You are now part of The Chain.
Adrian McKinty, originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, now a New Yorker, is an award-winning crime novelist who has written a stunning work of twisted psychology, domination, and contest of wills. The plan in The Chain seems foolproof, insidious as it is. A child is kidnapped, the parent gets a phone call, and a ransom demand is made. The parent is told to select another child and kidnap the target in order to get his or her child returned. A two-step process. The horrifying aspect of the demand is that the parent gets 24 hours to pay the ransom and kidnap the next child. No such thing as planning, considering, discussing, contemplating, rationalizing, justifying. The Chain makes an action demand, and the demand for fast action and tangible results. Or the kidnapped child is no more. The Chain has no tolerance for mistakes, for police involvement, for extensions of time to pay the ransom, for attempts to outwit. The entire process will be completed in 24 hours, or else.
Carla Rachel Sameth’s One Day on the Gold Line offers a gut-wrenching account of Sameth’s life from young adulthood through middle-age, spinning around maternal desire and loss, and probing the critical distinctions between an imaginary motherhood and the lived reality of mothering her son through young-adulthood. Structured through a series of twenty-nine short chapters that refuse easy chronology, the book is both thematically and formally interested in questions of time and identity.
Beginning with the essay “The Burning Boat,” the book charts Sameth’s insatiable desire to build a family, whether partnered or solo, and the obstacles that stand in her way. Conception comes easily to Sameth; carrying to term does not. Only after undergoing experimental treatments for recurrent miscarriage does she give birth to her son, Raphael. Significantly, Sameth chooses not to offer a developed account of gestation—the ground that most mother memoirs traverse; rather, there’s a temporal gap between the chapters that explore maternal desire and those that present difficulties of mothering, both single and as lesbian co-parent to her stepdaughter. In this way, the book provocatively explores what it means to create and sustain family outside heterosexual marriage.
Rooted in the physical and social landscapes of California, the last third of the book takes up the difficulties that Sameth experiences as adolescent Raphael undergoes treatment for drug use. Critically, the book offers addiction as a figure through which to understand all human desire. Sameth writes: “In my case, I desperately sought self-value; I thought that I could fix the hole by creating a family to love and nurture.” Writing against fantasies of ideal motherhood, Sameth’s book presents a brutally honest and much-needed account of family-building and parenting in the twenty-first century.
Review by Robin Silbergleid
Robin Silbergleid is a poet and nonfiction writer. Her most recent publication is In the Cubiculum Nocturnum (Dancing Girl Press, 2019). She currently directs the Creative Writing Program and teaches at Michigan State University. You can also find her online at @rsilbergleid and robinsilbergleid.com.
Perhaps it is because this was written in January, and in my part of the world, the temperature was hovering around 0 degrees. Maybe it is the hours I had spent hibernating and devouring hours of classic movies from the 1940s and 50s aired on TCM. Or maybe it’s simply the idea of a ‘radio in the sand’ emitting static and faint music from another place in the universe—Hollywood.
Dante Di Stefano creates a fascinating read of precise opinions and clever phrasing with poetry in his new book, Ill Angels. If I were to divide it roughly into subject chapters, one would be musicians, another would be portraits, then love poems to his wife, verses about America, and poems for his students. Throughout the book, a characteristic worthy of attention is his skill in giving fresh meaning to words.
"People in glass houses should not throw stones"
The characters within the novel are very thought out, and the reader is able to visualize their appearance as well as learn about their personalities through the words on the page. Gabby, who is a detective, is a strong female lead, and this is nice to read as she is seen as a feminist character. Each character adds their own input into the story and their lives are all intertwined through a series of events which will be revealed within the novel.
Each chapter is full of suspense, and they are short, so the reader is not left hanging or bored with the content. The plot is structured into two strands: before and after the murder.
The settings are beautiful within the book, and they can only be described as a paradisiacal haven where only the rich of the rich get to go. The story is set, for the most part, in a huge glass rental house, and though cliché, the saying “people in glass houses should not throw stones” perfectly applies to this novel. Pathetic fallacy is used a lot to set the tone of each chapter as the plot twists and turns.
As the reader, you go through a roller coaster of emotions throughout, deciding who to side with and trying to work out who is lying and who is telling the truth. And you constantly question yourself as to whodunit.
Overall, this was a very good novel by Holahan, and I will not hesitate to pick up another of her books in the future, as I read this one in only one weekend!
Review by Tom Walker
It’s nothing new for a novel’s key character to share his name with the book’s author. Past examples are Stephen King in Song of Savannah, Paul Auster in New York Trilogy, and Philip Roth in Operation Shylock. But Ches Smith’s protagonist, Ches Smith, is something apart and definitely a standout character in Smith’s new book, The Author is Dead. Try not to speculate on any detail in this book that might be drawn from the author’s life, except that it’s about a writer who writes a book titled The Author is Dead.
We meet Ches, the character, at Sugarville Mall. He carries his writings, his so called “loose-leaf chronicles,” in a black binder that’s always with him. Ches is intrigued by Thalia, lead singer with the Zombie Cowgirls, a “punk-country fusion” band. One short conversation with her and he’s hooked. It won’t be giving anything away to tell that Thalia very soon becomes his ghostly muse, since her otherworldly presence is key to this story’s setup.
“Have you been unexpectedly burdened by a recently orphaned or unclaimed creature? Worry not! We have just the solution for you!” Welcome to the Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures!
Author/illustrator Mira Bartók’s debut novel follows the story of a one-eared fox groundling (human-animal hybrid) named Thirteen. As if having one ear isn’t bad enough, Thirteen was abandoned in a grim-filled orphanage under the control of a wretched villainess called Miss Carbunkle. But the turn of events led to unexpected paths, both good and bad. Thirteen’s gut-wrenching encounters with brutality, deprivation, and unappetizing Dickensian roads are intertwined with gentle humor, uplifting vibes, and epic journeys.
Music and friendship play essential roles in the story. This explains why, in spite of the rouge-ish undertakings of rouge-ish characters, any reader will surely immerse oneself with the rollercoaster ride of events and keep the pages turning. Bartók’s writing draws rich kaleidoscopes of characters, steampunk setting, and sensational quests. The delightful illustrations brought a new level of charm to this adventure, making the whole experience undeniably jam-packed with surprises to the brim.
Blend in Miss Peregrine’s characters with the woeful mishaps in A Series of Unfortunate Events, then top it off with the legendary tale of King Arthur, and there you have it! The Wonderling! In a nutshell, The Wonderling takes its readers into a world of infinite possibilities.
Don’t let people tell you that this book is just for children, because adventure has NO age limit!
Review by Mary Kristine P. Garcia
Brandi Pischke’s cover art of sparkly strawberries invites us into Jen Hirt’s book of poems, Too Many Questions About Strawberries. Can we expect a romp through a garden or farmer’s market? Not necessarily, though Hirt’s book takes us through fun, rowdy poems, as well as challenging ones that do, in some cases, concern plant life.
Let’s start with “Why not malachite for resurrection.” In this poem, an apartment’s appeal is heightened because its back steps are perfect for a container garden.