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.


HOW WE SPEAK TO ONE ANOTHER: AN ESSAY DAILY READER...

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, ...

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, review...

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...

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 Cór...

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 Ale...

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 R...

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, ...

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 Y...

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 Melani...

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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THE YEAR OF THE COMET, a novel by Sergei Lebedev, ...

THE YEAR OF THE COMET, a novel by Sergei Lebedev, reviewed by Christina Tang-Bernas
The unnamed narrator of The Year of the Comet is born the moment an earthquake strikes Moscow. “The earthquake was my first impression of being: the world was revealed to me as instability, shakiness, the wobbliness of foundations.” Therefore, he observes, “My feelings, my ability to feel, were fashioned by ...
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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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