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Hellboy in Hell, Vols. 1 & 2

posted by: January 23, 2017 - 7:00am

Hellboy in Hell, Vol. 1Hellboy in Hell, Vol. 2In the more than 20 years that Hellboy has been engaged in supernatural pulp adventures, he’s been everywhere from Mexico to Romania and crossed paths with countless fantastic figures from history and myth. Though Hellboy made himself comfortable all over the globe throughout his life, there was only one logical place for him to end his journey: home. Hellboy in Hell by Mike Mignola is a somber and surreal swan song that finally forces Hellboy to face the infernal heritage he spent his life rejecting.

 

Creator Mignola announced in 2015 that Hellboy in Hell would be his final art duty on a comic before an extended break to focus on traditional watercolor painting, and this series truly reads like a fond farewell to a beloved friend. Minimalist compositions present the majestic architecture and unholy denizens of the underworld in a way that invoke melancholy rather than horror. Fans of Mignola will recognize returning motifs throughout the glorious hellscapes he illustrates here, and new readers can look forward to being introduced to his unique style with a story that showcases him at the top of his game. Longtime collaborator Dave Stewart provides most of the book’s color, bathing each page in dismal limited palettes that perfectly compliment the gloomy tone of the story.

 

This is the sendoff Hellboy deserves. The unmistakable artwork and understated writing that readers have come to expect from Mike Mignola are here, presented in perhaps their most moving use since Hellboy’s origin. Whet your appetite with Hellboy: The First 20 Years and then settle in for a quiet evening navigating the depths with Hell’s lost son himself. Full disclosure: I cried a little.


 
 

A Plague on All Our Houses

posted by: January 19, 2017 - 7:00am

A Plague on All Our HousesIn the spring of 1981, four young gay male patients were referred to Dr. Michael Gottlieb, a young assistant professor at UCLA specializing in immunology, with a series of opportunistic infections. Author Bruce J. Hillman, MD charts the course that Dr. Gottlieb took that would lead to the discovery of AIDS and the dissolution of his academic career in A Plague on All Our Houses.

 

After contacting the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), an action that had to be suggested by the editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) owning to Gottlieb’s professional naivety, he confirmed an additional case via autopsy. Gottlieb and his colleagues collected their data and he drafted what is now considered one of the most notable medical publications of the century. As the lead author of the NEJM article which described a new disease, Gottlieb was pulled in many directions: academic researcher, clinician, spokesperson, grant writer and fundraiser. As the doctor who discovered a new undetectable infectious disease, Gottlieb attracted many patients, most of whom were gay. At the same time, UCLA was trying to brand itself as a transplant center. A mixture of fear and homophobia began to build in earnest. Jealousy joined the mix when Gottlieb drew additional attention as the specialist who cared for Rock Hudson. When Elizabeth Taylor decided to dedicate herself to finding a cure after the death of her friend and a relative, she turned to Gottlieb for counsel, and the mixture neared the boiling point.

 

If you enjoyed Rebecca Skloot’s work examining the health and societal impact of the HeLa cells juxtaposed against the lives of her children deprived of their mother in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this medical story is for you.


 
 

Between the Covers with Jamie Watson

posted by: January 18, 2017 - 7:00am

Jamie WatsonThe John Newbery Medal is a literary award given by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association (ALA). This annual award is given to the author of "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." The Newbery and Caldecott Medals are considered to be the most prestigious awards for children's literature in the United States.

 

The medal is decided by a committee elected by their peers and for the past year, Baltimore County Public Library’s Collection Development Coordinator Jamie Watson has been a member of this committee working hard to determine this year’s medal winner and honor books. Jamie sat down with me to share insight into the committee. Her passion for this committee work and children’s literature are evident! The Newbery Medal, along with the other ALA awards will be announced on Monday, January 23 in Atlanta.

 

Between the Covers: Please give us a brief overview of the process of committee member selection process for the Newbery Medal.

Jamie Watson: There are 15 people on the committee. Eight of them are elected during the American Library Association elections held in the spring. I was elected! You are nominated by your peers. Then, six more members and the committee chair are chosen by the president of the Association for Library Service to Children.

 

It was bittersweet being elected because one of my friends missed joining me on the committee by a mere three votes!

 

For librarians who might want to be on the committee, this has really been a long process of serving on other committees for the last 17 years, getting to know people, practicing book discussion skills and networking. It was something I knew I always wanted to do and I’m so pleased and honored to be doing it.

 

BTC: Is the committee given any criteria to choose its winners or does it come up with its on their own?
JW: There are very specific criteria, and I’ve probably read them 100 times or more over the last year! Here they are, direct from the manual:

 

Committee members need to consider the following:
• Interpretation of the theme or concept
• Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity and organization
• Development of a plot
• Delineation of characters
• Delineation of a setting
• Appropriateness of style

 

Note: Because the literary qualities to be considered will vary depending on content, the committee need not expect to find excellence in each of the named elements. The book should, however, have distinguished qualities in all of the elements pertinent to it.

 

This gets challenging because you might be comparing so many different types of books. How can you compare a picture book with a biography for middle grade readers with a book of poetry with a novel for 8-year-olds? Ultimately, you apply these criteria to each and every book, and see how well they stand up to it.

 

BTC: How does the committee decide which books to read? How many did you read this year?

JW: Publishers will send you books all throughout the year. You will read reviews. You will hear other people talking and speculating. However, it’s up to each individual committee member to decide which books to read. Also throughout the year, the members communicate by sending “suggestions” to the chair, who then compiles them and sends them to the entire committee. So you can see what things other committee members are reading and liking. But not which person, or why they liked them. It’s just a list that says “You might want to check these out.” I tried to balance reading well-reviewed things, reading suggested things and reading things I didn’t know much about just to see what might be getting overlooked. Everyone on the committee has their own approach.

 

I likely read in the vicinity of 200 books from cover to cover. I likely skimmed 200 more, or read just a bit of them. Some books that are on the list of nominations I’ve read twice, and a few even three times. I’ll be continuing to re-read right up to the deadline just to see what else I might have missed.

 

This is why serving on committees has made me a much kinder “second guesser” of awards committees. Even the most avid readers have likely not read this intensely and with this volume for a year. We are really looking HARD at these books, because we really want to make a great decision.

 

BTC: How is it all kept secret? How do you communicate with one another? What is the approximate timeline for the year? Do you have in-person meetings? How does the voting work?

JW: As of now, none of us have talked about the books to each other at all. We don’t know who nominated what, who likes what — nothing. We start fresh on January 20. There is NO DISCUSSION of the books AT ALL until we are behind that closed door on January 20. The chair communicated with us throughout the year, letting us know what people were suggesting and checking in with logistics, but our communications with each other were completely limited.

 

Keeping it secret is hard for a big talker like me, but I respect that the surprise adds such an extra layer to the announcement on Monday, January 23. I had to quit doing Goodreads for the year, which I really missed. I couldn’t say on Facebook “OMG I JUST READ THE BEST BOOK” because everyone would assume that meant it was on the fast track to the Newbery.

 

My time on the committee was from January, 2016 until June 2017. After we make the announcement, the hard work is done. But the final payoff is at the ALA Annual Conference in the summer, when the award is presented at the Newbery/Caldecott banquet. Here, committee members usually get to meet the author, often having dinner with him/her, and just enjoy the fruits of their labor. The author will give a speech, which has nearly moved me to tears even in years when I was not on the committee!

 

So, at conference in January, we will begin to discuss the books. We have two full days of discussion, and then we vote. You only get to vote for THREE books. If a clear winner isn’t determined after the first ballot, all books that received votes get rediscussed. And then you revote. You can’t leave the room on Saturday, January 21 until you have a winner. I’ve heard stories of tears and anger, (nothing specific, as it’s all secret forever, but rumors!) so I hope our voting process goes swimmingly!

 

BTC: How has being on the Newbery Committee impacted your job as a librarian?

JW: The hardest part really has been my inability to recommend titles that I’m reading to keep secrecy at its utmost. I really miss being able to enthuse as I go along! The other impact has been not being able to do everything I might normally. While I hope I kept up on my day-to-day job OK, there were extras that came my way that I couldn’t do this year. There’s only so much brain power you have!

 

BTC: What do you personally take away from being on the Newbery Committee?
JW: This is just such a huge honor. Seeing that seal on a book and knowing that I played a part in getting recognition for a book and an author that should be recognized is a great honor and responsibility. It also reminds me what got me into librarianship to begin with — a love of reading and books and story and literature. The passion for our duty is going to be overwhelming in that room in Atlanta, and I’ll carry it with me forever!

 

BTC: What was your favorite book as a child? Do you have a favorite Newbery winner?

JW: As a kid, without question my favorite Newbery book, and still one of my favorite books of all time, is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.

 

Most of the time in recent years, because I read a lot of children’s books, I have read the Newbery before it was announced. The one that made me the happiest was Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. I’m also a big fan of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.
But that’s another difference between OBSERVING and picking a winner. “Which book did you like best” is NOT a criteria. You can angle it and say “The plot was developed so well” or etc., but it really doesn’t matter if you LIKE it. You have to be impartial and unemotional and just say “DID THIS WORK?”

 

I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.


 
 

Crooked Kingdom

posted by: January 17, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for Crooked KingdomCrooked Kingdom is Leigh Bardugo’s second near-perfect and engaging venture into the city of Ketterdam, and her fifth foray into the world first introduced in her bestselling Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising). I’ll freely admit that the Grisha trilogy was not my cup of tea at all, but Six of Crows (Bardugo’s first book in the duology of the same name) was easily my favorite read of 2015. Ketterdam, the cosmopolitan capitol city of Dutch Republic-inspired Kerch, is a vibrant combination of Amsterdam, Las Vegas and New York; a bustling hub of education, trade and crime. It’s in the Barrelthe lascivious, indulgent entertainment district of Ketterdam that Kaz Brekker’s gang of criminals, outcasts and misfits find themselves reeling from the events of the previous book. The Six of Crows duology is not two stories, but one long epic told in two parts.

 

The greatest strength of both books is easily the characters, but that’s more a testament of how fully realized and interesting they are than it is a condemnation of any other aspect. As the glue and primary motivating force of the narrative events, Kaz is somehow equal parts sympathetic and unsettling and is easily the best teen protagonist I’ve ever encountered.

 

Six of Crows has a split focus, however, with every chapter focusing on the perspective of a different character. I’m not usually a fan of this technique, as in my experience there are always some weaker characters that drag down the flow and only leave you longing for the chapters of characters you enjoy. I’m happy to report that Leigh Bardugo proved me wrong. Not one of these six perspectives is any less enjoyable or dynamic than the others. The story slips between them easily and feels completely natural, and Bardugo weaves the different threads of this narrative together seamlessly.

 

The first book is, in essence, a heist story with a fantasy twist, but as fans of the genre know, a good heist story doesn't end when the job does. There are always betrayals, broken hearts or some other complications that throw a wrench into the plan. Crooked Kingdom is no exception, as we see Kaz’s gang playing defense for the majority of the book in a definite departure from Six of Crows, where they successfully pulled of the biggest heist in the Grishaverse’s history. The second book is about survival , though Kaz Brekker wouldn’t be Kaz Brekker if he couldn’t spin a profit out of the situation. It’s fitting that Crooked Kingdom takes place on an island that worships the god of trade and deals, since nothing is without a price, not even the reader’s enjoyment of the book. By the end it exacts a heavy toll on the audience, and I found myself tearing up more than once.

 

I would (and do) recommend the Six of Crows duology to anyone and everyone, not just readers who enjoy fantasy, crime novels or teen books. Crooked Kingdom is my favorite book of 2016, just as its predecessor occupied that spot in 2015. These books truly do contain something for everyone, and I was disappointed to discover that this would not be another trilogy. Fortunately, I get the impression that Leigh Bardugo is far from done with the Grishaverse or Kaz’s Crows. You can keep up with her work and learn more about her worlds on the Leigh Bardugo website and, trust me, she’s very worth following on Twitter.


 
 

My Life, My Love, My Legacy

posted by: January 16, 2017 - 1:35pm

Cover art for My Life, My Love, My LegacyAt the end of her life, Coretta Scott King shared her story with close friend, Barbara Reynolds, an ordained minister and journalist who was on USA Today’s founding editorial team. In her introduction to My Life, My Love, My Legacy, King notes that “There is a Mrs. King. There is also Coretta. Now I think it is time you knew Coretta.” Based on a series of interviews between Reynolds and King dating back to 1975, this is a detailed tribute to an elegant woman who played an important role in American history.  

 

Coretta was born in the segregated town of Heiberger, Alabama, in 1927, where she and her family were regularly victims of racial harassment, including the burning of their house when she was 15. She found her escape from the South when she was one of the first black scholarship students at Antioch College in Ohio. She later followed her musical passion to the New England Conservatory in Boston. It was in Boston where she met the minister from Atlanta, whom she first thought to be “too short.” Coretta wanted to be a concert singer and definitely wanted to live in the more accepting North, but Martin Luther King Jr. wanted her to marry him and battle the segregated South on the front lines with him.

 

They did marry, and she was committed to his mission, all while raising their four children. Coretta is candid when talking about difficult topics, such as her husband’s rumored infidelity and her frustrations with the sexist leadership at the helm of the movement. Following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, we see that Coretta’s political activism and spiritual commitment only grew. This is the story of a loving wife, a devoted mother and a brave leader in America’s civil rights movement.

 

Are you doing BCPL’s Reading Challenge? This would be a great one for January’s challenge. Don’t forget to take a picture of yourself with the book and submit your entry by visiting Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and post or tweet the photo with the hashtag #bwellread. Camera-shy participants may post a photograph of the book they’ve chosen.


 
 

Overcoming Distractions

posted by: January 11, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for Overcoming DistractionsAttention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often discussed as it pertains to children, such as how to deal with your ADHD child or how to help an ADHD student. David A. Greenwood discusses the learning disability with respect to adults in Overcoming Distractions: Thriving with Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. As someone who has the disorder himself, Greenwood talks about his start in life and all of the difficulties associated with ADHD. He was able to find a way to make his ADHD work for him and became a successful, self-employed businessman.

 

As Greenwood states, ADHD is often seen in terms of its negative aspects — those who live with it are often easily distracted, procrastinate, have a lack of organization and the tendency to be late and forget things. However, he also discusses the many positives that can be beneficial to those with ADHD, such as being creative and having the ability to “hyperfocus.” He also gives plenty of advice and tips on how to deal with the more negative aspects as well. Greenwood mentions that having a solid foundation and getting proper amounts of sleep and exercise are suggested as ways to deal with the struggles encountered with ADHD.

 

Overcoming Distractions is a well-researched, organized and easy-to-read book that offers a lot of information and advice for adults who struggle with varying types of ADHD, and even those who don’t. Though Greenwood begins with his own experiences, he also brings together information and experiences from a wide range of people who experience adult ADHD, and frequently mentions other resources that he uses himself. Adults with ADHD, may find the tips and suggestions in this book helpful.

 


 
 

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo

posted by: January 9, 2017 - 7:00am

The Creepy Case Files of Margot MalooEverything that’s new is scary when you’re a kid. Everyone remembers how hard it is to try new food, make new friends or move to new places. But what if you found out that your new neighbors really were monsters? That’s where Charles finds himself in Drew Weing’s excellent all-ages story The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo.

 

Charles is a conservative kid. Like really conservative. He even has his own conspiracy blog. He hates foreign food, art museums, opera and he especially hates the monster that lives in his closet. No one believes it’s real, but luckily Charles meets someone who does: monster expert Margo Maloo. Together they journey into the troll’s lair, expecting to “take him out,” but in a surprise twist, Margo knows him! His name’s Marcus. He’s actually a pretty cool guy.

 

It turns out that Margo is more of a monster mediator than a monster hunter. This means that sometimes she helps kids get rid of monsters, but more often it’s the other way around. We discover that monsters of the city have their own secret community whose way of life is under constant threat from encroaching humans. As Margo drags Charles along on a number of adventures involving these friendly neighborhood ghosts, goblins and ogres, he learns to be more open-minded toward his new and scary neighbors.

 

Inspired by '70s kid lit like Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Cricket in Times Square, Margo Maloo is an imaginative mystery comic with a strong message of empathy. To stay up to date on Margo’s whereabouts, make sure you follow her faithful assistant Charles F. Thompson on Twitter.


 
 

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