This debut novel by Julie Dao is the first book in the Rise of the Empress series. The series explores the imagined youth of Snow White’s Evil Queen in an East Asian-inspired fantasy setting. Xifeng, the protagonist, is a strong, complex young woman struggling to choose between a path of light and dark. She knows the right thing to do, but a voice inside of her urges her on towards evil.
There’s a lot to praise about this novel: Xifeng, our heroine, is strong and powerful, but at the same time she is not immune to the culture and mores of her time. She has to be careful to seem humble and ladylike as she forges her way towards becoming the next Empress of Feng Lu. At the same time, she is more spirited than the women in classic fairy tales. She propels herself by her own choices, not quietly accepting what the world throws at her. Another divergence from the norms: following her destiny for greatness means leaving behind Wei, Xifeng’s handsome boyfriend who longs to marry her and live a quiet life together. We are told that Wei is meant to play some role in Xifeng’s fate, but it’s clear that Xifeng’s journey will be more about realizing her destiny than finding her one true love. Continue reading
Two days after it happened, my best friend told me she was eighty percent sure she was drugged and raped at her hostel in Panama.
We both willed her to be wrong, but there was the blood in her underwear, the sick feeling in her head the morning after a night she couldn’t remember, the slow piecing together of half-memories. There was the fear, bone-deep, that overwhelmed her when she locked eyes with a man who resembled one of her rapists. Her instinct told her that her body had been violated. We both trusted it, because this wasn’t the first time.
In Royal City volume 1: Next of Kin, a new graphic novel by Jeff Lemire, a family grapples with the ghost of their dead son. Tommy died in 1993, but he left an indelible presence on the Pikes.
Royal City starts when Patrick Pike comes home to visit his father, who’s just had a stroke. It slowly becomes clear that each character is seeing a different version of Tommy’s ghost. Patrick grapples with guilt about using his dead brother as the inspiration for so much of his writing. Patrick’s mother sees him as the priest he could have grown up to be. His sister sees him as the child she desperately wants to have. In this volume, Lemire doesn’t cover much ground in plot. He’s laying the latticework for future volumes, developing a rich family history and taking his time to set up the mystery of what happened to Tommy in 1993. Lemire is known for his literary, quietly plotted graphic novels, such as the award-winning Essex County. Continue reading
You love books. They’re the perfect present, obviously. We’ve put together a selection to help you find the perfect gift for every person on your list this holiday season.
We aimed for a wide range, and to choose books a little bit off the beaten path. If you pick a book from this list, the odds are pretty good they don’t already have it – either because it just came out so they haven’t gotten a chance, or because it’s not on their radar.
Most of the books on our list are available on Amazon Prime – so no matter what holiday you celebrate, there’s a perfect last-minute gift for you in here somewhere.
New: Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan (2017)
The Visit from the Goon Squad author is back with a gripping thriller about a woman who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II.
Middle-ish: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013)
As far as we’re concerned not enough people have read this book. This novel is narrated by two fully realized characters– a teenaged Japanese-American girl (Nao) keeping a diary while living in Tokyo, and a Japanese-American writer (Ruth) living on an island off the coast of British Columbia who finds that diary sometime after the 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan. This book goes to some dark places. 16-year-old Nao wants to commit suicide but not before she finishes writing about the life of her 100+-year-old old Buddhist nun grandmother. In doing so she captures much of her own story. Ruth, who finds the diary well after it was written, forms a connection with Nao even while her ultimate fate is unknown. The novel deals with everything from time, spirituality, physics, and placemaking. Fun fact: Ozeki became the first practicing Zen Buddhist priest to be shortlisted for the Man Booker with this book.
The Gypsies of New Rochelle is a charming new novel by Ivan Jenson. It follows the Aldridges, an eccentric family, as they attempt to launch the music career of their talented daughter Nora and make it big in New York.
Set in 1980, Gypsies shows us a grittier version of New York City than exists today. The Aldridges call themselves gypsies because they move around so often, rootless and always looking for the next adventure. Shawn, the youngest child of the family, narrates the book. Family is at the heart of Gypsies. The book trafficks mostly in the day-to-day life of the Aldridges, a small caravan of well-drawn out characters. Jenson revels in the small dramas of the Aldridges: pranks played, petty squabbles between siblings, and their dealings with Carey Casey, the exasperated producer who has to answer their questions.
Jenson captures a unique large family dynamic, something which is hard to do well. Shawn’s family is full of odd, vibrant characters, each with their own shtick: his overbearing parents, who pressure sister Nora to become a concert violinist. A cousin, Pito, is brainwashed by hippies in Manhattan and must be rescued. Shawn is catapulted to momentary fame when his brother Jarrett, builds a flying contraption and dares Shawn to get on. Each character has their own arc, all weaving together beautifully to create a blended picture of family life. Continue reading
Tool of War is the third book in Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker trilogy. A fast-moving dystopian YA novel, Tool of War picks up where Drowned Cities left off. Tool has broken away from his masters and is preparing for all out war against the people who created him.
As much as war, this book is about survival. Bacigalupi gives us insight into his characters’ emotional journeys. How do they cope with the horrifying world they live in? Tool grapples with the “monster” he was designed to be, an augment halfway between man and animal, kept genetically chained to his master for most of his life. Mahlia, a young healer who hates violence, faces the idea that she might need to hurt others to defend herself at some point in the near future. There is a rotating cast of main characters, but they all feel distinct and unique in their own way. This makes his dystopian world all the more horrifying: this isn’t happening in some abstract way; the terrible things are happening to these people. Continue reading
I’m fast. Put me on the line, the gun in the air, the white girls next to me, and the Latinas talking right to the moment the powder ignites, and I blow by them. The wind on my skin tears the sweat from my arm hair as my muscles pump. 100 meters in and I’ll have the lead by the length of my outstretched legs. By the end of the race, the Latinas stare open-mouthed, and the white girls will wipe the supposedly waterproof mascara from their cheeks while I break the tape and take my place on the podium.
“Winner of the girls’ 400 meter run: Piper Dupree,” the announcer would say.
“Piper. Piper Dupree,” Mrs. G says snapping her fingers. My eyes snap to her for a moment before wandering to the white board behind her.
“Yeah, here,” I say rolling my eyes. She sees me, gives me the eye. I like Mrs. G, and if I graduate, I’ll miss her. She’s the only one who takes my shit. Continue reading