Book Review: Daughters Unto Devils Amy Lukavics (2015)

September 26th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Psychological Tension Like Whoah

four out of five stars

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

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

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

— 4.5 stars —

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

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

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-09-25

September 26th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-09-24

September 25th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Mini-Review: Me: A Compendium: A Fill-in Journal for Kids, Wee Society (2016)

September 24th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

A Fun & Very Do-Able Journal for Kids Aged 4-8

five out of five stars

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

When it comes to journals, I thought I’d seen it all: Mindfulness journals. Journals for book lovers to track their reading progress. Gratitude journals. Journals with prompts. Collage journals. Journals shaped like ice cream sandwiches. Enter: journals for the preschool set.

Even though, at thirty-eight, I’m well past the target audience, I decided to give Me: A Compendium a try. After all, I love unconventional journals, journals with a heavy graphic element that don’t require so much writing (because who has the time? And also the handwriting skills? Mine jumped the shark shortly after college graduation.) And if it wasn’t for me, I could always give it away.

As it turns out, when the publisher says that it’s intended for preschool through third grade, they are not kidding. And that’s a good thing!

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With its simple style; bold, bright colors; blocky artwork; and age-appropriate prompts/activities, this is a journal that’s both fun and very do-able for younger kids. The layouts are silly yet engaging, with plenty of space to write, draw, or even paste on your response. The paper is nice and thick, which is great for less than perfectly coordinated hands.

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The prompts run the gamut, from “If I were an underwater sea creature, this is what I would be” to “My favorite holiday” and “These are my top three ice cream flavors.”

Okay, on second thought, maybe this book is just my speed.

There are even some goodies hidden under the dust jacket, including a blank cover for the journaler to personalize herself.

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This would make a great gift for a creative or introspective kid, especially one who loves assisting with mom or dad’s scrapbooking (but maybe can’t be trusted with the glue and glitter quite yet!).

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

tweets for 2016-09-23

September 24th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Children of the New World: Stories, Alexander Weinstein (2016)

September 23rd, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

“a comeback story without a comeback”

five out of five stars

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

We were like babies. Like Adam and Eve, some said. We reached out toward one another to see how skin felt; we let our neighbors’ hands run across our arms. In this world, we seemed to understand, we were free to experience a physical connection that we’d always longed for in the real world but had never been able to achieve. Who can blame us for being reckless?

(“Children of the New World”)

Publicly, we sold memories under Quimbly, Barrett & Woods, but when it was just the three of us, working late into the night, we thought of ourselves as mapmakers. […] Here was the ocean, here the ships, here the hotel, here the path that led to town, here the street vendors, here the memories of children we never had and parents much better than the ones we did. And far out there was the edge of the world.

(“The Cartographers”)

It’s not often that I’m so truly and hopelessly blown away by a collection of short stories. Anthologies with multiple contributors are almost always a little choppy, and even those written by a single author tend to be a mixed bag. But Alexander Weinstein? He works some serious magic in Children of the New World.

The thirteen stories found within these pages are beautiful, imaginative, and deeply unsettling. Together, they create a portrait of a future beholden to technology: where consumers willingly and happily abandon memories based on fact in favor kinder, gentler fictions; where humans rarely leave the virtual world, let alone their houses; where people fornicate like mad but reproduce through cloning – and sometimes even programming. Where lovers can peel back all their layers – metaphorically and literally – and grant their partners access to every fleeting thought, emotion, and memory. Where even the apocalypse is powerless to break the hold that mere things – Lego toys and Kitchenaid mixers – exert over us.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-09-22

September 23rd, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-09-21

September 22nd, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: The Lost and the Found, Cat Clark (2016)

September 21st, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

On Children Lost and Found – and Overlooked and Forgotten

four out of five stars

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

Chances are, you have seen her. The photo of blond-haired, gap-toothed, polka-dot-dressed, teddy bear–cradling Laurel Logan has surely been printed in almost every newspaper in the world (probably even the Uzbekistan Times, now that I think about it). […]

I was also in the original photo: four years old, cute in the way that all four-year-olds are, but nothing special. Not like her. Frizzy brown hair, beady little eyes, hand-me-down clothes. I was playing in a sandbox in the background, slightly out of focus. That’s how it’s been my whole life: in the background, slightly out of focus. You hardly ever see that version of the photo—the one where I haven’t been cropped out.

I try to put myself in her shoes. Coming back to your family after all that time. You’d want things to be the same as when you left, wouldn’t you? But a lot can change in thirteen years. Your mother can wither away to nothingness, and your dad can get together with a lovely Frenchman, and your little sister can stop building sand castles and start building a wall around herself instead.

For as long as she can remember, seventeen-year-old Faith Logan has lived in her older sister’s shadow. When they were younger, Laurel was everything Faith was not: friendly, outgoing, and beautiful. Whereas Faith inherited their parents’ plain Jane, mousey looks – complete with frizzy brown hair and beady eyes – the adopted Laurel practically shined with her golden blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Laurel was the leader and Faith, her mostly-content follower. That is, until the day that Laurel was kidnapped from their front yard, lured away by a stranger promising ice cream cones.

In the intervening thirteen years, Laurel has overshadowed Faith in a much more tragic and morbid way. Their mother Olivia suffers from chronic depression, a melancholy broken only by the single-minded determination to find her missing daughter. Father John is more or less absent from his remaining daughter’s life; his new boyfriend Michel seems to do a better job of parenting Faith than the two combined. Unwilling to be perpetually cast as “Little Laurel Logan’s” sad and less interesting younger sister, Faith avoids publicity as assiduously as Olivia courts it: both to fund the never ending search for Laurel, and to keep her case alive in the public’s mind. Faith can count her friends on one hand, as too many of her peers seem to want to get close to her so they can be nearer tragedy. Rubberneckers and paparazzi vultures: these are the creatures she’s built up armor against.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-09-20

September 21st, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-09-19

September 20th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: The Female of the Species, Mindy McGinnis (2016)

September 19th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

There aren’t enough stars in the universe.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for violence, including rape and pedophilia. This review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

The shelter is running a neuter-and-spay clinic next month. One of my jobs this morning is to get the mail, fighting the urge to throw a rock at a speeding car when the driver wolf-whistles at me. The mailbox is full of applications for the clinic, most of them for dogs but a handful of cats as well. Rhonda, the lady who runs the shelter, has me sort them out, dogs and cats, male and female.

Rhonda snorts when she sees all the male dogs on the roster. “People don’t learn,” she says.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Everyone thinks if you fix a male dog it will lower his aggression, but most of the biters are female. It’s basic instinct to protect their own womb. You see it in all animals—the female of the species is more deadly than the male.”

The books didn’t help me find a word for myself; my father refused to accept the weight of it. And so I made my own. I am vengeance.

Like her father before her, who abandoned the family when she was a kid, Alex Craft has violent tendencies. Unlike Daddy Dearest, however, what piques Alex’s rage is injustice: bullying, animal abuse, rape jokes, and violence (particularly that of a sexual nature). If her father had stayed, it’s entirely possible that they would have come to blows, since he sometimes seemed one frayed nerve away from wife beating territory. But Alex saw him as a kindred spirit, and in his absence, she has no one to relate to or confide in. No one to teach her how to channel her rage in a productive way.

Alex’s older sister Anna helped to keep her wolf caged. When Anna was murdered, Alex unlocked the door.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-09-18

September 19th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-09-17

September 18th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Mini-Review: Baba Yaga, An Leysen (2016)

September 17th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Charming Illustrations and a Story That’s Suitable for Kids

four out of five stars

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

A long time ago, in a land far away, lived a young girl named Olga. Ever since her mother passed away, it’d just been Olga and her father. But he filled her days with games and stories, and they always had food to eat and a place to sleep; things were generally pretty good. That is, until dad remarried.

Olga’s stepmother wasn’t just evil; she was a straight-up witch. Or the sister of one, anyway. Olga’s stepmother fed her scraps and made her do all the chores, all by herself. But Olga never complained, which caused her stepmother to hate her even more. One day, she sent Olga to her sister’s house to fetch a needle and some thread. What might otherwise be a mundane chore was actually a suicide mission: for Olga’s step-aunt was none other than the storied Baba Yaga, child-meat connoisseur. Luckily, Olga didn’t go into battle unarmed: she had a magical doll, gifted her by her late mother, to help guide the way.

I’m not super-familiar with the Baba Yaga fairy tale but, from my limited knowledge, An Leysen’s version seems pretty faithful. All the staples are present and accounted for: a flying cauldron (mortar) steered by a broomstick (pestle); a house that sits on chicken legs; multiple witchy sisters (possibly all named Baba Yaga; we never do learn stepmom’s real name); and the ever-present threat of child cannibalism. Despite these more maudlin plot points, the story is rather tame and suitable for children.

In fact, Baba Yaga looks more like a kindly old grandmother – a babushka or nonna, perhaps – than a mean old witch.

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The artwork is really quite charming, with a textured feeling that resembles oil paints on canvas.

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The colors are rich and vibrant, except when they’re not: some pages are much more muted and somber than others, which makes for a rather interesting contrast. Sometimes a single object is imbued with color, as if to draw attention to its import. Likewise, there are variations in the size and style of the text as well, to emphasize tone and volume.

Olga is adorable as all get-out – but my eye was really drawn to the stepmother who, with her purple, upswept hair and seemingly painted-on mole, bears an uncanny resemblance to Marie Antoinette.

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Between Baba Yaga’s slighted maid, cat, and dog, the story imparts a simple yet important message: always treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated, lest it come back and bite you in the … stomach.

Also, don’t eat children.

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

tweets for 2016-09-16

September 17th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: The Conjoined, Jen Sookfong Lee (2016)

September 16th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

“I come from a family of psychopaths.”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, including rape and child abuse. This review contains clearly marked spoilers, but I tried to be as vague as possible.)

She was on the verge of losing her girls, not to a bearded, smelly man in a rusty pick-up truck, but to a phalanx of people who would look at her and see her mistakes, the gaps of time that she had left her daughters alone, the frank conversations she might have started with them but didn’t. She had worried over the wrong threats. […]

Ginny picked up the receiver. She might as well call. Maybe, just maybe, there was a chance that someone would understand.

It was easy to say My childhood was normal. It was the sort of thing people say when they want to deflect attention, or when it was the most polite way to explain that you grew up with privilege, that your past wasn’t dotted with evictions and coupons and beatings from a father who could never keep a job. It was what Jessica always said, even though she knew this statement couldn’t possibly be true for anyone.

Here are three things you should know about The Conjoined:

1. The book’s Little Red Riding Hood /The Handmaid’s Tale– inspired cover bears little relation to the story.

2. There are no conjoined twins in this book.

3. It’s still a pretty good read anyway, unsatisfying ending excluded.

About a month after losing her mother Donna to cancer, twenty-eight-year-old Jessica Campbell is helping her father Gerry sort through the detritus of their decades-long marriage when they make a truly horrifying discovery. Amid Ziplock bags stuffed with frostbitten bison meat, Gerry finds the bodies of two (very human) girls stashed in his wife’s basement freezers. (I own two chest freezers, and the roomier models are most definitely large enough to accommodate the body of a teenage girl. Don’t worry; you’ll only find homegrown apples and cases of Daiya cheese in my freezers.) The police are summoned straightaway, reopening an investigation into an eighteen-year-old mystery: whatever happened to Jamie and Casey Cheng?

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-09-15

September 16th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-09-14

September 15th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape, Jessica Luther (2016)

September 14th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

A Fan’s Take on the Intersection of Rape Culture, Racism, and Capitalism in College Football

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for discussions of rape and violence against women, obviously.)

So I am not what you’d call a sports fan. Occasionally I enjoy playing baseball, basketball, or tennis for funsies or fitness, but that’s about the extent of it. I ran out of fucks to give as a spectator when my youngest brother aged out of Little League.

Jessica Luther, on the other hand, “was born with garnet and gold blood.” Her parents graduated from Florida State University; she spent her autumns rooting for the Seminoles religiously; and, when it came time to go off to college, she only applied to one school. Once at FSU, she had her ass planted firmly in the bleachers for every home game, rain or shine, humidity and frost be damned:

I learned early on how to be a fan. There are rules and rituals the fans of a sports team follow and do, a kind of collective performance before and during games that show the love for our school and team. The playbook for fans consists of memorizing chants, wearing the right colors, painting our faces, and always singing along whenever you hear the school’s fight song. The most important play, though, is the one where you give your team your love and devotion, and you trust in the players and coaches even when they play badly and even if you have to ignore what they do when they are off the field and out of uniform. This, the fan playbook prescribes, is what good fans do. I used to be a really good FSU fan.

That is, until the 2012 rape allegations against Jameis Winston forced her to confront some of the more problematic aspects of the sport she so loves.

Let me stop right here and say that it’s not that you have to be a fan of something in order to earn the right to critique its more problematic aspects; far from it. But the particularities of fan identity vis–à–vis sports – Luther cites studies which show that many fans’ self-esteem is linked to their team’s performance – certainly encourage suspicion and hostility towards outsiders, as do structural barriers against women in sports, not to mention larger cultural narratives surrounding rape and violence against women. To the football fans in the audience, Luther wants you to know that she’s one of you, and her interrogation of that which you hold most dear comes from a place of love: both for victims/survivors, and for the sport itself. The wake up call is coming from inside the house, okay.

(More below the fold…)