Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEWS

Scroll down to browse excerpts from Cleaver’s latest reviews of books by small and indie presses.
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PLAINSPEAK, WY, poems by Joanna Doxey, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck

Plainspeak, WY is impressive in its attention to detail and draws clear connections from matters of the earth to matters of the soul—and back again, repeatedly. The poet’s central obsession is depicted, in fact, somewhat subtly, on the cover of the book as a topographical map. Atop a cool, arctic ...
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THE REFRIGERATOR MONOLOGUES, a novel by Catherynne M. Valente, reviewed by Ansel Shipley

Catherynne M. Valente’s most recent novel, The Refrigerator Monologues, exists in an odd space between novel and what could be called a pseudo-parable. Valente’s six protagonists and her interconnected narratives clearly parallel famous female comic book characters and their narrative arcs. Each of them, in fact, exhibits numerous traits that ...
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FINGERPRINTS OF PREVIOUS OWNERS, a novel by Rebecca Entel, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

“The narrator of this book is a Caribbean woman. You may have noticed that the writer of this book is not,” Rebecca Entel notes in a preface to Fingerprints of Previous Owners, her novel set at a resort built on the nettle-choked ruins of a former slave plantation. Alluding to ...
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MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA, a novel by Julie Lekstrom Himes, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader 

Julie Lekstrom Himes’ novel, Mikhail and Margarita, imagines the love affair that might have inspired The Master and Margarita. This is Himes’ first novel, following the publication of several short stories and essays. Himes is a physician in Massachusetts; interestingly, Bulgakov was also a physician. In an interview with the ...
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BARDO OR NOT BARDO, a novel by Antoine Volodine, reviewed by Amada Klute

Take the existential universe of Jean-Paul Sartre and pull his pants down around his ankles—this is the paradoxical narrative met with in French comedic novelist Antoine Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo. Volodine’s blunt, absurdist style illustrates a marriage between the profound and the comedic, using humor as a weapon to ...
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EXPOSURE, short stories by Katy Resch George, reviewed by Rebecca Entel

EXPOSURE, short stories by Katy Resch George, reviewed by Rebecca Entel
The cover of Exposure, a short story collection by Katy Resch George, hints at the kind of stories you’ll find inside. The photograph of a topless woman on a beach with her arms tugged behind her is both intimate and distant, the woman exposed but also obscured by the translucent ...
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THE GERMAN GIRL, a novel by Armando Lucas Correa, reviewed by Kellie Carle

The German Girl permits readers to enter the minds of two 12-year-old girls as their lives are shaped by the tragedies of the SS St. Louis and 9/11. Correa expertly combines fact with fiction, as he constructs and then deconstructs the lives of two young girls. He also illustrates the ...
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TRYSTING, fiction by Emmanuelle Pagano, reviewed by Rachel R. Taube

Emmanuelle Pagano’s Trysting is an intimate romance among hundreds. This book of fictional fragments, each in the first person, features character after character—most of indeterminate gender, age, and history—falling in and out of love. The self-contained pieces range from one sentence meditations to several hundred word flash fictions. The shortest ...
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NAPOLEON’S LAST ISLAND, a novel by Thomas Keneally, reviewed by Nokware Knight

Based on the synopsis (conquered conqueror stuck on island hesitantly befriends by young native girl) and artwork (an ocean crashing into the bottom of seaside cliffs) on the book jacket, I expected in part to read the account of an aged, brooding, and isolated man pacing away his final days ...
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LILLI DE JONG, a novel by Janet Benton, reviewed by Joanne Green

“When I write, I forget that I don’t belong to myself.” So observes Lilli de Jong, whose journal entries narrate Janet Benton’s impressive debut novel, set in the 1880s. Lilli is as spirited and determined as Jane Eyre, as sensible as Elinor Dashwood, and as downtrodden as Little Nell. Yet ...
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HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD, an anthology for young readers edited by Kelly Jensen, reviewed by Kristie Gadson

Feminism. It’s an ideology that has long been approached with trepidation, met with both skepticism and controversy. There have been countless articles, papers, films, and books exploring and defining the concept. However, Here We Are is more than a series of essays on feminism. It’s a collection of stories, blog ...
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ROMEO AND JULIET IN PALESTINE: TEACHING UNDER OCCUPATION, a memoir by Tom Sperlinger, reviewed by Beth Johnston

ROMEO AND JULIET IN PALESTINE: TEACHING UNDER OCCUPATION, a memoir by Tom Sperlinger, reviewed by Beth Johnston
Trust the Brits to find the humor in anything. Tom Sperlinger’s Romeo and Juliet in Palestine, a brief memoir of a semester the author spent as a visiting professor of English literature at Al Quds University in Abu Dis in the West Bank, deploys wry wit to combat the absurdities ...
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FAMILY LEXICON, a novel by Natalia Ginzburg, translated by Jenny McPhee, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

Now in a new translation by Jenny McPhee (and with a new English title), Family Lexicon is Natalia Ginzburg’s Strega Prize winning memoir/novel of life in Italy before, during, and after World War II, Lessico famigliare, first published in 1963. Ginzburg is known mainly in this country for being a ...
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DNA Hymn, poems by Annah Anti-Palindrome, reviewed by Johnny Payne

The disturbing cover art of DNA Hymn features a woman whose bloody mouth discharges what appear to be balloons, intestines, or giant molecules. The image seems apt for a collection of poems that freely disgorges both intelligence and emotional wisdom. This book by the semi-pseudonymous Annah Anti-Palindrome waxes conceptual to ...
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TYPEWRITERS, BOMBS, JELLYFISH: ESSAYS by Tom McCarthy reviewed by William Morris

TYPEWRITERS, BOMBS, JELLYFISH: ESSAYS by Tom McCarthy reviewed by William Morris
TYPEWRITERS, BOMBS, JELLYFISH: ESSAYS by Tom McCarthy New York Review Books, 288 Pages reviewed by William Morris I am writing this on Monday May 8, 2017, the night before Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish: Essays, a collection of the work of British writer Tom McCarthy, will be published. I checked my ...
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ATLANTIC HOTEL, a novel by João Gilberto Noll, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

“Love. Call me Love, the Word Incarnate.”
This is the closest that readers get to a name for the protagonist and narrator of João Gilberto Noll’s strange little book, Atlantic Hotel, recently translated into English by Adam Morris. The novel is set in Brazil in the 1980s, and over the ...
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THE LONG DRY, a novel by Cynan Jones, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

Ultimately this is a beautiful little novel that leaves the reader reeling with the powerful emotions it manages to render in such a short space and with such sparse language. The simple storyline also gives leave for musings over possible symbolism. For example, what does the cow represent? Of course ...
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BETWEEN TWO SKIES, a young adult novel by Joanne O’Sullivan, reviewed by Brenda Rufener

From the start, O’Sullivan pulls readers in with well-crafted characters and a beautifully painted setting. She drops the reader deep into the South with Hurricane Katrina looming offshore. The opening pages saturate us with the warmth, hospitality, and food that are so true to this geographical location. But we aren’t ...
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LIKE DEATH, a novel by Guy de Maupassant, reviewed by Derek M. Brown

With Like Death, Richard Howard—poet, critic, essayist, and professor at Columbia University—offers a rendering of Maupassant’s Fort comme la mort that, I can only presume, retains all of the lyrical richness of the original, published in 1889. It also offers startling insight into the extent of Maupassant’s influence, which can ...
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WAYWARD HEROES, a novel by Halldór Laxness, reviewed by Tyson Duffy

WAYWARD HEROES, a novel by Halldór Laxness, reviewed by Tyson Duffy
Certain great writers fade from the American memory like condensation from a windowpane. The Icelandic novelist Halldor Laxness—he was once all the rage here—is one. He was considered something of an upstart, a genius, a social novelist, a fellow traveler of Upton Sinclair and Bertolt Brecht, and he often journeyed ...
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HOW WE SPEAK TO ONE ANOTHER: AN ESSAY DAILY READER, edited by Ander Monson & Craig Reinbold, reviewed by David Grandouiller

How We Speak to One Another, which came out this month, is a book of essays on essays, on the Essay—that sprawling mountain of a form, reaching its roots into every fallow field. The reader sinks in to find Ander Monson digging his way: “I’d thought of my own essaying ...
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LOVE, ISH, a middle grades novel by Karen Rivers, reviewed by Christine M. Hopkins

Twelve-year-old Mischa Love—or Ish—wants to be among the first colonists on Mars more than anything, and has applied to a program in Iceland offering this chance (and been rejected) nearly 50 times. She knows pretty much everything there is to know about Mars. When it comes to science, her convictions ...
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DOWN BELOW, a memoir by Leonora Carrington, reviewed by Justin Goodman

A hundred years after Leonora Carrington’s birth, her painting and writing seems, to the modern viewer, as defamiliarized and spontaneous as it did when it first appeared under the Surrealist banner ...
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MOONCOP, a graphic novel by Tom Gauld, reviewed by Ansel Shipley

Melancholy can be a difficult tone for authors to elicit. Paired with too much unwarranted levity, or depicted as flat sadness without the requisite quiet contemplation, it can easily shift to the maudlin. Tom Gauld’s graphic novel, Mooncop, manages to delicately balance the emptiness of outer space with the intimacy ...
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LABYRINTH LOST, a young adult novel by Zoraida Córdova, reviewed by Leticia Urieta

Alejandra Mortiz is a bruja. She lives her life in the presence of death. She comes from a long line of brujas, each with their own unique manifestation of power. But Alex, as her family and friends know her, does not revere the magical legacy of her family; she fears ...
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SOVIET DAUGHTER: A GRAPHIC REVOLUTION by Julia Alekseyeva reviewed by Jenny Blair

Julia Alekseyeva’s Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution could hardly have come at a better time. A Soviet-born woman who emigrated with her multigenerational Jewish family to the U.S. in 1992, the author entwines her great-grandmother Lola’s life story with her own, translating Lola’s own written memoir into part of a ...
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SHOT-BLUE, a novel by Jesse Ruddock, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

Shot Blue is written in a style that somehow combines an easy-spoken blue collar minimalism with wordplay and lyricism. The oblique, hidden emotions of the characters are balanced in part by the ingenuity and playfulness of Ruddock’s language ...
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HEMMING FLAMES, poems by Patricia Colleen Murphy, reviewed by Claire Oleson

On the peripheries of almost constant domestic emergency and conflict, Patricia Colleen Murphy’s poetry collection Hemming Flames lights up disaster and familial antipathy with humor and endurance. Many of the pieces in this collection share threads of the same story, featuring reoccurring family figures and familiar, though often growing, conflicts ...
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IF YOU WERE HERE, a young adult novel by Jennie Yabroff, reviewed by Caitlyn Averett

In Jennie Yabroff’s debut young adult novel, If You Were Here, Yabroff shows the normal struggles of growing up combined with the confusion of dealing with a parent suffering from mental illness. If You Were Here follows Tess Block, a girl who relishes summer vacations where she can hide away ...
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THE MONEY CULT by Chris Lehmann reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

THE MONEY CULT by Chris Lehmann reviewed by Melanie Erspamer
The Trump administration, however, is a near perfect embodiment of the Money Cult. One need simply look at the two men on top: Trump, one of the embodiments of American capitalism, and Pence, a fervent evangelical. There is also open access in the administration for other ardent Christians, such as ...
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