The Dragon Puncher trips over the spoon wielding Spoony-E while stalking a dragon. Spoony-E wants to help his hero, but the cat-faced warrior is dismissive. Then the dragon shows up and the battle begins!
Why I finished it: Kochalka himself stars as the dragon. Sandy (Kochalka’s cat) and Eli (his son) co-star. It’s suitably action packed, weird, and funny.
I'd give it to: My new nephew, Leighton. The kid is so young he can barely turn his head, but when he is able to sit up, I’m going to teach him to read with the help of this and Kochalka’s other easy readers, the Johnny Boo books.
Thirteen-year-old Henry lives with his divorced mother, Adele, in a secluded house in rural New Hampshire. While shopping at the Pricemart, Henry meets Frank, a bleeding man who asks for a ride to Henry's house. Inexplicably (to Henry) Adele agrees.
Why I picked it up: When Virginia Stanley puts a book in my hand, I read it. Eventually.
Why I finished it: The story of Frank and Adele is very sexy, but what really moved me was the story of Frank and Henry. Frank is the father figure Henry desperately needs, and in their six days together he learns enough lessons for a lifetime.
I'd give it to: Any of my single mom friends, to fuel those hot escaped convict fantasies that I know they all harbor.
Eve gets a new roommate after she breaks up with James. She knew Hanna from preschool, but other than that they don’t have much in common. Hanna is a stoner and a baker with a boyfriend, Marek. Eve is a tightly wound grocery story clerk (and sometimes marketing mogul).
Why I picked it up: I’ve enjoyed bits of Octopus Pie on the web and in Meredith’s previous, self-published collections, and I jumped at the chance to read a larger collection in a convenient, offline edition.
Why I finished it: Each of the stories is exactly the length it needs to be, with friendships and relationships developing across stories. I’m wowed by the way the book works structurally, and also by small Eve moments like: talking to her cat about her relationship with new roommate Hanna, trying to understand the power of the bird on her shoulder, and reacting to seeing her ex-boyfriend James.
I'd give it to: Phyllis, Ali, and Ella, who were in my book group when I was a YA librarian. Phyllis has more in common with Eve than the way they look, and I suspect one of the other two is more Hanna than not. I’d love to find out how their lives are going by listening to them talk about the characters and stories in this book.
Molly travels from her relatively safe home in Canada down into Washington State to collect her Grandfather, who is alone and incapacitated after Grandma’s death. This is no easy feat in a world where transportation and society have broken down due to lack of oil. When she arrives, she finds her Grandmother is still alive, though in poor condition, and the task of transporting her grandparents to Canada becomes that much harder. Their neighbor, a drunk and a gambler, neglects his small niece and nephew, so Molly takes responsibility for them as well. She also becomes romantically involved with Spill, a boy about to be inducted into the mafia-like “The Organization.” They all make a break for Canada together, but the trip does not go smoothly.
Why I picked it up: Post-apocalyptic YA novel nominated for my ALA award committee.
Why I finished it: Molly is an everywoman character, both feisty and spunky as she faces unforeseen detours. As the book progresses, we gradually and naturally learn why the society has fallen apart and how people have learned to live in privation. There’s also a slow electric car chase that reminded me of the low-speed police pursuit of OJ Simpson’s Bronco.
I'd give it to: Jessica, a Tamora Pierce fan who would admire Molly’s heroic courage and determination. Sung, because Molly exudes the same love for her fiddle that she has for her flute, and music permeates the story.
Roz Savage thought she had it all: London flat, cool car, successful husband, and a job with upward mobility. She was who she wanted to be when she grew up, but it wasn’t making her happy. She took bigger steps than most would to change. In her late thirties, she decided to become the first woman to compete as a solo rower in the Atlantic Rowing Race. This book begins with Roz’s decision to change her life and details what it took to get her across the Atlantic, both mentally and physically.
Why I picked it up: I have seen Roz speak -- her lively manner and amazing adventures make audiences listen with rapt attention. I read her blog regularly and could not wait to read this.
Why I finished it: Roz’s life, on the surface, was perfect. One day, on the train home from work, she saw her future. A bored-looking, middle- aged man was reading the newspaper. As the man lifted his paper, Roz saw the obituary page and wondered how her obit would read. Would her uninspired life even warrant an obituary? She went home, got out two pieces of paper, and sat down write two obituaries. “The first version would be the obituary that I wanted to have, and the second would be the one I was heading for if I carried on as I was.” The fantasy obituary flew easily filled the page, inspiring her and filling her with joy. The “real” obituary wouldn’t flow at all and left her depressed.
I'd give it to: My brother Mike who has spent our entire lives arguing that men are better athletes than woman. And Malik, a fourteen-year-old who admires strong women, but hasn't recognized the strength in his mother needs to to raise a teenager on her own.
An oversize book with page after page of paintings of swords, filled with details about blades, embellishments, and practical improvements through history. There is historical information in the sidebars (accurate enough to generate only two errata), but not enough to detract from the awesome illustrations. Each chapter is dedicated to a type of warrior, from sultans to samurai, and features the swords they used.
Why I picked it up: I hoped it would be a book for all the guys (and some gals) from preschool to adulthood who draw swords in the margins of their homework.
Why I finished it: It was that book done perfectly. All the functional and decorative elements of the swords are there in lush color and shading. Even the non enthusiast can feel the love. I also learned several things about the lore of the spirit of the sword that informed the Arthurian legends.
I'd give it to: The guy at Rose Hill Junior High who talked and talked about technological advances in rifles during the Civil War. The elementary school girl who will only read books about Ninja. Anyone in a D&D group outfitting their party.
In eighth grade, Tessa’s best friend, Noelle, was abducted. She had been missing for two years when Noelle’s family got a phone call -- she was alive and had a plan to escape and help catch her kidnapper. She returns to her family, but she is a broken, abused girl whom no one knows how to deal with or talk to. Tessa tries to watch out for Noelle, who is making reckless and unhealthy choices. But following Noelle around may cost Tess her boyfriend.
Why I picked it up: The author’s inspiration from a real-life incident and a nomination from my book committee made it a must-read.
Why I finished it: The book doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulties of post-traumatic stress, nor the ways in which Noelle lived through horrible circumstances. Noelle retreated inside herself to survival. Her recovery was uneven, so it was unclear whether she'd make it. I cringed when she promiscuously attached herself to the star quarterback at school.
I'd give it to: A., a student of mine from years ago who witnessed the murder/suicide of her parents and would appreciate Noelle’s difficulties recovering from trauma. Mike, a friend who closely followed the story of Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted from her own bedroom. Crystal, who would appreciate how much of the story is told through the lens of a camera, because Tessa and her boyfriend are both photographers.