Ben S.'s Book Reviews

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Sea Serpent's Heir, Book 1 Cover Image
Reviewed by: Ben S.
Posted: July 2, 2022

Full of pirates and prophecies, belonging and betrayal; Sea Serpent’s Heir: Pirate’s Daughter is a captivating start to a fantasy epic set on the high seas. The story begins with a young girl, Aella, pining for adventure as she spends her days fishing on a tiny island. When the knights of the church arrive at her village she’s thrown headlong into adventure, discovering that she’s the pirate queen’s daughter and has a fated connection with a living catastrophe that once threatened to flood the world. This graphic novel strikes the perfect balance of telling a full story while also setting up the next book in the series.

M Is for Monster Cover Image
Reviewed by: Ben S.
Posted: June 17, 2022

M is for Monster breathes new life into the Frankenstein trope, using it to deftly weave a tale of identity, loss, and acceptance. The story begins with Dr. Frances attempting to bring her sister, Maura,  back from the dead, but the person who awakes is not her sister. She doesn’t have Maura’s memories or share her interests and is left to reconcile her desire to be loved with her need to be true to herself. 

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What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions Cover Image
Reviewed by: Ben S.
Posted: June 16, 2022

If you love learning answers to questions you’ve never even thought to ask then What If? 2 is perfect for you. Written with equal parts intellectual rigor and absurd humor, this is a book that could only stem from a Nasa scientist turned web cartoonist. The book is a series of answers and questions, no more than a few pages each, making it a perfect casual read.  

 

Flung Out of Space: Inspired by the Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmith Cover Image
Reviewed by: Ben S.
Posted: May 18, 2022

Flung Out of Space is a graphic novel that exemplifies the strengths of the format. The book tells the story of Patricia Highsmith, author of the first work of lesbian literature with a happy ending. The graphic novel delves into Highsmith’s personal and professional life, portraying her early career as a comic book writer and her experiences of self-loathing regarding her sexuality. Ellis and Templer do an incredible job capturing Highsmith’s complex emotions, her conflicted expressions and furtive glances. Flung Out of Space does not glorify Highsmith; it offers a nuanced portrayal of a flawed person whose story is worth telling. 

 

Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure: A Graphic Novel Cover Image
Reviewed by: Ben S.
Posted: May 4, 2022

Lewis Hancox uses fourth-wall breaks to create an honest and uplifting conversation with his former self. By also including his present day loved ones in the narrative, he's able to respond to painful parts of his past with undeniable evidence that things did get better. The writing and illustration style create a degree of familiarity that make the reader feel like they are a part of the conversation.

Mamo Cover Image
Reviewed by: Ben S.
Posted: April 30, 2022

Mamo is a story of connection, community, and responsibility told through a world brimming with magic. The story is set in a town besieged by problems, with fae creatures and nature itself, that began happening after the town witch died. A teenage girl, Jo, asks the witch’s granddaughter, Orla, for help. Initially reluctant, Jo and Orla’s fates become forever intertwined as they try to undo the control the former witch has over the town of Haresden. 


Mamo’s magic system is brilliantly woven into the fabric of the narrative, carrying along the plot and underpinning the themes to create a story that I will keep coming back to.

Mooncakes Cover Image
Reviewed by: Ben S.
Posted: April 23, 2022

Mooncakes is an utter delight; it's a treat you want to savor, but can't help but consume in one sitting. The story follows Nova the witch and Tam the werewolf as they fight to vanquish a demon and fall in love in the process. Wendy Xu's illustrations create a rich and layered world full of whimsical forest spirits and terrifying monsters. Featuring hard of hearing and non-binary protagonists as well as same-sex guardians, Mooncakes' nuanced characters are a fantastic example of representation done right. 

All the Flowers Kneeling (Penguin Poets) Cover Image
Reviewed by: Ben S.
Posted: April 22, 2022

All the Flowers Kneeling is an introspective exploration that hones verse to a razor's edge. Within this collection of poetry, Paul Tran deconstructs language to deconstruct their own experiences of trauma, as well as their relationship with their trans, queer, and Vietnamese identities. Once form and content have been broken down completely, both are built back up line-by-line in redemptive acts of verse. 

Content Warning: Many of the poems in this collection address Paul Tran's experiences of sexual abuse.  

The Carrying: Poems Cover Image
Reviewed by: Ben S.
Posted: April 9, 2022

The Carrying is a work of exquisite devastation. Limón's work is raw and vulnerable, excising emotional wounds in cathartic acts of verse. I read The Carrying slowly, one poem a day over the course of several months so that I could fully submerge myself in the depth of each one. Written in a style that is as accessible as it is beautiful, The Carrying is a collection of poetry worth savoring. 

Squire Cover Image
Reviewed by: Ben S.
Posted: March 31, 2022

Written by Palestinian-American and Jordian-American authors, Nadias Shammas and Sara Alfageeh, respectively; Squire pulls from the culture, geography, architecture and history of the Middle East to tell a powerful story about grappling with the aftermath of war and colonialism. Aiza is a member of the Onru people, a recently colonized group treated as second-class citizens by the Bayt-Sajji Empire. Hoping to improve her life and become a citizen, Aiza joins the military with the goal of becoming a knight. While in training, she uncovers the bloody history and nefarious tactics of the Empire and is made to choose between the Onru people and the Bayt-Sajji military. Illustrated with a skill and eye for detail that grounds the reader in Aiza's perilous situation, Squire tells a story of resistance in the face of oppression that stays with the reader long after the final page. 

My Parents Won't Stop Talking! Cover Image
Reviewed by: Ben S.
Posted: March 21, 2022

My Parents Won't Stop Talking! turns a trip to the park into a hilarious descent into existential despair and spiritual enlightenment. Emma Hunsinger and Tillie Walden tell the story of a little girl who is going to the park with her moms and younger brother when they are stopped by their neighbors, THE CREDENZAS! Pairing wildly amusing illustrations with humorous dialogue and narration, this parable of patience is the perfect book to read anytime you need a good laugh. 

Magical Boy Volume 1: A Graphic Novel Cover Image
Reviewed by: Ben S.
Posted: March 21, 2022

Magical Boy breathes new life into the well-worn magical girl trope, expertly subverting the genre to tell the story of a teenager trying to claim his identity as a new one is forced upon him. The opening pages of the graphic novel begin with a content advisory which I highly recommend reading if you or someone you're giving the book to are affected by instances of transphobia and homophobia. The Kao handles these topics responsibly, showing them to be realities that many queer and transgender people face, while having characters denounce the behavior and provide the protagonist, Max, with love and support as he navigates the challange of being a transgender boy descended from a lineage of magical girls. Magical Boy seamlessly entwines Max's personal narrative with an overarching battle between light and darkness, making the outcome of both inextricably linked. I'm already counting down the days until I can read the story's conclusion and I'm sure that anyone else who picks up Magical Boy will be just as invested in Max's journey. 

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