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.

Siege & Storm - Grisha #2

Siege and Storm - Leigh Bardugo

Average series continues to be average. I will say that Nikolai is a welcome addition, even if he is very much a Type. The drama with Mal, however, was predictable and frustrating. Is it a love triangle or a love square at this point? I don't even know. I don't even particularly care. Blah. I would very much prefer more magic and nifty Russian folklore and less romantic drama. At this point I'm invested in seeing how it all comes to a close though, so I'll read the third book.

Shadow & Bone - Grisha #1

Shadow and Bone  - Leigh Bardugo

There are more than enough reviews of this book already, so I'm not going to say much. Really for me is boils down to this: average book is average. Unextraordinary, plain, orphan girl discovers she is The Chosen One, and begins her journey to save the world. On the way she ends up in a magic school where she had trouble fitting in, and meets Mysterious Bad Boy, while pining for the Good Boy from her childhood. The story just sort of clips along without ever bringing any real surprises or revelations. It's perfectly fine, but ultimately forgettable.


Here's the thing: I read Six of Crows first, and I loved it. In fact, I loved it enough that I'm willing to give this series the benefit of the doubt and stick with it. (Had I started with this book I doubt I'd bother.) I know Bardugo can write (though she's much better at 3rd person POV than 1st, which is the POV she uses in this trilogy). All in all the book wasn't bad, just uninspired. My advice? If you're diving into the Grisha world for the first time skip ahead to her duology (Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom) - the writing is better, the plot more complex, the characters more fleshed out and interesting, and the story more surprising and original. As for me I'm going to tear through the rest of the trilogy just so I can hang out in Grisha land a little bit longer.

Delta of Venus - Or, Anais Bin gets freaky

Delta of Venus - Anais Nin

I have such mixed feelings on this collection. Here's the thing: Nin can actually write a really hot erotic scene. However, she can also write a really messed up disturbing scene, and those two things often get stirred together in these stories. I think she hit Kink Bingo in this collection. There is bondage, exhibitionism, prostitution, masochism, rape, incest, pedophilia, beastiality, necrophilia, and probably more that I'm forgetting at the moment. Now, to be clear, not all of those things are necessarily bad (though some certainly are), but it can make for an uncomfortable surprise when the erotic story you are reading takes a disturbing turn and someone is raping their daughter.


There is a lot to find interesting in here beneath the surface though, especially when you take into account when Nin was writing these stories. She does some really interesting things with the female and male gaze, and the societal commentary on sexual mores was also intriguing. These stories must have been absolutely scandalous and taboo when they were published. For that reason alone I found the collection interesting. But more often than not I found many of these stories more disturbing than arousing. If you're looking for something light and hot to read I'd consider looking elsewhere, but if you go into the collection knowing what to expect there's some interesting (and yes, on occasion very sexy) stuff to be found in these pages.

The Fifth Season - Or, N.K. Jemisin proves why she's a grand master

The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemisin

I don't think I can fully review this book without spoiling it, and that is just something I do not want to do. I went into this book knowing nothing about it other than it won the Hugo, was nominated for numerous other awards (Nebula, Locus, Kitschies, Goodreads), and would probably be well written as I've read another of Jemisin's books (Killing Moon) and found the writing lovely. I didn't know what it was about, or even really whether it was sci-fi or fantasy. And I'm so glad I went in blind. Every layer that peeled back felt like a revelation.


Here is what I feel like I *can* say without spoiling anything. Jemisin's prose is wonderful. The book is long, but it doesn't drag. In fact, it felt like a quick read despite the length and density. The way the story unfolds, granting you new knowledge slowly one piece at a time, kept me engaged throughout and prevented any sort of info dump exhaustion. The world building is interesting, rich, well thought out, and unique. I've never read about a world quite like the one she has built here, and she has done such a good job with the details that it felt fully realized and real. The characters were multi-faceted and complex. I cared about them, and I hurt when they hurt. I also appreciated the diversity of the cast, and the portrayal of different relationships you don't often get to see in fiction.


If I elaborate more I feel like I'd be doing you a disservice. What you really need to know is this is a wonderful book, well worth the buzz and praise. I can't wait to read the rest of the trilogy and see what more Jemisin has in store for her readers.

Song of Achilles: Or, heartbreaking epic romance

 The Song of Achilles: A Novel - Madeline Miller

I wasn't originally interested in reading this book, but after a couple people (whose opinions I trust) recommended it I thought I at least owed it a try. I wouldn't say I'm an expert on the Greeks, but I would say I'm a fan. I know the story of the Illiad, and I'm familiar with Achilles and some of the mythology surrounding him. That's honestly part of why I was originally disinterested - Achilles is a bit of an arrogant ass. That foreknowledge, however, also contributed to what ultimately made this book so achingly sad.

This book broke my heart on every page. In a good way. Miller's prose is wonderful. She does an amazing job of bringing her settings and characters to life. I felt like I was there, in the castles and caves, and on the beaches and battlefields. I was completely transported. The Gods that walked through the pages felt as natural as the wind and the sea, never once breaking the tone of the book, or making it feel fantastical. Patroclus and Achilles became real, and their relationship was one I both believed and invested in, despite knowing how their story would end.

This book is amazingly well written, genuinely romantic without being sentimental, and truly heartbreaking in the best possible way. An epic romance in the truest sense.

The End We Start From: Or, a meditation on motherhood and loss

The End We Start From - Megan Hunter

This novella was a lovely surprise. I was initially drawn in by the stunning cover, and I'm so glad I gave it a chance. Written in a spare and poetic style reading this story is more like following a wandering stream than being tossed into the roaring ocean which features heavily in the narrative. The events of the plot are often suggested more than they are described as you meander through the main character's interior landscape just as much as you do the exterior world. If you're unaccustomed to reading poetry then Hunter's prose may stretch your comfort levels, but it will be worth the effort.


This is an elegy. Filled with a sort of wistfulness that feels earned rather than melodramatic. These are observations about the small moments that could so easily get lost in the din, the tiny things that ultimately matter even if the world is ending. It is unflinchingly human. And while the plot takes its cues from science fiction, at its core this is a meditation on motherhood and loss. Simply put: it is beautiful.


Thank you to the publisher for the opportunity to read an advanced copy. The End We Start From will be released in November.

All the Birds in the Sky: Or, Science versus Magic, except not really.

All the Birds in the Sky - Charlie Jane Anders

I've been putting off reviewing this book for a while, trying to come up with something new to contribute to what has become a very large conversation. I don't think I'm going to succeed, but I will add my thoughts. Here's the thing: All the Birds in the Sky very swiftly became the "It" book of 2016, and now in 2017 it is up for All The Awards. Many many people love this book. So when I sat down to read it for my book club I had really high expectations. Did the book rise to meet them? In some ways yes and in other ways no.


I quite liked that a fair amount of this book put fantasy and science fiction into the same world and made them ideologically opposed. We have the young witch and the young mad scientist, and we stick with them as they grow up and the world falls apart. Both the strength and the weakness of the narrative is that at its core this book is really only about two people. If you manage to invest in these two characters and their relationship then you will likely like this book. However, if you want to see an epic battle between science and magic, or you want to focus in on how the world is falling apart, or even the world-building or other characters, well, you are going to be really disappointed.


This is a book that presents a bunch of enormous, epic, sweeping plot points...and then pushes them into the background so they merely serve as the backdrop for a slow-burn romance. Which is honestly something I haven't seen before. I was okay with it, but it was a surprise, and could be really disappointing depending on what you want (or if you strongly dislike the two main characters, which wouldn't be difficult as they can be quite abrasive). The climax of the book felt subtle to me in that the book could have ended in several previous points with equal punch. In many ways it reads like three connected short stories - it has a light touch, close focus, and the bigger plot in the background is overshadowed by a more intimate and close perspective. Again, I didn't particularly mind this, but it was an unexpected choice.


Overall I liked All the Birds in the Sky because I was fine with the soft focus and narrowed plot. The side characters were flat and interchangeable, but that didn't hurt my enjoyment since they were so secondary to the focus. The world-building left a lot of questions unanswered, but again, that wasn't the focus. There were some jarring tonal shifts, and the comedy was occasionally bizarrely executed, but I was having fun so I didn't mind that either. Bottom line, I could see reasons to dislike this book, and problems, but I enjoyed myself and the book despite all of them. There's one thing I'm a stick in the mud about though: there were better fantasy/sci-fi books in 2016. I liked this book. I really did. But it was not the end all be all of books in this genre. Worth the read? Absolutely. Worth the hype? Debatable.

The Love Interest

The Love Interest - Cale Dietrich

I don't like writing bad reviews. I don't like saying bad things about people's art. Writing is difficult and everyone enjoys different things out of their books. I don't write this to hurt anyone's feelings. That's the last thing I want to do as a reviewer. But sometimes a book is bad, and I feel like I'd be dishonest if I said I felt otherwise. I was so excited about this book. I was so ready to love this. The concept is so up my alley. And yet, by the end I was hate reading it just to get through. 

So where did it all go wrong?
The first person point of view was a mistake, especially since we only get Caden's POV - it might have worked if we got chapters with Dylan. The characters were flat and forgettable, and I didn't care about any of them. The dialogue was the worst I think I've ever read outside of beginning level writing courses. I cannot understate how bad the dialogue in this book is, I really can't. Hell, the writing in general was bad. The world made no sense, and when I started actually thinking about any of it I just got angry. If you start examining any of the world building or the plot structure there are plot holes so big you could drive a fleet of buses through them. The genre is also weirdly off-putting in that the world seems to be this odd dystopia filled with killer robots and sci-fi tech, but the characters keep referencing current pop culture and acting like they live in the here and now...which...I guess really boils down to another plot hole I can't reconcile.

But hey, spies, right? Not so much. For a book about spies no one seems to have any spy skills, nor does any spy stuff happen. At best the spy characters are actors being fed lines through an earpiece or scripts. Not spies. romance, yeah? Except the characters have zero chemistry. Also, for a book that's supposed to highlight queer relationships most of the story focuses on the fake straight relationship. SPOILER: And worst of all? The big twist is that the queer relationship is a lie. Which made me so pissed I almost chucked my book across the room. One of the characters is only pretending to like the other. But then at the end he changes his mind and decides he's into it, apparently. In no way is that shift really explained or redeemed in any meaningful way.

So yeah. This book disappointed me, and honestly pissed me off. I waffled between one and two stars because it did have some good things to say about being gay, and what that can be like. But ultimately that's not enough to redeem it. Yes, we need more books with queer characters and relationships, but we can do better. Much much better. I want someone to actually write a book about gay spies, because this was not that book.

Spoonbenders: Or, con men and psychics versus the mob

Spoonbenders: A novel - Daryl Gregory

For such a hefty book I have surprisingly little to say about it! I've been a huge fan of Gregory's work since I read Raising Stoney Mayhall several years ago, and he has yet to disappoint. I particularly enjoy how he mixes genres. This book reads like a modern lit family drama...except with psychics. The plot is a series of seemingly disconnected threads that all come together in the end to form one masterfully woven scene. The real core of the book, however, centers on the five central characters, which works well since Gregory is a master of creating rich and complex characters. These are people with flaws and layers, and as I got to know them I didn't always like them but I did sympathize with them. I particularly enjoyed the "rules" Gregory set up for how the psychic powers worked in his world.


All in all Spoonbenders was more literary and less creepy than his other books, which will probably have broader appeal (but a little less for me since I love the creepy factor). This book has plenty of familial drama to keep it grounded despite being filled with grifters, mobsters, and psychics. If you've avoided Gregory in the past because demons, zombies, and other horror tropes are not to your taste this is the perfect entry point to get a taste of his excellent writing.

Her Body and Other Parties: Dark, feminist, erotica, body horror (yes, that's apparently a thing).

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories - Carmen Maria Machado

I didn't realize you could blend erotica, feminism, and body horror until I read this collection, and now I find myself wondering why this combination hasn't been in my life sooner. Machado has created one of the creepiest story collections I've ever read, and it is made all the more disturbing by not shying away from feminist themes. This deft blending of genres is perfect for exploring topics like the relationships women have with their bodies, and how those bodies are treated by others and society at large. Using both old familiar stories, like The Husband Stitch, and new ones, like Eight Bites, these stories scared me and made me think. If you're a fan of horror you should absolutely give this collection a read.


Story By Story Impressions and Thoughts:
The Husband Stitch - Brought new life to the old story of the woman who wears a ribbon around her neck.
Inventory - An exploration of sexuality, and sexual encounters, and how those make us human and inform our sense of the world and self.
Mothers - Themes of motherhood, and what that does and does not mean for different people.
Especially Heinous - A dark supernatural re-magining of every episode of SVU, which made me actually want to sit down and watch SVU.
Real Women Have Bodies - Dealt deftly with the visibility of women in society, ideas about beauty, and how appearance and presence are often enmeshed in our culture.
Eight Bites - A story with a heart that revolves around body image and how many women hinge so much of their happiness on being thin.
The Resident - Memory a moving target in this story as it addresses how the damages of the past show their scars on our art and our present.
Difficult at Parties - A gut wrenching look at some of the shadows sexual assault casts across one's sexual landscape in the aftermath.

Bearly a Lady: Or, Werebears just want to have fun

Bearly A Lady - Cassandra Khaw

First and foremost a big thank you to Book Smugglers who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a honest review! You ladies are the best!


Confession time: I don't read a lot of romance, and I've never picked up a "chick-lit" book. (Not that I have anything against these genres at all.) I do, however, read urban fantasy, which is romance and horror's weird love-child. When the author talked about her influences at the back of this book I really appreciated the roadmap, while much of this might be familiar territory for many readers.


Okay, so if I'm not a romance reader then why was I so keen to pick this book up? Two words: Bisexual werebear. I'm so sold. When I was reading I was also pleasantly surprised that the main character is also of a more, ahem, robust body type than you usually see depicted in stories like these. In fact, the writing Khaw did in respect to body image, fat shaming, and self-esteem was my favorite part of the book. You get to see this woman struggle with her size and how she is perceived by others. And, without giving too much away, the more her self-image improves, the better she is able to see not only herself but others around her. I loved that.


The novella is a bit choppy, jumping from scene to scene without much transition, and some characters come and go so swiftly it can be hard to tell who is important and who is not. I particularly liked the roommate and the love interest (though it would be cheating to tell you who that is). I was a little surprised that for a romance this novella is fairly tame in the sex department - if you're looking for super steamy this is not the place, however it is quite sweet. All in all it's a lovely meringue of a novella with some great things to say about body image stirred into the mix. I'd certainly give Cassandra Khaw another read in the future.

All Systems Red: Or, the day in the life of an introverted media-junkie Murderbot

All Systems Red - Martha Wells

This book was highly recommended by a couple people I trust, so I was expecting to enjoy it. I was not, however, expecting it to be one of my favorite reads so far this year. This novella was so much more than I hoped for. This is hard sci-fi with a gooey heart filled center (much like the Murderbot itself).


The titular Murderbot was designed as a security unit, but has gained self awareness and individuality. When it hacked its security protocols to gain autonomy it didn't go on a murder rampage - instead it educated itself and became a media junkie. Murderbot is supposed to protect its clients, and it will, but it would really rather be left alone to watch serials. Interacting with humans is awkward and stressful, and when it comes down to it Murderbot just wants to be left alone. (I might relate to Murderbot a little too much sometimes.)


If you look at the cover and title you would not expect this book to be funny, but I found myself laughing out loud numerous times. Murderbot's voice makes this book for me. Told from Murderbot's POV this sci-fi mystery is also a story about self discovery and the bonds we form (or do not form) with those around us. The world building was subtile yet rich enough I could imagine how this culture functioned as well as the technology being used. I loved the sci-fi and action, and I also loved the dialogue and character. While the secondary characters tend to run together a bit, especially in the beginning, that felt like an authorial choice due to Murderbot's POV rather than a misstep. I was invested in the outcome for all involved, which kept me turning pages.


All in all I loved this novella, and I'm so happy there will be another one. If you've been hunting for a fast sci-fi read with a protagonist that's one of a kind, full of snark and world weariness that's actually earned, you need to read this book.

Boy Meets Boy: Or, a gay teen Meet Cute of a book

Boy Meets Boy - David Levithan

I was in the mood for something light and sweet for Pride month, and this delivered. This is one of those books where I feel like its strengths and its weakness come from exactly the same place. This book is refreshingly free of tragedy, which is usually the order of the day when it comes to most teen books centered around queer characters. The town the main character lives in is so fantastically whimsical and diverse it almost feels like magical realism. I mean, the cheerleaders ride motorcycles - it's intentionally unrealistic and utopian. This tone meant I wasn't crying my eyes out and depressed, but it also pulled me out of the story because it was difficult for me to fully buy into the world.


As per usual I liked Levithan's writing, heart, and characters. I was rooting for Paul and Noah. I had my fingers crossed for the friendships at stake. But really the character and story arc that captured my heart was Tony, which is telling because that was the part of the story with the most sadness and realism. Tony isn't from Paul's magical town - he's from here and now. And the conversations and mirroring between these two worlds was the best part of the book for me.


If you're on the hunt for an adorable gay teen romance without a lot of tragedy and angst then this is the book you have been searching for. Filled with whimsy, sweetness, and plenty of ups and downs to keep you glued to the page, this book is truly fun and nice. It's a dessert of a book, so know that when you dig in and enjoy the fluffy sweetness.

Last Sext

Last Sext - Melissa Broder

This collection will speak to a lot of people. Unfortunately I was not one of them. On the surface this collection has a lot going for it that appeals to me: the tension between the sacred and the profane, existential dread, exploration of the ephemeral and mortality, diving into gender and sexuality, etcetera. However, the collection as a whole fell flat for me.


Broder uses a great deal of repetition in her poems, which can be fine. That repetition also echoes through the entire collection, which can also be fine if done well. This was not, in my opinion, done well. He language is harsh and sparse, which makes the repetition feel, well, repetitious. I couldn't shake how much it felt like I was reading the same poem over and over again - the same words rejumbled in a different order, like refrigerator poetry. Again, this sort of device could be used to brilliant effect, but in this case it felt like reading endless revisions.


This is an angry, dark, and sexual collection (which I actually enjoy), and there is a lot of meat in here. Most of the poems have at least one brilliant line, they just get swallowed by the work as a whole. The abstract is favored over the concrete, and symbolism rules out over the sensory. For me it felt more like a work of the mind than the heart, despite the sense of immediacy and passion. While I didn't connect to this collection at all I can see how many people will. I just happen to prefer my poetry a bit more grounded in the specific, and more lyrical. I would try Broder again, but in smaller doses.


Personal highlights:
Lunar Shatters
Wide Sigh
Long Tomb


Release - Patrick Ness
Once upon a time I read a Patrick Ness book, and it pissed me off so much I threw it across the room. In the years that have followed he has since published numerous books that have sparked my interest, but I always ended up giving them a pass - first impressions matter. When I managed to get my hands on an advance copy of this book (Thank you, Harper!) I was dubious, but curious. I'm so glad my curiosity won out - this is one of my favorite reads so far this year.

Taking place all within one tumultuous day, Release managed to encapsulate what it feels like to have one of those days where everything is changing way too fast to keep up. It's one of those days where everything shifts and goes sideways. It could so easily feel contrived, but Ness manages to make the non-stop hits feel connected and realistic. We've all had that day where it's one thing after another and before you know it things start snowballing. Especially when you're young and feelings run so deep and swift.

(One note on content, since I know some people like teachers, school librarians, and parents occasionally have this question: Yes, this book has sex in it. And the main character is gay, and it is graphic. It's also important to the story, and I wouldn't want it any other way. Still, you might want to take that into account before giving it to younger readers if you have concerns.)

Structurally this book has some ups and downs for me. The action moves swiftly, and the book is divided into smaller chunks, which kept me reading past my bedtime. This book is hard to put down. The one part of this book I'm still not certain worked for me was the ghost story that runs parallel to Adam's story. I'm still not 100% sold that it added to the story - even though the stories mirrored each other the tones really clashed. 

I loved the characters. I loved Adam, and I loved his friends. Even the characters I disliked I appreciated because they felt real and well drawn. Without saying too much I will say I also really appreciated the ending, both in its subtlety and where Ness chose to end the narrative. I set the book down feeling satisfied and I'm still thinking about it weeks later.

This is a book about feeling trapped, not just in the closet but also in your circumstances and family. This is a book about love, both the good and the bad sides, with not just lovers but friends and family. This is a book about acceptance, of self, others, and reality. And more than anything this is a book about learning to let go. I loved this book, and I can't wait to press it into people's hands this fall.



Borne: Or VanderMeer cranks up the weirdness even higher

Borne: A Novel - Jeff VanderMeer

It is really difficult to review a book like this one. If you've read any of VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy then you already know his books are weird. This one is even weirder. I'm going to do my best to write this review without giving anything away, which may be difficult, but I think the less you know about the specifics of this story before diving in the better.


The world building in this novel is extensive, even though most of what you know is pieced together through subtle clues and guesswork. The landscape you live in while immersed in this book is distinct, striking, dangerous, toxic, intriguing, and claustrophobic. Populated with biotech, mutated murderous children, poisonous rivers, a decaying city, and an enormous flying bear and its lethal proxies. This is not a world anyone wants to live in, including the characters.


Ah yes, the characters. One thing VanderMeer excels at is writing an unreliable narrator that is realistic and intriguing rather than frustrating. Every character in this book has secrets and is hiding something. No one fully trusts each other. And yet, this feels right rather than contrived. The plot and arc of the book is slow paced and builds on revelations about the characters (though there is some action). Without giving anything away I will say that each of the three main characters has a character arc, and each of those arcs concludes in what I found a satisfying manner. This book does have a very definite ending, unlike some of his other works.


My only reason for not giving this book higher marks is entirely personal. This book made me feel something, and for that it has my respect. Unfortunately, it mostly made me feel trapped and full of dread, which isn't something I particularly enjoy. On a technical front this book gets full marks - VanderMeer is an amazing writer. But on a personal front I just couldn't wait to escape from this world. When I finished it was a relief. Do I recommend this book? Yes. Absolutely. Especially if you enjoyed his other work but want something with a more concrete arc and ending. I think this is my favorite of his works. He did a great job building a horrible place. Such a good job, in fact, that it was hard to pick the book every night and live there for a time. I applaud that.

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