Book Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker

If you’re in need of something cozy and indulgent of your childhood sense of wonder, I cannot recommend reading The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (First Second, $14.50) enough. This feel-good story is a perfect way to kick off Pride Month with some positive representation. 

The Plot:

The Prince and The Dressmaker is a heartwarming coming-of-age story. It follows the relationship between Frances, a young woman who works as a seamstress, and Prince Sebastian, the heir to the royal throne of Belgium. Frances is a creative dressmaker with an eye for avant-garde fashion. This earns her little respect from her traditional boss but catches the eye of the prince immediately. Sebastian hires Frances as the royal seamstress and together they secretly run the underground fashion scene in their city- Frances as the anonymous seamstress and Sebastian as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia.

Despite their success in the fashion world, everything must remain secret. Sebastian fears his dual identity puts his family’s reputation and his place on the throne in jeopardy. Pretending to be someone you’re not isn’t easy, though. It’s a simple story with fairytale like tones and drama that simultaneously never feels too dark but keeps the stakes high for our main characters. 

The Art: The Prince and the Dressmaker

I cannot stress how much I am continuously charmed by Wang’s art. It’s got fluidity to it in the way the panels tend to flow and float at will. The smooth, rounded strokes of the linework give the characters bounce. Wang’s style is cartoonish and pliable, which makes the characters easily relatable because their expressions are always so clear and exaggerated. Wang doesn’t shy away from color, and the gowns designed for Lady Crystallia take full advantage of this. Her dresses often fill up entire page spreads in place of plot development, and I have no qualms with this sacrifice. Lady Crystallia’s outfits are stunning and purposefully contrast Sebastian’s plain, regal uniforms. The life Wang breathes into the narrative with her art perfectly elevates the storybook quality of the plot.

Final Thoughts:

I could read this book over and over, a hundred times. It’s comforting. Quick and simple on the surface, it tells an important story about coming to terms with your identity. It’s a story that a lot of LGBTQ+ folks can relate to, either as something they’re actively going through or something they’ve already passed. When Sebastian sees himself in the mirror, it’s not always himself that he sees, and this book gently takes the reader’s hand and says, “that’s okay.” It doesn’t promise that the journey will be easy, but it does promise that things will work out in the end. That’s a message a lot of LGBTQ+ people need more of.

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We are currently giving away a copy of Neal Rabin’s adventurous novel (perfect for summer reading) 23 DEGREES SOUTH: A Tropical Tale of Changing Whether… ending on May 16th, 2018 at 12:00AM EST. The winner will be contacted by email, so make sure to check your inbox in case it was you!

“Enjoy with your favorite cocktail!…23 DEGREES SOUTH will capture all readers with its story of two young friends on different paths who intersect within an action packed story.”
– Chanticleer Reviews, 5/5 Stars

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Publishing 101: Creating Your Author Bio

Author Bio Claire McKinneyPRWhen I was young and naïve, I thought the bios you read in theater programs and on the backs of books were written by someone who had a lot of nice things to say about the person. I didn’t know that individual people wrote their own author bio.

From that perspective, I started to categorize them by how much ego the subject had in order to write such glowing praise about himself!  I was amazed at how much people touted their own accomplishments.  I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to write about myself. I feel much more comfortable singing the praises of other people.  However, in order to sell our books, we all need to try to channel that egomaniac and compose a good author bio.

There are two forms to consider when crafting your author bio. One is a brief, three-to-four sentence paragraph that can go on the back jacket of your book.  The other is a lengthier explanation that could be found on a separate page in your book under “About the Author,” or as a separate page in your press kit with your author photo.

To help you get started on your author bio, try answering some questions:

  • Where did you go to college and what degrees do you have?  If you attended an MFA program or writer’s retreat, where was it?
  • Where do you live? How many children/pets do you have?
  • What do you do during the day? (i.e. what’s your day job? Are you a full-time care giver, doctor, consultant, etc?)
  • Do you have any previously published articles or books?  What are they?
  • Are you a member of any organizations, or do you serve on the boards of any non-profits? What are they?
  • What are your special interests?
  • Have you been interviewed by, reviewed in, or wrote for any media outlets?  What were they?
  • What is your website address? What is your Twitter or Instagram handle, Facebook or LinkedIn page, or Snapchat name?

Now take a look at everything you have noted above ,and highlight all of the information you would want to read about someone with a book like yours.  What gives you credibility?  What makes you interesting as a writer?  People these days are accustomed to looking in private bedrooms on the internet, and they feel entitled to know about their authors.  This holds true even more if you have written a work of non-fiction.  Then your education and other items that relate to your credibility become super important.  Once you have pulled out all of the material that could go into your bio you are ready to write.

If you haven’t already looked at author bios in the books you have on your shelves, do so.  You can model yours after theirs to fit the style and length that you need.  The short bio should list your credentials and education, especially for non-fiction; your affiliations; and perhaps the state and/or city in which you live.  You are not required to print your address for all-the world to see, but telling people the region where you reside is a nice way to give readers some perspective on what your lifestyle might be.   You can mention your kids and pets as well, but it isn’t a requirement.  Again, these are just additional personal details that bring potential book buyers closer to you as a person/writer. On this page is an example of a short bio from Laurie B. Levine, a family therapist with a young adult novel.

For the longer bio you should write about three paragraphs that fit on approximately three-quarters of a page.  In this version you will have more freedom to talk a bit more about why you wrote the book and what your interests are.  Just take a look at the questions you answered earlier to find the material with which you have to work. Here is an example of a long bio from Merle Bombardieri, a psychotherapist with a self-help guide.

Any bio is an opportunity for an author to come out of the book to say hello to a reader.  Make it your own.  In the longer author bio, it is easier to be you. If you have a sense of humor, let it come through.  If you are more straight-laced and like to stick with the facts, then do that.  Most of all do not be afraid to talk about the good things you have done.

After you have written your long and short forms, have a friend, family member, neighbor take a look and provide some feedback.  I like to have several sets of eyeballs check out anything I write and I always accept feedback (even if I grit my teeth during the delivery of it). Get it done and check it off your list.

Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

GoldFinch
Donna Tartt/Little, Brown and Company
“I’ve made a fortune off it, and I would really like for you to have it all to your own again-you know, the thing itself, for old time’s sake, just to have, to really be yours, keep in your closet or whatever, get out and look at it, like in old days, you know? Because I know how much you loved it. I got to where I loved it myself, actually.”
The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch is full of intricate ties and coincidences, and every event that takes place somehow relates back to one moment, when he was a 13-year-old boy whose mother was killed in a terrorist attack at a New York museum. At the time of the explosion, Theo’s mother was in a separate room from her son, looking at the painting of The Goldfinch by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius. After being knocked out for some time, Theo thoughtlessly steals the painting and wanders out of the museum, The Goldfinch under his arm, completely ignored by the police and everyone he passes, until he finally reaches his mother’s apartment. From there, the story continues to go downhill for Theo, as he is taken by his estranged alcoholic father, to a new, seedy home in Las Vegas.
While in Las Vegas, Theo befriends an outsider like himself, the Russian-born and substance-abuse expert, Boris. Boris drags Theo down, and the two find themselves spending their days drinking incessantly and doing whatever drugs they can get their hands on. Meanwhile, the painting, like his mother’s ghost, haunts him at every twist and turn. Finally giving in to his fear of discovery and guilt for his impulsive theft years ago, Theo wraps The Goldfinch heavily in cardboard and rags, deciding never to look at it again, but at the same time keeping it close by.
The painting symbolizes Theo himself: he is chained to his mother’s death as long as this goldfinch is chained to a post. He can’t get rid of this painting, the same way he can’t shake off the memories of his mother and the terrorist attack that has single-handedly destroyed his life. He grasps for solace in dark things, such as drugs and lies, and only searches for the bad within the good he does have. As Boris tells Theo, ten years after the two have left Las Vegas, of their young drinking days, “I was trying to have fun and be happy. You wanted to be dead. It’s different.”
At times Theo is confused by his feelings for Boris, and the relationship borders on something more than their friendship’ They’ve both been through such rough experiences and have no one else to love, and therefore they depend on each other. Boris can hold Theo tightly at night not because he is in love with Theo, but because he loves Theo, as his closest confidante, the one person he can always depend on. But Theo, a born-and-bred New Yorker, can’t handle the careless Las Vegas lifestyle, and after his father dies, he runs away back to New York City, leaving Boris to fend for himself alone.
Years later, Boris comes to New York City to find Theo and admits that he stole The Goldfinch, thinking that Theo would have already discovered the textbook Boris put in its place. But the artwork has been preserved by Theo who has kept is wrapped up tightly and in storage. He is completely shocked when Boris tells him that he switched the painting with a math book and has been using it as a tool in illegal dealings: “I switched it. Yes. It was me. I thought you knew. Look, am sorry… I had it in my locker at school. Joke, you know… I swear, I wasn’t going to keep it.” All those years, Theo had been harboring guilt and fearing the authorities, when he was actually off the hook.
From then on the tone of the book shifts and becomes more fast-paced, as if Tartt finally decides she wants to get to the point and is tired of the story’s drawn-out plot. The audience is swept out of the US and into Amsterdam, where the painting is being held as collateral by drug dealers. During a violent scuffle for the painting, Boris gets shot and Theo saves the life of his boyhood friend by shooting and killing the enemy. The next few chapters becomes a hazy, discontented mess as Theo throws himself into drugs and illness while deciding whether or not to commit suicide because they did not save the goldfinch from the drug dealers, just as Theo cannot save himself.
The Goldfinch is a sad, beautifully written journey of the tormented soul of Theo Decker, a boy who tragically lost his mother and with her, his morals and sense of self. The Goldfinch explores the dark side of a person while perfectly delivering the message that life is only temporary, just like a painting that can slip from one’s grasp so easily.

Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

SharpObjectsGF“I just think some women aren’t made to be mothers. And some women aren’t made to be daughters.”

-Sharp Objects

There are a fair share of books that use a narcissistic mother character, where the daughter feels misunderstood and unloved by her egotistical mother. Usually when I read books with this sort of mother-daughter relationship I don’t feel much sympathy for the female protagonist because it feels like I just read a book with the same exact relationship except the characters had different names. For instance, the last book I read with a bad mother-daughter relationship was Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. And even though the alcoholic, youth-obsessed mother had her adult daughter kidnapped, I couldn’t feel sorry for either character because I’ve become immune to this dynamic in books.

Gillian Flynn’s book Sharp Objects is an exception. Flynn writes the narcissistic, insane, manipulative mother so well that every time Camille, the protagonist, has any sort of reaction with her mother I not only get nervous for her, but with her. Her disassociation with her mother, Adora, dips and weaves through the entire book, with a sick, twisted ending that you’re expecting, but also sincerely hoping won’t happen. When you finish Sharp Objects you will shudder, and never look at milk or doll houses the same way again.

Camille Preaker hasn’t been home to Wind Gap, Missouri, in eight years, having set up a new life after spending time in a psych hospital for her cutting issues. Instead of cutting lines, though, Camille was cutting words into her skin, the scars of which were still etched into her body: “Richard let out a burp of a laugh, a shocked croak. Unworthy flared up my leg.”  Her sister Marian had died in her teens, something Camille-and the rest of her family-never got over.

Never wanting to set foot in the town she left behind, Camille reluctantly heads back to Wind Gap when her employer, the Chicago Daily Post, hears a rumor about a murder mystery involving two strangled and and deliberately “de-toothed” 13-year-old girls occurring in the same year.  If the paper gets the story, its sales will boom.

While in Wind Gap Camille realizes not much has changed-her mother is still a nervous, self-absorbed woman who has always had everything she wanted delivered on a silver platter. And Camille’s half-sister Amma is the most popular girl in school–a beautiful 13-year-old girl who Camille notices is developing-or already has- psychopathic tendencies: “’Sometimes if you let people do things to you, you’re really doing it to them,’ Amma said, pulling another Blow Pop from her pocket. Cherry. ‘Know what I mean? If someone wants to do fucked-up things to you, and you let them, you’re making them more fucked up. Then you have the control.’” There’s only one thing, however, that the arrogant Amma can’t control: she’ll never live up to her dead sister Marian or the two dead girls, and her overwhelming jealousy makes Amma an even creepier character.

Sharp Objects is a dysfunctional, sickening thriller that engulfs you in its first sentence. I’ll definitely be picking up Flynn’s novels Gone Girl and Dark Places in the near future, and you should be reading Sharp Objects.