Graphic Novels : way more than superheroes

Are you a graphic novels fan? Until recently my answer would have been a resounding “no.” Just not my cup of tea, or so I thought. But one day, more out of idle curiosity than anything, I decided to give them a shot. Now graphic novels are a part—not a big part, mind you, but still a part—of my reading repertoire.

Here’s what I like about ’em. They allow for a fairly quick and easy read but then you can go back for a second (or third) look and discover things you didn’t see the first time round. Also, the words and pictures work together in a very special way so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I think you call that “synergy”.

This is the one I’m reading right now: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (2018). Krosoczka has written and illustrated a number of kids’ books, including the very popular Lunch Lady series. In this outing, Jarrett tells his own story and that of his big, messy, dysfunctional family. He was raised by his grandparents and never knew his father. As for his mother, she flitted in and out of his life but mostly she was gone. One day he learned the reason why: his mother was a heroin addict. Much of her adult life was spent either in jail, in rehab or using. For such a bleak subject, I found this book to be ultimately positive and affirming.

Here are some other graphic novels I have enjoyed over the years. All of them are real life stories (which I think is part of the appeal for me) and just note the incredible range of subject matter.

My Friend Dahmer by Derk Backderf. This was my intro to the graphic novel world and was recommended by a former WPL staffer. It’s the story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer while he was still in high school but already plenty disturbed. A very interesting read. You might want to check out the DVD of the same title. Actor Ross Lynch is excellent in the title role.

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs. The author, a renowned children’s illustrator, tells the story of his parents, two working class Londoners who met in the 1920’s and stayed together until their deaths. It is utterly delightful and more moving and funny than you might expect from a graphic novel. Also check out the DVD of the same title. Every bit as charming as the book.

Becoming Unbecoming by Una. This one is about sexual violence against women, including the author’s own experiences. There is a lot more going on in this book besides personal narrative (such as various stats, questions and musings) which adds to this graphic novel’s complexity. The illustrations perfectly express the author’s emotions.

Secret Path by Gord Downie (of The Tragically Hip) and Jeff Lemire. It’s a true, unbearably sad story about Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a 12-year-old Indigenous boy sent to a Canadian residential school. Then Chanie decided to run away… The story and images will haunt you.

— Penny D.

PS  And just released is Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. I haven’t read it yet, but it is getting a lot of buzz.

The Salt Path

If savouring the majesty of the great outdoors is not your thing, you would be well-advised to steer clear of The Salt Path. However, if you are in need of a  meandering hike on Britain’s sea-swept South West Coast Path, you will will find this wilderness romp a satisfying way to spend a winter weekend.

In The Salt Path, Raynor Winn begins this heart-breaking story by revealing that she and her husband Moth are about to lose their home as a result of an investment in a friend’s business having gone awry. After years in financially ruinous litigation to save their beloved home, the court’s final decision is a ruling not in their favour. As they huddle in a cupboard under the stairs while they listen to the bailiffs pounding on the door, they are withered by the reality that their family’s dream life is irrevocably coming to an end.

As if that isn’t enough burden to bear, they also learn that the chronic pain that Moth has been experiencing in his upper back for the last six years is actually the result of a rare disease called corticobasal degeneration which will begin to further destroy Moth’s body and mental acuity resulting in a slow and agonizing death. Losing the love of her life is a burden too onerous for Raynor to bear and she simply believes that the doctors have got it wrong.

Knowing that they have nothing left to lose, they embark on a 630 mile walk of the Southwest Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset. Their decision to wild camp along the way is borne from the fact that they have no money except for the 40 pounds the government will deposit into their account each month. Food wins over comfort and, with only the bare essentials of life in their backpacks, they begin their journey.

a1o3bibuohlTheir constant companion on the trip is a guidebook of the trail hike written by the much fitter and more experienced Paddy Dillon. They quickly come to understand that there is no chance of completing the walk within the same time parameters that Dillon did. This release of their preconceived expectations is just the beginning of the emotional and spiritual journey they both experience as their need to survive ellipses all other previous concerns that have burdened them.  The power of nature is a force that they eventually learn to stop fighting. In letting go they find that their struggle with their financial and emotional impoverishment falls away.

The Salt Path is a story of the power of love and the recognition of the interconnectedness of all things. It is a story of survival in the darkest of times and the joy of opening one’s eyes to seeing the world in a whole new way.

— Nancy C.

Mary Berry Everyday

Mary Berry. What can you say about Mary Berry? Although a food writer and TV presenter since the 1960s, many people (here, at least) have only come to know her more recently as co-judge with Paul Hollywood on the runaway British hit, “The Great British Bake”. Each week on the show (known as The Great British Baking Show in North America) home bakers are pitted against one another, taking on a variety of challenges in order to win the grand prize: a much-coveted crystal cake plate.

I love food shows and this is one of my favourites. My husband, who is not a baker, watches as well…and enjoys the home baked treats somewhat inspired from my watching.

Mary’s bare bone bio is:

  • she trained at The Cordon Bleu in Paris and ran a cookery school at her home
  • in the 1960s she was the cookery editor two major magazines in the UK
  • her first television series came in the 1970s
  • since 1970, she has written 75 cookbooks…and counting

I recently borrowed her new book, “Mary Berry Everyday”, which accompanies the television program of the same name. Having a flick through, there were many recipes that I was tempted to try but in the end I went with the biscuits featured on the cover. And they ARE cover worthy! Melt-in-the-mouth, buttery and with a lovely citrus flavour thanks to fresh orange peel and juice in the glaze. Oh, and easy to bake too.
Two floury thumbs up from me. Borrow “Everyday” and get baking!

— Sandi H.

Mary Berry’s Orange Oat Cookies

Dough

1 c butter, softened
1 c white sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 ¾ c self-raising flour
¼ c oatmeal

Glaze/Icing

1 c icing sugar
¼ tsp orange oil (optional)
2 tblsp freshly squeeze orange juice

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream together butter and sugar. Mix in egg, oil and 2/3 of the zest. Stir in flour and oatmeal.

Lightly dust a work surface with small amount of flour. Roll the dough into balls about the size of a walnut. The flour will make this easy; stopping them from being too sticky.

Set on prepared cookie sheets, about 8 per sheet as they do spread. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a glass until ½” thick.

Bake for 13 minutes or until just golden at the edges. Watch closely as they burn easily!

Cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack to cool completely.

To make the glaze, whisk together the icing sugar with approximately 2 tblsp juice.

When the cookies are completely cool, spread glaze on top of cookies or drizzle with the glaze. Sprinkle with rest of the orange zest.

Makes 2 dozen.

One Day in December

A little bit comedy + a little bit drama, One Day in December by Josie Silver, will hit readers in their heart strings and funny bones in equal measure as they witness the sometimes tumultuous and complicated love life of Laurie James and her ‘bus boy’ – a man who catches her eye and her heart in one brief encounter on a December afternoon.

These two strangers experience love at first sight but are unable to meet in person at that precise moment. Their brief connection continues to haunt both of them until they suddenly find themselves thrown together but are unable to act on their feelings. The story has likable, believable characters and is a slow-burn kind of read since the story is told via different points of view over the course of a decade. The timeline and points of view are woven together well and I enjoyed getting a bird’s eye view of the interconnected relationships of these friends and lovers.

I fully admit that I am not normally a big reader of romances (I often find them to have a strong ‘ode de fromage’ feel) but while One Day in December is a light-hearted romance, it also touches on some serious topics and complicated relationships making it more than a simple love story. This is a wonderful, escapist-type read that I read in just over a day. But don’t just take my word for it. This novel has caught the eye of Hollywood actress and avid reader Reese Witherspoon who recently selected it for her popular book club.

This romantic dramedy is a perfect pick for fans of When Harry Met Sally, Me Before You and Notting Hill.

While this a lighter romantic read, the addition of its deeper moments about friendship, love, loss, regret and missed opportunities make it a book that will appeal to many different readers. It’s romance with some deeper issues, topped with some laughs, hold the cheese.

— Laurie P.

Bake It Better

The Great British Bake Off has spawned a LOT of cookbooks, from judges (Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood), from winners, and others. GBBO’s Bake It Better : Puddings and Desserts is written by food stylist Jayne Cross.

The Bake It Better series, which came out in 2016, is a new addition to WPL’s collection. The “Puddings and Desserts” volume (#5) with a beautiful trifle gracing the cover caught my eye and, yes, traveled home with me from the library that night.

It guarantees the recipes are tried and true. There are more basic recipes for newbees as well as “show stoppers” for those more seasoned bakers or for those looking for a challenge. I have to say I thought that, although not overly impressive on first glance, the book was interesting and I confess I did find it difficult to decide on which recipe to try so I left it in the hands of my chief tester: my husband.

He took a quick look through, lingered over a couple of recipes (one of which sounded particularly good but I didn’t have the ingredients for…it happens) before choosing the Coconut Lime Rice Pudding.

The pudding was very easy to make and the flavour was good. I chose to add some raisins (what is rice pudding without raisins??) as well as a bit of dried coconut which I think complimented the lime perfectly. I also like a less creamy pudding, so chose to add a bit more rice. The recipe made quite a lot of pudding so we’ve ended up reheating and it was scrumptious. The lime came through even a bit stronger second time round.

In my opinion, this cookbook is definitely worth borrowing but perhaps not worth buying, but you borrow it from the library and be the judge.

— Sandi H.

Coconut Lime Rice Pudding

For the Pudding
2 tblsp butter
½ c rice
¼ c white sugar
1 – 400 ml can coconut milk
400 ml homogenized milk
Grated zest of 2 limes
For the Sauce*
¾ c fresh or frozen raspberries
¼ c white sugar
Juice of 1 lime

Preheat oven to 275F.

To make the pudding, put the butter in a heat/oven proof casserole. Set over element on low to melt. Stir in rice, then sugar. Stir for 5 minutes or until the sugar melts.

Add in both milks, stirring. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Stir in zest. Cover casserole with foil and bake for 1 ½ hours, stirring every 30 minutes.

While the pudding cooks, make the sauce. Put raspberries, sugar and lime juice in small saucepan over low. Heat, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the raspberries start to soften.

Serve the pudding with warm topped with the sauce.

*Option : if you don’t want to make the sauce, serve the pudding plain, or with raisins mixed in or with a dollop of high-quality red jam on top.

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