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Book Review :: Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

June and Athena both attended Yale and majored in writing; they even both began publishing short stories, then a novel for each of them. At that point, though, their careers took decidedly different paths. June’s novel ended up with a small press that folded, while Athena’s novel was the first step in a literary career that led to a deal with Netflix. Unfortunately, on the night when she and June are celebrating that deal, Athena dies.

The bulk of Yellowface proceeds from that point, as June steals a typed manuscript Athena has written and passes it off as her own, even going by her full first and middle name—Juniper Song—to make it less clear that she has no Asian heritage. Kuang’s novel raises questions about cancel culture, social media, the publishing world, and who gets to tell which stories (who controls narratives, in general).

While June is not a likable narrator, Kuang works hard not to stereotype her, especially when talking about June’s experiences in the publishing industry. June is not treated all that well when she’s a no-name novelist, and Kuang doesn’t hold back from criticizing the insularity of the industry.

However, what drives the novel is the sharp-edged satire of June’s belief that she’s entitled to publish this novel and deserves all the celebration that comes with it. Readers should see June’s obliviousness to her privilege; what matters, though, is if they can see their own in her.

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang. William Morrow, May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

Book Review :: Razzmatazz by Christopher Moore

Razzmatazz a novel by Christopher Moore book cover image

Guest Post by James Scruton

If you need a beach read to get you through high summer, look no further than Razzmatazz, Christopher Moore’s follow-up to his hilarious page-turner Noir. (Make it a full vacation and read both novels.) This time out, our hero Sammy, his main squeeze Stilton (don’t call her “the Cheese”), and their unlikely roster of demi-monde pals must dodge both gangsters and cops to solve a double murder, locate a rich nob’s runaway daughter, and retrieve a mysterious relic before even more chaos ensues in late-1940’s San Francisco. In true noirish fashion, most of the action takes place in the wee small hours, when, as Sammy relates, the fog has “swallowed the city like a damp woolen crocodile.” Zany, with devious plotting and enough wise-cracking dialogue to fricassee a Maltese falcon, Razzmatazz is another healthy serving of Moore’s signature recipe: equal measures of screwball comedy, hard-boiled mystery, and X-Files-like otherworldliness. (Don’t skip the “Afterword and Author’s Note.”)

Razzmatazz by Christopher Moore. William Morrow, May 2022.

Reviewer bio: James Scruton is the author of two full collections and five chapbooks of poetry as well as dozens of reviews, essays, and articles on poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.

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Book Review :: How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Sequoia Nagamatsu’s novel, How High We Go in the Dark, doesn’t have a plot per se, as it reads more like an interconnected collection of short stories than it does a novel. A character’s wife from one chapter will show up in a later chapter as a friend to the girlfriend of another character, a minor characters in one chapter becomes the focus of a later chapter or vice versa. What the characters do have in common is a tenuous existence, as Earth has become less and less habitable. Throughout much of the book, a pandemic is ravaging the world, killing people by mutating their organ cells, causing hearts to behave like livers or brains to change into lungs. Even after that tragedy becomes more controllable, there is still environmental disaster, as wildfires rage constantly, the Arctic is quickly melting, and sea levels rise by feet, not by inches. What Nagamatsu is most interested in exploring, however, is how people avoid one another, even in the midst of suffering, and how they might still be able to connect to one another. Though technology — perhaps even space travel — could save people’s lives, only true connection has a chance of healing their souls.

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu. William Morrow, 2022,

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press).  He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. You can find out more about him and his work on Twitter at @kevinbrownwrite or http://kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.