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Book Reviews by Title - S (147)

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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Abigail Cloud
  • Date Published April 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8071-5693-3
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $17.95
  • Review by Ryo Yamaguchi
The poems in Sylph, Abigail Cloud’s debut collection, are comprised of multiple balancing acts. They are graceful, self-assured poems, beautifully executed with a tightly focused imagistic sensibility. But they are also searching, inquisitive poems—their arrivals are real-time events, self-discoveries. They have an airy quality, as the title of the collection would suggest (there are “wings” everywhere), yet are also deeply rooted in the material world. They are as at-home in myth and the spirit world, or the haunting voices in archives, as they are in the garden and in the home.
  • Subtitle Three Novellas
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Patrick Modiano
  • Translated From the French
  • by Martin Polizzotti
  • Date Published November 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-300-19805-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 232pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Olive Mullet
Literary Nobel Laureates are not known for readability and popularity, yet the novels of 2014 winner Patrick Modiano (also winner of Prix Concourt and Prix MondialCino Del Duca for lifetime achievement) are easy to read and popular. His novels are short with short prose pages. Plus he recreates atmospheric noir settings, such as eerie dark abandoned castles or noble estates, and the characters he introduces are ever mysterious. His narrator, mostly unnamed and a persona for him, is constantly reminded of the past and wants to go back to understand it.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Benjamin Parzybok
  • Date Published September 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-61873-086-2
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 400pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by David Breithaupt
Benjamin Parzybok’s new novel Sherwood Nation is the latest addition to what is now being called “climate lit.” Books with apocalyptic plots which once seemed so far off in some crazy future are now disturbingly within reach. Recent titles such as Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” and Eden Lepucki’s “California” seem plausible.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Anna M. Evans
  • Date Published April 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0615983141
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 52pp
  • Price $14.00
  • Review by Patricia Contino
Greek dramatists called them “Chorus.” Virginia Woolf christened them “Judith Shakespeare.” In big-budget films with a religious, historic, or fantasy theme, they are “Extras.” On television, they form the zombie army on The Walking Dead or seek fame on reality TV, which is like turning zombie. With the exception of letters and journals written before the Industrial Revolution that survived by luck, there isn’t much to go on.
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  • Book Type Hardcover
  • by Jane Gardam
  • Date Published June 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-1-60945-199-8
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 476pp
  • Price $26.95
  • Review by Olive Mullet
The Stories of Jane Gardam will delight Gardam’s fans, who may find something new here. Unlike Gardam’s most famous novel Old Filth, but not unlike the ending of the third book in her trilogy Last Friends, these stories explore what may not be real. They also hold the element of mystery, fantasy, and surprise endings. Spanning from 1977 to 2007, these stories give a broader overview of Gardam’s talents, her favorite themes very visible.
  • Subtitle A Biography
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Daniel Schreiber
  • Date Published August 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8101-2583-4
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 280pp
  • Price $35.00
  • Review by Trena Machado
The first biography since her death in 2004, Susan Sontag: A Biography by Daniel Schreiber, gives a straightforward account of a very complex life. Sontag graduated high school at fifteen, married at seventeen, earned a BA from the University of Chicago at eighteen, had a son at nineteen, and was divorced at twenty-five. Sontag left the academic world, not completing a doctorate, as she explained, in order to explore the world intellectually on her own terms. She was a novelist, cultural critic, filmmaker, stage director, playwright, and political activist. She became an international pop icon and intellectual celebrity. She wrote about photography, illness, human rights, AIDS, media, minority rights, and liberal politics. When doctors told her twice she had cancers that were rarely survivable, she survived by her own efforts to find new treatments.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Bianca Stone
  • Date Published March 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-1-935639-74-9
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Jolene Brink
The loaded title of Bianca Stone’s debut collection, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows, carries the weight of the marriage-industrial complex on its shoulders. The modern wedding is a complex maze of consumerism, family tradition, and DIY design. But this book isn’t about weddings or bridesmaids. It’s about lovers discovering the space of a long-term relationship, and the poems vibrate when they touch on the tension between self-love and love for another self.
  • Subtitle An International Anthology of Five Centuries of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms
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  • Book Type Edited
  • by Alan Ziegler
  • Date Published March 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-89255-432-4
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 368pp
  • Price $16.95
  • Review by Matt Weinkam
Amid the ever-increasing number of short-form anthologies, Short: An International Anthology of Five Centuries of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms attempts to distinguish itself through comprehensiveness. As the unwieldy subtitle demonstrates, all genres, modes, centuries, and nationalities are fair game and the only limitation is that the piece be “fewer than 1250 words.”
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  • Book Type Novel
  • by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Date Published May 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-1-936071-64-7
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 304pp
  • Price $24.95
  • Review by Laura Pryor
Anton Waker’s parents are dealers in stolen goods, and his devious cousin Aria recruits Anton’s help in setting up a business forging passports and social security cards. But all Anton wants is to be an ordinary corporate drone, living a simple, lawful life. He quits Aria’s business, gets himself a fake Harvard diploma and snags a job at Water Incorporated, determined to go straight. He gets engaged to a beautiful cellist with the New York Philharmonic and looks forward to a mundane, middle class existence.


But Emily St. John Mandel’s newest novel, The Singer’s Gun, clearly illustrates that you can’t escape your past, no matter how good your intentions. A background check at work results in Anton being demoted from an eleventh floor manager’s office to a file storage room on the mezzanine level. His access to the company computer system is denied, all the employees that he used to supervise report to someone else, and he is given no work to do. Inexplicably, however, he isn’t fired.

Very gradually, Mandel parcels out background information; scenes she described earlier in the novel take on new significance as we learn more about Anton and his past. Anton is being investigated by Alexandra Broden, an agent from the State Department. His fiancée cancels their wedding twice. He is contacted by his cousin Aria, asking for his help with one last illegal deed – on his honeymoon.

Any further description would spoil the fun, or at least the mystery/thriller portion of it. Mandel’s novel is hard to categorize; it’s more reflective, thoughtful and well written than the typical thriller, but has more intrigue and action than a strictly literary book. Anton Waker is no one’s action hero; he is the most passive main character you will ever find in a suspense novel. He stays with his fiancée even after she cancels the wedding twice; he falls in love with his secretary but marries his fiancée anyway (third time’s the charm). He lets his cousin bully him into illegal activities, and he waits around for a new position at work even though he is obviously persona non grata at Water Incorporated.

The novel is carefully crafted, revealing, layer by layer, the formation of Anton’s personality, as well as his cousin’s. It raises intriguing questions about the difference between illegality and immorality; as Anton’s mother tells him, “Most things you have to do in life are at least a little questionable.” Who is more immoral: Anton’s cousin for instigating illegal activities or Anton for passively acquiescing to her demands?

Mandel’s writing flows effortlessly, which makes for easy reading. Though readers may be tempted to read quickly to find out what happens next, it would be a shame to rush past some of Mandel’s lovelier moments, like this description of Anton looking for his lost lover’s reflection in the windows of the building across from his:
Sometime after seven his office window began to appear faintly on the surface of the glass tower outside, like a photograph rising out of liquid in a darkroom. An hour later the image was clearer, and by nine o’clock – damn these endless summer evenings – Anton could see almost every window of his building reflected on the side of the hotel . . . Anton stood close to the glass, looking from window to window, but none of the brightly lit squares held Elena.
While Anton is a sympathetic character, I did find myself wishing he would do something, take some sort of initiative, especially towards the end. And there was one plot development (again, I can’t describe it without giving too much away) that was so predictable it was disappointing. These defects would be more damning if Mandel’s book was strictly a genre novel of mystery and suspense, but because she explores so many other themes, the mystery element felt more like a pleasant bonus than the main purpose of the story.

The Singer’s Gun is full of complex, believable and very likeable characters; even the most irredeemable character has a pitiable background that provides some explanation, if not justification, for her behavior. Even without the intrigue, they would all be compelling; with it, they make The Singer’s Gun the best kind of page-turner: one you wish would go by a little bit slower, but can’t help reading in one sitting.
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  • Book Type Ed. Barbara Hamby, David Kirby
  • Date Published April 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8203-3569-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 427pp
  • Price $24.95
  • Review by Larry O. Dean
I was drawn to this collection for two – make that three reasons: I enjoy versifying power-couple Barbara Hamby and David Kirby's individual work, and I believe good, 'funny' poetry is, if not quite as uncommon as some might argue it to be, at least worthy of omnibus analysis and appraisal. I suspected that these two editors, no strangers to humorous writing, would take a broad enough approach to compiling what they deem “seriously funny” poems, and the book's introduction – a fine read in its own right – bears that out.
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