review: And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

Finally, an ARC and a book that counts toward my summer reading goals: a book by an author of color. Jowhor Ile is a Nigerian writer, and this is his debut novel. I was so excited to be able to request it as a review copy! As always, you can find or request books like this at your local bookstore (bonus points, yes, if it’s Magers & Quinn, haha).

aamdAnd After Many Days by Jowhor Ile (Tim Duggan Books, 244 pages) 

A spellbinding debut about a country rife with change and a family’s bond and growth, And After Many Days is a novel I will remember for a while. In Port Harcourt, Nigeria in the 1990s, we meet the Utu family—a middle class, respected crew of five—through the eyes of the youngest child, Ajie, on the tragic day of his older brother Paul’s disappearance.

Ile’s description of Nigeria and village life is rich with poetic language, but the stark details he includes are refreshing and make for a quick read. “The skies open and drop water all day—drizzle this time, but the streets get flooded, drainages overflow, okada men in rain capes hang about under the eaves of roadside shops, shielding their motorcycles from the water, ignoring prospective passengers.” His talent for showing emotions without explanation of the family’s reaction to events is to be praised. This style wouldn’t work for every novel, but here it brings the vibrant Utu family’s interactions to life.

Unlike mysteries where the story begins with the puzzle and works to solve it, this book starts with the catalyst that sends the Utus’ normal existence spinning but then backtracks, starting with background family history and launching into Ajie’s childhood memories. The jump is almost startling. “The seeds of Paul’s disappearance were sowed by his parents. This was what Ajie decided. . . As for Paul, you really can’t blame a person for his own disappearance, at least not while he is still missing and cannot speak for himself. . . To tell Paul’s story, you would have to start from before he was born.” Unfortunately, we are fully immersed by Ile into the past and don’t return again to the present until it is almost forgotten, and by that point it is unclear exactly how many years have passed. Sometimes the story moves at a slow pace and other times you could have skipped many years without knowing. Though Ile’s talent lies in connecting the changing atmosphere and political strife of Nigeria to the growing children’s perception of their world through the eyes of Ajie, it was not enough to make the writing flow easily enough.

Though Ile is lauded by some for his seamless switching of stories through time, I found the book slightly confusing. I was in fact almost worried we would never find out what exactly happened to Paul, at least not to the level of detail I wanted, since the present does not get referenced in the past. Furthermore, there are instances in the book that make the reader uncomfortable—and that is what makes it interesting—but it almost didn’t have enough of Ajie’s personal thoughts or details of Nigeria’s tumultuous state (both extremes) to make the impact it could have. In all, I would laud this as a successful debut and one I wouldn’t steer anyone away from, but I just can’t call it the masterpiece I wanted to. Still, it gets 4 (or 3.5) stars on my Goodreads for being compelling, important, and a beautiful literary piece. 

 
I received this book free from Blogging For Books as part of their Book Review Blogger program in exchange for an honest review. 

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move over Goodreads, there’s a better app in town

Today, I am thankful for Book Riot and all their bookish articles. I immediately was drawn to a post called “Goodreads meets Instagram,” or something along those lines. Now, I know the whole “blank meets blank” is a real selling point for books—really any product—anywhere, since it gets fans of those two items to explore new territory, but I’ve been bothered about it before. It’s just not original to me.

Until now, however, since that description of the new app for iOS called Litsy is spot on. (SIDE NOTE: Yes, it’s only for Apple, please don’t hurt me. If I still had my Android, I’d be pissed as well. BUT the good news is that the more attention and users this app gets, the sooner it will be available to all smart phone users.)

litsy2I’ve had this app for about 5 days and let me tell you. This app is amazing. 

Here’s the scoop:

  1. It’s just like Instagram, in that every post is photo, but the catch is that each must feature a book (you have to select a book to even create a post).
  2. You have the option to blurb, quote, or review the book, but you’re limited to 300 characters in every post. SO NICE. No more super long reviews to read for those who are just looking at pretty photos and getting recommendations. You’re forced to keep your endorsements short, which helps with getting more people to read them and gaining a following! (Also helpful for booksellers, as I can attest, since it’s making me form exactly why I want everyone to read a book into just a few sentences. Perfect for hand sells.)
  3. It’s like Goodreads in that you can “shelve” your books and sort them into To Read, Have Read, and Reading categories as well as rate them with 4 possible ratings. NO STARS. Just “Like,” “So-So,” “Pan,” and “Bail.” Simple as that.
  4. The one very different feature it has is your “litfluence,” litsyapp2which is basically how popular and influential you are in getting people to interact with your posts and add your posts (you start at 42). It factors in how many books you’ve read, how many comments and likes you get, and how many people “add” your book from a post you made. Makes it a little competitive, but mostly just motivates you to do a good job with your posts for the purpose of the app: getting others excited about books you’re reading. 

Here’s a screenshot of your basic profile below (me! Shameless plug: add WordWaller to your friends as soon as you join!):

litsyappAnyway, there are some bugs, and the kinks are most definitely not worked out yet. But since it’s very new there are some definite pros:

  1. Claim your trademark username before it gets taken! You have a good chance. I’m friends with people who simply used their first name.
  2. Amass your litfluence now by being one of the first group of people to use the app. Then when everyone else joins, you have a little bit of bragging rights (and/or you are just a very trusted influence in the book world and people come to you for recs! What would be better than that?)

So all my iOS users, get litsying! Erm… litsyfying? No, that’s not right. Well, looks like we all need to work on their trademark verb. I for one will be using this app just as often as Instagram and Goodreads from now on.

Are any of you already using this app? First of all, add me so I can follow you, and two, what do you think? What features do you like and what could be improved or added? 

get these May events on your calendar!

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Each month, I will be posting a “looking ahead” post of events coming up that month to stay tuned for! These are events that are on my radar, either via Facebook or events I am personally interested in going to. As always, in the “Events” tab above you’ll find the Rain Taxi official literary calendar and other resources to help with finding book readings in the Twin Cities area.

I already posted just yesterday, but I know it’s a little late in May already, so here is your rundown of awesome May events coming to a Twin City near you:

  • Wed, May 11: MN Publishing Tweet Up from 5-7pm
    • These happy hour socializing events for publishing and book industry people are run by the MN Publishing Tweet Up group. I haven’t been to one since January, but it’s a great place to meet people in the industry. The “pitch” event I went to was a different format and authors came to pitch their manuscripts to publishing professionals.
  • Mon, May 16: Milkweed and the Loft’s “Taking the Risk to Change Your Life for Art,” a discussion with Ada Limón (poet with Milkweed!) and Joan Vorderbruggen, moderated by Kathryn Savage, with a reading & book signing from Ada Limón to follow at the Loft Literary Center at 6:30pm.
    • Free to the public, but RSVP requested.
  • Tues, May 17: Sun Yung Shin presents A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota at Magers & Quinn at 7pm.
    •  This book! I am so excited to read this book. I think it’s such an important topic that unfortunately needs more attention than it’s getting. Consider coming to hear from the editor the following contributors: Kao Kalia Yang, Ibé, David Mura, Venessa Fuetes, and Diane Wilson. 
    • I will be working in the store this evening, and sadly won’t be able to sit down and listen, but you can always come chat with me before and afterwards too! Extra incentive (:
  • Sat, May 21: Little Free Library Festival at Minnehaha Park from 10am-4pm.
    • Free and open to the public! From the Facebook page: “The Little Free Library Festival is an opportunity to spend an afternoon celebrating the joys of sharing books and reading.”
    • OMG I am so sad I have to miss this (in a wedding).
  • Thurs, May 26: Story Club Minneapolis at Bryant Lake Bowl, 7pm.
    • Usually they have two featured performers read/perform and then open up the stage to others, but in May this will happen: “this month we are delighted to give our stage to a memoir writing class from residents of Redeemer Health and Rehab. We will be glad to share more details about the performers and their work as the month goes on.”
    • “As always, Story Club features both an open mic segment and a curated selection of stories from invited performers. Our stage showcases stories, like a slam, but with a more welcoming structure – no judges, no scores.” (from the Facebook link above)

And that’s it! Did I miss anything, anyone? I’m SURE I missed many, but as I said, these are the ones that have been on my radar. I really encourage you to check one or two of these great events out and perhaps discover some new awesome reads along the way! Let me know in the comments if there are any others you’re excited about this month! 

 

where I went in April

Alright, so since there’s a TON of events going on and my poor fingers can’t keep up with typing up each one after I attend, I thought I would do monthly recaps of the awesome ones I went to. This way, you get a look at the bigger picture of what’s going on in the Twin Cities every month!

I will also be doing monthly looking ahead event posts so I can highlight some of the awesome things coming up in the near future! These will be posting towards the beginning of each month. (But bear with me as I form these blogging trends on this baby blog!) I’m working on a post to give you SOON because there’s some great ones coming up just this week!

April Event Recap

As you know, the last day of April included the second annual Independent Bookstore Day 2016, which you can read about here (part 1) and here (part 2).

milkweedOn April 29, my husband and I attended Milkweed Editions’ and Motionpoems’ National Poetry Month + Reading Party at Milkweed Editions and the Loft Literary Center in the Open Book building. I wasn’t able to attend the pre-party, but the reading was BOMB. So. Good. First, Adam Clay read from his new poetry book, then Mary Austin Speaker, and lastly Anders Nilsen.

And let me tell you, I was blown away by all three. Anders brought a fantastic twist to the reading by showing us his drawings as he read his poetry/stories, and I was floored. Definitely so thankful I attended this. download

On April 21, as I talked about here, Andy and I were able to attend Coffee House Press’ Bowling & Books Happy Hour event at Bryant Lake Bowl. It was so fun to get to know some of their staff on a more informal level while bowling, and now I am way more excited to read more of their books that I now have to explore!

helen macdonald

April 14 marks the day I met Helen Macdonald at the Loft. I think it’s safe to call it an understatement how EXCITING THIS WAS. She was just lovely—so very personable, relatable, and down to earth. I loved hearing her stories about what raising her hawk Mabel taught her. Seriously, I wish I could grab tea with this woman. So much wisdom, ugh! I have yet to locate the picture that was taken of us at the Loft by their photographer, but when I track it down it WILL be on social media, haha. This event was also fairly bittersweet because it was my last official event I worked for Magers & Quinn. I am now just part time a bookseller in the store and occasionally help out with in-store events only now. This event was extra special as I was able to take care of selling books while also hearing the talk on the big screen in the overflow room. It was so wonderful. I wish I had the time to read her book NOW.

h is for hawk

our book table at the Helen Macdonald event! 

 

Even though it feels like such a short month for me with only 4 literary events that I attended, that’s still hitting my goal of one every week! I actually looked back at it like this yet and it feels so good to be closer to accomplishing all my professional goals. Of course, there were many great ones that I know I missed. I’d love to hear about them from you!

Did you attend any awesome literary events in April, or listening to any readings on NPR even? Please share in the comments! 

independent bookstore day 2016 adventures: Part 2

As promised, here’s part 2 of my Saturday #IBD2016 adventures!

6. dreamhaven3

6. DreamHaven Books & Comics, Minneapolis 

DreamHaven is a fantasy, horror, sci-fi, and comics lovers’ dream! (pun intended) I enjoyed the eclectic feel of books literally pouring out of the floor and walls—boxes of books were on the ground, the aisles were thin, and they used every bit of space for other neat features like collectibles and even old movie posters. I laughed at the picture because it states “Official Star Wars Book Center” and below was almost entirely Star Trek books so I’m not sure how much that angers the true fans of either, haha. It even smelled old. Very different even from Moon Palace since it was mostly used books, but I loved it.

7. paperbackexchange

7. Paperback Exchange: Used & New Books, Minneapolis

Unfortunately I don’t have my Minneapolis neighborhoods down yet, so I couldn’t tell you exactly where this is, but on the map we followed a complete semi-circle from St. Paul to Uptown Minneapolis. I do remember crossing 55/Hiawatha and suddenly I was in beautiful neighborhoods and envious of everyone’s house!

This was a very small, very cute bookstore. The aisles are MINUSCULE. Like, if you get claustrophobic, don’t go on a busy day like last Saturday! Also, it seems like it extends endlessly into the back, with paperbacks lining every inch of the walls. So fun. I made a young friend almost immediately who made me follow her around the store. She showed me the exclusively romance section and each of her favorite stools.

8. wild rumpus

8. Wild Rumpus Books, Minneapolis (Lake Harriet)

8. wild rumpus2

The only awake cat couldn’t stop playing with the party decorations!

Tada! Though it isn’t my favorite bookstore anymore since I am very very partial to Magers & Quinn for a plethora of reasons, I LOVED this bookstore when I discovered it as a teenager. They have 3 adorable cats, parrots, 2 chinchillas, a rat (or mouse?), aaaaaand I can’t even remember what other animals. So. Very. Whimsical. But I was pleased to see that they have an, albeit small, section of adult/upper YA level books in addition to so many fun children’s books. I also have always loved that they have a reading chair in one corner, and a small shack in the middle of the back room that has scary Halloween-themed books inside. Definitely a treat!

 

9. birchbark books

9. Birchbark Books & Native Gifts, Minneapolis

Owned by acclaimed local author Louise Erdrich, who I definitely saw for a few minutes when we first arrived, this bookstore is so unique. They have a tiny cat section, a big display for new books and bestsellers, small, but wonderful, genre sections, and many many “staff picks” notes strewn about the shelves. What I wouldn’t give to write a book and have Louise herself write a staff pick note that sticks underneath it for years to come (some were yellowing!). There was even a beautiful birchbark-shelved display of native Minnesotan foods like wild rice, and local honey and maple syrup. Something for everyone here!

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10. Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Uptown Minneapolis

10. magersandquinn2While I will spare you my schpeel about how much I love M&Q and why, this was the end of our journey so that we would 1) have time to chat with friends, 2) feel at home upon completing the quest and 3) it made sense! We were pleased to walk into an impromptu Shakespeare scene being performed by talented theater grads, and the store was hopping. So many people!

Here we got the final stamp on our passport and also applied some of those Alice in Wonderland lithograph tattoos!

10. magersandquinn

In conclusion, I would argue that every one of those 37 miles was worth it. Not simply for the gift cards and wonderful reasons to go back to each store, but for the experience itself. My goal this summer is to visit every bookstore in the Twin Cities metro area, and I knocked out 10 in one day! 5 stores in which I had never been to before. So I would say that is a success and good use of my Saturday. I even got to close M&Q and stamp some passports myself, so participating in both sides was very rewarding.

Cheers to independent bookstores! May you all live long and prosper.

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Tell me about your Indepdendent Bookstore Day experiences! Leave a comment below or find me on social media! 

independent bookstore day 2016 adventures: part 1

1. subtext2

This sign! Love love love

If you were following my Instagram on Saturday, you’ll know all too well that I DID step up to the challenge of visiting 10 select independent bookstores in the Twin Cities for the chance to earn a $10 gift certificate to each. My husband and I jumped in my new used—with great gas mileage—car and sped off to start our adventure in St. Paul.

Bear with me through this post! I will try to keep my descriptions short, but in order to not talk (read?) your ears off, I’m splitting it into two posts. The following will release tomorrow!

Thus, I give you the first 5 bookstores:

 

1. subtext

1. Subtext Books, downtown St. Paul

I had only been there once before, for bookseller “Rep Night” last fall, and so it was fun to see it in a retail setting. It’s small, but the selection is good. I found myself fascinated with their use of space: every possible surface is covered in books or book-related merchandise, but it doesn’t seem too overcrowded! Although I’m sure it did later in the day when it got busy.

Here we picked up our passports, and I grabbed the small book of bookstore essays by Ann Patchett that I have yet to start reading.

2. red balloon2

2. Red Balloon Bookshop, St. Paul

This is a very lovely children’s bookstore on Grand. They are very whimsical and fun, with space for kids to run around and adults to mingle, and they even have a good selection of adult and YA books as well. Something for everyone! Andy, my husband, and I each got to choose something out of the “treasure chest”—Tolkien stickers for all! I purchased that savvy “cat and bookstores” limited edition bag, since it was the last one.

3. common good3

3. Common Good Books, St. Paul

The awesome Common Good Books, also on Grand, is a fantastic place. No used selection yet, but they did have a great 20% off poetry deal for National Poetry Month. I’ve been here before to hear Tony Hoagland read his poetry—they host some great events! And I had the privilege of going there the next day for bookseller “Rep Night” again and meeting some of their booksellers all over again.

4. daybreak press and global books

4. Daybreak Press & Global Bookshop, Minneapolis (U of M)

This is a very new bookstore right by the light rail off on University on the University of Minnesota campus. I had never heard of it before Saturday, so it was a pleasure having another excuse to visit! I loved their selection of travel and books on different faiths. It was neat seeing many different faiths represented all in the same place. I’m still not sure entirely what they publish, but I plan to find out. It seems like a really awesome place!

5. moon palace

5. Moon Palace Books, Minneapolis

This is right next door to Peace Coffee, which LET ME TELL YOU was highly tempting at this point in the day, but I persevered. This is a cute, one-room bookstore that houses new AND old books, which was a refreshing change! It sounds like they do some events there as well. I very much enjoyed the handmade cards section—letterpressssssss!—and bought several, as well as picked up the Terry Tempest Williams chapbook that was available for IBD. Also met some awesome booksellers, but I’m sad to say that I met so many I can’t remember any names! D:

BOOKSELLERS, if you by any chance read this, let’s connect! I love this partnership the Midwest Booksellers Association created by making the passport contest and am so happy I was able to expand my horizons! Definitely looking forward to visited again to spend more time browsing.

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

Did you participate in #IBD2016 by doing the passport challenge? Leave a note in the comments! 

review: Simply Calligraphy by Judy Detrick

Though I started this book before posting my summer reading goals, so it doesn’t count, it is a book I opted to review to go outside my normal genre of reading and explore a craft. I was not disappointed! This book is a great book for people who know nothing about calligraphy—like me—and want to learn more. Check it out!

9781607748564Simply Calligraphy by Judy Detrick (find it here!)

In high school, I was obsessed with my own handwriting. Journaling daily, I grew to perfect it and be able to change it at will, but I was always jealous of others’ handwriting and wanted to be able to make mine more beautiful. I never invested in calligraphy because by the time it drew my attention, Etsy was filled with people selling cute cards where—suddenly—calligraphy is a household skill it seemed, and I didn’t want to do something everyone else was doing. Were people simply blessed with this talent, or did they learn it somewhere? Who even knows. I may never try handlettering or calligraphy for profit, but at least now I can say that I tried learning it myself!

Simply Calligraphy is a beautiful, short book at first glance. It’s a good size and width for propping open with a few weights and being able to reference the pages while practicing lettering yourself. The book is paced nicely with simple exercises beginning with the most basic concepts and letters and gradually adding more advice to different ways and skills to practice. She uses technical terms to describe the strokes with illustrations on the opposite pages, and I was happy to find the book isn’t too technical for a true beginner to understand. A glossary of terms may have been helpful to reference, but yet it doesn’t seem that serious of a book. There is an index at the back, though, for being able to find the concepts you learned.

Some of the details she provides are lovely. I appreciated the simple history of how, for example, the capital forms of the letters developed over time in Italy, without going into depth at all. I also had no idea of the history of numerals, so I appreciated that bit of info as well, and am glad they are included! The illustrations also paired nicely with the simple text for each page and concept. Nothing is too hard to understand, especially with the examples.

One con I would point out is that this book is about learning and practicing only one simple form of calligraphy—as if the title wasn’t enough for me to realize that though! I expected a little more advanced concepts and perhaps other methods, and she briefly mentions them before the end. However, in the beginning Detrick does state that this is the form of calligraphy that has been passed down since the Italian Renaissance. It’s very much the beautiful script you would see in an old monastery, which I loved. She points out that this book is to be only a reference point for beginners and lists helpful resources in the back for supplies and further learning to those who desire it. Her bio indicates she is very knowledgeable about the subject and is the perfect person to write this book. 

In all, this book is as advertised—a beautiful, simple book for beginners to learn and practice the ages-old art of calligraphy. If you’re at all interested in learning even what makes calligraphy so unique, I would encourage you to take a look! I’ll definitely be referencing this in the future when I want to try my hand at making cards, etc. So watch out, pen pals! 😉 
I received this book free from Blogging For Books as part of their Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Blogging for Books review can be found here

my summer reading goals

summer reading goalsAfter much deliberation, the Minnesota weather has decided to grace us with spring! Which means, for us Minnesotans, jumping right in to summer activities while the weather lasts us. I’m not saying summer is for sure here to stay (*knocks on wood*), but I’ll take the 70-degree day I had yesterday as a sign that my summer reading list should be set in stone and ready for reading.

Thus, here you have it. I decided to make the goals first and end up with whatever number seemed reasonable after all the goals I wanted to accomplish. So the number doesn’t really matter.

  1. A book on a craft/skill (not a language)
  2. One book of poetry every month (May-Aug)
  3. A biography or autobiography
  4. A book of essays
  5. A horror novel or book of short stories
  6. Book(s?) by an author of color
  7. 3 classics or timeless books (Jun-Aug)
  8. At least one translated work
  9. A nonfiction book to edify (i.e. self help, spirituality, home care, psychology, career, etc)
  10. A book I’ve never heard of before
  11. A book of short stories (regular fiction)
  12. At least galleys/ARCs that are still unpublished (which goes with my goal of sending reviews to Indie’s Next List, which has to be 2 months in advance)
  13. 13 is my lucky number! This goal is going to come from YOU. Leave a comment! (I will wait a few days to decide who gets the spot, or I may take every suggestion—I get to decide since this blog is a baby!)

I reserve the right to add to this list but not take any item away. Also, as of May 2, any book I have started to read before today will not count towards my goal (which means the 8 books I’m reading right now, lol). I will post an update about my summer reading goals monthly, but of course periodically may mention how I’m doing here and there. I’m also planning on posting a projected reading list of books I am looking forward to reading most but may of course not get to them all this summer or have to choose others in favor of my goals.

What are your summer reading goals? Any particular genres, authors, or titles you are looking forward most to reading? What goals do you think I should add to mine!? Leave me a comment!