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.

Crazy Fall Publishing: Picture Book Edition

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I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve read about five hundred books this year! You may ask, “How is that possible?” Well, I purchase the picture books for the Everett Public Library and I read each and every one that comes into the library. Some I read quickly at my desk, but I check out about half of them and take them home to try on my two little guinea pigs, er, I mean, granddaughters. Quite a few have become instant favorites and are now part of our family life. Let me share the sweetest ones with you here.

The book pictured above is a real beauty complete with rhyming words, lovely art work, and awesome pull out pages called gate folds which actually frighten this librarian because they are fragile and will probably rip easily. “Leaves on trees are green and bright. Abracadabra! What a sight!” This is a celebration of the fall season similar to the very successful Abracadabra! It’s Spring! which was published, you guessed it, last spring.

There are a few new Halloween books which merit a reading. The Rules of the House isn’t really a Halloween book, but it sure is on the scary side as far as picture books go. It has already become part of our shared literary experience at home as we remind ourselves of the ‘rules of the house’: no pinching, no fibbing, and always rescue your sister. Birdie’s Happiest Halloween has a good ‘can’t decide my costume’ story and a great ending. Grimelda the Messy Witch is funny and leads to a good discussion about cleaning up your messes. A Teeny Tiny Halloween is just a fun read about a tiny woman who tries to get help when leaves bury her house.

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We love Mo Willems and were sad when the very last Elephant and Piggy book, The Thank You Book, was published this year. I read it to all of the schools I visited to talk up our Summer Reading Program. Everyone loved it! But, have no fear, now Willems is working on a new series called Elephant and Piggy Love Reading. We Are Growing and The Cookie Fiasco are hilarious! Just perfect for children learning to read. Nanette’s Baguette is a rhyming masterpiece: “It’s Nanette’s first trip to get the baguette! Is she set? You bet!”

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I refer to Please Say Please every single day when my little granddaughters want anything: “Please say please!” It is a very useful book. The Magic Word by Barnett is a hilarious take on what a magic word really is. Are Pirates Polite? by Demas shows that even pirates can say please and thank you. Read this if you want to stress good behavior and still have fun.

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Being polite is important, but it’s really important to Be Who You Are!  Author Todd Parr encourages kids to embrace themselves because they are special. Ada Twist, Scientist  is constantly wondering about and questioning the world around her. Who? What? Why? Where? When? Her sense of wonder is infectious. Thunder Boy, Jr. is by Sherman Alexie and is about a boy who wants a name of his own. The beautiful illustrations by Yuyi Morales celebrate this father-son relationship.

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Everyday Birds introduces kids to 20 types of North American birds through a gentle rhyme. At the back of the book there is information on each bird, should the reader be curious to learn more. Bright, bold, and colorful illustrations will draw a child’s eye. Hungry Bird is just as delightful and hilarious as the first two books in Tankard’s BIRD series. The animal characters experience negative emotions and they work through those feelings with care, heart and laughs. Hooray for Today is great for learning about nocturnal animals or for a bedtime story. Owl has a wagon filled with books, music, party things, and wants someone to play. Everyone he tries to wake up is too sleepy, until night is over and they are ready to get up, but now HE is the sleepy one.

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They All Saw a Cat is a good one. In simple, rhythmic prose and stylized pictures, a cat walks through the world, and all the other creatures see the cat differently. It illustrates perspective for children.  I Hear a Pickle: (and Smell, See, Touch and Taste It Too!) is Caldecott Honor winner Rachel Isadora’s introduction to the five senses and is perfect for the youngest children, who will recognize themselves in charming vignettes that portray a wide range of activities. Before Morning is simply beautiful and definitely a Caldecott contender. Take time to ‘read’ the illustrations as they add so much to the overall story. A little girl wishes for a snow day – – a day slow and unhurried enough to spend at home together.

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I would like to encourage you to take these picture books home from the library and spend an unhurried day with your favorite child. Who knows? You may end up reading more books than me!

Quick Picks!

c1d4eb0de14c5411ecece51e6819d96eDid you know that we have a browsing section of books at the Everett Public Library that consists of newly published trade and mass market paperbacks? They are called “Quick Picks” and you can find great titles that are almost always available because no one can place holds on these books. Think of it: Brand new hot paperback titles, yours for the taking. This is your chance to get those hardbound bestsellers that are just out in paper. Here are a few that I have eyed lately.

index-3Look closely at the photo above.  I just spied a book which is on the current paperback non-fiction bestsellers list. Do you see it? S P Q R by Mary Beard is a history of Rome with passion and without technical jargon. It’s history written with common sense, a point of view and a healthy level of snark just to keep things interesting. So this is how perusing the Quick Picks works. You find books that you didn’t even know you needed!

 

51ab-hiwhml-_sx336_bo1204203200_I recently found a stunner of a book, Isabella the Warrior Queen.  Kristin Downey takes the Spanish Queen out from behind the shadow of Ferdinand and illuminates her importance in the history of the world. As Queen, she took effective measures against the Muslim threat to western civilization, had the vision to support Columbus’ venture and set the stage for the Spanish/Hapsburg empire building in Europe and the Americas. Oh, yes. And she started the Inquisition. Oops!  Nonetheless, this is an amazing story of a remarkable woman that reads like a novel. I highly recommend it!

indexThere’s a great selection of non-fiction in the Quick Picks section. Julie, a co-worker, recommended Pogue’s Basics: Life; Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You). It’s a great ‘nibbler’ book and by that I mean you can open it up anywhere and read a bit. There’s useful information like how to remember how to set the utensils on your table: it’s alphabetical, fork, knife, spoon from the left. Also, fork and left both have four letters while knife, spoon and right have five letters. See? You gotta read this one!

index-1Welcome to Subirdia by John M Marzluff is also available as a Quick Pick. There are always overflow crowds when this University of Washington professor lectures at EPL. Avoid the crowds and get this author all to yourself with this book about how birds have adapted and survived in urban areas. In this fascinating and optimistic work, Marzluff tells how our own actions affect the birds and animals that live in our cities and towns, and he provides ten specific strategies everyone can use to make human environments friendlier for our natural neighbors.

index-2I just grabbed a copy of The Shell Collector which is a collection of exquisitely crafted short stories by the author of the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning #1 New York Times bestseller All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr. This is a wonderful collection of longish short stories. The loose theme that weaves them together is water, the sea, love of nature, and finding your place in life, even if it means severing ties with those you love. Check it out if only to read the title story. And to gaze at the cover. Beautiful.

index-1Did you miss Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun when it was popular as a hardbound book? Read the Quick Pick! This novel by Beryl Markham transports you to 1920’s Kenya and the world of Out of Africa. This is historical fiction that is beautifully written, historically accurate, and utterly engrossing. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes strong female figures and/or has an interest in 20th century colonial Africa. This is one great read.

 

index-2Who can resist the idea of a book barge on the Seine in Paris where the bookseller, Jean Perdu, uses his intuition to select just the right book to deal with whichever emotion – small or large – is afflicting you? Nina George writes a charming, wise and winsome novel in The Little Paris Bookshop. We go on a journey with Perdu to the South of France as he moves from being lost in grief to slowly reclaiming himself and his life. The further south we go, the warmer the weather and the more Perdu comes alive. Bookseller. Lost love. The wisdom of books. All combine to make an enchanting read. Don’t miss it.

So remember to check out our Quick Picks collections at both locations. Browse a selection of mystery, romance, and notable bestsellers. Don’t waste your money on books when you can borrow them from your library. Quick! Pick a book!

Summer Reading, Having a Blast!

Book and StonesI’ve signed up for the Adult Summer Reading Program at the Everett Public Library and I’m super happy about my reading stack this summer. I’ve only read three so far, but I’m excited to get some time to read and also to share the whole pile with you. Here goes!

indexIf you’re pining for the old days when you could ride your pony to the candy store, I recommend Elizabeth Lett’s book The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation. This book tells the dramatic odyssey of a horse called Snowman, saved from the slaughterhouse by a young Dutch farmer named Harry. Harry and Snowman went on to become America’s show-jumping champions, winning first prize in Madison Square Garden. Set in the mid-to late-1950s, this book also includes a fair amount of history of the horse. I dare you not to cry when Snowy dies.

indexUnder the Wide and Starry Sky is the fictionalized account of the relationship of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his spunky, older American wife Fanny. It is beautifully written and meticulously researched. This novel met all of my criteria for good historical fiction: believable characters, atmospheric setting, and it leaves you wanting to know even more about the people, places, and events. Besides, the boat that they adventured in is right here on the waterfront in Everett.

index (3)Shadows in the Vineyard: the True Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine is by Maximillien Potter. On the surface, it is a true story of an extortion plot against the world’s greatest vineyard, a tiny patch of land in Burgundy, France which grows the universally acclaimed best wine in the world. But it’s also the story of the family that grows the wine: the generations that have owned and run the vineyard, treating the vines like their own children, back to when they bought it after the French Revolution. Cheers!

index (1)A Hero of France: A Novel by Alan Furst is set in Paris,1941. Mathieu leads a small group of Resistance fighters. They help British airmen stranded in occupied France to make their way to Spain and then return to England. It’s dangerous work. Mathieu has to rely on his instincts to know who he can trust. He also needs to build a network of people he can rely on and be able to rapidly improvise when things don’t go according to plan (which is pretty much all the time). Meanwhile, a top German detective has arrived in Paris tasked with identifying and arresting members of the Resistance.

index (2)Seinfeldia: How a Show about Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Armstrong is about nothing and everything. If you are a Seinfeld fan this is a MUST READ! It goes in depth on the genesis of Seinfeld from its main characters, the writers and the real-life situations that inspired most of the insane plot lines. It follows the show from it’s inception to finale, including the “reunion” on Curb Your Enthusiasm as well as the effect that Seinfeld has on pop culture even to this day.

index (3)I am listening to Here’s To Us by Elin Hildebrand and it looks like the perfect summer read, doesn’t it? Deacon Thorpe was a famous bad boy chef. When he dies at his Nantucket house, his agent calls his three ex-wives together to the house to say goodbye. The story is told by several characters and switches from the present to the past. Secrets are revealed and at the end the family learns to forgive. This is a quick read with some interesting characters.

index (5)I’m also listening to The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns because we recently drove down to Rainier. Burns and Dayton Duncan delve into the history of the park idea, from the first sighting by white men in 1851 of the valley that would become Yosemite and the creation of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872, to the most recent additions to a system that now encompasses nearly four hundred sites and 84 million acres. There’s a lot of history and adventure here to be enjoyed. Going to Glacier? Grab these CD’s for the car ride.

index (6)Everyone Brave is Forgiven is by Chris Cleave, the best-selling author of Little Bee.  The plot centers on three Londoners (Mary, Thomas and Alistair) and how the war orchestrates the choices they make. The story is loosely based on love letters between the author’s grandparents. The beauty of this book is not so much the plot, but how the story is told with beautiful prose, cleverly placed humor, and a quiet urgency. It would make a good book club book.

index (4)And lastly, a co-worker suggested Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart the gal who wrote The Drunken Botanist. It is a novel based on the forgotten true story of one of the nation’s first female deputy sheriffs. Apparently it’s “really good”, so good, in fact, that there will be a sequel titled Lady Cop Makes Trouble. I haven’t actually gotten my hands on this one, but will have to wait. Without a gun.

Well, gotta go. I hear a hammock calling my name. What’s on your reading list this summer? Come on down to the library and check out these and other great summer reads. See you there!

Reading for Empathy

indexThe 2016 summer reading assignment for Whitman College freshmen  is to read the book Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. It is a collection of essays that explore empathy, beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose. Jamison’s essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: Why should we care about each other? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other? How can my child become more empathetic? How important is reading fiction in socializing children? How does reading literature move people in a different way than non-fiction reading?

Researchers at The New School in New York City have found evidence that literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling. And a Cambridge University study by Maria Nikolajeva, professor of education, found that “reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think.” Finding the right book is the first step to helping children understand what their peers may be thinking and feeling.

index (1)I once had a father who wanted a book for his young son who was starting to bully another boy in preschool partly because the new boy was from another country. I came up with I’m New Here by Anne O’Brien, in which three children from Somalia, Guatemala, and Korea struggle to adjust to their new home and school in the United States. It is positive and uplifting, as they do all make new friends and succeed at the end of the book.

index (2)The book that I thought of after the father had walked away was Children Just Like Me by Anabel Kindersley. Photographs and text depict the homes, schools, family lives, and cultures of young people from around the world. Children will enjoy reading about the dreams and beliefs, hopes and fears, and day-to-day events of other children’s lives. Children are encouraged to participate in a special pen pal arrangement, so they may share their own experiences with children in other countries.

index (1)Another book along these lines is A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World by DK Publishing. Wonderful photos show children from all over the world leading their lives in completely different and fascinating ways. They speak different languages, look different, and face all kinds of challenges every day. Although they live thousands of miles apart, in so many ways their needs and hopes are alike. Meet these special children in this book and other books created by UNICEF and DK Publishing.

index (2)A fascinating ‘look-at’ book is What the World Eats by Peter Menzel. This is a  photographic collection exploring what the world eats featuring portraits of twenty-five families from twenty-one countries surrounded by a week’s worth of food. The resulting family portraits give an interesting glimpse into the cultural similarities and differences served on dinner plates around the world.

index (3)One of my favorite picture books is Stella’s Starliner by Rosemary Wells. Stella is perfectly happy living in her silver home until a group of weasels tease her for living in an air stream trailer. Her bubble is burst but her parents help her by moving the trailer to a new setting where she meets two bunnies who think that her home is awesome and that she must be really rich to live in a silver home. You’ll just love Stella and her story.

indexLast Stop on Market Street won both the Caldecott Honor Award and the Newberry Medal this year. Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty–and fun–in their routine and the world around them.

Reading is a great way to understand another’s situation or feelings. When you read, you walk a mile in another’s shoes and get an idea of his feelings and situation. I hope that these books (and others that we have at the library) will help your child empathize with others.

Before the Wind

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Most people have never sailed.  So when you take them out, they wear clumsy shoes and start calling you Ahab or Bligh.  Or if they’re particularly nervous, they’ll quote Whitman- Captain my Captain!- and shout Bon voyage! or talk like pirates, as if this were the freshest improv:  Arrrggh!  Keelhaul the Wrench!  They’ll offer to help, but what they really want to know is where to sit and what to hold on to and when you’ll get them a drink.  –Before the Wind

You don’t need to know how to sail to enjoy Jim Lynch’s latest novel Before the Wind. Just get a drink, sit yourself down and prepare to be immersed in this creative, vividly detailed, emotional and gripping family story set in the world of boats driven by the wind. Lynch introduces readers to a cast of characters as varied and different as things can get. These characters have a lot of talents, but it’s up to all of them to keep their family together and a boat race might just be the best bet for that.

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The Family on ‘Flair’

But, if you do come from a sailing family, well, watch out! You’ll be buying copies of this book for Father’s Day or birthdays. When I asked my husband what were the highlights of his family boating history, he talked for half of an hour before taking a breath.  It started with his Dad attending the Naval Academy, romancing Mother on a sailboat while in medical school and starting many remarkable family sailing traditions. There were the sailing camps for two weeks each summer on Tulalip Bay, the races on Puget Sound (even to Hawaii one year on the Victoria to Maui race) and the family cruises on Flair and later, bigger boats.  My husband was the baby of the family and had to sleep with his head right by the head. For the longest time he thought that’s why it’s called a head. Well, he also thought that there were eight days in the week thanks to the Beatles.

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Sailing Lazers on Tulalip Bay (Red boats are in!)

My own memories of sailing over the years include wonderful weeks on the water with babies and children and their parents and grandparents. We’d dock at places like Ovens Island in Canada or Henry Island in the San Juans, go for a swim, harvest oysters from the beach and play cards and eat and drink and just enjoy the heck out of ourselves.Think camping, but on the water.

 

And then there are the frantic sailing moments like the time we were racing Swiftsure, a race from Victoria out to the Swiftsure Light boat and back. We had the spinnaker up but there was too much wind, so we needed to take it down and put up the smaller one. Well, snafus happen, and they were both up at once and we were ‘slapped down’ with the mast parallel to the water. Now, the thing you worry about is losing someone overboard or having a big piece of equipment break and knock someone out. Neither happened, and it’s a good thing because a tugboat was just coming around race rocks towards us. (Tugboats have the right of way.) Yikes! Well, we all lived to tell the tale and I’m sure that my father-in-law is cringing that I told that particular story.

Enough of my sailing yarns, let’s get back to Lynch’s tale. Narrated by Josh, the adult middle child of the famous boat-building Johanssens of Puget Sound, the family also includes the domineering father who drives his children to excel at racing, the hot-headed oldest brother Bernard and  the youngest Johanssen Ruby who is a gifted sailor. There’s also a mom who is a high school physics teacher who “might have understood Einstein better than she did us and never passed up an opportunity to explain and extol him.” And then there’s Grumps (the grandfather), the boatyard crew who work with Josh (one of which loves to quote from the March of the Penguins) and the characters at the rundown marina where Josh lives who all try to get him to fix their boats. There’s a lot of humor and some sadness in this novel and it is totally enjoyable.

Sailor or not, you need to get your hands on Jim Lynch’s new novel Before the Wind. You’ll love it. Tack on down to your local library and pick up a copy when it is finally out on April 19th. Bon Voyage!

Scandinavian Crime or Not?

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Did you like the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books or the Kurt Wallander series? Well, here’s a great tip from my good friend Chris: Read all of the Department Q novels you can get your hands on. Chris told me that they are riveting mysteries and the characters are “just so well-developed.” I took her advice and checked out the first in the series and my husband and I have been hooked ever since.

Department Q is a series of crime thriller novels by Danish novelist Jussi Adler-Olsen. The series follows Carl Morck, one of the best homicide detectives in Copenhagen who has been ‘promoted’ to head the cold case department. This series originally began in Danish with Kvinden i buret in 2007. In 2011, it was translated into English and published in the UK as Mercy and in the USA as The Keeper of Lost Causes.

Olsen is Denmark’s #1 crime writer and this book, the first in the series, makes it quite evident why. His writing style flows smoothly, keeping the pace of the story moving along while providing back story and strong characterization. His main character, Carl, is an acerbic and difficult man but a brilliant detective. He has just returned to work after an attack at a crime scene that left one of his colleagues dead and another paralyzed – Carl was hit in the head by a bullet and has been out for several months. Upon his return, he has set himself to do as little as possible; all interest in his career is gone. So Carl’s boss puts him in charge of  Department Q, which is designed to look into long-cold cases. The first case Carl starts with is the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a politician who disappeared five years ago from a ferry on the way to Germany. It was believed that she fell overboard – either deliberately on her part, or by accident – and the case was left unsolved. Carl starts digging into it and finds many things left unchecked; maybe she’s still alive.

The story is lightened by Carl’s assistant Hafez el-Assad, called Assad.  Assad is both comic relief and a very intriguing character. He demonstrates great insight into detective work and has amazing contacts and capabilities which generates interest about his mysterious past. Carl and Assad make a great team, their opposing characters bounce off each other as each gains greater respect for the other.

This fabulous book has everything one could want in a thriller: twists and turns and fantastic descriptions of the victim’s suffering. The point of view alternates between the present, with Carl investigating the disappearance and with the past, as we watch (and cheer for and worry about) the victim as she waits for her death or for Carl to finally rescue her.

Good news! There are five more great Department Q novels waiting for you once you finish the first:

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indexSo, if you don’t like crime mysteries, there’s still a Scandinavian option for you. A Man Called Ove is the first novel of Swedish author Fredrik Backman. Simply put, Ove is a human version of the Grumpy Cat, claws and all. One of my favorite quotes pertains to his relationship with the neighborhood stray, and at the same time paints a very accurate picture of Ove as a character:

It was five to six in the morning when Ove and the cat met for the first time. The cat instantly disliked Ove exceedingly. The feeling was very much reciprocated.

Forced into early retirement at the age of 59, recently widowed and quietly missing his wife Sonja, Ove finds that his highly structured world is becoming devoid of meaning. A man for whom the concept of things being either black or white (Ove drives a Saab and anyone driving a BMW is not to be trusted) comes naturally, he quickly arrives at a decision that would solve the problem his new living situation presents. The only thing he does not take into account is the ongoing disruption of his plans in the form of his new next door neighbor, a whirlwind called Parvaneh and her family. In between numerous disturbances to Ove’s little universe, we keep getting glimpses not only into what hides behind his grumpiness, but also into his past and the events that shaped both his life and him as a person.  This is a book similar to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Try it.

Come on down to the library and check out these books for your own mini-vacation to Scandinavia. Farvel!