RaveBookPageWe Are Not Like Them is ultimately about the inherently hopeful act of having grace when the people we love make mistakes—even terrible ones. This is an excellent book club selection or a starting point for interracial friend groups or families to talk candidly about race.
RaveBookPage... he brings an outsider’s perspective to many historical moments. But his personal entries are the more touching ones ... There are plenty of laughs to be had as well; one of the reasons readers love Sedaris is that he’s the first person to laugh at himself. This remains true in A Carnival of Snackery, especially as the bestselling author comes to grips with his late-in-life wealth. Sedaris tours constantly to promote his books, and several entries recount jokes that audience members have shared at book signings. A few of these jokes may be considered tasteless, but many will have you giggling in spite of yourself. There is plenty in A Carnival of Snackery that longtime Sedaris fans will love.
RaveBookPageZoe Whittall’s taut novel The Spectacular has all the trappings to become the season’s dishiest read. It’s also a gem of literary fiction ... The plot of The Spectacular isn’t clearly defined; all three women’s stories connect at certain points, and the narrative jumps forward and backward in time. But this is not a typical sprawling family drama, and in Whittall’s smart and capable hands, these unconventional women are given the space to experience their full, complicated lives. Whittall takes the long view with this multigenerational arc to explore the responsibilities of motherhood, the boundaries of biology and the price for women’s freedom to live fully actualized lives.
RaveBookPage... incredible ... The descriptions of Aaron’s strange illnesses are vivid and unambiguous (including lesions, rashes and bleeding), and parasites, real or imagined, make many appearances. In many ways, this memoir is a compelling medical mystery, and anyone who is interested in the disputed existence of Morgellons disease will have lots to chew on here ... not a traditional love story, but it is a love story—one as heart-wrenching as it is heart-filling. Reading it will prompt you to give the meaning of \'in sickness and in health\' a good, long thought.
RaveBookPageThe author’s experience as a linguist melds well with her research into the psychological underpinnings of cultish language, including interviews with several cult survivors ... demonstrates that we are all more susceptible to joining the in-group than we may realize.
John Paul Brammer
PositiveBookPageAnyone who has grappled with their own identities will relate to Brammer as he wrestles with insecurities and forges ahead through the haze of depression ... Brammer’s talent as a storyteller lies in extracting profound meaning from seemingly minor events and feelings ... a testament to turning past struggles and humiliations into fuel for a brighter future, and to owning your experiences by reframing the narrative and finding agency in the retelling.
RaveBookPage... smart and steamy ... characters like Eva’s spunky daughter, Audre, and book editor, CeCe, bring warmth to the pages ... In addition to addressing mental health concerns, Seven Days in June portrays the daily difficulties of having an invisible disability...But Williams never uses Eva’s illness to inspire pity or to cast her as somehow weak. It’s refreshing to see a character whose disability is fully developed and integrated into the narrative from start to finish ... Through this gripping love story, Williams reckons with family histories and shows the power in rewriting our origin stories. She lays bare what happens when we are \'fearless enough to hold each other close no matter how catastrophic the world\' becomes. Readers will feel as attached to these characters as Eva and Shane are to each other.
PositiveBookpageDancyger carries us back to New York City’s gritty East Village in the 1980s as she investigates Schactman’s tumultuous life. She pages through her father’s old notebooks that she saved after his death ... she interviews Schactman’s friends, colleagues and even her own mother to learn how and why he descended into heroin addiction ... Dancyger’s struggle to escape the need to prove herself to everyone, including her dead father, is moving. Mourning is not linear, and she skillfully shows how grief mutates during different stages of life. The phantasm of closure stalks all of us who have experienced loss, as both Dancyger’s writing and Schactman’s artwork make clear ... Dancyger allows her father to be an imperfect and much loved person—her idol still, but a troubled and complicated one.
PositiveBookPageIn Brandon Taylor’s short story collection, sexual tension acts more like an undertow, lurking to pull its victims down below ... As difficult as the subject matter may be to stomach at times, Filthy Animals is full of beautiful writing. However, since some stories feature the same characters and others do not, the reading experience lacks cohesion ... Nevertheless, the characters in Filthy Animals are relatable in ways we may not want to admit to ourselves, especially regarding unmet desire ... Fans of Taylor’s work will be fascinated by Filthy Animals, but newcomers should be aware that it’s an intense read.
PositiveBookPage[T]he reader may wonder if the novel is an overwrought sendup of the #girlboss culture that lauds female billionaires ... But then, halfway through A Special Place for Women, a creative twist makes these events delightfully complex. This is where Hankin shows her range as a writer: The book you think you’re reading turns into something else entirely ... Admirably, the class analysis in A Special Place for Women is more finely tuned than most novels with an outsider-masquerading-as-an-insider storyline ... a slow burn that’s ultimately fun, fresh and entirely worthwhile.
PositiveBookPageNearly all the isolated stories are interesting; there are only a few duds ... The emotional heart of New Yorkers can be found in the testimonies of people who directly experienced the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Sandy and the COVID-19 pandemic. Reading firsthand accounts of these extraordinary events is poignant and resonant. Likewise, the New Yorkers who share their experiences with homelessness and racism reveal as much about these societal scourges as the best reportage could ... All of that said, New York City is home to roughly 8.5 million people, so readers will inevitably emerge with the feeling that plenty of stories were left out. For example, even with the number of women included in the book, the overall collection leans toward traditionally masculine occupations. Why not include a manicurist, an OB-GYN, a burlesque dancer or a personal shopper from Bergdorf Goodman? And how could a book about New York City include no public school teachers or librarians? ... To this end, New Yorkers is more of a collection of Taylor’s own experiences in New York City than a comprehensive representation. Nevertheless, it’s a delightful book for anyone with an interest in New York—and a reminder that everyone has a story, if we’re willing to listen.
RaveBookPage... beautifully written ... Some novels attempt to tell a sweeping narrative only to get bogged down by a busy plot and too many characters, but despite a large cast from numerous time periods, Of Women and Salt expertly threads each woman’s story to another’s and pulls their stories taut. Disparate hardships propel each of their lives, but they are linked by a shared struggle to carry on in a harsh world, whether each survives her circumstance—or not ... quietly heartbreaking.
RaveBookpageReaders may come to Vera for a tale about the San Francisco earthquake, or for a juicy novel about the women who populate society’s underbelly. But the novel is actually about motherhood and Vera’s struggle to be cared for as she needs to be. Vera yearns for her mother’s love and respect, and she doesn’t care about how Rose’s disreputable place in society could impact her own life ... The many memorable characters populating Vera may provide interesting fodder for book club conversations. Vera is feisty and chafes at the confines of life in this era ... That said, the plot of Vera is overly complicated and features a bloated cast of characters. Rose’s employees and neighbors, as well as the city’s politicians, all have subplots to which Vera is only loosely connected. As a result, much of the novel feels like it’s scrambling to tie up loose ends rather than foregrounding the narrator’s own story. Vera is an engaging novel that could have been executed more succinctly.
RaveBookPageWeaving together multiple histories and jumping back and forth in time can be hit-or-miss as a narrative structure, but Last Call does it well, thanks to Green’s original reporting conducted with law enforcement, politicians, victims’ families and patrons at gay bars where Rogers lurked ... True crime too often focuses on the \'bad guys,\' as if repeatedly mulling over their motives may eventually explain evil. In Last Call, Green instead foregrounds Rogers’ known victims. He shows us the people they were and the lives they left behind. Their lives mattered, and Last Call is a testament to how homophobia shaped these men’s lives and, eventually, their deaths ... Regular readers of true crime may not find the violence unexpected, but the cultural context of the AIDS panic adds additional weight to this brutality. To his credit, Green never lets us forget the amplified threats that existed for gay men during this era. However, because Last Call shows how the passage of time often changes culture for the better, it’s ultimately uplifting—if a book about a serial killer could, in any way, be called \'uplifting.\'
Elizabeth Miki Brina
RaveBookPage... reads like a deeply personal apology from Brina to her mother ... For readers who are unfamiliar with Chinese-Japanese-Okinawan-American relations, the history of Okinawa, told in the first-person plural, is jarring in the most eye-opening way. The story is strongest when Brina connects the dots between the U.S. military’s colonization of Okinawa and her father’s family’s disrespect toward her mom ... Assimilation is often touted as a goal for immigrants in the U.S., but Brina shows how difficult it is for someone to assimilate when they’re already branded as an outcast—especially within their own family.
RaveBookPageReaders should be aware that horrific violence occurs throughout the book. Pang’s reporting provides an unflinching glimpse into the human costs behind our cheap products, and those costs include sexual assault, torture, maiming and death ... Prior knowledge about China is not needed to understand Made in China. The book is an excellent entry-level explanation of Chinese religious and political history, and how human rights abuses intersect with billion-dollar businesses.
PositiveBookPageIn the past 30 years, the British monarchy has kept the tabloids busy with Diana, Charles, Camilla, Harry, Meghan et al. So you would be forgiven for knowing little or nothing about the royal family’s biggest scandal before our current era ... Consider filling in the gaps in your knowledge with The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to Abdication by journalist and historian Alexander Larman ... Certainly Edward’s determination changed the course of history. Some view his pursuit of Simpson as the ultimate love story, but The Crown in Crisis takes a darker view of his behavior ... The Crown in Crisis presents Edward as reckless in his love life, as well as in his political associations ... Larman examines all sides of this unprecedented crisis: the prime minister, the king’s courtiers, media magnates, religious leaders, Nazis, fascists, the couple’s posh friends and even the royal family. He blends previous reporting and newly published archival sources into a deeply researched account that will fascinate royal lovers and history fans alike. Many aspects of British culture have changed since 1936. In The Crown in Crisis, the appeal of palace intrigue stays the same.
PositiveBookPageFebos is a dab hand at the memoir genre ... While her route to making sense of her own life is usually circuitous, her thoughtfulness as she reaches toward a conclusion is a delight to follow ... Many of Febos’ girlhood experiences stemmed from her body developing maturely at a young age. She fearlessly interrogates her adolescent reaction to these changes and the attendant shame, voyeurism and almighty male gaze that subsumed her young life. Each essay is layered like a sfogliatelle ... Sources listed at the book’s conclusion range widely from Black feminist and race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw to British art critic John Berger ... offers what some may view as a dark portrayal of young adulthood, in which opportunities for degradation are seemingly limitless. And some of Febos’ later-in-life experiences, such as heroin addiction and sex work, won’t be shared by every reader. But anyone raised as a girl will be able to relate to something in Girlhood, and those who weren’t will marvel at this book’s eye-opening, transformative perspective.
PositiveBookPagePlenty of fiction and nonfiction explores how performance of the self on social media can be detrimental to our lives. Fake Accounts raises the bar on this theme, prompting the question of how much distance a person can really put between oneself and an online persona ... [a] wild literary ride.
Viola Ardone, Tr. Clarissa Botsford
PositiveBookPageThe novel jumps forward in time to Amerigo’s adulthood, which is when the novel shines. (Ardone writes adult Amerigo more convincingly than the 7-year-old boy) ... There are no easy answers and no heroes or villains. Ardone’s novel will appeal to fans of Elena Ferrante, but it stands on its own as a fictionalized account of an exceptional—and exceptionally complicated—social experiment.
Ruth Coker Burks and Kevin Carr O'Leary
RaveBookPageThroughout the memoir, it’s hard not to fall in love with Burks for her big-heartedness and enduring sense of humor in the face of suffering. However, All the Young Men isn’t an uplifting book. Ignorance, denial and cruelty have always been, and always will be, killers. But as Burks forges a path alongside these vulnerable men, her embrace of education and rejection of bigotry light the way forward for us all.
Marjolijn van Heemstra, Trans. By Jonathan Reeder
PositiveBookPageAlthough this is not a traditional whodunit, fans of mystery and true crime may enjoy van Heemstra’s dogged investigation ... a unique narrative, blending what appears to be historically accurate accounts of the Dutch Resistance during World War II with elements of fabulism. The book is billed as a novel, but it’s never quite clear how much of van Heemstra’s personal story is true, and that gets a bit frustrating. Nevertheless, World War II and its aftermath can feel far removed from our modern-day concerns, and van Heemstra deftly shows how ripples of this famous Sinterklaas bombing reverberate to this day. The reader is left with a number of moral quandaries.
RaveBookPageBecky Cooper, formerly of the New Yorker, has already drawn comparisons to In Cold Blood with her true crime masterpiece...and for good reason ... She perseveres mightily in her investigation, driven in part by the way she identifies with the quirky, complicated victim. This identification may draw in readers who see themselves in Jane, too. But for others, the author’s embrace of a stranger who died 50 years prior may never quite gel. The book is strongest when we’re empathizing with Jane—her romantic foibles, grappling with sexism within academia—rather than with the author. For aspiring journalists, Cooper’s impressive work in We Keep the Dead Close is a masterclass on how to do investigative reporting. She dug deep into archival research and interviewed most everyone involved in the case, drawing uncomfortable information out of her sources with particular skill while still withholding judgment ... The resolution, when it comes, is as unexpected as it is heartbreaking.
Sarah McCraw Crow
PositiveBookPageFans of the FX on Hulu miniseries Mrs. America will find the same feminist themes addressed in The Wrong Kind of Woman. Crow has tapped into a less flashy character of second wave feminism: the reluctant but curious wife and mother. The book, however, isn’t preachy, and the few strongly opinionated characters aren’t portrayed as necessarily likable ... explores the sublimation of self within a marriage, sexism in the workplace and the pros and cons of activism versus revolution. These are heady topics, but this slow burn of a novel proves a perfect place to give them serious thought.
MixedBookPage... mostly playful ... Rather than being salacious, Sex With Presidents explores the nearly impossible ideal Americans have for public figures’ sexual behavior ... well researched and aggregated from a long list of sources ... Although humorous at times, the book does not water down some of the real miscreants who lived in the White House: There are several rapists in the bunch, and the sexual double standard is a historical constant ... However, the book deserves a closer critique of several passages. Some of the jokey language does not always land, particularly in the chapter about Bill and Hillary Clinton. Additionally, the chapter about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the ensalved woman who gave birth to many children by him, could have benefited from more interrogation ... Still, Sex With Presidents will be an entry point for some folks to learn more about history and the social mores of yore. The book is especially useful for illustrating how journalists have increasingly probed—some would say intruded—into politicians’ private lives. Whether our country is the better for it is up for debate.
RaveBookPageAlam’s brilliance is less in what he reveals and more in what he doesn’t. Fear of the unknown ratchets up the reader’s anxiety, and yet Leave the World Behind unfolds slowly for a thriller ... Leave the World Behind is certainly timely in the era of COVID-19, but it’s also relevant for anyone who has questioned our society’s dependence on technology, or who has unwavering faith in the social contract. The characters second-guess their beliefs about safety and security. Readers who are safe at home—maybe?—can’t help but do the same.
Anne Helen Petersen
RaveBookPageIt is my sincere hope that millennials will read Can’t Even ... well-researched ... a sharp critique of boomer parents and employers ... readers don’t need to be personally burnt out for Can’t Even to resonate. If social media or the gig economy touch your life in any way, there’s something to chew on here. Fortunately, Petersen doesn’t offer any \'hacks\' or \'tips\' to pare back our busy lives. Instead, she advocates for societal self-reflection and an assessment of our values to spur change: Do we really want to live this way?
RaveBookPagePitlor’s genius is that Impersonation doesn’t resort to pitting two women against each other. One woman’s career is circumscribed by care work, and the other’s career is not. But when Allie laments that “integrity—and real feminism—were clearly for people more financially secure than I,” it’s apparent that the issues between this ghostwriter and her client are emblematic of so much more. Impersonation isn’t just a critique of the \'white feminism\' of privileged women who prioritize money and success in existing power structures. It’s also more than a critique of the publishing industry, which only cares that Lana seems “maternal” enough to sell parenting books. Impersonation is a critique of our society’s fragile social safety net for so many vulnerable women, full of satirical humor and a lot of harsh truths.
RaveBookPageMifflin’s deep research, numerous support texts, nuanced analysis and punchy writing weave an engaging account. (The history of the bathing suit portion of the pageant is especially fascinating.) She interviewed over a dozen past pageant contestants, pageant employees, a judge and others for a comprehensive behind-the-scenes narrative ... Even if you’ve never watched a single Miss America pageant on TV, anyone with an interest in American history would benefit from this deep dive into a complex cultural figurehead.
PositiveBookPageblends Bowdler’s own narrative with detailed research about how law enforcement—from crime labs to individual cops—fail rape victims. Bowdler is candid about how trauma from the break-in, rapes and police inaction still affects her entire life. She is now a wife and mother of two, but piecing her life together following the rapes has been a slow process. Understandably, a lot of conversations about rape victims focus on positives, like their strength to survive. Bowdler’s voice in the conversation will make sure you know that her survival is hard won.
RaveBookPageLuster is a gritty novel about appetites—for sex, companionship, attention, money—and what happens when they are sated ... Edie is deftly written as a young woman saddled with generational trauma and suffering from the rootlessness of an addict’s child ... Leilani’s writing is cerebral and raw, and this debut novel will establish her as a powerful new voice.
Jennifer Finney Boylan
PositiveBookPageThe path was not easy, yet [Boylan] injects warmth, humor and spirituality into its retelling ... will be relatable to those who believe dogs can teach us about unconditional love—or at least patient understanding. Though pet stories can veer into the saccharine, rest assured that this memoir does not ... Though it’s a great book for dog lovers, isn’t a feel-good story about the unbreakable bond between human and beast. It’s a chronicle about the enduring messiness of humans, and how we’re worthy of love anyway.
RaveBookPageThe author creates a powerfully humane portrait of those diagnosed with schizophrenia ... Kolker is a compassionate storyteller who underscores how inadequate medical treatment and an overreliance on \'tough love\' and incarceration underpin so much of the trauma this family experienced. Hidden Valley Road is heavy stuff, especially for readers with mental illness or sexual abuse in their own families. But it’s a must-read for anyone seeking to understand how far we’ve come in treating one of the most severe forms of mental illness—and how far we still have to go.
PositiveBookPage... a compassionate account of [Khar\'s] illness and will surely be the gold standard for women writing about heroin addiction ... In lesser hands, Strung Out could read like a \'poor little rich girl\' tale. To be sure, there are moments in the book that are frustrating due to how out of line Khar\'s experience is with most Americans’ reality (she attends rehab with celebrities, and moves to Paris on a whim). But Khar possesses the necessary self-reflection to identify the points in her life—breakups, deaths, an abortion—where her shame and loneliness deepened and her addiction metastasized. She is also cognizant of and candid about how her parents’ wealth and passing as white (she is half Persian) contributed to her successful recovery ... While heroin is considered a line that shouldn’t be crossed by many recreational drug users, Khar’s story of choosing to numb-out pain, and the coffin-like trap of shame, is relatable to everyone. Anyone who reads Strung Out will come away with a better understanding of opioid addiction, if not necessarily more empathy for it.
RaveBookPageWiener focuses on the startup climate as a whole—giving an insider’s view of San Francisco and the tech-Manifest-Destiny-minded brogrammers who inhabit it ... feels pertinent to the current political climate ... Wiener’s eventual exit from startups is publishing’s gain: She is an extremely gifted writer and cultural critic. Uncanny Valley may be a defining memoir of the 2020s, and it’s one that will send a massive chill down your spine.
Kate Elizabeth Russell
RaveBookPageRussell has clearly done her psychology homework on how sexual abuse transpires. Her storytelling is particularly strong when she shows how manipulation and coercion operate, and how predators intentionally choose isolated victims whose distress is unlikely to be noticed ... The reader is able to see heartbreaking truths that Vanessa can’t yet bear to look at, and this conflict is utterly gripping ... If there is a reading list for the #MeToo era, My Dark Vanessa deserves to be at the top of it.
RaveBookPageMiller drags the reader through her hell as she lived it ... The time-consuming legal process is emotionally battering, and Miller’s pain emanates off the page ... This memoir is a heavy one. But one hopes it will educate people about the terrorism of sexual violence and bring comfort to those still suffering in silence.
PositiveBookPageThe essays in Burn It Down illustrate how patriarchal society benefits from women stifling their anger, even if suppression feels like our best chance at survival. To that end, the angry authors in this anthology are inspirational. In fact, why are all of us women not furious all the time? Burn It Down asserts that there is no panacea for women’s anger, save for widespread political and social change ... Whether you are coming into your own anger, or anger is your daily fuel, there is something for everyone to draw from in this anthology. It is time to light a match.
PositiveBookPage\"Readers need not be foreign policy wonks to read The Education of an Idealist, but wonks will find the most to chew on here ... Candor from someone of [Power\'s] stature regarding such personal matters is refreshing, and Power draws directly from her own journals throughout the memoir.
She reveals how campaigns, governments and diplomacy operate behind closed doors—the pale, male upper echelons of how the world works. In her political work, Power is often the only woman in the room, and she doesn’t sugarcoat her experiences with sexism at both the White House and the U.N. ... The Education of an Idealist is Power’s life story, but it also feels like peering through a time capsule into a period when America showed more compassion for refugees and the disadvantaged. But, ever the idealist, Power also clearly hopes that this book will convince readers that, when there is injustice in the world, America has the moral imperative to do something.\
RaveBookPage...every single essay in Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion is a standout; in fact, \'The I in the Internet\' and \'We Come From Old Virginia\' should be taught in journalism schools ... as each essay finds Tolentino interrogating her beliefs about society, American womanhood and online feminism, it’s refreshing to see subjects so often reduced to 280-character sloganeering receive 30 pages of thoughtful analysis in her hands ... Tolentino sets the bar higher for every other essay writer. Social media may be part of the reason she is so well-known, but Trick Mirror is a strong case for less tweeting and more long-form writing—for everyone.