Category: Book Review (Page 1 of 2)

Book Review: Susan Henderson’s “The Flicker of Old Dreams”

BY: A.m. Larks

Isolation and ostracization feature heavily in Susan Henderson’s latest novel, The Flicker of Old Dreams. The setting is Petroleum, Montana, population 182 and decreasing, “Those who’ve heard of Petroleum are often surprised it’s still here. The town is primarily known for what it no longer has: oil.”  In a town this small, the people of Petroleum are required to be interdependent upon one another because the trains have stopped running, there is no cell service, and the winters are long and harsh. “This view of Petroleum is picaresque as the community, every single member, it seems, helps to shovel what they can.” And in part, this view of Petroleum is true: “The festival is less a celebration than a day to prepare for the upcoming snowstorms. Today neighbors will weatherproof homes, share tools, supplies, and labor.” “One of the neighbors with a snowplow attached to the front of his truck scrapes up and down the streets. This should make it easier to get to the highway.” The people who stay in Petroleum are committed to community and interdependence: “This is the life we commit to here. That we cannot rely on others. That no one can reach us so we better help ourselves.” However, in any social group, there exist dissidents. The Flickers of Old Dreams explores what happens to two such “outsiders.”

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Book Review: Leslie Jamison’s “The Recovering”

By: Heather Scott Partington

Leslie Jamison wasn’t a stereotypical drunk. She wasn’t a stereotypical student, either. Even at the peak of her alcoholism, Jamison held down a job, published a novel, and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Yale, and Harvard without hitting a conventional bottom. If you read Jamison’s 2014 essay collection, The Empathy Exams, you know her unique voice, her elegant syntax, her capacity for listening to another’s pain and rendering it on the page as something unnervingly fresh. The Recovering is the story of Jamison’s journey to get sober, told through the filter of her research about the lives of other artists and writers. Through the use of outside source material and interrogations of standard addiction narratives, Jamison seeks to make her memoir, The Recovering, an anti-recovery memoir, one that confronts (ahead of time, almost) the nagging voice of any reader who might challenge aspects of the author’s recovery story or, perhaps, the value of recovery stories in general. However, in addition to the author’s efforts to carve out a new type of recovery genre, Jamison’s memoir snags a little in the territory of her own exceptionalism: I am special, the author’s tone suggests over and over in her 500-plus-page memoir. The minutia of my graduate school romance was unique. I am too smart for AA. I am not like other academics. I am not like other drunks.

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Book Review: Geoff Nicholson’s “The Miranda”

By: D.M. Olsen

Some might consider Joe Johnson’s situation a crisis. He just quit his job as a torture expert for a covert government agency called the Team. Joe also just divorced his wife and moved into a remote home three hours north of London, where he intends to walk the circumference of the earth from the privacy of his backyard. He plans to walk a small, circular path twenty-five miles a day for one thousand days. However, as Joe quickly finds out, and as the compelling narrative unfolds, privacy is the last thing afforded by Joe’s new house. He is surrounded by nosy neighbors, a philosophical mailman, and a band of skinheads who invoke a turf war with the veteran torture artist. And, of course, Miranda.

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Book Review: Jessica Keener’s “Strangers in Budapest”

by John Flynn-York

Image result for strangers in budapest

In Jessica Keener’s new novel, Strangers in Budapest, the lives of two ex-pat Americans become intertwined in the titular city in the 1990s. Annie is unhappy and shiftless, at loose ends after a move to Budapest with her husband and their young son. Meanwhile, Edward, an elderly man, is in Budapest for one reason only: to find the man he thinks murdered his daughter. When they cross paths, they find common ground in this quest. Edward is a cause Annie can invest her energy into—something she’s been lacking since moving to Budapest. But when she is drawn deeper into Edward’s scheming, she begins to question whether she’s merely helping an old man or abetting his delusions.

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Book Review: Joe Hill’s “Strange Weather”

By: Xach Fromson

Joe Hill is no stranger to short fiction. His short story credits go back twenty years and includes the 2005 collection 20th Century Ghosts. After last year’s incendiary success with The Fireman, Hill returns to the form with Strange Weather, a collection of four short novels offering a panoramic view of humanity in scenarios that range from the fantastical to the all too real. Across all four stories, Hill excels at immersing readers in a full sensory experience that takes readers on unique journeys. The tightly written prose wastes no time in ratcheting up the tension, foregoing any trappings of the slow-build, existential horror in favor of rapid-fire pacing that never lets up.

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Book Review: Yuval Noah Harai’s “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”

By: A.E. Santana

Who would like to know the future? To know and understand the coming changes to our environment, society, and the individual? Whereas Yuval Noah Harai doesn’t claim to be omniscient or a fortune teller, his book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow paints a picture of what may be in store for humanity in the next fifty or a hundred years. Harai does this not by making psychic predictions but, instead, by carefully examining history, biology, psychology, and technology. With a copious amount of research to back up his claims, Harai gives a detailed hypothesis on the next steps of human evolution—taking people from Homo sapiens to Homo deus. Whereas Harai gives intelligent, thorough explanations, it is through his clear, clever, and often humorous writing that he connects with readers.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow is broken up into an introduction and three parts: “Homo Sapiens Conquers the World,” “Homo Sapiens Gives Meaning to the World,” and “Homo Sapiens Loses Control.” Each part delves into the rise and fall of societies, provides an intimate look at biology and psychology, and discusses the growth of technology as it pertains to Harai’s claims. It is by understanding these topics, Harai suggests, that people will be able to understand how society may progress into the next stage of human evolution.

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Book Review: Megan Stielstra’s “The Wrong Way to Save Your Life

By: A.M. Larks

Nothing other than fate can attribute to my review on Megan Stielstra’s book, The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, which took place a week after the events in Charlottesville (which occurred on August 12, 2017), when I was supposed to have received it a month prior. During the last week, the fear for our country has increased, it is undeniably pervasive and palpable. This fear is in every conversation, every communication, and every action or reaction. Fear is exactly what Stielstra tackles in her book. Stielstra ties the broad and the specific by examining fear at its roots, fear in her own life, and fear in everybody’s lives. Written before the November 2016 election, she comments on the fear rhetoric building at that time (which seems to have reached a violent pinnacle with Charlottesville), claiming that we must work through fear by confronting that which lies on the other side. Her words are startlingly prophetic:

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Book Review: Laurent Binet’s “The Seventh Function of Language”

By: John Flynn-York

Laurent Binet’s first novel, HHhH (short for “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich,” which, translated, means “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”), was a fictional reconstruction of the assassination of the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich. The novel’s narrative fluctuated between past and present, history and story. In the past, Heydrich rises to power in the Third Reich, committing unspeakable atrocities along the way, while two operatives—the Czech Jan Kubiš and the Slovak Jozef Gabčík—plan to kill him. In the present, the narrator grapples with this story and how best to write it, drawing on books, museums, and other references to recreate it in detail. The brilliance of the book came from the tension between these perspectives. What does it mean to recreate history? Can we understand the way historical figures understood things—that is, can we get inside their heads? Can we ever know the truth? In other words, HHhH was as concerned with what it means to tell a story about history as it was with the historical events themselves.

Binet’s new book, The Seventh Function of Language, similarly takes its inspiration from a real event: the accident that claimed the life of the semiologist Roland Barthes. Out of this incident, Binet spins a madcap tale of intellectuals run amok that is by turns wildly entertaining, mildly frustrating, and intellectually captivating—and only sometimes faithful to the historical record.

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Book Review: Kendra Tanacea’s “A Filament Burns in Blue Degrees”


BY: Catherine M. Darby

A Filament Burns in Blue Degrees by Kendra Tanacea is a haunting first collection of poems released this year by Lost Horse Press. Tanacea is a master of the moment—not straight-on moments, but rather, ones full of visuals and emotions that transport the reader into Tanacea’s world. In this world, the reader becomes a lover, beloved, betrayed, friend, child, and want-to-be-mother, all while ruminating about life and the fullness it can offer.

Her poems intelligently meander on corners of braided rugs and peep through keyholes to see what life is beyond that usual existence of life, her words intoning the mysteries and science of the universe.

In “Keyhole,” the narrator looks through the keyhole of a locked door, straining to see “what is out of sight.” The words deliver full sensory experiences of an ever-widening life:

There is the scent of man, of woman, of cedar.
The eye shifts, straining in its socket.
French doors open onto a veranda
overlooking an ivy-walled garden.
The round moon is rising, giant and yellow.
Star jasmine, star jasmine!
An eye can see far beyond
its scope: solar systems, galaxies,
the Milky Way’s skid of stars.
All atoms, revolving around one another.

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Book Review: Alice Anderson’s “Some Bright Morning I’ll Fly Away”

By: Kaia Gallagher

In Some Bright Morning I’ll Fly Away, Alice Anderson proves she is a survivor no matter what life throws at her. Her memoir recounts a decade-long battle to protect her three children from a vengeful, violence-prone ex-husband. The courts provide little help, encouraging family reunification rather than assuring the safety of an abused spouse.

Anderson is no stranger to hardship. Early in her writing career, she recounted her determination to overcome her father’s sexual abuse in an award-winning book of poetry. Human Nature is a harrowing description of a young girl’s fight for a future despite a childhood filled with incest and violence. It won the 1994 Elmer Holmes Bobst Award for Emerging Writers.

Despite her early success as a poet and international fashion model, Anderson is haunted by her past: “Something about [being a model] made me feel used up, consumed, like I was the little girl my father gobbled up all over again, his sexual abuse consuming in a drunken, hungry rage all the best parts of me until I was nothing, but a pretty, performing doll.” She becomes ripe for a relationship with Liam, her ex-husband whom she sees as someone trying equally hard to escape his family demons. Her spiral down into acquiescence is gradual, with an ever-tightening noose that threatens to erase not only Anderson’s very identity but also her life.

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