Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Page 69: The Coffeehouse Resistance

Disclaimer: The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 

Set up page 69 for us.

Page 69 falls just as we’ve moved to New York City from Addis Ababa. Though we loved our life in Ethiopia, we’ve come to America seeking our version of the American Dream. We’ve recently arrived in the Northern Manhattan neighborhood where much of the story then unfolds. Our business is in the still-an-idea stage, and we’ve just decided on a name for it that feels right. It’s a time of great possibility and risk, and my husband, Elias, and I along with our toddler daughter are adjusting to our new home.  

 What The Coffeehouse Resistance: Brewing Hope in Desperate Times is about:

This is a book about love, coffee and the American Dream. It’s a memoir – so it’s about me, and my family – it’s about the places we left behind, the reasons we came to America and the work we must do to make this the country live up to its promise. It’s also about coffee and reclaiming the history of coffeehouses throughout history, as a place where people come together, and our coffeehouses become hubs for local organizing and action. Ultimately this is a book about hope, building community, and fighting for our (American) dreams.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the collection is about? Does it align itself the collection’s theme?

It’s striking how the page does hit on some major themes of the book. When I read page 69 by itself, I realize that from the very beginning, in its conception starting a business was also about making a statement, about claiming and fully owning an identity. Also, dislocation and alienation, of being in a new place where so much is unfamiliar. A reader might sense the contrast with our old life (which is not described on this page) from the description of our surroundings in our New York neighborhood.  And, I think the page hints at the central place family and community will take in the story.


We, on the other hand, are black and brown, and like the coffee, have grown and been nurtured on African and Asian soil. Naming our company Buunni is a counterpoint to the prevailing coffee culture that we observe. We decide on our company’s name and smile at our inside joke.

We begin to adjust to our new life in New York, which is at times in jarring contrast to the life we left in Addis Ababa. The sidewalks in our part of Manhattan smell like dog piss in the steaming muggy summer heat, and the smell only sharpens in the crisp fall and dry winter air. But we live near a gorgeous park—a hidden gem near the very top of Manhattan. Our walks in Fort Tryon Park are a physical relief from our cramped quarters, and the river views, the garden of all seasons, and the open expanses are a respite from the view from our own apartment windows— they look into other people’s homes, and a brick wall. We get to know many of our neighbors during our strolls in the Fort Tryon Park and the hours Juni spends in the two neighborhood playgrounds closest to us. These spaces offer an informal gathering place to meet other people in the community, parents, childcare providers, grandparents, and visiting relatives.


SARINA PRABASI has lived the life of a global nomad and is a new American. She was born in the Netherlands to Nepali parents, and was raised in India, China and Nepal, after which she spent formative years in the United States and in Ethiopia. Sarina is a seasoned leader in international development—working on global health, education, water and sanitation for over 25 years. In 2011, she moved from Addis Ababa to New York City and started Buunni Coffee with her husband. Their small business has become a hub for community conversation and action. Sarina is the proud mama of two daughters, who keep her learning and laughing every day. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

My February in Reading

Here's a review of all of the books that I buried my nose in last month:

(Not a bad reading month, but definitely not a pace I can keep up with. Enjoying what reading time I've been able to sneak in so far!)

Tom Howard
Indiana University Press
(February 2019)


The back cover refers to Tom's writing as "blistering, striking, ferocious" and I would have to agree. An impressive and heady debut collection of stories that bury themselves deep within the reader and linger long after, like the many ghosts that haunt its pages.

Abi Andrews
Two Dollar Radio
(February 2019)

3 Stars

Part feminist adventure novel, part "non-fiction time capsule of all the important and scary things man has accomplished", The Word for Woman is Wilderness follows 19 year old Erin on her journey from England to Alaska when she decides, after watching a documentary on McCandless, to create a documentary of her own that can rival those previously told from the male perspective. Erin's experiences are intertwined with, and often overshadowed by, a relentless reflection and regurgitation of events and topics as wide and diverse as space travel, Native American culture, the writings of Thoreau and Jack London, and a strange obsession with the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. 

TWFWiW felt about 100 pages too long. I much preferred the pages that were spent on Erin and her experiences as she hitchhiked and boated on the kindness of strangers, and her time spent in the cabin and wilderness in solitude, and was less a fan of the time that was spent on the rest, as I felt it disrupted the flow of the novel and continuously challenged my patience. Thankfully, the book is made up of short chapters, which made the movement to and from Erin and those painfully boring extrapolations bearable.

Sam Savage
Coffee House Press
(January 2019)

4 Stars

I wrongly thought I hadn't yet read one of Sam's books. And then as I was preparing to rate this one, I realized I had listened to The Cry of the Sloth quite a few years back. Apparently the book didn't leave much of a mark back when I read it, which makes sense as to why I didn't recall having read it at all until now. (thank goodness for goodreads, I guess!) 

Luckily, I was much more affected by this one, Sam's latest, and last - a grab bag collection of short fiction with an immense amount of heart. Or, at least, one that played immensely with MY heart. 

The opening story, An Affair of the Heart, about an older married couple doing the usual older married couple things on the surface, while the husband spends every moment thinking about his wife's infidelity from years ago, nearly crushed me. Thespa and Sky also deal with broken marriages, while other stories deal with mental illness or a sense of mental deterioration. Like The Awakening, in which a man cannot leave his house due to an unrational fear that he has left the toaster oven unplugged, or Wee People, in which a man, believes his home is being overrun by minature bankers with umbrellas, to the determient of his own marriage. In My Writing Life, the narrator has suffered severe brain trauma and walks the streets trying to peice his memory together while searching for the man who stole his bike and the woman who stole his heart, and then there's The Adventures of Kiffler Wainscott a man who shirks work like it's the plague but then retreats so far inside himself that in the end, he believes he's devolved into monkeyhood. So even they feed back into the overarching theme of this collection, which I believe is about what it means to be human, to love or find oneself unloved, and to desire to be something or someone more. While sometimes humorous, and sometimes far fetched, there's definitely something of each of us buried inside these stories.

Chloe Aridjis
(February 2019)

3 Stars

Chloe has written a novel that is quiet, charming, and familiar. Because it described itself as "pulsing to the soundtrack of Joy Division, Nick Cave, and Siouxsie and the Banshees", I was expecting more of a classic 80's vibe than it gave off. I mean, hell, Luisa is name dropping all of the music that accompanied me throughout most of my teenage years - The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode! Nonetheless, it managed to unearth some long forgotten memories, running around with boys I knew my parents wouldn't approve of, doing things I knew the police wouldn't approve of, and yet still struggling with that feeling of being just this side of bored with it all. Of long road trips with limited funds, of spending evenings on the beach listening to the waves crashing in, and of falling in love with every cute boy, or good looking guy, that crossed my path and made eye contact with me. For a book that moves as slowly as this one, Sea Monsters is a suprisingly quick read.

Josip Novakovich
Dzanc Books
(February 2019)

4 Stars

The stories in this collection will break your heart as often as they warm it. In the title story, we are thrust into the middle of a small town bombing, where a husband and wife risk their lives on a daily basis - she to buy bread from the bakery, and he to tend to his bees in the field. Two brothers attempt to one-up each other with fabricated stories in "Lies" and "Counter Lies" while a family flees their wooded hometown to frolick in the ocean for an extended vacation in "A Taste of the Sea". Quite a few of the stories showcase the relationship between human and animal, with one even narrated by a rat. Though they sound innocuous enough, Josip's stories grapple with his characters', and our own, emotions. Readers, beware, it does not always end well for our furry and feathery friends and in this way, Josip commits what I consider one the greatest crimes in literature. Kill a person if you must, usually they had it coming, but please, leave the innocent animals alone.

Tim Meyer
Grindhouse Press
(February 2019)

5 Stars

Fetish fiction at its best! Incredibly readable and entertaining, its a dark and twisted love story featuring Ray, a thirty-something, able-bodied, clock-puncher at a local electronics store with an embarassing secret to hide - he digs amputee chicks. Like, ONLY digs amputee chicks. So much so that he attends a variety of support groups for people who have recently lost a limb on the regular, the way a normal dude might hit up the local bar scene. But the moment he lays eyes on Kayla, one of the new hires at work, he begins to question everything he thought he knew about himself. He's falling for her fast and hard. Well, maybe not hard. See, she's his almost-dream girl. The only thing that would make her perfect in his eyes? Yup, you guessed it. A few missing fingers, a missing arm or leg... but, as Ray is quick to point out, he's no monster. Yet, love does make you do some crazy things....

Quirky, corny, and enjoyably unsettling, I chewed through Limbs in a matter of hours. In Ray, Tim has created a character that is strangely conflicted and extremely likable. Grindhouse Press has a winner on thieir hands!

Ashley Morrow Hermsmeier
Black Lawrence Press
(February 2019)

5 Stars

Why aren't more people talking about this chapbook?! This teeny tiny little collection of apocalyptic stories is pretty friggen amazing. We are thrust into strange and frightening realities in which characters await an angry swarm of killer bees (When the Bees Come Back), survive an earthquake only to learn that it's still wreaking havoc beneath them days later (The Big One), and are forced to repeatedly, and literally, bury past versions of themselves (Every Version of Me). They are powerful, punchy little things that sit heavy on the chest and leave you breathless with their effortlessness.

Aimee Parkison & Carol Guess
Fiction Collective 2
(February 2019)

3 Stars

A collection of speculative short stories and flash fiction bordering on the bizarre, showcasing dystopian realities in which girls / women / females are kept in various stages and types of confinement or captivity. Each begins with the title "Girl In..." and gives the reader the slightest glimpse into each girl's situation, be it dire, distressing, or disturbing. Many of the women within these stories are help captive behind glass, trapped within homes or rooms, in enclosures, and in many of these scenarios they are being monitored or watched. In some, they are like human dolls, doted upon, and loved, though without their consent. And yet in others, they are not captive in the physical sense but are caught up in mental turmoil they cannot escape. 

While I found the concept intriquing, especially on the heels of the #metoo movement, I didn't feel connected to the collection overall. While some of the stories were incredibly well executed and powerful, like "Girl in Mansion", "Girl in Doubt", "Girl in Rape Kit", "Girl in One-Act Play", "Girl in Glass", and "Girl in the Mall", many, including just about every footnoted vignette (and there were many!) just fell flat for me.

Samantha Schweblin / Translated by Megan McDowell
Riverhead Books
(January 2019)

3 Stars

I experienced this as an audiobook, so I want to start by giving props to the publisher for the cast of narrators they chose. They each did a phenomenal job. Even when the story was not fully engaging me, their narrations held me captive. Except for The Test. I stopped that story within mere minutes of it starting. One of my biggest pet peeves is when authors write in senseless animal deaths. Nine times out of ten, if there's a dog, the dog is going to die. Why authors feel the need to do this, I may never fully understand. And I hate it. Absolutely hate it! But this story... this entire fucking story was hinged on someone having to beat a dog to death to pass some test. And oh my god, you guys, what an absolute horrible fucking thing to write. So off it went, and I moved on to the next story. But from that point on, Samantha was getting some serious mental side-eye from me. I didn't trust her after that. 

On the flip side, Mouthful of Birds (the title story) in which a daughter returns home from school with a strange new eating habit, Preserves, where a couple reverse the woman's pregnancy, and Heads on Concrete, about a man who learns to channel his anger through ultraviolent paintings, were the best of the bunch. Absolutely gorgeously written and just-twisted-enough to make me fall head over heels for them. 

Others, like HeadlightsButterfliesThe DiggerMy Brother Walter, and Underground were notably good and equally strange. 

The rest were... forgettable.

A wholly uneven collection of short stories that totally polaried this reader!

Erika T Wurth
State University of New York Press
(March 2019)

3 Stars

Having spent my high school years in Florida, back in the mid-90's, I was surrounded by teens who were desparately trying to find themselves. It was an incredibly mixed demographic, a melting pot of african-amercians, hispanics, and white kids all cultivating their identities. 

Cops were a regular fixture, in school and paroling our developments. The Latin Kings were a growing presence as were the Bloods and Crips. There were countless drug raids, knife fights in the bathrooms and hallways, friends and students being sent to juvy for dealing drugs in the mall cafeteria. Kids who were wrongly identified (I was regularly pegged as spanish because of my brown eyes and dark hair, even though I am italian) were ostracized and regularly threatened or shown kindness based on everyone's assumption of your nationality or affiliation. Due to all this, our school started banning all gang-affliated gear and even attempted to disallow certain color-pairings altogether because of the turmoil and fighting it caused on campus. 

These are things I hadn't thought about in almost 25 years, but Erika Wurth's You Who Enter Here brought much of it back as I began reading about Matthew and Chris and their visions of rising up through the ranks of an Alburquerque Native American gang, the 505s. Matthew felt so familiar, like so many of the kids I went to school with. Lost, from a broken home, latching on to anyone who showered him with attention, escaping one bad situtation only to end up in one that, though it felt better, was even worse. The peer pressure, the money, the drugs, and the sense of family, something he hadn't felt in a long while, intriguing him, pulling him in. 

Erika writes raw, flawed characters who must learn to navigate harsh realities. She imbues them with desires that are often reflected within ourselves - the desire to be accepted, to be loved, to be admired, and to live a life that's worthy of living. But more than that, through her writing, and the recent writing of others (Stephen Graham Jones, Brandon Hobson, etc.), Wurth is ushering in a shift in America's perception of what it means to be Native American.

Erin McGraw
(March 2019)

3 Stars

Short, sharp, and poignant, with a strong focus on relationships and family dynamics, death and dying, and the crippling impact of the decisions we make, Erin's stories are charming and alarming, but also quite forgettable due to their brevity. Three to four pages a piece, they don't live long enough on the page to leave a lasting impression.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Page 69: Lifeforce

Disclaimer: The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 

We put Annie Rodriguez's Lifeforce to the test!

Ok, Annie, set up of page 69 for us:

Page 69 falls just at the end of chapter 9.  It is after Gillian, a witch, and Adelaide (Addie for short and a vampire) spend a long night caring for Forrest, their lycan friend who just suffered a bit of blood  loss for allowing Addie to bite him when she needed to feed.  They are in the middle of figuring out the consequences of allowing a vampire to feed off a lycan.  Add that stress to Gillian’s recurring nightmares and you have a very tired and somewhat cranky witch.  Of course, feeling like a third wheel in the middle of her friends’ banter does not help either.

What Lifeforce is about:

It is about a witch that, after losing her mother, gets her mother’s best friend, who happens to be a vampire with a lycan best friend, as a legal guardian.  These relationships are the focus of the story as Gillian learns to find her voice and confidence, but not before suffering the consequences of a hasty decision that she made just before losing her mother.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the novel is about? Does it align itself to the novel’s theme?

Although it is a bit short because it’s just at the end of a chapter, it represents the central relationship theme of this book.  The relationship of a mortal witch to two immortal creatures that she feels have taken over her life since her mother died. And because she is not immortal, she often feels not included or that she is treated like a child. Although it is just a glimpse that we get here, it is a struggle that is featured throughout the novel.

 PAGE 69

“If you had any vampire trace left, you would,” Gillian clarified, smiling as she realized what Addie was up to.
“Welcome back, Wolfe.” Addie punched him playfully on the shoulder. “I’ll take that back.”
 “Well, now that everything is back to normal, I’ll be at work.” Work suddenly sounded very appealing. Gillian stood up from her chair before either of her friends could offer assistance. If they were back to their playful behavior, she really shouldn’t be there.
“Gillian, let me help—”
But Gillian had zoomed to her room before Forrest could finish his sentence.


Born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico, a twin by birth and bumped to middle child nine years later by my little sister, I grew up with the words conflict mediator behind my name.    In my school years, I was labeled the “come libros” or “book eater” in Spanish.  It took me a few years to understand that I suffered from general anxiety disorder. I started writing as a teenager.  It became a mechanism to live in another world in which I wouldn’t have to live up to society’s expectations. Today, I proudly lead a balanced life. It took leaving my island for college in the United States, which has led to a successful adjustment and a lot of studying. I live for the day when my writing becomes a message to the world, not just an outlet for me. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Page 69: Momentary Illumination of Objects In Motion

Disclaimer: The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 

We put Jason Arias’ Momentary Illumination of Objects In Motion  to the test. 

OK, Jason, set up page 69 for us.

Page 69 lands us on the second to last page of the story “The Uncomfortable Augmentations of Earl Sneed Sinclair.” The story starts with Franklin talking his roommates, Rasheed and Jay, into purchasing a theme park quality costume of the father dinosaur character from the 90s TV series Dinosaurs as a means of making extra money. At this point in the story the three roommates have just gotten back from a trial run downtown. They didn’t make any money. Franklin is still inside the Earl Sneed Sinclair costume and Jay is starting to question Franklin’s motives for buying it in the first place. The last three words on page 68 are: Is a costume…    

What is Momentary Illumination of Objects In Motion about:

Sometimes I answer that question by saying that the collection is a lens to explore the bigger issues: Life and Death, Identity and Race, Change and Resistance to Change (that’s also on the back cover of the book). Other times I say that the collection is a way to scrutinize the differences and similarities between youth and middle age and old age—a meditation on how we can be the same person in different situations, or a different person in the same situation, but should start worrying when we’re the same person in the same situation. Mostly I think the collection was a way to experiment with holding uncomfortable things closely.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the story collection is about? Does it align itself with the collection’s theme?

Well, one of the characters is envious of the double-paned windows that are tied to the insides of outbound trailers, and the other character is trying to find a way to never take off a giant dinosaur costume while cooking scrambles eggs so, yeah, I guess that’s a pretty accurate vibe for the collection.

In the scene on page 69 both Jay and Franklin are dealing with feelings of alienation, unresolved pasts, and uncertain futures; they’re just not fully aware that’s what’s happening. They’re unclear on where (or even who) they should be. These underlying themes tend to play throughout the collection in many forms.  Some of the characters include a paramedic confronting burnout, three politically incorrect magicians stealing Rap tapes, a man trying to convince a jury that humankinds’ ultimate destiny is to return to the sea, and a pellet-gun-incited showdown in a mall food court.        

PAGE 69: 

even a thing? I’m pretty sure he was just making sure Earl wasn’t some kind of terrorist bomb.

Once we got back home, Rasheed and I worked at getting some of the stuck gum out of Earl’s flannel.

“That was some fall!” Franklin said, recalling his descent down the square’s stairs, as I picked at a particularly stubborn pink wad.

“Might be easier to clean if you just took the thing off, Franklin,” I said.

“I’m good, man. It kind of takes a while to come out of character, you know?”

“No. I don’t know,” I said.

I went to bed.

I got up late the next day. I didn’t see Franklin or the Earl costume at all before leaving for my nightshift at the windows factory.

All night, I placed windows against other windows, frame to frame, like rows of tightly packed translucent dominoes. I tied them in place to the slats on the trailer walls with trucker knots. I worked with mostly illegal immigrants. They worked harder than me. I drank cups of coffee during my lunch break. I thought about how this job was going nowhere. I thought about how the windows I tied down saw other parts of the country while I stayed put. I wondered if it was healthy for me to be working nights and thinking so much.

When I got home the next morning, Earl looked like he was trying to set himself on fire at the stove again.

“Dude, careful!” I said.

“No, it’s cool,” Franklin’s voice said from inside Earl’s head. He turned around and held his palms out to me.

I could see he’d made cuts below the costume hands so that he could use his real hands while still wearing the thing. When Franklin turned back to the stove, I noticed a row of safety pins holding closed a homemade flap on Earl’s butt region that wasn’t there the last time I saw him. A tube exited Earl’s crotch to what looked like a partially filled urine bag taped around his thigh.

Franklin took the pan off the stove and dumped some of the scrambled eggs into a bowl. They were the same color as the pee in the bag that was taped around his leg. I wondered if Franklin


Jason Arias’ writing has appeared in NAILED Magazine, The Nashville Review, Oregon Humanities Magazine, Perceptions Magazine, and Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Misfit’s Manifesto as well as other literary publications. Momentary Illumination of Objects In Motion is his debut short story collection published in late 2018 by Black Bomb Books. To find more of Jason’s writing and readings visit

Monday, February 4, 2019

My January in Reading

Here's a review of all of the books that I buried my nose in last month:

(btw, I probably won't read this voraciously for the rest of the year. Due to a fluke of perfectly timed vacation days and a light month of publicity work, I was able to spend almost all of my downtime in January reading!!)

Chloe Caldwell
SF/LD Books
(Oct 2014)

5 Stars

SF/LD Books sent this to me ages ago in a care package with another title I had been excited about reviewing. Yes, it took me until this christmas, while rearranging my shelves and rediscovering that I had it, to get me to pick it up out of the pile. 

The book is fucking adorable, no wider than the palm of my hand, and it holds our narrator's heart hostage from the get go. She finds herself totally falling for a woman for the first time, one much older, more experienced, and who's already in a committed relationship. It's about discovery and identity, and as you'd probably expect, it's a wonderful hot mess. We know it's not going to end well and we don't care. 

Chloe is like the female equivalent of Sam Pink. In their stories, they are tortured souls in shitty relationships that they obsess and die over. They are manic. They are depressive. They see the glass is slowing draining of alcohol and order another. And then another. And then they are home, hung over, in bed, alone sometimes and sometimes with someone else, and they are wondering how in the fuck they got there, in their life, in this particular fucked up version of their life. They write their fiction autobiographically, pulling the reader right up to the table, conversing with us as though we are part of their story and it works so hard, like you wouldn't fucking believe.

Adam Lauver
Plays Inverse Press
(Released January 24th)

5 Stars

Hot damn. A mother fucking apocalypse of the mind told in three distinct parts, within five wickedly deceiving acts. Lauver has cleverly placed you smack in the middle of this bizarre yet captivating dreamscape of broken characters in the midst of their own mini existential crises - what meaning lies within our dreams? what does it mean to "be"? to what lengths would we go to unbreak what is broken within us? - and a pretty badass game of chess taking place between a young kid and Eleanor Rosevelt outside of a quickmart that plays out through eternity.

Robert Kloss
Self Published
(Nov 2017)

5 stars

I cannot think of a greater example of an author who was once traditionaly published making the move to self publish in order to retain the integrity of the vision for their book, refusing to release it any other way. The way Kloss abuses language, entirely spinning out this tale in abrupt em-dashes, whittling down the prose to what is only, absolutely needed. And it reads seemlessly, feverishly, beautifully. Evoking, crushing, tugging at you. I thought The Alligators of Abraham was untouchable. Here, Kloss has quite possibly given that debut a run for its money.

Nick Cato
Bizarro Pulp Press
(Released January 25th)

4 stars

Holy hamster sex, batman, and mayhem, madness and mysterious monsters galore!

Nick Cato lets it all hang out in this collection of compellingly ludicrous and grotesque short stories. Within these pages, we find ourselves partying inside the walls of a hexed musician's ever-expanding penis; drumming alongside a vacationing family man who's trying to save humanity from the end of the world; gunning down a tobacco field's worth of toilet zombie teens; and cringing along with the last surviving man of a group of bigfoot adventurers when a run-in with the giant beasts goes badly. 

The stories, which appear to have been previously published elsewhere and many of which have strange sexual themes throughout, work incredibly well with one another. Cato knows just how far to stretch things, sprinkling just enoughbody horror into these absurdly bizarre situations to make our heads spin but keep our eyes firmly stationed in our sockets!

Steve Anwyll
Tyrant Books
(Released January 8th)

5 stars

Tyrant Books is cranking out some really amazing literature.

Welfare is a manic, depressive, highly infectious novel about a runaway teenager on the cusp of adulthood who is incapable of giving a fuck about growing up. I mean, sure, he thinks about giving a fuck, he thinks about giving a lot of them. But when push comes to shove, he's inexplicably unable to actually give them. 

Our narrator Stan spends a lot of time wallowing in self-pity, painfully aware of how he got to where he is - living in a shitty dump with a roommate he sorta hates, penniless, always on the verge of starving. He's knows how dire his siutation is. He's humilitated that he's had to resort to collecting welfare checks, yet he refuses to apply for jobs that he believes are beneath him, and harbors this bizarre fantasy that he's owed better. Everything he touches or tries to accomplish turns to shit, mostly because he half-asses everything. And when his case worker starts putting the pressure on, he suffers from a near-paralization and over-rationalization of ridiculous reasons why he shouldn't have to search for a job, convincing himself that they are super reasonable excuses and so refuses to give a fuck. 

While Stan is a total piece of shit, the book itself is a fucking riot. Much in the same way Sam Pink can take a a peice of shit asshole and make us love then, Anwyll's a master at making us give a crap about someone who certainly doesn't deserve it. He's created the perfect mooch - that guy that you'd let crash on your couch because you just feel so damn sorry for him. In fact, he tells Stan's story so well I have to wonder how much of what I've read is autobiographical.

Stephanie Allen
Shade Mountain Press
(Releases February 5th)

3 stars

Set in my home state of Pennsylviana in the early 1900's, Tonic and Balm is the tale of Doc Bell's Miracles and Mirth Medicine Show, which is cleverly told from the perspective of each of Doc's motely crew - a collection of talented, traveling misfits who wow the nightly crowds with their acrobatics, sword swallowing, and dancing routines. Highlighted throughout each personal account is the mysterious heart of the show, the sideshow freak Miss Antoinette, a woman who suffers from hydrocephalus and whose silence and strangeness creates much unease and uncertainty amidst the group's members. 

While wholy intriqued with Stephanie's approach to storytelling, the diversity of the cast which includes LGBTQ and POC lead characters, and the descriptions of the common chaos that seems to naturally rise up within the group, I found myself longing for more... I dunno... more sparkle? more subterfuge? just.... more.

Meghan L Dowling
Univeristy of New Orleans Press
(Released January 25th)

4 stars

This is the story of a sister, daughter, grandaughter and her collection of memories - of things remembered, of stories shared, of physical and sexual violence witnessed and suffered and assumed. It is a story of strength and survival and secrets. Bouncing back and forth in time and perspective as the narrator decountructs her family history, beginning with the relationship between herself and her older sister yet reaching as far back as that of her grandmother Agnes and Agnes' estranged husband Gene, Dowling beautfully unpacks their truths (or fictions?) in a series of vignettes, letters, dated article snippets, and photograph notes.

Benjamin DeVos
Dostoyevsky Wannabe
(Sept 2018)

5 stars

Fuckin' A, did Ben just set the bar really high or what? If his other books are even remotely comparable to this one, he'll quickly snuggle up next to writers like Bud Smith, Sam Pink, Brian Alan Ellis... sexy ass gents who write books that I want to just stretch out naked in, pressing their words into my bare skin, absorbing them into my very veins. 

Deceptively short, overflowing with awesomeness, The Bar is Low is the story of an amputee who takes his pegleg to work at a pirate-themed resturant. It's the humdrum life of a guy determined to make things easy for himself - living in a rented apartment with a roommate he despises, working a humilating job with a boss he can't stand, killing time at support group for people with missing limbs. 

Not one word is wasted. Not one sentence is fluff. Ben has cut right down into the bone and marrow of everyday nuances. Shit, we all know this guy! The one who's got so-so hygeine, who's always cracking jokes and daydreaming about ridiculous shit, who never seems to sweat it while the rest of us dumbasses are breaking our backs to get ahead, to get the girl, to make ends meet...

Karen Thompson Walker
Random House - Audio
(Released January 15th)

2 stars

Oh man, this was such a difficult book to listen to. 

The overall pandy (aka pandemic) storyline was interesting enough. Small college town succumbs to a sudden and highly contagious new super-virus that puts its victims into a deep, dream-filled slumber. You gotta admit, that sounds pretty awesome, right? But I could tell right from the start that this book was going to be a struggle. The net was too widely cast, initally. There were waaaay too many character introductions, much too much backstory into each one of them before any of the real action began. But I hung in there. The author is just setting the stage. You can see that she's going to pull everyone together. That soon, it'll all start connecting. I was also hopeful that, once people start getting sick, things would speed up a bit. But nope. As storylines began merging and people started falling ill, I swear... the book started going even slooooower. 

Doubly irrating was the fact that I had downloaded the files for the audio directly to my phone, so I was unable to speed up the narration, which, under normal circumstances I NEVER do, but I'm wondering if it would have helped in this case? The audiobook's narrator speaks in a slow, lilting voice which, when paired with the author's slow, meandering style of telling the story, just made this book draaaaaag on. It felt like it was never going to end.

I felt like I might have been better off catching the Santa Lora virus myself. 

(note to self - stop reading popular big five books. you know you'll just end up being disappointed. why keep putting yourself through that?)

Alex Difrancesco
Civil Coping Mechanisms 
(Releases February 15th)

4 stars

In Psychopomps, Alex swings wide the doors, letting the reader crawl deep down inside, sharing with us their confusion, frustrations, losses, and ultimate relief as they move along their journey to self discovery. 

An impressively powerful collection of essays on gender exploration and identity, finding and losing and rediscovering religion, and the always problematic quest for love and understanding as one is still learning to love and understand themselves. And it's courageous as all fuck if you ask me. Shedding your skin like that in front of everyone? What a big hot beautiful mess!

Tyler Barton
Split Lip Press
(Released January 31st)

4 stars

The Quiet Part Loud is a punchy, powerful little thing. It's about blowing your youth wide open - turning a freshy lawned cemetery into a temporary getaway, breakdancing on rooftops, suffocating the crushing boredom of being on the run by pranking everyone who rides the hotel elevators, and wreaking havoc down sleepy neighborhood streets on trash night....Each story showcasing both the beauty and brashness of shedding ones childhood on the strangest of stages.

Shane Jesse Christmass
Apocalypse Party 
(Released January 31st)

4 stars

I really have no idea what I just read. It's one of the more refreshingly experimental fiction titles I've read in a while. The narrator and the characters with which they engage all appear to switch genders throughout the text, and engage in a ridiculous amount of sex... rough, kinky, oh my god some of that must have hurt sex. 

Though the story is linear - it appears to have a start and an end - there isn't actally much of a "story". Shane cleverly hynotizes his readers with an onslaught of short, incomplete sentences that hit you like repetitive bursts of color behind the eyelid, in rapid, manic succession. Honestly, the book is one giant paragraph of paranoia. 

This is certainly not going to be for everyone. I bet it won't even be for you, my dear loyal readers. But holy hell it was a fun fucking ride for me!