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.


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.


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.