• Featured Graphic Novels

Staff Review: Afterparty

By Daryl Gregory
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Reviewed by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Daryl Gregory’s novel is not about drug use, religion or the future … Or, technically, it’s about all of these things. But it’s also about relationships, love, what it means to be alive and breathing. But at its heart (and it does have one of those, a rather big one, too), Afterparty is about what’s real.

Most of the novel is told from Lyda’s point of view. She’s a partial creator of a drug which seems to be making an appearance on the street. This drug, originally created to be helpful, has the strangest result from an overdose – a person gets religion. But, if it’s caused by a drug, is that religion at all? Lyda doesn’t think so, after all, the god she sees is a hallucination.

As one of the creators of the drug, Lyda’s determined to stop its spread. There’s only one problem: she’s in a mental hospital.

Afterparty follows Lyda on her journey – of love, self-discovery, loathing, redemption and, ultimately, the truth. Gregory sprinkles the story with a few cleverly written pop culture references as well as additional points of view. He picks many of our side characters and turns them, if briefly, into main characters. He gives us just enough clues to lead us to the answers that Lyda’s searching for (some many find them before she does, though I didn’t).

The book blew my mind in a few places. The world that Lyda lives in is close enough to our own that, aside from the ability to print drugs on demand, it could be our own. But at its heart, it’s a science fiction novel (which is where you’ll find it on our shelves). Afterparty is reminiscent of William Gibson’s (informal) series: Blue Ant Trilogy and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital series (near-future science fiction that takes place in worlds similar to our own – I highly recommend both of these series).

Gregory’s book is clever and entertaining, but it’s a little deeper than that. We’re given a close look at our future (although the novel is mostly set in Canada, it could be, in some ways, any technologically advance country/large city) and it’s not pretty. But Afterparty is not devoid of hope -- we do find an answer to what’s real and we’re left wondering if it even matters at all.

Staff Review: Hyperbole and a Half

By Allie Brosh
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Sometimes books just speak to us. They somehow encompass parts of our lives that we never even realized needed to be addressed. Allie Brosh’s book Hyperbole and a Half is one of those books. Originally started as a blog (you can find posts not included in the book on her blog), Brosh’s drawings turned into a strange kind of web comic. Except it wasn’t a story about aliens or superheroes she was telling, it was her own story.

Hyperbole and a Halfis, in a way, a biography, but it’s so much more (and you can find the library’s copies in the graphic novel collection). Brosh covers plenty of different topics (and there are few in the book that weren’t originally on her blog). Many of her stories talk about her childhood and how she ended up the way she is today. But some of her best drawings and stories are those that everyone can related to. Especially her sections on depression and being an adult.

Brosh’s drawings might seem crude, but they are anything but. She manages to make her words come alive with the pictures. She displays lots of emotion through what appear to be drawings done in paint. It’s not just the drawings or her writing that makes the book good, instead, it’s the combination of both and the fact that we can all find things in Brosh’s stories that we can identify with.

Hyperbole and a Half is for everyone. It’s funny, heartbreaking and serious – sometimes all at once. And when you finish, you’ll want to start all over again. Don’t forget to check out her blog and to clean all the things! (Trust me, you’ll get that one eventually.)

Staff Review: The Martian

By Andy Weir
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Andy Weir’s novel about Mars isn’t really about Mars. Or Aliens. Or science fiction the way we’re used to thinking about it. Instead, The Martian is about the human condition. It’s about survival and using what we know in order to survive when, well, everything thinks we’re already dead. You see, The Martian is about a man who accidentally gets stranded on Mars. No, really. You’re going to love this book.

Originally released in 2011 as an ebook, The Martian follows the story of Mark Watney, botanist and mechanical engineer. He’s part of a crew going to Mars. When something goes wrong and the crew has to abandon their mission, Watney accidentally gets left behind. He thinks he’s dead (at first, obviously) and his crew thinks he’s dead as well. But he’s not. What he is, though, is stuck on Mars.

I’m not going to tell you what happens, suffice to say that Watney does a lot MacGyvering, science and math (as part of SF author John Scalzi’s Big Idea project, Weir wrote up a post talking about math and his novel). What results is a really fun novel. It puts the science back in science fiction (though you can find the library’s copy in our fiction collection), which is especially poignant because the novel is set in a future that might end up being like ours.

The Martian is incredibly enjoyable and entertainingly written. Watney, and the few other characters we meet, are interesting and compelling. We follow Watney through a lot of hardship and Weir makes everything believable. He also does a fantastic job mixing humor (there are a lot of pop culture references that both young and old will appreciate) with desperation (after all, Watney is stuck on Mars, alone!).

Even if you don’t like science fiction, you should check out The Martian. It’s real in a way so few SF books are. You won’t regret it, I promise!

Staff Review: I Remember You

By Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Good ghost stories are hard to find. Luckily, Sigurðardóttir’s novel is one of them. Set in Iceland, mostly on a remote island, I Remember Youis the story of a ghost and the people who stumble onto him. The story follows three 20/30 somethings on what begins as a harmless enough quest. The two women and one man must take a boat to the island, where they’ll be staying for a week. Their goal is to start work on a house they’ve purchased together. Originally, there were four, but the husband of one of the women died .Their trip begins poorly and, in spite of their best efforts (or perhaps because of them), goes downhill.

Sigurðardóttir’s writing is excellent and her sense of humor, which is found in her Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series (also available in our collection) manages to find its way into the horrors of I Remember You. Our three doomed 20/30 sometimes aren’t the only characters in this story. The island has a history of its own, which we’re given through the eyes of a psychiatrist. Sigurðardóttir weaves these three stories (the psychiatrist, the three people on the island and the island’s history) into a complicated (though not confusing) ghost story.

The novel is best read in broad daylight, unless you want to scare yourself silly. It’s not a horror story in the obvious sense, it’s what you don’t see (or what you hear) that’ll get you. An enjoyed, exciting and yes, slightly terrifying read. If you’re a fan of Johan Theorin and John Ajvide Lindqvist’s books, you’ll love I Remember You. If you’re a fan of Sigurðardóttir’s writing style and don’t mind a ghost story, you’ll also love it. And, of course, if you liked Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger, chances are you’ll enjoy this one, too.

Staff Review: Boxers & Saints

By Gene Luen Yang
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Available in two volumes or as a complete set, Yang’s graphic novels tells the story of two young adults growing up in China in the late 1890s. The two volumes follow their characters as their paths cross on several occasions. You can read them in whatever order you like, I read Boxers first and then Saints, but it doesn’t matter.

The volume Boxers is the story of Little Bao. He’s living in rural China when his village has run-ins with foreigners and Christians. Little Bao, tired of watching people he love be injured and die, decides to take things into his own hands. He learns to harness the powers of ancient Chinese gods and then becomes a leader to fight back against the Christians. In Boxers, the Christians and foreigners are portrayed as people bent on ruining the lives of the Chinese peasants. It was these events that led to the Boxer Rebellion (you can learn more about the Boxer Rebellion in the library).

Saints, on the other hand, tells the story of Four-Girl. She, like Little Bao, is living in rural China. But unlike the star of Boxers, Four-Girl’s life is miserable for different reasons. She’s the fourth daughter and not even given a name. Eventually she ends up finding an odd little family through Christians she runs into (both Chinese and Foreign) and renames herself Vibiana. But, as we learned in Boxers, all is not well for Christians in China. Vibiana, like Little Bao, must decide how she wants to handle the attack on her way of life. In Saints, it is the Chinese nationalists who are portrayed as people bent on ruining the lives of the Christians.

Neither Boxers nor Saintstells us how to feel. Instead, Yang takes the opportunity to educate us in his own unique, blending the fantastic with the real. Little Bao and Vibiana’s lives cross, both with the supernatural (Chinese gods in Little Bao’s case and the ghost of Joan of Arc in Vibiana’s) and with each other. The stories are not happy, but then again, the end of the Qing Dynasty wasn’t a happy time.

The graphic novels, though written for teens, are located in our adult graphic novel collection. There is violence, the Boxer Rebellion was akin to war. But Yang’s illustrations are truly fantastic, making this both a moving and educational read.

Staff Review: The Ghost Bride

By Yangsze Choo
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Recommended to me by a friend, this debut novel set in colonial Malaysia is more than just a ghost story. It's also the story of a strange, otherworldly romance (of a kind). The novel is about Li Lan, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant who was once quite wealthy. For a variety of reasons, her family has lost all their money and are now just barely making ends meet. One day, Li Lan's father asks her if she'd like to be a ghost bride -- and that's just the beginning of the story.

Ghost marriages, Li Lan tells us, are commonly for couples who have both died young. But in her case, she's still alive and is asked to marry the dead son of the Lim family -- who are very rich. If she were to consent to the marriage, her family would be able to survive in a much more comfortable fashion. Li Lan's adventures begin when she starts seeing her fiancé (Tian Bai) in her dreams as he attempts to seduce her. But the story doesn't in there, as Li Lan drifts further and further into the spirit world, she begins to uncover secrets she was never meant to know -- those about her mother and the Lim family she is to be married into.

Yangsze Choo's writing is exceptional, especially considering this is her debut novel. Li Lan is a sympathetic character and you want things to work out for her. Choo's descriptions of Malaysia (both the real world that Li Lan lives in and the sprit world she's caught up in) are vivid and engrossing. Li Lan's struggles with Tian Bai (her supposed fiancé) are the driving force behind the novel, but they are not the only force. Choo gives us an alternative to Tian Bai found in Li Lan's guardian spirit Er Lang.

Those looking for fantasy with a twist of romance will enjoy the unexpected relationship and banter that develops between Er Lang and Li Lan. Choo's characters are so exquisitely written that we cannot help being caught up in their stories (from the Lim family's deceptions to the woman who raised Li Lan). The Ghost Bride is a both a romance and a mystery. Li Lan must force herself to grow up and decide just how much of her life (if any) she's willing to sacrifice. Even if you have no interest in ghost stories, pick upThe Ghost Bride. It'll suck you right in and you won't great your time.

Staff Review: Wheelmen

By Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

If you know nothing about the sport of professional cycling, you know the name Lance Armstrong. During the late 90s and early 2000s, his name was everywhere. He endorsed everything from Nike to ESPN to the USPS. You also knew he'd won seven yellow jerseys at some race called the Tour de France. If you were a casual fan of cycling and and American, chances were you were also a fan of Armstrong. If you were a hardcore cycling fan (as your reviewer was), you probably weren't a fan -- but you could respect what he did for the sport. 

Over the past few years, since Armstrong's final retirement from professional cycling, he's had a rather spectacular fall from grace. Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell, journalists for the Wall Street Journal, spent several years trying to get to the truth of Armstrong and what would be his eventual downfall -- doping. Their book, Wheelmen, is the fruit of their efforts. They gathered all sorts of evidence, conducted many interviews and poured over transcripts, court proceedings and everything in between. What results is a spectacular story that could only ever happen in the sport of professional cycling. 

You need not know a thing about professional cycling to read and appreciate Wheelmen. Albergotti and O'Connell do an excellent job striking a balance between those of us who know and understand professional cycling and everyone else. Their book is less about the sport than it is about Armstrong, but it's not even just about Armstrong. It's about how doping shamed one man's career and how it brought down the sport of cycling n the United States (it's still going strong elsewhere in the world). 

If you like a good sports conspiracy or you like exploring the at times seedy underbelly of professional sports, Wheelmen has a lot to offer. If you're looking for the truth -- about Armstrong and about doping, Wheelmen will also be just what you're looking for. But you don't have to be a cycling fan, or even a sports fan, to appreciate the work that went into the book or the book itself. It's a good, if depressing, read and well worth your time and effort. 

Staff Review: Five Star Billionaire

By Tash Aw
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Before picking up Tash Aw's novel, I'd never read any of his books. It was the cover, of all things, that attracted me to the novel. As someone who's interested in Chinese pop culture, a novel that involved a pop star intrigued me. I got more than just that story, of course. Five Star Billionaire is more than just a novel about one person, instead, it's the lives of five young adults who end up in Shanghai for various reasons. The novel is told in alternating chapters, with the billionaire of the title inserting himself occasionally into the storyline, though his presence grows as the novel progresses. Although the stories are independent, they share a few things in common (not just the location). They are all stories of growth (though not always for the good).

What makes Five Star Billionaire so good is Aw's ability to weave all of his stories together into one elaborate narrative. Although the characters who narrate the story never quite come in contact with each other (save through the billionaire himself), Aw manages to make it clear that they are all connected. He builds each of the character's lives in such a way that we care about them -- and so we can recognize them (they often go unnamed when they appear outside of their individual stories).

Throughout the novel, Aw sprinkles tidbits of Chinese (and Taiwanese) pop culture which many people won't recognize -- and it won't take away from your enjoyment of the novel. But for the people who do (and I caught some, though not all, of the references) it's one more thing that makes Aw's book so good. Where Kevin Kawon's Crazy Rich Asians (about Chinese immigrants to Singapore and old money) is an amusing romp through the worlds of the uber rich, Five Star Billionaire is a study in new money and trying to make money in the fast moving world of Mainland China. That's not to say that it's not fun or funny, because it is. But there's a hint of desperation that runs deep throughout all of the characters in Five Star Billionaire (including our billionaire himself).

The conclusion to the novel comes swift and while each story resolves in one way or the other, Gary's story (the pop star) was my favorite. Highly recommended, especially if you have an interest in China. But even if you don't, Aw's story shares the universal desire to better oneself and fulfill your dreams, even if sometimes those things are at odds with each other.

Staff Review: Sunny, Vol. 1

By Taiyo Matsumoto
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Taiyo Matsumoto's newest series to be translated into English is Sunny. The second volume comes out at the end of 2013 and third in 2014. Sunny is about kids, but it is not for kids. It's the story of kids (young adults to little kids) who live in what appears to be a foster home, called Star Kids. Matsumoto fills the home with kids who are from different walks of life, but who all have their own sets of problems. The first volume of Sunny explores these stories, but leaves you longing for more (and luckily we'll be getting more).

While the story (like much of Taiyo Matsumoto's work) is strong, it's really the illustrations that bring the book to life. The graphic novel itself is in black and white, as with most manga. But sprinklered through out the story are panels that are in vivid colors -- it makes you feel like the whole thing is in color. Taiyo Matsumoto's drawing is exceptional and his characters are as real as if you were watching them on screen.

The home is the central location of the first volume, but the title comes from the car many of the children hide in. It's named Sunny and serves as a clubhouse/safe place to hide, to smoke to pretend the kids are anywhere else. The stories take place in and around Sunny, as much as they take place in and around the home. We get a glimpse into the lives of these children, and while many of them are miserable, they are full of life.

If you like Sunny, look forward to the new volumes and be sure to check out Taiyo Matsumoto's other works, they're different from Sunny but the art and stories are always excellent.


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