Have Words–Will Write 'Em

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

Archive for the ‘Book Reviews & Articles’ Category

I Review Nicholson Baker’s “Substitute”

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Most of Baker’s students are “alert” and “funny,” “attentive, good-natured, and full of ideas,” as he often writes in his reports to their regular teachers. But there’s always some chaos in classrooms of captive students who, armed with iPads, face a dubious curriculum and inept instructors. There are no major classroom catastrophes, but one of Baker’s greatest challenges is class control, which is probably much easier when you stand nearly 6 feet 5 inches. Still, student voices do get loud, and Baker doesn’t like loud.

You can read my review of Substitute, by Nicholson Baker, in the Sunday, September 4, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.

Substitute

You can buy Baker’s Substitute at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 4th, 2016 at 3:50 pm

I Review Dan Cluchey’s First Novel “The Life of the World to Come”

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Leo and Fiona are 25; it’s her birthday. He tries to comfort her as she waits in a hospital bed for surgery. She’s worried about dying, despite Leo’s reassurance that “nobody dies during wisdom tooth removal surgery.” Fiona tells him she has a theory about the universe, the afterlife, and the nature of time, and it will “just blow the lid off of everything.”

You can read my review of The Life of the World to Come, by Dan Cluchey, in the Sunday, July 9, edition of the Charlotte Observer, by clicking the image below.

The Life of the World to Come

You can buy Cluchey’s Life of the World to Come at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

July 12th, 2016 at 10:51 am

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 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 “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 “How Sweet It Is!,” by Thane Rosenbaum

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He’s in the hospital because it turns out the Surgeon General was right about smoking four packs of cigarettes a day. Sophie Posner, a Jewish gangster and a survivor of the Nazis, resides on the same floor. The fat man’s equal and confidante, she’s a hilarious and pitiable character who’s so tough that when the doctor tells her she has cancer, she says, “You think this is the worst news I’ve ever heard?”

You can read my review of Thane Rosenbaum’s How Sweet It Is! in the June 7 edition of the Washington Post by clicking the image below.

You can buy Rosenbaum’s How Sweet It Is!” at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

June 5th, 2015 at 1:52 pm

I Review Jane Hirshfield’s “Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World”

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Hirshfield defines a good poem as “a through-passage, words that leave poet, reader, and themselves ineradicably changed.” They transform in innumerable ways, as Hirshfield ably demonstrates through the book’s many examples. Some transformations are wrought in sound, others in connotation. A bit more complicated, though, is her idea that the poem’s transformation on the page is retained, at least in part by the reader, so that the reader is transformed.

You can read my review of Jane Hirshfield’s Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World in the May 25 edition of The Daily Beast by clicking the image below.

Ten windows image and link

You can buy Hirshfield’s Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

May 26th, 2015 at 1:00 pm