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Top Books of July

July’s come and gone–and that means another “top books” post!  So, let’s get right down to business.

Station Eleven (St. John Mandel):  

When actor Arthur Leander has a heart attack while performing in King Lear, it will be the last “normal” night.  After that night, a flu sweeps the globe, killing many and uprooting the modern world.   Several years later, a performing troupe travels the landscape performing Shakespeare.   Among the performers is Kristin, who was there the night Leander died. As she and her companions struggle to make their way, the beginning still impacts the present story.

I was completely floored by this book.  St. John Mandel brings to life a ravaged world just starting to recover, and does a superb job of weaving the past and present events together that turn into a story that was so touching.  It’s very hard to explain the plot without really giving away the magic, so just believe me when I say you should read it!

Uprooted (Novik):

Every year the wizard Dragon takes a girl from the village; they stay with him for several years before leaving the villages near the dreaded Wood forever.    Agnizeska never believes she’ll be picked for the role, but chooses her he does.  Agnizeska goes to the Dragon’s tower and soon finds herself using her new-found power to combat the onslaught of the Wood.

Novik really captured my imagination with this fairy tale-inspired work.  She describes the world wonderfully, and sets up the conflict and the Wood’s ability in a meaningful and fascinating way.  The story is strong, and Agnizeska’s growth and determination are a pleasure to read.  My one minor complaint was that the romance seemed done to fulfill some kind of expectation rather than truly developed.   Overall though, this was a great read, and I recommend it to fairy tale lovers!

Shadowshaper (Older): 

Sierra Santiago plans to spend the summer working on her mural and hanging out with her friends.  However, a creepy man crashes a party, and her abuelo (grandfather) begins to weep and apologize.   Soon after, Sierra discovers a group called the Shadowshapers, individuals who are able to infuse art with the spirits of their ancestors.  As Sierra works to master shadowshaping, she must face down an individual who is looking to destroy everything she cares about.

This new YA fantasy is fantastic–it only took me an entire evening to read this awesome story!  I love the concept behind shadowshaping–it has a really strong familial connection, and I like how art becomes the medium to channel these spirits.   Sierra is a great character who rises to the challenge, and the story is exciting and hits upon issues such as culture appropriation and family without letting them completely overwhelm the story

Leviathan trilogy (Westerfeld):

Prince Alexander is forced to flee his home in the dead of night.  Commoner Deryn Sharp joins the British Air Force disguised as a boy; she serves on the great whale airship Leviathan.  A crash landing brings the two of them together, and Alex and Deryn join forces to make a difference in World War I.

This YA alternate history fantasy trilogy was a great read!  The plot in each part of the trilogy is exciting and frequently humorous, and the worldbuilding–World War I with mechanical machines and biological creations–is creative and fun.  The characterization of both Alek and Deryn was well-done; their decisions strongly affect the plot, for better or worse.  Deryn with her spunk and drive was my favorite character, and I really liked the relationship between her and Alek.  It was well-balanced between them and did not overwhelm the plot.   If you haven’t read this trilogy, you should.

Rat Queens, volume 2 : The Far Reaching Tentacles of  N’rygoth (Wiebe):

The Rat Queens are back!  In this volume, they face off against a deadly threat in the city of Palisade.   When Dee’s former god N’rygoth is revealed to have a role, she and the other Rat Queens must face up to their pasts to defend what they have in the present.

I very much enjoyed the second volume of Rat Queens.  The story takes a more serious tone as it explores the back-stories of Hannah, Violet, and Dee.  While perhaps not as funny as the first, I liked these developments and am looking forward to the next installment!

All right–that was July!  Thanks for reading!

Top Books of June

I’m a bit late (as usual), but here are the books I especially enjoyed in June.

Fiction:

Gracekeepers (Logan): In this world, much of the land has disappeared; tensions exist between the landlockers–individuals who live on land– and the damplings–who live on the seas.  North travels the seas with a traveling circus; she is the “bear girl” and performs with her beloved bear.  Life with the circus is becoming strained for North as she juggles a secret and her unwillingness to wed the son of the head of the circus.  Then she meets Callinish, a Gracekeeper who buries the dampling dead; Callinish and she connect, but soon must depart. However, Callinish decides to confront her own past and sets out, and North and Callinish’s paths cross again.  I really loved the writing and the setting in this story.  North is also a highly likeable character, and her story to find her place is a compelling one. Don’t miss this one!

Tempest Tales (Mosley): When African-American Tempest Landry is killed by a police officer, he goes up to the Pearly Gates, where St. Peter promptly judges that he should go to hell.  Tempest refuses, and so St. Peter sends him back to Earth.  Tempest has to live his new life under the watchful eye of an Accounting Angel, and the two debate as the angel tries to convince Tempest to accept Peter’s sentence.  I enjoyed this story’s exploration of the conflict between the religious-based definition of morality and the real world.

Nonfiction:

The Library Beyond the Book ( Schnapp & Battles ):  Much of the world’s information is now created digitally, and the Internet has increasingly become the go-to place for information.  In The Library Beyond the Book, Schnapp and Battle lay out the historical roles of libraries and explore the potential roles libraries could take on in the future.  This is a great read for librarians or anyone who is curious about the future of libraries.

Graphic Novels

Finder: Talisman (McNeil): Marcie had a favorite book growing up, but she lost it.  In the meantime, she daydreams and tries to write her own stories and recreate the magic of her perfect book. I related to Marcie’s struggles to create something worthy.   McNeil’s art really brings Marcie’s story to life.

Demo (Wood):  This comic tells the story of several individuals who have unique powers.  However, none of these characters are superpowers.  Rather, in gorgeous black and white, Wood explores these characters’ lives and how their abilities affect them, their decisions, and those around them.  I really enjoyed the different stories; many of the powers are quite creative and aren’t always to the bearer’s advantage.   I would recommend you check this one out if you like the idea of powers, but want a break from superheroes.

In honor of Pride Month, I thought I would take the time to discuss some of my favorite LGBT stories.  I also will link to some LGBT resources offered by library organizations.  This list is by no means comprehensive.  If you don’t see a LGBT work that you’ve really enjoyed, please share in the comments!

 Books:

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (Kirstin Cronn-Mills)–This YA novel follows trans teen Gabe as he struggles to find acceptance for his decision to become male.  Gabe starts hosting a radio called “Beautiful Music for Ugly Children” and finds both his voice and acceptance.  This is a great story with relatable characters; the book is a lot less Pollayanish than I’m making it sound.  I think it does a great job of showing Gabe’s search for acceptance without relying on dramatic tactics to explore those issues; Gabe’s music geekery will be sure to appeal to some readers.

The Rifter series (Ginn Hale)-I’ve talked about the Rifter series on this blog before (see this post), and I need to mention it again.  This fantasy LGBT series has great world-building and a compelling story; the romance between the two main characters–John and Kyle– is sweet and well-portrayed.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Benjamin Alire Saenz)–Aristotle (Ari for short) is an angry young teen with a brother in jail; Dante is super inquisitive and cheerful.  After Dante starts teaching Ari how to swim, the two develop a strong friendship that becomes something more.  I really enjoyed these two characters–particularly Ari–and found the story engaging.   The friendship unfolds very nicely, the language is beautiful, and the issues don’t completely overwhelm the story nor is the storytelling overly dramatic.  This book’s a great read.

Wandering Son (Takako Shimura): This manga series follows a grade school boy who wants to be a girl and a grade school girl who wants to be a boy.  I haven’t come across any other stories with younger trans characters, so I wanted to be sure and include it.

Nightrunner series (Lynn Flewelling):  This fantasy series follows Seregil and Alan who spy for the kingdom.   I haven’t read the whole series, but I enjoyed the setting and stories.  Seregil and Alan are really fun characters, and, if you like stories set in an engaging world with a little romance thrown in, you’ll enjoy this.

Webcomics:

I’ve always been impressed by the diversity of the scene both in terms of works and creators.  There are a lot of comics out there that feature LGBT characters, but I decided to focus on the ones I read with LGBT main themes.   I think this category is especially lacking, so if you’ve got favorites, share them!

Rain (Jocelyn Samara)—This comic focuses on a MtoF transexual who is trying to get through her senior year at a conservative Christian school.  The story is equal parts engaging and entertaining as it explores themes of identity and acceptance; the cast features a diverse group of orientations and gender identities.  Also, if you’re into anime/manga and/or video games, there are a lot of fun references!

As the Crow Flies (Melanie Gillman): This comic features Charlie, a queer African-American girl, who is on a hiking trip with a predominately white Christian group. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous (all of it is done in colored pencil!), and, while the story updates slowly, it is an engaging read as it explores the topics of faith and identity.

Resources from the Library World

American College and Research Libraries. Protections for LGBT Americans in the Workplace.  This article offers resources includes historical timelines, reports on LGBT workers, and resources for LGBT workers.

American Library Association’s GLBT Roundtable.  GLBT Book Month.  This is a collection of award lists for LGBT books.  The site includes the Stonewall Award and the Roundtable’s Rainbow Books (for teens and children) and Over the Rainbow(LGBT books for adults) lists.

April and May Reads

I’m back!  These last couple of months were very busy for me, so I’m going to review the books I most enjoyed reading in April and May.  I hope you find something you want to check out!

Fiction:

Marie Rutkoski’s  The Winner’s Crime (the second book in the Winner Trilogy) continues the story of star-crossed individuals Kestrel and Arin.  In the sequel to The Winner’s Curse, Kestrel plays a deadly game with the ruler of her nation while Arin tries to make sense of her decisions and save his own country.  The world-building is superb, and the plot is top-notch and appropriately tragic.  I cannot wait to read the last book!

Another work of enjoyable fiction was Ginn Hale’s LGBT fantasy series, The Rifter trilogy.  John is content to research the biology of his hometown and hang out with his friends, Lori and Bill.   However, when he opens a letter addressed to his roommate Kyle, he finds a key and uses it.  He and his friends find themselves in a parallel fantasy world, where they quickly find themselves in danger.   They quickly find themselves struggling for their lives and a way back home.  Meanwhile Kyle follows John, but ends up several years in the future.    I really enjoyed this series; Hale’s writing wonderfully portrays the world and characters, and the plot is exciting and well-paced.

Are you a fan of Arthurian legend?  Then look no further than Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant.   An elderly couple sets out on a quest to reunite their long-lost son and to reclaim their memories from the omnipresent mist.  Their journey will be fraught with peril, for there is a dragon sleeping in the mountains.  This story will be well-liked by Arthurian friends or by those who are looking for something a bit different.

Non-Fiction

Seymour Hersh’s Chain of Command begins by addressing the Abu Gharib prison scandal.  Using interviews from military and intelligence personnel as well as political figures, he describes the Iraq War and the actions of the administration (including the stove-piping of intelligence) during that time.  I found his discussion accessible and fascinating.  If you are curious about that time, I’d recommend checking out this one.

The job search is stressful, and interviews are just another aspect of them.  Carole Martin’s What to Say in Every Job Interview breaks down the types of questions commonly asked in interviews and good ways to respond.  The book is also full.   I found this book incredibly helpful; I liked the emphasis on strategy, and the exercises really helped me to prepare.  If you’re preparing for your next interview, be sure to check this one out!

Graphic Novels

Lumberjanes:Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson was the most squee-worthy graphic novel I read these past few months.  The story follows friends Jo, Ripley, April,  Mal, and Molly at their adventures at a girl’s summer camp.   However, things get interesting when the girls are plunged into a mystery with mysterious supernatural monsters and a secret cave with an anagram.   Despite the craziness, they’re determined to have  a good time at camp!  I loved the fun, colorful art and the action-packed adventure!  I can’t wait for volume 2 to come out!   (you should also totally check out Stevenson’s other graphic novel, Nimona!  I didn’t read it this month technically, so I will just mention it.  But you should read it too!)

I also really enjoyed Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor.  Sculptor  David Smith is struggling to get his big break.   At his lowest point, he is offered a deal: he will be able to sculpt anything using his hands, but he will die in 200 days.  David accepts the deal and continues on his struggle. I found this story intriguing and well-done.  It asks a couple of really great questions: what defines greatness?  When or how should you achieve it?  I’m not sure I still have an answer to those questions, but I found David’s struggle relatable and well-portrayed.  McCloud’s art is top notch.

That’s all for this month.  I’ll return soon!

All right, another month has come and gone.  Let’s get down to business!  I read some great books this month!

First off, I had the pleasure of reading Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, his latest collection of short stories.  I usually enjoy Gaiman’s work, and this case was no different.  The stories are engaging and frequently made me feel a sense of wonder; many of the stories had fairy tale elements, which I felt contributed.  To my delight, the collection featured a story about Shadow, the protagonist from American Gods (one of my favorite books!).  Overall, Trigger Warning is a fantastic collection–I was sad to have to return it to the library.

Another interesting read was Jo Walton’s The Just City.  This book follows a group of individuals gathered by the goddess Athena to build a city based on Plato’s Republic.  I found myself drawn into the world and the questions that sprung from it.   Once Socrates comes on the scene, the questions fly!  My somewhat limited humanities background was definitely put to the test, but I found the book enjoyable.  If you love philosophical works or utopia tales, pick this one up.

I also finally finished The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders .   This book discusses the role of the press in the murder frenzy that captured Victorian England.  The book is dense, yet fascinating reading; Flanders does a great job of highlighting the interplay of the press and society in the portrayal of murders.  I sometimes felt at a bit lost in the anecdotes, but ultimately found the argument compelling.  If I was taking my Representing the Metropolis history seminar (where we talked a lot about the role of the press) now, I wouldn’t be surprised to find this book on the syllabus.

I also enjoyed The Autumn Republic,the conclusion to Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy .  I have discussed this series on this blog before, and I suppose it doesn’t come as a surprise that I’m talking about it again.  In this final book, Tamas must defend his country from new invaders while still fighting to crush the Kez assault.  I enjoyed McClellan’s exploration of the consequences of Tamas’ anger; I also dig Nila and Ka-poel–they’re both awesome female characters who I really think get more done than the male heroes.   The action is top notch, and the story concluded the series in a properly bittersweet fashion.  I look forward to seeing more from this author.

I also had the pleasure of reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.  This book of poetry describes Woodson’s experiences growing up.  I really loved Woodson’s language and self-reflection; this one was a treat to read.

I can’t skip over my graphic novels!  I got my hands  on the latest in George O’Connor’s Olympians series, in the latest, Ares: Bringer of War, he tells the reader about Ares through the lens of the Trojan War; I was really impressed how accessible he made the complex story of The Iliad (where there’s a lot of detail that can obscure the story).  The art is top-notch as well.

I also enjoyed Hana Ros and Matteo Farinella’s Neurocomic.  A man finds himself trapped in a brain and learns all kinds of things about the research and historical figures of neuroscience as he tries to find the way out.  The situation sounds a bit odd, but the visuals make a tricky concept accessible.  I could see this being a good introduction for middle school students.

That’s it for March!  See you next time!

It’s been over a week since I attended my alma mater’s Graduate School Alumni Day.   The theme for the event was “Community and Collaboration” and brought in students from all the graduate programs–including library and information science, social work, and management.   The talks focused on how collaboration in the community can help to develop meaningful positive change.

While the idea of going beyond my familiar area of expertise can sometimes  be uncomfortable, I also recognize that reaching out also holds the great potential for something incredible to occur.  Trying something different can both demonstrate and help to foster change in a community.  I saw a presentation about the D.C Public Library’s hiring of a social worker to work with the homeless population and library staff.   Alums for multiple programs (library science and social work were both strongly represented) attended, and we were invited to discuss these complicated issues in mixed groups.

While it was challenging at first to reach out across experiences and disciplines, it was exciting to be involved in the discussion.  I think it can be hard to find situations like the one described, but I believe it’s important to develop those relationships because they help to highlight challenges and begin the process of finding ways to address them. While the D.C. library’s still seeing where this initiative will take them, I think the decision to try this helps place the library in the community.  By being involved in the community, the library both demonstrates its worth and helps to strengthen the community.

This talk made me wonder about community collaboration from an academic library perspective.   As a new librarian, I have always been impressed with the outreach academic librarians do; I have read and heard about librarians seeking partnerships with academic departments as well  as the writing centers or sports departments ( the example here was help sessions for athletes).  It made me ask what else we could try to integrate the library into the community fabric.   How do we create forums for interdepartmental and interdisciplinary conversations?  How could we utilize our spaces and knowledge to form new partnerships?

What I’m trying to say that I’m impressed with what has come out of community connections, and I would like to see further explorations.  Information is such an essential part of the world, and libraries have a great potential to be right in the center of so many questions.   I can’t wait to see how libraries will continue to connect in their communities!

 

All right, I’m back with the February book round-up!  This month was full of enjoyable reads, and I can’t wait to tell you about them!

Up first is Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a story that focuses on the interconnected stories of a blind French girl and a German radio operator during World War II as they struggle on opposite sides of the war front in France.  This book won spots on several top book lists, and it definitely deserves its reputation!  The writing is tight and vivid, and the characters’ undertakings were fascinating to read about.  I loved this book, and, if you haven’t read it, you definitely should!

I also greatly enjoyed Soman Chainani’s School of Good and Evil.  Every year, two children are taken from their village to attend the School of Good and Evil, where students are groomed to be heroes and villains.  Beautiful Sophie is certain she will be picked for the School of Good, and dour Agatha has no interest in the schools but people think she’s a shoo-in for Evil.  Both girls are taken away, but neither end up where they are expected.  I loved this mix of coming of age and manipulation of familiar fairy tale elements.  Despite its middle-grade/ya status, The School of Good and Evil was a rousing good tale that will appeal to several age groups!

In light of the recent snowacolypse, I read Christopher Gordon’s Snowblind.  A New England town is shaken to the core when an unusual snowstorm takes away several of the inhabitants and changes the lives of the survivors forever.  Now a new storm has returned, and the town will be forced to confront old ghosts.  I enjoyed the concept of the storm and Gordon’s experimentation with the theme of loss and memory, but found the characters dull.  I would recommend it though if you want something quick with a dash of creepy.

For graphic novels, I focused on completing the two series I started last month.  However, I did take the time to read Ms. Marvel.  This graphic novel lives up to the hype; the story focuses on Kamala, who has recently acquired super powers!  The story focuses on Kamala’s exploration of her new abilities and brings up interesting questions of identity, and Kamala is a great character.  I can’t wait to read the next collection!

Last time, I mentioned I was reading CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura; I finished it this month and loved it!   Sakura is an elementary school girl who must capture the escaped Clow Cards (magical cards designed by Clow Reed, a great magician); I loved Sakura’s spirit, and the supporting cast is great.   This is another series that will be sure to appeal to multiple age groups.

That’s it for this month!  See you next time!

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