Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea" by Guy Delisle

French-Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle’s graphic novel account of his time in Pyongyang, North Korea is mired by a staggering sense of isolation.  Delisle’s pages are composed of hollow spaces, populated by cartoon characters meandering through vacant hotel hallways.  He renders his two-month stay as an animation supervisor in pencil washes, creating a world perpetually, beautifully out of focus. 

Beside his ever-present guide and translator, Delisle rarely interacts with any North Koreans.  Outside of his hotel, he is chaperoned through the capital city’s most tourist-friendly landmarks, inundated by tedious Communist propaganda.  Delisle maintains a sharp sense of humor and skepticism, challenging jingoistic outpourings and exaggerated histories.  Though he renders his anecdotes in clean cartoon lines, he does not belie the horrors inherent to life spent under a dictatorship.  For every imposing monument and smiling volunteer, there are stories of food shortages and citizens informing on one another.  Every citizen he encounters is a beaming patriot, and so they often seem like caricatures rather than individuals.  This may be a failing on Delisle’s part to better connect with those around him, but I suspect that it instead reinforces the book’s theme of loneliness amidst artifice.
I sought out this graphic novel after the death of former Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Il.  I only had a cursory knowledge of the man and his country—both mysterious and inaccessible— and I felt a travelogue would be a good introduction.  Delisle makes no claims to be an expert, nor is the book designed as a comprehensive travel guide.  Instead, the book reflects his changing temperaments in a very alien place: introspective, mistrustful, bewildered, humbled, etc.  His visit is as much fascinatingly exotic as it is alienating.  Delisle’s story is often distant and ambiguous, as gray as the buildings disappearing into the horizon. 

Pyongyang by Guy Delisle

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Can you mess with the time-space continuum?

Remember the scientific news from last summer, about particles moving faster than the speed of light? Since I couldn't understand the physics, it meant only one thing to me: time travel!!

What if you could go back in time to 1958? Would you alter the one event in US history--the assassination of Jack Kennedy--that could change so much more? Was our experience different in Vietnam because Lyndon Johnson was president? Perhaps Martin Luther King Jr. wouldn't have been assassinated. Or Bobby Kennedy...

In Stephen King's new book, 11/22/63, Jake Epping has a chance to find out. His friend Al is dying, and Al confesses that his diner's storage room contains a portal to September 9, 1958. Jake takes a tentative trip back in time, then accepts Al's mission: to ascertain that Oswald acted alone and to thwart Oswald's attempt on Kennedy's life. As a reader, you step back in time with Jake, a time when women always wore dresses, men wore hats, everyone smoked cigarettes, cars had fins, and there was no air conditioning, or cell phones, or internet.

Stephen King tells a good story and keeps it moving, full of period details, likeable characters, and plot twists. For avid King readers, there are cameo appearances by characters from his other books. And at 850 pages, the book serves as its own portal, pulling you in and giving you time to experience the 60's. Enjoy the trip!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Author Visits!

My friends at the Warren Newport Public Library in Gurnee are hosting some fabulous, free author events! If you are interested in attending, call 847-244-5150 or go to their website to register. Authors will sign copies of their books.

Lauren Willig and Tasha Alexander will be appearing on Wednesday, February 22nd at 7pm. Lauren Willig writes the Pink Carnation historical fiction series, which is one of my favorites. She will be discussing her new book, The Garden Intrigue. Tasha Alexander writes the Lady Emily mystery series and will discuss her latest novel, A Crimson Warning.

Sunday, February 26 2:00pm Jennifer Chiaverini will discuss her latest novel, The Wedding Quilt. In addition to the 17 volumes of the Elm Creek Quilts series, she is the author of four volumes of quilt patterns as well as the designer of the Elm Creek Quilts fabric line.

Erik Larson will be appearing on Sunday, March 18th at 2pm. Larson is the writer of the hugely successful Devil in the White City and will talk about his research strategies and his latest book, In the Garden of Beasts.

And although it's a few months away, I'm so excited that they are hosting Jen Lancaster on Saturday, June 16th at 2pm. Jen is one of my favorite authors, so I'll be the crazy fan sitting in the front row acting like I'm at a Justin Bieber concert. Hope to see you there!

Friday, February 10, 2012

It finally happened

I really and truly finished the entire Hunger Games series and (obviously) not a minute too soon, considering that the movie based on the first book comes out March 23rd!! So I know that there is a certain excitement and rush to following a series as it grows, and there is that tantalizing anxiety to thinking that you literally cannot wait another year for the next book to come out and what are you supposed to do during that horrendously unfair wait and then oh my gosh it's here and you're exalted and it's the best feeling in the world. Anyone know what I'm talking about? In the complete opposite fashion of perpetually waiting for the next part of the story to unfold, the Hunger Games was one of a very few hit series that I sat on until all of the books had been published (and for quite a while at that.) This wasn't anything I did on purpose because typically dystopian fiction isn't really my thing. I'll admit that watching the movie trailer, combined with the fact that seemingly everyone on earth was reading this book despite their varied interests, pushed me to finally check out a copy of the Hunger Games. Soooo, I finished the trilogy in a little over 5 days and it was just as captivating and thrilling as I had heard. There was also a surprising perk to my whole "this is a series I know I will eventually read but I'm just not feeling it right now" tactic, this being that once I was finished with "The Hunger Games" I could smugly move onto "Catching Fire" and then "Mockingjay" with hardly a lapse in between. Thank goodness for that, because I got that same panicky feeling of not being able to possibly wait to find out what happens in the next book, and then, mercifully, I could just walk over to the shelf and have the next book in my hands.

But wait. Now I'm thinking, what's next? Check out the titles below for some readalikes. I surprised myself with this series, maybe some of these will do the same for you!

Legend by Marie Lu

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Bloodsong by Melvin Burgess

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

The Running Man by Stephen King

The Unidentified by Rae Mariz

Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Memento Nora by Angie Smibert

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Beautifully written, Glaciers is the story of a young librarian in Portland, Oregon and her dreams of love and faraway places.  Alexis M. Smith's debut novel takes the reader through a cascading waterfall of imagery.
The title of the book, Glaciers, refers to the imminent demise of the glaciers in the Alaska of her childhood  told through flashbacks during the present narrative.

We follow the story of Isabel and a day in her life as she works in the basement of a library, shops in a thrift store, prepares for a party and reminisces about the past and how it has shaped her life. 

Isabel laments the past and speculates on the future, realizing that she can change her life as she sees fit.  Memories of not only Isabel's life, but also of those she doesn't know is a repetitive theme throughout the book. Her love for vintage reveals Isabel's appreciation for the history of objects that were once new.  Such contemplation by Isabel has the reader visualizing their own journey with objects from the past.

A quick and enchanting read, Glaciers is one of those books you cannot afford to miss.