Review: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi (Mira Books 2020)

Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri

Historical fiction opens the gateway to a different time and place. The settings themselves make readers long for somewhere they’ve never been. This is the case in Alka Joshi’s debut novel, The Henna Artist.

Set in the 1950s, The Henna Artist transports us back to India a few years after gaining independence from the British. Joshi’s vivid imagery makes India’s past crawl off the page, bringing it to life: “We entered a colonnade flanked by lush gardens. Topiary elephants frolicked on the lawns. Live peacocks pranced around circular fountains. Stone urns sprouted honeysuckle, jasmine and sweet pea” (142). Amidst the color and beauty of historical India, Joshi also gives us a taste of the social, economic, and political climates of the time, shedding light on the difficulties for people of lower castes and women.

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Review: The Dragons, The Giant, The Women: A Memoir by Wayetu Moore

The Dragons, The Giant, The Women: A Memoir By Wayetu Moore (Graywolf Press 2020)

Reviewed by Allison McCausland

There is a quote by G.K. Chesterton that goes, “Fairy tales are not told to tell children that dragons exist. Children already know the dragons exist. Fairy tales are told to tell that dragons can be killed.” But what happens when the dragons follow a child throughout their life? Such is the case with author Wayetu Moore in her memoir The Dragons, The Giant, The Women.

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Review: Category Five by Ann Davila Cardinal

Category Five by Ann Dávila Cardinal (Tor Teen 2020)

Reviewed by Maayan D’Antonio

Lupe Dávila returns for another summer in Puerto Rico. But once again things are not quiet on the island. Ten months after Hurricane Maria, a category five storm, the island is still struggling to recover. On top of that there are dead people popping up on Vieques, a small island off the northeastern coast of the main island of Puerto Rico. This time Lupe’s Tío, police chief Dávila, knows better than to try and keep Lupe away from the investigation. The first murder claims three Caucasian college boys at the bioluminescent bay. The murder scene is not too far away from construction on a new resort.

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Review: The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan

The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life by Janice Kaplan (Dutton Books 2016)

Reviewed by Patricia Steckler

Daily expressions of gratitude can change your life. Even during this global pandemic. Even now, as our country roils with outrage and sorrow over the ceaseless violence perpetrated on black Americans and people of color. Learning to practice gratitude elevates all of us. Even now. Especially now.

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Review: handiwork by Sara Baume

handiwork by Sara Baume (Tramp Press, 2020)

Reviewed by Allison McCausland

There is an artist inside all of us. The art we create can be subjective, but that does not diminish the time, care, and functionality someone puts into the act of creating. That is just one of the lessons gleamed from Irish author Sara Baume’s nonfiction debut, handiwork. In this short narrative, Baume combines her mediums of sculpting, carving, writing, and photography to illustrate the trials and joys of being an artist. handiwork chronicles her thoughts on the universality of art and its struggles while working on a woodworking series about her fascination with birds. She even treats her readers with the fruits of her carving labors with interspersed photographs of her avian subjects.

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Review: The Tradition by Jericho Brown

The Tradition by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon Press 2019)

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kudlacz

…I am ashamed of America

And confounded by God….

It was these lines from the poem Foreday in the Morning in Jericho Brown’s third, Pulitzer Prize winning book The Tradition that captured the emotion I, as well as many other Americans, felt as we watched George Floyd die by asphyxiation when a police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while three other officers stood by.  Ashamed and confounded not just by this singular outrageous and gross injustice, but by the fact that this sanctioned atrocity, involving another black American male, is a pervasive and persistent malady. This powerful book is built upon a foundation of poems in which Brown repeatedly forces us to confront the issue of racism in this country and the grim, indeed fatal, consequences that so often accompany it.

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Review: Some Are Always Hungry by Jihyun Yun

Some Are Always Hungry by Jihyun Yun (University of Nebraska Press 2020)

Reviewed by Lane Berger

I think the worst must be finished. / Whether I am right, don’t tell me.

—“The Leaving Season”

In 2020, the year of things we tried to abolish, let us at least rid ourselves of this: ‘The Debut,’ held as a foray; the Debut Artist’s contrition, inevitable. Not since Slow Lightening, My Private Property, or The Collected Stories of Grace Paley have I dog-eared anything like my copy of Some Are Always Hungry, a debut poetry collection in which Jihyun Yun brings the reader—spoonful by shattering spoonful—into awareness of the near-unbearable state of being.

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Review: Godshot by Chelsea Bieker

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker (Catapult 2020)

Reviewed by Megan L Stills

Everyone in Peaches, California is thirsty. The once-abundant land that the Gifts of the Spirit cult watches over is now nothing more than crackling, scorched earth. Baptism occurs in tubs of warm soda, the shallow end of the measures taken by The Body to bring life back to their raisin crops. But fourteen-year-old Lacey May Herd is thirsty for more than just the rains that Pastor Vern promises will pour down on those who are faithful. Within this world where young boys are messengers of god and girls are their vessels, emerges a story of birth and rebirth.

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Review: I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi

I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying: Essays by Bassey Ikpi (Harper perennial 2019)

Reviewed by by Michele Matrisciani

There is an entire library full of memoirs, one that grows greater every day, concerning issues surrounding mental health. Over the course of my twenty years in nonfiction book publishing, I’ve acquired, edited, and ghostwritten numerous such books, all of which I hope have contributed to the robust dialogue and much-needed de-stigmatization of this topic. Nothing I have worked on or read over the years has accomplished in quite the same way what Bassey Ikpi does in her memoir essay collection, I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying: Essays.

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