47 Ronin by Mike Richardson and Stan SakaiLord Asano has been called to the Shogun’s palace to receive the Emperor’s emissaries. Because he is not familiar with the ways of the court, Asano is assigned to the court official Kira who will give him a crash course in court etiquette before the emissaries arrive. Kira is a corrupt official who demands a bribe in order to help Asano effectively, but Asano is a true samurai and follower of the bushido code. He refuses to pay more than the customary gifts to Kira.

And thus begins Asano’s undoing. Because of Asano’s refusal to bribe Kira, Kira begins mistreating and intentionally miscommunicating with Asano. Asano stoically bears this mistreatment and discourages his friend from responding to Kira in a negative way. Asano’s stoicism expires when Kira begins to insult him in front of the emissaries. Asano, in direct violation of the rules in the Shogun’s palace, draws his sword on Kira and slashes his face. Both offenses are punishable by death.

Asano is ordered to commit seppuku, his lands are taken from his family, his name is disgraced, and his retainer samurai are disbanded to become “ronin” or masterless. Kira, despite his provocation of Asano is complemented by the Shogun.

When word of Kira’s involvement in Asano’s ruin reaches Oishi, Asano’s chief retainer, a plan is made. Oishi calls all of Asano’s samurai and asks them abide by the Shogun’s ruling and not go after Kira immediately. This is hard for many of the samurai to take–they’d rather avenge their master’s death and die than have the dishonor of being truly ronin. Ultimately, only 46 other samurai trust Oishi enough to follow his plan.

Little do the other samurai know, Oishi’s plan is only to pretend to be ronin. They spend over a year convincing Kira’s spies that they have nothing more to think about than drinking and debauchery or manual labor and that avenging their master’s death will never happen.

Once Oishi is fully convinced that Kira’s guard is down, they infiltrate his newly built estate and exact their revenge.

“47 Ronin” is based on true events that happened in 18th century Japan (you can even visit the tombs of Asano and his most loyal retainers) and is one of the most enduring legends in Japan, so I feel confident telling you most of the story. There are numerous plays, books, movies, and other adaptations of this story in both Japanese and American culture (including a 2013 movie with the same title starring Keanu Reeves).

This iteration of the story is wonderful. The script by Mark Richardson (with editorial consulting by Kazuo Koike) is impeccably researched and the art evokes the amazing woodblock prints of Japan while giving the story a life and style of its own. Sakai’s art also portrays each character’s depth and emotion while giving readers an accurate and fascinating view into 18th century Japanese architecture and costuming.

Despite the fact that many murders take place within its pages, “47 Ronin” isn’t a very bloody book. Yes, you know people are being murdered (or are committing seppuku), but most of the deaths (and bloodshed) take place off camera.

I would highly recommend this title to anyone interested in Japanese legend or history as well as anyone who enjoys stories about loyalty and subterfuge.

Bailey Carpenter is a special investigator for a prestigious law firm in Miami, Fla. At age 29 her life seems perfect. She is a beautiful, independent young woman who lives in a luxurious condo in a classy downtown high rise, has a handsome boyfriend and loves her job.

Bailey and younger brother Heath soon will inherit their wealthy father’s sizable fortune. Their father was married twice before he married their mother, and although he had other children, he chose to leave his entire estate to Bailey and her brother. Currently the main stress in Bailey’s life is a lawsuit for a share of this inheritance brought by her half-brothers and sister. Gene, a high-powered district attorney, leads the siblings’ lawsuit.

One evening while on a surveillance job, Bailey’s idyllic life comes to a tragic halt. She is brutally assaulted, raped and beaten by an unknown attacker. She only remembers that her assailant was wearing Nike shoes and whispered in her ear, “Tell me that you love

Bailey’s gun and purse with ID, credit cards and keys were lost that night. Although her lock has been changed, she goes from room to room in her apartment armed with a pair of scissors to make sure that no one is hiding anywhere. She performs this ritual three or four times a day. Bailey becomes paranoid to the point that she can barely function, a prisoner in her own apartment. She is suspicious of any man she sees, wondering if he is the rapist.

Half-sister Claire, whom Bailey has only seen a time or two, and Claire’s precocious teenage daughter, Jade, appear at Bailey’s door to lend their aid. Heath warns Bailey that Claire and Jade are helping her only because they’re after her money. Claire seems sincere in her desire to help, but Bailey wonders if Claire has ulterior motives. Bailey enjoys Claire and Jade’s company, and they move in with her.

Bailey can’t get over the feeling that someone is watching her. Out of boredom and idle curiosity, and for entertainment she begins to use the high-powered binoculars that she once used in her work to spy on her neighbors — a take on the movie “Rear Window.”

One playboy-type guy in particular catches Bailey’s attention, and she becomes obsessed with him. He parades naked around his apartment and appears to be constantly admiring himself. Claire, Jade and Bailey dub him “Narcissus.”

One night Bailey is sure that Narcissus is staring back at her. Is it possible that he is the rapist? Bailey decides it is time to rely on her own skills and investigate the crime herself, even if it risks compromising the police investigation.

In this suspenseful novel, the author focuses heavily on the trauma of rape — the emotional, psychological and physical toll that such a vicious crime takes upon a person.

Bailey’s dysfunctional family makes an interesting subplot in the novel. The characters are engaging, and my favorite, the irrepressible Jade, is funny and irreverent. The novel has clever plot twists and turns, mystery and intrigue. The story is a guessing game, full of red herrings. The ending took me totally by surprise. I would look forward to Bailey Carpenter returning in a sequel, but unfortunately, Joy Fielding doesn’t write sequels or series.

Are there seriously still people out there that think graphic novels aren’t for grown-ups? If so, they need to drop in on a book club I’ve recently joined.

Hurley’s Heroes, a comic and gaming shop located at 824 S. Main St. in Joplin, has established a public book club that is meant to appeal strictly to adults 21 and older: Comics and Cocktails, which meets the third Wednesday of every month at Infuxon, 530 S. Main St. The idea is that participants read the same book (hopefully after buying it from Hurley’s, because it’s important to support your local small businesses, folks) and gather at Infuxon to discuss it and consume tasty edibles and well-crafted cocktails, including a special one inspired by the book.

“Seconds” by Bryan Lee O’Malley – known to many as the author and illustrator of the “Scott Pilgrim” series of graphic novels – was Comic and Cocktails’ inaugural selection. It’s the story of Katie, a talented and successful young chef. Her life seems utterly charmed, until quite suddenly things start to turn sour – among other complications, her ex-boyfriend reappears and construction on her new restaurant faces obstacles. Katie is soon provided a solution, in the form of a strange girl who offers her a mushroom and these instructions: 1. Write your mistake. 2. Ingest one mushroom. 3. Go to sleep. 4. Wake anew.

Kate follows the directions and the next morning finds that what was done has been undone. However, she is quickly caught in a cycle of doing and undoing that begins to have unsettling, even supernatural, consequences. I’m stopping there; you’ll have to read “Seconds” if you want to find out what happens.

There was a lot I appreciated about this graphic novel. It’s a coming-of-age story, even though Katie is technically already an adult. O’Malley has chosen a beautiful color palette; the rich reds of Katie’s hair, her car and the dresser that the mushroom-toting Lis perches on really pop against the more widely used earth tones. Additionally, while he illustrates the characters with clean, bold lines, there is some very fine detail work in the background.

One caveat: I must admit that I found Katie kind of annoying after a while. She seems to have the emotional maturity and impulse control of a young teenager, yet she’s allegedly a well-respected professional in the culinary world who manages to run her own restaurant and is building another. I don’t know that I completely buy her personal growth as the story progresses to its conclusion, either. However, the secondary characters were much more intriguing, particularly the mysterious Lis and the shy waitress, Hazel.

But read “Seconds” for yourself; don’t let my opinion of Katie sway you. You can find it in the adult non-fiction collection of the Joplin Public Library. Also, if you’re interested, the next Comics and Cocktails event is Wednesday, April 15. For more information, check out Hurley’s Heroes Comics and Games on Facebook, call 417-782-6642 or just stop by the store.

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

It’s not a graphic novel, but I can’t help but tack on a brief mention of a new non-fiction book we recently added. If you need a laugh, check out “Text from Jane Eyre.” The entire book – which I think I read in 20 minutes – is chapter after chapter of imagined texts sent to and by well-known writers, as well as characters ranging from Hamlet to the twins in the “Sweet Valley High” series.

There’s Mrs. Bennett from “Pride and Prejudice” texting her daughter Elizabeth: “remember when there was someone who wanted to marry you” “yes” “hahahaha there isn’t anyone like that now”

And how about T. S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock?: “let’s have a tedious argument in the streets” “have you been drinking?” “the sky is so beautiful tonight like a patient etherized upon a table” “I’m coming over I’m worried about you” “there’s yellow smoke on the window-panes” “What kind of smoke? Did you leave the stove on?”

Then there are texts with John Keats: “oh my god oh my god do you know what I LOVE like what I am just crazy about” “is it this urn” “THIS URN” “I figured you seemed really excited”

Trust me. You need to read this book, especially if you’ve ever taken a literature class. I wish I’d had it within reach during my undergraduate and graduate school days when I needed a giggle.

Lisa E. Brown is the Administrative Assistant at the Joplin Public Library.

Sometimes you come across a book that appeals to you on so many different levels that it’s hard to say goodbye when you finish it. “Dear Mr. Knightly” by Katherine Reay is one such book I’ve found.dear

From the book blurb I could tell it was about a book-loving girl who has her college paid for in exchange for letters to her anonymous benefactor. As such, I knew it must be a homage to “Daddy-Long-Legs” by Jean Webster which ranks as one of my10 all-time favorite books. But this book is so much more.

Samantha Moore has always lived more in the books she loves than in the real world. But as a survivor of the foster system, she feels that books have been the one thing that never let her down. Sam has a chance to attend Northwestern University’s journalism program, with her expenses completely covered, but in exchange she must write letters to the anonymous donor.

While Sam is hesitant, and at times almost throws the opportunity away, she soon finds herself in a strange new world that is not only uncomfortable but also frightening at times. She tends to close herself off from people using quotes from her beloved books to push them away instead of letting them see beneath her protective façade. But Sam finds that if she wants to have anyone in her life she must be willing to chance being hurt.

While attending college, Sam also meets one of her favorite novelists, the reclusive Alex Powell. She finds their paths crossing more than once and is quickly attracted not only to the writer but also the man behind the books. The question remains, though, if Sam is willing to open her heart if it means a chance of it being broken.

I fell in love with the character Sam from almost the first page. She has a passion for some of my favorite books, including anything by Jane Austen and “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas. Watching Sam and Alex trade book quotes back and forth was one of my most enjoyed parts. At times, I felt like it was a new version of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s courtship.

The author did a great job of bringing the foster system alive. The reader not only gets to see the challenges faced by youngsters in the foster system but also those who have been aged out of the system with few resources to enter adulthood successfully.

Each character in the book was richly developed and a great addition to a well-crafted plot. The highs and lows of the novel had me savoring each new page, and I even found myself arguing with Sam and her decisions, a sign that I was sunk deep into the book.

While the happy ending of the book may strike some as unrealistic, I found it a satisfying conclusion. Sometimes you just want a read that makes you cry because of how much it touches you and makes you happy at the end. I even found myself reading this book a few chapters at a time, to savor how much I was enjoying it and to delay the inevitable bittersweetness of reaching the end.

I was shocked to discover that this is Katherine Reay’s first novel. It was such a pleasure to read that I am eager to see what this author writes next. This book was a treat that I’m sure I will be pulling out to enjoy time and time again in the future, joining my ever-growing list of favorite reads.

liarsCadence Sinclair Eastman comes from a seemingly perfect, wealthy family. Hers is a family where appearances matter more than individual feelings or even the truth. Her grandfather, Harris Sinclair, is the patriarch of the beautiful Sinclair family, and he and his wife own a secluded, private island—Beechwood—off of Cape Cod. Each summer, Cadence’s family—her grandparents, her mother, her two aunts, and her cousins—vacation on Beechwood.

Since the age of eight, she, her cousins Mirren and Johnny, and their friend Gat have all been inseparable. She looks forward to seeing them all year and has affectionately dubbed them her “Liars”.

During summertime, the “Liars” hang out on the beach, play board games, discuss their futures and, once in awhile, thanks to Gat’s less-than-privileged-perspective, have an argument about what is important in the greater scheme of things. However, during the summer of her fifteenth year, Cadence has an accident that causes her to be unable to remember most of what transpired that summer.

Over the course of the next two years, during the time the book is set, her amnesia never abates, and she has frequent headaches and bouts of debilitating pain that cause her to consume prescription painkillers like they were candy. It is in this hazy fog that she spends the majority of her time trying to figure out what happened during summer fifteen.

While she missed her sixteenth summer on the island, due to her mother sending her off on a European trip with her father, she is adamant that she will not miss another. In her heart, she feels that if she is allowed to return to Beechwood, she will be able to piece together the mystery that surrounds her accident. So after much pleading, she finally gets her mother to agree to let her return to the island the summer of her seventeenth year.

This book broadsided me. I had no idea where Lockhart was headed and her decision to tell the story from Cadence’s viewpoint and alternate from past to present tense was brilliant. The conclusion was clever, raw, so real, and completely heartbreaking.

A review from Jenny Berggren, from School Library Journal, described the ending as “a stunner that will haunt readers for a long time to come” and that is exactly how I felt upon finishing the story. I finished it several months ago and I still find myself thinking about it at random times. It is one of those titles that you immediately want to start reading again just to see how you missed all the important clues during your first reading. If you are looking for a fast-pasted, character-driven story, add this one to your must read list.

True crime is not my favorite genre but how could a librarian pass up a book titled “Murder in the Stacks”? The complete title of this whodunit by David DeKok is Murder in the Stacks: Penn State, Betsy Aardsma, and the Killer Who Got Away.

In the library world, stacks are the rows of shelving that hold a library’s books. In 1969 Penn State’s library had thousands of stacks, many in dark secluded spaces. It was a security nightmare for library administration. Graduate student, Betsy Aardsma, went into those dark secluded stacks Thanksgiving weekend and came out on a gurney. Her killer was never identified.

The author grew up in the same town as Aardsma — Holland, Michigan — and graduated from the same high school six years after Betsy. Fascinated by the unsolved murder, he wrote an investigative piece for the Harrisburg newspaper in 2008 — just before the 40th anniversary of the murder.

In his story, DeKok wrote about how he had amassed enough clues to implicate a killer. That suspect died before the book was published; people didn’t come forward while the suspect was alive. A cold-case officer told Aardsma that they had the killer, but state police never charged him.

However, this is more than the story of a crime. It is dual biographies of an innocent victim and a predator without a conscience. It is also a cultural history of an institution and of a turbulent time in the history of the country.

all of 1969 from the University of Michigan, ironically, to escape the Coed Killer who targeted brunette coeds at Michigan universities. Love was another draw to Pennsylvania. Boyfriend David Wright was enrolled at the medical school in Hershey.

After spending Thanksgiving in Hershey with David, Betsy returned to Penn State to work on an English paper. Several of her classmates were also venturing into the gloomy stacks of the library.  Not long after Betsy turned down an aisle looking for a book a thump was heard, followed by a crash and the sound of books hitting the floor.

Three people close to the area saw a man run from the aisle. He slowed long enough to tell them “someone had better help that girl”. Joao Uafinda thought the running man was going for help and followed him.  He soon lost him and went home.

Richard Allen saw what was happening and could provide a general description of the man but he did not offer assistance. Only Betsy’s classmate Marilee Erdely ventured into the aisle to check on the girl who needed help.

Marilee found Betsy lying motionless in a pile of books. Kneeling beside Betsy she began straightening Betsy’s hair and dress and putting books back on the shelf. Her cry for help was answered by library staff who began CPR and checked for a pulse. The assumption by them and the ambulance attendants who responded was fainting or a seizure.

The stab wound through Betsy’s chest into her heart was not discovered until after she had been pronounced dead.  Meanwhile the library staff returned the books to the shelf and had a janitor clean up the mess. Campus police had responded to the call for help but made no attempt to secure the scene or the library.

Chief of criminal investigation for the Pennsylvania State Police Rockview Barracks, Sergeant George Keibler, was recalled from vacation to take the case. He began a decade’s long search for a killer with virtually no evidence, no murder weapon, and no reliable witnesses.

The social unrest on campus, against the Vietnam War and the lack of diversity at the university, complicated an already challenging case.  Plus Penn State officials didn’t seem to care about finding the killer; they just wanted it out of the headlines.

The description of the investigation gives us a glimpse of how a criminal investigation was done fifty years ago. Betsy’s life and that of her named killer are detailed showing a stark contrast between an all-American girl and a man portrayed as a psychopathic pedophile.

This isn’t a lock your doors, sleep with your lights on true crime thriller. It is a detailed, thoughtful examination of an unsolved case. However, if only one or two citizens had come forward at any point, it may have been a case solved by Sergeant Keibler.

A movie is never as good as the book. This aphorism remains true with this movie/book combo. Released on Christmas Day, “Unbroken” was a good way to spend a couple of hours. However, there is no comparison to the book itself.

There is so much that does not come through in the movie. I was reading some of the comments about the movie on The Internet Movie Database, or http://www.imdb.com. One viewer said (and others agreed) that there was nothing particularly heroic about “not dying.”

The book makes clear that the lead character’s “unbrokenness” is not about not dying. It is about his spirit remaining unbroken and his will to live remaining intact despite incredible odds.

Louis Zamperini was a delinquent, incorrigible and without purpose. From the moment he could walk he was uncontrollable, smoking at five and drinking at eight. He stole. He vandalized. He had a short temper: punching girls, pushing teachers, being pursued by the police – all before high school!

Running away from home in 1932, he rode the rails, only succeeding in being chased by railroad detectives, being forced at gunpoint to jump off a moving train, and ending up “filthy, bruised, sunburned, and wet, sharing a stolen can of beans.”   He had an epiphany and headed home.

Once at home, he put all his energy that had been spent thieving into running (emulating an older brother), attending college on a track scholarship and winning a berth on the 1936 Olympic Track Team. Louis was on “track” to be the first person to break a four-minute mile. The 1940 Olympics were cancelled, and shortly thereafter Louis Zamperini was drafted and became a bombardier.

Sent on a rescue mission one May morning in 1943, his plane had mechanical trouble and had to ditch in the ocean with only three of 11 crew members surviving. For the next 46 days, the story of their survival is unthinkable – from being stalked by sharks to being strafed by Japanese war planes as they fought the elements, the thirst, the hunger and hopelessness.

After drifting all this time, they eventually “made land” on a Japanese-occupied island, thus becoming POWs. They endured humiliation and torture with bravery, ingenuity, rebellion and humor until, when they were almost dead, the war was declared over and they were freed. (Their treatment is a stark contrast to what Danya Walker’s book review described about POWs in Missouri a couple weeks ago.)

Freed in body only, Zamperini returned home and struggled to put together the pieces of his life, dealing with alcoholism and what is now understood as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The movie glosses over almost all of this struggle, giving only token lip service to the fact Zamperini became a Christian and returned to Japan, forgiving them for his treatment and freeing himself in the meantime.

“Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Lara Hillenbrand is definitely one to read. It reminded me of “Ghost Soldiers” by Hampton Sides and “The Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw. This generation of men will soon be with us no more. Reading their stories not only educates us about the past, but inspires us for the future.

Joplin Public Library has “Unbroken” in print, ebook and downloadable audio format. The DVD is on order. Prepare to be on a waiting list, but even with a wait, this story is worth it.

But the book is still better than the move.


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