Beekle is feeling pretty down. All of the other amazing creatures he has known in his brief life have been taken from their fantastic island to our world to become imaginary friends for little boys and girls. But poor Beekle seems to be stuck long after his peers have moved on. Tired of waiting, he sneaks off on his own to see if he can't find his special friend.
Why I picked it up: I was was a bit disappointed with my childhood imaginary friend. I never had one that evolved naturally, and only tried to have one after I heard of the idea, but by then I think I was far too old for one. A little bit of me was hoping this book might help me find out where I went wrong. Plus, I loved Santat's Sidekicks and Crankenstein.
Why I finished it: As always Santat's illustrations are amazing. The imaginary friends are varied and wonderful, from an origami panda bear holding a paper heart, to a bold, blue octopus covered in what looks like swirling henna tattoos. Each is crafted with a very different child in mind, and brightens the world around them. When Beekle explores the big city by himself, dodging the feet of oblivious grown-ups, things are cold, dull and grey until he sees another creature like himself. When Beekle finally finds his friend, she is an artist and meets his seemingly blank page of a personality (he is a white rectangle with limbs, face, and a paper crown) with crayon drawings illustrating their adventures together. For this, Santat uses crayons and color pencils, making pictures within his pictures that are distinctly and delightfully childlike. But most of all, I especially loved the end papers where kids pose with their imaginary buddies, and it’s completely obvious why they belong together.
It's perfect for: my friend Suzanne, who has been waiting for her perfect match, and no doubt will find a parallel between the island of imaginary friends and the online dating site OKCupid, where all kinds of strange characters can be found. I hope she, like Beekle, will soon find someone who is "friendly and familiar...and [feels] just right".
@bookblrb: Tired of waiting, Beekle leaves his fantastic island to find the kid whose imaginary friend he’s supposed to be.
British crime icon Ted Lewis’s lost masterwork, an unnerving tale of paranoia and madness in the heart of the 1970s London criminal underworld, published in the US for the first time
Two intertwining narratives—past and present—chronicle a man’s tragic fall from power. In London, George Fowler resides at the head of a lucrative criminal syndicate that specializes in the production and distribution of “blue films”—nasty illegal pornography. Fowler is king, with a beautiful girl at his side and a swanky penthouse office atop a high-rise, but his entire world is in jeopardy. Someone is undermining his empire from within, and Fowler becomes increasingly ruthless in his pursuit of the unknown traitor. As his paranoia envelops him, Fowler loses trust in just about everyone, including his closest friends and associates, and begins to rely on the opinions of an increasingly smaller set of advisors.
Juxtaposed with the terror and violence of Fowler’s last days in London is the flash-forward narrative of his hideout bunker in a tiny English beach town, where Fowler skulks during the off-season amongst the locals, trying to put together the pieces of his fallen empire. Just as it seems possible for Fowler to reclaim his throne, another trigger threatens to cause his total, irreparable unraveling.
British crime icon Ted Lewis’s second novel, Get Carter, became the 1970s hit film of the same name starring Michael Cain. GBH is Lewis’s final work, now available for the first time in the US, and its momentous rediscovery will delight fans of the genre and introduce readers to a gritty, terrifying side of London’s streets.
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On the eve of World War II, Japanese-American teenager Zenji Watanabe is hired as a spy for the U.S. military. He leaves his life and girlfriend behind when he’s sent to the Philippines. His job: to pose as a translator for a U.S. military intelligence unit and learn about potential threats by listening in on the casual conversations of Japanese businessmen at local hotels. After the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, they invade Manila and Zenji is stuck there. If they discover that he was gathering intelligence for the U.S., he will be executed.
This novel is based on a true story.
Why I picked it up: I was seated next to Graham Salisbury at an author event in Las Vegas this summer, and to my librarian shame, was not aware that he was a Scott O'Dell award recipient and the author of a historical fiction series about Japanese-Americans in Hawaii. (His most famous book is Under the Blood Red Sun.) I needed to rectify my lack of knowledge about his work.
Why I finished it: Spy novels are always thrilling when things get hairy, but since the book is based on real events it is even more meaningful and suspenseful. As a nisei, Zenji always felt like he had to prove he was a real American. He survived torture, starvation, and, after escaping into the jungle, even had to fight off rats for the live crayfish he caught.
It's perfect for: My son's friend Robert, who is soon going off to college at Oklahoma State, thousands of miles from Seattle, and would appreciate the story of another teen who travels far from his home and family. I think Robert will admire Zenji’s sacrifice when he leaves his mother and his burgeoning romance with his girlfriend when his country calls. Zenji had to learn to depend primarily on himself and keep his goals in mind even when things got very difficult. That’s good advice for a college student, too!
@bookblrb: A Japanese-American teen sent to the Philippines as a spy is trapped there after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
A darkly comic debut novel about advertising, truth, single malt, Scottish hospitality—or lack thereof—and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Ray Welter, who was until recently a high-flying advertising executive in Chicago, has left the world of newspeak behind. He decamps to the isolated Scottish Isle of Jura in order to spend a few months in the cottage where George Orwell wrote most of his seminal novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Ray is miserable, and quite prepared to make his troubles go away with the help of copious quantities of excellent scotch.
But a few of the local islanders take a decidedly shallow view of a foreigner coming to visit in order to sort himself out, and Ray quickly finds himself having to deal with not only his own issues but also a community whose eccentricities are at times amusing and at others downright dangerous. Also, the locals believe—or claim to believe—that there’s a werewolf about, and against his better judgment, Ray’s misadventures build to the night of a traditional, boozy werewolf hunt on the Isle of Jura on the summer solstice.
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After his grandmother’s death from a mysterious illness, Shy and his mother need money. He takes a job on a cruise ship to help pay her medical bills.
One night Shy sees a man climbing over the ship’s railing. He tries to stop him from jumping, but after after a short conversation the man apologizes for betraying Shy and throws himself overboard. Then things get weird: someone on board is determined to find out what the man revealed in the last moments of his life, and the old shoeshine man seems to be protecting Shy. (The mystery is only revealed after a massive earthquake and a series of tsunamis.)
Why I picked it up: I’ve been meaning to read something by de la Peña since he visited one of my local schools last year to talk about his work. The students loved hearing about his career as a Latino writer, and when he read some passages from his books, the entire assembly was quiet.
Why I finished it: From Shy’s girl troubles (his friend Carmen and he have a lot in common, except for her fiancé) to the mystery of the suicidal man’s knowledge of Shy’s grandmother, I could not put this book down. Shy gets help from unexpected quarters, and the natural disaster seems just a little too convenient to be true. Is something deeper going on? I finished it quickly, and now I’m waiting for the sequel.
It's perfect for: Jennifer, who loves a good survival adventure and also appreciates teen fiction that brings up issues of race and class -- where better to do the latter than on a doomed cruise ship where all the rich passengers are white and all the crew members are young, non-white, and relatively poor?
@bookblrb: Shy fails to stop a man from throwing himself off the cruise ship where he works. Things get weird.
In the vein of The Diviners and The Petal and the White, Razorhurst reimagines the notorious history of a mob-controlled Sydney—with a paranormal twist.
Sydney’s deadly Razorhurst neighborhood, 1932. Gloriana Nelson and Mr. Davidson, two ruthless mob bosses, have reached a fragile peace—one maintained by “razor men.” Kelpie, orphaned and living on the street, is blessed and cursed with the ability to see Razorhurst’s many ghosts, and she sees the cracks already forming in their truce. Then Kelpie meets Dymphna Campbell.
Dymphna is a legendary beauty and prized moll of Gloriana Nelson. She’s earned the nickname “Angel of Death” for the trail of beaus who have died trying to protect her from Mr. Davidson’s assassins. Unbeknownst to Kelpie, Dymphna can see ghosts, too, and as Gloriana’s hold crumbles one burly henchman at a time, the girls will need one another more than ever.
As loyalties shift and betrayal threatens at every turn, Dymphna is determined to not only survive, but to rise to the top with Kelpie at her side.
Private investigator David Raker is recovering from a near fatal stabbing by laying low. He’s hoping to spend some quiet time in his sleepy little hometown, a small fishing village on the English coast in Devon, far away from the pressures of London. Things are going well until an old flame stops by and asks him to look for her sister, Carrie, who disappeared suddenly along with her husband and young daughters, leaving breakfast on the table and the television on. Raker finds himself involved in a mystery that spans almost five years and takes him back to London and on to Las Vegas. When people start dying, Raker realizes he may be in over his head. But every time he thinks of those two missing girls, he just can’t give up.
Why I picked it up: Although Weaver is a best-seller in Great Britain, this is the first of his titles to be released in the U.S. I love a good mystery, and the setting was a bonus since I'm a big fan of British books and movies set in the countryside.
Why I finished it: This is a fast-paced, well-crafted mystery filled with surprises. The snappy dialogue, Raker’s tenacious personality, and plot twists kept me glued to every page, and now I’m dying to read the first three books in the series. (Even though this is officially the fourth book, it stood on its own quite well.)
It's perfect for: Muriel, who enjoys reading about hard-nosed detectives with a heart, like Robert Parker’s Spenser and Steig Larsson’s Mikael Blomkvist. Weaver’s David Raker tends to bend the rules (and the law), and to get a bit too emotionally involved with his cases, but his intelligence, determination, and dedication will make Muriel root for him to the very end.
@bookblrb: An injured private detective trying to take it easy is pulled into a mystery involving a family that disappeared.
This harrowing murder mystery, winner of the Philippine National Book Award, follows two Catholic priests on the hunt for a serial killer in the notorious Payatas dump city of northern Manila.
In northeast Manila’s Quezon City is a district called Payatas—a 50-acre dump that is home to thousands of people who live off of what they can scavenge there. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in a city whose law enforcement is already stretched thin, devoid of forensic resources and rife with corruption. So when the eviscerated bodies of teenage boys begin to appear in the dump heaps, there is no one to seek justice on their behalf.
In the rainy summer of 1997, two Jesuit priests take the matter of protecting their flock into their own hands. Father Gus Saenz has been a priest for three decades, but he is also a respected forensic anthropologist, one of the few in the Philippines, and has been tapped by the Director of the National Bureau of Investigations as a backup for police efforts. Together with his protégé, Father Jerome Lucero, a psychologist, Saenz dedicates himself to tracking down the monster preying on these impoverished boys.
Cited as the first Filipino crime novel, Smaller and Smaller Circles is a poetic masterpiece of literary noir, a sensitive depiction of a time and place, and fascinating story about the Catholic Church and its place in its devotees’ lives and communities.
Ten authors share poems, stories, essays, and comics on growing up between cultures.
Why I picked it up: I was excited to see Mitali Perkins’s name on a new book, plus I love short stories and I wanted to see what she'd done as an editor.
Why I finished it: The list of authors and styles kept me going. In Perkins' "Three-Pointer" she talks about a system she devised with her sisters. They earned points by getting compliments from boys, being asked for dates, or kissed. Plus I really loved her description of being the only family of Indian descent in her California neighborhood. She wrote about how authors have often used food products to describe brown skin, like chocolate or coffee, but how her white classmates couldn't be described in a similar manner. She wrote, "They certainly weren't milky white, but ‘skin like deli-sliced turkey’ didn't sound too appealing."
G. Neri’s poem "Under Berlin" was about being black and Puerto Rican and living in Germany. I loved the part where Neri’s dad squirms his way into a subway seat so the German women around him get uncomfortable and leave, making room for the rest of the family to sit.
It's perfect for: Josef, a student at my local alternative school. Once a year everyone is dragged to the library to pick out a thick, dusty old tome (they’re mostly classics) to read to fulfill an assignment. Josef is smart, but he isn’t likely to make it through a Jane Austen novel. He won't learn a thing reading a book about white, English ladies, but he might just connect with this book because he’ll read about kids like himself. In particular I think he’d identify with the protagonist in "Becoming Henry Lee," who fights against the Asian stereotype of being a good student. And I know he'd laugh out loud at Henry pretending to be an expert in math and martial arts.
@bookblrb: An anthology of work by ten well-known young adult authors about growing up between cultures.
Tony Stark is adventuring in deep space when he’s imprisoned for deicide. A rogue robot offers its help, and Stark ends up fighting, unarmored, in a series of trials by combat that end with him facing Death’s Head, a thirty foot tall robot bounty hunter. After escaping from custody, Stark gets a look at his own origin from an unexpected source.
Originally published in Iron Man #6 - #11 and #12 - #17, respectively.
Publisher’s rating: T+
Why I picked them up: My daughter and I are enjoying Gillen’s Young Avengers. Plus each book comes with a code I can redeem in Marvel’s iPad app for a digital copy.
Why I finished them: It’s infused with Gillen’s sense of humor. In the first volume, after a space battle, an armored Tony Stark is charming a hot, purple-skinned alien princess over cocktails. He even makes a classic Star Trek reference. After they arrive in her chambers, he pops the mask off his armor. Let’s just say she reacts very badly to his facial hair.
They’re perfect for: Colin, a fan of heist movies who will enjoy the 1960s Ocean’s Eleven-ish storyline (starring Tony Stark’s dad) centered around freeing a robot from aliens in Las Vegas.
@bookblrb: Tony Stark (a.k.a Iron Man) faces a series of trials by combat and then unexpectedly finds out about his own origins.
Chief Inspector Richard Jury of New Scotland Yard meets with Tom Williamson at Vertigo 42, a bar on the forty-second floor of an office building in London’s financial district. Tom is convinced his wife, Tess, was murdered seventeen years ago even though the evidence was inconclusive and her death, caused by a fall down the garden steps of their country estate, was ruled accidental. Jury agrees to re-examine the case. He learns that a nine-year-old girl fell (or was pushed) to her death five years before Tess died, and at the same country house. The girl had been a guest at a party Tess was giving for six children. Tess was implicated, but exonerated. Jury seeks out the five surviving party guests, who are now adults, to see if the deaths are related.
Why I picked it up: I have been a rabid fan of Grimes for nearly three decades and have been waiting for her next book for the last four years.
Why I finished it: The ongoing, clever repartee between Jury and his aristocratic friend, Melrose Plant, who provides vital insight as he and Jury discuss the aspects of the case. Tess had a special fondness for each of the kids, but one in particular was her favorite. He (and all of the children) have kept details of the events of that day secret, and Jury has to find a way to bring each to light.
It's perfect for: Donny, a mystery junkie whose favorite film happens to be Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The aspects of this case that parallel events and recall characters in the film are compelling. Were there two identical women in the country village that night? Are how does Tess’s vertigo play into it all?
@bookblrb: C.I. Richard Jury agrees to investigate a woman’s death from seventeen years ago, which was ruled an accident.
Hairy Maclary goes for a walk and various canine friends join him along the way. They venture through town, sniffing and snooping along, until a surprise encounter with Scarface Claw abruptly ends their journey. With tails tucked under their bellies, each of Hairy's friends scramble away until they are once again safe at home.
Why I picked it up: I heard the author speak at the Auckland Writers Festival and immediately understood why she is such a legend among Kiwis. Generations of New Zealanders know her books, and the entire audience could recite the first line of this one by heart, either from reading it as a child themselves or from reading it to their own children. Her genuine personality and congeniality won me over, and I had to buy her books for myself.
Why I finished it: I was so pleased that the animals behave like real animals. From Schnitzel von Krumm "with a very low tum" to Hercules Morse who is "as big as a horse," the illustrations and text provide plenty of character for Hairy and his friends.
It's perfect for: Our neighbors, whose three- and five-year-old boys are obsessed with dogs. Both will feel like they are "reading" the book because of the infectious rhymes and repetition of descriptive phrases. I also think the three-year-old will especially enjoy finding the smaller details in the pictures, like Bitzer Maloney sniffing a spider.
@bookblrb: A bunch of dogs go for a walk, sniffing and snooping, and then scramble home after an unexpected encounter.