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NewPages Book Reviews

Posted August 1, 2014

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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Bianca Stone
  • Date Published March 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-1-935639-74-9
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Jolene Brink
The loaded title of Bianca Stone’s debut collection, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows, carries the weight of the marriage-industrial complex on its shoulders. The modern wedding is a complex maze of consumerism, family tradition, and DIY design. But this book isn’t about weddings or bridesmaids. It’s about lovers discovering the space of a long-term relationship, and the poems vibrate when they touch on the tension between self-love and love for another self.
  • Subtitle Essays
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Jacob M. Appel
  • Date Published May 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-1-61117-371-0
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 136pp
  • Price $24.95
  • Review by Girija Sankar
Phoning Home is a collection of essays by Jacob Appel, a prolific writer whose achievements in other disciplines such as medicine and bioethics provide him with a distinctive writer’s voice and acuity. The essays span the writer’s professional and personal lives, each adding depth and perception to the other. Essays on Appel’s Jewish heritage and family are at once poignant, witty and insightful. In “Mr. Odd and Mr. Even,” Appel profiles his maternal and paternal grandfathers, both in many ways polar opposites—one, a conformist and the other, someone who “made a point of sticking his neck out as far as his tiny, rounded shoulders would permit.” Who he should take after, Appel wonders. The rule breaker or the follower? In presenting their life stories in parallel, Appel marvels over the pull and push of familial bonds that mold us into who we are today.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Richard Matturro
  • Date Published May 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-1-60489-137-9
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 190pp
  • Price $18.95
  • Review by Patricia Contino
After discovering she is pregnant, the most famous mother in Greek mythology prophetically admits being “scared.” In Richard Matturro’s inevitable and absorbing Medea, she has every reason to be. Her troubles began long before the births—and deaths—of her twin sons. The Princess of Colchis (located in the Caucasus Mountains on the eastern edge of the Black Sea) is a practicing witch who lost everything helping her future husband Jason steal the Golden Fleece from her father King Aeëtes.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Beverly Burch
  • Date Published April 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-1-939639-04-2
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 96pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Andrea Dulberger
Some narrative poetry unfolds with loops of discursive detail, painting moments or scenes with long sighs of description. Not Beverly Burch’s work: these narratives hum with an electric attention to words. Poem after poem in How a Mirage Works centers on the kind of ‘mirages’ familiar to any of us, such as memory or our changing identities in life. Yet even when imbued with melancholy, the pace and language of these poems create worlds that crackle with a surprising suspense.
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Robert Root
  • Date Published November 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-I-60938-191-2
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 296pp
  • Price $25.00
  • Review by Cheryl Wright-Watkins
Robert Root begins Happenstance by explaining his plan for the memoir: “to write about one hundred days of my childhood in the next one hundred days of my age, to capture one hundred recollections of the past over one hundred days of the future.” On the eleventh day, however, his father died, and Root shelved the project for four years, until one of his creative writing students told the story about the chance meeting of his parents, prompted by a fly ball at a summer softball game. Haunted by the realization that numerous instances of happenstance had conspired to create this event, Root resumed researching family records, photo albums, and items he identifies as “literary remains.” The result is not so much a nonfiction narrative, as he writes in a guest blog post on Michael J. Steinberg’s site, but “the prose equivalent of a medieval polyptych, a multi-paneled altarpiece, especially since it is also full of photographs.”
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Laressa Dickey
  • Date Published February 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-1848613263
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 84pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Jolene Brink
Laressa Dickey’s first full-length collection, Bottomland, portrays a familiar American landscape with a deeply private undercurrent. Pastoral images and their inhabitants play a central role in the journey, but they keep their secrets.
  • Subtitle An International Anthology of Five Centuries of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms
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  • Book Type Edited
  • by Alan Ziegler
  • Date Published March 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-89255-432-4
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 368pp
  • Price $16.95
  • Review by Matt Weinkam
Amid the ever-increasing number of short-form anthologies, Short: An International Anthology of Five Centuries of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms attempts to distinguish itself through comprehensiveness. As the unwieldy subtitle demonstrates, all genres, modes, centuries, and nationalities are fair game and the only limitation is that the piece be “fewer than 1250 words.”
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Rivka Galchen
  • Date Published May 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-374-28047-5
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 192pp
  • Price $24.00
  • Review by Elizabeth O'Brien
The ten stories that make up Rivka Galchen’s American Innovations are compelling and unsettling, and feature female protagonists who are themselves unsettled. Some are predictably unsettled by men, husbands and love interests while others are entirely misfit within their lives, within their worlds. Many of the characters are reeling from a recent loss—of a job, or a relationship, or of innocence itself.
  • Subtitle Intimate Journeys through Modern India
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Sally Howard
  • Date Published May 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-1857885897
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 224pp
  • Price $17.95
  • Review by Girija Sankar
There are 1.2 billion Indians today, and the fertility rate for an Indian woman of childbearing age is 2.59. So, Indians must be having a lot of sex. Ah, but if only sex were all about copulation. How can India produce the Kama Sutra, venerate literal reproductions of the phallus, and yet, as a society, hold seemingly regressive attitudes about sex and women’s sexuality? In The Kama Sutra Diaries: Intimate Journeys through Modern India, British journalist and freelance writer Sally Howard asks this question that has been previously expounded upon by historians, academics and hippies hibernating in Goa. What she brings to this debate is a fresh perspective, new voices and a judgment-free approach to 21st century India’s attitudes about sex, sexuality, women’s lib, kink, sex work, and romantic love.
  • Subtitle The Odyssey of Indenture
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Gaiutra Bahadur
  • Date Published October 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0226034423
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 312pp
  • Price $35.00
  • Review by Lydia Pyne
Writing history is hard. Writing good history? Even harder.

Writing good history implies a fair treatment of one’s source materials, a readability of the narrative, and a clear voice. Juggling these three demands is difficult, to say the least. Writing history involves understanding the trade-offs between these three components. Different types of histories show different balances, and when one component is weighed over another, a different type a history emerges. Academic histories tend to favor attention to source material and detailed footnotes. Popular histories rely on readability. Memoir-infused histories blend present and past as the author’s own connections frame how stories are told. Even when given the same set of events, there are many ways to write about those events and many ways to write it well. Refusing to pick a specific frame, however, leaves loose threads in the historical narrative—threads that snarl and knot, distracting the reader from the author’s purpose.
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