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The BookBrowse Review

January 22, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

Books are fantastic tools for building empathy; they can take us to places we've never been before and show us the hearts and minds of people very different from ourselves, while also revealing commonalities. In Between Two Fires, journalist Joshua Yaffa explores the lives of everyday people in Russia as they attempt to carve out opportunities for themselves under an increasingly authoritarian regime. Coincidentally, this book was released the day before the entire Russian government resigned en masse. If you're wondering what this sudden shake-up means and what might happen next, we've broken it down for you in our accompanying Beyond the Book article.

Carmen Maria's Machado's In the Dream House takes readers on a tour through the abject horror of an abusive relationship — her own with a woman she met and fell in love with while attending graduate school. This haunting, genre-bending memoir offers insight into a rarely discussed phenomenon — abuse in queer relationships. We add our voices to the chorus of this book's critical acclaim.

On the other side of the memoir spectrum we also review a recently rediscovered account of a Jewish woman's harrowing escape from Nazi Germany, A Bookshop in Berlin. Our Beyond the Book article for this one covers Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," the first major, widespread act of violence against Jews during the rise of the Nazis, an event that author Francoise Frenkel witnessed firsthand.

Also, you'll definitely want to check out the review for American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, which received the only perfect score in the history of our First Impressions review program (more than 600 books reviewed to date!) with every single member-reviewer rating it 5 stars. Our online Book Club discussion for this one begins February 11th.

Don't forget to check out the latest paperback releases and previews for late January/early February releases as well.

Enjoy!

Your editor,
Davina

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January 08, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

Happy New Year! Did you make a resolution to learn something new? To read more nonfiction? Or would you like to do so without the crushing weight of obligation a resolution brings with it? You're in luck! Journey to Mosul with our First Impressions reviewers, who were riveted by Louise Callaghan's Father of Lions, and check out the accompanying beyond the book article where we explore how the city was affected by ISIS occupation.

We also review Life Undercover, the memoir of former CIA operative Amaryllis Fox, who recounts the personal and professional challenges she faced while working as a spy. Fox infiltrated illegal arms trade networks while with the Agency, so our beyond the book article covers the development and disarmament of nuclear weapons from the 1950s to the present.

Have you heard of the sophomore slump? These authors haven't! In the fiction department, we cover two highly anticipated second novels. Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's A Kind of Freedom was longlisted for the National Book Award, and she returns with The Revisioners, a deeply affecting portrait of three generations of Louisiana women contending with racial prejudice. Erin Morgenstern's 2011 novel The Night Circus was a bestseller (she won BookBrowse's Best Debut Author Award that year), and she follows up with The Starless Sea, another charming, compulsively readable work of fantasy.

This are just a taste of the 18 books reviewed in this issue (including Bernardine Evaristo's Booker Prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other), and each is accompanied by a related "beyond the book" article, including a fun one on animal sounds in different languages.

Additionally, we have the usual lineup of previews, among which you'll find the next book everyone will be talking about: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, which is the first to score a perfect 5-star rating from our First Impressions reviewers!

Enjoy!

Your editor,
Davina

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December 04, 2019

Dear Bookbrowsers,

It's been a great year for books, and if you haven't had as much time to read as you might have liked, hopefully you can take the opportunity over the holidays to rest, read, and refuel. If you don't already have a stack of unread books on your nightstand waiting for your attention (or even if you do), you'll definitely want to pick up a few of the titles we're featuring in this, our Best of the Year issue, consisting of the 20 books that were rated highest by you, BookBrowse subscribers, in our annual Best of Year survey. The books are listed in ratings order.

The award for Best Nonfiction Book goes to Michelle Obama's Becoming. Becoming published last November and is included in our 2019 Awards because voting takes place in November and therefore books published in the last two months of 2018 are eligible.

You might be interested to know that even though Becoming was the bestselling book of 2018 with 3.4 million copies sold, it was not a shoo-in for BookBrowse's awards because what sets ours apart from other popular awards is that we don't simply count raw votes (which favors the most widely read books), instead we ask subscribers to rate each book they've read that is on the shortlist, and the winners are the books with the highest overall ratings. We also prevent vote stuffing by restricting voting only to you, our subscribers.

The Best Fiction Book Award goes to the ever-popular Elizabeth Strout for Olive, Again, her sequel to Olive Kitteridge published ten years after the original. Readers were thrilled to return to this beloved character's stubborn but poignant perspective, and Strout's exceptional writing skills all but guarantee every outing will be a success.

Thanhha Lai's Butterfly Yellow wins the Best Young Adult category. This moving novel about a teenage Vietnamese refugee's search for her brother through Texas in 1981 is Lai's second book, but her first for a YA audience. Her children's debut, Inside Out and Back Again, won the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and the 2012 Newbery Medal.

Our Best Debut Author Award goes to Solitary by Albert Woodfox. In this remarkable memoir, the author writes of his four decades in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit. It is a story of hope in the face of impossible circumstances and a call to action for prison reform. Solitary was also a finalist for the National Book Award.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Best of the Year survey. Over 8,000 votes were cast, and we value your opinions very highly!

If you'd like to comment on any of these books, or tell people about your favorite books of the year, you can do so in our blog

Also in this issue are our best of year interviews, our top recommendations for book clubs to read in early 2020, and previews of December and early January releases.

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 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. 2019 is no different in that regard. Over 8,000 votes were cast this year. If you took part in the voting - thank you!

See 20 years of Best of Year Books, and Award Winners.



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November 13, 2019

Dear Bookbrowsers,

We love highlighting the work of debut authors, especially when we can enthusiastically recommend them. This issue features 5-star reviews of three excellent hardcover debuts:

JP Gritton's first novel, Wyoming, is a mix of noir and family dysfunction told through the eyes of a charismatic unreliable narrator. In the accompanying Beyond the Book article, our reviewer Ian Muehlenhaus talks to JP about how this book came to fruition.

Nancy Au's first collection, Spider Love Song and Other Stories, examines the lives of predominantly Chinese American characters with a distinctive blend of humor and razor-sharp insight.

Karina Sainz Borgo's dramatic debut novel It Would be Night in Caracas takes place during a violent upheaval in Venezuela, where the journalist protagonist finds herself virtually under siege. Sainz Borgo drew from personal experience to write this story, as she is a Venezuelan journalist herself, but saw value in approaching the subject matter from a fictional angle. As she told NPR in an interview, "When we do nonfiction, we try to take care of the truth, what truth means, because I think that journalism and nonfiction provides us answers. But I think fiction provides us questions. It makes us think about things we think we understand."*

In addition to these exceptional debuts, we're covering Zadie Smith's first collection of short stories, Grand Union; and Find Me, André Aciman's highly-anticipated follow-up to Call Me by Your Name. And if you like sequels, make sure to read our Beyond the Book feature on this topic.

In the next issue, coming December 4th, we'll be covering the best books of 2019, chosen by you!

Very best regards,

Your editor,
Davina


*Quote lightly edited for clarity.

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October 30, 2019

Dear Bookbrowsers,

A good biography can give you a candid glimpse into someone else's mind and motivations, transport you to another era, perhaps even show you another side to a famous figure you thought you knew all about. In this issue we review recent biographies of three remarkable individuals, each of whom changed the world they were living in. In Unbreakable, Richard Askwith tells the story of Lata Brandisova, a woman from Czechoslovakia who pursued a career in horse racing in the 1930s, despite this being anathema for women at the time. Brandisova won the Grand Pardubice Steeplechase race in 1937, robbing German racers of what they believed would be an easy win on the brink of World War II.

African American civil rights attorney Dovey Johnson Roundtree penned her autobiography (with journalist Katie McCabe) prior to her death at age 104 in 2018. Mighty Justice recounts Roundtree's journey from the Jim Crow South to the Women's Auxiliary Corps to law school, after which she and her colleague scored the first major victory in ending transportation segregation.

Another posthumous publication, Edison, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Edmund Morris (who passed away in May 2019), presents the life of Thomas Edison in reverse chronological order, highlighting some of his lesser known interests to create a three-dimensional portrait of the prolific inventor.

If biographies aren't your thing, that's okay! We've got plenty more to recommend in this issue, including Fireborne, the dramatic opening of a YA fantasy trilogy by debut author Rosaria Munda, and the latest from Jeanette Winterson, Frankissstein.

Enjoy!

Your editor,
Davina

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October 16, 2019

Dear Bookbrowsers,

Congratulations to Olga Tokarczuk, retrospective winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature, whose novel, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, we reviewed back in August.

We have a couple of stellar YA debuts for you in this issue, poet Morgan Parker's semi-autobiographical Who Put This Song On? and Thanhha Lai's Butterfly Yellow, both of which incorporate important sociopolitical issues into their plots.

Beyond the Book articles in this issue explore a range of intriguing topics; we have a deep dive into the works of prolific mystery writer Ann Cleeves, and a rundown of some of the most popular versions of Charles Dickens' classic novel A Christmas Carol. You can round out your literary lesson with the article on Gothic Romance and the Rise of the Lady Sleuth.

On the history front, we examine Operation Babylift, a controversial program established by the U.S. government in the final days of the Vietnam conflict designed to airlift orphans out of the war zone. In the companion piece to Who Put This Song On? we ponder the accuracy of representations of Black leaders propagated by history books. We also have a piece on the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) accompanying the review of journalist Azadeh Moaveni's dynamic account of women who chose to join this organization, Guest House for Young Widows.

Make sure to check out our new Book Club Q&A with the founders of a "Couples Book Club" launched in Seattle in 1996.

Enjoy!

Your editor,
Davina

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October 02, 2019

Dear Bookbrowsers,

We review some highly-anticipated titles in this issue, and none has been more breathlessly awaited The Testaments, Margaret Atwood's follow-up to The Handmaid's Tale (published 35 years ago). Are you ready to return to Gilead? Does the sequel live up to the inevitable hype and high expectations? We're also covering much-lauded nonfiction and comic book writer Ta-Nehisi Coates' first novel The Water Dancer, a work of historical fiction with supernatural tinges set in the antebellum South. Coates won the National Book Award in 2015 for Between the World and Me, an esteemed memoir blended with cultural criticism.

Of course, a new Ann Patchett novel is always an event; The Dutch House continues the author's tradition of deeply immersive character studies. This one centers around two siblings who find themselves drawn to their childhood home (and the relationships and resentments it represents) again and again over the span of their lives. Meanwhile, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alice Hoffman has blended history and the otherworldly in her latest, The World That We Knew. Those familiar with Hoffman will recognize her signature touches of magic, and for those unfamiliar, this novel is a great place to start!

We're also covering Sara Donati's follow-up to The Gilded Hour, Where the Light Enters, featuring dynamic 19th century doctor duo Sophie and Anna Savard; plus many more great books, along with previews for more than 50 titles set to be released around mid-October.

As always, don't forget to check out the Beyond the Book articles—impress your friends with factoids about the Eastern Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project!

Your editor,
Davina

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