Archive: March 2020

Book Review: War and Peas: Funny Comics for Dirty Lovers by Jonathan Kunz and Elizabeth Pich (2020)

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

“That was when I knew I had a problem.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

— 3.5 stars —

Like nearly every collection of comics I discover on NetGalley, War and Peas began as a webcomic that I’d never heard of, but will now follow religiously.

A little bit morbid and a whole lot weird, War and Peas features four-panel comics that are loosely related, with a recurring cast of characters. There’s no-nonsense scientist and her sentient robot, who’s not-so-secretly in love with her; a rad feminist dog who keeps finding himself back at the pound, for myriad reasons; a gay couple, both named Bob; a straight couple that meets when the dude bends over to pick up a lucky penny, only to split his pants down the backside; an old timey couple who lost their son, sold into indentured servitude, in an industrial accident and comes back as a ghost; and a slutty witch and her vampire paramour. Most at least merit a grin, while a few actually had me guffawing.

Naturally, I am partial to those strips with dogs, robots, and patriarchy smashing (not mutually exclusive).

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

tweets for 2020-03-30

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

tweets for 2020-03-29

Monday, March 30th, 2020
  • RT @mbrockenbrough: Listening to an epidemiologist right now: If you go to the grocery store, wear a mask (he wears gloves and safety goggl… ->
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Sunday, March 29th, 2020

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Saturday, March 28th, 2020

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Friday, March 27th, 2020

Book Review: Put Your Feelings Here: A Creative DBT Journal for Teens with Intense Emotions by Lisa M. Schab (2020)

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

Not just for teens!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this journal for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a form of psychotherapy that “combines standard cognitive-behavioral techniques for emotion regulation and reality-testing with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness largely derived from contemplative meditative practice.” While it originated with efforts to treat borderline personality disorder, evidence suggests “that DBT can be useful in treating mood disorders, suicidal ideation, and for change in behavioral patterns such as self-harm, and substance abuse.”

In Put Your Feelings Here, social worker Lisa M. Schab distills DBT concepts into a guided journal. The exercises help users identify unhelpful or distressing thoughts and emotions, work through them, changing what they can – and accepting what they cannot. The result feels a lot like a fusion of CBT and mindfulness, and not in a bad way.

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I’m not a therapist, or a teen with intense emotions, so I can’t really say how well Put Your Feelings Here works as DIY DBT. However, it is a pretty thoughtful and stimulating journal, with exercises like “What beliefs about nature/religion/spirituality/the purpose of life/a higher power give you comfort?” and “Intense emotions can hurt. You don’t need more pain. List 10 things you could do to be kind to yourself instead of hurting yourself more.”

Though it’s directed at teens (and obviously so, what with prompts like ‘turn your OMG into LOL’ and instructions to design your emotions like an app) my 41-year-old self found many of the prompts stimulating.

The journal features a moderate amount of artwork, which is is cute, complements the exercises nicely, and definitely gets the creative juices flowing. Most of the prompts have ample room to record your responses, though a handful of the pages could benefit from more white space.

Also, this might seem like a minor thing, but as a lifetime journaler: I loooove the lay-flat binding, which makes it so much easier to actually write in journals, as intended. It’s the small details, okay.

(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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Thursday, March 26th, 2020

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Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

Book Review: Space Boy, Volume 6 by Stephen McCranie (2020)

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

The one where we finally discover Oliver’s flavor!

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

— 3.5 stars —

A long-running weekly comic on WEBTOON, Stephen McCranie’s Space Boy is teased as “A sci-fi drama of a high school aged girl who belongs in a different time, a boy possessed by emptiness as deep as space, an alien artifact, mysterious murder, and a love that crosses light years.”

The MC is Amy, a sixteen-year-old girl who’s pretty normal except for the fact that she’s an unwitting time traveler. Born on a mining colony, her family was forced to return to earth when her father lost his job. Since it’s a thirty-year journey, Amy and the ‘rents were cryogenically frozen for the trip: hence the “girl out of time.”

The family settles in Kokomo City, where Amy enrolls in South Pines Academy. Though she misses her BFF Jemmah (now old enough to be Amy’s mom; could this be the “love that crosses light years”?), she soon finds her own new social circles: football star David, his girlfriend Cassie, and their friends Zeph, Meisha, Maki, Logan, and Howard; and the school’s agriculture club, which includes fellow crossover Meisha, and Tamara and Shafer.

And then there is Oliver, the mysterious, silver-haired boy who does not seem to have a flavor. (Amy has synesthesia and “tastes” peoples’ personalities.) Though her friends think he’s trouble with a capital T, Amy gravitates to Oliver, and vice versa. But for reasons not yet revealed, Oliver’s very existence is classified – and their continued friendship endangers Amy’s life. Enter: the alien artifact and mysterious murder.

Volume 6 collects episodes 76 through 92 of the WEBTOON comic, originally published between 8/24/16 and 12/15/16 (yes, the trade paperbacks are very far behind! Do yourself a favor and create a WEBTOON account so you can stay up to date.)

One thing I don’t love about the trade paperbacks is that the plot seems to progress at a snail’s pace, and Volume 6 is no exception; 256 pages and we’re still not done with Spirit Week! Still, this is an enjoyable and bittersweet collection.

Volume 6 sees Oliver continue to distance himself from Amy, while fissures deepen among some of Amy’s friends. Amy gets to experience her first snowfall – and snow day! – for which mom thankfully yet temporarily lifts her grounding (that’s a whole ‘nother story). Amy finally discovers Oliver’s flavor (orange with hints of cinnamon, brimming with passion and vibrancy and life – the complete opposite of Nothing) – revealed, oddly enough, as he’s beating the piss out of a bully. Before she can even begin to process, Oliver and his foster dad Dr. Kim vanish, just as mysteriously as they arrived.

The agriculture club’s baby chicks make a quick cameo, as part of Tamara’s efforts to lift the spirits of a mopey Amy. My feelings about the ag club are something of a roller coaster: initially I was overjoyed that Amy made the connection between the soft, floofy, sentient creatures she was loving on and the chicken salad sammie on her plate, and vowed to go vegetarian. This quickly crumbled when she got an accidental mouthful of bacon on Oliver’s sandwich and decreed that it was fine, so long as the agriculture club doesn’t start raising baby piggies. Speciesist much?

And the very existence of animal agriculture so far in the future feels like a disappointing lack of imagination of the artist’s part. When I first started reading Space Boy, I thought it had to be at least 30 years in the future, to allow for Amy’s travel. Probably more like 100+ given all the new tech. But when Amy starts researching the Arno and its mission to reach the alien artifact, we learn that the year is actually 3355: The Arno launched in 3051, and was supposed to reach the artifact in 300 years – which, for Amy, was 4 years ago. 3051 + 300 + 4 = 3355.

So you’re telling me that it’s more than a thousand years in the future and we don’t have synthetic or lab-grown meat yet? That we’re still breeding and raising sentient creatures to be slaughtered for food? That our morals have evolved so little? Gross, dude. If this is the future, I hope humanity burns itself out well before 3355.

But yeah, baby chicks are hella cute.

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

tweets for 2020-03-23

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020
  • RT @MarkAgee: So we're doing The Trolley Problem but the most important thing is to save the trolley ->
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Monday, March 23rd, 2020

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Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

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Saturday, March 21st, 2020

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Friday, March 20th, 2020

Book Review: The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp & Manuel Preitano (2020)

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

A thoughtful and engaging origin story for Barbara Gordon/Oracle.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for medical abuse. Caution: this review contains vague spoilers.)

Teenager Barbara Gordon – daughter of police commissioner James Gordon and hacker extraordinaire – is running toward the scene of a crime when she’s shot and paralyzed from the waist down. Six weeks into her recovery, Commissioner Gordon sends his daughter to the Arkham Center for Independence, where she’ll undergo physical and mental rehabilitation. Ghosted by her longtime friend Benjamin, Barbara is reluctant to get too close to anyone – everyone leaves you in the end, after all. Luckily, fellow classmates Yeong, Issy, and Jena refuse to let Barbara be, and an unexpected mystery further helps draw Barbara out of her shell.

The ACI is as creepy as it is opulent; at night, the halls echo with cryptic sounds and the shadows of residents who have long since disappeared. Jena, teller of ghost stories whispered in the wee hours of the night, begs Barbara for help finding her missing twin brother. Dr. Maxwell insists that Michael died in the fire that severely injured his sister, and that Jena’s mind is too fragile to accept the truth. Though she’s reluctant to get sucked into another mystery, Jenna’s sudden disappearance tips her hand. Friends are precious, and she’s not about to let another one slip through her fingers. Before you can say “Birds of Prey,” Barbara is brain-deep in a corporate conspiracy that involves child trafficking and human experimentation.

I’m really digging this new DC YA series; if anything, it provides a handy entry point into the DC ‘verse for newbies like myself. (I love comics, but the decades-long history of so many DC and Marvel characters can prove overwhelming. Mostly I just stick to newer series, like Sex Criminals, Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, and the like.) I was lucky enough to review Shadow of the Batgirl (in which an older Barbara Gordon plays a role as Cassandra Cain’s boss/mentor), and The Oracle Code lives up the expectations set by its predecessor.

The storyline is engaging enough, but it’s really the characters who stand out here. YA author Marieke Nijkamp – who identifies as queer, non-binary, and disabled – writes Barbara, Yeong, Issy, and Jena with compassion and care. There’s a great exchange between the eeeevil scientists and the margnalized teens in which the teens challenge their doctors’ assessment of them as “broken” people in need of “fixing.” (Is there a white savior analog that can be applied to the ableds? If so, this is a prime example of IT.) Hopefully you’ll also catch how the doctors try to gaslight Barbara when she starts sniffing around, insisting that she believe them instead of her own two eyes and ginormous brain.

Barbara’s squad – as well as the residents and staff at ACI – is diverse as heck and thus reflective of reality, which I appreciate. And the brief few panels of wheelchair basketball are great.

And now I shall go back to counting the days until Superman Smashes the Klan (Gene Luen Yang) and Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed (Laurie Halse Anderson) hit the shelves!

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

tweets for 2020-03-18

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

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Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

Book Review: Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel (2020)

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

Only loosely based on the Gypsy Rose Blanchard case (& with a much more satisfying ending!)

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for child abuse and suicide. This review contains vague spoilers.)

Most people don’t like holding on to anger. They feel it crushing and consuming them, so they let it go. They try to forget the ways they’ve been wronged.

But some of us cannot forget and will never forgive. We keep our axes sharp, ready to grind. We hold pleas for mercy between our teeth like jawbreakers.

They say a grudge is a heavy thing to carry.

Good thing we’re extra strong.

For most of her first eighteen years, Rose Gold Watts was in and out of the hospital, battling a plethora of health problems. Constantly nauseous and unable to eat, she was weak and thin – skeletal, even, weighing just seventy pounds at the age of eighteen. Since her stomach couldn’t tolerate regular foods, Rose Gold got most of her nutrition from a feeding tube that the doctors put in at her mother Patty’s request. Patty insisted on shaving Rose Gold’s head, claiming that her hair would otherwise fall out in clumps, or grow in unevenly. Rose Gold had her own wig collection by the time she was a teenager, along with a wheelchair for those days when she was feeling too unsteady to get around on her own. She suffered from sleep apnea and had a mouth full of yellow, rotten teeth, thanks to the havoc all that bile wrought on her enamel.

Home schooled, Rose Gold had little contact with the outside world; that is, until she convinced Patty to get the internet – “to help with school work” – at the age of sixteen. It was then that she met Phil in a chat room; Phil, who would piece together Rose Gold’s terrible symptoms and unconventional life experiences, and figure out what should have been plain to Rose Gold’s doctors. Namely, that she wasn’t sick at all, but was being poisoned and starved by Patty.

Though Darling Rose Gold is obviously inspired by a recent and rather infamous case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy – the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard by her nineteen-year-old daughter Gypsy Rose, and Gypsy Rose’s online boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn – the story veers from IRL events in some pretty significant ways: Dee Dee was not tried for her crimes; Gypsy Rose’s bio dad and his new wife are not total asshats; and the real Gypsy Rose, the one rotting away in jail (unjustly, imho), seems much saner and more well-adjusted than the non-murderous but still stone cold Rose Gold of fiction. Which is all fine and good, as long as you know that from jump street. Otherwise you might find yourself offended on the real Gypsy Rose’s behalf – if only initially, before the story’s twist becomes evident. I know I did.

Dammit, I’m trying my best not to give anything away, but it’s exceedingly difficult to review this book without dropping some spoilers! Even if they’re just of the maddeningly vague variety!

Darling Rose Gold is told in two narratives: past tense, in the weeks and years following “Poisonous Patty’s” trial, from Rose Gold’s perspective; and present day, five years later, when Patty is released from prison and is taken in by Rose Gold, in Patty’s POV. It’s evident pretty early on – from the time they pull into the driveway of Patty’s childhood home; or rather, when she has such an extreme, visceral reaction to it – that Rose Gold has a few tricks up her sleeve. Even so, Wrobel manages to sustain the psychological tension and the “will she or won’t she?”/”who’s the real villain here?” suspense throughout the story, escalating things to delicious heights (depths?) with the denouement. This is a much more satisfying tale than its “ripped from the headlines” inspiration.

Rose Gold makes for a compelling protagonist, whether you’re cringing in vicarious embarrassment for her teenage, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt just-sprung-from-a-bunker awkwardness, or rooting for her to get sweet, sweet revenge on her tormentor. Patty is appropriately frustrating, so much so that it’s hard not to root for her demise; I would’ve liked a few more present-day chapters from her perspective, so we revel in her anguish just a bit longer. And Billy, what a freaking tool. I really hope he was roasted and then summarily cancelled by the masses, otherwise he got off a little too easy, with just a few months of panic and suffering.

Also: I hope Rose Gold is able to get those new teeth she always wanted. I have a serious hang up about teeth, and it’s always the dental stuff that haunts me.

Read it if: you devoured The Act, but didn’t want to see Gypsy Rose serve any time for what was clearly a case of self-defense.

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

tweets for 2020-03-16

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020
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