Book Review – Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang

Yunte Huang is an English professor at UC Santa Barbara and the author of a wonderfully eye-opening earlier book, Charlie Chan: the Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History, which traced the Charlie Chan story from the real-life Honalulu police investigator, Chang Apana, who inspired Earl Derr Biggers' fictional detective, …

Book Review – Vengeance by Zachary Lazar – Questions of Truth and Trust, Guilt and Innocence in a Prisoner’s Story

  Vengeance, Zachary Lazar's fourth novel, begins with a narrator (unnamed throughout the novel, but undeniably Zachary Lazar) visiting the notorious Angola prison (population 6,400 mostly black inmates) in Louisiana with his photographer friend Deborah to cover the prison's all-inmate "passion play" about the crucifixion of Jesus. Deborah is clearly Deborah Luster, to whom the …

Book Review – The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne – A Touching and Comic Look at Millennials and their Elusive Search for Adulthood

Joe Dunthorne's third novel is short, poignant and very, very funny. Ray, The Adulturants' not very reliable narrator, has charm and a quick wit -- or so he believes -- and he tends to deploy them at the most inopportune times. There is no situation so serious -- getting caught in a compromising position with …

Book Review – Tomb Song by Julián Herbert – A Son’s Haunting Story of His Dying Mother Told in Fiction, Memoir and Fantasy

Julián Herbert is a poet and novelist famous in his native Mexico for his dazzling wordplay. Tomb Song, his 2011 novel, is the first of his books be translated into English, fluidly by Christina MacSweeney who also translated Valerie Luiselli's wonderful The Story of My Teeth. Tomb Song is another entry in the recently popular …

Book Review – How to Stop Time by Matt Haig – The Comic Perils of a 1,000 Year Life

"I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong." So Tom Hazard, the narrator of Matt Haig's exuberant new novel, How to Stop Time, tells us in …

Book Review – Educated by Tara Westover – A Sensitive Story of a Journey From Isolation to a PhD

Today, at 32, Tara Westover lives in London, England, has a PhD in history from Cambridge University and has been a visiting fellow at Harvard University. But, she didn't set foot in a classroom until she was 17 and had never heard of the Holocaust or the Civil Rights movement. She grew up without a …

Book Review – An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Tayari Jones new novel (which is also the latest addition to The Oprah's Book Club) is a powerful and heartbreaking dissection of a marriage that goes sour after an unexpected tragedy. Celestial and Roy are perfect embodiments of Atlanta's new black middle class. She is an artist who is gaining success with her collectible dolls, …

Book Review – The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette

In his last book, 2015's Haints Stay, Colin Winnette magnificently skewered the Western genre with splashes of violence, drunkenness and gender confusion. Oh, and ghosts too. His latest novel explodes the Gothic horror genre and the coming- of-age novel, with just as much skill and black humour. Oh, and it has ghosts too. Throughout the …

Book Review – King Zeno by Nathaniel Rich – Jazz and Violence in New Orleans

Between an axe murderer on the loose, an outbreak of Spanish influenza, the end of The Great War, the birth of jazz and the construction of a massive canal linking the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Pontchartrain there is a lot going on in Nathaniel Rich's hometown of New Orleans in his boisterous third novel. …

Book Review – Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (translated by Jonathan Wright)

Ahmed Saadawi's Frankenstein in Baghdad won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (also known as The Arabic Booker) in 2014, the first Iraqi novel to do so. It has just been translated into English by Jonathan Wright, who has translated over a dozen Arabic novels, including several other IPAF winners. The bleak and darkly comic …

Book Review – The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor)

The Perfect Nanny by the Morrocan-French writer Leïla Slimani is a taught, beautifully crafted suspense story that won France's prestigious Prix Goncourt in 2016 and was the country's top-selling novel. It has been a bestseller across Europe and has just been released in an English translation. (In Britain the book is released with the title …

Book Review – Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years by Clinton Heylin

I'm too young to remember when Dylan went electric in 1965, but I am old enough to remember the shock and dismay many of us fans felt when Dylan "found Jesus" at the tail end of the 1970s. I was in university then and had followed Dylan's career path both in real time (buying and …

Book Review – Improvement by Joan Silber

Interconnections abound in Improvement, Joan Silber's deft new novel. Silber uses a recurring motif of Turkish carpets -- which several of the book's characters collect, sell or trade -- and lets their intricate and subtly woven patterns mimic the intricacies of the novel's plot. Decisions that characters make are shown to  have effects not just …

Book Review – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

It was announced today that Scottish writer Gail Honeyman's darkly comic debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, has won the Costa Book Prize in the "Best First Novel of 2017" category. I read it when it came out last spring, and despite a shaky start I really enjoyed it. After reading the first few …

Book Review – My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs: The Nobel Lecture by Kazuo Ishiguro – The Nobel Lecture by Bob Dylan

Kazuo Ishiguro, the winner of this year's Nobel Prize for literature, and Bob Dylan, last year's winner, have both just published the texts of their Nobel Lectures in slim volumes. Ishiguro delivered his lecture on December 7, 2017 at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, as is customary. Dylan wasn't so accommodating. He submitted an audio …

Book Review – Women and Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

Mary Beard, the Cambridge Classics professor and author of 2015's massive history of Rome, SPQR, has just published a slim illustrated volume based on two lectures she gave under the auspices of The British Museum and The London Review of Books, one in 2014, the other in 2017. Her subject is the continued silencing of …

Book Review – Christopher Hitchens: The Last Interview and Other Conversations

Melville House has been publishing a popular series of books called The Last Interview and Other Conversations which bundles the final interviews of various writers along with selected earlier interviews. The series includes books on David Foster Wallace, James Baldwin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Hannah Arendt, Philip K. Dick, and Kurt Vonnegut among …