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.

Motor Crush: Volume 2

Motor Crush Volume 2 - Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr

I wish I hadn't waited so long between reading the first volume and this one - it took me a while to get back into it, and remember who was who and what was going on. The time jump and storytelling that skips around didn't help. That said, Motor Crush remains a delight. The writing, world building, and characters are interesting and snappy. And the art is just so juicy and bright every panel is a wonder. Looking forward to seeing how this series wraps up!

We Are Legion (We are Bob)

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse) (Volume 1) - Dennis E. Taylor

Look, I don't enjoy writing bad reviews, so I apologize in advance if this steps all over someone's feelings. I just...have feelings of my own.

 

If you took a concept from Iain Banks and then had Ernest Cline write it while he was drunk and sleep deprived this is probably what you would get. This book is so poorly written I wanted to throw it across the room on several occasions. It's never a good sign when you start yelling, "NO!" at the page because of shoddy writing craft. That said, this book does move along at a decent clip once you get off world, so I will concede it was a quick read.

 

Perhaps most damning is that Bob is pretty intolerable, and boy howdy is there a lot of Bob in here. Bob is the sort of character that thinks he's super clever (he's not) and everyone else is an idiot (they aren't), and he finds his own immaturity oh so charming (it isn't). He reminds me of every nerdy guy who has ever started of a sentence with, "Well actually..." before mansplaining some pop culture reference to me. Screw you, Bob. *deep breath*

 

So why two stars instead of one? Honestly I enjoyed some of the concepts in here and the space opera was fun. There are story elements in here I found enjoyable. I love the idea of reading about sentient Von Neumann probes, I just wish Banks had written it instead. There will be people who will love this one. I was not one of them.

The Cold is in Her Bones

The Cold is In Her Bones - Peternelle van Arsdale

This might be the most bleak thing I've read in years. And that's saying something. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's not what I was expecting at all. Van Arsdale does such a good job of forming a sense of oppression that the book is suffocatingly claustrophobic. Even after the story moves from the tiny farm and out into the larger world it still has a feel of a small enclosed space. The magic and storytelling in this one is very surreal and rooted more in feel than in any real explanation or hard and fast rules. The creatures were unsettling and haunting, and the world dark and creepy.

 

At it's core this is a book about a feeling more than a plot. It's themes of feminism and oppression are woven into the fabric of the story, and you can feel this world closing around the characters like a fist. All in all I liked this book, but it is in no way a fun adventure story. It's a dreamlike meditation on how intolerably the world shrinks when you're forced into the silent mould of the obedient and powerless daughter rather than being allowed to grow into a bright and fully realized woman.

Sea of Rust

Sea of Rust - C. Robert Cargill

This is a perfectly serviceable popcorn book. Take a robot apocalypse novel, stir in a good dose of western, and just a dash of <i>Mad Max</i>, and this is what you get. It's an adventure, and to a lesser degree an examination of what makes us human. The robots in this book, for better or worse, all feel very human. I'm fairly certain that was a deliberate choice by the author, and part of the point in some cases, but to me it also felt like a missed opportunity. Then again, that might be me just wishing this was a different type of book altogether. As is it hits all the adventure beats and keeps pages turning at a good clip. Brittle makes for good company as the story barrels forward. This book has a strong sense of fun about it, and will make for good light reading for sci-fi fans. If, however, you find AI terrifying you might want to give this one a pass. It's hard to enjoy a fun romp when you can't stop thinking about how all the robots murdered humanity and poisoned the world. It rather puts a damper on things. Your milage may vary.

City of Ghosts

City of Ghosts - Victoria Schwab

I just...can't get into middle grade fiction. I keep trying, and I figured if anyone could convert me it would be the enormously talented and charming Victoria Schwab, and yet... Look, here's the thing: I would have adored this book when I was younger. It's gloomy, creepy, adventurous, and has characters I enjoyed. The way Schwab brings Scotland to life is deliciously macabre. It's an excellent middle grade read, and I look forward to recommending it to youngsters aplenty. It's just that while I totally appreciated what this book was doing it wasn't made for me. Which is fine. Nay, it's even good - there need to be more books like this written for this age group. I just need to stop reading them and thinking they will click with me.

The Bloody Chamber

The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories - Angela Carter, Kelly Link

It's sort of weird that it took me so long to read Angela Carter - dark feminist leaning fairytale retellings are near and dear to my heart. This collection took me a while to get through, though that's no fault of the stories themselves. Carter's writing is rich, sumptuous, and dense enough it's worth taking your time to read. There were moments where the writing itself dazzled me as much as the storytelling. The stories do tent to run together a bit, which is why I took breaks and read this collection in between other books. All in all I liked this collection, though I'll admit I was hoping for it to be a bit darker after everything I had heard. If you're looking for solid horror this collection doesn't quite deliver, but if you're looking for something a bit on the dark side this comes through in spades.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day - Seanan McGuire

I don't actually have a lot to say about this slender novella. One of the things I like about McGuire is that her world building often feels unique and surprising, and this story was no exception - I enjoyed the magic and world she built. The book was atmospheric and melancholy, which I appreciated. I also liked her treatment of the themes of loss, depression, and how living means more than simply existing. Where this book fell down for me is that it wasn't quite what I wanted it to be. I was really wanting a ghost story, and while it is literally that, it feels more like an urban fantasy. There are more trappings of an urban fantasy romp here than a gothic horror, and while that's not really damning it's not really what I was craving. All in all I liked it, but it wasn't quite the story I was hunting for.

In An Absent Dream

In an Absent Dream - Seanan McGuire

McGuire's Wayward Children books have become one of the things I look forward to the most every winter. The way she transports me through the looking glass time and again is something to be treasured. Portal fiction at it's finest.

 

This installation gives us the story of Lundy, a character who meets a grim ending in the first book of the series. While I didn't particularly feel like Lundy's story was something I needed filled in, and I want to know what's happening with the other wayward children moving forward in time, I did enjoy this book. The goblin market captured my imagination, and there were some really interesting ethical threads McGuire tugs on in this story. This was a world of rules, in stark contrast to the world of nonsense you visit in the previous book. It was well constructed, intriguing, and continues to stick in my mind well after finishing the book. And Lundy herself is as interesting as she is tragic, and the lessons she learns are difficult ones.

 

If you love this series as much as I do this book will not disappoint. Keep them coming, Seanan McGuire. I will happily read these year after year until I'm old and withered.

Blanca & Roja: Or, the Snow White/Swan Lake mash-up you didn't know you needed

Blanca & Roja - Anna-Marie McLemore

Everything Anna-Marie McLemore writes is gorgeous. I know that's not much of a review, but I'm tempted to just leave it at that. If you haven't read her books you should. And if you have then you know what to expect. This book is beautifully written, with characters that made my heart ache, and a story infused with dreamy surreal magic. It was lush, lovely, and worth savoring. Oh, and it's a Snow White, Rose Red, Swan Lake mash-up, if that speaks to you. And if re-tellings aren't your thing don't sweat it - this one has enough originality it stands all on its own.

A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel - Paul Tremblay

I liked this, but I didn't love it, and over a month later I'm still not sure I can pinpoint why. But I'm going to try. This book definitely gets its creep on - there are a couple scenes that will stick with me for a good long while. The scene is set masterfully, and I'm absolutely transported to this household as it falls apart. It has mood and atmosphere galore, and I think the characters are well drawn.

 

I think the hurdle for me was that I've never been nearly as invested in psychological horror as I am the supernatural variety. Mental illness and the like don't freak me out, they make me sad. It's hard to be scared when you're reflecting on how devastating it is to care about someone who has crippling mental issues. I'm fully willing to acknowledge that's probably not going to be the case for most people. Nonetheless it was something I took to the table and it absolutely impacted my interactions with this story. If psychological horror, religious fervor, demonic exorcisms, madness, and family drama are things that interest you absolutely give this one a shot - it will likely scare the hell out of you. If, however, you're like me and those things hit a bit of a sour note you might want to skip this one. Your milage will likely vary.

Self-editing for Fiction Writers

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print - Renni Browne, Dave    King

Plenty of solid advice and very easy to read. I definitely gleaned some useful takeaways, and picking it up for a chapter or two was never a slog. On the other hand, I felt there were far too many examples and exercises (which I did not use) padding out the text. A good book on editing, but when you shave off the extras it's more slender than you might suspect.

This Monstrous Thing: Or Steampunk Frankenstein

This Monstrous Thing - Mackenzi Lee

I've been putting off writing a review for this book because I still can't figure out what to say about it. It's steampunk Frankenstein, so if that sounds appealing to you then snap it up post-haste. If you're not a steampunk fan, well, know what you are getting into.

 

Lee does an excellent job evoking the past in all her books, and this one is no exception. The interesting thing is that she infuses her world with machinery and mechanical men. It almost has a cyberpunk quality in that so much of the book is concerned with the divide between machine and man, and at what point when adding machinery and subtracting flesh does a man cease being human. It's an interesting direction to take the story, and there are also some astute comments of disability and social standing.

 

Where the book flagged for me was that I went into it wanting a story about brotherhood, and to watch these two brothers grapple with one another throughout the narrative. However, much like the source of inspiration, the two spend most of the book separated and only clash at the ending. This is all well and good, it's just not the story I wanted. While the book spent lavish detail and time exploring other characters and locales I found myself frustrated that it wasn't spending its time on things that interested me more. It doesn't feel fair to be critical of a book for not being what you want it to be, especially when it does a fine job in every other respect, but here I am.

 

If you dig steampunk you will likely enjoy this book. If you like historical fiction with a twist you will likely enjoy this book. If you want to read an interesting re-telling of Frankenstein you will also likely enjoy this book. If you want a story of brothers at odds with one another, and an exploration of their relationship, this will likely not hit the mark for you.

The Frangipani Hotel: Or Vietnamese Ghost Stories Galore

The Frangipani Hotel: Fiction - Violet Kupersmith

I'm never quite sure how to review short story collections, so bear with me. These stories all share a sense of unease and creeping dread, which is something I enjoy in my ghost stories. There are plenty of spooky ghosts, unsettling scenarios, and narratives that leave your skin crawling. They have a feeling of tapping into urban legends and traditional folk tales (though I don't know enough about Vietnamese culture to say whether that is accurate or not). The connective tissue that holds these stories together is a different ghost though - the specter of the Vietnam War looms in the background of all of these stories, grim and devastating.

 

I enjoyed this collection, and it satisfied my spooky October itch, but it never fully blew me away. I couldn't really say why other than it's really hard to wow me with shorter fiction. I will say many of the stories share a similar structure and part of that structure includes abrupt endings. This didn't bother me, per se, but it did start to feel repetitive when reading the collection straight through. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I had spaced the stories out in between other fictions. All in all this is a solid collection, and I'm glad I read it. If you're looking for ghost stories with a Vietnamese flavor these will likely satisfy.

Open Your Mouth Like a Bell

Open Your Mouth Like a Bell - Mindy Nettifee

Mindy Nettifee won my heart years ago with her collection Rise of the Trust Fall, and she has yet to disappoint me since. Insightful, lyrical, and straight from the heart Nettifee's verse hits me right between the eyes and in the blood. Filled with several poems written surrounding the 2016 election there is a political core here that resonates strongly with me. I am so very thankful for her voice.

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats & Piracy

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy - Mackenzi Lee

If Gentleman's Guide is a queer romantic romp then Lady's Guide is a girl power anthem. The heart of this book revolves around the way women walk through the world, see themselves, and interact with each other. Felicity has to navigate a landscape that continually tries to force her down paths she'd rather not take until she can realize the real trap is trying to follow the map others have laid before her. She needs to discover her own way, and her own truth.

 

There are so many wonderful lessons in here, especially for younger women just starting to figure out who they are and who they want to be. There is also some truly fantastic representation. The ladies in this book are all varied and believable, and there is quite possibly the best representation of an ace character I've ever seen. There's also adventure, and sea serpents, and pirates, and science. Monty and Percy even make a cameo or two. Which is all absolutely wonderful.

 

The trouble comes, for me, in that the lessons at the core of the book take front and center, and they are hammered home pretty hard and pretty repeatedly. At this point in my life reading a book about how hard it is to be a woman, and how one must believe in oneself, is not just preaching to the choir, it's exhausting. Been there, done that, handed the T-shirts out at the rally. Here's the thing: I'm not the demographic for this book. I love that this book exists. I'm excited to press it into the hands of young women. But it missed the mark a tad for me. I love Mackenzi Lee so much for writing this book, even if I didn't wholeheartedly love this book as much as I wanted to.

 

If you want this book be the lighthearted romp Gentleman's Guide was you might be disappointed. But if you want to read Felicity's journey to empowerment with her equally powerful gal pals this one will likely tickle you to no end.

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice & Virtue

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue - Mackenzi Lee

When my co-workers started breathlessly glowing about this book I'll admit I was dubious. I'm not a fan of historical fiction, I don't usually like long books, and I'm picky about my romances. I avoided reading this one for about a year until my store announced we would be hosting Lee for a signing. At that point I figured I might as well give it a shot. I'm so glad I did!

 

I've read a lot of books in recent years that I've really enjoyed, maybe even loved, but very few of them were as fun as this one. I think I've become jaded. Rare is the book that I can't put down, that I can't wait to steal a moment in order to read, that keeps me reading past my bedtime. This was that book for me. It was just so damn fun!

 

Monty was a walking human disaster, the epitome of Bad Life Choices the Person. His voice charmed me - he made me cringe and laugh in equal measures. I also fell in love with Percy almost immediately. Watching them stumble through the plot, and Europe, was a grand adventure. Sprinkled amidst the adventure there was plenty of heart as well. Even though the primary tension in the romance was a lack of communication, which usually makes me nuts, I understood the reasons why characters made the mistakes they did. I was all aflutter despite myself. I also thought the explorations of race, abuse, illness, and queer identity were all handled with a light touch, and rang true and poignant. In short, I cared about these people and I found them believable.

 

There is a bit of a fantasy element stirred in, but it rather gets buried. At its core Gentleman's Guide is, through and through, a good, old-fashioned romp. It's an adventure and a romance with just a hint of the fantastic. Complete with wit, action, adventure, and an emotional core that left me laughing and hurting in equal measure, it was a recipe that made for a read I couldn't wait to dig back into whenever I got a chance. For me this was the literary equivalent of a warm mug of cocoa on a chilly night.