Book Review – Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Full Title: Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
Genre: Biography
Publication Date: March 6th, 2018
Publisher: First Second

There is no more straightforward way to put it – this graphic novel is phenomenal. If you need a boost of vitality and determination in such trying times as these, look no further than Brazen. This book makes you reflect on yourself and say, I could do this too. The obstacles suddenly don’t seem so insurmountable anymore, at least for awhile.

Though if I did learn one important fact in this collection, it’s that most artistic and scientific fields historically have been overseen by, well… bigots and incompetents, and even with the efforts of these wonderful women and others, are still very much in dire need of an overhaul in their bureaucracy and ways they practice. Most, if not all of these women, even those alive in more recent years, have had to struggle for recognition because of these institutions and their staunch attitudes that they can do no wrong. If we hope to make any positive change to this little gloom-ball we live on, sometimes the system has to be challenged.

Bagieu tells the shortened but fascinating legacy of thirty important women, both influential and underappreciated, in all their determination, wit and triumph, giving each of their stories their own unique colour scheme. Not only is Brazen a visually beautiful and charming book, but it never feels anything less than passionate and heartfelt on the artist’s part, and is one of the most inspiring collections I’ve read.

What surprised me is that I actually knew most of these women. I’m very familiar with Tove Jansson, Nellie Bly, Josephine Baker, but I didn’t know the sheer extent of their accomplishments. That’s something a simple search won’t really elaborate on. Some of these women were practically the nucleus of their field, it being nonexistent or a hopeless train wreck before they came along. Continue reading “Book Review – Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu”

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Book Review – To Dance by Siena Cherson Siegel

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Memoir / Sports
Publication Date: October 1st, 2006
Publisher: Atheneum-Richard Jackson Books

To Dance is the story of Siena Cherson Siegel’s journey from her desire to be a ballerina at age six to her debut performance with the New York City Ballet as a young adult. Siegel was faced with being unable to compete several times, due to being flat-footed, personal issues or injuries, yet prevailed with optimism. It’s an uplifting story told in whimsical watercolours by Mark Siegel.

While To Dance is light-hearted, Siegel doesn’t spare the brutal honesty of ballet, and how extraordinarily difficult it can be to break into its ranks at all, much less achieve fame. The art of ballet and its behind-the-scenes has for some reason, always interested me more than actual ballets have. It is definitely a demanding profession, asking so much of you, physically and mentally, that it takes an insane amount of determination to succeed in. Thus, I have a lot of respect for ballerinas. I’ve heard this graphic novel described as “symphonic”, and I think that fits quite well, the art flowing as smoothly as a lifeline.

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Book Review – Leontyne Price by Carole Boston Weatherford

★★★★ 4 Stars

Full Title: Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century
Genre:
 Biography
Publication Date: December 23rd, 2014
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Leontyne Price is a classical singer, the first African American woman to become a prima donna at the Metropolitan Opera, inspired by the magnificent Marian Anderson and her own family who encouraged her to learn music. Price is an innovator and a fascinating figure that I didn’t really know much about, so this book is kind of an introduction to me as well. I was already familiar with Marian Anderson, who I probably don’t even need to say, was superb.

Both Anderson and Price faced and rose above prejudice in the American music industry, and in opera, to now be renowned as some of the best. Their voices are striking and one-of-a-kind.
Voice of a Century is a beautiful, inspiring book aimed at children, but you know, anyone can like, and I think it does justice to Leontyne Price’s story. I stress that the illustrations really are amazing. Splashes of red, blue and gold brighten the eye while her biography is told, fittingly, in lyrical poems.
It’s a little abridged but if music, history, or both is an interest to you, I definitely recommend this one!

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Book Review – Tacking on the Styx by Jeffrey L. Hatcher

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Full Title: Tacking on the Styx: An Epileptic Sails the Facts, Fiction and Philosophy of a Mental Illness
Genre: Psychology / Science
Publication Date: March 15th, 2016
Publisher: AuthorHouse

Tacking on the Styx is a fascinating and unabashed look at epilepsy and cognition, unique from your usual psychology book in that it is also intertwined with both memoir and a fiction narrative, so a richer, more empathetic understanding and sense of individuality can be gained as you also learn more about epilepsy and neurology of the brain.

Can I say first that Tacking on the Styx is ridiculously in-depth. It could well be the definitive book on epilepsy. The narrative benefits the medical text strongly as well, which you might not expect. It reminds me of David B.’s graphic novel classic, Epileptic, though is more striking, being from an epileptic person’s viewpoint rather than their close relative as Epileptic was. I would recommend both to get the best understanding if it’s something you wish to know more about.

The body’s most vital organ is a complex landscape. I don’t pretend to be a doctor, definitely having more of an amateur interest in medical science, but I think we can all agree with Hatcher in that empathy is the key to mapping and understanding the mind.
I can speak from personal experience, however, that a healthy environment is also vital. No one with any disorder, whether mental, physical or neurological, can hope to mollify or heal it in an environment completely devoid of empathy and peace.
The roads to recovery and stability are delicate indeed, and I think that while modern medicine is truly a godsend, doctors can lose sight of this, so it’s very necessary to have books like Styx to promote that understanding. Continue reading “Book Review – Tacking on the Styx by Jeffrey L. Hatcher”

Book Review – The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls by Emilie Autumn

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Historical Fiction
Publication Date: June 22nd, 2017
Publisher: The Asylum Emporium

“I shall devote what is left of my life to making my prison my palace. Just think of it, ladies: an asylum, by definition, ought to be a sanctuary for those who need one, and I fear I shall always need one.”

Not even the devil could envy the madwoman.
The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls juxtaposes Autumn’s personal experiences in a modern mental hospital with the dark magic realism of a fictional womens’ asylum in the mid-1800s, told by an alternate Emily “with a Y”. Emilie and Emily begin to communicate through journals and letters, and find that though the façade of their fate has changed, underneath it… nothing’s gotten better.
A point needed to be made about mental healthcare for women, though it’s one that jitters the nerves of the stomach to think about too much. I believe Autumn’s succeeded, and for that you should read it.

For awhile, I was obsessed with Emilie Autumn’s music. I mean totally engrossed in dark cabaret – finding her album “Opheliac” had a massive impact on what I desired to create in life. I still love her music and I recommend that album especially.
I had heard about The Asylum and craved it desperately. It needed to become a part of my permanent cerebral library by any means necessary, but at the time it was rarer than unicorn blood and about as expensive.

By the time I’d found one of these elusive collectibles and was able to borrow one, I’d rather worn myself out on Autumn’s discography, so I think that combined with the sheer unavailability of the thing had a bad impact and I didn’t like it much. The new version, which is thankfully quite easy to find, is a thousand times improved. In a way it comes across a twisted reversal of A Little Princess, with themes of isolation and friendship in hard times.

Continue reading “Book Review – The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls by Emilie Autumn”