NewPages Blog :: Book Reviews

Check out book reviews of titles from independent publishers and university presses on the NewPages Blog.

Book Review :: The Glass City by Jen Knox

The Glass City by Jen Knox book cover image

Guest Post by Ashley Holloway

Originally published in 2017, Jen Knox’s revised edition of The Glass City is a brilliant collection of seventeen stories that fluidly combine seemingly unrelated themes together in unexpected ways. In this futuristic-yet-timely collection, Knox highlights society’s overwhelming sense of entitlement and narcissistic tendencies and their relationship to our changing climate. Each story is a mirror thrust in our faces, urging us to get over our love affair with ourselves, reminding us that “people didn’t need to further distinguish themselves from nature.” With buildings collapsing from exhaustion, virtual races run at home on treadmills, terrorist attacks, never-ending snowstorms, and characters with extra layers of toes from food contamination, Mother Nature acts as an omnipotent protagonist throughout, serving her primitive justice as a warning to society for the perils of continuing along the same trajectory. However, like the art of Kintsugi, Knox leaves us with the thought that what was once broken can indeed be salvaged and transformed into something beautiful.


The Glass City & Other Stories by Jen Knox. Press Americana, September 2023 (re-release).

Reviewer bio: Ashley Holloway teaches healthcare leadership at Bow Valley College in Calgary, AB. She writes in a variety of genres with work appearing across Canada and the US and has co-authored three books. Ashley is an editor for Unleash Press and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Book Review :: What Just Happened by Richard Hell and Christopher Wool

What Just Happened by Richard Hell book cover image

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

Really, what just happened when I read this book of poems, scribble scrabble drawings, photographs of crows, essays, and a memoir/list? Do I finally realize why my friend Robert Christie (who was a musician) was so enamored by Richard Hell? Probably. Coming across this writer reminds me of all the things I loved about Robert and his wife, Denise, what is direct and plainspoken, what is unusual and gifted.

Hell references Bill Knott in poems, and this can tickle the funny bone in a way that is curioser and curiouser. We do get a sublime glimpse into Hell’s music life and see that it cannot be separated from his writing. Even his essays are sprinkled with pure poetic reverie, “For instance, Roy Orbison hummed like chauffeured teal.” (“Falling Asleep”) My goodness! This is genius territory, beware!

My favorite poem is “Poets,” as I have just never read what poets do and what poetry is expressed so profoundly:

what poets hope to have
their writing do is somehow
trick into being
all that time forgot

Forgetting you, we are certainly not, Richard Hell.


What Just Happened by Richard Hell with images by Christopher Wool. Winter Editions, June 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

Book Review :: Flare, Corona by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Flare, Corona by Jeannine Hall Gailey book cover image

Guest post by Jami Macarty

The coronae that flare in Flare, Corona, by Jeannine Hall Gailey, allude to solar explosions, coronavirus infections, cancer scare symptoms, and multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Put another way, the poems deal with exposure and contamination; after all, we “can only hold death at bay for so long.” Preoccupied with calamity, “downed planes, traffic accidents and plain old bad luck,” our narrator is “a person who looks for the dark side” and “can’t stop writing the apocalypse story over and over.” At least she has, and the poems benefit from, a sense of humor, dark though it may be. The collection reads like a survivor’s how-to manual for scenarios like a “zombie apocalypse” and “what to do when you get the diagnosis you may not survive.” Neither comedy nor gravity matter when the “truth is, there is no final secret, there is no formula to save us” from whatever “sudden instability” will cause our demise. Despite life’s supervillains and death’s close calls, Jeannine Hall Gailey is “dancing in the flames, arms raised high,” rejoicing in the “part of us radiant.”


Flare, Corona by Jeannine Hall Gailey. Boa Editions, Ltd., May 2023

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

Book Review :: Because I love you, I became war by Eileen R. Tabios

Because I love you, I become war Poems & Uncollected Poetics Prose by Eileen R. Tabios book cover image

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

The Glass Fire in Napa Valley, 2020 seems to have been a turning point for the extremely prolific poet, editor, novelist, and activist writer Eileen R. Tabios. She and her husband experienced the fire and subsequent evacuation, which was successful, except that part of her life’s work was lost. She lost whole archive entries; material that belonged inside protected library buildings in official archives and not in an outbuilding that burned. This book makes real the fact that Tabios felt strongly compelled, passionate, and driven to collect some of her rescued writings and preserve them in book form. She tackles this project with love of what she finds among the remains of her work and is saying that love is the war she is raging against loss. While published archives can be boring to read because we don’t have the original pamphlet, magazine, or lecture to enjoy, Tabios’ inventive poems are delightful. More than half of the book is a compilation of “Uncollected Poetics Prose” that expand the meaning of archive, leading readers to dream along within them. What is so magical about this collection is that we are not left hanging and lost in the dense material of this ambitious project; we are shown abundance and astounding imagination in what remains. This project is love.


Because I love you, I become war: Poems & Uncollected Poetics Prose by Eileen R. Tabios. Marsh Hawk Press, May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson is a National Poetry Series finalist, Jovanovich Prize winner, and former Ragdale resident who lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in her book of poems, Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021). https://www.pw.org/directory/writers/susan_kay_anderson

Book Review :: Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe

Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Christina Sharpe has written an incisive and insightful book about what it means to be Black in America today. Though the 248 notes that make up the book are brief, they dig deeply into the realities of white supremacy as a central tenant of American culture. Sharpe draws on a wide variety of contemporary and historical writers, artists, and thinkers, ranging from some most readers would be familiar with—such as Toni Morrison and Frederick Douglass—to a number who will be new to those same readers. Her 248 notes include 208 footnotes, in fact, as she steps into the long and deep river of Black thought and art. Sharpe structures her book around the various meanings of the word note, whether as a verb meaning to notice or a noun in the musical sense. She’s interested in definitions and words in general, as one of the longest sections of the book is what she refers to as “preliminary entries toward a dictionary of untranslatable blackness.” Given her investment in the tradition of Black thought, she calls on other thinkers to help her provide definitions for “unbuilding,” “spectacle,” “property,” and a number of other terms. All of her notes—like a piece of music—combine to create a composition that is more than its individual parts, one that celebrates Black culture and history, while reminding readers of the White supremacist reality that Black tradition has been and currently is being forged within and against.


Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: The Fraud by Zadie Smith

The Fraud by Zadie Smith book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

The title of Zadie Smith’s latest novel is misleading, as there is no singular fraud in this novel; instead, everybody seems to be a fraud. Smith bases her novel on the historical account of the “Tichborne Trial,” in which a man claims to be Sir Roger Tichborne, a claim that is so absurd to be laughable, given the evidence. However, people—primarily those of the lower- and growing middle-class—firmly support him, even when they know the claim is baseless. They attend his trial and rallies in support of him, denying any reality he or his trial calls into question. If readers are wondering if there are contemporary echoes, Smith sets them to rest with a song that serves as the epigraph for Volume Eight (her structure mirrors the Victorian novels she is channeling), in which each stanza ends with the word trump. While the trial is the underpinning of the novel, Smith largely follows Eliza Touchet, the housekeeper for William Ainsworth, a novelist who once outsold Dickens, but who is now largely forgotten. Eliza attends their literary gatherings, but even though she sees through the literary elite, she has no standing to critique, given the role of women in the 1800s. When she meets Andrew Bogle, a formerly enslaved Jamaican who serves as the faux Tichborne’s one consistent witness, she asks to hear his life story, wanting to understand a broader view of Britain and humanity. She ultimately has a moral choice to make to try to stay true to her beliefs, to avoid being a fraud herself, and she develops a different kind of voice by the end of the novel. While Smith spends much of the novel showing characters who doubt the very idea of a shared reality, she reminds readers that fiction can still convey truth, even when it rewrites history to do so.


The Fraud by Zadie Smith. Penguin, 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Now These Three Remain by Sarah Dickenson Snyder

Now These Three Remain by Sarah Dickenson Snyder book cover image

Guest Post by Jennifer Martelli

Sarah Dickenson Snyder’s latest collection, Now These Three Remain, strikes the delicate balance of faith and doubt. Like the master carver in “Industry,” Dickenson Snyder ponders,

Maybe I am practicing for some god’s commandments
with chisel and mallet I tap across the smooth surface
of slate to unveil letters, carve words I can touch.

Sarah Dickenson Snyder uses the slash like a chisel in her three sections, “Un/Faith,” “Un/Hope,” “Un/Love.” This gives these Biblical words facets, as if carved in stone. The poems exist in these oppositions, these dimensions.

In “Ginger Roots,” the speaker tells us, “Most good things grow in darkness— / seeds, roots, a fetus.” The speaker’s conflict is, at times, rooted in trauma and healing. Coming from a place of religious doubt, the collection is also an account of sexual assault and sexual autonomy. The speaker remembers her assault, “not-breathing, those seconds / falling inside me like a rock in a pond.” In “Without Regret,” the older speaker, “chose my life over what was beginning / to grow.”

Sarah Dickenson Snyder’s whisper “Heal us, heal us,” resonates throughout Now These Three Remain, where “we all just want to make something / close to sacred while we’re here.”


Now These Three Remain by Sarah Dickenson Snyder. Lily Poetry Review Books, April 2023.

Reviewer Bio: Jennifer Martelli is the author of The Queen of Queens and My Tarantella, both named “Must Reads” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Poem-a-Day, and elsewhere. Martelli has received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She is co-poetry editor for MER. www.jennmartelli.com

Book Review :: In Memoriam by Alice Winn

In Memoriam by Alice Winn book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Alice Winn’s debut novel follows two British teenagers—Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood—during their time at an elite boarding school and into their time as soldiers during World War I. Their time at school sounds idyllic, but there are conflicts that come from Ellwood’s openness about his sexuality. It quickly becomes clear that Gaunt is also gay, but he is unwilling to admit that to himself or to others, and he is in love with Ellwood. The war significantly changes them both and forces them to confront their love, but also reminds them of the reality of the world they live in. Winn clearly conveys the horrors of the war and the loss of almost an entire generation of men, both through Gaunt and Ellwood’s experiences, but also through those of their classmates and Gaunt’s sister, Maud. She is part of a generation of young women whom adults encourage to go to the colonies, given how few men are left for them to marry. Winn creates a world where the war devastates all, leaving a world full of broken people who will have to spend the rest of their lives putting that world and their lives back together. Building their lives back is even more complicated for those on the margins, given society’s lack of acceptance of who they are. Winn reminds readers that so many did, in fact, sacrifice so much for the peace that followed, but some had to sacrifice even more.


In Memoriam by Alice Winn. Alfred A. Knopf, March 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Homestead by Melinda Moustakis

Homestead by Melinda Moustakis book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In this debut novel, Melinda Moustakis creates a couple who agree to marry each other a day after they first meet, based mainly on Lawrence’s claim to 150 acres. He and Marie have reasons for wanting land, a home, and a family, though she is more forthcoming about those reasons. On the one hand, then, this novel explores the challenges of clearing land and building a house in Alaska in the 1950s. It touches on the development of Alaska as a state and the land the federal government took away from the indigenous tribes who lived there for centuries. Moustakis, though, is more concerned about what it means to make a life with another person, as opposed to in a particular place; the isolation of the homestead simply heightens the conflicts Lawrence and Marie have. The idea of statehood echoes the trades one must make in a relationship, as some people oppose statehood because of the taxes the federal government will impose in exchange for services and the right to vote, while the takeover of native lands shows what happens when a relationship is one-sided. There are threats hanging over Marie and Lawrence’s relationship throughout the novel, whether that’s a grizzly bear attack or the secrets Lawrence keeps, leaving the reader wondering if what they have built can survive in the wild.


Homestead by Melinda Moustakis. Flatiron Books, February 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Black Ball by Theresa Runstedtler

Black Ball by Theresa Runstedtler book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Theresa Runstedtler digs deep into the NBA of the 1970s to show how a group of African American basketball players brought a new style of play to the sport, honed on playgrounds rather than high school and college gyms, where white players trained. More importantly, though, she shows how these same athletes stood up to the white owners and coaches, bringing lawsuits against them when necessary, to carve out more freedom and agency for the players. Those owners had almost full control of players in the 1960s, dictating who could play for which team when and limiting player salaries and the almost non-existent benefits. One player after another, though, began to push back against that control, winning one court battle after another, while also bringing a different style of play to the courts. Near the end of the book, Runstedtler shows how these changes reinvented the NBA and led to the strong performances of the 1990s and early 2000s, but also to the more politically outspoken players of more recent years. Runstedtler brings her experience as a Toronto Raptors dancer and scholar and professor of African American history to create a readable, insightful look at an important decade of development in Black activism and labor history.


Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation That Saved the Soul of the NBA by Theresa Runstedtler. Bold Type Books, March 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: The Devil of Provinces by Juan Cárdenas

The Devil of Provinces by Juan Cárdenas book cover image

Guest Post by Colm McKenna

Lizzie Davis’ translation of Juan Cárdenas’ The Devil of the Provinces is a middle finger to literary categorization; mixing elements of both horror and thriller, Cárdenas’ novel plays with conventions of both classifications, while further blurring the lines between genre and literary fiction.

The story follows a failed biologist returning to his hometown. There are some deceptively lighthearted moments early on, mostly musings about the emotional repercussions attached to going back home. A clinical fatalism is always leaking under the surface though, pulling the masks off the comforts a small town and a quiet life seem to bring: “do nothing but wander from end to end, go up and come down, out and in, open and close the fridge door, sometimes lie in front of the TV. Pure actions… completely devoid of intention.”

Continue reading “Book Review :: The Devil of Provinces by Juan Cárdenas”

Book Review :: The Weight by Jeff Boyd

The Weight by Jeff Boyd book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Jeff Boyd’s debut novel, The Weight, follows Julian as his life slowly begins to fall apart. The woman he’s been sleeping with is now engaged to somebody else; he’s working a job at a call center where the best way to advance in the company is to lead the morning prayer; he’s a drummer in a band that doesn’t seem to have much of a future; he’s one of a very few Black people in Portland. As the novel progresses, though, he slowly begins to learn how to put his life together, partly driven by a late-night encounter with a woman who reads him the entirety of The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy, a novella she believes he needs to hear then and there. The only complaint I have with the novel is that, like many first novels, Boyd wraps the ending up too neatly: people remain friends when perhaps they shouldn’t, and they reconcile every problem, at least superficially. Despite that complaint, Julian and his friends are an enjoyable group to spend time with, even when they’re making decisions the reader (and everybody else in the novel) knows are choices that will lead them in the wrong direction, at least until the end.


The Weight by Jeff Boyd. Simon and Schuster, April 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein

Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In Kevin Jared Hosein’s Hungry Ghosts, Hans Saroop is a hard-working husband and father in 1940s Trinidad. Unfortunately, that work doesn’t get him much money and results in even less social status. He and his family, as well as their friends, live in the Barrack, a pieced-together building with a roof that leaks so often they don’t bother to patch it and walls so thin everybody knows what is happening—for good and ill—in everybody’s lives. Above them, both literally and metaphorically, live Dalton and Marlee Changoor, a couple who have everything those in the Barrack wish they had. Hans and two of his friends work for the Changoors, a proximity that will lead to one crisis after another, revealing the temptation of power and the realities of poverty and lack of social standing. As the title conveys, there are characters who only live in the most literal sense, while those who are dead continue to affect the living, with no respite from their haunting. Hanging over the entire novel is the threat of violence that seems embedded in the nation’s history, especially the colonization and domination of the country that continues to weave its way through the residents’ lives, just waiting for the moment to return in full force.


Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein. Ecco, February 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: A Practical Guide to Levitation by José Eduardo Agualusa

A Practical Guide to Levitation by José Eduardo Agualusa book cover image

Guest Post by Colm McKenna

A Practical Guide to Levitation brings together thirty of José Eduardo Aguaulusa’s short stories, some written just last year and some so old he doesn’t remember writing them. Naturally, there is a real variety to be found here; “The President’s Madness,” in which the president of the United States awakes from a coma speaking only Portuguese, has a postmodern flavor, and would not seem out of place in a Donald Barthelme collection. “Elevator Philosophy” and “The Tree That Swallowed Time,” however, are more akin to the light-hearted, acutely sad narratives of Adolfo Bioy Casares.

Agualusa is of Portuguese and Brazillian descent, hailing from Nova Lisboa, Portuguese Angola. Magical Realism is a clear influence on his writing. In fact, Agualusa’s literary idols pop us as characters; In the opening story, Jorge Luis Borges finds himself ambling around in the afterlife. Unfortunately for him, it is not the heavenly Library of Babel he was banking on, but an infinite plantation of banana trees. The grand cosmic surveyor has made a clerical error; Borges has been mistaken for Gabriel Garcia Marquez and finds himself in the latters’ heaven. The final image is of Borges eating banana after banana in hell (he finds no more appropriate name for another man’s paradise) with a wry grin on his face; Garcia Marquez must be in the heaven meant for Borges, and thus in his own sort of down below. A nod to Borges’ famously polemic takes on certain Latin American writers, perhaps. (Roberto Arlt, for example, was described as “an imbecile… extraordinarily uneducated” by his fellow countryman.)

The stories compiled here are brought together by abstract and metaphysical topics, with the backdrop of colonization and civil war an everpresent.


A Practical Guide to Levitation by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn. Archipelago Press, August 2023.

Reviewer Bio: Colm McKenna is a second-hand bookseller based in Paris. He has published and self-published an array of short stories and articles, hoping to eventually release a collection of stories. He is mainly interested in the works of John Cowper Powys, Claude Houghton, and a range of Latin American writers.

Book Review :: Black on Black by Daniel Black

Black on Black by Daniel Black book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In his collection of essays Black on Black, Daniel Black takes a different approach to Blackness than many contemporary writers. Rather than focusing on the systemic racism so prevalent in American society, he takes that reality for granted, then turns his attention to a celebration of Blackness. He celebrates Black female directors, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the Black church, and activists and writers ranging from Frederick Douglass to Toni Morrison. Most of all, he centers his essays around self-love in the Black community, as he wants to spotlight the resilience and brilliance of that community, as his subtitle shows. He goes even further and celebrates LGBTQ+ Black resilience, as they battle AIDS, as well as those within and outside of their race. However, his book is not just unvarnished praise, as he also questions the institutions of power, especially the church and HBCUs, wanting them to be better. A superficial reading makes Daniel Black sound like Booker T. Washington—especially when he argues about the failure of integration—but a closer reading shows him to be more Malcolm X. He wants those who are White or straight or cisgender to see the beauty of Blackness and queerness, but he also wants his community to build on their brilliance, to grow even more beautiful.


Black on Black by Daniel Black. Hanover Square Press, January 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Flatback Sally Country by Rachel Custer

Flatback Sally Country by Rachel Custer book cover image

Guest Post by Mary Beth Hines

Rachel Custer’s new poetry collection, Flatback Sally Country, tells emotionally resonant stories of people who inhabit a hard-scrabble, left-behind, middle-American community. Through a combination of blunt and lyrical language, employing well-crafted formal and free-verse, these poems reliably deliver both pleasure and gut-punch. Custer’s linguistic alchemy draws the reader in from the start: “All day the sky is a closed fist [. . . ] All day the pregnant air [. . . ] It’s the kind of day that crouches low / behind your fear.” From there, each poem is as solid and satisfying as the next. Flatback Sally Country’s characters and sensibility are reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson’s novels, particularly Lila. Like Robinson, Custer shares glimpses into the lives of people born into overwhelmingly difficult circumstances. Yet, despite violence and hardship, the book flickers with redemptive moments, with love. Custer’s writing of this place and its people is a testament to survival, and to what matters. Its stunning closing, “As for me and my house, we will” is a praise song and a fitting conclusion to this review:

“praise the Lord of porkfat and Flatback Sally. [. . . ] praise hurt [. . . ] the same sin again and again. [. . . ] praise heat [. . . ] praise good killing one’s own dinner and the skin / tearing free from muscle at our hands / praise desperate land”


Flatback Sally Country by Rachel Custer. Terrapin Books, March 2023.

Reviewer bio: Mary Beth Hines writes poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction from her home in Massachusetts. Her work appears in Bracken, Crab Orchard Review, Cider Press Review, Tar River Poetry, Valparaiso, and elsewhere. Kelsay Books published her poetry collection Winter at a Summer House in 2021. Visit her at www.marybethhines.com

Book Review :: Take What You Need by Idra Novey

Take What You Need by Idra Novey book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Novey’s novel alternates between Jean and Leah’s narration of their relationship, following Leah’s trip to Jean’s house now that she has died. Jean was Leah’s stepmother before she left Leah’s father, and he forbade any interaction between the two. They only saw each other once in the intervening years, and that meeting didn’t go well. Jean has been welding sculptures in her living room with the help of Elliott, a young man who lived next door for a time, taking inspiration from two twentieth-century female sculptors. She finds a freedom and solace in her art that eluded her for most of her life. Leah works as a translator in New York City and looks on her childhood home in rural New York with skepticism, especially when Donald Trump begins his campaign for president. The novel explores the divide between the small towns that have deteriorated over the past years and the larger cities that have thrived. Leah is suspicious of Elliott due to that divide, and the misunderstanding that takes place during Leah and Jean’s meeting is complicated because of the broader political climate. This work, though, also holds up the power of art—especially art from overlooked female creators. Leah’s final narration imagines a scenario that might exist, but might not. Leah says that, for the sake of the tale she’s telling, a number of events happen (which lead to Jean’s artworks ultimately ending up in a museum), even, possibly, one other woman who sees the sculpture (that might be in a museum, but might not be) and finds inspiration to create her own art.


Take What You Need by Idra Novey. Viking, March 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Imagine: A Tale of Love, Art, and Anarchy by Francesca Nesi

Imagine by Francesca Nesi book cover image

Guest Post by Eleanor J. Bader

Imagine: A Tale of Love, Art, and Anarchy, Francesca Nesi’s first novel, is a paean to chosen family. But the sweeping, multi-layered saga is also much more than this. Seminal moments in world history – the late 19th and early 20th century anti-Semitic pogroms in Eastern Europe; the opening of the first Nazi concentration camp in 1933; the US civil rights movement of the 1960s; and 2011’s Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, among them – form a vibrant backdrop for a story that probes what it means to live ethically.

Central to the tale are Emma Roth, a bisexual Gen X art historian turned Manhattan gallery owner; Curtis Mayland, an older lesbian who works as a realtor; and Catherine Kroeger, a straight 20-something heiress whose billionaire dad bears a striking resemblance to Donald J. Trump.

The three are brought together by Tom Aldridge, a sadistic, misogynist hedge fund manager. As they collaborate on a plan to avenge his predatory behavior, the story takes numerous turns that force them, and consequently, us, to imagine a world without sexual or political violence. It’s heady stuff. And while the novel contains a few improbable threads, all told, Imagine is an inspiring ode to creativity, community, sisterhood, and social justice.


Imagine: A Tale of Love, Art, and Anarchy, by Francesca Nesi. Chelsea Books, January 2023.

Reviewer bio: Eleanor J. Bader is a Brooklyn, NY-based journalist who writes about books and domestic social issues for Truthout, Rain Taxi, The Progressive, Ms. Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Indypendent.

Book Review :: Hooked by Michael Moss

Hooked: Food, Free Will, And How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions by Michael Moss book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions by Michael Moss may cause skepticism for his claim that the major manufacturers of processed food design their products to addict consumers, his book just might convince them otherwise. He spends a few chapters early in the work to set up that idea, pulling from research into drug and alcohol addiction, but also from the tobacco industry. The food product manufacturers often ended up owning tobacco companies, in fact. Moss also digs into evolutionary biology to explain why people have such difficulty resisting processed foods, especially those that include artificial sweeteners, which our bodies haven’t adapted to. He draws on a wide range of research and experts to support his argument, yet he makes that necessary science easily accessible to the general reader. Ultimately, he points out that we can be smarter than the food product manufacturers, and that we can use our knowledge of their tricks to make wiser choices when it comes to what we eat. While he’s clear that those manufacturers are interested in nothing but making more and more money, he provides readers with ways to see through their claims, allowing people to make healthier choices for their lives.


Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions by Michael Moss. Random House, March 2021.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Wordly Things by Michael Kleber-Diggs

Wordly Things by Michael Kleber-Diggs book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In Worldly Things, Michael Kleber-Diggs offers readers the opportunity to tune to his point of view as a middle-class Black American: “this is what I witness; / I want you to notice it, too.” Kleber-Diggs shows up to the page with a direct address and his “full humanity,” allowing the reader to come to know him as a generous poet, an ethical person, a family man, and community-minded soul, seeking and contributing to a socially just world. His poems recount the great suffering caused by “circumstances / marginalized, disenfranchised, and unheard”—the zeitgeist of his time and ours. Because he “wanted it different,” through his poems, he offers “aid.” As Kleber-Diggs’s lungs “take in / send out—oxygen/words,” his poems help us “know how twisted up our roots / are,” and dreams that “we might make vast shelter together—” Selected by Henri Cole as winner of the 2020 Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, Michael Kleber-Diggs’s haze-clearing, solace-offering, and love-illuminated debut Worldly Things expands the gamut, “the entirety of it”!


Worldly Things by Michael Kleber-Diggs. Milkweed Editions, July 2021.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

Book Review :: Saving Sunshine by Saadia Faruqi

Saving Sunshine by Saadia Faruqi; illustrated by Shazleen Khan book cover image

Saving Sunshine, written by Saadia Faruqi and illustrated by Shazleen Khan, examines the complexity of familial and cultural identities in relationship to the various roles of each character. While the story is premised on saving a loggerhead turtle nicknamed “Sunshine,” that act seems secondary to everything else going on here. Pre-teen/teen twins Zara and Zeeshan Aziz are at that age where they constantly annoy one another, and parents Bilal and Rasheeda, both doctors, have hit their limits with the bickering. On a conference trip where Dr. Rasheeda is being recognized for her work in pediatrics, the twins have their phones taken away as punishment and must not separate when their parents are off conferencing. Pure torture! But the youths find activities to occupy themselves, ways to tolerate one another, and in the end, support and encourage one another’s interests. Layers are added to the story with flashbacks, represented in sepia-toned imagery, filling in details that help explain why the characters behave the way they do, and peeling back judgments even the reader may have made before fully understanding the whole picture. This work offers a treasure trove of topics for discussion with an overarching message of the difficult but important act of standing up and standing firm – both for oneself as well as for others.


Saving Sunshine written by Saadia Faruqi and illustrated by Shazleen Khan. First Second, July 2023.

Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is Editor of NewPages.com and reviews books she chooses based on her own personal interests.

Book Review :: Ephemera by Sierra DeMulder

Ephemera by Sierra DeMulder book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

Ephemera, by Sierra DeMulder, offers readers a “camaraderie among / women and death, ” acknowledging “the ecstatic briefness of it all.” In the first two sections of the collection, the poet focuses on her origins and roots, offering faceted responses to where she comes from: “the body / is a body for such little time.” The first section attends predominantly to “the women in my family,” especially the poet’s grandmother, who “waits for death.” The second section traces the progression of love the poet has known, from first love to queer love to lasting love, asking: “Who would sign up to love something / so impermanent.” The second-half of the collection focuses primarily on pregnancy—wanting and trying to become pregnant, ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and a viable pregnancy, and “waiting for our daughter.” These poems acknowledge “a thousand unrewindable moments” of grief “where all unfinished things dwell.” As these poems “leave… space for death,” they also offer “a blessing for each stitch.” In spite of or rather because DeMulder “give[s] thanks / for the loss,” recognizing life has “a levy on the road to” everything, she arrives triumphantly at the realization of an “intoxicating” and ephemeral “impermanence of enjoyment… everywhere.” Read these poems and “wake up back at the starting line, salvaged and full of hope.”


Ephemera by Sierra DeMulder. Button Poetry, June 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

Book Review :: We Are a Haunting by Tyriek White

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

We Are a Haunting by Tyriek White book cover image

Tyriek White’s novel We Are a Haunting follows three generations as they live in Brooklyn public housing. White shows the struggles of the family and the community, both in terms of the limited choices they have and the pressures that lead them to make some of those choices bad ones. However, he also portrays the joy so many of the characters find in the people who surround and support them, as they forgive old wrongs and work to make their neighborhood and themselves better. White also uses magic realism to explore whether his characters are fated for ill ends, as all three family members—Audrey, Key, and Colly—have the ability to see ghosts. Key crosses time, in fact, to speak to her son Colly well after she has died and he is still living, and she explains one of the family’s greatest problems: “Guess all of it stays with us. We’re a family of ghosts, of half-living.” Yet, by the end of the novel, Colly is learning how to make a life in a land that doesn’t seem to want him to have one, that views his and his family’s bodies as “reminders of toil and burden.” He’s learning how he can be more than a haunting to the place he loves.


We Are a Haunting by Tyriek White. Astra House, April 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home by Lorrie Moore

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home by Lorrie Moore book cover image

Plot is not the point in Lorrie Moore’s latest novel, If I Am Homeless This is Not My Home. Some people die, while some people live, and some of the living people have conversations with the people who have died. And not all the ghosts in the novel are those who have died, though some certainly are. Moore wants to explore what it means to be alive, to have a life, while also digging into mourning and grief and death, primarily through Finn, the main character. Finn’s ex-girlfriend, Lily, has struggled with mental illness as long as he has known her, and she has tried to commit suicide numerous times. Finn’s brother, Max, is dying of cancer. Finn doesn’t deal well with either of these situations, often refusing to face the reality of their mortality, but also ignoring the truths about their relationships. There are also interspersed chapters from letters written by Elizabeth, a woman who ran an inn in the post-Civil War South, a minor storyline that ultimately connects both literally and thematically to Finn’s story by the end of the novel. Lest this description sound rather bleak, Moore is as humorous as she always is, though more clever than funny. Still, she acknowledges the joy and laughter we must continue to find, even when—perhaps especially when—life and the end of it becomes miserable.


I Am Homeless If This is Not My Home by Lorrie Moore. Alfred A. Knopf, June 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Maths by Joel Chace

Maths by Joel Chace book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In Joel Chace’s Maths, each page is “serving as a threshold” between the author’s “original writing” and “mathematical commentary.” There is a sense that by combining these two lexicons the author is solving for something akin to inclusivity and unity. Or, are the combined poetic and mathematical vibrations an assertion against whoever, whatever keeps languages separate? The focus of each page is complement and connection between components, creating a collaged page aesthetic that elicits engagement with the visual and the written. Each page is a “structural oddity,” a disordered space “the contents / of which entirely depend upon where / I take my stand” or, where a reader takes hers. Upon engaging the pages of Maths, I was confronted with a feeling of trauma being enacted, an “awful math” of catastrophic accident and “the odds” of irreparable destruction: “Less than one minute to tear open so many years.” There is something being made of the predictability of humans and numbers, of humans as numbers—a unifying treatment of discrete and continuous variables. Chace’s is a book “dedicated to solving / the riddle of its own existence.” In the end, “everything falls into place, each / beautiful number and function.”


Maths by Joel Chace. Chax Press, 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

Book Review :: Divination with a Human Heart Attached by Emily Stoddard

 Divination with a Human Heart Attached by Emily Stoddard book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

The central figure of Emily Stoddard’s Divination with a Human Heart Attached is a daughter who is sometimes the poet interested in story and belief, and at others, she is Petronilla, the spiritual daughter of Peter. Peter, as it is told, trapped Petronilla either by paralyzing her or by locking her in a tower to prevent her from being beguiled by suitors taken with her beauty: “which part of my body most worried him, was it the eyes.” The main concerns of these poems are father-daughter relationships, gendered power structures, and venustraphobia: “has there ever been a body / like that / that hasn’t been dangerous.” The poems also foreground trials of faith and tests of will: “how optimistically / some people use the word faith.” The daughter writing the poems struggles with relationships to God, to family, and to her husband. As the poems confront deaths of family members and loss of marital innocence—“proportions of grief”—they seem to ask who/what is divine, “looking for a God / to attach to it.” While God seems not to appear, Magpie does, conjuring the 16th-century nursery rhyme “One for Sorrow,” which suggests the number of birds seen tells of good or bad fortune. Also, as it is told, Magpie stayed outside the ark during the Flood’s rising waters and did not offer Jesus comfort at the crucifixion. These acts of divination, independence, and defiance seem to be what inspires the daughter in these poems. Through her, the poems arrive at two declarations: “I want more passion, less resurrection” and “Grief is the thing / that says the world is real.” If an “elegy is trying to tell the future,” then reading Emily Stoddard’s “gold-star” debut may well foretell yours.


Divination with a Human Heart Attached by Emily Stoddard. Game Over Books, February 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

Book Review :: Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra

Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra book cover image

Guest Post by Colm McKenna

Bonsai, Alejandro Zambra’s first novel feels like it is over before it has even begun. I read it this morning over two coffees. By the time I finished it, I had eight, largely monosyllabic notes scrawled across the front-end paper; more often than not, my comments will spill over onto the half-title page. That is not to say that there is little noteworthy in Zambra’s book. Moreso, it is indicative of a well-crafted, engrossing story, a story in which narrative takes absolute precedent.

I find myself falling into Zambra’s stories without the teething problems that even the most ardent reader sometimes confronts in the opening few pages of a book. There is a mediopassive effect to Zambra’s prose. I think this ease stems from his self-contained, self-referential narratives; we are made to know from the off that we need only dedicate our attention to once-lovers Julio and Emilia, and that the periphery characters exist here only insofar as they reveal our protagonists. Those others could be fleshed out; they all have their favorite books, their ambitions, and secrets; they all go on dates and fall in love, but these details are not of any concern to the story being told. The narrative itself stands over the world like something tangible; when characters move on from Julio and Emilia, they move away from the story that is being told. In this self-contained narrative, this distance is equivalent to dropping out of the world.


Bonsai: A Novel by Alejandro Zambra; translated by Megan McDowell. Penguin Books, August 2022.

Reviewer bio: Colm McKenna is a second-hand bookseller based in Paris. He has published and self-published an array of short stories and articles, hoping to eventually release a collection of stories. He is mainly interested in the works of John Cowper Powys, Claude Houghton, and a range of Latin American writers.

Book Review :: When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar

When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Fatimah Asghar’s novel, When We Were Sisters, tells the story of three sisters who are orphaned, as was Asghar. Their uncle, who remains unnamed throughout the work, takes them in, not to actually care for them, but to use the money from their father’s death to fund his get-rich schemes that never work. The girls fend for themselves, often going hungry for days or weeks, living in squalorous conditions. They also have to work through their emotional struggles on their own, leading to trauma and suffering, especially for Kausar, the youngest sister and primary narrator of the novel. She portrays the sisters as watching out for one another, referring to them as sister-brothers or sister-mothers periodically in an attempt to show their toughness and their ability to nurture one another; however, Kausar realizes late in the novel that her perception has not been accurate. Asghar is a poet—this is her first novel—and her short sections feel almost like prose poems, at times; she even intersperses more poetic sections from the point of view of “him” and “her,” the sisters’ dead parents. Given their childhood, readers should be amazed at how well the sisters are able to manage largely on their own, but readers will also spend the novel wondering about the misogyny and greed that leads to their having to.


When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar. One World, October 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Field Guide to Graphic Literature

Field Guide to Graphic Literatury book cover image

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Graphic Literature: Artists and Writers on Creating Graphic Narratives, Poetry Comics, and Literary Collage edited by Kelcey Ervick and Tom Hart is the newest in the publisher’s Field Guide series. To say my mind was blown when I first thumbed through this collection would be an understatement. When I settled into reading it and working through the chapters, I intermittently laughed out loud with a kind of incredulous glee that such a book exists.

Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is probably the most popularly noted book on the subject of comic study and the tome that allowed many teachers to legitimize the incorporation of comics into academic classrooms. It’s the most oft-cited in this collection of essays, and while mentioned respectfully each time, there is a recognition of the limitation of his work, and in some cases, disagreements or differences of perspective. Each contributor who cites it does so as the starting point for furthering the dialogue in new concepts and theories on the practice of creating and reading contemporary graphic literature – pushing the conversation way outside the traditional comic frame.

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Book Review :: Maamoul Press

Maamoul Press logo

At the 2023 Chicago Zine Fest, I met Maamoul Press, “a multi-disciplinary small press and collective for the creation, curation and dissemination of art at the intersection of comics, printmaking, and book arts.” The submission criteria includes “by-us-for-us” storytelling which need not be strictly autobiographical, but should be “rooted in some way in the writer or artist’s lived experience,” for “works by BIPOC women, trans, and non-binary artists.” I selected several publications from the Maamoul Press table, as I was interested in how each is unique in content and style.

Loneliness by Reimena Yee book cover image

Loneliness by Reimena Yee is a ten-page zine coursing through the author’s relationship with loneliness, from youth to adulthood. Not always ‘getting along’ with being alone, but finding the joy and beauty in it, nonetheless. Yee reveals how she copes with and even welcomes loneliness into her life. An uplifting and empowering perspective for all of us solitary dwellers out there. The images are mainly black and grayscale, a few brown/sepia tones, on ivory paper. (10pp, 2020)

The Insubordinate by Rawand Issa book cover image

The Insubordinate by Rawand Issa is a bilingual (Arabic/English) full-color graphic novel ‘do-si-do’ style, showing more of the publisher’s book arts skills. Its story is based on real events that took place in Beirut between October 8, 2015, and March 20, 2017, following a young woman’s demonstration participation and arrest. Her case was turned over to the Military Court and her lawyer fights to have the case thrown out since it is a civilian and not a military matter. Issa’s use of multiple thick lines and hard edges creating geometric shapes adds intensity to the story as it ramps up and unfolds. A disturbing narrative experience in a stylishly beautiful presentation.

The Layover by Soumya Dhulekar book cover image

I selected The Layover by Soumya Dhulekar for its two-color risograph print and its all-too-familiar mundane storyline of layover waiting in an airport, banal exchanges between strangers, and the connections we make in surreal yet familiar ways. The graphic style is a perfect vehicle of expression for this story experience. (12pp, 2019)


Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is Editor of NewPages.com and reviews books she chooses based on her own personal interests.

Book Review :: Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi

Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi’s Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions, interlocking stories form a novel that follows four Nigerian girls as they become women trying to determine who they should be and what role their lives should play in the history of their country. In fact, the first story begins in 1897, well before any of the girls are born, and ends with a story set in 2050 with the remaining women meeting to help one of them solve a significant problem. On the one hand, this collection examines the positives and negatives of Nigeria’s history and culture, as it shows the effects of the Biafran war, the rise of Evangelical churches and anti-LGBTQ laws, the rich culinary connections, and the deep family relationships. In the final story, Ogunyemi even uses her background in medicine to critique the American healthcare system, especially around medical debt. More than anything, though, Ogunyemi’s work reveals richly developed characters who try to negotiate what it means to be a Nigerian woman, always relying on their friends to help them through triumph and tragedy. These characters care deeply for one another and, mostly, for their families, so they are willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary so that the others’ lives can be better, no matter what political and cultural shifts occur.


Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi. Amistad, September 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: The Funny Moon by Chris Lincoln

The Funny Moon by Chris Lincoln book cover image

Guest Post by Dave Greeley

Clair loved Wally but lately didn’t like him very much.

Wally is reminiscent of Jim Harrison’s Johnny Lundgren and Bukowski’s Henry Chinaski, guys who understand the cost of doing things the way they do because they are nothing if not self-aware.

The Funny Moon is set in a small New England college town where Wally grew up and to which he retreated in his late twenties. Lincoln renders it with a clarity that borders on virtual reality, and it becomes one of the book’s leading characters. After a few chapters, readers will feel like they grew up there, too. Inevitably, the walls are closing in on Wally. His main client wants social media advertising, a subject Wally knows nothing about. His wife Claire is running out of patience with him, or maybe she is outgrowing him. Even some of his lifelong chums are looking askance at him.

This is a classic coming-of-middle-age story, but Lincoln sails past every cliché with scenes so well-played the ending is one readers could not have predicted. The Funny Moon is sun-dappled and bleak, both a “What a ride” and “What the fuck?” As Jim Harrison puts it in Warlock, “The trouble is that no one gets to be anyone else.”


The Funny Moon by Chris Lincoln. Rootstock Publishing, June 2023.

Dave Greeley worked with the author for several years in the early 1980s. He is a communications consultant to clients in education, pharma, and high technology.

Book Review :: Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

 Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Chain-Gang All-Stars is Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut novel. After his stellar 2018 story collection Friday Black, this is an important book, but it’s also a good, if challenging, read. He creates an America similar to our contemporary one, but he’s updated some of the technology and introduced a new extreme sport, one in which those whom the state has incarcerated battle each other to the death. What hasn’t changed, though, is the racism and sexism and brutality found within the carceral system. Adjei-Brenyah highlights both Americas through the portrayal of his characters, but also through footnotes that remind the reader that, while his work is fiction, the suffering endured by so many is absolutely real. This mixture of what happens in twenty-first-century America and what has happened throughout American history along with his fictional world that builds upon those realities constantly reminds readers that what happens in the prison system today—especially the for-profit sections of it—is effectively no different from having prisoners kill one another for entertainment. Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxx” Stacker—the two main characters—try to create a relationship in the midst of this oppression and abuse, and they also work to show America what could be different, just as Adjei-Brenyah does in his novel.


Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Pantheon Books, May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Books Received June 2023

NewPages receives many wonderful book titles each month to share with our readers. You can read more about some of these by clicking on “New Books” under the NewPages Blog or Books tab on the menu. If you are a publisher or author looking to be listed here or featured on our blog and social media, please contact us!

Poetry

Alone, J.R. Solonche, David Robert Books
Bar of Rest, Sara Epstein, Kelsay Books
Bridge at the End of the World, Scott T. Starbuck, Blue Light Press
Broken Metronome, Connie Post, Glass Lyre Press
The Death of Weinberg: Poems and Stories, Walter Weinschenk, Kelsay Books
Dreaming in Cantera, Bonnie Wolkenstein, WordTech Editions
The Dreams of Gods, J.R. Solonche, Kelsay Books
EtC, Laura Mullen, Solid Objects
excisions, Hilary Plum, Black Lawrence Press
Expert Terrain, Diane Schenker, Word Poetry
Fig Season, Joan E. Bauer, Turning Point
Glass to Sand, John Van Dreal, Cherry Grove Collections
gulp/gasp, Serena Piccoli, Moira Books
Hearts, Joanne Corey, Kelsay Books

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Book Review :: 1:6 The Graphic Novel

1/6: The Graphic Novel Volume 1 book cover image

As with any disaster, 1/6: The Graphic Novel is emotionally difficult to read, but nearly impossible to look away from. Volume 1: Remember This Day Forever takes readers into the surreal (for now) world of ‘what if’ the insurrection had been successful. Propaganda messaging drones patrol the streets, news stations are taken by force and resistant newscasters killed on the spot (the Second Amendment ‘trumps’ the First), and Trump supporters rally on the National Mall for the unveiling of an “Independence Day January 6, 2021” statue with state militia (Georgia and Arizona specifically) recognized for their efforts. A MAGA father whose son was killed in the event comes to honor him, only to be distraught by the messaging scapegoating Antifa and BLM. The hero (so far) is a journalist who joins a group of ‘freedom fighters’ working to reinstate democracy, and the cliffhanger ending reveals they’ve got a volatile treasure critical to their success. While the authors note “This is a work of speculative fiction grounded in real events,” it will be all too real a match to what many have feared might have and might still happen in our lifetimes. This will be a four-issue series with free copies available to non-profits and advocacy groups as well as wholesale pricing.


1/6: The Graphic Novel – Volume 1: Remember This Day Forever written by Alan Jenkins and Gan Golan, illustrated by Will Rosado. OneSix Comics, January 2023.

Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is Editor of NewPages.com and reviews books she chooses based on her own personal interests.

Book Review :: Diana by Sivan Piatigorsky-Roth

Diana: My Graphic Obsession by Sivan Piatigorsky-Roth book cover image

Sivan Piatigorsky-Roth’s Diana: My Graphic Obsession made me realize that Diana holds a fairly firm place in my life experience. Having practically grown up with her, at least in news stories, I was surprised to have so many of Roth’s graphic renditions of famous photographs strike one memory chord after another. Most surprising is to see her life anew, through Roth’s insightful yet somewhat melancholy commentary, like the fact that Diana was only 16 years old when she first met Charles, who was then 29. Roth comments, “He was the very embodiment of charm. Standing next to him, Diana was just a child. His attention was overwhelming.”

Continue reading “Book Review :: Diana by Sivan Piatigorsky-Roth”

Book Review :: The Woman From Uruguay by Pedro Mairal

The Woman from Uruguay by Pedro Mairal book cover image

Guest Post by Colm McKenna

Translated by Jennifer Croft, The Woman From Uruguay by Pedro Mairal follows Lucas Pereyra’s day trip from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, which is fuelled by two motives: to exchange a 15,000 dollar advance for his last book, and to spend some time with a young girl from a literary conference he is trying to bed.

The unpredictability of the Argentinian economy means that if Lucas were to take his advance in Buenos Aires, he would receive less than half of what he would get in Uruguay. Transporting money that way is illegal, though he really is between a rock and a hard place; dealing with Argentinian pesos is like “being paid in ice in the middle of the summer, and freezers are illegal.”

Anxiety abounds here, anxieties which are further fostered by an ambivalence towards his young son, and suspicions about his wife’s adultery. The story is dejected and hopeless, full of self-doubt and hatred. Hints of ambition filter through though, even if these are buried under familial and professional obligations.

An anti-hero in the truest sense, we are still somewhat drawn to Lucas due to his playful, vivid style, his biting social criticism, and most importantly the strength of his writerly ambitions, which unfortunately butt heads with the bleak reality of literary production, As one of his colleagues puts it, “books have to be written… then you decide how much they’re worth… you polish them like diamonds, and then you sell them like a string of sausages.”

Mairal’s protagonist is far from likable, but it would be unjust to make him so. This man, whose obligations towards his family and his career are at odds with his fundamental desire, holding him back from it; how can we expect him to come up smiling?


The Woman From Uruguay by Pedro Mairal; translated by Jennifer Croft. Bloomsbury Publishing, October 2022.

Reviewer bio: Colm McKenna is a second-hand bookseller based in Paris. He has published and self-published an array of short stories and articles, hoping to eventually release a collection of stories. He is mainly interested in the works of John Cowper Powys, Claude Houghton, and a range of Latin American writers.

Book Review :: How to Stay Married by Harrison Scott Key

How to Stay Married by Harrison Scott Key book cover image

Guest Post by Eleanor J. Bader

Thurber Prize winner Harrison Scott Key’s third memoir How to Stay Married: The Most Insane Love Story Ever Told is a heartbreakingly honest, and often hilarious, account of marital infidelity and the resultant fallout from what he calls “an absurdist nightmare.” Hyperbole aside – this isn’t the world’s most insane love story – the book lays bare the complex and fragile ties that bind. How they fray, sometimes without us noticing the unraveling, is clearly presented. What’s more, Key delineates the many pressures, from demanding jobs to demanding kids, that can stymie communication and lead to spousal dissatisfaction. Key’s astute analysis digs into the psychological wiring that initially drew him and his wife together and, later, caused them to separate. But this is not a self-help treatise. Instead, it’s a very particular story about a very particular marriage and Key takes pains to avoid oversimplification.

That said, the book emphasizes that Key got through this period thanks to good friends and Christian faith. And while he concedes that religion is not always a source of comfort, in conjunction with therapy and a deeply-felt appraisal of his missteps, it provided the foundation for him and his wife to reconcile. For them, shared values, shared time, and shared laughter proved potent. Whether they’re enough, however, remain open questions.


How to Stay Married: The Most Insane Love Story Ever Told by Harrison Scott Key. Avid Reader Press, June 2023.

Reviewer bio: Eleanor J. Bader is a Brooklyn, NY-based journalist who writes about books and domestic social issues for Truthout, Rain Taxi, The Progressive, Ms. Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Indypendent.

Book Review :: voices of a people’s history of the UNITED STATES in the 21st century

voices of a people’s history of the UNITED STATES in the 21st century: documents of hope and resistance edited by Anthony Arnove and Haley Pessin book cover image

Guest Post by Eleanor J. Bader

In voices of a people’s history of the UNITED STATES in the 21st century: documents of hope and resistance edited by Anthony Arnove and Haley Pessin, progressives looking for honest reflection about ongoing efforts to eradicate racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and transphobia will find hard facts and clear insights. The fourth book in a series inspired by historian Howard Zinn’s now-classic A People’s History of the United States, it brings more than 100 essays, poems, speeches, and proclamations together.

The book opens with efforts to avoid war following the terrorist attacks on 9-11-2001 and then moves into other campaigns: The promotion of environmental stewardship; opposition to restrictive immigration policies; efforts to stop rape and sexual assault; protection of queer communities; and the development of mutual aid networks, among them. Although the collection sidesteps housing justice, the otherwise inclusive volume brings the words of well-known (Michelle Alexander, Kimberle Crenshaw, Colin Kaepernick, Keeanga-Yamahta Taylor) and lesser-known (Elvira Arellano, Evann Orleck-Jeter, Gustavo Madrigal) writers, theorists, and activists into a cogent and comprehensive social history.

All told, voices of a people’s history is an effective rebuttal to those who are pushing book bans, opposing LGBTQIA+ rights, and fighting liberalized treatment of asylees and refugees. It’s a powerful teaching tool as well as a good read and affirms the need for vigilance to protect our fragile democracy and extend social justice to all.


voices of a people’s history of the UNITED STATES in the 21st century: documents of hope and resistance edited by Anthony Arnove and Haley Pessin. 7 Stories Press, May 2023

Reviewer bio: Eleanor J. Bader is a Brooklyn, NY-based journalist who writes about books and domestic social issues for Truthout, Rain Taxi, The Progressive, Ms. Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Indypendent.

Book Review :: Older, Faster, Stronger by Margaret Webb

Older, Faster, Stronger: What Women Runners Can Teach Us All About Living Younger, Longer by Margaret Webb book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

There have been a number of recent books about being a female runner, including Lauren Fleshman’s Good for a Girl; Kara Goucher’s The Longest Race; Alison Mariella Désir’s Running While Black; and Des Linden’s Choosing to Run. Similarly, there have been several relatively recent books about the benefits of exercise (running, in particular) to help slow down the aging process, including Daniel Levitin’s Successful Aging and Daniel Lieberman’s Exercised. In her Older, Faster, Stronger: What Women Runners Can Teach Us All About Living Younger, Longer, Margaret Webb was on track to explore both areas almost a decade ago. Webb blends research and memoir in this work to delve into the ways running can keep people younger and healthier, especially how it benefits women.

Inspired by her mother and sister, Webb decides to become more serious about running, spending a year training for a World Masters half-marathon. Drawing on her background in journalism, she interviews experts on exercise science and some of the world record holders who are in the sixties, seventies, and beyond. She uses that information to shape her own training, certainly, but, more importantly, she wants readers to see how important it is to stay active as we age. She consistently references the growing body of research that shows how one can remain active well past the traditional retirement age and the multitude of benefits that activity can have, as she focuses on the quality of one’s life as much as the quality of that life.

Webb draws inspiration from the runners she interviews (often, fittingly, while running), but she also serves as an inspiration herself. She, like most of the runners she talks to, doesn’t feel they are extraordinary, though the one question she is unable to answer is what motivates some people to remain active, while others become more and more sedentary. Reading this book certainly serves to motivate, as Webb’s enthusiasm is infectious.


Older, Faster, Stronger: What Women Runners Can Teach Us All About Living Younger, Longer by Margaret Webb. Rodale Press, 2014.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau by Ben Shattuck

Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau by Ben Shattuck book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau, Ben Shattuck begins the first of his six walks on a whim, or, more accurately, as a coping mechanism to deal with nightmares stemming from the end of a relationship. It is unplanned, and it doesn’t go particularly well. By the end of the book, when he retraces a few stops from that walk, his life has changed quite dramatically. The book is both a meditation on Thoreau’s influence on Shattuck’s life and thought and a memoir detailing Shattuck’s development from that particularly difficult time in his life to a much brighter ending. As he writes near the end of the work, “…walking through the dark forest, you might eventually look up through the trees, see that the sky above is the same as the sky over the sunny pasture, that it is one canopy of light spread over your whole life’s landscape. Grief and joy are in the same life, but it’s only in the forest where you notice the shafts of sunlight spilling through.” Shattuck explores both grief and joy in his life and in Thoreau’s life, helping readers understand both emotions and both people more clearly.


Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau by Ben Shattuck. Tin House Books, April 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou

Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In Disorientation, Elaine Hsieh Chou’s first novel, Ingrid Wang is in the eighth year of her doctoral work, and she is largely ignoring her dissertation on Xiao-Wen Chou, a canonical Chinese American poet. She is almost thirty, engaged to be married, and her department chair has hinted that she could take over his position if she can simply finish her degree. Her life appears to be going well, but Chou makes it clear in her novel that appearances are never what they seem. Ingrid makes a discovery that leads her into an existential crisis where she has to face her identity as a Taiwanese American in the very white Northeast, her engagement to Stephen—who translated a Japanese author’s autofiction, even though he doesn’t speak Japanese—and who she hopes to become. Chou satirizes a variety of topics in her novel—academia, identity politics, the far right, the debate over free speech and what some call cancel culture—and, at times, that satire can simultaneously feel too broad and too spot on; however, her notes at the end of the novel remind readers that everything in her work has too much basis in the world for us to ignore her critiques and questions.


Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou. Penguin, March 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Impossible People by Julia Wertz

Impossible People: A Completely Average Recovery Story by Julia Wertz book cover image

Impossible People: A Completely Average Recovery Story by Julia Wertz rings it at just over 300 pages and hardcover, so there is no mistaking that this graphic memoir is going to be as weighty as it feels. Wertz has earned her publishing chops with five other collections and as a contributor to the The New York Times and The New Yorker, but both seasoned and entry-level readers of her work will feel welcomed here.

Continue reading “Book Review :: Impossible People by Julia Wertz”

Book Review :: Wanting: Women Writing About Desire ed. by Margot Kahn and Kelly McMasters

Wanting: Women Writing About Desire ed. by Margot Kahn and Kelly McMasters book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In Wanting: Women Writing About Desire, Margot Kahn and Kelly McMasters have collected a wide range of essays from a diverse group of writers, reflecting the various ways women think and write about desire. Some are related to sexual desire, the most obvious interpretation of the subtitle, including Dr. Keyanah B. Nurse’s essay on polyamory and Amy Gall’s experiences with dildoes. However, the collection has a wider range than that narrow reading of the word. Larissa Pham begins the book by discussing her desire for more time, while Michelle Wildgen follows that essay with one on appetite, not just wanting to discover new foods, but wishing she could rediscover the desire she had when so many foods were new to her. Jennifer De Leon uses an SUV to explore her feelings of alienation as the child of immigrants, while Aracelis Girmay delves into racism and language, hoping to help her children find the gaps in the latter to fight against the former. As Lisa Taddeo writes in her essay, “Splitting the World Open”: “Finally, as a gender we are speaking about what we don’t want. But, perhaps more than ever, we are not speaking of what we do want. Because when and if we do, we’re abused for it.” Kahn and McMasters have given these thirty-three women a space for talking about what they want, providing readers with voices that demand to be heard.


Wanting: Women Writing About Desire, edited by Margot Kahn and Kelly McMasters. Catapult, February 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: A Pros and Cons List for Strong Feelings by Will Betke-Brunswick

Comic panel from A Pros and Cons List for Strong Feelings by Will Betke-Brunswick

In a Friday Night Comics session for Sequential Artists Workshop, Will Betke-Brunswick explains that using birds as characters allows an “access point into emotional-heavy material,” and even though advised by a mentor “not to do birds,” Will says, “I feel connected to birds.” There is no doubt readers will also develop a connection, if not immediately, then over the course of topics covered in the graphic memoir A Pros and Cons List For Strong Feelings. These topics include Will’s mother being diagnosed with terminal cancer during Will’s sophomore year of college and going through treatments as well as Will’s coming out as genderqueer. There are flashbacks to Will’s youth, sharing thoughtfully tender and supportive moments, like when Will’s mother creates math problems for them to solve on the school bus to alleviate anxiety and when she writes a note for Will’s school when picture day rolls around to say it’s okay for them to wear a hat. It’s easy to sort Will’s family of characters, all represented as penguins, from other characters: buzzards, quails, parrots, toucans, and more. Betke-Brunswick uses line drawings with some fill, minimalist backgrounds, just two colors throughout, and varying framed and frameless compositions to express events, which include observational humor and situational poignancy. This is the kind of memoir that offers brief but deeply intimate and sometimes discomfortingly honest glimpses into someone’s life. In the same way Betke-Brunswick expresses feeling connected to birds, readers will develop their own connection to humanity through these feathered depictions.


A Pros and Cons List for Strong Feelings: A Graphic Memoir by Will Betke-Brunswick. Tin House Books, November 2022.

Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is Editor of NewPages.com and reviews books she chooses based on her own personal interests.

Book Review :: Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry

Old God's Time by Sebastian Barry book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Sebastian Barry’s latest novel, Old God’s Time, explores the ripple effects of trauma that stems from the violence and abuse Irish priests inflicted on children. Barry doesn’t portray the traumatic events directly, but readers should know there are a number of references to such events, as well as others related to harm to children. The person suffering the most—or at least the one who has endured through the suffering—is Tom Kettle, a retired police officer. He is enjoying his retirement until his former supervisor sends two officers to talk to him about a case related to a priest whom Kettle knows has abused many children, a case Kettle worked on earlier in his career, only to see it covered up by church and police authorities. Barry uses a third-person close narration, as much of the novel takes place in Kettle’s thoughts, which are more important than his and other characters’ actions. Kettle has to relive his past to come to grips with who he is now and what he and others have done. Though the book is dark and heavy, the language is lovely, filled with music and imagery that helps carry the reader through the awful realities Barry portrays, almost—but only almost—letting the reader forget about the suffering Kettle and so many others have endured.


Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry. Viking, March 2003.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: New Voices ed. by Debs and Silverman

New Voices ed. by Debs and Silverman book cover image

Guest Post by Kate Flannery

Have you ever tried to talk to anyone about the Holocaust? Have you ever had someone try to talk to you about the Holocaust? It’s harder than you think. Most people start with comments like, “How could anyone let that happen?” Or “Why didn’t anyone know about it at the time?” Or, more simply, “I don’t understand it.”

New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust, edited by Howard Debs and Matthew Silverman, is a good place to start that conversation. The volume is a compilation of poetry, fiction, and essays by contemporary writers who are confronting that horrific past by responding to photographs which are unfamiliar to most of us: A photo from the 1930s of a small Jewish boy with his teddy bear; a photo of Karel Ancerl, conductor of the Prague Radio Symphony in 1944; and others. And readers can take these modern responses in small doses, one poem at a time, one piece of flash fiction at a time. Probably a necessary approach for this kind of topic. Literature, history, and the depths of the human soul come together here — a must-read for anyone who clings to hopes that we can avoid atrocities like The Holocaust in the future.


New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust edited by Howard Debs and Matthew Silverman. Vallentine Mitchell, April 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kate Flannery is an Editor-at-Large for The Journal of Radical Wonder. She lives in a small college town where she also practices law. Her essays, poetry, and fiction have been published in Pure Slush, Chiron Review, Shark Reef, and Ekphrastic Review as well as other literary journals.

Book Review :: Lessons and Carols by John West

Lessons and Carols by John West book cover image

Guest Post by Jack Bylund

Written in short vignettes of narrative that make it difficult to put down, John West’s Lessons and Carols: A Meditation on Recovery is a thoughtful and poetic memoir, beautifully written and rife with striking imagery. West vulnerably and honestly engages with his own life story. As he does, he explores the joys and pains of new parenthood, the agony of addiction, the contradictions of faith and atheism, and so much more, all in the form of a traditional Anglican Christmas service. Devastating emotion is packed into vignettes making up a single page or even just a few sentences. It’s not all dour rumination, though—West’s narrative voice includes sly and sometimes self-deprecating bits of humor.

The cast of characters rises to unwieldy numbers by the end; it grows difficult to keep track of who everyone is, especially people in addiction recovery with West, all christened with just a single letter (N, for instance). But this does not detract from the beauty of West’s writing, messaging, and storytelling. Anyone interested in narratives about faith, atheism, queerness, mental illness, and profound questions will find more than one thing to treasure in these pages.


Lessons and Carols: A Meditation on Recovery by John West. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jack Bylund teaches and studies English literature and fiction at Utah State University. He loves contemporary lit, Panda Express, and books about the end of the world.

Book Review :: House Parties by Lynn Levin

House Parties by Lynn Levin book cover image

Guest Post by Joy Stocke

In Lynn Levin’s expert hands, House Parties, a collection of twenty beautifully crafted short stories, the mundane actions of daily life are upended and enter the realm of myth. Family relationships, work relationships, and love in its many forms are woven into a narrative laced with pop culture, literary references, wisdom, and wry humor. On a hike in Yosemite, a young man caring for his ailing mother encourages his friends to seek an elusive waterfall and encounters a raven who leads the way. In a nod to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and turning the Jewish myth of the Golem on its head, a woman yearning for companionship fashions a meatloaf into a living being. Students rebel against their professors. A young woman perfects the art of grifting, while a millennial couple seeks to rekindle their love in a new housing development. On a remote beach in Puerto Rico, an awkward teenager encounters a band of monkeys. The natural world permeates the collection and illuminates the mysteries that exist just beyond our grasp. For Levin and her rich tapestry of characters, that very mystery offers and delivers the opportunity for transcendence.


House Parties by Lynn Levin. Spuyten Duyvill Press, May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Joy E. Stocke is the author of numerous books and articles. She has edited and published works of fiction for more than 30 years.

Book Review :: Choosing to Run by Des Linden

Choosing to Run by Des Linden book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Unlike several other memoirs from female runners that have come out in the past six months or so—Laura Fleshman’s Good for a Girl; Kara Goucher’s The Longest Race; or Running While Black by Alison Mariella Désir—Linden’s memoir is much more focused on her career in running, not significant issues surrounding the sport (gender, doping, and race, respectively) in the context of the authors’ lives and careers. She centers her story around the 2018 Boston Marathon, interspersing chapters from that race with longer chapters about how she got to that point. The first half of the book feels like necessary background information Linden needs the reader to know to set up the much more dramatic second half of the book, the time in her career when she’s nearing that appearance in Boston. As with the final 10K of the Boston Marathon course, the pace picks up at that point, as the suspense of how she ended up winning the race (no spoiler there, as it’s in the summary of the memoir) after struggling with a debilitating thyroid issue and the worst marathon preparation of her career makes readers want to push to the finish. While Linden does hint at larger concerns—unequal power in contract negotiations and doping—the focus here is on why Linden continued (and continues) to show up and choose to run.


Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Choosing to Run by Des Linden. Dutton, April 2023.