Folding Paper & Spilling Ink

I'm an avid reader, literacy advocate, poet, and long time independent bookseller at Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins, Colorado. When I'm not reading or recommending books I spend my time writing them. While I read a variety of genres I primarily focus on curating the poetry and science-fiction sections at my store, which is where I focus most of my reading attention. I also have a soft spot for a good teen read, and enjoy digging into graphic novels whenever I get the time.

SPOILER ALERT!

An Excess Male

An Excess Male: A Novel - Maggie Shen King

I almost loved this book. In fact I did love it, until about halfway through when I realized where it was going. Then, not so much.

 

First of all this book is far more speculative fiction than it is strict sci-fi. That's actually fine with me, but since it was marketed as sci-fi (and published on a sci-fi imprint) that did throw me off a little bit. The focus in this book is on the characters, not the world-building nor plot. Thankfully King does a good job with her character development - each character was well drawn, distinct, and sympathetic even when I didn't care for them at times. (Except BeiBei - he may in fact be the most obnoxious child in literature to date.) I was invested in these people and their plights.

 

The core of this story, at least for me, is how these four individuals are failing to have their needs met. And this is where my feelings on this book become complicated.

 

Spoilers below!
What I wanted the book to be about is these four people coming together, learning how to better take care of and love one another, and forming a supportive cohesive nontraditional family unit. That is not what happens. Instead the book does something I was suspicious of from the beginning: it imperils the queer character, makes them suffer, and ultimately cuts them off from the family unit. For the last half of the book he is basically just there to suffer and drive the other characters to action. The character that was neurodivergent also has a less than satisfying ending in my opinion, failing to gain his freedom (or dogs) and spending his time trying to ward off surveillance. The only real winners are the straight couple. And while I see what King was doing, and I think the narrative was functioning correctly, this is simply a story I'm very very tired of reading. I am, in fact, exhausted.

 

So where does that leave me? I feel bad criticizing a book for being something other than what I wanted it to be. The book was well written, and effectively told the story King set out to tell. Unfortunately it wasn't a story I wanted to hear right now. Quite frankly it bummed me out. I would happily give King another try, as I think she's a good author, but this book left me sad and craving a story with better outcomes for its more diverse characters.

This Way to the Sugar

This Way to the Sugar - Hieu Nguyen

This collection focuses primarily on Nguyen's experiences as both a gay man and also as the survivor of childhood molestation, and how those elements intersect with one another. There are also some stunning pieces in here on race and family. Overall the collection paints a deeply personal and revealing portrait of the author, formed from a place of raw honesty. It is a beautiful confessional. I had only intended to read a few poems at a time, but I ended up reading the entire collection in one sitting. Compelling, with a strong emotional core, the language Nguyen sculpts is interesting, fresh, and lyrical. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

SKY WRI TEI NGS

SKY WRI TEI NGS - Nasser Hussain

Written entirely in three letter airport codes this collection is an interesting linguistic challenge. However, the cleverness of the exercise waned quickly for me. I felt it would have been better suited to a small handful of poems as part of a greater whole rather than an entire collection - it quickly felt gimmicky. Also, due to the constraints of the form, Hussain was not able to play with other aspects of language with any real freedom. There's no real emotion or impact in here for me, just cleverness. And cleverness isn't really what I value most in a good poem.

Beyond the Empire: Indranan War #3

Beyond the Empire (The Indranan War Book 3) - K.B. Wagers

I read and enjoyed the first two books in this series (with some caveats) so I was interested to see how Wagers was going to finish out her first trilogy. Unfortunately this just didn't land for me. It was just not well written (and it really pains me to say that). Not only are people laughing and grinning their way through all the dialogue on almost every page (I mean, people "bare their teeth" four times in the first 60 pages), but it reads like sitting in on a planning session of an RPG. The characters sit around talking about what they know, don't know, and plan to do...and don't really do anything until the very end of the book. With a cast of dozens of interchangeable characters rotating in and out of scenes and just talking and talking I think I could have skipped to page 300 and not missed much.

 

On the bright side there were some memorable moments, good scenes, and one character death that really bummed me out. The end was fairly action packed and fun, but it comes so late in the game that by then I had mostly checked out. I still like many of the side characters, and the world building, but this book didn't highlight either particularly well - most of the book took place on ships and focused on political strategizing instead of character growth. This book will likely hold more appeal to those who are invested in politics and military sci-fi. I really enjoyed the second book in this series, but I think this will likely be my last Wagers book despite how much I enjoy her as a human being.

Accelerants

Accelerants - Lena Wilson

I wanted to love this, but in the end it was a mixed bag for me. I really enjoyed the representation and the characters. The relationships felt authentic, and I was invested in the bonds formed over the course of the book. However, I didn't particularly care for the ending (that's probably a taste thing), and this novella suffered from the common problem many novellas have: it felt like the beginning of a longer story rather than a full and complete story of its own. I would happily read more from this author, but this particular offering felt like it wasn't quite finished.

Bestiary: Poems

Bestiary: Poems - Donika Kelly

Kelly's first poetry collection is a triumph. Her language is sensuous, raw, and honest - simultaneously spare and lyrical. Bursting with animal imagery the collection takes wing and glides. Her poems resonate with longing and vulnerability, and never shy away from dark truths. Unapologetically black, queer, and feminine this volume packs a hell of a punch.

Motor Crush: Volume 2

Motor Crush Volume 2 - Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr

I wish I hadn't waited so long between reading the first volume and this one - it took me a while to get back into it, and remember who was who and what was going on. The time jump and storytelling that skips around didn't help. That said, Motor Crush remains a delight. The writing, world building, and characters are interesting and snappy. And the art is just so juicy and bright every panel is a wonder. Looking forward to seeing how this series wraps up!

We Are Legion (We are Bob)

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse) (Volume 1) - Dennis E. Taylor

Look, I don't enjoy writing bad reviews, so I apologize in advance if this steps all over someone's feelings. I just...have feelings of my own.

 

If you took a concept from Iain Banks and then had Ernest Cline write it while he was drunk and sleep deprived this is probably what you would get. This book is so poorly written I wanted to throw it across the room on several occasions. It's never a good sign when you start yelling, "NO!" at the page because of shoddy writing craft. That said, this book does move along at a decent clip once you get off world, so I will concede it was a quick read.

 

Perhaps most damning is that Bob is pretty intolerable, and boy howdy is there a lot of Bob in here. Bob is the sort of character that thinks he's super clever (he's not) and everyone else is an idiot (they aren't), and he finds his own immaturity oh so charming (it isn't). He reminds me of every nerdy guy who has ever started of a sentence with, "Well actually..." before mansplaining some pop culture reference to me. Screw you, Bob. *deep breath*

 

So why two stars instead of one? Honestly I enjoyed some of the concepts in here and the space opera was fun. There are story elements in here I found enjoyable. I love the idea of reading about sentient Von Neumann probes, I just wish Banks had written it instead. There will be people who will love this one. I was not one of them.

The Cold is in Her Bones

The Cold is In Her Bones - Peternelle van Arsdale

This might be the most bleak thing I've read in years. And that's saying something. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's not what I was expecting at all. Van Arsdale does such a good job of forming a sense of oppression that the book is suffocatingly claustrophobic. Even after the story moves from the tiny farm and out into the larger world it still has a feel of a small enclosed space. The magic and storytelling in this one is very surreal and rooted more in feel than in any real explanation or hard and fast rules. The creatures were unsettling and haunting, and the world dark and creepy.

 

At it's core this is a book about a feeling more than a plot. It's themes of feminism and oppression are woven into the fabric of the story, and you can feel this world closing around the characters like a fist. All in all I liked this book, but it is in no way a fun adventure story. It's a dreamlike meditation on how intolerably the world shrinks when you're forced into the silent mould of the obedient and powerless daughter rather than being allowed to grow into a bright and fully realized woman.

Sea of Rust

Sea of Rust - C. Robert Cargill

This is a perfectly serviceable popcorn book. Take a robot apocalypse novel, stir in a good dose of western, and just a dash of <i>Mad Max</i>, and this is what you get. It's an adventure, and to a lesser degree an examination of what makes us human. The robots in this book, for better or worse, all feel very human. I'm fairly certain that was a deliberate choice by the author, and part of the point in some cases, but to me it also felt like a missed opportunity. Then again, that might be me just wishing this was a different type of book altogether. As is it hits all the adventure beats and keeps pages turning at a good clip. Brittle makes for good company as the story barrels forward. This book has a strong sense of fun about it, and will make for good light reading for sci-fi fans. If, however, you find AI terrifying you might want to give this one a pass. It's hard to enjoy a fun romp when you can't stop thinking about how all the robots murdered humanity and poisoned the world. It rather puts a damper on things. Your milage may vary.

City of Ghosts

City of Ghosts - Victoria Schwab

I just...can't get into middle grade fiction. I keep trying, and I figured if anyone could convert me it would be the enormously talented and charming Victoria Schwab, and yet... Look, here's the thing: I would have adored this book when I was younger. It's gloomy, creepy, adventurous, and has characters I enjoyed. The way Schwab brings Scotland to life is deliciously macabre. It's an excellent middle grade read, and I look forward to recommending it to youngsters aplenty. It's just that while I totally appreciated what this book was doing it wasn't made for me. Which is fine. Nay, it's even good - there need to be more books like this written for this age group. I just need to stop reading them and thinking they will click with me.

The Bloody Chamber

The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories - Angela Carter, Kelly Link

It's sort of weird that it took me so long to read Angela Carter - dark feminist leaning fairytale retellings are near and dear to my heart. This collection took me a while to get through, though that's no fault of the stories themselves. Carter's writing is rich, sumptuous, and dense enough it's worth taking your time to read. There were moments where the writing itself dazzled me as much as the storytelling. The stories do tent to run together a bit, which is why I took breaks and read this collection in between other books. All in all I liked this collection, though I'll admit I was hoping for it to be a bit darker after everything I had heard. If you're looking for solid horror this collection doesn't quite deliver, but if you're looking for something a bit on the dark side this comes through in spades.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day - Seanan McGuire

I don't actually have a lot to say about this slender novella. One of the things I like about McGuire is that her world building often feels unique and surprising, and this story was no exception - I enjoyed the magic and world she built. The book was atmospheric and melancholy, which I appreciated. I also liked her treatment of the themes of loss, depression, and how living means more than simply existing. Where this book fell down for me is that it wasn't quite what I wanted it to be. I was really wanting a ghost story, and while it is literally that, it feels more like an urban fantasy. There are more trappings of an urban fantasy romp here than a gothic horror, and while that's not really damning it's not really what I was craving. All in all I liked it, but it wasn't quite the story I was hunting for.

In An Absent Dream

In an Absent Dream - Seanan McGuire

McGuire's Wayward Children books have become one of the things I look forward to the most every winter. The way she transports me through the looking glass time and again is something to be treasured. Portal fiction at it's finest.

 

This installation gives us the story of Lundy, a character who meets a grim ending in the first book of the series. While I didn't particularly feel like Lundy's story was something I needed filled in, and I want to know what's happening with the other wayward children moving forward in time, I did enjoy this book. The goblin market captured my imagination, and there were some really interesting ethical threads McGuire tugs on in this story. This was a world of rules, in stark contrast to the world of nonsense you visit in the previous book. It was well constructed, intriguing, and continues to stick in my mind well after finishing the book. And Lundy herself is as interesting as she is tragic, and the lessons she learns are difficult ones.

 

If you love this series as much as I do this book will not disappoint. Keep them coming, Seanan McGuire. I will happily read these year after year until I'm old and withered.

Blanca & Roja: Or, the Snow White/Swan Lake mash-up you didn't know you needed

Blanca & Roja - Anna-Marie McLemore

Everything Anna-Marie McLemore writes is gorgeous. I know that's not much of a review, but I'm tempted to just leave it at that. If you haven't read her books you should. And if you have then you know what to expect. This book is beautifully written, with characters that made my heart ache, and a story infused with dreamy surreal magic. It was lush, lovely, and worth savoring. Oh, and it's a Snow White, Rose Red, Swan Lake mash-up, if that speaks to you. And if re-tellings aren't your thing don't sweat it - this one has enough originality it stands all on its own.

A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel - Paul Tremblay

I liked this, but I didn't love it, and over a month later I'm still not sure I can pinpoint why. But I'm going to try. This book definitely gets its creep on - there are a couple scenes that will stick with me for a good long while. The scene is set masterfully, and I'm absolutely transported to this household as it falls apart. It has mood and atmosphere galore, and I think the characters are well drawn.

 

I think the hurdle for me was that I've never been nearly as invested in psychological horror as I am the supernatural variety. Mental illness and the like don't freak me out, they make me sad. It's hard to be scared when you're reflecting on how devastating it is to care about someone who has crippling mental issues. I'm fully willing to acknowledge that's probably not going to be the case for most people. Nonetheless it was something I took to the table and it absolutely impacted my interactions with this story. If psychological horror, religious fervor, demonic exorcisms, madness, and family drama are things that interest you absolutely give this one a shot - it will likely scare the hell out of you. If, however, you're like me and those things hit a bit of a sour note you might want to skip this one. Your milage will likely vary.

Currently reading

The Last Sun
Jonathan Edwards