Book Review: The Beast Is an Animal, Peternelle van Arsdale (2017)

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Dark and beautiful, but ultimately unsatisfying.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for child abuse, miscarriage, and misogyny.)

It would have been better not to have any babies at all than to give birth to two girls. Some even said it was an act of spite on the mother’s part. Only a truly disobedient woman would do such a thing.

She couldn’t get away from the monster. She was the monster.

— 3.5 stars —

Once upon a time, in a village near the forest in the land of Byd, two babies were born. They came into the world a mere two minutes apart, after their mother had labored for days. They were girls in a world that considered female children useless and unlucky; identical twins in a land ruled by superstition and mistrust. Mirror twins, at that: each a reflection of her sister, her other half.

Mindful of their neighbors’ intolerance, the woman and her husband kept the children at home, hidden from prying eyes. At least as long as they were able. This grew increasingly necessary, as the village was wracked by drought and famine, year after year. But one fateful day a visitor selling eggs caught sight of three-year-old Angelica and Benedicta; and by nightfall, an angry mob had gathered outside the family’s door. Determined to be a witch and the offspring of her coupling with the Beast, respectively, the mother and her twins were banished to the forest upon threat of death.

The girls grew wild and feral while their mother withered and faded away. Eventually they became orphans, alone save for each other – and the bitterness eating away at their hearts. The resulting hole could only be filled with the fear and hatred of others; of people like the ones who created them.

Once upon another time, also in the village of Gwenith, there lived a precocious seven-year-old girl whose brain wandered at night. One fateful evening her feet and legs followed. Though Alys’s parents cautioned her to never go out at night, lest she encounter the much-feared soul eaters – or, worse still, their master, The Beast – she disobeyed. By morning, every adult in Gwenith would be dead. Killed by the soul eaters, who Alys encountered in the pastures during her midnight stroll. She failed to sound the alarm. She was as bad as the soul eaters. She killed them all.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Roanoke Girls, Amy Engel (2017)

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Not for the faint of heart.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for child abuse and violence against women, including rape, as well as suicide. This review contains clearly marked spoilers, but I tried to keep it as vague as possible.)

“Roanoke girls never last long around here.” She skipped along the hall, her voice growing fainter as she moved, like we were standing at opposite ends of a tunnel. “In the end, we either run or we die.”

My feelings for Allegra were never complicated. It didn’t matter if she acted crazy or made me angry or smothered me with devotion. In my whole life, she was the only person I simply loved. And I left her anyway.

THEN

Camilla Roanoke’s suicide doesn’t come as a surprise to her fifteen-year-old daughter Lane. For as long as she can remember, her mother has struggled with depression – not to mention alcoholism, mood swings, and blinding bouts of rage. Some days the tears come so fast and thick that they threaten to drown them both. So when she’s found dead in their NYC bathroom, bathrobe belt wrapped around her neck, Lane is more or less numb. Yet the cryptic note Camilla left behind – I tried to wait. I’m sorry. – puzzles Lane. The news that she has family – her mother’s parents, Yates and Lillian Roanoke – who aren’t merely willing to take Lane, but actually want her? Well, that’s the biggest shock of all.

Camilla rarely spoke of her life on the family estate, Roanoke, situated among the prairies and wheat fields of Osage Flats, Kansas. And there’s a damn good reason for it – one that Lane will discover during summer she turns sixteen. One hundred days of being a “Roanoke Girl” was all she could take before she fled Kansas – hopefully for good.

NOW

Eleven years later, a late-night phone call from her grandfather summons Lane back to Roanoke. Back home. Her cousin Allegra is missing, and Lane is determined to find out what happened. It’s the least she can do, for leaving Allegra behind all those years ago.

(More below the fold…)

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

Monday, February 6th, 2017

“Such sensuous enjoyment.”

four out of five stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The You I’ve Never Known, Ellen Hopkins (2017)

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

A complex, nuanced, and heart-rending coming-of-age story.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for child abuse, domestic violence, rape, and racist/sexist/homophobic language.)

Home
Four letters,
one silent. A single syllable
pregnant with meaning.

I’m getting married. That should have an exclamation mark, shouldn’t it? I guess a small part of me is excited to leave my current existence behind in favor of something brand-new. But the closer I get to the appointed time, the more I think I might’ve made an awful mistake.

My childhood is a jigsaw puzzle,
with chewed and misplaced
pieces. I’ve always known that.
What I didn’t realize
is that even if every correct piece
was fitted perfectly into place,
the resulting picture would’ve been
interpretive art.

When she was just a toddler, Ariel’s father Mark kidnapped her. Of course, she doesn’t know this – yet. Raised on a steady diet of her father’s lies, Ariel thinks her mother Jenny ran off and abandoned the family to be with another woman. The duo has spent the last decade and half moving from town to town, state to state, mooching off her father’s latest conquests when possible, shoplifting and sleeping in the car when not.

After years of bouncing around, Ariel and Mark have finally settled in Sonora, California – which is to say, they’ve managed to stay in one place for a whopping fifteen months. Ariel was able to attend a whole year of high school uninterrupted, joined the basketball team, and even made two friends: teammates and fellow “freaks” Monica and Syrah. Mark’s in a somewhat stable relationship with a woman named Zelda, and things are looking … good. That is, if you don’t look too hard.

Mark is … a piece of work. Actually, that’s an understatement: the man’s a full-on sociopath. Kidnapping isn’t the worst of his offenses. He’s emotionally and physically abusive, treats his daughter like a possession, and demands total obedience at all costs. He has a laundry list of rules that Ariel must follow; some, like leaving her shoes at the front door and not bringing any stray animals home, go to his rigid nature, while others only make sense when Ariel discovers the truth about herself. Unlike other parents, Mark isn’t keen on the idea of letting his seventeen-year-old daughter get a driver’s license (never mind a car!) or a part-time job, even though both would make his life infinitely easier. Nor is he thrilled when she saves the life of local VIP girl Hillary Grantham, thus attracting the attention of the media.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Difficult Women, Roxane Gay (2017)

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Stories about survival; stories we need now more than ever.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for domestic violence, child abuse, and rape.)

There once was a man. There is always some man.

You too have always been popular. I have seen the evidence in your childhood bedroom, meticulously preserved by your mother. Even now, you have packs of men following you, willing to make you their strange god. That is the only thing about you that scares me.

“I want a boy who will bring me a baby arm.”

“Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.”

Difficult Women brings together twenty-one short stories by Roxane Gay, all of which have previously been published elsewhere (or multiple elsewheres), most in slightly different forms and some under different titles. (I included the TOC at the bottom of this review; alternate titles are listed last, in parentheses.) However, the publications are so varied that it’s unlikely that you’ve seen, read, and/or own them all.

This is actually rather surprising to me, since the stories – published over a span of ~5 years – gel so well together. It really feels like each one was written specifically with this anthology in mind. The collection’s namesake, “Difficult Women,” perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the whole. Like the short story, this is book about loose women and frigid women; difficult women and crazy women; mothers and wives, daughters and dead girls. Women who have faced the unspeakable – rape and sexual assault; miscarriages or the death of a child; abuse and self-harm; alcoholism and alienation – and come out the other side. Not unscathed, but alive. These are stories of survival.

Usually I find anthologies to be somewhat uneven, but not so here. Every story grabs you by the heart and threatens to squeeze until it pops, right there in your chest cavity. Gay’s writing is raw and naked; grim, yet somehow, impossibly, imbued with hope. While some are straight-up contemporary, other tales are a strange, surreal mix of the real and unreal: In “I Am a Knife,” a woman fantasizes about cutting her twin’s fetus out of her body and transferring it to her own, the way she once did with the heart of a drunk driver who collided with their car, nearly killing her sister.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Little Nothing, Marisa Silver (2016)

Monday, November 7th, 2016

If you can embrace the weird, this is one lovely and amazing story.

five out of five stars

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

Pavla revels in her name because she knows that if nothing is little, then it must be something indeed.

“You’re the one who said all time exists,” Danilo says. “The past exists. The future exists.”

It’s true. She did say this. And she does somehow believe that what has happened to her and what will happen to her exist simultaneously, that the story is already written but not yet told. She must be like someone in one of her mother’s stories who has existed for centuries of telling and will exist even after her mother is gone. How else to explain her life? As something random?

“I’m sorry it has taken so long for us to come,” he hears himself say.

Pavla Janáček is born at the turn of the century in a rural village located in a small, unnamed (but likely Slavic) country. She arrives in the twilight of her parents’ lives: after much trying and four miscarriages, mother Agáta finally enlisted the help a “gypsy.” She believes that Pavla’s “condition” is a punishment from God for her blasphemy. Pavla is born a dwarf, with a head that’s too large for her torso and arms and legs that are disproportionately short.

The chilly reception Pavla initially receives from Agáta gradually warms and deepens, as mother and daughter are forced into close proximity by the harsh winter weather. With spring comes love; Pavla is the child Agáta and Václav have always wanted. She ages, but grows precious little; she continues to sleep in her crib for the next fourteen years. She’s a precocious child and a fast learner; she teaches herself to count using the slats on her crib and, when she turns seven, Václav takes her on as his assistant at his plumbing business. She starts school a year later, where her cunning eventually wins over her classmates.

And then Pavla hits puberty and her parents get the foolish notion to “fix” her: for what will happen to their lovely daughter (and Pavla is indeed a beauty, ‘from the neck up’) when they’re gone? They begin dragging her from doctor to doctor, hoping for a miracle cure, until they wind up in the office of the biggest charlatan of them all: Dr. Ignác Smetanka, whose outlandish and cruel “treatments” leaved Pavla scarred, traumatized – and bearing the countenance of a wolf, seemingly overnight. But the transformation from dwarf to (average-sized) wolf-girl won’t be the only metamorphosis Pavla experiences before her story’s ended.

Pavla’s strange journey intersects at multiple points and in unexpected ways with that of Dr. Smetanka’s young assistant Danilo – the clever boy who built the rack that once again made Pavla an object of shame and terror.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Conjoined, Jen Sookfong Lee (2016)

Friday, September 16th, 2016

“I come from a family of psychopaths.”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, including rape and child abuse. This review contains clearly marked spoilers, but I tried to be as vague as possible.)

She was on the verge of losing her girls, not to a bearded, smelly man in a rusty pick-up truck, but to a phalanx of people who would look at her and see her mistakes, the gaps of time that she had left her daughters alone, the frank conversations she might have started with them but didn’t. She had worried over the wrong threats. […]

Ginny picked up the receiver. She might as well call. Maybe, just maybe, there was a chance that someone would understand.

It was easy to say My childhood was normal. It was the sort of thing people say when they want to deflect attention, or when it was the most polite way to explain that you grew up with privilege, that your past wasn’t dotted with evictions and coupons and beatings from a father who could never keep a job. It was what Jessica always said, even though she knew this statement couldn’t possibly be true for anyone.

Here are three things you should know about The Conjoined:

1. The book’s Little Red Riding Hood /The Handmaid’s Tale– inspired cover bears little relation to the story.

2. There are no conjoined twins in this book.

3. It’s still a pretty good read anyway, unsatisfying ending excluded.

About a month after losing her mother Donna to cancer, twenty-eight-year-old Jessica Campbell is helping her father Gerry sort through the detritus of their decades-long marriage when they make a truly horrifying discovery. Amid Ziplock bags stuffed with frostbitten bison meat, Gerry finds the bodies of two (very human) girls stashed in his wife’s basement freezers. (I own two chest freezers, and the roomier models are most definitely large enough to accommodate the body of a teenage girl. Don’t worry; you’ll only find homegrown apples and cases of Daiya cheese in my freezers.) The police are summoned straightaway, reopening an investigation into an eighteen-year-old mystery: whatever happened to Jamie and Casey Cheng?

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Cresswell Plot, Eliza Wass (2016)

Monday, June 6th, 2016

What did I just read?

two out of five stars

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

‘You will hide your true self. You will bury what you fear, in a locked chest in the cave of your heart, where you will keep the bones of the person you could have been.’

“It’s funny, isn’t it?” he said, chest contracting as he caught his breath. “How beautiful the world becomes when you think you might have to leave it?”

So here’s the thing: I had high hopes for The Cresswell Plot. I love a deranged cult story as much as the next looky loo; and between its suggestive title, eloquent synopsis, and oh-so-creepy cover art, The Cresswell Plot looked quite promising. And while Father’s “religion” is indeed the stuff of nightmares, the rest of the story fell short of my expectations.

My biggest issue was with the characters. With the exception of Father – who is reliably cruel and demented – I had trouble pinning the characters down. Cas, Caspar, Morty – they’re all over the place. Their beliefs, allegiances, reasoning, thought processes – I never felt like I got a good handle on them at all. One minute they’d be rebelling, testing the rules by joining the school play, dressing in “normal” clothing, or lusting after classmates; the next, they’re snitching on their siblings and setting fire to their potential allies’ houses. Each move was a complete surprise to me, and not in a good way; there just didn’t seem to be any consistency to their behavior.

To be fair, this could be the whole point: e.g., this is what growing up in such a dysfunctional home does to a person. But if this is the case, it could have been handled with more nuance and clarity.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Accident Season, Moïra Fowley-Doyle (2015)

Friday, April 29th, 2016

Superb idea, so-so execution…

three out of five stars

(Trigger warning for child abuse, domestic violence, and rape. This review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

It’s the accident season, the same time every year. Bones break, skin tears, bruises bloom. Years ago my mother tried to lock us all up, pad the hard edges of things with foam and gauze, cover us in layers of sweaters and gloves, ban sharp objects and open flames. We camped out together in the living room for eight days, until the carefully ordered takeout food—delivered on the doorstep and furtively retrieved by my mother, who hadn’t thought how she would cook meals without the help of our gas oven—gave us all food poisoning and we spent the next twenty-four hours in the hospital. Now every autumn we stock up on bandages and painkillers; we buckle up, we batten down. We never leave the house without at least three protective layers. We’re afraid of the accident season. We’re afraid of how easily accidents turn into tragedies. We have had too many of those already.

So let’s raise our glasses to the accident season,
To the river beneath us where we sink our souls,
To the bruises and secrets, to the ghosts in the ceiling,
One more drink for the watery road.

— 3.5 stars —

I can’t remember the last time I had such mixed feelings about a novel.

On the one hand, the story’s premise – every October the Morris-Fagan family is beset by a series of seemingly random accidents, from cuts and bruises to more serious calamities, like car accidents and drownings – is fabulous. The invention of a so-called “accident season” is creative and compelling and provides so many potential avenues of exploration. Are the accidents merely coincidence? Bad luck given meaning by a family who sees what it wants to see? (We humans have a way of forming patterns out of randomness.) A self-fulfilling prophecy? (The worst.) Or perhaps the accidents are the work of a sinister force, either supernatural or more worldly? (Not all monsters are nonhuman, you know.)

The plot gets even weirder than the synopsis hints at with the introduction of Elsie, a plain Jane, mousey girl who mysteriously appears in all of Cara’s photographs – even those taken on a family vacation on the Mediterranean. As the accident season of her junior year draws to a close, the narrator Cara; her older sister Alice; their ex-step-brother Sam; and Cara’s best friend Bea scramble to find Elsie, who’s suddenly gone missing from school and whose presence/absence seems somehow connected to the family’s ill fortunes.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner (2016)

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

You have to read this book, okay?

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for offensive language, child abuse, and domestic violence.)

“I ain’t never seen anything like the way grief rotted that man from the inside out. Chewed him up. That’s when folks started calling him the Serpent King. They wasn’t trying to be ugly or funny. They was just trying to make some sense of it, I guess. Folks do that when they scared. Folks is afraid of grief. Think it’s catching, like a disease.”

He looked up, straight into Lydia’s eyes. Her eyes were filled with … what? A new something he had never seen before in her. He couldn’t name it, but it made him strong. It swept the black-red from the margins of his eyes and turned the contemptuous crowd beneath him into a faceless blob. It made his heart beat a different rhythm.

He shone bright, as if burned clean by fire.

I started The Serpent King at 4PM on a Thursday afternoon. That night, I stayed up until nearly 2AM to finish it. I didn’t mean to – it just kind of happened, against my better judgment. (I was a bit of a wreck the next day, in every way possible.) Afterwards I lay awake for several hours, my nightly dose of melatonin doing little to calm my racing thoughts. Once I finally drifted off, it worked its way into my dreams. My two living girls (Rennie and Mags; they’re rat terriers, yo!) were there, and it was beautiful. And upon waking, Travis and Lydia and Dill were the first thing thing to break through the haze. Their story brought tears to my eyes. Again. This is one amazing book, y’all.

The story centers on three best friends who are about to start their senior year of high school. Forrestville High, located in Forrestville, Tennessee, so named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the KKK. To say that they’re the high school misfits doesn’t quite do it justice. Or at least, not in Dill’s case.

Dillard Wayne Early Jr. is the son of Pastor Early of the Church of Christ’s Disciples with Signs of Belief. His father’s church is known for incorporating snake handling and the drinking of strychnine and other poisons into its services. (The speaking of tongues? That’s a little more mundane ’round these parts.) Several years ago, Dill Sr. was tried and convicted of possession of child pornography – pornography that his lawyers unsuccessfully argued belonged to twelve-year-old Dill. While the jurors believed Dill’s testimony that he had nothing to do with it, the stink never quite washed off. Whether people (including his own mother) believe that Dill’s a pervert or just the son of one, he’s a social pariah either way.

(More below the fold…)

Audiobook Review: Devoted, Jennifer Mathieu (2015)

Monday, December 21st, 2015

Feminism: The radical notion that women are people too.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free audiobook for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for misogyny and child abuse.)

Some of my friends tell me my life before I met them sounds like I made it up. Like it’s something from a bad fairy tale where a princess is held kidnapped in a tower until she’s rescued. Like Rapunzel.

Only, no knight in shining armor saved me. I saved myself.

From birth I was part of an extreme religious community—some might call it a cult … when I’m having a bad day, I call it a cult—where women were marginalized, shamed, humiliated, and not given one ounce of autonomy. And why? Because the Lord dictates this is how it should be.

I never went to regular school until I was old enough to go to vet tech school as a legal adult. I didn’t cut my hair or wear pants until I was 18 and I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 19 and for a long time I didn’t even think it was possible to exist outside of this weird, tightly-controlled world with my dad in charge of everything I did. When I say my dad was in charge of everything, I don’t mean everything like where I went and who I hung out with, although he was in charge of that for sure. I mean he was in charge of what I wore, what I read, what I said, and even what I thought.

I hate my dad for so much, but do you know what I hate him for the most? I can’t even pray to God anymore without hearing my father’s voice in my head.

– Lauren Sullivan, The Great Escape

Though it’s technically true to say that Rachel Walker lives in Calvary, Texas, in reality her world is so much smaller than this already-small town. A member of a fundamentalist Christian community, Rachel spends most of her time at home, or attending services at Calvary Christian Church. Like her nine siblings, Rachel is home schooled, and can only leave the house in the company of a chaperon – to keep her honest and help her avoid the temptations of the sinful, secular world. The family is too poor to afford modern conveniences like cell phones or television sets, but they’d shun them even if money wasn’t an issue: anything that provides a window into the Godless world outside is strictly forbidden. The Walkers do own an ancient computer, but Rachel’s only allowed online to manage her family’s finances. Even then, it’s usually only when Dad’s in the room to supervise.

Whereas her older brothers work in their father’s small landscaping business, Rachel and her sisters are confined to the domestic sphere, cooking, cleaning, caring for their younger siblings, and assuming responsibility for their Bible-based education. Though she’d normally be a junior or senior in high school, Rachel’s own education ended years ago, when her knowledge surpassed that of her mother. Now she spends the school day teaching her brothers and sisters, and learning what she can from the family’s outdated set of encyclopedias – some of the only non-religious books to grace the bookshelves.

Not that it matters, anyway: like all girls and young women, Rachel is training for one thing and one thing only: to be a sweet and responsible helpmeet for her future husband.

(More below the fold…)

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

Monday, November 16th, 2015

 

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

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

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

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

four out of five stars

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

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

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

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Those Girls, Chevy Stevens (2015)

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

“What else bad can happen?”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape, torture, child abuse, and general violence.)

To say that life hasn’t been easy for the Campbell sisters is an understatement of epic proportions. When they were younger, their mother – who loved them dearly but wasn’t always able to put enough food on the table – was killed, hit head-on by a hay truck. Their already unstable father went off the rails and on a bender, effectively abandoning them to the state. The three were swiftly separated, placed into different foster homes, each one worse than the next. (Courtney’s foster dad sexually harassed her, and his jealous wife beat her in retaliation; Dani effectively became a slave laborer.)

After Dad got his shit together, Dani, Courtney, and Jess went to live with him on a remote ranch near the Canadian border. There, the girls help work off their rent by performing manual labor – all while trying their best to avoid Dad’s fists. He’s a violent drunk, and without Mom around to mediate, the abuse has only escalated. Luckily, he’s gone three weeks out of every month, working on an oil field in Alberta.

One night he returns from camp, drunk and in a mood. A friend informed him that his middle daughter Courtney is “running around” with a married man nearly twice her age. He confronts her, and before you can say “slut shaming” or “victim blaming,” things go sideways.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Snip, Snip Revenge, Medeia Sharif (2014)

Monday, July 14th, 2014

The Measure of a Woman

four out of five stars

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

By all outward appearances, high school junior Tabassum “Tabby” Deniz Karim has it all. Pretty, popular, and outspoken, Tabby isn’t lacking in friends – or boy toys. She has not one best friend, but three in “the BeBes” (Boss Tabby, Booty Connie, Bitch Marissa, and Beast Kiki). Her father and stepmother Song are both successful accountants, able to afford a home in the “good” part of Miami and send their daughter to private school. A student at Miami Beach Magnet School of the Arts, Tabby channels her outgoing personality into creative pursuits; she’s a talented and ambitious actress who’s already perfecting her autograph in anticipation of future stardom. And she has a head full of thick, curly, glossy, romantic, waist-length hair.

But under that glorious mane of keratin hides a dysfunctional home life and painfully low self-esteem. Caught in the middle of a hostile divorce, Tabby’s father is cold, inattentive, and emotionally available, while her mom is neglectful to the point of abuse. (And also possibly alcoholic.) Tabby’s half-sister, Caridad, seemingly subsists on a diet of bite-sized candy bars, and every time she stays with her mother and Cari, Tabby spends much of her visit cleaning the filthy condo and bathing her equally filthy sister. Meanwhile, her stepmother is expecting, and Tabby fears that the new baby will eclipse her into invisibility. Mortified by her home life and desperate to keep up appearances, Tabby doesn’t confide in her besties, which only fuels her feelings of alienation and loneliness.

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Book Review: The Summer I Wasn’t Me, Jessica Verdi (2014)

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Performing Heteronormativity, Eschewing Gluten

four out of five stars

(Spoiler alert for the last two paragraphs.)

Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to manipulate the raw landscape into some preconceived idea of what nature should look like. Goosebumps trickle across the back of my neck as I realize that’s exactly what they’re going to do to me too.

When seventeen-year-old Lexi Hamilton’s father died of pancreatic cancer, she not only lost her best friend – but one half of the only family’s she’s ever had. And with her father went the mother she used to know: happy, carefree, responsible. With it. There. In the six months since her husband’s death, Christine Hamilton spiraled into a deep depression, unable to perform even the most basic of chores. It’s all Lexi can do to keep the household going.

So when her devoutly Christian mother discovers Lexi’s secret sketchbook – brimming with lovingly rendered portraits of her gorgeous ex-friend Zoe Green – Lexi agrees to spend the summer before her senior year at a “pray the gay away” reparative therapy camp. Of course she does: she doesn’t want to lose her mother, too.

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, camp New Horizons is as beautiful as it is surreal. Led by founder Jeremiah Martin – himself a ‘recovering homosexual’ – the campers perform a variety of bizarre activities over the course of the nine week-long treatment: uncovering and healing their “Father Wounds” (spoiler alert: not always caused by one’s father). Engaging in ‘gender-appropriate activities’ (boys learn the rules of football and how to do minor home repairs, while girls take in the finer points of makeup application and hair coiffing). The dudes play baseball while the girls watch (insulting, yes, but a welcome break for those young ladies recovering from hangovers!). Going on dates with their opposite-sex, equally gay peers. Performing heteronormativity … and participating in the occasional exorcism.

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Shocking the dogren & other acts of "manliness."

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

In their latest link roundup, Vegan Soapbox includes not one, but two recent examples of intersecting oppressions in the news.

First up, in the AP, “Ohio dad who shock-collared kids gets 16 years“:

An Ohio man has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for disciplining his children with a dog shock collar.

David Liskany of Jamestown had pleaded guilty to charges of felonious assault and attempted felonious assault.

In court Friday, Greene County Common Pleas Judge J. Timothy Campbell compared the punishments to torture.

The judge said Liskany punished the children in 2006 and 2007 by putting them in cold showers, holding them underwater and using the shock collar, which is commonly used to train dogs.

The judge said the case sounded “like something from Guantanamo Bay.”

The children are now 5, 12 and 14.

As Elaine noted, shock collars used on children constitute “felonious assault,” “Yet shock collars are OK for dogs!?!”

Honestly, this case should come as no surprise. When we (either collectively, as a society, or on an individual level) come to accept physical punishment as a legitimate training method for use on the family “pet” – an innocent, sentient being – should we be shocked (pun intended) when this form of training is extended to other, “lesser” members of the family? If it’s socially acceptable to shock a dog for doing what comes naturally – instead of employing gentler, more humane training methods – then how might we expect Dad to react when his young children act in a similarly “wild” or “disobedient” manner? We’ve already told Dad that violence is permissible, even preferable in some situations*; we’ve eliminated the taboo against inflicting unnecessary harm. If the cane is ok for “his dog,” why not “his children,” as well?

In the above paragraph, I use the term “lesser” deliberately, for – as far as the “traditional” nuclear family goes – Dad occupies his position at the apex, followed by Mom, the children and (finally) any non-human members of the household. Everyone is “lesser” from where Dad sits. Start abusing those lowest on the ladder, and it’s only a matter of time before the violence seeps upward.

(More below the fold…)

Quick Hit: Pork for Tits

Monday, January 19th, 2009

This story has already made the rounds, but I think it merits another mention anyway: A California man stands accused of selling his 14-year-old daughter for $16,000, 100 cases of beer and several cases of “meat”.

CNN has a fairly detailed report on the case:

A California man sold his 14-year-old daughter to an 18-year-old man for cash, beer and meat — then called police when the prospective bridegroom didn’t live up to his end of the deal, authorities said Tuesday.

Marcelino de Jesus Martinez, 36, of Greenfield, California, was arrested Monday and booked into the Monterey County Jail, Greenfield police said in a statement. He faces felony charges of receiving money for causing a person to cohabitate, police said.

Martinez had arranged through a third party to have his daughter marry the older teenager, identified by authorities as Margarito de Jesus Galindo, of Gonzales, California. In exchange, Galindo was to pay Martinez $16,000 and provide him with 160 cases of beer, 100 cases of soda, 50 cases of Gatorade, two cases of wine, and six cases of meat, Greenfield Police Chief Joe Grebmeier told CNN.

All those involved in the case are from the western Mexican state of Oaxaca, the police chief said. In the Oaxacan community, such an agreement is “normal and honorable,” he said. “In California, it’s against the law.”

In Oaxacan culture, the food and beverages are provided by a prospective bridegroom for the wedding, Grebmeier said.

Authorities believe the young girl went with Galindo willingly, and no coercion was involved, he said. However, the girl is four years younger than California’s age of consent, although the law does allow 16-year-olds to marry with parental consent. […]

He said he wanted to send a message to immigrant communities that such behavior is unacceptable. He said his department has long heard rumors of children as young as 12 being sold or offered for sale. The Greenfield police statement said arranged marriages between young girls and older men “have become a local problem.”

(More below the fold…)

Cowboys & Criminals

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Update, 5/11/09:

As reported by SHARK, on April 16, Zeb Lanham pled guilty to felony domestic battery and

was sentenced to a 10-year unified prison term with the first five years fixed and the second five indeterminate. However, included in the plea agreement was the stipulation the judge retain jurisdiction of the case, allowing Lanham to complete a rehabilitation and education program. So Lanham was remanded to North Idaho Correctional Institution situated at Cottonwood for 180 days, in which he will complete the rider program, and attend the treatment classes set for him.

“What they actually do is, in part, determined by the charges they were convicted on,” Lee said of the rider treatment program.

After those 180 days, Lanham will return to the court and, based on the recommendation from the Idaho Department of Corrections on how Lanham did in his program, the judge will likely either order Lanham to serve the remainder of his sentence or waive prison time in favor of probation on the condition he cannot break any of the terms set.

So he could serve as little as 180 days for beating his partner, who was pregnant (and thus especially vulnerable) at the time. Just goes to show how little the patriarchy values women and non-human animals (remember, he also earns a living by abusing sentient creatures).

———

In their current newsletter, SHARK highlights the arrest of “Bull Rider” Zeb Lanham – for felony domestic violence. Lanham was charged with beating his 22-year-old pregnant girlfriend, and subsequently pled guilty.

Man charged in violent beating episode of girlfriend
By Jessica Keller
Argus Observer
Friday, November 14, 2008 10:51 AM PST

FRUITLAND — A Sweet, Idaho, man and professional bull rider was arrested and charged with felony domestic violence following an incident that occurred Nov. 3 in Fruitland.

Zeb Lanham, 24, was arrested Nov 3 following an incident at the residence of Kimberly Butler, 22, his girlfriend and the woman with whom shares a child.

“A warrant was issued for his arrest, and he turned himself in on Nov. 4,” Payette County Prosecuting Attorney Brian Lee said Wednesday. “He is still in custody last I know. The court set a $200,000 bond in this case.”

Lee said police are still gathering evidence, so what he can say about the case is limited. According to the police report, however, law enforcement officials were called following an argument between Lanham and Butler. Lanham was reported to have caused “great bodily harm with traumatic injury on Butler’s face,” according to the police report. A Fruitland police officer interviewed Butler, who is also pregnant, at Holy Rosary Medical Center, where she was being treated. She was later transported by LifeFlight Air Ambulance to a Boise-area hospital for treatment of her injuries. Those injuries include a broken cheekbone and swelling that was apparently putting pressure on her brain, according to the police report. According to the police report, Butler entered a neighbor’s house to call 911 after she sustained her injuries. Lanham is scheduled to appear Monday in Payette County Court for his preliminary hearing.

Bullrider pleads guilty at arraignment session
By: JESSICA KELLER
ARGUS OBSERVER
Sunday, December 21, 2008 1:58 AM PST

PAYETTE—A professional bullrider charged with felony domestic violence pleaded guilty following a plea agreement during his arraignment Friday in Payette County District Court. […]

One of the terms of the agreement is that Lanham be sentenced to a 10-year unified prison term with the first five years fixed. The plea agreement also stipulates Lanham pay restitution, although the terms of that have not been decided upon yet. The prison sentence, however, comes with the stipulation at the Feb. 19 sentencing date, the prosecutors will recommend the judge retain jurisdiction of the case, allowing Lanham to complete a rehabilitation and education program, which usually lasts between four to six months, Lee said. Following the completion of the program, depending on the results, the Idaho Department of Corrections could recommend to the judge Lanham serve probation or serve the original sentence, or the judge can go ahead and impose the original sentence anyway.

“Based on the totality of the circumstances of the case, we determined that was an appropriate plea agreement in this matter,” Lee said.

In Idaho, if a person has not been convicted of a prior felony offense, it is unlikely he or she would go to prison for the initial conviction, regardless. Under the current plea agreement, Lanham will have to demonstrate prison is not the best option before a final decision is made.

Lee said, based on his records, Lanham does not have a prior felony conviction. According to Idaho Department of Corrections records, however, Lanham is facing misdemeanor battery charges in Gem County in a case that has been scheduled for jury trial. Lee said, while that case remains unresolved, it is impossible to say whether it will have any impact in Lanham’s sentencing or affect possible probation opportunities if his treatment program is completed successfully.

Of this most recent case, SHARK notes, “Another example of what research has proven, violence to animals is a precursor of violence to humans.”

Indeed, on their website, SHARK documents a number of cases of violent crime among rodeo participants; the target of the violence is often non-human animals, but other victimized groups include women, children and people of color:

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DawnWatch: Responses to "Death by Veganism" — 5/21-5/23/07

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

If you’re interested in reading more veg*n responses to the insipid “Death by Veganism” missive, do check out…

May 23, 2007 Vegan Outreach e-Newsletter:: An Irresponsible Attack

The Veg Blog» Blog Archive » Standing on a Shaky Planck

isachandra: Meat Eating Parents Starve Baby!

FYI, you can always keep up to date with my reading list via delicious: http://del.icio.us/easyvegan. You know, just in case I don’t already pass along enough reading material.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: DawnWatch – news [at] dawnwatch.com
Date: May 24, 2007 3:39 PM
Subject: DawnWatch: Responses to “Death by Veganism” — 5/21-5/23/07

Most of us have heard about the sad case of Crown Shakur, a baby born three months premature, whose parents starved him to death on a diet of only soy milk and apple juice. Unfortunately, we have also heard that his parents are vegan, as that has been announced in every headline about the case. If the boy had starved on cows’ milk and apple juice (as a premature baby might, if not given human breast milk or formula) I doubt the headlines would have announced “Omnivores convicted of Manslaughter.”

The worst headline, garnering the most attention and thereby heading up the most emailed story of the day, was the “Death by Veganism.” That phrase headlined food author Nina Planck’s rant on the Monday, May 21, New York Times editorial page. The page editors, not the author, are responsible for op-ed headlines, and Planck’s article, while including some misleading statements against the vegan diet, did not quite match the headline. The article wasn’t 100% bad (only 95%) — it did include some important points about B12 and Omega 3s. But contrary to Planck’s claims, some of the world’s most renowned doctors (including the late Dr Benjamin Spock in the last edition of his book before his death) recommend vegan diets for children as far superior to standard diets.

I did not rush to send Planck’s article out on DawnWatch as I knew it was being responded to widely and competently from within the vegetarian community. Today, along with the article, I can share six letters that appeared yesterday in response to it, four of them commenting positively on vegan diets. Below them I will share a particularly strong column from a non-vegan food writer who was appalled by Planck’s piece.

First, a brief overview and link to Monday’s “Death by Veganism” New York Times op-ed:

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