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

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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November 04, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

Fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are usually very popular with readers, but we tend to pay less attention to the detective's assistant quietly working in the background to help solve the mystery. Two novels we cover in this issue seek to remedy that oversight.

In Fortune Favors the Dead, we meet Willowjean "Will" Parker, a former circus performer turned partner in fighting crime to private investigator Lillian Pentecost. While the plot centers around solving a murder in 1940s New York City, it is the relationship between these two women who support and rely on one another that distinguishes the novel from many others in the genre.

In The Devil and the Dark Water, set in the 17th century, the bodyguard to famous detective Samuel Pipps is tasked with proving that his employer is innocent of a crime. However, his mission is complicated by a series of supernatural events that heighten suspense, as does the setting; this is a locked room mystery that takes place entirely aboard a ship bound for Amsterdam.

If this subject appeals to you, make sure to check out the Beyond the Book article that accompanies Fortune Favors the Dead, in which we look at the role of the sidekick in detective fiction. Who would Sherlock be without Watson?

We also review What Are You Going Through, the latest novel from Sigrid Nunez (winner of the National Book Award for The Friend), and Memorial, the debut novel from Bryan Washington (winner of the Lambda Literary Award for the short story collection Lot), both of which are racking up accolades from readers and reviewers.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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October 21, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

You might have heard some of the buzz about Isabel Wilkerson's Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents — it shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and made the National Book Award's longlist for nonfiction. In it, Wilkerson presents historical analysis of the structures and hierarchies of value that define American society (and the similar social systems that currently exist or have existed around the world). In addition to the above accolades, Caste is an Oprah's Book Club selection, so you may want to take a look at our review and consider suggesting this one to your own club, if you're in one. Netflix has a film adaptation already in the works led by Ava DuVernay (director of Selma, 13th, and When They See Us).

We also review two works of historical fiction that address similar themes. In The Exiles, set in the late 19th century, Christina Baker Kline imagines the lives of three young women in Australia under British colonial rule, each experiencing hardship as a result of her social standing. Two of the women arrive by convict ship, the third is an Aborigine taken from her home and sent to live with the governor of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) to become "civilized." This character is, tragically, based on a real person; check out the related Beyond the Book article to read her story.

In Jess Walter's The Cold Millions, two young men are swept up in a fight for free speech and better conditions for ordinary workers by the nascent Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in early 20th century Spokane, Washington. It's a riveting story also inspired by real-life historical figures and events.

We cover many other books in this issue, including two acclaimed YA releases, and as always we also bring you news of books publishing soon. One of these is Bryan Washington's highly anticipated debut novel Memorial, which also has a TV adaptation in the works.

Enjoy and stay well.

Your editor,
Davina

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October 07, 2020

Dear BookBrowsers,

We have more than the usual number of highly anticipated releases in this issue — the season of great fall books is upon us. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is the latest from fantasy author V.E. Schwab, featuring all of the ingredients that make her work such a hit with readers — love, magic, a charming protagonist and a dynamic villain. Our First Impressions readers review Piranesi, the first novel from Susanna Clarke since her 2004 debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Rumaan Alam's Leave the World Behind is getting a lot of buzz, including an appearance on the longlist for the 2020 National Book Awards.

While Alam's novel addresses racial issues through the lens of a fictional dystopia, in White Too Long, Robert P. Jones presents a thorough and illuminating study of the symbiotic relationship between Christianity and white supremacy in America. In our Beyond the Book article accompanying this review, we discuss the calls for reparations to redress the harms of slavery and racist public policy.

Some readers have written in requesting recommendations for books to help them take a break from current events. If you've been longing for something similar, check out our Uplifting novels category. These books may contain dark themes and real-life issues, but they do so while focusing on kinder human connections with a decent splashing of hope. And if you're looking specifically for a new release that fits this profile, take a look at our review of Richard Osman's The Thursday Murder Club in this issue.

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.