Irregular Review: Dragon’s Danger, Edward Branley

When I signed up for Story Cartel, I went straight for the fantasy and kidlit selections because, well, that’s what I read and that’s what I felt most comfortable reviewing. I chose Dragon’s Blood by Edward Branley because it had a nice cover. You know what they say, “never judge a book by it’s cover”? Well, they say it for a reason. Dragon's Blood

Dragon’s Danger
Edward Branley (Blood Bound #1)
☆☆☆☆☆ (No comment.)

Goodreads summary:

Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet!
Joey, Anne Marie, and David are three teens from New Orleans. They’re smart enough to understand this. Imagine their surprise when a “dragon’s egg” they bought online turns out to be from an ancient trading company that sells “collectibles and curiosities”. Suddenly it’s more than just kidding around, as they help their dragon avoid danger and evolve to its full potential!
For over a thousand years, the dragons have used the merchant concern, Hassan’s Collectibles and Curiosities to help identify those worthy of becoming the “Blood Bound” — humans who are willing to hatch dragon eggs and nurture the hatchlings to adulthood. The methods used by Hassan’s have changed over time, but the results are the same. The dragons live!
It’s never been easy to be a teen. Asking a teen to hatch a dragon egg is a big request. That’s why it’s important to choose a teen who has friends to help. Better yet, get three inseparable kids to do the job!

The Good
The cover art, as I mentioned, is what drew me to the story. The premise reminds me of Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, a book I loved when I was a kid, but if Jeremy had internet access.

The Bad
I didn’t finish this. I’m not one of those people who powers through when books get boring. There are only so many hours in the day. I dropped this book partway through the first chapter. Why? I didn’t feel like anyone had taken the time to edit it. So why should I take the time to read?

Sentences like, “Typical of New Orleans in February, it was cold for two days, today’s high would be much warmer,” and “Since most of New Orleans’ Catholic high schools are all-boy or all-girl, the boys ended up at one school, and Ann Marie at another, but regularly re-unite on holidays and in the summer” threw me out of the story while I tried to figure out what they meant. (Those were on facing pages, p7 and p8.)

Look, I don’t demand perfection, but two glaring editorial failures like this, in two pages, in the first chapter is unacceptable. I tried to look up the publisher, but was unsuccessful; if Elysian Fields Press has a website, they’ve done a mighty fine job of hiding it. (Goodreads lists the publisher as Smashwords, but the author’s profile doesn’t list any books.)

What really killed the book for me, however, was this:  “’Fuck you, Joey!’ she said, without even looking away from the TV.”

Dragon’s Danger is billed on StoryCartel as a “middle grade contemporary fantasy.” SFWA quotes agents and editors as defining MG as for children age 8-12. Dragon’s Danger has a casual F-bomb in the first chapter; searching the e-book pulls up an additional twenty five instances of the F word. His author bio rather defensively states, “he can attest that sixteen-year olds attending Catholic school do swear like the Trio do,” and while I’m sure they do, this is inappropriate language for a MG book. I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting this in my students’ hands.

So why was this a MG book? The characters are rather old for a normal MG protagonist (they’re all sixteen or so) and the language was more suited to a YA audience. This was the real lack of editing that made me decide not to finish this book, more than some awkwardly worded sentences.

I received a free digital copy of this book from StoryCartel.

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2014: The Year in Numbers (1)

Drita, My HomegirlThe first book I read in 2014 was Drita, My Homegirl. The last book I read in 2014 was Tiger in My Soup.

Total, I read 100 books this year. That’s a good number for me, a goal I’m going to keep in 2015. According to Goodreads, this was 23,972 pages worth of reading.

(I didn’t count every book I read, especially picture books I read to my students. The actual number would be much higher if I did that. I’ve only included picture books that really stood out to me for some reason.)

Of those 100, 92 were new-to-me; 8 were rereads. (The books I reread were: The Little PrinceHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneHarry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsThe Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeNo Plot? No Problem!Surviving the ApplewhitesSo Yesterday, and The Hunger Games.)

Ratings

I gave an average of 3 stars, which makes sense, as three is, you know, about average. I gave eleven books 5 stars; 8 books got only 1 star. (I would have given more 1-star reviews, but I’m usually not the kind of person who finishes books I don’t like.)

The books that only got 1 star were: How to Be a GentlemanThe Princess DiariesDivergentI am JPilot and HuxleyInk, The Desire Map, and Poisoned Apples. In particular, Divergent and Ink stand out in my memory as hate-reads; I am J and Poisoned Apples were just disappointments. The others were usually a case of “oops, I only have this book with me right now,” so I ended up finishing them anyway.

The Magician's BookThe books that earned 5 stars were: The Three PigsHarriet the Spy, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneAkata WitchDoll BonesBoxersSaintsAfterworlds, and, of course, this was the year of The Magician’s Book

Genres

My most read genre was fantasy (29), followed by nonfiction (23). Fantasy doubled over with other genres, notably most of my historical fiction reads. I’m not surprised that fantasy won the day; fantasy has always been my favorite genre. However, before this year, I never read nonfiction for fun, and now it’s overtaken all other genres for second place!

Of the fantasy books I read, 5 were what I would call “secret world” fantasies (think the Wizarding World, hidden from us Muggles); nine were magical realism (which I’ve stuck under “fantasy” for ease of sorting, sorry); 2 were paranormal (ghosts, vampires, whatever); five were “secondary worlds” (e.g., one of them is The Silmarillion); and the rest were a hodgepodge.

Of the sci-fi I read (3), they were all dystopias.

A Christmas CarolThis was the year I discovered nonfiction, so I read all over the place, trying to find my “niche” in the nonfiction section. I read: 2 biographies, 5 cultural histories, 1 etiquette book, 1 book about feminism, 3 how-to books, 6 books about books (books about reading or writing), 1 self-help, 2 popular science, and 2 professional development books. (Phew!) The cultural histories were definitely my favorite, and now that I know that, I’ll start seeking out more of those things.

Format

41 of the books I read this year were borrowed from the elementary library where I work; 12 were borrowed from the secondary library. 1 was from Project Gutenberg, 1 was from LibriVox. I won 1 ARC in a raffle. (Assume I own everything else, but mostly in ebook format.)

I listened to 3 audiobooks. 56 of the books I read were in print; the remaining 41 were ebooks, read in the Nook app on my iPhone. (I don’t own a dedicated ereader.)

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing This Year

Top Ten Tuesday

It’s a liiiiitle late for Christmas shopping – my friends/Japan family and I are having our Christmas dinner tonight, since half of us have work on Christmas Eve and Christmas – but just in case: here are my Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing This Year.

I’m breaking the list into two: five books I want for myself, and five books I want for my library.

For My Personal Collection:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone 2014Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone “But Leslie, don’t you already have this? Isn’t it, like, your favorite book?”
    Yes, yes, I do. I have numerous copies, even, but I always want more, like the adorable new Bloomsbury paperback or this French paperback. I collect different editions of this book, but really, I wouldn’t mind if Santa would just bring my existing collection to Tokyo on his sleigh.
  2. Sacred High City, Sacred Low City: A Tale of Religious Sites in Two Tokyo Neighborhoods Living in Tokyo, I’ve developed a hobby bordering on a religious obsession with Shinto shrines, but most of my knowledge is informal, gleaned from what little I remember of undergrad and my limited ability to read the informational pamphlets the priests sometimes give me with my goshuinchō stamps. In 2015, I’d like to do a little more serious research, including this book.
  3. Critical Perspectives on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials While Harry Potter was my obsession, His Dark Materials changed me in quieter, deeper ways that I didn’t fully realize until I reread the trilogy after moving to Tokyo. I love books about books – at home, I have heaps of books with titles like The Psychology of Harry Potter and The World of The Golden Compassbut this is a more in-depth, scholarly (and thus, expensive) book that I haven’t had the chance to read yet and I would love to get deeper into this story.
  4. NimonaThe Magician’s Book I already have this one in ebook format, but I loved it so much that it would be an honor to have the print edition on my shelf beside my own Magician’s Book(s), The Golden Compass and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (mentioned above). 2014 was the Year of the Magician’s Book, and I’d love to hold the actual, you know, book.
  5. Nimona I read most of this comic free online, but I liked it so much that I want to hold it in my hands and hug it and keep it on my bookshelf and admire it forever. This one might also double-up and go in the secondary library collection, too, because it is just soo great. I haven’t cried over a webcomic since seventh grade.

For My Library Collection:

  1. Olivia Kidney and the…  There are a couple of these (Secret Beneath the City and Exit Academy), and I want them both for the library after a student came up with a copy of the first book, begging me for the rest of the series. I didn’t even know it was a series, but how do you say “no” to one of your best patrons – a girl who comes in every single day to borrow new books and help sticker and shelve for fun in her free time – when they’re just dying for the next book in their new favorite series?
  2. Blossoming Universe of Violet DiamondThe Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond I tried to order this with the last PTA batch, only to realize – d’oh! – it won’t be released until next year. Oops! But I do really, really want it. I’m trying to build a diverse collection. Many of my students are biracial/bicultural, and I think this is a story that would resonate with them, even if the specifics are different than their own situation – it’s a mirror and a window.
  3. The School for Good and Evil Soman Chainani was one of my Top Ten New-To-Me Authors of 2014, and I really want this book in the library collection. I know what my patrons like, and a certain faction of my patrons likes princesses – loves princesses, even. I think this book would support their interest while maybe subtly dismantling the “princess” archetype, where “princess” means “pretty and helpless.”
  4. Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile (Series) Some of my “reluctant” readers have finally branched out from Captain Underpants and started reading Jack Stalwart and Zac Power and asking for more. We don’t have more, is the thing. For some reason, my library collection is weirdly lacking in adventure stories. Here is a solution to that problem.
  5. My Mixed-up Berry Blue Summer I want this book for a bunch of reasons. For one thing, queer characters are underrepresented in my library collection, but And Tango Makes Three is one of the most popular titles. For another, it takes place in Vermont, which is where I grew up, and that’s cool. The students – all international – like asking about where the teachers are from. I tried to buy it last year, but it was “not a priority,” while none of my other fiction picks had any complaints. Hmm. Hopefully Santa can help me out here…

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2015

Top Ten TuesdayI am so behind the times. Ever since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published and then TSUBASA: RESERvoir CHRoNiCLES finished English-language serialization, I haven’t really kept up with what’s coming out next.

But since my job involves reading for Sakura Medal nominations, I should do a better job of following new releases. I just feel like there’s so much to read already, especially considering all the great stuff that came out during the great big reading gap of 2007-2013, when I just did not read much fiction – or anything at all, really.

But here are the books I’m looking forward to in 2015 – not for me, personally, but for my library collection.

  1. Listen, SlowlyListen, Slowly Every year, fifth grade starts off with a historical fiction reading and writing unit, and one of the books that leaves a lasting impression is Thanha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again. Now she has another novel, this one about a protagonist going the other way – from the USA to Vietnam – and I can’t wait to get it. At an international school, my students understand the push and pull between two (or more) countries and cultures and I want them to see that in our stories.
  2. Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk Liesl Shurtliff’s Rumplestiltskin retelling, Rump, is one of the most popular Sakura Medal books so far this year, based on student enthusiasm. It’s flying off the shelves, handed from one student to another, placed on my desk with an emphatic thwak to punctuate the statement, “This is so good!” How can I turn down another story in the same series?
  3. The Island of Dr. Libris Another Sakura Medal 2015 follow-up for another one of the most popular books so far this year, Escape from Dr. Lemoncello’s Library. I’ve tried to read Dr. Lemoncello about ten times now, but every time students see it on my desk, they want to take it home, and of course I won’t say “no.” This one is bound to please.
  4. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond (paperback) The hardcover was released this year in January, but the paperback comes out next month, and that’s the edition I’ll get for my library. I think this will be a great addition to our collection, and I can already think of students who might enjoy this story.
  5. Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile (paperback) My students love books like Jack Stalwart, so why not support their budding interest in action thrillers with an exciting story about a protagonist of color? This is another book that’s already out in hardcover, but I’m waiting for the paperback.
  6. The Honest Truth With The Fault in Our Stars hitting theaters here in February (yes, February 2015), I’m sure I’ll have students in the Elementary Library asking to read the book. Unfortunately, the book lives across campus in the high school library, but from the blurb, this could be a good readalike for my older students.
  7. R.S.V.P. My students love tales of best friendship. This sounds like it has potential for kids who are growing out of Critter Club but maybe aren’t quite ready for the secondary library’s Dear Dumb Diary series. It reminds me of the Beacon Street Girls books in the fifth grade classroom libraries.
  8. The Stolen Moon (and the already released first book in the series, The Lost Planet) Remember what I said about Jack Stalwart? Those same readers love Zac Power, too. This looks like it has strong readalike potential, and I know our library collection could use more action/adventure titles… in space!
  9. From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess There are two genres perennially popular with my students: epistolary novels, and princesses. As this seems to combine both of those interests in one series – by Princess Diaries author Megan Cabot, no less – I can already see it’s place on my library shelves… left open, because I have a feeling it will just always be checked out.
  10. The Sword of Summer Percy Jackson is still going strong, so a new book series by the same author featuring Norse gods is an obvious choice to add to the collection, especially for the kids who come in asking for Avengers books. With Age of Ultron coming out in April here (yes, April 2015), I’m sure I’ll have students asking, and while it’s not exactly the same, I think they’ll see the connection.