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Book Reviews by Title - S (141)

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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Janice Gary
  • Date Published August 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-61186-072-6
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 246pp
  • Price $19.95
  • Review by Cheryl Wright-Watkins
In this memoir covering more than thirty years, teacher and award-winning writer Janice Gary expertly braids together her life’s themes and experiences, focusing on her fifteen-year relationship with Barney, a stray Lab-Rottweiler that she finds in a supermarket parking lot. Barney fulfills the prediction made during his first visit to the veterinarian: he grows into a very big dog. This presents a complex problem for Gary after Barney becomes dog-aggressive as a puppy when he’s attacked by a larger dog and subsequently attacks and injures several neighborhood dogs. Gary, a trauma survivor who at fifteen years old found her father’s body after his suicide and then four years later was raped at gunpoint in a dark alley, explains how Barney’s size and power initially provide her with a sense of safety and security, although, since he outweighs and overpowers her, she’s challenged to control him when other dogs are present. The writer wins the reader’s sympathy for this life-loving dog, whose emotional wounds mirror the wounds of his owner: “We were twins, the two faces of fear walking side by side.”
  • Subtitle Brick Books Classics 1
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Anne Carson
  • Date Published January 2015
  • ISBN-13 978-1-77131-342-1
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 75pp
  • Price $20.00
  • Review by Patrick James Dunagan
"Anne Carson was born in Canada and teaches ancient Greek for a living." So reads the one sentence biographical author note as retained in this new edition of Short Talks, the poet Anne Carson's first book of poetry originally published by Brick Books in 1992. In the years since its publication Carson has made a considerable name for herself as a poet, essayist, and astutely adept translator of Greek, with her translation of Sappho in particular garnering much well-deserved acclaim. While Carson has always kept her personal details on the relative down low even as she has, at times, courted a fair bit of notoriety, and while concision is a definitive hallmark of her oeuvre, the brevity of this bio note is thus at once both disarming and appealingly elusive, especially for a poet of her stature.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Christine Hume
  • Date Published December 2009
  • ISBN-13 9781933996165
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 104pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Marthe Reed
Christine Hume’s language, “alive and lying,” takes us – shot or shunted – down into night, the imaginal-space of gestation. Mina Loy’s daughter-poet, Hume composes a Baedeker of the body pregnant, mapping a haunted landscape with a language she makes strange, dream wording a dream world: “I hear myself coming from your thoughts . . . Skull pockets that burn without warnings.”
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Ange Mlinko
  • Date Published April 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-1-56689-243-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 81pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Christine Kanownik
Ange Mlinko’s previous books have earned her much praise and fanfare and it does seem like she deserves it. Her third book, Shoulder Season, is sharp, entertaining and engaging. Her poems are timely and important. There are very few poets who can accomplish this feat. She is grappling with the world as it is. The landscapes are chaotic but the messages are not didactic.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Daniel Allen Cox
  • Date Published April 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-1551522463
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 176pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Brian Allen Carr
Daniel Allen Cox is brilliant with a picaresque vignette. He bobs and weaves through Shuck, throwing glimpses at the porn industry, New York City, gay sex and literary magazine submissions with steady grace, floating through the voice of Jaeven Marshall, aka the new Boy New York:
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  • Book Type Short Stories
  • by Norman Waksler
  • Date Published August 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-0981589923
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 132pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Laura Di Giovine
Norman Waksler’s second short story collection Signs of Life reveals just that. Throughout these colorful vignettes, the reader detects signs of life, a glimpse of those small elements that illustrate humanity’s solidarity. The six stories tumble through our consciousness, some unearthing a longing for the past or the sweet innocence of first love, others revealing the inevitable regret that stems from apathy and the dull disappointment of the typical workday.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Tayari Jones
  • Date Published May 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-156129900
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 340pp
  • Price $19.95
  • Review by Alex Myers
Atlanta in the late seventies and early eighties, two women, two daughters, one man: such are the major players in Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow. Delicate and tender without being cloying, this novel explores not only the strangeness of bigamy but also what it means to be a wife, to be a sister, to be a family. The premise of Jones’s plot is straightforward: James Witherspoon, a black man who runs his own limousine company, has married two women and fathered a daughter with each. Only one wife, Gwen, and her daughter, Dana, know of the existence James’s other family (Laverne, the wife, and Chaurisse, the daughter).
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  • by Marv Gold
  • Date Published June 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-1-59709-151-0
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 208pp
  • Price $19.95
  • Review by Christina Hall
When I began reading this, I was expecting a biography, although a closer inspection of the subtitle, “A memoir,” should have clued me in that Silverstein and Me was not a typical biography. And how could it be? Marv Gold tells us “he was an outsider and a loner.” Silverstein only did two interviews in his lifetime, both to the same university magazine, one of which is included in its entirety in the memoir. Writing an “accurate” biography of someone completely open is complex as it is, but given the “recluse” status that Silverstein earned while he was alive would make writing his life story utterly impossible. But Gold does a fantastic job of evoking Silverstein through his anecdotes, and we are able to get to know the famous author through Gold’s words as well as anyone probably could have.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Claire Hero
  • Date Published May 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-1-934819-08-1
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 82pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Kate Angus
Sing, Mongrel, Claire Hero’s first full-length collection, proposes a central conceit where the born and the made merge to make a disturbing and lovely hybrid music.
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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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