Archive for the ‘Evening Book Reviews’ Category

Wednesday Evening Book Reviews

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Mark Oppenheimer on Yascha Mounk’s Stranger in My Own Country: “…deftly describes Germans’ current, sometimes angry exhaustion with feeling guilty, on the right and on the left, among not only neo-Nazis but also among intellectuals like the novelist Martin Walser.” (NYTimes)

Sara Marcus on Masha Gessen’s Words Will Break Cement: “Gessen is not just asking how these women came to form Pussy Riot, or how they came to be punished so severely for making protest art. She’s also asking what makes great political art, and proposing that art and truth-telling have the power to defeat oppressive regimes (as the title, a quote from Nadya paraphrasing Solzhenitsyn, suggests).” (LATimes)

Dan DeLuca on Robert Gordon’s Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul: “tells of the precipitous rise and dramatic fall of Stax, which went into bankruptcy in 1975 after a spectacular run that ended with the label’s last hit, Shirley Brown’s “Woman to Woman” in 1974.” (

Boyd Tonkin on editor Pete Ayrton’s No Man’s Land: Writings from a World at War: “Even avid readers of First World War prose will find eye-opening discoveries here.” (The Independent)

Monday Evening Book Reviews

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Yvonne Zipp on Martha Grimes’ The Way of All Fish: “…Grimes, who was named Mystery Writers of America Grand Master in 2012, has packed in plenty to amuse readers, from her ever-spiraling plot to the motley characters to allusions to classic mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers, Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins.” (Washington Post)

Salley Vickers on Joshua Greene’s Moral Tribes: “Greene’s radical contention (pretty much a plea) is that the world will only be saved if we learn to transcend our intuitive responses in favour of what he wants to call “deep pragmatism”, which is in fact a refined form of utilitarianism, the philosophy of the greatest good for the greatest number.” (The Guardian)

Kirkus on Leon Leyson, Marilyn J. Harran and Elisabeth B. Leyson’s The Boy on the Wooden Box: “Along with harrowing but not lurid accounts of extreme privation and casual brutality, the author recalls encounters with the quietly kind and heroic Schindler on the way to the war’s end, years spent at a displaced-persons facility in Germany and, at last, emigration to the United States.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Rebecca Kelley on Pamela Erens’ The Virgins: “The Virgins isn’t a story about first love and the inevitable heartbreak that follows. It’s not really about sexual awakening, either, despite all the urgency, the panting and groping that goes on. It is a careful examination of unfulfilled desire.” (The Rumpus)

Friday Evening Book Reviews

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Martin Chilton on Nathan Filer’s The Shock Of The Fall: “It’s an unsettling read but a perceptive and moving one. One image stayed with me. Matthew refers to his life as “watching my helium balloon slowly die”.” (The Telegraph)

Patty Rhule on Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings: “Kidd, the gifted author of the 2002 best seller The Secret Life of Bees, has produced a beautifully written book about the awe-inspiring resilience of America’s enslaved people. It’s a provocative reminder of why slavery’s wounds still scar the country 250 years later.” (USAToday)

Boyd Tonkin on Helen Dunmore’s The Lie: ” Distinguished by the sensual, compact intensity of Dunmore’s prose, The Lie lays bare on its local canvas the invisible wounds of a global  catastrophe.” (The Independent)

Gray Hunter on Michael Hittman on Corbett Mack: The Life of A Northern Paiute: “Family is important, no matter who you are, of course.  They lend identity to a person.  Mack centers his story, as any of us would, on the family and friends he had.  He casually speaks of all these family ties and you must pay attention to follow all the links. Hittman’s endnotes are again helpful in this regard.  While Mack is this ‘ordinary’ man, some of his relations were well known figures in Native American history:  Wodziwob and Wovoka, both Ghost Dance prophets.” (Blogcritics)

Wednesday Evening Book Reviews

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Karen Valby on Rosemary Mahoney For The Benefit Of Those Who See: “This is such a vivid portrait of people and places that one forgives Mahoney for occasionally losing sight of her own narrative.” (

Erica Wagner on David Gilbert’s & Sons: “… a sophisticated, compassionate novel, very much more than a clever take on the vicissitudes of the writing life.” (Financial Times)

Frank Wilson on James Aitcheson’s Sworn Sword: “Sworn Sword is nothing if not action-packed, and Aitcheson is not chary about depicting how gruesome the action could be on a medieval battlefield.” (

Ashleigh Lambert on Andrea Brady’s Mutability: Scripts for Infancy: “If Brady writes lucidly about the materiality of babyhood, she is even better when addressing “the chitchat, the blather” of infancy: if it’s good enough stuff to build a language on, why not use it as material for poems? After all, babies and poets “can say so many things by improvising on the roots.”” (The Rumpus)

Tuesday Evening Book Reviews

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Ivy Pochoda on James Scott’s The Kept: “Set at the turn of the 20th century, “The Kept” is an intriguing, if sometimes unbalanced reimagining of a western novel artfully transposed from the conventional dangers of the desert and Plains to the snowbound northern frontier.” (NYTimes)

J.C. Gabel on the reissue of Rafael Bernal’s The Mongolian Conspiracy: “Disdain for political corruption (something Mexico still suffers from today) soaks through every page of “The Mongolian Conspiracy,” as if Bernal were using the novel to elucidate what he had learned from a lifetime of writing, politics and diplomacy, and the now-somewhat-comic capers of the Cold War era.” (LATimes)

Earl Pike Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea: “His writing is supple and poised; his understanding of human nature, richly nuanced. A new book by Lee is cause for giddy expectation.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Mark Guftafson on Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking: “Why these six? Aside from the obvious connections, Laing has discovered other surprising similarities, crossed paths, echoes of various sorts. As she illustrates, with great sensitivity and often poignant detail, these were fragile and complicated men who — in addition to writing enduring works of beauty, depth and power — lived lives of not-so-quiet desperation.” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Wednesday Evening Book Reviews

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Carolyn Kellogg on Jared Farmer’s Trees in Paradise: “Farmer can be a stronger historian than he is a storyteller. The workings of the orange industry are detailed, but apart from the dirty history of smudge pots, not enlivened. In other sections, there are paragraphs of description cobbled together in Zagat-like barrages of primary sources.” (LATimes)

Hector Tobar on Billy Crystal’s Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?: “Crystal the comedian will do almost anything to get a laugh. Crystal the writer allows himself to flop at the box office, and he suffers the many indignities of old age. In the end, the reader concludes that Crystal isn’t just funny: He’s a mensch, too.” (

Ron Charles on Charles Palliser’s Rustication: “A literary Dr. Frankenstein, he has stitched together parts of Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe. The result is deliciously wicked, particularly as the violence grows creepier, the sexual tension more febrile.” (Washington Post)

Daniel Dyer on Jim Harrison’s on Brown Dog: Novellas: “After a six-novella journey with Brown Dog, readers will see him as sort of a genial Id (or a friendly brown dog), an impulsive man who loves women’s hindquarters, a skilled brawler who avoids violence, a man who selects the laws he will obey and ignore, a loving friend, father, mate.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Monday Evening Book Reviews

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Daniel Burton on (editor) Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures: “The sixteen tales collected are as creative as the creatures they feature, and with them Gaiman has produced a book as interesting and complete as any that he might have written himself.” (Blogcritics)

Mark Ford on Richard Burton’s A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting: ” Bunting emerges from Richard Burton’s thoroughly researched and enthralling biography as living a life far more active and variegated than the bookish Eliot’s, and even than the pugnacious, controversial Pound’s.” (The Guardian)

Jude Webber on Carlos Acosta’s Pig’s Foot: “The book’s lively cast of characters includes pygmy slaves from east Africa, a prophetic village soothsayer, a machete-wielding womaniser, a teenage architectural prodigy and the misfit narrator Oscar Mandinga himself, who instantly engages the reader’s sympathy with his blunt chattiness and the unlikely – but page-turning – saga of his ancestors, their passions and their secrets.” (Financial Times)

Jeff Labrecque on Ben Bradlee’s The Kid: “Fans will still revel in the Kid’s Fenway Park heroics, detailed beautifully here, but they’ll also see his more cantankerous side…” (

Sunday Evening Book Reviews

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Michiko Kakutani on Robery Hilburn’s Johnny Cash: The Life: “The chief music critic and pop music editor for The Los Angeles Times for more than three decades, Mr. Hilburn writes most powerfully about Cash’s trajectory as an artist — about his place in a changing country music scene, the evolution of individual songs and the eclectic influences on his work, which wed the storytelling intimacy of Jimmie Rodgers to his love of gospel, blues and traditional folk to create something powerful and new.” (NYTimes)

Alice Short on Anita Shreve’s Stella Bain: “You might hope for a shattering plot twist midway through the novel or some startling psychological insight or an ending that is not necessarily filled with love and laughter. But you’ll have to find that elsewhere.” (LATimes)

Benjamin Evans on Lore Segal’s Half the Kingdom: “Not so much a cohesive narrative as an interconnected series of vignettes, many of Segal’s characters are reeling from the quotidian blows of old age: regret, loneliness, estrangement, miscommunication and declining lucidity. Yet her tonal poise continually offsets the sadness with razor-sharp ironies and gleeful wisecracks.” (Telegraph)

Max Liu on Paul Auster’s Report from the Interior: “Whether he’s remembering being the kid who was disappointed that his father didn’t fight in the Second World War or the poet who said he’d rather go to jail than Vietnam, Auster’s “you” is so annoying that I considered adopting it for this review. But I decided that it would be kinder to spare you.” (The Independent)

Saturday Evening Book Reviews

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

Jeffrey Wasserstrom on Jung Chang’s Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China: “When Chang goes further – describing Cixi as a “revolutionary” with life-long progressive leanings, veering into the historical novelist’s terrain with claims about the ruler’s innermost thoughts – she moves on to shakier ground, overstating the significance of archival fragments and memoirs that support her interpretation, while dismissing those that contradict it. In the end, Chang’s most convincing arguments are her least novel, while her most novel assertions are least convincing.” (Financial Times)

Lydia Kiesling on Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch: “…full of class markers, comical names (Kitten), kinds of antiques, and names of schools, so that the reader occasionally has the sense of being bludgeoned with a sledgehammer from some very tony shop.” (The Rumpus)

Darren Franich on George R.R. Martin’s The Princess and the Queen: “…densely packed with warfare, politicking, bloody melodrama, and dragon-on-dragon assault. It reads like Martin’s outline for a Game of Thrones prequel that never was.” (

Maria Puente on Deborah Soloman’s American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell: “As his new and apparently first serious biographer, Deborah Solomon, makes clear in this highly readable, illuminating book, Rockwell was more than an illustrator.” (USAToday)

Friday Evening Book Reviews

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Gelareh Asayesh on Goli Taraghi’s The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons: “Her accessible prose straddles the boundary between memoir and fiction, documenting life in Iran and in exile and in the airports that mediate the two.” (Washington Post)

Connie ogle on Wally Lamb’s We Are Water: “…a mesmerizing novel about a family in crisis that pulls together many characters and diverse themes and sets the bulk of its action against our collective modern angst and ambivalence.” (Miami Herald)

Kevin Grauke on Russell Banks’ A Permanent Member of the Family: “All in all, these two stories are emblematic of the collection as a whole. Every story that challenges us with its subtle characterizations and moral ambiguities (“Snow Birds,” “The Outer Banks,” the title story) seems to have a counterpart that fails to reach such heights – heights that, over the decades, we have come to expect Russell Banks to attain regularly.” (

Robert Weibezahl on Donna Leon’s My Venice and Other Essays: “Savoring these short and engaging pieces is akin to sharing a latte at a Venetian café with an entertaining, opinionated, intelligent friend.” (BookPage)

Wednesday Evening Book Reviews

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

Damon Marbut on Robert Bly’s Stealing Sugar From The Castle: Selected Poems 1950-2013: ” It is rare that a faithful audience of this genre, this niche, can witness both evolution and steadiness in the hands of a writer who tells his own story, shares his own perception and humanity with an equal faithfulness.” (The Rumpus)

Peter Geye on Siân Griffiths’ Borrowed Horses: “Griffiths’ great accomplishment in dealing with the men in Joannie’s life is that she manages to be sympathetic to both Joannie’s physical desires (many of which are described in sensual detail) and her almost feminist nature.” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Daniel Dyer on James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird: “A masterful example of the illuminative friction between fiction and history…” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Janet Maslin on Gigi Levangie’s Seven Deadlies: A Cautionary Tale: “Her gift is for satire, not for moral instruction. Not for plotting. Not for reflection. And certainly not for taking herself seriously.” (NYTimes)

Monday Evening Book Reviews

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Patricia Craig on Jennifer Johnston’s A Sixpenny Song: “As ever, Johnston marshals her material with deftness, charm and aplomb, makes an enticing tale of it, and keeps her narrative concise.” (The Independent) on Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ Death of a Nightingale: “While I found the novel a bit convoluted at times, I did enjoy it and thought the Ukrainian chapters were fascinating and terrifying.” (Blogcritics)

Adam Markovitz on Dana Goodyear’s Anything That Moves: “The mix of mini-profiles, memoirish passages, and research reports doesn’t always blend seamlessly. But the overall effect is of sharing a story-packed meal with Goodyear, an experience any real gourmand would savor — as long as you can occasionally opt not to have what she’s having.” (

Hector Tobar on César Aira’s Shantytown: “…with Aira the melodrama quickly falls away. There are no easy truths here, no pat judgments about good and evil. Instead, with a few final acts of narrative sleight of hand (and some odd soliloquies) the reader is left at once dazzled and unsettled.” (LATimes)

Sunday Evening Book Reviews

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

Wendy Lesser on Ann Patchett’s This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage: “Patchett’s own self-criticism would suggest that as a writer she sometimes “errs frankly on the side of sweetness.” Yet there is little sign of that gentle failing in the essays…” (NYTimes)

Antonia Clark on Lynn Levin’s Miss Plastique: “The poems in this collection display Levin’s studied attention to craft and a delightful versatility. She is equally at home with received forms (sonnet, villanelle, sestina, aphorism) and free verse.” (The Rumpus)

Randy Boyagoda on J Michael Lennon’s Norman Mailer: A Double Life: “The subtitle “A Double Life” serves as Lennon’s governing premise for exploring how Mailer’s personal life mattered to his writing life and vice versa, but he does far more than merely affirm this abundantly obvious, abundantly volatile relationship.” (Financial Times)

Ursula Le Guin on Delphine de Vigan’s Nothing Holds Back the Night: “I don’t think it is a novel, but I respect the author’s honesty in not calling it a memoir. The first part of it, the portrait and history of a family, combines apparently factual accounts drawn from interviews and other sources, with long passages of fiction: inventions by the author-character – descriptions of scenes she did not witness, thoughts she imagines in the minds of people alive before she was born.” (The Guardian)

Thursday Evening Book Reviews

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Graham Oliver on George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia: “The book remains unique among firsthand wartime accounts for several reasons. One, it contains an in-depth description of the wartime atrocities of lice. Two, it was published almost a year before the end of the war, which means Orwell could not alter his perceptions based on resolutions that happened after he left combat.” (The Rumpus)

Marc Snetiker on Sam Wasson’s Fosse: ” You don’t need to be a Broadway expert to enjoy this portrait of a man whose rise to power was famously fueled by insecurity.” (

Dwight Garner on Geordie Greig’s Breakfast With Lucian: “Until we have a proper biography, we have this book, written by the editor of The Mail on Sunday, whom Freud admitted into his circle in the final years of his life, or at least far enough that they had breakfast together more than a handful of times.” (NYTimes)

Ben Tarnoff on Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2: “If you surrender yourself to the sound of his voice, the pleasure of Twain’s company proves pretty hard to resist. His narrative may be loose, but at least it never loses sight of its subject.” (The New Yorker)

Wednesday Evening Book Reviews

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Rhonda Dickey on Robert Stone’s Death of a Black-Haired Girl: ” Robert Stone, one of America’s greatest living writers, takes the disquiet and forms it into a story that rejects easy answers and presses its characters to do better, to be more.” (

J. Hoberman on Louise Steinman’s The Crooked Mirror: “As noted by Louise Steinman in “The Crooked Mirror,” her firsthand report on what remains of Jewish life in contemporary Poland, four out of five American Jews are of Polish-Jewish descent — a diaspora within the diaspora.” (LATimes)

Alex Sheremet on Jessica Schneider’s Quick With Flies: “…a mature novel, on a mature theme: a coming-of-age tale set in the Great Depression, told from the perspective of a young black man named Howard.” (Blogcritics)

Billie B. Little on Valerie Hobbs’ Wolf: “This dramatic sequel to Hobbs’ popular novel, Sheep, alternates between Jack’s and the wolf’s points of view. In an unsettling voice, the wolf counts his journey in moons and his narrow gaze sees the world as rock-strewn hills, grassy slopes and woods for hunting.” (BookPage)

Monday Evening Book Reviews

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Cindy Wolfe Boynton on Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett’s A House in the Sky: “Its examination of evil and goodness asks readers to not just consider the contents of others’ hearts but, perhaps more important, the contents of their own.” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Evelyn Theiss on Henry Bushkin’s Johnny Carson: “What Bushkin captures is something many of us have known while in the orbit of a charming, larger-than-life persona – a pervading sense of dread that we too will eventually be dropped, which we try to tamp down with the belief that it won’t happen to us. Then, just like that, it does.” (Cleveland Plain-Dealer)

Scott Onak on Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest: ” a confident and engaging debut that poignantly depicts the final act of a life, the memories and loves that can (and can’t) be regained, and the mysterious visitor that we all become, eventually, to ourselves.” (The Rumpus)

Simon Callow on Michael Blakemore’s Stage Blood: “A most unusual book indeed; one whose scope goes far beyond the theatre, though it is a landmark in writing about the life of the stage.” (The Guardian)

Sunday Evening Book Reviews

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Marilynne Robinson on Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal: “It is the religious sensibility reflected in this journal that makes it as eloquent on the subject of creativity as it is on the subject of prayer. O’Connor’s awareness of her gifts gives her a special kind of interest in them. Having concluded one early entry by asking the Lord to help her “with this life that seems so treacherous, so disappointing,” she begins the next entry: “Dear God, tonight it is not disappointing because you have given me a story. Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story — just like the typewriter was mine.”” (NYTimes)

Wendy Smith on Graham Robb’s Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts: “Many eye-glazing pages of maps, astronomical data, and mathematical calculations follow to support Robb’s carefully elaborated theory: The Celts, led by their Druid priests and teachers, organized their territories — and expanded into new regions — based on scientific long-distance surveying methods, and this organization reflected their belief that “our world is a Middle Earth whose sacred sites correspond to places in the upper and lower worlds.”" (LATimes)

Kirsty Gunn on Margaret Drabble’s The Pure Gold Baby: “Drabble’s latest novel, The Pure Gold Baby, so quiet and reserved it could be no more than a murmur coming through the open window of a north London terrace, is the opposite of an action-packed drama. It reads more like a series of drafts that the reader needs to gather together than the usual fictional package.” (Financial Times)

Melissa Maerz on Angelica Huston’s A Story Lately Told: “Anjelica Huston played a Royal Tenenbaum on screen, and she was one in real life, too. Like Wes Anderson’s film, her story is filled with quirky, precocious siblings and inappropriate parent-child relationships, all of which makes for a fascinating memoir.” (

Wednesday Evening Book Reviews

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Mary Otis on Janet Frame’s Between My Father and the King: “… Frame’s ability to distill an experience and sometimes an entire life into a few pages was remarkable. Her characters yearn, and ache, and are overtaken by wonder. She was an emotional cartographer of the highest order, one who deeply understood the inner workings of the human heart.” (The Rumpus)

Tyler Tichlaar on Gulnaz Fatma’s Ruskin Bond’s World: “Reading Ruskin Bond’s World made me want to read all of Bond’s books and have the enhanced, rich experience of exploring for myself all the themes of nature, animals, children, and unrequited love in his work, all themes that Fatma analyzes in great detail through his various novels and stories.” (Blogcitics)

Dan DeLuca on Stanley Crouch’s The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker: “Crouch’s language is anything but dry or academic, and almost always entertaining. He writes with authority about the Kansas City sound and the role of social factors, like the free-wheeling reign of political boss Tom Pendergast, that fostered the creative explosion.” (

Kirkus on Russell Banks’ A Permanent Member of the Family: “Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Tuesday Evening Book Reviews

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Mark Saunders on Robert Stone’s Death of the Black-Haired Girl: “A standard-issue interpretation of the wages of empire? Payback for ripping our land from its native inhabitants? Judeo-Christian moral retribution in a fallen world? What is America’s secret culture as revealed by Robert Stone? After reading this harrowing novel, one is tempted to say: all of the above.” (Washington Post)

Stephan Lyons on Adam Minter’s Junkyard Planet: “…a well-researched narrative, although a bit too weighty with facts and figures, with no shortage of reminders on our heartbreaking wastage.” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Alan Cate on John Ferlin’s Jefferson and Hamilton: “Ferling explores not only his subjects’ ideologies and their political clashes, but also “the role of character in the choices that each made.” Jefferson was “meditative and philosophical.” Hamilton had a take-no-prisoners style that was more “slash and burn.”” (Cleveland Plain-Dealer)

Hal Jensen on (editors) Neil Murphy and Keith Hopper’s The Short Fiction of Flann O’Brien: ” Very short and slight, they have a winning exuberance. Irish and English misunderstandings, folk mythology, letters to the editor – all provide an opportunity for gleeful impersonation.” (The Times Literary Supplement)

Monday Evening Book Reviews

Monday, November 11th, 2013

Erica Wagner on Kent Wascom’s The Blood of Heaven: “This isn’t a novel to read if you’re seeking factual enlightenment: it can be a rough, confusing ride. But Wascom is able to create an eerie bond between America’s past and its present.” (Financial Times)

Jeff Giles on Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In: ” Lewisohn writes in novelistic detail and with the obvious conviction that none of the previous Beatles biographies have ever been good enough — even if, until this very moment, they had to be.” (

Caitlin Callaghan on P. S. Duffy’s The Cartographer of No Man’s Land: “The novel as a whole is multi-layered, and though the mix of multiple themes, characters, and storylines results in a book that is often expansive and stimulating, at times the many moving parts can be overwhelming and even redundant.” (The Rumpus)

The Independent on Derry Moore’s An English Room: “Derry Moore’s discerning eye captures the essence of the English room, whether in a country cottage, large estate, ancient chapel, or artist studio – at home or abroad. (The Independent)