Book Review: Wintersong, S. Jae-Jones (2017)

Monday, February 6th, 2017

“Such sensuous enjoyment.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Netgalley.)

I surveyed my kingdom. Chaos. Cruelty. Abandon. I had always been holding back. Always been restrained. I wanted to be bigger, brighter, better; I wanted to be capricious, malicious, sly. Until now, I had not known the intoxicating sweetness of attention. In the world above, it had always been Käthe or Josef who captivated people’s eyes and hearts—Käthe with her beauty, Josef with his talent. I was forgotten, overlooked, ignored—the plain, drab, practical, talentless sister. But here in the Underground, I was the sun around which their world spun, the axis around which their maelstrom twirled. Liesl the girl had been dull, drab, and obedient; Elisabeth the woman was a queen.

“I may be just a maiden, mein Herr,” I whispered. “But I am a brave maiden.”

When Liesl’s younger sister Käthe is claimed by the Goblin King and kidnapped to the Underground, it’s up to Liesl to rescue her. After all, it’s Liesl and her mother who keep the family together and the inn running. Plain, drab, boring Liesl, who lacks Käthe’s voluptuous beauty, or her brother Josef’s virtuosity with the violin. Liesl, who composes her wild and untamed music only under the cloak of night; the music Josef polishes and performs to accolades, but for which Liesl seeks neither praise nor recognition. Like legions of unremarkable girls before her, Liesl labors in the background, her accomplishments usurped or denigrated by the men around her, depending on the circumstances.

Yet the Goblin King – Der Erlkönig, Lord of Mischief – sees Liesl for who she truly is: a unique talent, full of beauty and grace. A soul brimming with passion and wonder – and, yes, even anger and lust. A worthy opponent. The girl with whom he once sang and danced in Goblin Grove, all those years ago. The girl who forgot him – and her promise to him – once she traded in their silly childhood games for a mop and bucket and likely spinsterhood.

Liesl descends into the Underground on a sacrifice of sheet music, only to find that her mission to rescue Käthe is just the opening round of her game with Der Erlkönig. Once a mortal man, the Goblin King sacrificed his soul to bring peace to the world above. Now he is forever confined to the Underground, where he rules over the goblins and fae who once wreaked havoc on earth. But in order to turn the seasons, he requires a spark. Passion. A wife. Yet Der Erlkönig’s brave maidens do not survive long in the Underground – and, should Liesl succeed in freeing Käthe, he will need a replacement if spring is to come.

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Book Review: Version Control, Dexter Palmer (2016)

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Intelligent and provocative; as much about humans & our institutions as the space-time continuum.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ebook for review through Edelweiss. There’s a clearly marked, mild spoil warning near the end of this review.)

The compelling story of a couple living in the wake of a personal tragedy. She is a star employee of an online dating company, while he is a physicist, performing experiments that, if ever successful, may have unintended consequences, altering the nature of their lives—and perhaps of reality itself.

Rebecca Wright has gotten her life back, finding her way out of grief and depression following a personal tragedy years ago. She spends her days working in customer support for the Internet dating site where she first met her husband. However, she has a persistent, strange sense that everything around her is somewhat off-kilter: she constantly feels as if she has walked into a room and forgotten what she intended to do there; on TV, the President seems to be the wrong person in the wrong place; and each night she has disquieting dreams that may or may not be related to her husband Philip’s pet project. Philip’s decade-long dedication to the causality violation device (which he would greatly prefer you do not call a “time machine”) has effectively stalled his career and made him a laughingstock in the physics community. But he may be closer to success than either of them knows or imagines . . .

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

Version Control is a difficult book to review, if only because it’s so damn smart: complex, richly layered, and filled with nuance. The time travel sure complicates matters – if a character travels back in time and picks at a thread that undoes his very existence, how does he go back in time to begin with?; paradoxes, yo! – but the real backbone of this story is Palmer’s insight into humans and our relationships with one another.

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DNF Review: Revenge and the Wild, Michelle Modesto (2016)

Monday, February 1st, 2016

(Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

The two-bit town of Rogue City is a lawless place, full of dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters. But it’s perfect for seventeen-year-old Westie, the notorious adopted daughter of local inventor Nigel Butler.

Westie was only a child when she lost her arm and her family to cannibals on the wagon trail. Nine years later, Westie may seem fearsome with her foul-mouthed tough exterior and the powerful mechanical arm built for her by Nigel, but the memory of her past still haunts her. She’s determined to make the killers pay for their crimes—and there’s nothing to stop her except her own reckless ways.

But Westie’s search ceases when a wealthy family comes to town looking to invest in Nigel’s latest invention, a machine that can harvest magic from gold—which Rogue City desperately needs as the magic wards that surround the city start to fail. There’s only one problem: the investors look exactly like the family who murdered Westie’s kin. With the help of Nigel’s handsome but scarred young assistant, Alistair, Westie sets out to prove their guilt. But if she’s not careful, her desire for revenge could cost her the family she has now.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

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Mini-Review: Another Little Piece, Kate Karyus Quinn (2013)

Monday, November 16th, 2015

 

On a cool autumn night, Annaliese Rose Gordon stumbled out of the woods and into a high school party. She was screaming. Drenched in blood. Then she vanished.

A year later, Annaliese is found wandering down a road hundreds of miles away. She doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know how she got there. She only knows one thing: She is not the real Annaliese Rose Gordon.

Now Annaliese is haunted by strange visions and broken memories. Memories of a reckless, desperate wish . . . a bloody razor . . . and the faces of other girls who disappeared. Piece by piece, Annaliese’s fractured memories come together to reveal a violent, endless cycle that she will never escape—unless she can unlock the twisted secrets of her past.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

four out of five stars

The synopsis for Another Little Piece sounds a lot like a typical woman in peril story, featuring a misogynistic kidnapper/rapist/murderer, or perhaps a sinister cult. And when we first meet Annaliese, wandering through a field, dazed, disoriented, and with no memory of the past year (or the sixteen before it), clad in a garbage bag, it sure looks as though the plot will bend this way. But things get really weird, really fast, as Quinn injects an unexpected supernatural element into Annaliese’s story. The result is an odd, sometimes disjointed, very creepy tale that kept me glued to my Kindle.

Quinn’s prose is both lovely and eerie, and she does a masterful job of depicting and then deconstructing adolescence and the high school experience: slut shaming, unrequited love, alienation and ostracization, you name it. Quinn avoids stereotypes; all of her characters are filled with depth and nuance. I especially love Annaliese – the original as well as the reboot – or rather, how Quinn twists and transforms our perception of her as the story unfolds. (The real Annaliese? Kind of a tool.)

Annaliese and Dex are adorable; Franky is creepy as fuck; and I loved the “spitball poems” used to introduce each chapter. There’s also a great sub-plot with Annaliese’s best friend, Gwen.

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Book Review: A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir, Daisy Hernández (2015)

Friday, October 9th, 2015

The Personal is Political – and Also Poetic in Hernández’s Deft Hands

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for child abuse.)

Journalism: A fancy word to say that I spent days with my hands in other people’s stories, asking and telling, because nothing happens in isolation, especially when it has to do with language. Nothing is more vulnerable than the words in our mouths, because nothing has more power.

It will take years to understand that writing makes everything else possible. Writing is how I learn to love my father and where I come from. Writing is how I leave him and also how I take him with me.

It is a story as old as time, that we always find what we needed was right at home.

But, therein is the riddle: a child has to leave to return. My mother had to. She says it often. She only appreciated her mother, only understood her mother, after she had left home.

I had to leave, too. It was me, not my mother, who needed English, who needed the stories and feminist theories. Without them, I might never have come back to her.

Daisy Hernández is the coeditor of Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, and a former editor of ColorLines magazine. A queer (she identifies as bisexual), second-generation Latina (her mother and father immigrated from Colombia and Cuba, respectively), she speaks and writes about feminism, race, and the media. Her memoir, A Cup of Water Under My Bed, began way way in 2000, when she was hired to pen a regular column in Ms. Magazine at the tender age of twenty-five.

A Cup of Water Under My Bed features eleven essays (which often have the feel of stories, so lyrical is Hernández’s writing) organized not by chronology, but loosely by topic: assimilation and language; sexual identity; and work and money. Whether she’s calling out the state of New Jersey for its switch to an automated telephone system to manage unemployment benefits in the ’90s (ostensibly for the convenience of its recipients, but really to hide the scope of the problems created by NAFTA), or writing about her aunties’ reactions to her romantic partners (rarely favorable, save for Alejandro – the trans man they all assumed was cisgender, on account of he was built like a linebacker), Hernández writes deftly and with both insight and wry humor.

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Book Review: Prayers for the Stolen, Jennifer Clement (2014)

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Poetry in Motion

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books. Trigger warning for rape.)

Now we make you ugly, my mother said. She whistled. Her mouth was so close she sprayed my neck with her whistle-spit. I could smell beer. In the mirror I watched her move that piece of charcoal across my face. It’s a nasty life, she whispered.

It’s my first memory. She held an old cracked mirror to my face. I must have been about five years old. The crack made my face look as if it had been broken into two pieces. The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl.

Ladydi Garcia Martínez lives on a remote mountain in Guerrero, Mexico. Her neighbors are the lizards, the snakes, the scorpions, the narco-traffickers – and women. Many women, though fewer than in years past. Women who dress their daughters in boy’s clothing; color their teeth yellow to mimic rot; wash the grime off their bodies only to get dirty again; and dig child-sized holes in the corn fields to hide their daughters from human traffickers.

Life wasn’t always life this. Once an entire community – men and women, young and old – lived on Ladydi’s mountainside. Long before she was born, the Sun Highway connecting Mexico City and nearby Acapulco was built, cleaving the village in half. Soon the men left in search of work, both in Mexico and across the border in the United States. Some returned for the occasional visit; many did not. Ladydi’s father falls into the second category. His philandering and eventual abandonment only compounded her mother’s bitterness and reliance on alcohol – a fact to which the beer bottle graveyard in their shed can attest.

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Book Review: The Girl on the Train: A Novel, Paula Hawkins (2015)

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Losing Control – and Finding it Again

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an ARC for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

Rachel Watson’s life is in shambles. After she was unable to conceive a child with her then-husband, Tom, Rachel’s social drinking quickly spiraled out of control. Eventually, her struggle with alcoholism cost Rachel everything: her marriage, her friends, her home, her job, her dignity – even her memories and sense of self. Rachel doesn’t just get drunk, she gets flat-out wasted, with frequent blackouts and periods of lost time. Forced to move in with an old college acquaintance, taking the 8:04 train from Ashbury to Euston every weekend so that her landlady Cathy won’t know that she was fired from her job, Rachel thinks she’s hit rock bottom, or just about. And then she sees something on her morning commute that she shouldn’t, thrusting her into a whole new realm of awful.

The train to London conveniently carries Rachel past her old house, which Tom now shares with his new wife, Anna, and their baby daughter, Evie. Needless to say, this does little to help Rachel get over the hurt and trauma and move on with her life; in fact, she frequently stalks and harasses “the other woman” (though rarely without the boost of some “liquid courage”). Four doors down lives an attractive and (seemingly) adoring young couple. Nicknamed “Jason and Jess” by Rachel, the two serve as a blank slate onto which she projects all the hopes and dreams she once had for herself and Tom. Her emotional investment in their relationship is such that, when Rachel spots Jess kissing a man who most definitely is not Jason, Rachel feels personally betrayed.

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