Review: Stay Crazy by Erica Satifka

I received an advanced copy of Stay Crazy from the author for review.  Official release date is August 16, 2016. StayCrazy

To start off, I am not usually a sci-fi reader but when the genre crosses over with something that I can relate to, I am intrigued. When I saw that my friend and fellow zine writer, Erica Satifka, was coming out with her debut novel, I knew that I would be interested as her main character is a woman with mental illness.

Stay Crazy is the story of Emmeline Kalberg (Em), who has recently been released from a month in inpatient treatment for her schizophrenia and depression. In trying to adjust from being away at college, to the hospital and now back home with her single mother and younger sister, Em gets a job at the local small town western Pennsylvania box store, Savertown USA. Not long after being assigned as a stocker in the frozen foods department, Em hears a box of frozen chicken nuggets speaking to her. Turns out it is an interdimensional being called Escodex who is trying to save the folks at Savertown from evil creatures on his plane of existence. A plague of suicides comes over the store, and Em must decide how or even if to help Escodex save the world, while not letting people think this is her mental illness manifesting.

What I like about Em is that she is kind of a jerk. I like to have to try hard to find the redeeming qualities in characters. I have all the sympathy for Em’s illnesses but at the same time she’s overly sarcastic and dismissive to her coworkers, family, doctors… everyone. However, she’s whip smart and creative and even with Escodex bribing her, I think she really does want to save humanity despite feeling foolish speaking to RFID tags in Savertown USA products.

You can order Stay Crazy through Apex Publications or at that big box store of Internet-town USA.

Erica wrote a great guest blog post over at The Bathroom Monologues if you are interested in learning a bit more about her and why she wrote a hero with a psychotic disorder.

Review: Psychopomp and Cirumstance by Adrean Messmer

Thank you to Sage’s Blog Tours for providing an eBook copy of Psychopomp and Circumstance by Adrean Messmer so I could participate in this blog tour with the following review.
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I cannot begin this review without first addressing this amazing cover art. It took me back to a time when I was thoroughly unsettled by the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark artwork, yet could not look away. It pairs very well with the story found inside.

It starts off with a mysterious Facebook post by Nell. She can’t recall writing it, nor does she even understand the reference to something called the Sewercide Man. She is quickly able to do some damage control before her friends see it and question her sanity. Nell proceeds to do what most of the newly graduated kids in the town of Bandon do, go party at Zack’s house. It seems that Nell and her group of friends (frienemies?) are the ones who have no clear plan on what path to take now that they no longer have high school to wake up for.

The Sewercide Man begins to make his presence known first to Nell through visions of his creepy crooked face and disheveled umbrella. As he makes his appearances more frequently, a virus-like wave of violent behavior takes over the town. We find out that the Sewercide Man is a deceased serial killer who terrorized Bandon many years before. His moniker made up by Nell’s friend, Kelly, as a child which she has uttered to no one. As you make your way through the novel, you get a point of view from several of the group and their run-ins with this sickness of murder, and what now seem to be somewhat cognizant zombie versions of their friends and other folks around town. We are left with our head spinning over who is really dead, who is going to make it, who is a disease induced hallucination?

The book was a quick read and I really did not want to put it down. However, it did come with a couple of faults. There may have been a touch too many POVs, thus making it a little hard to keep up with who was dating who or why someone was seeking another’s home in refuge. I would also like to see more care with the transgender character. I think the trope of finding out someone is trans by surprise through a sex scene needs to be retired out of respect for the trans community.

We have a lot of work to do in supporting women in publishing, but especially when that genre is horror. I am excited to see what Adrean Messmer puts on the page next.

Review & Giveaway – George

I was so lucky to have met Alex Gino at Book Expo America and get a copy of their most recent book, George, signed. Alex was a bright and lively spirit and I am so happy to have met them and had an opportunity to thank them in person for the tremendous work they are doing for LGBTQ+ and children’s literature.  Because of this serendipitous event I have my very first blog giveaway!

I present to you a signed copy of Alex Gino’s George!

wp-1466891491842.jpgDuring the month of June, also Pride month for the LGBTQ+ community, I have made it a point for the vast majority of my reading to be LGBTQ+ friendly. George fit right in as it is the story of a fourth grader who knows they are a girl despite what the outside world sees. George sets her heart on playing Charlotte in her school’s rendition of Charlotte’s Web but is turned down due to her teacher reading her as a boy. Frustrated, she plots with her best friend Kelly to overcome this wrongdoing. Meanwhile, George struggles with family life and school bullies as a transgender kid. (TW for emetophobia as there is a large plot point involving emesis.)

George isn’t only for trans kids, but for all children to read and learn how to have empathy and understanding for people who are not the same as them. In all honesty, it’s a book for adults as well. George serves as a starting point to learn how to create a safe environment for transgender kids to thrive.

If you are interested in winning this signed copy of George please fill out the form below by June 30th. You must be over 18 and in the United States. If you are under 18 please ask a trusted adult to enter under their name and pass the book along to you. A winner will be chosen at random and will be notified by email on July 1st. I won’t pass along your email address, I just need it to request your address!

 

Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

I received an advanced reader’s copy of The Girls both from NetGalley and Penguin Random House for an honest review.

TheGirlsI feel I should fully disclose that I have a slight obsession with cults and communes. This is an all around fascination with both fictional and factual accounts of life within these groups. There is something I find intriguing with the admiration of charismatic leaders and the sense of desperately wanting to belong and find identity.

The above is partially why, The Girls by Emma Cline is thus far my favorite book of the year. Yes, we are only in June and something could beat it, but The Girls did way more for me than just the thrill of the Manson Family-eqsue subject matter. Cline’s words are beautiful. I love an author that can paint a scene, but with The Girls, I could taste the soggy end of a joint, feel the sticky heat, and smell molding wood of the house.

What I loved about The Girls is that the story doesn’t so much focus on the charismatic leader, Russell, but rather is from the point of view of a woman, Evie. Evie spent much of the summer of 1969 at age fourteen on the ranch. We learn her story as she looks back to that time and her admiration for the girls in the group, and one girl in particular, Suzanne. Evie struggles through her parents’ divorce and the thought of the boarding school which waits for her once summer ends.  All the while, she’s figuring out how to live in her changing body and use her newfound sexuality.

It was interesting to see the pieces of the Manson Family that Cline peppered throughout the novel. We see the Charles Manson character in cult-leader, Russell. Mitch played a hybrid of musician Brian Wilson and producer Terry Melcher. Suzanne seemed to be Susan Atkins doppelganger even with a nod to her name. If you are at all interested in learning more about the time of the Manson Family, I highly suggest listening to the Charles Manson’s Hollywood series of the podcast, You Must Remember This.

The Girls is an addition to the recent wave of debut novels that knock you off your feet. I cannot wait to see what Emma Cline comes out with next. She’s already been added to my auto-buy list. Even though I had received a copy of The Girls via NetGalley for review, I stood in line to get a signed copy at the Penguin Random House booth at BEA. That was solidly one of the best decisions I made at BEA! Pre-order or put The Girls on your hold list now for its June 14th release date.

Review: Seed by Lisa Heathfield

I received a copy of the ebook Seed by Lisa Heathfield from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Seed

The family living at a farm called Seed worships Nature (yes, capital N Nature) as an entity capable of bringing both joy and punishment. Pearl is fifteen and is baffled by the fact that her stomach is bleeding. She rushes to find an elder woman family member who can help save her from certain death. No, of course Pearl isn’t dying. She got her period. But the menstrual cycle is something that has been left out of the education Pearl has received within this cult.

Education is just one of several things that cult-leader Papa S has been negligent with among his flock of family members. There is also a lack of medicine, no experience with modernity, and strange punishments given as requested by Nature directly through her prophet, Papa S.  Seed is home to couple of other men, a handful of women who seem to be in their 20s, three teenagers and two younger children. When not listening to the teachings of Papa S, the people of Seed farm, fix car engines and make skirts to sell at a local market.

Soon a new family shows up; the first new folks in Pearl’s memory.  She is drawn to the teenage boy, Ellis, and what his knowledge of “Outside” brings. As the teens begin to question the purpose of Seed and whether or not they are truly happy there, Nature seems to be doling out more severe punishments. The group of teens must weigh what they may gain by leaving, against what may happen to who they leave behind.

I enjoyed this book.  Though, I felt I didn’t get to know many of the secondary characters too well.  It was a great glimpse into how Pearl views her family and Seed, but I would have liked to gotten to know more of a history. How was Seed founded?  Who are these women and why are they subservient?  What are these men doing when they lead a woman or girl away by the hand? Where did these rituals come from? There is a lot you must infer, which makes it so I am not entirely sure Seed was as horrible as I made it out to be; as I assume the worst in most cases. But perhaps that is the point, to have us assume our worst nightmare is happening behind the closed doors.

I’d love to read a sequel or even better, a prequel. A solid YA series could be built around Seed. This premise of cults/communes is one I love and I want to know more about all of the characters.

Review: Brother by Ania Ahlborn

I received a copy of the ebook Brother from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I am reviewing in honor of the 7th annual Women in Horror Month.
Brother

At one time I watched quite a lot of horror movies. I wasn’t too terribly picky about sub-genre and often liked a slasher or serial killer flick, a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wrong Turn or Last House on the Left.  Brother by Ania Ahlborn was the first novel I have read which put that type of imagery to the page as I have not read much horror.

Brother could be classified in such horror files as hick-lit or grit-lit. The novel opens with the screams of a girl and our main character, Michael Morrow, trying to ignore them, as he is tired of them.  See, Michael’s mother, Claudine seems to have a need to kill young women. All members of the family have their role in the catch, kill and clean-up and if anyone deviates from the plan, they’ll be the next victim. The setting in West Virginia, deep in the heart of Appalachia, adds a lush layer of creepiness.

Michael is nineteen and his older brother, Rebel, takes him into town to the local record store.  Reb is trying to date one of the clerks and hopes he can make a man out of Michael by introducing him to the other employee, Alice. Michael struggles with attempting to date as he doesn’t know how to be with anyone other than his family, talking about himself without exposing his truth. No one wants to date the guy who hangs women by meathooks in the cellar no matter how much he hates his job.

As even darker family secrets bubble up and Rebel’s behavior becomes more erratic, Michael must make the decision if he is going to stick things out in West Virginia. Should he continue to be a loyal member of the Morrow family and protector of his sister Misty, or should he try to escape and make something of himself outside of West Virginia?

This was an intense read. I am not one to be too affected by horror films, but the way my brain processes printed word, it caused nightmares. Trigger warnings for just about any type of trauma apply while reading Brother. I honestly could not put it down as I was eager to see how the story would resolve. It was an easy read, but I do recommend it if you like a slasher flick and want a different way to experience that type of story. It was also nice to see a woman succeed in this genre usually dominated by men.

Review – Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

I dare you to read Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa and not get Baby, I’m an Anarchist by Against Me! stuck in your head about once per chapter.

When I first heard the description of Yapa’s debut novel I knew it would be directly in my wheelhouse. In 1999 I was listening to a lot of political pop punk music and trying to figure my political identity. I knew of the WTO protests in Seattle but did not follow them too closely. I questioned capitalism at that time but wasn’t as fully invested in taking a political stance as I am now in my mid-30s.

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Look at that gorgeous cover… and dog!

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist takes the reader through the day of November 30, 1999 on the Seattle streets. I can’t recall if I have ever read a novel that takes it’s course over one day, with the exception of flashbacks from the multiple narrators. Yapa does this well through his, beautiful, almost lyrical prose. Our narrators are all people with very different reasons for being out in Seattle that day with crowds soaring to roughly 40,000 demonstrators. We start with nineteen year old runaway (and currently homeless) Victor, who plans to try to make quick cash by selling weed to the protesters. However, his plans are soon shifted as he is faced with the reality of the not only the police presence but the temperament of the crowds.

We are then met with points of view from two seasoned political activists, three police officers and one delegate from Sri Lanka who is reprehensibly beaten and jailed. Over the course of the book we see their lives weave, perhaps just for that one day, or some have a deeper connection from their past.

I found it intriguing to try to put myself in the place of the police officers especially. It was a good test in my practicing of compassion for those who I may not understand. The reader is taken through their minds as they are committing acts of brutality against peaceful demonstrators, we see how some struggle and how some are simply aggressive. We see how the demonstrators question their commitment when faced with very real consequences and how they attempt to settle that conflict within.

Victor wanted to have the strength to watch, to witness the brutality and be strong enough to tell the world about it. He wanted to witness it and by witnessing make it real, unable to be forgotten; he wanted this horror seared into every pale pink fiber of his skull.

You aren’t going to get a lot of political history from this novel, but you get an enormous amount of humanity and the struggle to make sense of our beliefs and how we turn our belief systems into action in making a better world.