complete book of chalk letteringUbiquitous at boutiques and cafés, on Etsy and Pinterest, in stationery and home decor, the art of chalk lettering is hotter than ever. Valerie McKeehan, an Etsy standout whose work has been featured in magazines and websites from Good Housekeeping to RealSimple.com to Martha Stewart Living, teaches us everything we need to know to create gorgeous hand-drawn chalk designs in The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering.

In over 60 lessons, learn the ABCs of lettering (literally) and basic styles: serif, sans serif, and script. Next, how to lay out a design, combine various styles into one cohesive piece, add shadows and dimension. Master more advanced letter styles, from faceted to ribbon to “vintage circus.” Use banners, borders, flourishes. And finally, 12 projects to show off your newfound skills: including a Winter Wonderland Snow Globe; a smartphone-themed birthday card to text friends and family; a one-of-a-kind party invitation to create, photograph, and mail; and a bake sale sign guaranteed to put everyone who sees it in the mood for a cupcake! (description from publisher)

fermentedIncorporate fermented foods into everyday eating with delicious recipes that are easily achievable at home with Fermented by Charlotte Pike.

This gorgeous, fully photographed cookbook includes chapters covering fruit and vegetables, milk, pulses, baking and drinks that will introduce you to unique new flavors as well as traditional fermented vegetables such as German Sauerkraut and Korean Kimchi. Use fermented ingredients in dishes such as Kraut-slaw, Bacon and Potato Soup, Kimchi and Pork Salad and Smoky Grilled Tempeh. Learn how to make sweet and savory yogurts such as Coconut Yogurt or Cardamom and Rose Yogurt Cream to go with your perfected Sourdough Chocolate Cake.

Create essential pickles, sauces and chutneys with fermentation that will have endless uses, fully stock any kitchen cupboard or make an excellent homemade gift. (description from publisher)

knot outdoor weddingsThe romance of an outdoor wedding is undeniable. In any outdoor setting – beach or backyard, vineyard or mountaintop – the couple has unlimited opportunity to personalize their day and create unforgettable ambience. The 50 real weddings featured in The Knot Outdoor Weddings were inspired by twinkling lights and cityscapes, fresh herbs and countryside farmers’ markets, shells and the sea, mountain peaks and endless vistas. . . .

These gorgeous celebrations reveal the keys to making the most of your setting’s natural beauty, while infusing it with special, meaningful touches that are all your own. The Knot Outdoor Weddings also includes location-specific planning advice for the details of your event, such as attire, color palettes, stationery, menu, and favors, as well as considerations for perfecting your plan B and keeping guests comfortable in any weather. (description from publisher)

grandbaby cakesAs a child, Adams and her family would routinely embark on the ten-hour journey from their home in Chicago to Winona, Mississippi. There, she would watch her grandmother, affectionately nicknamed Big Mama, bake and develop delicious, melt-in-your-mouth desserts. From blooming tree-picked fruit to farm-raised eggs and fresh-churned butter, Big Mama used what was readily available to invent completely original treats. Adams treasured the moments when her mother, aunt, and Big Mama would bring her into the kitchen to let her dabble in the process as a rite of passage. Big Mama’s recipes became the fabric of their family heritage. Grandbaby Cakes is Adams’s love note to her family, thanking those who came before and passing on this touching tradition with 50 brilliant cakes.

Grandbaby Cakes pairs charming stories of Big Mama’s kitchen with recipes ranging from classic standbys to exciting adventures—helpfully marked by degree of difficulty—that will inspire your own family for years to come. Adams creates sophisticated flavor combinations based on Big Mama’s gorgeous centerpiece cakes, giving each recipe something familiar mixed with something new. From pound cakes and layer cakes to sheet cakes and “baby” cakes (cupcakes and cakelettes), Grandbaby Cakes delivers fun, hip recipes perfect for any celebration.

Readers will love this cookbook for its eclectic and bold recipes steeped in equal parts warm Southern charm and fresh Midwestern flavors. Not only will home bakers be able to make staples like yellow cake and icebox cake exactly how their grandmothers did, but they’ll also be preparing impressive innovations, like the Pineapple Upside-Down Hummingbird Pound Cake and the Fig-Brown Sugar Cake. Grandbaby Cakes is a collection for both new-aged and traditional bakers, but mostly it’s for anyone who wants a fresh, modern take on classic recipes as well as cakes full of heart and soul. (description from publisher)

spoonflowerDesigning fabric, wallpaper, and gift wrap used to be the stuff of dreams. Only a few select creatives got to do it, and it required formal training and significant financial investment. But times have changed, and today anyone with a computer, Internet connection, and idea can upload a file and order their own fabric or paper, printed affordably one yard or more at a time.

At the forefront of this revolutionary DIY movement is Spoonflower, a North Carolina startup that produces designs for hundreds of thousands of users worldwide–24 hours a day/seven days a week to keep up with demand. With step-by-step tutorials and projects that span a wide spectrum of skills, The Spoonflower Handbook  by Stephen Fraser is written for both new and experienced users of this print-on-demand technology. Covering everything from equipment to software to working with photos, scans, repeats, vector files, and more, it is an essential guide to a booming new creative outlet. (description from publisher)

flower chefThe Flower Chef by Carly Cylinder is a modern, comprehensive guide to floral design that caters to all readers–from beginners who have never worked with flowers before and are looking for a new creative outlet, to decorators, party planners and photographers looking to liven up their spaces. Even professionals will find ways to update their techniques!

This book teaches you everything you need to know about flower arranging including tips on how to buy and care for flowers, how to cut and prepare them, and how to use floral foam, vases, and various other decorative elements in your arrangements. Filled with beautiful photographs and easy-to-follow instructions on how to create over 80 different arrangements, this is the go-to guide to floral design that every flower lover will want to add to their collection. (description from publisher)

say goodbye to the cuckooThe return of migrant birds from their wintering grounds in the tropics is one of the delights of America’s spring, as anyone will testify whose heart has leapt in April or May at the first liquid song of the woodthrush, or the first black-and-orange flash of the Baltimore oriole. But in recent years concern has grown that migrant birds may be declining, perhaps because of deforestation at their winter quarters in the Caribbean and in Central and South America.

In Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo, Michael McCarthy highlights for the first time the disappearance of these birds which, he points out, are a part of Europe’s distinctive cultural furniture, “as much as cathedrals, Latin, olive oil, or wine.” He shows how their loss would do devastating damage to the cultural inheritance of us all. (description from publisher)

online colorHello! How is your May Online Reading Challenge going? I have to admit, I’m dragging my feet a bit on this one. However, I’m nearly finished with my first title (I plan to read two this month) and I’m finding it……interesting. I found that, after my initial resistance, I kind of got on a roll. It won’t be difficult to finish!

If you’re still looking for some recommendations, here are a few more from Allison, one of our Graphic Novel Experts!

In Real Life” by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang – A teenage gamer discovers the other side of MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) after making contact with Chinese gold miner (people paid to earn “gold” within the game) in the game. Questions of ethics in gaming, being a girl gamer and fantasy self vs. real self. Doctorow is a popular YA author.

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako – “Unflipped” manga, meaning it’s to be read back to front, and from top right to bottom left. The story of two pre-teens, a girl who wants to be a boy, and a boy who wants to be a girl, both within the strict cultural norms of Japanese society. I haven’t read the whole run, but once you get used to the reading style, it’s excellent.

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times by Andrew MacLean – It’s sooooooo goooooood!!! At the end of the world, Aria searches for an ancient lost relic. The twist is so great. Soooooo great!

Seconds by Ryan Lee O’Malley – Young chef Katie opens her second restaurant, only to have her restaurant and life turned upside down. But, she then finds a magical “do over” but it too, has its price. O’Malley is also the author of the “Scott Pilgrim” series, which is one that the hipsters love.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud – A failing artists makes a deal with death, giving him the ability to sculpt anything he can imagine. But he only has 200 days to live and whoops! He falls in love. I wrote a review here: http://blogs.davenportlibrary.com/reference/the-sculptor-by-scott-mccloud/

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Kinsley – The daughter of a chef and gourmet tells her life story by way of the meals she’s made and eaten. V funny, esp if you are not a good cook!

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. You’ve read this, right?! DO IT NOW! You will literally laugh you pants off! The stories about her dogs are the best – start with those!

There are also a few that I haven’t read, but my friends who know about comics have enjoyed.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

The Nao of Brown” by Glyn Dillon

Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

OK, I’m done now, I promise! 😉

Who has read something that they’d like to recommend? Or warn the rest of us off from? Are you struggling a bit with the illustrations – I am! Or have you found new authors or series that intrigue and engage you? Let us know in the comments!

online colorWelcome to the May edition of our Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re going to explore Graphic Novels!

Now, I have to admit. I hate Graphic Novels. There, I said it. I just don’t “get” them. I find the illustrations annoying – in my experience, they get in the way of the story and are often unattractive, chaotic and full of unnecessary clutter. I have also found many of the stories to be uninteresting to me – juvenile and cartoonish and deliberately offensive, plus the predominance of superheroes has not been a draw for me. Obviously, this month is really going to push me out of my comfort zone!

[Note: Is this a generational issue? I’m willing to admit that I’m no spring chicken and I didn’t grow up reading graphic novels. Do other middle aged adults feel the same way? Or is it just me?! What do you think?]

Obviously, I’m not the right person to recommend Graphic Novel titles. Fortunately, we have Graphic Novel experts (and fans) on staff. First up is Allison, who has some great advice getting started as well as a list of titles to try.

My advice for people just starting is to start with a character they like. So, if they’ve liked the Avengers movies, start with that (where to start is another answer). You don’t have to start at the start – comic books are infamous for reboots, ret-cons and general timeline goofiness. And it’s a very novel time for superhero shows with “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” “Agents of SHIELD,” etc.

And It’s not just about following the character, it’s also about following a particular author/artist. I personally follow Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Saga) Matt Fraction (“Hawkeye” Marvel Now!) G. Willow Wilson (“Ms. Marvel” Marvel Now!)

The same goes for non-superhero comics. Like “The Walking Dead?” It’s a comic! “Doctor Who”? Heck yes! It’s not always *the* best, but it can be a start. One caveat is that if you like the show “Lucifer”, the comic book it very lightly based on is waaaaayyyyy different. It’s also good, just waaaayyy different.

Here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head list of my recommendations. The juvenile & YA titles can be enjoyed by all ages. Some of the adult titles are TV-MA. I’ll note them in the lists. I would recommend all of those that I listed.

Juvenile/YA

  • Drama” & “Smile” by Raina Telgemeier. Growing up is hard to do.
  • Nimona” & “Lumberjanes” by Noelle Stevenson (seriously, you should try “Nimona,” it’s the BEST) . “Lumberjanes” is ongoing. “Nimona” is a fantasy-esque story, and “Lumberjanes” begins as a best friends at camp story.
  •  “Amulet” by Kazu Kibuishi. Action adventure, finding-your-destiny story. Beautifully drawn. Ongoing
  •  “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” by Ryan North (also an author to follow). Ongoing Marvel characters, lighthearted.

 Adult

  • Ms. Marvel” by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona, Marvel Now!. A great title for teens, diverse cast, coming of age, etc. Series has ended
  • Strong Female Protagonist” by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag. What happens when the masks come off? 
  • Rat Queens” by Kurtis Wiebe. Untraditional Dungeons and Dragons adventuring & sisterhood. Violence, sex, nudity. Series is on-going. I wrote a review of it: http://blogs.davenportlibrary.com/reference/rat-queens-vols-1-2/
  • Saga” by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples. This comic had been widely acclaimed – a young family from opposing sides of an intergalactic war try to find safety and raise their daughter. There is violence, sex and nudity. Excellent title for adults. Series ongoing.
  • Sandman” by Neil Gaiman & Craig P. Russell. A member of the “comics cannon”. Excellent fantasy series.
  • Y: The Last Man” by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra. Another cannon comic, excellent end of the world story. Violence, sex and nudity.
  • Unwritten” by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. Really excellent story. Very literary / Harry Potter-esque. 
  • The Wicked + The Divine” by Kieron Gillen & Jaime McKelvie. “Every ninety years, twelve gods return as young people. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are all dead. It’s happening now. It’s happening again.” Really great concept, steeped in mythology. Also violent with sex & nudity.
  • Letter 44” by Charles Soule. Obama vs. aliens, basically. Very cool first-contact story, and political satire that can be a little too spot-on. Three volumes so far.
  • The Fuse” by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood. Scandinavian noir mysteries, in space! Two volumes so far.

Biographical/Literary

  • Here” by Richard McGuire. Very cool concept, was written up in the NYT Book Review. My review here: http://blogs.davenportlibrary.com/reference/here-by-richard-mcguire/
  • Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi. Autobiography of a girl growing up in and out of Iran. Farmer’s Market, definitely.
  • Fun Home” & “Are You My Mother?” by Alison Bechdel. Coming of age as a gay woman, plus family dysfuction. “Fun Home” was made into a musical and won several Tonys. Sex & nudity.
  • Boxers & Saints” by Gene Luen Yang. A two-book series, one following a rural Chinese boy in the midst of the Boxer rebellion and the other following an unwanted daughter who finds acceptance with Christian missionaries as the rebellion unfolds.

Next up is Stephanie who not only willingly reads Graphic Novels, she also orders them for the library. Here’s her list.

Here’s a list of non-superhero graphic novels. Think of it as a list of graphic novels for people who think they won’t like graphic novels or for those who think all graphic novels are superheroes and spandex.

 Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (anything by Lucy Knisley is fantastic)

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker

March: Book One by John Lewis

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (this one is wordless and the art is amazing!)

Laika by Nick Abadzis

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki (this one is young adult, but it’s still good)

Blankets by Craig Thompson (this one gets a lot of love by reviewers, but it’s almost 600 pages long)

Habibi by Craig Thompson

The Sculptor by Scorr McCloud

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (young adult)

Boxers & Saints by Gene Yuen Lang (also young adult)

Whew! Lots to choose from! And there’s lots more to come – in a couple weeks I’ll list more of the titles that Allison and Stephanie gave me. In the meantime I’m going to read Nimona by Noelle Stevenson and Relish by Lucy Knisley, both of which have been enthusiastically recommended to me. Wish me luck!

What about you – what will you be reading this month?

Hello Fellow Readers! It’s hard to believe but it’s the end of April already – how did you do with this month’s Reading Challenge? For me, the hard part was picking which book to read – there are so many excellent books set during World War II. Did you find any gems that you’d like to share with us? Please let us know.

bookthief2I was planning on reading two books, but ended up having time for only one – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This is a pretty amazing book. It did take me awhile to learn the rhythm and pace of the book and to accept the narrator, but once I did, it was nearly impossible to stop reading.

Narrated by Death, The Book Thief follows the fortunes of a poor street in a suburb of Munich during the war, especially the story of Liesel Meminger. After her little brother dies and her mother abandons her to foster care, Liesel goes to live with the Hubermann’s. In their own wildly different ways, Hans and Rosa love Liesel and raise her as their own. As the war arrives and hardships mount, they hang on grimly, finding happiness in simple things such as music, a stolen apple and books.

One day Hans fulfills a promise and agrees to hide a young Jewish man in their basement. Max and Liesel become fast friends, sharing stories and bound by their shared pain and nightmares. When it becomes too dangerous and Max must leave, Liesel and the Hubermanns are devastated. The hardships mount – rationing, the growing presence of the Nazi’s and the carpet bombing of Munich and its neighboring towns. Huddled with neighbors in a basement during a bombing, Liesel reads aloud from one of her stolen books, bringing comfort and some calm to the frightened people.

Through it all, Death watches. His voice is wry and even humorous at times, and he is surprisingly compassionate, puzzled by the cruelty and moved by the agony he witnesses. His arrival often means the end of suffering and is welcomed. He narrates Liesel’s story lovingly, even gently – he is impressed by the young girl, not only her will to live, but to find happiness.

The choice of Death as narrator is especially interesting as is the fact that he’s presented as a sympathetic character. His ability to see across history and vast distances brings a unique perspective. His descriptions of gathering the soul’s of the dead and taking them to their eternal rest is often gentle and tender; he always carries the souls of children in his arms. The view of the war from the German home front is also interesting. There is no such thing as simple “good” or “evil” (with the exception of the Nazis) – they are like any human with complex, often conflicting emotions and actions, capable of great cruelty but also great kindness.

This is not a light and happy book, yet it is also not altogether a dark book. The sadness and suffering are very real, but hope for humanity remains. That there is some kindness and that there is an end to the suffering combine to create a book of lasting power. Highly recommended.

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May is nearly here – on Monday we’ll start on the next step on our year long Reading Challenge – graphic novels. Who’s with me?!