The Wolf & the Windlestraw from The Indianola Review

As the Associate Editor for The Indianola Review, I led a project to complete a collaborative serial novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2015. I’ve always wanted to edit a novel, and this seemed crazy enough to work.

Through Twitter, 30 authors from all across the United States signed on to write one chapter each (~2,000 words) on their respective day in November. The chapters were to follow the characters and plot set forth by Chelsea Eckert (our brave Day 1 author). Her characters were two courageous young sisters, Amadeus and Wolfgang, who were tasked with completing a quest using a windlestraw—an enchanted key—in a magical world set in the American Southwest. The first chapter blew me away. When Wolfgang pulled the windlestraw out of her pocket, the possibilities of magical realism–one of my favorite things to read–exploded into being.

I was always the first person to read each chapter of this wonderfully weird story, a privilege I enjoyed immensely. It’s fun and has some serious depth when it comes to the “magic system.” The Wolf & The Windlestraw is a 232-page magical realism novel that was written as a result of The Indianola Reviews  first collaborative NaNoWriMo. (We’ll be setting up the 2016 NaNoWriMo soon!) Here’s the blurb for the fantastic story:

Wolfgang has a sense of adventure unmatched by anyone, even her younger sister, Amadeus. But when Wolfgang is charged with completing three mysterious and possibly dangerous tasks, she drags Amadeus out of their hometown, Lotsett, to help her on her quest.

Their father Saul, desperate to find his missing daughters, seeks out the help of Brooks, a man who disappeared decades ago but has returned to Lotsett for his own dubious reasons.

With only a magical sword and the questionable guidance from local spirits, the sisters must complete the tasks together. Family and enemies alike put pressure on the sisters’ friendship. When pushed to their limit, will they make the right choice?

TITLE: The Wolf & The Windlestraw
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AUTHORS (In order of date of completion, November 1-30): Chelsea Eckert, Lane Kareska, Kevin C. Hunt, Robert Perret, Anne Weisgerber, Diane Rosier Miles, Michael P. Adams, Kayla Dean, Ellen Davis Sullivan, Jennifer Met, Jocelyn Paige Kelly, Carrie Cook, Sarah Vernetti, Iskandar Haggarty, Michael T. Fournier, G. E. Schwartz, Cinthia Ritchie, Tim Duffy, Joseph Walters, Vanessa Christie, Arika, Anthony Frame, Janell Zimmerer, Sara Adams, Forrest Dylan Bryant, Jae Singer, Lisa E. Balvanz, Tim W. Day, Jason Sears, Eldo St. David.
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COVER ART: Frances Mann
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PAGES: 232
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FIRST LINE: It was the day that wild dogs, a whole family of them, would try to devour Ama’s older sister alive.
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QUOTABLE: Ama relished the air hissing as the sword moved through the unseen medium, but her fantasy was short-lived. She turned around and halted in her steps, splashing into the creek that had been behind her moments ago. A small gray cat peered from behind a tree trunk, its big hazel eyes drawing Ama closer. She dropped the windlestraw and crept over to the cat, extending her arms out to pet its ruffled, damp fur.
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SORT OF LIKE:

The Graveyard Book Half-Moon Investigations

(I had trouble finding any books that were similarly written (one author per chapter), so I guess The Wolf & The Windlestraw is in a league of its own!)

Found: Religious Advice

bomMy town has a Little Free Library, and I try to drop books off there at least once a month. I occasionally glance through the library to see if there are any new goodies. For example, my most recent perusal revealed some romance books, a few dictionaries, some Dean Koontz novels, a couple old Westerns, and a copy of The Book of Mormon with a note penned onto the inside of the front cover. I’m not religious, so I definitely appreciate that whoever wrote this note took to penning it in a book rather than knocking at my door!

bom-note

The note reads:

Blessings to you
Dear Ones who choose to “read with the wonder and faith of a child❤
Pray to your Father in Heaven who waits for you to ask if these things are true. If you ask with a sincere heart, having faith in Christ, and real intent… He will warm your heart and bring peace and happiness through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Through this process, you will know the truth of all things.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter is a 342-page psychological/speculative thriller. I received the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dark MatterOne of my favorite things to read about in speculative fiction is the multiverse, and that’s the central idea of Dark Matter. Jason Dessen, on a walk home from celebrating a colleague’s scientific achievement, is kidnapped at gunpoint and drugged to sleep. When he wakes, he’s in an unfamiliar lab being congratulated for something he knows nothing about. From there, it’s a wild ride finding out where Jason is, how he’s going to get home, who kidnapped him, and most importantly–why he woke up in this strange world.

Blake Crouch had a surprisingly deep writing style; I didn’t expect intellectual quandaries in a thriller, but there were many “wow” moments that were a nice (though sometimes bleak) touch to the intense pace of the book. He also doesn’t shy away from focusing on character development, even though this is a science-centric book. He excels at both creating and breaking down the “family man” stereotype and showing the doubts that creep up in someone who had “so much potential” but instead of pursuing his dreams, settled down with his pregnant girlfriend to make a life. Jason is a fantastic character–he isn’t unhappy with his life, but still has lingering regrets.

Jason’s journey is both physical and mental–on his search to find his family, he wonders: Who is he really? Would he make different life choices if given a second chance? Would that make him happier? As a reader, I really connected with his struggle–who doesn’t wonder if changing certain choices would make life better or worse? Jason’s exploration of those possibilities weaves a dark psychological thread through the sprinting pace of the plot.

I don’t read as many suspenseful books as I used to (they make me anxious and also force me to stay up late to finish them), but Dark Matter is easily the best spec. fic./thriller I’ve read since Michael Crichton‘s peak. The plot is exciting, scary, and urgent, and the science has an actual effect on the end of the story. This is definitely a “grabs you by the ears and yanks you in” book and is easily one of my favorite sci-fi books of 2016.

TITLE: Dark Matter
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AUTHOR: Blake Crouch
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PAGES: 342
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ALSO WROTE: Pines, Run
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FIRST LINE: I love Thursday nights.
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FAVORITE LINE: We’re all just wandering through the tundra of our existence, assigning value to worthlessness, when all that we love and hate, all we believe in and fight for and kill for and die for is as meaningless as images projected onto Plexiglas.

BONUS LINE: I have suspicions of course, but suspicion leads to bias, and bias doesn’t lead to truth.
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SORT OF LIKE:

State of Fear     Timeline

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent by James Duane

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent by James Duane is a 154-page nonfiction book/set of essays scheduled for publication by Little A in September 2016. I received the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent coverThroughout the book, James Duane explores why someone–especially someone innocent–should never talk to the police (and instead should repeat “I want a lawyer”). The content of the book is a bit dry–he uses case histories of people who have been wrongfully convicted or have given false confessions. But Duane livens up the content with some excerpts from his lecture, “Don’t Talk to Police.” More

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer is 432-page speculative fiction novel, published by Tor in May of 2016. I received the book from NetGalley for review.

Too Like the LightningI requested this novel from NetGalley because I loved the cover and the title font. So yes, I judge books by their covers. Luckily, I wasn’t burned–Too Like the Lightning turned out to be a slow-burning, thought-provoking story.

The beginning of the novel crawls a bit since the narrator, Mycroft Canner, is actually a historian from 2454 who sets up the reader for a history that takes place in the reader’s past (see the first line of the book below). It took a few chapters to get used to Mycroft’s manner of speaking and story telling–there are plenty of “thee”s and “thou”s in the book, thanks to the future’s use of language (they’re also partial to using Latin). The payoff for this slow build is absolutely worth it. More

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Vinegar Girl is a 237-page contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare retelling collection.

Vinegar Girl Kate (a strong independent woman who don’t need no man) is just shy of 30, gardens and works at a preschool, and is constantly in trouble at work for lack of discretion when talking to the children’s parents–definitely a character I can get behind. Bunny, 15, is Kate’s ditzy sister. Their father, Dr. Battista, is a scientist working with autoimmune disorders alongside his research assistant, Pyotr. More

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is a 305-page sweeping historical/cultural fiction novel written by Yaa Gyasi, published by Knopf in June of 2016.

HomegoingI wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel, but what I got was a mind-blowing experience. The novel follows the lineal descendants of half-sisters Effia and Esi, born in eighteenth-century Ghana. Each chapter features the successive descendants of these women, from eighteenth century Ghanaian slavery to twentieth-century Harlem. More

But What if We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman

But What if We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman is a 288-page nonfiction book published by Blue Rider Press in June of 2016. I received the book from Penguin’s First to Read program.

But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck KlostermanThis book is a collection of essays and arguments revolving around a central theme–looking into the past with eyes colored by the present. Klosterman presents arguments ranging from future cultural popularity (who will define rock music–The Sex Pistols? Bob Dylan? Chuck Berry?) to scientific theories (will our theory of gravity seem as preposterous to future humans as the geocentric model of the universe seems to us?). More

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On is a 522-page fantasy novel by Rainbow Rowell, published by St. Martin’s Griffin in October of 2015.

23734628Simon Snow, a wizard in his eighth year at Watford School of Magicks lives with his evil, vampire roommate Baz and is constantly worrying about and fighting against the Insidious Humdrum. The story shifts between Simon, Baz, and their friends Penny and Agatha’s points of view. More

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake is a 376-page speculative fiction novel originally published in 2003. I listened to the audiobook, written by Margaret Atwood (who always has really interesting stuff going on), read by Campbell Scott.

18415437Jimmy (also known as Snowman) is the protagonist of this eerie story, which is about Jimmy’s past life experiences with his strange, genius friend named Crake, and the enigma of a woman named Oryx–framed by Snowman’s current existence in a post-apocalyptic world.

In this new world where humanity has been decimated by a plague, Snowman may be the only human left. That is, besides the Crakers (strange human-like beings with glowing eyes and primate-like mating behaviors) and the genetically designed murderous animals. More

How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High by David Bienenstock

How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High is a 288-page nonfiction novel published by Plume in April of 2016 (I can’t believe they missed out on publishing on 4/20!). I received a free copy of the book from Penguin’s First to Read program.

How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting HighThe novel begins with a succinct history of cannabis and goes on to discuss everything from humanity’s use of the plant in spiritual rituals, medicine, and daily life to the entrepreneurial efforts and scientific research of cannabis taking place today.

Bienenstock provides a fantastic and fascinating overview of the possibilities of cannabis–relieving patients who are suffering, community growth, and rapidly growing business opportunities. A plethora of careers–from budtenders (serving customers at a weed dispensary) to tourist endeavors (hotels and entertainment)–become possible with ending cannabis prohibition. It’s brilliantly argued that tourists (of states like Colorado) buying weed with no legal recourse to take the plant out of state would be more than happy to stimulate the local economy by seeing shows, eating at local restaurants, and staying in a hotel during their trip. The discussion on the history of legislation and stigma surrounding cannabis is a little indignant, but also quite accurate. More

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

The Grownup CoverAfter reading plenty of negative reviews, I was expecting a bit of a let down with this novella, originally published in George R.R. Martin’s Rogues anthology in 2014. However, since I’ve devoured every other book by Gillian Flynn, I decided to read The Grownup as a standalone book anyway. I surprisingly and happily enjoyed this creepy little treat quite a bit.

As usual, Gillian Flynn creates an in-your-face, kickass female protagonist–this one reads auras and gives hand jobs for a living. I loved the up front way the narrator (her name is never given) discussed men and what they desire, while also being a little disturbed by it. Though that frankness IS what appeals to me in every Gillian Flynn novel. She gives just enough polish to allow for surprise at the dark and disgusting undertones. More

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Why Not Me?Why Not Me? is a 228 page memoir published by Crown Archetype in September of 2015.

This novel is body-conscious and thoughtful and much less funny than Mindy Kaling’s previous book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I definitely agree with Kaling–this novel is basically an exposé on her character flaws. While she is a very *real* woman (although with slightly *unreal* celebrity problems), I don’t find I have much in common with her, which may have tempered my enjoyment of this. More

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood is a 352 page thriller/mystery published by Harvill Secker in July of 2015. I listened to the audiobook read by Imogen Church.

In a Dark, Dark WoodFirst, I must note that Church is a FANTASTIC narrator. I will definitely seek out other work she’s done. A large part of what I loved about this story is the suspense she created.

As for the plot: When Nora receives an email requesting her presence at Clare’s weekend-long hen night (a sort of bachelorette party?), she is shocked. Nora makes a pact with her friend Nina to go together to avoid the awkwardness guaranteed from not having spoken to Clare in a decade. More

2015 Favorites Roundup Part 2

In continuation from Part 1, these are the books that I loved reading last year but were published pre-2015. While I did manage to read some new books, mostly I read whatever caught my fancy at garage sales or wonderful library book sales (a whole BAG OF BOOKS for $1!). These are my three favorite “old” books that I read in 2015–okay, I cheated on the last one because it’s actually a series, but what are you going to do about it?


A Tale for the Time BeingA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is about a Canadian writer named Ruth finding a washed up diary in a lunchbox (from the 2011 tsunami) of Nao–a 16-year-old girl from Tokyo. Through Ruth’s reading of the diary, we learn about Nao’s disturbingly cruel classmates, her resolve to commit suicide, and most importantly (in Nao’s mind), her Buddhist nun great-grandmother.

I listened to the audiobook read by the author. I cannot praise her performance enough–it was fantastic to experience Ozeki’s knowledge of Japanese language and culture. The novel itself is fantastically meta, weaving the past with the present and writing, thoughts, and dreams. Nao’s sections of this book were wonderfully weird. Full of aching beauty and thoughtfulness, this is easily one of my favorites for the year. Get ready for some pervy stuff, though. If that’s not your thing, you might want read something else. More

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