Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories: A Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales Book

Edited by: Kel McDonald, Kate Ashwin, and Alina Pete

First line: Excuse me...Do you tell stories.

Why you should read this book: While it's a bit shorter than the other volumes in this series, there's still much to love in this book of Native American mythology, which features stories from the distant and not-so-distant past. One tale showcases the concept of "two-spirit," and discusses the acceptance of transgendered people in many indigenous cultures, while others show humans befriending monsters or tricksters getting tricked. Eight different nations are represented in this book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a transphobe. 

Aristotle's Poetics

Written by: Aristotle

First line: In studying the "art of poetry" our task will be to treat of: (1) the intrinsic nature of poetry, (2) its various kinds, (3) the essential "function and potentiality of each, (4) the kind of plot-construction requisite to a good poem, (5) the number and nature of a poem's constituent parts, and anything else that falls within the scope of the inquiry.

Why you should read this book: It's pretty much the first manual explaining how to write well, and while not ever line of thought is still relevant today, quite a bit of this little lecture, written well over two thousand years ago, remains relevant. What Aristotle meant by "poetry" translates more accurately to "storytelling" as we think of it in the twenty-first century, but his discussions of basic concepts such as "beginning, middle, and end" provide information that is essential to students of literature. A great many excellent pieces of advice for constructing plot, writing believable characters, and using language effectively make this book a valuable resource for writers of all levels.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Even the best translations can feel a bit dense: unless you have a special interest in Greek literature or writing stories, you may not get much out of it.

The Nixie of the Mill-Pond and other European Stories: A Cautionary Fables & Fairy Tales Book

Edited by: Kel McDonald and Kate Ashwin

First line: Come on, at least try to look presentable.

Why you should read this book: While many of the stories in this book will likely be familiar to western readers, they are presented in novel ways, sometimes with surprising twists. Things do not always end well, for example, with the people of Hamelin refuse to pay their debt, although Jack still manages to get away with robbery. It a fun exploration of familiar themes, accessible for modern readers. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: Some pieces of it might be a bit intense for young readers, such as the part where a cheating wife gets her nose bitten off.

Sukey and the Mermain

Written by: Robert D. San Souci and Brian Pinknet

First line: A girl names Sukey lived with her ma and step-pa in a cabin with a sagging porch and a roof so rickety it let in sunshine or rain, depending on the weather. 

Why you should read this book: A top notch writer and a top notch illustrator team up to create this sensational fairy tale about a little girl who escapes her troubles through a dalliance with a mermaid called Mama Jo. Sukey moves back and forth between her world on the surface and Mama Jo's ocean but chooses the world of men in the end. Inspired by and constructed from various pieces of African-American folklore likely handed down through the oral tradition all the way from Africa, this book introduced the idea of a Black mermaid to the public over thirty years ago.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are already het up about the validity of a Black mermaid.

The Night Marchers & Other Oceana Stories: A Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales Book

Edited by: Kel McDonald, Kate Ashwin, and Sloane Long

First line: Family. Always respect them. No matter what.

Why you should read this book: It's a delightful collection of "cautionary fables and fairy tales" appropriate for young readers, collected from the continent of Oceania (mostly Hawaii and the Phillipines). As the series subtitle suggests, these stories offer examples from mythology of what people should and shouldn't do, explaining superstition, ranging far into the past and even into the future to show the consequences of poor actions. There are gods and monsters, princesses and talking animals, everything you would expect from fairy tales, but stories you probably haven't heard before unless you hail from these cultures. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: Two of the comics are inexplicably not in English and not translated.

The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act

Written by: Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

First line: And once again, we return to this.

Why you should read this book: Here's a world that almost exactly like ours, except that every ninety years, a pantheon of god come back, taking young people for their avatars, becoming music sensations who are both worshiped and despised, possessing the power to drive their audiences to ecstasy, and other powers as well, and then dying two years later. Above-average teen and superfan Laura has an interesting encounter with Lucifer ("You can call me Luci.") after an Amaterasu concert and finds herself immersed in the surprising and dangerous world of these powerful, short-lived gods. As Lucifer becomes reckless and erratic, Laura becomes desperate to save her from the world of men, but Lucifer may have different plans for herself...and her protégé. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You get the sense that the actual story doesn't really start until the next book.

Tales from the Crypt

Written by: Bernie Wrightson et. al. 

First line: That's it...sign and your children will have the money they so desperately need.

Why you should read this book: These are new and thoroughly modern tales in the spirit of the old Tales from the Crypt comics (along with two old reprints). People still die horribly, but the subtext of these comics acknowledges things like class inequality, and one story hinges on viral social media with a plot that understands the existence of racism and sizeism. Jolly good fun for people who like to see awful things happening, mostly to awful people. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's not the original stuff.

Tales from the Crypt: Volume 3 (issues 11-15)

Written by: I think writers were sort of embarrassed to have their names associated with these books.

First line: Heh heh! So you're back for more, eh?

Why you should read this book: This is a trade paperback quality reprint of the classic old Tales from the Crypt horror comics from the 1950s, comprising issues 11 through 15, including all the old ads and the fan mail. It's campy, gory stuff, most of which ends badly, especially for bad people who deserve it. Murder, monsters, cannibalism, corpses, sometimes realistic stories of accidental (but deserved) death, sometime fantastical stories of supernatural terror, this brand is often cheesy, but never ever pulls its punches: people are goes to die, horribly.

Why you shouldn't read this book: No stomach for it.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Year in Review, 2022

Not much to say about it this year. Reading "serious" things felt like a real chore and took forever. Mostly I stuck with graphic novels (some of which were "serious" and felt like a chore and took forever) and kids' novels. There's also a 500-page book I spend months getting halfway though and never finished. In addition, I reviewed some books I didn't like, because I was reviewing them for the school district and you just have to take what they send you. I guess there's also 2 new categories: middle grade nonfiction (bleh) and essay collection.

Picture books:                     17

Middle grade/YA novels:   15

Middle grade nonfiction:    1

Graphic novels:                  29

Memoir:                             3 

Novels:                              1

Poetry:                               1

Essay collections:             1   

Total:                                 74 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Kids Fight Climate Change

Written by: Martin Dorey and Tim Wesson

First line: Calling all future superheroes.

Why you should read this book: Despite the cartoony illustrations and accessible language, this book is not messing around in its mission to convince kids to become true environmental activists in the battle against climate change. It carefully lays out the case for the detrimental impact that human activity has had on the planet and why kids should make behavioral changes to protect their own legacy (and encourage adults around them to do the same). The bulk of the book lays out dozens of "two minute missions" suggesting multiple ways the kids can act now to fight climate change.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you are opposed to being lectured by a child about climate change and environmental activism, you should not give this book to children.