Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's Time Once Again...

...for the Year in Review!

It's not as exciting as it should be.

My statistics this year were abysmal, and for no good reason other than that I succumbed to the siren song of the Internet far too often. (OK, there were also numerous adventures, and parties, and trips that kept me away from the keyboard.) Less web surfing is definitely in the plan for 2013. If I can't review 100 books a year, that's pretty sad. Of course, I also wrote a few dozen reviews over at Steve Barancik's Best Children's Books. I did not sell or publish any fiction except for what appears online at Raincoat Flashers (6 total, also my worse stats ever over there), and this should be addressed in 2013 as well.

The Internet has not defeated me! I shall master it yet!

Picture Books: 28
YA/mid-grade novels: 23
Adult novels: 9
Short story collections: 1
Fairy tale collections: 3
Poetry: 1
Graphic novels: 6
Nonfiction: 5
Memoir/biography: 1
Reference: 1
Unclassifiable: 1

Total books: 84

See you all next year :)

Goblin Secrets

Written by: William Alexander

First line: Rownie woke when Graba knocked on the ceiling from the other side.

Why you should read this book: The level of invention in this National Book Award winning fantasy novel for young readers is truly mind-boggling, to the point that a single read only provides a very general understanding of the rules of this world, with its magic-users, clockwork soldiers, and thespian goblins. Rownie lives in thrall to Graba, a dangerously cranky witch, mourning his older brother's disappearance, until the day he participates in a very illegal theatrical performance and begins to see new possibilities for his life. With the help of an illicit fox mask, along with a troupe of friendly Changed actors, Rownie begins to find a strength and courage he never imagined within himself, enough to stand up to Graba, her minions, the mayor, and even the unstoppable power of nature.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Some questions seem to remain unanswered; it almost feels like a segment of a much longer work.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Written by: Stephen Chbosky

First line: I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.

Why you should read this book: This wildly popular epistolary novel charts the course of outcast Charlie's freshman year of high school, during which he makes friends with a group of seniors; learns about girls, drugs, and participating; and begins to confront reality. Although Charlie is deeply sensitive, intelligent, and thoughtful, the reader is aware that there is also something intensely wrong with him; he's profoundly affected by the death of his aunt and one of his friends but has difficulty expressing his loss, and is no stranger to psychiatric hospitalization. Charlie's journey is one that must draw him out of his shell and into the truths he has hidden from himself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Trigger warning for sexual abuse, drug abuse, domestic violence, incest...the stuff that YA novels are made of, basically.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Written by: Anne Ursu

First line: It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric patterns.

Why you should read this book: It's a true modern fairy tale, drawing equally from Narnia and Hans Christian Andersen, referencing the Brothers Grimm and JK Rowling, bringing together many familiar themes and tropes, and turning them upside down. Hazel, adopted from India by white parents and still reeling from her father's abandonment of the family, can't seem to fit in, except through the graces of her best friend and next door neighbor Jack, a boy whose imagination matches hers and helps her embrace the magic in the world. After a bad encounter with a little speck of bad magic, Jack disappears in a most unusual fashion, and unless Hazel can go into the woods, solve its mysteries, and bring him back, he'll be lost forever.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your first instinct upon seeing a wolf would be to shoot it, and you'd rather forget your problems than confront them.

Maggie Forevermore

Written by: Joan Lowery Nixon

First line: Maggie Ledoux sat cross-legged below the Christmas tree and cradled a shimmering, hand-painted glass ornament.

Why you should read this book: Maggie's all set for to spend the best Christmas ever with her grandmother and her best friend, when her father, a Hollywood filmmaker, whisks her off to Malibu, very much against her will, to get to know her new stepmother, Kiki, a young starlet who's closer to Maggie's age than to her dad's. Now she's all set for the worst Christmas ever, except Kiki is actually pretty cool, and Maggie makes fast friends with a few child actors, and she's even got a new project: catching the horrible scam artist who's stolen her new friend's money pretending to be an agent. This book seems to be the third in a series about Maggie, but I've never seen the first two books.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Sort of a frothy, lightweight, 80s-style kids' pulp; probably not the author's best work.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Written by: Neal Stephenson

First line: Two tires fly.

Why you should read this book: An epic roller coaster ride, which bounces the reader back and forth between World War II and the early days of the Internet, North America and Asia, commerce and morality, it's a modern classic skirting the edges of speculative fiction: war story, jungle adventure, geek lore, and thriller, sewn together with the threads of cryptography and passion. With a vast cast of characters including geniuses, madmen, soldiers, and the strong, beautiful, intelligent women who draw them onward into achievement, this is the story of bricks of gold that have been hidden for decades, codes that have been encrypted and decrypted by experts, and the desires of humans for wealth, power, love, knowledge, and, sometimes, even higher callings. The writing is sharp and witty, humorous and esoteric, punctuated by language sophisticated to stimulate the mind of the most dedicated sesquipedalian while simultaneously being blue enough to shock your grandmother, a veritable treat for readers who love reading.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Incapable of comprehending complexity.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Flowers for Mariko

Written by: Rick Noguchi and Deneen Jenks

First line: Mariko had been waiting almost three years for this day, when she and her family were finally allowed to leave Camp.

Why you should read this book: The war is over and Japanese-American families are free to leave the internment camps where they have been imprisoned during the war, but most of them have nothing to go back to. Mariko's father, a gardener, finds that his truck has been stolen, and while he planted flowers and dreamed of the future in the Camp, now he does not even notice the work that Mariko has been doing, using the knowledge of plants the he imparted to her. Finally, her father is able to collect and repair enough broken tools to restart his gardening business, and recognizes how his daughter has inherited his legacy.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're out of work and don't have any skills to fall back on.

Inside Out and Back Again

Written by: Thanhha Lai

First line: Today is Tết, the first day of the lunar calendar.

Why you should read this book: With words selected for maximum impact, this novel in verse describes the journey of ten-year-old Hà: her life in Vietnam as war escalates, her last-minute escape from Saigon, and the new life she builds with her family in America. Chronicling a year, from early 1975 to 1976, this book shows desire, loss, fear, hope, and triumph through the eyes of a child struggling to understand the world around her. Based on the author's on experience and woven throughout with themes of loss, the story demonstrates how a new life can be built from what remains when it seems that there is nothing left.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like really long paragraphs.

One Crazy Summer

Written by: Rita Williams-Garcia

First line: Good thing the plane had seat belts and we'd been strapped in tight before takeoff.

Why you should read this book: It deserves all the awards and accolades that have been heaped upon it.  It's 1968 and eleven-year-old narrator, Delphine, along with her sisters, nine-year-old Vonetta and seven-year-old Fern, are being shipped from the protective arms of their father and grandmother in New York, to meet their crazy mother, Cecile who abandoned them to be a poet in Oakland, California. Cecile is far from their ideal of motherly love, and packs them off to a free day camp run by the Black Panthers, where they are about to learn all manner of things they never expected, and teach those around them a thing or two in the process.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Not a fan of intelligent, thought-provoking prose.

What to Do about Alice?

Written by: Barbara Kerley

Why you should read this book: A rollicking biography of Teddy Roosevelt's spitfire oldest daughter, the child of his first marriage, who is determined to eat up the world, sampling all its delights, and scandalizing proper society in the process. A tomboy, proto-feminist, free spirit, Alice serves as a successful ambassador, drives a car (fast) and travels the world. Eventually she marries and congressman and proves that she's not such a problem child after all.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want your kids jumping on your head and riding you like a pig.

Ruth and the Green Book

Written by: Calvin Alexander with Gwen Strauss

First line: It was a big day at our house when Daddy drove up in our very own automobile—a 1952 Buick.

Why you should read this book: A picture book for young children that illustrates the reality of Jim Crow laws and discrimination in the American south, with a little twist. Ruth's family has lived in Chicago for so long they've forgotten how racism might affect their mobility when they drive to Grandma's house in Alabama. For a while it seems like they'll have to make the whole trip without bathrooms or hotels, until a friendly Esso employee introduces them to the Green Book, a directory of services that don't discriminate against black people. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: Not a fan of civil rights. 

Summer Jackson: Grown Up

Written by: Teresa E. Harris

First line: My name is Summer Jackson and I'm tired of being seven.

Why you should read this book: A sassy second grader is tired of waiting for adult privileges and determines that she will become a grownup right now. In her mind it's easily accomplished by wearing high heels and sunglasses, carrying a briefcase and cell phone, and charging classmates for her consulting services. In order to save Summer from a life of boredom and ice cream-induces stomachaches (adults can eat as much ice cream as they want, right?) her parents had to remind her what's fun about being a kid.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Can't wait for the kids to grow up.