2014-05-28-treesTen years ago, they arrived. Silently they landed – enormous, tall cylinders settling all over the Earth. No communication, no signs of life. Just standing there, like trees, unaware of humanity, it seemed. Or, perhaps they simply didn’t care.

Their appearance causes global chaos. The Trees landed in oceans, on top of glaciers and the middle of crowded urban centers.  Governments collapsed and then slowly recovered. With no communication or interaction after ten years, the Trees have become almost normal, and humanity has adapted to their existence.

In China, a special cultural zone has been established around a Tree, called Shu, where none of the usual cultural and economic restrictions are enforced. Tian Chenglei, a young artist from the country to study art. He joins an artists commune and shyly makes friends with a transgender woman, eventually falling in love with her. But the freedoms the Tree’s arrival brought cannot last forever.

In the northern-most reaches of Norway’s Spitsbergen island, a scientific team assigned to study the Tree there struggles to maintain order and their sanity. One determined scientist discovers black poppies growing in the shadows around the Tree, areas where nothing should grow. He eventually discovers that the flowers are composed of metal filaments arranged in a mirror image of the Tree’s external symbols, and that they transmit faint RF signals. He reasons that the flowers are a method of communication and once there is enough of them, the Tree will “speak.”

In Somalia, a technocratic dictator deals with the economic and political impact of one of the smallest Trees landing in the autonomous state of Puntland within Somalia. The Tree’s arrivals resulted in a vast influx of wealth and economic growth into Puntland, while the rest of the country only grew poorer. Convinced that the Tree does not care about the land and people around it, Rahim is determined to take control of the Tree and Puntland, by any means necessary.

The Trees changed the world when they arrived. The uncertainly of their intent and the implication of another intelligent species irreparably changed civilization – it was, in fact, the end of the world as we knew it. The story is less about the Trees (although the forthcoming volumes promise more) than how humanity reacts to them.  Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Planetary) has a lot of ground to cover initially, but by end of the first volume, the action and dread intensifies to a cliffhanger of an ending. Trees is a great choice for sci-fi fans and for those who wonder what might happen when we learn we’re not alone in the universe.

1182212Years after a massive nuclear & biological war laid waste to the Western U.S., radioactive zombies, mutants and murders roam the Western Wasteland. Luke, a gifted sharpshooter and her brother Mark barely escape with their lives after zombies overtake their town of Desolation. Once their family reaches safety, Luke sets out on her own to track the zombies – while they are somewhat intelligent, they are nowhere near smart enough to take over a town. Luke follows the zombies to the caves where she discovers … something leading the zombies. Luke has never seen anything like their leader, she only knows that it bleeds yellow.

Once Luke returns and reports what she saw (and barely escaped from) her mother sends her and her brother on a journey thought the Western Wasteland to find a man named Lone. Only he, their mother says, can save them.

Travelling across the dangerous wastes, Luke and Mark find an old farmer, who, once he learns of the “zombie boss” that bleeds yellow, agrees to help them find Lone. But while finding Lone is one thing, it is quite another to convince him to help.

Lone had been in the war and he had been changed, experimented on, and became something more powerful than a man. His fellow soldiers in this private army were the same, and elite force to protect mysterious masters. Gunfathers, they were called, and they were not like anything Lone had seen before. And they bled yellow.

Lone had long thought the Gunfathers had all been killed in the apocalypse that followed. Lone agrees to help Luke and Mark stop these Gunfathers and the monsters that follow them. And ultimately, finally discover who the Gunfathers are and why they destroyed the world. Or, at least, kill them all.

Moore’s (Wolverine Noir, Firestorm) Lone reads like a classic Western, with a science fiction twist. Fans of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead series will enjoy this tale.

 

This year’s Banned Book Week is focusing on the diversity of authors and ideas that have prompted a disproportionate share of challenges. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom estimates that more than half of all banned books are by authors of color or ones that represent groups of viewpoints outside the mainstream. As a result, this week we will be sharing some reviews of our favorite banned books that fit this category.

The ALA’s website has a list of Frequently Challenged Books with Diverse Content and another list of Most Frequently Challenged Books Written by Authors of Color 1990-1999. Check out these lists for suggestions of books to read that fit into this year’s theme.


This first day we will be looking at a couple graphic novels that frequently make this list: Habibi by Craig Thompson, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. There are many other graphic novels that have been banned and frequently challenged, but we’re just focusing on these three today. (Stay tuned and you may see more later this week!)


habibiHabibi by Craig Thompson frequently finds itself on the top ten list of most frequently challenged books. In fact, this graphic novel is number 8 on the top ten list of 2015. Habibi is frequently banned for reasons of nudity, sexually explicitness, and unsuited for age group. The challenging and banning of this graphic novel deprives readers of this intense story of love and relationships, more specifically the commonalities found between Christianity and Islam, as well as an examination of the cultural divide present between first and third worlds.

Habibi tells the story of Dolola, a young girl sold into marriage to a scribe who teaches her to read and write. She is captured by slave traders, but escapes, taking with her an abandoned toddler. They take refuge in an abandoned boat in the desert for the next nine years where Dolola teaches Zam how the world works by telling him stories from the Qur’an and the Bible.  They are separated and fight for the next six years to get back to each other.


persepolisPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi did not make the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2015 list, but it still made the longer list. It was #2 on the 2014 list. Persepolis is frequently banned for the following reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, graphic depictions, and for being politically racially, and socially offensive.

Persepolis is a cultural eye-opener, a story that shows that the grass is not always greener on the other side, no matter your life circumstances. This graphic novel centers around the Islamic revolution and tells the story of Marjane’s childhood in Tehran. Growing up in a country in the midst of political upheaval means that her public life and her private life constantly contradicted each other. Her free-thinking family gives Marjane the strength to find herself even though her youth was formed during such a tumultuous time.


fun-homeFun Home by Alison Bechdel, just like the previous two graphic novels, is a frequent flyer on the challenged list. This graphic novel is frequently challenged for violence and other graphic images. The reason Fun Home finds itself as one of our diverse banned book selections is because of the subject matter.

Fun Home is Bechdel’s childhood autobiography. She tells the story of her closeted gay father, a man who was an English teacher and the owner/operator of the local funeral home. His secrets overshadow the lives of everyone else in the family, throwing Bechdel’s emerging womanhood and her homosexuality as a side player in the drama of his life. In her early teens, he goes to court over his relationship with a young boy while his death, most likely a suicide, trumps her coming out. This book is full of death, suicide, homosexuality, family strife, tragedy, desperation, violence, and other graphic images that make Fun Home a key player on the banned/challenged book list each year.


Check back tomorrow for more banned books!

BlackScience_vol1-1Across an alien landscape, two people in space suits race for safety. At each turn, they are thwarted. The woman is killed, but the man runs on, clutching a container, cursing himself for his mistakes, his obsessions, that have brought him – and his family – here. A race against time, it seems, to reach the Pillar before it is too late.

This breathless scene opens Rick Remender’s Black Science. Grant McKay, our narrator, does make it back to the Pillar, moments before it jumps. Along with Grant are is two children, teenaged Pia and younger Nathan, his five (now four)-person team of scientists and the man who bankrolled the project. We learn that Grant and his team have done the impossible – punched through the barriers between the multiverses’ dimensions, allowing humans to travel to new dimensions not only to explore, but also to exploit, possibly finding the keys to preserving our species. The method is called black science, and the Pillar is the tool. But the tool has been sabotaged, and now it and its passengers have no control over when or to where they will jump.

Grant laments his hubris and his recklessness for taking his children and his team with him on the first manned jump throughout the story. Each new dimension is as strange as the next, dumping the team into war and circumstance that are truly alien. There appears to be no way of repairing the Pillar, and now that the multiverse has been breached, nothing is certain, especially survival.

Remander’s (Uncanny Avengers, Fear Agent) novel moves at a frenetic pace, the art is both stark and riotously vivid. It harkens back to the era of pulp science fiction with non-stop action and lurid details. With three more volumes already published, this is a great choice for anyone looking for a true science fiction adventure. Fans of “The Venture Bros.,” will enjoy this considerable darker series (and the close similarity Grant McKay bears to a certain winged super-villain).

 

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers! How was your May? Did you read something new and wonderful? Or did you pass on this month’s challenge?

I have to admit, this was not my favorite theme. Nor did it turn me into an avid Graphic Novel fan. However, it did encourage me try something that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, and I did enjoy the books I read. And while I’m unlikely to pick up another Graphic Novel unless someone recommends it highly (I still find the pictures to be distracting), I did learn a bit about the whole genre and gain a greater appreciation for them. Win win!

nimonaI read two books this month. The first was Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. Sharp and witty with surprising depth and heart, Nimona is about a young girl (we think) who appoints herself as Ballister Blackheart’s sidekick. Blackheart is the designated villain of their country (after his former friend Ambrosius Goldenloin accidentally cut off Blackheart’s hand during a duel when they were in school training to be heroes) and spends his time terrorizing the peasants, with Goldenloin in hot pursuit. Nimona comes up with many nefarious, clever plans to reign down terror, but Blackheart (who really isn’t terribly evil) insists on conservative actions that actually harm no one. Nimona gets frustrated with Blackheart, but remains loyal and always has his back. When true evil arrives, it is the teamwork – and unlikely friendship – of Blackheart and Nimona that stand against it.

As expected, I found the illustrations distracting, but less so as I kept reading. It helps that the illustrations are clever and drawn in an interesting style. It’s the story that I really liked, drawing me into the lives (and snark) of the characters. A great read with a satisfying, although somewhat bittersweet, ending.

relishThe second Graphic Novel that I read was Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. This is Lucy’s story of growing up, shown through her experiences with food.

Somewhat unusually, Lucy grew up with two parents who were enthusiastic foodies. She was never a picky eater and learned to try to appreciate most foods. A new culture (such as her visit to Japan) was an opportunity to learn more about the country via the meals and food related customs she experienced. Her life is influenced and improved by her relationship with food and the opportunities it brings – jobs, friends, culture, unique experiences. This book is often very funny and always interesting, and bonus!, includes several (illustrated) recipes.

Once again, I found the illustrations to be distracting at first – they add a lot to the book, both humor and detail, but I didn’t always know where to start, or I’d accidentally miss a section. However, I did enjoy the style of the drawings and found myself looking for quirky, humorous asides tucked into them.

Yes, I would recommend both of these books, whether that person was a Graphic Novel fan or a newbie. And I might even try another Graphic Novel someday!

What about you – what did you read this month? Did you find something you really liked, or was this month a loss? What about any Graphic Novel fans out there – what did you read? And what would you recommend for someone that still new (and a bit hesitant) with Graphic Novels – what should they read next?

Thanks all for reading along! See you next month with Summer Reads!

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!

PaperGirls_Vol01-1In the early hours of the day after Halloween, four teenage girls set out on their paper routes. “Hell Day,” they call it, as erstwhile teenage trick-or-treaters (emphasis on “trick”) still roam the streets and most do not welcome girl paper carriers, especially the very first paper girls. But what they encounter that morning is something much worse, much more deadly, than teenage bullies.

Set in 1988, Paper Girls follows Erin as she is saved from bullies by the very first “paper girl” Mac – a tough-talking cigarette-smoking 12 year old – and her paper carrying friends KJ and Tiffany.  They pair off for safety, but soon Tiffany and KJ are confronted by three boys in strange costumes who steal Tiffany’s walkie-talkie. The four resolve to find the boys responsible, ultimately following them to the basement of an unoccupied house. But instead of Tiff’s walkie-talkie, they find an incredibly strange, almost alien, capsule. It suddenly activates, the girls run outside, and see the three men who robbed Tiff. Confronting them, the girls discover that they are not in fact teenage boys, at least not as 1988 America would call them.

As the girls try to make sense of what has happened, the find that they world has abruptly and radically changed. The sky is pink, lightning flashes and what appear to be pterodactyls fly across the sky. Most people have disappeared, and communication technology no long works. Confronted by the radically unknown, the girls do what they do best – stick together, protect each other and never, ever back down.

Brian K. Vaughn (Saga, Y: The Last Man) creates yet another fantastic mystery in Paper Girls, capturing the defiance, fearlessness and loyal friendships of young teens as they face what may very be the end of the world.

midas flesh The Midas Flesh: Volume One is an entertaining journey into the future, where a space crew finds themselves within the orbit of a gold gilded Earth. Flashback to how this whole shindig got started. Do you know the story of King Midas? The Midas Touch? That’s basically the gist of this book with some high-tech space flight and dinosaurs in space suits involved.

In The Midas Flesh: Volume One, one night King Midas got drunk and decided that if he had only one wish, it would be to have everything that he touched turn to gold. Low and behold a thunderbolt slashes out of the heavens and his wish is granted. Flash forward quite a bit and the entire planet Midas was inhabiting has turned to gold, BUT the kicker is that it does not show up on ANY of the space maps nor is it in any of the galaxy records. The Federation has covered up the entire existence of this planet and to prevent others from stealing anything from said planet, they have effectively covered its entire close orbit with satellites, ships, weaponry, etc. to alert them if someone stumbles and finds this place.

Somehow  Joey and her space crew, Fatima and Cooper, have managed to find this planet and are desperately trying to figure out why everything on it is made of gold. They are struggling to do so before the Federation realzies they have found the planet and before a bounty can be placed on their heads for being able to take something off the surface of the planet. Joey’s ultimate goal is to be able to harvest the weapon on this gold planet and somehow reconfigure it to be used against the evil Federation, the group who is tracking them down and the same group who was taking over planets and destroying whole civilizations. This first volume gives readers a good introduction into the Midas legend and also to the forces the crewmembers find themselves up against. If you’re not a fan of graphic novels, and even if you are, I recommend this book as there are few flash backs, the artwork is not overwhelming, and the overall story reads like a linear piece of fiction, but the graphic novel as a whole is still widely appealing. Check it out.

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?

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.