Archives of "The BookBrowse Review": Reviews, previews, back-stories, news

The BookBrowse Review

December 04, 2019

Dear Bookbrowsers,

It's been a great year for books, and if you haven't had as much time to read as you might have liked, hopefully you can take the opportunity over the holidays to rest, read, and refuel. If you don't already have a stack of unread books on your nightstand waiting for your attention (or even if you do), you'll definitely want to pick up a few of the titles we're featuring in this, our Best of the Year issue, consisting of the 20 books that were rated highest by you, BookBrowse subscribers, in our annual Best of Year survey. The books are listed in ratings order.

The award for Best Nonfiction Book goes to Michelle Obama's Becoming. Becoming published last November and is included in our 2019 Awards because voting takes place in November and therefore books published in the last two months of 2018 are eligible.

You might be interested to know that even though Becoming was the bestselling book of 2018 with 3.4 million copies sold, it was not a shoo-in for BookBrowse's awards because what sets ours apart from other popular awards is that we don't simply count raw votes (which favors the most widely read books), instead we ask subscribers to rate each book they've read that is on the shortlist, and the winners are the books with the highest overall ratings. We also prevent vote stuffing by restricting voting only to you, our subscribers.

The Best Fiction Book Award goes to the ever-popular Elizabeth Strout for Olive, Again, her sequel to Olive Kitteridge published ten years after the original. Readers were thrilled to return to this beloved character's stubborn but poignant perspective, and Strout's exceptional writing skills all but guarantee every outing will be a success.

Thanhha Lai's Butterfly Yellow wins the Best Young Adult category. This moving novel about a teenage Vietnamese refugee's search for her brother through Texas in 1981 is Lai's second book, but her first for a YA audience. Her children's debut, Inside Out and Back Again, won the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and the 2012 Newbery Medal.

Our Best Debut Author Award goes to Solitary by Albert Woodfox. In this remarkable memoir, the author writes of his four decades in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit. It is a story of hope in the face of impossible circumstances and a call to action for prison reform. Solitary was also a finalist for the National Book Award.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Best of the Year survey. Over 8,000 votes were cast, and we value your opinions very highly!

If you'd like to comment on any of these books, or tell people about your favorite books of the year, you can do so in our blog

Also in this issue are our best of year interviews, our top recommendations for book clubs to read in early 2020, and previews of December and early January releases.

Enjoy!

Your editor,
Davina


About the BookBrowse Awards
BookBrowse's Best of the Year Awards are an excellent barometer of great reading. The awards are particularly noteworthy because voting is only open to BookBrowse subscribers - so no vote stuffing by rabid fan bases; and instead of just voting for a book (which favors the most widely read books) subscribers rate each book they've read that is on the shortlist, and the winners are the books with the highest overall rating. Such considered selection results in truly outstanding books being feted every year. 2019 is no different in that regard. Over 8,000 votes were cast this year. If you took part in the voting - thank you!

See 20 years of Best of Year Books, and Award Winners.



Read This Issue

November 13, 2019

Dear Bookbrowsers,

We love highlighting the work of debut authors, especially when we can enthusiastically recommend them. This issue features 5-star reviews of three excellent hardcover debuts:

JP Gritton's first novel, Wyoming, is a mix of noir and family dysfunction told through the eyes of a charismatic unreliable narrator. In the accompanying Beyond the Book article, our reviewer Ian Muehlenhaus talks to JP about how this book came to fruition.

Nancy Au's first collection, Spider Love Song and Other Stories, examines the lives of predominantly Chinese American characters with a distinctive blend of humor and razor-sharp insight.

Karina Sainz Borgo's dramatic debut novel It Would be Night in Caracas takes place during a violent upheaval in Venezuela, where the journalist protagonist finds herself virtually under siege. Sainz Borgo drew from personal experience to write this story, as she is a Venezuelan journalist herself, but saw value in approaching the subject matter from a fictional angle. As she told NPR in an interview, "When we do nonfiction, we try to take care of the truth, what truth means, because I think that journalism and nonfiction provides us answers. But I think fiction provides us questions. It makes us think about things we think we understand."*

In addition to these exceptional debuts, we're covering Zadie Smith's first collection of short stories, Grand Union; and Find Me, André Aciman's highly-anticipated follow-up to Call Me by Your Name. And if you like sequels, make sure to read our Beyond the Book feature on this topic.

In the next issue, coming December 4th, we'll be covering the best books of 2019, chosen by you!

Very best regards,

Your editor,
Davina


*Quote lightly edited for clarity.

Read This Issue

October 30, 2019

Dear Bookbrowsers,

A good biography can give you a candid glimpse into someone else's mind and motivations, transport you to another era, perhaps even show you another side to a famous figure you thought you knew all about. In this issue we review recent biographies of three remarkable individuals, each of whom changed the world they were living in. In Unbreakable, Richard Askwith tells the story of Lata Brandisova, a woman from Czechoslovakia who pursued a career in horse racing in the 1930s, despite this being anathema for women at the time. Brandisova won the Grand Pardubice Steeplechase race in 1937, robbing German racers of what they believed would be an easy win on the brink of World War II.

African American civil rights attorney Dovey Johnson Roundtree penned her autobiography (with journalist Katie McCabe) prior to her death at age 104 in 2018. Mighty Justice recounts Roundtree's journey from the Jim Crow South to the Women's Auxiliary Corps to law school, after which she and her colleague scored the first major victory in ending transportation segregation.

Another posthumous publication, Edison, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Edmund Morris (who passed away in May 2019), presents the life of Thomas Edison in reverse chronological order, highlighting some of his lesser known interests to create a three-dimensional portrait of the prolific inventor.

If biographies aren't your thing, that's okay! We've got plenty more to recommend in this issue, including Fireborne, the dramatic opening of a YA fantasy trilogy by debut author Rosaria Munda, and the latest from Jeanette Winterson, Frankissstein.

Enjoy!

Your editor,
Davina

Read This Issue

October 16, 2019

Dear Bookbrowsers,

Congratulations to Olga Tokarczuk, retrospective winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature, whose novel, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, we reviewed back in August.

We have a couple of stellar YA debuts for you in this issue, poet Morgan Parker's semi-autobiographical Who Put This Song On? and Thanhha Lai's Butterfly Yellow, both of which incorporate important sociopolitical issues into their plots.

Beyond the Book articles in this issue explore a range of intriguing topics; we have a deep dive into the works of prolific mystery writer Ann Cleeves, and a rundown of some of the most popular versions of Charles Dickens' classic novel A Christmas Carol. You can round out your literary lesson with the article on Gothic Romance and the Rise of the Lady Sleuth.

On the history front, we examine Operation Babylift, a controversial program established by the U.S. government in the final days of the Vietnam conflict designed to airlift orphans out of the war zone. In the companion piece to Who Put This Song On? we ponder the accuracy of representations of Black leaders propagated by history books. We also have a piece on the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) accompanying the review of journalist Azadeh Moaveni's dynamic account of women who chose to join this organization, Guest House for Young Widows.

Make sure to check out our new Book Club Q&A with the founders of a "Couples Book Club" launched in Seattle in 1996.

Enjoy!

Your editor,
Davina

Read This Issue

October 02, 2019

Dear Bookbrowsers,

We review some highly-anticipated titles in this issue, and none has been more breathlessly awaited The Testaments, Margaret Atwood's follow-up to The Handmaid's Tale (published 35 years ago). Are you ready to return to Gilead? Does the sequel live up to the inevitable hype and high expectations? We're also covering much-lauded nonfiction and comic book writer Ta-Nehisi Coates' first novel The Water Dancer, a work of historical fiction with supernatural tinges set in the antebellum South. Coates won the National Book Award in 2015 for Between the World and Me, an esteemed memoir blended with cultural criticism.

Of course, a new Ann Patchett novel is always an event; The Dutch House continues the author's tradition of deeply immersive character studies. This one centers around two siblings who find themselves drawn to their childhood home (and the relationships and resentments it represents) again and again over the span of their lives. Meanwhile, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alice Hoffman has blended history and the otherworldly in her latest, The World That We Knew. Those familiar with Hoffman will recognize her signature touches of magic, and for those unfamiliar, this novel is a great place to start!

We're also covering Sara Donati's follow-up to The Gilded Hour, Where the Light Enters, featuring dynamic 19th century doctor duo Sophie and Anna Savard; plus many more great books, along with previews for more than 50 titles set to be released around mid-October.

As always, don't forget to check out the Beyond the Book articles—impress your friends with factoids about the Eastern Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project!

Your editor,
Davina

Read This Issue

September 18, 2019

Dear Bookbrowsers,

Books can be an invaluable resource when it comes to making sense of hot-button political debates of the day, and few issues are more relevant at the present moment than migration. While the plight of border-crossers in the U.S. and refugees seeking asylum in Europe are in the news daily, you may be less aware of the growth of migration in other parts of the world—estimated to be 50% higher than it was at the turn of this century—with a constant flow of people seeking better employment opportunities outside of their home countries.

According to New York Times journalist Jason DeParle, there are an estimated 258 million migrants spread around the world at this moment, who send a total of US$477 billion a year back to their home countries—three times the world's foreign aid budgets combined! In A Good Provider is One Who Leaves, DeParle follows a family in the Philippines over a span of three decades, as the patriarch relocates to Saudi Arabia for work, and later one of his daughters emigrates to the United States.

Meanwhile, Tash Aw's fourth novel We, the Survivors is centered around a Malaysian man who served time in prison for murdering a Bangladeshi migrant. Bangladeshis make up one-eighth of the labor force in Malaysia, and in her beyond the book article for Aw's book, Rachel Hullett chronicles the ever-fluctuating policies between Malyasia and Bangladesh concerning imported labor. Edwidge Danticat's latest collection of short stories, Everything Inside also touches on the topic of immigration through several protagonists who have come to the United States from Haiti.

Make sure to check out the reviews for Pet, a debut YA novel from Akwaeke Emezi, and Kochland by Christopher Leonard, both of which are generating a lot of positive press; and our 40 previews of books publishing in late September!

Enjoy!

Your editor,
Davina

Read This Issue

September 04, 2019

Dear BookBrowsers,

We've got a little something for everybody in this issue, from historical fiction to YA to sociological study. Representing the latter category is journalist Emily Guendelsberger's On the Clock, an account of the author's eye-opening experience working at a McDonald's, an Amazon warehouse, and a call center. She considers how these employers' management systems establish unrealistic expectations for workers, setting them up to fail, and how many people are working tirelessly and still unable to support themselves. In the Beyond the Book article for this review, we examine the increasingly detrimental ways automation is being used to track employees' movements and measure their work efforts. Another Beyond the Book article zeroes in on the continued decline of the coal industry in Greene County, Pennsylvania, despite the president's campaign promises to bring jobs back to this region.

Three books covered in this issue revolve around the French Resistance during World War II. One of the three, When the Plums are Ripe by Patrice Nganang is set in Cameroon (a French colony at the time), where members of the Resistance conscripted the locals into war with the Nazis. Nganang skillfully explores the moral implications of the indigenous being forced to serve as soldiers by their colonizers.

A similar topic is taken up by author Marie Arana in her sprawling history of Latin America, Silver, Sword, and Stone, in which she recounts centuries of Spanish and Portuguese colonial rule and enslavement of the native population in this region.

Make sure to check out the new paperback releases and the previews as well!

Enjoy!

Your editor,
Davina

Read This Issue

More Back Issues

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.