Friday, July 29, 2016

Aquaman: The Trench Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Ambrea

For years, Aquaman has reigned supreme as king of the seas, but, on the surface, he’s discounted as a second rate hero and disrespected accordingly.  As the child of a human and an Atlantean, Arthur—better known by his Aquaman moniker—is accepted by neither the race of his father nor the kingdom of his mother and he’s exhausted by the politics, so he decides to do as his father does:  he decides to seclude himself from the world in the light house he called home for most of his childhood.

But Aquaman knows he can’t escape the obligations that his power and his authority give him.  A terrifying new threat has emerged from the deepest abyss, a horrifying race of creatures that are set on devouring everything they can find—Aquaman included.  Now, he must save the people who have long disregarded and mocked him if he ever hopes to live up to his father’s memory and, more importantly, uncover the secrets of the deep kept even from the king of the seas.

Aquaman is frequently disregarded as a foolish superhero or completely discounted in the DC Universe, much like Adam West’s 1960s Batman; sometimes, he’s only ever used as the punchline of a joke (think Big Bang Theory).  He’s not the most popular superhero in the comic book world, and even I’ll be the first to admit that he’s not one of my favorites.  However, in Aquaman:  The Trench, the first in the New 52 series by DC comics, Aquaman’s reputation as a superhero is finally redeemed—and I am so excited.

I’ve always had a specific picture of Aquaman in my mind:  Aquaman of the Justice League series which aired on Cartoon Network in 2001.  I was introduced to a different kind of hero, a gruff and brooding king of the deep who rivaled Batman in his angst—and, being an impressionable youth, I instantly respected him for his uncanny strength, his ability to communicate with undersea life, and his absolute loyalty to the people of Atlantis.  He was, I thought, pretty awesome.

And, after reading The Trench, I feel like I’ve reaffirmed my place in the Aquaman fandom.

Honestly, it’s refreshing to see Aquaman in a new light.  I loved the humor in his story and, more importantly, I loved the amazing character design.  Artistically speaking, both Arthur (honestly, I don’t think I knew his real name before I read this volume) and Mera are beautifully designed.  I liked the detail and the color, the vibrancy of their characters; moreover, I loved the way they interacted as characters with one another and the rest of the world.  Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Joe Prado do an excellent job of depicting Aquaman as a superhero.

Aquaman has an emotional depth and intricacy that, confidentially, I didn’t expect.  Arthur is tugged at by his urge to protect mankind and his duty as the king of the seas, by his father’s humanity and his mother’s kingdom beneath the waves.  It’s an interesting dynamic that adds a layer of complexity to his character and his story.  He wants to preserve humanity, but he doesn’t wish to destroy Atlantis in the process; he wants to be human, but he knows he isn’t.  I was immediately intrigued to see how his story plays out.

Granted, I found the pace to be a little quicker than I would like.  It seemed like the story was in a hurry to get somewhere, and I would have liked a little more time to dwell on Mera’s history and Arthur’s background before he became known as Aquaman.  However, it isn’t a deal breaker and it’s only a slight blemish on a story that’s fantastic overall.  It’s also a bit more violent than I expected, but, I suppose, it’s to be expected when terrifying creatures creep out of the deepest trenches in the ocean and seek out a new food source.

Overall, I loved reading Aquaman.  In fact, I think it’s one of my favorite superhero comics of the year.  It’s right up there with the new Spider-Gwen, The Long Halloween, Hush, and Mark Waid’s Daredevil.

NOTE:  We're running this review in honor of Rob-Con, Bristol's beloved comic book convention.  It's this weekend, July 30 & 31, at Viking Hall.  Visit them on Facebook or access the website here.

And, of course, visit them at Viking Hall! 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Nevermore:Oates, Laukken, Haruf, Burroughs, & McMinn

Reported by Jeanne

Nevermore was fascinated with fiction this week! The first book discussed was Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carole Oates in which a young neuroscientist becomes fascinated by, and then infatuated with, a patient.  Margot Sharpe first meets Elihu Hoopes in 1965.  He is a handsome, cultured 37 year old whose brain has been damaged by encephalitis:  he remembers his life clearly only until he became ill.  Now he is unable to form new memories and he can only remember things for 70 seconds. The book follows them for the next thirty years as Margot studies Elihu, creating experiments and writing papers on human memory function.  Our reviewer was quite taken with the book, and recommended it to the group as being well worth reading. She especially appreciated the science behind the psychological descriptions.

While Owen Laukkanen’s The Watcher in the Wall is a thriller, it also has psychology at its core.  Investigative team Carla Windermere and Kirk Stevens are looking into the suicide of a teenager when they discover that she was part of an online suicide pact. . . and that other kids may be involved.  Our reviewer thought it was well done, though some suspension of disbelief is required.

Another reader had picked up The Tailor of Panama by John Le Carre, master of the spy thriller.  The main character is Harry Pendel, an ex-convict who has set up a tailor shop in Panama and who caters to the rich and powerful.  He’s recruited by a British agent who wants Harry to use his connections to provide intel—or else he will expose Harry’s past.  It’s not exactly standard Le Carre, but our reader enjoyed it.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf is set a small town in Colorado, where the lives of a disparate group of people—two bachelor famers, two teachers, a pregnant teenager, and two young boys whose family life is unsettled by a mother who retreats from reality—intersect and then intertwine.  Haruf uses plain language to create a complex, emotional story of family and community.  Our reader hadn’t finished the book, so she wanted to reserve judgment.

Next up was a non-fiction book that read like fiction:  Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs is a memoir about a definitely abnormal childhood.  Burroughs mother, a poet, more or less gives him away to be raised by her psychiatrist who has some. . . um, unorthodox ideas, to say the least.  Alternately horrifying and humorous, our reviewer said it was one of those books you just have to read to believe.  It’s been making the rounds in Nevermore and once again it was quickly taken by another member, so future reports are expected.

Finally, Chickens in the Road by Suzanne McMinn is a memoir with photographs, recipes, and crafts.  McMinn was a successful romance writer who decided to move to West Virginia, where she had spent summers as a child.  Her children weren’t exactly thrilled to be moving to a rural farm (one son took his first look at their new home and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die.”) but McMinn persevered.  She tells her story with humor and verve.  She also does a popular blog,, which keeps readers up to date with the farm, and much of the book comes from the blog

Monday, July 25, 2016

Nine Lives by Wendy Corsi Staub

Reviewed by Jeanne

Bella Jordan’s life was almost picture-perfect: a wonderful son, a husband she adored, a lovely home.  The only fly in the ointment was Sam’s mother, a rigid individual who believed no woman would ever be good enough for her son and let Bella know how inadequate she was. Thank goodness Millicent lived a thousand miles away in Chicago; their meetings were infrequent and brief.

Until Sam died.

Now Bella has to load up her precocious son Max and all their possessions to drive across country to live with a woman who has never had a kind word for her. On the way, she ends up in the town of Lily Dale, a little community known for its annual psychic workshops where she finds herself filling in for Leona, an innkeeper who passed away unexpectedly.  It’s only delaying the inevitable, but Bella finds herself relieved at the reprieve.  She doesn’t buy into the supernatural hoopla surrounding the town although she is surprised at how normal everyone seems—or almost everyone— as they talk about mediums, trances, auras and such.   

To complicate matters further,  Max becomes instantly attached to a pregnant cat who turns out to belong to the late Leona. The cat bears an uncanny resemblance to a cat who turned up hundreds of miles away at Bella’s home just before she and Max hit the road. It can't possibly be the same cat... or can it? Bella finds herself drawn to the town and its quirky inhabitants, but odd dreams and visions begin to intrude.  Even as she resists the notion of ghosts, psychics, and traveling cats, Bella begins to wonder if Leona could have been murdered.

I picked this one up because of good reviews from people whose opinions I trust.  Corsi Staub is the author of several series, including a well-reviewed YA series also set in Lily Dale.  The characters were appealing, especially Max and Chance the Cat.  (Fans of the movie Being There will get an extra kick out of that reference.)  The plot was serviceable enough, especially for a first book in a series; many such books spend so much time setting the stage and introducing characters that the plot suffers.  This one moved along at a steady pace, which bodes well for sequels.

Chance the Cat is appropriately adorable—as we all know, I judge a series in part on how well the felines are depicted – and I enjoyed learning about Lily Dale.  Another important point for me is that  characters are likeable.  I confess I have to like at least one of the characters in a book or I'm not going to invest the time.

However, what I enjoyed most was the setting.  Lily Dale is a real place.  It’s the town with a long history of being a part of the Spiritualist movement; the Fox Sisters’ house was moved there from Hydesville, NY. The town does indeed host numerous workshops on clairvoyance and psychic phenomenon, and offers year round access to registered mediums.  Since she grew up in the area, Corsi Staub demonstrates a real familiarity with the area and its persnickety weather as well as places of local interest such as the Fairy Trail and Inspiration Stump. 

 I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, Something Buried, Something Blue which is due out in October.   

If you’re curious about Lily Dale, their website is

Wendy Corsi Staub's website is

Friday, July 22, 2016

When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison

Reviewed by Ambrea

Gemma Craig has had enough of dating; instead, she has decided to focus on her job, which she’s surprisingly good at—and that suits her just fine.  She’s thirty-seven, she has a successful business working as a private chef, and she has a steady stream of clients who keep her life busy.  She loves the challenges, but, more than anything, she loves the predictability.  “Recipes are certain.  Use good ingredients, follow the directions, and you are assured success,” as she points out in the book, whereas life is much, much messier.

And then her life is turned upside down—first by a peacock, and then by an unexpected fling with handsome gentleman.  As Gemma struggles to pull the pieces of her world back together again, she finds herself coming face-to-face with her past and wondering how she could have walked right off the edge of straight-and-narrow.  But with a little luck, a pinch of hope, and, of course, a little bit of butter, Gemma will discover the true value of happiness and just how important love can be.

I listened to When in Doubt, Add Butter earlier this year, picking it specifically for the evenings when I walked my dog.  I originally chose it because I liked the title—and, if I’m being honest with myself, I probably picked it for the image of cupcakes on the cover as much as the title—but I was pleasantly surprised by Beth Harbison’s novel and Orlagh Cassidy’s narration.  Filled with lots of crazy, quirky characters and heart-warming stories, When in Doubt, Add Butter is a truly fabulous novel.

Gemma is an excellent narrator.  Witty and realistic, plagued by all the familiar hopes and fears of the average woman who worries about her professional career and her financial state, she can easily connect to readers on an emotional level—and, more importantly, she’s funny.  She’s candid, and she has a way of recounting her story so that it has an emotional impact and makes you laugh.  Coupled with Orlagh Cassidy’s skills, Gemma comes to life in a way that is, simply put, spectacular.

And speaking of Orlagh Cassidy, I absolutely loved the variety and range of characters she could play.  I was suitably impressed by the emotion she could convey and the changes of tone that signified specific characters, distinguishing particular personalities apart, that allows her to really reach listeners.  When in Doubt, Add Butter seems to take on a life of its own, and I couldn’t wait to return again and again to the story.

Honestly, I can’t think of any reason this book isn’t appealing.  It features a fun, heartwarming story, oddball characters, food (I mean, who doesn’t like food?), an excellent narrator and a dash of humor.  Granted, I found the plot to be a little predictable for my usual tastes.  For instance, I totally called the identity of Gemma’s mysterious “Mr. Tuesday,” and I saw the romantic entanglement from a mile away.  However, overall, I found the story to be incredibly poignant and unexpectedly riveting.  I was drawn in to Gemma’s story from the very first chapter—and, if I wasn’t, I’d have certainly been hooked by the ignominious incident with a peacock in the second.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Nevermore: Dark Money, Running With Scissors, Alligator Candy, Shiloh Autumn, Houses of Civil War America

This week, our readers kicked of Nevermore with Dark Money:  The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer.  A profound and insightful piece of literature, Dark Money offers a glimpse into the skewed political climate and economic inequality of the United States and explains how “a network of exceedingly wealthy people with extreme libertarian views bankrolled a systematic, step-by-step plan to fundamentally alter the American political system.”  Our reader said it was very well written with pages and pages of notes in the back, detailing Mayer’s resources; however, she also said it was one of the more depressing books she’d ever read.  The subject matter was frustrating, because it detailed many of the outrageous inequalities inflicted on the American public by individuals like David and Charles Koch, who created organizations to influence everything from academic institutions to Congress.  She admitted that she had to stop a few times in order to take a breather from such frightening and disheartening material.

Next, our readers looked at a memoir by Augusten Burroughs:  Running with Scissors.  At the tender age of twelve, Burroughs came to live with his mother’s psychiatrist, a startlingly unorthodox guardian who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus and provided few, if any rules, for the young ward in his care.  A harrowing and sometimes hilarious account of one boy’s struggle for survival in a new, eccentric household, Running with Scissors is a strange but incredibly memorable book.  According to our reader, Burroughs’ memoir is “one of the most bizarre books I’ve read in a long time,” but she praised it for its depth and its originality.  Another reader chimed in, saying, “It’s so weird,” but she too had enjoyed it when she finished her own copy.  Both highly entertaining and incredibly unusual, Running with Scissors was a big hit at Nevermore and received excellent reviews—and it quickly traveled to the hands of another reader, who was extremely excited to read it.

Nevermore also took a look at another memoir, Alligator Candy by David Kushner.  Kushner, an award-winning journalist and contributor to popular magazines like Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair, among others, has written a poignant memoir about his childhood in the 1970s Florida suburbs—and the day his older brother, Jon, disappeared.  On the inside cover, it reads:  “Every life has a defining moment, a single act that charts the course we take and determines who we become.  For Kushner, it was Jon’s disappearance…”  Kushner, intent on discovering something new about his brother’s disappearance, returns to his hometown as a reporter and investigates that “defining moment” in the hopes of capturing something he lost long ago.  Our reader was intrigued by Kushner’s book; however, she discovered she wasn’t a big fan.  Although she finished reading Alligator Candy, she said it was a bit of a downer and not quite what she wanted to find this week.

Next, Nevermore took a look back at the Great Depression with Shiloh Autumn by Bodie and Brock Thoene.  Even in the heart of the Great Depression, the Canfield and Tucker families live peacefully in Shiloh, Arkansas—until the cotton market collapses in Memphis on October 1, 1931.  Based on the lives of Bodie Thoene’s grandparents, Shiloh Autumn is a “really wholesome [book], but it was really good,” according to our reader.  She said she was initially interested in the book because of the title, thinking it was a book about the Civil War and the Battle of Shiloh; however, she was surprised to find a very different story—and very surprised to find she enjoyed it.  While Shiloh Autumn was her typical fare, she found she was fascinated by the historical detail Bodie and Brock included in their novel and she said the story was particularly compelling.

 Product Details
Last, Nevermore went even farther back into history to take a look at the Civil War, specifically the architecture in Houses of Civil War America:  The Homes of Robert E. Lee, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton, and Others Who Shaped the Era by Hugh Howard.  The title was a bit of a mouthful, but our reader really enjoyed reading Howard’s collection on Civil War era houses.  He said it was fascinating, calling it “a marvelous thing.”  Houses of Civil War America offered a comprehensive and insightful look into the houses of notable individuals involved in the civil war, offering both historical documents and a photographic tour of each of the homes.  It has lots of “super pictures” and history, which he enjoyed—and he especially enjoyed reading about Longwood (otherwise known as “Nutt’s Folly”) in Natchez, Mississippi.  An old antebellum mansion, Longwood was a house designed by Samuel Sloan with the unique occupants in mind, combining Italianate architecture with an octagonal design to create a truly unique residence; however, with the start of the Civil War, the Nutt house was never finished and has remained unfinished for the better part of 150 years.  It’s a wonderful coffee table book, our reader enthused.  He highly recommended it to everyone.