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.

All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages

All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages - Saundra Mitchell

I've never been a big fan of short stories, so a collection has to be really special in order to entice me to pick it up. I'm also not usually terribly fond of historical fiction. What I *am* a big fan of is excellent queer representation in my books, especially those written for teens. When I saw Anna-Marie McLemore was in this collection that tipped the scales for me, and I dove in. I'm so very glad I did. Not only did I discover some new authors I'm interested in reading, but this book made my heart very happy.

 

While most of the stories are straight up historical fiction, some range into magical realism and pure fantasy. Each of them takes on a different time period and flavor, and explores a different teen experience. I was happy to see many different facets of the queer community represented - while most of the stories have gay and lesbian characters there are also trans characters, bisexuals, and an asexual. Including a wider spectrum of inclusion made this collection extra special to me.

 

All of the stories are fairly short, and the writing was good throughout (and occasionally exceptional). Anthologies are always going to be a little lopsided (you're going to like some pieces more than others), but this one had far more gems than not. There was really only one story I didn't care for, and the rest I either loved or liked, which is pretty impressive given there are seventeen. My favorites were:
Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
Burnt Umber by Mackenzi Lee
Every Shade of Red by Elliot Wake
Three Witches by Tessa Gratton
The Inferno and the Butterfly by Shaun David Hutchinson
Healing Rosa by Tehlor Kay Mejia

 

There was a lot in here to love, and I can't wait to recommend this book far and wide. I wish this collection had existed when I was younger - I am ever so thankful it exists now.

 

Gratitude to Harper Collins for providing me with a review copy.

After Atlas - Planetfall #2

After Atlas (Planetfall Novel, A) - Emma Newman

I knew this book didn't pick up right after Planetfall, and that it followed a different set of characters and story, but I didn't quite expect it to be quite so radically different. If Planetfall reads like anthropological sci-fi After Atlas reads like a cottage mystery with a dose of cyberpunk. The tone has that signature cyberpunk bleakness, which I found blended very strangely with the English countryside cozy inn mystery angle. The writing is still sharp and engaging, but I never really felt completely sucked in. (Probably because while I do enjoy cyberpunk stories I don't generally enjoy mysteries.)

I also had some trouble connecting with the main character. He continually told us how curious he was, and how he couldn't leave a mystery unsolved, yet over and over again he did things that demonstrated the opposite - for example he habitually deleted messages unread, and failed to follow up on suspicious behavior in both friends and suspects. This drove me nuts. If I, the reader, am curious about these things, then I find it maddening that the so called "curious" character (who would presumably be affected by these things) doesn't care. I could never decide if he was just lying to himself about who he was, or if it was a blindspot for the author.

Also...the ending. I'm not going to go into specifics, because I try to write spoiler free reviews, but do be prepared for it to be weirdly paced, and to pull the rug out from under you. I felt like I was reading a different book the last 100 or so pages, and the last two pages left me reeling. Planetfall also had some ending weirdness, so I thought I was prepared, but I was not.

All of this makes it sound like I didn't like the book, but that's not the case. The world building Newman has done remains intriguing, and she has a lot of interesting things to say about people, technology, and potential futures. While I didn't love this book the way I did Planetfall, I do respect how different it was, and what she was doing. I don't think she failed, I just think it wasn't as much to my taste. There's a lot in here to think about, and I'm quite interested to read her next book set in this world.

Black Girl Magic: BreakBeat Poets Volume #2

The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic - Idrissa Simmonds, Jamila Woods, Mahogany L. Browne, Patricia Smith

First and foremost, many thanks go to Haymarket Books for the review copy.

Overall this is a really solid collection. It's difficult reviewing collections - there will always be some pieces that speak to you more than others. All in all I'd say about a quarter of the poems absolutely blew me away, half were good, and a quarter didn't really resonate with me, which is a pretty good ratio. The thread running through the collection was cohesive, and each section had its own flavor while still playing into the overall theme. This one packs a punch, and I was really glad I was able to read about these women's experiences. Really looking forward to following some of these women and their work as they move forward!

Artificial Condition: Murderbot Diaries #2

Artificial Condition - Martha Wells

More Murderbot! If you enjoyed All Systems Red then you will enjoy this new installment in the continuing adventures of Murderbot. Using the same snarky and awkward voice we've come to love, the Murderbot gets a little more information on its history and meets some new characters along the way. I particularly enjoyed ART and their interactions. I was worried the sequel might not be able to recapture the unique feel established in the first novella, but this did not disappoint. Intriguing, insightful, and funny, these stories are now officially among my favorites. I look forward to joining Murderbot on many new adventures in the future!

Godsgrave: Nevernight Chronicles #2

Godsgrave: Book 2 of the Nevernight Chronicle - Jay Kristoff

If you've read Nevernight then you have an idea of what to expect from this book. (And if you haven't, then you should really go do that.) As with the first book, the language remains florid and snarky. As soon as I began reading I found myself grinning - it was so fun to revisit this particular voice. There's plenty of all the things you have come to expect from this series: blood, action, sex, sarcasm, sneaking through shadows, and intricate plans that always seem to have wrenches thrown into them. You know, assassin stuff. Then this book also surprised me by digging into new depths I didn't expect. Issues of slavery and social injustice. Examinations of sexual orientation and identity. Weighty stuff sandwiched in between the ill conceived plans and vengeance. It was a nice surprise.

 

The world and characters continue to be intriguing and well developed. If the first book had a dash of Hogwarts (as the initiates trained in the Red Church) then this one has a healthy dose of Hunger Games. The central focus of this book is on the gladiator arena, which makes for plenty of drama, battles, and high stakes. When the whole idea going in is for Mia to be the last one standing, and you start getting to know the other gladiators, well, it leads to pretty fertile emotional territory for both Mia and the reader. The only reason I'm not giving this book 5 stars is because it has a bit of a middle book syndrome - it sets up a lot of threads for the conclusion of the trilogy, which makes the ending of this volume a bit less satisfying. I can't wait to read the third installment. This series has become a solid favorite.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere 1) - Meg Elison

This book hit just the right note with me at just the right time. It was one of those rare books that made me want to drop everything I was doing just so I could read - in fact, I finished this book in my car after work because I couldn't wait until I got home to read the last ten pages. So yeah, it was that kind of a read for me. That said I can see this book not being to everyone's liking. It has the same sort of grim and violent outlook you find in something like the Walking Dead, which will put a lot of people off. This is not a feel good story. There is a lot of graphic sexual violence depicted, so know that going in.

 

At its core I read this as a book about gender roles and sexuality. With the world's population drastically reduced, women a rarity, and pregnancy a dangerous and fruitless prospect, how does that effect the way we behave? How does this free people, sometimes in very dark ways, and how does it bind them? With a cultural breakdown, and women so vastly outnumbered, humans become sexually "liberated" in the way other mammals are liberated - with no social constructs this changes the dynamic. Some men use this as an excuse to rape and hold women as property. Some women use this as a way to collect harems, trading sex for protection. Some people feel free to choose their partners as they see fit without the societal judgement they might have previously experienced. Some people hide their gender in order to walk through the world unhindered. It's an interesting meditation on how the human animal might adjust gender roles, sexuality, and morality if society, balance, and pregnancy are removed from the equation.

 

In addition to having some interesting themes to chew on I quite liked the character and world building. All the characters felt distinct from one another, and their voices felt unique. The representation of bisexuality was some of the best I've ever read, and I really appreciated that as well. The world felt both real and terrifying, the feeling of constant threat looming in every encounter. This book scared me in the same way as White Horse by Alex Adams, or Children of Men. At the same time it had some hope and beauty sprinkled in (sparingly), to offset the horror of the world. For me it was meditative, haunting, frightening, and a little empowering.

 

If you're looking for a great read about the end of the world with a feminist bent this is a rare jewel. If grim futures, violence, or sexual trauma put you off of a read don't pick this one up. For me the food for thought far outweighed any of the ugliness.

Best of All Possible Worlds

The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Novel - Karen Lord

If classic Star Trek fanfic sounds appealing to you then I have good news - this book reads like a Vulcan/Human love story. Lord has managed to write a regency romance masquerading as a sci-fi, and that has its own pros and cons. The structure is episodic as you follow the team on what read like away missions, each chapter taking the form of a vignette. It's a gentle read with very little action or peril, more like a day to day examination of these people and their lives. I don't mind character driven stories, but unfortunately I found most of the cast fairly one-dimensional. I didn't really manage to latch onto these people, which in turn meant I never fully engaged with the book. I will say I quite liked Lian, and was very glad the author didn't fall into any of the pitfalls I've come to dread when authors introduce gender neutral characters.

All in all this book failed to spark much emotion in me. I didn't hate it like the bulk of my book club, but I didn't really enjoy it either. I felt like there were a lot of interesting ideas thrown in, but none of them really get explored (that isn't really the focus of the book, which I get). The romance aspect never really sparked for me, but I know there are people who found it satisfying. All in all if you want a light regency-esque romance set in a sci-fi setting this might delight you. I was left somewhat cold. Your mileage may vary.

Winterglass

Winterglass - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

I am really not certain how to review this book - it's unlike anything I've ever read before. The setting blurs the lines between sci-fi and fantasy in some really interesting and unusual ways, which kept me off-balance as I read. The world building is intricate, and lovingly conceived, but since you are thrown into the deep end and very little is ever explained it, again, left me feeling off-balance. It's a very slippery little book.

 

The writing is artful and lovely, and the imagery is striking and fresh. I also enjoyed how unapologetically queer it was. Yet, I could never quite connect to the story nor characters. I think it might be a case of me trying too hard to riddle out all the rules of the world when it was more like being emerged in dream-logic. You are bombarded with so many fascinating little pieces of setting, character, and mood, but they are rarely expanded upon (it is a novella after all). This is one of those reads that's going to be very appealing to people who can relax and float through the painting Sriduangkaew has rendered, but off-putting to people who want to examine and make sense of the canvass being used. It has a strong style, and I think overall this one is going to come down to whether or not it suits your particular tastes and reading style. I remain glad I read it, but still uncertain how I feel about it.

Silencer

Silencer - Marcus Wicker

This was a really solid collection from Wicker. The language has punch, the metaphors are fresh, and the poems are emotionally resonate. This was a fantastic collection to read right now, while movements like Black Lives Matter bring more coverage to topics like police violence, which this book addresses. Wicker really brings home his experiences as a black man in America, and his words cut me to the quick. I'm thankful to have read this. The only reason I'm not rating this higher is just a matter of personal taste - there are numerous poems in here that speak to faith and God, and I just don't connect to that experience. If you are looking for quality poetry collections that speak about race Silencer should absolutely be included on any list.

Monstress #2: The Blood

Monstress Volume 2: The Blood - Marjorie M. Liu

This series continues to impress with both its art and its storytelling. I was worried the quality established in the early issues couldn't be sustained, but if anything this collection is even better. In this volume the story and world expand, but none of the intimacy is lost. As some questions are answered still more are poised. I'm completely hooked, and I can't wait for more.

Monstress #1: Awakening

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening - Marjorie M. Liu

I don't know that I've ever seen a series as beautiful as this one. Every panel is as intricate and lovely as the cover art. It's astonishing that this is a full monthly title and not a short run comic. Add in the carefully crafted plot, well conceived world-building, and full cast of kick-ass characters (most of them women), and this series is a gem. A delicious blend of dark fantasy with a dash of cosmic horror, steampunk, and Asian mythology. This one is not to be missed.

Sex Criminals #2: Two Worlds One Cop

Sex Criminals Volume 2: Two Worlds, One Cop - Chip Zdarsky, Matt Fraction

Hmm. I absolutely adored the first volume, but this one was a bit flat for me. I still liked it, but I didn't love it. Perhaps part of what felt lacking is the contrast. The first volume is more fun and lively as our two heroes get to know one another and explore their powers. In this volume they've hit a slump, and I'm right there in the slump with them. If the first book is about giddy early relationship fire this one is about depression and stagnation, which...not super funny. I still love the art, really like the ideas, and dig how the characters break the fourth wall constantly. I'll absolutely be reading the next volume, especially given where this one leaves off, but going forward I'm hoping for a bit more comedy and a little less drama.

 

Lovecraft Country: Or, the real monster is racism

Lovecraft Country: A Novel - Matt Ruff

This book really exceeded all my expectations. What I had heard about this book prior to digging in was that Ruff had taken some of Lovecraft's themes and spun them from a black perspective. This is so much more than that though. Ruff doesn't just plumb Lovecraft's oeuvre, but that of classic sci-fi and horror as a whole. And even better? It doesn't just place black characters into these stories, it focuses on the black experience. The real monster in this book, again and again, isn't whatever is creeping in the darkness: it is racism. And the book is not shy about it at all.

 

It wasn't just different getting to see this perspective, it was actually refreshing. The characters were resourceful, clever, and always thinking ahead...because they had to in order to survive in the world. It made them amazing horror protagonists - they never passed around the stupid ball in order to serve the plot. It reminded me of that old Eddie Murphy bit about black folks walking into a haunted house, being told by a specter to get out, and them just walking right out the door. Here we have an entire cast of folks thinking on their feet, communicating with each other, and out maneuvering whatever gets thrown at them. I liked these people and it was a pleasure cheering for them.

 

The one thing about this book that was a hurdle for me was the format, which took some adjustment. While there is one overarching plot, and things do tie together in the end, this book is structured as a collection of interconnected short stories. Each story focuses on a different character, and tells a different stand-alone story within the greater whole. As someone who rarely enjoys short stories this put me off somewhat, but the line that ran through all of them kept me connected to the book and made starting over in each section less of a chore. There were certainly parts I liked more than others (I particularly seemed to enjoy the stories focused on the female characters, which was a bit of a surprise), but I never felt particularly marooned like I have in some other collections.

 

All in all this book was something special. If you're familiar with classic horror and sci-fi tropes, like haunted houses, animated dolls, or Jekyll & Hyde to name a few, this book should at the very least amuse. And if you also happen to be looking for more inclusive literature, or stories from black perspectives, this will likely strike a chord. I'm really glad I picked it up, and look forward to seeing how it adapts to the small screen in the future.

The Girl with Ghost Eyes

The Girl with Ghost Eyes - M. H. Boroson

Maybe it's just me? This is one of those times where I look at the reviews after I've read a book and feel like I read something very different from everyone else. I'll try to pin down my feelings as succinctly as possible.

 

On the plus side this book is full of accurately portrayed mythology (Daoist & Buddhist) and culture (Chinese & Chinese American) that is going to be new to a lot of people. It's great to see this being represented so well in an urban fantasy. On the flip side of that, this book had that feeling over-researched books can get where it's stuffed to the gills with every morsel of knowledge the author could possible cram in, and then some. You could tell there were details and scenes that Boroson couldn't bare to part with, and the novel was written around them. To put it another way: it felt like the core of the book was the information the author wanted to share and the story was sort of a loose vehicle to convey it, rather than the story being the core with the details working to enrich it.

 

I think part of the problem stems from the 1st person perspective. Li-Lin essentially spends the story explaining her culture and motivations to...herself? It would be weird if I wrote a 1st person narrative about my life, and as I walked down the street I had a long interior monologue when I see a Starbucks about what coffee means culturally here in America. It's no less weird to me when Li-lin does this almost every other page. She also repeats herself. A lot. She actually has the same interior conversation almost word for word with herself numerous times. To make it even more of a turn-off for me I really didn't care for Li-Lin. I understand what the author was doing by portraying her as submissive and self-doubting, it is historically/culturally accurate for the setting, but it did not endear her to me. She has very low self-worth and I spent the book wanting her to realize she was a badass (which I would argue doesn't really happen, though others seem to disagree).

 

So here's the thing: I'm grouchy. I fully and openly admit this. It's been a tough year, and reading a book from the perspective of a woman who thinks she is less than all the men around her, and puts almost zero value on her own worth, is not really the narrative I'm in the mood for right now. I will also admit that I read for character first, plot second, and setting last, and in this book setting is the big draw, the plot was full of holes, and I couldn't connect to the main character. So it's no wonder my relationship with this one was doomed. It's quite possible it's just me. There's some great intro to Daoism stuff in here, as well as martial arts, and if you're curious this will give you a good taste. It's also a pretty good romp if you want some fun brain candy with a Chinese flair. As for me I'm just going to have to put this one in the Not My Thing pile and move on. (However, if they make a TV series or movie I'd love to see some of this come to life on the screen.)

The Freedom of the Ignored

The Freedom of the Ignored - Bill O'Neill

A solid collection of poetry, mostly centered around O'Neill's experiences in the state senate. While the language itself didn't blow my socks off I was fascinated by the intimate peek into senate life. With politics taking up a fair amount of my attention these days this was a portrait that really held my attention - it also helped remind me how these governing institutions are comprised of distinct individuals, not just cyphers with an R or D next to their names. There are also some really moving poems about O'Neill's wife, whose disability deeply impacts their lives. I'm glad I read this humanizing account of O'Neill's life, and what it can be like to serve in political office.

Motor Crush: Volume 1

Motor Crush Volume 1 - Babs Tarr, Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart

This book has so many things to love. Fast, snappy, writing. Diverse and interesting characters. A unique and captivating sci-fi world. Action and intrigue. Art that evokes a bubblegummy retro anime vibe, with plenty of emotion, excellent panel layout, and fun future-punk flourishes. I'm hooked and can't wait for volume 2!

Currently reading

Chainbreaker
Tara Sim