Have Words–Will Write 'Em

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

Archive for the ‘Book Reviews & Articles’ Category

Here are the Best Books of 2016

without comments

Fiction:

Enchanted Islands, by Allison Amend (Nan Talese)

Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood (Hogarth)

Moonglow, by Michael Chabon (Harper)

The Little Red Chairs, by Edna O’Brien (Little, Brown and Company)

Poetry

Garden Time, by W.S. Merwin (Copper Canyon)

Biography

Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises, by Lesley M.M. Blume (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Peacock & Vine, by A. S. Byatt (Knopf)

Non-Fiction

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carlo Rovelli (Riverhead)

Written by Joe Peschel

December 19th, 2016 at 2:44 pm

I Review Kathleen Collins’s “Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?”

without comments

Collins, whose stories are set in the ’60s through the ’70s, fits into the Protest Era. Her stories expand on her foremothers’ subjects of racial inequality and rage. Some of the book’s expressions are dated, especially “chick” and “cat,” “Negro” and “colored,” but the topics remain as pertinent today as they were in her time. Like Hurston and Petry, Collins writes about how it feels to be colored in a white world and how it feels to be a black woman in a man’s world. She writes of pent-up male rage and male-female relationships like Hurston and Petry did. But by Collins’ time, some relationships have become interracial, just as the book’s title suggests. And unlike the stories of her predecessors, many of Collins’ stories read like a filmmaker wrote them as she transfers cinematic art and technique to paper.

You can read my review of Kathleen Collins’s Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? in the Sunday, December 18, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.

whatever-happed-to-interraical-love

You can buy Kathleen Collins’s Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

December 16th, 2016 at 5:25 pm

I Review Michael’s Chabon’s “Moonglow”

without comments

Michael Chabon is known for his fondness for metaphors. So, it’s unsurprising that Grandpa advises the fictional Mike:

“Explain everything. Make it mean something. Use a lot of those fancy metaphors of yours. … Start with the night I was born. There was a lunar eclipse that night. … Very significant. I’m sure it’s a perfect metaphor for something.”

“Kind of trite,” I [Mike] said.

Despite Chabon’s self-deprecating humor, the astronomical metaphor is anything but trite.

You can read my review of Michael Chabon’s Moonglow in the Sunday, December 4, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.

moonglow-cover

You can buy Michael Chabon’s Moonglow at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

December 4th, 2016 at 2:20 pm

I Review Francine Prose’s “Mister Monkey”

without comments

When the fictional children’s book is adapted for the stage, a clause is inserted in the contract that prohibits any mention during the play of evolution. That is Prose’s wedge to insert talk about evolutionary biology and the evolution of a preadolescent boy. Prose tosses in some slapstick and a few funny, though predictable, comic scenes – but some of the alleged humor is questionable. You must be deep into schadenfreude to enjoy much of it.

You can read my review of Francine Prose Mister Monkey in the Sunday, November 20, edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, by clicking the image below.

mister-monkey

Written by Joe Peschel

November 19th, 2016 at 6:59 pm

I Review Jonathan Lethem’s “Gambler’s Anatomy.”

without comments

Bruno’s an American expatriate who hasn’t been home for more than 30 years. When we first see him in Germany, he’s wearing a tuxedo and looks like James Bond, the Roger Moore version. He’s trying to recoup his Singapore losses and on his way to fillet a few thousand euros from a rich fish, the backgammon enthusiast Wolf-Dirk Köhler, who may indeed be rich enough to be considered a whale. Or, it may be that’s he’s not rich and not even Köhler. Along the way to Köhler’s estate, Bruno runs into a German woman named Madchen whom he tries to pick up as his good-luck charm.

You can read my review of Jonathan Lethem’s Gambler’s Anatomy in the Sunday, October 16, edition of the Houston Chronicle, by clicking the image below.
cover

You can buy Jonathan Lethem’s Gambler’s Anatomy at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

October 15th, 2016 at 1:36 pm

I Review Margaret Atwood’s “Hag-Seed”

without comments

So far in this series, Hogarth has published four books written by critically acclaimed and popular writers. Hogarth began with Jeanette Winterson’s Gap of Time, her take on The Winter’s Tale; followed by Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name, a re-imagining of The Merchant of Venice; and Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, a remake of The Taming of the Shrew. Jacobson’s Shakespeare rendition has been the best until now.

You can read my review of Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed in the Sunday, October 9, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.

hag-seed

You can buy Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

October 8th, 2016 at 3:15 pm

I Review Nicholson Baker’s “Substitute”

without comments

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”

without comments

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”

without comments

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”

without comments

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.

without comments

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

without comments

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

without comments

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

without comments

“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

without comments

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”

without comments

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”

without comments

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”

without comments

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

without comments

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”

without comments

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