unbeatable squirrel girlI’m forever looking for graphic novels beyond the usual scope of muscle-bound, male-centered superheroes out to save the world. With the influx recently of all things Deadpool related and then subsequently all things Batman vs. Superman related, I needed a comic palette cleanser. My dilemma quickly fixed itself when I found copies of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Volume 1, Squirrel Power on the shelves(I’m in the midst of reading volume 2, as volume 1 quickly caught my attention).

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Volume 1, Squirrel Power introduces readers to Squirrel Girl, a very upbeat superhero who just happens to have partial squirrel blood running through her veins. If the thought of having to introduce yourself to yet another new superhero sounds a bit daunting, never fear! Squirrel Girl was actually introduced to the world in 1992 with her current creators paying homage to her previous comic book life by including Marvel Super-Heroes vol. 2 #8 as the very last issue in this trade paperback. Readers are given a look inot how the original creators envisioned Squirrel Girl and are also privy to the previous art styles and drawings of characters like Iron Man and Doctor Doom, since Squirrel Girl is out seeking a partner. Current creators, North and Henderson, are sure to reference back to her origins throughout their new reiteration of Squirrel Girl, talking about her first encounters with Iron Man as she is currently involved in new hijinks.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Volume 1, Squirrel Power follows Doreen Green, Squirrel Girl’s alter-ego, an alter-ego she adapts so that she can become a regular college student. If you’re looking for more background information about Squirrel Girl, she kindly provides that for you within the first few pages of this book by singing her theme song (Wondering what tune it’s sung to? It’s the Spider-Man theme song!) Squirrel Girl has the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel and, of course, the giant squirrel tail that she has to tuck into her pants in order to appear normal. Doreen is trying to balance school, boys, dorm life with her roommate Nancy and Nancy’s cat Mew, battles with super villains, and the fact that she can both talk to squirrels and they can understand her. This first volume is a fun introduction to an incredibly upbeat and dynamic female superhero who is struggling to find her place between two very different worlds.

brass sunDo you enjoy world-building? If you do, then I recommend Brass Sun, a science fiction and steampunk graphic novel by Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard. In this graphic novel, Edginton and Culbard take the world-building idea often present in science fiction and fantasy novels and give it a quite literal translation. Someone actually built the Wheel of Worlds in Brass Sun and after its creation, the creator gave each world a piece of the key that when whole, would allow all of the worlds to reach and restart the sun. Sounds like a solid plan to make sure everyone gets along, right? Not even close.

The Great War broke out amongst all the worlds as some worlds clamored for all the pieces of the key, while others struggled to stay out the way. Hoping to lessen the damage, the tram/train system that connects the worlds is closed off, plunging the worlds into further chaos. After the Great War ends, the surviving inhabitants see their beliefs shift and the surviving knowledge about the Brass Sun and the Wheel of Worlds begins to be twisted.

Now this giant mechanical solar system is dying. It’s failing. The outer worlds are starting to freeze and inhabitants are dying by the millions. Sounds like a pretty cut-and-dry and fairly urgent problem that the governing party would want to solve quickly, right? Nope. INSERT ALL THE CHAOS!

First of all, there are MAJOR disagreements throughout the people in charge regarding who and how the world was created and for what purpose. There is this mysterious religious order who is literally burning people at the stake if they disagree with the common doctrine, ie. if these dissenters say that the cog is failing and the world is slowing down, they’re lying and must die! The Orthodoxy believes if you have faith, there is nothing wrong. There is also a whole class of royalty fighting amongst themselves with their dissent stemming from the aftermath of the Great War. On one of the worlds where ice is encroaching, a young girl named Wren is given a piece of the key by her grandfather and entrusted to save the galaxy. Thrust into this crazy chaos with absolutely no idea how to complete this task, she starts collecting a rather ragtag group of accomplices to help her. The power to save the galaxy rests in her alone though. The art in this graphic novel is stunning, the colors bright with brilliant world creation. The art combined with the elaborate storytelling hooks you in and definitely left me rooting for a positive outcome.

gi joe originsNeed a good old-fashioned American graphic novel about heroes? Look no further than G.I. Joe: Origins Omnibus, Volume 1. This graphic novel has everything you could hope for in a superhero graphic novel, except that the characters are more realistic for kids to hope to become and to look up to. Nobody in this book was born a God with special powers(Heeeyyy Thor and Loki), none were bitten by radioactive spiders(Lookin’ good, Spider-Man), received their powers through some sort of solar flare/energy boost(Fantastic Four), nor do they have tons of money to buy all the fancy equipment they could ever want(Here’s looking at you, Iron Man). The people in the G.I. Joe program mostly all have military backgrounds with the skills and training they received as part of those organizations playing a major role in their initial selection to and their subsequent success in the program.

G.I. Joe: Origins Omnibus, Volume 1 gives readers a much-needed glimpse into the origin stories of various members of the G.I. Joe team. Something I noticed throughout this volume was the level of secrecy that is shown in both the selection of new members to the team and the shadowing of the actual name of their organization. This level of secrecy is necessary for them to maintain once readers see the wide variety of highly dangerous and covert missions they go on.

The origins of the G.I. Joe team came out of the changing and new era of war. New kind of war and fighting means that the good guys need to find a fighting force. The war that the G.I. Joe team finds themselves fighting is not out on the battlefield; it is instead being waged within cities, involving more innocent bystanders and a new breed of villain that is willing to do anything to create havoc. Check out this graphic novel to learn more about each G.I. Joe and to really see how this team came together.

amyOn July 23rd, 2011 Amy Jade Winehouse died in London, England at the age of 27. There were many questions surrounding her death, not just about how she died, but about why she died. The official reports tell us that it was accidental alcohol poisoning, and Amy’s substance abuse problems had been in the news for years. When I heard about Amy’s death, I honestly wasn’t surprised. But I couldn’t help but wonder why this happened to her. Amy’s voice was effortless, pure, powerful and incredibly soulful. She stood five foot two inches and weighed less than a hundred pounds. But her voiced boomed; it was magic. In recent years Amy had won five Grammy’s, tying the all time record for most Grammy’s won on a single night by a female artist. Her success was tremendous. Her reach global. So why?

In July of 2015 Amy, a documentary, was released about Amy Winehouse’s life before and after becoming famous. The film is directed by Asif Kapadia who conducted over 100 interviews with friends and family of Amy. Unseen archive footage and music tracks of and by Winehouse are incorporated in the documentary as well. The film has been a mega success. Currently the film has had 33 award nominations, winning 29 including Best European Documentary and the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Kapadia’s film may not give a definite answer on why Amy’s life ended so soon, but does tell her story and it has told it well.

copperCopper tells the story of an Irish-American boxer turned cop named Kevin Corcoran, who after returning from the Civil War finds his wife missing and his young daughter murdered in their home. Corcoran keeps in contact with two of his soldier friends: the son of a rich industrialist and an African-American physician. These three are linked together by a secret that happened on the battlefireld, one that changed the future of their lives forever.

Right off the bat, Copper is fast-paced and running you through the streets of Five Points, the immigrant neighborhood in New York full of lawlessness, deceit, and murder. Kevin Corcoran, or Corcy as his friends call him, frequently finds himself having to solve the many murders that happen in Five Points. Corcoran never lets a case close without finding the true killer and getting vengeance for the families left behind. The entire time he is solving crimes for the police department, he is also looking for any clues into his wife’s disappearance and his daughter’s murder, asking people in the streets and looking for anyone who saw them before they died.

This television show hits every aspect of tv that I love: romance, murder, mayhem, secrets, espionage, politics, etc. This is 1864, so Copper deals with slavery, Lincoln’s election, spies for the Confederacy and the Union, lynchings, upper and lower class struggles, immigration, murder. Just when I thought I had this show figured out, I realized that the characters had far more depth and far more secrets than I ever realized.

the fade outThe Fade Out: Vol. 1, Act One by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is a gripping journey into the film industry in the 1940s. This dark graphic novel takes place in Hollywood in 1948, beginning with Charlie Parish, one of the writers for a film studio, waking up to find Valeria, the up-and-coming lead actress of his current film lying dead, sprawled on the floor in the room next door, obviously murdered with ligature marks around her neck. The noir film he’s working on has been stuck in endless reshoots with the cantankerous German director barreling down on everyone to do what he wants perfectly or they will have to face the consequences.

Charlie finds himself struggling to write, plagued with writer’s block, troubled at keeping the secret of Val’s death, and turning for help from Gil Mason, an ex-screenwriter who has been blacklisted by the studios for being a suspected Communist. Gil and Charlie have worked out a Everyone involved on-set and off-set, from the head of the studio to the press office to the head of security seems to be hiding something and Charlie is left to wonder just what is true and just what he can tell to the people he thinks would never betray him.

This graphic novel is full of suspense, leading readers down dark hallways and dimly-lit streets with Charlie as he tries to figure out what really happened to Val and why the studio is covering up how she died. The film noir feel is shown through the dark coloring within each panel and the accent colors that pop on each page. The colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser, really bumps up the impact the story has on the reader by adding in color that boosts the intriguing, dark, and mysterious nature of this book. Brubaker and Phillips even add in real movie stars to the book, something that I noticed when I saw that a couple of the characters looked familiar! (There is also a cast of characters at the front of the graphic novel for you to refer back to if you become confused.) The Fade out: Vol 1: Act One is a wonderful read and I highly encourage you to check it out!

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217th General Hospital posting in Swindon, England, 1944

Hello and welcome to the April Online Reading Challenge! This month’s theme is The Good War – World War II in Fiction. There are lots of amazing titles this month – it’s going to be hard to pick just one!

First off, no war is “good” – terrible things happen during every war. But World War II is sometimes called the “good” war because we (the Allies) were fighting true evil (the Nazis) and the only way to stop them was through force. On the surface, at least, it was a war fought for noble reasons. It’s also a war when ordinary people took on an extraordinary task, fought by a generation (the “greatest generation”) that faced this challenge with the same grim determination that got them through the Great Depression. It is a time period that has been romanticized, but we should always remember that there was great pain and suffering as well.

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Orderlies from the 217th General Hospital unit, Paris France 1945

World War II has long been one of the most popular subjects in the library, both in fiction and non-fiction. While many of the people who actually lived during that time period (1939-1945) are now gone, many of us have heard stories from our parents and grandparents, so it is still vivid in our memories.

There is no shortage of excellent books set during World War II; the problem is narrowing the list to manageable proportions! Here are a few of my favorites to get you started.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Set primarily in France and Germany, it moves between two main characters, one a blind French girl living in a small town along the Normandy coast, the other a young German soldier who is recruited into Hitler’s army as the lesser of two evils. These two very different lives are, with the imminent invasion of the Allies, about to intersect in unforeseen ways. I love this book – the beautiful, evocative writing, the examination and contrast of opposite sides, the almost unbearable suspense – come together to create a truly memorable experience.

City of Thieves by David Benioff. Most of the World War II fiction that we see is set in England, France or Germany (I don’t have scientific proof of this, just observation as a librarian) This novel brings focus to the home front in Russia, specifically the siege of Leningrad. A young man jailed for theft and an army officer convicted of deserting are given a choice – find a dozen eggs within the next week, or be executed. In a city where many have been reduced to cannibalism and many more have died of starvation, it is a nearly impossible choice. That these reluctant partners find kindness, friendship and even some joy, elevates this book above the usual war novel. Another excellent book set during this time is The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean, focusing on the docents and art historians of the Hermitage and their efforts to protect its priceless art.

Other books that shed light on forgotten or little known incidents of World War II include Sarah’s Key by Tiatiana de Rosnay which focuses on the deportment of Jews from Paris, Corelli’s Mandolin about the occupation of the Greek islands, first by the Italians and then by the Germans, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer about Guernsey Island, the only part of England that was invaded by the Germans during the war. For a look at the war in the Pacific, try A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute or Tales of the South Pacific by James Michner. For a look at a dark period of American history, try Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, set during and after the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war.

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The Arc ‘d Triumph, Paris, France, May 8, 1945 (VE Day)

My choice for this month is The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. This has long been on my “to read someday” list. Narrated by Death, it is set in Germany at the start of the war and focuses on ordinary citizens trying to survive day by day. It sounds grim, but also hopeful (which I need!) as one of the main characters finds and shares books as a way of coping. If I have time I may try to read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein which is about a young woman that has been shot down behind enemy lines. It comes highly recommended.

What about you – what book or books are you planning to read this month? Do you have any favorites set during World War II that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments! And if you haven’t already, don’t forget to stop by the library and pick up a Reading Challenge bookmark!

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nflconfidentialBackup O-line player “Johnny Anonymous” gives us an opportunity to step behind the scenes of the 2014 – 2015 NFL season in NFL Confidential.   He writes in candid detail about the infractions, machinations, and politics of the League.

As you’ll recall, the tumultuous 2014-2015 season featured the Ray Rice domestic battery scandal.   Johnny Anonymous considers the league’s knee-jerk sensitivity education a half-hearted exercise in futility.

My personal favorite was how teams habitually pick up older knowledgeable free agents on short notice from their rivals.  They’ll make them ride the pine on the active roster the rest of the season just to poach the entire defensive scheme for that one game.

Enjoy tedious appearances of the F word, which some consider gritty realism.  On the whole, Johnny is a nice guy and this book will give you a great place to focus your attention in this downtime between the Superbowl and the Draft.

letter 44 vol 2Previously I reviewed Letter 44, Volume 1: Escape Velocity and was instantly intrigued. As a result, I decided that I needed to find the second volume to figure out how the story progressed. Letter 44, Volume 2: Redshift goes further into the extraterrestrial life the astronauts on the space ship, Clarke, discovered in the first volume.

With President Blades struggling to deal with if and when he should alert the public to the existence of the aliens, he finds himself having to deal with other people in the government who are calling for him to tell the truth and if not, risk being impeached. This alien presence is becoming more than he think he can deal with and instead of following the plan laid out for him by the previous administration, he decides to go his own way and ends up thinking more short-term than long-term. That decision ends up costing the American people dearly.

While Blades deals with threats from inside his administration and tries to balance everything happening outside, the people on spaceship Clarke are struggling just to live day-to-day. Losing one of their own on the asteroid and with a newborn baby on board, they are trying to figure out what the aliens want and what their device is actually for. Learning what the aliens plan to do throws the crew into a state of panic, especially when it is discovered that one of their own has the ability to communicate with the aliens. This second volume is jam-packed with action, sabotage, danger, and the struggle to survive. Personally, I cannot wait for the third volume, so I can catch up the crew of the Clarke and see how Blades is doing as President.

eleanor and parkHave you ever read a book that immediately piqued your interest? One that you just couldn’t put down? My latest “must finish quickly” book was Eleanor & Park, and what hooked me, besides the immediately engaging story line, was that I listened to it as an audiobook and was therefore able to listen to it while I was doing other things. (The version I listened to was through OverDrive, but this title is also available as a print book and a book on cd – same narrators too!)

Eleanor & Park tells the story of the two title characters: Eleanor, a red-haired chubby high school student starting at a new school, who runs into Park, a kid right on the cusp of the cool crowd, but not firmly implanted there. Eleanor feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere, especially at her new school or at home. and Park feels like she doesn’t belong at their school either. Despite himself, Park finds himself falling for Eleanor, a situation that she has trouble with since she can’t possibly believe or see why this perfect Asian boy with the perfect family would ever fall for a mess like her, living with her mother, abusive step-father, and four siblings in a tiny house. This book is set over the course of one school year in 1986 with readers getting an intense look into Eleanor and Park’s budding relationship and daily lives as they struggle with trying to fit in and the strange sweetness and intense hold that first love has on them. This book pulled at my heart strings, making me pull for Eleanor and Park to beat the odds.

What really hooked me about this book was the narrators. Their voices perfectly matched the characters that I envisioned in my head with earnest emotion shining through both voices. Their inflections as both narrators mimicked the different people in both Eleanor and Park’s lives had me present, immediately in the story with them: sitting on the top bunk in Eleanor’s room while she read the comic books and listened to the tapes that Park gave her, and watching Park as he only asked for batteries for Christmas, so he could continue to give Eleanor music to listen to. I couldn’t get enough and finished this audiobook in two days. Check this book out, either in print or audio, and let me know what you think!