Book Review: A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers edited by Victor LaValle & John Joseph Adams (2019)

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

Filled with peoples, worlds, futures, and acts of rebellion that you won’t soon forget.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence against a variety of marginalized groups.)

You are the amen of my family, and I am the in the beginning of yours. This story is the prayer, or one of them. This story says you can live through anything and that when it is time to go, when the entire world goes dark, then you go together, holding on to one another’s hands, and you whisper the memory of birds and bees and the names of those you loved. When it is not time to go, though, this story says you rise.

– “Read After Burning” by Maria Dahvana Headley

Wall to keep the empire safe: strrrrrong empire, empire with mightiest military in the world, empire made of blood and theft, human and land. Before the wall was even finished the empire began to strip rights, silence certain people, keep others sparking in their skins of distrust. But most of the inhabitants paid attention to other things, shiny things, scandals. It would pass, hadn’t it always? White folks had short memories.

– “The Wall” by Lizz Huerta

Y’all, the first baby born to the Federation of Free Peoples was gonna be one incredible brown-ass baby.

– “O.1” by Gabby Rivera

— 4.5 stars —

Seanan McGuire is an insta-read for me – but, even without her name attached to this project, A People’s Future of the United States is still a book I would have pounced on. With its riff on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, plethora of diverse contributors, and focus on futures that might be – at a time when the present is so damn depressing – there’s no way I could pass it up. And, rather than offer an escape from the now, the stories here challenge the reader to follow this thread to its possible conclusions; to imagine what this world could become, for better or worse; and to rise up, resist, and perhaps steer it to a better, more humane place.

My main issue with anthologies is that they tend to be uneven – but A People’s History of the United States is as close to uniformly awesome as you can get without being pure perfection. There are a few stories that I just found okay, and one that I skipped altogether. But most of the rest? Took my breath away.

For whatever reason (the first bit of the synopsis maybe?), I came to the table expecting visions of future utopias: suggestions for how we can fix this broken planet we call home. And while there are a few budding socialist Edens to be found here – Hugh Howey’s “No Algorithms in the World” springs to mind – most are of the dystopian variety. And that’s both okay and, let’s be honest, totally realistic. The good thing is that, within every story lurks a glimmer of hope. Sometimes it’s tenuous and fragile, but it’s there, waiting to be nurtured into fruition. My heart, you guys? Swelled so much that it felt fit to burst clear out of my chest. Some of these yarns are that darn shiny.

There are way too many to discuss them all, but here goes.

“Read After Burning” by Maria Dahvana Headley is as strange as it is lovely. Half the time I was not entirely sure what I was reading, but I was sure I wanted more. In this far-off future dystopia, words are power (though “Knowledge [isn’t] enough.”), a power that’s been chained by the powers that be. Paper is outlawed, so Librarians like the Needle tattoo the stories of the world on their very skin: “manuscripts from authors like Octavia the Empress and Ursula Major.” (Tell me you didn’t feel those chills.) In the end – or the beginning, rather – these stories become a superpower of sorts, smoke let loose on the battleground. The first of many revolutions.

Sam J. Miller explores “the place of sex in a broader strategy of political resistance” in “It Was Saturday Night, I Guess That Makes It All Right.” Forced to seek anonymous, illicit sex in back alleys and swampy underpasses (Homosexuality? Illegal. Along with a laundry list of other identities and interests.), Caul finds himself in a parallel world at the moment of orgasm: “A place where what we do matters.” And so this tool of the state – he who installs phone cloners up and down the streets of NY, to help the government better surveil its residents – comes to realize that he can be used to dismantle it. (And tell me your heart didn’t sink down into the depths of your belly the day that Prince became contraband.)

In “Riverbed,” Omar El Akkad revisits the site of a mass human rights abuse on its fiftieth anniversary. After a group of suicide bombers attacked a US sporting event with massive casualties, Khadija Singh’s family was rounded up and taken to a detention center, ‘for their own protection.’ (Never mind that they are Sikh, and not Muslim. In her father’s words, Americans are “brittle with privilege.”) It was only after he escaped that her brother was murdered. On the eve of the unveiling of a gaudy new museum to ‘commemorate’ the tragedy, Dr. Singh returns to the property to retrieve her brother’s meager belongings, so that no part of him might remain in the place of his captivity.

Justina Ireland’s “Calendar Girls” is a biting look at a world in which contraception, made illegal (while boner pills thrive!), is dealt on street corners like cocaine or heroin. After being orphaned by a forced pregnancy that killed her mom, Alyssa goes to work for the Matriarchs, selling condoms to young women and her local patrolman (already father of nine) alike. There’s an arrest, and a shakedown involving a hypocritical Senator (founder of the Abstinence League!) who wants an abortion for his pregnant, unwed teen daughter (See: ‘The only moral abortion is my abortion.’), and a double-cross to save the day.

Also nestled under the “utopia” umbrella is “O.1” by Gabby Rivera, in which a plague called IMBALANCE (“a sentient bacterium that preyed on white-supremacist greed”) killed the 1% and left most of the rest of the population sterile. That is, until a couple named Mala and Orion Lafayette-Santana manage to conceive Baby 0.1 – and the personal quickly becomes the object of public consumption as the the Federation of Free Peoples rallies around this new life. When Mala, Orion, and their birth worker Deviana Ortiz go missing from their home in North Philly, panic – and a massive manhunt – ensues. Told from their alternating perspectives, “O.1” is a story of hope and resilience. This might be the only time I’ve wished for biological warfare, okay. Team Imbalance all the way.

N. K. Jemisin’s “Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death” is simply brilliant: I mean, drug-sniffing, made-that-way racist dragons, sated with collard greens and hot sauce, domesticated with love and affection, and then turned against their (common) oppressors? What’s not to love about that?

Ditto: the aforementioned “No Algorithms in the World,” in which Hugh Howey imagines what society with a guaranteed basic income might look like, from both sides of the generational divide.

In “The Referendum,” Lesley Nneka Arimah reminds us why we should always listen to black women.

And Tananarive Due’s “Attachment Disorder” is an epic tale distilled into short story form that will leave you wanting more.

I’m certain I’m overlooking a few favorites, but this is a pretty good start. If you like smart speculative fiction, told by a diverse group of voices, with a strong foundation in the here and now, A People’s Future of the United States is a slam dunk.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Book Love by Debbie Tung (2019)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

A love letter to books.

three out of five stars

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

— 3.5 stars —

A bad movie adaptation that taints your memory of a cherished book. That new book smell. Finding a few coins to buy a new book even though the pantry is painfully bare. Turning down social invitations in favor of night spent cuddled up with your favorite book. All-night binge-read marathons that leave you a zombie shell of yourself the next day.

Book lovers will see themselves reflected – and celebrated – in Debbie Tung’s latest collection of comics, Book Love. Drawn in the same style (and with the same quiet sense of humor) as her previous book, Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story, this is an endearing and relatable read that’s sure to win the hearts of book lovers. I saw myself in so many of her strips, from fantasizing about nesting in a library, to refusing to clean out my book stash. (Actually, I had to get rid of about 70% of my physical books for a cross-country move, and it damn near broke my heart. I still shipped 40 boxes of my babies fwiw.)

My only complaint is that the book starts to feel repetitive about halfway in, almost as thought there isn’t that much to say about bibliophilia, which certainly cannot be so!

(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: Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton (2018)

Friday, January 25th, 2019

“It’s like death and toffee.”

five out of five stars

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

“Russia is starting to mine the solar system, and Americans are going to be getting their unicorn horns polished and designing children with claws and rainbow auras.”

He is passing from his own world into another, where humans and gravity hold sway. Up there, he isn’t Snake. He is only Chimera624, property of the Blessed Cures Consortium. If I were to examine the Consortium’s books, would I find myself listed as property too?

When you’d read Dickens, and Dickinson, and you’d read selections of Greek mythology and stories by a woman called Brontë and even a few by a man called Vonnegut—or at least, when you’d read the parts of those books that made it through the Proto Authority’s redaction process—you sometimes thought about a different sort of life.

This was, in a way, the beginning of a fairy tale.

This book began as a thought that one might variously describe as cynical or realistic (personally, my vote is on “all of the above”). While researching medical and technological advances on the horizon, Dayton’s initial reaction was the obvious: amazaballs! (Yes, it is 2019 and I am still using that word. Sue me.) This was rapidly supplanted by the more pessimistic: “We will definitely find some way of messing this up in spectacular fashion.” The six stories in Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful exist in the liminal space between the two, as helpfully illustrated by this chart in the Author’s Note:

(Not gonna lie, I loled.)

The stories take place in the vague and unspecified future: both not-so-distant, and many generations down the line (in the twilight of humanity, you might even say). While the tech is indeed amazing – from drive-ins that combine on-screen images with pictures on each car’s windshield to create a 3D experience, to the eradication of inherited diseases and body mods ranging from moving tattoos to wings and horns and gills and flippers – it kind of takes a backseat to how society chooses to interpret, respond to, and utilize these gifts. Unsurprisingly, theological and geopolitical rifts form. While many people welcome life-saving medical advances (cross-species organ harvesting; the merging of organic and robotic parts; gene manipulation to eliminate disease), the more frivolous cosmetic procedures (see: wings and horns and gills and flippers) prove controversial. Sometimes the distinction isn’t so clear-cut.

In Part 1: Matched Pair (“A few years from now…”), we meet Evan Weary on the eve of his sister Julia’s death, and his resurrection (of sorts). The semi-identical twins were born with the same genetic disease, which caused stunted growth and gradual organ failure in their too-short lives. Julia lies in a coma, while Evan prepares to accept (or “cannibalize,” depending on your POV) a myriad of her organs so that he might have a chance.

Part 2: St. Ludmilla (“A few more years from now…”) introduces us to Milla (so named for the titular saint), whose broken body was pieced together with a “meshline” after a devastating car accident. Because bigotry against “anyone who’d been severely damaged and then put back together” is on the rise, Milla downplays the fallout. But when Gabriel, the guy she’d been crushing on for years, discovers her secret, the consequences are … let’s just say deliciously felicitous. (Is it terrible that I wanted her to push him?)

In Part 3: The Reverend Mr. Tad Tadd’s Love Story (“Let’s leap ahead a little more…”), we learn a little more about Tad Tadd (never trust a guy with two first names!). Along with the tech, Tadd is the one character who remains a constant thread in all six stories. Tadd is an evangelical preacher who’s a hybrid of Jim Jones and Fred Phelps (of the Westboro Baptist Church fame). As a young man, he railed against altering our bodies in any way that would make them less “human” – even upon penalty of death. But when his wife and young son are killed at one of his protests (and, let’s face it, it’s hard not to root for the Ethiopian “mob”), Tad does a 180…but in a way that still manages to be self-serving and does absolutely nothing to help his “loved” ones. Fast-forward decades, maybe even a century, and the man has several pairs of multi-colored (think: tentacles) and extra eyes on the sides of his head. Jump ahead even more, and the man is God. But even gods can fall. And I’d getting ahead of myself.

Part 4: Eight Waded (“A lot of time has passed…”) mostly takes place underwater, where our anti-hero Alexios lives. Created to his parents’ specs by Genetic Radiance and deemed a failure, young Alexios was given “employment” as a chimera wrangler at the lab’s sister facility, The Blessed Cures Consortium. Here he defends the company’s property – with the help of a dolphin pod, no less – and lures unsuspecting manatees to their repeated torture:

Chimera. It means a living thing that contains tissue from two or more distinct organisms. Humans have used pigs and sheep and even rats to grow human organs cheaply and safely. But manatees are so much larger, and their lumbering ways and gentle attitudes so ideal to peacefully cultivating alien tissue, that my employer, the Blessed Cures Consortium, chose them as far more perfect chimeras than lowly pigs. Also, they can hide manatees underwater and leave their competitors guessing.

Chimera.
Or, switched around:
Ah, crime.

A perfect job for an eleven-year-old with a big brain and no empathy. (Though, let’s face it, the kid’s as much as slave as the sea creatures.) I especially love that Dayton chose manatees to be the “living organ tanks”; unlike pigs and sheeps, manatees – with their chubby bodies and docile demeanor – are universally beloved. They are cute and cuddly and worthy of consideration and compassion; certain to arouse outrage when mistreated. Yet they’re no different from pigs in the ways that matter: both are sentient, capable of feeling pain (and joy and love and grief, etc.) and suffering.

Anyway, the whole chapter reads like something out of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. So yes, I loved it.

Part 5: California (“We are definitely in the future now…”) takes us to Russia, where teenagers Jake and Kostya are on the run, having just escaped from a slave camp on an asteroid where they were being forced to mine platinum. Russia and America now (or will soon) sit on opposite sides of the “Genetic Curtain”: whereas Russia and its colonies prohibit the joining of human and nonhuman, America has yoyoed to the other extreme, allowing pretty much any and every mod devised by science, medically necessary or merely cosmetic. Yet Russia makes some exceptions, most notably for its prisoners and those deemed “deviant.”

And so it is that a cryogenically frozen California boy from a world long dead, and a Russian boy who just so happens to like kissing other boys, find their half-robot selves on a train barreling toward Siberia. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Part 6: Curiosities (“They have left us far behind…”) brings it all home on a reservation for “proto” humans located just outside of Denver. Teens Luck and Starlock are star-crossed lovers: with their contrasting white and black skins, there’s no chance these crazy kids are going to be Paired by the humans in charge. Not when genetic purity is the goal (ironic, coming from the people sporting antennae and wings!). But when the sentries fall – literally, their wings fall off and they wither to nothing – the Protos venture out beyond the confines of their electrified fence to see if there’s anything left in the big wide world. You know what they say about the meek inheriting the earth.

While I liked each story well enough, my enjoyment grew with each new chapter. It was really fascinating to watch Dayton’s world expand and grow, and to see how the pieces fit together. Whereas I’d give Part 1 a 3/5 – it’s rather short, and thus short on details – after that it was smooth sailing. Each chapter is a little longer than the one before it, so that they range from short stories (Part 1) to novellas (Part 5 and 6 each occupy about 25% of the book). The larger the ‘verse, the more captivated I became. I couldn’t stop reading, and yet I never wanted it to end.

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

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Because bacon had a mom.

five out of five stars

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

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

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

Pig knew that this was no life for a pig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 18th, 2019

A weirdly enchanting dystopia.

four out of five stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Brilliant.

five out of five stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 11th, 2019

Uneven, yet ultimately worth it.

three out of five stars

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

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

– “The Unholy Wild,” Trista Mateer

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

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

– “Ultra,” Yena Sharma Purmasir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

A faithful adaptation, for better or worse.

three out of four stars

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

My feelings on this are conflicted and messy:

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Book Memories Challenge

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019


 

I don’t think this challenge is still technically a thing, but I enjoy it, so here we go! Caution: thar may be spoilers ahead.

P.S. Wasn’t Mags something? I sure am gonna miss photographing you with appropriately-named books, old gal. BFFs 5EVER.

 

  1. Wayward (Wayward Pines #2) by Blake Crouch (2013)

    “I think he’s trying to preserve our way of life.”
    “For who? Us or him?”

    A millennium without air or light pollution made for pitch-black skies. The stars didn’t just appear anymore. They exploded. Diamonds on black velvet. You couldn’t tear your eyes away.

  2. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (2012)

  3. The Last Town (Wayward Pines #3) by Blake Crouch (2014)

    “It’s strange,” Ethan said. “The world belongs to them now, but we still possess something they don’t have.”
    “What?”
    “Kindness. Decency. That’s what it is to be human. At our best at least.”
    Ben looked confused.
    “I think this abby is different,” Ethan said.
    “What do you mean?”
    “She has an intelligence, a gentleness I haven’t seen in any of the others. Maybe she has a family she wants to see again.”
    “We should shoot her and burn her with all the rest.”
    “And what would that accomplish? Feed our anger for a few minutes? What if we did the opposite? What if we sent her out into her world with a message about the species that once lived in this valley? I know it’s crazy, but I’m holding tight to the idea that a small act of kindness can have real resonance.”

    “The funny thing is, as bad as I am, I don’t have it in me to murder her husband. Is there a fate worse than being halfway evil?”

  4. Kim Reaper, Volume 1: Grim Beginnings (Kim Reaper #1-4) by Sarah Graley (2018)

  5. The New Hunger (Warm Bodies #1.5) by Isaac Marion (2015)

    Hours pass. Then his eyes remember how to focus, and the world sharpens. He thinks that he liked the world better before he could see it.

    It’s a strange feeling, being judged by a child. He’s seven years old; where the hell did he get a moral compass? Certainly not from his parents. Not even from her. She supposes there must be people in the world who stick to their principles, who always do the right thing, but they are few and far between, especially now. Where does a child get an idea as unnatural as goodness?

    Everyone living in these times knows the most important rule of conservation: if you have to kill someone, make sure they stay dead. It may be a losing battle, the math may be against the Living, but diligence in this one area will at least slow down the spread of the plague. Responsible murder is the new recycling.

    He finds a riot helmet and crams it down over his springy hair. “Halt!” he orders in cop-voice, and Nora smiles through a sudden rush of bittersweet sadness that takes her a moment to understand. She feels ashamed when she realizes it’s nostalgia. She has already begun missing him.

    Thirty-four miles north of the police station, a young girl who recently killed a young boy is watching beige houses flicker through the headlights of her family’s SUV. Her father’s eyes are tight on the road, her mother’s on everything around the road, pistol at the ready should anything incongruous emerge from this idyllic suburban scene. They are traveling later than they usually do, later than is safe, and the girl is glad. She hates sleeping. Not just because of the nightmares, but because everything is urgent. Because life is short. Because she feels a thousand fractures running through her, and she knows they run through the world. She is racing to find the glue.
    Thirty-four miles south of this girl, a man who recently learned he is a monster is following two other monsters up a steep hill in an empty city, because he can smell life in the distance and his purpose now is to take it. A brutish thing inside him is giggling and slavering and clutching its many hands in anticipation, overjoyed to finally be obeyed, but the man himself feels none of this. Only a coldness deep in his chest, in the organ that once pumped blood and feeling and now pumps nothing. A dull ache like a severed stump numbed in ice – what was there is gone, but it hurts. It still hurts.
    And three hundred feet north of these monsters are a girl and boy who are looking for new parents. Or perhaps becoming them. Both are strong, both are super smart and super cool, and both are tiny and alone in a vast, merciless, endlessly hungry world.
    All six are moving toward each other, some by accident, some by intent, and though their goals differ considerably, on this particular summer night, under this particular set of cold stars, all of them are sharing the same thought:
    Find people.

    (More below the fold…)

fuck yeah reading: 2018 books

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019

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This year was a dumpster fire, both personally and politically/locally and globally/for reasons both obvious and not yet stated. Somehow I still found time to read a whopping 133 books, impressive even when you remove the kids’ 34-pagers from the equation. (There weren’t too many, and some were downright essential to my mental health, so.)

I set a pretty modest goal of one book a week and blew it out of the water, as illustrated by this bootyful Goodreads chart.

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(Low expectations, they are a lifesaver.)

My favorites are starred, but if you check out just a handful of my picks, may I suggest My Boyfriend is a Bear, Any Man, and/or Leslie Crawford and Sonja Stangl’s picture books about farmed animals who saved themselves? Pure joy there, folks.

P.S. I cheated on the cover gallery and left in some books that I received for review in 2018 but never quite got around to reading. They just looked so darn pretty there, and this way y’all have a preview of what I’ll be doing in the days and weeks to come. See if you can spot the extras for bonus points!

 

fuck yeah reading: 2018 book list

  1. Wayward (Wayward Pines #2) by Blake Crouch (2013)
  2. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (2012)
  3. The Last Town (Wayward Pines #3) by Blake Crouch (2014)
  4. Kim Reaper, Volume 1: Grim Beginnings (Kim Reaper #1-4) by Sarah Graley (2018); reviewed here
  5. The New Hunger (Warm Bodies #1.5) by Isaac Marion (2015); reread: originally reviewed here *
  6. Grrl Scouts: Magic Socks by Jim Mahfood (2017); reviewed here
  7. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (2018); reviewed here *
  8. Black Genealogy: Poems (The Mineral Point Poetry Series, Volume 6) by Kiki Petrosino and Lauren Haldeman (2017); reviewed here
  9. Black Comix Returns edited by John Jennings and Damian Duffy (2018); reviewed here
  10. The Witch Doesn’t Burn in this One (Women are some kind of magic #2) by Amanda Lovelace (2018); reviewed here
  11. We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly (2016)
  12. Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery (Incognegro Graphic Novels #1) by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece (2018); reviewed here
  13. In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (2014)
  14. Pestilence, Volume 1 by Frank Tieri, Mike Marts, and Oleg Okunev (2018); reviewed here
  15. Manfried the Man by Caitlin Major and Kelly Bastow (2018); reviewed here
  16. Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle Weir and Steenz (2018); reviewed here
  17. The Ravenous by Amy Lukavics (2017); reviewed here
  18. Sci-Fu by Yehudi Mercado (2018); reviewed here
  19. All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages edited by Saundra Mitchell (2018); reviewed here
  20. Bingo Love by Tee Franklin and Jenn St-Onge (2018); reviewed here
  21. War Mother by Fred Van Lente, Stephen Segovia, and Tomás Giorello (2018); reviewed here
  22. Pierce Brown’s Red Rising: Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown (2018); reviewed here
  23. 30 Days of Night, Vol. 1 by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith (2007); reviewed here
  24. 30 Days of Night, Vol. 2: Dark Days by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith (2007); reviewed here
  25. My Boyfriend Is a Bear by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris (2018); reviewed here *
  26. 30 Days of Night, Vol. 3: Return to Barrow by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith (2004); reviewed here
  27. 30 Days of Night, Vol. 7: Eben and Stella by Steve Niles, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Justin Randall (2007); reviewed here
  28. Spectacle, Vol. 1 by Megan Rose Gedris (2018); reviewed here
  29. Petra by Marianna Coppo (2018); reviewed here
  30. 30 Days of Night, Vol. 9: Beyond Barrow by Steve Niles and Bill Sienkiewicz (2008); reviewed here
  31. Firebug by Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain (2018); reviewed here
  32. Jessica Jones: Alias Omnibus by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos (2006)
  33. The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish (2017)
  34. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2014) *
  35. Jessica Jones: The Pulse: The Complete Collection (The Pulse #1-3) by Brian Michael Bendis (2014); reviewed here
  36. Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism edited by Danielle Barnhart and Iris Mahan (2018); reviewed here
  37. Bald Knobber by Robert Sergel (2018); reviewed here
  38. The Ghost, The Owl by Franco and Sara Richard (2018); reviewed here
  39. Flocks by L. Nichols (2018); reviewed here
  40. Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition by Julia Kaye (2018); reviewed here
  41. Box of Bones #1 by Ayize Jama-Everett and John Jennings (2018); reviewed here
  42. Atar Gull by Fabien Nury and Brüno (2016); reviewed here
  43. Jessica Jones: Avenger by Brian Michael Bendis, et al. (2016); reviewed here
  44. Under Dogs by Andrius Burba (2018); reviewed here
  45. Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome. edited by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner (2018)
  46. Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow (2016)
  47. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (1996)
  48. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2015)
  49. Puerto Rico Strong edited by Hazel Newlevant, Desiree Rodriguez, and Marco Lopez (2018); reviewed here
  50. Coyotes, Volume 1 by Sean Lewis and Caitlin Yarsky (2018); reviewed here
  51. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson (2017); reviewed here
  52. Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia (2017)
  53. All Good Children by Dayna Ingram (2016)
  54. I Really Didn’t Think This Through: Tales from My So-Called Adult Life by Beth Evans (2018); reviewed here
  55. Sweet Tooth: Deluxe Edition, Book One by Jeff Lemire, José Villarrubia, Michael Sheen, and Carlos M. Mangual (2015)
  56. Sweet Tooth: Deluxe Edition, Book Two by Jeff Lemire, José Villarrubia, and Carlos M. Mangual (2016)
  57. Sweet Tooth: Deluxe Edition, Book Three by Jeff Lemire, José Villarrubia, Carlos M. Mangual, and Matt Kindt (2016); reviewed here
  58. Only Human (Themis Files #3) by Sylvain Neuvel (2018); reviewed here
  59. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (2017)
  60. Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering (2018); reviewed here
  61. Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges Trilogy #1) by Stephen King (2014)
  62. Whose Bum? by Chris Tougas (2018); reviewed here
  63. The Secret Loves of Geeks edited by Hope Nicholson (2018); reviewed here
  64. Finders Keepers (Bill Hodges Trilogy #2) by Stephen King (2015)
  65. Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters (2014)
  66. Down from the Mountain by Elizabeth Fixmer (2015); reviewed here
  67. Rockabilly/Psychobilly: An Art Anthology by Jamie Kendall (2018); reviewed here
  68. Please Don’t Grab My P#$$y by Julia Young and Matt Harkins (2018); reviewed here
  69. Scout’s Heaven by Bibi Dumon Tak (2018); reviewed here
  70. Zenobia by Morten Dürr and Lars Horneman (2018); reviewed here
  71. Sheets by Brenna Thummler (2018); reviewed here
  72. Open Earth by Sarah Mirk, Eva Cabrera, and Claudia Aguirre (2018); reviewed here
  73. All the Rage by Courtney Summers (2015)
  74. End of Watch (Bill Hodges Trilogy #3) by Stephen King (2016)
  75. Spectacle (Menagerie #2) by Rachel Vincent (2017); reviewed here
  76. Chimera: Book One – The Righteous and the Lost by Tyler Ellis (2018); reviewed here
  77. The Burning World (Warm Bodies #2) by Isaac Marion (2017); reviewed here
  78. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014) *
  79. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (2013); reviewed here *
  80. Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney (2018); reviewed here
  81. Hasib & The Queen of Serpents: A Thousand and One Nights Tale by David B. (2018); reviewed here
  82. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (2016)
  83. Luisa: Now and Then by Carole Maurel (2018); reviewed here
  84. I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, John Jennings, and Stacey Robinson (2017); reviewed here *
  85. SMASH: Trial by Fire by Chris A. Bolton and Kyle Bolton (2018); reviewed here
  86. Ark Land by Scott A. Ford (2018); reviewed here
  87. Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (2016)
  88. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018); reviewed here *
  89. Any Man by Amber Tamblyn (2018); reviewed here *
  90. Quiver by Julia Watts (2018); reviewed here
  91. Sadie by Courtney Summers (2018); reviewed here
  92. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly (2018); reviewed here
  93. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013) *
  94. The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus (2018) *
  95. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington (2007)
  96. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
  97. Grace and Fury (Untitled #1) by Tracy Banghart (2018); reviewed here
  98. Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart (2016); reviewed here
  99. The Broken Girls by Simone St. James (2018)
  100. Emotions Explained with Buff Dudes: Owlturd Comix by Andrew Tsyaston (2018); reviewed here
  101. Upgrade Soul by Ezra Claytan Daniels (2018); reviewed here *
  102. Someone I Used to Know by Patty Blount (2018); reviewed here
  103. The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel (2016) *
  104. Before She Sleeps by Bina Shah (2018); reviewed here
  105. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018); reviewed here
  106. The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark (2018); reviewed here
  107. Daughters of Forgotten Light by Sean Grigsby (2018); reviewed here
  108. Room by Emma Donoghue (2010)
  109. The Many Deaths of Scott Koblish by Scott Koblish (2018); reviewed here
  110. Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill (2018); reviewed here
  111. Monsters of the Week: The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files by Zack Handlen, Todd VanDerWerff, and Patrick Leger (2018); reviewed here
  112. Donald and the Golden Crayon by P. Shauers (2018); reviewed here
  113. Loading Penguin Hugs: Heartwarming Comics from Chibird by Jacqueline Chen (2018); reviewed here
  114. The Book of Onions: Comics to Make You Cry Laughing and Cry Crying by Jake Thompson (2018); reviewed here
  115. Lil’ Donnie Volume 1: Executive Privilege by Mike Norton (2018); reviewed here
  116. The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney (2017)
  117. Watersnakes by Antonio Sandoval (2018); reviewed here
  118. Slothilda: Living the Sloth Life by Dante Fabiero (2018); reviewed here
  119. Super Chill: A Year of Living Anxiously by Adam Ellis (2018); reviewed here
  120. How to Be Successful without Hurting Men’s Feelings: Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women by Sarah Cooper (2018); reviewed here
  121. Claw the System: Poems from the Cat Uprising by Francesco Marciuliano (2018); reviewed here
  122. Gwen the Rescue Hen by Leslie Crawford and Sonja Stangl (2018); reviewed here *
  123. To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel by Fred Fordham (adapter/Illustrator) and Harper Lee (2018); review coming soon
  124. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice (2018); reviewed here
  125. Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall (2017) *
  126. The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke (2018)
  127. Yes, I’m Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab by Huda Fahmy (2018); review coming soon *
  128. Sprig the Rescue Pig by Leslie Crawford and Sonja Stangl (2018); review coming soon *
  129. Book Love by Debbie Tung (2019); review coming soon
  130. A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library by Jack Gantos and Dave McKean (2019)
  131. [Dis]Connected: Poems and Stories of Connection and Otherwise edited by by Michelle Halket (2018); review coming soon
  132. The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (2019); review coming soon
  133. Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton (2018); review coming soon *

bonus list: miscellaneous

  1. The Year of the Introvert: A Journal of Daily Inspiration for the Inwardly Inclined by Michaela Chung (2018); reviewed here
  2. Sibley: Birds of Land, Sea, and Sky: 50 Postcards by David Allen Sibley (2018); reviewed here

(More below the fold…)

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

Friday, December 28th, 2018

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

three out of five stars

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

— 2.5 stars —

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

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

“Apocalypse?”

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

Evan nodded, giving the elder his full attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

Just what I needed.

four out of five stars

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

Covfefe!

four out of five stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14th, 2018

Enjoy with a plate of scrambled tofu!

five out of five stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Oh, the mixed feelings!

three out of five stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Welcome to the Catnip Cabal

three out of five stars

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

THE PRESS

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

MENTAL HEALTH DAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

Not for the chronically anxious.

two out of five stars

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

— 2.5 stars —

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 30th, 2018

“Conclusion: Be Threatening”

four out of five stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

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

four out of five stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Watersnakes by Antonio Sandoval (2018)

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

A swing and a near-miss.

three out of five stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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