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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April Mini-Reviews

I’ve read 17 books so far this year. For the month of April, I focused primarily on reading library books. Bellevue Public Library started the 2018 Adult Library Program and I wanted to participate. It’s been fun trying out different books and authors.

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.)


Palaces

Palaces by Simon Jacobs

Before I began reading library books in earnest for the month of April, I decided it was time to read another Two Dollar Radio book. Palaces by Simon Jacobs caught my eye right away with that startling black, white, and red cover. After reading the synopsis, I decided to give the novel a try.

Synopsis from the Two Dollar Radio website:

Novelizing my Notes in November: NaNoWriMo Round 2

writing, reading, fiction, post-apocalyptic, novel, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, L. N. Holmes, The Dragonfly Legacy

I have a story I want to tell you.

First, however, I need to write it.

Are you ready for National Novel Writing Month? I sure hope I am, because I’m participating again this November.

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Why I’m Happy Reading Dystopian Novels

apocalypse, dystopia, novels, speculative, fiction, L. N. Holmes, writing, reading

No, I’m not a cruel robot propagating the idea that humans should be subservient to machines (OR AM I?). Simply put, reading dystopian novels makes me happy. Before you judge me, hear me out.

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Lacking Joy: Pandemic and Abandonment in Laura van den Berg’s Find Me

novel, Laura van den Berg, writing, reading, fiction, dystopia, pandemic, abandonment, female character

If Lewis Carroll’s Alice was plucked from Wonderland and deposited into a post-pandemic, near future America, then you would have the story of Joy Jones in Laura van den Berg’s first novel, Find Me. Tricks, labyrinths, indecision, and absurdity plague Joy’s life. Abandoned by her mother, she was raised in a series of foster homes and orphanages. As a young adult, she self-medicated on stolen cough syrup from the grocery store she worked at until the pandemic.

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