As ever, an essential volume for anyone tracking the progress of American letters.

The 46th edition of the venerable annual shows a welcome burst of new life amid lots of death.

Small presses, notes longtime editor Henderson, are the bulwark between literature and a steadily agglomerating publishing industry in which “authors become mere content providers for the present moment.” That said, present-moment concerns abound in this overstuffed anthology. In this second year of Covid, death is a constant. In his smart short story “Biology,” Kevin Wilson opens with the death of an eighth grade teacher with whom his protagonist, 25 years earlier, had had an odd conversation concerning a game called “Death Cards.” If you drew a death card, well, you die. And what if you don’t draw a death card, asks the teacher. “You still die, but you die in your sleep,” says the protagonist. “Peacefully.” Just a few pages later, in a story by Daniel Orozco, a young boy whose mother has just died of “an exceptionally rare and virulent spinal cancer” is comforted—if you can call it that—by an alcoholic father who instructs him that, yes, we all die, and that when we do, “that’s all she wrote.” In a memorable short poem called “Black Box,” Sandra Lim conjures quiet grief: “Make him come back, she said, / her voice like something brought up intact / from the cold center of a lake.” Suicide, 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, all find their places here. Refreshingly, the old guard is not much evident in favor of comparatively new voices, though stalwart Joyce Carol Oates turns in an attention-getting prose poem incorporating parole petitions of the now elderly Manson family women: “Because I hated them. Because I had always hated them—beautiful women and girls,” says one to excuse her murderousness. A particularly high point: Sidestepping all the mayhem, in an essay called “The Kaleshion,” Jerald Walker recounts the perilous path from Afro to Jheri curl to self-administered haircuts, one of the last of which yields a hilarious disaster and a rare and welcome moment of laughter.

As ever, an essential volume for anyone tracking the progress of American letters.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9600977-4-6

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Pushcart

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021


A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.

Truth and deception clash in this tale of the Holocaust.

Udo Graf is proud that the Wolf has assigned him the task of expelling all 50,000 Jews from Salonika, Greece. In that city, Nico Krispis is an 11-year-old Jewish boy whose blue eyes and blond hair deceive, but whose words do not. Those who know him know he has never told a lie in his life—“Never be the one to tell lies, Nico,” his grandfather teaches him. “God is always watching.” Udo and Nico meet, and Udo decides to exploit the child’s innocence. At the train station where Jews are being jammed into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz, Udo gives Nico a yellow star to wear and persuades him to whisper among the crowd, “I heard it from a German officer. They are sending us to Poland. We will have new homes. And jobs.” The lad doesn’t know any better, so he helps persuade reluctant Jews to board the train to hell. “You were a good little liar,” Udo later tells Nico, and delights in the prospect of breaking the boy’s spirit, which is more fun and a greater challenge than killing him outright. When Nico realizes the horrific nature of what he's done, his truth-telling days are over. He becomes an inveterate liar about everything. Narrating the story is the Angel of Truth, whom according to a parable God had cast out of heaven and onto earth, where Truth shattered into billions of pieces, each to lodge in a human heart. (Obviously, many hearts have been missed.) Truth skillfully weaves together the characters, including Nico; his brother, Sebastian; Sebastian’s wife, Fannie; and the “heartless deceiver” Udo. Events extend for decades beyond World War II, until everyone’s lives finally collide in dramatic fashion. As Truth readily acknowledges, his account is loaded with twists and turns, some fortuitous and others not. Will Nico Krispis ever seek redemption? And will he find it? Author Albom’s passion shows through on every page in this well-crafted novel.

A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2023

ISBN: 9780062406651

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023


A book begging to be read on the beach, with the sun warming the sand and salt in the air: pure escapism.

Three woman who join together to rent a large space along the beach in Los Angeles for their stores—a gift shop, a bakery, and a bookstore—become fast friends as they each experience the highs, and lows, of love.

Bree is a friendly but standoffish bookstore owner who keeps everyone she knows at arm’s length, from guys she meets in bars to her friends. Mikki is a settled-in-her-routines divorced mother of two, happily a mom, gift-shop owner, and co-parent with her ex-husband, Perry. And Ashley is a young, very-much-in-love bakery owner specializing in muffins who devotes herself to giving back to the community through a nonprofit that helps community members develop skills and find jobs. When the women meet drooling over a boardwalk storefront that none of them can afford on her own, a plan is hatched to divide the space in three, and a friendship—and business partnership—is born. An impromptu celebration on the beach at sunset with champagne becomes a weekly touchpoint to their lives as they learn more about each other and themselves. Their friendship blossoms as they help each other, offering support, hard truths, and loving backup. Author Mallery has created a delightful story of friendship between three women that also offers a variety of love stories as they fall in love, make mistakes, and figure out how to be the best—albeit still flawed—versions of themselves. The men are similarly flawed and human. While the story comes down clearly on the side of all-encompassing love, Mallery has struck a careful balance: There is just enough sex to be spicy, just enough swearing to be naughty, and just enough heartbreak to avoid being cloying.

A book begging to be read on the beach, with the sun warming the sand and salt in the air: pure escapism.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-778-38608-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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