Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book review: Rootless, by Chris Howard

A quick review of Rootless, a YA novel by Chris Howard, coming out in November 2012.  Thanks to Netgalley and Scholastic for providing the ARC!



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One Story

The new One Story came in the mail yesterday, with Alethea Black‘s “You, on a Good Day.”  It includes the sentence,

On this day, you wake up and remember the sight of your four-year-old nephew aiming all of his fire trucks at the television during the coverage of the California wildfires because he wanted to help.

It’s a great story.  And a good sentence for a day like today.

The Reapers are the Angels

I picked this book up at ALA this year, and devoured it on the way home.  And now I want to say something smart about it, something that will make anyone reading this run out to buy a copy…but I just read some of the reader reviews on Amazon and honestly, people are already saying all the right things about it.  Highlights:

“I was not expecting this work of art that caught me up and shook me and broke my heart because it is both so beautiful and so sad. Zombies: the new face of magic realism. Who knew? ”

“I think I just finished one of the best books I’ve ever read. How did you do that, Alden Bell? How did you do it in a zombie novel? ”

“Alden Bell’s The Reapers are The Angels is the perfect combination of Charles Portis’ True Grit and the classic zombie flick Night of the Living Dead. If you are a fan of the highest quality literature, thought provoking themes and the supernatural then there is nothing lacking in this book.”

No kidding.  Those are taken from actual reviews–just the first few in the list.  The superlatives continue.

So this is just a little tiny signal-boost.  If this book passed you by, go get a copy now and read it.  And write a nice note to Mr. Alden Bell when you’re finished.  I did, and he wrote me back.  Classy as hell.

cover image of the reapers are the angels.  girl with hand over her face, peeking through fingers.

Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead

Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead cover

Some thoughts about Frank Meeink’s beer-guzzling, head-shaving, dope-doing, mosh-pit-brawling memoir, Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead.

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Robert Jackson Bennett, Mr. Shivers

Robert Jackson Bennett Mr Shivers

A few thoughts about Robert Jackson Bennett’s rail-riding, dust-bowling, hobo-chasing, secret-mark-inscribing debut novel, Mr. Shivers.

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News post is newsy

Charles Portis True Grit OverlookBrother From Another Planet John Sayles

Two great tastes that taste great together…

A quick round-up post:  my life in coffee spoons.

  • I recently watched John Sayles’s cult classic, Brother From Another Planet on Netflix.  Joe Morton is fantastic, and there’s something so strangely nostalgic about seeing the old New York City of the 1970s and 80s.  The dirty, downcast, dangerous city that made Griffin Dunne afraid for his life.  The city of Sesame Street and Lo Pan.  The city you used to have to escape from, like the Thunderdome.  I lived for a while in Morningside Heights, and ah yes, on more than one occasion I was one of those dopey white kids who strayed from the Columbia campus and walked at a brisk clip, whistling nervously, in what I hoped was the direction of home.  No one ever bothered me.   Anyway, BFAP is short on plot and budget but long on style, character, and smarts.  The goofy barfight choreography alone is worth the price of admission.
  • I’ve been listening to Charles Portis’s novel True Grit on CD, read by Donna Tartt.  The book was recently reissued by Overlook Press, with a gorgeous cover and an essay by Tartt.  It is, as Tartt points out, a masterpiece.  I was struck in particular by how sad it is, and by how much it made me nostalgic for another dingy, unpleasant past–the Old West, in this case.  I have zero reason to nostalgize the American Southwest, and the nostalgia I feel is strangely impersonal, or maybe impartial.  It’s as if I feel nostalgia on behalf of the characters–as if Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn are so real to me that I mourn their younger years for them.  It’s one of the stranger reactions I’ve ever had to a book, and also one of the stronger ones.  I came away feeling that Mattie Ross had her best years as a child, that she never fit into the adult world (or she fit too well into its stereotypes), and that even though she lived to old age, a large part of her life was over when she came home from the hunt for her father’s killer.  The hunt itself is so alive, so purposeful and directed–and what’s left after it’s done?  Mattie’s father is still dead, and she has to grow up and find her own way in the world, and Rooster Cogburn is no help with that.  It’s a brilliant, brilliant book, and I recommend Tartt’s reading of it.  (She does accents.)
  • In completely other news, the Internet has been recasting popular movies and television  shows (and now books!) with people of color.  I love this.  You can find a list of many sample recasting jobs here.
  • Leaping away again, I continue to post semi-regularly at Reading Local Portland.  One recent highlight:  a reading at Powell’s bookstore by Nick Flynn.
  • And in a final segue, I’ve been working on a lightning talk for the last week–who knew five minutes’ worth of monologue could take so.  Bloody.  Long.  To prepare?  Not I.  The fault is mine; the topic is “the future of publishing,” with an emphasis on the digital.  Well done, me.  Of course, I’m working on this in the midst of the iPad release and the Amazon/Macmillan kerfuffle, and everything is feeling very WAIT WAIT HOLD ON WHILE I TYPE THAT UP.  It’s also feeling very much like Amazon is perhaps not the best and greatest thing for authors, publishers, and booksellers.  I’m frustrated with Amazon, and growing more and more determined to spend my money with local bookstores.  Which I just did, ordering a copy of True Grit.  Thus closing the circle of my post, almost.  Ta da.

Seriously, buy local.  Read local.  It matters.

Terrence Holt, In the Valley of the Kings

Terrence Holt cover In the Valley of the Kings

An off-the-cuff review of Terrence Holt’s fascinating, erudite, cerebral, ambitious, well-reviewed (but spottily-copy-edited!) collection, In the Valley of the Kings.

Warning:  Plot spoilers!

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