Category: Book Review (Page 1 of 4)

Book Review: Chaya Bhunaveswar’s “White Dancing Elephants”

BY: A.M. Larks

Chaya Bhuvaneswar fills her collection White Dancing Elephants with honest, unfiltered observations about tragedy and poetic truths, while crafting a diverse set of characters that spans from the unlikeable to the heart-wrenchingly sympathetic.

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Lee Martin’s The Mutual UFO Network

by: A.m. Larks

To assume that Lee Martin is writing about little green men and flying saucers would be a faux pas, but Martin is writing about things that are no less alien to us: our fellow human beings. The Mutual UFO Network explores the complexity of human relationships, which is as terrifying, strange, and incomprehensible as any extraterrestrial lifeform.

Martin’s focus is rooted in the terrestrial and focuses on life in, what is for some people, an alien world: the country. This collection is set in many of those “flyover” states that are often eschewed by the coasts. And while Martin uses the stereotypical country vernacular that belies old-fashioned values, he does not turn a blind eye to the heartbreak, hard times, and tragedy that coexist with that vernacular. The world of The Mutual UFO Network is as full of farmers and hunters as it is with meth-head sons and cheating spouses. It would be a grievous error to see it only as a collection filled with idyllic country folk leading a life punctuated by anecdotal sayings.

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Susan Orlean’s The Library Book

BY: Annette Davis

Susan Orlean, in her latest work, The Library Book, takes an in-depth look at the Los Angeles Central Library’s fascinating history. Orlean creates an almost romantic image. She entices her readers to see all libraries as something more than book repositories but as living, vital members of communities, catering to the needs of all who seek knowledge and a place of refuge.

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Book Review: LaTasha “Tacha B.” Braxton’s “Dark Chains”

BY: A.M. Larks

Dark Chains by LaTasha “Tacha B.” Braxton is a self-published spiritual autobiography of a girl’s journey through abuse to religious conversion. At its high point, Braxton’s story connects the reader to the experience of growing up in an abusive environment. 

We children were suffering the most, having to constantly hear that yelling and bad language influenced by drugs and alcohol through our locked bedroom door. We dealt with the trauma our mother felt from having a gun put to her face by my father. We dealt with the fear after my father threw a big concrete block through their bedroom window, shattering glass everywhere, with the brick barely missing my tiny head as I innocently slept in my mother’s arms. We were succumbing to this dysfunctional curse that would negatively impact too many generations to come.

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Book Review: Adam Nemett’s “We Can Save Us All”

By David M. Olsen

We Can Save Us All is an ambitious debut by a very talented Adam Nemett. The book begins with a chance meeting of our rather nerdy protagonist, David Fuffman, in an odd, drug-enhanced damn-building exercise where he meets the charismatic and wealthy Mathias Blue—in a frigid river, at Princeton. This clever scene is a fun springboard into the witty, satirical, and nihilistic novel that is to follow. The story is set in the near future where all-too-realistic issues of war and climate change combine with a phenomenon called “Chronostrictesis,” where time itself seems to be coming to an end as though through a funnel: human existence as we know it is no longer, as the characters have to stockpile food and supplies for the severe weather and the impending superstorm.

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Book Review: Micah Perks’ “True Love”

BY: A.M. Larks

Everyone I know is looking for a way to escape, hit pause on reality, and just take a breath; get immersed in something else, someone else, anything else because the real world seems too much to bear. And I am no exception. I do it too. Because at its heart, that’s what reading is: a way to escape the world around you, which makes it ironic that my escape would be reading about characters who are trying to escape their own complicated fictional lives in True Love And Other Dreams of Miraculous Escape by Micah Perks.

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Book Review: Nicole Chung’s “All You Can Ever Know”

BY: A.M. Larks

It is our origin stories that shape us. How we came to be in this world matters almost as much as what we do in it. There is a natural and innate curiosity to know the facts that happened before our consciousness, that ties us to our personal histories, to our culture, and to a larger family history. “Family lore given to us as children has such a hold over us, such staying power. It can form the bedrock of another kind of faith, one to rival any religion, informing our beliefs about ourselves, and our families, and our place in the world,” Nicole Chung writes in All You Can Ever Know. These stories are often simplified down to almost anecdotal summation, like my spouse who blames his perpetual tardiness on being late for his own due date. He came out a month late but only by inducement. He was late in the beginning and therefore will always be late.

For adoptees like Nicole Chung, her own narrative revolves around a common ideology of adoption–specifically transcultural adoption–that her birth parents were noble and self-sacrificing. “They thought adoption was the best thing for you.” This simplified narrative of her existence also serves to uncomplicate the stories we tell about adoption; namely, that it is always good and will lead to a better life. “Above all it was a legend formed and told and told again because my parents wanted me to believe that my birth family had loved me from the start; that my parents, in turn, were meant to adopt me, and that the story unfolded as it should have.”

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Book Review: Kim Brooks’s “Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear”

By: Felicity Landa

Kim Brooks’s book, Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear, begins with a flurry of emotions that I suspect will be as familiar to other parents as it was to me. In a rush of stress and worry mixed with the impulse to placate her child in a tense situation, Brooks made a split-second decision to leave her four-year-old son in the car while she ran into the store. She was gone for five minutes. She could see the car from the front store windows. And while her son was perfectly fine when she returned, this seemingly trivial decision led to one of the most monumental consequences of Brooks’s parenting years. Someone had filmed her, and sent the video to the police.

Small Animals weaves between memoir and research, as Brooks uncovers the social construct that catalyzed those fateful five minutes and their consequences. Parenthood has been caged and put on display, forever under the scrutiny of spectators who are not involved. Her dissection presents us with a book that expertly defines the one emotion devouring twenty-first-century parenting: Fear. And a society that perpetuates this fear is captivated by violence and failure, prone to judgment, and acts under the guise of protecting the innocent small animals its culture creates.

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Book Review: “Writers Resist: The Anthology 2018”

BY: J. Markowitz

Writers Resist: The Anthology 2018 (Running Wild Press) edited by Kit-Bacon Gressitt and Sara Marchant is a compilation of fiction, poetry, and essays originally published on WritersResist.org, an online literary journal established in the aftermath of Trump’s election. The Resistance is a decentralized activist movement against the powers that led to Trump’s election; the Anthology is a response to the question of the role of the writer in that movement. The book is activism in writing; its pages, a space for debate, confronting oppressive paradigms, and expressing solidarity.

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Book Review: Leah Dieterich’s “Vanishing Twins”

BY: A.M. Larks

I have begun this review eight times now. I know the topics I want to cover, the words I want to say, but the disjointed and interrelated concepts resist a cohesive narrative. The cause, I suspect, is not my lack of writing skills but the high quality of Leah Dieterich’s in her memoir, Vanishing Twins.

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