Writing Update: Where I am Now

Happy New Year! I realized, in the midst of the mad rush of my life, that I’ve failed to provide a general update on my writing journey for a while now. As a thank you for continuing to follow my blog, I wanted to provide a general overview of the progress I’ve made this past year. I also wanted to briefly discuss the projects that are in the works right now.

Progress

The highlight of my year was the release of Space, Collisions. It’s really exciting that the print version is out too and is available for purchase at The BookwormIndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other fine retailers. Many of you know that I’ve already received reviews from Meredith Allison (my friend) and Renwick Berchild (a book reviewer) about the micro-chapbook. I also did an interview with Sarah Foil. If you’d like to receive a copy of Space, Collisions for review, I’d encourage you to check out the publicity page at Heavy Feather Review, the review queue at decomP, or reach out to PRISM International.

To all who have read and reviewed my micro-chapbook, whether on Goodreads or elsewhere, I thank you. I work to publish my writing because I want to connect with readers. I’m grateful for the encouraging reviews and personal notes I’ve received so far. I appreciate all of the readers who decided to give my work a chance.

My individual stories have also taken off in 2018. It’s been a blessing to work with so many different editors. Thanks to them, my flash fiction was published this year in Varnish Journal (sadly, now defunct), Laurel Magazine, The Bookends Review, Apparition Literary Magazine, The Fancy Arm Hole Series Number 1 (Likely Red Press), Crack the Spine, NewfoundFathom, Nice CageBarren Magazine, and Rythm & Bones. I have more flash fiction that will appear in Laurel Magazine and Rythm & Bones in 2019. Notably, the editors of Nice Cage were kind enough to reach out to me for work. This is something that’s never happened to me before, except for with vanity publishers (of which I almost always turn down). So, in short, it’s been a fantastic year for publishing short fiction. I hope that you will support all of these hard-working editors and check out all of the writing featured in these lovely literary magazines and journals.

And since we’re discussing editing, it’s probably a good time to mention that I’ve been working as a fiction editor at Green Briar Review. I was recently appointed to the position and it’s been wonderful so far reading the fiction that comes in. I’ll also be contributing to the blog in the future, so watch for reviews on fiction chapbooks. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. To all who have submitted or will submit: thank you for trusting us with your work.

Another exciting project that I volunteered for was the Forward anthology. I worked as a reader, which proved to be an awesome experience. The anthology will feature flash fiction by writers of color. I can’t wait until its March release! You can pre-order the book here. I hope you all will support this wonderful project, as well as the forces behind this movement for change.

In-Progress

The largest project I’m working on right now is a novel (or novella). You may have seen that I took a hiatus from Twitter—at times, unsuccessfully—to focus on the book. I have had trouble with my longer projects and buried many of my failed novels in the filing cabinet. Though I have many short stories in-progress, I’m going to shift focus this year away from shorter works and focus mostly on this long project. I hope this novella (or novel) will be my first true success with a book-length manuscript.

Goals for this Year

This year will be a challenging one. My husband, pets, and I are all moving to Louisiana in April. The first half of 2019 will be chaotic, but we’ll manage. We always do. But because I know it’s going to be a challenging year, I’m giving myself a bit of a break. I’ll only have three major goals next year:

  • Finish my novel (or novella) and thoroughly revise at least once
  • Complete my classics reading challenge for 2019
  • Find a way to plug into the literary community in Louisiana

I’m probably going to be conservative about reviews this year, sharing my thoughts mostly on Goodreads. I’ll also do away with the “Quick Reads” section of my blog to save time. Most of my energy will be devoted to the novella (or novel). But I’ll still share updates about my progress on my blog, so I hope you’ll continue to check in this year.

What are your goals for 2019? Feel free to share in the comments. However you decide to challenge yourself, I wish you a year of peace and joyful reading!

October and November Mini-Reviews

Hello, my dear blog readers! Hopefully you are cozy and warm while reading this. You may have noticed I didn’t post any book reviews for October. I’m combining October and November’s reviews because of National Novel Writing Month. Once NaNoWriMo started, it practically took over my life. Everything else had to wait. So here are all of the reviews in one post. Thanks for your patience!

Remember, 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.)


A Questionable ShapeLet’s start with the one that left me most aggrieved. When I picked up A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims, I couldn’t wait to read it. Here was another Two Dollar Radio (my favorite small press publisher) book and it had excellent reviews. Even better, it was about zombies in Louisiana, a state I rarely find represented in stories. Throw in the added bonus of an experimental form and I couldn’t wait to dig in. I quickly realized this book wasn’t something I was going to enjoy. The novel was not my cup of tea, and I could go on—in great detail—about why, but for now, let’s just focus on the positive.

Synopsis from the Two Dollar Radio website:

Mazoch discovers an unreturned movie envelope, smashed windows, and a pool of blood in his father’s house: the man has gone missing. So he creates a list of his father’s haunts and asks Vermaelen to help track him down.

However, hurricane season looms over Baton Rouge, threatening to wipe out any undead not already contained and eliminate all hope of ever finding Mazoch’s father.

Bennett Sims turns typical zombie fare on its head to deliver a wise and philosophical rumination on the nature of memory and loss.

What worked well:

  • If you’re going to use footnotes in a novel, you may as well go all out. Usually, footnotes work in academic texts and not novels because different pacing is needed; you study an academic text, taking time to ruminate on the words written on the page, while you expect to read at a steady pace through a novel. And, indeed, don’t expect A Questionable Shape to be well paced—the length and pervasiveness of the footnotes destroy any hope for that right away. But, if one insists on using footnotes in a novel, why not use them like you would in an academic textbook? After all, footnotes are often used to reference something else. Sims does that in his novel as well, making the footnotes a vehicle for Vermaelen’s endless references and internal diatribes.
  • Taking a step back from the gore and violence usually associated with zombies, to consider our humanity and what makes us human, is never a bad thing. Sims does this in his novel and, while I didn’t find it all to be successful, I did greatly appreciate his refreshing attempt.

Who should read A Questionable Shape:

  • Those who hate genre fiction, especially zombie novels
  • Fans of dead philosophers and run-of-the-mill masculine heroes
  • Readers who enjoy long-winded jeremiads
  • Those who appreciate a Nick Carraway-like narrator

DublinersA friend recommended I read Dubliners by James Joyce after I mentioned that I wanted to read Ulysses for my 2019 reading challenge, which consists of classics published before the 1950s. Taking her up on her advice, I picked up an annotated and illustrated copy of the book from the Bellevue Public Library. I think what left me the most satisfied was Joyce’s daring. His publication attempts fell through many times, but he didn’t give up. He insisted his stories, of which possess little of the modern short story structure preached about in MFA classes, be published and—in an age where self-publishing was a great deal more difficult—finally managed to make it happen. Needless to say, I find his persistence thrilling, even if I found the actual stories to be less so.

Synopsis from Amazon:

Detailed notes accompany fifteen short stories that evoke the character, atmosphere, and people of Dublin at the turn of the century

What worked well:

  • Joyce gives us a peek into Dublin: its people, its pleasures, and its pitfalls. After reading so many novels by English writers, it’s a relief to read something about Ireland, from where the majority of my ancestors emigrated.
  • Joyce’s characters are more complex than they first appear to be. It is the complexities of these characters that most intrigued me.

Who should read Dubliners:

  • Readers who appreciate stories that don’t adhere to contemporary short story structures
  • Those who may be interested in Dublin, especially during the early 20th century
  • Readers who enjoy narrators of different ages
  • Fans of free indirect discourse

Bones and AllWith my La Vista Public Library card, I checked out a book titled Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis, which happened to be shelved in the adult fiction section despite the novel’s young adult narrator. Likely the librarians understood that serial murders via cannibalism might be viewed as more of an adult topic. I was at first intrigued by Maren’s ghoulishness, especially since this was toted in some spheres as a feminist novel, and indeed the story started out strong. But it quickly fell apart, feminist undertones and all. In addition, the author’s note about veganism—equating the cannibalism of the novel to eating animals—really tainted the book for me. Still, Bones & All is memorable for a lot of reasons, and there is something to be said about Maren’s own personal journey to find herself and embrace who she is, even if the result is horrifying.

Synopsis from Macmillan’s website:

Maren Yearly is a young woman who wants the same things we all do. She wants to be someone people admire and respect. She wants to be loved. But her secret, shameful needs have forced her into exile. She hates herself for the bad thing she does, for what it’s done to her family and her sense of identity; for how it dictates her place in the world and how people see her–how they judge her. She didn’t choose to be this way.

Because Maren Yearly doesn’t just break hearts, she devours them. Ever since her mother found Penny Wilson’s eardrum in her mouth when Maren was just two years old, she knew life would never be normal for either of them. Love may come in many shapes and sizes, but for Maren, it always ends the same-with her hiding the evidence and her mother packing up the car.

But when her mother abandons her the day after her sixteenth birthday, Maren goes looking for the father she has never known, and finds much more than she bargained for along the way.

Faced with a world of fellow eaters, potential enemies, and the prospect of love, Maren realizes she isn’t only looking for her father, she’s looking for herself.

Camille DeAngelis’ Bones & All is an astonishingly original coming-of-age tale that is at once a gorgeously written horror story as well as a mesmerizing meditation on female power and sexuality.

What worked well:

  • When is the last time you’ve read anything about a ghoul? I mean zombies? Sure. Ghosts? You bet. Ghouls? I’ll wait. Even if you’ve read fifteen ghoul books lately, it’s always interesting to read a book from the perspective of a monster—not anti-heroes but villains. After all, Maren kills people by eating them. As revolting as cannibalism is—and it’s quite disgusting in the book—you have to admit that the common hero tales out there don’t always cut it. Sometimes you want to know what the villain thinks. Maren’s humanity, which wars with her ghoulish tendencies, creates excellent tension.
  • It makes my skin crawl a little to remember how well the descriptions worked in this novel. Even when the violence is implied, DeAngelis gives us just enough to continue to freak us out. And the devil is always in the details.

Who should read Bones & All:

  • Fans of books about damsels in distress and their handsome saviors
  • Those who enjoy books with speculative elements, especially horror and fantasy
  • Readers who enjoy books from the perspective of the villain
  • Those who can stomach violence and gore

Blue HorsesI wanted to read some more poetry, so I decided to take Blue Horses by Mary Oliver out of my to-be-read pile. Perusing Oliver’s biography, I figured out she was born in Ohio, like me. I ended up enjoying reading Blue Horses and was moved by several of the poems.

Synopsis from the Penguin Random House website:

In this stunning collection of new poems, Mary Oliver returns to the imagery that has defined her life’s work, describing with wonder both the everyday and the unaffected beauty of nature.

Herons, sparrows, owls, and kingfishers flit across the page in meditations on love, artistry, and impermanence. Whether considering a bird’s nest, the seeming patience of oak trees, or the artworks of Franz Marc, Oliver reminds us of the transformative power of attention and how much can be contained within the smallest moments.

At its heart, Blue Horses asks what it means to truly belong to this world, to live in it attuned to all its changes. Humorous, gentle, and always honest, Oliver is a visionary of the natural world.

What worked well:

  • I can’t honestly claim to be the best judge of poetry. However, I can tell you what I find enjoyable. I found Oliver’s poems to be plainspoken but witty and accessible. I especially enjoyed the good-natured jab at Whitman and Leaves of Grass.
  • The poems were also full of beautiful nature imagery. As someone who has a deep appreciation for natural landscapes, I love when a poet can capture the loveliness and mystery of said places with their chosen words. Oliver does this with a noticeable wisdom.

Who should read Blue Horses:

  • Readers who enjoy nature imagery
  • Fans of well-written, plainspoken poems
  • Those who appreciate witty mischief
  • Readers who want to read the work of a well-established poet

This House is HauntedAround Halloween, I wanted to read a ghost story. I finally cracked open This House is Haunted by John Boyne. It’s likely you may recognize Boyne’s more famous work, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I didn’t realize he’d written that book when I won This House is Haunted from a giveaway by Other Press. So I began the book without any expectations—aside from wanting a good ghost story. The book is written in “Dickensian prose” and even features Dickens as a character in the beginning. So it starts out bold. I was intrigued. In the end, though, the story was too formulaic and the characters were too flat for my tastes.

Synopsis from the Other Press website:

Written in Dickensian prose, This House Is Haunted is a striking homage to the classic nineteenth century ghost story. Set in Norfolk in 1867, Eliza Caine responds to an ad for a governess position at Gaudlin Hall. When she arrives at the hall, shaken by an unsettling disturbance that occurred during her travels, she is greeted by the two children now in her care, Isabella and Eustace. There is no adult present to represent her mysterious employer, and the children offer no explanation. Later that night in her room, another terrifying experience further reinforces the sense that something is very wrong.

From the moment Eliza rises the following morning, her every step seems dogged by a malign presence that lives within Gaudlin’s walls. Eliza realizes that if she and the children are to survive its violent attentions, she must first uncover the hall’s long-buried secrets and confront the demons of its past. Clever, captivating, and witty, This House Is Haunted is pure entertainment with a catch.

What worked well:

  • I did enjoy Boyne’s prose. He seemed to capture the vernacular of the time period, which was probably a difficult and tedious task to pull off as a writer.
  • The supernatural happenings were interesting enough. Who doesn’t enjoy a deadly, vengeful ghost from time to time? Though I really wish I’d known more about the ghost herself, Eliza’s encounters with the specter kept me reading.

Who should read This House is Haunted:

  • Fans of “Dickensian prose”
  • Readers who enjoy ghost stories, especially ones set in the 19th century
  • Those who enjoy stories about motherhood
  • Readers who like stories about English class politics

Fifth SeasonAfter a month of reading stories I didn’t particularly love, I was nervous to start The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. After all, the book had received a lot of hype, which made me instantly skeptical. But when I began to read Jemisin’s work, my heart soared. Here was a writer that could challenge me, that could make me think, that could offer me new ways of looking at language. Her work reminded me so much of geniuses like Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler. Jemisin gave me an entertaining story, complex characters, and sentences that would make any seasoned writer green with envy. Add that to the way she examines identity and plays with point of view and there’s nothing left to say but I love this book.

Synopsis from Hachette’s website:

This is the way the world ends…for the last time.

A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

What worked well:

  • It’s much more of a challenge to find what didn’t work well in this book. As I mentioned before, the way Jemisin plays with point of view and then ties that into identity is genius. Downright genius. It thrilled me. But I can’t really say more than that without massive spoilers—so go read it and find out!
  • Not many writers can pull off an interesting plot and complex characters. Usually it’s either one or the other (or in some cases, neither). Jemisin does this flawlessly. She gives us people who naturally wield the earth as a weapon and as a result are feared and subjugated. The story avoids many of the major cliches usually found in speculative genres and improves upon the tropes it does tap into. I am still a little stunned by the awesomeness that is The Fifth Season.

Who should read The Fifth Season:
(Um, anyone who reads? Like, this story is awesome. C’mon. Okay fine.)

  • Readers who enjoy science fiction, fantasy, and horror
  • Veteran speculative readers looking for something challenging and exciting
  • Those who enjoy stories that grapple with ideas of identity and power
  • Fans of Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison

3arabi songSo I’ve had some poetry collections sitting on my shelf for quite a while now and I decided to go ahead and read them. I started with 3arabi Song by Zeina Hashem Beck. While not my favorite poetry collection, I did enjoy Beck’s tribute to Arab singers.

Synopsis from the Rattle website:

3arabi Song is a song of sorrow and joy, death and dance. Yes there is unrest, war, and displacement in countries like Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and Egypt. But there is also survival, music, and love. Iconic Arab singers like Umm Kulthum, Fairuz, and Abdel Halim Hafez, inhabit these poems—they mourn and celebrate. So do children, parents, refugees, and lovers. These poems want to hum you stories that straddle the personal and the political, in an English riddled with Arabic words. The voices in them want to mourn for loved ones and broken homelands, but they also want to sing, as Asmahan does, ‘inta inta imta—you you when / will you know I love you.’

What worked well:

  • Beck does a nice job balancing the political with the personal in this collection. Balance in general, I think, is a quality of her work that should be praised. There’s a balance between Arabic and English (the translation notes at the end help a great deal), between tragedy and triumph, between influences of the West and influences of the Middle East. The result is a robust collection, filled with interesting juxtapositions.
  • Another wonderful aspect of 3arabi Song is the examination of song and language. I found Beck’s explanation of Arabizi to be particularly interesting.

Who should read 3arabi Song:

  • Readers who enjoy poems in multiple languages
  • Those who appreciate Arabic songs and culture
  • Fans of poems using refrains
  • Those who may be interested in learning more about Arabizi

Turn Left Before MorningThe other poetry collection I’d acquired from Rattle was Turn Left Before Morning by April Salzano. This collection by a mother of a child with autism really struck a chord with me.

Synopsis from the Rattle website:

Turn Left Before Morning explores the daily struggles involved in parenting a child with autism. These poems map a mother’s quest for understanding of a world that requires a significant shift in perspective and a new definition of what it means to love a child. The key to navigating the rough terrain of autism is not something she discovers, but is instead something that has been subtly guiding her all along: autism is as wonderful as it is terrifying, as humorous as it is heartbreaking, in alternating and equal measure.

What worked well:

  • The brutal honesty offered in these poems makes this collection undeniably strong. Each felt like a strong punch to the gut.
  • There is a lot of beauty in this complex relationship between mother and son. The plainspoken poems reflect this with gripping and convicting language that has the power to move the reader.

Who should read Turn Left Before Morning:

  • Readers seeking poems about autism
  • Parents of children with autism
  • Fans of plainspoken poems
  • Those who can appreciate and grapple with complex situations and relationships

Language of Rain and WindThe final poetry collection I’d been meaning to read was The Language of Rain and Wind by John Krumberger. I picked this out of a “free books” giveaway pile at Creighton University, because I was intrigued by the title. I found the poems to be interesting enough to keep me reading.

In lieu of a synopsis, here are some quotes of praise about The Language of Rain and Wind from the Backwaters Press website:

‘In poems sometimes elegiac, sometimes celebratory, often both, John Krumberger acknowledges his self-appointed task: “as a Scorpio who feels / the ground beneath the ground, / I lay my ear down to hear / the rocky, carbon, root-ash loam / breeding with the old year’s bones.” Past and present commingle in beautiful and disturbing ways to create “rank, rain-watered, worm-riddled” layers, and The Language of Rain and Wind is replete with modest gestures that offer “brisk benediction before quicklime and dark.” Oddly affirmative, these poems born of passionate listening speak as naturally as the elements and touch us as rain and wind might, lightly, but with memorable effect.’
• Michael Waters – Author of Darling Vulgarity

‘These empathetic poems are rich with the realities of other lives. John Krumberger doesn’t miss much: there is a wide (and deep) range of concerns in these pages. Here is a writer who knows how to listen and to watch, who can make vividly surprising, daring imaginative connections without raising his voice; the complexities are all the more strongly felt for the overall naturalness of his manner and the skillful quietness of his voice. These are indelibly human poems; I loved reading them.’
• Michael Dennis Browne – Author of Things I Can’t Tell You

What worked well:

  • Beautiful images and sensory details bring the poems to life on the page.
  • The third section, which expresses intimate moments with patients, was rather striking. Many of the lines delivered there were haunting and powerful.

Who should read The Language of Rain and Wind:

  • Those interested in psychology
  • Fans of poems rich with sensory details and striking images
  • Readers who like poems focused on human relations
  • Fans of poems about nature

BONUS TITLES!

I read #43 through #45 in the Ghost City Press micro-chapbook series. You can find all of them here.

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.

 

The 2018 Summer Micro-Chapbook Series Begins!

The annual Ghost City Press Summer Micro-Chapbook Series kicked off today with Sara Adams’s Casserole. There will be new works of poetry, prose, and art released each day from May 28 to September 7. My collection of stories, Space, Collisions, will release July 19. I hope you’ll check it out!

And because I’m writing about my micro-chapbook, it should be noted that the collection now has a cover! The artist is Jennifer Potter, a talented illustrator and the creator of Echo’s Rift. She really went above and beyond to make the cover fit with the writing. To fully appreciate the intricate details added to the cover art, you can watch Potter’s speedpaint video on YouTube.

Book Cover-hi-res

Cover Art by Jennifer Potter

I’m hoping for some reviews for Space, Collisions, and have submitted an advance reading copy (ARC) of the micro-chapbook to a couple of places for consideration. My hometown newspaper was kind enough to publish an announcement on their website. One of the current editors of Blue River also expressed interest in reviewing the collection for the Blue River blog.

If you know of any places that accept review requests for micro-chapbooks—or if you’re an independent reviewer interested in receiving an ARC—please reach out to me at leeann [dot] n [dot] holmes [at] gmail [dot] com. You can also review Space, Collisions on Goodreads after its release.

It’s going to be an exciting summer. I hope you all will check out the micro-chapbook series. And as always, if you do, thanks for reading.

February Mini-Reviews

With eight books now read, I am closer to my goal of reading 52 books this year. For the short month of February, I decided to check out the collected novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin and revisit some of the books I read in college.

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.)


the found and the lost

The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin

With Ursula K. Le Guin‘s passing, I felt the need to read her collected novellas as an act of mourning. She was such a talented writer and the breadth of her work could not be contained by any one genre.

Summary from the Simon & Schuster website:

Ursula K. Le Guin has won multiple prizes and accolades from the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to the Newbery Honor, the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, and PEN/Malamud Awards. She has had her work collected over the years, but never as a complete retrospective of her longer works as represented in the wonderful The Found and the Lost.

Includes:
-Vaster Than Empires and More Slow
-Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight
-Hernes
-The Matter of Seggri
-Another Story or a Fisherman of the Inland Sea
-Forgiveness Day
-A Man of the People
-A Woman’s Liberation
-Old Music and the Slave Women
-The Finder
-On the High Marsh
-Dragonfly
-Paradises Lost

This collection is a literary treasure chest that belongs in every home library. 

Of Lovely Minds and Bodies: Jennifer Niven’s Holding Up the Universe

Let me explain a bit about Jennifer Niven before I begin this book review—for the sake of those unfamiliar with the author.

Jennifer is the daughter of Penelope Niven, who was also an accomplished writer. In the early stages of Jennifer’s career, she wrote nonfiction, which was her mother’s genre. When she published Velva Jean Learns to Drive, she was venturing into the world of fiction, and I became one of her biggest fans. Velva Jean was a heroine that I rooted for, that I loved, that I wanted to be like. Jennifer had me hooked.

In 2015, Jennifer decided to switch age groups—from adults to teens—and, as a result, became a New York Times bestselling author with her book, All the Bright Places. The novel sold in many different countries. Jennifer gained international acclaim. More importantly, she became more than “just an author” to so many young people—she became an advocate for those with mental illness.

Holding Up the Universe is Jennifer’s newest young adult novel, scheduled to release on October 4, 2016.

Here is the synopsis:

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for EVERY POSSIBILITY LIFE HAS TO OFFER. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything in new and bad-ass ways, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.

Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game — which lands them in group counseling and community service — Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. . . . Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are — and seeing them right back.

As a contributor to Germ Magazine (for the sake of transparency: it is an online publication created by Jennifer), I had the privilege of receiving an ARC of Holding Up the Universe in exchange for a review.

REVIEW (SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW):

Holding Up the UniverseRomance, for any age group, is not my genre of choice—but I have to admire Jennifer’s ability to make love stories feel true to real life. The romance between Libby and Jack starts slow and with lots of initial loathing. From there, it’s not an easy transition to love and acceptance.

Loosely based on Jennifer’s own experiences, she doesn’t sugar coat the hard issues, and I think that is what makes her writing so strong. The characters in this story are struggling to find the confidence to move forward with their lives. Libby is bullied for her weight. Jack is terrified he will lose everyone he loves if he tells them about his cognitive disorder. Jack’s brother carries a purse despite his schoolmates’ opinions of him. The list goes on.

A cowardly act inspires the bravery hidden in both Libby and Jack. They start to change the people around them, including each other, as they learn how to accept themselves and pursue their dreams. And interwoven with these trials is an underlying truth—that Libby and Jack are wanted simply as they are.

At times it is a heartbreaking journey, but I’m glad I tagged along to see all of the triumphs for our main characters. It’s like Niven’s writing invites you in and makes you want to stay for dinner. There is cordiality in her paragraphs, friendship in her sentences. Then she shakes it up with a dash of humor. There is a deliberate connection, like she’s reaching for the reader’s hand. Her writing does not suffer due to her intentions. On the contrary, her kindness magnifies the power of the story.

There were only a few things that bothered me, overall, about the book.

There were many minor characters and I eventually started to mix some of them up because of the sheer number of them. Oftentimes it was because a group of minor characters played a minute role in a single part of the novel, with only a brief mention of them later. The ones that were more concrete, like Caroline and Mr. Levine, I didn’t have too much trouble with. It was people like Kendra Wu, Jesselle Villegas, Jayvee De Castro, and Rachel that made me scratch my scalp. There were several times I had to stop reading to go back in the novel and figure out who these minor characters were.

And since we are on the topic of characters, I have to admit that many of them bordered on stereotypes. Jennifer’s writing was much stronger when she focused on holistic qualities of the characters, because it made them feel more like real human beings.

That being said, I think Holding Up the Universe deserves to be read. In these tumultuous times, we all need a little more empathy. Jennifer’s novel examines just how lovely and wanted all of us are—a message the world desperately needs.

Why I Don’t Review Everything I Read

reviews, writing, books, short stories, fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry

Let start with the obvious. There are some books that I am obligated to review because I received the book for free from a company. There are also some books I am assigned to review as an opportunity with a company that mostly displays content online.

That being said, there are many books, short stories, poems, creative nonfiction essays and memoirs, articles, news stories, etc. outside of my obligations that I read. I often read the content of certain literary magazines and journals to familiarize myself with the writing contained within—although there are a few I continue to read afterward, because I enjoy the content so much. Articles and news stories I generally read for information. Books, however, I almost always read for fun.

And yet, I will not review everything. There is a reason for this, obviously. Several, in fact—but I’ll just name a few for books.

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