Gabino Iglesias is a writer, book critic, and professor living in Austin, TX. He is the author of Zero Saints and Coyote Songs. His work has been translated into four languages, optioned for film, and nominated to the Wonderland Book Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the Locus Award. His literary criticism appears regularly in venues like NPR, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Criminal Element, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. His nonfiction has been published in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other print and online venues. He was a juror for the 2018 Shirley Jackson Awards and the 2019 Splatterpunk Awards. He is the book reviews editor for PANK Magazine and a literary columnist for LitReactor and CLASH Media. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.
RaveNPR... a wonderful hybrid text that mixes memoir, poetry, songs, and dreams into something unique that opens a window into the most important events of Harjo\'s life and invites readers to reconnect with themselves — as well as with the land and the knowledge of their people ... This is a book about pain and growth; a narrative that shines a light on compassion and stresses the importance of rituals ... Harjo\'s writing highlights the things that matter most to her, so time passes quickly, dreams and magic play a huge role in the narrative, and the details of how she graduated college, became a professor, her many publications, becoming the first Native American Poet Laureate of the Unites States — and for three terms — and even receiving a National Endowment for the Arts grant barely get mentioned. Instead, Harjo tackles spiritual growth, healing, and how love is unbreakable. The simplicity with which Harjo writes about deep things makes this a beautiful book. It also makes it the kind of memoir that is a work of art and a guide to life for those willing to listen ... a celebration of art ... Some stories are extremely intimate...However, other stories feel communal ... Joy Harjo is more than a poet, painter, and musician; she is a spiritual being aware of the meaning of everything we see as well as the things around us that are usually invisible. And Poet Warrior is an invitation to open our eyes and see it all with her.
RaveNPR... nothing like Mexican Gothic, and that\'s great because it\'ll show [Moreno-Garcia\'s] new readers what others have known for years: Moreno-Garcia\'s work is like a wild pendulum that swings from horror to fantasy to noir, and she does them all equally well ... Moreno-Garcia does many things well here. The first is creating memorable characters. Maite and Elvis are unique, flawed, and sad in a way that burrows into your heart ... The second thing Moreno-Garcia excels at is creating a complicated plot that\'s easy to read. Between Russian spies, dissident artists, and government agencies, there are many moving parts in this novel, but she handles them beautifully and allows her characters to deliver all necessary information; even if you\'re not remotely familiar with the ripple effects of May 1968 or the political turmoil of Mexico in the 70s, you\'ll still be able to keep up ... possesses a slow-burn plot where truths are revealed one at a time, but the heart of it is not the intrigue and violence surrounding Leonora\'s disappearance. No, the heart of this novel is its two main characters, Maite and Elvis, and the way they bring the story to life. This is a noir with a heart of gold, and it\'s a narrative in which the empathy we feel for its characters ultimately reveals an important truth: That Moreno-Garcia is not only a talented storyteller but also an incredibly versatile one.
Omar El Akkad
RaveNPRThis book is hard to read because it brings to the page the fear, suffering, language barriers, injustices, and risk of death that come with leaving home for some other hostile place, but it\'s also a pleasure to read, because hope and kindness light the story in unexpected ways ... El Akkad\'s precise prose allows him to inject heartfelt observations throughout the novel ... hope and despair, past and present, possibility and unlikelihood, kindheartedness and cruelty — they all fill the pages of this book with an exploration of all the sides of humanity. While this constant contrast is interesting, perhaps El Akkad\'s biggest accomplishment with What Strange Paradise is that it manages to push past political talking points and shocking statistics to rehumanize the discussion about migration on a global scale, and it does so with enough heart to be memorable.
RaveNPR... quintessential Ellroy, but with enough alliteration, Hollyweird flavor, booze, distressed damsels, communist conspiracies, and extortion to make this the most Ellroy novel he\'s ever written ... There are many superb elements here, but Otash\'s voice is what makes Widespread Panic wildly entertaining and memorable. Fast, snappy, and with a level of alliteration that dances between the brilliant and the ridiculous, Otash\'s voice is unlike anything else in contemporary fiction. It also contextualizes 1950s Hollyweird in full sin-emascope and nails the political gestalt of the decade, especially in LA ... Besides his memorable voice, Otash is, surprisingly, a likeable character ... This book packs in everything Ellroy has obsessed about over the course of his career. There are echoes of American Tabloid here, the Black Dahlia makes an appearance, and it\'s a spiritual companion to L.A. Confidential. Nazi paraphernalia and smut films abound. However, Ellroy makes it feel fresh, and as Freddy O va-va-vooms on the hot-prowl downing Dexedrine and gulping Old Crow for breakfast, buckling up and reading on becomes the only option ... a macho noir-ish romp complete with historically accurate racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks. Anyone who\'s read Ellroy before—or heard him talk—knows his penchant for the underbelly of 1950s Hollywood can make his work ... not safe for work. But the stunning explosion of language he plasters on the page here is definitely worth the ride.
RaveNPRKristen Radtke\'s Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness defies categorization—and it does so in spectacular fashion. At once a memoir, a personal essay about loneliness, an exploration of the science of solitude and its effects, and an invitation to come together in a world built to separate us, Seek You looks at isolation as a problem and investigates where it comes from, how it shapes us, and why we should battle against it ... In Seek You, Radtke\'s cuts to the marrow of our inner lives as well as our online lives and public selves to explore the ways in which community, interaction, and even touch affect us, especially when these elements are missing ... The beauty of Seek You is that it feels like a communal experience. Reading this book is reading about ourselves and our lives ... Seek You accomplishes a lot and its unique hybrid nature makes it a must-read. However, perhaps the most important thing it accomplishes is telling everyone that they aren\'t alone in their loneliness, and that could be the first step into ending the loneliness epidemic.
PositiveNPRA double biography that tells Dancyger\'s story while simultaneously discovering her dead father\'s life ... At once an exploration of grief and a literary séance in which the author speaks to her father through art and interviews with his friends and exes, this book is also a coming-of-age narrative where grief and anger become a path that leads to destruction, addiction and, ultimately, redemption ... friends\' accounts, Dancyger\'s own memories — and Schactman\'s sculptures, prints and paintings — create a map the author uses to navigate her past and her father\'s life and legacy ... the result is a book in which her feelings are so raw and exposed that it\'s impossible not to feel them too ... the author\'s retelling pushes against the boundaries of what we understand as a biography — and turns the narrative into a something like a whodunit, a supernatural thriller in which a journalist interrogates a ghost, a story in which art speaks about the past eloquently, and a biography of how a writer came to be and a daughter learned to live with something that shaped her early life and then shaped her again ... readers acquire a love and respect for both Schactman\'s work as well as the author\'s — and that\'s something anyone who reads this will know he would have been proud of.
RaveThe Boston GlobeDaisy Hernández’s The Kissing Bug inhabits the interstitial space between a memoir, the story of a struggling migrant family forced to deal with a bizarre and devastating disease, and a thoughtful exploration of both the science and the socioeconomic realities of Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis ... The Kissing Bug blends the results of Hernández’s research with her family’s history as well as the author’s personal experiences. The beauty of The Kissing Bug is that it’s nonfiction that packs as much heart, tension, lyricism, and horror as some of the best contemporary fiction ... The Kissing Bug is an important, well-researched, and timely book that shines a light on the hitherto ignored history of an extremely damaging disease that has been marginalized because of the people it affects ... The way she presents these truths makes this a necessary read for anyone concerned about health crises across the world.
RavePANK... like a newborn scream that’s been held in for eons. Sharp, strong, unapologetic, beautiful, and angry, the writing in this collection is a celebration of language and rhythm, and the words on the page run like the blood from a wound caused by racism ... No poet exists in vacuum, but writing poetry that is at once personal and universal is no easy task. Rae does that here, and the result is a book that demands to be read with clenched fists and an open heart ... this collection is not just one all fans of poetry should read; it’s one we should be assigning in schools.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleFrancisco Goldman’s Monkey Boy, which can easily be considered biographical, is the kind of novel that shows you real horror while simultaneously making you laugh ... Goldman does many things right in Monkey Boy. The first one is that he excels at that ineffable thing we call \'readability,\' for lack of a better word. Reading this book is like reading a family saga, a memoir and a novel while listening to an old friend telling stories about his life ... Monkey Boy is fiction that feels like nonfiction; a story of growing up a marginalized citizen in white suburbia, as well as a narrative about learning family history and the way migration has shaped the world. And it’s all carried by Goldman’s distinct style. His words will linger in the minds and hearts of readers long after they’ve turned the last page.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleVanderMeer created a fast-paced, cinematic story and filled it with shady figures, cryptic messages and puzzling encounters that often end in violence ... The novel echoes some of VanderMeer’s previous work, including his use of lighthouses and the natural world, but it signals a step in a new direction, one that’s both weirder and closer to our reality. It’s also a novel that brilliantly explores the way we abuse the Earth and how we \'have built so many mirrors, there are no windows to shatter\' ... At once enigmatic and fast, obscure and brilliant, Hummingbird Salamander celebrates nature while inviting us to contemplate the effects of contamination, pandemics and other crises, and how none of them make us \'even blink anymore.\'
PositiveNPRReading Helen Oyeyemi\'s Peaces is like walking into a bizarre interstitial space between a surrealist narrative populated by mongooses and strange characters and the realm of classic Agatha Christie-esque mysteries that take place on trains to undisclosed locations. If that doesn\'t make much sense, you\'re beginning to get an idea of what this novel is like ... a humorous mystery about too many things. At its core is Oyeyemi\'s brilliant prose, which is the only constant and quickly emerges as the main reason to keep reading when things get weird. Her voice and wit shine in the dialogue as well as the descriptions, events, letters, and literary curlicues that adorn the novel. Questions almost always lead to stories and most descriptions weave in and out of the characters\' past and present in unpredictable ways that enrich our knowledge of who they are ,,, For every hint or answer, Oyeyemi adds three questions. While the every-growing list of characters and uncertainties keeps the pages turning, the many branches that sprout rhizomatically from the story\'s center eventually overpower everything else. The characters are funny and likeable, the descriptions superb, and the dialogue hilarious, but the way the tale moves between past and present and the many memories that pop up soon become distracting and make for a disjointed read ... Oyeyemi is a gifted writer with a penchant for the outlandish, so Peaces remains engaging...But it\'s also fragmented and at times confusing, and not in the best way ... Ultimately, Oyeyemi\'s storytelling skills, keen observations, and the beautiful way in which she crafts unique, uncanny characters save this from being a befuddling mystery with too much going on. However, readers should be aware of the story\'s rambling nature and disconcerting zigzags before delving into its many mysteries.
RaveThe Boston GlobeAt once a multigenerational saga about Cuban women learning to survive after losing everything and a brutally honest look at the immigration system in the United States through the eyes of a Salvadoran mother and daughter deported to Mexico after building a life in Miami, this novel captures the beauty of refusing to surrender ... Garcia’s clean, straightforward prose cuts like a scalpel to expose the pain of leaving home and the trauma—both physical and emotional—that shatters the women in her book. This honesty makes Of Women and Salt a hard, uncomfortable read because there are broken ribs, murder, lost teeth, hunger, and abuse here, all presented in real, heartbreaking passages. However, every page is full of writing that illuminates the depth of each character’s suffering in unforgettable ways ... unprocessed trauma rests in the novel’s dark heart like a tumor ... a haunting set of intertwined stories about migration that are meditations on the choices mothers make with their best intentions in mind, and the disastrous effects those choices can have.
RaveNPRGina Nutt\'s Night Rooms is a collection of biographical essays in which memories and movies—mostly horror ones—merge to create a narrative that explores identity, body image, fear, revenge, and angst. Jumping between past and present with ease, Nutt slashes to the center of issues like motherhood and depression and ultimately emerges as the quintessential final girl of her own film ... Because she goes back and forth in time, the collection feels simultaneously split and cohesive, and we get to see how sometimes her past—her trauma, the movies she watched, and the things she experience—echo in her life years after. Nutt\'s style is slightly jarring, but it soon becomes familiar. Her short paragraphs tend to jump between subjects and times. However, like a great jazz musician, she always keeps the themes at the core in mind and, after what feels like literary improvisations and melodic deviations, she always returns to the central topic ... The writing in Night Rooms is intimate and Nutt doesn\'t shy away from any topic ... The same style that will strike some readers as jarring at the start eventually morphs into a unique approach to the delivery of thoughts, memories, and ideas that will stick with them for a long time after reading Night Rooms. Nutt has a knack for short, sharp lines that skip the brain and go straight to the heart ...
RaveNPRIn the case of Elissa Washuta\'s White Magic, a better comparison is to a hand-rolled cigar — because there was clearly a deliberate layering after a series of violent events and a lot of pressure involved in the process ... White Magic is three books in one. The first is a critique of cheap, modern facsimiles of Native spiritual tools and occult practices ... The second book is a biography in which Washuta openly discusses the abusive men in her life, how a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder lead to years on useless pills that didn\'t help, her identity and heritage as a Cowlitz ... Finally, the third book is a sort of fragmented encyclopedia of facts, stories, history, and even etymology ... This is a collection of mostly biographical intertwined essays, which makes it nonfiction, but other than that, this book is hard to categorize. To name all the things Washuta discusses here would be impossible because of word count constraints, but she brings it all together beautifully ... White Magic is a survival story, but one that\'s hard to read. Washuta\'s writing makes reading her a superb experience, but this is the type of book that runs toward darkness ... necessary and magical.
V. P. Franklin
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleFranklin successfully fills in the gaps in knowledge regarding the many young African Americans across the country who stood up to racism, hatred, police oppression and physical violence to make a difference and allows them, in many cases, to tell their story in their own voices. Franklin showcases the immense power, resilience and unbreakable spirit shown by young activists, some as young as 6 years old, by drawing on newspaper articles, history books, interviews, autobiographies, academic journals and other sources ... the book’s only flaw is that it packs too much — too many names, places, dates, incidents and quotes — into its 236 pages, which makes it hard to keep up. The author never stops for long on a single event, and there is no space for the history of everything and everyone he mentions. The breakneck speed and fragmented nature of the writing demand careful, attentive reading, but Franklin always returns to the message at the core of his narrative ... The book, which includes eight pages of black-and-white photos and notes that offer an outstanding bibliography, celebrates the young people who became activists and changed the country for getting into \'good trouble,\' as the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis put it. While history is important, this message is what makes the book memorable, and it’s the element that brings it to the present and strongly ties it to the Black Lives Matter movement.
RaveLocusKing has been known to walk the interstitial space between genres for most of his career, and Later is proof that he does his best work when mixing elements from various genres while keeping horror at the core of his narratives ... King does many things right ... The first one is characterization. Jamie, his mother, and the NYPD detective, Liz Dutton, feel like fleshed out characters with unique lives and personalities ... Also, the dialogue is believable and carries a lot of the action in crucial moments. The one element King nails here is one we rarely talk about because it’s hard to discuss. For lack of a better word, we usually call it readability. Yes, this is a combination of good plot, dialogue, and economy of language, but it also involves the characters’ voices and the ability of an author to tell a story. King is a superb storyteller, and he shows that here. Later is gripping and easy to read. The narrative progress at an enjoyable pace and it’s easy to stay glued to the book. Also, Jamie’s voice is likeable ... Ultimately, Later succeeds because it’s a fun read.
RaveNightfire[A] hybrid narrative that brings together the best elements of horror and crime fiction in a retelling of the Pied Piper fairy tale. Set in present-day Chicago and dealing with topics like crime and childhood trauma, Children of Chicago is a literary bridge between contemporary storytelling and the lingering effects of classic narratives that have seeped into the collective consciousness ... Pelayo does many things right in this novel. This is clearly a horror story with crime elements, but it’s also a love letter to Chicago, simultaneously delving deep into the city’s dark history and also celebrating its artists, buildings, public transportation, and residents. More importantly, Pelayo shines a light on the plethora of narratives that have a connection to the city while adding her name to the list of notable local authors in the process ... The second element that deserves attention in Children of Chicago is character development. Even the secondary characters are nuanced and have complete lives and unique voices ... Pelayo takes the supernatural horror in the pages of Children of Chicago and mixes it in with some of the most horrific real stories the city’s history has to offer.
RaveNPRSarah Langan\'s Good Neighbors is one of the creepiest, most unnerving deconstructions of American suburbia I\'ve ever read. Langan cuts to the heart of upper middle class lives like a skilled surgeon and exposes the rotten realities behind manicured lawns and perfect families, and the result is horrifically plausible ... Despite being mostly about upper middle class white Americans, Good Neighbors is anchored in otherness ... Langan\'s unflinching prose obliterates suburbia\'s shiny veneer and makes Good Neighbors an uncomfortable read ... This is a story about murder, but it\'s also much more. This is narrative about childhood trauma and motherhood and how both shape people. Narratives about suburbia\'s rotten core aren\'t new, but Langan brings them into the present and pushes them into the future ... You will read this and be enthralled, but you will never look at your neighbors the same way again.
PositiveCriminal ElementThere’s something about dark narratives about dysfunctional families that pulls readers in. It probably stems from a sense of empathy mixed with familiarity. However, some stories take dysfunction into places so dark and dangerous that readers aren’t pulled in; they’re brutally dragged. Abigail Dean’s Girl A belongs to this second group. A crushing tale that delves into the horrors of a devastating past and explores its impact on the present, this novel explores the very unique and complicated world of siblings coping with shared trauma ... Dean’s prose is stylish, but she pulls no punches and every time the narrative goes back in time, she ensures the horrifying atmosphere of the kids’ lives is seen on the page ... Whenever the narrative is in this contemporary space, the prose is tense and dialogue carries a lot of the action, but it clear that the past is always present in some way. However, when the narrative inhabits the past—which makes it the present—the fear, isolation, and confusion are almost palpable. Lex is forced to deal with a horrendous reality in which everyday occurrences and minor problems are exacerbated by her situation. When this happens, Dean’s sharp, first person prose gets to the core of things unflinchingly, and that makes many passages memorable ... There are places where descriptions of places or Lex’s thoughts slightly bog down the narrative, but the strength of the writing makes even those slower moments enjoyable. Girl A is extremely bleak, but its bleakness never becomes overpowering and the story is gripping, so the pages keep flying even when things get extremely dark. This great debut announces the arrival of a strong new voice in psychological thrillers that’s not afraid to go into the shadowy corners where bad things happen…and their memories remain.
RaveLocusEasy to read, emotionally gritty, and wildly imaginative, this is a short novel that takes readers into that wonderful place in fiction where genres collide and great character development leads to unforgettable protagonists ... the kind of narrative that seamlessly blends together the best of various genres ... Despite the plethora of enjoyable elements present, what truly makes it a satisfying read is Okorafor’s writing. Okorafor has a deep understanding of human nature and knows the ways a single element can make someone an Other even within their own culture ... Remote Control shines ... this is a great addition to her already stunning oeuvre.
RaveVol 1. BrooklynWitty, heartfelt, and insightful, the writing in Let Me Tell You What I Mean is always incisive and shows Didion as a perennial chronicler and keen observer obsessed with the present, the palpable, the real ... there are not weak essays here ... Didion doesn’t talk much about herself in her work, but there is plenty of her in the pages of this collection. What the very aptly titled Let Me Tell You What I Mean does is not only show Didion as a writer through her work but also allow her to show herself in her own words ... reveals a brutally honest thinker taking a step back to look at what she does for a living ... Her work is an eloquent mirror she holds up to herself and then points it at us, and we’re lucky to have that, and lucky to see her shimmering just beyond it.
Yoss Tr. by David Frye
RaveThe Southwest ReviewThere is something magical about reading a narrative in which the author’s unbridled joy pours from every sentence ... Yoss is perhaps the most singular voice in contemporary Cuban science fiction, and Red Dust is an explosive mix of science fiction and noir that pays tribute to both genres while also showing how much the author loves them ... While love for noir is at the heart of the novel, science fiction is the heart itself. It’s also the entire structure of the novel. Yoss has never been afraid to come up with wild ideas, and he does that a few times in Red Dust ... a book that delivers plenty of passages that entertain while also presenting bizarre science and strange possibilities ... While most of the alien mayhem isn’t overtly political, there are a few instances in which he gets political or does a brilliant deconstruction of how the center-periphery model operates and how it is designed to ensure those who possess power retain it and those who depend on the center are doomed to remain in ignorance and dependency ... an odd mix that somehow works beautifully. Fans of science fiction will immediately fall in love with Yoss’s imagination, and fans of noir and detective stories will get a kick out of seeing the author taking classic tropes into outer space and seeing classic novels through the eyes and mind of an android. Restless Books has done a fantastic job by bringing Yoss’s work to English speakers, and translator David Frye has once again managed to translate a narrative with strange words, unique phrasing, funny turns of phrase, and even a hint of Spanglish without losing any of the spark and humor that make Yoss’s work such a pleasure to read. If you’re a fan of Yoss, this is a superb addition to his oeuvre. If you’ve never read Yoss, then this is the perfect place to start.
Sam J. Miller
RaveNPRThe creepy atmosphere and ghosts make it horror, but the drug abuse, evictions, cheating, and destroyed lives make it noir. Also, Miller\'s writing and vivid imagery, especially when describing dreams, make it poetry. The mix of genres, much like the mix of elements, makes no sense, but it works ... astonishingly real and painfully relatable ... Miller pulls readers into a universe where the banality of everyday life in a small town and the extraordinary weirdness of the supernatural collide, but the collision somehow results in a strange balance ... There is plenty of strangeness and action in The Blade Between, but Miller also finds ways to tackle important subjects within the chaos ... This is a complex novel that never allows one storyline to overpower the others ... more than a dystopian sci-fi thriller with a dash of poetry; it\'s an explosive narrative about a small town caught between the decaying ghosts of the past, the shattered dreams and mediocre lives of its residents, and the monster of gentrification that threatens to erase it all under shiny new buildings and fancy coffee shops. That Miller manages to discuss all three while also exploring the interstitial spaces between homosexuality, technology, and class privilege and resentment is a testament to his storytelling skills, and a powerful reason to read this haunting tale.
Michael Eric Dyson
RaveNPR... a timely, heartfelt book that uses history to slice our nation open and show how racism is a sickness that has shaped our culture and society in a variety of insidious ways ... a hard book to read. Dyson\'s prose is straightforward and his writing easy to understand, but the sum of what he does is a tough pill to swallow ... There is a lot of history in this book, but it is incredibly timely and current ... Long Time Coming is a fast, cohesive read. Its only flaw is a critique of cancel culture ... In a book full of names of Black martyrs who died because of white supremacy, saying cancel culture is somewhat like it while failing to name a single victim of it diminishes the strength of every previous instance in which white supremacy is shown as an insidious, deadly force ... \'Black. Lives. Matter.\' This thought, delivered after pages upon pages of devastating history and herstory, offers readers a healthy dose of hopefulness after a devastating, powerful book.
RaveNPRA smart, funny, engaging book full of valuable lessons, The Socrates Express is not an explanation—it\'s an invitation to think and experience philosophy filtered through Weiner\'s words ... Yes, it is a book about philosophy, but it\'s also a book about being human, travelling, learning and—sometimes—coffee ... The structure of this book is brilliant. Weiner starts each chapter with a scene on a train ride between cities and then frames each philosopher\'s work in the context of one thing they can help us do better. The end result is an engaging read in which we learn to wonder like Socrates, see like Thoreau, listen like Schopenhauer, have no regrets like Nietzsche, fight like Gandhi, and grow old like Simone de Beauvoir ... plenty of humor and straightforward prose. However, despite the simplicity of some of his writing, this is still a narrative that engages with deep thought and encourages us to focus on questions instead of answers ... a fun, sharp book that draws readers in with its apparent simplicity and bubble-gum philosophy approach and gradually pulls them in deeper and deeper until they\'re contemplating desire, loneliness, aging, and death.
PositiveNPR... a dark slice of Brooklyn noir with a family drama at its core ... a literary crime novel that\'s all about the details. Descriptions of events, people, feeling, and places abound, and they do a marvelous job of placing the reader in the story and ramping up the tension. The quarter million dollars, the death and questions surrounding that money are at the center of the narrative, but Selfon also focuses the inner lives of his characters, and the world they live in ... It takes a lot to make a NYC noir feel fresh, and this one does ... While it might not lead to empathy, Selfon\'s understanding of how psychogeography shapes criminals is what drives the development of those characters — and the characters are what turn The Nightworkers into a great novel ... Besides superb character development, attention to detail and the presence of art set this novel apart from a lot of what\'s happening in contemporary crime fiction. However, it all eventually become too much in a narrative that juggles three main characters with rich backstories and a host of possibilities, fears, secret agendas, and subplots ... Selfon wrote a commanding debut in The Nightworkers, but then he overwrote it a bit ... the conversations about art and the multilayered nature of every character are outstanding on their own, but together they can lead the reader off onto tangents that draw attention away from what\'s actually going on ... complex and possesses great rhythm, accentuated by chapters that range from several pages to just two. Selfon\'s prose is elegant, but he clearly understands how much noir relies on detail and economy of language to deliver tension, surprise, and violence. This is a thriller about missing money — those that lost it and those that come looking for it, but it\'s also a novel about family, loyalty and the effects of addiction and poverty – and the arrival of a promising voice.
Les Payne and Tamara Payne
RaveNPR[The] definitive biography of Malcolm X ... The Dead Are Arising isn\'t only a biography of Malcom X, it is a book that contextualizes race in America prior to Malcolm\'s birth, takes an in-depth, nuanced, unflinching look at Malcolm\'s life, and then explores his death and its aftermath, all backed by 28 years of research ... Besides offering a rich, well-informed chronicle of Malcolm\'s life, Payne spent a lot of time making sure readers understood his formative years ... Les Payne was an outstanding researcher, and so is Tamara Payne, who worked to see this book finished after Les Payne\'s death ... it should be required reading.
RaveNPRSuperman\'s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It is a brutally honest look at how mismanagement, chemical spills, mishandling of toxic waste and sludge, and even fake studies have created the perfect storm in terms of damaging water systems in the United States ... Brockovich delves deep into places where there are unreported cancer clusters to show us the extent of it. She also brings a layman\'s approach to the science behind the situation, explaining most of the pollutants affecting our water and discussing their effects on human health ... This is an impeccably researched book that brings science, court cases, depositions, interviews, history, and personal experience to the table to make strong points about the dire state of many of our water systems — and the consequences of it.
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle... a superbly written and impeccably researched study ... Brave, clear and shatteringly honest in both approach and delivery, this book delves deep into the powerful caste system that has shaped the United States since the early 1600s, a system so strong, it goes above and beyond class and race to become the inescapable pillar of our social structure ... extrapolating Wilkerson’s ideas to contemporary America becomes an unsettling exercise that proves how right she is and how profoundly embedded into society the caste system is ... Caste is a profoundly uncomfortable book, which makes it a necessary read that should be taught in schools ... a book that cuts to the marrow of our caste system, exposes the rotten core within, and deconstructs the beginning of it to expose its flaws and why it shouldn’t be used anymore.
RaveNPR... a haunting, heartbreaking, frustrating read ... offers more plot twists, shocking revelations and shady characters than most contemporary thrillers ... Bonner\'s voice is strong — her pain, research and need for answers the three constants that drive the book. But Atlantis occupies the core of everything. Betsy Bonner is the storyteller, but Atlantis Black is the story, the mystery, the victim, sometimes the perpetrator and always the question. Bonner presents her sister with love, but also with brutal honesty ... Social media and email enrich and complicate the narrative ... gripping and works on two levels. On the surface, there is the story of two sisters drifting away from each other and then coming back together. It is a story of siblings dealing with an abusive father who dies of cancer and a mother whose struggles with mental illness ended in suicide. Then there are the true crime elements: petty criminals, police reports, strange men who vanished, Atlantis\' online life and communications with various men after she posted companionship ads, video surveillance showing a couple whom Atlantis is clearly not half of perpetrating some of the crimes she was charged with, and even the fact that she had dated the DEA agent who arrested her. Taken together, these things offer more questions than answers, and each adds a layer to the mystery of Atlantis\' death ... addresses abuse and mental illness within the frame of a suicide that could have been an assisted suicide or a murder. It is a book that denies readers the satisfaction of closure, of a final answer and an explanation. Instead, this true crime and memoir hybrid takes us into the heart and mind of Bonner, the one who was left behind, and through her we experience the pain of not knowing — and the frustration of looking for answers even when the person we try to understand was as mysterious as the fabled land of Atlantis.
S. A. Cosby
RaveNPRThe most surprising thing about S.A. Cosby\'s Blacktop Wasteland, which is marketed as a crime novel, is that crime is the least important element in the book ... There are guns here, sure, but the strongest hits come from melancholy and the constant ache for a better life ... Racial tension is at the core of Blacktop Wasteland. Cosby, a Black man from southeastern Virginia, knows racism well ... This knowledge, and the heartfelt way in which Cosby writes about being the other now as well as historically, make Blacktop Wasteland the kind of book that should be part of every conversation about why we need diverse books ... This is a gritty, violent story, which makes it a good crime tale, but what matters most here, what pushes Blacktop Wasteland into the realm of important novels, is the way it uses a fictional story to deliver truths and discuss history.
RaveNPR... sometimes a book comes along that makes me cringe for all the right reasons. Raven Leilani\'s Luster belongs to this select group ... A short review of this novel could easily be a laundry list of the topics it tackles, half a dozen quotes, and a single sentence: \'Read this now\' ... an exotic hybrid — a depressing intergenerational love story with a heart of noir wrapped in gallows humor, some sexy scenes, and a look at race in this country that takes into account differences of age and class. It is also incredibly bleak, and so honest it will make you squirm ... Leilani understands ennui well, and Edie is full of it ... Despite all the depressing stuff here, Luster is brilliant. Leilani writes as if she\'s stabbing the keyboard with scalpels made of class resentment and memories of racism and misogyny ... Mentioning discussions of race or misogyny often makes readers frown. Don\'t fret — Luster isn\'t a preachy novel. In fact, it is often the opposite; a hilarious and kinky story about what it\'s like to be young right now. However, it is also a novel that regularly — and fiercely — stops, looks at you, and says \'Oh, by the way, this happens and it\'s beyond messed up\' in a way that catches you by surprise and makes you angry at whatever it\'s just pointed out ... smashes together capitalism, sex, loss, and trauma and constructs something new with the pieces, using pitch-black humor as glue. That this Frankenstein\'s monster of genres and topics works so well is a testament to Leilani\'s talent. That it all happens in a debut novel makes it even more impressive. Edie is a unique character, a young Black woman full of dissatisfaction who constantly engages in self-destructive behavior. She is flawed and bright, funny and broken, depressed and horny. Edie is unforgettable, and so is Luster, a novel that shines with a distinctive darkness. Yes, the world is burning and maybe you feel like a depressing novel is the last thing you need, but there is pleasure at the core of every cringe Leilani will force on you.
RaveNPR... a perfect example of how culture and family can affect those whose lives span different realities ... More than just a novel with a plot ... Arafat tries to do a lot in this novel, and she pulls it off ... This is not a happy novel. There are shining moments of friendship and fun, but they are highs in a life that\'s an almost constant low ... This constant state of discontent gives You Exist Too Much a bleak atmosphere that\'s reinforced by some of the narrator\'s thoughts ... Despite its depressing tone, there is hope in this story ... this is a novel that uses examination of the self as a vehicle to explore the impact of migration and sexuality on young people caught between cultures ... In that regard, this book is about much more than being multicultural; it offers a messy, multilayered, flawed, insecure character as proof that multi-everything should be a category, because humans are too complicated for every other classification and multicultural leaves out things like sexuality and mental illness. At once complicated and engaging, this is the kind of debut novel that announces the arrival of a powerful new author who, besides writing beautifully, has a lot to say.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleFull of powerful writing and crushing violence that reflects the reality Kurds face every day, this novel is also a literary event that merits attention ... an evocative and brutally honest chronicle ... Homa is a talented storyteller who uses multilayered characters to present the struggles of many people—and she doesn’t mince words, especially when it comes to the way Kurdish women are treated ... At once a feminist text, a story of survival in the face of adversity and an exploration of cruelty through the eyes of those who are powerless, Daughters of Smoke and Fire is a superb narrative that marks the arrival of a new voice in contemporary fiction.
RaveNPR... works as both a superb collection of true crime writing and a text that looks at the nuances of our collective obsession with horrific murders, con men and serial killers in a historical and cultural context ... Those looking for titillating, gruesome chronicles of human depravity will find much to like here — and those who want great, smart writing and outstanding research that unveils things we would rather not look at under a microscope will be equally satisfied ... the search for answers is one of many cohesive elements that make this nonfiction anthology one of the best true crime books of the year. The other three main elements — great writing, meticulous research and fearless engagement with the psychological, cultural and emotional aftermaths of extreme violence and murder — make this anthology inhabit an interstitial space between personal writing and academic analysis ... While Unspeakable Acts is informative and engaging, it is also a wonderfully uncomfortable read because it brings real horror to your doorstep — it brings evidence that shows your neighbor could be a killer, your friends can stab you, and your partner could have a different name and another family or partner elsewhere ... From classics of true-crime reporting to newer pieces that redefine the genre, Unspeakable Acts offers more than 400 pages of unnerving, immersive true-crime writing from some of the most talented writers in the field. There is plenty of blood and viciousness in its pages, but there are also heavy doses of hope and heart, of humanity and searching for answers. Yes, this is creepy and pulpy at times, but it ultimately morphs into a mirror that shows us scary things — and uncovers why we are drawn to them so strongly.
RaveNPR... a novel only Charlie Kaufman could have written. I\'m aware of how vague that sentence is, but I assure you it fits the novel perfectly. Antkind is strange, disjointed, and obsessive. It\'s also a wildly imaginative narrative in which Kaufman mentions himself several times, discusses his own work, and claims no one has made a \'real\' movie about New York. You could call it a brilliant piece of metafiction or a marvel of postmodern storytelling and you\'d be right — but you could also call it bloated or a flashy, eloquent mess and you\'d also be right. Ah, subjectivity ... If we are to measure great novels by their ability to surprise readers, then Antkind is a great novel. You never know what will come next ... Kaufman gave his main character a series of fixations and then milked them for all they\'re worth, while simultaneously offering a thinly veiled critique of the role of social media in our daily life and writing a bizarre love letter to movies ... The one thing that can be said about this book with certainty is that Kaufman is a master of language. He shows this time and again throughout the 750-page reading experience that is Antkind. His sense of humor injects many passages with a unique electricity that makes them memorable and the characters, cultural products, and events he\'s created speak volumes about his seemingly endless imagination ... On one hand, it is everything we have come to expect from Kaufman: A sharp study of humanity that is aware of place and pays attention to our inner worlds and the ways our filters and preconceived notions affect everything we see and do. On the other hand, this is — to use Kaufman\'s own words — \'muddled, incoherent, and fetishizing.\' The debates about race, for example, add nothing of value to the discussion. In fact, they are the mental meanderings of a white man trying to understand what Otherness means, and we have enough of that already ... But that\'s just one aspect of a novel that is packed with different elements. Antkind is a bit overstuffed, but we all overstuff ourselves at a buffet once in a while. What matters is this is that this is an entertaining, unapologetic book that never steers clear of — well, anything. And watching Kaufman recklessly throw himself at everything with a backpack full of words is a sight to behold.
Stephen Graham Jones
RaveNPRI\'m always giddy when I start a new Stephen Graham Jones novel. Yes, I said giddy. Everything about the worlds, circumstances, characters, and atmospheres he creates appeals to me ... In The Only Good Indians, Jones does that and more, and the more is quite special ... The Only Good Indians is a disturbing horror novel about revenge and sorrow that houses a narrative about identity and the price of breaking away from tradition at its core. And that identity, Native American, isn\'t monolithic here ... the horror is unlike anything you\'ve read before. It goes from disturbing flashes of thing that may or may not be there to in-your-face explosions of gore and violence tinged with supernatural elements. Jones has a talent for creating unsettling atmospheres and images, but he also enjoys explicit violence ... Besides the creeping horror and gory poetry, The Only Good Indians does a lot in terms of illuminating Native American life from the inside, offering insights into how old traditions and modern living collide in contemporary life ... Jones is one of the best writers working today regardless of genre, and this gritty, heartbreaking novel might just be his best yet.
Laura van den Berg
RaveNPRExquisite. It took a decade of writing book reviews to get here, but here we are — I\'ve used \'exquisite.\' The stories in Laura van den Berg\'s I Hold a Wolf by the Ears are exquisite. They\'re tiny, uncanny morsels about broken women and mysterious things that possess a literary umami that falls somewhere between horror, literary fiction, mystery, drama, and social critique. They deal with death and loss, with isolation and falling in love with the wrong person. They are unsettling and bizarre, coming at you from weird angles to hit you in unexpected ways like the well-trained fists of a professional boxer ... Varying in length and tone, the tales in I Hold a Wolf by the Ears share a sense of urgency and sadness that helps the collection cohere. The urgency comes from the frenetic pace, the economy of language that makes every line feel necessary and meaningful. And when I say sadness, I mean it ... If urgency and sadness are the main elements here, then strangeness is the glue Van den Berg uses to bond them together ... Despite the strength of these elements, the stories in I Hold a Wolf by the Ears do much more than scare, unsettle, entertain, and, in a way, hurt. The writing here gets at the core of the human experience and forces you to look at the darkness therein. We are flawed and we suffer, and Van den Berg shines when writing about those things. Her words cut to the bone, completely devoid of any cushioning that would make the experience less harsh. She knows you\'ve loved the wrong person. She knows you still fear the dark. She knows death can be awful for those left behind. She knows you think you\'re not as awful as some other people ... Van den Berg\'s writing gets under your skin and stays there, making you wonder why you feel uneasy, why you believe ghosts can be photographed and people can climb up tress and vanish forever...Her words are poetry ... Yes, these stories will hurt you like a skilled boxer, but they\'ll make you realize you\'re a bit of a masochist if Van den Berg\'s the one hurting you.
RaveNPRMaking Michael Arceneaux\'s I Don\'t Want to Die Poor required reading in high schools across the country would help a lot of young people think twice about the promise that going to college at any cost is the only path to upward social mobility ... Throughout all of it, [Arceneaux] retains a dark sense of humor and the idea that there is something better out there, something he will achieve through hard work ... The thing that makes I Don\'t Want to Die Poor an outstanding read is Arceneaux\'s voice. He writes like he\'s telling you, his friend, a story ... For Arceneaux, life hasn\'t been easy, and his writing shows that. Luckily for readers, every painful detail he shares is balanced out by a superb critique, a masterful turn of phrase, a funny use of popular culture or a couple of sentences that cut to the bone of a social issue and expose the core of it with unbending honesty ... Heartbreaking, hilarious, unapologetic and smart, this collection of essays shows a talented young voice that can attack racist nonsense while discussing The Real Housewives of Atlanta. It\'s also a warning to future generations and a literary hug to those who have fallen into the unforgiving claws of student loan debt.
Fernanda Melchor, Trans. by Sophie Hughes
RaveNPR... so strange, wild, and foul-mouthed that I almost missed the sharp critiques embedded in the story...spreads like a fungus from the dark center of the literary space where crime fiction and horror meet ... a linguistic blitzkrieg — Melchor is allergic to periods and wants to explore how far she can carry a sentence without using one. The result — ably translated by Sophie Hughes — is mesmerizing; lengthy sentences that pack entire stories in them, a barrage of filthy language and obscene acts, and pacing that makes readers hold the book tighter. Sentences that take up two or three pages sound like a horrible reading experience, but Melchor pulls it off brilliantly — I never felt lost, or confused by her style, probably because the voices sound like a regular person telling someone a story instead of an author trying to impress readers with literary filigrees ... Melchor doesn\'t shy away from any topic — even things that will make readers cringe. However, her approach is unique: Instead of being preachy, she shows what drug abuse, poverty, alcoholism, corruption, homophobia, and misogyny do to shape people and communities. This makes Hurricane Season a rough read. Brutality abounds, and the violence, often directed at women and gay people, is so close to real events that it almost qualifies as nonfiction ... I don\'t believe in censorship, but I do believe in warnings, and readers who have a problem digesting rough language and extreme violence should know that there is plenty of both here. However, they should read it anyway — because the vocabulary Melchor uses perfectly mirrors the language used in places like the one she\'s writing about. The callousness and hostility present in her ugly words come from the way people trapped in poor, small towns feel; it comes from generations of unchecked machismo and lack of education. There is a lot of talk about authenticity in fiction, and Melchor achieves it through her words ... a dark celebration of language that pushes against the rules with its collection of unreliable narrators, its shifting realities, and its endless sentences peppered with Spanish and songs. Yeah, at the end of the day, Melchor is the witch and this novel is a powerful spell.
RaveNPR... a feverish love letter to New York City, people, and writing. The prose is relentless and McBride\'s storytelling skills shine as he drags readers at breakneck speed trough a plethora of lives, times, events, and conversations. The novel is 370 pages, but McBride has packed enough in there for a dozen novellas, and reading them all mashed together is a pleasure ... fast, deep, complex, and hilarious. McBride\'s prose is shimmering and moving, a living thing that has its own rhythm, pulls you in from the first page and never lets go. His story focuses on the people that make the Big Apple what it is: the strange, the poor, the insane, the mobsters. He also showcases the city\'s wonderful diversity, filling his pages with Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Italians, and Irish folks ... McBride has a talent for writing about big ensembles ... full of heart, humor, and compassion. It contains page-long sentences that sing and individual lines that stick to your brain like literary taffy. This is a narrative about flawed, poor people navigating an ugly, racist world and trying their best with the help of God, each other, or the bottle; their stories are unique, but the struggles are universal — and that makes this a novel about all of us. In Deacon King Kong, McBride entertains us, and shows us both the beauty and the ugliness of humanity. I say we give him another National Book Award for this one. It\'s that good.
Tola Rotimi Abraham
RaveNPRBlack Sunday will destroy you. It won\'t be an explosion or any other ultraviolent thing. Instead, the novel will inflict a thousand tiny cuts on you, and your soul will slowly pour from them. Well, at least I think that\'s what Abraham wants to do. I\'m sure that\'s the reason this gem of a novel is packed with so much poetry, pain, abandonment, abuse, heartbreak, and poverty ... The first standout element in Black Sunday is the writing itself. Abraham mixes poetry, Yoruba, pidgin English, and street philosophy into a mesmerizing style. The novel\'s chapters alternate between the point of view the four siblings, and each one has a distinctive voice that makes whatever they\'re talking about feel like something that happened to someone you know ... Abraham creates believable characters whose stories could easily have come from real life, stories full of mistakes, rejection, and poverty that mirror some of the things we\'ve all lived through. That makes them simultaneously unique and universal, and it makes it easy to understand the way they see the world, even if their lens is ugly ... a literary wound that bleeds pain for a while, but you should stay the course, because that\'s followed by lots of love, beauty, and hope.
RavePANKNo one does it quite like Danez Smith. That’s it. That’s the review ... Danez Smith doesn’t just dance to the beat of their own drum; they slaughter magical animals of oppression with their hands, dry and stretch their skins, build the drums, call everyone together for a party ... Homie, which is the title of this book only for the uninitiated, is a celebratory dance, a slap in the face of complacency, and an invitation to a revolution. It’s also a superb collection of poetry from one of the most interesting and unique voices in contemporary literature ... There isn’t a single throwaway poem in Homie ... Danez’s is the kind of in-your-face poetry that revels in celebrating Otherness, that screams about the realities of the poet’s positionality ... This is an elegant collection rocking short shorts; a fun read that’s extremely serious. Go read it.
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle...a harrowing, heartfelt memoir about life in the interstitial spaces between countries, languages, cultures and identities ... The beauty of Children of the Land is that it’s a unique, personal narrative that is also universal. Hernandez Castillo writes candidly about his struggle to get a green card, the process of learning to cope with perpetual displacement ... This memoir is as timely as it is uncomfortable to read. Hernandez Castillo places readers on unstable ground and keeps them there. He writes bluntly and poetically ... Children of the Land bravely and honestly illuminates a world rarely written about with such liveliness.
PositiveNPR... not only the first book in what promises to be a superb series — it\'s also that rare novel in which the formulaic elements of mainstream police procedurals (blood, violence and forensic science) share narrative space with a unique female protagonist. All that, and it\'s also a love letter to the chaos and diversity of California ... The first thing that makes Lost Hills different from the dozens of procedurals that are published every month is that Goldberg shows us the brutal aftermath of murder. This is a novel full of blood, where forensic experts discuss slashed throats, stabbing, and dissecting bodies in a bathtub. There is a lot of research behind Goldberg\'s words, and that brutality and cruelty lends an emotional heft to the killings ... an enjoyable read that shows Goldberg, a two-time Edgar Award winner, at the top of his game. The prose is lean and the pacing is superb. There is no filler here; every sentence earns the space it occupies on the page. The dialogue is never boring and always helps push the action forward ... There are a lot of series out there, but Eve Ronin and Goldberg\'s fast-paced prose should put this one on the radar of every crime fiction fan.
RaveCriminal Element...the novel features an incredibly timely narrative that packs a violent, heartbreaking punch ... a gripping narrative about identity, secrets, and how we must learn to cope with the repercussions of our decisions ... Vercher does many things right in Three-Fifths. The first is that he created the perfect atmosphere for his story ... The second thing Vercher does well is writing with a combination of aplomb and economy of language that makes readers feel like they’re reading a novel by a seasoned veteran. He never shies away from tough topics and tackles violence like few other contemporary crime writers ... Lastly, there is an elegance to the writing that, when mixed with its straightforward approach to everything, makes Three-Fifths read like a perfect hybrid that’s part literary novel, part brutally honest exploration of race relations and identity, and part hardcore noir ... This is the kind of novel that will put Vercher on the map.
Rodrigo Márquez Tizano, Trans. by Thomas Bunstead
RaveThe Southwest Review... one of those rare superb novels that are hard to get into but reward you for trying. Twenty pages into it, I was still confused about what I was reading ... a dense narrative that mixes science fiction, horror, adventure, and a touch of literary fiction into a story that never allows the reader to get comfortable ... is a bit disjointed at times, but it soon becomes evident that the incoherence is purposeful; it becomes a tool that allows Tizano to convey the atmosphere of the city and the narrator’s bizarre reality ... This sense of discomfort is perhaps Jakarta’s greatest accomplishment: it gets under your skin and stays there, making you uncomfortable about many little things, some of which you can’t immediately identify ... Besides the ever-present sense of anxiety, there are passages in which Tizano fully engages with various genres, which in the end make this novel one in which fans of a variety of genres will find something to enjoy ... Tizano manages to deliver creepy, gory images with great economy of language ... philosophical morsels enhance the storytelling and allow Tizano to flex a different set of writing muscles ... Any discussion of Jakarta would be incomplete with mentioning Thomas Bunstead’s outstanding translation. Given the amount of strange language used here, translating this book could not have been an easy task. Furthermore, this novel signals the arrival of a unique, important voice on the American literary landscape. Jakarta is an imaginary cultural narrative that can easily be seen as an exaggerated, fictionalized version of the truth ... Readers who have been craving a different take on the apocalypse would be remiss to skip this one.
RaveNPRMeng Jin\'s Little Gods is one of the most complex character studies I\'ve ever read ... Little Gods is a novel about performing the self, filtered through academia, abandonment, and migration. This is a smart and emotionally devastating novel. It is also a gritty narrative that reveals the inner universe of two women in detail ... Little Gods is a novel about the ways we adapt to our surroundings as we move through our own stories. It explores the inescapable impact of the past on the present and shows that running from what we dislike often pushes us into more of the same.
RaveNPR... an engaging, superbly written, and meticulously researched chronicle of the Greely expedition that proves it is one of the most engaging adventure narratives ever ... an outstanding true story of heroism, discovery, bravery, and survival ... Levy masterfully retells their story using letters, journals, other books, and telegrams. With cinematic prose, great economy of language, and vivid descriptions, Levy places readers in the middle of the action and makes them see the snow, feel the hunger and the tension, and hear the cracking of the ice ... More than a nonfiction book about an expedition, Labyrinth of Ice reads like an outstanding script for an action movie. Levy\'s voice, knack for pacing, and the way he integrates the writing done by the men who were there add up to a narrative that is as gripping and full of danger as it is exciting and poetic ... While Levy\'s prose is great and readers will easily envision animal attacks, arguments, and the sound of cracking ice, the photographs, taken by Sergeant George Rice, add a visual element that backs up every part of the narrative ... a riveting, engaging read packed with superhuman feats, incredible journeys, amazing discoveries, tension, heartbreak, and constant danger. It is also a true tale — and that makes it a book that demands to be read.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... what happens when pulp alters the DNA of a novel about big ideas grown in the petri dish of science fiction ... multilayered and complex ... VanderMeer’s voice shines here more than in any of his previous books ... [Vandermeer\'s] prose flows while shifting from strange to poetic, from feverish to devastating. Similarly, the intertwined narratives in the novel refuse to be pinned down. Instead, they clash together and then pull apart, constantly moving in multiple directions at once. The result is a novel that is a challenge, an environmental warning and a smart exploration of the limits of weird fiction ... ties into VanderMeer’s previous novel, Borne, but works as a stand-alone because of its depth and complexity. The numerous stories and characters can make it sound like a confusing, disjointed read, but there are elements that make it feel unified ... what makes Dead Astronauts special are the hidden gems readers discover throughout the novel ... a wildly imaginative and entertaining read. Dead Astronauts is a weird creature inhabiting the moss growing in the space between pulp and philosophy, and it has a message of survival that demands attention.
RaveNPRWith grace, a keen eye for detail, an interesting cast of characters who spend their life reselling used things, and the perennially curious mind of a great journalist, Minter takes readers from the backs of thrift stores all across the United States to small apartments and vintage shops in Tokyo, and from a truck in Mexico to an office in Mumbai, to show the inner workings of one of the world\'s largest markets. Along the way, he interviews many fascinating people who make a living buying, selling and throwing away what others discard, all while wondering what the future holds for this business in an era where consumers crave new things ... a gripping narrative. Minter is a superb storyteller who knows empathy is easier to connect with than numbers. In this book, there are plenty of both, but the people he interviews and the stories he tells are what make it an enthralling read. Also, Minter has a great understanding of how people work and how we have morphed into something new as the world around us has changed. And he also gets the way those changes affect how we act, what we consume, and even how we define ourselves ... Besides making financial and trade data palatable, one thing Minter does exceptionally well is jump from place to place to give readers a good idea at what the market for secondhand goods looks like on a global scale without bogging down the narrative with too many numbers ... Minter looks at the microcosm of individual houses and then at the macrocosm of the world effortlessly ... an entertaining, important and informative book that deals with something we are all part of.
RaveNPR... a raw chunk of life sliced into essays packed with truths, devastating realizations, music, failed coping mechanisms, a constant search for the self, and a lot of booze ... More than a collection of essays, this book reads like a slightly fragmented memoir focused on the search for identity, the desire to write, and Perry\'s constant sense of unease as a black man in Iowa City. While music, friends, and his love life all play major roles in the collection, alcohol, racism, the inability to create consistently — and a sense of agitated stagnation — are the elements of cohesion that make this feel like a complete, deep, satisfying read ... Perry\'s prose is energetic and strange. It effortlessly goes from poetic and self-assured to gloomy and plagued by insecurities to hedonistic and lighthearted ... the writing is a mixture of beautiful and gritty, educated and desperate, brilliant and dark ... The variety of structures, formats, and rhythms Perry uses in Some of Us Are Very Hungry Now is extraordinary. Some passages are extremely personal and touching while others turn his experiences into communal events that highlight how change and insecurity are constants that affect all of us ... Perry doesn\'t shy away from presenting himself and all his flaws ... Perry writes beautifully about ugly events and feelings. He tackles racism head on and explores his role in fighting it ... a rough, heartfelt collection of essays that dig deep into who Perry is and engage the reader in the process with revelations that morph into mirrors that are uncomfortable to look at ... These essays shine with broken humanity and announce the arrival of a new voice in contemporary nonfiction, but they do so with heaps of melancholia and frustration instead of answers. That Perry can hurt us and keep us asking for more is a testament to his talent as a storyteller.
RaveNPR...a nuanced, richly researched book that delves deep into the history of the city and speaks volumes about its past, present and future — as it tells the story of some of its residents and the politics, laws, disasters and businesses that shaped it ... more than just relating how the buildings came to be, Roberts goes above and beyond the construction and history of each structure to tell the stories of the architects, residents, government officials, immigrants, politicians, criminals and businesspeople whose lives were intrinsically tied to them. The result is an informative and entertaining look at New York that puts it in perspective as an economic, political and cultural hot spot ... Roberts conducted a lot of research, and it shows ... More than a mere chronicler armed with facts and dates, Roberts is a nonfiction writer with the heart of a novelist ... A History of New York in 27 Buildings is a book about the city\'s structures, but it\'s also a collection of gripping narratives about the laws, people, commerce, crime and politics that turned the Big Apple into what it is today. Roberts...has made a career out of talking and writing about the city and, in the process, has become one of its most dedicated, trustworthy and passionate chroniclers and historians. This book is proof of that, and it\'s a must-read as the metropolis, now almost 400 years old, continues to (re)shape itself and the world.
RaveElectric LiteratureAtticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life is this generation’s most significant novel about \'otherness.\' ... Packed full of details, vivid descriptions, and unflinching honesty...a touching and brutal look at the way those on society’s margins manage to keep on dreaming while they struggle to survive ... Lish masterfully juggles a lot in this novel, but there are two items that stand out the most, confirming Preparation for the Next Life as one of the most powerful narratives of the year. The first is the unapologetic lack of sentimentality ... The other element that is truly outstanding is his ability to showcase his knowledge about everything from the city of New York to the unifying discourse of struggle and survival that most undocumented workers share ... The prose with which he communicates this familiarity is at once sharp and focused but also unhurried, unexpectedly elegant, and not afraid to explore that strange space outsiders share, a tense space where they are forced to communicate in a language they don’t fully dominate. Lish seems to be aware of what it means to be desperate, and this awareness allows him to recreate the streets of Queens, Zou’s job environment, and the Iraq war in vivid detail. It also allows him to create characters that feel real ... In a literary landscape that often favors narratives about well-off Caucasians enjoying what the city has to offer, Lish has crafted a masterpiece full of accents, religions, and grit, the building blocks used to create New York City ... Lish’s candid look at life on the wrong side of the tracks is both heartbreaking and beautiful and signals the arrival of a gifted voice with a knack for too-real fiction.
RaveNPRThis remarkable, touching memoir...is a collection of experiences, thoughts, conversations, internal debates ... While the experiences of those unjustifiably locked up is surely similar in many ways, Altan\'s talent as a writer allowed him to communicate his experience in rich, haunting detail. Some pages are full of pain, but others are full of hope ... Despite the oppressive, cruel darkness at the core of Altan\'s memoir, his words shine like bioluminescent creatures patrolling the abyss. His reflections, observations, and indomitable spirit are a testament to human resilience and the power of thought ... While the writing is brilliant and Altan\'s strength permeates this memoir, his situation and that of those around him make this a difficult read ... I Will Never See the World Again walks a fine line between loveliness and horror, hope and pain, devastation and strength. Altan\'s prose is sharp and lyrical ... Altan is locked up, but his words are free, and they demand to be read.
Carmen Maria Machado
RaveNPR... the most innovative memoir I\'ve ever read ... the kind of book that burrows under the reader\'s skin while simultaneously forcing her to inhabit the body of the writer ... Machado\'s writes about it all with devastating honesty and vulnerability, both of which are magnified by using second person. This is Machado\'s story of suffering and survival, but you are in there, and that makes the house your house, the girlfriend your girlfriend, the pain your pain, and the abuse Machado endured something you must digest and process yourself ... This book is a scream that ensures visibility, a chronicle of truth that weights more than a thousand theories and all the efforts to erase the reality of abuse in lesbian couples ... an uncomfortable read ... Throughout all of it, Machado learns to navigate her own sexuality and her writing while making sure she understands the place she occupies in a world that has always tried to erase women like her. This book makes that erasure impossible.
RaveNPROn the surface, the writing deals with the author trying to make sense of his need to belong to something meaningful, his desire to connect with an older reality tied to the earth. Right underneath that, however, are a series of other questions that wriggle around like termites inside the wood of Kingsnorth\'s heart: What does it mean to belong? Can we connect to culture in a world where there is none? Can words truly communicate life? ... Ultimately, Savage Gods is a beautiful, intelligent, extremely poetic book about a writer dissecting his thoughts and feelings on the page without the protective layer of fiction.
Rachel Eve Moulton
RaveNPRI love books that make me feel uncomfortable. I love books that crawl into an invisible space under my ribs and stay there like a twitching parasite. Rachel Eve Moulton\'s Tinfoil Butterfly did both ... a brutal, incredibly bizarre exploration of insanity, guilt, love, and the darkness inside all of us ... This novel is a hybrid monster that\'s part Lovecraftian nightmare and part literary exploration of evil, all set in a town reminiscent of the Silent Hill video games. Its atmosphere is as dark as fresh asphalt and the conversations between Emma and Earl are as weird as anything Joe Lansdale ever wrote ... The blood and violence are strong here, but the poetry is just as powerful. This is a debut novel, but Moulton writes with the strength and confidence of a seasoned writer ... eerie, atmospheric, and almost unbearably dreary. Every time you think it can\'t get worse, Moulton delivers another hit, another bleak revelation, another unnerving vision. She fully engages with the weirdness of the place and never shies away from gore. However, the most important thing about this horrific read is that it doesn\'t need monsters to scare you — just cancer, heartbreak, abuse, and cocaine, all of which are normal things in our world. Now do yourself a favor and let Moulton\'s darkness invade your blood.
RaveNPRExtremely personal, emotionally gritty, and unabashedly honest, How We Fight for Our Lives is an outstanding memoir that somehow manages a perfect balance between love and violence, hope and hostility, transformation and resentment ... a touching, heartfelt memoir that isn\'t afraid to delve deep into the darkest corners of familial drama and violent, racially charged sexual encounters. How We Fight for Our Lives, much like the man who wrote it, is full of fear but also brave enough to overcome that fear with sheer will ... While there is a lot to unpack here, there is also a lot to celebrate. Jones writes with the confidence of a veteran novelist and the flare of an accomplished poet. In every event there is truth, which he chronicles and shares, but there is also the possibility of a beautiful phrase, and he always delivers ... is about tenacity and strength. It is the story of a man who lost a mother who was a force of nature and whom readers will grow to love and respect. This is an important coming-of-age story that\'s also a collection of tiny but significant joys. More importantly, it\'s a narrative that cements Jones as a new literary star — and a book that will give many an injection of hope.
RaveNPROn the surface, The Outlaw Ocean is an outstanding example of investigative journalism, illuminating some of the darkest corners of a world we often don\'t think about ... Urbina, who has won both a Pulitzer and a George Polk Award, decided to focus on this often ignored world — and what he found ranges from horrible to shocking and from unfair to unbelievable ... There are two elements that make The Outlaw Ocean an magnificent read. The first is Urbina\'s knack for framing and structure ... The second element is Urbina\'s writing. His style is concise and straightforward and he has the ability to summarize while also offering a lot of information and contextualizing his discoveries in a way that make readers see the differences between life and crime on land and life and crime on the water ... The Outlaw Ocean is not an easy read, and that\'s a good thing ... The Outlaw Ocean is an engrossing and immersive book that shows the ocean is the last frontier: a vast place where the laws don\'t apply ... a testament to [Urbina\'s] reporting skills and proof that outstanding writing is still one of the best tools we have to get to know the world we live in.
RaveNPR... a beautiful, elegant, and poetic memoir that takes a single year in the artist\'s life, 2016, and delves deep into the events that shaped it — and the feelings and memories they produced ... Effortlessly weaving together fiction and nonfiction, Smith takes readers on two unique journeys: one that can be traced on a map and one, infinitely richer and more complex, that takes place inside her head and heart. The result is a hybrid narrative that\'s part travel journal, part reflexive essay on our times, and part meditation on existence at the edge of a new decade of life ... walks a fine line between fiction and nonfiction. [Smith] is aware of the difference between what happens outside her head and what only goes on inside it, but she happily walks that fine line and allows her writing to obliterate the dividing line ... While The Year of the Monkey is wildly entertaining and, at times, touching, the beauty of it comes from Smith\'s writing. Her musical career sometimes threatens to overshadow her accomplishments in other creative fields, but every page in this book is packed with enough outstanding prose to constantly remind readers that Smith is an accomplished novelist, essayist, and poet who won the National Book Award in 2010 ... a beautifully realized and unique memoir that chronicles a transformative year in the life of one of our most multi-talented creative voices. Smith\'s approach to nonfiction is unique and brave: It counts as true if it happened, if she imagined it, and if she felt it. This is a book about Smith and the world all around — and that world includes all of us. And that is just one more reason why everyone should read it.
RaveNPRThe opening pages are full of tension, adventure, and survival. They set the tone perfectly for what is a superb, honest, incredibly engaging book about Heinerth\'s life as a one of the world\'s top cave divers ... The writing in Into the Planet is immersive — Heinerth walks a fine line between chronicling the stunning beauty of some of the most exotic locales in the world and the somber realities of her work — like the incredible amount of training and effort that goes into it. She is also honest about the dangers of her chosen profession ... Heinerth takes readers along on an amazing journey...The journey isn\'t easy, but the author does a fantastic job of relating everything with ease and using a clear, straightforward prose that makes the book feel more like a conversation with a friend than a biography ... offers a very complete, nuanced look at cave diving and everything it entails ... a hybrid book that gives readers a lot of that while also being a captivating biography and a love letter to a sport where any small mistake can result in death — and any perfect dive can mean an amazing discovery.
RaveThe Brooklyn Rail...a strange hybrid narrative that weaves together a science fiction drama with a hilarious thriller and sprinkles the mixture with heavy doses of literary fiction, sociopolitical commentary, and satire. The result is an ambitious novel that somehow pulls it all off while demonstrating a level of creativity that can rarely be found in debuts ... Mixed in with this mayhem are a plethora of characters, healthy doses of humor, plenty of tension, and a sprawling narrative rich in political and religious undertones ... Despite the heavy ideas and touchy themes Baumeister juggles in Pax Americana, and the fact that it comes in at almost 400 pages, the narrative moves forward at breakneck speed and is as readable as a novella thanks mainly to two elements. The first is the author’s knack for dialogue ... The second is the diversity, humor, plausibility, and depth of backstories ... what ultimately makes Pax Americana feel timely and necessary is that it reflects an augmented, somewhat cartoonish version of the current political panorama while simultaneously playing with the possibilities of a parallel political history that might have stemmed from the real/fictional George W. Bush administration ... a true triumph.
RaveNPR... an entertaining read as a slightly dystopian cyberthriller. But start looking at how plausible it is, notice all the ways in which the things Hart describes—awful healthcare, limited employment opportunities, and global monopolies — are already here, and it becomes a horrific cautionary tale that makes you wonder if we\'re already too far into a disastrous future, or if there\'s still some hope for humanity ... Gibson, who resembles Donald Trump in many ways, is just one of many elements that make The Warehouse an outstanding read. Then there\'s Hart\'s attention to detail ... Hart\'s love for crime fiction is ever-present, but The Warehouse has a level of social critique that goes above and beyond his previous work to take on all of corporate America ... a fun, fast-paced read full of well-developed characters and a plot that builds to an explosive finale. It treads known dystopian ground, but the story\'s so close to our reality that it walks a fine line between a near-future thriller and a smart satire. Comparisons to Amazon are easy to make, and that\'s precisely what should worry us the most. It\'s also where things get meta because that\'s where most readers will buy the book. Nicely played, Mr. Hart.
Timothy C. Winegard
RaveNPRTimothy C. Winegard\'s The Mosquito is as wildly entertaining as any epic narrative out there ... The Mosquito is an extremely well-researched work of narrative nonfiction that tells the story of the world through the lens of the role that mosquitoes and mosquito-borne illnesses have played in it ... The writing is engaging, and Winegard masterfully weaves historical facts and science to offer a shocking, informative narrative that shows how who we are today is directly linked to the mosquito ... an outstanding book that reshapes our past under a new lens — and helps explain some baffling events ... chilling.
PositiveNPR... walks a fine line between poetry and political satire ... reads like a combination of legendary Cuban comedian Guillermo Álvarez Guedes\' irreverent, foul-mouthed humor and the beautiful strangeness of Alejandro Jodorowsky\'s prose ... wide-ranging in terms of atmospheres, but three elements make it cohesive: exile, humor, and poetry. They permeate the narrative regardless of Medina\'s tone. The most interesting of them, however, is poetry ... The novel\'s ending is bland, and there are a few instances where the mixture of humor and critique slightly diminishes the impact of the criticism. Despite these shortcomings, Medina is a talented storyteller and The Cuban Comedy is a smart, poignant look at a country where politics play a huge part in everyday life and poetry may lead to salvation — or doom.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksPacked with smart, engrossing stories, Growing Things shows Tremblay is as adept at short fiction as he is at writing novels and proves he’s one of the best, most innovative writers in contemporary horror ... There are no throwaways in this collection ... Tremblay’s oeuvre shares a number of cohesive elements that make his work some of the best in contemporary horror. Chief among them are uncertainty and tension. In Tremblay’s novels and short stories, the reader is always placed on shaky ground and nothing is what it seems. Those elements are abundantly present here. Scaring someone is an art form, and Tremblay has mastered it by understanding that not everyone will react equally to monsters and ghosts, but no one will be unaffected by a sense of discomfort and ambiguity brought forth by the realization that they don’t know what’s going on. We fear the unknown, and in these stories, we don’t know anything ... The brilliant use of memory as a muddying device and the economy of language make It Won’t Go Away a perfect example of how effective Tremblay is with the short form ... Tremblay is at the forefront of his generation, taking horror into uncharted territory via unique formats, groundbreaking storytelling, and smart experimentation, and this collection shows he’s still improving. The depth and interconnectedness of these short stories to each other, to the author, and to previous work make it easy for fans of horror to start discussing the Tremblay mythos without batting an eye.
J. Michael Straczynski
RaveNPRThis memoir is simultaneously painful and inspiring, infuriating and full of hope, humorous and depressing. It is everything good storytelling should be, regardless of medium ... Becoming Superman chronicles the incredible highs and the shattering lows of Straczynski\'s career and personal life ... his book is...is an inspiring, touching look at how someone born into darkness can find the light and go on to do great things.
RaveNPR... a master class on how to chronicle a changing country through the personal narratives of its citizens ... offers an outstanding, touching, honest chronicle of China, arguably America\'s most important competitor, as it adapts to inner changes and worldwide events ... works mainly for two reasons: Langfitt\'s educated, simple reporting — and the cast of characters that populate the book ... delves deep into China\'s troubles. It describes the good, the bad, and the ugly with fairness and honesty. Langfitt loves the country, but isn\'t afraid to reflect its darkest truths, both historical and contemporary ... blends memorable characters with perceptive observation and informed political analysis to give readers a deep, nuanced look at the world\'s other superpower at this stage of its long, ongoing, rich history.
RaveNPRThe role William S. Burroughs played in shaping literature is well known. But his influence on rock and roll hasn\'t been as well-documented. Casey Rae\'s William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock \'n\' Roll single-handedly changes that ... Rae deftly maps out how one of America\'s most controversial literary figures — a homosexual drug addict with a penchant for guns who shot his wife in the head — transformed the lives of many notable musicians ... [Rae] writes with the passion of a teenager discovering new sounds, and the control and self-assuredness of a seasoned academic ... creates a complex, rich picture of Burroughs\' life, focusing on his meetings with musicians and the way his techniques and ideas infiltrated them and changed the way they looked at the world as well as their own work. While doing this, Rae stays true to history and always presents Burroughs\' duality; shaman and madman, writer and hermit, traveling man and depressed genius ... adds to the Burroughs canon in a unique way. Rae is a professional and an academic, but the writing here, especially when dealing with music and some of the most traumatic moments in Burroughs\' career, flirts with literary fiction without even abandoning the real of nonfiction ... makes it easy to see why Burroughs was so influential on avantgarde creators.
RaveNPRRelying mainly on interviews with friends, family, and fellow musicians, Kushins offers an honest, complete view of the life of this enigmatic musician from a multiplicity of angles ... While it follows chronological order and the interviews are extensive, Nothing\'s Bad Luck breaks away from the dry, matter-of-fact style of most biographies. Instead, it frames events in a way that add to Zevon\'s mystique ... Kushins has delivered a nuanced, in-depth, loving look at this complicated figure, one that helps cement him as one of the most complex and captivating musicians of our times.
RaveNPR...a celebration of weirdness ... while the collection has a surprising sense of cohesion, the variety of genres, topics, and styles prove that Evenson is one of our best living writers — regardless of genre ... The level of attention to detail present here reinforces the idea that this is a whole instead of a collection ... The beauty of Song for the Unraveling of the World is that nothing in its pages is accidental. From the order of the stories to the rhythm with which the unifying elements appear, Evenson is always in control ... a skillfully crafted, cleverly executed, and extremely entertaining collection ... Evenson has carved out a space between the weirdness of Jeff VanderMeer and the short-form brilliance of Diane Williams by writing fiction for adults that tickles the backs of our necks.
RaveNPRA dystopian, apocalyptic novel that comfortably occupies a space between horror and science fiction, Wanderers is full of social commentary that digs into everything from global warming to racial tension, while never preaching or bogging down the action-packed story ... Wendig is extremely political, but science is at the core of his story; the discussions his scientists have are based on real events, and that makes everything feel uncomfortably plausible ... covers a lot of terrain. Small personal narratives of survival, trauma, and loss fill its pages and serve as cohesive elements to hold the apocalypse together. But from time to time, Wendig delves into the most horrific aspects of a pandemic and offers chilling passages packed with poetic brutality that show readers what could happen to us at any moment ... engaging and entertaining. It\'s uncomfortable to read, but also a timely novel that demands a place in the spotlight. Wendig takes science, politics, horror, and science fiction and blended them into an outstanding story about the human spirit in times of turmoil, claiming a spot on the list of must-read apocalyptic novels while doing so.
PositiveNPRThe Porpoise is an uncomfortable read. Haddon has a knack for creating dislikeable characters ... While the array of flawed, dislikeable people inhabiting this novel is testament to Haddon\'s talent to developing multilayered characters, there are two elements working against The Porpoise. The first is the endless collection of descriptive passages. From sea travels to fights, city vistas to everyday town scenes in, the novel often deviates from the main narrative to indulge in unnecessary details ... The second small flaw is the narrative\'s structure. The strength of the novel\'s opening chapter peters out into a succession of journeys and longwinded encounters ... Despite those shortcomings, the writing in The Porpoise makes it worthy of attention. Yes, those descriptive passages bloat the story, but they are so gorgeous their beauty earns them the space they occupy. Similarly, while the structure will probably confuse casual readers, the author\'s imagination and his ability to deliver outstanding action sequences—not to mention his talent for using spare dialogue in devastating ways—mute the structural flaws ... The Porpoise is a rich, beautiful read. Its shortcomings are masked by Haddon\'s dazzling use of language and talent for describing action and feelings. It\'s a rough, bizarre, magical journey, and readers will not come out of it untouched.
RaveNPR[Gopnik] never loses sight of his main goal: making people understand what it is because understanding it is understanding the need for it ... a startingly intelligent, passionate, well-researched manifesto, but contains so much that it\'s impossible to engage with on only one level, or to agree or disagree with its entirety. In fact, while I agreed with most of the book, I found some issues. For example, Gopkin says it\'s OK to let small things slide in order to focus on the bigger picture. Furthermore, he never engages with scholar and feminist critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak\'s work, which would have enriched and complicated things wonderfully ... one of sharpest contemporary works teaching us about liberalism and convincingly framing it as one of the most powerful tools we have to change our current situation ... Whether readers agree with Gopnik or not, this is an important, timely book that should be required reading because it points to everything that\'s wrong and then takes it a step further — a crucial step most others fail to take: It offers a viable solution.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksMuch like Blood Standard, the first Isaiah Coleridge novel, is a love letter to hyperviolent pulp. Barron loves the genre and makes sure its most recognizable elements are present here, starting with an unforgettable protagonist ... But Barron departs from formula by enriching his noir with both horror and poetry. Black Mountain is a crime-horror hybrid that takes the most entertaining elements of both genres and mixes them into something new that pushes the boundaries of contemporary crime fiction ... There is brutish behavior, but the words describing it are beautiful, mercilessly obliterating the imagined line between genre and literary fiction on almost every page ... Blood Standard was Barron adapting to a new genre. Black Mountain is Barron making the genre his own while simultaneously pulling it in opposite directions: this is at once more elegant and bloodier than most contemporary crime fiction, more eloquent and vicious, smarter and more ruthless. This is crime fiction hurled headfirst into Lovecraftian darkness ... Black Mountain is an entertaining, blood-spattered, and unusually self-assured novel with a meticulously constructed plot that masterfully braids several narratives into a single story. Barron has created a violent world full of multilayered characters and packed with enough guns, booze, mobsters, femme fatales, and mysterious killers to satisfy the most demanding crime fiction fans. Then he made the plot feel intimate and bizarre. He brought in ghosts and insecurities as well as something strange hiding in a cave and a hypermasculine hit man with almost superhuman abilities who is also brilliant and has a heart of gold. The sum of those elements is a novel that feels fresh and exciting, with its own momentum and a unique style. I cannot wait to see what he does next.
Brian Jay Jones
RaveNPRNuanced, profoundly human and painstakingly researched, this 496-page biography is perhaps the most complete, multidimensional look at the life of one of the most beloved authors and illustrators of our time ... While it is a standard biography in general terms, Jones goes above and beyond to contextualize Geisel in the larger picture at every moment of his life. This makes Becoming Dr. Seuss a fascinating read that discusses the origin of the humorous, simple rhymes, bizarre creatures, and magic that characterized Geisel\'s books while also showing the author\'s more radical side as an unemployed wanderer who abandoned his doctoral studies, a successful advertising man, and a political cartoonist ... Jones engages with Geisel\'s darker side fearlessly ... gives readers a comprehensive view of a complex, multifaceted creator who became a giant.
Valeria Luiselli, Trans. by Christina MacSweeney
RaveEntropy...an outstanding, cerebral read that bridges the gap between poetry and prose and clearly positions the author as one of the freshest, most exciting new voices emerging from Latin American literature. The beauty of Faces in the Crowd lies in the fact that Luiselli slowly dissolves time and other boundaries like language and geography until the three stories seem to occupy the same space, and she somehow pulls it off while retaining the natural chronological progression of each individual story. The result is a novel that demands attention and forces the reader to focus on character interactions, minuscule details, and the dissolution of preconceived notions and reality. The writing here starts out normal, but then morphs into a combination of philosophical morsels, a study of the young artist as a woman, an exploration of the effects of tedium on marriage, and a daring experiment that stretches the boundaries of literary fiction until it overlaps with fantasy, poetry, biography, and surrealism.
RaveNPR... a powerful mix of biography, exploration of mental illness, and fragments of a nightmare journal of the space between girlhood and womanhood ... Some parts could be confused with fiction, when Escoria is writing about hallucinations, but the narrative is full of letters, notes, and even patient logs that make it more of a detailed memoir, spanning two tumultuous years in Escoria\'s life ... an honest, harrowing book that deals with addiction and mental illness while also showing the changing ways in which teenagers experience life. Escoria never sugarcoats any of it. Instead, she shares everything, showing readers how humans can be broken in strange ways that no amount of therapy and medication can fix. It also offers a glimpse into the nightmarish lives of those with profoundly damaged psyches ... Escoria earns the readers\' trust early, and that helps her story feel like a continuous gut punch, a 336-page attack on the senses that makes readers suffer whenever Escoria suffers, until they\'re as confused as she is ... a necessary read ... a heartfelt, raw, powerfully told story about surviving mental illness and learning to cope with inner demons. Escoria is a talented writer who\'s not afraid to write her truth, even when it will scrape viciously at the souls of readers. This book hurt, but by the last page all I wanted was to give the author a hug and thank her for sharing.
RaveNPR\"In the 16 essays that make up the book, Young pulls readers into his world, showing them his vulnerability, hitting them with unflinching honesty about the state of race relations in this country, and keeping them glued to the pages with his wit and humor. While this is presented as a memoir in essays, What Doesn\'t Kill You Makes You Blacker is more of a personal collection of independent essays that offer a look at the life of one man. It is also a collection that serves as an authentic, keen, and touching example of the black male experience. Reading Young\'s essays is often an uncomfortable experience because he doesn\'t shy away from ugly truths. There is a lot of funny writing here, but also pain, insecurity, loss, and injustice ... The beauty of What Doesn\'t Kill You Makes You Blacker is that Young never tries to make it easy for readers. He shows his righteous anger. He presents inequality. And he uses the N-word ... There are two somewhat meandering essays at the end of the book that could have used a stronger edit, but that aside, What Doesn\'t Kill You Makes You Blacker is an outstanding collection of nonfiction that encapsulates the black male experience — and demands change. Young is a talented writer and sharp cultural critic. He created something special with this timely and powerful book. It, like the work of bell hooks and Roxane Gay, should be required reading.\
Margaret Leslie Davis
RaveNPRMargaret Leslie Davis\' The Lost Gutenberg, which traces one Bible\'s 500-year journey, is an informative, superbly researched book that explores the lives of those who were in contact with the best example of Gutenberg\'s work ... Davis meticulously chronicles five centuries in the life of this special copy and those who owned it ... The depth of Davis\' research cannot be understated. The writing in this book is straightforward and, at times, even heartbreaking, but outstanding reporting lies at its core ... The book can be seen online, but Davis describes it with beauty and accuracy, interweaving the descriptions throughout the book in a way that gives readers a sense of knowing, of having experienced Number 45 themselves ... This makes it a book about not only Number 45 and its owners but also a narrative that explores our collective obsession with art, technology, change, and history.
PositiveNPR\"An American Summer isn\'t a classic research narrative. It doesn\'t have copious footnotes. It doesn\'t include a bibliography at the end. Instead, Kotlowitz presents the human side of tragedy, the stories of those left behind. He paints an honest picture of the constant tug-of-war between families, communities, and schools on one side and the streets on the other. He gives readers an unflinching look at the lives of grieving mothers — and of social workers with too much on their plates who work stuffed in windowless cinder-block rooms the size of walk-in closets ... This makes An American Summer an uncomfortable read that cuts to the marrow of one of country\'s most violent cities and exposes the inequities, economic factors, and psycho-geographic elements that make it what it is ... There are no answers in these pages, but sometimes getting a good look at something is the first step in finding a solution.\
RaveNPR\"Solitary is a candid, heartbreaking, and infuriating chronicle of these years — as well as a personal narrative that shows how institutionalized racism festered at the core of our judicial system and in the country\'s prisons ... While Solitary is a call to banish solitary confinement in the U.S., the first third of the book is also an important record of how underprivileged communities are almost forced into crime ... Solitary is a timely memoir of that experience that should be required reading in the age of the Black Lives Matter movement. It\'s also a story of conviction and humanity that shows some spirits are unbreakable.\
PositiveNPR\"Joseph Scapellato\'s The Made-Up Man reminds me of a bacon-topped doughnut — a mixture of incongruent elements that somehow work well together. And like that sweet treat, Scapellato\'s blend of existential noir, absurdist humor, literary fiction, and surreal exploration of performance art merges into something special ... The Made-Up Man is a rare novel that is simultaneously smart and entertaining. It looks at the ways we perform ourselves, through the experiences of a man floating in a haze after the academic career and the relationship that grounded him and gave him a sense of self are no longer there ... This is a strange book, but just like with food, trying new things can lead to pleasant surprises.\
RaveNPROne of the most impressive debuts I\'ve read. A hybrid narrative that\'s part thriller, part surreal noir, and part tropical gothic, it reads like a collaboration between William Faulkner, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and Hunter S. Thompson, as directed by David Lynch ... The beauty of Horse Latitudes comes from its combination of elements. It\'s firmly rooted in literary fiction, but branches out into pulpy adventure and thrillers — and it hides a scathing political critique under the surface ... There is something special in this book that I wasn\'t expecting, and that doesn\'t jump out at you immediately: surrealism ... The writing is superb. Collins has a knack for witty dialogue and vivid descriptions of shantytowns, coastal towns, guerilla violence, and roadside poverty. Unfortunately, the beautiful prose that makes most of the novel so enjoyable gets in the way towards the end ... gripping and wildly entertaining ... Morris Collins is an author to watch.
PositiveNPR\"Nothing is taboo here. There are honest discussions about sex, drinking, and trauma ... Alyan exposes her life and her roots without shame, even when her words could lead to judgment. In poem after poem, there is raw emotion, straightforward storytelling, and unapologetic truth ... the reader, like the author, is never on solid ground, never entirely comfortable ... The Twenty-Ninth Year stuck with me because it contains stunning lines, while being entirely about going through things and learning to cope with them ... The poems here read like scars and sound like heartbreaking stories told by a friend in the darkest booth at a gloomy juke joint.\
RaveNPR\"... a gem of idiomatic dialogue. Every character has a unique voice and every conversation is a polyrhythmic marvel of New York accents. Part Martin Scorsese\'s Goodfellas and part Mario Puzzo\'s La Mamma, A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself is a funny, gritty, touching narrative about the strength of three New York women caught in a world of abusive men, broken families, and mob violence ... Boyle has a knack for violence and telegrammatic prose. He uses dialogue to tell the stories of his characters and push the action forward, and when no one\'s talking, his writing is fast and sharp, with a touch of literary flair ... A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself is a rarity; a fresh novel about New York\'s underbelly.\
RaveCriminal Element\"Gruley does many things well in this novel, and the first one is atmosphere. Readers can sense Bleak Harbor and know its history. They can see the water and festivalgoers, but most importantly, they can sense the tension ... The author maintains a perfect balance between passages of extreme emotional grit and violence and passages filled with bleak poetry that celebrate the space in which the story takes places. In that regard, this is one of those rare crime novels that, besides belonging to more than one genre, flirts with literary fiction without ever becoming pretentious ... Gruley is a talented storyteller at the top of his game, and this might just be his best effort so far. Taut, smart, entertaining, and packed with a variety of types of tension, Bleak Harbor is one of those books that make readers keep flipping pages until everything has been said and done.\
Hwang Sok-yong Trans. by Sora Kim-Russell
RaveNPR... a perfect slice of Koreana; a touching, somewhat depressive narrative full of nostalgia that shows the underbelly of a nation through the life of characters inhabiting society\'s bottom rung ... suffused with a subdued sense of nihilism that comes from being poor and having no viable options ... Sok-yong brilliantly shows the ennui young South Koreans are forced into by the system ... a superb look at South Korea filtered through a variety of lenses ... By offering such an array of narratives and framing them within the politics and culture of Korea, Sok-yong proves once again that fiction can be the best way to tell devastating truths.
PositiveNPR\"Destroy All Monsters is a hybrid novel, both a celebration of music and a critique of aesthetics when they replace content. ... [Destroy All Monsters] is longer and far more nuanced [than Jackson\'s previous work], but also deals with young people looking for answers in an ugly world. And looking for answers is what Jackson wants readers to do. This novel is the bustle in your hedgerow. Go decipher it.\
Ian K Smith
PositiveCriminal ElementA hybrid narrative that brings together action, intrigue, history, longstanding secrets, and the fascinating world of secret societies...holds a plethora of secrets and keeps readers glued to the story because every new revelation brings with it an entirely new set of questions...there is a bit of overwriting. Smith has a tendency to go into tangential subjects and stay there for too long...a nuanced narrative about a secretive world, and entering it is a gripping, satisfying experience.
Scott Von Doviak
RaveCriminal ElementA breathtakingly clever, twist-filled narrative [that] establishes Scott Von Doviak as a storyteller of the first order ... a funny, violent, baseball-infused novel that inhabits three different times and keeps readers guessing until the very end ... Charlesgate Confidential is what happens when storytelling skills meet a love for pulp and a knack for dialogue. Von Doviak knows what he’s doing, and the way this novel unfolds is proof of that ... Every classic element of pulp is here, but they feel fresh because Von Doviak puts his own spin on them. His ability to juggle many characters at once is outstanding ... this 383-page novel reads more like a fast-paced novella ... Entertaining, humorous, and packed with snappy dialogue, Charlesgate Confidential ... proves pulp is alive and as good as ever.
PositiveCriminal ElementJ.D. Rhoades’s Fortunate Son is a violent, fast-paced crime narrative that goes beyond guns, criminals, and high-speed chases to explore themes like loneliness, hope, loss, and redemption. Within the same story, Rhoades offers a variety of subplots: a man looking to make amends for a mistake he made 13 years ago, a mother desperately looking for her sons, a youngster coming to terms with the fact that he is happy to have left his past behind, and a cop learning to navigate the dangerous waters where informants, dishonest supervisors, and powerful criminals meet. The result of this mixture of interconnected stories is a novel that constantly moves forward while entertaining readers with its cinematic qualities and occasional humor.
RaveNPR\"There will be pain, drama, multiculturalism, unfulfilled desires, and the repercussions of love. Yes, reading this will be painful, but you will enjoy every page ... Bhuvaneswar is a talented storyteller who can take big topics like harassment and racism and illustrate their destructive power by pulling them into the lives of her characters and showing us the results. Although her dark themes can make reading an uncomfortable experience at times, our current political and cultural landscape means White Dancing Elephants is a necessary book — and one that introduces a gifted voice to contemporary literature.\
RaveLos Angeles Review of Books\"The mix of genres and the novel’s haunting atmosphere places readers on unstable ground. This causes a sense of uncertainty that amplifies every act, suspicion, and reaction ... The result is an engrossing, strange, addictive read ... Reid is a master storyteller with a knack for absorbing prose ... Reid wrote an ending that will surprise most readers. Every clue is there, but they are as elusive as the beetles that hide in the dark corners of the house. This is the type of novel that haunts you for days, hanging around in your head and whispering about things you missed and the secrets that became clear only after they’d been revealed. Endings like this are no accident, and the two punches Foe packs in its third act prove Reid is one of the most talented purveyors of weird, dark narratives in contemporary fiction.\
RaveCriminal Element\"There is something beautiful about a talented author working at the top of her game—an author who can deliver a multilayered narrative from different points of view and switch between past and present without a hitch ... The Last Thing I Told You cements Arsenault as a top voice in thrillers and proves that she gets better with each book ... The Last Thing I Told You is a great tale of psychological suspense that explores the interstitial spaces between sanity and insanity, thoughts and violence, and facts and memories. It’s also a novel by a very talented author flexing her muscles unapologetically while at the top of her game.\
RaveCriminal Element[Girl From Blind River] is a narrative in which place, upbringing, lack of education, the perennial pressure presented by the impossibility of upward social mobility, and the constant need for money push people to do things they see as their only option ... Massey puts her own voice on everything and channels it through a main character that is as likable as she is smart ... Massey’s understanding of psychogeography is what pushes this novel into must-read territory ... Contemporary crime fiction is shifting, and clichés about criminals are slowly fading away as new storytelling puts an emphasis on the motivations and socioeconomic realities that push people into crime. Massey is doing a lot in that regard with this book, and she doesn’t stop there ... Perhaps the more impressive feature of this novel is that it’s a debut. The author’s authoritative, powerful prose and knack for dialogue—especially when dealing with emotions and violence—are more indicative of a seasoned veteran rather than a debut author. This is great news because it means there is much more to come from Massey, and if The Girl from Blind River is any indication, it will be great.
Maria Dahvana Headley
RaveThe RumpusMore than a modernized retelling of Beowulf, The Mere Wife is the result of a deconstruction of the text that was followed by a reconstruction in which Headley keeps the basic elements and adds many new ones to instill new life into the old narrative ... The modernization allows the novel to resonate with readers without moving away from its source ... Alongside adding new elements, Headley takes the story to a difference place and that allows her to make sharp critiques of things like the lingering obsession with keeping people from diverging socioeconomic backgrounds separate ... Perhaps the most interesting element in The Mere Wife is the positioning of women because it is diametrically opposed to the patriarchal society so evident in Beowulf ... The Mere Wife is multilayered and nuanced. It can be read as an entertaining reimagining of a classic text, but it can also offer interested readers hours of deep thought while analyzing all its subtexts ... Ultimately, The Mere Wife goes beyond Beowulf to become a narrative that offers a bold look at American suburbia while exploring the power of women in society.
Debra Jo Immergut
RaveCriminal ElementPropulsive and psychologically astute, The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut is an intimate and gripping meditation... a cerebral novel about the way we’re forced to deal with the aftermath of our decisions. The characters are complex, and their personalities make them unique. However, the narrative goes above and beyond that ... this narrative behaves more like a noir than anything else, but it’s one with the heavy elements of thrillers and the type of outstanding writing that is usually found in literary fiction ... Ingenious and riveting, this is a book that should not be missed by anyone interested in the way love affects us, the way the past haunts us, and the way we trick ourselves into believing in impossible futures.
RaveLitReactorThis latest addition to Pink\'s catalog is as great, if not better, than his previous work. That is what makes this the perfect time to celebrate what this writer has accomplished: a tone that is his own, a voice that is as recognizable as Apple\'s logo, and a career based on sad weirdness and ultra-personal moments turned into fiction that is too real not to be read as nonfiction ... The Garbage Times/White Ibis will hold you. You should let it. You can go read some formulaic crap and feel clean and untouched by the beautiful words of this individual, but why would you? The best way to celebrate Sam Pink is by letting him hold you. Do it.
RaveVol. 1 BrooklynThe Garbage Times/White Ibis is not only Pink’s latest; it might just be Pink’s best so far ... The result of these two narratives is a book that reads like a single tale of two very different cities and the people who make each unique as well as the couple, and the cat, that brings them together in a single storyline ... Pink opens up as much as he has done in the past, but he seems more worried about things\' narrative arc and exploring briefly the meaning behind everyday things. He has always been a strange hybrid, part philosopher and part comedian with a thing for mental health, but he is now also emerging as an outstanding chronicler of not only himself as those around him but also of the connective tissue between all things and behaviors. If none of that appeals to you, this is still a recommended read simply because it’s a lot of fun to read ... More than author, Pink is a one-person movement with a distinctive style, and this book adds yet another outstanding entry to a catalog that is already a must for anyone trying to get a real sense of what contemporary literature is all about.
RaveVol. 1 BrooklynThat, in short, is a talented author at the peak of his game delivering a fast-paced, gritty, ultraviolent narrative that, more than put him on the crime map, should rocket him into the upper echelons of contemporary noir ... Polly and Nate are engaging characters on their own, but work best as a duo. Harper’s deceptively simple plot allows him to use his characters as vehicles to explore trust, loyalty, fatherhood, coping mechanisms in the face of a major loss, and even the need for violence ...Harper seems to possess a deep understanding of how violence works and the way it affects people ...She Rides Shotgun is a debut novel, but that doesn’t mean Harper can’t be called a master. Calling him a 'new' author isn’t exactly accurate, so master does the job pretty well.
MixedLitReactorCanty is a great storyteller with a keen eye for detail and a superb talent for juggling a plethora of characters and storylines. What he pulls off here in writing about an entire town is something most other contemporary literary fiction writers would fail at. There is a lot of pain and anger in the narrative, but it never becomes overly dramatic or repetitive, and that speaks volumes about the author's talent. That being said, this novel could have used a few editorial trimmings. For starters, the first fourth of it is just the author setting the place up for the disaster. Having an eye for detail is great, but when those details are allowed to run free, the risk of bogging down the narrative increases exponentially, and a bit of that happens here ... The novel could have started with the fire and it would have been much shorter and still contained all the best (and by best I mean emotionally devastating) parts.
RaveLitReactorAll Back Full walks the line between a play and a novel, and it does so brilliantly. In fact, the book is explained as a 'novel in three acts,' and that's exactly what it is. This is a novel about the day-to-day grind, about the way marriage slowly corrodes, and about the strangeness of friendships that come and go. However, and this is what pushes this novel into must-read territory, Lopez is a master of both language and delivery ... Lopez is an entertaining author with a knack for dialogue and a superb eye for detail who is not afraid to play and experiment with storytelling. This book proves that he pulls it off while making it look easy.
PanLitReactorI started reading and lost interest almost immediately. For starters, this is one of those crime books that feature a tough guy talking about muscle and jobs and meetings and tough guy stuff and the organization and blah blah blah ... Don't get me wrong, there is a decent crime story here, but it's buried in unnecessary garbage ... Ultimately, my biggest problem with this novel was its merciless repetitiveness ... I have no idea how this ended up being published by Mulholland, who always delivers the goods, but I hope it's the last time they do this to us.
RaveLitReactorWilkes has a knack for rhythm, humor, accents, and biblical language. More than a single story, this is the kind of narrative in which the main plot is merely a structure used to house a collection of narratives, all of them as strange and entertaining as the main plot ... what ultimately makes this a must-read is Wilkes' talent for spinning tales that collide but never overpower one another. Wilkes has a unique voice that sounds like the best dirty songs of a gun-toting madman obsessed with keeping listeners glued to his every word. This is a hell of a book, and it will undoubtedly become part of the list of best, and weirdest, Southern literary gems.
RaveElectric Literature...an unusual hybrid that pushes against the edges of literary fiction with the unfiltered violence, frustration, and angst typically found in noir novels but does so with an elegance and lyricism that echo giants like Cormac McCarthy and Walt Whitman. Equal parts devastating coming-of-age (and beyond) narrative and philosophical examination of fatherhood, Patricide is, more than a novel about a man who survives a devastating, abusive childhood, a text that explores both identity construction/deconstruction/reconstruction cycles and the generational recurrence of aberrant behavioral patterns and falsehoods ... The result is a novel that digs deep into Americana and pulls out its most embarrassing, chaotic, tender, and scatological scenes and brings them to center stage so that they may, for one brief moment, shine so bright that they transform into mirrors ... Patricide delivers on that tough promise and cements its author as one of the most talented and polyrhythmic voices in literary fiction.
RaveLitReactorAs far as addiction memoirs go, this one is unique. Instead of just focusing on himself and his relationship to his vice, Hens discusses the cigarette industry, his family, and even cigarettes as cultural/personal/physical objects ... while there is a lot of explaining, remembering, and deconstructing, the writing never becomes preachy. Instead, Hens offers a brutally honest look at his life and addiction that is at once illuminating and very entertaining ... One things that sets Nicotine apart from other books of its kind is that, while firmly planted in the realm of memoirs, it deviates from time to time and becomes a narrative about exploring the self, a story about an entire family and their relationship to smoking, and even turns into something akin to investigative journalism when the author looks at the manufacturing and marketing of cigarettes. Throughout all those, the pace is enjoyable, the chapters go by fast, and the writing is always engaging regardless of what the author is discussing at the time ... Perhaps Nicotine's only fault is its introduction, written by author Will Self. Fourteen pages long and only somewhat related to the text that follows it, the introduction, especially once the fast, crisp writing of the memoir itself gets going, is a slightly pompous, self-centered affair that should have been clipped by an editor ... Gritty, funny, multilayered, and rich in diversity of themes explored, this is a memoir that transcends its genre and demands to be read as much more than just a man's look at his lifetime inhaling smoke.
RaveElectric LiteratureJoshua Mohr’s Sirens immediately earns a place on the list of great addiction memoirs, and then it gets better. Substance abuse, rationalizing, and guilt are the cohesive elements that bring Mohr’s personal narrative together, but failure, lost love, parenthood, the possibility of redemption, health issues, and a constant struggle against the monster of relapse are what ultimately turn this memoir a special reading experience and make it one of the most unapologetically searing and brutally honest nonfiction books indie publishing will see in 2017.
Donald Ray Pollack
RaveElectric LiteratureThe Heavenly Table belongs to the darkest strain of ghostless American Gothic literature but has been filtered through the nonchalant callousness and deadpan humor of the best Westerns in a way that makes the narrative share DNA with authors as diverse as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Joe Lansdale. Ambitious and sprawling, this novel proves that Pollock is among the best novelists working today.
RaveElectric LiteratureA Collapse of Horses is a master class in unnerving storytelling; seventeen short narratives that range from horror to science fiction and from surrealism to noir. The variety is outstanding, the writing is superb, but what makes this collection deserving of attention is how Evenson manages to achieve a perfect balance between what is on the page and what is left out.