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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Book Review: A Wolf at the Gate, Mark A. Van Steenwyk & Joel J. Hedstrom (2015)

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

A Retelling of the Legend of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio

three out of five stars

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

According to legend, the wolf of Gubbio was a lone wolf who terrorized the Umbrian city of Gubbio in 1220. The wolf began by attacking and eating livestock; over time the hostilities escalated, to the point that the wolf was feasting on humans as well, both hunters and innocent civilians alike. The wolf seemed invincible, or close to it, and he so frightened the people of Gubbio that they refused to leave the relative safety of their walls. When St. Francis arrived, the city was effectively under siege.

An Italian Catholic preacher, Saint Francis of Assisi is widely known today as the patron saint of animals and the environment. In this vein, St. Francis is said to have brokered a peace accord between the wolf and the people of Gubbio: if they agreed to feed the wolf, he would stop attacking the city. The oath was widely accepted – even considered a miracle by many – and, upon the wolf’s death, he was granted an honorable burial within the city limits. This site later became home to the Church of Saint Francis of the Peace. During renovations in 1872, the skeleton of a wolf was reportedly uncovered under a slab near the church wall.

A Wolf at the Gate is a retelling of this legend from the wolf’s point of view. Born into royalty, the red wolf (so named for the unusual color of her fur) assumes leadership of her pack upon the death of her parents. Taught to fear and avoid humans at all costs – “They are violent and greedy. They aren’t like any of the other beasts in the forest; they want to own it all.” – the wolf stubbornly ignores her pack’s insistence that they should leave their forest home in search of new lands, lands not yet spoiled by humans. The wolf’s leadership is challenged and she loses. Left alone in the forest, her rage and thirst for vengeance grow.

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Book Review: A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters and the Macabre, DeAnna Knippling (2014)

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Stories within Stories

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book for review though Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, trigger warning for rape.)

It was we crows who took your daughter, in case you were wondering. She didn’t run away. We had–I had–been watching her for some time, listening to her tell stories in the grass behind the house. She would sit near the chicken coop and watch the white chickens pick at the dirt, pulling up fat worms and clipping grasshoppers out of the air as they jumped toward the fields.

Some of them were good stories. Some of them were bad. But that’s what decided it, even more than any issue of mercy or salvation or anything else. Crows are, for one, possessive of stories. And also by then I had pecked almost all the elders into coming to listen to her at least once, except Facunde, who was then mad and responded to nobody’s pecking, not that I had had the courage to exactly take my beak to her. “She is like a daughter to me,” I had pled with the others. “She listens.” They laughed at me, they rattled their beaks, they came and heard her and were convinced, or at least bullied into pretending they were convinced.

We took her on the same cold winter day that you traded your son to the fairies, the wind blowing in cold gray threads, ruffling our feathers. It had snowed a few days before that, a storm that had killed your husband, or so it was said. The wind had snatched the snow out onto the prairie, hiding it in crevices. It had been a dry year, and even though it was still too cold to melt the snow, the thirsty dirt still found places to tuck it away in case of a thaw.

I stamped my feet on a sleeping branch while the others argued. Some argued that we should wait for spring. So many things are different, in the spring. But old Loyolo insisted: no, if we were to take the child, we would have to take her then and there: there had been at least one death already, and no one had heard the babe’s cry for hours.

We covered the oak trees, thousands of us, so many that the branches creaked and swayed under our weight. I don’t know if you noticed us, before it was too late. You were, it is to be admitted, busy.

The girl played on the swings, rocking herself back and forth in long, mournful creaks. She wore a too-small padded jacket and a dress decorated in small flowers. She was so clean that she still smelled of soap. Her feet were bare under their shoes, the skin scabbed and dry, almost scaly. Her wrists were pricked with gooseflesh, and her hair whipped in thin, colorless threads across her face as the wind caught it. The house had the smell of fresh death, under the peeling paint and the dusty windows, and seemed to murmur with forgotten languages, none of which were languages of love or tenderness. Afternoon was sinking into evening. The girl’s breath smelled like hunger.

“Now!” called old Loyolo, at some signal that not even I could have told you. And thousands of birds swept out of the trees toward her. From the middle of it, I can tell you, it seemed a kind of nightmare. Wings in my face, claws in my feathers. The sun was temporarily snuffed out, it was a myriad of bright slices reflected off black wings…

DeAnna Knippling’s A Murder of Crows is, at its heart, a love letter to the art of storytelling. A collection of short stories which forms the backbone of a larger narrative, the sixteen tales here – macabre, horrific, sometimes surreal – are shared with a grieving young girl by the murder (flock) of crows who rescued her from her wicked, murderous mother. (Crows being both connoisseurs and collectors of the oral tradition, natch.) Their story, told between the lines and in the margins of the other sixteen tales, is the seventeenth piece in this delightfully dark anthology.

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Book Review: Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament, S.G. Browne (2009)

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Zombies Are People Too!

four out of five stars

“The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but “Can they suffer?”
― Jeremy Bentham, The Principles of Morals and Legislation

“Is it necrophilia if we’re both dead?”

Andy Warner reanimated three months ago, but so far his “second chance” at life has him wishing that his DNA had just let him RIP. His wife Rachel is dead, killed in the same car accident that claimed Andy’s life. Since the undead have no rights to speak of, custody of his daughter Annie was handed over to Rachel’s sister and her husband; Andy can’t even stalk her on Facebook, since zombies are prohibited from using the Internet. Forced to move back in with the ‘rents after rising from the dead, Andy spends his days chugging wine and watching reruns in their wine cellar. His mother is physically repulsed by him, and his father – never the warm and cuddly type – openly loathes him.

Andy’s only respite is the local chapter of Undead Anonymous (UA). There’s Rita, the sexy suicide/formaldehyde fetishist Andy’s falling for; Jerry, a fellow vehicular casualty who delights in showing off his exposed brain; Naomi, the biracial, chain-smoking zombie whose empty eye socket makes a convenient ashtray; kind-hearted Tom, mauled to death by dogs; and surly sourpuss Carl, who was knifed to death. Led by Helen – a counselor in her first life – the members of the group attempt to navigate a hostile world, where even the slightest misstep could land them in the pound. Even though the vast majority of zombies don’t consume human flesh, they are nonetheless feared and reviled by Breathers.

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Stacking the Shelves: Christmas 2014 ed.!

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

My Christmas book haul.

I’m way too lazy to do a weekly Stacking the Shelves post; usually I save ’em for a special occasion (see: library books sales). I think Christmas counts, yes?

Since I have almost no room with which to store more books, I make an effort to buy ebooks over “real” books whenever I get the chance – the only exceptions being cookbooks and comic books, because those both look better in person, imho. So this year my x-mas list was dominated by comic books, book-wise anyway.

(Funny story: my mom is forever rolling her eyes at the plethora of reading materials on my wishlist; “Don’t you want anything other than books?” This year I made a real effort to include non-book items, like clothing, artwork, and household decorations. With two exceptions, she sent me all books. Oh well, at least I have some non-book ideas to carry over to my birthday!)

I was able to round out both my The Dark Tower and Saga collections (yay!). Most of these are Christmas gifts, though a few are pre-orders that happened to arrive around the holidays, with a few gifts to myself (purchased with Amazon’s special 25% code) sprinkled throughout.

2014-12-25 - X-Mas Book Haul - 0003 [flickr]

Top to bottom:

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Book Review: Little Orchid’s Sea Monster Trouble, Claudine Gueh Yanting (2014)

Friday, December 19th, 2014

An Imaginative, Animal-Friendly Tale

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an e-copy of this book for review through eBooks for Review.)

Little Orchid lives Jalan Kayu Village, a riverside fishing and farming community in central Singapore. The year is 1965, and the country is abuzz with talk of independence (or expulsion, depending who you ask) from Malaysia; just as nine-year-old Little Orchid is about to find her bigger, more grown-up self, so too is her homeland on the cusp of becoming “a grown-up country” – “driven out of the family and expected to live on its own.”

But politics is quickly overshadowed by the oncoming typhoon from the South China Sea. As it approaches the Jalan Kayu River, it mercilessly tosses fishes, lobsters, and other sea creatures into the sky. Or are one of the Giants to blame?

When Little Orchid and her older sister, Little Lotus, are invited to a wealthy classmate’s house for dinner, Little Orchid is overcome with excitement: this will be her first evening out! Not even Ma’s protestations (“Orchid will…she’ll break a bowl or spill her drink or something. She’ll bring trouble to others.”) can sour her mood. (Not entirely, anyhow.) Better yet, Sister Rainbow’s father, Mr. Chan, is a fisherman; perhaps she can ply him for more information about the sea monsters, particularly the Giant Cuttlefish who is the object of many rumored sightings.

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Book Review: Eating Sarah, Jaret Martens (2014)

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Not My Cuppa Grey Matter

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Also, there are some clearly marked spoilers towards the end of this review.)

Ever since she was a kid, all Sarah wanted to do was participate in the Hunt. Every month, guided by the light of the moon, the adults of their forest colony raid the nearby city in search of food: human captives to be harvested and consumed. But food has been harder and harder to come by, causing Robert – the leader of the colony – to unexpectedly lower the required age of participation from nineteen to seventeen. And, just like that, Sarah is thrust into the Hunt two years ahead of schedule.

Her excitement turns to horror, however, as the forest folk run into what quickly becomes a massacre. Sarah manages to escape with her life, but just barely. She returns to chaos in the colony; during the Hunt, someone murdered Robert, branding his flesh with a bite mark calling card. Robert is only the first of many murders, as more and more of the cannibals turn up dead. When an entire town embraces murder as a way of life, identifying one killer among many is a challenging task indeed.

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Book Review: The Sunken (Engine Ward Book 1), S.C. Green (2014)

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

“By Great Conductor’s steam-driven testicles!”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, trigger warning for rape. I summarize some of the plot points below, but try to avoid any major spoilers.)

Set in London in 1820 and 1830, The Sunken imagines an alternate history in which dragons thrive in the swamps surrounding London; King George III is a vampire/cannibal/madman; and traditional, god-fearing religions have been abolished in favor of those that worship science. In this new old England, engineers, physicians, scholars, artists, and poets lead their own churches and sects, sermonizing on their latest theories and inventions.

The Sunken follows four childhood friends in boyhood (in 1820, they are fifteen years of age and on the cusp of going their separate ways) and adulthood (in 1830, they reunite in a London destined for radical change). The son of a Lord, Nicholas Rose is about to depart with the Royal Navy on a post bought and paid for by his cruel father – as is his adventure-seeking comrade, James Holman. Meanwhile, Isambard Kingdom Brunel is to continue studying engineering under the tutelage of his father Marc. Ditto: Henry Williams, who – as the descendant of the great dragon hunter Aaron Williams Senior – occupies one of the top social rungs among the lowly Stokers, the laborers who keep the great machines under London running. The day before Nicholas and James are to set sail, there’s an accident in Marc’s school which claims the life of Henry; Marc is tried for negligence and banished to Van Diem’s Land, leaving Isambard in the care of his abusive mother.

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Book Review: Lessons from a Dog, Patrick Moberg (2014)

Monday, November 10th, 2014

Do your dog a favor & pick up a “Mutts” treasury instead…

two out of five stars

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

“Take naps.” “When someone kindly prepares food for you, devour it smiling like it’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten.” “Let your friends know you miss them.”

Lessons from a Dog is a cute little gift book, filled with wit and wisdom from our canine friends. Illustrated with simple yet adorable drawings, some of the advice found in Lessons from a Dog is pretty great – “Your presence can help a friend more than you may know.”; “Bark as big as you feel, but know when you might be outmatched – and, if you’re really passionate, don’t let that stop you.” – and I was ready and eager to give it a smiley four-star rating. And then I spotted the page celebrating dog sledding, and my heart sank.

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Book Review: War Stories: New Military Science Fiction, Jaym Gates & Andrew Liptak, eds. (2014)

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Buy it for “War Dog.” (Seriously!)

four out of five stars

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

War Stories is pretty hefty military SF anthology that boasts a wonderfully diverse group of authors, including veterans and active duty military personnel. The twenty-three stories in this timely collection tackle contemporary issues (drones and robotization of war; privacy rights; colonialism; PTSD) with an eye to the future. The result is a rather imaginative glimpse into the future of warfare, and the impact these changes (and sometimes, lack thereof) have on all those involved: soldiers, civilians, robots, clones, and, yes, even aliens.

As is usually the case with anthologies, the stories were rather hit and miss for me. Michael Barretta’s “War Dog” is easily my favorite of the bunch. It’s difficult to boil this masterpiece down into a pithy little sound bite, but let’s just say that it’s not what I expected. In the future Christian States of America, some veterans are welcomed back into the fold (assuming they’re not atheists, heathens, or homosexuals), while others – those having undergone more extreme genetic modifications – are put down like the dogs they’re widely assumed to be. “War Dog” is a weird, bittersweet, ill-fated romance between two veterans on different sides of the human/animal divide. It’s lovely and heartfelt and will hit you right in the feels. (Trigger warning for rape.)

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Book Review: My Year of Meats, Ruth Ozeki (1998)

Monday, October 27th, 2014

“Meat is the Message”

four out of five stars

(Trigger warning for violence against women and animals, including sexual assault and rape.)

When Jane Takagi-Little finally lands a job–producing a Japanese television show sponsored by BEEF-EX, an organization promoting the export of U.S. meats–she takes her crew on the road in search of all-American wives cooking all-American meat. Over the course of filming, though, Jane makes a few troubling discoveries about both. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, in Japan, Akiko Ueno watches My American Wife! and diligently prepares Coca-Cola Roast and Panfried Prairie Oysters for her husband, John, (the ad-agency rep for the show’s sponsor). As Akiko fills out his questionnaires, rating each show on Authenticity, Wholesomeness, and Deliciousness of Meat, certain ominous questions about her own life–and the fact that after each meal she has to go to the bathroom and throw up–begin to surface. A tale of love, global media, and the extraordinary events in the lives of two ordinary women, counterpointed by Sei Shonagon’s vibrant commentary, this first novel by filmmaker Ruth L. Ozeki–as insightful and moving as the novels of Amy Tan, as original as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. or John Irving–is a sparkling and original debut from a major new talent.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats. On impulse, I picked up a copy of the original hardcover edition at the dollar store. That was nearly a decade ago; in the intervening years I hemmed and hawed and wondered whether I really wanted to read a fictionalized account of a documentarian hired to promote meat – feed lots, kill floors, and all – after all. (I’m a vegan, and have devoured my fair share of nonfiction books about the animal agriculture industry already. Enough is enough.)

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