Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2016 Review

This was a weird year, similar to last year's weirdness, but not identical. Looking back, I feel like I did very little serious reading. I also did not write a novel, although I did write and illustrate hundreds of webcomics and blog posts, and publishe numerous articles on Panels.net. Writing for panels explains why I read so many graphic novels this year, but I'm still disappointed because I obviously spent a lot more time screwing around on the Internet than was strictly necessary, and very little time actually reading.

Pretty sure I'll write a novel next year, though.

My stats, FWIW:

Picture books: 31
Middle/YA novels: 12
Graphic novels/comics: 37
Non-fiction: 4
Novels: 1
Short story collections: 2
Memoir: 1
Poetry: 1

I'm retraining my mind to not depend on the Internet by learning to play the ukulele and folding 1000 paper cranes. (So far I have folded 234 paper cranes and I can play Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" very slowly without looking at the tabs, and a few other songs very slowly with looking at the tabs.) I'm giving myself permission to do things I'm not good at, but I'm also ready to get back into some big projects. I just have to figure out how to balance all the things I want to do with the number of spoons that are available to me as a person with a chronic disability and a lot of domestic responsibilities.

If you're reading this and you're not reading my art blog, I'd like to know why.

The Iron Trial

Written by: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

First line: From a distance, the man struggling up the white face of the glacier might have looked like an ant crawling slowly up the side of a dinner plate.

Why you should read this book: On the one hand, there's a lot about this story that makes it feel like someone threw a copy of Harry Potter into a blender, randomly reassembled the pieces, and set the action in America. On the other hand, it's sufficiently fresh as to not give away all its secrets too quickly, so there are still some surprises even though it's about two boys and a girl at a school for magic, and the girl is very studious and one of the boys is the chosen one and there's a lot of noise about an enemy whose name people don't like to say and the kids constantly break the rules and get away with it in their quest to figure out all the things adults don't want to tell them. I read this with my stepdaughter for school and she found it very exciting.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Holly Black has written so many more original stories.

Adventures for a Lazy Afternoon

Written by: Travis Hanson

First line: Ever since I was a little kid, I have believed in the power of imagination.

Why you should read this book: I adore the fantasy artwork of Travis Hanson, and this book pairs dozens of imaginative illustrations of kids with dragons, dinosaurs, treasures, and more, with Hanson's advice for leading a creative life. It's both inspirational as well as beautiful, and can be enjoyed on several levels, whether or not you're interested in living the creative life. Great for dreamers young and old.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe in the power of imagination.

As far as I can tell, this book is only available directly from the artist.

Young Larry

Written by: Daniel Pinkwater

First line: Larry lived on the shore of Baffin Bay with his mother, and his brother, Roy.

Why you should read this book: Here is the origin of a polar bear named Larry, who loves muffins and doesn't eat human beings because he heard they don't taste good. There are many Larry books, but this is the only one that explains his origins. Very silly, very enjoyable.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You would fire a good employee because you suddenly realized he was the wrong species.

The Skunk

Written by: Mac Barnett

First line: When I left my house, there was a skunk on my doorstep.

Why you should read this book: What would you do if a mysterious skunk starting following you around? One well-dressed, milquetoast fellow goes to great lengths to avoid his new companion, only to find that skunks grown in him. With delightful illustrations by Patrick McDonnell, of the syndicated comic Mutts, it's a crowd-pleasing, light-hearted bit of silliness.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You would reach for a gun if you felt threatened by an animal.

Children Make Terrible Pets

Written by: Peter Brown

First line: One morning, Lucy was practicing her twirls when she noticed she was being watched.

Why you should read this book: A bear in a tutu attempts to adopt a human child, despite her mother's misgivings. Although the boy is, at times, delightful, he resists Lucy's attempts to train him, and eventually Lucy realizes that he belongs in his own world. Short, sweet, tongue-in-cheek, of great appeal to little kids.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like to take small animals from the wild for your own selfish purposes.

Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel

Written by: Megan Morrison

First line: Rapunzel tossed the book out of the bathtub.

Why you should read this book: In this clever re-imagining of the old fairy tale, Rapunzel's Stockholm Syndrome runs deep, but she leaves her tower because she believes it's the only way keep her witch safe. Along with Jack (he of beanstalk-climbing fame), she visits the fairies and then undertakes a long and arduous journey, constantly weighed down by her hair and her own mixed-up expectations. I enjoyed this book much more than I expect to; it's a smart, fun romp through a fantasy world that takes itself just seriously enough.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd do anything for eternal youth and beauty.

Pennyroyal Academy

Written by: M.A. Larson

First line: If I'm still in this forest by nightfall, I'll never leave it again.

Why you should read this book: Evie doesn't know her real name, and she can't tell anyone about her past, but she's determined to make it through Pennyroyal academy and become a real princess, trained to use love to combat evil, fighting off the witches that threaten the land. Training with a fairy drillsergeant and bunch of snooty, titled royalty isn't easy, but Evie is highly motivated. There's plenty of fantasy action in a book that is, most likely, the first of a trilogy.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a witch and you don't care for negative depictions of your cultural heritage.

Lumberjanes 1: Beware the Kitten Holy

Written by: Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis

First line: Mal, Molly, what in the Joan Jett are you doing?

Why you should read this book: There are strange goings-on in the woods around Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpter's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types, and five friends are determined to get to the bottom of things, even if it means breaking every camp rule and meeting a bunch of weird monsters. I picked this book up because people were raving about it, and I thought it was cute, but my almost completely non-reading stepdaughter loved it. No joke: this kid has NEVER voluntarily read any kind of book, but she picked this one up, devoured it, and said, "I hope they make more," so if you're looking to get a little girl excited about reading, this is the way to go.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Rabid anti-feminism.

Yoko Learns to Read

Written by: Rosemary Wells

First line: Yoko and her mama loved to read their three books from Japan.

Why you should read this book: Japanese-American kitty cat Yoko's teacher rewards students for every new book that they read, but in Yoko's house there are only three books for children, and they're all in Japanese. To keep up with her classmates, Yoko must venture to the library and learn to recognize individual words. Of course, Yoko soon learns to read well enough that she can help her mother learn to read in English as well.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Brainwashed by anti-immigration rhetoric.

The Egypt Game

Written by: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

First line: Not long ago in a large university town in California, on a street called Orchard Avenue, a strange old man ran a dusty, shabby store.

Why you should read this book: I remember this book from my childhood, and it withstood the test of time: when April Hall's mother sends her away from Hollywood to live with her grandmother, she brings an air of painted glamour to her newfound friendship with neighbor Melanie, and the two girls invent a magical game involving the ancient gods of Egypt in an unused yard. Soon there are a half-dozen kids involved in the work of creating altars and costumes and rituals and hieroglyphic alphabets, until the day tragedy strikes the neighborhood and none of the kids are allowed to play outside anymore. But there and mysteries to explore in Egypt, and April refuses to give up the allure of serving as a priestess to the gods.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Kids making up their own religions and worshiping foreign gods is just too much blasphemy for you.

Doll Bones

Written by: Holly Black

First line: Poppy set down one of the mermaid dolls close to the stretch of asphalt road that represented the Blackest Sea.

Why you should read this book: It's a simple, but rather thrilling story, part thriller, part murder mystery, part road story, and all about that age when boys and girls start thinking about growing up. Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been playing make-believe together for a long time, but when Zach's father pushes him to quit, Poppy will do anything to get him back in the club, including taking her mother's mysterious, forbidden, and apparently haunted doll out of the cabinet. Now they're either being haunted by the ghost of a Victorian girl, or the victim of Poppy's imagination, and either way, they'll be going a very long way to free themselves from the past.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You would do anything to keep the remains of your loved ones nearby.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Lumberjanes 1: Beware the Kitten Holy

Written by: Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis

First line: Mal, Molly, what the Joan Jett are you doing?

Why you should read this book: As our tale opens on this popular graphic series, five friends have sneaked out of the cabin at their overnight camp in the middle of the night, and spooky things are happening. There are weird three-eyed foxes to fight and mysterious messages in anagram, and their counselor doesn't believe them, but the camp director might. It's girl power all the way as the Lumberjanes investigate the strange goings-on around there, using all their scouting knowledge to defeat monsters and solve problems.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It always bothered you that Harry Potter never got busted for sneaking around in the middle of the night.

When No One Is Watching

Written by: Eileen Spinelli

First line: When no one is watching, I dance.

Why you should read this book: In a poetic voice, a little girl illustrates how her shyness is situation-dependent. When alone, she is fearless, but among others, she shrinks away. However, in the company of her one special friend, she can be herself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're an extreme extravert.

A Year with Marmalade

Written by: Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie

First line: Ella and Maddy were best friends.

Why you should read this book: When Maddy's family goes away for a year, Ella has to take care of her cat, Marmalade. Ella and Marmalade are both heartbroken by their loss, but gradually they warm up to each other. Time passes, and the three friends are soon reunited.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't get cats.

How the Library: (NOT the Prince) Saved Rapunzel

Written by: Wendy Maddour and Rececca Ashdown

First line: On the sixteenth floor of a tall tower block sat Rapunzel, quite idle, whilst growing her locks

Why you should read this book: Reimagined in an urban setting, Rapunzel is not held captive by a witch, but by her own sense of inertia. Although various neighborhood folks attempt to get her out of her own head, she refuses them all, including the prince. When her aunt finally stages in intervention, it turns out that Rapunzel has somehow been offered a job, which is all she needs to turn her life around.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're unemployed and getting frustrated.

I Am Princess X

Written by: Cherie Priest

First line: Libbie Deaton and May Harper invented Princess X in fifth grade, when Libby's leg was in a cast, and May had a doctor's not saying she couldn't run around the track anymore because her asthma would totally kill her.

Why you should read this book: In a really fast paced thriller, May Harper never fully accepted the death of her best friend, Libbie, even though she went to Libbie's funeral years ago. When she starts to see images of their character, Princess X, all over town and the Internet, she's convinced that Libbie is in trouble, in hiding, and desperately trying to send her a message. With the help of a disgraced computer hacker called Trick, May follows the clues left in a webcomic and races against time and a dangerous interloper they call the Needle Man in an effort to learn what really happened to her best friend.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your child is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Number the Stars

Written by: Lois Lowry

First line: "I'll race you to the corner, Ellen!"

Why you should read this book: Annemarie, like all the people she knows in Denmark, loves her family, her king, and her neighbors, especially her best friend, Ellen, with whom she does everything. Even though the Nazis have invades their country, the two girls and their families do their best to continue their lives uninterrupted, until the day that they learn that the Nazis will be sending all Jews somewhere else. Now Annemarie and her entire family are willing to risk their own lives to help the people they love stay safe.

Why you shouldn't read this book: This is one of those books that you don't get a pass on unless you are actually a Nazi, in which case you presumably don't understand literature anyway.

Alex + Ada (volumes 1-13)

Written by: Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn

First line: Alex...Time to wake up.

Why you should read this book: There's a lot to love in the fast-paced story of a young man who is initially disgusted to learn that his grandmother has taken a sexbot for a lover, and then even more disgusted when he learns that she has bought him one for his birthday. In this near-future world, sentience in robots has been outlawed following an unfortunate incident in which an AI responded violently to its condition, but Alex gradually comes to feel sorry for his new companion's lack of free will. His decision to pursue another kind of life for Ada puts them both on the wrong side of the law but opens up a new understanding of consciousness.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The concept of robot sentience and sex bots flies in the face of all that is good and holy to you.

The Sandman XI: Endless Nights

Written by: Neil Gaiman

First line:  Here, where the darkness closes over me, like canal-water or the grave, I tell this story.

Why you should read this book: Even though book X tied up the story about Dream, there are still more stories to tell about the Endless, in this case, one for each sibling. Death's story takes a "Masque of the Red Death" turn with a Count who seeks to escape Death by removing himself from time; each tale has a powerful kernel of truth about the human condition. If you can't get enough Sandman, then here's some more Sandman.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like things to wrap up already.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Sandman Volume X: The Wake

First line: And it came to pass that a message was sent out to each member of the family.

Why you should read this book: It takes an entire volume to tie up all the filaments in this denouement, in which all remaining characters cope with the losses of the previous book. It's a testament to the power of the series that, even after the story is over, there is more story to tell. Endless stories, one might say.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You hate goodbyes.

The Sandman Volume IX: The Kindly Ones


First line: There’s a dream in which huge faceless women with wolves astride them are chewing at my entrails and legs. 

Why you should read this book: Countless threads come together in this fast-paced volume, which is much thicker than the others, and carries the combined impact of them all. Mistakes have been made, and consequences will be faced; everything changes. Books like these force the reader to confront how close we can actually feel to fictional characters. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: Sadness. 

The Sandman Volume VIII: World’s End

First line: Looking back on it, the thing that still surprises me is my own reaction to it all.

Why you should read this book: There’s a Canterbury Tales type frame story that involves a massive reality storm, one which strands hundreds of travelers from all different times and places in a cozy inn, the only place they can take shelter until the storm passes. While there, the travelers, some of whom we’ve met in other volumes, are all compelled to tell their own story, and, as the book progresses, we see that all the stories concern death in their own way. Finally, the climax, in the form of a gigantic piece of foreshadowing, frees the travelers to continue their journeys.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Easily the goriest part of the series. 

The Sandman Volume VII: Brief Lives


First line: It is, of course, a miracle.

Why you should read this book: Delirium really, really, really wants to seek out their prodigal brother, Destruction, and Dream really, really, really doesn’t know how to deal with failed relationships, so he agrees to go with her. They travel together through the mortal realm, trying to track him down, and have all kinds of fantastic adventures. Eventually, Dream needs to get out of his own head start thinking about how other people feel for once in his life.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You have ever been troubled by illusory insects.

The Sandman Volume VI: Fables and Reflections

First line: It was getting late, and I was losing it fast.

Why you should read this book: It’s another collection of one-shots, many of which deal with historical incidents in which Dream’s interference in the mortal realm affected the course of human history. There’s also some nice development of the family drama along with some bits and pieces that demonstrate Dream’s interaction with and affect on ordinary citizens. Here and there, recurring characters and their important come a bit more into focus.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You were happy about the lack of Greek mythology in book four.

The Sandman Volume V: A Game of You

First line: What will we do, Prinado?

Why you should read this book: It turns out that a minor character from volume two is a major player in backwater corner of the Dreaming, but she’s been unable to return since Dream destroyed the Vortex. Barbie’s waking life and her dream world are in utter turmoil in her absence from her distant skerry, but her return might not improve either situation. It’s all very classically adventurous, plus you get a really fun sequence where a witch nails a dead guy’s face to a wall and makes it reveal its secrets.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: The thing with the dead guy’s face is kind of gross. 

The Sandman Volume IV: Season of Mists


First line: Walk any path in Destiny’s garden, and you will be forced to choose, not once but many times.

Why you should read this book: For myriad reasons, primarily that he has a terrible job in a terrible location, Lucifer decides to quit, kicking all the demons and damned souls out of Hell and locking the door. As his final blow, he chooses to leave Dream the key to the gates, basically to punish him for making him look stupid in volume one. Now the dead are walking the earth, everybody and his mom wants that key, and Dream can’t enjoy a moment’s solitude until he figures out who’s getting Hell, who’s getting redemption, and who’s getting revenge.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re disappointed that the Greek gods didn’t show up. 

The Sandman Volume III: Dream Country

First line: So, what is it?

Why you should read this book: This is a shorter volume, comprising four stand alone stories in the Sandman universe, two of which figure to varying extents later in the series. “Calliope” is the tale of a kidnapped muse, “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” is entirely about what cats want, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” offers a nice spin on an old classic, and “Façade” is a Death story that wonders what becomes of invulnerable superheroes who are just done with life. Satisfying tales that reframe the real world and the comic book one.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You crave continuous arcs. 

The Sandman Volume II: The Doll’s House


First line: There are tales that are told many times.

Why you should read this book: We meet more of Dream’s extended family, including his sister-brother Desire, whose machinations form a complicated and irritating tapestry. Dream, chasing after a couple nightmares who escaped from the Dreaming during his absence, finds himself embroiled in another conundrum that could result in the death of an innocent girl. There’s also a nice bit about a convention of serial killers; a character who becomes immortal just by deciding not to die; a fairy tale; a drag queen; and a kid who has a ghost, a pregnant woman, and two nightmares living in his head.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re sick and tired of your siblings meddling in your affairs. 

The Sandman Volume I: Preludes and Nocturnes


Written by: Neil Gaiman

First line: Wake up, sir.

Why you should read this book: Volume one in one of the best fantasy stories to be told in any medium introduces the Sandman, Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, who has been imprisoned in the mortal realm for seventy years. That’s OK; Dream has all the time in the world to wait for his revenge, which is swift and satisfying when it comes. He spends the rest of the story cleaning up all the catastrophes that took place in his absence, and, as a bonus, we get two pages featuring Martian Manhunter. 

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t care to become immersed in one of the best fantasy stories to be told in any medium.

The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History

Written by: Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple

First line: When I grow up I was to be a detective, just like my dad.

Why you should read this book: A little girl explains the known details of the historical case of the ghost ship Mary Celeste, which left New York on November 5, 1872 and was discovered abandoned in the middle of the Atlantic ocean a month later. With no signs of mutiny, piracy, or disease, the disappearance of the entire crew remains a great nautical mystery. This book sets the case up so that it is accessible to young readers, with vocabulary words on the page and theories stated factually, along with criticism.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re not going to say it was aliens, but it was aliens.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Written by: Rebecca Skloot

First line: There's a photo on my wall of a woman I've never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape.

Why you should read this book: It's mind-bogglingly good, an interdisciplinary work that melds science, psychology, history, ethics, journalism and a bunch of other guiding principles and somehow reads like a thriller, a page-turning story that makes you desperate to find out what happens to a wide cast of characters. Henrietta Lacks, a poor, uneducated black woman with 5 children, died of a really brutal form of cancer, cells of which were harvested from her body without her consent, and subsequently proved to be immortal and became the basis of most research in eradicating human disease. Many scientific advances were made based on her tissue, and many people got rich off it; meanwhile, Lacks's five motherless children suffered without health insurance or knowledge of what had really happened until the author set out to finally tell Henrietta's story. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe in consent.

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters

Written by: Bonnie Jo Campbell

First line: Ed and I were making out by candlelight on the couch.

Why you should read this book: Bonnie Jo Campbell is a remarkable writer who constructs memorable, believable characters in tense, sometimes painful, always meaningful situations, and this short fiction collection may be her best work to date. I'm not even angry that the first story in this book won a prize in a contest in which one of my short stories was only awarded the designation of "finalist." Anyway, this book is awesome; you can't buy it yet, because I got an ARC from a librarian who wanted me to review it for her website (because Bonnie Jo is also a friend and former professor of mine), but you can advance order it, and look forward to the day that you can read it yourself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You haven't been in rehab very long.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness

Written by: Lyanda Lynn Haupt

First line: By all rights, I should never see the crow who perches almost daily on the electrical wire just beyond my study window.

Why you should read this book: It transcends the typical nature narrative by acknowledging the place that crows inhabit not only in the wild, but also in the human world, in both the physical and mythological realm. Weaving factual details along with the author's own story of depression and recovery, it's a small but powerful piece about the place of humans within their own sphere, with elements of biology, psychology, literature, spirituality, and education. A really impactful story, one that can help the reader open their eyes to the world around them, just as the author's relationship with real crows helped her to accomplish.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have no respect for scavengers.

Rat Queens Volume Two: The Far-Reaching Tentacle of N'rygoth

Written by: Kurtis J. Wiebe

First line: Damn it, Sawyer!

Why you should read this book: Before they've quite finished celebrating their victory over their enemies from volume one, the Rat Queens are thrust into another adventure. This time, their pasts are all back to haunt them, with a vengeance, and they learn that they can't escape who they are, even as they are forced to figure out, quickly, who has it in for them and how to use their knowledge and skills to save the world. Silly and fun.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe children should always honor the traditions of their families.

Rat Queens Volume One: Sass and Sorcery

Written by: Kurtis J. Wiebe

First line: ...and what we face now is, alarmingly, one of Palisade's greatest threats.

Why you should read this book: Betty, Hannah, Dee, and Violet are a ragtag group of mercenaries, adventurers for hire who take jobs requiring their unique combination of magic, aggression, and snark, and leave a trail of mayhem, destruction, and bodies in their wake. When every single adventurer is the city of Palisade is forcible recruited by the local government for civic jobs just a bit more dangerous than the ordinary, they begin to realize that someone has it in for the Rat Queens and their kind. Beautifully illustrated, tongue-in-cheek, action-packed, feminist, sexy, and queer-friendly.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I felt the pacing was a bit lopsided; it took a while to get to the point, and then resolved really quickly.

The Book Thief

Written by: Markus Zusak

First line: First the colors.

Why you should read this book: In a German suburb on the eve of World War II, an orphan girl struggles with the pain of her world: the loss of her mother and brother, the confusion of her foster family, her own inability to read, the physical and intellectual violence of the Nazi party. With the arrival of a young Jewish man desperate for a hiding place, Liesel begins to learn what she needs as a human being: books and relationships. To be honest, I only read this book to check up on my stepson's summer reading, and I think it starts a little slowly, but it's beautifully written and begins to speed up after a few chapters until the reader is caught in its current.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's about World War II. The body count is pretty high.


Written by: Mark Millar

First line: This is my best friend having sex with my girlfriend over an Ikea table I picked up for a really good price.

Why you should read this book: Wanted is angry and violent and politically incorrect and it's an intelligent and thought-provoking piece of literature that does an astonishing quantity of world-building after first shattering all the world-building done by hundreds of other authors. Wesley Gibson is a pathetic, spiritually-castrated excuse of a man, until he learns that he's the heir to a secret world of criminal conspiracy, and that he can kill anyone on the planet with both ease and impunity. There are machinations and double-crosses and all kinds of plot, but really, what this story is about is a man achieving his potential, even if that potential is morally reprehensible in this world, because it makes perfect sense in his world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Murder. Rape. Language. A complete dismantling of all your most beloved childhood tropes.

Charlotte's Web

Written by: E.B. White

First line: Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Why you should read this book: In some ways, this classic tale of survival is a simple, if not somewhat dated, story about the power of friendship and a joy in living that humans past a certain age take for granted. In another way, this is a deeply nuanced tale about the human condition, as far as that condition can be rendered illustrated by the relationship between a pig and a spider. However you read it, it's a joyful piece in which everyone is redeemed and set into their rightful sphere.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think pigs are just for eating, regardless of how they're written up.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Chemistry of Tears

Written by: Peter Carey

First line: Dead, and no one told me.

Why you should read this book: When talented horologist Catherine Gehrig learns of her lover's untimely death, her entire world seems to run down, and Catherine can't even publicly mourn her loss, because her lover was married and worked at the same museum where she restored automatons. Only their boss knows her situation, and he sends her to another site to restore a stunning artifact, one that comes with its own story of love and loss. As Catherine repairs the fabulous machine, she reads the story of its benefactor, Henry Brandling, and begins to heal from her loss.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I found all the main characters pretty unlikeable as human beings; everyone is so caught up in their grief that they can't be bothered not to be terrible to everyone around them.

The Party after You Left

Written by: Roz Chast

First line: I survived conjunctivitis.

Why you should read this book: I'm sure I've read plenty of Chast's work without realizing it; her hilarious cartoons have been featured prominently in the New Yorker for years. Most of the pages in this book were laugh-out-loud funny to me, a surprising consistency of modern irregularity and relationship absurdity. Just a really nice collection of cartoons for adults.

Why you shouldn't read this book: In your day, things were different, and you like it that way. You liked it just fine. Also: you feel that mixed marriages are an abomination, no matter the mix.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

Written by: Stephen Collins

First line: Beneath the skin of everything is something nobody can know.

Why you should read this book: Dave, an almost completely ordinary man, lives an almost completely ordinary life on an island called Here, where perfect conformity isn't just a dictate, it's a way of life, until the day his previously nonexistent beard goes crazy and starts to take over. All the island's hairdressers and all the island's gardeners can't keep this irrational and non-conforming facial hair in check, and eventually Dave must capitulate to the beard, because there is no controlling it. Meanwhile, everyone on the island will be affected by the chaos of the beard incident, learning that a little uncontrolled chaos can be a positive thing for a society.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You strongly believe that unconventional hairstyles disrupt not only the learning process, but the stability of society in general. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Nemo: River of Ghosts

Written by: Alan Moore

First line: ...And so...*koff*...that's the story.

Why you should read this book: What the story lacks in sense and meaning, it makes up for with ghosts, swamp creature spawning, dinosaur attacks, and a lot of gratuitous robot Nazi chicks in bikinis. Basically it's a distillation of a bunch of awesome/awful pulp fiction tropes so beautifully bottled that it doesn't have to follow any sort of logic. Includes the merest nods to Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard, and the earliest history of superhero comics, but only in a way that's completely incidental to the little fantasy presented here.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Certain things, to you, are sacrosanct, and those things include novels you read when you were a kid and characters out of history.

Maus: A Survivor's Tale II: And Here My Troubles Began

Written by: Art Spiegelman

First line: Summer vacation.

Why you should read this book: As book II opens, '80s era Vladek has just been left by his second wife, while '40s era Vladek has just been sent to Auschwitz, and Art continues to piece together his father's evolution and the blurring of lines between then and now in the mind of his father. The author's frustration with his father, who passed away between the publication of these two volumes, continues to mount, as Spiegelman desperately tries to empathize with the man who, he feels, has made his own life more difficult. There's no real resolution here, as emphasized by the point in the book when Vladek says "And here my troubles began," along with the his insistence on the last page that he and Art's mother "lived happy happy every after" despite the fact that they are both still mourning Anja's death by suicide over a decade earlier; there is only the acknowledgement that the living choose whether or not to continue living, and how to deal with suffering.

Why you shouldn't read this book: There are no happy endings for Holocaust survivors, apparently.

Maus: A Survivor's Tale I: My Father Bleeds History

Written by: Art Spiegelman

First line: It was summer, I remember.

Why you should read this book: Still the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer, this powerful memoir intertwines the story of young Vladek Spiegelman's ordeal living through the early days of World War II, and the tale of his adult son, decades later, struggling to understand the angry and difficult man his father has become. The simple metaphor of Jews as mice and Germans as cats does little to dehumanize the triumphs and increasing struggles of the protagonists, for whom basic survival becomes a full time occupation. Potent and heart-rending, this is a serious work of literature wrapped in  black and white drawings.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I personally don't read Holocaust literature after the sun goes down, because it gives me nightmares.

Angry Youth Comix

Written by: Johnny Ryan

First line: Get the hell outta here.

Why you should read this book: This is the most (intentionally) offensive work I’ve ever read in my entire life, comprising gratuitous violence, racist stereotypes, extreme misogyny and misanthropy, and a tedious repetition of gross-out humor, drawn in a style reminiscent of stupid newspaper comics or Mad Magazine fillers. There are a couple legitimate jokes, but the sense here is that the author wrote down the most awful thing he could imagine and then, like a twelve-year-old seeking to retain his audience of schoolyard admirers, worked to top himself over and over again, creating what is essentially endurance test for any reader outside the “angry youth” demographic. I may never overcome the rage that it inspired in me, an adult person who has devoted her entire life to creating beauty in the world, but has never been offered a publishing contract for four hundred pages in a gorgeous hardbound, gold stamped cover; what the author has accomplished here is truly monumental, in a sad way.

Why you shouldn't read this book: This is the most (intentionally) offensive work I’ve ever read in my entire life, comprising gratuitous violence, racist stereotypes, extreme misogyny and misanthropy, and a tedious repetition of gross-out humor, drawn in a style reminiscent of stupid newspaper comics or Mad Magazine fillers....

Brown Girl Dreaming

Written by: Jaqueline Woodson

First line: I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital/Columbus, Ohio,/USA--/a country caught/between Black and White.

Why you should read this book: This lovely, award-winning autobiographical novel in verse examines the difference between north and south, black and white, age and youth, freedom and oppression, family and stranger, and a hundred other dichotomies as seen from the eyes of a young girl. Little Jackie seeks to understand the past and find order in the present in order to grow into her own future. Great first person recollections of family relations, the civil rights movement, growing up, and finding oneself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: No sympathy for Jehovah's Witnesses.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Shutter Volume 1: Wanderlost

Written by: Joe Keatinge

First line: Can we go home now?

Why you should read this book: Kate Kristopher has given up the life of adventuring that she inherited from her father: she's tired of chasing and being chased by monsters while staring into the complex chasm of reality. Her twenty-seventh birthday is also the ten-year anniversary of her father's death, and all her plans to live the quiet life of a professional photographer are disrupted when she is attacked by a bunch of scimitar-wielding ghosts and a mechanical man while visiting her father's grave. Suddenly, everything she thought she knew about her family and her personal history is shaken, stirred and turned upside-down, and it doesn't seem to matter that Kate's given up the life, because the life is not about to give her up.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You expect your father's secrets to stay buried.

The Savage Sword of Conan Volume 18

Written by: Chuck Dixon et al.

First line: The Zamoran dawn sheds crimson tears of a rebellion met with doom.

Why you should read this book: Fighting, death, thievery, death, sex, death, magic, death, betrayal, death, monsters, death, and more fighting, and more death. I should probably feel guilty about how much I enjoy slipping into the world of Conan, a world in which one man defeats gods (sometimes on a daily basis) and survives impossible odds every single day. Conan lives by a code, and while it wouldn't get you or me very far in our world, in Conan's world it always makes sense and it always ends with Conan surviving.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You demand accountability in your fantasy fiction.

Bad Bears and a Bunny

Written by: Daniel Pinkwater

First line: Irving and Muktuk are polar bears.

Why you should read this book: If you appreciate Daniel Pinkwater's zany brand of storytelling, you will enjoy this utterly ridiculous tale of two bad zoo-dwelling polar bears who are not to be trusted, but are still, for some reason, allowed out of the zoo to attend private parties. An altercation with a small white rabbit leads to bodily harm and eventually to the bears accidentally behaving themselves for an entire night. Very silly stuff for kids who like silly stuff.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't have the sense of a humor of a seven-year-old.

Tell Me a Dragon

Written by: Jackie Morris

First line: My dragon is made from the sun and the stars

Why you should read this book: It's simply gorgeous. Every page showcases a different dragon and its human companion, along with a simple sentence describing that dragon. Very magical and lovely.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want a dragon.


Written by: Judy Sierra

First line: One blustery morning when frosty winds blew, When families stayed home, and when field trips were few, The midwinter doldrums arrives at the zoo.

Why you should read this book: It's a book of upbeat silliness about cabin fever and the restorative power of music. The old trope of "Let's put on a show!" gets revived by a bunch of talented zoo creatures who realized that their seasonal affective depression can be cured by intensively rehearsing for a musical, which they perform before the human audience that had abandoned them when the weather became inclement. With bouncing rhymes and whimsical Marc Brown illustrations, it's a good read-aloud selection for little people.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe that zoos are immoral holding pens for helpless animals who should run free.

The Favorite Daughter

Written by: Allen Say

First line: Yuriko came to stay with her father on Thursday that week.

Why you should read this book: It's a wonderful examination of identity in young children, with intersecting themes of divorce, race, culture, and artistic integrity. When a blonde Japanese-American girl brings her baby picture into school, her peers' reactions force her to confront the binary aspects of her heritage. A seemingly unimaginative art assignment provides the catalyst for her father to help her figure out how to reconcile who she is with who the world asks her to be.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You rub your chopsticks.

Identity Crisis

Written by: Brad Melzer

First line: "Any idea what's in it?"

Why you should read this book: It's generally considered a game-changing comic, a murder mystery that recasts familiar characters in new roles and exposes the secret realities of public images. I picked it up because a lot of people seemed to be referencing it and I felt that I ought to know what revelations it contained, only to realize two-thirds of the way through that I had already read it, but that it hadn't made enough impact on me that I recalled any part of the story. It seems like a reader would have to be fairly well-versed in the nuances of the DC universe to take full advantage of this book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't follow Justice League in any way.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Beautiful Darkness

Written by: Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet

First line: He's coming! He's coming!

Why you should read this book: I am obsessed with this anti-fairy tale about innocent little fairies whose world is turned upside down when they realize they have been living their lives inside a little girl, and that their host has died and is no longer conducive to housing fairies. Thrown out into the wilderness, Princess Aurora does her best to normalize the transition for her subjects, most of whom turn out to be far less altruistic than she. This book offers constant surprises, and while some have criticized the depiction of the fairies as too adorable, their actions and attitudes take the story far from the realm of fairy tale and into the brutish lair of horror. (I have a lot more to say about this book, and my article on the subject is forthcoming at Panels.net.)

Why you shouldn't read this book: You collect Precious Moments figurines or enjoy the comic "Love Is...."

Age of Reptile Omnibus Volume 1

Written by: Ricardo Delgado

First line: [This is a "silent comic" and the story contains no text.]

Why you should read this book: If you like dinosaurs, drama, and vast, sweeping splash pages, you'll love this meaty volume comprising 3 miniseries. The dinosaurs, while mute, exhibit recognizable expressions, motivations, and actions, creating 3 compelling story lines. I discuss this comic, and the strengths of silent comics in general, in more detail in this article.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Can't deal with common carnivorous behaviors like killing and eating your enemies, or just random other creatures that happen to be passing by.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ira Sleeps Over

Written by: Bernard Waber

First line: I was invited to sleep at Reggie's house!

Why you should read this book: A boy's anticipation of his first sleepover is marred by the question of whether or not his friend will laugh at him for still sleeping with a teddy bear. His parents insist he won't; he sister claims he will. In the end, Ira sees that he and Reggie see eye to eye on the teddy bear question.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't allow your children the comfort of a primary love object; they must face the dark on their own.

Curious George Rides a Bike

Written by: H. A. Rey

First line: This is George.

Why you should read this book: Who doesn't love the story of the curious monkey who is given way too much freedom for a human being, let along a mute creature born in the jungle? I loved this book as a child because it offers step by step instructions for turning a newspaper into a boat. Kids also enjoy the fancy bike-riding, the animals, and, of course, George's unerring ability to get into trouble.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe monkeys should not be raised in homes or allowed to play outside unsupervised, and you definitely don't think they're qualified to deliver newspapers or follow directions.

Each Kindness

Written by: Jacqueline Woodson

First line: That winter snow fell on everything, turning the world a brilliant white.

Why you should read this book: There's a sense of bittersweet nostalgia on every page, words and images, in the story of a little girl who rejects, out of hand, the new kid in school because her clothes are secondhand. Gradually, as the new girl, Maya, continues to make friendly overtures and the teacher speaks of kind acts, Chloe comes to regret her behavior, but by then it is too late. Maya has left the school, Chloe can never make up for her cruelness, and she must live with the consequences of her childish decisions.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like being a snob and it never makes you feel bad about yourself.


Written by: Calle Claus

(This book doesn't have any words in it.)

Why you should read this book: A precious story about an outcast teenage mermaid, it's told entirely in images. Findrella and her BFF are more interested in mer-boys than in school, but when the friend is more successful in love, Findrella tries to transform herself into a more alluring creature. It's a much nicer version of "The Little Mermaid" than either Hans Christian Anderson or Disney ever told.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Well, you can't exactly read something without words.

Before Watchmen: Comedian/Rorschach

Written by: Brian Azzarello

First line: "I'm open!"

Why you should read this book: I don't know: normally I don't review books I don't like, or even finish them, but I kept trying to figure out what part of this prequel to the bestselling graphic novel of all time was so important that it had to be told in this format. There's something almost interesting about the relationship between the Kennedy family and the Comedian, but it doesn't really add up to anything, whereas Rorschach's story is completely pointless; obviously, this book was written solely for the purpose of making money, not to communicate something that Alan Moore might have missed in his seminal work. Rorschach already had a fully fleshed origin story, and Comedian didn't really need one, so I would only recommend this book if you somehow loved either character so much you wanted to read some kind of half-baked fan fiction.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can articulate some qualities that make the work of Alan Moore so compelling.

Mick Harte Was Here

Written by: Barbara Park

First line: Just let me say right off the bat, it was a bike accident.

Why you should read this book: Phoebe wants to tell readers about her brother, who died because his bike tire hit a rock and he wasn't wearing a helmet, and she doesn't want to pull any punches. This is a radically honest novel about a sibling relationship; Phoebe provides brutal accounts about the fight she had with Mick the day he died, the way her parents cope with their loss, the time she yells at the principal who's just trying to comfort her and then runs out of the front door of the school and goes home to cry. It's sad but it's true, and it's a story about healing from loss and celebrating life.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You need time to grieve.

The Lovecraft Anthology Volume 1

Edited by: Dan Lockwood

First line: The most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate its contents.

Why you should read this book: Lovecraft's world does not typically lend itself easily to any visual medium, given that so much of the terror depends on the reader's imagination, but this volume does a fair job of communicating the emotional range of seven of his most popular stories. The most successful is probably "The Rats in the Walls," possibly because the horror in this tale is based on rats and cannibalism, which are much easier to render realistically than unspeakable horrors and colors not of this earth. Fun for a little light reading.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Sometimes pictures make it less scary.

Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped inside His Own Body

Written by: Martin Pistorius

First line: Barney the Dinosaur is on TV again.

Why you should read this book: A remarkable page turner of a memoir, it's the autobiography of a boy who contracts an unknown degenerative neurological disorder in his twelfth year, loses half a decade to darkness, and then gradually reawakens, horrifyingly with a type of locked-in syndrome: he is well aware of everything going on around him, can see, hear, feel, and think, but is unable to move or communicate his cognizance in any way. At the age of twenty-five, a care worker decides that he is not a complete vegetable and Martin slowly begins to train his body and mind to employ adaptive technology and rejoin the world. Although he can neither walk nor talk, Martin is able to hold down a steady job, find the love of his life, and take his place as a fully fledged adult.

Why you shouldn't read this book:  You love Barney.

What Do You Do with an Idea?

Written by: Kobi Yamada

First line: One day, I had an idea.

Why you should read this book: There is something achingly beautiful about a little boy whose idea (represented as a walking egg wearing a gold crown) provides the only small spot of color in his grayscale world. No matter what he does, the boy can't shake the idea, which keeps getting bigger and spreading its color, so finally he embraces the idea until it grows large enough to change the world so that everything is in color. A lovely tale about creativity, self-belief, and tenaciousness.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You fear change.