book review

12/09/2019
(Candlewick Press) The winter solstice, as many readers know, is a day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. It’s also the first official day of winter. This year it falls on Saturday, Dec. 21. Also called midwinter, Yule, or the Longest Night, many cultures around the world celebrate this day as the birthday of the sun. Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper wrote the poem “The Shortest Day” for early music revivalist John Langstaff’s Christmas Revels, where it is performed annually across the country. Caldecott Honoree Carson Ellis brings the Yuletide poem to...
12/02/2019
(Houghton Mifflin) Maurice Isserman is a virtual encyclopedia of skiing and mountaineering lore and history, and to the reader’s benefit, it is on full display in this fascinating look at the 10th Mountain Division, or as Isserman describes them, “America’s Elite Alpine Warriors.” These troops played an integral part in a pivotal moment in World War II and remarkably, before 1943, America didn’t even have mountain troops. The idea was born in Manchester, Vt., when four skiers, elites in the American skiing community, after a full day at nearby Bromley Mountain, sat down together inside the...
11/25/2019
(Riverhead Books) Much of what has been taught in schools, and propagated through popular culture about the role of Indians (the term used by the author throughout this book) in America’s early colonies and westward expansion, are myths. For instance, when Ponce de León arrived in Florida in 1513, Indians had been living there for at least 12,000 years, and when the Mayflower landed at Plymouth in 1620, almost 90 percent of the population of the New England tribes had already been wiped out by European diseases. Colonial powers used language, a “rhetoric of rightful possession,” as well as...
11/18/2019
(Doubleday Books) Critically acclaimed Newfoundland author Michael Crummey’s new novel transports the reader to another time, another place. What begins as a story of survival — a sister and brother orphaned at young ages, odds already stacked against them — deepens into an exploration of perseverance, will, and family against a backdrop of unrelentingly harsh conditions, working and living. The Best family, with Evered and Ada now being the only two left, eked out a meager existence on the northern coastline of Newfoundland, living off the land, relying on their catch of fish to supply them...
11/11/2019
(Houghton Mifflin) There are a multitude of YouTube stars these days, I know, but bear with me, I believe Andrew Rea, best known for creating the “Binging with Babish” channel, is the real deal. As Andrew writes in his introduction (which is moving, raw and honest), he had reached a very low point in his life, doubtful that he would find a way to express himself creatively. Enter psychedelics… No, really. Also revealed in the revealing intro (one paragraph begins, “Now you might be asking yourself, ‘I was certain I bought a cookbook, so why am I being subjected to your life story?’”), Rea...
11/04/2019
(Atria Books) When we meet Jacob Marley in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and yes, this is the selfsame man in Jon Clinch’s delectable new novel, he is a haggard specter, weighted down with heavy chains. It is his desire to save Scrooge from a similar fate that summons the apparitions to visit Ebeneezer Scrooge. In Dickens’ tale, we see snippets of what Scrooge’s life could have been; in Clinch’s tale, we get the entire backstory, and discover how the miserable miser came to be. It is, indeed, a dark yet lively re-imagining. Marley and Scrooge meet as young men at Professor’s Drabb’s Academy...
10/28/2019
(Little Brown and Company) Leslie Jamison, author of the award-winning essay collection, “The Empathy Exams,” is an astute observer of the people she investigates, holding her skepticism in check, as well as herself, and how she relates to the stories she uncovers and what they say about the storytellers, herself, and the human race at large. Her topics are fascinating — 52 Blue, a blue whale whose song was recorded at an impossible (for blue whales) frequency; virtual lives; a quarter century photography project — on the surface, but in the unraveling and unspooling, Jamison gets at the...
10/21/2019
(Rootstock Publishing) Luke isn’t interested in learning anything about Peshawar or Pakistan, because even though his dad “had him over Christmas vacation. It said so in the divorce,” Peshawar, and the “Great Goddamn Project,” as he and his mother referred to it, and his dad’s obsession with the project, was the reason the divorce happened. So Luke may be in Peshawar, but he’s planning on spending most of his time with his Walkman affixed to his person. It’s 1986. His dad is working with a professor he also worked with in the United States; their families become close in that time. Now the...
10/14/2019
(Atria Books) The epigraph at the beginning of William Kent Krueger’s could not be more apt: “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story” from Homer’s epic “The Odyssey.” The award-winning author of the New York Times bestselling novel “Ordinary Grace,” Krueger has crafted an American saga, epic in scope, a glorious and grand adventure that speaks of the heart and history of this country. Odie O’Banion, a born storyteller, narrates the tale, set in 1930s Minnesota. A group of young orphans — himself, his older (and handier) brother Albert, their friend Mose, and little Emmy, whose life...
10/06/2019
(St. Martin's Press) Renia’s diary — because that is what you hold in your hands, the diary of a young girl, a teenager, whose childhood was, as Greta Thunberg would say, stolen from her — feels private and due consideration should be accorded when reading it, and yet it is important that this written testimony be read and shared. Miraculously, this long-hidden diary survived the Holocaust but the young woman, an aspiring poet and hardworking student, did not. It has been translated from the original Polish, with notes included by her surviving sister. In descriptive prose, with verses of...

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