Category: Book Reviews

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

  • Book Review: Asylum by Nina Shope

    Asylum a novel by Nina Shope book cover image

    Guest Post by Stephanie Katz

    Nina Shope’s Asylum is an entrancing, fictionized story of French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot and his patient Augustine. In the novel — as in real life — Charcot puts Augustine’s “hysteria” on display in public demonstrations. Through his touch, Augustine’s body convulses and contorts in sexual poses in front of a crowd. The novel vacillates between both characters’ perspectives in a twisted dichotomy of torture and desire. Charcot resists his attraction to Augustine and obtrusively attempts to quantify her illness through hundreds of photographs and measurements: “My body broken down into strange sets of numbers until I barely recognize myself. Everything measured—the time it takes me to raise my arm, the angle of my eye, the number of steps until I find myself at your side.” Shope deftly uses second person POV to show Augustine’s conflicting feelings for Charcot: “I remember years when I could not tell you from me, when you sat inside me as surely as my bones, wearing me from the inside out…There was no part of me not filled by you. Infiltrated as a body is by disease.” Asylum will compel readers to discover Augustine’s fate and learn more about the people who inspired this darkly compelling novel.


    Asylum by Nina Shope. Dzanc Books, 2022.

    Reviewer bio: Stephanie Katz is a librarian, writer, and editor. She runs 805 Lit + Art and is the author of Libraries Publish: How to Start a Magazine, Small Press, Blog, and More (Libraries Unlimited, ABC-CLIO, 2021). She writes about creative library publishing at literarylibraries.org and lives on an island in Florida.

  • Book Review :: Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service by Tajja Isen

    Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service by Tajja Isen book cover image

    Guest Post by Kevin Brown

    Tajja Isen’s collection Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service draws from her background as a Canadian woman of color. However, her writing doesn’t try to explain her pain or oppression, as she asserts in “This Time It’s Personal,” an exploration of the personal essay focusing on who tells their stories (and are allowed to tell their stories) in ways that reinforce that pain. Instead, she examines the systems she’s most familiar with — voice actors in animation, the literary canon and publishing, law, affirmative action, protest, nationality — and points out the ways they cause the pain and oppression individuals endure. She integrates her experiences, and she then critiques the hierarchies and structures that have led to those experiences. Her work reminds readers of the reality behind personal essays, pointing out that lives and essays don’t occur in a vacuum. Instead, people in power (mainly white males) design systems to reinforce their power and to keep other people (primarily people of color, especially women) from obtaining any power of their own. If, like me, you think you already know that to be true, Isen’s essays will help you see it in places you don’t expect and in ways you often overlook.


    Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service by Tajja Isen. Atria, April 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/.

  • Book Review :: Writer in a Life Vest by Iris Graville

    Writer in a Life Vest by Irish Graville book cover image

    Guest Post by Deborah Nedelman

    Iris Graville, author of the award-winning memoir Hiking Naked, lives on an island in the Salish Sea and writes as a citizen of the planet. Writer in a Life Vest as a collection of essays is a journey of discovery and an education about a delicate ecosystem which supports some of the world’s most iconic creatures. The first Writer in Residence on the Washington State Ferries, Iris spent a year riding the interisland ferry through the San Juan Islands of the Salish Sea. Readers cycle with her as the ferry glides and rocks through the home of the endangered resident orcas (killer whales) and meet scientific experts who are devoting their knowledge and energies to saving these rare creatures. As we learn about riding this ferry — including witnessing a moveable ukulele jam, where players board the ferry at various ports, play together for a while and move on — Graville teaches us about the current state of the sea’s health and our connection to it. The multiple essay forms Graville employs keep readers off-kilter, as if standing on the deck of a rocking ship, yet they invite us to hang on and to look deeper. Like Graville, I live on an island in the Salish Sea, though not in the San Juans, and I swim in the sea year-round. It is my concern for the fragile state of this body of water, of the resident orcas, and of our planet that has led me to write this review. Graville’s collection belongs in the genre of books alerting us to the precarious state of our planet, but it stands out by pointing our gaze toward hopefulness and action.


    Writer in a Life Vest by Iris Graville. Homebound Publications, March 2022.

    Reviewer Bio: Deborah Nedelman, PhD, MFA is co-author of two non-fiction books: A Guide for Beginning Psychotherapists (Cambridge Press) and Still Sexy After All These Years (Perigee/Penguin). Her novel, What We Take for Truth (Adelaide Press, 2019) won the Sarton Women’s Book Award for Historical Fiction. Deborah is a manuscript coach and leads writing and watercolor painting workshops.

  • Book Review :: Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul

    Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul book cover image

    Guest Post by MG Noles

    Have you ever had an imaginary friend? Someone with whom you could confide anything? A soulmate who loved you no matter what you said or did? Celia Paul’s extraordinary new book, Letters to Gwen John, adopts Gwen as just such an “imaginary” friend/soulmate and listener as she writes all her thoughts and feelings to the long-dead post-impressionist painter who lived in the latter 18th and early 19th centuries. Using a series of letters, Paul reveals her inner thoughts about life, art, men, freedom, and beauty. The book is part memoir and part art history, and it makes a beautiful read. Filled with imagination and insight, Paul examines the meaning of art and life. She shares her vision and makes you believe that communication is possible across space and time. As she puts it, “time is a strange substance.” And somehow, as you read this amazing book, you see Gwen John seated in a cozy room somewhere, like the one she paints in Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris, reading Celia Paul’s letters with a faint smile.


    Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul. New York Review Books, April 2022.

    Reviewer bio: MG Noles is a sometime essayist, reviewer, history buff.

  • Book Review :: Spit by Daniel Lassell

    Spit poetry by Daniel Lassell book cover image

    Guest Post by Catherine Hayes

    Daniel Lassell’s Spit harnesses the power of language to contemplate whether to embrace one’s own roots or to cast them off in favor of creating a new identity for a new life, and as such influences our sense of belonging. This conflict is one that Lassell grapples with for many years of his life, blending these two identities of past and future together to become “a city boy inside / the body of a country.” Part one recounts “sopping, hazy Kentucky” and when “a chicken costs 35 cents.” The natural world reigns supreme in this setting. The old barn on the land which “season by season… / have held their angle, onto the metal gate / leaned against a post pile for storage, / some form of pillar” soon gives way as “the field outside waits, / watching the barn’s leaning face / disappear” and nature has won against that which man has made. Yet the supremacy of nature does not last for long, nor does Lassell’s life in the country. The second and third parts make the progressive transition from “a hundred acres / into one” and by the final section, Lassell has completely immersed himself in the “concrete slabs” and “crumbling sidewalk squares” of the city. Yet his years on the farm never leave Lassell, for even in the city he recalls “hoisting bales up to a hay wagon” and “not waking during night / to car lights, sirens, hunger” and how, despite having “climbed from being / of dirt, rough fingernails,” his past will always be with him, no matter the distance or passage of time. Lassell’s poignant yet heart-warming story about what defines “home” presents a new meaning to the influence of upbringing and how sometimes home is not a physical place we return to but the memories we cherish that help guide us into the uncertainty of adulthood.


    Spit by Daniel Lassell. Michigan State University Press, July 2021.

    Reviewer bio: Catherine Hayes is a graduate student in English at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and resides in the Boston area. She has previously published a nonfiction essay in an anthology with Wising Up Press. When she is not reading, writing, or reviewing she can be found exploring Boston, spending time with family and friends and looking for inspiration for her next story in the world around her. 

  • Book Review :: Bloodwarm by Taylor Byas

    Bloodwarm poetry by Taylor Byas book cover image

    Guest Post by Catherine Hayes 

    Taylor Byas’s poetry collection Bloodwarm is an inspiring and modern commentary on what it means to be a Black woman living in a society where “I’m/seen as a threat” simply because of the color of her skin and sheds new light on the strong presence of racism within a variety of situations. The book opens with the inundation of Tweets surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, capturing “rubber bullets / pinging a reporter and her crew as they run for cover” and “a police car plowing into a peaceful crowd” all while “white friends” will promise to “do better” before they “bullet into our inboxes and ask us to hand them the answers” about what they should do or say. From there, Byas examines other aspects of racism and the lack of representation of the Black community in the media by putting into perspective the archetype of the damsel in distress of a superhero film. Byas describes how the women who “look like Kirsten Dunst or Emma Stone” are “dainty enough to be rescued by a white hero” and any type of confrontation between the speaker and a white woman would lead to “there is an African-American woman threatening me” and “call the police.” Byas does not shy away from reflecting the struggles that the Black community faces, and what it means to “have to stand / between / invisible” simply to avoid unjust persecution based on skin color. Yet peace in the racial conflict is difficult to achieve because “this is / the standard / this denial / the / rebellion against / negotiations”. Byas does not shirk from the ugly truth of the impact racism has had on the Black community, and her openness in discussing these topics allows for the possibility to have more honest and fruitful conversations about how to create lasting and truly impactful change in society.


    Bloodwarm by Taylor Byas. Variant Literature, July 2021.

    Reviewer bio: Catherine Hayes is a graduate student in English at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and resides in the Boston area. She has previously published a nonfiction essay in an anthology with Wising Up Press. When she is not reading, writing, or reviewing she can be found exploring Boston, spending time with family and friends and looking for inspiration for her next story in the world around her.

  • Book Review :: The Ache and The Wing by Sunni Brown Wilkinson

    The Ache and the Wing by Sunni Brown Wilkinson book cover image

    Guest Post by Jami Macarty

    In the chapbook The Ache and The Wing by Sunni Brown Wilkinson, the poet wonders “just what I can seize” while a “homeless shelter bearing some saint’s name / fills up every night.” Welcome to the rodeo of life: a “father plays evangelical AM in the garden… to keep the deer away,” a friend pours gasoline on a “noisy cricket… outside her window” and “the baby arrives but he is dead already.” Humans and animals are “desperate / for life” in towns named “Why” where “none of my questions / were answered: Why / did our son (apple-cheeked, blue-eyed, / four days shy / of due) / have to die?” Wilkinson’s poems explore “hidden bonds” and how not to lose one’s mind when the world is burning. These are poems with “the end of the world” in them. With “much sad truth to say” about “bodies that break, that bear each other, / that hold one another in dark places.” [Readers can download this e-book for free from the publisher’s website link below.]


    The Ache and The Wing by Sunni Brown Wilkinson. Sundress Publications, 2021.

    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.

  • Book Review :: April at the Ruins by Lawrence Raab

    April at the Ruins poetry by Lawrence Raab book cover image

    Guest Post by James Scruton

    Depending on the reader, the title of Lawrence Raab’s tenth poetry collection, April at the Ruins, might evoke “the cruelest month” of Eliot’s The Waste Land or a postcard from a Henry James character on The Grand Tour. There are glimmers of each here — mixtures of memory and desire as well as travels both real and metaphorical. But more often we find Raab meditating on love and loss (and much besides) with his characteristic sense of gratitude, entire lives suggested by a precise detail or turn of phrase:

    … and as they crossed
    the street she took his hand,
    just as if everything
    they hadn’t told each other
    had never happened.
    (“One of the Ways We Talk to Each Other”)

    In “Little Ritual,” stones collected and then forgotten beside a lake become metaphysical emblems, the “zigzags of blue” in a “shiver of quartz” reminding the speaker “that some day everything / I love must be set aside, / or given away, or lost.” Amid the ruin we’ve made or witnessed of this world, Raab nonetheless celebrates an April of the spirit. “Nothing is beyond repair,” he writes. “How can there be a beautiful ending / without many beautiful mistakes?”


    April at the Ruins by Lawrence Raab. Tupelo Press, 2022.

    Reviewre bio: James Scruton is the author of two full collections and five chapbooks of poetry, most recently The Rules (Green Linden Press, 2019). He has received the Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry magazine, among other honors.

  • Book Review :: On the Verge of Something Bright and Good by Derek Pollard

    On the Verge of Something Bright and Good by Derek Pollard book cover image

    Guest Post by Jami Macarty

    On the Verge of Something Bright and Good by Derek Pollard is a collection of poems “not elegiac” but of “another kind of seeing that involves letting go.” That requires “a dream we hold to,” where “orange and quick” fish are held as “dear / … as headstones,” and a guiding question is: “How to love in the midst of tumult?” These poems are too humble and intelligent to answer conclusively. But slant. From a squad car that runs over a squirrel to a child whacked for dropping ice cream, these poems acknowledge the range of “advent, accident, / celebration” in our lives together where either “we take up arms” — “The war / Is a war we all fight, and is near” — or we open our arms to “our / Life together / Quiet / Aimless / And full.” There is love in these poems. Love of life and others. And, love of language: a “ricocheting” “hallelujah” “Heaven” of sound and meaning unabashedly riots throughout — “What care for shame? In any of this?” Lovingly the poems share with the tender reader “the holy / Moment this moment.” Reading this book, “To be sitting / Here, the two of us”: “It felt good. And sad, of course. But mostly just good.”


    On the Verge of Something Bright and Good by Derek Pollard. Barrow Street Press, 2021.

    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.

  • Book Review :: How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

    How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu book cover image

    Guest Post by Kevin Brown

    Sequoia Nagamatsu’s novel, How High We Go in the Dark, doesn’t have a plot per se, as it reads more like an interconnected collection of short stories than it does a novel. A character’s wife from one chapter will show up in a later chapter as a friend to the girlfriend of another character, a minor characters in one chapter becomes the focus of a later chapter or vice versa. What the characters do have in common is a tenuous existence, as Earth has become less and less habitable. Throughout much of the book, a pandemic is ravaging the world, killing people by mutating their organ cells, causing hearts to behave like livers or brains to change into lungs. Even after that tragedy becomes more controllable, there is still environmental disaster, as wildfires rage constantly, the Arctic is quickly melting, and sea levels rise by feet, not by inches. What Nagamatsu is most interested in exploring, however, is how people avoid one another, even in the midst of suffering, and how they might still be able to connect to one another. Though technology — perhaps even space travel — could save people’s lives, only true connection has a chance of healing their souls.


    How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu. William Morrow, 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. You can find out more about him and his work on Twitter at @kevinbrownwrite or http://kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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