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!

Fun, Fast-Moving 'Nimona' Is A Perpetual Surprise

May 19, 2015

Over the course of the collected Nimona, it's possible to watch artist Noelle Stevenson blossom from a student to a superstar. Nimona originated as a two-page art-school experiment that expanded into a webcomic, published biweekly on Stevenson's website over the course of two years. What began in a visually and narratively simple style in June 2012 rapidly became more elaborate and sophisticated, expanding into a showcase for Stevenson's rapidly evolving talents.

Toward the beginning of The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, an actress reflects on her decision to leave West Virginia for New York City. Her first few days in the city are disastrous; she moves from bad job to bad job while living in a basement apartment with a dirt floor. "I felt like I'd come to a place for people who didn't know how to be people," she says, "and if I was there I must not really know how to be a person either."

When I'm feeling low, there's a city I like to visit. This particular city is contained within a handful of shabby 1980s paperbacks around which I coil as protectively as a dragon around her hoard (though the city in question contains no actual dragons): The city of Liavek.

For five minutes, I thought this was it — the novel that was going to kill the novel. The book which, finally, was going to bridge that psychological, ideological and semantic gap between the fusty old books of our grandparents' age (just a bunch of words on paper representing characters, plot, action logically progressing to a known and comprehensible conclusion) and the mythical books of our future (which would have none of this, being composed exclusively of smells, or written on lasers or whatever).

Former Dublin newsman Paul Lynch made his debut as a novelist a few years ago with a book called Red Sky in Morning, set in mid-19th century County Donegal, where a rage-driven farmer has committed a murder with devastating results. The Black Snow, Lynch's second novel, returns us to Donegal, though at a later date, and he's working at an even higher level of accomplishment than before.

Senators beelining for roll call at the U.S. Capitol, protesters brandishing signs on the Supreme Court sidewalk, guides mama-ducking tourists past the Beaux-Arts splendor of the Library of Congress — they don't always stop to note the elegant Art Deco low-rise tucked in alongside those showier landmarks. Andrea Mays thinks they ought to — and in The Millionaire and the Bard, a brisk chronicle of how William Shakespeare almost vanished into obscurity and how one obsessive American created the playwright's finest modern shrine, she makes a snappy, enjoyable case for why.

Paddy Buckley, the charming, roguish and thoroughly eff'd up main character of Jeremy Massey's debut novel The Last Four Days Of Paddy Buckley, can talk to dogs, control flies and leave his body at will in a kind of practiced self-hypnosis. This, oddly, is not the focus of the novel. It's a minor (but vital) character detail. But I'm mentioning it here because it's also the worst, weakest, most stompy-foot-of-magical-whateverishness part of what is otherwise a really great book.

Some of the best (and worst) novels in speculative fiction stick to a basic, tried-and-true approach: Lay out the rules of your imaginary world, then throw your protagonist against those rules. Nicole Kornher-Stace does exactly this, winningly, in her latest novel, Archivist Wasp.

Lucas Mann's genre-bending first book, Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere, was about an Iowa farm team, a dying Midwestern factory town, and his own anxieties about success, and it heralded an impressive new talent in narrative nonfiction. Mann's second book, Lord Fear, reaffirms that talent. A memoir about his much older half-brother, Josh, who died of a heroin overdose when Mann was 13, it's a less alluring, more difficult book — but clearly one that Mann needed to write.

Joshua Levin has some great ideas. Well, some ideas, anyway. The would-be writer keeps a list of possible high-concept screenplays — everything from a script about aliens disguised as cabdrivers (Love Trek) to a treatment of a "riotous Holocaust comedy" (Righteous Lust). But in real life he's a Chicago ESL teacher who can never seem to follow through — the movies he envisions are all too esoteric, too depressing. As his Bosnian acquaintance Bega reminds him, "American movies always have happy ending. Life is tragedy: you're born, you live, you die."

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