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…)

Book Review: The Many Selves of Katherine North, Emma Geen (2016)

July 8th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

How do you say “AMAZING!!!” in bottlenose dolphin?

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. This review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

One. Mustn’t trust humans too much.
Two. I know what they can be like.
Three. I was one once—

How can they sell Phenomenautism as image and experience? How can they sell it at all? A Ressy isn’t a consumable. Phenomenautism is meant to consume you.

Buckley always said that reading is the closest an ex-phenomenaut can get to wearing another skin.

The year is 2050, or close enough, and while humans aren’t yet locomoting via our own personal jet packs, we have developed all sorts of cool technology. Chief among them? Phenomenautism, which involves projecting one’s consciousness, using a neural interface, into the bodies of other animals.

At just nineteen years old, Katherine “Kit” North is the longest projecting phenomenaut in the field, with seven years under her belt. She was recruited to join ShenCorp – whose founder, Professor Shen, all but invented phenomenautism – when she was a kid. Kit’s Mum was a zoologist and her father, a wildlife photographer, so an affinity for our nonhuman kin runs in the blood. Kit works in the Research division, inhabiting the bodies of nonhuman animals to aid outside companies and nonprofits with their research; for example, as a fox Kit helped track the local population for a cub study orchestrated by the Fox Research Centre. She’s been a bee, a whale, a polar bear, an elephant, a seal, a mouse, a spider, a octopus, a tiger, and a bat, not to various species of birds. Very rarely does she get to be herself – although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Nor is she quite sure what that means anymore.

ShenCorp is the only company to employ children exclusively, owing to their superior brain plasticity, which aids in adapting to the new bodies (“Ressies”) they inhabit during jumps. As Kit watches her friends and peers disappear, one by one – let go for poor performance – she worries for her own future. When she’s hit by a car inRessy – destroying the body and ending her study prematurely – termination seems imminent. Yet instead of a pink slip, her boss offers her a promotion, of sorts: to the new Tourism division, where the “animal experience” is sold to regular folks – for a hefty sum, natch. Kit finds the idea of Consumer Phenomenautism repugnant … yet not quite as bad as giving jumping up altogether. Kit accepts, unwittingly stumbling into a corporate conspiracy that runs far deeper that she imagined.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Menagerie, Rachel Vincent (2015)

September 28th, 2015 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

“I deal in morality, not in law.”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape and other forms of violence.)

“She won’t serve her dish cold,” the oracle mumbled, almost giddy with joy as chill bumps rose all over her skin. “And two graves won’t be near enough…”

What was I, if I had no name, no friends, no family, no job, no home, no belongings, and no authority over my own body? What could I be?

In a sudden surreal moment of epiphany, I realized I was incubating not a child, but a cause.

The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? – Jeremy Bentham

I have a curious affinity for circus stories: tales that unfold under the Big Top, or books starring carnival performers. Thus far 2015 has been a great year to be a fan of such stories. Kirsty Logan imagines a world vastly transformed by climate change in The Gracekeepers. After her parents were mauled to death by the captive bear featured in their act, North was forced to take up their show, alone – save for the bear’s cub, North’s only companion. Two orphans, traveling the world with the floating circus troupe known as Excalibur. Leslie Parry’s Church of Marvels follows Coney Island sideshow performer Odile Church as she travels to Manhattan in search of her sister, who fled The Church of Marvels when it burned to the ground, taking the sisters’ mother – and their livelihood – with them. In The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler weaves an imaginative tale about a librarian named Simon who comes into possession of an old book – a circus ledger dating back to the 1700s. Only by unraveling its secrets can he lift the curse that’s plagued his family for generations. And then there’s Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers – which I’m currently a quarter of the way into – a retelling of Romeo & Juliet featuring two rival families of performers, the Palomas (mermaids) and Corbeaus (tightrope walkers/tree climbers). There’s also The Wanderers, by Kate Ormand, which I didn’t enjoy nearly as much (I DNF’ed at 41%), but I’ll get to that one in a moment.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2017-06-23

June 24th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Lessons from Shadow: My Life Lessons for Boys and Girls by Shadow Bregman (2017)

June 23rd, 2017 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

All I Need to Know about Life I Learned from Dogs

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Shadow Bregman has been through a lot in her short twelve years. She was rescued from an abusive home; pushed around by her older adopted sister, Betsy; and braved the loss of both her mother and sister. She’s got a life’s worth of wisdom to impart to her young readers, but the task requires an astute translator: Shadow is a black Lab, you see! Luckily, her Daddy Walter is more than happy to help.

Lessons from Shadow is a sweet and heartfelt book. Using anecdotes about Shadow’s life as a jumping-off point, Bregman addresses tough topics like bullying, depression, and loneliness in a unique and accessible way. The chapter on sadness hit me especially hard, since I’m grappling with similar issues in my own life:

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Now, it’s just Daddy and me. We lost Mommy and we lost Betsy and now it’s just the two of us together trying not to be sad all the time. It’s getting a little better I guess now that it’s been quite a while. But, you can never forget the wonderful people you knew and the great times you had, and you never should. Always keep them in your heart. Just try and get on with your life and be as good a person as the people you lost were.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the intended audience, though; while the tone seems aimed at younger readers, this is really more of a short chapter book than a picture book. Each lesson is told via one to three pages of twelve-point, single-spaced type. Parents and caregivers should probably expect to read this one to/with their younger bookworms and animal lovers.

The book has a decidedly homemade, DIY vibe to it – which isn’t a bad thing!; I’d love to have similar keepsakes for my own rescue dogs (seven and counting). That said, I think it could have benefited from a more heavy-handed editor. Granted, the story is told in Shadow’s voice and aimed at a younger audience, which speaks to the tone. Yet I noticed several obvious errors (e.g., capitalization), not to mention the many long and meandering sentences.

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The illustrations by Fatima Stamato are charming, and the format is nicely done as well; it has the feeling of a scrapbook. I also love that Bergman has promised to donate the proceeds to Best Friends, of which his late wife Robbie was an ardent supporter.

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The afterward even includes an invitation to email the author herself, which is hecka awesome and makes me even more envious. I know I’d get a kick out of reading letters addressed to my forever dog, Kaylee; Ralphie the one-eyed wiener dog; or little Noodle Mags. When they’re gone, our loved ones live on in our hearts and memories; in the stories they inspire, and the good deeds we carry out in their names. Shadow Bregman is one lucky little girl.

(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 2017-06-22

June 23rd, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2017-06-21

June 22nd, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2017-06-20

June 21st, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton (2017)

June 20th, 2017 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Super-fied!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Earlier Reviewers program.)

In the second installment of Ben Clanton’s Narwhal and Jelly series, our favorite unicorn of the sea has been bitten by the superhero bug. Narwhal has decided that he, too, wants to be a superhero. He’s got a superhero name (Super Narwhal), a flashy costume (yellow cape), a sidekick (Jelly Jolt), and a secret identity (Clark Parker Wayne) … but no superpowers to speak of. Or so he thinks.

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Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt features the same adorable and irreverent artwork as its predecessor – and yes, there are waffles.

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I actually liked Volume 2 a smidgen more than the first; while both books center the importance of empathy and friendship, Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt goes a step further, teaching kids that we all have a superpower that can change the world for the better. Most of us just need to dig (dive?) a little deeper within ourselves to find it.

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Also neat: the educational interlude about real-life superpowered sea creatures.

(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 2017-06-19

June 20th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2017-06-18

June 19th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2017-06-17

June 18th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2017-06-16

June 17th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Lady Mechanika, Volume 3: The Lost Boys of West Abbey by M.M. Chen and Joe Benítez (2017)

June 16th, 2017 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Lovely Artwork, Okay Story

four out of five stars

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

— 3.5 stars —

So, full disclosure: I’m new to the Lady Mechanika series and wasn’t sure how it would go, diving in in the middle like I did. But the cover caught my eye, so I entered (and won!) a copy through Goodreads, and here we are.

The copy on the back promises that Volume 3 is “a perfect entry point for readers,” and so it is! Aside from a passing reference to “Pappy’s discovery in Africa,” the plot is pretty self-contained, and Lady Mechanika’s backstory, easy enough to infer.

In this steampunk version of Victorian England called Mechanika City, a gruesome discovery has been made: in the basement of an abandoned building, the bodies of five young orphans. Bound to operating tables, runes drawn on their skin in blood (not theirs), surrounded by curious clockwork toys. While the brass isn’t terribly interested in a bunch of dead street urchins, Inspector Singh – himself a former orphan and petty thief from Kolkata – has taken a special shining to the case. As has investigator/cyborg Lady Mechanika, who hopes it might shed some light on her own stolen past.

The art’s generally pretty great: the clockwork toys are rad, Lady Mechanika is fierce (though I’d love to see more of her mechanical limbs), and the colors are perfectly dark and gloomy. The plot’s pretty basic, but engaging; if anything, it made me want to pick up the first two volumes in the series, if only to learn more about the titular hero. (And with a series runner called The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse, can you really blame me?) I guess my only complaint is that the dialogue sometimes felt a little stilted and unbelievable? Though this could just be the convention of the genre; idk, sadly I don’t read a whole lot of steampunk. (So many books, so little time.)

And Winifred! How cute is she, with those oversized glasses? She’s like a cooler (read: 1880s, not 1980s) version of myself at that age.

(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 2017-06-15

June 16th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2017-06-14

June 15th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2017-06-13

June 14th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Strawberry Banana Banana Bread

June 13th, 2017 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

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A page from Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt, just because.
——————————

When the folks at Gourmet Nuts and Dried Fruit offered me some goodies for review, I jumped at the chance to try their dried strawberries. Along with the smell of wet dogs and chlorinated pools, nothing says summer quite like berries. Specifically, strawberries. And while these bad girls aren’t summer fresh, I thought they might just be perfect for baking.

The first thing I noticed upon their arrival is that they look much plumper than expected – kind of like the candied strawberries, minus all the extra sugar. They have a nice consistency, vaguely reminiscent of the fruit leather I make every fall.

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Since strawberry-banana is one of my all-time favorite flavor combinations – and I just so happened to have three brown bananas chilling on the counter – I decided to whip up a loaf of my crowd-pleasing banana bread. In addition to diced dried bananas, it also has a wee bit of strawberry extract (totally optional but also totally yummy). For something different, swap out a few tablespoons of the sugar for strawberry syrup. Or just add it in to satisfy your sweet tooth. It’s pretty great either way!

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Fwiw, the strawberries also go quite well in oatmeal – they’re a nice change of pace from my usual dried cranberries, and make an otherwise boring breakfast feel a bit more like junk food. (Remember those instant oatmeal packs you ate as a kid, with the dinosaur eggs? Yeah, like that!)

 

Strawberry Banana Banana Bread

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Ingredients

1/2 cup margarine, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3-4 very ripe bananas, mashed well
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup plain or vanilla soy milk, mixed with 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon strawberry extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
a dash of cinnamon
a handful of dried strawberries, diced

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Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a 8″x4″ bread pan with non-stick cooking spray, or lightly coat with margarine.

2. Pour 1/4 cup soy milk into a small glass measuring cup. Add the 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. Mix well and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugars. Add the wet ingredients – mashed bananas, soy milk, and vanilla and strawberry extracts – and mix well. Add the salt, cinnamon, and baking soda and sift in the flour, mixing until the batter is smooth and (relatively) creamy. Mix in the diced strawberries; toss in a second handful if desired.

4. Pour the batter into a prepared bread pan, evening out the top with a rubber spatula. Bake at 350F for 50 to 70 minutes, depending on the size of the loaf and your oven’s own quirks. You can check the bread’s progress by inserting a toothpick or knife into the loaf’s center; when it comes out clean and the top of bread attains a nice golden color, you’ll know it’s done.

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tweets for 2017-06-12

June 13th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2017-06-11

June 12th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2017-06-10

June 11th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2017-06-09

June 10th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2017-06-08

June 9th, 2017 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato