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.

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 - 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.

The Only Harmless Great Thing

The Only Harmless Great Thing - Brooke Bolander

I decided to pick this slender volume up because of its recent Nebula win for best novelette. This very much feels like a book centered around an idea more than a story, which isn't a bad thing but is worth noting. This is also a book that asks a lot of questions and posits some interesting answers.

 

What if the Radium Girls were replaced by elephants? What if those elephants could communicate with us and vice versa? What if elephants were also caretakers of stories, and generational knowledge that stretched back to the beginning of history, and could endure far into the future? What if we used those elephants as sign posts, warnings, in a distant future that may or may not have language?

 

This short book takes on a lot. Due to the length and ambition there are some things that just can't be focused on. There are multiple points of view and timelines, which means you never get to spend very long with any of them. Nonetheless you get the idea. And as I said earlier, the idea is the thing. This is a well crafted, tightly packed, little story. The only reason I don't rate it higher was because it wasn't quite to my taste.

She/He/They/Me

She/He/They/Me: For the Sisters, Misters, and Binary Resisters - Robyn Ryle

This was so wildly disappointing. Given the title and cover design I was expecting a book that explores numerous different gender expressions and experiences. What I got was an extremely binary book. I took a few different paths and discovered, to great disappointment, that the bulk of the book focuses on very binary experiences. It seems designed for cisgender stories. If you try to follow a genderqueer path good luck. There is a branch where you have to pick either acceptance or rejection from your family at a young age. If you pick rejection the rest of the branch reads as cis. If you pick acceptance and are nonbinary you get a page at best, then proceed down the same path. Even if you take a trans branch the later sections overlap with the cis ones. It's really frustrating.

Here's the thing: there's a lot of good info in this book for those who are new to ideas of gender and feminism. It's a decent primer for people who are not familiar with these concepts at all. However, if you're well versed in gender, or a member of the queer community, the odds are good you will find this book off-putting or alienating. After interacting with this book for several hours I really want someone to write the book I thought this would be when I picked it up. I'm glad I borrowed this one and didn't buy it.

The Folk of the Air

The Folk Of The Air - Peter S. Beagle

This book is decades old, out of print, and has been reviewed and picked apart many times over, so I'll try to keep my review short.

 

This is my second Peter Beagle book, and once again I'm struck by his language. This book in particular is 90% mood and atmosphere, 10% story. There is a plot, and there are characters (well drawn ones at that), but that all comes secondary to evoking a strong sense of place and mood. In fact, I'd say this book is just one big Mood. And that's kind of wonderful. Fantasy from this era has such a distinct feel - it drew me back in time to my youth, reading books much like this one and being transported.

 

It's also worth remarking upon how gentle this book is. There's a core of compassion that I haven't seen often in books of any genre. It hits upon bittersweetness, youth, optimism, and naivety. It paints people lovingly, even when they aren't perhaps the most lovable. It has also aged, in my opinion, very well in the treatment of women. The ladies in this book have agency and strength, and are probably the most compelling and well-rounded characters in the story.

 

I don't particularly have any criticisms of this book - the only reason my rating isn't higher is because I prefer a swifter story. This book is like laying in a lazy river, slowly being pulled downstream, and watching the sun wink through the tree branches overhead. It's a lovely journey. I just happen to like a few more rapids in my rivers.

Aurora Rising (Aurora Cycle #1)

Aurora Rising (The Aurora Cycle #1) - Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman

First and foremost a lot of people have asked whether this has a similar layout and structure as the Illuminae Files. No. No, it doesn't. Just standard prose with alternating POV chapters. So do with that what you will. Moving on...

 

This book just made me happy. I was only a handful of pages in before I realized I was grinning. I forgot just what a delight Kaufman and Kristoff are when they write together. The writing is snappy, funny, full of All The Feels, and has plenty of interesting sci-fi ideas and neat spins. It's just plain fun to read.

 

This book offers up some of my favorite things, so I was pretty much predisposed to love it. Yet it did not disappoint. It focuses on a group of mismatched broken rejects, which you know in your heart of hearts will end up becoming a found family by the end (sorry, I don't consider that a spoiler), which is catnip for me. There is a heist. There are feats of derring-do. There is budding romance. And there is even a creepy element, which shouldn't have surprised me given what goes down in the Illuminae Files, but I was delightfully surprised to uncover as the book progressed.

 

This book had the pacing, characterization, and content I want out of my teen reads. It kept me turning pages well into the night and was a blast to read. I am absolutely pre-ordering the next in the series and I'm sure I'll gobble it up as well. Kaufman & Kristoff have more than proved themselves to me at this point. High literature? Nah. A damn good time? Absolutely.

Sunstone #6 aka Mercy #1

Sunstone: Mercy #1 - Stjepan Sejic

Prequel! At this point you should know what to expect from this series. While this is the sixth installment in the series as a whole it is also the first in the new story arc, and it follows Alan and Anne at the beginnings of their stories before they meet. The art is phenomenal, as always. And I still like these people - it's kind of interesting seeing where they began. I will say if you've recently read earlier issues, or you have a good memory, a lot of this info has already been covered or implied. That said, there are plenty of cute moments, and sexy ones as well. My only real complaint is it's just a bit weird to be going so far back in time.

If They Come for Us

If They Come for Us - Fatimah K. Asghar

This collection pulls threads from the past and weaves them into the tapestry of the present. Looking back at the past of nations, peoples, and her own family and self, Asghar speaks both to where we have been and where we are now. There is a melancholic beauty that echoes through these poems that can only come from loss and discovery. Honest, sparse, and meditative, I appreciated this collection for its heart and vision.

Storm of Locusts (Sixth World #2)

Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2) - Rebecca Roanhorse

In my opinion this is one of those rare unicorns: the sophomore sequel that's better than the first in the series. If you've read Trail of Lightning you already have an idea of what to expect. Roanhorse remains a master at world building, and her characters are complex and multi-layered. This book builds on that, and I think also improves on the first. The pacing is better and I actually enjoyed Maggie more in this book, and felt like she had more depth. I also applaud Roanhorse for writing a teenage character that managed to feel authentically youthful and rebellious, but I didn't want to smack. Quite the trick.

 

Of course one of the core concepts that stole my heart was the lady's road trip from hell. It's right on the cover in full shiny glory. I mean, hell yes to that. But wait, there's more! This book also has creepy locust people. And magic. And post-apocalyptic wasteland dwellers. And leveling up, both in powers and in self-growth. And a super epic lightning sword. And mysterious Gods that may or may not have your best interests in mind. And pages and pages about learning to trust and be softer when life has taught you to be hard. And found families. And all around badassery. Just yes to this book. If you aren't reading Roanhorse already, and you like urban fantasy, or just fantasy in general, then get your butt in gear and pick this series up.

An Unkindness of Ghosts

An Unkindness of Ghosts - Rivers Solomon

This is a really good book. And I did not like it at all. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

 

This book is a slave narrative filled with all the horror that entails. It is also, primarily, a character study. Solomon does, I think, a good job at drawing a complex and rich portrait of a queer black woman who sits somewhere upon the autism scale, and who has a history of abuse and trauma. This is no small feat, and Solomon's writing is up to the task.

 

The problem, for me, was that this was not a character I wanted to spend time with, nor was it a world I wanted to inhabit. Picking the book was a struggle every time. Were I reading this book from an academic perspective it would have a lot of merit and plenty to chew on. Reading it for pleasure, however, was absolutely draining.

 

This is going to be a taste thing. For me it's also a timing thing. It's not to say that I need a constant stream of optimistic stories dripping in rainbow glitter, but I do need some relief when it comes to my reading right now. Because I am Tired. So yes, this is a good book. And if reading a book about the evils of slavery and what it does to people sounds like something you're up for I recommend it. For me it was too much heartbreak and not enough payoff.

Fence: Volume 1

Fence, Vol. 1 - C.S. Pacat

This title swirls together the feel of a sports manga with the enemies to lover romance trope (at least, that's where it seems like this is going - I could be wrong). Except it's also super queer. And I am so here for it. I can tell the writing is doing its job because I am genuinely invested in these boys and on the edge of my seat waiting to see who wins each bout. The art is a perfect fit with lots of clean lines, good use of negative space, and a sweet style to the character design that nods to the story's roots. This was a delightful, and fast paced, read.

DIE: Volume #1 - Fantasy Heartbreaker

Die Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker (Die #1-5) - Stephanie Hans, Kieron Gillen

Really stunning all across the board. The art is stylistically interesting and really lovely to look at - despite the detail work it feels very smooth and dreamy. The story itself hits me right where I live, so to speak. A bunch of teens in the 90s play an RPG that transports them into the fantasy world, and when they emerge they aren't the same. When they return as adults it's even more fraught. I loved the world-building and game work that went into this, as well as this being a story about gamers that was so clearly written by someone who has been a part of that culture. Brooding and dripping with regret, rooted in fantasy tropes that have been twisted enough to be fresh, and meditative on the nature of fantasy and collective reality. I really loved this collection and look forward to more.

(Read as single issues.)

Lord of the Butterflies

Lord of the Butterflies - Andrea Gibson

I usually prefer to write my own reviews, but the write up in the back of this book nails it so perfectly I have to steal it:

 

"In a fierce oscillation between activism and love, Andrea's most recent literary triumph, Lord of the Butterflies, is a book of protests, panic attacks, and pride parades. These poems riot against gun violence, homophobia, and white supremacy, while jubilating gender expansion, queer love, and the will to stay alive."

 

A perfect summary. Written with all the passion I've come to expect from Gibson this collection has teeth. Political, queer, brutally raw, heart-wrenchingly honest, and fierce as hell these poems hit me right in the heart - my thanks to Gibson for writing them.

Obits.

Obits. - Tess Liem

Liem has assembled a collection of poems in conversation with one another, and what a conversation. Liem spins a eulogy for both known and unknown women, as well as herself, within a world where women are nameless and forgotten. Sparse in language yet striking, these poems are simultaneously grounded and emotional. A feminist rumination I will be thinking on for quite some time.

 

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

Unnatural: Volume 1 - Awakening

Unnatural, Volume 1: Awakening - Mirka Andolfo

Well that was weird. Not in a bad way, but not what I was expecting. The art in this one is lovely, using lots of color and a round style that reminds me a bit of manga (though just a bit). The story blends mystery and dystopia with a touch of erotica - what starts out as a somewhat sweet slice-of-life story gets progressively darker as the story progresses. My one real complaint is that sentence for sentence the writing isn't great. I suspect, however, that might be a translation issue. I'm curious to see where this one goes.

Exit Strategy: Murderbot Diary #4

Exit Strategy - Martha Wells

The final installation in the Murderbot novellas. I'm always nervous about endings, and I think this one was solid. The story curves back around to the beginning as Murderbot reunites with the humans it met in the first story. The bulk of this book is focused on a rescue mission and tying things together, so there isn't as much time for humor and awkwardness. There also isn't a new robot pal to meet in this one, like there were in books two and three. However, I personally didn't mind the more narrow focus. Murderbot got to be a badass, make some big decisions, and evolve as a character. All in all I was satisfied with the closing of this particular storyline, and I'm super excited to see what happens in the future with the full length novel. Bring on more Murderbot!

Currently reading

The Poppy War
R. F Kuang
Your Soul is a River
Nikita Gill