Best of 2017: Books for Adults

With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas on the near horizon, it is time for the ‘Best of 2017’ lists to begin. We here at the library are not immune to wanting to get all of our favorites from the year listed and out to you. And you can bet we have a lot to share. So much so that we will be dividing up our recommendations into four posts, starting with our recommendations for 2017’s best in Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction and Graphic novels. If you want to check out the whole list, definitely take a look at the Library Newsletter.

Adult Fiction

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

Kate, whose lifelong anxiety is compounded by a traumatic event, bravely switches apartments with her cousin– he moves to London and she to Boston. Right away a neighbor disappears, and this time Kate is right when she imagines the worst.

While not my usual fare, I really enjoyed flying through this page-turner of a story. With its suspenseful elements of “Rear Window” and a strong visual sense of place, I’d love to see this made into a movie!  –Elizabeth

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

When elderly author Gil thinks he sees his presumed-dead wife Ingrid, he falls and injures himself. The action takes off when Gil’s daughters arrive to take care of him, alternating between Ingrid’s story and the present-day family dynamics.

I loved Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days. While not as intense, this new work proves the author’s ability. The gradual reveal of the mystery of Ingrid’s disappearance kept me guessing to the end and beyond. Loved the setting, too!  –Elizabeth

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

Emma and Jane each rent a home from an enigmatic and stringent architect whose rules and designs are meant to transform the tenants. Their stories unfold through suspenseful, short chapters alternating between the two women—one alive, and the other dead.

I like a fast-paced whodunit. Some sections were a bit graphic for my taste, but I couldn’t put it down!  –Margo

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less is more, unless your name is Arthur Less, and then less is never enough! He travels all over the world trying to change his luck and forget his past. But fate has other plans for Arthur.

I loved this book because Arthur was so hopelessly loveable, even though he’s convinced that he’s unlovable.  –Linda

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

A publisher and editor are reading the newest submission from famous author Alan Conway in his “Atticus Pünd” series. Then they realize the last chapter is missing. Before they have a chance to ask him where it is, Alan commits suicide. Or does he?

What a fun book! Magpie Murders is a mystery within a mystery—a really challenging whodunit!  –Linda

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

A mother’s hurried choice of a nanny for her toddler results in multiple complications. Art, privilege, motherhood, love, and seriously dysfunctional relationships thrive in Lepucki’s second novel, which is nothing like her first, California.

Having gone to art school myself, I enjoyed the bizarre art project that the nanny contrives to undertake right under the nose of the mother. The added touches of Twitter addiction, selective mutism, and reckless behavior make this an entertaining read.  –Elizabeth

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Samuel Hawley, scarred from 12 bullet wounds, has lived a life of crime about which his daughter, Loo, knows nothing. Gradually, the story behind each of those bullets is revealed, along with the truth about Loo’s mother’s death.

Despite the violence of Hawley’s former life he fiercely loves and protects Loo. This dichotomy between despicable behavior and tenderhearted parenting makes this an endlessly intriguing story, full of intensity and complexity. I loved it!  –Elizabeth

Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato

Edgar is a quirky 8-year-old struggling to find his place. His dad is dead, his mother is a messed up partier, and his loving grandmother just died. When a strange man treats Edgar with kindness, he makes the grave mistake of getting pulled under his spell.

Seriously flawed characters galore here, but you can’t help but empathize with each one and even understand their crazy actions. Suspenseful, full of twists and turns—it keeps you guessing!  –Elizabeth

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

Seven tales of middle-aged guys and the women they’ve known, loved, used, and lost. One is starving from unrequited love. Another hears about his lover’s former life as an eel. One wakes up as a Gregor Samsa, a man after having been a cockroach.

It’s hard to put into words why I love Murakami’s work. It’s a sort of intense introspective wonder about people, relationships, and the world in general. I loved the incredible details of these stories, and didn’t want any of them to end.  –Elizabeth

The Echo of Twilight by Judith Kinghorn

Pearl Gibson works her way up to becoming the head maid for the wealthy and strong-willed Lady Ottoline Campbell. The two ladies’ lives intertwine over the years as they deal with love, loss, and secrets.

The Echo of Twilight is a sweeping story that is reminiscent of Downton Abbey. The descriptions of lush scenery, opulent surroundings, and interesting relationships between characters made for a fantastic read.  –Liz

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

This is the last installment in the Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy. Feyre learns how to use her powers and become a leader in order to try save those in the human realm as well as those in the Faerie realm.

I would describe this book as “Twilight for grown-ups.” It’s filled with action, romance, magic, and the supernatural.  –Liz

Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

In a world where nothing holds its shape unless labeled and named by humans over and over, Vanja travels to cold, dreary Amatka to study hygiene products for the government. Initially, she is a loyal servant but soon discovers all is not what it seems.

Amatka kept me fascinated from bizarre beginning to ambiguous end, which I hope hints at more to come from this debut Swedish author.  –Elizabeth


How to be Human
by Paula Cocozza

Mary, newly separated, barely keeping her head above water, with a tedious job and a ramshackle house, becomes enamored with a splendidly gorgeous wild fox. To Mary’s horror, the neighbors want to bring in an exterminator.

This strange storyline made me a bit worried at times, wondering what might happen. But I loved the buildup of tension and claustrophobia, and finally, Mary’s transformation.  –Elizabeth

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

A strange Victorian tale of small village fears and superstitions. Is there a monster lurking in the fog and mist of Colchester? Add in a forbidden love story, a tragic case of consumption, religion, science, and feminism, and the result is intriguing.

My son called this audiobook “overwrought,” but I loved performer Juanita McMahon’s voice. Plus, the main character Cora, who wears men’s clothes and tromps around in the bog studying nature, is certainly a woman ahead of her time.  –Elizabeth

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

Told from a variety of perspectives, Mrs. Fletcher follows the misadventures of a 46-year-old divorcee and her son, as the son adapts to college and the mom adapts to an empty nest.

Perrotta (Little children, Election, and The Leftovers) returns with his first amusing, thought-provoking, character-driven novel in six years. As raunchy as it may be, it is far sweeter… and harder to put down.  –Alan

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

The latest from the British mystery author of In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10—this is another terrific thriller regarding teen best friends who carry a deadly secret into adulthood.

Chock full of twists and stunningly styled, The Lying Game is thrillingly engaging, especially as an audiobook performed by the incomparable Imogen Church.  –Alan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

In 1940s Italy, teenager Pino Lella joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps and falls for a beautiful widow. He also becomes the personal driver of one of the Third Reich’s most powerful commanders.

This is a “can’t put it down” book based on a true story. Totally loved it!  –Leslie

Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith

A paean both to the public library and the book, Scottish novelist Ali Smith’s latest book blends true words from library lovers with short stories suffused with her trademark magical realism.

This book serves as a kind of literary activism. While it is known that Smith writes so beautifully, her reading of the audiobook is what really recommends this inspiring work.  –Alan

Adult Non-Fiction

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking

This book has recipes, decorating tips, and lifestyle advice about how the Danes incorporate hygge—meaning comfort or well-being—into their everyday lives, making them some of the happiest people in the world.

I really love all the information about making your home more comfortable and your lifestyle more relaxed in order to fully appreciate the important things in life such as family and friends.  –Liz

Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying Yes to Living by Tim Bauerschmidt

Recently widowed nonagenerian Norma opts out of cancer treatment and goes on an adventure of a lifetime in an RV with her son, daughter-in-law, and a large poodle. This book chronicles their journey and shares the warmth, wisdom, and kindness they encountered every step of the way.

Driving Miss Norma teaches us to embrace life and adventure. We are never too old to try new things.  –Julie

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

A husband and wife team shares their personal story, from humble beginnings to their current careers as home improvement experts and television personalities.

These two have a remarkably strong relationship, four kids, work really hard in all aspects of life, and are amazing at home remodel and design. This is a fascinating story that reveals the couple behind the popular TV show, Fixer Upper–Margaret

Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Osage Indians in Oklahoma were among the wealthiest people in America in the 1920s, thanks to the discovery of oil beneath their land. And then, one by one, dozens of tribal members were murdered, as were the local law enforcement officials who dared investigate the killings. The fledgling FBI picked up the case and bungled it badly.

This is one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history and a very good read.  –Leslie

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? Acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson guides readers through these questions in this compact and contemplative guide to the cosmos.

Tyson brings the universe down to earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.  –Leslie

The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage by Jared Yates Sexton

Featuring in-the-field reports as well as deep analysis, Sexton’s book is a sobering chronicle of our polarization and a firsthand account of the 2016 presidential election and the cultural forces that powered Trump’s victory.

Sexton grapples with the lies, news, ugly debate, social media echo chambers…and tells us how we got here. One critic called it “A leftist counterweight to Hillbilly Elegy with shots of Hunter S. Thompson.”– Alan

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay delves into one of the most painful and deeply personal aspects of herself: her body. This is her story of how a major trauma from her adolescence played out and manifested itself through her body.

This book touches on an issue that almost every woman can relate to in our country. Gay’s honesty and vulnerability show the interrelatedness of trauma and disordered eating.  –Serena

‘Twas the Nightcap before Christmas by Katie Blackburn & Sholto Walker

A new version of an old tale—absolutely adorable and relatable! Any parents who have been up until the wee hours of Christmas Eve will wonder why it took until now for someone to write this. I loved it, and can’t wait to buy my own copy!

The story and artwork were both fun!  –Linda

Adult Graphic Novels

Motor Crush 01 by Brenden Fletcher

Domino Swift might be the best motorcycle racer alive, but her activity on the underground racing circuit is jeopardizing her official career. Domino’s real trouble begins when she finds herself battling a gang over a mysterious illegal engine stimulant.

The Road Rash-style motorcycle racing would have been enough to get my interest, but the futuristic setting along with a slight Overdrive vibe to the artwork adds a layer of depth to the storytelling and completes the experience.  –Zac

Savage Town by Declan Shalvey

Jimmy Savage is a small time gangster in Ireland struggling to keep his small empire together with threats from outside, as well as from within.

The authentic-sounding dialogue brings this story to life and makes it more than just another gangster story.  –Zac

Waiting for Kylo

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Thomas Paine wrote that during the difficult early years of the American Revolution. But he could just as well have been talking about my life in the months leading up to a new Star Wars film. The second full trailer for The Last Jedi was released this week and my excitement level is higher than Anakin’s midichlorian count. This. Movie. Looks. Amazing. While there are still two excruciating months until Episode VIII hits theaters, the past few years have seen the release of some phenomenal Star Wars content to help us all survive the wait. I want to tell you about a few of my favorites in our collection, but first a warning: if you’re new to Star Wars, there may be some spoilers below.

Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars opens in the early years of the Empire, on the Outer Rim planet of Jelucan. Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell are two natives of this world leading very different lives. Thane comes from noble stock. His affluent family has plentiful Imperial connections. Ciena has far more humble beginnings. Belonging to a lower social caste, her family is proud and loyal, but also poor and marginalized. Thane and Ciena are brought together, however, by their love of flying and dreams of attending the Imperial Academy. 

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Through hard work and determination, they both make it to the Academy where they seem destined to rise through the ranks together. Despite their strong bond their relationship soon grows complicated. Ciena continues to take pride in the order and righteousness of the Empire while Thane begins to wake to the cruelty and oppression around him. As Ciena quickly rises through the ranks, Thane chooses to defect and join the fledgling Rebellion. Their linked paths thread through many famous battles and close escapes as the Rebellion grows and begins to find success. With the battle for the galaxy heading towards an ultimate confrontation, both Ciena and Thane are forced to decide between their convictions and their ties to one another.

Despite glowing reviews, I had low expectations for Lost Stars. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good YA romance, but that isn’t what I look for in a Star Wars novel. I was delighted and surprised to find that the romance in this book takes a distant backseat to Gray’s masterful retelling of many well-known Star Wars events from fresh perspectives. As such, this sprawling novel serves as a perfect companion to the films that are indelibly ingrained in my mind.

Zahn and Thrawn are two names that are inseparable and unforgettable for many Star Wars fans. Timothy Zahn is a legendary author, while the cunning Admiral Thrawn is his greatest character. Like many fans, I was crushed when Disney excluded these novels from the new canon. But Zahn is back! He has written a novel, aptly named Thrawn, that tells the story of this captivating alien’s rise through Imperial ranks and his struggles against the bigotry and other roadblocks he faces.

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Alternating between Thrawn’s perspective and those of two young Imperials who become key figures in his career, Thrawn reminded me of an interstellar Sherlock Holmes mystery. Thrawn is a brilliant tactician always several steps ahead of his rivals and enemies. He is often impeded, however, by his total lack of social graces and ignorance of Imperial politics. His assistant and companion, Eli Vanto, is a perfect Watson helping smooth the way when Thrawn’s unrefined manner is problematic, but also serving as an audience surrogate who allows Thrawn to flash his superior intellect. Finally, this book gives Thrawn his own Moriarty, a mysterious and brilliant smuggler turned Rebel, who will either bring Thrawn great glory or prove to be his undoing.

As someone who has read an awful lot of Star Wars books, Thrawn simply feels fresh. While helping build backstory from years before the Original Trilogy and providing clues for events yet to come, Zahn has shown that he is still among the giants of the Star Wars world.

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The inundation of new Star Wars books has also spilled over into the world of comics. Marvel has put out a string of wonderful volumes covering the Clone Wars, Lando Calrission’s early years, and everything in between. My favorite series is the Darth Vader run which takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Faced with the failure of the Death Star, Vader has fallen out of the Emperor’s favor. In order to re-secure his place as Palpatine’s right-hand cyborg, Vader must face down many daunting challenges including angry Hutts, newly rebellious planets, and force-sensitive rivals. And then, of course, there is a certain lightsaber-wielding Death Star destroying young pilot. He is especially pesky. 

While all of these aspects of Darth Vader are superb, it is Dr. Aphra who steals the show. With apologies to Han Solo, Aphra is the closest thing the Star Wars universe has to an Indiana Jones: a pithy and sardonic young archaeologist who comes into the employ of  Darth Vader. Throughout the series she is constantly skirting the line between rescuing the Sith Master and meeting the wrong end of his lightsaber. Oh yeah, she also has two droids, Triple-Zero and BT-1, who aren’t that different from R2-D2 and C-3PO except that they are sociopathic killers.

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Murder droid? Murder droid!

I’m trying to keep this post shorter than an opening scrawl, but there are many more new Star Wars stories worth your time. Quicker than the Millenium Falcon on the Kessel Run here are a few more quick hits:

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The Aftermath Trilogy, by Chuck Wendig: These books meander at times but do a nice job traversing the years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. They introduce some key characters, revisit some old favorites, and contextualize the rise of The First Order. Perhaps most importantly, however, the third book has a brief aside revealing the sad fate of everyone’s favorite mistake, Jar-Jar Binks:

The clown, they called him “Bring the clown. We want to see the clown. We like it how he juggles glombo shells, or spits fish up in the air and catches them, or how he dances around and falls on his butt.”

The adults, though. They don’t say much about him. Or to him. And no other Gungans come to see him, either. Nobody even says his name.

612nq+bwYGL._SY445_Star Wars Rebels: This cartoon, about to enter its final season, is a thrilling look at the years leading up to the Original Trilogy. Focusing on a rag-tag group of outcasts who are fiercely opposed to the Empire, Rebels has all the droids, lightsabers, hapless stormtroopers and goofy jokes you could want. It’s the rare kid-friendly show that can hold its own with an adult audience.

We also have tons of Star Wars non-fiction, including character guides, Lego books, origami how-to’svintage action figure valuations, and even a Haynes manual for the Death Star. If you’re need something to tide you over until 12/15, stop in and we will find you a book or seven.

Just two months to go, so I feel pretty safe saying it: Alllllmost there…

Real Friends

Some things in life come easy to me. I’m excellent at pattern recognition, reading way past my bedtime, functioning on very little sleep (could these two things be related?) falling up the stairs instead of down (always fall up), and having reflexes that work way faster than my brain. I didn’t have to work too hard at honing these skills and I’ve probably always taken it for granted that I don’t have to think about the process when I’m using them. There’s no concentration involved and things just seem to magically fall into place.

That’s never been the case with making friends. That’s always been something I’ve struggled with. If you met me today you probably wouldn’t guess that I was an extremely shy child. I didn’t approach strangers, would sometimes not even approach extended family members, and preferred to hide in my older brother’s shadow while he made things happen for me. However, he was never able to make friends for me; that was definitely a solo-Carol job, so when I did stumble into a friendship I held fast even if, in hindsight, it was unhealthy.

Reading Real Friends by Shannon Hale slammed me right back to that playground where I made my first friend who also later turned out to be the most unhealthy thing for me.

Real Friends is the story of a young Shannon, who recounts the series of friendships she had growing up and the impacts each made on her life. I was surprised to open the book and discover it’s not a graphic novel but actually a graphic memoir. As Shannon recounts her early school years through a series of friends she had, I was thrown back in time to the mid-late 80s when I was going through the same things Shannon did in the late 70s/early 80s. Some things are just universal. While this book is aimed at middle-grade readers I think anyone can find relatable moments.

I found myself in different friend roles growing up. Sometimes I was an Adrienne. My family would move or I would change schools and I would lose touch with my friends and have to start over again. Sometimes I was a Jen, although I never made people line up and be ranked in the order of who I liked the best (what a cruel thing to do!). Once or twice I’m sure I was a Wendy. I was the only girl in my family and sometimes I just couldn’t take the nonsense and would totally snap and lash out at my brothers. Then there was exactly one time I was a Jenny. To this day I regret acting the way I did, but nothing can change what’s in the past. We can only move forward and learn to choose kind.

But for the majority of my childhood I was a Shannon: shy, quiet, not sure how to make friends but knowing that I really, truly wanted someone to talk to and experience life with. I also made up games and was sometimes bossy or just oblivious when others were bored or left out completely when I became self-absorbed in the creative process.

I realize the name-dropping I’m doing here isn’t very helpful if you haven’t yet read the book, but it does illustrate the vastly different characters, aka real friends from Shannon’s past, that leap off the pages of this book. It’s amazing to me that within just a few panels the reader can get a deep sense of what kind of friend each girl was and the reader has a chance to see a bit of herself (or not) in each, too.

You’re gonna get the feels and if you’re lucky enough to still have a bestie from childhood you’re gonna want to call them as soon as you’ve finished reading.

School is Coming

I’m hoping somebody can tell me where the summer went. Between visits from family, the Summer Reading crush, Eclipse excitement and (SURPRISE!) two weeks of Jury Duty, the summer has been a whirlwind and a half. With kids out of school looking for entertainment and excited to do some pleasure reading this is my favorite season in the Library. It is also by far the most exhausting.

So while it is bittersweet to see all of our young patrons head back to school this week, I will confess that I am looking forward to the structured schedule of the school year. It also happens that a lot of books I love are steeped in the petty grievances and serious identity crises that come with starting at a new school. Here are a few of my favorites:

25701463Whitney Gardner’s You’re Welcome, Universe centers on a young woman named Julia. Julia is deaf, and has always been surrounded by the deaf community: her best friend is deaf, as are both of her parents, and she attends a high school for the deaf. When Julia is betrayed by a friend, however, she is expelled from her school and faces the daunting task of attending a public school where the vast majority of students and teachers struggle to communicate with her, where she has to use a (really annoying) translator, and where no one knows her or seems terribly interested in getting to know her.

But Julia has even bigger problems. A budding graffiti artist, Julia is chagrined to find that another painter is changing her works, adding to them but also improving upon them. Julia feels humiliated and violated by this challenge to her art and sets out to best this mysterious new tagger all while navigating her new school, making new friends, and confronting old ones. Gardner does something very clever to help the reader understand Julia’s communication frustrations. When people try to talk to her and she struggles to read their lips, dialog will have some words missing, replaced with “——-.” This decision ingeniously drops the reader into Julia’s shoes, forced to decipher meaning based on surrounding context.

y648Like Julia, Riley Cavanaugh, the narrator of Jeff Garvin’s Symptoms of Being Human, has a lot going on. Starting at a new high school is bad enough for Riley who is already prone to anxiety attacks. But on top of that are the expectations of Riley’s father who is running for reelection in a hotly contested congressional race. Between the pressure to make friends, blend in, “act normal” and not screw up, it’s no wonder Riley is feeling stressed. But Riley is also dealing with something else – a secret that only Riley’s therapist knows. Riley identifies as gender fluid. A far-too-simple explanation would be that sometimes Riley wakes up feeling male, and sometimes Riley wakes up feeling female. But as Riley says “…it’s not that simple. The world isn’t binary. Everything isn’t black or white, yes or no. Sometimes it’s not a switch, it’s a dial. And it’s not even a dial you can get your hands on; it turns without your permission or approval.

To try to cope, Riley starts a blog and is shocked when posts start going viral. Riley begins to settle in, make a few friends, discover a potential romantic interest, and find some respite from all of life’s external pressure. But good things never last. A blog commenter seems to have uncovered Riley’s identity and is threatening to out Riley. Now Riley must decide whether to shutter the blog and betray those who have come to depend on Riley’s posts or to stand proud and risk the judgment of friends and family as well as possibly ruining Riley’s father’s political career.

30256109In American Street, by Ibi Zoboi, Fabiola Toussaint is a young Haitian immigrant who lands in Detroit ready to embrace the American dream. From the start, however, things do not go as planned. Her mother, who was supposed to accompany her, is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in New Jersey and Fabiola arrives alone, meeting her aunt and cousins for the first time. American culture and expectations to assimilate immediately overwhelm Fabiola, but her resilience and determination ensure that this is not a derivative fish-out-of-water story.

Fabiola’s fierce cousins, known as the three Bees (brains, brawn and beauty), are respected and feared affording her a measure of protection in the neighborhood while also helping her find her place in school. Fab quickly begins to settle in, but is torn between her desire to conform and her devotion to her Haitian identity. She also begins to realize that her aunt and cousins might be involved in some unsavory dealings and that in order to help her mother, she may need to betray the family that welcomed her in Detroit. Though her mother is far away Fab is never alone. All around Detroit Fab sees lwas, Vodou spirits, who help guide her and warn her of impending danger. These visions give American Street a surreal mysticism that edges towards magic realism while also lending authenticity and depth to Fabiola’s immigrant experience.

One of the reasons I love YA fiction is the way its talented writers impart empathy in their work. I’m fortunate to have decent hearing, I’m not an immigrant, and until I read the Symptoms of Being Human my understanding of gender fluidity was rudimentary at best. All three of these works do a masterful job of weaving diverse perspectives into their work, helping the reader to understand the lives of others without overpowering their works’ compelling narratives.

deadlyAnd now for something completely different! In the ongoing series, Deadly Class, Marcus is a homeless teenager simply trying to survive. Sure he has some demons in his past and the police would like to speak with him, but otherwise he seems like a decent guy.  A new world is opened to him when he is invited to attend King’s Dominion High School for the Deadly Arts, a school dedicated to training young assassins. Suddenly Marcus finds himself thrust into a world of precocious young killers, the children of gang leaders, mob bosses, drug kingpins, and genocidal dictators. Marcus must learn to carefully navigate the halls of this school unsure of who to trust because he is certain that if he can survive he can take revenge on the people who destroyed his own family.  This beautifully illustrated comic is profane, thrilling, hilarious, and incredibly difficult to put down.  

Award-Winning Reads

How is it already August?! In case you’re just joining us, there’s still about a month left to complete 7 of the 8 adult summer reading challenges. If you turn in your entry by August 31st you have a chance of winning a prize. Not enough incentive? How about getting to read 7-8 rad books you may never have read if left to your own devices? Yeah, now we’re talking!

So let’s dip into another reading challenge, shall we? This time I’m focusing on National Book Award winners. The National Book Award is an American literary prize given by the National Book Foundation. The 2017 winners won’t be announced until November, so let’s focus on last year’s winners. The overarching themes in the 2016 winners–racism, civil rights, political violence, and immigration–are timely reminders of how far we’ve come as a society and how very, very far we still have to go.

2016 Fiction Winner:
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Summary: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Their first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey — hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.

2016 Nonfiction Winner:
Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
Summary: Americans like to insist that we are living in a postracial, color-blind society. In fact, racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues, racist ideas in this country have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit. In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the lives of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W. E. B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America. As Kendi provocatively illustrates, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation’s racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. While racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much-needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose them–and in the process gives us reason to hope.

2016 Poetry Winner:
The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky
Summary: Daniel Borzutzky’s new collection of poetry draws hemispheric connections between the US and Latin America, specifically touching upon issues relating to border and immigration policies, economic disparity, political violence, and the disturbing rhetoric of capitalism and bureaucracies. To become human is to navigate these borders including those of institutions, the realities of over- and under-development, and the economies of privatization in which humans endure state-sanctioned and systemic abuses.

2016 Young People’s Literature Winner:
March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Summary: Welcome to the stunning conclusion of the award-winning and best-selling March trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world.

Already read these, or looking for more options? Check out the complete list of past winners at the Award’s website.

Hopefully this series of blog posts is helping you achieve your summer reading goals. For me, it’s definitely making my TBR grow dangerously tall–but who ever said that was a bad thing?

Comics that Aren’t Quite Safe for Work (Unless You’re a Librarian)

I love virtually all comics and graphic novels. From Pokémon manga, to Congressman John Lewis’s masterful graphic memoir, March, I can’t get enough. As a youth services librarian, I’ll be the first to shout that there are plenty of great reads for adults in our children’s and teen areas. But the books below? They are filled with adult language, adult themes, and very adult illustrations that may not be suitable for all readers. Did I mention adult language? They have some adult language. They are also some of my favorite stories from the past few years. Enjoy!

The Fix by Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber

TheFix_vol1-1Cops! Robbers! Movie Stars! And one heroic Beagle! The Fix stars Roy and Mac, two LAPD detectives who are equal parts charismatic, corrupt, and utterly hapless and have massive egos to boot. Roy is the leader of the pair, a shameless self promoter bent on wringing every last kickback out of his carefully curated hero-cop image and more than happy to destroy a few lives if that’s what it takes. Given their loose morals and access to power, life might be pretty good for Roy and Mac except for one major problem – they owe money and lots of it. And the guy they owe? Let’s just say he’s not a forgiving individual. Luckily, it seems that everyone is on the take in Roy and Mac’s Los Angeles and there is plenty of money to be made if they look in the right places. It seems that Roy and Mac might be able to dig their way out of the mess they’ve made. Only one thing stands in their way – the one cop they can’t corrupt or blackmail, a hero and legend of the LAPD, Pretzels the dog….

The Fix is a hilarious, pulpy read packed with jokes. Outside of Pretzels, there isn’t a “good guy” in this one but all of the characters are immensely likable in spite of their mountains of flaws. Even Josh, the sociopathic monster of a crime boss is a perverse delight; a kombucha pushing, yoga practicing, organic produce buying “modern man,” torturing with one hand while doting on his infant child with the other. With only two volumes published, this is an easy series to catch up on and a profane joyride that holds up after multiple re-reads.

Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

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Suzie and Jon both have a secret. They have a super power of sorts. After having sex, they are able to stop time. They’ve both been keeping this secret for as long as they can remember so they are incredibly relieved when they discover that they share this power. That they also happen to be attracted to each other is just icing on the cake. Very….convenient icing when it comes to using their powers.  And use their powers they do! Suzie is a librarian whose library is facing a budget crisis. To save her beloved workplace, Jon and Suzie set out to use their powers in a well-intentioned but misguided way – robbing a bank to raise the money the library needs. What could go wrong, right?

Like The Fix, Sex Criminals is a hilarious romp filled with smart people who are very dumb criminals. The creative duo behind this book are masters of self-aware (and sometimes fourth-wall breaking) comedic storytelling. While this is a raunchy series, it never feels too gratuitous, and as the story expands, it keeps finding new ways to surprise, delight, and reward the reader.

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro

BitchPlanet_vol1-1Let’s take our crime to the hopefully-not-too-near future! Bitch Planet presents a world where toxic patriarchy and corporatism have been allowed to pervasively and thoroughly corrupt society. Women who fail to follow the rules established by male leaders, who fail to behave as expected, to look the way they are supposed to, or maybe women who simply dare to age in ways their husbands do not care for are labeled NC or non-compliant. NC’s are deemed simply too dangerous for the world and are sent to a giant artificial space prison, known to most as Bitch Planet. But the men in charge are about to find out that when you take a ton of bad-ass women and put them together with very little to lose and a common enemy to fight, you’re just asking for trouble. Think Orange is the New Black but in space. 

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This series tells an incredibly compelling story. It is unapologetically political and if my description made you itchy, it might not be for you. Bitch Planet is also among the most beautiful comics that I have read with a style that both embraces and subverts the exploitation genre popularized in the 1960s and 70s. Of all the comics I read, this is one of the hardest to put down.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

81+Sf+bNqULSaga begins with the birth of its narrator, a girl named Hazel who is born into either the best or the worst possible circumstances depending on your perspective. Hazel’s parents, Alana and Marko, are on the run, fugitives from the law who have committed acts seen as both treasonous and monstrous. They are from home worlds that have been warring for generations. Both are ex-soldiers who have discovered that love can exist between former enemies and that their species can even have children together.  

Of all the dangers that Alana and Marko represent to those in power, it is their love and their child that are seen as the most threatening and offensive. This war has ravaged the universe for many years, and the stakeholders know that they have much to lose if word of Hazel’s birth spreads and the public begins to believe that peace may be an option. So Alana, Marko and Hazel must run pursued by genocidal armies, murderous robot royalty, and dangerous bounty hunters known as freelancers.

I saved Saga for last because it is my favorite comic. At times I could make a case that it is my favorite piece of writing or even my favorite story in any medium. This is also a work that must be approached with Game of Thrones rules – do not get too attached to any character. Anyone might die at any time and these are usually savage, gutting deaths to rich, multifaceted, and beloved characters. But who am I to say this? This comic breaks my heart every few issues and I keep coming back for more.

No Cape Required: Graphic Novels for the Uninitiated

Hey there, summer readers! Have you accepted our summer reading challenge? While the summer reading program for kids and teens has always been popular, I’m not convinced everyone has heard about our summer reading program for adults. We have eight challenges for you–and you only have to complete seven of them before August 31st for your chance to win prizes.

The challenges are pretty self-explanatory but I’m here to offer you a helping hand. Over the next several weeks you’ll be hearing from me a bunch as I break down each of the challenges and offer reading suggestions to help you meet your goal.

Since you don’t have to do these in order, I won’t be blogging about them in order. As a cataloger I put things in order all day long so it’s a bit thrilling to deliberately get a little random.

This week I’m tackling the read a graphic novel challenge. Graphic novels can either be a series of single issue comics that have been published into one volume, or they can be a standalone story that has only ever been published as one volume. For the sake of our conversation here, I will be referring to both as graphic novels.

Good graphic novels can jolt you out of a reading slump. Have you ever been in a reading slump? Often it happens after reading a particularly disagreeable book (or series of books) that almost makes you not want to read ever again. It sounds pretty extreme, but a lot of voracious readers find themselves in a reading slump at one time or another. [This is not to be confused with a book hangover, which is what happens when you read a book so amazing that when you’re done you cannot imagine any other book being halfway as good as the one you’ve finished.] I’ve found that something as simple as a change of format from a regular novel to a graphic novel is enough to get my brain and imagination engaged enough to pick up another novel and try again.

Great graphic novels will do all of that and also show emotion and nuance through the illustrations, sometimes even contradicting the conversation to the point that you wonder if you’re solving a mystery or watching a character have a complete breakdown.

The only way to find out if a graphic novel is good or great is to pick one up and start reading! Here are just a few graphic novels I’d recommend to someone who is new to the format. Spoiler alert: you won’t find any superheroes here. There are amazing superhero comics out there, but many require you to have some understanding of the worlds in which they exist and I didn’t want to bog you down with all of that. If you end up reading these and want to try your hand at superheroes, you can check out this comics post, these graphic novels posts, or leave a comment below and we’ll chat.

Black History in Its Own Words
Compiled & illustrated by Ronald Wimberly
In this colorful and bright graphic novel Wimberly expertly brings together quotes and vibrant portraits of Black luminaries. I’ve used this book as a jumping-off point to discover voices I hadn’t heard before and then read books that they’ve written or that were written about them. I guarantee you that if you bring this book to the information desk and ask a librarian to find you more information about any one of the people listed they will happily point you in the right direction. And then maybe you can schedule some time off of work or away from your regular daily life so you have time to fully immerse yourself in these dynamic voices.
Recommended for: readers who want to learn more about Black history, culture, and perspectives.

Sherlock: A Study in Pink
Adapted from the Sherlock episode A Study in Pink
Show of hands: how many of you watch the BBC modern-day interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, aka Sherlock? Now how many of you are completely obsessed with said show, lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch, and/or anything even remotely related to this reimagining of the world’s most favorite consulting detective? The episodes of Sherlock have been created in manga format in Japan and then translated back into English. I picked up A Study in Pink in 6 single-issue comic books when it first hit the states last year and was so happy to find them bound into one book I can recommend to people at the library. I love me some Sherlock, some Cumberbatch, some world’s most favorite consulting detective, and so this was an obvious choice. However, the bonus is that since I already know how the story goes from watching the show I am using this to train my brain to more quickly and easily follow the back-to-front, right-to-left so that I can start reading some of the awesome manga that the library has collected.
Recommended for: readers who love Sherlock and/or want to become familiar with the manga art style and format.

Hostage
Written & illustrated by Guy Delisle; translated by Helge Dascher
Hostage is a graphic memoir, which means that the events depicted really happened. While I have read other graphic memoirs none of them moved me quite like this one. In 1997 Doctors Without Borders administrator Chrstophe André was kidnapped in the Caucasus region by Chechens and kept in solitary confinement for months. The isolation is nearly insurmountable, but Christophe pushes through the days, trying to keep himself sane and hoping for either his ransom to be paid or for a chance to escape. The art and colors really play into the sense of loneliness that comes with solitary confinement in a place where you don’t speak the language and you could be killed with no warning.
Recommended for: readers who want to dive into a real-life psychological struggle with an unlikely hero.

Dept. H
Written & illustrated by Matt Kindt
Full disclosure: I probably never would have started reading Dept. H if it hadn’t been included with a comics subscription box I used to get (RIP Landfall Freight!).  Reader, this is a straight-up murder mystery with a huge dash of survival adventure featuring a brave woman fighting her memories, a rapidly collapsing structure, and the press of time. Mia is hired to investigate her father’s death at a science lab at the bottom of the ocean.  Oh, and his killer is obviously someone also in that science lab because no one could have come or gone without a specialized transport. The artwork is dark and moody and I didn’t think it was to my liking. I was so incredibly wrong. Matt Kindt is renown in the comics world for being innovative and for weaving stories and worlds that defy traditional comics, where the story tends to be pretty much laid out on the surface with nothing much required from the reader than to follow along. Kindt is the name you pull out at nerd parties when you want to impress a fellow nerd or drop when you go to a comic book store on vacation and they give you the “there’s a girl in the comic book store” side eye. [For the record, when that side eye happens I drop my Kindt knowledge and leave without purchasing. Misogyny doesn’t fly with me and it doesn’t fly at Everett Comics–Hi Dan and Brandon!] I’ve since started reading other Kindt creations and find myself loving getting lost in each multilayered world.
Recommended for: readers who are into mysteries, survival stories, unreliable narrators, and/or strong women. Also fans of Jacques Cousteau because ocean exploration!

Spell on Wheels
Written by Kate Leth; illustrated by Megan Levens
Kate Leth is another huge name in the comics world. And while she’s written quite a range of stories and characters, including Patsy Walker aka Hellcat (a, gasp!, superhero), Spell on Wheels has instantly become my favorite story of hers yet. Three friends who also happen to be witches are making their way in the modern world while still honoring ancient rituals. But then one of their jerk ex-boyfriends steals an immensely powerful spell and several of their magical artifacts. Andy, Claire, and Jolene refuse to sit around and wait for the upcoming disaster. They meet it head-on with a road trip across the East Coast, following the trail of their stolen goods and racing against time to stop the jerky ex from unleashing holy hell on the world. Along the way they’ll make new friends and share the adventure of a lifetime. At the heart of this story are the strong bonds of friendship these ladies have with each other, and I just can’t get enough friendship stories in comics. More, please! This was a 5 issue run from Dark Horse that I really hope gets picked up for an ongoing series because seriously, once you meet these characters you won’t want to say goodbye either.
Recommended for: readers who love a good road story, female friendship, and/or Charmed.

Slam!
Written by Pamela Ribon; illustrated by Veronica Fish
Roller derby! I could probably just write that phrase over and over to fill in this space because seriously, if you love watching jammers score and blockers maneuver and maybe even know someone who skates or you yourself skate this book is for you and I really don’t need to say much to convince you. But I’ll try anyway! Slam! follows Jennifer and Maisie, two women who each live somewhat secluded lives but meet each other at the Fresh Meat (term for newbies in the derby world, keep up!) Orientation and immediately become best friends. Unfortunately, they’re drafted to different teams in the derby league. Not only will they guaranteed have to some day skate against each other, but the huge time commitments with their respective teams make spending time together really tricky. Can their friendship survive the season? This is another great story about the power of friendship and how sometimes you have to make tough choices in life where either direction makes you feel like you’ve lost something important.
Recommended for: readers who love roller derby and those who haven’t yet discovered its magic. Also anyone looking for a great friendship story.
Side note: this book doesn’t come out until August so if you don’t get to read it in time to count for your summer reading challenge you can still read it afterward.

Stay tuned over the next several weeks as I bring you recommendations to help you complete your summer reading challenge!