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

February 01, 2023

Dear BookBrowsers,

In this issue, we review several books that touch on personal, national or global "apocalypses" — whether in the form of climate disaster, life-ending violence or historical atrocity — while attempting to meaningfully reckon with these realities through acts of reconstruction or new ways of understanding.

Paul Auster's nonfiction book Bloodbath Nation is an account of America's gun problem that mixes autobiographical material with sobering statistics and the impactful photography of Spencer Ostrander, whose work is the subject of our accompanying Beyond the Book article.

Eleanor Shearer's debut novel River Sing Me Home, set on a number of Carribbean islands following the legal abolition of slavery in 1834, tells the emotional and riveting story of a mother searching for the children who were sold away from her; Good Morning America have just announced that it is their February Book Club pick. Franny Choi's latest poetry collection, The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On, also combines the individual with the historical, blurring the lines between contemporary experiences and reflections on Korea's wartime past.

The novel The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton imagines the future of the climate crisis from the perspective of a Florida family who faces the effects of worsening weather in their hometown. Human destruction of nature is viewed from a different angle in Esther Woolfson's Between Light and Storm, which analyzes the cultural influences that have determined people's treatment of animals.

Reexamination of personal tragedies occurs in the thrillers Bad Cree by debut author Jessica Johns, a tale of a woman grieving for lost family members who is plagued by powerful nightmares, and Kate Alice Marshall's What Lies in the Woods, which delves into the story of a childhood secret and mysterious events surrounding the violent attack of a young girl.

We also have a blog post on some of the Best Book Podcasts for Serious Readers, a new Wordplay and much more for you to explore.

Thank you for being a BookBrowse member.

Davina Morgan-Witts
BookBrowse Publisher

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January 18, 2023

Dear BookBrowsers,

Part of the value and satisfaction of reading can be found in exploring new angles on subjects we may have thought we already understood. In this issue, we review some stellar works of nonfiction that bring buried truths to light. The Grimkes by Kerri K. Greenidge examines the complicated legacy of the interracial Grimke family, known mainly for its white abolitionist members. The Nazi Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch produces a fresh — and eminently readable — take on World War II through the lens of a Nazi plot to assassinate three prominent Allied leaders: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. In Con/Artist, ex-art forger Tony Tetro, along with journalist Giampiero Ambrosi, presents an intriguing but unromantic view of his former profession.

In addition, we cover fiction that shows harsh realities hidden in particular places. The YA novel We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds and the adult novel City Under One Roof by Iris Yamashita are both debuts set in fictional small towns — located in Georgia and Alaska respectively — where characters are drawn to learn about the local history, including some dark secrets.

In another adult work of fiction with a strong sense of place, Michelle Gallen's Factory Girls, teenage Maeve is confronted with the everyday issue of sectarian violence during the Troubles in 1990s Northern Ireland. Our accompanying Beyond the Book article summarizes the history of segregation and integration in the region's educational system.

We also have a fun quiz for you on the jobs authors had before they were famous, previews of upcoming releases, a new Wordplay and much more.

Thank you for supporting BookBrowse as a member.

Davina Morgan-Witts
BookBrowse Publisher

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January 04, 2023

Dear BookBrowsers,

In our first issue of 2023, we're excited to bring you two new books by established writers that combine an entertaining, dramatic edge with a sharp literary sensibility. Pulitzer-winning author Jane Smiley's latest novel, A Dangerous Business, is a rich historical mystery following a young woman attempting to unravel the truth behind a string of murders in Gold Rush-era California, while Deepti Kapoor's Age of Vice is an alluring modern thriller centered on the affairs of a wealthy and corrupt family in contemporary Northern India.

We review several books by promising debut authors, including the striking novels Someday, Maybe by Onyi Nwabineli and We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman, which both grapple with the nuances and unexpected complexities of grief.

Two science journalists making their nonfiction debuts each give a fascinating view into aspects of the world of animals — and of humans. In Pests, Bethany Brookshire encourages us to consider the implications of labeling some creatures "pests" and how we can better share space with our non-human counterparts. In How Far the Light Reaches, Sabrina Imbler puts forth personal coming-of-age anecdotes, as well as deeper reflections on society and humanity, alongside studies of ten unique sea creatures.

In-depth societal analysis is also on display in Feral City by Jeremiah Moss, which recounts the effect COVID-19 had on the social fabric of New York City early in the pandemic. Our accompanying Beyond the Book article explores other nonfiction titles focusing on COVID-related experiences.

To look back over some great books BookBrowse members read and reviewed last year, be sure to check out our 2022 First Impressions Reader Reviews.

And in our annual Big Holiday Wordplay, we have the answers ready to share with you — along with some interesting background information about each book.

Thank you for being a BookBrowse member, and we hope your new year is full of enjoyable reading!

Davina Morgan-Witts
BookBrowse Publisher

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December 07, 2022

Dear BookBrowsers,

In this issue, our last of 2022, we highlight the Top 20 Best Books of the Year as chosen by our subscribers, and among them our Award Winners. Two of the Top 20 are books that we have not previously featured but are pleased to bring you reviews of now, Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt and Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. Both are insightful debut novels that portray women navigating uncertain situations and skillfully balance humor with gravity.

Remarkably Bright Creatures, a heartwarming story following widow Tova Sullivan and an octopus of unusual abilities named Marcellus, not only made the list by popular demand but emerged as the winner of our Best Debut award.

The Best Fiction award goes to Horse by Pulitzer winner Geraldine Brooks, a complex novel combining dual timelines that explores aspects of racism, human relationships and the world of thoroughbred horse racing.

Amy Bloom's impactful memoir In Love is the Best Nonfiction winner. Recently featured in our Best Nonfiction for Book Clubs in 2023, it follows the difficult journey undertaken by the author and her husband after his Alzheimer's diagnosis.

The full Top 20 list includes books from well-established writers, such as Barbara Kingsolver, Thrity Umrigar, Celeste Ng, Kate Atkinson and Maggie O'Farrell. It also includes notable debuts, such as Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson, a family drama revolving around two siblings uncovering their mother's long-held secrets, and Dipo Faloyin's essay collection Africa Is Not a Country, an incisive and irreverent portrayal of the African continent in modern times.

In addition to reviews of our Top 20 and accompanying Beyond the Book articles, this issue features some of the best author interviews from 2022, including several with authors of our Best Books of the Year. Plus, you can read reviews selected from our recommended titles for book clubs in 2023, and browse our previews of upcoming releases for the rest of December and the beginning of January.

Also, try your hand at some bookish fun with our annual Big Holiday Wordplay, a BookBrowse tradition for 21 years!

Thanks for being a BookBrowse member, and thank you to everyone who voted for the Top 20 this year!

Davina Morgan-Witts
BookBrowse Publisher

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November 16, 2022

Dear BookBrowsers,

In this issue, we cover Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel Demon Copperhead, an inspired retelling of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield set in contemporary Appalachia and featuring a hardy young protagonist coming of age. Our accompanying Beyond the Book article explores the original work by Dickens.

Interestingly, we have reviews of several additional novels, both YA and adult, that follow young people grappling with the realities of grown-up life. In adult fiction, Meg Howrey's They're Going to Love You focuses on Carlisle, a teenager living with her mother in Ohio, as she seeks a sense of belonging through a series of visits to her father and his partner in New York. Foster by Claire Keegan, an international bestseller and winner of the Davy Byrnes Award newly released in the US, is about a girl sent to stay with her mother's relatives on the Irish coast, where she discovers new ways of connecting with others as well as a tragic secret.

The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen, Isaac Blum's young adult debut, is told from the perspective of an Orthodox Jewish American teenager whose community becomes mired in neighborhood conflict. Acclaimed YA author Courtney Summers combines queer romance with a dark mystery based on the crimes of Jeffrey Epstein in I'm the Girl, examining power dynamics through the eyes of adolescent Georgia as she investigates a murder in the ski resort town of Ketchum, Idaho.

This issue includes our review of the latest novel from prolific Pulitzer-nominated and Booker-shortlisted author Percival Everett, the paperback original Dr. No, a madcap philosophical tale involving a professor who studies nothing, a billionaire who aspires to be a James Bond villain and a conspiracy behind the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. — along with an article about the real-life unknowns surrounding King's death.

You can also enjoy our list of the Best Nonfiction for Book Clubs in 2023, a new Wordplay and more.

Thank you for supporting BookBrowse as a member.

Davina Morgan-Witts
BookBrowse Publisher

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November 02, 2022

Dear BookBrowsers,

Every avid reader is familiar with the magic of stories, but what about the magic of the vessels that contain them? In this issue, we review Emma Smith's Portable Magic, a history of the book from the perspective of its physicality, or as the author terms it, "bookhood." In our accompanying Beyond the Book article, we explore the fascinating topic of the "shelfie," looking at how three historical women — Marilyn Monroe, Madame de Pompadour and Lady Anne Clifford — used books and reading to influence their public images long before people were curating their bookshelves to show them off on social media and Zoom calls.

Many other books in this issue also feature a historical component or reflections on specific periods. The ambitious latest novel from Ian McEwan, Lessons, follows Roland Baines, a British man who struggles with a sense of mediocrity, across a lifetime that spans from the post-World War II era to modern day.

Matthew Delmont's impressively researched Half American focuses on Black members of the American military who served in WWII, the role the Black press played in the war, and labor rights for Black workers in the United States at the time.

In Robert Harris's historical cat-and-mouse thriller Act of Oblivion, a fictional character named Richard Nayler pursues two real-life figures who were in part responsible for the execution of King Charles I in 1649.

New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu's intimate debut memoir, Stay True, recalls events from his youth in the 1990s, including the sudden tragic death of a college friend, while reflecting on the distinct subcultural quirks of the decade.

We also have previews of upcoming releases, author interviews and a new Wordplay for you to enjoy.

Thank you for being a BookBrowse member.

Davina Morgan-Witts
BookBrowse Publisher

Top 10 Novels for Book Clubs in 2023

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October 19, 2022

Dear BookBrowsers,

In this issue, we bring you two new novels by much-loved authors that explore societal issues of current and historical oppression through fictional universes. Celeste Ng's Our Missing Hearts follows 12-year-old Bird Gardner and his Chinese American poet mother, Margaret, in a dystopian near-future where the United States government regulates cultural influences deemed to be unpatriotic. Maggie O'Farrell's The Marriage Portrait portrays an alternate version of the life of Lucrezia de' Medici, daughter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo I de' Medici, in which she contends with a constrictive marriage and a murderous husband in 16th-century Italy.

We also cover The Birdcatcher by Gayl Jones, which provides a very different and much funnier take on the threat of marital violence. A humorous but highly philosophical novel about a sculptor who continually tries to kill her husband, and a friend of the couple who can't seem to stay away from the strange drama, this book from an author lauded by Toni Morrison and Tayari Jones is a current finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction.

Two works of nonfiction in this issue offer an accessible, nuanced and up-close view of politically and socially significant subjects. Kindra Neely's Numb to This is a young adult graphic memoir written from the perspective of a mass shooting survivor; our accompanying Beyond the Book article expands on the topic of mass shootings in Oregon. Dipo Faloyin's Africa Is Not a Country debunks common negative perceptions of the continent; the associated article deals with white-savior complex, the impacts of which Faloyin examines in his book.

We also have an exciting list of the Best Fiction Books for Book Clubs in 2023 to help you plan your reading for the upcoming year, a new Wordplay and much more.

Thank you, as always, for being a BookBrowse member.

Davina Morgan-Witts
BookBrowse Publisher

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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.