The unthinkable has happened. Someone has hacked into the NSA’s internal server. Not only did they get through multiple layers of encryption, but after digging around a bit, the hacker then mockingly revealed their presence to the head of security. At the very moment this was happening, a nearby NSA agent was on the phone to Stockholm warning her inside connection at SÄPO that a Swedish professor's life may be at risk.
There are no coincidences in the world of Lisbeth Salander, and soon a worldwide plot of corruption and greed that ties these things together will be revealed.
Why I picked it up: I really enjoyed the first three books in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, and was disappointed when he passed away in 2004. There were so many loose threads that there was clearly room for more books.
Why I finished it: I like to believe I am someone who could seriously kick ass if I needed to. Lisbeth Salander is my un-PC hero, one of the few female protagonists who successfully uses the threat of violence (and sometimes actual violence) to get things done. She is super strong, wicked brilliant, doesn't care what anyone thinks of her (she has no trouble telling strangers to f-off if they tell her to smile), and only uses her skills for good, often in seeking vengeance against men who hurt women and children. I wish I was a little more like her.
Readalikes: One thing that really surprised me about this book, is how aware it made me of the surveillance state our world has become. While listening to this audiobook (masterfully read by Simon Vance, who also narrated the first three audiobooks in the series), I was also reading Ted Rall's Snowden. While Rall's biography feels a bit biased in favor of its subject, it really helped me understand just what Snowden's leaks meant, and why he gave up his career and life in America to attempt to protect us from the surveillance state America is slipping into. Both he and Salander see a bigger picture than the rest of us and are deeply unhappy about the abuses of power that abound.
She was looking for a place to land.
Anna is a fifteen-year-old girl slouching toward adulthood, and she's had it with her life at home. So Anna "borrows" her stepmom's credit card an runs away to Los Angeles, where her half-sister takes her in. But LA isn't quite the glamorous escape Anna had imagined.
As Anna spends her days on TV and movie sets, she engrosses herself in a project researching the murderous Manson girls—and although the violence in her own life isn't the kind that leaves physical scars, she begins to notice the parallels between herself and the lost girls of LA, and of America, past and present.
In Anna's singular voice, we glimpse not only a picture of life on the B-list in LA, but also a clear-eyed reflection on being young, vulnerable, lost, and female in America—in short, on the B-list of life. Alison Umminger writes about girls, sex, violence, and which people society deems worthy of caring about, which ones it doesn't, in a way not often seen in YA fiction.
After mercenary Marc Spector died, he was resurrected by the Egyptian moon god Khonshu as an instrument of vengeance. The experience drove him insane. He wears a mask and uses a combination of high-tech gadgets and mystical objects to do good. He enjoys committing brutal and well-choreographed acts of violence against those who deserve it, and he talks to himself a lot.
Publisher’s Rating: T+
Contains Moon Knight #1 - #6.
Why I finished it: Each story is spare and complete in a single issue (twenty-odd pages), something Ellis does better than anyone. They also have great villains at their core: a wounded S.H.I.E.L.D. agent dismissed from service using illegal medical tech to fix himself, a sniper abandoned in the field, ghost punks, a contaminated sleeper, a gang of kidnappers, and a cop gone bad.
It's perfect for: Fans of Batman books that have great fight sequences, like The Dark Knight Returns. (I’ve linked to the amazing new black and white edition there, which you should totally check out.) Shalvey’s art sings when Moon Knight is delivering wordless beatdowns and throwing his crescent-shaped blades at the bad guys.
A new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.
Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.
But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won't be able to see past it.
Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It's that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?
If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different—and a love story that everyone will root for.
Editor Tucholke presents fourteen horror stories by some of today's top YA writers, each tale inspired by a classic story. From a young woman who bargains with Death for a second chance at life, to a teenage boy haunted by a faceless ghost, to a young soldier who meets a mysterious girl in a bombed out building in World War I France, these tales offer shivers and scares and plenty of food for thought.
Contributors: Nova Ren Suma, Carrie Ryan, Cat Winters, Leigh Bardugo, Megan Shepherd, Danielle Paige, April Genevieve Tucholke, Jonathan Maberry, Jay Kristoff, Stefan Bachmann, Marie Lu, McCormick Templeman, A.G. Howard, Kendare Blake.
Why I picked it up: It was almost Halloween, and I was in the mood for a few good horror stories.
Why I finished it: This fantastic collection offered many different varieties of creepiness. There are few happy endings, but many of the characters were not very nice, so I was okay with their grisly ends, particularly when it came to characters like Leonard in Nova Ren Suma's "The Birds of Azalea Street." He is a little too interested in his neighborhood’s young girls. When three friends decide to get the better of him, they get unexpected help from a supernatural source. Some stories were less about someone getting a comeuppance and more about the scare factor, such as "Verse Chorus Verse" by Leigh Bardugo, where the mother of a young singing star begins to realize that something went demonically wrong when her daughter went to rehab. My favorite was Carrie Ryan's "In the Forest Dark and Deep," an Alice in Wonderland-inspired tale which leaches away all the fantasy and leaves only the horror of a man-sized March Hare and his twisted friendship with a young girl.
It's perfect for: My online friend Jennifer, who struggles with body image. She'll love Jonathan Maberry's "Fat Girl with a Knife" -- arguably the most cheerful story in the book -- about a young woman who discovers the power of her body during the zombie apocalypse.
The Arab of the Future, the #1 French best-seller, tells the unforgettable story of Riad Sattouf's childhood, spent in the shadows of 3 dictators—Muammar Gaddafi, Hafez al-Assad, and his father
In striking, virtuoso graphic style that captures both the immediacy of childhood and the fervor of political idealism, Riad Sattouf recounts his nomadic childhood growing up in rural France, Gaddafi's Libya, and Assad's Syria--but always under the roof of his father, a Syrian Pan-Arabist who drags his family along in his pursuit of grandiose dreams for the Arab nation.
Riad, delicate and wide-eyed, follows in the trail of his mismatched parents; his mother, a bookish French student, is as modest as his father is flamboyant. Venturing first to the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab State and then joining the family tribe in Homs, Syria, they hold fast to the vision of the paradise that always lies just around the corner. And hold they do, though food is scarce, children kill dogs for sport, and with locks banned, the Sattoufs come home one day to discover another family occupying their apartment. The ultimate outsider, Riad, with his flowing blond hair, is called the ultimate insult… Jewish. And in no time at all, his father has come up with yet another grand plan, moving from building a new people to building his own great palace.
Brimming with life and dark humor, The Arab of the Future reveals the truth and texture of one eccentric family in an absurd Middle East, and also introduces a master cartoonist in a work destined to stand alongside Maus and Persepolis.
It's 1987 and Miri Ammerman is headed home for the thirty-fifth anniversary of events that changed the lives of everyone in Elizabeth, NJ. (Between December 1951 and February 1952 three airliners crashed in quick succession, killing hundreds and leaving a lasting impact on the young people who lived there.)
Based on true events that occurred in Blume’s hometown and told through brief vignettes and newspaper articles, we meet the townspeople and the surviving passengers as they try to make sense of these tragedies.
Why I picked it up: It’s by Judy Blume, and it’s her first book in seven years. I didn’t need any other reason.
Why I finished it: Every character is unique and their stories sucked me right into their lives. The details about movies, music, and cultural icons of the era (Lucky Strikes, Nat King Cole, and Joe McCarthy) faithfully recreate 1950s New Jersey. As the characters deal with the trauma of witnessing multiple plane crashes, speculate on the cause, and worry that it will keep happening, I was carried along by my concern for each of them.
It's perfect for: My friend Susan, who loves nostalgic stories that feature strong female characters. Miri is one of those, a 1950s teenager whose ordinary life is turned upside down, but who manages to thrive.
When Carolyn Lessing moves from New Jersey to Alabama with her mother, she rattles the status quo of the juniors at Adams High. Gorgeous, stylish, a great student and gifted athlete without a mean girl bone in her body Carolyn is gobbled up right away by the school's cliques. She even begins dating a senior, Shane, whose on again/off again girlfriend Brooke becomes Carolyn's bitter romantic rival. When a make-out video of Carolyn and Shane makes the rounds, Carolyn goes from golden girl to slut in an instant, with Brooke and her best friend responsible for the campaign.
Carolyn is hounded and focused on, and becomes more and more private. Questions about her family and her habits torture her. But a violent confrontation with Shane and Brooke in the student parking lot is the last attack Carolyn can take.
A novel to drop us all back into the intensity of our high school years, Weightless is a startling and assured debut.
Sarah Bannan's deft use of the first person plural gives Weightless an emotional intensity and remarkable power that will send you flying through the pages and leave you reeling.
Things are not going well for Jackson. His mom is working three jobs and his dad's MS is only getting worse. His family is having a big yard sale, hoping that if they get rid of enough of their possessions they might be able to pay the rent. And his imaginary friend Crenshaw just surfed back into his life wearing a “Cats Rule, Dogs Drool” T-shirt. Jackson is positive that he is way too old to have an imaginary friend and is worried that he might be going crazy.
Why I picked it up: I love the idea of a child’s mind creating an extraordinary friend. And as much as I liked Scowler by Daniel Kraus (in which three imaginary friends return with horrifying results), I was in the mood for something more gentle. The giant fuzzy cat on the cover promised that.
Why I finished it: Once you realize that Crenshaw has come back because of how deeply worried Jackson is that his family will once again be homeless, there really is no way you can stop reading this book. Applegate makes it clear that there is nothing this family has done to bring the situation on themselves and that this could happen to almost any family, giving it a suspense and sorrow that will haunt any reader.
Readalikes: The games that Jackson and his little sister come up with to stave off hunger completely broke my heart, as did Jackson's constant admonishments to himself not to complain because he knew kids who had it worse off. At least Jackson has a loving family, unlike Holly in Wendelin Van Draanen's Runaway, who escapes terrible foster homes by taking to the streets. Runaway rings true, because the author includes painful details that homeless kids experience. (I read that Van Draanen stayed in shelters to find out what their lives are really like.)
Carr runs a small crew of thieves who steal money from criminals unlikely to report its loss to the authorities. But it’s rough. Not long ago Carr helped organize the jobs, but after his former boss was killed taking down a score, Carr had to take charge. Now he’s out to lead his on one last big job. He’s suspicious that a double-cross may be in the works, but Carr can’t tell who is involved or which direction it might come from. And if the job doesn’t succeed, it’s clear that the mystery man who’s financed it will have Carr killed.
Why I picked it up: It was labeled a staff pick at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. And there was a shelf talker that said it was the best book of 2012.
Why I finished it: The opening chapters are tense, as Carr and two of his men break into an office to steal diamonds. It’s clear that the others would just as soon use their guns to solve the problems that arise, but Carr keeps a cool head, avoids violence, and makes sure they leave quietly with the loot, which is needed for a much larger and more intricate heist they have planned.
Spiegelman’s characterization of Carr had me rooting for him throughout. He’s trying to take care of his ailing father, who needs expensive, long-term care, despite the fact that they don’t have a great relationship. And his lover, Valerie, a member of his crew who specializes at subtle manipulation, assuming identities, and getting close to people to further their goals, is a constant question mark. Does she really want to disappear with Carr after the job? Or does she have a hidden goal?
Readalikes: The best book I’ve read from a criminal’s perspective is the brutal and poetic Get Carter, about a British thug who returns home to get vengeance for his brother’s murder.
The first in a series of books featuring the complete run of Peanuts daily and Sunday comic strips. This collects those from the first two years, 1950-1952.
Why I picked it up: I've always been a bit ambivalent about Peanuts. I read some of the early strips in a mass market paperback when I was a kid, and they were pretty funny. But when I read the Sunday strips in the 1980s and later, they left me feeling a bit depressed. When Gene gave me this volume, I wanted to see if I'd been wrong about one of the most popular comic strips in history.
Why I finished it: The early strips gave me an appreciation for the direction the later comics took. The drawings used a thicker line, and the characters have a wider range of expressions. The humor was often funnier (or at least broader) than the somewhat depressing tone of later strips and often had great gags. My favorite example was when Charlie Brown sat in a tub (all we can see is his head), and said "Baths aren't so bad," and went on about the simple pleasure of a bath. In the last frame, he got out of the tub, fully clothed, and said, "Especially when there's no water in it!"
It's perfect for: Jay, who loves Calvin and Hobbes, and who thought that it became too serious as time went on. He'd appreciate the sight gags and simple humor in this collection, such as when a girl asks Charlie Brown if she can ride his bike with him, sitting on the handlebars. When he points out that two on a bike is against the law, she says, "That's what I figured," and takes off on his bike alone.
Dan Mannix was at the carnival sideshow the day that Flamo the Great exploded during his fire-eating act. Mannix immediately volunteered to join up and take his place. He spent the next year learning to eat fire and swallow swords, and got to know freaks, dancing girls, and con men along the way.
Why I picked it up: The book promised behind-the-scenes secrets of a 1940s sideshow. The author's note promises that the tales are true, even the one about the man who swallowed and regurgitated a live rat.
Why I finished it: The secrets are both more simple and more astonishing than I would have guessed. The secret of fire-eating? There is no secret. You really do put flaming gasoline in your mouth. Mannix learned to continually breathe out to avoid fumes exploding in his lungs. While trying to perfect his act, he could smell his nose hair burning and even lost an eyebrow. He soothed his blisters with ice cream.
Even better than the secrets of the sideshow acts were the performers themselves. Jolly Daisy, the fat lady whose presence brings in enough cash to pay everyone's expenses, tells Mannix her story. Her parents, who could never accept that she would always be fat, dragged her to doctor after doctor. But as a professional freak, she made lots of money and had a string of boyfriends who followed her around the country.