In October of 1875, Secret Service agents were an arm of the U.S. Treasury charged with stopping counterfeiting, which had become rampant during the Civil War. A raid on the Fulton, Illinois, workshop of master counterfeiter Ben Boyd, who had supplied printing plates used all over the country, resulted in his conviction.
Soon after Boyd was hauled off to prison, members of his counterfeiting ring lead by "Big Jim" Kennally met in St. Louis to figure out some way to free their ringleader. Kennally's plan was to steal Lincoln's body from its tomb, bury it in the sand dunes near Lake Michigan, and demand Boyd’s release -- and $200,000 in cash -- as ransom. His first attempt, scheduled for the fourth of July, when everyone would be celebrating the centennial, fell victim to one of the conspirator's drunken bragging. Kennally moved to Chicago to look for a new crew for a second attempt on election night, November 7, 1876.
Why I picked it up: I majored in U.S. History in college, specializing in the Civil War era. I know a lot about Mr. Lincoln but had never heard of this plot or the rampant counterfeiting. This looked to be informative and fascinating.
Why I finished it: I was enthralled at the sophistication of both the government agents’ detective work and the criminals’ attention to detail in planning and networking. The inner workings of the counterfeit rings and the account of the body-snatching plot are interwoven with the presidential election of 1876, which features Mary Todd Lincoln and her son, Robert, who was a prominent Chicago attorney. The most intriguing player was Lewis Swegles, a shrewd career criminal who juggled roles as Secret Service informant and a conspirator in the plot to steal the president's body.
I'd give it to: My friend Rachel, a history teacher will love sharing the details of Sheinkin's research, like how Boyd fashioned a cell key out of melted foil from tobacco wrappers.
@bookblrb: A post-Civil War counterfeiting ring planned to steal and then ransom President Lincoln’s body.
Welcome to Tana’s world. A world where monsters exist, and live in walled cities called Coldtowns. A decadent world where predator and prey exist side-by-side. A world where you can wake up after a party and find everyone you know dead. The only living souls she finds are her ex-boyfriend, Aiden, and-chained in a corner-a mysterious boy. The stranger is hiding a secret, and Aiden has been infected, but all Tana knows is they need to escape. Shaken and determined, Tana finds herself in a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.
Portraits of people from fifty different African countries that are guaranteed to make anyone smile.
Why I finished it: It had me at the cover, and I could not put it down until I had poured over every page. When I learned that Peter had followed the World Cup trophy to fifty African countries in seventy-five days and taken over 150,000 photographs along the way, I was impressed. I love the idea he had to share the joy he found in people experiencing something they really loved (even if I don't care much for soccer myself).
I'd give it to: Sarah, a genuine soccer fan who would like the portrait of K’naan taken just before he sang Wavin’ Flag, the unofficial anthem of the 2010 World Cup. And my friend Mitch, a Cervantes fan, who would like all of the stories in the back of the book, particularly the one that explains the guy wearing faux military garb and an old telephone receiver who Peter describes as the Don Quixote of Africa.
@bookblrb: Portraits of happy people from fifty different African countries, guaranteed to make anyone smile.
Mr. Tiger lived a perfectly proper life in a perfectly proper city and everything was perfectly fine…until the day he had a wonderfully wild idea! Why choose to stay in the stuffy city when there is a whole wide world of wilderness and wildness to explore? So Mr. Tiger bounds off on an adventure to discover where he really belongs. From beloved author Peter Brown, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild shows us that there’s a time and place for everything. Even going wild.
Riley was pulled from the squalor of Victorian England by illusionist and assassin Albert Garrick, who wanted a protégé. But when Riley tries to kill his first target, he accidentally activates a time travel device worn by the man, a scientist from the future.
In the twenty-first century Riley meets Chevie, a seventeen-year-old FBI agent. The device Riley activated is a timekey created by the WARP program, which stashes witnesses in the past where they are safe until they can testify in court. Riley is thrilled to have gotten away from Garrick. However, when it becomes evident that Garrick has followed Riley to the present, Riley is consumed with fear that Garrick will make him return to life as a killer. He tells Chevie of his tall, spidery-fingered master’s philosophical bent about the numerous people he eliminated over the years, and how Garrick relished telling Riley stories of how he accomplished each killing with a different implement. There is no door Garrick cannot pick, no casement window he cannot open, no fortress that is impregnable. Chevie dismisses the threat because Garrick doesn’t understand current technology, but Chevie is very, very wrong.
Why I picked it up: Eoin Colfer wrote the Artemis Fowl series, which is immensely popular at my middle school.
Why I finished it: Colfer did a good job of creating a truly creepy villain who has a seemingly boundless knowledge of Victorian England’s underbelly and its nasty characters. Garrick considers Riley's departure a treachery of the greatest proportions, and he vows to catch Riley no matter what. This maniacal pursuit really livens up the chase, both in the present and the past, as Garrick sets his minions to finding Chevie and Riley.
I also liked that Chevie was a strong female character, an FBI agent trained in martial arts. When Chevie and Riley emerge from a time pod, they are captured by a gang of street brawlers who have been watching the pod with orders to kill anyone who comes out of it. Sensing the direct danger to their lives, Chevie uses the toughs' bravado to challenge them to a fight, with freedom as the prize.
I'd give it to: Colin, who would love the man who clearly comes from the future, but has chosen to live in the past so that he can share his new songs, like “Yellow Submarine” (although he must wait a few years until submarines are widely known first), and plays he has written, like Tales of the Batman. If Colin was trying to make the most out of being stuck in the past, he’d be stuck relying on his knowledge of pop culture to make his fortune, too.
@bookblrb: A Victorian-era boy travels to the future, pursued by his would-be mentor, who wants to turn him into a killer.
Reese and David don’t remember what happened to them after their car accident on the Extraterrestrial Highway, including the 21 days of care at the military hospital in Nevada. The doctors and colonels won’t tell Reese and David what the extent of their injuries were or how they were healed, and Reese suspects she was involved in more than just a car crash. On their return, worldwide bird strikes resulting in plane crashes have grounded air travel, David won’t talk to her, and she could swear she’s seen her military doctors around the neighborhood. Soon Reese realizes that she is in the middle of a conspiracy that the government has world for decades to keep secret.
Olivia is having an identity crisis. She doesn't understand why all of the other girls (and even some of the boys) all want to be pink fairy princesses.
Why I picked it up: My best friend's daughter insisted I had to buy it because, "Olivia is awesome!"
Why I finished it: She was right! I've read and enjoyed Olivia books before, but here Olivia was at her independent best. Falconer raises a lot of good points, such as, "Why is it always a pink princess? Why not an Indian princess or a princess from Thailand or an African princess or a princess from China?" Free-spirited kids will identify with Olivia's frustrations, but there's plenty here for adults to enjoy, too. I howled with laughter when Olivia decided to "develop a more stark, modern style" by imitating Martha Graham's 1930 modern dance piece, "Lamentation." And it's not every day that you come across the phrase "corporate malfeasance" in a picture book.
I'd give it to: Beck is about to have twins, and since one of them is a girl, she'll probably be overwhelmed with pink. I think she'll need this to help balance the scales and to tell her daughter (and son) that they can be anything they want to be. Plus she'll love the idea of dressing up as a warthog for Halloween.
@bookblrb: Olivia doesn’t understand why all of the other girls want to be pink fairy princesses.
The zombie apocalypse begins on the day Rabi, Miguel, and Joe are practicing baseball near the local meatpacking plant and nearly get knocked out by a really big stink. Little do they know that they plant’s tainted meat is turning cows-and people-into flesh-craving monsters! When the boys launch a stealth investigation into the plant’s dangerous practices, they’ll have to grab their bats to protect themselves (and maybe even a few of their enemies) if they want to find out the truth. In a dazzlingly original combination of action and humor, Paolo Bacigalupi takes on hard-hitting themes-from food safety to racism and immigration-and creates a zany, grand-slam adventure that will get kids thinking about where their food really comes from.
Parker is weeks away from graduating as valedictorian of her high school when she comes across an opportunity she can’t resist. Every student that comes through her English teacher’s class must write a journal; it is mailed to them ten years after they graduate. In the process of addressing and mailing journals for her teacher, Parker comes across Julianna Farnett’s. It’s from the year she supposedly died in a tragic accident with her boyfriend, Shane. (The jeep they were in was found in a riverbed, crushed and empty. It was assumed that their bodies had washed down the river and disappeared forever.) Though it is quite out of character for Parker to do anything blatantly inappropriate, she steals Julianna’s journal to see if she can find clues to the mystery of her death. What she finds in the pages motivates her to leave her safe, well-planned life behind for a few days, to take a spur-of-the-moment road trip to investigate.
Why I picked it up: I met Jessi Kirby at a library conference. She was so thoughtful and kind that I swore I would read all of her books. (Plus she’s a working middle school librarian like me!)
Why I finished it: I spent the entire second half of the book waiting for the other shoe to drop. How would Parker’s road trip work out? Would she find Julianna, or was it a pipe dream? Then, Kirby threw a beautiful curveball, and I knew I could not see where things were going.
I'd give it to: My eighth-grade daughter, Grace, because she read and loved Moonglass. Both feature a deliciously slow romance with a perfect guy. I’d rather she read about romance than go out and try to find one!
@bookblrb: After reading a girl’s journal, Parker investigates the tragic accident that killed her.
Suri (aka “The Mouse”) claims she was born in the land of monsters. She’s a monster tamer-in-training who tells stories to pay her way as she travels with a camp of merchants. Not everyone is happy to have her around, and no one takes her ambition seriously (especially the professional monster tamers she meets).
Why I picked it up: The art on the cover looked like a nice cross between manga and Charles Vess.
Why I finished it: Suri determinedly follows her dream. When she helps a mysterious boy carry his fishy doughnuts home, she finds a ball of string that belongs to a group of catsaiths (cat-like creatures who can seem human (though they keep their tails) and who recently attacked a boy in the next village). When Suri runs from them, she ends up befriending the mysterious monster already in the camp.
I'd give it to: Vanessa, because this will reinforce her dislike of cats, and I think she’d make a good Suri next Halloween, complete with a monster tamer’s stick and a ball of string.
@bookblrb: No one takes Suri’s ambition to become a monster tamer seriously.
In The Umbrella, a little black dog is blown into the sky as he clings to a red umbrella, beginning a delightful journey that takes him around the world.
The Umbrella Doodle Book is a companion book to the first. It’s full of rough, black and white drawings that feature the dog and umbrella that could have appeared in The Umbrella (but didn't) -- in some of these the dog meets dinosaurs, travels in space, and has adventures on alien planets. Depending on your point of view this is either a coloring book, a book of rough sketches you can add details to, or a sketchbook you will enjoy on its own.
Why I picked it up: I saw them together on display at Third Place Books. The doodle book is so beautiful, and so much like the picture book, that I haven’t been able to bring myself to scribble in it.
Why I finished it: I’m a huge fan of wordless books. This one is a meditative delight, with moments of danger -- the little dog uses the umbrella to fend off alligators, and a large bird tows him away from some angry people by grabbing the umbrella's handle.
I'd give it to: My daughter, Gigi, who is a bat nut, for the image of the dog, napping, floating in front of the moon and surrounded by flying bats. Plus, if I give her the doodle book, too, I doubt she’ll share my hesitation about drawing in it.
Howard Pickman is raised on human flesh. When his parents' dark secret is discovered by the people in their southern town, Howard flees. He knows his parents are dead so he heads north to a grandmother he barely remembers. She also has different colored eyes, the mark of a ghoul. She is frail and ill because she has not eaten human flesh for a long time. He is concerned for his grandmother's health, so Howard begins to scour the obituaries in newspapers to hunt for freezer meat.
Why I picked it up: I'm sick of zombies. Ghouls are where it's at. Live people who eat the flesh of the dead will never disappoint me.
Why I finished it: I loved every disgusting moment of this book. Grandma cooks great meals with the meat of the newly dead. She even manages to get neighbors to store it in their freezers (it is marked "venison"). And it's a true coming of age story about a teen boy dealing with all the normal issues: acceptance, bullies, and a love of punk rock. Howard is a truly likable guy.
I'd give it to: My friend Carl. I can already hear him laughing when Howard and his grandmother have to use a car to pull an especially heavy body out of its grave. When she hits the gas a little too hard, it pulls the bumper right off.
@bookblrb: Howard struggles to stock his grandmother’s freezer with human flesh to eat. He also has normal teenage problems.