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.