NWPR Books

Northwest Public Radio loves to read! Below, you will find our editorial reviews and personal recommendations for literary works we think you, our listeners, would love.

We are also receive station support from many Northwest Independent Booksellers, who provide their own recommendations here.

And, if you have any great reads you would like to share with us, please let us know, by emailing your review to NWPR@wsu.edu!

There are a hundred writers that I want to have a beer with, but Etgar Keret isn't one of them. I want to almost have a beer with him — to have plans and a time and a place — and then for everything to go wrong. For trains to break down, cabs to be late; for him to be delayed by a missing wallet or a flood in his hotel, for me to blow a tire and for my cell phone to die so that we miss each other, arriving at the bar at different times to find it actively on fire or already burned...

'Modern Romance:' Love In The Age Of Demography

Jun 17, 2015

Editor's note: There is some adult language in this piece that some readers may find offensive. They say that all actors really want to direct. That all journalists dream of being novelists. That all babies want to grow up to be cowboys. And that all comedians want to become data analysts. Okay, maybe not all comedians. Maybe just one: Aziz Ansari. And with his new book, Modern Romance , he finally gets his shot at living the dream. The book is an investigation. A...

Who's That Batgirl? 'Burnside' Charms Despite Stumbles

Jun 16, 2015

"I guess you can't trust any Batgirl these days," Barbara Gordon says roguishly (she does everything roguishly) in Batgirl Vol. 1: Batgirl of Burnside . It's a sly, even subversive line, referring to the fact that the role has been played by many different characters — and in many different ways — over the years. With Barbara's comment, the authors reiterate their cleverly layered theme: Identity, especially in the digital age, is anything but fixed. For its first twist, this series...

Audiobooks have traditionally been tricky to get right and even harder to make special. Very often, they're literally just books read aloud, to the best of the ability of a single, usually highly skilled reader. In fiction, you get readers who are asked to provide voices for however many characters the author invented. Some, like Bobby Cannavale in his fantastic read of Richard Price's New York crime novel Lush Life and Michael Beck with several different John Grisham novels, bend...

In "The Miracle Worker," one of the nine stories that make up Mia Alvar's debut collection In the Country , a wealthy Bahraini woman hires a Filipino special education teacher to try to coax some communication from her daughter, a profoundly disabled girl with extensive physical deformities. The mother wants nothing more than for her daughter to be "normal." She explains to the teacher: "Often people do not love difference." The teacher knows this, of course; she's left her home in...

Only last year, New Jersey writer Norman Lock brought out The Boy in His Winter , his time-travel version of Huck and Jim's passage along a great American river, and the river of time. In his new novel, American Meteor , Lock demonstrates that he doesn't have to lean on other people's creations to make a novel worth reading. He invents a cast that includes doctors, photographers, poets, presidents, and Indian chiefs, making a fable all his own which sheds brilliant light...

Let us stipulate at the outset that at 57 Stephen Fry is a world-class wit, unquestionably a learned fellow and surely a decent one — because really, anyone of whom Emma Thompson is that fond can't be entirely irredeemable, can he? That said, the 36-year-old Stephen Fry who inhabits the infuriating latter stretch of More Fool Me is a world-class git. Thank God he's rehabilitated himself since. Now that the shudders have subsided, return with me to the Fry so many admire — star of

When it came out last year, Beth Cato's The Clockwork Dagger was a fresh, welcome addition to the steampunk canon. Still, it left many questions unanswered: The novel's protagonist, Octavia Leander — a young healer with a tragic past — hadn't grasped the scope of her magical powers. And the political machinations that swirled around her had much left to play out. Things get wrapped up in The Clockwork Dagger 's sequel, The Clockwork Crown , although "wrapped up" doesn't do...

The Truth About 'Mike's Place'

Jun 11, 2015

There are places, according to popular belief and classic TV shows, where everybody knows your name. At these mythical sites you can find reasonably priced drinks and eats, great music and, most importantly, a certain elusive kind of people. They're the people you always wish you could meet — and at these few special places, you can. Behind these doors, everyone feels like — could it be possible? — family. At one place in Tel Aviv, they were making a determined effort to live the legend. Mike...

Some ideas are so clever it's a wonder no one has thought of them before. Case in point: Algerian writer Kamel Daoud's The Meursault Investigation , a response to Albert Camus' The Stranger , written from the point of view of the brother of the nameless Arab murdered by Camus' antihero Meursault. But Daoud's book, which was recently awarded France's prestigious Prix Goncourt for a first novel, is more than just a delayed reaction to colonial oppression, and far more...

Early in Lisa Gornick's Louisa Meets Bear, not long after the title characters run into each other at a Princeton University library in 1975, Louisa tries to explain her father's job to her schoolmate. She can't quite articulate what it means to be a geneticist: "I can't explain what it is that my father researches, only that I think about it as unveiling the machinery in the magic." Sometimes, though, the machinery and the magic are the same. Even if we could unravel every strand...

Back when I was losing sleep over various scenarios that could befall my aging parents, a friend would try to calm me with assurances that at most one of those things would happen, so they weren't worth worrying about in advance. This came to mind as I read Kate Walbert's shimmering new novel, The Sunken Cathedral , which concerns a circle of New Yorkers living uneasily under amorphous threats of impending disaster — from the debilitations and losses of old age to the next terrorist...

In 'History,' Money Makes The World Go 'Round

Jun 6, 2015

Money has long been notorious for its way of complicating things. We can never have too much — but most often there's just not enough. In the wrong hands, it breaks bonds and brings down kingdoms. And while it may be the commodity which ties us together as citizens of this world, it's also the thing that, because we need it so, leaves us all complicit in the end. In The History of Money, Argentinian novelist Alan Pauls frames an absorbing and evocative tale through the lens of money...

From H.P. Lovecraft to Stephen King, horror writers have found frightening inspiration in small-town New England. It's no surprise, then, that the works of both authors are cited in A Head Full of Ghosts , the latest novel by Boston-based writer Paul Tremblay. Accordingly, A Head Full of Ghosts is also set in New England — in Beverly, Mass., just across the Danvers River from Salem. In spite of that proximity to so much chilling history, the book is not your typical tale of...

Lev AC Rosen is a native New Yorker — and he'd have to be in order to write Depth . In Rosen's latest novel, the United States of the 22nd century is an unrecognizable place: Climate catastrophes have flooded the entire Eastern seaboard, leaving Chicago a coastal town and the surviving flyover states an oppressive stronghold of religious conservatism. The inundated city-state of New York stands alone, tentatively still part of the U.S., but existing as a cluster of half-submerged...

I saw the title of Benjamin Percy's new book Dead Lands and I immediately thought, Oh, another zombie book . I read the synopsis — super-flu, nuclear bombs, a post-apocalyptic re-telling of the Lewis and Clark story — and I thought, yeah, but there's gotta be zombies in it, right? But no. There are no zombies in Dead Lands . And I think it says something important about the state of our genre fiction in general (and our entertainment expectations in...

I'm a romance advocate, and one reason I love romance novels is because they're full of strong, smart, resilient women. But, like many romance fans, I read eclectically – which brings me to another strong, smart woman: Maisie Dobbs, the World War I nurse-turned-sleuth created by Jacqueline Winspear. We first meet Maisie in 1929, as she is opening her own detective agency. Her mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche, has retired, and she's about to take on her first case, a young wife who might be having...

As his dedicated readers know, multiple versions of Stephen King, Author, exist. There is the King of classic horror, like Cujo , Children of the Corn , and Christine . There is the King of feminist uprising, from Carrie to Dolores Claiborne to Bag of Bones . There is the King of strong series work, like The Dark Tower and The Green Mile. I could go on, but the King we meet in the new Finders Keepers (the...

It's important to know that this book is about bunnies. For some people, that's a total turn-off. Anthropomorphic animal books? They go right into the box with the fad diet guides and slick self-help books with cover photos of creepy, smiling guys with too many teeth. Personally, I'm a bit more forgiving. Because I love science fiction novels, I don't immediately freak out if a protagonist has more than the standard number of legs. But even so, I have rules: In the pantheon of talking animal...

You may have read about an imaginary Southern piece of turf where the past presses on the present with such force that characters find themselves transformed with the pressure of it, where the landscape comes alive, where human beings seem sometimes like gods and sometimes like devils, and the language of the story lights up your mind: William Faulkner's half-historical, half-fabulized Yoknapatawpha County, yes? No, actually, I'm thinking of Steve Stern's personal piece of the South, a...

Write brilliantly and readers will follow you anywhere — even into a swarm of hoverflies. That's one takeaway from The Fly Trap, a charming, off-the-beaten track, humorously self-deprecating memoir by Fredrik Sjöberg, a biologist who muses and amuses about his baffling passion for hoverflies. "No sensible person is interested in flies, or anyway, no woman," he writes. His book may change that: It is a paean to some of the tiniest wonders of the natural world, but even more to the...

'The Water Knife' Cuts Deep

May 28, 2015

In The Windup Girl , Paolo Bacigalupi's best-selling, Hugo- and Nebula-winning debut, the author imagines a 23rd century in which the forces of commerce have run amok over the basic, biological building blocks of life. In his equally powerful sophomore novel, The Water Knife , he takes a similar approach to an inorganic substance without which human life wouldn't exist: H2O. But where The Windup Girl takes place hundreds of years from now in Southeast Asia, The...

Fat Is Not A Four-Letter Word In 'Dietland'

May 27, 2015

Editor's note: A Dietland quote in this review contains language some may find offensive. In fiction, there are the Good Fats (Clara Peggotty, Mrs. Weasley and various other pillowy matrons) and the Bad Fats (Ursula, Augustus Gloop, assorted despicable characters whose fatness is shorthand for moral decay). Oh, and the Funny Fats. Don't forget the Funny Fats (Falstaff and his schlubby ilk). But complicated, dangerous, compelling Fats? These are rare. Plum Kettle...

Warren Duffy is having a bad year. The comic book store he opened in Cardiff, Wales, has shut down, leaving him in debt to his angry ex-wife. He habris come home to Philadelphia to claim the inheritance left to him by his late father — a roofless, possibly haunted mansion that's only inhabitable in the most technical sense of the word. And he's basically broke, forced to make pocket money by drawing pictures at a comic book convention, where, because he's biracial, he's shunted into the ...

The Fireworks Of 'Illusionarium' Never Quite Feel Real

May 26, 2015

Reading Heather Dixon's Illusionarium feels like riding a particularly rough roller coaster, and the first few hills are doozies. Dixon barely establishes the book's fantasy world — a hastily sketched British-derived steampunk setting, with the requisite airships and an alternate version of London called Arthurise — before she upends it. A highly contagious plague called the Venen is killing off the women of this world, turning their veins black, then their flesh. The queen is sick...

I've read a staggering number of excellent books recently, and it has done things to my head. I'm not sure the human brain was meant to read so many brilliant books in such short order — even less sure that swinging my reading-pendulum from Hannu Rajaniemi's collected science fiction stories to Naomi Novik's sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel is at all wise. By all rights I should have tumbled into Uprooted feeling disoriented and confused, dissonant and harsh in my criticism — but no. ...

"The moon blew up with no warning and with no apparent reason." That's the beginning of Neal Stephenson's newest epic, Seveneves . And in terms of opening hooks, it's up there. I mean, he isn't destroying LA or merely reducing some single nation to slag. No, Stephenson goes old-school mad scientist — straight for the pulp main vein and buried Saturday morning memories of Thundarr the Barbarian still ticking along in the heads of his audience, and blows up the moon . Which is...

Kirsty Logan is no stranger to secrets. The Glasgow-based author's award-winning short-story collection, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales , beautifully brought together myth, magic, and the muted fantasy of the everyday. It also dealt with curious topics like circuses and worldwide floods — two things that resurface in her captivating debut novel, The Gracekeepers . Set in a world that's been almost entirely inundated by the ocean, The Gracekeepers follows the...

The Science Of 'Collected Fiction' Is Pure Magic

May 20, 2015

I have just finished Hannu Rajaniemi's Collected Fiction and I am still recovering. My mind feels constellated. I am keenly, weirdly, expansively aware of explosions still taking place inside my head. The world has shifted while I read, and the quartz in the necklace I wear is full of super computers breathing sentience against my skin. There are eyes threaded through scarves over the windowsill. I want to learn everything. I feel the need to dress up for reviewing this book, to...

When Edna O'Brien's first novel, The Country Girls, was published in 1960, her family and neighbors in the small Irish village where she was born tossed copies into a bonfire expressly set for that horrifying purpose. Nearly 60 years later, the country girl herself has long since moved to London, but her fiction still blazes (if only in metaphor). That's what I found while reading my way through The Love Object , a newly published selection of more than 30 of O'Brien's...

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