Book Review: Gemini, Sonya Mukherjee (2016)

July 25th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Two Paws Up!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. This review contains minor/vague spoilers!)

When I was younger, if I couldn’t sleep, I would mentally trace the stars of the Gemini constellation. Dad had taught us to find it when we were as young as six or seven, keeping us up late on certain clear winter nights, when Gemini would be easiest to spot. He didn’t know that much about constellations, but for some reason he needed us to memorize every part of those glittering, dazzling twins, so close to each other that they formed a single constellation. So we would bundle up in sweaters and jackets and follow him outside with our kid-size astronomy books and the star maps that he’d printed out. We would find Orion or the Big Dipper and use them to trace our way over to the bright stars Castor and Pollux, and from there we’d find the rest of Gemini.

For Dad it was all about the timeless beauty of those twins and their love for each other, which was more important to them than life itself. He couldn’t have known how for me it would be just the starting point to falling in love with all the stars. […]

But at some point I started worrying about Gemini, the celestial twins. Were they glad to spend billions of years together in the sky, always on display, or would they rather wander apart and explore?

“You keep saying ‘we,’” Clara said sharply. “You know, you don’t always have to speak in the first person plural. Some of us have to. But you don’t.”

“Don’t you ever want to be free of me?” I asked. There was a long silence, filled with nothing but the sounds of our almost-synchronized breathing. Almost synchronized, but not quite. “I want to be free,” she said finally. “But not free of you.”

Seventeen-year-old Clara and Hailey are conjoined twins: pygopagus, like Violet and Daisy Hilton, who were also joined at the back. (Or, more accurately, the butt.) They have completely separate upper halves, as well as two pairs of legs and feet, but share the lower half of a spinal column. When Clara kicks an oversharing Hailey in the shin, she feels the pain too.

In many ways, Clara and Hailey are like any other high school girls. Raised in Bear Pass – a tiny rural town in the California mountains – Hailey longs to travel the world. She wants to gaze out on Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower; spend hours contemplating art at the Louvre; and show her paintings at big city galleries. She wants more than her tiny little hometown can possibly give her. As lovely as it may be, who is Hailey to judge when she’s nothing to compare it to?

The more anxiety-prone of the two, Clara finds the familiarity and security of Bear Pass more comforting than stifling. She’s accepted her mother’s plan for her life: four years at nearby Sutter College, where Dad’s tenured professorship will score the twins free tuition. Yet the closest Sutter comes to meeting her academic interests is environmental sciences – a far cry from physics and astronomy – and their film program isn’t exactly a great match for Hailey’s painting, either. And every now and again, as she gazes up at the stars, Clara also feels the pull of the universe, so wide and vast. The arrival of Max, the capital-C-Cute new guy from LA, doesn’t exactly help either.

With graduation barreling down on them, which path will Clara and Hailey choose? And in the meantime, who on earth will they ask to the Sadie Hawkins dance?

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-07-24

July 25th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-07-23

July 24th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-07-22

July 23rd, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: The Sunlight Pilgrims, Jenni Fagan (2016)

July 22nd, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

A story about apocalypses, both personal and communal.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC though NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape and transmisogyny.)

—Are you staring right at the sun? Stella asks.
—I’m staring right under it.
—You’ll go blind.
—No, I won’t. I was taught how to by the sunlight pilgrims, they’re from the islands farthest north. You can drink light right down into your chromosomes, then in the darkest minutes of winter, when there is a total absence of it, you will glow and glow and glow. I do, she says.
—You glow?
—Like a fucking angel, she says.

She’s not worried about breasts and she doesn’t want rid of her penis, small as it is, not if it means getting an operation anyway. She just wants smooth skin and her girl voice and to leave wolf prints in the snow each morning.

It is funny how he always thought she was a hero when he was a little boy, but he had no idea exactly how much that was true.

The Sunlight Pilgrims isn’t quite what I expected. Usually when I say this about a book, it’s with at least a hint of disappointment. Not so in this case! The Sunlight Pilgrims may not be the book I wanted, but it’s exactly the book I needed.

To me, the word “caravan” evokes action, movement, journeys (preferably epic ones). The synopsis brought to mind a group of daring travelers, weaving through the mountainous countryside, trying in vain to stay ahead of the harsh winter (and, presumably, the violence, looting, riots, starvation, poverty, etc. that are sure to follow). I guess I overlooked the word “park,” not realizing that caravans are to the UK what trailers are to the US: mostly stationary homes. Thus, what we get is a story that’s a little less Mad Max and a little more mundane: a small, remote town in the Scottish Highlands preparing for the worst winter in two hundred years. Perilous, yes, but minus the action and adventure I expected.

Likewise, this isn’t necessarily the apocalypse. Set a mere four years in the future, conditions are dire, to be sure: climate change and melting ice caps have led to a a global cooling in temperatures. The Thames is overflowing (and then frozen solid); an iceberg nicknamed Boo is expected to make contact with the Scottish coast; and experts predict that temperatures in some regions will drop as low as -50 degrees. Many people will die of starvation or will freeze to death. Blackouts are common; internet connections are down. Rioting, looting, protests, and violence are commonplace. Things are very, very bad. But is it the end of the world? Maybe, maybe not.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-07-21

July 22nd, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-07-20

July 21st, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: All Is Not Forgotten, Wendy Walker (2016)

July 20th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Mesmerizing — and also a little maddening!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC though NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, including rape.)

I was a child with a box of matches.

It seems so easy, doesn’t it? To just erase the past. But now you know better.

Jilted by some jerk named Doug, fifteen-year-old Jenny Kramer flees from the party he’d invited her to – only to cross paths with a predator. Jenny is assaulted and raped in the woods surrounding her classmate’s house. A few of her fellow party-goers hear Jenny’s cries and rush to her aid, but not until the hour-long attack has ended, and the perpetrator escaped.

Upon her arrival at the hospital, the doctors immediately administer a sedative so that they can perform an exam and then surgery. With her parents’ consent, they also subject Jenny to a controversial treatment to erase her memories of the trauma. A combination of morphine and Benzatral, the treatment is meant to induce limited anterograde amnesia in patients: preventing short-term memories from being filed away in long-term storage. (While this does feel a little science fiction-y, according to the author’s note, the premise is based on emerging research, most notably on veterans suffering from PTSD.)

While the treatment initially appears successful – inasmuch as Jenny has no memories of the rape – Jenny’s mental state slowly begins to unravel. She suffers from anxiety and insomnia; she begins to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs; and, eight months later, she attempts suicide.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-07-19

July 20th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-07-18

July 19th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Through the Woods, Emily Carroll (2014)

July 18th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

“That night Bell’s dreams had teeth.”

five out of five stars

But the worst kind of monster was the burrowing kind.

The sort that crawled into you and made a home there.

My stars, what a lush and gorgeous book!

Let’s start with the artwork, which is just exquisite. The illustrations are quite nice, though it’s the vivid, moody colors that really make the panels pop. Each of the five short stories has its own distinct vibe, which is no small feat. Whereas “Our Neighbor’s House” is drawn in grey, dreary shades – offset only by the occasional blood red – “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” is more visually striking, with deep blues, rich golds, and (of course) complementary reds when the horror is unleashed. While each story looks a little different, the artwork (especially the way the humans are drawn) is still similar enough that there’s a feeling of continuity; clearly these all belong to the same collection.

Of course this is all topped off by the cover. Not only is the illustration wonderful (the front is awesome; the back, even more so, what with its unexpected pop of blue!), but the cover is textured for a rich, luxurious feeling. And when the sun hits it *just right*, the bumps sparkle and dance and glint like a knife.

And the stories! A hybrid of fairy tales and horror stories, they remind me of the spooky picture books I read as a kid. (In a Dark, Dark Room, anyone?) Creepy and weird and just ambiguous to keep your wondering, well into the wee hours of the night.

Suitable for kiddos, but parents? You’ll want to keep this book for your own.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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tweets for 2016-07-17

July 18th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-07-16

July 17th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-07-15

July 16th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

DNF Review: Night of the Animals, Bill Broun (2016)

July 15th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

 

In this imaginative debut, the tale of Noah’s Ark is brilliantly recast as a story of fate and family, set in a near-future London.

Over the course of a single night in 2052, a homeless man named Cuthbert Handley sets out on an astonishing quest: to release the animals of the London Zoo. As a young boy, Cuthbert’s grandmother had told him he inherited a magical ability to communicate with the animal world—a gift she called the Wonderments. Ever since his older brother’s death in childhood, Cuthbert has heard voices. These maddening whispers must be the Wonderments, he believes, and recently they have promised to reunite him with his lost brother and bring about the coming of a Lord of Animals . . . if he fulfills this curious request.

Cuthbert flickers in and out of awareness throughout his desperate pursuit. But his grand plan is not the only thing that threatens to disturb the collective unease of the city. Around him is greater turmoil, as the rest of the world anxiously anticipates the rise of a suicide cult set on destroying the world’s animals along with themselves. Meanwhile, Cuthbert doggedly roams the zoo, cutting open the enclosures, while pressing the animals for information about his brother.

Just as this unlikely yet loveable hero begins to release the animals, the cult’s members flood the city’s streets. Has Cuthbert succeeded in harnessing the power of the Wonderments, or has he only added to the chaos—and sealed these innocent animals’ fates? Night of the Animals is an enchanting and inventive tale that explores the boundaries of reality, the ghosts of love and trauma, and the power of redemption.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

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tweets for 2016-07-14

July 15th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

(Not-So-) Happy Ralphieversary!

July 14th, 2016 12:00 pm by Kelly Garbato

X-Mas 2015 - In Memoriam (Ralphie) (cropped)

Oh, Ralphie. I miss you so much.

It’s been a tough three years since you left me. Kaylee followed you soon after, and then not a year later, Peedee was diagnosed with cancer. He put up a really good fight, but last November we had to say goodbye to him too. He was only thirteen. Thirteen! Of all you guys, I thought he’d live the longest.

Pictures of happy young Peedee, with his huge goofy grin, still make me cry. Pictures of you two (or three!) together are even worse. Sometimes I wish I believed in heaven, or an afterlife. Images of you guys snuggled together, running through fields and chewing on Kongs stuffed with peanut butter, taking care of one another in my absence, sure would help. But the past is a kind of comfort too. Everything that made you you is gone, dispersed into the atmosphere to form new creatures, but your memory will always live on in my heart. Some days it’s not nearly enough; and yet it kind of has to be.

2008-03-12 - Dogs Outside - 0028

And now we’re going through the same thing with Jayne. She had surgery, and then chemo, but she’s having a much harder time with it than Peedee did. We got some really bad news this morning. Things aren’t looking good. Probably we should stop scheduling vet appointments on anniversaries and birthdays. It was on the two-year anniversary of Kaylee’s death that Peedee got his death sentence. And we found about Jayne’s possible cancer on Rennie’s birthday. Sigh. How am I supposed to deal with that?

I wish I could bottle that feeling of nervous excitement I felt fifteen years ago. There’s nothing quite like welcoming a new dog into your home; knowing that you’re about to meet your new best friend and constant shadow. The love of your goddamn life. I’d give anything to go back there and do it all again. All this pain and heartache is worth it … though in times like these, it can be so, so easy to lose sight of that.

I wish this was a happier letter, but it is what it is. I miss you so fucking much, my little bear. You may be gone, but I keep you alive every single day.

P.S. It kinda sorta breaks my heart that I don’t have any new photos to add to these posts; instead I just have to keep repurposing old ones.

2016-07-14 - Ralphie's Adoption Day

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Previous years: 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2011 | 2008

tweets for 2016-07-13

July 14th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: The Wolf Road, Beth Lewis (2016)

July 13th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

A thrilling plot + a scrappy antihero + a familiar-yet-not setting = a novel that belongs on the top of your TBR pile!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, including attempted rape.)

“Change” was one a’ them words I weren’t too friendly with. Nana told me I had to change when she caught me skinning a rabbit. Man in Ridgeway once told me I’d never get a husband the way I was. Only person never to tell me to change was Kreagar, and that’s because, way he saw it, I was already just the same as him.

Memories ain’t no one’s friend. They show you all the good things you had, all the good things you lost, and don’t let you forget all the bad shit in between.

I kept chewing. No matter what was about to happen, I’d eat as much as I could afore shots fired.

When Elka was seven years old, a freak storm destroyed her two-room shack in the forest beyond Ridgeway. She survived, but was hopelessly lost: the thunderhead deposited Elka – and the table she was clinging to – deep into the Thick Woods. After much wandering, she found a shack even smaller than her nana’s – one with strips of jerky curing on the porch. Starving, Elka swiped some meat, causing the owner of the shack to give chase. Eventually she’d come to think of this man as Trapper, then daddy – for he ultimately took Elka in and raised her as his own, teaching her the ways of the forest: hunting, tracking, trapping, skinning, curing. He showed Elka how to survive in the wild, though she learned little of the human world (“BeeCee”) beyond the trees.

During a rare trip into Dalston, a chance encounter with The Law – in the form of cold-as-ice Magistrate Jennifer Lyon – upends seventeen-year-old Elka’s world yet again: Kreagar Hallet, the man she knows as Trapper, is wanted for the murders of eight women and one child. Her home destroyed – metaphorically and literally burned to the ground by the redcoats – Elka decides to travel north to Halveston (seven hundred miles, give or take!) in search of her parents. They left Elka with her maternal grandmother when she was just a baby so they could find their riches in gold.

Yet Kreagar isn’t willing to let Elka go – and neither is Magistrate Lyon: the former is convinced that Elka dropped the dime on him; the latter, that Elka was involved in the murders. As she makes the treacherous journey north, Elka must evade capture, by enemies both known and not. Bloodthirsty, misogynistic Satanists; human traffickers; lakes made poisonous by nuclear bombs; garden-variety trolls and creepers; cannibals; and – perhaps most alarmingly – human attachments: all stand between Elka and her long-lost parents. Yet with her friends Wolf and Penelope by her side, Elka stands a fighting chance.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-07-12

July 13th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato