Humans of New York, Stories Review

humans of new york

Call Number: E851 St26h (in the new book section)
2015

This is the second Humans of New York book by photographer Brandon Stanton.  The first book was mainly photographs, while this book is a compilation of photographs and stories.  Humans of New York originated as a blog, and also has a facebook page.  The idea started when Brandon became unemployed and decided to take 10,000 photographs of people in New York.  He sometimes got short quotes from them, but as his blog evolved he began getting longer stories.

The really interesting thing about this book is the stories that go along with the powerful photos.  While one of the interviewees referred to it as being labeled, the stories give fascinating insight into people’s lives.  The book doesn’t have chapters and the pictures aren’t officially grouped in any way, but there seems to be a theme for groups of photos, such as sickness or loneliness or love.  Brandon shoots a variety of people, not shying away from the homeless or mentally ill.  This is important because it gives these people, who are often ignored, a voice.  The reader gets a glimpse into their lives and how they feel.  He also does this with children, who are another group of people whose opinions aren’t always heard.

Some of my favorite photographs are the ones of children, and these often have funny quotes about life from a child’s perspective.  One of my favorites was a series of three pictures of a little boy in a school uniform.  The first paragraph is him talking to Brandon about math and the reader immediately can tell how smart and likeable he is.  In the second paragraph he admits that he doesn’t have many friends and that other kids think he is a geek.  The third picture of him is with an adult we assume is his parent, with this parent explaining how unique and caring he is.  This series of pictures was my favorite because it gives you several perspectives of the same person.  The reader is able to see what he thinks of himself (that he’s smart and loves math), what his peers think of him, and how his family feels.  This allows the reader to see who he is in a more in depth way and shows that certain opinions aren’t always important.

Because many of the stories were one or two sentences or short paragraphs, it seems like Brandon is focusing on the most important or traumatic moments in these people’s lives.  Many of the stories are about suicide or drug addiction, and while this is important to hear about, it often reduces the person’s story to just one problem.  I would have really liked to know more about these people’s lives and not just their struggles with mental illness or drug addiction.  I feel like this book was more about building awareness about these issues than the actual people themselves.

One other problem with the book was that the author never specified who was speaking, so in photos with two or more people, the reader can’t always tell who the quote is from, which can be confusing.  On the other hand, this may have been done on purpose, and sometimes, in group shots, it really doesn’t matter who’s speaking.

All in all, this was a really fun, quick read with beautiful pictures and interesting stories.  You can see more about Humans of New York at http://www.humansofnewyork.com/photographer or on their facebook page.

Review of Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

drowned city

Written and illustrated by Don Brown
Call Number: YA Brown Graphic (also available as a downloadable ebook)
2015

This is an amazing young adult graphic novel about the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and how it affected New Orleans.  The drawings were created with pen and ink and digital paint.  The artwork reflects the seriousness of this event by using dark colors in muted tones.

What I loved about this graphic novel was that it’s a great way for adults and teens to learn about the terrible effects of Hurricane Katrina in a clear, simple manner that is not overly upsetting.  There are descriptions of how people died and also illustrations of people who have drowned, but this is important to have since the book is trying to paint an accurate picture of what actually happened.  The author tells the story of tragedy with a lot of empathy and also tries to explain the political and scientific reasons behind it.

Reading this as an adult, there were still a lot of things I learned that I hadn’t previously known, such as the route the storm took on the way to New Orleans and the other areas it impacted.  It really shows how the problem got out of control, with police abandoning their posts and provisions not being delivered.  Because this book is illustrated, instead of just being a narrative, the reader gets a much better idea of what it would be like to experience it.

The novel also touches on the reactions of political figures, such as George W. Bush and Mayor Nagin.  While it documents the responses of these political figures, which were mostly negative, and the reactions of the people to these responses, it doesn’t get overly political, and lets the reader draw their own opinions.  It also makes a point of following the storm from its very beginnings, to the devastation afterwards, and finally the rebuilding of the city.  Because it’s told in the form of a story, it’s much more interesting and engaging than just reading articles about the storm.  This is especially important for younger and struggling readers.

While a lot of the novel focuses on the horrific events and terrible living conditions after the storm, the author also makes it a point to also show the bravery of the rescue workers and how much people helped each other, from regular citizens with their own boats to animal lovers that rescued more than 15,000 animals.  Pointing out the lengths people went to help each other really helps balance the sadness of the rest of the book.

Another thing I really loved about this book was that it really helps readers understand how the storm affected people who didn’t have the economic means to evacuate.  It emphasizes the fact that people such as the poor and elderly had a much harder time because of their situation.  I think it’s important for readers to see how socio economic status and other factors can make a disaster even more difficult to deal with.
If more historical events were written in the form of graphic novels, I think that people would be much more eager to learn about them.

Books That Will Make You Cry

Who doesn’t love a book that moves you to tears?  Crying can be cathartic and surprisingly, has a lot of health benefits.  If you’re in the mood to read something that will make you cry, these are some great books we have here at HPL.

 

the kite runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Call Number: Hosseini LP (in the Large Print section) (Also in Audio)

Amir grew up in Kabul with his best friend Hassan, but during their childhood Amir betrays Hassan.  Amir, who is living in America find out that Hassan has been killed and goes back to Kabul to look for his son.

 

the song of achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Call Number: Miller

Achilles, who is the son of a king in Greece, befriends a banished prince.  When Achilles must go to war to save Helen of Sparta, the prince goes with him, not knowing that their friendship will be tested.

 

a man called ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Call Number: Backman

Ove is a bitter, grumpy old man and makes a terrible neighbor.  But when a young couple and their two daughters move in next door everything changes and friendships start to develop.

 

a tale for the time being

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Call Number: Ozeki

16 year old Nao lives in Tokyo and has decided to kill herself, but decides that first she must document the life of her great grandmother.  Ruth, who lives across the Pacific, finds a washed up lunch box and is intrigued by what happened to Nao.

 

we the animals

We the Animals by Justin Torres
Call Number: Torres

The youngest of three brothers, who are of white and Puerto Rican descent, finally breaks away from his family.  Although the brothers were often wild, he misses the closeness of his family and feels alienated on his own.

 

the invention of wings

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Call Number: Kidd (Also in Paperback and Large Print)

Sarah, who is the daughter of a wealthy family, is given a slave, Hattie, to be her handmaid.  Inspired by the life of Sarah Grimke, who was an abolitionist, this book follows thirty five years of both Sarah and Hattie.

 

the art of fielding

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Call Number: Harbach (Also in Large Print)

Henry is a baseball star at a small college and destined to become pro.  But things suddenly change and the lives of five people go off course.

Review of The Three by Sarah Lotz

3310291

Call Number: Lotz
2014

When four planes crash simultaneously in different areas of the world, and only three children survive, people begin to question if there is something supernatural going on.  When the children start to display strange behavior, such as talking through a robot or curing a sick grandfather, religious cults begin to form around them.  This novel is not only about the children themselves, but also about the effects the events have on the world.

The Three is written in the same style as World War Z, with many different characters dictating their own personal stories of the events to a reporter who then compiles it into a book.  I think this worked very well for this book.  It can be hard to focus on one event for an entire novel, but by giving dozens of different perspectives the author is able to keep the reader engaged.

Because the novel takes place in several different countries, the reader is taken from one interesting setting to the next, and also gets an idea of the different cultures, especially Japan.  Although the book seems to take place in the present there are several hints that it may be slightly farther in the future, such as the humanoid robots the father of one of the surviving children creates.

One of the best things about this novel was the characters.  There was a range of interesting characters, from the mundane and relatable, to the bizarre and comic.  Pastor Len, who creates the a doomsday cult, and his followers are so strange and narcissistic that they are comical, as I believe the author intended.  But because they come across as comical, the author seems to be pointing out how absurd religion can be, and how hypocritical some of those who practice it can be.  The women who follow Pastor Len are often backbiting and horrible to each other, although they claim to be best friends.  On the other hand, these characters are not completely one dimensional.  Their behaviors are often justified by their previous experiences and their lives in general.

The three creepy children are very interesting.  Although the book revolves around them, we don’t see very much of them.  The creepiest relationship, and my favorite, is between Jess, one of the three, and her Uncle Paul, who takes her in.  We see Paul go from a doting uncle and a really likable character, to a paranoid alcoholic who fears his own niece.  It’s really interesting to see the most normal characters question themselves and descend into madness, when really they are the ones who are closest to the truth.  While Jess doesn’t even do anything very sinister, her constant happiness and strange comments make her pretty scary.

This is classified as a horror novel, and although there was creepy scenes, there were not enough of them for it to really come across as scary.  It is more of a supernatural mystery, especially because it is more focused on the characters and their lives than it is on supernatural events.  The ending of the book was slightly disappointing because the mystery of the three is never really explained.  There are vague hints as to what is really going on, but nothing concrete enough for the reader to be sure.  Though the reader doesn’t get a lot of answers to their questions, the book is still really enjoyable because of the characters and their lives.  We really get to see them from several different perspectives, their own, and often their friends and enemies, which gives them a lot more depth as characters.  A really fun read.

Authors like Janet Evanovich

janet

Janet Evanovich is most well known for her best selling mystery/romance series about Stephanie Plum, who is a bounty hunter from New Jersey.  Stephanie Plum is a unique character that loves to cook and has a fondness for junk food.  These books are lighthearted and fun, especially appealing to women, and always written in the first person.  Evanovich is also the author of the Wicked series and the Fox and O’Hare series.

Listed below are authors that are similar to Evanovich and write books that involve both mystery and romance.  All of the books listed can be found here at HPL

Donna Andrews

  • The Real Macaw: a Meg Lanslow Mystery
  • Six Geese A-slaying

 

Sue Grafton

  • V is for Vengeance (Paperback, Spanish, and Audio)
  • Kinsey and Me: Stories (Adult fiction, Paperback, and Large Print)

 

Sarah Strohmeyer

  • Kindred Spirits

 

Victoria Laurie

  • Lethal Outlook: a psychic eye mystery
  • Vision Impossible

 

Joanne Fluke

  • Gingerbread Cookie Murder
  • Cream Puff Murder: a Hannah Swensen mystery with recipes

 

J.D. Robb

  • Celebrity in Death (Adult Fiction and Paperback)
  • New York to Dallas

 

Lisa Lutz

  • How to Start a Fire
  • The Spellmans strike again

 

Gemma Halliday

  • Play Nice

 

M.C. Beaton

  • Something Borrowed, Someone Dead: an Agatha Raisin mystery
  • Busy Body

Movie Review: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

2671925

Call Number: DVD E R524j  (In the nonfiction DVD section)
2010
Rated R

Most everyone knows who Joan Rivers is: a comedian known for her outrageous and sometimes controversial material.  This documentary allows the viewer to see a different side of Joan; the serious, work obsessed business woman who likes to live extravagantly, but who also loves her dogs and misses her friends in LA.  The viewer begins to feel like they are seeing the real person behind the overwhelming persona and get to know about the tragedies of her past and how hard she worked to become successful.  It’s a completely different and refreshing perspective than her reality TV show Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? in which Joan’s crazy antics drive her daughter Melissa crazy.

A large part of this documentary focuses on Joan trying to get back into the spotlight. She’s frustrated because it’s extremely hard for her to get jobs and she feels that she isn’t successful if she isn’t constantly working.  We also get a brief glimpse of her extravagant NYC apartment and learn that she really has to keep working in order to support her lavish lifestyle.  This is really interesting because we get to see what the business aspect of being a comedian is like, and how hard they work to stay employed.  We see Joan go from having an empty schedule book and really pushing to get work to her being completely booked after she wins The Apprentice.  When she is booked she works constantly and describes her hectic schedule and lack of sleep.  It really makes the viewer wonder when she gets to enjoy her lavish apartment and if money is the real reason she’s so driven.

The film also goes into the huge strides the industry has made in including women comedians, and how Joan contributed so much to this when she started out.  It was also really interesting to discover that she originally wanted to be an actress, and was only doing stand up as a way to support herself.  The audience is shown some clips when she was a young comedian and we begin to see that the raunchiness of her act is partially an attempt to keep up with the times and stay controversial.  She explains that when she started out she was controversial for the time, and what seems tame to us now was in fact pushing what was acceptable.  

There was one really interesting scene where she cusses out a heckler who objects to one of her jokes because he has a blind son.  She defends herself by saying that it’s comedy and to get over it, but afterwards when she is talking to a fan we really see that she felt terrible about it.  This really shows two sides of Joan; the comedian who will say anything for a laugh, and the regular person who empathizes with someone who is struggling.

While I really enjoyed this documentary, I would have liked to have seen more of Melissa and Joan’s relationship.  Because they work together so often and have a fraught relationship, it would have been interesting to see them together and having interactions that weren’t staged.  I also was expecting to learn more about Joan’s addiction to plastic surgery and how that affected her life and career.  Because Joan died in 2014 the documentary is sad to watch but also really makes the audience appreciate who she was.

Because this is Joan Rivers there is a lot of swearing and jokes that some people may find offensive.  A really interesting look into the life of a famous comedian.

 

Review of Nimona

nimona

Written and Illustrated by Noelle Stevenson
2015
Call Number: YA Stevenson Graphic

Lord Ballister Blackheart, who was designated an evil villain when he was kicked out of hero school, is not doing too great a job at being a bad guy, until he meets Nimona. Nimona is a teenaged girl who has the ability to shapeshift, and desperately wants to be Blackheart’s sidekick.  Together they , infiltrate ‘The Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics’ and create a plot to out the agency’s hoarding of powerful magic.  Blackheart is a mad scientist with a twist; he doesn’t actually want to hurt anyone. Nimona on the other hand, doesn’t have as big a problem with this, and doesn’t understand why Blackheart isn’t more ruthless.  

The setting is a strange mix of medieval culture and technology that really works, and allows the author to do a lot more with her characters and plot than if it was strictly medieval.  Although it’s set in medieval times and the characters dress accordingly, Nimona has a partially shaved head and several piercings.  She also wears a short, modern looking dress, with medieval accessories, such as boots and gauntlets.  Both her attitude and her looks prove that she’s not your average stereotypical girl, and I think a lot of female readers will be able to relate to this.  It was also refreshing that she was drawn to have a real body that she isn’t ashamed of.

Towards the middle of the book, the focus shifts from Nimona to Blackheart, as Blackheart begins to question Nimona’s ruthless plans.  The plot then becomes less about Blackheart and Nimona’s relationship, which is starting to develop into a true friendship, to Blackheart’s relationship with Ambrosius Goldenloin.  Ambrosius is a knight of the Institution who was once Blackheart’s best friend, but betrayed him when Ambrosius fights unfairly and causes Blackheart to lose his arm.  This relationship helps to engage the reader even further and keeps the plot moving as the reader discovers what really happened between the two knights and watches as they both come to terms with their emotions and try to repair the friendship.  This also makes the book more about the characters, whom the reader really comes to love, instead of just the exciting, fast paced plot.

There is a really surprising twist towards the end of the novel that was unique and surprisingly non cliche.  It really gets the reader thinking about what makes someone good or evil and how these classifications can really be forced on people.  The novel really tries to make the point that people aren’t purely good or evil, but a mix of complex emotions.  It does a great job of getting this message across without being preachy or condescending.

I really loved this graphic novel and was surprised by how funny it was.  The writing in graphic novels is just as important as the drawings, and Stevenson does an amazing job creating humor, depth, and excitement.  This novel is based on the web comic and has been nominated for several awards.  You can read the first three chapters on Noelle Stevenson’s website and explore some of her other comics.  http://gingerhaze.com/