Staff Review: Afterparty

Originally posted on Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

By Daryl Gregory
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Reviewed by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Daryl Gregory’s novel is not about drug use, religion or the future … Or, technically, it’s about all of these things. But it’s also about relationships, love, what it means to be alive and breathing. But at its heart (and it does have one of those, a rather big one, too), Afterparty is about what’s real.

Most of the novel is told from Lyda’s point of view. She’s a partial creator of a drug which seems to be making an appearance on the street. This drug, originally created to be helpful, has the strangest result from an overdose – a person gets religion. But, if it’s caused by a drug, is that religion at all? Lyda doesn’t think so, after all, the god she sees is a hallucination.

As one of the creators of the drug, Lyda’s determined to stop its spread. There’s only one problem: she’s in a mental hospital.

Afterparty follows Lyda on her journey – of love, self-discovery, loathing, redemption and, ultimately, the truth. Gregory sprinkles the story with a few cleverly written pop culture references as well as additional points of view. He picks many of our side characters and turns them, if briefly, into main characters. He gives us just enough clues to lead us to the answers that Lyda’s searching for (some many find them before she does, though I didn’t).

The book blew my mind in a few places. The world that Lyda lives in is close enough to our own that, aside from the ability to print drugs on demand, it could be our own. But at its heart, it’s a science fiction novel (which is where you’ll find it on our shelves). Afterparty is reminiscent of William Gibson’s (informal) series: Blue Ant Trilogy and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital series (near-future science fiction that takes place in worlds similar to our own – I highly recommend both of these series).

Gregory’s book is clever and entertaining, but it’s a little deeper than that. We’re given a close look at our future (although the novel is mostly set in Canada, it could be, in some ways, any technologically advance country/large city) and it’s not pretty. But Afterparty is not devoid of hope — we do find an answer to what’s real and we’re left wondering if it even matters at all.

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Staff Review: The Grandmaster

Originally posted on Saturday, 10 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

Directed by Wong Kar Wai
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Reviewed by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

grandmaster01If you like kung fu movies, then you’ve probably heard of Bruce Lee – you might even have watched some of Lee’s movies. But you may not have heard about the man who taught Bruce Lee, Ip Man (often written as Yip Man). His rank was that of grandmaster and while he’s most famous in the west for being Bruce Lee’s teacher, he has quite a legacy in China.

Wong Kar Wai (known for movies such as In the Mood For Love, Chungking Express and Happy Together) finally released his long awaited Ip Man movie. The Grandmaster is a mixture of fact and fiction. Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays Ip Man, but there are a number of other characters, notably Zhang Ziyi as Gong Er, who are not real. Instead of a biopic of Ip Man, Wong Kar Wai does what he’s known for, creating a movie that is about the mood and feel of a specific time in history (1930s China) and a rather moving character study.

The Grandmaster features plenty of kung fu, but it’s less about the fighting itself than the art of fighting. The movie, while giving us some history of Ip Man, is more focused on showing us how people survived in 1930s China. We follow Ip Man as he must leave his wife and child and eventually go to Hong Kong. And while Tony Leung Chiu Wai acts superbly, the heat of the story belongs to Zhang Ziyi’s character. Gong Er is the daughter of another martial artist, a rival of Ip Man’s.

Her story is central and we flit in and out of it throughout the movie. Gong Er is beautiful, strong and a martial artist in her own right. But she is also a woman and thus she’s forced into sacrificing her life, basically. The scenes between Gong Er and Ip Man are full of emotional and sexual tension. Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi play well off of each other and Wong Kar Wai did an excellent job matching them up.

grandmaster02There are several fights, but the highly is Zhang Ziyi’s improbably battle next to a train. I will not spoil this scene, though. It’s best enjoyed within the context of the film. The secondary characters (Ip Man and Gong Er being our main characters) play out their own stories. My biggest complaint is that Wong Kar Wai made a new cut of the film, before it was ever released and Chang Chen’s character, “The Razor” Yixiantian, is barely in the movie (for a great Chang Chen film, also starring Tony Leung, check out John Woo’s four hour masterpiece, Red Cliff) .

Fan of Wong Kar Wai won’t be disappointed with The Grandmaster. But if you’re looking for something that focuses more on Ip Man and has a lot of kung fu, you might want to check out Donnie Yen’s Ip Man movie. But if you’re looking for something a little deeper, a little darker (in all senses of the word) and much more surreal, The Grandmaster is the right movie for you. Wong Kar Wai’s focus on the art of kung fu is what gives The Grandmaster it’s life, while Ip Man moves the story forward and Gong Er gives it heart. Check it out, it’s a beautiful movie, if nothing else.

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Staff Review: Elementary (S1)

Originally posted on Saturday, 10 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

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Reviewed by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Everyone’s familiar with the BBC show, Sherlock, now into its third season. But I’m guessing you probably don’t know Elementary, CBS’ Sherlock Holmes show. You should! It is amazing.

I know what you’re thinking, this can’t be any good – how can there be an American Sherlock? Well, technically we’ve already had an American Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock films, which are fantastic) and CBS’ Sherlock Holmes is definitely English.

English actor Johnny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes, recovering drug addict/alcoholic and consultant to both Scotland Yard (in the past) and the NYC Police (present). He lives in New York City and although there’s an occasional foray to England, most of the shows take place stateside. Holmes’ Watson is one of the things that makes Elementary an extraordinary show. Yes, Dr. Watson is a former doctor, but she’s not the bumbling idiot of yesteryear Watsons. Elementary’s Dr. Watson remains, as all Watsons do, a foil for Sherlock, but she’s more than just a foil.

Lucy Liu plays Dr. Watson as fully as Martin Freeman’s in Sherlock. But she does what Freeman can’t. She brings diversity to a very British institution and she creates her Watson, not as a side kick or a love interest, but as a fully developed character whose personality isn’t dependent on Sherlock Holmes. Liu’s Watson had quit being a doctor long before she met Sherlock. They meet because Sherlock’s father asked her to be a sober companion for Sherlock.

Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have excellent chemistry and their scenes together are always brilliant. Miller’s Sherlock is quirky and more akin to Downey Jr. than Cumberbatch’s. Lucy Liu’s Watson is smart, clever and brilliant in her own right, making her a better Watson (in my opinion) than any previous incarnation. Together, they match wits with two NYC cops, Aidan Quinn’s Captain Gregson and Jon Michael Hill’s Detective Bell. Together, the four of them make a fantastic team.

CBS mixes Conan Doyle’s world with that of our own, bring us familiar characters (Mycroft Holmes, Mrs. Hudson and Moriarty, to name a few). But they do so with a twist, a much appreciated modern take on Sherlock Holmes that reflects our world today.

Elementary is much more of an investment than Sherlock. Unlike the 3-episode format of the BBC series, CBS’ show is a network show, netting 23 episodes per season. It’s worth the investment, though. The long-running nature of network shows means that we get more depth to our characters are more involved story arcs that are both personal and work-related. It also means that our side characters often become more than that. I do concede that it’s not quite as clever as the BBC version, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be. Instead, it’s more alive, more heartfelt and much more real than other versions. Even if you strip away the fact that it is, in fact, Sherlock Holmes, what you’re left with is still an excellent hour of crime television. It’s well worth your time.

Staff Review: Dorothy Must Die

Originally posted on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 1 at ROPL.org.

By Danielle Paige
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Everyone knows the story of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. She was the girl swept away in a tornado and eventually found her way home. But did you know she went back? And things in the Land of Oz are not as nice as they seem in the stories. Dorothy Must Die is the story of what happens when you get too much of a good thing.

Amy’s life is miserable. She lives in Kansas and she hates it. She and her mom have a pretty terrible relationship and everyone at school makes fun of her for living in a trailer. Then, one afternoon, there’s a tornado. Her mother leaves her and Amy’s left in the trailer and suddenly, and for no reason she can figure out (at least at first) she ends up in Oz. Only this isn’t the Oz from the books. Instead, this Oz is a mess.

Danielle Paige’s book, the first in a series, follows a similar pattern to the original Wizard of Oz. Amy, like Dorothy, has a mission. But instead of following the yellow brick road to find her way home, Amy must find Dorothy. And then she must do the unthinkable – she must kill her. But along the way, just like Dorothy, Amy picks up some friends. Paige does a fantastic job turning what we know about Oz on its head.

Party gothic fairy tale, part adventure story, Dorothy Must Die is a fun ride. You’ll meet some familiar characters and some new ones – and none of them are what you’d expect, and that’s just fine. There have been a lot of Wizard of Oz reworkings, but none of them are quite as fun as Paige’s.

What are you waiting for? Reserve a copy and join Amy on her adventures!

Staff Review: Hyperbole and a Half

Originally posted on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

By Allie Brosh
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Sometimes books just speak to us. They somehow encompass parts of our lives that we never even realized needed to be addressed. Allie Brosh’s book Hyperbole and a Half is one of those books. Originally started as a blog (you can find posts not included in the book on her blog), Brosh’s drawings turned into a strange kind of web comic. Except it wasn’t a story about aliens or superheroes she was telling, it was her own story.

Hyperbole and a Halfis, in a way, a biography, but it’s so much more (and you can find the library’s copies in the graphic novel collection). Brosh covers plenty of different topics (and there are few in the book that weren’t originally on her blog). Many of her stories talk about her childhood and how she ended up the way she is today. But some of her best drawings and stories are those that everyone can related to. Especially her sections on depression and being an adult.

Brosh’s drawings might seem crude, but they are anything but. She manages to make her words come alive with the pictures. She displays lots of emotion through what appear to be drawings done in paint. It’s not just the drawings or her writing that makes the book good, instead, it’s the combination of both and the fact that we can all find things in Brosh’s stories that we can identify with.

Hyperbole and a Half is for everyone. It’s funny, heartbreaking and serious – sometimes all at once. And when you finish, you’ll want to start all over again. Don’t forget to check out her blog and to clean all the things! (Trust me, you’ll get that one eventually.)

Staff Review: The Martian

Originally posted on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

By Andy Weir
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Andy Weir’s novel about Mars isn’t really about Mars. Or Aliens. Or science fiction the way we’re used to thinking about it. Instead, The Martian is about the human condition. It’s about survival and using what we know in order to survive when, well, everything thinks we’re already dead. You see, The Martian is about a man who accidentally gets stranded on Mars. No, really. You’re going to love this book.

Originally released in 2011 as an ebook, The Martian follows the story of Mark Watney, botanist and mechanical engineer. He’s part of a crew going to Mars. When something goes wrong and the crew has to abandon their mission, Watney accidentally gets left behind. He thinks he’s dead (at first, obviously) and his crew thinks he’s dead as well. But he’s not. What he is, though, is stuck on Mars.

I’m not going to tell you what happens, suffice to say that Watney does a lot MacGyvering, science and math (as part of SF author John Scalzi’s Big Idea project, Weir wrote up a post talking about math and his novel). What results is a really fun novel. It puts the science back in science fiction (though you can find the library’s copy in our fiction collection), which is especially poignant because the novel is set in a future that might end up being like ours.

The Martian is incredibly enjoyable and entertainingly written. Watney, and the few other characters we meet, are interesting and compelling. We follow Watney through a lot of hardship and Weir makes everything believable. He also does a fantastic job mixing humor (there are a lot of pop culture references that both young and old will appreciate) with desperation (after all, Watney is stuck on Mars, alone!).

Even if you don’t like science fiction, you should check out The Martian. It’s real in a way so few SF books are. You won’t regret it, I promise!

Staff Review: Boxers & Saints

Originally posted on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

By Gene Luen Yang
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Available in two volumes or as a complete set, Yang’s graphic novels tells the story of two young adults growing up in China in the late 1890s. The two volumes follow their characters as their paths cross on several occasions. You can read them in whatever order you like, I read Boxers first and then Saints, but it doesn’t matter.

The volume Boxers is the story of Little Bao. He’s living in rural China when his village has run-ins with foreigners and Christians. Little Bao, tired of watching people he love be injured and die, decides to take things into his own hands. He learns to harness the powers of ancient Chinese gods and then becomes a leader to fight back against the Christians. In Boxers, the Christians and foreigners are portrayed as people bent on ruining the lives of the Chinese peasants. It was these events that led to the Boxer Rebellion (you can learn more about the Boxer Rebellion in the library).

Saints, on the other hand, tells the story of Four-Girl. She, like Little Bao, is living in rural China. But unlike the star of Boxers, Four-Girl’s life is miserable for different reasons. She’s the fourth daughter and not even given a name. Eventually she ends up finding an odd little family through Christians she runs into (both Chinese and Foreign) and renames herself Vibiana. But, as we learned in Boxers, all is not well for Christians in China. Vibiana, like Little Bao, must decide how she wants to handle the attack on her way of life. In Saints, it is the Chinese nationalists who are portrayed as people bent on ruining the lives of the Christians.

Neither Boxers nor Saintstells us how to feel. Instead, Yang takes the opportunity to educate us in his own unique, blending the fantastic with the real. Little Bao and Vibiana’s lives cross, both with the supernatural (Chinese gods in Little Bao’s case and the ghost of Joan of Arc in Vibiana’s) and with each other. The stories are not happy, but then again, the end of the Qing Dynasty wasn’t a happy time.

The graphic novels, though written for teens, are located in our adult graphic novel collection. There is violence, the Boxer Rebellion was akin to war. But Yang’s illustrations are truly fantastic, making this both a moving and educational read.