RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksEach year brings a new round of writers releasing their work into the world for the very first time, yet it remains relatively rare for one of them to produce a novel so profoundly well written that it fills a hole readers didn’t even know existed in the canon. Monica West, however, has managed to do just that with a tale so authentic it will crack your heart right open ... delves into matters of faith and belief, religion and the church establishment, along with the attendant strengths and flaws. But this story is also so much more. Its success hinges on the execution of Miriam’s self-examination, the inward journey she takes to reconcile the different versions of her father and to, subsequently, form her own beliefs about herself and the world. Without question, West shines here ... Exploring the deep-rooted beliefs of the Horton family in the context of the larger Black church community they reside within, Revival Season is sure to appeal to those raised in the Bible Belt as much as at will to those who’ve looked curiously in from the outside. West has so carefully crafted the dynamics of family relationships that readers will feel as if they’re riding along down the highway in the Hortons’ packed van or sitting next to Miriam under the revival tent on a hot summer evening ... There is something captivating and beautifully painful about this story, as well as West’s writing. A bit of the magic of storytelling, perhaps, that just cannot be put into words. Readers must experience it for themselves.
RaveThe Nerd DailyFrom what inspired him to attend acting school in New York City, to his first film role and his big break into the world of John Hughes’ films, McCarthy’s book has a little something for everyone. For fans of the craft, he discusses his training at NYU in some detail...For those who are curious about what happens behind the scenes in the film industry, McCarthy relays a bit of insider knowledge of the business gained over the past few decades...For those interested in his more closely guarded personal life, McCarthy lowers the shield to dig into what he calls the \'yin-yang\' of his consuming desire to be a successful actor versus the way he hid himself away, acted disinterested (often at the expense of his career) to cope with his internal fears. And, of course, he delves into his relationships with fellow \'Brat Pack\' members, revealing stories which may surprise readers ... All in all, Brat is just what you would expect: an entertaining, yet self-reflective, romp down memory lane. McCarthy’s writing is solid and flowing, honest and critical. Fans with a special place in their heart for ‘80s nostalgia are sure to enjoy the stories shared here.
PositiveThe Nerd Daily... sweeping in scope and does well in capturing and conveying a strong feeling of time and place. Shipstead’s writing is well-honed and fluid throughout. She creates beautiful subtleties with the images and emotions she conjures. Quite often a good, long book can draw readers into the world of the characters in a way many shorter books cannot. But a story can be too broad as well, too all-encompassing. While there were certainly parts of Great Circle that made the outside world disappear, enveloping the reader entirely in the fiction, there were also parts which were overworked, slowing down the forward progression and dissipating the illusion Shipstead works to build. The reader knows the entire time what they are reading towards: Marian Graves’s epic goal to circumnavigate the globe. Knowing this isn’t in and of itself a drawback, it does not lessen the reader’s desire to experience the event itself. However, the structure of the book, rather than helping orient the reader on their journey toward this end, becomes cumbersome, if not tedious, in how the sections are delineated ... All of this culminates in a push-pull effect—sections of the book which are a struggle to get through, followed by other sections which are riveting.
PositiveThe Nerd DailyFans of multigenerational stories, family sagas, and own voices narratives are sure to be excited about Gabriela Garcia’s debut novel. Following a series of mothers and daughters across five generations through Cuba, Mexico, Texas, and Miami, Of Women and Salt depicts the stories, struggles, and strengths of a collection of Latinx women both within and beyond their families ... Deftly sailing from one perspective to another across the years, Garcia uses these women’s voices (as well as a handful of others) to flesh out an enthralling and important story. It is a notable feat for a first-time novelist to broach such an array of significant themes in one work. Central to Garcia’s book is the concept of identity — how we view ourselves internally, as well as how we formulate who we are by learning about those who have come before us, and how identity is ascribed to us by others based on how they see us outwardly. Equally as significant is the focus on family and history ... Although some sections of the narrative feel belaboured (there is too much telling the reader what they should be able to intuit), Of Women and Salt is a book well worth reading, as Garcia shines in her ability to ultimately emphasize the strength, the perseverance, of these Latinx women.
RaveThe Nerd DailyWhat do you get when you take a grouping of personal essays, infuse them liberally with horror and other pop culture references, then sprinkle in a dash of ‘90s nostalgia? The answer is simple: the best new release this reviewer has read so far in 2021! With a stunningly original concept and precise execution, Gina Nutt’s debut essay collection Night Rooms is absolutely captivating! A series of compositions covering the landscape of a life in progress, Night Rooms puts feelings to experiences in a way readers never would have imagined possible … and one they have likely never seen before! Nutt shies away from nothing in her writing, taking bold chances with both the structure and the way she lays herself bare to the reader ... Whatever it might be that makes the writing click, just go ahead and pick up this book. Inhale the essays one by one. Set it down and reflect back on your own lived experience. You won’t regret the opportunity to set off upon this unique journey yourself!
RaveThe Nerd DailyGailey has done it again, creating an utterly unique sci-fi thriller. Equal parts unsettling and unputdownable, readers will cringe as they tear through this eerie tale, unable to look away from the ethical monstrosity ... Gailey provides an incredible amount of food for thought here. Subtly scary and hauntingly realistic, Gailey has written with a quiet horror which slowly settles in, scratching at the back of the reader’s brain long after the last page has been turned ... sure to be a genre-bending hit in early 2021 with fans of speculative fiction and thrillers alike.
RaveThe Nerd DailyLanding once again firmly in the subgenre of science fiction that Okorafor herself has termed Africanfuturism, this novella is sure to captivate existing fans and also draw new readers to her work ... Okorafor has created quite a world here. She explores the intersection of power and control with technology and politics, even weaving in the elements of mythology and legend that Sankofa brings to the table. There is a beautiful juxtaposition between the youth of this female protagonist and the weight of her role as the so-called \'adopted daughter of the Angel of Death\'...And while the story may be set in a time yet-to-come, filled with futuristic elements, like any good science fiction story the themes are just as relevant in the real world we live in today ... a quick read, but is packaged with much care. Despite how the story sounds, it reads as more character-driven than plot-driven for this reviewer, which may leave some readers wanting more — of Fatima, her transformation into Sankofa, and of this unique world Okorafor has built. Regardless, fans of science-fiction will enjoy this unique adventure and fans of literary fiction will be impressed by the underlying considerations of culture, identity, family, and more.
RaveThe Nerd DailyFinn’s prose has a painful beauty to it, the allure of the writing illuminated by the subtle horror of the plot ... It’s a timeless tale, repeated again and again: the cultural pressure that is driven into women to be obedient, to accept their role and what they are given, to finish what they have started even if that requires submission. Rules which are particularly applicable to romantic relationships. Yet Finn gives the familiar a fresh take that is much-needed for the present day, making it clear as the story progresses that Rosie has an inner strength, an instinct to endure and persevere; in short: she will be no victim ... Rosie is an unforgettable character who burrows her way deep into the reader’s heart where she will not be forgotten. You will feel for her, cheer for her, hope for her as you reflect upon how you also have been trapped by your own life decisions at one time or another. The Hare is the type of book you will appreciate even more after stepping away and reflecting upon it, as the tale lingers in the back of your mind.
Kikuko Tsumura, trans. by Polly Barton
PositiveThe Nerd DailyTsumura has an interesting take on the universal themes of job satisfaction and burn-out, as well as capitalism, beautifully set down within and reflective of the Japanese culture. Centered on an unnamed and quirky, yet likeable protagonist in the vein of literary characters like Eleanor Oliphant or Ove (but more subdued), this story relays the relatable challenge of finding a job that is both devoid of excessive stress yet which will also be satisfying and fulfilling ... Perhaps the greatest accomplishment Tsumura makes here is that of normalising the stress of so many modern-day work environments and creating a space for reflection, both by the narrator and by the reader, on where boundaries should be drawn between our work and home lives ...
Overall, Tsumura’s work probes at a topic not often tackled in literary fiction; a topic well-worth the investigation.
P. Djèlí Clark
RaveThe Nerd DailyP. Djèlí Clark is well known in the world of speculative fiction for his unique ability to seamlessly take key pieces of history and morph them into the fantastical ... Clark is back in October 2020 with a new release likely to be just as successful with fans and critics alike: Ring Shout ... The foundational concept of Ring Shout is ingenious — Clark turns the monstrous humans who were members of the Ku Klux Klan into actual monsters that must be destroyed. However, there are also many other historical counterpoints which Clark creatively twists and moulds into his unique fantasy world of prohibition-era Georgia ... Simply put, Ring Shout is a brilliant piece of speculative fiction. In just the length of a single novella, Clark presents a history lesson, copious amounts of action and adventure, social commentary that is critically important in the United States today, and all the elements of fantasy one could desire ... There are so many more layers readers need to unfurl for themselves as this cleverly crafted, vastly moving novella builds in intensity until the very end. So, I will simply leave you with this … go grab a copy of Ring Shout!
RaveNerd DailySalam builds a beautifully believable world around the reader, settling them in amongst not only the clothing and hairstyles, but also the values and virtues, of Americans in the 1950s. Bridget’s journey to Italy is not just a physical exploration of a far away land she has never seen, but it is equally a journey of growth and self-discovery. Themes of friendship and love, family structure and class, are also woven throughout this well-crafted novel. Salam even examines race and cultural identity ... Salam deftly explores the ability of an individual to come into their own and to learn to be comfortable (or not) with that person. This constant underlying current is palpable throughout the novel ... Salam’s writing flows easily, making Belladonna a quick-moving and enjoyable read. Her characters are well-sculpted and the storyline of first love, the almost obsessive infatuation with another human, is compelling. If you enjoy fiction with threads of history woven throughout as well as books which expose the internal struggles of the protagonist to grow and change, then you will enjoy this novel.
RaveThe Nerd DailyBelcourt’s voice and perspective are fully-formed and unflinching throughout this series of twelve essays. Belcourt holds nothing back as he weaves his way through these pieces, sharing experiences of coming-of-age, queerness, and as a member of the Driftpile Cree Nation ... Deeply personal and raw, Belcourt flays himself wide open in a way that is simultaneously delicate and jarring ... his writing overflows with insight and conviction. There is an alluring complexity to the language and style of his writing, as well as the subject matter, which will leave the reader looking forward to more from Belcourt’s hand in the future.
MixedThe Nerd DailyTremblay is clearly a skilled writer and world-builder, as the words flow smoothly and the book is an easy read. Yet the pace of Survivor Song drags a bit and the story resounds with often used tropes and plot points. In recent years the market has been inundated with books featuring apocalyptic worlds, pandemics, and other catastrophes which hold the ability to completely change life as we know it or end the current civilisation. When tackling such a familiar setting, it is this reader’s belief that the story must add something new to the genre, must bring a fresh take to the landscape. Tremblay’s premise of focusing on the questionable survival of a pregnant woman is compelling; yet the overarching storyline is predictable, leaving the reader with a desire to finish the book in order to confirm their assumptions rather than to find out what might happen next. Similarly, the characters of Ramola and Natalie are likeable enough; however, something is missing. The connection between the characters and the reader is never really solidified enough to fully tug at the heartstrings, to truly invest the reader in the ultimate outcome as a bad situation turns worse ... Despite these reservations, Tremblay has a great following and many readers are sure to appreciate this newest addition to his body of work. Perhaps this reader has just become oversaturated with this particular genre in recent years and therefore found the story to be too formulaic. A reader new to this genre would likely enjoy the tale, find it moving and somewhat anxiety-provoking without being overly frightening.
RaveThe Nerd DailyRose’s beautifully painful retracing of these events, of her sister’s life and death, in an attempt to untangle this web and reconcile the loss of a loved one ... Unlike anything I’ve ever read, Andersen’s memoir takes a unique approach to the genre with a mixture of memories and heartbreak infused with speculation and echoes of true crime ... This memoir tackles so much, all weighty topics, from personal loss to the nationwide issues of addiction ... Andersen, much like her writing, has an intense strength about her. The words she has laid down on the page are raw and piercing, gritty and so real. A tremendous amount of love is also expressed in this book alongside guilt, frustration, and surprise as to how things came to this point. With short, propulsive chapters, The Heart and Other Monsters is a book readers will be unable to look away from, even in its most painful moments.
PositiveThe Nerd DailyIf you are naturally drawn to the traditional gothic-style novel, or the trope of a mysterious private university hiding a dark secret or two, then Elisabeth Thomas’s debut Catherine House is a book you won’t want to miss! ... The novel’s plot is a bit predictable, however this does not detract from the desire Thomas creates in the reader to learn more about Catherine House and its inhabitants. The author shines most brightly in her development of a setting which is simultaneously intriguing and off-putting to the reader, an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue that is strong enough to keep the reader wanting more. Readers may also find it interesting to note that Thomas draws on her own experiences as a Yale graduate (where, yes, she was a member of a fabled secret society!) in creating this tale ... Thomas also adds a new twist to an old genre by incorporating a cast of diverse characters unlike those typically seen in novels described as \'gothic\' ... a good read for fans of a slow-burn, or a more character-driven novel. And here the most important, the most intriguing, character is the house itself!
PositiveThe Nerd Daily... compelling ... Moloney takes a unique approach to telling this story, giving the reader a glimpse into the personal lives of these characters alongside their daily work routines...By taking this approach, Moloney explores humanity through the eyes of an oft overlooked population ... He exposes a high-stress, high-stakes work environment and probes the ways humans respond to that pressure. He provides a subtle yet striking commentary on the criminal justice system, examining how it shapes the lives of those who keep it running as much as those it governs ... Through the series of vignettes composed here, Moloney sets forth a clear, yet unbiased narrative. He masterfully employs a compact style of writing, thoughts parsed and sentences carefully clipped; yet each character comes to life, flawed and complex in a very real way. Each chapter stronger than the last, Moloney shines most brightly in the scenes where he zooms in to capture one-on-one human interactions in their most honest, vulnerable, and even repulsive states. And in the end, this novel ultimately leaves the reader unsettled, contemplating a series of questions: What exactly is the difference that leads one to land inside the walls of a prison as opposed to standing guard over it? What has brought the American justice system to this point? And what needs to happen to repair it, for the sake of all involved?
PositiveThe Nerd DailyThorpe’s story immediately enfolds the reader, moving them swiftly forward, swept up in the current ... Thorpe explores the humanity of each and every character on the page. She challenges complex concepts of what is deemed \'good\' versus \'bad,\' \'right\' versus \'wrong.\' She questions what love means, what that looks like, and how it may vary between family and friends ... Thorpe also explores other common literary themes with fresh eyes. She houses this story in a framework of friendship and identity ... Thorpe traces this friendship through many of the ups and downs one might expect between a pair of teenagers, and then some. And it shouldn’t be ignored that she has a sly way of infusing humour throughout to keep the story from growing too bleak altogether.
RaveThe Nerd DailyGailey carefully selects their words for maximum impact, and in doing so creates a world where the reader wants to join the revolution, become part of the resistance ... Full of just as much heart and grit as flashy horseback riding and wiley gunfights, Upright Women Wanted blends the feel of a western with a very modern commentary on learning to embrace one’s identity and find one’s people ... This novella is one you won’t want to put down and it will leave you longing for more!
MixedThe Nerd DailyLess thriller and more slow-burning mystery, Schaitkin’s debut novel skitters back and forth in time ... Touted as an exploration of family and grief, race and privilege, Saint X attempts to blend the weighty topics often found in literary fiction with a more mainstream storyline. The result: a story that feels disconnected and, at times, superfluous. The narrative returns time and again to issues of privilege, however these moments feel forced, disjointed, and uncomfortable. With this said, Schaitkin undeniably possesses some sharp writing skills. Sentences and passages throughout were well-written, carefully crafted, with a clear and engaging voice. Big picture, however, this reader felt detached from the perhaps overly lengthy narrative and themes that the author undertakes here.
PositiveThe Nerd Daily...despite the solid writing the storyline feels too contrived overall. While there are compelling points throughout, by and large the novel feels too neatly planned out and structured, at least for this reviewer’s tastes. When broaching a large, complex, and currently relevant topic, such as that of gender identity which is examined here, one may be looking for more depth with the social commentary ... . Despite the concerns noted by this reviewer, it does seem that The Antidote for Everything has the appeal of contemporary fiction which is likely to find a broad audience out in the reading world. If you tend to enjoy a bit of a lighter, more commercial fiction novel which still contains important social references, you may want to give this one a try.
RaveThe Nerd DailyOnyebuchi packs a lot into this little book. Riot Baby directly confronts decades of police violence by building upon real life events like the well-known beating of Rodney King, as well as nodding to perhaps lesser known, but no less important, events such as the Watts Riots of1960s Los Angeles and the shooting of Sean Bell in 2006 ... By weaving together history and fantasy, he adroitly demonstrates how racism has been, and continues to be, embedded in the culture of the United States. This technique works quite well to emphasise and sharpen his commentary, while also allowing a glimpse into a not-so-distant dystopian future ...
Onyebuchi is a truly skilled world-builder and his juxtaposition of the real and the fantastic, the present and the possible future, is impressive. In relatively few words, he creates such realistic images in the mind of the reader, immersing them in each scene. The narrative builds and builds, digging its claws in ever sharper, drawing the reader to the edge of their seat. The only drawback to this novella is that I wanted more! I could have easily inhaled a book twice as long, as I found myself wanting to know much more about the brave characters he created and the multiple worlds they inhabit.
RaveThe Nerd Daily... a relatively small book with a large impact ... Offill’s ability to layer meaning is on full display in this novel. Nothing is exactly as it reads, nuance underlies nearly every carefully crafted line ... most prescient, however, is Offill’s scathing, often farcical, observation and probing of society at large ...The most remarkable aspect of this book to me is the structure ... Offill relays the story primarily in brief chunks, short paragraphs, that are punctuated by tightly woven sentences. In this way, each scene is given weight and meaning, one building upon the next as the story unfolds. It is unique and enthralling, the perfect format for a story which could not be told any other way.
RaveThe Nerd DailyAt the core of Apartment is a unique examination of male friendship, male identity. Wayne deftly chronicles the devolution of a friendship, slowly unwinding, thread by uncomfortable thread ... Wayne also astutely explores how one decision can alter the course of a life, triggering a domino effect—how one may look back in hindsight and feel regret for decisions made, only after learning of the bitter outcome. If you enjoy character-driven novels, you will likely appreciate Wayne’s examination of friendships, class, power, gender, and sexuality here. More than just the simple storyline posed at the outset, Apartment delves into these deeper constructs through the lens of mid-late ‘90s New York in a fresh, biting way. A bit unconventional, this is the type of book that wasn’t begging me to pick it up, but did not easily allow me to put it down once I started.
RaveThe Nerd DailyObserving [Flea] in the public eye, playing intensely energetic rock shows for over three and a half decades, one may think Flea is just your typical \'rock star\' – an over-the-top persona. However, after reading his memoir, it is clear this would be a monumental misrepresentation and oversimplification of a quite complex human soul ... The short chapters, filled with little vignettes, keep the book moving forward at a good pace ... Readers are likely to be surprised by the deeply touching nature of the narrative. Flea moves on from simply telling these stories to create a much richer context by embedding them in the surrounding emotions, the impact of the events, and even sharing insights that are only visible now looking back into his past ... Reading this book is akin to having a conversation with the man himself: candid and stripped down, like hearing Flea speak his own story aloud, just as a memoir should be. There is a lyrical lilt to Flea’s prose. His voice is clear and authentic, without a tinge of pretension. His enthusiasm for life, the way that he has always been unapologetically himself, is evident through his writing. Despite being a self-defined \'outsider,\' his purity of heart shines through, as he is clearly an individual full of kindness and empathy who seeks interconnectedness with those around him and with the universe on a larger scale. Perhaps most importantly, this memoir is utterly thought-provoking. It challenges assumptions. It reflects on the past, shining a light on how decisions have a ripple effect throughout our days. And it meditates on the beauty inherent in both life and those who walk through it with us ... I highly recommend picking it up! You are certain to walk away from the reading experience feeling as if you actually know Flea himself.
RaveThe Nerd Daily... a uniquely weird and wonderful reading experience ... Blending horror, fantasy, and literary fiction, Hamill draws the reader into the world of the Turner family with ease ... Divided into seven parts, each part of this book is thoughtfully structured ... twists and turns in unexpected ways, providing bits of information throughout which the reader is responsible for collecting, assessing, and synthesizing. The reader is certain to be surprised countless times by the revelations and connections Hamill makes throughout the book. The second half of the novel in particular really picks up speed, gripping the reader and inducing a frenzied turning of pages in order to get to the crux of who these monsters are and what they want with the Turners ... The writing is simply haunting, the story full of heart. Hamill strikes upon meaningful themes throughout the book ... I highly recommend this novel for fans of Paul Tremblay and Stephen King. Much in the vein of these two celebrated horror writers, Hamill has built a rich world full of complex characters and he successfully delivers in showing how the horrors of real life can be just as terrifying as any monster.
Tracey Garvis Graves
RaveThe Nerd DailyThis novel is a strongly character-driven work ... The story builds piece by piece, alternating perspectives between each of the two main characters as narrators while also alternating timelines between the past and present. This structure of the book, including the short chapters, keeps the reader turning pages swiftly and wanting more. The language is so simple and spare at points that it cuts right to the quick, immersing the reader in the highs and lows of Annika and Jonathan’s relationship. Although the writing is beautifully done, I did have a hunch of where the story was going fairly early on in the novel...however, this did not detract from the story. Rather, I found myself being pulled along, wanting to see what was going to happen and find out if I was correct in my suspicions. And there were still certainly surprises that I found along the way. All in all, Graves creates a pair of incredibly lovable characters here. You will find yourself wanting to be friends with them, perhaps go on a double date ... I definitely recommend this novel. It is one of the best and most unique love stories I have read recently.
RaveThe Nerd Daily... Coates’ first published foray into the world of the novelist, undoubtedly proving that his talents are not just limited to non-fiction. The beauty of his writing in this book is genuinely impressive, immersive in a way that suggests a depth of experience and wisdom in the craft. With emphasis on telling a genuine story from the perspective of \'the Tasked,\' Coates has taken a unique approach to an oft written-about subject ... Coates adopts the lens of the slaves deliberately and masterfully. The prose reads like a hauntingly beautiful interior monologue or personal journal juxtaposed with the everyday journey through the living hell of slavery. Each sentence is dense with meaning, best read slowly and with care, down to the precision of the language used ... Coates also skilfully makes use of dichotomies throughout, pairing disparate concepts to emphasise his themes ... Coates also deftly conveys the complexity systems of oppression, demonstrating both the physical and mental control inherent in the practice of slavery ... This added layer, both fantastical and yet highly symbolic, elevates the novel, creating a profound reading experience. The subject matter is quite obviously heavy and the writing is sharp, evoking great feeling throughout the novel.
Sarah Rose Etter
RaveThe Nerd DailyThis novel is an incredible example of surrealism in current literary fiction. Etter blurs the line between the grotesque and real life, normative experiences. In one scene, the world appears as it should be, in the next it may as well be melting before your eyes like a Dali painting. The reader never knows what they might find upon turning the page ... these devices work as both symbolism and commentary on themes central to the female experience such as body image and beauty, acceptance and loss, identity and gender roles ... the unconventional structure stretches the normal bounds of a novel by combining the main narrative with two other elements: visions of a different, dream-like reality and bulleted lists of facts relating back to the storyline ... Each of these unique choices made by Etter, along with the severe beauty and crippling pain of her writing, work together to create a singular emotional experience ... Etter has such a compelling way of communicating emotion that reading this novel becomes an immersive act. Without hesitation, I highly recommend The Book of X! It is one of the most visceral, mind-bending reading experiences I have had in a very long time.
RaveThe Nerd Daily... a one-of-a-kind story of journeys and adventure, kinship and love, sex and violence, creatures and humanity ... an endlessly entertaining cast of characters ... James has done a masterful job of weaving complex themes throughout the novel. He touches on race and ethnicity, obviously, but pushes into a broad range of subjects including sexuality and gender roles, power and purpose, remorse and regret, the nature of man, and the ties that bond us together. His characters are complex and three-dimensional, each having flaws and strengths, trials and successes, pains and hope ... It is also imperative to mention the quality of James’s writing. The style that he has chosen is deliberate, reflecting an air of the ancient. It requires attention and focus to process all that he lays before you. His language is rich and descriptive, and the world of Tracker and Leopard is so carefully and convincingly constructed, on both a macro and micro level, that I could literally imagine myself set down in each scene ... I honestly don’t think I have ever read a book in my life where so much happened. And I’m certain that I haven’t had to \'work\' so hard while reading for some time. The entire reading experience was punctuated by flipping back and forth to examine maps and character lists, jotting down notes, and tabbing meaningful quotes. Every bit of the work was worth it, though ... Reading this book is an undertaking, much like the journeys that are set forth within it; however it is one that is well worth taking and I highly recommend this novel to others.