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

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Dark and beautiful, but ultimately unsatisfying.

three out of five stars

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

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

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

— 3.5 stars —

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

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

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

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

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Book Review: The One Hundred Nights of Hero, Isabel Greenberg (2016)

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Quite possibly the most beautiful graphic novel I’ve ever read. ALL THE STARS AND MOONS.

five out of five stars

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

They luxuriated sinfully in that most beautiful of all things: The written word.

All those stories you have told, all those wonderful stories…
They are nothing to OUR STORY. People will tell it in years to come…
And they will say, that was a story about Love.
And about two brave girls who wouldn’t take shit from anyone.

Lesson: Men are false. And they can get away with it.
Also, don’t murder your sister, even by accident. Sisters are important.

Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, in a land called Early Earth, there lived two star-crossed lovers: Cherry, a fair and lovely young woman from the Empire of Migdal Bavel, and her maid, Hero.

Despite her vaguely masculine name, Hero was a young woman as well – and a servant and runaway, at that – both conditions which conspired against their love. Cherry’s father insisted she marry a man who could provide for her; and so, after dodging his demands for one blissful summer (spent in the arms of Hero, of course), Cherry finally acquiesced. Luckily, Hero was able to accompany Cherry to the castle of her new husband, Jerome, where she stayed on as Cherry’s maid – and her secret lover. Like many of the men in Migdal Bavel, Jerome was a rather dim-witted and arrogant misogynist, you see, so Hero and Cherry were able to outwit him with minimal effort.

And then one day Jerome made a foolish bet with his friend Manfred, a man a little less stupid but a whole lot crueler than himself.

2016-12-28 - 100 Nights of Hero - 0004 [flickr]

If Manfred could seduce his ‘obedient and faithful’ (*snort!*) wife Cherry, then Manfred would win Jerome’s castle. If not, Manfred’s castle would become Jerome’s. Jerome would feign a business trip, giving Manfred a full one hundred days to execute his fiendish plot.

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Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden (2017)

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

“Blood is one thing. The sight is another. But courage—that is rarest of all, Vasilisa Petrovna.”

four out of five stars

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

“What happened?” she asked.

“My fish are gone! Some durak from the village must have come and …”

But Vasya was not listening. She had run to the very brink of the river.

“It’s not yours!” she shouted. “Give it back!” Kolya thought he heard an odd note in the splash of the water, as though it was making a reply. Vasya stamped her foot. “Now!” she yelled. “Catch your own fish!” A deep groan came up from the depths, as of rocks grinding together, and then the basket came flying out of nowhere to hit Vasya in the chest and knock her backward. Instinctively, she clutched it, and turned a grin on her brother.

“A prophecy then, sea-maiden.”

“Why do you call me that?” she whispered.

The bannik drifted up to the bench beside her. His beard was the curling steam. “Because you have your great-grandfather’s eyes. Now hear me. You will ride to where earth meets sky. You will be born three times: once of illusions, once of flesh, and once of spirit. You will pluck snowdrops at midwinter, weep for a nightingale, and die by your own choosing.”

Marina, thought Pyotr. You left me this mad girl, and I love her well. She is braver and wilder than any of my sons. But what good is that in a woman? I swore I’d keep her safe, but how can I save her from herself?

Vasilisa Petrovna is born to a lord and a princess, on the edge of the Russian wilderness, many centuries ago. She comes on the tail of the first howling winds of November, and her mother Marina leaves the earth shortly thereafter. Vasya is raised by her four older siblings – Kolya, Sasha, Olga, and Alyosha – and her mother’s aging nurse, Dunya. And, to a lesser extent, her father Pyotr Vladimirovich: every time Pyotr looks into the face of his screeching child, he sees the ghost of his dead wife. So mostly he avoids dealing with her too much.

With time, Vasya grows wild and bold, just like Marina intended. She can see creatures that others cannot, the chyerty of the old religion: The domovoi, household-spirits who guard the home; the vodianoy in the river and the twig-man in the trees; the vazila, who are one with the horses; the rusalka, the polevik, and the dvornik. Vasya feeds them with bread and friendship; she fortifies their strength and, in return, they teach her their secrets: how to talk to animals, swim like a fish, and climb trees like no human child should be able to.

Marina’s mother, you see, had the gift of second sight. While Marina had only a little of her mother’s gifts, she knew that Vasya would have even more. Much more. A prophecy told her as much. Yet in a Rus’ caught between the old religion and Christianity, Vasya’s neighbors whisper that she’s a witch who cavorts with demons. The arrival of Father Konstantin only deepens the rift between worlds, as do the snow, fire, and famine that follow swiftly on his heels. Though she just wants to keep her family and her village safe, Vasya will soon find herself caught in the middle of a struggle between two ancient forces.

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Book Review: Daughters Unto Devils, Amy Lukavics (2015)

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Psychological Tension Like Whoah

four out of five stars

When sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner’s family decides to move from their small mountain cabin to the vast prairie, she hopes it is her chance for a fresh start. She can leave behind the memory of the past winter; of her sickly ma giving birth to a baby sister who cries endlessly; of the terrifying visions she saw as her sanity began to slip, the victim of cabin fever; and most of all, the memories of the boy she has been secretly meeting with as a distraction from her pain. The boy whose baby she now carries.

When the Verners arrive at their new home, a large cabin abandoned by its previous owners, they discover the inside covered in blood. And as the days pass, it is obvious to Amanda that something isn’t right on the prairie. She’s heard stories of lands being tainted by evil, of men losing their minds and killing their families, and there is something strange about the doctor and his son who live in the woods on the edge of the prairie. But with the guilt and shame of her sins weighing on her, Amanda can’t be sure if the true evil lies in the land, or deep within her soul.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

— 4.5 stars —

The Lord works in mysterious ways, all right. Wish a baby dead, get another one in return as punishment. This is my reckoning.

Cat Winters nails it in the cover blurb: Daughters Unto Devils is what Stephen King’s take on Little House on the Prairie might look like. Faced with the prospect of riding out yet another harsh winter in their tiny, remote mountain cabin, the Verner family – Susan and Edmund (Ma and pa), and their children Hannah, Joanna, Charles, Emily, and Amanda – decide to strike out for the prairie. (Actually it’s less of a collective decision than a mandate from the patriarch, but wev.) Rumor has it that there a bunch of abandoned homesteads ripe for the picking. Recovering from a mental breakdown/possible demonic possession and newly pregnant thanks to an illicit affair with the postal boy, eldest child Amanda welcomes the fresh start. But it seems that the devil has followed their humble little caravan….either that, or the prairie is home to its own breed of evil.

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

Monday, June 6th, 2016

What did I just read?

two out of five stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review: Daredevils, Shawn Vestal (2016)

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Could NOT. PUT. IT. DOWN.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape and child abuse.)

At the heart of this exciting debut novel, set in Arizona and Idaho in the mid-1970s, is fifteen-year-old Loretta, who slips out of her bedroom every evening to meet her so-called gentile boyfriend. Her strict Mormon parents catch her returning one night, and promptly marry her off to Dean Harder, a devout yet materialistic fundamentalist who already has a wife and a brood of kids. The Harders relocate to his native Idaho, where Dean’s teenage nephew Jason falls hard for Loretta. A Zeppelin and Tolkien fan, Jason worships Evel Knievel and longs to leave his close-minded community. He and Loretta make a break for it. They drive all night, stay in hotels, and relish their dizzying burst of teenage freedom as they seek to recover Dean’s cache of “Mormon gold.” But someone Loretta left behind is on their trail…

A riveting story of desire and escape, Daredevils boasts memorable set pieces and a rich cast of secondary characters. There’s Dean’s other wife, Ruth, who as a child in the 1950s was separated from her parents during the notorious Short Creek raid, when federal agents descended on a Mormon fundamentalist community. There’s Jason’s best friend, Boyd, part Native American and caught up in the activist spirit of the time, who comes along for the ride, with disastrous results. And Vestal’s ultimate creation is a superbly sleazy chatterbox—a man who might or might not be Evel Knievel himself—who works his charms on Loretta at a casino in Elko, Nevada.

A lifelong journalist whose Spokesman column is a fixture in Spokane, WA, Shawn has honed his fiction over many years, publishing in journals like McSweeney’s and Tin House. His stunning first collection, Godforsaken Idaho, burrowed into history as it engaged with masculinity and crime, faith and apostasy, and the West that he knows so well. Daredevils shows what he can do on a broader canvas–a fascinating, wide-angle portrait of a time and place that’s both a classic coming of age tale and a plunge into the myths of America, sacred and profane.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

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

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

You have to read this book, okay?

five out of five stars

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

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

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

He shone bright, as if burned clean by fire.

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

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

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

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Book Review: City of Blades (The Divine Cities #2), Robert Jackson Bennett (2016)

Friday, February 5th, 2016

A Satisfying Follow-Up to City of Stairs

four out of five stars

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

People often ask me what I see when I look at the world. My answer is simple, and true. Possibilities. I see possibilities. —letter from Vallaicha Thinadeshi, 1649

More boos and catcalls. Mulaghesh thins her eyes as she watches the tribal leaders. They are all skinny, haggard things, dressed in robes and furs, their necks brightly tattooed and covered with curious patterns. Some are women, she sees, which surprises her: Bulikov strictly forbade women from doing anything more than firing out children as quickly and efficiently as possible. But then, she thinks, Voortya probably wouldn’t have tolerated that bullshit.

Five years have passed since the Battle of Bulikov, and its heroes are all scattered around the globe. Former ministry agent Shara Komayd now runs the whole damn thing – but her progressive, pro-Continent policies have proven unpopular in Saypur, and it’s unlikely that her stint as Prime Minister will endure long enough for Shara to see them through. Meanwhile, Shara’s muscle Sigrud has reconnected with his estranged family, helped to found the new democracy The United Dreyling States … and been nudged into political office by his wife, Hild. (“Chancellor” is a safer occupation than “pirate hunter” or “assassin” – or so one would think.)

As for General Turyin Mulaghesh, she’s done what Sigrud can only dream of: disavowed herself of politics altogether. After Bulikov, Mulaghesh was promoted to vice-chairman of the Saypuri Military Council: a promotion that did not sit well with this soldier. Haunted by her past and frustrated by a bureaucratic post that prevented her from actively atoning for her sins, Mulaghesh abruptly retired to the resort island of Javrat. Now she spends her days drinking, scrapping with the locals, and being an all-around curmudgeon.

Until the day PM Komayd pulls her back in, that is.

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Audiobook Review: Devoted, Jennifer Mathieu (2015)

Monday, December 21st, 2015

Feminism: The radical notion that women are people too.

four out of five stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lauren Sullivan, The Great Escape

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

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

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

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Book Review: Coming of Age at the End of Days, Alice LaPlante (2015)

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

The Tribulations of Adolescence: A Character Study

three out of five stars

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

Anna Franklin has never really fit in. A native of Sunnyvale, California, Anna was perhaps the least “sunny” kid in her subdivision. Socially awkward and unsure, she usually watched from the sidelines while the neighborhood children played tag. Her parents meant well, but failed to pay Anna enough attention, absorbed as they were – are – in their own interests: she, a pianist; he, an amateur scientist.

When Anna turns sixteen, things go from bad to worse as she’s caught in the bleak, gloomy grip of depression – or melancholia, in Anna’s parlance. Nothing can seem to shake its hold on her: not a psychiatrist (who Anna dislikes), not drugs (which Anna tosses), not her parents’ well-intentioned encouragements. Until, one night – in an effort to rekindle mother-daughter rituals of old – Anna’s mom institutes mandatory bedtime reading. Her first choice? The Bible. Not for any religious purposes, mind you – Anna’s parents are both atheists – but because it’s the basis for so much subsequent literature.

Yet something (read: the promise of death, violence, and retribution) in Revelations speaks to Anna. She discovers that she is “passionately in love with death.” Anna begins to have dreams – and then waking visions – of a red heifer. Anna’s overnight religious mania coincides with the arrival of the Goldschmidts, a weird family that seems mostly disengaged from the world (or at least Anna’s small slice of it). When Lars invites Anna to his church, she finds a ready and receptive outlet for her newly discovered fundamentalist fervor.

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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: 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: City of Savages, Lee Kelly (2015)

Monday, May 4th, 2015

A Wild Ride through Post-Apocalyptic Manhattan

four out of five stars

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

Somehow this ruthless city is home to my sister. Where for me, it will never, ever be more than a cage.

If no one’s out there, then what’s keeping us in?

Sisters Skyler and Phoenix Miller were born and raised in Manhattan; from the wild forests of Central Park to the gleaming glass apartments in Battery Park, the island is the only home they’ve ever known. But their home is also their prison. Along with several hundred fellow survivors, Sky and Phee are prisoners of war: World War III, in which the Red Allies (China, North Korea, and Russia) simultaneously attacked New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco, with the ultimate goal of conquering the United States. That was more than sixteen years ago, in March of 2016, and still the war rages on.

When Manhattan was first attacked, a lucky few survivors found safety in the subway tunnels – including their mother, Sarah. But as the months dragged on and supplies dwindled, many of the refugees were forced to the surface, to beg the Red Allies for mercy. Though most of the men were shot on sight, the women and children were imprisoned in cages once meant for lions and tigers: the Central Park Zoo, now transformed into an internment camp.

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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: Last of the Sandwalkers, Jay Hosler (2015)

Friday, April 10th, 2015

A Heroine Like No Other!

four out of five stars

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

I find myself thinking about this hue-mon all of the time. I wonder if it ever thought about us?

Was there room in here for thoughts about beetles?

Did it ever wonder how some glow?

Or spray liquid fire?

Or dance on water?

Or drink fog?

Maybe someday, if a hue-mon reads this journal, it will help them appreciate all of the amazing little aliens living underfoot.

Lucy may “just” be a junior faculty member at Colepolis University – and a beetle, to boot – but she’s about to change the way her people view the world. Reluctantly granted funding by the scientific ministry, Lucy’s leading a team of five scientist-explorers out into the great unknown – the vast desert that lies beyond the oasis where their coconut tree grows. Colepolis is home, and all its beetle citizens know of the world – all its elite ruling class allows them to know – is contained within its borders. That is, until Lucy breaks with years of tradition and superstition, and insists on proving that the world is more complex and wonderful than they can possibly imagine.

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Mini-Review: “Grace Immaculate,” Gregory Benford (2011)

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Too Short!

three out of five stars

Sometime in the unspecified future, humans make contact with extraterrestrials: “The first SETI signal turned up not in a concerted search for messages, but at the Australian Fast Transients study that looked for variable stars.” Thus begins a multigenerational, excruciatingly slow exchange of information and ideas with an alien species that we humans nickname the “Hydrans” (for their physical similarity to earth-bound hydras). Naturally, the evangelical Christian community wants in on the action – particularly when it begins to suspect that these aliens might be (gasp!) atheists – and so a coalition of churches builds a seven billion dollar beacon in order to proselytize to these heathen, hive-minded extraterrestrials. Needless to say, things don’t go so well for the hapless Hydrans.

Benford plants the seed of what could be a very interesting story, yet it remains just that – a seed. “Grace Immaculate” is a very quick read, ending seemingly before it even begins. The ending is appropriately ambiguous, yet still quite unsatisfying. I’d really love to see this as either a longer short story or even a novella.

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DNF Review: Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter, Maggie Anton (2014)

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

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

DNF (did not finish) at 18% / 66 pages.

I took a chance on Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter in a Goodreads giveaway; unfortunately, it’s just not for me. While Anton does a commendable job of explaining ancient Jewish beliefs, customs, and phrases for the reader, I often found myself lost and confused. I also didn’t realize that this is the second book in Anton’s Rav Hisda’s Daughter series, which is slated to be a trilogy. It’s hard to say whether reading the books in order would have drastically affected my enjoyment of Enchantress – which, for what it’s worth, I think can also be read as a standalone story.

I might have been willing to power through had I found any of the characters even remotely interesting or engaging – but, as it turned out, the only character for whom I could muster up any sort of feelings was Rava, who is a just an all-around shitty human being: sexist, arrogant, presumptuous, entitled, and narcissistic. And that’s just in the first 66 pages.

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Book Review: City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (2014)

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Stunning World Building, Complicated Characters, & a Refreshing Take On Religion

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

five out of five stars

More than a thousand years ago, the Divinities stepped out of their world to walk among humans. They were six – Olvos, Kolkan, Jukov, Voortya, Ahanas, and Taalhavras – and among their godlike powers was the ability to alter the very fabric of reality; to bend the laws of nature to suit their desires – and the needs of their followers. The Divinities found an eager and devoted flock on the Continent, which they carved up into six spheres of influence, each governed by the ruling Divinity’s own rules and realities. For their allegiance, the Continentals became the Divinities’ chosen ones, destined to rule over their godless neighbors.

For nearly five hundred years, the Divinities and their followers fought amongst themselves. Seemingly overnight, and perhaps realizing the strength to be found in numbers, the Divinities gathered in the central city of Bukilov – thenceforth known as the Seat of the World – for the Night of the Convening, during which they agreed upon a treaty. This led to the onset of the Continental Golden Age, during which time the Continent experienced a surge in outward expansion as the allied Continentals raided, colonized, and subjugated the people of other countries, including those of Saypur.

Around this time, and apparently spurred by her disapproval of the other Divinities’ increasingly harsh actions, Olvos – arguably the most compassionate and enlightened of the otherwise barbaric gods – withdrew from the world.

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Book Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post, emily m. danforth (2012)

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Un-put-downable!

five out of five stars

Cameron Post was twelve years old when she first kissed a girl. Her best friend Irene Klauson, in the Klausons’ hayloft, one hot, sweltering June afternoon before the start of seventh grade.

The very next day, Cam’s parents died. En route to the annual camping trip, their car jumped a guardrail at Quake Lake – where Joanie Wynton (now Joanie Post) and her family had escaped death by earthquake and flood decades earlier.

So begins The Miseducation of Cameron Post: The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.

The year is 1989, long before most Americans had heard of gay marriage, at a time when voters were repealing gay rights legislation not just in middle America, but on the West Coast as well. Growing up in the conservative, church-going small town of Miles City, Montana, Cameron doesn’t know what to make of her budding feelings for her best friend – and for the girls who will follow: Lindsey, Cam’s main competition during the summer swim meets; Coley, her impossibly gorgeous high school classmate and fellow church member; and Mona, an experienced college-aged lifeguard/Coley rebound.

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

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Performing Heteronormativity, Eschewing Gluten

four out of five stars

(Spoiler alert for the last two paragraphs.)

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

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

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

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

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