Have Words–Will Write 'Em

On Books, Writers, Most Things Written, Including My Light Verse.

I Review Allison Amend’s “Enchanted Islands”

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But “official secrecy act be damned” – Fanny, this plain, childless, Minnesotan daughter of immigrant parents, writes that third memoir, “so that something I’ve done will live on, and I can move on from this world.”

Friendships, after three-quarters of a century, can be strained and tested, and so is Fanny and Rosalie’s. But despite her revealing a national secret, Fanny remains silent about Rosalie’s biggest secrets: “Secrets shared by women are sacred. They transcend the duties of country or marriage.”

You can read my review of Enchanted Islands, by Allison Amend, in the Sunday, June 5, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.

Enchanted Islands

You can buy Enchanted Islands at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

June 5th, 2016 at 1:32 pm

I Review David Means’s First Novel “Hystopia”

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The point of the story is, of course, to highlight the mistreatment and neglect of traumatized veterans. That’s made clear early when Rake says, “They failed me big-time by not taking care of me when I returned from the war … and (they) pumped me full of Tripizoid, as per treatment, and then all they did was double it down, increase what they were trying to decrease.”

You can read my review of Hystopia, by David Means, in the Sunday, May 8, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.

Hystopia

You can buy Hystopia at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

May 7th, 2016 at 6:46 pm

It’s Always a Surprise: A Conversation with Allison Amend and Others.

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Allison Amend answers questions from Hemingway, Woolf, Carver, Doctorow, Plimpton, and Peschel.

Click the image below to read the interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books

Amend in middle of Hem. Woolf Plimpton

Written by Joe Peschel

April 25th, 2016 at 8:48 am

I Review Edna O’Brien’s “Little Red Chairs”

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The novel’s title may be a bit misleading, evoking images of mundane objects that might belong to children. They do indeed belong to children, but these red chairs, 643 of them, commemorate the deaths of the children killed during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992. Thus, the love story, set in 2012, about a lonely Irish woman who has an affair with a mysterious man becomes a political novel, since the man is later revealed to be a possible war criminal. He’s a composite fictional character who resembles the former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, who was recently found guilty of genocide and other crimes.

You can read my review of The Little Red Chairs, by Edna O’Brien, in the Sunday, April 3, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.

The Little Red Chairs

You can buy The Little Red Chairs at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

April 3rd, 2016 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Light Verse

I Review Carlo Rovelli’s “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

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Rovelli gracefully eases us into thinking about our existence in a relatively strange world described by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, quantum gravity, the structure of the expanding cosmos, and tiny elementary particles, in ways that are as lucid, elegant and beautiful as the scientific theories themselves. He describes those theories one lesson at a time, giving a brief not-too-technical explanation, and using only a few simple drawings and photographs, often preferring to refer to Shakespeare, God or Homer to make a point. And he gives us but one equation.

You can read my review of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, in the Sunday, March 20, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.

Seven Brief Lesson on Physics

You can buy Seven Brief Lessons on Physics at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

March 19th, 2016 at 8:47 pm

I Review “Shylock Is My Name,” by Howard Jacobson

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Jacobson fast-forwards Shakespeare’s play so that it’s been only a short time since the famous trial in Venice. He moves the locale and Shylock himself to present-day England. You might recall Shylock’s daughter Jessica has stolen Shylock’s ring to buy a monkey and that she’s eloped with that rascal Lorenzo and converted to Christianity.

You can read my review of Shylock Is My Name, by Howard Jacobson, in the Sunday, March 6, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.

Shylock is my Name

You can buy Shylock Is My Name from Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

March 9th, 2016 at 7:57 pm

I review “Free Men,” by Katy Simpson Smith

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“The revolution is over. It’s spring, 1788, in the Southeast wilderness. A party of American loyalists has been murdered, and a Frenchman tracks down the killers: a Muskogee Indian, a slave and a white man. Smith includes plenty of adventure in this story, but she and her French tracker Luis Le Clerc Milfort are more interested in what brought this disparate trio together and what drove them to murder. Smith’s decision to have the characters tell their own backstories gives the book its sociological heft.”

You can read my review of Free Men, by Katy Simpson Smith, in the Sunday, February 28, edition of the Charlotte Observer by clicking the image below.

Free Men

You can buy Free Men, by Katy Simpson Smith, from Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

February 29th, 2016 at 10:06 am

I Review “Sweetgirl,” by Travis Mulhauser

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Portis tells Percy, “Your mother’s just off somewhere stoned. Like always.” And he’s none too happy about the baby. He assures Percy that Shelton and his lunatic friends will come for the child. Meantime, Shelton lies to his friends, each a nitwit in his own right, and claims his uncle promises a $5,000 reward for the baby’s return. Still looking for Carletta, Percy, Jenna and Portis, who carries a rifle, take off and skirmish with Shelton and his ilk, each armed with pistols, shotguns and explosives.

You can read my review of Sweetgirl, by Travis Mulhauser, in the Sunday, January 31 edition of the News & Observer by clicking the image below.

Sweetgirl

You can buy Sweetgirl from Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

February 23rd, 2016 at 5:15 pm

I Review Idra Novey’s “Ways to Disappear”

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How many novels have you read in which the missing person, in this case a female novelist in her 60s carrying a suitcase and smoking a cigar, was last seen climbing up an almond tree?

You can read my review of Ways to Disappear, by Idra Novey in the Sunday, February 14 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.

>Ways to disappear

You can buy Ways to Disappear from Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

February 13th, 2016 at 12:17 pm

I Review Charles Lambert’s “Children’s Home”

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Soon, children mysteriously show up. Engel finds the first child, an infant they call Moira, in a basket on the kitchen steps. Then other children arrive, including 5-year-old David, who walks in one day, and Melissa, who emerges “when a square of air above the lawn seemed to ripple as though it were silk and a knife had been drawn across it.”

You can read my review of The Children’s Home, by Charles Lambert in the Sunday, January 10 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.

the Children's Home

You can buy The Children’s Home from Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

January 9th, 2016 at 5:33 pm

I Review “100 Years of the Best American Short Stories”

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Edna Ferber’s story from 1917, “The Gay Old Dog,” begins a showcase of 40 stories. Stories by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald hang on the pages of this book like Mona Lisas of early 20th-century American literature, and, with the inclusion of a stingingly funny story by Stanley Elkin, who taught at Washington University, Lisa grins. Stories by Flannery O’Connor, John Cheever, Raymond Carver and Joyce Carol Oates constitute just a few more exhibits from the first part of book.

You can read my review of 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor in the Sunday, December 27 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.

100 Years of the Best

You can buy 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories from Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

December 27th, 2015 at 1:07 pm

I Review “A Wild Swan and Other Tales” by Michael Cunningham

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Michael Cunningham opens his new reimagined fairy tale collection by assuring us that most of us are safe from spells and curses, since we can manage our own undoing without giants, witches, or gnomes. Still, we don’t mind seeing trouble fall on the all-too rich and famous, the bold, or beauties now cursed bald and less beautiful, in stories that remake European tales by Hans Christian Anderson, W. W. Jacobs, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, or those collected by the Brothers Grimm.

You can read my review of Michael Cunningham’s Wild Swan and Other Tales in the Sunday, December 20 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.

A Wild Swan

You can buy A Wild Swan and Other Tales from Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

December 20th, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Light Verse

I Review “The Relic Master,” by Christopher Buckley

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Buckley’s story begins with a kind of preface: a news story from Aug. 28, 2017, reporting that an artifact resembling the famed Shroud of Turin, thought to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, had been mysteriously found in the tomb of Pope Leo X. It seems 500 years ago, plenty of shrouds, among other faked artifacts, crowded the market.

You can read my review of Christopher Buckley’s Relic Master in the Sunday, December 15 edition of the Boston Globe by clicking the image below.

The Relic Master

You can buy The Relic Master from Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

December 14th, 2015 at 3:56 pm

I Review Jean-Philippe Blondel’s “6:41 to Paris”

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It’s one of those situations common enough — you see an old acquaintance or maybe a one-time dear friend and neither of you know how to shatter the silence or begin a conversation. But the reason for this couple’s silence is anything but ordinary — a shocker, really — that’s slowly revealed through the narration and interior monologues by each character.

You can read my review of Jean-Philippe Blondel’s 6:41 to Paris in the Sunday, November 22 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.

The 6-41 to Paris

You can buy The 6:41 to Paris from Barnes & Noble.

 

Written by Joe Peschel

November 26th, 2015 at 4:13 pm

I Review John Irving ‘s “Avenue of Mysteries”

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Only 54, Juan Diego walks with a limp and looks at least a decade older. He suffers from heart trouble and erectile dysfunction, for which he takes beta-blockers and Viagra. Their side effects are bad enough, but he often fiddles with the correct dosage and even skips taking his pills. What writer wants his dreams partly censored or blocked? And does a fellow really know when he’ll need a helpful little blue pill, especially if he meets a particularly randy pair of female fans, which Juan Diego does.

You can read my review of John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries in the Sunday, November 8 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.

Avenue of Mysteries

You can buy Avenue of Mysteries from Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

November 9th, 2015 at 9:12 pm

I Review Lauren Groff’s “Fates and Furies”

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Groff writes with an exuberance, intelligence, and wit that few of her contemporaries possess. Her prose is frank and graceful, but behind her genius lingers a certain darkness in her characters and her plot.

You can read my review of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies in the September 20 edition of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.
Fates & Furies

You can buy Groff’s Fates and Furies at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 19th, 2015 at 2:29 pm

I Review Per Petterson’s “I Refuse”

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I Refuse is a distressing and moving story involving attempted suicide and child abuse by a despot of a father. Its collateral subjects include despair and, to lesser extent, Christianity versus Socialism. References to Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House help explain the abuse in Tommy Berggren’s family that drove Tya to leave; similarly, allusions to John Steinbeck’s novel The Moon Is Down help explain the Christianity-Socialism theme. Despite the inherent bumpiness of reading multiple viewpoint narratives, this story moves along at a nice and captivating pace, but a few narrative chinks and clunks muck up the surface.

You can read my review of Per Petterson’s I Refuse in the August 20 edition of The Daily Beast by clicking the image below.

You can buy Petterson’s I Refuse at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

August 29th, 2015 at 2:19 pm

I Review “Dylan Goes Electric!,” by Elijah Wald

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He got people singing and inspired younger performers, including Dylan, to do the same. “For Dylan, as for Pete Seeger,” Wald writes, “the attraction of folk music was that it was steeped in reality, in history, in profound experiences, ancient myths, and enduring dreams. It was not a particular sound or genre; it was a way of understanding the world and rooting the present in the past.”

You can read my review of  Dylan Goes Electric!, by Elijah Wald in the July 24 edition of the Boston Globe by clicking the image below.

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You can buy Dylan Goes Electric! at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

July 24th, 2015 at 9:05 pm

I Review Kate Walbert’s “Sunken Cathedral”

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The title of this brilliant allegory comes from Claude Debussy’s prelude for piano “La Cathédrale Engloutie,” which he based on a mythological city in Brittany that was consumed by the sea. When Helen, an art historian, was a young girl, her father told her Debussy’s “?‘The Sunken Cathedral’ is the musical version of Impressionism.” Debussy was Cézanne’s musical counterpart, and as if it were borrowing techniques from the two, Walbert’s novel nudges the reader “to see in the way one must see to be alive” as they try to prepare for The Surge.

You can read my review of Kate Walbert’s Sunken Cathedral in the June 21 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.
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You can buy Kate Walbert’s Sunken Cathedral at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

June 20th, 2015 at 11:21 am

Posted in Light Verse

I Review Kent Haruf’s “Our Souls At Night”

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You hear a lot about the power of Haruf’s “spare” prose, and rightly so. Of his own writing, Haruf, in a final interview with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, said, “I have written as close to the bone as I could. By that I mean that I was trying to get down to the fundamental, irreducible structure of life, and of our lives with one another.”

You can read my review of Kent Haruf’s final novel Our Souls At Night in the June 14 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.

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You can buy Kent Haruf’s Our Souls At Night at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

June 13th, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Light Verse