Review: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

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Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: May 19th 2020 by Gallery / Saga Press
Original Title
The Only Good Indians
ISBN
1982136456 (ISBN13: 9781982136451)
Edition Language
English
Preorder here:

Synopsis:

The creeping horror of Paul Tremblay meets Tommy Orange’s There There in a dark novel of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Review:

This is my first experience with Stephen Graham Jones. I have…

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Review: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Hardcover, 336 pages. Published August 25th 2020 by Ecco

Buy it here: Bookshop, Amazon

Synopsis:

A groundbreaking thriller about a vigilante on a Native American reservation who embarks on a dangerous mission to track down the source of a heroin influx. 

Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that’s hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way into the reservation and finds Virgil’s nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop.

They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realizes that being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost.

Winter Counts is a tour-de-force of crime fiction, a bracingly honest look at a long-ignored part of American life, and a twisting, turning story that’s as deeply rendered as it is thrilling.

Review:

Most of my reading is geared toward horror and small presses, so picking up “Winter Counts” was kind of me reading something that was not in my normal TBR pile. My reward for going passed my boundaries and reading this novel was tremendous. Part thriller, part mystery, part nonfiction narrative on what it is like to live on the Lakota tribe reservation, this is a story that wraps you up and will not let you go until the final page. I had 100 pages left to read the other night, and I had gotten three hours of sleep, wrestled kids, made dinner, cleaned up, and put the kids to bed. I was tired, but I thought I would read as few pages before I passed out from exhaustion. This book was one of the first books that has ever kept me awake to finish. I read the rest and promptly passed out. Now days later, I have had some time to think about the finish of this novel, and I can say that this climax is one of the best ones I have read in a long time.

Virgil Wounded Horse is a local enforcer, a person that is hired by private citizens who want a job done that the police will ignore. He is raising his nephew Nathan, and when Nathan gets into trouble, he is the one who has to figure out how to get them both out of it. There are a ton of great, strongly drawn characters. It is weird when you can pretty much name every single character in a novel days after you read it, but there’s Marie, Lark, Ben and his wife Ann, Tommy (Virgil’s friend), Rick Crow, and Dennis. I’m sure that I’ve missed a few, like Delia Kills in Water, but to be able to go through a list of almost all of the major and minor characters days after reading it also does not happen very often. This novel really leaves a mark.

I could also get into the injustice that the native tribes have endured and still endure, but we already know this. We know that every tribe was killed for their land, their traditions, religions, and culture eradicated, and their history whitewashed. “Winter Counts” is a pretty accurate description of the current state of life on the reservation. There are not long passages that bog down the action, but there is a fine balance between the story and the information. I feel like I left this novel, not only with a good story but with some new knowledge. This is one of those books that should be read for the plot but is worth more than the story.

I enjoyed this much more than I expected, and I cannot recommend this enough. I think that there are some new Native American voices in literature that need to be heard, and David Heska Wanbli Weiden is one of those voices. 

9/10

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Review: Extinction Peak by Lucas Mangum

Paperback, 163 pages

Published September 22nd 2020 by Madness Heart Press

Buy it here: Madness Heart Press, Amazon, Bookshop

Synposis:

When the raptors come out of sinkholes across the United States, Deandra Antigone Merriweather’s elder brother Johnny sees the chaos as opportunity.

Overrun by prehistoric beasts of increasing size and savagery, the world has completely gone to hell, but he doesn’t suspect it will stay that way, and he wants to be a rich man by the time things get back to normal.

Though less optimistic about the future, Deandra thinks it might be a good idea to have some money stashed away just in case, if only so she can one day getaway from the abusive Johnny for good.

Together, they embark on a perilous journey across the wasteland to rob the mountain home of a corrupt California senator.

But the home isn’t empty. The senator has stayed behind to live like a king in this post-apocalypse world. With specially trained raptors, his sadistic wife, and sexually stunted son, all manner of misery awaits Deandra within the house’s walls.

All the while, the outside world crumbles under the trampling feet of monsters long thought extinct. 

Review:

What would you do if the earth was hollow, and when sinkholes started to appear around the globe, dinosaurs started to come out? I am pretty sure that I would be in the first wave of deaths, but if you were to survive, what would existence be like? This is where brother and sister, Johnny and Deandra find themselves at the beginning of the novella, “Extinction Peak.” They spend most of their life in the basement of their dad’s home (who also was a doomsday prepper), plotting a way to break into a corrupt California senator’s mansion to steal his riches. Of course they were also going to have to dodge raptors, pterodactyls, T-Rex, and even the large herbivores that are knocking down buildings and infrastructure. But this is just the beginning.

There is so much that happens in this short novella, but for something so short, there is a great deal of depth. The brother and sister on a mission is just one part of the plot that never loses it’s way, but follows more the philosophy written on page 57 (of the Kindle edition):

“This was no world for heroes. Perhaps it never had been. It was only a place for anarchists.”

Nobody in this book is really a nice guy; there are just characters that you are rooting for more than others. At the end of the day, the ones that succeed are the ones that can be the most ruthless. And there are times when the character conflict is so great that you almost forget that as soon as the victor in the fighting steps outside, they have to deal with being killed by dinosaurs. This makes for a great, cinematic story that should be read by anyone who loves dinosaur destruction and/or garbage people doing garbage things.

8.5/10

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Review: Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

Buy it here: Bookshop, Amazon

Synopsis:

Award-winning author Stephen Graham Jones returns with Night of the Mannequins, a contemporary horror story where a teen prank goes very wrong and all hell breaks loose: is there a supernatural cause, a psychopath on the loose, or both?

We thought we’d play a fun prank on her, and now most of us are dead.

One last laugh for the summer as it winds down. One last prank just to scare a friend. Bringing a mannequin into a theater is just some harmless fun, right? Until it wakes up. Until it starts killing.

Luckily, Sawyer has a plan. He’ll be a hero. He’ll save everyone to the best of his ability. He’ll do whatever he needs to so he can save the day. That’s the thing about heroes—sometimes you have to become a monster first.

Review:

Stephen Graham Jones is gathering notice and popularity, and this is a great thing. This year he has released one of the top five best novels of any genre this year. “The Only Good Indians” knocked everyone’s socks off, and this has probably been the reason why “Night of the Mannequins” has had a much bigger audience than anticipated. The problem for many of these readers is that “The Only Good Indians” and “Night of the Mannequins” are two completely different books. There were supposed to be some months between publications but with Covid-19 happening, the release of “Night of the Mannequins” was pushed back so that both books were released only a month and a half apart. A few who were coming off the high of “The Only Good Indians” expected more of the same, and this is not the same.

“Night of the Mannequins” is the story of Sawyer, who with a group of friends, sneak a mannequin into a movie theater to pull a prank. Little did Sawyer and the gang know that the mannequin is going to wake up and walk out of the theater. From them on, Sawyer is convinced that the mannequin is going to kill all of his friends and family. There was only one way to stop him. This novella turns into a slasher and actually kind of a sad story about teenagers and mental health. Stephen Graham Jones does not allude to the problems with what Sawyer is seeing and believing very often, but he does give some hints, and these small clues are enough to make the reader feel really bad for Sawyer and for the entire town. Sawyer feels like what he is doing is keeping the mannequin from killing anymore, and in his mind, he is the hero of the story, not the villain. This is not some sort of teenage delusion but a deep dive into a severe mental health crisis. SGJ does such a good job telling this story that you do not feel judgement against Sawyer, but you are hoping that he gets the help that he needs. 

The action in “Night of the Mannequins” definitely makes this a slasher book, and the plot quickly moves along. This is not as in depth and shocking as “The Only Good Indians”, but this is definitely another great story that is worth reading from Stephen Graham Jones. He is one of the top horror writers currently working, and he should be widely read by any horror enthusiast.

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Review: Seventeen Names for Skin by Roland Blackburn

Published August 31st 2020 by Weirdpunk BooksISBN1951658167 (ISBN13: 9781951658168)

Buy it here: Weirdpunk Books, Bookshop, or Amazon

Synopsis:

After a cancer diagnosis gives her six months to live, Snow Turner does what any introverted body-piercer might: hire a dark-web assassin and take out a massive life insurance policy to benefit her ailing father. But when a vicious attack leaves her all too alive and with a polymorphic curse, the bodies begin stacking up. As the insatiable hunger and violent changes threaten to consume her, she learns that someone may still be trying to end her life. Can Snow keep her humanity intact, or will she tear everything she loves apart?

Review:

Seventeen Names for Skin, the newest book in the flawless publishing record of WeirdPunk Books, takes place in a dreary Portland, one where the main character, Snow, has just learned that she has a tumor in her brain and decides to hire an assassin off of the dark web to kill her. This is a pretty dark opening to the novella, but what happens after the attack, turns this story on it’s head. The tone of the book changes after the attack, and it turns from a story that is very bleak to a story that is almost filled with whimsy and mystery. Snow tries to navigate a new life that is plagued by uncontrollable polymorphic abilities, and she is struck by not only the problems of these actions, but by the way that it is effecting her life, her job, her clothes, her money, and her relationships. Blackburn writes it in a way that makes the reader feel amused more than terrified at the prospects of what is going on. I mean sure, there is still violence, blood, and gore, but the overall feel of the story is more pretty entertaining and almost could be categorized as bizarro.

I like the way that the story unfolds, and I like the way that Blackburn plots and executes the ideas. He did a good job of disguising what was going to happen next, and it was satisfying even if it was somewhat obvious the direction he was going. I did come away with a few questions about the plot (e.g. the purpose of her dog, Talbot, having the same affliction and how they always transformed at the same time), but these are not nagging enough to distract from this being an enjoyable, fun book to read. There were some great sentences in this book, some that I reread a few times because of the structure and the magnitude of feeling and description that he was able to put into so few words. Mix some poetic moments with a story that is fun and interesting with characters you enjoy, and what is not to really love about this novella? 

End Note:

There has not been a single novella I have read that I have had to search for in the house more than this one. Even though my two year old twins like to carry my current reads around the house, they would take this one and hide it. I found it several times in their room, under the bed, or just right next to them while they watched TV. I figure it has something to do with the size (perfect for little hands), and maybe the front picture, but it was interesting knowing that I had to track this one down every time I wanted to read it.

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Review: Simantov by Asaf Ashery

Buy here: Bookshop

Angry Robot website

Synopsis:

Women disappear from streets, clubs, and rooftops leaving the police dazed and confused. The mystical Soothsayer Task Force must use their special skills to divine the truth and solve the mystery.

Detectives Simantov and Bitton, along with their team of mystic agents, try to make sense of the weird crime scenes and even weirder forensic findings. The victims are seemingly unconnected and the only clues to their disappearances are the small objects they leave behind; a whip, a feather, a lock of hair…

Together with Mazzy’s instincts and Yariv’s stubbornness, they realise that these abductions signal the start of an apocalypse – a war between opposing hosts of angels, the daughters of Lilith and the Nephilim. The battle for access to heaven is underway and humans are caught in the middle. But strong as they may be, angels will always underestimate the power and weight in human free will.

This is the English translation from the original Hebrew text, translated by Marganit Weinberger-Rotman.

Review:

Angry Robot releases a wide variety of Science Fiction/Fantasy/Weird stuff novels, so it is no surprise that they have opted to publish Simantov by Asaf Ashery. Originally published in Hebrew, the story is part police procedure/part apocalypse. Mazzy Simantov leads a group of mystical detectives filled with coffee ground and tarot card readers, soothsayers, and clairvoyants, to help with cases the routine police cannot solve. When women start to get kidnapped by angels, they are called in to help solve the case.

There are some things that I did not like about the novel, but I wonder if some of it is due more to the translation than the actual original text. Since I am reading a translation, there are some things that could have been treated differently in the original text. I did not like how dismissive the main character is to her husband, Gabby. We are not really told how their relationship had been before the novel, but he is to the place where he is doing things to try to win her affection, and when he gets what little he receives from her, he is grateful and she is dismissive. I don’t know if this is one of the character traits that Ashery wants, but by making her this sort of person in her personal life, it makes me feel like the rest of her roles as a daughter, officer of the law, and hero, seem tainted. There are some ways that this tenseness between husband and wife carries too much weight at the end of the novel. I also do not like that there seems to be a workaround for every situation. Like if someone gets hurt, there’s a spell for that. If some problem is unsolved, there’s a tarot reading for that. For a book that is part police procedural, all of the clues they find are not used much. Instead Ashery uses a “Well it’s because they have mysticism on their side” way of solving the crimes. The actual detective work is very slim because it is easier to solve the puzzles with mysticism.

I did not hate this novel though. It was pretty entertaining despite its flaws. Some of the writing (or translating) is a little clunky at times, but I didn’t hate it. I wish I could do half stars because it deserves more than three but less than four. I think I have to round down in this instance, but if I could, I’d give it three and a half stars. Its slightly better than average, but not by too much. 

I love that Angry Robot published this, and there needs to be more sci-fi/fantasy in translation. They are a press that always takes risks, and even though this one did not turn out perfect, the door needs to stay open for other books in translation. 

I received this ARC through Angry Robot and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Mud Ballad by Jo Quenell

Buy it here: Weird Punk Books

Synopsis:

In a dying railroad town, a conjoined twin wallows in purgatory for the murder of his brother. A disgraced surgeon goes to desperate ends to reconnect with his lost love. When redemption comes with a dash of black magic, the two enter a world of talking corpses, flesh-eating hogs, rude mimes, and ritualistic violence.

Review:

I am shocked that Mud Ballad by Jo Quenell has not taken off like wildfire. Sometimes you read a book that will always be underappreciated regardless of how much praise and readership that it gets, and Mud Ballad will be this book for a long period of time. The novella is not very long, but you are taken on a journey by Jo Quenell while they write one of the most brutal, bloody, muddy, horrible books about horrible people. The novella takes place in Spudville, a town that has seen better days with citizens who have never seen any of them. A sideshow comes through and while in the town, Daniel Crabb decides to kill his conjoined twin, Jonathan, to gain his own freedom. This causes him to get banished from the sideshow and Spudville is where he stays, wallowing in grief and torment.

There is so much in this book, so much story and plot that it has something for everyone. Whether you are looking for a story of loss, a story of redemption, a story about sideshow people, a story about the devil, a story about fighting pigs, a story about fighting kids, a story about suicidal thoughts, a story about alcoholism, a story about love, a story about violence or a story about brotherhood, this has it all (plus a few more themes that I am purposefully omitting because every reader needs some surprises.) This novella has so much packed into 130 pages that it is overwhelming to even try to discuss. It reminds me of the movies of Larry Cohen where there is so much plot and subplot and sub-subplot that the readers feel like they have been on a journey by the time they get to the end. This is not to say that this plotting subtracts from the character development. We get a good feeling about the sorrow that Daniel Crabb and Dawes, the sideshow doctor that separated the twins after one of them were dead, expresses really makes them compelling. Also make no mistake. This novella is brutal and violent. There is not a single sentence of this book that is wasted. Quenell really expresses their talent in writing this novella, and I will be following their work. All I can say right now is that everyone needs to read this one.

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Review: The Invention of Sound by Chuck Palahniuk

Buy here: Bookshop

Synopsis:

Gates Foster lost his daughter, Lucy, seventeen years ago. He’s never stopped searching. Suddenly, a shocking new development provides Foster with his first major lead in over a decade, and he may finally be on the verge of discovering the awful truth.

Meanwhile, Mitzi Ives has carved out a space among the Foley artists creating the immersive sounds giving Hollywood films their authenticity. Using the same secret techniques as her father before her, she’s become an industry-leading expert in the sound of violence and horror, creating screams so bone-chilling, they may as well be real.

Soon Foster and Mitzi find themselves on a collision course that threatens to expose the violence hidden beneath Hollywood’s glamorous façade. A grim and disturbing reflection on the commodification of suffering and the dangerous power of art, THE INVENTION OF SOUND is Chuck Palahniuk at the peak of his literary powers–his most suspenseful, most daring, and most genre-defying work yet.

Review:

I used to be quite a big Chuck Palahniuk fan, my first books being Survivor and Fight Club. I read his first few books like they were the best horror literature that I’ve ever read. I read most of his earlier stuff, but quit around the time when he wrote the book about the guy waiting in line for the porn star who trying to set the world record for sleeping with the most people in a row. I kind of felt Chuck Palahniuk is for the young, and I had aged out of enjoying his new work. I still had fond memories of many of his books, particularly Haunted and Choke.

Fast forward to over a decade later. His new novel, The Invention of Sound is coming out by his new publisher, Grand Central Publishing, and I was thinking, “Maybe I should give him a try again. See what he’s up to.” I requested the ARC, and after a few days of reading, I knew that maybe it was time for me to pay attention to him again. The Invention of Sound is two stories that eventually intertwine. The first is Gates Foster trying to find his daughter, whom disappeared seventeen years earlier. He is kind of going crazy with grief, thinking that many little girls are actually his Lucy, even though Lucy would be much older than his memory of her. He spends his life trying to find her and trying to capture sex traffickers on the internet. The second story is Mitzi Ives, a person who works for Hollywood, selling screams to film productions. These screams are farmed with her special techniques, passed down to her by her father. Mitzi is a mess of a person, and her entire story seems to be her trying to find something other than herself to hold onto. These two stories crash into each other, and the novel feels like all of the characters are in a car, speeding toward a brick wall. 

I did not know that this was how Palahniuk is writing now. There is still the crazy, shock horror elements, and some of themes still seem to be about longing to belong and creating a space in a society that does not exactly what to give you that space, but there is also a maturity here that I do not recognize from some of his past works. It feels like Palahniuk might have realized that his audience is growing up, and instead of trying to go with “let’s overthrow the corporate structure,” like in Fight Club, it is “let’s prey on the biggest fears of parents and adults.” This can be the novel that brings back those older fans that have strayed away from his works while continuing to satisfy everyone with the shock and horror that he has brought since the beginning. I know that I will start following his works closely again because I feel like he is maturing with his audience. 

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: It Came From the Multiplex: 80s Midnight Chillers

Synopsis:

Welcome to tonight’s feature presentation, brought to you by an unholy alliance of our spellcasters at Hex Publishers and movie-mages at the Colorado Festival of Horror. Please be advised that all emergency exits have been locked for this special nostalgia-curdled premiere of death. From crinkling celluloid to ferocious flesh—from the silver screen to your hammering heart—behold as a swarm of werewolves, serial killers, Satanists, Elder Gods, aliens, ghosts, and unclassifiable monsters are loosed upon your auditorium. Relax, and allow our ushers to help with your buckets of popcorn—and blood; your ticket stubs—and severed limbs; your comfort candy—and body bags. Kick back and scream as you settle into a fate worse than Hell. Tonight’s director’s cut is guaranteed to slash you apart.

Review:

I was looking forward to reading this anthology of 80s themed stories, and now that I am finished and have had a few hours to reflect, there are some things that this collection does well and some things it does not do well. One of the things that I really like is that most of the stories have one setting, most of them a movie theatre, and the authors do a great job in varying their stories told in this setting. It would be easy to have 15 stories about theatre hauntings, but there are only a few, and those few are really good ones. Many of these stories involve many different themes, from alien invasions to murders to crime cover ups, the variety kept me interested in the collection. I thought the art was very well done, and I have thought about getting a physical copy of this so that I could do the flipbook animation. One of the things that I did not like was that there was only one story that involved the multiplex, and this was in a story where they use the multiplex as a prop instead of a setting (where the kids saw a movie at the multiplex and did not come out the same.) The rest of the stories were set in old, one screen theatres and drive-ins. I know that it makes for great, and easier stories, but the idea of many of these stories being set in the 80s or being inspired by the 80s just does not come across very well. These stories seem to be more inspired by the drive-in movies from the 60s and 70s than the mall culture of the 80s. 

This is not to say that the collection does not have some highlights. I really enjoyed the first two stories, “Alien Parasites from Outer Space” by Warren Hammond and “Return of the Alien Parasites from Outer Space” by Angie Hodapp, a alien story with a legitimate sequel as the next story. I have not seen this very often in anthologies, and the stories were fun so I was fully engaged in the plot with both of these stories. I did not know what I thought about Keith Ferrell’s story, “The Cronenberg Concerto” while I was reading it because it is written in a more passive, reflective way, but in hindsight, I think about this story more than most of the others. This is a quiet, body horror story, and it is more interesting in concept than it initially appears. The only story that involves a Multiplex, “The Devil’s Reel” by Sean Eads and Joshua Viola is a great Satanic Panic story, which seems to capture the spirit that this collection felt like it was trying to gear toward. There are a few other pretty good stories, particularly Stephen Graham Jones and Steve Rasnic Tem, but there are not many that really stick out and make me think I’ll remember much about this anthology in six months. They are good stories, but not memorable. I know how hard it is to work on these types of anthologies, and if anyone wants to read it, I would not discourage it, but this is a soft recommendation from me.

I received this as an ARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etter

Buy Here: Two Dollar Radio

Synopsis:

The Book of X tells the tale of Cassie, a girl born with her stomach twisted in the shape of a knot. From childhood with her parents on the family meat farm, to a desk job in the city, to finally experiencing love, she grapples with her body, men, and society, all the while imagining a softer world than the one she is in.

Review:

I have been a big fan of Sarah Rose Etter since her first book of short stories, Tongue Party. To say that I love this collection is an understatement. I have read this collection more than any other book and there are certain stories in there, especially “Cake” and “Tongue Party” that I have read aloud to different girls through the years. Their reactions to them were how I gauged them as people. (One girl did say that they were stupid and a waste of time. We did not date after that.) “Tongue Party” is one of the books in my life that has really changed the way that I looked at writing and storytelling. 

When The Book of X came out, I bought it immediately. I held it in my hands for a long time before I put it on the shelf. There were eight years between Tongue Party and The Book of X, and there were two reasons why I didn’t want to tear right into it. The first is that I did not want to be disappointed. In my mind, topping the greatness of Tongue Party was almost impossible. The second was that it took many years to get another Sarah Rose Etter book, so if I read this one too quickly, would I have to wait another eight years? I put it off for quite some time. What made me pull it out again and finally read it was the fact that it won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best novel. I knew that my procrastination was us.

I read the entire thing in a day. I mean there are many pages without many words, so the pages move past at a record speed, but the story is so good, so interesting, and so sadly beautiful that I had to know what happened next.

The novel centers around Cassie, a girl born tied in a knot. Her family owns a quarry where they harvest meat and make good money. This does not seem to change the way that Cassie is treated by her peers, and even though she wants to be liked, she also knows that she has a knot and everyone makes fun of her. The novel is written in three separate alternating pieces. The first is the actual story, the second is lists of facts and trivia, and the third is visions. Between the reality and the visions, there are many moments that are just heartbreaking, particularly the moments when Cassie has a life experience that is traumatic or disheartening and the next piece is the vision that starts with the same scene but ends with a more favorable outcome. The pace is fast and even though there are many surreal elements to this, the focus is strong and very narrow. This makes The Book of X much more successful than it could have been. There are many chances where the story could have ran off the rails, but Etter has control the entire time, telling the story that she wants to tell in the way that she wants to tell it. I loved this book, but I don’t think that anything can match my love for her story collection. Tongue Party just has too much history for me that nothing that she does can top it. This does not take away from the fact that Sarah Rose Etter could be one of the top novelists of our generation. I cannot wait to see what she does next.  

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