California Literary Review

Fiction Reviews

Book Review: Ragnarok: The End of the Gods


February 6th, 2012

Obsessed with the idea of apocalypse, the child whose world is on the verge of unwinding takes comfort in the fantastic tales of sea serpents and ravenous wolves, tortured demi-gods and Yggdrasil—the tree that holds the world in its branches. The thin child finds a way to live in these stories, which vividly reflect the terrors, uncertainties, and vicissitudes of life in a way that both “the sweet, cotton-wool meek and mild” Jesus and “the barbaric sacrificial gloating” Old Testament deity fail to do.

Book Review: The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño


January 11th, 2012

In 2008 Roberto Bolaño’s 900-page epic 2666 was published. Appearing out of relative obscurity, Bolaño’s novel was soon being discussed as a potential masterpiece and, perhaps more importantly, sustained steady popularity in the bookshops. Sadly though, Bolaño saw none of this: he died only a few months after the first draft was completed and nearly 6 years before the English publication.

Book Review: The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco


January 4th, 2012

So for those who may have been a little lost amidst the religious politics of The Name of the Rose or the Byzantine byways of Foucault’s Pendulum, this latest might seem to offer a more secure footing from which to enjoy Eco’s intellectual gymnastics. If the endpoint of the novel is The Protocols and mid-century European anti-Semitism, that’s handy. We know what we think about that.

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


January 2nd, 2012

Magic is all around us, if only we’d pay attention more—if only we’d dream. Maybe then we’d sense its dark secret is really light, a bonfire of belief beyond understanding, but real. The kind of magic—or is it love?—that slays dragons and rescues princesses and lives happily ever after in the imagination of children.

Book Review: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje


December 14th, 2011

The “cat’s table” is the place where the least important passengers on the ship are seated during mealtimes—and it’s where the novel’s narrator, eleven-year old Michael (nicknamed Mynah), finds himself seated, alongside the companions who will subtly alter and inform the trajectory of his life.

Book Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides


November 16th, 2011

Leonard’s corrosive bipolar depression leads him to self-destruct as his brilliant mind turns against him. Hospitalized for the first time, he realizes that “the smarter you were, the worse it was. The sharper your brain, the more it cut you up.”

Book Review: Mule: A Novel of Moving Weight by Tony D’Souza


November 3rd, 2011

After a happy, if lean, year spent in a tiny mountain cabin, struggling to get their bearings—financial and otherwise, James receives an offer he is unable to refuse. A friend of Kate’s, he learns, has been living the high life for years off of his prospering business in the marijuana industry. Darren owns several properties with untold numbers of workers and can afford to spend half his time and a good chunk of his money in Thailand, sleeping around and supporting a small farming industry of some sort.

Book Review: Harbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist


October 10th, 2011

The family takes a trip over the frozen sea to a lighthouse. While there, the 6 year-old daughter, Maja, vanishes without a trace. Her small footsteps lead away from the lighthouse over the snow and ice, then vanish.

Book Review: Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman


October 4th, 2011

The revealed mystery of “those across the river,” how they came to be and what they want, is a delightfully genre-bending juxtaposition of supernatural horror and gothic drama. Buehlman blends these surprising elements in a novel that is simultaneously poetically spare and defiantly eclectic.

Book Review: Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion by Janet Mullany


October 3rd, 2011

At root, the novel seems to rest on a misapprehension: that the world of Jane Austen would be more exciting if it had vampires in it. During it, we discover that in the first draft of Mansfield Park, Fanny was, in fact, one of said bloodthirsty beasties. Did anyone ever read Mansfield Park and think “Not bad, but it could do with more of the undead”?

Book Review: Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi


September 29th, 2011

In a neat reversal of the Reynard myth, the students at a school that molds young men into “world-class husbands” for purchase by the wealthiest bidder discover a murderer locked away beneath the campus grounds—a personification of all of the human weaknesses and desires that are forcibly discouraged and suppressed in order to create cookie-cutter Prince Charmings skilled in exemplary masculine arts like “Strong Handshakes, Silence, Rudimentary Car Mechanics, How to Mow the Lawn, Explosive Displays of Authority, Sport and Nutrition Against Impotence.”

Book Review: Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig


September 4th, 2011

Filled with unsettling images and language, Alois Hotchnig’s newly translated collection is an uncomfortable journey, but one made extremely rewarding by innovative narrative and pace. Each of the nine stories in this slim volume are difficult to retell – characters are nameless and locations generic – yet, their force comes not from the particular.

Book Review: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles


August 1st, 2011

The theme of making a life choice between love or ambition has been a staple of literature since the Aeneid. You might think that this novel has little new to recommend it besides the unorthodox choice of the Depression as a setting for a romance Rules of Civility, however, is a book of amazing depth. In this, his first novel, Amor Towles reveals an exceptional flair for character development.

Book Review: The Craigslist Murders by Brenda Cullerton


July 26th, 2011

An interior “desecrator” who despises the bored super-rich housewives who can afford her services, she lives amongst people for whom money has dissolved away the real world, and takes her revenge by smashing their heads in with the poker which she carries wrapped in a yoga mat.

Book Review: How I Lost the War by Filippo Bologna


July 18th, 2011

Yet in Federico’s town, pools are pumped and wells are closed. They remove centuries old trees in the square and install a serpent-shaped fountain; they provide more jobs as the spa complex grows, at the same time bulldozing vineyards and cobblestone streets. Federico’s response is extreme but at the sight of his parched land perhaps understandable. He goes guerrilla.

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