Book Review: Little Nothing, Marisa Silver (2016)

Monday, November 7th, 2016

If you can embrace the weird, this is one lovely and amazing story.

five out of five stars

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

Pavla revels in her name because she knows that if nothing is little, then it must be something indeed.

“You’re the one who said all time exists,” Danilo says. “The past exists. The future exists.”

It’s true. She did say this. And she does somehow believe that what has happened to her and what will happen to her exist simultaneously, that the story is already written but not yet told. She must be like someone in one of her mother’s stories who has existed for centuries of telling and will exist even after her mother is gone. How else to explain her life? As something random?

“I’m sorry it has taken so long for us to come,” he hears himself say.

Pavla Janáček is born at the turn of the century in a rural village located in a small, unnamed (but likely Slavic) country. She arrives in the twilight of her parents’ lives: after much trying and four miscarriages, mother Agáta finally enlisted the help a “gypsy.” She believes that Pavla’s “condition” is a punishment from God for her blasphemy. Pavla is born a dwarf, with a head that’s too large for her torso and arms and legs that are disproportionately short.

The chilly reception Pavla initially receives from Agáta gradually warms and deepens, as mother and daughter are forced into close proximity by the harsh winter weather. With spring comes love; Pavla is the child Agáta and Václav have always wanted. She ages, but grows precious little; she continues to sleep in her crib for the next fourteen years. She’s a precocious child and a fast learner; she teaches herself to count using the slats on her crib and, when she turns seven, Václav takes her on as his assistant at his plumbing business. She starts school a year later, where her cunning eventually wins over her classmates.

And then Pavla hits puberty and her parents get the foolish notion to “fix” her: for what will happen to their lovely daughter (and Pavla is indeed a beauty, ‘from the neck up’) when they’re gone? They begin dragging her from doctor to doctor, hoping for a miracle cure, until they wind up in the office of the biggest charlatan of them all: Dr. Ignác Smetanka, whose outlandish and cruel “treatments” leaved Pavla scarred, traumatized – and bearing the countenance of a wolf, seemingly overnight. But the transformation from dwarf to (average-sized) wolf-girl won’t be the only metamorphosis Pavla experiences before her story’s ended.

Pavla’s strange journey intersects at multiple points and in unexpected ways with that of Dr. Smetanka’s young assistant Danilo – the clever boy who built the rack that once again made Pavla an object of shame and terror.

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Book Review: The Wolf in the Attic, Paul Kearney (2016)

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

An Egyptian Werewolf in Oxford

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for sexual harassment/assault and allusions to rape.)

I understand now all the fairy tales, those that talk of the dangers of the deep forest, and the beasts that lurk there. All those fears were true. I know them now. I am in the middle of one such story, and all I want is out of it.

— 3.5 stars —

It’s 1929, and another year is drawing to a close in Oxford. Eleven-year-old (almost twelve!) Anna Francis hates it, all of it: the cold, dreary weather. The short days and unforgiving nights. The drafty house and her empty belly. Her father’s sadness, so often drowned in a bottle of Scotch. The isolation and loneliness and profound sense of alienation.

Anna and her father are refugees; the last surviving members of the Sphrantzes clan. Once they lived in Smyrna, a Turkish city on the Aegean Sea, like their ancestors before them. But the end of the Great War gave birth to the Greco-Turkish War – after which most of the Christians remaining in Smyrna were forced to leave. When their community was sacked, Anna and Georgio wound up on a ship bound for England. Anna’s mother wasn’t as lucky; along with many pretty young girls and women, she was kidnapped by Turkish forces. Nor do they know the fate of Nikos, Anna’s older brother and a member of the army deployed to fight the Turkish forces. Her trusty doll Penelope – named after Odysseos’s wife, Pie for short – is all she has left of him.

Though Anna and Georgio live in a ginormous house, just the two of them, Anna has trouble finding time for herself. During the day, she’s hounded by the strict Miss Hawcross and her menacing ruler; and at night, her father frequently hosts Committee meetings, such that her house is teeming with strangers. So she sneaks out to roam the streets of Oxford, and explores the upper floors of the house, long since closed off and forbidden to her, in search of adventure. This is how she meets the strange boy, with dark hair and skin like hers: but eyes that glow in a way that no human’s should.

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Book Review: Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones (2016)

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

This book gave me a serious case of Sad Eyes.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for violence, including animal abuse.)

This is how it is with werewolves. Even when they lie, it’s the truth. And now I knew the truth about myself. I was a murder weapon. I was revenge. I was a burden my aunt and uncle had been carrying around for ten years already, out of obligation to my mom. I was maybe a wolf, maybe not.

“Being a werewolf isn’t just teeth and claws,” she said, her lips brushing my ear she was so close, so quiet, “it’s inside. It’s how you look at the world. It’s how the world looks back at you.”

“You’re not going to believe this,” the villager’s uncle says back to the villager’s aunt, his smile as wide as the villager’s ever seen. “One of them’s got a pitchfork.”

Arkansas. Texas. Florida. New Mexico. Georgia. Alabama. Mississippi. South Carolina.: “Riding the yo-yo,” Darren called it. The unnamed narrator of Mongrels has spent much of his young life traversing the southern U.S., hopping from state to state, running as far as the family’s current junker would take them. Trying to stay ahead of the snow – and the law. Living on the outskirts of town, in rundown rentals and dilapidated trailers, taking low-wage (yet honest) work where they could find it, but always falling back on theft to round out their diets. Strawberry wine coolers. Cases of steak. Wild deers and the occasional calf.

The boy – sometimes a villager, other times a reporter, always a wolf-in-waiting – never knew his parents. As a topic of conversation, dad is off-limits; and his mother, Jessica, died in childbirth. Just like her mother before her. It’s more than a family curse: it’s a species curse. Human women cannot safely give birth to werewolves. Unlike her littermates, Libby and Darren, Jessica didn’t inherit her father’s wolf blood.

In the wake of his mother’s death, the boy was raised by wolves – Grandpa, Aunt Libby, Uncle Darren – but still isn’t sure whether he is one. Werewolves don’t turn until adolescence, you see.

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