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

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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August 05, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

One theme that emerges across multiple novels we review in this issue is an evocative sense of place. In Some Go Home, a military veteran grapples with a return to civilian life in her hometown of Pitchlynn, Mississippi. Author Odie Lindsey then widens his focus to explore Pitchlynn's other residents and the town's dark past of racial animosity.

In Catherine Lacey's slow-burning fable Pew, a mute, cryptic stranger arrives in an unnamed Southern town on the eve of the inhabitants' mysterious "Forgiveness Festival" and becomes the focus of their attention, and ultimately, their fear and hostility. Jayant Kaikini's collection of short stories No Presents Please is set in Mumbai and focuses on the lonely residents living on the city's margins.

Two of our nonfiction selections consider important social issues through an informative and empathetic lens. In After the Last Border, author Jessica Goudeau follows two immigrant families attempting to establish their lives in America as ever-evolving U.S. immigration policies threaten their stability. Dr. Christine Montross takes readers behind the scenes of the American carceral system in Waiting for an Echo to expose the inadequacy of its mental health resources and the dire need for prison reform.

We also have the usual round of previews for upcoming releases and reviews for books new in paperback.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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July 15, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

It's always our goal to bring you thoughtful and candid reviews of some of the best and most notable new books, but we also hope to impart some context and knowledge via our Beyond the Book articles. In this issue, we have an exceptionally strong batch. For example, we accompany our review of David Mitchell's Utopia Avenue, a fictional rock band biography set in the late 1960s, with a look back at the legendary and long-running BBC program Top of the Pops and some of the show's iconic performances.

Almond, the debut novel of Korean director and screenwriter Sohn Won-pyung, features a neurodivergent teenager struggling to process a traumatic event, and our accompanying Beyond the Book article considers the importance of representation via realistic and nuanced portrayals of neurodiverse characters in literature. In Future Earth, climate journalist Eric Holthaus discusses possibilities for mitigating the repercussions of the climate crisis, while our Beyond the Book explores psychological responses to environmental change.

We have previews of 60+ upcoming releases in this issue, a number of which were moved from their original planned publication dates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure to also check out our latest Culture Corner feature in the Extras section, in which we bring you information about non-book related cultural events and programs available online. You can see all the posts to date in our blog. And we have a new introductory video. Click the image to view!

I hope you continue to be safe and well, and that you have plenty of good books to keep you occupied.

Your editor,
Davina

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June 24, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

In this issue, we cover two books published in 2019 that have recently surged to the top of the bestseller lists in response to protests and calls for change surrounding racism and police brutality. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo provides a comprehensive and accessible guide to discussing issues like these with openness and a desire to learn about others' experiences. In How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi considers the systemic roots of racism in America and how racist policies and cultural ideas perpetuate inequity in the present through the lens of his personal experiences. We discuss these books and many more in a recent blog post featuring Anti-Racist Reading Lists for Book Clubs.

We're also rerunning the review for Christy Lefteri's The Beekeeper of Aleppo which is newly released in paperback and will be the subject of one of our online Book Club discussions beginning June 27th.

We have some excellent Beyond the Book features in this issue as well, including a reading list of Books Narrated from Beyond the Grave accompanying the review for Yu Miri's Tokyo Ueno Station and a look at the Kurdish female soldiers fighting the Islamic State and sexism accompanying the review of Daughters of Smoke & Fire by Ava Homa.

There are also many interesting book-related news stories, many of which relate to the publishing industry's reckoning with racial biases, and a considerable number of previews for upcoming releases that are generating a lot of positive buzz.

As always, I hope you are well and safe.

Your editor,
Davina

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June 03, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

Jane Austen is experiencing something of a revival in fiction at the moment (though she has never strayed far from the literary imagination). In this issue, we review the latest addition to the canon, The Jane Austen Society, a historical novel set just after World War II centered around a group of Austen fans that band together to turn the author's home in Chawton into a museum. In the related Beyond the Book article, we look at how Austen's legacy has endured over the centuries.

In a follow-up to her 2016 bestselling and critically acclaimed debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett's novel The Vanishing Half follows a set of twins who pursue vastly different paths against a backdrop illustrating the evolution of racism in the 20th century. It's a dazzling read that further highlights the author's exceptional imaginative skill and execution, and it's a great choice for book clubs.

If you're looking to expand your cultural horizons, debut author A. Kendra Greene takes readers on a tour of Iceland's museums in her ruminative and wide-ranging collection of essays, The Museum of Whales You Will Never See. After you read the review, brush up on your Icelandic geography with our accompanying Beyond the Book article.

Speaking of culture, we've introduced a new feature on BookBrowse called the Culture Corner. With museums, theaters, and the like still closed in many places due to COVID-19, many of you may be missing your connections to local arts communities. Each week we'll be providing you with suggestions of cultural material available to read, watch, or listen to online mostly beyond the world of books to try to fill that void. If you have suggestions for this ongoing feature, feel free to get in touch!

Take care 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.