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Book Reviews

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Between the Spine by Adrian Ernesto Cepeda

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Between the Spine by Adrian Ernesto Cepeda

There is a rippling in this collection that slowly builds, a waning and waxing of desire. Adrian has created a sacred space in these pages that speak directly to his lover, or ours. In his personal narrative, we witness a vulnerability birthed out of the chaos and the quiet. We are left throbbing with our own itch and urge. Adrian opens up in order for us to do the same. The collection pulses with high intensity, but there is also sweetness and filth. You will find yourself somewhere in here, a true and relevant collection of multitudes made succinct.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Crazy About Kurt by Will Link

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Crazy About Kurt by Will Link

We are deeply nostalgic for the 90’s right now. I get it. I was there, too, and some of it I still remember fondly. Will Link remembers the decade in a very relatable way with his novel Crazy About Kurt (Cobain, whose death is a major focal point for this Long Island story). His book, which encompasses four likable teenagers, as a group, and occasionally on their own, will certainly give you enough references of the time to help build this world. However, Link relies on more than just the music and movies of the day to create an engaging, poignant, and very believable book. He loves these characters, and he defines them with more than just what they like. The best trips into the wayback machine will always have that quality.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Seducing the Asparagus Queen by Amorak Huey

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Seducing the Asparagus Queen by Amorak Huey

The best poems in Seducing the Asparagus Queen are focussed, almost incantatory. But Amorak Huey’s larger project here is about aging, about American history as an indistinct shadow behind our parents, and how we are to wrestle meaning from the disappointments of the average life. There is something almost pastoral about the book, and a lot of references to manual labor and beer-drinking. Well, every poet has certain shorthands they fall back on. Ultimately Huey gets it, and hands it to us in a straightforward, distinctly American language – “how beauty does not need us / though shame does.”

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Pulling Words by Nicholas Trandahl

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Pulling Words by Nicholas Trandahl

Nicholas Trandahl’s writes in the caring voice or a father, husband, and patriot. From the backyard of rural Virginia to the thunder of war in the Middle East, Pulling Words is a moving work of exploration and discovery. Trandahl has certainly seen his share of suffering and conflict, not only contained in the messy and harsh theater of war, but within himself, fighting demons that only a combat veteran can understand. But through it all he smiles, laughs, and loves, inspired by the terrific beauty of the Black Hills where he lives and writes with the devoted support of a beautiful wife and children.  Purchase a copy. You’ll be glad you did.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Dreamland for Keeps / Sarah Nichols

Elizabeth Short has long been a source text of sorts for true crime aficionados. In Dreamland for Keeps, Sarah Nichols uses James Ellroy’s noirish fictional account of Short’s murder, The Black Dahlia, as source text for found poems in which Short speaks from her life and her afterlife. It helps to come to this collection with some background on Short already, but it’s not necessary; the cultural alchemy by which a murdered woman becomes both icon and cipher is one we’re all well-versed in. In Nichols’ hands, the louche overreach of Ellroy’s prose becomes a stark, forceful, and self-possessed poetry.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / The Lumberjack's Dove / GennaRose Nethercott

A National Poetry Series winner, The Lumberjack’s Dove floored me. Nethercott has quilted an imaginative poem that feels immediate & timeless, often simultaneously. Her witchy, earthy, & philosophical narrative creation had me screenshotting pages & shouting “GURL” in a crowded Manhattan tavern. TLD’s magic entices but its surgical knowledge of the heart entrances with, in the words of Louise Glück, “unexpected lightness and buoyancy”. A beautiful parable, TLD explores love, ownership, loss, & storytelling. Nethercott throws haymakers of joy, surprise into what could be a bloody, sad tale. Delicious, endearing, it’s a successfully cast spell.

A Diet of Worms
Erik Rasmussen

Erik Rasmussen’s dark, provocative debut novel, A Diet of Worms, avoids the sentimental as it weaves its way toward an ultimately compelling conclusion. From early on, Larry Morvan, Rasmussen’s young protagonist, wants readers to understand that he isn’t like the other boys who surround him. He admits, “I’m a low life, or something.” He frequently talks about his lack of money, the broken conditions of his home, and the horrible father he can’t escape. A long trip could save him, but, really, as A Diet of Worms reminds us, no one ever escapes the ghosts of youth. Here’s proof. 

Courtney Summers

Part “true crime” podcast and part first person narrative, Sadie dares to push the boundaries of traditional YA suspense. While Sadie investigates the man she suspects to have murdered her sister, a journalist investigates Sadie’s disappearance—a year after she hit the road with a switchblade. During their investigations, both Sadie and the journalist uncover more darkness than either had anticipated. Like Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, Sadie dares you to open your heart to that darkness. And like all of Summers’ oeuvre, Sadie will have you holding your breath. 

dark acre
Canese Jarboe

Canese Jarboe’s dark acre is a surreal delight that slays acutely, unapologetically: they put vivid images in my brain. They investigate intersections of gender, desire, and grapefruit. They leap quickly with short, crisp lines on one page & spread imagery completely across the next. While Jarboe’s technical skills gleam—precise line-breaking, clarion voice, proper pacing—the poems speak fiercely. In “The Rodeo Queen”, the lyric pieces (“glittery, pink hooves”; a blowjob; a saddle) weave like braided bread. Jarboe bakes a delirious, surprising, yet serious morsel. Come to this book for evocative imagery, stay for a forceful excoriation of gendered trauma. 

A Newfoundlander in Canada
Alan Doyle

I wasn’t expecting great literature from A Newfoundlander in Canada and I didn’t get it. What I got was an endearing, entertaining, examination of a very strange country. Written by Alan Doyle, the book follows Great Big Sea as they venture forth from Newfoundland. There are plenty of struggling musician stories featuring cheap hotel rooms and crappy gigs, as well as a bizarre amount of those Cadbury creme Easter eggs. Don’t read this for the prose - that’s adequate, at best. Read it for Doyle’s ability to connect with strangers, and how simultaneously foreign and familiar Canada feels through his eyes. 

Andermatt County: Two Parables
Pam Jones

Pam Jones’s Andermatt County: Two Parables revives the Southern Gothic tradition. The collection’s Ye Shall Be As Gods and Happy Birthday, Dear Bitsy are narrative and thematic polar opposites, but complement each other well. One follows a teenaged boy taken under a serial killer’s wing, while the other concerns a mother-daughter relationship and a doll-themed nightmare of a birthday party. Jones imbues her work with a certain charm, subtly mixing the beautiful with the horrific. Although some plot contrivances are not fully convincing, Jones’s period detail, idiosyncratic characters, and prose cadences envelop the reader’s senses. Flannery O’Connor would be proud.

Our Little Secret
Roz Nay

You really want to believe Angela Petitjean. Roz Nay’s debut novel Our Little Secret is has a strong Gillian Flynn vibe—except Angela is pretty likeable. She’s young and awkward and naïve and cornered by a seasoned detective. You believe she’s a good girl. And you really really don’t want to believe that she’s responsible for the disappearance of the woman who married her high school sweetheart. The deeper you dive into Angela’s story, the more you want her to have the happy ending she deserves. But no matter what you believe at the start, the ending will surprise you.

Vast Necrohol
Caolan Madden

VAST NECROHOL is unlike any book of poetry you have read. VAST NECROHOL is, perhaps, an Orcish death swamp. VAST NECROHOL is a story of “SINGKING” deep into the muck of a hostile culture and finding in it purpose, myth, and “LOAVE,” in spite of the fatalistic horror of never getting to be the hero in the “CUTSCEAN.” VAST NECROHOL gathers the gatekeeping jargon and infantile violence of the worst, toxically masculine parts of gamer culture and makes beautiful, faux-Chaucerian dialect poetry from it, much as our speaker “OPTIMIZES” her bone bra armor with the looted skulls of her enemies. 

Jennifer E. Hudgens

“Paloma” is fascinating both in style and content. Hudgens uses interesting structural choices to create what act as staccato thoughts, which is appropriate— the collection is dedicated to their late friend Lauren, and each piece holds a memory as delicately as you would a butterfly’s wing. “Part of me is hoping    you faked your own death” Hudgens says in “Smart Money’s on Harlow”. “The dead will laugh at our/ foolish living” they say in “Old Photos”. This collection, beautifully hand bound by Blood Pudding Press, is a love letter to those who have left, and those who are left behind.

She Used to Be on a Milk Carton
Kailey Tedesco
Illustrated by Whitney Proper

Kailey Tedesco’s visually stunning debut collection shapeshifts. Whether musing over mermaids or lamenting death, its mythical & modern turns are riveting, meaning fascinating but also fastening. Her keen detailing, language, & pacing rivet poems that feel perennial like flowers or recurring nightmares. Shirley Jackson would approve--Tedesco throws us in dark water, walks us around dusty attics. Gaze into crystal while she draws tarot in her burlesque opium den. However, though magic carries these poems, they scrutinize suicide, puberty, misogyny & math(!).  It’s not heavy handed but intimate as walking alongside a friend. Sojourn in this “sap-stained forest” but don’t expect to walk through unscathed. 

Two Guns
Jette Harris

“The back of the house still smelled like death,” Jette Harris (author of COLOSSUS/Run Rabbit Run Book 1) writes, opening Two Guns with clear intent. Harris fully intends to plunge us deeper into madness than Book 1 ever dreamed of achieving. In a story that continues what she started with the very good COLOSSUS: Run Rabbit Run Book 1, Harris shows a wealth of improvement from one already-exceptional book to the next. Two Guns expands brilliantly and powerfully on Avery Rhodes. At the same time, Two Guns also gives us new characters, while expanding the universe established one book prior. Two Guns is a near-flawless continuation of Harris’ ongoing story. Optimize your enjoyment of this title by checking out the previous installment. 

I Want to Feel Happy but I Only Feel _____.
Mallory Smart

This book doesn’t celebrate the fact that like the rest of us, Mallory Smart doesn’t have a lot of actual answers. Art doesn’t guarantee that, no matter how good you are. I Want to Feel Happy is a very good body of work from a very good writer. Part of that is because Smart is both attracted to and repelled by concrete answers---or conclusions that may be traumatic, even fatal, but are at least conclusions nonetheless. She decimates her life with a level of honesty that could chew other people’s teeth. She then rebuilds, and starts over. That path could take her anywhere, and I am pleased that she is taking us along for the decimation. 

William Seward Bonnie

Available from Cheeseburger Nebula Press, Do$e from William S. Bonnie is a stark, almost madden travelogue. This isn’t just because Bonnie’s latest poetry collection references travel at great length, with the distance achieved by chemical means, and/or through a hyper-focused desire for freedom. It is also because the book drinks deep from Bonnie’s memories, anxieties, and ambitions, and then spits them out, creating a miraculously careful mess. Bon’ Voyage is just one example of Bonnie making us equal parts uncomfortable and captivated, as he breathes his own unique, vital brand of life into the familiar roads he describes. Seward might be exhausted, but his writing is dangerously alert. 

Bad Anatomy
E. Kristin Anderson

Hannah Cohen’s Bad Anatomy puts its viscera on the table—this is today’s chapbook for punk rock girls, pulling the reader through starlight, road trips, and the gynecologist’s office. Cohen’s concise lyrical precision is a poet wielding a rusty scalpel as she imagines she is a television, finds herself down a gory Google rabbit hole, and menstruates for the loss of the America we’d hoped for. As she says in Sad Girl’s Drinking Ghazal she “[likes] things both false and true.” And such are these poems: Stories that have gathered here to eat you whole and fill you up.

Emily Corwin

Emily Corwin’s tenderling glows in the forest while bleeding sugary doll blood. Here, lovers wound themselves & their beloveds. Festooned with acute language, sound, & line-breaking, Corwin’s poems warn about The Dark. About Prozac & the hollows of trees. Ancient witches & modern boggarts such as mobile data both vex as Corwin sticks magic pins into dolls woven of liminal, earnest human sensibility. A complete journey, tenderling’s first word, “if”, unlocks a faerie realm of possibility. The last phrase—"dead gardens”—epitomizes a pungent, codependent marriage between bloom & rot readers witness betwixt brambles as constant, fragile light streams through.