Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEWS

Cleaver reviewers present the most exciting literary work from around the globe. We specialize in American independent press releases but also vital work in translation that’s all too often overlooked by American readers.

Scroll down to browse excerpts from Cleaver’s latest reviews of books by small and indie presses.
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LIFE DURING WARTIME, a novel by Katie Rogin, reviewed by Isabelle Mongeau

LIFE DURING WARTIME, a novel by Katie Rogin, reviewed by Isabelle Mongeau
Katie Rogin’s debut novel, Life During Wartime, presents the struggle that soldiers, and their families, face adjusting back to civilian life. The story begins when 21-year-old Nina Wicklow, home from duty in Iraq, goes missing in a small town outside of Los Angeles ...
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MINA, a novel by Kim Sagwa, reviewed by Kelly Doyle

MINA, a novel by Kim Sagwa, reviewed by Kelly Doyle
A new novel, Mina, written by Kim Sagwa and translated from Korean by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, attempts to chronical adolescences, a transformative time of life, but in the context of a world that does not condone individuality, experimentation, or choice. Through unconventional characters, a high-pressure setting, and an unapologetic ...
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COMEMADRE, a novel by Roque Larraquy, reviewed by Justin Goodman

COMEMADRE, a novel by Roque Larraquy, reviewed by Justin Goodman
There is a plant “whose sap produces […] microscopic animal larvae” that can consume rats “from the inside out.” It can only be found on “Thompson Island, a small landmass in Tierra Del Fuego,” within Argentinian screenwriter Roque Larraquy’s debut novel Comemadre—the name of this plant of spontaneous generation. Translated ...
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DEEP CAMOUFLAGE, poems by Amy Saul-Zerby, reviewed by Mike Corrao

DEEP CAMOUFLAGE, poems by Amy Saul-Zerby, reviewed by Mike Corrao
Amy Saul-Zerby’s new collection, Deep Camouflage is the manifestation of heartbreak. It is the fables that spawn from moments of empathy and melancholy. It is the conversation that a poet has with their reader. More than most poetry collections, Saul-Zerby’s is a sequence that asks to be read all at ...
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LOVE, HATE and OTHER FILTERS, a young adult novel by Samira Ahmed, reviewed by Leticia Urieta

LOVE, HATE and OTHER FILTERS, a young adult novel by Samira Ahmed, reviewed by Leticia Urieta
Maya Aziz sees her world through a camera lens. “One thing I’ve learned,” she says, “People love a camera, and when I’m filming, they see it, not me, so whenever I need to, I can disappear behind my trusty shield.” She is often the observer, experiencing her life on the ...
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KATALIN STREET, a novel by Magda Szabó, reviewed by William Morris

KATALIN STREET, a novel by Magda Szabó, reviewed by William Morris
Four children play together in a quiet neighborhood. The children are Henriette Held, the young daughter of a Jewish dentist; the Elekes sisters, Irén and Blanka; and Bálint Temes, the handsome son of the Major. Their game is Cherry Tree, in which they all sing and spin in circles, and ...
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NEVER ANYONE BUT YOU, a novel by Rupert Thomson, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

NEVER ANYONE BUT YOU, a novel by Rupert Thomson, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer
With quiet skill and rich description, Rupert Thomson strings the lives of two eclectic lovers through the tumultuous history of Paris and the Channel Islands during and between the two World Wars ...
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CUBIST STATES OF MIND/NOT THE CRUELEST MONTH, poems by Marc Jampole, reviewed by Alessio Franko

CUBIST STATES OF MIND/NOT THE CRUELEST MONTH, poems by Marc Jampole, reviewed by Alessio Franko
Whereas his previous book references artists, movements, historical figures, and myths, Jampole has made the bold choice here to work from two overarching cultural touchstones. Rather than searching for the vocabulary it shares with the reader, Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month undertakes the creation of a new such ...
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THEY WERE BEARS, poems by Sarah Marcus, reviewed by Nathan O. Ferguson

THEY WERE BEARS, poems by Sarah Marcus, reviewed by Nathan O. Ferguson
The poems in Sarah Marcus’ book, They Were Bears follow a young woman, the speaker of most of the poems, who pursues discovery and sensation in the remote corners of the American wilderness. The narrative shapes this wilderness into a wide-open expanse characterized by uncertainty, wonder, and menace. The backdrop ...
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GASLIGHT: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century, essays by Joachim Kalka, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

GASLIGHT: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century, essays by Joachim Kalka, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron
With a title and subtitle like Gaslight: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century, the reader will be forgiven for thinking Joachim Kalka’s book is a collection of visual art. It is not. Though it does contain a handful of visual descriptions, it bears not one illustration, woodcut, or photograph. No ...
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AARDVARK TO AXOLOTL, essays by Karen Donovan and TALES FROM WEBSTER’S, essays by John Shea, reviewed by Michelle E. Crouch

AARDVARK TO AXOLOTL, essays by Karen Donovan and TALES FROM WEBSTER’S, essays by John Shea, reviewed by Michelle E. Crouch
Karen Donovan’s Aardvark to Axolotl and John Shea’s Tales from Webster engage with this paradox via the dictionary, that great alphabetizer of language. The dictionary is the reference-book-of-all-reference-books. It is writing broken down to its most basic components, as a color wheel separates out the most basic tools of the ...
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DIFFICULT WOMEN, a memoir by David Plante, reviewed by Susan Sheu

DIFFICULT WOMEN, a memoir by David Plante, reviewed by Susan Sheu
Acclaimed writer David Plante’s book, published originally in 1983, is an account of his friendships with three women central to the artistic and intellectual world of the 1970s. It is a rare act of memoir writing to describe oneself as the shadowy sidekick to other, presumably greater and more interesting ...
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IVORY PEARL, a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

IVORY PEARL, a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader
Ivory Pearl is Jean-Patrick Manchette’s final and unfinished novel, now available in an English translation by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Manchette was known during his lifetime for his 1970s crime novels, noir that gained popular movie adaptations and made him a standard among French crime writers. This translation features endnotes on how ...
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TART HONEY, poems by Deborah Burnham, reviewed by Claire Oleson

TART HONEY, poems by Deborah Burnham, reviewed by Claire Oleson
Divided into four sections, Deborah Burnham’s poetry collection Tart Honey seems cut into citrus slices— edible, organic, and aware of some lost and bodily whole it re-composes in the formation of its parts. The poems feature modern relationships with too much absence, a dissolving picture of Apollo 13 soon taken ...
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THE JUNIPER TREE, a novel by Barbara Comyns, reviewed by Allegra Armstrong

THE JUNIPER TREE, a novel by Barbara Comyns, reviewed by Allegra Armstrong
The Juniper Tree is a mid-twentieth-century retelling of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name, though Barbara Comyns has made the story all her own. Originally published in 1985, The Juniper Tree tells the story of Bella Winter, the unwed mother of a biracial daughter, through her quest ...
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THE KREMLIN BALL, a novel by Curzio Malaparte, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

THE KREMLIN BALL, a novel by Curzio Malaparte, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader
In his introductory comments for The Kremlin Ball, Curzio Malaparte claims that his novel is “a faithful portrait of the USSR’s Marxist nobility.” Such a thing should be anachronistic: a Marxist nobility? A communist high society? But that is exactly what Malaparte, as the novel’s narrator, is describing ...
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Two Poetry Chapbooks from Doublecross Press reviewed by Rachael Guynn Wilson

Two Poetry Chapbooks from Doublecross Press reviewed by Rachael Guynn Wilson
Headlands Quadrats and It’s No Good Everything’s Bad speak to anyone who appreciates poetry, and lovingly handcrafted poetry chapbooks. Both works strike a delicate balance between lyric and narrative modes—the former leaning further into lyric and the latter into prose narrative. Headlands Quadrats will be especially notable to those with ...
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TRICK by Domenico Starnone, translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri, reviewed by Jeanne Bonner

TRICK by Domenico Starnone, translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri, reviewed by Jeanne Bonner
The work of literary translators can be viewed as vital, especially given the forces of nationalism today, so it is no small matter that someone of Lahiri’s caliber has joined the ranks. For Starnone and his readers, it means his novel Trick arrives in English in mesmerizing form ...
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PLAYING CATCH WITH STRANGERS, essays by Bob Brody, reviewed by Colleen Davis

PLAYING CATCH WITH STRANGERS, essays by Bob Brody, reviewed by Colleen Davis
Playing Catch with Strangers consists of a long series of short essays. Most were written for print or online publications and not originally intended as book chapters. They are clean, straightforward, and easy to read. They are also salutary—in the sense of promoting better mental health and positive emotions. Brody ...
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THE RADICAL ELEMENT: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, and Other Dauntless Girls, edited by Jessica Spotswood, reviewed by Maureen Sullivan

THE RADICAL ELEMENT: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, and Other Dauntless Girls, edited by Jessica Spotswood, reviewed by Maureen Sullivan
The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, and Other Dauntless Girls is an anthology of feminist fiction, celebrating what editor Jessica Spotswood calls in her introduction the “quiet badassery” of young heroines taking charge of their own identities. This collection is a follow-up to A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 ...
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ADUA, a novel by Igiaba Scego, reviewed by Jodi Monster

ADUA, a novel by Igiaba Scego, reviewed by Jodi Monster
The title character of Igiaba Scego’s novel Adua is a Somali woman caught in history’s crosshairs. Born to an ambitious, mercurial man, a translator who sold his skills to the Italians during Mussolini’s pre-WWII push to expand his African empire, Adua's life is shaped by choices she didn’t make and ...
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BAD JOBS AND POOR DECISIONS Dispatches from the Working Class, a memoir by J.R. Helton, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

BAD JOBS AND POOR DECISIONS Dispatches from the Working Class, a memoir by J.R. Helton, reviewed by Robert Sorrell
The jacket of J.R. Helton’s memoir, Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions: Dispatches from the Working Class, shows an assortment of loose black-and-white sketches: a marijuana leaf, a packet of cigarettes, a typewriter, crumpled beer cans, lines of (presumably) cocaine, a gun, a cockroach. Among them, figures emerge: A man’s face ...
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THE PRICE GUIDE TO THE OCCULT, a young adult novel by Leslye Walton, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck

THE PRICE GUIDE TO THE OCCULT, a young adult novel by Leslye Walton, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck
For a novel about witches, magic, and family curses, Leslye Walton’s The Price Guide to the Occult has a lot to say about humanity. More than a century ago, a witch named Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island, where she was met with fear and vexation from the island’s founding ...
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PLAYING WITH DYNAMITE, a memoir by Sharon Harrigan, reviewed by Brian Burmeister

PLAYING WITH DYNAMITE, a memoir by Sharon Harrigan, reviewed by Brian Burmeister
Who we are is a complicated thing. Interactions influence perceptions, and perceptions influence memories. Having lost her father in a tragic accident when she was only seven, author Sharon Harrigan attempts to unravel the mystery of the man her father was in the powerful new memoir Playing with Dynamite. “I ...
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TOMB SONG, a novel by Julián Herbert, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

TOMB SONG, a novel by Julián Herbert, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron
What an odd book Tomb Song is. It contains prose both beautiful and profane, extensive self-awareness and a troubling level of self-ignorance. Its author and its narrator blur together into an entity that is never quite one or the other, and it doesn’t distinguish between fiction and nonfiction with especial ...
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SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE, a young adult novel by Lindsay Champion, reviewed by Elaina Whitesell

SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE, a young adult novel by Lindsay Champion, reviewed by Elaina Whitesell
Dominique, or Dom, seems to have nothing. She lives in Trenton, New Jersey with her single mother and helps run their Laundromat. When Dom and her best friend Cass embark on a field trip to New York City to see the students of the Brighton Conservatory perform at Carnegie Hall, ...
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NOTHING and DOTING, two novels by Henry Green, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

NOTHING and DOTING, two novels by Henry Green, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer
Henry Green is the pen name of English writer Henry Vincent Yorke, a well-educated man from a wealthy business family who wrote novels from 1926 to 1952, when Doting, his last work, was published. His works are considered important contributions to modernist literature, and he was well-respected by several authors ...
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NEST IN THE BONES: STORIES by Antonio Di Benedetto reviewed by Eric Andrew Newman

NEST IN THE BONES: STORIES by Antonio Di Benedetto reviewed by Eric Andrew Newman
This collection showcases a number of wonderfully imaginative stories whose fanciful imagery remains in the reader’s mind long after he’s finished reading. Di Benedetto’s concise, intelligent stories are surely still a source of complicit delight. Anyone who reads Zama and is hungry for more of Di Benedetto’s work will enjoy ...
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NEAPOLITAN CHRONICLES, stories and essays, by Anna Maria Ortese reviewed by Jeanne Bonner

NEAPOLITAN CHRONICLES, stories and essays, by Anna Maria Ortese reviewed by Jeanne Bonner
Any book that has a ringing endorsement on its cover from Elena Ferrante these days will merit a second look. But there is another, potentially more important endorsement of Neapolitan Chronicles—a silent endorsement on the part of the translators of this Italian story collection by Anna Maria Ortese, originally published ...
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The Memoirs of Two Young Wives, a novel by Honoré de Balzac, translated by Jordan Stump, reviewed by Ashlee Paxton-Turner

The Memoirs of Two Young Wives, a novel by Honoré de Balzac, translated by Jordan Stump, reviewed by Ashlee Paxton-Turner
The classic coming-of-age novel tells the story of a young boy coming to terms with the man he is about to become. Over 175 years ago, the great French literary seer Honoré de Balzac composed a rather untraditional version: in his novel, The Memoirs of Two Young Wives, Balzac applies ...
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