Book Review

Veteran bookseller Sarah Bagby shares her experience and insight into the literary world. You also listen to Sarah's book reviews through iTunes. Listen or subscribe here

Sheila Kohler has released her 14th book, entitled Once We Were Sisters. Told mostly in the collective “we,” Kohler takes an intimate look at the unassailable bonds of sisterhood. Sheila May and Maxine’s affluent and charmed early years are spent at Crossways, an estate in the suburbs of Johannesburg, supported by an army of servants. After the death of their timber magnate father, the pre-teen girls move with their family into a boarding house, under the care of their unstable and overbearing mother.

Among my favorite books of 2016 are two novels, a work of history, and the collected works of a great American poet.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is a beautifully rendered period piece set primarily in the Metropol Hotel across from the Kremlin in post revolutionary Russia where a Count is under house arrest. The transformative descriptions place the reader in the hotel alongside the Count as history is being made and lives are changing dramatically in the new political climate. 

Mary Reagan

Prolific mystery writer Lawrence Block, creator of characters Matt Scudder, Bernie Rhodenbarr and Evan Tanner, has never been lacking in ideas. He writes books with colleagues, works under pseudonyms and writes guides for aspiring writers, such as Telling Lies for Fun and Profit

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This book review originally aired on November 30, 2015.  

Adam Johnson’s Fortune Smiles delivers six stories, six milieux, and six new ways of seeing the world.  Johnson’s stories portray the struggles of our world today, focusing mostly on characters living on the edge of proper society in circumstances out of their control, such as having to find work in a Stasi Prison; or the levees destruction after Hurricane Katrina; or defecting from Pyongyang to Seoul.

Claudia Ficca

Bakers everywhere are united in their endorsement of Dorie Greenspan as the grande dame of baking cookbooks. 

Midwestern writer Peter Geye told me he titled his third novel Wintering “because it speaks to what all these characters are doing: hunkering down and readying themselves for what the world has to offer.”

Rachel Corbett’s You Must Change Your Life is resplendent with European art history of the early 20th century, and is also a detailed look at the deeply felt friendship of poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the sculptor Auguste Rodin.

Maize High School alum and debut author Nathan Hill is being compared to John Irving. John Irving, after reading Hill's novel The Nix mentioned Charles Dickens and Nathan Hill in the same sentence. Meryl Streep and J.J. Abrams have teamed up to adapt The Nix into a series for Warner Brothers TV. The Nix does not disappoint.

It is award season in the publishing world and long lists for the National Book Award, the Kirkus Prize, and the Booker are being released. I’m excited to see two of my recent favorites on the long list for the National Book Award fiction prize. 

Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny draws inspiration from British writers such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Josephine Tey in her series featuring the beloved Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete Academy du Quebec. In each of her award-winning 12 novels, Penny lures us into the fictional close-knit village of Three Pines, hooks us with characters that mirror ourselves, yanks us around with plots that build intricately, all while serving up a master class in the history of her native Canada. 

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