Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Pairings: Fierce Femmes of Lore

Reading about historical women, fact & fiction, in Pénélope Bagieu’s graphic novel Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World and in Joy McCullough’s older teen book in verse, Blood Water Paint.

Valerie P., Teen Library Assistant

It’s obviously part of my job to read as many books as possible, so I can give the best recommendations to folks that are interested in the widest variety of topics, niche and otherwise. However, lots of the time I don’t actually have much time to actually… read (!). Because our libraries are so busy, a lot of my time off of the reference desk gets eaten up by planning programs like storytime and Teen Tuesdays, problem solving technical issues, and getting people excited about coming to the library! So, how do I stay on top of what the coolest most interesting books are?? I read a lot of reviews and am on a ton of email lists from professional book reviewers (*insert heart eyed emoji here*), so I can 1) be aware of what’s out there and fresh and 2) wisely decide which books to spend my valuable time reading. I am very selective about what books I actually sit and read all the way through, just because there are so many books that look so good, and I have to guard the time that I do have!

But actually, for both of the books that I’m going to rave about today, no one recommended them to me! They just snuck up on me and jumped on my back and wouldn’t let go until I read them!! THEY WERE BOTH AMAZING AND QUICK AND EASY AND YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY CHECK THEM OUT!

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu

For the Francophiles out there, this graphic novel was originally released in two parts in French, called “Les Culottées”. Now, I don’t speak French, but according to Google Translate, that translates to “the cheeky ones,” which I personally think is a great title. I guess the publishers thought “Brazen” would sell better or whatever. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Excerpt from Bagieu’s “Brazen” (2018): Katia Krafft, Volcanologist

Regardless, French artist/author Pénélope Bagieu did an amazing job with it, and it covers thirty women – trans women, cis women, lesbian women, bi women, straight women, Black women, Asian women, Native American women, Middle Eastern women, white women, autistic women, disabled women. There was a woman or three that I had learned about in my schooling – and I have a Master’s Degree in Women and Gender Studies – but mostly women I had never heard of before, all women who had done something really super cool, and things that SHOULD HAVE been included in my education! There were also more long dead as well as still living women included that I had expected there to be.

The art is beautiful throughout, and I kept wanting to buy prints to cover the walls of my room with them, and the book overall was inspirational, fun, and light – and helped me get out of a funk I had been in. HIGHLY recommended for everyone to check out! 🙂

Also also also!! I just learned that apparently they made/are making a TV show based on this book for French television, consisting of thirty 3 minute episodes, done with a different artist. Maybe soon there will be an English translation, or you could use it to learn some French! 😉 Learn more about the series and its performance at film festivals here.

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

trigger warning: this book contains instances of sexual assault, parental abuse, & misogyny

Another really awesome famous woman who happens to be super dead now is Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian painter who lived in 17th century Italy. I mostly know her from this really cool piece of art, Judith and Holofernes, which is actually one of my favorite paintings from the Baroque movement (which lasted from the early 17th until the mid-18th century). I think one of the reasons that I like it so much is because it is a depiction of a scene from a Biblical story that has been done by other artists, but the way that Artemisia does it is so different, so much more real and full of emotion. Look at the expression on Judith’s face, and the muscles in her arms, how you can see her leaning back so she doesn’t get hit with the blood that’s squirting everywhere. ISN’T THAT COOL?!? Relatedly, for more information on her growth as an artist and an examination of the differences between her two paintings, below, check out this blog post “Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes” by Dr. Esperanca Camara on SMARTHISTORY.ORG.

But like, aside from this cool work of art that I learned about when I was in high school, and was then lucky enough to SEE IN PERSON in a trip to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, I knew nothing else about Gentileschi – until I read this book!



Left: Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith beheading Holofernes, 1611-12, oil on canvas, 159 x 126 cm (Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples); and right: Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and Holofernes, 1620-21, oil on canvas, 162.5 x 199 cm (Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

Joy McCullough, the author of Blood Water Paint, actually first wrote this book as a play, which was staged in 2015 in Seattle and I’m super jealous of the folks that got to see it because it looks like it was really awesome! The book is actually mostly in verse – which means it looks like poetry – which can be a little intimidating if you’re not used to reading poetry or books in verse, but it’s actually really great and easy to read, with the format of the text heightening Artemisia’s emotions.

Because yes, Blood Water Paint is actually about Artemisia when she was a teen, and still learning how to paint, still learning about her place in 17th century Italy’s society. In the book, Artemisia is living with her father, who is a master painter, but Artemisia’s skills have actually surpassed her father’s, so she’s doing his work for him and signing his name on the art, to keep money coming in. Her mother died when she was small, and she doesn’t really have anyone to confide in. However, she still remembers the stories that her mother told her about other strong women, and she uses them to give her strength when times get tough. So when her father uses Artemisia’s youth and beauty to get her a spot working under a more respected artist who is in town working on a big ($$$) job, Artemisia is excited about the opportunity, and hopes that this handsome man can teach her how to paint perspectives. Unfortunately, being a woman has never been easy, and when those that she trusts take advantage of her, she has to make some hard decisions.

This book was powerful in a different way from Brazen, and particularly timely, as I happened to be reading it as more and more people were speaking out about their experiences of sexual assault. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone that feels able to read it. 

If you or a person you love are a victim of sexual assault and need someone to talk to, know that there are helplines and support systems in place. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 800.656.HOPE (4673), or log on to the RAINN site at centers.rainn.org to find a local service provider who can help you with counseling, legal advocacy, healthcare, and more.

Cover of the Virago Modern Classics edition, with the title in gold above bright red flowers.

Teen Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Page Count: 386

Genre: Crime, Gothic Romance, and Mystery

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Reading Level: High school and beyond

Review by: M.L., a local high school junior

            Rebecca is bursting with mystery and suspense throughout the book. The main characters are Rebecca, the Narrator, and Maxim, who is the owner of Manderley. Rebecca’s mysterious death still haunts Maxim. The Narrator speaks in the novel, in chapters 1-2 is present day, while the other Chapters are foreshadowing the past that leads into Chapters 1-2 as you re-read the first two chapters which gives you a better understanding. I found Rebecca more and more intriguing as I read it.The mystery of the book kept unraveling as I kept reading which made me want more and solve the mystery. Rebecca is a Gothic romance novel which is my favorite genre. I like the way the early chapters are set up to urge you to read on. At first the set-up was weird but suspenseful. I love this book and I’ll read the novel again.

            I thought that the Narrator was naïve , I wanted to slap her into common sense and for her fight, but she is younger than Maxim. It was a new experience for her throughout the book. The Narrator doesn’t have a name in the book. I felt as the book can show you to grow in different ways in life and to never judge a book by its cover. Including learning about a person first before you jump into something serious or conclusions. I would recommend this book to readers that want mystery, dark romance, and suspense. I’ll rate Rebecca as a 4/5, because there are some parts that vaguely explain what’s going on in the novel but overall, a great novel that readers would love and enjoy.

Cover of "A Raisin in the Sun"

Guest Book Review: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

M.C., the reviewer, is a Junior in high school.

Book stats:

Number of pages: 151

Genre: Realistic fiction

Included in a series:  No

Estimated reading level: grades 8-high school

Summary:

This play, whose title is derived from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes, depicts the lives of the Younger family who live in Southside Chicago. Set in the 1950s, the family of five—Mama (Lena) Younger, Walter Lee Younger, Beneatha Younger, Ruth Younger, and Travis Younger—face a family crisis as a life insurance check of $10,000  is placed in the family’s possession from the deceased Walter Senior. Walter—son of Mama and Walter Senior, father of Travis, husband of Ruth and brother to Beneatha—works as a chauffeur for white men and wants to use the money to invest in a liquor store. Beneatha attends college and wants to become a doctor; to her, the money would be best spent paying for school, however she isn’t as forceful with the check as Walter is. Mama works as a housemaid for rich white families and would like to spend the money on moving out of their less-than ideal home into a bigger home. Ruth is a housewife and would also like to spend the insurance check on a bigger home.

With this crisis at hand, the family must decide how the money should be spent to benefit the family as a whole; along the way, many obstacles arise which need to be overcome by the family in order to thrive.

Personal opinions:  

I felt that many obstacles in this play were quite realistic and relatable; the issue of an undesirable financial status—an underlying theme in this play—is experienced by many across the world, while the desire to fulfill one’s dreams is the ultimate wish of many. All in all, this play was a short, light, and easy read which is always well-appreciated. Try it, who knows? You might like it!

Rating:  4 – better than most

High Concept and Low Concept

Sometimes, if you’re discussing books that you read, games that you play, shows that you watch, music you listen to – basically any media you consume – you need some specialized ideas and terms to help you describe and discuss it. “It was great” or “It was bad” or “I thought it was OK” are all very well and good, but it’s so much more satisfying if you can also talk about WHY you liked/disliked something. If you want to win arguments and impress your friends, remember your ABCs – Always Backup Criticism.

Have examples, of course, of things you like or don’t and why. But, sometimes, you need some special vocabulary and ideas in order to help you with your critique. That means it’s time to add another idea to your toolbox: high vs low concept. This is all about how much concept a work of art contains, not how good the concept is. Think of it as a matter of the amount the concept itself contributes to the total content of the work.

Jane Austen’s novels are generally low concept. The idea of the novels – that people in various economic circumstances need to get paired up (or not paired up, or not paired up the way they thought) – is nowhere near as important to the books as the interactions between the characters, which is why people read them. Here’s an example pie chart, based on a very precise and academic guesstimate:

There’s also works that split it pretty much right down the middle, generating interest in equal parts from the idea that drives them, as well as the execution of the plot and characters:

On the far end of the scale, there’s also works that are high concept – that get their interest mostly from the ideas that drive them. I can think of no better example than 18 Days, which breaks down about like this:

As I’ve probably mentioned before, the library has the concept art book, if you want a look at the idea, but, sadly, they didn’t get full funding for the series as it was originally conceived. Instead, you can watch it in a few different languages on the Graphic India YouTube channel. Still pretty awesome, though.

Whatever the level of concept in your media, now you have a new way to talk about the things you love: is it high concept, low concept, or a balance of the two?

The Underground Review: Jackaby by William Ritter

 

Jackaby is the first book in the Jackaby book series

Jackaby by William Ritter

I am very “eat with your eyes first” when it comes to picking books to read. This is the main reason why I picked up the book Jackaby by William Ritter in the first place. The book cover is a crisp aquamarine color with a side profile of a man in Victorian dress.  Side note to mention is that I love stories set in Victorian times, it’s my favorite story setting in both television and on paper. A splash of red in the center contrasts with the aquamarine backdrop and draws your eyes to a woman in a blood red Victorian gown walking down what seems to be a cobblestone street toward an illuminated crimson door. The second thing that caught my eye was a review featured on the cover by the Chicago Tribune stating “It’s Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer”.

From BBC’s Sherlock

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Jackaby is the first book in a somewhat historical supernatural thriller series by William Ritter that takes place in the fictional city, New Fiddleham, which is located in the New England region of the United States in 1892.  Our main character, Abigail Rook, has just arrived in town and is almost immediately swept up into a grizzly serial murder mystery, which is fine for Abigail, who is tired of being treated like a porcelain doll, just because she is a woman from an upper class English household, and is in search for her next big adventure.  One of Abigail’s greatest fears is to have to return to her family home in England, having failed in every capacity in her search for independence.

There is a fleeting moment in Jackaby, which I hope that Ritter expands on in the series, where Abigail first realizes that she has left the stable security of high society and that it is that same high society, who now judges her by whose company she shares. The book picks up with Abigail in a time where she has just reached a crossroads and has made her decision to carry on with her quest for adventure instead of trying to return home.

From the very beginning I liked that she is a person who makes her own decisions and follows through with them. As the narrative is seen through Abigail’s eyes, we as the readers are introduced to the title character, R.F. Jackaby, when she is.  Jackaby the character is someone that society, including the police, has written off as insane which can cause some problems when your occupation is that of a private detective.

As our story progresses Jackaby opens Abigail’s eyes and mind to a supernatural world that goes unseen by all except Jackaby. Jackaby is a Sherlockian type who wears a coat with way too many pockets and who can’t tell the difference between gunpowder and paprika. What I like most about the character Jackaby is that he doesn’t care what society thinks of him, he only cares about helping people who are in trouble, be it supernatural creatures or an ordinary person on the street.

As I am a fan of TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the CW’s Supernatural I enjoyed the creatures and legends that Ritter included in the story.  As I read I tried to guess the legends and creatures featured, but was surprised to find that I was wrong most of the time.  I found myself running along with Abigail and Jackaby on their investigation trying to piece together the evidence and find the murderer. I found the pacing of the book relatively fast without missing opportunities for description or helpful insights from Abigail.

However as I write this review, I have found that even though Abigail gives great descriptions of the people, scenes, and actions around her, she fails to really describe herself in great detail so I think I would like to give the book a second read. I think Jackaby hits many genres and would interest many types of readers from those looking for a new realistic fantasy to someone looking for a gritty mystery.

The book is also the beginning of a series so if you are someone like me who likes book series this is the book for you.

Abigail and Jackaby’s story continues:

Beastly Bones is the second book in the Jackaby book series.

Beastly Bones by William Ritter

Ghostly Echoes is the third book in the Jackaby book series

Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter

The Dire King is the fourth book in the Jackaby book series.

The Dire King by William Ritter

Apicius

What do you do if a bunch of Ancient Romans fall through a hole in time, and end up in your neighborhood? Invite them to dinner, of course! It’s important to be prepared to host time travelers.

If you’re planning a banquet at an insane house party for Ancient Romans, Apicius has you covered – extant books include various main courses, veggie dishes, fish, and fowl, and food preservation. Fortunately, the library has an English translation of this Probably-Fifth-Century cookbook.

Cover of Apicius: cookery and dining in Imperial Rome.

Get your English translation right here. You’re welcome!

Although there are free downloads of an old translation – good enough in a culinary emergency – the newer translation is definitely better. Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, there’s the original Latin. Here’s some recipes I’ve adapted from the Latin and the old translation, to give you an idea of the range of dishes in the book. Let’s start with a fairly familiar one:

 

Leeks n’ Beans

A closeup of a giant pile of green beans.

Fresh. Green. Beans.

Aliter porros: in aqua elixiati erunt, fabae nondum conditae plurimum admisce conditurae, in que eos manducaturus es.

Other leeks: in water that cooked the leeks, boil green beans that haven’t been cooked. Mix leeks and beans, and serve.

That’s not too hard. Get leeks and green beans. Cut the bottoms and the dark green parts off the leeks, chop up and swish around in a bowl of water to get any grit out of the leeks. Boil the leek chunks in water, and reserve the water, keeping the leeks aside in a serving bowl. String the beans, if necessary, and boil the beans in the water you just took the leeks out of. When the beans are tender, fish them out, and toss them with the leeks in the serving bowl.

A nice hot salad. So far so good!

 

Sardine Loaf

A pile of sardines.

Sardines.

Patine de apua fricta: apuam lavas, ova confringes et cum apua commisces. Adicies liquamen, vinum, oleum, facies ut ferveat, et cum ferbuerit, mittes apuam. Cum duxerit, subtiliter versas. Facies ut coloret, oenogarum simplex perfundes piper asparges et inferes.

Whipped sardine loaf: clean sardines, mix eggs with sardines. Add liquamen [a Roman fermented fish sauce], wine, oil, and stock, and let it heat [in the mold, presumably]. With care, turn over [the mold so the loaf is free]. To help it color, let it cook long enough to brown. Drizzle with oenogarum [a different fish sauce with wine in it], sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Okaaaaaaay. It’s still doable, but I’m going to have to get… creative… and you’d better like your fish extra jiggly, and your eggs extra fishy.

Materials: a mixing bowl, a spoon, a loaf tin or muffin tin (!!), or something else that is bakeable for a mold, a serving plate to turn it out on, oven mitts. OR a coffee mug and a microwave (!!!), if you can’t use the stove and oven.

Ingredients: a can of sardines, raw eggs, olive oil, fish or veggie stock, white wine (optional!), fish sauce (you can get it in the international section of the supermarket, or in East Asian or Southeast Asian food stores – if you can’t get fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce can be substituted.)

Procedure: open the can of sardines into a mixing bowl, and mash them. Add eggs, a splash of oil, stock, maybe some white wine, and a dash of fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce to taste (yeaaahh…), and stir thoroughly until everything is a grayish yellow slurry. Oil the tin you’re planning on using as a mould, and pour the egg-and-fish mixture in, leaving room for it to rise. [OR: pour the slurry into a microwave-safe bowl or mug and microwave on high for 40 seconds or so at a time, watching carefully to see that it doesn’t rise too high. Puncture with a fork if it tries to escape the mug. Nuke it until it’s set up.] Preheat oven to 375 F, and bake until the mold has set up. Turn out the mold onto the plate to serve. Drizzle with more fish sauce and sprinkle with pepper and serve.

 

Stewed Ostrich

A photo of a male ostrich, with nice pink legs visible.

To be fair, the drumsticks on an ostrich are enormous. Which is really half the problem, actually.

In struthione elixo: piper, mentam, cuminum assum, apii semen, dactylos vel caryotas, mel, acetum, passum, liquamen et oleum modice et in caccabo facies ut bulliat. Amulo obligas, et sic partes struthionis in lance perfundis, et desuper piper aspargis si autem in condituram coquere volueris, alicam addis.

A broth for ostrich: pepper, mint, cumin, leeks, celery seed, dates, honey, vinegar, raisin wine, broth, and a little oil. Boil in a kettle with a (plucked, cleaned) ostrich, thicken (to use as sauce). Cut ostrich meat into convenient pieces, and serve in sauce with a sprinkle of pepper. If you want to season it further, add garlic.

Honestly, your real problems here are: 1. Finding a whole ostrich and 2. Finding a pot big enough to BOIL AN ENTIRE OSTRICH IN. If you can do that, though, you’re golden. You might need some help managing a whole ostrich carcass, though, they’re pretty heavy. If you can do all that, it’s an otherwise straightforward recipe.

And, finally, one last recipe.

 

Gardener’s Pig

Hold onto your butts…

Porcellum hortolanum: porcellus hortolanus exossatur per gulam in modum utris. Mittitur in eo pullus isiciatus particulatim concisus, turdi, ficedulae, isicia de pulpa sua, Lucanicae, dactyli exossati, 66fabriles bulbi, cocleae exemptae, malvae, betae, porri, apium, cauliculi elixi, coriandrum, piper integrum, nuclei, ova XV superinfunduntur, liquamen piperatum, ova mittuntur trita. Et consuitur et praeduratur. in furno assatur. deinde a dorso scinditur, et iure hoc perfunditur. Piper teritur, ruta, liquamen, passum, mel, oleum modicum. Cum bullierit, amulum mittitur.

Debone a whole pig through the throat. Stuff with: minced chicken meat croquettes, roasted thrushes, roasted figpeckers, pork sausages, pitted dates, glazed onions, cooked snails taken out of the shell, mallows, leeks, beets, celery, sprouts, coriander, peppercorns, nuts, eggs and broth diluted with eggs. Sew shut the pig, roast, and split the back, pouring over a sauce of crushed pepper, rue, broth, raisin wine, honey, and oil, thickened with roux.

And that’s not even getting into the stuffed roast dormice. Enjoy!

Girl Power Graphic Novels

If you like comics and love a great story full of action and girl power, you can’t go wrong with these three new graphic novels.

Princess with a crown

Princeless: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley

Princess Adrienne gets tired of waiting for a prince to rescue her and takes matters into her own hands. She escapes from her tower with the help of Sparky the dragon, and she sets off on an adventure to rescue her sisters.

Girl in rollerskates on book cover

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Astrid signs up for roller derby camp even though her best friend wants to go to dance camp. She works hard to master her skates while she makes new friends and finds a place on the roller derby team.

Ms Marvel book cover

Ms Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

Start here to watch Kamala Khan morph from ordinary Muslim girl to extraordinary superhero while remaining true to herself. Two more issues are coming soon!

What are you reading this summer? We love to see your recommendations!

-Susan, Teen Services, Iroquois Branch

It’s Time Once Again for the SWON Teen Reading Challenge!

susans-books

Every year from February through April, library staff in Kentucky and Ohio gear up for summer programming by reading as many young adult novels as possible. I have participated for several years, and I am ready to jump back into it. (Go Team Louisvillains!!!) For three months, I will be swimming in young adult titles.

I thought I would share some of the new books on my desk.

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Something for Everyone in Five Comics Books

Whether you have always loved comics or you never picked one up in your life, if you want to read about cape-and-tights heroes or curl up with something trendy and artsy, then this list has something for you.

The Arrival – Shaun Tan

The Arrival is proof that a good story doesn’t even need words. A stunning narrative of an immigrant’s experience in a new and alien land, it’s like having someone play solos about hope and isolation on your heartstrings.

Continue reading

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: a Review

12-year-old September is bored.  She’s bored with Nebraska, bored with washing tea cups, bored with her mother, bored with her dog. She wants an adventure, and an adventure finds her with the fast talking Green Wind, who whisks her off to Fairyland where she must retrieve a spoon from an evil Marquess.  Along the way, she encounters a lively and wonderful cast of characters that would put the Wizard of Oz and Wonderland to shame;  including a wyvern ( like a dragon) named A-through-L who loves books (my kind of dragon) and a mysterious blue boy (he’s the color blue, not sad…) named Saturday.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland book cover

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente

Fairyland is in disorder, and it’s up to September and her newly acquired tribe of misfits to make things right.  September is given a warning before entering Fairyland concerning fairy food…but does she listen?

This book is beautiful.  And charming!  Entrancing!  Thoughtful!  Marvelous! Superb writing.  It’s imaginative, a bit odd and absurd in places and yet perfectly lovely. It might make you tear up in places….most excellent-est Young Adult novel EVER! In this teen librarian’s humble opinion.  🙂

If you enjoy Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Patrick Ness, Neil Gaiman or Madeleine L’Engle you’ll love The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland.  Try it out, you won’t regret it.

-Heather, Children and Youth Services, St. Matthews Branch