Review by E. Kirshe
Jamal Brinkley’s debut book A Lucky Man is a collection of nine excellently written short stories that showcase a deeply thoughtful body of work.
The stories are set in Brooklyn and the South Bronx, the city serving as a backdrop for stories where complex familial relationships take center stage, as does black identity, and masculinity. These themes are all addressed through different stages of life: college aged, middle aged, and young boys serve as narrators throughout the collection.
In the first story, “No More than a Bubble,” two college-aged men, Columbia students, attend a party in Brooklyn. The narrator here jumps between the party, and how they fit into it, how he wants to be seen there especially by the women, and who he really is as he thinks of his parents. “We both preferred girls of a certain plumpness, with curves—in part, I think, because that’s what black guys are supposed to like. Liking them felt like a confirmation of possessing black blood, a way to stamp ourselves with authenticity.” It’s revealed he has a white Italian father and a black mother, something he reflects on through the course of the story as he and his friend follow two girls to their home, moving deeper and deeper into Brooklyn.
Review by E. Kirshe
Eclipse, author Zack Kaplan’s debut work, has a promising sci-fi premise that doesn’t quite find its footing.
In Eclipse, Earth’s sun has turned deadly and living things can no longer go out unprotected in daylight or they will be burned to a crisp. Much of the population burned alive the day the sun became deadly and the remaining humans now lead nocturnal lives. One day, a body is found in New York City. The victim was murdered by sunlight- literal writing on the wall says this is the work of a religion-crazed killer.
Bax, the main character, is immediately drawn into the narrative because he works outside during the day in an iceman suit. It’s believed the killer must be using one of these suits if he was able to keep a victim outdoors until they burned. Bax teams up with the police to protect the killer’s next target- the teenaged daughter of a solar industrialist.
The plot follows a lot of action story tropes. Grizzly loner with a sad past, Bax, must protect a teenaged girl from a psycho-killer. It’s not super clear why this mostly falls to him and not the police. He occasionally gets information before them and doesn’t share it even though there’s no clear reason not to trust them. There’s a slight corporate criticism element and the killer is a religious fanatic. It’s later revealed that his motivation is mostly that he went crazy (for good reasons) but the event that led to it has no clear motivation by the exposition we get. Also what’s unique about the killer doesn’t seem as important as it should but perhaps that’s explored more in later issues.
By E. Kirshe
Monstress Vol. 1 compiles a compelling story into a physically beautiful book. This volume is a collection of the first six issues of the Monstress series.
The surface plot is engaging fantasy fare- we have a young woman with a mysterious past driving her current path which includes danger and dark magic. She holds a dark power- in this case a literal demon living inside her- and is caught in the middle of an old war. Liu is a fantastic storyteller. She tackles a lot of different themes in this fairly short volume and does so almost seamlessly.
Darren C. Demaree’s Two Towns Over is an introspective illustration of drug culture in the American Midwest. Erratically, the poet exposes his reader to literal, sentimental and introspective illustrations of a lifestyle and environment that are totally controlled by hedonism and psychoactive substances.
While much of the imagery is grotesque and enticing to the senses, monotony is one of the most notable characteristics throughout Two Towns Over. It often feels as if Demaree communicates the same sentiment better in a couple of short stanzas than he does in multiple poems. Filled with structural and linguistic experimentation that is often hit or miss, various pieces, such as a majority of the poems with the title “Sweet Wolf”, feel gimmicky or uninspired. This monotony offers a literary simulation of the futility and frustration the nameless residents of the work’s Ohio townships are constantly battling. Continue reading
By Tess Tabak
Disoriental, a new novel by Négar Djavadi, tells the epic story of a family, the Sadrs, across a century of true Iranian history. Kimia, the youngest daughter of Darius and Sara Sadr, is the self-appointed keeper of family lore. She tells her own story through the lens of her extended family’s history, weaving the tales in and out of each other like a modern day Scherzerade. The family currently lives in France and Disoriental’s message is particularly poignant, and relevant, in today’s political climate, when refugees are not freely welcome in many Western countries.
The novel opens slowly, on Kimia attempting to receive fertility treatment, in a room filled with couples desperate for a child. She is the only one who came to the appointment alone, without a partner. Once you get started this is a hard book to put down. While she waits for the doctor, Kimia braids her present story in and out of her family’s history, set against the backdrop of Iran’s tumultuous political history. Anecdotes fluidly move from one into the other, and the tale jumps back and forth between spans of 20 to 50 years at a time (there’s a helpful key in the back of the book if you lose track of the characters). Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
In Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires weaves a tapestry of loosely connected stories about African-American people. She explores the complex relationships African-Americans have towards their racial identity in 21st century America.
The characters in Heads often feel like outsiders in their own world. In the first story, a simple misunderstanding sparks into a fight when one black man, dressed in anime garb, his hair dyed blonde and wearing purple contacts, inadvertently ignores another black man on the street.
Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always sharp, these stories bring us into a world of diverse voices. In a meta, meta move, a character in the first story is working on a piece called Heads of the Colored People, a collection of sketches that will reflect the lives of black people, a modern update on a project of the same name by Dr. James McCune Smith in 1854. She compares her own sketch to the police-drawn chalk outline of a man killed by police brutality. “I couldn’t draw the bodies while the heads talked over me, and the mosaic formed in blood, and what is a sketch but a chalk outline done in pencil or words?” Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
In a troubled election, Gray Davenport must prove that Reason is dead.
Reason Wilder, the new mayoral candidate in Grand River, is a crowd pleaser. He has a certain energy about him that people love. There’s just one tiny problem: Reason seems to be a Frankenstein’s monster, and Gray Davenport is the only one who’s noticed.
Mr. Neutron, Joe Ponepinto’s debut novel, is a biting satire about the craziness and politics that go into elections. Gray Davenport, the beleaguered, unpaid campaign manager for Bob Boren, the underdog in the race, wants to talk about real issues, but everyone is swept up by Reason’s charisma.
Gray must figure out how best to expose Reason for what he truly is. Gray has a stake in the game: he won’t get paid for managing Bob’s campaign unless Bob wins. What’s more, his wife, L’aura, is campaigning for Reason. This is about more than just politics for Gray. He has to win Bob the election to earn his own self respect, and possibly win back his stone-cold wife’s affections.
Gray Davenport, a self-described “sofa of a man,” has trouble sticking up for himself. He calls himself a neutron, “taking up an area of space so insignificant that it was no surprise to be regularly ignored.” Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
Paul Cohen’s debut novel, Glamshack, is a gritty, sensual journey through a man’s obsession with a woman, and her fiance.
The object of Henry’s obsession, a woman referred to only as Her and She, is almost pure male fantasy: dripping with sex, full of manic energy and childlike imaginativeness. She feeds Henry raw tuna out of a can with her hands and playfully poses as other people in public, adopting a Southern accent to get served at a closed restaurant.
Slow to unfold, but fairly fast-moving once you get past the first few chapters, Glamshack dives into Henry’s psyche. Narrated in the second person, Henry attempts to explain how he became the way he is, how his obsessive desire began, weaving his tale into beautifully constructed sentences. Cohen’s language throughout is gorgeous. He captures the essence of pure, raw, unfiltered desire in ways reminiscent of Nabokov’s playful-but-dark Humbert Humbert in Lolita.
Review by E. Kirshe
Warcross by Marie Lu is a sci-fi thriller from an author that has already written two other trilogies- Lu is someone who’s had practice and it shows. Warcross will satisfy YA fans of any age. Protagonist Emika Chen is smart, capable, and well drawn out. The world she inhabits is immersive, bright, and is believable enough to seem like it could be the not too distant future.
- The title comes from the game that everyone in the book is playing- Warcross. Within the span of a few years, Warcross, a fully immersive virtual reality game, has become a worldwide phenomenon where almost everyone is at least a casual player. Readers with at least a passing interest in gamer culture (which is everyone, thank you apps) will be able to recognize how similar our world is to Lu’s. Lu mixes so much of her own vision of a future based around this game with very real tech/gamer culture. She creates a bustling and bright future Tokyo backdrop where for the majority of the novel takes place to take place in. Reading her seamless integration of imagined and kind of real tech is half the fun of Warcross.
There’s a whole economy based around Warcross, just like the one surrounding our real world’s popular games. There are pro leagues as well as illegal betting which is where our protagonist comes in. Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
Characters find triumph in small moments in Vincent Chu’s new short fiction collection, Like a Champion. These quietly hopeful stories are a breath of fresh air.
Chu hands us a diversity of characters, all underdogs to varying degrees. For the most part, the stories follow a pattern: someone is having a rough day (or month, or year, or life), but then the universe sends them a small token of hope, or they find just enough courage to do something virtuous, and for one shining moment, they feel like a champion. Even protagonists who are downright unlikeable, like Hal in “Star of the World,” who thinks that the “Orientals” made up global warming to keep people buying Japanese, and sends his daughter a birthday card begging her to send him money and fix his computer, among other things, have redeemable moments.