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None of the Above

posted by: October 6, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for None of the AboveMale, female or None of the Above? Surgeon and new author I. W. Gregorio explores intersexuality and gender identity in her debut novel.

 

High school senior Kristin Lattimer has it all: her two best friends, a full scholarship to college because of her track prowess, the title of homecoming queen and a boyfriend she loves. She enjoys a life that any teenager would want until she decides to take her relationship with her boyfriend Sam to the next level. But her first time is a painful disaster.

 

Kristin learns the startling truth after a visit to the doctor. She has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), a type of intersex condition. After confiding in one of her friends, rumors about her situation spread throughout school. Suddenly, she has to endure crude comments and cyber-bullying from ignorant classmates and people who don't know her. Her diagnosis forces her to question her identity, her relationships and even her athleticism.

 

None of the Above is a great introduction to the topic of intersex for unfamiliar readers as they learn about this biological condition with Kristin. It is also a journey of awareness and rediscovery that is relatable to anyone who has experienced a tough time in high school.


 
 

Bacchus

posted by: October 6, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for BacchusEddie Campbell’s Bacchus introduces us to a world where the gods are among us, but can’t quite cover their bar tab. A tragedy some hundred years ago left most of the Greek gods dead, and now Bacchus, the God of Wine and Revelry, is an old man with the “deadest looking face you’ve ever seen,” and the only hints of his former glory are the two horns that occasionally peek out from under his hat before he falls down drunk at the bar. But when he sees his old rival Theseus being interviewed on live television, he gets a taste for the old days and sets out to settle the score.

 

Thus begins one of the most epic shaggy-dog stories ever put to print. Bacchus’ adventures are never what you expect them to be. He’ll set out on a quest, get discouraged, stop somewhere for a drink and then decide to visit the islands instead. It’s less an Odyssey than a pub-crawl through Greek mythology. And at his side is his faithful follower, Simpson, a Greek literature buff whose history lessons fill in the blanks for Bacchus, whose recall isn’t what it used to be (“It’s all a bit of a blur after I invented wine,” says Bacchus, on childhood.)  Along the way they get wrapped up in mob rivalries, the search for the skull of Poseidon and a really weird guy named the Eyeball Kid.

 

Campbell’s detailed artwork and historical knowledge result in a book that’s both highbrow and slapstick, that knows when to be reverent and when to let the drunk god belch. It’s a must read for fans of Alan Moore’s classic From Hell, which Campbell illustrated, or the mythology-dense fiction of Neil Gaiman, whom Campbell also illustrated in The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains.

 


 
 

Goodbye Stranger

posted by: October 5, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Goodbye StrangerRebecca Stead’s latest novel Goodbye Stranger is a shining example of how amazing children’s realistic fiction can be. Stead dares to believe children can grapple with big questions that secretly plague us about our place in the cosmos and that they will understand and relate to complex characters that can’t explain why they do things, like wear cat ears every day. What she creates is a beautiful story that will be loved by readers young and old.

 

The story is told from three different points of view and different perspectives in time. Much of the narrative focuses on Bridge and her best friends. They’re trying their best to hold fast to one another during the tumultuous times of seventh grade as they navigate their first forays in love and finding their place in the bigger world around them.

 

Bridge also becomes close with Sherm, the second narrator of the story, who speaks to us through unsent letters to the grandfather he isn’t speaking to. The final narrator is an unnamed high school student speaking from Valentine’s Day. Her story seems unrelated to the other characters except that it touches on the same themes of friendship and finding out who the person you are becoming really is. In the end, the stories fall perfectly together into an intricately crafted plot. This book is sure to appeal to fans of Stead’s other works as well as fans of Wonder by R.J. Palacio.


 
 

Black Science – Vols. 1-3

posted by: October 1, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Black ScienceCover art for Black ScienceBlack ScienceWith the release of its third volume, the conclusion of the series’ first major story arc, now is the perfect time to catch up on Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera’s pulp sci-fi romp Black Science. Grant McKay and the Anarchist League of Scientists seek the infinite possibilities of the multiverse using the taboo science of interdimensional travel, but things go astray when they discover that “the Pillar,” the device they’ve designed to navigate them through other dimensions, has been tampered with, and is now juggling them between seemingly random alternate realities and parallel dimensions.

 

The inks and colors by Matteo Scalera and Dean White, respectively, are vibrant and full of energy. This spectacular art team transports the reader to fantastical locations: a swampy landscape ravaged by a war between humanoid fish and frogs, a parallel North America where Native Americans have advanced technologically far beyond the rest of the world and a planet inhabited by flying spider-hippos and millipede-like religious fanatics are just a few examples. (It’s exactly as much fun as it sounds.)

 

As action-packed and outlandish as Black Science is, Rick Remender’s strong sense of pacing keeps the drama focused on the characters. In addition to the threats that the group encounters as it tears through the walls of reality, the members also struggle with more personal troubles like handling the responsibilities of parenthood and dealing with the aftermath of infidelity.

 

Those who enjoy Black Science may also want to try Rick Remender and John Romita Jr.’s take on Captain America, which is infused with a similar sci-fi flair.


 
 

Banned Books Week

posted by: September 30, 2015 - 11:00am

Cover art for The Bluest EyeCover art for The Kite RunnerCover art for The Perks of Being a WallflowerThis week, the national reading community celebrates “Banned Books Week.” Established in 1982 in response to a sudden increase in challenges to books in schools, Banned Books Week is a celebration of our freedom to read as well as the diverse writers who challenge, provoke and even offend us.

 

Here is a list of the most challenged books in libraries, schools and bookstores for the year 2014:

 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This novel explores race and identity by focusing on a young cartoonist who leaves his reservation school to attend an all-white high school whose mascot happens to be an Indian. It’s been challenged for its explicit language, depictions of sexuality and bullying.

 

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This autobiographical graphic novel has received much acclaim for humanizing Iran for western audiences, and was turned into an animated film in 2007. It is often challenged for its depictions of the torture of Iranian dissidents.

 

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

This picture book tells the story of two penguins unable to conceive who raise a neglected egg as their own. Why the controversy? Roy and Silo are both dads!

 

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Morrison’s classic novel deals with internalized racism during the Great Depression. It is controversial for its exploration of racism as well as child abuse.

 

It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health by Robie Harris

A guide to puberty for children narrated by a cartoon bird and bee (get it?). Many people find the illustrations of naked bodies offensive, but if you’re on board it’s much less terrifying than those educational videos they show in gym class.

 

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

This graphic novel follows two alien soldiers who abandon their war to start a family together. It has been challenged for being “anti-family,” which is ironic because family is such a strong theme in the book. Maybe they’re just against people with horns marrying people with wings?

 

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This coming of age story set in Afghanistan has been challenged for “desensitizing students to violence.”

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Chbosky’s book has been challenged since its publication for its depictions of teenage depression, yet has still struck a chord with young readers and was turned into a film in 2012. Visit the Banned Books Week website to read testimonies from students who have literally had the book taken away from them while they were reading it!

 

A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard

Trigger warning: This book deals with the author’s experience of being kidnapped as a child. It is frequently challenged for the upsetting nature of this story.

 

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Teenagers! Kissing! Unsupervised! Telgemeier’s light-hearted graphic novel has been challenged for its focus on teenage relationships as well as its homosexual themes.

 


 
 

Carnegie Medal Longlist Announced

posted by: September 30, 2015 - 11:00am

Carnegie MedalThe longlists for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction were announced yesterday, and 20 outstanding titles have made each list. Congratulations to Baltimore’s own Anne Tyler, whose A Spool of Blue Thread made the fiction list, while another Baltimore native, Ta-Nehisi Coates, was selected for the nonfiction list with Between the World and Me. It’s been a very good year for Coates, who is also on the National Book Award longlist and was named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow on Monday.

 

The Carnegie committee is a joint project between RUSA, a division of the American Library Association, and Booklist. A shortlist will be announced on October 19, and the winners will be announced on January 10, 2016.


 
 

Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes

posted by: September 30, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Ally Hughes Has Sex SometimesAlly Hughes Has Sex Sometimes by Jules Moulin first introduces readers to Ally when she is 31 and struggling to balance her career as a professor with the demands of single motherhood. In addition to her 10-year-old daughter Lizzie, Ally also has to reckon with her interfering and frequently disapproving mother. Needless to say, there is no room for dating, romance or even a casual fling in her life.

 

But one weekend Ally has her house to herself and finds herself alone with Jake, a 21-year-old former student who has volunteered to make some needed repairs to her home. Their chemistry is palpable and Ally gives in to a steamy weekend of passion. As the weekend draws to a close, Jake wants to pursue a lasting relationship, but Ally sends him packing. Flash forward 10 years and Ally is still single, living in Brooklyn and coping with the recent death of her mother. Lizzie, an aspiring actress, brings home a co-worker for dinner who turns out to be Jake, now a Hollywood mega-star. Ally panics because she has never forgotten him or their magical weekend and Jake’s memories are equally vivid. Their attraction still sizzles and Ally must decide if she is willing to give their relationship a real chance.

 

Moulin effortlessly weaves between the two time lines and brings a real spark to this star-crossed couple. Jake and Ally are honest and relatable characters whose happily ever after is 10 years in the making. Supporting characters, zany plot lines and zippy dialogue are the perfect complements to this funny, romantic and sexy story.


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Cat Lovers Unite!

posted by: September 29, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for How to Catch a MouseCover art for Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful CatsCover art for Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat

It’s a fact that librarians are partial to cats, but so are picture book authors. There is no shortage of felines on the pages of children’s literature, including this trio of recently published titles. In How to Catch a Mouse, author-illustrator Philippa Leathers introduces an adorable green-eyed marmalade tabby named Clemmie. Although readers find out about Clemmie’s superb mousing skills on the first page, we quickly realize that she may be bragging a bit too much. Has she ever seen a mouse? What about the little gray master of disguise who has been walking around the house, almost in plain sight? This gentle story, humorously illustrated in pencil and watercolor, is perfect for young preschoolers.

 

Owners of timid felines come in droves to the newly established Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, also the title of this charming picture book by Alicia Potter. Their cats are failing at all things cats are known for, including pouncing, purring and chasing birds. Patient Miss Hazeltine runs her nervous charges through a daily roster of classes such as Climbing Up, Meeting New Friends and How Not to Fear the Broom. She lavishes special attention on the most bashful little kitty, Crumb. But what happens when Miss Hazeltine goes out to fetch some water and needs rescuing herself? Birgitta Sif’s pencil illustrations and muted palette perfectly capture the essence of such a fanciful boarding school in the woods, run by a sweet, calm and lithe young woman who loves her work. Sif is a master at depicting the many aspects of feline nature, with distinctly different kitties of all shapes and sizes napping, licking, hiding, lapping, perching and hanging on every page.

 

Poor Cat. He’s lost a tooth, but he was asleep when the Tooth Fairy came and he really wanted to meet her. But when he tries to trick her by leaving the tooth of a comb, she turns the tables and insists he must help her out by picking up the teeth of various animals who have lost them. Although he’s excited to be the Tooth Fairy’s apprentice, Cat is none too thrilled to wear a tutu and wings, let alone to share duties with Mouse! Deborah Underwood’s Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat is a funny take on this childhood legend, complete with a few surprises along the way. Underwood, who previously featured Cat in two holiday offerings, Here Comes the Easter Cat and Here Comes Santa Cat, uses the technique of an off-page narrator who speaks directly to Cat, questioning him and offering advice. Cat himself communicates only through broad facial expressions and signs he holds. Claudia Rueda’s comical yet warm color pencil and ink drawings are integral to the story, which like its predecessors, would make an excellent classroom read aloud for the kindergarten set.


 
 

In the Dark Places

posted by: September 28, 2015 - 7:00am

In the Dark PlacesWhat appears to be the mundane investigation of a stolen farm tractor becomes a tangle of lies and a conspiracy of fools in Peter Robinson’s In the Dark Places. How is it possible for such a large piece of equipment to disappear so completely? An abandoned airplane hangar, the perfect location to transfer stolen goods, may be the answer, and there is ample evidence a murder has been committed at the site. This leads to the investigation of the sudden disappearance of two young men, one the son of a local farmer. 

 

The missing boy's girlfriend may be the key to finding the missing men. While Detective Annie Cabbot guards the potential witness, Detective Winsome Jackman is working closely with Terry Gilchrist, the witness who found the bloody crime scene, but the recently returned veteran of Afghanistan is far more interested in Winsome than he is in solving the crime. The body count rises when a fateful auto accident high in the Yorkshire hills reaps a grim harvest. 

 

Peter Robinson draws on the brooding atmosphere of the Yorkshire hills setting to examine the theme of isolation — in both the physical surroundings and in the lives of the characters. Taut, suspenseful, with a richly developed storyline and unforgettable characters, In the Dark Places is headed for award territory. Once you have read this novel, you’ll be sure to add Robinson to your must-read list. Readers of Ruth Rendell, Deborah Crombie and P.D. James will be delighted they discovered Robinson’s Inspector Banks. 


 
 

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