A review of Walking Through Walls by Karen Cioffi

Walking Through Walls is just right for around 8-12 year olds (or to read to younger children), providing an engaging, engrossing story with a strong plot, lots of atmosphere, and a positive message that is perfect for young readers, without being preachy. The story is set in the sixteenth century, and is based on an ancient Chinese story “Taoist Master and the Lao Mountain,” also an animated film Lao Mountain Taoist. Cioffi fills the story with details to evoke the setting and timeframe, from the mountains in the distance, lemon lilies, yellow cakes with red berries and tea, and the scents and sounds of rural life.

A review of If I Can Make It There, I Can Make It Anywhere by M. Stefan Strozier

Have you ever wondered how to go about producing a play or musical theatre? In New York? Though I’m sure it’s difficult, Strozier makes the process of producing plays and musical theatre in the Big Apple seem relatively easy – breaking it down into its key components and providing a very clear and quite thorough set of instructions for each component.

A review of Ota Benga by Elvis Alves

The poems in Elvis Alves’ new chapbook Ota Benga have a rhythm that is almost performative. Most of the poems have a subtle rhyme scheme that, when enriched by a modern undercurrent of political anger, comes across with a slam aesthetic. They work particularly well when spoken aloud, with the rhythms of a New York vernacular. Throughout the collection there is a common theme of enslavement versus freedom.

A review of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

This is an important subject treated with seriousness by the author, who is a journalist of some standing and the author of three other books. The title is somewhat misleading, however, as the librarians are not so much ‘bad-ass’ as courageous and dedicated to their quest to save centuries-old Islamic and secular manuscripts on a range of topics from destruction by militants of Al Qaeda.

A review of Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole

Known and Strange Things, the title coming from Seamus Heaney, is structured by division into four sections: Reading Things; Seeing Things; Being There; and Epilogue. Cole notes that the book contains ‘some of my most vital enthusiasms’ as well as pieces on the new, and that he was testing his knowledge and its limits. He left as much out as he included, and could have produced a second book with the excluded.

A review of Laurinda by Alice Pung

It would be a rare reader that didn’t feel an affinity for the protagonist in Alice Pung’s charming coming-of-age story, Laurinda. The is something universal about fifteen year old Lucy Lam’s dislocation as she tries to navigate the clique-iness, the odd social mores, and the subtle bullying that takes place at Laurinda, a prestigious private school to which Lucy has received the first equity scholarship.

A review of Time Was by Howard Waldman

Time Was is not your usual birth to death autobiography. Waldman’s haphazard style is unique and somehow manages to be both lighthearted and dark at the same time, but these vignettes have an otherworldly quality about them. The subtitle is appropriate as the disconnected voice of the narrator is not only out of time and out of place, it is one that invites the reader to that liminal space.

A review of the Play with Knives trilogy by Jennifer Maiden

All three novels explore guilt and innocence, good and evil, and the individual versus the state or government, using changing tense and viewpoints. The grand conception is fairly ambitious, but Maiden handles it all smoothly and the stories read like ordinary thrillers. The binaries that charge these books are played with in all sorts of interesting ways as the characters swap positions, power matrices, emotional landscapes, and unravel the structures in which they work.