Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Crossing Genres: Mystery and Western

Have you seen Justified?  If you have, then you already know Elmore Leonard's character U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens.  Although his novels and short stories base him in Florida and Kentucky, he has a decidedly Western attitude, swagger, and style.  Read more about Raylan in Pronto, Riding the Rap, and Raylan.

If you're interested in the Native American aspect of the Western genre, or you like Tony Hillerman mysteries, you should check out Death Along the Spirit Road by C.M. Wendelboe.  His main character is a former tribal cop turned FBI Special Agent who returns to the reservation to find out who killed a Native land developer.

If a series set in modern day feels like too much like a departure at first, try Bill Brooks's John Henry Cole series. It seems to be set in the late mid 1800's (I've yet to find a specific date, though, so don't quote me on that.  Wyoming was still a territory, though.)  In the series starter, Blood Storm, Cole is a detective in the Ike Kelly Detective Agency in Cheyenne.  He's tasked with tracking down a
murderer who is killing women in Deadwood.  Cole's writing style will appeal to traditional Western readers as well as fans of Hemingway and Hammett.

Most of you already know C.J. Box's Joe Pickett and Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire, but there's also Frank Hayes' Virgil Dalton.  He's the sheriff in the same small Southwestern town he's lived in all his life.  Hayes' books are police procedurals at their cores, but his writing style, crisp dialogue  and the rugged Western landscape will make you think you're in 1860.

When we talk about Western authors, you usually don't see many female names in the mix.  I usually recommend Nevada Barr to folks who like both Westerns and Tricia Fields.  Her Texan police chief protagonist, Josie Gray shares those traits with Anna as she fights to maintain peace and law near the border.  If you haven't tried her yet, you're missing out!
Mysteries.  Her main character, Anna Pigeon, is a park ranger.  She's prickly, independent, and as tough as they come.  There's also

And finally, there's Ethan J. Wolfe's Regulator series.  If you're a N.C.I.S. fan, particularly of Gibbs, you will find Murphy extremely compelling.  His family was murdered while he was away fighting in the Civil War.  After tracking down and taking out their killers, he went into the Secret Service.  In The Regulator, he is deployed to track down a serial killer in New Mexico.  Wolfe combines a little western, a little mystery, and a little forensics in his deftly written new series.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Preacher

“Thereby hangs a tale.”

Preacher’s going to be a regular show on AMC, with the first episode having aired last night as I write this. Preacher was originally a comic written by Garth Ennis and illustrated mostly by Steve Dillon and came out of DC’s Vertigo lineup, the same brand that gave us Sandman, Swamp Thing, Vamps, The Invisibles, Hellblazer, Death, 100 Bullets and a bunch of twisted and wonderful nonsense from the minds of malcontents like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison. Preacher started going in 1995, but I came to it a little later, in 1997, two years after it started and three before it would end. With a story that hinges partly on a millennium-focused cataclysmic event, that timeline’s kind of important.

At the time, I was hosting “comics nights” at my house, and Preacher was widely read by friends of mine – probably the most adult of the adult comics we were reading. It was raw and disrespectful and profane and awesome because it was talking about a lot of the things we were talking about and it was influenced by things that were in our recent pop culture consciousness. Anne Rice’s frilly vampires, predating the stupid shiny Mormon ones, are lampooned, as is the grunge music of the 90s, while the deconstructionist Clint Eastwood Western Unforgiven is an obvious inspiration. The egalitarian approach of Preacher – somehow, Texan backwater preacher Jesse Custer is a proto-feminist – uncomfortably welded to a black-and-white morality that simply does not allow for some kinds of behavior, supplies the reader with a story where one laughs and then nearly immediately feels sympathy for the person being laughed at, or puts their trust in a character and is betrayed, more than once. In short, it’s a ride from drama to horror to comedy and all over creation.

At the core of the story is Jesse Custer’s compulsion to make God Himself answer for what has transpired not only within His creation but also more specifically, in Jesse’s life. The God of Preacher is a wrathful, petulant, selfish, vain Old Testament God, and He manipulates and uses lives to His own advantage. Characters see through Him, are damaged by Him, and pledge themselves to resisting Him and retaining their individuality. Ultimately, the story concludes with a strong statement about what kind of God should likely be watching over a world such as the one we have made and live in – reflected darkly back to us in the panels of Preacher. Of course, all of this was from the typewriter of a disaffected Irish Catholic, and that disappointed sensibility permeates every page.

Grounded in Texas homespun conventional wisdom (by way of Garth Ennis’ Irish understanding of such) but highlighted by angels, demons, vampires, sociopathic madmen, cannibals, tyrants, zealots, serial killers, voodoo priests, assassins, cowboys, soldiers, maniacs, horse-eaters, the naïve and the truly horrible, the disfigured and the inbred, Preacher is easily one of the best comics you will ever read, even when it isn’t. It wanders. There are digressions and backstories and storylines that many people find superfluous and/or silly. It’s an epic, though, in the dictionary sense of the word, with a huge cast of characters and a massive geographical area. Unless you’re easily offended, there’s no reason not to read Preacher.

Twice.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders


What happens when you combine science fiction and fantasy with witches, supercomputers, talking animals, antigravity machines, and the impending end of the world? You get All the Birds in the Sky, an addictive novel of the near future by former io9 editor Charlie Jane Anders.


Patricia and Laurence grow up as outcasts. While Patricia is dodging her animal-abusing older sister and inadvertently realizing that she can talk to birds, Laurence is avoiding his parents' attempts to make him outdoorsy so he has more time for projects like his watch-sized time machine that projects him two seconds into the future at the push of a button.

The two meet in middle school. It's not friendship-at-first-sight; their special abilities and social situations combine to make things much more complicated than that. But they do form a bond of sorts, just in time to be driven apart. Years pass with no contact before they are reunited as adults.

When Patricia and Laurence meet again, they're living in a different city and a different time. Both have used their respective gifts in very different ways, Patricia pursuing magic as retribution and Laurence becoming a tech genius in search of another habitable planet. The world around them becomes increasingly turbulent and the future less and less certain, and each of them has a role to play in the unfolding conflict between magic and science. Will they avert the apocalypse, or will they incite it?

All the Birds in the Sky is a novel of dichotomies. It is at once familiar and not quite like anything else. It has not just a sci-fi hero or a fantasy heroine; it has both, in the same book, interacting with one another. It depicts worlds of science and magic in such a way that both feel rich and vital, and it bashes them together in tragic ways. It's a story about both growing up and about what comes after, a novel of both endings and beginnings.

Maybe it goes without saying because I'm writing a blog post to recommend it to you, but it's also really good. There is much in it to appeal to fans of Lev Grossman's The Magicians, and to anyone who enjoys experimental SFF with a touch of literary fiction and a sprinkling of magical realism. With its cinematic qualities and relevant subject matter, it would make a great film or TV series. I think you'll be hearing more about this book in the future, so read it now!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

5 Authors You Should be Reading! (According to Me, Anyway.)

It is inevitable that, with so many wonderful books and authors in LPLS's collection, some of the best ones will fly under our collective radar.

Like Kaki Warner.  Her Blood Rose Trilogy is a rich western historical romance set in the 1860s.  What makes Warner's writing so special is her characterization.  You feel like you're reading about real people
rather than a  construct.  And although there is a strong romantic element to each book, the series is a family saga at heart, making it a good choice for traditional western readers as well.  There is an overarching storyline to the trilogy, so readers should start with the first one, Pieces of Sky.

This next one is for you, Walking Dead fans.  S.M. Stirling's The Change series takes place in the near future United States just after a technological apocalypse.  Over time, society, and the series itself, evolves from post-apocalyptic to dystopian to what is becoming more and more like a traditional fantasy.  Stirling's atmospheric writing, high body count, cliffhangers, and strong characterization make this a great choice for watchers of the walkers.  (Although readers of any of those genres should enjoy these!)  Start with The Sunrise Lands.

If mystery is more your thing, check out Amanda Matetsky's Paige Turner series.  Paige is a war widow and an aspiring writer who works as a secretary at Daring Detective magazine in the mid-1950s.  Once again, Matetsky's characterization makes this series distinctive, as protagonists and secondary characters are both products of their time and appealing to the modern reader.  Especially Paige herself, who is talented and ambitious, but struggles to be taken seriously by other writers and editors, all of whom are male.  These are fun amateur sleuth mysteries that are just a bit too noir to be considered truly cozy but will appeal to cozy readers nonetheless. 

If you're looking for something more like Michael Connelly or Dennis Lehane, you can't do any better than Bill Loehfelm.  His barmaid-turned-police-officer Maureen Coughlin was lauded as the character of the year by reviewers when The Devil She Knows was released back in 2011.  (Are you seeing a pattern here?)  Loehfelm's atmospheric yet lean writing and punchy dialogue definitely deserve more fans.


Urban fantasy seems to have taken a weensie dip in popularity over the years, but there's still some really great stuff out there to be explored.  Like Mike Carey's Felix Castor series.  Carey started out in comics, and his novels seem to have a visual quality to them, with spot-on description that doesn't weigh down the prose.  (Mike also writes as M.R. Carey, author of The Girl With All the Gifts.)  Felix himself is just as compelling as Butcher's Harry Dresden, and attracts just as much danger.  And Anglophiles will appreciate the London setting.  You'll want to start with The Devil You Know.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Free Comic Book Day!

We are getting ready for Free Comic Book Day at Linebaugh. In case you aren't familiar with it, this event happens nationwide on the first Saturday, in May, every year. Comic book stores open their doors to share a variety of single issue comics, which are free for all to take with them and read. Rick's Comic City, in Donelson, is supplying our event with comics. The fun begins Saturday, May 7 @ 9 AM. We will have prizes from these local businesses: The Green Dragon, Premiere 6Roll the Dice GamesPlay n Trade and many more!

In lieu of this exciting event, the staff of Linebaugh has been asked to share what comics, graphic novels or manga lead them to seeking more from this genre. We hope you enjoy the read!


JEROME: I don't know if it was the absolute first graphic novel I read, but the Bone series by Jeff Smith was my real introduction to what the genre could hold. I vaguely remember seeing the characters in a series of shorts in Disney Adventure magazine as a child. So running across the entire series, as an adult, I was nostalgic for something I hadn't even discovered yet. Bone Keeps a light -hearted tone while simultaneously taking its characters on an epic adventure. It is one of the first series I ordered for the Patterson Park Library branch. I still recommend them to any preteen, teenager, or adult interested in comics and graphic novels.





Kayla: The first graphic novel I ever read was The Wicked + The Divine Vol.1 and since then I have been hooked. The artwork and story line have been the things that keep me going back for more. Originally, I didn't think much of graphic novels and I didn't see the point in them, but now I enjoy this new found form of literature that captivates my mind and sight! Graphic novels are short enough to read in one sitting but intricate enough to make you think about what is happening and why the artists chose this format to tell the story. The Wicked + The Divine uses a patterns. It's just the main character, who is my age, speaking in words and phrases I understood. For this reason, specifically, I have added graphic novels to my growing personal collection.



Al: I read X-Men comics when I was younger, but it wasn't until Fables and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out in collected volumes that I really got into graphic novels. I loved the idea of fairy tale characters living in modern day New York and different literary characters banding together to solve mysteries and save the world.

I've been into manga longer than graphic novels though. I got a subscription to TokyoPop magazine when it was publishing chapters of Sailor Moon, Parasyte, and Magic Knight Rayearth. That got me into the bookstore searching for collected volumes and looking at all the different series. 


Brittney: Growing up in a small town, I was hard-pressed for excitement. Sometimes my best option for adventure was tagging along with my mom to the Piggly Wiggly, which had a spinning rack of comic books in the magazine section. I read pretty indiscriminately back then. My absolute favorites though were the Star Wars comics. I loved the adaptation of A New Hope (though even as a child I noticed and grimaced at a panel in which Leia's bust line was the focal  point). But the series that really was amazed me was The Dark Empire. Long before The Force Awakens, these comics brought me beyond the films and provided glimpses, of a continuation, of a story I loved. It was dark and sort of scary. The implication that stories continue and characters go on to do other, unexpected things when we're not watching, definitely stuck with me into adulthood.


Garrett: I can't imagine what it's like to experience graphic novels for the first time as an adult. A lot of stuff that people have read as "graphic novels" are really just trade paperback collected editions that, originally, came out as separate issues, now collected into chapters in a bound edition. Watchmen was 12 issues, one for each hand on the clock, and we waited a month between each one. Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns (which, along with Watchmen is generally credited with taking comics to a darker, grittier direction) was four "prestige format" issues which knew were special because the paper was so thick and they cost more.

My first actual graphic novel — a whole story collected into one book with slick pages — would have been around the time I was 8 years old or so. In 1982, I was already an X-Men fan, and Marvel was kicking off their "graphic novel format' stories with X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills and The New Mutants, among others. I know that I got these right as they came out, because house ads in the comics warned me that they would be available. I also picked up The Death of Captain Marvel around that time, and a huge impact was made. From that point forward, I would look for the graphic novel format in addition to collecting the monthlies because I knew they would contain more explicit content, more adult themes, and more (potentially) interesting stories. 




Jessica: Sadly, I did not grow up reading comics or graphic novels. But, good news! I was introduced to them 10 years ago, by a friend who decided to begin my education. The first thing I read, due to my love for Batman, was Jeph Loeb's Batman: Hush. It was the perfect series to introduce me to the superhero realm of graphic novels. Due to my lack of any previous knowledge I found their world to be intimidating. But...it wasn't until I read Watchmen, by Alan Moore, that I was aware of what this genre could offer. Moore created something truly unique and incredible when he wrote this alternate history. Watchmen changed everything I had come to understand in terms of superheroes: good guys fighting the bad guys. He was the first writer I encountered who made them flawed, damaged, human beings. They had a beating heart and soul. They were tangible. I experienced empathy for this group of superheroes, which was far from what I was anticipating. He took the terms "good guys" and "bad guys" and blurred the line because there is no right or wrong when the moral questions can't even be answered. I consider it (along with many others) a masterpiece. Watchmen really is a work of art. Moore opened a door to literature, for me. From that point forward I would forever: seek stories with flawed characters, want stories to challenge my point of view, and fall in love with graphic novels. Thanks, Alan!


Kathleen: I grew up in a small in town in rural Virginia mountains, there were no comic stores. We got our comics from a news seller where my Dad bought the WSJ. It was the "Bronze Age" of comics and super heroes were dealing with dark and painful issues: racism, pollution, drug use. I was never collector. I just had a huge, tottering stack in the corner of my room. A lot of what I read was more juvenile: Archie, Donald Duck, Casper, etc. My sense of humor hitched me up with Mad Magazine.

After I graduated high school, we moved to the big city, and then I traveled states away to attend college (no weekends home!). All of this before I turned 18. Life was darker than I had realized. A new college buddy gave me V for Vendetta (a new vertigo at the time) for my birthday, November 4th. It was  based in the UK, showing a future where the world was mostly destroyed, nuclear war was looming, a police state, an uprising...I ate it up. Still I was not a collector, but I discovered comics were much more and always had been. Now I was aware and on the lookout. V for Vendetta lead me to Alan Moore, in general, which lead me to my favorite, Swamp Thing. From there, I bumped into my (now) favorite characters: John Constantine, Dream, Morpheus, the Sandman and the Endless. Graphic novels were never the same again.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: Giant Days

I read a lot, and I read a lot of different things. But there are certain stories that just always do it for me in ways that others don't. Literary catnip.

Recent read Giant Days was pure catnip for me. Female buddy protagonists? Check. College setting? Check. Coming-of-age growing pains and awkwardness? You bet.

This series, written by John Allison and published by BOOM! Box, follows three young women who have become friends out of circumstance, rooming together at the English university they began attending three weeks ago. There's goth drama magnet Esther, tomboyish and exuberant Susan, and gawky former home schooled kid Daisy. Though they differ radically in personality and interests, they support each other through the pitfalls of starting college.  Over the course of this first volume, they go toe-to-toe against a bad case of the flu, chauvinist classmates, unrequited crushes, and unexpected reunions.

I loved pretty much everything about Giant Days, but what really made me happy was Allison's ability to balance humor and seriousness. Strong characterization and real feeling accompany the funny moments and add depth to the story.You laugh when Daisy accidentally takes Polish speed thinking it's medicine to help with her flu and ends up writing a novel in one night while holding a conversation with the pigeon outside her window. But a few pages later, you worry for her when she finds herself acting uncharacteristically at a rave.



I'm the kind of comics reader who insists on the art matching the story for quality, and Giant Days more than lived up to my standards. Animator Lissa Treiman (who has also worked for Disney Animation) brings the characters to life with her expressive, dynamic art. Colorist Whitney Cogar adds vibrancy to each page with her bright, saturated color choices. This is a book that's fun to look at and fun to read.

Recommended for fans of  Faith Erin Hicks (Friends with Boys) and of Lumberjanes.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Southern Fiction for Every Reader

By Jerome Azbell

From its roots in Virginia through Charleston and Nashville to Atlanta, Southern literature is a whirling mass of stories that tell a whole lot about either the South itself or how the world is seen through Southern eyes. Like any artistic endeavor, it has its rare gems mixed in with a lot of dirt and rocks. Depending on your tastes, though, you can probably find something in the Southern canon to suit your fancy.



For anyone with a pulse: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Lee’s book is required reading in many schools, and it has stood the test of time as one of the greatest American novels. Mockingbird is perhaps the quintessential Southern novel, especially of its time period. The backdrop of racism in the Jim Crow era blends with a tale of childhood in a different time. And then there’s Atticus Finch. This is required reading, pure and simple.
Also try: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain


For “based on a true story” fans: All the King’sMen by Robert Penn Warren
This political tale is steeped in the culture of the Depression-era South. Warren writes of back-room deals, stump talks, and all the dirt a Southern Democratic campaign trail can muster. While it’s not explicitly stated, the book is considered to be a fictionalized version of the life of Huey Long. If you’re an audiobook aficionado, Michael Emerson’s version for Recorded Books brings the story to life.
Also try: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt




For fans of “traditional” Southern fare: Looking forSalvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore
The coming-of-age, have-to-leave-this-tiny-town-forever-or-I’ll-never-be-anything trope is perhaps the most well-known in modern Southern literature. While the genre has expanded immensely, current authors still write this style of story. Gilmore tells a strong tale of longing, hope, and finding value wherever you happen to be.
Also try: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg


For literary fiction fans: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Counting as Southern due to its authorship rather than its setting (Ann Patchett is based in Nashville, where she also owns Parnassus Books), Bel Canto is an amazing piece of literary fiction. It tells the story of a group of hostages along with their captors and the interpersonal relationships that come from such a unique situation. Highly recommended.
Also try: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote


For fans of all things Nashville: The Taylor Jackson series by J.T. Ellison
Sometimes you’re just in the mood for familiar surroundings, and the Lt. Taylor Jackson series (of which this book is the first) provides just that. Ellison’s works generally use Nashville as their setting, although she has spun off into Washington, D.C., and also written with Catherine Coulter on an FBI series.
Also try: A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander