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!

At the heart of Stephanie Feldman's debut, The Angel of Losses, is a deceptively straightforward story. The heroine, Marjorie, is a Ph.D. student living and studying in New York. Her subject is the "Wandering Jew" — the mapping and reclamation of an ancient legend. She spends her days in the library, reading and researching, the evenings redrafting and honing her thesis. She is a woman with "a weakness for stories," but one who is often selfish and cold. When we meet her, she seems well on the way to walling herself into an ivory tower.

News becomes history in a second. That's one of the reasons history stays alive — people will always discuss the past as long as there's something to disagree about, and there's always something to disagree about. "A fog of crosscutting motives and narratives," writes Rick Perlstein, "a complexity that defies storybook simplicity: that is usually the way history happens." Beyond the names and dates, history never offers any easy answers. It doesn't even offer easy questions.

By 7 a.m., the sun still hasn't come to Philadelphia. But the snowflakes have — a dusting that seems, in the opening lines of Marie-Helene Bertino's debut, to touch every crevice of the city. It's the kind of magic you might expect of a Disney film. For a tender moment, it appears we're in for a love letter to Philly, the kind of novel that elevates a place to the status of hero. And kindly, Philly even offers a reply of its own.

"Good morning, the city says. [F- - -] you."

'Beautiful Blood' Slays Cliches, Not Dragons

Aug 4, 2014

Lucius Shepard — winner of a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, a World Fantasy Award, a Shirley Jackson Award and many others during his decades-long career — died this year at the age of 70. And despite the decorations and respect he won within the world of science fiction and fantasy, he never broke through to a wider audience.

A pacifier and a knife: These two images open The Graveyard Book, P. Craig Russell's graphic adaptation of Neil Gaiman's 2009 novel. They're oddly complementary devices, the tool of infancy and the weapon of grownups, expressing the quixotic innocence of a kids' book (well, young-adult book) set in a place of death.

For months now the Ebola virus has been wreaking havoc in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. More than 700 people have died, and it seems that doctors are near-powerless to help. With the threat of the disease tearing communities apart, it's hard not to think of a legendary novel from almost 70 years ago.

Lena Finkle is a 37-year-old, twice-divorced Russian immigrant and a self-described "toddler of relationship experience" — when a friend asks how many guys she's "been with" in her life, she can only hold up three fingers. Anya Ulinich's new graphic novel, Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel is her account, told in expressive dark-inked drawings and hand-printed all-caps dialogue, of her quest to find true love — and good sex — and resuscitate what she depicts as her freeze-dried heart.

Amy Bloom's new novel Lucky Us takes readers across America in the 1940s, that special decade of wartime dislocation and post-war disruption — with side-trips to England and Germany — in the company of a pair of half-sisters as endearing and comically annoying as any you'll find in contemporary fiction.

Most sports novels are about the aspiration to excel physically: to run faster, stretch out one's arms farther. The really cool thing about Ride Around Shining, a debut novel by Chris Leslie-Hynan, is that it doesn't stick to that familiar rule book. Even though it's set in the world of pro basketball, our narrator here is not the guy who aspires to be a great player; rather, he's the guy who aspires to be a great suck-up to the great player.

I am not a trained reader of horror. Usually whenever I encounter horror stories, I'm left feeling dissatisfied with the quality of my unsettlement; I think "oh, that was gratuitous" or "eh, was that necessary?" With very few exceptions, I tend not to seek out horror.

Emily Carroll's Through the Woods is so thoroughly an exception that I have to revise my stance on the whole genre.

The Inspector Montalbano books, by Italian author Andrea Camilleri, supply everything I need for the beach. A good mystery. An exotic location — in this case, the beaches and piazzas of Sicily. And great writing that wears its fineness lightly, and keeps the pages turning. All with the most charming fuss-bucket of a detective to come along since Hercule Poirot: Inspector Salvo Montalbano.

'Tigerman' Will Get Its Claws Into You

Jul 24, 2014

How do you know when a book has hooked you? When it really gets you in the guts and won't let go?

When you can't stop telling people about it. When you catch yourself inserting the title of the book into conversations where it has no place, breathlessly insisting to all your friends and relations that they need to read this book right now, and waving it around on elevators and hoping that someone asks you about it.

There's a wonderful 1982 memoir called An Orphan in History by the late Village Voice writer Paul Cowan. It's about Cowan's search for his European Jewish roots, and in it he says something about the sacrifices of older generations of immigrants that's always stayed with me. Cowan says: "Millions of immigrant families . . . left the economically and culturally confining Old World towns where they were raised, and paid for the freedom and prosperity this country offered with their pasts."

Can I Get A Do-Over? Shadow Selves And Second Chances

Jul 24, 2014

Two remarkable graphic novels being released this week are themed around shadow-selves, legacies and second chances: Bryan Lee O'Malley's Seconds is about a woman given the opportunity to magically undo past mistakes, while Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew's The Shadow Hero revises a mysterious golden-age superhero called the Green Turtle by fleshing out his Asian-American origins.

'Rocket Girl' Is A Jetpack-Powered 21st Century Angel

Jul 23, 2014

One word: jetpack. You perked up, right? When most of us dream of the future, jetpacks are one of the first things we dream about. And yet, even now that the future is indisputably here, we continue to be denied the ultimate sci-fi accessory. With all the 21st-century tech we've got these days — maps that talk, hand-held videophones — why aren't we all flying through the air with the greatest of renewable-energy-fueled ease? Maybe jetpacks need a special kind of power, an explosive force the average adult just can't muster. Maybe they need a teenager instead — say, a teen girl.

In September 1777, Samuel Johnson declared to his friend James Boswell, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."

Johnson actually was referring to his hectic social calendar, but he did have a point. The city he was discussing was on course to become the largest metropolis the world had ever seen. In 1800, London was home to 1 million residents. By 1911 that number had grown to a staggering 7 million: a population far greater than Paris, Berlin, St. Petersburg and Moscow combined at that time.

Jace Wilson is a 13-year-old boy who plans to do what many boneheaded 13-year-olds do: something dumb on a dare, to once and for all dispense with the idea that he might be a coward. But while psyching himself up to go through with the dare, he witnesses a murder — and before we know it, we're off. Michael Koryta's new novel, Those Who Wish Me Dead, sucks you in from the first page and doesn't let you go.

I remember taking an intermediate Italian class in college, and to gauge our linguistic level of proficiency, the professor assigned us a short essay to write. Using the Italian I had picked up from my grandparents, I proudly wrote about my familial ancestry in Calabria. The essay came back with every other word circled in red and labeled "dialetto."

"In this class," the professor said as he picked up the paper from my desk, "we will learn the proper Italian language of Dante." At that moment, I felt at once robbed of my Italian heritage, and ashamed of my Calabrian ancestry.

I live in Tucson, Ariz. National news about thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border — some as young as 2 years old — is local news here. A front-page headline from this week's Arizona Daily Star reads, "Immigration tension boils over in Oracle." It's subtitled "Protesters, supporters, clash; bus carrying children fails to show."

There's a line pop culture likes to flirt with. It's the line between naughty and nasty, between seamy and sordid, between icky and "come on, really, I just ate lunch." Back in the mid-'60s, when ladies always wore stockings and gentlemen still wore hats, S. Clay Wilson left that line in his rearview mirror.

People often expect military wives to be strong and stoic. But in her new memoir, No Man's War: Irreverent Confessions of an Infantry Wife, Angela Ricketts writes about the difficulties she faced during her husband's deployments — including the stresses it put on their marriage and on raising their three children.

She also writes about the toll of always bracing herself for the next goodbye.

For the first time since the 1940s, the Green Turtle is returning to comic bookshelves. The long-forgotten character has been resurrected in The Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel about what many comic fans consider the first Asian-American superhero.

"He's like a classic, American World War II hero," says cartoonist Gene Luen Yang, who collaborated with illustrator Sonny Liew on The Shadow Hero.

Author Sarah Lotz is terrified of flying, so naturally every time she gets on a plane she imagines the worst. "I imagine how it's going to smell if things start burning," she says. "I imagine the thunk of luggage falling out of the compartments at the top. ... I imagine it all in absolutely horrible detail."

All those horrible imaginings came in handy when Lotz was writing her new book The Three — the story of three children who are the only survivors of four separate plane crashes that occur in different parts of the world on the same day.

When fantasy has gotten so grim and dark that the term "grimdark" has been coined to describe certain authors, things may have gone slightly overboard. With Traitor's Blade, the first installment of a new fantasy series called the Greatcoat Quartet, author Sebastien de Castell seems to be taking a stand against the grimdark wave. Unlike the bleak, bloody work of George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie, Traitor's Blade is a swashbuckling romp packed with charisma, camaraderie, quick wit and even quicker swordplay.

It's probably the most oft-cited literary fantasy of all time: I'm talking about that passage in Catcher in the Rye where Holden Caulfield says: "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though."

In the town of Bassett in southern Virginia, some of the downtown street lights are dark. The lamps, maintained by the once prosperous Bassett Furniture Co., are now funded by voluntary contributions from residents and businesses — when they can afford it.

Bassett is just one of many towns and cities in Virginia and North Carolina where scores of furniture-making plants have closed in the past 20 years, mostly because of competition from China and other foreign countries.

Nadine Gordimer, a Nobel Prize-winning author famed for her portrayals of South Africa under apartheid, died Sunday, her family said in a statement. She was 90.

Gordimer was considered a modern literary genius, an important chronicler of the injustices of racial segregation along with other white writers such as Athol Fugard and J.M. Coetzee.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek — who is one of the world's most prominent living public intellectuals — has been accused of plagiarizing from the white separatist magazine American Renaissance. (The magazine calls itself a "race realist" publication, while the Southern Poverty Law Center calls it a hub for "proponents of eugenics and blatant anti-black racists.")

Confessions Of A Former 'Sweet Valley High' Addict

Jul 13, 2014

Often, when people ask me what I read as a young girl, I lie. Or, I should say, I lie by omission. I tell them about my brilliant fourth-grade teacher, Miss Artis, who assigned us Johnny Tremain and Where the Red Fern Grows and Tuck Everlasting, all books that made an impression on me. And people nod in approval.

But the answer I don't usually give is that my favorite books, the ones I read and re-read until the covers were creased and the pages were loosed from the spine, were Sweet Valley High.

Life Drawing is a novel that will make you want to hug the person you love and never let go.

It's a thriller and a love story. But it isn't about over-the-moon, happy, young love; it's about love when the marriage is no longer easy, when every move the couple makes is haunted by a betrayal.

Life Drawing is Robin Black's first novel. She tells NPR's Tamara Keith why she chose to explore a marriage in crisis and the challenge of writing about Alzheimer's when she had no experience with the disease.