RaveThe Los Angeles TimesOrlean’s deft handling of facts and her lived experience as an animal softy create a pleasing friction. It turns out that Orlean the pet owner is sentimental — supposedly a reporter’s bane — until reality intervenes ... We need this kind of romantic-realist hybrid to guide us on this literary safari, which doubles as a travelogue ... The animal kingdom may be as corralled as we are, but it’s also \'alien, unknowable, familiar but mysterious.\' Orlean acknowledges the mystery but doesn’t explore it. Instead, she relies on her powers of observation, conveyed with unflappable curiosity. Her rich storytelling is almost soothing, even when it’s about something as disturbing as South African hunting facilities sedating animals so they can be more easily shot. Sometimes I wished for more countenance with that unknowability — and perhaps our reluctance to think of ourselves as two-legged animals — but philosophical rumination is not included on this tour. Orlean is committed to investigating the dizzying multiplicity of roles animals serve — employee, best friend, harbinger of climate change — and the places where those functions intersect.
Ed. by Halimah Marcus
RaveThe Los Angeles Times\"What makes Horse Girls such a moving read is that it often explodes these ingrained ideas. Horse girls can be queer, nonbinary, Asian or Black or Latinx or multiracial. They can be middle class (like me) or poor. Even when a horse girl looks like an ‘80s Ralph Lauren ad, there’s always more to the story ... I was last on a horse about eight years ago in Big Sur. I was humbled by how terrifying it was to be on top of a massive animal, at its mercy. I treasured the experience but thought I never wanted to repeat it — until I read this book. Now I’m itching to know that freedom and fear again.\
Ed. by Barbara Demarco-Barrett
PositiveLos Angeles TimesPalm Springs Noir leaves the sliding glass door open for ghosts present as well as past. One of the original peoples of Southern California, the Cahuilla, are nodded to in Eduardo Santiago’s wistful and funny \'The Ankle of Anza\' ... In Fitch’s entertaining \'Sunrise,\' the narrator’s life was so ruptured by a con man that she considers herself the walking dead ... Any city that worships Elizabeth Taylor’s Big Caftan Energy and the Rat Pack at their smarmiest (Sinatra shows up several times, maybe too much, in these stories) has a healthy relationship with camp, and Palm Springs Noir follows suit ... By far the collection’s campiest note is hit by Michael Craft in the delightful \'VIP Check-In\' ... The collection’s creepiest story ends with a heinous sacrifice—effectively a closing statement: For all the playfulness of the genre and the location, the wisecracks and the kidney-shaped pools, there is an unmanageable darkness waiting to seep in, like so much blood in the pool water.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times...shivering reactions are exactly what Gray wants for her spooky novel, which starts at the high pitch of disturbed atmosphere and mucks around there for all of its nearly 300 pages of clipped, sometimes robotic prose ... Emotions are present in Threats, but it’s like they’ve been through a sterilizing wash first ... The biggest plot point of the book is delivered with enigmatic precision, a narrative oxymoron that Gray nevertheless manages to pull off ... The entirety of Threats seems to exist in that unmooring, in which sanity can be ripped up like so many rotten floorboards, exposing how the flooring was probably never very secure in the first place ... Atmosphere is so consistently relied upon in Threats that it sometimes feels as if it might be just a skillful shrouding of the book lacking plot and developed characters. Indeed, there are times — especially when it comes to minor characters — when Gray’s usage of certain horror tropes, such as the omnipresence of wasps, can feel like contrivances unleashed to buzz around an otherwise idle scene ... In a novel that’s invigorating, though not always inviting, the book’s own wicked sense of self-awareness carries it through.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times...The Topeka School is one white male’s attempt to consider how white men, as the dominant power in this country, brought us to this current moment of \'toxic masculinity,\' the catchall explanation for male violence and misogyny. This hot-button topic is examined with authentic intellectual interrogation. The Topeka School delves into the male aspect much more than race, which some may read as a failure to acknowledge an intersectional identity. But it hones the novel’s focus. Lerner, with his poet’s eye for the strengths and fallibility of language, is precise and prismatic in his investigations ... The chapters narrated by Gordon’s mother, Jane, a famous feminist author, much like Lerner’s real mother, are a revelation ... The diffuse quality of the book’s events can be frustrating at the start, when Lerner is laying out his touchstones that haven’t yet paid off. But once they accrue their power, the specificity of setting and character all coalesce to make an uncanny and gripping read.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times[Tobola] doesn’t romanticize the system, or her position, which grows to include staging several original plays; instead, she’s frank and even wry about its myriad challenges ... Tobola’s dedication to keeping these inmates attuned to their creative spark is what gives this humble memoir its powerful shine. There are people like Tobola who never give up on the forgotten.
RaveLos Angeles TimesThree Women burns a flare-bright path through the dark woods of women’s sexuality. In sentences that are as sharp — and bludgeoning, at times — as an ax, she retains the accuracy and integrity of nonfiction but risks the lyrical depths of prose and poetry ... The balance...throughout Three Women — between what is researched, remembered and dreamed into being by collaboration of author and subject — is a dazzling achievement ... For the duration, the reader becomes these women. Taddeo’s presence as narrator only occupies an author’s note, plus a short prologue and epilogue. Otherwise, she disappears into the characters, describing their experiences in such intimate third-person that her collapsing is our collapsing too. Sometimes the identification that can occur with the story can be almost nauseating ... Desire, because it can be a messy and desperate animal need, can be excruciating to witness ... Taddeo’s poetics of desire are gorgeous, but they occasionally obscure the trail she so brilliantly blazed through the trees.
PositiveBookforumDedicating the book to ‘women, the world over,’ Gay unflinchingly explores the hostility directed at her privileged character … Stubborn, fiery, and prone to swallowing her emotions before her kidnapping, Mireille is a difficult character for the reader to embrace. Her tough, at times dogmatic, viewpoint is even built into the direct and unequivocal prose, which can feel stifling for its lack of nuance. But it's the braver choice for the book to pick a thorny character to handle this ordeal … An Untamed State is a gem, blasted into beauty by the world's harshest conditions. This gripping debut has set the table for many great works to come.