The Furious Gazelle

Literary as hell.

Tag: Book review

Book Review: The Gypsies of New Rochelle by Ivan Jenson

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

Book Review: Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

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

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis is the latest novel by the bestselling author of The Martian, Andy Weir. Named after the novel’s location, Artemis is a sci-fi adventure that takes place on the first and only city on the moon.

 

Artemis is somewhat less heavy than The Martian in terms of scientific facts offered up but Weir does not disappoint in making the moon city seem believable. Everything from the actual layout of the city, physical construction, safety protocols specific to life on the moon (e.g. air closets in case of a breach, all flammable materials being highly controlled), and varied neighborhood details- make Artemis distinct. However, creating the novel’s physical landscape is where Weir’s creativity ends.

 

Based on the caricatures running across the moon it’s possible that Andy Weir has never met a person. Main character Jazz Bashara is a porter with a side job as a smuggler who has lived in Artemis since she was 6 years old. Jazz isn’t like other girls, she’s a Cool Girl. She’s good looking but really doesn’t work at it you know? She’s incredibly intelligent but doesn’t make a thing of it. That’s maybe the one trait she has- smart. But she tells us she doesn’t want to work at anything, despite working very hard at hustling. Continue reading

Book Review: Paper Girls volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn

Paper Girls, a new graphic novel by Brian K. Vaughn, is an enchanting read for all ages. Set in 1988, four paper girls band together for protection from thugs on Halloween night. However, the girls discover bigger problems afoot when a mysterious invasion threatens to tear apart their quiet suburban world.

Penned by the masterful Brian K. Vaughn, author of graphic novels like Runaways and Saga, Paper Girls is a gripping, fast-moving tale full of suburban nostalgia and mysterious intrigue. We follow Erin, Mackenzie, KJ and Tiffany as they struggle to figure out what’s happening to their town, and to find an adult who can help them. But when they find most of the other people in their town have vanished, they quickly realize that they’re on their own.

Most refreshingly of all, the heroines of Paper Girls are not one-dimensional tomboys. As this is the beginning of a series, we don’t know much about the girls yet, but the characterizing details Vaughn provides makes it clear that each of them is different: Mackenzie is the bravest of the group, becoming the first paper girl in the neighborhood. Erin is thoughtful, connecting details. When one of the “aliens” drops a chip with the Apple logo, Erin recognizes the logo from one of the computers at her school, and wonders if the “aliens” are actually visitors from the future. Continue reading

Book Review: “The Therapy Journal” by Steve Wineman

Therapy Journal


When therapist Becky discovers an unexpected pregnancy, it stirs something deep inside of her. She finds herself thinking back to the life of one of her patients, Lathsamy, who was sex trafficked as a child. Lathsamy is Becky’s foil as she comes to terms with her own childhood pain, which she ignored for so many years.

The Therapy Journal, a novel by Steven Wineman, revels in introspection. Wineman uses Becky’s journey to explore the power of memory and the damage of childhood sexual assault. He breaks Rebecca’s character into several parts: there’s Becky Therapist, who quizzes and soothes her. There’s 8-year-old-Becky, the part of herself that was cordoned off and abandoned after an unsettling childhood incident. And then there’s Rebecca herself. Rebecca’s narration is fairly self-involved, and completely unfiltered. She is wrapped up in her pain, unable to see her situation clearly: to her, her mother is a total narcissist, her father is incompetent and uncaring, and even her best friend is too “self-involved” for Rebecca’s taste. As a reader, it can be frustrating to be stuck inside of Becky’s limited perspective, watching her push away everyone close to her over minor incidents, but Wineman paints an accurate picture of a person in psychic pain.

Reading Becky examine her life and her own shortcomings in such full detail mimics the frustration of a therapist dealing with annoying patient. In one of Becky’s dialogues with herself as therapist, she says, “I mean here I am, mouthing off and acting like a petulant little girl and if you’re good with that, well, great but how is that helping me make this decision?”

However, that indecision is the point of this novel. It feels a bit like listening in on someone’s actual therapy appointments: a little bit uncomfortable, and slow-paced at times, but also morbidly fascinating in a voyeuristic sense. The author puts his background in mental health work to good use, making the problems Becky faces as she struggles to come to terms with her past, feel realistic. Some parts of the novel are more compelling than others (8-year-old Becky sounds more like a sarcastic teenager than the voice of a child), but on the whole it hangs together as the psychological exploration of a troubled character. Anyone interested in seeing an adult woman come to terms with repressed memories and childhood sexual abuse would enjoy reading this book.

 

 

The Therapy Journal will be released October 22, 2017 from Golden Antelope. For more information visit http://goldenantelope.com/index.php/news/41-steven-wineman-s-the-therapy-journal-is-coming-soon

 

 

Book Review: “After you say what’s true…” by Dan Tarnowski

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Book Review: Watershed, a novel by Colin Dodds

Colin Dodd’s latest novel Watershed, a gripping thriller, begins when Raquel, a pretty young escort, is thrown out of a helicopter. From there, the story only gets stranger and more complex, as Raquel meets Norwood, a former sculptor who earns his living from odd off-the-books jobs and selling snakes. Set in the near future, Norwood is a “Ludlite,” part of a community that eschews all modern technology – part hipster, part Luddite.

After Raquel meets Norwood, the pair becomes embroiled in the sinister plans of former Senator Robert Hurley, also known as Rudolf Ostanze. Hurley is a man of seemingly infinite wealth and power who wants the one thing money can’t buy: the baby growing in Raquel’s womb, which may or may not be his. As Hurley sends Tyra, his hired hand, to dog Raquel, it becomes clear that Hurley is involved in a much bigger conspiracy. Meanwhile, plans are underway for real estate fraud, disguised as a commemoration for 9/11. Continue reading

Book Review: Out from Calaboose by Karen Herceg

calaboose. noun. A jail or prison; cell

Karen Herceg spent three decades working on her collection of poetry, Out from Calaboose. The poems reflect that; they feel slow, deliberate, not a single word more than what is necessary.

The individual poems are deftly woven together- this collection in five parts takes you on journey through the seasons, scattered snapshots of thoughts, literal and spiritual travels, and through the concrete highs and lows of Herceg’s life. “Part 1: In the Wake of Frogs,” covers what separates us: walls, continents, desires. Ownership in a relationship is introduced here and remains a driving force throughout her personal work in this collection.

Herceg shows the full range of her talent, at some points the prose stark and pointed, “I am a woman too, / have herded children, objects and desires.” And at others sinister yet lyrical- “Rather you strip me down / and yoke me stark / pare and parse the lace / the sugar that hides the taste / of me / honesty in your need / to own my love”

In part two we move through physical time while Herceg reveals her internal mechanics. Herceg has a talent for describing nature, and connecting her creativity to the physical environment. Summer holds her down- the one summer poem finds heat stagnant, oppressive. Fresh, frigid winds, breathe life into her observations. “I see the puzzle of a sky / between skeletal fingers / and its stark patches / bore into me / like a hopeless romance.”

In The Silence of Snow there is Peace, reflection, and stillness, in the heat of summer there is motionlessness. Heat brings us to concrete reality. Smog covered streets, the smell of blacktop, to the story of Toulon 1971 “In the white glare of an afternoon / I watched you stroll up the dirt road / while, straw hat in hand, I fanned the heavy air,”

Herceg’s thoughts never seem cliched, though the volume covers well-worn tropes: love, the environment, family. She takes tiny moments and magnifies them, spinning entire imagined worlds from small glances, such as in “Shadow Dance” (p. 27), when she describes a couple’s embrace: “you cover me / like a crucifix”

In “Part 3: A thin Season,” Herceg offers snapshots of the everyday and answers what it means to her, what she views as the truth. The ways we think of the world, and don’t think of it. People’s relationship to the world and each other. This is one of the more concrete sections and at times Herceg turns toward a political bent. “Corporate Menu” takes a swipe at the devastation to the planet caused by our industrial farming: “petroleum plastic packaged / for the convenience of our impatient lives.” In “A Thin Season,” Herceg’s elegy for “a young man beheaded for listening to Western pop tunes in his father’s grocery store,” is hauntingly beautiful. Her beautiful words are in harsh contrast to the gritty reality: “Isis goddess of love, the moon, / magic and fertility, / a healing sister of deities / daughter of earth and sky”

Like Part 3, “Part 4: Loving Hands” offers a section of more concretely worded poems- pointedly weighting down the reader into the heart of the collection. In “Maternal Elegy” she is literally bound to her mother. “cutting the cord / where you dragged me /through the mire / of your own sins / a maternal bloodbath.”

Her words, as always, are beautiful, cold, and describe unrelenting life. “the inscription of their names, / the chiseled dates / making impressions on my flesh.”

Though accepting of what is, rarely at peace with it “I awake to the immeasurable sadness
of loss, / not for whatever was / but what was not, / the dream of possibilities and lost connections, / the incurable pain of memories / that never existed.”

And again, we are never free from other people- especially those who made us. “spines straight as rulers / with impressions from loving hands, / my sister and I learned early / about a queen who must be obeyed,” These loving hands leave a permanent mark that holds true across her life. Herceg sums it up best herself as, “the unendurable obligation / of love,”

Even in the final part of the book, where Herceg quotes Carl Sagan “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love,” love is a necessity and a burden. Her works are scattered again and still melancholy. Because even here at the end she doesn’t let go of what could have been. “If I could thrust my hands outward / ripping through embryonic clay / I would sculpt the lives / we did not have”

In Out From Calaboose Herceg explores every prison you could encounter- being bogged down in the material world, bound to another person, your past, the reality of what is while miring yourself in thoughts of what could have been. Herceg’s imagination stretches the mundane, escapes the confines of the physical and beautifully describes ugliness at every turn.

Out from Calaboose is available from Nirala Press.

Book Review: Hipster! by Greg Farrell

Hipster-Cover-Just-Front2In this book, Greg Farrell brings the minutiae of millennial life to the page. Farrell is quick to poke humor at his privileged upbringing and many neuroses. In the first story, he notes that he moved to Brooklyn to escape the endless car/job cycle of his hometown in Long Island (you need a car to get to the job, you need a job to afford the car). Farrell writes that he “saw New York City as a refuge from those things,” but was “oblivious to the trials that would await me there.” Indeed, his comfortable suburban upbringing leaves him unprepared to handle even the most basic challenges of city life, such as living with pests, shady landlords, and unreliable roommates.

 

A series of unconnected vignettes about Farrell’s life over the decades, both in and out of Brooklyn, the collection is scattered at times. Some vignettes stand out, such as a sweet Christmas when the family bands together to buy Farrell’s younger brother a Wii before supplies run out, and a charming look at the history of the Jewish deli B&H. Farrell, an admittedly anxious person, makes for an unreliable narrator at times, as in a story about his electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome, a form of hypochondria, which he seems aggrieved that the rest of the world doesn’t take “seriously.” He has a distinct point of view and clear voice, and his stories definitely read as honest. When he shares his thoughts about girls or roommates it seems like a true depiction of his inner dialogue, which, though de rigueur in diary comics, sometimes feels like oversharing to this reader. For example, when Farrell talks about a female roommate he had an argument with, he notes that he had “two wet dreams wherein I ate her pussy.” Farrell’s viewpoint can be myopic at times, rarely venturing beyond his internal monologue. The collection is at its best when he focuses his lens outside of himself on his family and the outside world.
The book itself is a beautifully-printed edition with clear, easy to read text and a simple, eye-catching cover. Overall, Hipster is an interesting read (despite having little to do with hipsters, or Brooklyn).

Review: Elizabeth Copeland’s Jazz

Elizabeth Copeland’s Jazz takes us on a touching journey as a young trans man reclaims his body and identity. Aimed at a young audience, this book is sure to help closed-minded youth gain a new perspective, and to help trans youth and other members of the LGBT community realize that they are not alone.

Jazz cover

Named Jaswinder at birth, Copeland’s protagonist prefers the name “Jazz.” He says, “At birth, I was labeled a girl. I was named Jaswinder. My chosen name is Jazz. Like the music, I am nature’s improvisation.” The reader follows Jazz through his childhood in a middle-class Indian Canadian home with a father and brother who hate his non-conforming behavior, and a mother who doesn’t understand his burgeoning gender identity. When they try to suppress Jazz’s gender expression, he retreats, becoming depressed, withdrawn, and eating less. On his 17th birthday, Jazz comes out to his family as transgender, hoping to be welcomed as a man. Instead, Jazz’s family rejects him, and his father tells him that he is no longer welcome in his home. Jazz is forced to leave, becoming homeless. The rest of the novel covers his journey as he finds an LGBT community to help him survive the streets, and struggles to be accepted.

The book is mainly told from Jazz’s point of view but also features the internal thoughts from supporting characters on Jazz’s transition. We get to hear why the people closest to Jazz, his family, would abandon him, and how they wrestle with the news. The reader also gets to hear from Jazz’s newfound supporters allowing us to hear both sides of the “conversation.”

Though the issue is complex and also grapples with very adult content the book is definitely aimed at younger readers. As a protagonist, Jazz can be immature at times, rejecting help when it is offered to him by social workers Kendall, an older FTM transgender individual who has gone through the same journey as Jazz, and Sister Mary Francis, an ex-nun. As in many young adult novels, some aspects of the plot ravel together too neatly for real life: for example, Jazz very quickly finds a job and a place to stay and a job after becoming homeless. While there is some emotional and personal growth for Jazz, none of it goes past the realistic maturity level of a 17-year-old, which might prove frustrating for some adults, but well suited to younger readers. However, though geared towards a younger crowd, the book is a good read for any age. The language of the book is almost musical or poetic, and the writing is very poignant at times, with apt descriptions. Jazz is a charming, sometimes-sweet tale of one character’s “It Gets Better” story.

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