I recently had the pleasure to read and review Jeanne Althouse’s Boys in the Bank. My thoughts about the chapbook can be found on the Green Briar Review blog. I hope you’ll check it out!

Advertisements

Quick Reads (September 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!


Rabbit Hat” by Marcus Slease (Nice Cage)

Watch Them Glitter” by Tommy Dean (Ellipsis Zine)

Comfort, Dogs” by Matthew Fiander (Barren Magazine)

Fantastic Fabrics” by A.E. Weisgerber (Barren Magazine)

Chinese Bleeding on a Friday” by Peter Ngila (Barren Magazine)

Sweet Violets” by A.E. Weisgerber (New Flash Fiction Review)

The Funny Thing” by Michelle Ross (Nashville Review)

All of #22, Volume XII, Issue 1 of the Whitefish Review

Salt and Calcium” by Sarah Roth (Columbia Journal)

One Lifetime With a Stranger” by Matthew Caldwell (The Esthetic Apostle)
[Note: Matthew attended Creighton University’s MFA program around the same time I did.]

Unmentionables” by Kaitlyn Andrews-Rice (Paper Darts)

Back Talk” by Danielle Lazarin (Copper Nickel)

Nebraska” by Brian Hoey (New Orleans Review)

A Girl Walks on the Moon” by Ruth Joffre (Vestal Review)

Muriel” Elizabeth O’Brien (Newfound)

The Difference Between Reading and Reading Well” by Collin Huber (Fathom Magazine)

A Son” by Rachel Rodman (Apparition Literary Magazine)

Inversions” by Meghan Xanthos (The Bookends Review)

Mullenville, Population 82” by Sandra K. Barnidge (Allegory Ridge)

Wings and Sand” by Sean Patrick Whiteley (Obra/Artifact)

Counting Elephants” by F.E. Clark (Rhythm & Bones)

The Farewell” by Gem Caley (The Ginger Collect)

Out and Out” by Latifa Ayad (The Masters Review)

August Mini-Reviews

Sorry for the delay, blog readers. August turned out to be a busy month. I continued as a beta reader for a novel and I also read for an exciting new anthology coming out (more details soon). Along with some more personal things going on in my life, I only managed to read three books and four micro-chapbooks. I’m hoping I’ll get more reading done before September ends (*cue Green Day song—just kidding).

Back to it then. 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.)


TroublersTroublers by Rob Walsh is another book I borrowed from my librarian friend and another Caketrain title. I wish I could say that I liked this one much better than Nevers. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it all that much. But, like with Nevers, there were things in the collection that sparked my interest and made me appreciate reading the book despite my grievances.

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

‘Walsh’s stories are so odd and wonderful that they seem to have been treasured from some heretofore nonexistent Eastern European country that should now, finally, be properly celebrated.’ —Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances

‘In Troublers, Rob Walsh entertains marvelous, profound little dances which never fail to twirl you somewhere you’ve never been. In his world, ‘heartless betrayal is both the engine of modern television and a kind of stainless upholstery to which no ethical principal can stick.’ But inside Troublers’ beautifully rendered exterior lies a heart so pure. ‘Let’s poke the thing!?’ as Walsh directs.’ —Terese Svoboda, author of Bohemian Girl

What worked well:

  • There’s a lot of absurdism that’s enjoyable. Many stories will also hint at the political without bashing you over the head with it, which is refreshing.
  • The oddness of the stories also works well. And make no mistake, these stories are often exceedingly odd. If nothing else, I enjoyed the whacky ideas the writer could come up with.

Who should read Troublers:

  • Fans of absurdist fiction
  • Readers who enjoy odd stories and ideas
  • Readers of short stories
  • Those who enjoy other Caketrain titles like Nevers

Little Fires EverywhereI was excited to read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng after I so greatly enjoyed her previous novel, Everything I Never Told You. To say I liked Little Fires Everywhere less than her previous book doesn’t do Ng’s newest novel justice. This book is gorgeous and full of important things to discuss. Ng never disappoints.

Synopsis from the Penguin Random House website:

From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

What worked well:

  • Ng wields summary as if it were scene, which is a truly difficult thing to do, and this keeps the novel extremely interesting.
  • The way she describes the thoughts and actions of her characters: it is so precise it makes me want to study her novel like I would a textbook. She even takes things that seem a little on the nose—like Trip and Moody’s names—and expertly complicates them.

Who should read Little Fires Everywhere:

  • Fans of Ng’s writing, especially her novel, Everything I Never Told You
  • Readers who enjoy novels about the complexity of human relationships
  • Those who enjoy books about artists and art
  • Readers who enjoy stories about motherhood

the art of descriptionThanks to my awesome librarian friend, new writing craft books have been stocked on the shelves of Bellevue Public Library. With those new books came Mark Doty‘s The Art of Description, a book published by Graywolf Press. I didn’t know what to expect going into this book but I came out of it with a deep sense of admiration for Doty and his beautiful writing.

Synopsis from the Graywolf Press website:

‘It sounds like a simple thing, to say what you see,’ Mark Doty begins. ‘But try to find words for the shades of a mottled sassafras leaf, or the reflectivity of a bay on an August morning, or the very beginnings of desire stirring in the gaze of someone looking right into your eyes. . . . ‘ How the writer moves perception to image and finally to written word is at the heart of any literary work. In this vivid meditation on this essential aspect of the writer’s craft, Doty finds refuge in the sensory experience found in poems by Blake, Whitman, Bishop, and others. In clear chapter-essays and a vibrant abecedarian sequence, The Art of Description is an invaluable book by one of America’s most revered writers and teachers.

What worked well:

  • Mark Doty is a wise and patient teacher. The example poems were fantastic and the advice thought-provoking and challenging.
  • Even though this book addressed poets, I felt a deep conviction as a prose writer to pay better attention to language.

Who should read The Art of Description:

  • Poets (and prose writers too)
  • Readers who appreciate studying the nuance of language
  • Writers who are seeking how to better describe their characters, settings, and more
  • Teachers and professors who are seeking a great book to use as a teaching tool in their creative writing classes

BONUS TITLES!

I read micro-chapbooks #37 through #40 in the Ghost City Press Summer Micro-Chapbook Series. You can find all of the available ones here.

My good friend Meredith Allison reviewed Space, Collisions and interviewed me about the collection. Her thoughts and questions are totally spot on. She’s one of my writing heroines and I can’t wait for her upcoming historical fiction novel, Blood & Whiskey, to be released.

You can read the review and interview here. I hope you’ll check it out!

Little Writer With Big Kick: L. N. Holmes’s Otherworldly Collisions

Renwick Berchild posted a lovely review of Space, Collisions over at the Nothing in Particular book blog. I’m so grateful for her honest thoughts and for the way she associated Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time with my micro-chapbook. I am overjoyed! I hope you will check it out, dear readers.

Nothing In Particular

Like many with and before me, one of my first compelling reads as a youth was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. In the beginning chapters, there is a most enthralling moment – illustrated by an ant and a piece of string – where Mrs. Who, Mrs Which, and Mrs Whatsit explain how a clever loophole in time and space allows them to travel the universe.

A Wrinkle in Time_ant Illustration of ‘the wrinkle’ – Source: A Wrinkle in Time

We know it as “the tesseract”, or, “the fifth dimension”. In reality i.e. geometry, a tesseract is the four-dimensional analogue of the cube, consisting of 8 cells, 24 faces, 32 edges, and 16 vertices. It is, in short, a cubic prism. But at this explanation, the tesseract looses its mystique and magic. In the book we understand the tesseract only as this: The way to bridge the gap between worlds.

In reading L…

View original post 626 more words

July Mini-Reviews

Despite how busy July was, I managed to read twenty-one books and micro-chapbooks. Reading helps me mellow out when I’m stressed, and I was pretty stressed this month, so it doesn’t surprise me how voraciously I read. I’m also beta reading a novel for a writer that I deeply admire and I can’t wait for that book to be released into the world. What have you read lately that’s gotten you excited?

Now for the feedback. 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.)


Train DreamsI first read Train Dreams during a class I took at Creighton University. I was surprised by how much I disliked the book and wanted to give it another chance by reading it again. While my boredom was not completely alleviated with the second read, I did manage to find some things I enjoyed about the novella.

Synopsis from the Macmillan website:

Denis Johnson‘s Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions. It is the story of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century—an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime. Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West, this novella by the National Book Award-winning author of Tree of Smoke captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.

What worked well:

  • What I came to enjoy with the second read was Johnson’s use of imagery. His descriptive language at certain points is spot on and beautiful, especially of landscapes and manmade structures.
  • Another nice thing about Train Dreams is that it examines a time period of significant change in the northwestern United States. The logging scenes alone are brutal, terrifying, and fascinating to read.

Who should read Train Dreams:

  • Historical fiction fans
  • Readers who enjoy man versus nature stories
  • Those who like books about hard work
  • Readers who like to read about feats of engineering

Abridged ClassicsI received a copy of Abridged Classics by John Atkinson from my best friend for my upcoming birthday. Honestly, it’s just a short and fun little joke book that I read in its entirety immediately after my friend gave it to me. I loved it.

Synopsis from the HarperCollins website:

A collection of irreverent summations of more than 100 well-known works of literature, from Anna Karenina to Wuthering Heights, cleverly described in the fewest words possible and accompanied with funny color illustrations.

Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn’t is packed with dozens of humorous super-condensed summations of some of the most famous works of literature from many of the world’s most revered authors, including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Emily Brontë, Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkien, Margaret Atwood, James Joyce, Plato, Ernest Hemingway, Dan Brown, Ayn Rand, and Herman Melville.

From “Old ladies convince a guy to ruin Scotland” (Macbeth) to “Everyone is sad. It snows.” (War and Peace), these clever, humorous synopses are sure to make book lovers smile.

What worked well:

  • The brief summaries are hilarious. Truly, they’re really funny. I think I laughed at every single one of them.
  • The illustraitions add to this humor. If you’ve ever read any classic books, go check this one out.

Who should read Abridged Classics:

  • Fans of classic books
  • Those who enjoy jokes about classic books
  • Those who like books that you can read really quickly
  • Readers who enjoy funny illustrations

The Half Drowned KingI listened to The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker on audiobook through OverDrive. The novel started out strong and then kind of disentegrated for me. Still, the interesting parts of the book are definitely worth talking about.

Synopsis from the HarperCollins website:

An exhilarating saga of the Vikings that conjures a brutal, superstitious, and thrilling ninth-century world and the birth of a kingdom—the debut installment in a historical literary trilogy that combines the bold imagination and sweeping narrative power of Game of Thrones, Vikings, and Outlander.

Centuries ago, in a blood-soaked land ruled by legendary gods and warring men, a prophecy foretold of a high king who would come to reign over all of the north. . . .

Ragnvald Eysteinsson, the son and grandson of kings, grew up believing that he would one day take his dead father’s place as chief of his family’s lands. But, sailing home from a raiding trip to Ireland, the young warrior is betrayed and left for dead by men in the pay of his greedy stepfather, Olaf. Rescued by a fisherman, Ragnvald is determined to have revenge for his stepfather’s betrayal, claim his birthright and the woman he loves, and rescue his beloved sister Svanhild. Opportunity may lie with Harald of Vestfold, the strong young Norse warrior rumored to be the prophesied king. Ragnvald pledges his sword to King Harald, a choice that will hold enormous consequence in the years to come.

While Ragnvald’s duty is to fight—and even die—for his honor, Svanhild must make an advantageous marriage, though her adventurous spirit yearns to see the world. Her stepfather, Olaf, has arranged a husband for her—a hard old man she neither loves nor desires. When the chance to escape Olaf’s cruelty comes at the hands of her brother’s arch rival, the shrewd young woman is forced to make a heartbreaking choice: family or freedom.

Set in a mystical and violent world defined by honor, loyalty, deceit, passion, and courage, The Half-Drowned King is an electrifying adventure that breathtakingly illuminates the Viking world and the birth of Scandinavia.

What worked well:

  • The Half-Drowned King starts off with one of the most exciting openings I’ve read in a while. Oar walking alone is enough to spark my interest but then you throw in an attempted murder and an encounter with the Norse gods and the hook becomes irresistible. The historical details and mythology that Hartsuyker adds in brings a lot of life to the book.
  • Also, the exploration and adventures within the novel create some exciting scenes and plot points. The sailing scenes were of particular interest.

Who should read The Half-Drowned King

  • Readers who like Norse mythology
  • Fans of historical fiction
  • Readers who like adventure and exploration
  • Those who enjoy books about betrayal

Land of Love and DrowningI bought Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique a while ago. It sat for far too long in my to-be-read pile before I finally picked it up. I’m so incredibly happy to have read a novel about the U. S. Virgin Islands, a place that almost never appears in the fiction I read.

Synopsis from the Penguin Random House website:

A critically acclaimed debut from an award-winning writer—an epic family saga set against the magic and the rhythms of the Virgin Islands.

In the early 1900s, the Virgin Islands are transferred from Danish to American rule, and an important ship sinks into the Caribbean Sea. Orphaned by the shipwreck are two sisters and their half brother, now faced with an uncertain identity and future. Each of them is unusually beautiful, and each is in possession of a particular magic that will either sink or save them.

Chronicling three generations of an island family from 1916 to the 1970s, Land of Love and Drowning is a novel of love and magic, set against the emergence of Saint Thomas into the modern world. Uniquely imagined, with echoes of Toni Morrison, Gabriel García Márquez, and the author’s own Caribbean family history, the story is told in a language and rhythm that evoke an entire world and way of life and love. Following the Bradshaw family through sixty years of fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, love affairs, curses, magical gifts, loyalties, births, deaths, and triumphs, Land of Love and Drowning is a gorgeous, vibrant debut by an exciting, prizewinning young writer.

What worked well:

  • The way Yanique incorporates moments of important U. S. Virgin Islands history is really wonderful. For example, the “free beach” movement is something I knew nothing about, and it appears—fictionalized—in the pages of Yanique’s book. The protests she includes leading up to the Open Shoreline Act are some of the most elegantly written scenes I’ve ever read about protestors.
  • Also, the relationships between the siblings is really fascinating—at times cringeworthy—and ultimately well-done.

Who should read Land of Love and Drowning:

  • Readers who want to learn more about the U. S. Virgin Islands
  • Fans of historical fiction
  • Those who are prepared to read about taboo topics
  • Readers who like novels about families

The Blurry YearsOf course I had to read another Two Dollar Radio book this month. This time I chose The Blurry Years by Eleanor Kriseman. All I can say is wow; this book left me conflicted in all the right ways.

Synopsis from the Two Dollar Radio Website:

The Blurry Years is a powerful and unorthodox coming-of-age story from an assured new literary voice, featuring a stirringly twisted mother-daughter relationship, set against the sleazy, vividly-drawn backdrop of late-seventies and early-eighties Florida.

Callie—who ages from six to eighteen over the course of the book—leads a scattered childhood, moving from cars to strangers’ houses to the sand-dusted apartments of the tourist towns that litter the Florida coastline.

Callie’s is a story about what it’s like to grow up too fast and absorb too much, to watch adults behaving badly; what it’s like to be simultaneously in thrall to and terrified of the mother who is the only family you’ve ever known, who moves you from town to town to leave her own mistakes behind.

With precision and poetry, Kriseman’s moving tale of a young girl struggling to find her way in the world is potent, and, ultimately, triumphant.

What worked well:

  • Kriseman covers topics such as the neglect of a child, alcohol abuse, and sexual trauma without flinching. To depict and deconstruct these things within fiction is so important and should be discussed.
  • The main conflicts center around other characters using Calliope and Calliope figuring out who she is and what she wants. It’s a great example of a novel about self-discovery and how we form our own identities.

Who should read The Blurry Years:

  • Readers who enjoy coming-of-age books
  • Those who appreciate difficult topics being faced head-on in fiction
  • Readers who enjoy books about Florida
  • Fans of books about mother/daughter relationships

The GunnersI chose to listen to the audiobook of The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman after I saw it appear on my OverDrive app. Frankly, I think the book’s structure, conflicts, and characters are messy, but there were a lot of good things about the novel too.

Synopsis from the Counterpoint Press website:

Following on her wonderfully received first novel, Another Place You’ve Never Been, called “mesmerizing,” “powerful,” and “gorgeous,” by critics all over the country, Rebecca Kauffman returns with Mikey Callahan, a thirty-year-old who is suffering from the clouded vision of macular degeneration. He struggles to establish human connections—even his emotional life is a blur.

As the novel begins, he is reconnecting with “The Gunners,” his group of childhood friends, after one of their members has committed suicide. Sally had distanced herself from all of them before ending her life, and she died harboring secrets about the group and its individuals. Mikey especially needs to confront dark secrets about his own past and his father. How much of this darkness accounts for the emotional stupor Mikey is suffering from as he reaches his maturity? And can The Gunners, prompted by Sally’s death, find their way to a new day? The core of this adventure, made by Mikey, Alice, Lynn, Jimmy, and Sam, becomes a search for the core of truth, friendship, and forgiveness.

A quietly startling, beautiful book, The Gunners engages us with vividly unforgettable characters, and advances Rebecca Kauffman’s place as one of the most important young writers of her generation.

What worked well:

  • The Gunners incorporated some moments of philosophical debate that I truly appreciated. For example: Can a person be objectively bad or good and how do our perceptions and opinions influence such labels? These questions are most often brought up in the dialogue, which was also a strong point of this novel.
  • Kauffman is also an adept humorist and I found myself laughing out loud at many of the characters’ hilarious actions and one-liners.

Who should read The Gunners:

  • Readers who enjoy books about childhood friends
  • Fans of books with wonderful humor
  • Those who enjoy books that explore what love is
  • Those who are prepared to read about taboo topics

BONUS TITLES!

I read micro-chapbooks #22 through #36 in the Ghost City Press Summer Micro-Chapbook Series. You can find all of the available ones here.

Also, Space, Collisions released this month! I hope you’ll check it out.