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!

In An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir brings us a world at a crossroad of reminiscences: The Roman Empire on the one hand and A Thousand and One Nights on the other. Mixing magic and military intrigues in shifting proportions, the result is an appealing fantasy of crossing destinies and impossible choices.

It seems like there's always some writer you're supposed to be reading. These days, it's Karl Ove Knausgaard, the 46-year-old Norwegian whose six-volume, 3,600-page autobiographical novel, My Struggle, has become a literary sensation. Over the past couple of years, I haven't been able to go to a social gathering without someone asking what I thought of his work. When I've said that I hadn't read a word, they would look genuinely startled and tell me, "You have to."

Imagine putting on a suit of armor to go to battle with a hot fudge sundae. That, Kurt Vonnegut famously said, is what critics are doing when they express "rage and loathing" toward novels. The metaphor has its limits — not all novels can be considered hot fudge sundaes — but there's one series that perfectly fits the classification: Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling's books are, collectively, the biggest, gooiest sundae there is.

It's a good thing we only had to wait six months for Early Warning, the second volume of Jane Smiley's ambitious Last Hundred Years trilogy. Why? Because we were eager to follow up on the members of the Iowa farm family she introduced in Some Luck — while we still remembered all of them.

What could be more seductive to the imagination than the Walled City? A 6.9-acre patch of Hong Kong's Kowloon peninsula, it was a discrete, warrenlike enclave, full of twisting passageways and tiny rooms, that grew up around an old military base and flourished throughout the 20th century. Though it was riddled with crime and had no reliable public utilities, it housed tens of thousands of people at its height. It was finally demolished in 1994.

When it came in the mail, I thought it was a joke, this tiny little book. It was hardcover, the size of a pack of cigarettes and about as heavy in my palm as a bird. There was no jacket, just the name — Devotion: A Rat Story — and a rat, embossed in gold.

I read it in an hour, maybe a little less— it's just a hundred pages or so. An appetizer, I thought. A snack.

But two days later, I was still thinking about it. And I'm sure that it'll still be scratching around inside of my skull a week from now, like cold little rat claws scraping inside the walls.

'Lovelace And Babbage' Is A Thrilling Adventure

Apr 23, 2015

Can you say "Yowza!" when discussing Victorian England? Let's hope so, because Sydney Padua's new book is definitely "Yowza!" material. Considering that its subject is math — math and the history of the computer — it may deserve a "Yowza!" and a half. By spotlighting two controversial, charismatic people who laid the earliest foundations for the computer revolution, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage transforms punch cards and little brass cogs into the stuff of legend.

'Vermilion' Finds New Magic In The Old West

Apr 22, 2015

History may be written by the victors, but alternate history is written by anyone with a lust for the past — both established and imagined. Molly Tanzer's imagination is keener than almost anyone's. Her new novel, Vermilion is a work of alt-history that finds a fresh kind of magic in the mingling of fact and fantasy. In the book's wild vision of 1870, the North won the Civil War with the help of a race of intelligent, talking bears. A similarly endowed species of sea lion keeps shop in the streets of San Francisco.

When we talk about Toni Morrison, we are also talking about what it means to thrive in the midst of well-manicured and eloquent hostility. With God Help The Child, Morrison — America's only living Nobel Prize-winning novelist — has offered us not only her 11th novel, but an opportunity to meditate on the tension between the idea of the artist and the reality of the artist herself.

One of Us opens with a girl running for her life. She and her friends are being stalked, hunted by a young man in a police officer's uniform on the small Norwegian island of Utøya. They lie down in the woods, pretending they're dead, hoping the man will see them and move on. He doesn't. He shoots the girl in the head, shoots her friends in their heads, point-blank, execution-style. In search of new victims, the man moves on. But almost four years after that July day when 77 people, many of them children, were slain in cold blood, the nation of Norway still struggles to move on.

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