Book List

Indie Best Books of the Month December

Fans are sure to look forward to what Gracie imagines in the spring.

THE ADVENTURES OF GRACIE & MONKEYBEAR

BOOK 2: WINTER

The multilingual Gracie and her brainy dog MonkeyBear return for winter adventures in O’Kelly and Farrell’s (The Adventures of Gracie & MonkeyBear: Book 1: Summer, 2017) second series entry.

MonkeyBear has been preparing for a journey, judging from his consultation of a map of Yeti sightings and books about Yeti, Nepal, and airships. He and Gracie soon find huge footprints in Grandma’s yard, and a cry for help leads them to the cave of a Yeti whose yak has accidentally frozen its tongue to the ice. The authors celebrate science education by having Gracie smartly solve the problem by bouncing sunlight off of mirrors, but when it works too well, Gracie and MonkeyBear must carve an ice boat for themselves. Next, they rescue a snow leopard by turning their boat into an airship. Lastly, they encounter Denpa Druk, a Bhutanese Thunder Dragon (“Finally, MonkeyBear, I get to speak Dzongkha,” says Gracie), who needs help getting his magic stripes back—all before Grandma calls Gracie and MonkeyBear home. Overall, this sequel features just as many exciting encounters as the first book and as many delightful details in the pictures. One glorious illustration features fantastic cloud hues and sunlight while requiring the book to be turned sideways.

Fans are sure to look forward to what Gracie imagines in the spring.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-946807-02-1

Page Count: 36

Publisher: MonkeyBear Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

Humming with inspired metaphors and everyday relevance, these poems are gems.

MOSAIC OF THE DARK

A debut poetry collection explores faith and sexuality.

Many of these poems have previously appeared in literary journals or anthologies, and Dordal (English/Vanderbilt Univ.) has received a Robert Watson Literary Prize and an Academy of American Poets Prize. Her degrees in divinity and fine arts account for her graceful interweaving of Christian references. For instance, “On the Way to Emmaus,” alluding to Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance, presents the narrator’s own dramatic metamorphosis: still closeted while teaching a New Testament course, she came out on the last day of class. Many poems dwell on this seemingly autobiographical theme of coming to terms with one’s sexuality and laying claim to a new voice and identity. The multipart “Holy Week” juxtaposes a mother’s death from heart problems with the disconcerting revelation that she may also have been lesbian—“the queerness you passed on…falling out of hiding” in the next generation. “Clues” is a prime example of religion and sexuality’s intermingling: “Her lips parting for me every time— / a deep-throated ‘hey’ or ‘hello’ / was enough, the way a weekly token / of bread or wine can be enough.” That first line—initially erotic, then an introduction to casual conversation—leads into Dordal’s reminder that sex and religion meet deep human needs as loci of connection and nourishment. Similarly playful and sensual is “Plumbing the Depths,” in which a plumber’s sticking-up zipper is “a tiny, totem dick.” Two poems in this outstanding collection reflect on encounters with prisoners at Riverbend Maximum Security Institute; the natural world provides the imagery of the title section. These pieces aren’t about showy structures or sonic techniques but about well-chosen words carefully arranged. Rhythm is key, and internal rhymes and alliteration have subtle potency. The title phrase comes from “Even Houseflies,” in which the insects’ manifold eyes are likened to those of gods hiding in corners of rooms—a down-to-earth lesson in seeing the holy everywhere. Likewise, the various approximations of prayer are helpfully loose: recognizing a prisoner’s fellow humanity, stilling one’s breathing, and communing with nature.

Humming with inspired metaphors and everyday relevance, these poems are gems.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62557-986-7

Page Count: 65

Publisher: Black Lawrence Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

Gorgeous poems, rich with allusions to music, art, and history from Ancient Greece to the Korean War.

INTO THE CYCLORAMA

This debut poetry collection offers a resonant meditation on personal and collective identity.

Kim, the assistant dean for public service at the University of Virginia School of Law, won the University of Southern Indiana’s 2015 Michael Waters Poetry Prize for this book. Her poems are elegant and intricate, with forms ranging from prose paragraphs to the three spare lines of the sijo, a traditional Korean lyric with a set number of syllables and pauses. Sometimes the configuration varies within the same poem: “The Bronze Helmet (A Retrospective)” and “Post-Colonial Album: 1980” are made up of particularly impressive, multipart verses that frequently transform from one structure, or point of view, to another. In the former poem, the points of reference include archaeology, the Olympics, and Korean-Japanese relations—all linked via the titular helmet, which was gifted to the first Korean gold medalist (from 1936’s Berlin Games), Sohn Kee-chung, on the eve of the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul. The relic becomes a potent symbol of cultural-compromise-as-survival-strategy: later generations have “endured not happily perhaps / but strong which is the gift of bronze / the life of alloy.” Complicated feelings toward family members infuse multiple poems, such as “Prelude and Fugue,” about a grandfather’s disappearance, and “A Rag for My Father,” with its somber variations on the refrain, “A father is a kind of trap / you could easily fall for.” The opening poem, “Thin Gold String,” sets up a picture of life as a series of accidents and losses, and much of what follows lives up to that melancholy vision. “Cyclorama” effectively maps out the repetitive nature of violence on the page, with personal concerns and headlines about mass shootings left-aligned, and the Civil War battles of the Gettysburg Cyclorama aligned on the right. Instead of rhyme, Kim relies on wordplay, such as “fugere” versus “fugue,” and alliteration, such as “flicking water on the flames” and “drop into a deep, delicious sleep” from “New World (III).” Dreams and journeys are additional recurring themes, while familiar buildings serve as metaphors for the self.

Gorgeous poems, rich with allusions to music, art, and history from Ancient Greece to the Korean War.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-930508-37-8

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Southern Indiana Review Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

It’s hard to say enough good things about this hard-science future thriller with humor and heart—an excellent debut.

THE PUNCH ESCROW

In this sci-fi thriller, a man fights for his wife and his lives after he’s duplicated in a transporter malfunction.

In 2147, the Last War ended half a century ago. Now the world is run mostly by corporations, which provide basic needs and run the global economy with the help of nanotechnology, which, among other advancements, has made human teleportation possible. Narrator Joel Byram is a “salter”—that is, he poses puzzles to artificial intelligence applications, hoping to stump them and improve their decision algorithms. He loves ’80s pop music and his wife, Sylvia, a quantum microscopy engineer. She works for International Transport, the company with a monopoly on teleportation thanks to its proprietary Punch Escrow technology. (Anything teleported is held in “escrow” until its arrival is confirmed; quantum entanglement is involved.) After a recent promotion, Sylvia has been working on a secret project that eats all her time, and the couple has drifted apart. Sylvia suggests a 10th anniversary vacation to Costa Rica, their honeymoon spot and one of the world’s few remaining off-the-grid locations. But as Joel is teleporting, a suicide bomber attacks, and he finds himself still in Greenwich Village, though he’s reported dead. At IT headquarters, Joel learns that Sylvia, already in Costa Rica, has panicked and done the unthinkable: used Escrow technology to restore him, creating a duplicate Joel. With several well-organized yet shadowy forces arrayed against them, both Joels must use all their combined experiences in manipulating AIs to rescue each other and Sylvia and stop a mad genius’s nefarious plans. Technology is important to debut author Klein’s novel, particularly the truth about how transportation really works, but character drives the story as much or more. Throughout, the narrator (whether Joel or Joel No. 2) has an appealing voice and presence. He’s funny, a bit of a smartass, but thoughtful, concerned about his marriage, and, in the face of mortal danger, grimly determined to do anything to rescue his wife. The duplicate-Joel plot has an extra payoff in how Joel is forced to contemplate some of his less admirable qualities when he sees them in his double. Klein’s worldbuilding is superb, especially effective for how he blends nifty gee-whiz stuff with characterization. For example, in 2147, engineered mosquitoes eat pollution and piss water. They’re saving the planet…but Joel hates the thought of being rained on from mosquito bladders and can’t stop complaining about it. Seeing how well Klein has thought through his premise is a great pleasure of the book. He also offers philosophical food for thought regarding identity and originality that recalls Walter Benjamin’s great essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” But readers with less taste for technology and ideas can still be drawn into the book’s twisty plot, unexpected turns, cunning plans, action, and struggle, plus entertaining matches of wit between Joel/Joel2 and various artificial intelligences. The ’80s pop music that threads through the book is another enjoyable feature.

It’s hard to say enough good things about this hard-science future thriller with humor and heart—an excellent debut.

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-942645-58-0

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Geek & Sundry

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

Poignant, exquisite, and endlessly witty.

VISITATIONS

STORIES

Upton’s (The Tao of Humiliation, 2014, etc.) latest collection comprises stories inhabited by characters entangled in either classic literature or their own convoluted tales.

In “A Shadow,” a maid discovers a piece of metal in J.M. Barrie’s sitting room on the morning of the author’s death. The item eventually finds its way to a boy, who’s haunted by an unrelenting shadow in his dreams, demanding he cut off a pirate’s hands. Well-known literary works play a significant role here, and Upton rarely disguises the source of inspiration. In “The Odyssey,” for example, 11-year-old, home-schooled Tahreen stumbles upon a man’s still-breathing body on the beach, like Nausicaä in Homer’s poem. Such references aren’t just dropped and forgotten. Tahreen, years later, judges her online-set dates based on each man’s response to her oft-told man-on-the-beach account. Upton sometimes makes broader bookish connections. The narrator of “Night Walkers,” for example—developing a distaste for reading after her husband leaves her for a writer/librarian—joins a book club since most members don’t actually discuss the books. Hints of fairy tales help shape the characters: the sudden appearance of apples makes an apparently meek elderly woman in “Ambrosia” seem sinister; in “Visitation,” Tiffany’s mother, wanting a bouquet for her daughter, may follow a flower-destroying groundhog down a hole. “Hello! I Am Saying Hello! Because That Is What I Do When I Say Hello!” is a standout, and not just for its title. In it, Natalie, who famously ruins things, like her cousin’s restaurant, questions why her friend Anita would ever ask her to be maid of honor. Upton, a published poet, infuses her narrative with lyrical details. A cynical Natalie believes her friend “had undone her marriage deliberately but carefully, the way a good tailor might rip out a seam without harming delicate fabric.”

Poignant, exquisite, and endlessly witty.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8071-6812-7

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

A deeply thoughtful book about business management today and the nature of thought itself.

UNDERSTANDING BUSINESS: THE LOGIC OF BALANCE

PART OF THE UNDERSTANDING SERIES OF BOOKS

A discussion of the Western obsession with rational deduction and its stranglehold on the business world. 

While working in China and trying to understand the country’s culture, Moreau (A Contemporary Tale of Human Connection, 2016, etc.) discovered a remarkable difference between Western and Eastern approaches to comprehending reality. Westerners cling to logical deduction, causal linearity, and binary choices. Eastern thought emphasizes inductive inference, circularity, and a harmony of opposites. Western rationality has, of course, borne considerable fruit, but it’s also often gratuitously limiting and even counterproductive. For example, an overemphasis on scientific deduction leads to false dilemmas, or the misperception that there are only two mutually exclusive choices available, while induction promotes a more holistic interpretation that prioritizes an equilibrium of competing alternatives. “This is the point of equilibrium, the center of balance between yin and yang, productivity and waste, return and loss,” writes Moreau. “It is here that all business should seek to reside, in a position of balance between data and instinct, between expectation and experience, between great innovation and folly.” The author uses this paradigm to diagnose a number of weaknesses with contemporary business management, including its narrow obsession with quantitative assessments of human behavior, a dogmatic attachment to processes that don’t work and tendentious rationalizations of them, and a deficit of intellectual diversity. Also, the insistence on deductive logic ultimately leads to a culture of intolerance and alienation. Moreau recommends his own fusion of induction and deduction—he calls it “indeduction”—which permits the two to operate independently of each other, providing a more synoptic picture than either could on its own. It’s no surprise that the author has more than 40 years of business experience. His observations are consistently nuanced and searching. Moreau adroitly braids a philosophical perspective with a managerial one, discussing Newtonian science and Taoism with as much confidence as employee reviews. The writing is unfailingly clear and avoids precisely the kind of turgid jargon he too often finds in the world of commerce. More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper—and happier—world of business. 

A deeply thoughtful book about business management today and the nature of thought itself. 

Pub Date: June 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5470-7473-0

Page Count: 188

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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