Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep #1) by Mira Grant (2017)

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

No one does mermaids like Mira Grant.

four out of five stars

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

Did you really think we were the apex predators of the world?

“You still chasing mermaids, Vic?” he asked.
“I’ve never been chasing mermaids,” she said. “I’ve only ever been chasing Anne.”

I’m a huge Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire fan, and her mermaid stories are among my favorites. (Zombies are grrrrrrate, but no one does mermaids quite like Mira Grant.) When I saw the prequel to Into the Drowning Deep, a novella called Rolling in the Deep, I snatched it up…but, being a mere 123 pages long, it just left me wanting more: more science (fiction), more killer mermaids, more heart-stopping suspense, more blood and gore and viscera. Somewhere in between a short story and a full-length book, it lacked the crisp concision of the former and the delicious, drawn out horror of the latter.

Enter: Into the Drowning Deep, which is exactly what I was craving. Pro tip: read Rolling in the Deep as if it was a prologue to Into the Drowning Deep. It’ll feel so much more satisfying that way.

In 2015, the Atargatis set off on a scientific expedition to the Mariana Trench. Ostensibly, their mission was to find evidence of mermaids. Really, though, they were there to film a mockumentary on behalf of their employer, an entertainment network called Imagine (think: SyFy). The hoax quickly turned into a bloodbath when they discovered what they were/weren’t looking for.

The Atargatis was found six weeks later, floating several hundred miles off course, completely devoid of human occupants. The only clue as to what became of her two hundred crew and passengers was a smashed up control room and shaky film footage showing what looked like – but couldn’t possibly be – a mermaid attack.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: The Daily Question: My Five-Year Spiritual Journal by Waterbrook (2017)

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

A little more secular than expected.

three out of five stars

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

– 3.5 stars –

A journal subtitled “My Five-Year Spiritual Journal” isn’t something I’d normally pick up, being an atheist and all. And probably this same quality also means I’m not the best person to review The Daily Question. So, grain of salt and all that jazz.

Two out of three of the sample questions on Blogging for Books seemed secular enough, so I decided to give it a try. And while there are some overtly religious (read: Christian) prompts – “How does Jesus love people through you?”; “How has God tangibly shown love to you this week?”; “What in Scripture are you grappling with these days?” – most are much more general and applicable to people of all faiths (or none). In fact, it feels a lot like another five-year, guided journal I reviewed called Q&A a Day: 5-Year Journal … just with a few Christian-themed questions sprinkled in here and there.

In fact, many of the same issues I had with Q&A a Day are applicable here, too: the dimensions of the journal are small, just a tick over 4″x6″. But it’s very thick (1 1/4″), which makes writing anything below the top third of the page very difficult (your hand just kind of falls off the cliff edge to flop around awkwardly). Each page provides space for five answers – one a year over five years – which is cool. But the lines are very cramped and don’t leave a whole lot of room for elaboration. A more generously sized journal would be so much nicer, don’t you think?

I do like the design of the cover – it’s hardcover, with a rich and soothing texture to it – and the bookmark ribbon is a nice touch. The prompts are engaging and varied, though devoutly religious users may desire more Biblically-inspired items. I counted this as a positive but, as I said, grain of salt.

(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: peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva (2017)

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

poems that bristle and bite

five out of five stars

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

mami does not understand why you like holes
in your shoes, in your tights, in your gloves.
what did you want to seep through, brown girl
with bangs? a song not written about you?
really, you were being a seamstress
just like your abuela in the living room making
skirts out of curtains, just making adjustments,
just making holes in places your new skin
was supposed to be.

(“Ode to Brown Girls With Bangs”)

i don’t know if i feel in love
feel beautiful
or just feel
maybe we all need some rest

(“Self-Portrait With Historical Moments”)

I was so excited about this book that I did something I rarely do – namely, brave Adobe Digital Editions to read an ARC. (It is forever crashing my machine, okay.) Lately I’ve been digging poetry more and more and, between the book’s stunning cover and the rave early reviews, I just knew I’d love peluda. And I did! I mean, I do!

Growing up, I always felt weird and awkward and hairy – hairier than most of the other girls around me, anyway, the popular ones in particular. Okay, so maybe I’m one of the white girls Lozada-Oliva writes about in “Yosra Strings Off My Mustache Two Days After the Election in a Harvard Square Bathroom” –

the ones who don’t shave
for political reasons, the ones who took
an entire election cycle to grow
out a tuft of armpit hair

– which is to say my Italian-German self is only “hairy” when held up to modern beauty standards, e.g., not terribly hairy at all. Maybe I can’t really relate. Even so. I adored all of the twenty-one poems that make up peluda just the same.

Over on her Facebook page, Lozada-Oliva describes peluda as “my yellow chapbook about my hairy latina feels,” which seems as apt a description as any. Lozada-Oliva tackles such weighty topics as beauty, assimilation, racist microaggressions, sex, shame, depression/metal health stigma, alienation, George Zimmerman, and, yes, body hair: clumps and heads and volumes and rivers of hair. Melissa’s Guatemalan immigrant mother Josefina was/is a beautician, so her schooling started early. Her words radiate with ferocity and hunger and wit that doesn’t cut so much as claw and devour.

There’s so much to love here, but one piece really stands out: “Wolf Girl Suite,” which is really a story told in five acts. With all the elements of a feminist horror flick, I am aching to see this one adapted for the screen. Coming to a theater near you, Halloween 2021?

“Ode to Brown Girls With Bangs,” “You Use Your Hands So Much When You Talk,” “You Know How to Say Arroz con Polla but Not What You Are,” “What If My Last Name Got a Bikini Wax, Too,” and “We Play Would You Rather at the Galentine’s Day Party” are other favorites too. But they’re all pretty great.

fyi, there are a number of videos of Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s spoken word poetry up on YouTube, and it’s even more powerful in person. Lozada-Oliva’s delivery is sometimes surprisingly funny, with a dark sense of humor that isn’t always – plainly? – evident in written form (at least not to me, anyhow). Here are just two that grabbed me by the amygdala and refuse to let go.

 

Table of Contents

Origin Regimen
Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe She Got Up Early
Ode to Brown Girls With Bangs
Lip / Stain / Must / Ache
I’m Sorry, I Thought You Were Your Mother
You Use Your Hands So Much When You Talk
AKA What Would Jessica Jones Do?
You Know How to Say Arroz con Polla but Not What You Are
My Hair Stays on Your Pillow Like a Question Mark
What If My Last Name Got a Bikini Wax, Too
The Women in My Family Are Bitches
I Shave My Sister’s Back Before Prom
We Play Would You Rather at the Galentine’s Day Party
Wolf Girl Suite
It’s Funny the Things That Stick With You
Mami Says Have You Been Crying
Self-Portrait With Historical Moments
Light Brown Noise
I’m So Ready
House Call
Yosra Strings Off My Mustache Two Days After the Election in a Harvard Square Bathroom

 

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

Mini-Review: Fliers: 20 Small Posters with Big Thoughts by Nathaniel Russell (2017)

Friday, October 27th, 2017

Is it a book? An art project? A new life philosophy? All of the above?

four out of five stars

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

Nathaniel Russell’s Fliers: 20 Small Posters with Big Thoughts is exactly what it says it is – a book of mini tear-out posters with Big – and sometimes Absurd – Ideas. Based on the sort of fliers that litter/decorate telephone poles, community billboards, and other public spaces, Russell’s art pairs a simple, minimalist aesthetic with the sort of weird and random thoughts of a full-time stoner. The result is whimsical, funny, and – at times – profound AF.

Being an Animal Person, my favorite posters are those modeled on “lost dog” fliers, in part because they’re a lot more whimsical and lighthearted than their sad and tragic cousins. “Found Dog” is the sort of thing I’ve fantasized about posting,

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and “The Opposite of Lost” is the plot of what could be an amazing, vegan-friendly animal uprising flick. (Think Planet of the Apes, minus the inter-species speciesism.)

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A few of the posters fell flat with me, but overall this is a pretty kickass collection. Many of the prints – or variations thereof – are available for perusal on the author’s website. Some aren’t even in the book, but should have been. (“I wish I was born an animal support system network,” I’m looking at you!)

As for the practical design of the book, the posters are printed on heavy cardstock, perfect for framing, hanging, displaying, etc. Though it’s a paperback (kind of), the book comes with a dust jacket that unfolds to reveal – wait for it – a photo of a telephone pole.

Whether you choose to regard it as a book of art or a collection of posters, Fliers is a neat little thingamajiggie.

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

Mini-Review: Comics for a Strange World: A Book of Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand (2017)

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Welcome to sideways world.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley and Edelweiss.)

If you’ve ever read Reza Farazmand’s web comic Poorly Drawn Lines, then you know more or less what you’re in for here: irreverent humor, a dash of commonsense observations, and just the right about of black comedy.

Comics for a Strange World is a bit hit-or-miss; a equal number of the pieces had me guffawing in happy shock as did those that stumbled and fell flat. A fair number seem a direct response to this crazy, heart-wrenching Drumpf era we now find ourselves in; see, e.g., the opening panel, which is the first of five favorites I included below.

But don’t worry: Ernesto the talking bear and his duck sidekick Kevin make several appearances, and this strange world is also populated with a fair number of talking animals, self-aware ghosts – and even a dinosaur packing heat. (“It’s his right.”)

Try it! You won’t be sorry, and you just might help Ernesto out of that slump.

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

 

Mini-Review: How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green (2017)

Friday, October 20th, 2017

The Cutest

five out of five stars

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

Written in the form of a how-to guide, Rebecca Green’s How to Make Friends with a Ghost is, in a word, adorable. Like, it just doesn’t get any cuter than this. (Seriously, just check out this photo on the author’s website. ADORBS!)

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2017-09-30 - Friends with a Ghost - 0010 [flickr]

For the Casper-curious, Green advises readers on how to attract a spectral friend, keep him entertained and content, and protect him from harm. As it turns out, ghosts aren’t all that different from us: they enjoy nature, dancing, reading, socializing, and personal hygiene. But they do have some special needs; ghosts, for example, look a lot like various white fluffy foodstuffs, so it’s easy to nom on them without even knowing. And even though they resemble tissue, boogers are not a ghost’s best friend.

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(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Sorrow of the Earth: Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull and the Tragedy of Show Business by Éric Vuillard (2017)

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

What did I just read?

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review. Trigger warning for violence against Native Americans, including genocide.)

However, the real spark was elsewhere. The central idea of the Wild West Show lay somewhere else. The aim was to astound the public with an intimation of suffering and death which would never lose its grip on them. They had to be drawn out of themselves, like little silver fish in a landing net. They had to be presented with human figures who shriek and collapse in a pool of blood. There had to be consternation and terror, hope, and a sort of clarity, an extreme truth cast across the whole of life. Yes, people had to shudder—a spectacle must send a shiver through everything we know, it must catapult us ahead of ourselves, it must strip us of our certainties and sear us. Yes, a spectacle sears us, despite what its detractors say. A spectacle steals from us, and lies to us, and intoxicates us, and gives us the world in every shape and form. And sometimes, the stage seems to exist more than the world, it is more present than our own lives, more moving and more persuasive than reality, more terrifying than our nightmares.

There’s no mistaking the sound of iniquity on the move.

Originally published in France in 2014 (under the title Tristesse de la terre), Sorrow of the Earth is the first of Éric Vuillard’s novels to be translated into English. A work of historical fiction, it tells the story of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show, which traveled throughout the United States and Europe, under various names, for thirty years around the turn of the century (1883–1913).

While the show featured a number of performers and attractions – including Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank Butler; trick shooter Lillian Smith; Calamity Jane; and reenactments of the riding of the Pony Express trail and stagecoach robberies, to name a few – Vuillard centers the narrative on Native Americans, to great effect. The Wild West show employed a number of Indigenous performers, most notably Sitting Bull, as well as survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre. Perversely, these last were hired in part to perform in a reenactment of their own victimization; only instead of a massacre, the audience witnessed a battle: “the Buffalo Bill interpretation of the facts,” to quote Vuillard. Likewise, in Cody’s reimaging of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, none other than Buffalo Bill himself swoops in at the last moment to avenge Custer and his men.

In other words, the show glorified its star and ringmaster, while rewriting history and vilifying the oppressed Native populations. To add insult to injury, Indigenous people were recruited to assist in their own denigration.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan (2017)

Friday, October 13th, 2017

A shrewd interrogation of rape culture – now with dark magic!

four out of five stars

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

“The single most important thing to know about magic is that there is always a price. Making the impossible possible is difficult, as it should be, so I must weigh results against what I am willing to pay. It is never a gratuitous thing. This makes some people—people like Silas—disbelievers. They see my unwillingness to perform on command as a sign that the magic is untrue. Let them drown in their ignorance. When it is time for them to know a witch’s wrath, they will know it—and there will be no mistaking it.”

Seventeen-year-old Bethan Jones is a diddicoy: born to a Romany mother and a gadjo father, she was left in the care of her caravan’s wise woman, Drina, after the death of her mother Eira during childbirth. Her apprenticeship under the drabarni should have kept her safe – and might have, under other circumstances. But the chieftain’s son, Silas, has set his sights on Bethan. Silas is spoiled, entitled, and cruel; a dangerous powderkeg of toxic masculinity and male privilege that his father Wen (himself a recovering teenage bully) lacks the fortitude to extinguish.

So it’s no surprise when Silas’s sexual harassment and stalking of Bethan escalates to rape. Silas and his four cronies ambush Bethan and her would-be beau, Martyn, on the way home from market. The assault leaves Bethan physically and psychologically scarred – and desperate to save Martyn, who’s left for dead after the attack. With the help of Gran and her dark magic, Bethan just might be able to resurrect Martyn, while exacting revenge on her assailants too. She has three days to collect a finger, an eye, a nose, a tooth, and an ear from the five boys. What becomes of them after the harvest is entirely up to Bethan.

I was super-excited when I first heard of The Hollow Girl. Lately I’m really into rape revenge stories; as I said in my review of A Guide for Murdered Children, if done right, rape revenge stories can provide a satisfying outlet/alternative to real life, where rape is more likely to be excused and minimized than punished and condemned. Throw in the supernatural twist and diverse cast of characters, and I’m sold.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colón (2017)

Friday, October 6th, 2017

Important, though occasionally repetitive and hard to follow.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads. Trigger warning for violence, including torture.)

The Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program – otherwise known as “The Torture Report” – is the result of a three-and-a-half-year bipartisan Senate investigation into the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA in the wake of 9/11. Weighing in at 6,000 pages, the entirety of the report has yet to be released; rather, in December 9, 2014, the SSCI released a 525-page version containing key findings and an executive summary of the full report.

Among the committee’s twenty key findings:

* The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.

* The CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.

* The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.

* The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice (DOJ), impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

* The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

* The CIA’s operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies.

* The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

* CIA detainees were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters.

* The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained, and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention. The CIA’s claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced interrogation techniques were inaccurate.

* The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious or significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systematic and individual management failures.

* The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program was inherently unsustainable and had effectively ended by 2006 due to unauthorized press disclosures, reduced cooperation from other nations, and legal and oversight concerns.

* The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States’ standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Creeps (Deep Dark Fears Collection #2) by Fran Krause (2017)

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

everything to fear

three out of five stars

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

The second in cartoonist Fran Krause’s “Deep Dark Fears Collection,” The Creeps is a compendium of reader-submitted fears, given eerie, undead life by the author’s illustrations. The result is a little uneven, but ultimately enjoyable.

With ninety-seven new fears, it’s more likely than not that you’ll spot one or two or several dozen of your own fears in these here pages. A certified crazy dog person ™, Fear #7 (your animal friends are only being nice to you because you’re dying, and only they know it) hit me right in the feels.

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Ditto: just about every panel about being followed, stalked, robbed, or accidentally maimed.

The supernatural ones didn’t have as much of a chilling effect, but that’s just because I don’t believe; I found them entertaining, if anything. Fears eleven, twenty-nine, and thirty-eight actually read a lot like those “horror stories in 140 characters or less” that pop on Twitter every now and again.

While many of the panels are dominated by ghosts and other monsters (sadly, not many zombies!), some are disconcertingly mundane and, um, relatable. Take this one from anonymous:

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That one hits a little too close to home for comfort, mkay.

On a lighter note, I absolutely delighted in number thirty, on account of my youngest brother sold his soul to a kindergarten classmate – for five cents, I think? Or was it a piece of candy? – way back in the mid-90’s. Either way, cue The Wonder Years nostalgia.

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The ones involving murdered and dismembered animals – haunting their consumers, resembling the look or feel of human flesh a little closely – made me, the vegan, entirely too smug.

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Don’t worry, the coming superbugs (thanks, animal ag.!) will probably kill me the same as you.

The Creeps is an, erm, interesting reading choice for someone prone to anxiety, as I am. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll lay away at night, wondering whether that strange scratching noise you hear in the walls is actually a homeless person living in your attic. Or a rabid bat about to bust out of the heating vent and eat your face. Tomato, tomahto.

(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: Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim (2017)

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

misery loves company (or mine does, anyway)

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC through NetGalley.)

my grandmother says
heartache is
a hungry caterpillar
that must be fed
so it can grow
wings
& fly away
(“feed a fever, starve a cold”)

the girl gets carried away.
she is the sugar cube,
love is the cup of
darjeeling – she
dissolves,
faster
than
you
think
she
will.
(“magic trick 001”)

I’d never heard of Sabrina Benaim before spotting (and immediately downloading) a copy of her poetry book, Depression & Other Magic Tricks, on NetGalley. Later I learned that a live reading of her poem “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” went viral a few years back, with over five million views on YouTube, reportedly making Benaim “one of the most-viewed performance poets of all time.” And indeed, it is awesome and lovely and well, well worth the hype:

Though “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” is indeed one of the fifty-three poems found in Depression & Other Magic Tricks, you should definitely check out Benaim’s reading as well; her performance is brimming with frenetic, nervous energy that lends the poem an added sense of urgency. Anyone who has found themselves trying to explain the invisible, elusory monster that is depression to a non-believer will relate to lines like this:

mom says happy is a decision.

OR

mom says i am so good at making
something out of nothing,
and then flat out asks me if i am
afraid of dying.
no,
i am afraid of living.

After the sudden death of my husband earlier this year, I had to make my family understand just how bad my anxiety and depression had gotten in the years since I left home. Like, it was literally a matter of life and death. Survival. Luckily, everyone around me seems to understand what I mean when I say “depression” – thank pop culture or my younger sister, whose issues maybe paved the way for the revelation of mine – but “social anxiety” is a whole ‘nother mess. People hear “social anxiety” and think: Shyness. Introvert. Quiet. Loner. Misanthrope. What they don’t hear is “mental illness.” Drugs (maybe) and therapy (definitely) and professional help. “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” is heartbreaking and darkly funny and entirely too relatable, in more ways than I’d like.

Despite the collection’s title, not all of the poems explicitly focus on depression. Love, grief, parental estrangement, self-esteem, friendship – all make an appearance here, and why not? Life is a multi-faceted thing. Yet many, if not all, of the poems are tinged with an air of sadness, and why not? Depression sinks its poisonous tentacles into everything, it seems. It cannot be cornered or contained. It’s like that damned fog in Stephen King’s “The Mist.”

Aside from the obvious – birds of a feather, and all that jazz – I like Depression & Other Magic Tricks for two reasons: I actually “got” most of the poems, and it’s feminist AF. In this way, it rather reminds me of another book of poetry, Amanda Lovelace’s The Princess Saves Herself in this One. If you enjoyed one, most likely you’ll dig the other.

File Depression & Other Magic Tricks under “seven small ways in which i loved myself this week.”

(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: Writing to Awaken: A Journey of Truth, Transformation, and Self-Discovery by Mark Matousek (2017)

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Writing Exercises for Self-Discovery

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for client case studies that sometimes include disturbing incidents, including rape.)

When I was a child and magic was afoot, the word abracadabra was synonymous with the power of manifestation. I could wave my magic wand over Doris the princess doll, or Boris the stuffed panda, and practically feel them come to life under the gravitas of the spell. Later in life, as a Harvard-trained scientist and researcher in the field of mind-body medicine, I discovered that abracadabra is more than magic-speak or a song by the Steve Miller Band. These Aramaic words mean, “I will create as I speak.”

Tell a story. Believe the story. And voila! It manifests in your cells, your brain, your heart, your behavior, and the choices you make…or don’t. We embody our stories quite literally, as these days we have the brain scans and hormonal assays to prove it. Mark Matousek, who is a writer rather than a scientist, knows this as well. He sometimes refers to us humans as Homo Narrans—the storytelling species. Stories slay and stories heal. Their transformative magic resides in our ability to identify them, learn from them, and—when necessary—change them.

– Joan Borysenko, PhD (“Foreword”)

— 3.5 stars —

I picked up a copy of Writing to Awaken about the same time as Getting Grief Right; I thought that the two books, when taken together, might provide some guidance in using journaling and storytelling to cope with the recent loss of my husband – and perhaps figure out what comes next for me.

Divided into twelve chapters and forty-eight “lessons,” Matousek challenges the reader to dive deeper; to find the truth behind your life story, which is often unreliable, watered down for mass consumption, and altered to omit certain uncomfortable truths. Though I suppose the exercises could help to overcome writer’s block, you don’t necessarily need to be a professional writer to find value here. Rather, Writing to Awaken is for anyone interested in journaling with a heavy emphasis on self-reflection and radical truth telling.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy: A Journal by Robie Rogge & Dian G. Smith (2017)

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Well, I like the *idea* of it…

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books. Click on the images to embiggen.)

— 3.5 stars —

As a naturally gloomy and anxious person – one of my nicknames, and one I wear proudly, is Kelly Killjoy – a “happiness journal” seems like something I could really use in my life. I tend to only journal when things are going sideways, carrying merrily on my way when everything’s coming up roses (or Dave Kim, as it were), resulting in a record of my life that’s skewed heavily toward the negative. And that’s no fun, right?

Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy: A Journal is a pretty swell idea. From its bright yellow cover, decked out in shiny silver and vibrant rainbow text, to its white and orange insides, Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy more or less oozes unicorns and birthday cake and that one REM song. Each page features a happy quote or graphic, along with a writing prompt inspired by said quote. There’s a space to pencil in the date for each exercise and, with the exception of the New Year’s themed ones, you can pretty much pace yourself how you want: work through each page in chronological order; skip around to your heart’s content; or only write when you feel inspired (though skipping days kind of negates the “do one thing every day” part, don’t you think?).

The prompts run the gamut; here are just a few to give you a taste:
* Where scratching felt sweetest day.
* A pleasure of mine that no one can understand.
* My life would seem longer without.
* Why I laughed at myself today.
* A luxury I don’t need in order to be happy.

As much as I love the idea of this journal, as per usual with Clarkson Potter journals, the execution leaves something to be desired. The journal is very small – about 6″ x 4.5″ – making it somewhat difficult to write in. Additionally, many (but not all) of the quotes/graphics take up an inordinate amount of space on the page – usually somewhere around 2/3 to 4/5 of a page, leaving precious little room for your response! The lines are pretty small too, maybe college ruled at best.

I wish they’d go all out and make some oversized journals, preferably with nice, roomy lines – and lay-flat binding, too, while we’re dreaming! Until then, this one will do.

Killjoy, who me?

(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: #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale (2017)

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

“We aren’t historic figures; we are modern women.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for allusions to violence against women, suicidal ideation, genocide, and racism and sexism.)

It’s strange to me how people always want me to be an “authentic Indian.” When I say I’m Haudenosaunee, they want me to look a certain way. Act a certain way. They’re disappointed when what they get is . . . just me. White-faced, red-haired. They spent hundreds of years trying to assimilate my ancestors, trying to create Indians who could blend in like me. But now they don’t want me either. I’m not Indian enough. They can’t make up their minds. They want buckskin and war paint, drumming, songs in languages they can’t understand recorded for them, but with English subtitles of course. They want educated, well-spoken, but not too smart. Christian, well-behaved, never questioning. They want to learn the history of the people, but not the ones who are here now, waving signs in their faces, asking them for clean drinking water, asking them why their women are going missing, asking them why their land is being ruined. They want fantastical stories of the Indians that used to roam this land. They want my culture behind glass in a museum. But they don’t want me. I’m not Indian enough.

(“The Invisible Indians,” Shelby Lisk)

Because history moves like a fevered heat down through the arteries of generations
Because PTSD to the family tree is like an ax Because colonization is the ghosts of buffalos with broken backs
Because today only burning flags could be found at the ghost dance of my people

(“Stereotype This,” Melanie Fey)

I feel like I should begin this review with a word of caution: If you see any complaints about formatting problems ahead of the pub date, disregard them. The Kindle version of this ARC is indeed a hot mess, but this is par for the course when it comes to books with a heavy graphic element. The acsm file, read on Adobe Digital Editions (which I loathe, but happily suffered for this book!), gives a much clearer picture of what the finished, physical copy is meant to look like. And, if Amazon’s listing is any indication, #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women will only be released in print.

That said, #Notyourprincess is fierce, vibrant, and nicely organized. It feels a lot like an experimental art project, and I mean that in the best way possible. Within these here pages you’ll find an eclectic mix of personal essays, poems, quotes, photographs, line art, watercolors, comics, portraits of activists and athletes, and interviews with Native women. #LittleSalmonWoman (Lianne Charlie) even adopts the format of an Instagram page, while “More Than Meets the Eye” (Kelly Edzerza-Babty and Claire Anderson) profiles ReMatriate, which shares images of modern Native women on social media in order to reclaim their identities and broaden our ideas of what a “real” Native American woman looks like. (The quote in my review’s title comes from Claire Anderson, a founding member of ReMatriate.)

The topics touched upon run the gamut: genocide, colonization, forced assimilation, cultural appropriation, kidnapping, rape, domestic violence, mass incarceration, mental illness, sexuality, addiction, street harassment, homelessness, and intergenerational trauma.

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Book Review: Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea Ritchie (2017)

Friday, August 25th, 2017

Read. This. Book. Today.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss, as well as a finished copy through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for violence against women and children, including sexual assault and rape, as well as racism, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.)

At the 2004 National Coalition on Police Accountability conference, a man who identified himself as a former member of the Black Panther Party approached me at the end of the workshop. He said that his sister had been raped by a police officer “back in the day,” but he had never understood what happened to her as police brutality until he had heard it framed that way in the workshop. I asked him how he and his sister had described her experience. He answered, somewhat bewildered, that it was “just something bad that happened.” He then thanked me for opening his eyes as to how his sister’s experience fit into the work he had been doing all his life to challenge state violence against Black people.

Chances are, when you hear the words “police brutality,” you picture a young black man – armed with only a bag of Skittles or a cell phone – killed in the streets, either by gunfire or a Taser or with an officer’s bare fists: Philando Castile. Eric Garner. Sean Bell. Mike Brown. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. (Although, at just twelve years old, this last could hardly be described as a man, even a young one.) Yet black women and women of color – including disabled women, trans women, and lesbian and bisexual women – also suffer from racialized police violence, compounded by gender and other axes of oppression.

Black women activists and scholars – such as Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, the founders of #BlackLivesMatter – have begun to shift the conversation in recent years. From the #SayHerName hashtag – created in response to Sandra Bland’s death while in police custody – to the groundbreaking AAPF report “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected,” discussions of police violence are widening to include black women, people of color, people with physical and mental disabilities, LGBTQ and Two Spirit people, sex workers, children, and more.

Andrea Ritchie’s Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color is an invaluable contribution to the literature. She tackles a difficult and admittedly wide-ranging topic with passion, insight, and a boatload of receipts. Ritchie pinpoints seven sites in which black women and women of color are vulnerable to police violence:

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Mini-Review: My Rad Life: A Journal by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl (2017)

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

This is the journal you’ve been waiting for!

five out of five stars

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

— 4.5 stars —

I was lucky enough to snag a review copy of Rad Women Worldwide, part of Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl’s “rad women” series, which began with 2015’s Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! From concept to execution, I adored Rad Women Worldwide, and was over the moon with excitement when I saw that they’d be releasing a journal based on the books.

My Rad Life is (almost!) everything I’d hoped for: fun, stylish, interactive, and diverse af. Miriam Klein Stahl’s artwork is bold and arresting; her simple yet elegant black and white portraits of badass women – from Gloria Steinem to Beyoncé, bell hooks to Shirley Chisholm – provide a lovely and inspirational backdrop for journaling. The art is accompanied by thought-provoking quotes, many of which are used as a jumping-off point for prompts to get the creative juices flowing.

The format is a nice mix of guided and free-form pages: some pages are completely blank; others feature funky, hand-drawn lines (way more interesting than college-ruled spacing!);

and many include a blend of portraits, quotes, and prompts, leaving enough space for scribbling, writing, or drawing.

Unlike the rad women books, My Rad Life: A Journal is softcover. Though it’s lovely, with an embossed logo and everything, I do find myself missing the hardcover from Rad Women Worldwide, which was all kinds of gorgeous (and also more durable). I’d also love it if the journal had that special “lay flat” binding, to make it easier to write in the book. My handwriting is messy enough without having to struggle against the journal. :)

This would make an excellent give for tweens and young adults, particularly those with a budding interest in feminism and women’s history (package it with Rad American Women A-Z and Rad Women Worldwide to make an awesome little gift set). That said, it’s suitable for humans of all ages and gender expressions; I’m barrelling towards forty and loved it just the same.

(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: From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (2016)

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

Where do we go from here?

five out of five stars

From the mutual foundation of slavery and freedom at the country’s inception to the genocide of the Native population that made the “peculiar institution” possible to the racist promulgation of “manifest destiny” to the Chinese Exclusion Act to the codified subordinate status of Black people for a hundred years after slavery ended, they are all grim reminders of the millions of bodies upon which the audacious smugness of American hubris is built. Race and racism have not been exceptions; instead, they have been the glue that holds the United States together.

Pathologizing “Black” crime while making “white” crime invisible creates a barrier between the two, when solidarity could unite both in confronting the excesses of the criminal justice system. This, in a sense, is the other product of the “culture of poverty” and of naturalizing Black inequality. This narrative works to deepen the cleavages between groups of people who would otherwise have every interest in combining forces.

— 4.5 stars —

I picked up From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation expecting a discussion about police brutality, mass incarceration, and the criminalization of blackness and poverty; what I found was a little different, and much more far-reaching.

While Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor does talk about recent, high-profile cases of police brutality and murder – and the protest movement these injustices have birthed – she also goes further back, in order to examine the current wave of activism in its historical context. Reaching as far back as Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1920s and LBJ’s “Great Society” reforms in the 1960s, Taylor shows how each came about as a result of social unrest – and was later undermined and dismantled as activism waned (or was routinely suppressed by the government), often under the guise of some utopian, post-racial colorblindness. Tracing the beginning of harmful racist stereotypes to the rise of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, she argues that the path to black liberation is primarily economic, i.e., dismantling the capitalist system and/or embracing socialist initiatives (presumably resembling the People’s Platform recently presented to the Democrats).

The early chapters on politics that predate me were a little rough to get through, I’m not gonna lie. But this is a personal preference, and you or may not feel the same. Once Taylor hit more contemporary events, my interest picked up too. Her argument is shrewd, impassioned, and all but guaranteed to make you think – even if you don’t agree with her conclusions 100%.

Before my reading, I perused the reviews on Goodreads to get a feel for the material. My attention was drawn to the lone two-star review, which took Taylor to task for ignoring the racism of early leftists, “equating racism by whites & black people’s response to it as if they are on the same level” (which I definitely don’t remember seeing). I think maybe some of the confusion lies in the terms; for example, Taylor frequently criticizes liberals for erasure (e.g., ignoring racism and racial identity in their policies and agendas), or engaging in racism themselves. Can the terms “liberal,” “progressive,” and “socialist” be used interchangeably, though? More importantly, are they here? It wasn’t always clear to me.

To this first point – erasure, for example, by focusing on class instead of race – I wondered what Taylor would make of Bernie Sanders, who has been roundly criticized by women and people of color for throwing these groups under the bus (‘identity politics are divisive’) in order to attract white, middle- and working-class Christian men (i.e., Trump’s base). Taylor does mention Sanders briefly, only to dismiss him as part of the “right wing” of the socialist party. I have to wonder how different (if at all) this book might have looked it it was written and published a year or two later. (fwiw, I supported Sanders in the primary, but voted for Clinton in the general election. I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with Sanders’s focus on white men to the exclusion of marginalized groups. It’s almost like the Dems didn’t learn anything in November!)

Though not without some minor flaws, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation is a book that informs, educates, and challenges. I really hope it gets published with an update four or eight years down the line.

 

Table of Contents

Introduction: Black Awakening in Obama’s America

Chapter 1. A Culture of Racism
Chapter 2. From Civil Rights to Colorblind
Chapter 3. Black Faces in High Places
Chapter 4. The Double Standard of Justice
Chapter 5. Barack Obama: The End of an Illusion
Chapter 6. Black Lives Matter: A Movement, Not a Moment
Chapter 7. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation

Acknowledgments

Notes

About the Author

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

DNF Review: The Little Queen by Meia Geddes (2017)

Monday, August 7th, 2017

DNF at 44%.

Once upon a time there was a little princess who became a little queen when both her parents died unexpectedly. Grieving, lost, and confused, the little queen decides to embark upon a great adventure, traveling the world to learn more about her subjects – and perhaps persuade one of them to take her place. She is not quite sure what a queen does, but whatever it is, she does not think it for her. And so she comes to meet the book sniffer, the dream writer, the sawyer, and the foreshadowing artist, and … well, I’m not sure what happens next, because I gave up right around this point.

It’s not that The Little Queen is a bad book. The writing is lyrical and whimsical and has a dreamlike quality to it. I like the idea of a little queen getting out there and doing her thing, and I love that all the people she meets – from architects to librarians to artists – are women. And the various occupations are pretty darned creative. But.

I had a hard time determining the intended audience for this book. The style of writing makes it feel like a kids’ fairy tale, yet there are a fair number of Jeopardy words sprinkled throughout. It feels quite young, until it doesn’t.

Perhaps more importantly, I simply couldn’t get invested in the story. There isn’t much plot to speak of, and the little queen as a character is one-dimensional. I just didn’t care about her much, one way or the other.

That said, I notice that several reviewers have marked this as a f/f fairy tale, so perhaps it’s worth a second look.

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. This review is also available on Library Thing and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (2017)

Friday, August 4th, 2017

Weary, Cheeky, and (Maybe? Just a Wee Bit?) Wise

four out of five stars

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

So, the thing is, I come from the world we were supposed to have.

That means nothing to you, obviously, because you live here, in the crappy world we do have. But it never should’ve turned out like this. And it’s all my fault—well, me and to a lesser extent my father and, yeah, I guess a little bit Penelope.

It’s hard to know how to start telling this story. But, okay, you know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Flying cars, robot maids, food pills, teleportation, jet packs, moving sidewalks, ray guns, hover boards, space vacations, and moon bases. All that dazzling, transformative technology our grandparents were certain was right around the corner. The stuff of world’s fairs and pulp science-fiction magazines with titles like Fantastic Future Tales and The Amazing World of Tomorrow. Can you picture it?

Well, it happened.

It all happened, more or less exactly as envisioned. I’m not talking about the future. I’m talking about the present. Today, in the year 2016, humanity lives in a techno-utopian paradise of abundance, purpose, and wonder.

Except we don’t. Of course we don’t. We live in a world where, sure, there are iPhones and 3D printers and, I don’t know, drone strikes or whatever. But it hardly looks like The Jetsons. Except it should. And it did. Until it didn’t. But it would have, if I hadn’t done what I did. Or, no, hold on, what I will have done.

It’s amazing how much damage one penis can do.

Tom Barren is an outlier, though not in a good way: he’s a ne’er do well, living in paradise. His is a world of flying cars that can pilot themselves. Of food synthesizers and clothing recyclers. Urban planning taken to outrageous levels, with interlocking buildings, fantastical skyscapes, and massive biosphere preserves. Patches that monitor and adjust your blood alcohol content (“booze cruise”). Android sex dolls and interactive storytelling. Complete gender equality (!). Corporations that actually strive to improve consumers’ quality of life, rather than marketing cheap, useless junk just to turn a profit (!!!#$#@^).

Sounds like the stuff of fiction, right? Except all this really did happen, thanks to the Goettreider Engine and the unlimited clean energy it generated by harnessing the movement of the Earth.

This was the world we were meant to live in. That is, until our narrator bumbled into his father’s time machine and accidentally sabotaged Lionel Goettreider’s infamous 1965 experiment, thus altering the trajectory of history – right before the fail safe protocols boomeranged his sorry ass home. Only when he woke up, it was in our crappy world, complete with global conflicts, mass species extinctions, accelerating climate change, and (presumably) a looming election that would put a reality teevee buffoon in the White House.

Somewhat ironically, Tom’s life changes for the better: in this reality, he goes by John. Rather than being a disappointment to his genius father, he’s a successful architect. And, oh yeah, his mother is still alive!

Can Tom somehow reverse the course of history and set things right? Does he even want to?

All Our Wrong Todays is a fun and satisfying time travel romp that’s got a few tricks up its thermal stranded sleeve. The wibbily wobbly timey wimey stuff is highly enjoyable – I especially loved learning about Tom’s world – though it is a lot to keep straight by story’s end. (But this is kind of par for the course.) The Tom/John and Penelope/Penny plot line reminded me a little of Blake Crouch’s time travel/alternate reality tale, 2016’s Dark Matter, but the two are completely different beasts: All Our Wrong Todays is a little more absurd and tongue-in-cheek. The balance of humor here is pretty much perfect here, imho.

As for the narrator, you either kinda-sorta like him or you hate him. Tom is your typical mediocre straight white dude, with one key difference: he’s well aware of and will readily admit to his mediocrity. He harbors no delusions of grandeur or self-entitlement. He’s a fuckup, and he knows it. He’s trying to do better but dammit, it’s hard work!

Honestly, all the self-denigration rather ingratiated Tom to me: sometimes it was like Mastai was holding up a mirror. A distorted funhouse mirror that exacerbates all your flaws and creates new ones where none existed, but still. I could relate to Tom more than I’d care to admit. If you’ve got self-esteem issues, you might just empathize.

I wasn’t too keen on the rape scene, mostly because it felt a little too much like a tool, a plot device to steer the story in one direction or another. The word “rape” doesn’t even appear in the book, even as Mastai stresses that what happened to Penny was A Very Bad Thing. The thing is, I suspect that a significant percentage of readers won’t even label this as a sexual assault, which is why it’s so important to clearly and emphatically identify it as such. (“Attack” is the harshest term used.)

As an aside, the food synthesizers must mean that all the food in Tom’s world is vegan, or could easily be made so …

… right?

(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 Ship Beyond Time (The Girl from Everywhere #2) by Heidi Heilig (2017)

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Adventure, Romance, and Plenty of Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey Stuff

three out of five stars

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

“Our lives are before us, not behind.”
“That depends on where you’re standing on the timeline.”
“What of free will?”
“Some people don’t believe free will exists.”
“Some people don’t believe in demon octopus, either.”

“You might wish many things, but that doesn’t mean they’ll come true. This doesn’t seem like that sort of fairy tale.”

Fresh off their escape from 1884 Hawaii, Nix, Kashmir, and the crew of the Temptation arrive in Slate’s timeline – present-day New York City. Here they hope to catch their collective breaths, but it’s not long before Nix is pulled into yet another mystery/adventure.

After discovering that her grandmother Joss left a prophecy about Nix on Slate’s back (“She said you’ll end up just like me … You’ll lose the one you love! … To the sea.”), Nix is approached by a mysterious stranger. Dahut promises Nix that her father, the sailor Donald Crowhurst, will show Nix that it’s possible to change the past – and future – but only if she meets him in the mythical city of Ker-Ys. Desperate to save Kashmir – for surely Kashmir is the loved one referenced in the prophecy, yes? – Nix reluctantly agrees. But in rescuing Kash from his destiny, will Nix erase her own past?

But what good was a warning if she had already seen it happen? Did she expect me to simply brace myself for the inevitable? Or did she want me to try to change it? The thought surfaced like a bloated body; bile burned on the back of my tongue. For years, I had watched my father try to do that very thing, dragging me in his wake, unsure whether each journey would be my last.

The Ship Beyond Time has so many of the elements that made me fall in love with The Girl from Everywhere: a cast that’s as diverse as it is interesting; a harmonious blend of fantasy and reality, mythology and history; and a really great romance. It was lovely watching the relationship between Nix and Kash develop, especially considering the many wrenches thrown at them via the inevitable wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff. For example: if mythic worlds are willed into being by their Navigators, what does that make Kashmir? Nix’s literal dream guy? That’s got to muck with a guy’s sense of self, I tell you what.

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