Blogging for a Good Book
Today’s post is from Janet of the library’s Outreach Services Division:
Mollie Katzen, the godmother of heartwarming vegetarian cooking and the author of eleven popular cookbooks, has written The Heart of the Plate as a guide for the new generation of plant eaters. Those of us who own dog-eared and food-stained copies of her classics, The Moosewood Cookbook and Enchanted Broccoli Forest, think of her recipes as hearty, homey, heavy on the dairy, and crowd pleasing. They are often our go-to cookbooks when we think vegetarian.
Katzen’s new approach reflects the current trends in vegetarian cooking, with a much greater emphasis on vegan dishes. Her recipes are lighter, tap into ingredients, flavors, and textures drawn from the world’s cuisines, and yet appear to be simple to prepare and to customize. Gone are her folksy and charming handwritten recipes with accompanying pencil drawings. Katzen’s new cookbook style is slick, with beautifully illustrated photographs and original watercolors by the author herself. She assures us in her preface that this new collection of recipes includes her “absolutely most loved” recipes of late. While I had fun browsing her new title, I am really looking forward to getting into the kitchen and experimenting with her new approaches and combinations.
Check the WRL catalog for The Heart of the Plate.
Babette from the library’s Outreach Services Division provides today’s review:
Everyone has a list of “Books to Read.” Remarkably, there are titles that seem to remain on “the list” but are repeatedly overshadowed by the stream of newer items added to “the list.” For me, The Cellist of Sarajevo was one of those books. Having just completed this book, I urge you to push it to the top of your list and read it. This story puts a human face on war. It explores how individuals, innocent bystanders, attempt to live their lives in the midst of war, challenged daily to perform basic tasks which can have life or death consequences, and strive to maintain their sanity and a semblance of humanity despite the danger, destruction, and chaos brought into their everyday existence.
Based on a real life event, The Cellist of Sarajevo is the story of a cellist who, in the midst of the Bosnian war, witnesses from his window a mortar attack that kills twenty-two people standing in a breadline. In an act of respect, defiance, or an attempt to bring some peace and beauty to his war-ravaged town, the musician embarks on a daily ritual of playing his cello in the town square, in plain sight of enemy combatants, for twenty-two consecutive days. Also featured in this story are three ordinary townspeople: Arrow, a young woman sniper dispatched to protect the cellist; Kenan, a family man who dutifully procures water for his family and an elderly neighbor; and Dragan, a baker who remains in Sarajevo to protect his home and belongings after sending his wife and son to seek refuge away from the city. The lives of this four-some intersect and have profound bearings on their existence, although each is not aware of this.
The author’s beautiful prose poetically describes the setting, daily existence, and thoughts of the four main characters. The reader is compelled to reflect on each sentence and ponder the images conjured up in his or her mind. I listened to this story as an audiobook, which has the added bonus of cellist Sarah Butcher playing Albinoni/Giazotto: Adagio in G minor, the adagio featured in this story. Whether you check out the audiobook, as I did, or the book, I urge you to push The Cellist of Sarajevo to the top of your list and read it. You will be glad you did.
Check the WRL catalog for The Cellist of Sarajevo.
This week’s reviews come to you from the library’s Outreach Services Division, starting with a recommendation from Connie:
Amity & Sorrow is a fictional story inspired by the events surrounding David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, and Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Yearning for Zion religious splinter sects. The novel begins with a mother and her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, fleeing their home, until they crash their car and are stranded in rural Oklahoma. A farmer gives them aid, and the women stay because they have no way of getting anywhere else. The story of why they are fleeing unfolds in flashbacks, as the mother, Amaranth, fears her husband (who claims to be God) is pursuing them.
I found the story interesting and repelling at the same time. I thought the author did a good job of making me think about why people are drawn to this religious lifestyle, how it provides a missing sense of community while isolating them from the rest of society, and how hard their day-to-day lives are. I think this would be a good pick for book discussion groups because it makes readers examine our thoughts and feelings about a part of our society that is outside the mainstream.
Check the WRL catalog for Amity & Sorrow.
As I wrote about last year at this time, many readers first come to stories of the uncanny in their youth. In browsing the catalog for a collection of ghost stories for younger readers, I came across this delightful anthology compiled by Barry Moser. Moser is an noted artist, especially at printmaking and woodcuts, and his work graces the pages here. He also clearly has an ear for a good ghost story.
This collection starts with the chilling classic “The Monkey’s Paw.” I remember reading this story as a child and it still sends a shiver up my spine now just thinking on it. Be careful what you wish for is the theme here. Moser includes stories from classic writers, among them, Arthur Conan Doyle’s, “How it Happened,” the story of a car accident and its aftermath and the old, ghostly ballad of Polly Vaughn, retold by Moser himself. But there are more contemporary tales as well. Madeline L’Engle’s “Poor Little Saturday” is an excellent story of how a lonely boy finds some surcease of sorrow as he explores a haunted mansion. Joyce Carol Oates, known for her dark adult fiction, contributes a story here, “The Others,” that in its lack of resolution is a great addition to the ghost story canon. Also of note, and both related to music, are “Samantha and the Ghost,” by Philippa Pearce, where a young girl frees her grandparents’ cottage from a ghostly visitor and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann.”
None of the stories here is overly scary (well, maybe “The Monkey’s Paw” is for me), and a couple of them are pretty mild as far as ghost stories go by modern standards. But they are fun stories to read, and perhaps to read aloud. Moser’s illustrations add an extra frisson to the general eeriness.
Check the WRL catalog for Great Ghost Stories
I have always enjoyed Brad Leithauser’s poetry. He is one of the “New Formalists,” who have advocated for the use of metrical form and structure in modern poetry, as opposed to those who favor free verse. So I thought it was interesting to come across an anthology of ghost stories edited by Leithauser.
One thing that makes this collection a bit different from the others I have written about this week is that Leithauser does not limit himself to the old masters of the genre. While Henry and M.R. James are both included, as is the delightfully named Oliver Onions, Leithauser also includes pieces from later 20th century writers, including V.S. Pritchett, A.S. Byatt, John Cheever, and Penelope Fitzgerald. In his introduction, Leithauser notes that there are two branches to the ghost story genre, and the two Jameses, conveniently, delineate each branch. M.R is a master of what Leithauser calls the “plot ghost story” and Henry of the “psychological ghost story.” While I favor the former, Leithauser is more interested in the latter, and the collected stories here reflect that interest.
There are some deeply chilling tales here. Marghanita Laski’s “The Tower” finds a woman seeking to impress her somewhat distant husband by exploring an isolated tower in the Italian countryside, with ambiguous results. “The Axe,” by Penelope Fitzgerald starts off as a memo of a rather routine, if callous, office firing, and devolves into something much darker. Cheever’s “The Music Teacher” explores many of the same themes of Cheever’s novels, infidelity, lost love, and suburban life, but with a darkly supernatural twist.
As Leithauser says about fans of ghost stories at the end of his introduction, “In their bones they know that the universe is unsettling whether it is inhabited by spirits or whether we—lone walkers on a bitter night—are alone in the windy darkness.” These collected stories all capture that sense of unease, and keep you looking over your shoulder.
Check the WRL catalog for The Norton Book of Ghost Stories
Have I said how much I like Victorian era ghost stories? These atmospheric tales seem to me the perfect autumn reading. The Victorians, as the editors here point out, had a fascination with death, and that extended to their fascination with the afterlife. Think about Arthur Conan Doyle, who invented that exceptionally rational detective Sherlock Holmes, but who also believed in the power of mediums to connect with the dead. It comes as no surprise that some of the best ghost stories written come from this death-haunted period.
Oxford University Press is known for its exceptional anthologies, and Victorian Ghost Stories is an excellent example of their work. The collection brings together a superb assortment of authors telling chilling tales published between 1852 and 1908. Some of the well-known suspects are here, the Jameses, Henry and M.R., Wilkie Collins, and Elizabeth Gaskell among others, but there were also lots of new authors I had not encountered before. I particularly enjoyed “At Chrighton Abbey” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, where ghostly hunters presage a tragedy at Christmas-tide. Or there is Charlotte Riddell’s “The Open Door,” where a young man makes his fortune by risking his life in an ostensibly haunted manor house. All of these tales create an atmosphere of suspense without resorting to cheap tricks or gory details. The Victorians really were masters of the uncanny.
These would be great stories to read aloud by candle light, or better yet the light of just a fireplace. Let the shadows start to dance on the wall, listen to the creaking as the house settles and the tree branches scrape and scratch, or is that just what you think you are hearing?
Check the WRL catalog for Victorian Ghost Stories: An Oxford Anthology
Most readers know Roald Dahl for his wonderful, though often dark, children’s novels–Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Witches, and many others. Dahl also wrote short fiction aimed at adults. In those stories, Dahl always “aims to disturb” the reader, and, skillful writer that he is, he generally achieves his goal. So when picking stories for this collection, and horror fiction almost always works best in the short story format to my mind, Dahl sought out writers of the uncanny who could tell a tale that would leave you ill at ease. I can attest that he succeeded, at least in my case.
While there are some familiar names in this collection, including E.F. Benson, Edith Wharton, and Sheridan Le Fanu, most of the writers here were new to me. Dahl says he read “seven hundred and forty-nine ghost stories” in compiling the tales presented here, and he was “completely dazed by reading so much rubbish.” But the fourteen titles he chose are among the best ghost stories written.
From the opening story “W.S” in which a writer finds himself pursued by one of his characters to the final tale, “The Upper Berth,” involving the haunting of a cabin on board an ocean liner, these stories all will make you decidedly uncomfortable and likely to turn an extra light or two on around the house.
Dahl sought out stories that were neither violent nor graphic, but rather ones that seemed likely enough at the outset and then took a strange turn somewhere along the way. Empty rooms and loneliness seem to propel many of these tales. Often the protagonist finds him- or herself alone, perhaps at the holidays or in a new city. This alone-ness sets the stage for some supernatural encounter, though it is often only afterwards that the uncanny nature of things is revealed.
Check the WRL catalog for Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories
Each year about this time, I try to find a set of new horror titles to look at that are eerie without being gory. The sort of book to read when evening comes early and mist hangs on the fields. My favorite scary stories come from the late Victorian period or from those modern writers who carry on that tradition.
“One winter’s evening, about five o’clock, just as it began to grow dusk . . .”
What better start to a story for a blustery autumn evening? I was delighted this year to come across a new collection of Charles Dickens’ tales of the supernatural. The quote above starts his tale “The Bagman’s Story.”
I love the way that Dickens conjures up characters. His novels are filled with memorable people, often with memorable names, and his short fiction displays the same skill. Here, we meet a range of fascinating people, from Tom Smart— who finds true love and a great pub with the help of a haunted Windsor chair— to Mr. Goodchild, who hears the confession of a ghostly murderer in “The Ghost in the Bride’s Chamber.” Many of the stories here resonate with themes that Dickens explored more fully in his novels: the miser whose lust for money poisons his life, the man who despises others’ joy and cheer until supernatural beings show him the error of his ways, and the young woman bilked of an inheritance by an cruel guardian.
More atmospheric than horrific, these stories can still bring a chill, and cause you to look over your shoulder as you climb the stairs or peer out the back door into the dark night.
Check the WRL catalog for Supernatural Short Stories
Today’s post is written by Tova from Circulation Services.
Since reading 11/22/63, I have become a Stephen King fan, devouring many of his books back to back. King’s ability to weave in-depth character development into his genre-busting tales of horror and mayhem is not only a sweet treat for the reader, but a source of inspiration for aspiring writers like me. One of the more understated aspects of King’s writing is his sense of humor. Sometimes offbeat and quirky, a certain plot point or snatch of character dialogue will have me laughing out loud – and I do like to laugh.
While in between reading King’s books, I decided to search out other authors who infuse humor into their tales of suspense. Using WRL’s NoveList, I happened upon Carl Hiaasen, an author whose books are often requested by library users. Although I had never read any of Hiaasen’s works, his newest book is Bad Monkey; and, as someone with a soft spot for monkeys, I was compelled to give it a read.
Okay, so the titular monkey, whose image graces the cover of the book, is not a cute Curious George-type. Mischievous, cynical, and impulsive, Hiaasen’s monkey commits acts that shall go unmentioned in this blog entry. However, Hiaasen’s monkey is one of the most memorable, and surprisingly sympathetic, characters in the book. Hiaasen successfully uses him to help tie the novel’s multiple plot threads together.
Set primarily in southern Florida, Hiaasen’s tale revolves around Andrew Yancy, a disgraced Monroe County detective who has been demoted to Health Inspector (aka “roach patrol”) due to a heinous act he committed against his mistress’ husband. In spite of his reassignment, Yancy just cannot help but launch his own investigation when a fisherman reels in a human arm from the ocean; and Yancy inadvertently ends up in possession of it. How did the arm become detached from its original owner? Official investigators want to neatly declare that the detached arm is the result of an unfortunate boating accident and be done with it. However, Yancy, after uncovering some inconsistencies and shady details, thinks otherwise. His investigation leads him back and forth between Key West, Miami, and the Bahamas. Along the way, Yancy consorts with a colorful array of characters, including a sexually adventurous coroner, a disconcerting voodoo queen, his fugitive ex-mistress, a creepy land developer, the mysterious widow of the arm’s original owner, and, of course, the aforementioned monkey.
I found the humor I was looking for as the book is often laugh-out-loud funny. The whereabouts of the detached arm, which Yancy first stores in his freezer, is a running gag throughout the story. The snappy dialogue is also a source of humor. Yancy’s antics made me laugh and groan simultaneously as he transgresses multiple boundaries and finds himself in sticky predicaments of his own making. The fun is in imagining Yancy as he tries to get out of his self-made predicaments. That Yancy was morally and ethically corrupt pleased me greatly. I prefer my protagonists to be like most people in life – a mix of good, bad, and everything in between.
Hiaasen cannot compare to Stephen King when it comes to character development; however, his work stands on its own as he succeeds in creating a memorable cast of characters. By the end of the book, we certainly have a more rounded view of Yancy and we can sympathize with his desire to get his old detective job back, even if he employs questionable means to that end.
I would recommend Bad Monkey if you are looking for a light, fun, suspenseful story with a wicked sense of humor, and if you do not mind some coarse language and raunchy adult themes. I will certainly check out more of Hiaasen’s work – while in between Stephen King books, of course.
Check the WRL catalog for Bad Monkey
Today’s post is written by Jennifer from Circulation Services.
The story of three sisters seems to be deeply ingrained in our human subconscious. There are the mythological Weird Sisters, the women of Ang Lee’s film Eat Drink Man Woman, and those of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, to name just a few examples. One could even go so far as to contemplate the “Three Sisters” method of planting beans, squash, and corn, used throughout North America in pre-Columbian times. The motif is not limited to any single culture, and more often than not, as in Lee and Esquivel’s works, the lives of the three sisters are intimately connected to the food that they cook and enjoy.
Marsha Mehran’s novel Rosewater and Soda Bread is a fine addition to this little niche of a subgenre. After fleeing their home country of Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the three Aminpour sisters open Babylon Café in the tiny Irish town of Ballinacroagh. Practical Marjan, the oldest, is trying to keep the café (and everyone’s lives) running smoothly while being pursued by a dashing English gentleman. Middle sister Bahar bears a heavy burden from a troubled past, but is finding solace in an unexpected place. And the youngest, Layla, is a Shakespeare aficionado who just wants a little independence from her older sisters – and time to spend with her boyfriend. As if life isn’t complicated enough, their landlady and former pastry chef Mrs. Delmonico finds a “mermaid” washed up on the beach. Who is she, where did she come from – and what about the baby on the way?
Much like a rambler in the hilly Irish countryside, Rosewater and Soda Bread is unhurried in reaching its destination, minding small details and occasionally taking detours. This is part of the book’s charm, though, especially when Mehran describes Marjan’s cooking and its effect on those who consume it. For (most of) the residents of Ballinacroagh, Bablyon Café’s food and drink are synonymous with comfort. Indeed, the best word to describe Mehran’s prose would probably be “cozy.” I would highly recommend settling in with the book on a rainy day, a hot cup of bergamot tea by your side, and letting yourself be enraptured by the charm and intrigue of the Aminpour sisters’ adopted hometown.
Recipes for many of the dishes referenced in the story can be found in the back of the book, something for which I’m very grateful. I nearly drooled when reading the description of Marjan’s tacheen, a saffron rice and chicken dish: “…first buttered rice and almonds, then fried chicken and sautéed spinach, the yogurt binding them into a brotherhood of delicious play.” Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? I would recommend this book for gourmands, anyone interested in Irish culture, those who are fascinated by what happens when cultures from thousands of miles apart meet – and by how sharing a meal can help break down even the most seemingly insurmountable barriers.
Check the WRL catalog for Rosewater and Soda Bread
Atticus O’Sullivan looks a youthful 21, with blond hair, charming grin, and a trace of surfer dude attitude. Atticus enjoys the sunshine of Tempe, Arizona, has a close connection with nature, and enjoys hunting with his Irish Wolfhound Oberon. He owns his own business and has a relaxed, carefree life.
Atticus is the last of the Druids; he’s made it 2,000 years by keeping a low profile and communing with nature.
So far Atticus has managed to stay far ahead and hidden from a crazy Celtic god, but his luck is about to change. Aenghas Og has found Atticus and wants his sword, Fragarach, back. This time he won’t quit until he has beaten Atticus, even if it includes unleashing a few demons to get his way.
There are other magical beings in this world, including many from Celtic mythology. The author adds the requisite vampires, werewolves, witches, and fairies to flesh out Atticus’ story, but they aren’t the main focus.
Hearne weaves old mythology, popular references, puns, and witty repartee to create a funny, action-filled story. If you enjoy urban fantasy but have been looking for something that feels fresh and different, while also providing a sense of comfort familiarity, this is the book to pick up.
Prepare to put your feet up for a few hours of laughs, action, and a refreshing new perspective of a modern magical world.
Check the WRL catalog for Hounded
Fictional Academy Award-winning director Stanislas Cordova’s oeuvre consists of 15 films released from 1964 to 1996. As controversial as he is revered, his last five films were released independently and are collectively known as the “black tapes.” His fans, known as Cordovites, regularly stage secret showings of these films called red-band screenings. Enigmatic and reclusive, Cordova hasn’t been seen in public or granted an interview in years, but stories about Cordova’s family and lifestyle at his private estate, “The Peak,” are the stuff of urban legend. Stanislas Cordova is also the elusive focus of journalist Scott McGrath’s personal journey into the heart of darkness in Marisha Pessl’s second novel, Night Film.
Night Film opens with the apparent suicide of Cordova’s beautiful and talented 24-year-old daughter, Ashley. Her death piques the curiosity of Scott McGrath, an investigative journalist whose remarks about Cordova on a national television program resulted in a libel suit. Despite paying a substantial settlement to Cordova, McGrath still believes he is a dangerous man and he starts an investigation into Ashley’s suicide, intent on proving Cordova was somehow responsible for what happened to his daughter.
Joining McGrath in his quest are two strangers who have a connection to Ashley: Nora Halliday, a coat check girl who encountered Ashley shortly before her death, and Hopper Cole, who met Ashley when they were teenagers. As McGrath, Cole, and Halliday trace Ashley’s movements in her final weeks and unpack the mysterious nature of Cordova and his films, they learn the unsettling truth about a genius filmmaker and his family.
As a movie fan, I was interested in reading Night Film because the book’s plot and the character of Stanislas Cordova sounded intriguing. Pessl did not disappoint. Her characterization of Cordova and the descriptions of his films are so vibrant and detailed that I finished the book regretting that Cordova’s films do not exist in real life.
I’ll admit I had a rather mixed reaction to Night Film’s protagonist, Scott McGrath. On the surface the character seems awfully similar to Mikael Blomkvist from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (both are divorced investigative journalists whose reputations are tarnished by high-profile libel suits). Scott’s investigation is compelling and the friendships he forms with Hopper and Nora are sincere and poignant. Ashley Cordova may be dead at the beginning of the book, but Pessl does a nice job bringing the character to life, so to speak, through newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with film actors and acquaintances, and, especially, through her relationship with Hopper.
Another effective aspect of Night Film is Pessl’s use of multimedia elements. These elements are extensive and include copies of internet slideshows, news articles, and web pages from the Blackboards, a secret web site dedicated to all things Cordova. The narrative is fast-paced and engaging, but these multimedia elements truly immersed me in Cordova’s life and work. This experience doesn’t end once the last page is turned. There’s even a free app for smartphones called the Night Film Decoder that readers can use to scan select pages of the book and access videos, audio clips, and slideshow presentations. The additional content is a lot of fun and complements Pessl’s vision of Cordova, his family, and his films.
“Mortal fear is as crucial a thing to our lives as love. It cuts to the core of our being and shows us what we are.”
- Stanislas Cordova (Rolling Stone, December 1977)
Check the WRL catalog for Night Film
I admit it; I occasionally hit a reading slump. I’m surrounded by hundreds of thousands of wonderful stories, and sometimes I am unable to find one book that will pull me down the rabbit hole. So I turned to a fellow librarian for advice. I asked for the one book she had read that she just could not get out of her head. Her response was immediate — R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. No hesitation, no thought, no second guessing, she laid Wonder at my feet and I’m so glad she did.
Ten-year-old August Pullman will be starting public school for the first time after being homeschooled his entire life. Auggie happens to have a combination of rare genetic mutations that cause severe facial abnormalities. Because Auggie is so obviously different on the surface it is hard to see that he is just like many other boys his age — intelligent and funny and passionate about Star Wars. Needless to say going to public school will be an adventure filled with friends, enemies, middle school wars, laughter, joy, and pain.
I don’t want to give details of the plot because Wonder is a story about everyday life for someone that happens to be ordinary with an extraordinary face. These details are best appreciated and understood as revealed by Auggie. Wonder weaves together the shifting perspectives of Auggie and his friends and family to reveal the joys and challenges of life with compassion and humor.
Wonder is magic that will pull you in and won’t let go. For me it’s the very best kind of book, one that makes me love being in the rabbit hole, but also able to appreciate the world around me a little more when the story has ended. There will be moments this book will make you cry, but it is worth every teardrop. This is a book that will stay with you for a long, long, long time.
Check the WRL catalog for Wonder
A destroyed tribe, a talking pug, enslaved elves, a cruel Santa, a murderously evil and monstrously large baby harp seal, and a revenge-filled barbarian. Turning the first pages of Battlepug might make you wonder if the author had taken a list of all the random ideas he had during his entire childhood and created a mad-lib of a graphic novel. In a world of super-intense angst-ridden, save-the-world superheroes, it’s refreshing to have an artist break free and just draw whatever they think is cool and/or amusing.
There is no pretension to this story; it is narrated by a naked (but coyly covered), tattooed woman who is retelling this legend to two dogs: a pug and a French bulldog because one asked for a bedtime story with flaming devil monsters while the other one asked for one with puppies. She promises the dogs it will be both terrifying and sweet to appease both their desired flavors.
A gentle but unnamed boy witnesses the murder of his entire village, including his doting mother, by a smiling and sweet-faced baby seal of Godzilla-like proportions. He is saved by a fateful flick of the monster’s tail and rescued by several elves and taken to their evil master, the King of the Northland Elves (a glaring, thinly veiled Santa Claus) only to be enslaved and sentenced to a cruel life of hardship and toil. The difficult life doesn’t break the child. Rather his hate and need for revenge become magnified and he learns the art of combat, originally for their amusement, eventually for their doom.
The warrior (who seems to be based on Conan the barbarian) seeks the scarred man who let the seal loose on his village, and his travels lead him to a swamp where he first encounters the elephant-sized pug. Despite a bumpy first meeting (and not an insubstantial amount of slobber), the warrior and the rideable dog team up with a crazy old man named Scrabbly to track down his nemesis, Catwulf.
Mike Norton launched Battlepug in February 2011 and in 2012 won an Eisner award for the best Digital Comic. While it could be easy to dismiss this story based on any one of its ludicrous parts, the storytelling is deft and the artwork is solid and amusing without being silly. The pug’s eyes pointing in two different directions and lack of a convincingly ferocious bark play perfectly against the warrior’s grim and unsmiling presence.
A promising start to a unique series, I would recommend this to graphic novel, fantasy, and adventure readers and anyone who has a strong sense of the absurd.
Search the catalog for Battlepug
Paige is despondent. Her family recently moved from central Virginia to Manhattan and she has to deal with acclimating herself to a new city and culture while her relationships with her parents, especially her mother, have been crumbling. She misses her old life, and her old friends, especially her best friend Diana. Paige floats around New York with a sensation of being lost, unsure of herself or what she wants.
Both her mother and father are writers (hence her unfortunate name, Paige Turner), but she is more like her grandmother, a painter. Introverted and quiet on the outside, Paige is full of life and emotions on the inside. She can’t express these feelings in words so she buys a sketchbook, determined to follow her grandmother’s rules that she came up with to teach herself to be an artist. Starting the first drawing is daunting, and brings to the surface more of her anxieties. Is she a good enough artist, what if she has nothing to draw about? Monologues of self-doubt constantly run through her head, even as the pages begin to fill up with sketches.
Entering her new school, Paige quickly falls in with Jules, her brother Longo, and his friend Gabe. The foursome is soon inseparable. Paige still struggles with self-doubt, and everything cool and fun she sees in her friends strengthens her inferiority complex, and fear that her lack of specialness will be discovered. Her inner voice promises that she can change. But how can she build a new self and remove those parts she dislikes most?
Ever practical, Paige makes a list of those aspects of her personality she dislikes the most and intentionally faces them with the help of her friends. She discovers that they too have things that they lack the courage to face, and she begins to coach them, even as she is developing and evolving herself. The image of a seed being planted and carefully tended to as it grows into a fragile shoot appears several times in the drawings and is particularly apt.
The writing is lyrical and evocative while being relatable to anyone who was unsure of themselves when they were a teenager. Paige has a knack of summing up complicated emotions using simple phrases. She states that “like fun house mirrors, different people reflect back different parts of me” and while mourning her loneliness early on, she states that she hates how all her “friends now live in picture frames.”
Recommend for young adults and graphic novel readers and anyone else who can relate to the heart wrenching process of finding yourself.
Search the catalog for Page by Paige
While watching the Avengers movie in the theater (I admit, twice), I was intrigued by the characters of Hawkeye and Black Widow. Not having much knowledge of the Avengers outside of Iron Man and Thor, I found it interesting that there were members of the team who did not possess any superpowers or special flying suits. Experience and training will only get you so far when facing a massive army of technologically superior aliens from another dimension. Hulk may smash, but normal humans should be running in the other direction while screaming.
As expected, when a movie piques the public’s interest in specific characters from a comic universe, new material often follows. I picked up a copy of the first volume of the new Hawkeye graphic novel series, titled Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon. The series covers Hawkeye’s life away from the Avengers, where he lives quietly as Clint Barton in a rather crummy apartment building. He is assisted in many of his exploits by Kate Bishop, who is a member of the Young Avengers, and had previously stepped in for Clint when he took some time off from the Avengers. She is an equal, if not better, bowman than Clint.
Unlike other human superheroes like Batman or Iron Man, Hawkeye isn’t angsty, and there is a lot of humor injected into his interactions, especially with Kate. He fights mainly with his bow and an array of sometimes ridiculous specialty arrows, a method which is used smartly against him by the authors in a humorous segment where he keeps firing random arrows with somewhat unbelievable abilities. He tries to live as normally as possible, enjoying rooftop BBQs with his neighbors, buying a used sports car, and practicing his archery, but generally finds ways to get himself in trouble much as he might try to avoid it. It seems once you are identified as a superhero, groups of ninjas can’t help but attack you.
This volume is a quick but fun read. Recommended for fans of the Marvel Universe and anyone who is tired of having perpetually disagreeable and tormented superheroes.
Search the catalog for Hawkeye
I am the first to flee at the sight of blood. As such, I don’t watch boxing and I quickly switch the channel when watching football if the station decides there is a need to show slow motion replays of a player’s injury from EVERY ANGLE. But for whatever reason, I can stomach violence in graphic novels, as the images can be processed as art by my brain, conveniently disconnected from reality.
Browsing our shelves, I picked up a copy of Heart but almost put it back again when I realized that the story revolved around an MMA (mixed-martial arts) fighter. I ended up holding on to the volume, deciding that since I had been in a reading rut recently, something so far out of my normal comfort zone might be just what I needed.
The story throws you right into the middle of the octagon at the beginning of a fight between Oren “Rooster” Redmond and Mike “The Hooligan” Murphy. Glaring and tattooed with muscles tensed, they square off with the cheers, jeers, and bloodlust of the crowd in a roar around them. The story is narrated by Oren, and he baldly presents his adrenaline and bravado as well as his mistakes as he takes us through his journey from slightly overweight office worker to trained fighter. He’s inspired by his older brother, who started out as a college wrestler and progressed to MMA after graduation. From the drudgery of his data entry job, Oren enters a life that finally allows him to live life on his own terms.
It’s Oren’s honesty about how his fighting career progresses that really pulls the reader into the story. He’s not trying to fool anyone, not even himself. His frankness and honesty are refreshing yet surprising, since MMA promotion isn’t known for being austere or unembellished. Oren wryly confesses to prior unkind thoughts about “guys who wore too-tight t-shirts with shiny, metallic crap written on ‘em” before he entered and embraced the culture.
Heart is an engaging and powerful read. I would recommend it to sports fans, readers of graphic novels in general, or any reader who loves stories where the human element transcends the environment.
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I have a fascination for Swamp Thing that started a few years ago when I picked up a copy of one of the volumes penned by Alan Moore (he of Watchmen fame). Swamp Thing isn’t your normal Superhero. He doesn’t fight supervillians, although he has had occasion to save the earth and humankind before. He’s a conflicted creature, no longer quite human but not fully removed from the person he once was. He is pulled between two worlds, caught between his human memories and the pull of The Green, a force that connects all plant life on Earth. Swamp Thing generally keeps to his damp living space, communing with nature and trying to find a semblance of peace.
The character of Swamp Thing has been reinvented and restarted many times over the years, with admittedly varied success. When I saw that Scott Snyder was taking the helm for the new Swamp Thing series I was excited. Snyder is one of my favorite current graphic novel writers (see my review of American Vampire) and I was confident that the story would be done justice to in his hands. Rather than ignoring the past incarnations of Swamp Thing, Snyder was able to build upon the legend, keeping the past intact while carving out his own unique storyline. He is even able to pull in the character of Abigail Arcane who is typically the partner/wife of Swamp Thing and helps to ground him and keep him connected to his human past.
Swamp Thing has always been most easily classified as horror, although that seems unfair as it classifies him more by how others react to him than how he actually conducts himself. Snyder has always shown himself to be remarkably adept at this genre. He is able to build an atmosphere of eerie menace in even the most mundane scenarios but also doesn’t shy away from gore or shock. This is the first of two published volumes in the DC Comics New 52 Swamp Thing series. The third volume will be released in November.
I would recommend this book to anyone who reads horror, especially graphic novels.
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For me, a pie is an object about which there is much to be crazy. Or perhaps that is not quite right, as pies are not “objects,” rather they are as manna contained within their own plane of being. To me, this isn’t so much a cookbook as a blueprint towards a better life.
Metaphysics aside, this is a great book that makes me hungry just looking at the pictures. It is beautifully illustrated with glowing photographs of creations that I know I could never bake as perfectly. The author, Krystina Castella, is an industrial designer as well as a successful cookbook writer, so it is not surprising that her pies are visually stunning. Crazy About Pies even has a section on “The Pie Decorator’s Tool Kit” although decorating pies is not something that had previously occurred to me beyond cutting out some leaves and an apple from left-over pastry or poking the vent holes in the shape of an “A.” Whether or not I would ever get around to putting a marzipan butterfly or a fondant blackbird on a pie, it is still lovely to look and dream…
Over the years I have perfected my one apple pie recipe to exactly how I like it, so I thought I would try something savory in the form of Bacon and Egg Pocket Pies. They took an unexpectedly long time to make, but the results were fabulously rich and incredibly yummy. Mixing little bits of bacon into pastry is not something that ever occurred to me before, but it worked out to be such a splendid idea, that I will have to try it again (but maybe not with apple pie). I managed to sneak one out of the fridge before my ravening hoards of teenagers pillaged them and (once warmed in the microwave), my colleagues agreed that they were just what we needed for breakfast.
For the sweet pies I am not sure whether to go with Mocha Pie or Cheesecake Pie with Marzipan Butterflies. Since I am at work, in the meantime, I will have to content myself with flicking through the book and drooling.
Definitely try Crazy About Pies if you want to expand your pie repertoire—you’ll get lots of great ideas. Or you can just look at it for the glamorous photographs of Pie Perfection.
Check the WRL catalog for Crazy About Pies.
“The dread had not left my soul. But there was a kitten on my pillow, and it was purring in my face and vibrating gently with every purr.”
Neil Gaiman has a great talent for seeing the sinister and malevolent under the everyday and mundane. But he also has a talent for pointing out the beauty and wonder that simultaneously exist in the same everyday and mundane things. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told mainly through the eyes of a seven-year-old boy, which gives the book a simple, direct style as the boy is without preconceptions. He reports matter-of-factly that his new nanny is an evil monster who rode out of another dimension in a worm hole in his own foot, but this is not the sort of thing that adults believe.
The book starts as a middle-aged man returns to his childhood village to attend a funeral, so we know that the narrator survives (something I would not have been sure of otherwise). Forty years ago, the tragic suicide of an almost-stranger and a series of seemingly small, but bad, decisions, lead to dramatic and possibly world-ending events, all under the eyes of oblivious adults.
Neil Gaiman has created a complete, but never fully explained, fantasy world living just under the surface of the world we see. His Hunger Birds are close to the creepiest fantasy creatures I have ever encountered. I can see glimmers of the best of other British fantasy. The woods that the boy first enters with Lettie Hempstock reminds me of the damaged, dimensionless woods in Diana Wynne Jones’s The Pinhoe Egg. Lettie Hempstock herself, being a non-human in human form, with her Universe-saving sentiments, reminds me of Doctor Who. These may be plausible connections: Neil Gaiman knew Diana Wynne Jones and considered her his mentor, and he has written for Doctor Who.
This book is being marketed as an adult novel and lots of adults and teens love it. I think older children who are strong readers and fantasy fans will also enjoy it. They will appreciate the main character’s impotence in the face of the seamlessly complacent adult world. It has a few oblique references to sex, but they will probably go over the heads of many children. Simply, but poetically written, this a beautiful short book that I wanted to come back to and immerse myself in. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and have heard several read by the author. Neil Gaiman is by far the best reader of his own work that I have come across. From his pleasant English accent to the menace in the voice of the monster, I can’t wait to hear more.
Check the WRL catalog for The Ocean at the End of the Lane.