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.

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.

Self-editing for Fiction Writers

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print - Renni Browne, Dave    King

Plenty of solid advice and very easy to read. I definitely gleaned some useful takeaways, and picking it up for a chapter or two was never a slog. On the other hand, I felt there were far too many examples and exercises (which I did not use) padding out the text. A good book on editing, but when you shave off the extras it's more slender than you might suspect.

This Monstrous Thing: Or Steampunk Frankenstein

This Monstrous Thing - Mackenzi Lee

I've been putting off writing a review for this book because I still can't figure out what to say about it. It's steampunk Frankenstein, so if that sounds appealing to you then snap it up post-haste. If you're not a steampunk fan, well, know what you are getting into.

 

Lee does an excellent job evoking the past in all her books, and this one is no exception. The interesting thing is that she infuses her world with machinery and mechanical men. It almost has a cyberpunk quality in that so much of the book is concerned with the divide between machine and man, and at what point when adding machinery and subtracting flesh does a man cease being human. It's an interesting direction to take the story, and there are also some astute comments of disability and social standing.

 

Where the book flagged for me was that I went into it wanting a story about brotherhood, and to watch these two brothers grapple with one another throughout the narrative. However, much like the source of inspiration, the two spend most of the book separated and only clash at the ending. This is all well and good, it's just not the story I wanted. While the book spent lavish detail and time exploring other characters and locales I found myself frustrated that it wasn't spending its time on things that interested me more. It doesn't feel fair to be critical of a book for not being what you want it to be, especially when it does a fine job in every other respect, but here I am.

 

If you dig steampunk you will likely enjoy this book. If you like historical fiction with a twist you will likely enjoy this book. If you want to read an interesting re-telling of Frankenstein you will also likely enjoy this book. If you want a story of brothers at odds with one another, and an exploration of their relationship, this will likely not hit the mark for you.

The Frangipani Hotel: Or Vietnamese Ghost Stories Galore

The Frangipani Hotel: Fiction - Violet Kupersmith

I'm never quite sure how to review short story collections, so bear with me. These stories all share a sense of unease and creeping dread, which is something I enjoy in my ghost stories. There are plenty of spooky ghosts, unsettling scenarios, and narratives that leave your skin crawling. They have a feeling of tapping into urban legends and traditional folk tales (though I don't know enough about Vietnamese culture to say whether that is accurate or not). The connective tissue that holds these stories together is a different ghost though - the specter of the Vietnam War looms in the background of all of these stories, grim and devastating.

 

I enjoyed this collection, and it satisfied my spooky October itch, but it never fully blew me away. I couldn't really say why other than it's really hard to wow me with shorter fiction. I will say many of the stories share a similar structure and part of that structure includes abrupt endings. This didn't bother me, per se, but it did start to feel repetitive when reading the collection straight through. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I had spaced the stories out in between other fictions. All in all this is a solid collection, and I'm glad I read it. If you're looking for ghost stories with a Vietnamese flavor these will likely satisfy.

Open Your Mouth Like a Bell

Open Your Mouth Like a Bell - Mindy Nettifee

Mindy Nettifee won my heart years ago with her collection Rise of the Trust Fall, and she has yet to disappoint me since. Insightful, lyrical, and straight from the heart Nettifee's verse hits me right between the eyes and in the blood. Filled with several poems written surrounding the 2016 election there is a political core here that resonates strongly with me. I am so very thankful for her voice.

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats & Piracy

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy - Mackenzi Lee

If Gentleman's Guide is a queer romantic romp then Lady's Guide is a girl power anthem. The heart of this book revolves around the way women walk through the world, see themselves, and interact with each other. Felicity has to navigate a landscape that continually tries to force her down paths she'd rather not take until she can realize the real trap is trying to follow the map others have laid before her. She needs to discover her own way, and her own truth.

 

There are so many wonderful lessons in here, especially for younger women just starting to figure out who they are and who they want to be. There is also some truly fantastic representation. The ladies in this book are all varied and believable, and there is quite possibly the best representation of an ace character I've ever seen. There's also adventure, and sea serpents, and pirates, and science. Monty and Percy even make a cameo or two. Which is all absolutely wonderful.

 

The trouble comes, for me, in that the lessons at the core of the book take front and center, and they are hammered home pretty hard and pretty repeatedly. At this point in my life reading a book about how hard it is to be a woman, and how one must believe in oneself, is not just preaching to the choir, it's exhausting. Been there, done that, handed the T-shirts out at the rally. Here's the thing: I'm not the demographic for this book. I love that this book exists. I'm excited to press it into the hands of young women. But it missed the mark a tad for me. I love Mackenzi Lee so much for writing this book, even if I didn't wholeheartedly love this book as much as I wanted to.

 

If you want this book be the lighthearted romp Gentleman's Guide was you might be disappointed. But if you want to read Felicity's journey to empowerment with her equally powerful gal pals this one will likely tickle you to no end.

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice & Virtue

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue - Mackenzi Lee

When my co-workers started breathlessly glowing about this book I'll admit I was dubious. I'm not a fan of historical fiction, I don't usually like long books, and I'm picky about my romances. I avoided reading this one for about a year until my store announced we would be hosting Lee for a signing. At that point I figured I might as well give it a shot. I'm so glad I did!

 

I've read a lot of books in recent years that I've really enjoyed, maybe even loved, but very few of them were as fun as this one. I think I've become jaded. Rare is the book that I can't put down, that I can't wait to steal a moment in order to read, that keeps me reading past my bedtime. This was that book for me. It was just so damn fun!

 

Monty was a walking human disaster, the epitome of Bad Life Choices the Person. His voice charmed me - he made me cringe and laugh in equal measures. I also fell in love with Percy almost immediately. Watching them stumble through the plot, and Europe, was a grand adventure. Sprinkled amidst the adventure there was plenty of heart as well. Even though the primary tension in the romance was a lack of communication, which usually makes me nuts, I understood the reasons why characters made the mistakes they did. I was all aflutter despite myself. I also thought the explorations of race, abuse, illness, and queer identity were all handled with a light touch, and rang true and poignant. In short, I cared about these people and I found them believable.

 

There is a bit of a fantasy element stirred in, but it rather gets buried. At its core Gentleman's Guide is, through and through, a good, old-fashioned romp. It's an adventure and a romance with just a hint of the fantastic. Complete with wit, action, adventure, and an emotional core that left me laughing and hurting in equal measure, it was a recipe that made for a read I couldn't wait to dig back into whenever I got a chance. For me this was the literary equivalent of a warm mug of cocoa on a chilly night.

Mapping the Interior

Mapping the Interior - Stephen Graham Jones

I think I would have loved this book if I hadn't bounced off the writing style so hard. It's a short read, so I was able to work my way through, but had the book been longer I think I would have gotten very frustrated. As is it took me far longer to read this slender novella than I expected. That said it was very affecting. Creepy and dreamlike in a way authors rarely capture convincingly. The childlike logic of the main character pulling me back in time to my own youth. So while I didn't care for the writing style it was still quite evocative and effective.

 

This book was dark and unsettling, far more so than I expected. The menace that grows as the story progresses was deeply upsetting, and the final ten or so pages were a punch to the gut. This didn't go where I expected it to, and that was actually great. Diving deep into how family can be toxic, especially when paired with poverty and substance abuse, this was a dark look at the damage being wrought in communities across the world, but especially within indigenous communities. This story unsettled me in the best possible way. I'm glad it has gotten the attention it deserves.

The Marrow Thieves

The Marrow Thieves - Cherie Dimaline

How do you write about the apocalypse when your people have already experienced it? You draw deeply from the past. Filled with historical parallels and rife with metaphors this book broke my heart to pieces in a beautiful way. Dimaline asks questions worth addressing, especially here and now. How do you survive in a poisoned world? How does your culture persist when it is being devoured? How do you live when you are a consumable?

 

Tapping into the teen survival adventure story vein this book also had the qualities of a zombie apocalypse story. How people are dragged away by the whistling recruiters, the scrounging, the running through the woods, the need for self sufficiency even as found family becomes a lifeline, the constant fear of those mindless creatures coming to consume you in the night. It had all the hallmarks of a truly humanistic zombie tale, except the monsters weren't undead.

 

Episodic yet cohesive we get the stories of these characters lives even as we follow them ever North toward hope. I could go into a deep literary analysis, put my degree to good use, but honestly I don't want to. I thought this book was beautifully written and conceived. Best read as an allegory than straight sci-fi this is the sort of take on annihilation only an indigenous author could manage so masterfully. I was intrigued, horrified, and moved.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein - Kiersten White

When I started this one I really wasn't certain how closely White was going to follow Shelley's original narrative, and that created some odd tension for me. It has been a while since I did a read of the original Frankenstein and I found myself comparing and contrasting, and also distrusting my memory somewhat. I was actually quite pleased, as the book wore on, when it became clear White wasn't afraid to stray from the path, so to speak.

 

A lot of this book is terrible people being terrible. Elizabeth is a pretty awful person from page one. While in many books the revelation would be a slow reveal of how she is a wretched person, instead the focus falls on *why* she's so terrible. It made for a compelling character study and a decent amount of tension. I was never sure just how far she would go, how dark, nor how White would ultimately deal with her. Without giving anything away I will say I found the ending very satisfying and somewhat surprising.

 

White has put together a really interesting, and uniquely feminine, take on an old familiar tale. Creepy, unsettling, and dark, as a good gothic story should be. She also wrote one of the best descriptions of the Monster that I have read in recent times. The grotesquery was well imagined. If you want to read a new spin on this classic tale, and you're not afraid to read about some truly damaged people, pick this one up.

Sugar: Volume 1

Sugar #1 - Matt Hawkins, Jenni Cheung, Yishan Li

I just didn't connect to this title the way I did to Sunstone or Swing - the storyline and characters lacked emotional punch for me. I think the real issue was that I didn't particularly like most of the characters. Several of the side characters are terrible people, and the main characters both felt very stock. Aptly named, this one can be a bit on the sweet and saccharine side. If you like the movie Pretty Woman this might be a big win for you. I will say that in the end I finally started to connect to Julia, so it must have been doing something right. All in all it was a mixed bag for me.

The Black Bull of Norroway

The Black Bull of Norroway - Kit Seaton, Cat Seaton

Absolutely gorgeous art, and an intriguing story filled with classic fairytale charm and a dash of snark. My only real complaints are that the transitions were occasionally choppy to the point of being confusing, and it skews a little young for my tastes. Overall I really enjoyed it though, and heartily recommend it for people looking for good YA graphic novels, especially with strong lady leads. I look forward to reading more.

The Geek Feminist Revolution

The Geek Feminist Revolution - Kameron Hurley

I really enjoyed this essay collection, especially the first section that aimed its focus on writers (and artists in general). It genuinely inspired me. The collection as a whole gives some great insight into many things but most especially focuses on feminist topics, privilege, the writing industry, geek culture, and Hurley herself. At times it was repetitive, as the essays can stand on their own and as a result they occasionally retreaded some basic groundwork. It's best read in chunks over time so the repetition feels less intrusive and the information can be digested. All in all I really liked this one, and I'm looking forward to more Kameron Hurley in my life.

LIFEL1K3

LifeLik3 - Jay Kristoff

This book sort of has a little bit of everything. It somehow manages to be a post-apocalyptic, spaghetti western inspired, robot fueled, futuristic, coming of age, romantic, adventure story. There are robot arena battles, amnesia obscured pasts, dusty car chases, mutants and bioengineering, killer androids, robot pals aplenty, mysterious superpowers, future slang, a murderous man with a red right hand, and...and...well, you get the idea.

 

There's a lot in here. As is often the case with books that go full throttle into Kitchen Sink territory some of it lands and some of it doesn't. It's a very distinct and curious blend of components that makes it stand out as unique, while also managing to riff on a lot of things I recognize, ergo it seems familiar. It was a weird combo. I will say it commits the cardinal sin of having a lot of the plot driven by people not talking to each other, but it redeems itself somewhat by acknowledging that fact late in the story. Without spoiling anything I will say the closing pages left me in a place I really didn't expect at the start of the narrative, and left me a bit off kilter.

 

All in all I have mixed feelings on this one. There were parts that I could tell were supposed to be fun but felt like a slog for me. I was often frustrated with the characters, and found the pacing oddly slow for something so action packed. I just never really connected fully to the characters nor their story. Points for world building and being my kind of weird-o though. When it comes down to it this book was fine, but I sort of expected more given how much I love many of Kristoff's other offerings. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Or maybe it's just me. Regardless, if I'm being 100% honest, I think I'd rather have just read Godsgrave again.

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