Lauren, known as Panda, is a skilled photographer who hopes to someday work for National Geographic. She shows her skills in her digital photography class and on a website where she posts photos anonymously. The pictures she posts are all intended to humiliate classmates who have bullied or otherwise embarrassed others at her high school. But the night she posts photos of a popular girl having sex with a teacher, Panda picks up a secret admirer who first compliments, then threatens to expose her unless she agrees to complete increasingly dangerous tasks.
Why I picked it up: I enjoyed Giles’ previous book, Fake ID. I was hoping for another fast-paced, suspenseful story.
Why I finished it: I liked that Panda was one of those kids who spends high school under the radar -- she’s not part of the popular crowd and isn’t a troublemaker. The fact that she’s multiracial (her father’s African-American, her mother German) is also a plus since I’m always looking for books featuring diverse characters. I thought her idea to expose the school bullies was actually quite clever since she’s really just giving them a taste of what it means to be picked on, but of course I knew it couldn’t end well. The clues to the identity of her secret admirer kept me guessing, and the revelation of the person’s identity (with the help of a hacker classmate) comes in a final, action-packed scene. All in all it was a great read.
Readalikes: Need by Joelle Charbonneau also features teens who get sucked into something that at first seems harmless. In this case it’s a website that promises to fulfill the need of anyone who completes a simple task, but the tasks get more and more dangerous.
The new full-tilt, razor-sharp, unstoppably hilarious and entertaining novel from the bestselling author of Bad Monkey, Star Island, Nature Girl, and more.
When Lane Coolman's car is bashed from behind on the road to the Florida Keys, what appears to be an ordinary accident is anything but (this is Hiaasen!). Behind the wheel of the other car is Merry Mansfield―the eponymous Razor Girl―and the crash scam is only the beginning of events that spiral crazily out of control while unleashing some of the wildest characters Hiaasen has ever set loose on the page. There's Trebeaux, the owner of Sedimental Journeys―a company that steals sand from one beach to restore erosion on another . . . Dominick "Big Noogie" Aeola, a NYC mafia capo with a taste for tropic-wear . . . Buck Nance, a Wisconsin accordionist who has rebranded himself as the star of a redneck reality show called Bayou Brethren . . . a street psycho known as Blister who's more Buck Nance than Buck could ever be . . . Brock Richardson, a Miami product-liability lawyer who's getting dangerously―and deformingly―hooked on the very E.D. product he's litigating against . . . and Andrew Yancy―formerly Detective Yancy, busted down to the Key West roach patrol after accosting his then-lover's husband with a Dust Buster. Yancy believes that if he can singlehandedly solve a high-profile murder, he'll get his detective badge back. That the Razor Girl may be the key to Yancy's future will be as surprising as anything else he encounters along the way―including the giant Gambian rats that are livening up his restaurant inspections.
From one-page illustrations to massive fold-out charts, the best infographics of the year help you visualize, understand, and gain new insights into a whole lot of information: guns used in mass shootings, the geographic breakdown of the usage of the word “bro” versus “dude,” “buddy,” and “pal,” how much time people spend stuck in traffic in cities around the world, and the different kinds of snowflakes.
Why I picked it up: I'm a fan of the Best American series, but I had a hard time imagining what the best infographics of the year would be.
Why I finished it: I laughed at the chart of Deadest Names (it’s at the bottom of the article) which showed the most common names among people who were born in the U.S. since 1900 but have passed away. Mabel and Elmer top the list. The state-by-state map of the most commonly spoken language after English and Spanish was incredibly informative about the demographics of immigration. It was a great way to look at information that was both useful and useless which would be hard to comprehend if I just saw a number-filled table.
It’s perfect for: Inspiring my co-workers to find new ways to convey library information to motivate and inspire. Lots of the examples were from big news organizations with graphics departments, but many were from people who created them on their own time or as school projects. I want to do something like the grammatical chart of classic novel openers for a class booktalk!
From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.
“Are you happy with your life?”
Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.
Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.
Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.
Faith Salie has done a lot in the entertainment world. She acted in a sitcom, hosted an NPR interview program, performed stand-up comedy, commentated on The O'Reilly Factor, and even played an alien on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. But it is Salie's frank, refreshing honesty about her addiction to other people's approval that drives this book. Her writing is fresh and irreverent, peppered with swear words and amusing anecdotes. She covers her teen anorexia, her first marriage, fertility treatments, motherhood, her second marriage, and everything in between with a startling and entertaining willingness to reveal personal information.
Why I picked it up: I never miss a podcast of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me. Salie is a monthly participant, so I feel like I already know her a little bit!
Why I finished it: Salie is never embarrassed to tell a funny story about herself, even if she comes off a bit ditzy or foolish. Her mother bought her a thong to wear when she was in college and, not knowing how to wear it, she put it on backwards, giving herself a "vagina wedgie." She also discloses that she has a lot of moles on her body that make her look like a pale Chips Ahoy cookie. It is not all personal humiliation, though -- she spends a lot of time discussing the driving force of her younger years, wanting to please others. Even when she was in therapy, she tried to be a model client by wowing her therapist with her insights into her shortcomings. Much is made of how this desire for approval played out in her life, including her disastrous first marriage with the man she now refers to only as her "wasband." It was enjoyable to read of Salie's intensity and driven personality mellowing out as she became a mother and happy wife with her second husband.
It’s perfect for: Annie, who has struggled with body image throughout her life. Salie also has, and she is brutally honest about her inner thoughts about herself, her family's disapproval of her anorexia, and how she finally came to grips with her body as she became a mother.
For fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train: A dazzling work of psychological suspense that weaves together the past and present of two women’s twisted friendship.
Beautiful, creative, a little wild . . . Edie was the kind of girl who immediately caused a stir when she walked into your life. And she had dreams back then—but it didn’t take long for her to learn that things don’t always turn out the way you want them to.
Now, at thirty-three, Edie is working as a waitress, pregnant and alone. And when she becomes overwhelmed by the needs of her new baby and sinks into a bleak despair, she thinks that there’s no one to turn to . . .
But someone’s been watching Edie, waiting for the chance to prove once again what a perfect friend she can be. It’s no coincidence that Heather shows up on Edie’s doorstep, just when Edie needs her the most. So much has passed between them—so much envy, longing, and betrayal. And Edie’s about to learn a new lesson: those who have hurt us deeply—or who we have hurt—never let us go, not entirely.
Sixteen-year-old Nancy is a new student at Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children. Her parents believe that she will be treated for the trauma of having been kidnapped and held for several months. (Nancy wasn't actually kidnapped. She discovered a doorway to the Land of the Dead. She was happy there, but before she could stay forever, the Lord of the Dead said she must return to the real world to be sure of her choice.) In fact, Eleanor’s school is full of children who walked through doorways into strange worlds. Now someone is murdering students at the school. Nancy must overcome her natural stillness and reticence towards friendship to prevent more deaths and save the school.
Why I picked it up: The theme of children disappearing into other worlds is a staple of fantasy literature. I've read a lot of those types of tales and love many of them, from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland to Diana Wynne Jones' The Chronicles of Chrestomanci to Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
Why I finished it: I sympathized with Nancy: she's scared, lonely, out of her element, and homesick for the land she discovered. But she’s also stubbornly determined to hold onto herself, despite pressure to change. Her commitment to stillness and silence -- learned and perfected in the Land of the Dead -- becomes a strength rather than just a coping mechanism or a way of hiding. Indeed all of the teens are understandably real: prickly, sad, bossy, bullying, silly, sexual, childish, grown-up, and more. I couldn't keep from being saddened by their losses, as each was mourning for the worlds they’d lost in a different way. In those wildly different places, each teen had found where they were meant to be, and their heartbreak was tangible.
Readalikes: Neil Gaiman's short story “The Problem of Susan” is perfect, if you don't mind having the ending of The Chronicles of Narnia -- specifically the treatment of Susan Pevensie, one of the original four children -- spoiled for you forever. It is available in Gaiman's short story collection Fragile Things.
From Graham Moore, the Academy Award–winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game and New York Times bestselling author of The Sherlockian, comes a page-turning historical thriller—based on actual events—about the nature of genius, the cost of ambition, and the battle to electrify America.
New York, 1888. The miracle of electric light is in its infancy. Thomas Edison has won the race to the patent office and is suing his only remaining rival, George Westinghouse, for the unheard of sum of one billion dollars. To defend himself, Westinghouse makes a surprising choice in his attorney: He hires an untested twenty-six-year-old fresh out of Columbia Law School named Paul Cravath.
The task facing Cravath is beyond daunting. Edison proves to be a formidable, wily, and dangerous opponent. Yet this young, unknown attorney shares with his famous opponent a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it? As he takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.
Lane is in her senior year of high school, going to class, practicing aikido, and working at an animal hospital after school. She lives a normal life with her mother and stepdad, except for her hobby. Lane has a fascination with serial killers; in fact, she thinks she might even be one.
Why I picked it up: The cover with a severed hand in a zip lock bag got my attention. Then the promise of a teen detective who might be a serial killer sold me.
Why I finished it: Lane appears to be a normal teenage girl, but she has an abnormal need for violence and risky behavior. Her sketchy memory of her childhood means that she doesn’t know why she has these tendencies. At first she tries to use her skills for good: tracking criminals, using her Taser and aikido on them, tying them up and leaving them for the police. But there’s a new serial killer on the loose, dubbed The Decapitator, who is leaving clues and body parts for Lane to find. The clues and her flashes of memory seem to show that Lane herself is somehow connected to the killer, so the mystery deepens. Red herrings and plot twists abound, leading to a thrilling and (of course) violent end. It’s my kind of mystery/suspense tale! Can’t wait to read the sequel, Killer Within.
Readalikes: I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells, another story about a teenager obsessed with killers. Its protagonist, John Wayne Cleaver (pun intended, I’m sure), has been described as a teenage sociopath with a heart of gold. Both are great stories for teen fans of horror and suspense novels.
This graphic novel features an informative stage performance by “a bone-afied human skeleton” that teaches about the human body’s systems (skeletal, muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, excretory, endocrine, reproductive, immune, and nervous) with the help of hardworking stagehands (cells) and many guest stars. It ends with an exploration of our five senses, an illustrated glossary, and a list of recommended reading (including websites) suitable for kids.
Why I picked it up: I loved Wicks’s drawings in Primates.
Why I finished it: Wicks’s art is both informative and cute. Her look inside the cell makes the differences between an endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, and nucleus easy to understand. She uses cartoon-y, anthropomorphic, kawaii versions of the cytoplasm, nucleus, mitochondria, a protein-knitting endoplasmic reticulum, golgi bodies, and vesicles to provide more information and to introduce the concept of molecules (which are also adorable).
Her medical drawings are never as gross as what I saw in my wife’s anatomy books when she was in graduate school, and they’re often much more entertaining. In a section on asthma (featuring a guest appearance by two lungs), there’s a police lineup of things that can cause a flare-up, including dust, animal hair, cigarette smoke, and perfume. Each character holds up a sign with its name: cigarette smoke looks both filthy and shady, while dust just looks grumpy.
It’s perfect for: My sister Traci, who just became a nurse. Our grandmother was a nurse, too, and she loved to give us advice on how to stay healthy. Every day she asked us if we’d had a BM. We didn’t dare say no, even though her follow-up question was always, “What color was it?” I’m sure Traci will soon start the same pattern of questioning with her friends and acquaintances, so she could learn from Wicks's gentle, entertaining approach. There’s a lot of health advice woven into the book, too: information on what causes cramps and how to avoid them, for example, as well as dealing with hiccups, and other topics.
In 1959, with $600 borrowed from his family, forty-year-old Berry Gordy bought a house in Detroit and created Motown Records, aka Hitsville U.S.A.
Why I picked it up: I was hoping to sit back and enjoy a trip through the musical highlights of my childhood.
Why I finished it: Pinkney gives the narrative voice to "The Groove" with an easy patter based on the AM radio style of her cousin Scoopy, a NY area deejay who was friends with Smokey Robinson and many of the Motown artists. The Groove tells us how Berry dreamed big while working an assembly line, tightening bolts on Lincoln-Mercury cars. There are photos of the house he bought, along with parties and popular performers who recorded for Motown. Early hits like Smokey Robinson and the Miracle's “Shop Around” and The Marvelettes' “Please Mr. Postman” encouraged Berry to buy several other houses in the neighborhood to use as dance studios, rehearsal spaces, and a finishing school of sorts for performers. Maxine Powell was put in charge of teaching the grace and poise that Motown artists (like the shy Marvin Gaye) would need to face fans and the media, while choreograper Cholly Atkins taught smooth dance moves to those like Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, whose hit "Dancing in the Street" got America doing just that. At age eleven Little Stevie Wonder was signed to a Motown contract. On it went with The Four Tops, The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, paving the way for Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson 5 and Lionel Richie to ride Berry Gordy's Rhythm Ride all the way to Los Angeles. The joyride that started in Detroit came to a close in the late-80s as Motown moved to Hollywood, and Berry sold off assets to recording and entertainment conglomerates.
Readalikes: My older sister Anne, who won $100 in records in a radio call-in contest in 1973, including many of the albums mentioned in this book. Motown songs were her lip-sync standards years before the advent of karaoke.
A collection of beautiful essays written by Oliver Sacks during the final months of his life.
Why I picked it up: Dr. Sacks's opening essay My Own Life, in which he reflects on the newfound knowledge that he has terminal cancer and will not live much longer, was featured in The New York Times and is one of the most beautiful opinion pieces I've ever read there.
Why I finished it: Gratitude is a big topic of discussion and practice in my circle of friends because it’s often seen as an antidote to unhappiness. What could cause more unhappiness than dying? I found it inspiring how, despite the fact that the end was near, Dr. Sacks could find so much to be grateful for in his life. In My Periodic Table he focuses on the happiness he found throughout his life in science. I was tickled to learn that he collected elements, one for each year of his life (for his 81st birthday he received a box of thallium, the 81st). It is these small personal details that helped me connect to and absorb the big life lessons he was sharing. And having them read to you by Mr. Woren made it feel like Dr. Sacks spoke from beyond the grave to share his joy.
Readalikes: This book left me with the same sense of reverence and wistfulness I had at the end of Terry Pratchett's final book, The Shepherd's Crown. This was the fifth Tiffany Aching story, and forty-first book in the Discworld series, and on the surface a light fantasy novel about a teen girl who is both a witch and a watcher of sheep. Pratchett also knew he was dying when he wrote it, so he uses the book to explore his feelings about death and, in a sweet and tender way, to say goodbye.