Category: Reviews

Book Review: Sprig the Rescue Pig by Leslie Crawford & Sonja Stangl (2018)

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Because bacon had a mom.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher.)

Sometimes you know things, even if you don’t have words for them.

So even though he didn’t have the words, our words, this is what Pig knew on that blazingly hot day as he sped along a country road in a truck jam-packed with lots of other unhappy pigs, most of them bigger than he was.

Pig knew that this was no life for a pig.

Like all pigs, Pig – the narrator of this story – is smart. And scared, as well he should be.

Born, raised, and destined to die on a pig farm, surrounded by hundreds of his brothers and sisters, Pig knows that his situation is dire. Pig and his friends are packed so tightly into their home that there’s hardly room to turn around, let alone cool off in a nice refreshing mudbath. Fear taints the air. And then, one fateful day, they are forced into a box on wheels.

When the truck that’s taking him to certain death gets into a traffic accident, Pig makes a break for it. Luckily, he finds a forest nearby – and a peanut butter sammie. On the other end is a kind young girl named Rory.

Lucky for them both, Rory’s mom is awesome as heck (and quite possibly a vegan. A girl can dream!) They take Pig – now renamed Sprig – home and welcome him into the family. But it soon becomes obvious that a suburban backyard isn’t the ideal environment for a pig, and so Rory is faced with a difficult choice.

Spoiler alert: You will ugly cry until your eyes are no longer capable of producing tears.

Sprig the Rescue Pig is the flagship in a series of children’s books about farmed animals by Leslie Crawford and illustrator Sonja Stangl. My first experience with the series was its successor, Gwen the Rescue Hen, which I absolutely adored. You don’t find many children’s books that are truly animal- and vegan-friendly, and so I kept waiting for the catch: maybe we see Mateo snacking on a hamburger, or meet his purchased-from-a-breeder pet dachshund. But nope: this cranky killjoy vegan found not a single point with which to quibble. Gwen the Rescue Hen was a pure delight, through and through.

And so it is with Sprig the Rescue Pig. Like Gwen, Sprig is loosely based on a true story: of a pig who saved himself and wound up at an animal sanctuary. (I thought I remembered the incident in question, and so went Googling for it – and found a whole slew of such stories. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that farmed animals gladly sacrifice themselves to feed us. Just like humans, animals want to live – and there are plenty of stories of nonhuman resistance to prove it.) The art is exquisite and the story heartwarming. Sprig is perfect for kids of all ages, and those of us who are just kids at heart (or long to be).

As much as I loved Gwen, I think I enjoyed Sprig even more: the ending is sad and bittersweet, and perhaps more realistic too. The most joyous of tales are still sometimes tinged with sorrow – and sometimes, the kindest thing you can do for someone you love is let them go. (Incidentally, this message also makes Sprig ideal for helping children cope with the loss of a companion animal. I recently had to say goodbye to one of my besties and Sprig’s farewell frolic conjured up images of the Rainbow Bridge. SO MANY FEELINGS!)

Honestly, these books are awesome and radical and filled with hope, and couldn’t have come into my life (and the world) at a better time. I can’t wait to see which species of nonhuman animal Leslie Crawford and Sonja Stangl breathe life into next!

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

Book Review: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (2019)

Friday, January 18th, 2019

A weirdly enchanting dystopia.

four out of five stars

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

They sleep like children, mouths open, cheeks flushed. Breathing as rhythmic as swells on a sea. No longer allowed in the rooms, their mothers and fathers watch them through double-paned glass. Isolation—that’s what the doctors call it: the separation of the sick from the well. But isn’t every sleep a kind of isolation? When else are we so alone?

[H]ow much quieter that ending would be, a whole world drowned in sleep, than all the other ways we have to fall.

The remote California college town of Santa Lora (population 12,106) is beset by two calamities one autumn in the not-so-distant future: an unrelenting drought, and a “sleeping sickness.” Sufferers collapse into a deep sleep, from which nothing can wake them. If not cared for with feeding tubes, heart monitors, physical therapy, and the like, the sleepers (as they are colloquially known) are apt to succumb to the disease. However, as the outbreak spreads from the college to the rest of the town, finding volunteers to tend to the sleepers becomes increasingly difficult. Especially as many of the carers drift into sleep as well.

We experience the initial days and long weeks of the epidemic through the eyes of various Santa Lorians: Sara and Libby Peterson, ages twelve and eleven, daughters of a survivalist dad who works as a janitor at the college, and a mother long dead of asthma-related complications. Ben and Annie, new parents and recent Brooklyn transplants who are employed as part-time visiting professors at the college. Nathaniel and Henry, senior professors who have been together since Nathaniel came out in middle age. Mei Liu, a Chinese-American freshman from San Diego who was hoping to turn over a new leaf at college – and “Weird” Matthew Baker, a fellow quarantinee from her floor. And Catharine, a psychiatrist flown in from LA to assess the situation in its earliest days.

The Dreamers isn’t so much a story about a viral outbreak, or the potential end of the world, as it is an exploration of human consciousness and the elusive nature of time. Walker has created a dystopia that’s surprisingly beautiful and enchanting; her prose is, in a word, mesmerizing. Likewise, The Dreamers is one of the more thoughtful and philosophical (would-be) apocalypse stories in recent memory.

Walker plays with time and reality in ways that are both frustrating (don’t believe everything you read!) and delightful. While they sleep the sleep of the dead, Walker’s sleepers dream: of other possible worlds (or all possible worlds), of the future, of days come and gone and yet to be. Scientists monitoring the patients’ brain activity are shocked by what they find: “there is more activity in these minds than has ever been recorded in any human brain—awake or asleep.” Some sleepers dream entire lifetimes into being. When, eventually, some of them begin to wake up, it is a little death of sorts. Who is to say which life is real, and which is the dream?

So yeah, The Dreamers is a bit of a mindfuck, in the best possible way.

Oh, and bonus points for the trolley problem reference. I don’t know if the author is one, but fans of The Good Place are likely to dig this story, I think (Matthew and Mei in particular).

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

Book Review: Yes, I’m Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab by Huda Fahmy (2018)

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Brilliant.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for Islamophobia, racism, and sexism.)

Cartoonist, educator, and former law student Huda Fahmy was born and raised in Michigan – but this doesn’t stop strangers from asking her where she’s really from, or commenting on the exoticism of her (midwestern) accent. Yes, I’m Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab is a collection of her webcomics – originally seen on Instagram* – which deal with the racist, sexist, and xenophobic microaggressions she struggles with on the daily, as a Muslim WOC living in Drumpf’s America. (Spoiler alert: things were pretty shitty pre-2016 too.)

The result is usually cutting, often depressing, and yet (amazingly) always hilarious. Fahmy possesses a sense of humor that’s equally wicked and witty. She’ll have you lol-ing even as you die a little inside. People can be assholes, but Fahmy has discovered the secret recipe for making assholaid. (Erm, chocolate milkshakes? Idk.)

Don’t be a Small-Minded Susan, read this book! Pay special attention to Chapter 6: It Never Hurts to Hope, for some examples of allyship (and just plain human kindness) in action.

* Maybe this will be the straw that finally makes me create an account?

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

Book Review: [Dis]Connected: Poems and Stories of Connection and Otherwise edited by Michelle Halket (2018)

Friday, January 11th, 2019

Uneven, yet ultimately worth it.

three out of five stars

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

“There is a story about a man who watched me bathe nude and was so overcome with adoration and desire that he approached me. They say I turned him into a deer before he could even speak and watched his hunting dogs rip at his flesh. Men have spent thousands of years romanticizing their unwanted advances, their assaults. They have spent just as long demonizing women for their anger and their retribution.”

– “The Unholy Wild,” Trista Mateer

Mama raised us on her own, a house full of girls, though it wasn’t really a house. We lived up on the third floor and every summer when the heat would rise, we would fight like animals over the bathroom for a cool shower and a few moments of privacy. And when the door-banging and screaming stopped and one of us was nursing bruised knuckles, Mama would call us out into the living room. “I am raising a house full of girls,” she’d say, her voice tired. And the three of us would look down at our feet, quiet and sorry. Because Mama only ever called us girls when we had really fucked up.

Otherwise, she called us her babies, and she loved us even more than she was afraid for us.

– “Ultra,” Yena Sharma Purmasir

It’s a shame, really, how humans try to take the things they’re not allowed to have.

– “Small Yellow Cottage On The Shore,” Amanda Lovelace

So the concept behind this collection of poems and short stories, explained by editor Michelle Halket in the intro, is brimming with promise and intrigue:

The concept and theme of the book are of being connected. We seem to live in a hyper connected world, yet we increasingly hear stories of loneliness, isolation and disconnect. This book is about connecting poets with each other; connecting poetry with short fiction; and publishing stories about connection and/or a lack thereof. The premise was this: Each of the fully participating authors was to submit three poems adhering to this theme. These three poems would be assigned to a randomly chosen counterpart. That counterpart would select one of the poems and write a short story based on it.

Like most anthologies, though, the result is somewhat uneven: There are pieces I loved, adored, and cherished – poems and short works of fiction that will stick with me for days and weeks to come. Others were merely forgettable, and there were even one or two that I skimmed or skipped altogether. That said, the gems are shiny enough to make the mining worth it.

Let’s start with the premise. Whereas I expected (rightly or not) a focus on technology, and how it binds us together – and drives us apart – the theme of connection was approached in a much more general way. More often than not, “connection” was just a stand-in for relationships, and all their messy bits: love and loss, joy and grief, rebellion and oppression. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I had hoped for a collection with a sharper focus. You might feel otherwise.

The convention of further linking each piece together by repeating a line from the previous work, while an interesting idea, didn’t work for me in practice: rather than feeling organic, the lifted lines mostly had a clunky feel to them. I don’t think it helped that they appeared in bold to further draw attention to them. I think it would have been more fun to let the reader spot the bridges for herself, no?

As for the pieces themselves, I’ll be honest: I picked up [Dis]Connected for one reason and one reason only – because Amanda Lovelace’s name was connected to the project. And her contributions do not disappoint! Her poems are among my favorites; “A Book and Its Girl” is both playful and lovely, and “Sisters: A Blessing” hints at what’s in store for us with her third installment in the Women Are Some Kind of Magic series, The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in This One.

Ditto: “Small Yellow Cottage on The Shore,” in which a sea witch must defeat the scariest monsters of them all – entitled white men – in order to save the love of her life, a selkie kidnapped for the purposes of sex trafficking and forced marriage. Oh, and her long lost love, another selkie similarly victimized. (The only thing I didn’t love about this story? That they let the dudebros live. This isn’t a silly prank or harmless mistake, but rather organized, systemic rape. LET YOUR RETRIBUTION RAIN DOWN FROM THE SKY! SLAY THEM ALL! LET NO RAPIST DRAW ANOTHER EARTHLY BREATH!)

[Dis]Connected also introduced me to some new favorites: every word Yena Sharma Purmasir writes is magic, from her short story “Ultra,” to the poems “Things That Aren’t True” and “If My Aunt Was On Twitter @lovelydurbangirl.” Trista Mateer’s “The Unholy Wild” gives a voice to Artemis, goddess of the hunt, along with a girlfriend and (an ever narrowing) place in contemporary society. It is wild and beautiful and fiercely feminist; it’s no mystery why I pictured her as a topless Leslie Knope. Iain S. Thomas’s “Driving With Strangers” is alive with some of the most achingly beautiful imagery you’ll ever read, while “A Way To Leave” by R.H. Swaney and Liam Ryan’s “The Train” are the most wonderful kind of melancholy.

The only piece I actively disliked – had a visceral “oh gross!” reaction to, in point o’ facts – is “Where the Sea Meets the Sky” by Cyrus Parker. A #MeToo story told from the perspective of the (accidental? are we really supposed to read it that way?) rapist, it just felt wrong and unnecessary. Our culture is overflowing with this POV; what are we to gain from experiencing a “date rape” through the perpetrator’s eyes? Hard pass.

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

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel by Fred Fordham & Harper Lee (2018)

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

A faithful adaptation, for better or worse.

three out of four stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for rape and racist violence.)

My feelings on this are conflicted and messy:

– How do you judge an adaptation of an existing work: on its own merits, or in its faithfulness to the source material? On the latter point, Fred Fordham’s adaptation is a definite success. His graphic novel adaptation is loyal to both the plot and tone of Harper Lee’s classic, and even plays on the nostalgia of the 1962 movie. Comic book Atticus is a dead ringer for Gregory Peck, and the Finch kids resemble their respective actors as well.

– My first experience with To Kill a Mockingbird was as a tween, well before I had to tools and knowledge to identify its more problematic aspects, chiefly the novel’s inherent racism. Revisiting the story as an adult, in a different format, was…jarring. Some of the racism is plainly evident, e.g., is it ever okay for a white writer to use the n-word, even if historically accurate? And isn’t it kind of gross for a story about Jim Crow racism and the lynching of a black man to center white voices? But there are so many layers to unpack, including liberal hero Atticus Finch’s racism. (If he existed today, Atticus might be one of people pleading for “civility” from both sides. Yuck.) I found myself cringing as much as tearing up.

And that’s kind of the crux of the matter, right? No doubt To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel will evoke all sorts of nostalgia (coupled with an irrational desire to protect and defend a cherished piece of one’s childhood), especially in white Americans; but don’t let that prevent you from engaging with the book critically.

fwiw, I’d love to see a reimagining of Harper Lee’s story told from Calpurnia or Helen Robinson’s perspective.

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

Book Review: Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice (2018)

Friday, December 28th, 2018

The end comes not with a bang, but with a whimper.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for allusions to rape. THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.)

— 2.5 stars —

“You know, when young people come over, sometimes some of them talk about the end of the world,” Aileen said, breaking the silence and snapping Evan out of his woolgathering. He looked up from the plaid pattern on the vinyl tablecloth to the old woman’s face.

“They say that this is the end of the world. The power’s out and we’ve run out of gas and no one’s come up from down south. They say the food is running out and that we’re in danger. There’s a word they say too — ah . . . pock . . . ah . . .”

“Apocalypse?”

“Yes, apocalypse! What a silly word. I can tell you there’s no word like that in Ojibwe. Well, I never heard a word like that from my elders anyway.”

Evan nodded, giving the elder his full attention.

“The world isn’t ending,” she went on. “Our world isn’t ending. It already ended. It ended when the Zhaagnaash came into our original home down south on that bay and took it from us. That was our world.”

Moon of the Crusted Snow starts out with a promising premise: how would the apocalypse play out on a remote Anishinaabe reservation in Canada, where food scarcity is common, connection to the grid is new and sometimes unreliable, and communication with the rest of the world is reliant on technology? Where the winter is long and punishing, especially without modern conveniences like electric heat and grocery stores? Throw in a migratory stream of white refugees looking to escape a failed society on land to which they’d previously banished this continent’s original habitants, and I’m in.

The result is actually kind of dull. The end of the world comes slowly, indeed. Told from the perspective of Evan Whitesky, a youngish father and employee of public works, the story unravels gradually, as the rez first loses satellite service (read: internet and tv), followed by cell service, satellite phones, and finally the power. Two of the nation’s young men, attending college in Gibson, return with eerie tales of a city abandoned. Then a stranger named Justin Scott, a sketchy paramilitary type, follows, effectively dividing the reservation into two camps.

This should be where the tension heightens – but really, most of the societal breakdown we see is of the bureaucratic variety. When people inevitably start freezing to death in the streets – and, later, their homes – I started to think that Scott’s ulterior motives would be unveiled…but no. The final reveal is, well, weird. Scott and his adherents are stealing bodies from the makeshift morgue and feasting on the dead. It’s almost presented in a way that…suggests the Anishinaabe are the only cultures in which cannibalism is taboo? Like Scott tricked his hapless followers into violating this sacred Anishinaabe code or something? But, like, white people aren’t rushing to eat human flesh either. That’s why movies like Alive hold such a curious fascination. Unless I’ve got it all wrong, and the cannibalism is just code for laziness, or taking the easy way out, in which case, sure. White privilege at its basest.

Either way, I almost DNF’ed it multiple times. But because I hate giving bad reviews, let me end on a positive note: Rice’s narrative provides a much-needed insight into reservation life.

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

Book Review: Loading Penguin Hugs: Heartwarming Comics from Chibird by Jacqueline Chen (2018)

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

Just what I needed.

four out of five stars

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

Filled with uplifting and inspirational illustrations from Jacqueline Chen’s tumblr chibird, Loading Penguin Hugs is like a nose bump from a happy dog, or a warm cup of tea on a rainy fall afternoon. It’s sweet, adorable, and positive AF: basically a great friend to turn to when you’re feeling down. Let positive bunny, motivational penguin, happy ghost, and the positive puppers make you feel a teensy bit better about this trash fire called life.

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

Book Review: Donald and the Golden Crayon by P. Shauers (2018)

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

Covfefe!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-book for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for references to sexual assault.)

A send-up of the popular children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon, Donald and the Golden Crayon features 45 doing what he does best: insulting people of color, celebrating misogyny, building walls, destroying the environment, bagging on the troops, bragging, and just generally winning. (SO MUCH WINNING!) With his magical golden crayon, 45 traverses the country, scribbling on all the things. The United States will never look the same (sob).

Donald and the Golden Crayon is part of a growing list of parody books about our current political climate that would be funny … if it wasn’t so damn depressing. Like, I appreciate what Shauers has done here, but parts of the book just make me want to cry. I do hope he sends a copy to Drumpf though, that would be yuge.

Normally I would not recommend “children’s books for adults” to actual children – and there is some harsh stuff here, from a “Grab ’em by the Pussy!” protest sign to an allusion to the alleged sex tape – but, idk, probably they’ve heard all this and worse on the news. If anything, Donald and the Golden Crayon could provide an opportunity to explain to kids why 45 is the worst. But, you know, be your own decider person.

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

Book Review: Gwen the Rescue Hen by Leslie Crawford & Sonja Stangl (2018)

Friday, December 14th, 2018

Enjoy with a plate of scrambled tofu!

five out of five stars

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

“Come on, Gwen,” says Mateo, as he helps settle her onto the handlebars. Let’s hit it! she thinks. Let’s fly.

Hen is suffering a pretty miserable existence when a natural disaster proves her salvation. Imprisoned in a battery cage and exploited as a laying hen, Hen shares a tiny cage with half a dozen or so of her sisters. Everywhere Hen looks, she sees rows upon rows and stacks upon stacks of hens. Hen’s only freedom – her only escape from the chaos and filth of her prison – is in her dreams.

That is, until the day a tornado lifts Hen’s cage from the giant, industrial shed in which it’s housed and deposits Hen and her companions in a beautiful green field. The girls scatter, but not before a boy and his friends spot Hen. After a tense stand-off and a few close calls, Hen learns to trust the human boy called Mateo. Newly christened Gwen, Hen and the Boy become best friends, enjoying swims in the river (or, in Hen’s case, dust baths on the shore), roosting/reading marathons, and social calls.

Based on the destruction of an egg farm in Croton, Ohio, Gwen the Rescue Hen is a sweet and beautiful tale of friendship – and compassion. Gentle enough for young readers (Hen’s time as a cog in the machine of animal ag is indeed morose – as emphasized by the black and white palette – but handled with care, and with the more horrifying details omitted), the story is also educational, with plenty of facts about chickens sprinkled throughout. By giving a name to a bird – one of five billion such animals living in American battery cages at any given time – the authors affirm Gwen’s personhood: she is a someone, not a something. This shouldn’t be a novelty, and yet.

Gwen the Rescue Hen is a wonderful choice for vegan families, or for any parent or guardian wishing to instill a sense of compassion in their young children. And the artwork is super-adorable too!

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

Book Review: Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill (2018)

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Oh, the mixed feelings!

three out of five stars

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

After her mother perished in a tragic boating accident, Lana’s father moved them out of the idyllic seaside town they called home and into the city. Now they’re back, if only for a few days, to help the community recover from an especially devastating storm. Yet when she rescues a sick young aquicorn (think: a cross between a seahorse and a unicorn) from a tide pool and nurses her back to health, Lana’s mission ripples outward until it becomes monumental in scope. Not only must she confront the unacknowledged grief and depression that assailed her after the loss of her mother – indeed, everything she’d ever known – she must also save the aquicorn’s home, under assault from climate change, pollution, and overfishing.

So there are lots of things I loved about Aquicorn Cove: The artwork is super-adorable, the aquicorns especially (and unsurprisingly). I appreciate the breadth of diversity when it comes to Aquicorn Cove’s citizens: not only do we see a variety of skin tones, but there’s a refreshing range of body types too, from tiny little old ladies (who are still getting it done, okay), to aunt Mae, who is big and beefy and has the kind of biceps I’d kill for. There’s even an implied same-sex romance between Mae and Aure, the queen (keeper? guardian?) of Aquicorn Cove. I ship it.

While I liked the environmentally friendly vibe, as well as the message that not a single one of us is too small to make a difference, the story lost me in its treatment of its smallest creatures: the fishes. There’s a clear divide between the aquicorns (flashy, majestic, kind, unique) and the fishes (food, natural resource), even though both are someones, not somethings. Whereas I doubt Lana would even dream of killing and eating an aquicorn, somehow it’s just fine to do this to someone who’s “just” a salmon (or whatever). In a word, it’s speciesist.

Granted, Lana’s people are perhaps indigenous to the island, and that’s a conversation worth having. That said, I don’t think it’s helpful to feed kids self-serving pap about how food animals “sacrifice” themselves for you. Most animals, when faced with death, fight to survive – just like human animals. So please just don’t try to romanticize their deaths, or make them appear complicit. They do not exist for your pleasure or convenience.

In summary, Aquicorn Cove is a pretty adorable book, though vegan parents might be better off skipping it entirely. There’s just too much to unpack.

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

Book Review: Claw the System: Poems from the Cat Uprising by Francesco Marciuliano (2018)

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Welcome to the Catnip Cabal

three out of five stars

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

THE PRESS

There is nothing more important
Than the press
There is nothing more indispensable
Than the press
There is nothing we need more right now
Than the press
Of my paw
Against the lips
Of anyone spewing hatred
Right after that paw has been in the litter box

MENTAL HEALTH DAY

When you can’t lift your head up
When you can’t raise your hopes up
When you can’t get yourself up
To face another day
Remember
You can still bring your leg up
And lick yourself down there
For like hours if you want
Because you have to take care of yourself
Before you can take on this world

The cats are fed up with our bullshit – and, in addition to silly Halloween costumes, tasteless kibble, and sleeping past 3AM, I’ve got to believe that the 2016 election has a little something to do with it. Normally felines would not deign to involve themselves in something as crass as human politics, but come on! The death of democracy and all that jazz. Plus where are they going to get their cat dancers and laser pointers if Drumpf starts a trade war with China, hmmm?

The clues are sometimes subtle, but look closely and you’ll see ’em. With chapter headings like Recognize, Resist, Revolt, and Rebuild, and poems celebrating the “press” and advocating for mental health days, these cats are obviously #withher. They dislike voter disenfranchisement almost as much they hate your best friend’s handsy toddler.

So this is a cute idea that gets stale about halfway through the book. Unsurprisingly, my favorites were the more radical poems in the bunch. Some are straight-up meme-worthy; the rest are good for a chuckle or two, hence the middling rating. The cat photos range from adorable to downright fierce.

Should you find yourself guffawing at the very idea of feline resistance, you owe it to yourself to read Jason Hribal’s Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance.

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

Book Review: The Many Deaths of Scott Koblish by Scott Koblish (2018)

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

Not for the chronically anxious.

two out of five stars

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

— 2.5 stars —

The Many Deaths of Scott Koblish is exactly what it sounds like: the author’s weird and varied imaginings of how he might meet his end. The scenarios range from the mundane-yet-tragic (being buried in an avalanche; dying in a festive house fire) to the more bizarre and outlandish (being kidnapped by aliens only to die in a fiery wreck when the US government shoots your flying saucer down; being murdered in the night by your daughter’s adorable stuffed teddy bear). My personal favorites are those that involve nonhuman animals getting revenge (such as the kangaroo boxer who stomps his human opponent to death. down with animal fighting!). There are no fewer than five instances of cats sending an unsuspecting Scott Koblish plummeting out a window to his death.

It’s a cute enough idea, if not terribly memorable. Well, unless you’re scared of clowns, alligators, or dying in unclean undies. Then some of these panels just might keep you awake at night. No death by sheer embarrassment, though, so I’m safe! :)

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

Book Review: How to Be Successful without Hurting Men’s Feelings by Sarah Cooper (2018)

Friday, November 30th, 2018

“Conclusion: Be Threatening”

four out of five stars

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

This book is not for men. And the title has little to do with how we make men feel. Instead, it’s about how we think we make men feel and how we are consumed by trying to make them feel a certain way or avoid feeling a certain way, as if that should be our number one concern.

So how do you be successful without hurting men’s feelings? You don’t. You be successful whether men’s feelings are hurt or not, because really that’s up to them, not you.

How to Be Successful without Hurting Men’s Feelings is, sadly, just as at home in 2018 as it would have been twenty-seven years ago, during the Anita Hill hearings. That thought fills me with rage – a potent expression of which is sarcasm. Luckily, How to Be Successful has that in spades.

With chapters on Communication (“How to Talk Like a Man but Still Be Seen as a Woman”), Ambition (“How to Advance Your Career Without Shoving It in Everyone’s Face”), and Leadership (“Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women”) How to Be Successful is a satirical guide to getting ahead in the corporate environment.

Most of the advice is directed at women, though a few chapters have a more gender-neutral, almost Dilbert-esque feel (minus the general assholery of Scott Adams); see, e.g., the chapter on “authenticity.” There are even some fun interactive elements, like blank pages for doodling out a mansplaining sesh; a choose-your-own-adventure chapter (would you rather: be liked or be successful?); and Men’s Achievement Stickers for allies (get in while the bar’s low, guys!).

Probably the most relevant chapter is that on harassment, namely, “How to Be Harassed Without Hurting His Career.” This one definitely pushes the book over the “would be funny if it wasn’t so damn depressing” line. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll blame the patriarchy.

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

Book Review: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark (2018)

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

This is the alt history Confederacy story you’re looking for.

four out of five stars

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

The magic of those old Afrikin gods is part of this city, ma maman used to say, buried in its bones and roots with the slaves that built it, making the ground and air and waterways sacred land. Only we forgot the names that went with that power we brought over here. Since Haiti got free, though, those gods were coming back, she’d said, across the waters, all the way from Lafrik. Now here’s two of them in a bordello in New Orleans. Who knows what that means.

The year is 1884, and the Union is still divided. In this alternate steampunk version of American history, the Union and Confederacy called a truce after eight years of war, in the Armistice of Third Antietam. Any states not already a part of the Union were abandoned, its enslaved citizens left to perish in bondage. As if the reality of slavery wasn’t (isn’t) horrific enough, Clark throws in an especially chilling detail, reminiscent of the Sunken Place: slave owners dose their human chattel with a drug called drapeto vapor, which zombifies them into compliance.

I’ve seen the tintype photographs from inside the Confederacy. Shadowy pictures of fields and factories filled with laboring dark bodies, their faces almost all covered up in big black gas masks, breathing in that drapeto vapor. It make it so the slaves don’t want to fight no more, don’t want to do much of nothing. Just work. Thinking about their faces, so blank and empty, makes me go cold inside.

Against this backdrop we meet a plucky AF heroine, thirteen-year-old Creeper (given name Jacqueline). Orphaned three years prior when her mother died of yellow fever, Creeper lives in the nooks and crannies of Les Grand Murs, the Great Wall that surrounds free New Orleans, protecting it from the superstorms that plague the coast – ever since the Haitians let loose a supernatural weapon called The Black God’s Drums in order to drive Napoleon and the French from their country.

While hiding in her alcove, scoping out some potential marks, Creeper overhears a plot to deliver a Haitian scientist to the Confederacy. Supposedly this Dr. Duval has found a way to recreate The Black God’s Drums, thus unleashing the power of the Gods here on earth once again. With such a powerful weapon in their hands, the Confederacy could actually win the war. Now it’s up to a tween pickpocket, an airship captain named Ann-Marie St. Augustine (previously her mother’s paramour), a pair of renegade nuns, and a feral child descended from plantation owners to foil the plot and save the day.

And oh, let’s not forget the two sister-wife goddesses (or pieces of goddesses, rather) that have attached themselves to Creeper and Ann-Marie.

The Black God’s Drums is amazing, and my only complaint is that we don’t get to spend more time in the spectacularly captivating world Clark has created here. While Creeper shines (I’m a sucker for girls disguised as boys), every single character is multi-dimensional and engaging. I really love the interplay between Creeper and Ann-Marie – and their goddesses, Oya and Oshun. The relationship between Ann-Marie and Rose adds another layer to an already complex situation. And Sisters Agnès and Eunice are all kinds of awesome.

Clark paints a colorful and vibrant picture of 1884 New Orleans, from the mixed-race and gay-friendly bordello Shá Rouj to the crumbling plantations claimed by the swamps. The alternate history is fascinating, though it’s frustrating that we don’t learn more about the circumstances leading up to (and fallout of) the treaty; I really, really hope that The Black God’s Drums won’t be the only glimpse we get into this ‘verse. The titular Black God’s Drums, particularly how Clark weaves it into Haitian history, is just the icing on the cake.

I need more. Maybe a twenty-something Jacqueline, now a college graduate and bonafide member of the Midnight Robber, helping Ann-Marie and the rest of the crew to take down the Confederacy for good? Bonus points if guerilla fighter Harriet Tubman makes a cameo. Not to typecast her, but Aisha Hinds has to play Tubman in the film version. (She’s just too perfect, once you see the monologue episode of Underground you won’t ever be able to picture anyone else as Minty.)

And yes, this needs to be a movie like yesterday. Get on this, Hollywood.

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

Book Review: Watersnakes by Antonio Sandoval (2018)

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

A swing and a near-miss.

three out of five stars

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

Mila is swimming in the forest when she meets a mysterious girl named Agnes. By way of introduction, the mischievous Agnes shouts “water snake!,” causing Mila to jump from the water in fright. For her part, Mila is inexplicably drawn to Agnes’s teeth. If this all sounds weird, welcome to the world of Watersnakes.

Turns out Agnes has been dead for eleven years. Within her resides a black octopus/the former king of the sea. Her teeth are his warriors, determined to restore their ruler to his throne. I’d be worried that I’m dropping spoilers right and left here, if the book’s synopsis hadn’t already spilled the beans.

I wanted to fall in love with Watersnakes – I mean, just look at that friggin’ cover! – but alas, it is a swing and a miss.

Pros: The artwork. MY GODS, the artwork. It’s apologetically weird and occasionally surreal and grotesque, but always in the most beautiful way. It also contains one of my favorite horror tropes – SHE’S BEEN DEAD FOR YEARS!!! – and the LGBTQ elements immediately captured my interest, but…

Cons: The plot is terribly, frustratingly underdeveloped at best, and downright confusing at times. Worse: the FF romance is undermined by a kinda-sorta case of mistaken identity (no want!). Worst: When “picnic hunting” – i.e., dressing in papier-mâché animal masks and robbing an unsuspecting family of their picnic snacks – Mila pinches the ass of (read: sexually assaults) a fellow teen girl. I shit you not, I did about a dozen double takes, damn near certain I had misread the panel. (I didn’t.) Gross.

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

Book Review: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

If you liked Dexter

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for domestic violence, child abuse, and rape.)

“Femi makes three, you know. Three, and they label you a serial killer.”

My phone lights up and I glance at it. Ayoola. It is the third time she has called, but I am not in the mood to talk to her. Maybe she is reaching out because she has sent another man to his grave prematurely, or maybe she wants to know if I can buy eggs on the way home. Either way, I’m not picking up.

The first time her sister Ayoola killed a man, Korede was certain that it was in self-defense. The third time around, Korede has her doubts. But, when summoned to the scene of the crime, Korede dutifully helps Ayoola scour the blood from the carpet and dispose of the body – because that’s what big sisters do, right? Take care of their younger siblings…even if they just so happen to be knife-wielding sociopaths.

But when Ayoola sets her sights on Tade Otumu, a kind and handsome doctor at the hospital where Korede works as a nurse, Korede is forced to choose sides. Will she save the object of her unrequited love, or stick by Ayoola’s side? Things get even crazier when “the patient in room 313” – a comatose man to whom Korede thought it would be safe to spill her guts – unexpectedly wakes up. What does he remember of her bizarre confessions, if anything? And just what is the story behind Ayoola’s weapon of choice?

At first glance, My Sister, the Serial Killer is a gender- and race-bent version of Dexter, set in Lagos, Nigera, and told from sister Deb’s POV. AND I AM SO HERE FOR IT. My Sister has a similar dark and twisted sense of humor that’s simply delightful. Like, Korede ought to do stand-up on her nights off.

Yet while the murdery stuff does propel the plot forward, at its core My Sister is a story about family (but then, so too is Dexter). This is a story about how surviving trauma and coming up and out of a horrific situation can bond people together for life. Doubly so if they already share the bond of sisterhood. Heaven help the dudebro who tries to get between them.

If you liked Dexter (and especially if you loathed the series finale!), or even if you’re just looking for something a little unconventional and weird, definitely give My Sister, the Serial Killer a try. It’s got short, punchy chapters (I was not surprised to read that Braithwaite was shortlisted as a top-ten spoken-word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam; each chapter feels a bit like a self-contained poem or stream-of-consciousness) and a wickedly clever vibe. This might just go down as one of my favorites of 2018.

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

Book Review: Super Chill: A Year of Living Anxiously by Adam Ellis (2018)

Friday, November 16th, 2018

Shout out to the socially anxious and chronically depressed.

four out of five stars

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

Super Chill: A Year of Living Anxiously is a collection of autobiographical comics by Adam Ellis who – like me – struggles with anxiety, depression, and (I assume) IBS. (Spoiler alert: there is digestive upset of some nature.) Reading it is like looking in a mirror, for better or worse – except, mercifully, I do not suffer from dick cling.

Not all of the comics deal with mental health issues; there’s also a mix of the weirdly specific (Ellis’s brief obsession with healing crystals) and the wildly absurd (memory foam pillows that make you relive your worst moments each night). But my favorites, unsurprisingly, involve SAD and social anxiety.

Oh, and there be cats.

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

Book Review: Before She Sleeps by Bina Shah (2018)

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

I had such high hopes for this one!

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for violence against women, including rape.)

When I got to the Panah, I was unused to the sight of women’s bodies not swollen and distorted by pregnancy. It seemed wrong, at first, as if something was missing. It took me months to realize that a woman’s stomach wasn’t always convex; that its default state was not always filled with another being.

DNF at 59%, because life is too short to spend time on books that just aren’t doing it for you.

Set in the kind-of distant future, Before She Sleeps imagines a world wherein women are a scarce commodity. Nuclear war and climate change have drastically altered the landscape of South West Asia (and, indeed, the world), while a gender-specific virus has wiped out a majority of its female citizens. In the resulting chaos and power vacuum, an authoritarian order known as the Authority seized control.

Within the borders of Green City, life is strictly regimented – for everyone, but women especially. Women are not allowed to: work outside the home, keep journals, choose their own husbands (or number thereof), or use contraception, obtain abortions, or engage in family planning of any sort. They are required to maintain public profiles, so that men can shop for them online like so many consumer goods (unlike laptops, though, women cannot be bought or sold – only the Perpetuation Bureau can assign a Wife a new Husband); undergo rigorous and routine physical exams, including fertility monitoring; and accept as many Husbands – and pregnancies – as the Bureau deems fit.

It’s the inverse of fundamentalist Mormons, yet somehow women get the short end of the stick in this arrangement too (shocking, that!). Ostensibly, women are precious cargo to be treated with care and respect: in Green City, “it [is] a capital crime to hit or abuse a woman.” However, rape is a de facto part of the marriage system, as women are not permitted to choose their partners, nor deny them “life-giving” sex. After all, that is a woman’s sole purpose in society: to bear as many children as possible.

Yet girls and women still find ways to resist. Some children hide messages for each other, illicit forms of communication in a society where females are given precious little opportunity to interact with one another. On the more extreme end are the runaways, the fugitives, the disappeared women. Some of these women find their way to the Panah, a refuge located in a long-forgotten underground bunker on the outskirts of town. There they work as escorts, but instead of sex, they deal in emotional intimacy, something sorely lacking in these modern, dystopian marriages. Within this backdrop, we meet Lin, the niece of one of the Panah’s founders; Sabine, who escaped an early marriage arranged by her own father; and Rupa, who longs to return to society, despite the miseries it rained down upon her as a girl.

Before She Sleeps sounds like it should be right up my alley: I love dystopias, doubly so if they have a feminist bent, and I am a total Margaret Atwood fangirl. (Comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale never fail to reel me in.) This seemed like a slam dunk. And, while I adore the concept, the actual execution left much to be desired. For lack of a more eloquent way of putting it, Before She Sleeps just didn’t do it for me.

Each chapter alternates between a different character’s perspective. This was all fine and good when it was just Lin, Sabine, and Rupa – but once Shah tossed in a few of Green City’s male denizens mid-book, it got to be a little too much for me. Moreover, I never really got a sense of each character’s distinct personality; the overall writing style felt pretty uniform across chapters. Oftentimes the character’s physical reactions felt overdone to the point of a bad B movie script. When imagining how some scenes might play out, all I could picture were comically terrible improv actors. Cringe-worthy doesn’t begin to describe it.

There are also quite a few info dumps – which, it must be said, isn’t always a mood killer for me, but here they often popped up in weird and awkward places. To wit: As Reuben races across town to retrieve his illicit mistress’s illegal girl, passed out unconscious in the street and maybe dying of who knows what, his thoughts randomly wander to … how he became one of the most powerful men in Green City? I mean, seriously! More likely that train of thought would go something like this: “OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT FUCK WHAT AM I GONNA DO WE ARE SO FUCKED OH SHIT PLEASE DON’T LET THERE BE A RED LIGHT OH FUCK ME FUCK THIS FUCK EVERYTHING I AM TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT I NEED A VACATION.”

So, yeah, file this one in the “devastating disappointment” drawer. Bummer!

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

Book Review: Please Don’t Grab My P#$$y: A Rhyming Presidential Guide by Julia Young & Matt Harkins (2018)

Friday, November 9th, 2018

Would be funny if it wasn’t so damn depressing.

four out of five stars

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

This is a list of things you can grab
And yes, I’m gonna sound pushy
For once in your life, listen up
DON’T EVER FUCKING GRAB MY PUSSY

In this picture book-for-adults, NYC-based comedians Julia Young and Matt Harkins combine irreverent poetry with powerful illustrations by Laura Collins to call out Drumpf for his long and shameless history of sexual assault, rape, and general harassment of women.

Their cheeky and sometimes weird sense of humor disarms the reader, all while imparting an important message about consent: namely, DON’T EVER FUCKING GRAB MY PUSSY!. Instead, they provide a handy list of things Drumpf can grab instead: his golf putter, the remote control, his favorite shade of crayon – Caucasian, natch. Tragically, none of these suggestions involve a live wire or the testicles of a very angry and untethered grizzly bear.

To be perfectly honest, some of the euphemisms the authors employ for vagina threw me off; certainly these sound made up, I thought. But I googled a few and, sure enough, they are all slang variations of pussy. (*shaking head*) Although I must admit a certain affection for “dildo hotel.”

Please Don’t Grab My P#$$y: A Rhyming Presidential Guide is good for a chuckle or two, tempered by the odd dry heave and stifled sob; it would be so much funnier if our current reality wasn’t so damn depressing. (The painting of Hillary being sworn in cut like a katana to the heart.) Still, it’s a necessary and dynamic piece of activism.

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

Book Review: Slothilda: Living the Sloth Life by Dante Fabiero (2018)

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

Celebrating the inner sloth in all of us!

four out of five stars

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

Slothilda is an everywoman: She’s addicted to her phone, laptop, and the internet. She naps hard and snacks harder. She loves carbs and is an A+ procrastinator. Her beautifully curvaceous behind is a mirror image of that of her dog, Peanut. (A corgi, natch!) And, oh yeah: Slothilda is a sloth. (fwiw I think she more closely resembles a hamster, but it’s all good.)

With sections on fitness, food, work, money, home, lifestyle, and fur baby, Dante Fabiero pays homage to his inner sloth, and celebrates the sloth that lives in all of us. (I have to assume, if only for my own self-esteem.) Slothilda is a heroine that’s both super-adorable and relatable AF.

I mean, I wasn’t exactly shocked to discover how closely my diet and work habits parallel those of a sloth, but some of the strips are weirdly specific. (Hours spent hunting for a valid online coupon code to save a measly coupla bucks, hello!)

My only complaint is this: In the ARC, the captions appear as text separate from the illustrations, giving the comics an odd and disjointed feeling. I’m sure this will be corrected in the final version.

Oh, and Peanut should totes be renamed Cheddar. That is the only acceptable name for a corgi.

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