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.

 

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Quick Reads (August 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!


All of The Conium Review: Vol. 5

Why Christians Should Read More Fiction” by Paul Anderson (RELEVANT Magazine)

“The Fool’s Stone” by Aubry Kae Andersen (Analog Science Fiction and Fact)

An elf in the witch-garden” by Kate Garr (Rhythm & Bones)

Thaumatrope” by Christopher Iacono (Rhythm & Bones)

forgiving mistakes i’ve made” by Linda M. Crate (Rhythm & Bones)

Today” by Maddie M. White (Rhythm & Bones)

A Dungeon Open House” by Ben Niespodziany (Train)

And the Hole Never Heals” by Ryan Habermeyer (Bat City Review)

Dragon Princess” by Michael Chin (Cherry Tree)
[Note: I read the excerpt available online.]

Big Bad Wolf” by Terrance Wedin (New South)

Unicorn” by Philip Dean Walker (Big Lucks)

This and That” by Ricky Garni (Big Lucks)

Rhode Island Red” by Michael Kimball (Big Lucks)

The Wardrobe” by Aysegul Savas (The Adroit Journal)

Apology” by Anne Rasmussen (Jellyfish Review)

Uncle Soot” by Joshua Jones (Midwestern Gothic)
[The round 1 winner for the journal’s annual summer flash fiction series]

Perseids” by Madeline Anthes (Midwestern Gothic)
[The round 1 runner-up for the journal’s annual summer flash fiction series]

Day in the Manner of Magritte” by Austin Sanchez-Moran (Maudlin House)

Bees” by ​​Melissa N. Warren (Gordon Square Review)

Me and You and Zvonimir” by Casey Whitworth (Green Briar Review)

Arsonist With Unlit Match” by Matt Fiander (Barren Magazine)

The House Mourns Alone at Midnight” by Maryse Meijer (Outlook Springs)

Koi Pond” by Cathy Ulrich (Outlook Springs)

Quick Reads (July 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!


Pillow Talk” by Lori DeSanti (Blue Earth Review)

Ice” by Marianne Villanueva (Bellingham Review)

Ohio Deathbed, 1990” by Greg Marzullo (Arkana)

This Must Be the Place” by Jeffery Helton (Appalachian Heritage)

Of Leaf and Limb” by Hamilton Kohl (The Arcanist)

Bloom” by Lori Sambol Brody (matchbook)

Coloring Book Sky” and “Holy Noodles” by Elizabeth Elliott (Remington Review)
[Note: Elizabeth graduated from the Creighton MFA program before I did.]

Tips on Discipline” by Jeff VanderMeer (wonderbooknow.com)

Jeff VanderMeer on the Art and Science of Structuring a Novel” by Jeff VanderMeer (Electric Literature)

Rebuking A Sexist Prayer” by Diane J. McDougall (Fathom Magazine)

Every Bright Patch of Green” by Rachel Joy Welcher (Fathom Magazine)

Birds of a Feather” by Tianna Grosch (Okay Donkey)

The Piano Room” by Lily Wang (Cosmonauts Avenue)

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

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:

January Mini-Reviews

For 2018, I hope to read at least 52 books by the end of the year. This may seem like a low goal, so it may also come as a surprise to you that I’m a slow reader, considering how much I read. However, my undergraduate and graduate courses have helped me nail the novel-per-week schedule in the past, so I think 52 books is doable for me.

At the end of the month, as a response to each book, I plan to write mini-reviews. The reviews will consist of mainly what worked and links to the book. If you wish to discuss what didn’t work in the novel—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.)


novel, literary fiction, science fiction

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones

How could a dystopian junkie pass up The Salt Line? I couldn’t of course. Holly Goddard Jones had me at deadly ticks and outdoor excursions.

Summary from the Penguin Random House website:

Update: New Writings and Current Projects

F(r)iction #5, Tethered by Letters, literary journal


typewriter-1031024_1920Whoever said the summer months were for vacation probably wasn’t a writer (or an editor). My graduate school classes don’t start up again until late August, but I’m as busy as I’ve ever been. Don’t misunderstand—I’m not complaining. This past month especially has been wonderful! What’s more, I have some new published stories up and some fantastic opportunities to share.

New Flash Fiction Stories:

As some of you already know, I have two new published stories that are now available to read online.

  • “Trace” can be found at Vestal Review online (issue 49) and it is forthcoming in print (issue 47). This story deviates greatly from my normal style. I wrote this to see if I could stretch myself as a writer. Though it may not be what you expect, I hope you enjoy it.
  • “Spacefall” is the fourth installment of a Dually Noted group writing project. The writers used the phrase “Hold this—it’s supposed to relieve stress” as a prompt. It was really fun to write and I hope you enjoy it. It’s a personal favorite of mine.

Other Available Writings:

  • “Articulating Agony: The Writer as Antihero” is up on the Blue River blog. While my attempts at being funny may be somewhat laughable… I hope you enjoy it anyway. I would encourage everyone to read the writings of my fellow staff members as well.
  • Helly Luv: The Pop Star Fighting ISIS has surfaced on GERM Magazine. I found this spectacular woman via social media and decided to do a brief feature. She’s a pretty cool artist.
    • As a note: My women’s college and women writers series will be continuing according to one of the editors. You can find a complete list of my GERM Magazine contributions here.

Forthcoming Writings:

  • Interviews:
    • Roger May at Change Seven
    • Molly Rose Quinn at Tethered by Letters
    • Tyler Barton at Tethered by Letters
  • War Song” in The Stark via Wisehouse/Editorial l’Aleph
  • Book Reviews:
    • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders at Tethered by Letters
    • UHaul by Emily Ramser on my blog

Opportunities for Readers and Writers:

I’ve had some exciting adventures with Tethered by Letters lately. As a summer intern for this amazing nonprofit, I have seen first hand how wonderful Dani, Leah, and the staff are to their writers, readers, and business partners. If you’re curious check out what they offer:

  • Readers, participate in the #LitStory Series giveaway for a chance to win a copy of F(r)iction #2, #3, or #4! Here are the details.
  • Free Editing Program: The FEP is a great opportunity for writers. Feedback from an editor is often hard to come by and it can help a writer transform a piece from a fifth draft to a polished work. This program is indeed free once you join the Tethered by Letters community (also free). Here are the details.
  • F(r)iction #5: The anticipated release of this beloved journal of fine art and literature is about to happen—and let me tell you, it is gorgeous. Tell your friends. Tell your friends’ friends. Tell the dude crossing paths with you on the sidewalk—you get the idea. The Kickstarter is up!
  • Dually Noted: Do you want to be part of a group writing project? Submit your story by Friday for your chance to be part of the current TBL story cycle. Submissions are voted upon by a select group of editors and then the chosen story is posted on the website for readers. Try your luck, writers! Submit your awesome 500 word addition—details here—and tell them I sent you.

As fiction editor for Blue River, I’ve been reading some exciting work from graduate students that have submitted to our journal. The great news is that there is still time to submit for the chance to win the Blue River Editors’ Award of $500 (USD). The editors will be giving feedback for each submission. We’re looking for great stories from graduate writers for the first issue and—if you’re a writer in a graduate writing program—we hope to see your work!


Thanks for tuning in and, as always, thanks for reading!