Fiction Review: “Freeman’s: The Best New Writing on Arrival” edited by John Freeman

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freeman's arrivalRECOMMENDED

Arrival is a verb denoting the attainment of a goal at a journey’s end. However, as John Freeman’s infinitely relatable and beautifully crafted prose and poetry anthology “Freeman’s: The Best New Writing on Arrival” demonstrates, the word arrival is more indicative of a discovery than a destination. The work Freeman presents transports us to events, life milestones and new understandings that serve as springboards for further journeys.

Freeman has assembled a thoughtful and profoundly accessible collection of work that connects our vulnerabilities, our expectations and our hopes. According to Freeman, the very act of reading can be seen as an arrival: “Every time I read, I look to recreate the feeling of arriving that day,” Freeman tells us. “Stories and essays, even the right kind of poem, will take us somewhere else, put us down somewhere new.” It is from this somewhere new that the conversation takes root and the potential for new arrivals blooms. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “See You in the Morning” by Mairead Case

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see you in the morningRECOMMENDED

Mairead Case’s debut novel, “See You in the Morning” is a moving and tenderhearted portrait of a teenager in the summer before her senior year of high school. The girl is acutely aware that this summer will mark the end to the way things have been: “This summer is the last one nobody really cares about. I keep wishing I could hold it, hold on to not having to make anything up so people will like me, hire me, kiss me, or whatever.” But of course the summer rushes on and she, along with her two friends, John and Rosie, find themselves growing in different ways.

The narrator spends her days working at the local big box bookstore, going to punk shows with her friends, hanging out with her eccentric neighbor Mr. Green, and attending church with her mother. She also spends much of her time ruminating on her feelings for her friend John, believing she may be in love with him. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Brush Back” by Sara Paretsky

Book Reviews, Fiction, Mystery No Comments »


If you like your crime fiction set in Chicago with a female detective who breaks jaws and breaks conventions, read “Brush Back,” the seventeenth novel in Sara Paretsky’s Warshawski series. Since the first novel in the series, the portrayal of the characters, cityscape and sociopolitical setting has grown richer as Paretsky hones her powers; she has had more than thirty years to develop the characters of Vic Warshawski and her network of friends, to portray Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods as well as the class and political influences that make Chicago a great city in which the detective can exercise her sense of justice. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Resonance” by Erica O’Rourke

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“Resonance” is an action-packed and emotional follow-up to Erica O’Rourke’s 2014 young adult novel, “Dissonance.” In this sequel (still set in a version of the Chicago area) we see main character Delancey Sullivan as she attempts to find her love, young Simon, as well as navigate between the Consort (for whom her parents work) and the Free Walkers (a fringe group whose goal is to expose the lies the Consort has been spinning).

As “Dissonance” established, Del is a Walker and therefore able to move through the seemingly endless number of parallel worlds. “Resonance” explores this idea even further and investigates the mechanics of what happens when Walkers leave Echoes (Echoes are versions of people from the Key, or original, world that exist in the parallel worlds) and spoiler alert: the outcome isn’t good. With its focus on the technicalities involved in Walking, “Resonance” can, at times, become bogged down in world jargon. However, this is balanced against other, emotionally grounding aspects of the book, namely Del’s evolving relationship with her grandfather Monty, her parents, and the boy she loves, Simon. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World”

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Flash Fiction International pbk mech.inddRECOMMENDED

Some anthologies are guaranteed to be piles of good literature. Edited by a trio that includes James Thomas and Robert Shapard, editors of the influential “Sudden Fiction” anthologies, “Flash Fiction International” is such an unlikely disappointment. Given their history with flash, it is unsurprising that the stories are excellent.

The duds are few, while the strong ones stab unexpectedly, sometimes literally, like Edgar Omar Aviles’ “Love” in which a mother suddenly stabs her daughter to save her from a life of poverty. Read the rest of this entry »

No Longer Waiting for the Bombs: Rebecca Makkai Discusses her New Book of Short Stories, “Music for Wartime”

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Makkai - white shirt

Rebecca Makkai / Photo: Ryan Fowler

By Kim Steele

In the final story of Rebecca Makkai’s collection “Music for Wartime,” “The Museum of the Dearly Departed,” a young graduate student inherits his grandparents’ apartment when a gas leak kills them along with nearly all of their neighbors. The student busies himself by creating a replica of the building complete with artifacts from the homes of each of the deceased. The art piece works well as a symbol for this book. It is as though each story in this collection exists in one house. They share similar themes and Makkai’s uniquely intelligent and affecting voice. And yet each story—like each replicated apartment—also manages to be full of its own distinguishing details. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “On the Way” by Cyn Vargas

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Cyn Vargas’ debut short-story collection, “On the Way,” insistently taps familiar themes: abandonment, loneliness, secrets, blossoming womanhood. The fathers are always gone, the secrets are never told, the girls are never friends. The slim volume feels full, perhaps because it holds so many people like Selma, whose mother was kidnapped in Guatemala, or Lloyd, who works listlessly at the DMV, and they are all so poignant in their wanting. Their internal narratives slipstream alongside a world that won’t give them what they want, and if they somehow get it—rare—it’s with a healthy helping of mixed feelings. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins” By Irvine Welsh

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Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh/Photo: Jeffrey Delannoy


When we can’t stop stuffing our faces with junk, drinking more than we should, wasting hours on end in front of the TV or computer screen, staying in that dead-end job, or continuing to long for that person who is just not into us, what is it that will jolt us out of our funk, turn things around, move things forward? Self-help books? Life coaches? Phone apps? Extreme ruts often call for extreme measures. In Irvine Welsh’s new release, “The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins,” employing unorthodox means seems exactly what’s needed to catapult the main characters out of their vicious cycles. Read the rest of this entry »

Comedy, Tragedy and Combatting the Ultimate Void: Aleksandar Hemon Discusses His New Novel, “The Making of Zombie Wars”

Chicago Authors, Fiction, Humor No Comments »
Aleksandar Hemon - headshot

Aleksandar Hemon/Photo: Velibor Bozovic

By Amy Danzer

Aleksandar Hemon brings the funny in his new novel, “The Making of Zombie Wars.”

After giving us “The Question of Bruno,” “Nowhere Man,” “The Lazarus Project,” “Love and Obstacles,” and “The Book of My Lives,” he now presents us with a comical story that centers around born-and-raised Highland Parker, Joshua Levin, an ESL instructor who compulsively comes up with script ideas that never hold much promise, with the exception of “Zombie Wars.” According to just about everyone in the novel, his girlfriend is too good for him; his relationship with his family is pretty average-if-a-bit-strained; and his army vet landlord, Stagger, has an absolute lack of appreciation for boundaries. Everything in Joshua’s world moves mediocrely along until he plays a dangerous game of seduction with his Bosnian student, Ana who is married to a Bosnian war vet. Thereafter, misadventures ensue like a Coen Brothers film. Though its pace is swift and the mishaps ridiculous, there’s no shortage of poignant subtext. Hemon recently entertained some questions I had for him about his new novel at his shared writers’ space on the North Side of Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Principles of Navigation” by Lynn Sloan

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RECOMMENDEDprinciples of navigation

Chicago photographer Lynn Sloan’s debut novel, “Principles of Navigation,” opens with a photograph, a crystallized moment at Rolly and Alice Becotte’s wedding: “We are perfect here, aren’t we?” Rolly observes. A closer look reveals the disarray of life with the intrusion, at the right edge of the photograph, of the padded hip of a wedding guest that neither can identify. It is the imperfect unknowable that drives this domestic drama.

Theirs is a dynamic marriage with ever-shifting goals, longings, and moral high ground; they are united only as long as each exercises “a reserve, as if… they were asking each other for forgiveness.” As this fragile courtesy inevitably crumbles, each Becotte reveals more of their internal complexities. Alice is pliable, a bit superstitious, but she is a relentless logician in calculating her fertility. Rolly dreams of the world beyond their rural college town, constructing canoes that carry his imagination to the world beyond, but he is surprisingly uxorious. Read the rest of this entry »