Book Review: The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block

The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block

The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold by Francesca Lia Block

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I will always love this book. I read it so many times as a teenager at the turn of the millennium and the enchantment it held for me then is a lasting spell. Block’s writing is fearlessly stylized and she navigates the dark with so much love and tenderness. Her voice as a writer is very recognizable, and not for everyone: the feelings and the beauty she wields are supersaturated. For me, the stories here are still captivating and a crucial portal to my own awakening as a writer. I re-read it with so much gratitude.



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Book Review: Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Oh, this collection is so insane. And delightfully so. Kelly Link is a high profile player in a group of contemporary voices who have taken the traditional literary scorn of genre fiction and turned it into a dare. This kind of no-rules, dark, and playful prose is thrilling and fresh. Link’s tongue stays firmly in-cheek throughout this journey of weird, but it’s captivating, bold, and beautifully unrepentant.

My favorites in this collection:
The Summer People
The New Boyfriend
*Two Houses



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Book Review: Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford

Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford

Follow Me to Ground



My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Sue Rainsford’s style in Follow Me to Ground is sensational, quietly bizarre. It achieves a very difficult feat–making magic feel real, personal, and everyday. The book is captivating, with mysteries and grisly heat around every turn. The way Ada’s narrative is interspersed with short interviews from the townspeople adds another dimension to the strong culture that Rainsford creates, and it’s all very bewitching. This would have been five stars for me but for my feminist uneasiness at how the heroine’s desire, while all-consuming, is portrayed as her undoing, and how the men in her life seem to have ownership over her immense power, whether applied with love, cruelty, or both.



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Book Review: Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Sharks in the Time of Saviors is steeped in place in the best kind of way. Kawai Strong Washburn’s jaw-dropping prose gives an intimate family portrait of a working-class family strung tensely between Hawaii and the mainland. Washburn blends Hawaiian mythology, tensions related to class and race, and the perennial struggle of finding how to belong in a family. The natural world is a character in and of itself that pulls on the characters’ destinies, making the novel immersively Hawaiian through and through. The multiple perspectives of the novel create a revolving door that provides different paths to understanding the sacred energy that permeates the modern setting of the book in surprising and irreversible ways.



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Book Review: The Need by Helen Phillips

The Need

The Need by Helen Phillips

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Terrifying and visceral, The Need makes looming monsters out of our most primal and mundane thoughts. It explores the endless exhaustion and elation of parenthood, while also using anxiety as its plot’s rocket fuel. I loved the uneasy ambiguity permeating each page. Phillips is a wizard of language whose novel here is the narrative equivalent of smashing a vase on the floor. Bam!



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Book Review: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body and Other Parties

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This volume of short stories has been on my to-read list for over a year–I added it when a close friend of mine told me, in no uncertain terms, to read it. Since then, it’s been recommended several more times. Now that I’ve read it, I understand why. Gutsy and gutting, structurally fascinating, and observant about all the unspoken things just beyond the edge of comfortable, Carmen Maria Machado’s prose is here whether you like it or not. This is quite a book. It’s a master class in style and somehow remains literary and poignant while spinning off of 90’s kid horror Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and including a sex scene on every other page. How does Machado do it? I have no idea, but I deeply enjoyed it.

Favorite Stories in this Collection:
-The Husband Stitch
-Real Women Have Bodies*
-Eight Bites
-Difficult at Parties



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Book Review: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’ve never read anything like Freshwater, and I’m so grateful that I did. This semi-autobiographical novel presents a rotation of narrators who all share the same body: the Nigerian college student Ada and the multiplicity of ogbanje children who shift in and out of her consciousness. The way that the author’s spiritual beliefs help frame the characters’ experience is fascinating… a metaphysical look at an identity as multiple, that a Western understanding might otherwise call fragmented, is presented in a way where we understand the motivation, the cruelties, the protection, and the pain of all the spirits within the “marble room” of the mind in an entirely new way. It was a difficult book to read purely because of the unceasing emotional pain of the narrative. But the writing is boldly inventive and captures a unique human experience of self-finding through the dark. A sensational debut.



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Book Review: The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book is wildly experimental and very, very, very weird. It’s an ambitious and powerful hellscape with a spellbinding staying power. Matt Bell makes a torrential statement with this novel, the narrative structure of which resembles something like echoes that you can see bouncing off of a set of mirrors that you can hear. It’s truly beyond literal description and yet finds its footing in classical allegorical territory–it’s a psychological tour through grief, marital love and resentment, self-hatred, and the perverse (or courageous) will to keep going through any despair. The reader who approaches this monstrosity needs to be willing to accept almost anything as truth, and must be up for constant gut-turning imagery and lots and lots of pain. But: the reward is great. The story is a spinning, dreamlike voyage that I found impossible to go back from once I began. Bell pulls his reader deeper and deeper in, until it’s done. The rage and sorrow communicated in this story are as real as the plot is impossible, and that’s the towering literary feat of this pitch-dark, fantastical read. It reminds us that our choices, however we may choose to move on from them, are irreversible, and only our own to atone for.



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Book Review: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

The Astonishing Color of After

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Emily X.R. Pan’s debut is a lovely, complex addition to modern young adult fiction. It’s rare and special in so many ways–in the fact that it’s magical realism, in its honest and multifaceted sorrow, in its brave statements on family, blame, and the realities of depression. This book changed the way I saw the world while I was reading it. The main character’s visions are immersive to that extent, and her way of understanding emotions through color is cool. The novel is a love song to Leigh’s mother, and all mothers who have left the earth to take a different form.

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Book Review: A Strange Bird by Jeff VanderMeer

The Strange Bird: A Borne StoryThe Strange Bird: A Borne Story by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Those of us who loved Borne are blessed to have this companion novella from the same world, out of Jeff Vandermeer’s spectacular and strange imagination. The Strange Bird is a troubling, surreal, but ultimately delicate elegy to the world as it once was. The imagery here is, once again, insane. The strange bird is made of all of us. Just lovely.

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