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 tiny town of Merinac, Kansas -- the setting of KJ Dell’Antonia’s new novel, “The Chicken Sisters” -- is a fictional place. But anyone familiar with a two-lane stretch of road in southeast Kansas will immediately recognize it:

This is “Chicken Dinner Road” -- home of Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s, two restaurants that sit about 300 feet apart and have been the center of a fried chicken debate for 70 years.

“You have to wonder what goes through the mind of a man like Micah Mortimer,” Anne Tyler begins her newest novel. “He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.”

Micah, the persnickety main character in Redhead by the Side of the Road, likes things just so. He starts his daily run precisely at 7:15. He works as a tech consultant and moonlights as the building super. He keeps his apartment neat and clean and orderly. He’s a good guy with a good, predictable life.

  

Chelsea Bieker’s debut novel, Godshot, is the story of Lacey May Herd, a 14-year-old girl stuck in Peaches, a drought-stricken, God-forsaken town in California’s Central Valley.

Grant Snider, with permission

I loved Grant Snider’s new book from the moment I pulled it out of the bag—a pleasant sort of surprise bag, thanks to COVID-era curbside pickup at my local independent bookstore. “I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf,” a collection of Snider’s one- and two-page comics, features a die-cut cover with an adorable character peeking out from behind a crowded bookshelf.

Writers & Lovers, the latest novel by Lily King, centers on 31-year-old Casey Peabody, a weepy, anxious wanna-be novelist reeling from her mother’s sudden death.

The setting is Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997. Casey lives in a converted shed attached to a garage. She walks her landlord’s dog each morning—she doesn’t even know the dog’s name—and rides her banana bike to and from her job waiting tables in Harvard Square. Her mail consists of wedding invitations and final notices from debt collectors. She’s a woman without a plan.

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As an avid reader, I envisioned a government-issued, weeks-long stay-at-home order as the ultimate excuse to tackle my shelves of unread books, to finally catch up on some old classics, to read for hours or even days at a time.

None of that has happened.

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.

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