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.

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.

Trail of Lightning: Sixth World Book #1

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World) - Rebecca Roanhorse

I liked this book, but I'm having a hard time coming up with things to say about it. It was one of those books that just sort of washed over me. Not in a bad way, but not in a particularly mind-blowing way either. It was chock full of urban fantasy tropes, uneven pacing, and some debut novel rough edges, but that didn't really diminish my enjoyment. The Native American perspective and mythology far outpaced any of my gripes. Reading this book really called attention to how homogenous a lot of fantasy narratives can be, and that alone kept my interest. I liked the world Roanhorse constructed, especially the way magic worked. The clan magic was so intriguing. I also quite liked the side-characters (the main character less so, but I didn't dislike her either), and even the villains. Was it perfect? Nope. Did I enjoy it? Yep. Will I read the next one? Without hesitation. I think Roanhorse has the potential to become a personal favorite with a little bit more time and polish.

Kiss the Dead: Anita Blake number...how many of these are there?

Kiss the Dead (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #21) - Laurell K. Hamilton

This book is really weirdly structured. The first half is Anita working a vampire execution case. Just her and RPIT putting bullets in vampires and talking. That's it. The second half is her going home and ruminating on her love life and having lots of sex. Then, jarringly, there is a life threatening conflict in the last few pages that springs up and is resolved eye-blindingly fast. I guess because...story arc? Climax? Danger? I don't really know.

 

The writing remains cringeworthy in that everything is repeated and repeated and repeated again and again to the point where it's like a bingo game. It was nice to see Zerbrowski, I guess. I remain completely uninterested in her newest feline lovers, and even squicked out if I'm honest. (Oh cool. A teenager and a sociopath. Gross.) It was interesting that this book seems to portray Anita as a bit softer and more comfortable with herself. We'll see what that might mean (if anything). I can tell this book was trying, but it still missed the mark by a mile. As always, I read these so you don't have to.

Hit List: Anita Blake #1,000,020

Hit List - Laurell K. Hamilton

What happened in this book? I mean, I know something did, but it eludes me for the most part. I think maybe there was an epic showdown that unfolded over the course of two pages at the end, but I might be wrong.

 

On the good side: This book actually has some decent action scenes. There is an entire sequence that unfolds out in the woods that's pretty good, for example. It's also chock full of Edward, which is great. Yay Edward. (Though I worry she might ruin him.) It's low on melodrama. Anita only adds one man to her harem, and other than that the relationship drama takes a backseat.

 

On the downside: I missed some of the other side characters. I'm very very tired of Olaf drama (just kill him for shit's sake!). Anita/Hamilton continues to repeat herself to the point of being absurd and downright frustrating. The book is badly written. Also, stop talking about how men and women are fundamentally different, especially because women always come out looking crappy. Just stop.

 

All in all this wasn't that bad. As far as late series Blake books go this one's decent. Though, again, the plot is really just a sidetone to get Edward and Anita out hunting stuff. As always, dear friends, I'm reading these so you do not have to.

Children of Time: The space spider book I came to love

Children of Time - Adrian Tchaikovsky

This was the surprise book of the year for me. When my book club selected this for our reading list I pretty much immediately decided it would be my skip for the year - I don't like giant doorstoppers and I hate spiders, so a 600 page epic about space spiders sounded dreadful. As the date grew closer I decided I'd give it a shot, giving myself permission to bail at any moment without guilt (I finish almost every book I start). And guess what? I finished it. Not only that I really enjoyed it.

 

This book is classic hard sci-fi. Full of weird science, alien worlds, and a slow build. Alternating chapters between the humans of a generation ship and the spiders of the green world you get two distinct plot lines that promise to eventually intersect. The human side of the story evoked a bit of a time travel story for me as the central character continually exits cryosleep to discover his "world" has changed and moved forward in unexpected ways. The spider side of the story actually became my favorite as you watch their civilization evolve over many many generations, one genetic line remaining our constant thread (no pun intended).

 

This book is a very slow burn. The thing that took me most off guard was how the two plot lines stayed separate for so long. I was expecting the book to be about the clash between these two cultures, but instead it is an exploration of them so that once they do meet you can fully understand where both are coming from. I quite enjoyed the ending, which I think I would have scoffed at had it not seemed so earned. This book takes its time, but that's an important component of what makes it effective. I actually found myself emotional from time to time about the lives of spiders, something I never thought I'd say.

 

If you're longing for a good old fashioned hard sci-fi with a focus on world building and cultural anthropology you won't want to miss this book. It kept me invested and curious all the way to the end.

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture - Roxane Azimi

This collection of essays addressing rape culture is deeply personal, insightful, and at times scathing and raw. There were several pieces in here that have stuck with me, and I know will continue to do so for years to come. I could relate to almost every essay - the specifics were different, but the feelings were so often very much the same. The title, Not That Bad, echoes through these experiences as a connective thread. Almost every survivor included feeling as though their personal experience wasn't worthy of the depth of their feelings because "it could always be worse."

 

On a personal note, as a survivor I found this collection simultaneously deeply affirming and extremely draining. Reading it made me exhausted and pensive, but ultimately I found the processing this book induced very illuminating and healing. If rape stories trigger you then stay away from this book, but if you're healing and think it might be helpful to hear other voices this is an excellent collection. If your life has been affected by sexual violence, or you know someone who has been affected (sadly, that's most of us), this book shines a light on the darkness. Regardless of your own experiences we all live in a society that progresses rape culture, and this book captures that essence and how it plays out for so many people - that alone makes these essays important and relevant to all of us.

Night Film

Night Film - Marisha Pessl

Sovereign. Deadly. Almost perfect.

 

This book was the creepy puzzle-box of a novel that I have been hunting for over the years. This is what I wanted out of books like House of Leaves (and ultimately didn't get). This book hits that wonderful sweet spot where you're never quite certain whether or not what is happening is rooted in the supernatural or if its just plain weirdness. The suspense kept me glued to the page - it's long, but the pacing is such that I never felt my attention waning nor the pages dragging. I remained intrigued and on-board all the way up until the ending. There were also scenes that were so bizarre and creepy that they will stick with me for years.

 

The one thing about this book I didn't love was how problematic pieces of it were in regards to race, sexuality, and gender identity. I couldn't tell if the issue was the authorial voice or the main character, who is kind of a jackass. I can let it go if the language used is a reflection on this character, because honestly I believe that he's a transphobic latent racist. However, if it's the author's viewpoint that's not something I can stomach, and I genuinely can't tell which is going on.

 

Here's the thing, with the exception of this one issue I loved the book. It's a stain on an otherwise deliciously unnerving novel that brings the elements of a ghost story, and a haunted house yarn, into a more literary realm. If you can look past the warts this book is a mesmerizing, compelling, creep-fest that will keep you reading past your bedtime and jumping at shadows.

Women Talking: Or, a group of Mennonites try to decide if feminism can jive with their religion

Women Talking - Miriam Toews

This book might be the perfect book club read for 2019. There is plenty to chew on and discuss within this slender volume. The bulk of the story is one long conversation that takes place over the course of two days - the women of an isolated Mennonite colony have been brutally sexually abused, and now they must decide whether to stay in the only home they have known or leave for the greater unknown world. The core of the story is rooted in the tension often found between religion and liberation, especially for women. A yearning for the ability to know more, be more, and even to be alone with one's thoughts, all at odds with what is perceived to be holy and proper. Ultimately it is a struggle between autonomy and community, safety and caregiving. The conversation is steeped in the spiritual as it explores the philosophical, and does not shy away from taking a hard look systemic issues of misogyny even though that word is never used. It was raw, wrenching, and throughly engrossing. I read it in two sittings.

 

So why only three stars? This was a struggle that was difficult for me to connect to. These women are very concerned with the religious implications of their quandary. The role of forgiveness, by themselves and by God. Whether is is acceptable to go against the wishes of their husbands. What is holy, godly, and righteous. This is important to them. But I'm a very different person. If someone repeatedly raped my three year old daughter staying with them would not be a question for me. It would not be up for debate. And so it was a difficult "problem" for me to invest in. This book was like a train wreck for me - I couldn't look away, but I was entirely horrified.

 

The other thing I bounced off of was Toews choice of narrator. I appreciated that she had a man keeping the record of the conversation, and that this man was a bit of an outsider himself. That was fine. I didn't like that he was romantically inclined toward one of the women. It cheapened the connection and the insights. I'd have preferred he care about them and their plight without being smitten. It might be nit-picky of me, but it really did bother me. Men are allowed to care about, and empathize with, women without being in love with them. It's a trope I'm tired of reading.

 

Here's the thing: I think this will be a deeply compelling read for anyone who has struggled with the role of faith and religion in their life while attempting to be independent and free thinking. I, however, am a stranger to that struggle so it didn't hit me quite as close. If you want a book that contrasts religion with feminism this is a really interesting read. It dives into territory you don't often see explored, and it's fertile ground. This book is going to be a great read for many people. If you have zero investment in religious dogma, however, this one may miss the mark for you.

Currently reading

This Monstrous Thing
Mackenzi Lee