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

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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May 20, 2020

Dear Bookbrowsers,

Several of the books in this issue focus on a particular, evocative setting as a lens through which to explore significant sociopolitical issues. In some cases, these are communities in crisis. In Death in Mud Lick, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eric Eyre captures the particularly destructive toll the opioid epidemic has taken on a community in West Virginia. In Fire in Paradise, Guardian journalists Alistair Gee and Dani Anguiano present a riveting account of the wildfire that ravaged a California town in 2018, providing a heartbreaking example of how the effects of climate change are generating disastrous consequences.

In her debut short story collection, How to Pronounce Knife, Souvankham Thammavongsa chronicles the experiences of Lao immigrants living in Canada in poignant snapshots about acclimating to a new home far from one's country of origin. Nathacha Appanah's novel Tropic of Violence takes a darker look at this subject, as an orphaned immigrant teenager falls in with a bad crowd on the French islands of Mayotte, where natives are hostile toward the waves of migrants arriving on their shores. Make sure to check out the accompanying Beyond the Book article, which breaks down the implications of this very real crisis in Mayotte.

If you're a fan of Young Adult novels, we have a review of Sarah Tomp's The Easy Part of Impossible, and reviews of three newly published YA paperbacks. We also have previews of 25 notable books coming soon.

I hope you're staying safe and well,

Your editor,
Davina

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May 06, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

This issue, we cover two very different books about DNA. In Some Assembly Required, biologist Neil Shubin breaks down the history of evolutionary science in riveting prose designed for the layperson. In the accompanying Beyond the Book article, our reviewer discusses how viruses like COVID-19 affect us as a species, resulting in fundamental and lasting change. Libby Copeland's The Lost Family explores how commercial DNA tests have drastically altered many a person's understanding of themselves, their families and their histories. The Beyond the Book for this review looks at how DNA testing has been employed by law enforcement and the ethical concerns raised by this practice.

We also have two raw, powerful works of fiction centered around the lives of women struggling with mental and emotional distress. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 examines the strictures placed on women's lives in the author's native South Korea (where the book was released in 2016, generating heated controversy and selling over a million copies). Starling Days, meanwhile, considers the strain placed on intimate relationships by mental health challenges and the lengths a person might go to achieve fleeting happiness while submerged in a depressive episode.

There are also many intriguing Beyond the Book articles including an unintentional emphasis on ancient myth and history: from the Greek Nymphs to the Norse goddess Freya, by way of the druids of ancient Europe, the influence of Greek on the English language, and the women of classical mythology.

Make sure to check out the Extras in this issue, as we have a new Wordplay and Giveaway and a link to our latest blog post, which features 15 ideas for book clubs, which will be particularly relevant for groups that normally borrow books in print from the library but cannot do so while library buildings are closed.

You may notice that the Previews section is a little light this issue; due to the pandemic, many publishers have moved some of their lead books to later dates. Most are being pushed out to fall, and a few have moved all the way to 2021. We'll continue to bring you news of the very best books to look out for, even if the number of said books will be on the lighter side during May and June.

As always, I hope you are safe and well during this difficult time.

Your editor,
Davina

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April 22, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

Many of the books in this issue share the common theme of examining the experiences and hardships of women—real and fictional, past and present. They feature admirable women, relatable women, magical women, and, for those of us that enjoy the occasional dose of horror, vampire slaying women.

Our First Impressions readers recommend The Women with Silver Wings, a nonfiction account of the female pilots that took to the skies during World War II, ferrying supplies and even testing out new aircraft to be used in combat. In another nonfiction title, The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness, Sarah Ramey recounts her years-long battle with a seemingly undiagnosable series of ailments, and in the process presents a well-reasoned critique of a healthcare system that often refuses to take the legitimate complaints of female patients seriously.

If you're in need of a good novel, Afterlife by Julia Alvarez also comes highly recommended by our First Impressions readers, and Afia Atakora's Conjure Women is a riveting debut work of historical fiction that heralds the arrival of a promising new voice.

As always, we have reviews of the latest paperback releases, including Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. This one is currently being discussed by our online Book Club, so please do hop into the conversation if you've read it.

We also have an abundance of news stories for you about COVID-19's effect on the book world, the Guggenheim fellowship announcements, and more.

I hope you and your loved ones are, and stay, healthy and safe.

Your editor,
Davina

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April 08, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

In the midst of uncertainty, it can be therapeutic to turn off the news for a while and lose yourself in someone else's world. It's also a good idea to stick to your usual routines as much as possible. So if you're an avid reader, remember to set aside time to immerse yourself in a good book.

Michael Zapata's debut novel The Lost Book of Adana Moreau is about this very idea, as it centers around the immense power of a book, which intersects with the lives of a large, diverse cast of characters across time and space. It highlights the intrinsic value of storytelling as a unifying force in the world and the plot is wrapped in an absorbing mystery.

We also review Emily St. John Mandel's highly-anticipated new release, The Glass Hotel. This is Mandel's follow-up to the 2011 masterpiece Station Eleven and like its predecessor, it teems with life and meaning thanks to the author's vividly rendered cast of characters and luminous prose.

Wharton business professor Jonah Berg's The Catalyst couldn't be more relevant to present events as it explores best practices for convincing people to change their entrenched behavioral patterns and worldviews. In the accompanying Beyond the Book article, our reviewer considers how the COVID-19 pandemic could radically alter the way we operate as a society — perhaps for the better.

We're also bringing you the latest book news, paperback releases, and previews of upcoming releases, and if you haven't already, make sure to check out our article on bringing your book club online as we continue social distancing.

Very best wishes to you all, and a heartfelt thank you if you or any family members are on the front line of the COVID-19 response, whether that be in the medical field or providing essential services in any form. And for those of us who aren't, let's all do our part by following the health advisories. And, if you possibly can, give yourself plenty of time to decompress and do what you love, including reading.

Your editor,
Davina

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March 18, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

We hope very much that you're healthy and maintaining some semblance of calm throughout these trying times. No matter where you are in the world, we're all in this together. Perhaps we can interest you in the pleasant distraction of a good book? And if you do decide to buy one or more, please consider purchasing from your local bookstore. In most parts of the world, sales have fallen precipitously and they are in need of support more than ever, and many are offering to mail books to customers who are unable to come into the store.

We have exceptionally strong selections in this issue, including a couple of very highly-anticipated new releases. Critics and other advance readers have been buzzing about My Dark Vanessa, the debut novel by author Kate Russell about a teenager's relationship with her much older teacher and the fallout years later when he is accused of abuse by another woman. Also, a new book by Erik Larson is always a reason to celebrate and our First Impressions reviewers were thrilled with his latest, The Splendid and the Vile, in which the author provides a comprehensive and riveting account of a Blitz-besieged London with Winston Churchill at the helm as prime minister. Both of these books earned 5-star reviews, as did Paul Yoon's Run Me to Earth, a decades-spanning novel about three teenage orphans who endured the war in Laos only to face an uncertain future with complex moral quandaries. Our Beyond the Book article for this one looks at the legacy of peril war often leaves behind in the form of unexploded ordnance such as landmines and buried cluster bombs.

You'll definitely want to check out our previews for upcoming releases in this issue, as quite a substantial number of them have been very well-reviewed and many of those are debuts. Update your to-read lists accordingly!

During most of the year, we publish The BookBrowse Review twice a month, so usually there's two weeks between issues, but occasionally there are three weeks, which is the case between now and the next issue on April 8th.

Very best wishes,

Your editor,
Davina

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March 04, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

As a BookBrowse member, you likely share our view that books aren't so much an end destination in themselves, as a jumping off point to new discoveries. This is why we accompany every review with a "beyond the book" article which explores an historical, cultural or contextual aspect of the book.

search barThis week I am very happy to announce that these articles are now easier to access and read than ever before! You can now explore them by visiting bookbrowse.com/articles, or by using the new "Article" option on the main BookBrowse search bar. Go ahead, give it a try – just check the article box, put in a topic you're interested in, and if we've covered it in any of the thousands of articles we've written to date, you'll get a result; and just maybe you'll discover an intriguing new book into the bargain!

On the topic of "beyond the book" articles, we cover a number of intriguing and enlightening topics in this issue, including an article on American Complicity in Chinese Authoritarianism accompanying the review of The Scientist and the Spy by Maria Hvistendahl. This review and article were written by an American professor with a unique insight into the link between China and American academia, and we think you'll find it as fascinating as we did. You'll also want to check out the article on Predictions and Paradoxes in technology running alongside our review of Marc-Uwe Kling's Qualityland for some scientific conjecture that has stood the test of time. And if it's literary lore you're after, look no further than the Beyond the Book for Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson, all about the Locked Room Mystery genre.

Of course, there's plenty more to explore in this issue, including a review for the much-anticipated Weather by Jenny Offill, plus the latest in paperbacks, book club recommendations and previews of upcoming releases.

Enjoy!

Your editor,
Davina

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