Our 51 Favorite Books of 2022

  • November 28, 2022

We’re loath to proclaim any books "the best" of the year, but these really stuck with us. We hope you enjoy them, too!

Our 51 Favorite Books of 2022

Manifesto: On Never Giving Up by Bernardine Evaristo (Grove Press). Reviewed by Kitty Kelley. “The last section of her book, entitled ‘The self, ambition, transformation, activism,’ echoes the principles of Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, M.D., which was published in 1960 and sold over 30 million copies. The biracial British writer and the late Jewish American physician share the same philosophy: Envision the goal, believe you can accomplish the goal, and then achieve the goal. When Bernardine Evaristo wrote her first novel, Lara, in 1997, she wrote, in part, an affirmation about winning the Booker Prize. Twenty-two years and eight books later, she finally received it. Dreams really do come true.”

Yonder: A Novel by Jabari Asim (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi. “Among the gifts that Jabari Asim provides the reader in his latest novel, Yonder, is that of new language. In a similar vein to Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Water Dancer, offering the concepts of the Tasked and the Quality to describe the enslaved and the enslavers, Asim cuts hard and straight into the heart of the matter and gives us the Stolen and the Thieves.”


Defenestrate: A Novel by Renée Branum (Bloomsbury). Reviewed by Chris Rutledge. “What is most noteworthy about Defenestrate is how the author threads the theme of falling all through the narrative. Scenes unfold and then recur, looping back on themselves. It can be challenging to recall exactly where you — and the characters — are sometimes, but it’s worth the effort to follow along. As a first novel, Defenestrate is impressively powerful. On page after page, Renée Branum manages to entwine the tall tales that shape all families with the real-world fallout those tales can cause. She also does a masterful job of rendering the sensation of falling, of spiraling in the air. The effect, like the novel itself, is spellbinding.”

Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life by James Curtis (Knopf). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “James Curtis’ hefty new Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life is a gift to movie lovers. It’s a gorgeously formatted and produced volume, both precise and exhaustive in tracing the life and creative pursuits of the brilliant comic artist and sometime film director who reached his apogee in the 1920s. It’s perfect for a leisurely read or a stint of index-dipping into the performer’s long life and career.”


Black Cloud Rising: A Novel by David Wright Faladé (Grove Press). Reviewed by Eugene L. Meyer. “More than the Rebels, Richard’s nemesis is another former Etheridge slave, Revere, a fellow sergeant in the African Brigade who leads an unruly band of ‘Maroons,’ descended from fugitive slaves from the Caribbean who inhabit the remote Great Dismal Swamp that straddles the North Carolina-Virginia border. Their mutual antagonism is threaded throughout the narrative, and their dramatic final confrontation brings Richard face to face with the truth about himself and his place as a Black man in white America.” 

The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth by Ben Rawlence (St. Martin’s Press). Reviewed by Julie Dunlap. “The Treeline is much more than a grand adventure with a grim message. Elegant writing on the latest research and traditional worldviews reveals glimmers of hope in dark, frozen forests. If our actions can cause such profound disruption in the geological blink of an eye, surely we can change our behavior to heal it. Ben Rawlence has given us, if not a signposted path to a more benignant future, at least a compass direction: north.”

When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East: A Novel by Quan Barry (Pantheon). Reviewed by Sally Shivnan. “The Buddhism the novel explores is in constant dialogue with 21st-century questions and with the irresistible force of global pop culture — even in the middle of the Gobi Desert or the Altai Mountains. Chuluun wears the digital watch his mentor gave him; other monks have iPhones and spending money and Facebook friends; and foreign tourists are beginning to appear in the most untouched parts of Mongolia. This tension between the old world and the new is one of the book’s many dualities. Mongolia’s iconic hero Chinggis Khaan provides another. His greatness is a material, earth-bound thing, while Buddhist teachings are of the air; he offers an alternative worldview to that of the monks.”

Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age by Dennis Duncan (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski. “When it comes to finding information quickly, what would the bookish world do without that veritable workhorse, the index? For centuries, the humble index has pointed readers toward their desired information conveniently and quickly, but its fascinating origins in the monasteries and universities of medieval Europe is not a fact readily known. Until now, that is. In Dennis Duncan’s Index, A History of the, the genesis of this critical yet often invisible element of the book is revealed with impish insight and erudition.”

Chilean Poet: A Novel by Alejandro Zambra; translated by Megan McDowell (Viking). Reviewed by John P. Loonam. “If you’re interested in poetry, Chilean Poet offers a mini introduction to contemporary Chilean work…If you’re not particularly intrigued by poetry, the community and characters portrayed here, and the ebb and flow of their relationships, will keep you reading anyway. Zambra’s frequent, sudden weaving in of pop-culture references — from Raymond Carver and Amy Winehouse to ‘Finding Nemo’ and Guns N’ Roses — only adds to the liveliness. Taken together, it all gives Chilean Poet an irresistible richness and the feel of an adventure — without once leaving the neighborhood.”

Glory: A Novel by NoViolet Bulawayo (Viking). Reviewed by Susi Wyss. “At 400 pages, Glory is also more than triple the length of Animal Farm and much more ambitious, rife with themes of sorcery and the supernatural, tribalism, and the subjugation of women. Bulawayo touches on the topics of trauma passing from generation to generation; history repeating itself, especially when people romanticize the past; the internet providing an escape into alternate reality while also serving as a tool for dissent; and evangelists not only supporting corrupt leaders but also co-exploiting their own followers.”

Border Less: A Novel by Namrata Poddar (7.13 Books). Reviewed by Alice Stephens. “In another unconventional move, foreign words, cultural references, and other details unfamiliar to the average American reader are left unitalicized and undefined. Rather, they are incorporated into the English text in the hybrid language of an immigrant culture. Song lyrics, Bollywood movies, food, holidays, deities, regional accents, and so much more proliferate with no explanation of their significance to the reader unfamiliar with Indian and Indian American culture. This forces the reader to pay attention, which they should be doing anyway, and deduce meanings through context clues and a little imagination. If the reader is so motivated, she can look up some of the words later, as I did lehenga and haveli, but it’s not necessary for the understanding of the action, plot, or themes.”

My Fourth Time, We Drowned: Seeking Refuge on the World’s Deadliest Migration Route by Sally Hayden (Melville House). Reviewed by C.B. Santore. “The Libyan government has collapsed. Militias vie for control of the country. People fleeing war, famine, and ethnic violence are stranded there and caught in a web of human smugglers, international red tape, and political machinations. The UN and the EU are ineffective and unable — or unwilling — to help. This may sound like the introduction to a new thriller, but it is the context for a real-life humanitarian disaster unfolding in Libya and the subject of Sally Hayden’s My Fourth Time, We Drowned: Seeking Refuge on the World’s Deadliest Migration Route.”

End of the World House: A Novel by Adrienne Celt (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Michael Maiello. “The adventure and the relationships play out as the characters, cocooned, are able to explore their own stories. But author Celt always reminds us of the outside world. Tech companies and their billionaire owners still reign. Consumerism and Instagram endure. But Americans rarely travel abroad because there’s terrorism — including dirty bombs — everywhere. The rainforests have been burned. Huge chunks of the icecaps melt; gas, electricity, and water are rationed. Society is about to collapse, yet people continue on as if nothing’s wrong.”

When I Sing, Mountains Dance: A Novel by Irene Solà; translated by Mara Faye Lethem (Graywolf Press). Reviewed by Mike Maggio. “As you might suspect, When I Sing, Mountains Dance is not a typical novel, nor does it read like one. At times, it is poetic and metaphorical; at other times, it reverberates like a magic-mushroom trip inspired by those chanterelles, the heroes of an entire chapter. And they’re not the only objects/characters to merit their own section. The book also boasts chapters called ‘Fear’ and ‘Poetry.’ And then there is ‘Crunch,’ whose visual presentation evolves into what you might call an exemplar of post-modernism. Yet post-modern the novel is not.”

Thin Places: A Natural History of Healing and Home by Kerri ní Dochartaigh (Milkweed Editions). Reviewed by Gretchen Lida. “Ní Dochartaigh is from Derry, the second-largest city in Northern Ireland and the scene of much of the Troubles’ bloodshed (and the setting for the Netflix hit ‘Derry Girls’). When the author was a child, a soldier was shot in front of her. When she was a preteen, her home was gas bombed. Ní Dochartaigh’s family splintered after that, and the experiences fractured her sense of wellbeing as she entered adulthood. Accounts of substance abuse and struggles with mental illness — both the author’s and her peers’ — litter the pages of the book.”

A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson (Inkyard Press). Reviewed by Emma Carbone. “A Forgery of Roses combines art, fantasy, and a truly surprising mystery with authentic and respectful representations of anxiety and chronic illness — both of which are seen as points of strength rather than flaws. Myra and August’s romance and a final act filled with the surprise twists that are a hallmark of the best gothic literature further enhance this story in which a picture is worth much more than a thousand words.”

Vile Spirits: A Mystery by John MacLachlan Gray (Douglas & McIntyre). Reviewed by Jethro K. Lieberman. “Meanwhile, Crombie is overheard making a shocking confession during a secret tryst. And that’s less than half of it. Mildred files a lawsuit, and McCurdy disappears again amid whispers of a pending lobotomy. And that’s still not all of it. From its first pages, Vile Spirits pulls the reader along its wry cavalcade of anarchy, des­per­a­tion, intrigue, coincidence, and frenzy through scenes set by a playwright with an eye for staging and an ear for deadpan dialogue. Stifle your temptation to race toward its startling denouement. Read slowly and savor it from the start.”

My Old Kentucky Home: The Astonishing Life and Reckoning of an Iconic American Song by Emily Bingham (Knopf). Reviewed by Stephen M. Vest. “Despite the reality that Foster, who wrote many minstrel songs, tried in ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ to present slavery as carefree while also telling a wrenching story of an enslaved man being sold to die in the sugarcane fields of the Deep South, the fact remains that ‘the song was sung by white men in blackface for years, entertaining white audiences,’ writes Bingham. Yet her book is not an attempt to distance her beloved home state from its problematic song; it’s an effort to understand both as fully as possible. ‘People think I’m out to destroy the song, [but] I wouldn’t have written a book about it if that were the case,’ explains Bingham, a self-described ‘dedicated Kentuckian.’”

Sleepwalk: A Novel by Dan Chaon (Henry Holt and Co.). Reviewed by Alice Stephens. “As Billy embarks upon that quintessentially American journey, the road trip, he visits significant figures from his past and slowly begins to connect the dots of his fractured history to understand his true identity. Why was his sperm so highly prized that it fetched six-figure prices at auction? Is Cammie real or an AI bot built to lure him into the open? Who sired him? These thoughts lead him to larger questions: What obligations does a sperm donor have to his unknown offspring, and vice-versa? What is family? What is genetic identity?”

Ma and Me: A Memoir by Putsata Reang (MCD). Reviewed by Kitty Kelley. “William Faulkner would tip his hat to such a writer [as Reang]. He hoped that his Nobel acceptance ‘might be listened to by the young men and young women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will someday stand where I am standing.’ Putsata Reang, born decades after Faulkner’s speech, might just be a contender.”


City on Fire: A Novel by Don Winslow (William Morrow). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “Winslow builds his novel on this Homeric foundation, the catastrophic struggle for ancient Troy triggered when Trojan prince Paris woos away the bride of Spartan king Menelaus. But Winslow’s primary model in his updated version seems not to be The Iliad but Virgil, Homer’s latter-day Roman heir, whose Aeneid describes the fraught escape of the defeated Trojans from their burning city. For this reader, a former schoolboy Latinist nurtured on Virgil, Winslow’s reanimation of these towering shades plays out as richly original, believable, and inspiring. It’s also subtly integrated into a modern-age narrative.”

I Was the President’s Mistress!! by Miguel Syjuco (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Mark Gamin. “Syjuco’s debut novel, Ilustrado, winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize, reads very much like a first effort from a precocious author almost too smart and talented for his own good. And there’s some of that here, too. But for the reader willing to put in the work, I Was the President’s Mistress!! will repay the effort with an unexpected, twisty story full of extraordinary writerly technique. And it offers Vita Nova, too. A magnificent creation.”    

Jackie and Me: A Novel by Louis Bayard (Algonquin). Interview by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi. “Oh, yeah, this is the first time I’ve written about people who are still alive — Robert Kennedy Junior, for instance (who has surely by now disappointed every hope that Lem had for him). What made it easier, I guess, is that they’re relatively minor in the story. But, of course, there are a lot of people alive who still remember Jack and Jackie and Lem. I meet them at every bookstore. What it comes down to is I’m just telling a story that happens to have real people in it. They do what the story needs them to do.”

We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies: A Novel by Tsering Yangzom Lama (Bloomsbury). Reviewed by Alice Stephens. “Throughout, author Lama masterfully conjures Tibetan culture, the country’s annexation by China, the travails of the Tibetan diaspora, the majestic mountain landscape of Tibet, and the claustrophobia and despair of a refugee settlement. The plot is well crafted and tight, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader engaged until its emotional end. Her prose is beautiful, and she deftly folds the unfamiliar in with the familiar so that the reader can easily deduce the meaning of untranslated words and unknown cultural practices.”

Ordinary Monsters: A Novel by J.M. Miro (Flatiron Books). Reviewed by Chris Rutledge. “Entrancing backstories and sufferings drive Ordinary Monsters. Marlowe, for one, has lost several parental figures; Komako has lost her sister; and even the villainous Jacob has lost his brother, a tragedy that ignites his own cycle of wrongdoing. Part of why the novel works is that these characters are fleshed out and have robust identities. Readers will care about them. The other winning element is that the story hinges so thoroughly on the ambiguous nature of good and evil. Is Dr. Berghast evil for wanting to control the portal to death or good for working to protect the talents from it? Is Jacob evil for using his powers to subdue the children or good for seeking to inoculate them against things more horrible than he? Is the glyphic who guards the portal a force for good or merely enslaved by its role?”

The Winning Ticket: Uncovering America’s Biggest Lottery Scam by Rob Sand with Reid Forgrave (Potomac Books). Reviewed by Paul D. Pearlstein. “It was only after the trial that the prosecutor learned the Iowa Hot Lotto rigging was not a one-off. Computer geek Tipton had been orchestrating substantial lottery payouts, mostly for his brother and friends, across multiple states for years. How? By embedding code he’d written into the computers in his care. The program allowed Tipton to pre-select the winning numbers for specific dates in particular states. This revelation made it possible to again indict Tipton, this time along with his brother and their associates. As details of the scam were uncovered, Sand was able to get confessions from the guilty parties. Prison sentences ensued.”  

Now Lila Knows: A Novel by Elizabeth Nunez (Akashic Books). Reviewed by Beth Mowbray. “Where Nunez really soars is in stressing the significance of raising your voice, no matter who you are or how much you think it won’t help. She shouts at the top of her lungs that doing the right thing is critical even — especially — when it’s hard, because “once you know, there is no unknowing.” Action must extend from knowledge. Now Lila Knows is smoothly written and easy to read, but don’t let that mislead you; its content is anything but simple to digest. The novel echoes real life and captures a critical moment in our history. While its approach is overly direct at times, the story is nonetheless important and powerful. Days after finishing, you may find it still tickling the back of your mind.”

The Monster’s Bones: The Discovery of T. Rex and How It Shook Our World by David K. Randall (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution may have sparked a maelstrom of religious and scientific controversy, but it also ignited a furious quest among prestige cultural institutions for dinosaur fossils. The Monster’s Bones offers a vivid, propulsive account of this late-19th-century phenomenon. There was frenetic competition — institutional, interpersonal, and often cutthroat — not only in the gritty wastelands of the American West but also in the boardrooms of upstart Gilded Age museums. Its principals: stiff-collared museum directors, a raft of self-styled authorities in the new science of paleontology, and several notable robber barons, not to mention a scattering of intrepid fossil hunters.”

Mid-Air: Two Novellas by Victoria Shorr (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by Patricia Schultheis. “Victoria Shorr’s Mid-Air is not the proverbial but elusive Great American Novel. Rather, it is two great American novellas and two very different, unique perspectives from which to consider the tug of America’s past and the pull of its opportunities. Alone, either of these affecting stories would have been an engrossing read; together, they offer a motherlode of questions and issues, not to mention wonderful fodder for book groups.”

The Martins: A Novel by David Foenkinos; translated by Sam Taylor (Gallic Books). Reviewed by John P. Loonam. “If there is a weakness in the book, it is ascribable to life as much as literature. Our true stories rarely line up for satisfying endings the way great fiction does, and the action here stops with none of the storylines fully resolved. Some take surprising and funny turns, while others feel arbitrarily cut off or barely started. However, I was not disappointed. I could see the kinds of future challenges the characters will face, understand how they might face them, and sense how their outlook has been affected by being the subject, for a time, of fiction. Many novels give me something to think about only until I start the next one. With The Martins, David Foenkinos has created a work I’ll continue pondering long after I’ve picked up another book. That’s action and adventure enough to keep the pages turning.”

The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham: Home Runs, Bad Calls, Crazy Fights, Big Swings, and a Hit by Ron Shelton (Knopf). Reviewed by Daniel de Visé. “Charlie Sheen, a List-worthy actor, passed on the role of Nuke. Someone at the studio wanted Anthony Michael Hall, the lovable geek from ‘Sixteen Candles,’ but Hall made clear to Shelton that he wasn’t motivated. Robbins won the role by demonstrating a quick chemistry with Costner. Sarandon then announced she was flying to Los Angeles whether the studio wanted her or not. ‘This was an Annie-like move, which we appreciated, motivated by discovering she wasn’t on The Damn List,’ Shelton writes. ‘Bull Durham’ emerged as a lusty romantic romp and a sports movie for the ages: one of the only great sports movies, in fact, scripted to appeal to women as much as to men.”

The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Novel by Monique Roffey (Knopf). Reviewed by Sally Shivnan. “A wealthy American and his law-student son head to the Caribbean for a little sport-fishing action and get a whole lot more than they bargained for when they snag a mermaid. This premise may sound outlandish, but the strange magic in The Mermaid of Black Conch is the best kind — wondrous, amazing to all who encounter it, but utterly real. So real that the novel’s characters have no choice but to accept it and ride the wave of trouble that it brings. As in other works of magical realism, the miraculous here is woven into the fabric of ordinary life, but one thing that’s different about Monique Roffey’s lauded book is that its characters — from the Americans to the locals who befriend (or, in some cases, threaten or resent) the mermaid — recognize the magic as thoroughly implausible.”

Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos (Catapult). Reviewed by Antoaneta Tileva. “Indeed, while male navel-gazing has been valorized as the kindling for many a Great American Novel, when the introspection comes from women, it is scorned as so much whining no one wants to hear about yet again. (No wonder the words ‘histrionics’ and ‘hysteria’ sound so similar.) Febos makes an impassioned defense of self-reflection as a subversive act that personifies the notion ‘the personal is political.’ Further, the freedom it creates benefits not just the writer but society. From it, we all wrest a bit more license to be honest about our truths.”

Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire & Revolution in the Borderlands by Kelly Lytle Hernández (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by Elizabeth J. Moore. “It may seem a truism that the histories of the U.S. and Mexico are intertwined (after all, much of this country once belonged to Mexico), yet most Americans are ignorant of this integral part of our past. In her eye-opening Bad Mexicans, Kelly Lytle Hernández seeks to raise awareness of this connection through her account of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920…And the United States itself would be transformed by the revolution — from economic and societal changes catalyzed by an influx of Mexican refugees to the creation of the FBI (originally tasked with tracking the Mexican dissidents).”

The Godmother: Murder, Vengeance, and the Bloody Struggle of Mafia Women by Barbie Latza Nadeau (Penguin Books). Reviewed by Eric Dezenhall. “Nadeau makes clear with extensive documentation that female clan bosses are no less brutal than their masculine counterparts. When asked about the deployment of rape as a punishment, Pupetta said — without irony — that it’s only used when it’s ‘deserved.’ Indeed, one line of thinking is that women make better enforcers than men because they are more aware of how best to destroy a family. Some of the punitive actions taken are too disturbing to recount here and make the American Mafia look like guidance counselors.”

Saving Freud: The Rescuers Who Brought Him to Freedom by Andrew Nagorski (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Kitty Kelley. “Lights! Camera! Action! Andrew Nagorski’s Saving Freud ought to be coming to a theater near you. This nonfiction work crackles like a novel and sparks with the razzle-dazzle of a big-screen extravaganza: an unforgettable cast of characters (think ‘The Dirty Dozen’), spine-tingling suspense (‘The Day of the Jackal’), a death-defying savior (maybe ‘Mephisto’), and Nazis — the epitome of evil.”

The Last Karankawas: A Novel by Kimberly Garza (Henry Holt & Co.). Reviewed by Ellen Prentiss Campbell. “Meteorologists say Atlantic hurricane activity last month was unusually quiet. Though The Last Karankawas was published August 9th — was fated to be published, Magdalena might say — during this ominous lull in storm activity, it arrived in a season nonetheless marked by other disasters in Texas, including the massacre in Garza’s hometown, Uvalde. It’s fitting, then, that her novel offers such an immersive experience of a particular complex community which is both beautiful and dangerous — embodied by Galveston’s oleander trees, whose stunning blossoms are poisonous. The Last Karankawas reflects and speaks to our present destabilized moment with storm-level intensity.”

Bliss Montage: Stories by Ling Ma (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Molly McGinnis. “The characters in Ling Ma’s Bliss Montage navigate a slipstream version of Earth as we know it; tales of recreational drugs with superpower side effects or foreign lands with strange rituals of rebirth are tempered by sharp and familiar domestic details. Each story adds to recurring themes of immigration and violence that reflect the book’s deepest questions; Bliss Montage is an inquiry into origins and dislocation.”


Bridge to the Sun: The Secret Role of the Japanese Americans Who Fought in the Pacific in World War II by Bruce Henderson (Knopf). Reviewed by Eugene L. Meyer. “Consider the ambivalence many of the Americans of Japanese descent must have felt enlisting to fight for the country that was simultaneously incarcerating their parents, brothers, and sisters. It would almost be akin to German Jewish refugees interrogating American POWs on behalf of the Nazis while their own relatives were in concentration camps. German Jewish refugees who joined the U.S. Army could take pride in fighting against a genocidal regime, but how could Japanese American soldiers feel the same? Henderson attempts to answer these essential questions by focusing on six young men who graduated from the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Camp Savage, Minnesota, and went on to play critical roles in the battles of South Asia-Burma, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, the Admiralty Islands, and the remote Aleutian Islands of Alaska.”

Kibogo by Scholastique Mukasonga; translated by Mark Polizzotti (Archipelago). Reviewed by Susi Wyss. “Still, the reader doesn’t need to understand every word, know exactly who or what Kibogo is, or be certain of what ultimately happened to Akayezu and Mukamwezi to recognize the very real, dark forces underpinning the book. There may be a lot of tall tales in Kibogo, but there are others we know to be true: the exploitation of Rwanda by the white man during colonialism and beyond, and the battle between the white man’s religion and Rwandan culture and beliefs. It is these truths that remain on our minds long after the fire dies down and the storytelling is done.”

Blood & Ink: The Scandalous Jazz Age Double Murder that Hooked America on True Crime by Joe Pompeo (William Morrow). Reviewed by Dean Jobb. “His research is exhaustive, his command of details complete, the narrative fast paced and captivating. The chance discovery of a trove of case records in the basement of a New Brunswick home in 2019 — thousands of pages of witness statements and grand jury transcripts — injects new material and fresh insights into his account. The result is first-rate historical true crime. Were the testimony of an erratic eyewitness and a tabloid’s sleuthing and exposés enough to convict? Don’t Google the answer. Immerse yourself in Blood & Ink and time-travel with Joe Pompeo back to the Jazz Age to find out.”

Lessons: A Novel by Ian McEwan (Knopf). Reviewed by Holly Smith. “Although it’s a few years before whatever it is they have morphs into a full-on affair (fueled, in part, by the Cuban Missile Crisis and its promise of widespread annihilation), Roland is still a minor, Miriam is still an adult, and the reader is still horrified. The psychological and sexual fallout will haunt the boy all his life. Except that it doesn’t. Not really. Were this a typical contemporary novel, the Very Bad Thing would define its protagonist, muting all that came before and dictating all that follows. The plot would hinge on our hero recognizing the Very Bad Thing as the organizing fact of his life and then overcoming it. By that triumph, we would know him. But McEwan isn’t having it. Instead, he seems to suggest, it’s the accumulated moments both pivotal and pedestrian that make the man. No single incident is ever the whole story.”

The Book of Goose: A Novel by Yiyun Li (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Patricia Schultheis. “The Book of Goose is not as intriguing as a narrative as it is as a vehicle for fundamental inquiries. Just as Fabienne challenges Agnès by asking whether it’s possible to grow happiness, Yiyun Li presents her readers with a fascinating question: What is real — the stories the world concocts about us or the ones we fabricate about ourselves?”


Shrines of Gaiety: A Novel by Kate Atkinson (Doubleday). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “If you’re a fan of historical fiction, you might take Kate Atkinson’s latest for a spin. It’s outstanding. Set in 1920s London, Shrines of Gaiety is aswarm with the playful, oh-so-familiar devices of popular storytelling, and Atkinson lays them on thick: confused identities, narrowly missed encounters, and fateful intersections of happenstance and luck. These authorial shenanigans support a narrative voice that’s distinct from the Scottish novelist’s earlier work; it’s a stylistic departure slick with misdirection and sly reversals of expectation. These strokes enrich, rather than distract from, Atkinson’s neatly wrought storyline.”

Thistlefoot: A Novel by GennaRose Nethercott (Anchor). Reviewed by Patricia S. Gormley. “The simplicity of Nethercott’s premise belies the richness of her work. She has crafted in Thistlefoot a quirky and heartbreaking journey through time and space that not only engrosses readers but reminds them what it means to be part of a story — particularly one as important as is shared here. Stories about stories are my favorite kind of stories. They are also remarkably tricky to execute, but the author employs her own brand of magic to create a new mythology that will live in your mind as if it’s always been there. She recognizes that stories mean different things even to the people in them, and that they help define us as individuals, as members of groups, and as participants in (or observers of) historical events.”

Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A-Z of Literary Persuasion by Louise Willder (Oneworld Publications). Reviewed by Carrie Callaghan. “Book covers often include both critical praise (like from the Independent, ahem) and praise from other authors (our American-style blurbs). The latter might seem ‘like an endless merry-go-round of hype, mutual back-slapping and back-scratching.’ But, ever congenial, Willder gently suggests that even such favor-trading can be helpful to consumers, serving as ‘a signal to the reader that the sort of writer they like also likes this thing.’ Even if, she admits wincingly, perhaps the person praising the book hasn’t actually read it.”

Somewhere Sisters: A Story of Adoption, Identity, and the Meaning of Family by Erika Hayasaki (Algonquin). Reviewed by Alice Stephens. “Further centering the adoptee experience, Hayasaki interviews prominent adoptees in the transracial and intercountry adoptee community, academics, and critical adoption-studies scholars…Somewhere Sisters should be required reading for anyone considering intercountry and/or transracial adoption. Even-handed and balanced, Hayasaki’s book is a vivid, searing portrait of the complex realities behind the simple saviorism that is so often the impetus for foreign adoptions.”

Unnatural Creatures: A Novel of the Frankenstein Women by Kris Waldherr (Muse Publications). Reviewed by Samantha Silva. “Abandonment and loss are everywhere in Kris Waldherr’s Unnatural Creatures, a gripping historical novel that vividly imagines the untold stories of the ‘Frankenstein women’ — Victor Frankenstein’s mother, Caroline Beaufort; his fiancée, Elizabeth Lavenza; and Justine Moritz, a young girl cruelly rejected by her own mother who becomes a beloved maidservant to the Frankenstein family and nanny to young William Frankenstein…By putting the under-voiced women in the spotlight — a flourishing trend in historical fiction — Waldherr illuminates Shelley’s great work while inventing her own powerfully moving tale.”

Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad by Matthew F. Delmont (Viking). Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski. “Ultimately, through his prodigious research and chronicling of myriad Black voices, Matthew Delmont shows readers ‘what it means to dissent in a democracy.’ Half American bestows a fresh assessment of — and appreciation for — the Black soldiers and civilians who fought extraordinarily hard so ‘that no one would ever again be treated as half American.’”

American Caliph: The True Story of a Muslim Mystic, a Hollywood Epic, and the 1977 Siege of Washington, DC by Shahan Mufti (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Paul D. Pearlstein. “The trials of the Black Mafia and the Hanafis are covered to great effect in American Caliph. Mufti, a journalist, uses sound research to bring the details and emotions of the events vividly to life. For those of us who lived in DC at the time of the sieges, the book is a stark reminder of how lucky we were that more blood wasn’t shed. The peaceful resolution of the crisis was a tribute to the police, the prosecutors, the court, the religious leaders, the ambassadors, and the many community members who all stepped up to help.”

The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern: A Novel by Rita Zoey Chin (‎Melville House). Reviewed by Mike Maggio. “Rarely does a novel come along that charms the reader from its very first page. Even rarer is the story that maintains its allure throughout and transports you to places you’ve never been. The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern is one of those rarities, a book as magical as the characters it depicts. From a carnival in Alabama to a coven of witches (think Glinda) that travels from place to place, and even to points in an expansive Wiccan spiral, Rita Zoey Chin’s debut novel takes readers on an enchanting emotional journey that will leave you captivated to the very end.”

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