Book Review: Scout’s Heaven by Bibi Dumon Tak & Annemarie van Haeringen (2018)

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

Lovely in its simplicity.

four out of five stars

(Full disclose: I received a free copy of this book for review through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.)

— 3.5 stars —

It is raining the day Scout takes her last breath.

Little Brother peppers his family with questions: Where has Scout gone, if she’s no longer here? Does it rain above the clouds? Who will feed Scout? Will she have a sea to splash in and other animals to chase? They answer his questions as best they know how and, after burying Scout, coax him to sleep.

The next day, they wake to an impossibly sunny sky. (When you’re in the throes of grief, everything good and pure and beautiful seems a personal affront.)

…and the sound of Scout’s barking, coming from way up high.

Scout’s Heaven is a simple yet elegant book about loss and grief for dog lovers young and old. The whimsical illustrations nicely complement the story, which is more understated here than in similar books I’ve read. With books about “pet” loss, I measure stars in tears shed, and I didn’t bawl nearly as hard as I normally do. But maybe this is a good thing, especially when trying to explain death to kids.

The vague references to Heaven definitely give the book a religious bent, but as an atheist I appreciated it just the same. The message could easily be tweaked to fit with my own favorite imagery, that of the souls of the ghosts in His Dark Materials breaking apart like so many champagne bubbles as they leave the land of the dead and join their daemons in the living world. Particles breaking apart and then coming back together to create new and wonderful creatures. Scout may be in the ground, but she’s everywhere else, too: in the air and sky, the sycamore tree that shades your bedroom window and the squirrel that calls it home. Listen closely, and you can hear her voice.

(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: Manfried the Man by Caitlin Major & Kelly Bastow (2018)

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Better in small doses, maybe? (Check out the tumblr.)

three out of five stars

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

We’re trying to get volunteers to take part in the annual man count so we can keep track of all the stray men in the neighborhood.

If he’s only been missing a day he’s probably just holed up somewhere nearby. Men like to find small spaces and hide out.

Not all men though. Some men like the open space.

No not all men, obviously.

Steve Catson is kind of a fuck up. His apartment is a shithole, he hates his job at a call center, and he doesn’t have m/any real friends. He’s at that age when his peers are growing up, marrying, and having kittens of their own – but Steve is chronically single, socially awkward, and quite possibly depressed. The only bright spot in Steve’s life is his pet man, a chubby little ginger number not-so-creatively named Manfried. So when Manfried goes missing – thanks to Steve’s own carelessness, no less – Steve is beside himself with grief, panic, and self-loathing. Yet in his search for his beloved man, Steve might find even more than he could have hoped for.

I really dug the absurdist vibe of Manfried the Man, but I think the idea would have been better served by a series of self-contained strips as opposed to a singular narrative. I love those “if humans acted like dogs/cats” videos that occasionally make the rounds, and Manfried is very much in this vein. However, I didn’t find the storyline terribly interesting, and Steve is just plain irritating. I empathized with him initially – I too struggle with anxiety and depression, and sometimes feel like I’m just not doing right by my furry friends – but by story’s end I wanted to throttle the guy. Blaming your man’s escape on someone else, pffft. If I’d done that I’d be begging random strangers for a tongue lashing to feed the guilt.

Anyway, Manfried has its cute moments (#NotAllMen ftw; naked little men running around with their naked little twigs and berries), but overall I found it kind of meh. I do wish the whole “cones of shame for men” thing would catch on, though.

(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: Senior Dogs Across America: Portraits of Man’s Best Old Friend, Nancy LeVine (2016)

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Old Dogs Rock (and so do Nancy LeVine’s Portraits!)

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: Schiffer Publishing provided me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

An old dog’s eyes, milky white, are not so much going blind as they are being clouded by memory: every stick, every ball, the squirrel that got away – they’re all there. Nothing is forgotten. The day she swam across the lake, or chewed your mouthguard into a million pieces. Remember when she was lost for two days, and came home soaking wet, muddy, and with a bird’s feather – blue and white – somehow lodged beneath her collar? She remembers. They all do. Every word, every walk, every time you RUBBED their neck. The memories spill into their eyes, and eventually all they can see is the past.

– Daniel Wallace

Anyone who’s ever opened their home and their heart to a dog is sure to love Senior Dogs Across America: Portraits of Man’s Best Old Friend. Award-winning photographer Nancy LeVine traveled across America, photographing senior dogs in their natural habitats: in forever homes and animal sanctuaries; lounging on couches, riding along with their humans in tractors, and playing with their siblings, human and non; aging with dignity and wisdom and grace.

The eighty-six portraits included here promise to tug at the heartstrings – and make you hug your canine companion just a little bit tighter tonight. The dogs featured run the gamut: there are big dogs and little dogs; pit bulls, dachshunds, greyhounds, Chihuahuas, and mutts; and several tripods, a few one-eyed dogs, and one very big German Shepherd on wheels (hey, Abby!). There are even two Otises, both chocolate Labs by the look of ’em, living just a state apart in Washington and California. LeVine lovingly captures the spirit and personality of each of her subjects; while the book is rather short on words, each picture sings and shines and speaks volumes, dancing off the printed page and right into the reader’s heart.

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Book Review: Listen to Me, Hannah Pittard (2016)

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

Nope, no thanks, not for me.

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. This review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

Mark and Maggie’s annual drive east to visit family has gotten off to a rocky start. By the time they’re on the road, it’s late, a storm is brewing, and they are no longer speaking to one another. Adding to the stress, Maggie — recently mugged at gunpoint — is lately not herself, and Mark is at a loss about what to make of the stranger he calls his wife. Forced to stop for the night at a remote inn, completely without power, Maggie’s paranoia reaches an all-time and terrifying high. But when Mark finds himself threatened in a dark parking lot, it’s Maggie who takes control.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

Surely I can’t be the only one envisioning a Roaring Rampage of Revenge after reading this description? Picture it: months after being mugged at gunpoint and knocked unconscious in an alley, Maggie once again finds herself in a perilous position. Only this time’s she’s ready. Prepared. Expecting it, even, thanks to the PTSD and anxiety and depression. And she fights back. Kicks some serious ass. Maybe comes to her husband Mark’s rescue. Mark, the same guy who’s spent the better part of a year tiptoeing around her, walking on eggshells, maybe even scoffed at her paranoia, once or twice, when he thought she wasn’t looking. Bonus points if he’s entertained fantasies about how he would have protected HIS WOMAN, if only he had been there when it happened. But now that he is, he’s paralyzed with fear, unable to protect himself, let alone his wife. Yeah. That’s what I’d expected, going into Listen to Me.

As it turns out, this is the most misleading yet still dead accurate book description I’ve seen in a while. Maybe ever. Certainly in recent memory.

Here are three reasons why I disliked Listen to Me, from least to most spoilery:

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Book Review: The Merman, Carl-Johan Vallgren (2015)

Monday, December 7th, 2015

“Fairy tales with tragic endings.”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for violence, including bullying, sexual violence, and animal abuse, as well as offensive language.)

There is no beginning, and no ending. I know that now. For others, perhaps, there are stories that lead somewhere, but not for me. It’s like they go round in circles, and sometimes not even that: they just stand still in one place. And I wonder: what are you supposed to do with a story that repeats itself?

“There’s not much that’s been written about mermaids, you see. Mainly fairy tales with tragic endings.”

Petronella’s life is a lot like a fairy tale. Not the ending, when the lowly peasant girl has found her prince, the heroine has slayed the dragon, and everyone is free to live happily ever after for the rest of their days. Rather, Nella is the beginning; the nightmare that comes before the daydream. The raw truth that lurks under the Disneyfied facade, fangs and claws bared.

Nella’s is a family of three, occasionally four. She and her younger brother Robert live with their mother Marika in a maisonette (apartment) on Liljevägen in Falkenberg, Sweden; her housing is largely regarded as “a sort of slum where social service cases live.” An unemployed alcoholic, Marika is a neglectful mother at best. Her mom is more likely to spend the family’s public assistance funds on booze than food, forcing Nella into shoplifting to make up the difference. Sometimes the free lunch at school is the only meal Nella and Robert will see in a day; oftentimes it’s the one and only reason they bother to show up at all. That, and to get out of the house: no matter how much Nella tidies up, it’s not long before hurricane Marika sweeps through, leaving mess of dishes and vomit in her wake.

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Book Review: The Wolf Wilder, Katherine Rundell (2015)

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

“Stories can start revolutions.”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Mild trigger warning for sexual harassment of a minor.)

Humans, on the whole, Feo could take or leave; there was only one person she loved properly, with the sort of fierce pride that gets people into trouble, or prison, or history books.

[A] wolf who cannot howl is like a human who cannot laugh.

Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there lived a dark and stormy girl. She was wild in spirit and loved fiercely; and no wonder, for she was raised in the company not of humans, but of wolves. They were her friends, her teachers, her pupils, her family – her (almost) everything. And, at the tender age of twelve, this girl and her half-tame friends would go on to lead a revolution.

Feodora Petrovich and her mother Marina live in the Russian wilderness, not too far from Saint Petersburg. Though they’re the only humans for miles, they’re hardly alone – not exactly. The Petrovich family has been wilding wolves for centuries – since the days of Peter the Great, in fact.

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Book Review: Strays: A Novel, Jennifer Caloyeras (2015)

Friday, June 5th, 2015

Team Roman

three out of five stars

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

I wondered if the dogs were thinking the same thing about us – that we were all a bunch of strays.

[E]tched on the inside of the collar, where no one else could see, were the words I am loved.

Sixteen-year-old Iris Moody is what you might call a “troubled” kid. After her mother was killed by a drunk driver, her father beat a hasty retreat from Los Angeles, packing them up and relocating to a smaller, unfamiliar place in Santa Cruz – all without consulting Iris. Two years on and she still hasn’t quite come to grips with her mother’s death and her new surroundings. Dad is unhelpful at best, consumed as he is with his new job at a juice company; he seems completely oblivious to Iris’s feelings, including her mounting anger management issues.

When Iris is arrested (in a true “well that escalated quickly” moment) for making death threats and assaulting her English teacher during final exams, she’s sentenced to six weeks of community service and mandatory therapy – along with summer school, of course. Her court-appointed lawyer thinks he’s doing Iris a favor when he scores her a coveted volunteer spot, working with rescue dogs at Ruff Rehabilitation. The only problem is, Iris inherited her mother’s fear of dogs.

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Book Review: The Well, Catherine Chanter (2015)

Monday, May 25th, 2015

One person’s paradise is another person’s perdition.

three out of five stars

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

There is one last emotion, though, which I have not anticipated. I am feeling smug. There, you thought you were just guarding a middle-aged crank who had delusions of grandeur, but now you’ll have to think twice, smart-arse.

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day. I dance like a witch doctor around the sitting room.

Determined to salvage her marriage – not to mention what’s left of her husband’s sanity – Ruth Ardingly agrees to trade in her London home for a small farm in the country. Hailing from a long line of farmers, it was always Mark’s dream to work the land, reveling in nature and solitude and self-sufficiency. Yet he forfeited these plans when, as a college student, he met and fell in love with Ruth – already pregnant from a one-night stand. Instead, he pursued a law degree, committed himself to Ruth and their daughter Angie, and settled for an ordinary, middle-class existence.

And then came the child pornography, discovered on his work laptop. Though Mark was investigated and eventually exonerated, that didn’t stop the harassment and social ostracization. So Ruth acquiesced, hoping that the change of scenery and fresh air would do them both a world of good. Perhaps it might have, had the move not come smack dab in the middle of a drought – a drought to which their new, thirty-acre paradise seems immune.

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DNF Review: The Shark Curtain, Chris Scofield (2015)

Friday, April 24th, 2015

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Goodreads’s First Reads program. Trigger warning for sexual assault and offensive language.)

Set against the changing terrain of middle-class values and the siren calls of art and puberty, The Shark Curtain invites us into Lily Asher’s wonderful, terrible world. The older of two girls growing up in suburban Portland, Oregon, in the mid-1960s, her inner life stands in quirky contrast to the loving but dysfunctional world around her.

Often misunderstood by her flawed but well-intentioned parents, teenage Lily orbits their tumultuous love affair, embracing what embraces her back: the ghost of her drowned dog, a lost aunt, numbers, shoe boxes, werewolves, rituals, and stories she pens herself (including one about a miscarried sibling she dubs “Frog Boy”). With “regular” visits from a wisecracking Jesus, an affectionate but combative friendship is born–a friendship that strains Lily’s grasp of reality as much as her patience.

From the violence of a Peeping Tom and catching Mom in flagrante delicto with the neighbor, to jungles in her closet, butlers under her bed, and barking in public, Lily struggles to balance her family’s expectations with the visions that continue to isolate her.

DNF at 36%. I just couldn’t with the nonhuman animals.

The same thing that first drew me to The Shark Curtain was what ultimately turned me off. I had foolishly assumed (hoped?) that the “ghost dog” would already belong to the spirit world at the story’s outset. Instead, we meet Mrs. Wiggins, an elderly St. Bernard who’s dying a slow and seemingly painful death due to cancer, on page ten.

My oldest dog, Peedee, has cancer; and Bucky and Cap, my childhood dogs – incidentally, St. Bernard-collie mixes – both died of cancer when I was twelve. My heart was not ready for this.

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Book Review: Lessons from a Dog, Patrick Moberg (2014)

Monday, November 10th, 2014

Do your dog a favor & pick up a “Mutts” treasury instead…

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

“Take naps.” “When someone kindly prepares food for you, devour it smiling like it’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten.” “Let your friends know you miss them.”

Lessons from a Dog is a cute little gift book, filled with wit and wisdom from our canine friends. Illustrated with simple yet adorable drawings, some of the advice found in Lessons from a Dog is pretty great – “Your presence can help a friend more than you may know.”; “Bark as big as you feel, but know when you might be outmatched – and, if you’re really passionate, don’t let that stop you.” – and I was ready and eager to give it a smiley four-star rating. And then I spotted the page celebrating dog sledding, and my heart sank.

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Book Review: The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances, Ellen Cooney (2014)

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Sweet, But Sometimes Problematic

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

Evie. Female. Twenty-four. Petite in stature and preppy in appearance – yet surprisingly strong and resilient. Has low self esteem and abandonment issues due to a divorce in the home. Graduated from college with a degree in literature and an addiction to cocaine; dropped out of graduate school. Neat, organized, and motivated to learn. Can be a self-starter, if given the opportunity. Sometimes too quick to give up. Needs guidance and a sense of belonging.

Lucille. Female. Fifty. Divorced. Will only answer to “Mrs. Auberchon.” Prim, prickly, and slow to disclose personal information (or any information). Does not make friends easily, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle of loneliness and alienation. When given a job, will take to it fastidiously. Needs a purpose and a nice, cozy role to retire into. Potentially aggressive, occasionally paranoid. Anxiety meds should be considered.

Like so many strays before her – both human and canine – Evie is adrift when she arrives at the Sanctuary. Fresh out of rehab (a little too fresh, some might say), Evie is searching for direction, guidance – a new purpose in life. Though she’s never been interested in dogs – never even been owned by a dog, in point o’ facts – she impulsively answers a dog training ad she spotted while browsing classifieds on the internet. (“Would you like to become a dog ?”) With a little finagling and fudging of the truth, her application is accepted – Evie is headed to the mountaintop school for dogs!

Upon Evie’s arrival, she’s temporarily waylaid at the inn at the base of the mountain. It’s here that her training begins – Evie just doesn’t know it yet. One by one she’s introduced to her future students: Josie, a nippy little lady who lost her longtime home to the new baby. Shadow, who spent most of his life on the end of the chain and is now training (somewhat unsuccessfully) to be a search and rescue dog. Hank, who doesn’t take kindly to wooden objects and can’t stop obsessively pacing back and forth, back and forth. Tasha, a chronically depressed and anxious Rottweiler who was dumped from a car.

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Book Review: Project Unicorn, Volume 1: 30 Young Adult Short Stories Featuring Lesbian Heroines, Sarah Diemer & Jennifer Diemer (2012)

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Monstrously Beautiful

five out of five stars

Project Unicorn (“A Lesbian YA Extravaganza!”) is a ya fiction project created by the wife-wife writing team of Sarah Diemer (Love Devours; The Dark Wife) and Jennifer Diemer (Sappho’s Fables). Though the project is currently on hold, the idea is this: every week they post two free short stories on their website; these are gathered in a monthly zine, along with two previously-unpublished titles, which you can buy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords. There’s also a quarterly edition that includes the contents of the previous three ‘zines, which is also available on etsy. As of this writing, there exist six zines and two volumes.

I first discovered Project Unicorn by way of “The Witch Sea,” an enchanting story about a witch named Meriel and the unexpected love she feels for a sea creature named Nor. A multi-generational feud has placed Meriel in the heartbreaking position of denying Nor that which she most desperately years for: the depths of the sea. I loved it so much that I promptly added all of Sarah Diemer’s titles to my wishlist.

The stories found in Project Unicorn, Volume 1 are every bit as magical as “The Witch Sea.” Beautiful, glorious, rainbow-hued magic. Accompanied by a menagerie of fantastical creatures – Kelpie unicorns, werecats, Victorian mermaids, kind-hearted witches, demons, even trees made human – the authors invite us to find and embrace the weirdness, the alienation, the darkness within ourselves. Those monsters staring at us through the glass of a magical compact? They are different from us, but…also the same. And that’s a wonderful thing. There’s light in the forest, yo.

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Book Review: The Shadow Year, Hannah Richell (2014)

Friday, June 6th, 2014

A Tense Psychological Drama

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program. Trigger warning for rape and violence. The second half of the review contains spoilers, which are clearly marked as such.)

The Peak District cottage couldn’t have dropped into Lila’s lap at a better time. Still mourning the death of her five-day-old infant Milly – and haunted by the accident that sent Lila into labor two months prematurely, the details of which still elude her – Lila needs a change of a scenery, a project to keep her busy, and (perhaps most of all) some time away from her husband Tom. Long since abandoned and falling steadily into disrepair, the remote, diamond-in-the-rough cabin certainly fits the bill.

Adding to the cottage’s air of mystery is its unknown origins: this was an anonymous gift. Lila’s father, recently struck down by a heart attack, is the most likely benefactor; but the lawyers are holding fast to their client’s wishes, leaving Lila to speculate about the cabin’s original owner and his intentions in gifting this beautiful and seemingly untouched piece of land to her.

This is in July. For the next twelve months – “The Shadow Year” – Lila’s story alternates, month-by-month, with the events that transpired in the cabin in the summer of 1980 through 1981. The beginning of the flashback story sees five college friends – Kat, Carla, Ben, Mac, and Simon – visit the lake one lazy summer afternoon. Newly graduated and facing the daunting prospect of finding employment in the face of a recession, the friends decide to claim the seemingly abandoned cottage as their own. Instead of jumping on the treadmill to adulthood, they embark upon a one-year project to see if they can rough it on their own.

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Book Review: The Tell-Tail Heart: A Cat Cozy, Monica Shaughnessy (2014)

Monday, May 26th, 2014

A Cat of Letters

four out of five stars

“There are no coincidences, only cats with impeccable timing.”

Philadelphia, 1842. A series of most unusual and gruesome murders has left the city on edge. In a fortnight, the bodies of two women have been discovered: each with their throats slashed – and their expensive, prosthetic glass eyes stolen right out of their sockets. Speculation runs the gamut: could “The Glass Eye Killer” be building an automaton, one stolen body part at a time? Maybe he’s making a patchwork doll? Or perhaps it’s something about these fake eyes (both pale blue) that triggers the madman to kill? Either way, with little to go on, it appears that the local police won’t soon unmask the killer or his depraved motives.

Little Cattarina – “Catters” to her Eddie – is thrust into the middle of this human mystery when she stumbles upon a wayward glass eye while prowling the floors of Shakey House, a local pub. Much to her surprise and delight, the pilfered eye drags Eddie (as in Edgar Allen Poe) out of his funk. The Glass Eye Killer inspires him to begin a new story, which will eventually be known as “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

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Book Review: I Could Chew on This: And Other Poems by Dogs, Francesco Marciuliano (2013)

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

The Opposite of Dog Shaming / When I See You I Fart

four out of five stars

It’s not easy being a dog
Especially when your person
Thinks you look good in hats

Francesco Marciuliano, the genius behind I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats, gives dogs their day with I Could Chew on This: And Other Poems by Dogs. From the mundane (“Doorbell,” “Bath,” “Hoarding”) to the irreverent (“On the TV,” “Judgement Call,” “Alpha”), truly gross (“Buffet”), and downright unexpected (“I’ve Been Watching”) Marciuliano delves into the minds of our dog friends. The poems found within these pages aren’t likely to win any awards, but they did win the heart of this dog lady.

(I am guardian to five rescued dogs – previously seven, but the oldest two passed just several months before this book was published – and foster mom to many. Well, just one so far – we had to take a hiatus when our oldest dog was diagnosed with cancer – but I have grand plans. The moral of the story is that I want to pet all the dogs, okay.)

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Mini-Review: Robot Pony, Madeline Claire Franklin (2011)

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Robot Poooohhhhnnnnnyyyyyyy!!!!

four out of five stars

Sick of the army of dolls that have invaded her closets and toy chests, little Amanda desperately wants a pony for Christmas. A real, living, breathing pony. When dad brings home a robot pony, brand spanking new out of his tech company’s lab (“Not a doll!”), she’s inconsolable. (The horror!) Big sister Jenn, who’s more into her father’s gadgets than she, offers to assemble the pony for her…and promptly falls in love with Po, as Jenn names him/her/it. Over the course of the winter, Jenn and Po share many adventures together. She grooms the robot pony, reads to him, and snuggles up against him at night. Since robot ponies are the next big thing, Amanda sometimes “uses” Po as well, her lack of care and compassion causing this reader to breathe a sigh of relief that she didn’t receive that “real” pony she originally asked for.

But with spring’s promises of rebirth and new travels for the two friends comes news of a recall. Po is dangerous, says Jenn’s dad, and must be taken back to the lab and melted down. But not before Jenn and Po get one last day together.

Robot Pony is a bittersweet story about love and loss and what it means to be alive – and “human.” It sucked me in with the ’80s style artwork and had me hooked, start to finish.

Alas, the story only occupies the first 34% of the book; the rest is bonus features, including excerpts from Madeline Claire Franklin’s fairy tale series The Poppet and the Lune. While I expected a short story, the conclusion caught me by surprise: the story can’t be over, I still have 66% of the book to go!

Robot Pony ends abruptly and much too soon. Normally I’m down with dark, melancholic endings, but this one just bummed me out. I sort of expected the plucky heroine to save the day, but no such luck.

I was all:

null

Robot Poooohhhhnnnnnyyyyyyy!!!! ((shaking my fist at the sky))

And yet, no regrets. Franklin’s writing is so evocative and masterful – and so full of heart – that I plan on checking out some of her full-length novels in the very near future.

(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: Picture Me Gone, Meg Rosoff (2013)

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Not all that’s lost is meant to be found…

four out of five stars

Just days before Mila and her father are to travel from London to visit him, Gil’s childhood friend Matthew goes missing from his home in upstate New York. He leaves behind a wife, Suzanne; a new baby, Gabriel; a faithful old dog, Honey – and countless secrets, just waiting to be uncovered.

Named after her grandfather’s terrier, Mila is a bit of a hound herself. Whereas Gil’s talents lie in translating words from one language to another – and her mother Marieka’s, translating feelings into music – Mila is able to read the subtleties of a person, room, or situation and assemble these puzzle pieces into a coherent picture. She’s a sort of mentalist, or a tween Sherlock, if you will; the antithesis to her father’s bumbling academic. Mila peers into souls.

When Matthew disappears, she and Gil set off to New York as planned, with the goal of reuniting Matthew with his family – or at least finding out what became of him. Mila discovers more than she bargained for, including one of her own father’s lies, as well as a sudden and unexpected desire to be treated like the child that she is for a change.

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Book Review: Feed (The Newsflesh Trilogy #1), Mira Grant (2010)

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

BRILLIANT!

five out of five stars

“The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we had created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.”

Two-thirds of the news team which will eventually come to be known as “After the End Times,” adopted siblings Georgia and Shaun Mason are used to chasing danger. (Although, as an Irwin, Shaun is much more accustomed to poking dangerous things with sticks than his Newsie sister.) Together with Fictional-slash-tech whiz Georgette “Buffy” Meissonier, as well as a supporting cast of countless beta bloggers, the After the End Times crew is devoted to pursuing the truth at any and all costs. When their team is selected out of hundreds (thousands?) of other bloggers to accompany moderate Republican Senator Peter Ryman as he embarks on his presidential campaign, some of them will be asked to pay the ultimate price, as the friends are unwittingly thrust into a shadowy conspiracy to steal the presidency, terrorize the populace, and engender fear to facilitate the hijacking of the Constitution.

Feed is unlike many zombie stories I’ve read of late – most notably because the zombie menace seemingly takes a backseat to political intrigue, assassination attempts, and other human-created threats. And yet I don’t quite agree with other reviewers who claim that this isn’t a zombie story.

Kellis-Amberlee – so named for Dr. Alexander Kellis, the scientist whose cure for the common cold was prematurely unleashed on the world by well-meaning “ecoterrorists,” and Amanda Amberlee, the first child to see her cancer cured via infection with the Marburg EX19 virus (when combined, the viruses unexpectedly caused the dead to rise) – colors every aspect of this world. While the survivors are mostly able to insulate themselves from the zombie threat, it comes at a great price: large public gatherings are a thing of the past; dating mostly happens online (and it’s a wonder that reproduction happens at all); privacy is sacrificed for safety at almost every turn; and people no longer have the ability to move about freely. Huge swaths of the United State are restricted, open only to those with a certain level of safety training. Kellis-Amberlee primarily causes conversion in the dead – but everyone is infected with varying levels of the virus, and spontaneous reamplification among the living and otherwise healthy is rare, but possible. The virus has effectively isolated humanity from itself. Everyone is suspect; no one can be trusted.

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The Great CriFSMas Food (and More) Roundup, 2013 edition!

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

It felt like I did a ridiculous amount of baking this Christmas – so, when I went and looked back at last year’s roundup, I nearly fainted in disbelief. (Full disclosure: there may have also been a food coma involved, due to the copious amounts of sugar I’ve been ingesting.) Did I seriously make a dozen plus batches of cookies last year? Little old me?

Fun story: after feeling super-smug and self-satisfied over my achievement of baking FIVE WHOLE BATCHES of cookies in one day, I headed on over to tumblr – where some lady posted about the 40 donuts and multiple trays of cookies she baked in one afternoon. Whoops! There goes my self-confidence!

So anyway, here’s the Great CriFSMas Food Roundup, 2013 edition! But with bonus x-mas presents and vegan pop culture observations.

First up: the noms. As per usual, let’s start with dessert, shall we? All the cookies are from Kelly Peloza’s The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, a review of which I’ll probably have for y’all soon. Unless. Maybe I need to try out a few more recipes? You know, for the love of science and books and all that is holy and sugar-dusted.

2013-12-22 - VCC Glazed Rum Raisin Cookies - 0001

Glazed Rum Raisin Cookies – With their copious amounts of liquor and strong rummy taste, these cookies aren’t for kids. Very tasty and easy to bake, though I opted to make my glaze into more of an icing, so as not to risk the cookies sticking to one another during storage. If you go this route, start out with less rum. I ended up with way more icing than I could use. Or drink! (Yes, I actually tried that.)

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Chewy Caramel Pecan Cookies – SO GOOD! Caramel and pecans, what’s not to love? Well, the cookies’ inherent stickiness, for starters: I had to refrigerate the sheet of cookies for about ten minutes before I was able to peel them from the parchment paper without tearing the cookies to shreds. I wonder if my batter was too wet; the caramel pecan mix didn’t get especially thick, which resulted in a very sticky cookie dough. Further experimentation may be required.

Also, pro tip: these cookies have mad spread, so space them far, far apart. As in four cookies to a medium-sized tray. No kidding!

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Book Review: The Illegal Rebirth of Billy the Kid, Rebecca Ore (1991)

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Of Mythoconstructs and Men

four out of five stars

* Caution: minor spoilers ahead! Also, trigger warning for discussions of rape. *

Billy the Kid keeps dying.

Night after night, it seems, Sheriff Pat Garrett guns down Henry McCarty in Pete Maxwell’s darkened bedroom – after, of course, an evening romp with Celsa Gutierrez, one of The Kid’s many female admirers. But bleeding through these “real” memories come images of a distant, nightmare world: a trocar jammed in Billy’s neck. A coffin filled with a warm salt bath. Dozens of Celsas: always the same, but different. A man – Pat Garrett, but not really – spying, killing, reviving. “Like a God.”

Henry McCarty has been dead for centuries, but in 2067 his memories – or rather, the history books’ construction of them – live on in a Billy the Kid chimera. Commonly referred to as “nonhumans,” “animals,” and “dog meat,” chimeras are beings made out of “rebuilt” animal cells. Purchased by wealthy civilians as pets and exploited by the government as “meat-robot” spies, many chimera look physically human – though they can be made to a variety of weird specifications (Luna, for example, has fangs like a vampire). While their DNA is indistinguishable from that of “real” humans, by law the DNA of chimeras must be branded with a special DNA marker. The recreation of criminal personalities is outlawed.

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