There may be a new serial killer in town. Two women are found murdered in Oslo. Each had inexplicable wounds inside her mouth and drowned in her own blood. The police investigation is going nowhere and Harry Hole's boss wants him on the case. But Harry's in Hong Kong, and nearly lost to heroin and alcohol, and ready to gamble his life away after the events that occurred in The Snowman.
Harry reluctantly returns to hunt down a psychopath who might be Norway's most creatively violent and elusive criminal yet.
Why I picked it up: Harry Hole is another excellent addition to the cold weather Scandinavian crime genre (Nesbo is Norwegian), and I've read and listened to every title in the series. He's an alcoholic with a nasty drug habit, a dying father, and zero ability to maintain lasting relationships. How is Harry going to solve another crime if he can't get off the couch in the morning?
Why I finished it: By disc 14 I had figured out who the bad guy must be. But there were three discs to go. What did I miss? What did Harry miss?
One caveat: if you’ve heard any other Harry Hole books, please don't be turned off by the anglicization of his last name in this audiobook. Just let it go and let the narrator do his thing, it’s worth it.
I'd give it to: Tony, a forensic pathologist, who claims to never be grossed out by anything anymore. The visceral descriptions and Sachs' unrelenting narration had me singing and covering my ears during the more gruesome torture scenes. I'm willing to bet money that this audiobook will make Tony cringe at least twice!
Auggie has always been homeschooled because he has craniofacial anomalies, a medical way of saying that his face looks really unusual. He agrees to his mother's gentle prodding to try fifth grade, with the proviso that he can return to homeschool if he wants to. Once there he begins to make a few friends, but also suffer through the indignity of being stared at by teachers and students. A few students even mock him by playing a game where they catch the plague when they touch him. It’s difficult, but Auggie is resilient, has a sense of humor, and his friends carry him through. But then Auggie overhears one of his friends say he was forced to be Auggie’s friend by the principal.
Why I picked it up: This book was recommended to me by several book reps while I was at ALA Midwinter. When I opened it to have a look, the first two sentences got me: “I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.”
Why I finished it: This was a tender, excruciating book to read. There are several scenes where we see what Auggie’s emotional pain does to his mother, and his older sister feels slighted by all the attention that goes to him because of his medical issues. August looks forward to Halloween every year because he can wear a mask and escape the stares and horrified looks.
I'd give it to: My daughter Grace, because August’s courage in going back to school every day would inspire her to soldier through some perceived slights and friendship drama. Beck, because she has a momma-bear instinct and would identify with August’s mother, who has a difficult time not isolating her son for his protection.
This significantly updated version of Commager's classic book on World War II combines straightforward history with excerpts from hundreds of interviews with soldiers, sailors, pilots, and civilians from all sides of the war.
Why I picked it up: After touring the incredible National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX (birthplace of Admiral Chester Nimitz) I bought the biggest book on World War II I could find in their extensive bookstore.
Why I finished it: I had to find out how it ended. (That's a joke, but it's also true. As an amateur historian I know the overarching story of the war and details from many of the battles, but this book repeatedly zooms in on individuals and their personal experiences, and it keeps it incredibly fresh.)
I'd give it to: My son Theo, who eats up history as quickly as I do. In fact, he stole it from me soon after we left the museum and finished it before I did, prompting conversations about how the various sides saw (or failed to see) each other. Gratifyingly for our mixed-race family, the book takes a special interest in the complex experiences of African Americans and other minorities (including Japanese Americans) in the American military.
Anno Dracula picks up where Bram Stoker's Dracula would have ended, had Dracula won. England is slowly falling to pieces under the reign of Queen Victoria's new consort and his undead thugs.
Why I picked it up: My science fiction book group selected this to read, perhaps because I made an unintentionally rude comment about how they don't like fun books.
Why I finished it: Once the romance between an ancient lady vampire and a gentleman secret agent got going, I was hooked.
I'd give it to: Jen, who loves gothic Victorian steampunk, and would find this fantasy-horror story satisfyingly packed with social intrigue, dark doings, memorable characters, and a smattering of nice clothing descriptions.
Chip Averwater has operated a retail music instrument store in Memphis, one of the largest in the nation, for the last thirty-eight years. He learned most of these truths by making mistakes, though his father and grandfather, who also owned retail shops, also shared some lessons with him.
Because of the high failure rate for new businesses, there is a great need to do more than just rent space and open the doors. Averwater spends time on useful topics like how to locate, purchase, and stock successful products, customer-pleasing store layout, how much room to set aside for storage, and the hiring/training of employees. But the book’s emphasis is on dealing with and successfully managing the human factor. Most of Averwater's tips contain lessons on how to handle the fragile psyche, naked ambition, and greed of salespeople.
Why I picked it up: My only retail experience was a brief stint as a cashier at a Godfather’s Pizza owned by Herman Cain. I was curious if I could learn anything about cubicles and managing people that I could apply in my school library or at home.
Why I finished it: “They hear what you say, but they do what you pay” was catchy, and that helped this idea about employees and how to motivate them stick in my head. I loved another gem, “tell the job, don’t sell the job” -- when hiring, plainly explain what the job is so that the fit between the employee and the business will be good going forward. Averwater’s willingness to freely share his mistakes helped his lessons stick. He talked of vainly hoping that an irrational customer would walk in the door and buy products, at full price, for which he had paid too much. (He eventually cut prices to sell the items.)
I'd give it to: My friend Tom, who works in printing. He would enjoy that Chip gleefully overturns the idea that unequal pay can ever remain secret among employees. Averwater argues that pay need not be secret, and that it should be clearly tied to incentives so that inequality does not breed resentment.
Calpurnia's dad is a fisherman, but there are no fish. She goes to Mother Albirtha for help, and Mother Albirtha tells her to follow her nose to the secret river.
Why I picked it up: The pictures are so real looking, and I like how everyone in the family tries to do their best.
Why I finished it: Calpurnia's dog, Buggy-horse, is so cute. Calpurnia writes good poems, like this one:
If somebody scares you, the thing to do
is give somebody something to do.
Then they never bother you.
Sometimes they say "thank you."
I'd give it to: My mommy, who likes books about brown kids like me. Calpurnia is brave, smart, and generous.
A warband of orcs works with members of other elder races (goblins, centaurs, and the like) and allied humans to fight the monotheistic Unis, righteous humans out to cleanse the land.
Why I picked it up: First Second is my favorite graphic novel imprint. I read everything they publish.
Why I finished it: When Stryker shouted, “Wolverines!” at the members of his warband, I was in a Red Dawn state of mind. Didn’t hurt that it’s also action-packed, curse-filled, and bloody.
I'd give it to: Karla, who would be reminded of a boss she once had when she sees the horrific and very public way Jennesta, whom the orcs serve, deals with those who fail to meet her expectations: she uses her magic to cut them apart with hundreds of small pieces of glass.
Hyakkimaru’s father wants to rule Japan, so he offers forty-eight demons each a part of his unborn child. They accept. Hyakkimaru is born without hands, feet, arms, ears, etc. His parents cast him out. But a kind doctor takes him in, builds him prosthetics, and helps him learn to communicate and perceive things with his mind. Because supernatural creatures, drawn by Hyakkimaru’s special abilities, continually attack their home, Hyakkimaru needs to leave. The doctor gives him a final gift -- two swords under his prosthetic arms that he can use to fight the creatures that harry him. (Every time he defeats one of the original forty-eight demons his father dealt with, he gets a part of his body back.)
Why I picked it up: Tezuka is the known as the “god of manga.”
Why I finished it: The opening scenes, with the grim statues and the lightning, reminded me of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man in old issues of Shazam (my favorite superhero, and I can’t bring myself to call him Captain Marvel). The sword fights and demonic creatures reminded me of Usagi Yojimbo. Slam dunk.
I'd give it to: Rebecca, who told me how much she liked Helen Keller’s story when she was a kid, because it’s such an obvious read-alike.