Book Review: How to Window Box by Chantal Aida and Ryan Benoit

This was an informative and approachable little book full of little facts and pictures.

I have been wanting some gardening tips and inspiration, as winter is officially over soon and it’s time for me to start cleaning up my apartment patio. I have a small apartment with a lot of plants that people have given me. I have killed a lot over the years and I liked the advice in this book that said that that is how you learn — that gardening is “not an exact science…The greatest thing about window-box gardening is that you can quickly learn by trial and error from plants you try to grow that end up dying, and from those that thrive.” That may not be a comfort to people who don’t want to waste money by killing plants for such an experiment, but it does make me feel better about accidentally murdering some.

Beyond this, I liked all the photos for inspiration. I liked how they listed out all the plants they used in each box and their care tips. I sometimes go to Lowes or Home Depot for plan inspiration, but always get overwhelmed and buy what just looks good without knowing enough about it or I don’t get to look close enough because the store is so crowded.  Books like these save you the trouble and anxiety of going to the store and can help you better plan.

This book even covers how to design your own window boxes. I learned a bit about grow lights, which I had been looking into but Home Depot didn’t really have anything I could afford and I didn’t know what I was searching for online. I thought they were either lamps or long bulbs, but the ones used in this book are more like string lights you can adapt to fit into your space (not the other way around). Now I think I might look into it again for when I bring my plants in for the winter, now that I have seen pictures of what I want…

Basically, this book might make a really great gift book if you know your friend is into plants but hasn’t tried windowboxing!

I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the Blogging for Books program. 

Colonized Bouncer

Colonized Bouncer

My blood was on the wrong list
When the roll was called
My ancestors chose a different total
A different piece of paper where
It’s all who you know
Not the contents of your blood
Which is a fairer way, some say,
Of concierge
Not as exclusive
A bigger party
Yet still on the wait list
But if blood amount doesn’t matter
If DNA does not matter
Why does the paper?
Even if in their desired book,
Would the who’s-who change how I grew up?
How I was formed?
How I came?
How I found them?
I would still be me even if I met
Someone from the inside
An ancestor here or there
They make no difference in
The frayed, diasporic ties
The fabric wasn’t looking for me
I wasn’t known to them
Lost but now found
They would rather trim me off
This tapestry
Round off their ripped edges
No threads willing to tie me back in
Cut long ago with the same scissors
That cut them from their lands
Fewer and fewer threads
This is how the cloth becomes a costume
On the waitress in the club
I’m not sure I want to be in
Just to watch them drink at the bar
What they are selling
We don’t have time to wait in line
To dance until we die

TBR – Gil’s World by James Murdo

After a relentless war ravaged the galaxy for hundreds of millions of years, an insidious enemy was finally subdued by the events of the Great Conflation – although not defeated. With the pre-Conflation empires in ruins and the Ascended Biologicals wiped out, the decimated galactic community struggled to rebuild itself from the ashes, and the machine-led Wanderer civilisation rose to prominence.

A lone Wanderer craft-lect – a sentient machine intelligence – has found something on an innocuous world it had marked for routine decontamination. Something that may aid it in finally discovering answers about their formidable enemy, and with the power to stop it.

Gil, a young woman from an isolated commune, realises that her abilities far surpass anything she had suspected, but do they come at a price? She battles to save the future of her commune against mysterious, ancient rivals, and possibly much more.

I want an Amanda’s World.

View on Goodreads. 

TBR – Ivivin by J. Nick Fisk and Orlando Guerra (Illustrator)

Ivivin is given the opportunity to achieve his dream after preventing an attempt on the king’s life!

To become a knight, Ivivin must set forth and conquer the three trials given to him by the king himself: Slay a fearsome monster in the city of Rumi, recruit a squire of great esteem, and return to the castle with a valuable treasure.

As Ivivin leaves his home for the first time, he learns of both the wonders and horrors in the world beyond the farm. Join him and his owl companion Icarus as they face bandits, fell demons, and even encounter deities from a time long forgotten.

Sounds like Eragon or something.

View on Goodreads. 

TBR – An Authentic Experience by Kelly Wittmann

Fifteen-year-old Silver Abelli’s life has been as tumultuous as the punk rock she was raised on. Her divorced parents just don’t get along, even though they’re both musicians who stubbornly spurn the mainstream but secretly crave the limelight. Silver has always lived with her mom, Nicola, but when Nicola is diagnosed with a brain tumor, she must go to live with her obnoxious, hard-partying father, Renz. It’s a really bad time to fall in love, so you can pretty much bet that Silver will.

Enter Jake Sullivan…

View the Kirkus review here.

TBR – When the Eye Sees Itself

When the Eye Sees Itself weaves a dazzlingly complex web of interconnection – institutional, psychological, political, cultural, economic, conscious, even subatomic – and shows how tugging on a thread within it can pull everyone down, or up.

The story takes place in a country that classifies people by temperamental balance, segregating Vulnerables and Aggressives from the ranks of Citizens who are deemed to possess a functional balance.

A legal challenge becomes the catalyst for a surge of unrest among the excluded classes, with Vulnerable and Aggressive activists squaring off against the conservative Citizen’s Action League over the rules for entry into the powered class.

Under the surface of this political conflict lurks a new technology – Quantum Field Resonance Imaging– which allows people to interpenetrate quantum neural fields and touch minds. The technology is in use for illicit and noble purposes, on small scales and large, officially and in the shadows.

Nothing is as it seems, and as the mind-linking technology peels back the veneer of ordinary perception, layer upon layer of deception and collusion are exposed, revealing abuses of power so profound they threaten to annihilate the country in civil war. Yet, an even more fundamental shift can be heard rumbling from beneath, as still deeper strata of illusion are blasted away and the struggle for control becomes more and more subtle.

Dealing with themes of quantum entanglement, mass surveillance, mass incarceration, political struggle, descent into darkness and addiction, state sponsored terror and torture, and spiritual awaking amidst the ashes of shattered conventions, When the Eye Sees Itself is epic, inspiring, disturbing and fun. It is a compelling tale about power, the kind that imprisons and the kind that sets us free, all of it borne of our interpenetrated minds.

Well, the cover is nice and approachable.

View on Goodreads. 

Book Review: The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden has a lot of logic issues

I’m rating this book one goodreads star for getting my hopes up but ultimately being a waste of time. I also want my review to be noticed by those filtering for reasons NOT to read the book. I want my time back.

This book promised a lot and hooked me with that gorgeous cover. I think that’s why I’m so angry. Another book I would compare this too is Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, which was also a sci-fi and fantasy/mythology mix. Lagoon, however, deals with aliens giving people powers and making gods appear in the present day. This book deals with drugs giving people powers and making dormant gods more…powerful? I’m still not sure.  In Lagoon, the system of gods make more sense. The gods in this story feel even more poorly-inserted than Lagoon’s were.  Both books deal with African cultures and belief systems. This one, however, didn’t make me understand the culture/beliefs any more than I did before. Okorafor’s, at least, did that.

I should technically label this book as a DNF, because I skimmed to the end, wishing that there was something to compel me to go back and re-read. But I didn’t find it. If you found it, please comment on this post with a link to your review or explanation of how I am wrong. I really wanted to be wrong. It had so much potential.

The characters start off as interesting and well developed, but they quickly devolve into unrecognizable plot devices who confuse you with their actions. Toward the end, characters who have never met only need to hear each others’ names once to know who they are and have quite the ability to understand others’ intentions (that took hundreds of pages of backstory for the reader to understand…). Even if they have some form of a “reading memories” power, it still seemed unbelievable at times. For example, Muzi cries “They’re going to rip him apart” about the robots touching someone they “hate” on page 260. I mean, how could he know that if he’s never met the robots and hasn’t read their minds (they’re not human)? Did I miss something??? There’s just a lot of correct assumptions going on.

Also, the author supposedly ties in south African mythology/folklore, but it is never really fleshed out to my liking. This was what drew me to the book — the mythpunk promise of it all, tied into science fiction. The only mythology you get from this book is something about a man who makes tree wives and they have animal children or something. I am not even sure what to Google if I wanted to learn more, that’s how unenlightening this book is to me. I’m not even confident it’s based on a real myth but just the idea of animal hybrids/demons/witches. In the acknowledgements, Drayden says “This is not a story of South Africa.”

Well, the back cover says otherwise.

The “Tau” of Mr. Tau apparently means demon or spirit in parts of…  South AMERICA. But otherwise, I have no leads to understanding where Drayden is drawing from.

I am willing to admit that my lack of understanding of south African culture and belief could be part of the problem. But it is not my only problem how the theological systems in this book work.  At times it seemed like the power of the gods was fueled by belief systems like that in American Gods (which I did not like and also find illogical). But then,it seems that Sydney really feeds on fear instead. It doesn’t make sense why the villain is trying to make everyone more god-like by taking the drug just to create fear. You can use normal drugs for that. Where the drug comes from is never really spelled out. Hell, it seems like the villian needs to just use the drug herself to get by, if it’s amplifying powers in everyone else. Her motivation is never clear enough to me. Nomvula even asks her why:

“But why? If everyone is a god, then who will be followers?” 

Sydney cups her chin, raises it up to her. “My dear sister, it is the way it was meant to be. Basos pales in comparison to the fear of a god. We’ll be able to feed from the weakest of them and gain great strength….” 

Like, OK. But you’re already pretty powerful. You’re already a lot better than puny humans. Your motivation seems too risky because you’re effectively inviting someone to become more powerful than you…

This book tries really, really hard to be adaptable. To be like a tv show. There are so many cut away scenes that follow around the (too many) characters that it would probably translate better on screen. Some of the fight sequences/action scenes just got too long or didn’t make sense. At one point, a character is using her power of “charm” to talk to a crowd of people — a crowd that would probably have gotten the hell out of dodge way before she could have had time to get back on stage (or wherever the hell she was supposed to be at) and gather a crowd. I didn’t understand it.

There’s also too much going on in the story to ever be coherent as a book. At one point we are introduced to a character’s father who doesn’t want to see her or speak to her and then suddenly doesn’t want his daughter to leave — drugging her and trapping her in her childhood home. WTF? That was the first time this story felt more melodramatic than reasonable. And then it’s never really spoken about again and the character, Riya, actually has enough drama going on with her drug use and her multiple sclerosis. The father scene could have been cut entirely to speed this already-speedy story along. I want authors to respect their mediums. Write TV shows instead!

My real issue is with the last third of the book, when things get too convenient and contrived. It’s like the editors stopped caring about the direction Drayden was taking this story because they had invested too much in her ahead of time or something.  At one point we are introduced to hybrid rhino-lion-hawks. And…one has a human brain? OK. Just throw that in there for fun, sure. Why not!

It doesn’t seem to go anywhere anyways.

In another scene, a robot sect that has gained consciousness but doesn’t like humans says (maniacally) that they need humans because “Human labor will be the backbone of our empire.” In what fucking world?

This is why machines were made. They’re literally more efficient…

Spoilers from here on out. 

I also have a major problem with a few scenes regarding Felicity Lyons, the alter-ego-turned-identity of the character Stroker. Side note: He turns into a she as she establishes what she wants throughout the story. I really loved the representation at first. But, at one point, she is dressed in her femme clothes and her “tuck” (as it is phrased in the book) comes undone and WAIT NO HER DICK BECOMES A SNAKE.

I am not even sure what the fuck that phallic nightmare is supposed to represent, either, because her mom is a snake as well. Is her mom her dick? I mean, her mom appeared as a snake in her dressing room, right? But then NO.  No, her mom is…plants? And lightning?


It made me very uncomfortable to think about. And, it made no sense.  For one, because if Felicity tucked her dick in for a reason, why is it taking over? Why is the author whipping it out? It reads as almost negative for body modification. You can put on a dress and say you’re a girl but your dick will always be there to protect you.  I don’t get it.

I also don’t get how, when her mom is dying and says she is proud of Felicity WHYYYYY. Stoker literally almost killed someone and mom had to cover it up/”take care of it.” Also, how did his mother DIE?!? If she can be called upon and enter into the form of the tree…how can she not also just…



And don’t get me started on that dream-sequency bit about being in the afterlife and how Mr. Tau just appears like a Deus Ex Machina and makes Muzi and Nomvula “work together.” WHY? It makes no sense. Why were they ever together? I DO NOT CAAAARE.

And Muzi is the one who gets put into the robot body??? Why not Elkin? It makes no sense why Muzi’s soul wouldn’t go back to the body it was in and Elkin would take the only space available. I don’t get it. It makes no narrative sense or suspended belief sense, either.

Other goodreads reviews I agree with:

My next issue with the book was the pacing of the plot. It seemed like there was no gradual reveal of the “gods” aspect of the book, and, in layman’s terms, ” the book went from 0-60 in two seconds”. Much of the book felt rushed, and the character development didn’t feel like character development, it was closer to “look at this thing, that’s who the person is.” It seems to me that no one is even mentioning how this book could be sci-fi. How on earth does this book get to be called sci-fi? If anything it’s closer to fantasy than sci-fi, the only prominent sci-fi element in the book was the alphies and robots. 

5. Again, cut Riya and Stoker!

But Part 5…I have never seen a book’s plot so utterly implode like this one did. I was left with SO MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS from all of the plot holes. The tone changed, the pacing changed, the universe’s rules even changed. 

But by the end, these characters with all their subtlety, moral ambiguity, and rich inner lives had transformed into cliched heroes and villains fighting to save/destroy the world. Not only that, but the finale includes hastily handwaved trips to the afterlife, weird bodyswapping, genetically engineered super-animals (which are alluded to in the vaguest ways possible until they just suddenly appear), and, an actual giant robot made of hundreds of robots that just…form themselves together? With both a human controller, and a single consciousness uniting them, which would negate the necessity of the human controller?

I’m not saying that I didn’t like the book. My rating was headed for 4 stars until the last 25% of the book really went off the rails. I thought that the author was quite clever, sometimes funny, occasionally silly (i.e., a monster’s concern for her chipped nail polish) and showed a lot of promise, but boy did this book need an editor with a stronger hand, and maybe a whip and chair to wrangle this book under control. I’m sure that the author’s next book will be better if she learns to exercise some restraint.

BOOK REVIEW: Zen Camera by David Ulrich

I wanted to read this book because 1) I wanted to learn something about zen and 2) I wanted to learn something about photography. I did get a little glimpse of that through this dense book, but what I also got was a lot of new ways of looking at the world — creativity. This is no picture book, like I thought it was going to be. This is really a textbook full of insight and exercises.  It is filled with observations and quotes from other photographers and creatives. I only recognized one or two photos with in it. They are not all by Ulrich, the author. What I am taking away from this book is that even the way we take photographs can tell us something about ourselves.

The only thing in this book that stood out like a thorn on a rose was his treatment of millennial culture — he talks about how we are always on our phones and have short attention spans. How we are narcissistic, as proven by selfies. But he does add in that this makes us quick digesters of large amounts of information all at once; that we have societal reasons we are so interested in taking these photographic self-portraits. He tries to balance out his claims, at least. He explores the generation so quickly though, at the end, that I felt we are nothing but an afterthought. Haven’t we changed more than just a quick addendum’s worth? I don’t know for sure. I’m no expert.

Do I feel like I really have a grasp of photography or what Zen is? No and no. This book is clearly meant for those who already have an interest in photography, which I am not sure I have or am ready to respect as much as other art forms. Zen is the lense you look through in this book — a way of getting a picture of the world, yourself, and this art form.




I received this book in exchange for an honest review through the Blogging for Books program. See my review policy above.

TBR: The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery by Marjorie Spiegel


Spiegel, executive director of the Institute for the Development of Earth Awareness, has revised her 1989 book to present an in-depth exploration of the similarities between the violence humans have wrought against other humans and our culture’s treatment of animals. Using considerable scholarship, she makes a strong case for links between white oppression of black slaves and human oppression of animals. Her thesis is not that the oppressions suffered by black people and animals have taken identical forms but that they share the same relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. These comparisons include the brandings and auctions of both slaves and animals, the hideous means of transport (slave ships, truckloads of cattle), and the tearing of offspring from their mothers. Her illustrative juxtapositions are graphic, e.g., a photograph of a chimpanzee in a syphilis experiment beside a photo of a black man in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. As Alice Walker writes in the preface, “This powerful book…will take a lifetime to forget.” Chilling yet enlightening, this provocative book is vitally important in our efforts to understand the roots of individual and societal violence.

This book is an older one, thus the look of the cover.