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

March 03, 2021

Dear BookBrowsers,

Two books in this issue examine political idealism from different genres and very different perspectives. In The Spymaster of Baghdad, a powerful work of investigative journalism, Margaret Coker explores the lives and patriotic impulses of three young people living in post-Hussein Iraq. Brothers Harith and Munaf al-Sudani join a counterterrorism unit of an Iraqi security team, with the former taking part in a daring mission that required him to go undercover posing as a member of ISIS. Meanwhile, a bright young woman named Abrar al-Kubaisi radicalized through online conversations, joins the terrorist organization with a sincere belief that she is acting to the benefit of her country. Make sure to check out our Beyond the Book article, where we take a look at the reasons some women are drawn to ISIS despite its rigid gender ideology.

In Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, a nameless protagonist is a communist double agent living in the U.S. after the Vietnam War. In the highly anticipated sequel, The Committed, he has abandoned the principles and idealism that informed his behavior in the first book and embraced a belief in "Nothing" as he relocates to Paris and becomes involved in a drug ring. Can this nihilism sustain a life? Can the protagonist reconcile his identity as a Vietnamese man with his paternal roots in France despite the colonialist past between the two countries? Nguyen investigates these questions within a riveting story of criminal intrigue.

We also review Klara and the Sun, the latest speculative novel from Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro; and we have terrific pieces by Yusef Salaam about how he channeled his experience of being accused and wrongfully convicted of being one of the "Central Park Five" into the YA novel Punching the Air and with his co-author Ibi Zoboi on what drew her to collaborate on the novel. Plus, check out reviews of the latest paperback releases, previews of notable books publishing in the next two weeks, and a new Wordplay.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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February 17, 2021

Dear BookBrowsers,

In this issue, we feature a few books with subject matter that may be challenging for some readers, but that are nevertheless important and extremely worthwhile. In Amelia Pang's debut work of nonfiction Made in China, the author explores the Chinese Laogai system, in which individuals who have committed crimes and those suspected of being political dissidents are imprisoned in forced labor camps. One of these supposed dissidents is a man named Sun Yi, who in 2012 managed to smuggle a note into a bag containing Halloween decorations he was forced to assemble — a note that made it into the hands of a woman living in Oregon. This book and Daniel Loedel's debut novel Hades, Argentina both contain frank descriptions of torture. Loedel's book is set in the titular South American country during the Dirty War of the 1970s-80s. In this review's Beyond the Book article, we discuss the U.S.-backed Operation Condor — a plot geared toward the targeting, kidnapping, torture and murder of suspected socialists across Latin America during this period.

In Malinda Lo's young adult novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club, we see persecution play out in the United States as a young, queer Chinese American woman worries for her safety, her family and her sense of self during the 1950s' Red Scare. Our accompanying Beyond the Book article demonstrates that state-sanctioned xenophobia is far from a thing of the past.

We cover many more books as well, including the highly anticipated debut novel of poet, memoirist and Twitter phenom Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This. Plus, we have a new blog post about how some book groups changed their reading habits over the course of 2020, as well as a giveaway where you can enter to win a copy of Katherine Seligman's At the Edge of the Haight, a penetrating novel focused on a young woman experiencing homelessness in San Francisco.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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February 03, 2021

Dear BookBrowsers,

As seasoned readers of BookBrowse know, in addition to reviews of the best and most intriguing new releases, we like to expand minds and perhaps book club discussions with our thought-provoking Beyond the Book articles. This issue of The BookBrowse Review features some excellent offerings in that respect. We review the debut novel White Ivy by Susie Yang, about a young Chinese American woman torn between conflicting cultural influences and motivations. In our Beyond the Book article, we discuss common differences in American and Chinese parenting philosophies and the tension assimilation can incite within immigrant families.

Jasmine Aimaq's The Opium Prince, also a debut, is a thriller set in Afghanistan in the late 1970s about an American diplomat who finds his life and fate intertwined with that of an opium dealer. In our Beyond the Book article, we cover American intervention and counter-narcotic efforts in Afghanistan, which have become enmeshed with anti-Taliban counterterrorism efforts over three presidential administrations.

We also review the latest from Chang-rae Lee — the delightful and expectation-subverting novel My Year Abroad — plus neuroscientist and psychologist Ethan Kross's debut Chatter, a work of nonfiction about the negative self-talk that prevents many people from living their best lives.

With libraries under restrictions due to the pandemic, many book clubs have had trouble sourcing the books they need for their discussions. Check out our latest blog post to learn some of the creative ways they're getting around this roadblock — you might find some solutions for your own book group that you hadn't thought of before. You'll find plenty more reviews in this issue, plus previews of upcoming releases, and more.

Enjoy and stay well.

Davina

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January 20, 2021

Dear BookBrowsers,

We're introducing you to some terrific historical fiction in this issue, including the critically acclaimed debut of author Robert Jones Jr., The Prophets. Set on a Mississippi plantation, it's the moving story of two enslaved men who find solace and meaning in their love for one another amid the barbarity of their circumstances. Jones has attracted numerous comparisons to Toni Morrison from our First Impressions readers and critics alike.

In Outlawed, Anna North subverts the paradigm of the Wild West, introducing readers to a band of gender nonconformists living on the margins of society at the end of the 19th century. It's a compelling premise made captivating by North's quick pacing and the stakes of the plot, the urgency of the heroes' need to create a safe space where they can simply live their lives. Make sure to check out our Beyond the Book feature for this review, where we look at the gun-slinging, horse-stealing, stagecoach-robbing Women of the Wild West.

Stories from Suffragette City features short stories from authors like Paula McLain, Christina Baker Kline and Fiona Davis, all set on October 23, 1915, the day of a pivotal march for women's suffrage in New York City.

If historical fiction isn't your thing, fear not, we have plenty more recommendations in this issue, including Paul Yoon's second YA novel, Super Fake Love Song and the profound, heartrending memoir Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller. Plus, reviews of books new in paperback and a strong group of previews of upcoming releases.

We also have a new Wordplay, and if you haven't already, make sure to check out our blog post on Books in Translation for Book Clubs.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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January 06, 2021

Dear BookBrowsers,

Happy New Year! In this issue, we look at a few noteworthy titles from the end of 2020 that we did not cover sooner due to the holiday break, along with one January 2021 release, the neo-Victorian mystery novel The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell. This is the author's second book but first released in the United States, and you can enter to win a copy here.

We have seven other featured debuts in this issue including Butter Honey Pig Bread by Nigerian Canadian author Francesca Ekwuyasi which tells the story of a mother and her twin daughters who are divided by a traumatic event in the girls' childhood and then reunited decades later. It's a moving story replete with sensory details and vivid love stories by an author to watch. Another debut is Simon Han's novel, Nights When Nothing Happened, about a Chinese American family living in Plano, Texas that experiences a divisive event which threatens both the stability of their household and their standing in the community. Han is a master of subtle suspense, and his well-drawn characters make this one a riveting read.

We also cover two short story collections by established authors, The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans and To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss. Make sure to check out the previews of books publishing soon, also featuring a number of debuts, including the already critically lauded Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters and Waiting for the Night Song, which our online Book Club will be discussing beginning January 9th.

Speaking of book clubs, if you haven't already, check out our blog post and new research report, Book Clubs in Lockdown, on how book groups are faring during the pandemic.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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December 09, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

It's been a long and stressful year for many of us. One thing we can probably all agree on is that books can have a therapeutic effect when times are tough — they distract us from our troubles, they help us understand ourselves and other people, and they often remind us to be grateful for what we have. In this issue, we present a roundup of the 20 books rated Best of the Year by our members and subscribers (in total, more than 9,400 votes were cast). Among them are three write-in candidates for which we're written reviews and beyond the book articles you won't have seen before: Deacon King Kong by James McBride, Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker, and The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel. If you took part in the voting, thank you!

The award for Best Fiction goes to V.E. Schwab's The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. It's the story of a young woman granted immortality by a mysterious spirit but cursed to be forgotten by everyone she encounters. This novel has the same great writing and characterization fans loved in Schwab's Shades of Magic series, with a touch more realism and history as readers watch events like the French Revolution and World War II unfold through Addie's eyes.

Erik Larson is well-known for making historical events come alive, so it's no surprise our readers voted his latest, The Splendid and the Vile, the Best Nonfiction book of the year (and, incidentally, the highest rated book overall). Larson focuses on Winston Churchill's first year in office as British Prime Minister during World War II, encompassing events such as the evacuation of Dunkirk and the Blitz, which are narrated in the author's signature breathtaking prose.

Our award for Best Young Adult release goes to the novel We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez, a heartrending account of three teenagers from Guatemala attempting a perilous journey to the United States.

Our award for Best Debut goes to The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, a generational novel following a Vietnamese family over the course of the 20th century. It is a lyrical and sweeping account of Vietnamese history that received rave reviews from our First Impressions readers.

This issue contains reviews for all of the top 20 books, along with their Beyond the Book articles, some of our recommendations for book clubs in 2021, previews of early 2021 releases, our Big Holiday Wordplay and more.

If you haven't already, make sure to check out our free report on Book Clubs in Lockdown, featuring information gleaned from a survey of 4,000 participants on how book groups are faring during the pandemic.

Enjoy!

Your editor,
Davina

About the BookBrowse 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 members and those who are subscribed to our free newsletters at the time the voting opens - so no vote stuffing by rabid fan bases. Also, instead of just voting for a book (which favors the most widely read titles) each participant rates the books they've read that are 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. 2020 is no different in that regard. Over 9,400 votes were cast this year. If you took part in the voting - thank you!

See 21 years of Best Books and the annual Award Winners.



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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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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.