Review: Scratch by Steve Himmer

scratchReview: Scratch by Steve Himmer (Dark House Press, 200 pages)

Goodreads synopsis: Martin Blaskett moves to a small town to oversee construction of a housing development, where he encounters a shape-shifting figure from local legend—Scratch. He is taken under the wing of his new neighbor, a retired hunting guide named Gil Rose, and befriends a local woman named Alison. Along the way, trouble ensues as Scratch feels threatened by changes to the landscape, luring locals out into the woods, including Alison’s son. As the blame for a range of events falls at Martin’s feet, he is beset by increasingly inhuman dreams, and comes to doubt his own innocence. A literary novel of wilderness noir that engages the supernatural elements of folklore in the manner of magical realism, Scratch explores the overlapping layers of history, ecology, and storytelling that make up a place.

Recommended for: Nature lovers, readers of creepy, surreal, horror, or mysterious books, books perfect for October.

This enchanting book follows main character Martin via a mysterious, unknown and unreliable narrator. The reader meets Martin just as he’s come to a small town to build a housing complex in the woods nearby, and he lives in a trailer next to Gil, a retired hunting guide. He learns of the legend of Scratch, a strange, shape-shifting creature in the forest whose presence many blame for people’s disappearances, until someone actually goes missing. What happens next as Martin’s dreams become more and more surreal and indistinguishable from reality is dark, philosophical, and completely unexpected.

Himmer does a lot with the legend of Scratch and expertly so, weaving magical realism, supernatural wilderness, and the thrill of a nature horror novel together to create this captivating story. He sets up the story well, and though at moments it gets slow and may disappoint readers more accustomed to traditional horror, the imagery captures expertly the psychological darkness Martin experiences in the forest at night. Though Martin is not particularly the most likeable character, through Himmer’s stunning prose the reader is transported to the forest too, experiencing all the uncomfortable sensations Martin is going through right along with him.

This is an intriguing, beautiful tale of the mysteries of natureparticularly the forestand mankind’s role amongst the creatures who make the woods their home. Part literary, part noir, part horror, Scratch is gripping tale of perfection that will thin the line between man and beast and leave you wanting more.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy from the publisher Curbside Splendor via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

What to Read Right Now

Well, I’m going to Italy tomorrow.

No, I’m not going for the purpose of escaping the state of the US. I’m only going for three weeks, and it’s been planned for years. It just so happens I really don’t mind getting a break from the chaos that grows with every day.

If you’re in the majority and stuck here, I suggest trying my favorite method of escape lately: books, of course. Though I’ve been in an off-and-on reading slump since November 8th, I’ve found moments of solace in books that take me away or that help me learn better how to resist. I hope you find hope in these books as well!

Since the internet has done a wonderful job of these lists, here are places to start to find relevant books right now:

Review: The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees

The Curated Closet: A Simple System for Discovering Your Personal Style and Building Your Dream Wardrobe by Anuschka Rees (Ten Speed Press, 272 pages)

Synopsis from Goodreads: Many women don’t know what their personal style is, don’t have a wardrobe that actually matches their style or life, and don’t know how to shop for a structured wardrobe of all pieces that can be worn easily and confidently. Style and minimalism blogger Anuschka Rees presents a fascinatingly strategic, prescriptive approach to identifying, refining, and expressing personal style and building the ideal wardrobe to match it, with style and shopping strategies that women can use every day. Including beautiful full-color fashion photography, infographics, and activities, The Curated Closet is a useful guide covering everything women need to know to fully realize their individual style and create their perfect functional and beautiful wardrobe.

Recommended for: fashion enthusiasts or bloggers, anyone interested in changing up their closet, shoppers, big spenders, people who are suckers for sales, minimalists.

The Curated Closet was an easy, down to earth read giving practical advice for the person who wants to find their personal style or live with fewer, but more high quality and tailored-to-you pieces of clothing in their closet.

It reads like a fashion blog carefully tailored (haha, sorry, couldn’t help myself) into a book that progresses from figuring out what you want in a wardrobe to teaching you how to select high quality clothing. Some other subjects she covers is information about capsule wardrobes, minimalist living, how to clean out your closet, how to stop impulse sale buying, how to shop mindfully, and much more. I’ll admit I learned a lot and as a baby minimalist, I’ve been trying to figure out how to live by many of the principles in this book such as only buying pieces that fit right, that I love, and that go with everything else in my wardrobe.

The cons were that I don’t have time for all the fun exercises she includes towards the beginning of the book, like taking a picture of your outfit every day for two weeks and then creating an inspiration board to figure out what you want and how to change your closet to reflect that. As other reviewers have stated, teenage me would have been all over that but adult me has to just get by on some of the more practical and less time-consuming advice in the book. Luckily there’s a lot of that! It’s a little long, but there were only small stuff here and there that I wasn’t interested in.

Unfortunately the Kindle edition was very annoying to read: it had formatting problems up the wazoo and the pictures here and there didn’t help. However, I did use my bookmark feature a lot as there’s a lot I want to revisit when I have the time or recall something I learned in this book. Another con is that the book is very female-centric (as stated in the synopsis, but still!). I would have liked to see more inclusivity towards men’s wardrobes and clothes, but I guess I can see why all her examples were from either her closet or the “typical” woman shopper since that’s the primary audience of the book (and it was long enough as is!). Some people will feel left out, though, or if you don’t struggle with sales and impulse buying, take the advice with a grain of salt. In all, pretending I read the book in print and not on the Kindle, 5 stars.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Twin Cities weekly literary round up

Fellow Twin Cities book lovers!

There’s so many new things to write about now that my motivation is coming back (seriously, I was wondering if I could even consider myself a blogger anymore), so I think I’m going to try to compile the latest and greatest for you to peruse. Here’s just a few recently awesome local literary news on my radar:

loft_facebook1. Get reading recommendations and a writing prompt from Kao Kalia Yang: 

Even if you don’t live in the Twin Cities, this still applies to you! If you support the Loft Literary Center by becoming a member—with a contribution of any amountby November 9you will receive an exclusive writing prompt and reading recommendations from our very own local author Kao Kalia Yang! Contribute here at loft.org/support.

kao-kalia-yang(If you don’t know who she is, get on that! Kao Kalia Yang is the author of The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir (Coffee House Press, 2008) and more recently The Song Poet (Metropolitan Books, 2016) and a speaker and teacher.)

I can’t get over how incredible this opportunity is! the-latehomecomerReally a win-win for everyone! For more information, visit the Loft’s website or their Facebook page with this announcement for more information.

 

mn-state-arts-grants

 

2. The winners of the Minnesota State Arts Board Grants were announced yesterday!
No one is better at reporting local literary book news than Laurie Hertzel, so head on over to the Star Trib to learn about who won Minnesota State Arts Board Grants. Among the winners are 10 poets and 32 prose writers including familiar names such as Sun Yung Shin, Kao Kalia Yang, and Ed Bok Lee. Congratulations to everyone!

3. NaNoWriMo 2016 (National Novel Writing Month) has begun!
I’m sure most writers are going to busy typing furiously at their keyboards this month. I am honestly jealous of all of you! I participated in years past and “won” a few times, but those novels were always trash and I never ever wanted to see them again. This year I get to watch my husband participate while I sit back nanoand partake in NaNoREADMo, so I’m fairly pleased. There’s even a website over on Tumblr so like, it’s pretty official guys. Haven’t made any goals yet, but I’ll get back to you if I do. And heck, I may decide to just try writing personal essays or something this month anyway.
Happy writing!

Review: You Can’t Touch My Hair by Pheobe Robinson

you-cantReview: You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson (Plume Books, 320 pages)

Goodreads synopsis: A hilarious and affecting essay collection about race, gender, and pop culture from celebrated stand-up comedian and WNYC podcaster Phoebe Robinson.

Phoebe Robinson is a stand-up comic, which means that, often, her everyday experiences become points of comedic fodder. And as a black woman in America, she maintains, sometimes you need to have a sense of humor to deal with the absurdity you are handed on the daily. Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years: she’s been unceremoniously relegated to the role of “the black friend,” as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she’s been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel (“isn t that . . . white people music?”); she’s been called “uppity” for having an opinion in the workplace; she’s been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. the. time. Now, she’s ready to take these topics to the page and she s going to make you laugh as she s doing it. . . As personal as it is political, You Can’t Touch My Hair examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humor and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise.”

Recommended for: Readers of humor memoirs such as Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, anyone looking for diverse authors/women authors, those who seriously need to stop asking to touch a black woman’s hair, etc. Basically everyone should read this.

Phoebe Robinson is the creator and cohost of podcast 2 Dope Queens and is a gem of a comedian. Her hilarious, down-to-earth voice on the intersection of sexism and racism in comedy (and everywhere) is refreshing and, albeit sadly, so needed. This exposition of pop culture, gender, race told in very charming, conversational essay form is highly entertaining and thought-provoking. In an age where we have more women comedians in the industry than ever, you won’t want to miss Phoebe’s experienced perspective of being a black woman in comedy today.

This book starts out personal and ends personal. You’ll get to know Phoebe better than you would ever have possibly wanted to, but she has the gift of pulling you in and making you feel at home. There is a ton of goofy stuff in here that I think only Phoebe could get away with sharing. As some have said, perhaps her pop culture references are a little too current and will be hard to understand twenty years from now, but they are hilarious AF. They made me laugh out loud and I learned a thing or two I could stand to know, like how awesome Lisa Bonet is even though I never watched The Cosby Show growing up. And yes, you’ll learn all about a black woman’s hair.

Which is so important. Her perspective on race is invaluable, but she literally delivers sucker punch after sucker punch and isn’t afraid to call [specific and general] white people out for their micro-aggressions and general lack of understanding. Some other topics include the ABW (Angry Black Woman) myth, being the black friend, and Hollywood type casting. There’s something for everyone to learn here, even if it’s just to understand that each person’s experience is going to be different. And, if you mess up, the best thing to do is apologize and admit that you were stupid (unlike a few people she talks about in the book who messed up and then put their defenses up). Racism still exists even in the most subtle of ways and Phoebe isn’t afraid to get really upfront and blunt about what has happened to her.

In conclusion, if you haven’t ever heard of Phoebe Robinson (or her 2 Dope Queens cohost Jessica Williams!) you should get on that! I would recommend this wise, relevant, joy of a book for anyone to read.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

P.S! I saw Phoebe speak at the Twin Cities Book Festival, and everything is true. She is AMAZING and as awesome in person as in the book–even better! I’ll be posting about that soon (:

 

get these October events on your calendar!

hello-october

Here’s a rundown of things to get on your radar for October.We’re in FULL SWING busy season, so yes, you’re going to have to choose when there’s two events on the same night!

Again, I know I’m not super consistent with posting the same events every time (if they’re monthly or recurring) but just shoot me a line to include what I missed! I’ve tried to be more inclusive by focusing on each bookstore and linking to all their upcoming events after featuring just one on here.

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  and lit events in the Twin Cities area.

  • Rain Taxi’s Twin Cities Book Festival is on Saturday, October 15th!  You don’t want to miss one of the most important TC literary events of the year! 
    • Normally I write this post in chronological order, but this event is just TOO COOL to pass up. It’s 1) at the MN State Fairgrounds and 2) it’s ABSOLUTELY FREE. I hope to see you there!!
    • And there’s an Opening Night Party!

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming 😉

  • Friday, October 7th: Dave Eggers will be chatting with guests and signing books at new Milkweed Books! Don’t miss checking out the new bookstore, if you haven’t already!
    • There’s also an event also on Tuesday, October 4th:Poets in Conversation with Milkweed Editions featuring Michael Bazzett, Patricia Kirkpatrick, Chris Santiago, and Jennifer Willoughby and that will be a conversation about the formation of poets and the supporting ecosystem here in Minnesota, with Milkweed Editions’ publisher, Daniel Slager.
    • Though they’re a powerhouse press, they’re still a baby bookstore, so a lot of events are hosted or run by Milkweed Editions! For a list of all events at Milkweed Books/Editions, check out their Facebook events here, or visit their website!
  • Thursday, October 6th: Poetry Happy Hour hosted by MN Book Awards and Friends of the St. Paul Library featuring Todd Boss, Heid Erdrich, Dobby Gibson, Ed Bok Lee, and Katrina Vandenberg.
  • Also Wednesday, October 12th: Nathan Hill reads from The Nix at Magers & Quinn Booksellers!
    • Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost presents The Secret History of Twin Peaks on Saturday, October 22!
    • There’s more great ones this month including authors Charlie Quimby, Karen Brennan presenting her new book Monsters (get in the Halloween spirit!), James P. Lenfestey, and many others! For a list of all events at Magers & Quinn Booksellers, check out their Facebook events here, or visit their website!
  • Monday, October 17th: Gary Dop and Amy Munson at Common Good Books! In undergrad, Amy Munson was my poetry professor and Gary Dob was my sister’s (though she turned out to be a better poet than me, I don’t think that has anything to do with our professors), so I’m a little biased but I think you should check them out. Amy Munson’s debut poetry volume Yes Thorn is now out from Tupelo Press!

And because this is literally only the first half of the month, but I’m already all our room, see below for other bookstores and their events pages, featuring authors such as Ben Percy, Caroline Burau, Cheri Register, Nick Flynn, and many others!

If you can, I 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! 

Review: Underground Airlines by Ben Winters

underUnderground Airlines by Ben Winters (Mulholland Books, 336 pages)

Recommended for: Readers or fans of alternate history, historical fiction, or spy/crime/adventure stories. 

Underground Airlines is an intriguing, suspenseful alternate history novel which asks the question of What if the Civil War had never happened and slavery still existed? The reader is placed alongside an escaped slave named Victor in the “free” north where segregation is still grossly perpetuated in a United States where slavery is still practiced in the “Hard Four” states. He’s been captured under the Fugitive Persons Law by the government and made to be a “soul catcher,” finding escaped slaves and returning them to slavery.

Victor at first seems cold and unfeeling before one realizes he has his own ways of coping: “I was not a person but a manifestation of will. I was a mechanism—a device.” He is sent to capture his over-200th escaped slave while investing the modern representation of the Underground Railroad, hence the title. Almost immediately, the reader is reading a redemption tale—but will it be enough to justify the horrifying idea that slavery was never abolished?

“Freedman Town’s purpose is for the rest of the world. The world that sits, like Martha, with dark glasses on, staring from a distance, scared but safe. Create a pen like that, give people no choice but to live like animals, and then people get to point at them and say ‘Will you look at those animals? That’s what kind of people those people are.’ And that idea drifts up and out of Freedman Town like chimney smoke, black gets to mean poor and poor to mean dangerous and all the words get murked together and become one dark idea, a cloud of smoke, the smokestack fumes drifting like filthy air across the rest of the nation.”

Though some have deemed the world building Winters executes here a triumph, I found it hard to follow and a bit too fantastic at times, specifically his references to pop culture and black celebrities (Michael Jackson, James Brown). I would hope that in a world so different from ours, things would be more different and much worse. The writing was too often dry as well, and I didn’t care about the characters as much as I thought I would, probably because it takes way too long for Victor to explain why he’s so troubled by his situation. I also had a problem with the way women are represented in the novel, but that’s a discussion for another day. In all, despite the intriguing premise of the book, there wasn’t that much there to make it different from other novels covering stories of slavery except that the main character is working for the wrong side.

I am not a long-time fan of Ben Winters like many of the readers flocking to this book. I heard about it first on IndieNext and thought well, if indie booksellers like this one, then I’ll give it a go. I should have first remembered that books about slavery are so hard to read (I recently read Homegoing and with The Underground Railroad yet to review, I’m afraid of the timing). I’m not saying I want to shield myself and as a white person forget it happened, but my heart is so heavy given the events of July and these past few months. Much too late did I realize the horror of what I was reading: a book considering that slavery never ended when it did, written by a white man. While he was going for an eye opener, and something to reveal how this terrible occurrence isn’t really that far from the racism of our day, the more I read, the more disturbed I felt that this book was even written and a publisher jumped on it. I just couldn’t escape that. In all, to me it wasn’t that redeeming of a narrative, and so I fear the publisher accepted the work based solely on the alternate-history plot device. 3.5 stars.

That being said, a lot of people have loved this book, so if you’re at all curious, check it out here.  

For some, this book is going to be a brain churner, which is great. Book clubs who want to create a discussion on racism in America would probably like this book, as I’m sure there are many different opinions on its execution.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

so I finally read The Cursed Child but I’m not gonna spoil it for you

I finally got my hands on a copy of the highly hyped Harry Potter and the Cursed Child last week on a loan from a friend! I was so excited to dive in right away but decided to save it for Labor Day weekend when I went up north to stay at a cabin with family.

harry potter cursed child hammock.pngI ended up reading it mostly in a hammock right on the lakeshore. Heaven! (That was my in-law’s cabin in the background.)

First off, NO SPOILERS HERE. I’ll do my best to describe my thoughts briefly. It’s not like J. K. Rowling or Jack Thorne really need another review to boost book sales 😉 This was like a vacation book because of simply that: it was reading for fun. It’s also a play, so not really a book book.

My “rating”: 3 stars. Here’s why:

  • I really did enjoy reading it. It was definitely a little weird, but it was fun. Also because I didn’t get to read Harry Potter growing up, even though we’re the same age, so I didn’t finish the last book in the series until last summer. I’m a fan, I love them, but I’m not one of those dedicated people who begged for another book or are super critical of this one because they’ve spent so much time in that world.
  • That being said: please don’t call this “the 8th Harry Potter book” because it’s simply not. I only want this to be canon if we get to keep Scorpius. But also, no, please don’t let it be canon.
  • It reads like well-written fan fiction (I say well-written because one, this was actually published and most isn’t and two, I haven’t read any fan fiction. Except My Immortal but I couldn’t even finish that it was so bad).
  • Most of the characters didn’t feel true to themselves. Not a spoiler here, you know this from the synopsis: Harry was so insecure when I would have thought with all he had been through he would’ve been wiser and less immature. And also, isn’t Albus his second son? So why would he be having this parenting crisis now unless James was apparently the perfect child (we learn very little about James and that was kinda disappointing. Same with Rose, Ron and Hermione’s daughter).
  • The plot was very holey and contrived. Like, the central points of the plot were all WTF moments where I had to stop reading and ask, “why THIS? You had so many more places you could have gone with this story…”
  • Scorpius is the best ever, and the best thing to come out of this.
  • I wish I could see the play.

Yes, so there you have it.

The Cursed Child was a fun read to bring us back into the world of Hogwarts and get to see the legacy of Harry’s story, but it really only works as a play for the stage instead of taking the place of an “8th book” and being the say-all for our beloved characters. I’m sure the play is absolutely wonderful and I want to see how they bring all that magic to life. That’s the dream.

Have you read it yet? Without giving away spoilers, what did you think? Or, if you want to discuss spoilers, send me a message or email me! 

Review: Spiritual Sobriety by Elizabeth Esther

It’s been a while since my last review, and I held off on posting my last Blogging for Books review because it means so much to me to get it right (also, I LOVED IT, and my excitement was skewing my ability to write an objective review). So heeeeeeeeere is a book that was honestly very good. Not perfect, but also not long, and I would recommend checking it out if you’ve ever been frustrated or hurt by a church or religious experience. Enjoy!

spiritual sobrietySpiritual Sobriety: Stumbling Back to Faith When Good Religion Goes Bad by Elizabeth Esther (Convergent Books, 192 pages)

Recommended for: Readers of faith (all kinds), readers who are tired of religion or have a negative viewpoint towards it, spiritual readers, readers of Anne Lamott, Addie Zierman, Madeleine L’Engle, Lauren Winner.

Spiritual Sobriety is a breath of fresh air. A memoir following Esther’s first book, Girl at the End of World, which is about coming out of a fundamentalist cult, this book covers the questions of whether one can come back to faith after experiencing a religious fervor that is damaging and ultimately a hurtful message from the Church. And her answer is yes, though it takes healing.

Esther describes that if you are one of those people who questions whether faith is worth it because of horrible experiences it’s possible you used God and religion like a drug the same way addicts use substancesto numb pain, alter [your] mood, or simply to escape the realities of this messy, unpredictable thing called life.” She calls it akin to being “high” on God. This is what she herself experienced, so she’s speaking from personal experience with a warmth of a mentor sitting down for coffee with you.

Once she identified her problem with what she previously practiced as religion, she struggled with depression and realized that her religious addiction was preventing her from experiencing faith as it was meant to be. At this point, the book is more of a “how to” than a memoir, but with the purpose of helping all who read it discover a deeper faith that is meaningful without being riddled with unhealthy behaviors.

If you liked Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire, you’ll love this book, but know that it is more instruction rather than personal emotional recollections. She includes research from books on this subject as well as quotes from interviews she conducted with people who faced similar experiences. Traveling through the journey with the reader, Esther also writes discussion questions at the back of each chapter to help walk you through healing and identifying personal issues to find acceptance, love, and a meaningful faith. The reader has the choice to go through the discussion questions and personally develop their ideas and faith or simply read it as a learning experience. The practical advice invites readers to decide for themselves if they want to rethink the way they relate to God or practice religion, and she is gentle with her suggestions. It is also a short read.

Coming from someone who experienced similarly damaging relationships with churches, camps, religious conventions, and even people in the Church, I very much appreciated the fresh viewpoint. I would say this book isn’t perfect and got a little repetitive at times, but it is definitely a positive stepping point for releasing and working through anger towards harmful religious experiences and looking at them from a fresh, learning perspective. I have a sense that this book will stay with me for a long time, and I may revisit it should I choose to delve back into faith with vigor. I will recommend this to any friend who has ever questioned their relationship with the Church, though I would also encourage any believer or person of religious experience to explore what this book is trying to say. 3.5 or 4 out of 5 stars.

Buy the book from IndieBound here, or support your local bookstore! I received this book free from Blogging For Books as part of their Book Review Blogger program in exchange for an honest review.

 

help make Milkweed Books happen!

open-book-inthenews
(photo from http://www.openbookmn.org)

I haven’t yet written about Milkweed Editions‘ new bookstore opening in the Open Book building in downtown Minneapolis called Milkweed Books! This store is particularly exciting because 1) any new independent bookstore is worth celebrating, and 2) it will be rather unique even among indie bookstores.

Originally the store planned to open in late June but now the grand opening will be on September 20th. The store will be located in the Open Book building in Minneapolis, shared by The Loft Literary Center: one of the biggest nonprofit literary centers in the United States, which also houses the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Imagine all of these businesses in one building! There’s a small coffee shop/cafe inside as well as the MN Center for Book Arts’ retail store, meaning that if you like books or writing at ALL, you’ll be pretty happy hanging out there for hours on end. The Milkweed Books store will be open before that but the grand opening is scheduled for the 20th.

You can read more about the bookstore here, where there’s a Kickstarter raising money (their goal is $25,000) to help make the bookstore happen. You can pledge as little as $5, just the price of one fancy Starbucks coffee, to help make a difference. As of my writing this, they’re almost to $15,000 in just a few days since its launch.

“Milkweed Books will showcase and sell titles primarily published by independent presses, nonprofit presses, and other publishers working to bring the most exciting literary art to the marketplace. If you want to find the best new poetry, or creative nonfiction, or short stories, or translations, this bookstore is for you.”

The manager is Hans Weyandt, who edited a book with Coffee House Press called Read This! Handpicked Favorites From America’s Indie BookstoresI loved this book when I picked it up before National Indie Bookstore Day this year, and I especially love knowing the book recommendations come from experienced booksellers who have waded the vast pool of literature before me. I’ve said this before: the hardest part about being a bookseller myself is the ever-growing, endless TBR (to-be-read) list I create by talking with coworkers and customers!

Consider pledging to this fantastic new bookstore and supporting one of the coolest centers for books in the States. For more information, check this article by the American Booksellers Association. Hope to see you at the grand opening!