Remember when I wrote that I was trying to read more Christian fiction? Well, I’ve been working on finding good homes for my own Christian fiction too. Thanks to the lovely editors at Fathom Magazine, I now have a new Christian flash fiction story published. You can find the story, “Though the Earth Gives Way,” in the Rebellion issue (No. 20). Thanks to Managing Editor Jonathan Minnema for accepting this flash and, also, thanks to the other editors at Fathom Magazine who had a hand in publishing this story. I’m really grateful to be a small addition to this rad publication.

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June Mini-Reviews

June turned out to be a busy month for me. July is shaping up to be busy too. I’m having trouble reading books and writing my novel while taking care of so many other things, but I managed to read two books this month anyhow.

The following reviews will cover what worked well in the books. If you wish to discuss what didn’t work in the books or what you enjoyed about the books, then I’d encourage you to comment on this post.

Without further ado, here are the mini-reviews for this month. (Mild spoilers may follow.) 


Best Christian Short StoriesMy professors in my undergraduate and graduate courses taught solely secular fiction. What was lacking for me—in a major way—was fiction that aligned with my faith tradition. I couldn’t find any character that accurately represented my faith in secular fiction. In the present, I’m seeking out Christian fiction like water in a desert. As a reader, I’m looking for characters like me—for accurate representation. As a writer, I’m seeking the elements that mix to create a good Christian short story.

Bret Lott takes some liberties with The Best Christian Short Stories collection. He added in some secular fiction that seemed to exemplify Christian values and ideas. Still, the anthology intrigued me. Here was something I was missing. Here was something I desperately needed to read for the sake of my own identity. “Best” stories or not, it was important to me. While I enjoyed the anthology, I’m still struggling to find that accurate representation, even within the pages of this book. Still, it was worth reading.

Synopsis from the Thomas Nelson website:

The first volume in a collection of contemporary fiction that combines the artistry of critically accaimed writers with a clear Christian worldview.

From Homer Hickam, the best-selling author of Rocket Boys–which later became the movie October Sky to editor and contributing best-selling author Bret Lott, this collection spans a talented community writing an eclectic blend of fiction. Each piece stands alone as stellar fiction. And each piece confronts us with who we are and forces us to look deeply at the human condition. From the dirt lanes of North Africa to the suburbs of California, exuding lightheartedness and profundity, hilarity and tragedy, these stories will take you on a fresh and entertaining journey.

What worked well:

  • With all stories labeled “Christian fiction,” I’m skeptical about what elements of the story align with my faith. Even though some of these stories were meant to be secular, I would agree with Lott that many of them do align with Christian values and ideas. I think there are exceptions within this anthology. For example, there is a story where a character is being racist. Now, why the author chose to make this character a racist is unclear to me. It adds nothing to the story. Sure, the character is deeply flawed, but there are no repercussions for the character due to his racist actions and thoughts. So that particular character does not align with the Biblical, Christ-like attitude toward humanity, of which Christians are supposed to adhere to. It soured the story for me. However, what is good and what did work were many of the other stories and their characters. There were many Christian and non-Christian characters that did exhibit Christ-like attitudes, values, thoughts, and actions and their flaws made sense within the context of the story. This is what really made this anthology work for me.
  • Another thing that worked well was the multifariousness within this anthology. The stories were told from various perspectives of Christianity (Catholic and Protestant) and also from a few secular perspectives. It was a nice mix of different points of view, of different styles, and of different ways to understand Christianity and what it can mean to the people who practice it.

Who should read The Best Christian Short Stories:

  • Fans of Christian fiction
  • Fans of literary fiction
  • Those who love reading short stories
  • Readers who’ve enjoyed Bret Lott’s work as a writer and editor 

NeversI’m always seeking out flash fiction collections to read. My local librarian, also a flash fiction writer, suggested Nevers by Megan Martin. She was even kind enough to let me borrow her copy of the book. My librarian friend has a fetish for whimsy and snark and Nevers definitely exemplifies such things. I find a great deal of snarky writing to be trite and this book was no exception. Still, I’m glad I tried it and there were things about Martin’s work that I definitely enjoyed.

In lieu of a synopsis, here are some quotes of praise about Nevers from Caketrain’s website:

‘Megan Martin’s Nevers is my favorite kind of book. Its stories are familiar and distant, one never existing without the other. It’s that feeling you get when you are suddenly inside yourself, looking around, going, Hey, that’s my coffee mug. That’s my pen. I am me. It’s like standing in your childhood home as the walls are replaced with snapshots of the same walls. This is a book, only it has a mouth.’ —Lindsay Hunter, author of Don’t Kiss Me

‘In Megan Martin’s fantastic Nevers, we encounter the situation of a book that is conscious of itself. This seems right, because the life in its pages is conscious of itself, too—all at once, from a dozen slip-sliding angles, the whole a shimmering phantasm held aloft by an act of voice so clean and real it can squash your heart. Here’s me as I was reading: big stupid openmouthed grin and the thought, You’re reading this awesomeness right now, before others get to.’ —Scott Garson, author of Is That You, John Wayne?

What worked well:

  • Martin’s fictional narrator tends to have beef with poets. There are quite a few funny sections in these fictions where the narrator pokes fun of the poet characters in her life. Sometimes the poke is a fairly gentle jab: “An old professor and his new mistress sit in a circle of even older white guy poets talking about how amazing it is that because of the internet there are no ideas anymore, and what a relief it is that they’ll never have to come up with an idea again” (69). Other times the poke is more like a stab: “But what would make anyone want to see a poet’s body? Or the sort of swimsuit a poet would wear?” (89). The humor is off-color and no-holds-barred but usually works in the way a comedian delivers self-deprecating punchlines.
  • If you’re teaching a class on outrageous hyperbole, this is your book. The flash story “Cinders” takes the cake (pun intended) for me,  but “Forever Bloodcloud” and “Warning Label” are also good examples. Most of the hyperbole is so outrageous that you can’t help but laugh.

Who should read Nevers:

  • Fans of snarky and off-color humor
  • Readers who enjoy irreverent narrators
  • Those who appreciate an abundance of hyperbole
  • Readers of flash fiction 

BONUS TITLES!

I read micro-chapbooks #5 through #21 in the Ghost City Press Summer Micro-Chapbook Series. You can find all of the available ones here. There will be more as the summer continues, including my own micro-chapbook, Space, Collisions (available July 19)!

Quick Reads (June 2018)

Wow, May and June are stellar months for flash fiction. There were a lot of contest and special issues that were recently published—the majority of which I haven’t had the chance to read yet. Here are just a few recommendations for flash lovers: Wigleaf’s Top 50SmokeLong Quarterly’s contest issue, and the FlashFlood blog.

Anyway, here is the list of everything short I read this past month. Please remember: this list is not necessarily meant to act as a review, a show of favor, or a “best of” list. Feel free to share your own findings in the comments!


Drift” by Toti O’Brien (Bridge Eight)

Fruit” by Jacquelyn Bengfort (matchbook)

Why I Write Sad Stories” by Kevin Fitton (Ruminate blog)

Gator Butchering For Beginners” by Kristen Arnett (Recommended Reading Commuter)

The Vector of Our Love” by Elizabeth Shack (freeze frame fiction)

An Ocean This Big” by Christine Hennessey (Monkeybicycle)

The Mansion of Endless Rooms” by L Chan (Syntax & Salt)

Upon Discovering That Cows Can Swim” by Santino Prinzi (Jellyfish Review)

I Open I Wince” by Shane Kowalski (Peach Mag)

Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid (The New Yorker)

The Huntress” by Sofia Samatar (Tin House Online)

There is No Albuquerque” by Kathy Fish (Newfound)

A Man Named Magritte” by Abby Burns [Bending Genres (50mm Microfiction Contest first place)]

Happiness is Gold” by Jean Reyes [Bending Genres (50mm Microfiction Contest, second place)]

Sisyphus Speaks” by Jennifer Wortman [Bending Genres (50mm Microfiction Contest, third place)]

Wings of Desire” by Jude Higgins [Bending Genres (50mm Microfiction Contest, honorable mention)]

Tiny House” by Nancy Stohlman (New Flash Fiction Review)

A Husband Should Be Eaten and Not Heard” by Megan Giddings (Split Lip Magazine)

Three poems by Erin Pulsipher (Déraciné Magazine)
[Note: Erin graduated from the Creighton MFA program the same time I did.]

Full” by Carolina VonKampen (Déraciné Magazine)

The Soul Sucker” by Andrea Salvador (Déraciné Magazine)

All of Crack the Spine Issue 238
[Note: My flash fiction story “While Taking Photographs in Nepal” is in this issue!]

Final Girl Slumber Party” by Meghan Phillips (Barrelhouse)

Hospice” by Tara Isabel Zambrano (The /tƐmz/ Review)

Filaments of Air” by Tommy Dean (FlashFlood)

Grateful” by Laura Pearson (FlashFlood)

This Isn’t as Much Fun as I Thought It Would Be” by Mary Lynn Reed (FlashFlood

A Day for Watching Birds” by Anna Vangala Jones (FlashFlood)

Whale Fall” by Alvin Park (SmokeLong Quarterly)

Nocturne” by Leslie Marie Aguilar (The Common)

Snowstorm” by Tara Isabel Zambrano (Atticus Review)

Shoot by Grace” by Grace Campbell (Jellyfish Review)

The Rats” by Blake Middleton (Hobart)

The Devil and Ellen and Charles” by Mary Clemens (Hobart)

Greetings From” by Melissa L. Amstutz (Tin House Online)

All of the Penny Fiction in From the Depths Issue 15

Surprise! “One Woman’s Junk” was selected for Newfound’s annual print issue.

Here are some details about No. 4 from Newfound’s website:

  • …featuring the best of vo. 8 + poetry by our 2017 Anzaldúa Poetry Prize finalists.
  • Full color, perfect-bound, 56 pages, 8.5″ x 11″ on acid-free and FSC-certified paper.
  • Purchase also allows three PDF downloads.

Many thanks to the hardworking editors at Newfound for allowing my flash fiction to be part of the print issue. It’s truly an honor to be side-by-side with so many talented creators.

I hope you all will check it out! Thanks so much for reading if you do.

This past Tuesday, Crack the Spine included my flash fiction story, “While Taking Photographs in Nepal,” in Issue 238 of the magazine. Founder and Editor Kerri Farrell Foley made the entire experience a joyful one and I’m grateful for the lovely presentation of my work. I’m so thankful to be published in this literary magazine, which I have admired for a while now. Please check out the story if you have time, along with all of the other beautiful offerings in this issue. Thanks for reading!

May Mini-Reviews

 May was a really good month for reading. At least for me. I read twelve books and micro-chapbooks. The summer micro-chapbook series is really boosting my numbers! What did you pick up in May, blog readers?

The following reviews will cover what worked well in the books. If you wish to discuss what didn’t work in the books or what you enjoyed about the books, then I’d encourage you to comment on this post.

Without further ado, here are the mini-reviews for this month. (Mild spoilers may follow.)


Brass

Brass by Xhenet Aliu

Brass by Xhenet Aliu is another novel I picked up from the Bellevue Public Library. I found the cover art curious and so I picked up the book and read the synopsis. I put it down at first because I was unsure if I really wanted to try it out. But then I circled back and took it to the checkout counter. I’m glad I took the time to read this one in the end.

Synopsis from the Penguin Random House website:

A waitress at the Betsy Ross Diner, Elsie hopes her nickel-and-dime tips will add up to a new life. Then she meets Bashkim, who is at once both worldly and naïve, a married man who left Albania to chase his dreams—and wound up working as a line cook in Waterbury, Connecticut. Back when the brass mills were still open, this bustling factory town drew one wave of immigrants after another. Now it’s the place they can’t seem to leave. Elsie, herself the granddaughter of Lithuanian immigrants, falls in love quickly, but when she learns that she’s pregnant, Elsie can’t help wondering where Bashkim’s heart really lies, and what he’ll do about the wife he left behind.

Seventeen years later, headstrong and independent Luljeta receives a rejection letter from NYU and her first-ever suspension from school on the same day. Instead of striking out on her own in Manhattan, she’s stuck in Connecticut with her mother, Elsie—a fate she refuses to accept. Wondering if the key to her future is unlocking the secrets of the past, Lulu decides to find out what exactly her mother has been hiding about the father she never knew. As she soon discovers, the truth is closer than she ever imagined.

Told in equally gripping parallel narratives with biting wit and grace, Brass announces a fearless new voice with a timely, tender, and quintessentially American story.

Another audiobook I finished in May is Parasite by Mira Grant (a. k. a. Seanan McGuire). I had a hard time feeling engaged by McGuire’s writing style in Every Heart a Doorway, so I wanted to try a different book by her. While I liked Parasite better, I think I’m too disenchanted at this point to continue the series.

Synopsis from the Hachette Book Group website:

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite — a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the Intestinal Bodyguard worm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system — even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives . . . and will do anything to get them.

What worked well:

  • Grant’s idea of sentient parasites that can heal people by living in their body is bizarre, wild, and extremely imaginative. It’s also a genius twist on a familiar genre, which becomes more apparent as the reader delves farther into the book.
  • Grant also approaches animal rights in a way that many other writers do not. Many writers consider animal rights at a distance, their characters narrating what is happening instead of actively engaging with the animals. Grant’s protagonist engages with animals and their rights directly, a truly refreshing approach.

Who should read Parasite:

  • Readers who enjoy new approaches to familiar science fiction genres
  • Those who enjoy books about human and animal rights
  • Fans of Seanan McGuire’s books
  • Readers who enjoy books about weird science

A Wrinkled in Time

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I wanted to support the film version of A Wrinkle in Time but felt guilty about not reading the book before the movie released. I watched A Wrinkle in Time in theaters anyway and decided to read the book later on. I ended up downloading the audiobook from my local library. Madeleine L’Engle is an inspiring writer and I’m glad I had the chance to listen to some of her work.

Synopsis from the Penguin Random House website:

Madeleine L’Engle’s ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy classic, soon to be a major motion picture. This movie tie-in audiobook includes an introduction read by director Ava DuVernay, a foreword read by the author, and an afterword read by Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis.

Meg Murray, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. He claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a “tesseract,” which, if you didn’t know, is a wrinkle in time. Meg’s father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?

In 1962, Madeleine L’Engle debuted her novel A Wrinkle in Time, which would go on to win the 1963 Newbery Medal. Bridging science and fantasy, darkness and light, fear and friendship, the story became a classic of children’s literature and is beloved around the world. Now Disney is taking it to the silver screen! Directed by Ava DuVernay and with an all-star cast that includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, and newcomer Storm Reid, the major motion picture brings the world of Wrinkle to life for a new generation of fans.

What worked well:

  • A Wrinkle in Time does a nice job of depicting a female protagonist who needs to embrace her truest self—flaws and all—to overcome obstacles in her path. It’s a positive message but, let’s be real, it’s also kind of radical. She’s a young girl who’s not your stereotypical beauty and whose flaws are things like anger and impatience. L’Engle opened a door with this novel for many young girls who badly needed representation in literature.
  • L’Engle’s imagination was also a joy to discover. From the “tesseract” device to the villainous “IT” to the vastly different locations, L’Engle creates a complex universe full of life, weird science, and beautiful fantasy.

Who should read A Wrinkle in Time:

  • Those who enjoy middle-grade books
  • Fans of the science fantasy genre
  • Readers who like complex female protagonists
  • Those who enjoy books about family and bonds of friendship

The Underneath

The Underneath by Melanie Finn

When I read that Melanie Finn had a new book coming out, I knew I had to buy it. In the past, when I worked at Tethered by Letters, I read The Gloaming for a review. Back then, I wasn’t familiar with her work. Now I know how much of a genius she is. It was inevitable that I would preorder The Underneath from Two Dollar Radio.

Synopsis from the Two Dollar Radio website:

With the assurance and grace of her acclaimed novel The Gloaming—which earned her comparisons to Patricia Highsmith—Melanie Finn returns with a precisely layered and tense new literary thriller.

The Underneath follows Kay Ward, a former journalist struggling with the constraints of motherhood. Along with her husband and two children, she rents a quaint Vermont farmhouse for the summer. The idea is to disconnect from their work-based lifestyle—that had her doggedly pursuing a genocidal leader of child soldiers known as General Christmas, even through Kay’s pregnancy and the birth of their second child—in an effort to repair their shaky marriage.

It isn’t long before Kay’s husband is called away and she discovers a mysterious crawlspace in the rental with unsettling writing etched into the wall. Alongside some of the house’s other curiosities and local sleuthing, Kay is led to believe that something terrible may have happened to the home’s owners.

Kay’s investigation leads her to a local logger, Ben Comeau, a man beset with his own complicated and violent past. A product of the foster system and life-long resident of the Northeast Kingdom, Ben struggles to overcome his situation, and to help an abused child whose addict mother is too incapacitated to care about the boy’s plight.

The Underneath is an intelligent and considerate exploration of violence—both personal and social—and whether violence may ever be justified.

What worked well:

  • There is so much good to say, but let’s start with the obvious one: Finn’s use of violence. Violence may not seem like a good thing—and indeed, it is not—but in the hands of a master prose stylist, there is somewhat of an important subversion that takes place. The Underneath unflinchingly delves headlong into some heartbreaking topics through the characters and their experiences: child soldiers, warmongers, mutilation, drug abuse, self-harm, suicide, sexual abuse, neglect, pedophilia, physical abuse, verbal abuse, animal abuse, destruction of the earth, etc. It’s true that you likely need a strong stomach to read this book. But the things that Finn brings up are important for us to discuss and not to ignore. Finn also shows us how any person—”good” or not—can end up perpetuating violence.
  • Like with The Gloaming, Finn’s prose in this book is stellar. From the very first beautiful and compelling line, I was hooked. Finn phrases things in ways that few other writers can or have. To understand what I mean, you should read an excerpt of the novel or just take a leap of faith and buy the book.

Who should read The Underneath:

  • Readers who enjoy literary thrillers
  • Those who are prepared to read about intense violence
  • Fans of The Gloaming
  • Readers who enjoy exquisite prose

*BONUS TITLES!

From Likely Red Press:

 

From the Ghost City Press Summer Micro-Chapbook Series:

casserolethere are over 100 billion stars in our galaxyWolf InventoryBrett+Stuckel+-+Outerbridge+Shelter  

*I have strong affiliations to these particular titles and their publishers.

Quick Reads (May 2018)

Here is the list of everything short I read this past month. Please remember: this list is not necessarily meant to act as a review, a show of favor, or a “best of” list. Feel free to share your own findings in the comments!


Ghost Story” by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint (Split Lip Magazine)

At the Plant Shoppe in OKC I Learn That I Need to Nurture a Plant” by Kimberly Priest (Storm Cellar)

Mario Reconsiders His Profession in Plumbing” by Dustin M. Hoffman (Booth)

Other Metamorphoses” by Fabio Fernand {Lightspeed [from People of Colo(u)r Destroy Flash Fiction!]}

The Logicians” by James Warner (Ninth Letter)

Sapphires” by Melissa Goodrich (The Forge Literary Magazine)

The Dependants” by Michael Noll (The New Territory)

A Change in Latitude” by Brianne Kohl [Wigleaf (winner of The Mythic Picnic Prize)]

The Gift” by Rose Andersen [Gone Lawn (from Wigleaf Top 50)]

Extinction of Female Blue Morphos from the Love Archive of a Museologist”  by Karen An-hwei Lee (Minola Review)

Columbus, Ohio” by Joseph Grantham (Fanzine)

Glass House” by Elise Blackwell (Necessary Fiction)

The Liar” by Brandon Giella (Fathom)