Book Review: Burn Baby Burn, Meg Medina (2016)

Monday, March 7th, 2016

Burn that mother down.

four out of five stars

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

The bruise on my neck is compact and the color of liver. It’s right at my voice box, too, so when I stand at the mirror, it looks like a bullet hole to the throat.

Mima pretends she doesn’t see it.

We’re in a secret club together. All those times I never asked about her wrists, about the fleshy part of her thigh, even the faint circle of teeth at her cheeks all those years ago after one of Hector’s tantrums. More recently, the days she uses my CoverGirl without my permission.

All too often, anti-rape campaigns focus on the victims rather than the perpetrators. Under the guise of “helpful advice,” women are told what we can do to avoid being raped: Don’t accept drinks from strangers. Don’t take your eyes off the drink you bought yourself. Don’t get drunk in public. Don’t drink in public, period. Don’t walk home alone. Don’t walk the streets at night, period. Sometimes the advice is downright contradictory: Wear pants, since they make rape slightly more difficult. But don’t wear skinny jeans because, in the event that you are raped, no one will believe you. (Skinny jeans are so difficult to peel off that your rapist must have had your cooperation and thus your consent.)

At best, these “tips” are given with good intentions and provide a false sense of control over a chaotic world. At worst, they’re a crass attempt to police the behavior of women – for our own protection, of course. *

Perhaps most alarmingly, these types of rape prevention campaigns contribute to the stereotype of the rapist as a menacing stranger, lurking in the bushes or an alleyway, just waiting for the perfect victim to come along; an animal prowling the urban jungle. Someone evil and unknowable. An anomaly.

In reality, 82% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. They are our partners, our dates, our friends, our coworkers, and our classmates. How does walking home in a group help to prevent rape when the rapist is waiting for us at home?

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Mini-Review: Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess, Janet Hill (2016)

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

Whimsical Artwork Paired With Sage Advice

four out of five stars

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

I don’t usually gravitate to kids’ books, but with a title like Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess I was powerless to resist. Dog Governess? Hello! That’s only my dream job! That and reading books for a living. Preferably from the bottom of a warm, cozy dog pile. But I digress.

I have four rescue dogs (down from seven at the highest point) and also foster, so I’m betting that I’m the target audience for this book. Or one of them anyway. While obviously suitable for kids, Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess is also likely to appeal to adults who love dogs, as well as connoisseurs of irreverent animal art.

Mother to a monkey named Mitford and Petunia the French bulldog, the redheaded Miss Moon is employed as a governess to sixty-seven dogs on an island off the coast of France. In this book, she shares the lessons she’s learned from her canine companions. Twenty pieces of wisdom, each illustrated by a lovely portrait of Miss Moon and her furry charges.

While Miss Moon’s guidance is indeed inspired – who can argue with advice like “Friends come in many shapes and sizes” or “A good book will chase away the dark”? – really it’s the artwork that will take your breath away. Each scene resembles a painting on canvas; I would happily hang any one of these images on my walls. There are dogs in hats, dogs in Halloween costumes, and dogs dressed as pirates. (So many pirates!) Dogs at the dinner table and dogs riding bicycles. Big dogs and tiny dogs and every dog in between. I think I even spotted my own dogs: a dachshund (no surprise – everyone loves a wiener dog!) and a fox or Jack Russell terrier of some sort (representations of these being a little harder to find).

Even the book’s layout appears to be carefully considered; the colors and background on the “advice” pages complement the illustrations like whoah. Really, this is one gorgeous children’s book – and I say this having only seen the electronic version. Usually I prefer the print version for books that have a heavy graphic element. I can’t wait to get my hands on a “real” copy.

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Book Review: The Gods of HP Lovecraft, edited by Aaron J. French (2015)

Friday, January 15th, 2016

A Solid Collection of Stories Rooted in the Lovecraft Mythos

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for rape and animal abuse.)

Confession time: I’m not a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. I’m not not a fan, I just know very little about his work. Most of my limited knowledge comes from the recent World Fantasy Awards controversy (which, I must admit, doesn’t exactly make me want to run out and buy copy of The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft), and that one episode of Supernatural (which, as it just so happened, TNT reran this morning. Serendipity!)

I am, however, I huge Seanan McGuire fangirl, and it’s her contribution that sold me on this anthology. (Her short stories in particular are phenomenal, and “Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves” is no exception.) I’m glad, too, because The Gods of HP Lovecraft is a pretty solid collection of science fiction stories. As you can see, I rated everything a 4 or 5, which is pretty impressive; usually anthologies are more of a mixed bag for me. The individual summaries are relatively vague and un-spoilery, but please skip them if you’d rather read this book with fresh eyes.

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Stacking the Shelves: December in Books

Saturday, December 26th, 2015

This month’s Stacking the Shelves post is pretty modest, considering it includes Christmas. Since losing Peedee last month, we’ve had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit; and the only presents I exchanged with anyone was the dogs. So the only books I acquired this month were the ones I bought or won. Which is still more than I can read in a month – at least in my current jello brain state – so that’s okay! Receiving more books for Christmas when I still haven’t gotten to all of last year’s gifts probably would have made me feel a wee bit guilty anyway.

Also, I just started reviewing again after a two-month hiatus, and seeing as I’m struggling with a moderate backlog, I resisted the urge (and it was a strong one!) to request any more e-galleys this month. My trigger finger’s feeling mighty itchy, though.

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Just in time for Christmas, I received this lovely illustrated book of poetry, written from the point of view of Farm Sanctuary’s rescue animals. Signed by author Maya Gottfried, who graciously gave away three copies of Our Farm on twitter.

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I scored a few used Tamora Pierce titles on BookMooch! Maybe I should join readwritelove28’s Tamora Pierce reading challenge after all?

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I’ve been looking forward to this one forever: Amy Lukavics’s Daughters Unto Devils, courtesy of @HarlequinTeen and The Irish Banana! Posed next to my weirdo hybrid Halloween-Christmas decorations because SPOOKY.

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Book Review: The Merman, Carl-Johan Vallgren (2015)

Monday, December 7th, 2015

“Fairy tales with tragic endings.”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for violence, including bullying, sexual violence, and animal abuse, as well as offensive language.)

There is no beginning, and no ending. I know that now. For others, perhaps, there are stories that lead somewhere, but not for me. It’s like they go round in circles, and sometimes not even that: they just stand still in one place. And I wonder: what are you supposed to do with a story that repeats itself?

“There’s not much that’s been written about mermaids, you see. Mainly fairy tales with tragic endings.”

Petronella’s life is a lot like a fairy tale. Not the ending, when the lowly peasant girl has found her prince, the heroine has slayed the dragon, and everyone is free to live happily ever after for the rest of their days. Rather, Nella is the beginning; the nightmare that comes before the daydream. The raw truth that lurks under the Disneyfied facade, fangs and claws bared.

Nella’s is a family of three, occasionally four. She and her younger brother Robert live with their mother Marika in a maisonette (apartment) on Liljevägen in Falkenberg, Sweden; her housing is largely regarded as “a sort of slum where social service cases live.” An unemployed alcoholic, Marika is a neglectful mother at best. Her mom is more likely to spend the family’s public assistance funds on booze than food, forcing Nella into shoplifting to make up the difference. Sometimes the free lunch at school is the only meal Nella and Robert will see in a day; oftentimes it’s the one and only reason they bother to show up at all. That, and to get out of the house: no matter how much Nella tidies up, it’s not long before hurricane Marika sweeps through, leaving mess of dishes and vomit in her wake.

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DNF Review: Bird Box, Josh Malerman (2014)

Monday, November 9th, 2015

 

Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

Interweaving past and present, Bird Box is a snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

DNF at 48%.

The story’s premise is intriguing, but it never really takes flight. The characters are one-dimensional; the dialogue, flat; and many of the plot points and character decisions defy common sense.

Take George’s classified ad, for example. He would have had to place it before the world fell apart, when people were still showing up to work and the phone and internet were up and running. So why invite strangers into your home in lieu of friends, family, neighbors, etc.? People whose temperaments and personalities you’re at least somewhat familiar with? (Don, I’m looking at you.) And what’s so special about George’s house that it should attract people from miles away? The hydro power is a handy advantage (not mentioned in said ad, mind you), but in terms of safety, it’s not like his little slice of suburbia is any more fortified than the surrounding homes and neighborhoods. There’s no fence keeping the creatures (and marauders) out. Terminus it ain’t.

Also, during all their raids, the group has yet to find a single phone book? Really? I have asked, demanded, and begged to be removed from phone book deliveries, and yet I still have at least half a dozen of the suckers gathering dust on my bookshelves.

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Book Review: Menagerie, Rachel Vincent (2015)

Monday, September 28th, 2015

“I deal in morality, not in law.”

five out of five stars

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

“She won’t serve her dish cold,” the oracle mumbled, almost giddy with joy as chill bumps rose all over her skin. “And two graves won’t be near enough…”

What was I, if I had no name, no friends, no family, no job, no home, no belongings, and no authority over my own body? What could I be?

In a sudden surreal moment of epiphany, I realized I was incubating not a child, but a cause.

The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? – Jeremy Bentham

I have a curious affinity for circus stories: tales that unfold under the Big Top, or books starring carnival performers. Thus far 2015 has been a great year to be a fan of such stories. Kirsty Logan imagines a world vastly transformed by climate change in The Gracekeepers. After her parents were mauled to death by the captive bear featured in their act, North was forced to take up their show, alone – save for the bear’s cub, North’s only companion. Two orphans, traveling the world with the floating circus troupe known as Excalibur. Leslie Parry’s Church of Marvels follows Coney Island sideshow performer Odile Church as she travels to Manhattan in search of her sister, who fled The Church of Marvels when it burned to the ground, taking the sisters’ mother – and their livelihood – with them. In The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler weaves an imaginative tale about a librarian named Simon who comes into possession of an old book – a circus ledger dating back to the 1700s. Only by unraveling its secrets can he lift the curse that’s plagued his family for generations. And then there’s Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers – which I’m currently a quarter of the way into – a retelling of Romeo & Juliet featuring two rival families of performers, the Palomas (mermaids) and Corbeaus (tightrope walkers/tree climbers). There’s also The Wanderers, by Kate Ormand, which I didn’t enjoy nearly as much (I DNF’ed at 41%), but I’ll get to that one in a moment.

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DNF Book Review: The Wanderers, Kate Ormand (2015)

Monday, September 7th, 2015

 

A Unique Twist on Shape-Shifters with Fast-Paced Action, Thrilling Adventure, Mystery, and a Bit of Romance

Flo lives an eccentric life—she travels with a popular circus in which the main acts star orphaned children with secret shape-shifting abilities. Once Flo turns sixteen, she must perform, but she’s not ready. While practicing jumping a flaming hurdle in a clearing beside the circus, she spots a dark figure in the trees and fears he saw her shift. The news sends the circus into a panic.

In Flo’s world, shifters are unknown to humans with the exception of a secret organization—the EOS, referred to as “hunters.” Hunters capture and kill. They send some shifters to labs for observation and testing—testing they don’t often survive—and deem others useless, a danger to society, and eliminate them. To avoid discovery, shifters travel in packs, constantly moving and keeping themselves hidden. Up until now, the circus was the perfect disguise.

Believing she has brought attention to the group, Flo feels dread and anxiety, causing her to make a mistake during her performance in front of the audience—a mistake that triggers a violent attack from the hunters.

Flo manages to flee the torched circus grounds with Jett, the bear shifter who loves her; the annoying elephant triplets; and a bratty tiger named Pru. Together they begin a new journey, alone in a world they don’t understand and don’t know how to navigate. On the run, they unravel secrets and lies that surround the circus and their lives—secrets and lies that all point to the unthinkable: Have they been betrayed by the people they trusted most?

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

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Book Review: The Wolf Wilder, Katherine Rundell (2015)

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

“Stories can start revolutions.”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Mild trigger warning for sexual harassment of a minor.)

Humans, on the whole, Feo could take or leave; there was only one person she loved properly, with the sort of fierce pride that gets people into trouble, or prison, or history books.

[A] wolf who cannot howl is like a human who cannot laugh.

Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there lived a dark and stormy girl. She was wild in spirit and loved fiercely; and no wonder, for she was raised in the company not of humans, but of wolves. They were her friends, her teachers, her pupils, her family – her (almost) everything. And, at the tender age of twelve, this girl and her half-tame friends would go on to lead a revolution.

Feodora Petrovich and her mother Marina live in the Russian wilderness, not too far from Saint Petersburg. Though they’re the only humans for miles, they’re hardly alone – not exactly. The Petrovich family has been wilding wolves for centuries – since the days of Peter the Great, in fact.

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Book Review: Falling in Love with Hominids, Nalo Hopkinson (2015)

Friday, August 14th, 2015

Falling in love with hominids – despite our many failings.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for sexual assault. The individual story summaries contain general plot details and/or vague spoilers. If you’re rather approach the collection with unsullied eyes, skip these.)

Millie liked sleeping with the air on her skin, even though it was dangerous out of doors. It felt more dangerous indoors, what with everyone growing up.
(“The Easthound”)

“Who knows what a sea cucumber thinks of the conditions of its particular stretch of ocean floor?”
(“Message in a Bottle”)

Confession time: This is my very first time reading Nalo Hopkinson, despite the fact that I’ve collected several of her novels over the years. (So many books, so little time!) Given how much I enjoyed Falling in Love with Hominids, I aim to rectify this ASAP.

Falling in Love with Hominids is Hopkinson’s second collection of short fiction, published some fourteen years after Skin Folk. She’s also edited/contributed to four others: Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction (2000); Mojo: Conjure Stories (2003); So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy (2004); and Tesseracts Nine: New Canadian Speculative Fiction (2005). Born in Jamaica and raised in a middle/creative class literary environment, Hopkinson moved to Toronto at the age of sixteen and currently lives in Riverside, California. Her work often draws on Caribbean history and language, and exhibits wonderful diversity: gender, race, sexuality, nationality, you name it.

These hallmarks are on full display in Falling in Love with Hominids, which features eighteen new and previously published tales. An eclectic mix of fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, fairy tale retellings, and the outright absurd, the stories found here are both highly entertaining and marvelously profound. The protagonists grapple with a variety of issues, from the mundane to the otherworldly: navigating the perilous landscape of adolescence; the politics of black hair; sexual abuse and assault; racism, misogyny, and homophobia; grief and loss; what it means to be human (and whether this status can even be relegated to humans); and the possibilities of alien visitation and botanic sentience.

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Book Review: Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep, Peter Öberg, ed. (2015)

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

A Mostly-Solid Batch of Swedish Speculative Fiction with a Few Standouts

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review from the publisher. Trigger warning for rape and violence.)

Short story collections are always a little tricky to rate, especially when there are a number of different contributors. In Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep, there are exactly twenty-six. The unifying factor? All are Swedish authors, and the anthology has a speculative fiction/scifi/fantastical bent. Keeping with the title, most of the contributions are science fiction, or at least science fiction-y, with robots and AI figuring into many of the plots. As promised, steampunk horses (in an old timey Western setting, no less!) and sassy goblins also make an appearance.

The result is a mostly-solid mix of speculative fiction, though the odd fantasy/fantastical stories felt a bit out of place and disrupted the overall feel of the collection. As usually happens with anthologies, I enjoyed some stories more than others; there are a few that I absolutely fell in love with, and will no doubt revisit again in the future (“The Rats” in particular) and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I DNF’ed two of the tales (“Melody of the Yellow Bard,” which is way too wordy and could benefit from a more ruthless round of editing; and “The Philosopher’s Stone,” which seems like a perfectly fine story but just wasn’t for me).

Many of the pieces fall somewhere in the middle, with quite a few 3- and 4-star ratings, and a smattering of 2-stars.

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Book Review: The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins (2015)

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

How do I love thee? Let me catalog the ways.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for rape and other forms of violence.)

I’m going to break with my usual review format and skip the plot summary altogether. The synopsis provided by the publisher does a lovely job summarizing the story – and without dropping any spoilers, which is more than I can trust myself to do. (I’M SO WEAK, YOU GUYS.) Instead, here are twelve things I love and adore and cherish about The Library at Mount Char, which is everything I wanted and more. One for each catalog, natch.

1. Carolyn, who is best described as the love child of Beatrix Kiddo and Amy Elliott Dunne.

To say that Carolyn is a BAMF is an understatement. She kicks major ass, sure – but she’s also a wonderfully intelligent, complex, conflicted character. There’s so much more to her than meets the naked eye; more than even she herself seems to realize at times. Every time Hawkins pulls back a layer – through flashbacks and spell-induced memories – I’m surprised at what lies beneath. She’s the kind of anti-hero that I so badly want to root for, long after she’s lost herself and fucking up epically. Carolyn does all the wrong things for all the right reasons.

Also, you’ve got to a love a thirty-something-year-old woman who can rock a pair of legwarmers.

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Book Review: Strays: A Novel, Jennifer Caloyeras (2015)

Friday, June 5th, 2015

Team Roman

three out of five stars

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

I wondered if the dogs were thinking the same thing about us – that we were all a bunch of strays.

[E]tched on the inside of the collar, where no one else could see, were the words I am loved.

Sixteen-year-old Iris Moody is what you might call a “troubled” kid. After her mother was killed by a drunk driver, her father beat a hasty retreat from Los Angeles, packing them up and relocating to a smaller, unfamiliar place in Santa Cruz – all without consulting Iris. Two years on and she still hasn’t quite come to grips with her mother’s death and her new surroundings. Dad is unhelpful at best, consumed as he is with his new job at a juice company; he seems completely oblivious to Iris’s feelings, including her mounting anger management issues.

When Iris is arrested (in a true “well that escalated quickly” moment) for making death threats and assaulting her English teacher during final exams, she’s sentenced to six weeks of community service and mandatory therapy – along with summer school, of course. Her court-appointed lawyer thinks he’s doing Iris a favor when he scores her a coveted volunteer spot, working with rescue dogs at Ruff Rehabilitation. The only problem is, Iris inherited her mother’s fear of dogs.

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Book Review: Alien Child, Pamela Sargent (1988/2015)

Friday, May 29th, 2015

A Solid SciFi Story for the Tween Set

three out of five stars

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

The emptiness of the world outside told her that the last story of her people had ended badly.

For as long as she can remember, Nita has lived in the east wing of the Kwalung-Ibarra Institute with her furred, cat-like guardian, Llipel. Their only company is the robotic gardeners that maintain the grounds; the artificial intelligence that controls the Institute; and, later, a cat retrieved from the cold room for Nita. Llipel’s companion and fellow space traveler Llare occupies the west wing, but the two only communicate through the mind, and then only when necessary: this being their time of separation, Llipel and Llare are compelled to pursue solitude – from members of their own species, if nothing else.

As far as Nita knows, she’s the last remaining human on earth. That is, until she attempts to call Llare on the intercom and is stunned to find a furless face staring back at her. On the cusp of womanhood – no longer a child, but not yet an adult – Nita makes a shocking discovery: there’s a human boy named Sven just a stone’s throw away. And, for some reason that neither of them understand, both their guardians have kept the presence of the other a secret from their charges.

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Book Review: The Gracekeepers: A Novel, Kirsty Logan (2015)

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Positively Enchanting

five out of five stars

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

Alone in their coracle, they were not performers, not burdens, not dangers, not weapons, not food. They were family.

Her whole life she had been afraid of the sea, terrified that it wanted to swallow her whole. And here she was, and it held her.

What’s the use of a clown who doesn’t subvert? What do they bring to the crowd? Everyone has sadness, and rage, and frustration – and so everyone needs a clown.

Callanish Sand will always remember the bear.

She was just a little girl when the Circus Excalibur visited her island, North-East 19 archipelago – home of the sacred World Tree – docking only long enough to put on a night show for the landlockers’ amusement. (And some food and provisions, gods willing.) Everything was going swimmingly (pun intended); the acrobats, fire-breather, and equestrians performed to the audience’s delight. And then the show reached its climax: a veritable bloodbath.

Two adults, a man and a woman, performing a courtship waltz with a giant bear, when something went tragically (yet predictably) awry. Even today, Callanish isn’t exactly sure of the what or the why, shielded as she was from the fray by her mother’s steady arms. Before she was carried away, Callanish saw three fallen bodies: those of the man, the woman, and the eviscerated bear. “And in the center of it all, […] two figures: one draped in white, one furred black; both with eyes open moon-round and empty. A small girl and a small bear, hands and paws still linked.” The children of the dead, left to pick up the pieces.

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Book Review: The Well, Catherine Chanter (2015)

Monday, May 25th, 2015

One person’s paradise is another person’s perdition.

three out of five stars

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

There is one last emotion, though, which I have not anticipated. I am feeling smug. There, you thought you were just guarding a middle-aged crank who had delusions of grandeur, but now you’ll have to think twice, smart-arse.

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day. I dance like a witch doctor around the sitting room.

Determined to salvage her marriage – not to mention what’s left of her husband’s sanity – Ruth Ardingly agrees to trade in her London home for a small farm in the country. Hailing from a long line of farmers, it was always Mark’s dream to work the land, reveling in nature and solitude and self-sufficiency. Yet he forfeited these plans when, as a college student, he met and fell in love with Ruth – already pregnant from a one-night stand. Instead, he pursued a law degree, committed himself to Ruth and their daughter Angie, and settled for an ordinary, middle-class existence.

And then came the child pornography, discovered on his work laptop. Though Mark was investigated and eventually exonerated, that didn’t stop the harassment and social ostracization. So Ruth acquiesced, hoping that the change of scenery and fresh air would do them both a world of good. Perhaps it might have, had the move not come smack dab in the middle of a drought – a drought to which their new, thirty-acre paradise seems immune.

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Book Review: Scarlett Undercover, Jennifer Latham (2015)

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

A BAMF WOC protagonist, smart & snappy dialogue, & a one-eyed rescue dog – what more do you need?

four out of five stars

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

The funny thing was, I’d always been a skeptic when it came to Qadar. I didn’t like the idea that everything was already set, that no matter what choices I made, my path through life had been mapped out a long time ago. But ever since Gemma had showed up at my door, fate had yanked the steering wheel from my hands and hit the gas pedal hard. This case wasn’t just about some rich kid getting messed up by a cult. It was about old devils and new ones. It was about my faith. My family. About me.

In the wake of their parents’ tragic and untimely deaths, sisters Reem and Scarlett adopt different means of coping with their grief and anger. Reem decides to become a doctor, with the ultimate goal of opening a clinic that caters to Muslim women. Perhaps if Las Almas had already had one such practice, her Ummi might have sought treatment for the cancer destroying her brain before it was too late to do anything but watch her waste away. Reem also becomes more devout in her religion, taking up the hijabs worn by her Ummi, and encourages her younger sister to partake in daily prayers.

Meanwhile, Scarlett is still reeling from her Abbi’s murder several years previous. After years of acting out – culminating in an arrest for hot-wiring a Lexus in ninth grade – Detective Emmet Morales takes an active role in her upbringing. The then-beat cop who handled the notification for her Abbi’s case, Emmet becomes an adopted member of Scarlett’s family, even standing in as a pallbearer at her Ummi’s funeral. He puts Scarlett to work, starting with easy cases: seeing if liquor stores will sell to an underage girl, scouting for pickpockets in tourist traps. When she demonstrates a knack for the “gumshoe,” the real fun begins. Understandably bored at school, Scarlett graduates early – by two years – and opens her own P.I. business.

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Book Review: A Letter to My Mom, Lisa Erspamer (2015) – and a Mother’s Day letter to my mom!

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

“Sent from my heart” – will.i.am

four out of five stars

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

The third book in Lisa Erspamer’s “letter” series (previous titles include A Letter to My Dog and A Letter to My Cat), A Letter to My Mom is a sweet and touching (and timely, with Mother’s Day just around the corner!) collection of letters from children to their mothers.

What first struck me about the collection is its diversity. There are a fair number of celebrity pairings, yes, but also quite a few letters written by regular folks too. There are letters from children as well as adults; groups of siblings as well as single letter-writers; women and men, girls and boys; adopted as well as biological children; letters addressed to elderly parents as well as middle-aged parents; even a handful written to mothers who have since passed on.

Happily, there’s also a fair amount of racial diversity; while many of the faces are white, there are also Korean, Latina, African-American, Chinese, Indian, Jewish, and Taiwanese mothers and daughters. Some of the most touching letters are from second-generation American immigrants whose mothers left their homelands to pursue the American Dream and give their kids a better life. Trish Broome – the product of a now-failed marriage between a Korean mother and American GI father who met during the Vietnam War – writes of the many sacrifices her mother, Bok Ja Smith, made for her family:

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Book Review: Vegan’s Daily Companion, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (2011)

Friday, May 8th, 2015

“…vegan is what I was meant to be.”

four out of five stars

My hope is that we can navigate through this world and our lives with the grace and integrity of those who need our protection. May we have the sense of humor and liveliness of the goats; may we have the maternal instincts and protective nature of the hens and the sassiness of the roosters. May we have the gentleness and strength of the cattle, and the wisdom, humility, and serenity of the donkeys. May we appreciate the need for community as do the sheep and choose our companions as carefully as do the rabbits. May we have the faithfulness and commitment to family as the geese, and adaptability and affability of the ducks. May we have the intelligence, loyalty, and affection of the pigs and the inquisitiveness, sensitivity, and playfulness of the turkeys.

My hope is that we learn from the animals what it is we need to become better people.

With no fewer than four cookbooks under her belt – The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, The Vegan Table, Color Me Vegan, and The Joy of Vegan Baking, which is destined to become a classic – many of you may know Colleen Patrick-Goudreau as an accomplished vegan chef. But she’s also got a master’s degree in English Literature, which she puts to use as a writer and public speaker, educating the public about compassionate living and animal rights. Her exploration of the intersections between human and animal exploitation, both on the Food for Thought podcast and various short videos released on YouTube, are among my favorites.

In Vegan’s Daily Companion, the self-described Joyful Vegan brings all her talents and avenues of interest together to create a book as unique as it is informative. Part cookbook, part self-help book, part pop culture guide, Vegan’s Daily Companion offers 365 days of inspiration, knowledge, and celebration to vegans, both new and experienced. From Monday through Sunday (with the weekends sharing a recipe), each day you’ll find a short discussion or series of tips, each tailored to a specific theme:

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Book Review: Church of Marvels: A Novel, Leslie Parry (2015)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

“I have witnessed the sublime in the mundane…”

five out of five stars

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

But this story, in truth, is not about me. I am only a small part of it. I could try to forget it, perhaps. I could try to put it behind me. But sometimes I dream that I’ll still return to the pageantry of the sideshow, hide myself beneath costumes and powder and paint, grow willingly deaf among the opiating roar of the audience and the bellow of the old brass band. It will be like the old days – when Mother was ferocious and alive, before the Church of Marvels burned to the sand. But how can I return now, having seen what I have seen? For I’ve found that here in this city, the lights burn ever brighter, but they cast the darkest shadows I know.

Why, he wondered, did he have to peddle his difference for their amusement, and yet at the same time temper it, suppress it, make it suitably benign?

How would it feel to know there were people who’d chosen to live as they felt, not as they appeared, and never looked back? Could she bear their happiness, as shunned as they were? Was she brave enough?

She had seen it done. Wherever they glittered in the afterlife – flying among the high rafters of heaven, swimming with her mother in an undersea cave – she hoped the tigers had known it, and roared.

For the first time in her seventeen years, Odile Church is alone. Her mother’s sideshow carnival, the Church of Marvels, burned to ash in the spring, the casualty of a freak fire. With it went her mother, many of her friends, and the only life she knew. Her twin sister, Isabelle Church, was spared – only to run off to Manhattan not long after. That was three months ago; three months without a word.

And then Odile receives a cryptic, ominous letter from Belle: “If for some reason this is the last letter I should write to you, please know that I love you.” Armed with little more than an old map of her mother’s and Belle’s letter, Odile hops the next ferry to Manhattan in search of her sister.

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