Book Review

Journalist and book reviewer Suzanne Perez 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

The COVID-19 pandemic turned some of my friends into master do-it-yourselfers. Quarantined at home, they took on home improvement projects, learned to quilt, went crazy with sourdough starters and baked artisan breads.

Me—not so much. I grew some tomatoes. I cooked some meals. But when it comes to most practical life skills, I’m still sorely lacking.

Enter, Sharon and David Bowers.

Sometimes it’s the smallest books that pack the most powerful punches. Think George Orwell’s Animal Farm, John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. None are much longer than an average short story, but they tackle heavy themes such as communism, greed, and the struggle between good and evil.

Address Unknown is just such a work.

Novelist Patricia Engel was born to Colombian parents. Her newest novel, Infinite Country, is a wonder of storytelling no doubt inspired by, if not her own upbringing, then the stories of countless immigrant families who seek a better life in the United States.

My friend Carrie keeps chickens in her backyard in Wichita, and whenever she goes out of town, I volunteer to feed and check on them. Chicken sitting, I call it. It’s not a bad gig and comes with rewards, like the occasional fresh egg with a yolk so orange and creamy, it doesn’t even resemble the ones you get in the grocery store.

So I know a little bit about chickens and the people who love them. That’s why I picked up Jackie Polzin’s debut novel, Brood—a slender little story about one woman’s attempt to keep four chickens alive amid the frigid cold, searing heat and countless predators around her Minnesota home.

There are times when you don’t finish a book in time for a book club discussion but you go anyway. I mean, it’s all about the wine and conversation, right?

But then there are times when you’re halfway through a book that’s full of twists, turns and gasp-inducing surprises, and you just have to send your regrets: “See you next month,” I told the KMUW Literary Feast regulars recently. Because SPOILERS.

You might be asking yourself, “How many novels about World War II does a person really need to read?” And the answer is: at least one more.

About three years ago, author Kristin Hannah began writing a novel about hard times in America—the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, economic collapse, massive unemployment and income inequality.

“Never in my wildest dreams,” Hannah writes in the author’s note of her new novel, “did I imagine that the Great Depression would become so relevant in our modern lives.”

For a writer like me to review a writer like Joan Didion seems downright ridiculous. Didion is an icon, a legend—a writer of novels, memoir and nonfiction that will be studied by journalists and writing students long into the future.

Courtesy photo

It’s a new year—thank goodness—and a great time to take stock of your reading habits and set new goals for what and how you’d like to read in 2021. One great way to do that is to join a reading challenge.

I’m not a regular reader of “Southern Living” magazine—save the occasional recipe for shrimp and grits if I’m feeling homesick—and I don’t believe I’ve ever picked up an issue of “Garden & Gun.” But the magazine pieces that make up Rick Bragg’s latest book make me want to buy a subscription.