Bruce Jacobs reading archive

May 2022

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.