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

Sally Mann’s exhibition of photographs of her children brought her persecution. She was accused of exploitation because of the naked images she produced of them at their remote Virginia home. But now, in her beguiling memoir Hold Still , she is on display on her own terms. Mann relates her life as an artist, a southerner, a mother, daughter and wife. Scrupulously illustrated with her own photographs, plus journals and mementos she found cleaning out her parents’ attic, the book draws you...

The Light of the World: A Memoir is an elegant book by Elizabeth Alexander, a poet, mother and widow. Her husband of 16 years was found dead next to their treadmill, just after his 50th birthday. The multiple blocked arteries that caused a massive heart attack had gone undetected by medical tests. Ficre was a big, vital man, an artist and chef from Eritrea who loved life and people and had seen his share of poverty and civil war. Alexander grew up Episcopalian in Harlem, was educated at the...

Mary Norris describes the birth of her love affair with the New Yorker in her new book Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen . In the summer of 1977, she was reading one of writer John McPhee’s impeccable and exact pieces about the Alaskan wilderness, and came across a new word, "synecdoche." She could deduce what it meant from the context—a small thing writ large—as in the wilds of Alaska. What made her ecstatic was the knowledge that when McPhee used such a word, she knew it was...

James Duncan Davidson / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., a private, nonprofit human rights organization, helping the poor, the incarcerated, the condemned and children. He is also professor of law at New York University School of Law and received the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, and also won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. In his provocative book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption...

If you’re travelling to Berlin, you’d do well to read Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts . Going to Chicago? Read his The Devil in the White City . However, if you’re going on a cruise, beware Larson’s latest-- and, I think, best-- book, Dead Wake . Larson combines impeccable research, fully drawn characters and social history to tell of a fateful journey when the rules of war became more dangerous for all people. The Lusitania set sail from New York City, bound for Liverpool, England, on...

Richard Price writes immaculate crime novels. He set his lengthy novel Clockers in one square mile of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where a cop can see an entire world making only right-hand turns. As a writer for HBO’s series “The Wire,” Price immersed himself in the vernacular of cops and drug dealers particular to Baltimore. Wanting to improve his earning capacity, Price attempted to cash in by writing a fast-paced, plot-driven subpar crime novel under the pseudonym "Harry Brandt." He...

In an interview, short story writer Charles Baxter explained that, “the short story begins when things start to go wrong.” Elsewhere, he maintained that, “no story can keep a secret. A writer needs to find the secret and bring it to the surface.” If measured by his own comments, Baxter’s new collection, There’s Something I Want You to Do , is triumphant. Set mostly in Minneapolis along the Mississippi River, the 10 stories are divided into two sections-- one devoted to virtues and the other...

A Relentless 'Descent'

Jan 26, 2015

Tim Johnston’s suspenseful novel, Descent , kept me up late. Then, I reached for it first thing the next morning. Caitlin Courtland, 18, disappears in the mountains of Colorado. Until the mystery of the disappearance is solved, Caitlin’s family suffers deeply from the tragedy and Johnston examines the fragility of life and faith. Angela and Grant Courtland and their teenage children, Sean and Caitlin, are on a summer vacation before Caitlin goes away to college on a track scholarship. Early...

Christopher Scotton’s debut novel The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is riveting. Set in Medgar, Kentucky, in 1985, it is the multigenerational story of a disparate population of mine owners and their laborers in a community on the verge of major change. Scotton explores the epic theme of man’s dominion over nature and beautifully renders his reverence for the natural landscape. Narrator Kevin Gillooly looks back on the tumultuous events of his 14th year. He and his mother moved to Medgar to...

Leave it to the creatives at the Berkeley-based Ten Speed Press to team up with the uber-fanatic leaders of the craft cocktail underground to create the elegant new book Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails . The book is designed for enthusiasts and professionals alike, as the owners of New York-based lounge Death & Company share their passion and extreme knowledge of all things cocktail. Always asking how and why, each recipe in the book has been perfected through countless hours of...

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