While studying the history of alchemy in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, researcher Diana Bishop uncovers an enchanted manuscript. Her discovery draws the attention of witches, vampires, and daemons, the very magical creatures she’s spent her life trying to avoid. Now Diana must embrace the magical legacy left to her by her witch parents or risk losing not only her life and freedom, but also her new found love, the mysterious vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont.
Why I picked it up: In 2003 I spent two weeks at Oxford as part of a program for school teachers and librarians. One of the neatest things was getting to have a temporary library card to the Bodleian, which allowed me to wander through the stacks and see books that were bound before the U.S. even existed.
Why I finished it: The story was quiet and slow, but never left me bored. Diana’s sharp mind and Matthew’s honorable nature came together to create a mature and sensual (rather than explicit) romance. It doesn’t have the over-the-top action seen in so much paranormal fiction today. Instead the connections in the story are created by people gradually fitting together science, history, genealogy, and magic to reveal an unseen world.
I'd give it to: My childhood friend Melanie. She’s not usually a paranormal fan, but she’d love how Harkness interweaves the Knights Templar, the Salem Witch Trials, medieval politics, and modern-day genetic testing.
@bookblrb: Diana Bishop discovers an enchanted manuscript that puts her in danger and forces her to embrace her magical legacy.
Jake Gallo hasn’t had any luck looking for work because he’s a chicken. His dad has a stroke, so he returns home with his brother Francis (a well-known actor) and his sister May (engaged to a human).
After Jake’s father passes away, his mother gives Jake the book his father wrote. It’s an account of his life starting (in broken English) the day chickens worldwide gained consciousness. It details how he and Jake’s mother survived the violence they faced before (and after) chickens gained their rights. It’s also the story of his marriage, career, and his family.
As Jake reads his father’s book, he begins to write one of his own.
Why I picked it up: It was Eddie’s Pick of the Week at Zanadu Comics.
Why I finished it: I expected this book to be ridiculous, filled with jokes, and appropriate to read with my daughter. None of those assumptions were correct, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s a serious, straightforward alternate history that comments on prejudice and genocide while showing, via the amazing art and the unexpected images of poultry going about everyday (human) tasks, how much emotion a chicken’s face can express.
I'd give it to: My friends Rich and Liz who loved Extraordinary Chickens as much as I did. (Every time I looked through it, I found chickens who looked like people I know.) And for Marin, who has jumped on the chickens-in-my-backyard bandwagon so that she might see her coop for the avian apocalypse it is.
@bookblrb: Jack Gallo, a chicken, returns home and reads his father’s account of when poultry first gained consciousness.
Sinda’s world is turned upside down on her sixteenth birthday when she finds out she is not a princess. She’s a double who spent her life standing in for the real princess because of a prophecy about her death. Now that the prediction has been proven false, she is extraneous, and she is given a small bag of gold for her trouble and sent to live with her real relatives in the country.
She returns to the city to learn to harness her magical abilities, and discovers a plot against the throne. She and her best friend, the Earl’s son Kiernan, team up to find proof of the conspiracy before the wrong person is crowned.
Why I picked it up: Nominated for my ALA book committee.
Why I finished it: It was nice to see the standard “girl discovers she’s a lost princess” plot turned on its head. This book has a bit of romance, lots of intrigue, layers upon layers of deception, and a treasonous plot.
I'd give it to: Mina, who enjoyed Lost, because this book had jarring redirections just when I thought I knew where it was going.
@bookblrb: Sinda discovers she’s not a princess and is sent to the country. But only she can stop a plot against the throne.
Sixteen-year-old Norman is hired to tutor the daughter of the wealthy Adler family. But the beautiful Bayla wants nothing to do with Hebrew, her bat mitzvah, or her parents. Madly trying to derail her parents’ plans, she taunts Norman, then tries to seduce him. He manages to deflect her charms and insults and keeps coming back each week with his workbooks and pencils.
Though Norman is the most promising Hebrew scholar, he is not particularly pious. A nerd from the poorest family in the congregation, he is equally infatuated with the opulent lifestyle of the Adlers and their daughter. As her bat mitzvah gets closer, he becomes a pawn in the game between Bayla and her parents. Then he has the chance to run off with Bayla, perhaps even to marry her and ride away on a motorcycle up the coast of California.
Why I picked it up: The first paragraph of the novel hooked me. “Gentleman and Ladies: My name is Norman Plummer. You’ve asked me to describe for you something of my religious background by way of how I see the connection between motorcycling and Judaism in my life. Naturally you want to know some of my autobiography, if I’m a card-carrying rabbi - I’m not - and where I’ve taught, and what I think of God, and if I’ll be the spiritual leader you’re seeking for the King Solomon Bikers Club.”
Why I finished it: Norman’s voice, both as narrator and in dialogue, is self-effacing and honest. “I did not push or fling her away... the ideal Hebrew tutor within would have, but I was not as good or as moral as he was. I knew it and Bayla knew it.”
I'd give it to: My friend Justin, because Norman reminds me of the adolescent narrator at the beginning of Paul Theroux’s My Secret History, and he would like Norman’s transformation from explorer of the Torah to explorer of the world.
@bookblrb: Norman becomes a pawn in a game between the soon-to-be-bat-mitzvahed Bayla and her parents.
Since the days of wooden whaling ships, sailors have told terrifying tales of a huge sea creature with powerful tentacles that could pull a man under or crush a vessel and disappear without a trace, a creature with massive, staring eyes and a terrible stench. The Kraken was thought to be just a tall tale until evidence of its existence was brought back to land. Gigantic tentacles and chitinous beaks were found in the stomachs of sperm whales that also had enormous, sucker-shaped scars! What kind of creature could do battle with the oceans’ largest predator?
Even as the era of scientific discovery and classification started, the only specimens were the dead giant squids that washed up on shore between 1870 and 1880. They were not found alive until the 21st century!
Why I picked it up: I'm a sucker (ha ha!) for sea monsters that turn out to be real.
Why I finished it: The author played up the drama of the Kraken's slow discovery, starting out with woodcut illustrations, then copperplate newspaper pictures, and finally photographs to show our changing view of the animal as we learned more about it. Which is not to say that it became less frightening the more we knew. The giant squid turns out to have a ring of sharp teeth within each of its suckers. And a newly-discovered massive squid has a tiger-like claw inside each -- it wouldn’t just crush you, it would tear you apart!
I'd give it to: Loren, for the horror-story creepiness of the mystery at the beginning and the flat out strangeness of the squids. (They travel to shallower waters by retaining ammonia from their bodily wastes because it is more buoyant than seawater!) Marian, for the inclusion of the dramatic squid-related parts of Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Tennyson's sonnets.
@bookblrb: The Kraken was thought to be just a tall tale until evidence of its existence was found in the stomachs of whales.
David was expecting to spend a fairly boring summer with his father, a famous psychiatrist, until Zelda showed up. Fit, tattooed, sexy, and beautiful she is every teenage boy's dream. She’s also a little crazy. Zelda believes that she is from the planet Vahalal, and that she must hunt down Johnny Depp and take him home with her. David helps her escape his father’s care and vows to help her on her mission.
Why I finished it: David is underdeveloped but brimming with potential, and yearns for this impossibly sexy and amazing girl who is way out of his league. Somehow the fact that not only is she taller, older, more experienced, and also an alien makes it believable -- she’s freakishly incredible, which makes her somehow accessible. (This is pretty much my personal idea of romance.)
I'd give it to: My brother Kyle, who has not yet found his own species of girl but still dreams big, too. I hope this inspires him to find a hot girl who is more sane than those he seems to woo, and that maybe they can save the world together.
@bookblrb: Zelda is sexy, tattooed, and crazy: she thinks she’s an alien who must take Johnny Depp home with her.
Jasper crashes his Trans Am into a tree and wanders into the woods, drinking, and passes out. He awakens to find a note in his empty bottle telling him where to go for answers. (The woman he loves has disappeared.)
Why I picked it up: The rough cover stock. This graphic novel just felt good in my hands.
Why I finished it: The art made brilliant use of screen tones, black and light blue ink, white space, silhouettes, and recurring images to emphasize characters and create an amazing sense of place (particularly in the woods).
I'd give it to: Tim, who enjoyed Matthew Forsythe’s spare and well-designed Ojingogo.
@bookblrb: Jasper passes out in the woods after crashing his car. When he awakens, he finds a note telling him where to go.
Phish is a four-man band from Vermont known for organic jams lasting up to thirty minutes. They built a rabid fan base by playing incredibly long sets with a zany sense of humor. Puterbaugh, a Rolling Stone reporter and occasional PR person for the band, went deep into the archives to discover the definitive story of Phish’s beginning during the members’ college days. He covers the highlight of their career -- their performances at the biggest concert of 1996, the Clifford Ball, at a decommissioned Air Force base in Plattsburgh, NY -- then their two-year hiatus in the early 2000’s, eventual breakup, and disastrous final concert.
Why I picked it up: I had heard about Phish going back twenty years -- they headlined crazy festivals and had a vibrant following that included groupies that followed them around the country -- but had never listened to their music.
Why I finished it: Phish is often characterized by people unfamiliar with the band as a Grateful Dead knock-off. This book lays that fallacy to rest by differentiating their work ethic, musical stylings, creativity and sense of humor.
The band is comfortable with Puterbaugh, so he had complete control over the project. He includes lots of insider information that will be snapped up by fans, like the truth about whether lead singer Trey Anastasio’s drug use broke up the band. After reading about each album and song, I logged in to Rhapsody to listen to them. (Verdict: Not my scene. Too heavy on the jams -- although some were catchy, there wasn’t enough focus on lyrics for me.)
I'd give it to: My colleague Debbie, because she was a long-haired, cedar hot-tub saleswoman back in the day, and maybe she’d be nostalgic. Amy, because she was once a concert promoter, and would appreciate the details about famous shows, bloated guest lists, concert bootleggers, and backstage party rooms.
@bookblrb: The story of Phish’s career from its high points to its disastrous "final" concert.