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.


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 Zoƫ'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.


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.