Book Review: Wild Embers by Nikita Gill (2017)

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

“She is alone. | And oh | how brilliantly she shines.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for allusions to rape and interpersonal violence.)

We are the blood
of the witches
you thought were dead.

We carry witchcraft in our bones
whilst the magic still sings
inside our heads.

When the witch hunters
imprisoned our ancestors
when they tried to burn the magic away.

Someone should have
warned them
that magic cannot be tamed.

Because you cannot burn away
what has always
been aflame.


It is the law of the universe
that even ghosts understand
as long as they matter to someone
they still exist and in your heart
they stand.

(“Ghost Story”)

I really wanted to love this collection of poetry more than I did – although this isn’t to suggest that I didn’t enjoy it. Nikita Gill’s poetry is powerful, passionate, and fiercely feminist. With Wild Embers, she fans the flames of rebellion – against a culture so steeped in misogyny and sexism that it’s taken as the norm, the default, the air we breathe – and at a time when we need it, desperately. Whether reimaging sexist fairy tales and myths or challenging abusers – including her own – Gill’s words cut deep, to the bone. They’re also accessible and satisfying, in a way that poetry isn’t always.

Yet she often employs similar imagery and themes, such that the poems start to feel a little repetitive by the final quarter of the book. Less might be more here. Also, I wish she’d taken the idea of giving each part its own unique theme and run with it a little harder. The first section is so clearly about humanity’s relationship to the cosmos, the starstuff that coalesces in our atoms and spirits … and yet, with the exception of parts III and VI (fairy tales and mythology, respectively), she mostly abandons themes (or at least more apparent ones) after so skillfully priming her audience for them.

Overall, though, it’s a valuable collection of poetry, raw and full of hope and resistance.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story by Debbie Tung (2017)

Friday, December 15th, 2017

I could have used this book twenty-five years ago.

four out of five stars

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

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World is a memoir in graphic novel format. Author/illustrator Debbie Tung explores the growing pains of adulthood … made all the more agonizing and confusing by her introversion. As she struggles to maintain a proper level of sociability – first as a graduate student, then as a member of the workforce – Tung wonders what the heck is wrong with her? When she stumbles upon a personality test online one day, it all clicks: she’s not broken, just different.

I have social anxiety; I’m probably an introvert, too. I wasn’t exactly sure how much I’d relate to Tung’s life but, as it turns out, it’s like looking in a mirror. Whether it’s celebrating the cancellation of a much-dreaded get together, lying awake obsessing over an embarrassing episode that transpired years ago, or spending the remainder of the day napping to recuperate from an hour-long appointment, many of these could be scenes from my own life.

Yet these are pretty common manifestations of social discomfort and malaise, especially in the modern era, where technology often circumvents face-to-face interactions. It’s when Tung’s more specific weird quirks hit home that my mind was well and truly blown.

Humiliating parent-teacher meetings about your shyness? Check.

(My sixth-grade teacher actually set me up with another girl, on account of we were both so quiet and friendless. Like can you imagine?)

Fantasizing about eloping in order to avoid the public spectacle of a wedding? Check.

(My husband and I did elope, in Las Vegas. The only witness? The secular priest. My mom tried to send some family along and was super-pissed when I begged off.)

Not being able to make a phone call around other people? Yup, I’m afraid so.

Honestly, it just got freaky deaky after a while. It’s like she cracked my skull open and was crawling around inside my mess of a brain.

The artwork is sweet and complements the story nicely; the color scheme is a muted grey, which suits the story’s melancholy feeling. Topics like this can get real dark, real fast (seriously, just read my journal. Or don’t!), and there are some rather depressing panels, but overall it’s pretty gentle and forgiving. It’s clear that Tung has found a place of acceptance and self-love (or at least understanding), which lends the book a hopeful vibe.

Along with Hyperbole and a Half and the Sarah’s Scribbles collections, this is a book that I’ll keep on my bedside table and return to in the future, whenever life feels like it’s just too much. A must read for introverts, the terminally shy, those with social anxiety – and the people who love them.

(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: Helium by Rudy Francisco (2017)

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Reflections on race, gender, mental illness — and love, naturally!

four out of five stars

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

Your God stole my God’s identity.
So next time you bend your knees,
next time you bow your head
I want you to tell your God
that my God is looking for him.
(“To the Man Standing on the Corner Holding the Sign That Said ‘God Hates Gays'”)

Once, a friend of a friend asked me
why there aren’t more black people in the X Games
and I said, “You don’t get it.”
Being black is one of the most extreme sports in America.
(“Adrenaline Rush”)

Some days I forget that my skin
is not a panic room.
(“My Honest Poem”)


The first poem in Helium, “Water,” took my breath away – and more or less set the tone for the entire volume.

I have a terrible time reviewing poetry; I can’t tell you whether a poem is “good,” technically speaking, only if I liked it. Even then I fear I’m a poor barometer, since I’m as likely to understand it as not.

But Rudy Francisco’s poetry is accessible AF. Also daring, insightful, passionate, and unfiltered. I especially adore the poems that tackle mental illness – which is no surprise, as I struggle with anxiety and depression myself, and thus find this genre incredibly relatable and applicable to my own life.

Many of these pieces appear in Parts I and II; but it’s those poems centered on social justice issues (Part III) that really stunned me speechless. “Adrenaline Rush,” “Rifle II,” “To the Man Standing on the Corner Holding the Sign That Said ‘God Hates Gays'” — these poems will stick with me long after Helium claims its permanent home on my bookshelves. Not that it will stay there indefinitely: this is a book I’m likely to revisit again in the future.

Though Francisco is at his best when writing about social justice issues – toxic masculinity, misogyny, religious intolerance, art as resistance, police brutality, etc. – I cared less for his love poems. Though I suppose it could just be the jaded, 39-year-old widow in me silently screaming, “Please don’t be a love poet!”

I also actively disliked “Complainers” (to paraphrase: if you’ve never had to saw your own arm off with a rusty butterknife, stfu!), which is kind of a bummer: the second-to-last poem in the book, it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I rarely read physical books anymore – I’m more an ebook kind of gal – but I found the font a little on the small side, and unnecessarily so, since many of the pages are dominated by white space. Borderline hard-to-read for my nearly middle-aged eyes.

These are all fairly minor complaints, though, given the sheer genius and raw emotion embodied in Helium.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: 30 Days to Joy: A One-Month Creative Journal by Waterbrook (2017)

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Would make a nice gift for Christians.

three out of five stars

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

I have a bit of an addiction to journals, even though I don’t write nearly as often as I should/mean to. That said, 30 Days to Joy isn’t something I’d normally buy for myself, since it’s explicitly geared towards Christians. So, grain of salt.

As the title implies, 30 Days to Joy is unusual, as far as journals go, in that it’s meant to be completed in a month (although there’s nothing stopping you from taking as long as you want; while each exercise is labeled “Day 1,” “Day 2,” and so on, you could just as easily pencil in the date next to it, if you prefer). Each day features a different prompt that encourages you to reflect on the topic of “joy,” whatever that means to you.

Examples of this include:

* How is joy different from happiness?

* In pencil, write those things that most frequently steal your joy. Next, in a colorful pen or marker, write ways you can choose joy in those situations.

* If joy were a person in your life, who would it be and why?

* Write down and illustrate a quote or Bible verse that brings you joy.

As you can see, the exercises featured are a mix of secular and Christian prompts, with the majority skewed secular. However, most of the quotes peppered throughout the book are explicitly Christian, including a fair number of Bible verses. For this reason, I wouldn’t even assign the more general “New Age” or “spiritual” labels to this book; it’s really just meant for Christians, which is kind of shame, because we could all use more joy in these dark times, don’t you think?

Aesthetically, the book is pleasing to the eye; the interior color theme is red and white, making this a great Christmas gift. The cover has a rich, textured feel, which is undercut a bit by the large white sticker containing copy placed on the back cover.

The dimensions of the book are small, which normally bugs the heck out of me – but the book is thin enough that it’s easy to write in. There’s enough room to respond to each prompt, too.

Great idea, though the execution isn’t for everyone.

(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 Wore My Blackest Hair by Carlina Duan (2017)

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Poems of Loneliness, Loss, and Defiance

three out of five stars

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

I was her American
daughter, my tongue
my hardest muscle
forced to swallow
a muddy alphabet.
(“FRACTIONS, 1974”)

in Japan,
I meet a white-haired woman who
tells me her name means moon.
But I am crescent now, she says.
Soon I will disappear.

a boy plumps his lip on your throat
and asks you to say something dirty
in CHINESE, you flip the sheets
and bite down, tasting trouble
and rage. in the kitchen, alone,
you devour a pickle. your white
classmate sees you. does not.
white men claim you. do not.
you are small, fierce, and evil: with
two palms and a chest. there are
boxes made for you to check.
Chinese /
American. Chinese / American.
your mom calls. she tells you to stop
writing about race. You could get
shot, she says. so you yank your hair
into a knot at the back of your neck.
so you cinch your belt tight
at the waist.

beware of the
Chink: how it bites.


— 3.5 stars —

Loneliness, grief, identity, alienation, illness, love, sex, rage, immigration, culture: the poems in I Wore My Blackest Hair glide and dance and sprint (and sometimes chomp their way) all over the map, but what they all (or mostly) share in common is an almost stubborn sense of defiance. These are stories about confronting mortality, navigating interpersonal strife, and pushing back against racist microaggressions while holding tight to one’s will to keep on keeping on.

I’ve only recently started to read more poetry; my reticence stems from the fact that I don’t always “get” the stuff. I think I got the gist of each piece, even if some (okay, a fair amount) of the imagery Duan employs went over my head. Even so, it was lovely just the same. And where it wasn’t, it’s because it wasn’t meant to be. Some of my favorites include “MORNING COMES, I AM SHINY WITH IT,” “CALUMET,” “FRACTIONS, 1974,” “MOON PULL,” “I WANT MY BOOKS BACK,” and (so much yes!) “YOUR MOM TELLS YOU TO STOP WRITING ABOUT RACE.”

Incidentally, I did notice a certain pattern of repetition over time that I found a little…distracting, I guess? Certain images pop up time and again – corn and boiled eggs; pink mouths and straining muscles; hair, both head and body – almost to the point of obsession.

If I enjoyed a poet’s work, I usually look them up on YouTube afterwards; hearing them perform the same pieces is often even more powerful and moving. I couldn’t find too many videos of Carlina Duan, but this reading of “Twelve Years Old” is both stirring – and representative of the poems in I Wore My Blackest Hair.




(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: 30 Days to Peace: A One-Month Creative Journal by Waterbrook (2017)

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Best suited to practicing Christians.

three out of five stars

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

30 Days to Peace is a bit of a short-term project, as far as journals go; as is evident from the subtitle, users are intended to work through its thirty prompts in a month (although nothing’s stopping you from taking a more leisurely pace with the exercises). Each prompt is focused on one aspect of peace: for example, how you define peace, how you find peace, what signals your body gives to indicate that it is or is not at peace. Though I usually take a much more scattershot approach to jounaling – writing whatever comes to mind – I can appreciate the benefits of a more focused path. Meditation on a single narrow topic is likely to promote enhanced understanding.

What I didn’t particularly care for is the journal’s explicitly Christian focus. Between the Galatians 5:22–23 quote featured on the book’s listing at Blogging for Books and the publisher (Waterbrook is the Christian imprint of Crown Publishing), I really should have known better. Actually, that first did give me pause, but I decided to give the journal a try anyway, since it was free for review and all.

The result is kind of a mixed bag. It wouldn’t even be accurate to shelve this journal under the more general label “spiritual,” since the Bible pops up in many of the quotes and illustrations that pepper the book. That said, only five of the thirty prompts explicitly mentions God or the Bible; and only one is necessarily specific to the Christian faith (i.e., the Bible prompt). So I’d say that 30 Days to Peace is best suited to practicing Christians, and perhaps spiritual New Age types too. Which is a shame, because I think we all could use a little more peace in our lives, whatever our religious identity may be.

As far as the book’s design goes, it’s a little on the small side, at 5 3/4″ by 7 1/4″. Usually this drives me bonkers, but the book is rather thin and thus not terribly difficult to write in. (When you’ve got a small but fat book, your hand ends up falling off the bottom off the page about a third of the way down. Not fun.) The pages aren’t lined, ostensibly for doodling and more free-form/artistic writing. The book itself is lovely, with a soothing and richly textured cover design. The pages are mostly white with green illustrations, adding to the spa-like feel.

(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: Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep #1) by Mira Grant (2017)

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

No one does mermaids like Mira Grant.

four out of five stars

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

Did you really think we were the apex predators of the world?

“You still chasing mermaids, Vic?” he asked.
“I’ve never been chasing mermaids,” she said. “I’ve only ever been chasing Anne.”

I’m a huge Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire fan, and her mermaid stories are among my favorites. (Zombies are grrrrrrate, but no one does mermaids quite like Mira Grant.) When I saw the prequel to Into the Drowning Deep, a novella called Rolling in the Deep, I snatched it up…but, being a mere 123 pages long, it just left me wanting more: more science (fiction), more killer mermaids, more heart-stopping suspense, more blood and gore and viscera. Somewhere in between a short story and a full-length book, it lacked the crisp concision of the former and the delicious, drawn out horror of the latter.

Enter: Into the Drowning Deep, which is exactly what I was craving. Pro tip: read Rolling in the Deep as if it was a prologue to Into the Drowning Deep. It’ll feel so much more satisfying that way.

In 2015, the Atargatis set off on a scientific expedition to the Mariana Trench. Ostensibly, their mission was to find evidence of mermaids. Really, though, they were there to film a mockumentary on behalf of their employer, an entertainment network called Imagine (think: SyFy). The hoax quickly turned into a bloodbath when they discovered what they were/weren’t looking for.

The Atargatis was found six weeks later, floating several hundred miles off course, completely devoid of human occupants. The only clue as to what became of her two hundred crew and passengers was a smashed up control room and shaky film footage showing what looked like – but couldn’t possibly be – a mermaid attack.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: The Daily Question: My Five-Year Spiritual Journal by Waterbrook (2017)

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

A little more secular than expected.

three out of five stars

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

– 3.5 stars –

A journal subtitled “My Five-Year Spiritual Journal” isn’t something I’d normally pick up, being an atheist and all. And probably this same quality also means I’m not the best person to review The Daily Question. So, grain of salt and all that jazz.

Two out of three of the sample questions on Blogging for Books seemed secular enough, so I decided to give it a try. And while there are some overtly religious (read: Christian) prompts – “How does Jesus love people through you?”; “How has God tangibly shown love to you this week?”; “What in Scripture are you grappling with these days?” – most are much more general and applicable to people of all faiths (or none). In fact, it feels a lot like another five-year, guided journal I reviewed called Q&A a Day: 5-Year Journal … just with a few Christian-themed questions sprinkled in here and there.

In fact, many of the same issues I had with Q&A a Day are applicable here, too: the dimensions of the journal are small, just a tick over 4″x6″. But it’s very thick (1 1/4″), which makes writing anything below the top third of the page very difficult (your hand just kind of falls off the cliff edge to flop around awkwardly). Each page provides space for five answers – one a year over five years – which is cool. But the lines are very cramped and don’t leave a whole lot of room for elaboration. A more generously sized journal would be so much nicer, don’t you think?

I do like the design of the cover – it’s hardcover, with a rich and soothing texture to it – and the bookmark ribbon is a nice touch. The prompts are engaging and varied, though devoutly religious users may desire more Biblically-inspired items. I counted this as a positive but, as I said, grain of salt.

(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: peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva (2017)

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

poems that bristle and bite

five out of five stars

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

mami does not understand why you like holes
in your shoes, in your tights, in your gloves.
what did you want to seep through, brown girl
with bangs? a song not written about you?
really, you were being a seamstress
just like your abuela in the living room making
skirts out of curtains, just making adjustments,
just making holes in places your new skin
was supposed to be.

(“Ode to Brown Girls With Bangs”)

i don’t know if i feel in love
feel beautiful
or just feel
maybe we all need some rest

(“Self-Portrait With Historical Moments”)

I was so excited about this book that I did something I rarely do – namely, brave Adobe Digital Editions to read an ARC. (It is forever crashing my machine, okay.) Lately I’ve been digging poetry more and more and, between the book’s stunning cover and the rave early reviews, I just knew I’d love peluda. And I did! I mean, I do!

Growing up, I always felt weird and awkward and hairy – hairier than most of the other girls around me, anyway, the popular ones in particular. Okay, so maybe I’m one of the white girls Lozada-Oliva writes about in “Yosra Strings Off My Mustache Two Days After the Election in a Harvard Square Bathroom” –

the ones who don’t shave
for political reasons, the ones who took
an entire election cycle to grow
out a tuft of armpit hair

– which is to say my Italian-German self is only “hairy” when held up to modern beauty standards, e.g., not terribly hairy at all. Maybe I can’t really relate. Even so. I adored all of the twenty-one poems that make up peluda just the same.

Over on her Facebook page, Lozada-Oliva describes peluda as “my yellow chapbook about my hairy latina feels,” which seems as apt a description as any. Lozada-Oliva tackles such weighty topics as beauty, assimilation, racist microaggressions, sex, shame, depression/metal health stigma, alienation, George Zimmerman, and, yes, body hair: clumps and heads and volumes and rivers of hair. Melissa’s Guatemalan immigrant mother Josefina was/is a beautician, so her schooling started early. Her words radiate with ferocity and hunger and wit that doesn’t cut so much as claw and devour.

There’s so much to love here, but one piece really stands out: “Wolf Girl Suite,” which is really a story told in five acts. With all the elements of a feminist horror flick, I am aching to see this one adapted for the screen. Coming to a theater near you, Halloween 2021?

“Ode to Brown Girls With Bangs,” “You Use Your Hands So Much When You Talk,” “You Know How to Say Arroz con Polla but Not What You Are,” “What If My Last Name Got a Bikini Wax, Too,” and “We Play Would You Rather at the Galentine’s Day Party” are other favorites too. But they’re all pretty great.

fyi, there are a number of videos of Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s spoken word poetry up on YouTube, and it’s even more powerful in person. Lozada-Oliva’s delivery is sometimes surprisingly funny, with a dark sense of humor that isn’t always – plainly? – evident in written form (at least not to me, anyhow). Here are just two that grabbed me by the amygdala and refuse to let go.


Table of Contents

Origin Regimen
Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe She Got Up Early
Ode to Brown Girls With Bangs
Lip / Stain / Must / Ache
I’m Sorry, I Thought You Were Your Mother
You Use Your Hands So Much When You Talk
AKA What Would Jessica Jones Do?
You Know How to Say Arroz con Polla but Not What You Are
My Hair Stays on Your Pillow Like a Question Mark
What If My Last Name Got a Bikini Wax, Too
The Women in My Family Are Bitches
I Shave My Sister’s Back Before Prom
We Play Would You Rather at the Galentine’s Day Party
Wolf Girl Suite
It’s Funny the Things That Stick With You
Mami Says Have You Been Crying
Self-Portrait With Historical Moments
Light Brown Noise
I’m So Ready
House Call
Yosra Strings Off My Mustache Two Days After the Election in a Harvard Square Bathroom


(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: Fliers: 20 Small Posters with Big Thoughts by Nathaniel Russell (2017)

Friday, October 27th, 2017

Is it a book? An art project? A new life philosophy? All of the above?

four out of five stars

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

Nathaniel Russell’s Fliers: 20 Small Posters with Big Thoughts is exactly what it says it is – a book of mini tear-out posters with Big – and sometimes Absurd – Ideas. Based on the sort of fliers that litter/decorate telephone poles, community billboards, and other public spaces, Russell’s art pairs a simple, minimalist aesthetic with the sort of weird and random thoughts of a full-time stoner. The result is whimsical, funny, and – at times – profound AF.

Being an Animal Person, my favorite posters are those modeled on “lost dog” fliers, in part because they’re a lot more whimsical and lighthearted than their sad and tragic cousins. “Found Dog” is the sort of thing I’ve fantasized about posting,


and “The Opposite of Lost” is the plot of what could be an amazing, vegan-friendly animal uprising flick. (Think Planet of the Apes, minus the inter-species speciesism.)


A few of the posters fell flat with me, but overall this is a pretty kickass collection. Many of the prints – or variations thereof – are available for perusal on the author’s website. Some aren’t even in the book, but should have been. (“I wish I was born an animal support system network,” I’m looking at you!)

As for the practical design of the book, the posters are printed on heavy cardstock, perfect for framing, hanging, displaying, etc. Though it’s a paperback (kind of), the book comes with a dust jacket that unfolds to reveal – wait for it – a photo of a telephone pole.

Whether you choose to regard it as a book of art or a collection of posters, Fliers is a neat little thingamajiggie.

(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: Comics for a Strange World: A Book of Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand (2017)

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Welcome to sideways world.

four out of five stars

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

If you’ve ever read Reza Farazmand’s web comic Poorly Drawn Lines, then you know more or less what you’re in for here: irreverent humor, a dash of commonsense observations, and just the right about of black comedy.

Comics for a Strange World is a bit hit-or-miss; a equal number of the pieces had me guffawing in happy shock as did those that stumbled and fell flat. A fair number seem a direct response to this crazy, heart-wrenching Drumpf era we now find ourselves in; see, e.g., the opening panel, which is the first of five favorites I included below.

But don’t worry: Ernesto the talking bear and his duck sidekick Kevin make several appearances, and this strange world is also populated with a fair number of talking animals, self-aware ghosts – and even a dinosaur packing heat. (“It’s his right.”)

Try it! You won’t be sorry, and you just might help Ernesto out of that slump.






(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: How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green (2017)

Friday, October 20th, 2017

The Cutest

five out of five stars

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

Written in the form of a how-to guide, Rebecca Green’s How to Make Friends with a Ghost is, in a word, adorable. Like, it just doesn’t get any cuter than this. (Seriously, just check out this photo on the author’s website. ADORBS!)

2017-09-30 - Friends with a Ghost - 0011 [flickr]

2017-09-30 - Friends with a Ghost - 0010 [flickr]

For the Casper-curious, Green advises readers on how to attract a spectral friend, keep him entertained and content, and protect him from harm. As it turns out, ghosts aren’t all that different from us: they enjoy nature, dancing, reading, socializing, and personal hygiene. But they do have some special needs; ghosts, for example, look a lot like various white fluffy foodstuffs, so it’s easy to nom on them without even knowing. And even though they resemble tissue, boogers are not a ghost’s best friend.

2017-09-30 - Friends with a Ghost - 0003 [flickr]

2017-09-30 - Friends with a Ghost - 0004 [flickr]>

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Sorrow of the Earth: Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull and the Tragedy of Show Business by Éric Vuillard (2017)

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

What did I just read?

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review. Trigger warning for violence against Native Americans, including genocide.)

However, the real spark was elsewhere. The central idea of the Wild West Show lay somewhere else. The aim was to astound the public with an intimation of suffering and death which would never lose its grip on them. They had to be drawn out of themselves, like little silver fish in a landing net. They had to be presented with human figures who shriek and collapse in a pool of blood. There had to be consternation and terror, hope, and a sort of clarity, an extreme truth cast across the whole of life. Yes, people had to shudder—a spectacle must send a shiver through everything we know, it must catapult us ahead of ourselves, it must strip us of our certainties and sear us. Yes, a spectacle sears us, despite what its detractors say. A spectacle steals from us, and lies to us, and intoxicates us, and gives us the world in every shape and form. And sometimes, the stage seems to exist more than the world, it is more present than our own lives, more moving and more persuasive than reality, more terrifying than our nightmares.

There’s no mistaking the sound of iniquity on the move.

Originally published in France in 2014 (under the title Tristesse de la terre), Sorrow of the Earth is the first of Éric Vuillard’s novels to be translated into English. A work of historical fiction, it tells the story of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show, which traveled throughout the United States and Europe, under various names, for thirty years around the turn of the century (1883–1913).

While the show featured a number of performers and attractions – including Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank Butler; trick shooter Lillian Smith; Calamity Jane; and reenactments of the riding of the Pony Express trail and stagecoach robberies, to name a few – Vuillard centers the narrative on Native Americans, to great effect. The Wild West show employed a number of Indigenous performers, most notably Sitting Bull, as well as survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre. Perversely, these last were hired in part to perform in a reenactment of their own victimization; only instead of a massacre, the audience witnessed a battle: “the Buffalo Bill interpretation of the facts,” to quote Vuillard. Likewise, in Cody’s reimaging of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, none other than Buffalo Bill himself swoops in at the last moment to avenge Custer and his men.

In other words, the show glorified its star and ringmaster, while rewriting history and vilifying the oppressed Native populations. To add insult to injury, Indigenous people were recruited to assist in their own denigration.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan (2017)

Friday, October 13th, 2017

A shrewd interrogation of rape culture – now with dark magic!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, including sexual harassment, stalking, and rape.)

“The single most important thing to know about magic is that there is always a price. Making the impossible possible is difficult, as it should be, so I must weigh results against what I am willing to pay. It is never a gratuitous thing. This makes some people—people like Silas—disbelievers. They see my unwillingness to perform on command as a sign that the magic is untrue. Let them drown in their ignorance. When it is time for them to know a witch’s wrath, they will know it—and there will be no mistaking it.”

Seventeen-year-old Bethan Jones is a diddicoy: born to a Romany mother and a gadjo father, she was left in the care of her caravan’s wise woman, Drina, after the death of her mother Eira during childbirth. Her apprenticeship under the drabarni should have kept her safe – and might have, under other circumstances. But the chieftain’s son, Silas, has set his sights on Bethan. Silas is spoiled, entitled, and cruel; a dangerous powderkeg of toxic masculinity and male privilege that his father Wen (himself a recovering teenage bully) lacks the fortitude to extinguish.

So it’s no surprise when Silas’s sexual harassment and stalking of Bethan escalates to rape. Silas and his four cronies ambush Bethan and her would-be beau, Martyn, on the way home from market. The assault leaves Bethan physically and psychologically scarred – and desperate to save Martyn, who’s left for dead after the attack. With the help of Gran and her dark magic, Bethan just might be able to resurrect Martyn, while exacting revenge on her assailants too. She has three days to collect a finger, an eye, a nose, a tooth, and an ear from the five boys. What becomes of them after the harvest is entirely up to Bethan.

I was super-excited when I first heard of The Hollow Girl. Lately I’m really into rape revenge stories; as I said in my review of A Guide for Murdered Children, if done right, rape revenge stories can provide a satisfying outlet/alternative to real life, where rape is more likely to be excused and minimized than punished and condemned. Throw in the supernatural twist and diverse cast of characters, and I’m sold.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colón (2017)

Friday, October 6th, 2017

Important, though occasionally repetitive and hard to follow.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads. Trigger warning for violence, including torture.)

The Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program – otherwise known as “The Torture Report” – is the result of a three-and-a-half-year bipartisan Senate investigation into the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA in the wake of 9/11. Weighing in at 6,000 pages, the entirety of the report has yet to be released; rather, in December 9, 2014, the SSCI released a 525-page version containing key findings and an executive summary of the full report.

Among the committee’s twenty key findings:

* The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.

* The CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.

* The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.

* The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice (DOJ), impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

* The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

* The CIA’s operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies.

* The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

* CIA detainees were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters.

* The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained, and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention. The CIA’s claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced interrogation techniques were inaccurate.

* The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious or significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systematic and individual management failures.

* The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program was inherently unsustainable and had effectively ended by 2006 due to unauthorized press disclosures, reduced cooperation from other nations, and legal and oversight concerns.

* The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States’ standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Creeps (Deep Dark Fears Collection #2) by Fran Krause (2017)

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

everything to fear

three out of five stars

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

The second in cartoonist Fran Krause’s “Deep Dark Fears Collection,” The Creeps is a compendium of reader-submitted fears, given eerie, undead life by the author’s illustrations. The result is a little uneven, but ultimately enjoyable.

With ninety-seven new fears, it’s more likely than not that you’ll spot one or two or several dozen of your own fears in these here pages. A certified crazy dog person ™, Fear #7 (your animal friends are only being nice to you because you’re dying, and only they know it) hit me right in the feels.

2017-09-26 - The Creeps - 0001 [flickr]

Ditto: just about every panel about being followed, stalked, robbed, or accidentally maimed.

The supernatural ones didn’t have as much of a chilling effect, but that’s just because I don’t believe; I found them entertaining, if anything. Fears eleven, twenty-nine, and thirty-eight actually read a lot like those “horror stories in 140 characters or less” that pop on Twitter every now and again.

While many of the panels are dominated by ghosts and other monsters (sadly, not many zombies!), some are disconcertingly mundane and, um, relatable. Take this one from anonymous:

2017-09-26 - The Creeps - 0006 [flickr]

That one hits a little too close to home for comfort, mkay.

On a lighter note, I absolutely delighted in number thirty, on account of my youngest brother sold his soul to a kindergarten classmate – for five cents, I think? Or was it a piece of candy? – way back in the mid-90’s. Either way, cue The Wonder Years nostalgia.

2017-09-26 - The Creeps - 0005 [flickr]

The ones involving murdered and dismembered animals – haunting their consumers, resembling the look or feel of human flesh a little closely – made me, the vegan, entirely too smug.

2017-09-26 - The Creeps - 0003 [flickr]

2017-09-26 - The Creeps - 0004 [flickr]

Don’t worry, the coming superbugs (thanks, animal ag.!) will probably kill me the same as you.

The Creeps is an, erm, interesting reading choice for someone prone to anxiety, as I am. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll lay away at night, wondering whether that strange scratching noise you hear in the walls is actually a homeless person living in your attic. Or a rabid bat about to bust out of the heating vent and eat your face. Tomato, tomahto.

(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: Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim (2017)

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

misery loves company (or mine does, anyway)

four out of five stars

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

my grandmother says
heartache is
a hungry caterpillar
that must be fed
so it can grow
& fly away
(“feed a fever, starve a cold”)

the girl gets carried away.
she is the sugar cube,
love is the cup of
darjeeling – she
(“magic trick 001”)

I’d never heard of Sabrina Benaim before spotting (and immediately downloading) a copy of her poetry book, Depression & Other Magic Tricks, on NetGalley. Later I learned that a live reading of her poem “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” went viral a few years back, with over five million views on YouTube, reportedly making Benaim “one of the most-viewed performance poets of all time.” And indeed, it is awesome and lovely and well, well worth the hype:

Though “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” is indeed one of the fifty-three poems found in Depression & Other Magic Tricks, you should definitely check out Benaim’s reading as well; her performance is brimming with frenetic, nervous energy that lends the poem an added sense of urgency. Anyone who has found themselves trying to explain the invisible, elusory monster that is depression to a non-believer will relate to lines like this:

mom says happy is a decision.


mom says i am so good at making
something out of nothing,
and then flat out asks me if i am
afraid of dying.
i am afraid of living.

After the sudden death of my husband earlier this year, I had to make my family understand just how bad my anxiety and depression had gotten in the years since I left home. Like, it was literally a matter of life and death. Survival. Luckily, everyone around me seems to understand what I mean when I say “depression” – thank pop culture or my younger sister, whose issues maybe paved the way for the revelation of mine – but “social anxiety” is a whole ‘nother mess. People hear “social anxiety” and think: Shyness. Introvert. Quiet. Loner. Misanthrope. What they don’t hear is “mental illness.” Drugs (maybe) and therapy (definitely) and professional help. “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” is heartbreaking and darkly funny and entirely too relatable, in more ways than I’d like.

Despite the collection’s title, not all of the poems explicitly focus on depression. Love, grief, parental estrangement, self-esteem, friendship – all make an appearance here, and why not? Life is a multi-faceted thing. Yet many, if not all, of the poems are tinged with an air of sadness, and why not? Depression sinks its poisonous tentacles into everything, it seems. It cannot be cornered or contained. It’s like that damned fog in Stephen King’s “The Mist.”

Aside from the obvious – birds of a feather, and all that jazz – I like Depression & Other Magic Tricks for two reasons: I actually “got” most of the poems, and it’s feminist AF. In this way, it rather reminds me of another book of poetry, Amanda Lovelace’s The Princess Saves Herself in this One. If you enjoyed one, most likely you’ll dig the other.

File Depression & Other Magic Tricks under “seven small ways in which i loved myself this week.”

(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: Writing to Awaken: A Journey of Truth, Transformation, and Self-Discovery by Mark Matousek (2017)

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Writing Exercises for Self-Discovery

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for client case studies that sometimes include disturbing incidents, including rape.)

When I was a child and magic was afoot, the word abracadabra was synonymous with the power of manifestation. I could wave my magic wand over Doris the princess doll, or Boris the stuffed panda, and practically feel them come to life under the gravitas of the spell. Later in life, as a Harvard-trained scientist and researcher in the field of mind-body medicine, I discovered that abracadabra is more than magic-speak or a song by the Steve Miller Band. These Aramaic words mean, “I will create as I speak.”

Tell a story. Believe the story. And voila! It manifests in your cells, your brain, your heart, your behavior, and the choices you make…or don’t. We embody our stories quite literally, as these days we have the brain scans and hormonal assays to prove it. Mark Matousek, who is a writer rather than a scientist, knows this as well. He sometimes refers to us humans as Homo Narrans—the storytelling species. Stories slay and stories heal. Their transformative magic resides in our ability to identify them, learn from them, and—when necessary—change them.

– Joan Borysenko, PhD (“Foreword”)

— 3.5 stars —

I picked up a copy of Writing to Awaken about the same time as Getting Grief Right; I thought that the two books, when taken together, might provide some guidance in using journaling and storytelling to cope with the recent loss of my husband – and perhaps figure out what comes next for me.

Divided into twelve chapters and forty-eight “lessons,” Matousek challenges the reader to dive deeper; to find the truth behind your life story, which is often unreliable, watered down for mass consumption, and altered to omit certain uncomfortable truths. Though I suppose the exercises could help to overcome writer’s block, you don’t necessarily need to be a professional writer to find value here. Rather, Writing to Awaken is for anyone interested in journaling with a heavy emphasis on self-reflection and radical truth telling.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy: A Journal by Robie Rogge & Dian G. Smith (2017)

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Well, I like the *idea* of it…

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books. Click on the images to embiggen.)

— 3.5 stars —

As a naturally gloomy and anxious person – one of my nicknames, and one I wear proudly, is Kelly Killjoy – a “happiness journal” seems like something I could really use in my life. I tend to only journal when things are going sideways, carrying merrily on my way when everything’s coming up roses (or Dave Kim, as it were), resulting in a record of my life that’s skewed heavily toward the negative. And that’s no fun, right?

Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy: A Journal is a pretty swell idea. From its bright yellow cover, decked out in shiny silver and vibrant rainbow text, to its white and orange insides, Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy more or less oozes unicorns and birthday cake and that one REM song. Each page features a happy quote or graphic, along with a writing prompt inspired by said quote. There’s a space to pencil in the date for each exercise and, with the exception of the New Year’s themed ones, you can pretty much pace yourself how you want: work through each page in chronological order; skip around to your heart’s content; or only write when you feel inspired (though skipping days kind of negates the “do one thing every day” part, don’t you think?).

The prompts run the gamut; here are just a few to give you a taste:
* Where scratching felt sweetest day.
* A pleasure of mine that no one can understand.
* My life would seem longer without.
* Why I laughed at myself today.
* A luxury I don’t need in order to be happy.

As much as I love the idea of this journal, as per usual with Clarkson Potter journals, the execution leaves something to be desired. The journal is very small – about 6″ x 4.5″ – making it somewhat difficult to write in. Additionally, many (but not all) of the quotes/graphics take up an inordinate amount of space on the page – usually somewhere around 2/3 to 4/5 of a page, leaving precious little room for your response! The lines are pretty small too, maybe college ruled at best.

I wish they’d go all out and make some oversized journals, preferably with nice, roomy lines – and lay-flat binding, too, while we’re dreaming! Until then, this one will do.

Killjoy, who me?

(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: #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale (2017)

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

“We aren’t historic figures; we are modern women.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for allusions to violence against women, suicidal ideation, genocide, and racism and sexism.)

It’s strange to me how people always want me to be an “authentic Indian.” When I say I’m Haudenosaunee, they want me to look a certain way. Act a certain way. They’re disappointed when what they get is . . . just me. White-faced, red-haired. They spent hundreds of years trying to assimilate my ancestors, trying to create Indians who could blend in like me. But now they don’t want me either. I’m not Indian enough. They can’t make up their minds. They want buckskin and war paint, drumming, songs in languages they can’t understand recorded for them, but with English subtitles of course. They want educated, well-spoken, but not too smart. Christian, well-behaved, never questioning. They want to learn the history of the people, but not the ones who are here now, waving signs in their faces, asking them for clean drinking water, asking them why their women are going missing, asking them why their land is being ruined. They want fantastical stories of the Indians that used to roam this land. They want my culture behind glass in a museum. But they don’t want me. I’m not Indian enough.

(“The Invisible Indians,” Shelby Lisk)

Because history moves like a fevered heat down through the arteries of generations
Because PTSD to the family tree is like an ax Because colonization is the ghosts of buffalos with broken backs
Because today only burning flags could be found at the ghost dance of my people

(“Stereotype This,” Melanie Fey)

I feel like I should begin this review with a word of caution: If you see any complaints about formatting problems ahead of the pub date, disregard them. The Kindle version of this ARC is indeed a hot mess, but this is par for the course when it comes to books with a heavy graphic element. The acsm file, read on Adobe Digital Editions (which I loathe, but happily suffered for this book!), gives a much clearer picture of what the finished, physical copy is meant to look like. And, if Amazon’s listing is any indication, #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women will only be released in print.

That said, #Notyourprincess is fierce, vibrant, and nicely organized. It feels a lot like an experimental art project, and I mean that in the best way possible. Within these here pages you’ll find an eclectic mix of personal essays, poems, quotes, photographs, line art, watercolors, comics, portraits of activists and athletes, and interviews with Native women. #LittleSalmonWoman (Lianne Charlie) even adopts the format of an Instagram page, while “More Than Meets the Eye” (Kelly Edzerza-Babty and Claire Anderson) profiles ReMatriate, which shares images of modern Native women on social media in order to reclaim their identities and broaden our ideas of what a “real” Native American woman looks like. (The quote in my review’s title comes from Claire Anderson, a founding member of ReMatriate.)

The topics touched upon run the gamut: genocide, colonization, forced assimilation, cultural appropriation, kidnapping, rape, domestic violence, mass incarceration, mental illness, sexuality, addiction, street harassment, homelessness, and intergenerational trauma.

(More below the fold…)