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.

Swing: Volume 1

Swing Volume 1 - Linda Sejic, Matt Hawkins

Set in the same universe as Sunstone this graphic novel focuses on a married couple trying to rekindle their sex life by exploring swinging. Much like Sunstone this volume isn't shy about the topics being explored, and manages to be sweet and sexy as well as educational for those new to the subject. I really enjoyed the art in particular, and some of the character development was quite good. I'm looking forward to seeing how the story develops in future installments.

Bullet: Anita Blake #19, wherein a lot of things and nothing happens

Bullet (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #19) - Laurell K. Hamilton

The weirdest thing about this book, by far, is that it simultaneously manages to have no plot and too many plots all at the same time. There are at least five plot hooks thrown into this novel and none of them really get fully pursued. There's too much planning, and angsting, and screwing, and agonizing, and ruminating on long winding metaphysical descriptions and threats, and even dancing, to ever get around to totally engaging with any one thing. If this book is about anything it's about the whole plot with the weretigers that has been brewing for...four books? Five? I'm not sure. At any rate this book comes to a screeching halt after Anita collects her entire rainbow (not joking) of weretigers, leaving plot lines like assassins and evil vampires dangling for another time.

 

More and more these books blend into one another so that they cannot stand on their own - each book a record of a day in the life, if every day is rife with conflict and melodrama. It feels like fanfic, except the original author is penning it. It's almost like a new weird art form born of loose editing and fever dreams. Regardless, the series marches on, and I will continue my dabbling out of morbid curiosity. (Again, I'm reading these so you don't have to. You're welcome.) I give this book a solid shrug.

Flirt: Anita Blake #18, Sort of

Flirt (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #18) - Laurell K. Hamilton

A short story, inflated to a novella, marketed as a novel. I did appreciate that this installment had more of an actual story arc than most late series Blake novels - the length kept it from spinning too far off the rails. It also focused primarily (though not entirely) on her necromancy more than other metaphysical wankery, which was refreshing. Unfortunately she also manages to somehow add a new man to her collection (through force I might add), and repeat herself every other paragraph. So...yay? I give this a resounding meh. (Again, I'm reading these so you don't have to.)

Good Morning, Midnight

Good Morning, Midnight: A Novel - Lily Brooks-Dalton

I'm sure there are plenty of people who will find this a beautiful and meditative read about the nature of loneliness and connectivity. I was not one of those people. Not by a long shot.

Maybe it's the result of years of studying literature and writing, but I could not stand the way this book was written. I know a lot of people enjoyed the prose, but again I was not one of them. There was no developed voice, and the style of the writing feels very much like the product of a writing program rather than an author developing a distinct voice. The metaphors were often tortured and the language repetitive and rote. More damning, I found the characters unbelievable, especially the astronauts (and cosmonauts). I did not believe these people and I did not like them. And the twists? I called them Very Early in the book (maybe page 20?), and they were aggravatingly pat. Perhaps I've read too many stories in workshop, or too many books in general, but I found the story laughably trite and predictable.

Here's the thing: I feel like Brooks-Dalton wanted to write a story about the nature of loneliness and the human condition. Which is great. The mistake is that she decided to shoehorn this story into a sci-fi genre and she totally dropped the ball. You can write literary sci-fi, but it's a tricky beast. You need to understand both literary trappings and genre trappings, and make them work in tandem. In this book they were fighting against each other. For example, the book kept pointing at science, and trying to make it a core part of the story, without ever understanding it. Science isn't a magic system you can just slot into your story to make it more interesting. It became evident that the research done was only very surface level, and the discrepancies became distracting. (Don't even get me started on all the errors made in regards to space and the space program.)

Not a science nerd? Maybe it won't bother you. Then again, an awful lot of people are going to enter into this book expecting at least some answers to basic questions set up by the premise, like what caused the apocalypse, and those questions are not answered. There really isn't much plot to speak of, and there is absolutely no world building. These are things many folks appreciate and expect in their narratives.

Look, here's the thing, if you're intrigued by the idea of a post-apocalyptic narrative, or you're interested in a duel narrative where a scientist and an astronaut work to solve a problem, this will disappoint you. It is neither of those things. This book is about isolated people navel gazing about how they came to a point in their life where they are alone. That's it. And a lot of people will enjoy that. Which is totally fine. Unfortunately I for one found it insufferable.

Women & Power

Women & Power: A Manifesto - Mary Beard

Mary Beard does a wonderful job of giving historical context to current cultural attitudes. The first essay is essentially the history of men telling women to shut up. She examines how the simple act of speaking is, in point of fact, gendered. I found it revelatory that in many cases it isn't what is being said that is offensive to some, it is simply the fact that a woman is the one saying it. The second essay ties together with the first and examines how women occupy spaces in power, and how power is also gendered. How women in traditionally powerful roles become masculinized, and how much of the power held by women is not recognized as important or innately powerful. There is a lot to chew on in here, and I highly recommend it. If nothing else it's fascinating to see where certain behaviors, such as harping on the sound of a woman's voice, go back thousands of years. In studying the roots we are better prepared to pull out the weeds.

The Atrocities

The Atrocities - Jeremy Shipp

This novelette is a brief dip into classic Gothic horror, and I enjoyed it for the short time it took to read. It leans heavily on the old tried and true Gothic staple (a governess goes to an isolated spooky house to watch over a creepy kid), and does a good job modernizing what could have been a tired story. One of the most striking things about this story is Shipp's use of nightmares. Not only is his imagery striking and grotesque, but it also has a bizarre floaty and disconnected dreamy feel, making the entire story feel like one disjointed and disturbing nightmare. My only real complaint is that I never really connected to the main character, but with such a short length that's to be expected. I'd be curious to see what Shipp can do in a full length novel, and I'll be on the lookout for more offerings.

Skin Trade: Anita Blake #17

Skin Trade (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #17) - Laurell K. Hamilton

*shrug*

Things I liked about this book: Edward. All the Edward. He remains fantastic. It was also nice seeing Anita actually out working on a murder case for once. How quaint. Also: I quite like Las Vegas, so it was fun seeing the characters run around in Sin City.

Things that drove me nuts: Lack of editing, weird pacing, and repetition plague this book. Hearing the same phrases over and over again to the point where I wanted to start a drinking game. Also, you can't have a character insist, probably about three dozen times, that they are acting A-typically then have them continue to act in that fashion. At a certain point there's just no credibility. And then there is the fact that the pacing is downright bizarre. It starts out glacially slow as the book catalogues every detail and interaction, minute by minute, for the first 450 pages, then falls into numerous sex scenes all back to back, then has about 15 pages of final confrontation (but also, oddly, also sex) and no falling action. It was weird.

This is one of those books that needs to be heavily edited, cut in half, and to have the scenes re-ordered. There is a story in here, it just gets bogged down. It's like Hamilton was trying too hard not to write a book populated entirely by erotica but forgot how to write a mystery. All in all I didn't hate it, but it wasn't a good book by any stretch of the imagination. So yeah, shrug. I'm reading these so you don't have to. ;)

Memory of Water: Lyrical but not Deep

Memory of Water: A Novel - Emmi Itäranta

The writing in this book is absolutely lovely. It's lyrical, almost meditative, and really pulled me into a sense of place and tone. I could feel the heat pushing down on me, and the bugs buzzing in the air. The descriptions were lush and evocative, especially when describing the tea ceremony. It is easily one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I've read in quite some time. While I was reading I was absolutely engrossed and transported. Whenever I set the book down, however, things would niggle at me. And now that a little time has passed since I finished the book I find I've cooled on it even more.

 

The actions of the main character, the science, the way the world operates, it all just fails to make sense upon inspection. And this book wants you to inspect. It pulls you close, and very clearly wants you to think about the messages and themes it presents. I can't remember the last time I read a book that had such lovely prose, but at its core such uneven storytelling. The main character was so naive it went beyond the point where I would have disliked her, and instead went into territory where I could no longer suspend disbelief in her. There were points where I actually found myself exclaiming aloud at her poor decisions. It didn't feel like the actions of a dumb girl - it felt like the author manipulating the flow of the story to reach a certain conclusion. Since the story toys with being a character study this is pretty damning.

 

In the end I'm torn on this one. I enjoyed reading it, and I loved the prose, but I'm left frustrated. There are just too many plot holes and story crafting issues for this to be the sort of read I can solidly say I love. That said, I very much want to read more of Itäranta's work in the future. I think she could become brilliant if her storytelling can catch up to her writing skills.

Blood Noir: Anita Blake #16

Blood Noir - Laurell K. Hamilton

Once upon a time I loved this series. Then it changed, and I drifted along hoping it would change back, and eventually I rage quit the series entirely. Now here I am several years later, and I found myself wanting to revisit the series. Rather than going back and reading old favorites I decided to forge ahead since this book promised to feature my favorite side character. I figured if I went into things with my expectations adjusted it might be okay. And it mostly was.

 

I actually enjoyed returning to this world, and hanging out with a few of my favorite characters of yore. Is it the series it used to be? Not at all. But since I knew that going in it wasn't a disappointment. I will say this book actually had a plot, and conversations, and not just sex, so that helped. It didn't hurt that the menagerie of lovers and characters were all left at home as Anita and Jason go off on their own. Narrowing it down kept things on track. All in all this was the fast fun read I needed right now. Anita might have morphed from a kick ass executioner into a steamy succubus, but knowing that from the start meant it didn't lose any points for me.

Obsidio: Illuminae Files #3

Obsidio (The Illuminae Files) - Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman

It's rare that I look forward to a book with as much anticipation as I did this one, and even rarer still that my high expectations are met. I'm happy to report this final installment of the Illuminae Files did not disappoint, and was well worth the wait.

 

At this point you should know what to expect from this series. There's the same fun formatting and visual aspect as previous books, although with less art than Gemina. It's also full of the same snappy writing, high stakes, and page turning action you've come to expect. If Illuminae had a 2001 swirled with Walking Dead vibe, and Gemina took some cues from Alien and Die Hard, then this final installment goes full military sci-fi and channels some Starship Troopers (minus aliens) or Battlestar Galactica (minus robots). Kaufman and Kristoff do not shy away from looking at the hard truths about military occupations and war, and pull very few punches. In that way it's a more difficult book, emotionally, than the previous two, and that grounding did pull my enjoyment down just a little even though I really appreciate what they were doing.

 

My favorite part by far was getting to see the main characters of the previous two installments get to interact with one another and take the stage again. I'm really going to miss getting to spend time with these imaginary people. You also get to meet a few new characters, and get to fill in the gaps of what happened after the cast of Illuminae fled their besieged colony. All in all it's a fast and fun read despite the heavy subject matter. If you liked the previous two books this closing chapter should amuse you - it's a worthy send-off for a series that has become a real favorite.

The Gate to Women's Country

The Gate to Women's Country - Sheri S. Tepper

If I had read this when it was first published, in the 80s, I think I would have really liked this book. Alas, I read it now and it mostly made me angry.

 

This book channels second wave feminism pretty heartily, and unfortunately it also falls into some of the movement's pitfalls. Powerfully negative attitudes towards men lie the foundation for this story - an idea that men are innately violent and aggressive, and women are not, is the true dividing line. This book pretends that personality is based purely on nature with nurture making little difference. Bodily autonomy and emotional connectivity fall to the wayside in favor of eugenics and manipulation. And to make it even worse the lack of gender non-conforming or non-heterosexual individuals in this world is not an oversight - the book flat out states that queer characters were bred out (see page 76 in my edition). To say that the story is misandrist, gender essentialist, and aggressively heteronormative would not be inaccurate nor unfair.

 

As much as I wanted to throw this book across my room at times, or to give it a half star rating, I will give it some credit where credit is due. This book is of its time, and it came from an angry place. And I get that. I've felt that. A lot of people have. It is interesting to use science fiction to play around with thought experiments, and our book club had an excellent discussion about this one. Tepper quite obviously put a lot of thought into her world, and the world-building was fairly intricate. The characters were drawn well enough that I truly hated many of them, and some mirrored individuals I've known in my past. There are some really excellent insights in here, and even passages that I reread because they struck a chord with me. However, I just couldn't get past the politics. It's a great book to talk about and critique, but it is not a book I feel I can recommend outside of that capacity.

The Sumage Solution: San Andreas Shifters #1

The Sumage Solution: San Andreas Shifters #1 (Volume 1) - G. L. Carriger

I wanted to love this book. In theory I really should have loved this book. But I just...didn't. I suspect part of this is due to the fact this was my introduction to Carriger's universe, and the world-building just isn't there. I spent the front chunk of the book feeling like I was missing a lot, and trying to decode what I can tell is an elaborate world filled with critters and magics. I will say I was intrigued enough I'm interested in going back and trying her first series.

 

It wasn't just the world-building though. It was the way everyone talked. If you like puns and innuendos this will amuse you to no end. If, however, you find that sort of thing annoying this will drive you crazy. It's sort of like the book equivalent of someone waggling their eyebrows and saying, "that's what she said" for 300 pages. Toss in some instalove and I just couldn't stand it whenever the main characters talked (or had an interior monologue, which is often). It's hard to cheer for a romance when you're cringing through every verbal exchange. I also felt like the pacing was a bit weird. The characters jump right into the sex early on, and the later chapters set that aside and go for a more serious plot line and leave the sexy romping behind. I'd have preferred to have more plot throughout, and the sex scenes interspersed more evenly rather than back to back (no pun intended) before pretty much vanishing. Again, maybe that's just my preference.

 

For me the issues were writing craft ones more than anything. (Pacing, world-building, dialogue, etc.) The pieces were there, they just weren't put together well. For example, we get some good character development, but it comes late in the book and gets undercut but snarky one-liners. It means that if you read between the lines, or over certain things, you can have a very different interpretation of this story. You can fill in blanks and make it great, if your imagination so desires, but that isn't really what is on the page. This is not going to bother a lot of people, and that's fine. For me it read a lot like fanfic, which again, isn't necessarily a bad thing. In the end it just wasn't to my taste. I really like the idea of a gay werewolf story with a diverse cast, I just didn't like the way this one was put together.

Silence Fallen: Mercy Thompson #10

Silence Fallen - Patricia Briggs

This was a really enjoyable addition to the Mercy series, and Briggs' world as a whole. I quite enjoy the way Briggs writes vampires, and this book is absolutely filled with them, including Stefan and Marsilia. Other things to love about this installment: Mercy off on her own being clever, POV chapters with Adam, a delightfully rendered Prague, some more development on the witch, Elizaveta, some fun new characters (yay goblins!), and just enough little twists and turns to keep the pages turning. I did miss the werewolf pack, but there was still plenty of werewolfy goodness with Adam, Honey, Matt, and the Prague pack. All in all it was a lot of fun, and stood well on its own despite resting on a lot of series history. I look forward to the next in the series, even if it will be quite some 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!

Currently reading

The Cold is In Her Bones
Peternelle van Arsdale