Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Title: Hark! A Vagrant
Author: Kate Beaton
Genre: Graphic Novel
Length:  160 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Do you love history and hilarity? Then Hark! A Vagrant is for you! Kate Beaton is the creator of the wildly popular web comic and collects some of her best comic strips in the graphic novel for readers who love to peruse her work in print.

She pulls heavily from her background in history and anthropology to write absurdly hilarious comics about some not so funny topics: Canadian history, US Founding Fathers, the French Revolution, and more. She showcases women in history and other figures that are usually skimmed over in textbooks. Her own oddball characters are sprinkled throughout the text as well. Expect to find wizards, Henry VIII, Robinson Crusoe, Nancy Drew, and mobsters all the in the same book.

Opinion: Have a laugh and learn something too. I immediately fell in love with these oddball comics.

Image from Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
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The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Title: The Fault In Our Stars
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult
Length:  336 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Hazel Grace Lancaster is pretty charmed by Augustus Waters. That is, until he pulls out a cigarette. After meeting at a support group for teens with cancer, nothing could be less of a turn on than actively giving yourself cancer. Luckily for Augustus, he’s never actually lit one. Hazel is surviving with cancer, because of the use of a new experimental drug. Gus conquered his cancer by sacrificing his leg. They’re instantly drawn to one another, but what is the point of romance when cancer turns you into a grenade? Hazel can’t let herself fall in love for fear of causing more heartache than joy in her short lifetime. But Augustus Waters thinks it’s worth it, even if it’s just for their short infinity of days.
Opinion: This is by far my favorite John Green novel. Be ready to fall in love and cry all the tears when you pick up this young adult novel. The movie stays very true to the book, so grab a box of tissues before you watch it.

Canada by Richard Ford

Title: Canada
Author: Richard Ford
Genre: Fiction
Length:  432 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ ♥

Dell Parsons leads an uneventful life. That is, until his parents decide to rob a bank. His parents are the unlikeliest of criminals, but Dell and his twin sister Berner never doubt that they’re guilty. After their parents are taken away to prison, Dell and Berner are left to fend for themselves. Berner makes plans to run away with neighborhood hot shot, Rudy, but ends up making her way to California alone. Dell obeys their mother’s command and waits. Eventually, he’s whisked off by a family friend to Canada and taken in by Arthur Remlinger. Remlinger owns a hotel in the desolate Candadian town of Fort Royal. Dell is forced to fend for himself, living in a run down shack and helping host the hotel guests who’ve come to shoot wild geese. He’s lonely and frightened, but is content when Remlinger begins to pay him attention. But his contentment doesn’t last long. Remlinger wants something from him. Something Dell doesn’t want to find out about. Will he be courageous like his sister Berner and strike out on his own? Or will he stick to his mother’s plan no matter the consequences?

Opinion: Canada won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in fiction in 2013. Ford is a wonderful story teller but this novel takes so many dark turns that I can’t say I really enjoyed it. But if you’re looking for something dark and well written, don’t be afraid to pick it up.

March: Book One by John Lewis

Title: March: Book One
Author: John Lewis
Genre: Graphic Novel
Length:  128 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Congressman Lewis is heading to his office on January 20, 2009 for a momentous event; the swearing in of Barack Obama, the first African-American president. He’s visited by a mother and her two young boys and takes a moment to give them a tour. He recounts to the family all the events that led him to such an extraordinary event. He grew up a poor black boy in Alabama. He loved learning and after the decision to desegregate schools, John was excited for a chance at a better education. He soon learned that even though segregation was illegal, the battle for equality was far from over. He met Martin Luther King, Jr. as a young man, when John hoped to transfer to all-white Troy State University. King wanted to help him win the fight to enroll, but as a minor John needed his parents to file the lawsuit. Fearing retribution from the community, his parents refused to sign for John. Disappointed, but not dissuaded, John became heavily involved with the organization of sit-in protests at local Nashville restaurants. He and other peaceful protesters sat a lunch counters asking to be served like everyone else. They were met with rudeness, violence, mockery, and worse. But they persisted and in May 10, 1960 six downtown Nashville stores served black customers for the first time.

Opinion: This is one of those situations where the Graphic Novel format shines. The imagery brings the violence and hope of the Civil Rights Movement to life for readers and I hope I can get my hands on the rest of the series soon.

The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

Title: The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Graphic Novels
Length:  240 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

What happens when a madman captures the Lord of Dreams? Neil Gaiman answers this question in the graphic novel, The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes.

While performing a dark ritual, Roderick Burgess attempts to capture Death, one of the Endless. But he captures Dream instead. Burgess hopes to control Dream and gain immortality, but Dream will not comply. He’s caged for 70 long years, waiting for his captors to die. In the meantime, dreaming and waking are in turmoil; people have been asleep for years or cease to be able to sleep at all. No one outside the Order of Ancient Mysteries knows what caused the sickness.

Dream is eventually able to escape and exact his revenge on his ailing captors. Then he must find his stolen possessions and return normalcy to the realm of dreaming. Will he succeed or will one of the Endless cease to be?

Opinion: This is the first book in a series and I have to admit that I immediately checked out the rest and am hoping to get my hands on Gaiman’s latest addition to the series, The Sandman: Overture very soon. I loved these books and would be happy if Gaiman wrote a million more. Go read it!

The Father Christmas Letters by JRR Tolkien

Title: The Father Christmas Letters
Author: JRR Tolkien
Genre: Children’s Book
Length:  111 pages
Rating Out of 5: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Children all across the world write letters to Santa every December. But how many kids get letters back? If you happen to be the children of beloved author J.R.R. Tolkien, you receive a letter every year from Father Christmas himself.

Father Christmas writes to the Tolkien children throughout the 1920’s and 30’s, telling them tales of the bumbling North Polar Bear, the logistics of traveling all around the world in just one night, and the ever present threat of goblin attack. Each letter is accompanied by wonderful illustrations of the adventures (and sometimes misadventures) of Father Christmas and his helpers.

Opinion:The Father Christmas Letters is a must-read for Tolkien lovers and anyone else who loves a good adventure!

Parlez-vous français?

Have you heard about the Chattanooga School of Language? It’s a great place to take language lessons before a big trip or if you’re hoping to become fluent. They teach several languages in group classes: French German, Spanish, Japanese, American Sign Language and more. They also offer one-on-one tutoring. I’ve always wanted to learn a second language (and maybe a third or fourth) and have always loved French culture so I decided to mark one more thing off my bucket list by learning French. Learning a second language will be an asset to my career, helpful when traveling, and a way to connect with my husband’s French heritage. He’s taking lesson with me so it’ll be fun to travel to Canada one day and visit the areas where his grand-père’s family lived.

I’ve been taking classes since January and am finally moving into intermediate French this month. Beginning classes meet once a week, using French in 10 Minutes a Day by Kristine K. Kershul. It’s certainly difficult to learn a new language. Beginning classes have mostly been memorizing vocabulary and practicing pronunciation. Memorization isn’t my strong suit but luckily there are a lot of cognates for French and English. Right now I’d say I have a fairly decent reading knowledge of French and could probably make my way around Paris fairly easily. I look forward to completing the intermediate level classes and becoming more fluent.

One of my student assistants introduced me to a great free website for digital flashcards called StudyBlue.com. It has been a lifesaver. I was running through paper flashcards like crazy, but now can just open up the Study Blue app on my phone and study vocabulary throughout the day.