Book Review: Forever in My Heart: A Grief Journal, Tanya Carroll Richardson (2016)

December 9th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Probably fair to categorize this grief journal as “nondenominational Christian with a New Age vibe.”

three out of five stars

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

In a little over three years, I lost four rescue dogs (out of seven) and a grandmother (just two!). Needless to say, this decade is not getting off to the greatest start. When I saw a copy of Tanya Carroll Richardson’s Forever in My Heart: A Grief Journal up for grabs on Goodreads, I threw my name in the hat. I’m addicted to guided journals, and this one seemed especially timely for me. Even though it’s clearly meant for humans, I thought that maybe – with a few tweaks and a generous amount of creative interpretation – I could adapt it for use it for my forever dog/soul mate/daemon Kaylee.

Forever in My Heart is very thorough and detailed, which I didn’t entirely expect; so many of the guided journals I’ve tried are vague bordering on terse. Each page is packed with several (between two and four) prompts; some sentences have multiple fill-in-the-blanks, so it’s hard to give an accurate count. You’re provided with a few lines to answer; the exact number kind of depends on the nature of the prompt.

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A few of my favorite prompts:

– A funny memory of you I recently laughed about with someone
– I think of you especially during this time of day because
– I had this really crazy, silly dream about you since you passed on
– Your passing inspired me to make some positive changes in my life, like
– A book I read or a TV show I saw since you died that reminded me of you
– My favorite way you used to show me you love me

The journal is a good size, 8 3/4″ x 5 3/4″. Anything smaller and it can be difficult to write in. (Think: the thick, mass market paperback-sized design preferred by PotterStyle.) The lines are maybe a tick larger than college ruled; big enough to work with, but not large enough that they waste space. The paper isn’t super-thick, but it’s substantial enough that a standard ballpoint pen isn’t likely to bleed through.

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The journal is a little more religious than I anticipated, given the book’s synopsis on Goodreads. I think it’d be fair to call it nondenominational Christian with a New Age vibe; there are lots of references to heaven, prayer, spirits, and angels. I’m an atheist, so this isn’t really my jam, but I’m used to overlooking and compartmentalizing. Books on death and dying tend to have some degree of religiosity built in, so.

Even so, this one really gave me a workout: There’s a whole chapter called “You are forever in my heart…but you are also in Heaven, and I am trusting that’s where you’re meant to be.” Contrast this with the previous chapter, “You are forever in my heart…and that’s why I can still feel you here with me,” which I vastly prefer. (Also, all the angel talk? Totally caught me off guard.)

More bothersome is that some of the prompts sound an awful lot like the well-meaning but insensitive platitudes so often directed at the recently bereaved: “She’s in a better place.” “At least he isn’t suffering anymore.” “She’s with God in Heaven now.” All the mindless sayings that minimize, dismiss, and erase the pain, grief, and loss you’re all but drowning under. (A better opening? “Tell me about him.” Listen, don’t lecture.)

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Overall I think the journal’s okay; it’s not what I would have chosen for myself, if I’d been shopping around for one, but it’s not the worst. More religious folks will probably warm up to it more than I did. Probably not the best choice for a beloved nonhuman friend, but I’m gonna make it work.

(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 2016-12-08

December 9th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-12-07

December 8th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: The Supergirls: Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines (Revised and Updated), Mike Madrid (2016)

December 7th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Wonder Woman for President

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC through Edelweiss and a finished copy through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

After The Supergirls came out, something interesting happened. I got emails from readers who had no idea that there had been female superheroes in the 1960s, much less in the 1940s.

This is a difficult book for me to review. I’m rather new to the world of comic books, having only gotten into them in the past five years or so. With the exception of Brian Azzarello’s New 52 Wonder Woman, I’ve mostly avoided the long-running superhero titles; the sheer volume is just overwhelming! Like, where to start?

(Incidentally, The Supergirls has convinced me to avoid anything not published in this millennium – again with the exception of Wonder Woman, or at least Wonder Woman as written by William Moulton Marston. The early stuff is almost comically sexist and not worth my time. Well, except for the occasionally bizarro plotline, like when Supergirl falls for her horse Comet. Tina Belcher would approve.)

Instead I mostly gravitate toward more recently created series (Saga, Sex Criminals, Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, Monstress) and those based on stories I know and love from other mediums (Firefly/Serenity, Orphan Black, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stephen King’s The Stand and The Dark Tower; I’m damn near jumping out of my skin waiting for Octavia Butler’s Kindred!). My knowledge of most superheroes and villains stems primarily from the big and little screen adaptations; Fox’s animated X-Men series is a childhood favorite.

That said, from my neophyte perspective, The Supergirls seems thorough, meticulously researched, and well-thought out. Madrid’s writing is fun and engaging, though The Supergirls is best digested in small bites: the scope of the topic can be overwhelming at times.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-12-06

December 7th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-12-05

December 6th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Everything Belongs to the Future, Laurie Penny (2016)

December 5th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Entertaining and thought-provoking, this novella left me wanting more. (Sooooo much more!)

five out of five stars

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

“All I wanted was to make something small and bright and good, something that lasted a little while, a little while longer than I did. All I wanted was to push back against the darkness just a little bit. To live in the cracks in capitalism with the people I care about, just for a little while. But it turns out I can’t even have that. And now I just want to burn shit down.”

It’s the turn of the century – the 21st, to be exact – and humanity has finally discovered the fountain of youth. It comes in the form of a little blue pill that will cost you $200 a pop on the black market; a little less, if you’re one of the lucky few who has insurance. Most don’t, as this “weaponization of time” has only exacerbated class inequality.

Only the wealthiest citizens can afford life-extension drugs; regular folks deemed “important to society” – scientists, artists, musicians, the occasional writer – may receive a sponsorship to continue their work, but ultimately they live and age and die at the whim of those more powerful than they. Show a modicum of concern for the working class, and you just might find your sponsorship revoked.

Alex, Nina, Margo, Fidget, and Jasper are a group of artist/activists living in a dilapidated, mouse- and mold-infested flat in the underside of Oxford city. They work day jobs where they can find them, but their real passion is playing at Robin Hood. A few times a week, they load up their food truck with cheese sammies or mystery stews made of reclaimed food, and distribute free meals to Oxford’s neediest citizens. At the bottom of each foodstuff is a happy meal surprise: a little blue pill, most likely stolen. One per person, no second helpings.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-12-04

December 5th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-12-03

December 4th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-12-02

December 3rd, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: The Night Voyage: A Magical Adventure and Coloring Book, Daria Song (2016)

December 2nd, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

A Whimsical & Kindhearted Premise, Coupled With Intricate & Stunning Artwork

five out of five stars

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

This is only the second adult coloring book I’ve owned, and I had no idea what to expect from a book billed as an “adventure and coloring book.” As it turns out, The Night Voyage is primarily a coloring book, but with several pages of introductory text to provide some background to the story and fuel your imagination.

It’s the eve of the little girl’s birthday, but sadly she will spend it alone (save for her cat, Phoebe): mom and dad will be away on a business trip. But they left her a huge stack of presents to unwrap, almost by way of apology. Feeling understandably lonely, she fantasizes about sharing her gifts with other kids her age, meeting new people and maybe even making a few friends in the process. Before she knows it, she’s drifted off. That night, with the help of her toy train set (now life-sized), a flock of paper cranes, and her trusty friend Phoebe, the little girl goes on a night voyage, making her daydreams a reality. (Spoiler alert: she wakes up to a giant stack of pancakes. Mom and dad either never left, or just completed the ‘verse’s shortest business trip ever.)

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Daria Song’s artwork is sumptuous: whimsical and imaginative, and packed with lots of surreal and fun scenes. The drawings are intricate and highly detailed; most likely you’d categorize this as an intermediate to advanced coloring book. There are quite a few tiny little lines and shapes, and a steady hand is a must for some of the scenes.

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The book is a near-perfect 10″x10″ square, and many of the drawings stretch across two pages, lending them an even grander air.

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There’s even a Visual Index at the end – each layout has a name – as well as a cut-out greeting card that you can decorate yourself. I also love the few blank frames scattered throughout the book; you can either sketch in your own favorite people, or cut a photo to fit and paste it in there.

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The pages are thick and sturdy; you’d really have to use some elbow grease to press through to the other side. The paperback book comes with a dust jacket (look underneath! there’s printing on both sides!), and the naked cover is quite lovely on its own.

The Night Voyage would make a wonderful Secret Santa gift or stocking stuffer, especially for book lovers: You’ve got to love a coloring book that features drawings of book piles inside!

(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 2016-12-01

December 2nd, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-11-30

December 1st, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing, Lauren Beukes (2016)

November 30th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

four out of five stars

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

a is for algebra

“It’s all equations,” she says. “It’s all explainable.” Like we could break down the whole universe into factors and exponents and multiples of x. Like there is no mystery to anything at all.

“Okay, what about love?” I shoot back, irritated at her practicality.

And she ripostes with: “Fine. xx + xy = xxx.”

She has to explain the bit about chromosomes. This is her idea of a dirty joke. Later, I wonder if this was also her idea of a come-on.

(“Alegbra”)

Don’t worry, she repeats, her back to him, laying out things with serrated edges and conducting pads and blunt wrenching teeth. You can’t dehumanize something that isn’t human.

(“Unaccounted”)

Pearl looks back at the protestors. One of the handwritten banners stays with her. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” it reads.

(“Slipping”)

I love Lauren Beukes, and I generally dig short stories – especially those belonging to the SF/dystopia genre. So I was pretty psyched to get my hands on an early copy of Slipping, Beukes’s very first collection of short fiction and non-fiction essays. (There’s also 2014’s Pop Tarts and Other Stories, which I’m not counting since it’s comprised of just three short stories – all of which appear here.)

Slipping starts off a little meh; not meh-bad, but meh-disappointing for a writer of this caliber. The titular “Slipping,” told from the POV of a sixteen-year-old girl who was recruited by investors and remade into a bio-engineered athlete after losing both legs in an accident, boasts some wonderful world-building – but the story’s religious aspects ultimately turned me off. Much to my relief, things start to pick up with the fourth story, “Branded” (corporate-sponsored nanotech) and mostly just get better from there.

The fiction generally has a science fiction/dystopian bent, with a few fantasy and contemporary pieces mixed in. There’s even a fairy tale of sorts: a modern-day retelling of “The Princess of the Pea” that’s both a critique of celebrity culture and an ode to female masturbation that (spoiler alert!) is all kinds of awesome. While all are unique and imaginative, a few themes are common across many of the stories: transhumanism, e.g. through technological advancements in prosthetics, nanotech, neuroanatomy, etc.; an erosion of privacy/the rise in the surveillance state; and a rise in corporate control, most notably over our bodies and selves.

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-11-29

November 30th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-11-28

November 29th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Book Review: Santa’s First Vegan Christmas, Robin Raven & Kara Maria Schunk (2016)

November 28th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Have yourself a caring little Christmas / Let your heart be full.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: The author sent me a free e-book in exchange for an honest review.)

Okay, I won’t even try to play. This book legit made me cry.

Dana is spirited little reindeer calf, living free in the Arctic tundra. It’s the night before Christmas, and she and her friends are racing and dancing and frolicking in the snow and ice, having a grand old time. Their celebrations are oh-so-rudely interrupted by the thundering of sleigh bells. It’s Santa, and he’s come to recruit a new reindeer for the team. He sets his sights on sprightly Dana, and no wonder: she’s positively bursting with joy and energy.

But dear old Santa is about to get schooled. Dana balks at the harness Santa tries to throw on her, instead giving him a lesson in kindness, compassion, and respect for all beings.

Santa, look. I know you meant no harm.
You’re just going along with the cultural norm.
But horses pulling carriages, reindeers pulling sleighs?
It’s all got to end. And I mean starting today!

Worry not, young ones! Christmas isn’t doomed, but transformed. Dana agrees to help Santa, but as an equal. They deliver toys to all the world’s boys and girls, but during their annual merry-making spree, Santa and Dana also free captive fishes, birds, and horses; deliver farmed cows, pigs, and chickens to sanctuaries; and break the chains that doom countless backyard dogs to isolated and lonely existences. In a lovely show of solidarity, Santa and Dana also help those humans in need, delivering food to the hungry and cash monies to the impoverished. (It’s a temporary fix, sure, but maybe save Murray Bookchin and The Shock Doctrine for the high school years?)

Santa’s First Vegan Christmas is a must-read holiday story for vegans of all ages. I’m 38 and childfree and, like I said, I was positively bawling by story’s end. Parents are sure to love its message of equality, not to mention the fresh rhymes and consistent ethics. It’s hard to know what to expect of vegan-friendly books – after all, there are as many reasons to go vegan as there are vegans! – but Santa’s First Vegan Christmas checks all the right boxes. Farmed animals, working animals, companion animals, human animals – the inherent worth of all creatures is celebrated. Robin Raven even drops the s-word (as in sentience, silly!).

Robin Raven’s lovely and uplifting story is complemented wonderfully by Kara Maria Schunk’s illustrations. The colors aren’t limited to the traditional holiday palette of green, white, and red, but rather feature a shock of bright oranges, deep purples, and sky blues. The bold mix brings to mind the various images of the Aurora Borealis I’ve marveled at over the years. (And no wonder, given the setting.)

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2016-11-27

November 28th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

tweets for 2016-11-26

November 27th, 2016 2:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Stacking the Shelves: November 2016

November 26th, 2016 10:00 am by Kelly Garbato

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So on Election Day I tweeted a picture of my I Voted sticker @Ulysses Press to win a Hillary Clinton coloring book, and now the sight of it makes me want to cry. So…yeah. Not exactly the best start to this month’s roundup.

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ON A LIGHTER NOTE, I was especially psyched to find this ARC of The Orphan’s Tale in my mailbox, since my request was denied on Edelweiss. Score! Thanks much, Harlequin!

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From Library Thing’s October Early Reviewers batch, a Recorded Books production of Afterward, by Jennifer Mathieu. I really enjoyed Devoted and The Truth About Alice, and was really stoked to win a copy. I started it yesterday while walking the dogs, and so far it’s excellent.

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Thanks to Shelf Awareness and Random House, I received this prize pack of Fannie Flagg books. The Whole Town’s Talking comes out next week. :)

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Also from Shelf Awareness (and NatGeo) is this copy of National Geographic’s latest photography book, @NatGeo: The Most Popular Instagram Photos. It’s stunning, as per usual.

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Rennie desperately wants to be included in the next edition, but Mom doesn’t have an Indtagram account. (Boo!)

Just kidding, she’s praying for the day when I stop drafting her into my book photos.

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For review through Blogging for Books: a David Bowie coloring book. Eeeeps!

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Trevor Noah’s memoir dropped this month, and I have a shiny new copy! (Thanks to…Doubleday Canada (?).)

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From W. W. Norton & Company, an ARC of James Lasdun’s The Fall Guy. The cover has totally got me yearning for warmer, simpler times. WE WERE SO YOUNG AND NAIVE YOU GUYS.

 
I also snagged a few great deals on ebooks this month:

  • Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Denzel Smith ($2.99 on Amazon)
  • Salsa Nocturna: A Bone Street Rumba Collection by Daniel José Older ($.99 on Amazon)
  • Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology edited by Sfe R. Monster ($5 from Beyond Press)
  • Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit (FREE from Haymarket Books)
  • Just Juliet by Charlotte Reagan ($.99 on Amazon)
  • The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir by Lesley Allen ($2.03 on Amazon)
  • The Humanity of Monsters edited by Michael Matheson ($2.50 on Amazon)
  • Vegan Teenage Zombie Huntress by G.G. Silverman ($.99 on Amazon)
  •  
    For review on NetGalley:

  • The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own edited by Veronica Chambers
  • There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker
  • The Burning World (Warm Bodies #3) by Isaac Marion
  •  
    For review on Edelweiss:

  • The Ship Beyond Time (The Girl from Everywhere #2) by Heidi Heilig
  •