graysonI’ve been reading tons of graphic novels lately. The main reason? I can usually get through a whole graphic novel in one sitting, usually even multiple ones in a day! It’s fabulous. Throw in a flashy cover and a high-paced story and I’m hooked. Grayson: Volume 1, Agents of Spyral fits all of my necessary graphic novel markers and BONUS: It’s about Robin/Nightwing, a thoroughly over-looked DC character if you ask me.

You need to understand some basic Robin/Nightwing backstory in order to not get confused, though Seeley and King do a very good job explaining his past life. Grayson: Volume 1, Agents of Spyral covers the story of Dick Grayson, a former circus acrobat, who after his parents were tragically killed in a trapeze accident(YES, I know this sounds ridiculous, but come on, as a superhero/spy, being an acrobat comes in SUPER handy), eventually comes to live with Bruce Wayne, aka Batman. Once Grayson figures out that Wayne is actually Batman, Grayson becomes his partner, Robin. They exist in peace, fighting crime in Gotham City, but once Grayson gets older, he decides to become Nightwing and continues to fight crime. Nightwing eventually is captured and killed by the Criminal Syndicate. Or is he?

Not a spoiler: He isn’t killed or this graphic novel would be over before it even began. Instead he goes on his merry way dispensing out justice across the globe and is eventually recruited into Spyral, a top-secret spy ring that is hunting for pieces of the Paragon, a God who was killed and who had his body parts distributed all over the world. Oh yeah, those body parts all just happen to be individual weapons of mass destruction. No biggie. So to recap, Grayson is now a spy for Spyral and is hunting down weapons disguised as body parts. Oh also, he’s actually a secret agent spying on Spyral and reporting to Batman because Spyral is actually looking to discover the secret identity of every superhero on the globe. (Turns out each superhero bestowed something special on each body part, hence how they became weapons of mass destruction). This plotline is fantastic! So many twists and turns that left me eagerly flipping the pages to find out what happened next. I also really enjoyed the bright pops of color and the way the artist decided to give such a lifelike feel to each character. Be on the lookout for the next Grayson volume!

worrier's guide to lifeI love webcomics, but I have a horrid problem with keeping up with them on a daily basis. I’ll go a few weeks giving them all of my attention and then completely get distracted by something else. This binge-and-ignore pattern is on a self-repeating cycle, so when I realize that there is a print BOOK of a webcomic or a comic that I can only find online, I get really excited! I’ll actually be able to read all of it!

The Worrier’s Guide to Life is my latest online-comic-to-print discovery that can be found in the nonfiction 800s section. Gemma Correll, the author and illustrator, has a website that highlights her sketches, lets us see into her studio where she creates all of her magic drawings, and my favorite part: she even illustrated whole days of her life and posted them! (If you’re looking to stay up-to-date with Correll’s life and drawings, she’s moved almost exclusively to her Tumblr page where she posts things she finds funny and also where she will be doing events! Yay!)

The Worrier’s Guide to Life is a collection of illustrations that Correll has put together highlighting the daily struggles of any and every over-thinker. They’re all so relatable! If you’re on social media a lot, like I am, you may even notice that some of her illustrations have been posted all over Facebook and Tumblr. She covers anything and everything you could possibly over-think about: health, fashion, food, love, traveling, holidays, modern problems, and there’s even an extra special section for all those grown-up worries we find ourselves obsessing about. One of my favorite parts of this book is that Gemma creates lists of advice and information about life to help us all feel better by showing us that things could always be worse. Lists of “Reward Stickers for Grown-Ups”, some non-committal Valentine’s cards if you’re just not sure about the relationship that you are in, and a new list of what the different kind of flowers you could be receiving or giving really mean! Check out this book to laugh about all the crazy advice Gemma has gathered for you in one tiny package.

thor god butcherI have always found Thor to be very intriguing. An immortal God growing up in his father Odin’s shadow, listening to tales of war and the defeating of enemies and subsequently struggling to lift Mjolnir, his magic hammer, when he was younger because he wasn’t worthy yet. In the Marvel movies, viewers get some flashbacks of Thor’s life, but not as much as I was looking for. Instead of digging into Norse mythology, I decided to look at the graphic novels available at the library to see what background they could provide me. That was where I found Jason Aaron’s run of Thor.

Thor: God Of Thunder, Volume 1: The God Butcher is the first volume in Aaron’s run that gives readers an insight into Marvel NOW!’s interpretation of Thor. I found this graphic novel to be confusing, yet ultimately rewarding because it filled in many of the wholes that I had about Thor’s upbringing and his motivations for behaving the way that he does.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty: The reason I found this graphic novel to be confusing is because of the story line. In this first volume, Thor is on the hunt for the God Butcher after discovering floating body parts of a God in a river after a fight. The horror in the eyes of the deceased God catapults Thor on a hunt that defines his actions for the entirety of his life. This graphic novel is a prime example of why you MUST pay attention to the artwork in order to follow the storyline. This volume is essentially three Thor stories being told at once: past Thor, present Thor, and future Thor, all on a quest to hunt down and kill the God Butcher who has made it HIS mission to kill all of the Gods across all of the worlds. Differentiating between past Thor and present Thor is a little difficult, but there are wardrobe and art style clues that will help key you in to what Thor you are actually looking at. This first volume of Thor is perfect to set up the rest of the series’ run because it introduces a villain that even Thor has trouble defeating, the idea that gods are vanishing and no one is aware or really even cares, and that this is a problem that has taken thousands of years to solve, yet still hasn’t been fixed. (Bonus: There is a Lord Librarian who has WINGS and who Thor goes to for help!) The back stories of both Thor and the God Butcher are exquisitely thought through and Ribic’s artistic descriptions of Thor’s struggles really show the darkness of this seemingly eternal fight. Check this out and let me know what you think!

indestructibleNow that winter seems to have finally arrived, the Iowa gardener is forced indoors. How does the avid gardener get their quota of poking around in the dirt and watching green things grow? Houseplants of course! It may not be quite the same as a perennial border or a vegetable patch of edibles, but houseplants can get you through the darkest months and have their own charms and rewards any time of the year.

The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin will set you on the path to a lifelong happy obsession with indoor plants. Martin lists dozens of tough, easy-to-grow houseplants by family, giving lots of tips and growing advice and pointers to the best varieties. Each plant family has a simple-to-consult growing basics charts, but the real value of this book is Martin’s charming, fun-to-read detailed descriptions. The acknowledged current leader in houseplant cultivation, Martin is not afraid to admit to failures or less-than-spectacular results (although I doubt those happen to her very often!)

The photographs in the book are spectacular and prove that “indestructible” is not synonymous with plain or boring. Most of the plants are grown strictly for their foliage (often very colorful foliage such as with the bromliads and begonias) but there are several flowering varieties – geraniums, kalanchoes, African violets – as well. Most of the plants are easy to find (check the local nurseries – we have several excellent ones in the area and winter is when they have the best variety of houseplants); some are common outdoor container plants (such as geraniums and ferns) that enjoy a summer vacation outdoors, decorating your porch in the summer and your living room in the winter (I’ve done this with geraniums and begonias for several years – it’s a great way to keep your favorites and also save a few dollars in the spring)

Martin finishes the book with good, practical advice on how to care for and display your houseplants. I love the variety of containers she uses – colanders, trays, cast off metal dishes, unique and beautiful pots – all of which enhance but do not overwhelm the plants. She even discusses how she trained her cat Einstein to stay away from plants (he shows up in several of the photos). This book is the best combination of eye-candy, inspiration and practical advice. Highly recommended!

 

batgirlIn 2011, DC relaunched their comic lines as the “New 52” after the “Flashpoint incident” when the Flash went back in time to try to alter the events of the present. This changed the storylines of other DC characters, resulting in DC discontinuing some titles, starting new ones, starting the old series over at #1, but also keeping the continuity of some of the more popular series. All in all, DC debuted 52 new titles, hence the name: the “New 52”. (A lot of other things have changed with DC since the New 52 was released, but that’s for another day and another blog post..)

Batgirl was one of these reboots. Before the Flashpoint event, Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, had been shot and paralyzed by the Joker as revenge against Batman. She goes on to be the Oracle, becoming the information access queen for the entire DC superhero community, and further joins forces with the Huntress and Dinah to become the Birds of Prey. The important thing to remember about pre-New 52 Batgirl is that she remains paralyzed.

In Batgirl: Volume 1: Batgirl of Burnside, Barbara is no longer paralyzed. She has moved to Burnside, considered the trendiest neighborhood in Gotham City, to go to college and work on the algorithm she designed after she was horribly injured. Right after she moves in, her friend Dinah, aka the Black Canary, comes and lives with her after a fire destroys all of her belongings, PLUS all of Barbara’s Batgirl gear. This gives Barbara the opportunity to reinvent her costume, but also forces her to get creative to find new weapons sources.

What really hooked me into this graphic novel is that the content and the art style are made to hook into a newer generation. Barbara lives in the hip neighborhood, is going to college, has friends that are working with new computer tech, and is able to attend a wide variety of new concerts and events. Barbara and her friends are all over social media and the majority of the characters in this book are either all in college or in that young up-start community. With hashtags galore and an imposter Batgirl popping up all over various social media platforms, Barbara is forced to “re-brand” the Batgirl image in order to prove that Batgirl is not a nuisance, while also struggling to figure out where the lines are between what she should do as a super hero and what she should let the police handle. Barbara clearly struggles with a lot of the issues that young adults face when they are going away to college and the fact that she is a superhero doesn’t detract from her problems, it instead adds a necessary level of perspective and understanding that people of all ages can benefit from.

boulevardAfter the tragic passing of Robin Williams on August 11, 2014, I found myself going back and watching some of my favorite movies that he starred in (Can’t get enough of that genie in Aladdin and Good Will Hunting has Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, AND Robin Williams, so you can’t pass that up!). I also found myself wondering what would be his last movie, found this article detailing what they would be, and made a note to check them out. I was finally able to check one of them out! One of his last movies was Boulevard, starring Williams as Nolan Mack, a married, yet closeted, bank employee in his 60s and what happens when he decides to take a different way home one night.

Nolan has a lot on his plate. He has been working at the same bank for 25 years, has been offered a promotion to branch manager which requires a lot of prep work, and has an elderly father in the hospital. His home life seems to be idyllic, except for the tiny fact that he and his wife, Joy, sleep in separate bedrooms and seem to have entirely separate lives. On his way home after visiting his father in the hospital, Nolan finds himself driving down an unfamiliar street. Sitting at a red light, he decides to turn around. After almost hitting a young man crossing the street, Nolan offers the young man a ride to wherever he was heading, discovers he’s a prostitute, and finds himself in a hotel room with young Leo, confronting issues in his life that he had hoped to keep buried. Needing Leo in his life more than he realizes, Nolan soon finds himself deviating from the comforting and familiar bearings of his life, his work, and his marriage in order to fully become his true self.

More favorite books of 2015!

small nightingaleAnn has two favorites that she read this year. “I loved Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale which is set in small boys in the boatFrance during World War II, following the two very different paths that two sisters take. One joins the Resistance while the other stays in the countryside at the family home. Both face unimaginable danger, great risk and terrible sacrifice. My other favorite was The Boys in the Boat, a non-fiction account of the 1936 US rowing team that went to the Olympics. Against almost impossible odds, a group of hard-scrabble individuals come together as a team, beating every obstacle and hardship in their path. Both books offer unique viewpoints, both are nearly impossible to put down and both stay with you long after you’ve finish reading.”

 

Here’s Stephanie’s favorite:

small cinderOne of my favorite books this year was Cinder by Marissa Meyer. This is the first book in her Lunar Chronicles series. I loved this book because it was a mix of fairy tales and dystopian fiction, two genres that are sure to capture and hold my interest. This first book tells the story of Cinder, a cyborg, who also is a gifted mechanic. Because she is a cyborg, she is treated as a second-hand citizen. Her stepmother hates her and blames her for her stepsister’s illness. Cinder meets Prince Kai very early in the book and we quickly see that in order for him to avoid war with the Lunars, he may have to marry the evil Queen Levana. This book has everything in it that I wanted and expected: fabulous world building like you find in dystopian fiction and really thorough character development that actually gives her stepsisters and stepmother full personalities and doesn’t just leave them as hateful people. I also thoroughly enjoyed the fact that Cinder wasn’t the typical heroine! She was a mechanic and knew how to fix things, no matter what was wrong. Such a breath of fresh air when it comes to young adult fiction.

 

There you have it, some of best loved books of 2015 from our bloggers. What about you – what was your favorite book that you read in 2015? And what do you plan to read in 2016?

More favorites from our Blogging Librarians!

Rachel nominated two books as her favorites for 2015.

tamingHer first choice is The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory.  “This novel is based on the life of Catherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of King Henry VIII of England.  I never really thought about how brave Catherine Parr was to be the sixth wife of a tyrant.  Literally unable to refuse his proposal, she had to live out the remainder of his life walking on egg shells making sure she did nothing to provoke his anger.  She had constant reminders of what happened to his previous wives when they disobeyed him.  Even so, Catherine Parr managed to reunite Henry with his daughters Mary and Elizabeth and son Edward and to influence the religion of the King of England.​”

 

 

 

dogs giftRachel’s second choice is a non-fiction book,  A Dog’s Gift: The Inspirational Story of Veterans and Children Healed by Man’s Best Friend by Bob Drury.  “This book is about a father and daughter team that operate the group Paws4People.  This organization raises and trains puppies to be helper dogs for military veterans and children with disabilities. The dogs are trained in prisons by inmates which helps the inmates gain job skills.  One thing from this book that stuck with me is that the dogs choose their people; the dogs are not assigned to anyone by the organization.  This books is a great example of how an organization can help and touch so many people’s lives.​”

 

It’s the end of the year and that means taking a look back at some of our favorite books. Here are some favorites from our blogging librarians.

Allison nominated a series of Marvel titles as her favorites:

hawkeye“This year, I have really enjoyed the Marvel NOW!/All-New Marvel NOW!/Avengers NOW! relaunch that started in 2012, and sadly ended this year with the launch of Secret Wars. My favorite titles from the run are “Black Widow” by Edmonson and Noto, “Deadpool” by Posehn and Duggan, “Ms. Marvel” by Wilson and Alphona, “Thor” by Aaron and Dauterman and my very favorite, “Hawkeye” by Matt Fraction and David Aja. All feature witty, crackling dialog, plots explore each character while never slowing the action down, and fantastic art (especially “Black Widow”). You certainly don’t have to be a comic book nerd to enjoy these titles!”

 

 

Lynn’s favorite book would make a great summer read or anytime read!

august“Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen was my favorite book this year. It will always bring back memories of how I read it on the back deck on sunny afternoons this last summer. Views of Iowa’s muddy creeks may not be as sought after as those  of the Atlantic, but the two converged when I read this book. It’s about three women  whose lives and relationships came together in a guest house on an island off the coast of Massachussetts. It’s fun to read this before or after viewing Enchanted April.

the tightly tangled webIf I sounded impressed with my review of the first volume of Nathan Edmondson’s Black Widow a few weeks ago, then I can firmly tell you that his second volume, Black Widow: The Tightly Tangled Web intrigued me even more. This volume shows you that Black Widow is indeed a human capable of feelings. (If that statement made you roll your eyes, let me explain.) In the first volume, and really throughout any of the Avengers movies, the Black Widow, aka Natasha, is shown as a cold,  yet ruthless, killing machine, one who will do whatever it takes to complete her mission, an M.O. that makes perfect sense since she used to be a KGB assassin. Edmondson expands upon Natasha’s past in this second volume, allowing readers a glimpse behind the dark curtain that hides Natasha’s true self.

Black Widow: The Tightly Tangled Web tackles the bigger idea of superheroes as a whole. In both volumes, readers see Natasha as part of the Avengers and SHIELD, going on missions for them, but also going on side jobs in order to atone for her past life as a KGB assassin. Once the Black Widow is seemingly outed through media footage splashed all over the news, other superheroes, SHIELD operatives, and the regular public are forced to question the idea of superheroes operating outside the reach of the law.

Another ongoing thread in this second volume focuses on the people who come and go in Natasha’s life. In San Francisco, Natasha runs into her ex Matt Murdock, also known as Daredevil, while hunting for cyber terrorists. On what she thinks is a simple mission in Prague, Natasha finds herself face to face with the Winter Soldier, who unbeknownst to her is there to stop the train from being robbed. Later, she runs into the Punisher, aka Frank Castle, a former Marine turned vigilante, while searching for information about a deadly criminal network that seems to be running communications off of the boat she is searching.

Add in a run-in with Hawkeye and this second volume reads less like a stand-alone Black Widow volume and more like a combination superhero graphic novel, which I found to be equally disappointing and riveting. I did enjoy the interactions she had with each person because it added an extra layer of depth to Natasha as a human being and highlighted important aspects of her past and her personality that would have been missed if readers were only privy to the conversations between her and her attorney, Isaiah. (Isaiah seems to be her closest friend and confidante and the doozy of a mess that Natasha finds herself in in this second volume comes back to harm Isaiah.) I just wish this volume had been more of a focus on Black Widow, more of a true stand-alone comic. I personally can’t wait for Edmondson’s new issues of Black Widow because it sounds like they will show more about her background.