Book Review

Journalist and book reviewer Suzanne Tobias reviews the latest books and such for KMUW on air and right here. Discover new reviews on alternate Mondays. You can also listen to KMUW book reviews through iTunes. Listen or subscribe here

Over the past week, as we’ve hunkered down at home, public libraries, book publishers and others have begun offering free services to keep readers reading. And let’s face it: There’s no better time to escape with a good book.

This past week, as our country has been dealing with the global pandemic of COVID-19, I’ve been listening to The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, an audiobook that chronicles in vivid detail one of the worst disasters in American history.

Ann Napolitano’s new novel opens with a transcontinental flight from New York to Los Angeles. Among the passengers boarding the plane are 12-year-old Edward Adler, his parents and older brother. We learn quickly that this particular flight doesn’t have a happy ending — the plane crashes near Denver, killing almost everyone aboard. Only Eddie survives.

Lizzie the librarian has a long list of worries -- her drug addict brother; cranky professors lining up at the help desk; her bum knee; the end of the world. She is the narrator behind Jenny Offill’s newest novel, “Weather,” a slender but powerful book that reads like a collection of random thoughts but so accurately reflects the fragmented, Twitter-inspired mindset of our modern times.

I should begin by saying, I’m a sucker for weird. Weird food. Weird art. Weird newspaper stories about 37-pound cats that people line up to adopt from the local Humane Society. So when I heard about “Little Weirds,” a book by actress and comedian Jenny Slate, I thought, “Wait a second . . . ‘Weird’ as a noun? I’m here for it.”


“Heart of Junk,” a new novel by Luke Geddes, opens with uptight Margaret watching two vendors unpack their wares at the Heart of America Antique Mall – a large but struggling operation in Wichita, Kansas.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your reading life is to revisit the kinds of books that made you fall in love with reading in the first place – the early chapter books or middle-grade novels that illustrate the power of great storytelling. That’s the reason I picked up “To Night Owl From Dogfish,” a collaboration by authors Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolizter that had me feeling like a tween again.

If you’re a parent, you know the feeling: You’re with your child in a grocery store, or restaurant, or theater, or airplane, and they pitch a fit so sudden and volcanic, you worry they might spontaneously combust, right there on the spot. You imagine them aflame, fueled only by rage, destroying everything in their path – the epic meltdown.


An epigraph at the start of Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir quotes author Zora Neale Hurston: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”


On New Year’s Day 2013, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gene Weingarten carried an old green fedora into a restaurant in Washington, D.C., and asked three strangers to pluck a day, a month and a year out of the hat. They picked December 28, 1986.

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