“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…