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Book Reviews

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Knock-Off Monarch by Crystal Stone

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Knock-Off Monarch by Crystal Stone

Crystal Stone covers substantial ground—a mother’s death, poverty, addiction, Christianity, coming of age—with a surprisingly light hand and impressive formal range; included are prose poems, found poems, concrete poems, list poems, among others. Stone handles both form and subject matter with careful attention. Her poems are observant, descriptive, and evocative: “I’ll teach ‘em how to cook daddy’s squirrel potpie,/ rub pork ribs the right way,/mash potatoes like a man and baconwrap their vegetables tight.” The wry, frank voice is what pulls all of these poems together, what the person watching you on the train must sound like.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Sometimes Things (Don't) Work Out by Estefania Munoz

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Sometimes Things (Don't) Work Out by Estefania Munoz

You don’t want to be trite, and simply say Sometimes Things (Don’t) Work Out by Estefania Munoz is an act of tremendous courage. Yet that is the most straightforward and accurate takeaway I have from this overwhelming, achingly beautiful collection of poems. The occasional stunning illustration highlights Munoz’s words, which often immerse us thousands of vivid miles beneath her depictions of grief, terror, and what motivates us to become who we want to be. With both of these elements in a single volume, depicted as they are by an essential creative mind, Sometimes Things (Don’t) Work Out is poetry that must be read and appreciated in 2019.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / So Deadly, So Perverse Volume 3: Giallo-Style Films From Around the World by Troy Howarth

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / So Deadly, So Perverse Volume 3: Giallo-Style Films From Around the World by Troy Howarth

Troy Howarth’s third volume in the So Deadly, So Perverse series is a tome of information for film aficionados. Whereas the first two entries focused on familiar Italian Giallo films, the third one gives equal devotion to other lesser known entries and homages from different countries. Each entry includes a brief synopsis and information on home video editions. But it is in the reviews where the book really shines. Coupled with dazzling poster art and production stills, Howarth’s book will make you want to rewatch well-known films like Klute or Black Christmas or discover genre darlings like Tango of Perversion.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Eve and All the Wrong Men by Aviya Kushner

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Eve and All the Wrong Men by Aviya Kushner

With the knowledge that reflection, like creation, inherits nothing, poet Aviya Kushner, in Eve and All the Wrong Men, draws note from stone and makes music of the locality that resides in looking back. While whole days go missing from reader and writer alike, Kushner’s Eve, with her extra moments, returns art to art as the past taps melancholy as its future hire. These are poems of reclaim and removal, plaintively progressive, and in each a prolonged brevity bells visions for an eyesight untethered that sees Adam absorbed into the loneliness of she who creates herself second and then watches as god is devoured by a belief that’s eating for two. If one can picture a bottle of milk as perhaps the first thing broken by a child crawling into a refrigerator, then one can believe there is a rib warmer than the others. If one has no backstory, then one can narrate an imaginary dream. So it is with if, and so it is with then. Here: If Eve, then Eve.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Gristle: Weird Tales by Jordan A. Rothacker

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Gristle: Weird Tales by Jordan A. Rothacker

 

I was first impressed by Jordan A. Rothacker’s earlier collection, The Pit, And No Other Stories, and his latest, Gristle: Weird Tales, doesn’t disappoint. Veering into uncanny, humorous, and philosophically engaging realms, Gristle is akin to The Outer Limits with its varied subject matter. Although you may not be able to fully relate to every scenario or character, you cannot help but marvel at the assured storytelling on display. While some stories, such as the opening “Taking the Bone,” failed to connect with me, others like “Something That Happened a Long Time Ago” and “Augustus and Anastasia” are mini masterpieces.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Ivy Day by Pam Jones

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Ivy Day by Pam Jones

You can’t help being entranced by the stories that author Pam Jones weaves. Her latest novella, Ivy Day, showcases her command of atmosphere and dialogue. While the world building in Ivy Day is not as expansive as that in her superb Andermatt County: Two Parables, Jones manages to tap into the nostalgia of video stores and moviegoing without veering into sentimentality. Her penchant for developing engaging characters is also on full display, including its title character—who gives Shirley Temple and Audrey Hepburn a run for their money. Behind the façade of celluloid, Jones has such sights to show you.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Roots Grew Wild by Erica Hoffmeister

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS / Roots Grew Wild by Erica Hoffmeister

Erica Hoffmeister’s first collection of prose poetry, Roots Grew Wild, manages to achieve what most other themed chapbooks fail to do: tell a complete story arc with lucid imagery and unforced pathos. What is particularly effective is the rhythm of her phrases. While one can fault any poet for verbose language, Hoffmeister’s cadences flow off the page like unspooled ribbon. Thematically, the collection gracefully navigates “hid[ing] from the things we were afraid of” and “discover[ing] the beauty of [saying] goodbye” to painful aspects of upbringing, but also champions the act of becoming—an act that no axe can chop down.

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.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS
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. 

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS
Sadie
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. 

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS
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. 

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS
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. 

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS
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.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS
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.

100 WORD BOOK REVIEWS
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.