Posts filed under ‘Genres’

Featured Genre Friday: Graphic Novels

Hyperbhyperboleole and a Half by Allie Brosh / Pub Date: October 2013 / 384 pgs.

I tried to put this book down.  I really did.  But it was like it was glued to my hands and my fingers were compelled to keep turning its  pages.  I just could not stop reading, laughing at, and empathizing with Allie Brosh’s hilarious stories accompanied by colorful, brilliant drawings rendered in MS Paint.  Although I had heard of her hugely popular blog/webcomic of the same name, I was largely unfamiliar with Brosh’s work.  I also don’t read many graphic novels, but after reading this, I may be a convert. There is a lot to like about this book: the tone ranges from light and funny (the many misadventures of her two canine companions, the “Simple Dog” and the “Helper Dog”) to serious and insightful (Brosh’s two-part account of her descent into clinical depression).   Those who are already rabid fans of her blog (because it doesn’t seem like there are any other kind) will be happy to know that more than 50% of this book is brand-new content.

In short, this book would be enjoyed by people who like any of the following: dogs, cake, geese, Microsoft Office Suite, scribbling, comics, humor, breathing air. Read it!

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes / Pub Date: December 1997 / 80 pgs. Ghost_world

Picking up this seminal graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, I was already familiar with the characters and story, being a fan of Terry Zwigoff’s 2001 film adaptation.  Reading the original graphic novel after seeing the film left me feeling a little wanting, mostly because Zwigoff’s film did such a marvelous job of portraying the wonderfully oddball characters onscreen, and fleshed out the plot considerably more than the book. However, I think it’s a case of different mediums having different strengths.  Clowes’ graphic novel has clout for a reason.  At a slim 80 pages, Ghost World tells the story of teenage best friends Enid and Rebecca, two misfits trying to figure things out shortly after their graduation from high school.  Enid has tentative plans to attend art school; Rebecca ends up assimilating herself into “normal” society.  The humor in the book comes from Enid and Rebecca making snarky comments about everyone they know, but the real heart of the story is the slow dissolution of their friendship as they come of age.

Although the graphic novel’s color scheme is literally muted, figuratively, there is no shortage of colorful characters that inhabit Enid and Rebecca’s Ghost World.  Many characters are rendered so expressively that they border on grotesque.  They’re meant to evoke a certain fascination, which certainly succeeds.  Although after seeing the movie, the storyline felt slightly insubstantial and sketchy to me (mostly because my favorite character was missing–he is actually an amalgam of several minor characters from the book), Clowes’ painfully realistic characters make this book worth picking up.  In a genre saturated by superheroes, the antiheroes of Ghost World will strike a chord, especially with high school students.



October 3, 2014 at 3:25 pm Leave a comment

Featured Genre Friday: Historical Sagas

ImageOnly Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer / Pub Date: Aug 2011 / 400 pgs

The first in a planned 5-book series called The Clifton Chronicles (books 2 and 3 were published in 2012 and 2013, respectively, with books 4 and 5 still to come), Only Time Will Tell follows Harry Clifton, the only son of hardscrabble, hardworking Maisie Clifton and her dearly departed husband Arthur, an English dockworker.  Or… he? Harry could in fact be the son of the wealthy Hugo Barrington, whose family owns the shipyard that had employed Arthur Clifton and Maisie’s brother, Stan.  And just how had Arthur Clifton died, anyway? Had Hugo played a role in his mysterious disappearance?

Overcoming the odds of his humble life, Harry wins a vocal scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, where he befriends Hugo Barrington’s son, Giles.  Harry and Giles soon become inseparable, and at Giles’ birthday party, a twelve-year-old Harry meets Emma Barrington–Giles’ younger sister– for the first time.  Harry is charmed by the Barrington family, but Giles’ father seems to take an instant dislike to young Harry.  Like it or not, the Cliftons and the Barringtons will be inextricably linked for years to come.

Archer’s epic tale has elements of a soap opera, yes, but even I–not usually a soap opera fan–thoroughly enjoyed the story and characters.  The characters were rather “stock,” but well-developed enough that I truly cared about them and was interested in what happened.  I rooted for the “good” characters while gasping at the dastardly deeds of others.  In fact, Harry’s lowly upbringing, boarding school experience, and his predestination for greater things bring to mind another Harry. (Potter, anyone?)  Fans of BBC dramas such as Downton Abbey might also particularly enjoy Archer’s sumptuous, satisfying tale.

ImageThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende / Pub Date: 1982 / 520 pgs

For a more literary feel, try Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits.   Allende published this, her first novel, in 1982, and was soon considered the heir(ess) apparent to Latin American literary great Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Allende’s novel unfolds slowly, treating the reader to much description and setting up a sense of place.  The South American country is never named, but is understood to be Chile. (Allende herself is a cousin of ousted Chilean president Salvadore Allende.)  We start at the turn of the twentieth century in the childhood home of Clara del Valle, an ethereal, clairvoyant girl who predicts major events in her family.  Clara eventually marries Esteban Trueba, a hacienda owner originally intended for her late sister, Rosa the Beautiful.  We follow this pair, their children and eventual grandchildren, as Allende’s timeline traces important events in Chilean history, climaxing with the 1973 coup.

A big part of Allende’s style is magical realism, where magical elements exist in an otherwise realistic setting (Rosa the Beautiful’s green hair and yellow eyes, for instance, or Clara’s prophesies).  This will require a degree of suspension of disbelief.  However, readers looking for an epic literary tale spanning many years and several generations, with a political backdrop, will have much to celebrate here.


December 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm Leave a comment

Featured Genre Friday: Psychological Suspense

stillmissingStill Missing by Chevy Stevens / Pub Date: May 2011 / 368 pgs.

Stevens’ debut novel has become  a benchmark of the psychological suspense genre, and with good reason: she does a great many things very, very well.  Annie O’Sullivan is a Realtor in her early thirties when she is abducted from an open house she is hosting.  Annie is brought deep into the woods, and over a year’s time, forced to endure various atrocities at the hands of a man she comes to know as “The Freak.”  The reader learns Annie’s story bit-by-bit as she reveals it to her therapist, so it’s clear from the start that Annie does eventually escape.  However, Stevens’ story unfolds in such an unsettling manner that there is no shortage of twists and uncertainty.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn / Pub Date: May 2009 / 368 pgs. dark_places_l

Flynn has recently garnered much attention for this summer’s best-seller, Gone Girl. (A review of that book is forthcoming!) After reading Gone Girl in one weekend, I immediately turned Flynn’s earlier books.  Dark Places does not disappoint, blending a compelling plot with the author’s signature prickly, damaged characters and powerful setting.  Libby Day was only 7 years old when her entire family, except for herself and her then-15-year-old brother, Ben, was murdered in their Kansas farmhouse in the mid-eighties.  Ben was flagged as the prime suspect and thrown in prison for life.  After 25 years of living off donations that poured in in the wake of her family’s murder, Libby must venture out of her hermetic existence.  She gets involved with a “murder club” in the hopes of selling her story to a group that debates the details of famous murder cases.  Libby also discovers a contingent of people convinced that Ben is innocent–and must finally face the truth of what really happened that night. Flynn’s setting (the desolate mid-western town/farmhouse) makes her story come alive. Libby is the quintessential unreliable narrator. As a small, terrified child on the night of her family’s murder, are her memories valid, or were they coerced by law enforcement? Flynn expertly paces her novel: the plot is revealed bit-by-bit, keeping the reader’s interest, and there are some very satisfying plot twists toward the end. As the title implies, the book is dark, dark dark….characters, tone, and setting. Very worth it, though, for readers who enjoy well-crafted suspense.

beforeigotosleepBefore I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson / Pub Date: June 2011 / 368 pgs.

Speaking of unreliable narrators, this one may actually take the cake.   Christine Lucas wakes up every day with her mind erased of her memories.  (Kind of like the movie Memento.)  She has recently started seeing a new doctor who has encouraged her to start keeping a journal of her days, building her own history from scratch.  She wakes up every morning next to a strange man, and from her journal each day learns that this man is her husband, Ben.  But then she wakes up one morning and sees these words in her journal: “Don’t trust Ben.” From there, Watson takes his readers on an unpredictable journey as we discover, along with Christine, the keys her mysterious past.
Watson’s debut novel is highly anxiety-ridden, but incredibly interesting.  It certainly keeps you guessing.



December 7, 2012 at 2:45 pm Leave a comment

Featured Genre/Contributor Friday: Mystery

Those of you who know Amanda at the circulation desk know that she is always ready with a good book recommendation.  Here she waxes poetic about a fun series in a genre that this blog has not yet covered: mystery.

An Ode to a Viking Vampire

The Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris

10 books (Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, etc)

Fiction (Adult)

The mystery novel can be many things to many people and it can take place anywhere, at any time. However, there is always one constant. A mystery novel must have a detective, professional or amateur, and there must always be a mystery to solve.  At the Topsfield Library the Mystery genre gets its very own room in the original lobby of the building. In this elegant little room with its large windows overlooking the common and the comfortable leather backed chairs, you could certainly get lost for an hour or two. It is a forgotten space that gets little foot traffic but deserves so much more….

It is officially November and Halloween is now over.  If Halloween is your favorite holiday and you are starting to pine away for your next chance to spook or haunt, may I suggest an alternative to moping around the house in your old Dracula costume: how about a good mystery series?

Charlaine Harris has currently written 10 books and several short stories comprising the Sookie Stackhouse series. The first one, Dead Until Dark, was originally published in May of 2001. In 2008, HBO adapted this first book into the television series True Blood and it has since been followed by 4 more seasons and counting. The Sookie Stackhouse series is one I would have never dreamed of picking up before the premiere of True Blood on HBO.  In its tiny paperback incarnation, Dead Until Dark looks like just another tacky romance novel and if you’ve seen the television show you could assume it might be.

For Louisiana waitress Sookie Stackhouse, the world was never quite the same for her as it was for her neighbors and classmates.  She was born telepathic but was raised to believe she had an unnamed disability and was treated like an outcast by her small community of Bon Temps, Louisiana. When the “Great Revelation” reveals that Vampires are not myth and legend but in fact real life, Sookie’s world gradually starts to change. Not only are the vampires real in Sookie’s world, but so are werewolves, witches, goblins, fairies, and shape-shifters. Once her disability is deemed a talent by the supernatural community, she embarks on a series of adventures.  These adventures make up the ten Sookie Stackhouse novels. The series takes Sookie to some unusual destinations and puts her in some very unusual situations. One of the most endearing aspects of this series is that Ms. Harris chooses not to ignore Hurricane Katrina and its impact on Louisiana. Starting with the 7th book in the series, All Together Dead, Hurricane Katrina becomes an event with a lingering domino effect on the human and supernatural communities, which triggers various plot lines and sub-plots in the following novels.

Although I enjoy the True Blood television series, it has diverged greatly from the books Charlaine Harris wrote, robbing the characters of their genuine appeal and authenticity. These novels contain engaging characters, like Sookie herself who is brave, kind, and generous. Or the Viking vampire Eric Northman, who is calculating, handsome, and frank.  If I could love any vampire, it would be Eric Northman.

This is a charming and addictive series of mysteries with a core that is far more human and real than it would first appear. –Amanda

November 5, 2010 at 2:02 pm Leave a comment

Featured Genre Friday: Romance

Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips / Pub Date: Feb 2007 / 400 pgs.

Blue Bailey is your typical feisty, self-sufficient tomboy heroine.   She is walking down the road–dirty, frustrated, and in a beaver costume–when she encounters Dean Robillard, star quarterback for the Chicago Stars.  Blue is a classic rootless drifter: an artist taking on odd jobs (hence the beaver costume), on her way to tell off an ex-boyfriend who has done her wrong.  She is certainly not the type of woman to fall for Dean, but Dean is not used to having women ignore him and sure enough, they are soon driving down the highway in Dean’s shiny Aston Martin, on the way to his summer home in Tennessee, bantering all the way.  Phillips fleshes her story out well with interesting characters embroiled in a family-saga subplot (including two aging rockers embarking on a romance of their own, and a sweetly misunderstood eleven-year-old girl).  This book is listed as part of the “Chicago Stars” series, but non-football-loving readers, never fear: there is almost no mention of the game (and also, the books in this “series” can be read in any order.) Phillips’ multifaceted work is a good choice for fans of Lisa Kleypas, Jennifer Crusie, and Rachel Gibson.

Flirting with Pete by Barbara Delinsky / Pub Date: June 2003 / 368 pgs.

Delinsky, a seasoned women’s fiction author, offers intriguing romantic suspense in this family saga. Bostonian Casey Ellis is in her early thirties, happily unmarried, and a successful psychologist.  However, her mother has been in a coma for the past three years, and Casey has never officially met her father, renowned psychologist Cornelius (Connie) Unger (although she had followed his career and became a psychologist because of him).  When he dies suddenly, Connie leaves Casey his Beacon Hill townhouse, much to Casey’s surprise.  While sorting through the house, Casey discovers a manuscript–titled “Flirting with Pete”–that could be a journal, a novel, or a case study of one of her father’s clients.  As Casey begins to read through the journal, she is drawn into the story of abused, small-town girl Jenny, who makes plans to run away with her handsome, perfect new boyfriend Pete.  The story unfolding in “Flirting With Pete” begins entwining with Casey’s new life on Beacon Hill, not to mention her new relationships with her sexy, mysterious gardener, Jordan, and young, eager-to-please new housekeeper, Meg.  Delinsky is a more old-fashioned writer than Susan Elizabeth Phillips; the actual romance takes a while to heat up, and her story veers toward melodrama in parts.  Once the romance gets going, however, true fans of the genre will enjoy the steamy relationship between Casey and Jordan (and between Jenny and Pete). Likewise, women’s fiction fans will enjoy the realistically strong character of Casey, who has quite a lot to do in the novel on her own before any romance gets involved.

Other Suggestions:

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon / Pub Date: June 1991 / 600 pgs.

This classic time-traveling romance by Gabaldon, set in Scotland, is the first of a vast series of books – a true saga.  Don’t let the length of the book scare you–you’ll be finished before you know it, and eager to grab the next. From Publisher’s Weekly: “English nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall and husband Frank take a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands in 1945. When Claire walks through a cleft stone in an ancient henge, she’s somehow transported to 1743. She encounters Frank’s evil ancestor, British captain Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall, and is adopted by another clan. Claire nurses young soldier James Fraser, a gallant, merry redhead, and the two begin a romance, seeing each other through many perilous, swashbuckling adventures involving Black Jack. Scenes of the Highlanders’ daily life blend poignant emotions with Scottish wit and humor.”

In The Garden trilogy by Nora Roberts / Pub Date:  first installment Oct. 2004

From Novelist:  “Nora Roberts remains the benchmark for the Romance genre. Whether writing Contemporary, Paranormal, or Futuristic Police Procedurals, she satisfies with her classy heroines, strong and sexy heroes, interesting background details, and strong extended family relationships. Her storytelling skills make her a popular choice with a wide range of readers. Her recent In the Garden trilogy combines strong love stories and ghosts.”

April 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm Leave a comment

Featured Genre Friday: Gentle Reads

And now, for a complete antidote to my last genre study, I bring you: gentle reads!

At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon / Pub Date: 1994 / 432 pgs.

Visiting Mitford, North Carolina, is almost like visiting a fairy tale, and there lies the appeal of this classic series by Jan Karon. Realism is important to me, personally, in a book, but readers who enjoy escaping to a completely pleasant world have a lot to love about the Mitford series. Despite the book’s sometimes difficult to swallow characters and situations, Mitford won even this skeptic over. Father Tim lives alone in Mitford’s rectory, in the middle of this idyllic town.  Soon, without knowing quite how, he acquires a dog, an 11-year-old boy who becomes sort of an adopted son, and a sweet relationship with the new neighbor next door.  Karon’s folksy Southern characters are ones you’ll want to return to, and you’re in luck, because At Home in Mitford is only the first book of a nine-book series. Waiting for you after you finish those is Karon’s newest series, a spinoff  starring Father Tim started in 2007 with Home to Holly Springs, boding well for future books.

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fanny Flagg / Pub Date: Sept. 1992 / 320 pgs.

If you enjoyed Flagg’s classic Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, certainly try this hilarious, light-hearted tale of Daisy Fay Harper, writing as a precocious pre-teenager in the 1950’s.  The book takes the form of Daisy Fay’s diary during her most…interesting years, from age 11 through the end of her teens. Daisy Fay gets herself into a variety of wacky adventures growing up in Mississippi.  Flagg paints a loving picture of Southern small-town life in a bygone era, and Daisy’s voice will grab you from the first page.

The Girls by Lori Lansens / Pub. Date: May 2006 / 352 pgs.

This book captures the feeling of a small town and all its quirky characters from a very unique perspective–that of a pair of conjoined twin sisters by the names of Rose and Ruby Darlen.  In alternating chapters, Lansens narrates the story from the point of view of each sister, cleverly crafting separate identities for them. Writing their autobiography is budding author Rose’s idea, one that Ruby, the prettier though less linguistically inclined sister, just goes along with. Ruby, however, adds her own valuable insight to their tale. This is a lesser-known book, but I added it for the depiction of country life and Lansens’ interesting characters–none more so, of course, than the twins themselves.

Other Suggestions:

The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery / Pub. Date: May 2006 / 272 pgs.

Like Marley and Me, but with a lovable 750-lb. pig as the main character.  Christopher Hogwood–aforementioned 750-lb. main character–charms author Montgomery and the other members of her small New Hampshire town.

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross / Pub. Date: June 1999 / 288 pgs.

Proper Christian widow Miss Julia is startled by the arrival of her late  husband’s mistress and her nine-year-old boy, her husband’s “last legacy.” From Publisher’s Weekly: “Ross’s characters resist their stereotypical outlines…along with its homespun appeal, the novel offers an interesting take on gender, race and family in the South; it’s fast-paced and funny despite Ross’s persistent asides to readers and reference to serious issues.”

February 12, 2010 at 2:48 pm Leave a comment

Featured Genre Friday: Absurdist Fiction

A woman once walked in to the bookstore where I was working and said, “I need a book for my grandma.  She’s into reading about really bizarre stuff– alternate worlds, drugs, circus freaks, twisted people.” These are some books I would recommend for that (really cool-sounding) grandma.  If you’re looking to bend your mind with some deliciously strange, offbeat literature, here you go.

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk / Pub Date: Feb. 1999 / 304 pgs.

Your first stop should be Chuck Palahniuk. His early books are especially interesting (Survivor is Palahniuk’s second novel after his acclaimed Fight Club).  In Survivor, time elapses backwards: we start with Chapter 47 and close the book after finishing the final (first?) page of Chapter 1. Our (anti-) hero, Tender Branson, is flying an empty plane until its inevitable crash-landing somewhere in the Australian outback.  He is also the last surviving member of a suicide cult, and he is determined to dictate his entire life story into the plane’s “black box” before he hurtles to his death. Palahniuk is a wonderful satirist and social commentator, and this darkly witty, biting novel is perfect for our times.

But don’t read it on a plane.

Clown Girl by Monica Drake / Pub Date: Jan. 2007 / 298 pgs.

Having successfully completed Palahniuk, why not take a trip to Baloneytown.  Here you’ll find Nita, a.k.a. Sniffles the Clown, a.k.a. “Clown Girl.”  Baloneytown is a sort of clown slum, where Nita lives in a run-down old house with her ex-boyfriend-turned-landlord, a drug dealer. But Nita’s heart really belongs to Rex Galore, a sexy, artsy clown pursuing high art in San Francisco, where he is hoping to win admission to Clown College.  Having paid Rex’s way to California, Nita is left home in Baloneytown, pining for Rex and scraping by taking corporate clowning gigs for quick cash.  Although Drake’s overuse of every metaphor and simile under the sun can become tiring, this funny, smart and surprisingly emotional book will make you feel for Nita, identify with her dilemmas, and appreciate her complicated, darkly hilarious life.

Half-Life by Shelley Jackson / Pub Date: July 2006 /448 pgs.

This is the book that really put the term “alternate present” on my radar.  In Half-Life, Jackson presents us with an alternate present in which Siamese twins, called “twofers” are extremely common, due to chemical fallout from increased nuclear testing.  Nora and Blanche (get it?) Olney are one set of such twins.  However, they are faced with a much less common problem–namely, that Blanche has been comatose for 15 of their 28 years. Nora, who has become tired of carrying around the literal weight of her not-quite-dead sister, signs up for not-quite-legal “individuality surgery.” Naturally, the twins live in San Francisco where a vocal activist twofer subculture thrives. Jackson, whose current work-in-progress is being tattooed, word by word, on the bodies of thousands of volunteers, does not disappoint fans of the bizarro genre with this book which cleverly sends up today’s culture.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn / Pub Date: March 1989 / 347 pgs.

Dunn’s Geek Love has become a true classic of the genre.  It’s a must read for a any absurdist-lit fan and also anyone who happens to love Tod Browning’s 1932 classic film Freaks (like me). The Binewski clan are their own traveling sideshow: there’s Arturo the Aqua Boy, born with flippers instead of limbs; Fortunato, who is normal-looking but possesses telekinetic powers; Electra and Iphigenia, Siamese twins and pianists; and our narrator, Oly, a humpbacked albino dwarf. How did so much physical dysfunction makes its way into a single family? Simple: mother Lily used experimental drugs during each pregnancy, with the express purpose of producing circus freaks with “an inherent ability to make a living just by being themselves.” That, to Lily and Art, the patriarch of the clan, is the ultimate in parental love. What. A. Book.

If these books are not your cup of tea, my next genre study will be titled “Gentle Reads,” and I’ll be reviewing books of a completely opposite tone. Stay tuned.

Also, I will be on vacation next week until Jan. 20th. I’m bringing with me The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver and Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls, so expect reviews forthcoming!

January 8, 2010 at 2:18 pm 1 comment

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