Poetry Reviews: “Hazel and the Mirror” and “The Endless Unbegun” by Rachel Jamison Webster

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hazel & the mirrorRECOMMENDED

Tenderness and pain echo through generations of women in Rachel Jamison Webster’s haunting new chapbook “Hazel and the Mirror.” Each character struggles with leaving some facet of her life, whether the womb, her marriage, or her native land. As time shifts and voices intertwine, we confront troubling questions inimical to the human psyche: How does abandonment shift what is possible in our lives? Is trauma inherited? And what is released or contained in the undoing of a person?

Throughout “Hazel,” trauma reflects and projects through the mirror of time and history, revealing the void intrinsic to uninhabited lives. The struggle in motherhood to retain or to discover an identity separate and apart from a needy child casts a long shadow. Competing identities both repel and attract, as “the punishment of silence, the pummel of distance” obscure and injure the ties that bind. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Behind the Smile: A Story of Carol Moseley Braun’s Historic Senate Campaign” by Jeannie Morris

Biography, Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Chicago Publishers, Nonfiction No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDbehind the smile

“The year of the woman,” 1992, was a time of idealism and anger brought to the fore after the 1991 Senate confirmation of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. A Judiciary Committee of white men concluded that Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment against Thomas were insignificant. Illinois democrats and progressive women were infuriated that Democratic Senator Alan J. Dixon had voted for Thomas’ confirmation. Carol Moseley Braun decided to challenge Dixon, and the account of her 1992 campaign as described by Jeannie Morris in “Behind the Smile” is riveting.

University of Chicago Law graduate, Cook County Recorder of Deeds at the time of her campaign, divorced, a single mother and a feminist fighting to be taken seriously in a man’s world, Braun represented the challenges women of all backgrounds face. EMILY’S List provided her with the first significant campaign donation. A good beginning, except that menacing clouds were forming in the shape of Braun’s campaign manager and eventual boyfriend, Kgosie Matthews. While controversies arose during Braun’s campaign, allegations of sexual harassment against Matthews sent to Braun in an anonymous letter could have ruined her; sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas had brought Braun into the limelight to begin with. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Brush Back” by Sara Paretsky

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If you like your crime fiction set in Chicago with a female detective who breaks jaws and breaks conventions, read “Brush Back,” the seventeenth novel in Sara Paretsky’s Warshawski series. Since the first novel in the series, the portrayal of the characters, cityscape and sociopolitical setting has grown richer as Paretsky hones her powers; she has had more than thirty years to develop the characters of Vic Warshawski and her network of friends, to portray Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods as well as the class and political influences that make Chicago a great city in which the detective can exercise her sense of justice. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Marvel and A Wonder” by Joe Meno

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RECOMMENDEDmarvel and a wonder

“Marvel and A Wonder’—Joe Meno’s latest novel—is an emotionally honest exploration of the human need for connection.

The story centers on widower and Korean War vet, Jim Falls, and his biracial sixteen-year-old grandson, Quentin, who work side by side on a small chicken farm, but could not be more disconnected. Jim can’t seem to see anything of himself—physically or otherwise—in Quentin, who insulates himself with his Walkman. Set on the cusp of the millennium, they’re struggling to keep afloat in the blighted town of Mount Holly, where it’s easier to find fireworks and guns—no permit required—than a job, or any semblance of hope. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Lit Preview 2015

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By Christine Sneed


Lauren Groff, “Fates and Furies” (novel, 9/15)
Groff’s new novel about a foundering marriage has received, not surprisingly, a lot of ecstatic buzz. She is so talented that reading her work is alternately a thrilling and an I-will-never-be-this-good-of-a-writer experience. Behold her dazzling sentences, understanding of the human heart, and her imaginative leaps into the real and the fantastical.
fall preview - fear of dying
Erica Jong, “Fear of Dying” (novel, 9/8)
More than forty years after Jong wowed and scandalized readers alike with her sexually frank (and fearless) novel “Fear of Flying,” Jong is back with another adventurous heroine, Vanessa Wonderman (a close friend of Isadora Wing), who isn’t interested in disappearing into senescence without a…ahem, bang.

Jenny Lawson, “Furiously Happy” (nonfiction, 9/22)
In this memoir, Lawson explores her longtime struggles with mental illness. As her publisher phrases it, “A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. But terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.” I’m in. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Review: “Small Consolations” by Gary Glauber

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RECOMMENDEDsmall consolations by gary glauber

Gary Glauber’s poetry collection “Small Consolations” may, at first blush, seem a bit tame when compared to recent collections that have set the world of poetry agog. In a twelve-month span that welcomed such offerings as Claudia Rankine’s genre-defying poetry collection “Citizen,” the fluid memory poems of Saeed Jones’ “Prelude to Bruise,” and the haunting untamed animalism of Simone Muench’s “Wolf Centos,” Glauber’s assiduously crafted poems evince a wistful, guarded sensibility.
Like a bare-chested, clean-skinned preppy moshing at Lollapalooza among the sweat-glazed crush of tattooed punks and skinheads who buck every rule, “Small Consolations” harbors great lust, longing and energy, yet it knows that boundaries do not always impede creativity; they often inspire it. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science” by Alice Dreger

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galileo coverRECOMMENDED

“Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science” is a strange mix of disheartening, enraging and uplifting. It’s the subject matter—scientific controversy—not Northwestern professor and medical historian Alice Dreger’s writing style, which reads like a good lecture.

For readers who want science to arbitrate fairly where humans fall short, it’s enlightening yet perhaps not shocking to see that a fucked-up moral algorithm of politically correct narrative and personal grudges can dictate inquiry into medical procedure.

Dreger deftly balances human stories with anecdotes of actual scientific harm being perpetrated by activists and journalists silencing those with less-than-ideal but scientifically sound theses. She beats a roughly chronological path, starting with her involvement in the intersex movement, then detouring into elaborate research projects in which she defends sexologist J. Michael Bailey and Napoleon Chagnon, and concludes with a relatively unstudied medical treatment prescribed to pregnant mothers. Read the rest of this entry »

Big-Hearted and Bawdy: Tony Fitzpatrick’s “Dime Stories” Speaks Truth to Power

Anthologies, Art Books, Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Essays No Comments »

Tony Fitzpatrick/Photo: Paul Elledge

By Amy Friedman

“Whatever you do in this life, make sure you’re the only one who can do it,” Tony Fitzpatrick’s father advised him in the third grade, and hell if he didn’t listen. Artist, author and actor are but a few of his titles, and there’s no doubt that no one can do what Tony does.

“Dime Stories,” the soon-to-be-released foul-mouthed, straight-talk collection of Fitzpatrick’s Newcity columns speaks truth to power, and we’d be wise to heed its warnings and take its advice. Fitzpatrick rails against waste, criticizes the sellout of our political institutions to big money, laments the proliferation of mass shootings and parses various other elements that lead to injustice. These essays examine with sharp focus and acerbic wit our true nature and that of our changing city, rife with new dangers and old problems. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Review: “Made in Detroit” By Marge Piercy

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In the opening poem of her collection of the same name, “Made in Detroit,” Marge Piercy describes the influence the city had on her as a child: “I was formed by beating like a black/ smith’s sword, and my edge is still/ sharp enough to cut both you and me.”

Detroit is a place Piercy escaped from and, in this collection, mournfully looks back on. “Oh my city of origin, city who taught/ me about class and class warfare.” Even “The scent of apple cake,” a poem about her mother’s baking, is soaked in bitterness: “In the oven she made sweetness/ where otherwise there was none.”

While Piercy’s childhood in Detroit grounds this collection it only represents about one sixth of the content, and the spectrum of topics covered is vast. Piercy reflects on her life in Cape Cod, her marriage, the dying of friends, growing older, politics, feminism and her Jewish heritage. Read the rest of this entry »

Graphic Novel Review: “La Lucha—The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico” By Jon Sack (Author) and Adam Shapiro (Editor)

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“La Lucha, The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico,” is first in a series of graphic books conceived by Front Line Defenders, an organization based in Ireland whose mission is to protect human rights defenders around the world. Jon Sack and Adam Shapiro have worked together on “La Lucha” to create a graphic book set in Mexico in the state of Chihuahua, for years known as one of the most dangerous places on earth, where drug cartels and a corrupt governing body maintain brutal rule. Read the rest of this entry »