by March 5, 2013 at 2:00 pm 0

From Zak M. Salih Email him at zak[AT]

"Books"Vampires in the Lemon Grove, the new short story collection from Karen Russell (whose novel Swamplandia! was a finalist for last year’s we-don’t-have-a-winner Pulitzer Prize for Literature), is handsomely written and compulsively readable. It’s one of those books you can’t put down until you find yourself turning the last pages of the final story.

A cornucopia of fantastic creatures, bizarre situations and mild horror, these are eight powerful tales of innocence lost; of what happens when the existential wool is pulled from off our eyes and we see our lives for what they really are. Vampires, horses, young boys – everyone’s rediscovering themselves here, and sometimes with unfavorable results.

There are few duds in this book. In fact, to call out some of the standout pieces would be to nearly describe every story. Even still, the impressive ones include the title story, about the marriage woes of aging vampires living in an Italian lemon grove; “Reeling for the Empire,” in which young Japanese girls, transformed into silkworms, struggle for their own unique labor rights; and “The Barn at the End of our Term,” a hilarious story in which dead presidents find themselves reincarnated as horses on a farm.

If you find yourself hooked after these stories and want to read further, you’ll also find magical massage therapists that help Iraq War vets through their trauma, a mysterious scarecrow that haunts a pack of New Jersey bullies, a Hitchcockian swarm of birds and more. Taken together, Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a wonderful trove of neo-Gothic tales that dials back the genre’s traditional doom and gloom in place of something strange, imaginative and wholly unique.

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by January 15, 2013 at 12:00 pm 0

From Zak M. Salih Email him at zak[AT]

Chances are if you’re a reader, the holidays have made you the proud owner of a bookstore gift card or excess gift cash just waiting to be spent on books. And you could just go out now and buy whatever’s currently on the shelves. Or you could take a look at some of the promising books slated for publication in the coming months.

There’s a lot, for sure. But these particular selections promise to be edgy, engaging, offbeat, insightful…you get the point. One unique and relatively short read for each month. That should be enough to make a few more months of cold seem like not such a bad idea at all.

Saudners_coverTenth of December

by George Saunders (out now):

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love David Foster Wallace and those who don’t. Readers who belong to the former camp have probably heard of George Saunders, whose stories read like a calmer version of Wallace’s. This latest collection from Saunders features stories on everything from bizarre pharmacological experiments and child abduction to post-war trauma and the final moments of a cancer patient. Uplifting stuff, no doubt. But with Saunders at the wheel, they’re sure to make for fascinating journeys.

Russell_coverVampires in the Lemon Grove

by Karen Russell (February 12):

Fresh off her debut novel, Swamplandia! (one of three finalists for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize that failed to crown a winner), Karen Russell returns with her second collection of humid southern gothic tales that combine great storytelling with imaginative new takes on night-bumping things. Human silkworms, savaged scarecrows, magical tattoos, lovey-dovey bloodsuckers in the titular story’s lemon grove; Halloween’s coming pretty early this year.

Carson_coverRed Doc <

by Anne Carson (March 5):

If you haven’t read Autobiography of Red, the poet Anne Carson’s intriguing mythological reimagining of the classical Greek monster, Geryon (who in Carson’s modernization falls in tempestuous love with that other Greek hero, Hercules), then do it. It’s a fascinating work of poetry and a necessary read for this sequel work — an experimental piece that continues Geryon’s adventures.

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