Sunday, July 31, 2011

Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book 11: To Be a King

Written by: Kathryn Lasky

First line: It matters not who I am, only that I tell the rest of the tale...

Why you should read this book: Hoole brings his followers to the Great Ga'Hoole tree and begins to lay the foundations of his utopian, egalitarian society, knowing that an epic battle with the hagsfiends is imminent. While he and his friends travel north and south, gathering skilled workers, laying out a spy network, and preparing for war, a particularly evil, intelligent, and Machiavellian hagsfiend called Kreeth uses her magic to create a magical hagsfiend baby who can shapeshift into the form of any kind of owl. The three-novel story arc recounting the ancient legends is completed with a satisfying confrontation, and resolved in the present-day frame as the main characters learn the lessons of the books.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You always prayed for a baby, and when your wish came true, you didn't like the looks of the kid.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book 10: The Coming of Hoole

Written by: Kathryn Lasky

First line: Octavia, the pudgy, elderly, blind nest-maid snake, slithered out onto the branch outside her old master's hollow.

Why you should read this book: Coryn and Soren, now accompanied by all their friends in the Chaw of Chaws, continue reading from the secret, ancient books found in their old mentor's chambers, and continue to learn about the time of legends and magic. Little Hoole, the noble child of Queen Siv and King H'rath, hatches out, to be raised in isolation by Grank, the first collier, and Theo, the first blacksmith, so that his existence remains a secret from all the hagsfiends who would use him to further their own dark intentions. With murder, intrigue, bravery, subterfuge, the tale unfolds as many owls, wolves, and polar bears work to ensure the little owl grows into the king his people need to overcome the evil that has infested their world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You had to give your child up to be raised by another, for his own protection.

Friday, July 29, 2011


Written by: Sasha Paley

First line: "Faster, faster!" Wil Hopkins's trainer, Heather, yelled over the sound of crashing waves.

Why you should read this book: Wil is a spoiled, angry rich kid whose parents made their fortune with a fitness empire, and she's determined to gain weight this summer, to spite them for being ashamed of her and sending her to fat camp. April is a poor, popularity-obsessed girl who saved her money for over a year to afford admission to the same exclusive camp and avoid the influence of her fast-food loving, Rascal-riding, type-II diabetic mother. While Wil and April seem to have nothing in common, a summer of forced closeness, of triumphs and humiliation, punishment and reward, might teach them how to relate to themselves and others in healthy ways.

Why you shouldn't read this book: This might be the first time in the history of video that someone made a TV adaptation this vastly superior to the book. While the show was intelligent and nuanced with developed realistic characters and conflicts, this book is superficial teen lit in which everyone is one-dimensional. Then again, they cancelled the show.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Once upon a River

Written by: Bonnie Jo Campbell

First line: The Stark River flowed around the oxbow at Murrayville the way blood flowed through Margo Crane's heart.

Why you should read this book: Fans of Campbell's will recognize how this novel builds upon material from all of her previous books, while creating a rich and landscape and full-bodied characters that stand alone in a powerful narrative about one girl's quest "to figure out how to live." Margo Crane is an achingly beautiful teen, slow to speak, a deadly shot with a rifle, born and raised on the river, and in love with the old ways: self-sufficiency and simple living. Her quest will catapult her from her family home, through the arms of men good and bad, around the moral quandaries of life and death, and up and downstream, until she chooses for herself the path of the heroine in a story that very nearly defines the phrase, "Great American Novel."

Why you shouldn't read this book: Some sexual and physical violence may be disturbing to sensitive readers.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book 9: The First Collier

Written by: Kathryn Lasky

First line: Call me Grank.

Why you should read this book: Lasky takes a fresh look at her popular series, using the familiar characters only as a frame for the first part of the story of Grank, the first collier, who tells his tale in first person from the pages of an ancient manuscript. In times long past, dark magic threatens owls across the north lands, but especially the Queen Siv and her unhatched egg, the future King Hoole. Many of the legends and language from earlier in the series are explored in detail in another fast-paced adventure, brimming over with supernatural effects and brave deeds.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're pregnant.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where Clouds Are Formed

Written by: Ofelia Zepeda

First line: Every day it is the same.

Why you should read this book: A lovely and refreshing collection of poetry focuses on the land around Tucson, the experience of a Tohono O'odham woman moving through her landscape, and a love of water, dirt, clouds, and stars. The language is evocative, transporting the reader to a desert world where life is abundant for those who know how to see it and science, culture, history, language, and place intersect in a wonderful web. A triumphant and powerful statement set firmly in time and space.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's almost too short: you've only just begun to savor the flavors of the poet's world when the book is over.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader

Edited by: Haun Saussy

First line: People sometimes refer to Paul Edward Farmer, MD, born in 1959, as a hero, saint, madman, or genius.

Why you should read this book: This collection of scholarly essays, spanning a period of more than two decades, collects some of medical anthropologist Dr. Farmer's powerful research on the intersection of poverty, gender, ethics, and healthcare. Based mostly in Haiti, but covering the entire world, with implications for everyone, he discusses infectious disease, particularly AIDS and tuberculosis, and they way in which the modern medical model fails those who need the most help. From "stupid" (easily preventable) deaths, to child prostitution, violence, and the objectification of the poor, resulting in prejudicial attitudes that poverty must be an impediment to healthcare, this book dissects the false beliefs, negated by Farmer's actual success, that have allowed wealthy nations to set aside their responsibility to others.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Although Farmer writes with a quiet wit, this is a rather dense scholarly work and may not be easy for some readers to get through.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

In Pieces

Written by: KJ Kabza

First line: The first thing Jesper noticed was her parasol, twirling like a ghostly pinwheel beyond the branches and webs.

Why you should read this book: In the fantasy worlds of KJ Kabza, sometimes the ghost saves you, and sometimes you save the ghost; the hero's epic quest is no match for true love, and the holiness of angels is no match for true lust. From the clones of JK Rowling and CS Lewis in the distant future to the shades of Charon and Sisyphus in the mythic past, this collection of previously published short stories offers fresh perspectives on speculative themes and characters you may have seen before, but never quite in this light. When the scientist smashes his time machine after a safe and successful trip to the future, the superhero claims a "guilt-free, socially sanctioned excuse to break shit," after posting his arch-enemy's homemade fetish tapes to YouTube, and small purple dragons live in the bathtub drain and eat soap, you know you've left the mundane world and entered into the author's truly surprising imagination.

Why you shouldn't read this book: In the interest of full disclosure, I am biased toward this book, in no small part because the dedication reads, "For Monica Friedman, who knows it all," and the acknowledgements thank me "for a lifetime of being awesome."

This book is available exclusively on Smashwords: Buy it here.

The Land of the Painted Caves

Written by: Jean M. Auel

First line: The band of travelers walked along the path between the clear sparkling water of Grass River and the black-streaked white limestone cliff, following the trail that paralleled the right bank.

Why you should read this book: If you read the first five novels in the Earth's Children series and are dying to know what happens to Ayla and Jondalar, that would be a decent recent to pick up this monstrosity. If you are interested in reading pages and pages of detailed descriptions of prehistoric cave paintings (which go on for so long that even the main character, whose joie de vivre helps her feel excitement for pretty much everything in the world, admits that she is bored of cave paintings) or willing to slog through hundreds of pages of repetitious exposition with little action, conflict, or character development to learn one researcher's opinion on the ephemera of prehistoric religion, those would also be reasons to tackle this tome. I cannot think of another reason why anyone would want to read this book, which is badly in need of editing and lacks most of the graphic sex scenes, emotional turmoil, and ancient innovation that made the previous novels so delightful.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you cut out every passage that summed up plots or relationships detailed in the previous five books or earlier in this one, it would be about fifty percent shorter. If you also cut out the tedious greetings, various characters' impressions of the protagonist's accent, dull hunting scenes, long-winded explanations of climate, flora, and fauna that has been explained in the other books, and the description of all the painted caves, you'd be left with a book that was about eighty-five percent shorter and reasonably interesting, although still mostly predictable and really poorly written.