Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEWS

Scroll down to browse excerpts from Cleaver’s latest reviews of books by small and indie presses.
Looking for a specific title? Check out our alphabetical index of reviews.
Looking for reviews by genre? Try: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young adult, or graphic narrative.


MOTHER-MAILBOX, poems by Emilie Lindemann, reviewe...

mother-mailbox is a private life, the private mode of womanhood, made public for all of us who have ever felt empty, questioned if there was more (or made new subs out of Subway sandwich wrappings to feel such a thing) and questioned how we should be feeling, but also those ...
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SWIMMING LESSONS, a novel by Claire Fuller, review...

“A book becomes a living thing only when it interacts with a reader,” says writer Gil Coleman, the rogue central character of Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons. When he tells a bookshop assistant that “first editions don’t matter,” he seems to argue that access is more important than ownership, that a ...
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ROLLING BLACKOUTS: DISPATCHES FROM TURKEY, SYRIA, ...

Throughout its 300-plus pages, Rolling Blackouts provides valuable historical contexts and multiple viewpoints to help any reader better understand the region and its people. Glidden incorporates the voices of government officials, aid workers, refugees – even a former terror suspect, among many others, in order to showcase the complicated realities ...
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WE’VE ALREADY GONE THIS FAR, stories by Patrick Da...

In Patrick Dacey’s first story collection, We’ve Already Gone This Far, available now in hardback and due out from Picador in paperback June 27, we find out what happens when we yield to life’s despiritualized strangeness in the twenty-first century’s overweening atmosphere of hogwild commercialism and ideological rigidity. (His first ...
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MY ITALIANS: True Stories of Crime and Courage, es...

The essay collection My Italians: True Stories of Crime and Courage, the provocateur Robert Saviano’s newest nonfiction work, is a startling condemnation of contemporary Italian life. For about a decade, Saviano’s one-man campaign against organized crime in Naples has made him famous across Italy. But he’s little known in the ...
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IN LIEU OF FLOWERS, poems by Rachel Slotnick, revi...

IN LIEU OF FLOWERS, poems by Rachel Slotnick, reviewed by Carlo Matos
IN LIEU OF FLOWERS by Rachel Slotnick Tortoise Books, 48 pages reviewed by Carlo Matos Rachel Slotnick’s debut collection, In Lieu of Flowers—an eclectic combination of lyric poems, flash prose, and mixed-media paintings by the author, who is also an accomplished painter and muralist—is part in memoriam and part Ovid’s Metamorphosis ...
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A GREATER MUSIC, a novel by Bae Suah, translated b...

Bae Suah’s newest English-translated work, A Greater Music, describes the Austrian composer Franz Schubert as “a short, fat, shy myopic.” As brutal as this description is of a man who unhappily died before his 32nd year, it seems altogether different in tone when used to describe Bae’s novel itself. Filled ...
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HUMAN ACTS, a novel by Han Kang, translated by Deb...

First published in South Korea in 2014, Han Kang’s new novel Human Acts is now available for the first time in the United States. American readers first encountered Kang in 2016, with the translation of her 2007 novel The Vegetarian. This strange, dark, poetic novel, about a woman who decides ...
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OCTAVIA E. BUTLER’S KINDRED: A GRAPHIC NOVEL ADAPT...

OCTAVIA E. BUTLER’S KINDRED: A GRAPHIC NOVEL ADAPTATION by Damian Duffy and John Jennings Abrams Comicarts, 240 pages reviewed by Brian Burmeister Crowned the “grand dame of science fiction” by Essence, Octavia Butler was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed science fiction writers of the 20th century. Her ...
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THE LOVERS’ PHRASEBOOK, poems by Jordi Alons...

THE LOVERS' PHRASEBOOK, poems by Jordi Alonso, reviewed by Claire Oleson
Jordi Alonso’s collection The Lovers' Phrasebook shelves itself precisely in the lexical gap between languages, working with absence to depict presence and utilizing singular words to display relationships. These poems are able to gesture at miscommunication and a lack of sufficient vocabulary while also creating space for new conversation. The ...
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WHIPSTITCHES, poems by Randi Ward reviewed by Hann...

Whipstitches is, at its core, an examination of all the many aspects of a rural home, especially a rural childhood home. The pastoral is tinged with loss and decay because the world is, it is colored by the lives drawing strength from it just as is the earth, and so ...
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Only More So, poems by Millicent Borges Accardi, r...

Only More So is a read for troubled times. War, climate change, cancer—it’s all here in forty-six poems of mid-life contemplation that simultaneously remind us that forgetting the past condemns us to repeat it and that celebrating the remembering is a necessary act of resistance and transcendence. Appropriately, the former ...
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BLINDSIGHT, poems by Greg Hewett, reviewed by Bren...

Throughout Blindsight, the reader is presented with the voice of a poet whose urges to feel and desires to know reflect those universal to humanity. Through his plainspoken language which is, at times, conversational and, at times, confessional we are reminded of our own desires, those things for which we ...
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BEFORE PICTURES, a memoir by Douglas Crimp, review...

Douglas Crimp’s memoir Before Pictures invites readers into the lively artistic and queer worlds of 1960s to 1970s New York where Crimp was formed as an art historian. This is the same New York which brought him to curate Pictures, a small exhibit at Artist’s Space now considered pivotal to ...
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YEAR OF THE RAT, a novel by Marc Anthony Richardso...

Marc Anthony Richardson is an artist from Philadelphia and this compact book, his first, which won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovation Fiction, makes for a fine addition to the recent history of experimental prose by writers with ties to Philadelphia—from the late Fran Ross (whose 1974 novel, Oreo, was ...
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THESE ARE THE NAMES, a novel by Tommy Wieringa rev...

The hero–or perhaps I should say anti-hero–of Dutch author Tommy Wieringa’s new novel, These Are the Names is a 53-year-old police chief named Pontus Beg. Beg lives in a fictional border town called Michailopol, a city ailing in post-Soviet corruption and aimless malaise. Beg has “set up his life as ...
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YOU ASK ME TO TALK ABOUT THE INTERIOR, poems by Ca...

Poetry is often in danger of being understood as purely conceptual material in need of processing and interpretation in order to become meaningful or real. It can be easy, after wading through stanzas, to lose a grip on time and place and the sensation of occupying a body. However, despite ...
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AND WIND WILL WASH AWAY, a novel by Jordan A. Roth...

and-the-wind-will-wash-away-1
Detective Jonathan Wind is not a wisecracking, hardboiled investigator in the tradition of Philip Marlowe, or a hyper-observant sleuth like Sherlock Holmes. Rather, Wind uses his almost encyclopedic knowledge to investigate crimes for the Atlanta Police Department. When he’s not on a case, the protagonist of Jordan A. Rothacker’s And ...
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THE TOPLESS WIDOW OF HERKIMER STREET, stories by J...

The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street, winner of the 2016 Howling Bird Press fiction prize, is an honest, funny, and sometimes un-apologetically dark collection of short stories.. Its author, Jacob M. Appel (Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets (2015), The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up (2012)) can easily be ...
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THE YOUNG BRIDE, a novel by Alessandro Baricco, re...

The author of the novel, Alessandro Baricco, a popular Italian writer, director and performer, suggests that a world based around logic and sense ultimately will stifle us. It is in fact, what the narrator of the main story, the “author” (easy to conflate with Baricco, though we shouldn’t), desires to ...
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COBALT BLUE, a novel by Sachin Kundalkar, reviewed...

Tanay is a young, closeted queer man trying to work through an internal rut by living for the company of and validation from others. As Tanay befriends an out-of-towner renting a room in his family’s home, he finds himself in awe of the Guest’s ability to thrive in solitude, to ...
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GOLDEN DELICIOUS, a novel by Christopher Boucher, ...

Golden Delicious follows a fairly straight plot structure. (Thank God.) The novel’s a story of a family in Appleseed, Massachusetts, the kind of small town where apple-cheeked children frisk beside white picket fences, waving baseballs over the heads of leaping, barking terriers. It is, for lack of a better word, ...
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The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unth...

If writers are interested in portraying human experience in its varied forms, then part of that work is depicting climate change. Certainly there has been a strong tradition of writers turning to their surroundings for inspiration and literary fodder. And for many of these writers—Wendell Wendell Berry, Homero Aridjis, and ...
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Come As You Are, a novel by Christine Weiser, revi...

Is there anything more disappointing than waking up in your mid-30s and wondering what the hell happened? Suddenly, you have a family, children, a mortgage, and a job that, despite your best efforts, is starting to define you. Your sensible car is in perfect order. You have a retirement account ...
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RANI PATEL IN FULL EFFECT, a young adult novel by ...

In her debut young adult novel Rani Patel in Full Effect, Sonia Patel takes us back to the era of faded box cuts, high-top Adidas, and gold chains as thick as your wrist; to the era where hip-hop reigned supreme and rhymes flowed out of boom boxes like water down ...
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EASIEST IF I HAD A GUN, short stories by Michael G...

It wasn’t Michael Gerhard Martin’s stories in the collection Easiest If I Had a Gun that wooed me as much as it was his crisp, visceral writing. His narrative constructs are alluring and beg to be unpacked, analyzed, and savored. Without apparent ego or bias, he transcribes the thoughts, memories, ...
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IT LOOKS LIKE THIS, a young adult novel by Rafi M...

When Mike and his family move, just before his freshman year, Mike starts high school in a new state and begins to forge some tentative friendships. But Victor, also low on the totem pole in terms of the high school hierarchy, seems to have a personal beef with him. Mike ...
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BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, a novel by Yoram Kaniuk, r...

Yoram Kaniuk, an Israeli novelist who died in 2013, was the kind of man who tells jokes as he's dying in the hospital, even when he has no voice, when there's a respirator thrust through an incision in his chest. His humor is at times bitter, biting like Sholem Aleichem's ...
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THE LIGHT FANTASTIC, a young adult novel by Sarah ...

To make a book about school shootings stand out among an influx of young adult books about the topic takes skill and in her new novel The Light Fantastic Combs delivers with detailed characters and a unique premise. Told from several different points of view, the novel covers the span ...
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THE BIRDS, a novel by Tarjei Vesaas, reviewed by M...

Had The Birds been written from the perspective of another character other than Mattis, a dim-witted near forty-year old, it probably would have had a different title—The Lumberjack, maybe, or some other word that references one of the major events in the novel. But that’s the point: the perspective, usually ...
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