Category Book Reviews

Check out book reviews of titles from independent publishers and university presses on the NewPages Blog.

Book Review :: What Cannot Be Undone by Walter M. Robinson

What Cannot Be Undone by Walter  M Robinson

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In his collection of essays, What Cannot Be Undone: True Stories of a Life in Medicine, Walter M. Robinson warns readers in his introduction that this book is not full of success stories or happy endings. His book is not for those who want to see people perform miraculous (or even ordinary) recoveries. Instead, he writes honestly about those patients who suffer and, quite often, die. Robinson is a pediatrician who specializes in lung transplants (many related to cystic fibrosis), so a number of the patients he writes about are children or young adults, making the book an especially challenging read for some. However, the book explores important ideas about healthcare, ethics, life, and death, no matter how harrowing the stories he relates. He also includes moments of grace and humor, as those continue to occur even in the midst of death and everything that leads to it. Robinson is willing to share his doubts and fears openly and honestly, which makes him not only a narrator readers can trust, but a doctor one would wish to have by their bedside during those times of loss. He is a doctor who gives the bad news straight, which should only serve as a reminder to celebrate the better moments while they last.


What Cannot Be Undone: True Stories of a Life in Medicine by Walter M. Robinson. University of New Mexico Press, February 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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Book Review :: The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Readers should know something going into Ozeki’s novel: inanimate objects talk to the main character, Benny Oh. One of those items is the book the reader is reading and that Benny is writing, more or less. If you can’t get past that technique, this book isn’t for you, as it’s central to the novel. Benny might be crazy, but he might also simply be seeing more of the world than other people; Ozeki leaves that up to the reader, as it’s a question she believes is worth exploring. Benny struggles with it himself, as does everybody around him, and there is a colorful cast of characters he interacts with. Ozeki tangentially explores a number of relevant social issues, ranging from climate change to consumerism, but she mainly seems interested in how we relate to the universe and those around us. Thus, she uses a variety of characters to explore the things (the actual stuff) that make up our world and our relationships with it, whether we horde them or seek to order them. As a Buddhist, Ozeki believes the world is more alive than most of us would admit and that we are one with it, whether we want to be or not. Most of us just aren’t listening closely enough.


The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki. Viking, September 2021; Penguin, June 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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Book Review :: A Judge’s Odyssey

A Judge's Odyssey by Dean B. Pineles published by Rootstock Publishing book cover image

Guest Post by Kimberly Cheney

Judge Dean B. Pineles’ memoir is a journey through a dangerous forest of uncertain trails and trials, searching for that pinnacle of democracy: the rule of law. It includes a near career-ending event when, as the Vermont governor’s legal counsel, Pineles recommended taking into custody the children of a secretive religious community based on allegations of mental and physical abuse, an event etched into Vermont’s legal and cultural history. Pineles divulges how he subsequently survived a very contentious judicial confirmation process and became a respected Vermont trial judge, inoculated with the wisdom and humility that came from this intense personal ordeal.

Twenty-one years later, after a successful judicial career, Judge Pineles shares how he began another career as an international rule of law adviser in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Georgia. He details how, after rigorous screening by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, he was selected to be an international criminal judge, helping to improve justice in that tortured land. He finds it a maelstrom of complex social, international, cultural, ethnic, and political forces. He recounts many of his cases, including his meticulous fact-finding, and by ignoring these perilous forces he demonstrates how the rule of law should be implemented. Nevertheless, some of these cases have bizarre outcomes which undermine his best efforts. These are compelling accounts that demonstrate a vigorous mind bringing to life important events. Readers seeking an understanding of the frailty of democracy mediated by thoughtful judicial process will find Pineles’ journey intriguing.

Publishers note: Judge Pineles will donate 100% of his net profits to international and domestic refugee relief organizations.


A Judge’s Odyssey: From Vermont to Russia, Kazakhstan, and Georgia, Then on to War Crimes and Organ Trafficking in Kosovo by Dean B. Pineles. Rootstock Publishing, July 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kimberly Cheney is a former Vermont Attorney General and author.

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Book Review :: Loss/Less by Rebecca A Durham

Loss/Less poetry by Rebecca A. Durham published by Shanti Arts book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

The beautifully sounded, ecologically aware, and botanically influenced poems of Loss/Less, Rebecca A. Durham’s second collection, is, to my read, not so much interpretive of loss related to climate crisis, but intends to be reconciliatory: “This is how I enter the forest & this is how it enters me too.” Combining the geological and botanical with the plaintiff and ecstatic, the collection conjures Rumi and Thoreau. One way to read the book is as one long poem, an epistle to Thoreau, challenging his words “nothing could defile this pond.” The poet wonders if the transcendentalist knew that was a “lie.” Is Durham a new transcendentalist in her asking “what kind of extinction is this”; in her call for “a moratorium on cement or at least errant elements”; her command “uncut / all those holy trees”; her recognition that “we are illicitly complicit in disaster”? Like Thoreau, perhaps even if Durham knows it is already “too late,” her poems insist:

this is how we kneel
at the hemlock

pulled back
from the brink

pulled back from the helm
of helplessness, hatred

(from “Arboreal Burial,” 77)

Call to action, educational primer, love song, the poet calls on the many gestures of poetry, creating if not an abundance, less loss. What remains? Loess, a windblown sediment, or as the poet writes: “I gather bitter fruits / map my fissures.” What else is there as “we are primed for decay’s reticent elegance.” A special and compelling book!


Loss/Less by Rebecca A Durham. Shanti Arts Publishing, January 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems are forthcoming.If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Book Review :: More or Less by Susannah Q. Pratt

More or Less by Susannah Q. Pratt book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

The premise of Susannah Q. Pratt’s collection of essays is in her subtitle: Essays from a Year of No Buying. After becoming overwhelmed by how much she and her family owned, she convinced her husband and three teenage boys—through her use of a PowerPoint—to go one year without buying anything other than what was necessary. Her project raises questions about what is necessary, what we actually need to live meaningful lives in the twenty-first century, and the importance we attach to what we buy, both in healthy and unhealthy ways. At her best, Pratt’s essays explore important questions of gender, class, and privilege, examining the ways aspects of our identities impact what we’re able to buy and own. While Pratt credits an essay by Ann Patchett in 2017 on a similar subject, I was surprised she didn’t mention Judith Levine’s 2007 book Not Buying It, in which Levine takes on the same project. Pratt’s essays are a solid update to Levine, given how the world has changed in fifteen years, especially as the rise of online shopping has made buying unnecessary items even easier, but interacting with one who came before would make her work even stronger.

More or Less: Essays from a Year of No Buying by Susannah Q. Pratt. Eastover Press, February 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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Book Review :: Contain by Cynthia Hogue

Contain poetry chapbook by Cynthia Hogue published by Tram Editions book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In her chapbook Contain, poet Cynthia Hogue responds to artist Morgan O’Hara’s mandala-like series “Nineteen Forms of Containment.” O’Hara made her drawings on the back of The New York Times articles that she read during the height of the pandemic, and Hogue continues that recto-verso interactive throughout her chapbook. The poems on the recto side respond to O’Hara’s drawings and those on the verso side to The Times articles. The correspondences are non-interpretative, various, and layered. In some cases, news stories have been directly quoted to make cento-like poems, and given that the poems stay within the eight- to twelve-line range, the rondeau, triolet, and sonnet forms loom. The variety of poetic containers might be thought of as an analog for the various ways and by what means we each were contained during lockdown—by the coronavirus pandemic—and by social justice-related realities of the “circle wherein we live.” Hogue calls particular attention to first responders, long-haul truckers, food banks, racially motivated murders, and the climate crisis as “a way / of putting word to something / for which there are no words.” By “inward- / turning,” acknowledging the anxiety and isolation of our lives, these tender and humble poems explore the “global operation of containment”—what and who holds us. Which is captivity and which embrace. Beautiful! Hurrah new chapbook publisher, Tram Editions!


Contain by Cynthia Hogue. Tram Editions, June 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems are forthcoming.

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Book Review :: Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo

Sankofa a novel by Chibundu Onuzo published by Catapult Press book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Chibundu Onuzo’s novel Sankofa follows Anna Graham—a middle-aged British woman who goes to Bamana, a fictional African country, to find her father—as she tries to understand her mixed-race heritage. Raised by her single white mother, Anna always struggled with her identity, as she knew almost nothing of her Bamanian father. Anna lived a sheltered life with a husband (from whom she is now separated because of his recent affair) who took care of everything for her, so he and their daughter are surprised when she travels to Bamana alone. I have two minor complaints: first, the ending is a bit too neatly tied together in terms of Anna’s understanding of her identity; second, some plot developments similarly seemed too easy to predict, though Anna’s naivete prevents her from seeing what has happened. However, Anna’s grappling with her identity is a useful metaphor for a postcolonial Africa still coming to terms with the multiple strands of cultural history that make the countries what they have become. The novel serves as a healthy reminder to Americans and Europeans that African countries’ histories are more complex than they seem to those on the outside.

Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo. Catapult, October 2021.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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Book Review :: Time/Tempo by Laura Cesarco Eglin

Time/Tempo: The Idea of Breath poetry chapbook by Laura Cesarco Eglin published by Spoonfuls Chapbooks book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In her chapbook Time/Tempo: The Idea of Breath, Laura Cesarco Eglin gives her poetic attention to a “tension of simultaneity,” tracking temporal interruptions, disruptions, and variations, and how those time-based movements affect breath within a particular life that withstands a cancer diagnosis and recovery, illnesses and deaths of beloved family members, and “knowing languages” by undertaking writing and translation. These are poems that want “to keep track of leaving”: the departures of words on breaths and “the hours that come and those that stay, those that leave.” Time unfolds “no matter what.” Yet, there is the recognition that “nothing is lost.” That acknowledgment makes room for inquiry: “What is left of me after I’ve left a place, after it has left me.” One response to that query might be: These poems! The impressions and residues left with this reader—“a scar / of what’s no longer.”


Time/Tempo: The Idea of Breath by Laura Cesarco Eglin. Spoonfuls Chapbooks, April 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems are forthcoming.

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Poem Review :: LOVE by Alex Dimitrov

Love and Other Poems by Alex Dimitrov book cover image

Guest Post by Maureen O’Brien

Recently I found a poem that gave me rare permission to admit how much love I feel, even in the face of cynical, worldly evidence I should just close up my heart until I die. Alex Dimitrov’s poem “Love”, first published in The American Poetry Review and then reprinted in The Best American Poetry 2021 guest edited by Tracy K. Smith, spills and sprawls with nine double-spaced pages of sentences, each one beginning with “I love.” It’s a list poem, predictable in structure—“I love looking at someone without need or panic.”—yet sensual: “I love statues in a downpour.” With these declaratives, I adored how I entered effortlessly into the rhythms and curvatures of the poem.

But more than the syntactical ease, it required no intellectual or political bracing. How often do we encounter text that cools, that refreshes? Dimitrov skips comfortably through the narrator’s life, covering various topics—literature, relationship, time: “I love that a day on Venus lasts longer than a year.” and “I love the blue hours between three and five when Plath wrote Ariel.” This poem possesses a wide lens trained on the interior of the heart, the exterior. With a clear emotional bravery, “Love” unabashedly just admits, through a repeated subject and verb, the truth.


“LOVE” by Alex Dimitrov. Love and Other Poems, Copper Canyon Press, February 2021.

Reviewer bio: Maureen O’Brien is the author of the spiritual memoir What Was Lost: Seeking Refuge in the Psalms (Franciscan Media, 2021). Her next book, Gather the Fragments: Finding Everyday Miracles and Abundance is forthcoming from Franciscan Media (January 2023). She is a contributor to St. Anthony Messenger and the online site Pause+Pray. She has also published a novel, B-mother (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and The Other Cradling, a chapbook of poems (Finishing Line Press). Find her on Instagram: maureen_obrien_writer

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Book Review :: Central Air by George Bilgere

Central Air by George Bilgere book cover image

Guest Post by James Scruton

“They resemble Eskimo Pies,” says George Bilgere of his air-conditioned neighbors in the title poem of his latest collection, Central Air, “or boxes of frozen peas.” Characteristically, he goes on to concede, “Not a bad life, I guess,” though admitting he’d miss the crickets “simmering / through summer, and the love / song of cicadas, burning / all night for each other, insect / ecstasies beyond our dreams.” This even-handedness typifies Bilgere’s approach, the poet awed by his good fortune on a pleasant summer evening (“Ripeness”) but also acknowledging the countless daily injustices suffered by others (“Summer Pass,” “For the Slip ‘N Slide”) as well as horrors on a global scale (“Chernobyl,” “Reichstag”). Bilgere delights in detail (“the stalled machinery” of a dead bee) as much as in the acoustics of language and the subtleties of line. Note the fatigue conveyed by the d’s in his description of a waitress’s voice (“tired, / frayed around the edges”) and the sudden, brightening weightlessness of the two-line stanza that follows:

But what she said hung sparkling
in the air, so masterful…

The collection produces the same heartening effect, Bilgere’s work a balance of light and dark, the amusing and the profound.


Central Air by George Bilgere. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2022.

Reviewer bio: James Scruton is the author of two full collections and five chapbooks of poetry as well as dozens of reviews, essays, and articles on poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.

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