Month: February 2018

Check It Out Blog

Black History Month Spotlight: Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is not only a Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author, she is also a local talent who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Floosmoor, Illinois. She earned her PhD in English at the University of Illinois, Chicago. This groundbreaking science fiction and fantasy writer is the focus of our fourth Black History Month spotlight (see our first, second, and third authors also featured this month.)

Okorafor’s novels span juvenile, young adult, and adult collections, and are flavored with her Nigerian and American heritage. Her works explore the ramifications of racial and gender inequality, violence, war and environmental abuse. She has now started writing Marvel’s much-heralded Black Panther comic series, taking over from author Ta-Nahesi Coates.

“Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an ‘accelerated woman’–only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7. Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape. But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.” (Penguin Random House)

Andrea’s Pick: City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

Andrea's staff pick photoNahri knows better than anyone that there’s no such thing as magic. She uses sleight-of-hand and misdirection, not real magic, to con her customers.

What Nahri knows, however, is called into question when she accidentally summons an ancient djinn warrior. The djinn tells her of Daevabad, the legendary city of brass that holds the key to Nahri’s past. The City of Brass will sweep you away with Nahri and her djinn companion, across scorching deserts and dangerous mountains, to the mystical city and the secrets within its walls.

Black History Month Spotlight: Alyssa Cole

One of the inspiring opportunities of Black History Month is thepicture of author alyssa cole chance to be introduced to talents we might otherwise miss without intention. In this third spotlight (see the first here and second here), our gaze turns to author Alyssa Cole.

Award-winning author Alyssa Cole’s portfolio is diverse, ranging from contributing to RT Book Reviews, Shondaland, and The Toast, to writing sci-fi to working as a science editor. Her latest venture is into historical romance with The Loyal League. Starting with The Extraordinary Union (2017), forbidden love and spies set during the American Civil War make for a steamy compelling read. Cole continues her tradition of writing strong, intellectual woman in A Hope Divided (2017), which follows a healer secretly working for the Union and protecting an escaped prisoner.

 

an extraordinary union book coverAn Extraordinary Union
by Alyssa Cole
Book 1
A Hope Divided book coverA Hope Divided
by Alyssa Cole
Book 2

Cathleen’s Pick: Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn

Cathleen staff picks photoIt’s a hard fall from corporate mogul to sanitorium resident, but Henry Dunbar brought this on himself. In a play for adoration, he gave up control of his company, and now those he rewarded have left him with nothing. Both clever re-imagining of King Lear and contemporary morality tale, Edward St. Aubyn’s Dunbar exposes the heart of a once-heartless man.

Black History Month Spotlight: Kyle Baker

Kyle Baker author photoOne of the inspiring opportunities of Black History Month is the chance to be introduced to talents we might otherwise miss without intention. In this second spotlight (see the first here), our gaze turns to artist and graphic novelist Kyle Baker.

Baker’s creations play with different styles and tones, which makes sampling his stories an exploration of the unexpected.  Blending computer-generated art with hand-drawn work, the illustrations often appear animated movie-ready, reminiscent of storyboards, and the unusual touch of captioning below the image rather than having text integrated into the panel emphasizes the power of the art on its own. That impact is heightened by his use of highly saturated colors which make the characters and action pop from the page.

Experience one or more of Baker’s celebrated works for yourself.  Whether you are primed to learn, to laugh, to escape, or to think, you’ll find a match in the Library’s collection. Start with one of these:

Nat Turner book coverNat Turner

The story of Nat Turner’s historic slave rebellion is powerfully realized in this award-winning graphic novel. Dramatic images do most of the talking, only sparingly supplemented with outbursts of text. Intentionally breaking from his reputation for bold colors, Baker depicts the action in muted sepia tones that are no less eye-catching, allowing the haunting images to etch the lives and lessons of history into our understanding.

 

 

Birth of a Nation book coverBirth of a Nation: A Comic Novel
by Aaron McGruder and Reginald Hudlin
illustrated by Kyle Baker

When hundreds of its black citizens are turned away from national polls for suspicious reasons, what is the town of East St. Louis, Illinois to do? Secede and start a separate country, of course!  Baker’s lively illustrations enhance the satire of McGruder and Hudlin’s tale, making us smile even as their social and political points hit the mark.

 

 

King David book coverKing David

David of Israel, this is your life! From precocious lad to powerful but flawed monarch, his story is infused with both action and attitude. Baker effectively holds attention captive even during well-traveled episodes, most especially during the shepherd boy’s confrontation with gargantuan soldier Goliath.

 

 

You Are Here book coverYou Are Here

Billed as “a spectacular, full-color urban romantic comedy about what happens when the things we hide come back to haunt us,” this wisecracking romp illustrates the story of a former criminal, his unaware New Age girlfriend, and a serial killer with a grudge.  Buckle in for an outrageous combination of noir, action, and humor sure to offer the escapism you might need.

 

Staff Pick: Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

Patty from Administration suggests Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova:

Inside the OBriens book coverAre you looking for an easy read that you won’t be able to put down? My recommendation for you is Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova.

It’s a beautifully written story about what it is like to be diagnosed with a fatal degenerative disease: how you react, how you move forward, how the medical costs are crippling, and how the disease impacts everyone around you. It’s an emotional read that takes you from despair to hope and humor as you consider your own immortality.

Joe O’Brien, our main character, is a Boston Police Officer: he’s funny and he’s “real”! His view of a cop’s world in the years since the Boston Marathon bombing is enlightening to the struggles of all of those who serve. You’ll also see the internal turmoil of Joe’s friends, his wife, and his four adult children, all of whom may face the same fate as their father.

Hollywood is going to be releasing the movie of this beautiful story later this year, but I strongly encourage you to read the book first! You will cry, but you’ll laugh too, and gain a true understanding of Huntington’s Disease and others illnesses like it.

For more heartfelt, thoughtful stories of characters confronting life-altering challenges…

Partial History of Lost Causes book coverA Partial History of Lost Causes
by Jennifer DuBois
When her father succumbs to Huntington’s disease, Irina discovers a letter he wrote to an internationally renowned chess champion and political dissident, whom she decides to visit in Russia.
Sweetest Hallelujah book coverThe Sweetest Hallelujah
by Elaine Hussey
In 1955 Betty Jewel is dying of cancer and struggling to find someone to care for her daughter. With no other solution available, she takes out a want ad seeking a loving mother to take her place when she’s gone.

 

Mimi Malloy at Last book coverMimi Malloy, At Last!
by Julia MacDonnell
When Mimi’s MRI reveals her brain is filled with black spots, the prospect of living out her days in an “Old Timer’s facility” starts to look like more than just an idea at the top of her eldest daughter’s to-do list.
Did You Ever Have a Family book coverDid You Ever Have a Family
by Bill Clegg
In a devastatingly beautiful debut, survivor June struggles to accept unthinkable loss, and the entire community reels from the threads that extend both before and after the tragedy.
Cover of My Sister's Keeper
My Sister’s Keeper
by Jodi Picoult
Conceived to provide bone marrow for her leukemia-stricken sister, teenager Anna begins to question her moral obligations and decides to fight for the right to make decisions about her own body.

Black History Month Spotlight: Yaa Gyasi

February is here, and with it comes our celebration of Black History Month. This year we will be casting a spotlight on various African American authors you might not yet be familiar with, though their literary contributions are important to recognize.

Yaa Gyasi author photo

Our first author spotlight is on Yaa Gyasi, who won the 2017 PEN/Hemingway award for her book Homegoing. Born in Ghana and raised in the United States (where she lived for a time in Illinois before moving to Alabama), Ms. Gyasi holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Stanford University and a Master of Fine Arts from the Univeristy of Iowa’s Iowa Writer’s Workshop. According to her publisher, Penguin Random House, the five books that inspired Ms. Gyasi are Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin, Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones, Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

Homegoing book coverGhana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.

Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation. (Penguin Random House)