Category: Fiction

Dead Space: Salvage Book Review

By , January 24, 2016

Dead Space: Salvage by Antony JohnstonDead Space: Salvage
by Antony Johnston

To tell you about this graphic novel, I must give a little background about the world of Dead Space. Dead Space takes place about 300-500 years in the future where the Earth is dying. Resources have become so limited that the people of Earth have started mining planets for resources, and have colonized several moons and planets. Even so, humanity is slowly heading towards extinction. Around 2308, a group of scientists find an object buried near the Yucatan Penisula. The object soon becomes known as the Marker, and is simultaneously worshipped (Unitoligists) and researched (EarthGov). The government hopes that with the Marker’s help humanity will be saved from extinction. Those who worship the artifact believe that the Marker will save humanity through a process called Convergence. The Marker has its own plans.

This graphic novel takes place right after the events of the main game, Dead Space. The Red Marker, a man-made version of the original artifact, has been put back on the planet Aegis VII.  The USG Ishimura (the first game’s setting) is floating in space, and the Earth Government is looking for the ship. Unitologist leaders, unimpressed with EarthGov’s methods of discovery, decide to take control of the mission. Why does a religious group have this much overt  power of the government, you ask? Suffice it to say that the Dead Space universe is really bad, even without the scary, stab-happy monsters.

In another part of the galaxy, a freelance salvage crew on a ship called the Black Beak spots the USG Ishimura.They decide to go on board and see what can scavenged and sold. If you are familiar with the Dead Space franchise, then you know that things turn bad very fast. When the crew of the Black Beak board the USG Ishimura all systems are down; the ship has gone completely dark! There is an organic sludge covering everything, and some red crystals sticking into the hull of the Ishimura, but not soul appears to be home. The salvage crew decides to bring the shards on board while looking for salvageable materials. The Black Beard crew starts screaming and disappearing, and monsters start to take their place.

Besides the writing, I really liked the artwork because it reminds of watercolor paintings. The panels are pretty dark with a lot of blues, blacks, and grays being used.  If you’ve ever looked at the concept drawings,or alternative cover drawings, in the back of most comic books, then that’s what the actual panels look like. The darkness of the panels, to me, parallel the bleakness of the universe that Dead Space encompasses.

Best Books of 2015

By , December 7, 2015

My top 3:

Single, Carefree, MellowSingle, Carefree, Mellow: Stories
by Katherine Heiny

I haven’t been this excited about a short story collection since Courtney Eldridge’s Unkempt.





The Folded ClockThe Folded Clock: A Diary
by Heidi Julavits

I kept reading this and saying happily to myself, “I totally agree!” Not to be hokey, but it was almost like making a new friend.





A Manual for Cleaning WomenA Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories
by Lucia Berlin

This is my #1 pick for this year. Like Jean Stafford, whose Collected Stories won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (available through ILL), Berlin takes details from her own life and turns them into amazing art.

Some of my favorites were Point of ViewHer First DetoxTiger BitesEmergency Room Notebook, 1977Unmanageable, and Fool to Cry, as well as Carmen and Mijito, which were gut-wrenching but beautiful.

This also has a great introduction by Lydia Davis, who really gives you an appreciation of the collection before you even get started.

Stunning! Also recommended for fans of Mary Karr.





Book Review: Unexpected Stories

By , November 22, 2015

Unexpected Stories by Octavia E. ButlerUnexpected Stories by Octavia E. Butler

When I first heard Octavia Butler’s estate had found unpublished material by the famous sci-fi author, I almost lost my breath. Since I knew the discovered stories would most likely be unedited or rough starts of Ms. Butler’s beautiful writings, I was hesitant to read this collection because I did not want to be disappointed. However, on a random lunch break, I finally cracked open the book; or rather whipped out my smartphone’s Overdrive app, since this is only available as an e-book. Upon reading the first few lines of the first short story, “A Necessary Being”, I nearly dropped my smartphone in shock. This is a short prequel to Ms. Butler’s out of print book Survivor–set within the Patternist series’ universe, which feels like a godsend to her most devoted fans! I felt like getting up, screaming, and doing a death drop, before realizing that I would look demented.

“A Necessary Being” takes place on another planet, and deals with several groups called the Kohn. The main protagonists are Diut (Tehkohn Hao) and Tahneh (Rohkohn Hao). Both protagonists lead their respective groups, and both feel weighted by the expectations and responsibilities that ruling entails. Tahneh has ruled her people for a good length of time, but must prepare herself to name a successor. Diut has just come into power, and is trying to learn how to manage his expectations versus his people’s expectations. These two meet, and both must choose whether to follow tradition, or choose a different path for themselves and their people.

The second short story, “Childfinder,” was written for Harlan Ellison’s anthology Last Dangerous Visions. The anthology was never published, so the story was thought to be lost forever. Butler’s cousin, and her literary executor, found this story and “A Necessary Being.”
“Childfinder” takes place in the 1970s. Barbara is a black women who is able to find children with pre-psionic (i.e., telepathy, pre-cognition, etc.) powers, and is able to activate these children. When the story opens, she is currently running away from the organization that she helped start. Barbara is left with the decision to continue with the life she has always known, or to let that life go. “Childfinder” is very short, but it deals with covert racism, classism, and what it means to truly get along with others.

Unexpected Stories is a sparse collection. Although it is a worthy addition for any adoring Octavia Butler fan, it only contains two newly found short stories, a foreword by Walter Mosley, an afterword by Merrilee Heifetz, and a brief biography on Octavia Butler herself. Unexpected Stories will definitely satisfy Ms. Butler’s longtime fans, and allow readers who are unfamiliar with Ms. Butler a better idea on how her experiences influenced her writing, and also shows how her work transformed and became more refined overtime. For those beginners, I would also suggest reading with Lilith’s Brood.


Book review: Bird Box

By , November 13, 2015

18498558Bird Box: a Novel
by Josh Malerman

Don’t go outside without a blindfold, and keep all windows and doors covered!  Seriously, something is causing people to commit horrible violence.  We’ve managed to discover these shocking acts occur after victims see whatever this “thing” may be.  So remember, if you must go outside, keep your eyes closed!

Mallorie and her two children have been living in that house by the river, but their stockpile of food and supplies has run out.  It’s now or never to make a break for a better life.  They’ve set out on a journey down the river in an old rowboat, with only their hearing to protect them from whatever approaches…

Josh Malerman’s 2014 debut novel is a page turner that you’ll want to read with your blinds closed and all the lights on.  It’s a perfect read while you wait for the King of Horror‘s latest, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

Book review: Carry On

By , November 10, 2015

Carry On
By Rainbow Rowell

My brain hurts. This book made my brain hurt. In 2013, author Rainbow Rowell released Fangirl, which is my favorite of her books (so far). This book followed main character, Cath, to college, where she embarked on a creative writing degree, while still writing her insanely popular fan faction for Simon Snow, created by fictional author, Gemma T Leslie. Snow is instantly recognizable as an homage to that other boy wizard, or as Rowell puts it, Snow’s “kind of an amalgam and descendant of a hundred other fictional Chosen Ones” – or mostly…you know…Harry Potter.

In an author’s note to the new book, Rowell explains that the character of Snow wouldn’t let her go, and she really wanted to tell his story. So she set off to write  - stay with me now – as an original author, creating a fictitious author writing what amounts to fan fiction, who was then borrowed by another fictitious character for more fan fiction, and then back to the original author who took the fictitious author’s character and wrote her own fan fiction. (Is it really fan fiction if you created the author that created the character in the first place?)

See why my head hurts?

But…once you get past all the nephew’s-uncle’s-cousin’s-brother’s-former roommateness of the situation, there’s actually a pretty good story underneath.  Simon Snow is, indeed, the Chosen One, but his massive amount of power is so unstable that he can’t control it. And his evil doppleganger is destroying what magic is left in the world. Will he and his arch enemy/ roommate/ potential love interest save the day? Or will they just fight with each other?

Now Rowell is no Rowling – her writing doesn’t quite have the depth of the master. And sometimes the Britishness of the story comes across as contrived (Rowell lives in Nebraska…just saying). But if you can’t get enough Harry Potter adventures, or have some dark fantasy that Harry and Ron hook up instead of Harry and Ginny, then you need to read this book. You can probably read it without reading Fangirl first, since this is it’s own story, but your experience will be better if you’ve read the original before Carrying On. I really like Rowell’s voice – no matter how many layers of fan fiction it has to go through to get to the source. And while she is technically writing for teens – anyone will appreciate these stories. If you’ll remember, the other boy wizard was initially written for children.

Keep reading and Carry On

Amanda :)


Book review: Don’t Look Now

By , November 2, 2015

Don't Look NowDon’t Look Now
by Daphne du Maurier

I could read Daphne du Maurier stories for the rest of my life. The title story completely terrified me, even though I’ve read it before and seen the movie! I’m putting du Maurier with Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith in the dread-filled short story hall of fame.

This edition also has an introduction by the wonderful Patrick McGrath, as well as the stories The Birds (very different from the Hitchcock movie based upon it) and The Blue Lenses.

May I also take this opportunity to shower praise upon the New York Review Books Classics imprint?  NYRB Classics brings forgotten treasures back into print, with introductions by perfectly matched contemporary authors, and has led to some of my favorite reading experiences of the past few years:



by John Wyndham, better known for The Midwich Cuckoos and Day of the Triffids, with an introduction by Margaret Atwood.







Cassandra at the WeddingCassandra at the Wedding

about the weekend in which Cassie attempts to sabotage her twin sister’s wedding.







Wish Her Safe at HomeWish Her Safe at Home

a really, really skillful portrayal of a woman slowly going mad.








by Caroline Blackwood, now one of my favorite authors. Also check out her book Great Granny Webster, available through Interlibrary Loan.







As a review on the NYRB website says, “Once you have discovered the series it’s as if you’ve just gained an incredibly well-read friend who consistently lends you obscure yet highly enjoyable books.”



Book review: The Day of the Triffids

By , October 29, 2015

Triffids-2You might not expect a novel about killer plants to be thoroughly lacking in over-the-top corniness, but John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids handily pulls it off.

William Masen awakes one morning to find that he is among the few humans in London who still possess the capacity for sight. The reason for sudden widespread blindness involves a meteoric event, and the circumstances that most of the helpless citizens find themselves in are scary enough without the addition of a more sentient threat: large, hostile plants known as “triffids”. Without specific safety precautions – the removal of a ten-foot-long stinging stem that can be wielded by the plants with amazing accuracy – the triffids are dangerous organisms, chiefly because they are both carnivorous and mobile. A city (and perhaps a country?) full of blind persons is no match for both a crumbling society and a giant deadly weed. Depressing, right?

An element of hopelessness is certainly present in Wyndham’s novel, but it’s more frequently both fascinating in its depiction of a strange concept, and gripping in its realistic narrative. Forget for a moment the fact that this story was adapted for film in 1963; while that version might be plenty entertaining in its own way, the source material compels because of its believability and the grounded nature of the story. At only 222 pages, you’ve got time to fit this SF classic from 1951 into your schedule!

- Ben

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

By , October 1, 2015

We need diverse books! I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase or seen the hashtag on Twitter in the past year. Per statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 36 out of 3,500 children and young adult books published in 2014 were written by Latino authors. September 15th kicks off the annual celebration of Hispanic Heritage month. Nashville Public Library is hosting various events this month that highlight the literary and artistic contributions of Hispanic and Latino culture. In honor of this celebration, check out some of my favorite YA libros (books) written by Hispanic authors. Happy Reading!

Last night I sang to the...
Last Night I Sang to the Monster
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Zach is an alcoholic. Zach is an addict. Zach doesn’t remember, but his therapist keeps asking him questions. He’s searching for answers to questions that Zach doesn’t want to remember, like how he got to rehab, who is paying for it, and why hasn’t he heard from his mom, dad, or brother?

Funny, heart-wrenching, and hopeful, Last Night I Sang to a Monster is about a young man’s struggle to face his troubled past and reconcile the challenges of the present in an uncertain future.

Mexican Whiteboy
Mexican Whiteboy
by Matt De La Peña

Danny Lopez is too white to fit in with inner-city kids and too brown to fit in with his private school classmates and, on top of that, he doesn’t even speak Spanish. The only thing Danny’s got going for him is his mean fastball, but life on the streets is a bit different than the ball field. Danny’s goal for the summer is to figure out who he is and, hopefully, track down his father in Mexico and find out why he left their family. Mexican Whiteboy addresses the complexities of racial identity and finding friendship in unlikely places.

*Since it is also Banned Books Week (September 27th-October 3rd), it is interesting to note that in 2012, Mexican Whiteboy was banned for containing “critical race theory”. If you needed (yet) another reason to check out this novel, you should totally read a banned book. It’s good for your brain.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
By Meg Medina

Who is Yaqui Delgado?

Piddy needs to answer this question fast and diffuse the situation before she ends up in a fight with someone she doesn’t even know. Unfortunately, Piddy has a lot on her plate: new school, new apartment, and an absentee father who her mother refuses to discuss. The last thing she wants to deal with is a bully who thinks Piddy doesn’t act Latina enough.

A 2014 Pura Belpré Author award winner, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, is a brutally honest depiction of teen bullying.

Further reading:

The Firefly Letters: a suffragette’s journey to Cuba by Margarita Engle

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

- Raemona

Minecraft: Full STEAM Ahead

By , September 29, 2015

Minecraft Game Screenshot

Minecraft, a computer game where everything is made of blocks, is sweeping the nation. Everywhere you look you can find children playing the game, reading the books, or begging adults to buy them Minecraft merchandise at the store. There are many benefits to playing the game, and they can all be summed up in five letters – STEAM.

But wait, what is STEAM?

STEAM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art + Design, and Math.

How does STEAM apply to Minecraft?

Science: Players use their knowledge of materials to create different objects, tools, homes, or cities. For example, at the start of the game, players are automatically tasked with digging in order to find the material they need to create with – iron. Then, players smelt their iron – a process of placing iron ore into a forge, heating it up, and waiting for the final product: an ingot. Players can then make tools and other items out of their ingots.

Technology: Minecraft requires some kind of computer device whether it be a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, or a phone. You can access Minecraft anywhere! The benefit of playing Minecraft on different devices is that players learn new technological skills. Players become more adept at using keyboards and mice when playing on a computer. They can also develop their hand-eye coordination by playing on an Xbox or a tablet. Some advanced players may even become proficient at “hacking,” “modding,” or changing the code of the game.

Engineering: There are different game modes that children and young adults can play in, such as Sandbox style and Inventor style. In Sandbox style, players can create different environments and structures. In Inventor style, players can figure out how to build working objects, like elevators and cannons.

Art + Design: When children and young adults play Minecraft, they will likely spend hours creating the perfect design. They will decide on colors, sizes, placement, etc. for their blocks based on their mined items. Creating their world will help develop architectural skills as they put their blocks together and create different structures and equipment.

Math: Mathematics encompasses more than just using numbers to calculate amounts. It also incorporates logic and reasoning skills. Using logic and reasoning, players determine how to build their world inside Minecraft. Minecraft also helps players understand the concept of graphing because the Minecraft world operates through grids, and it helps them understand geometry using and creating different three-dimensional shapes.

Schools are beginning to acknowledge the many benefits of Minecraft, and the developers of the game have responded by offering a bundle pack available specifically to schools called MinecraftEDU. Some schools are even implementing Minecraft labs for students to use during the day to focus on and build STEAM skills. Dan Thalkar, a Los Angeles Charter School teacher, believes that Minecraft is successful in classrooms because you can use it for pretty much anything:

“If you want to use it for something for math or for science you can, either just by using the game itself or by modifying it.”1


Minecraft Handbooks for Kids (and Adults)

Minecraft Redstone Handbook

Minecraft Redstone Handbook

Minecraft Combat Handbook

Minecraft Combat Handbook

Minecraft Construction Handbook

Minecraft Construction Handbook

Minecraft Essential Handbook

Minecraft Essential Handbook


Minecraft Chapter Books Encourage Reading

The Skeletons Strike Back: an Unofficial Gamer's Adventure

The Skeletons Strike Back: an Unofficial Gamer’s Adventure

Last Stand on the Ocean Shore: an Unofficial Minecrafter's Adventure

Last Stand on the Ocean Shore: an Unofficial Minecrafter’s Adventure

Escape from the Overworld: an Unofficial Minecraft Gamer's Quest

Escape from the Overworld: an Unofficial Minecraft Gamer’s Quest

Battle for the Nether: an Unofficial Minecrafter's Adventure

Battle for the Nether: an Unofficial Minecrafter’s Adventure

Book Review: The Girl in 6E

By , September 27, 2015

The Girl in 6E by A. R. TorreThe Girl In 6E by A. R. Torre

1. Don’t leave the apartment.

2. Never let anyone in.

3. Don’t kill anyone

These are the rules that Deanna Madden lives by.

She has not stepped outside of her apartment for three years, for fear of doing harm to others. She supports her hermit lifestyle by becoming Jessica Manchild, one of the highest paid camgirls in the country. Everything she needs is either contained in her apartment or delivered to her door. Deanna’s only interactions with people are either from behind a locked door, over the phone, or through a computer.

Deanna is afraid that she is a terrifying person because she has the impulse to kill people. She then meets someone who appears to be a genuinely terrifying person, and is not only forced to take action, but is also forced to confront the things that lead her to this point. Along the way, she meets someone who is truly decent and understanding. The only question is will she give into her murderous impulses or not?

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