Book Review: Three-Fifths a Man: A Graphic History of the African American Experience by Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colón (2018)

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Essential Reading

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review from the publisher, Hill & Wang.)

– 4.5 stars –

This is actually the second graphic novel by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón that I’ve read in as many weeks – though it didn’t quite register until I was several chapters in. I won a copy of their previous book, The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation, in a Goodreads giveaway; and, while I ultimately recommended it, this was due more to the book’s Very Important subject matter than its successful execution. Heavy on text and with a flow that proved hard to follow, The Torture Report was a bit of a slog.

While Three-Fifths a Man: A Graphic History of the African American Experience is similar in style and form to The Torture Report, the narration is infinitely more succinct, engaging, and intuitive. I can count on one hand the number of times I got lost between panels; and, though this still isn’t ideal, it’s a huge improvement over The Torture Report, which led me astray on nearly every page. The chronology also makes more sense, with fewer time jumps; when Jacobson and Colón do flit back and forth in time, it’s in a way that feels natural and doesn’t confuse the reader or disrupt the narrative.

Don’t get me wrong: Three-Fifths a Man is still pretty heavy on text, but given the breadth of the topic, it never feels tedious or repetitive. This sits in stark contrast to The Torture Report, where everything after the first third of the book felt like a bad case of déjà vu.

The title perfectly encapsulates the content of Three-Fifths a Man: from the beginning of African slavery in the so-called “New World” to the birth of the Movement for Black Lives, this is a graphic history of the African American experience. Jacobson and Colón cover a pretty stunning range of events in a mere 179 pages, including but not limited to the trans-Atlantic slave trade; the Civil War; Reconstruction; the rise of the KKK and other white nationalist hate groups; Jim Crow; WWI and the great migration; the Depression and FDR’s The New Deal; WWII, and the (gradual) opening of the US military to black soldiers; the rise of the Dixiecrats; the New Reconstruction and the Civil Rights era; Reagan’s War on Drugs and the advent of the New Jim Crow; the beating of Rodney King and the focus on police brutality and racism; and ending with the election of our first black president, Barack Hussein Obama (and I absolutely do not include his middle name as an insult here).

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Cry Your Way Home by Damien Angelica Walters (2018)

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

Walters is at her best when she’s playing Frankenstein with fairy tale tropes.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for violence against women and suicide.)

Once upon a time there was a monster. This is how they tell you the story starts. This is a lie.
(“Tooth, Tongue, and Claw “)

Don’t be fooled by the breadcrumbs in the forest. This is not a fairy tale.
(“A Lie You Give, and Thus I Take”)

You won’t catch me in my underwear. I sleep in my fucking coveralls.
(“The Serial Killer’s Astronaut Daughter”)

Between the oft-quoted “Once upon a time there was a monster…” line (reproduced above; I just couldn’t help myself!), and the deliciously dark story titles, I was practically frothing at the mouth to read an early copy of Cry Your Way Home. Alas, this collection of short stories – an eclectic mix of science fiction, fantasy, fairy tale retellings, and the stray piece of contemporary fiction, all bound by a fierce undercurrent of feminism running throughout – is more of a mixed bag than I’d hoped. There are a few gems here, but also a good many underwhelming and ultimately forgettable stories, too.

The collection opens on a strong note with “Tooth, Tongue, and Claw,” easily my favorite of the bunch. A mix of Beauty and the Beast and The Handmaid’s Tale (or perhaps “The Lottery”), the story ends with a surprising twist that’s as satisfying as it is lurid. A mashup of various fairy tales/spin on the entire genre, “A Lie You Give, and Thus I Take” is equal parts beautiful, chilling, and cautionary. While I think Walters is at her best when writing in this wheelhouse, I also quite enjoyed some of her science fiction; “The Serial Killer’s Astronaut Daughter,” “Take a Walk in the Night, My Love,” and “The Floating Girls: A Documentary” are all worth a read or two or three.

(More below the fold…)

2017 Book Memories Challenge

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018


 

  1. The Furies by Natalie Haynes (2014)

    ‘It doesn’t matter that I spent my whole life doing it. What matters is that I spent his whole life doing it. I would take it all back, Robert. Every moment I spent trying to be a fucking director, trying to make people happy, trying to be good at something. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t do any of it. I’d just stand next to Luke every fucking second and when anything bad looked like it might happen to him, I’d get in the fucking way and I would keep him safe. And when people asked me what I did for a living, I’d say I loved him. That’s what I wanted to do. I thought it was the background, and it was everything. Everything.’

    […] I was so consumed with carrying the weight of Luke. My lungs felt tight with it sometimes. The world was heavier without him in it, and slower, and darker, and it took energy, actual physical energy to move through it. And I didn’t want to let go of it, either. What other way did I have to keep him real? Carrying his dead weight was better than forgetting him. Grieving was better than waking up to realise I couldn’t remember which of his eyes had the brown fleck in it.

    Besides, I had lost patience with therapy after Luke died. I was referred to a grief counsellor who was every kind of idiot. Her capacity for trying to look on the bright side made my mother look like Sartre. I tried not to hate her and everything she stood for, but it was one struggle too many. I didn’t want to be cured of my grief, I wanted to wrap myself up in it like a comfortable old coat which I’d first put on when my father died.
    I wanted to wear it every minute of the day, to sleep in it and wake in it, and never to be rid of it because it was the only thing keeping me warm. I gave up talking to my friends, to Luke’s friends, because everyone wanted to try to make me feel better, to talk about the healing qualities of time and what Luke would have wanted. But what Luke wanted didn’t matter any more. That’s what happens when you die. And I didn’t want time to heal my wounds. I wanted to pick at them until fat bubbles of dark blood formed on my skin, and then I wanted to watch them scab over and pick at them again.

    (More below the fold…)

fuck yeah reading: 2017 books

Monday, January 1st, 2018

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So 2017 was a terrible year, for a variety of reasons. I wish I could say that the books (like the dogs) were always good, but the truth is that I read some pretty bad ones, and my reading slump wasn’t exactly helped by my depression and anxiety and general state of panic. But 2017 will go down as the year I really dove into comic books; some of my favorite reads this year (shout outs to Fetch, The Last Unicorn, Bitch Planet, and Kindred) were graphic novels, and I suspect I had a little more luck engaging with this format on those days when my brain was feeling especially slow and foggy. This was also a pretty great year for YA fiction that sticks it to rape culture; see, e.g., The Nowhere Girls and Vigilante.

As is the custom, here’s a complete list of my reads this year, with my top picks starred. And you can check out my Year in Books on Goodreads here, which looks lovely but is entirely too much to screencap.

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fuck yeah reading: 2017 book list

  1. The Furies by Natalie Haynes (2014)
  2. The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis (2017); reviewed here
  3. The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (2017); reviewed here
  4. Wonder Woman, Vol. 1: Blood by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and Tony Akins (2012); reread: originally reviewed here
  5. Kinski by Gabriel Hardman (2014)
  6. Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee by Mary G. Thompson (2016)
  7. The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones (2012)
  8. The Devil in America by Kai Ashante Wilson (2014); reviewed here
  9. A Crown of Wishes (The Star-Touched Queen #2) by Roshani Chokshi (2017); reviewed here
  10. Uprooted by Naomi Novik (2015)
  11. The Secret Loves of Geek Girls edited by Hope Nicholson (2016); reviewed here
  12. Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book by Jomny Sun (2017); reviewed here *
  13. Final Girls by Mira Grant (2017); reviewed here
  14. Final Girls by Riley Sager (2017); reviewed here
  15. Waking Gods (Themis Files #2) by Sylvain Neuvel (2017); reviewed here
  16. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel (2017)
  17. A Colony in a Nation by Christopher L. Hayes (2017)
  18. 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (2007)
  19. Wonder Woman, Volume 2: Guts by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and Tony Akins (2013)
  20. Wonder Woman, Volume 3: Iron by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and Tony Akins (2013)
  21. Wonder Woman, Volume 4: War by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and Goran Sudžuka (2014)
  22. Wonder Woman, Volume 5: Flesh by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and Goran Sudžuka (2014)
  23. Wonder Woman, Volume 6: Bones by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and Goran Sudžuka (2015)
  24. By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain by Joe Hill (2014)
  25. The Last Unicorn (The Last Unicorn Graphic Novels #1-6) by Peter S. Beagle, Peter B. Gillis, Renae De Liz, and Ray Dillon (2011) *
  26. Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen (2017); reviewed here
  27. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (2013)
  28. How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up by Emilie Wapnick (2017)
  29. Bitch Planet, Vol 1: Extraordinary Machine (Bitch Planet #1-5) by Kelly Sue DeConnick (2015); reread
  30. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (2007)
  31. Bitch Planet, Vol. 2: President Bitch by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Taki Soma, and Valentine De Landro (2017); reviewed here *
  32. Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (2015)
  33. For Want of Water: and other poems (National Poetry Series) by Sasha Pimentel (2017); reviewed here
  34. Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt (Narwhal and Jelly) by Ben Clanton (2017); reviewed here
  35. Best Vegan Science Fiction & Fantasy of 2016 edited by B. Morris Allen (2017); reviewed here
  36. Lady Mechanika, Volume 3: The Lost Boys of West Abbey (Lady Mechanika: The Lost Boys of West Abbey #1-2) by M.M. Chen, Joe Benítez, Peter Steigerwald, Martin Montiel, and Beth Sotelo (2017); reviewed here
  37. Lessons from Shadow: My Life Lessons for Boys and Girls by Shadow Bregman (2017); reviewed here
  38. Feminist Fables for the Twenty-First Century: The F Word Project by Maureen Burdock (2015); reviewed here
  39. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia E. Butler, John Jennings (Illustrations), and Damian Duffy (Adapted by) (2017); reviewed here *
  40. Star Trek Cats by Jenny Parks (2017); reviewed here
  41. Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce Brown (2014); reread: originally reviewed here
  42. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann (2014)
  43. Getting Grief Right: Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss by Patrick O Malley (2017); reviewed here
  44. Unleashed by Amanda Jones (2017); reviewed here
  45. A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong (2016)
  46. The Ship Beyond Time (The Girl from Everywhere #2) by Heidi Heilig (2017); reviewed here
  47. Golden Son (Red Rising #2) by Pierce Brown (2015)
  48. Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home by Nicole J. Georges (2017); reviewed here *
  49. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (2017); reviewed here
  50. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (2016); reviewed here
  51. The Diary of Edward the Hamster 1990-1990 by Miriam Elia and Ezra Elia (2013)
  52. Morning Star (Red Rising #3) by Pierce Brown (2016)
  53. The Little Queen by Meia Geddes (2017); reviewed here
  54. Sorrow of the Earth: Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull and the Tragedy of Show Business by Eric Vuillard; translated by Ann Jefferson (2017); reviewed here
  55. A Guide for Murdered Children by Sarah Sparrow (2018); review coming next year
  56. Dogs in Cars by Lara Jo Regan (2014)
  57. Vigilante by Kady Cross (2017)
  58. Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea Ritchie (2017); reviewed here
  59. Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman (2016)
  60. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (2015) *
  61. The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan (2017); reviewed here
  62. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (2018); review coming next year
  63. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (2015)
  64. #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale (2017); reviewed here
  65. Writing to Awaken: A Journey of Truth, Transformation, and Self-Discovery by Mark Matousek (2017); reviewed here
  66. Body Horror: Capitalism, Fear, Misogyny, Jokes by Anne Elizabeth Moore (2017)
  67. Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link (2015)
  68. Ghost City by Madeline Claire Franklin (2014)
  69. Comics for a Strange World: A Book of Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand (2017); reviewed here
  70. How to Be Perfectly Unhappy by Matthew Inman/The Oatmeal (2017); reviewed here
  71. If My Dogs Were a Pair of Middle-Aged Men by Matthew Inman/The Oatmeal (2017); reviewed here
  72. A Is for Asteroids, Z Is for Zombies: A Bedtime Book about the Coming Apocalypse by Paul Lewis and Kenneth Kit Lamug (2017); reviewed here
  73. Be a Unicorn: and Live Life on the Bright Side by Sarah Ford (2017); reviewed here
  74. Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters (2015)
  75. Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim (2017); reviewed here
  76. Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times edited by Carolina De Robertis (2017)
  77. The Creeps (Deep Dark Fears Collection #2) by Fran Krause (2017); reviewed here
  78. The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson, Ernie Colón, Jane Mayer (Introduction) and Scott Horton (Afterword) (2017); reviewed here
  79. Touch by Claire North (2015); reviewed here
  80. How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green (2017); reviewed here
  81. My Depression: A Picture Book by Elizabeth Swados (2015)
  82. Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh; translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger (2013); reviewed here
  83. Rolling in the Deep (Rolling in the Deep #0.5) by Mira Grant (2015)
  84. Fliers: 20 Small Posters with Big Thoughts by Nathaniel Russell (2017); reviewed here
  85. Three-Fifths a Man: A Graphic History of the African American Experience by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón (2018); review coming soon
  86. peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva (2017); reviewed here
  87. In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke (1992)
  88. Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep #1) by Mira Grant (2017); reviewed here
  89. Menagerie (Menagerie #1) by Rachel Vincent (2015); reread: originally reviewed here *
  90. Survivors’ Club: The Complete Series by Lauren Beukes, Dale Halverson, Ryan Kelly, Iñaki Miranda, Mark Farmer, Eva de la Cruz, Clem Robins, and Bill Sienkiewicz (2016); reviewed here
  91. Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (2017); I didn’t review it, but if I had, this is what I might have written *
  92. Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1) by Isaac Marion (2012) *
  93. Burger (Object Lessons) by Carol J Adams (2018); review coming soon
  94. Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire (2017)
  95. Cry Your Way Home by Damien Angelica Walters (2018); review coming soon
  96. The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed (2017) *
  97. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)
  98. I Wore My Blackest Hair by Carlina Duan (2017); reviewed here
  99. Helium by Rudy Francisco (2017); reviewed here
  100. Wild Embers: Poems of rebellion, fire and beauty by Nikita Gill (2017); reviewed here
  101. The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit (2017)
  102. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016) *
  103. Pines (Wayward Pines #1) by Blake Crouch (2012)
  104. Herding Cats (Sarah’s Scribbles #3) by Sarah Andersen (2018); review coming soon *
  105. Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story by Debbie Tung (2017); reviewed here
  106. Babyteeth, Volume 1 by Donny Cates and Garry Brown (2017); reviewed here
  107. Sugar Town by Hazel Newlevant (2017); reviewed here
  108. POS: Piece of Sh*t by Pierre Paquet and Jesús Alonso Iglesias (2017); reviewed here
  109. Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems by Ntozake Shange (2017); reviewed here
  110. Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers Unleashed by Chris Eliopoulos and Ig Guara (2010); reviewed here
  111. Comics for Choice: Illustrated Abortion Stories, History and Politics edited by Hazel Newlevant, Whit Taylor, and O.K. Fox (2018); review coming soon
  112. Big Mushy Happy Lump (Sarah’s Scribbles #2) by Sarah Andersen (2017) *
  113. Elsewhere, Volume 1 by Jay Faerber, Sumeyye Kesgin, and Ron Riley (2018); review coming soon
  114. Black, Volume 1 by Kwanza Osajyefo and Jamal Igle (2017); reviewed here
  115. Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker (2017)
  116. Love Is Love: A Comic Book Anthology to Benefit the Survivors of the Orlando Pulse Shooting by Marc Andreyko, et al. (2016)
  117. OINK: Heaven’s Butcher by John Mueller (2015)

 
bonus list: miscellaneous

  1. My Rad Life: A Journal by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl (2017); reviewed here
  2. Start Where You Are Note Cards by Meera Lee Patel (2017); reviewed here
  3. Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy: A Journal by Robie Rogge and Dian G. Smith (2017); reviewed here
  4. The Daily Question: My Five-Year Spiritual Journal by WaterBrook (2017); reviewed here
  5. 30 Days to Peace: A One-Month Creative Journal by Waterbrook (2017); reviewed here
  6. 30 Days to Joy: A One-Month Creative Journal by Waterbrook (2017); reviewed here

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Babyteeth, Volume 1 by Donny Cates and Garry Brown (2017)

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

“I Was a Teenage Apocalypse”

four out of five stars

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

Sadie Ritter is sixteen, pregnant by some d-bag, and hiding it from everyone but her older sister, Heather. As if that’s not enough to deal with, her newborn baby boy Clark (after Superman! I legit snorted at that one.) is either a demon spawn, or the future King (of what, we don’t know, seeing as Volume 1 cuts out so quickly). In just the first few weeks of motherhood, Sadie’s had to contend with a mohawked assassin, a demon racoon unwittingly summoned from a hell dimension by her son, an honest-to-goodness warlock, and two warring factions of mysterious Illuminati-type fanatics who want to destroy/worship little bloodsucker Clark. A mother’s work is never done, amirite?

Babyteeth is … a lot of fun. It’s got a dark, cheeky sense of humor that gets you laughing at unexpected moments, and I loved the pop culture references – everything from Buffy to REM – which are sprinkled throughout in just the right amount. I mean, just check out the single issue titles!: “Another Hellmouth to Feed”; “I Was a Teenage Apocalypse”. (They’ll age well, I expect.)

The art is a little rough for my taste, but the cover gallery in the back is stunning, so probably it’s an intentional stylistic choice. I dug most of the characters, even though there’s not a whole lot in the way of character development, or at least not thus far. The collection does end pretty suddenly, though – I thought the first collection could use at least one more issue to provide a little clarity.

3.7 out of 5 stars? I usually roll my eyes when people get so specific, but this is too good for a mere 3.5, and not quite good enough to merit 4 stars. I’ll definitely pick up Volume 2 when it comes out, but I won’t exactly be popping out of my skull with anticipation until then. (RIP, little chickens. RIP.)

(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: Sugar Town by Hazel Newlevant (2017)

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Goes down like cotton candy.

four out of five stars

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

Just your average polyamorous romance story: a lesbian dominatrix from Oregon and a bisexual cartoonist from New York meet and fall in love, despite their geographic challenges (‘You’ll be my New York girlfriend!’) and other lovers (who, spoiler alert, are wonderfully supportive). It’s a sweet story with eye-popping illustrations (the colors! so sumptuous!) and a healthy, progressive approach to sexuality and dating.

Really my only complaint is that it’s so short. More, please! I need to know how Argent and Hazel handle the long-distance thing! And it would be totally rad to see that dinner party with the lovers and the ex-lovers!

Happily, I just downloaded an anthology of comics about abortion, Comics for Choice, which – and I didn’t realize it at the time – is edited by Newlevant. So that’s a pretty great consolation prize, anyway.

But seriously, Return to Sugar Town? Anyone?

(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: Wild Embers by Nikita Gill (2017)

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

“She is alone. | And oh | how brilliantly she shines.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for allusions to rape and interpersonal violence.)

We are the blood
of the witches
you thought were dead.

We carry witchcraft in our bones
whilst the magic still sings
inside our heads.

When the witch hunters
imprisoned our ancestors
when they tried to burn the magic away.

Someone should have
warned them
that magic cannot be tamed.

Because you cannot burn away
what has always
been aflame.

(“Witch”)

It is the law of the universe
that even ghosts understand
as long as they matter to someone
they still exist and in your heart
they stand.

(“Ghost Story”)

I really wanted to love this collection of poetry more than I did – although this isn’t to suggest that I didn’t enjoy it. Nikita Gill’s poetry is powerful, passionate, and fiercely feminist. With Wild Embers, she fans the flames of rebellion – against a culture so steeped in misogyny and sexism that it’s taken as the norm, the default, the air we breathe – and at a time when we need it, desperately. Whether reimaging sexist fairy tales and myths or challenging abusers – including her own – Gill’s words cut deep, to the bone. They’re also accessible and satisfying, in a way that poetry isn’t always.

Yet she often employs similar imagery and themes, such that the poems start to feel a little repetitive by the final quarter of the book. Less might be more here. Also, I wish she’d taken the idea of giving each part its own unique theme and run with it a little harder. The first section is so clearly about humanity’s relationship to the cosmos, the starstuff that coalesces in our atoms and spirits … and yet, with the exception of parts III and VI (fairy tales and mythology, respectively), she mostly abandons themes (or at least more apparent ones) after so skillfully priming her audience for them.

Overall, though, it’s a valuable collection of poetry, raw and full of hope and resistance.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story by Debbie Tung (2017)

Friday, December 15th, 2017

I could have used this book twenty-five years ago.

four out of five stars

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

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World is a memoir in graphic novel format. Author/illustrator Debbie Tung explores the growing pains of adulthood … made all the more agonizing and confusing by her introversion. As she struggles to maintain a proper level of sociability – first as a graduate student, then as a member of the workforce – Tung wonders what the heck is wrong with her? When she stumbles upon a personality test online one day, it all clicks: she’s not broken, just different.

I have social anxiety; I’m probably an introvert, too. I wasn’t exactly sure how much I’d relate to Tung’s life but, as it turns out, it’s like looking in a mirror. Whether it’s celebrating the cancellation of a much-dreaded get together, lying awake obsessing over an embarrassing episode that transpired years ago, or spending the remainder of the day napping to recuperate from an hour-long appointment, many of these could be scenes from my own life.

Yet these are pretty common manifestations of social discomfort and malaise, especially in the modern era, where technology often circumvents face-to-face interactions. It’s when Tung’s more specific weird quirks hit home that my mind was well and truly blown.

Humiliating parent-teacher meetings about your shyness? Check.

(My sixth-grade teacher actually set me up with another girl, on account of we were both so quiet and friendless. Like can you imagine?)

Fantasizing about eloping in order to avoid the public spectacle of a wedding? Check.

(My husband and I did elope, in Las Vegas. The only witness? The secular priest. My mom tried to send some family along and was super-pissed when I begged off.)

Not being able to make a phone call around other people? Yup, I’m afraid so.

Honestly, it just got freaky deaky after a while. It’s like she cracked my skull open and was crawling around inside my mess of a brain.

The artwork is sweet and complements the story nicely; the color scheme is a muted grey, which suits the story’s melancholy feeling. Topics like this can get real dark, real fast (seriously, just read my journal. Or don’t!), and there are some rather depressing panels, but overall it’s pretty gentle and forgiving. It’s clear that Tung has found a place of acceptance and self-love (or at least understanding), which lends the book a hopeful vibe.

Along with Hyperbole and a Half and the Sarah’s Scribbles collections, this is a book that I’ll keep on my bedside table and return to in the future, whenever life feels like it’s just too much. A must read for introverts, the terminally shy, those with social anxiety – and the people who love them.

(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: Helium by Rudy Francisco (2017)

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Reflections on race, gender, mental illness — and love, naturally!

four out of five stars

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

Your God stole my God’s identity.
So next time you bend your knees,
next time you bow your head
I want you to tell your God
that my God is looking for him.
(“To the Man Standing on the Corner Holding the Sign That Said ‘God Hates Gays'”)

Once, a friend of a friend asked me
why there aren’t more black people in the X Games
and I said, “You don’t get it.”
Being black is one of the most extreme sports in America.
(“Adrenaline Rush”)

Some days I forget that my skin
is not a panic room.
(“My Honest Poem”)

###

The first poem in Helium, “Water,” took my breath away – and more or less set the tone for the entire volume.

I have a terrible time reviewing poetry; I can’t tell you whether a poem is “good,” technically speaking, only if I liked it. Even then I fear I’m a poor barometer, since I’m as likely to understand it as not.

But Rudy Francisco’s poetry is accessible AF. Also daring, insightful, passionate, and unfiltered. I especially adore the poems that tackle mental illness – which is no surprise, as I struggle with anxiety and depression myself, and thus find this genre incredibly relatable and applicable to my own life.

Many of these pieces appear in Parts I and II; but it’s those poems centered on social justice issues (Part III) that really stunned me speechless. “Adrenaline Rush,” “Rifle II,” “To the Man Standing on the Corner Holding the Sign That Said ‘God Hates Gays'” — these poems will stick with me long after Helium claims its permanent home on my bookshelves. Not that it will stay there indefinitely: this is a book I’m likely to revisit again in the future.

Though Francisco is at his best when writing about social justice issues – toxic masculinity, misogyny, religious intolerance, art as resistance, police brutality, etc. – I cared less for his love poems. Though I suppose it could just be the jaded, 39-year-old widow in me silently screaming, “Please don’t be a love poet!”

I also actively disliked “Complainers” (to paraphrase: if you’ve never had to saw your own arm off with a rusty butterknife, stfu!), which is kind of a bummer: the second-to-last poem in the book, it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I rarely read physical books anymore – I’m more an ebook kind of gal – but I found the font a little on the small side, and unnecessarily so, since many of the pages are dominated by white space. Borderline hard-to-read for my nearly middle-aged eyes.

These are all fairly minor complaints, though, given the sheer genius and raw emotion embodied in Helium.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: 30 Days to Joy: A One-Month Creative Journal by Waterbrook (2017)

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Would make a nice gift for Christians.

three out of five stars

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

I have a bit of an addiction to journals, even though I don’t write nearly as often as I should/mean to. That said, 30 Days to Joy isn’t something I’d normally buy for myself, since it’s explicitly geared towards Christians. So, grain of salt.

As the title implies, 30 Days to Joy is unusual, as far as journals go, in that it’s meant to be completed in a month (although there’s nothing stopping you from taking as long as you want; while each exercise is labeled “Day 1,” “Day 2,” and so on, you could just as easily pencil in the date next to it, if you prefer). Each day features a different prompt that encourages you to reflect on the topic of “joy,” whatever that means to you.

Examples of this include:

* How is joy different from happiness?

* In pencil, write those things that most frequently steal your joy. Next, in a colorful pen or marker, write ways you can choose joy in those situations.

* If joy were a person in your life, who would it be and why?

* Write down and illustrate a quote or Bible verse that brings you joy.

As you can see, the exercises featured are a mix of secular and Christian prompts, with the majority skewed secular. However, most of the quotes peppered throughout the book are explicitly Christian, including a fair number of Bible verses. For this reason, I wouldn’t even assign the more general “New Age” or “spiritual” labels to this book; it’s really just meant for Christians, which is kind of shame, because we could all use more joy in these dark times, don’t you think?

Aesthetically, the book is pleasing to the eye; the interior color theme is red and white, making this a great Christmas gift. The cover has a rich, textured feel, which is undercut a bit by the large white sticker containing copy placed on the back cover.

The dimensions of the book are small, which normally bugs the heck out of me – but the book is thin enough that it’s easy to write in. There’s enough room to respond to each prompt, too.

Great idea, though the execution isn’t for everyone.

(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: I Wore My Blackest Hair by Carlina Duan (2017)

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Poems of Loneliness, Loss, and Defiance

three out of five stars

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

I was her American
daughter, my tongue
my hardest muscle
forced to swallow
a muddy alphabet.
(“FRACTIONS, 1974”)

in Japan,
I meet a white-haired woman who
tells me her name means moon.
But I am crescent now, she says.
Soon I will disappear.
(“YEARS”)

when
a boy plumps his lip on your throat
and asks you to say something dirty
in CHINESE, you flip the sheets
and bite down, tasting trouble
and rage. in the kitchen, alone,
you devour a pickle. your white
classmate sees you. does not.
white men claim you. do not.
you are small, fierce, and evil: with
two palms and a chest. there are
boxes made for you to check.
Chinese /
American. Chinese / American.
your mom calls. she tells you to stop
writing about race. You could get
shot, she says. so you yank your hair
into a knot at the back of your neck.
so you cinch your belt tight
at the waist.
(“YOUR MOM TELLS YOU TO STOP WRITING ABOUT RACE”)

beware of the
Chink: how it bites.
(“WHAT YOU LOOKIN’ AT, CHINK?”)

#####

— 3.5 stars —

Loneliness, grief, identity, alienation, illness, love, sex, rage, immigration, culture: the poems in I Wore My Blackest Hair glide and dance and sprint (and sometimes chomp their way) all over the map, but what they all (or mostly) share in common is an almost stubborn sense of defiance. These are stories about confronting mortality, navigating interpersonal strife, and pushing back against racist microaggressions while holding tight to one’s will to keep on keeping on.

I’ve only recently started to read more poetry; my reticence stems from the fact that I don’t always “get” the stuff. I think I got the gist of each piece, even if some (okay, a fair amount) of the imagery Duan employs went over my head. Even so, it was lovely just the same. And where it wasn’t, it’s because it wasn’t meant to be. Some of my favorites include “MORNING COMES, I AM SHINY WITH IT,” “CALUMET,” “FRACTIONS, 1974,” “MOON PULL,” “I WANT MY BOOKS BACK,” and (so much yes!) “YOUR MOM TELLS YOU TO STOP WRITING ABOUT RACE.”

Incidentally, I did notice a certain pattern of repetition over time that I found a little…distracting, I guess? Certain images pop up time and again – corn and boiled eggs; pink mouths and straining muscles; hair, both head and body – almost to the point of obsession.

If I enjoyed a poet’s work, I usually look them up on YouTube afterwards; hearing them perform the same pieces is often even more powerful and moving. I couldn’t find too many videos of Carlina Duan, but this reading of “Twelve Years Old” is both stirring – and representative of the poems in I Wore My Blackest Hair.

CONTENTS

I WORE MY BLACKEST HAIR
PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE
WHAT YOU LOOKIN’ AT, CHINK?
WHEN I BOILED THE CORN
AMENORRHEA
WHEN ALL YOU WANT
CALUMET
WHAT I’VE LOST
MORNING COMES, I AM SHINY WITH IT
EAST ANN
LITTLE SISTER, AMERICAN GIRL
GAME BOY ADVANCE
LATCHKEY
BELIEF IT IS NOT ENOUGH
FRACTIONS, 1974
YOUR MOM TELLS YOU TO STOP WRITING ABOUT RACE
I WASN’T JOKING
AUBADE FOR ANGEL ISLAND, CHINA COVE
EVERYTHING’S A FLY
AT THE SUSHI RESTAURANT HE CALLS HIMSELF A GRINGO
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN • GENERATION 1
USIS • ANGEL ISLAND, CALIFORNIA • GENERATION 0
MOON PULL
I RUN AND I RUN AND I
THEN I WOKE UP IN YOUR BED
SEVERED
HERE I GO, TORCHING
HEY, MAN
SHUT DOWN
AT THE PARTY
PACKING LUNCH ON ANN STREET
AND WHEN
I WANT MY BOOKS BACK
ZODIAC
YEARS
PICKING RASPBERRIES WITH ADAM
PLEDGE 2.0, TRIBE, ZOO

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
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!)

Book Review: 30 Days to Peace: A One-Month Creative Journal by Waterbrook (2017)

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Best suited to practicing Christians.

three out of five stars

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

30 Days to Peace is a bit of a short-term project, as far as journals go; as is evident from the subtitle, users are intended to work through its thirty prompts in a month (although nothing’s stopping you from taking a more leisurely pace with the exercises). Each prompt is focused on one aspect of peace: for example, how you define peace, how you find peace, what signals your body gives to indicate that it is or is not at peace. Though I usually take a much more scattershot approach to jounaling – writing whatever comes to mind – I can appreciate the benefits of a more focused path. Meditation on a single narrow topic is likely to promote enhanced understanding.

What I didn’t particularly care for is the journal’s explicitly Christian focus. Between the Galatians 5:22–23 quote featured on the book’s listing at Blogging for Books and the publisher (Waterbrook is the Christian imprint of Crown Publishing), I really should have known better. Actually, that first did give me pause, but I decided to give the journal a try anyway, since it was free for review and all.

The result is kind of a mixed bag. It wouldn’t even be accurate to shelve this journal under the more general label “spiritual,” since the Bible pops up in many of the quotes and illustrations that pepper the book. That said, only five of the thirty prompts explicitly mentions God or the Bible; and only one is necessarily specific to the Christian faith (i.e., the Bible prompt). So I’d say that 30 Days to Peace is best suited to practicing Christians, and perhaps spiritual New Age types too. Which is a shame, because I think we all could use a little more peace in our lives, whatever our religious identity may be.

As far as the book’s design goes, it’s a little on the small side, at 5 3/4″ by 7 1/4″. Usually this drives me bonkers, but the book is rather thin and thus not terribly difficult to write in. (When you’ve got a small but fat book, your hand ends up falling off the bottom off the page about a third of the way down. Not fun.) The pages aren’t lined, ostensibly for doodling and more free-form/artistic writing. The book itself is lovely, with a soothing and richly textured cover design. The pages are mostly white with green illustrations, adding to the spa-like feel.

(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: 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!)

2017-09-30 - Friends with a Ghost - 0011 [flickr]

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.

2017-09-30 - Friends with a Ghost - 0003 [flickr]

2017-09-30 - Friends with a Ghost - 0004 [flickr]>

(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…)