In the first book, Adam is the ultimate tech geek, working with his father, fixing computers and tech equipment and noodling on special projects on his own time. Online, he and his friends are sucked into a cat-and-mouse game -- someone wants to blackmail them into helping steal bank account access codes.
In the sequel, the kids, now known as Trackers (anti-hackers) are helping to identify and capture the person behind several schemes to defraud banks and bring the internet to a permanent standstill to cover his tracks. The Trackers don’t know who to trust as they face serious jail time for the theft of billions of dollars.
Why I picked it up: Each book has an eye-catching metallic silver case that slips off. The cover of each book has a background design that recalls The Matrix's dripping, glowing green numbers -- on book one it's a map with a grid overlay, and on the second it's a close-up of a circuit board. I knew they would appeal to reluctant readers at my library who need a sweet cover to suck them in.
Why I finished it: Both books take place entirely through interviews where Adam, the leader of the Trackers, is being questioned by a government representative trying to understand what happened. Computer content and the books come together to make the whole story -- kids with internet access can use the included passwords to watch surveillance videos mentioned in the book (or they can read transcripts in the back of the book if they don’t have internet access).
I'd give it to: Nathan, who would drool as Adam describes the technology in his Vault (the sweet, hi-tech space that he created for himself at home).
In the early days of flight, ballooning was done by scientists and hard-core hobbyists who filled balloons with hot air, coal gas, or hydrogen, none of it safe. Thaddeus Lowe was a showman, meteorologist, chemist, and balloonist who used his skills to perform aerial reconnaissance on behalf of the Union army during the Civil War, dodging cannon balls and bullets the whole time.
Why I finished it: Lowe's life was filled with insane moments of confidence. At fourteen, he launched a cat into the air as a passenger in a kite-powered flying machine (the cat survived and promptly ran away). He became a traveling-show "professor" so he could learn chemistry and showmanship, meeting a pretty girl and marrying her one week later. And ultimately he got himself introduced to the president so he could become an army balloonist. Add his good looks, and I could see he was a real-life action hero.
I'd give it to: History nerd Paul for the five(!) pages of bibliography that show the painstaking research that went into bringing this strange and wonderful story to light.
Annotated early strips from Achewood, a stylized dialog-driven black and white webcomic, the broad appeal of which I had heretofore failed to understand.
Why I finished it: The commentary by the author. His early strips are pretty raw, and he doesn't shy away from saying so:
“I took some stupid ingredients and made Dumb Cake.”
“I was twenty-six when I wrote this. I'm thirty-four now. I wouldn't even show this GIF to my dog.”
“Seriously why did people ever bother reading this comic strip. This is like watching a guy who needs new tires on his car throw new tires at his car from ten feet away.”
I don't even know what that last sentence means, but it made me laugh out loud, and somehow it opened my heart to Onstad's writing. Once I started to savor each characters' distinctive voice, I moved on to seeing that the simple line art is quite nuanced.
I'd give it to: Amber, Shelf Awareness' resident nerd, who will enjoy Ray's attempts to respond to Roast Beef's computer jargon using a copy of "the WALK THE WALK TALK THE TALK (TM) guide to THE COMPUTER LIFESTYLE".
Illustrated character sheets (for non-player characters, too) that include stats, level, character history, and skills (some sexual).
After Polo Pipe-fingers, a third level halfling fighter, uses the +2 Dildo of Enlightenment, he realizes he’s just an imaginary character played by a teenage nerd in a Dungeons & Dragons game. Throughout the rest of this adventure, he’s molested by various creatures and characters because (as he now understands) he’s being subjected to the perverted, sexually-explicit whims of the fourteen-year-old Dungeon Master (a complete dweeb). Others become enlightened. There’s lots of sodomy and violence. Then the characters try to rebel against their players and the DM.
Publisher's note (on the back): FILE UNDER DUNGEONS & DRAGONS PORN. The author dedicates the book to his D&D obsessed life when he was 12-14, and to the friends he played with. “...I do have to say that this is the stupidest book I have ever written.”
Why I picked it up: The title. And the cover, which looked like an old D&D module until I noticed the green-haired elf was topless.
Why I finished it: I really have no excuse for how much I enjoyed this book, but I’ll try to come up with one: I finished it just after I turned forty. And in that moment, when I was mourning my youth, it reminded me about how glad I am not to be the teenage nerd I once was.
I'd give it to: Jon, who is still an active Dungeon Master despite a beautiful (librarian!) wife, two awesome kids, and a successful career, to give him ideas about how to surprise his adventurers with a juvenile, sexed-up campaign. (Call me, Jon, I’m in!) But not to my wife, Silver, because it would confirm her worst fears about what I was like as a teenager, and I don’t think she’ll be able to get past the sexually explicit drawings throughout.
When she was seventeen Tracy cried all the time, had no appetite, and had violent fantasies. She had a nervous breakdown. She went to the Golden Meadows Hospital (“restoring mental health since 1938”) where she endured group therapy, individual therapy, and family therapy during her twenty-four week stay.
Why I picked it up: Tracy drew an awesome guest Unshelved Book Club comic for us, and I liked her style.
Why I finished it: A moment that felt utterly real, early on, when Tracy cuts her hair and puts eyeliner under eyes to create even darker circles. She looks in the mirror. “Now I look as shitty as I feel.”
Throughout, excerpts from her medical records and comments from four of her friends (past and present) help explain Tracy. These made her story readable by making me consider her an unreliable narrator early on. (First person stories of depression are difficult for me to get through, and having other voices chime in made this book a great read.)
I'd give it to: My wife’s friend Ellery. We bonded over our love of Strangers in Paradise, and I think this would instigate a long conversation about high school highs and lows.
The events leading up to a double murder unfold in the interrogation of material witness Gabriel James, a high school cross country runner who tries to help people without realizing he is in over his head. His interest in a shy, attractive classmate, Raylene, and his efforts to help Durmie, a mentally ill indigent, cause him to run afoul of some drug runners.
Why I picked it up: Loved Price’s last book, Dead Connection.
Why I finished it: The short, alternating episodes of the police interrogation and Gabriel’s flashbacks. I found Gabe’s voice compelling and realistic: his thoughts and feelings as a confused, scared teen, unsure how to deal with the police, his emotions about his involvement in the death of two young men, and his suspect family history.
I'd give it to: Noah, who loves John Grisham’s novels because this has the same gritty feel to it. He’ll especially enjoy the mind games during the interrogation.
Rebecca regretfully accompanies her disgraced detective father to Winterfold, a town which is losing ground to the pounding sea. Ferelith becomes her best friend and shows her around town, including the haunted mansion where a doctor and priest conducted unsavory research into the afterlife hundreds of years ago. In trying to fully understand the experiments, they stumble on a bigger secret.
Why I finished it: I never knew whether I could trust Ferelith or not, if she had Rebecca’s best interests at heart or wanted to destroy her. Sedgwick also has a rare skill with atmospherics. Despite the fact that I read this in the middle of a sunny day, the intense ending made me jumpy.
I'd give it to: Brandon, who would like the intensity and creepiness of a Stephen King novel without the gore. Crystal, who visits the haunted forest exhibit by our house three or four times each Halloween because she wants something to freak her out.
October "Toby" Daye is a half-fairy private investigator working the streets of 1980's San Francisco. After a failed case that left her as a fish for fourteen years, she wants nothing more to do with magic or investigating. Then a murdered elf pulls her back into the world she's determined to leave behind.
Why I picked it up: I'm always game for new mystery audiobooks but am hesitant to get involved with a private investigator. But a friend recommended Toby Daye (and smartly forgot to mention that she's a changeling).
Why I finished it: My previous attempts to listen to urban fantasy novels left me thinking I needed to read a faerie encyclopedia. But McGuire gave all the background necessary to Daye’s world, with all the grit, deception, and intrigue I feel is essential to a mystery. And Kowal voiced the characters -- both otherworldly and human -- with distinction, personality, and just the right amount of tension.
I'd give it to: Janet, a library patron who typically doesn't choose audiobooks with female narrators. She will fall for Kowal's portrayal of Tybalt, the King of the Court of Cats, who annoys the crap out of Toby.