Very, named after the Elvis Costello song “Veronica,” always does what is expected of her. She likes order, the predictability of math proofs, and knowing there is an answer to the question being asked. But her ordered world is being turned upside down: her grandmother, a poet, is dying of brain cancer; her dad is distant; her mom is drinking too much; and Ramona, her younger sister, is withering away. Very is also no longer sure she should go to Stanford as planned, and she’s met a new guy she may feel more for than her boyfriend. She’s torn between doing as she’s supposed to and finally taking care of herself.
Why I picked it up: I'm always looking for books that will appeal to those who feel they are on the outside looking in at their families.
Why I finished it: Very is a good girl trying to figure out her place in a world filled with expectations she’s not sure she can (or wants to) fulfill. She's the one her family leaves notes for, knowing that she's responsible -- she does the grocery shopping, gets her sister to school, and makes sure her grandmother has company. She reminded me of my younger self in the way she tried to decide how to live her life, in particular the way she looked at her parents and hoped she could be different from them.
It’s perfect for: Tracy, an English teacher, because she would appreciate Very’s smart descriptions of people like Mr. Tompkins, her chemistry teacher, who
“...is not a geek. He’s young and handsome in a sort of hipstery way -- heavy framed glasses, grandpa cardigans -- and more than one girl has professed her undying love for him on the stalls of the second-floor bathroom.”
She collects well-written sentences like these for her students to emulate.
A smart, uncoventional single mom who is unlucky in love decides to follow the advice of a popular, and very conventional, dating guide as a last resort--yielding funny, wildly unexpected results
Catriona Buchanan, a thirty-six-year-old journalist and single mother, lives a quiet life in Glasgow with her daughter Grace. Single for six years but for a handful of failed relationships with all the wrong men and a string of one-night stands, Cat decides she's had enough of her homegrown efforts to find love. Instead, she purchases the infamous dating bible The Ten Rules of Enticement, and vows to obey its advice to the letter and chronicle her experiences.
The novel follows Cat as she tries to discount everything she thought she knew about the dating world in her quest to become the kind of woman men desire to be with. Eventually, as her efforts are rewarded and she nets not one but two viable new love interests, Cat must decide whether pretending to be someone she's not is worth the payoff of having a man in love with her for all the wrong reasons.
Sixteen-year-old Hazel lives in Fairfold, a small town where fairies are real. She’s spent her whole life dreaming of being a knight and saving everyone in the town, particularly the beautiful, horned boy sleeping in a glass coffin in the forest.
One morning, Hazel awakes to find herself covered in mud and glass. The horned boy’s coffin has been shattered, and he is gone. His disappearance sets the fairy Alderking into a frenzy, and he sends the monster at the heart of the forest to find the boy. The future of Fairfold depends on Hazel’s ability to figure out what’s going on.
Why I picked it up: I’ve been a fan of Holly Black’s fairy stories for years.
Why I finished it: Black manages to take the clichés of the genre and turn them on their heads, casting a fairy prince in the traditional role of the helpless enchanted princess and a scrappy human girl as his knight in shining armor. The book also features a queer protagonist, a racially diverse cast of characters, and the right amount of teen angst.
Readalikes: Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys also layers a fantastical world on top of an otherwise ordinary small town, though with a prophecy and ancient magic rather than fairies. And in John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things, a grieving child is thrown from the English countryside into a world where classic fairy tales are both real and far darker than even the Brothers Grimm versions.
British bestselling author Damien Lewis is an award-winning journalist who has spent twenty years reporting from war, disaster, and conflict zones. Now Lewis brings his first-rate narrative skills to bear on the inspiriting tale of Judy--an English pointer who perhaps was the only canine prisoner of war.
After being bombed and shipwrecked repeatedly while serving for several wild and war-torn years as a mascot of the World War II Royal Navy Yangtze river gunboats the Gnat and the Grasshopper, Judy ended up in Japanese prisoner of war camps in North Sumatra. Along with locals as slave labor, the American, Australian, and British POWs were forced to build a 1,200-mile single-track railroad through the most horrifying jungles and treacherous mountain passes. Like the one immortalized in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, this was the other death-railroad building project where POWs slaved under subhuman conditions.
In the midst of this living hell was a beautiful and regal-looking liver and white English pointer named Judy. Whether she was scavenging food to help feed the starving inmates of a hellish Japanese POW camp, or by her presence alone bringing inspiration and hope to men, she was cherished and adored by the Allied servicemen who fought to survive alongside her.
Judy's uncanny ability to sense danger, matched with her quick thinking and impossible daring saved countless lives. More than a close companion she shared in both the men's tragedies and joys. It was in recognition of the extraordinary friendship and protection she offered amidst the unforgiving and savage environment of a Japanese prison camp in Indonesia that she gained her formal status as a POW. From the author of The Dog Who Could Fly and the co-author of Sergeant Rex and It's All About Treo comes one of the most heartwarming and inspiring tales you will ever read.
In the early 1980s, University of Carolina's basketball coach Dean Smith was seen as the best coach in the ACC basketball conference. Coaches Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and Jim Valvano of North Carolina State joined the league in 1980 -- Krzyzewski was extremely uptight and serious, while Valvano was so gregarious that he owned any room he walked into. Both felt they were contending not only with Dean Smith's talented teams, but also with his coaching reputation as much as they attempted to win in the ACC. Valvano struck pay dirt first, with an improbable national championship in 1983. Krzyzewski’s team foundered for a while, with many boosters calling for his job, but Duke finally caught fire and went to five Final Fours in a row. Suddenly, Smith had rivals that could beat UNC on any given night, and college basketball entered a competitive golden age.
Why I picked it up: I have every sports book that John Feinstein has ever written.
Why I finished it: I have been a college basketball fan for decades. These coaches were at their peaks when I was a young adult, so I have seen them in a million televised games. I know Coach Smith had a reputation as a great man and humanitarian, but I loved the anecdote Feinstein tells about when Smith, in 1958, brought a black friend to a restaurant where the basketball team ate its pregame meals. He dared the restaurant to not serve the man. When Feinstein asked Smith about it, he was pained that the story had gotten out. Smith said, "You should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing." Bobby Cremins, a former college player who later coached against Smith, claims that he lost his virginity the night after Smith had his players repeatedly foul Cremins at the end of a game. Cremins became a hero for making the foul shots, leading to his big night. I was also touched by Feinstein's reports that Krzyzewski often visited Valvano in the hospital as he was near to death from cancer. Their former rivalry as coaches was behind them, and they had become friends. They spent a lot of time together before Valvano passed.
It’s perfect for: Brian, my friend who has been a varsity basketball coach for over twenty years. (I was his assistant varsity coach for a year.) He would love reading about the mind games between Valvano, Krzyzewski, and Smith. Smith was known for coming late to meetings, making all the other coaches wait for him like he was the most important. Once Valvano and Krzyzewski paid him back by waiting in a men's bathroom until after Smith finally strolled in, and then they waited another five minutes, making sure Smith got a good-sized dose of his own medicine. When they finally went in to the meeting room, they asked Smith if they were late, laughing the whole time.
Gritty, searing, and complex, this award-winning novel by one of Mexico's foremost crime novelists follows hard-as-nails detective Lefty Mendieta as he investigates the murder of a prominent lawyer
It's just another day at the office for Detective Edgar "Lefty" Mendieta: abandoned by the woman he loves, demoralized by his city's (nad his nation's) ubiquitous corruption, and in dire need of some psychotherapy. Against this backdrop, he catches the case of Bruno Canizales, a high-powered lawyer with a double life, who was killed by a single silver bullet.
Throwing himself into his work, Mendieta begins to piece together the details of Canizales' life. The son of a former government minister, and the lover of a drug lord's daughter, Canizales it seems had a penchant for cross-dressing and edgy sex.
In the sweltering city of Culiacán, Mexico's capital of narco-crime, Mendieta scrambles to follow several leads. His dogged pursuit of the killer takes him from glitzy mansions to drug dens, from down-at-the-heels reporters to glamorous transsexuals. When a second, apparently related murder surfaces, Mendieta discovers that his desire to unearth the truth has become as overpowering as any drug.
At nearly eighty years of age, Lecile Harris is still doing what he loves (and has been for the past sixty years): working as an internationally famous rodeo clown. He remains a worthy adversary for the bulls in the arena, where his job is to move them away from cowboys and bull riders to keep them safe. Lecile learned at a very early age how to "dance" with bulls: anticipating what the animal’s next move will be. But, of course, sometimes he misjudges and ends up severely injured. One time a bull pinned him to the fence and gored his sternum with its horns -- he still has an egg-shaped scar on his chest.
Lecile also talks about his high school and college football careers, drumming with various bands (some well known, others not so much), the great love of his life, and all the scuffles he has gotten into over the decades with cowboys and other clowns. Lecile, for years, hung a sign on his dressing room to warn others there was no restroom available. A huge linebacker-turned-bull rider ignored the sign and stunk up the place. When he emerged, the others wanted Lecile to punch his lights out for disrespecting the rules. Lecile's only comment was "I'm a clown, not a dummy."
Why I picked it up: Lecile Harris is my uncle. When my dad refused to lend me his copy, I emailed the author, and he sent one my way.
Why I finished it: I wanted to separate the facts from Lecile’s tall tales. I had always heard that he ran off my aunt's former fiancé. What really happened is Lecile fell in love with my Aunt Ethel the moment he saw her, but she wouldn’t give him her address or telephone number because she was already engaged. He found out where Ethel lived and visited with her for hours. When her fiancé showed up and asked if he could see Ethel, Lecile told him no, handed him Ethel's engagement ring, and told the guy that she was with him now. (The two of them have been married for fifty-eight years.)
I'd also been told Lecile has broken every bone in his body twice, so he can’t qualify for medical insurance. Unfortunately, that’s accurate.
Readalikes: Lecile and the Racing Rodeo Mule by Vaughn Wilson. In this children's story, Mr. Wilson tells readers about Lecile and his famous mule, Sweet Pea, that he trained for his rodeo act. The two of them had quite a following because of their antics, but sadly, Sweet Pea passed away before I was born. Apparently she was a regular Houdini -- Lecile would rope her to a tree outside of her trailer, but she would easily slip out.
A psychological thriller about how little we sometimes know about our loved ones--and how dangerous that can be when the unknown person is your husband.
Thirty-nine-year-old British photographer and single mom Tess has a good life that revolves around her nine-year-old son Joe and her thriving career. Things look even better when she meets Greg, a charismatic American pediatric heart surgeon, on a photo shoot. The two of them are instantly attracted to each other, and it isn't long before they get married.
When Greg is offered a dream job in Boston along with a part-time teaching position at Harvard, they discuss a possible move to America. Tess is initially reluctant about uprooting her son and leaving behind her friends and family. Plus there is an added complication: she is pregnant, something the couple had definitely not planned on. But they agree that this position is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and decide to go.
Greg seems happy to be back in America and the job is even better than he had hoped, but Tess and Joe have a hard time adapting to life in a new city. More worryingly, Tess notices that their new neighbors, and even some strangers, seem to recognize her husband, which he waves off as coincidence. As these strange encounters continue to occur, however, she begins to suspect that something is not quite right. In secret, she starts to look into Greg's past and discovers more questions than answers about the man she has followed across the ocean--the man who is the father of their new baby daughter.
Lucy Atkins follows her acclaimed debut novel with another white-knuckle ride that explores the danger that can lurk within the everyday routines of family life.
Fifty First Nations youths from Canada and the US, from both rural and urban settings, share memories of bullies and boarding school, life on the streets and “back on the Rez.” Each photo collage and short essay is a first person account of what it is like to be Native American in contemporary North America. Some recall learning about traditional culture from elders, while others describe their takes on being rock musicians, fashion models, and tech-savvy comic book geeks. Each story and its associated images helps create a mosaic of the challenges, triumphs, and aspirations of young Native Americans finding their way in the modern world.
Why I picked it up: The young man's compelling, watchful stare on the front cover.
Why I finished it: Reading quickly through pages that included hip-hop hoop dancers, moose hunters, and young, bewildered boarding-school students confirmed that “Dreaming in Indian” was a diverse, modern perspective on the Native American experience. Re-reading it enriched my appreciation of this collection as a unique, authentic, contemporary portrayal of growing up Native.
It’s perfect for: Emma who, with her mom’s help, is skillfully navigating growing up Native while fully engaged in a diverse Seattle elementary school. It would be great for teachers at all grade levels, too, as they seek to update Native American social studies and history lessons to avoid the pitfalls of superficial cultural surveys populated by traditional stories and stereotypes.
The best of Stein’s comics written over the course of a year, often late at night after working at a bar. These originally appeared on her Tumblr. Most are current, autobiographical, and just a single page long, though some are flashbacks to Stein’s childhood and others have the feel of fiction.
Why I picked it up: The spine is covered in a mishmash of scribbly, eye-catching color that made it practically leap off my bookshelf.
Why I finished it: On the fourth page, Stein is watching Shut Up and Play the Hits, a documentary about LCD Soundsystem’s "last" concert that turned me into a fan. She talks about not getting LCD’s brilliant song “Losing My Edge” when she first heard it at nineteen, but loving it now that she’s older. (It’s a self-deprecating dance song that anyone who grew up in the '80s will identify with. Go on, give it a listen if you’re in your forties.) Stein isn’t as old as I am, but we were clearly on the same wavelength. I was hooked -- and as she got better and better at using her loose, panel-less style and simple drawings to describe her life in Brooklyn, she sank the hook in deeper. Her use of color to define clothing and hair, instead of drawing all the parts of a face or an outfit, is marvelous. Her art comes off as well planned and spontaneous at the same time.
Readalikes: I’m a huge fan of Lewis Trondheim’s diary comics, Little Nothings, in which he avoids panels by using a bit of watercolor to define space. His art has a more finished quality than Stein’s, and he often does sketches of cities he’s traveled to that give a great sense of place. His work and Stein’s both have the immediacy and energy that I crave in autobiographical comics.
Graphic artist and journalist Ted Rall tells Edward Snowden's story. He begins with a look at George Orwell's 1984 and concludes that we live in Oceania, Orwell’s fictional nation in which the government spies on every citizen. He then shows how Snowden, an IT contractor, gained access to thousands of documents that showed the NSA has been spying on American citizens since 9/11. In the next section of the book, Rall asks who Snowden is. Who would throw away his career to act in accordance with his values? The last part shows the current state of Snowden's situation as of summer 2015, and describes how and why he ended up in Russia.
Why I picked it up: I enjoyed Rall's Silk Road to Ruin, and this short volume looked like a good synopsis of why Snowden released top secret US documents.
Why I finished it: Rall has a gift for summarizing but not dumbing down complex issues. He shows how a huge dragnet operation employed thousands of people to sift through the communications swept up by government spyware. He also notes that 1.4 million employees had a clearance level on par with Snowden, yet only Snowden decided to act on his values. Rall wonders who Snowden is, and why was he the only person who believed that what was going on was wrong.
It’s perfect for: Andy, who had his own security clearance before retiring from a government job, and would understand both how easy and difficult it might be to steal classified documents. He might be surprised to learn Edward Snowden was a Boy Scout, and that his parents both worked for the feds. He'd also be interested to see how Snowden has had to travel to less-friendly nations after he fled the US to avoid extradition.
The first part of this book is a graphic novel about photographer Robert Capa, who accompanied the Allied forces during their invasion of Omaha Beach on D-Day. Capa chose to accompany Company E in the first wave as they landed and tried to make it through the obstacle course the Germans had set up. Unlike many of the men Capa was with, he survived the day. But because of an accident during the development process, most of his film was ruined. All ten of Capa’s surviving photos are in the book, including the most famous, The Face in the Surf, which is also partially reproduced on the book’s cover. Essays in the back provide information on and photos of Capa, D-Day, Capa’s photographic equipment, and how the soldier in The Face in the Surf was finally identified.
Why I picked it up: The invasion of Omaha Beach sequence at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan is the most terrifying, visceral scene in all the films I’ve ever seen. If I’m walking past a TV and it’s on, I have to stop and watch. I couldn’t pass up the chance to learn more about the events of D-Day.
Why I finished it: Bertail’s drawings use a grey-blue color amidst the black and white to great effect, recreating the chaos of the attack and underscoring the soldier’s misery from spending so much time, terrified, in cold water. Capa’s photos are a revelation after reading the graphic-novel treatment, so don’t skip ahead. The only other time I’ve experienced the true intensity of a photograph is when I turned the page in Spiegelman’s Maus to find a photo of his father, Vladek, whose story I’d been reading. In both cases, the images drive home the reality of the narratives.
Readalikes: There’s a huge fold-out in the first part of the book that gives an overwhelming, bird's-eye perspective of the Allied invasion of Omaha Beach. It’s filled with explosions, smoke, sand, and ships, and soldiers wading through it all. It reminded me of Joe Sacco’s The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme, a wordless, detailed panoramic illustration of a battle during which the British army lost more than 57,000 men.