Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Ars Botanica for your sanity


In a year full of political and social turmoil, it’s easy to forget some of the good things that have happened this year, such as all the amazing literature published. The folks at The Rumpus compiled a list of their favorite books so far, including Tim Taranto’s Ars Botanica.

The Rumpus staff states, these are “the books that have kept us sane, challenged us to work harder and think bigger, and kept us dreaming and hopeful despite, well, everything else.”

We’re honored to have Ars Botanica included in this list and to help retain some sanity. We certainly need it now.


You can read the full list here!

Book Reviews

Review: The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová by Kelsey Parker Ervick

For a book that describes itself as following “Oulipian-like constraints” due to the author’s limited knowledge of Czech and the limitations on the ability of biography to really capture life, The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová (Rose Metal Press, November 2016) is an unrestrained dive into the life of the “Mother of Czech Prose.”

Book Reviews

Book Review: Andre Alexis' FIFTEEN DOGS

"I'll wager a year's servitude," said Apollo, "that animals—any animal you choose—would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they had human intelligence."

"I'll take that bet," said Hermes, "but on condition, that if, at the end of its life, even one of the creatures is happy, I win."                                  "

But that's a matter of chance," said Apollo. "The best lives sometimes end badly and the worst sometimes end well... Either way, I accept your terms. Human intelligence is not a gift. It's an occasionally useful plague."  —Andre Alexis, Fifteen Dogs

 In Andre Alexis' Fifteen Dogs (Coach House, 2015), the gods Hermes and Apollo bestow human intelligence on fifteen dogs who are spending the night at a veterinarian clinic in present-day Toronto. Suddenly conscious of how to escape from their imprisonment, most of the dogs seek freedom. The novel then follows each of the lives and deaths of these dogs, with occasional further meddling by the gods. 

Readers will experience a vast range of emotions while reading Fifteen Dogs. The story explores what it means to live a fulfilling life and what exactly that means. Are the gods right in measuring a being's overall quality of life by their emotions at the moment of death? Does happiness derive from the internal self or external connections with others? 

Alexis' book defines human intelligence as the ability to think critically and engage in thoughtful discussion with others. Along with these new abilities, the dogs still possess animalistic tendencies and a canine outlook on order and rule. Some dogs try to revert back to the old ways of life with a clear hierarchy of dominant and submissive dogs, and ban their new forms of language. A Lord of the Flies type situation ensues. 

Bella, a great dane, and Athena, a teacup poodle, form a beautiful, symbiotic bond. Despite committing atrocities against the other dogs, pack leader Atticus finds religion and pleases Zeus. Poodle Majnoun forges a relationship with a human woman that is so strong the fates cannot separate their life threads. Exiled Prince finds joy in creating poetry. 

Much like the joy some of the dogs find in word play, readers will find delight in this artful book. There is hidden poetry within each chapter. Each sentence in the book is written with precision and a certain crispness, making the book a quick and smooth read. Witty, delightful, tragic, shocking, and bewildering, this is one of those books I would recommend to most. It is a book unlike any other that will challenge one's way of thinking and appreciation of life.



Book Reviews

Book Review: Carola Dibbel’s The Only Ones

What lengths will a mother go to in order to guarantee her child a better life than her own? Carola Dibbel’s The Only Ones (Two Dollar Radio, 2015) takes place in a near dystopian future where a series of pandemics have ravaged the world’s population and left infrastructure spotty in the US. Protagonist Inez Fardo, seemingly immune to all diseases, sells her genetic material in order to survive in New York City. Some clients just want teeth or blood for good luck, but one mourning mother wishes to clone Inez in order to have a baby impervious to disease. When the baby is born, the mother backs out, and Inez is left raising her clone as her own daughter. Though they share the same genes, Inez is determined her daughter will not grow up like herself — uneducated and forced to sell her body for money. 

The story broaches the popular debate in science fiction novels of the ethics of cloning, and fascinatingly explores the normality of children in the age of rapidly advancing reproduction. However, Inez’s struggles and accomplishments will resonate with readers less frequently attracted to the genre because, at its heart, the book is about the bonds between mother and child.

Readers be warned: the novel takes several pages to truly get drawn into because the beginning is hard to follow without a bit of back story, but if you stick with it you've found a precious gem. Dibbel’s proof as a master writer comes through in the language of the narration: told from the uneducated yet wise Inez’s perspective, it includes grammar and spelling mistakes, as well as colloquialisms. Though such an artistic choice rarely pays off and often frustrates readers, in this case it works and still makes for a smooth and quick read. The frequent change in tense pulls readers in and keeps them on their toes, and as Inez ages, becomes more inquisitive, and learns more about the world around her, so too does the complexity of her explanations and narration, broadening readers’ understanding of the dystopian world and helping to show Inez’s growth.

Many readers will enjoy The Only Ones, science fiction geek or not, especially those looking for a fresh and unusual voice that makes old themes come alive.