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.

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.

Sex Criminals #4: Fourgy!

Sex Criminals Volume 4: Fourgy! - Matt Fraction

Can I just cut and paste my review from the third volume? Because that would pretty much cover it.
Art = yes. Writing = yes. Weirdness in spades = yeppers. Hilarious little details if you squint = absolutely. A pretty great feminist speech by Dr. Kincaid = you got it. Relationship woes for our heroes = sadly yes. No idea where this is even going anymore = ding ding ding. Willingness to read the next volume = you betcha.

Something Bright, Then Holes

Something Bright, Then Holes - Maggie Nelson

Nelson's collection is divided into three distinct sections, but almost all of the poems included have a sense of vulnerability and melancholy. There is a focus on loss - lost love, lost mobility, lost time - the wreckage of broken relationships, hearts, and bodies. The first section, field journals written about the canal, captures this essence and distills it. She uses minutia to highlight entropy. The tension between beauty and decay, treasure and refuse. A time capsule of a single summer that simultaneously has a timelessness that extends to every summer. The stretch of endless afternoons, summer heat, and isolation. Written mostly in couplets this collection is sparse, raw, observant, and pensive.

Sex Criminals #3: Three the Hard Way

Sex Criminals Volume 3: Three the Hard Way (Sex Criminals Tp) - Chip Zdarsky, Matt Fraction

More adventures for the sex criminals. If you're looking into reading volume three by now you know what to expect from both the writing and art style (although this volume seemed extra meta, in a funny way). This volume introduced an asexual character, and I thought handled that exploration really well. It also had a side rant about how shaming people for what they are into (or not into) is pretty shitty, as well as some feminist theory sandwiched in between story/weirdness. All in all a good volume, even if I have no idea where any of this is going anymore.

Moonstruck #1: Magic to Brew

Moonstruck #1 - Magic to Brew - Shea Beagle, Grace Ellis

Super cute, über diverse, whimsical fun. The pastel, fluffy, round art fit the writing perfectly. A sweet story that centers on self acceptance that's complete with magic, monsters, and cute lesbian werewolves. Perfect for tweens, teens, and young at heart adults.

Chainbreaker: Timekeeper #2 (Part 1...because it doesn't end)

Chainbreaker - Tara Sim

This book has no ending. For real. It just stops. I'm not even sure I can classify it as a cliffhanger it is so abrupt. And with a page count approaching 500 that really yanks my chain.

 

On the plus side this book is mostly set in India, which was a nice change from the well tread streets of London. There are airships, fallen towers, and some action. I liked the side characters introduced, and I enjoyed getting to know Daphne more. The world continues to amuse me.

 

On the down side the pace is glacially slow. This isn't helped by long passages of flashbacks, or that chapters alternate between POV characters instead of staying where the action is. Danny and Colton are separated for almost the entire book, so if the romance element is important to you, well, sorry, you're just going to get pining. And, as I mentioned, there's no ending.

 

This book frustrated me. But, and here's the thing, I'm planning to read the third in the trilogy. After that build up I need to see what happens. So if you go into this book just be prepared for it to be part 1 of 2, and for a slow burn.

Timekeeper: Or, what if clocks controlled time

Timekeeper - Tara Sim

This was a cute queer teen romance with some really interesting world building. I find the idea of time being run by clocks, and all the implications and complications that entails, absolutely fascinating. I can honestly say I've never encountered a setting quite like this one before. Heck, I didn't even mind that this had strong historical fiction elements (which is not something I generally enjoy). The central mysteries held the book together fairly well, and kept pages turning, despite being pretty obvious. There was even some action thrown in, though not a lot. I also enjoyed Colton and Danny's budding relationship, and found them very cute.

 

On the flip side, the story lagged in places and tended to repeat itself. The writing was fine, but nothing terribly special. Some of the conflicts could have easily been solved by people just talking to one another, which is a pet peeve of mine, but not all of them so it wasn't too exasperating. This was one of those books that I enjoyed, but didn't really capture me to the point where I was thinking about while I wasn't reading it, nor yearning to pick it back up again. I liked it. I'm going to read the next in the series. But all in all I found the ideas are more memorable than the story.

Moan: Anonymous Essays on Female Orgasm

Moan: Anonymous Essays on Female Orgasm - Emma Koenig

Was this book occasionally repetitive? Sure. Did I find it fascinating anyway? Absolutely.

 

As with any essay collection there are going to be some pieces that are better than others (and this is no exception), but what makes this collection so interesting to me is the sheer volume and the way the voices both echo and contradict one another. With each essay around two to three pages in length (a few are longer, but this was pretty consistent average) there are a lot of perspectives in here. I find it interesting getting to hear women speak anonymously, and thus totally honestly, about their sexual experiences. There are plenty of pieces in here that are basically just women relating what works for them in the bedroom, but there are plenty more about what *doesn't* work, first experiences, ruminations on femininity, how things have changed for them, how they feel different, or just how they feel in general. These aren't stories you often get to hear, and even when I couldn't relate (although there were a few where I very much could) I was interested.

 

My biggest critique would be the apparent lack of variety in the essayists. Its hard to be sure, since it is anonymous, but the contributors did seem to come from fairly uniform backgrounds, which could have been improved. I'd have liked to have read more essays from queer women, assault survivors, and various age groups. There are essays from all of those groups, but not nearly as many as there are from 20-something college educated women. I suspect this is because many essays were collected online.

 

The foreword talks about how sexuality is part of what makes us human, and by denying women their sexuality we deny them the ability to be fully human. I truly believe this, and this book put a very human voice to the varied world of women's sexual experiences. A great book for anyone interested in sexuality, regardless of gender.

Six Wakes: A locked door mystery in space, where no one (including the murderer) knows whodunit

Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty

I love the idea of a locked door mystery in space, where no one knows whether or not they are the murderer. I love stories about cloning, and how that influences a culture and morality. I love weird weird near-science speculation, like 3D printing an entire pig. I dig stories with amnesia, and paranoia, and unreliable narrators. I quite like page turners. So all that said this book checked a lot of boxes for me. The pacing was fast, the story quirky, and the world building, while lightly drawn, interesting. I really enjoyed reading this book.

 

There is a flip side to this book though in that I don't think it is particularly well written. The characters all have a core background schtick, and that stands in for a personality. The dialogue is pretty cringe worthy. The pacing is a bit uneven, and certain twists or turns are either poorly explained, or don't track well with previous information. Also: Bad science? You betcha! There are even numerous typos and grammar errors, which I don't expect to run into at such volume in a finished book. It honestly felt like it needed more editing and a tighter re-write.

 

Luckily, this is one of those books that hit me at the right time and in the right mood, so I was willing to let a lot of things slide that might have ordinarily driven me nuts. I was having enough fun that I could forgive the flaws and just enjoy the ride. Sitting with the book some time later those flaws start to stand out a bit more, which is why I can't give it a higher rating. If you're looking for fun pulpy sci-fi this one fits the bill and should keep you entertained. If you're looking for stunning prose or deep philosophical explorations this one will likely miss the mark.

Point Blank

Point Blank - Alan King

All in all a really enjoyable collection. I especially enjoyed the poems contrasting what it means to be black in America as opposed to Trinidad & Tobago where his parents grew up. There are many astute observations about race in here, but there are also plenty of poems about youth, manhood, family, romance, and even several about comic books. A well rounded collection with a strong voice and snappy metaphors. Well worth the read.

Currently reading

The Cold is In Her Bones
Peternelle van Arsdale