Book Review: Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


For the serious large-scope fiction writer, this guide is a treasure. Lusciously designed, packed with different perspectives, humorous and hyper-serious at turns, it’s a fabulous textbook to turn to when muddling through the task of bringing the fantastical to life through writing. Jeff VanderMeer really lays everything he’s got on the table–generous to a fault with comprehensive inclusion of information on his process and philosophy as a writer.



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Book Review: How to Make Friends with the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow

How to Make Friends with the Dark

How to Make Friends with the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Like many YA novels, this one starts with a protagonist whose mother dies. But what makes this title stand apart is the way it lingers and sinks into the grief that actually accompanies such a monstrous loss. Grief is not an aspect of the plot line in Glasgow’s How to Make Friends with the Dark; rather, it is the plot line… the horrible, inescapable plot line that all of us must follow at one time or another. As such, it’s a painful read, but also a revelatory and important one. I applaud Glasgow for having the bravery to go here, in such a realistic and three-dimensional way. This book is about death and the aftermath–no sugared-over love story among the rubble, just the truth.



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Book Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

The Testaments

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Margaret Atwood is a writer who we need, for so many reasons, and she proves that yet again in The Testaments. Both satisfying and unnerving, true and false, saccharine and scathing, this book gives fans of The Handmaid’s Tale a little more time to look around Gilead and to imagine how we might act were we to find ourselves in similar circumstances. There’s a veil between this dystopian reality and our own which, at times, can feel quite thin. We’re lucky that Atwood is the one pulling the curtain back for us. She is a consummate storyteller, one of the finest of our age.



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Book Review: Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl

Neverworld Wake

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was not prepared for everything that I got out of Marisha Pessl’s Neverworld Wake. It’s a genre-defying YA title, mostly realistic but somehow also mostly fantasy, a little sci-fi, a lot mystery, and just an extremely interesting ride. Pessl takes the concept of a time loop anomaly and applies it to a group of wealthy, privileged college kids who all have something to hide. When they get trapped together in a recurring day inside a kind of half-alive limbo with a ticking clock, all manner of possibilities provide themselves. It’s a thrilling and satisfyingly fun read. The plot is admirably complex, and will delight fans of unpredictable stories with larger than life characters. In other words, this book is like the hippest game of Clue ever played.



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Book Review: After the Fall by Kate Hart

After the Fall

After the Fall by Kate Hart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


After the Fall is a gossipy YA read with a real beating heart behind it. The way that the narration plays with our perceptions of the characters ultimately reveals a criticism of stereotypes, a reminder that people are rarely what we think we know about them. I appreciate the way Hart refuses to shy away from edgier content–her treatment of sexual assault from multiple perspectives has important and strong messages for her young adult readers. This book could be the difference that makes a kid speak up about something important.



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Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The best YA books capture what it really feels like to be young, and The Poet X does that with a hand so light you didn’t even know it touched you until you close the back cover. The book verges on metafiction, as it’s written in verse, essentially representing the notebook full of poems that the main character Xiomara carries with her everywhere as she comes into her artistic identity. Acevedo is so good at capturing the overwhelming crescendo of adolescence–suddenly we have to figure out about God and love and who our parents really are as people and what to do with an adult body and terror and pride and what we’re willing to risk ourselves for. Xiomara has all of that chaos right in front of her, and we get to ride along as she figures it all out, full of doubt but also full of power. A resounding celebration of the solace and strength that comes from writing.



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Book Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This Is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Anytime science fiction and literary fiction become one, I lose all sense of time and spin in, captivated. That’s exactly what happened when I read this stunningly beautiful novella. It feels so old and so new at once. It is a war story and a love story. It is about the parallels and tension between nature and machine. It is a philosophical treatise. It is funny, fresh, and packed with lyrical language. But most of all it feels like longing and honors a gentle way of seeing the reality, time, and the role we play within it. It’s a story that honors reckless hope.

As soon as I finished, I handed it off to someone I knew would love it. He gave it back the next day, already finished, and said, “I’m going to buy my own copy and eat it.” That pretty much sums up the impact of this book for the right reader. A new favorite for me.



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Book Review: Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Parable of the Sower does anarchy and terror very well. The power of Butler’s story comes from the future envisioned here, one that could certainly sprout from the seeds planted by today’s social ills. Her main character’s spare, emotionless narration is a function of the debilitating fear and trauma she has known all her life. I did quibble a bit with her “hyperempathy syndrome” (strictly limited to respond to physical pain), in that it didn’t seem to impact the plot at all and was therefore superfluous. But I really appreciated how this book made me question what would be necessary to survive in a world where our abilities to protect ourselves, provide for ourselves, and feel confident in the future were decimated. Butler presents us with a character who does what she must, at all times, to redefine faith in an era when God has forsaken humanity, in order to teach others how to survive.

**Another note: This cover does nothing at all to suggest the true essence of this story. It’s about an androgynous, badass young woman who is wearing jeans that she took off a corpse as she leads a group through an apocalyptic landscape. Who designed this?! Also, there are several basic errors in editing in this edition–inexcusable, and an insult to Butler’s genius that they did not do a thorough job in making sure the prose was fully represented as intended.



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Book Review: Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Emergency Contact

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A snackable YA read that serves up quirky characters and romantic chemistry with a side of complicated parental relationships. I appreciate the way that Choi represented the flow of modern relationships from digital to physical and back again. Wish we could have seen Penny confront her own insecurities and evasiveness a little but more without the romantic interest as the vehicle for it, but hey, it’s true to the genre. The thing I respect most about this book is the encouragement to be honest with another person about the big things that define yourself, to share, admit, disclose, and acknowledge rather than hiding it away.



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Book Review: S. (Ship of Theseus) by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Ship of Theseus

Ship of Theseus by J.J. Abrams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


S. or Ship of Theseus is an intensely satisfying reading experience for those who enjoy metafiction and experimental literature. It is a time-consuming but deliciously tactile journey that lends the same surge of intrigue as unfolding a handwritten note that falls out of somewhere unexpected. You don’t know what it contains, or who wrote it, but as you read, you see the traces of the writer–an employer, a friend, a lover, a parent, whomever–writing from a specific place in time, to a specific recipient. And you feel that forbidden drive to read… because of the fact that those words that weren’t meant for you. Combine that feeling with an actual entire literary novel-within-a-novel that is, in itself, spooky, stirring, and Hemingway-esque. And, as garnish, you feel the unique pull of an academic obsession that multiplies as commonality and connection reaches two people who find that their obsession is shared.

This is not a normal book. It is an amalgamation of multi-colored annotations, footnotes, letters, postcards, newspapers, cards, and drawings that exist because of the book. It takes patience. All of it is an absolutely staggering invention. Hats off to Doug Dorst (writer) and J.J. Abrams (concept/story) on this unique tribute to the love of literature.



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