Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Birthright Volume 1: Homecoming by Joshua Williamson

The Rhodes family was a typical family.  They were happy and getting ready for young Mikey's birthday.  When out playing catch with his dad, Mikey suddenly disappeared.  Since he was the last to see him, Mikey's father, Aaron, falls under suspicion by the media and law enforcement.  Not only do they think he had something to do with Mikey's disappearance, they believe he murdered his own son.  To make matters worse, Aaron's wife, Wendy, believes it too.  The family is torn apart by the loss of Mikey in their lives.  A year later they all get a shock - the FBI says there is someone they all need to see.  There is a scary looking man with a fantastical story claiming to be Mikey.  As soon as Aaron sees him, he knows it is Mikey.  Wendy doesn't want to believe that man is her son and will do all she can to show that he is a fraud.  Aaron will do anything to help his son complete whatever strange quest he seems to have.  How will each family member cope with the return of Mikey and will this fantasy world creep into everyone's reality?

Williamson weaves fantasy into reality in Birthright.  This is an aspect not really discussed in fantasy novels or graphic novels - what happens to those left behind while the hero goes dashing off to save some fantastical realm?  While this is very much a fantasy, it also delves into the topic of families and family dynamics.  Told side-by-side, we learn the history of the Rhodes family and how they lost their beloved Mikey, as well as his beginnings in the other world of Terrenos.  The artwork aids the reader in differentiating between worlds and how different they truly are when worlds collide.  Readers of fantasy will enjoy this new series and will get sucked into the mystery behind Mikey's reappearance.  This title is an adult title, but older teens who read fantasy will enjoy it as well.  There is violence (both fantasy and real) and some adult language.  This introductory volume of Birthright leaves the reader wanting more (and not having to wait for it).

You can find Birthright Volume 1: Homecoming by Joshua Williamson on the VBPL Catalog. If you enjoyed Birthright, you may want to try Saga by Bryan K. Vaughan or Black Science by Rick Remender.

Review by Michelle L. Chrzanowski, TCC Norfolk Campus Library

Monday, November 23, 2015

Assassination Classroom, Volume 1 by Yusei Matsui

Kunugigaoka Junior High School is an elite school where the best and brightest are sent.  One mention of being sent to class 3-E is enough to get the laziest slacker motivated.  No one wants to be sent there - it is for those who cannot make the grades or have behavioral issues.  Class 3-E is completely separate from the main school and no one really sees the students anymore.  Another thing that separates this class is that it is taught by an octopus-like alien bent on destroying Earth.  The students give him the name Koro Sensei and are tasked with killing him before the school year is done - or he will destroy the world.  The students are backed by the Japanese government who plan to award 10 billion yen (about 100 million US dollars) reward to whomever manages to take out this teacher.  Each day is a new adventure and riddled with a variety of ways the students try to take out Koro Sensei.  With each attempt we learn more about the individual students and how they ended up in class 3-E.  Will the students get the skills to finally kill their teacher before the year is up?

Even though the premise is a bit absurd, Assassination Classroom is an action filled dark comedy with rather poignant moments.  Matsui has created an odd little world where reality is rather skewed.  That said, there are several moments that are rather redeeming.  When the reader delves into the students' personal stories, valuable lessons are learned.  One student is a failure and was kicked off the baseball team.  He feels very down and that he has no talent.  Koro Sensei flies to America to scope out this student's favorite baseball player and ends up giving him some tips on how he can be just as good, but with different talent.  Another student we learn about is a wiz at chemistry but not so much with communication.  Koro Sensei provides a learning moment where she learns the value of communication, even for a scientist.  Matsui manages to do this in a way that readers aren't beaten over the head with the lessons learned and feeling a bit too sugary.  Combined with the zany action elements (lots of guns and other various weapons) and these lessons, they make one interesting story. If action elements (lots of weapons - specially designed to only hurt the alien, not humans) aren't for you then you will not want to read this series.  This title is better suited for older teens (16 and older) and adults.  It does contain violence towards aliens and some language.  However, if you are able to suspend reality for a bit and enjoy some zany action then you will want to give this series a try.

You can find Assassination Classroom, Volume 1 by Yusei Matsui on the VBPL Catalog. If you enjoyed Assassination Classroom, you may want to try Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida or Deadman Wonderland by Jinsei Kataoka.

Review by Michelle L. Chrzanowski, TCC Norfolk Campus Library

Friday, November 20, 2015

Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie

Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie

Personal Effects is a teen novel about a delicate subject: a young guy, Matt, is dealing with grief after his brother, T.J., is killed in combat in Iraq. Much of the book takes place in Matt's head as he goes through the stages of grief and attempts to reconcile the memory of his brother with the truth he discovers as the story unfolds.

After his brother is killed, Matt’s personal life is understandably affected. He’s doing poorly in school and getting into fights. Matt becomes fixated with the idea of acquiring T.J.’s belongings. This determination to get ahold of T.J.'s personal effects drives the plot, but that part of the story is bookended by Matt's fragile relationship with his father. His father is abusive and controlling; yet at the same time, he's also suffering on the inside, even as he treats Matt horribly every day.

In many ways, the reader gets a good picture of who T.J. was; however, everything that’s revealed about him has passed through the filter of other people's eyes. Ultimately, things are not quite what they seem. As is the case when death and grief are involved, the book is more about how those left behind are affected and how they’ll manage to survive following a shared tragedy.

Search the VBPL catalog for Personal Effects. For another teen book that explores sensitive themes involving the military and coping after a loss, try Something Like Normal by Trish Doller.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

One-Skein Wonders Series

One-Skein Wonders

If you’re a knitter like me, you probably rejoiced when the temperatures finally turned cooler. Gone is the humid weather, so it’s time to bring out the knitwear.

With the holidays approaching, now is a good time to think about gift knitting. Projects such as those featured in the One-Skein Wonders series make perfect gifts because they knit up quickly--but the results are still impressive.

One of the books in the series is Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders. This one is especially nice for knitters who don’t make socks, but who still enjoy the look of hand painted sock yarn and would like to find alternate uses for it. The book includes patterns for scarves, mittens, hats, and more.

Another book in the series is Luxury Yarn One-Skein Wonders, which focuses on patterns that use indulgent yarns such as silk, alpaca, cashmere, and the lesser-known qiviut, which is yarn from the muskox. Even though the patterns were written with luxury fibers in mind, other fibers can be easily substituted.

Search the VBPL catalog for the One Skein Wonders series. For other quick-knit pattern books, try 60 Quick Knits from America’s Yarn Shops or Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, previously reviewed by Sara.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ever After by Rachel Lacey

Ever After by Rachel Lacey

Olivia Bennett is an animal rights activist. She's incredibly passionate about her cause, especially working to stop the abuse of factory-farmed chickens in her small hometown of Dogwood, North Carolina. When the story opens, Olivia is caught spray-painting the local chicken processing plant by Deputy Pete Sampson. Pete (aka Deputy Hot Stuff) arrests her for vandalism. Following the spray-painting incident, a series of events happen to Olivia that appear to be retaliation for her activism against the chicken plant. As more incidents occur, she finds herself increasingly involved with Pete as they attempt to find out who's targeting her.

Olivia is a strong character who sometimes behaves impulsively, but she learns from her mistakes and makes restitution for them. Pete is an equally likable character. He's an honest cop and has a great deal of integrity, but he has some secrets that keep him up at night. As he and Olivia begin a relationship, she has to figure out a way to help him center himself and rid him of his personal demons.

Even though their relationship begins on a casual level, over time it becomes apparent to both Olivia and Pete that they're falling for each other hard. There's some conflict when they must reconcile their diverging lives with their desire to be together, but the emotion between them comes across as genuine and believable.

Ever After is book #3 in the Love to the Rescue series by Rachel Lacey, but it can be read comfortably as a standalone story. The supporting characters are couples from the previous two books. Olivia and Pete's family members also play a huge role, as do their pets, who are a big part of the plot. Their presence makes the story that much more heartwarming.

Search the VBPL catalog for Ever After along with the preceding book in the series, For Keeps. Fans of this series might also enjoy the Lucky Harbor series by Jill Shalvis.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Never Broken by Jewel

Never Broken by Jewel

At the height of the grunge era of music, singer-songwriter Jewel released her first album, Pieces of You. Although the album didn't sell well initially, eventually her single "Who Will Save Your Soul" began receiving considerable air play, making Jewel a commercial success. What many people don’t know is that Jewel’s personal life has been turbulent, both before and after achieving success.

Jewel’s memoir, Never Broken, is a candid look at her life: growing up in Alaska with an abusive father and absent mother, being homeless and living in her car, getting discovered in the music industry, ending the toxic relationship with her mother, getting married, becoming a mother, divorcing her husband, and finally, finding herself in a place of peace and hopefulness.

Despite her struggles, Jewel shares some good memories in this book. She tells about how she began performing with her father at the young age of eight in bars and clubs. She also tells the story of how her grandparents came to Alaska from Switzerland and settled on a homestead that lacked many modern conveniences that are so easily taken for granted. Throughout her life, music and writing have been her constant sources of healing and expression.

The end of the book feels almost like a self-help guide, in which Jewel discusses the strategies that have helped her break the cycle of abuse in her family. She also shares the techniques--some psychological, some spiritual--that have made her a better person overall.

Never Broken is a surprisingly open, sincere memoir from someone who has lived a complicated and sometimes painful life. But ultimately, it's a life that's now filled with joy from being a mother and from becoming secure in herself as an individual.

Search the VBPL catalog for Never Broken along with Jewel’s latest CD, Picking Up the Pieces. For another confessional memoir by a singer-songwriter, try Facing the Music by Jennifer Knapp.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Mindy Project: Season One

The Mindy Project: Season One

In The Mindy Project, comedian Mindy Kaling (who's also the creator, co-writer, and co-producer of the show) plays Dr. Mindy Lahiri, a successful OB/GYN. Mindy’s fellow doctors include Dr. Jeremy Reed, a suave British charmer and Mindy’s occasional friend with benefits; and Dr. Danny Castellano, a blue-collar native New Yorker and office curmudgeon. The cast is rounded out by a group of strong supporting characters and recurring guest stars such as Bill Hader and Ed Helms.

Mindy has a successful career, but she finds herself consistently unlucky in love. Even though she’s smart, funny, and beautiful, her love life is frequently a mess. Mindy’s search for happiness leads her down many a wayward (but hilarious) path, like the time she was invited to her ex-boyfriend’s wedding, attended, got drunk, and humiliated the groom, the bride, and herself during the reception.

Or how about the time Mindy’s own doctor retires and she gets the brilliant idea that her co-worker Danny should be her new gynecologist?

Not awkward. Not awkward at all.

Mindy is an endearing character: at times bumbling and self-deprecating, but deep down, sincere and heartfelt. The cast has great chemistry together and that, along with the writing itself, is where the show really shines.

Search the VBPL catalog for The Mindy Project: Season One along with Season Two and Season Three. Fans of this show might also enjoy Parks and Recreation.