“The Map of Salt and Stars” by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
2018 Publication , 5 star , novel / October 25, 2018

Sometimes you walk past the ‘new books’ section at the library and pick up a book because the cover is pretty. And then you start reading the book and have to take frequent breaks because the book is so powerful and emotional. And then after you’re finished reading it you have to take a break and not read anything else for a while. This is what happened when I read Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar’s “The Map of Salt and Stars.” “The Map of Salt and Stars” is an interwoven story: that of the present day Nour and her family, and that of a 13th century apprentice mapmaker who travels the same area Nour does in order to make an accurate map as part of the first atlas of the entire world. While Rawiya faces down military forces of fighting kingdoms and is stalked by an immense Roc, it is Nour that faces more realistically deadly threats as her family attempts to flee Syria. They’d already fled New York, after their dad died of cancer. Nour’s mother took her and her two older sisters back to Syria. Well, for her mom and sisters it was “back.” Nour was born in the USA…

“Giant Days vol 8,” by various
2018 Publication , 4 star , graphic novel / October 16, 2018

I’m a fan of the series and have been following Allison’s work since the earliest days of his online comics, “Bobbins,” in the late 90s. His comic series “Giant Days” lives up to my expectations. Vol 8 continues the story of Esther, Susan, and Daisy. Preparing for the next term and the expiration of their housing lease, the three face the splintering of their cozy group as two of the three look into moving in with their significant others. As with the other volumes, the focus of the comic is on the relationship between the girls and it’s refreshing to see media about women where the women actually like each other and support each other. The comics are a quick read. I highly recommend starting with vol 1 and catching up. Allison’s writing is engaging and interesting, and overall fun, and the art is expressive and interesting.

“Giant Days,” by Non Pratt
2018 Publication , 3 star , novel / October 16, 2018

If I weren’t such a John Allison fan I’d rate Non Pratt’s prose volume of “Giant Days” a bit higher, but Pratt can’t quite measure up and doesn’t fully capture Allison’s tone. That said it’s a solid piece of work that continues to explore the relationship of Esther, Daisy, and Susan as well as go into their own histories and needs. Pratt covers some of Susan’s emotional motivation, why she closes herself off, which was very interesting. In the book, Esther tries to make a new friend who turns out to be a complete asshole; Susan grapples with her ability to maintain friendships and her history with McGraw; and Daisy trying to find a place in the world and a community and finding… essentially a yoga cult. Yes, a cult around Yoga. The book really focuses on Daisy, or at least that’s how it seems to be. I’m curious if there’s going to be other books focusing on Esther and Susan. I’d absolutely pick them up if that’s case, especially if it’s a Susan book. I feel like i’ve a good handle on Esther as I’ve been following her antics since “Scary Go Round” days. This is a solid book,…

“Chicago,” by Glenn Head
2 star , graphic novel , memoir / October 16, 2018

I picked up “Chicago,” by Glenn Head, on impulse from the library because I live in Chicago and it’s about Chicago. I stupidly assumed the author was roughly my age (mid to late 30s to early 40s) and thus his experience leaving his wealthy suburban family and playing poor person pan handling in Chicago was set in the 90s and he was begging around the intersection of Clark and Lake. Instead he was doing his panhandling on the South Side of Chicago before I was born. Also he’s a bigger asshole then I thought… And I thought he’d be an immense asshole. But hey, Chicago This book is autobiographical, or at least based on the author’s biography. But the protagonist’s name is spelled differently so I assume we’re not meant to take this as literal autobiography and recognize that some liberties have been taken. Possibly fictional Glen has discovered Nihilism and alt comix and decides that he’s got the skills he needs to be an alt comix pro despite being a recent high school grad. His parents pay for him to attend a pricey art college so he can make a living doing alt comix like his hero Robert Crumb….

“Josephine Baker,” by various
3 star , biography , graphic novel , non-fiction / October 15, 2018

“Josephine Baker” is a graphic novel written by José-Louis Bocquet, illustrated by Catel Muller, and translated into English by Edward Gauvin. It’s an ambitious tome, large enough to prop open a door, and covers her life from birth to death. Baker lead a very full and exciting life, however, which makes capturing it all in one book difficult. “Josephine Baker” works best as an introduction to her life, an opening of the door for other works that cover specific aspects of her life like her activism or spy efforts, for instance. Unfortunately it’s just a bit too much to cram into one book, leaving it feeling rushed and superficial. The art, in black and white, is a bit uneven. Baker and most figures are cartoonish, rendered in brushwork that’s beautiful but blunt. Other figures are drawn in a way that’s recognizable. We can see who they are immediately. One would think that Baker, the main subject of the book, would have similar treatment but no: her depiction remains cartoonish and often interchangeable with other female characters. Some of the lines of motion when people are dancing are lovely and graceful, but other times the dancers look like monkeys… which, when…

“The Boy at the Keyhole,” by Stephen Giles
2 star , 2018 Publication , Novella , thriller / October 6, 2018

“The Boy at the Keyhole,” by Stephen Giles, is a thriller set in post-war England, at the manor house of a once wealthy family. Nine year old Samuel is a half orphan, his father dead from a tragic fall. His beloved mother has gone to the USA to try to secure investment capital in their failing business… or has she? As housekeeper Ruth gets increasingly dictatorial he starts wondering more and more whether his mother is actually in the USA… or if Ruth killed her so she can “swan about the place like Lady Muck.” If we can stomach this conceit, it’s a tightly written thriller about a hidden murder, or perhaps the spiraling insanity of a small child. Unfortunately the idea falls apart at the slightest bit of critical thinking. The problem with Ruth wanting control of the estate is that there’s nothing to control or enjoy. A woman who never wanted children, or to care for children, is left the sole caretaker of a bright but weird (and friendless) little kid. I have a 9 year old. I love him dearly. He’s also difficult to take care of in that tedious yet needy way that all (most?) 9…

“The Au Pair,” by Emma Rous
2018 Publication , 3 star , novel / September 24, 2018

“The Au Pair,” by Emma Rous, follows Seraphine Mayes as she works to untangle the true story of her parentage and the reason her grandmother seems to prefer her twin brother, Danny, over her. Is there a mystery as to her true parentage? Is that what her father was hinting at when he said he needed to talk to all the kids just before he died unexpectedly in a home repair accident? Or is she just overwrought with grief and lashing out, looking for something to keep her occupied? Or is she… going crazy? I received this book for free as part of a promotion. My opinions are my own. “The Au Pair” is a fast read, I consumed it in about a day, and follows the lives of two linked women during important times of their lives: Laura, as she au pairs for a family living on the coast of Norfolk in a palatial manse; and Seraphine who is the daughter of the family Laura au paired for up until her birth. Laura is dealing with her own trauma and mysteries, while Seraphine tries to track down who her parents actually are… although she has no real reason to…

“Two Girls Down,” by Louisa Luna
4 star , mystery , novel / September 21, 2018

“Two Girls Down,” by Louisa Luna, is a quick and intense read about a bounty hunter searching for two missing girls. Alice Vega, the bounty hunter, has a good track record finding missing kids and charges appropriately. The girls’ mother is desperate and with her wealthy mother’s help engages her. Despite her reputation, Vega gets no help from the local police, who are already understaffed and underfunded. They’re more invested in mundane local matters like the ongoing meth and opioid epidemic. They don’t have the manpower for a hunt for two kids. Vega manages to connect with private investigator Max Caplan, a former cop who took the fall for someone and who has lived in disgrace since then. He leans on his former fellow cop who owes him and is able to get leads. Both Vega and Caplan are very aware that there’s a time limit on finding missing children. If they’re gone too long they invariably wind up dead. They have to push themselves and everyone around them to track down every clue and follow it up, no matter how thin. This leads to some delicious red herrings and twists. I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting the…

Schrodinger’s Dog by Allan Brewer
2 star , 2018 Publication , novel , Science Fiction / August 9, 2018

“Schrodinger’s Dog” is a very fine short story stretched out over the course of a novel, filled with tedious exposition and infodumps that detract heavily from the ideas of the book which involve time travel and killing/not killing a dog. I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. “Schrodinger’s Dog,” a book with an exciting summary of its plot, fails utterly to live up to the expectations it raises. A book about time travel, and about killing/not killing a dog (as with the famous Schrodinger’s Cat never-actually-performed experiment, or thought exercise), is bogged down by nothing happening but exposition and some kissing until literally halfway through the book. I slogged through this on a kindle fire and nothing of note happened until 51% of the way through. I don’t lean too heavily on gifs outside of twitter, but this particular scene kept running through my head. When ARE they going to get to the fireworks factory? The idea of the book is an exciting one, so why does nothing of import happen until halfway through the book? Oh, things DO happen before then. The protagonist is married but separated to a woman who put her career on hold to raise…

“Hunger,” by Roxane Gay
2017 Publication , 4 star , memoir , novel , Own Voices / July 31, 2018

“Hunger,” by Roxane Gay, is one woman’s attempt to grapple with the state and size of her body and the way it interacts with the world and the world interacts with it. It’s also a story of endurance, and survival: a story of sexual violence, of eating disorders, of being treated as less than for her weight. Gay is a brilliant writer and accurately portrays the way fat bodies are treated, and the way we take up space and are denied space. She shares the common thing fat people do when entering a room… who am I fatter than? Who is fatter than I am? She talks about the accommodations so often lacking for fat people: proper sized sturdy chairs, booth tables that aren’t too close to benches, stairs, patience. Gay also discusses her sexual history, which includes a gang rape when she was a child– when she was twelve– that shattered her and deeply affected her forever. Gay is Very Fat. She is Obviously Fat. She is I’m Just Concerned About Your Health Fat. She is Can’t Shop In Regular Stores Fat. She is Can’t Shop In Specialty Stores Fat. She is Morbidly Obese, or as some put it,…