Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Romance Reader

Written by: Pearl Abraham

First line: The sound of Ma's voice speaking English wakes me.

Why you should read this book: The eldest of seven children born to a rabbi who dreams big but can hardly pull together a minyan for his tiny synagogue, Rachel finds herself torn between the expectations of her family and community, and her own sense of self. From an adolescent girl reading forbidden English books to a terrified young woman acquiescing to an early marriage in a last-ditch attempt to gain control of her own life, she pushes every boundary set up to corral her into behaving. Fast paced and engaging, it's a big story of a very small world, one that cannot contain much in the way of free thinking.

Why you shouldn't read this book: A little painful to read if you grew up in a restrictive religious community and had to choose between pleasing your parents and pleasing yourself.

The Austere Academy

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: If you were going to give a gold ribbon to the least delightful person on Earth, you would have to give that medal to a person named Carmelita Spats, and if you didn't give it to her, Carmelita was the sort of person who would snatch it from your hands anyway.

Why you should read this book: In the continuing saga of three orphans who couldn't catch a break with topographical map and a sturdy net, the Baudelaires and their constant readers are subjected to a sorry excuse for an education at the world's least accredited boarding school. Bad teachers, nonsensical rules, and a painfully unorthodox music program are only secondary problems next to Count Olaf's plan to destroy the children through physical education. In a twist, they also befriend the two remaining survivors from a set of triplets whose misfortunes eerily reflect the Baudelaire's troubles.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Lowest body count of the series so far.

Miss Peregine's Home for Peculiar Children

Written by: Ransom Riggs

First line: I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.

Why you should read this book: Unhappy adolescent Jacob used to believe all his grandfather's fanciful fairy tales when he was a kid; after all, he had photographs to back up his stories. As a teenager, Jacob doesn't believe in much, until he actually sees the monster that murdered his grandfather. Now he's on a quest to untangle his grandfather's frantic last message to him, one that will take him across the ocean and across the years to learn the truth about his family and himself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You live on an island with no libraries or bookstores.

The Miserable Mill

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: Sometime during your life—in fact, very soon—you may find yourself reading a book, and you may notice that a book's first sentence can often tell you what sort of story your book contains.

Why you should read this book: The Beaudelaire orphans find themselves out of family members and stuck, somehow, with a guardian whose face is perpetually shrouded in smoke, and who also thinks that babies should work in lumber mills. Further ridiculous abuses of workplace safety and worker's rights follow, along with the evil Count Olaf, an equally evil optometrist, and a very disappointing compensation plan. Unfortunate events take place on almost every page.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think hypnosis is a load of hooey.


The Three Sillies

Retold by: Kathryn Hewitt

First line: Once upon a time there were a farmer and his wife who had one daughter, and she was courted by a young man.

Why you should read this book: Connoisseurs of fairy tales will likely recognize many of the pieces of this story cycle, in which foolish people behave foolishly, to the delight of young readers. A less foolish person sets off in search of some even more foolish people. Spoiler alert: he finds them.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't suffer fools gladly.

This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration

Written by: Jaqueline Woodson and James Ransome

First line: This is the rope my grandmother found beneath and old tree a long time ago back home in South Carolina.

Why you should read this book: The historical fact of millions of African Americans leaving the south to escape overt racism is reframed as the story of a particularly useful and long-lived piece of rope. It's a jump rope, it's a clotheslines, it's a way to secure luggage to a car, and it's a message from the past handed down to the future. A sweet picture of the world and the narrator's slice of it.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're an unsentimental minimalist who throws everything away. 


Written by: Uri Shulevitz

First line: The skies are gray.

Why you should read this book: A little boy with a dog is excited to see the signs of impending blizzard, while all the adults scoff and expect nothing from the sky. Of course, the little boy is correct, and delights in the translated city, white under its clean blanket of snow. High interest for little kids.

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

Paul Bunyan

Retold by: Steven Kellogg

First line: Paul Bunyan was the largest, smartest, and strongest baby ever born in the state of Maine.

Why you should read this book: A rollicking retelling of the Paul Bunyan tall tale, this story begins in infancy, offering up plenty of fodder for the ridiculous. Wrestling with bears, rescuing his big blue ox, Babe, and fighting underground ogres are only a few of his early adventures. Giant pancakes and popcorn also figure prominently into the mythology of the formation of the America.

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

Imogene's Antler's

Written by: David Small

First line: On Thursday, when Imogene woke up, she found she had grown antlers.

Why you should read this book: Even (or especially) when you live in a fancy mansion with hired help, waking up with a giant rack on your head presents a particular set of problems. Imogene is equal to the challenges, but her mother doesn't seem prepared for a daughter with horns. Wacky good fun, with a wacky good ending.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe you can eliminate family problems by hiding them with a piece of cloth.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet

Written by: Eleanor Cameron

First line: One night after dinner when David was reading Doctor Dolittle in the Moon, and his father was reading the newspaper, and his mother was darning socks, his father suddenly exclaimed: "Well, now, that's very odd."

Why you should read this book: The 1950s were a simpler time, one in which parents could happily grant their pre-adolescent sons to fly to other planets in homemade rockets on missions for local eccentrics; at least, that's what happens in this magical, charming, and wish-fulfilling tale for adventurous boys who weren't quite ready for Ray Bradbury. David and Chuck, the only two boys who see the strange notice in the newspaper, happily build their own rocket ship with scrap metal and then blast off on a mission to save a race of simple fungoid folks on an invisible planet that orbits the earth inside the moon's orbit. Despite their lack of characterization, education, or ability to prize any of their benefactor's admonishments above their own hunger, they enjoy a successful adventure in which no one dies in the vacuum of space.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like your science fiction a little harder than a boiled egg.

The Wide Window

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: If you didn't know much about the Baudelaire orphans, and you saw them sitting on their suitcases at Damocles Dock, you might think that they were bound for an exciting adventure.

Why you should read this book: Following the untimely death of their previous guardian, the hapless Baudelaires find themselves installed in a rickety house (foreshadowing) overlooking Lachrymose Lake (foreshadowing) in the care of a loving but phobia-infested aunt whose terror of doorknobs, telephones, radiators, stoves, realtors, and various other mundane things (foreshadowing) makes her a poor choice for a guardian of children. The execrable Count Olaf, in the guise of an execrable sea captain, turns up to make the children's lives more terrible, until they are racing against the clock to find a hidden message in a suicide note during a hurricane before they're all murdered, execrably. Terribly good fun.

Why you shouldn't read this book: This one could use a bit of editing in the middle; there's too much down time before things get really unfortunate.

The Wing Shop

Written by: Elvira Woodruff and Stephen Gammell

First line: Matthew and his family had just moved from Main Street to Finley Street.

Why you should read this book: Matthew wants to get back to his old neighborhood, but he's not allowed to walk that far, so buying a pair of wings from a little girl so he can fly there seems like a great idea. However, every pair of wings obeys its original owner's proclivities instead of Matthew's: the seagull wings take him to the ocean; the bat wings want to hang upside down in a barn. Eventually Matthew realizes that you can't go to your old home again; you can only make your new home the place you want to be.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think you can fly.

The Boy Who Swallowed Snakes

Written by: Laurence Yep and Jean and Mou-Sien Tseng

First line: A long time ago in southern China, forests still covered the hills.

Why you should read this book: An honest little boy tries to return a wealthy man's silver only to inadvertently take on the man's curse instead. Being pure of heart, little Chou enjoys the curse with a grain of salt (literally) and benefits materially from his afflictions. The curse catches up with the rich man, while the poor boy becomes wealthy but content.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think there's any situation where eating a raw snake could be a good idea.

Monster Slayer

Retold by: Vee Browne and Baje Whitethorne

First line: In the beginning there was Changing Woman and her sons, the Twins.

Why you should read this book: Focusing on a short portion of the longer Monster Slayer story cycle of the Navajo people, this book tells of the heroic Twins, Child Born of Water and Monster Slayer. Gifted with the affection and weapon of their father, the Sun, the Twins set out to save the villagers from the Walking Giant. Bonus points for a Navajo story written and illustrated by Navajo people.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You always shoot first.

A Japanese Fairy Tale

Written by: Jane Hori Iké, Baruch Zimmerman

First line: Long ago in the Land of the Rising Sun, there lived a woman who was called Kyoko.

Why you should read this book: An incredibly ugly man and an incredibly beautiful woman seem to have a happy marriage, and this can only be explained through through a fairy tale about sacrifice and divine intervention. As an unborn soul in heaven, Munakata learns that his bride-to-be on earth is destined to be hideous in the superlative, and pleads with god to make him he ugly one, apparently so he doesn't have to look at her, or maybe because it's OK for nasty dudes to marry hot chicks, but not vice versa. Kyoko is suitably impressed with his martyrdom and compelled to fall in love with him.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have a tendency to dig too deep. On the one hand, it's kind of sweet. On the other hand, it's kind of sad.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Reptile Room

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: The stretch of road that leads out of the city, past Hazy Harbor and into the town of Tedia, is perhaps the most unpleasant in the world.

Why you should read this book: In the second of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaire orphans find themselves in the charge of their ebullient Uncle Montgomery Montgomery, a renowned expert in reptiles but, sadly, not an expert in recognizing that his new assistant is actually a money-hungry alcoholic psychopath intent on stealing the children's money and murdering them, in that order. While the Baudelaires read, invent, and bite their way out of various unpleasant situations, the wicked Count Olaf perpetrates his bad disguise and evil threats and the adults who should take care of the orphans remain oblivious.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You haven't read the first one yet.

Invisible Ink: My Mother's Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist

Written by: Bill Griffith

First line: Somewhere in rural Connecticut—I wonder how long it will be before going to the P.O. Box every morning becomes a bygone ritual of pre-robotic times—

Why you should read this book: Surreal comic creator Bill Griffith begins to investigate the life of his great-grandfather, a famous photographer, and finds himself falling into a rabbit hole of Google pages, old letters, unpublished novels, and the ephemera of his mother's hidden reality. His mother, Barbara, carried on a seventeen-year affair with a popular cartoonist, keeping her love life all but secret from her family for most of her life. Griffith digs deep to uncover the full story of those facets of his mother he never knew, including what influence the man who might have been his stepfather could have had on his own career.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're worried about infidelity.