Cassandra Brooks has inherited her father's skill at dowsing for water. She uses it to help builders and farmers while supplementing her income as a teacher. But she has another, more terrifying gift -- visions which predict horrifying fates for those she sees.
While dowsing for a new property development, she sees a dead girl hanging from a tree. When she returns with the police the body isn't there, but a young girl that had gone missing is found (alive) nearby. Cassandra knows her vision predicts a horrible fate for the girl, and that it’s also linked to her brother's death when she was a child.
Why I picked it up: I knew I had a ten-hour day of driving ahead of me and wanted an unpredictable story. I'm also a fan of the narrator, Campbell, and hadn't heard her work in a while.
Why I finished it: I usually prefer supernatural books filled with zombies or werewolves, rather than humans with psychic gifts, but Cassandra's inner doubts and her efforts to save the girl kept me listening.
I'd give it to: Meg, who shares my fascination with missing persons and will appreciate how the author delves into survivor's guilt. And to Helen, who can't read enough books set in rural, upstate New York.
When her mother dies, Emily Benedict moves to Mullaby, North Carolina, to live with the only family she has left, a grandfather who she never knew existed. Emily is excited to learn more about her mother. But the town remembers a spoiled, sometimes cruel girl, who was very different from the mother she knew, an aloof activist involved in humanitarian causes. Though most of the town snubs her, Emily is taken under the wing of a neighbor who knows firsthand what it is like to be a social pariah. She also meets Win Coffey, who reveals the reason her mother is hated and the family secret that caused both his uncle’s death and her mother’s departure.
Why I finished it: Although Emily and Win’s story is the center of the book, the story of her neighbor, Julia, drew me in. Julia was an isolated and rebellious teenager, but moved out of the town and started a new life. Forced to return to Mullaby, she must face the boy who broke her heart and decide whether or not to reveal the lie she told him.
I'd give it to: Kati Rae, who would enjoy unraveling the mystery of the lights in the woods behind her grandfather’s house, and magical elements such as wallpaper that changes depending on the owner’s mood.
A history of how drugs, from tea to opium, have changed people, and how people's views of drugs, from medicine to social threat, have changed how they are used.
Why I picked it up: Mike Jay wrote a great book on historical drug use, Emperors of Dreams: Drugs in the Nineteenth Century, and I was excited to see his writing alongside the glorious collection of historical images and artifacts in the medical history archives in London’s Wellcome Collection.
Why I finished it: Jay starts out by defining his focus as any substance intended to alter human consciousness, which was incredibly useful once he began showing how the categories these substances fall in can change dramatically between cultures, subcultures, and from year to year. He touches on the peaceful kava rituals of the Pacific Islands and their importance in establishing political ties, betel nut beauties who try to get more roadside customers by being more gorgeous then their competitors, excruciating and hallucinatory vision quests in the Amazon, writers inspired by hallucinatory hashish parties, the invention of laughing gas, stigmas against smoking and injection across cultures, and the cold hard cash (and tea!) at the center of the Opium Wars.
I'd give it to: David, who will love the intersection of free trade, taxes, import duties, and legal restrictions influencing the international trade in substances that are used no matter what is legally allowed.
Nick and Anastasia used to run an esoteric book store devoted to strange phenomena. When they came into money they changed their last names to "Mystery" and started a Society to investigate them first-hand.
Why I picked it up: Leafing through the book, I was attracted to the coloring. The palette varies by scene, like a Steven Soderbergh movie, and the textures evoke colored pencils and watercolors.
Why I finished it: Nick captures/rescues twin African-American girls with strange powers who have been on ice in a government facility since the 1950's. Back at the secret Mystery Society lair they catch up on the last half-century, happily watching a video of Barack Obama's inauguration. There's no shortage of comic book series about colorful folks investigating mythical beings and artifacts, but this one manages to strike a sweet and innocent tone.
I'd give it to: My son, Theo, who is now at the perfect age to appreciate that the robot with Jules Verne's brain flies by shooting flames out of his butt.
Grant interviews everyone from Bunny Wailer, the only original member of the three still alive, to Rastafarian elders, to Obeah Men (voodoo practitioners) to create an accurate portrait of The Wailers and Jamaica.
The group’s early harmony lessons, their Rastafarian beliefs, the music scene and the producers they worked with, and yes, the ganja they smoked are explained in sparse, accessible language. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston (Wailer) are explored in great detail, and the band’s breakup is covered exhaustively.
Why I picked it up: The cover said it was the “definitive history of the group.” Because of the number of college-age kids I still see wearing Marley-inspired reggae hats, I wanted to understand this band’s enduring appeal.
Why I finished it: The details about a number of songs, including their origins, sent me scurrying to Rhapsody to listen to them, but only after I lit up a ganja stick. Well, okay, actually I only listened to the songs. But the book was so comprehensive that I felt like I got high off of second-hand smoke. Plus I like finally understanding the Trenchtown references in the songs.
I'd give it to: My brother-in-law Steve, because he put Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” on a mix-tape he made for me back in the day. He would appreciate the details about why the band broke up right after they finally made it big. Caroline, a big traveler, who would love the extensive investigation of Jamaican culture that explains where The Wailers’ sensibility came from.
Jacob Reckless discovered the magical world on the other side of the mirror in his father’s study. He made a life there free from the emotional entanglements of our world. But then his younger brother, Will, followed him, with tragic consequences. He’s been infected with the Dark Fairy’s curse, and his skin is turning to jade. Soon he will lose himself completely and become one of the underground-dwelling, stone-skinned Goyle. Jacob must save his brother with the help of the shapeshifting Fox, Will’s girlfriend, and an old rival. But the Goyle believe Will can make their king invincible, and they won’t stop until he’s safely one of them.
Why I picked it up: My family drove from Seattle to Whistler, BC, and back last week. The first audiobook was vetoed after five minutes. Hill’s voice and Funke’s language meant we listened to this one to the end.
Why I finished it: In Mirrorworld, fairy tales are real, and so are the magical items in them. The Empress (and others) are obsessed (like we all would be) with obtaining these magical objects. Jacob makes his living as a treasure hunter, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t kept a few useful items for himself, like a handkerchief that produces gold coins and a plate that fills with food when polished.
I'd give it to: Maria, a former geologist who now works in a library, because she would get more out of the descriptions of the Goyles’ stone skins than I could. And Selena, who loved Edward Scissorhands but would be terrified when Jacob faces the Tailor, a similarly-appendaged creature who makes clothes out of the skin of its victims.
True story of Thad Roberts, who went from newly married college student to grad student pursuing multiple science degrees, from wide-eyed NASA intern to instigator of the biggest theft ever perpetrated at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Along the way, he advanced quickly at NASA, divorced, and took up with a risk-taking fireball of a girlfriend to whom he literally promised the moon. (He was in the unusual position of being able to fulfill this promise literally -- he had access to a collection of moon rocks.) He cooked up a plan to steal the rocks and then sell them to a Belgian collector, but he didn’t expect the FBI sting that resulted in his arrest.
Why I picked it up: I read Mezrich’s Ugly Americans: The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Millions and liked his dramatic style in writing about real world events I would otherwise not have known about.
Why I finished it: The story was true, but I could not believe it while reading it. (I recommend you wait until after you’ve finished it, but if you need to know more, this BBC article is fabulous.) Mezrich must have interviewed everyone for days. He reports Thad Roberts’ every thought in great detail. He also supplies great anecdotes, like the time Roberts snuck into the full-sized shuttle simulator merely by pretending he was supposed to be there.
I'd give it to: My friend Darin, who would assume the title is literal but then be sucked in by the brashness of the heist and Mezrich’s breathless, superlative style. And Jolene, who would love the behind-the-scenes peek at various NASA programs and buildings such as the weightlessness simulator. It allows astronauts to train on a space shuttle mock-up underwater, in a pool that holds several million gallons of water.
Small Saul loves the sea, but he’s too short to join the Navy. He becomes a pirate, but he’s not like the others: he picks flowers when he should be digging for treasure, bakes instead of looting, and prefers singing to sword fighting.
Why I picked it up: Spires wrote and illustrated Binky the Spacecat, so I wanted to read her newest picture book!
Why I finished it: The posted rules of Pirate College: “1) Never brush your teeth. 2) Take anything you want. 3) ‘Arrr’ is a valid response to all questions.”
I'd give it to: My grandma, for when her great-grandkids visit. She’ll get a kick out of Saul giving chocolate chip cookies to the woman the other pirates are robbing.