The hero of the first sequence of poems is the enslaved Stephen Bishop, the early explorer and cartographer of Mammoth Cave. A trusted guide, indeed the master of an underground world, his skill meant he was relied upon completely by educated, wealthy, powerful, white men and women who visited the Cave in its early years as a tourist attraction, yet Bishop was always aware of his station as property of another. The imagined voice McCombs summons in these beautiful, quietly musical, unrhymed sonnets allows us to appreciate the man as more than what was recognized in his own time. Here he is philosopher and naturalist, observer, entertainer, lover…a complete human denied that recognition of his humanity during his lifetime, his voice unheard by the world that benefited from his talents. The credit for his exploits and his fame was co-opted by his master, the Doctor.
In the second and third cycle, McCombs pivots to verse inspired by his own life, including his own time spent as a ranger at Mammoth Cave. No less lyrical, these poems are deeply rooted in the importance of place. The natural beauty of the Commonwealth pours from the pages and invites city-dwellers, confined by routine, a pandemic, and winter storms to plan our own small explorations.
Four friends living in an upscale retirement village who solve cold cases for fun are put to work when the village developer turns up dead. If it sounds a bit like The Golden Girls meets Miss Marple that’s because it is, but in the best way.
Elizabeth is a retired intelligence agent, bored and desperate to keep her mind sharp. Ibrahim is a retired therapist who keeps his old client files close at hand. Joyce is a retired nurse who is struggling to rebuild a relationship with her highly successful and driven daughter. Ron is a former labor organizer and rabble rouser whose stay at the posh retirement home is paid for by his famous boxer son. Four friends with little in common on the surface except for an interest in murder and solving cold cases.
Their group used to have a fifth member named Penny, a retired police officer. Penny is now in a coma, but her old files have kept the group busy as they try to solve cold cases. When the greatly disliked developer of their little village is found dead with a mysterious picture by his side, the friends get to work, teaming up with a pair of police officers who are charmingly mismatched and amused by this quartet.
What makes this book so delightful is not the mystery, though this is a fun “whodunit” that will keep you guessing until the end. Rather, Osman has done a wonderful job of developing each character and giving us a glimpse of their life before they ended up in Cooper’s Chase, luxury retirement village. They are not elderly tropes, or caricatures of senior citizens, but rather fully developed humans who, as senior citizens, are often overlooked and ignored. Osman lets us know that’s shame because this crew has quite a bit to offer. The story is witty and fun and I found myself deeply attached to the folks at Cooper’s Chase. Lucky for me this is to become a series.
From her Imagination Library program to her recent donation of a million dollars for COVID research, Dolly Parton’s fame is more than just her music. She is a song writer, business woman and philanthropist with a whole lot of charisma. Her book Dolly Parton, Songteller is everything a fan could hope for and more, complete with photographs, song lyrics and stories that will have you reminiscing about family and community and how we become who we are.
The book dives into her professional relationship with Porter Wagoner. It includes anecdotes about Dolly and some of Country music’s top performers but mostly it’s about Dolly. It’s about her work ethic and talent. It’s about the people who helped her along the way and about her foundation, her family.
Her songs tell her story. Songs like Coat of Many Colors and My Tennessee Mountain Home tell the story of her childhood. Songs like Jolene and Tomorrow is Forever are about her marriage to Carl Dean. Some of her songs are just from her imagination but some tell us about her love of butterflies and eagles.
It’s hard to choose between the book and the audio book. Listen to the audio book and Dolly Parton will sing to you and tell you about her life with an accent straight from the hills of Tennessee. If a song didn’t make a lot of money, Dolly might tell you it “didn’t set the woods on fire” and that left her “poor as Job’s turkey”. Check out the book and you will be delighted with full page, never before seen photos of Dolly and her family, copies of original lyrics, photos of outfits, concert fliers.
Dolly may already be a legend, but she is far from done. Heartstrings, her Netflix show is producing new episodes based on her songs, she is releasing songs every year and won a Grammy in 2020 for a collaboration with For King and Country on the song “God Only Knows”, Dolly’s 11th Grammy win. Dollywood, her park, welcomes three million guests each year and her Imagination Library has given out over 130 million books to children across the world. She celebrated her 75th birthday on January 19th and doesn’t show any signs of stopping. Is she the new Betty White? It’s possible.
The poems in Joy Priest’s Horsepowerspeak powerfully of a Black girl’s experiences growing up in the South End of Louisville. The personal struggle with racism in a family gives way to the wider struggle of racism in society as the three movements of the collection reflect the growth of a racehorse from timid foal to wild filly throwing off her harness. Priest’s study of Louisville captures the push and pull that makes this city so hard to define — horse racing in an urban setting, southern traditions that range from harsh segregation and the KKK to the joys of cruising and muscle cars. This collection of poems is a must-read for any white Louisvillian working through their racism. Priest is uniquely suited for this examination as a Louisville-native herself, as it’s easy for any local reader to picture the old landmarks and streets mentioned, dripping with atmosphere unique to this Weird Louisville (TM).
While this might be her first published collection of poems, I have eagerly been following her work in Best New Poets and other places one wouldn’t expect poets to be published (like her piece for ESPN on “The Athleticism of Beyoncé” ) since 2014. While Priest writes more than poetry in verse, she has a strong poetic voice and sense of atmosphere that can be seen in many of her works, including “Denial is a Cliff We Are Driven Off Of”. Everything she writes is beautiful, something that inspires the reader to connect more directly with both the subject as well as the poet’s past and selfhood. The poems that are included in Priest’s Horsepower collection are no exception.
View Joy Priest’s full list of published works on her website, here.
Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows, written by Jeff Lemire with art by Max Fiumara, is a spin-off of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer series. If you are not familiar with Black Hammer (one of my Top Ten Graphics of 2019), you seriously need to check it out. In that series, a group of superheroes saves the world from an alien threat only to disappear and then reappear in a small town somewhere in Middle America. A small town that they find themselves unable to leave! The mystery of why they cannot leave is slowly tearing them apart until…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you and it’s not what this review is about, other than as backstory.
Doctor Star takes a look at one of the other heroes of this world who finds his powers and starts adventuring during the World War II era. Dr. Jim Robinson is a brilliant astrophysicist whose research into the Para-Zone, a mysterious and dangerous dimension outside of the normal universe, is funded by the government looking for a way to weaponized it. Eventually, after throwing himself into the work, Dr. Robinson discovers a way to unlock the power of the Para-Zone. Using the tools that help him control it, Dr. Robinson creates his new superhero persona, Doctor Star.
This is how he connects to the rest of the Black Hammer universe, meeting Colonel Randall Weird, the only hero who can traverse the Para-Zone, as well as other heroes along the way. But don’t worry too much about those connections. This short spin-off is firmly anchored in its protagonist’s tragic journey.
Jeff Lemire is good telling at these kind of very human, painful stories. There are so many little character details he throws in that you very quickly feel for the characters. You feel for them even as you watch them damage or destroy what is precious to them.
Artist Max Fiumara is very capable of portraying these little details in a concise manner while still capturing the spirit of adventure the story beats demand. The line work alternates between sharp and quirky, almost fairy tale, style and a muted, grimmer style that feels like a fading memory. Fiumara is known mostly for artwork on Hellboy titles but here, it is more akin to classic pulp than urban horror.
Not only is this a loving tribute to comic author James Robinson’s classic Starman series (Doctor Star’s alter ego is named after him after all), it is also a meditation on how parents and children can become alienated from each other with no malice intended. Here we find a scientist turned superhero who sees the universe and has many adventures in his career but loses something irreplaceable. Something which he only realizes in the final, heartbreaking sequence.
I am glad to say goodbye to 2020, no doubt, but I did get a lot of reading done along the way. Here are a few of my favorite comics from this year (listed in alphabetical order). A few have more than one volume and I have not designated a particular volume if I would recommend the whole series.
From the creator of Upgrade Soul comes a tale of body horror and gentrification with art-comics visuals and snappy dialogue…what’s not to like? Dare to visit…Chicago. The dark side.
Did you like teen detective stories when you were growing up? You know, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, that kind of tale? If so, now you can start another such series with a little Twin Peaks thrown in the mix. This first case involves men who go missing, a sinister conspiracy, and plucky teens trying to make sense of what is happening to their small town.
Part of Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer universe, Doctor Star is a loving tribute to James Robinson’s classic Starman series. Here we find a scientist turned superhero who sees the universe and has many adventures but loses something irreplaceable. A lengthier review can be found here.
Dos Matts (Kindt and Smith) weave a tale of a young man out of synch with his magic-based world who takes on a quest to discover its secrets. Plus, warrior librarians!
Crazy story and amazing art from Marcos Prior and David Rubin about violence devastating modern civilization. Violence right out in the open but excused. What happens when excuses stop pacifying those who hear them?
Cool, moody, and stylish, this comic series from Spanish creators Raule and Roger was originally published for the French market. Each volume is composed of a trilogy of the original comics to tell a coherent chapter in the life of this jazz musician-cum-master thief. The stories are seedy, violent, and sexy, just like the protagonist.
A hilarious take on Egyptian mythology. Hamish Steele regales us with a retelling of the Osiris myth that is by turns violent, insane, perverted, and funny. If you like the kind of literary humor found in Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant, this is a must read.
I read Book Two this year but would recommend starting with Book One as this volume does build on the previous one. This is the tale of a former superheroine who has decided to try to live a normal life but keeps having to deal with the fallout from her previous life.
Jimmy Olsen is given the assignment of a lifetime, finding out who murdered him. Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber take all the wacky things they loved about those Silver Age Jimmy Olsen stories and go meta all over them. Step through the fourth wall and have a ball!
Part of DC’s Graphic Novels for Young Adults series, this is a short but affecting coming of age story about Jake Hyde, known in the regular continuity as Aqualad. Jake feels like an outsider until he discovers his powers and falls into a romance that will forever change his life.
All of these works can be checked out from LFPL. Each title has a “Check Our Catalog” link that will take you to where you can view the location and status of the specific item in our system. You may have the item shipped to the library of your choice by placing a hold request (using the “Place Request” button on the right-hand side of the item’s catalog entry).
If you are interested in these titles or other works of sequential art, check out LFPL’s Comics and Manga webpage. And if you’d like to see top graphics from past years, click here.
This is the latest biography of a writer you have probably never heard of. But his story and reputation have made a bit of a comeback of late. There have be a couple of biographies and three documentaries on Nelson Algren in the past few years. He was considered one of America’s greatest novelist in the 40’s and 50’s, but during the Red Scare, his stature took a tumble. He won the first ever National Book Award. It was presented to him by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1950 for his 3rd novel, TheMan with the Golden Arm.
Five years later, Otto Preminger broke the Production Code and it became the first major motion picture about morphine addiction, and it starred Frank Sinatra. But Hollywood and Preminger cheated Algren out of money and respect. Preminger thumbed his nose at the lowlifes Nelson hung around with, and Nelson saw Hollywood as fake.
Algren held a lifetime grudge and he became sour on the American Dream quickly. He got a decent amount of money, but he was a gambler and lost it all quickly. He preferred the losers in life to the winners. So he hung around junkies, prostitutes, gamblers, and con men.
The world’s leading feminist Simone de Beauvoir would visit him in Chicago from Paris in 1947. They would become soulmates. He showed her the underworld of Chicago and she was hooked. In the 1950’s, the FBI and State Department had him under surveillance for his days as a Communist in the 1930’s alongside Richard Wright and Studs Terkel. So he couldn’t leave the U.S. and his relationship with Simone fizzled. But she was buried wearing a ring he bought her.
He was able to visit Cuba and while there he called on Hemingway, who had just survived his second plane crash at the end of 1955.
In the 60’s, Algren wrote mostly for money. Quick books about his worldly travels. A book defending Hemingway after his death. Many magazine articles. He had never made the money or got the prestige that he deserved, so he made a mockery of his life and work, because that’s how the world treated him.
He taught a semester at the Iowa Writers Workshop in the mid-60’s, but he was a terrible teacher and didn’t think creative writing could be taught. He was the highest paid writer there and he got his third wife a position too, but he gambled all their money away.
Nelson always had a love-hate relationship with Chicago and after living there for almost six decades, he left to write a book about the Boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in 1975. He would call Carter “the sanest man that I ever met.”
Nelson died in 1981 on Long Island at the age of 72. He was alone much of his time, despite many friends and lovers (and three brief marriages). In the documentary, The End Is Nothing, The Road Is All, Terkel called him two images, the Cat and Art Carney (from “The Honeymooners”). Vonnegut, who had met Algren at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, says Algren was the loneliest man he ever knew.
If you want to read some of the greatest prose ever written, read Algren. If you want to read a great biography of an interesting life, read this work by Colin Asher.
Nestled in a rural section of Tennessee, the small town of Wildwood holds a big mystery. Every June for a decade, some of Wildwood’s children are kidnapped by the someone calling himself the Gemini Thief. The boys usually return unharmed thirteen months later…until this year. Now, four boys are taken and one has been murdered.
Where were the kids all that time? Who took them and why? Why has the Gemini Thief’s pattern changed? Several teens decide it’s about time to take charge and get some answers.
One teen, Thea Delacroix, is a cousin of one of the June Boys, Aulus McClaghen. Thea, out on a ride with her boyfriend Nick, comes upon a crime scene with a dead body. The victim has a keychain in the shape of a castle exactly like the one Thea carries. Could this be a link to Thea herself? Is it a coincidence that Thea’s father is in the process of renovating a castle on the outskirts of town, or is this another connection? Is the body that of Aulus?
Alice Lee Roosevelt was called “the other Washington monument” and after reading American Princess by Stephanie Grace Thornton I understand why. She was the precocious eldest child of Theodore Roosevelt, of whom he was quoted as saying, “I can either run the country or I can control Alice; I can’t do both.” Known as the “original White House Wild child,” this is the first piece of historical fiction to be written about Alice Roosevelt that I’ve read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Theodore Roosevelt is a favorite president of mine and Alice has always fascinated me. I wondered if what was said about her was true, so I picked up the book to satisfy my curiosity. Despite the book being historical fiction, I feel like I’ve learned a bit more about Alice Roosevelt.
Being a historical fiction novel, I assume that Thornton took artistic liberties with the story so I don’t know what is fact and what is fiction, but I am reminded of the Mark Twain quote,” fact is stranger than fiction”. If only a hand full of events are true then, Alice marched to her own drum at a time when women and young girls didn’t have much freedom. Alice is our narrator beginning with her rebellious teenage years and ending in her eighties. The author’s note at the end has only helped to stoke my interest in Alice Lee Roosevelt. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker (Alice’s biography) adds more to her story by letting us know who she truly was. Alice Lee Roosevelt was a unique first daughter, and her life seems to reflect that.
A perfect selection for fans of historical fiction, those that have read America’s First Daughterby Stephanie Dray and want to read about another presidency from the daughter’s point of view.
In 2018, IDW published this amazing anthology of graphic stories that is perfect for anyone interested in the impact that women have had on modern society. Artists, astronauts, inventors, martial arts experts, musicians, politicians, skateboarders, writers, and more are all featured. They’ve claimed their own power and utterly changed the course of history.
A potential criticism is that while the authors, writers, letters, colorists, and editorial team are very diverse in background, the anthology can be said to be light on women of color. Another criticism is that many stories do not get to breathe due the constraint of each having only three pages for the telling. Lastly, a good number of the stories are really more about the influence of the subject on the writer than a biographical sketch.
I don’t think that any of these are crippling criticisms. The anthology is not one geared to focus on any particular racial or ethnic group as a whole, though approximately a quarter of the vignettes feature minorities. Three pages is quite short but probably helped the writers with their scheduling time constraints, as well as allowing for more subjects to be included. And while biographies would have been more expected, the mix of approaches keeps the anthology from feeling like a text book, making it more engaging overall.
Lurking below the surface are somewhat related criticisms that I have not immediately addressed. Femme Magnifique is, to some folks, damaged by being an avowedly feminist work. And as feminism is a philosophy or political stance that many strongly disagree with on principle, they claim it will not only turn away readers for this work but many other projects (either by the creators or by the publisher).
Then there are others who just disagree on aesthetic grounds. They believe that having a clear politics inherently ruins it because good storytelling is sacrificed to communicate that stance. I think the hidden message is that stories are somehow separate from the world itself and should stay that way.
I’ll take the last one first, the aesthetic argument. It is true, directly communicated politics can ruin a story. Everyone has probably read some kind of work that wore its heart on its sleeve and bored them to tears, but I don’t think it’s necessarily always so. As to the hidden message, that fails to be other than the fervent wish of the aesthete because stories can only exist in the real world, coming and going based on both cultural reasons and on, particularly these days, marketing.
For example, Star Wars is clearly a political tale of a full-blown rebellion of the masses yearning for freedom from the oppressive yoke of an authoritarian empire (one so cruel that it literally creates a way to destroy whole planets at a time to retain its control). But it’s a rousing tale (especially if we skip certain Episodes) that resonates with many. And it is a gazillion dollar real world business that is (seemingly) guaranteed to survive forever.
Criticism of the anthology based on it being feminist is trickier to handle because the label itself can be many different things depending on who you ask. First one has to figure out what the person objecting to it really means. If they just don’t like women, for instance, then why are they reading a 224 page tome of nothing but stories about women? But what if they believe that the movement of women out of the home into the public sphere and out of the secretarial pool into the chambers of power is detrimental to eudaimonia? Further, that failed eudaimonia of an individual is injurious to society as a whole?
Geez, who wants to spend time unpacking that stack of nesting boxes?
But no fear, true believers (and hardcore atheists alike)! That is not a problem in this work. There are some profiles of politicians but the majority are from the fields of arts and other endeavors. There is no specific set of political goals that can be found throughout the book. If anything, Femme Magnifique is a set of aspirational tales for girls and boys alike.
No thrown together or low quality material here. So, who’s herding all these cats to make a satisfying whole out of the “cat-caphony”? (ha ha) We have to give it to the team of editors (Shelly Bond, Kristy Miller, and Brian Miller), colorists (Claudia Aguirre, Jordie Bellaire, Tamra Bonvillain, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Irma Kniivila, Lee Loughridge, Fabi Marques, Rick Taylor, and Hi-Fi), and sole letterer (Aditya Bidikar). This team took all the individual tales, sequenced them, got them to the finish line, and made them all pop.
Now it’s your turn topop…on over to the library and pick up this fantastic collection!