Thursday, May 31, 2007

Need something reviewed on an obscure (semi) literary blog?

I just received a box of free books from Simon and Schuster publicist extraordinaire, Andrea Bussell. This website is finally paying off! Please show your appreciation by checking out the excellent and well-rounded list on Simon and Schuster's website and keep visiting Dragon's library to get the short, sweet firsthand dirt on the following Simon and Schuster titles:

Beware of God
Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
Deadly Feasts
No More Bull
Running for the Hills

In unrelated news, why are ampersands verboten on blogspot?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie

Author: Gail Saltz, MD

First line: A woman in the doctor's waiting room natters on about the weather, oblivious to the fact that no one's really listening.

Why you should read this book: A lightweight and somewhat exhibitionistic overview of the lies people tell themselves and those around them. Case studies of typical liars--tax cheats, shoplifters, alcoholics--are interspersed with historical accounts of famous people who led double, triple, even quadruple lives. The psychology here seems somewhat superficial and perhaps too easy, but it's a good volume for someone with no psychological background whose life has been recently upended by the revelation or suspicious of a dark secret.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You never lie. Or, at least, that's what you want yourself to think.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Letters from Rifka

Author: Karen Hesse

First line: My Dear Cousin Tovah, We made it! If it had not been for your father, though, I think my family would all be dead now: Mama, Papa, Nathan, Saul, and me.

Why you should read this book: When Rifka's brothers defy the orders of the Russian army, the entire family flees to America, but illness pursues them across Europe, and Rifka is denied passage on the ship. While the rest of her family travels across the Atlantic, Rifka stays behind, healing, and writing secret letters to her cousin in the margins of a book. Based on the real-life experiences of the author's great-aunt, this immigration tale won the National Jewish Book Award.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Reading about ringworm and Cossacks makes you itchy.


Author: Anne McCaffrey

First line: When Menolly, daughter of Yanus Sea Holder, arrived at the Harper Craft Hall, she came in style, aboard a bronze dragon.

Why you should read this book: The second book of the Harper Hall trilogy relates the first week of Menolly's new life in a place where her love of music might finally be understood. Catty girls, misogynistic teachers, and prejudice against her nine fire lizards all threaten her composure, but she finds her own allies and her own place among the men who control the flow of information on her home planet. An endearing novel that stands alone as well as it fits into McCaffrey's Pern mythos.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe girls can be harpers.


Author: Stephen King

First line: News item from the Westover (Me.) weekly Enterprise, August 19, 1966: RAIN OF STONES REPORTED

Why you should read this book: It's King's first published novel, and, coincidentally or not, it's still one of his best. One reason is that it's compact: essentially the story of two incidents along with their aftermath, some backstory and, a good amount of supplemental information cleverly disguised as personal letters, newspaper articles, government reports, &c. The story of retribution for intense adolescent abuse takes on new meaning in the post-Columbine era.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your neighbors scare you. A lot.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Magical Kids

Author: Sally Gardner

First line: Josie could do many tricks.

Why you should read this book: Two chapter books in one; when you finish the first story, you have to flip the book over to read the second. In "The Strongest Girl in the World," Josie Jenkins develops an amazing talent, only to be exploited by an unscrupulous American promoter. In "The Invisible Boy," poor Sam must contend simultaneously with his parents being lost in space, an evil babysitter, a small alien, and the mixed blessing of invisibility.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's a little fluffy and precious; you may not enjoy it if you're over the age of 12.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Earth Mother

Author: Ellen Jackson

Quote: "If there were more mosquitoes and no men, this world would be perfect."

Why you should read this book: Accompanied by sumptuous, art nouveau-esque illustrations, this folktale shows Earth Mother making the world perfect, but not everyone sees her perspective: Man wants more frogs and no mosquitoes; Frog wants more mosquitoes and no men. Just guess what Mosquito thinks it would take to make the world perfect. A beautiful myth, which can help kids understand both cultural relativism as well as global balance.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're still fighting for man's unquestioned dominion over the Earth, and can't wrap your mind around depictions of a black, female diety or a planet that's perfectly structured without human interference.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Path of the World's Most Precious Stones

Author: Greg Campbell

First line: Ismael Dalramy lost his hands in 1996 with two quick blows of an ax.

Why you should read this book: The devastation of civil war in West Africa, corruption, starvation, terror, kidnapping, mutilation, and bloodshed, is monumental globally, yet long ignored by the outside world. Campbell's odyssey into the heart of Sierra Leone's anarchy, executed by disenfranchised children with machine guns and funded by conflict diamonds, carries the story of financial greed to its logical conclusion. The history of DeBeers, the machinations of military coups, and the connection between Osama Bin Laden and hijacked diamond wealth come together in an exciting and detailed account of the wormy roots and gnarled branches of the diamond industry.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're sitting on a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and you've already heard the entire story firsthand.

As You Like It

Author: William Shakespeare

Quote: Love is merely a madness and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punished and cured is that lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too.

Why you should read this book: A sexy, saucy, bucolic romp through the forest of Arden, full of wordplay, cross-dressing, innuendo, and misdirection. When Rosiland's treacherous, usurping uncle banishes her from court, she and her faithful cousin Celia take on assumed disguises and hide out in the forest with their fool, Touchstone. The political situation is severe--Rosiland's father and lover are hiding in the forest too--and the merry Rosiland has fun with everyone in this gender-bending role.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You take biblical commands against women wearing the garb of men very seriously.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mud City

Author: Deborah Ellis

Quote: When people passed by they ignored her, or stared down at her. Sometimes they dropped trash on her. She told herself it was because they didn't see her. The more it happened though, the harder that was to believe.

Why you should read this book: The final book of Ellis's Breadwinner trilogy finds Parvana's friend Shauzia in a refugee camp in Pakistan, dreaming of finding peace in the lavender fields of France. In a country overrun with displaced persons, she fights for survival and tries to remember a time when she wasn't starving. Sad and strong, with a message of determination in the face of despair.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to know about real human misery.

Parvana's Journey

Author: Deborah Ellis

First line: A man Parvana didn't know gave one final pat to the dirt mounded up over her father's grave.

Why you should read this book: The sequel to The Breadwinner, this is a bleak and accurate portrayal of the human cost of conflict, which won the Jane Addams Children's Book Award as well as the Canada Council Governor General's Literary Award. Parvana, still disguised as a boy, but utterly alone in the world, wanders the Afghani countryside, eventually collecting a family of orphans more disadvantaged than herself. Landmines, war planes, and starvation figure prominently in a potent story that tears at the heart and, in the interest of realism, offers little in the way of a happy ending.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to spend the afternoon immersed in the very depths of man's inhumanity to man.

The Breadwinner

Author: Deborah Ellis

First line: "I can read that letter as well as Father can," Parvana whispered into the folds of her chador.

Why you should read this book: In prose both simple and piercing, Ellis tells the story of 11-year-old Parvana, living in Kabul under the Taliban regime. When her father is arrested without explanation, it is up to Parvana to cut her hair, dress like a boy, and go to work in the marketplace to support her family. Brutally apt descriptions of the necessities of survival make this a powerful work for children and adults.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Scenes of grave-robbery, hand-chopping, and unwarranted beatings may be difficult for sensitive readers.

Monday, May 7, 2007

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Author: William Shakespeare

Quote: Lord, what fools these mortals be.

Why you should read this book: Arguably the Bard's most popular play, A Midsummer Night's Dream interweaves a huge cast of characters, including fairies, lovers, laborers, and royalty, transforming potential tragedy into dramatic comedy. When a Hermia's father tries to force her into an arranged marriage, she and Lysander flee into the forest, where the nocturnal activities of mortal and supernatural clowns intersect. Transformations abound, and all characters come out (to various degrees) wiser for the confusion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Barring high school freshmen who would rather watch MTV than do their homework, it's hard to imagine the kind of person who wouldn't enjoy this play.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Author: Mary Roach

First line: The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship.

Why you should read this book: If you've ever wondered what really happens to those who dedicate their remains to science, this book is for you. If your curiosity is piqued at the mention of grave robbery, medical cannibalism, or human composting, this book is for you. If death seems a lot sillier than it is morbid, or if you think corpses have more potential than they let on, this book is for you.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you are scandalized by the notion of a humorous and factual non-fiction book absolutely littered with corpses, this book is not for you.

Read my full length review at In the Weird!

Thursday, May 3, 2007


Author: William Shakespeare

Quote: What's the matter, you dissentious rogues That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion, Make yourselves scabs?

Why you should read this book: Coriolanus is a fearless warrior on the battlefield, and an uptight snob at home; maybe it's his mother's fault for raising him that way, or maybe it's his wife's fault for not voicing her opinions, or maybe people don't understand him, or maybe he's just a jerk. When his attitude turns enough of his countrymen against him, Coriolanus decides his greatest enemy is the only honorable man he knows, and joins the other side to make war on his own people. One of Shakespeare's more hopeless tragedies, Coriolanus tells the story of what happens to men who honor valor over love, take themselves way too seriously, and betray everyone with misguided efforts to stay true to themselves.

Why you shouldn't read this book: While it's a very tight and focused play, with some great battles, this book is just not a lot of fun.

Bubba and Beau Meet the Relatives

Author: Kathi Appelt

First line: "The relatives are coming!" cried Mama Pearl

Why you should read this book: When Mama Pearl and Big Bubba go on a cooking and cleaning spree in preparation for an impromptu family reunion, Little Bubba and his hound-puppy Beau head straight for the mudhole. It's an exuberant slice of the simple life, and a recipe for making big problems small. Rollicking good fun, especially for reading out loud.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You see nothing at all funny about rednecks and you're offended by a story set in "Bubbaville."

Rachel the Clever and Other Jewish Folktales

Author: Josepha Sherman

First line: Once upon a time, a poor man and his young son, Dov, went to the sultan's city to beg.

Why you should read this book: This collection joins stories from diverse sources--the oral tradition in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, as well as the Talmud--united with Yiddishkeit. Some of the tales are well-known to people of all traditions, but retold with a Jewish flair, while others are endemic to the Semitic knowledge base. They are all short, clever, and entertaining.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you're well-versed in folklore, and especially if you've read Howard Schwartz or other Jewish fairy tale collections, you've probably come across most of these stories before.