RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksAshley Nelson Levi\'s unflinching debut novel, Immediate Family, puts a fresh and culturally relevant spin on the theme of adoption in literature ... Nuanced and generously rendered, Levy’s novel brings up issues—such as infertility, bullying, overt and subtle forms of racism, addiction, language barriers, and cultural misunderstandings—that often characterize the real experience of adoption but, for some reason, rarely find their place in literary portrayals. The result is a unique, gorgeously textured narrative that explores the boundaries of familial love ... Because both transracial and transnational adoption are at work in the novel, this aside speaks directly to the drama of the main plot. There is, however, a downside to these digressions: though always informative and often delightful, the passages may slow the reader’s momentum. Yet, to Levy’s credit, they never fail to feed back into the story in illuminating ways ... At the heart of this conflict is the narrator’s infertility. Some of the richest moments in the novel are rooted in this narrative thread ... Boldly embracing life’s entanglements, Levy’s novel is a work of powerful, life-affirming generosity.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksBrockmeier is a master of beginnings, and his new book is essentially a collection of intriguing openings. The Ghost Variations is no ordinary story collection. It consists of 100 thematically organized ghost stories dished in bite-sized chunks. Each self-contained flash story runs two pages long, just enough for a single epiphanic moment. This feature effectively goads the reader to finish any given tale in one sitting, capitalizing on the enjoyment readers take in discovering where and how a story will end. This same feature, however, could also make it quite easy to put the book down after any given reading—not from lack of enjoyment, but from the quick sense of completion inherent in the format. But this criticism is more definitional than damning ... Playfulness and horror never venture too far apart in these tales ... Anyone intent on finding an overarching consciousness or metaphysics behind this great assemblage of ghosts may come up short. Some tales fix ghosts to people or places, while others are so liberated they are capable of dislodging themselves from time and existence itself. A risky approach, but in Brockmeier’s masterful hands the payoff is profound. His work radiates with the brazen assertion that no two beings are entirely alike or endowed with the same legalistic strictures. Make no mistake: this book is haunted, possessed by a plurality of minds that can be found within the author’s imagination, animated by a patient and finely attuned control of the written word that propels to the foreground of every story the beauty, delight, and fluidity of language itself. From austere and sentimental to cerebral and cynical—and sometimes outright bizarre—the collection’s flash format highlights Brockmeier’s remarkable tonal and stylistic range. Like musical variations whereby material is repeated in altered form, with each literary variation Brockmeier sets out to alter not only the form of the ghost story but the form of his own vast stylistic capabilities.
RaveLos Angeles Review of Books... prepare to face a utilitarian dilemma, embrace its discomfort, and respond to its challenge ... Though ostensibly a realist writer, her style ushers the reader into that delightfully uncanny space between fantasy and reality. The fable-like milieu that Pew inhabits creeps closer to surrealism than any of her previous works, and it does so while remaining in a very real—or at least recognizable—world. Her characters are built with greater nuance and charity than they are in her previous novels ... The most impressive feat Lacey has accomplished in her newest novel is the ambitious construction of the narrator: an unidentifiable stranger, apparently mute, lacking any clear markers of sex, race, age, or background. Some readers may find it difficult to buy into the narrator’s ambiguous identity ... But that difficulty is also a crucial element to what Lacey so magnificently accomplishes in this novel: a work that evokes the same presumptions and privileges in the reader as it does in its characters—particularly those of the townsfolk ... For anyone who values literature that tests commonly held standards regarding what a character should be and how they are developed, this is a book not to be missed. Its success at pushing beyond preconceived ideas about a character’s identity and narratorial credence will be discussed among writers for years to come.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksAlternate realms and wacky ideas can only take a writer so far; the works of literary surrealism that never leave us are those that find the perfect blend of the fantastic with the familiar. Russell’s work claims its place at the literary heights by accomplishing just that, and by remaining accountable to the consequences. This is particularly true of her new and deftly chimeric collection ... Multilayered and complex, these new stories reveal a maturity that results from persistent experience and, of course, that fiendish trickster we call time ... Devotees will have no trouble recognizing Russell’s unique thumbprint in these eight stories; the style and voice belong without question to Russell, but they are noticeably sharper, both in craft and cunning ... Russell takes fewer structural risks in these stories than she has in her previous collections — not necessarily a bad thing, but noticeable all the same — and we don’t get to see her wield that wonderful collective first-person point of view that made us fall in love ... Nevertheless, it will be hard for Russell fans to finish her newest collection without thinking it her strongest or, at the very least, her most multivalent and invigorating work to date ... For an author who has accomplished so much, how remarkable it is to say with all sincerity that Russell has, in fact, outdone herself. In true surrealist fashion, she has created a writing world for herself where ceilings no longer exist, and where traversing uncertainty is simply a matter of singing into the water in search of a wall, and changing the future accordingly.
Abbigail N Rosewood
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksOne of the grand illusions of great writing is the appearance of effortlessness, a quality that Abbigail Rosewood often achieves in her debut novel, If I Had Two Lives. Rosewood writes with humility, but without apology .... With precision and dexterity, Rosewood has woven together a tale of staggering artistry, devastation, compassion, and social awareness ... With such a weighty lineup, one might expect an exhausting and sometimes unbearably heavy read. However, quite the contrary, Rosewood’s work is imbued with a touch of lightness that gives readers a sensation more akin to gliding through a shared dream than reading a text ... If I Had Two Lives is a work of radiance, and part of the excitement of the book’s release is the introduction of an author who surely has a long and successful career ahead of her.
MixedLos Angeles Review of Books\"Unfortunately...the memoir lacks crucial background information that would have made it a standalone work. Further editorial context or annotation would have certainly helped, particularly for first-time Berlin readers ... Nevertheless, as a supplemental reference, Welcome Home is a fun and sometimes bombastic introduction to Berlin’s roller-coaster life ... For anyone who has already read Manual or Evening in Paradise, Berlin’s brief memoir may at times feel redundant ... Fortunately, the second half of Welcome Home is far stronger than the first—so raw and electric, so alive with Berlin’s need to connect with other souls.\
RaveLos Angeles Review of Books\"Anyone worried that Evening in Paradise might somehow be inferior to Manual is in for a pleasant surprise. Containing about half the number of tales — 22 in all — this new collection of stories showcases the same remarkable skill and pathos that Berlin fans have long cherished. Berlin’s alluring prose consistently sets the reader up for unexpected and often harrowing shifts in action ... Evening in Paradise provides further proof of Berlin’s remarkable ability to home in on the extraordinary within the ordinary. It shows her to be a simultaneously uncompromising and empathic observer of life.\