Many readers will be surprised to learn that Raina Telgemeier is one of the most successful graphic novelists working today. Her comics may not be the stuff of spectacular blockbuster movie adaptations, but she has an uncanny eye for the subtleties of school age friendships, romantic relationships and the pain of braces (which hits especially close to home for me). She connects with readers — especially young ones — and this has led to her books outselling popular comics like The Walking Dead or whichever superhero book Marvel or DC are pushing this week. Telgemeier outpaces them with personal, self-contained stories about children and, with her new book Ghosts, Telgemeier has taken yet another step forward as a storyteller. Retaining her signature warmth and breezy humor, her subjects now include death, family illness and ghosts.
Ghosts follows a family who’s just moved to Bahía de la Luna, a seaside town whose ocean air is especially good for Maya, the youngest daughter who has cystic fibrosis. But the protagonist of the story is Catrina, Maya’s older teenage sister.
Maya is a classic child, silly and wise. She has a peace with the world that’s hard to retain when you become Catrina’s age. But Bahía de la Luna is not your average town, and the girls begin spotting ghosts and real-life spooky, scary skeletons. Maya has questions for the ghosts, but Catrina is terrified of them and the uncomfortable feelings they stir up about her sister’s health. Through many lessons, Catrina will learn that inviting ghosts into her life may be the healthiest thing she can do.
Ghosts is the perfect all-ages read, full of beautiful landscapes, cartoonish humor and wisdom. Leave it to Telgemeier to take the heaviest of subject matter and make it jovial.
Call me superficial, but I love a really pretty book. This is especially true for children’s books. What better way to lure young readers in than an eye-catching cover or page after page of cool illustrations? Of course, in order to truly live up to my exacting standards, it must have some substance too. I've recently become obsessed with Flying Eye Books, an imprint of Nobrow Press because they never disappoint me. They are always stylishly composed and fun to read.
Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey is an amazing example of nonfiction for children. It presents readers with weird and fascinating facts as well as lots of practical information on things like shark anatomy, social habits and even some of the mythology surrounding this mysterious predator. The author includes a section on species endangerment and simple ways to keep their habitats safe. However, the illustrations really steal the spotlight. Each page is like a print I would hang in my house, featuring underwater scenes and infographics that are as useful as they are nice to look at. They are especially useful for helping young readers make sense of all the information. My favorite panel shows a kayaker paddling at the top of the page with an assortment of sharks in the water beneath, all drawn to scale. It is a great way to begin to imagine how many differences there can be in one species.
One Day on Our Blue Planet…in the Antarctic is a picture book that introduces kids to a day in the life of a penguin named Adélie, also the name of a common species of penguin living on the Antarctic coast. Through her adventures, author Ella Bailey teaches us about the other animals in Adélie's habitat, like seals, whales, squids and krill. The sentences are simple and sparse, but children will discover a ton of information about life in Antarctica through the illustrations. While they are stylistically simple, there is so much cool stuff happening on each page, it's sure to pique young readers’ interest. The end pages also feature each of the species making an appearance along with its name.
These two stylish books are great for kids interested in the natural world, and they are sure to prompt further investigation. Both are part of a series, so be sure to check out other works from these authors.
What could possibly go wrong at an ordinary neighborhood barbecue? In Liane Moriarty’s latest novel Truly Madly Guilty, we meet three families left reeling after a horrible occurrence at a friendly backyard get-together.
Set in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, Truly Madly Guilty follows thirtysomething Clementine, a freelance cellist preparing to audition with the Sydney orchestra; Erika, Clementine’s very organized and slightly OCD childhood friend; and Tiffany, Erika’s sultry next door neighbor who has a secret past.
Clementine is married to Sam and has two young daughters, Holly and Ruby. Clementine and Sam once had a loving and communicative relationship, but now they barely speak to each other. They both feel guilty and blame each other for what happened at the barbecue. Erika, who plans everything, is the child of a hoarder and lives a structured and organized life with her socially anxious husband Oliver. Erika accidently became intoxicated during the barbecue, leading her to question her recollections of what happened that night. Meanwhile, the hosts of the unfortunate barbecue are fun-loving and carefree couple Vid and Tiffany. Though they have seemingly moved on from what took place in their backyard that day, their 10-year-old daughter Dakota has been acting strangely lately, showing symptoms of depression.
Told through interwoven narratives, Moriarty flips back and forth between the present-day barbecue and the day of the tragedy. The story gradually builds to what actually happened, keeping readers guessing until the heart wrenching reveal. Truly Madly Guilty encompasses elements of both mystery and suspense, but is ultimately an examination of adult friendships, the fragility of marriages and the way feelings of guilt can overtake our lives.
You always wanted a sequel, and here it is. Dark, weird, confusing and fascinating are all words to describe this head-bending follow up. What Chuck Palahniuk began in Fight Club, he brings full circle in Fight Club 2, and he does so with panache.
The book starts several years into the future. The Narrator is now married to Marla, and they have a child. But things are not as joyful as they seem. There are worms in the apple, and things start to fall apart quickly. Palahniuk’s prose is seductive and grand; he posits ideas and immediately pivots to shred them. How powerful is an idea; can it survive the thinker? Can it pass from one generation to the next? These are the sorts of questions that Fight Club 2 demands we answer, all while it assails us with an ideology of violent revolution that’s intended to free our souls from this corporate purgatory we inhabit. Certainly, this book makes clear above anything else that Tyler Durden’s nihilistic philosophy is as juvenile as it is empty.
In the end, the questions will linger longer than the answers, and the reader may be left wondering if anything was really answered at all. But for diehard Palahniuk and Fight Club fans, this is a must read regardless. All you can do is strap in and enjoy one more wild ride. If you enjoyed this and you haven’t read the original, you absolutely should pick it up and give it a read.
If you’re a graphic novel fan, you should also consider Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, another tale of violent revolution. For something a little less violent, Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor tells the story of a young man whose story goes from mundane to mystical and poses a lot of similar questions about our lives and what they mean. Fans of the original book should consider Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, which similarly examines the sort of corporate prisons we build and what they do to us, or Charles Heller’s Catch-22, which take a little more roundabout route to examining man’s inhumanity to man and the effects of that violence on the soul.
Crooked dealers. Forgeries. Thefts. Looted antiquities. Readers will find it all in Gary Vikan’s highly readable and entertaining new memoir, Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director. The distinguished medieval scholar and former director of the Walters Art Museum recently answered questions for Between the Covers in advance of his book talk at the Hereford Branch on December 4 at 2 p.m.
Between the Covers: Your new memoir, Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director, provides an insightful, often humorous look behind the scenes of the art world. What prompted you to share these stories with the public?
Gary Vikan: Over the years I became increasingly interested, as I gave tours of the Walters, in telling the stories behind the works of art — stories that are distinct from their art-historical narrative. Most works have a story, many are very interesting — and some straight-out scandalous.
BTC: Shady dealings, sketchy characters, stolen art — you cover it all. Did you worry you were saying too much?
GV: Not at all. Maybe not enough. My lectures on the book can go into that other territory.
BTC: Museums have to connect with people. How has the art experience for the public changed since you got into the business?
GV: I initially thought my job was to educate my audience. Now I think my job is to listen to my audience, and to meet them where they are. Ideally, I can create for them a setting in which works of art of the past can do their magic.
BTC: From 1994 to 2013, you were the director of the Walters Art Museum. What accomplishments are you most proud?
GV: We went free in 2006. That is what museums should be: FREE.
BTC: Of all the exhibitions you’ve curated during your career, do you have a favorite?
GV: Yes, Holy Image, Holy Space: Icons and Frescoes from Greece in 1988. It was the first major icon show in the U.S., and it was the first time I was able to empower the works fully in my installation.. People kissed the Plexiglas of the cases containing the icons.
BTC: You speak about the “Wild West” days of collecting when not a lot of questions were asked about the provenance of pieces. Where are we today with the trail of looted antiquities and threat to the world’s cultural heritage?
GV: We’re in what I call the “Post-Loot” age. I can tell that by what is NOT coming out of Syria and Iraq. Like our tobacco culture, our loot culture has changed profoundly over the last 30 years.
BTC: What do you see as the next challenges for museums?
GV: Being meaningful for audiences, and playing a meaningful role in addressing social justice and social ills. To be a player in healing.
BTC: You have a knack for telling an engaging story. Are there any plans to write a fictional whodunit set in the art world?
GV: Nope, because my reality is stranger than fiction. My next book is titled: The Shroud: Case Closed. And guess what, I prove the Shroud of Turin is a FAKE!
I have always fancied myself a baker, so I couldn’t wait to dig my teeth into Anne Byrn’s American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-loved Cakes from Past to Present. In her latest, Byrn, the best-selling author of Cake Mix Doctor (which has one of my favorite, go to cake recipes — Chocolate Kahlua Cake), not only gives you delicious recipes, but the history behind some of your favorite cakes as well.
The book starts with baking in America in the mid-1600s and continues through the present. Home bakers did not always have modern day appliances, but they still baked wonderful cakes. There were times when some of the ingredients were scarce and people had to improvise, which, according to Byrn, is the mark of a good baker. We learn that early cake baking was done by the wealthy because the ingredients were expensive. Each recipe comes with a brief history. Maryland’s own Smith Island Cake has an entry. There were “war cakes” and “Depression cakes,” which were made without eggs, sugar or butter due to unavailability or rationing. Post-World War II, fictional character Betty Crocker had a large influence on women with her cake mixes and cookbooks.
American Cake tells the story of our nation’s history through my favorite treat, cake. Don’t worry, you don’t have to cook over an open fire — Byrn has updated the recipes for our modern bakers. Many of these recipes will be in my baking rotation. Happy baking and more importantly, happy eating.
Fall down the rabbit hole and into a topsy-turvy world of nonsense, beauty and adventure in Tahereh Mafi’s Furthermore, a modern-day tribute to the classic Alice in Wonderland.
Alice Alexis Queensmeadow, about to turn 12 years old, has little to do aside from munching on tulips, watching the sun pour rainlight over her homeland of Ferenwood and practicing for the Surrender — an event where all Ferenwood children in their 12th year demonstrate their magical talents for the town elders and are subsequently assigned a special, secret task. Those things, and, of course, her missing father is on her mind. The last time anyone saw him, he was journeying outside of Ferenwood with nothing but the clothes on his back and a ruler in his pocket. Now two years later, his anguished family has all but given up on his return.
That is until Oliver, a not-so-friendly friend from Alice’s past, suddenly reappears with a proposition for her: If Alice will help him with his task, a dangerous mission that will lead them deep within the realm of Furthermore, he will tell her where her father is.
Desperate to be reunited with her father, Alice follows Oliver into Furthermore, a dangerous land full of rules, riddles and remarkable residents. The only question is: Will they survive it?
Tahereh Mafi, author of the teen romance trilogy Shatter Me, has once again delivered a unique reading experience. An interactive narrator, her beautiful, poetic writing makes for a touching, funny and truly satisfying read.