Bruce Jacobs reading archive

February 2023

This Afterlife by A. E. Stallings

A smartly selected overview of the somewhat formalist, intellectual but sensitive, sometimes amusing poems of a poet who continues to impress. "The glass does not break because it is glass...It breaks because / It is dropped, and falls hard, because it hits / Bottom, and because nobody catches it."

Lungfish by Meghan Gilliss

Gilliss's first novel is an innovatively written story set in Maine by a writer who lives in Portland. What's up with all these excellent writers from Maine?

The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley

A TV comedy show writer tries her hand at fiction in this first novel featuring a smart, snide black woman in Brooklyn. 

The Edge of the Plain by James Crawford

While Frost suggested that "good fences make good neighbors," Crawford shows how the history of mutating borders made for warlike, antagonistic neighbors. Like dogs peeing on their trees, we humans are territorial animals.

 

January 2023

All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami

A spare, incisive novel about a Tokyo copy editor who decides to become someone else in a city and country where becoming someone else is frowned upon.

Two Nurses, Smoking by David Means

Great title for a collection of great stories by the inimitable Means.

Fight Night by Miriam Toews

Toews' latest novel is a moving and funny tale of feisty women narrated by an equally feisty, precocious nine-year-old girl. This is one of Toew's very best novels.

Kick the Latch by Kathryn Scanlan

A fine, short horse novel for anyone who's ever mucked a stall.

Bub by Drew Bratcher

Hard to pass up this essay collection from the land of "Red Necks, White Sox, and Blue Ribbon Beer" with the compelling title Bub. Bratcher traces his musical evolution as he drifted from Nashville to Chicago (with a short stop in Wichita as Editor at the now long-gone Wichita magazine.)

Normal Distance by Elisa Gabbert

Poet Gabbert's new collection is quirky, funny, sad, and pensive to the extreme. From Desiderata: "I'll go gentle into that good night if I fucking want to."

The Midcoast by Adam White

A nicely done (if a bit overwrought) debut novel set on coastal, touristy quaint Maine. What is it with Maine and writers finding a welcome home there (e.g. Richard Russo, Stephen King, etc.)?

Bold Ventures by Charlotte Van den Broeck

In these absorbing essays, Belgian poet Van den Broeck muses on the buildings and tragic lives of thirteen architects whose creations became their downfalls. Woven into the narrative are autobiographical bits and pieces of the struggles of a creative life: "In the suicides of these architects, am I searching for false idols, forerunners, allies, to push me to a similar end when total failure hits me?"

The American Caliph by Shahan Mufti

Mufti's nonfiction history of a little-known 1977 Muslim attack in Washington, DC reads like a contemporary thriller streaming on Netflix.

Bloodbath Nation by Paul Auster

To his credit, the fine novelist Auster chooses to reflect on gun violence in these personal, pragmatic, compassionate essays rather than letting these thoughts and opinions clutter up a novel. 

Tell Me I'm an Artist by Chelsea Martin

Martin brings to life a smart, funny, often confused Bay Area art student and her colleagues.

After Darke by Rick Gekoski

The third and final novel in Gekoski's wonderful Darke trilogy is a fine concluding tale of the late life of the curmudgeonly protagonist Dr. James Darke. With British erudition and wit, Darke is a mix of the unnamed narrator of Notes from the Underground and Melville's reluctant Bartleby. Sadly, Gegoski's Darke novels don't have the following in the USA that they deserve.

Beyond Measure by James Vincent

Norton does it again with this fascinating history of the human need to measure things...an inch is as good as a mile.

Desert Star by Michael Connelly

Connelly is so good that even when he's slightly off his A game (like here), he's still one of our best.

To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness by Robin Coste Lewis

What a way to begin a new year of reading! And what a terrific collection of poetry and archival photos of a Louisiana black family's migration to California over a slice of the 20th century. Lewis opens doors for us all. "My poetry skipping, / My bells rung in hot haste-- / Engines fire all together. Fresh Sparks."

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro

Shapiro deserves all the rave reviews for this new novel. She's earned the kudos.

Indigenous Continent by Pekka Hamalainen

A professor at Oxford, Hamalainen elucidates the history of the United States colonizers' relationship with the indigenous Amerindian people who first roamed and ruled this country's vast lands. Perhaps it takes the curiosity and openmindedness (and sheer scholarly perseverance) of someone outside the United States to teach those of us inside what we were seldom taught. Must reading.

An Honest Living by Dwyer Murphy

A debut crime novel set in NYC's antiquarian book world. Old books and New York Lawyers...what can go wrong? Murphy's got a healthy Lawrence Block feel for NYC, and his protagonist has a wisp of Matt Scudder about him. Good stuff here.

 

December 2022

Paperback Jack by Loren D. Estleman

Estleman may have published more novels in more genres than anyone else still pounding a keyboard. This one sports a great title and tells a good historical noir paperback story.

Bravo Company by Ben Kesling

Kesling's extraordinary first book about the Afghan War is already a classic that compares favorably to Michael Herr's stunning exploration of the Vietnam War in Dispatches. I wish every high school junior would read it, and a good teacher could facilitate discussion of how the culture and "mission" of the military affect many of its participants forever.

Activities of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen

A quirky first novel about a reclusive, lonely artist in NYC and a world where making a life seems to require a succession of projects that give structure to our daily doings.

A History of Present Illness by Anna DeForest

A short first novel by a Neurologist/Palliative Care doc featuring a plucky, sometimes mouthy med student who takes patient care painfully seriously while many of her fellow students speculate about the best first luxury car to buy.

The Last Folk Hero by Jeff Pearlman

My reading jumps from Paul Newman to Bo Jackson...both icons in their fields with the usual foibles of the rest of us mere mortals. Jackson was so athletically gifted that his exploits have become word-of-mouth mythology by those who actually saw him in action.

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man by Paul Newman

Newman was not your usual Hollywood star, and this collection of taped interviews and thoughtful snippets tells why. Even superstars have their not-so-superstar doubts and demons.

The Last Chairlift by John Irving

I'm not sure that I'm ready for the latest Irving novel running over 900 pages; but he does tell a good story, and this one touches all his hot buttons and autobiographical fixations. Unfortunately, both the hefty size of the book itself and the hefty narrative baggage have caused me to abandon this one.

Long Corner by Alexander Maksik

A nice discovery, this sharp novel about art, contemporary life in NYC, and the cliched language of the consumption world is well worth taking a look.

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

A beautiful cover for an interesting novel about marriage, family, and stress set in the UK.

2 A.M. in Little America by Ken Kalfus

Kalfus's new novel tells of a man who's abandoned a future (?) unlivable United States to start over as an expat where he hopes to make sense of himself and to find a way of life more to his liking.

The Family Izquierdo by Ruben Degollado

Degollado's collection of stories traces a large McAllen, Texas family which crossed over from Reynosa, Mexico and built a life. It is a family with a complex life like everyone's but rooted in Mexican culture and the easily shifted languages of those who live on the border.

The Boys by Katie Hafner

What a wise and entertaining story! Hafner's first novel is one of my best new writer discoveries.

The Deceptions by Jill Bialosky

Bialosky is a wonder. Poet, novelist, memoirist, and long-time Executive Editor at Norton (the most respected publisher in the USA), she puts it all here in a new novel reflecting on art, marriage, love, parenthood, and the masks we wear.

Carnality by Lina Wolff

A Swedish author new to me, but this second novel set in Spain is a great discovery. More please.

 

November 2022

Girls They Write Songs About by Carlene Bauer

Two young women head to NYC in the late 90s and find everything they dreamed of...and much that they didn't.

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout's fiction never misses, so don't miss this new novel featuring our friends Lucy Barton and her William.

Mexican Postcards by Carlos Monsivais

An older book, but there are few better overviews of the heart of Mexico.

Billie Starr's Book of Sorries by Deborah E. Kennedy

Kennedy's second novel of small-town Indiana intrigue is clever, entertaining, and downright funny.

A Grito Contest in the Afterlife by Vincent Antonio Rendoni

A great poetry collection selected by the talented Dorianne Laux for the 2022 Catamaran Prize.

Trickster by James W. Hall

Hall's crime series featuring Florida Keys private dick Thorn is better than Elmore Leonard's Florida stuff, but Hall doesn't get near the attention and acclaim. He deserves more.

The Unfolding by A. M. Homes

If you are not already overwhelmed by a nasty world where everything is sanctimoniously political, at least Homes takes a shot at being funny about it.

Bad Day Breaking by John Galligan

Galligan's rural Wisconsin Bad Axe crime series gets better and better.

Other People's Secrets by Meredith Hambrock

A first novel by a Canadian writer to watch.

The Bad Angel Brothers by Paul Theroux

The prolific Theroux really shines in his fiction. This one is a bit of a Brothers Karamazov for today.

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

Escoffery's strong debut collection of stories set in a Miami Jamaican 'hood tells a similar tale of growing up on the fringes...a collection as rich as Bryan Washington's much-lauded debut Lot 

 

October 2022

Hystopia by David Means

I'm coming late to Mean's 2016 debut (Booker long-listed) novel about the USA in all that 60s turmoil. Better late than never.

What's Prison For by Bill Keller

A brief well-reasoned analysis of the USA's prison system and its inherent failures.

Aug 9 - Fog by Kathryn Scanlan

Scanlan's spare collection of edited and selected 1968-1972 diary entries of a central Illinois woman in her late 80s may be the ultimate way to create poetry from life...and life out of poetry. It's hard to get these simple observations of sickness, weather, friendship, and death out of one's head.

The Wheel of Doll by Jonathan Ames

Ames's new Happy Doll noir tale of crime in Los Angeles is another winner.

Me and Paul by Willie Nelson

How can one not love Willie Nelson's stories about his wingman Paul English...especially if you've kicked around Texas a bit?

Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm by Laura Warrell

Great title from Jelly Roll Morton and a great first novel with a little jazz, a little sex, and some fine writing.

If Walls Could Speak by Moshe Safdie

Safdie's illustrated memoir is a fascinating look into modern architecture and the vision of those who practice it...particularly, of course, Safdie himself. The man who apprenticed with Louis Kahn and brought us our own Exploration Place, Crystal Bridges Museum, and the iconic Singapore Marina Bay Sands is a thoughtful, interesting guy.

Beyond Belief by John Koethe

Koethe lives around a couple of corners from me, but I discovered his poetry quite by accident. Now I'm a big fan, and this new collection shows why.

Like a Rolling Stone by Jann S. Wenner

Before there was the internet, those of us who came of age in the 60s had The Whole Earth Catalog and Rolling Stone to tell us what was happening and how to live. For these cool resources we had Stewart Brand and Jann Wenner to thank. Of the two, Brand is the more rational and wise but Wenner may be the most entertaining...albeit perhaps not 600 pages of narcissistic memoir entertaining. Still, Rolling Stone chronicled the zeitgeist for a long time and Wenner's book shows why.

Elizabeth Finch by Julian Barnes

Barnes' new novel is concise but expansive...and a bit too heavy on the lives of historical kingpins of philosophy and religion.

The Great Man Theory by Teddy Wayne

Whiting Award-winner Wayne's new novel tracks an ironic, over-thinking, angry, unpleasant, and untethered Brooklyn academic protagonist...a pretty real-world observation of the species.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

I'm late to this popular debut novel. Better late than never.

The Kingdoms of Savannah by George Dawes Green

Green's new southern crime novel is all about Savannah...its history and its secretive families.

On Java Road by Lawrence Osborne

Hong Kong itself is a mystery; but in the able hands of Osborne, it breeds even more mysteries among its expat citizens.

 

September 2022

The New Neighbor by Karen Cleveland

Former CIA analyst Cleveland continues her fiction streak of domestic drama among those doing the down and dirty for the US government. However, this latest is a bit lame.

Do No Harm by Robert Pobi

When it comes to thriller/crime novels, few write them better than Pobi. Tricked out in prosthetics, his astrophysicist protagonist Lucas Page is the most unique investigator since Parker's Spenser and Block's NYC-roaming Matt Scudder.

Sugar Street by Jonathan Dee

Dee's smart new novel skewers the United States in a scary, funny story of a hapless guy who tries to go off the grid.

The Deal Goes Down by Larry Beinhart

In this latest Tony Casella crime novel, Beinhart sends his crusty old detective back into trouble despite his quiet life in Woodstock, NY.

Kiki Man Ray by Mark Braude

Art, romance, and living large in Paris in the 1920s...who else but the model, muse, wild and crazy Kiki.

All That Moves Us by Jay Wellons

A pediatric neurosurgeon writes with heart, style, and wit about life and death in one of the most challenging health care specialties.

The Catch by Alison Fairbrother

A debut novel where a confused Washington DC millennial wannbe journalist confronts the real world and her real family history.

Avalon by Nell Zink

Zink can tell a good story about interesting mostly good characters. 

 

August 2022

Paradais by Fernanda Melchor

In her tight new novel, Mexican novelist Melchor writes with beautiful never-ending sentences about two people of very different classes working and living in a gated community in the state of Veracruz.

Safe Houses by Dan Fesperman

Perhaps Fesperman's best thriller set in Berlin in the late 70s and early 80s.

The Odyssey by Lara Williams

The NYT's Molly Young describes this funny novel best: " Read if you like: Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, artificial flavors, avoidant behavior, wondering what a 'lifestyle' is and whether you have one."

Yell, Sam, If You Still Can by Maylis Besserie

A wonderful first novel imaging the last year of the great Samuel Beckett stuck in a Paris nursing home. If you love Beckett, you'll love this. If you don't know Beckett, Besserie's novel will send you to learn everything Beckett that you can...plays, novels, and four tomes of letters. But regardless, read this one if only to learn about the indignities and challenges of end-of-life care.

The Forgery by Ave Barrera

A fascinating novel in translation centered on the historical Mexican architects and artists of Guadalajara.

Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb

Nothomb's slight novel in translation is an amusing story of a gaijin white woman working a one year contract at a giant Japanese corporation.

The Goldenacre by Philip Miller

A wonderful novel about Scottish artists, curators, and museums with a mystery to boot. Miller is a great new find for me.

Left on Tenth by Delia Ephron

A real-life bittersweet septuagenarian rom-com/health care-angst memoir by a queen of rom-coms with a familial run of bad health luck.

The Khan by Saima Mir

An excellent crime novel featuring the Pakistani community on the streets of London.

The Not Yet Fallen World by Stephen Dunn

Although I've read many of these poems before, Dunn is always worth re-reading and the new ones are excellent. Alas, with his recent death, this is the last we'll hear from this fine poet.

Circus of Dreams by John Walsh

Former Sunday Times literary editor Walsh, chronicles the effervescence and excess of literary London in the 80s when the likes of Martin Amis and Graham Swift became the UK version of the USA literary "brat pack." He had a seat at the pub with most of all of them...and, alas, is a little too much pleased with himself for it.

Because Our Fathers Lied by Craig McNamara

While U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was orchestrating the Vietnam War, his son was caught in the 1960s war between the young and the old. This memoir captures that troubled time in U.S. history that was perhaps even more divisive than today's political Red vs Blue skirmishes...battlegrounds were real for many, not just social media snits and political rancor.

 

July 2022

Bitch by Lucy Cooke

Cooke's latest is funny zoology and biology that follows the female through evolution rather than the male.            As Harry Belafonte wrote and sang:

"Ah, ever since the world began
Woman was always teaching man
And if you listen to my bid attentively
I goin' tell you how she smarter than he"

Sirens & Muses by Antonia Angress

Angress's fine first novel follows a quartet of young artists in a prestigious New England art school as they compete, connect, romance, and quarrel with each other.

A Secret about a Secret by Peter Spiegelman

I need a summer thriller, and Spiegelman's latest is just the thing.

The Church of Baseball by Ron Shelton

The inside scoop of how Shelton came to make perhaps the best baseball movie of all time against all odds...and his first as writer/director. Talk about a rookie making it to the bigs with so-so stuff but throwing a no-no.

Husbandry by Matthew Dickman

Dickman's new collection confirms his respected place among contemporary poets...even though these couplets are the troubling thoughts of a single dad of small kids after his wife left him. Bummer, maybe, but a fair amount of sunlight peaks through the clouds.

Lucky Turtle by Bill Roorbach

Roorbach is a great storyteller, and this new novel is one of his best.

Valleyesque by Fernando A. Flores

A short collection of strange stories by a Tex/Mex author unafraid to name his first two books Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas and Tears of the Trufflepig. As one critic describes these new stories, they are "psychedelic, dazzling stories set in the cracks of the Texas-Mexico borderlands."

Also a Poet by Ada Calhoun

Calhoun's first book (St. Mark's Is Dead) was a street level memoir of growing up in her corner of lower Manhattan. This new book is also memoirish, but this time focused on her art critic father Peter Schjeldahl and his aborted biography of Frank O'Hara.

Friend of the Devil by Stephen Lloyd

Great cover on this new thriller; however a few too many incantations, demons, and cults for my taste.

The Last Days of Roger Federer by Geoff Dyer

Dyer's collection of musings about coming to the end is classic Dyer: funny, warm, personal, and perceptive.

The Red Arrow by William Brewer

An ambitious first novel featuring a pensive depressive by a one-book poet (albeit, a bit of a paragaphy novel). I respect Brewer's bravery.

 

June 2022

Companion Piece by Ali Smith

After her extraordinary Seasonal Quartet of novels, Smith's new one is equally dynamic. She's a wonder.

Bill Frisell, Beautiful Dreamer by Philip Watson

Six hundred pages of biography about the life of the low-key jazz guitarist Bill Frisell may seem like overkill, but to followers of modern jazz, Frisell is all she wrote about making the guitar an integral part of jazz ensembles and solos.  He can shred with the rock guitarist gods and goddesses, but quietly and uniquely.

Either / Or by Elif Batuman

If you enjoy Batuman's New Yorker pieces but haven't tried her fiction, check out this new novel (memoir?) for its wisdom and laughs...then go back and read about the same characters in her first novel The Idiot.

Someday the Plan of a Town by Todd Boss

A new collection of poems after Boss had some troubles, chucked it all, and wandered the world letting his poetry calm the personal waters.

Two Nights in Lisbon by Chris Pavone

Pavone's international thrillers rumble down the runways of the world with a cast of characters snarled in escapades that don't untangle until the last page. This one is the dope and perhaps his best.

Fans First by Jesse Cole

The Savannah Bananas ballclub is the Grateful Dead of baseball. Their exuberant owner follows the Dead's fan first approach providing entertainment and free stuff that their competition chooses to rigorously control. The Bananas don't have a free TikTok tapers section in the box seats, but who knows, maybe that is their next move.

The Guardian Angel of Lawyers by Laura Chalar

I mistakingly thought the title was "The Guardian Angel from Lawyers" and got all excited. Instead, this is a fine collection of stories translated by the Montevideo author herself (who is, alas, also a lawyer).

Graceland by Chris Abani

Poet, novelist, exile...Abani tells a rambling tale of growing up in rambling Lagos.

Revenge of the Scapegoat by Caren Beilin

You can't pass up this smart, funny, raw novel by the author of the awesomely titled nonfiction work: Blackfishing the IUD.

City on Fire by Don Winslow

Winslow is good. With the lowlife street-savvy of George V. Higgins, this latest sweeping novel features the mobbed-up Irish and Italians of Providence, Rhode Island who, like the Trojans, go to war over a beautiful woman.

Ferlinghetti by Neeli Cherkovski

I missed this 1979 biography of the poet, beat, and founder of City Lights bookstore and publisher. He died at 102 last year, so it seems a good time to read this now updated story of his extraordinary life.

On Quality by Robert Pirsig

Pirsig had a troubled, scattered life except for his one masterpiece: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. His widow has decided that now is the time for this posthumous collection of odds and ends that he wrote over the years.  Sadly, there is nothing new or interesting here. Read Zen again if you want to feed a Pirsig jones.

Hourglass by Keiran Goddard

A lyrical, funny, concise first novel of love and loss.

Post-traumatic by Chantal V. Johnson

A bit rambling first novel but with a great cover.

 

May 2022

Liar by Jessica Cuello

A new Cuello collection of excellent poems

This Old Man by Roger Angell

Recently deceased premier sportswriter Angell provides a "dog's breakfast" of his work over decades and decades of first-rate sports journalism...and etc. Well worth a re-read!

The Dark Flood by Deon Meyer

Like all his crime novels featuring Cape Town detectives Benny Griessel and Vaughn Cupido, Meyer's latest is terrific. Other than the sprawling Cape setting, they remind me of K.C. Constantine's Mario Balzac novels...strong praise indeed.

Homesickness by Colin Barrett

After an award-winning debut novel, Barrett's new collection of stories may be even better.

Passersthrough by Peter Rock

Rock's latest novel transcends its ghost story backdrop to become a solid story of families and their generations.

Best Barbarian by Roger Reeves

A strong second collection from Whiting Award-winning poet Reeves.

Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon

Chaon's new novel is a little bit dystopia, a little bit crime thriller, and a lot of entertainment.

Shine Bright by Danyel Smith

Growing up in the 70s in Oakland, Smith cut her teeth on black women pop singers and groups. She knows what's what right up to the present and gives these women their due.

Search by Michelle Huneven

What better place for the talented Huneven to have her way with the world than in this new novel's church pastor search committee setting?

One-Shot Harry by Gary Phillips

Phillips' crime novel set in 1960s L.A. is unfortunately too much Civil Rights movement and not enough crime.

A Dream Life by Claire Messud

A nice little gem of a new novel by the critic and much-admired novelist Messud.

 

April 2022

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Why have I never read any McKinty? Don Winslow and several other crime novelists whom I like swear he is the best, so I've decided to start with this 2019 McKinty novel of a kidnapping chain.

Berg by Ann Quinn

Just recently, I read about this mid-century experimental British writer, so I'm happy that this novel has been reprinted. Dostoevsky comes to Great Britain.

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li

A solid first novel that's part heist thriller, part art history, and part Chinese diaspora cultural conflicts.

Poguemahone by Patrick McCabe

McCabe's long new novel in verse is full-on Irish mania. Comparisons with Joyce and Beckett are not out of line.

Don't Know Tough by Eli Cranor

Former college and pro footballer, Cranor's debut is a tight thriller set, where else, on a small-town Arkansas high school football field.

Snow Approaching on the Hudson by August Klenzahler

I'm just catching up on the latest Kleinzahler collection of this great, but unfortunately little-known, poet.

Mecca by Susan Straight

Straight's new novel takes some time to get rolling, but once going, it is a deep take on Southern California's central valley, deserts and arroyos, and the history of those from elsewhere who labor to make it what it is.

Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh

I liked Haigh's Mercy Street so much that I went back to this earlier novel about rural Pennsylvania's sad history of fossil fuel drilling and mining. A bit more political than Mercy, its strength is a similar nuanced description of the people who work in the trenches of the modern USA.

The Great Nowitzki by Thomas Pletzinger

A great sports biography of the Mav's one and only 7-foot baller.

Things Are Never So Bad That They Can't Get Worse by William Neuman

There are lessons in oil-rich, once hip Venezuela's fall into chaos and economic stagnation. Neuman's top-shelf narrative prose illustrates them with style, wisdom, and a bit of strong story-telling. He's also chosen a title exactly fitting to the current global morass.

An Island by Karen Jennings

I was lucky to get an early read of this South African writer's very good, Booker longlisted new novel.

 

March 2022

Tides by Sara Freeman

Another exceptional first novel - this one featuring an unhinged woman on the lam from family, friends, and the past and told in concise, lyrical, and alert prose.

Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades

A not bad first novel set in NYC's Queens borough among multi-ethnic girls finding their way to middle age with laughs, struggle, and dreams.

Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett

No sophomore slump, Bennett's second novel after the extraordinary Pond is of equal quality. She's special.

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh

Haigh's excellent new novel covers the comings and goings of a Boston abortion clinic where life and death are really about life and death.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

Hallett's first novel is told in an unspooling giant file of trial and discovery documents that gradually reveal character flaws and the path to resolving on appeal who really did the crime. What fun.

Shadows Reel by C. J. Box

After twenty-two novels featuring Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett, you might think Box would run out of gas (or mountain ranges or poachers or sociopaths); but no, this latest is as entertaining as his first Open Season. Marybeth and the Pickett girls are again in trouble and Joe's buddy Nate is intent on another falconry adventure. Good stuff.

MacArthur Park by Judith Freeman

Freeman is a pro who has honed her fiction voice to tell a good story, create interesting characters, and prod one's thinking.

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

Poet Garcia's first novel is about motherhood, immigration, women's choices, and all the salty seas, tears, and superstitious over-the-shoulder tosses that come with them.

Free Love by Tessa Hadley

The title of Hadley's new novel echoes her 2012 story collection Married Love, but it has a more freewheeling vigor to it...much like the era in which it is set.

How High? -- That High by Diane Williams

Much awarded short story writer, Williams squeezes the whole everyday world of relationships into these new very short stories (minimalism to the max) that are funny, edgy, a little off plumb with a drift into the absurd.

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas

Another smart and funny debut novel that transcends Jonas's MFA background.

That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry

Irishman Barry's latest story collection is fresh, fine, funny, wise, and concise.

Duende by Quincy Troupe

Poet, biographer, music dude...Troupe has done it all. This collection nicely covers his 50 years of poetry.

Mermaid Confidential by Tim Dorsey

Like the Rolling Stones, Serge and Coleman should be getting too old for Dorsey's screwing around. But it's hard not to bop and slop when Jumpin' Jack Flash comes on your stream or hoot and holler as Coleman rolls a fatty while Serge explains the history of Florida condo life.

Joan Is Okay by Weike Wang

Wang's first novel Chemistry was terrific. This second lives up to the first.

 

February 2022

Indigo by Padgett Powell

A collection of Powell's best over the last three decades. He is a star in our writing universe who needs more acclaim. Even if you've read some of these, read them again.

Brood by Jackie Polzin

A first novel focused on the care and comfort of chickens and the art of chicken farming and marriage. Well done, Polzin!

Bad Moon Rising by John Galligan

This third in Galligan's Heidi Kick Wisconsin crime series has a cast of bad guys that are hard to follow and too far over the edge.

The Things They Fancied by Molly Young

Newest New York Times book reviewer Young is as funny and smart in this small press zine about how the rich spent their money through the ages as she is in her reviews. Find it. Buy it. Read it.

All the Water I've Seen Is Running by Elias Rodriques

Rodriques's debut novel is a coming-of-age story of young mixed-race boys on Florida's north coast.

Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson

Nothing like a short novel that packs a punch. This is one of the recent best.

Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby

A debut story collection that has its moments...but mostly doesn't.

Sea State by Tabitha Lasley

Lasley's memoir and a first book is both a profile of the men who work on and off the North Sea oil rigs and her own personal romantic vulnerability. 

little scratch by Rebecca Watson

A year old now, Watson's excellent debut novel is a Joycean day-in-the-life, word-scattered picture (literally) of a young London woman's workday at a newspaper.

God: An Anatomy by Francesca Stavrakopoulou

I'm not sure why I decided I needed to read this 450-page history of the concept of God, but I'm glad I did. The consistently laudatory reviews by those I trust were right. This is a quite remarkable book.

Cutthroat Dogs by Loren D. Estleman

It's hard to believe how many books Estleman has written; they take up four of my bookshelves. The best are his Page Murdock westerns and those featuring Detroit's Amos Walker. This latest Walker shows that the old gumshoe may have lost a step, but he gets his man.

Literary Alchemist by Steve Paul

It's great to have Kansas City's book critic and writer Steve Paul taking on the life story of perhaps the least famous but best novelist to come out of Kansas City (take that Hemingway!).

The Good Son by Jacquelyn Mitchard

A new Mitchard novel usually warms a cold, cold winter. Unfortunately, this one is a little slow and melodramatic.

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

Kitamura just keeps getting better. This new novel is a reader's treat.

Bad Axe by James W. Hall

Hall's Florida Keys crime novels featuring the volatile but chill Thorn moves across the country in this latest.

Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber

Silber's new novel is one of her best.

 

January 2022

Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer

Wolitzer's extraordinary fiction history is exemplified in this collection of her stories over the years. Now in her nineties, she's a wonder.

Walking Through Needles by Heather Levy

Levy's first novel is psychological family noir set in dusty Oklahoma. A good premise that fails a bit in the telling.

Lean Fall Stand by Jon Mcgregor

Multi-award winner Mcgregor's new novel is a masterful, innovative story opening with a dangerous polar gale in the nowhere of Antarctica and closing with a family back in England struggling to manage its patriarch's rehab from a storm-induced stroke.

Skinship by Yoon Choi

A much-awarded debut story collection about Korean immigrant customs and families.

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Askaripour's first novel is funny, hopping, Bed-Stuy storytelling about a savvy black man taking on the money guys at their own game...and paying a personal price.

Double Blind by Edward St. Aubyn

St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels are a tough act to follow, but this new novel may be the one to relaunch his mojo.

Site Fidelity by Claire Boyles

Just when you might think Boyle's debut story collection is getting strangled in her environmental zeal, her writing talent and sense of character save her. I'm excited to see where her talent takes her next.

Some People Let You Down by Mike Alberti

Alberti's debut story collection is first-rate fiction set in the dying small towns of the USA. Keep your eyes on him...he's going to write something even more remarkable in the future.

Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Moreno-Garcia's latest novel is Mexican noir set among the unsettled 1970s youth in Mexico City.

A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan

Morgan's debut novel casts a wry eye on social media, celebrity, and how we do what we do these days.

Godspeed by Nickolas Butler

Our sage of the upper Midwest, Butler looks to Wyoming for this excellent new novel about mostly men at work and play. Drugs, money, mountains, and hot springs envelope some plain old hammer and saw contractors.

The Pledge by Kathleen Kent

Kent's third crime novel featuring Dallas cop Betty Rhyzyk is the best one yet.

Burning Boy by Paul Auster

I've been postponing this 700 page Auster biography of Stephen Crane. But it's Auster, and I'll read anything he writes...even if it is a very long tribute to a writer who lived a very short life. Perhaps there is some kind of literary rule that the shorter the life, the longer the biography (e.g. John Keats, Rupert Brooke, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, etc).

The Field by Robert Seethaler

Austrian actor, screenwriter, and novelist Seethaler's moving fictional tale of characters reflecting on their lives from beyond the grave has won numerous international awards...kind of a German Our Town.

We Are Bellingcat by Eliot Higgins

A first book chronicle of the digital network of news sleuths and scoop-posters by Bellingcat's founder. A taste of journalism as it evolves and probably will soon be everywhere.

Double Solitaire by Craig Nova

Under the popular radar, veteran novelist Nova enters the crime genre with this first in a series featuring Los Angeles "fixer" Quinn Farrell. Maybe this excellent novel will bring him the audience he deserves.

The Gilded Edge by Catherine Prendergast

In her first book, Prendergast chronicles the fascinating lives, shenanigans, and suicides of early 1900 bohemians in northern California...well before the mid-century beats, hippies, and deadhead made it their playground.

Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson

This second novel by Johnson is even more entertaining than her first Be Frank with Me.

 

December 2021

The Loft Generation by Edith Schloss

Artist and critic Schloss hobnobbed with all these NYC mid-century geniuses, bad boys and girls, and urban legends. Her memoir is an entertaining look at all the goings-on among them.

Born in Blackness by Howard W. French

With bold flair French rewrites modern history to upend the notion that white Western Europeans drove the innovation and "discovery" bus. Instead, the history of Africa and enslaved Africans suggests that they may have been the real engine of global modernism. This comprehensive study is not to be missed.

The Guide by Peter Heller

Another great novel by an evolving master.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead's fiction cuts a wide swath. This new novel marries a crime novel with the history of Harlem.

Dark Harvest by Joseph Millar

Millar's a true pro, and this new volume highlights his best poems of the past and several strong new ones.

The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles by Francoise Hardy

There was a time when all the cool kids sat around smoking Gauloises and listening to beautiful Francoise Hardy's sexy, sultry voice. This 2018 somewhat pedestrian chronological memoir suggests that she was just a regular woman of her time...albeit a knock-out whom even Mick Jagger could hardly resist.

Ways to Beg by T. J. Sandella

Sandella's debut poetry collection roams from viewers of teen slasher movies whom he advises "that if you live long enough life is mostly washing dishes" to a long detailed meditation on the painful, awkward stages of the seven-day process of his mother's death. Only when he dabbles in the political do his poems lose their edge and swim in the zeitgeist.

The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly

Connelly remains in top form with this latest Renee and Harry novel. He just plain never misses.

Oh, William! by Elizabeth Strout

Every Strout novel is a treat. This new one is no exception. Once again, she visits previous characters as they age and deal with the inevitable slings and arrows.

The War for Gloria by Atticus Lish

A solid new novel about coming of age in Boston by a writer growing his chops.

Always Crashing in the Same Car by Matthew Specktor

Entertaining essays about life in LA by a long-time native journalist and writer.

 

November 2021

The Every by Dave Eggers

Eggers' latest novel takes over where his The Circle left off.  His version of the ubiquitous metaversal monopoly called The Every combines good storytelling with his usual satiric twist...but he does go on and on.

I Take My Coffee Black by Tyler Merritt

Merritt is a "Renaissance Man" who also is very funny, thoughtful, optimistic...and a black man who cuts to the quick about being a black man in the USA.

Damascus Station by David McCloskey

The new debut international thriller that everyone is talking about...and rightly so. McCloskey knows his spycraft shit, and more importantly, writes a helluva story.

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Franzen's newest hefty novel is the first of a planned trilogy. Let's hope he lives long enough to finish it.

The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski

At 900 pages and $40, Posnanski's mini-bios of his picks for the 100 best ballplayers ever is a big commitment for a baseball book. But it is so worth it. Posnanski did his homework, has a great sense of humor, turns stats into on-field action, and loves the game...showboating, PEDs, sign-stealing, and all. This is the one baseball book you have to have.

Play Nice But Win by Michael Dell

Michael Dell's life is fascinating. His mano-a-mano dust-up with Carl Icahn to take his company private and rebuild it according to his vision of a multi-channel tech world is even more fascinating.

Outlawed by Anna North

North's new novel takes us to the old west where a band of barren women and their charismatic leader ride the range as a new Hole in the Wall gang.

 

October 2021

Bewilderment by Richard Powers

Considerably shorter than his blockbuster The Overstory, Powers' new novel tells a good story but buries it too much in esoteric astro-fantasy.

When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash

Another crime novel set in Cash's always complicated South.

A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris

A new novel from the inventive, funny, and slightly sentimental Ferris.

Beauty Mark by Suzanne Cleary

More contemporary poetry from the fringes.

Bones: Inside and Out by Roy A. Meals

Not a clever pseudonym, Meals surname fits this interesting dive into our skeletal frame.

Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas

A bit meta-fictiony, but this is a great little novel about books, publishing, marriage, death, and the intellectual life...European-style.

About Time by David Rooney

Another great Norton nonfiction narrative. Rooney knows (and loves) his clocks...something our kids consider in the same class as typewriters, payphones, stick shifts.

Survival Expo by Caki Wilkinson

And Wilkinson's new collection is as good as the old one.

The Wynona Stone Poems by Caki Wilkinson

I've found another good poet that passed me by. This collection covers the imagined hard luck life of Wynona Stone in a variety of forms, rhythms, and voices. Wilkinson is for real.

The Turnout by Megan Abbott

Abbott's new novel probes the darkness in the world of ballet, blisters, and bulimia...and sisters.

 

September 2021

The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden by Peter L. Bergen

Now that the USA has run up the white flag on its questionable escapade in Afghanistan, Bergen's biography of bin Laden provides some perspective on the chief target of our two-decade misadventure.

Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver

Shriver's superb fiction doesn't shy from the tough questions, and her latest is a wry, thoughtful take on growing old...and, of course, passing on.

Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby

With another drop-dead title after his much-awarded debut Blacktop Wasteland, Cosby continues to explore the lives of blacks navigating the South and its violence and crime.

The Dope by Benjamin T. Smith

Another Norton publishing winner: for perhaps the first time, a serious historian gives us the straight dope on the Mexican dope biz from a humble family farming sideline to a literal cutthroat behemoth protected and skimmed by governments on both sides of the river. Smith covers it all.

The Last Usable Hour by Deborah Landau

I just discovered Deborah Landau with this ten-year-old poetry collection. I want more.

The Bachelor by Andrew Palmer

A clever, haunting, and well-written first novel by a writer to keep an eye on.

Hollywood Eden by Joel Selvin

Longtime SF Chronicle music critic who dissected the Grateful Dead in Fare Thee Well now takes us through those Surfin' Safari  - California Dreamin' days that weren't as euphoric as the music implied.

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan

Tasmanian and Booker Prize-winning Flanagan's new novel is a masterpiece about the threads binding family in an age when everything is unraveling.

Skunk Works by Leo Janos and Ben Rich

My entrepreneur/engineer 30-year-old son convinced me that this 1994 book is a great read. He's right.

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

Cusk's latest short novel is a moody story of a woman coming to grips.

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

The well-regarded novelist Offutt is going after the crime genre to make a few bucks this time. It turns out that this may be his best novel yet...a hillbilly noir story with poignancy and superb characters.