Book Review

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

Telling a story is an art. Cisneros tells a good story as she relates the story of the protagonist, Lala. That it is read by the author is marvelous. Back to Book Reviews

Rivers of Oregon by Tim Palmer

Beautiful photographs and vivid descriptions abound in this coffee-table style, loving tribute to the waterways of Oregon. The author describes what must amount to many trips across these great rivers with an enthusiasm that had me excitedly plotting out my next great adventure. His knowledge of Oregon's riparian ecology provides for informed essays that are fascinating and informative. My only complaint is that it should have been a larger book to really showcase the fantastic photos. Four out of five stars. Back to Book Reviews  

The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller

A horrific incident in Iraq in 1991 just after Desert Storm, in which a girl in a green dress is killed, intertwines the fates of the two protagonists in this authentic, resonant, rich novel by an author with experience conducting diplomatic missions to the region. Arwood Hobbes, a solider, and Thomas Benton, a reporter, find themselves back in Iraq twenty-two years later to solve the mystery of the seeming reappearance of the girl in green. The humor and sharp insights cleverly interlaced in the dialogue make this book infinitely readable and profound in its assessments. One of those novels that is difficult to put down and sticks in your mind long after. Great for political thriller enthusiasts as well as anyone that just loves a witty, taut, affecting novel. Five out of five stars. Back to Book Reviews  

Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf

Great slice of life graphic novel that provides a glimpse into everyday life in the region during that time. The story is told through a child's eyes making the political fervor surrounding them seem somewhat muted but still present, often in the background via the stunning visuals. Riad's parents are well-developed characters with complexities that are captured subtlety and artfully. Full of humor and a poignant memoir of family and place. A great read-alike for fans of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (especially if you enjoyed the family dynamics more than the politics), or anyone who enjoys memoirs and/or glimpses of life in this region. Four out of five stars. Back to Book Reviews  

Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett

What would happen if a Nigerian man woke up one morning to discover that he had morphed into a white man overnight? This is the premise that sets off this novel, similar to Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” After the protagonist’s startling discovery, he is left to understand what it means to live as a white man in Nigeria. It seems a great setup to discuss current hot topics of racism and white privilege, but the author does not delve into this in ways I would have expected, especially considering the book’s bold title, Blackass, which would seem to indicate a willingness to push the envelope. Instead, the story focused mainly on grappling with identity and the protagonist’s struggle to distance himself from his personal history. Much of what commentary there was on racism focused on the difficulties the protagonist had fitting into Nigerian culture as a white man, and the prejudice he experienced because of his white skin. In this sense, I found the book challenging. It did not give me what I expected. Instead, it challenged me by exposing the assumptions from my American cultural context I brought with me in my reading. After all, the novel was written by a Nigerian living in Nigeria, not by a Nigerian who has emigrated to America or Britain and then returned to see Nigeria through a Western filter. Back to Book Reviews  

The Vine that Ate the South by JD Wilkes

This is an offbeat southern gothic with an extra bit of quirkiness thrown in. You could maybe call it a speculative southern gothic. Two men journey on their bicycles along an old abandoned Kentucky rail line in search of a mythic house overrun with kudzu, where they believe a couple has been consumed by the kudzu. Along the way, they stumble upon every gothic-themed beast you can think of, and they dispatch with them in their own unique, bumbling way. This novel could have probably been titled Fear and Loathing in Kudzu. Or, Imagine Ignatius J. Reilly on an epic journey to find and defeat the monster Grendel in his lair, which happens to be covered in kudzu. Or maybe Don Quixote and Sancho Panza trading in their horses for a pair of bicycles and riding along the Cahulawassee river tilting at windmills. Or maybe Sir Digby Chicken Caesar and his trusty sidekick Ginger facing off against their greenest nemesis, that invasive vine, Kudzu. Either way, this is a unique read that I enjoyed throughout wondering what amazing event could happen next. Back to Book Reviews

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

A tumultuous cast of characters clamor through the bardo, the world between life and rebirth (similar to purgatory). We are led on our journey through the netherworld by a caucophany of voices, but primarily by a duo of characters not too dissimilar to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Tying all the bedlam together is an underlying story about the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, and his appearance in the Bardo. The format of this novel is unique, similar to a play interspersed with bits of historical documentation that frame the story. To expose our loose grasp of history, the historical excerpts often contradict each other, making the reader question how much truth there is behind the “true” events of this story. Watch for a movie adaptation in the coming year or two, produced by Nick Offerman and Megan Mullaly, who have already purchased the rights. If Ron Swansan and Karen Walker got together and made a movie, it would probably be something like this. This is a riotous romp of a read, except for a few sad parts, which were indeed sad. Back to Book Reviews  

Between Dog and Wolf by Sasha Sokolov

Many reviewers have compared Between Wolf and Dog to Finnegan’s Wake, and they have done so with very good reason. This is a work that requires intensive study to penetrate the stream of consciousness through which the actions of the book are divulged. In summarizing the plot all that several reviewers have been able to say is that someone lost a crutch at some point. That is the plot. Whether the crutch is recovered, or whether any characters even search for the crutch is unclear. What is clear is that one narrator of the story is a knife sharpener who seems to be the Russian equivalent of a folksy Appalachian mountain dweller. He talks in a meandering colloquial dialect. Also clear is that all narrative in the book is highly subject to linguistic play, much of which is illuminated by the 25 pages of annotations at the end of the novel. In fact, the language is said to be the plot of the novel, and it does seem to be the main force driving the book. Any sense of traditional plot is so elusive that most reviewers spend their time comparing the novel to other masterworks, such as Finnegan's Wake, and discuss Sokolov’s importance to Russian literature rather than discussing the plot, timeline of events, or anything about the book itself. This is a novel of intense literary quality that only the most committed will want to struggle through, but the struggle is an interesting endeavor, and readers looking for a challenging text will find this novel meets the bill. The gauntlet has been thrown down. Back to Book Reviews

The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees

A brilliant satire, this novel takes place in an unnamed country that bears many similarities with Syria. It follows the story of Fathi, a writer, who has lost favor under his nation’s despotic ruler because he dared speak out contrary to the ruler’s attempts to control the media. He struggles to find work, having been black listed, and to maintain his grasp on the truth amidst the ruling despot’s attempts to drown the truth out with a flood of mass propaganda. These absurd circumstances, where helping a fellow citizen is seen as a crime against the state, parallel much of the turmoil of today’s world. This is a very timely novel, considering the current events. Highly recommended, enjoyable, quick read. Back to Book Reviews

Is It All in Your Head? by Suzanne O’Sullivan

Is It All in Your Head? is filled to the brim with psychosomatic case studies. This book captivated me from the start. It features the heartbreaking and utterly fascinating stories of patients afflicted with terrible illnesses that have no physical cause, only a psychological one. Many of them never received satisfying explanations when doctors failed to find a reason for their ailments. Even people who had suddenly become paralyzed from the waist down or stricken with violent seizures were being discharged from hospitals with no course of treatment. This book calls for a different approach to healing these patients and Dr. O’Sullivan’s compassion for them is evident through her writing. This is a must read for any fan of television shows like House or Grey’s Anatomy. Back to Book Reviews