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!

Summer Reading for Everyone!

It is a busy time of year for Youth Services Librarians! We know how hard students work all year to strengthen their reading skills, and we don’t want them to lose those gains over the summer. This is one of the main reasons why we are so enthusiastic about our Summer Reading Program!  We want youths to read for at least 30 minutes every day so that they continue to build their reading skills and we have designed our summer program around this goal. We take this so seriously, our very own Andrea even wrote a song about it!

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Have any questions about our reading program? We have answers!

Who can participate?
Our Youth Summer Reading Program is for anyone going into 12th grade or under. We also have a separate adult summer reading program that anyone else can sign up for.

What counts as “reading?”
For our youth program, we really like to emphasize that any form of reading counts including but not limited to reading on your own, stories read aloud by someone else, reading to younger siblings, listening to audiobooks, and of course, reading graphic novels and comics.

How does the program work?
For our youth program, we are challenging readers to read a total of 24 hours over the course of the summer. This can be broken down into half-hour segments. On our reading log, each half of a book represents one half-hour of reading. Starting on July 10 readers can bring their logs in for prizes. Prizes are awarded at 12 hours and 24 hours, and will be available until August 31 (or until we run out).

  • 12 hour prize: pick a prize from our Mystery Box!
  • 24 hour prize: choose a free book!

If they complete the full 24 hours by August 18, readers will also receive an invitation to our end of the summer party, where they get to meet Mayor Ray Stephanson and they get entered into a drawing for a chance to win a grand prize which varies depending on their age.

Adult Summer Reading is a bit different. The reading log has eight reading challenges. Complete one and return the log for a chance to win an Everett Public Library coffee mug. Complete at least seven, and be entered to win one of two Everett Public Library tote bags!

I like prizes! How do I sign up?
To sign up, just pick up a reading log at any one of our reference desks. Logs are already available, and students can begin the reading challenge as soon as their school ends for the summer.

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Like I said, we take this seriously! And we want to make sure that we get as many opportunities to tell students about this program and get them excited about all the great books they can read this summer. That’s why we spend several weeks in May and June visiting schools. During these school visits, we talk about the Summer Reading Program but we also do a lot of book talks. Book talks are exactly what they sound like – we bring a bunch of books and we tell the students about them. The majority of my visits this year are to Middle Schools and I have included several of my book talks below.

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The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson
Matthew has a cruel nickname, the goldfish boy. This is because he never leaves his house and rarely leaves his room. He suffers from an extreme form of OCD and the world beyond his four walls is too overwhelming for him to handle so he stays in his safe place, like a goldfish in a tank.

Because he can’t leave the house Matthew spends a lot of his time watching his neighborhood, noting people’s coming and goings, their habits and their quirks. It’s through this hobby that he happens to be the last person to see a young neighbor’s toddler before the child is shockingly kidnapped.

Matthew is certain that he is the only one who can solve the case, since he was the last one to see the boy. But Matthew soon realizes that his neighbors have secrets, and that they are all suspects. So Matthew must figure out how to save this child, all while facing his fears, controlling his anxiety, and stretching the boundaries of his world.

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The Pants Project, by Cat Clarke
Middle school can be a scary time for anyone. You have to make new friends, face a ton of new teachers, and manage way more homework. Who wouldn’t feel overwhelmed!? But when Liv starts middle school he has even bigger issues. See everyone believes that Liv is a girl, because that was his assigned birth gender but he knows that he is actually a boy.  Considering that not even his friends or family know about this yet, it adds some stress to his life but not as much stress as a rule at his new middle school – all girls must wear skirts.

Liv hates skirts and can’t imagine wearing them every day. He also believes it is unfair to others. Plenty of girls, he figures, would rather be able to wear pants and they should be allowed to!  So he starts a movement to get this policy changed. Unsurprisingly, he meets plenty of resistance and Liv must decide if he is willing to stand up for himself and for his beliefs, even if it means exposing his personal secrets to his new school and even the wider world.

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Empress of a Thousand Skies, by Rhoda Belleza
Intrigue, murder, war, deceit, BUT ALL IN SPACE!

Rhee is the last of her line. Her family has been killed and Rhee believes it was intentional, but she is about to assume the galactic throne and as Empress she will finally have her revenge. Then Rhee is brutally attacked and nearly killed. She escapes with the help of a strange and ruthless ally but must go into hiding unsure of who to trust, fearful of who might betray her next and determined to finally exact her revenge.

Alyosha, a soldier turned reality TV star, is no stranger to contempt. He is from a planet of dark-skinned refugees and has overcome bigotry through hard work and determination. When Rhee is attacked, he is framed for her attempted murder and his life falls apart. Like Rhee, he is on the run, unsure of who to trust or how to clear his name. With the help of old comrades and new allies, Rhee and Aly must find a way to discover their betrayers and reveal them to the world. And they need to act fast if they want to prevent a disastrous interplanetary war!

The Left-Handed Fate25774386, by Kate Milford
The year is 1812, America and Britain are at war once again and Oliver Dexter, a 12-year-old American sailor, has just gotten his first (accidental) command- a captured pirate ship.

On this ship are several prisoners including Lucy the daughter of the privateer captain and Max a young man who believes he is close to discovering a weapon so powerful that it would not only end this war, but all future wars as well. Although Oliver is determined to follow orders, he is tempted by both the friendship and the mission of Lucy and Max. So Oliver chooses to help his two young companions jeopardizing his standing in the navy and the safety of his crew, although he is not certain whether he is doing so because he believes in their cause or to ensure that this mysterious weapon is destroyed before it puts his own young country at risk.

This book plays with a fun and exciting time in history but it does not stick to the rules. Instead it flirts with the mystical and mythological, giving otherworldly qualities to a mostly real world.

51f+8+iExbL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_In the Shadow of Liberty: the Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives, by Kenneth C. Davis
In school we learn a lot of deservedly great things about the founding fathers of America. At times it is far too easy to overlook the fact that many of these men were slave owners, while many more profited off the labor of slaves. This book tells the stories of five people, Billy Lee, Ona Judge, Isaac Granger, Paul Jennings and Alfred Jackson who were owned by Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Jackson.

Beyond telling their stories, Davis goes to great effort to give us the information we need to understand the times they lived in. For example, Ona Judge was a woman who was owned by George and Martha Washington. At the time, the US Capital was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where a law decreed that if any slaves of a certain age remained in the state for six months they were freed. To prevent his own slaves, like Ona, from being freed, Washington would move his slaves from the Capital to his Virginia plantation before six months had gone by. It is certainly difficult to reconcile this behavior with some of the more positive stories we learn about Washington.

Davis also shows how these oft-forgotten individuals, who were considered property, had complex relationships with the Presidents who enslaved them and often had sufficient influence to shape history in profound ways. This book is an unflinchingly honest depiction of the ways our early leaders, though supposed champions of liberty, were deeply entwined in a system that enslaved and exploited millions.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe51SpFoMEW3L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_, by Ryan North
Squirrel Girl is exactly what she sounds like. A teen with the incredible power of squirrels! She has squirrel strength and super senses and she can speak squirrel, so she has an army of squirrels that she can summon. Oh, and she truly is unbeatable. She’s taken down many of Marvel’s greatest villains who make the grave mistake of underestimating her powers.

In this issue, which is a great place to dive in, she is accidentally cloned. At first this is great- double the crime fighting squirrel girls! But her clone is determined to destroy mankind after concluding that most problems are caused by humans, while very few are caused by squirrels. So it is up to the REAL squirrel girl to save the day with a little help from the Avengers.

Goldie Vance, by Hope Larson51JS3Wqvz4L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_
Goldie Vance is probably the coolest character that I’ve encountered this year. She’s 16 years old and lives with her Dad at a resort he manages in Florida. Although she has tons of skills, including being a top-notch car-chase driver, her true gift is solving mysteries. Her dream is to become the resort’s official detective. She gets her chance to prove her value when a guest complains that a piece of priceless jewelry was stolen from his room. Before Goldie knows it, she’s been swept up into exciting Cold War intrigue complete with rocket scientists, Russian spies, and much more.  This is an ongoing series that I am really really excited about.

America Undone

It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel….a little itchy and anxious to be honest.

It is possible that I enjoyed myself an inappropriate amount while reading Omar El Akkad’s American War. The title probably betrays this fact, but this is not exactly a delightful romp. Set in the late 21st Century during the second Civil War, this novel 32283423presents an upsetting and eerily plausible portrayal of our near future. Ostensibly this war is fought over a national ban on fossil fuels, but the roots of the conflict creep far deeper into the national psyche, playing on centuries old resentments and cultural differences (but good news – “proud, pacifist Cascadia” is far from the front lines).

American War follows the life of a young woman named Sarat, born into a chaotic South devastated by flooding, famine, war, and the worst elements of humanity. Sarat spends her formative years in a refugee camp, witnessing both the fanatical partisanship of the Southern rebels and the cruel indifference of the Northern war machine. As Sarat grows older, she finds herself drawn into the war that has defined her existence, becoming an agent of death that will help shape history and bring about grave and devastating consequences.

So, yeah, I realize that doesn’t sound terribly cheery, but El Akkad’s deft narrative style sucked me deep into this novel. By mixing Sarat’s story with government dispatches, oral reports, written records and other “source material,” American War had the feel of an upsetting historical account. At the same time I found myself without context, unsure of how events would unfold and where bias existed in the presentation, but still burdened by the full knowledge of these events terrible impact.

Station_Eleven_CoverPerhaps I have a morbid streak as I have always enjoyed dark and disastrous accounts of imagined futures. For me, the immediate comparison for American War is Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Like American War, Station Eleven presents our future in stark and frightening terms – it follows a travelling Shakespearean troupe in the years after a viral pandemic devastates humanity, leaving only scattered pockets of survivors in its wake. It also shares American War’s storytelling technique, incorporating various source materials from before, during, and after the height of the catastrophe.

World_War_Z_book_coverI feel compelled to also mention World War Z, by Max Brooks. Please don’t judge this book because of the movie based on it. Designed to be read as an oral history, each section is narrated by a different survivor of a zombie apocalypse, describing responses and containment attempts by different groups across the globe. With this narrative Brooks crafts a book that is as much a consideration of international relations as it is a zombie novel. Rather than a work of horror, this is a novel of logistics and strategy in the face of terrible catastrophe. If you enjoy audiobooks, this title makes a particularly great listen as many talented and diverse voices were cast to portray the book’s narrators.

unwindNow, I’m a Youth Services Librarian and I just talked about three ADULT novels, so I have to plug some YA. The Unwind series by Neal Shusterman takes place after a second American civil war fought over reproductive rights. When partisan militias fight to a stalemate, a compromise is reached. Though abortion is outlawed, unwanted children between ages 13 and 18 can be “unwound,” a process through which they are physically dismantled and recycled for transplants. The justification for this macabre policy is that every part of the unwound teenagers is reused, and therefore the body lives on. I realize that this premise sounds as absurd as it is disgusting, but Shusterman is a masterful writer and takes the time to illustrate how this policy slowly developed at the hands of well-meaning policy makers. By the end of the series it feels a little too plausible for my comfort.

ashfallpb_hiresMike Mullin’s Ashfall also does a superb job portraying societal collapse. Ashfall follows a teen after the (very real) supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park erupts. Spoiler alert: things don’t go well unless you’re a fan of sunless days, endless winter, famine, and roving gangs of cannibals. Despite a whole lot of death and destruction, this is an enjoyable and ultimately hopeful series. Scientists confidently assert that this supervolcano won’t erupt anytime soon. Probably.

136471._SX1280_QL80_TTD_Finally, before I leave to ponder our impending ruin, I just want to mention one graphic novel. Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra follows a twenty something slacker named Yorick and his pet monkey after a mysterious virus leaves them the only two living males of any species. Chaos quickly ensues and it is awesome.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short walk from “great book” to “WE’RE ALL DOOMED.” If you need me, I’ll be taking deep breaths and either hiding under a desk or stockpiling canned goods.

All I Wanted for Christmas was Time to Read!

Time, that precious and fleeting commodity. Like sand through the hourglass indeed, time just seems to slip right through my fingers. As soon as I get some it’s already gone. Etc. Etc. I know you know what I mean! As you read this I’m enjoying a break from the library, spending time with family and reading next to a crackling fire while snow blankets the flat-yet-somehow-rolling hills of Southern Illinois. I decided to treat myself this year and set aside time to read. Here are some of the books I’ve taken 2,200 miles away with me.

relishRelish by Lucy Knisley
Did you read Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt? I’m hoping this will be similar, a graphic memoir about food and the people who love it. In Lucy Knisley’s case she takes actual episodes from her life and frames them by what she was eating at the time. There are recipes in every chapter and I’m hoping to find one I can make with family on my trip. Even if I strike out I’m sure I’ll love reading about all the food. ALL THE FOOD! *grabby hands*

 

 

9781925321548Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart
Um, so reading Girl Waits With Gun set me down a winding, happy road of reading books solely based on someone else’s recommendation. In the case of GWWG it was intrepid librarian and awesome colleague Joyce Hansen who was discussing it as part of the library’s monthly book discussion group. Lady Cop Makes Trouble is the sequel to GWWG and I can’t wait to jump back in time nearly 100 years to the world of Constance Kopp and her determined sisters.

 

 

before-i-fallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver
I have a fantastic hair stylist. Not only does she give me amazing hair, she also loves to swap book recommendations with me. The last time I was in she was raving about the book she had just finished and thought I would love it, too. I confess for a minute I thought she was recommending Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, which was a breakout hit of the summer but definitely a very different book than this! Before I Fall (what, do you find this confusing or something?!) is about a teen reliving the last day of her life over and over again after she dies. I am a sucker for the “I woke up dead, now what?” type of books so of course this sounds right up my alley. Before the Fall, bee-tee-dubs, is about a regional plane crash, the two survivors, and the backstories of those who perished. I’ll probably read that one at some point, but definitely not while traveling on a plane myself!

relentlessRelentless by Cherry Adair
Oh, Cherry! I had read a few of her books years ago but here’s what’s getting me back into her work: Cherry herself. I was lucky to have been on the planning committee for a library conference back in October and she was one of our keynote speakers (we also had authors Lauren Dane and Susan Mallery, and the Romantic Times Librarian of the Year Robin Bradford of Timberland Regional Library, who are all incredibly awesome human beings and I really hope to hang with them all again). Cherry was a hoot, always cracking me up and getting me involved in what was going on inside her head. Impossibly tall and drop-dead gorgeous shoes lined up in her custom closet? Check. What sorts of shenanigans go on at the Romantic Times convention? Check. Then she got up in front of 120+ amazing professionals and proceeded to act out a raunchy scene from a book that inspired one of her own. Oh my word, that woman is amazing and I want to get back into her books like, now!

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The chilly, nasty winter weather just makes me want to curl up and get lost in a good book and there’s never been a better time than right now. And maybe later. And definitely on the plane ride home. Oh! And on the commute there’s that audiobook I’d like to try…

Best of 2016 Redux

It’ll probably come as no surprise to you that those of us who work in libraries tend to be voracious readers. We consume information, words, articles, books, and series as fast as we can manage. Part of it is a personal interest and part of it is professional: we can do a better job recommending things to you if we’ve read a variety of things ourselves. That’s a very long-winded way of saying we had more recommendations for 2016 than we could fit in our previous posts. So without further ado I present to you everything else we loved to bits this year.

Adult Fiction
adult-fiction

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin
Summary: Milo Andret, a strange but uniquely talented loner who develops into a brilliant mathematician, is plagued by alternating feelings of grandiosity and utter failure. Milo’s son Hans, similarly brilliant and troubled, tells the second half of Milo’s story.
Why Elizabeth liked it: This book opened my eyes to the intensely grueling, emotionally devastating world of academic competition. Milo’s self-destructive tendencies are painful indeed, but what lingers is amazement at the transformative power of family.

The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates
Summary: After a life threatening brain infection robbed Elihu Hoopes of his short term memory he endures decades of testing at the hands of neuroscientists. Margot Sharpe develops her whole career from these studies but also develops feelings for her subject.
Why Elizabeth liked it: If you like psychology, brain science, bizarre human relationships, and hints of a dark and mysterious past, you will eat this up! Oates exposes the ruthless nature of scientific study in this suspenseful and disturbing tale.

The Nest by Cynthia D’aprix Sweeney
Summary: The Plumb siblings have always expected a large inheritance as soon as the youngest, Melody, turned 40. That day is nearing when Beatrice, Jack and Melody are devastated to discover that Leo’s wild ways have resulted in a loss of most of the Nest.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Dysfunctional family drama galore! The siblings are flawed, funny, and (mostly) financially doomed. I found myself thinking why is this so entertaining? Because the writing, the family, the setting (NYC) all add up to a really engrossing page turner.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Summary: Two middle school friends learn of their special powers.  Laurence is able to tweak the time continuum, and Patricia has the ability to talk to animals.  Earth is doomed, and their relationship may restore humanity, or their opposing views may collide.
Why Sarah liked it: This is a quirky fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian romance, with superb technological innovations, and lots of spunk.

Georgia by Dawn Tripp
Summary: Georgia O’Keeffe‘s artistic focus and determination was helped and sometimes hurt by her decades-long relationship with photographer Alfred Stieglitz. While this is fiction, Tripp’s research and skill at imagining Georgia’s thoughts give it the ring of truth.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I have really enjoyed the handful of historical fiction books about artists that I have read, and this one may be the best yet. At the end I was newly, and greatly, impressed with O’Keeffe and had to seek out books about her art.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Summary: Imagine you accidentally shot your best friend’s son, and the custom forced you to give your own child to the bereaved family? LaRose, one of many with that name in his family of healers, is the child who is given away.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The incredibly richly imagined cast of characters makes for a very engrossing read. Since this is the 15th of Erdrich’s North Dakota Cycle I am looking forward to reading a lot more about this community.

Young Adult Fiction
ya fiction

I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Sarah wakes up dead at the Mall of America only to find she was murdered, and she must work with a group of dead teenagers to finish up the unresolved business of their former lives while preventing her murderer from killing again.
Why Carol liked it: Despite the serious subject matter of, ya know, waking up dead and knowing someone killed you, this book was quirky good fun! I really wanted a sequel, but I think this book will stand alone.

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Summary: In 1882 England when her sister Rose vanishes, Evelyn, bored with society and its expectations, embarks on a search for Rose, encountering the reclusive Sebastian Braddock, who is also looking for Rose and claiming that both sisters have healing powers.
Why Carol liked it: I read this in April and my memory is struggling with specifics here in December. So here’s my Goodreads review from April: Witty as hell and so fast-paced my neck almost snapped. Can’t wait for book 2!

Adult Nonfiction
adult-nonfiction

French Country Cooking: Meals and Moments from a Village in the Vineyards by Mimi Thorisson
Summary: A captivating journey to off-the-beaten-path French wine country with 100 simple yet exquisite recipes, 150 sumptuous photographs, and stories inspired by life in a small village.
Why Leslie liked it: This beautiful cookbook has approachable recipes, especially the “staff meals.” I love the vichyssoise! So simple and good.

The Aleppo Cookbook: Celebrating the Legendary Cuisine of Syria by Marlene Matar
Summary: Wonderful full-color photographs of the food, people, and markets of Aleppo make this a stunning cookbook and fitting tribute to a beautiful city and the suffering its people continue to endure.
Why Pat liked it: Tempting recipes, culturally informative text, great illustrations, and a message of hope of rebuilding this ancient city yet one more time– everything you can want in a cookbook and more–a beautiful, meaningful book.

Superbetter by Jane McGonigal
Summary: Self-help with a twist! McGonigal studies game theory so this method of getting better from illness, depression or other situations is full of quests, power ups, superhero identities, etc. By making your life “gameful” you can battle your “bad guys” and win.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I am not much of a self-help reader but the methods in this book feel like they would actually work while being fun rather than tedious. It could make a real difference in helping people develop resilience, and improve mental health and happiness.

Graphic Novels for Kids
graphic-novels-for-kids

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey
Summary: George and Harold, protagonists from the Captain Underpants series, create a new comic called Dog Man. It’s just as silly and irreverent as you would expect Dav Pilkey to be.
Why Emily liked it: For fans of Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Captain Underpants, Bad Kitty, and other humorous, illustrated fiction.

Poptropica 1: Mystery of the Map by Jack Chabert
Summary: Oliver, Mya, and Jorge take a ride in a hot-air balloon, only to crash-land on an unknown island filled with extinct animals and a horde of angry Vikings.
Why Andrea liked it: This graphic novel is a great introduction to the worlds of Poptropica (a gaming website for children 6 to 10 years old). It is filled with exciting chase scenes, hilarious dodo birds, and a daring prison break.