Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers: A Non-Fiction Review

“One must work and be bold if one really wants to live.”

Vincent Van Gogh’s life is the stuff of legend now filled with passion, creativity, and the  larger-than-life personality of a man whose paintings would change the art world forever with their contributions to Post-Impressionism. Maybe you’ve heard about his explosive time in the Yellow House with fellow artist Paul Gauguin. Maybe you know the salacious details of when he cut off his own ear.

No one knew what the future would think of Vincent when he was a young man in the Netherlands. Vincent was known for his passions, yes. But he was also erratic, bombastic, and to put it frankly, difficult. Even Vincent’s favorite brother, Theo, sometimes found him hard to take. The brothers had a lot in common. They both had red hair and neatly trimmed beards–in fact, if you look at Vincent’s self-portrait and his portrait of Theo you might have a hard time telling them apart, especially when they swap hats. They wrote each other copious letters and shared a love of art. They would both die in their thirties but the legacy they left behind would last far longer.

Vincent didn’t realize he wanted to be a painter until he was in his twenties–he made up for the late start with a zealous commitment to his work and a prolific output over the course of his short life. Vincent only started to get the recognition he craved near the end of his life. Even then his true genius wouldn’t be recognized until years after his death.

While Vincent created the art, it was Theo who helped build the legend. Theo nurtured Vincent’s talents, supported him financially, and made sure his paintings were seen in galleries that were beginning to move away from the old masters and show art in newer, brighter and more abstract styles.

Now, so many years after their deaths, it’s hard to imagine a time when their lives weren’t intertwined. But it wasn’t always like that. It all started on a long walk to a windmill and a pledge of lifelong friendship and commitment to both each other and to their mutual work. That fateful day–the pledge, the commitment, and the companionship–would shape the lives of both brothers as they chased their passions and ambitions both together and apart over the course of their short, turbulent lives in Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers (2017) by Deborah Heiligman.

Vincent and Theo is the 2017 winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Nonfiction.

Heiligman’s latest book explores the complex relationship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh as both men tried to define who they wanted to be and to pursue their dreams. Vincent and Theo rarely lived in the same place as they grew older. But they wrote letters to each other constantly detailing their hopes, their failures, and details of their daily lives. Of course, they also talked often about art as it related to Theo’s career as an art dealer and to Vincent’s work as an artist.

These letters serve as a centerpiece to Vincent and Theo and tie together this story of family, friendship, devotion, and art. Short chapters and inventive formatting make even familiar information feel novel as Heiligman delves deep into Vincent’s early life, his changing relationship with Theo, and his rocky journey as both an artist and a young man. Theo, the lesser known of the brothers, is shown equally as he struggles with his own demons while he searches for professional success and love.

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers reframes Vincent and Theo’s lives by examining the give and take in their relationship and the ways in which the brothers influenced each other. New perspectives on key points in Vincent’s life as well as detailed information about the brothers’ early devotion to each other–and the previously little known painting that documents that moment–add new insights even for readers familiar with the artist and his art.

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers is a fascinating and informative story that tenderly explores the momentous and sometimes tragic lives of two of the art world’s most important figures. A must read for art enthusiasts, history and non-fiction buffs, and anyone who needs a reminder that it’s never too late to follow your passions.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

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Flannery: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Flannery Malone knows the exact moment she fell in love with Tyrone O’Rourke. She also knows that their paths diverged, possibly forever, as they grew up. Now Flannery is sixteen and Tyrone is suddenly back–gorgeous and tall and never in school long enough to leave anything more than an impression. He is also, unbelievably, Flannery’s partner for their entrepreneurship class.

Making love potions for her entrepreneurship project should be easy–even with Tyrone being more of a figurative partner than an actual help. Unfortunately that’s only the beginning of Flannery’s problems. Her free spirit mother, Miranda, is struggling to reconcile her vision as an artist with the family’s very real bills. Her little brother is quickly moving from adorably contrary to complete menace.

Then there’s Amber, Flannery’s best friend. Amber used to care about two things above all others: swimming and her friendship with Flannery. That changes when Amber falls for a new guy who seems determined to make sure Amber cares about him–and nothing else–with dangerous consequences.

When word spreads that Flannery’s love potions might actually work her simple project gets a lot more complicated as the potions, Tyrone, and Amber make Flannery rethink what she thought she knew (and what she thought was true) about love in Flannery (2016) by Lisa Moore.

Moore’s standalone contemporary is a thoughtful commentary on love in its many forms. This deceptively slim novel is a meaty slice-of-life story centered on Flannery and her unconventional family. The love potion project–which spans a significant portion of Flannery’s school year–frames this story and gives a unique lens to the events Flannery observes at home and at her school.

This novel is written in first person with a stream of consciousness feel. Flannery’s narration is sharp of tongue and wit as she neatly parses friends, family and acquaintances in the present and through flashbacks. It’s easy to imagine Flannery telling readers this story over a cup of cocoa in the mall food court.

Flannery has some beautiful moments about love, heartbreak, and family. A clever vignette of a book about the enduring power of love and choosing to be happy.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Piper Perish by Kayla Cagan, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Romantics by Leah Konen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockheart, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintera, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood

Decelerate Blue: A Graphic Novel Review

In the future the world is obsessed with efficiency. Adjectives are a waste of time. Reading needs to be streamlined. Even conversation is utilitarian with “goes” at the end of every sentence.

Angela’s parents are on board with everything the Guarantee Committee is selling. Why would they do anything to jeopardize their guarantee and its promise of a better life?

Angela isn’t so sure. She wants a chance to slow down. To think. To feel.

After reading a book called Kick the Boot Angela realizes she isn’t alone. Soon she finds herself at the center of a radical movement determined to slow society down in Decelerate Blue (2017) by Adam Rapp, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro.

This standalone graphic novel offers a startling view of a bleak dystopian future where human interaction and contemplation are secondary to speed and efficiency.

Rapp’s fascinating and disturbingly possible premise is dampened by a simplistic plot and world building that falls short of developing many of the story’s most interesting points. Who are the Guarantee Committee? What exactly is a Guarantee? Decelerate Blue is short on answers.

Cavalarro creates some interesting spreads but the impact is often diminished by the comic largely being in black and white. (Blue is a key color to the story–a fact which is often lost given the black and white palette.) Although the comic does some clever things with full color panels contrasted with black and white it isn’t enough to make the artwork cohesive. A blue and white palette might have been more effective.

Angela has a romance with another girl during her (brief) time with the underground resistance. But instead of creating an empowering queer relationship readers instead get yet another tragic lesbian death.

Decelerate Blue takes on a lot of things to create an interesting sci-fi dystopian comic but it doesn’t always negotiate the form well leading to questions of how the story might have functioned with different artistic choices or even as a novel with a bit more development.

Readers looking for an intriguing piece of flash fiction or a superficial treatment of dystopian themes might find what they’re looking for in Decelerate Blue.

Possible Pairings: Feed by M. T. Anderson, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Week in Review: September 16

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

Backdating this again–I should probably just set them to post on Mondays instead.

This week I got to go to School Library Journal’s Day of Dialog in Brooklyn which was a lot of fun. I also went to the launch event for Jodi Meadows’ new book Before She Ignites and got my paperbacks of The Orphan Queen and The Mirror King signed. I finally read The Orphan Queen and really liked it . . . but I finished the book on the subway this morning and don’t have The Mirror King with me so my next book is going to be The Empress (not a bad trade off).

I haven’t been very good about my writing goals or taking my MediaBistro courses. But I did clean my desk and list some things for sale on eBay as well as reorganizing my bags/purses and books (shocker: I have too many).

With those things under control I feel like I’ll be more ready to establish other routines moving forward. Monday is a bit too hectic but I’m hoping I can start doing the courses at lunch. Wish me luck!

Here’s my latest from Instagram:

Here's a belated shot of the August @uppercasebox! 📚 I prepaid for three months and this was my last installment. It was a great box to end my subscription. The box included: -Everything All at Once by @katrinalenobooks with a full color tip in sheet with the author's signature. (I have been curious about this book for a while and am thrilled to have a copy.) -Take the leap postit notes -Golden Compass bookmarks with some beautiful artwork -Stainless steel bibliophile cuff bracelet (I have been wearing this a lot) 📚 All in all I've enjoyed my Uppercase experience and recommend it if your looking to try a bookish subscription service but don't want the commitment of monthly payments (just prepay instead). As with anything like this service there were some items that worked better than others (I could have done with 50% fewer cat items and one book wasn't something I would read but a teen volunteer at work loved it). 📚 What's your favorite subscription box? Have you read this book yet? 📚 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #bookstagramit #yalit #uppercasebox #everythingallatonce #katrinaleno #goldencompass #thegoldencompass #bibliophile #subscriptionbox #subscriptionaddiction #bookishsubscriptionbox

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Have we talked yet about how much I loved Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George (out 9/19 from Greenwillow)? 💗 George's debut is an excellent retelling of Much Ado About Nothing set in 1920s Long Island. The characters are witty, endearing, and smart. The banter is top notch. And there's. It one but three romances, one speakeasy, at least two dramatic car rides, a thoughtfully handled examination of class privilege and did I mention the banter? 💗 You still have a couple of days to preorder this wonderful book. In fact, if you preorder by 9/16 you can submit your proof of preorder for these beautiful character cards, a bookmark, postcard, and signed bookplate. 💗 Full details: http://bit.ly/2u4uGb6 💗 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #bookstagramit #yalit #mckellegeorge #speakeasyspeaklove #retelling #shakespeare

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If you you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my September Reading Tracker.

How was your week? What are you reading?

Let’s talk in the comments.

Author Interview: Jennifer Mathieu on Moxie

Jennifer Mathieu’s latest novel started receiving a lot of attention well before publication when it was optioned by Amy Poehler. Since then Moxie has only gotten bigger and rightfully so. Moxie follows Vivian, a girl growing up in small town Texas, who is sick of the sexism and harassment at her high school. Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl zines, Viv decides to start one of her own to fight back and start her own feminist revolution. If you haven’t heard of this book yet, get ready for it later this month because this book is a winner and possibly my favorite book of the year. Today Jennifer is here on the blog to talk a little more about this fantastic novel.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Jennifer Mathieu (JM): Well, I’ve always been a writer. As a little girl I wrote books and poems for fun. In 5th grade I won my first writing contest at my school with my book Mystery at Grandma’s.  In high school I edited my school paper and I majored in journalism in college because I thought being a reporter would be one way to be able to write for a living.  It turns out that reporting wasn’t for me, but being an English teacher definitely was. I made the career switch to teaching in my late 20s and I started to read the young adult novels my own students were reading. I thought I might be good at writing such stories myself. My first two young adult novels were good enough to get me an agent but they never sold. My third novel, The Truth About Alice, was my first book to sell, and it was published in 2014. I’ve been really fortunate to be with my publisher Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press since then, and Moxie is my fourth book.

MP: What was the inspiration for Moxie?

JM: I was hunting around for my next idea. I like to and have written about my interests and even my obsessions – small towns, cults, high school gossip, etc. – and I was contemplating other interests of mine that I hadn’t tackled yet. Feminism and Riot Grrrl came to mind. At first I thought about writing a Riot Grrrl novel actually set in the 90s, but I wanted to write a book set in contemporary life, and I wanted to revisit the Riot Grrrl movement through a modern lens. I was sitting on my couch in my den texting with my friend, book blogger Kate Sowa, and the basic plot for Moxie just came to me in a rush. I texted it to her and she was so excited I knew I had something!

MP: Vivian picks the name for her zine after the term “moxie” comes up in a conversation with her grandmother. Which begs the question: What does moxie mean to you?

JM: Moxie to me means guts, gumption, strength and spunk. The word bossy gets thrown around all the time for strong girls, but I’d love to replace it with the word moxie. Plus it has a retro appeal which I love!

MP: Did you have a favorite character to write in this novel? Who do you think you most resemble (or wish you resembled)? Anyone you’re especially excited for readers to meet?

JM: Oh, it’s impossible to choose! I love all the girls. I think maybe I have a soft spot for Lucy Hernandez, the new girl in town. She is brave and also vulnerable. I was probably most like Vivian in high school, scared to make waves and really wanting to fit in, but with a sense in my gut that all was not well in my sexist high school. I’m just eager for readers to meet all of the characters.

MP: What is your favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?

JM: I can’t give too much away, but the big climactic scene at the end of the book was my favorite scene to write and actually the scene I wrote first! I can’t wait for readers to discover it, and I’ve had a few early readers tell me they teared up reading it. I love the Valentines Day scene between two characters at school and the surprise Vivian receives on Valentines Day. That scene was so fun and romantic to write.

MP: During Moxie Vivian initially plans a few signs of solidarity and a protest to fight the school’s unequal dress code in the zine. From there the movement gains a life of its own as other girls take the lead. Can you talk a bit about your vision for the Moxie movement in this novel and how you went about making it inclusive while staying focused on the core plot?

JM: To me, it was very important that the movement was leaderless so that all girls could claim the Moxie title for themselves. The Riot Grrrls tried to be leaderless in a lot of ways, but it was hard because the mainstream media wanted to name leaders and highlight certain women or bands. By making Moxie truly anonymous, anyone could take it on, and it also allowed for girls from different backgrounds, including different races, to take on Moxie as their own. I’m a white author and Riot Grrrl was a predominantly white movement, and I wanted Moxie to feel like it could belong to every girl. As for staying on the core plot, well, I know it’s corny, but I let the characters talk to me and tell me what they wanted to do. It really does happen! Somehow it all came together.

MP: Speaking of the zine and protests, what was your favorite Moxie moment to write in this book?

JM: I’m repeating myself, but definitely my favorite scene, the climactic scene at the end of the novel. As I mentioned, I wrote this scene first which is unusual for me. I typically write in a linear fashion. But this scene just wouldn’t get out of my head, so I wrote it first as I was pitching the book to my editor. I wrote it in a coffee shop down the street from my house and I felt like perhaps like this was something special! I hope I’m right!

MP: One of the things I love about Moxie is the sense of solidarity that the zine fosters both for the characters in the novel and for readers. Some of that support has been obvious in the book’s hashtag (#moxiegirlsfightback) after Kirkus published their review of this title. Can you talk a bit about what the pre-publication support/reception has been like for Moxie?

JM: I have been completely overwhelmed in the best way possible by how many early readers or just people who are excited for the book have had my back and have expressed support for Vivian and her friends. It all started to snowball when Amy Poehler’s production company optioned the book for film and the book wasn’t even out yet! That was mind-blowing. And the UK edition was picked up for the Zoella Book Club, so it’s actually already out in the UK, and I’ve been getting the kindest, most generous emails from readers there. And I’ve hired a former student to run the Moxie Tumblr (moxiegirlsfightback.com) and that’s been building steam, too. It’s just been this coming together of all these different people eager to support this feminist message. I’ve heard many women and girls say given the current administration and the last presidential election, the book feels especially timely. I’m so grateful for their support and hope I don’t let them down!

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project?

JM: Sure! I am working on my fifth book for Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. It’s in the very early stages and I don’t have a release date for it yet or a title. It’s based on a very eerie, very sad episode of This American Life that has been haunting me since my editor first told me to listen to it. It’s about a teenage brother and sister being raised by their abusive mother on an island off the Texas Gulf Coast. It’s set in the 80s and it’s about lies, love, taking risks, and saying goodbye.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

JM: I always offer the same three pieces of advice – read widely and never apologize for what you read, write often and don’t expect it to be perfect – just write! – and put your phone away often and observe the world. Writers have to be good spies. Put your phones away and observe the rhythm of life that surrounds you. Overhear conversations. Dream up worlds inside your neighbors’ houses. Build your imagination muscle.

Thanks again to Jennifer for this great interview!

You can see more about Jennifer and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of Moxie.

Moxie: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vivian Carter is sick of the toxic sexism and systemic misogyny at her high in East Rockport, Texas. She’s sick of girls being targeted by the administration’s sexist dress code. She’s sick of the harassment from the football team boys and their cronies who get away with everything. But she isn’t sure what she can do about it when even the thought of making waves is terrifying.

That changes when Viv finds her mom’s box of mementos from her misspent youth. In the 90’s Viv’s mom was part of the Riot Grrrl movement known for their music, their feminist manifesto, and the zines they used to share ideas and find each other. Suddenly Vivian has a plan to help her speak out and Moxie, her own zine, is born.

Viv doesn’t know what to expect when she distributes the first issue of Moxie in secret to her classmates. In the pages of her zine she calls out sexist jokes, harassment, and unfair dress codes and asks girls at the school to join her in protests that quickly gain momentum and help the Moxie movement take on a life of its own. As the stakes rise for what the zine and the Moxie girls are fighting for, Vivian has to decide how far she’s willing to go for what she believes in Moxie (2017) by Jen Mathieu.

Vivian’s no nonsense narration brings East Rockport to life–complete with its small town charm and stifling atmosphere. Mathieu does a great job of showing Viv’s love of her home and family alongside her frustration with the town’s dated, sexist culture as well as her desire to do more and be more than she might ever manage if she stays.

Moxie shows a grassroots movement at its finest as the Moxie girls’ ranks swell and girls in East Rockport learn that they can (and should) speak up for themselves. Frank and nuanced discussions of feminism showcase a variety of perspectives from self-proclaimed feminists like Viv’s new friend Lucy to those more reluctant to label themselves (like Vivian’s best friend Claudia). Mathieu works to make sure Moxie is an inclusive movement with many girls taking the lead while acknowledging the school’s previous stratification along racial and social lines.

The growing sense of community among the Moxie girls and the feel good girl power vibes are balanced with the push and pull between Viv and a sympathetic (but not always understanding) boy. Their romance subplot adds a touch of sweetness to this edgy story while reminding readers that being a feminist doesn’t have to preclude love.

This powerful book proves that the pen can be mightier than the sword and that girls are always stronger when they’re united. Moxie is a must read for everyone but especially young women who have had to apologize on behalf of boys, girls whose ideas only gain validity when a boy shares them, and anyone who’s had the moment of realization that some people will never understand what it’s like to walk down a dark street alone.

In the first issue of Moxie, Vivian asks readers to draw hearts and stars on their hands so likeminded students can find each other at school. After you read and love Moxie (and I’m sure you will) don’t forget to add stars and hearts to your own hands. And always remember: Moxie Girls Fight Back!

Possible Pairings: In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

Be sure to check out my interview with Jennifer about this book too!

Vivian is tired of the toxic sexism and systemic misogyny at her Texas high school but she also isn't sure what she can do about. That changes when she finds her mom's old Riot Grrrl zines. Suddenly Vivian has a way to speak out and her own zine, Moxie, is born. ✏️ In the pages of Moxie Vivian calls out sexist jokes, harassment, and unfair dress codes and asks girls at the school to join her in protests. As the zine gains momentum the Moxie movement takes on a life of its own. No one knows who started Moxie and as the stakes rise for what the zine and the Moxie girls are fighting for Vivian has to decide how far she's willing to go for what she believes in. ✏️ This powerful book proves that the pen can be mightier than the sword and that girls are always stronger when they're united. A must read for everyone but especially young women who have had to apologize on behalf of boys, girls whose ideas only gain validity when a boy shares them, and anyone who's has the moment of realization that some people will never understand what it's like to walk down a dark street alone. ✏️ In the first issue of Moxie, Vivian asks readers to draw hearts and stars on their hands so likeminded students can find each other at school. You can watch for Moxie on shelves this September but if you want to find your people and your voice, you can add stars and hearts to your hands right now. And always remember: Moxie Girls Fight Back! ✏️ #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #bookstagramit #yalit #yastandsfor #moxiegirlsfightback #jennifermathieu #uppercasebox #owlcrate #feminism

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*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Spinning: A Graphic Novel Review

What happens when the thing you’re supposed to love becomes something you hate? What happens when you spend most of your life working toward something only to realize you no longer want it?

For ten years skating was Tillie’s entire world as she spent hours practicing with her synchronized skate team and for her individual figure skating certifications and competitions. Life on the rink was meant to be a break from the real world with bullies, school, and the pressures of her family.

When Tillie’s family moves to Texas all of that starts to change. At her new school Tillie feeds her growing interest in art and starts a fledgling relationship with her first girlfriend. As her world gets bigger Tillie struggles with how to reconcile to herself and her family and friends that it’s time for her to move on in Spinning (2017) by Tillie Walden.

In guise of a book about competitive figure skating, Walden offers a subtle graphic novel memoir about growing up and speaking out. During the sometimes turbulent end to her time as a skater Walden also discovers how to stand up for herself and how to come out to her friends and family. While not everything works out for Tillie and many paths are still uncharted, Spinning is an ultimately hopeful story of new choices and new beginnings.

Walden’s artwork, colored with a purple hue as seen on the cover, is full of motion and pathos as she makes excellent use of the comic panel structure to move the story forward while highlighting smaller moments in the narrative.

Spinning is an excellent graphic novel sure to endear itself to any readers who have ever struggled not just to find their next path but also how to explain that choice to others.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2017*