PositiveNPR... an almost-too-fitting natural history for this year ... Donwood\'s illustrations, crosshatched like a century of scratching, are particularly suited to this half, with glimpses of suitably ominous nature and abandoned architecture ... Unlike some of Macfarlane\'s other works (many of which deal with nature as a factor of both people and time), this is not a history; you might well be spurred to further research, but Ghostways is designed to evoke more than inform, and often echoes what you bring to it ... an examination of just that; grief as a landscape that moves on without us, and the fragility of the green world we\'re longing to go back to.
RaveNPRThe momentum of Bring Up the Bodies gives way here to something heavier and darker, slow but no less effective for it. (There\'s no rush. At some point, isn\'t the future just more of the past, except that now you recognize the oncoming disasters you can do nothing about?) ... brings immediacy to every corner of its world; details never vanish no matter how many pile up. Mantel negotiates this dread the same way she negotiates Cromwell\'s ceaseless mental inventory of his household and the things and people in it: a vein of historical minutiae, a signal that now he has to approach even himself like an estate, and the far-off sound of the storm ... marks a triumphant end to a spellbinding story.
PositiveNPROn the Backs of Tortoises can be tough reading, with very few answers for some very pressing questions about culture, politics, and blackberries (an invasive species whose presence on the island is a growing problem) ... But this book isn\'t meant to offer easy answers ... This book works...beginning with a gripping history and then delving deeper—the world of the Galapagos becomes more complicated as we go, until we understand the underpinnings of any decision (almond milk or otherwise). It\'s a book about the ways we need to understand how deeply everything is entangled, and just how far down it goes. The result is a well-researched and thought-provoking read—whether you\'re well-versed in the intricacies of conservation or have only just begun to long for a look at the tortoises yourself. On the Backs of Tortoises is a natural history that asks important questions, and challenges us to think about how best to answer them.
RaveNPR... assured, gripping and stylish ... the tale of an empire, and in its smallest a character study, and part of debut novelist Anne Leckie\'s achievement is how she handles her protagonists in both of those contexts ... Though framed like \'70s grindhouse — there was a setup, and someone\'s out to clean the slate — things unfold studiously, reminiscent of the deliberation underscoring Ursula Le Guin\'s The Left Hand of Darkness ... Each character adds texture to the picture that slowly emerges ... The universe of Ancillary Justice is complex, murky and difficult to navigate — no bad thing, as Leckie\'s deft sketches hint at worlds beyond, none of them neat ... A space opera that skillfully handles both choruses and arias, Ancillary Justice is an absorbing thousand-year history, a poignant personal journey, and a welcome addition to the genre.
PositiveNPR... it\'s the excerpts from diaries and letters that make this more than an exercise in historical rubbernecking ... a humanizing glimpse into the individuals behind the very careful performances being given at balls and lends some emotional weight to the geometry of a season, a straight line designed to pass a young woman from her father to her husband ... But don\'t let the evening gloves fool you — this is a tense history of deep social change ... Luckily, Richardson has a wry touch with even the most mercenary moments ... It\'s an ongoing tug of war between money, race, class, culture and tradition, and The Season makes sparkling work of it, even for those who have never seen a curtsy in their life.
MixedNPRPtacin has an eye for how to balance the loving (occasionally breathless) portraits of practitioners with the inevitable surreality of the situation ... though Ptacin clearly takes note of the sage, the Buddhas, the name-the-chakras singalong set to \'Do Re Mi\' (a chilling thought), she never presses her subjects about the ways modern Spiritualism borrows deeply from Indigenous and Eastern traditions with little but some lip service in return. Even when attending a powwow...there\'s precious little perspective to be found from the people from whom Spiritualism and its related trends have so liberally—and profitably—borrowed. That Ptacin left such topics untouched can give the social history the air of a scrapbook from a beloved summer camp rather than a particularly journalistic endeavor. But that\'s not a surprise; even in her moments of ambivalence, she\'s deeply sincere about the residents of Camp Etna, and her desire to understand Spiritualism and, inevitably, herself. Luckily, she brings a dry eye with her for the detail work, and even if things wrap a little neatly, at its best The In-Betweens captures its own chaotic energy—a flawed community of colorful characters whose generational or ideological differences can usually be smoothed over in the name of healing, belonging, and walking your cat.
RaveNPRThe author\'s historical and environmental research is painstaking; coastal villages, whaling boats, Russian prisons, and American mining camps all come alive with detail. But the Arctic is measured by echoes and dramatic shifts — in seasons, in animals, in people and their politics — and the triumph of this book is how carefully Demuth pulls seemingly disparate threads together into a net of actions and consequences from which neither the whales, nor the Yupik, nor our children can escape. Nothing happens easily, and so no history is easily told...It can make for brutal reading ... Demuth deftly cycles back through space and time, from whales to walrus, gold miners to conservationists, tracks that could seem parallel but all slowly pull together under lyrical, measured writing ... it\'s hard to view Floating Coast as anything but a eulogy. But though Demuth accepts the crushing losses — to cultures and to the natural world — this is not a story about giving up hope. It is a deeply studied, deeply felt book that lays out a devastating but complex history of change, notes what faces us now, and dares us to imagine better.
PositiveNPRThrough personal interviews, first-person accounts, and established histories, Satow provides an energetic timeline that embraces the chaos of history ... The details are dramatic — whether charming or staggering — and though the game of investor hot-potato gets complicated, there are plenty of colorful asides that ground the story in particulars ... The Plaza reads like the biography of a distant relative as much as the history of a landmark building; the hotel feels alive to anyone who loves it. It\'s a wild and sometimes vicious life, but so affectionately told that you might come out of the chaos still wanting to visit the old place, after all.
MixedNPRA book revisiting 19th century advice about dangerous medical hooey, women as dedicated vessels for childbearing, and the enduring convenience of Boys Will (or Must) Be Boys has its work cut out for it in wringing out the laughs ... tries its hardest, with mixed results ... As before, there are some amazing finds amid the research ... But by attempting to cover a bit of everything, the overall effect is somewhat disjointed, and more than once, Oneill drags the Socratic reader into some rather forced ignorance that strains the premise at the edges ... It all makes for some odd reading ... Readers were up for a little gallows humor about gender roles old and new in Unmentionable. Ungovernable is a more difficult topic to broach, coming in at a fraught time. As Oneill acknowledges more than once, a lot of the norms of Victorian child raising are just too dire for much comedy. In its best moments, the book connects past to present; in others, there\'s just not much to laugh about. The wretched details are as relevant as ever, but diving through Ungovernable may require a strong stomach.
PositiveNPR\"... Sonia Purnell\'s A Woman of No Importance is a gripping take ... Purnell smooths a staggering cast and timeline into a brisk narrative. And though Hall\'s impact is astonishing, the book makes clear how many people a Resistance requires ... Stakes are rarely an issue in a book about WWII; its rhythms are a shorthand, and we\'ve come to expect hairy near-misses, unlikely escapes, and devastating double agents. Still, Purnell finds fresh dread in the growing efficacy of surveillance, the Vichy regime\'s tactics, and propaganda campaigns ... Purnell\'s picture of a postwar world is a fractured, ethically muddy arena of conflicting operations, and we\'re left without much sense of what Hall thought of those assignments — some of which pitted her against factions she\'d worked with during the war ... A very smooth read about a rocky life, A Woman of No Importance is a compelling biography of a masterful spy, and a reminder of what can be done with a few brave people — and a little resistance.\
PositiveNPR\"Makes smart use of the world that Sorcerer introduced; it isn\'t necessary to read Sorcerer to follow the state of English magic, and The True Queen\'s shift in perspective offers more than just Easter eggs to the returning reader. Prunella\'s confident carelessness, which the first book tended to blithely skim over, takes on a sharper edge through Muna\'s eyes ... Cho occasionally pulls back from the full impact of the magical stakes, which can rob some of the grander moments of gravitas. However, the novel\'s heart is less concerned with bloodthirsty fairy contracts than it is in young ladies creating magical simulacrums just to get out of paying polite visits, and what that means for the family reputation ... While it can feel as if the full promise of family complications is swallowed by more pressing plot concerns, there are still plenty of enjoyable set pieces, and reading the clever deployment of weaponized manners never gets old; in Cho\'s charming prose, The True Queen weaves a very pleasant spell indeed.\
PositiveNPR\"Leckie has a knack for constructing conflicts where bureaucracy is the primary field of battle, and here she gives governance the epic-fantasy treatment ... [Leckie\'s approach is] deeply focused world-building as well as a handy character shortcut — there\'s nothing quite so immediately illuminating as seeing how a character works around, or bristles under, the political status quo ... Eolo, the soldier and ad-hoc royal advisor at the heart of the story, is an engaging subject ... [The book is] also a concentrated study — the book is slender for epic fantasy — and not all the stylistic choices are easy going. (Though its deep concern for language is one of the nicest recurring narrative touches, the voice of the Strength and Patience of the Rock speaking directly to Eolo for long stretches will likely make or break a reader\'s affinity for the second person.) But at its best, The Raven Tower examines details of power, politics, and the nature of a divinity that can shape our ends, rough-hew them how we will.\
PositiveNPR\"Of course, deftly sketched landscapes are one of [Lopez\'s] chief delights — and Horizon, suspended halfway between travelogue and memoir, offers plenty of them ... [The book] makes for dreamlike reading, and these are clearly locations and memories meant to be savored. With his signature style, [Lopez] filters the landscapes through cultural contexts, political history, and sharp physical observation. And he asks questions — explicitly, but also implicitly ... Occasionally, it\'s difficult going — not just because of the import of these questions, but because Lopez doesn\'t shy away from himself in his telling, the sort of flawed humanity that makes one think about one\'s own filters for geographies of all kinds ... But Lopez is a welcoming host as he brings you across the world. He\'s especially at home in the cold, and the chapters in the Arctic and Antarctica are full of passages that, in their painstaking physicality, lead inevitably to deeper psychological places ... Horizon is a biography and a portrait of some of the world\'s most delicate places, but at heart it\'s a contemplation of Lopez\'s belief that the only way forward is compassionately, and together.\
Kenji Miyazawa, Trans. by John Bester
RaveNPRThis collection...encompasses such a range of tones that it\'s remarkable there\'s a sense of a cohesive whole at all. Miyazawa...lives in the details, and when one story is about a flurry of preparations for the expected visit of the Buddha, and the next is a wicked joke about a suspiciously carnivorous restaurant, that\'s no small task. There\'s a wildness to these stories, both through the strength of Miyzawa\'s voice and his use of familiar fairy-tale motifs turned slightly askew, which can feel abrupt on a first read and satisfyingly subversive on a second one. Many of Miyazawa\'s stories resist tidiness or easy moralizing. There\'s certainly a sense of morality (at times it even feels like a keenly-felt wound is being lanced onto the page), and every so often there\'s a tidy tale about an overly-defensive rat that drives its friends away. But by and large, Miyazawa\'s stories are grounded by a sense of the many intersecting injustices at play in the world, for corrupt police chiefs and carnivorous slugs alike ... Not every story is a timeless classic ... But more often, these deftly-rendered stories have careful grace notes amid the everyday energy of a world in which anything can happen, and probably will. They balance chaos and kindness, the natural and the supernatural, the unsettling and the inspiring; Once and Forever is a fascinating collection from a compelling writer, and will be right at home in any library of short stories or modern folklore.
PositiveNPR[The Strange Case of Dr. Couney is] a mosaic mystery told in vignettes, cliffhangers, curious asides, and some surreal plot twists as Raffel investigates the secrets of the man who changed infant care in America ... The Strange Case of Dr. Couney brings together compelling glimpses of the history around his story: Couney\'s jostling medical predecessors; the classism and racism behind infant care; the spread of eugenics rhetoric; and the rise of the cheap-thrill spectacle add depth to the broad strokes of global events ... In both its most optimistic and most pessimistic moments, it carries the same wry sense of storytelling ... It\'s a fascinating historical footnote, compassionately told.
MixedNPRIn some version of our maybe-present, professor R. Voth gets his hands on a moldering manuscript nobody in his university library seems to want. Voth (\'a guy by design, not birth\') soon discovers he\'s inherited the autobiographical \'confessions\' of notorious thief and jailbreaker Jack Sheppard and is lover Edgeworth Bess, and sets about attempting to add some academic footnotes...Things do not go to plan ... There are some flourishes to this story that don\'t fit quite as well into the novel\'s interior conversation as they could, but Confessions of the Fox is an ambitious debut, and its exploration of this \'impossible, ghostly archaeology\' will have you looking askance at tidy histories—which feels like just what Jack and Bess would want.
PositiveNPRThere\'s no denying nature\'s resilience, even — maybe especially — when the changes have occurred swiftly enough that traditional expectations about adaptation and evolution can\'t seem to keep up. Schilthuizen carefully picks his way through those particulars ... But though there are few cut-and-dry conclusions there, one thing is clear: This isn\'t just about the adaptation of some clever species to a new environment — it\'s about a world in which there\'s no other option ... the unavoidable facts of Schilthuizen\'s case mean that occasionally his rhetorical devices verge on disingenuous ... The threat we pose to nature is so self-evident that it is, on some level, beside the point. Instead, the book offers food for thought, and aims to give you new appreciation for the weeds in your driveway, the bugs in your porch lights, or the pigeons on your telephone wires. It succeeds; Darwin Comes to Town is a vivid portrait of a world changing to survive us.
PositiveNPRThe Queen\'s Embroiderer ... features guild-hopping, inheritance fraud, domestic abuse, eloping to England, sending toddlers to their deaths, locking the gates against the poor, and the occasional escape from a chain gang. There\'s an impressive depth of research — this is, as much as anything else, a mystery about the manipulation of record-keeping and identity — and it reveals an equally impressive depth of both determination and depravity in some of the family figures, but by the time she introduces John Law and the 1720 stock market crisis to provide a wider historical context, it\'s almost a footnote to the family disaster ... DeJean is so strapped for good news that in an attempt to scrape together a happy ending for anyone at all, she occasionally glosses over, say, the moral implications of why going to Haiti was good for business. A few survivors of the Chevrot and Magoulet debacles do manage to get out from their forefathers\' shadows — and that there are so few loose ends in this two-century saga is a testament to DeJean\'s research (and a compelling argument for preserving historical records on a local scale, for that matter).
Del Samatar and Sofia Samatar
PositiveNPRA prose poem with jolts of autobiography, Monster Portraits is spare and meant to be taken very slowly ... Often, you get the sense the whole monster can\'t be physically rendered because so much of what registers as Other is beyond appearance; the unseen is always more frightening than the seen ... This slender book plumbs a vertical field. You\'ll spend some time here.
PositiveNPRThe book maneuvers as deftly as possible through this densely interconnected subject. Sorting chapters by meals allows for a certain focus, though it's still such a vast topic that every so often the scope is overwhelming. But even when it's imposing, it's absorbing. This is, at heart, a story about how, 'having eradicated the peasantry at home, Britain had acquired an enormous peasantry abroad' ... There's a certain academic remove that can make Collingham's discussion of particularly unsavory aspects (violence against Native nations and African slaves in particular) seem a little distant...But The Taste of Empire is so direct about the impact of colonialism that the overall effect of the tone is that Collingham is simply assuming a sympathetic reader ... facinating reading.
PositiveNPR...lacks the Ancillary punch but lays out a gently convincing case for the cozy space mystery ... Provenance lacks some of the depth that made that series so engrossing...Still, Provenance provides a careful look at how no one's immune from politics, even if they think themselves outside the fray ... This is a story about the necessity of exploring the edges of the known, which makes Provenance a fitting addition to the Ancillary world, and suggests an expanded universe with many such stories yet to be told.
RaveNPRThe book makes no bones (pun unfortunately intended) about what you'll find inside — it's subtitled Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine, so you're duly forewarned ... At heart, it's a slender but effective biography of Lister, the sort of comforting historical figure more interested in his work than his legacy ... The Butchering Art traces Lister's lifelong obsession with finding an antiseptic treatment, a quest balanced somewhere between serendipity and Sisyphus... Lindsey Fitzharris tries to paint a vivid picture without unnecessary gore, but so much gore is necessary...very careful to emphasize the many threads of scientific study that come together in a sea change like this one ...in an era where science is as much a battleground as it was two centuries ago, there is something that feels vital in a book about horrors everyone accepted as the costs of doing business, and the importance of persistence in seeing results.
RaveNPRSubtitled The True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies, Jason Fagone's book delivers on that promise, bringing one woman's deliberately erased accomplishments back into the limelight … After Elizebeth's surreal beginnings, Fagone keeps the focus largely on her work, and on a marriage strained by government pressure — a codebreaking team forbidden to talk to each other about what they were doing. ‘A competent codebreaker was suddenly a person of the highest military value,’ Fagone writes. Their skill made them threats; they were treated accordingly, and this intelligence-gathering operation begins to feel more John Le Carré than James Bond … Bursting with details in everything from dinner parties to spy rings, Fagone's book offers the story of a fascinating woman in perilous times, and asks some uneasy questions about the present.
RaveNPRGiven that the path loops through the Civil War, the telegraph, P.T. Barnum, spiritualism and a trained seal, it's impressive that The Apparitionists is as brisk a read as it is. The tone is knowledgeable, but the touch is light; technology is deftly explained, figures who have been gone too long are always briefly reintroduced, and Manseau is happy to reassure you you're reading a history ... It's remarkable how breezily Manseau weaves all this together, given the sheer volume of back story required to get us to Mumler's fraud trial. But there's also a sense of mounting dread as we circle back to that courtroom again and again, and realize along with the participants that this wasn't a case about consumer fraud so much as it was a case about the limits of faith. Manseau finds a clever balance of historical remove and the immediacy of suspense, and manages to maintain a — perhaps necessary — agnosticism when it counts. Because as diverting (and telling) a history as it is, in the end, The Apparitionists is a biography about why we believe.
PositiveNPRIt's grim going; this isn't the first time Nancy MacLean has investigated the dark side of the American conservative movement, but it's the one that feels like it was written with a clock ticking down ... And it's painstakingly laid out. This is a book written for the skeptic; MacLean's dedicated to connecting the dots ... But this isn't a biography. Besides occasional asides, MacLean's much more concerned with ideology and policy. By the time we reach Buchanan's role in the rise of Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet (which backfired so badly on the people of Chile that Buchanan remained silent about it for the rest of his life), that's all you need to know about who Buchanan was. If you're worried about what all this means for America's future, you should be. The clear and present danger is hard to ignore. When nearly every radical belief the Buchanan school ever floated is held by a member of the current administration, it's bad news.
RaveNPRIt's always fascinating to read about the combination of intensive planning and happy accidents behind any movie, and Aikman has done the legwork — nearly every stage of the process, from script agent to editor, is accounted for ... you get the sense that Aikman isn't just taking note of the feminist ire at the heart of this movie: She's out to show how much of a fight it really was ... On the surface, Off the Cliff sketches this one-in-a-million serendipity with breezy style; beneath it, this slice of movie history invites you to think about why it's one in a million at all.
RaveNPR...a staggering glimpse of just how complex the situation is — and how long the river has been a concern ... Where the Water Goes is, if nothing else, a crucial admission of the mess we're in ... Owens is effortlessly engaging, informally parceling out information about acre-foot allotments alongside sketches of notable, often dreadful figures in the river's history. And though his sympathies are clear, he doesn't shy away from the reality that these problems resist simple solutions ... a restless travelogue of long-term human impact on the natural world, and how politics and economics have as much to do with redirecting rivers as any canal. But with its historical eddies, policy asides, and trips to the Hoover Dam, at heart Where the Water Goes is about water as a function of time, and a reminder that we're running out of both.
Kim Stanley Robinson
MixedNPRSome of [the characters] feel fully realized, scraping through their daily circumstances — and the emerging conspiracies around them — while building low-key connections. Some characters, as can happen in Robinson novels, exist largely as vehicles for conceptual exposition ... Given that these interludes are scattered throughout a 600-page novel with a plot that doesn't quite require 600 pages, eventually they feel like a little much ... Honestly, this isn't a novel that cares to be subtle; it just wants its large-scale implications to feel uncomfortably close to home. Concepts and world-building take such precedence that the writing can fall flat sometimes. Nearly every introductory description of a woman seems like parody ... And yet, what defines New York 2140, beneath its anger at toxic capitalism and its despair over inadequate environmental measures is the thread of hope that somehow, maybe, we might yet balance the boat enough to make it through the ruins.
RaveNPR\"Frankel meticulously traces the fraught production and tug-of-war for credit that took up decades, a conflict intertwined with Foreman\'s blacklisting and his acrimonious split with producer Stanley Kramer ... Hollywood was a target because its stories had the power to shape public opinion, and their interrogations were meant to be humbling. Frankel paints a devastating picture of a powerful force crumbling under oppression — a cautionary tale in borrowed cowboy hats ... High Noon is a sharp social history that reminds us just how common for a broken system to abuse its power and cause deep human damage — the worst is coming, any second — but also that a little cynicism can be useful. Kane defends a worthless city; Kane wins. There are no clean endings, except in the movies.\
MixedNPROllmann has an appetite for characters who make their own hells, and in Seabrook's life he's found a banquet. At the center is Seabrook himself, drinking his way through three marriages to seemingly interchangeable women, a rocky career, and the occasional cannibalism scandal ... Seabrook himself is this book's biggest hurdle. Ollmann's argument, laid out in his introduction, is that Seabrook is interesting enough to be worth knowing more about. Seabrook's actual life seems determined to refute it. At times the book seems an empathy exercise accompanied by an unspoken 'How about now?' asking us how far we're willing to extend our sympathies ... The deftness of Ollmann's short work is dampened by the demands of biography and his subject. There are glimpses of visual humor but the more self-conscious flourishes grate ... clearly a passion project for Ollmann; the depth of research is impressive, and there are evocative beats of loneliness or connection that remind us why the graphic novel can be such a powerful medium for conveying such small, human moments. The question is how much Seabrook you think you can stand.
MixedNPR...the tone behind Oneill's premise — that she's an omnipotent force that's knocked the reader back in time and is maintaining a very personal line of communication as she shows you around — will likely make or break the reading experience ... If you find the tone hard to take, then Unmentionable becomes both a glimpse into history and a case study in whether details of the Victorian gray market for birth control are interesting enough to carry you through strained interludes about the language of fans ... But there's enough research here to entertain a Victorian newcomer; for readers looking for a primer on their more baffling habits, this could be a good place to start.
MixedNPR[Greenwood's story is] an uneven through-line for a book that feels a little meandering to begin with...And you might need to take Greenwood's on-the-page persona with a grain of salt ... The bummer realities of trying to disappear in the Internet age are tempered with asides about the psychology of vanishing ... at its best, the book delivers all the lo-fi spy shenanigans and caught-red-handed schadenfreude you're hoping for, while also sticking little flags in the right places about the things that really hold us to our lives.
PositiveNPRThe Other Slavery is a necessary work that occupies a loaded historical landscape; Reséndez keeps a deliberate scholarly distance from the material, bringing forth evidence and constructing careful — even conservative — arguments. But that evidence speaks for itself, and the horrors quietly pile up ... The Other Slavery's understated just-the-facts reportage will likely surprise you. It's a study in the abuse of power that lays bare a shameful history, and suggests a clear, chilling line to our present. Everybody's guilty, and while The Other Slavery isn't a call to action, it makes an intellectual and emotional demand of its readers.
PositiveNPRA casual but fascinating read that feels like sneaking into a library after hours, it offers an absorbing glimpse into the world-changing and frequently turbulent history of the reference shelf.
RaveNPRIt's a delightful history, a captivating mystery, and thanks to Jaher's stylish flourishes, even the big reveals maintain an air of high-wire theatricality — like any good magician, The Witch of Lime Street knew what we wanted all along.
PositiveNPR“Though the autobiographical novel is a well-worn genre, Shin (translated from the Korean by Ha-yun Jung) handles it with the sort of effortless ruthlessness a story like this requires, without letting either the narrator or the reader rest easy about the line between truth and fiction.”