Why I Picked It Up: Found it on the shelf at home, an ancient hand-me-down from a cousin's kids. I really like the art of Helen Oxenbury, so I gave it a shot even though I feel like stories like these have been subverted and deconstructed to death.
Why I Finished It: The words and illustrations are laugh-out-loud funny. This book surprised me again and again.
@bookblrb: An enormous, crazed pig demolishes the progressively sturdier houses of three small, peaceful wolves.
At the urging of her father, Iris leaves her home in Australia to find her young brother, who has lied about his age to enter the army and fight abroad. She travels to France and meets Dr. Frances Ivens, who pursuades her to stay and work as a nurse at Royaumont Abbey, a women-run field hospital outside of Paris.
Why I picked it up: Because it is the one hundredth year anniversary, there have been a lot of books about World War I coming out. Plus I’m a sucker for historical fiction centered around hospitals.
Why I finished it: The story begins with Iris as an old woman who receives a letter from Royaumont, inviting her to participate in a ceremony recognizing the dedicated women who worked at the field hospital there. Her health is declining and she isn't sure she wants to make the trip because it will mean dredging up memories of old friends and lost loves. Chapter by chapter, small hints about the loss of a friendship and a man Iris had met kept me hooked.
I loved the portrayal of the relationship between Iris and her granddaughter, Grace. Grace is a successful doctor who worries about Iris' health and mental capabilities, but has little idea of the tough, intelligent woman Iris was in her youth.
It's perfect for: Fans of Downton Abbey. Not only is the hospital run solely by women, they challenge and change the roles of women in the time period much like the daughters in the show. If Iris hadn't gone to France to find her brother, her only option would have been to stay in Australia to become a wife and mother. She was happy to seek adventure and to help patients in need. Fans will also appreciate the star-crossed love affair between Iris and a man she meets in France, even though she is engaged to a man back in Australia.
@bookblrb: Iris leaves Australia to find her brother, who is fighting in WWI, and ends up working in a hospital outside Paris.
In this vivid and suspenseful addition to her widely acclaimed Sharpe & Donovan series, New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers takes readers on a heart-stopping journey from Boston to Ireland to the rocky coast of Maine.
Emma Sharpe, granddaughter of world- renowned art detective Wendell Sharpe, is a handpicked member of a small Boston-based FBI team. For the past decade Emma and her grandfather have been trailing an elusive serial art thief. The first heist was in Ireland, where an ancient Celtic cross was stolen. Now the Sharpes receive a replica of the cross after every new theft—reminding them of their continued failure to capture their prey.
When Emma receives a message that leads her to the body of a woman on a small island in Boston Harbor, she finds the victim holding a small, cross-inscribed stone—one she recognizes all too well. Emma’s fiancé, FBI deep-cover agent Colin Donovan, is troubled that she’s gone off to the island alone, especially given the deadly turn the thief has taken. But as they dig deeper they are certain there is more to this murder than meets the eye.
As the danger escalates, Emma and Colin must also face do-or-die questions about their relationship. While there’s no doubt they are in love, can they give their hearts and souls to their work and have anything left for each other? There’s one thing Emma and Colin definitely agree on: before they can focus on their future, they must outwit one of the smartest, most ruthless killers they’ve ever encountered.
Ten-year-old Melanie is alternately called "our little genius" by her teachers and "a frigging little abortion" by the military guards that rule every moment of her life inside and outside her jail cell. Each morning, a guard comes to her cell and points a gun at her forehead while two others secure her to a board with a neck strap, arm straps and a muzzle. Then she is wheeled to a classroom with other kids like her. They learn many irrelevant facts about the outside world, but little of what is going on right now. The cold-hearted Dr. Caldwell experiments on the students, some never returning to class. Outside the classroom, Melanie is able to piece together that something is seriously wrong. She hears that the population of Birmingham, England is now effectively zero. She hears the teachers and guards talk about Beacon, a place of safety. When gangs of marauding Junkers take over the military base, Melanie, still in her restraints, is taken on the run by a sympathetic teacher, two guards, and Dr. Caldwell. Things get even more dangerous after that.
Why I picked it up: My movie and TV hero Joss Whedon said: "It left me sighing with envious joy, like I'd been simultaneously offered flowers and beaten at chess. A jewel." And there was an amazing three chapter teaser online. I thought this genre was played out, but if you are not captured by the first three chapters, I will eat my literary hat. I was as desperate to keep reading as my dog is to bark at perceived threats outside the front door.
Why I finished it: The interactions of the main characters, Melanie and Sergeant, the gruff, pragmatic guard, are carefully crafted as they gain each other's respect in perilous situations. Even small changes made me take notice. Something as simple as Sergeant declining to put on Melanie's muzzle became hugely meaningful.
It's perfect for: Derek, who is always looking for a (in his words) realistic, hyper-violent dystopian book. While this is not actually hyper-violent, there are multiple hints of off-page destruction and enough description of the breakdown of society and the cruelty of the Junkers to keep him satisfied.
@bookblrb: 10-year-old Melanie is rescued from life as an experimental subject and spirited into a world that is falling apart.
The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.
Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. “The Secret Place,” a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.
The Secret Place is a powerful, haunting exploration of friendship and loyalty, and a gripping addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series.
Praise for Tana French:
“One of the most talented crime writers alive.”—The Washington Post
Rookie LAPD Officer Ellie Rush, fresh off her probationary period and on bicycle patrol in the Central District, gets enmeshed in an investigation into the murder of a college acquaintance. The victim's life doesn't make the case easy: she was living out of a borrowed car, had a controversial artist for a boyfriend, and worked for a tight-lipped federal agency. When not trying to dredge up witnesses from among her circle of friends, Ellie is swimming in the murky waters of ethnic politics and the menacing world of City Hall, where she and hunky detective Cortez Williams find that this alleyway shooting has attracted attention from the highest levels of municipal government.
Why I picked it up: The cover art on the paperback featured an LAPD bicycle in an untidy alley. I'm a sucker for bicycles. The notice under Hirahara’s name that she won an Edgar Award didn't hurt, either.
Why I finished it: The nonstop drama. The grim queries and hunt for information about the victim contrast with Ellie's matriarchal family and a double-date gone hilariously wrong.
It's perfect for: My mother, with whom I share an appreciation for well-written mysteries which provide significant insights into the protagonist's personal life.
@bookblrb: A rookie LAPD bicycle patrol officer becomes enmeshed in the murder investigation of a college acquaintance.
The #1 kids videogame and hottest-selling toy, Skylanders, is coming to your bookshelf in all-new comic book adventures Join fan-favorite characters Spyro, Stealth Elf, Trigger Happy, and more in these original, never-before-seen stories that tie directly into the videogames.
Hustled onto a private jet with her family after the assassination of her father, the despotic leader of an unnamed Middle Eastern country, fifteen-year-old Laila doesn't know what to think of her new home, the United States. She grew up like royalty, but now she has to share a room with her younger brother in a small apartment. Her mother has no source of income other than supporters of her husband's regime in the United States, who all want something political in return. The CIA is making offers, too. Laila feels surrounded by people who want something from her, and her new classmates seem really loud, in-your-face and show a lot of skin (no veils!). When she meets a teenage boy who is an exile from her country, Laila finds out some distressing details of her father's reign and her mother's part in it.
Why I picked it up: It was recommended and seconded by several excited young adult librarians as a nominee for the Best Fiction for Young Adults list.
Why I finished it: I liked that there were no easy answers for Laila. She has fond memories of her upbringing and her loving parents, yet she is forced to recognize that her country represses women and her father's hands are stained with innocent blood. There was no clear winner in the clash of cultures Laila struggled with, even while her little brother was able to turn from petulant royal to Americanized seven-year-old in seconds. One of the most poignant parts of the book for me was when she told a famous bedtime story from her country that ends quite bloodily (with cut off fingers and toes). Seeing that her American friends were horrified made her think about her culture and why that was considered an acceptable bedtime story for kids.
It's perfect for: My friend Neal, a bit of a government conspiracy nut. (I mean that in the best possible way, Neal!) There is some dirty, pragmatic dealing by the US government through the CIA. They want stability, and even though the dictatorship was bloody, it was stable. Neal would like that the author is a former CIA agent, perhaps revealing a little bit about how things work behind the curtain of secrecy.
@bookblrb: After her father’s assassination, Laila and her family flee from the Middle East to the U.S.
At thirteen, Jimmy Gownley was a basketball star who got straight A’s. After getting sick and missing the league championships, school and sports didn’t matter to him much. But he figured out his passion -- drawing comics -- and self-published his first book when he was fifteen.
Why I picked it up: Gownley wrote and drew the amazing Amelia Rules! series.
Why I finished it: I love Gownley’s art, so it was refreshing to see him dealing with doubts about it, which never looked like it did in his head. (My drawings certainly never do.) There’s a great scene where he goes into a comic book store for the first time, which reminded me of trips to the Pike Market’s Golden Age Collectibles when I was a kid. The outside is dull and drab but inside it bursts with color because of all of the toys, posters, merchandise and, of course, comics. And it’s charming that Gownley is convinced that creating comics will help him get a girlfriend. (It’s even funnier because, in his case, it was true. I bet that’s still pretty rare.)
It's perfect for: My sister KC, who, like Gownley, went to Catholic schools. The idea of having nuns for teachers always scared me, and this book supports that. One won’t allow comics in class and another is a terror to kids who haven’t finished their homework. I want to hear the stories my sister remembers after she reads this.
@bookblrb: After Jimmy Gownley decided he wanted to draw comics, he self-published his first when he was only 15.
One-time writing wunderkind Amy Gallup is old, crotchety, and despite her outward insistence, desperately grieving her husband-of-convenience, Max, a gay literati who died years ago. Her tidy, lonely life of teaching aspiring writers and caring for her beloved basset hound, Alphonse, was briefly disrupted by a knife-wielding participant at one of her workshops. It’s that past association with violence that brings a local reporter calling for an interview. On the day before her scheduled visit, Amy falls down -- in the backyard, carrying a Norfolk pine for replanting -- and smacks her head on a concrete birdbath, knocking her unconscious. Amy is horrified to read the resulting interview, which she gave in a mental fog. But the loopiness and brutal honesty she displayed therein attracts editors, bookstores, and conferences, and soon Amy is juggling appearances, cross-country travel, and a burst of creative energy she hasn’t felt in years. Her newly re-found celebrity brings her out of her comfort zone and into a place where, just maybe, she’ll allow herself to be happy once more.
Why I picked it up: Many years ago I picked up a galley of Willett’s debut, Winner of the National Book Award, but never managed to read it. Willett’s reputation for smart yet unpretentious prose made me pick up this one. Plus I like books about books.
Why I finished it: The unabashed freedom Amy takes in speaking her mind, whether on the phone to her agent, a panel with publishing’s It Girl, or on the air with a radio blowhard, I found exhilarating. I wish I could speak so sharply and eloquently off the cuff. When asked about her writing rituals, she deadpans, “I write my first drafts in indigo ink on dozens of small Moleskine notebooks. I type out the second drafts on a green Olivetti Underwood. I shuffle the pages together five times and leave them for a full week on an unfinished rosewood table in my fruit cellar.”
It's perfect for: My friend Tammy, a literary agent with enough brains and bravado to rival Amy’s agent, Maxine. Pulling a terminal-illness card to guilt Amy into getting off her duff and enjoying her newfound fame? That’s chutzpah.
@bookblrb: A one-time writing wunderkind gives a brutally honest interview and becomes a celebrity again.
Eleven years ago a group of kids became convinced that a monster lived in a tunnel under the Nijigahara embankment behind their elementary school. They offered it a sacrifice, a beautiful girl named Arié who they pushed down a well. The incident reverberates through the lives of everyone involved including Arié’s father, those responsible for the act, and the teacher who tried to save her.
Why I picked it up: Asano’s Solanin is one of the most beautiful manga I’ve ever read.
Why I finished it: The story unfolds asynchronously, creating a sense of mystery. Why does the kids’ teacher, Miss Sakaki, have bandages on her face? Why is the class bully so affected by what happened to Arié? Why is the new kid at school, Amahiko, willing to jump out of his classroom’s window? And why are there glowing butterflies everywhere?
It's perfect for: My wife, Silver. The way the kids treat each other is pretty barbaric. In a few instances, they completely ignore a kid as a group, completely isolating him or her. This doesn’t just happen in Japan, it’s also fairly common in South Korea, where she’s from and where the outcast kids are referred to as wangdda. I know she’ll find it a bit depressing, but I think she’ll have a soft spot for the socially inept girl everyone calls Thermos.
@bookblrb: Kids sacrifice a girl to the “monster” in the tunnel behind their elementary school. The incident touches many lives.
Princess Aethra is ravished by Poseidon (God of the Sea). Coming ashore she swoons into the arms of visiting King Aegeus, who is smitten by her beauty and takes her as his secret, second wife. Soon Aegeus leaves his love and returns to Athens, but before he goes he hides a sword beneath a huge boulder, declaring that only his son (and heir) will be able to lift it. Aethra's son Theseus, is born hale and hearty. In time he is easily able to lift the stone to claim the sword and his legacy. En route to Athens he overcomes ogres, giants and wild bulls who scourge the countryside. Hailed as heir by Aegeus, Theseus chooses to show his worth one more time by offering himself as one of the young people sent to neighboring Crete in an onerous tribute, sacrifices to the half-man, half-bull Minotaur.
Why I picked it up: I’m always on the lookout for graphic novels that aren’t about superheroes or drawn in the typical manga style. The muted colors and expressive drawings in this one looked fantastic -- they reminded me of ancient paintings I saw in a Greek archeological museum last summer.
Why I finished it: I love how convoluted Greek mythology is. (Editor’s note: spoilers ahead.) Theseus could simply assume the throne of Athens, but he offers to go and try to defeat the monster in the labyrinth. Theseus slays the Minotaur and sails back to Athens, but forgets to change his ship's black sails to white sails, signaling his victory. King Aegeus sees this sign that Theseus has died and throws himself from a cliff into the sea. Despondent over having caused his father’s death, Theseus decides that wiser heads than his should rule, renounces the throne, and is credited as the "father of democracy" by the citizens of Athens.
Readalikes: The heavily illustrated D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, first published in 1962 is still held in high regard for its clear accounts of the Greek myths. George O’Connor’s recent graphic novel series Olympians, which includes slim volumes on Zeus, Hera, Athena, Poseidon, Hades, and Aphrodite, is also great. (It’s drawn in a more muscles-and-curves, contemporary style.)
@bookblrb: A graphic novel adaptation of the story of Theseus and the half-bull he fights in the labyrinth beneath Crete.