Recent Writing for Bookmarks, Foreword and Shelf Awareness

I’ve been writing for U.S. print magazine Bookmarks for an astonishing 9.5 years now, and have the title of associate editor. The upcoming November/December issue is their first to be released in digital format as well, and as a promo it’s available to read for free here. My contributions to the issue are an article on fiction and nonfiction about women in STEM (starts on p. 23), and various of the anonymous synopses/critical summaries in the New Books Guide. Each issue has one or more author profiles, one or more thematic features, reader recommendations, a book group bio, and news on prizes and upcoming releases.

Here are excerpts from a few recent or upcoming reviews of October releases that I’ve contributed elsewhere. I link to the full text where available.


Foreword Reviews

Without Saints: Essays by Christopher Locke: Fifteen flash essays present shards of a life story. Growing up in New Hampshire, Locke encountered abusive schoolteachers and Pentecostal church elders who attributed his stuttering to demon possession and performed an exorcism. By age 16, small acts of rebellion had ceded to self-harm, and his addictions persisted into adulthood. Later, teaching poetry to prisoners, he realized that he might have been in their situation had he been caught with drugs. The complexity of the essays advances alongside the chronology. Weakness of body and will is a recurrent element.


Shelf Awareness

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver: Her bighearted ninth novel follows the contours of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, transplanting the plot to 1990s southwest Virginia to uncover the perils of opiate addiction. Ten-year-old Damon Fields lives in a trailer home with his addict mother, who is employed at Walmart, and his new stepfather, Stoner, a mean trucker. Tragedy strikes and Damon moves between several foster homes before running away. “A kid is a terrible thing to be, in charge of nothing,” he remarks, looking back. His irrepressible, sassy voice is reminiscent of Holden Caulfield’s in this Appalachian cousin to Shuggie Bain.


Bad Vibes Only by Nora McInerny: McInerny’s fifth book is a witty, insightful set of essays about self-worth and parenting in the social media era. Those familiar with the author’s previous autobiographical works will remember that within a few weeks in 2014, her father and first husband, Aaron, both died of cancer. After several years as a single mother, she married Matthew and they blended their families. Even when dealing with serious topics like anxiety and narrow escapes, McInerny has a light touch. She is endearingly honest, aware of her privilege and open about her contradictions. The then-and-now focus compares pre-Internet childhood with the challenges of raising kids with a constant online presence.


Which Side Are You On by Ryan Lee Wong: In Wong’s dynamite debut novel – set in Los Angeles, with its history of race riots – an Asian American college student committed to social justice rethinks how best to live out his ideals in the real world. Wong probes the generational gap between Reed and his parents through snappy dialogue and enjoyable scenes that constitute an incidental tour of multi-ethnic L.A. Full of vibrant characters, this punchy story offers no simple answers to ongoing racial conflicts. The portrait of a sanctimonious young man who wakes up to the reality of generational trauma and well-meaning failure is spot-on. Truly, a book for the contemporary moment.


It’s always a thrill to see my words quoted as authoritative: excerpts from my Bad Vibes Only review appear on and on Lit Hub’s Bookmarks page (see below), and there’s an unattributed quote from my Which Side Are You On review on the book’s Amazon page.


Do any of these books interest you?


15 responses

  1. You give Demon Copperhead a positive writeup and then only award three stars. ??


    1. To be featured somewhere like Shelf Awareness, a book has to have a positive review. She’s a big-name author, one of my favourites, and this is a notable release that deserves a review. There were many positive things to highlight about it. In terms of personal enjoyment, though, the book disappointed me — I wondered what the point of reprising David Copperfield (my favourite novel of all time) was, and the Shuggie Bain comparison, while it will be appealing for many people, is a negative for me as I DNFed that one, finding it too miserable. Ultimately, the editors at SA decide on the star allocation. For instance, if it were me, I would have given a star to the Wong, but they did not.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, I loved Shuggie Bain, so maybe this one is for me!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. P.S. 3* = “I liked it” = a positive review 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah! It’s not that positive with me. It’s ‘a good effort. Could try harder’.


      2. Harsh 😉 For me that would be 2*.


  2. Love the insight into how/where you review and how reviews become blurbs! The Nora McInery sounds interesting, a very elder-Millenial point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My sister is a big McInerny fan for her writing on grief, but would also relate to a lot of the stuff about raising kids and teenagers. (But I sure did a double take when — she confesses in one essay to using Botox — I looked her up and saw that she’s 2.5 months younger than me!)


  3. Which Side Are You On sounds great!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved it so much! It’s really nuanced and funny as well. I haven’t heard whether there’s going to be a UK release.


  4. I’m a Kingsolver fan but I admit that I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to read Demon Copperhead. I’ll try it, but it’s not filling me with excitement, ha ha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you do try it, I’ll be interested to see what you think. I did like his voice, just wondered why we needed a) a David Copperfield remake and b) another story about the opioid crisis.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m looking forward to reading the Kingsolver but the DC thing is bothering me a bit. I am also a bit funny about the opioid crisis right now in my life having had some for a back injury and HATING the feeling of being floaty and vague – I do realise this is enticing for most people, though! The Wong looks excellent and I hope it comes out over here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I see what you mean. My mother has been on OxyContin off and on following various surgeries and my sister and I do worry she’ll get dependent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Matthew was worried I’d get addicted so he was quite relieved when I absolutely hated the feeling it gave me!


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