Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña


Originally published in: 2018

What’s it about: A biography telling the story of Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide’s life and work in the format of a graphic novel.

What made me pick it up:  As always, I find it impossible to resist a graphic biography.

My favorite things: I love that the many illustrations mirror Iturbide’s original image-which are often included on the opposite page. I also found the first-person voice compelling.

Who it’s great for: Fans of Iturbide’s work. Readers interested in the stories and experiences behind the work of contemporary artists.

Abby’s rating: four shells

Find this in your local library or on Amazon.


Between the Lines by Sandra Neil Wallace


Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about:  An African-American football player turned painter. Or, I guess, a painter who intermittently played football.

What made me pick it up: I can’t remember now. It must’ve been mentioned somewhere and sounded interesting so I placed a hold.

My favorite parts: The illustrations are lovely, as are the examples of artwork included. I really enjoyed learning about an artist I’d never heard of before and a bit of African American history that is not widely known. It was such an inspiring story and a nice reminder to follow your dreams, even if it doesn’t pay or you get sidetracked for a while on your journey.

Who it’s great for: Art lovers of all ages. Readers looking for less well known African American history stories.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Find this book in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker


Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: The story of two friends, partners in art and life, creating animated works that bring them a sort of fame while also forcing them to confront difficult truths and traumas in their lives that other people would like to leave in the past.

What made me pick it up: I needed an audiobook to listen to and this one was available, has gotten a lot of good press, and has a cover that makes me want to read it.

My favorite things: Whitaker treats characters suffering addictions almost without judgment in a way that is refreshingly humane. She takes the time to develop every character’s layers and the complexity of their relationships.

Who it’s great for:  Readers looking for complex relationships between characters or an exploration of identity.

Abby’s rating: four-shells

Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke


Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A graphic memoir exploring love, art, loss, memory, and mortality.

What made me pick it up: I can’t seem to pass up a graphic memoir.

My favorite things: Radtke’s art is done in a simple grayscale that perfectly complements her story. I loved the way she tied together her own restlessness with an examination of mortality. The way she chronicles her own loss and grief through a growing fascination with deserted towns is honest and compelling.

Who it’s great for: Readers looking for an engaging exploration of mortality and meaning. Fan’s of artists’ memoirs.

Abby’s rating: four-shells

Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


Pretending is Lying by Dominique Goblet


Originally published in: original 2007, in translation 2017

What it’s about: A graphic memoir chronicling relationships and family dysfunction, love and heartache.

What made me pick it up: I gravitated toward it the moment it showed up on our cart of new books – the bleak cover art was immediately compelling to me.

My favorite things: The art, the art! Written over the course of twelve years, the art varies in style and medium and still somehow fits together to paint a portrait of a life through time. Complexities and heartaches of real life, honest about flaws, weaknesses, and mistakes. I love the use of handwriting rather than a font for an even more expressive read.

Who it’s great for: Readers looking for an emotionally engaging exploration of family and relationships.

Abby’s rating: four-shells

Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.

Let Me Out by Peter Himmelman


Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Professional musician and innovation consultant Peter Himmelman explains his methods for unleashing creativity and breaking free of “stuck thinking.”

What made me pick it up: I figured that if I was going to read about creative thinking, it couldn’t hurt to see what a professional musician and composer had to say on the subject.

My favorite things: Himmelman argues that there aren’t really creative and non-creative types. He explains the ways in which we can all learn to be more creative and improve communication – as long as we’re willing to commit. I love that he includes specific activities to encourage creative thinking at the end of each chapter. He provides concrete examples of when to use them and illustrates their benefit in the given situation. He also offers plenty of illustrations from his own experiences of the kinds of “stuck thinking” that can sabotage creative efforts and ideas. There are a lot of great ideas here that can easily be applied no matter where you are in your life.

Who it’s great for: Those who don’t view themselves as creative people and those that feel as though they’re stuck in a rut. People having trouble finding inspiration. Anyone interested in boosting their own creativity and productivity. Readers curious about what a professionally creative person has to say on the subject.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (2013)

womanI have complex feelings about this book. It has such a strong narrator, equally well represented in audio. It will appeal to 20- and 30-something professional women who don’t feel like they have it all figured out. And yet… it never really got past three shells for me. So I set out to interview my friend and fellow librarian Shannon (and the one who recommended it to me) to find out where I took a turn. Here goes:

Erica: You really enjoyed this book. Why?
Shannon:  I really liked The Woman Upstairs because it was feminist. This woman makes her own choices and goes her own way. They might be bad choices, but they are hers and she owns them. Also, the central conceit of being the “woman upstairs” really spoke to me. How women are supposed to be nice and sweet and unnoticed most of the time, and how the main character railed against that.
Erica: Why did you think I would like The Woman Upstairs? What made you recommend it to me?
Shannon:  I recommended it because we share similar values and ways of thinking. We both enjoy feminist characters and ideas, we both strive to be strong and independent like the main character, and I have the feeling we both have felt the way the main character does as a woman upstairs: chafing against what society expects women to be.
Erica: Yes. But back to your earlier comment about how she rails against that concept. Does she? I got the sense that she thought about doing it but kind of just kept going along with her day to day existence as expected. She just thought about it a lot.
Shannon: It’s been a while since I read it, so my memory may be hazy.
Erica: Ok, so she kind of does art when she has her awakening. And she kind of has an affair. And then at the end she takes a small break from teaching to travel. But then what? Does she remake her life? Or does she fall back passively into the same life?
Shannon: I have the suspicion that she falls back, and that’s the true tragedy of it, I suppose. Or is this a watershed moment for her? I don’t know.
Erica: I also thought that nothing would change. She had tried and failed and been broken. I mean, yeah, sure, she’s angry. But she was kind of already angry. I think I was disappointed that her drive just wasn’t there. I was half asleep on the plane when I got to the point where she went to Paris and I was so excited that she was finally doing it! Making her art! Doing her thing! Traveling! And then I listened again and was like “Oh…” She just… doesn’t do what I thought. I think it was the let down that kept me from rating it higher. I think I wanted this strong voice to be a strong character. How do you reconcile the two?
Shannon: Well I guess that’s the thing. Her character is complicated, and that is what makes her interesting as well as frustrating. I think you would need an entirely different character to have the ending we want, where she strikes out on her own and does her art. Maybe we are supposed to take her as an example of what not to do.

And there you have it. Sometimes characters who don’t have it all figured out just don’t figure it out. I for one am not fond of that type of narrative, but that’s ok. Every book its reader.

Erica’s rating: three-shells
Shannon’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells