An anthology of fifteen short, morbid works from the fifties and sixties by the sublimely talented writer/illustrator Edward Gorey. The subjects and styles vary widely, from several children's alphabets (not really for children) to a wordless tour through a castle wing, but the drawings and writing are always convoluted, intricate, and inspired.
Why I picked it up: I read this over and over as a ten year old, and when I saw it at the amazing Zandzbroz while in Sioux Falls for a speaking gig last fall I picked it up for my ten year old
Why I finished it: I needed to check it for appropriateness. I had forgotten all about The Curious Sofa: a pornographic work by Ogdred Weary. But it's merely suggestive and a lot less explicit than some of the YA fiction he's gobbling up.
I'd give it to: David Malki, whose Wondermark shares Gorey's nineteenth century sensibility, if I didn't think he had already memorized all Gorey’s books. So instead I'll put it in the bathroom, which is where I probably discovered it when I was a kid. The circle of life continues.
Fifteen junior high students go to the beach to experience nature. Inside a cave, they find a bank of computers and meet a man, Kokopelli. He tells them Earth will be attacked by fifteen enemies. A giant robot, piloted in turn by each of the kids, will defend the planet. Afterwards it feels like the meeting was a dream, but then a robot and its enemy appear. They find themselves in the surreal cockpit. Kokopelli faces the first enemy, but then the kids take over.
Why I picked it up: Eddie at Zanadu pointed it out to me. “Have you read this? It’s f’d up!”
Why I finished it: It becomes clear that, unlike most of the giant robot anime I’ve seen, there’s a serious, understated life-or-death undercurrent to this story. There’s a nice narrative device here, too, that will make the other characters more real as the story continues in later volumes. After the first boy to pilot the robot, Takashi Waku, assumes his role, his backstory is explored. His character is strongly reflected in the way he deals with the enemy robot.
I'd give it to: That other old guy (my age) I met at Comic Con a few years back who reminisced with me about watching Johnny Sako and his Flying Robot.
Curzon, a black teen owned by a young man, is to receive his freedom papers after a final year as a slave. At the agreed time, his master is called away on business and leaves without signing the papers. He runs away with Isabel, another slave. They consider themselves free. Isabel wants to go after her little sister Ruth, but Curzon wants to get settled first. They argue and separate.
Curzon is soon forced to join the revolutionary army. His unit marches to Valley Forge, where the men suffer fierce privation during the winter. (Many go barefoot despite the snow and some don’t even have shirts.) There, Curzon’s former master finds reclaims him, rescuing him from the cold but returning him to life as a slave. The irony of fighting for a nation’s freedom but having his own denied him chaps Curzon’s hide.
Why I picked it up: It is a sequel to Anderson's 2008 National Book Award winner, Chains. I admire how she makes difficult subjects work in her novels by creating characters that are easy to identify with.
Why I finished it: To understand how the ragtag revolutionary army endured extreme weather (which made me shiver despite my North Face parka) while lacking basic supplies. I suffered with Curzon when a fellow soldier picked on him mercilessly, even beating him and stealing his boots.
A multiple-page appendix at the end that explains who and what was real helps set this book apart from other historical fiction.
I'd give it to: Caroline, a history teacher who is always looking for good extra-credit projects for students. Betty, who enjoyed M.T. Anderson's Revolution-era series Octavian Nothing.
Seven squat bears return home from the salt mines to find a giantess has eaten their food and fallen asleep in their bed. They set off to get help from the giant-slaying prince, Goldilocks.
Why I picked it up: Just read My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, which Bravo illustrated, and I wanted to see more of his art.
Why I finished it: It had me at the charming endpapers, which are covered with evenly spaced pictures of small bears in various poses.
I'd give it to: My new nephew. I think it will be a great third comic for him after the wordless Owly and Polo books. I’m hoping it will lead to a taste for other fairy tale mashups like Fractured Fairy Tales, Max Hamm and Fables when he’s older.
The proprietor of the high-tech hamster-tracking website shows how to make delightful, tiny treats for your hamster like micro-burgers and a wee Thanksgiving dinner.
Why I picked it up: Adorable animals and tiny food!
Why I finished it: The food is made of healthy things that hamsters like. The recipes are illustrated step-by-step with photographs, as is the subsequent nomming by his hamsters.
I'd give it to: Diana, who loves Internet cuteness and basic cooking, and will love this even though she doesn't have a hamster.
Ivy and Bean decide to start a gymnastics club. Their friends Zuzu and Emma join, too. And one day they are practicing cartwheels -- Zuzu can usually do seven but that time she did twelve. Bean tries to do one and lands on her head. Ivy says, “I can’t do one because I’m protecting the coats.” They had all vowed to tell each other their secrets. So Ivy tells Bean that there is a ghost in the girls’ bathroom because the school is built on the ghost’s grave.
Why I picked it up: I liked the first book.
Why I finished it: I wanted to see if the ghost was real or not. (It’s less scary than a Scooby-Do episode.)
I'd give it to: Ben, because they make a potion out of their enemy’s hair and dead bugs. (Then they spread it on the bathroom floor and flush presents down the toilet.)
Violet and Katie have been best friends since fourth grade. They go to the Westfield School, an exclusive girls high school. They are never around boys at all, so they wonder constantly what it must be like to have a boyfriend. Violet runs the literary magazine and is very diligent about her work. Everything comes easily to Katie, who aces her PSAT’s. They do get in minor trouble for various hijinks at school like “Harry Potter Tours” of the hidden parts of campus for the grade-schoolers, and trying to recycle a Vodka bottle (they drank to see what the big deal about drinking is). They are blessedly normal until Katie gets a little weird and self-destructive. She begins dating a nineteen-year-old boy and starts pulling away from Violet. She withdraws from school, refuses to apologize for a literary scandal, and, shockingly, is no longer attracted to Scott Walsh, who has been the center of their universe for four years (even though he doesn't know it).
Why I picked it up: A teen patron told me about the crackling dialogue and special friendship between the two girls.
Why I finished it: The book isn't centered around a divorce, eating disorder, cyber-bullying, or the like. Instead, it features a loyal friendship between two girls who have agreed to have each other’s backs no matter what.
I'd give it to: A.S., who gives off the same smart-girl vibe as Violet. Astor, who comes from a high-powered, wealthy family like Katie's.
It's Friday afternoon at Yale University. Several students from high-profile families are missing. They are being held in a building that belongs to one of the school's secret societies. There are no demands or negotiations. Students are released or executed at the kidnappers' whim. Hired by a family whose daughter has been taken, police officer Purdy joins FBI agent Poe and CIA agent Drake to stop the siege before more students die.
Why I picked it up: Dick Hill is a superstar of the audiobook world. I needed a Dick Hill fix.
Why I finished it: It was shocking when the first student is killed, and that promised a break from happy Hollywood endings.
I'd give it to: Susan, who insists that she can always foresee unexpected plot twists, because there are some here she wouldn’t see coming.