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.

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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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Book Review: Ice Massacre, Tiana Warner (2014)

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Killer Mermaids and Warrior Women of Color!

five out of five stars

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

Meela can’t remember a time when her people – the inhabitants of Eriana Kwai, a small island situated off the coast of Alaska – weren’t at war. For all of her eighteen years, The Massacre has been a yearly ritual: every May, twenty young men set sail for the Aleutian Islands, where their adversaries’ nest is believed to be located. Their objective? To slaughter as many “sea rats” as possible, in hopes of decimating their population and returning peace and prosperity to Eriana Kwai.

For the past several decades, an influx of mermaids has dominated the Pacific Ocean, consuming its sea life, attacking ships bound to and from Eriana Kwai, and occasionally even invading the island’s beaches. As a result, this formerly prosperous island has become increasingly dependent on handouts from the mainland. Its four thousand inhabitants are poor, starving, and desperate. With each year’s Massacre less successful than the last, Anyo the training master makes a bold suggestion: send young women to battle the mermaids. Unlike men, they aren’t susceptible to their supernatural charms.

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Book Review: The Shining Girls: A Novel, Lauren Beukes (2014)

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Deserves every bit of the buzz – and then some!

five out of five stars

My introduction to Lauren Beukes came in the form of Broken Monsters, an ARC of which I had the pleasure of reviewing last month. Though I fell in love with Beukes’ writing style – the playful use of pop culture references, the skillful interweaving of multiple narratives and POVs, the casual interrogation of racism and sexism – the particular blend of fantasy/SF and crime fiction found in Broken Monsters didn’t quite do it for me. Thinking that it might work better in The Shining Girls, I bumped it up to the top of my TBR pile. I know it’s a little tired to say that this book shines, but. Yeah, it kind of does.

Harper is a psychopath living in a Chicago Hooverville circa 1931 when he robs a blind woman of her coat – in the pocket of which he finds a key, which leads him to the House. His House. By all appearances a dilapidated shack, once Harper steps through the front door, it magically transforms itself a mansion – shiny, new, and opulent – just for him. And when he passes through the front door again, he can step out onto any time he can imagine…just so long as the day falls somewhere between 1931 and 1993.

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Book Nerd Problem #323

Monday, September 15th, 2014

We’re getting a foster kitty tonight – our very first! Up until now we’ve only fostered dogs.

The last time we introduced two cats, it ended with Ozzy peeing on several bottom bookshelves’ worth of books. (I was still finding ruined books as recently as two months ago. At least he gave us something to remember him by?)

This time around, I decided to take some precautions.

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Better safe than sorry, right?

File this also under “Reasons why ebooks are superior to ‘real’ books.”

Book Review: The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances, Ellen Cooney (2014)

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Sweet, But Sometimes Problematic

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

Evie. Female. Twenty-four. Petite in stature and preppy in appearance – yet surprisingly strong and resilient. Has low self esteem and abandonment issues due to a divorce in the home. Graduated from college with a degree in literature and an addiction to cocaine; dropped out of graduate school. Neat, organized, and motivated to learn. Can be a self-starter, if given the opportunity. Sometimes too quick to give up. Needs guidance and a sense of belonging.

Lucille. Female. Fifty. Divorced. Will only answer to “Mrs. Auberchon.” Prim, prickly, and slow to disclose personal information (or any information). Does not make friends easily, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle of loneliness and alienation. When given a job, will take to it fastidiously. Needs a purpose and a nice, cozy role to retire into. Potentially aggressive, occasionally paranoid. Anxiety meds should be considered.

Like so many strays before her – both human and canine – Evie is adrift when she arrives at the Sanctuary. Fresh out of rehab (a little too fresh, some might say), Evie is searching for direction, guidance – a new purpose in life. Though she’s never been interested in dogs – never even been owned by a dog, in point o’ facts – she impulsively answers a dog training ad she spotted while browsing classifieds on the internet. (“Would you like to become a dog ?”) With a little finagling and fudging of the truth, her application is accepted – Evie is headed to the mountaintop school for dogs!

Upon Evie’s arrival, she’s temporarily waylaid at the inn at the base of the mountain. It’s here that her training begins – Evie just doesn’t know it yet. One by one she’s introduced to her future students: Josie, a nippy little lady who lost her longtime home to the new baby. Shadow, who spent most of his life on the end of the chain and is now training (somewhat unsuccessfully) to be a search and rescue dog. Hank, who doesn’t take kindly to wooden objects and can’t stop obsessively pacing back and forth, back and forth. Tasha, a chronically depressed and anxious Rottweiler who was dumped from a car.

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Book Review: The Troop, Nick Cutter (2014)

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Things that make you go “EWWWWWWWWWW!”

four out of five stars

Fact One: a boat had arrived.

Fact Two: he and the boys were on an isolated island over an hour from home. No weapons other than their knives – blades no longer than three and a half inches, as outlined in the Scout Handbook – and a flare gun. It was night. They were alone.

It was supposed to be a last hurrah for the boys of Troop Fifty-Two.

At fourteen years old, the guys – Kent, Ephraim, Max, Shelley, and Newton – had come up together through Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, and Venturers, but most (save for the ever-nerdy Newt) now felt that they were too old to be running around in the wilderness, earning merit badges for activities as dorky as bird watching and first aid. And so the late-autumn camping trip to Falstaff Island was to be their final adventure together, much to Scoutmaster Tim’s disappointment.

Their peace and quiet is interrupted on the very first night, with the unexpected arrival of an emaciated and ravenous stranger in a speed boat. While Tim attempts to treat the obviously ill man (in his other life, the Scoutmaster is a GP), there’s no cure for what ills him. “Typhoid Tom,” as he’d later come to be known in the papers, is Patient Zero in an experiment gone horribly wrong…or horribly right, depending on which project backer you’re talking to.

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Mini-Review: Destiny, K.C. Maguire (2012)

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Boy Buys Girl, Girl Evolves

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this story for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, the last paragraph contains a vague spoiler.)

“What’s the point of a new generation if we can live forever?” And there it is. My whole problem with the Transition. Truthfully, I always wanted kids. But Tara didn’t…and Destiny can’t. So what’s the point?

When Joe’s wife Tara leaves him after more than a decade of marriage, he does what many middle-aged, newly-single men of the future do: he buys a companionship android. At first glance, the T-26 known as Destiny might seem to be at odds with Joe’s longstanding resistance to the Transition – in which one’s consciousness is downloaded into a synthetic version of one’s body; everybody’s doing it! – but Destiny is a true android: preprogrammed with a variety of factory settings (Erotic, Housewife), she lacks any humanity of her own. Whereas Joe’s Transitioned friends are constant reminders of the crumbling wall between “human” and “machine,” Destiny is 100%, honest to goodness not-human.

Much like his plasma screen tv and toaster oven, Destiny is just another one of Joe’s toys. Until the day she isn’t. Destiny begins to learn. Evolve. Becomes sentient.

As Joe finds himself falling in love with an android, he must decide what’s more important to him: his humanity, increasingly rare these days – or eternal love.

Smart and full of heart, Destiny is a fun and quick read – a little too quick, if you ask me. I’d love to see this story expanded in novel form. The Habitat Facility is a nice touch, and it’s interesting to observe how Joe’s behavior parallels that of some nonhuman animals kept in confinement (pandas, for example, are notoriously reluctant to mate in zoos, leading to the rise of panda porn).

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

Book Review: The Ugly Princess: The Legend of the Winnowwood, Henderson Smith (2014)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

ALL the scars! (Instead of stars! See what I did there?)

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Read program. Also, this review contains clearly marked spoilers towards the end.)

I wondered if in the history of the world there had ever been a Princess as ugly as me? I doubted it. But was there ever a Princess in the history of the world who saved their kingdom twice from annihilation by the time they were eighteen, and I doubted that as well. I gave myself a brave smile then attached the veil to my crown and appraised myself – well, it was a beautiful dress.

So there’s this princess named Olive, see.

But she’s also a magical creature called a Winnowwood – the last of her kind.

In addition to being troll-like in appearance, Winnowwoods can control nature, speak to animals, assume animal form, even heal their fellow earthlings. But every time a Winnowwood uses her magic to change something outside of herself – such as to heal her nonhuman friends – she becomes uglier on the outside: she sprouts a new boil or wart, for example. But to the animals she just grows more and more beautiful.

Hundreds of years ago, the lands were teeming with Winnowwoods. But a witch called Cassandra the Dragon Slayer cursed them with a knife, the Blade of Winnowwood, which tempts the Winnowwoods with physical beauty: should they use it to sever their crux (an extra joint on their pinky which is the source of their powers), they will lose their magics in exchange for youth and beauty. This is why all the Winnowwood save for Olive are gone – having long since died or succumbed to the curse. The beauty a Winnowwood will attain after “winnowing” is inversely related to how ugly she is at the time of the ceremony.

Beauty is all Olive’s younger sister Roseline ever wanted. As a child, she rarely used her magic, for fear of becoming uglier than she already was. But the day of her winnowing ceremony, she made a rare visit to the glen, where she spent hours torturing a doe – slashing her chest, breaking a leg with a hammer, etc. – so that she could heal the deer over and again, becoming uglier and uglier with each act of magic. And, ultimately, more and more beautiful that night. (Spoiler alert: Olive found the doe her sister left for dead and healed her – or her physical scars, anyway.)

The whole time I’m reading this, I’m thinking: yeah, but what about dinner time? You don’t eat your friends: cows, pigs, chickens. Awkward.

Turns out that Olive and her mom Opal are both vegetarians! (Roseline was, but not since her winnowing.) It’s not vegan, but I’ll take it.

Up until this point, I’d slowly been falling in love with The Ugly Princess: The Legend of the Winnowwood. But page 57? That’s when I gave my heart over to it fully. This is one beautiful story, people. Inside and out.

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Geeses! In my yard!

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

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At the beginning of the spring season, we had four different groups of geese descend upon our pond: three pairs and a trio. For awhile, it was like an episode of Melrose Place down there, as they defended their different corners of the pond, drove away intruders (including a hapless pair of teeny little ducks who were forever being picked on by all nine geese), and vied for the prime spots.

This amount of bird activity isn’t unusual for us (for that, see the great pelican swarm of ’14) – except that all four groups of geese decided to stay, even though only one of the pairs had goslings. Oddly enough, as spring turned into summer, the four groups seemed to merge into one large flock. Now they’re just one ginormous family of fifteen.

They stay pretty well hidden when they’re in or around the pond, what with all the greenery, but at varying intervals during the day they waddle on up into the front yard to eat. I love to watch ’em, but they’re exceedingly cautious and often flee even if I’m only spying on them from inside the house.

The two photos at the top of this post were taken from the bedroom window – not to shabby considering they’re through the window screens.

I tried sneaking out the front door for a better shot but they am-scrayed before I could even shut the door. I love Flash Gordon there in the top photo, third from left.

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(Click on the photos to zoom in.)

Book Review: The Shadow Year, Hannah Richell (2014)

Friday, June 6th, 2014

A Tense Psychological Drama

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program. Trigger warning for rape and violence. The second half of the review contains spoilers, which are clearly marked as such.)

The Peak District cottage couldn’t have dropped into Lila’s lap at a better time. Still mourning the death of her five-day-old infant Milly – and haunted by the accident that sent Lila into labor two months prematurely, the details of which still elude her – Lila needs a change of a scenery, a project to keep her busy, and (perhaps most of all) some time away from her husband Tom. Long since abandoned and falling steadily into disrepair, the remote, diamond-in-the-rough cabin certainly fits the bill.

Adding to the cottage’s air of mystery is its unknown origins: this was an anonymous gift. Lila’s father, recently struck down by a heart attack, is the most likely benefactor; but the lawyers are holding fast to their client’s wishes, leaving Lila to speculate about the cabin’s original owner and his intentions in gifting this beautiful and seemingly untouched piece of land to her.

This is in July. For the next twelve months – “The Shadow Year” – Lila’s story alternates, month-by-month, with the events that transpired in the cabin in the summer of 1980 through 1981. The beginning of the flashback story sees five college friends – Kat, Carla, Ben, Mac, and Simon – visit the lake one lazy summer afternoon. Newly graduated and facing the daunting prospect of finding employment in the face of a recession, the friends decide to claim the seemingly abandoned cottage as their own. Instead of jumping on the treadmill to adulthood, they embark upon a one-year project to see if they can rough it on their own.

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Book Review: The Tell-Tail Heart: A Cat Cozy, Monica Shaughnessy (2014)

Monday, May 26th, 2014

A Cat of Letters

four out of five stars

“There are no coincidences, only cats with impeccable timing.”

Philadelphia, 1842. A series of most unusual and gruesome murders has left the city on edge. In a fortnight, the bodies of two women have been discovered: each with their throats slashed – and their expensive, prosthetic glass eyes stolen right out of their sockets. Speculation runs the gamut: could “The Glass Eye Killer” be building an automaton, one stolen body part at a time? Maybe he’s making a patchwork doll? Or perhaps it’s something about these fake eyes (both pale blue) that triggers the madman to kill? Either way, with little to go on, it appears that the local police won’t soon unmask the killer or his depraved motives.

Little Cattarina – “Catters” to her Eddie – is thrust into the middle of this human mystery when she stumbles upon a wayward glass eye while prowling the floors of Shakey House, a local pub. Much to her surprise and delight, the pilfered eye drags Eddie (as in Edgar Allen Poe) out of his funk. The Glass Eye Killer inspires him to begin a new story, which will eventually be known as “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

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