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

I reviewed Bryan Stevenson’s well-known book Just Mercy on this station in March of 2015. I explained that Just Mercy is a gripping and painful narrative of challenging the judicial system in an Alabama that’s very deeply entrenched in court-sanctioned prejudice. What I didn’t focus on is Stevenson’s hope and the extensive lesson in civics he delivers.

Sarah Smarsh’s debut book Heartland, a memoir of growing up in a working class/poor family in south central Kansas, has just been long listed for this year’s National Book Award for non-fiction. Born in 1980, the daughter of a teenage mother, Smarsh uses her own experience to show us the divide between the middle-class and the working poor. She incisively cuts through our assumptions about a mother who works three jobs that are hard on her body; about a farmer or laborer harmed by government policies--or lack thereof--all burdened by the emotional toll of making ends meet.

The Man Who Came Uptown is classic George Pelecanos. Are you thinking, “I know that author’s name, I just don’t know why?” 

The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles is a tale of the long and complicated friendship of two women. 

This commentary originally aired February 19, 2018.  

Inspired by the noir novels of James M. Cain, Laura Lippman assiduously delivers a masterpiece of the form in her steamy novel Sunburn. An alleged secret stash of cash from a questionable insurance settlement, apparently amoral characters, and ulterior motives all mixed up because of a fervid love affair simmer over a steady flame, until everything combusts.

The new book by The Atlantic correspondent James Fallows and his wife, linguist and writer Deborah Fallows, titled Our Towns, is a compelling look at local communities and how they function--for better or worse-- in a time of national political dysfunction.

Every so often, a book comes along that has everyone in book world talking about how amazing it is before it’s even been published. Sometimes, that book actually lives up to the early hype. There There, the debut novel by Tommy Orange, lives up to it and more.

Whiting Award Winner Jen Beagin introduces us to a beguilingly damaged character in her debut novel, Pretend I’m Dead

Fatima Farheen Mirza opens her debut novel A Place for Us with a wedding. Part of an Indian-American Muslim family, bride Haida is secure knowing her ever-supportive mother is watching over her; Huda, a typical middle child, is the least visible, trying to blend in, but sidelined most of the time; and youngest son Amar’s fraught tension with his father and on-and-off competition with his elder sister is shown through his mother’s worry. 

The Lost Family, Jenna Blum’s new novel, transports and immerses the reader in the 1960-1980s suburbs and city of New York. The title refers to myriad losses families experience.

Peter Raskin, a German-Jewish émigré and survivor of Auschwitz, lost his family during a Nazi roundup. Harboring guilt for not saving them, he maintains an impenetrable wall around his heart. But while secrets we keep and grief we ignore seem innocuous and ours alone, the consequences for others can be injurious.