September Mini-Reviews

Autumn has appeared suddenly here in Nebraska and the cooler weather is a perfect excuse to sit inside and read. We’re also less than a month away from NaNoWriMo, which is a good reminder of just how hard it is to write a book, let alone a good book. I always try to keep this in mind when I review things: authors are working hard, usually for years, to get their books out there and in front of readers. It’s a tough business and a bad review can be rather detrimental.

At a Vase of Wildflowers, I always try to be honest about my feelings concerning the books I read, while still focusing on its positive aspects. That’s not every reviewer’s goal and I respect and understand that. But when you visit my blog, I hope that you will always consider giving the books I review a chance, no matter how I feel about them. It would be boring if we all loved the same things. And isn’t that what literature is really all about: freedom and the right to choose and think for oneself?

So with that in mind, the following reviews will cover what worked well in the books I read. 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. (Mild spoilers may follow.)


The Art of PerspectiveI decided to continue reading Graywolf Press’s “The Art of” series with Christopher Castellani’s The Art of Perspective. It was another smash hit for me, even if I didn’t agree with everything Castellani said. I’m happy to have read it. All the thanks to my local librarian for making me aware of this series about the craft of writing. I hope to be able to continue it. I’m seriously considering reading them all. Let’s hope they stock the rest at the Bellevue Public Library in the near future.

Synopsis from the Graywolf Press website:

A writer may have a story to tell, a sense of plot, and strong characters, but for all of these to come together some key questions must be answered. What form should the narrator take? An omniscient, invisible force, or one—or more—of the characters? But in what voice, and from what vantage point? How to decide? Avoiding prescriptive instructions or arbitrary rules, Christopher Castellani brilliantly examines the various ways writers have solved the crucial point-of-view problem. By unpacking the narrative strategies at play in the work of writers as different as E. M. Forster, Grace Paley, and Tayeb Salih, among many others, he illustrates how the author’s careful manipulation of distance between narrator and character drives the story. An insightful work by an award-winning novelist and the artistic director of GrubStreet, The Art of Perspective is a fascinating discussion on a subject of perpetual interest to any writer.

What worked well:

  • Even when I disagreed with Castellani on a particular idea, he was such an eloquent writer that anything he wrote nearly swayed me to his viewpoint. It’s always nice to know that the one instructing you about writing is a good writer. Castellani proves it in this book, penning elegantly wrought and veracious chapters, which are as much moving as they are instructive.
  • I had a professor in my graduate program that tried to argue that all points of view worked in the exact same way and that it didn’t matter which one was chosen for a story. I’ve never agreed with that idea and I think this book works to show why the point of view we choose for a story does matter. This is a very valuable tool for writers: the ability to understand the nuances of the different perspectives.

Who should read The Art of Perspective:

  • Writers, especially fiction writers
  • Professors and teachers who want to educate their students about perspective
  • Those who enjoy books about the craft of writing
  • Readers who like to study particular literary movements and their impact on literature

Building FictionAnother craft book I finished this past month was Building Fiction by Jesse Lee Kercheval. I read parts of this book in graduate school for a class. After I graduated, I decided I wanted to read the entire thing. I read the book from start to finish, including the chapters I’d already studied. It was worth revisiting, and I’ll probably reference it again at different points in my career, but it did take a while to get through it because of the textbook-like feel of the prose.

Synopsis from the University of Wisconsin Press website:

No one looks at structure like Jesse Lee Kercheval. She builds a work of fiction just as an architect would design a house—with an eye for details and how all parts of a story or novel interconnect. Even with the most dynamic language, images, and characters, no piece of fiction will work without a strong infrastructure. Kercheval shows how to build that structure using such tools as point of view, characterization, pacing, and flashbacks. Building Fiction will help you envision the landscape of your fiction and build great stories there.

What worked well:

  • This is an excellent guide for beginning fiction writers, with many things that are valuable for the intermediate writer. Honestly, even for the most experienced, it’s nice to reexamine these basic elements. Kercheval is thorough and gives ample examples, including ones from her own books. She even has a very valuable chapter on experimental writing—a topic often ignored by other craft books I’ve read.
  • What I appreciate about Kercheval’s writing is the candidness of it. She doesn’t pretend her advice is the only advice out there, nor does she suggest that it’s the only correct way of doing things. This is important because she encourages writers to find their own voices and to write what works for them.

Who should read Building Fiction:

  • Fiction writers
  • Professors and teachers who want to teach their students how to write fiction (especially novels and short stories)
  • Those who enjoy books about the craft of writing
  • Writers who enjoy extensive, time-consuming exercises

Milkyway HitchhikingI realized, with horror, that I hadn’t read any comics or graphic novels lately. I decided to obtain a library card from La Vista’s public library (I can as an employee of the college I work for) and check out what they had to offer. The first book I choose to read was a manga titled Milkyway Hitchhiking, Vol. 1 by Sirial. While its slice-of-life storytelling left much to be desired, there were still some lovely things happening in this volume.

Synopsis from the Yen Press website:

There are as many people on Earth as there are stars in the sky. Milkyway–a peculiar cat with a pattern of the Milky Way splashed across her back–travels across time and space; sometimes to observe, other times to interact with an unfolding story. From Sirial, the creator of One Fine Day, comes the full-color tale of Milkyway hitchhiking across the bright stars of people’s lives, loves, tears, and laughter.

What worked well:

  • The art in this is gorgeous. What’s even cooler than that is that the art style changes somewhat with the different stories. I’m no expert, but it felt like only a truly skilled artist could pull off so many styles so flawlessly.
  • The fantasy and sci-fi aspects presented in this book are fascinating. They include everything from shape-shifting to robots. And everything is super cat focused, which I can’t help but love.

Who should read Milkyway Hitchhiking, Vol. 1:

  • Fans of manga with beautiful artwork
  • Readers who like quick stories connected by a single character
  • Those who enjoy fantasy and science-fiction
  • Readers who enjoy intermixed light and dark stories

The BunkerThe other comic book I picked up was The Bunker Vol. 1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov (writer) and Joe Infurnari (artist). I love apocalyptic stories but I felt more confused by this one, due to both the storytelling and art style, than satisfied.

Synopsis from Oni Press website:

On their way to bury a time capsule, five friends – Grady, Heidi, Natasha, Daniel, and Billy – uncover a metal bunker buried deep in the woods. Inside, they find letters addressed to each of them… from their future selves. Told they will destroy the world in the very near future, the friends find, over the next few days, growing further and further apart. Though they’ve been warned against making the wrong choices, how do they know what the right ones are? Can the future really be changed, or will an even darker fate engulf the world? Collects the first four issues of the ongoing series.

What worked well:

  • There’s definitely a lot here to keep readers interested: letters from the future, time travel, and crops that kill, to name a few.
  • The art style compliments the horror aspects, especially that of the impending apocalypse.

Who should read The Bunker Vol. 1:

  • Fans of apocalyptic stories
  • Comic book readers who can appreciate the art style
  • Readers who like science-fiction
  • Those who are patient enough to figure out where the story will lead

BONUS TITLES!

I read #41 and #42 in the Ghost City Press micro-chapbook series. You can find all of them here.

Blood & WhiskeyAnd remember that book I was a beta reader for? Guess what, you can pre-order it now! It’s called Blood & Whiskey and it was written by my friend Meredith Allison.

Blood & Whiskey thrilled me. Meredith Allison uses famous criminals like Al Capone, Dean O’Banion, and Tom Dennison and expertly plays them against dynamic fictional characters of her own creation. It’s a daring and exciting book, filled with all of the adventure and peril of the Roaring Twenties.

 

I am elated to announce that my flash fiction story, “Phoenix Fire Fight,” was chosen as the winner of the Apparition Lit April Flash Fiction Contest. I hope you’ll check it out! Many thanks to Tacoma and the editors at Apparition Literary Magazine for selecting my work.

March Mini-Reviews

I’ve read 13 books so far toward my goal of 52 books for this year. I’m mostly excited to share my thoughts about what I’ve read this month. I write “mostly” because I was surprised how strongly I disliked one of Neil Gaiman’s books. As a huge fan of Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Coraline, and Fragile Things—and an appreciator of The Graveyard Book—I was shocked to realize American Gods would rank among my least favorite books of all time.

Nevertheless, the following reviews will cover what worked well in the books. If you wish to discuss what didn’t work in the books—or better yet, your own reading goals for the year—I’d encourage you to comment on this post.

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


flash fiction, chapbook, Split Lip Press, shasta grant

Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home by Shasta Grant

After seeing Shasta Grant‘s name appear in some of my favorite literary journals and magazines, I became really curious about her work. Perusing the Split Lip Press store, I noticed Grant’s collection of stories, Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home, was runner-up for the 2016 Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest. I decided to purchase the chapbook and I’m glad reading it gave me the chance to become even more acquainted with Grant’s work.

Summary from the Split Lip Press website:

Book Review: Sister’s Red

Jackson Pearce, Sister's Red, fairy tale, little red riding hood

Scarlett and Rosie March hunt the creatures known as Fenris–werewolves with voracious appetites–since the death of their beloved grandmother. The same Fenris that devoured their grandmother also left Scarlett with ugly scars all over her body. Accompanied by Scarlett’s partner, Silas, the trio kill the dangerous, blood-thirsty creatures relentlessly. But a foreboding message about a new werewolf has the trio temporarily moving out of the small town of Ellison and into Atlanta. Surrounded by new dangers and mysteries, Silas and the March sisters must work together to prevent the deaths of more young women.

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February Writing Challenges

writing, computer, paper, pen, challenge

The month of February is a month to boost productivity. After the sparkly glitter of new year’s resolutions rubs off, the grueling month of February cold (and somehow romantic love?) is all that is left. Whether you’ve been true to your commitments or slacking off, February is the month of redemption. It’s not too late to start. Thus, I present to thee, a month of writing challenges.

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Thanks to some of my fellow book loving family and friends, I received many books as gifts for Christmas. Their kindness has stocked me with many titles to read over the next year! I also supported some local bookstores — in my hometown and at a bookstore I used to work at in Lebanon, Ohio.

While not all of them are pictured, I wanted to share some of the exciting titles that were purchased and draw attention to their authors. Some of these books I will review on my blog.

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The Believable Fantasy

By Neral (Matěj Čadil) (Own work - Angrenost.cz) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Neral (Matěj Čadil) (Own work - Angrenost.cz) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

[Art by Neral (Matěj Čadil)]

Dragon Age Inquisition has my mind reeling with thoughts for a new book. As I am trying to finish up my other books first, I am restraining myself for now. Yet I can’t help but want to take on the challenge of the fantasy genre. For now I am writing down notes, but I’d love your thoughts.

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Weekend Writing: Folklore Fancy

By JENNIE HARBOUR [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Jennie Harbour

[illustration by Jennie Harbour from My Book of Favourite Fairy Tales]

There are many folk lore retellings out there but what about mashups? What if there was some folk lore we are familiar with, unchanged, except for the fact that there is a character from different folk lore thrown in the mix? What would happen then? That is this week’s prompt. Are you up for the challenge?

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What do Literary Characters Dress Up as for Halloween? You Decide!

There is a burning question in my mind — who would Sherlock Holmes dress up as for Halloween? And not only Sherlock Holmes! What about Katniss Everdeen, Inigo Montoya, Jay Gatsby, Count Dracula, Elphaba Thropp, Huckleberry Finn, and Harry Potter? I’ve decided I can’t decide. So I’m using my investigative skills and asking others.

Leave your answers (and jokes) in the comments below.

By Juhanson (Image taken by Juhanson with Canon EOS 10D camera) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Statue of Sherlock Holmes at Meiringen, Switzerland. Created by British sculptor John Doubleday. Unveiled September 10, 1988
Copyright Juhanson

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Alice, Madness, and ’22 Horrible Crimes Committed Against the English Language’

Copyright L. N. Holmes (or LeeAnn Adams)
Copyright L. N. Holmes (or LeeAnn Adams)

After reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — the original by Lewis Carroll — I am convinced that Alice is the maddest character of them all. She disrupts the fragile order of Wonderland with her invasion, first off. Then she insults or says completely insensitive things to the residents. She also likes to show off her own knowledge, which gives her a pompous attitude despite her attempts to be polite. Like a child, she is temperamental and just as tyrannical as the Queen of Hearts. Worst of all, she has a tendency to act like Godzilla every time she changes to a frightening height.

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Artist Interview: Yenthlyn Harmon

Yenthlyn Harmon Copyright Yenthlyn Harmon.

Yenthlyn Harmon
Copyright Yenthlyn Harmon.


L. N. Holmes: “Where is your hometown?”
Yenthlyn Harmon: “Originally I’m from Oak Grove, KY. It’s a super small city near an Air Force Base.”


L. N. Holmes: “What is your chosen artistic profession?”
Yenthlyn Harmon: “I’m actually trying to start my own business selling hand-sculpted jewelry and art. So basically, I’m a self-employed artist at this point. I’ve found I’m much happier working for myself because I know what I want, you know?”

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Fantastic Flora: Ideas for Fantasy Writers

Copyright LeeAnn (Holmes) Adams and L. N. Holmes

My husband and I are opportunists. So when we got a member coupon for a plant at Mulhall’s, we decided to take a trip there and explore what was available. We were not disappointed. The magical selection of plants made me want to stroll along the aisles for hours.

I’ve decided to share the spoils with all writers — but especially fantasy writers — as a way to generate ideas.

I hope you enjoy them!

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