Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: May 16-20, 2022

Days Like This

Book Cover
Oriane Smith
Alice Gravier, illustrator
Milky Way Picture Books
Hardcover $18.99 (40pp)
978-1-990252-09-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Intricate illustrations portray shifting perspectives in this moving picture book about the interconnection of humans and nature. Using a poem as its guide, the book works through each line, offering an interpretation from both a human and animal perspective. Both have good days, both face tragedy, and both have something to learn from and give to one another. Loving attention is given to every strawberry seed and flower petal in this ode to the natural world—and humanity’s place in it.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (April 27, 2022)

The Sisters Sputnik

Book Cover
Terri Favro
ECW Press
Softcover $22.95 (292pp)
978-1-77041-608-6
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Time travelers, storytellers, and evolving synthetic beings lead Terri Favro’s tour de force novel.

There are approximately two and a half thousand alternate worlds that Debbie knows of—one for each nuclear blast set off in Earth Standard Time. Debbie, an artist with the Schrödinger gene, traverses the boundaries of these worlds, seeking inspiration for her famed graphic novel series. But Debbie also carries unseen wounds from Atomic Mean Time, the world she split off from, where a visitor from the future charged her with destroying her world to save the rest.

As Debbie watches the EST version of her erstwhile husband waffle as the Canadian prime minister, fights off timesickness, and sees EST descend into a xenophobic frenzy, she becomes exhausted. Another slip between worlds could kill her, but she’s short on the inspiration she needs to keep her series going. A found comic book detailing the exploits of vicious Futureman provides her with a possible new archvillian—a find that seems fortuitous, until his world starts bleeding into EST. Debbie and other “undesirables” are pulled into a paused time, where automatons plot to send them “back where they came from.” It’s a horror that will require an artist’s great ingenuity to stop.

This rich, imaginative story is piled with threats both bygone and ongoing; it contains nostalgic callbacks to mid century dreams, but also an understanding of the dangers of nostalgia itself. Debbie straps on conical bras—and is strapped to a desk as an imprisoned artist; machines attempt to force the singularity. And in a land where bombs fell and viruses consumed the population, Debbie tells her once and future tale to a old friend, reminding all who listen of the value of all beings, no matter their origins.

The Sisters Sputnik is a multiverse tale unlike any you’ve read before.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (April 27, 2022)

The Illusion of Simple

Book Cover
Charles Forrest Jones
University of Iowa Press
Softcover $16.00 (272pp)
978-1-60938-831-7
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

In Charles Forrest Jones’s mystery novel The Illusion of Simple, a murder exposes a struggling community’s unsavory side.

No one in Stonewall, Kansas, liked Russ very much, so his murder is met with little surprise and less sorrow. But Billy, the overworked county sheriff, suspects that there is more to Russ’s death than meets the eye. The truth, when he finally finds it, forces him to make an impossible decision between pursuing justice at all costs and saving Stonewall from extinction.

Delicate character profiles bring both the main players and the town of Stonewall to life. After an angry, abusive childhood, Billy has made good, but he is still haunted by the consequences of his past actions. His lifelong friend, Owen, is now a consummate politician with multiple secrets. And there are Ayesha, a tough but fair-minded woman who’s not entirely comfortable in her own skin; Eli, a jaded priest who is relearning to enjoy life, but who is pulled into the town’s latest dramas; and Russ, the victim, who failed at everything, up to and including terrorism.

The murder mystery is just one component of a larger, more complicated story—the quiet, desperate saga of a dying town whose past prosperity gave way to increasing poverty, making it a breeding ground for white supremacy and other forms of violence. Short sentences and sentence fragments reflect the starkness of the setting.

In a place like Stonewall, happy endings are hard to come by. Billy knows he made the right decision, but living with that decision is another matter. It is clear that nothing will ever be the same; whether or not things get better is now up to him.

The Illusion of Simple is a sharp mystery novel about the grudges, gossip, and politics that define life in rural America.

EILEEN GONZALEZ (April 27, 2022)

Moldy Strawberries

Book Cover
Caio Fernando Abreu
Bruna Dantas Lobato, translator
Archipelago Books
Softcover $20.00 (192pp)
978-1-953861-20-7
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Brazilian writer Caio Fernando Abreu shines light on authoritarian 1980s Brazil, giving voice to those who were oppressed and ignored during the AIDS epidemic, in his exuberant short story collection Moldy Strawberries. With a ranging cast of characters, these stories reveal the innermost thoughts and feelings of characters on the edge—heterosexual couples, gay men, and drug addicts who contemplate where they belong (or want to belong) in this society.

These eighteen stories are intimate, focusing on internal examinations of personal sacrifices and desires, desperate struggles to connect and survive, and honest moments between two people. They distill flashes of joy, despair, and lust into crystalline moments of flickering emotion. Long, vibrant sentences and powerful imagery ground their feelings.

“Photographs” features two transwomen, Gladys and Liege, who face the world with their different ways of feminine expression and their longing for love. Surrounded by people who don’t truly see her, Liege feels “quiet like an autumn leaf forgotten between the pages of a book.” And in “Pear. Grape. Apple.,” a bored psychiatrist listens to a patient explain, through fragmented images, how she ran into a funeral procession on her way to the appointment, after which he decides to commit her. “Sergeant Garcia” features crisp moments of discovery between a whip-cracking sergeant and a seventeen-year-old gay boy whom he exempts from military training, only to seduce him later. And in “Fat Tuesday,” the immediate connection between two men is shown through glittering, fleshy images: a man finds his lover’s mouth “ripe like a fig cut into quarters.”

This collection amplifies the lives of people who were often disregarded or dismissed by a Brazilian society in flux. Its stories vibrate with emotion and honesty, conveyed through distinct voices and strong imagery by a confident and deft writer.

MONICA CARTER (April 27, 2022)

The Impossible Destiny of Cutie Grackle

Book Cover
Shawn K. Stout
Peachtree Publishing Company
Hardcover $16.99 (336pp)
978-1-68263-320-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

A ten-year-old girl seeks to break a long curse on her family in Shawn K. Stout’s novel The Impossible Destiny of Cutie Grackle.

Cutie lives with her uncle, Horace, in West Virginia, where she struggles to find her next meal and mourns the loss of her parents, who disappeared when she was a baby. For nearly thirty years, each Rose Moon—a full moon on the summer solstice—a loved one of Horace’s has been taken from him—his grandmother, his mother, and his sister, Cutie’s mother, Magda. As another Rose Moon approaches, a group of ravens begins to follow Cutie around town; when they give her a note that prophesies her ability to end the curse before another person is taken, she teams up with a new friend, Galen, to investigate the ravens and fulfill her destiny.

Cutie is strong, brave, and humble. She feels guilty when she must steal food to survive, and she’s concerned for the well-being of others in balance with concern for herself. She and Galen (who’s prone to storytelling, is snarky, and was born with a limb difference that requires surgery) are an appealing duo as they adventure through the woods, following clues from the ravens. They’re both skeptical of the fantastic nature of their mission and are willing to “believe impossible things.” Meanwhile, the winding mountain forest and the small town they live in are vivified with cultural details.

Navigating sensitive topics like unequal food access, disabilities, and the loss of one’s parents, the approachable adventure novel The Impossible Destiny of Cutie Grackle conveys empathy for both people and nature.

AIMEE JODOIN (April 27, 2022)

Barbara Hodge

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