Sunday, April 23, 2017

Staff Review: Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets

I plucked Breaking Wild off the library shelf by chance, while selecting books for a wilderness display. I love stories set in wild places and this one garnered some nice reviews. It's a story of search, survival, and rescue. The book is fast-paced and the plot delivers rapidly mounting suspense. Both main protagonists are women, strong women more than capable on their own in the wild. The novel's backdrop allows author Diane Les Bequets to paint luscious portraits of Colorado's hinterlands, an area she knows well and clearly loves.

The novel is told from two points of view, Amy Raye's and Pru's. Amy Raye is a troubled individual. Happily married, ostensibly, she cannot stop herself from seeking out encounters with strange men on the side, the consequence of an unfortunate childhood event. Her actions torment her and threaten her marriage. To clear her head, she heads off alone with a compound bow to redeem her elk tag. She gets hurt and then lost in a craggy wilderness of ice and snow, coyotes and mountain lions. A massive search effort ensues.

Pru is an agent of the Bureau of Land Management, and she and her dog, Kona, are part of the search-and-rescue team. Pru, whose own past includes plenty of heartache and loss, finds herself unusually compelled by Amy Raye's disappearance. Her diligence and persistence in tracking the woman are unflagging, even after the official search is called off.

We move back and forth between two points of view, one woman's search and the other's efforts at survival, with both women's histories fleshed out as the gripping story moves forward.

I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a good, suspenseful read and particularly for readers entranced by nature, in this case the gorgeous but harsh, high desert landscapes of southwestern Colorado.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

#ComicsWednesday: Primates: the fearless science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks

Jim Ottaviani has made a career of taking the lives and complex discoveries of scientists and mathematicians and translating them into accessible graphic novels (with the help of various talented artists). In Primates, Ottaviani worked with Maris Wicks to tell the story of three groundbreaking primatologists: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas.

This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in natural science, women's history, or animals, whether or not you know the difference between a chimpanzee and an orangutan. Ottaviani and Wicks captured some of the difficult realities of scientific fieldwork in remote locations, while giving the highlights of our relatively recent understanding of primate behavior.

While this comic is kept in our children's collection, I'd recommend that parents read this book along with younger readers who might have questions about such difficult topics as sexism, gorilla poaching, and Dian Fossey's death. Though Wicks's engaging, cartoon-ish art helps to keep the tone from becoming too dark, this book is probably a better fit for tweens, teens, and interested adults.

Primates serves as an excellent introduction to the lives and works of three incredible, inspiring female scientists that readers of all ages are likely to enjoy. You'll probably find yourself looking through the provided bibliography in order to learn even more!

~Sarah, Adult Services

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

#ComicsWednesday: Princeless Vol. 1 Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley & M. Goodwin

A princess, locked in a tower, guarded by a dragon, waiting for a prince to save her so she can marry him and they can live Happily Ever After. It's a familiar story, which is why it is such a delight when Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin turns the trope on its head.

Princess Adrienne is sick of waiting for a knight to come rescue her. In fact, she never wanted to be rescued in the first place. In an attempt to get their daughters married off, her father has locked up Adrienne and all of her sisters in different prisons around the land. Guarded by fearsome beasts and tricky riddles, this will make sure that they are only rescued by someone strong enough to rule.

After berating a knight who attempts to rescue her, Adrienne finds a sword hidden in her tower. She decides to make an escape, and flies off on Sparky, the dragon who guarded her tower. Adrienne sets off to rescue her sisters on her own.

Adrienne has a few misadventures before she gets to her sisters, and she picks up help along the way. When she needs armor, she runs into Bedelia Smith, a half-dwarf blacksmith. (Their
hilarious discussion about the practicality of armor for women has been distributed in geek circles for a few years now.) Once Adrienne's father finds out she is missing, and that the "knight" responsible probably killed her, he sends the most vicious bounty hunters in the kingdom after her.

Princeless is a great all-ages comic. It's perfect for parents and kids to read together. Adrienne and Bedelia are funny, and are great role models for young kids. It explores gender roles in a fun and accessible way that is sure to spark conversations about why there are "girl things" and "boy things." Most of all, you will cheer for Adrienne as she makes her way to each sister and finds out that nothing is as clear as it seems.

- Libby, Youth Services

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Staff Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

If you were a child in the 80's or 90's, you are probably familiar with the Jim Henson movie Labyrinth starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. You might have gone through an obsessive phase and written fanfiction about the movie, and it is possible you still have the movie memorized. I am definitely not speaking from experience or anything. Nope, not me.

So, ANYWAY, when I saw the following quote about Wintersong from the author, S. Jae-Jones, I knew I had to read it.
"In November 2013I decided to write 50 Shades of Labyrinth for NaNoWriMo. The rest is history."*
Wintersong is a pretty obvious play on the themes behind the movie Labyrinth, but it draws inspiration from many other cultural touchstones. The Phantom of the Opera, the works of Mozart, Rossetti's Goblin Marketeven the classic fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast.

If the "50 Shades" description is a turn-off for you, fear not. This book is firmly in the Young Adult category, and while there are some sexy-ish scenes, there's nothing above PG-13. It's definitely not erotica. It's also set in Bavaria in the 19th century, so there's a more repressed emotion and longing than anything else.

Liesl has always been the one to look after of her sister Käthe and brother Josef. Her father is a drunk and her mother works too hard, but Liesl puts her family first. Though she believed in der Erlkönig (the Goblin King) as a young child, she has outgrown the old superstitions. When Käthe is taken by the Goblin King, he makes a wager with Liesl. It's up to her to find Käthe in the Goblin Kingdom and get her back to safety. The question is, will Liesl be able to do it? And what will happen if she loses the game?

I got lost in this book. The characters are rich, and there is enough suspense to keep you turning the pages. S. Jae-Jones has a way with words, and the world she creates is one that you want to live in. Macmillan have already announced a companion novel due out next year. Is it 2018 yet?

- Libby, Youth Services

If you like Wintersong, try these:

Beauty: a retelling of the story of Beauty & the Beast by Robin McKinley
As Old As Time by Liz Braswell
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

* No, really, she said that.

Look at this man and tell me you didn't have a crush on him when you were 13.
You didn't?
I don't believe you. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

#ComicsWednesday: The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal by E.K. Weaver

I enjoy traveling, but I would much rather read a book about a road trip than actually drive thousands of miles myself. The road trip from California to Rhode Island in The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal is perfect for an armchair traveler like me. The comic was written and illustrated by E.K. Weaver and while this is very much a character-driven story, I loved how she would use full-page illustrations (some in full color) of the changing landscape to highlight the characters' journey.
Weaver's artistic skills also shine in capturing facial expressions and body language, making full use of the comic as a visual medium for storytelling. She tells her story without thought bubbles (and with very few narrative boxes), conveying her characters' (even the background characters!) emotions and internal landscapes through her illustrations. It's a choice that rewards careful readers, and I found rereading to be a rich experience, giving new context to earlier interactions.

The story was originally published online as a webcomic between 2009 and 2014, which is how I first read it, even though the wait between updates could be torture! New readers will probably appreciate the chance to experience the whole story in one book at their own pace.

The morning after calling off his arranged marriage and coming out as gay to his conservative parents, Amal wakes up with a hangover and a stranger in his kitchen. Amal might've destroyed his relationship with his parents, but he's still determined to be there for his sister's graduation.

Apparently he agreed to split the cost of the cross-country trip with a total stranger before blacking out. TJ has his own reasons for leaving California, knows a tattoo artist in Rhode Island, and doesn't have a car. TJ and Amal make for an odd couple and seemingly have very little in common. However, hours upon hours trapped in a car will help you get to know anyone better.

Small spoiler alert: this story does include a romance, and that romance does include a physical relationship between our main characters. Much of the sexual content occurs off panel, but there is enough illustrated on the page (plus drug use) to definitely place this comic in the Adult collection.
Click to view larger because this sequence makes me giggle every time.
I was sad on the day I read the last page of TJ and Amal, but I'm incredibly happy that I have the chance to share this emotional journey with new readers!

~Sarah, Adult Services

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Staff Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
It's hard to do justice to Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad in a quick review. I was leery of reading it because I knew it was going to be emotionally wrenching -- and it was -- but it's also sublime and wonderful: beautifully written, compelling, imaginative, even fantastical in parts, yet it rings so true. Whitehead obviously did a vast amount of research for the novel, but there's not a word of dialogue that breaks the story's spell.

In the second sentence of her New York Times review of the book, Michiko Kakutani calls The Underground Railroad "a potent, almost hallucinatory novel that leaves the reader with a devastating understanding of the terrible human costs of slavery." That it does. 

The novel tells the story of Cora, a slave on the Georgia cotton plantation of an especially brutal man, a drunkard and a sadist. Circumstances and a fellow slave convince Cora to attempt an escape and what follows is the wild narrative of her long journey to freedom, with an ever-changing cast of accomplices, comrades, and brutes. Sadly, lots and lots of brutes; slave-catching was a lucrative pursuit and particularly attractive to the lowest of the low. 

Cora travels via a literal underground railroad, to South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and then further west. We observe the topography of slavery from myriad, awful angles. It's a rough journey in every possible way, but thankfully it leads in the direction of redemption. 

I thought, going in, that I was well aware of the depths of the slavery horror but, come to find out, I'd barely plumbed them. It's a terrible thing confronting the fact that man's inhumanity can exceed one's wildest imaginings. The challenge is not to hate back. 

Reading The Underground Railroad was an experience I won't soon forget. It deepened my compassion and increased my understanding. The novel has occupied the bestseller list for over 30 weeks now, which is heartening. Maybe compassion and understanding will start to go viral.

~Ann, Adult Services