Announcing Our Best Books of 2021

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

November 17, 2021

Dear BookBrowsers,

We have some great Beyond the Book articles for book lovers in this issue. In Tenderness, Alison MacLeod fictionalizes the story of the writing and publication of the controversial novel Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence in 1928. In our accompanying article, we explore the tempestuous history of the book, which was censored for obscenity in both the U.S. and Britain until the second half of the 20th century.

Alongside our review of The Book of Mother, the debut novel of French author Violaine Huisman, we examine the elusive genre of autofiction in all its forms.

Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu is a coming-of-age novel about a young, biracial woman working as a nanny for a wealthy white family in New York City. The protagonist, Willa Chen, feels a fracture in her identity related to her race and her parents' divorce and second marriages. In our Beyond the Book article, we discuss her namesake, Willa Cather, who wrote about characters feeling a similar sense of alienation. (Win Me Something is one of two paperback originals in this issue, the other is People from My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami.)

The next issue of The BookBrowse Review will be published in three weeks and will feature reviews of the 20 books voted Best of the Year by BookBrowse members.

As always, thank you for reading.

Davina Morgan-Witts,
BookBrowse Publisher

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November 03, 2021

Dear BookBrowsers,

What is fate? Do bad circumstances guarantee a bad outcome?

These are the questions asked in Dawn Turner's memoir Three Girls from Bronzeville, about a trio of women who grew up together in a historically Black Chicago neighborhood. They share a similar background, but come to have radically different experiences. Each woman makes choices that determine the trajectory of her life, but what about the situations where there was no choice to be made, or no good choice? In the Beyond the Book article accompanying our review, we explore the psychological aspects of the choice to forgive someone, even when they have done the seemingly unforgivable.

In the latest novel from Louise Erdrich, The Sentence, the ghost of a former customer haunts a Minneapolis bookstore, disturbing the protagonist bookseller, Tookie. Tookie believes that the customer died as a result of reading a particular phrase in a book and seeks to avoid a similar fate. Set in 2020, Erdrich incorporates current events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd into the narrative to investigate the pernicious effects of institutional racism, which haunts the novel with questions about the fate of people of color in a society that disregards and discards them. In the Beyond the Book article, we introduce you to Birchbark Books, the real-life book store from The Sentence, opened in 2001 by Louise Erdrich and specializing in books and other resources by and about Native Americans.

We also review The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams, and many more new releases. Plus, we have a new Wordplay and an interview with the leader of a California book club about how his group has been faring during the pandemic.

Thanks for reading.

Davina Morgan-Witts,
BookBrowse Publisher

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October 20, 2021

Dear BookBrowsers,

In this issue, we highlight three powerful debuts, each of which offers a blistering take on racism. Assembly by Natasha Brown is a quietly incendiary novel about a British Jamaican woman living in London whose daily experience with microaggressions and outright racial hostility contributes to a decline in both her physical and mental health.

In the titular novella featured in Jocelyn Nicole Johnson's debut collection My Monticello, civil unrest provoked by a violent group of white supremacists drives a mixed-race group of neighbors to take shelter at Thomas Jefferson's plantation, now preserved as a museum. The story's narrator is a descendant of Jefferson and the enslaved woman Sally Hemings, creating an intersection of past and present and an intelligent discussion of how racism is ingrained in the foundation of America.

Chasing Me to My Grave is the posthumous memoir of Black artist Winfred Rembert, whose early life in the Jim Crow South included a childhood on a cotton plantation and a stint on a prison chain gang. The book, like his art, showcases racial trauma, but it also features powerful moments of hope and grace.

In addition to these debuts, we review Harrow, Joy Williams' first novel in 20 years, Jonathan Franzen's Crossroads, and more.

If you're a member of a book club, or thinking of starting one in the new year, make sure to check out our blog post on the Best Books for Book Clubs in 2022 for some inspiration. We also have a particularly strong batch of upcoming release previews in this issue to round out the end of the fall publishing season.

As always, thank you for supporting BookBrowse.

Davina Morgan-Witts,
BookBrowse Publisher

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October 06, 2021

Dear BookBrowsers,

In this issue, we review some highly anticipated new releases by very popular authors, all of which feature a historical angle along with some exceptionally memorable characters. Pulitzer Prize-winner Anthony Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land spans millennia, from the Fall of Constantinople to the 22nd century, the disparate threads linked together by an ancient Greek tome that might be the key to a better world.

Pat Barker returns with the second book in her planned trilogy imagining the inner lives of Greek mythological heroines. In The Women of Troy, the reader follows Briseis as she grapples with the destruction of her city in the aftermath of the Trojan War. Our "beyond the book" article explores the legendary life of the woman who will be the focus of the third book in this trilogy, the prophetess Cassandra of Troy.

We also look at Colm Tóibín's The Magician, a fictionalized biography of Thomas Mann, which juxtaposes the German author's internal struggle with his sexuality with the external turbulence of the second World War. In the accompanying "beyond the book," our reviewer compares Mann's brilliant novella Death in Venice to the 1971 film adaptation by Italian director Luchino Visconti.

This issue also features a new Wordplay and a Giveaway, so make sure to enter for your chance to win a copy of Suzanne Feldman's World War I historical novel Sisters of the Great War.

As always, thank you for being a part of BookBrowse.

Davina Morgan-Witts,
BookBrowse Publisher

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September 22, 2021

Dear BookBrowsers,

Last week, Richard Powers' just published novel, Bewilderment was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Powers won the Pulitzer in 2019 for The Overstory, a sprawling, epic love letter to trees and their significance in our world and lives. Bewilderment too has an ecological focus, and Powers explained the thematic connection between the two books to the New York Times, "I wrote a book that asked a very hard question, which is, why are we so lost and how can we possibly get back? I thought, now you've asked the question, why not write a story about what that change would look like?" Our "beyond the book" article for this review looks at how young people are fighting for their futures via Youth Environmental Activism.

Ash Davidson's powerful debut novel Damnation Spring takes place in a California redwood town in the 1970s, where residents rely on the timber industry for their livelihoods but discover that the herbicides used to protect the trees are a serious health hazard. Where Powers' Bewilderment shows us where we might be headed in the future, Damnation Spring shows us warnings from the past that we did not heed.

Much like her debut novel Migrations, Charlotte McConaghy's Once There Were Wolves explores the repercussions of species endangerment and extinction. This book focuses on a woman attempting to "rewild" the Scottish Highlands by reintroducing wolves to the area. McConaghy's protagonist must fight to protect her efforts after a man is found dead and the community believes the wolves are to blame.

We also review Colson Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle, Lauren Groff's Matrix, and more in this issue.

Also, don't miss the bumper crop of new books publishing over the next two weeks under Publishing Soon, including new novels from Anthony Doerr, Jonathan Franzen, Miriam Toews and Amor Towles.

As always, thank you for being a part of BookBrowse.

Davina Morgan-Witts,
BookBrowse Publisher

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September 08, 2021

Dear BookBrowsers,

In this issue, we have some great "beyond the book" articles for literature lovers. We highlight two books that were popular with our First Impressions readers, Emily Spurr's A Million Things and Freya Sampson's The Last Chance Library, both of which are debuts. With these reviews, we look at the cultural significance of Roald Dahl's beloved young adult novel Matilda (1988), and trace the history of the story of Sleeping Beauty.

Accompanying the review for Sally Rooney's much-anticipated Beautiful World, Where Are You, we take you on a tour through Literary Dublin, checking out the city's bookshops and landmarks made famous through references in literature.

We also cover Kristen Radtke's Seek You, a graphic work of nonfiction exploring loneliness as a pervasive facet of American life. This review is paired with a reading list of other books in the Graphic Nonfiction Genre, which has grown increasingly popular in recent years.

Our paperback review of Fortune Favors the Dead features an overview of a popular archetype, the Sidekick Character in Detective Fiction.

All this and more inside, including a new Wordplay.

As always, thank you for being a part of BookBrowse.

Davina Morgan-Witts,
BookBrowse Publisher

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August 18, 2021

Dear BookBrowsers,

Sometimes, a work of fiction's setting can be just as important as its characters and major themes. In this issue, we review Anthony Veasna So's debut collection of stories, Afterparties. Most of the book is set in Stockton, California, a place the author knew well as a result of growing up there within the city's community of Cambodian Americans. So brings Stockton's Cambodian population to the page vividly as he reflects on the challenges of immigrant life and relating to others across generational divides.

Rupert Thomson's Barcelona Dreaming explores the city on the northeastern coast of Spain in 2008, at a time when the looming financial crisis and Brexit have not yet changed the shape and face of Europe. In three novellas, Thomson's protagonists walk the streets of Barcelona seeking love or meaning or an escape from mental demons. The three pieces are tied together by a few loose interconnecting threads, including the presence of FC Barcelona soccer phenom Ronaldinho.

We have two nonfiction reviews that conjure a distinct sense of place as well: our First Impressions reader favorite At the Chinese Table, a combination memoir and cookbook about author Carolyn Phillips' experience in Taiwan, and The Brilliant Abyss, in which marine biologist Helen Scales takes readers to the deepest recesses of the ocean to meet the fascinating creatures that live there, in a habitat imperiled by human enterprise.

You'll find these and many more reviews and "beyond the book" articles in this issue, along with previews of upcoming releases, a new Wordplay and more.

Also, our Book Club recently opened discussions of Ava Homa's Daughters of Smoke & Fire and Charlotte McConaghy's Migrations, so if you've read either of these books, please join us.

As always, thank you for being a part of BookBrowse.

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.