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!

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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.

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.

May Mini-Reviews

 May was a really good month for reading. At least for me. I read twelve books and micro-chapbooks. The summer micro-chapbook series is really boosting my numbers! What did you pick up in May, blog readers?

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.)


Brass

Brass by Xhenet Aliu

Brass by Xhenet Aliu is another novel I picked up from the Bellevue Public Library. I found the cover art curious and so I picked up the book and read the synopsis. I put it down at first because I was unsure if I really wanted to try it out. But then I circled back and took it to the checkout counter. I’m glad I took the time to read this one in the end.

Synopsis from the Penguin Random House website:

A waitress at the Betsy Ross Diner, Elsie hopes her nickel-and-dime tips will add up to a new life. Then she meets Bashkim, who is at once both worldly and naïve, a married man who left Albania to chase his dreams—and wound up working as a line cook in Waterbury, Connecticut. Back when the brass mills were still open, this bustling factory town drew one wave of immigrants after another. Now it’s the place they can’t seem to leave. Elsie, herself the granddaughter of Lithuanian immigrants, falls in love quickly, but when she learns that she’s pregnant, Elsie can’t help wondering where Bashkim’s heart really lies, and what he’ll do about the wife he left behind.

Seventeen years later, headstrong and independent Luljeta receives a rejection letter from NYU and her first-ever suspension from school on the same day. Instead of striking out on her own in Manhattan, she’s stuck in Connecticut with her mother, Elsie—a fate she refuses to accept. Wondering if the key to her future is unlocking the secrets of the past, Lulu decides to find out what exactly her mother has been hiding about the father she never knew. As she soon discovers, the truth is closer than she ever imagined.

Told in equally gripping parallel narratives with biting wit and grace, Brass announces a fearless new voice with a timely, tender, and quintessentially American story.

Another audiobook I finished in May is Parasite by Mira Grant (a. k. a. Seanan McGuire). I had a hard time feeling engaged by McGuire’s writing style in Every Heart a Doorway, so I wanted to try a different book by her. While I liked Parasite better, I think I’m too disenchanted at this point to continue the series.

Synopsis from the Hachette Book Group website:

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite — a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the Intestinal Bodyguard worm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system — even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives . . . and will do anything to get them.

What worked well:

  • Grant’s idea of sentient parasites that can heal people by living in their body is bizarre, wild, and extremely imaginative. It’s also a genius twist on a familiar genre, which becomes more apparent as the reader delves farther into the book.
  • Grant also approaches animal rights in a way that many other writers do not. Many writers consider animal rights at a distance, their characters narrating what is happening instead of actively engaging with the animals. Grant’s protagonist engages with animals and their rights directly, a truly refreshing approach.

Who should read Parasite:

  • Readers who enjoy new approaches to familiar science fiction genres
  • Those who enjoy books about human and animal rights
  • Fans of Seanan McGuire’s books
  • Readers who enjoy books about weird science

A Wrinkled in Time

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I wanted to support the film version of A Wrinkle in Time but felt guilty about not reading the book before the movie released. I watched A Wrinkle in Time in theaters anyway and decided to read the book later on. I ended up downloading the audiobook from my local library. Madeleine L’Engle is an inspiring writer and I’m glad I had the chance to listen to some of her work.

Synopsis from the Penguin Random House website:

Madeleine L’Engle’s ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy classic, soon to be a major motion picture. This movie tie-in audiobook includes an introduction read by director Ava DuVernay, a foreword read by the author, and an afterword read by Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis.

Meg Murray, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. He claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a “tesseract,” which, if you didn’t know, is a wrinkle in time. Meg’s father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?

In 1962, Madeleine L’Engle debuted her novel A Wrinkle in Time, which would go on to win the 1963 Newbery Medal. Bridging science and fantasy, darkness and light, fear and friendship, the story became a classic of children’s literature and is beloved around the world. Now Disney is taking it to the silver screen! Directed by Ava DuVernay and with an all-star cast that includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, and newcomer Storm Reid, the major motion picture brings the world of Wrinkle to life for a new generation of fans.

What worked well:

  • A Wrinkle in Time does a nice job of depicting a female protagonist who needs to embrace her truest self—flaws and all—to overcome obstacles in her path. It’s a positive message but, let’s be real, it’s also kind of radical. She’s a young girl who’s not your stereotypical beauty and whose flaws are things like anger and impatience. L’Engle opened a door with this novel for many young girls who badly needed representation in literature.
  • L’Engle’s imagination was also a joy to discover. From the “tesseract” device to the villainous “IT” to the vastly different locations, L’Engle creates a complex universe full of life, weird science, and beautiful fantasy.

Who should read A Wrinkle in Time:

  • Those who enjoy middle-grade books
  • Fans of the science fantasy genre
  • Readers who like complex female protagonists
  • Those who enjoy books about family and bonds of friendship

The Underneath

The Underneath by Melanie Finn

When I read that Melanie Finn had a new book coming out, I knew I had to buy it. In the past, when I worked at Tethered by Letters, I read The Gloaming for a review. Back then, I wasn’t familiar with her work. Now I know how much of a genius she is. It was inevitable that I would preorder The Underneath from Two Dollar Radio.

Synopsis from the Two Dollar Radio website:

With the assurance and grace of her acclaimed novel The Gloaming—which earned her comparisons to Patricia Highsmith—Melanie Finn returns with a precisely layered and tense new literary thriller.

The Underneath follows Kay Ward, a former journalist struggling with the constraints of motherhood. Along with her husband and two children, she rents a quaint Vermont farmhouse for the summer. The idea is to disconnect from their work-based lifestyle—that had her doggedly pursuing a genocidal leader of child soldiers known as General Christmas, even through Kay’s pregnancy and the birth of their second child—in an effort to repair their shaky marriage.

It isn’t long before Kay’s husband is called away and she discovers a mysterious crawlspace in the rental with unsettling writing etched into the wall. Alongside some of the house’s other curiosities and local sleuthing, Kay is led to believe that something terrible may have happened to the home’s owners.

Kay’s investigation leads her to a local logger, Ben Comeau, a man beset with his own complicated and violent past. A product of the foster system and life-long resident of the Northeast Kingdom, Ben struggles to overcome his situation, and to help an abused child whose addict mother is too incapacitated to care about the boy’s plight.

The Underneath is an intelligent and considerate exploration of violence—both personal and social—and whether violence may ever be justified.

What worked well:

  • There is so much good to say, but let’s start with the obvious one: Finn’s use of violence. Violence may not seem like a good thing—and indeed, it is not—but in the hands of a master prose stylist, there is somewhat of an important subversion that takes place. The Underneath unflinchingly delves headlong into some heartbreaking topics through the characters and their experiences: child soldiers, warmongers, mutilation, drug abuse, self-harm, suicide, sexual abuse, neglect, pedophilia, physical abuse, verbal abuse, animal abuse, destruction of the earth, etc. It’s true that you likely need a strong stomach to read this book. But the things that Finn brings up are important for us to discuss and not to ignore. Finn also shows us how any person—”good” or not—can end up perpetuating violence.
  • Like with The Gloaming, Finn’s prose in this book is stellar. From the very first beautiful and compelling line, I was hooked. Finn phrases things in ways that few other writers can or have. To understand what I mean, you should read an excerpt of the novel or just take a leap of faith and buy the book.

Who should read The Underneath:

  • Readers who enjoy literary thrillers
  • Those who are prepared to read about intense violence
  • Fans of The Gloaming
  • Readers who enjoy exquisite prose

*BONUS TITLES!

From Likely Red Press:

 

From the Ghost City Press Summer Micro-Chapbook Series:

casserolethere are over 100 billion stars in our galaxyWolf InventoryBrett+Stuckel+-+Outerbridge+Shelter  

*I have strong affiliations to these particular titles and their publishers.

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: