Centaurs and Mermaids and Zombies, Oh My

Camped out at the very end of the Dewey 300s range, past the more sober sections on politics (320s), economics (330s) and education (370s), you will find an unexpected land of mythical creatures and tall tales. When you hit the Dewey number 398 you have entered the shadowy realm of folklore and fairy tales. While you might think that books about folktales and folklore are exclusively collected by our intrepid Youth Services librarians, you would be mistaken. There are actually a good number of them tucked away in the adult nonfiction collection as well. Despite what some mega corporations would like to you to think, I’m looking at you Disney, folktales and folklore are actually serious stuff. Take a look for yourself with a few of these new additions to the collection.

The Book of Greek & Roman Folktales Legends & Myths edited & translated by William Hansen

Gird yourself for tales not only of gods, goddesses and monsters but also urban legends, ghost stories and jokes in this anthology of ancient Greek and Roman tales. Divided up into topics such as ‘tricksters and lovers’, ‘artists and athletes’ and ‘numskulls and sybarites’ each tale is skillfully translated and given context by the author who is a professor of classical studies and folklore at Indiana University. You gotta love a culture that produced stories concerning ‘The Third Cup of Wine.’

Celtic Tales: Fairy Tales and Stories of Enchantment from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Wales illus. by Kate Forrester

This volume contains 16 stories transcribed by folklorists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and divided into the tantalizing categories of ‘Tricksters,’ ‘The Sea,’ ‘Quests,’ and ‘Romance.’ The tales themselves have a definite sense of humor as well as similarities to more familiar folktales that came later. The real standouts of this volume are the illustrations including great examples of silhouette art and the Celtic borders framing the tales themselves.

The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales edited by Maria Tatar

This collection of 26 newly translated tales is the perfect mix of fiction and scholarship. Each tale is comprehensively annotated by Harvard professor Tatar bringing out the historical and cultural context of each story as well as the psychological impact on children and adults throughout the ages. Most impressive is the comparison of the various illustrations that have been made for different versions of each tale including works by the likes of Arthur Rackham, Walter Crane and Gustave Dore.

A Treasury of American Folklore edited by B.A. Botkin

This book is a reissue of a 1944 edition put together by B.A. Botkin who was the national folklore editor for the Federal Writers Project in the late 1930s. It is an invaluable and entertaining collection of American folktales and songs that could easily have been lost to history. Classics tales concerning the likes of Paul Bunyan and John Henry rub shoulders with the more obscure tales such as ‘The Talking Mule’ and ‘The Phantom Train of Marshal Pass.’

Gnomes (Deluxe Collector’s Edition)
by Will Huygen

First published in 1976, this is a ‘scientific observation’ of the local gnome population in Holland. This illustrated work is now considered a classic, hence this anniversary edition, and its detailed breakdown of gnome culture (including medicine, industry and, gulp, mating habits) is beloved by many. To me, however, it has always been nightmare fuel. This could be due to my encountering it during my youth but I think it also has a lot to do with the huge amount of, heavily illustrated, TMI in this book.

Living with the Living Dead by Greg Garrett

Zombies shuffle into the folklore collection with this examination of tales of the living dead and their meanings from Baylor University English professor Garett. Drawing from the many current cultural examples of the zombie apocalypse, including the films of George Romero and the TV series The Walking Dead, the author wrestles with meaty (har, har) questions such as: Who are the Living Dead? Do zombie stories actually encourage community? and What are the ethics of the zombie apocalypse?

So take a stroll down the aisle of the 300s and check out the folklore section. Just make sure to leave a trail of breadcrumbs or you will be sorry.

And the Librarian Said, “Read This!”

How’s your summer reading challenge coming along? One of this year’s challenges is to read a book recommended by a librarian. Since I know you don’t always have time to chat when you stop in, I asked my colleagues to offer up some suggestions for you.

Dazzling insights, well researched and footnoted, lots to learn, with sparkling prose style, this is one of the best book I’ve read on the subject. Love for Sale: Pop Music in America by David Hajdu covers pop music from the era of song sheets in the late nineteenth century to contemporary digital delivery. Compulsively readable, it works for every level of reader, from a scholar interested in how pop has evolved in content, style, and delivery over the years to those who want to relate to Hajdu’s observation of cultural and personal connections. Highly recommended.
From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

If you have a taste for historical fiction, speculative fiction, and are open to reading Young Adult novels, I’ve got a couple books that may be right up your alley. Front Lines is the first book in a new series by Michael Grant about what World War II would have been like if women had been included in the draft. I really enjoyed the character development, and found the plot to be exciting and unique.
I’m waiting eagerly for book 2 to come out, but in the meantime I started another series called Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. Wolf by Wolf revolves around the idea that the Nazis and Imperial Japan emerged from World War II victorious, and that the United States never became involved. Yael escaped a Nazi medical experiment with an unusual new ability and has joined the resistance. Yael’s assignment is to infiltrate the annual Axis Tour – a motorcycle race that spans Nazi and Imperial Japanese territory – win, and kill Hitler. This book reads like a spy novel and an extended car chase all wrapped up in one.
From Lisa, Northwest History Librarian

Do you love historical fiction? Do you love dragons? How about a series that combines them?? Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series begins with His Majesty’s Dragon, in which Captain Will Laurence is serving in the Royal Navy right in the thick of the Napoleonic Wars. His ship captures a French frigate bearing precious cargo…an unhatched dragon egg. You see, dragons have been domesticated (to the extent that’s even possible) to serve with the Aerial Corps, allowing Aviators to attack from above, dropping bombs and other projectiles onto the ships battling on the high seas. The Pilots – chosen by the dragons and not the other way around – develop tight bonds and steadfast partnerships with the powerful and capricious beasts. When this particular dragon hatches, it chooses Will. This is a problem. A big problem. Will has been in the Navy since boyhood and therefore has no training to be an Aviator, plus he is on the point of becoming engaged, and his new calling renders marriage virtually impossible. His first adventures with Temeraire take them to China and back against the backdrop of a volatile international conflict, and there are nine books to enjoy filled with more exploits and intrigue! I love Jane Austen and fantasy, so this is basically the perfect series for me.
From Sarah, Youth Services Librarian

I first read The Ha-Ha by Dave King in 2005 and recently came across it while browsing the main library’s top-drawer fiction collection. This is a graceful, measured debut both sad and funny. The plot circles round middle-aged Howard, who is unable to speak, read or write due to head injuries suffered in the Vietnam War. He lives in the house he grew up in with an assortment of entertaining boarders and spends his days tending the gardens of a convent. When Sylvia, Howard’s ex-high school girlfriend, heads for rehab, she saddles him with Ryan, her taciturn nine-year-old son. With many heartwarming passages that don’t turn sappy thanks to King’s prosaic writing style, it’s a heckuva ride for both of these quiet souls.
From Joyce, Adult Services Librarian

I couldn’t limit myself to just one, so here are two titles for your listening and reading pleasure this summer. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey does have the dreaded Z word in it, zombies that is, but there are no maniacal governors or hordes of decaying extras here. Instead you get an intense five person character study set in a ‘post incident’ Britain that keeps you guessing and makes you actually care about who survives and who doesn’t. The ending is also top notch and quite unexpected. I listened to the audio version and the narration was excellent as well. Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain by Charlotte Higgins is also about an imagined Britain but this one in the past. The author travels the country on foot and in an unreliable VW Camper van visiting what remains of Roman Britain. Admittedly, compared to the European continent the ruins are a tad sparse, but that only adds to the mystery. The result is an intriguing travelogue that is as much about how we create the past as it is about the physical structures themselves.
From Richard, Adult Services Librarian

Do you love fantasy and enjoy resilient female characters, strong family bonds, and fast paced adventures? You should read Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren! Online, this book is described as equal parts Prison Break and Frozen. I see the resemblance! Valor’s twin sister, Sasha, has been sentenced to life in prison at Tyur’ma for stealing a diplomatically-important item from the royal family. Valor knowingly gets herself sent to this harsh and freezing prison so she can attempt to free them both; never mind that nobody has ever escaped in the 300 year history of this prison!
While it’s true this book is aimed at middle grade readers I’d definitely recommend this for fans of any age who are into The Hunger Games or Princess Academy.
From Andrea, Youth Services Librarian

When taking lunch-time walks in north Everett, I have occasionally seen people’s belongings strewn across front yards, looking abandoned and pathetic. Although I do know that Everett residents are poorer than people living elsewhere in Snohomish County and I have read about the high cost of renting and the scarcity of available affordable units, I knew next to nothing about the eviction process and how it affects the lives of tenants and landlords.
Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, caught my attention when I was thinking about possible authors for our Everett Reads: Beyond the Streets series. Desmond, a Harvard sociology professor, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2015 for his work on the impact eviction has on the lives of the urban poor. His research sounded both interesting and relevant.
We couldn’t afford Professor Desmond’s speaker’s fee, but I read the book, and I would encourage you to read it, too. This is no dry sociological study. Rather Desmond uses the stories of real people to introduce the reader to the economics and politics behind eviction—and the consequences suffered by the adults and children who find themselves at the mercy of a process that disrupts lives. Evicted is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the lives of the urban poor and the importance of stable housing.
From Eileen, Library Director

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan
I’d recommend this fascinating biography to anyone interested in American history, photography, or Native American cultures. Edward Curtis, a brilliant Seattle photographer, spent decades crisscrossing the country to capture and preserve images and language from the “dying race” of Native Americans in the early 20th century. The book reads like a fast-paced adventure story, and readers travel along to locations as diverse at the Puget Sound, the Great Plains, the Grand Canyon, and even Teddy Roosevelt’s White House. This book did what all great narrative non-fiction does: it kept me enthralled with a strong story and piqued my curiosity about new topics and ideas. It would be a great choice for fans of authors Erik Larson and Gary Krist.
From Mindy, Northwest History Librarian

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain
Bar none, one of the best books about music ever put together. I say “put together” because these are the real words from Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone, Jim Carroll, Malcom McLaren, Danny Fields, and many other artists and impresarios collected and used to define punk by the creator of the legendary Punk Magazine from that era. Comprehensive, you’ll thrill to Punk’s prehistory in the early 70’s (Stooges, Velvet underground) to its late 70’s heyday (Sex Pistols, Clash, Ramones) through to its last gasps in corporate eighties rock. Highest possible recommendation. Bonus: the 20th anniversary edition includes new photos and an afterword by the authors.
From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

To recommend a book to you, I would need to know your particular interests, taste, and what you’re in the mood for at the moment. But if you’re stretching yourself by doing our reading challenge anyway, I might as well suggest a challenging book. And I get to take the easy way out by recycling a review I’d written for Alki, the state’s library journal, many years ago.
Nathaniel Mackey is a renowned poet who has also written a sequence of novels called From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. The review below is for the third book of the series, and you can just as easily start here as at the beginning. These books won’t appeal to every reader, and the library’s copies have gone largely unread, so I challenge you to get off the beaten path and to dive into the extraordinary language of Mackey’s jazz-band world.
Atet A.D. by Nathaniel Mackey
This epistolary novel covers the goings-on in a jazz band immediately following the death of Thelonious Monk in 1982. The language is superbly jazz-like as Mackey riffs and improvises on words and phrases – playfully filling his sentences with homonyms and syntactic variations, and parsing words to find others underneath or contracting them to build new ones. N., the narrator, is a musician and composer in the band, and through his letters we learn of his creative processes and critical insights as he attempts to push boundaries and build upon the works of the jazz greats that have preceded him – especially those from the post-bop and free jazz eras. The band’s musical drive and determination take them, at times, beyond the confines of the everyday world into one that countenances telepathic and metaphysical communication. While some of this certainly strains credulity, Mackey’s linguistic flights compensate as he transforms language into an instrument of amazing semantic agility and linguistic power (a chapter in which the band plays in Seattle has Mackey in peak form). This is not your standard plot-advancing or character-driven novel, but if you like both your jazz and fiction improvisatory, challenging, and playful, this might be right up your alley.
From Scott, Adult Services Librarian

Ever since the New Yorker published an article in 2015 about the long overdue major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, I’ve spoken to a lot of patrons at the library who were hoping to learn more. Full Rip 9.0 by Sandi Doughton is the perfect book to learn more about the science behind these dire predictions, as well as how much (or how little) you need to be concerned about this event depending on where you live. More importantly this book helps outline very simple things that you and your family can do to help you ride out the aftermath of a major event, whether it’s Cascadia Subduction Zone related or otherwise.
A very useful book that makes a good companion to Full Rip 9.0 is The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley. Ripley looks into several different kinds of disaster scenarios, from natural disasters to man-made ones, and dissects the steps taken by survivors, and those who perished. While on the outside this might sound like a macabre book, it’s actually pretty reassuring, because it reinforces the importance of planning ahead for the unthinkable so that your instincts are ready to guide you to safety should the need ever arise. Ripley also delves into the psychology of survivors, debunking some common misconceptions about how people react in disaster scenarios, and who may be more likely to fare well.
If these two books whet your appetite to learn more about how to be prepared, I also highly recommend looking into the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training offered periodically for free for Everett residents and workers. Even if you don’t ultimately register to be an emergency response worker, attendees walk away with some very useful information that can be used to prepare their households and neighborhoods.
From Lisa, Northwest History Librarian

So there you have it. Another challenge is in the books! [See what I did there?] Stay tuned over the next several weeks as I bring you more books to help you conquer your summer reading challenges!

It Slices, It Dices, It’s Shonen Knife!

Let's Knife

It’s time to enter the garage. Via Japan.

But first, let me tell you a little story. The year is 1981. In the megalopolis of Osaka, known worldwide for its sake, three young women start a band that’s different from the typical J-pop group. Combining influences from 60s girl groups, garage and punk rock, the trio create a poppy yet punky sound that is unusual in their home country. In less than 10 years they will be hailed by Kurt Cobain and other leaders of the alternative rock scene.

Now it’s 36 years later. And the band plays on.

Osaka Ramones

Shonen Knife is an unusual creature, not really fitting into any convenient niche. Although they are most closely associated with a Ramones-like sound, their poppy and somewhat frail vocals immediately put them in a different category altogether.

(EVERYONE: THEIR POPPY AND SOMEWHAT FRAIL VOCALS IMMEDIATELY PUT THEM IN A DIFFERENT CATEGORY.)

 Er, yes.

Powerpuff

Throughout their career Shonen Knife has delivered their own take on punk, garage rock and 60s pop, creating a unique amalgam. In fact, if there is a Shonen Knife sound, it would be poppy vocals over heavy music. The term pop punk, most often applied to bands that sound like Green Day, is not what I’m talking about here. Pop punk is fast, catchy music with a bit of an edge to the guitars. It’s homogeneous. Shonen Knife combines two sounds that really don’t fit together that well. But, and this is the important bit, they make it work. Recent albums focus on heavy metal (Super Group from 2010, Free Time from 2011), punk (Tribute to the Ramones from 2011), 60s pop (Pop Tunes from 2012) and 70s hard rock (Overdrive from 2014 and Adventure from 2015). Yet they all sound like Shonen Knife.

Lyric content definitely provides some continuity for the group. From early on, songs have focused on food (Sushi Bar, Wasabi, Fortune Cookie), animals (Parrot Polynesia, Bear Up Bison, Like a Cat) and science fiction (Planet X, Riding on the Rocket, Robot from Hell). In fact, it’s safe to say that SK’s lyrics are pretty weak in general. And this is not a criticism! Pop music is built on inane lyrics (There’ll be rainbows reachin’ cross the sky and we’ll both be so happy we will cry from The Monkees song The Day We Fall In Love). It’s practically required that pop music lyrics be absurd!

Overdrive

The 2014 album Overdrive (which was part of the EPL collection until recently) is a good place to start your acquaintance with these ladies. Filled with great hard rock riffs (Green Tea, Shopping), jangly dream rock (Fortune Cookie) and that “typical” Shonen Knife sound (Jet Shot), Overdrive gives an overview (clever wordplay alert!) of the band’s oeuvre. Why, Robot from Hell, a most excellent hard rock tune, is in itself worth the price of checking the album out!

Thirty-six years is a mighty long time for a rock band to successfully exist. Band members have left, been replaced, returned, had babies, quit, got a haircut and returned. They have toured extensively and released 20 albums. And still the music pours out of them.

So if you need a little spring in your step, a little cheer in your soul, get thee behind Shonen Knife. And as you go out into the world today, keep these lyrics from Bad Luck Song close to your heart:

The bad luck song might be my good luck song
This is the best way of thinking
Let’s take it easy
Change the way you’re thinking

Listen Up! July New Music Arrivals

Image showing nine different album covers in a tile-like formation. Album covers are faded out, and there is text superimposed over them that reads "Listen Up! July New Music Arrivals"

Here’s your short list of what’s been pouring through the doors at the Everett Public Library. Place your holds now, and pick up some new tunes to keep your summer moving.

Soulwax – From Deewee (PIAS America) – Infectious, dance-floor-friendly electro full of rich layers. Soulwax accomplishes the delicate balance of maintaining their tried and true sound, honed over two decades, without sounding kitschy and dated.

Faith Evans & Notorious B.I.G. – The King & I (Rhino Records) – Many people have mixed feelings about posthumous ‘collaborations.’ They can seem like a cash grab, and the departed musician’s artistic intentions and vision can never truly be represented. Regardless of these criticisms, this album is worth a listen. The interview clips of Biggie are of interest and Evans as a vocalist is a powerhouse who is clearly pouring love and affection into this project.

Somi – Petite Afrique (Okeh)– Gorgeous vocals, bright melodies, jazzy drumming, and an afrobeat undertone. Somi explores the African-American experience living in Harlem, as well as those of African immigrants blending cultures in the New York City melting pot.

Paramore – After Laughter (Fueled by Ramen) – The latest from Paramore kind of reminds me of classic Sugarcubes with loud vocals, cheery new wave instrumentation, and jarringly-contradictory lyrics, full of angst and anger.

Juana Molina – Halo (Crammed Discs) – Melodic, dancy, mysterious, and playful. I’ve seen this described as “folktronica,” and I think this fits the album nicely. Molina effortlessly merges synths and folk melodies to support a loose narrative based on the Argentinian and Uruguayan myth of the “luz mala” or evil light.

Saint Etienne – Home Counties (Heavenly Recordings) – Upbeat indie rock with lots of harmony and a sense of place very strongly tied to the commuter areas surrounding London. This eclectic album features some dance-floor tracks and sometimes even a little 60s go-go feel.

Harry Styles – Harry Styles (Erskine/Columbia Records)– This is Styles’s debut solo album after leaving the boy band juggernaut that was One Direction. I almost hate to mention his past work in the boy band genre because that may drive some people away from this record. In reality, Styles achieves a beautiful, melancholy mix of tracks that rocks when it needs to. His sound is a little folky with a tendency towards ballads; very minimal but satisfying.

Mali Music – The Transition of Mali (RCA) – Soul, RnB, and little hip hop mixed in. Mali Music has a smooth, sensual sound, with rich, multi-layered vocals. You can’t pin this very versatile album down to one genre; it switches from beats and samples to classical piano melodies and strings.

Roger Waters – Is this the Life we really want? (Columbia) – A moody, gritty, raw offering from the Pink Floyd frontman. Waters remains an unflinchingly critical analyst of modern society and popular culture.

Ani Di Franco – Binary (Righteous Babe Records) – The words that this album brings to mind for me could sound unflattering to someone who may not have ‘come of age’ with Ani playing in the background: comforting, no surprises, reliable. Ani Di Franco is an artist who, while always exploring collaborations with a very wide range of musicians from different styles, has created a signature sound that is unmistakably hers. Binary showcases her unique blend of folk, funk, and rock that lulls you into a groove while at the same time excoriating the shortcomings of the world we live in.

The Secret Sisters – You Don’t Own Me Anymore (New West Records) – Real-life sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers return from a dark period of court battles and bankruptcy to release their third album. Their hard-luck story and abundant musical talent attracted the interest of Brandi Carlile, who produced this latest offering. The result showcases the sister’s songwriting prowess and beautiful ability to harmonize in a mix of sleepy, soulful country and bluegrass sounds.

Little Cub – Still life (Domino) – Socially critical lyrics over a satisfying electro soundtrack? What’s not to love? The analog synth work on this debut album brings to mind the well-honed sounds of New Order or Depeche Mode in their prime.

Ifriqiyya Electrique – Rûwâhîne (Glitterbeat Records) – This album is really hard to define – the closest I can pin it to is tribal industrial music. François Cambuzat and Gianna Greco have teamed up with a group of Tunisian Banga ceremonial musicians to blend their traditional trance dancing chants with grinding guitar riffs and bass-heavy production. The end result is a bit ominous and absolutely mesmerizing.

Yola Carter – Orphan Offering EP (Carter Records) – Loads of twang and folky strings, backing raw and powerful vocals. Carter’s ballads can swing from sleepy to soulful at a moment’s notice. This album is a bit of a late arrival, having been released at the end of 2016, but it’s well worth the listen.

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

71dyjDZWEML

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. 

wpid-wp-1446286045655

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!

Second-Hand Love

Sometimes when a book is so good, I think about leaving a note inside of it when I return it to the library. In my imagination my note would be all sophisticated and intelligent, pointing out the themes and underlying messages. But in reality, it would probably read: Hi Fellow Book Friend! This book was good. That’s all I got.

I think I need professional help.

In Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue, Rachel returns to her hometown after having been away for three years. Her younger brother drowned almost a year ago and she’s spent the last year being haunted and hunted by sadness. She’s failed her senior year of high school, her mother’s grief is pushing her further and further away, and Rachel’s grandmother can see that to move on Rachel will need to get away from the place her brother Cal died.

So Rachel goes home and has to deal with Henry, her best friend since birth.  But what was once friendship for Rachel changed before their freshman year of high school. She realized she was in love with Henry. She wrote him a letter about how she felt and hid it in Henry’s favorite T.S. Eliot book of poetry. Then she moved to another town. Henry never mentioned reading the letter and Rachel figured he didn’t feel the same way. So, folding up on herself in humiliation and regret, Rachel stops speaking to Henry for three years.

Henry, meanwhile, is passionate about two things: his family’s second hand bookstore (Howling Books) and his girlfriend Amy. He graduated high school and blew his savings to travel the world with her. That is, until Amy sits him down and tells him that while she still loves him, she’s also interested in someone else. I didn’t know that was allowed. Huh. You learn something new every day. So Henry does what every 18 year old boy has done since the beginning of time: vows to win her back and make her fall in love with him.

The family’s bookstore isn’t doing too well, not with online book companies and the rise of e-readers. Nobody seems to want to browse in bookstores anymore. Howling Books has been in business for twenty years. Henry, his sister George, and their father are very protective of their love for books and the bookstore itself. Henry’s parents are divorced and their mother is trying to convince them to sell the building. The company that wants to buy it plans to bull-doze the building to make way for condominiums.

What’s so special about this secondhand bookstore? It has a section called the Letter Library where people can leave letters for friends or for a love interest.  Rachel had put her letter in a book in the Letter Library before moving away.  And now that she’s back, she has a job at the bookstore cataloging all of the letters in the Letter Library (yes, there are that many letters hidden between the pages of all those books).

Thinking that Henry’s just too embarrassed to mention her love letter from three years ago, Rachel decides to start over with him. They’ve been beyond close almost since birth and they’ve both missed each other terribly in the three years she was gone. Rachel doesn’t tell anyone about Cal’s death. Everybody thinks she’s just taking a break before college and living with her aunt for the summer. She doesn’t tell them she couldn’t concentrate during her senior year and couldn’t see the point of high school and flunked out.

Rachel hates Amy and the feeling is mutual. Amy, a beautiful redhead, is the type of girl who will latch onto the next thing that comes along if it’s shiny enough. But she keeps letting Henry think there’s hope for the two of them. Rachel bites her tongue about the situation, relieved that she doesn’t have any feelings of love for Henry anymore and they can go back to being best friends.

But isn’t that what we all say when confronted with unrequited love? Of course Rachel still loves him. Duh. So they spend a few weeks getting back into their friendship and coming up with ways for Henry to win Amy back. But Rachel finds that dealing with Cal’s death isn’t getting any easier and she especially wants to share her grief with her best friend.

All seems lost when Amy decides Henry’s shiny enough to take back. But does Henry finally see that the girl he loves is the same one he grew up with?

Told in alternating voices and letters from the Letter Library, Words in Deep Blue is not just about getting over grief but also about learning how to live with it while still doing the work of everyday living. It’s about a family of bookworms learning that letting go might not be a bad idea. And, maybe most importantly, it’s a book about love in all its forms and incarnations. I shied away from this book at first because of the romance angle but found that it was my kind of book: difficult love, love that makes your heart into a zombie (yes, the book could have used some real zombies too but that’s just me being me).

As Barry Gibb once sang (before the falsetto years) “Let there be love.”

And there was.