Theodore Gray has a collection that includes most of the elements, in big chunks and as they are used in the world in applications from medicine to industry to toys and jewelry. This coffee table book shows a sampling of how each element looks in the world around us along with a sidebar on the element’s properties.
Why I finished it: Gray has a great eye for how beautiful the elements can be on their own, and the photographs are gorgeous. He also always had something entertaining to say about each of them! It turns out that his collection has been used as the basis of a lot of very pretty items you can buy, like this poster that you might have spotted on Mythbusters.
I'd give it to: Kristen, so she can leave it lying around the house for her home-schooled kids to discover. The little ones will like the pictures of gems, crystals, and cool-looking industrial tools. As they get older, the information about their composition, chemistry, and physical properties will lure them into the sciences.
Wordless kid's comic about a magician's rabbit and dog. They don't get along.
Why I picked it up: I was gathering books for a family road trip, and was happy to find something for my daughter Rosie, who isn't quite reading independently yet. I knew the bright colors would appeal to her.
Why I finished it: It appealed to all of four us, and we quickly made our way through it together. It is the very essence of a classic Tom and Jerry cartoon, with lots of hilarious twists and reversals along the way.
I'd give it to: Rosie's new friend Miela, who she met at art camp on our trip. They both spent a lot of time watching the rabbits who frequented the playground, and I would enjoy showing them both how to make the thick black strokes that make this book’s highly stylized artwork so striking and fun.
Jacob spent much of his early childhood fascinated by his grandfather's wild stories and photos. The stories were about monsters. The photos showed children, from the orphanage in Cairnholm, Wales, where he grew up, who could levitate or turn invisible.
Now sixteen, Jacob believes his grandfather is an old eccentric. But he finds his grandpa dying from horrific wounds and sees an unearthly creature in the woods. With his dying words, his grandfather tells Jacob to find Emerson, the bird, and utters the date September 3, 1940. When Jacob sets out to visit the home in Cairnhorn, he begins a fantastical adventure with his grandfather's friends and their strangely repetitive life.
Why I picked it up: The cover photo, which shows a girl levitating, and which turned out to be one of the historical photos that illustrate the book.
Why I finished it: The letter and photo Jacob finds in a collection of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays willed to him by his grandfather. The photo is a silhouette of Miss Peregrine, the headmistress of the orphanage inscribed to Jacob's grandfather. It rekindles Jacob's special bond to his grandfather and helps Jacob discover the truth about his grandfather’s past.
I'd give it to: Lindsey, a huge fan of Michael Scott's The Alchemyst: The Immortal Secrets of Nicholas Flamel. This has the same energy and mythological feel plus the added dimension of the fabulous photographs.
Nola’s parents are divorced. Her mom is always working (when she’s not acting like a teenager), and her father gives her presents to make up for not spending time with her. After her school’s librarian is attacked, Nola thinks it’s related to the mysterious Damiano and his sister, Inés. She decides to conduct an investigation.
Why I picked it up: The colors are strikingly soft and bright -- the images look like they were painted with cake frosting.
Why I finished it: Very little happens until the librarian is attacked. Afterwards he’s on the floor, waiting for help, and sees Damiano and mutters, “A giant mouse...The passage...Three little cats…” setting off Nola’s investigation. And then later, when Nola is caught by the little creatures trying to capture Damiano and Inés, the siblings save Nola in a spectacular fashion.
I'd give it to: Paul, who’d be initially turned off by the colors but who would enjoy Nola’s friendship with the antisocial Pumpkin. Plus there are pop culture references he’d enjoy -- Nola finds her friend at the carnival, she says, “Pumpkin Kenobi, you’re my only hope!”
A simple armored car heist goes bad. One of the crew fingers Parker, and the New York crime syndicate sends a hit man to take care of him. Parker survives and then takes the fight to them. While his friends rob syndicate operations, Parker makes sure the Outfit will never bother him again.
Why I picked it up: The previous volume, The Hunter was one of the most stylish and well-crafted graphic novel adaptations of a novel that I’ve ever seen.
Why I finished it: The nearly wordless opening pages had me: the woman Parker is in bed with screams because there’s a man with a gun in the room, and Parker takes care him.
I'd give it to: Diane, who likes vintage crime novel covers, because Cooke’s 1960s-esque, two-tone drawings with their heavy shadows have a look she’ll appreciate.
Alice’s Aunt Polly, the town’s award-winning pie maker, dies. She leaves her cat, Lardo, to Alice, and her famous piecrust recipe to Lardo. But with Polly gone, the whole town becomes pie-crazy! Everyone wants to make the next award-winning pie, but most of them can’t bake. And someone is trying to catnap Lardo.
Why I picked it up: I was in the mood for something cute and sweet and not too sad. Plus it has recipes, which are fun to read even if I’m too lazy to try them.
Why I finished it: The strong female characters were motivating and inspiring. And even though Alice, her friends, and family have troubles, they resolved them together with hard work and determination rather than moping.
I'd give it to: Margaret, who makes the best pie crust I’ve ever tasted, and would enjoy sharing this with her tween-age grandnieces. And to Emily, who is the closest I will ever come to having a niece, because she’d like the mystery and appreciate Alice’s feisty determination to save Lardo.
Pat Peoples spent four years in a mental institution after he snapped and committed an act of violence. He believes it was just a few months ago and that he and his estranged wife, Nikki, will soon be back together. He thinks positively, works out obsessively, sleeps next to a photo of Nikki and is reading literary classics because Nikki teaches English.
On a date with Tiffany, his friend’s sister-in-law, they make a platonic connection that helps him begin to heal. Pat is a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan, and his family lives and dies with their fortunes. He and his brother Jake reconnect through Eagles season tickets. But he hasn’t given up on getting Nikki back, though things come to a head when Pat remembers his past.
Why I finished it: The heartwarming and hilarious Asian Invasion, a Philadelphia Eagles color scheme bus that contains fifty Asian men wearing Brian Dawkins #20 jerseys. They are prone to breaking out in Eagles cheers on a moment’s notice, who tailgate with Pat on game day and support him.
I'd give it to: My workout partner, Ryan, because there is a huge exercise component to this book as Pat tries to get his wife back by becoming fit. Gene, who share’s Pat’s aversion to Kenny G’s “Songbird” (though for Pat it’s serious and to the point where he freaks out, hallucinates that “Mr. G” is in his attic bedroom, and tears apart a doctor’s office).
General William Westmoreland was a rising star in the U.S. Army -- he was the youngest person ever to achieve the rank of major general when he did so in 1956 at the age of forty-two. “Westy,” as he was known to his friends, was named Deputy Commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, which made him the highest ranking military person in the country for a four-year period. During this time, at his request, the United States reached its peak number of boots on the ground (around 540,000 soldiers). His expensive and ineffective search and destroy strategy sent U.S. soldiers out to hunt down the enemy in remote areas, allowing the Vietcong to use their resources in highly populated areas. The North Vietnamese soldiers were able to to harass the Vietnamese people and cost the United States billions in materiel and tens of thousands of wasted lives.
Westmoreland spent the last forty years of his life defending his record, despite nearly universal contempt for his decisions and actions.
Why I picked it up: I was born in 1970 and never learned much about the Vietnam War, though I should know more.
Why I finished it: Sorley included amusing and embarrassing facts, like that Westmoreland was so willing to explain his policies that he spoke at small events such as the Hampton County Watermelon Festival and the Junior National Team Handball Champions Recognition Ceremony.
Sorley also collected quotes about Westmoreland. A newspaperman writing for the Washington Star said, “The poor man. That’s really about all you can say of Westmoreland either before or after you read his story of a sincerely dedicated career of service to his country and the utter destruction of that career in Vietnam.” S.L.A. Marshall, a writer on military affairs, concluded that “[Westmoreland] remains the goat symbol of the country’s most mournful misadventure abroad ever.”
I'd give it to: My father-in-law, Dick. Many of his friends served in Vietnam, and he has a love for strongly researched historical non-fiction which clarifies controversial events and people.