Doll God by Luanne Castle

In “Prototype,” the first poem in Doll God by Luanne Castle, the first lines state: “it began/a mirror for good.” Throughout Doll God, the living and the breathing, memories, are reflected on objects. Everything is fleeting, but what remains? Do the objects we hold dear have something like a memory of us? The first poems are full of dolls: Barbies, Polly Pockets, American Girls. Chubby cheeked doll babies and buggies. “Pastoral” takes this thread to the literal, when the speaker finds a discarded doll in the mud, “I know the mud will dry./If I leave her here, the earth/will begin its work./In a few more rainstorms/no sign will remain.” The speaker goes on to lament that there is no point in trying to salvage the doll: its ruined, with no one left to love it.

Doll God is filled with references to art and artists and the poems obsessively ask the question, “What remains?” One of my favorite poems is “Debris.” The speaker’s mother-in-law has died and they put all of her paintings into storage and the speaker lets this anxiety of impermanence, even when an effort has been made to leave something behind, come to the surface:

And now, I can’t get the image
out of my mind:
dried paint chipping,
the spread of mold pockmarks,
velour paper edges fraying, canvas rips, a gradual

fading into sand, then dust sifting down
to be layered over by debris
of another generation
always the sifting sand
like a dust storm

Like many poetry collections, there are poems that seem to belong together more than others. A few seem like filler – they are not necessarily bad poems, but they aren’t connected by the thread that unites the rest of the book. Two of the strongest poems come near the end in section four, “Bone Tumor Curettage and Grafting Aftermath” and “A Bone Elegy.” Perhaps it is because they cut a clearer narrative, which I am drawn to as a reader, but they still ask that same question of permanence that runs throughout the book. In “Bone Tumor” it is the scars left behind after a surgery and the possibility that the surgery will fail. “Bone Elegy” connects this same surgery with the death of a childhood friend and contains a lovely stanza:

Leah and I caught bullfrogs in the marshland,

stranded our little brothers on the raft across the lake.

The three of us were intimate

as guppies: Leah, Luanne, the lake.

The lake itself is called Three-Lakes-in-One.

We dived off the Sunfish,

our hair behind us like swampgrass

as we rose out of the water,

sharp as scalpels.

It goes on “What repair can be made now?/Bones live for centuries, lasting past cities and heartbeats,/supporting the earth.”

I’ve already used this word once, but I do think that there is a profound anxiety behind many of these poems. What is left of the dead? The things they cared about? The art they created? Nothing but their physical remains? Doll God is grasping for answers to unanswerable questions. But isn’t that what poetry is for?

This post is part of a blog tour for Doll God by Luanne Castle. You can read more about this tour, including links to the other tour stops at Poetic Book Tours.


The Best Books I Read in 2014 – Adult Fiction

adult fiction 2Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – I read Jane Eyre before I could truly understand it. I had seen the movie and I was drawn to the dark, dreariness of it. The unease that permeates throughout. Most of all, I liked Jane. There was also probably a hint of wanting to impress people by the fact that I was reading Jane Eyre. I remember the actual physical book vividly – it was red, leather bound and much nicer than the other books in my middle school library. It had a ribbon bookmark. (An aside: does anyone else remember the way their middle school library smelled? In my memory, most of middle school took place in the library.) I hadn’t revisited Jane Eyre in many years, but it turns out that middle school me and 2014 me have very similar tastes. This time, I listened to the book on audio as I drove around Virginia for my job during the fall. It seems to me that this has been a particularly rainy fall and winter and that was perfect for listening to Jane Eyre on long drives. I am still drawn to Jane and the mystery of it all, the atmosphere, the language, Mr. Rochester and his lying ways. This year, I’d love to watch all the Jane Eyre movie adaptations to compare them and read books that have been inspired by Jane Eyre, like Wide Sargasso Sea.

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland – When I was working in publishing, I didn’t blog about the books published by my company because it felt like a conflict of interest. That was the right thing to do, but I didn’t get to tell you about some really great books. Since I’ve switched jobs, I’m very excited to share them with you. The Transcriptionist is a quiet novel, one that can almost seem like it’s leading to something bigger, but don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t. The book starts out with a mystery, but this is a book that asks questions and doesn’t answer them. And that’s what I loved about it. It’s about a woman named Lena, a mysterious death, newspapers, technology, coincidence, war, life and death and what it means to be alone. Big questions with no easy answers.

The Three by Sarah Lotz – So, I’m really not a great flyer. It seems like it would be a horrible idea for me to read this book, about three plane crashes on the same day that the world believes are somehow connected. And it was! It was terrifying! But what I actually loved about this novel was the structure. It’s a book within a book and uses found documents, like chat and video transcripts, letters, and interviews. I didn’t necessarily expect this book to make my list of the best books of the year, but I keep thinking about the structure months after reading it. It managed to maintain the suspense and use the technique to its advantage. The other book I read this year that tried to do the same thing, The Supernatural Enhancements, let the structure get in the way of the actual story. I can’t imagine The Three being told any other way.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – I only read Everything I Never Told You a few weeks ago, but I knew immediately that it was going to be one of the best books I read this year. On its surface, it’s a story that’s been told many times in literary fiction and crime fiction: a teenage girl goes missing and her family must deal with the aftermath. But this book takes every cliche from that tired story and turns it on its head. The Lees stand out in their small Ohio town in the 70s as the only interracial family. James Lee, the patriarch, wants nothing more than for his family to blend in. Marilyn Lee hates the homemaker life she has fallen into, so pushes all her medical school aspirations on her oldest daughter Lydia. When Lydia goes missing, James and Marilyn and their two remaining children, Nathan and Hannah, are left to untangle where it all went wrong. I can’t recommend this book enough.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay – An Untamed State is a difficult book to read and it’s a book that’s going to stay with me for a long time. Mireille, American-born and of Haitian descent, is visiting her parents’ estate in Haiti with her midwestern white husband and their infant daughter when she is kidnapped. Kidnappings are common in Haiti and her wealthy father refuses to give into the kidnappers’ demands, leading to a horrific two weeks of brutality for Mireille. When Mireille is finally released, she is shattered physically and emotionally and must somehow heal and learn how to live and love again after this horrible thing has happened. An Untamed State is the kind of novel that makes you feel. Anger, disgust, horror, and grief. But also hope and forgiveness.

Someone by Alice McDermott – This was one of the first books I read in 2014, for my book club, and I just knew it was going to stick with me. It has. It’s about the life of one ordinary woman named Marie. It’s a portrait of her and her life, her sadnesses and triumphs, that moves forward and backward in time with a beautiful fluidity. It’s one of the few books I reviewed this year, so I talk about it in a lot more detail here. Also, do yourself a favor. If you’re going to buy this novel, please buy the hardcover. It’s so understated, it’s hard to tell online, but it’s one of the most beautiful books I own. The buildings and text on the cover and the spine are this lovely metallic copper color and it’s just lovely.

2014 Reading Stats and Looking Ahead to 2015

This might be my favorite time of year when it comes to blogging – everyone is blogging about the reading year they had and the one they plan on having in 2015. Every new year is filled with the promise of new wonderful, favorite reads and newly discovered authors and amazing debuts. I love that excitement.

The reading stats aren’t a way to brag, but a way to be conscious of what I’m reading. Sure, there are times when reading what you want, when you want is a totally valid and necessary way of reading. But, for the most part, I think it’s important to take a look at your reading and see what your missing. Not reading enough books by women? Not enough books by authors of color? Maybe all your books were published after 2005 and you want to read more classics. Whatever it might be!

Last year I made three goals: read more books that I own, read more diversely (with a focus on translations), and post about each book I read. I actually failed at all three of these goals! This was a busy year, full of a lot of transitions (I moved, changed jobs) that I was anticipating the whole year. I turned to a lot of comfort reads and I’m definitely ok with that. Let’s take a closer look at what I did read in 2014.

2014 Stats

Total Books Read: 102
Total Pages Read: 33,646

I read 2 books less this year, but 387 more pages. I read 16 chunksters (450 pages or more) for 8,455 pages, accounting for 25% of my overall reading this year.

Now, for some charts: 

Author Gender



I’m pretty happy with this split. I always tend to gravitate towards stories written by women, so I’ve never focused on author gender much in years past.




My most-read genre was fantasy. I read a lot of Vampire Academy and Bloodlines books this year, which is probably why there’s a slight spike in that ratio. Last year, General Fiction far surpassed Fantasy. My poetry reading has really dropped off in the past two years, which is something I’d like to address in 2015. It’s just unacceptable! I’ve long been a champion of reading poetry, but my own poetry reading is dismal. Otherwise, I’m pretty satisfied with this.

I listened to 10 audiobooks and I read 27 comics/graphic novels. Which is almost exactly the same as 2014. I expect my audiobook number will only continue to grow in 2015, since my new job requires a lot of driving. Much of my reading in the last quarter (after I switched jobs) came from audiobooks and I don’t see that changing. My goal for next year is to read a comic book a week, so hopefully my comics number will nearly double!

Library Books vs My Books


I can’t believe it was possible to do worse at this goal! I really wanted to read more of my own books and send them out the door. Reducing what I own, all of that. I WILL DO BETTER AT THIS. (Maybe.)

20141230020054I didn’t separate out Middle Grade from Young Adult, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t read very much Middle Grade at all. This ratio is about perfect for me, but I wouldn’t mind adding a little bit more Middle Grade fiction to my reading list next year.


When I moved, I ended up losing my original reading spreadsheet, where I was keeping much more detailed stats on the diversity of my reading. Was the author POC and did the novel prominently feature people of color as characters? When I went back to recreate my spreadsheet, I incorporated both of these categories into one. I feel like this isn’t really an accurate representation of the diversity in my reading, so next year I’m going to keep better track of this.

Goals for 2015

  • Read one book by an author of color for every book I read by a white person.
  • Continue to make an effort to read the books I already own.
  • Blog about every book I read in some capacity.
  • Bring back Comic of the Week and Poetry Wednesday by reading one comic and one book of poetry each week.

And that’s it! Those seem like pretty manageable goals. What are your reading goals for 2015?

2014 End of Year Book Survey



Every year, Jaime at the Perpetual Page-Turner puts together this great End of Year survey. It’s just a fun way to look back on your reading year. I took most of December off from blogging, which was much needed, but I’m ready to get back into the swing of things with a full week of best of 2014 and looking ahead to 2015. To kick it off, I’m going to start with the year-end survey! I always pick the questions that are most relevant to my reading life, so be sure to check out the full survey if you’d like to add it to your blog, too!

Reading Stats

Number of Books Read: 102 and I’m expecting to read a few more before the week is over.
Number of Rereads: 3
Genre You Read the Most From: Fantasy – 39 books.

Best In Books

Best book read in 2014? Like I could pick just one! Someone by Alice McDermott, The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland, Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Book I was excited about and thought I was going to love more: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. A Secret History is one of my favorite books, so I had high hopes for The Goldfinch. While I liked it a lot, it’s definitely not one I’ll read again.

Most surprising book: I’m going to go with most surprising series – The Vampire Academy series and the Bloodlines series. I devoured these this year and really loved them, which I wasn’t expecting! They aren’t perfect books, but I liked the world building a lot and cared about the characters.

Book I pushed the most people to read: I’m constantly telling people to read The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Best series I started in 2014: Bloodlines!

Favorite new author: I think everyone discovered Roxane Gay this year, but An Untamed State was one of the best books I read this year. Celeste Ng is another author I’m eager to read again and Lin Enger, author of The High Divide.

Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year: The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero and The Three by Sarah Lotz

Book I’m most likely to reread next year: I like to wait at least a year or so in between rereads, so probably nada.

Favorite cover: 

9781616202545 Aristotle_and_Dante_Discover_the_Secrets_of_the_Universe_cover

Most memorable character of 2014: Jane Eyre

Most beautifully written book of 2014: Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore and Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman (Goal: read more beautiful books in 2014)

Most thought-provoking book of 2014: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Book I Can’t Believe I Waited Until 2014 to Read: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield – I won this galley in a Twitter contest ages ago and it had been sitting on my shelf for a long while. I ended up loving it and I’m sorry it sat on my shelf for so long!

Favorite passage? From Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman:

The letters are sitting right here, bound in dirty string so they can’t come open too easily, so they can’t steal my nights as I look for secrets in their creases. Mama developed Grandma’s preference for onionskin paper too, and felt-tip, I wait for this to happen to me, I’m certain it will. The only way to tell the difference between Mama’s letters and Grandma’s at first glance is that Mama’s stay bundled up so tight the string rips into their pages and Grandma’s are loose and open, all over this table. I keep Mama’s letters closed, keep their edges close together like a cut that needs force to heal. I’m all wrapped up in there, jumbled with her, small i‘s and slashes, her story in my story at every turn.

Shortest book? Hilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson (40 pages) Longest book? A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin (976 pages)

 Book that shocked me the most: Wild Ones by Jon Mooallem had some fascinating and shocking facts about conservation and extinction.

OTP: Sydney and Adrian!!!!

Favorite non-romantic relationship: Karou & Zuzana from Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Favorite book read in 2014 from an author I’ve read previously: Locke & Key and Saga volumes 2 and 3

Best book I read in 2014 based on a recommendation: Wild Ones by Jon Mooallem based on a recommendation from Aarti

Best debut I read in 2014? Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Best worldbuilding? Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Book that put a smile on my face: Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and

Book that made me cry: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Hidden gem of the year: I want everyone to read David R. Dow, so I’m going to say Things I Learned from Dying by David R. Dow

Book that crushed my soul: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Most unique book of 2014: The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero – Though this style of book isn’t really unique, it was definitely the most unique book I read in 2014!

Book that made me the most madAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay made me viscerally angry about the horrible things that people can do to each other.

Looking Ahead

One book I didn’t get to in 2014 that will be a priority in 2015: I’ve already picked out my first book of the year for 2015 and it’s going to be My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, which I’ve only heard good things about.

Book I am most anticipating for 2015: The third book in the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patric Rothfuss, Doors of Stone, does not have an official release date, but the rumor is that it will be in 2015. Fingers crossed!

One thing I hope to do in my reading life: For every book by a white person, I would like to read a book by a person of color and keep up my trend of reading more books by women. I’m going to do a more detailed post about my 2014 stats and my 2015 reading goals, so keep an eye out for that this week!

What did your reading year look like?



Fog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones

fog islnadkitsune is a fox from Japanese folktale tradition. It can be a shapeshifter. It often has many tails. The kitsune can be a trickster. After finishing Fog Island Mountain, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the kitsune folktales and it makes me want to go through and read this novella again with new eyes, keeping watch for elements of the kitsune tradition.

This novel is about grief, about tragedy, about storms literal and figurative, and how we weather them. When South African expat Alec learns he has cancer, he waits for his wife Kanae to meet him at the hospital. She does not come. Instead she races away from Komachi, their small Japanese town, and tries to escape the dread and fear of her husband’s death by pretending he is already dead, that she is already living as a widow. She is wrecked by the thought of being left by him and so she leaves him. Meanwhile, a typhoon is coming, threatening with destructive winds and torrential rains. The story of Kanae, Alec, and Komachi is told by Azami, the oldest inhabitant of Komachi and the daughter of a famous poet and storyteller.

Fog Island Mountains is a slim book, a novella, that tells a complex story of grief and loss and love. It’s lovely and told in a style reminiscent of folklore while still painting the characters in stark relief. We don’t have very many pages to get to know and understand Kanae and Alec and their children. We don’t necessarily know all of their motivations or every step that brought them to these decisions, but you trust that they are genuine. Even minor characters are elegantly written.

The actual plot of this novel only covers a few days, which is one of my favorite devices in fiction, and Fog Island Mountains was no exception. This story, though, is about more than just the few days, it’s about a lifetime of love between Kanae and Alec, it’s about childhood and adulthood, it’s about a town, and it’s about stories.

Fog Island Mountains was awarded the Christopher Doheny Award for fiction, which is an award “which recognizes excellence in fiction or nonfiction on the topic of serious illness by a writer who has personally dealt or is dealing with life-threatening illness.” Fog Island Mountains is about the choices we make when we are faced with illness, with life and death, with grief, even the anticipation of grief. The person that comes out when we are faced with the inevitable but impossible to imagine is not always a person we are proud of. Fog Island Mountains is compassionate and forgiving when it comes to these moments.

Fog Island Mountains is such a fast read, but filled with small moments I’m sure I missed, especially after reading more about the kitsune tradition that inspired the novel. It’s a novel I plan on revisiting.

I received a review copy of Fog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones from TLC Book Tours. You can read more about this novel and see the other tour dates here


Nonfiction November Week 4 – Additions to my TBR

cork w booksI apologize for being a little behind on my Nonfiction November post this week! I’ve been prepping for my Thanksgiving trip and finishing up at work, plus obsessing over a few exciting things that are coming up in the next few weeks. November is always such a busy month, especially this last week!

If you’re in the US, I hope you have safe travels this week for Thanksgiving and that you enjoy your holidays. If you’re not in the US, enjoy this last week in November before the holiday rush!

Nonfiction November was such an amazing experience this time around. Everyone has been so enthusiastic, it’s hard not to let your TBR grow and grow and grow. This week, we’re asking participants to list the books that they’ve added to their TBR, along with a link to the blogger who recommended it. This week’s host is Katie at Doing Dewey, so make sure you head over to her blog with your link.

Good Soldiers and Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel – Recommended by Elisabeth at The Dirigible Plum – From Elisabeth’s blog: “I continue to recommend David Finkel’s Thank You For Your Service, one of my favorite books in 2013. Finkel follows the soldiers he profiled in Good Soldiers (also an excellent nonfiction read) after they return home to the U.S. The aftermath of war is no lovelier than war itself, and this is not an easy book to read. But Finkel makes you care passionately for these soldiers and their families. I finished this book and felt changed by the experience of reading it.”

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan  – Recommended by Jennifer at The Relentless Reader – From Jennifer’s blog: “I thought I knew quite a bit about the Dust Bowl. I was wrong. The author combined history with personal narratives to craft an exceptional book that was heartbreaking and incredibly informative.”

The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr – Recommended by Travis at Head Subhead – From Travis’s blog: “The book I’ve recommended most to folks is Nicholas Carr’s The Glass Cage. It was fascinating. My guess is if you are reading this post then you need to read The Glass Cage. It’s not too long and not hard to understand. But you will look at your computer, phone, car, TV and airplanes in a whole new light after reading this book. So much of our lives and work is automated these days. This shift happened so fast. What are the implications? Does anyone know? Just think about this – the same impulse/feeling you get when you misspell a word, because you know auto-correct will get it, is due to the same mental lull that has been attributed to airline crashes. You need to read this book.”

Black Berry, Sweet Juice by Lawrence Hill – Recommended by Ana at Things Mean A Lot – From Ana’s blog: “I recently finished Lawrence Hill’s Blood: A Biography of the Stuff of Life, which I really enjoyed and hope to review at some point. I especially liked the book’s exploration of racial identity and of the biological myths that still surround our understanding of race, so it only makes sense to go on to read the book Lawrence devoted entirely to the topic.”

Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley – Recommended by Sophie at Paper Breathers –  From Sophie’s blog: “I love Heminsley’s narrative because I think it speaks to many of us who laze around and can’t really muster up the willpower to go running. And even if we do, it’s only that one day a yearmonth when we feel like we’re on top of the world, and then reality hits and we realize that running is painful and difficult and SO FREAKIN’ TIRING. Heminsley had the same problems and complaints, but she also found good things along the way that balanced out the bad – for example, making friends with strangers on the run, or running by the sea, or running with a friend who really needs it emotionally. We’re privy to the painful, joyous, tragic, and triumphant moments of her life as she slowly falls in and out of love with running.”

Nonfiction November Readalong – The Restless Sleep

nonfiction november readalongs


Today, for the Nonfiction November readalong, Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) and I will be talking about The Restless Sleep, while Becca (I’m Lost in Books) and Katie (Doing Dewey) will be talking about Cleopatra.

The Restless Sleep is about New York City’s cold case squad and the struggles they face daily to solve long unsolved murders in New York. Horn structures the book by interweaving stories of how the Cold Case Squad came to be and the stories of four long-cold cases and the cops who try to solve them. Horn states early in the book that she is determined to give voices to the people whose lives ended too soon, who didn’t have a chance to leave their mark on the world. She looks at the case of a young couple murdered with possible drug connections, a series of murders associated with the mob, the murder of a young woman from Georgia, recently divorced, and the murder of a young girl in Queens.

This book is essentially a snap shot of what the Cold Case Squad looked like in 2003-2004, just a few short years after 9/11, which was still affecting the day-to-day life of all cops. I’m sure a lot has changed in the years since the book was published and that was hard to ignore. The police politics and the parts of the book that discussed how the Cold Case Squad operated were much less interesting than the parts of the book that covered actual cases and how they’re solved. It was hard to keep each cop straight in the narrative and I found the narrative structure to be jarring. It was difficult to focus on any one part of the story when it would jump from an individual case to talking about police politics to talking about another case.

I struggled with Horn’s tone throughout the book, which starts out as very informal, almost as if she’s mimicking the hard language and tone that she thinks cops have. This eventually fades, or I got used to it as the story went on, but it still stood out to me as I was reading.

The cases Horn picks to illustrate the work the Cold Case Squad were poignant. She approaches the victims with compassion, when other people might not. Many of the cold cases in New York are people who the world has deemed expendable. Many of them are criminals themselves. Horn wants someone to remember them and I think she does a good job painting fair pictures of the victims and their murderers, if they’re known. At the end of the book, two of the cases are solved and two remain cold. It was frustrating not to have that closure on those two cases, but it was a great way to illustrate the real work the Cold Case Squad is doing.

If it weren’t for this readalong, I’m not sure I would have finished The Restless Sleep. The subject is interesting, but I just found the structure of the book and Horn’s tone to be distracting.

So, I have to know, what did you think?? Am I totally wrong here? Or did you run into some of the same issues with The Restless Sleep?