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!

If you've ever enjoyed the ghostly weird-old-America wail of Robert Johnson, the deep blues of Charley Patton or Skip James' guitar wizardry, you can thank the 78 collecting community — those dedicated (okay, obsessive) folks who hunt down the rare old shellac records that hold so much of our musical past.

If you asked mystery fans to name the most important novel of the past decade, most would say The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo — and they'd be right. In fact, Stieg Larsson's complete Millennium series, flanked by hordes of Nordic noirs by the likes of Henning Mankell, Camilla Lackberg and Jo Nesbo, have overrun the ranks of hard-boiled detective fiction, imbuing it with their distinctive strain of brittle dialogue and chill fatalism.



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. A fight between Amazon and the publishing company Hachette is getting nastier. Amazon suggested that while talks between the two companies continue, Hachette authors could get 100 percent of the sale price of their e-books. As NPR's Lynn Neary reports, it was an offer Hachette was quick to refuse.

An 'Unexpected' Treat For Octavia E. Butler Fans

Jul 10, 2014

When a writer passes before her time, readers and fans often mourn not only the loss of her presence in the world, but the loss of the words she may yet have written. Such was the case when, in 2006, speculative fiction writer Octavia E. Butler died unexpectedly at her home in Seattle. Butler is one of the most celebrated authors in the genre, her novels and short stories regularly graced with Hugo and Nebula awards. She was the first speculative fiction writer to receive the MacArthur "genius grant," a prize whose name perfectly summarizes Butler's work: She was a genius.

Don't pay too much attention to the shifty eyes in the old portrait. Same goes for the mysterious tapping down the hall of the vast family manor — and, for that matter, the secrets lurking in its attic. Don't even be fooled by the ghost.

The Hundred-Year House may be crowded with the tropes and tricks of classic horror, but make no mistake: It's not a horror story. Rebecca Makkai's style, a patchwork of ambition and aw-shucks charm, lets in just enough sunlight to scatter those things that go bump in the night.



A 30-year-old novel has just been translated to English but keeps its Spanish name, "Muerte En Una Estrella." The author is Sergio Elizondo, and the translators are Rosaura Sanchez and Beatrice Pita. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says it crackles.

"Chug, chug, chug. Puff, puff, puff. Ding-dong, ding-dong."

The beloved tale of the little blue engine — who helps bring a broken-down train of toys to the good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain — has been chugging along for a very long time. But despite the locomotive's optimistic refrain — I think I can, I think I can, I think I can — the story has a somewhat checkered past: In its tracks, The Little Engine has left both a legal battle and a debate over whether the little blue engine is male or female.

Balancing Signal And Noise In 'Landline'

Jul 8, 2014

I'm deeply conflicted about how to review this book. On the one hand, I literally laughed and cried from one page to the next and devoured the whole in a brief sitting.

On the other hand, I've also read Rainbow Rowell's other books, and this one pales in comparison.

So I could review it straightforwardly and say that it's funny, clever, charming, endearing, and all that would be true — but I could also review it and say that in some ways it's the least of the books of hers I've read so far, and that would also be true.

Crime writer Ann Cleeves puts it best in her novel Dead Water: "Shetland didn't do pretty. It did wild and bleak and dramatic."

The Shetland Islands are a damp and rocky place, with endless miles of green and gray. Humanity seems to cling to the land here like a few tenacious barnacles. "I love the idea of long, low horizons with secrets hidden underneath," Cleeves says.

Edan Lepucki's debut, California, sold thousands of copies even before the official publication date when talk-show host Stephen Colbert urged readers to pre-order it from a national independent chain as a protest against the "books-and-everything else" giant, Amazon.

Instead of you throwing a curve here instead is a fastball, high and hard.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the granddaddy of American poetry; the gray ghost; the big thumper; the barbarian's text with its barbaric yawp; the nation's first truly great mega biblion; the Kosmos; the Civil War witness; the seaside songbook; the irreverent hymnal; the book of the lover; the book of the loafer; the peacemaker; Leaves of Grass.

What's the most popular seafood in the U.S.? Shrimp. The average American eats more shrimp per capita than tuna and salmon combined. Most of that shrimp comes from Asia, and most of the salmon we eat is also imported. In fact, 91 percent of the seafood Americans eat comes from abroad, but one-third of the seafood Americans catch gets sold to other countries.

Peter Temple writes prize-winning thrillers, four of them about his sometimes hapless investigator, Jack Irish. The books capture Melbourne, Australia: its pubs, racetracks, big boulevards rattling with traffic, and narrow alleys — called lanes — painted with graffiti.

Jack Irish was headed for a life as a successful suburban solicitor, or lawyer, when one of his criminal clients murdered Jack's wife, and Jack dropped the law to become a drunk. The novels — some are now TV movies — begin with his surfacing and looking around for his life.



Oliver was anxious all the time. He demonstrated compulsive behavior, and he howled every time his parents left him alone at home. Oliver was a dog - a Bernese Mountain Dog.

But he, like many animals, displayed some amazingly human psychological traits. That was the inspiration for Laurel Braitman's new book. It's called "Animal Madness." It looks at the mental states and behaviors of animals and how they sometimes mirror our own. Laurel Braitman joins me now from KQED in San Francisco. Welcome.



R. A. Dickey is a phenomenal pitcher. He's also a lone wolf.



UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: In the air. Strike three. Whoa. Back-to-back one-hitters for R. A. Dickey...

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: The phenomenon that is Robert Allen Dickey continues to get more and more unlikely.

'Rogue Elephant' Asks: Is Democracy Right For India?

Jun 29, 2014

Over the course of the past month, some 600 million Indians went to the polls to elect a new government — the largest exercise in democracy in the world.

The results surprised few: Discontented voters tossed out the ruling Congress Party and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Congress, which has controlled India much of the time since its independence in 1947, has now been reduced to a parliamentary remnant.

If there's one thing college students know well, it's a belly full of instant ramen.

"Ramen always has been and always will be a college staple," says Rick Brandt, a recent University of Iowa graduate.

And it's not just college students who turn to the noodles in lean moments: When your food budget is reduced to quarters dug out of the couch, or when hunger pangs strike at ungodly hours, ramen noodles may come to the rescue.

It's May, 1977, in small-town Ohio, and the Lee family is sitting down at breakfast. James is Chinese-American and Marilyn is white, and they have three children — two girls and a boy. But on this day, their middle child Lydia, who is also their favorite, is nowhere to be found.

That's how Celeste Ng's new novel, Everything I Never Told You, begins.

It's a question that's persisted for over a century: how could a slight 19-year-old fire two shots and end up starting a war that killed millions around the world?

Tim Butcher, the well-traveled British war correspondent who covered later wars in the Balkans, went back to Sarajevo to try to learn more about Gavrilo Princip, the young Serbian revolutionary who changed the course of history in the worst way by assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife Sophie.

Comedian Joan Rivers got a diary from her daughter for the holidays a while back, and at first she was upset. Then, she reflected: Maybe it's a chance for her to save and share her wisdom. Like this entry from Feb. 16:

Woke up not feeling well. I spent the entire day online on WebMD. ... I can say with 100 percent certainty that I have pleurisy, tuberculosis, brain stem cancer or an enlarged prostate. I found a great cure for whatever ails you. God bless the Internet! A coffee enema. ... The only negative: I can never go back to Starbucks.

When writer Julia Keller talks, you notice a touch of West Virginia — it is, after all, her home state. Her accent may have faded a bit during her newspaper career in Chicago, so she says when she started thinking about writing crime novels, she was happy to hear the Appalachian voices coming out of her memory.

"I was probably the most surprised person of all when I chose to set my fiction in West Virginia," she says. "[I] hadn't lived here in a long time, didn't really know that it moved in my blood — if it did."

There are many heroes in the tale of how James Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses, which was banned for over 10 years throughout the English-speaking world, finally won its long battle to be legally published, sold and read. Kevin Birmingham tells that extraordinary story in his new book about Ulysses, called The Most Dangerous Book.

"Pessimism, skepticism, complaint, and outrage," New York dentist Paul O'Rourke explains to his devoutly religious hygienist. "That's why we were put on earth."

Just as there are those who seek to drag Mr. Jackson's name through the mud, there are those who insist that he was a saint, an angelic figure to be put on a pedestal. He was neither. Michael Jackson was, like all of us, a complicated human being. -- "Remember The Time: Protecting Michael Jackson In His Final Days"

As part of NPR's "Book Your Trip" series, TV critic Eric Deggans looks at a different kind of summertime journey, described in two books that became TV shows: PBS's documentary Freedom Summer, debuting tonight, and The Hallmark Channel's The Watsons Go to Birmingham.

More than 25 years ago, Saroo Brierley was one of many poor children in rural India. At 4 years old, he couldn't read: He didn't even know the name of his hometown. His mother was raising four children on her own, and they were constantly hungry. Brierley's older brothers would hop trains to nearby towns to search for scraps to eat.

We're continuing our weekend reads recommendations with author Alexander Chee, whose novel Edinburgh won multiple literary awards. Chee's pick for you this weekend is Astonish Me, by Maggie Shipstead — the tale of a ballerina who leaves the dance world to have a baby. Chee tells NPR's Rachel Martin that he appreciates Shipstead's prose, which he calls excellent but not flashy. "I think of it as having a transparent quality which is to say that you're drawn into the story more than you are made to consistently pay attention to the style of it.

I first read Alessandro Baricco's Silk in 1998, in its English translation by Guido Waldman. The book — a tale of travel, passion and mysterious, silent communication — resonated with me immediately.

I had just returned to the United States after my graduate studies in Sri Lanka, and I was struck by the elegance of a story that appealed to my Sri Lankan heart — one raised on the bittersweet joy of not having what one desired. Not only had Baricco made that sorrow palpable, he had done it in less than a 100 pages.

Adam Brookes' new novel, Night Heron, starts with an act of almost impossible bravery.

A man named Peanut escapes from a prison camp in north-western China. Peanut is a a powerfully-built man — despite his nickname — who witnessed the Cultural Revolution as a small boy, and whose father was an intellectual savaged by the Chinese regime.