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
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
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
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
In 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).