Saturday, May 18, 2019

My April in Reading

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

Colette Arrand
Split Lip Press
(March 2019)

4 Stars

haunted language, vintage rock, wrapped in a gorgeous cover, what's not to love?

JS Breukelaar
Meerkat Press
(February 2019)

3 Stars

A diverse and intriguing collection of short stories that span genres - horror, sci-fi, and just the right amount of bizarro for funsies - and showcase Breukelaar's range as a writer. 

Favorites include Union Falls' mysterious armless piano player; the subtle story of Ava Rune's white trashiness; the fierce secrets of Lion Man and unlikely friendship that forms in Fairy Tale; and War Wounds' cowboy roughness, for their more straight-forward story telling. 

Stories like The BoxRouges Bay 3013 were a bit too heavy on the strange for my tastes, and Fixed, which was a pretty decent story overall, lost me when (view spoiler). She broke my cardinal rule with that one!

The rest just hovered there nicely, sitting prettily between the covers. A perfect set of stories for someone looking to lose themselves in a collection unlike any other.

Ben Arzate
Cabal Books
(April 2019)

4 stars

A bizarro road trip novel for the, ahem, record books. Oh, c'mon, it's the perfect way to introduce Ben Arzate's debut novel, which is written as a surreal, fictional account of a wanna-be music journalist named Alex who, in an attempt to make it big, decides to hunt down the reclusive and relatively unknown (though wholy non-fictional) artist Y. Bhekhirst.

Stylistically, Ben is a less-is-more kind of writer, so the 134 pages read like a fever dream, jam-packed with minimalist dialogue and breakneck, nonstop action, easily making this a book that could be read in one sitting. The curious cast of misfists includes a ghost trapped in a vinyl record; Alex's BFF Larry, better known as Lobster due to a malformed hand in the shape of a claw; and Alex's girlfriend Primavera. Along the way they cross paths with a mystical shapeshifter, a pissed off cartel, a missonary church that acts more like a portal to other places, and a seriously badass evil boss. No bizarro book is complete without one! In keeping with the book's theme, the chapters are cleverly titled "tracks" and the book even contains a hidden one.

All told, The Story of the Y is a well balanced blend of the silly and the serious, and it's an absolute hoot to read!

Zachary Schomburg
Black Ocean
(April 2019)

3 stars

Not quite on par with Mammother, which I absolutely adored, though wholly unique and absurdly crafted. Broken out into chapbook length sections, I was most drawn to the storylike poems that were contained within Now is a Good Time, and the disconnected but appealing poetry of Oars. Those collected in the section titledHaircut and The Future/The Baby seemed to draw from the storylike format of Good Time while blending the chaos of language from Oars and also drew me in with their mysterious cadence. The parts that were good were really good, and those sections that I failed to name fell incredibly flat and missed their mark completely.

ST Cartledge
Clash Books
(April 2019)

4 Stars

Pixel Boy in Poetry World contains two independent chapbook-length collections of poetry. Within each, the poems align to tell a cohesive story of identity and survival, whether in the surrounding world or the more surreal world they've built inside their heads. Poets and dragons and pixelated tears accompany us as we navigate our way through the pages, following Pixel Boy and Basho on thier journeys.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Page 69 Test: Offline

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 Brian Adams' Offline to the test. 

OK, Brian, set up page 69 for us.

The poor girl! Banished by her parents to live a techno-free summer with her gay hippie grandfathers, seventeen-year-old Meagan is forced to attend a Netaholics Anonymous meeting where two hot boys come on to her. Not used to navigating offline relationships, the two have asked her out to the same party and she’s inadvertently said yes to both of them.

What Offline is about:

Offline is a young adult romantic romp through the dark underbelly of technology. Our heroine Meagan is an online dating addict scared to death to take those online “relationships” offline. Falling in with a ragtag bunch of Luddites, Meagan joins a zany softball team, takes the game of Scrabble to a whole new level, immerses herself in the world of invertebrate sex – all the while coming to grips with her raging netaholism and discovering the joys and heartbreaks of offline relationships.

Do you think this page 69 gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about?

Much of the humor in the novel comes from Meagan’s missteps and screw-ups as she desperately strives to rid herself of her online addiction and interact with the real world. The novel is heavy on snarky dialogue and clueless teen angst, while highlighting the serious and growing problem of netaholism. This page is one of many chronicling Meagan’s stumbling antics as she slowly unplugs and makes the transition offline.


            I took the phone and whacked myself in the head.

            “Shit!” I cried.

            “What?” Sheila asked. “What just happened?”

            I whacked myself again.

            “I can’t believe what I just did. Oh my God! How could I not have figured out who was who? I am such an idiot!”

            “Tell me!” Sheila said.

            “I just made a huge screw-up. It was Jonathan who I told about the bees. Not Derek.”

            “And . . .”

            “And so it must have been Jonathan who I said yes to the first time. Not Derek.”

            “Jonathan?” Sheila asked. “The other netaholic dude?”  


Brian Adams recently retired after teaching for 20 plus years at Greenfield Community College in western Massachusetts where he was a Professor of Environmental Science and co-chair of the Science Department. Brian is active in the climate change movement on and off campus. He has authored numerous health related brochures distributed nationally by ETR Associates. For his first novel, Love in the Time of Climate Change, which was a Foreword Reviews 2014 IndieFAB Gold Medal Winner for Humor, he drew heavily on his experiences teaching and working with students. Brian lives with his wife in Northampton, Massachusetts and now devotes his time to writing romantic comedies centered around environmental activism.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Where Writers Write: Pete Fromm

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Pete Fromm. 

He is a five-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Literary Award for his novels If Not For ThisAs Cool As I Am and How All This Started; the story collection Dry Rain; and the memoir Indian Creek Chronicles. He is on the faculty of Pacific University’s low-residency MFA program, and lives in Montana with his family. Find out more at

Where Pete Fromm Writes

I write at home, which, for a long time, was in Great Falls, Montana, in the basement of a little Craftsman bungalow, a basement I finished just as my first son was born.  My old office upstairs, looking out onto the backyard, an ancient multi-trunked crabapple where, in not too many years, I’d be building a tree fort, had been turned into our son’s room, so down I went.  And it was kind of perfect down there, enough high basement windows to let in light, but nothing but a wall before me, a slate blank enough to let me travel anywhere, to let all sorts of people wander in.  In the early years, I typed with my son in his carseat on the pullout shelf of the old oak desk, the tapping of the keys lulling him back to sleep.

But, ten years ago, we moved over the mountains to Missoula, bought the only house we could afford in the place we wanted to stay, a hundred year old Craftsman of some small grandeur that had fallen onto hard times over the last decades as a rental.  After tearing out the walls upstairs, moving doors, windows, building bedrooms for both of our sons, I started in on the first floor, where my office was, moving my desk out onto the enclosed but unheated front porch, where I could work in the predawn dark and chill, listening to the coyotes yip and howl up on the mountain, before trading the keyboard for the tool belt, another day of an entirely different kind of work.

My newest novel, A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO, started amid the rubble of that tear down and rebuild, the main character, Taz, imaginatively enough, becoming a finish carpenter rebuilding, yes, a hundred year old house in Missoula with his pregnant wife, Marnie.  Their place is a wreck they live in, work on, dream of, their lives stretching out before them until, eventually, Taz is there on his own, amid the wreckage and dreams, trying to learn how to raise a baby alone, rebuild far more than his house.

So, here is where I work, and where Taz and Marn lived, from the day we moved to Missoula;

Through the tear down we all lived through;

And all the way to today;

…surrounded by books, and reminders of where I’ve come from, from a shot of my grandfather, the ashes of my wild old friend Sage, a scale model of a British fighter my father built from scratch, to photos of my sons, the knives the French seem to give to me every time I tour over there.  Even Hemingway and Twain have snuck in, reminding me to keep it simple, and to have some fun.  And, of course, Taz and Marn, hanging around, seeing how it’ll all turn out.

Friday, April 26, 2019

My March in Reading

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

Peter Heller
Knopf Publishing 
(March 2019)

4 Stars

The best audiobook I've listened to so far this year. The narrator complimented the writing and his reading style kept me engaged the entire time. What starts out as a buddy trip quickly turns into a game of survival of the fittest when a moment of good intention twists iteself into the men's worst nightmare.

Jordan A Rothacker
Stalking Horse Press
(March 2019)

3 Stars

A collection of strange and somewhat forgettable stories. Of the bunch, Parables Three which is three stories within the story, one of a young boy who listens to an old man's story, one of a magician who fears he's a fraud, and one of a little girl who asks god for a christmas present; A Night, Like Any Other; Or Ooh, Ooh That Smell where a bullied boy finds release in burning a body, and Winter Solstice, in which a young man buries the star of his deceased mother's nativity scene, were immediate favorites. That is not to say that the rest of the stories were clunkers... far from it. Each one was uniquely skewed and twisted, but they lacked staying power, quickly fading away the further I navigated into the collection.

Ronan Hession
Bluemoose Books
(March 2019)

3 Stars

This is the most "feel-good" fiction I've read in a long while. A slow, meandering walk through the lives of Leonard and Hungry Paul - two awkward, introverted, thirty-something year old besties who still live at home with the 'rents - as they navigate slight but extremely distruptive changes in both their lives. Insightful in its simplicity, Hession's novel showcases the power of friendship, living in the moment, and embracing the person you are, flaws and all.

Maurice Carlos Ruffin
One World 
(January 2019)


I started to listen to this on audio during my work commute. I only made it a week, I just couldn't do it anymore. Part my struggle was the audio narrator. He was a speed talker for sure and came across as a little manic and high strung. I blame the rest on the overall pacing of the novel itself. It jumped and skipped around too frequently for me, as if the book's narrator (or the author himself) had ADHD. Though I really didn't want to, I had to call it quits. It just wasn't for me.

Paul Crenshaw
Mad Creek Books
(March 2019)

3 Stars

As a hard core literary fiction fan, I'll admit I'm still quite new to the whole genre of non fiction essay collection. In an effort to broaden my reading horizons this year, I'm trying to read it more often, but I keep finding myself torn with same old question of how-much-of-this-is-truly-true-and-how-much-is-fluffed-up-in-an-effort-to-keep-my-attention-or-fill-in-the-gaps-that-memory-leaves-blank? Paul himself, in his essay "Choke", takes a moment to acknowledge this very thing, stating that memory, and how one unravels or shares the truth, how things are arranged and shared within the essay, can change the story. So how many creative liberties and fill-in-the-blanks-when-we-don't-remember-the-specifics have to take place before the non fiction actually becomes fiction?

What's here is well written, and my preferred essays, though this shouldn't come as a shock, were those that focused most specifically on Paul and his family. I found myself most rapt when reading about his own experiences vs those pages he devoted towards researching and spewing out facts and numbers about his hometown, religious influences, and the like. 

Though, counter to what I just said, Paul also manages to cross over into my greatest pet-peeve territory by introducing animals only to kill them off. Only this is 10xs worse because it's for reals and not for the fiction novel shock factor. These deaths will haunt me for a long time to come. I hope he's happy.

Asja Bakic
The Feminist Press
(March 2019)

4 Stars

Strange and mysterious settings plague this intensely striking and infectiously readable debut collection of speculative short stories. From a woman who must write herself out of pergatory, to a future world in which all literature and their authors are packed up and sent away to Mars, many of the stories focus on the power of the written word in some fashion, creating interesting and alluring atmospheres. Worlds are upended, relationships are not what they seem, protagonists face personal epiphanies... it's a melting pot of sci-fi meets cli-fi meets dystopian meets speculative fiction in which every reader is bound to find something to love.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Paul Beckman Takes it to the Toilet

Oh yes! We absolutely have a series on bathroom reading! So long as it's taking place behind the closed  (or open, if that's the way you swing) bathroom door, we want to know what it is. It can be a book, the back of the shampoo bottle, the newspaper, or Twitter on your cell phone - whatever helps you pass the time...

Today, Paul Beckman takes it to the toilet. Paul’s published books are: Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press), Peek (Big Table Publishing), Come! Meet My Family and Other Stories (Weighted Anchor Press) Chapbooks: Maybe I Ought to Sit in a Dark Room for a While (Ink, Sweat, and Tears) 21 Stories (Web Del Sol), and a novella, Lovers and Other Mean People (Sugar Mule Press). He has over 400 stories published in print, online, and via audio in the following magazines among others: Pank, Necessary Fiction, Playboy, New Flash Fiction Review,  Pure Slush, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Thrice Fiction, Fictive Dream, Connecticut Review. Literary Orphans, 100 Word Story, Spelk Fiction, Molotov Cocktail, Jellyfish Review, Digging Through the Fat, Litro, and Red Fez. Paul has judged flash fiction contest for Brilliant Flash Fiction, and Cahoodaloodaling and short story financial award grants for the state of New Jersey. And he has had his stories short-listed two times for LISP London Independent Story Prize, Was one of the winners of the Best Small Fictions 2016, Nominated BSF 2019, Won the 2016 Editor’s Prize for fiction for the Southeast Review, and  had a story selected for the Norton Anthology of Micro-fiction 2019.

Paul lives in CT. with his wife, Sandra and he curates the FBomb NY flash fiction reading series monthly at KGB’s Red Room in New York’s lower east side.

Toilet Training at the Beckman’s

It started out a number of years ago when I was sitting on the throne and I realized I had a note in my pocket that I wrote earlier in the day with a story idea. I didn’t remember what it was about so I read it again, liked it and took my pen from the same shirt pocket and expanded on the note. When I finished my business in the bathroom I went to my office and typed up that story.

Weeks passed and I stopped and picked up the mail at the end of my driveway and had the urge to go so I jumped in the car, drove into the garage and ran to the bathroom. While I was sitting there I looked through the mail and then started to peruse that weeks’ Time Magazine. When I left the bathroom I left the magazine propped up against the wall.

Then I got a book in the mail and I took it in with me to read the dust jacket and then I was going to put it on my nightstand but it didn’t make it there.

Within a couple of months the books multiplied and I was stacking them in piles to read like at my nightstand and like at the end table in the living room.

My wife took a stand and said she wasn’t going to use that bathroom until I took the books out-- she’d use the guest bathroom and I’d better not go in there at all. I told her I didn’t know how all the books and magazines were piling up and I think, and she found this hard to believe, that they were copulating in there while we were sleeping and that’s why the books were multiplying.

I think  if I alphabetize them they won’t look so messy but every time I start to do that I start another book. Now most have bookmarks and the stack of Time Magazines are each folded to an article I want to read. I’ve come to accept me for who I am but I wish my wife would stop brining company into the bathroom so they can laugh at me. No one realizes the pressured I’m under with all those books and magazines calling to me. I may have to start sneaking into the guest bathroom.

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.