7 Best-Reviewed Books in January 2019

  • February 6, 2019

We came, we read, we gushed. Here’s a recap of the titles that left us especially warm and swoony this past month.


Big Week: The Biggest Air Battle of World War II by James Holland (Atlantic Monthly Press). Reviewed by Paul Dickson. “Holland is a master of narrative. His combat scenes are crisp and evocative, and he does a masterful job of putting the reader in the cockpit with the men on all sides fighting this war. Anyone with more than a passing interest in WWII will find this book invaluable in understanding how the war was won and how many airmen sacrificed their lives to win the battle that led to victory. Men from both sides who lived (and often died) come alive through stories Holland skillfully coaxes from interviews, oral histories, diaries, and official records.”

The Splendor Before the Dark: A Novel of the Emperor Nero by Margaret George (Berkley). Reviewed by Y.S. Fing. “George is masterful with narrative, but the reader is likely to recognize the various times the dialogue sounds like 20th-century Hollywood, with repetition that might judiciously have been edited out. The Nero novels are big, long books that are somehow also quick, easy beach reads. And, still, the reader feels virtuous for learning about history while examining the prurience of the Caesars. And, most surprising, you may well wish that things had turned out better for Nero.”

White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar (Dzanc Books). Reviewed by Gretchen Lida. “The stories sometimes feel as if they’re working as a form of deconstruction, taking the notion of colonialism and smashing it. Other times, they read like protest art, training our eyes on both the perfect and the disturbing. Many are tales of Indian-American immigrants; clothing, words, food, and social norms swirl amid the profound complexity of the immigrant experience. Storylines flit back and forth between places, showing how characters thousands of miles away can have a huge impact through absence alone.”

The Wartime Sisters: A Novel by Lynda Cohen Loigman (St. Martin’s Press). Reviewed by Philip K. Jason. “Though ‘melodramatic’ is often used in a pejorative sense, it’s a term that works well to characterize The Wartime Sisters. The novel has a theatrical feel, often choosing dialogue as its primary storytelling tool. The narrative certainly will stir readers’ imaginations and emotions. Moreover, Lynda Cohen Loigman’s portrait of the Springfield Armory complex as a physical and sociological environment is superb.”

A Dangerous Duet: A Novel by Karen Odden (William Morrow Paperbacks). Reviewed by K.L. Romo. “Reading about a young woman courageous enough to pursue her passion in an era of misogyny and restriction made me thankful for how far women have come, even knowing how far we have yet to go. A Dangerous Duet is a lyrical tune whose words demand equality and justice.”

The Heavens: A Novel by Sandra Newman (Grove Press). Reviewed by Elena Mikalsen. “The Heavens blends elements of speculative, historical, and literary fiction with mastery. I enjoyed Newman’s humor, eccentric descriptions, and period dialogue. The most impressive aspect of the novel, however, is the author’s ability to portray the fluidity of Kate and Ben’s reality. I found myself lost in it as much as the characters were and desperate for reassurance at the end. I strongly recommend The Heavens as an intelligent and superbly entertaining read.”

The Current: A Novel by Tim Johnston (Algonquin Books). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “Tim Johnston’s gripping second novel is much more than a skillfully constructed, beautifully written whodunit. It’s a subtle and lyrical acclamation of the heart and spirit of small-town America. The Current is not your conventional, frenetically paced page-turner, although it smolders with a brooding, slow-burn tension that nudges the reader forward, catching you up in the lives of the troubled solitaries at the book’s core.”

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