Bruce Jacobs reading archive

October 2017

Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne

Osborne's moody novel of the idle rich on a Greek island captures the intersection of wealth and refugee migration.

The Ways of Wolfe by James Carlos Blake

More Tex-Mex border noir featuring the slightly crazy Wolfe family. Blake gets better with each book.

Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey

Sealey's poems are all about race in the way that a black woman's life may often seem all about race.

Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block

In Block's fine novel, a West Texas family is broken apart by a high school shooting that puts their oldest son in a coma. Some heavy literary sledding now and then, but worth it.

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

A highly touted first novel of a sensual affair that smolders.

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

Heiny is very funny, and this novel of divorce and remarriage and perhaps remarriage again to one's original spouse is sharp and poignant.

 

September 2017

A Little More Human by Fiona Maazel

Maazel's fiction is funny and ambitious...and well worth the ride. This latest novel is as weirdly unweird as all of them.

Green by Sam Graham-Felsen

A coming-of-age first novel told by the only white middle school kid in a Boston public school in the 90s where being a Larry Bird fan or using the word "awesome" marks one as not-cool from the git-go.

Equipment for Living by Michael Robbins

Rose Hill, KS born poet Robbins takes on movies, rock music, and poetry in this eclectic collection of essays and musings. For example, here's Robbins on Neil Young's memoir Waging Heavy Peace: "It's depressing to learn that one of your heroes writes like a composition student aiming for the earnest tone of a public service announcement." Good stuff.

The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman

Some of Goodman's fiction is a bit slow. This novel is one of the good ones.

Beeronomics by Swinnen and Briski

The rise of civilization as seen through the history of beer...and why not!

The Bughouse by Daniel Swift

Literary criticism meets biography meets poetry gossip in Swift's absorbing history of Ezra Pound's twelve-year incarceration in a famous Wash DC nuthouse.

The Dawn Watch by Maya Jasanoff

A first-rate literary biography of the man whose novels captured the dilemma of modern man in a rapidly changing world of global trade, colonization, and distrust.

South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby

Set in the cold no-man's land of Antarctica, Shelby's first novel is a funny but smart Lord of the Flies sort of take on scientists and oddballs thrown together to escape from whatever needs escaping back in civilization. 

One Station Away by Olaf Olafsson

A top executive at a large NYC publisher, Olafsson continues to write his own top-flight fiction. This is a thoughtful, tight novel featuring a neuroscientist who recognizes that between two people the brain is more than chemistry and synapses.

The Great Nadar by Adam Begley

A great little biography of this 19th century Paris photographer, caricaturist, and bon vivant who hung with Baudelaire, Verne, and Hugo.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Gin Phillips (with that knock out first name) tells a great story about a mother and her 4-year-old trapped in a zoo under siege.hillips

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman

One of those family Thanksgiving novels that tells of chaos, regret, anger, jealousy, etc. and still finds some sort of satisfactory ending.

Texas Blood by Roger Hodge

Magazine editor and journalist (and Texas native) Hodge takes a road trip into his family past and Texas history.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

A fine first novel about an adult daughter dealing with her father's growing dementia and her personal disappointments.

Catalina by Liska Jacobs

One of the many young fiction writers on everybody's "hot list" chronicles the wasted and worried young of Los Angeles.

The Phoenix Years by Madeleine O'Dea

A nicely done memoir/history of modern China with a focus on dissident artists and intellectuals. Australian journalist O'Dea knows her stuff after covering the country for three decades.

August 2017

Hue 1968 by Mark Bowden

Bowden goes way long in this detailed story of one key battle in the Vietnam War, but for those whose lives were defined by this futile war, it is a fascinating history.

Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda

Pochoda's new novel is a gritty SoCal story of drifters and the lost ones looking for something better in the desert or L. A...

Camino Island by John Grisham

I haven't read Grisham in awhile, but this new novel seems like a good place to pick him up again.

The King of Lighting Fixtures by Daniel Olivas

Working in fiction's shadows, Los Angeles attorney Olivas has crafted several books of short stories and novels and anthologies. This latest collection of stories is another interesting mix of realism, magical realism, and meta fiction largely featuring Latino characters in and around L. A.

The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs by Janet Peery

Peery's new novel tells the story of a Kansas family of adult children with issues and their aging parents with their own issues. An extraordinarily well-written, quiet but startling work.

American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee

A prize-winning Texas journalist tells the story of the fate of one famous wolf and her offspring...and in the telling, explores what America is like today.

Who Is Rich? by Matthew Klamm

A novel of infidelity and cartoons...what's not to like?

Silencer by Marcus Wicker

With an undercurrent of hip-hop, Wicker's poems about being a black man in America are both combative and conversational.

How To Get Over by t'ai freedom ford

The voice in t'ai freedom ford's first poetry collection is hot, angry, rhymey and hiphoppy. Sex, race, violence, memory, history, love...it's all here -- "nothing left but bass line, voice, and dazzle." She doesn't flinch: "although she guitar strapped playing that / rock shit, her ass got Africa tattooed / all over it."

Chasing Phil by David Howard

A true-crime story of two rogue FBI agents after the 1970's biggest white collar con man.

The Force by Don Winslow

Winslow moves his often dark SoCal/border noir to NYC, but he's still plenty dark and still tells a good story.

Liner Notes by Loudon Wainwright III

The singer-songwriter may be more a writer than a singer, so this memoir (with pics and lyrics) is great fun.

July 2017

Wild Horse Country by David Philipps

We have thousands and thousands of wild horses. Why do we have laws protecting them? What are we going to do with them all? Who wins all the money in this complicated government scheme?

The Exile by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark

This long, complicated investigation into the Bin Laden life post-9/11 is an indispensable history surrounding what might be the event which more than any other shaped the 21st Century. Surprisingly engrossing.

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash

Habash's engaging first novel is a kind of Catcher in the Rye of wrestling. Move over John Irving.

Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen

Andersen's a funny, clever guy, and this history of American kooks puts today's political circus in perspective. This country was founded by whackos, so what's another one?

Did It! From Yippie to Yuppie by Pat Thomas

Does the world need an oversized, $50 book about Yippie founder Jerry Rubin? Based on this comprehensive dip into his life and work, the answer is definitely yes!

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy by Tim Harford

Financial Times columnist Harford picks his top fifty big dogs of world-changing inventions. Funny, clever, quixotic...he is never boring.

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

A sharp, short novel about an older couple who learn how to stay a couple and be older successfully--together maybe.

The Man From the Train by Bill James

Bill James, the baseball statistics guy, writes a true crime history of a Midwest serial ax murderer..for a change-up.

Ranger Games by Ben Blum

A straight arrow Army Ranger joins an armed robbery with a couple of his fellow soldiers before his first deployment. His writer cousin tries to figure out why in this memoir/biography.

Testimony by Scott Turow

Turow goes longer than usual in this latest novel of courtroom drama that takes place mostly in The Hague and Bosnia. He's a pro at this stuff and always a pleasure.

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss

After a slow start, Krauss gets her mojo working in this new novel about an older rabbinical man and a younger woman in Tel Aviv.

Marlena by Julie Buntin

Buntin's debut coming-of-age novel is set in Michigan, so it can't hardly be bad. In fact, it's quite good.

One More Cup of Coffee by Tom Pappalardo

Funny, observant essays on our coffee culture playing on the Dylan song and complete with cool sketches. This is a neat little publishing gem.

My Favorite Things by Maira Kalman

This Kalman is a couple years old, but it is another of her quirky, sensible prose/poetry/sketch masterpieces.

Faster, Higher, Farther by Jack Ewing

Volkswagen screwed up and Ewing covers it all; however, in the bigger picture, not meeting current emission standards merely means newer VW diesel engines had fewer emissions than those made, say, ten years ago...but not as few as the legislators required.

My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul

NY Times Book Editor Paul's memoir tracking her reading journal is entertaining but kind of a one-trick pony.

Cuz by Danielle Allen

A very successful academic black woman tells the sad and frightening story of how she lost her younger cousin at age fifteen to the adult prison system in California for eleven years...and then lost him forever in a street shooting after he was released. With all her resources, she was unable to beat the system and help him enter the productive community.

June 2017

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout does it again. Her fiction flows so smoothly, you find yourself totally engaged before you realize that there is little plot driving her story.

Zapped by Bob Berman

A scientist unravels the mysteries of "invisible light" in plain English...like why our phones work (or don't) in the middle of nowhere.

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker

Parker is a hot ticket these days with a smart, savvy take on the world. This collection is unsettling with flashes of brilliance.

Bosstown by Adam Abramowitz

A zany first novel of Boston crime mashing George V. Higgins with Tim Dorsey. Its protagonist Zesty is a bike messenger with a tangled family past and a present of local hustlers.

Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli

Luiselli moves easily among essays, fiction, and memoir. She sees the world from outside the United States...and inside it. In these essays, she dissects the broken USA immigration process for Latinos from our south.

Cornell '77 by Peter Conners

In the annals of Deadhead lore, the Cornell Barton Hall show in 1977 was their greatest. This is its story.

Fail Better by Mark Kingwell

Baseball a la Beckett. What could be better?

Sisters by Lily Tuck

Lily Tuck is just remarkable. I'll read anything she writes. Always spare, always smart, always wise. This new novel is no exception.

Red Light Run by Baird Harper

A welcome and well-written debut novel of linked-stories.

The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson

This historical novel in the Tasmanian Gothic genre is difficult and slow. The slog doesn't seem worth it.

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Levy's very personal memoir is breezy...until it isn't

The Bettencourt Affair by Tom Sancton

Sancton reveals the juicy story of France's wealthiest family going mano-a-mano over the L'Oreal fortune. Politics, greed, art, secrets, sex, dementia...the Bettencourt Affair makes the Koch family squabbles look like small beer.

Darkansas by Jarret Middleton

Middleton sets his first novel among the Ozarkian families and feuds that Woodrell first celebrated. Dark indeed.

Ballad of the Green Beret by Mark Leepson

Unless you're of a certain age, Sadler and his gung-ho war song hit "Ballad of the Green Berets" are at best an obscure footnote from the 60's world of sex, drugs and rock n roll. Leepson tells the fascinating and remarkably sad story of how Sadler's life went south after his surprise hit.

Trajectory by Richard Russo

Russo's four novellas are a nice length to exhibit his storytelling chops without requiring the staying power of his more heavily plotted novels. Good Stuff...as always with Russo.

Mexico by Josh Barkan

A fine collection of stories from a new voice in fiction. Barkan delivers the goods, and huzzahs to Hogarth for the dramatic cover to this beautifully designed book.

Jimmy Buffet by Ryan White

A contemporary of the Grateful Dead, Buffett somehow came out of his dope-smoking, anti-war years as a champion of the blue collar margaritistas while the Dead were perceived as drug-addled outlaws. White's biography suggests that Buffett would have fit right in with Jerry and the boys.

Vanishing New York by Jeremiah Moss

A collection of blogs wherein Moss lambasts the politicians and planners who sweepingly reorganized and rezoned Manhattan and Brooklyn so that developers could reap big rewards and the city would become a vertical suburbia unaffordable to those who once lived, played, created, and died there.

Sargent's Women by Donna M. Lucey

An interesting history of late 19th century wealthy women who sat for commissioned Sargent portraits.

Lessons on Expulsion by Erika L. Sanchez

A strong debut collection of poems by the daughter of Mexican immigrants trying to understand her divided world and her femininity.

The Standard Grand by Jay Baron Nicorvo

This well-reviewed first novel badly needs an editor.

Life in Code by Ellen Ullman

Disintermediation is eating up our social order, and everything else you want to know about how the tech world really works...or doesn't.

Celine by Peter Heller

Remarkably, Heller chalks up three in a row great novels!

May 2017

All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan

Modern Irish lit at its best. How does this little country breed so many great writers?

The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins

Stories from the inside about prisoners dreaming of the outside by an MFA grad doing life for murder in Michigan.

Desperation Road by Michael Ferris Smith

There seems to be a limitless number of stories in the American South, and this is another good one.

Brave Deeds by David Abrams

Abrams may be one of the best of a strong group of Iraq/Afghanistan War novelists. He turns up the heat in follow-up to his well-received Fobbitt.

Impossible Views of the World by Lucy Ives

Mystery, art, rom-com...this first novel has it all.

Blue Light Yokohama by Nicolaas Obregaon

Nippon-noir is always an interesting counterpoint to Japan's crime-free reputation.

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

SoCal crime fiction at its best as Harper takes us on a father-daughter adventure among its tweakers and peckerwoods.

The African Kaiser by Robert Gaudi

Fascinating history told with pizzazz. Sometimes the most obscure little piece of the past can open the whole world when revealed by a great practitioner of narrative prose.

The Dime by Kathleen Kent

A gritty new crime series set in the big D.

The Sagrada Familia by Gijs van Hensbergen

The interesting story of the history of twentieth century arts, politics and religion as they played out during the 150-year construction of Gaudi's Barcelona basilica.

Tough Luck by Todd Boss

Norton always publishes good poetry, and this collection is no exception.

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller

A couple of baseball nerds tell the story of how they got to play out there Fantasy Baseball hunches in a real ballpark with a real team in the private, independent minor Minor Leagues.

Caesar's Last Breath by Sam Keen

A pretty funny story of the evolution and composition of the Earth's atmosphere making science fun again.

April 2017

Ultimate Glory by David Gessner

A coming-of-age memoir of a Harvard guy (do they ever come of age?) who discovers the joys and aches and pains of the pro ultimate frisbee circuit.

Small Hours by Jennifer Kitses

A first novel about a young professional couple who leave NYC for the Hudson Valley to raise toddler twins. Like all couples perhaps, they've got secrets and hot buttons which Kitses slowly reveals and pushes. Not so pretty but you can't look away.

Beast by Paul Kingsnorth

Kingsnorth's short, intense novel is the story of a man alone with his thoughts on the moors of West England--modern existentialism at its finest.

The Gringo Champion by Aura Xilomen

A first novel about the challenging life for an immigrant living just over the US side of la linea...that complicated Mexican-USA border. Published when Xilonen was only nineteen, this is an amazing piece of writing. She plays with language as if she were James Joyce rewriting Don Quixote. Rosenberg's translation is just plain extraordinary. This is perhaps the best book I've read this year.

Bed-Stuy Is Burning by Brian Platzer

Gentrification, race, class, gender...Platzer pushes all the hot buttons in this first novel set in one of NYC's most difficult 'hoods.

Upstream by Langdon Cook

Cook gets a little too earnest about wild salmon, but he writes with an entertaining narrative flow and tosses in enough self-deprecating humor to temper the occasional environmental polemics.

The One-Eyed Man by Ron Currie

Currie's novel Everything Matters! was a good one, and so is this. Keep an eye on him...even if you only have one.

In Their Lives Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs by Andrew Blauner

A Stones guy, I have a hard time with all this Beatles love...but this little collection is entertaining nonetheless.

Behind the Moon by Madison Smartt Bell

For a welcome change, this new Bell novel is short. But Bell never does anything halfway, and this one dives into the Amerindian mythology of the United States Southwest and the visions of kids doing too much molly cut with acid.

Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera

Mexican literary hottie, Herrera writes in a surreal sort of way weaving the many myths of Mexico into pretty good border stories.

Lonesome Lies Before Us by Don Lee

Talk about a sad loser: the protagonist of Lee's latest novel about the travails of life is a broke, 52-year-old, alt-country singer-songwriter losing his hearing to Meniere's and struggling in a mostly celibate relationship with a Unitarian Church choir singer. It's actually very good.

March 2017

The Underworld by Kevin Canty

Always happy to read new fiction by Canty, and this novel is a beauty.

Some Rise by Sin by Phillip Caputo

Caputo's newest novel is The Bridge of San Lis Rey in modern Mexico with a little Grahan Greene thrown in - a conflicted priest, indigent poor terrorized by cartel assassins, and a humanitarian physician and her lesbian lover trying to heal their relationship and the sick.

The Loves and Wars of Relative Scale by Albert Goldbarth

His latest collection has a mouthful of a title, but the poems have his usual skewed sense of humor and keen observations. They sort of represent Albert's take on Gulliver in Lilliput and Brogdingnag.

The Adventures of Form and Content by Albert Goldbarth

Sit down with Albert, shut up, and pay attention...he knows a little about a lot and somehow through the chuckles it all makes sense.

The Lioness Is the Hunter by Loren Estleman

Estleman has been mailing it in lately, but in this new Amos Walker, he's back up to par.

The Answers by Catherine Lacey

Lacey's novel is a little out there, but this Whiting winner is worth the reader's patience.

You Belong to Me by Colin Harrison

Like his other seven excellent New York City noir novels, Harrison's new one sinks into the city's stewpot of crime but also is a tale of a collector's obsession and a rich second-generation Iranian and his family network of enforcers and assassins.

August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones

A sharp first novel introducing a Detroit crime-solver to give Estleman's Amos Walker a run for his money.

White Fur by Jardine Libaire

Libaire's second novel is a first-rate story of a couple of young people who probably shouldn't be a couple.

Whereas by Stephen Dunn

The latest collection from one of our best (and one of my favorite) poets who has built a career from his well-titled, terrific first book Looking for Holes in the Ceiling.

February 2017

How the Hell Did This Happen by P. J. O'Rourke

Hit or miss O'Rourke about an election that probably doesn't need a humorist to highlight its absurdity. His best line: "And then there's Trump--Landlord of the Flies."

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

A well-told history of the Reign of Terror murders of Oklahoma's oil-rich Osage Tribe in the 1920s.

A Fine Mess by T. R. Reid

A surprisingly entertaining look at the screwed up U. S. tax system and how to fix it.

Chemistry by Weike Wang

Maybe the perfect first novel. A young Chinese immigrant woman PhD candidate in chemistry has a meltdown when her research is failing and her partner asks her to marry him anyway and move to Ohio. Short, funny, smart, and lots of tidbits of science mixed in her beakers.

Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey

This is Dorsey'ss first Serge and Coleman madcap that's pretty much a stinker. Come on, Tim!

There Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon

In Gordon's new novel (as always deep in the power of the Catholic Church), a grandmother of 92 shares secrets with her 22-year-old granddaughter about her radical years in the Spanish Civil War and secret past husbands.

Startup by Doree Shafrir

A funny debut novel about a startup in NYC and the young techies trying to make a go of it...and be cool.

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

If this 900-page behemoth weren't written by the smart, innovative Auster, you wouldn't give it another look. As it is, however, you get basically four novels for the price of one and immersion into the mind and heart of one of our great contemporary novelists.

Dark at the Crossing by Elliot Ackerman

Middle East war novels are tough to focus--lots of moving political pieces. Ackerman's attempt to zero in on locals rather than GIs makes for a less successful novel than his well-regarded first Green on Blue.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Novelist Tinti goes long in this saga of a battle-scarred iconoclastic father and his feisty daughter.

The Life-Writer by David Constantine

Constantine's story rumbles along in clunky prose. A disappointment.

Let Them Eat Chaos by Kate Tempest

Performance artist, songwriter, poet and novelist, Tempest is a force to be reckoned worth. This short monologue in verse is striking.

January 2017

A Really Good  Day by Ayelet Waldman

Waldman's diary of her discovery of micro-dosing LSD to find relief from her mood swing Bipolar depression is more of a magazine article than a book.

Cheech Is Not My Real Name by Cheech Marin

Weed advocate, comic, film star, former anti-Vietnam War draft dodger, and all around weird guy, Richard "Cheech" Marin for the first time tells his life story.

The Fall Guy by James Lasdun

A literary thriller of psychological suspense. Who's really the "fall guy" in this testy relationship?

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

McEwan's latest short novel is a riff on Hamlet narrated by the Hamlet character as a fetus a month before birth. Only McEwan could pull this off and make it so damn engaging that you forget its premise...and audacity.

One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel

In Magariel's disturbing first novel, a single father hoodwinks social services to get custody of his two early teen boys and takes them from Kansas to suburban Albuquerque where he pretty much loses it. His "boys" have to learn quickly to take care of themselves...and their Dad. 

Spoils by Brian Van Reet

Van reet's first novel is one of the better portrayals of men and women at war--on the ground in Iraq.

We Come to Our Senses by Odie Lindsey

Tough stories about veterans coming home. Lindsey is one to watch.

The Lucky Ones by Julianne Pachico

Pachico's first novel is a collection of short stories woven together out of the same characters from the same world of money, revolution and the Colombian "magical realism" of her hero Garcia Marquez.

The Boat Rocker by Ha Jin

Jin's newest novel of the Chiese diaspora is a sublime bit of taut storytelling.

The Weight of This World by David Joy

Joy's second "Appalachian Noir" novel is another brutal tale of tweakers, losers, and families hanging on to the ridges of the Great Smokies by their fingernails.

White Sands byGeoff Dyer

Dyer knows a lot about a lot. This nonfiction collection is as innovative as his fiction.

Nietzche on His Balcony by Carlos Fuentes

An odd little novel of ideas by the Mexican novelist in his last years. Kind of light weight despite all the Nietzche floating through it.

The Brain Defense by Kevin Davis

An interesting review of the impact of neurology and modern brain scans on criminal behavior and punishment. "Neruolaw" is becoming more than just about "insanity" defenses - it questions the whole concept of free will.

The Outside Lands by Hannah Kohler

A debut novel set in the late 60s/early 70s when the Vietnam War was proving a disaster, Nixon was proving a crook, young people were drifting and protesting, energy prices and the economy were killing us, and nothing was working. Kohler gets it all remarkably on the money.

Shining City by Tom Rosenstiel

A Washington political crime first novel just when that city is about to spawn its own new politics (and crimes).

Black Edge by Sheelah Kolhatkar

The Feds go after billionaire hedge fund tycoon Steve Cohen...and almost get him. A wing-ding true crime financial thriller.

A Separation by Kita Kitamura

A novel of broken relationships that pulls no punches.

All Joe Knight by Kevin Morris

A great first novel set in and around the hard-edged Philadelphia.

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

Batuman's cerebral, funny first novel picks up where her nonfiction gem The Possessed left off.

December 2016

All That Man Is by David Szalay

A novel of the modern world in straight-ahead prose with a sense of the darkness around us.

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

Shotgun Lovesong's Nickolas Butler's new novel is another father/son/boys/men story set firmly in the upper Midwest.

Empire Wasted by Becca Klaver

In new poems, the clever Klaver continues to mine the edges of our current world of technology and busted dreams.

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

Lewis's first novel is a refreshing meditation on family and life in the Appalachians.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Micahel Connelly

A new Harry Bosch just in time to hope for a holiday hiatus to enjoy some first rate uninterrupted reading.

Pill City by Kevin Deutsch

Deutsch's "true crime" journalism tells of a couple of young Baltimore computer whizzes who join up with a street gang to Uberize opiate distribution across the country.

Unwarranted by Barry Friedman

In a frightening but fascinating study, a noted constitutional law professor explains how we've let policing get way out of control and how to bring law enforcement and security management back in line - doing the will of the people rather than going its own way.

The Eastern Shore by Ward Just

With the loss of James Salter a year ago, Ward Just is one of the last of our great, wise novelists. Don't miss anything he writes.

The Emerald Lie by Ken Bruen

I never pass up a new Bruen Jack Taylor novel and have never been disappointed...until this one which just doesn't measure up to the high bar of his previous work.

Paradime by Alan Glynn

Glynn's standalone thriller is worth the ride.

Another Place You've Never Been by Rebecca Kauffman

Kauffman's well-written debut linked-story novel suggests she has bigger books in her.

The Homeplace by Kevin Wolf

Wolf's debut is one of those crime novels set in the West which hopes to give C. J. Box a run for his money...but probably won't.

One Life by David Lida

Long time Mexico writer and expat journalist, Lida has shifted to fiction in this very good first novel.

A Burglar's Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

An interesting twist on architecture and burglary...although burglary is a dying profession--sort of like machine tool die-making.

The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe

In this latest short nonfiction ramble, Wolfe's usual verbosity and pizzazz are somewhat undercut by his decision to add a scholarly touch with too many footnotes interrupting the narrative rhythm.

Huck Out West by Robert Coover

Writing a sequel to Huck Finn in the original vernacular is risky business, but Coover handles it as well as anyone.

Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

This Columbian novelist, journalist, and translator is new to me...and I'm glad I found him. He writes like Marquez, but without all the "magical realism" hoo-haw.

November 2016

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The lit-crit world is loving this first novel, and I'm with it on this one.

Hillary by D. W. Buffa

Buffa has written some fine crime/courtroom fiction, but this attempt at political intrigue and cross-border/cross-century conspiracy is superficial at best.

The Old Man by Thomas Perry

This new stand-alone Perry thriller is one of his best...nuanced as well as fast-paced.

Letters of Samuel Beckett, Volume 4 by Samuel Beckett

Beckett's letters in this final volume are as smart, interesting, and moving as those in the first three volumes. These four volumes are a must-read, must-have set of 20th century literary letters.

The Correspondence by J. D. Daniels

Funny, observant, self-deprecating, striking...these essay "letters" first published in Paris Review are a real pleasure to read any time -- day or night. 

The Kid by Ron Hansen

Hansen has carved a nice niche in historical fiction about colorful American outlaws. His new novel is the story of quick-draw Billy The Kid.

The White City by Karolina Ramqvist

A stand-alone sequel to her first novel The Girlfriend, Ramqvist's new novel about a Swedish woman left to fend for herself with an infant daughter after the loss of her gangster lover is a moody, lyrical portrait of motherhood in the guise of a crime novel.

Autumn by Ali Smith

Three times shortlisted for the Man-Booker, Smith is an innovative novelist who packs a lot in a little. Her new novel is a good example of her fine writing at its peak.

Razor Girl by Carl Hiassen

Hiassen's new Florida caper novel bristles with snappy humor and wickedly smart-mouthed lowlifes.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Patchett's novels are solid, but sometimes I wish she would reach a little higher.

Substitute by Nicholson Baker

Nicholson Baker fears nothing--not even standing at the front of a Public School classroom--and we are the benefactors of his acute observations and clever writing.

Only the Hunted Run by Neely Tucker

Tucker's Washington DC crime series featuring Sully Carter is just what this sort of fiction should be: short, high-octane, and loaded with askew characters.

October 2016

The Nix by Nathan Hill

Nice to see such a well-hyped and reviewed first novel prove to be worth all the fuss. The Nix is long, funny, big-hearted, ambitious, and finally, a novel not to miss.

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

A young East Kentucky woman studies art in Upstate New York and discovers the world. A solid first novel.

A Truck Full of Money by Tracy Kidder

Don't ever miss a new Tracy Kidder book. As usual, he doesn't disappoint in this story of an out there tech entrepreneur.

The Antiques by Kris D'Agostino

A pretty funny novel about a messed up New York family, a hurricane, and its deceased patriarch's beloved "lesser Matisse."

The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter

My first taste of visiting Watermark novelist Slaughter...kind of a slow go.

In the Midnight Hour by Tony Fletcher

The biography of quintessential soul man Wicked Pickett--both going up and coming down.

Africa Architecture by David Adjaye

For those of us Born in the USA types who don't know Mozambique from Mauritania, this is the single best overview of the diversity of African geography, culture, race, ethnicity, and urbanization. If you can have only one book about the continent of Africa, this is the one.

The Mayor of Mogadishu by Andrew Harding

An easygoing journalist, Harding takes us along on his visits to this perhaps most dysfunctional large city in the world as he uncovers the rise of its mayor from his "camelboy" roots to become the "Tarzan" of Mogadishu.

Shakespeare and Company, Paris by Krista Halverson

A bookseller's busman's holiday journey into the history of one of the most famous English language bookstores in the world.

Speak of the Devil by Richard Hawke

I missed this kind of fun first crime novel when it came out ten years ago. Good airplane read.

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

A very ambitious and well-executed novel about East Indian and Mexican immigrants in Berkeley.

Hammer Is the Prayer by Christian Wiman

A broad selection of fine poems by a poet who is new to me and whom I will now follow.

Bear by Robert Greenfield

Feed your Deadhead jones with this fun biography of the Johnny Appleseed of LSD who also designed the band's famous touring Wall of Sound.

September 2016

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Mbue's first novel about Cameroon immigrants in NYC is both energetic and thought-provoking...especially these days.

The Hemingway Thief by Shaun Harris

Harris's first novel is a literary crime novel set in Mexico that is one of those small press gems I love to discover.

Nickel by Robert Wilder

Ostensibly a YA novel, Wilder's narrator has a voice that brings Holden Caulfield up-to-date and exposes the frailities of the adult world we give kids these days.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

An extraordinarily good first novel set in the cold isolation of Northern Minnesota and featuring a teen girl learning about the real world.

Anatomy of a Song by Marc Myers

Forty-five songs, four decades...these short biographies of songs are the soundtrack to a Baby Boomer's life.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Another literary prize-winner that, even though it's very short, takes too much work to sort out the players and the plot (sort of a Bartleby in Korea tale of an "obedient" wife who goes off meat...and off the rails).

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney 

This debut novel about Ireland on its post-recession knees won all sorts of prizes, but it is a slow go that takes some real dedication to slog through the lives of these Cork lowlifes.

Krazy by Michael Tisserand

Both a history of the Krazy Kat cartoon and a biography of its New Orleans-born Creole artist from the streets of Treme who passed as white at a time when being "coloured" made life even more difficult than it is today.

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Davis's novel of aspiring women living a century apart in the Barbizon (what was originally a "women's" hotel/home) is a nice idea that struggles to get traction.

American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin

Ah, those were the days....when rich debutantes became revolutionaries and rich NY real estate moguls dodged the draft. Toobin always makes history a good story.

Thrill Me by Benjamin Percy

Entertaining tips on writing fiction...novelist Percy's $16.00 MFA.

The History of Rock & Roll, Vol. 1 by Ed Ward

A colloquial comprehensive history that amazingly seems to cover it all in only 400 pages.

Agnes by Peter Stamm

Stamm's 1989 first novel is appearing in English in the USA for the first time. It reads like a first novel, but it also shows the promise which he subsequently fulfilled.

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Levy's new novel continues her exploration of all that is feminine...and that which isn't.

Willnot by James Sallis

I don't know how he does it, but everything Sallis has written for the last thirty years (poetry, fiction, nonfiction, biography) has been damn near perfect. This new novel is another brilliant piece of work awash in story, character and place.

August 2016

Body of Water by Chris Dombrowski

On the hunt for bonefish (the southern sea's version of the northern river's steelhead), Dombrowski knows his fishing and writing.

My Private Property by Mary Ruefle

Poet Ruefle should be better known. This new collection of poems and prose shows off her wit and observant eye.

The Good Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell

Kansas City writer Terrell's new novel is the kind of war story that shows the courage of soldiers and the folly of war. First rate!

Every Man a Menace by Patrick Hoffman

A new crime novel of drugs and mayhem by the author of the well-regarded The White Van

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

A strong debut novel of a Jamaican woman and her sacrifices on behalf of herself and her family.

Playing Through the Whistle by S.L. Price

Sports Illustrated writer Price tells the whole history of twentieth-century America in the microcosm of small town Aliquippa, Pennsylvania and its extraordinary high school football stars.

The Spy Who Couldn't Spell by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

A true-life thriller by a Science writer who takes us deep into the mind of a modern spy.

Youngblood by Matt Gallagher

A highly-praised but slow first novel set in the endless and dispiriting Iraq war.

Float by Anne Carson

Poet, academic, translator and playwright, verse rock star Carson outdoes herself in this beautifully packaged new collection of poetry and prose.

As Good As Gone by Larry Watson

In his new novel Watson works his tried and true niche of fathers and sons and buddies in the West of the not too distant past.

Grunt by Mary Roach

Roach tries hard to be funny about war and the science of "defense," but this new pop piece seems to strain too much for a laugh. It's not Gulp or Bonk, but it's not bad.

I Don't Like Where This Is Going by John Dufresne

Dufresne's second crime novel featuring Wylie "Coyote" Melville takes place in and around Vegas and is much better and funnier than the first: No Regrets, Coyote.

The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky

Dermansky's snarky protagonist is a woman for the times...sexy, confused, ambitious, funny.

Brighton by Michael Harvey

In the vein of George V. Higgins (all character, all Boston, no plot), Harvey leaves his adopted Chicago crime novels for a trip back to his home town.

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

Among the many recent novels about the NYC art scene in the 80s (almost a genre in itself) - back before Bloomberg's sweetening of the city when graffiti, sex, drugs, and punk ruled - Prentiss's stands out for its focus on the art.

Original Gangstas by Ben Westhoff

Westhoff's bio/history of early West Coast rappers engagingly captures the L. A. hip-hop scene and the interplay among its big egos, big money, and big showmanship.