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

November 18, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

In this issue, we take a look at two important works of nonfiction about personal loss in the context of civil upheaval. Somewhere in the Unknown World is a series of stories collected by author Kao Kalia Yang about refugees who have settled in Minnesota after fleeing dangerous and untenable situations in their own countries. These resonant and affecting narratives focus less on the violence and drama of escape and more on the emotional and psychological repercussions of leaving everything behind to start anew. In the Beyond the Book article for this review, we look at the trauma that so often accompanies forced migration through the lens of Somali resettlement in the United States.

In The Book Collectors, journalist Delphine Minoui narrates the mission of a group of men from Damascus who banded together to establish an underground library in 2015 amidst the chaos of the Syrian Civil War. Many of the books were rescued from the bombed out rubble of homes in the neighborhood, and the library became a meeting place and refuge where people could go to simply be together and gain a semblance of normalcy. Our Beyond the Book considers how libraries and other civic facilities foster a sense of community, especially during times of turmoil.

We also review an exceptional and imaginative work of fantasy, Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, plus David Hopen's philosophical debut coming-of-age novel The Orchard, and plenty more.

If you're in a book club, make sure to check out our recent blog post featuring the Best Books for Book Clubs in 2021, where we round up a dozen recent and upcoming paperback releases recommended for book groups.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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November 04, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

Fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are usually very popular with readers, but we tend to pay less attention to the detective's assistant quietly working in the background to help solve the mystery. Two novels we cover in this issue seek to remedy that oversight.

In Fortune Favors the Dead, we meet Willowjean "Will" Parker, a former circus performer turned partner in fighting crime to private investigator Lillian Pentecost. While the plot centers around solving a murder in 1940s New York City, it is the relationship between these two women who support and rely on one another that distinguishes the novel from many others in the genre.

In The Devil and the Dark Water, set in the 17th century, the bodyguard to famous detective Samuel Pipps is tasked with proving that his employer is innocent of a crime. However, his mission is complicated by a series of supernatural events that heighten suspense, as does the setting; this is a locked room mystery that takes place entirely aboard a ship bound for Amsterdam.

If this subject appeals to you, make sure to check out the Beyond the Book article that accompanies Fortune Favors the Dead, in which we look at the role of the sidekick in detective fiction. Who would Sherlock be without Watson?

We also review What Are You Going Through, the latest novel from Sigrid Nunez (winner of the National Book Award for The Friend), and Memorial, the debut novel from Bryan Washington (winner of the Lambda Literary Award for the short story collection Lot), both of which are racking up accolades from readers and reviewers.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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October 21, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

You might have heard some of the buzz about Isabel Wilkerson's Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents — it shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and made the National Book Award's longlist for nonfiction. In it, Wilkerson presents historical analysis of the structures and hierarchies of value that define American society (and the similar social systems that currently exist or have existed around the world). In addition to the above accolades, Caste is an Oprah's Book Club selection, so you may want to take a look at our review and consider suggesting this one to your own club, if you're in one. Netflix has a film adaptation already in the works led by Ava DuVernay (director of Selma, 13th, and When They See Us).

We also review two works of historical fiction that address similar themes. In The Exiles, set in the late 19th century, Christina Baker Kline imagines the lives of three young women in Australia under British colonial rule, each experiencing hardship as a result of her social standing. Two of the women arrive by convict ship, the third is an Aborigine taken from her home and sent to live with the governor of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) to become "civilized." This character is, tragically, based on a real person; check out the related Beyond the Book article to read her story.

In Jess Walter's The Cold Millions, two young men are swept up in a fight for free speech and better conditions for ordinary workers by the nascent Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in early 20th century Spokane, Washington. It's a riveting story also inspired by real-life historical figures and events.

We cover many other books in this issue, including two acclaimed YA releases, and as always we also bring you news of books publishing soon. One of these is Bryan Washington's highly anticipated debut novel Memorial, which also has a TV adaptation in the works.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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October 07, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

We have more than the usual number of highly anticipated releases in this issue — the season of great fall books is upon us. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is the latest from fantasy author V.E. Schwab, featuring all of the ingredients that make her work such a hit with readers — love, magic, a charming protagonist and a dynamic villain. Our First Impressions readers review Piranesi, the first novel from Susanna Clarke since her 2004 debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Rumaan Alam's Leave the World Behind is getting a lot of buzz, including an appearance on the longlist for the 2020 National Book Awards.

While Alam's novel addresses racial issues through the lens of a fictional dystopia, in White Too Long, Robert P. Jones presents a thorough and illuminating study of the symbiotic relationship between Christianity and white supremacy in America. In our Beyond the Book article accompanying this review, we discuss the calls for reparations to redress the harms of slavery and racist public policy.

Some readers have written in requesting recommendations for books to help them take a break from current events. If you've been longing for something similar, check out our Uplifting novels category. These books may contain dark themes and real-life issues, but they do so while focusing on kinder human connections with a decent splashing of hope. And if you're looking specifically for a new release that fits this profile, take a look at our review of Richard Osman's The Thursday Murder Club in this issue.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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September 16, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

In this issue, we cover two books by Ghana-born authors. In Yaa Gyasi's second novel, Transcendent Kingdom (after the award-winning Homegoing), a young woman from Huntsville, Alabama reckons with her brother's death from an opioid addiction when she was a child and her mother's subsequent ongoing mental health issues. In debut author Peace Adzo Medi's His Only Wife, a Ghanian woman moves from her small hometown to the capital city of Accra for an arranged marriage. Though the circumstances are very different, both novels feature strong, ambitious female protagonists.

In We Have Been Harmonized, journalist and author Kai Strittmatter provides a chilling look at state surveillance in China, warning that the technology used by the Chinese Communist Party may soon be exported to the rest of the world. In the accompanying Beyond the Book article, our reviewer offers in-depth analysis on China's use of artificial intelligence and cellphone apps to control its population.

Make sure to also check out the review of former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey's remarkable memoir Memorial Day and enter our giveaway by October 5th to win a copy!

We have plenty more reviews as well, including the latest paperback releases, plus previews of books publishing in the coming weeks.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

Cover photo of author Yaa Gyasi. Photo by Peter Hurley, Vilcek Foundation

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September 02, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

I have heard from many people that they are finding it difficult to focus on books they would normally enjoy amid the ongoing pandemic and political and social upheaval in the United States. You're not alone. It can be challenging to maintain focus on reading under ordinary circumstances with the frenetic pace of our daily lives, so it makes sense that it would feel downright impossible during an extraordinary time. Remember to be kind and patient with yourself, and hopefully you'll find inspiration in this issue's recommendations.

Several of our First Impressions readers specifically noted that Charlotte McConaghy's Migrations was the first book they'd encountered in a while that they simply couldn't put down. This novel is set in the near future, and tells the story of protagonist Franny Stone's sea odyssey to witness the migration of the nearly extinct Arctic terns. During the journey, Franny grapples with trauma from her past. Our other First Impressions book, astrophysicist Sara Seager's The Smallest Lights in the Universe, is a profoundly moving and inspirational memoir about how the author found hope and meaning in the aftermath of her husband's death.

If hope is what you're after, you might appreciate neuroscientist and "cyber-optimist" David Eagleman's Livewired, an accessible overview of the miraculous operations of the human brain and the potential for technological enhancement that could expand on its functioning to improve sensory perceptions.

We also review Jack, the fourth novel in Marilynne Robinson's exceptional Gilead series, and many more books. And make sure to check out the Publishing Soon section, as there are quite a few highly anticipated titles set to publish over the next two weeks.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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August 19, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

In this issue, we cover two new works of fiction set in Appalachia which explore the struggles and conflicts endemic to the region, both past and present. In the family drama thriller When These Mountains Burn by David Joy, a retired forester tries to extricate his son from the opioid underworld of a western North Carolina town while a major wildfire roars through the area in the background. Ron Rash's In the Valley is a collection of short stories spanning the Civil War through the 2008 recession featuring suspense, a dash of Southern Gothic and a quiet, slice-of-life lyricism.

We also review the critically lauded young adult fantasy debut Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, the first in a planned duology that draws inspiration from Nigerian folklore. In this review's accompanying Beyond the Book article, our reviewer considers how this novel might subvert and widen the traditional fantasy canon.

Our First Impressions reviewers have given 4.8 out of 5 stars to Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy, a ruminative and intense novel about a woman battling her personal demons against a backdrop of climate disaster. Take a look at the reviews, and if they pique your interest, enter our Giveaway to win a free copy!

Many BookBrowse readers are big fans of our Beyond the Book features, and if you're one of them, you'll want to take a look at our new Beyond the Book section that allows you to browse these articles by category. From Reading Lists to Society and Politics to Cultural Curiosities, we have thousands of fascinating articles on a broad range of topics for you to check out.


Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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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.