Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Another Year, Another Review

Better late than never! (Backdating this so it gets filed under 2013.) Yes! Here it comes! Dragon's Year in Review!

From a writing standpoint, it was a mixed bag. I did not submit enough, but I did win second place in the Tucson Weekly Erotic Fiction Contest and have a flash fiction forthcoming in Cheap Pop. I convinced two agents to look at one of my novels, one of whom passed with little commentary except to say that "the voice did not jibe" with him and there was no accounting for taste; he didn't like The New Yorker's taste in fiction either. The second still hasn't made up her mind. I've spent most of the year working on a monstrous novel, which is closing in on 800 pages and will need to be completely written when I reach the end.

My biggest coup was throwing caution to the wind and giving notice at my lucrative and reasonably reliable copywriting job. The real world was crushing me, and while I may starve, at least I shall starve as an artist. More news on that front is forthcoming.

Of course, I also got married; visited Death Valley, Sedona New York, LA, San Francisco, and Santa Fe, and took my mother-in-law on a 3-day road trip from Manhattan, Kansas to Tucson, Arizona that involved spending the night on a Mennonite farm in Oklahoma, visiting the Very Large Array in New Mexico, drinking margaritas in Albuquerque, and eating Pie in Pie Town; finally bought a beautiful wooden desk where I can work like a grown-up; organized all my nonfiction books by LOC designation, all my fiction books by the author's last name, and all my office supplies in such a way that I know exactly where everything is, but no one else can find it; made a not insignificant amount of art; read some good books, but not as many as I wanted to; and wrote some decent prose, but not as much as I wanted to.

In short, life happened. And now...

Dragon's 2013 Year in Review

Picture Books: 18
YA/Middle Grade Novels: 25
Adult novels: 12
Fairy Tale Collections: 1
Graphic Novels: 20
Nonfiction: 5
Memoir/Biography: 6
Plays: 1
Not Easily Categorized: 2

Total: 90

Could be better; could be worse. The intention for 2014 is to boost my number of reviews, both here and at Best Children's Books. Among other things.

Anyway, you know, keep reading. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Monster High

Written by: Lisi Harrison

First line: The fourteen-hour drive from Beverly Hills, California, to Salem, Oregon, had been total Gitmo.

Why you should read this book: Melody's parents force her to get a nose job, supposedly to help her asthma, but really because their family's only value is ageless beauty. Frankie's parents force her to wear wool pants suits and full bodied makeup because she has green skin and they want her to lead a normal life even though she's a monster they built in their home laboratory. A bunch of teenagers without enough personality to even pass as cliches roll woodenly around this nonsensical book, ostensibly worrying about clothes, boys, brand names, and identity, but in reality doing nothing more than selling plastic Mattel dolls with interchangeable body parts and outfits that would make a whore blush.

Why you shouldn't read this book: This is literally the worst book I have ever read. And I have read the entire Twilight series.

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: A Novel of War and Survival

Written by: Louise Murphy

First line: Caught between green earth and blue sky, only truth kept me sane, but now lies disturb my piece.

Why you should read this book: Set in the waning, starving, terror-filled days at the dragging end of World War II, in small village on the edge of a dark forest in Poland, this is the story of a Jewish family forced into hiding as they flee Nazi atrocities. Told to forsake their given names and pose as Christians, Hansel and Gretel survive by the grace of a kind-hearted outcast and her unusual family in a twist on the now-familiar hidden-child story, while their father and stepmother join the partisans and engage in guerrilla warfare with the Germans. Death and horror no longer lurk in the darkness but walk openly through the village and the forests, destroying without reason or thought.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Atrocity. More atrocity. Pain, suffering, and further atrocity. I get why it's important to read Holocaust narratives, but I will never, ever understand the appeal of Holocaust fiction. Nothing nice happens in this book, but it's got 297 pages of bad things that the author created and set loose into the world for some purpose.

The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Translated by: Jack Zipes

First line: Many are the fairy tales and myths that have been spread about the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm.

Why you should read this book: Considered by many to be the definitive translation, this scholarly edition includes the original 210 stories (Cinderella, Snow White, and so on) along with 40 stories previously unknown to English speakers. Includes a nice historical essay on the Brothers Grimm and their work, along with annotations about the tales' origins, and even a list of the original contributors with a little biographical information. Some stories also include 100-year-old illustrations commissioned for an early American volume of fairy tales.

Why you shouldn't read this book: As far as you're concerned, the definitive edition is always the one produced by the mouse.

Dancing in the Wings

Written by: Kadir Nelson

First line: My mom calls me Sassy, 'cause I like to put my hands on my hips and 'cause I always have something to say.

Why you should read this book: Taller than the other kids, with long legs and big feet, Sassy has always lived for ballet. Teased by smaller dancers, she worries that she'll always be too big for the boys to pick up and too tall to dance in a line with other girls, condemned to dance only in the wings. When given the opportunity to audition for a prestigious summer dance festival in the nation's capital, Sassy does everything in her power to stand out from the other dancers, but learns that it's unnecessary to do anything more than be herself and try her best.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You always work to fit in.

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses

Written by: Ian Falconer

First line: Olivia was depressed.

Why you should read this book: Precocious piglet Olivia is back with a grade-school existential crisis: if all little girls are princesses, then princesses can't be very special anymore, and Olivia's sole intention in life is to stand out and express her unique personality. Adults enjoy the snappy and intelligent writing, devoid of treacle, while kids appreciate Olivia's spunk and self-actualization. If you're raising your child to have a strong sense of agency, the Olivia books are a nice complement.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You prefer your children not to have any sense of agency; you've been dreaming a pink princess to spoil forever.

Zita the Spacegirl

Written by: Ben Hatke

First line: Finders keepers!

Why you should read this book: Exuberant child Zita pushes a red button she found in a meteorite crater and accidentally opens up a hole in space time, into which her friend Joseph is sucked. Filled with remorse, Zita follows Joseph to a strange, doomed world, populated by an endless array of space creatures, most of whom are desperate to leave before an asteroid destroys the place. Zita must navigate this unusual planet, sorting out friends and enemies, to rescue Joseph before they all die horrible, vaporized deaths in this adorable graphic novel for young readers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You would sacrifice your friends to save yourself.

The Princess and the Pig

Written by: Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene

First line: Not that long ago, in a kingdom not far from here, a farmer was traveling home from the market with a cartload of straw.

Why you should read this book: A lovely modern fairy tale in the fractured tradition, a princess and a pig accidentally switch places due to the queen’s utter negligence and lack of motherly sentiment, and those around them accept it as magic, because it’s the sort of thing that happens all the time in books. The princess grows up as a farmer’s daughters, beloved by her adopted family, while the pig remains a pig, albeit one dressed in gowns and wimples. When the princess discovers her true identity, she makes a good faith effort to rectify the misunderstanding.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Perhaps you lack the capacity to comprehend satire or appreciate ridiculousness.