Calogero is a 14-year-old Sicilian emigrant living in Louisiana in the 1880’s. His large, hard working family serves the town as greengrocers. Socially, he is just a notch above blacks and excluded from white society. His family does not follow the Jim Crow laws like they should, leading to several racially charged incidents, as well as a sweet relationship between Calogero and a girl he fancies. He also tries to become more American, along with his little brother, by hanging with local black kids and getting tutored by an artist in town. His family’s years of service to the community mean nothing when an inflamed mob goes after his family.
Why I picked it up: Donna Jo Napoli has a reputation for well researched, well written books on unusual topics, so I always try her new books. (This one is based on an historical incident.)
Why I finished it: I had no idea there was a chain of Sicilian grocers all over the South during the 1800’s. It was edifying to learn about this sordid part of our past in such a touching, natural way. The status of Italians at that time brought a new wrinkle to my understanding of race relations.
@bookblrb: A young Sicilian immigrant in 1880’s Louisiana runs afoul of the community by not following the Jim Crow laws.
Gaia serves the Enclave as a midwife, as does her mother. Their community is rough and tumble compared to protected Enclave. The first three babies born each month go up to the Enclave for adoption. The birth parents will never know their children, but know they will live privileged lives, and they cannot challenge the Enclave. Gaia’s parents, accused of fomenting insurrection, are arrested by the secret police. After the Enclave then increases the monthly quota to five babies, Gaia can no longer serve. She sneaks into the Enclave’s prison to see her mother, where she brings herself to the attention of its rulers by saving a life.
Why I picked it up: Sci-fi looking cover, post-apocalyptic society with guards and arcane rules!
Why I finished it: This is dystopian fiction with a genetic kick. The desperation of the citizenry is palpable, and the Enclave makes for a creepy, all-powerful despot. Gaia is the prototypical girl-against-the world and her spunk is admirable.
I'd give it to: Eun, who liked The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson or Skinned by Robin Wasserman, because a line is crossed in all three books where technology is used in healthcare to play God. Tiffany, who has an interest in genetics is always looking for novels filled with action and suspense.
@bookblrb: In post-apocalyptic society, Gaia is a midwife for the Enclave, which claims the first babies born every month.
A sleazy, broken down detective wakes up stiff, sticky and hungover. His guts are hanging out of a gunshot wound. He realizes he’s dead and sets off to find his killer before he rots.
Why I picked it up: I wrongly assumed it was another Cal McDonald story by Niles.
Why I finished it: It’s a solid B-movie romp, a zombie noir mystery with giant insects and a mad scientist. Bonus content at the end of the book includes pages from Wrightson’s long out-of-print The Monsters Color-the-Creature Book
I'd give it to: Donovan, who watched Radioactive Dreams with me on Cinemax when we were in high school.
@bookblrb: A sleazy detective dies. He sets out to find his killer before he rots.
Holmes and Watson meet and rent rooms together. Holmes helps Detective Lestrade solve a murder or two. After he’s caught, the murderer tells his story.
Why I picked it up: Sterling has been publishing some amazing graphic novel adaptations of classics, my favorite of which is the All-Action Classics version of Tom Sawyer.
Why I finished it: As in the best adaptations of this type, this book works as a comic first. It never feels rushed or like there’s too much on a page, something many less successful graphic novel classics are guilty of. There’s also enough dialogue and dramatization to keep me interested, when it veers towards exposition like the original story.
I'd give it to: Anyone who, like me, enjoyed last year’s Sherlock Holmes movie, but who can’t get through one of the original stories because they’re old fashioned and a little windy.
@bookblrb: Sherlock Holmes meets Watson in this graphic novel adaptation.
Bennie Salazar is a former punk rocker and now successful record producer. Sasha is his assistant. This book explores their lives and those of people whom they are connected with. Each chapter is written with a different voice and point of view, from Bennie’s band in the early days to a publicist friend of Sasha's who gets embroiled with a third-world dictator.
Why I picked it up: I was in the mood for a trashy rock 'n roll novel.
Why I finished it: I couldn't have been more mistaken about this book. It is a major work of fiction. The various character's lives form a complex web with unexpected and surprising connections, and as the book progressed from the past into the future my eyes got wider and wider. Chapter 12, "Great Rock and Roll Pauses", will start you off doubting, and then rock your world.
I'd give it to: My sister Becky. I am convinced she's got a book like this in her. No pressure.
@bookblrb: A complex web of characters from in and around the music business, each chapter written from a different perspective.
How do you find out more about someone who's been dead for 400 years? Look at everything they leave behind. In this case, forensic anthropologists analyze the graves of people who lived in colonial Maryland: bones, teeth, cloth, and even coffins!
Why I picked it up: Forensic science is cool, and using science for history is even cooler. I also really enjoyed the author's other book on the Civil War submarine
Why I finished it: I had no idea that you could figure out how long someone had lived in the New World by the levels of carbon isotopes in their bones! The book is an excellent mixture of the science and the story. The investigators didn't just find out about the colonists listed in ships records. They found somebody who was dumped in a garbage pit, slaves, and others not considered important enough for colonial records. History might be written by the people who win, but they don't always get the last word.
I'd give it to: Librarians who don't weed the 970s because they think that history can't change. Middle school students like Diana who love skeletons, mummies and ancient Egypt.
@bookblrb: Forensic anthropologists analyze the remains of Jamestown.