Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Year in Review, 2019

Well, I fell just a bit short of the goal of reviewing 100 books this year. In fact, I did start some picture book reviews on paper and then lost the paper and forgot about the books, and I actually have 4 unread or partially read library books on my desk, but the end of December was particularly strange this year, and here we are: 95 is also a respectable number.

The middle grade/YA number includes all those terrible Warriors books I read to my stepdaughter. (they are objectively awful, unless you are interested in a poorly written but extremely predictable feral cat-based soap opera) as well as most of the delightful Worst Witch books. The graphic novel category includes several graphic nonfiction memoirs, and comprises graphic novels written for adult, teen, and child audiences.

Here come the numbers.

Dragon's Library Year in Review, 2019

Picture books: 13
Middle grade/YA: 25
Non-fiction: 2
Novels: 14
Graphic novels: 34
Short story collections: 2
Memoir/bio: 3
Poetry: 1
Art: 1

Total: 95 books reviewed.

Happy New Year! Keep reading voraciously and indiscriminately!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Nobody's Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead

Written by: Bill Griffith

First line: Gather round, folks, gather round!!

Why you should read this book: Here is the never-before told life story of Schlitzie the Pinhead, a microcephalic individual who was sold to a sideshow manager as a child and spent nearly his entire life working as a circus freak. Schlitzie's immortality was cemented by his turn in the 1932 cult classic, Freaks, a film that decades later stirred the imagination of author Bill Griffith, inspiring his popular comic, Zippy the Pinhead (as well as the imagination of the author of this blog, some decades later). Schlitzie's story, reconstructed here through Griffith's research and in the words of those who knew him, is by turns inspiring, heartbreaking, hilarious, and provocative.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You find the very idea of a freak show "loathsome, obscene, grotesque, and bizarre" and would prefer all human anomalies to be safely ensconced within the very high, very thick walls of an asylum.


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Motherhood So White

Written by: Nefertiti Austin

First line: "Come on, August, grab your pullover."

Why you should read this book: When thirty-six-year-old romance author Nefertiti Austin starts noticing what she calls the "mommie-jones," her desire for children, coupled with her fears of failed relationships and her respect for the grandparents who raised her when her own parents could not rise to the task, lead her to pursue adoption. But she soon realizes that adopting a stranger's child is an uncommon notion in the Black community, and further, that there are no resources or representation for single Black adoptive mothers, and that many of the people in her social and family circles cannot understand this decision. Undaunted, she navigates the foster system, adopts a little boy (and eventually his younger sister), works through her emotions surrounding her family of origin, and decides to write this book to offer other Black women the narrative that was unavailable to her as she began her journey. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't understand why anyone would want to devote their lives to raising anybody's child, even their own.


Guts

Written by: Raina Telgemeier

First line: Mom?

Why you should read this book: After the unfortunate night during which her entire family suffers from a stomach bug, Raina gradually develops some strange, psychosomatic tummy troubles: not just stomach aches and nausea, but a deep-seated fear of vomiting and passing gas, inexplicably linked with and exacerbated by all her adolescent insecurity. When medical science can't find a reason for her distress, her mother forces her to see a therapist, but her internal fears deepen as her obsession with her stomach, and only eating foods that will move comfortably through her body, become almost all-encompassing, affecting her schoolwork and her relationships. Meanwhile, she has to deal with the girl who doesn't like her for some reason, public speaking in class, and the prospect of her best friend moving away; only when she learns that expressing her shame and fear is healthier than bottling her discomfort up inside of herself can Raina overcome this unusual chapter in her physical history.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're feeling a bit queasy.


Best Friends

Written by: Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

First line: Do you want to be best friends?

Why you should read this book: Picking up soon after Real Friends leaves off, Best Friends finds Shannon, still insecure, but ready to conquer sixth grade. Jen, the most popular girl in school, is her best friend now, and Shannon mostly understands social rules and expectations, but still spends most of her life wondering if she's doing things right, or if everyone is about to turn on her because she doesn't know the right music, or the right shows, or the right dance moves. In addition, now that everyone's having puberty, there are more rules to understand about the boys who have suddenly been added to the mix, and the other girls don't seem interested in Shannon's creative life, and she still gets weird vibes from the frenemy she told off at the end of the previous book, and now her anxiety has manifest in somatic symptoms that make it even more difficult to fit in.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've spent a lot of time trying to forget the trauma of the eighties.




Monday, December 2, 2019

Parable of the Sower

Written by: Octavia E. Butler

First line: All that you touch/You change.

Why you should read this book: Published in 1993 but set in 2024-27, this speculative fiction novel presents a chilling, but plausible, picture of a near future in which human life has lost much of its value, corporations hold most of the power, and only a dwindling few people are able to band together to protect their version of civilization in walled communities under constant siege by a brutal, impoverished outside world. Lauren Olamina is one of the fortunate ones, a teenager protected by the walls of her small neighborhood, whose father is still employed, and who lives in relative comfort, despite her nagging belief that things outside the walls are getting worse and worse, and that no matter how they defend their borders, they will not be able to hold out indefinitely. Lauren begins exploring her own perception of reality, discovering a new religion she calls Earthseed, which addresses the types of change she anticipates, and preparing for the inevitable collapse of civilization, which is scheduled to take place even sooner than than she anticipates.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You would totally take a drug that turned you into pyromaniac with no regard for human life, and/or you think debtor's prisons and indentured servitude are valid options for addressing poverty.



Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Dragon Plus+ A Guide to Hybrid Creatures

Written by: J Feinberg

First line: The cockatrice is a fairly infamous creature worldwide.

Why you should read this book: It's a delightful little art book with colorful illustrations cataloging a menagerie of creatures that never were, many of which exist only within the pages of this book. While standard magical hybrids such as the chimera and the manticore are represented here, the bulk of the collection features wildly unusual mashups—dragon-skunk, dragon-elephant, parrot-lion, kraken-clownfish—that will amuse and delight fans of the mythological animals and creativity. If you've ever wondered what it might look like if a unicorn mated with a flamingo or a dragon had a baby with a bee, this is the book for you.

Why you shouldn't read this book: According to the artist, she took a lot of direction from her fans on the internet, so there is some incredibly silly stuff in here (looking at you, penguin/bat/wolf hybrid).

 

The Complete Curvy

Written by: Sylvan Migdal

First line: I am so royally screwed.

Why you should read this book: Squee! It's The Complete Curvy, a 520-page hard copy of a surreal, sexy, candy-themed webcomic featuring polyamorous perversion, magic, tons of queer sex, interdimensional beings, a token amount of heteronormative sex, the fate of the universe, and more sex. While worried about her physics final, Anaïs of Boring World (i.e., the one we live in) accidentally rescues Princess Fauna, Despoina of Candy World, and finds herself propelled into a prurient adventure across the many worlds. Meet Jonathan the trans-human, Mallory the peasant Liar, Fervid the terrible federal agent, and a vast cast of pirates, candy people, superheroes, and assorted horny bystanders as Anaïs and Fauna screw their way through the apocalypse.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have no sense of humor, particularly where sex is involved.


La Voz de M.A.Y.O. Tata Rambo

Written by: Henry Barajas and J. Gonzo

First line: It was the weekend before Cesar Chavez Day.

Why you should read this book: The author relates events from the life of his great-grandfather, interspersed with modern moments from his own life and Tata Rambo's last days. When the city of Tucson decides to build a highway through the neighborhood where the Pascua Yaqui people have begun to improve their own lot, the Mexican American Yaqui Organization and Congressmen Udall jump into action to save the community, and Tata Rambo is on the front lines the entire time. Through protests, political machinations, and meaningful alliance, the Yaqui people are able to make their voices heard, maintain their land, and eventually become officially recognized by the government.

Why you shouldn't read this book: No interest in local history, social justice, community organization, biography, or indigenous issues.


The Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper

Written by: Kazu Kibuishi

First line: We're supposed to pick up Navin at eight o'clock

Why you should read this book: Following their father's untimely and unlikely death in a car accident, Emily and Navin's mother takes them to live in their mysteriously vanished great-grandfather's enormous spooky mansion, where Emily discovers a magical amulet. Later that evening, Mom is enveloped by an enormous ghostly octopus-thing straight out of HP Lovecraft and they are all transported, via a passage in their basement, to another world. Now Emily must learn to unlock and wield the power of the amulet to save her family, and perhaps an entire world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Feels a bit derivative. 


The Last Temptation

Written by: Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli

First line: Autumn leaves, yellow and orange and red, tumble down the empty street, blown by a sudden chill gust of October wind.

Why you should read this book: Alice Cooper commissioned Neil Gaiman to write a story for a concept album, which Cooper used as a scaffolding for Lost in America, and which Gaiman then used to write this book about an ordinary boy, Steven, who finds himself in the landscape of Ray Bradbury's October Country. Through the device of a magical theater, Steven finds himself tempted by the devil, who is pretending to be a vaudevillian but who looks an awful lot like Alice Cooper. Promising freedom from fear and boredom and change in exchange for children's lives, the antagonist seems ubiquitous and omnipotent, but, like most Hollywood monsters, he's mostly special effects and optical illusion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Like the Grand Guignol itself, the story is mostly smoke and mirrors.



Friday, November 15, 2019

FTL, Y'all! Tales from the Age of the $200 Warp Drive

Edited by: C. Spike Trotman and Amanda LaFrenais

First line: Mornin'

Why you should read this book: It's a graphic anthology featuring nineteen short comic stories linked by the common theme of a near-future reality in which anyone with $200 and an internet connection can build a faster-than-light drive and explore the cosmos. There are heroes, villains, aliens, overworked moms, and hapless researchers, in a world that is much larger than our own, but still features elements the human race will not likely outgrow for a while: misogynistic internet trolls, unpleasant airport experiences,  heroic rescues, teenagers searching for themselves, liars, loneliness, idiots, geniuses, and bad parenting. Also, due to the nature of the technology, basically any vessel can be a starship, so there are some hilarious looking starships.

Why you shouldn't read this book: While connected by the theme of the $200 warp drive, there's no further continuity to the stories, so they don't actually feel like they're all set in the same world.


Upside Down: A Vampire Tale

Written by: Jess Smart Smiley

First line: AAUGH!

Why you should read this book: This is an incredibly silly graphic novel for young readers about a kid vampire, whose vampire parents send him to the dentist because he's rotted his sharp teeth eating too much candy, and a crabby witch, who accidentally destroys all witches in her quest to rule over all witches. There's a clueless scientist who has invented an immortality potion and there's a bunch of kid bats. It makes basically no sense, which will appeal to most nonsense-loving children.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are not a nonsense-loving child.


Thursday, November 7, 2019

Octavia E. Butler's Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Adapted by: Damian Duffy and John Jennings

First line: The trouble began long before June 9, 1976...but June 9 is the day I remember.

Why you should read this book: While it's categorized as science fiction, this absolutely brutal time travel story reads more like a work of horror. Dana, a young black author married to a young white author, finds herself mysteriously whisked back and forth from her own time and place—southern California in the 1970s—to antebellum Maryland, where she must repeatedly save Rufus, the white slave owner who will eventually/has already (depending on your orientation in time) become her ancestor after sexually assaulting a slave. With the knowledge that her own existence depends on Rufus's survival, Dana feels compelled to save his life over and over, despite him becoming increasingly irredeemable, but the truly terrifying aspects of this story are Dana's experience of American slavery.

Why you shouldn't read this book: This is a graphic novel adaptation, and while it's very, very good for what it is, you may get more out of the original text-based work. I had to check Wikipedia to understand a major plot point at the end of the story.


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

We're Still Here: An All-Trans Comics Anthology

Edited by: Tara Madison Avery and Jeanne Thornton

First line: "You're totally my fetish!"

Why you should read this book: As the title says, it's a comic anthology written entirely by trans comic creators. The stories run the gamut from factual ("A Brief Timeline of Singular They") to autobiographical to allegorical to bizarre. Often, the quality of being trans is rendered metaphorically through a speculative lens—there are ghosts and monsters—but other stories offer very literal retellings of formative moments in the author's past. Some of the stories are funny or exciting, others are thought-provoking or heart-breaking, but each is an honest expression of idea a trans author wishes to communicate with a world that has too often sought to silence their voice.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're incapable of feeling empathy.

[note: I bought this comic directly from one of the artists at a convention. It is not available on Amazon and it appears to have sold out its original print run, but you could check back or contact the publisher to see if it's ever going to be reprinted.]

Tinfoil Butterfly

Written by: Rachel Eve Moulton

First line: I swing my body up to the front seat of the van and put my feet on the dashboard.

Why you should read this book: Emma is on the run from the pain of her past, en route to a planned suicide (second attempt) when she gets sidetracked by a would-be rapist and his sweet van, which eventually leaves her stranded in a strange ghost town inhabited by a strange little boy, Earl, his stranger father, and possibly his most strange mother. Emma's own demons include addiction, regret, and uncomfortable family relationships, but Earl's demons are much more immediate, and suddenly Emma finds that she doesn't want to die all that badly, at least not in this cold and confusing place. As Emma struggles to make sense of her current situation, she must also work through the confusion of her previous life and her growing maternal feelings for the wounded child in the tinfoil butterfly mask.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Bad things happen.


Dementia 21

Written by: Kago

First line: Private elder care service company, Green Net. Our Motto: "There's no place like home in the twilight of life."

Why you should read this book: This comedic horror manga pokes fun at the divide between youth and old age while creating a genuine sense of dread at the concept of aging; to be elderly in this world is to be a sort of monster, a distant, dangerous, unknowable and uncontrollable other cut off from humanity in particular and distressing ways and determined to make the young as miserable as you are. Yukie Sakai is an excellent and dedicated home help aide, so of course one of her co-workers gets jealous and ensures that Yukie gets the worst jobs, and indeed, her clients have a strange way of turning into monsters while the world gets more and more bizarre, a la Winsor Mccay's nightmare visions. While the overall thesis may be a commentary on the dissolution of family bonds in a world that increasingly turns to technology to fill the gaps that once held tender community, it's also hilarious and terrifying.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're about to check in to a care home, as a resident or a worker.


Hot Comb

Written by: Ebony Flowers

First line: I remember the first time I got a relaxer.

Why you should read this book: A collection of short, quiet graphic stories loosely tied together around the theme of black women's hair, although, of course, it's not really about hair. I'd call this a feminist work in the sense that the primary thrust of each story arc isn't about conflict as much as it as about relationships: girls' relationships with their mothers, with their hair, with their families, with their friends. The innocence of childhood and the joy of loving relationships is juxtaposed with the painful truths of reality, including sibling rivalry, micro (and macro) aggression, peer rejection, and identity formation.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your head is on fire because of the relaxer.


Monday, October 21, 2019

The Cooking Gene

Written by: Michael W. Twitty

First line: The Old South is a place where people use food to tell themselves who they are, to tell others who they are, and to tell stories about where they've been.

Why you should read this book: Powerful and poetic, this nonfiction narrative combines personal memoir, detailed historical research, and educated speculation to draw the reader deeply into its discussion of foodways as an avenue for understanding the history stolen from African Americans. Twitty delves as deeply into his own genealogy and self-image as he does into the discussion of individual ingredients, resulting in a work that is dense with meaning and emotion. Food is the lenses through which an examination of culture and self is made beautifully possible.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're one of those people who only eats six foods.


Warriors 6: The Darkest Hour

Written by: Erin Hunter

First line: Rain fell steadily, drumming on the hard black Thunderpath that led between unending rows of stone Twoleg Nests.

Why you should read this book: If you've made it this far, you might as well go all the way to watch as Firestar takes his rightful place as head of Thunderclan and begins plotting to protect his warriors from the machinations of the evil psychopath Tigerstar. Except, it turns out that Tigerstar isn't even the worst cat in the forest. How will Firestar ever prevail?

Why you shouldn't read this book: I don't think there's really any suspense regarding whether Firestar will prevail.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Sisters

Written by: Raina Telgemeier

First line: Are you sure you're all packed?

Why you should read this book: Raina begged her parents for a little sister so she'd have someone to play with, but when Amara shows up, she turns out to be very different from the perfect playmate Raina had been dreaming of. Told through the frame story of a family road trip taken when she's a teenager, and intersected with flashback vignettes detailing their early sibling relationships, this book offers an honest exploration of sibling rivalry, family relationships, and those small moments when big leaps occur. A delightful, real, and meaningful true story about the moments that make up the real lives of families.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You still hate your siblings, and/or snakes.


Smile

Written by: Raina Telgemeier

First line: Smile!!

Why you should read this book: Raina isn't looking forward to getting braces in the first place, but when a silly accident knocks one of her front teeth out and drives another up into her skull, the year of pain and oral surgeries that follow make braces look like a pleasant daydream. In the midst of her medical turmoil, she still has to deal with the boys who like her, the boys she likes, and her group of mean-girl friends. As she moves through her adolescence, Raina discovers her true passions and learns that focusing on her strengths boosts her self-esteem and helps the world see her the way she wants to be seen, regardless of what her teeth look like.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Medical/dental trauma/phobia.


Drama

Written by: Raina Telgemeier

First line: Do you think Mr. Madera will let me operate the spotlight again?

Why you should read this book: Callie's middle school life revolves around the theater—stage crew set design, to be precise—but that doesn't mean that she isn't distracted by boys. When the guy she likes can't see that she's the one, she consoles herself with the company of twins, talented boys who help her find a little more confidence and joy. Even if she never gets that confetti canyon to work on stage, she still has the hope of romance in the air.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's been targeted by the censorship crowd for depicting teenagers who are—gasp—gay! Of course, for many of us, this is a bonus.



Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Wild Robot

Written by: Peter Brown

First line: Our story begins on the ocean, with wind and rain and thunder and lightning and waves.

Why you should read this book: A quiet but surprisingly powerful and charming tale of a robot shipwrecked and activated on a island populated only by animals, armed only with basic programming to be helpful and to learn. Through observation of her surroundings, Roz the robot learns how to survive and thrive in her environment, until her neighbors stop seeing her as a monster and start believing her to be a very helpful friend. But Roz is a valuable piece of equipment: is there any place in the world for a truly wild robot.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The ending may be a bit ambiguous for some young readers to find satisfying (but in writing this review I realized there's a sequel so it's probably OK).


Ancillary Justice

Written by: Ann Leckie

First line: The body lay naked and facedown, a deathly gray, spatters of blood staining the snow around in.

Why you should read this book: Breq has a secret: she is not human, but the last remnant of a massive, two thousand year old artificial intelligence once controlled by a colonialist space empire, and Breq has a bone to pick with that empire. She doesn't understand why she's wasting her time rescuing Seivarden Vendaai, an officer who's hit hard times after a thousand years in cryostorage, but together they make their way through a dangerous universe, with Breq's unwavering focus on her goal pushing her forward to the next danger. The plot jumps back and forth between Breq's present day (far future) journey and the events of the last thousand years that precipitated her disenchantment with the culture that created her.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The world-building is so complex that it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what was going on and to get into the story, and I'm still not one hundred percent sure what the author is trying to do with gender here, even though it's clearly significant.


Blended

Written by: Sharon Draper

First line: Plunk. Plink. Ripple. Rumble. Tinkle. Twinkle Boomble.

Why you should read this book: Isabella is a biracial girl with a great musical talent and a problem: after getting used to having her parents divorced and living in different states, her father and his new family are moving back to town. Suddenly her life is upended, punctuated by fraught custody swaps and the sense that no place is really home anymore; half her life is always somewhere else. Isabella will have to come to terms with her own place in the world, racism, and the reality of remarriage, all while finding time to practice the piano.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I found its disparate parts enjoyable story, but at times those parts seemed disjointed in relation to each other.


Dragon Was Terrible

Written by: Kelly DiPucchio and Greg Pizzoli

First line: Dragon was terrible.

Why you should read this book: While all dragons are a little terrible nature, this dragon is intentionally extra-terrible in a sad-troll killjoy kind of way that involves things like spitting on cupcakes and taking candy from babies. When the knights of the land cannot defeat Dragon, the king opens the dragon-taming quest up to the rest of the kingdom, who also cannot deal. Only when a small boy finds a creative solution that involves showing the dragon who he could be instead of trying to force him to be someone else is the kingdom saved.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It might give some kids ideas on how to be more terrible.


Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Worst Witch and the Wishing Star

Written by: Jill Murphy

First line: Squalling rain and a biting wind buffeted the pupils of Miss Cackle's Academy as they struggled to read the school in time for the first day the Winter Term.

Why you should read this book: Mildred and company are seniors, and while Mildred continues to struggle valiantly to follow the rules—she's the only senior to abide by the "all witches must carry a cat on their broomstick" rule on the first day of school even though she has the worst possible cat for the job—the rules keep getting more difficult. Seniors are assigned jobs within the school, and Mildred has a tough one: she must light all the lanterns on one side of campus every evening and put them all out every morning. To her great delight, this task allows her to make the acquaintance of a dog, who turns out to be a much more talented flier than her assigned cat, and even though witches don't keep dogs and pets aren't allowed at Cackle's, this little doggy, like Mildred herself, knows how to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and even manages to win over the unwinnable Miss Hardbroom.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Everything is Ethel's fault. Again. The grotty little liar.




The Worst Witch to the Rescue

Written by: Jill Murphy

First line: It was early in the morning on what promised to be a fine day in March, a bit blustery by a perfect start for the first day of Summer Term at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches.

Why you should read this book: In a characteristic bit of optimistic kindness, Mildred shares her original research with Ethel, who immediately takes this information as license to commit physical assault, theft, academic dishonesty, further assault with a venomous animal, and aggravated turtle-napping/torture. Of course, Mildred takes the blame and punishment for all of it and spends a rather hard few days suffering before her daring, late-night turtle rescue redeems her. In a surprising reversal, Ethel is ratted out by a talking turtle, compelled to dig through the garbage to retrieve the evidence of her crimes, and forced to make a public apology to Mildred in front of the entire school, although, of course, she isn't actually punished.

Why you shouldn't read this book: One thing that bugs me in series is when the bad guy becomes a caricature of themselves and of villainy in general, to the point that their crimes are ridiculous but predictable and telegraphed in such a way that the protagonist ought to catch on to them but doesn't, which detracts from the suspension of disbelief in a story; in this case, for six books, Mildred is constantly threatened with expulsion, primarily as a result of Ethel's misbehavior, but here, where Ethel actually confesses to the assault, theft, academic dishonesty, etc., there's no mention of any repercussions beyond the humiliating apology.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Worst Witch Saves the Day

Written by: Jill Murphy

First line: Tropical sunshine beat down on the pupils of Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches as they arrived in the school yard on the first day of Winter Term.

Why you should read this book: Following an accident with a magical curling brush, Mildred gets tricked twice by Ethel, resulting in receiving a terrible non-magical haircut, and then applying a terrible magical hair-growing potion to her head. Meanwhile, there's something very suspicious about the new third-form mistress, and it's not just her weird, squeaky voice, her weird, frivolous appearance, or her weird, unprofessional disinterest in teaching or discipline. Mildred, with her knack for being in inappropriate places at fortuitous times, is about find out what, exactly, is going on with Miss Granite.

Why you shouldn't read this book: One begins to believe that Miss Cackle is wholly unsuited for any type of educational administrative duties.


Restart

Written by: Gorden Korman

Why you should read this book: Chase Ambrose awakens in a hospital bed with no knowledge of his own life: he doesn't remember falling off his roof, he doesn't know his own mother, and he can't recognize his face in the mirror. As he heals, he tries to put together the mystery of his identity, only to gradually realize that he was a terrible excuse for a human being before the accident, and that almost everyone he knows hates or fears him. Now he has a choice: try to get his old life back, or try to become a less reprehensible person before it's too late to change.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Its depiction of how amnesia caused by traumatic brain injury works is based more on popular culture than science or reality: it is unlikely that a person could lose their entire sense of self and all personal memories to become a tabula rasa personality but still retain the rest of their knowledge about the world and not suffer any cognitive deficits.


Rosewater

Written by: Tade Thompson

First line: I'm at the Integrity Bank job for forty minutes before the anxiety kicks in.

Why you should read this book: If you enjoy complexity in your science fiction plots and attention to detail in speculative world-building, you'll find lots to love in this Afro-futurism novel (first in a trilogy) about an angry psychic whose world is shaped by an alien entity known as "Wormwood," which has been skulking about the earth's crust since 2012. In 2066, Kaaro lives in Rosewater, a ring-shaped town in Nigeria that has sprung up around the alien "biodome," which opens once a year and heals human maladies, with varying results. But something is killing men and women like Kaaro, and now that he finally has something to live for (love), he needs to figure out what kind of danger he might be in before it destroys him.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I thought I wouldn't be able to get into it because the main character is such a curmudgeon, but he grows.


The Worst Witch at Sea

Written by: Jill Murphy

First line: A violent snowstorm greeted the pupils of Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches as they returned to school for the first day of summer term.

Why you should read this book: Finally recognizing that the academy has saddled Mildred with an incompetent cat, Miss Hardbroom foists a better cat upon her, but Mildred is attached to her unfortunate tabby and desperately wants it back. Meanwhile, the magician she saved in the previous book invites the entire class to stay in his weird, drafty castle by the sea as a reward for Mildred's bravery. Hilarious high jinks ensure.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Once again, Ethel Hallow escapes punishment for her crimes, even though this time she could have literally killed a teacher with her evil ways.



A Bad Spell for the Worst Witch

Written by: Jill Murphy

First line: It was the very first day of Mildred Hubble's second year at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches.

Why you should read this book: Starting the year off on the wrong foot, Mildred Hubble mistakes a fire drill for an actual fire and pours a bucket of water on Miss Hardbroom's head, after which she spends a goodly percentage of the book transformed into a frog by her arch-nemesis, Ethel. In her amphibious form, Mildred meets a magician who's also been transformed into a frog, having lived in the pond behind the school for so long that he enjoys eating flies and can't quite remember his own name. With the help of her friends, a lot of creative thinking, and a little felonious rule-breaking, Mildred manages to regain her human shape and eventually free her new friend as well.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I really don't know how to feel about the kidnapping and bondage scene.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Warriors 4: Rising Storm

Written by: Erin Hunter

First line: An agonized groan echoed across the moon-bleached floor of the forest clearing.

Why you should read this book: Summer has arrived in the forest, and ample prey with it, but all in not well in Thunder Clan. While Fireheart struggles to serve as a competent deputy, his leader Bluestar, is increasingly withdrawing from clan life and tradition, and his apprentice, Whitepaw, is increasingly refusing to follow orders or honor the Warrior's Code. When Whitepaw is kidnapped by twolegs, Fireheart finds his mind and body stretched increasingly thin as he tries to fulfill all his duties and Bluestar's as well, while holding the clan together and proving his loyalty with every step, and meanwhile, his old nemesis. Tigerclaw, is still on the loose.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The body count is kind of high in this one.


Unicorn Theater

Written by: Dana Simpson

First line: What is a best friend?

Why you should read this book: This is another complete story arc that further explores the bounds of friendship and ways individuals relate to those in their communities. Apparently tired of not practicing the piano all the time, Phoebe opts to spend the summer at theater camp instead of band camp, and Sue and Marigold will be there, too, but Marigold bring her sister, Florence, and Sue is spending so much time with the lake monster, Ringo, that Phoebe feels left out. Fortunately, Max is attending a science camp down the road and running tech for the plays, and Phoebe manages to learn some valuable lessons about having more than one friend, not holding grudges, and music theater.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't allow your friends to have other friends.


The Worst Witch Strikes Again

Written by: Jill Murphy

First line: Summer had arrived at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches.

Why you should read this book: Poor Mildred cannot catch a break: even though she saved everyone in the school from turning into a frog last year, Miss Cackle has decided to teach Mildred to become a responsible member of the community by asking her to serve as a student guide for the new girl, Enid Nightshade. Not only does this association disrupt Mildred's relationship with her best friend Maud, it turns out that Enid is even more prone to getting in trouble than Mildred is, and Mildred has to spend most of the semester hiding from social activities to keep from getting expelled. When one of Ethel's pranks threatens to ruin all Mildred's good behavior, a little quick thinking on Maud's part and a little more witchcraft courtesy of Enid help Mildred come out on top once again.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have some kind of knee-jerk reaction to the word "witch."


Unicorn of Many Hats

Written by: Dana Simpson

First line: "It is insulting when you summon me with that dog whistle."

Why you should read this book: In this edition of Phoebe and Her Unicorn, we see the repeat of many familiar tropes (Phoebe enjoys summer, Phoebe and Dakota fight but then find some common frenemy ground, Marigold enjoys her own reflection to a dangerous level, Marigold offers opinions on sparkliness) along with some new arcs: Marigold babysits, Marigold becomes friendly with Phoebe's parents, Phoebe visits Marigold's house for the first time. Also, Todd the Candy Dragon throws a Halloween party, Dakota is friends with the Goblin Queen, and a kid Phoebe doesn't even know gets her some perfect Secret Santa gifts. Fun for readers of all ages.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Marigold forges Phoebe's mom's signature on a field trip permission slip, and goodness knows we can't have kids figuring that stuff out.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction

Written by: Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward

First line: First and foremost, because we are writers.

Why you should read this book: Somewhere between the white washing of literature and rampant cultural appropriation lies a sweet spot for writers: one in which an author successfully creates realistic characters of cultures, races, genders, age, ability, and sexuality that differ from the author's own experience and the narrow lens of white, western, heteronormativity that often dominates fiction, (with an emphasis on speculative fiction). While the work may be difficult, it is also rewarding, and the book features exercises as well as examples from successful and unsuccessful writing to demonstrate how an author can challenge their own assumptions, gather more information, and avoid offensive gaffes, creating richer worlds and characters that ring true for a wider number of readers. Addressing common mistakes of perception and expression while offering tips and techniques for broadening perspective and viewing reality with clearer eyes, this slim volume is a powerful resource for those seeking to widen their understanding and sharpen their rhetorical abilities.

Why you shouldn't read this book: While a great deal of the information here could be considered universally useful, it's specifically geared to writers of fiction.


The Worst Witch Strikes Again

Written by: Jill Murphy

First line: Summer had arrives at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches

Why you should read this book: Mildred Hubble is back for another term at Miss Cackle's and despite the goodwill she earned for saving the school in the last book, she's fairly certain that this semester holds nothing but opportunities for her to screw up again. The enrollment of a new girl, Enid Nightshade, sorely tests her resolve: not only does Enid throw a wedge between Mildred and her best friend Maud, she's a prankster who seems determined to lead Mildred to ruin. In a stunning (and wobbly) conclusion, Mildred, Enid, and Maud are able to think fast, entertain their classmates, and avoid being expelled.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can see through walls.


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Warriors 3: Forest of Secrets

Written by: Erin Hunter

First line: Cold gripped the forest, fields, and moorland like an icy claw.

Why you should read this book: The only reason I read this interminable book is because my stepdaughter asked me to. It's basically a peripatetic soap opera featuring cats who are increasingly intent on raking their claws across their enemies' bellies and hiding their shameful pasts and complex machinations for the future, but despite all the fighting and all the secrets, it's slow and predictable, padded with repetitive language and telegraphing of revelation. I did feel slightly sad for the main character when his best friend moves to the other side of the river to be closer to his kids, so I guess that's an emotional response elicited by this story, although maybe I was just happy to see how close I was to the end of the book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Let's go with "abysmal writing."


Phoebe and Her Unicorn in The Magic Storm

Written by: Dana Simpson

First line: PHOEBE!

Why you should read this book: Phoebe and her unicorn finally find their stride in a cohesive narrative arc that deepens all the character relationships while presenting a satisfying conflict and resolution (and introducing a new character into Phoebe's world). The weather is getting strange, and this is no ordinary storm, but something more sinister, which sucks electricity from the power grid and magic from the air, and plus there's no internet anywhere. Phoebe, riding Marigold, and Dakota, riding a palanquin borne by goblins, recruit Max to help them understand the implications of a strange goblin legend that could explain these inconvenient phenomena.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Dakota is the worst.


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Worst Witch

Written by: Jill Murphy

First line: Miss Cackles Academy for Witches stood at the top of a high mountain surrounded by a pine forest.

Why you should read this book: Mildred Hubble is studying to be a witch, but she's the type of student who can't seem to ever get anything right, from remembering potion ingredients to teaching a cat to ride a broomstick to keeping her shoes tied. It doesn't help that her teachers don't expect her to amount to anything and one of her classmates is intentionally trying to get her into trouble. Sure that she's about to get expelled for her latest screw-up, which isn't really her fault, Mildred decides to run away, with very interesting results.

Why you shouldn't read this book: While characters from the book are rendered quite faithfully in the Netflix series of the same name, the plots are quite different, with the modern adaptation telling the story in much greater depth, and with much more interesting conflict.



Unicorn Crossing

Written by: Dana Simpson

First line: I'm going to need my phone back eventually.

Why you should read this book: A lot of this book focuses on the holidays, with Marigold throwing a very strange Halloween party and enjoying winter with Phoebe. She also goes on a spa weekend with her sister, leaving Phoebe to entertain herself and remember what life was life before she had a unicorn best friend. Dakota deepens her friendship with a goblin while increasing her harassment of Phoebe, Phoebe deepens her friendship with Max while embracing that Max is, we learn about how unicorns cross the road, and there's also a camping trip.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Terrible Christmas sweaters.


Razzle Dazzle Unicorn

Written by: Dana Simpson

First line: We get two days off from school this week.

Why you should read this book: Marigold and Phoebe play D&D, write a book report, clean Phoebe's room so well that it disappears, and return to band camp. Marigold gets jealous of a Christmas tree, offers Dakota and her goblin couples counseling, suffers from sparkle fever, and confesses her love for a lake monster. Marigold has to ride the school bus again and blows of practicing the piano.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Phoebe's dad shaves his beard on the last page and it looks awful.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Unicorn vs. Goblins

Written by: Dana Simpson

First line: What is up?

Why you should read this book: In the third installment of Phoebe and her Unicorn, Phoebe and Marigold go to band camp, where Phoebe makes friends with a human girl and Marigold makes friends with a lake monster. Readers will meet Marigold's sister, Florence Unfortunate Nostrils, and a bunch of goblins who kidnap Dakota for her magic hair. There's also a fun sequence where Marigold lets down her Shield of Boringness and Phoebe learns why it's better not to flaunt your unicorn.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're fiercely protective of your magic hair.


Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction

Written by: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

First line: C'mon, get behind the wheel.

Why you should read this book: In this graphic memoir, Jarrett recounts being raised by his grandparents, with his addict mother periodically making brief and confusing appearances, while any information about his father's identity remains conspicuously absent. As he grows older, he begins to understand his mother's illness and moves through the complicated emotions around it, while also finding comfort in his artistic talent and interest in drawing comics. A powerful and satisfying story that plumbs the depths of the author's life in search of comfort and meaning.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'll never forgive either of your parents.


Unicorn on a Roll

Written by: Dana Simpson

First line: You know we met less than a year ago.

Why you should read this book: Relationships develop in the second Phoebe and Her Unicorn compendium. Phoebe releases Marigold from the geas of being best friends, allowing Marigold to admit that she enjoys Phoebe's friendship and no longer considers it an obligation, but a delight she does not wish to use. Phoebe deepens her interaction with an interesting boy, Max, and Marigold reveals her fascination with a male unicorn, Lord Splendid Humility.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe in associating with lesser creatures.


Seven-Day Magic

Written by: Edward Eager

First line: "The best kind of book," said Barnaby, "is a magic book."

Why you should read this book: John and Susan's life was less interesting before Barnaby, Abbie, and Fredericka move in across the street, and it gets even more interesting when Susan discovers that a random library book contains a novel's worth of magic, allowing the children to make wishes that really come true, but not necessarily in the way they expect. The book is a seven-day loan, so the children have a week to figure out its rules and fulfill their fantasies, with the book and their own interpersonal relationships complicating things at every turn. This beloved children's novel combines a modern sentiment with a classical perspective on fantasy that makes it persistently excellent.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't think books are especially magic.


Phoebe and Her Unicorn

Written by: Dana Simpson

First line: Ow!

Why you should read this book: Phoebe is a little girl who just wants to be treated as the awesome human that she knows she is; Marigold is a unicorn who knows she is better than everyone else, especially humans. When Phoebe accidentally hits Marigold with a rock, she frees Marigold from a narcissistic fascination with her own reflection and is granted a magical wish, which she uses to make the unicorn her best friend. Reluctantly, Marigold infuses her unicorn magic into Phoebe's life, with comical results, and they are both better for the association.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're the mean girl.


Warriors 2: Fire and Ice

Written by: Erin Hunter

First line: Orange flames lapped at the cold air, throwing sparks up into the night sky.

Why you should read this book: To rectify the imbalance of losing one of the four clans, newly promoted warriors Fireheart and Graystripe are sent on a quest to find the Windclan and return them to their ancestral hunting grounds. The story sprawls about after that, with cats getting sick or injured, cats questioning other cats' loyalties. Fireheart doesn't know who to trust, but Thunderclan must band together or find itself at the mercy of the other cats in the forest.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Meh.


Educated

Written by: Tara Westover

First line: My strongest memory is not a memory.

Why you should read this book: This powerhouse of a memoir follows Westover from her early childhood, growing up in a fringe Mormon family where she was not allowed to attend school or receive medical care, but was required to work in her father's salvage yard without the benefit of OSHA regulations or any type of safety precaution. Westover's brilliant prose allows the reader to enter into the mindset of the little girl who is constantly hoping to please her difficult father and older brother, while the reader gradually becomes aware that these two men are both abusive and mentally ill, and nothing the author can do will ever protect her from their behavior. As Westover escapes her family's mindset and begins learning about the world outside her small mountain stronghold, she comes to inescapable conclusions about herself and her upbringing, illuminating an America that is all too common and yet so far from the range of the ordinary experience that had this story been presented as fiction, it would most likely be rejected for being too unbelievable.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have just begun working through the trauma of your own physical and spiritual abuse with a qualified therapist and you don't want to derail that process with unexpected PTSD symptoms that might arise from learning about other people's abuse.





Friday, July 5, 2019

Firefly: The Unification War Part I

Written by: Greg Pak, Dan McDaid, Marcelo Costa, and Joss Whedon

First line: "Hey, Wash...sorry to trouble you...but is that engine on fire?"

Why you should read this book: First off, you'd have to be a fan of the short-lived, ill-fated science fiction fan favorite, Firefly, and you'd have to know the series and the characters well enough to be dropped into a new episode of their (back) story without any further explanation. Captain Mal Reynolds and company find themselves in their typical situation: stuck on some backwater planet with a broken ship, no money, and a posse of extremely bad guys on their tail. This time, it's Mal and Zoë's past catching up with them, complicated by a bunch of murderous space cultists, and yeah, that engine was totally on fire.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You aren't already a fan of Firefly.




The Only Harmless Great Thing

Written by: Brooke Bolander

First line: There is a secret buried beneath the mountain's gray skin.

Why you should read this book: Slim and powerful, this fiction takes two historical truths from the early twentieth century—the radiation poisoning of girls working in a watch factory in New Jersey and the intentional electrocution of an elephant at Coney Island—and reimagines a world in which these incidents are linked and satisfyingly, if not brutally, avenged. Unfeeling bureaucracy butts up against sentience in elephants and anger in working class women in a story that bounces back and forth through time to create meaning from seemingly meaningless tragedy. This book is a swift punch to the gut, in a good way.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You scoff at the idea that animals can have feelings or feel righteous indignation.


The Porcupine of Truth

Written by: Bill Konigsberg

First line: The Billings Zoo has no animals.

Why you should read this book: Carson doesn't completely appreciate why his mother has dragged him across the country to watch his estranged alcoholic father die in the backwaters of Montana, but once he meets Aisha he's a little more open to the summer's possibilities. Queer, black, and homeless, Aisha feels even more displaced than Carson, and together they fall into an accidental quest to discover what exactly happened to Carson's grandfather thirty years ago. Quietly meaningful, this satisfying adventure weaves all its threads together into a complete tapestry about love, family, and more love.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Love is not your highest ideal.


Everfair

Written by: Nisi Shawl

First line: Lisette Toutournier sighed.

Why you should read this book: What if indigenous Africans had technological superiority over Europeans at the turn of the last century, and what if this reality existed within a society that allowed open discussion of race and sexuality in the same time period? This vast, populous steampunk alternate-history narrative follows an unlikely cast of Fabians, missionaries, escaped slaves, and oppressed native peoples in their attempts to build a socialist paradise in the wake of Leopold II's colonization of the Congo. Beginning with young Lisette Tourournier's love affair with a bicycle in France, the story criss crosses continents and decades, proposes complex love polygons among people with multiple loyalties, and introduces fabulous technologies and solutions in a dense and nuanced story that operates as science fiction and social commentary and a few other things.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I guess this book is not for unabashed racists, but they probably don't read interesting steampunk novels anyway.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Anya's Ghost

Written by: Vera Brosgol

First line: What's for breakfast.

Why you should read this book: Anya just wants to be a normal high school student, and she's done a lot of work to lose her accent and dissociate herself from the one weird Russian kid in her private school, but she only has one friend, who can be kind of mean, and the boy Anya likes already has a prettier girlfriend. Reeling with the unfairness of the world, she runs off and falls into a well, where she discovers the bones and the ghost of Emily Reilly, who helps save her from the well, and then sticks around to help Anya with her schoolwork and her love life. Maybe Emily is the kind of friend that Anya's always longed for, or maybe her kind of help is the kind of help that Anya can do without.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You will never, ever get over your first love, and you'll never, ever let them get over you.

 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Pachinko

Written by: Min Jin Lee

First line: History has failed us, but no matter.

Why you should read this book: This sprawling intergenerational epic follows three generations of the Baek family, Korean immigrants who came to Japan to seek a better life, despite a pervasive current of anti-Korean sentiment that pervades every aspect of their existence in this new home. Through poverty and privation, the family's love, determination, and connections serve to keep them and their descendants fed, clothed, sheltered, end educated, and while their lives are punctuated, over and over, by tragedy, their ability to draw on their own knowledge and strength allow the surviving members to achieve a little more than their parents did before them. It's a big book, but it moves with surprising speed, painting a detailed picture of lives from a previous century with exquisite and fascinating detail.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're never going to get over what the Japanese did during WWII.


Friday, May 31, 2019

Openly Straight

Written by: Bill Konigsberg

First line: If it were up to my dad, my entire life would be on video.

Why you should read this book: After three years of having his life defined by his sexual orientation (validated by his mother's involvement in PFLAG and his father's constant documentation), Rafe decides to start over somewhere he can just present as "normal" and chooses an Ivy League-style boarding school halfway across the country from home as the setting for his new, not-openly-queer lifestyle. On the one hand, his plan works perfectly, and Rafe is soon ensconced among the ranks of the school's popular jocks who wouldn't have given the time of day to an openly gay guy, but on the other hand, Rafe is still gay, and now he has to deal with the question of how to deal with the kinds of kids who used to be his friends (who the jocks dislike), when to tell people from his old life he's in the closet, and what to do with his burgeoning bromance with one of his straight teammates. The friendship between Rafe and Ben develops in an honest, loving, and believable sequence as one character works through their sexuality and the other through their handling of the truth.

Why you shouldn't read this book:  Your wife will never, ever know that you're gay.


Warriors 1: Into the Wild

Written by: Erin Hunter

First line: A half-moon glowed on smooth granite boulders, turning them silver.

Why you should read this book: Rusty, a young house cat, hears the call of the wild, takes off into the little bit of forest beyond his village, and is inducted into a new world of free clan cats, who live cooperatively in small groups where they care for one another and defend their territory against outsiders. Scorned as a soft and useless "kittypet" who may be unfit for forest dwelling due to his association with the "twolegs," Rusty gets lucky, showing up at a time when Thunderclan's low birth rate and apparently high mortality rate means they are in need of new members, and he is accepted as an apprentice warrior and given the apprentice name, Firepaw, as he learns the ways of his new world. But all is not peaceful in the forest, as the dangerous machinations of the devious Shadowclan and potential betrayals within Thunderclan itself threaten to destroy Firepaw's new home before he even has a chance to prove himself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Honestly, there are dozens of better-written fighting animal books; I'd read Redwall or Watership Down or Guardians of Ga'hoole before I got into a relationship with this slow, written-by-committee, lowest-common-denominator series (unfortunately for me, I've already read those books and this was the series my stepdaughter wanted me to commit to, which I did, because I love her and not because she's qualified to write literary criticism).


Sunday, May 26, 2019

House Made of Dawn

Written by: N. Scott Momaday

First line: Dypaloh. The was a house made of dawn. It was made of pollen and of rain, and the land was very old and everlasting. 

Why you should read this book: Abel, a young native American man returns to his reservation after serving in World War II, but his experiences as a soldier have scarred him so deeply that it's impossible to reintegrate completely into the society in which his grandfather raised him. However, life off the reservation is even more damaging and difficult, despite the efforts of white social workers and the assimilated Indians who like Abel and are doing their best to help him succeed. While this is often a heartbreaking story, its redemption arc is rewarding and believable, as the protagonist's need for healing and wholeness is addressed in culturally specific ways.

Why you shouldn't read this book: As so much of the story, which was originally conceived as a poem, is told from a perspective of pain and disassociation, there is often an intentional quality of disjointedness, which reflects the protagonist's internal state, but can make reading a little challenging.


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Only the End of the World Again

Written by: Neil Gaiman, P Craig Russell, Troy Nixey, Matthew Hollingsworth, and Sean Konot

First line: It was a bad day.

Why you should read this book: Sometimes I get the sense that Gaiman keeps a fishbowl of speculative fiction tropes behind his desk and his brainstorming method is to just pull a handful of themes out and call it a comic book. In this case, he pulled out "Cthulhu mythos" and "werewolf" and ran with it, and Troy Nixey's sweet freaky imaginative artwork carries the reader over any chasms between the two. Our hapless protagonist wakes up feeling awful (we know he's the werewolf because he throws up a dog's paw and three child-sized fingers on page two) and trapped in a Lovecraftian landscape (we know it's a Lovecraftian landscape because his landlady leaves him a note about Elder Gods on page four and is cooking three different kinds of eldritch horror in the kitchen on page five) where everyone he meets casually mentions methods for killing werewolves and raising Deep Ones from the ocean, but for a Cthulhu/werewolf mashup, it has a fairly optimistic ending.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I just didn't feel like there was enough at stake: the story is so short that we don't have a lot of opportunities to get to know or care about any of the characters before the events that might lead to their collective demise.


Monday, May 20, 2019

The Lady from the Black Lagoon

Written by: Mallory O'Meara

First line: In 1954, Millicent Patrick was an artist working for the world-renowned special effects shop at Universal Studios in California, the movie company famous for its monsters.

Why you should read this book: Author and filmmaker O'Meara sets out to prove that artist Milicent Patrick truly was the creator of the original Creature from the Black Lagoon design, and that an insecure male makeup artist acted maliciously to erase her contribution, take credit for her work, and ruin any possibility of her working in Hollywood because he was jealous of the recognition she received for her efforts (and her beauty). Simply tracking down the story of a blacklisted woman in an era during which movies didn't credit most of the people working on them turns out to be a story in itself, braided with O'Meara's own experience with sexism in Hollywood, and the book unfolds as part biography, part history, and part personal narrative, with emotional twists and turns, biting humor and withering observations. As I read this satisfying journey of a book, I felt a certain kinship with the tattooed, blue-haired, monster-loving author, whose personality shines through in every line of prose, and was therefore not too surprised when my best friend saw me with a copy and said, "Oh, you're reading my friend Mallory's book."

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your entire career is predicated on taking credit for other people's work.


My Freedom Trip

Written by: Frances Park, Ginger Park, and Debra Reid Jenkins

First line: My years ago, when I was a little schoolgirl in Korea, soldiers invaded my country.

Why you should read this book: It provides a child-friendly understanding of the fear and uncertainty of a journey to freedom. Based on the real like experiences of the authors' mother, this book recounts how a child escapes from North Korea to South Korea, glossing over the political details and focusing primarily on the child's perception and experience. A powerful and engaging story about a historical period and activities that are likely unfamiliar to many young people.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It could be a bit sad and scary for little kids; definitely not for adult readers who aren't ready to honestly answer questions about history and human nature.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Satania

Written by: Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët

First line: For crying the hell out loud!

Why you should read this book: Charlie and a party of like-minded explorers have penetrated deep into the cave where her brother disappeared on a quest to prove the existence of Hell, based partly on Darwin's theory of evolution and partly on his mother's hysterical ranting that she was raped by a demon, when a local priest comes to warn them that they're going to die in a flood if they don't get out of the system before the rain starts. Unfortunately for everyone, the priest is too late and the party must penetrate deeper and deeper into the earth to escape the water, discovering that some parts of Charlie's brother's theories are frighteningly true, and other parts of incredibly off base. Charlie and her surviving companions are about to discover the terrifying and shocking truth about what exists in the depths of our world, and what lengths humans will go to if they wish to survive there.

Why you shouldn't read this book: No matter what your theology or scientific beliefs, it's not likely to jibe with them.