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 1

Motor Crush Volume 1 - Babs Tarr, Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart

This book has so many things to love. Fast, snappy, writing. Diverse and interesting characters. A unique and captivating sci-fi world. Action and intrigue. Art that evokes a bubblegummy retro anime vibe, with plenty of emotion, excellent panel layout, and fun future-punk flourishes. I'm hooked and can't wait for volume 2!

Wild Beauty: Or, the most beautiful, and scary, garden I've ever read about

Wild Beauty - Anna-Marie McLemore

McLemore is one of those rare authors that consistently impresses me with the beauty of her prose. I find myself slowing down and reading her books in small bites, so I can savor the language. The writing in this book matches the cover - the world she has created is bursting with color, both as description and symbolism. The garden of La Pradera comes to life is brilliant detail - you can smell the blossoms, the dirt, and the cooking. Simply put its a feast for the senses captured on the page.

 

The story itself is about love, both romantic and familial. Populated with queer characters, as unique and lovely as their floral namesakes, this is a story about the bonds that pull us apart or closer together. About family. About young love and infatuation. About loss and heartache. Filled with both elation and tears, this is a story that centers on the heart. If you enjoy magical realism, stories filled with emotion and a rich setting, or just want to read something beautiful, this book is not to be missed.

Beneath the Sugar Sky: Wayward Children #3

Beneath the Sugar Sky - Seanan McGuire

Alright, it's official: I love this series. Visiting McGuire's Wayward Children series is like finding my door. No matter what world she takes us to I'm entranced by how distinct and vivid each one is and how they come to life. Getting to see Nancy's Halls of the Dead was a beautiful treat, and the world of Confection was so richly described I could smell the sugar. There is also something delightful about a bunch of "logic" characters, and fairly goth ones at that, wandering through a "nonsense" candy land and disliking it immensely. It was great getting to know Christopher more, and I was thrilled to get to spend more time with Kade, whom I adore.

 

If there was one thing about this book that didn't wow me it was that so much of it was from the perspective of a new character, Cora. I just wasn't terribly invested in her, and I wish less emphasis had been put on her identity as "the fat girl." I get what McGuire was doing, by trying to emphasize that there is so much more to her than her weight, but by pulling it constantly to the foreground some of that work was undermined. One of the things that's great about this series is the diverse cast, and Cora fits in nicely in that way, but the other identities aren't harped on in the same way (which is good). So yes to characters with larger body types, but no to constantly pointing it out. It's nit-picky of me, to be sure, but when the rest of the book was so wonderful it stood out.

 

If you've ever enjoyed portal fiction you owe yourself these books. They are truly gems. I just hope McGuire writes many many more over the years. I'm already looking forward to the next, and this one hasn't even been released yet.

 

Thank you to Tor for the review copy! Beneath the Sugar Sky hits bookstores on January 9th, 2018.

Our Dark Duet: Monsters of Verity #2

Our Dark Duet - Victoria Schwab

I thought I knew what to expect from this book. I was wrong.

Here's the thing, I don't really want to write a review for this one. If you've read This Savage Song then you already know about Verity and it's monsters. You know the characters, the world, and how Schwab writes. You already know whether or not you want to read this book. Ultimately anything I say is unlikely to influence that decision. So let's leave it here: I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed how the world expanded and we got new layers. I enjoyed how people changed and grew. And beyond that I'm not going to say a damn thing. I went into this one without any expectations other than knowing Schwab never disappoints, and I was right. If you liked the first in the series then you should pick this one up post-haste.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing: Or, Austen in the future.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing - E. Russell Johnston Jr.

Do you like regency stories? Ones with coming out balls for young ladies, elaborate teas, and awkward exchanges between suitors while they try to remain proper? Do you, in fact, love all that stuff but wish those stories had more diversity in their casts? Yes? Then you should read this book. It has all of that and more, and captures that light floaty tone impeccably.

I, however, don't particularly care for any of those things, which is why this book didn't blow my socks off. It's not you, book, it's me. The premise really intrigued me on this one - I was expecting much more of a sci-fi influence. Really though, it just feels like a regency romance with some technology and alternate history sprinkled in. Which is totally fine, but not what I was hoping for.

There's a lot to love about this book. The diverse cast was refreshing. The world was interesting. The tone was carefully crafted and the prose decent. And I will say I quite liked the ending, which is why I'm giving the book as many stars as I am. I can already tell this is going to be a lot of people's favorite book of the year. As for me it wasn't really my cup of tea. If you're looking for intricate sci-fi and cultural analysis this one might be a miss for you. If you want a fluffy yet diverse regency romance then snap this one up post-haste.

The Language of Thorns: Or, the Grishaverse meets Grimm

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic - Sara Kipin, Leigh Bardugo

Whether you are familiar with Bardugo's Grishaverse or not this book is perfect to snuggle up to on a cold night. The book itself is gorgeous and a pleasure to read. With full color art on every page, that expands in tandem with the story, turning each page is a discovery - between Bardugo's words and Kipin's illustrations these dark fairytales come to life. The stories themselves riff off of familiar fairytales and folk stories, and give each a new turn. It was also fun returning to Bardugo's world and reading some of the stories I imagine her characters heard while huddled around a hearth on a winter night. Equal parts grim and magical this collection enchanted me.

Bird Box: Or, the scariest book I've read in years.

Bird Box - Josh Malerman

Every fall I read all the scary books that have piled up over the year(s), many of which are recommendations from friends and co-workers. And every fall I'm disappointed because none of them are actually scary. Not this year. This book actually scared the hell out of me. In fact, it had been so long since a book scared me that I forgot what that felt like - I have become so jaded that when people tell me they had nightmares or lost sleep I internally laugh. But no, this book actually gave me a nightmare, and the story stuck with me for weeks after setting it down. It was genuinely terrifying...and I loved it.

 

This was another book I went into without knowing anything about it, and once again I'm glad. As the story of what happened before is slowly revealed at the same time as the present action it only made the events more frightening. You knew things were going to go badly, but you didn't know exactly how or why, which added to the suspense and tension. The idea of there being something out there that could hurt you if you so much as looked at it, and having to keep your eyes shut while horror unfolds around you, is so unbelievably frightening. The sense of vulnerability and helplessness is palpable. In a way it mirrors the concept of unseeable and unknowable terror that Lovecraft favored, except actually executed with adept craft and striking results. I will say that I had mixed feelings on the ending, but after a few weeks I've warmed up to it.

 

I'm afraid that if I say more it might water down the joy of reading this book for the first time. If you've been looking for something genuinely frightening you owe yourself this book. If you scare easy know this might push your buttons, and steer clear if you don't like being frightened - this one will actually have you jumping at shadows. I for one feel like this is the book I've been searching for, for many years, without even realizing it.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things: Or, creepy book is creepy, except when it isn't.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things: A Novel - Iain Reid

I intentionally went into this book without reading the back or anything about it - all I knew was that my co-workers said it was scary. One of the original tag lines for this book was that you would be scared but you wouldn't know why, and I actually agree with that assessment. There is a layer of unease and tension that lies over every scene, especially in the first two thirds. I just felt creeped out, even when nothing frightening was going on. Honestly, for me, the experience of reading this was a lot like having anxiety - you're unnerved and anxious even though there is no direct reason to feel that way. When it comes to atmosphere and tone this book nailed it.

 

A book is more than atmosphere though, and here is where I have to talk around things (otherwise I would spoil the entire book). The book hinges on a twist, which I think is pretty evident when you open with a loaded statement like, "I'm thinking of ending things." It sets you up to wait for that moment, and look for the turn. That's a big part of why the book is unnerving. But for me that twist was a let down. If the tone of the first two thirds of the book was a subtle creeping dread, then the final third of the book was someone chasing you through a corn maze with a chainsaw. And that didn't work for me, nor did the twist. Sometimes turning it up to eleven unravels what you are doing rather than building on what came before. It felt like a let down. I know there are a lot of people who disagree and loved the ending, however, so it is absolutely a matter of taste.

 

If you want to read a book that puts you on edge and makes your skin crawl this is a good choice. If you like unreliable narrators (I don't consider that a spoiler as it seems evident pretty much immediately), horror movies, or psychological thrillers you should give this one a shot. Just be prepared to potentially be let down by the ending.

The Ballad of Black Tom; Or, Red Hook Reimagined

The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle

LaValle's re-imagining of Lovecraft brings race to the forefront, and the results are disturbing and sadly quite timely. The world Tom Tester walks through, and the trials he faces, were painful to behold. Ultimately I was far more invested in Tester's story than any of the Lovecraftian horror elements of the story, though those were well written. I cared about this man and what happened to him. My biggest hurdle came when the POV shifted halfway through - I had a hard time investing in Malone and just wanted to return to Tester's story. Bottom line: If you like Lovecraftian horror, but find the treatment of race in his works unacceptable, you should absolutely pick this novella up. It's a great update to an old and problematic story, and a solid addition to the genre.

The Weight of Feathers: Or, Romeo & Juliet in the Night Circus

The Weight of Feathers: A Novel - Anna-Marie McLemore

Anna-Marie McLamore writes so beautifully I think I would be mesmerized even if she were writing about paint drying. No lie. She is the sort of writer that makes me feel simultaneously inspired and dejected when it comes to my own writing craft. She's that good. If you haven't read her before you owe yourself the treat of discovering her voice.

 

Weight of Feathers is best described as a heady blend of Romeo and Juliet meets The Night Circus. I usually really hate comparing books to other books in a review, but in this case it's really accurate. You have this lovely lyrical and rich feel mixed with this feuding family drama. The magical realism blends with the dreamy quality of the traveling performers. There is a sensuality, not just to the romance, but to the performances and world as a whole. Simply put it was lovely.

 

There was some predictability and repetitiveness to this book, which was its one down side. The fairytale feel means that some of the characters fit neatly into molds, and take the stage as set pieces more than people. The familiarity of the story being told feels like the one dull point surrounded by so much originality. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but if I were going to recommend a McLemore book I would much more heartily champion When the Moon was Ours, wherein her storytelling catches up to her beautiful prose. As is McLemore has entered onto a short list of authors that I will pre-order future titles from on the spot.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne: Or what if you kept spawning evil clones?

The Murders of Molly Southbourne - Tade Thompson

This was a very quick read chronicling the life of Molly Southbourne. It reads like a whip fast memoir giving you snippets of her life in fast succession, some of them only a paragraph long. It would be easy to sit down and read this cover to cover (as is I read it in two sittings). The central idea, essentially of evil clones arising from any of Molly's spilled blood, was an interesting one but not terribly complex. I didn't find myself craving a longer story when I finished this - it was perfectly suited for short form, and in fact it felt very short story like to me. It also felt more like sci-fi than horror, which was fine but not what I expected. I liked this story, and the ideas, but all in all I wasn't blown away. I'm interested in trying more books from Tade Thompson, and would recommend this as a quick diversion to anyone attracted to the central concept.

At the Mountains of Madness

At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror - H.P. Lovecraft

Nope. This is the second time I've tried Lovecraft, I've given him more than a fair shake, and I'm going with a solid No. Even setting aside the problematic social issues, I just don't like his writing at all. Like many writers who hit on a big idea that births a genre (or mini-genre) he can't actually write.

Here is the thing: he reads like a particularly dry tome written in the Victorian era. I look at his contemporaries and the antiquated language and structure seem even more tortured. I think there were more pages devoted to descriptions of boring equipment, what the expedition packed, and geology than there was actual story. (If I read the word "Cambrian" one more time this book might actually get me to scream, though not for the reasons advertised.) Also, this story is such an ideal example of why "show don't tell" is a writing staple. Again and again I'm told how scary something is, how mind-shakingly terrifying such and such is, oh the horror the horror, and that stands in for actually writing something scary. His writing also suffers from a problem a lot of older sci-fi has where our understanding of science has progressed and made certain things unintentionally funny or absurd. Oh, they have wings so they can flap their way through space? Riiiiiiight. I try to give authors a break on this because it isn't their fault, but it really didn't help matters.

So yeah. Not my bag, and I'm officially giving up on Lovecraft. I know a lot of people love him, and that's fine, but it's not my thing. I'll stick to re-tellings from modern authors if I feel the need to re-visit Lovecraftian horror. The only thing I find scary about Lovecraft are his politics and sweeping popularity.

Borderline: Urban fantasy meets an exploration of borderline personality disorder

Borderline - Mishell Baker

It is impossible for me to read, and thus review, this book without constantly thinking about my past. To keep it simple: Once upon a time I was deeply involved with someone with BPD. That person then spent a decade of their life focusing all their energy into making my own life a living hell. So yes, I'm very familiar with BPD, which meant I went into this book with quite a bit of experience, but also baggage. Because of this I could never trust Millie. At all. And I also strongly disliked her. Whenever she did something terrible she would then remind you she had BPD, which felt like disingenuous apologism to me. This technique might be effective for a lot of readers, but because I never trusted Millie it only make me dislike her more.

 

Rationally I know this is a pretty strong urban fantasy. The fey and magic were neat. There were some good ideas in here. I particularly liked Baker's description of what living with disability was like, both physical and mental. The voice was strong and distinct, and it was a quick read. The climactic scene was a muddled mess, but that felt like a stumble not a fall. It was a solid first novel.

 

Here's the thing, since I read for character, and I felt personally adversarial toward this imaginary person, I couldn't enjoy reading this book. For once I feel like it would be 100% accurate to say it's not the book it's me. If you're hunting for an urban fantasy with a fresh take, and want to read about a deeply flawed main character, maybe give this one a shot. If you have experience with the darker sides of BPD then go into this book knowing it might raise your hackles.

Signal to Noise

Signal to Noise - Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This really felt like two separate books to me. In one timeline you have the story of Meche's youth. There are coming of age themes, growing pains, and puppy love, all mixed together with a plot that felt like that old movie The Craft - magic becomes a stand in for power and it turns ugly. It was decent story. Then in the other timeline you have Meche returning to her childhood home and dealing with her father's death. This was also a decent story. The problem comes in that these two very different stories are occupying the same book.

 

The biggest problem for me is that adult Meche doesn't feel any different from teenager Meche. Despite all the things that happen in her youth, the life she lives in between the two timelines, and then confronting her father's death, she doesn't seem to have changed or grown at all. If the two timelines were closer together I might buy this, but it's difficult to swallow that over 20 years have passed and this person hasn't grown up at all. And if I do manage to suspend my disbelief, and accept that Meche hasn't changed in all that time, then that makes me dislike her even more. Have I mentioned I didn't like the main character? That's another thing that made this book a miss for me - I never empathized with Meche.

 

So here's the thing: Moreno-Garcia is actually a great writer when it comes to putting down memorable and affecting sentences. It's the overall structure of the story that became a problem. The two different storylines felt too different in tone, and didn't compliment each other nearly as well as intended. And without character growth holding them together the structure collapses for me. While I didn't care for this book I would be completely game to try another novel from her. I know she can tell a good story, I just wish she had picked one for this book and stuck with it.

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.

Currently reading

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere 1)
Meg Elison