Mark is newly married and expecting his first child. As a demolitions technician, he has largely avoided many of the dangers and moral dilemmas usually associated with blowing things up, working from the safety of a lab and planning his future around his growing family. But his plans are frustrated when his promotion is denied and he is instead relocated to the paradoxically named Eden, Texas. Faced with a future of being cash-strapped in the scrublands, he apprehensively takes an offer from his profligate friend Jason to do contractual work for a secret military organization in Quanlom, an anonymous country in Southeast Asia. The Divine by Asaf and Tomer Hanuka is a visceral story of Mark’s descent into the civil war that is tearing the country apart.
Despite the violence implicit in his arrival, Mark remains a sympathetic protagonist, always trying to do the right thing in the face of many terrible choices. Quanlom’s war is a story of multiple narratives of conflict, with the added mystery of strange forces controlled by the rebelling faction’s child soldiers. What might have been a prosaic guts-n-glory plot is tempered with an instilled acknowledgment of the inherent atrocity of war. The premise of the book came about from the authors’ investigation of Apichart Weerawong’s famous photograph of Johnny and Luther Htoo, Burmese child soldiers, and the dazzling artwork does not neglect to reference the traditional art and design of the Southeast Asian setting. Readers may recognize Asaf Hanuka from his biographical graphic novel The Realist released earlier this year.
Congratulations to Marlon James who won the Man Booker Prize last night in London for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. James is the first Jamaican author to win the prestigious award which promotes the finest in fiction and comes with a £50,000 prize. Spanning three decades, the novelist was inspired by the true story of the attempt on the life of reggae star Bob Marley to explore the unsettled world of Jamaican gangs and politics. The Guardian calls the winning novel “an epic, uncompromising novel not for the faint of heart. It brims with shocking gang violence, swearing, graphic sex, drug crime but also, said the judges, a lot of laughs.”
The National Book Award finalists were announced today. The winners will be announced on November 18th.
Young People's Literature
Sam Bosma’s debut graphic novel Fantasy Sports is a late gift to any kid who felt gym class lacked a Tolkien-esque quality.
Fantasy Sports introduces us to Wiz, a young magician beginning her internship in the mage’s guild under the tutelage of the older, grumpier Mean Mug. It’s not going great. They don’t get along, and Wiz is less than thrilled that Mean Mug doesn’t seem to know any magic. But after a chewing out from their supervisor, the two are sent to prove themselves on a treasure hunt in a mummy’s tomb. This leads them to evil skeletons, magic puzzles and a basketball game with a smack-talking mummy (of course).
Similar to Scott Pilgrim or Adventure Time, this book mixes the tropes of fantasy and video games with the heightened drama of adolescence. Like peanut butter and chocolate, it works like a charm. Although a couple of crude remarks make this book inappropriate for young children, older readers will find it infectiously fun. You’ll feel yourself swept back to a time when a friendly game of basketball had the life-or-death stakes of a boss battle.
Popular even before it was complete, award-winning before it was published, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is a unique debut graphic novel about heroes, villains, monsters and peeling off those labels to see the people underneath. Our story begins when longtime supervillain Ballister Blackheart receives an unexpected visitor in his secret lair — stout little Nimona, a young and eccentric shape-shifter who insists on becoming his evil sidekick. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Nimona’s commitment to evil might be a little more heartfelt than Blackheart’s, and the question of which side of the fight is truly righteous comes into question not too long after.
Emotional backstory, in-depth character writing, a complex, strangely believable fantasy universe that combines medieval-style armor with apparatus of science fiction are all to be found in Nimona. Stevenson’s cartooning style, often praised for its expressive energy and humor, proves equally effective when expressing the dark, dismal and threatening — and a cool shadow dragon or two. LGBT readers can take note of the warm handling of the gay relationship in the book as well. It is written so subtly it has the effect of normalizing the subject rather than pointing aggressive arrows towards it.
In Hilary Liftin’s fictional tell-all biography, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, a young starlet falls in love with Rob Mars, Hollywood’s biggest star, marries him and begins a seemingly idyllic life among the A-listers. However, cracks quickly appear in Lizzie’s storybook life when Rob’s bizarre cultish group seeks to control their lives including how their twin sons should be raised. As Lizzie struggles to keep her identity, she realizes that the only way out is to make a break from this insular world. The problem is that the group is more powerful than she ever imagined and getting out could cost her everything.
Ostensibly, this is a fictitious biography that Liftin created from tabloid headlines, but the parallels between Lizzie and Rob and Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise are rather obvious. Lizzie began her career as a teenager on a popular TV drama that catapulted her to fame. Rob is very involved in a quasi-religious group that controls its followers through secretive rituals and uses its celebrity adherents to promote itself. Rob is also known for his high-wattage smile, doing all his own stunts and making grand public declarations of his love for Lizzie. While Liftin denies that she was specifically using Holmes and Cruise as her models for Lizzie and Rob, it’s hard to imagine who else she had in mind.
If you’re looking for a light, guilty pleasure read, then Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper definitely fits that bill. It may even shed some light on what a narrow world the rich and famous are forced to live in.
After working on her last series for four years, mangaka — that’s someone who writes and illustrates manga — Go Ikeyamada has a super-fun and adorable new series called So Cute It Hurts!! The first volume of So Cute It Hurts!! follows identical twins Megumu and Mitsuru Kobayashi as they meet their first real high school crushes at the same time. Apparently, it’s a twin thing.
Megumu, or Mego for short, is a hapless history otaku who knows everything about Japan’s feudal warlords. Mitsuru is really good with a kendo sword and fights for his school team, but he’s even better with the ladies from the visiting schools. While his body is agile, his mind is not so sharp, and he’s bombing his history class. Knowing that his sis is well-versed in Japanese lore, he asks her to swap clothes with him and go to his all-boys school to take a test and save his grade. Mego likes her brother, but not enough to agree to such a hackneyed scheme.
When she wakes up the next day, Mego finds a wig and a note from Mitsuru in her room and realizes that he’s already absconded with her books and school uniform. Begrudgingly, she equips his slacks and hoodie and heads to his school, only to be accosted by the third toughest guy in the entire student body. Meanwhile, Mitsuru, dressed as Mego — “I’m so cute it hurts!!” — witnesses the class beauty tormenting a girl for being different, and can’t help but intervene. Neither Kobayashi twin realizes they’re about to meet the person of their dreams, but as their school days progress they draw closer to the fateful encounters that’ll leave them breathless and starry-eyed.
So Cute It Hurts!! is filled with lots of manga in-jokes that fans of the medium will appreciate, but newcomers will still laugh out loud at the silliness of the plot and the situations in which the twins find themselves. Ikeyamada’s art mixes traditional anime styles with adorable chibi stand-ins on nearly every page, giving the story a very light-hearted feel. So Cute It Hurts!! is shaping up to be a great teenaged romantic comedy that manga fans should definitely check out.
The following titles will be released next week. Select any title to learn more or to request a copy. Be sure to visit our Hot Titles webpage for more exciting upcoming titles.
If you already love the Crystal Gems from Cartoon Network’s hit show, Steven Universe, Volume One is a collection of short stories to enhance and enrich your interaction with the characters and their world. Writer Jeremy Sorese and artist Coleman Engle bring to life Steven and his space-warrior guardians Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl as they go on magic-laden adventures in the name of protecting the Earth and developing Steven’s budding magic powers. Including life-skills lessons and graphic shorts just for fun, the book includes wisdom about friendship, family and even a recipe or two!
The comics are light, lusciously colored and beautifully drawn. The mood ranges from laugh-aloud funny to softly melancholy and meaningful, taking advantage of the full artistic range of both the artists and the writers. Although familiarity with the animated cartoon will enrich the reader’s appreciation of these graphic shorts in context of their larger world, the book is a delightful introduction to Steven’s home of Beach City and a great read for kids and adult-sized kids alike.
Make sure to pair your Steven Universe experience with Gem Glow, or similar reads such as Adventure Time, Bee and Puppycat and Bravest Warriors.
Do you often judge based on first impressions?
I do and so does Chip Kidd, the designer who has made many recognizable book covers. In his latest book, Judge This, Kidd validates our snap decision making. As with his earlier, all-ages introduction to graphic design, Go, which was previously reviewed, Kidd empowers those of us who aren’t in the industry to think critically about the way information is visually transmitted and received. He points out how necessary it is, in our modern age, to make the information we are constantly transmitting appealing and easy to understand. He presents a simple question for analyzing the success of virtually any design: Is it mysterious or clear? Kidd proves his point by illustrating examples of design from his daily life, critiquing everything from Diet Coke cans to pop-up ads. He also shows his own portfolio of work and explains the thought processes involved in their creation.
This book is one of a growing trend being published based on TED Talks and commencement speeches delivered by their authors. Constrained to an easily accessible, fun-sized format reminiscent of inspirational books like O’s Little Book of Happiness, and sourced from influential experts in their fields, they are philosophical texts for all of us with busy, complicated lives. NPR listeners will be familiar with many of the names coming from other publishers, including Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman, Very Good Lives by J K Rowling and We Should All Be Feminists by Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie.
What happens when quirky characters, unique structure and recipes are combined? You get J. Ryan Stradal’s debut novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest. No, it’s not a coffee table book filled with staged photos of luxury Midwest kitchens; rather, it’s the compelling tale of misfit Midwesterner Eva Thorvald, a girl with a “once in a generation palate” who overcomes a tragic childhood to become a nationally renowned top reservationist chef.
Is this a great rags to riches story? Definitely! But it’s Stradal’s uncommon structure that makes this novel outstanding. Nine offbeat Midwesterners in nine separate chapters tell their respective stories. Outcasts in their own lives, each one is connected to Eva. This is a winning move by Stradel. Not only are we presented with Eva’s viewpoint, but we also see how she’s perceived by others and how their actions propelled Eva forward in her career. Eva only speaks to the reader as a middle schooler with a talent for both growing and using habaneros as a weapon. We learn of her early childhood through her father Lars, a good chef but socially awkward man with a passionate hatred for Lutefisk. We discover how she decided to pursue “theme” dinners from Octavia, a twentysomething wife cheating on her husband. Each character is both believable and flawed. They will make you laugh, cringe and reflect, but more importantly, care. You will want to know what happens to them and to Eva. And, as an added bonus, real Midwestern recipes from actual North Dakota Lutheran church members are scattered throughout the story. You may even want to try a few.
If you have been searching for an enjoyable, mind-fulfilling read that you do not want to end, you must read Kitchens of the Great Midwest. And like a favorite meal, be prepared to devour it. It is that good!