Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review of "Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy and John Jennings"

As a huge fan of Octavia Butler I picked up this graphic novel adaptation having never read the original text. After finishing “Kindred”, it’s definitely worth it to revisit the source material if you’re curious or just a completionist. However, this graphic novel has enough depth in its story to leave the casual reader completely satisfied. It’s unsettling, in a good way, making the reader question their own opinions towards slavery and why this graphic novel is particularly relevant today.

 Dana lives in California with her husband, Kevin, during the 1970s. They live a peaceful life as aspiring writers until Dana is suddenly transported back in time to the Antebellum South. Unable to even get her wits about her she’s thrust immediately into a situation where she witnesses a young boy drowning. Instinctively she jumps in the river to save him but her rescue efforts aren’t as appreciated as she might have imagined. When the boy’s parents arrive on the scene they’re horrified to discover a young black woman handling their child, especially one dressed in modern day clothing, and give their thanks by pointing a gun at her as she is transported once more, back to the future. Bewildered, Dana tries to explain to her husband what has just happened but finds she is unable to comprehend the situation herself. Who was the boy she saved? Why was she transported to that particular point in the past? As Dana’s trips back to the past become more frequent and harrowing, she comes to realize that the young boy’s identity is distinctly tied to her own and her own existence in the future. How can she survive in Antebellum south as a young black woman with a modern mind to make sure that her own progenitor survives as well?

 Octavia’s Butler’s science fiction elements lend a unique spin to the story and allows the reader to to be transported back to times of slavery and see all the hardships each character faces while still being removed from it. The graphic novel’s use of sepia coloring is very minimal, making Dana’s bright blue aura stick out a bright beacon of the future but also making her more susceptible to scrutiny as she navigates the time, culture, and role of women on a Maryland plantation in the early 1800s, including daily beatings, slave auctions, families being torn apart, and the struggle to survive. Butler also creates her white, slave owning characters to be almost sympathetic as well the more Dana visits her ancestor, Rufus, and sees him grow up. Will Dana’s influence of modern times impact how Rufus treats his slaves or will he never be able to break free from the culture of his time? Such questions lend an extra level of moral quandary that the reader must face as the story unfolds goes on. This haunting tale is best suited of mature readers due to the graphic nature of its content.

Fans of this graphic novel would also do well to check out the rest of Octavia Butler’s repertoire, including her dystopian duo “Parable of the Sower” and “Parable of the Talents” and her story about a half vampire-half human named Shori in “Fledgling”. For a non-fiction tie-in, check out “12 Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup. Overall rating: 5 stars. This graphic novel is phenomenal and should be included as a tie-in for schools who use the original novel "Kindred" as required reading.

Overall rating: 5 stars. This book was phenomenal!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review of A. G. Howard's "RoseBlood"

I am a huge fan of A. G. Howard after reading "Splintered" the first book in her delightfully dark and twisted "Alice in Wonderland" universe. I was ecstatic when she announced she was writing a YA reboot/companion to Gaston Leroux's famous novel, "Phantom of the Opera". My review, written for Netgalley, is below. Let me know what you thought in the comments!

You’re “not stepping into a musical. It’s a horror story. With a side of obsession and gore.” - Rune

A. G. Howard’s much anticipated literary tribute to classic musical phantom who transcended screen and print is eerily dark and mysterious. When I first saw the cover reveal on her twitter account I was ecstatic but also wary. There have been many adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s novel (including the infamous musical and its lesser known sequel, “Love Never Dies” by Andrew Lloyd Weber). Considering the power of its fanbase, how would Howard’s young adult novel hold up? If you’re a fan of Howard’s take on her Alice and Wonderland universe “Splintered” series, you won’t be disappointed. But if you’ve never read or seen Phantom of the Opera fear not. Howard expertly interweaves her characters’ backgrounds to draw in the reader to the new retelling without alienating them. There are also plenty of allusions for hard core phantom fans. From the text:  “In the Phantom Book, a similar roof played a pivotal and romantic role in the storytime. It’s where Christine met with Raoul and claimed their undying love”.

Rune Germain is a phenomenal singer but is cursed by a mysterious ailment that leaves her  drained and often renders her unconscious after she performs, specifically arias and operas. As a child this ostracizes her from her friends and leads to two attempted murders by her insane grandmother in an attempt to “purify” Rune. The only way Rune finds peace is by learning to garden with her father and singing along to his Stradivarious symphonies.  But a tragic accident involving Rune leaves a teenage boy hospitalized and Rune’s mother believes the best way to cure her daughter is by honing her talent, not concealing it. Thus, Rune agrees to spend her senior year at a music conservatory in France called “RoseBlood” where she hopes to at last tame her musical demons. More so, Rune hopes to discover what the truth is behind the rumors that her new school has ties to Leroux’s infamous “Phantom of the Opera”, her musical idol.

Upon arriving at RoseBlood Rune catches a glimpse of a mysterious figure in the garden who seems to make flowers wilt with his touch. She is startled to discover that he wears a white half mask just like the Phantom! Rune also befriends a delightful, if vaguely flushed out caricature, cast of secondary characters. This includes a mysterious boy named Thorn whose violin playing skills calm her violent episodes, just like her father’s playing once did. But Thorn’s ominous past and mysterious, rich benefactor threaten to unearth his ulterior motives to befriending Rune. As much as they fight it Thorn and Rune begin to fall for one another as a darker mystery unfolds that entwines both of their fates, and the phantom’s.

Here are a few things I didn’t like: The pacing of this novel is incredibly slow. You don’t even begin to unwrap Thorn’s backstory and connect his character to the overall plot until 60% of the way through the book. Also, I feel like Howard tried to tie in too many mystical/supernatural elements into her characters. The main point of the story seems to be about Thorn and Rune’s ethereal and blossoming relationship and the secondary characters seem like wooden props that are underdeveloped.

As far as the writing style, Howard paints a vivid, gothic landscape and her imagery is exquisite, “Glistening trees bend over us like sequined actors taking their final bow”.  True phantom fans will rejoice and novice fans who just love gothic romances will enjoy the journey of Rune and Thorn and the modern day "Phantom of the Opera" love story. For additional phantom retellings check out “The Jumbee” by Pamela Keyes and “Phantom” by Susan Kay. For classic gothic retellings with a twist be sure to read, “The Madman’s Daughter” series by Megan Shepherd, which tackles "The Island of Dr. Moreau", "Frankenstein", and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde".

Overall rating:  3.5-3.75 stars. Would definitely re-read. It has a good story but it was presented like fluffy fanfic so it wasn't rated higher.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Memorable Reference Interview

A lot of firsts happened for me yesterday. I was helping a particular patron who shared her story with me about being a teacher in an underfunded school where her classroom was out of a tiny art room closet. I felt definite sympathy for her having friends in similar situations.

Her question was whether or not our 1Book 1Community selection for this year, When the Emperor was divine was appropriate for her middle school students. She informed me of a similar situation where a book was recommended to her classroom, but because of a few choice words (foul language) there was discontent among the community/parents. I walked over to the Information and asked Jason and Chuck if they knew of any websites that critiqued books by content. They said they didn't know of any. A quick google search lead me to a website called "The Literate Mother" which not only included evaluation for content but a rating system as well. I got some flack from my co-worker for using this questionable site as a source of information for this patron, as if she were a college student and I gave her a Wikipedia article as a primary source. My compromise was to give her the review as a guideline and a copy of the book for her to judge for herself, along with the knowledge that not only were several local middle school teachers picking copies of this book to use in their classes, but also that this book was being included in other middle school curriculums in other states.

The result was that she not only took several copies of the book to give to her superiors to read but she also took my bookmarks I had designed to promote the libraries Facebook page to give to her students as a way to track their reading logs. She even asked for my business card, which has never happened to me before. It's only been a year but all in all this way a fairly memorable event in my career. Start small! Dream big! That's my motto.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood - The Clean Version

A woman came up to me a couple of weeks ago and asked me to find her some books with Little Red Riding Hood in them. Before I could even get up she went on to explain further that she had a woman in her ESOL class that had told her a version of the fairy tale;

Little Red Riding Hood goes to visit her grandmother. The wolf beats her there and swallows her grandmother whole, steals her clothes, and lies in wait. LRRR and the Wolf have their witty banter and the wolf swallows her whole too. A woodsman hears screams, comes to investigate, administers a C section on the wolf and out pop Grandmother and LRRR safe and sound. The woman who spoke to me now was appalled at the graphic nature of the story and I used Wikipedia to further explore the story and tell her that this was how it was originally written by Perrault and later Grimm. She went on to say that her student claimed that this was the original story too but the woman wanted a cleaner version to show her to prove that in America, the wolf isn't bisected.

"The theme of the ravening wolf and of the creature released unharmed from its belly is reflected in the Russian tale Peter and the Wolf, and the other Grimm tale The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids, but its general theme of restoration is at least as old as Jonah and the whale. The Theme also appears in the story of the life of Saint Margaret, where the saint emerges unharmed from the belly of a dragon." (

I didn't go into this much detail with the woman but instead we went over to the children's non fiction shelves and went through several books of Little Red Riding Hood, trying to find one that would suit her. Ironically nearly every book I picked up had some version of the wolf being cut open by the hunter. I swear in one book it had the hunter "snipping the wolf open with scissors" like one would undo a stitch. There are cleaner versions of the story as stated in the wikipedia article:

(Sanitized versions of the story have had the grandmother shut in the closet instead of eaten, and some have Little Red Riding Hood saved by the hunter as the wolf advances on her, rather than after she is eaten.)

I was able to find one clean version, published by Random House, that has the grandmother attacking the wolf and running away into the Forest. Little Red Riding Hood comes to visit the wolf in grandma's clothing and the hunter comes and bops the wolf on the head with his axe (double tap) and saves the day.

I ended the reference interview by telling the woman I was just as surprised as she that the children's books would maintain the original version of the story and yet we don't see Cinderella's stepsisters cutting off their toes to fit into the glass slipper as portrayed in Grimm's version.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How to charge the babies (energy wise)

I have successfully written and performed my first two independent Babygarten classes (a reading, rhyming, and listening storytime for babies 0 to 18 months). Both times I nearly ran out of breath from talking so fast and performing the rhymes (especially the stand up ones). I can never tell if the parents are enjoying what I'm doing except through verbal cues. One parent sighed in relief after we completed our Stand Up Rhymes today. I didn't know if he was relieved to put down his heavy child or if he was tired of it. Parents who don't want to do the stand up rhymes can always sit down, but I may cut back on the number that I do. The last two times two parents (out of 44 and 65 of the class #s) came up and said "Thank you." to me afterward.

My philosophy is to keep the Babygarten as highly energized as possible, but then I'm afraid I get the kids too wound up. I did pull a trick from my co-worker Jennifer and that's to start singing a rhyme as I'm collecting toys to focus everyone's attention back to me so we could do more rhymes. The kids were starting to get restless by the end so I cut a few songs and went straight to the toys. The children seem to be happiest when there's music playing so perhaps more songs? I don't like creating a mellow environment for the babies because I find that boring and it should be reserved for Lullaby Storytimes.

Any advice you, dear reader, can give on how to focus your child's attention or what works best when them when it comes to books, or through your experience with similar storytime formats would be helpful and immensely appreciated.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

One Day

Livejournal is down for the moment so I'm resorting to pen this here on the semi-professional blog. I just finished One Day by David Nicholls, about Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley. These are two people who meet in college on the day of their graduation and proceed to have a one night fling. Not sure where or what their future may turn out to be, they resolve to move past the sexual attraction and just stay friends. For the next twenty years the book chronicles their separate and sometimes joined lives on the day they met, July 15th, from 1988 to 2008. There are pitfalls and passions in both their lives and their relationships orbit and sometimes split off completely. The book also follows their relationships with others and failed attempts at finding themselves and a career before they find themselves settled doing what they always loved (in Emma's case) or what they least expected (in Dexter's). Between Dexter's addiction to drugs and alcohol and Emma's lack of self confidence the book does plod along in a dreary tone a lot but then there are touching and surprising moments such as Dexter and Emma's romance coming to a flourish in Paris or Dexter's mother passing from cancer and how this affects him and his relationship with Emma. It's a very beautiful read and for the first time the book club I'm a part of will be pairing the book with the film that's set to come out in a few weeks.

One Day trailer.

I really, really loved this book. Partly because it was so beautifully and realistically written that I could hear the snarkiness in Emma's voice and also the pained arrogance in Dexter's, but also because their story is very painful to read at some parts and hilarious at others.

Some of the best lines include:

"I think you're scared of being happy, Emma. I think you think that the natural way of things is for your life to be grim and grey and dour and to hate your job, what where you live, not to have success or money or God forbid a boyfriend (and a quick discersion here--that whole self-deprecating thing about being unattractive is getting pretty boring I tell you). In fact I'll go further and say that I think you actually get a kick out of being disappointed and under-achieving, because it's easier isn't it? Failure and unhappiness are easier because you can make a joke out of it. Is this annoying you? I bet it is. Well it's only just started.

Well I think you deserve more. You are smart and funny and kind (too kind if you ask me) and by far the cleverest person I know. And (am drinking more beer here - deep breath) you are also a VERY ATTRACTIVE WOMAN. And (more beer) yes I do mean 'sexy' as well, thought I feel a bit sick writing it down. Well I'm not going to scribble it out because it's politically incorrect to call someone 'sexy' because is is also TRUE. You're gorgeous, you old hag, and if I could give you just one gift ever for the rest of your life it would be this. Confidence. The gift of Confidence. Either that or a scented candle.

I know from your letters and from seeing you after your play that you feel a little bit lost right now about what to do with your life, a bit rudderless and oarless and aimless but that' okay that's alright because we're all meant to be like that at twenty-four. In fact our whole generation is like that. I read an article about it, it's because we never fought in a war or watched too much television or something. Anyway, the only people with oars and rudders and aims are dreary bores and squares and careerists like Tilly-blood-Kilick or Callum O'Neill and his refurbished computers. I certainly don't have a master plan I know you think I've got it all sorted out but I haven't I worry too I just don't worry about the dole and housing benefit and the future of the Labour Party and where I"m going to be in twenty years' time and how Mr. Mandela is adjusting to freedom"

More than I can say about most adult books, since most of what I read is serial and fluff these days. I was very excited to pick up and read this book and even finished it last night after I had gotten home at two a. m. Overall very touching, sad, moving, and laughable. READ IT!

Oh, and if Dexter had a song it would probably be "Mess I Made" by Parachute.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Saving the Board Meeting, one pixel at a time

This past week part of my job description was to have dinner with the new employees and their branch managers before attending the BOT (Board of Trustees) meeting, where we would introduce ourselves to the board. I left the library at 5:30pm with my manager, Jessica, and we proceeded to Eggspectations where we met with a few girls I had seen before at orientation and the Deputy Director, John Huddy. I ordered a coffee, which he made fun of me for, and immediately regretted my decision. Normally I can stand coffee in the summer, but it was just too hot. Between the LOTR banter from one end of the table and John having a beverage fight with the woman in front of me (Branch Manager of the Sterling Library) it was a very enjoyable dinner. I hadn't expected my superiors to act upper-crust and professional, but it was a delight to hear my branch manager admonishing the table, "The Director's visit is next week! Remember, no swearing!"

The Board Meeting was everything I expected it to be:  informative, professional, and by the book. There was a recently appointed head of the board who was adjusting to all the procedures involved and wanting to make sure she had every procedure correct. In between the microphones and recorder breaking this was a harried but enjoyable experience. Unexpectedly I was called to step in during a momentous occasion as the head of the Board and representatives from the Middleburg Advisory Board were signing a document ensuing the expansion of the Middleburg Library. "This is a photo op!" someone hailed and then there was a scramble  to find a camera in the room. When the first few people turned out their smart phones I volunteered, "I have an actual camera!" "Who on earth carries a camera with them?" John Huddy asked. "The same type of person who has a dinosaur phone," I rebutted good-naturedly. This alludes to a previous comment John made earlier in the night where he saw me look at my phone for the time and he said comically, "1995 called, they want their phone back." After tripping over microphone wire I managed to get pictures of both parties signing the document on my little digital camera.

This is why I never leave my house without my camera. You never know when it will help make a good impression in front of your superiors.