California Literary Review

Books

Book Review: Astray by Emma Donoghue

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December 26th, 2012

Though some stories in Astray are more poignant than others, Donoghue once again shows herself to be a writer who excels at evoking characters with startling precision. The result is an exceptional collection that meditates widely on the way in which even the most stable-seeming lives can quickly unravel, revealing the contingent nature of the idea of stability itself.

Book Review: Titian: His Life by Sheila Hale

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December 12th, 2012

Seeing a paint brush on the floor, the emperor reached down to retrieve it and presented it to the painter. Had Charles bestowed a golden scepter upon Titian, the honor would have been no greater. Artists were still viewed as artisans by most of the nobility of Europe. In sullying his royal hands with a tool of Titian’s trade, Charles paid him the ultimate compliment.

Book Review: John Keats: A New Life by Nicholas Roe

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November 16th, 2012

Whether one approaches Keats’ life by reading a biography or by the direct study of his poems, there is no escaping the fact that he was obsessed by the nature and effect of beauty in its various forms. He was also haunted by death, the sheer, undeniable, inescapable physical annihilation that awaits each of us, sooner or later. In the case of Keats, death occurred much, much too soon.

Book Review: The Other by Thomas Tryon

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November 15th, 2012

The summer of 1935 is a hot and languorous one in Pequot Landing, Connecticut. Elms yet untouched by the Dutch Blight shade the old houses, The Good Earth and Anthony Adverse are in heavy demand at the public library, and the headlines feature Bruno Hauptmann’s trial for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby.

Book Review: Through the Eye of a Needle by Peter Brown

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November 12th, 2012

Brown writes that Christian leaders had to carefully deploy Church resources, spiritual and financial, to create a new society to take over after the Roman one had collapsed. In the place of Roman municipal buildings and fortresses came Christian basilicas, monasteries and what Brown brilliantly calls “a coral reef of institutions devoted to intercession,” hospitals, hostels and eventually schools administered by the Church. This was the civilization of the Middle Ages, the foundation of a new vision for the Western world.

Book Review: Prosperous Friends by Christine Schutt

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November 5th, 2012

A mile wide and an inch deep? Not Christine Schutt’s Prosperous Friends. Quite the opposite. It’s a compact 205-page spare-prose novel with a wickedly deceptive rose-colored antimacassar of a book jacket. With those rudimentary tools, it rips the façade off of marriage, much the way a smiling nurse s l o w l y eases a bandage from your wound, and then when you’re good and trusting, rips off the entrenched last bit.

Book Review: Lincoln’s Hundred Days by Louis P. Masur

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October 25th, 2012

The determination to end slavery may not have figured initially as a Union war aim for most of the young men in Blue who did the fighting and dying. But Masur quotes from numerous soldier letters and diaries to prove that many Union troops were horrified by the conditions that they found in the south, particularly the enslavement of children fathered by their own “masters.”

Book Review: You & Me by Padgett Powell

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October 21st, 2012

You might enjoy your own shot of bourbon to compliment the liquor these two “weirdly agreeable dudes” are drinking while “on a porch…talking a lot.” The book is a page turner, primarily because once you meet the never named southern characters you are hooked on the hilarious observations they share.

Book Review: Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan

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October 15th, 2012

The course of Curtis’ campaign to document the lives and life style of the Native American peoples is related by Egan with considerable detail and page-turning élan. There were plenty of incidents of physical ordeal and, in some cases, real danger. An Apache medicine man who divulged secrets of his tribe’s religious practices died under suspicious circumstances shortly after Curtis left the reservation. That fate might well have befallen Curtis…

Book Review: Office Girl by Jay Meno

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October 9th, 2012

Chicago is the city, 1999 is the year. This book is a love story but one with a different twist on your typical boy-meets-girl, then boy-loses-girl story. Somehow, the book covers that ground but remains refreshingly breezy and simple. Perhaps, because it’s a love story on bicycles.

Book Review: NW by Zadie Smith

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September 21st, 2012

By calling her newest novel NW, Zadie Smith follows in the tradition of other writers, including Mary Gaskell, George Eliot, and Winifred Holtby, who have named the work after the setting. Like its predecessors, NW is an ensemble novel that explores human nature through a microcosm of the world, a technique that has historically appealed to women writers. Jane Austen famously said her work, containable on a “little bit (two inches wide) of Ivory,” was about “four or five families in a country village.”

Book Review: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

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September 12th, 2012

Perhaps it’s fair to say that the big accomplishment of Diaz’s new book is that it does what authors have always done, but it does it really well. He explores grand concepts—pain, love, history, and life—through an obsessive devotion to particulars. The violence of colonial history replays itself in the troubled starts and stops of a family struggling for connection and in Yunior’s own search for love.

Book Review: The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

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September 10th, 2012

The Garden of Evening Mists is set in three inter-linked time frames. Past and present struggle to reconcile Yun Ling’s memories of wartime suffering and loss. But Yun Ling is faced by a cruel dilemma. Soon she will no longer have a future. Her brilliant, sensitive mind is slowly deteriorating from an incurable neurological disease. Oblivion will settle Yun Ling’s efforts to find inner peace if she does not achieve it first.

Book Review: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

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September 4th, 2012

The feelings and experiences that preoccupy Straub are pregnancy and motherhood, friendship and domestic partnership. The repeated evocation of bodily experience and physical closeness is one of the most marked features of her writing.

Book Review: The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes

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August 29th, 2012

As befits a former poet, Hughes’s writing is economical yet stylish, atmospheric without being fussy. And as with almost any vintage detective novel, there are many pleasures to be had in the details of an earlier America.

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