In the development office of The Mediocre University at New York City, Milo fails to raise money and fantasizes about his boss, Vargina. It’s no surprise when he’s let go.
At home his marriage is falling apart. His wife is “all touched out” and can’t talk about what’s wrong. His son’s school is at war with itself over educational methods. Milo has failed as a painter, too.
Then he’s invited back to the university for a meeting. There’s a big ask in the offing. His rich, eccentric college buddy personally requested Milo as a go-between. If he succeeds in sucking up to his friend and landing a big donation, Milo gets his job back. But Milo’s friend has secrets, and he needs help keeping them.
Why I picked it up: Talia told me I’d think it was funny.
Why I finished it: Lines like this: “I don’t give a slutty snow monkey’s prolapsed uterus for your office politics.”
I'd give it to: Fans of Dilbert who understand that the hardest part of some jobs is making it through the endless, useless meetings without chemical assistance.
Durango is a trained regulator (think Space Knight) who lost a finger and his status on Mars for not committing suicide as required by the Regulator Code. Now he works with Vienne, his second-in-command, at odd jobs and protecting people who need it. He wears symbiotic armor and his AI, Mimi, performs complex calculations for him. He needs all of these advantages to recruit a team to protect miners from superhuman cannibals led by his evil ex-girlfriend.
Why I picked it up: Gill’s last book, Soul Enchilada, featured crackling dialogue and a protagonist who stood out for her uniqueness and attitude.
Why I finished it: Durango is smart, sarcastic, and good at what he does. He finds himself caught between the tenets of his chosen profession and what he knows to be right as a leader. It’s also difficult for him to deal with his personal feelings for Vienne.
I'd give it to: Conrad, a 7th grader who told me he wanted an action book that wouldn’t make him think too much. Chases, ultra-cool futuristic weapons, and a sassy AI in Durango’s head make this a fast-moving read.
Because of the astoundingly harsh climate of Antarctica, people have only recently been able to explore it. From the first, expeditions to the South Pole have been peaceful and scientific. Research subjects studied there include almost every field of knowledge, from finding dinosaurs who lived in jungle climates before the continental shift to testing robots that must withstand the extreme climates of other planets!
Why I finished it: I was astonished at all of the information that can be gleaned from Antarctica. A lot of it is quite ancient because it’s trapped beneath layers of glacial ice, like air bubbles that contain samples of the atmosphere from thousands of years ago. I got an in-depth idea of how Antarctica is different from any other place on Earth and how it's changing rapidly as the planet warms up.
I'd give it to: Tracey, a globe-trotting teacher, because of the junior high teacher in the book who spent time at a research station scuba diving in ice-covered lakes to gather samples of water and microbes.
Michael is heir to one of the handful of corporations that rule the world. But his main function to entertain the masses, who follow his every move. They were disappointed when he gave up dancing, and tolerated his embrace of Grey, a harsh and elitist aesthetic. But now he's about to get engaged to Nora, also a follower of Grey, and everyone is talking about it. Michael and Nora are blissfully in love, and their marriage will unite two companies. Then Michael is almost killed by an assassin's bullet and his life rapidly unravels.
Why I picked it up: Nice cover blurb by Michael Chabon, and I loved the first sentence: "Nora and I finished our fried whale and plum sandwiches, our cream coffees, and the cocoa and coca pastries, and sat in a comfortable silence as landscapes of buildings and millions of well-wishers shirred past the windows at six hundred kilometers per hour."
Why I finished it: In the future one of the most competitive sporting events, and Michael's favorite, is the Intel-Sunbeam Cup, an ironing competition.
I'd give it to: Bill and Heidi, two designers married to each other. They will enjoy the level design attains in this book, and their bleeding liberal hearts will go out to the squalor that Michael uncovers when he leaves his cozy world.
Grennan was a late twenty-something who decided to volunteer at a Nepalese orphanage for three months before taking off on a yearlong, round the world trip. What he saw horrified him. As the government focused on fighting Maoist rebels, unscrupulous men profited on the concerns of rural parents. Promising stable jobs and safe living conditions for the children, traffickers took money from worried parents. The children were sometimes used as props to attract money from western donors, but more often they were simply dumped in Kathmandu. As Grennan grew to love these children, he couldn’t leave them. He returned over and over, and eventually founding a non-profit called Next Generation Nepal to reunite these kids with their families. As part of that work, he ventures into the Nepalese countryside, carrying photos of kids in his custody, dodging Maoist rebel patrols and goat trains on the precarious paths through the mountains.
Why I picked it up: Looked too much like Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea (which I enjoyed), so I almost didn’t pick it up. But then I saw the author signing free copies at ALA midwinter in San Diego and, like most librarians, I couldn’t resist.
Why I finished it: For the author’s hilarious voice. He writes about his initial plans to work three months at the Nepalese orphanage to justify his trip around the globe for a year. The kids steal the show, literally pig-piling on Grennan the first time they see him. Their joy is infectious. He talks about eating hamburgers to horrified Hindu kids. Or when he makes a kid cry while demonstrating recycling because he unknowingly crumpled up a drawing the kid did expressly for him. He even tried to use volunteering as a pickup line: “Why yes, it will be dangerous volunteering during a civil war at a Nepalese orphanage, but I have to think of the children.”
I'd give it to: My unorganized friend Danny would love the message of the book, that you don’t have to have everything organized to do good, you just have to be there and be willing. Anne, who would bounce between outrage at the trafficking of kids and crying at the reunions.
The Bennett family lives on an estate that they will not inherit. When their father dies, it will go to a male cousin, and the five girls and their mother will be without a home or income. The focus is on marrying them off. Then a young, rich, handsome, and available bachelor rents the estate next door, bringing with him his young, rich, handsome, available, and conceited bachelor friend.
Why I picked it up: I adore Victorian romance novels. Finding a graphic novel adaptation that stuck to the original text and added beautiful pictures appealed to me, even though I’ve read it many times.
Why I finished it: At a ball, the two main characters converse during a long dance in order to keep up appearances. Their exchange becomes a series of barbed character evaluations, and the discomfort they both feel is illustrated with the careful progression of panels, the expressions on their faces, and the portrayal of their environment. Throughout the book I loved seeing the two main characters progress from haughty and isolated to humble and in love amongst the twisted intrigue of the other romances
I'd give it to: My college girlfriends, with whom I originally discovered these books. Like me they'd probably be turned off by the cover, which intentionally looks like a teen magazine. But then they'd see the alluring, period-appropriate costumes and get sucked in.
Sam is in a rut. He does the same thing every morning, even on a day filled with news of catastrophic attacks on cities across the U.S. He’s so numb on his way to the magazine office where he edits party photos that he doesn’t notice the horrifying events unfolding around him.
He snaps out of it and helps get his dazed boss out of the building. Sam kills a man who assaults them in the parking garage. He and his boss hole up in his apartment to watch the news.
Then the next day he wakes up and everything seems normal. He’s back in his regular, boring world. But not for long.
Publisher’s Rating: Suggested or Mature Readers.
Why I finished it: In the nightmare reality, Sam is surprised to see that he’s got a voicemail. Despite the end of civilization, an automated system left him an offer to insure his credit card debt against job loss for only five dollars a month. Nice touch. Also loved the brilliant way the page numbers are worked into a scrolling news headline bar at the bottom of each page.
I'd give it to: Wally, who liked Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask where the protagonist is also stuck in a dead-end job. Gina, who enjoyed Iain M. Banks Transition, where agents of The Concern flit between parallel realities.
Solomon rules Jerusalem and the surrounding nations with the Ring, a magical artifact that can summon an army of spirits. And if any dare to challenge him, with a turn of the Ring Solomon can summon that powerful spirit bound inside it.
Bartimaeus is a djinni, a spirit that may be summoned to do a magician’s bidding. He has been summoned by one of the seven great magicians who serve under Solomon. Bartimaeus’s only wish is to return to the Other Place (after killing the man who summoned him, if possible). He finds loopholes in his orders and uses them to defy his master whenever possible.
After being banished along with his master, Bartimaeus meets Ashmira, one of the Queen of Sheba’s guards. (Solomon demanded tribute from the Queen and threatened to use the Ring if she failed to comply.) Ashmira’s mission is simple and impossible: kill Solomon and steal the Ring.
Why I picked it up: I read (and loved) Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy. (This book is a prequel.)
Why I finished it: Bartimaeus keeps up an unstoppable torrent of darkly witty remarks and back talk. I particularly liked the way he sums up his master's appearance: "In short, Khaba wasn't much of a looker. A cadaver would have crossed the street to avoid him."
I'd give it to: Jason, who’d enjoy the intriguing conversation Asmira and Bartimaeus on what it means to be a servant. Which is worse? A djinni bound to the will of his master? Or a young woman who believes that her Queen is never wrong, and follows her every order without question?