Folding Paper & Spilling Ink

I'm an avid reader, literacy advocate, poet, and long time independent bookseller at Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins, Colorado. When I'm not reading or recommending books I spend my time writing them. While I read a variety of genres I primarily focus on curating the poetry and science-fiction sections at my store, which is where I focus most of my reading attention. I also have a soft spot for a good teen read, and enjoy digging into graphic novels whenever I get the time.

The Grownup

The Grownup - Gillian Flynn

Huh. Well that sure was something. I'm not sure what, precisely, but something for sure. This is really a short story packaged as a novella. There's not a lot of meat on these bones, but what is there is interesting. The voice is strong and the language evocative. This one is best experienced rather than described. Just a nibble of a book, but one I will likely remember farther down the road.

Low Red Moon

Low Red Moon - Ivy Devlin

I take no pleasure in writing bad reviews, but some books warrant them. This book is so badly written I laughed aloud several times at truly terrible prose. The dialogue is probably the most egregiously awful dialogue I have read in a long time, and there is a lot of it. Across the board the writing is just plain bad, from the prose, to the character development (is there any?), to the plotting. Look, here's the thing: this is a shiny teen werewolf romance book. And honestly that's why I picked it up - I wanted a fast fun werewolf read, and this fit the bill. I'm giving it an extra star for delivering what it advertised, despite the poor execution.

Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone: The OrÏsha Legacy (Children of OrÏsha) - Tomi Adeyemi

I'll admit it: I think this book is waaaaaaay overhyped. As accolades and awards continue to fall upon this critical darling I find myself once again in the small camp of people who remain Unimpressed. Look, plenty has been written about this book already so I'll try to make this as succinct as I can.

 

What was working for me:
It kept me turning pages. (And boy howdy are there a lot of pages.) I could have skipped out on this one at any point, but I kept with it despite it's many failings. It is very readable. Picking it up wasn't a chore even when I wasn't particularly enjoying the story. And really, I think that's one of the reasons it is so popular - readable books get read, and the more people who read a book the more popular it generally becomes just by merit of it being read. Nonetheless the story moves along at a decent clip, and the characters move from place to place, which kept me turning pages. It also has some diversity that I know appeals to a lot of people. (More on that later.)

 

What wasn't working for me:
First and foremost the writing just isn't great. I don't just mean the storytelling, I mean the nuts and bolts of the craft. If I were to pick one thing in this book that drove me up the wall it was how often thoughts and dialogue were cut off with a dash. It happens on almost every page. Don't believe me? Go look. I'll wait. ... See what I mean? It also has sections that are written like a teenager's blog post. Capitalizing Every Word For Emphasis. Or doing the annoying thing where you do a paragraph break after every word
Just.
Like.
This.
Stop that. Please. There are books where these devices could work, like a contemporary teen book told in journal entries, but not here. Just stop.

 

It also has some teen trappings that make me very tired, most notably over the top angst and insta-love that goes way beyond the norm. In my opinion the relationships in this book are really problematic, icky, and could give you whiplash with how quickly they snap back and forth. I'm not even going to get into it because I feel like that's an entire rant, and I really just don't want to write a dissertation on abusive relationships in teen literature right now. Needless to say, I really loathed these aspects. Here's the thing though: I'm willing to cut the book some slack in this arena. It's a teen book, and it's not written for me. That's fine. I don't enjoy it, but I get why it's there.

 

My final gripe is more slippery, but ultimately it's the thing that I find most damning. The story and characters are not original. At all. And I don't feel like the book reads as diverse either. Hear me out. The entire time I was reading it I felt like I was reading Avatar the Last Airbender fanfic. It really felt like something you might find on AO3. (Which is fine, but not what I expect over an awards winner.) The diversity also felt very surface level. This book is supposed to be a made up fantasy world, sure, but it's also supposed to have a Nigerian influence. And it just doesn't read that way to me. Yes, the characters are black, which I think is refreshing and good for representation, but that's as far as it goes. It feels like a diverse cast set in a very standard rote American story. (In video game terms it felt like someone just palette swapped the characters and called them new.) I'm less impressed with diverse casts than I am with diverse narratives and storytelling. It's a complicated distinction, but one I hope becomes more apparent as we get more and more books hitting shelves that are written by, and feature, more diverse voices. (If you're looking for an example of what I mean by a diverse narrative try something by Nnedi Okorafor. Just one example of many.) For me this book fell short in this arena.

 

I think my expectations were too high. I might have liked this one more if it wasn't so praised and celebrated. As is for me it was just another average, exceedingly mediocre, teen fantasy read, and that disappointed me. It's fine, but I was expecting something special. Your milage, obviously, may vary.

Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children #5)

Come Tumbling Down - Seanan McGuire

This is the fifth book in the Wayward Children series - by now you either know what these are like, or you need to go back and read Every Heart A Doorway. This review is for those that follow the series. So here's what you get in this slender volume: The continuation, and closure, of Jack and Jill's story. Another trip to the Moors. Horror movie-esque aesthetics, viscera, necromantic vibes, and monsters. Kade, Christopher, Sumi, and Cora. Creepy as hell ocean stuff. Good OCD and queer rep. Lots and lots and lots of lightning. And, despite Eleanor West's rules, a quest. And I loved it.

As of this writing this book doesn't come out for another four months, and I'm already absurdly impatient to read more in this universe. I tried to savor it, I wanted to linger, but alas the pull of the page was too much and I finished this one nearly as quickly as I picked it up. If McGuire doesn't write more of these (can we please get a Kade book? PLEASE?!) a portion of my heart will wither. From page one I was just so happy to be back with these people - these books are my door and until the next one appears I will find myself looking around corners and hoping. This volume in particular made my heart happy, and ever so hungry for more. If you're not reading these, and you're a fan of portal fiction, you are doing yourself a serious disservice.

This is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War - Max Gladstone, Amal El-Mohtar

It has been months since I read this book and I'm not any closer to being able to put my reaction into words. Look, here's the thing, you will either love this book or you will hate it. I loved it. It is surreal, abstract, and bizarre in a way I've never quite experienced before. The language is the main event here, and it is well worth sitting down and taking your time with this one. Savor it. It is a linguistic feast. It's also a love story. Romantic, tragic, and comedic in turns. Red and Blue passing notes through time in the rings of trees or curls of smoke isn't just poetic, it's interesting and affecting. This is one best experienced rather than explained. It's a gem of a novella, and one I can see myself rereading as a treat when I need to saturate myself in beautiful language and the enormity of the heart.

The Honey Month

The Honey Month - Amal El-Mohtar, Oliver Hunter

I was so delighted by This is How You Lose the Time War I simply had to get my hands on more writing from Amal El-Mohtar, hence me snapping up this book and starting it straight away despite a looming TBR pile. This is an interesting little writing exercise, part poetry and part flash fiction. El-Mohtar samples a different honey every day and then writes an accompanying piece. Offerings range widely in form and style, but all are exceptionally well crafted. Many of the pieces flirt with magical realism, and most of them have sensuality at their core (not sexual per se, but absolutely rooted in the senses). It was a perfect palette cleanser between books, that rare volume that can cure a book hangover when nothing else will do. I appreciated it enormously and look forward to more of El-Mohtar's writing in the years to come.

Ninth House (Alex Stern #1)

Ninth House - Leigh Bardugo

I'm really curious to see how this book lands with most Bardugo fans. I have a sneaking suspicion a lot of Grishaverse fans are going to be really disappointed by this one. I, however, quite enjoyed it once I fell into the story's rhythm.

First and foremost: It should be noted that this is an adult book, and as such it addresses a lot of adult material. This book has sexual violence in it, as well as drug use and plenty of regular violence. It is a murder mystery, and it doesn't flinch when facing the grim parts of reality for these characters. It's a dark book, especially when examining not just addict culture but also uppercrust Ivy League privilege, and I appreciated that quite a bit. I thought it did a good job of shining a light on ugly things without being an atrocity parade.

The pacing on this one is slow, and it takes its time building momentum. The bulk of the book takes place during two alternating time periods, and much of the tension falls with us, the reader, not knowing what happened to these characters before we join their story. For me this meant a slow start, and it wasn't until I was nearly halfway through that I started really feeling connected to the characters. However, boy howdy does this one ramp up towards the end. I sped through the last 150 pages, and when I reached the end I wanted to pick up the next book in the series right away.

Mood and tone are at the heart of this book. This is a story rooted in the Gothic, but updated for the present. New Haven, and more centrally Yale, are depicted in full gloomy detail. Setting becomes a character, with crumbling architecture, magical tombs, and houses that sigh and moan their displeasure at various happenings. Ghosts push in from every angle, and eventually even take center stage as the story progresses. And like all good reads of this nature it comes complete with secret societies, ancient rites, viscera, dread, and a cast of characters you can never quite fully trust.

Speaking of characters, I didn't think I was going to like the main character, Alex. Honestly she's hard to like. In fact, I think she'd be the first to tell you that. However, by the end I found myself really rooting for her. She experiences a satisfying character arc and I bought in to her growth. I also quite liked Darlington and Dawes. If you're hunting for romance you'll be disappointed, but if you want flawed characters you'll find them in spades.

Here's the thing, this book is a gloomy, atmospheric, horror, mystery. And if that's not your bag you will be disappointed. If you're like me and you like a creepy slow burn this will likely hit a sweet spot for you. It's a dose of Secret History swirled with Anna Dressed in Blood. It was, for me, an unexpected offering from an author I associate with speedy popcorny books - if Bardugo usually writes a summer blockbuster this is her autumn book, full of creaking trees and long walks across campus. I approve.

The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood - Melissa Albert

This book has been reviewed many many times over, so I'll keep this short and sweet.

 

Albert's writing style is lush, evocative, and very metaphor/simile heavy. It doesn't have the same simplistic style of many teen reads, and I really appreciated the language. I also appreciated that while Alice is an angry teenage girl, her anger feel earned and consistent with her character rather than her being the typical haughty brat you find so common in the genre. I enjoyed the slow build of the story as the characters wandered New York, and how the Hinterlands began to blend in with the ordinary, defamiliarizing the setting and adding a dash of creepiness to every encounter. Once you do finally reach the Hinterlands the story takes on a dreamlike quality and a surrealness I associate with Lewis Carroll. I also enjoyed the Big Reveal, and found the ending satisfying enough this book completely stands on its own (in fact, I'm a little apprehensive about sequels). This book reminded me of a fairytale version of Night Film by Marisha Pessl, in the best way. Disconcerting and uncomfortable in the way real fairytales should be I quite enjoyed this foray into the Hinterlands and look forward to reading more books by Albert in the future.

Jade City: Green Bone Saga #1

Jade City  - Fonda Lee

This book is far more crime family drama than it is a fantasy epic. That isn't a bad thing, but it was a bit of a surprise for me. Between the slow build and the tone being different than what I expected, it took me a while to settle into the groove of this one, but once I did it was fairly enjoyable.

 

The world building is really top notch, and I was interested in learning more and spending time in this universe. The characters were also well drawn, if not terribly original. The plot ticked along, building momentum as the book progressed. Lee heavily telegraphs where the story is going, and I called what was going to happen pretty early on, but that didn't really diminish any satisfaction in watching things unfold. The surprise isn't really so much what is going to happen but the specifics of precisely how and why things will unfold. All in all this is a really well crafted story.

 

So why didn't I rate it higher? Lee has quite a bit of narrative distance in her writing, and as a result I found it hard to fully connect to the characters and invest in the story. I felt like I was watching it from afar, which blunted some of its sharpness and immediacy. I'm also not a huge fan of crime family dramas, though this one did win me over in the end. I'm curious to see where this series goes, but I don't know if that curiosity will be able to win out against the sheer size of these books (I'm not a huge fan of long books). I will say this: I reeeeeeeeally want a TV show or movie to be made out of these. This story is just begging for a visual translation!

The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral

The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral - Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic, George Ermos

This week I lost my sweet dog of twelve years, and in an effort to cheer me up my lovely co-workers got me this kid's picture book. I must say it did make me laugh (which is no easy feat right now). And even cry a little (which is significantly easier). Mini review below:

 

What a morbid, darkly humorous, deeply weird, and touching little book. Gorgeously illustrated and amusingly written, this is a book about pet loss that doesn't go the saccharine sweet ooey gooey route most kid's books do. The tone might be a miss for a super sensitive child, but for the somewhat serious it will strike a chord. The cover is a pretty good indicator for what you're going to get.

In the Dream House

In the Dream House - Carmen Maria Machado

I don't generally read memoirs, but when I got a copy of this book and flipped through it I knew it was going to be something different. And having read Machado before I also knew it would be beautifully written. What I got was something so astonishingly brilliant, so unique, so gorgeous, so visceral, so undeniably raw, it broke my heart and mended it in equal measure. This book absolutely blew me away.

 

Look, I don't gush very often. I don't give out many 5 star reviews. But this book is an absolute 10 out of 10 for me. This is, primarily, a book chronicling an abusive relationship, but it is also so much more. It is queer history and essays. It uses movies, books, pop culture, and various other forms of media as reflection and allegory. It is a haunted house story, because domestic abuse is the ultimate gothic haunting. It is personal. It is analytical. It is an examination and an excavation. It is a little bit of everything, and yet it is so very much a unified whole.

 

I also have to say that I have never read a book that echoed my own experiences of abuse as much as this one - the details are different but breath for breath it was so very much the same. The moments and feelings that are so difficult to describe so perfectly worded. This book is True. And if you are a survivor you will likely find pieces of your own story here, told in such clarity you will have to remember to breathe.

 

This book is a masterpiece, and I owe a piece of my heart to Machado for writing it. If you are even remotely curious about this book pick it up. Read it. Experience it. It is worth your time and attention, and you will be changed, even if only for an afternoon, by doing so.

 

And if you are out there reading this, Carmen, I believe you. Anyone who has lived in their own Dream House who reads this believes you. It is impossible not to.

The Poppy War

The Poppy War - R. F Kuang

This book... This book disappointed me. Part of it was high expectations. I know several people, whose opinions I trust, who loved this book. I was also looking forward to reading a fantasy inspired by Chinese history. I was excited about this one. So yeah, disappointment is certainly a factor here.

 

What I expected was something really fresh and new. So imagine my surprise when this book is trope after trope. You could play trope bingo with this one pretty successfully. It's also got some serious Harry Potter vibes early on. And some pretty significant anime vibes too. (The whole school yard to war thing. The gang of superpowered misfits in a rogue branch of the army. Summoning Suzaku...err...I mean the Phoenix.) It doesn't feel original in the slightest, and when so much of the book is also directly lifted from history there's not much left to stand out as creatively unique. That's not in and of itself damning, but it did take me by surprise.

 

However, what surprised me most are the undercurrents of strong anti-Japanese sentiment. You could make an argument that this is authorial voice. And honestly I'd be open to hearing compelling evidence supporting that stance. Unfortunately, I'm trained to read closely (blame my degree), and even if I could overlook the way this book ends (which I can't), or the way the Japanese are portrayed (again, hard to do), even word choices raised red flags. I get it: this is based off a point in time that is a very dark and ugly stain on Japanese history. Not disputing that in the least. It's abhorrent. But the way this is written is very uncomfortable in ways I'm not sure are intended. (And if they are intended, oh lordy is that even worse.) And then there is the entire issue of the way the Speerly people are written, which is a whole other can of worms (really problematic as well). It makes me deeply suspicious of the book and breaks all my trust in the author.

 

I might *maybe* have been able to overlook the tropes, and the uncomfortable undercurrents. Maybe. Possibly. But I had so many other little issues along the way as well. I couldn't stand the main character, Rin. I found her lack of growth frustrating and continued blunders repetitive. I thought the book was overwritten and far too long. Or perhaps, more compellingly, three books shoehorned awkwardly into one as the tone shifts were so jarring. And then there's the fact that the book seems totally onboard with abusive relationships. (Example: the glorification of an emotionally & physically abusive character, complete with the main character saying, "Who would I be without (them)?" Fucking gross.) And there's also the atrocity fatigue where it gets to the point where the author seems more intent on giving you a full litany of grotesqueries than crafting a scene that actually makes you feel something. I could probably go on. But really this book died a death of a thousand cuts for me. The longer I read it the less I liked it, and when I reached the end I was genuinely pissed off I had stuck it out. Especially given the way the book ended.

 

Look, here's the thing, these things aren't going to bother everyone. Some people are just going to be excited to be reading a more diverse book. And that's fine. We need more books written about other cultures by non-white authors. Lots more. Many many more. It makes it difficult to judge a book harshly when it represents an underserved minority of voices. I get that. That said, I don't think this is a good book. It needed more editing, and the author needs more time to hone their craft. Maybe I'll try Kuang again sometime down the road, but not for this trilogy.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing - Marie Kondō

I was one of those people who made fun of this book when it came out. I watched it fly off shelves and take over the cultural dialogue, and I thought it was silly. Why all this hubbub about cleaning up your house? C'mon people, this isn't revolutionary - just clean your damn house. Well, here I am a couple years later, and...I was so wrong. This book, and I genuinely from the bottom of my heart mean this, changed my damn life. I'm only halfway through completing my home, but I've already noticed seismic shifts in my thinking and mood.

 

KonMari isn't about cleaning. Not really. This is about examining your relationships with objects, and how the way you interact with the things in your life reflects other deeper patterns. I've learned so much about myself through this process. It has been deeply illuminating, and rewarding. And hey, at the end of the process you have a tidy space that makes you more happy. I haven't felt this light in decades.

 

Not everything in this book resonated with me, but the process speaks for itself. There are some details that work for me and some that don't. (I'm never going to be the type of person that empties their entire purse every day when they get home, or thanks a toothbrush before throwing it away.) Kondo's Shinto influence is strong throughout this book and may turn some people off. But, and I can't stress this enough, there is something to be learned in examining how we interact with our possessions. So yeah, I get why people make fun of this, but I encourage them to try it all the same.

Your Soul is a River

Your Soul is a River - Nikita Gill

I want to press this book into the hands of everyone who has a broken heart, everyone struggling to figure themselves out, everyone who feels like a failure or lesser, everyone who has been through a terrible loss, especially a break-up. You know how there are never good words for times like those? How everything sounds hollow, trite, or cliche? These are the words you struggle to find in times like those. This is a lovely book of sage perspectives and observations about the heart, how it breaks, and how it mends. This book is like a compassionate friend sitting by your side, seeing you, and telling you there is light. Caveat: Super technical and lyrical poetry this is not, but that's not really what this book is doing. The craft of this poetry is very sparse, and at times repetitive, but I took that to be its intended function. If you're looking for dense and lush this will not be your bag. If you want conversational and minimalist this will strike a chord.

Deer Woman: An Anthology

Deer Woman - Elizabeth LaPensée, Weshoyot Alvitre

Rating anthologies is difficult - there are almost always going to be some pieces that stand out ahead of the crowd, and some that fall a little flat. Overall, however, this was a really good collection. This anthology collects stories from a wide range of indigenous authors and illustrators (I think all women, but I don't want to assume). These stories center around the Deer Woman, and by extension the abuse that many indigenous people, especially women, face. This book is a gut punch, but it's well worth reading. The art styles are all so different, but they compliment the stories being told. The stories themselves range from brief to detailed, raw to meditative, plain spoken to lyrical. Each different but unified in theme. I'm really glad Rebecca Roanhorse put this on my radar, and that a friend tracked it down at a comic convention. If you can get your hands on it you should absolutely do so.

Darkdawn: Book #3 of the Nevernight Chronicles

Darkdawn (The Nevernight Chronicle #3) - Jay Kristoff

You’re not reading a review of the third book in a trilogy to decide whether or not to read the series. You’re reading a review to find out whether or not the author sticks the landing. Whether or not the conclusion is satisfying. Whether the big questions are answered and the plot wraps itself up in a meaningful way. And the answer to your question is yes. In my opinion Kristoff absolutely nails it.

 

Without spoilers, here are some of the things you can expect from this book: Old friends from the previous books putting in appearances. New friends, because why not make a few new friends along the way. Pretty much every enemy you can think of also putting in an appearance. Pirates. You heard that right: pirates. Mythology and divinity revealed. True love. Epic battles. Derring do. Snarky footnotes. Sexy times. Cool assassin shit. Creepy blood magic. Watching characters you probably love die (if you think this is a spoiler you haven't read the first two books). Watching characters you probably hate also die (see previous comment). Leveling Up. Worldbuilding (yes, even in the last book). Some meta as hell stuff that made me smile. Plenty of action as well as brooding. And, arguably the most important part, closing the chapter on Mia's story.

 

Look, if you liked the other two books you will like this. And I feel it's safe to say that if you loved the other two books you'll love this one too. I know I did. I feel satisfied with the conclusion of this trilogy, and at the same time I'd love to read a new trilogy set in this world. And that's how I can tell it was a good ending.

 

Darkdawn hits shelves in September.

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