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.

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Book Review: Bloodchild and Other Stories, Octavia E. Butler (2005)

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

These stories will burrow into your brain like a grub into an achti carcass.

five out of five stars

(Trigger warning for rape and sexual/reproductive exploitation.)

The truth is, I hate short story writing. Trying to do it has taught me much more about frustration and despair than I ever wanted to know.

Yet there is something seductive about writing short stories. It looks so easy. You come up with an idea, then ten, twenty, perhaps thirty pages later, you’ve got a finished story.

Well, maybe.

Don’t let Butler’s apparent distaste for short stories fool you; many of the stories collected here are shiny little masterpieces in their own right.

(…although I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn’t also love to see several of the stories fleshed out into full-length novels; “Bloodchild,” “Speech Sounds,” and “Amnesty,” I’m looking at you!)

The second edition of Bloodchild and Other Stories includes seven short stories (five previously published, two brand spanking new) and two essays (both reprints). While the essays offer advice to aspiring writers as well as insights into Butler’s childhood (“Shyness is shit.” might be the realest, rawest sentence in the whole damn book), the stories are that wonderfully creepy, complex, unsettling, and ultimately deeply profound brand of SF/F that I’ve come to associate with Butler: earth-based worlds characterized by rapidly crumbling dystopias, or alien societies in which the human survivors are forced into untenable compromises with their extraterrestrial saviors/overlords. Each piece is followed by a brief (but enlightening) Afterward penned by the author herself.

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Book Review: Blackout (The Newsflesh Trilogy #3), Mira Grant (2012)

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Zombie Bears, Human Clones, State-Sponsored Bioterrorism — and Twincest?

four out of five stars

(Caution: spoilers ahead!)

Halfway through Deadline, when reluctant hero Shaun addressed his lover by his dead sister’s name (post-coitus!), I groaned. Audibly. Please dear zombie Jesus, I thought, don’t go all Dexter on me now. That would just be stupid. Well, prepare to get stupid.

The final book in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy, Blackout picks up shortly after the events of Deadline: with Shaun and the remaining members of the After the End Times team camping out at mad scientist Dr. Shannon Abbey’s illicit lab in Shady Cove, Oregon (population: the walking dead), while sister Georgia inexplicably awakes from death inside a CDC lab in nearby Seattle. Also known as “Subject 139b,” Shaun’s just discovered that he’s immune to the Kellis-Amberlee virus, quite possibly from nearly two and a half decades of constant exposure to the virus via Georgia’s retinal KA reservoir condition. The newest subject of Dr. Abbey’s scientific curiosity (read: poking and prodding), the invasions visited upon Shaun are nothing compared to the atrocities the CDC has inflicted upon his sister. Or, perhaps more accurately, George’s genetic line.

One of many Georgia Mason clones (some of them failed and destroyed, with the few successes waiting in the wings like so many benched players), this Georgia Mason – Subject 7c – is a 97% cognitive match to the original Georgia. She’s the “showroom model”: a pony to parade in front of the investors who financed her resurrection. “Street model” Georgia 8b is just 44% authentic. Unlike the “real” Georgia Mason, she’s pliable, obedient, and easy to control; she’s the Georgia the CDC means to deliver to Shaun. Only not if 7C – and her allies within the Epidemic Intelligence Service – can help it.

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