Monday, March 30, 2020

Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel

Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel
by Odyr
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 175 pgs. Graphic Novel.

Odyr, a Brazilian graphic novelist, brings to life the events of George Orwell's Animal Farm with page after page of gorgeous surrealist-esque images. Odyr took Orwell's vision of a parable fable and gets across in images the truly bloody results of communism and trusting societal powers too much. On a farm in England, a pig named Major has a dream, a dream that tells him of the farm animal's oppressed state, of the fact that they are slaves. Once major dies, his dream becomes the prophetic backing for a new movement called Animalism, where those with two legs are the enemy, those with four legs or wings are friends, all animals are equal, and animals should not wear clothes, drink alcohol, sleep in a bed, or kill another animal. An opportunity arises, and the animals rebel, taking over the farm. With the power in hand, the animals set out to make a world where their animalism values are honored, and in the process trade one oppressive leader for another.

For those who like the classics like Ray Bradbury's Faranheit 451 and Orwell's 1984, but want to experience a classic in a different way, this book is for you. The graphic novel edition also does a great job of giving you some emotional distance from the characters so you can really see and understand what Orwell was trying to say about the political philosophies that gave rise to the Soviet Union.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Knitting Magic

Knitting Magic
by Tanis Gray
Insight Editions, 2020. 207 pgs. Nonfiction

In this first official Harry Potter knitting pattern book, there are over 25 beautiful patterns based on the iconic books. Projects are divided into four sections: crafty creatures, wizarding wardrobe, inspiring apparel, and delightful décor. In addition to the patterns, there are photos and behind-the-scenes information from the Potter films in full color. From House scarves to subtle patterns and motifs, there is something for every Potter fan.

As an avid Potter collector, I absolutely love this book. I am not a knitter, but these patterns make me want to learn. My favorite patterns are the most subtle ones, like the “Owl Post Pullover” or the “Deathly Hallows Lace-Knit Beaded Shawl.” The colors and photographs are beautiful for each project and evoke the magic and wonder of the Potter world. There are projects for all skill levels, but it does not have a beginners’ guide, so a basic knowledge of knitting is needed. This is perfect for knitters or Harry Potter lovers and simply beautiful to browse through.

The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek 
By Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal
Crown, 2019. 326 pages.

The small town of Bleak Creek takes pride in it’s city BBQs, its conservative values, and its highly successful reform school for troubled youth. Rex and Leif just want to spend their summer making their home-movie masterpiece, Polterdog, with their friend Alicia. But when a scene in their movie goes horribly wrong, Alicia is sent to the Whitewood School, and the teens soon realize that there is something sinister boiling under the surface of their small town’s sleepy façade.

You know you have a winning book when it gives you the same feelings of nostalgia and horror as the hit show Stranger Things. The characters are endearing, and the plot is well-paced and full of enough easy humor to balance out the supernatural creepiness. If you enjoy tales of the supernatural, spunky adolescent heroes, or if you are fans of the authors’ award-winning web series, this is a must-read!

If you want to read more about the authors, check out their semi-biographical guide to creativity and tomfoolery here.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020


by Elton John
Henry Holt. 2019. 374 pages. Biography

I love Elton John. I have been drawn to his music since I was a child. And I’m not just talking about The Lion King and The Road to El Dorado soundtracks. Songs such as “Your Song” and “Tiny Dancer” and “Rocketman” were on my radar from a very young age. I have always wondered about the man behind the music. Is he the flamboyant man the media portrays him as? Is he more than just the wildly, fantastic outfits and glasses? The answer to both questions is yes.

This book, his first and what he promises as his only official autobiography, really helped me get a sense of what shaped Reginald Dwight into Elton John. I always take autobiographies with a grain of salt; after all, we all see our own lives differently than everyone else sees them. But the story that John weaves about his childhood and first influences, his first gig in a rock band, and his transition to being a soloist in his own right, threw the flashy media coverage of his life and his music into a more compassionate light.

John, clearly after years of therapy, is able to talk about his choices with a certain sense of clarity and tenderness for his young self. The writing is funny and empathetic. It was so easy to read and I never once felt like a ghost writer had taken over the story. It felt authentically like Elton John the whole time. If you like celebrity bios, or just want to know more about Elton John and his music, this book is one to read. If you want to listen to the audiobook, Taron Eggerton (the lead in the movie Rocketman) reads it and does an outstanding job.


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Hidden Power of F*cking Up

The Hidden Power of F*cking Up
By The Try Guys
Dey Street Book, 2019. 275 pages. Nonfiction.

Ever try something new and fail at it miserably? The popular YouTube group, The Try Guys, discuss their philosophy of trying and how that leads to the ultimate success. Ned, Keith, Zack, and Eugene have built a career where together they make videos of themselves pushing themselves outside comfort zones and trying something new and different.  They put their words into actions as each one attempts something new. Go on a journey with them as a meat-lover becomes a vegan, a father transforms into a fashionista, a perpetually single sidekick becomes a romantic lead, and a child of divorced parents tries to grow closer with his family.

There are many self-help books about failure but this one is the most relateable. The guys are honest while being funny and serious at the same time. It is a fun book to read as it feels interactive. There is of course language in the book that may not be appropriate for some but it is a great book to help you overcome fears of failure. 


Monday, March 16, 2020

The Dutch House

The Dutch House
By Ann Patchett
Harper, 2019. 352 pages. Fiction

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy began an empire in real estate with the purchase of the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs of Philadelphia intended for his family to reside.  But what he hopes will be a joy to his family instead only brings heartbreak.  Cyril's son Danny and his older sister, Maeve, are exiled from the house by their stepmother after their father's death. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures. Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they're together, and throughout their lives, they continue to revisit what they've lost with both humor and anger. When at last they're forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between this brother and sister is finally tested.

This is a sweeping tale that spans generations and will give readers a lot to think about and discuss.  Themes of family, loss, forgiveness, and nostalgia are heavy in this book, but for all the grief that one family may experience over a lifetime, there is hope as well. This audiobook is narrated by Tom Hanks who brings his own charm and a sense of lightheartedness, despite the sometimes melancholic subject matter, to the story. 


Saturday, March 14, 2020

Going Postal

Going Postal
by Terry Pratchett
Harper, 2004. 471 pages. Fantasy.

The book starts with Moist Van Litwig, an accomplished con man, thief, swindler, etc., waiting for his own execution. Just after he is hanged, he wakes up to find Lord Ventinari, the ruler of Ankh-Morpork, offering him job--a government job. Always the swindler, Moist decides that a job that might lead to his freedom is a far better choice than death and so he becomes the Postmaster. Ventinari tasks Moist with restoring the the post office (a once grand institution) to its former glory, especially because the Grand Trunk, a communication company that uses light to pass messages between towers, has started to shut down so often it's like they don't exist. Somewhere in the process of getting the position, Moist does what he does best, cons himself into actually achieving more than anyone would have thought from an already dead conman.

Despite this being book 33 of 40 Discworld novels, it is a great place to start if you want to get used to Pratchet's comedic timing and writing style before starting the trek from book 1 to 40.


Friday, March 13, 2020

Go to Sleep (I Miss You)

Go to Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood
by Lucy Knisley
New York : First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, 2020.177 Pages. Graphic Novel

Following the completion of her pregnancy memoir Kid Gloves (and the birth of her baby), Lucy embarked on a new project: documenting new motherhood in short, spontaneous little cartoons, which she posted on her Instagram, and which quickly gained her a huge cult following among other moms.

As soon as I saw the title of this book, I knew it was for me. Being a new mother myself, I'm familiar with how desperate you feel when your baby doesn't sleep, and also how much you remember your baby when she finally does sleep. This book made me laugh out loud. Just about every page reminded me of something I have experienced on my journey through motherhood. I appreciate Lucy Knisley's honesty, her sense of humor, and, of course, her art. If you're a mom, read this. If you know someone who is a mom or will be a mom, give this book to them. 


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

This Tender Land

Cover image for This tender land : a novel
This Tender Land
By William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, 2019, 450 pages, Literary/Historical Fiction

In 1930s Minnesota, Odie O’Banion is an orphan living at the Lincoln School, a horrible place where the students’ education is spotty and most of the students are Native Americans who have been forcibly separated from their parents. One fateful night Odie, his brother Albert, and their best friends Mose and Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading down the river to hide from the authorities and find a place they can call their own. As they travel, they run into other adrift souls, and they learn to find hope and family in the unlikeliest of places.

This book is one that will stay with me for a while. A combination of The Odyssey, Huckleberry Finn, and The Grapes of Wrath, this book can stand proudly next to its classic forebears. Travelling down the Missouri River and then the Mississippi, Odie and his friends encounter Hoovervilles, beleaguered farmers, those who are haunted by the past, and people who are trying to help others even when they don’t have much themselves. I reveled in the beautiful writing, and found the overall message of the book, one of family and forgiveness, to be really powerful. This is a book not to be missed.


Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild

The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild 
by Lawrence Anthony
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2009. 368 pgs. Nonfiction

 In the midst of dealing with a sophisticated poacher problem, Anthony Lawrence was asked to accept a herd of rogue elephants on his South African game reserve or they would be killed. Against common sense, he took them in to save their lives. Lawrence chronicles his struggles and triumphs to care for the herd and the rest of his preserve in this breath-taking account of high-stakes adventure. 

The first part of this book is intense! Nothing goes as planned and the elephants are in all sorts of danger. I am seldom so sucked in from the very beginning with nonfiction, but this one was gripping from the start.  As things settle down it's no less interesting; the elephants keep Lawrence on his toes.  I listened to it and approve of the narrator. This would make a great read for anyone interested in nature/animal writing, conservation, or elephants.



By Akwaeke Emezi
Make Me a World, 2019. 204 pages. Young Adult

Seventeen-year-old Jam lives in a future society that claims to have gotten rid of all monstrous people. Everyone lives in peace and safety, and there’s no reason not to trust your neighbor. One evening Jam goes down to her mother’s studio to sneak a peek at one of her new paintings. However, an accident in the studio summons the giant horned creature in the painting from another dimension, and Jam wonders how she can hide the creature from her parents. Unfortunately, the creature, who dubs itself “Pet,” has other plans. There’s a monster in Jam’s world that Pet has been sent to hunt, and it needs Jam’s help to figure out who the monster is.

This is a thought-provoking read with a very specific focus. Very little is said about how the society was perfected, only that it was. Pet’s existence proves this is false. The focus is on monsters, both Pet and the person he’s hunting. Jam and Pet have to investigate the people around them, but because Jam has lived in a world where “evil” no longer exist, she doesn’t know how to identify it. It’s an interesting exploration of how one finds something when lacking points of reference.

 Even though her naïveté makes this feel like a younger YA novel, the subject matter and some of the language might skew this toward a more mature YA audience. That said, I felt it was overall both a compelling and insightful read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America

The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America
By Matt Kracht
Chronicle Books LLC, 2019. 169 pages. Nonfiction

This snarky, illustrated handbook is equal parts profane, funny, and -- let's face it -- true. Featuring 50 common North American birds, Kracht identifies all the idiots in your backyard and details exactly why they suck with humorous, yet angry, ink drawings. Each entry is accompanied by facts about a bird's (annoying) call, its (dumb) migratory pattern, its (downright tacky) markings, and more.

It's no secret that I love birds; they've always been dear to my heart. This refreshing and hilarious read was written by an adamant bird-hater, so you'll need at least a little sense of humor and a tolerance for Kracht's strong language. I thoroughly enjoyed this witty and irreverent commentary, because let's be honest: no matter how much you love birds, everyone hates that white splatter on their windshield.