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


Written by: Fabien Vehlmann and Kerasco√ęt

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.

My Heart Will Not Sit Down

Written by: Mara Rockliff and Ann Tanksley

First line: School day! School day!

Why you should read this book: When Kedi, a young girl in Cameroon in 1931, hears about American children who don't have enough to eat across the ocean because of the Great Depression, her heart "will not sit down," and she feel compelled to ask everyone she knows to donate to the relief effort. Money is scarce in Kedi's society—most people need to save every coin just to pay the head tax demanded by their colonial overlords—but her impassioned pleas convinced everyone to give what they have. This children's picture book is based on a true story in which the city of New York received a check for $3.77 from the people of Cameroon, a seemingly small sum that represented a vast portion of the wealth of the entire village.

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

The Tea Dragon Society

Written by: Katie O'Neill

First line: Once upon a time, blacksmiths were as important as magicians.

Why you should read this book: Greta, an adorable little humanoid being with goblin blood, has already made a lifelong commitment to study the ancient art of black smithing, which is still an honorable profession even though magic and technology in her world are sufficiently advanced as to make swords and the classical forging of swords something of an anachronism. One day she finds a lost tea dragon, a small and helpless creature that develops a powerful bond with its owner and grows magical tea leaves, and becomes friends with various tea dragon owners: Hesekial (some type of anthro creature; I wasn't sure if he was supposed to be a dragon or a llama or what), his partner Erik (human humanoid), who uses a wheelchair after losing the use of his legs adventuring with Hesekial, and Minette, a mysterious girl (she has antlers and what seems to be a unicorn horn but is otherwise human) with a mysterious problem from her mysterious past. Through the love of tea dragons, Greta finds a way to get close to Minette and help her deal with her fears while both girls learn about friendship, love, and tea dragon stewardship.

Why you shouldn't read this book:  You can't handle precious and adorable things.