Good Intentions by Jeff Lacy (A Review by David Atkinson)

310 pgs/$18.95

Many of us forget that the people involved in the criminal justice system are still people. After all, the only contact many of us knowingly have with such people is through the news, such not being a common topic of conversation in the more intimate encounters that we do have. We typically think of such people as simply criminals, quickly sketched forms with similar characteristics who do bad things and justly get punished.

However, as the stories in Good Intentions bring home, these are just as human of people as any of us. Consider the main character in the title story of the collection. He is a good man who must deal with the fact that his wife, who he met at his church, is slipping back into addiction. He has good intentions, as the title would indicate, but such have gotten him into trouble before:

In the mid-eighties, he’d gone to Atlanta- the only time he’d ever gone outside of southeast Georgia- to visit his sister Viola who lived here with her new husband after she graduated from Spellman College. Ike was riding the bus, reading his Bible. A black woman got on the bus with her little boy. A skinny black man with greasy hair under a black leather cap followed them. He sat next to the woman and leaned his mouth inches from her ear, talking to her just loud enough that Ike could make out a few words. The woman had her boy in her lap. She cupped her hands over her boy’s ears and tried to ignore the man herself. It only made the man talk louder. When the woman turned and slid away from the man, he started jabbing her in the arm with his long fingernails. The woman stood and the man grabbed her pocketbook, which she had hooked n the arm she had wrapped around her little boy. The man jerked again, knocking the boy to the floor. Ike shot up and grabbed the man’s wrist and squeezed. The man tried to jerk loose and went for something in his coat pocket. Ike bent the man’s arm back until he heard a crack and then another, louder crack. The man screamed. The bus braked hard. The woman yelled for Ike to stop hurting her husband. The boy sat on the floor, crying. The bus driver came running back, asking what was going on. The woman kept hollering. The man cussed, hollering his shoulder was broke. People ran out of the bus. Soon police officers stormed in. They slid the man in an ambulance and handcuffed Ike. He got carsick cramped in the back of the police car with his arms behind his back and bent over and twisted. He prayed.


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Three Squares a Day With Occasional Torture by Julie Innis (A Review by Meg Tuite)

Foxhead Books


There are moments, hours, days in a lifetime that you actually feel like you have gone somewhere to a point on a map that doesn’t exist. That is the power of great writing. You’ve been transported from the mundane species that claimed you at birth into a carnival of characters, exposed, yet wielding a primacy of survival instincts in the midst of the most inane, hellish experiences you could imagine. How exceptional to be obliterated into a landscape that shows humans as we really are with our chronic neuroses that we subvert under a layer of smiles and goodwill: confused, irritable, fearful, bullying, jealous, depressed and then read with fascination as a woman who’s been kidnapped by a serial killer, as haunting as it gets, asks, “Can’t you just hurry this along, cut open some femoral artery? Haven’t you ever watched ER? No one dies from foot burns…”

This is the planet of Julie Innis. I have been lingering over her collection for a while reading and rereading, “Three Squares a Day With Occasional Torture.“ The title alone has described my childhood in seven words, when I’ve been working at it for years. Innis delivers through pathos and humor the absurdity of daily existence.

I am mesmerized by how any bizarre experience we find ourselves bound up in, no matter how rabid finds a way to fit itself into our lives, because if we are anything communally, we are most certainly creatures of habit. An Innis story relays characters that are so familiar that they meld into family members, friends, workmates, neighbors and, most definitely, ourselves. What a ridiculous lot we are. And yet, Innis forfeits any judgment and drives us into the pool of real estate agents, serial killers, summer camp counselors, teacher/student obsessions, a woman having an affair with a fly, cosmetic surgery gone metallurgic. It is a collection of stories that we slide into quite easily like cookie batter into one of those animal molds. We are unable to forget that we are mammals, nor can we hide from it.

In the first story of the collection, “My First Serial Killer,” the narrator is less than impressed by her captor.

My serial killer can’t commit. His knife blade is dull and raises only faint marks across my skin the way a pencil eraser might- long, pink, but hardly fatal.’That’s the best you can do?’ I taunt despite myself. ‘Not so great a serial killer, huh? Too little practice?’ I had grown tired of his bravado days ago, all his big talk of dismembered bodies buried throughout the suburbs of Cincinnati. ‘Ohio has a long history of being the birthplace of serial killers, he said.'”

Innis takes us into our own inner worlds where we have always been the outsiders. We relate to the girl who connects with goats rather than the humans around her:

According to Dad, my relationship with the goats was further proof of my susceptibility to demonic possession.

But the goats are my friends, I tried to explain. I was eleven, impressionable. I’d grown up with one of those PlayMobile Farmer in the Dell sets. I didn’t have good barnyard boundaries.”

We can even understand the motivation for collecting voles and the brother and sister who sell their mouse-killing services to neighbors.

“Our business is simple: the voles scare mice from hiding spaces, herding them out to where my brother waits with a Havaheart trap. It’s humane rodent removal, non-toxic, very green. Our voles learn quickly, responding well to kind treatment, frequent rewards of dried apricots, walnuts. The calls flood in. Real estate agents and landlords put us on speed dial.”

And then there are those ‘big picture’ moments when a character sees it all:

“Neither of us had signed on for anything, I want to point out. That’s the way it is with families. You’re born into someone else’s mess, their tics and crannies, their cancers, their travel lusts.”

Innis is a master at creating unprecedented situations with equally inimitable characters and yet as we read on there is nothing strange about a woman having an affair with a fly to spare herself from her cheating husband or a girl who’s been kidnapped by a serial killer and finds him weak and inattentive. We are rooting for these characters and discover a must hardier breed of ourselves in every one of them.

This is a unique collection that is to be savored and read over and over again for inspiration, but more importantly for the enjoyment of Innis’ wit and unrestrained voice.

Three Squares a Day With Occasional Torture,” is one of those brilliant gems you discover that brings back the color into your cheeks, when for too long, we have languished in the language of the pale ‘I’m serious, everything is fine,’ kind of non-existence. Let Innis bring you back to yourself. You will find your stride in the streets a bit more raucous. Let it rip! Thank you, Julie Innis! Unforgettable.



Meg Tuite’s writing has appeared in numerous journals including Berkeley Fiction Review, 34th Parallel, Epiphany, JMWW, One, the Journal, Monkeybicycle and Boston Literary Magazine. She has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press. She is the author of Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, Disparate Pathos (2012) Monkey Puzzle Press, Reverberations (2012) Deadly Chaps Press and has edited and co-authored The Exquisite Quartet Anthology-2011, stories from her monthly column, Exquisite Quartet published in Used Furniture Review. Her books can be purchased at: Her blog:



The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel (A Review by Dawn West)

Unbridled Books


If the crime thriller, bildungsroman, and domestic realism genres all got together for drinks in a smoky blue-toned jazz club and went home in a needy haze of swamp heat, passing abandoned businesses and ignored newsstands, to have sweaty, intense manage a trois sex, nine months later they would sire The Lola Quartet, the compelling third novel by Emily St. John Mandel, that asks a vital question: How far would you go for someone you love?

We begin with Anna, who has “fallen into a routine, or as much of a routine as a seventeen-year-old can reasonably fall into when she’s transient and living in hiding with an infant.” After a page we leave Anna and meet Jack, high on painkillers and roaring on a piano, his very pores guilt-thick from having imperiled an unnamed girl he cares for.

Then Gavin, ten years later, a wistfully anachronistic newspaperman in early 2009, when the economy had a nervous breakdown and the newspaper industry’s hemorrhaging picked up speed. Gavin grew up wanting to be J.J. Gittes from Chinatown, but he ends up disgraced and fired, shortly after a visit to his Florida hometown. His sister, Eilo, has discovered he might have a daughter, and she might not be safe. This sends Gavin down the proverbial rabbit hole, consumed with thoughts of his possible and possibly endangered daughter, his troubled high school girlfriend Anna, and the fellow members from his high school jazz band, The Lola Quartet.

The story is deeply absorbing. While reading, I found myself completely immersed, as if I were intoxicated and watching a favorite film or TV series- that underwater feeling you get when you are so close to the action that your heart pounds when Gavin’s heart pounds, that you exclaim “Oh shit!” when you discover the who and how and why of Anna stealing well over one hundred thousand dollars and disappearing into the gray life of prey, and that you sway to the inspired music Deval makes, that you want to reach out and replace the Vicodin in Jack’s shaking hands with your lips, as if you could kiss the darkness away.

Mandel weaves suspense and action into a fairly introspective narrative- I was equally impressed by scenes in which nothing much externally occurs and scenes I would expect from a traditional crime thriller.

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American Poet by Jeff Vande Zande (A Review by Brian Fanelli)

Bottom Dog Press

160 pages, $18


American Poet is a novel filled with scenes that are all too familiar to anyone involved in a local poetry community. Jeff Vande Zande successfully depicts awkward open mic nights, workshops, and competitive M.F.A. programs that sometimes breed more big egos than community, but by the conclusion of his book, he reminds readers how much of a communal force poetry can be and how it can revitalize struggling towns.

Set in Saginaw, Michigan, the novel centers around Denver Hoptner, a recent college grad struggling to find his place in the world after graduating with a B.F.A. in poetry. Early on in the novel, Hoptner floats from job interview to job interview, and one of the novel’s funniest scenes occurs when he interviews for a job as a bank teller. During the interview, the manager comments, “For a lot of people, that poetry stuff is going to be a head scratcher,” before adding, “It doesn’t even sound like a real degree.”

The manager’s comments follow an even more awkward moment when the protagonist explains to the employer how he took a course in scansion and then bumbles through an explanation of the term. Even Denver’s father, a former plant worker who knows a thing or two about hard work, once asked his son, “Poetry? What the hell kind of job you going to be able to get with a degree like that?” The father’s comments will hit home for any poet with an indifferent family, and they remind me of comments my own mother made when I told her I planned to obtain an M.F.A. in poetry. She immediately asked if there was any money in that.

Another humorous scene describes an open mic night gone wrong. Eager to build a stronger poetry scene in his community, Denver launches an open mic series. Set in a local coffee shop, the reading includes all types of characters, including a writer who insists on going by the name Coyote and howling after every poem. At one point, Denver comments, “The whole place was becoming a wildlife preserve before my eyes.”The writers also have to compete with noisy coffee machines in the background, and Denver’s time as an open mic host comes to an abrupt end after he scolds the coffee shop’s manager for using the espresso machine as a shy writer named Heywood takes the stage and attempts to share his poem.

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Zee Bee & Bee (aka Propeller Hats for the Dead) by David James Keaton (A Review by Simon Jacobs)

Open Casket Press


“…And With These Hats We Shall Fly”

 1. “Shiver Moments”

The premise to David James Keaton’s novella Zee Bee & Bee (aka Propeller Hats for the Dead) ought to be enough: a themed bed-and-breakfast in which customers pay for an earnest recreation of a night-long zombie siege.  But really, it doesn’t matter, you just need to get this book; it’s the most gut-wrenchingly original thing I’ve read in a really long time.

This is destined to become some sort of monolith of cultural touchstones. Big rocks. Like a hyper-violent and gory episode of Gilmore Girls, many of the zombie/pop-culture references sailed over my head like a horde of hungry fruit bats (because they are the most adorable), destined for the fanatics among us, with whom I’m woefully unequipped enough to rub shoulders. We tongue each other instead. What? In any case, I’ve tried.

I only wish I had as much energy and verve as David James Keaton. Dude. No writer pokes into my brain chemistry quite the way he does.

The dynamic among the actor zombies reminds me of my three brothers and I. For at least six years, every fall we used to put on a haunted house in our extensive basement back home. There were all manner of places to leap out of, all kinds of contraptions with which we would kill each other in front of our guests. One year, we built a guillotine. We had this one old man mask that we always used as the head for a dummy, and he always bit it in our haunted houses.

When raising winged Satan in the last room, we had to cover up the duct-tape pentagram on the floor when our S.D.A. friends came over.

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Variations of a Brother War By J.A. Tyler (A Review by Ryan Werner)

Small Doggies Press

116 pgs/$12.95

Fairness, love, and war are usually dealt with in that order. This says nothing of the truths found within the inversions, the war in love and the love of fairness and how it’s only a possibility that the fairness in war may be love. There are elements to this equation that have gone missing, and their cumulative void is left to simple, deep wonderment.

What this means is that the chaotic non-constraints of war and love are the only environments in which fairness can exist.

 In Variations of a Brother War, J.A. Tyler manifests these ideas as a pair of brothers and the woman between them. Tyler sets this up in such a way that Gideon, whose alpha-crassness is offset by the sweetness he gives us in tiny increments, and Miller, whose edges are slowly revealed in spite of his forthright pansy-ass demeanor, rotate around Eliza, who plays the part of the sun: the great provider, the great destroyer.

This stacking of dualities—of trialities, really, with each character being part fairness and part love and part war—allows Tyler to create depth in small pieces. By cutting up the story and characters into three 100-word sections each on multiple topics and then pasting them back together in the vicinity of their congruent parts, a straightforward love triangle set against the backdrop of the American Civil War gains a certain spongy quality that allow it to breathe and contract and, most importantly, wander.

 “Gideon’s mother raised Gideon as a wolf. She brayed at his moon and led him in darkness to the river, to dip his paws in the water and to see the reflection of his glaring eye teeth looking back at a handsome face. Or as the younger of two boys, he was so loved for being the last that she handed him everything he wanted and Gideon grew used to taking anything he desired. Gideon liked to hold his hand over candle flames until it singed a mark in his palm. That fire was the kind of mother Gideon had.” ­– from “Gideon’s Mother” on the topic of “Mothers”

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Wichita by Thad Ziolkowski (A Review by Sara Lippmann)

Tonga Books

256 pgs/$16

It takes a certain kind of writer to pull off a wild rumpus of a book. (Particularly, when there are no accompanying illustrations of teeth and eyes and claws.) Acclaimed poet (Our Son the Arson) and memoirist (On a Wave) Thad Ziolkowski has accomplished that rare and wholly refreshing feat in his debut novel. Funny, smart, outlandish, poignant and strange, Wichita taps the full range of emotions in an exuberant American tale of brothers wrestling demons and each other on opposite poles of their grab bag of a family.

The plot, if one were to distill it, is not unfamiliar. After five years Lewis Chopik has finally graduated from an elite East-coast university. Heartbroken and unsure as to his next step, he returns home for the summer a far cry from hipster cool or Ivy League success: “the full beard, grown out slightly ahead of the New York fashion curve, seems to have lost its quotation marks in transit: he looks like a laid-off lumberjack.” His troubled brother, Seth, also shows up at his mother’s doorstep with a beard of runic lettering tattoos across his face. While on the surface it seems hard to believe that these siblings share a genetic makeup- Lewis grapples with his ambivalence toward an academic path mapped out by his father while Seth, a high school dropout, possesses a singular unquenchable thirst for self-destruction- ultimately, they prove more alike than either may consciously admit.

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Three Ways of the Saw by Matt Mullins (A Review by David Atkinson)

Atticus Books

216 pgs/$7.99

In recent memory, it seems that much of the fiction that receives significant critical attention is the writing that is unusual.  Whether this means fiction that experiments with language, fiction that challenges what a story is or can be, or fiction that just doesn’t resemble what we remember reading before, we seem to spend a lot of time talking about writing simply because it is different.  I am not sure why this is the case, but I admit that even I have been guilty of this.

However, though it is amusing to talk about things that are strange, I think there is a danger in spending too much of our attention on the experimental and not paying enough attention to what is new in more traditional, well-written fiction.  I don’t mean to say that experimental fiction is not necessarily written well, just that we commit an error when we ignore good fiction simply because it does its work quietly in telling a solid story.  After all, aren’t we really in this for the story?

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Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell (A Review by Joseph Michael Owens)

Mud Luscious Press

118 pgs/$12

Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby has been a tremendously difficult book for me to review. I’ve read it twice now and still find myself at a loss for words, though, admittedly, it’s a loss in an extremely good sense of the term. [N.B. I typically don’t reread books I really enjoy immediately after finishing them, but it seemed important — nigh wholly necessary — for Bell’s latest.]

I’m not even sure how to begin describing this novel(la). Twenty-six beleaguered fathers  of animal-like children — arranged alphabetically from A to Z — tell a story for every chapter. The title of every chapter is a triumvirate of names that begin with the same letter (e.g. “Abelard, Abraham, Absalom” — the names of the narrators’ progeny —  their “sequenced failures” — who might lead humanity into the future, somehow carrying on in the face of more impending cataclysms.

The book’s most significant overarching theme is one of raising children in an après-cataclysm world. Bell’s concept alone is mind-boggling on so many levels, i.e. how does a parent teach his/her child to hope, to believe, to simply see the good in things despite the ubiquitous badness of their world? Or is it perhaps intrinsic in all of us to seek the light at the end of a seemingly interminable tunnel? Cataclysm Baby does a truly fantastic job of addressing all of these questions — and many more yet unasked — without doing so directly or formulaically (aside from the aforementioned alphabetizing of the children’s names).

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The Postmortal by Drew Magary (A Review by Steven Casimer Kowalski)


384 pgs/$10

 The Postmortal is a book about a near future in which humans develop a “cure” for aging.  Take the cure, and you’re locked in at the same age until an outside force like cancer or a bullet ends your life.  Avoid those things, live forever.  The novel is framed as a found document, a diary covering 60 years in the post-cure life of a 29 y/o lawyer named John Farrell.  Through the diary we learn about a world just starting to struggle with the legal and social ramifications of this new medicine.  Opening in 2019, the cure is illegal.  Factions are setting up on either side of the debate.  There are cable news talking heads, religious groups, freedom fighters, all of them agitated and trying to get out in front of a major shift in human development.

Magary tells John’s story via a personal journal.  But the scope of the book is much larger.  In addition to the narrative, Magary includes fabricated interviews, newspaper reports, even blog style “Link Dumps” featuring news items like;

 “The date of the consumer gas ban has been pushed back to March 1, 2037. (FNN)”

“The US Army desertion rate has increased 104 percent in the past year alone. (The New Yorker)”

The Link Dumps are particularly interesting because John, the lead, is 29 in 2019 when story begins. This means he was born in 1990.  He’s a character who has spent most of his life with reliable broadband.  John watched the shrinking market share of traditional media.  This story is his diary and in it we see John leaving a record in the way blogs/social networks have conditioned him to.  It is subtle.  These asides rarely get in the way and almost always add value for a reader like me who enjoys future worlds that feel thought out beyond the protagonist’s immediate concerns.

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