Category: Book Reviews

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

  • Book Review :: You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy

    You're Not Listening by Kate Murphy book cover image

    Guest Post by Kevin Brown

    New York Times journalist Kate Murphy explores the many facets of listening: the physical, mental, and, most importantly, emotional. As her title implies, she points out the ways people have stopped listening to one another and the effects of that lack in our lives. She uses neuroscience to talk about how we sync with one another when we truly listen, as well as what we can learn from improvisational comedy about how to fully engage in a conversation. Murphy explores the loneliness that has crept into our lives due to a lack of feeling heard. That deficit can come from the assumptions one makes, the technology that distracts us, or the difference in how quickly our mind thinks of what to say and how slowly it processes what we hear. Thankfully, she also explores ways we don’t listen to ourselves, choosing the negative voices that override what we most need to hear, as well as times when we should stop listening to others who wish us nothing good. As we move into more face-to-face contact after the past two years, Murphy reminds us we should all work to be better listeners, so all of our lives will be richer.


    You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy. Celadon Books, 2020.

    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 @kevinbrownwrite or  http://kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

  • Book Review :: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

    The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton book cover image

    Guest Post by Kevin Brown

    Dawnie Walton’s debut novel is a book by the main character Sunny Curtis, the first African-American female editor of a mythical, music magazine. Sunny seeks to discover the details surrounding the death of her father, who was killed at the final concert of Opal and Nev, a fictional duo from the early 1970s. Everybody knows what happened to him, but nobody knows exactly how and why he died in a riot near the end of that performance. Making matters more complicated, Opal was having an affair with Sunny’s father. The book is a series of interviews with those surrounding the event, plus Sunny’s editor’s notes.

    Walton uses this setup to raise questions about privilege surrounding race and gender. While Nev, a White British man, goes on to have a successful career after the event, Opal, a Black woman, never has a chance to do so. Others define Opal in ways that limit her, even while she tries to challenge a variety of establishments. Nev plays music that makes people comfortable, so he succeeds. Opal’s struggles are mirrored in Sunny’s work and the events that surround one final revival show for Opal and Nev, revealing that not much has changed in fifty years.


    The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton. 37 Ink, March 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 @kevinbrownwrite or http://kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

  • Book Review :: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

    Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel book cover image

    Guest Post by Kevin Brown

    Emily St. John Mandel takes the reader through locations that range from the woods of British Columbia to colonies on the moon and through times that move from 1912 to 2401. Her story follows several characters: Edwin, the youngest child in a British family who will inherit almost nothing and who is exiled to Canada after he questions England’s role in India; Gaspery Roberts, a hotel detective who takes on a case with implications he could never imagine; and Olive Llewellyn, a novelist on a book tour for her work about a pandemic in a world where such tragedies happen more and more frequently. Mandel draws on her experience for the last character, as readers and critics have seen her Station Eleven as prescient in its portrayal of a much worse pandemic than our current one. She draws on questions and comments from her book tours for some of the more humorous parts of the novel. Overall, however, she’s interested in larger questions of time and reality, even exploring whether or not the characters’ world — and, thus, our own — is nothing more than a simulation. If so, though, she seems to say that doesn’t make it any less meaningful.


    Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. Alfred A. Knopf, 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. You can find out more about him and his work on Twitter at @kevinbrownwrite or at http://kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

  • Book Review :: Walking with Aletheia: A Survivor’s Memoir by Jean Hargadon Wehner

    Walking with Aletheia A Survivor's Memoir by Jean Hargadon Wehner book cover image

    Guest Post by Bruce Mason

    Netflix’s The Keepers – which was released five years ago in 2017 — follows the investigation into the 1969 death of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a Baltimore nun and former Archbishop Keough High School teacher, by a group of investigators including her former students. Her murder remains, to this day, unsolved, but members of her community believe she was killed to cover up Keough’s allegedly rampant clergy sex abuse, which was brought to light in the ’90s. One abuse victim previously known as “Jane Doe” is at the center of it all. “Doe” has since come forward publicly, leading many to wonder: What is Jean Hargadon Wehner doing now?

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  • Book Review :: House Bird by Robb Fillman

    House Bird by Robb Fillman book cover image

    Guest Post by Ron Mohring

    Reading the poems in House Bird by Robb Fillman, I’m struck first by the conditional, how often the poems express hesitation: “as if,” “almost,” “half-believing,” “grip of hesitation.”

    But it’s not doubt the voice expresses, but possibility:

    “Then I imagine / what I would do differently” (“Toast”)
    “He imagined the way he’d trail them” (“Summer Ending”)
    “I see / that what they were offered was not quite / real” (Doo Wop Dream”)

    This collection is deeply grounded in familial attachments, in parenthood and the small moments of daily life in and around the home (“My son’s hesitant Yes”) (“Promises”), moments made larger by Fillman’s attention, expanded by his imagination, so that what at first might seem tentative — “Probably by now, my friend / has recovered” (“Witness”) — reveals itself to be the product of close and sustained attention and imagination, the impulse to not only get it down, but to get it right. A fine debut.


    House Bird by Robb Fillman. Terrapin Books, February 2022.

    Reviewer bio: Ron Mohring is the founding editor of Seven Kitchens Press. His new poetry collection, The Boy Who Reads in the Trees, is forthcoming in 2023 from The Word Works

  • Book Review :: Radio Static by James Hoch

    Radio Static by James Hoch book cover image

    Guest Post by Carla Sarett

    Recently, I have been reading chapbooks, partly as a happy result of submitting my own poetry to small presses. So it was my good fortune to select Radio Static by James Hoch, whose work is new to me. I can’t stop reading it now.   

    In this sparse book, Hoch writes of his brother who served a long tour of duty in Afghanistan. (Hoch’s brother served from 2003 to 2021, and is now living in Idaho.) In one gorgeous poem entitled “Afghanistan,” the poet transforms his brother “into a Pashto prayer for what he has done” and Afghanistan into “a cough I clear.” In another poem, “Martins,” Hoch hears the “wind whistling through my brother.” The reader senses the truth of what brothers are, and the horror of what soldiers do and are left with.   

    Every war creates its own brand of bitterness, its own unfinished business, and its own poetry. America has quit Afghanistan, but these poems will remind us of the men that war created and forgot. Radio Static will become part of this war’s legacy.


    Radio Static by James Hoch. Green Linden Chapbook Series, December 2021.

    Reviewer bio: Carla Sarett’s recent poems appear in Pithead Chapel, Quartet Journal, Neologism, and elsewhere. Her novel, A Closet Feminist was published in February 2022 by Unsolicited Press. Carla lives in San Francisco.

  • Book Review :: Pocket Universe by Nancy Reddy

    Pocket Universe by Nancy Reddy book cover image

    Guest Post by Jami Macarty

    Nancy Reddy’s Pocket Universe confronts the bloody battle of birth, namely a child’s and when a “woman becomes a mother,” but there are other kinds of births, too, within obstetrics, child development, and because the word birth doubles as transition—“into the next life.” The collection opens with the 16th century practice of male doctors moving “between delivery room and morgue,” which put women’s lives at grave risk before epidemiology revealed the necessity of washing hands to prevent communicable disease. From some history of birth, birthing medicine and practices, the poems move to the “failings / of our postpartum bodies” and perinatal anxieties and realities, where the “baby teaches me / I am not what I thought.” The poems of the third section deal with hauntings: “The ghosts of all those women” who lost children in childbirth, including the poet’s grandmother, and the fears particular to a mother of sons. Women’s legitimate “catalog of grievances” continues “inside the long future” of motherhood and marriage in the book’s fourth section, where the poet wonders “if domestic has to be / the opposite of desire.” To answer herself: “inside this mother’s body / / there’s a woman in here still.” Stitched throughout the collection is the enormous responsibility placed on and the shocking disregard for women, often blamed for experiencing pain during childbirth and “perinatal mood and anxiety disorders” in the birth “history written by a man.” This is poetry that admits: “It is so hard / to live inside a body,” and yet “our collective unbearable luck” of “[t]he new world’s not / an unmixed blessing.” Ultimately, Reddy’s is a celebration of this “blessed and lucky life.”


    Pocket Universe by Nancy Reddy. Louisiana State University Press, March 2022.

    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 :: Imago, Dei by Elizabeth Johnston Abrose

    Imago Dei by Elizabeth Johnston Abrose book cover image

    Guest Post by Nicholas Michael Ravnikar

    With a comma that interrupts a Latin phrase etched in Christian history, Elizabeth Johnston Abrose’s Imago, Dei offers disjunction to give worn tropes new context. This deliberate juxtaposition rejuvenates the flat and stale of tradition.

    A cycle of eighteen poems in free verse, the collection’s pieces each center in the third person on an unnamed female. Like the larva that becomes caterpillar that becomes chrysalis to become an adult – or imago – moth or butterfly, she is both identical with and different from her other incarnations.

    Cited quotations in epigraph from both entomological and biblical literature underscore a tone of scholarly detachment and/or posture of dissociation. References to insects in the garden spin a theme of metamorphosis to encompass, which reinvigorates the classical Greek spiritual depiction of Psyche as butterfly.

    Across its arc, the chapbook teases out narrative threads of youth marked by all-too-common traumas of evangelical Christianity: shamed sexuality, abuse masquerading as discipline in the guise of the father, a concomitant confusion of pain with love. For those considering such traumas from personal experience to reflect on the substance of religion’s impact on their lives, this collection, while perhaps triggering, may serve to reaffirm and validate.

    Imago, Dei by Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose. Rattle Poetry, February 2022.

    Nicholas Michael Ravnikar is a neurodivergent writer of poems, plays and fiction who is presently disabled. Previously employed as a college prof, copy editor, bathtub repair technician, substance abuse prevention agency success coach and marketing specialist, he lives in Racine, WI with his partner and their children. Connect with him on social media and get free chapbooks at bio.fm/nicholasmichaelravnikar.

  • Book Review :: IN. by Will McPhail

    IN. by Will McPhail book cover image

    Guest Post by Kevin Brown

    I’ll start by saying that IN. by Will McPhail is not just one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in a long time; it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

    The plot is simple: readers follow Nick, an illustrator, as he tries to truly connect with people. We see montages of his daily life, moving from one wonderfully-parodied coffee shop to another, and his superficial interactions with neighbors and strangers, as well as his mother and sister. His internal monologue shows his desire to have a meaningful conversation with them, but he is unable to bring himself to do so.

    When he finally breaks through and has a brief, but real, conversation with a plumber repairing a toilet, he begins to find the ability to connect with more and more people. In those moments, the art dramatically changes, moving from basic black and white sketches to larger, full-color, imagistic scenes that represent the joy and responsibility he feels in those moments.

    He also meets and begins dating Wren. While he becomes able to connect with more people in his life, he is unable to have an honest conversation with her. Their relationship falters because of a tragedy occurring in Nick’s life, one that ultimately enables him to find a true and meaningful connection that could last the rest of his life.

    After two years of a pandemic that has separated people and forced us to find creative ways to build and sustain relationships, this graphic novel feels like exactly what we need. McPhail reminds us that our lives are too brief to spend on the surface, and we should dive deep into our relationships while we have the time.


    IN. by Will McPhail. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 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. You can find out more about him and his work on Twitter at @kevinbrownwrite or at http://kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

  • Book Review :: The Fine Art of Losing Control by Ashley Shepherd

    The Fine Art of Losing Control by Ashley Shepherd book cover image

    Guest Post by Diana De Jesus

    In Ashley Shepherd’s The Fine Art of Losing Control, Willa Loveridge’s world is falling apart. She is failing her Foundations of Western Art class, her ex-boyfriend shares intimate photos with his friends, a roommate hates her, and her step-father and mother are occupying themselves with the upcoming arrival of their new baby. Lastly, she learns the father she never met suddenly emerges to pay for her college tuition.

    To reclaim control, Willa heads to New Zealand to track down her father. However, the flight to Queenstown makes an emergency landing at Christchurch Airport. Desperate, she decides to tag along with Daphne Purcell, a YouTube sensation, she meets on the plane.

    From the onset, Willa and Daphne hitchhike and get into a caravan with a cult, then escape and later hop onto another van, this time with Tosh, a popular Korean actor, and Ollie, a Scottish kid who is attached to his guitar and challenges Willa in every way.

    During her journey to find her father, Willa never imagines the lessons, friendships, and romance that will develop. Gradually, she gets out of her comfort zone and discerns she cannot control everything but rather allow events to unfold naturally.

    The Fine Art of Losing Control by Ashley Shepherd. Semisweet Fiction, 2019.

    Reviewer bio: Diana De Jesus is an educator from Queens, NY. She is a fan of books, 80’s music to rock out to, and old television shows. Additionally, she has a blog she is still very slowly and surely updating. (dianereadsandreviews.wordpress.com)

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