The Burmese authorities took away Chiko’s father, a physician, months ago. Chiko can read and write, so he applies to be a teacher. But he is forced to join the army, which considers him expendable. Working as a mine sweeper, he walks the path that adult soldiers must soon travel, trying to set off hidden explosives with his feet. After a mine blows up, killing his troop and injuring Chiko, a boy from the opposing army takes Chiko to the enemy camp in an effort to save him.
Why I picked it up: Quality historical novels taught me about tragedies like Darfur and the massacres ordered by Pol Pot.
Why I finished it: While this book isn’t likely to be picked up by teens for entertainment, it is a polished, realistic book about the military junta and child soldiers in this Burma. I could definitely see it in a history classroom or on a list of required reading.
I'd give it to: Brad, a teacher who wishes every student read Christopher Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously, because this read-alike would be more accessible and interesting to his students.
The third collection of Wondermark comic strips, originally published at wondermark.com, but with tons of cool extra stuff new to the book, including a very long and thin educational crossword in the margins.
Why I picked it up: David Malki's comics are artisanal, hand-crafted affairs, not just because of the art, but because every strip has its own title, call to action, and absurdist setup. These comics ask much more of you than a newspaper strip, and your attention will pay off.
Why I finished it: I still love the extra punchline (mouse over the strip to see them online, but under each strip in the book). The added letters, diagrams, and the abandoned strips at the end add to my appreciation of how much work goes into Wondermark.
I'd give it to: People who work on the Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders project who would enjoy the strange and detailed illustrations of the Victorian era that are repurposed for the strips. Gene’s wife Silver, especially for this strip.
Millennium Boy has a giant head, a filthy mouth, and an intelligence of 50. He recruits the help of Steve after mocking him (“You look like an old orangutan mama…”) and promising him adventure. They gain experience and build up their personal stats (strength, dexterity, intelligence, health, etc.) as if they are characters in a game, by killing threatening thugs and other creatures. They also give some cheap wine to a poet in exchange for his spell book, which Millennium Boy uses to learn a little magic. They find better armor, more powerful weapons, and add to their fantasy adventure team as they head to the Fireburg Forest.
Why I picked it up: Sean, who works at Zanadu, told me I’d love this graphic novel for all of the full-frontal male nudity.
Why I finished it: It’s a real chance to laugh at myself and my friends who play role playing games. Beneath the filthy jokes, bad language, and yes, full-frontal nudity, this book is a smart deconstruction of gaming’s ridiculous moments, and how most fantasy adventures I’ve been a part of were acted out by players. (I do still think gaming is fun.)
I'd give it to: Karla and John, two hardcore adventurers who play D&D with their kids and needed my copy of The Gamers far more than I did. And my high school girlfriend, J., who found my late night gaming ridiculous, and would probably laugh derisively at me again while reading this.
Richard Mayhew led an average life until an injured girl stumbles into the street in front of him. Door just needs a safe place to rest. Richard takes her back to his apartment. This act of kindness plunges Richard into the magical world of London Below, a place where creatures from nightmares and dreams – but mainly nightmares – roam. His friends, landlord, and even his fiancée forget that he ever existed, and all but ignore Richard when he tries to talk to them. He wants his life back. Door is his only hope, but she is being hunted by the villains who murdered her family.
Why I picked it up: The title intrigued me.
Why I finished it: Richard is tormented by nightmares of a Beast: a boar, as big as an ox, with broken-off bits of weaponry imbedded in its hide. I wanted to see what Richard would do when he finally met it.
I'd give it to: Jim, because he would enjoy the vampires that dwell in London below, and how they feed on the warmth created by a person’s body. Gennie, who would enjoy picking out the clues littered throughout the book that point to who is after Door.
Years ago Ista had a tragic run as royina (queen) of Chalion. Now her mother is dead and her daughter Iselle's in charge, and she doesn't really know what to do with herself. So she goes walkabout. After a rather dashing nobleman saves her from enemy troops and brings her back to his castle... well, that's when the gods start talking to her. It didn't really work out for her last time that happened, back when she was queen. But with their help she starts to realize that nothing in the castle is what it seems.
Why I picked it up: I've been a good book reviewer and paced myself well, but after reading the first volume of McMaster Bujold's The Sharing Knife recently, I'm reading everything she's ever written, and I'm doing it now.
Why I finished it: The way that gods and demons work in this world is original and fascinating. I wanted to see if Ista could save the day. And there is a very sweet romance or two as well.
I'd give it to: Rob, a skeptic of the fantasy genre, like I used to be. With mature adults using their brains to solve problems and engaging in non-fairy-tale relationships, this book is the antithesis of the stereotypical adolescent D&D novel. (What's next for me, country music?)
In their last year of elementary school, Lydia and Julie record their observations about the popular girls at school, and then see if trying those things makes them popular, too. This, their secret, illustrated notebook, details their experiment.
Why I picked it up: It looks like a notebook drawn and hand-written by two older grade school girls.
Why I finished it: The pictures of Lydia’s sister, Melody before and after she started Junior High. She was a perky blond girl wearing a cat T-shirt, and now she dresses in black, has black hair, and lots of dark makeup. The book is also a super quick read.
I'd give it to: I was going to give it to my 8-year-old daughter, because there aren’t as many books that are both this fun to read and as on-message about the value of friends and popularity. But she took the book after I copied the information for this review, and she’s already reading it.
After their father’s death, Dirabani and Tana’s jewelry business is in ruins. On a trip to the river to collect water, Dirabani meets the snake goddess, who gifts her with a strange power. Every time she speaks, precious jewels fall from her mouth. Her sister is granted the gift that when she speaks both poisonous snakes and lucky toads fall from her mouth. Their talents raise a ruckus in their town, inviting the attention of the passing prince, who “invites” Dirabani back to his palace. Tana is soon on the run from a governor who despises snakes, despite their ability to reduce sickness by eating disease-spreading rats.
Why I picked it up: Initially, the odd title was of interest to me, getting it a prized spot on the end table near my bed. Then it was then nominated for my ALA committee, so I had to read it.
Why I finished it: This is not an Indian book, but it has a similar flavor. It was interesting to see the politics and religion of a different world where these kinds of strange gifts could be real. Each of the girls is remarkably different, yet they both have a lesson to learn and their relationship is sweet and endearing.
I'd give it to: Fans of culturally flavored books like Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street where each page organically adds to your understanding of how people live. Anais, who wants to read about a fantasy world where violence does not rule the day. Sarah, who would love the female protagonists who are able to function without boyfriends.