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:

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!

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!

get these September events on your calendar!

I know I’ve skipped… well, way too many months. Summer IS much slower for literary events compared to the spring and fall. Are you ready for fall things like leaves changing and cider? I know, too soon, too soon.

Ever read Jonathan Safran Soer, Emily St. John Mandel, or Liane Moriarty? They, among many other great writers, are coming to MN!

Here’s a rundown of things to get on your radar for September. 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.

  • Thursday, September 8th: Graywolf Literary Salon: A World of Voices
    • Featuring authors Anuradha Roy, Solmaz Sharif, and Monica Youn in conversation with Graywolf publisher Fiona McCrae and executive editor Jeff Shotts about fiction, poetry, and twenty-first century ideas. With musical performances by cellists Jacqueline Ultan and Michelle Kinney, and percussionist Gary Waryan.
    • This event does require tickets, and they’re on the higher end, but consider it a donation to a FANTASTIC independent press.
    • It’s going to be so great.
  • Wednesday, September 14th: Sky Blue Water Book Launch hosted by Wild Rumpus Books for Young Readers, the release of short story collection that celebrates Minnesota’s vibrant storytelling tradition, edited by Jay D. Peterson and Collette A. Morgan.
    • This event is offsite, but only a block from Wild Rumpus and they will be selling books for signing.
    • For a list of all events at Wild Rumpus, check out their Facebook events here!
  • Thursday, September 15th: Eric Dregni presents Let’s Go Fishing
    • Looking for the perfect Minnesotan coffee table book for dad for Christmas? This is your best bet! But shhhh (my dad doesn’t read this blog… I don’t think.)
    • For a list of all events at Subtext: A Bookstore, check out their Facebook events here, or visit their website! They have a monthly book club, too!

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: Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz

Guys. GUYS GUYS GUYS I loved this book! Also, I’d like to announce that it’s the first NetGalley book I’ve finished and reviewed since creating an account and becoming a NetGalley “Professional Reader.” I was so excited when I got approved for this one and a few others, so expect a few more reviews from me from NetGalley.

rad women worldwideRad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz (Ten Speed Press, 112 pages)

As a woman and feminist, I was so proud while reading this book. Let me praise it from the rooftops and hand sell it to every girl, boy, mom, dad, relative, friend, you name it. Everyone could benefit from reading this.

I was devastated to discover I did not even know about most of these women before picking up this book. I felt myself longing to have had this book in my hands as a girl in school when it came time to pick the people I wanted to write my research papers on. When it’s published, you can bet I’m gonna be buying myself a copy to pass along to my children someday and will hand sell it at Christmas as such a beneficial book.

If you’re at all curious about the women included, pre-order a copy now. Here are some of the most badass mothers, social activists, astronauts, scientists, doctors, teachers, athletes, musicians, artists, suffragettes, queens, spies, and even a pirate! Imagine picking this up in school as a girl and realizing that the options for your career are ENDLESS and that no one can tell you what you can and can’t do. Each description is quite short, like a brief summary and biography of why this woman was/is a luminary and what she contributed to society. I wished they were longer, but it is really is just a gateway for you to learn the fast facts now and research more if you want to later. Also keep in mind it really is meant for a younger audience, but doesn’t alienate adults at all either. It’s nice to having something so short and yet empowering. Women seriously rock! I also was so happy to see diversity represented as well as giving women credit who lived so long ago (think: Ancient Egypt). At the back there’s a list of other rad women around the world divided up by country. I wish I could add some to the list, though it’s quite long as is.

In all, this book is well written, needed, and absolutely fabulous. The cut paper illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl were an incredible as well and added a dynamic to even the women featured who lived thousands of years ago, and the quotes were also a marvelous addition. You will not regret reading this book. 5 stars, without a doubt.

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