories of his days partying in a frat.
Why I picked it up: I stopped by the Tugboat Press booth at the Emerald City Comic Con to pick up the latest issue of my favorite ongoing anthology comic, Papercutter. I saw this on the table and publisher Greg Means said it’s his favorite book by MK, who wrote Americus and this guest comic about Teenagers from Mars with Jonathan Hill.
Why I finished it: It was fun to watch Ben try not to let his loathing for Greg ruin his summer. (Ben writes letters to his friend Tara about how he feels as Greg tells stories. It was a skillful way to show internal dialogue without resorting to thought bubbles, which would have overwhelmed the conversation.) But it was an exchange in a restaurant, after Greg announces that his steak and potatoes taste like butt, that convinced me I was going to love this book. Ben calls him a butt taster. It isn’t much in the way of vengeance, but then Ben doesn’t have much power.
I'd give it to: When my friend Fred and I taught English in Korea twenty years ago, there was another teacher we both despised. We bonded over our hatred of him, though we hid how we felt because we had to live in the same apartment and work at the same school for a year. Greg is a different kind of jerk, but Fred will loathe him, too.