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The BookBrowse Review

February 20, 2019

Dear BookBrowsers—

Valentine's Day is just a few steps behind us, and although there is most definitely a fence to be wobbling on in terms of whether the holiday is a sweet excuse to remind the people close to you that you love them or a full-blown advertising ploy to coerce people into spending money, it does focus the conversation on love which is welcome on any day of the year.

And what is one of the best ways to have that conversation? You know what we think: reading books!

Love appears in all shapes and sizes in this issue. From The Falconer, by Dana Czapnik, which is about a blossoming sense of self-love as a teenage girl comes of age in a 1990s pre-feminist era, to Elizabeth McCracken's Bowlaway, a whimsical novel that centers around a bowling alley and the metaphor of love as a fragilely balanced emotion, susceptible to being knocked over but also always standing back up again and again, to The Lost Man, by Jane Harper, that explores sibling love against the backdrop of a family mystery.

Our paperbacks are no different. Love and loss are at the center of The Friend by Sigrid Nunez about a woman who has to come to terms with the death of her friend and mentor and forge a new relationship and new sense of responsibility as she is tasked with taking care of his dog. There is love between friends in Sadness is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher, about an Israeli boy who befriends Palestinian twins; and in A State of Freedom, Neel Mukherjee explores the complex love of country.

Love is in the air – and between the pages of this bouquet of books we have gathered for you!

Happy reading!

Davina

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February 06, 2019

Dear BookBrowsers—

The days are finally getting longer, and the light is lingering further into the evening. It's not a lot different than it was only a few weeks ago, but enough to signal to the birds that spring is coming. In our back yard, they dart and dive in unison and then land in a tree together where they eat and chatter for a minute or two before taking off once again.

Light does that. It brings hope which, in turn, brings change. Stories do that too. They are like windows and doors, opening onto new roads. These roads, in turn, lead readers to new places and people and ideas.

This issue is filled with light. Yūko Tsushima's Territory of Light (See? Light!) is a slim novel that packs a big punch. Told in twelve loosely related stories, it explores one year in the life of a single Japanese mother raising her young daughter. When Death Becomes Life is Joshua Mezrich's debut memoir about his work as an organ transplant surgeon. Weaving history and science and personal stories together, he offers a glimpse inside a profession that delivers miracles every day. Deep Creek by Pam Houston is a collection of personal essays exploring the Colorado ranch she calls home. Hard won – after a long and painful childhood – she lets us in to understand the vital quality of landscape. The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye is a historical novel that begins with Alice, running away from Harlem, with a fresh bullet wound and a bag of counterfeit money. Why is she running and what is her history? Told in both the present and the past, we learn the answers to these questions and more.

So open the doors and windows of these books – and so many more – and let in the light! You might just hear some bird songs too!

Happy reading!

Your editor,
Davina

PS: Talking of bird song, a couple of days ago, I shared a beautiful image on our Facebook page of a bird singing in weather so cold that you can see its song! I've pinned it to the top of our Facebook page so its easy to see.

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January 23, 2019

Dear BookBrowsers -

The award-wining poet Mary Oliver died last week. She wrote with a simple style, but her poems are deceiving. At first glance they are about geese, a tree, a whale – Oliver certainly believed in the power of nature and its relentless ability to forge connections – but pause and read again and a deeper meaning comes into focus.

It could be argued that each of Oliver's poems are a piece of her life story, small enough to fit into the palm of a hand. In less than 100 words, in a dozen stanzas, in one page of a book, she gives us a window into her views of the world. But she wrote essays too, which are more straightforward glimpse into who she was. In Upstream: Selected Essays she writes:

"In this universe we are given two gifts: the ability to love, and the ability to ask questions. Which are, at the same time, the fires that warm us and the fires that scorch us."

These two foundations – passion and curiosity – are at the heart of all great memoir writing. They allow us to illuminate dark spaces, decipher mysterious texts, and embrace others. In fact, all great nonfiction writing has these qualities, and we've got a stellar collection right here!

A Mind Unraveled by journalist Kurt Eichenwald tells the story of his experience growing up and living with epilepsy. John Carryrou's Bad Blood investigates a multi-billion-dollar tech company that was built on a foundation of lies. And in Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages, Gaston Dorren examines twenty of the most common languages, focusing on unique details that he feels are significant to each. Finally, in Inheritance, Dani Shapiro takes us on a journey to the truth that begins with the shocking discovery that she is not related to the man she thought was her biological father.

Passion and curiosity – all of these nonfiction titles are brimming with both. And we've got fiction overflowing with them too! As Mary Oliver says in Wild Geese:

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese – harsh and exciting.

And we offer these books to your imagination too.

Your editor,
Davina

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January 09, 2019

Dear BookBrowsers -

We celebrate the new year in many different ways around the world.

We do it with food: in Spain it's considered good luck to eat twelve grapes at midnight, one for each month of the year. Apples dipped in honey promise a sweet year to come in the Jewish new year. Eating pork and black-eyed peas, a custom which has its origins in the southern part of the U.S., is supposed to bring good luck. While in Holland, oliebollen, round doughnuts symbolizing coming full circle, are served--I gorged on half a dozen freshly cooked ones this New Year's Eve at a Dutch friend's house, and highly recommend them!

We do it with drinks: there is the traditional champagne which is served in many parts of the world, but with a twist in Russia where they write down their wishes for the year, then burn the paper, put the ashes in their glass and drink it down.

And we do it with rituals too: In Japan, bells are rung 108 times to symbolize the cleansing of every one of the human passions and desires. In Chile and some other parts of Latin America, yellow underwear is worn to bring happiness and good fortune. Scotland has a ritual called first footing; a specifically chosen person – traditionally a dark haired, tall man – walks across each threshold of the houses in a neighborhood, carrying ceremonial gifts to bring good luck and prosperity.

Whether it's with food or drink or gifts or rituals we turn over a new leaf as we step into the new year.

And how about turning over the pages of a new book too? We've got a lot to share with you!

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is a grim but comedic examination of two sisters and their sibling rivalry, as told through the eyes of one sister who is trying to hide the other sister's murderous secrets. Told through the points of view of each member of the Delesalle family, News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt tells the multi-faceted story of a family that lives in a small French city occupied by the Nazis and the ways it is caught in the crossfire of World War II. Diane Setterfield's Once Upon a River opens with an injured stranger bursting into an inn with a drowned girl clutched in his arms. But just as she is about to be proclaimed officially dead, the little girl comes back to life. Who is she? And who is she connected to in this town? And finally, Tasha Suri's debut fantasy Empire of Sand is centered around Mehr, a woman who evolves from a being someone who bows to the will of others into a powerful, independent person running an entire empire.

So, ring in the new year with these page-turning books, as well as the ten others that we review in this issue; plus author interviews, book discussions and more!

Happy reading!

Your editor,

Davina Morgan-Witts

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December 05, 2018

Dear BookBrowsers—

It’s that best of time again! The time when we stand still for a minute, turn back around and take a look at what has unfolded over the course of the year. It feels like the blink of an eye, doesn’t it? From January until now? Don’t you wish you could somehow slow it down?

There’s a theory about time passing called the perceptual theory of time which offers that it seems to speed up as we get older because we continually evolve our perception of the world. Specifically (according to psychologist Robert Ornstein), our sense of the speed of time is determined by how much information our minds are absorbing. The more we take in, the slower time seems to pass. This is why children tend to sigh and exclaim Aren’t we there YET? over and over again. They are taking in so many details that they perceive the ticking of time as endless. So how do we adults reclaim some of that leisurely pace?

One way is by reading really good books that engage our minds with dynamic story-lines, empathetic characters and fascinating details. Reading a book demands that we sit still and focus because there is so much rich information inside its pages.

And here we are in December. Turned and gazing back at the year. We’re sure you’ve read a bunch of great books over the last 11 months, but if you missed some, if you want to slow down time in this last month of the year, then we suggest you take a look at our best of list.

Educated by Tara Westover receives our best non-fiction award and was also our overall highest rated book. This memoir explores Westover’s childhood in a survivalist family and her quest to leave to find education and herself in the process. Circe, Madeline Miller's follow-up to The Song of Achilles receives our best fiction award. It's an epic story about family, rivalry and a celebration of strong women. Our best debut novel award goes to Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, which is a heartbreaking coming of age story mixed with the suspenseful tale of a possible murder. And finally, Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone gets our best young adult fiction award. The first in a series, this West African-inspired fantasy explores one girl’s fight to bring magic back to her world before it is too late.

These four title together with the next sixteen highest rated books form our 2018 Top 20. We also reprise our twelve "best books for book clubs in 2019" and roundup eight of the best author interviews from the year.

Thanks for reading!

Your editor,
Davina Morgan-Witts


About the 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. 2018 is no different in that regard. Over 6,000 votes were cast this year. If you took part in the voting - thank you! More about the awards.



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November 14, 2018

Dear BookBrowsers,

Conscience is a man's compass, said Vincent Van Gogh. Our book choices this month sit at all points on the compass. Beliefs, values, pathways and stories reach north and south, east and west. Another way to put it? We've got stories for you which extend up and down, left and right. Literally.

North and South: Patrick Ness's fantastical novel And the Ocean Was Our Sky turns the sky into ocean and the ocean into sky, where whales are fighting humans, and important questions about power, loyalty, and obsession float on the waves. Think Moby Dick, only upside-down. In Vita Nostra, Russian authors Sergey and Marina Dyachenko weave the ultimate anti-Harry Potter story--a magical tale of a girl, a beckoning school, and a dark power which all combine to create a mind-bending mix of metaphysics, philosophy, adventure and science.

East and west: In non-fiction we run the horizontal gamut. In Extremis by Lindsey Hilsum offers an in-depth look into the dramatic, tragic life of war correspondent Marie Colvin who came of age dictating stories from a landline or typing them into a bulky telex machine. She was old-school journalism at its best, and the biography is a visceral dive into her colorful, courageous life. On the other side of the spectrum, Brian McCullough's How the Internet Happened, explores the expansive history and democratization of the Internet, from Netscape to Google to Facebook, providing a look at the individuals behind the technology.

Ocean as sky. The underbelly of Harry Potter. Up, down, left, right. North, South, East, West. And, of course, everything in between. Choose any of the great books we recommend this month and let us help you navigate new lands through their pages.

Your editor,
Davina Morgan-Witts

Cover image from And the Ocean Was Our Sky, reproduced with the permission of the illustrator, Rovina Cai



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October 31, 2018

Dear BookBrowsers,

Chekhov famously gave this advice to writers: "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off." What did he mean? Every single element that is introduced into a story needs to have a purpose. This creates cohesiveness; a flow that allows readers to easily follow a plotline. This is also a kind of foreshadowing. Give readers a detail early on that – consciously or unconsciously – they can tuck away as a clue. Think of it as a planted seed that slowly grows over the course of the story.

All of our book choices this month contain this kind of organic flow. Whether they are works of fiction or non-fiction, they are tightly written, full of suspense and vivid with detail. They all have that metaphorical gun on the wall. And many of them have actual guns at either their core or as critical pieces of their stories. We can't avoid them right now; incidents involving them are in the news too often. So perhaps we need to approach them with curiosity. Explore them. Read about them.

R. J. Young's memoir Let It Bang: A Young Black Man's Reluctant Odyssey into Guns looks at how he became obsessed with shooting guns and also sheds light on the intersection of race, guns and self-protection. A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult explores another gun-toting character – this time a man who has stormed into an abortion clinic and is holding everyone inside hostage. The novel generates discussion about gun violence, as well as abortion, racism, parenthood, and medical ethics among others. Pulling back and looking at guns as part of a larger landscape of defense, violence and trauma, National Book Award Finalist Elliot Ackerman's latest novel, Waiting for Eden, explores loyalty, betrayal and Marine Eden Malcom's life – through the eyes of his friend and fellow soldier, who happens to be a ghost – as his own death approaches due to combat injuries suffered in Iraq.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney also centers around a person in a coma. Just as in Waiting for Eden, this is an examination of one woman's life and the specific incident that led to the state she is in.

Heavy stuff. But don't worry, we compliment these books with some levity! Check out our Beyond the Book section. Hank Greene's novel An Absolutely Remarkable Thing inspires a deeper look at sudden and reluctant fame in Young Adult novels. A Spark of Light allows for an examination of the history of condoms, and The Wife Between Us by Sarah Pekkenen and Greer Hendricks explores the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon; a "frequency illusion."

Heavy or light, fiction or non-fiction, introspective or action-packed, we've got books that plant all varieties of seeds. And there it is – Chekhov's gun.

Your editor,
Davina Morgan-Witts

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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.