Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Review: Sympathetic Magic by Amy Fleury

Sympathetic MagicSympathetic Magic by Amy Fleury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As the title poem announces, “Sometimes what is needed comes to hand.” These poems are both needed and close at hand. Amy Fleury’s voice is never overly intellectual, never too familiar. These poems are calm and contemplative, yet they bring necessary images to life, whether it is through the exploration of minutiae from a Kansas landscape like the “First Morel” or the touching encounter between father and daughter in “Ablution” or the perception of nuns and saints in their “Niches.” It is great to see a poet who vacillates so dexterously between intensely personal poems and poems of complete objectivity. Read these poems whether you are in “the waters of loving” or “the sump of loss” or somewhere between. They will do you good.

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Book Review: The Last Days of California

The Last Days of CaliforniaThe Last Days of California by Mary Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved the narrative voice given to Jess, and the immediacy of her story, where every moment is painted with vivid detail. Miller’s dry, sometimes sardonic sense of humor gives the story just enough of an edge, and the four family members trapped in the sardine can car on a road trip to witness the Rapture in California, keep tensions simmering and nearly ready to boil. And yet the sisters’ conflicts are never predictable and the parents are never the cardboard antagonists they could easily have become. We develop sympathy for the mother and the father’s weaknesses and inconsistencies, even as we get to know the two sisters through their rebellions: arguments about wearing their King Jesus t-shirts and misadventures with the boys they meet along the road. If anything, I might like to see a little more resolution of the issues of underage drinking, date rape, and teen pregnancy. The issues are there and portrayed realistically, but never quite acknowledged by the characters or resolved, though a full resolution might be too much to ask of the 15-year-old narrator. We are left with haunting questions that make this so much more than the typical road-trip novel. The changing relationship between the two sisters, and their understanding of their parents’ humanity provide the heart of a story that will remain with you long after the road trip ends.

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Book Review: Fear and What Follows

Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, A MemoirFear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, A Memoir by Tim Parrish

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fear and What Follows, takes a chilling and at times difficult, even challenging look at America of the 1970’s, specifically the city of Baton Rouge and the school and neighborhood where Parrish grew up. It was the time of the Vietnam War and Watergate. Tim’s brother was a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD before it even had a name. It was a time of integration of schools and neighborhoods, and of the white flight that resulted. And it was time of racial violence and unrest, in which young Tim is willfully engulfed. The book is an attempt to understand the choices that were made and the forces that drove him to make those choices. Yet it is not an apologia where we end up feeling sorry for and defending the main character. Instead, I think we are asked to put ourselves in his place, but also in the places of the even tougher kids whose violence goes unchecked and the Black kids who are both victims and violent themselves. We are asked to understand and confront the causes of violence and racism in ourselves. I don’t think I have read a more brutally honest account that is so beautifully written. It has the credibility of lived truth, yet the narrative is as engaging as any thriller.

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The Jumper: Book Review

The JumperThe Jumper by Tim Parrish

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tim Parrish‘s first novel is gripping from the first chapter to the last. More than just a good read, The Jumper broaches important themes for our day. The portrayal of the main character, Jimmy, is spot-on. His means of coping with being illiterate dovetail nicely with his biological father J. T.’s gambling addictions. If you’re familiar with Tim Parrish’s previous collection of short stories, Red Stick Men, or his memoir, Fear and What Follows, then you won’t be surprised to find a troubled father-son relationship at the center of the novel. In fact, Jimmy, an orphan, has several surrogate parents in the novel and none are completely faultless, though Parrish also finds a way to get us to sympathize, at least at moments, with all of his characters. Race is an undercurrent of both the main narrative (J.T., on the run from his creditors, now lives in a shotgun shack in a poor Black neighborhood of Baton Rouge) and in the flashback scenes of J.T.’s life before Jimmy was born. While the suspenseful plot keeps you turning pages like a thriller, the book also contains deep insights into a cross-section of American life that we don’t often encounter in fiction. Parrish’s portrayal of this Southern industrial city is both loving and disturbing, and at every moment it feels absolutely real. This book ought to be required reading for any lover of Southern fiction or indeed any lover of twenty-first century realism.

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Book Review: The Secret of Magic, Deborah Johnson

The Secret of MagicThe Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Secret of Magic is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Inspired by a true case of a WWII serviceman who was singled out and arrested on a bus in the North Carolina, then brutally abused while in custody for insisting on his most basic civil rights, Deborah Johnson weaves a magical realist tale combined with realities of the the early Civil Rights era. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund figure in the novel, and 1940’s Columbus, MS, provides much of the backdrop for the fictional town of Rever). Invented characters and events, as well as a novel within the novel, provide Johnson the magical elements needed to weave an important statement on race relations in the past, present, and future South.

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Review of Rivers by Michael Farris Smith

RiversRivers by Michael Farris Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First the disclaimer: Michael Farris Smith is my colleague in creative writing at Mississippi University for Women. Of course, I’m going to like his book! However, even I was surprised by it. Not that I would expect anything less than a good read, but Rivers is much more than a good read. Michael’s prose is a delight. His characters are fresh and at times haunting. He weaves back and forth in time to show us a dystopian future that is all too real juxtaposed with a much more normal and at times idyllic past. The combined effect is to heighten the drama in the present time of the narrative, since the normal world is never too far away from a world turned topsy turvy by endless hurricanes and tropical storms. Ultimately, the core of the book rests on the emotional choices the characters must make. It is a story of grief and loss, as well as a story of attempted new beginnings, of moving forward and looking back. It is a story that will pick you up with the first page and never let you drop until the last. Clear some time before you crack the cover. This is one book you won’t want to stop reading.

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Review: The Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos

The Three-Day AffairMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s so much I don’t want to say about this book, since it would give away not just the ending but the surprise at every page turn. You don’t keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. You keep wondering, how many shoes can there possibly be? This book puts Imelda Marcos to shame, yet each new revelation is surprising and rewarding in its own way. More than a thriller, yet thrilling, Kardos examines human nature in a tale that is both chilling and hilarious.

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