Book Review: Scout’s Heaven by Bibi Dumon Tak & Annemarie van Haeringen (2018)

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

Lovely in its simplicity.

four out of five stars

(Full disclose: I received a free copy of this book for review through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.)

— 3.5 stars —

It is raining the day Scout takes her last breath.

Little Brother peppers his family with questions: Where has Scout gone, if she’s no longer here? Does it rain above the clouds? Who will feed Scout? Will she have a sea to splash in and other animals to chase? They answer his questions as best they know how and, after burying Scout, coax him to sleep.

The next day, they wake to an impossibly sunny sky. (When you’re in the throes of grief, everything good and pure and beautiful seems a personal affront.)

…and the sound of Scout’s barking, coming from way up high.

Scout’s Heaven is a simple yet elegant book about loss and grief for dog lovers young and old. The whimsical illustrations nicely complement the story, which is more understated here than in similar books I’ve read. With books about “pet” loss, I measure stars in tears shed, and I didn’t bawl nearly as hard as I normally do. But maybe this is a good thing, especially when trying to explain death to kids.

The vague references to Heaven definitely give the book a religious bent, but as an atheist I appreciated it just the same. The message could easily be tweaked to fit with my own favorite imagery, that of the souls of the ghosts in His Dark Materials breaking apart like so many champagne bubbles as they leave the land of the dead and join their daemons in the living world. Particles breaking apart and then coming back together to create new and wonderful creatures. Scout may be in the ground, but she’s everywhere else, too: in the air and sky, the sycamore tree that shades your bedroom window and the squirrel that calls it home. Listen closely, and you can hear her voice.

(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: Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering (2018)

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

Mostly underwhelming.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. This review contains vague spoilery stuff.)

He will always come back for more, Lucy. He won’t give it up until he has to. Dr. Wattenbarger’s words resounded in my head—he had meant them as a warning; I savored them as hope.

Faced with the prospect of seeing her ex Stephen at her best friend Bree’s upcoming wedding*, twenty-five-year old Lucy Albright recalls their tumultuous – nay, toxic – relationship. This is a story about two shitty people and their shitty on-again, off-again courtship. Told in alternating perspectives, so we can get the full, skin-crawling experiencing of bouncing around in a sociopath’s head. (Said sociopath would be Stephen, and no, you will not find yourself rooting for him, a la Season Five Dexter.)

I’m really not sure what to make of Tell Me Lies; it’s readable enough, though I can’t exactly call it enjoyable. Lucy is an awful person, and not in relation to Stephen. I’ve had shitty boyfriends, too, and I know all too well what it’s like to know that you’re making bad decisions, even as you make them, and commit wholeheartedly anyway. No, Lucy was terrible well before she met Stephen.

That Unforgivable Thing her mom CJ did? The one that’s teased to death and not revealed until nearly halfway into the story? It was a betrayal of Lucy’s dad and had absolutely zero to do with Lucy herself. Lucy at least acknowledges him as a fellow aggrieved party, but his suffering mostly takes a backseat to hers. It’s silly and selfish and hella immature, especially as Lucy falls back on it time and again as the reason her life went so off track. More than once I wanted to backhand her across the face while yelling “Not everything is about you!”

It gets worse as Lucy becomes enmeshed with the (probably?) emotionally abusive (manipulative, certainly) Stephen during college. The low point comes when Lucy skips her fifteen-year-old dog Hickory’s final days and euthanasia in order to meet Stephen’s family. Not at his suggestion, either; she doesn’t so much as mention it to him. Whatever shred of sympathy I felt for Lucy evaporated in that moment.

And then there’s Stephen, who was involved in a manslaughter or hit and run or whatever you want to call it, and is never punished for his role in a girl’s death, even as it kinda-sorta-but-not-really comes to light. Okay, so he wasn’t accepted to his first round of law school picks, boo hoo. How about some jail time to go with that bruised sense of white male entitlement?

While this is all too believable, it’s also deeply unsatisfying; sometimes it seems like fiction is the only universe in which men are held to account for their violence and misogyny. That Stephen is not feels like a bit of a betrayal in itself.

Basically I just couldn’t with anyone or anything.

* Though it’s wholly unclear why Stephen is even invited, let alone allowed to bring a plus one. He and Evan weren’t particularly close in college, and certainly not tight enough that Bree would feel forced to make her bestie revisit that part of her past.

(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: Only Human (Themis Files #3) by Sylvain Neuvel (2018)

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

Yokits!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. This review contains spoilers for the previous two books in the trilogy)

You think the world ch … changed while you were gone? It hasn’t. This is who we are.

What does a man’s life amount to? What does the life of a thousand, a billion? What is an ant’s life worth? I see now that the answer is irrelevant. It’s the question that matters. Should the ant let itself die, crushed under the weight of its own insignificance? Or should it live, fight giants, and build magnificent cities underground? What do I choose?

It was always you, Rose. Just you. This is your movie. The rest of us are just extras in it.

When last we visited the world of the Themis Files – a world in which the discovery of an alien robot/spaceship/war machine upended humanity, in ways both good and bad (but, let’s face it, mostly bad because humans gonna human) – physicist Rose Franklin, linguist-turned-pilot Vincent Couture, ten-year-old orphan Eva Reyes, and EDC head General Eugene Govender were on board Themis, celebrating their unlikely victory against alien invaders, when the ship powered up and transported them … somewhere else.

The quartet have spent the last nine years living in limbo on the alien planet Esat Ekt – “Home of the Ekt,” the builders of Themis and unfortunate contributors to humanity’s gene pool. Due to their strict moral philosophy of non-interference in the evolutionary paths of other species, and well as regional political BS, the Ekt cannot decide whether to send the accidental guests home, as aliens – or make them stay, as part-Ekt citizens.

It was this very philosophy of non-interference that led the Ekt to attack earth in Waking Gods, releasing a toxic gas that killed millions. What the Ekt meant as a surgical strike against their own people quickly snowballed, since the original twenty-four Ekt visitors couldn’t keep it in their pants, so to speak. The mass casualties sent shock waves through both planets: the earth of today performs mandatory blood tests on its citizens; anyone deemed to have “too much” alien DNA is rounded up and put in camps, even executed. Meanwhile, the fiasco has led to civil unrest on Ekt, with the h. sapiens guests/prisoners serving as a constant, painful reminder of the Ekt’s epic fuckup. Something’s gotta give.

Only Human is a pretty solid end to a series that I’ve really enjoyed. Like its predecessors, the story is told via a series of interviews, journal entries, and the like, in both flashbacks (to Rose et al.’s time on Ekt) and real-time. As you can probably gather from this sentence, Rose, Vincent, and Eva have managed to find their way back to Earth, which is now in possession of not one but two alien robots. In a post-9/11 climate of paranoia and fear, this is very much Not A Good Thing. The parallels Neuvel makes to our current political climate are inescapable, and I had to wonder how much of the story he wrote before/after the 2016 election (or if he altered the narrative at all later). The ultimate view he posits of humanity is both grim, but also cautiously hopeful.

I really enjoyed getting to know teenage Eva, and to see Vincent as a father. The father-daughter conflict seemed a little over the top at times, but Eva’s narrative is really compelling: a “freak” who saw visions on Earth, Eva is more or less “normal” – if a bit of an alien curiosity-slash-celebrity – on Ekt. Vincent is pretty insistent that he wants Eva to have a “normal” life – but to her, Ekt is it. So you can imagine her angst at being forced to leave by dear old dad. (I was pretty peeved with him until the final chapters.)

I also came to love Mr. Burns – something I wouldn’t have thought possible in books one or two – and kind of teared up at the surprise twist ending. Slow clap on that one.

Someone needs to stop giving these war criminals government jobs though, smh. #StillNotReadyForThemis

(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: Atar Gull (Long Courrier) by Fabien Nury & Brüno (2016)

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Revenge is a dish best served cold. Like, glacially so.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for racist violence, including rape.)

Based on a novel of the same name, penned by the French writer Eugène Sue and published in 1831, Atar Gull is a story of revenge – of the “dish best served cold” variety. Taken prisoner by Taroo, chief of the Great Namaquas, Atar Gull finds himself on a slave ship bound for the West Indies. During the voyage, the Catherine is attacked and ultimately boarded by a band of ruthless pirates, led by Captain Brulart. A ruse, a sacrifice, and a ship chase later, Atar Gull is one of the few surviving captives when the vessel finally docks in Jamaica. Here, he’s sold to plantation owner Tom Will; part of a lot of “Negroes and Negresses” to serve as a dowry for his daughter Jenny.

While all these horrors are certainly just cause for what comes later (or some of it, anyway), the breaking point comes when Atar Gull learns the fate of his father, the chief of the Little Namaquas before him. If the previous pages didn’t completely dispel with the myth of the “benevolent slaveowner” (an oxymoron if ever there was one), then certainly this calculating and heartless scheme will do the trick.

Gazing upon his father’s lifeless face, Atar Gull hatches a plan of revenge that’s slow to unravel, yet destroys everything in its path.

Usually I love revenge stories that center members of oppressed groups as anti-/heroes, but my feelings were a little more conflicted here. It’s hard to root for Atar Gull without restraint, since so many innocents suffer under his wrath: Will’s human captives and nonhuman chattel chief among them. Consequently, Atar Gull’s revenge felt a little empty and … unsatisfying. The final panels, though? Chilling AF.

(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: Spectacle, Vol. 1 by Megan Rose Gedris (2018)

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Engaging premise and setting, but a deeply unsatisfying ending.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC through NetGalley. Trigger warning for ableist language directed at the circus “freaks”.)

Twin sisters Anna and Kat are performers in the Samson Brothers Circus: Anna tells fortunes, while Kat is a knife-thrower. Whereas Kat’s talents are all too real, Anna is a fraud. Well, kind of: while Anna tells the rubes what they want to hear, she can predict the future and decipher the past with the help of her self-made conjecture engine. It’s kind of slow and not very flashy, so – like Anna – it mostly stays in the background.

When the circus’s train is stalled out in the middle of the desert, Kat turns up dead, stabbed in the back with her own knives. Not wanting to alarm the other performs, circus owner Jebediah Tetanus (how’s that for an evocative name?) tasks Anna with solving the murder in secret. But things go from bad to worse when a series of tragedies beset the circus, including Tetanus’s own arrest at the hands of the corrupt deputy sheriff. Not to mention Kat’s lingering spirit, which flits in and out of Anna’s body to hide from pursuing demons.

So I really wanted to love Spectacle – and some of the elements here are great – but there’s a lot going on. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that very little is resolved by the end of chapter five. Usually I expect that a TPB has a self-contained story arc, but Book One of Spectacle feels more like the first two-thirds of a story. The ending – in which one of the roustabouts suddenly sprouts a rhino horn – is deeply unsatisfying, to say the least.

The art wasn’t initially my favorite – so many blockheads! – but it grew on me pretty quickly. I enjoyed the setting, which is some time in the mid (?) 1800s (?). This makes for some great old timey humor, such as when the circus doc diagnoses Anna with hysteria and prescribes coffee. With a side of heroin.

The story features a cast of pretty fascinating women characters, from Flora the would-be fat lady/current snake charmer to Lucy Chen, a clown who did it all for love. I really hope that my suspicions about the source of the weirdness between Anna and the bearded lady pan out; a cute F/F romance makes every story better, okay. I wish that we’d seen more of Eve and Lynn, the conjoined twins; there’s a lot of ableist yet era-appropriate language thrown their way, and I want desperately for the story challenges this as the plot unfolds. The collision between science and the supernatural also holds some promise going forward.

P.S. WHAT GIVES WITH THE PICKLES!?!

(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 Year of the Introvert: A Journal of Daily Inspiration for the Inwardly Inclined by Michaela Chung (2018)

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Not a daily journal per se.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

I picked The Year of the Introvert up expecting to find a guided journal, but what I got is a little different. While there are some journal prompts here, they typically come at the end of a week or so of inspirational passages. In addition to these “Reflection Questions,” each month features a “Monthly Gratitude Moment” and themed “Celebration.” The result is an eclectic mashup of diary, self-help, and inspo calendar. Which is awesome if that’s what you’re looking for, but I wanted something with a little less text and a little more white space to explore my own thoughts and feelings.

One of the things that really rubbed me the wrong way is the author’s propensity to talk about herself. A LOT. Like, I thought a journal was supposed to be about me, and not someone else, right? Looking at her body of work, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; Chung has made a career out of her introversion – which is great! – but one thing self-help gurus like to do is pontificate about themselves and how awesome they’re doing, so.

Some of her advice is kind of eye-rollingly obnoxious, too. If I had extra cash on hand, I wouldn’t go hiding it in places I might never find it again. Putting a five in my coat pocket is a good way to turn it into wet scrap paper, okay. I need it in my checking account anyhow because BILLS. (Yes, I am rolling my eyes as I write this.)

(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: I Really Didn’t Think This Through: Tales from My So-Called Adult Life by Beth Evans (2018)

Friday, May 11th, 2018

Needs more illustrations!

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for mental health issues, including self-harm.)

I hadn’t heard of Instagram artist Beth Evans before picking up a copy of her new book, I Really Didn’t Think This Through: Tales from My So-Called Adult Life – but now I’m seriously considering creating an Instagram account, just so I can follow her.

In the vein of Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half and the Sarah’s Scribbles series by Sarah Andersen, Evans pokes fun at what it means to be an “adult” in the modern era. Unlike Brosh and Andersen, Evans’s book is heavy on text and light on illustrations. Equal parts self-help and humorous confessional, with a few illustrations peppered throughout to drive certain points home, Evans explores the travails and (occasional) triumphs of everyday existence, from her struggles with anxiety, depression, and self-harm, to the weird world of casual dating and the challenges of self-love and body positivity. Somehow Evans manages to stay positive even through the tears. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll laugh while crying. There’s a lot of relatable stuff in here.

That said, I thought the illustrations were by far the book’s strongest point, and there just aren’t enough of them! The anecdotes were amusing enough; the advice, solid of not ground-breaking – but art is truly where Evans shines. Can we get an honest-to-goodness graphic novel or comic book please?

(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 Ghost, The Owl by Franco and Sara Richard (2018)

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Buy it for the artwork.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

One night, the ghost of a young girl appears in a swamp; only the animals are able to see – and communicate with – her. While the residents of the swamp have a strict policy against interfering in the affairs of humans, an owl named Aldus breaks with tradition and attempts to help the ghost girl find out who she is, where she comes from, and – most importantly – why her soul continues to hang around. As it turns out, the girl’s fate is entwined with the owl’s own, as their journey takes them to a whimsical little cottage where both spent their youths.

The story in The Ghost, The Owl is pretty simple; bare-bones, even. It’s enough to keep the action moving forward, but not much else. For example, I really wanted to learn more about Jessica, and the angry and entitled man pursuing her. This subplot feels like the outline of a fairy tale – the beautiful, kind young maiden and the evil, boorish lord/prince/king/baron – calling out for more depth and complexity.

But the artwork? To say that it’s breathtaking feels grossly inadequate. The style, the colors, the lines and angles – it’s simply enchanting. The owls in particular call to mind the Great Owl from The Secret of NIMH – a childhood favorite – and the dark tone and assorted swamp creatures are evocative of The Dark Crystal and The Labyrinth. The fire scenes – with red licks of flame and black swirls of smoke – are especially beautiful. Many of the pages struck me speechless, and the eyes of the owl and the crow – burnt amber and fiery red – will haunt me.

Honestly, this is one of the most gorgeous books I’ve ever picked up.

(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: Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition by Julia Kaye (2018)

Friday, May 4th, 2018

Lovely and heartfelt.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC through NetGalley. Trigger warning for transphobia.)

Growing up, artist Julia Kaye didn’t know she was trans. While she felt a certain, low-level sense of discomfort with her own body, it wasn’t until she was twenty-four – when she stumbled upon a website where users documented their transitions – that she identified the source of her gender dysphoria. And it would take another two years before she was comfortable enough to come out to her friends and family and begin her transition. A near-daily diary in graphic novel format, Super Late Bloomer documents the first six months of her transition, from May through October of 2016.

Super Late Bloomer very much feels like the fabulously queer cousin of a Sarah’s Scribbles collection. The visual style is similar (princess eyes and puddle of flesh = pure joy!), yet still its own; and Kaye’s social awkwardness and anxiety feels familiar to me, even if the source is something that I can only try to understand. Kaye documents the tiny triumphs and devastations that marked her path along the way.

The bad: misgendering; being outed by well-meaning but clueless family members; post-laser stubble; friends who suddenly make themselves scarce.

The good: being complimented by other women; finding a dress that fits; accepting parents; looking in the mirror and seeing your true self stare back.

At turns funny, sarcastic, and bittersweet, Super Late Bloomer is essential reading for humans in this word.

(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: Manfried the Man by Caitlin Major & Kelly Bastow (2018)

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Better in small doses, maybe? (Check out the tumblr.)

three out of five stars

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

We’re trying to get volunteers to take part in the annual man count so we can keep track of all the stray men in the neighborhood.

If he’s only been missing a day he’s probably just holed up somewhere nearby. Men like to find small spaces and hide out.

Not all men though. Some men like the open space.

No not all men, obviously.

Steve Catson is kind of a fuck up. His apartment is a shithole, he hates his job at a call center, and he doesn’t have m/any real friends. He’s at that age when his peers are growing up, marrying, and having kittens of their own – but Steve is chronically single, socially awkward, and quite possibly depressed. The only bright spot in Steve’s life is his pet man, a chubby little ginger number not-so-creatively named Manfried. So when Manfried goes missing – thanks to Steve’s own carelessness, no less – Steve is beside himself with grief, panic, and self-loathing. Yet in his search for his beloved man, Steve might find even more than he could have hoped for.

I really dug the absurdist vibe of Manfried the Man, but I think the idea would have been better served by a series of self-contained strips as opposed to a singular narrative. I love those “if humans acted like dogs/cats” videos that occasionally make the rounds, and Manfried is very much in this vein. However, I didn’t find the storyline terribly interesting, and Steve is just plain irritating. I empathized with him initially – I too struggle with anxiety and depression, and sometimes feel like I’m just not doing right by my furry friends – but by story’s end I wanted to throttle the guy. Blaming your man’s escape on someone else, pffft. If I’d done that I’d be begging random strangers for a tongue lashing to feed the guilt.

Anyway, Manfried has its cute moments (#NotAllMen ftw; naked little men running around with their naked little twigs and berries), but overall I found it kind of meh. I do wish the whole “cones of shame for men” thing would catch on, though.

(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: Puerto Rico Strong edited by Hazel Newlevant, Desiree Rodriguez & Marco Lopez (2018)

Friday, April 27th, 2018

Wonderful idea, so-so execution.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley/Edelweiss.)

Spurred by the Drumpf administration’s shameful response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, not to mention the misinformed and callous attitudes of so many mainland American citizens, writers, editors, and artists came together to create a comics anthology to support disaster relief on the island. The proceeds from Puerto Rico Strong will benefit UNIDOS Disaster Relief & Recovery Program to Support Puerto Rico – and the many #ownvoices contributions will hopefully combat the dangerous and often racist beliefs about PR and those who call the island home.

I wanted to love this collection more than I did. It’s a great idea to support an admirable cause, and I love that so many of the artists are of Puerto Rican descent. Yet, as is the case with many anthologies, the comics are uneven, both in terms of the storytelling as well as the artwork. I have no desire to single anyone out, but some of the art is simply terrible; in one particular strip, the humans resemble lumpy potatoes with misshapen biceps the size of their equally misshapen heads. Many of the comics feel short; too short to cover any given topic in anything but the most shallow and perfunctory way. More often than not I came away from a piece feeling as though there was so much more to be said.

I feel like I learned quite a bit from Puerto Rico Strong, yet considering my starting point this isn’t a huge compliment. Like many white readers (probably), I don’t remember learning much, if anything, about Puerto Rico in my high school American History class. (For shame!)

My favorite comics were those that explored Puerto Rican history, from coercive sterilization (“La Operación” and “The Puerto Rican Birth Control Trials,” both by Ally Schwed), to the institution of the Jones Act of 1917 and the racist military drafting policies that soon followed (“Macondo, Puerto Rico” by Javier Morillo and Dan Méndez Moore), and the history and religion of the Taíno Indians (the island’s native Arawak inhabitants). There’s also some pretty neat sci-fi that imagines the place Puerto Rico might occupy in humanity’s future, fifty or more years down the road (see, e.g. “Pasitos Grandes,” by Tristan J. Tarwater and Cynthia Santos).

(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: Box of Bones #1 by Ayize Jama-Everett & John Jennings (2018)

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Off to a promising start!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for racism, misogyny, and violence, including rape.)

I very rarely read single issues of comic books, let alone review them, for one simple fact: I just don’t have the patience to wait for the next issue in the series! Much like TV shows, I’d rather wait until the entire series has come out and then binge them all at once. But when the fledgling issue of Box of Bones popped up on NetGalley, I just couldn’t resist.

Luckily, the story in this first issue is somewhat self-contained. While we’re introduced to the concept of the main plot, most of the action takes place in the form of a flashback.

UC Berkeley student Lindsay Ford’s research into the appearance of “spectral creatures” at key moments in Black American (North and South) history has landed her in front of the faculty, arguing for the viability of her project. When asked if there’s a personal reason behind her academic interests, Lindsay remembers a story told to her by her grandfather. As teenagers, Jim and his friend Gauge were brutally attacked – beaten nearly unconscious and, in Gauge’s case, raped – by a gang of racist white classmates. Gauge turns to her mother’s “New Orleans voodoo” – in the form of a box of bones to which the practitioner must sacrifice her soul – to unleash her revenge.

While I do enjoy a good rape revenge story – because, let’s be honest, the world of fiction is pretty much the only time abusive men are held accountable for their actions – rape is also overused as a plot device. Gauge’s violation takes place off-screen, but it still comes like a punch to the gut, especially since it looks for a hot second like she might escape. Revenge comes quickly and is satisfying as heck. So I guess my feelings are mixed on this one.

Otherwise the story is engaging enough; a solid start to what looks like a promising series. Overall I enjoyed the artwork; though the monster has an over-the-top, gonzo feel to it, I quickly found myself digging the style.

I especially like how it changes and morphs with each “victim.” (Scare quotes because some of those peeps totally had it coming.)

3.5 stars.

(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: Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism edited by Danielle Barnhart & Iris Mahan (2018)

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Inclusive, Intersectional, and Feminist AF

four out of five stars

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

I want to believe
I’m a better woman now
that I’m writing poems.
that when I say, poems
I mean another way
to say, revenge.

(Denice Frohman, “Hunger”)

My god understands how slave women plucked pearls
from between their legs rather than see them strung up by the neck.

(Elizabeth Acevdeo, “An Open Letter to the Protestors Outside the Planned Parenthood Near My Job”)

This little grandmother
was ordered to pull down her paintings
because the Rabbi was offended
by her version of Eve: 9 months pregnant,
unbroken & reaching for another apple.

(Ruth Irupé Sanabria, “On Mate & the Work”)

Compiled in response to the 2016 election, Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism features the work of fifty feminist activists; some established poets, other relative newcomers; from all walks of life. The collection is both timely, and depressingly timeless: sexual assault, objectification, interpersonal violence, racism, police brutality, the suppression of women’s voices, disenfranchisement, white supremacy; all are issues that we’ve been fighting for far too long. (Cue the meme, “I Can’t Believe I Still Have To Protest This Fucking Shit.”)

Some of the poems I loved; others, I struggled with; and a small handful I skimmed over altogether. The collection’s greatest strength is its inclusiveness, diversity, and breadth of voices. And yet, Women of Resistance is a little uneven, and I can’t say that I always “got” – or even enjoyed – the poems featured here. (To be fair, poetry isn’t my strong suit, and I’ve been feeling a little burned out on it lately to boot.)

THAT SAID, when a poem resonated with me, it was often a loud and resounding affair. There are some truly astounding pieces of verse in here! In particular I adored the work of Denice Frohman (“Hunger,” “A Woman’s Place”), Kimberley Johnson (“Female”), Jacqueline Jones (“Civil Rights”), Kim Addonizio “To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall”), Laura Theobald (“Getting a UTI”), Elizabeth Acevdeo (“An Open Letter to the Protestors Outside the Planned Parenthood Near My Job”), Ada Limón (“Service”), Stacey Waite (“The Four Nights She’s Gone”), Patricia Smith (“What She Thinks as She Waits by the Door”), Ruth Irupé Sanabria (“On Mate & the Work”), Mary Ruefle (“Woodtangle”), Rachel McKibbens (“Shiv”), and Lauren K. Alleyne (“Ode to the Pantsuit”).

Usually I prefer reading ebooks on my Kindle, since it’s easier to highlight text and take notes this way, but this particular book looks its best on an ipad or other full-color device. There are some neat black and white protest photos here and there, and the formatting tends to stay true to the original.

(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: My Boyfriend Is a Bear by Pamela Ribon & Cat Farris (2018)

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

MRRRHHNH. (That’s Bear for “Coming in for a hug.”)

five out of five stars

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

I honestly didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did.

I mean, I don’t know what I expected, other than it seemed like a cute idea that could very well fail spectacularly. At the end of the day, I picked it up because I really, really wanted to use this video in a review.

Nora stumbles into a 500-pound American black bear while camping with one of her many d-bag boyfriends. When Bear is later driven from his forest home by wildfires, he finds Nora thanks to a discarded issue of Bust. (Nice touch! Eff off, Ben!) Against all odds, these crazy kids fall in love and make a go of it. But will Bear’s looming hibernation rip them apart, if society doesn’t break their spirits first?

My Boyfriend Is a Bear is weird and adorable and just straight-up delightful. I know I’m supposed to read it as an allegory about overcoming differences both large and small in relationships, but you know what? It’s also a cuddly AF romance story about a lady and a bear. Says the girl who claims as her soulmate a snaggle-toothed, marshmallow-bellied rat terrier (now nearly five years dead, and whom she thinks of on the daily) and once referred to her first-adopted dog as “her other boyfriend ™.” Dogs > people. Probably bears > people, too. All nonhuman animals > people, who are we kidding.

As much as My Boyfriend Is a Bear had me laughing – and it was like whoah – it also has its fair share of sad moments, especially as Bear’s hibernation approaches. That last act was filled with snot-flinging ugly crying. But the end? Pure magic.

This is one that’s earned a permanent place on my nightstand, right on top of Hyperbole and a Half and the Sarah’s Scribbles collections. Along with Nicole Georges’s Fetch, it’s a book I’ll turn to every now and then, when I need a good, hysterical cry.

Basically My Boyfriend Is a Bear is the best thing ever. Or at least since the proud tradition of bears wearing tees without pants.

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

Mini-Review: Sibley: Birds of Land, Sea, and Sky: 50 Postcards by Clarkson Potter

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

A gorgeous set, perfect for gifting!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free product for review through Blogging for Books.)

This isn’t the first collection of postcards I’ve received/reviewed, but it’s easily the most gorgeous and well-designed set I’ve ever seen. The fifty postcards – which feature paintings by ornithologist David Sibley – are printed on heavy cardstock and have beveled edges, giving them an extra-sophisticated look.

They come housed in a handsome, sturdy, multi-layer storage box that you’ll want to hang onto long after you’ve sent the last postcard out into the wild (assuming you can bear to part with them!). It’s got a textured feel to it, kind of like canvas, and the insert’s luxurious gold color complements the beige outer box nicely. And of course several birds grace the exterior of the box as well!

Inside, the postcards are divided by type of bird – waterfowl, woodpeckers, wading birds, songbirds, and owls & raptors – and each section is marked by a differently-colored file tab. It rather reminds me of those sets of wildlife cards that were advertised on kid’s tv shows in the ’80s.

This is a really upscale set; if you have a birdwatcher in your circle, Sibley: Birds of Land, Sea, and Sky: 50 Postcards would make an excellent birthday gift or stocking stuffer. Maybe throw in a frame or two, because they’re sure to want to keep at least a few of their favorites for their own (the Boreal Owl, anyone?).

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

Mini-Review: Firebug by Johnnie Christmas (2018)

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

Three stars for the amazing artwork.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

The artwork in Firebug is as lovely as the story is confusing.

Like, I’m not sure I have a good enough handle on the plot to offer even the briefest of summaries. There are so many warring factions that it’s hard to know who we’re supposed to root for most of the time.

At first, it seems clear-cut: the Cult of the Goddess is holding a Goddess captive and crushing the rebels who dare to challenge their (unjustly seized) religious authority. But wait, no: the High Priestess keeps the temperamental Goddess sedated so that her histrionics won’t trigger a volcanic eruption, killing us all.

And the forest spirits are bad, a gauntlet for our heroes to cross on the way to Azar. But no really, they’re the city’s protectors, from none other than Keegan, the new Goddess, and our story’s protagonist.

Throw in the Volcano Goddess’s sister, the Goddess of Water, and I am positively flummoxed. I really wanted to root for her, if only because her fish body is in the “so ugly it’s cute” territory.

Chalk this one up to good idea/poor execution. Three stars for the art, because it truly is stunning. I also loved the “Gospel According to Amina” vignettes, which evoked memories of Octavia Butler’s Parables duology.

(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: War Mother by Fred Van Lente, Stephen Segovia, & Tomás Giorello (2018)

Friday, April 6th, 2018

Works well as a standalone story.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

It’s the 41st century, and humanity – at least that which remains on earth – has evolved into something different: cyborgs, trogs, scavs, and urbanites. Deep within the unforgiving jungle, small enclaves of survivors exist, eking out a precarious living. The citizens of the Grove are among the luckiest. A former research facility, the Grove is a sentient settlement that’s largely self-sufficient. Controlled by the chieftain/consciousness Sylvan, the Grove manufactures most of what its citizens need: food, clothing, tech. Ana – the tribe’s War Mother – scavenges the rest.

In accordance with the Grove’s maxim – “Bring back nothing living” – Ana was bred to be barren, her body a hostile host to all potential biological invaders, from bacteria to fetuses. This rule served the Grove well – that is, until the day Ana returned with a young orphan boy she rescued from trogs. The resulting conflict ended in Sylvan’s death. Without its mind, the Grove began to wither and die.

When a millennia-old signal from a refuge called the Montana reaches the Grove, Ana sets out to see whether it’s habitable. With her AI gun Flaco at her side, the War Mother just might lead her people to safety – or ruin.

I didn’t realize it when I downloaded this title, but War Mother is an offshoot of another series, 4001 A.D. Luckily, it works well as a standalone story. Van Lente does a good job of laying out the plot for us noobs. It’s a compelling enough story, and the artwork complements the gritty, post-apocalyptic feel nicely. I love the scenes with Ana and Flaco, which is no surprise, because AI rights is an interest of mine.

On the downside, I thought the subplot with Ana and her husband Ignacio was a distraction at best, and a cliché at worst (women who can’t/don’t have children aren’t real women and so it’s only natural for their husbands to cheat on them. Add in the fact that she’s a badass warrior woman, i.e. not suitably feminine, and … vomit. I’m with Max, Ignacio is by no means a worthy “mate” for her.)

Also the descriptions of the future tech often sounded totally made up, like words that are supposed to sound all scientific and impressive but don’t really say much of anything. For all I know, though, they’re a callback to more detailed explanations in 4001 A.D. and I’m being a total idgit right now.

(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: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (2018)

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

This is the CONFEDERATE we need and deserve.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for racism and misogyny, including sexual violence.)

The day I came squealing and squalling into the world was the first time someone tried to kill me. I guess it should have been obvious to everyone right then that I wasn’t going to have a normal life.

It was the midwife that tried to do me in. Truth be told, it wasn’t really her fault. What else is a good Christian woman going to do when a Negro comes flying out from between the legs of the richest white woman in Haller County, Kentucky?

An Attendant’s job is simple: keep her charge from being killed by the dead, and her virtue from being compromised by potential suitors. It is a task easier said than done.

Every time I sit down and attempt to write this review, three things jump to mind. (Reviewing books I so thoroughly enjoyed? HARD. I never feel like I can do the writing justice.)

1. This is the Civil War-era alternate history series HBO should be throwing money at, mkay. BY THE BOATLOADS.

2. This tweet by the author, posted as I was elbow-deep in her Confederate zombie viscera.

3. THAT COVER.

Okay, now on to the review!

Jane McKeene was born on a plantation just a few days before the end of the Civil War. Only, in this timeline, the war didn’t end in a victory for either side. Rather, the North and South were forced to band together to fight a new threat – the zombies that started rising from the ruins of their battlefields.

While slavery as it was is no longer technically permissible, African-American and Native American children are conscripted to fight the dead. Middle schoolers are sent to boarding schools, where they receive training in weaponry, fighting techniques, and – in the more hoity toity institutions – proper manners and grooming. After graduation, they’re free to seek employment guarding upper-crust white folks, though they’re treated like servants, at best.

At least, this is the case up North: Jane is in training at the elite Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore. The zombies that wander the desolate and mostly-abandoned landscape between settlements make communication difficult, and there’s no guessing what conditions are like for Attendants down south or out west. But when Jane and a friend stumble into a conspiracy involving the Mayor, the staff of Miss Preston’s, and Baltimore’s richest citizens, they’re kidnapped and sent to a small, dusty new outpost in Missouri, where time seems to have slipped (or been forced) backwards and Attendants are seen as disposable objects at best.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Herding Cats (Sarah’s Scribbles #3) by Sarah Andersen (2018)

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Amazing, as always.

five out of five stars

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

Sarah Andersen is my favorite, and Herding Cats – the third in her Sarah’s Scribbles series – does not disappoint. Her trademark adorable line drawings, self-deprecating humor, and wry wit are all present and accounted for. While Sarah’s observations run the gamut, from popular trends to personal apocalypses, Herding Cats is all about the three As: anxiety, animals, and art. Err, make that four: can’t forget about adulting, filed under “things that are impossible and threaten to break me on the daily.” (I feel you, girl. I’ve cried three times and counting, just today.)

The last section includes advice to aspiring artists, punctuated by pithy comic strips for the rest of us. I was not bored.

Some of the comics I remembered from her twitter feed, but many were new, or at least new-to-me. Nearly are all instant classics. But since I can’t very well post the entire book, here are the top five.

In sum: Buy this book. Buy it meow.

(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: Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle Weir & Steenz (2018)

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

Sometimes you root for the ghost.

four out of five stars

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

Celeste Walden has fallen on hard times. She’s struggled with anxiety and depression for most of her life, and a recent breakdown cost Cel her dream job as a librarian. So when she lands a position as live-in, night shift archivist at the mysterious Logan Museum, it seems too good to be true. And it is: before long, Cel begins to lose time and wake up in strange places. She pulls away from her long-time boyfriend, Kyle, and her already-strained relationship with her mother continues to fray. She dreams of a sad, hurt girl who roams the museum’s grounds.

Cel fears she’s losing her mind again – that is, until she sees the face of the sad girl, staring back at her from one of the photographs in the museum’s collections. Celine is real, and her ghost is stuck in the museum, calling out to Cel for help. But why? And can Cel convince her co-workers, librarian Holly and curator Abayomi “Aba” Abiola, that Celine is real?

There’s so much to love here. Archival Quality is a great mashup of supernatural ghost story, historical fiction, and semi-autobiographical memoir. There’s intrigue, villainy, self-introspection, greed, and a haunting set in a spooky museum that used to be a terrifying asylum. As a former psych student who also has anxiety and depression, I found the mental health aspect both engaging and compassionately done. The history of psychiatry – steeped in racism, misogyny, and ableism – is equally parts fascinating and horrifying, and makes compelling fodder for a ghost story. The setting of a museum/library is pretty great too, and is sure to tickle the fancy of all the bookworms out there. (C’mon, who doesn’t dream of roaming a library after dark?)

Perhaps my favorite part, though, is the cast, which is fun and interesting and diverse as heck – but in a way that feels natural and organic. I fell in love with Holly – fabulous wardrobe and bitchin’ purple-and-blue hair – from panel one, and her girlfriend Gina has an ace up her sleeve too. Aba is an enigmatic and ultimately sympathetic character. The only person I didn’t much care for is Kyle (good riddance!), who clearly cares for Cel but comes off as a bit of a nag (for lack of a better word).

Cel, though: Cel is awesome. I see a bit of myself in her struggle, and found hope in her ending. She’s just one cool broad.

Read it if you like: books and libraries; ghosts; revenge; research; museums of oddities; nefarious white guys getting their due.

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