Category: Book Review (Page 1 of 2)

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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Book Review: Jeremy Robert Johnson’s “Entropy In Bloom”

BY ELI RYDER

If this were a typical review of a typical book, it’d start with a few catchy lines, maybe a summary of the text, providing skim-reading literati enough information to decide whether the review, and by extension, the text being reviewed, is their cuppa or not. Genre words like horror, bizarro, surreal, and suspense would attempt to box this book into some convenient framework by which it might be pre-judged.

Jeremy Robert Johnson’s Entropy In Bloom isn’t a typical book, so it won’t be getting a typical review.

Sure, there’s a summary that can be expressed. The underlying theme driving the collection is, well, entropy—the degradation of a system from a state of order to a state of chaos—and the beauty that can sometimes be found therein. Johnson’s characters are on the precipice of destruction, and we fall over that precipice with them into chaos—or redemption. It’d be easy to categorize a text whose unifying theme is descent into disorder as an exploration in loss—and some of these stories certainly open those kinds of wounds—but in this collection, there’s hope in oblivion.

The Tech Specs: sixteen stories, all previously published save the last, “The Sleep of Judges,” a sweat-inducing novella chronicling a desperate husband and father’s quest for revenge. One Pushcart-nominated short, heartbreaking in its shouldn’t-be-a-surprise ending: “Snowfall.” Gut-punches of emotion, not only in “Snowfall,” but also “Luminaries” and “The Gravity of Benham Falls.” And, so that no twisted appetite is left unsatisfied, sharp body-horror in “The League of Zeroes” and “When Susurrus Stirs,” two grisly tales of metamorphosis.

In another story of metamorphosis, “Dissociative Skills,” Johnson provides one of the most intriguing where-do-we-go-from-here opening lines a vignette about escalation could have: “Curt Lawson felt like a surgeon right up to the moment he snorted the horse tranquilizer.” The next few lines reveal a surgical kit set up in a decidedly non-surgical setting, and we realize that the teenage Curt is about to undertake an act of Special K-fueled rebellion against his alcoholic father and apathetic mother. Interestingly, using the horse tranquilizer in partial response to his father’s substance abuse creates an ironic disjunction that pervades not just this story, but the collection in general, in that Curt eventually becomes something more than he was through his destruction: a proud achiever, of sorts.

That story also contains what might be considered the collection’s thesis: “Her laugh seemed to Curt like the sound of a zoo animal finding the humor in its cage.” This is Curt’s mother surrendering to her circumstances and finding joy, however dysfunctional, in the horror of it all. Characters in the collection, whether due to societal pressures, psychological fracture, or plain bad luck, find themselves in horrific situations and still discover some glimmer of light, achieve some kind of enlightenment as a result of those circumstances. That’s the human experience. Our moments of highest potential occur when we are broken. We become something new in the repair, so new that repair may not even be the right word.

In a typical review, this conclusion would list a few writers that Johnson emulates/is reminiscent of/is influenced by. Again, Entropy in Bloom is ill-represented by the tropes of a typical review. There are clear ties to Palahniuk’s “Guts” and Choke, connections to Stephen King’s emotional symphony in Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and even loose ties to the sliver of positivity spiked at the end of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Where Entropy in Bloom separates itself is in the “bloom:” the beauty in all that horror is the point here, and not a side effect. As a result, this is a many-tentacled beast of its own family, genre, and species.

TL;DR: This is your cuppa. In political landscapes that include terms like “Mother Of All Bombs,” “Alternative Facts,” and “Nuclear Solutions,” it’s comforting to be reminded of a fundamental human truth: we are, to the last, capable of finding humor in our cage.

Here, a typical review would end with a neat little wrap-up line that puts a bow on the whole thing. Instead, I’ll just tell you that the last line of the review doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t be reading it anyway. You should be reading Entropy in Bloom. You have great things to look forward to.

 

Eli Ryder writes fiction and drama, teaches literature and composition, and abhors maple bars that dare to parade around without bacon. He is the Drama Editor of The Coachella Review.

Book Review: Nick Cutter’s “Little Heaven”

By eli ryder

New Mexico, 1965. Three seasoned killers converge on each other, then on a cult leader and a consuming force of darkness that threatens to overtake the world. Fresh, unflinching horror ensues. This is Nick Cutter’s Little Heaven. New Mexico is the perfect sparse setting for this modern take on classic westerns; outlaws, revenge, a maiden in distress, and a reverend that makes the most unhinged Pentecostal tongue-speaker feel perfectly sane all combine in a series of story beats Louis L’Amour would have found comfortably familiar, if he could stomach the visceral punches Cutter weaves throughout, a la Cormac McCarthy. Little Heaven’s New Mexico has “scratch-ass” towns with “straggle-ass” streets in which hired guns ask their targets, “Are you square with your creator?” before dispatching them to what lies beyond.

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